Monthly Archives: February 2023

Weeknote 26th Feb – Collecting, and future-gazing

So a very belated weeknote, featuring thoughts on senior stakeholder ideas, governance, community building, phat basslines, meta-theatre and much more.

The set for "Orlando"
Set for Orlando. Not quite the “back wall of the theatre” it first appears.

Technically all this “being visible” stuff is 100% part of the new job, but it still feels a little odd taking working-hours time out from what I tend to think of as “the day job” to write everything up. Particularly as a contractor. I’ve probably been over-trained on the “Daily Mail test”, but hopefully it’ll settle down. Anyway, the upshot is I leave writing these to the weekend, and then much-more-important-real-life happens…so here I am on Sunday evening doing this.

The upside is that there’s a little more time to reflect on the various excitments and wry asides of the last week.

My big piece of work this week was drawing together an overall vision for GDS’s group of “Heads of Profession”. It’s slightly odd to be leading this as the most recent joiner – but I have the advantage of having a) come from a place where some of this was maturing, b) loads more free time in the diary than many of my peers. Anyway, I’m two weeks in and tomorrow I’ll be presenting it twice – to the GDS People Board, and also a gathering of all our DDs. We’re sharing it very much as a prototype, alongside “these are what we think are your problems” to try and get feedback on it as a whole. We want to try and improve the intent, rather than any given adjective. Let’s see how that plays out.

It’s been quite challenging doing this when I barely know many of my partners in crime, but my main takeaway has been that they’re all lovely. Yes, there have been places where we’ve needed to nudge a few of my first ideas, but it’s all been hugely in the spirit of making it better, nobody is precious or dogmatic, and everyone’s been really vocal about appreciating my work bringing together the thing for us to change. I really think we’re a good group, and I’m looking forward to working with everyone. It’s been quite a big thing to take on within the first fortnight, but very rewarding.

I’ve also been asked to start getting involved with gathering benchmarking pay data for the profession. David, who leads software engineering, has created some fascinating spreadsheets that mine websites – and I’m wondering whether it’s going to take less time to understand his code or to find my own approach. If anyone’s recently done an exercise like this, do please let me know – I’ll find a way to get you back!

Alongside this, it was nice to start reaching out to the wider GDS product profession a lot more.

I’ve had really good chats with all three Heads of Product (there’s one for each of GOV.UK, Digital Services Platform and Digital Identity) and we’ve said that we’re going to work together to set up two communities within Product. The first will be about building our product leadership, and the other will be about practice within teams. The reason for creating focussed sessions for the “grade 6” community isn’t to exclude anyone else, but because lots of the conversation we’ll be having will be too abstract for your average PM/APM. (I’ve watched too much ‘glazing over’ at events that tried to cater to a very broad audience, from either end of the spectrum, and it’s not happening on my watch.) I hope to make this group a bit more permeable over time, but let’s see. Anyway, I want to help the leadership group build their skills at understanding where everyone else is at, and designing how we’ll shape community sessions/L&D interventions to make sure people are getting the most useful skills for our current context.

I had my first “PMs, meet Tom” session, which was pretty well attended for a Friday afternoon. I talked a bit about how I’d got to this point in my career, some stuff around strengths and weaknesses, and what I valued in product craft. There were some really good questions too, and of course I ended up recommending some books.

One of the emerging themes that came out of that discussion, including the slack chats that happened afterwards, was how important it is to think about why you’re doing user research – particularly when dealing with big stakeholder ideas.

As longstanding twitter followers and many folks at DIT will know, I’m a big fan of Teresa Torres’ “Opportunity Solution Trees” and how she talks about the importance of choosing between ideas. It’s way too easy (and I’ve 100% been guilty of this) to end up doing research into “do they like the idea or not” rather than devising experiments that are focused on checking the assumptions that’ll help you choose between idea A, B and C. Which often will be a completely different prototype from anything you’ll really be building. Otherwise all you’re finding out is whether the team is competent at interaction and content design – and that’s the “colouring in” you can do once you know you’ve got a valuable problem to solve and folks are likely to care. So my personal take is that research – when done well and you have the time to think about it to this level of abstraction – should be about validating choices or getting the insight you need to take your next step.

But this also plays into the idea of working stakeholder ideas. If you’re someone senior, you are on the hook for a general goal around revenue or growth or cost or efficiency – and you might have a few ideas about ways to do that. Perhaps, with your experience, you’ll latch onto something you feel is promising – and you’ll suggest the team look into that. Now, the team may not be 100% convinced about the idea – but the danger is they’ll fall into researching to prove it’s wrong. Actually we need better ideas, more things to choose between. Saying the idea is bad doesn’t make the target go away. Only coming up with a better way of hitting the target will allow everyone to move forward. So our research/prototyping/spikes should be focused on that – because this is how we show we’re empowering teams. They’re closer to the users and closer to what’s possible right now, but they also need time to think, and have the responsibility to use that wisely to come up with improved approaches.

Anyway, hopefully I can get some more of that to happen.

I’ve also been involved in a few discussions about roadmapping and governance, and was mildly amused to find that an old talk of mine from 5-6 years ago about OKRs (as a process) was still doing the rounds at GDS. Annoyingly though, the version that’s in circulation (because an enterprising DM copied it to their personal drive) is v1.0 and doesn’t contain any of the later stuff I added about better key results and metrics hierarchies. So I’ve had to sheepishly email the old boss and say “hello, as you now own my old google drive at DIT, might you search for the words ‘Nicole Forsgren’?” in the hope there’s a copy of v2.0 anywhere.

Information Management, clearly still a thing. Sigh.

It’s nice to see that one of the fridges at work is now becoming the “this is for everyone” milkfridge.

Lots of milk, put there for sharing.

I really hope this continues. The fear that someone might be freeloading almost certainly isn’t worth the costs of trying to ensure it’s 100% auditably fair.

So that’s all the work nonsense.

On Wednesday I got to see the amazing production of ‘Orlando’ starring Emma Corrin – my only sneaky photo is at the top of this post. I’d really enjoyed reading the book in preparation for this, but was only about halfway through by the time we saw it. I am totally in awe of Virginia Woolf’s writing, and am sad it’s taken to this stupid age to get to it. (Also, weirdly, despite my aphantasia, I find I can see an enormous amount of what she’s writing about in my head, which is a hugely strange feeling. This must be what everyone else has, all the time! Who knows how that will play out – is it possible it’s a skill I can start to build?) Anyway, it was as “meta” a play as the book is a “meta” biography. There was a truly incredible (and not 100% binary) cast, who acted as a chorus of Virginia Woolfs when they weren’t playing other roles, commentating on the action. And it was unexpectedly hugely moving when Orlando moved past 1941 – the sad end of Woolf’s own life – and the chorus said they couldn’t write Orlando’s story any more. Sorry, that’s probably a spoiler. Anyway, go if you still can.

Segment from the Wine Society's 2021 Burgundy 'in bond' brochure, saying "small quantities of pretty, aromatic wines".
“It’s a trap”

The Wine Society sent me a brochure about 2021 Burgundy ‘En Primeur’. This is where you buy it while it’s still outside the UK, and often from producers who can’t supply at the scale supermarkets need – so it’s a good way to get interesting wines early, if you can afford to buy 6-12 bottles at a time. However there is a euphemism printed on the outside of the envelope it came in. “Small quantities”. Burgundy growers know people will pay regardless, so I suspected – as I opened the envelope – that this meant “really bloody expensive”. And I was right. So just Rhone for me this year then.

My friend Des was getting rid of his Behringer Model D – basically a modern clone of a Minimoog. This is the synth used by Stevie Wonder for all those amazing funk basslines, Gary Numan on “Cars”, Rick Wakeman on blistering solos etc etc. I spent an hour or two with it earlier and the (appallingly mixed, clichéd and shonky) thing above gives a sense of what a monster it is. Just incredible bass sounds. Really looking forward to getting to know it better, and treating it with a bit more taste and respect.

What else to note?

  • I got the film BAFTAs wrong, as I always do. Virtually none of my choices won awards. Hey ho. I mean, I genuinely love Cate Blanchett, but was her performance really as innovatively vast as Emma Thompson or Michell Yeoh’s?
  • I’m managing to keep active despite being back at work – two runs this week, and walking to the station every day I went in, despite the temptation to collapse onto the bus.
  • Someone at GDS kindly referred to me in their own weeknote, and linked to the homepage of this site – a page I’d not looked at for years. Dear me! Anyway, I managed to find an FTP client, and remembered how to use vi to edit the raw html…
  • And I’ve booked tickets to see Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith at King’s Place, and Orbital at the Cambridge Corn Exchange – both of which I’m hugely looking forward to.

Right, bring on week three!

Weeknote 17th Feb – Go East

So I started at GDS. It’s been lovely to be made so very welcome by so many people – lots of old friends and a growing number of new ones.

Carly Rae Jepsen in a bright pink leotard and jacket
Carly Rae Jepsen performing at Alexandra Palace this week. She was ace.

There’s a lot that’s changed here in the last four years. The new Digital Identity programme is delivering a lot of stuff very quickly. GOV.UK obviously went through supporting Brexit in the COVID era…and had to do that while also supporting the COVID era. Basically, quite a lot of “it just has to be done”, for quite a long time. There have been lots of changes of leadership. And “Government as a Platform” has evolved into a new third directorate. Plus, of course, CDDO split off from GDS.

It turns out that the Head of Profession role had drifted away a bit while I was gone. It may have even been on the way out when I left, but I was probably too busy to notice.

As a result it now looks like most of the staff/craft development has been happening within the individual programmes, or on an ad-hoc basis through informal communities, for quite a while. Each programme has its own Head of Product, looking after their own team’s needs, which was probably a decent option when everyone was heads-down. (They also seem to have been doing pretty well under the circumstances.)

The return of Heads of Professions is therefor a bit of a working hypothesis – that coordination between these programmes and shared leadership is for the greater good – but we are all having to prove our actual value. Which is no bad thing, to be honest. It’s also something of a relief to be more in “Pioneer” or even better “Settler” mode – because I get a bit twitchy if I’m in “Town Planner” mode for too long.

One of they key things I’m being asked to look at is a shared roadmap for GDS. The teams have been making good progress on creating this – but I know that I’ve fallen into this trap before, and we probably need to be focusing more on articulating the principles behind our product strategy, and getting consensus around those.

There are a lot more PMs to consider than I first thought – the number I was given when onboarding was just civil servants, not contractors or suppliers. So the job’s potentially about 50% bigger than expected. But I don’t have to tackle everything at once. In fact, a lot of the week has involved me reminding myself “it’s only day four”.

One of the things I was relieved to be able to do by the end of the week was start pulling my notebook scribbles into some kind of structure. When you start, you’ve got no idea which things are important, or a theme – every potential person to see or thing to do feels the same size. For probably fifteen years I’ve been advocating “only have one to-do list” to people (although I split home and work contexts into different apps – home stuff is completely in ToDoist so I’m not accidentally getting work panics at the garden centre). However there’s nuance to that, because some things are bigger than tasks, they’re goals – and you need to keep being reminded of those. A to-do list that just smashes all those together is no use. So, for the last year or so, I’ve always wandered around with a bit of A3 set out like this:

Tom's A3 layout for goal and task management, which gets explained in the following paragraphs.
It rarely looks as tidy as this.

Top left are the main goals, the things I’m really trying to achieve. But there are other things creating mental noise, and sometimes that only goes away if you say “yeah, subconscious thanks for the reminder, that’s not important this week, but I’ll write it down to make sure you feel heard” so occasionally there will be wider goals just as handy reminders.

Then I have a column that’s for small tasks – everything I have to do that emerges through the week. And as you go from meeting to meeting you just add more tasks as they occur. But having them in the context of the goals can help you make sure you’re ticking off the right things.

I usually have a small list of the meetings that day, and clearly work out how much Actual Time To Get Things Done that leaves – so I know I’m choosing the most important things for my 90 minutes of Real Work.

And the rest of the A3 sheet is for other scribbles.

And at the start of each week I rewrite it completely. This re-processing reminds me of what the goals are, if I’ve not ticked them off. It allows me to filter the tasks from the previous week, because some of them might turn out to be new goals – or actually not that relevant after all. And I pull any important notes into a document.

Let me know if that sounds like it might work for you? Or you can see ways to improve it?

Anyway, it was a huge relief to get to the point where I felt I could start building that picture of “what’s important, and what are the next most urgent steps to get there…and what is Just Admin”. Thanks to everyone who gave their time so generously in the first week while I was flailing around – the Heads of Product, the other Heads of Professions – particularly Nick, and my new boss Neil.

I’ve also been rebuilding workflow habits around GSuite, after two years in Microsoft-land. I don’t have to use Teams any more, and the laptop is an M1 Macbook, so everything feels really fast – but email threading works differently, I’m switching between tabs or windows rather than applications, there aren’t the same sort of conversation-specific shared drives. I’m sure it’ll feel normal really quickly, but it’s definitely extra cognitive load right now. (And astute observers will notice that a bit of my leaving present from DIT has joined me here in GDS towers).

James Darling will be pleased to know that – due to the demise of GDS Milk Club during lockdown – I’m still carrying on his cultural intervention from 2014.

Large carton of milk with "for all" written on the side.
Shared milk. Let’s see how this goes.

Anyway, I’m definitely “tired, but not exhausted” which is a good thing. Going into the office for all five days was qute tiring – particularly after six weeks at home – but I’m really glad I got to meet so many people face to face, and build that sense of belonging in the new office. I’ll even have a pass by next Friday!


The Carly Rae Jepsen gig was just delightful. It’s the first time in ages I’ve driven to and from a gig, but it was lovely to be home so quickly and I managed to cope with not having all the pints better than I thought I would. It was a lovely kind crowd too, with very little elbowing or shoving in front of, or being aggressively danced at. The set list wasn’t what I’d have expected – big singles like Call me Maybe, Really Really Like You, In My Room all happened pretty early on – but I think she judged it right that this particular audience were all hanging on to hear “Boy Problems” etc.

Carly Rae Jepsen in outfit two

Then on Friday I got to see Hannah Peel perform her wonderful Delia-Derbyshire-based album “Fir Wave” at Kings Place, with my new gig-buddy Victor. She was incredible, as was fellow musician Hazel Mills (often to be found with Goldfrapp). I’ll listen to the album in a whole new way now I’ve seen the additional vocal, violin and piano layers I’d never spotted before, thanks to seeing them played live. The encore included her performing ‘Sugar Hiccup’ on a custom music box with lots of live processing, and I definitely had something in my eye at that point.

Hazel Mills (left) and Hannah Peel (right) behind synthesisers and with pink bars of light illuminating them spookily.

Next week brings Emma Corrin in Orlando, and a lot less commuting thankfully. Some tickets to see They Might Be Giants at the Roundhouse were acquired, and I’m probably getting some for Orbital and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith as well. I’m taking things a lot more gently for a bit, while I get into the new rhythm – but so far it’s all looking really good.

Weeknote 10th February – Being ready

I’m writing this after a lovely lunch with Vicky in a railway arch in Forest Gate.

A 'street food' pasta truck, covered in astroturf, but inside a railway arch with tables in front. There are drapes on the ceiling and fancy light bulbs.
The Fiore pasta truck.

It was a truly delightful way to bring quite a momentous week to a close.

Last week’s weeknote was a bit late because I was wrestling with quite a lot of stuff. I mean, how was it that, after nearly a month away from work, I was still feeling…not exactly “burnt out”, but knowing something still wasn’t quite right? I was reminded of something Michael Rosen said in the Guardian about his son Eddie’s death, where he felt he was still ‘carrying around an elephant’. On a much smaller scale, I still felt there was something I’d still not quite managed to shed. And I’d really hoped to do that before I started in the new place – a particular reason to take the extra week off.

Obviously the ‘machinery of government’ move at the start of the week was all over twitter, so I found myself lightly dragged back into that world. A few friends at DIT needed reassuring words, that sort of thing. I didn’t mind, but I was hugely aware that I was having to do it all in a mental landscape with this…thing that wouldn’t quite go away. And I really wanted it to.

I’m not just lying on the sofa eating all the chocolates and hoping to feel better, of course. I’ve been trying to look after myself as much as possible, and keep perspectives broad to try and shake things off. Channelling every bit of Laurie Santos and Paul Dolan I could muster.

I’ve been keeping pretty active – getting out of the house every day. I’ve had two runs already this week and am probably heading to parkrun #52 tomorrow. I’ve been spending over an hour a day playing the piano, and more time in the studio (although ‘the elephant’ has made me pretty numb and I’ve not felt at all inspired). There have been loads more BAFTA films watched (how on earth will I choose between Michelle Yeoh and Emma Thompson, eh?). I’ve managed to meditate every day, sometimes for 30 minutes or more – although my inner monologue always seems to be a bit like this track from Phil Hartoll and Murray Lachlan Young (link should be to full version, or there’s a spotify clip below which gives the vibe):

But somehow still things wouldn’t shift, despite doing all that good stuff.

And then yesterday afternoon I was thinking about something a friend had said about three months ago: “how do you wrap it up as being a good thing to have happened, and metaphorically put a bow on it?” In four years of huge ups and huge downs, how do you reconcile all those different scenes and feelings? And so, out of curiosity, I opened up a document I’d written in December that was some bullet points listing things I’d done while at DIT, and…

It was just massive. Absolutely huge.

I really don’t want to come across as blowing my own trumpet – because yes I also made a lot of mistakes and learned loads and defiinitely didn’t do it all on my own – but there were probably about a hundred people whose working lives I’d made a big difference to. In some cases their personal lives as well. And finally the ‘welling up’ that I’d been expecting at my leaving do hit me like a massive wave. And I realised that I’d found the elephant at last. I’d just never truly looked at the whole thing and tried to assess it. I’d just assumed that it would organically get assimilated over time – but that hadn’t happened.

[Some belatedly added context here: it’s worth saying that when I joined DIT it was still pretty new and things weren’t in a great place, and I had to do a lot of culture/governance/process change – and not everyone wanted to go along with that. There were lots of people who were pretty new in their roles too. So I had to shoulder a lot of stuff that was out of my comfort zone – and take a lot of blows from different directions. And then I moved into Brexit, where a lot of people were under a ton of pressure, and they didn’t always handle it brilliantly. And after that we went into a restructure in a matrix environment, and I often found myself on the frontline when this affected some of the other teams and their ways of working. Plus there was creating a profession from scratch…and then having to give it away again. Along the way, through all that almost-violent change, you pick up a lot of ‘moments’ – good and bad. But what I’d discovered was that this was too big to just deal with without some sort of ritual or process.]

So I sat down and opened a google doc, and wrote a massive load of goodbyes and acknowledgements. And, as I was writing, I decided that this was going to be it. Closing the document would be the end of the story. I could write down every delightful moment, every agonising choice that had kept me awake at night, every regret – but knowing that at the end I could look back at the story of it all, be glad it had happened, say adieu, and not look at it again. Every cinematic vignette that I had ever mentally replayed went into the document, so I could press “close” at the end.

[Some more belatedly added context on this process: as I was going through the document the ‘close document’ idea became more and more momentous. It stopped being just a list of stuff I’d done, and more of a gathering of “everything you ever wanted to say about this, because we aren’t going back here, so if you’ve got anything…ANYTHING…else left to say, get it out now.” The idea was that I’d genuinely have no unfinished business – everything would be laid to rest. So “close document” really meant “close this chapter of my life”.]

Having done that: yes I am glad that it all happened. Those four years were really really hard in places, and writing them down was similarly emotional (and drawn out), but they’re done. It’s done. The document got closed. There is a bow on it. It was worthwhile.

And I’m ready for the next thing. 100% ready.

So maybe that’ll work for you if you’re ending big complicated chapters of your own?

(Interestingly there have been a few bits that have popped into my head since, but the thought process is either “yeah, but that’s in the document and we know how it fits into the bigger whole” or “does this matter so much that you want to reopen the document again?” It’s all much, much quieter.)

What else has been going on?

  • Went to a John Mitchell gig on Wednesday, where it was lovely to catch up with old friend and incredible musician Jem Godfrey, and delightful futurist/singer Mark Stevenson
  • Popped into a GDS leaving do on Thursday for one of the devs I’d worked with closely four years ago – Phil Potter. Bless him, he played the bassoon on “tears of a clown” at my 50th birthday party, despite it being miles out of his comfort zone. I only stayed for two drinks because I’ve not truly started yet, and I didn’t want to get into being lobbied, but it was lovely to wish him well, to see old faces and know that people are Actually Quite Excited I’m joining next week. I’ve also got a bit of a sense of what I’m really there to do, as well.
  • I’ve taken the baby grand piano off its little wooden riser blocks. As I’m playing more than an hour a day, getting to the sustain pedal is now causing more pain than not being able to fully get my knees under the keyboard. The tendons in my big toe are very pleased as a result. And the knees will cope. Of course, this is a reminder that the days are numbered for this hand-me-down, but we’ll get another year out of it at least.
  • I started playing the clarinet again – going back to page one of (a new copy of) my old tutor book “A Tune a Day”. During which time I’ve discovered that, despite having got to grade 6 and been 1st clarinet in the school orchestra, there was a whole missing bit to my technique that nobody had ever spotted or tried to fix. I’d been trying to do staccato with my diaphragm, which is apparently wrong.
Phil Potter on Bassoon. Photo courtesy of Gavin Bell. Piezoelectric crook courtesy of Rhodri Marsden.

So, bring on next week!

Weeknote – 3rd February – revisiting skills.

For what was allegedly a week off, this has felt ever such a lot like being at work. It’s definitely been an important time, and with some insights that I really ought to write up later, but still quite ‘worky’. A week where I didn’t really get to switch off much. So I’m truly delighted that the nice people at GDS have agreed that I’m going to start on the 13th Feb rather than the 6th. This way I get next week to truly wrap up some loose ends, with no niggly paperwork hanging over me, and be properly ready for the new job.

Onboarding noise aside, I’ve been dealing with the aftermath of an approach about a VERY big strategic project I haven’t really got time for. Weirdly, the more I tried to kindly get out of it, saying “I’m too busy, but here’s a principle or two to keep you going in the meantime” the keener they became – which is definitely a lesson my impostor syndrome needs to heed.

The only acceptable use of this word. And my goodness, back in the day, did I accept it thoroughly.

I might still help this big programme’s leadership out with some coaching, but there’s a lot of legwork to do – which I won’t have time for. As a result I spent the beginning of the week doing quite a lot of briefing chats with various ‘friends and relations’ to see if they had the time/inclination to get involved. I’m still not sure whether much will come of it personally, because the ‘friends and relations’ can probably cover my bit as well – but it’s nice to help build some bridges between sensible decent people. (And it was also very heartwarming to hear that some people I hugely respect thought they might learn a thing or two from working with me. Bless you!)

Of course, now that I’m definitely free next week, I’m feeling the pressure. How do I strike the right balance between ‘relaxing’ and ‘doing worthwhile things with this time’? Because the two really don’t always align.

For the first few weeks of my break, I’ve massively enjoyed pouring hours of my time into traditional piano practice, because learning a piece doesn’t require tons of creative thought. Someone else has already done that bit. And yes, now there are two Debussy pieces I can play end-to-end that I couldn’t get through previously.

This approach to my artistic side worked really well for a period where I was feeling a bit bloody raw, and didn’t massively want to write much music about that rawness – because the entire point of this time was moving on. But I’m in a much better place now, and am comfortable with the idea I can start to be a bit more creative again through looking forward. I feel like I can escape the gravity well. Although, being fair, creative fulfilment is only one option: just watching a ton of films and finally finishing “Ratchet & Clank: a Rift Apart” is also pretty tempting. So I’m going to test the water on the creative side early next week – but not to the level of turning it into another project.

Related: One of the odd sides of having the Big Scary Project conversations has been that I became slowly aware I definitely have a set of principles for how I think product strategy should happen. This isn’t just a boilerplate copy of stuff that exists elsewhere – it somehow makes people say “ooh”. An approach that is very much my own. So I should probably write that up at some stage.

Although – given the breathing out – this really isn’t the week for it.

On a similar note, it’s been slightly sad to see a bunch of calls for conference sessions saunter past recently…particularly where I know I have things to say, but also know this isn’t the right time to be trying to pull a pitch together.

Likewise, I’ve seen tons of social media updates from former colleagues where I’ve been hugely tempted to ask more – but know I just need to breathe out and let things take their course without me. For everyone’s sake. Because others have to grow into the space I took up. Even though, dear readers, nobody is forgotten or uncared-for.

But space is being created, things are being gently walked away from etc etc. And that’s a good thing.


I went to Tannhauser at the Royal Opera House. What a truly bonkers story. Stefan Vinke was still suffering a bit from a throat infection, and went a bit Rawwwwk in places, but his enforced ‘back seat’ actually gave space to show just how much it really should be Elisabeth’s story. The whole “saintly pure women on a pedestal” thing hasn’t aged massively well, but…my goodness, the tunes!

In traditional Wagner over-production style, we had THREE bloody harps. It was amazing. And I now wish I could play the oboe.

Look at all our harps!
And huge mixing desk.
And a whole box set aside for about a minute of some hunting horns in act two.

This week brought another visit to the Wanstead Tap for book-related culture. Former UEA creative writing professor Meryl Pugh was talking about her new book “Feral Borough”, which is a collection of hyperlocal psychogeography – based largely in the tiny Bushwood area between the north-east of Leytonstone and the south-west of Wanstead. And just over the road from where we live.

Dan Clapton standing in at the last minute to interview Meryl Pugh.

Written by someone with OCD during lockdown, the book touches heavily on mental health…but also gets into plantlife, children’s parties, bluebell species, boa constrictors and so much more. I’m feeling like I really ought to be paying a lot more attention to our walks around the flats and park – there are many interesting things I’ve found out I’m missing even on emergency treks to Tesco!

Bushwood – and some of the ornamental waters and avenues from old Wanstead House on the right. (Thank you Google for the map. I’ve no idea why I couldn’t embed it properly. 🙁 )

As part of the ongoing simplification and decluttering, Vicky and I finally accepted that the “to read” pile of books in our bedroom was becoming a lurking threat, rather than a calming opportunity. This led us, in turn, to realise that we’d got far too many other books shoved horizontally into the shelves we had. So on Friday we cracked and became a six-bookcase couple. (More if you count the kids, obviously)

Still very much work-in-progress. And I really should have put away the HP sauce bottle before taking this.

The breathing space it’s given us is really quite remarkable. We now see our book collection as an opportunity, not a threat. And we can also work out far more easily what we want to keep, what we want to read again, and what it’s time to say goodbye to. Meanwhile our bedroom feels beautifully serene in a way it hasn’t for ages – only the “active reading” books are up there.

Of course it was nice to dust down the tools to prove I am still adept at flatpack furniture, but this weekend I’ve also been performing surgery on a Toyota Aygo with dodgy indicators. It’s a LONG time since I last took any car to pieces, but it was wonderfully reassuring to realise I still have the skills (and tools) to do it.

Taking the bloody steering wheel off a car is still pretty daunting. Particularly when you’re also dealing with an airbag, plus removing a ton of the dashboard and lifting out the speedometer to make room to get your indicators out. It’s also really hard physical work. These things are *incredibly* well attached. Which is a good thing, right?

50 Newton-metres, please sir!

Thankfully I managed to find the torque wrench, which probably last got used in the nineties, and so I am pretty confident we’re safe to drive it agin.

But why, given all my talk of “no projects”? This was one of those really stupid repairs that I know from youtube is just about cleaning up some internal connections on a component that’s otherwise fine. I slightly resented the idea of paying a garage a few hours of labour to blindly swap in an (expensive) replacement…but I also didn’t know if the car would still be on the drive, unusable, four months after I first started. So I was delighted to actually get the damn thing working again, in less than three hours.

When money was scarce and time was abundant, I used to service and tweak our cars all the time. So it was a huge relief to find I could still do all this, and wasn’t going to have to get the garage to come and pick up a bunch of broken bits that needed to be put back together.

The cultural list of ‘things to look forward to’ continues to grow.

  • We’ve booked to see Emma Corrin in “Orlando” in a few weeks’ time…so I really ought to finally have a go at reading it. Although I’ve heard it may not entirely help.
  • We have a very fancy view of Underworld at the Albert Hall (where we also hope to see fellow ‘Children in Need’ alumnus Kate Collins, who now rather impressively runs the Teenage Cancer Trust – and who we’ve not seen in at least fifteen years. So that will be lovely.)
  • I’m going to be seeing Suzanne Ciani at King’s Place, and Vicky’s suspending her disbelief around rambling modular improvisations to come with me
  • In a similar vein, I’m going to see Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith in April.

I’ve also finished watching “The Fabelmans” which was delightful, marvelled at the under-appreciated spectacle of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (and also Letitia Wright’s amazing performance that outstripped “Aisha” by miles in terms of range), enjoyed but wasn’t wowed by Pinocchio, and took in a few other rather lovely films. With still more to watch next week.

So, bring on the rampant leisure. I’ll let you know how I get on!