Weeknotes #131 — The Great Outdoors

A wonderful week’s holiday. On Monday evening we were joined by some good friends who had rented a neighbouring lodge for four nights; it was lovely to spend some time with them, and fun for our children to have some friends around as well. We’ve holidayed together before and they are great company, but we agreed that it was much better to have separate apartments where we didn’t feel under any obligation to start socialising the minute we heard other people were awake.

We were fortunate to stay at the stunning Bowland Retreat Lodges on their second week of taking paying guests. They will eventually have ten bespoke rentals, thoughtfully located on their site to maximise the enjoyment of the views. They are all finished to an incredibly high standard and we felt very privileged to have stayed there.

I never seem to have any problems in putting work to one side and switching off, which I think is a good thing. As the new week approaches I need to remember what all of the important things were before I left.

This was a week in which I:

  • Thought about visiting Blackpool, but at the last minute switched to take a look at Lytham St Annes and the confusingly similarly-named neighbouring town of Lytham instead. Lytham St Annes seemed like a quite generic seaside town. My children wanted to spend some time at the pier arcade, so I waited outside and people-watched for a while. We then jumped back into the car for the short trek south to Lytham, which turned out to be much more peaceful and beautiful.

  • Got back into running. I didn’t take my bike on holiday but I did pack a pair of trainers. After a run with my wife and eldest son on the first morning of our holiday I went out solo the next day, and suffered for a couple of days afterwards. Running seems to use completely different muscles to cycling and I always spend a few days wandering around like a geek version of John Wayne whenever I pick it up again. There’s a simplicity to just going out without all of the cycling faff which I love.
  • Took a trip to Whitewell for a lovely short walk that involved crossing an amazing set of stepping stones across the River Hodder. Our lodge had a set of leaflets called Walks With Taste In Ribble Valley, each with a round walk and a suggested location for lunch or dinner. We followed the route on the Whitewell leaflet which was a good setup for some longer walks later in the week.

  • Visited Lowland Farm to take their beautiful alpacas for a walk. I had no idea that alpaca fur is so soft! Our youngest boy reported that this was the best part of the holiday. We all loved it.

  • Had a couple of meals out, neither of which were particularly great. We enjoyed getting together in one of the lodges and cooking our own food a lot more.
  • Wandered back to Malham with our friends so that they could see Janet’s Foss and Gordale Scar for themselves. We brought swimming gear and towels for the children as they wanted to brave the cold waters of the plunge pool. It is such a magical walk that we were happy to do it again.

  • Revisited Billy Bob’s Parlour in Skipton with our friends so that they could grab an ice cream, milkshake, burger or coffee (and in one case, three out of the four in one hit!) It was interesting to see that the ice cream parlour was constructed with the help of the EU.

  • Ventured on a magnificent walk up and down Pendle Hill. We’d been looking at the hill all week as we mooched around Clitheroe, wondering whether we could climb it, and a quick web search found a very useful step-by-step guide on the best way to do it. We started at Barley, winner of the Evening Star’s ‘Best Kept Village Competition’ in 1975, according to a plaque above the car park toilet. The whole walk was stunning — past two reservoirs before turning up a steep ascent to the top of the hill and then down a set of very long, very steep stone steps to get to the other side, with a mile’s walk to get back to Barley. It was the kind of walk that made you feel glad to be alive, and wanting to be nowhere else.

  • Enjoyed a wonderful afternoon in Romsey, seeing lots of family members all together for the first time in years. After our six hour holiday drives to and from Lancashire I wasn’t looking forward to another four hours in the car but it was worth it. The time went too fast, but I am hoping that we’ll be able to get together with everyone again soon.

Next week: A public holiday to get my house in order before starting back at work again.

Weeknotes #130 — Clitheroe and Malham

The second four-day week this month as I took Friday off. It felt like a productive four days, and I don’t have too many loose ends to come back to when I return.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had my mid-year review with my line manager. A really useful discussion which helped me to understand and articulate where I am work-wise right now.
  • Got a piece of work completed that had been in progress for much longer than I had hoped, providing a learning syllabus for our IT staff.
  • Agreed a strategy for our compliance recorded lines solution, and met with the Group technology owner to clarify our requirements.
  • Met one of our telephony providers to discuss their proposal for Teams Direct Routing as a Service. The less technology that we need to own and run ourselves, the better.
  • Agreed the communication strategy for rolling out Azure Information Protection to our organisation, and reviewed the email introducing staff to the topic. Hopefully it will be focused on what they will experience in terms of ‘speed bumps’ more than the theory behind the ‘why’.
  • Reviewed a draft training course on Information Risk that is due to be sent to all of our staff.
  • Had a number of meetings for our big group programme, including a couple focused around the financial business case for the work. The part of the company that I work for has a very different approach to costs than the rest of the Group, so we agreed to follow up with the business case template owners to go into this in detail. Separately we agreed to proceed with a proof-of-concept for one of the system modules.
  • Met with the technical members of the IT management team to assess our requirements for an architectural capability and what form it should take.
  • Aligned with a colleague on a data and analytics project that we are running and shared all fo the information I had on the business case for the work.
  • Joined and left a webinar in the space of five minutes as it didn’t seem a good use of time. I’m quite comfortable with dropping off if the platform is mostly one-way and there is little chance of the presenter seeing me go and thinking that I’m being rude.
  • Had to rush to pick up my son after he called to say he had come off his bike, hitting a tree and smashing his hand. We’re so lucky to have a wonderful friend a few doors away from our house who works as a paediatric matron at a local hospital, and my son took himself off to see her for a quick triage. We ended up going to hospital to have his hand assessed; fortunately nothing is broken, but three of his fingers are very bruised.
  • Took delivery of a new tumble dryer, after our last one seemed to continuously default to a ‘third degree burns’ setting. It lasted over a decade and it’s amazing to see how the technology has changed; our new one is a ‘heat pump’ design which reuses the heat inside of the machine instead of pushing it out into the room.
  • Had my wife’s parents to stay with us for a couple of nights for the first time in two years or so. It was lovely to have them there, and felt like another step in getting back to normal. (My fingers are crossed and my breath is held, but UK infection rate seems to be ticking up again.)
  • Spent most of Friday driving to Clitheroe, a four-hour drive which turned into a seven-hour mission including a stop for lunch. We’re here for a short break, handing our own house over to my brother-in-law for their own break from their usual surroundings.
  • Had a day in Clitheroe itself, exploring the town and the (extremely tiny) castle.

  • Headed up to Malham for one of the most beautiful countryside walks I have ever been on. I know that the UK has a lot to offer, but I forget how stunning it is until I see it again.

Next week: More exploring in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and some friends come to join us on holiday.

I just cut open a passion fruit for the first time in my life. It was literally like cutting up a tennis ball, squeaky noise and all. Not quite what I was expecting.

We’re looking at moving to a hybrid office/work from home model in the future. Is there a good, simple technology solution out there for having a company wide ‘where I am’ status that ideally integrates with Outlook calendars? ‘Working elsewhere’ is useful, but not rich enough.

Weeknotes #129 — Meetups

Normality came a couple of paces closer this week as I attended more in-person meet-ups. COVID-19 cases, hospitalisations and deaths all seem to be flatlining here in the UK and it feels like we are at the ‘let’s just live with it’ stage. From next week onwards, the government no longer require us to self-isolate if we have been a close contact with a confirmed case. It really does feel like the bulk of the pandemic may be behind us here, and I hope that’s true. The next big discussion will be about whether our population gets ‘booster shots’ while the majority of the rest of the world remain unvaccinated. Given that we have already cut back overseas aid this year I am doubtful that we will be good global citizens, but I do hope we do the right thing.

This was a week in which I:

  • Met up with lots of my London-based colleagues for an afternoon social in Hyde Park. I hadn’t been on a train in 18 months and expected it to be quite profound, but the journey there and back actually felt quite mundane; I haven’t missed commuting in any way. It was so lovely to see everyone again and the hours flew by. I finished the day by going for a wonderful Greek dinner at Mazi with a friend and colleague who has been out of the office with a serious illness for most of the past year. Seeing him was just what I needed, and I left for home with a renewed sense of purpose and a warm glow from all the laughter we shared.
  • Attended a meeting to get an overview of our proposed post-pandemic working arrangements in London. It struck me that as our IT team is geographically dispersed, ‘being with everyone in the office again’ isn’t quite the same thing as it is for other teams. Before the pandemic, I spent most of the working day at my desk on Teams calls, so it will be interesting to see what kind of working pattern makes sense for me.
  • Saw the next part of our IT infrastructure implementation get moved out by a couple of weeks staff in one of our locations suddenly found themselves working from home again due to COVID-19. The team are trying to move things around so that we get the work done in a different order and stay on track overall for the quarter.
  • Reviewed a revised statement of work for the IT infrastructure implementation in our final office on our rollout schedule.
  • Discussed the current state of protection for confidential data in one of our key global systems.
  • Participated in our our monthly IT risk review meeting.
  • Started some more Kanban coaching with another member of the team.
  • Completed my mid-year performance review on our new performance management system.
  • Caught up with my messages, emails, and Kanban board notifications after being out of the office for a week.
  • Attended a presentation on our company’s new multi-factor authentication application.
  • Enjoyed a random coffee with a colleague who moved from Lagos to London just before the pandemic started. People are so interesting, and it’s great to get to know them in this way.
  • Enjoyed an in-person Album Club once again. If everything stays as-is COVID-19-wise, we’re probably back to being in-person for the foreseeable future.
  • Attended the first few sessions of Micro Camp, which started straight after I finished work for the day. It’s such a wonderful community to be a part of, and the event was a lovely opportunity to interact with so many like-minded people in real time. Kimberly Hirsh’s talk on Learning in Public on Your Blog was super inspirational; I’ve already watched it twice and it has got my brain whirring on things I could write about.
  • Celebrated my 17th wedding anniversary with a family day out in London. We took the train into Euston and wandered around Camden before strolling across to King’s Cross for an early dinner at Dishoom. The food was good but not as exceptional as I had been led to believe; I enjoyed my lunchtime falafel from Camden Market a lot more. The sun was shining, and as we strolled around, eating our post-dinner ice creams, it felt like we were on holiday.

  • Spent Sunday afternoon at our friends’ house for a lovely barbecue. It was lovely to relax in their beautiful new house, enjoying the food and being outside in great company.

Next week: A four-day week as I am taking Friday off as part of another short break. The diary is full up so I know this will mean cramming all of the work into those four days. Plus a visit from my wife’s parents, who haven’t been to stay with us for a very long time.

📚 I’ve known the word ‘serf’ for a long time but I only had a vague understanding of what it meant. This book gives a great, detailed explanation. The difference between serfdom and slavery seems to be very small.