Welcome to Life in 361˚. This blog is an 'open journal' - a space where I keep notes on bits & pieces I come across day-to-day - including books and articles I've read that I feel are worth sharing, interesting pictures and photos (I'm a visual learner, you see), random musings - and anything else that happens to catch my eye or ear. It also acts as a kind of 'open experiment' in terms of developing my views and writing skills - and networking with other people of a like-mind.

If you've stumbled upon here randomly, then I suggest you check out my biography and other pages.

Please Note: This site, and the social networking profile pages connected with it, reflect my personal interests & views which do not necessarily represent those of organisations I am affiliated / associated with.

Bio


'Medical Marvel'

I was born in 1980s Sheffield, 'The People's Republic of South Yorkshire', in what my siblings mockingly title 'The Medical Marvel Story' - having had to sit through numerous tales, recounted in detail by my mother and grandmother, of how I as a newborn had five heart attacks and was about to be 'switched off' but then made a full recovery. My grandmother often adds that she wishes she could get hold of the doctors involved today (literally get hold of them, as in scruff of the neck) and "show them what he's become" - although I am not sure what to make of that...

'Blue & White Sheep'

I spent most of my first 19 years getting into scrapes on the outskirts of the city, living in the Rivelin and Stannington areas, part working to middle class suburbia and part lush countryside. From an early age I pledged loyalty to Sheffield Wednesday FC (much to the dismay of my family who were at the time, all supporters of the 'other club' in Sheffield). This early rebellion was partly the result of growing up in a largely Sheffield Wednesday supporting part of town and the simple lure of the brightly lit, grandiose stadium (affectionately called 'The Old Lady') that I could see from various parts of the area we lived in - and from which you could sometimes hear a triumphant roar travelling miles up the Rivelin Valley. 


It was also a simple mistake, a case of blissful ignorance. I seem to remember (naively) wearing a red & white woolly hat as a 5 year old until I (even more naively) boldly proclaimed to my family one teatime, "I'm a Wednesdayite, just like you dad..." To which my father replied something along the lines of, "No I'm bloody not!" before calling to my mother in the kitchen, "Andrea, we've got a Wednesdayite in the house." In hindsight, it was probably not much different from the panicked declarations of 'plague!' that would have likely been heard amongst the residents of nearby Eyam in the 17th century as outsiders arrived on the horizon.

From there I quickly grew to realise that, in fact, two professional football teams exist in Sheffield, both steeped in folklore and both engaged in a tribalistic rivalry. I would have perhaps been persuaded to correct my error but nobody seemed to bother (they almost seemed happier to have a young Owl to spar with). So I became the proverbial black blue & white sheep.


The early nineties were a relative golden era for The Owls - with Big Ron Atkinson's team winning the League Cup (casually, yet very deliberately, declared to be a 'Mickey Mouse cup' by an uncle) and from there, taking on the big clubs in England with hard graft and stylish, flowing football. My dad, employed at the Town Hall and surely - as a diehard Blade - having a moment of extreme kindness or weakness, managed to sneak me into the the club's reception following their 1991 cup win and I vaguely remember shaking hands with the entire team, before standing with the players on the balcony waving to the celebrating masses below. For a very brief moment at school I moved from a kid on the fringes to classroom hero. Although rocking up to school in Hi-Tec trainers claiming they had 'air bubbles' just like the latest Nike or Reebok footwear quickly put me back in my place.

Unfortunately the dream more or less ended around 1993 time when we lost both the FA Cup and League Cup finals to Arsenal FC. By then Ron Atkinson had already left to manage Aston Villa FC and Trevor Francis, the footballing legend known as 'Tricky Trev' and first £1million player, had been put in charge. On Ron Atkinson's departure I felt genuinely angry and decided to show my outrage at his 'betrayal' by following a fan protest at Hillsborough I had seen reported on BBC Look North. I neatly penned an A4-sized 'Judas Atkinson' placard and taped it to the bedroom window (no doubt taken down by parents within the hour). My father, sensing my idealism, imparted some timely wisdom, "There's no point getting upset, managers and players come and go, there's not much loyalty these days." And he was right, the club appointed and sacked twelve different managers over the next twelve years - whilst the most successful clubs of this period, Manchester United FC and Arsenal FC, each stuck with one.

Despite the woes of Wednesday - and the seemingly constant frustration & humiliation as we made our steady way down the league and into crippling debt, I stuck to my guns (ignoring calls from the above mentioned uncle to switch sides) and have since found myself to be as independent-minded and idealistic on other issues.

'Inbetweener'

School days, like for many of similar age and background, didn't leave me academically inspired nor gifted and I left school simply looking for a job (Billy Casper, eat your heart out). I toyed with the idea of joining the RAF as a technician but my grades weren't good enough so instead I wrote to nearly every plumbing firm in the Sheffield phone directory to ask for an apprenticeship - I received just two letters back, one quick reply saying sorry no vacancies but well done for having the get up and go to write in, and another received weeks later offering me a job.

I started the apprenticeship with high hopes but found myself redundant within months as the plumbers grew impatient with my poor practical skills and the health & safety beaurocracy relating to employing cheap 16year olds. They decided it would be even cheaper, and a lot less hassle, to employ a casual labourer 'cash in hand' who could use the power tools without supervision and drive a van. So with a cheque for £60 (which included wages owed), a 'no hard feelings pal' leaving speech and a lift to the bus stop, I was sent on my way. On reflection, I guess this was a common tale of the British economy in the late 80s & 90s and a forerunner to the situation we now find ourselves in, especially in relation to our disconnected youth.

Luckily the abrupt end of my apprenticeship did not see me join the unemployed ranks for long. One of the 'perks' of fixing blocked toilets and climbing around dusty cellars looking for gas leaks in old terraced houses was meeting the students who lived in them. At school I literally had no knowledge or awareness of university, it hadn't even hit my radar, but seeing them 'hard at work' led to me eventually deciding that returning to study was a viable option, and an exciting one at that (after all, which teenage lad wouldn't want to share a house with a bunch of other teenage lads where all they seem to have to do all day is play Nintendo 64 and drink cheap lager?)

The spring of 1997 saw me enrol in college, and spend the remaining months before starting A-levels working in a newspaper warehouse with the promising job title of 'Junior Assistant Trainee Manager' - which basically translates as a job sweeping up and pulling 'exclusive free gifts' of unsold magazines for the lowest wage legally possible. Again perhaps an indication of where things have gone wrong in British society. Although luckily for me, a big motivator to aim higher.

With support from my family, I took arts subjects for A-Levels and on achieving surprisingly good results (given my GCSEs), made my way to the University of Liverpool studying for a degree in Politics & Communication Studies, followed by a masters in Twentieth Century History. Now when I look back at this sudden change of fortunes, I cannot help but see a degree of synchronicity at work - which, during tougher times, provides a healthy measure of hope to battle on with.


'Plastic Scouser'

From 1999 onwards, I spent 9 fun and nourishing years in Liverpool, with one year inbetween doing 7-hour weekly commutes to and from Norwich as I balanced training to be a teacher at the University of East Anglia with my life back 'home' on Merseyside.

Liverpool is in many ways everything it's known for - warm, gritty, quintessentially Northern English yet somehow set apart from its neighbours, rebellious, a faded former jewel of the British Empire, a city trying to catch up - having been neglected by central government for decades - whilst not trying not to lose its quirks and rough edges. In hindsight, I didn't give much considered thought to which university and city I was going to attend, moving to Liverpool happened last minute and seemingly by chance, yet it proved to be one of the best decisions I made.

Having been brought up attending Methodist and Anglican churches, my university years also proved formative in further shaping my faith / ethical perspective. I continued to find value in my Christian upbringing but as I became more academically-minded and inquisitive, I found myself increasingly at odds with the theological 'small print' of mainstream Christianity. As a reluctant dissenter, separation from my childhood churches was in many ways quite a disorientating and deflating experience but since around 2001 time, I have found renewal with the Unitarian & Free Christian church which has allowed me to explore faith in an open-minded way, a way that I need to remain a Christian. And despite often meandering into other communities (frequently the Quakers, recently the Progressive Christians, on occasion the Buddhists), this remains the denomination I continue to feel most affinity with - although recently more as a critical friend (small 'f', the Quakers haven't got me just yet!) than devoted convert. I credit Liverpool, with its non-conformist spirit, for much of this.

'Commuter-cum-Oxherder'

Quite suddenly in early 2008, having gradually waved goodbye to all of my university friends over the years as they moved to pastures new, I felt a 'calling' to return to Sheffield and events quickly conspired to take me there. Over the course of two years I reconnected with old school friends, spent precious time with family, returned to my old Muay Thai gym (which I had started attending at just 15, continuing the sport in Liverpool), and rekindled 'The Romance of the Wednesday' (probably the most troubled football club in England at this point).

For me, returning 'home' to Sheffield was not returning to comfort and familiarity. Instead it proved to be a new adventure, a new period of challenge and growth. In the decade I spent away, I had changed - and so had the people & places I had left behind. Sheffield has been described as a city that likes to periodically tear itself down and then rebuild again (note: George Orwell did NOT say this). It's an architect's dream and nightmare rolled into one - taking on their grandiose building ideas with missionary zeal - "This is the future, this will put Sheffield on the map!". Yet once they're built, deriding them and nicknaming them after food - "So wi got rid o' 'Wedding Cake' registry office an' replaced it wi' 'Cheese Grater' carpark! What a load of rubbish!".

I think this mirrors the mindset of its citizens - industrious, unsentimental, slightly adventurous, slightly bohemian, skeptical and hopeful at the same time, restless. A mindset that leads to us pioneering new things (inventing stainless steel & football are the ones most commonly cited, although there is a claim by my father that we in fact invented England, via King Ecgbert's Treaty of Dore) and then moving onto chasing the next big thing before we've taken any real credit or made any real money out of the previous one. I think, on reflection, returning to Sheffield and seeing it in this new light gave me an insight into how I approach life - the pluses and the minuses. Some people fly across the world to places like Goa in order to find themselves, donning a hemp robe and sitting patiently in meditation for months on end under the tutelage of the local Dalai, Ten Ox Herding Pictures clasped firmly in hand - whereas I did it walking past the Park Hill flats each morning on the way to work.


Although I had returned to Sheffield with a view to 'settling down', my stay there ended up being relatively brief. Events soon conspired once again to take me back over the Pennines - for love, and work. And since the summer of 2010 I have lived once again by the River Mersey, although this time putting down roots on a flood plain (sensible Sheffield mindset again, you see) between Manchester and Stockport - and for now at least, this has become 'home'.

(October 2010)