It's been a hell of a few years

Alex Bennett 27 August 2021

I haven’t blogged in ages. The reasons are numerous, I know no one really reads anything on here but at the time I did blog I found it somewhat cathartic to put some things out there. Mostly random ramblings but I want to get back into it now for the reasons same I did back in 2018, which seems decades away now.

Most people experienced a rough 2020, the pandemic, the crumbling social order, and all the unknowns that came with it. It was much the same for me, with the added stress of a terrible job move and some unfortunate news about my father.

Just before the pandemic I was in a rut at my job at Epiphany and wanted to change things up. I had two good interviews lined up, one with a company called Fablr, a very small development agency that later my brother would end up working for as head of operations. In hindsight I should have gone with them, they seemed awesome but pushy recruiters and slightly more money swayed me to join a larger team, weirdly in the same building in platform Leeds.

So I ended up taking a job at Zeal, this turned out to be a mistake - I was very quickly thrown into a project without full context and told the deadlines were unmoving and unshiftable and I would be writing a bit of software in Vue/Nuxt and Laravel microservices, the work itself seemed interesting enough had it not been for the fact they insisted I use an old project as a headstart on the new one, again without context or a design, just some doodles they called wireframes.

So off I went trying to please my new company working away on this project along with another new hire they had made (someone I’m still in touch with due to our fascination with all things space-related). Anyway, turns out the old project they had me boilerplate the new one from was an absolute shitshow. So two or three weeks in we had to scrap everything and start again - that’s when the pressure was turned up by management at Zeal and just about the time we all got sent to work from home due to Boris’ lockdown.

Now working from home is fine for me, in fact, I prefer it, but because the project wasn’t going well I ended up quickly working 100 hour weeks and sometimes having sleepless nights working on features to hit deadlines that hadn’t in any way shifted even with the issues I was very vocal about with the original codebase.

Fast-forward a couple of months and all semblance of the work-life balance I once enjoyed which includes how much I worked out at the time had gone, I was burnt out and ready to pack it all in. So eventually during a meeting with the owner of the company we mutually agreed to part ways, a day later I was employed as the sole developer of 43ClicksNorth, a Hull-based agency started up by an old colleague of mine. You have to see the bad to appreciate the good. And over a year later 43Clicks has been one of the best places I have ever worked. And as their sole developer, I’ve had pretty much the run of the department growing it from a small fry website service to now handling 6 figure website projects. I even managed to poach some clients from my old agency Epiphany in the process, I guess clients like people who can get the job done right!?

About 6 months into the role I hired another friend of mine to take on the .net side of the development, and we managed to build some pretty cool functionality into a pretty complex project (bespoke E-Com, because nothing out of the box works for currencies). Sadly he’s since been poached by the people who run the CMS we were using, but hey there are worse things than a colleague going to work for Umbraco HQ themselves. I can’t be mad, he turned down their offer first to come work with me and 43Clicks, and we did some great work together in that time, so ultimately the timing of him leaving to ascend to the Valhalla of Umbraco development was good. With the projects in hand and work quickly coming in we’re at a crossroads now where the teams are about to rapidly expand.

I’m finally in a position where I’m on the other side of the interview, albeit over hangouts since I’m in a fully remote role now. The experience of all this work-related nonsense has been stressful but I’ve grown as a person through it all, my skills have further developed in my vocation and I’ve even gained a whole mess of soft manager type skills, my current role is the Head of Development and I have to admit, I didn’t think I’d be in that position for some time so on the whole through the ups and downs it’s been a pretty good few years for my career.

It hasn’t however been a good year for my waistline, after all the hard work I put in over 2 years in the run-up to 2020 the lockdown and stresses lead to some bad habits returning and I gained a bunch of weight back. But that’s an easy fix, I did it once so I can do it again - and I am, I’ve lost a stone in the last 30 days with a couple more to lose to be back to where I was.

Lockdown really was bad for me, the routine I had before worked really well and it’s taken a lot for me to get back to a good routine. Unfortunately, the thing that’s really given me the kick to get back to things was that on July 16th, 2021 at 1 am with me holding his hand and telling him “everyone will be ok” my Dad died at Wakefield Hospice due to Covid delayed treatment for his cancer.

I had known about my Dad’s diagnosis since day one, back at the start of the pandemic. Fast-forward a year of family zoom quizzes and visits from across the garden while he stayed sheltered in place from his conservatory he finally got his surgery. But like many patients, the delay in his treatment probably contributed to cancer metastasizing in his brain. There was to be no coming back from that, and 3 months of daily hospice visitation ultimately lead to me being the chosen family member the night of his death to be the one to stay over. To be on hand to contact the others and to ensure he was not alone if he were to die, by this stage he had slipped into unconsciousness permanently due to the medication he was on, we knew it wasn’t going to be too long, but I think I drew the short straw having had a week of the whole family in his room waiting for the inevitable, his wife stayed with him the first night that he went downhill, I didn’t sleep much that night. I stayed with him the second night, thinking the family would all arrive again at 7 am and we would repeat the cycle, with my brother staying the next night, then my Dad’s best friend the night after.

But at 1 am, he started gasping for air just as I was preparing a bed on an old recliner the hospice had provided me. I buzzed the nurses, who throughout the whole ordeal of hospice treatment were a bastion of compassion and empathy. They were in the room instantly and told me that “this was it”, I had to start ringing the family, which I did. But by the time I had finished telling his wife to make her way down to the hospice, he had taken his last breath. I was broken.

I’m not one for public or often even private displays of emotion, but I was a wreck. No one tells you how exhausting losing a parent might be, but let me tell you, it really is. Emotional exhaustion beyond anything I had experienced.

Fast-forward again, the funeral looming, and I had to write his eulogy, a job I was dreading, and procrastination was a powerful foe.

In the end, though, I managed to write what I thought was appropriate, it was from me and my brother, it was how we best knew my Dad and how ultimately we will remember him. I made it through the whole thing at the funeral. It was a goal I’d set myself since his death, I wanted to do him proud. I still want to do him proud. This is what I ended up with:

Firstly, I’d like to thank everyone for coming. I know my Dad meant a lot of things to a lot of people.

He was a husband or a father, a grandfather, a brother, or a friend to many of you here.

Today I’d like to briefly speak about his relationship with me and my brother, because to us he was something else, beyond just being our father. He was in fact someone else. He was Palkan Grindolo.

For much of the last 2 decades my Dad had a virtual alter ego, he derived his name from stories he used to tell me and my brother as children, Palkan being a fabled magical pet rock.

We would spend hours in our virtual worlds together, whether it be EVE Online, World of Warcraft or some other game one of us had recommended to the others. In this capacity we spoke to not only each other but a myriad of other people from across the world on a nightly basis, forming good friendships along the way.

My Dad whilst playing as Palkan transcended your typical father and son relationship, it didn’t matter in the games we played that he was our Dad, we’d still tease him for his often noobish antics, especially considering he would be what we consider a veteran gamer.

I remember fondly one session online with at least 50 other people, my brother pointing out that our Dads full gamer name was accidentally an anagram for “Anal Poking Lord”. I also remember times as a kid when I’d captured or killed his character in our virtual worlds, him then yelling from the basement, some not very nice things in response.

I will miss logging on after work and finding out how his day was, hearing about what he was up to, and then jumping in to join him in whatever game he was playing. He was a friend to us, an ever-present companion my computer would gleefully inform me had just logged on. Now however it will always tell me that Palkan is offline and grimly remind me how long it’s been since he last logged in.

The games we play will be a constant reminder of the friend we have lost. A reminder of both the good times and adventures we had with him. He has been and will continue to be missed. But we have those memories, we have decades of time spent with him, hanging out in our mutual hobby, having fun, and enjoying each other’s company.

Many people in the gaming communities we played with used to comment on how novel it was that a father and his sons would play together so frequently if at all, to us though it was taken for granted.

He, like us, was always a big nerd when it came to video games and movies. I wouldn’t be quite the nerd I am today if not for his influence and for that I cannot thank him enough, I have modeled my whole career around the things he gave me and my interest in all things technological.

Sadly now, any excitement about future games will accompany a bittersweet thought and maybe a passing conversation between me and Chris about how much my Dad might have enjoyed it. We will miss our Dad, but we will also miss our friend. Thank you.

2020 was a horrible year for the world, and a horrible year for me personally. And in 2021 I lost my Dad. But things are settling down and I think I’m returning to a good place now, and I have some ambitious plans with my career and my personal development.

Beyond getting back into the shape I was at the peak of my fitness craze I want to start writing more, again more as a cathartic exercise for myself than anything. I was to learn some new skills and rebuild this old crappy website. I want to go on a holiday with my partner and my dog (I haven’t been on holiday in close to 5 years now, I think I need one). I was to hire a few new people into 43Clicks and keep those good times going and help grow the business more than I already have. But principally, I want to be happy again, because it’s been a long, stressful, and tiring few years.

As a side note, if you’re willing and able, please donate to Wakefield Hospice and help them provide the same level of care my father received, to other people. I’d want to be treated with the same level of respect and dignity in my final days as I’m sure we all would.

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