Weeknote 7th Jan 2024 – End of One Era…

Goodbye old friend, we’ve been through a lot.

So, something of a quiet week work-wise, as I’m not actually employed right now. This was thrust into sharp relief when a courier came the the house on Monday to take away my partner-in-crime for the last eleven months.

In many ways losing this laptop felt much stranger than other job changes because it was very much “and there goes government”, something I’ve been used to being inside and connected to for a very long time. I’m sure there are virtually-public documents I’ll rue not copying, or contacts I’ll curse myself for not adding to a personal phone, not to mention folks I will miss being able to badger on the cross-government slack at a moment’s notice. But it’s definitely time for a change, and the clean break is going to be good for my wellbeing.

To that end, I decided that I was going to give back my ticket to the ukgovcamp unconference later this month. I booked it ages ago, when I was still in “GDS Head of Product Profession” mode. I’m sure I’d have seen loads of old friends there, but I realised it was just a bit too early to be caught up in the inevitable advice-giving and light coaching. Next year, I’m going. And I think I’ll have a lot more fun. I hope that whoever gets my ticket has a total blast.

Traditionally most folks leaving government go on a massive rant about everything they’ve not been able to say for years, due to rules on impartiality. It’s certainly tempting, but so many of the things I’d want to talk about are now playing out in a blatantly obvious fashion, so – well – it’s not going to make much difference…to me or others.

However: folks still within the civil service, I am still going to be there defending you and standing up for the hard choices you have to make in difficult circumstances. I hope you continue to be evidence-guided and hypothesis-driven wherever you can be, despite the pressures. I’ll soon be in a position to provide tea and sympathy once more – but I do need to have this bit of breathing space first. And if I ever start bitching as though I know better when I wasn’t there in the room, please send me a message and I’ll fix things asap.

Also on the leaving front: I’ve continued to have a trickle of lovely messages arrive in the inbox from former colleagues, talking about ways I’d helped them or the blimey-I-didn’t-know-that reason they’d not been able to be part of the rituals of my departure. Thank you all. And if anyone feels like leaving a Recommendation to my LinkedIn profile that would be just lovely. As someone who acts as ‘general organisational glue’ it can be incredibly helpful stuff to reflect on. (I remember that, for one prior big job, I learned more about what I’d actually done for people through those recommendations than almost anything else.)

I’m still getting folks liking, commenting on, and sharing my work on the Product DDaT Framework within social media, which is nice. (I even had one text message that was so kind I might have had a tiny tear in my eye.) Anyway, fingers crossed this means it will continue to have a life once folks are back in the office, despite the pressures of everyone’s day jobs.

New Bug

I start at Which? tomorrow.

I’ve spent a bit of today gathering all my thoughts as an outsider, along with a few things folks said to me about their own impressions of the organisation/offer. I also walked through the process of deciding whether to subscribe, poking around the free offer and walking the payment journey. Because tomorrow I’ll start having loads of context that will erode that outside view, so I want something to be able to refer back to. “This is what you *used* to think, Tom”. And I looked through my Job Description once more.

There’s lots to think about in that collated document – but I also know I’m joining a bunch of smart people, who’ll have considered or tested loads of things already, and have a ton of ideas of their own.

Anyway, preparations. I’ve chosen a new-ish Moleskine notebook for day one. Not completely untouched, but certainly one that isn’t full of existential woes from the last 18 months. I’ve got two brand-new Rotring Tikky pencils, and some fairly fresh fine-point sharpies, and decided not to switch back the Livescribe just yet. So the satchel is completely prepared.

Thankfully I’m travelling light, as there’s a tube strike tomorrow and getting from East London to Regents Park for 9:30 is going to be a bit of a pain. Everyone else comes by overground train, so I’m one of the few affected. But I am also delighted that I’m making the journey in for what sounds like an *incredibly* well-planned induction process. Feeling really heartened by that, and looking forward to getting stuck in.

What else?

There’s been a lot of culture.

First up was going to see the RSC/Improbable production of “My Neighbour Totoro” at the Barbican.

This is the only photo I got to take – as they rightly say everyone should discover the magic for themselves. Suffice to say, it’s absolutely epic – as you’d expect given that the director is more used to putting on productions of Philip Glass operas. The puppetry is designed and built by the Hensons, and just when you think “there’s no possible way they’ll pull off that scene from the film”, somehow they do. There’s genuinely a Totoro on stage. He’s massive. And moves. Even this little blue opening screen contains some playfulness as the evening transforms from a film to a stage show.

Anyway, here’s the trailer:

Yes, the tickets are…not cheap. But you can really see where the money’s gone. The girl who plays ‘Mei’ is utterly convincing as an annoying four-year-old. The mum is a much more rounded character, Kanta has a back-story. I actually think it’s…gasp…better than the film. I’m really hoping to see it again before it closes, even if it’s just me on my own. Happy to conspire with other folks who are tempted, though…

Also, inexplicably, in the Barbican Auditorium that night there were a whole bunch of the costumes from the new Emma Stone film “Poor Things”.

They were absolutely *beautiful*. And of course you can’t help but be agog and think “but the real Emma Stone really wore these clothes, you know…like…EMMA STONE!”

We watched the film itself across two nights this week, courtesy of BAFTA shenanigans. It’s a complicated watch, I must say. She is incredible in it – just so detailed in how she portrays a child’s mind in an adult’s body. Visually it’s astounding. Mark Ruffalo is totally charming as a cad and bounder, and having an absolute blast. The hybrid creatures populating her world remind me of that old b3ta.com era website Human Descent in their playfulness. Loads of it is wry and funny. But…it’s also very gruesome, and some other people watching it with me were pretty uncomfortable about whether all the sex in it was completely necessary – or if the shooting style through all the fish-eye lenses veered away from being about viewing her as a science experiment and more into voyeurism. Emma was one of the producers, and has said that she sees the film about being what life would be like for women if they didn’t have shame. I can see the argument for that, but it also does still feel a bit of a “male gaze” film. There’s a lot to admire, and I’m glad I saw it – but I don’t think I want to watch it again and it’s definitely NOT a date film.

Otherwise, it’s been a bit quiet on the film-watching front. “A Haunting in Venice” was good fun and well executed. You kind of know what you’re going to get with Branagh’s outings as Poirot, and it doesn’t disappoint.

I got a bit overwhelmed by “I have a week left to do ALL THE LEISURE” at the start of the week. I wrote down a list of everything that was in my head I *could* be doing, and it filled more than a side of A4. So I just kept halving that list until I found the top few things that really mattered.

  • The tax return is done. Thankfully this year I had a pleasant surprise and found I’d saved enough in advance. Unlike last year when I found out my umbrella company had got their sums wrong and I owed HMRC five grand. Just as I was leaving DIT. But this time I’ve got a few hundred quid spare. For some definitions of “spare”.
  • I started making a dent in Dave Martin and Andrea Saez’s “Product Momentum Gap”, which has been by the side of the bed for ages.
  • Similarly, I’ve been getting through Steven Johnson’s “Wonderland” which is a fabulous book about how many inventions today came from playfulness and mucking about and entertainment to an almost equal extent that they emerged from the scientific and industrial thinking we traditionally celebrate.
  • I slept, meditated, walked, went to the osteopath to get uncricked and did lots of other basic care.

I also radically simplified the studio, because I wanted to do some actual writing of music and get into flow. I put away the modular rig, because – even though I really enjoy using it – it sometimes feels like discovering rather than creating music. And I wanted to remember how to do the latter. All the technology was starting to get in the way, and I was consumed with how I was going to bring together all my different influences – Hannah Peel, Debussy, Peter Gabriel, Underworld etc etc – and getting nowhere.

Vicky went all Roy Kent at me – told me to stop taking it all so seriously, and just have some facking fun.

So I did. This was knocked up in an afternoon, and still needs tons of work, obviously, but I’m rather pleased with it. While making it I learned/remembered an absolute ton about my synths, my software, and my joy in music. I’m still not 100% sure if it’s going to be an instrumental or a song. The chorus needs to be a bit more distinct from the verse. There are some passing notes (in the bassline in the middle of the chorus) that do weird things with the harmony. It needs to be a bit less blatantly William Orbit. And it needs to progress across the song – this is still my “la-ing along” version while I work out what the shape truly is. You’ve heard it all by the end of the first chorus. But it’s a demo of something that will one day be something else – or maybe two something elses.

Maybe there will soon be more of the same – but better.

I’ve just heard that the tube strike tomorrow is off, which is a huge relief. I’m off to go and make dinner, think about exciting new opportunities, and try not to spend too much time missing the past…

Don’t look back, don’t look back…

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