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.

Weeknotes #25

Weeknotes

Entirely full weeks at the moment – 100% capacity with work means a few things spilling into the weekend: not ideal, and a reminder not to do this very often. But, the work is interesting and rewarding and I am very thankful for this. The coming weeks involve a fair bit of businessy travel: Manchester, Brussels and Helsinki. Somehow all before Christmas. I’m not used to it, and I’m a bit intimidated.

In other news I’ve been trying (with a few others) to find a rehearsal venue for my choir and it is hard work. The number of spaces suitable for artistic groups in London is vanishingly small and often eye-wateringly expensive. We are trying out some creative routes (how about those giant office spaces that sit empty over the weekend in the city?) but it’s tough and time-consuming work. I wonder if there’s an opportunity in here somewhere to link corporates with small groups that need affordable space; perhaps it already exists.

Vegan Christmas dinner at Stem & Glory on Wednesday night with some old friends was a total delight and the food was sensational. We also shared a bottle of English red (Bolney Estate Lychgate) which was surprisingly good, and a reminder to eat local and lower carbon as much as possible.

I finally fixed my bike up and have been zooming everywhere on it this week; still the fastest and healthiest way to get around London (even if the air is crap).

Weeknotes #23 & #24

Weeknotes
Escape from Planet Trash

If there’s one thing that brings a beaming smile to my face it’s a bunch of queers doing clever cabaret and Escape from Planet Trash was my jam this November: a fun gender-queer space-romp by Ginger Johnson and the crew, plus fantastic music (including an Elvis-style Mysterious Girl) from my musical-crush Sarah Bodalbhai.

Elsewhere, life is happening apace: a lot of singing, including a workshop with barbershop performer extraordinaire, Dale Kynaston; arranging band parts for the upcoming Pink Singers concert; somewhat nervously awaiting the MBA result; preparation for the impending winter festival shenanigans.

Work-wise I’m back into full swing for the foreseeable with Britten and Mozart taking up pretty much all my time, and a bit of Sibelius is scheduled for later in the month as well as some exploratory calls with Glass. It’s good to be busy.

Weeknotes #22: on music discovery

Weeknotes

Back in grey London, via Gloucestershire/Suffolk/Norfolk, and feeling energised and ready for a packed few months of interesting work.

A (musical) stream-of-consciousness

Been thinking a lot about music discovery of late (partly due to some interesting conversations in Suffolk with someone who has worked in this space a lot).

While writing my dissertation I listened to a LOT of music and needed all kinds of discovery mechanisms to keep things interesting and to sustain the long spells at the computer.

One of the most rewarding routes involved reaching into the depths of last.fm to the first time I was writing a dissertation (late 2004) to rediscover what I was listening to back then. It was a true delight to listen, uninterrupted, to albums that I was listening to back then. Soundscapes that keep you in the zone for an hour or so, that tell a story. That evoke a time. It was great too to inspect the more recent work of those artists.

There were a few elements of this that struck me: so much modern music discovery is choppy, with a chaotic stream of genres mashed together in the hope that something sticks. I know that musical release length is in some part defined by the format (EP/LP/Cassette/CD etc) and so I understand this transition but soaking in a particular artist for a bit seems to work for me. Perhaps because of the era I grew up in. Perhaps just because my brain can’t handle the context switching (when I do a lot of this in my ‘day job’).

Anyway: I decided to pick a few of those rediscovered artists and start actively recommending them to people so they can share the joy I’d experienced. In San Francisco I recommended a couple of British artists to our lovely friend and host. She loves American female singer songwriters and the recommendations I made were on constant repeat in the days afterward.

The next few months I’m going to actively try and expand out what I’m listening to in ways that go beyond 6 music and discover weekly (my limited means at the moment). A post-masters treat will be to spend several hours exploring the new Ishkur guide to electronic music, for example.

And perhaps, the back catalogue of the joyous Kinsey Sicks, who I got to see in California.

Weeknotes #20 & 21

Weeknotes

Two weeks slipped by without me visiting this place to have a little write, but here I am, better late than never.

It’s sunny in San Francisco and the temperature is a very pleasant 19 degrees, so inevitably I am exhausted and want to sleep the whole time.

Last week was a bit of a blur, with visits to Manchester (work), Liverpool (Keith Haring exhibition); delivering a workshop in less time than I thought I had (calendarial oversight). loads of fun culture stuff (We Dig @ Oval House), marching for the People’s Vote.

By far the stand-out was Cher at the O2, who was simply incredible, at 73. Countless costume changes, superb voice, sassy chat. A joy from start to finish. And basically everyone I knew, and their dogs, were in the arena somewhere.

This week has been mostly rest, a bit of work, meeting new humans (welcome Heston), and dodging wildfires. Predictably the body has decided to have its post-stress meltdown with lots of weird aches, pains and lurgy taking over. I’m hoping it’ll work its way out soon and normal service will be resumed.

Noteworthy reading this week

Are index funds communist? – this broke my brain a bit, but there’s some sense to the suggestion that capitalism and the free market become redundant once technology becomes the smartest way to assign capital

Do voters really want another general election? December 12 is the next general election (to quote Brenda, “Another one?”). When asked, though, this time voters would actually prefer another referendum if given the choice – a view I agree with. It’s the least messy way of putting Brexit to bed once and for all. But it’s obviously polarising leave / remain voters. Sir John Curtice, we’re going to need you in the coming weeks. Incidentally, Twitter’s decision to stop taking paid political advertising is shrewd and well argued. Which is a bit of a surprise.