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.
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.
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.
? 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.
⌛︎ 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.
?♂️ 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.
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.
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].
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.
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.
[Ooh, so cryptic]
I was re-reminded of the best tweet I have seen of late:
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.
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.
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.
? 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.
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?