All change please!

All change please!

31st January 2022 0 By Allergendad


I’m not sure I’ve ever been particularly good at it.

I remember (or have reconstructed the memory from having it recounted to me) that we were meant to move house when I was little. In ways I can entirely relate to now, we had, then, outgrown our Victorian terrace home and needed something with more space. We weren’t moving far; it would still be able to visit the same friends, go to the same school and generally live the same life just in (hopefully) greater comfort. But I was devastated. Completely, hysterically, devastated. I simply couldn’t handle the unknowns created by such upheaval. I’ve grown older, hopefully wiser and certainly more practical to the benefits of change. But deep down, I’m still that 8 year old boy desperate to cling to how things are.

Interestingly, we never did move. I lived in that house for all of 17 years in the end. I don’t think it was just because of my resistance: I’m not sure how much of this is fact and how much is make-believe but I think the person my parents were trying to buy from was some sort of dodgy property tycoon who also owned some prime, but questionable, restaurants in the centre of Oxford. I even have in my mind that it was related to the Maxwells who had a big presence in Oxford (see current news stories regarding Ghislaine Maxwell). At some point I should find out whether I have remembered any of this correctly from ~30 years ago.

All that said, irrespective of my appetite and desire for change. I cannot deny that change is happening.

After just over 8 years, I closed out my chapter working for Centrica last Wednesday. I am technically (if not in the way the phrase is usually used) ‘between jobs’. It was very weird to leave the place I had worked for 8 years still in the throws of some sort of lockdown. There was no leaving party, no excruciating desk epitaph from a manager who has unsubtly invited various other teams to ‘hover’ at 5 past 3 for ‘a few words’, no real anything – if I’m honest. I said goodbye to a few people in person, handed in my laptop, and got into the getaway car with 2 children who were too busy listening to Paw Patrol to fully digest the momentous occasion they were witnessing. In truth, it was an odd end to what had been an odd final couple of years. The team that I worked for and with for the bulk of my time there was disbanded 2 years ago, meaning that I had already said goodbye to some of the people I’d worked most closely with and had shared the bulk of my anecdotal experiences with. That group included my best friend who I sorely miss working with and just seeing on a daily basis and who no new colleagues were likely to replace. Don’t get me wrong – it’s far from a sob story, I’ve made some good new friends and was lucky to keep my job at a time when many others were forced to look for new jobs; but it did mean I felt like I was the last one to leave the party in a way.

I start my new job this week and am simultaneously terrified and excited. It’s a great change to make a fresh start, establish some new routines, meet new people and, most importantly, learn new things. This is both exhilarating and scary. I have bought some new smart-ish clothes which I will inevitably wear for the first week before realising that I’m coming across as overly formal. I have a notebook and a new pen, charged headphones for the commute and all the fresh faced nervousness of someone ready for their first day. It’s quite a different work profile to anything I’ve done before and I’m intrigued to see how well I slot in. I will update more in due course, I’m sure. One thing that is worth noting though is that this job brings me back to Oxford. The city I grew up in but have rarely been back to since leaving for University.

Change is happening in other aspects of my life as well.

My daughter is already starting to wean on to food for the first time. She has been nibbling on vegetables with us at the table for a couple of weeks but in the last few days she seems to have become much more interested. She clearly took a shine to yesterdays mashed potatoes and looked at me with puppy dog eyes of appreciation for tonight’s dinner. The worst bit was the sheer pain in her eyes at watching the other 3 of us eating a pudding that she clearly couldn’t have – I’m honestly not sure she will ever forgive me. Mind you, she makes the same face when I drink a cup of tea that she’s not allowed to have, so I suspect it will be quickly forgotten.

Sleeping baby; grotty daddy.

We are once again doing baby-led weaning which means no flying aeroplane spoons or questionable purees combinations. She basically gets to eat what we eat (with some dietary and safety limitations) as well as she can with the motor skills that she has. It’s messy, it’s slow, but it’s very empowering. We seem to have passed the hurdle of some of the main allergens without any problems but we haven’t yet tried her on cow’s milk or soya which will be wary steps for us. I need to read more about it but it’s interesting to realise that we probably need to semi-regularly give her all of the allergens in this 6-12 month period to build up her ability to digest them – as long as she’s not already allergic.

The other change is much more about me: as (tragically) is my want, I seem to fall in and out of hobbies or areas of enthusiasm more quickly than I can comfortably admit to. Some of these have stayed over the years: running, this blog (give or take), playing music etc… While others have burnt bright and fast but just aren’t high on the current list: amateur dramatics, podcasts, recording music, cocktail making, gardening etc… To be fair, a lot of these are things that just become incompatible with parenting small children. But some (music recording, for example) are pursuits that I can spend significant lumps of money on only to fall away from months later. This is not a new thing – my parents were far from delighted when I had a short but intense period of wanting to play the saxophone as a child; very much flaunting the ‘we will support you learning any instrument’ mantra of my parents. That said, my latest hobby – as feels very natural as the father to two children under 6 – is coffee.


Now as I have found out over the last few weeks of Youtube videos and Facebook groups etc: coffee can be quite the rabbit hole of a hobby. I have sunk many hours into the wisdom of a guy called James Hoffmann (website) who seems to single handedly be behind much of the international ‘third wave’ of coffee appreciation. For reasons I can’t entirely explain, I find his videos soothing but also fascinating. My wife, on the other hand, calls him Gareth Malone (because he looks like the guy who runs community choirs). I also have had my mind opened (unhelpfully) by the home espresso bar setups of people who are very serious about this kind of coffee obsession. In truth, I have a funny relationship with coffee: I have gone multiple years without touching the stuff and cannot claim to have a particularly sophisticated pallet. I also have never quite worked out what it is that I like. Sometimes a strong coffee can taste like nectar to me, other times it is rank and undrinkable, but I’ve never known what’s behind this. I have made espressos at home for many years but never with a huge degree of skill. We’ve had the same cheap espresso machine for about 12 years and my wife bought me an electric coffee grinder a few years ago to help me try and up my game.

On the other hand, I’m still not entirely sure I like what coffee – or more accurately, caffeine – does to me. I think I have a fairly low tolerance with it making me feel jittery and flustered after sometimes only 1 or 2. I also think it has a huge impact on my ability to sleep if I drink any after 11am (yes, AM!). It wrecks my Circadian rhythms for that night. I also find that I can become very addicted (I may not be using this word entirely correctly here). I’ve certainly had withdrawal problems when dropping from even 1 a day and found that I become extraordinarily tired in the afternoons on the days when I don’t drink. In particular driving in the evenings can be very difficult and I’ve found myself in the Catch 22 of feeling like I couldn’t possibly drive without additional coffee but clearly unable to sleep as a result.

Despite all that, I have found myself enjoying coffee a lot more recently and have been learning both the art of making coffee and understanding how it does and doesn’t work for me. I bought some fancy freshly roasted coffee beans for espresso for my birthday and have very much enjoyed the process of trying to ‘dial them in’ to my espresso machine. This has meant purchasing a small set of coffee bean scales, playing around with the grind setting, adjusting the dose and, ultimately, trying to pull a shot in the optimum time window. Ideally trying to aim for a 1:2 ratio of coffee beans in to coffee liquid out across ~30 seconds. This has very much been trial by error with some distinctly better coffee than I’d managed before but with a much wider margin of error.

Different settings

My bubble was burst somewhat though by the realisation that the coffee baskets I’ve been using to hold the ground coffee are ‘pressurised’ and therefore I am in much less control than I had led myself to believe – and would probably explain why adjusting the grind level has not been resulting the outcomes I would have expected. I have ordered a new ‘single wall’ (i.e. non pressurised) basket for my machine which should arrive tomorrow but I fear this will open the whole ‘cheap grinders can’t do espresso’, ‘temperature stability is important’, ‘a 12 year old cheap espresso machine will never make good coffee’, series of arguments that I’ve now seen so often on discussion forums (and for which the only answer is to spend extortionate amounts of money in the pursuit of perfection).

My (unbeknown to me) pressurised espresso basket

I am very wary of going down that pathway and then in 6 months deciding to take another long-term break from coffee or simply losing interest. But I am very interested in being able to make good coffee repeatedly. There are several people in this house who enjoy a variety of steamed milk drinks that means that there is subtle enthusiasm to push me towards being able to make better drinks for all. Let see what tomorrow’s non pressurised basket brings.

The last area of anticipated change is around moving house. I’ve mentioned this before and we are not much further through the process: the house needs some improvements and general decluttering that we are working through before the house is ready to be put on the market. But it is both terrifying and exciting to look for the kind of house we might move into next and trying to prioritise what we need for the next stage of family life. We simply can’t afford to go for the ‘all boxes ticked’ home, so we’re debating how important the location is compared to the better specifications of one further out and how to chose.

I’m excited to have a blank canvas to start again from though, and clearing out this house teaches me so much about the (bad) habits that we’ve developed. We have FAR too much stuff in this home currently and have to be so ruthless to make it presentable. I’m very keen to make sure that we learn from this to avoid the next home getting to the same state. But there are also aspects of our lives that I understand so much more now and can plan for better when we look for the next home. For example, I spend so much of my time in the kitchen that this needs to be a room that is open to the family in order for me to not end up ostracised. But on the other side, having somewhere away from the flurry of activity of the kitchen and any connected family room is also important. Our house currently is set up exactly the other way round. The kitchen is a small closed off room and then everything else happens in our (overflowing) sitting/dining room. I’m very excited to see how family life at home could change if we could get some of these things right.

In amongst all this change, one constant has kept me sane and focused. I have really enjoyed my running, particularly over the start of the year when it was really crisp and cold. I did at one point think about setting myself the target of running either 100km or 50 miles across the month but I either over did it or just got struck down by a cold by coincidence as the second half of the month was spent feeling pretty poorly and certainly unable to run. I did manage to get some lovely photographs at the start of the month though:

With this week being Chinese New Year, it seems like possibly a good time for all this change. We’re planning to have a celebration meal tonight. Here’s to the year of the Tiger! May it be full of new experiences, contentedly fed children and excellent coffee. What more could you possibly wish for?

Toodlepips x

Piglet: “What will 2022 hold for us?”
Pooh: “We never really know, Piglet, that’s what makes it so exciting!”
Piglet: “Will I still get to play Paw Patrol?”
Pooh: “Always, Piglet. Always.”