I landed in New York with such good intentions. I was looking forward to being five or six hours behind my colleagues in London and Johannesburg so that I could have some focused time on my projects throughout the week. It didn’t work out like that.
The main focus of my visit was to on-board a new team member and get him used to the culture and communication in the team. Unfortunately, by the middle of the week he was no longer working with us. We’ve had to put a contingency plan in place to get things back on track.
The city itself felt crazy busy. Everyone was in town for the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly and the police were everywhere. Early in the week, as I meandered my way across town to the office, I stumbled across where I think Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro was staying. (The chanting, flag-waving crowd offered me a clue.) Who are these people that turn up at a politician’s hotel singing their name? Did anyone do the same thing for Liz Truss?
Because everyone was in town, the city was super expensive. In order to save some money I stayed far from the office, at the Civilian Hotel, in what felt like one of the world’s smallest rooms. As I unpacked, I looked around to find the cupboard and couldn’t see it anywhere. Eventually, its cavernous insides were revealed to me as I closed the bathroom door. The hotel marketed itself as being new and funky — which it was — but it all felt quite impersonal and a little cheap, with daily room cleaning being an add-on that you needed to schedule.
I’ve loved New York since I lived there twenty years ago. It felt quite different this time. There were lots more homeless and troubled people on the street and on the subway. Although many people have left the city through the pandemic, presumably increasing the supply of apartments, people were telling me that their rents have been going up substantially. I wonder if this is the landlord equivalent of an aeroplane, where the people sitting up the front in business class (i.e. the tenants that stayed) subsidise the cost of the whole plane (the apartment block) for everyone else? If there are less rent payers, landlords still have to cover their costs.
I managed to get in a couple of morning runs through Central Park, which was as lovely as ever. One of my Strava-generated routes took me through Times Square, which felt like running through a dustbin. The smells and tastes in the air were horrible. To add to the fun, there are reassuring signs scattered on the different approaches to let you know that it’s illegal to enter with a gun.
Being in New York, I worked on the UK public holiday for the Queen’s funeral and missed the live event. It is already fading into memory as the government starts back up again, announcing that they are pursuing a dreadful set of financial policies that may have dire consequences. When I arrived in the US on Sunday I was getting $1.14 to the pound; by the time I left on Friday it was $1.09 — an incredible shift.1 The Conservative Party spent a decade saying that they had to cut public spending in order to pay down government debt — all the time while interest rates were low. Now that the rates are going up, they will borrow from the market in order to subsidise our energy bills. It feels completely mad.
This was a week in which I:
- Wrote up a summary of where we are with the closure of another of our offices from an IT perspective. We will soon find out whether we need to push the work along on an accelerated timeline.
- Met with colleagues in the front office and Compliance teams to look at how we manage unstructured data in Teams and SharePoint. Wrote up a long summary of a set of actions we need to take to embed this way of working across the organisation.
- Watched a demonstration of an internal product being developed by our department, showing relevant news and social media mentions for our clients.
- Met with a vendor for a technical deep-dive on their password management solution.
- Attended a brilliant Learning Hour talk by our CTO on the topic of graphics processing.
- Raised a bunch of Kanban cards for little things that I found that need addressing in our New York office.
- Completed the new joiner and account creation forms for a team member who starts work in London on Monday. It’s going to be great to have him join the team.
- Wrote up an email for new members joining our team with links to all of the key Teams channels and other resources.
- Enjoyed an evening at Postlight, a digital product studio in New York, as they recorded an episode of their podcast. I’ve listened since episode one, so it was great to meet some of the team in person. Natalie Kurz, Head of Product Design, chaired the discussion on Thinking Inside the Box and how constraints can help and hinder product design. Natalie was a very graceful host and took the time to answer my questions after the session.
- Was sad to see that my favourite coffee shop/deli, right by our office, had closed for good. Presumably this was pandemic-related.
- Finished the draft of a letter from the school governors to say that our headteacher will be leaving us at the end of the academic year. We have a lot of work to do to find someone to fill her shoes.
- Chaired the school Finance, Premises and and Personnel governance committee.
- Missed Album Club as I was out of the country. Sadly one of our members is leaving us. It’s been a while since we had a chance to the membership.
- Ate lots of delicious vegan food. It’s so easy to find this stuff when you’re in a big city.
- Bought some new glasses. For the past few pairs I’ve bought them on the Internet, but the pandemic got me thinking more about where I spend my money. Buying them from a shop is super expensive though, especially now that I need varifocals. The staff in Vision Express were super helpful and I’m finally changing the frames I have been wearing for the past ten years. After a few years without them, I am also getting some sunglasses again, just in time for winter.
- Travelled home from New York and slept all the way.
- Cancelled a future business trip and booked another.
- Ran the line at my eldest son’s first football match of the season. The weather is perfect at the moment — sunny and not too warm.
- Enjoyed Magdalena Bay’s deluxe edition of their Mercurial World album. I don’t think it’s as tight as the original, but I’m sure it’s not meant to be. The new songs are brilliant.
Next week: Back to London, on boarding a new member of the team and getting projects back on track.
- On Monday (at the time of writing as it could go lower) we reached $1.03, an all-time low. ↩