“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”. So said Winston Churchill in November 1942.
25,000 miles was supposed to be the end but it wasn’t, possibly because the original objective was ambiguous: One man, four years, 25,000 miles. It took me a while to realise that the goal could be interpreted multiple ways but the backstop was that it would end on my retirement day. That was today: except it wasn’t.
SPX robbed me of my proper retirement when some faceless corporate accountant in America deleted my career on this day in 2016. Rounding up the troops to go out on the lash two years down the road doesn’t quite have the same ring about it because we’ve all moved on, but I suppose they did save me the ordeal of having to make a speech in front of lots of people: I’ve been at a few of those and you always wonder how the retiree fared in the following weeks, months and years. I’ve long believed that the key to avoiding a sad decline is to keep yourself busy, both mentally and physically. So I’m just gonna carry on as normal, albeit that I might cut my working hours back to thirty, the same number of miles that I do on the bike every day.
There are things that I want to do when I finally give up paid work, but as most of them involve programming, the only difference will be in the bank balance: the inspiration to develop new stuff is still there, as strong as ever.
But I definitely feel a bit different tonight. For near on fifty years, my life has revolved, through no fault of its own, around daft wee endurance events. I was 19 when I went back to my old school and borrowed the grass athletics track for half a day in order to run 71 laps to raise money for Oxfam. I was 30 when I ran my first 24 hour race: ironically, I ran the first 71 miles of that before something went bang inside my knee, causing it to lock at 120 degrees: not to worry, I managed another 31 miles with it like that and bagged a ton on debut. At 40, I cycled from Manchester to Glasgow (237 miles) in a day for Action Research, then at 50 I started the Caley Thistle Highland March. At 54 I walked the West Highland Way end to end in 31 hours then for my 60th I became the first person to cycle round the entire Whitelee Windfarm in a day: that’s a hundred miles with 9,000ft of climbing, all of it offroad. That was two months before I started LCFN and the rest is history.
It’s been some innings when I look back: I didn’t reach 5ft until I was 15 so although I loved football as a kid, I was really too small to be any good. It was always the same with running, although my excuse at Bishop Vesey was that they had exceptional cross country teams and I just couldn’t get a look in: until my very last year at school when I sneaked into the senior 2nd team and we went on to win the West Midlands League. I loved cross country with a passion, something I took into my adult running career after I moved to Scotland. But there’s a tale to tell there too: in late 1976, while running in Sutton Park, I turned my ankle in the snow and the ensuing damage, layoffs and aborted comebacks ended up with me under the surgeon’s knife at the Royal Infirmary in Glasgow three years later: the verdict was a forced retirement.
For the next few years, I played backgammon as a substitute passion. I got to a British semi final in the early 80’s and even though I don’t play much these days, it remains my favourite board game. I love the challenge of numbers.
By 1983 I had itchy feet and with the marathon boom taking hold, I decided to give running another go: it wasn’t that I was banned, I was just advised not to do it. I ran a few cross country races as an unattached runner and did okay, but more importantly, I felt no reaction to the old war wound. So I joined Cumbernauld Athletics Club, where I was living (in the Village) at the time and had some of the best years of my life. I lived for running, and learning about the theory behind sports performance. I bought a book, The Teenage Runner, written by Bruce Tulloh, and every one of the kids that I worked with in that mid 80’s period benefitted from his work.
I bought my first computer in 1987, an Alan Sugar designed Amstrad 1512. It was on the 1512 that I began work on PB2000, the sports coaching portal that I developed on the back of my research. I sold a couple of copies of PB2000 to American universities, and even formed a marketing partnership with a company in Paris, but the reality was that in the late 80’s the world wasn’t ready for personalised coaching. I was working at the Daily Record in Glasgow at the time, where I designed their advertising system, and someone there suggested that I enter my software in the Scottish Invention of the Year Awards. PB2000 made the final, albeit that it didn’t win: alas that’s the way it turned out for me too because PB2000 cost me a marriage and when Windows came around, followed by the internet, I was already burnt out. I quit athletics altogether, having been a 31 minute 10K runner at my peak, and went in search of new things to do: that was when I met Jane and we started following Inverness Caledonian Thistle (or plain Caledonian Thistle as they were back then).
All the way through the 90’s, I was messing with Oracle databases in my day job, the pinnacle of which came about in 2000 when I was asked to head up a team to design a system that would enable Weir Pumps to sell its configured products over the internet. In 2001, I wrote my first business rule engine: in 2003, I was invited to showcase our work at the European Business Rule Conference: we led the world at the time but subsequent under investment proved ultimately to be our downfall, but not before my rule engine had fully automated the production process from sales quotation through ordering to manufacture and despatch. That ground breaking system was binned when Jim McColl bought the business ten years ago and it’s fair to say that a little bit of me died along with it. With that project went my passion, once again my spirit burnt out.
Cue March 2016 and my redundancy from SPX. I started working for myself the very next day, developing software that screens for, and audits disease: you can take the boy out of the industry but you can never take the knowledge and experience out of the boy. Suddenly everything that I’d developed in those preceding fifteen years became relevant: I designed a business rule engine in Excel, extended it a couple of times in order to offer dynamic picklists in real time, and suddenly the passion was back in the fast lane. It’s probably no coincidence that the upsurge in LCFN miles these last six months have coincided with the worst winter we’ve experienced in many a long day, and the most creative period in my entire professional career. Tomorrow I should be drawing my pension but I’ve parked it in order to carry on working on the development of a rule driven virtual primary care (general practice) application that enables clinicians to hone their skills in searching for disease.
Right now I don’t know where this journey will end, nor do I know when: all I know is that it won’t be tomorrow, it won’t be next week and hopefully it won’t be anytime soon: there’s too much productive fun to be had, and that feeds directly into LCFN.
This has been an absolutely shit winter, by far the longest, coldest and most inclement since LCFN started. But tomorrow I will knock off the 13th consecutive 200 mile week. I did briefly consider trying for a sixth 250 but having established a fifth last week, I decided, just this once, to listen to my body, which has been creaking for some time. I’ll be happy to take a 230 and stick two fingers up to the so-called mini beast fae the east: but at the back of my mind I’m still thinking yeah, but you do only need eighty by Sunday for another one: quiet at the back!
I have lived my whole life not giving up. I apologise retrospectively if I’ve left a few folk at the side of the road while I went for the impossible but I guess after 65 years, that’s me, and I dare say I won’t be for changing anytime soon. Tuck yersel’ in and enjoy the ride, because from now until I lose my marbles, I suspect you’re gonna witness a whole load more of the same…