Tag Archives: work/life balance

Am I still here?

It’s been ages, hasn’t it? I mean, I used to be prolific, with posts on all kinds of subjects. Lately, though, I’ve just not had the time or inclination. There are reasons.

First, and probably most importantly, I’m very busy with the day job. I have a lot of commissioned model work to get through, and I’ve closed my order book for the next year so I don’t keep piling on the agony. While it’s nice to share my work, I find I’m doing it through social media first and foremost. The same goes for the photography—when I manage to get out and do some.

Second, there are things broken with the WordPress installation of this site. I don’t have the time or, frankly, inclination to spend time sorting them out. While the essential functionality is there, in that I can make posts and you can read the content, automatic sharing of new posts to Twitter and Facebook doesn’t happen. Once, I could access and update the blog from my iPad, but the back office doodad that links to the WP app is fubar, so I have to access via a browser. I’ve better things to do.

Third, the world—as has been stated here before—is beyond insanity. Everything is broken, or being broken, and I simply haven’t the words to rail against the dying of the light! You don’t need me adding to the misery.

So, whither Snaptophobic? I’d like to keep blogging, but I would like a platform that works without me having to break out the toolbox and get my hands dirty. I’ve been considering an alternative system, but they currently only allow dot-com URLs. That’s another expense, unless I can forward from my dot-co-dot-uk… More complexity I don’t need in life. You know, I even considered heading back to Blogger. I know. Worrying, isn’t it.

I apologise for the lack of updates. Perhaps I can find some time to rekindle my interest sufficiently. Perhaps I can find some content you may find interesting. We will see. Bear with me.

The Things You Find

I periodically attempt a tidying up and clearing out session. In spite of our modern digital world, “important” paperwork just seems to multiply. I am the worst kind of person to make decisions about what can safely be discarded, and so the piles grow.

While on one of my periodical sifting sessions, I uncovered some funny things I had kept for some reason. Funny, in this case, means amusing.

First was a parody of the small print you sometimes find at the bottom of corporate emails.


This email is intended for the use of the individual addressee(s) named above and may contain information that is confidential, privileged or unsuitable for overly sensitive persons of low self-esteem, no sense of humour or irrational religious beliefs.

If you are not the intended recipient, any dissemination, distribution or copying of this email is not authorised (either explicitly or implicitly) and constitutes an irritating social faux pas.

Unless the word absquatulation has been used in its correct context somewhere other than this warning, it does not have any legal or grammatical use and may be ignored.

No animals were harmed in the transmission of this email, although the yorkie next door is living on borrowed time, let me tell you.

Those of you with an overwhelming fear of the unknown will be gratified to learn that there is no hidden message revealed by reading this warning backwards, so just ignore that alert notice from Microsoft. However, by pouring a complete circle of salt around yourself and your computer or handheld device you can ensure no harm befalls you or your pets.

If you have received this email in error, please place it in a warm oven for 40 minutes and add some nutmeg and egg whites. Whisk briefly and let it stand for two hours before icing.


When I mention the foregoing paper had a time stamp of April 2000 on it, you will begin to realise the extent of my paper hoarding powers!

Next, some ways to maintain a healthy level of insanity—probably more relevant today, considering the way our world seems to be heading.


  1. At lunchtime, sit in your parked car with sunglasses on and all the hairdryer at passing cars. See if they slowdown.
  2. Page yourself over the intercom. Don’t disguise your voice.
  3. Every time someone asks you to do something, ask if they want fries with that.
  4. Put your garbage can on your desk and label it “IN”.
  5. Put the caffeine in the coffee maker for three weeks. Once everyone has got over the caffeine addiction switch to espresso.
  6. Finish all your sentences with “in accordance with the prophecy”.
  7. Dont use any punctuation
  8. As often as possible, skip rather than walk.
  9. Ask people what sex they are. Laugh hysterically after they answer.
  10. Specify that your drive-through order is “to go”.
  11. Sing along at the opera.
  12. Go to a poetry recital and ask why the poems don’t rhyme.
  13. Put mosquito netting around your work area and play tropical sounds all day.
  14. Five days in advance, tell your friends you can’t attend the party because you’re not in the mood.
  15. Have your co-workers address you by your wrestling name—rockhard.
  16. When the money comes out of the ATM scream “I won! I won!”.
  17. When leaving the zoo, start running towards the car park yelling “Run for your lives, they’re loose!”.
  18. Tell your children over dinner, “Due to the economy, we are going to have to let one of you go”.

I hope you enjoyed those. I don’t recall exactly where they came from, especially after all these years, so feel free to plagiarise them to your heart’s content.

In other news, after a slightly rocky upgrade of this blog software earlier, which has left some of the plugins in a precarious situation, I am starting to look at alternatives to WordPress. The WordPress iOS app is also a pile of doodah, too. I can work locally, but it always seems to fail to connect to the server and save the work. This blog was written on the iThing, but it didn’t appear in the drafts on the main computer when logged in. So, I had to cut and paste across a couple of apps just to get here.

Anyway, while I investigate and ponder changes, it’s probably going to be business as usual here until I can set things up—assuming I manage to without too many tears!

Motivation

Me and my shadow

There are times when being self-employed is a curse. Yes, there is all that “being your own boss” malarkey, and my hours are set to suit me. The thing is, motivation is hard work: sometimes you need someone else to drive you.

As I type I have two shelves full of commissioned models to build, and the workbench is home to three partially-built models. I currently have enough work to keep me going well into next year. By most measures I seem to be pretty successful and have plenty of work to be doing.

So why can’t I get on with it? There’s the million dollar question.

It is true that some builds do hit snags, and have to be sidelined for a spell. Usually I will pick up another model and let the snags resolve themselves in their own good time. There are times when real life has to be dealt with, such as medical appointments or car servicing.

There are also times when the mood just isn’t right. You may scoff, but building models isn’t simply about following instructions, wielding tools and miniature engineering. There is also art involved, and when the Modelling Muse bimbles off somewhere more interesting I can be left with no choice but to seek other things to do.

Last week was supposed to be busy; I had loads of workbench stuff to get on with, at any rate. On Monday I had an appointment around midday, so the morning and afternoon were sufficiently disrupted as to stop meaningful work. Tuesday, I was struck by some sort of malaise which left me moping around the house trying not to be annoyed at everyone and everything. Experience tells me best not to tackle anything involving sharp tools in that kind of mood. Wednesday saw our weekly shop a day earlier than normal—a knocked-on disruption from a short break a month ago. Best Beloved also decided he wanted some new electronic toy (a printer), and that ended up with me sorting out a rat’s nest of cables and installing software across our various computers for the rest of the day. Thursday appeared to have trickled away with nothing constructive being achieved. Friday vanished into a miasma of nothing much.

I suppose I could blame the season and the weather. It is November, after all, and looking from my window into the near-darkness more rain has set in, with its close colleague wind not far behind. It’s a singularly depressing time of the year, despite the glorious leaf colours on a bright and sunny day. It’s all too short, though, and already the talk is of Christmas.

Ah, Christmas. Here it comes again. It is true what they say. The years fly by faster as you get older. And on that happy note, I think it’s time for me to do some other displacement activity to avoid actually working.

Mortality

I think it’s fair to say I’ve passed one of those significant milestones in my life. Although mentally I still feel like I am thirty, physically it is becoming apparent I am starting on the downhill side of life. Things are wearing out, falling out and generally aching. I groan when I stand up, I can’t kneel properly any more, and the old back aches and twinges more frequently.I am beginning to feel my age. There is a slow dawning that I am mortal, a realisation that one day I shall no longer be around.

Many of my friends and loved ones are older than me. Best Beloved is a full quarter century older than me, interestingly more or less the same age as my parents. There are not many of my friends—not counting those online and spread across the planet—who are actually younger than me. I also don’t have children, and neither does my younger sister. These are lifestyle choices we made, but it means we don’t actually have direct relatives to take on whatever we leave behind. I assume my sister will outlive me, but one can never be sure of these things. Will she even want to deal with the detritus of another life?

In short, I am going to have to think carefully how my property and, if you will forgive the pomposity, my legacy will be handled once I am reduced to a forgotten bag of ashes. I am also having to consider how I will approach the closing of my life. I suppose it is pretty obvious that I will be alone at the end. Will I be able to control my decline, to keep some dignity at the end, to be able to dispose of possessions to people who might care about them before it’s too late? Should I begin to organise my affairs now, before senility sets in?

Sobering thoughts, and not a little depressing. Still, I suppose that’s life.

2013, a year in review

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If you’re a regular follower of this blog, or if you know me from social media or forums, you’ll know the past four or five years have not been particularly wonderful here at Snaptophobic Towers.

Just to recap quickly, I’ve been more or less self-employed since 2001. I’ve had spells in and out of proper full-time and part-time work over that period, but it became increasingly obvious my chosen career path had pretty much come to a dead end in the last few years.

I was really stuck for ideas on how to revive my interest in the design world, and how to beef up my income. I mean, it’s bad enough that being self-employed means you never quite know when your next pay cheque will be, that you continually fret about which bill needs to be paid over another, but not even managing to get any decent work at all just added insult to injury—or should that be penury? There were also personal health issues, poorly Best Beloved, poorly pets, and generally being just stuck in the bottom of the deepest, darkest rut you can imagine, and it really began to wear a body down.

2013 began in much the same way, frankly. I was making half-hearted attempts to get my graphic design business going again. I tried to push some photographic services, as well as a scanning and digitising service, but nothing was gaining traction, not even a sniff of work.  I continued to try and find a “proper” job, but I wasn’t even getting rejection letters any more. I was pretty much at rock bottom, and about to head off to sign on for the dole. I was not looking forward to doing that. I’ve not “signed on” since 1981 and, frankly, it felt like giving in. While the small financial support would have been welcome, becoming dependent on the state after all these years may not have been ideal for my state of mind.

My only solace was building some model coaches for a friend, who suggested I should offer model-making services to a well-known (in model railway circles) kit manufacturer. I spoke to Laurie at Just Like The Real Thing. He said if anyone enquired, he’d pass them on. I thought little more of it. After all, life doesn’t instantly turn around, at least not from the bottom of my particular deep, dark rut.

But I was wrong. Suddenly, or so it seemed, I was in demand. Requests to quote for building JLTRT models came in. Somewhat amazingly, my quotes were being accepted. As I type, I’ve built a dozen railway coaches for clients, and got three more models on the shelf to build next year, and quotes in the pipeline for even more. I’d got a waiting list!

Colour me amazed. What a turnaround!

In 2013 I’ve managed to make a small business out of a hobby. I admit I may never make a fortune—I can only charge what the market will stand—but there is no price you can place on happiness. I—we—have become accustomed to living on modest means, and I see no reason to change that. Being happy and productive, with enough income to pay bills and have a little left over for the nice things in life, is good enough at the moment.

There is, of course, that nagging doubt at the back of my mind that I ought to plan for the future. I am aware that I may have yet to find a “proper” job in order to keep the bills under control. I will have to cross that bridge when I come to it. I am content at the moment to be able to pay my way in the world with money I’ve earned doing something I love.

What could be better?

More on positivity

If you recall, back in May, I linked to a post by Nick Miners about being positive. I linked to the post because it struck a chord with me about how it is so easy, what with everything going on around us and in the world generally, to be negative all the time. After a few years of things not going so well in my own corner of the planet, I had been generally trying to look on the bright side, and Nick hit home.

Nick’s been following up on the theme. Yesterday, he asked for examples of positivity from his Twitter followers. A mutual friend, Paul Dunning, responded. Paul, like me, is a designer by trade, and his interests are wide-ranging. In the past few months, he has been documenting the unique letterforms used by the local authority in his home town to name the streets. He is now creating letterpress blocks from the typeface, and I suspect a digitised variant won’t be far off.

I had a think, and while I am pleased the modelmaking work has taken off, I felt my positive contribution was Invicta Shutterbugs. I was really pleased with the way a regular local photowalk gathered interest, and how it’s led me to make new friends. Sadly, we haven’t figured out a way to share the resulting photography in a central place yet—something that bugs me and will need to be sorted out if the walks are to continue into another year. Anyway, Nick suggested the modelmaking would be more interesting, so I put some thoughts down and emailed him. You can read them on Nick’s blog.

I’d like to thank Nick for highlighting the need for positivity in our world. With the media churning out, and literally thriving on, bad news it is so easy to let yourself fall into the pit of despair. Realising there’s a lot of good about, and working away at making life better by having a more generally positive attitude to many things, can only make the world a better place.

It’s not you, it’s me

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I’ve always been a “nook surfer”. What that means is I tend to haunt the same places on the internet, rarely letting my mouse take me places I don’t know, or “feeling lucky” as Google puts it. I’m happy with being a nook surfer. I’m not a terribly adventurous person at the best of times, so staying within boundaries online kind of suits me.

I’m not afraid of the internet. I’m not anti-internet. I’ve been designing web sites since the late 1990s. I am still a big fan of email. I am a member on several special interest forums, active on a few, a lurker on the rest. I eventually figured out what a blog was, and dived in with both feet, several times over. I’ve been hooked by Twitter, fallen in and then out of love with Facebook, and share my passions with Flickr and Google+. I am an online social animal, partly driven by working from home for much of the last decade or so. My online life gives me the social interaction I would normally get from co-workers.

Only, of late, I’ve been falling out of love with my online world.

At first, I thought it was down to too much information. This stuff is addictive at times, so I forced myself to step away from the screen and keyboard, and do stuff that didn’t involve a computer. This worked for a spell, and I returned feeling refreshed and excited again.

Since the start of the year, though, I find I have once again fallen out of love. The usual places I frequent bore me. There’s no sparkle any more. I don’t feel the excitement and interest that was there before.

I’ve been working on the modelling bench since the start of January, between spells of trying to get a client interested in their web site project, and I think I’ve remembered there is more to life than sharing links, nattering about stuff and pretending to get annoyed with the world like it makes a difference. I do get annoyed with the world, but that’s another story, as copious posts on this blog bear witness.

2013 has seen the start of active monthly photowalks with new friends. We do share the results online, but beyond that my online interest wanes rapidly. I was all over Google+ a while ago, but these days I find it’s too much. There’s just too much information, too many people. I could prune back my circles, limit my interactions, but even then it all feels so overwhelming. Right now, I’m using G+ as a promotional tool for the photowalks. Twitter just sits there in the corner, and lets me vent my spleen, or follow interesting ideas, limited enough that I can keep up. Flickr is still my main photo sharing space, and I am favouring a hobby forum over others right now. I’ve stepped back from things to a degree, which is probably a good thing. I don’t plan on dropping all online interaction. Too many of my friends are spread too far afield to do that, and online is the only realistic way to keep up with them.

I’ve been giving serious thought to giving up the “day job”. I’ve been trying to find a proper paid job for some time now, and it’s increasingly obvious I won’t be working in the design world again. Those interviews I managed to secure have proved either I’m too good for the position, or I’m barking up the wrong tree entirely. I’m planning on scaling back Imagic Design—if you can scale back something that’s all but dormant. The business bank account will be closed (it costs money to run, after all), and I’ll deregister from VAT (never entirely sure why I registered anyway). I am considering moving into other areas of likely income, all the while looking for any job that pays me a regular wage. Something’ll turn up.

Anyway, I’m sure I’ll share my journey here, assuming I can get off my arse and make a go of things.

Have I been a bit quiet?

I have been rather quiet for a while, apart from the occasional flurry of links to various things that catch my eye. I haven’t been updating the blog with reports from my real life, mainly because I have been a little too busy to get around to it.

So, here’s an update.

I finally got through to a model railway magazine editor. He liked my model photograpy, but couldn’t promise any work. Right there is the story of my life. Promises, promises, promises. Still, it was a step forward, and I have now contacted one other editor with the same pitch. If I get any work from either source, I will be pleasantly surprised. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say.

I have had a small web site job for the significant other of a friend. I am currently waiting for them to get back to me with their thoughts on what I have done so far. That reminds me I had better chase them up—may make a phone call instead of email.

Another potentially long-running freelance job is beginning to rumble into life. I’m not entirely sure what I will be expected to do at this stage, or how much I will be paid. I guess I ought to find out sooner rather than later. 

While there’s nothing concrete, then, things are beginning to look a little brighter round here. This is a Good Thing.

Meanwhile, I am finding myself engrossed on the modelling workbench, busily building three commissioned 7mm scale railway coaches. You may recall I built a coach for a friend last year. He asked me if I’d build some more for him, so I have three BR Mark 1 corridor seconds on the go. 

I built one kit to see how the thing went together, and to work out what modifications I might need or want to do before I embarked on the other two. I got that first coach to a stage where it was all but complete, aside from paint and final details, and then set about the other two in a batch. Some of the work is fiddly, and some is fiddly and tedious, but it keeps me quiet and occupied, doing constructive things with my hands.

Perhaps I go beyond the call of duty—certainly beyond what my friend is paying me to build these kits for him—but I enjoy the details. I also consider these models as portfolio pieces I can use to perhaps get more work in this field. It’s not a field that will make me rich, but I think there’s a niche for me somwhere.

I am nearing the point where I will want to break out the airbrush and get paint on the models. Sadly, my spray booth is in a garden shed, and the weather of late round here has been a bit cold for that kind of environment. I think I will have to rig up a spray booth in our loft workshop, where it may be cold but at least I have access to electricity, heating and hot drinks!

That’s what’s been going on round here for the past few weeks. I just wish some of the things I am supposed to be involved in would firm up and give me some regular income again. 

Changing Seasons

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While we currently bask in an indian summer here in much of England, it’s hard not to notice autumn is upon us. The trees seem desperate to lose their foliage this year, and predictions are we’re in for a cold snap as early as the end of October—much as last year. Oh, good. 

(Did that sound sarcastic enough?)

After a bout of exuberance as I relaunched my freelance life, I find actually getting the work—in equal parts the most important and the most tedious things about freelancing in general—brings me down with a bump. I don’t ask for much, but my list of clients is shorter than I’d like. The question is, how do I find new clients? Not just new clients, but ones who want to start a long-term working relationship, rather than the more familiar “quick jobs” I tended to collect the last time I played this game seriously.

I’d like to say my heart is really in it, but if I am truly honest with myself it’s not. While I enjoy the freedom to work the hours I want, to be able to give myself a day off if I feel like it, I long for regular income. I need to figure out how to market myself effectively without costing me a packet. Meanwhile, if a “proper” job opportunity comes along, I will go for it.

But that’s a whole other can of worms.

Planning ahead

I’m getting to a certain age where I must begin to consider what I’m going to do with my time when I become “retired”. Leaving aside the rather worrying notion I may well never actually retire as the UK’s official retirement age creeps ever upwards as we all live longer, I still need to think about how I’m going to live out the autumn years of my life. There is an age disparity between myself and Best Beloved of some quarter century, and it’s pretty obvious to both of us I may well not have the pleasure of his company into my dotage. We don’t have dependants, so once he’s gone I will have to be self-sufficient for as long as I can manage it. 

Moving swiftly on from that rather depressing thought, I’m currently letting myself have a little daydream, which I amusingly call my Retirement Plan. There’ll be none of that checking into a retirement apartment, or sheltered accommodation, or even getting myself on Crusty Cruises around the Mediterranean. My plan is predicated on my inheriting Best Beloved’s estate. As we have no mortgage or major outstanding debt, I would hope to be able to liquidate the house and invest the proceeds. I would then purchase a mobile home (RV, self-propelled tin snail, whatever you fancy) and set off to explore the glories of the land of my birth.

The vehicle will need to be large enough for me to live in comfortably. It will need sufficient secure storage for my camera gear and a laptop, as well as clothes, food and the usual prerequisites of life. It will need to be self-sufficient for the times when I can’t plug into the grid. It will need internet access of some kind. To offset the size of the living van, I can hitch a small car to the back. Once I’m safely berthed in a campsite somewhere I can use the car to explore, reasoning a small car is easier to park than a bus, and drier than a moped or bicycle! 

The basic idea is now settled. I am assuming I really will be setting off on, and be able to fund in some way, a Grand Tour of the British Isles. What’s happening now is I am beginning to think about the places I want to visit, and the best way to cover the country to see the best bits. It’s not like I will have a time limit. My time will be my own, to spend as I please. If I land up somewhere, I might spend a week, a month or even longer. It would be really great to get to know an area on more intimate terms than the usual tourist traps. When I’m ready, weigh anchor and away I go.

It would be useful to have some kind of underlying tour plan, and I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to book berths in advance when I can. To avoid traffic I am considering overnight driving between stopping places, allowing myself a day or so once settled to prepare for my visit. Although I plan to be on the road permanently, I should also allow for times when I may be unwell, or the weather just too inclement, where I ought to heave to in a hotel for a time.

I’d love to be doing the Grand Tour until I am incapable of doing it any more. I certainly don’t want to spend my dotage in a “care” home, or dying in my favourite armchair in front of the goggle box, and there won’t be anyone in my immediate family who can “look after” me. I want to be out and being active for as long as I can manage it. I need to be independent and self-sufficient until I can’t manage any more.

What’s brought on this late-onset wanderlust? I think I can lay the blame on the BBC for giving us excellent documentary television programmes like Coast and Town. Both these shows have opened my eyes to the wonders that abound in my homeland. I have lived my entire life in the bottom right-hand corner of England, with all too rare and painfully short forays to other parts on holidays and odd trips. I simply have not experienced much of my own country, and I plan to see as much as I can before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

Book

As an added incentive, I’ve recently acquired a copy of The Lie of the Land by Ian Vince. Subtitled A spotter’s guide to the Britain beneath your feet, I thoroughly recommend it. Superbly written, easy to read, and sufficiently in-depth to seriously whet your appetite for more, it will act as my guide book on my journey. While considering the book, you might also take a look at the British Landscape Club web site, where you can currently buy signed paperback editions of the book, and become a member of the club. Membership is free, and you get a lovely badge you can wear with pride.

That’s enough for now. I shall go back to planning trips and day-dreaming about my retirement.