Weeknotes: Sunday 30th August 2020

There are a hundred little ways which the pandemic has changed our lives, often without us noticing. For example: despite being at home, work now dominates my life in a way which isn’t conventionally true. Although I’ve been pretty-religious about keeping to an eight hour schedule at regular times outside of these times, for quite a long period, there wasn’t much else to do, to get engaged with. The only rhythm left was the work.

The past two weeks of holiday have really hammered this home to me. I’ve always been someone who spends the first few days of holiday fretting about work: there is always something which has been forgotten or which I didn’t have time to finish, always some kind of loose end, and I spend those early days thinking about it and worrying. It’s ridiculous and unhealthy, but after a couple of days I’m fine.

Not this time – it took basically the whole first week – and I’m convinced it’s because the pandemic has made things worse.

We actually went out to a pub to meet people on Thursday, which meant I got drunk on two pints and very drunk on four. That was psychologically weird. Part of me didn’t want to go, and I have no idea why. Fear of the unknown.

In other COVID-related news, I was tested to see if I could donate convalescent plasma. And it turns out that my antibody levels were too low to be of any use. The actual result is just negative or positive: if it’s negative, it doesn’t mean you haven’t had COVID, it just means it’s below a set number, so it could be zero or it could be “quite a lot but not enough”. As five months have elapsed since I had the bug (I think – there were no tests available then) it was always likely that my antibody levels would have declined.

There’s also a 30% chance of a false negative. The parameters are set pretty high because taking plasma is a complex and expensive process so it’s better, as my dad would have said, to be safe than sorry.

I’m slightly glad that I now don’t have to have my own blood taken from me, filtered, and put back in – but on the other hand, I wish that I had been of some use.

Stuff I’ve been reading

There’s an interesting concept of your present-self and future-self at work in this post. It’s worth reading.

Related: Obsessions with self improvement aren’t always healthy. Sometimes it’s just good to let yourself be:

The urges are not based on anything meaningful. They come from reading a magazine, or someone’s blog, and thinking, “Oh, that would be cool!” I read lists of things I should do someday, places I should go, achievements others have done … and the idea pops into my head that I should do them. Hey cool, let’s suddenly pursue a new goal! But this new fantasy in my head isn’t based on anything that matters, just a cool image that I have in my head about how awesome my life will be once I achieve this goal.

BRB moving to Switzerland

Lunchtime is sacred time in Switzerland. When I was on maternity leave, my husband came home for lunch to help me care for our daughter. This strengthened our marriage. Many families still reunite during weekdays over the lunch hour.


The planet is fucked, redux

The madness of airline elite status:

The costliest manifestations of GS-MAD are unnecessary year-end trips, called “mileage runs” in the frequent-flier community, which are cousins to the flights Walter Kirn’s protagonist in “Up in the Air” takes to meet his goal of a million lifetime miles. I asked around to find the highest amount anyone had heard of being spent on mileage runs: the winner was fifteen thousand dollars, by a friend of a friend, in a month.

I know someone who constantly berated those of us who bought a car because we didn’t live in an urban centre with adequate public transport while flying enough air miles every year to maintain the highest tier of frequent flier class on his chosen airline. One of the flights they take has enough carbon emissions attached to run a family car for a year.

Everyone has their blindspots about the environment, and this is just one example. There’s the concerned parent that complains about air quality around their school while driving their child there in an SUV, just the two of them. There’s pretty much anyone who understands the impact of meat and dairy farming on global warming but doesn’t become vegan.

But those who travel the globe to speak and attend conferences, flying long haul more than once a year? Yeah. Those ones annoy me more than most.


When I left school in 1983 my ambitions boiled down to owning a van and being in a band. The two things were not unconnected: I was a terrible keyboard player (punk, yo) but if I owned a van the band would still need me to cart the equipment around from gig to gig, free festival to free festival.

I never bought a van – in fact, I never learned to drive – but neither did I replace that ambition with another. Leaving school at the age of 16, with four CSEs at the height of Thatcher’s era of mass unemployment basically meant I had no expectation of ever even working. And if I did, it would be a shitty job, probably in a shitty shop. When a local Wickes store opened, I applied and didn’t even get a reply, let alone an interview.

The trajectory of my escape from that world is long and complex and deserves its own piece of writing, but the important point is this: I had no ambitions. Ambitions were something that other people had, but not working class kids from Derby. I had dreams, sure. But there was no possible path from here to there.

Since then, though, ambitions have become the playground of the young, and there’s been an expectation actually rooted in reality that a young person’s ambitions can be fulfilled. You could travel and work in Europe. You could go to university. You could get a job, buy a house, something that so so few of your parents were able to do. Some of these simple things moved from ambitious dreams to expectations.

The past ten years have chipped away at this. A house has become something no one can afford unless they can rely on the bank of mum and dad, while the media bombards you with messages about how it’s your own fault you can’t save a hundred thousand pounds. Jobs which offer long-term careers and progression have been eroded, to the point of destruction. There is no such thing as job security if you are young.

Brexit and COVID, though, have been the twin hammer blows which have destroyed the opportunities of the young. Brexit’s retreat to cosy little Englander fantasies of an idealised 1950s Britain mean putting up borders and robbing the young of a core part of their identity, while reducing the ability of the poorest to up sticks and work wherever they can across the continent. Looking abroad for work was one of the few routes out of Thatcher’s newly-impoverished Britain when I left school, and that option just won’t exist the young poor in a few months time.

But it is probably COVID which will have a longer term impact, and which will break the back of ambition, particularly for those reaching maturity now. In a long and brilliant Twitter thread, David Hayward wrote that “a pandemic is a killer of the dreams of the young” and nothing could be closer to the truth. I have been lucky to live for 53 years in a bubble of safety, with the freedom to roam and to dream. Until we find a vaccine, that freedom is basically gone. Who can have ambitions, who can have dreams, when the next person you meet might be the one that passes on a deadly virus rather than the person who changes your life for the better?

31 May 2020 Weeknote

Habits, as I’ve learned over the past few months, are a good thing. They’re also something I resisted like the plague in the past owing to a misplaced idea that creativity and all things good came out of spontaneity not repetition.

I’m not sure I even believed that myself at the time, so it’s good to get it out there and over with.

One habit that I’ve been meaning to get into for about fifteen years is the habit of blogging regularly, something that I really haven’t done for a good ten years, possibly more. Prompted by the appearance in my feeds of this post from the redoubtable Ben Hammersley (were you twiddling with your feeds, Ben?) I’ve decided that a regular weeknote of my own will be in order.

Unlike many weeknotes, there won’t be much about work in these. There’s a couple of reasons for that: first, much of what I do these days is connected to people management, or in some way sensitive to the business. I can’t really write much about that, although I might write more generally about digital publishing every now and then (I have, as you can guess, opinions.)

So the focus is going to be a bit more personal. I hope that’s OK.

Covid exhaustion

In common with a surprisingly small percentage of the population I’ve had the coronavirus in my system. For me the symptoms at the time I got it were minor: a raised temperature for a whole day, a very intermittent cough for a couple of days, a couple of other things. The biggest impact was tiredness, which was like nothing I’ve ever encountered before. I felt ill first thing in the morning, so I started writing an email to my manager – and something which should have taken me five minutes to compose took nearly half an hour. I couldn’t concentrate, and my eyes just started closing.

I promptly slept from 9am till 9pm, when I woke up and soon enough fell asleep again.

Since then tiredness has been an ever-present factor in my life, and I’ve learned to manage it so I get the most important things done in the morning. This week, that feeling has been back with a vengeance. I don’t know if this is the start of some kind of post-illness fatigue syndrome or what, but at one point in the early evening I was lying on the small sofa and was so tired that I literally felt my arms slump to my side as I passed out.

I’m hoping this will pass, but if not, I’ll embrace it and just get up earlier. You can only do what you can do.

Big-picture productivity

A few weeks ago I signed up to Pater Akkies’ “Big Picture Productivity” course, and I’ve just completed the second module. I discovered Peter through YouTube – where I discover 90% of people these days – where he’s put a series of really nice videos on setting up Things, OmniFocus and some other tools.

The course is really good, and I’d recommend it to most people. The modules released so far have been on the basic productivity strategies of thinking about your values and roles then working through what your goals are. Once you’ve done that it’s time to work out what the actionable projects are which lead to your goals.

I like Peter’s avoidance of the SMARTER framework which everyone uses for goals. One thing that I’ve come to understand is that some goals don’t have an end: for example, a goal of reducing your carbon emissions isn’t ever going to end, but it’s still a goal. The projects you put together to achieve that should have something closer to a smarter framework, but the goal itself can be ongoing.

Peter has also finallygot me using Notion, which I’ve resisted for a long time. A notes app that is really a database sounds too much like the kind of thing that I would spend about a year tinkering with to get it just so while never actually using. But Peter’s course shows you how you can use it to track goals and projects in a way that I really like. I’ll still use my Bullet Journal for my day-to-day note taking, but when I need something more serious I can see how Notion fits in.


The other big discovery of the week is Tot, which I’ve written about extensively already so I won’t dwell on it too much. However, it’s a great example of an application which uses a limitation as a fundamental feature to nudge someone towards a better behaviour. We need more of that.


For some reason I ended up listening to “I’m a tree” by Imani Coppola AKA the single that almost sank her career. After having a big hit with her first song, top 20 worldwide and all that kind of thing, this one was released and promptly charted… absolutely nowhere. Well, it scraped the top 200 in Australia.


Grayson’s Art Club is of course fantastic. There’s a long-running battle in our house over which of is Grayson and which is Philippa. I’m also really enthused by the amount of talks that museums and art galleries are making available virtually while we’re all stuck at home, plus the new range of plays and ballets available on YouTube. At least, the internet is enabling democratic culture.

As well, of course, as resurgent nationalism, but we will talk no more of that.