Weeknotes 2021 #12: tilting to the light

Weeknotes
  • The weather has decided to take the transition to British Summer Time quite literally by providing the most abrupt shift I’ve ever witnessed from frigid cloud to blazing sun and 23 degree days.
  • I’ve always thought it quite ironic that British Summer Time lasts seven months when we know full well it really lasts about five minutes
  • Really busy tying up loose ends with lots of things and discussing future work and and and. Lots and lots of context switching.
  • Loads of films this week too courtesy of BFI Flare: and they were all brilliant in different ways. Not a dud among the bunch. What a treat. All well worth a watch: Dramarama, Rurangi, Sweetheart, Sublet, Cowboys, Jump Darling, Cured, and P.S. Burn This Letter Please.
  • Watching a queer film every night has led to an unusual calm sense of belonging to the world: seeing something every day that features people like you. Makes you realise how much you miss it when it’s over.
  • Like Tom I’m impatient about getting a vaccine. I keep walking past the Francis Crick Institute, our most local vaccine centre, with fluttering eyelashes, but nothing. Will be at least another month I guess.
  • I’ve been trying to take a picture every day on Instagram this year. It’s been a real slog during the lockdown but it has been an exercise in appreciating the everyday in a way that works better for me than McMindfulness (thanks to Laura for this podcast tip)
  • Recently discovered the Duolingo spanish podcast which is genuinely pretty great.
  • Embarked on a new sourdough starter. Why not.
  • Genuinely incensed by this government claiming there is no structural racism in the UK. The BMJ sum it up quite well in their riposte.
  • Having a little week off, which also means a week off of weeknotes. Back mid April.

Weeknotes 2021 #11: planting seeds

Weeknotes
  • A week of planning endings and new beginnings.
  • Since the pandemic began I’ve been working with the team on the Get help with technology service at Department for Education. It’s been a privilege to work on a service that has enabled over a million young people continue learn at home while schools have been fully or partially closed. It has also been a real rollercoaster and my first time adapting my skills to a civil service context, in a crisis. The service is now looking to the future and it feels like a good moment to step away, so I’ll be finishing working on it at the end of March and continuing with some of the other smaller engagements I’ve been keeping up around the edges. But I’m feeling proud of the incredible team I’ve been part of on this, and of the mission patches we created and shared as part of it.
  • Working on another virtual choir project for the Barberfellas at the moment. I hope it’s the last one of these that we do. In the meantime I’ll just enjoy hearing my friends in my ears and pretend we’re in the same room.
  • Plans are forming for the big choir to maybe start rehearsing again face to face in May after what will be fourteen months of Sunday zoom rehearsals.
  • Applying for some courses to do in April / May. I hope they will run, and maybe even in person.
  • BFI Flare is in session. The British Council’s Five Films for Freedom were all great in various ways, watched with mates over jitsi which is definitely the best watch party tool I’ve used this past year.
  • Also watched a couple of full features too which both had quite a lot of depth despite simple premises: Sweetheart and Cowboys. Loads more to come this week.
  • Matt Webb shared this neat experiment around social attention which reminded me of a lot of early learning design x social software thinking we experimented with FutureLearn back in 2013/14. Wish we’d built it.
  • Bought some lettuce and leek seeds to plant in the pots on the roof (and then probs fail to grow correctly).
  • Inching back towards some sort of new normal, maybe?

Weeknotes 2021 #10: it’s been a year

Weeknotes
  • A year ago today I got some bits right and some bits wrong about impending lockdown.
  • I thought I would enter a lean period of work – instead I have worked 226 days of the last year, virtually all on good, impactful (although v stressful) covid response services. Yay (argh) yay.
  • Someone tried to rob J and I in the street. It was dark, but there were plenty of people around, so it was surprising. They failed, and we called the police, and we were fine. Not fine though, was a woman nearby who observed what happened and froze, too afraid to walk home, in case the perpetrator followed her next. We got talking to her while we waited, and in the end (when the police didn’t come) we asked permission and walked her home ourselves.
  • I can’t stop thinking about it. Given everything this week, and my relative privilege, as a gay who only ever gets a fair bit of low-level abuse.
  • I am grateful for my pink singers and a long, open and raw post-rehearsal zoom chat that really drove home the fact that well over half our population systematically fears the rest.
  • Channelling that energy into working on a proper evidence-based, progressive equal opportunities policy and action plan for the group, working with a diverse cross-section of people from within it.
  • Not surprisingly though, feeling quite flat and irritable.
  • Near the beginning of the stay-at-home-ness I took out a contract with Three Broadband for their 5G at home offer. It was pretty great to start with, being a continuation of Relish’s service, and I got consistently 150Mb down and about 50Mb up. But then, Three took it over properly and (I believe) turned off the ability for the router to roam networks to get the best signal, and now the service is much less reliable. There is no prospect of fibre anytime soon because of complicated Reasons, and so I continue to be plagued by crap internet. I’m intrigued by Starlink insofar as it might give a commercial incentive to avoid the calamity of space junk, but that is all. I would rather not deal with Technoking.
  • I have a chromecast plugged into our tele and my favourite thing about it was the way it could show a photo slideshow of better times sourced from Flickr albums. But Google took away that feature. But, they also do not support showing photos from my google account. So now I look at other people’s photos, which do not spark as much joy because they don’t include all the people I haven’t seen for a year. I want to find that product manager and give them a piece of my lockdown isolation pandemic mind.
  • In better service news, I switched business bank account a couple of weeks ago to Starling and it was very uneventful which is what you want from a bank.
  • I’m really, really enjoying Small Axe, which is educating me, nourishing me with musical discoveries, moving me with its cinematography and storytelling. Just great.
  • I completed 365 consecutive days of Spanish duolingo which means I’m now a bit better at putting a limited number of Spanish words in roughly the right order. Bueno.
  • Inspired by Chris I’ve downloaded the Koala app and I’m chasing Elvis around the house because I want to make a banging dance track made of growls. I’ve not been successful yet

Weeknotes 2021 #9: chosen family

Weeknotes
  • It was St. David’s Day! Welsh cakes and hiraeth all round.
  • Baby Lamé’s Shit Show and Scottee’s Hamburger Queen ’21 gave some serious life. Can’t wait to see queer artists in person so we can all get messy and celebrate all types of humans regardless of their orientation, body image, skin colour, &c.
  • Especially in the week when the UK media basically disappeared up its own arse trying to convince us that Meghan Markle is a monster. 50 times in one day, for one tabloid. Incredible. Structural.
  • Finally finished an arrangement of Chosen Family by Rina Sawayama for the Pink Singers. It took me about 8 weeks, fit around everything else. It was a real treat to make, and the sentiment is 100% perfect for the group. And great to finally have a song to perform by a female pansexual artist.
  • Also check out this dress and those heels.
  • Starting to have some hope about seeing my actual family again within a few months after a long, long while.
  • Watched Girls Lost and Little Joe this week. Both entirely fantastical and surreal and aesthetically driven. I enjoyed Girls much more than Little Joe, because despite being quite teen-focussed it explores some reasonably complex gender issues with some sensitivity and care.
  • Consciously easing work down a bit in a few weeks and I’m definitely ready to not be working 60+ hour weeks for a while, and moving away from front-line covid-response services. I honestly have no idea how healthcare workers have sustained under the pressure considering the coincident work and life stress that the upswings in cases causes. This thing is going to take years to recover from.
  • I’m using Piascore on the iPad to read rehearsal music for choir rehearsals these days and I really appreciate not having to deal with this:
Promo image for Fierce Queens at Royal Museums Greenwich

Weeknotes 2021 #8: tales of the (empty) city

Weeknotes
  • In normal times planes roar overhead, motorbikes screech down the main road, sirens ring out day and night. The air is tinged with pollution. And yet, right now, calls to prayer from afar can often be heard. Hushed conversations emanate a little more readily from behind closed doors. The sweet smoke of wood fires on narrow boats on the canal half a mile away wafts in through the open windows.
  • On the other hand, someone tried to rob us in the street pretty blatantly yesterday, and the police took an hour to come. And less than 500m away Swampy just emerged from a tunnel built under Euston to protest HS2.
  • This city is still mostly being itself.
  • Work is no longer consuming all of the energy, and firefighting is giving way to some strategic work. Finally. And I finally managed to get around to switching my business bank account. Fiscally exciting.
  • After spending so much time at home and inviting work into it, I idly wonder whether the reverse will happen in businesses that decide to keep their premises. Wear your pyjamas to the office day? Meeting rooms with beds in? Pets roaming wild? Lunchtime clubbing?
  • We ordered a biryani so huge from Darjeeling Express that it fed us for three meals. Totally delicious. Highly recommend.
  • Really enjoyed Lucky Grandma which features a knock-out performance from Tsai Chin, who I discovered was the first ever Chinese student at RADA. Also watched Prevenge, which is pretty unsettling despite being listed as a horror-comedy.
  • Mixed a Persepolis this weekend and it’s one of my favourite new cocktails.
  • LGBT+ history month has thrown up a few great online events this month, but the highlight was definitely Fierce Queens run by the Royal Museums Greenwich. What’s not to love about drag kings rapping about all the queer royals of yore, while dancing around the Queen’s house.
  • Zoom fatigue is a thing. I’m trying out some of the tips mentioned here to make it more bearable.
  • Farewell, Daft Punk. Or, more than likely, see you in a few years’ time.
  • I cycled 405km this month and I’m feeling pretty chuffed about that.

Weeknotes 2021 #7: ain’t necessarily so

Weeknotes
  • Reminded this week of one of the first recordings my choir, the Pink Singers, backing on Ain’t Necessarily So by Bronski Beat. It came up as part of an hour-long set of conversations with elder pinkies reflecting on their experiences of the 1980s on our weekly (zoom) rehearsal, prompted by It’s a Sin. Another reminder of the power of intergenerational queer spaces. We are standing on the shoulders of giants.
  • Starting to think about the shape of work for spring & summer as some long-term engagements conclude soon. Aiming for some restored balance, time for some learning, networking and thinking about how to grow my business a bit.
  • Continuing last week’s Mumbai theme, we really enjoyed The Lunchbox, a gentle story of romance and, again, class, centred around an accidental delivery of lunch to the wrong person by dabbawallas (I am assured that in reality, the dabbawallas never fail).
  • Yerma, on the other hand, is anything but gentle, but Billie Piper is incredible in it.
  • J has started some volunteering work and so at least one of us is out of the house on a regular basis for the first time in a while. Elvis the puggle’s separation anxiety has become pretty acute as a result, so looking at ways to resolve that.
  • Started to take in some small hills on a weekly basis to try and increase my FTP on the bike. The creep towards middle-aged-man-in-lycra is continuing.
  • Otherwise a relatively quiet week, thankfully.
  • Daffodils, crocuses, snowdrops, oh my.

Weeknotes 2021 #6: happy valentine’s day, boyo

Weeknotes
  • My toes have been cold all week.
  • Mum and Dad both got their first covid vaccines on Thursday. Which warmed my heart. But not my toes.
  • My nephew William Foy turned 13. For various reasons, we aren’t in touch, which I find incredibly sad. I hope one day soon we can have some adventures again.
  • William was born at about the same time that J and I started dating, so I guess also happy 13th anniversary to us!
  • Drive and Listen allows you to experience the sights and local radio sounds of driving round a variety of global cities. A trip back to Mumbai was exactly what I needed.
  • And talking of Mumbai, was incredibly impressed by the humorous and difficult Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a play which explores the class system and bribery in the inner-city slums of India, on National Theatre at Home this weekend.
  • My friend Laura has written a second novel, Daughters of Night, after an incredible first, and I can’t wait to read it.
  • Pippa’s critique of It’s a Sin is important, highlighting the lack of depth to Jill’s character and how this speaks to a broader problem in representation of women, women of colour, and carers in LGBTQ drama (and beyond). I hope it reaches and reverberates in the chamber in Russell T Davies’ circle and the Channel 4 commissioning team. It’s certainly provoked some thoughtful debate in the choir Facebook group.

in the character of Jill, we don’t so much get a recognition of care work as an idealisation of it. Jill is always ready, willing and able to help out, even volunteering to clean up after the boys in her house. She never loses her temper and she never asks for anything in return. She barely even gets thanked for all of the work she does. All other characters are allowed to be flawed and selfish, but not Jill.

  • Le Fil’s Boyo is absolutely wonderful:
  • It’s valentine’s day. Celebrated by cycling to Epping Forest (which is entirely frozen) and accidentally cycled along Valentine Road on the way home. A sign.
  • I’ve taken a day off tomorrow. Good.

Weeknotes 2021 #5: Honey doesn’t matter

Weeknotes
  • Work calmed down a bit and for the first time it’s felt like what a normal week should be like, which in itself has been a wake up call. I need to seriously re-evaluate the sustainability of the volume and pace of the last 18 months. A reset is due, I think. Next month.
  • It’s a Sin has spawned some lovely playlists, including of course an official one but most importantly these incredible spin-offs by Duckie’s Readers Wifes that explore the slightly less trodden path through this era. Check them out here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
  • Re-finding this article about companies’ second acts this past week was timely. The pandemic up-ends so much. Out of chaos, opportunity. A re-evaluation of what’s needed. Reorientation.
  • Enjoyed rummaging through some old episodes of Song Exploder, including Robyn talking about Honey and Christine talking about Doesn’t Matter and these two episodes are delicious opposites: one discussing the carrying an idea for years before reaching fruition – the other talking about a song dreamed up in tears in one evening.
  • I’m listening to How To Be a Liberal while I cycle in the dark at the moment to try and understand, from scratch, a bit more about how we’ve ended up in societal situation in the UK where we’ve sort of forgotten to care about each other. So far, I’m pretty much no wiser. But I have learned a bit about Harriet Taylor and John Stuart Mill.
  • Both Elvis and I are eating slightly smaller portions until the winter spread has been banished. We’re both pretty cross about it tbh.
  • More snow! Just what we needed.

Weeknotes 2021 #4: still, January

Weeknotes
  • Not the most eventful of weeks. That’s probably a good thing at the moment.
  • Work continues with a small ethical quandary and, still, some rather long days.
  • Yesterday 1.2% of the adult population received their first vaccine shot. That is incredible. But this week the UK surpassed 100,000 deaths, which is utterly unforgivable.
  • How will people remember this time, when it’s all over?
  • I will remember Heather, a family friend who died this week at just 46, and my uncle’s mum who passed the week before.
  • I will remember thinking about all my friends in New Zealand and Taiwan who went back to life as normal from June 2020.
  • And breathe.
  • Mixing together a virtual choir recording of Snow Patrol’s Run using Logic Pro has been a surprisingly lovely escape, and I’m getting reasonably fast using the editor. 33 audio tracks and my computer is barely breaking a sweat. Back in the day, this would have been Crashy McCrashtown and/or submix galore.
  • Finished It’s a Sin. I’m still as emotional as I was about it in last week’s post. The last episode in particular. Why it got squeezed from an eight-parter to a 5-parter I’ll never understand.
  • Enjoyed Julie, a National Theatre remake of the 1888 play by August Strindberg. The themes of class and power are timeless and the acting is utterly brilliant but the script sticks out quite a lot in a number of places. I really enjoyed the staging too.
  • Also watched Valley of Love, starring Isabelle Huppert and Gerard Depardieu grieving in Death Valley. It’s beautiful and ridiculous and flawed and I would watch it again.
  • Accidentally watched the end of Independence Day again while eating some crisps. Sometimes empty calories are the best.
  • Slowly allowing some zoom socialising into life again – made better by trying to be more natural; chatting to friends while fixing a drink, doing something else, but still interacting. Continuous partial attention rather than full attention.
  • My bike is, I have suddenly realised, a wreck. While fitting some new mudguards, I realised that everything is rusting, the chain feels strained and the derailleurs are temperamental at best.
  • Booked it in for a service at the local place, whose website suggests they are fighting for survival because commuters have gone.
  • London Zone 1 really is on its knees.
  • Put the winter duvet on, two thirds of the way through winter, and realised just what I’d been missing.

Weeknotes 2021 #3: together in electric snow

Weeknotes
  • White stuff falling from the sky. A frisson of excitement.
  • A long week: lengthy, relentless work days.
  • Recently have been doing end-of-week reflections chats with an old FutureLearn colleague Matt. It’s been useful: just the act of succinctly reflecting on the work week with someone who knows me well is helping me immediately spot things to change / improve / be proud of. We’ve extended it out to a few others so we’ll see. It means more time in the Zoom mine, which I feel loathe to do, but there’s clearly benefit. On a more personal level it’s comforting to see familiar trusted faces and talk about our various strategies for keeping life interesting indoors.
  • BIDEN! Sentences! Sensible ideas! Bernie’s mittens!!! The internet becoming a 3% less stressful place!!!!
  • Frances took me on a magical mystery cycle to visit some Welsh landmarks across London, taking in the Iolo Morgannwg memorial on Primrose Hill, Welsh Harp reservoir by Brent Cross, the Capel Bedyddwyr Cymreig, Old Deer Park Welsh Rugby club in Kew, the London Welsh Centre, the house where Nye Bevan lived in Kensington, and more. It was such a delight to go on a local adventure. And at 65km a bit knackering for my little legs.
  • This apocalyptic shot of the skyline from 9am Primrose Hill though.
  • Started watching It’s a Sin, which is going to utterly ruin me. Can’t watch more than one in a sitting. I am Colin/Gladys from Wales.
  • It’s so much more than that. I grew up gay in the long shadow of the AIDS crisis without really fully understanding it. No facts, no information, no reflection, no empathy, just shame and section-28-ensured silence. Millions of deaths swept under the carpet.
  • And so timely because AIDS has killed so many more than Coronavirus (albeit this graph is from September last year).
  • Obviously this is the latest in a long list of books, films, documentaries on this subject but Russell T Davies has, in the first episodes of It’s a Sin, nailed the harrowing juxtaposition of the pure joy of discovering who you are, only to have it all snatched away from you, while the world frowns on, or worse, looks away.
  • A whole generation devastated.
  • Debating with a family member on the evidence behind Coronavirus / their hesitancy to get a vaccine really played on my mind this week and I realised the emotions of that are bundled up in all this.
  • Messy, heavy thoughts.
  • A year ago, I was looking forward to all manner of travel adventures. Hmm.
  • It’s a good job we also started watching Bridgerton (utterly necessary mind-clearing fluff) as a sort of ridiculous antidote to the theme of disease and slow-shifting societal attitudes.
  • In lighter news. The Pink Singers made another lockdown virtual choir video and it is utterly delightful and fun and well produced. On a serious note it’s showing how the choir arguably has increased its reach and charitable impact during lockdown despite not being able to rehearse together – so far the video has been viewed at least 28,000 times.
  • I’m comfort eating a fair bit this week and in light of the above I’m allowing it.