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About Me

The rambly, Grandpa Simpson version.

The engineering degree course at University College Dublin had a language requirement, which I chose to fulfil by taking Russian. For two years, Colonel Martin Bates of the Irish Army taught us just enough Russian to translate Soviet engineering papers. It was a skill I was never to call upon, not least because the USSR had itself disappeared by the time I graduated.

A smattering of the language came in handy a few years later though, when I crossed Russia by train, returning from a 3-year stint working on the telephone networks of Japan and China. I'd written quite a few recommendation letters for Chinese colleagues applying to US colleges which put the idea in my own head to apply for a masters degree in engineering at Stanford.

The second time I studied Russian was at Stanford, with Professor Richard Schupbach of the Slavic Department. It wasn't a required module for the masters but graduation was approaching and I was planning an overland trip along the old Silk Road through countries of the former Soviet Union such as Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Once again, the global political landscape shifted underfoot. I had only managed to get as far as Iran when 9/11 happened and it seemed wise to avoid Central Asia for a while. The three weeks I spent in Iran were richer in political, historical and cultural wonders than any other travel I've undertaken, but my Silk Road odyssey remains a dream to this day.

I returned to Dublin, to a tech sector suffering from the dotcom crash of 2001. Engineering jobs having dried up, I became a software developer, writing web-based applications for Irish companies that eventually got acquired by multinational companies.

I've been programming since I was 10 or 11 years old, long before I exploited it to earn a buck. One day, I remembered that and realised I could give up programming as a job while continuing to enjoy it as a pure expression of creativity.

So I started distilling gin. It is, on the face of it, a wild career swerve, but perhaps the seeds were always there...

electronic engineer

In ways, though, a change was inevitable. Stanford and Silicon Valley's cult of entrepreneurism had long ago planted the desire to start my own business.

I also wanted to incorporate some of my wider interests and experiences into my work. For example, my years in Canton and interest in historical trade links between China and Europe provided the inspiration for the brand and gin recipe. It was wonderful to have a reason to revisit Canton after an absence of almost 20 years and see the immense changes wrought there.

(In the unlikely event that someone thinks this About Page tragically brief, I've linked to various media pieces and interviews below which wallow in this portion of my tale at far greater length[1].)

Starting a product business was a great education in branding, design, marketing, sales, production, logistics and all the other disciplines of business. I enjoy a good challenge, learning new things, solving problems, optimising processes. Above all, it is a chance to take responsibility for all of the decisions that ultimately contribute to the success or failure of a venture.

My third attempt to learn Russian is ongoing, and this time it is under the most demanding and unavoidable of teachers: my wife, Olia. It’s 3,000km from Dublin to Moscow. It’s a further 6,000km to Olia’s home town in Russia’s Far East. Russia is a big country. I have a lot of exploring to do.

[1]Interview, Hello China, Dublin City FM, 4 Feb 2020.
This Wonderful Little Place, The Gloss magazine, June 2019.
From Dublin to Canton and Back,, 30 Nov 2018.