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.

Weeknotes 2021 #2: and then we waited

Weeknotes

It’s been a reasonably good week.

  • Now 100% certain last week’s lurgy wasn’t covid through testing. Thanks, coronavirus home testing kit team!
  • I self isolated for 10 days from first symptoms anyway. It wasn’t much different to not self isolating, given the level of restrictions at the moment.
  • Really missed cycling, though, and very glad to have started that again this weekend.
  • Work continued throughout – starting a couple of smaller new engagements alongside the juggernaut at the moment feels quite exciting and energising. It’s all go on all fronts, but the break in December really helped get my energy levels back up again. I’ve been collating a few reads on product management in a crisis – more on that in coming weeks .
  • To wind down I have been spending a little time with Logic Pro mixing together a rough guide vox of an eight-part arrangement for Pink Singers. It’s been great to pick up an audio project again. DAW software is so much more legible than when I was last using it in earnest 15-20 years ago.
  • Felix did a really wonderful tutored cocktail tasting class for a few people last Thursday.
  • Treated myself to a Fitbit to help me track my heart rate during exercise. I forgot that it can be quite handy to have the time on your wrist. The heart rate monitor seems pretty good too – and a good measure of when I was sick (elevated resting pulse of 75) vs not (normal resting pulse of about 61).
  • My favourite frying pan developed a hole through overuse. The whole kitchen is getting a bit worn out. But getting a new frying / sauté pan is surprisingly stressful when you can’t go to a shop and properly nerd out over it.
  • On the subject of food, splashing out on Hide at Home for J’s birthday and ordering good-value but exceptional curry directly from Darjeeling Express knocked the socks off the normal deliveroo fare and got me excited about going out for dinner again, whenever that is.
  • Definitely put on weight over Christmas/New Year. What a surprise.
  • Watched a couple of quite nice queer films this weekend: the weirdly humorous Love and Death on Long Island with John Hurt and Jason Priestly, and the utterly beautiful Georgian coming-of-age first love film And Then We Danced.
  • News of lots of medics I know, and older folks, getting vaccines, makes me very happy indeed.

Weeknotes 2021 #1: fireworks and swearing

Weeknotes

Happy sweary new year.

  • This video of an hour’s worth of fireworks going off in one go sums up the first week of the year quite well.
  • Work went a bit upside down because I got sick, althoigh thankfully almost certain it wasn’t covid. Phew.
  • Work then spilled significantly into the weekend.
  • News from medic friends puts my tiny struggles into context: “We’re removing breathing machines from patients and letting them die, cleaning the machine and then hooking it back up to a patient in literally the next bed because we think they have a better chance of surviving
  • Jesus fucking Christ.
  • Christina Pagel is the only sane person worth following on twitter if you’re grappling with the maddeningly tiny venn between epidemiology and UK public health policy.
  • For light relief from a) Trump and b) the pandemic, we found ourselves watching Totally Under Control, an in-depth documentary on the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic in the USA in Spring and Summer 2020. It was not escapism, but it is excellent.
  • Watching platform-level moderation in action is both somewhat reassuring (in this instance) but also bewildering. Uneasy few weeks ahead.
  • Finished Star Trek Discovery S3. The scenes with the turbolift floating in a hitherto-unseen oxygenated intel-proceessor-advert themed cavern gave me all kinds of sceptical questions about plausibility. The rest of it was totes fine, obviously.
  • Finished A Farewell to Arms. Honestly, a lot of chat about eating and omitted sex in amongst the utter random pointlessness of war. On reflection, not the best thing to pick up during a lockdown.
  • Everyone’s been enjoying Itsu frozen dumplings at home for ages without telling me. Well, I’m in on the secret now you salty bastards.
  • Swearing is helping.
  • As is this amazing Swedish disco track from Madleen Kane. Turn it up loud. You’re welcome.

Weeknotes 2020 #14: false dawns

Weeknotes

Sneaking the last week/month note in before the end of 2020.

  • I have had almost three weeks off work. I feel lucky and rested and almost ready to get back into things.
  • During that time, I have watched about three films. Sadly none were worth writing home / here about, although Meryl Streep did steal the show in The Prom with It’s Not About Me.
  • I recently invested in some Aftershokz bone-conduction headphones so I can listen to things while cycling without losing the sense of what’s going on around me. I think they are one of my favourite purchases of all time. I’ve plunged back into Audible and am racing through a few books, and listened to a fair few episodes of Song Exploder which brings a lot of joy and inspiration each time, in particular the Laura Marling and Billie Eilish episodes.
  • Felix’s cocktail creations from Manhattans project have been a Saturday night treat. And sometimes Fridays too.
  • Christmas was, as for all of us, totally odd. Gingerly popping a bag of presents and a ready-to-roast stuffed leg of turkey over a garden wall is not how we’d choose to do things, but, pandemic. The turkey was delicious at least. Thanks Jamie. Didn’t even make twizzlers with the leftovers which feels like a shame in retrospect. Additional drama sprinkles were provided by both the dishwasher and washing machine breaking, but we remain lucky enough to have both. And we’re still covid free despite everyone seeming to have it right now.
  • Alongside the festivities and downtime: some gentle work on equal opportunities policy research and writing with the Pink Singers, a bit of getting the house in order before a very full first quarter of 2021.
  • Brexit was still a really bad idea, and I am not looking forward to seeing its impact play out like a slow puncture over the next few years.

Weeknotes 2020 #13: inside upside

Weeknotes
  • That election happened, and hope dared to return to my menu of psychological states.
  • While the results were playing out, though, there were a few feverish days of mild peril. CNN magic wall obsession led to a sensation of feeling sick to the stomach, and a new overfamiliarity with Lake Erie. I need to really step away from things over which I have no control.
  • I even developed a mild, short-lived obsession with the marvel that is Kate Bolduan’s hair (so shiny, so reliable, even on four hours’ sleep)
  • Talking of hair, I finally got a haircut after ten months, in a tiny window of opportunity before lockdown2. I don’t miss having shoulder-length rat hair.
  • Beyond the election, I have managed to squeeze in some virtual and in-person ‘recreational’ chats with long-lost work colleagues which has been surprisingly soothing. What an array of wonderfully smart and thoughtful people I’ve been lucky enough to work with over the last decade.
  • I’ve kept the cycling up, although not being a morning person this invariably means a lot of cycling around Regents’ Park outer circle in the dark. There’s little traffic now, and the darkness feels strangely calming. Sometimes I have company, which makes the time pass faster.
  • Watched The Queen’s Gambit, which was everything I needed and a bit more. Beautiful inside and out. Triggering themes for me too, though.
  • Also Prick Up Your Ears, a really quite apt queer lockdown film to watch, which had until now completely passed me by.
  • Made a music video with the Barberfellas, somehow, in the midst of all this. Gary Barlow eat your heart out. Not bad for a song we’ve not been able to work on much. Key change needs some love. Very thankful to St Anne’s Church in Soho for finding us a way to rehearse covid-safely during September and October.
  • Finally learned Reverie to a point where it’s relatively fluent.
  • Not sure if it’s entirely lockdown related, but I’ve been generally feeling a bit boxed in.
  • My student discount finally expired, which is a timely reminder to write up some MBA reflections before they depart my brain completely.
  • But now: turning the computer off seems like a sensible idea.

Weeknotes 2020 #12: lockdown redux

Weeknotes

Now that London is firmly Tier 2 (stage 2? level 2? what is our frame of reference now?), I’m taking stock of how to get through the next few months. With work continuing to fill all the light hours (and some dark ones), the focus otherwise has been on self-preservation in a few ways.

Cultural: Pippin at the Eagle garden theatre in Vauxhall was energetically performed, even if the musical itself is a hideous mess. An outdoor triumph, preceded by a bonus covid-safe espresso martini beneath some light fittings that a friend once got barred for pulling down during some 3am dancing about twelve years ago. Anyway, I’ll be back seeing everything they put on over the winter.

Familial: attended a wedding, which truly was four hours of relative normality with fourteen other people, a lot of smiles and some delicious food and fizz.

Corporeal: several recent proddings have revealed that the plantar fasciitis that I’ve been wearing insoles for since 2017 has now morphed into PTTD. On the other hand, my research brought me to my favourite diagram of the week, of a skeleton doing calf raises. Appropriate for a middle-aged, socially distant halloween.

Outdoor: lowering the blood pressure with weekend cycle trips has been such a joy this year that I’m buying proper winter cycling gear and starting to tentatively side-eye proper bikes and kit. Is this it? Is this the first mid-life crisis manifesting?

Sofa-bound: loads of tele. Finished series one of I’m Not OK With This and I’m a bit fed up of forty-something white guys making reminiscent coming-of-age stories about their high school experiences in 1986. Selfishly, I’ll be delighted (horrified) when there’s some sort of edgy nineties equivalent sponsored by Lynx Africa that speaks to me. On the other hand I’m really glad Discovery is back. I wish there had been sci-fi queers when I was younger. Would’ve saved all kinds of heartache. And it’s much more hopeful than the Netflix revival of Boys In The Band which is well-made and beautifully 60s but, by design, leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

Otherwise, Life of Crime was leftfield entertaining and absolutely oozes seventies, while Holy Motors (bit late to the fete on this) is utterly bizarre but mesmerising.

Finally I can recommend not scrolling back through WhatsApp to see what you were chatting about in March.

Weeknotes 2020 #11: all that jazz

Weeknotes

Everything is quite monotonous and relentlessly trying right now, so mixing things up and pretending to start a new term (in my head, I’m not still at school obvs)

💪 Starting a twelve-week online programme with Fitter Confident You.

🎹 Ordered a jazz piano book to start teaching myself and learning some standards. I’m using Tim Richards’ Exploring Jazz Piano and, after a decent 90-minute flick through, it looks like a good starting place, with a good grounding in the basics of jazz structure and a good tour of the greats. Looking forward to working through it in more detail.

📚 Reading for at least twenty minutes a day. Recently finished Girl, Woman, Other (good, refreshing); Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race (really eye-opening and necessary reading for me, and outstanding). Next up: a re-read of my friend Laura’s first novel Blood & Sugar.

⌛︎ I’ve decided to try and work maximum four days a week during all this to make sure I don’t end up collapsing in a heap again at my next proper break, and to pick up some other creative stuff. Let’s see how that goes. I realise how privileged I am to have this choice. In work at the moment, I’m spending a lot of time turning a crisis response into sustainable work; weaning folks off the adrenaline of ‘what now!’ and into the wholesome and important work of longer term vision, goals, bets. Given the twists and turns of the virus, this is no mean feat.

🎼 This spotify playlist of African Disco has been rocking the small moments I manage to not be in meetings.

🤷‍♂️ Really mad dreams of late, including one in which Will Gompertz and Fiona Bruce were on the news to open a new log flume that had been installed in the Barbican, only the person operating the water switch had fallen asleep. AND I keep dreaming up strange songs about prosaic things like out-of-office replies and spinach. There is no reason for dreams to have become more vivid so I am curious about this.

Tommy Turntables passed away, unexpectedly. The king of Popstarz, Ghetto and Trash Palace was single-handedly responsible for virtually all the queer club nights I spent my late teens and twenties in, and was a regular partner in crime to organise fun later in my thirties with the Pink Singers. He improved all of our lives and is gone too soon.

I really really can’t wait to go to Duckie and dance all night.

The things we take for granted.

Weeknotes 2020 #10: the end of summer

Weeknotes

These are, let’s face it, monthnotes. And that’s fine.

🌤 Took some time off in which I had a birthday and saw the sea. Elvis does not like walking on pebbly beaches, so I’ve noted that for next time we depart the city with the lovable fart machine.

🦉 Naughtily repaired my 191-day Spanish Duolingo streak by means of a pleading message to their support team (in sympathy with this year’s A-level students). The overwhelming guilt of this act will now propel me far beyond 200 days. Also I just learned there is an owl emoji.

👀 Watched a few films: Cul-de-sac (power comes from strange places); Leon (how did I miss this before?); and two Finnish films about immigration both made in 2017 – The Other Side of Hope (uplifting, funny, harrowing – in that order) and A Moment In The Reeds (bittersweet, stunning, don’t watch with a parent)

🎼 Along with rocking the new Disclosure album Energy, I have enjoyed the Proms returning. Anyone arguing to keep the turgid propaganda cringe-fest that is Rule Britannia can f’off, go watch Tunes for Tyrants, come back and write an essay on why we should still be giving it time year after year. Give me Copland’s Quiet City followed by Eroica any day of the week. The hairs on my arms stood up listening to live music for the first time in ages (even though I watched it on iPlayer, ha). Or maybe it’s because it’s unseasonably cool due to the curse of bank holidays. Which reminds me of this…

🎹 For the first time in a while I’m trying to do some music production beyond using Sibelius. It’s the wild west out there. My expertise in Pro Tools 6.4 is not directly transferrable to anything, and the only bits of physical kit I have are obsolete. I’m having an explore with Logic Pro and so far, it’s okay. But getting back on the bike is difficult.

🏃‍♂️ Running came to a halt. After only three weeks of Couch to 5k, my foot pain worsened. I’m back into the world of physio and podiatry to see if I can sort it. In the meantime, there is still a world of cycling.

😦 Everything’s a bit heavy at the moment, eh. Tips on how to drill deeper for emotional energy petrol are welcome. The usual stores are running a bit low.

Richmond Park being rudely summery under a blue sky

Weeknotes 2020 #9: snatches of normality

Weeknotes

A few more slithers of free time, has meant a bit more life:

Finally watched Parasite, which was really enjoyable: long, compelling and a kindof funny / sad and a reminder of the scale of Seoul.

Ate this really lovely and v easy dish by Nigel Slater of aubergines, feta, cashews and ras el hanout.

Travelled to Wales for two days to see the folks. We shared an ice cream and walked along the promenade of Rhos on Sea in the drizzle. It was a tonic to get out to the seaside regardless of the weather. Furthest travel since, ooh, February. And, I read about flies flying in the rain. The answer is: they don’t, v much.

Listened to and enjoyed Jacob Collier’s tiny desk npr concert. I typically find the production of his music a bit much: slathered in post-production, but this is a bit simplier, more playful, and lets some of the hooks of his songs lodge properly in the brain. Also, I covet all the things in his room.

Played through some old piano music that my Dad found in a box and was instantly transported back to the nineties – snatched moments of practice between getting home from school and everyone else getting home. Between it all, I haven’t played for ages. Practicing at home at the moment feels indulgent given the house is a bit full, but perhaps I can find a few minutes each day to start brushing up some old Bach and Beethoven. It feels extremely good.

Finished reading Why I’m No Longer Talking… (like every other white person in the last couple of months, it feels) and now I’m onto Girl, Woman, Other.

Ran around the local parks and squares for a princely eight minutes. Ten years ago I was running 40/50 miles a week but plantar fasciitis put a stop to it. Since that seemingly is easing (after four painful years, orthotics, exercises, scans, the lot) I’m trying couch to 5k with Jo Whiley telling me how brilliant I am. My mileage quite literally may vary, but the app is well made and, having tried a bunch of these things over the years, the approach feels eminently doable.

Cycled to glorious Richmond Park to see the deer, now that it is allowed again. It felt like a holiday all by itself and only took an hour to get there.

Work is still basically full on with Britten, although things like days off (such as five in a row) and sensible evening finishes are back on the menu [or at least, I am forcing them on to it, after a long period of, er, not].

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.