Weeknotes 2020 #8: cover versions

Weeknotes

Dinner is quietly cooking away downstairs, the last virtual Pink Singers rehearsal of the season is done (a day after our would-be concert at Cadogan Hall, which was of course cancelled). Summer flirts outside, tantalisingly. Life continues inside. A set of completely unrelated paragraphs:

Three virtual choir recordings have taken place under this roof since lockdown started. One a bit of fun with the Barberfellas putting a new covid-spin on Go The Distance.

The second, also Barberfellas (and which I sound-edited in a day after a 60 hour week): a socially-distant recording of U2’s MLK as a bed under a poem by the talented Andreena Leeane to reflect on systemic racism in the UK.

The third is Pink Singers and comes out on Wednesday: it is a beautiful cover version of Fix You and, as usual, has surpassed my expectations of what a group of queers who like to sing every Sunday can do when they get themselves together.

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I’ve been trying to deepen my understanding of service design. At work, I am presently occupied with (to force a metaphor) the rapid stitching together of a quilt made out of very different pre-purchased parts – as quickly as possible before the weather gets cold. For what it’s worth, I’m proud of what the team I’m working on is doing: it’s really reducing the impact of coronavirus on a large swathe of the population. When making services and products in a hurry, we make do with what we’re given. But there are definitely simple ways to create services in response to a crisis (as Lou Downe explains). On my programme, the sewing is mostly done, so we do what we can. But never forget to reflect.

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[Ooh, so cryptic]

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I was re-reminded of the best tweet I have seen of late:

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Muzzle app, which pauses notifications while screen sharing, has saved me from Slack notification blunders aplenty since I installed it. And it has the best marketing website I’ve ever seen, ever.

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I was sent a Covid-19 test through the post as part of the Imperial College / Ipsos Mori study, and I carried out my duty dutifully. I’m virtually positive I don’t have it, but strongly suspect I have had it, so an antibody test would have been more personally interesting. But still, it’s good to provide a data point. And although the test itself is reasonably unpleasant, the instructions were reasonable (if lengthy), and included a Jamie-oliver style video.

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I’m taking a week off next week – the first since January. I can positively smell the pages of the real, physical books I am absolutely intending to read. Oh and a lot of cycling. Yes please. Basically: I need a really huge screen break, and ideally some very safe, small meetups with lovely people.

Weeknotes 2020 #7: resumption

Weeknotes

Well, things got wild there for a bit. A summary:

🚲 I rapidly realised that working round the clock from home, with abundance of crisps to hand, was going to result in some serious weight gain. So I got on my bike, and rediscovered London a bit. Since April I’ve been aiming to cycle at least 60km a week but, without really meaning to, have ended up travelling about 100km. Hardly Boardman, but I’m enjoying the escape from domesticity and discovering a city I thought I knew, but didn’t. And it seemingly works: fitbit scale says I’ve dropped 6% body fat in a couple of months.

☎️ The internet got an upgrade with a 5G hub from Three to cope with the unrelenting video calls. It’s got unlimited data and 100Mbps of pipe-wang. This is a big improvement as there’s (still) no prospect of fibre in our street. Still only 3Mbps up, though – which is rubbish, and I suspect, being throttled. But it’s £34/month and I’ll take it until something better gets dug into the road.

🗂 The work diary continues to be entirely full, which I’m grateful for, but a break is sorely needed. Hoping for that in July, to keep up with the giant pile of books I’m amassing to help me understand the history of the black community in the UK. I’ve nearly finished listening to Reni Eddo-Lodge‘s book and there are plenty more to come.

🌸 Gardening mate. I’m trying to do ten minutes of looking at flowers for every sixty of looking at zoom. It works!

🏳️‍🌈 Should have been at Glastonbury / Pride in London this weekend. Instead of pounding the streets or fields in brightest colours, we installed a new bin under the sink. Literally rubbish. On the plus side, there was rhubarb flavoured cider.

📺 So much great watching, at the moment. Tunes for Tyrants was a fascinating if slightly anglo-german-obsessed look at musical pomp and (tragic) circumstance; National Theatre at Home has had two towering productions on in two weeks: Small Island, and a v queer version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (til Wednesday); I May Destroy You which is basically required (if painful) viewing for everyone [although not, as we rapidly discovered, suitable for watching with mother]

🖼 Photopea does everything that photoshop does in a browser and it’s great. I am still benefitting from student discount on adobe products but once this runs out I won’t be able to justify the cost, so tools like this are welcome.

🦠 Obviously the backdrop is this little blighter, turning everything upside down. I’m starting to think, without paralysis, of what kinds of world we may have after the crisis, and what that means for life and plans. Nothing firm yet, but allowing the thought process is a start.

And now some pictures from cycles around the city.

Weeknotes 2020 #6: the evolution of lockdown man

Weeknotes

This week I have mostly been in zoom.

Otherwise, I have been evolving through the stages of lockdown like a basic middle-class London gay, it seems.

The stages as I understand them:

Stage 1: bring it on ✅

  • Start baking bread (technically this happened in January so ner)
  • Take pictures of empty local streets on lockdown walk
  • Hunt toilet roll like a sport
  • Set work level to 150%
  • Zoom quizzes with friends seem like a great idea
  • What will I achieve will all this extra lockdown time?
  • Watch the peak with fascination

Stage 2: this is fine… ✅

  • Photos of bread good enough to share on instagram stories for cheap likes
  • Sorry, your zoom call can’t be longer than 40 minutes
  • Drink more cider than usual, talk about this with everyone
  • Hunt flour and gardening materials only to find everyone else did this already

Stage 3: oh. ✅

  • Feel pangs of guilt about photos of bread due to medium thinkpiece bread outrage and lack of originality
  • Fight to stay in any kind of Duolingo league
  • Sorry, your zoom calls can’t total more than 100 hours in one week
  • Stop calling friends in the evenings
  • Argue with people on nextdoor saying people walking dogs in parks should be arrested for doing so too much

Stage 4: oh no. ✅

  • Weight panic
  • Track and post exercise activities for cheap likes
  • Zoom pilates, inexplicably
  • Rationing crisps to every other day
  • Wishing the house clearout had really finished before all this.

Stage 5: oh dear. ⬅

  • Feel guilty about photos of exercise
  • Really discovering the nuance and detail and depth in the neighbourhood
  • Hair in eyes
  • Talking to the neighbours for the first time in over ten years – properly
  • All kinds of culinary inventions, cravings and soothings: risottos, bakes, roasts, all with a little more time and chance to repeat
  • Fume about dishwasher breaking
  • Humble and thankful that fuming about the dishwasher breaking is the worst thing happening
  • Chug through some more Netflix to escape a bit (Unorthodox: good; Better Call Saul: I Can’t Believe This Isn’t The End; Tiger King: how are these people not AI creations)
  • How did we live before and why?
  • No longer watching the virus peak but wondering about the complexity of it all
  • Need break from work
  • Make a meta blogpost about the stages of lockdown to procrastinate from the mechanics of having a break

Weeknotes 2020 #5: the new normal

Weeknotes

Where to start.

On home… adjusting to life at home is harder than I’d expected, despite working at home a lot before. On the one hand I am lucky to be fully booked stretching out into the future. On the downside: the work is relentless. Until the easter weekend I’d had about three days off in a month.

On the work… work itself has been super interesting if busy and at times grinding. Coaching during a crisis is a surprising thing. Having an outside view I can often see the extent to which Covid-19 can up-end underlying assumptions underpinning product development plans and team organisation – like being able to see the frog boiling. On the other hand, on the ground, the need to rapidly re-strategise and re-organise is causing lots of obvious organisational pain. In my main current context with client Britten, Lou Downe’s principles for service design in a crisis – and the underlying notes – have been useful and comforting, even if it hasn’t been politically possible yet to implement all of them.

On technology… Twelve hours of zoom calls a day on a creaky old computer made me finally snap and buy a replacement. Farewell, Lewis, you temperamental 2011 Macbook Pro that saw me through BERG (and BERGCloud), starting FutureLearn, about sixteen Pink Singers arrangements, days upon days of video editing. A few upgrades here or there, and a final bit of invasive surgery to remove a resistor to disable the broken graphics card once and for all, but all in all with nine years of pretty relentless service, I’m happy with my strategy of buying big and delaying replacement as long as possible. It is still just about functional, albeit without software updates or the ability to sleep, so I will try and give it a final life in some way (or find a way donate it to a child who needs a device to continue learning while schools are closed). Here’s hoping the replacement lasts another 9 years.

On being social… after the 70/80-hour work weeks on Skype for business, Microsoft teams, Slack calls, Zoom, Whereby… weeks, I think I’ve been somehow more social than before: zoom quizzes on offer every night; group exercise classes; always-on drop-in rooms; Facetime with the niece and nephew, WhatsApp chat with selfie-sticks with mum and dad. No wonder I’m totally exhausted. Thankfully T has moved in and is making us delicious dinners most nights to take some of the strain.

On delivering… I never wanted to be an easter Bunny but this weekend has seen us zoom all over London hand-delivering orders after the overwhelming demand for Paul A Young Fine Chocolates overwhelmed Royal Mail’s current capacity to do, well, anything, it seems. The shop filled up with parcels and, consequently, so did our lounge. The shop is paused while the team figure out how to operationalise this for realsies; on the other hand it’s been admirable to see how quickly a nimble retail business can pivot to online while keeping the wheels just about on the rails. The route4me app has a terrible user interface but once you get past fighting that, it is pretty great and seemingly integrates with Shopify.

One of the other things you realise as a delivery driver is a) how many people don’t answer the door; b) or their phone, c) how typically neutral people are to receive deliveries; d) the address system is basically a nightmare. I will be taking this on board and being nicer to all delivery people.

On getting fat and sad… to conquer the middle-aged-spread and existential-dread combo, I’ve realised I need some more alone time and exercise, so I’m going to try and kill two birds with one stone and go out for some early-morning bike rides (within government guidelines of course). I’ll be on my trusty, knackered, cheapo 11-year-old road bike. It’s not about speed: it’s about tranquility. Tips welcome.

Obviously I’m still making bread although getting hold of flour is still a challenge. Got grains m8?

Finally, the question facing millions of men across the globe: shave your head or rock a man bun?

Weeknotes 2020 #4: cancel everything

Weeknotes

Two weeks and a million years since the last weeknotes.

Coronavirus is here to change the fabric of our society. First suddenly, and then quietly forever.

The local supermarket is out of loo roll, rice, pasta, pasta sauces and most tinned goods. But, there is an abundance of good nature, hard workers and good food still on offer. TimeOut is now TimeIn, airlines, holiday makers on the verge of collapse. How thin parts of our late-capitalist society are shown to be.

What a time to have become an independent consultant!

To ease the weirdness and anxiety, the weekend has been spent figuring out other ways to be social: experimenting with always-on video calls with our globally scattered burning man camp; catch-ups with far flung friends and godchildren; small simple dinners hosted at home with just a couple of people. Whereby and Zoom are my favourite tools for this right now, hangouts meet is in the mix too.

Why outbreaks spread exponentially, does the best job of showing how staying at home where possible is simply the best thing to do for the resilience of our health service and the entire population, even if the government’s medical advisors believe we’re psychologically incapable of sustaining it.

On the work front, I’m bracing for potentially having contracts paused, resulting in a quiet time. I’m perhaps thankful I’ve been working solidly for some time now, so there’s money in the bank to sustain whilst thinking about perhaps doing some other / volunteer work to put my skills to good use for the crisis. And reaching out to neighbours.

In other news:

  • I sold some music. Well, licensed SATB & piano choral arrangements of songs, to be precise. I guess that makes me a paid musician now? I shall hardly be dining out on the takings but it feels like an accomplishment nonetheless.
  • The Pink Singers are not in the studio this weekend recording as planned. This is sad, but entirely the right decision to make in a group that spans many generations, includes a fair few immunocompromised folks, and an unusually high number of healthcare workers.
  • The Barberfellas are not having our 10-year-anniversary concert in April, nor going to Helsinki and Tallinn as previously planned, nor any of the other paid & unpaid gigs we had coming up, most likely.
  • The Open University are not holding the graduation ceremony I was looking forward to next weekend.
  • Elvis the puggle has had a stomach bug. D&V central. Thankfully a trip to the vet and a lot of imaginitive administering of antibiotics has helped
  • I went to Manchester this week for work and managed to squeeze in the Figs in Wigs show, Little Wimmin, which was quite grand, and accidentally bumped into loads of long-lost friends on the queer arts scene. It’s transferring to London and is worth a visit.

And finally, a couple of the things I’ll be looking at most in the next week. Firstly, a twitter thread from Dr Petra Boynton about anxiety in the time of corona:

And secondly, this really useful resource by Richard McLean with 101 things to read about remote working.

Maybe there will be more frequent weeknotes (they are basically fortnight notes right now).

Weeknotes 2020 #3: lives entwined

Weeknotes

A few fun outings in the last couple of weeks.

Firstly, to Charlton Athletic Football Club for my first football game in 26 years, singing for Charlton vs Homophobia, where I had to rapidly learn and then lead a crowd of about 18,000 into the club song, Valley Floyd Road.

The event was quite surreal, and we received a surprisingly warm and friendly response. For me, football is entwined with feelings of being bullied and my brain doesn’t want to engage with it at all. On a personal level, Saturday’s experience restored my faith a fair bit.

Also made a visit to the Irish Embassy for a really fascinating look at the relationship between Britain and Ireland in 2020 given the topsy-turvy changes in the societal and political landscapes. The set of essays is high on my list to peruse.

Universal Credit inside the welfare state should be required viewing for anyone developing policy or services for actual humans. No easy answers but the results of austerity are laid bare for all to see here.

Work continues in a busy but slightly less intense fashion: back to a healthy work/life balance for the foreseeable. Long may that continue. Good catch ups with former colleagues and new people have been giving me energy too.

Weeknotes 2020 #2: get bread done

Weeknotes

Since last time:

  • Attended ShmooCon and learned, among other things, all about how not to respond to a fundamental hack (looking at you, Zoom), and how the teens are obfuscating their identities from companies’ algorithms by sharing each others’ accounts in trust networks (a bit like people who swap Tesco clubcards with each other). The intersection between western sociology and technology here gets wild pretty quickly. Suffice to say, users won’t use your thing as you envisaged.

  • Started and finished Sex Education series 1 & 2. I can’t really rave about this show any more; it is basically perfect. If I had had access to something as life-affirming as this when I was fifteen, instead of living with section 28, Ally McBeal, This Life, and Dawson’s flipping Creek, I guarantee my development would have accelerated swiftly. Instead of feeling bitter, I shall rejoice that we live in an age where this show can be created and thrive, and be renewed for a third season.

  • The UK left the EU! I have retained my EU citizenship through my mum. Thanks mum. Anyhow, the sunlit uplands of Brexit were quickly lashed by Storm Ciara and a guy in Brighton has had to apologise for inadvertently spreading coronavirus after an unassuming visit to Singapore and the Swiss alps within the last two weeks. Quite a start to the year he’s had. I wonder if all Brexit voters will share his feeling of accidentally opening a can of whoopass in the years to come.

  • I’ve got tonsillitis. It is quite literally a pain in the neck and the second properly debilitating thing I’ve had this year (which is merely 6 weeks old). To the doctor to examine what’s going on with all this shenanigans.

  • Made quite a lot of bread: and I think I’m getting the hang of it. The most recent loaves turned out really well. I’m using Bake With Jack’s basic sourdough recipe which is low-mess & low stress. Good. The trick is, don’t skimp on the kit. Overnight proving in a banneton makes all the difference to a good rise (as well as making sure the starter is really active)
  • Stumbled upon some useful posts by Tom Critchlow on working as an independent consultant that I’m definitely bookmarking for future use, alongside Peter Block’s book Flawless Consulting which I refer back to time and again.

Weeknotes 2020 #1: Stupiduary

Weeknotes

The sun has barely risen over the horizon TWENTY FOUR TIMES before I had the time to type words into this particular box.

Firstly, the plague, which came on during posting the last update, persevered well into the second week of January. Well, it was going to happen.

Secondly, unexpectedly inheriting Elvis the puggle, for the foreseeable. Puggles have only really been around since the 1980s. Maybe this accounts for the apocalyptic farts.

Thirdly, all the work. All of it. All the time. I have run five workshops, MC’d an away day for 200 people, and most unusually, chaired a panel discussion of headteachers. All the days are full. I am on the other hand thankful that I am gainfully employed doing interesting work, and apparently being useful.

Fourthly, fuck alcohol. Seriously. Fuck the entire industry of alcohol. The number of people whose lives I know have been ruined entirely or turned upside down by proxy by it, is overwhelming.

Fifthly, UK finally leaving the EU and pushing itself out into the middle of the atlantic to complete obscurity at the end of the month. Silver lining: had to renew my UK passport this month, and it is still burgundy not blue so I have another ten years before I have to deal with that ridiculousness. Also, thankful for Irish heritage.

Sixthly, ordering low-maintenance dinners on Ocado, Tom Stuart’s instagram recipes, Sex Education, a sneaky trip to see Knives Out have been lifelines.

Seventhly, is it even winter? Or is this just a darker version of September? Where’s the sleet?

Eighthly, I floated on air for a full week after singing at the Pink Singers sell out concert on the 11th. This group gives me life. We performed four of my arrangements. It was a lovely experience. Finally got a chance for Jess, aka The Bleeding Obvious, to perform with us. Even better.

A small but growing list of things I’m curious or excited about for 2020

  • Social media is mostly junk now, so planetary.social is a good idea and I hope it works, for everyone, and survives the inevitable (and valid) criticism.
  • I’m hoping to take a train to Moscow and back. Via some other places probably because it’ll get a bit boring otherwise.
  • And, separately, Milan.

  • Not studying! Jokes. I am hoping to take up piano lessons again. Need to figure out how.

It’s Friday night. It’s time for no more computers.

Weeknotes #28 – yearnote

Weeknotes

Time for a longer look back.

2019 will be remembered as the year that the UK officially went bonkers.

Personally, I finished my MBA – a degree I never imagined myself pursuing, and yet one which I found nourishing in many ways. A longer post about that experience will follow in due course.

Work-wise, I successfully eased up the work as I eased down the study, and am now about 95% booked for the first three months of 2020, with a healthy roster of varied, interesting and international clients. I feel lucky to have got to this stage through hard work and through a valuable network of talented people.

With and without work, there was more travel than ever, including trips to New York, Washington D.C., Mumbai, L.A., Auckland, Wellington, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Singapore, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Trondheim, Valencia, San Francisco, Helsinki, Brussels. I am exhausted just looking at this list.

Lots of tough stuff though, too. A few health wobbles (although thankfully in 2019 I didn’t break any bones in my feet, which is more than could be said of 2017 and 2018), and some family pain.

And, crucially, not enough reading. Sure, I read loads of academic stuff, but not enough fiction and other nurturing things. This has to be high on the list for 2020.

Goals for 2020? Survive it. Be kinder to myself and others. Look after my own health more. Live less ruinously for the planet. Continue to do weeknotes to gather thoughts and reflect.

Weeknotes #26&27

Weeknotes

It’s the start of two weeks (mostly) off – a different set of plates to spin (mostly full of delicious things), and a different set of humans to navigate.

The last couple of weeks have seen a lot of travel, a lot of work, some singing, no Christmas prep at all, a cold, and familial challenges, and of course an electoral exercise that late-stage-capitalism, late-stage-western-democracy history scholars will write reams over in years to come.

The biggest news, though, is that I found out I’d passed my MBA.

With merit!

I’m very, very relieved about this – and, on reflection, surprised at all I’ve learned through the process. Not just about business, but about being critical, about being organised, and about myself. I think I’m a different, more thoughtful and more confident person as a result of undertaking the study. And whilst I’m glad to have a bit of time back, I’m also going to miss hitting the books on a regular basis.

There’s a giant retrospective blog post about the master’s degree brewing, but that’ll do for now. And, importantly, I have to measure my head for a pointy hat to wear in March.

Now: taking the niece to see Peter Rabbit; buying a little Christmas tree; reflecting on the year with close friends.