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.

Elsewhere…

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!

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