Going Solo 15. 1857

“Let’s call it 1857.”
So ended a conversation and began a podcast. I can’t reveal the detail of the conversation, as the origin of the title is a closely-guarded secret.

Origin

TJ was a friend of pocketnotebooks.co.uk and when I took it over, I got in touch with him. We agreed that he would shoot some brief videos on a variety of notebook brands. The videos can still be found on the pocketnotebooks You Tube channel. I learned that commissioning video is too expensive a method of marketing notebooks, but I gained a relationship with a kindred spirit.
One thing led to another and TJ and I recorded a trial run of a podcast. We borrowed heavily from the Erasable Podcast, Pen Addict and RSVP, our favourite stationery themed shows. A standard format emerged, and we used the structure to facilitate a weekly conversation.
That’s all it is really. A conversation. TJ and I are a generation apart. I was 21 when TJ came into the world and this becomes prominent when making references, particularly to popular culture.

Future

Might 1857 become a commercial project? It might. The production costs of the show are met by listener’s donations, merchandise purchase and underwritten by Nero’s Notes. There is a marketing benefit to Nero’s, but it’s difficult to quantify.
Producing 1857 is a channel for our creativity and a communication medium with customers. We have a Slack channel for listeners, and talking to them there is one of the few places where I talk directly with customers. It’s also a lot of fun.
To date, TJ & I have been disciplined. We record once a week and release once a week, so far, without exception. We pre-record episodes to cover vacations, maintaining an unbroken sequence of weekly releases that is approaching 90, as I type.

Value

I enjoy the anchor that a regular schedule provides in my week. The discipline of researching, recording and releasing is good practice and I’ll be honest, I really look forward to my weekly conversation with TJ.
We have only actually met once, when Mags and I flew to Belfast for a weekend, where TJ and Meg showed us the town. Naturally, we recorded a show – which you can find here.

Members 40. Returned from El Camino

I am returned from the camino. This will be the last post on it, until we get to camino V, next year. I promise.
I write the last post before I went. How did reality match up to my expectation?

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Living the Dream – 65. Autumn

Autumn is here. Meteorologists are in Autumn from September 1st. Some people look for the leaves to change colour on the trees. My Autumn begins when I return from the camino.

September is often still hot, but gets cooler as the month goes on. October is still dry and warm, and makes for a good time to visit the island, as it is not too sweaty.

Late September will also mark the anniversary of our arrival here and the inevitable review that this will prompt.

Changes

I’m determined to get back into exercise. Some pounds came off walking in Spain, and there’s plenty of room for more to come off. With the heat abated, I’ll walk around the golf course, go hiking at the weekend, and hopefully introduce a daily walk to my routine. Swimming will be more focused and deliberate, rather than a strategy to cool off.

A year of BBQ and Keo beer has been fun, and I carry the weighty evidence around my waist. Time to swap (some) beer for water and (some) BBQ for salad.

We have friends coming for a fortnight in September, and another set in October. In between, I’m back in the UK for both my consulting business and the notebook one. I will need to balance having fun with them and getting all my work done.

Projects

The tree surgeon is coming back to tame our fig tree. It’s enormous! During August, it produced thousands of sweet succulent figs, feeding lots of people and even Spice, who is quite partial to a fig or two for breakfast. Once the fruit is gone, he’ll cut it back to keep it manageable.

If summer is somnolent, Autumn is awakening. The weather is less oppressive, so it’s the time to get stuff done around the house and in the garden. Mrs L and I have a list of projects to get done.

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Going Solo 14. Loggedoff Ltd.

Loggedoff Ltd was born in 2017. My wife, Margaret, observed that “Stuart Lennon, Writer” was messing up the house, eating too much, drinking too much and not exercising enough. James and I had examined hundreds of businesses for sale, but not found one that enthused us both. I started to canvas clients for Lime, and then stumbled across another opportunity.

Pocketnotebooks.co.uk was a website that sold Field Notes and a few other brands of pocket notebook. It was a side project of two guys up in Newcastle. It was clear from their blog that the site was at a crossroads. One thing led to another, and I gave the guys some cash for the name and the stock, and became an internet retailer.

Mistakes

I ignored almost all of the advice that I have given you in this series. I spent too much, too quickly and have spent the last 12 months focused on slimming the cost-base of the business, putting it into a position to become cash generative. The site is now branded as Nero’s Notes, named after our beloved miniature schnauzer, whom we lost last year.

The business remains based in the UK, even though I am now in Cyprus. Clare runs the physical side of the business from a small office in Amesbury, and I fulfil the virtual tasks from my home office beneath the house here.

I’m still too close to the fridge, and there’s a temptation to forego exercise entirely – but that is all about self-discipline. Margaret has observed that my waistline is growing again. This has led me to consider how I look at my various projects.

Realisation

I’m lucky in that I have Lime, SL.com and Nero’s Notes. I am my own boss, and can sneak off to play golf whenever I want. However, I have allowed lines to blur. If there is something organised – then I’m doing that, at any other time, I’m working. If I am not working, then I am feeling guilty about not working. So I exercise less, eat more (comfort-eating) and drink more (escapism).

It is only by writing the paragraph above that I have come to understand the paragraph above. I have had an epiphany. Once I have finished this post, I am going to think about and establish some boundaries for Loggedoff Ltd, for Lime and for this blog. Me being me, I’ll work this out on paper, in my bullet journal.

Lesson

The lesson here is that we must keep an eye on ourselves. It’s too easy to fall into a trap of doing more and more, without focusing on doing the right things.

Next week 1857.

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Members 39. Camino Peace

My annual Camino has become my favourite week of the year. Although the route is a pilgrimage, I’m not a pilgrim. I am not a man of faith, nor am I a strident atheist.

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Living the Dream – 64. Camino IV Part II

Camino IV Part II is brought to you by the magic of the internet. This post, and every post this week, has published while I am walking in Northern Spain.

Last Walking Day

Today, Friday, is our last walking day on this trip. If everything has gone to plan, then we awoke this morning in Herreriás, our last stop in the Province of Castille y Léon. Dinner was at 2,100 feet above sea-level. Desayuno Dos (Breakfast 2, taken after a couple of hours walking) will be at close to 4,000 ft above sea-level. Not our highest ascent on this trip, but probably the steepest climb.

As we lean into the hill and trudge up, we will cross into Galicia, the last province of Spain on the Camino. Galicia is fertile and verdant. Put another way, it is the wettest place in Europe. Must be a reasonable chance it will rain on us. Breakfast 2 will be taken at O’Cebreiro, from where Triacastela, our end point for this year, is a gentle 4 or 5 hours away.

Mechanised Again

At Triacastela, we’ll get a bus or a cab to Sarria, where we have a hotel booked. Sarria has direct transport links to Santiago, from whence we fly home. So, getting there at the end of Friday makes for a much less stressful Saturday, when we can get a morning train to Santiago and spend a couple of hours in the city before heading to the airport.

Santiago de Compostella

I suspect those few hours in Santiago will be odd. All the other pilgrims will be elated – they have finished. Stu and I will undoubtedly feel slightly fraudulent, being 83 miles short. Still, I’m sure we will identify where we might have our celebratory dinner next year.

Camino V

2020, we will resume our pilgrimage from Triacastela, and complete the 500 miles from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela.

The days after a camino are a bit sad. I feel tired, and in my case, want sleep and carbohydrates in equal part. The mind feels refreshed from the meditative nature of the endeavour but simultaneously shocked by the re-immersion into the modern world. I’m glad to be back at home with Margaret and Spice, but a pert of me  A part of me wants to go to bed early, rise early, and lace up my shoes for another long walk.

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Going Solo 13. Paperback writer

I’ll become a paperback writer.

We had sold MTI and I took some time to decompress.

Since childhood, I had nurtured the idea that I was meant to be an author.

If not now, then when?

I set about converting a corner of the living room to my writer’s den, I bought an iMac and every book on writing that I could lay my hands on. I began following writers, both established, and aspiring, on Twitter.

It occurred to me that some point, I ought to write something. But what? It wasn’t as though I had a specific story in me, straining to burst from my chest.

I started this blog to chart the progress of the novel, of my becoming a paperback writer.

I thought I might write about my time in Central Europe. So, I bought Scrivener.

Nothing happened.

Well, not nothing exactly. I spent a lot of time on the internet and in the fridge. Then, I discovered NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month. Check out the website, but the concept is pretty simple. Write 50,000 words during the calendar month of November. So I did. It was all going so well, I wrote drafts for two novels. Around 90,000 words. Then I realised a few things.

1. A novel is a novel, a memoir is a memoir. My “novel” was more of a memoir and was interesting to me, but not to anyone else.
2. A first draft is a milestone, but it is a long way from a destination.
3. Writing fast for a thing like NaNoWriMo without a clear plan and outline produces a lot of words, just not necessarily in the right order.

The novel is not yet on the shelves, but it’s getting there. Words on this blog, added up would be pretty close to novel length too.

There is a membership option on the site, which grants access to members-only posts and electronic copies of any work that I publish in the year. Almost pre-sales of the novel, if you like.

Next week, Loggedoff Ltd.

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Members 38. 10. Wild East. Hungary

Hungary is my favourite place. My time living there was alternated with the Czech Republic and the two places are permanently linked for me. I forever compare them.

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Living the Dream – 63. Camino IV

Camino IV begins the day after this post publishes. I’m off to Northern Spain again.

Route

Over six days, I will walk 109.5 miles (176.2 Km). This is Camino IV of V, and next year we have 83 miles left of the 500 mile pilgrimage that we began in Southern France at St Jean Pied de Port.

I wrote last week about the complexity of getting to this year’s start point, but once there, things get really simple, really fast.

Simplicity

The Camino Francés is marked out by scallop shells and yellow arrows. Sometimes on the street, some times on signs or even just painted onto trees. It’s perfectly possible to complete the camino without ever looking at a map. You just follow the yellow arrows.

Pilgrims stay in Albergués (hostels) or hotels. There are thousands of them along the route. Many pilgrims walk until they are tired, stop and rest for the night. Others, all buy the same guide book, and replicate the walks and stops made in the book (this leads to bottlenecks in the featured stops and empty beds in all the other possiblities). Now, as seasoned pilgrims, we know our distances and we pre-book rooms, off the featured list.

Most of Saturday will be spent getting to our hotel. Stu, my friend, and I will have supper and catch up over too much wine. The night will end early though, the threat of a 20 mile walk in the morning sending us to bed. On Sunday we rise, pack leave the hotel and follow the yellow arrows.

Daily Routine

If things go as they usually do, then Sunday will work as follows.

Leave the hotel around 7am after a coffee and croissant. We will walk from the centre of the city to the outskirts as the sun rises. It’s early Sunday in Spain, there will be nobody but pilgrims up and about. Around 9, we will reach La Virgen del Camino (Pop. 3,100) where Stu will have Desayuno Dos (Breakfast #2). We will strike on, having naturally moved from warm-up speed to cruising-speed. 3 hours or so will take us to Villadangos del Paramo. This is a “stop” in the most popular guidebook, so many pilgrims will be rushing here to try to get a bed in the “best” hostel. We will stop for lunch – probably a sandwich and a cold beer with our shoes and socks off.

Rested, we will set off for a destination, Hospital de Orbigo, which is another couple of hours up the road. All things being equal, we will arrive at our hotel at 3, 4 o’clock. We’ll check in, shower, change and get our dirty clothes washed and dried (or hung up). Then, to a bar with a decent terrace, phone home, write our journals and reflect on a good day. We’ll find dinner, laugh and joke with some fellow pilgrims and then hit the sack.

The next five days will follow the same pattern. Simple.

Packing

Now that we have settled into this routine, packing is easy for Camino IV. In the morning, I am wearing boxers, socks, shorts and a t shirt. I have a warm layer and a waterproof if I need them. In my bag, there’s another set of boxers and socks, some lightweight jogging pants, and another t shirt. Flip flops, some wash kit, first aid kit, charging leads for watch and phone, journal kit and guide book. That’s pretty much it.

The joy of the camino is its simplicity.

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Going Solo. 12. MTI

MTI stood for Money Transfer International (UK) Ltd. It was a placeholder while we were writing the business plan. We forgot to change it.

Cyprus

As Lime, I was consulting to a Cypriot group that was the MoneyGram super-agent in Cyprus. I had managed a super-agent in Central Europe for the market-leader in money transfer, Western Union.

It became apparent to me that Moneygram was mounting a challenge to Western Union and that there might be opportunity beyond Cyprus. I discussed this with my friend and ex-colleague, James. Together we approached MoneyGram in the headquarters of their European operations, in London.

Long story short, Moneygram appointed MTI as a super-agent for the UK. MTI consisted of James and I, a few silent shareholders and a business plan. We took an office in London (I phoned my now-wife and asked her if she could find me a flat as I was moving to the UK in ten days) and bought ourselves laptops.

London

James and I built MTI from the ground up. We were Sales, Marketing, Compliance, Finance and Admin, as well as anything else that needed doing.

It was our ambition to be debt-free. James has a cost-control instinct that borders on ruthlessness, and it served us well. We under-estimated how long it would take the company to become generative, so after two months, we halved our salaries.

Simplicity

Our competitors completed detailed thorough research on how best to recruit retailers.

We recruited retailers.

Competitors recruited debt collectors and lawyers to reduce bad debt.

We escorted bad debts to their banks and took our money there and then.

Success

We met some dodgy people, we met some wonderful people. We worked very long hours, long days and weeks. The business made us laugh and cry, sometimes in the same day. We fought like cat and dog at times, but allied, we were an irresistable force.

For 10 years we worked and built a significant multi-national company that kept us well. The time came when we foresaw that our interests were diverging from those of our principal, MoneyGram, and we agreed to sell to them.

We both went to lie down in a dark room for a while.

Then, I decided to write for a living…

Next week, Paperback writer.

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