Friday, 14 January 2011

The man who fell to Earth

Once upon a time, long long ago, back when I was a child, I used to feel a particular spot on planet Earth – "here" - was home. Depending on the scale I was thinking of, here was my house ...or my street ...or my northern town ...or my county ...or England ...or the UK. Here I lived with my parents and two (quite older) brothers. Here were my friends. I knew I belonged here and that this was where I slotted into the world. It wasn't the prettiest or wealthiest part of the world and certainly it was not where I would choose to be if I was given an option today. But that didn't matter – here was the place, end of. Everything made sense.

Ok, so my parents were from disparate parts of Europe (Berlin and Lvov). Because of this I barely knew my German grandparents, aunties, uncles or cousins. Visits (over what today seems a ridiculously short distance) were rare and expensive events (though forever etched into my childhood memories). As for my family in Ukraine – to me they were just images on old curly edged sepia and black and white photographs kept in a shoebox in the kitchen cupboard. With my family's own economics and world politics of the 1970s they might as well have lived on the other side of Pluto. (Even to this day I've only ever met one uncle from my dad's family when he made one visit here in the 80s after Soviet rules first started to be relaxed.)

As I grew and moved on, met and married my wife, I never strayed very far. My older brothers also married but they both independently decided to move to Australia. Fine! - good for them! – if it's for them, then I'm happy. Of course we looked at moving too but our ties here seemed too important to us.

One significant reason to stay was so I could give my to-be-born children something I never had – a close and meaningful relationship with their grandmothers (sadly both their grandfathers had died before they arrived on the scene). As a child, I was aware that in effective terms I didn't have grandparents. I never resented this as it's impossible, as a child, to miss something you've never had. However it was something I wanted for my own children. On top of this both my and my wife's widowed mothers were getting older and would be without any family support should we move away.

So my roots binding me to "here" seemed strong if not deep... at least strong enough to make me feel tied to this particular spot on planet Earth.

I probably would still be thinking this today if my wife hadn't died. This together with the death of my mother a few years earlier put a new slant on how I feel about my attachment to here. Those roots suddenly seemed to be severed.... no wife, no parents, no siblings, no extended family. Friends.. well yes, I have a group of friends but apart from one or two, they are generally just fair weather people. My only really true friend was now gone. (Paradoxically it was my departed wife who was the one with a circle of close and strongly connected friends.)

So I now find I'm sometimes thinking "What am I doing in this house, near this northern town on this grey and depressing island tucked in the top right corner of the Atlantic? Why am I here?"

The more I think about it, the more I realise that it's all completely random... it's just an accident of history that my parents met here after the war and decided to settle. I could have ended up anywhere... anywhere in the UK, or Germany or elsewhere. It really does sometimes feel like I have fallen to Earth and landed here – I certainly don't feel like I've sprouted out of the ground here and belong to the place from the bones outward.

So why am I still here? Why don't I sell up, pack up and move off somewhere more interesting and more to my liking? Well there's the rub, one set of roots may have been severed... but as they were being hacked away, another set of roots were sprouting and digging themselves into the ground. The children! Naturally they have put down their own roots – schools, friends, pets and ponies, and most strong of all, with their sole surviving grandmother (a lovely lady, but to me she is only my mother-in-law). And these roots are multiplied threefold. So whilst on the one hand I feel liberated that after 40 odd years I am free of ties and could go an do as I please, on the other I'm not at all free. It is hard to not feel that I've been out maneuvered by circumstance somewhere along the way. Oh feck!

The grandparents I never met.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

6 months on...all change!

Oops.... it seems that I've not updated my blog for over half a year now... one good thing though is I don't have to make any excuses to anyone about that! ;-)

So what's happened in the Mugpi world in the past half year? Well in short - quite a lot!

The biggest change is that after 25 years of working in IT, I have taken an opportunity that has come my way to take some time off. In April I was offered a separation package by my company (a large IT organisation who are undertaking a "cost reducing restructuring"). After mulling over the pros and cons of staying versus leaving for a while, I decided to take what seems like a golden opportunity. I can't say that my pay-off was exactly a lottery jackpot win, but it is enough to tidy me over for a while. So this has released me from work nicely in time for the summer - so I could watch most of the World Cup and can take a lot of time with the kids over their long summer holiday. I can also start to tackle some of the many little projects I now want to do around the house. Importantly it also gives me time to recharge my batteries, to re-consolidate and to think about what I want to do next.

As you could have guessed, the minute I made the decision to leave, a massive weight was lifted from my shoulders. Obviously there was the short term rush of elation, but it soon dawned on me that the job I had was making me seriously depressed. I was under the miss-belief that a job that allowed me to work for home with semi-flexible hours was a good thing for a single dad of three. After all I could fit my conference calls around the school run around, I was there at 3pm when the kids came home and I was always here during the school holidays. And on paper it should have been ideal... but now I realise that sitting alone in my little office all day, every day, doing a job I didn't particularly enjoy, for a company I didn't really care for, following processes and procedures that seemed designed to hinder rather than help my job was slowly killing me off on the inside. I don't want to be melodramatic, but it felt like a blackness that was spreading though my insides. To make matters worse, I dont have a "significant other" to help distract me occasionally, to help offer moral support, to act as an emotional outlet and to be fellow adult comrade.

From the moment my decision was made I really started to feel differently - different in a truly deep-down way. I now wake up on a morning looking forward to the day ahead and ready to bound out of bed (well sometimes!). I felt motivated and for the first time in a long while, I felt excited about the future and what it will bring. More than one person said I now look 10 years younger and, to be honest, that is how I feel. I think that a combination of widowhood, single parent stress and a job that was killing me emotionally, had slowly change from the "old" Martin into someone quite different. I now feel much more like the original, generally happy, generally optimistic, much more light hearted person that I used to be.

Don't get me wrong though - it's not all perfect. For one thing there are the occasional thoughts that flash across my head like.. "Oh my God! What have I done?" or "How will I pay for the kid's treats and (eventually) university/first car/wedding etc if I don't sort a reasonable income?". I then just try and remind myself how depressed and unhappy I was before - that usually takes the edge of these thoughts. After all, there is no point being able to provide materially for the children if they have a permanently unhappy and depressed parent - made more acute as I'm the only parent they've got and can't turn to Mum if I'm having a bad day, week or month.

Already it is 6 weeks since I officially finished work. This time has flown by really quickly - in fact I don't know where all that time went! I've completed a few domestic projects, the key one being to deck over and furnish a corner of the garden so we have somewhere nice to sit out through the summer. I still have a long list of jobs I want to do - the sort of jobs that I had no interest in even thinking about let alone starting during the period when my wife was ill and in the initial few years after she died.

I have also started to run much more now that I have more time available to me, though I do sometimes think it is a bit of a luxury to take out 1-2 hours of a day for this. But that's the beauty of my current circumstance... if I really want to do something and provided I can fit it around the kids, then I will blooming well do it!

Naturally at some point I do need to sort out a job or some way to earn an income (and a way to plug the gap in my pension (I'm 46 so some way off retirement yet)). But I have the luxury of taking my time to decide about this. Maybe I will try something a bit different - I've a number of thoughts and options (but I'm keep these for another blog in the next week or two).

For the first time in over 20 years I can't say with any certainty what I'll be doing in a 12 month's time. Whilst this is a slightly scary thought for me, it is also exciting, exhilarating, and it makes me feel more alive than I have for a long, long time. I don't think this can be all that bad a thing!

The future is bright, the future is mine! :-D

Friday, 11 December 2009

Thank God for Twitter...

I remember posting a video on my Facebook page last New Year's Eve as I thought it was worth sharing with my circle of friends (it wasn't anything spectacular, just a video I'd found on YouTube that showed lots of dominos knocking each over and finishing with a big "Happy New Year 2009" - click here if you want to see it). The trouble I felt at the time was that although I had around eighty Facebook friends (all people I know in the real world), none of them were really into social networking. I think it's a generation thing... most of my friends are around my age (late 30s to late 40s) but only about half have Facebook accounts, and of these I would say less than a quarter could be considered as active. I was getting a feeling that using Facebook was a bit like whistling in the wind.

I can understand why my friends aren't into social networking - they have busy lives and families.... and wives/partners to talk to. This made me think about why I was posting onto Facebook more than they were. I realised that being a single dad with a limited social life, I needed somewhere to air my thoughts, views and feelings and Facebook was about all there was available to me (I've never really ever thought about venturing into any chat rooms). But it was frustrating that nearly everyone I knew seemed to be uninterested or too busy (or maybe too embarrassed) to engage in the social networking world.

This was all before my time on Twitter, though I was aware of the term and the website. I recall Kate Russell on BBC's Click programme describing it as "a place where you can post messages about what you are doing" in her Webscape section in March 2008 (see). It appeared to be a simpler version of Facebook where you connected to your friends and you could read "tweets" to find out what each other was doing or thinking. At the time I remember wondering "what's the point of that?" and left it there as just another web curiosity.

Then on 15-January, 2009 news broke that an airplane had crashed landed on the Hudson River in New York. Thankfully no-one was seriously injured and though obviously distressing for them, all 155 passengers and crew were rescued safely. One part of this news item that struck me though was that some of the first reports and pictures of the crash came from Twitter via a witness on a ferry helping with the rescue. The twitterer was @jkrums (we still follow each other) and his pictures were posted onto Twitpic. (For a more complete report see this report on the Computerworld website.)

It seemed that something interesting was going on with the Internet and I immediately wanted to dip my toes in and find out more. I created my Twitter account two days later on 17-January though I mustn't have known what to say initially. Eventually I lost my Twitter "cherry" on 05-February with the rather boring tweet "I'm trying to decide whether to carry on ploughing through my emails, or whether I should start making tea" (moaning about domestic chores as always!) This was followed by a posting to Twitpic of the dusting of snow we'd just had with the sarcastic comment "Recent snow that brought the country to a grinding halt."

I those early days my account was in my own name and I even managed to find a few people I knew on Twitter, but like Facebook, they weren't particularly active. I then thought "to hell with it, I'm going to be a complete Twitter tart" and started to follow people who looked interesting and then randomly some of their followers and so on. I also used a few Twitter sites such as Monitter to find twitterers discussing topics I found interesting, and followed them. Some of these twitteres would follow me back, and slowly my base of followed/followers started to grow. A few weeks down the line (I'm not exactly sure when) I decided that to be able to express myself I needed to do two things - take on a name that made me anonymous and to shed the few real world friends still following me.

Enter Mugpi!

I continued to nurture my base of followed/followers - pruning out the ones who were there just to promote something, who had become inactive or where not on my wavelength and engaging with and getting to know real people tweeting about real things. As time went on I developed twitter-friendships with a number of people. Some have come and gone whilst others have become long time twitter-pals. Hopefully many will stay as my twitter-pals for a long time. And of course I continue "meeting" new people all the time. I now find my social network is a-buzz with people of all types and I can have a "chat" and bounce ideas, jokes, worries, news (in fact anything) with a wonderful circle or people almost any time of the day or night. If I have a problem or feeling a bit blue, there is usually someone with a kind word to offer or an ear to lend. I know this is not the same as having that some one special in my life, but its a good second best all the same.

I know it has taken a fair amount of effort to get to this point, but now I am, I feel it was well worth it.

Of course I still have my circle of real-world friends, mostly living in the neighbourhood, but I only see them "as and when". Even if I was the type of person to be calling in on people all the time (I'm not), it isn't so easy when you have three kids in your sole care. So in reality other than the odd chat in the school playground, I rarely get to talk to another adult, and even more rarely do I have the type of conversation where I can get things off my chest. This is assuming I would be able to air some of the issues and thoughts that are going on inside me to my real-world friends. But thankfully this is where Twitter comes in. Suddenly I can now rant and rave to my hearts content if that's the mood I'm in.

What would it be like if Twitter disappeared tomorrow? Of course it wouldn't be the end of the world, but I certainly would miss it and all of my twitter-pals out there. Thank God for Twitter is what I say!

Here are a few useful sites I've used in the past and present that are related to this blog: (provides the date an account was created) (extracts a snapshot of your Twitter data for you to download) (real time filter of tweets on your chosen search criteria)

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Christmas shopping for a single dad...

I've never been a great fan of Christmas - I hadn't been able to put my finger on why until the kids recently asked "Dad, what was the best and the worst Christmas present you ever had when you were a kid?". After a few minutes of thought on this, I could only think of "worst presents" and "average presents" :-(
(I think there could be a whole blog's worth of material there so I'll save that one for another day!)

I now find myself a single dad with three kids, facing my annual "ascent of Everest"..... doing all the Christmas present shopping and wrapping. This will be the third time without my wife and I can't say I've found it gets any easier with practice. I have the same feeling of dread about the task every year. What to buy them? How much to spend? Will they be happy with what they receive? Am I overdoing it and spoiling them? Will I have enough time to buy everything? Will I be able to get hold of what I'm after?

I know I overspend and I know I'm trying to compensate for their Mum not being there with us on Christmas morning as they open their presents. I also know that no matter how many presents they have, it will never fill that painful space left in our lives. But despite all of this, the last thing I would want is for them to be disappointed with the one aspect I can actually affect - the material one.

On top of all this mental and emotional angst, there is the issue of the pure logistics of the task. I know there is the option of on-line shopping (and I do this for a fair portion), but its not ideal, especially when deliveries turn up when the kids are at home.

Obviously I can't drag the kids round the shops with me while I buy "Santa's" presents - so that means weekends and evenings are out. This leaves the times when the kids are at school, but as I'm (supposedly) working full time, there isn't a lot of spare time to go trailing round the shops. This year I booked a couple half days in late November and spent the time shopping (and punching numbers into the Argos self-serve computer for what seemed like hours). Though I managed to buy about 70% of the list in those two half days, it has taken several lunchtime trips and on-line orders to complete the job (and for a birthday present/card/cake etc for my youngest who very inconveniently was born in early December).

I try to start the ascent of my personal Everest well before December to help save me from the panic attacks I would have if I left it any later. As I slowly work my way through my list I can tangibly feel the pressure lifting and my mood lightening (and my bank balance emptying).

I've now more or less cracked the shopping part for 2009 and everything is stowed out of the way in the attic. So that just leaves a few hours (probably about 3 or 4) to bring it all down, wrap it and put it all away again and I'll be sorted until Christmas Eve. The question of how I covertly transfer it all down again and put it out under the tree sometime between the kids going to sleep (which was about 2am last year) and them waking up (at about 6am), is another matter.

I suppose all of this is a bit of a pantomime as my older two (11 and 13) have come clean that they know the score about who Father Christmas really is. But my youngest (9) is still clinging onto the belief - I remember her saying last year "don't worry Daddy, I've asked Santa for all the expensive presents so that you won't have to pay for them". Sweet darling :-) Sadly I don't think this will last many more Christmass before the influence of her elder siblings takes effect.

I know this probably reads like a moan and a groan about me trying to cope with Christmas. Having read it again it has made me reflect that there won't be many more years before the magic goes altogether and the kids just want cash for Christmas (or a car like a friend/neighbour's 17yo). Maybe I should try harder to make the most of it and appreciate the kids being at this age.

Anyway - soon it will be all over and the lounge will be a pile of opened presents and ripped wrapping paper. I will then be able to pat myself on the back and think that, good or bad, the job is done and my ascent complete... well until November 2010 comes around!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Mugpi - a bit more about me than I can squeeze into 160 characters.....

Martin Mugpie... it's probably obvious thats not my real name, but when I started using Twitter I soon realised that the only way I felt comfortable tweeting what I really thought and felt was if the people reading my babble didn't know the real "me". As none of my real life friends were on Twitter, I went in seek of new contacts and now have a group of good twitter friends I'm in regular contact with. If you're not one of my twitter friends already, hopefully you will be soon. : )

I am a 46yo widowed father of three (girl/boy/girl who are currently 9, 12 and 13... though they do keep getting older!). Sadly my dear wife died of breast cancer in 2007 (even over three years on it still seems surreal writing that, like it's about some bad dream). She was diagnosed in Sept 2002 - our youngest was 21 months old at the time. She bravely fought that terrible disease for one month short of 5 years and though she was extremely strong and brave, with never a complaint, she finally succumbed in August 2007 (after it had spread to her liver).

Why Mugpi? Some time ago I described myself as "the mug who runs round after the kids like a blue arsed fly" and changed my twitter avatar to a mug. Since then I've regularly changed the mug picture to reflect my mood, a recent event or just to amuse myself (here is a run through of some of the mugs I've used in 2009).

Most of my time is spent in the multiple roles of single dad, bread winner and cook/housekeeper/cleaner/laundry service/taxi driver/childrens' entertainer...I won't go on! It can be hard work at times, but the four of us try and have fun too. I suppose we know we can't change anything and that we have to make the best of a bad hand.

I don't have a lot of family support (both my parents are dead and my two brothers emigrated to Oz many moons ago), but I muddle through most of the time. One thing I miss now I'm single is someone being there to talk with and to sound off to. Whilst it's in no imaginable way a substitute, I find Twitter to be somewhere where I can offload my thoughts, worries, feelings and angsts. If I put half of what I write on Twitter onto my Facebook account, my friends would think I'd seriously lost the plot! (I keep my Twitter contacts and real life Facebook friends totally separate.)

My current favourite pastime (not that I have a lot of time for much frippery!) is geocaching (see To me it's the perfect combination of technology, the internet and most importantly, an outside fresh air activity we can enjoy as a family. Some geocachers are numbers obsessed, but personally I prefer to use it as an excuse for a family walk or to explore an area we've never had a reason to visit before. I've lost count of the number of new (though not terribly far away) places we've been to since I accidentally discovered the "secret" geocaching world late in the summer of 2008.

My other interests? I enjoy the odd night out with my mates (though this is easier said than done nowadays). More often than not though it will be a glass or three of a good red wine while watching a decent movie on the box. I like to follow F1 and though I'm usually only casually interested in football, for some reason I go football crazy when the World Cup is on.

Well that should give anyone interested enough to have read this far a flavour about me. I hope it didn't send you to sleep!

Happy tweeting!

PS You can catch me on Twitter at