Paid my VAT bill as soon as my accountant told me how much was due, now I’ve got a letter from HMRC with a request to explain why I sent them the money. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be efficient.

Snapchat Snapstreaks

Kids have to navigate such a complex world today. School taught me to look at a news article and understand the motivations behind why the author wrote what they did. Now they have to apply this thinking to so many more aspects of life, such as why the things they use behave the way they do and what the motivations of the designers are.

From the latest Herts for Learning eSafety parent newsletter (not online yet at the time of writing):

The whole notion of making social media platform more addictive is harmful. Where you deliberately design them to play on people’s angst it is downright odious.

Weeknotes #1

I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a regular weeknote for quite a while. They’re somewhere between a status update and a regular blog, purposefully inward-looking and more for the writer than the reader:

I feel like there’s so much going on all the time — life seems completely full up once I’ve added work, family, school governing and cycling together — and have long thought that a bit of writing and reflection would be great to get my head in order. I’ve tried keeping a digital version of the Five Minute Journal and it was quite useful for a time but I found myself accidentally missing an update and then struggling to pick up the habit again. If I was working on something until midnight I didn’t want to get into bed and then do even more writing.

I’m a believer in ‘working out loud’ and have tried over the years to practice what I preach by setting up internal blogs in my various roles but they have never caught on. I’ll keep trying. Some of the blogs I read today reminded me that there are connections to be made and just by putting yourself out there you are likely to make them:

There are some good guidelines and rules out there about how to do them effectively. The key one that resonates with me is how to talk about work in public without actually talking about work in public:

My biggest worry is committing to getting them done. Blog posts can take me hours, so perhaps it will be a useful exercise in brevity, editing quickly and developing a habit. Inspired by many, many others, and particularly Matt Ballantine and Dave Floyd whom I’ve been talking with this week on the WB40 podcast WhatsApp channel, here goes.


I’m now over six months into my first contract and can’t believe how much time has flown by since I started. The programme I am running delivered on its commitments in 2017 and this year the challenge is to step up, continuing to get our first project delivered whilst launching a number of others to run alongside it. It’s difficult as we have a small team, most of whom have operational roles as well as being assigned to the project, and we rely on teams across multiple departments in the wider firm to get things done. We have a good people, we’ve been making it work and it’s great to be in a place where there is mutual support and challenge between everyone.

We’re dealing with a number of technical issues at the moment which are slowing down our delivery as we investigate and fix them but I am hoping we can make significant progress over the next couple of days. Cloud software is a complex beast. Although things are meant to be much simpler once you move things to the cloud and don’t have your own servers, there are still many, many things that can go wrong between a user’s PC and the data centre. There is no substitute to working through problems in a structured way, changing one thing at a time and observing the impact. I’m often trying to make sure that we use appropriate language where we have a number of correlated factors and don’t leap to a conclusion that one thing is causing another unless we can prove it.

I need to try and spend a good chunk of my time next week gathering strands together so that we can kick off the additional streams. I’m going to have to utilise a work modelling tool to plan out the big items and their dependencies; as much as I don’t want to I’ll probably resort to Project as the work is more complex and has more interdependencies than a bulleted list. I don’t have time to research and learn a roadmapping tool in short order (despite that being what I think would be best). We need to make sure we’re working off of a central list of things to do — we’re not bad at the moment but we still have more places where work exists than I would like. I can’t see us moving to a shared Kanban board anytime soon but it may happen over time.

School governing

We had our half-termly committee meetings on Monday and ended up going for nearly four hours again when we had been determined to finish them in three. I had a lovely note from one of our new governors afterwards with some tips on how to improve the meetings and I’ll take it on board; we’ll keep striving to do better and be more effective.

Our Governing Board is really strong now after all the recruitment we have done in the past couple of years. We’re in a good position for succession when some of our current governors leave us at the end of this year.

I love being a school governor but being Chair is very hard while having a full-time job. You can never shake the feeling that there is more you can be doing and that you’re not giving enough. I guess as long as I feel like that and continue to make a conscious effort to get on top and even ahead of things as much as I can I can’t be doing too badly.

The school’s in a very good place but we need to make sure we can demonstrate it when Ofsted come calling. We started a few streams of prep work last year so that we can be ready quickly when the call comes and we’re continuing to push the Board to challenge the school in all of the right ways.


I got back on my road bike over Christmas although only on the turbo trainer as it was too icy and/or grim to go out. The turbo is pretty boring without a tool and I have a very on/off relationship with TrainerRoad, pausing and re-enabling my subscription as my commitment to getting on the bike fluctuates. I went for a proper ride a couple of weekends ago and despite misjudging the sunset so that it went dark while I was still an hour away I loved it and must get out more. When I think of exercise, episode 3 of the Hello Internet podcast always sticks in my head where they referred to each person having 100w to spread between four 100w lightbulbs representing family, friends, health and work. I know that I have to make the health one shine a bit brighter as it will help in all other aspects of my life and hopefully extend its duration a bit too.

In the same vein, when I go into the office I have again started walking between Euston and the office near Cheapside which takes about 40 minutes. A journey by tube takes 25–30 minutes so it’s a good way of getting 40 minutes of exercise at a cost of only 15 minutes out of my day. I’ve been trying to find the right pace between getting a little workout and going into a sweaty meltdown when I get to my desk and think I may have cracked it.

Family life is great. My eldest boy is currently in first position in the Chiltern Cross-Country League with one race to go and we’re very proud of him. He seems to have an intrinsic motivation for running and we never have to persuade him to go training. It’s great that the boys are older now and we can do more things together that we all enjoy. As well as making progress through season two of Star Trek TNG together we’ve been playing a few board games recently, our favourites of which are Beat the Parents and Fluxx.

I’ve always been an avid reader but I recently worked out that if I get through all my unread books at the rate I have been going over the past couple of years I will be over 70 by the time I’m done. Which is fine, just as long as they stop publishing new ones and I end up living that long. I’m halfway through Radical Technologies and enjoying it immensely — it’s a great primer on the key and emerging technologies of today and the impacts they could have on us. I’ve put Clive James’ Cultural Amnesia to one side for a bit as it is so dense and I’ve found the few minutes I’ve been able to snatch for reading aren’t enough to finish a whole chapter. I have a backlog of articles, newsletters and PDFswhich I am struggling to find a way to effectively weave into my reading. If anyone has any tips, please let me know!

Podcast-wise I’ve been keeping up with episodes of WB40, The Autosport Podcast, Troy Hunt’s weekly updates, Political Thinking with Nick Robinson, Remainiacs and Banking Weekly. All of them are excellent. I’ve also discovered a good Office 365 podcast. I subscribe to 154 podcasts, a ridiculous amount by any stretch, and tend to work my way through them in rotation. Honestly, I do prune the list and get rid of things I’m not interested in or don’t enjoy, and this is what’s left. I have a filter problem, I know.


I’ll wrap it up there. Future versions of this are going to have to take a lot less time to read and write. I suspect part of doing this well will be collecting things and jotting notes throughout the week. Let’s see if it sticks.

Jenson Button — Life To The Limit

Finished reading Jenson Button’s autobiography this week. It’s very well-written, honest, and he has a great ‘voice’. I remember watching his first season in F1 with Williams where he seemed to come from nowhere and now here we are, all of a sudden at the other end of his career.

Having watched F1 since the early 1990s a revelation for me was that F1 cars need to keep greater speed through corners in order to sustain or increase their grip on the circuit. I have always known that the cars have mechanical grip (through the tyres) and aerodynamic grip (through the wings pushing the car onto the track) but I had never made the connection with cornering speed. Jenson said that this was the biggest change from karts and other cars with little or no aerodynamics and it must be quite a thing to get your head around when you start to drive these bigger cars.

Other notable highlights were that he has driven with three of the Verstappens:

I’d joined Paul’s team, GKS, in 1995 when I moved into Formula A. It was a great team, where I found myself temporary teammates with Sophie Kumpen, who was dating Jos Verstappen and two years later had a baby with him. In other words, I raced with Max Verstappen’s mum, which is one of those things, like policemen getting younger, that you try not to think about.

…and that he really has been in F1 for a long time:

I was introduced to a dozen or so big names in the sport, including Patrick Head, Frank Williams and even Keke Rosberg, who used to be my dad’s favourite driver back in the day. Keke had his son Nico with him, who’s five years younger than me but was acting even younger that day. He was pulling at his dad’s arm as we were talking, trying to pull him away. I remember looking down at him, silently cursing him for messing up my introduction to Keke, thinking, ‘God, just leave us alone.’

If you’re into F1 this is worth picking up.

New host

What started with a Troy Hunt-inspired investigation into how I can enforce HTTPS on my Bitnami/AWS-hosted personal website turned into a full-on migration over to a new hosted web provider. After some initial teething problems related to the fact that my new site would be hosted at and my old site was already at that same address, I managed to get it up and running with minimal hassle. Support from the staff at Siteground was excellent, answering my questions quickly and pointing me to exactly the resources I needed to get going.

Once I had everything in place the migration itself only took a couple of hours. I started with an export and import of my site using the WordPress-provided tools but found that this only transferred the basics — mainly the text. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years tweaking different aspects of the site and didn’t want to go through trying to reassemble it again. The All-in-One WP Migration plugin came to my rescue — this exports pretty much every aspect of a WordPress site including media, plugins, customisations etc. and lets you drag and drop the exported file to its new home. In order to export the data I had create a new folder on the server and grant write permissions to it, but I didn’t need to make any customisations for the upload to work on the new site. Exporting is free but importing a file of over 512Mb means that you need to buy a licence for USD 69 (about GBP 50). My export file was 1.4Gb so I had to pay; in my mind this was money well-spent considering the alternative of spending hours making all the customisations, reinstalling plugins and uploading all of my old media again.

Uploading my own static HTML content was as simple as can be, again making reference to the many straightforward Siteground tools and reference pages on how to create a key pair to enable an SFTP connection.

Once the content was uploaded and I’d tested it out I had to make a few tweaks to the variables so that it recognised itself as the canonical and then repointed the DNS entries to the new site. I know that DNS is meant to take up to 48h to propagate but the change seemed almost instant from where I was connecting from. I also made a simple change to redirect ‘www’ requests to the non-www equivalent.

Having got the site up and running it was exceedingly easy to use the Siteground-provided tools to not only install a valid Let’s Encrypt SSL certificate but also to get any requests to HTTP pages redirected to the HTTPS equivalent on the site.

As far as migrations go it was exceptionally straightforward. It’s great to know that not only am I now able to serve up site content over HTTPS but also that I don’t need to worry about maintaining the operating system on my web server, as the host will do that for me.

We did go to the ball! Turns out the last night of a panto run is a *lot* of fun. The cast let their hair down, forgot their lines and got up to all sort of antics. Hilariously shambolic.

Photo taken at: Milton Keynes Theatre

Friday’s Album Club no. 83. Great evening. Weird to hear ‘Red Right Hand’ in its original context after all those seasons of Peaky Blinders.

Photo taken at: Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

Came home to find the cats had been having an adventurous New Year’s Eve party of their own. Incredible skills to get this poor giant bird plus themselves through the cat flap.

Photo taken at: Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

A year of being sober

I turn 41 today. This also marks the end of the first year since I was a teenager where I haven’t had any alcoholic drinks.

Alcohol has always been a big part of family life. The British are well-known for drinking and this has been no different in my family. My lovely mum spent her formative years growing up in a pub and was living there when she met my dad. I remember many a Sunday visit to see my grandparents on my dad’s side where we spent time down the Royal British Legion, clutching my crisps and lemonade whilst being mesmerised by my dad’s pint of lager, watching the bubbles form from their little invisible factories, expand, reach critical mass and rise to the top. My parents both have lots of siblings and everyone has always loved a big family party, so my childhood memories are filled with tables of buffet food and well-stocked drinks tables for everyone to help themselves to. One of my uncles even had a brick-built corner bar in his lounge, Del-Boy style, and I fondly remember one event where I was given the job of manning this bar, serving drinks to everyone all night long. I thought it was brilliant.

When I was a young teenager, I read somewhere that alcohol destroys brain cells so I decided at that point that I was going to abstain. This decision resulted in regular ribbing and ridicule from my aunts every time we got together. Of course, my sobriety didn’t hold out forever. I probably started drinking regularly when I was 17 or so along with a lot of my friends. It felt grown up, it was what everyone was doing and it was fun. Hilarity, hurling and hangovers ensued, with the first outweighing the other two for the most part.

From the start, I was never consistently great at holding my drink. My personality was such that I tended to get louder, more overbearing and sweary the more I drank, sometimes to a point where all the energy I exuded would collapse back in on itself and I would fall asleep.

Over the next couple of years I started drinking with my friends on a regular basis. I love strong tastes and quickly moved from lager to real ale as well as red wine. On my first day at university I instigated an early visit to the Students’ Union, playing pool and taking advantage of the low prices in the Union bar all afternoon.

At first I couldn’t recognise when drinking became a problem. At uni I felt that everyone around me were managing to get all of their work done whilst still going out and partying most evenings and therefore I should be able to as well. I couldn’t recognise that it wasn’t doing me any good. I wasn’t eating well, was in a destructive relationship and was getting paranoid. Drinking was now a big part of my life, but if viewed from the outside the choices I was making wouldn’t have looked any different to that of any other university student and I don’t think anyone was worried about me. Things came to a head in my relationship and I ended up seeking help for depression. Nobody said anything about drinking but in a moment of clarity I realised that even though alcohol wasn’t the root cause, it was another obstacle to getting myself sorted out, so I decided to a break from it completely. Six months of no drinking felt like a long time, but I also knew I was looking after myself and it was a big help to be clear-headed as I slowly found my feet again.

After that, drinking slowly crept back into my life. It wasn’t a problem per se. For the most part I had learned to pace things a little better and was strong-willed enough to say “no” when on a night out someone decided to get in a round of shots even though they might persistently cajole me to join in. For the next 15 years I followed a pattern of drinking a little, then increasing amounts over the next few days/weeks/months until eventually I would be drinking every night or have a big night out where something would happen such as saying the wrong thing to someone, having an argument, vomiting or waking up the next day and forgetting all of the details of an important conversation with a friend etc. I would then ‘put the brakes on’ and the cycle would start all over again.

In December 2014 we were invited to a friends’ house for a Christmas meal along with a number of other families that we hadn’t previously met. Dinner was excellent and the wine was flowing; I spent a lot of time laughing with one of the guests while we worked our way through a bottle of vintage port. At some point later in the evening I remember filling some of the silences (which might not have even been there in the first place) with making jokes at someone else’s expense — someone who wasn’t at the dinner and whom I barely knew. Around 3am I started to get droopy-eyed and was encouraged by the hosts to have a coffee and a walk around their vast garden so that I could come back in and carry on drinking. I got to bed at 4am … and the kids woke up at 6am. As I stood in the kitchen my pounding heart would not stop racing and felt as though it was going to pop out of my chest. Somehow my wife and I had to hold it together and get through to the kids’ bedtime that evening. Later that day I took my five-year-old out to the fields behind our house with a camera on the pretence that he could photograph some wildlife when in actual fact I was trying to get some fresh air and feel a little less horrendous. I kept recalling and wincing at things I had said the day before and was filled with regret; this wasn’t the person that I wanted to be.

At work the following day I could still feel the effects, mainly in finding it very difficult to string together sentences in my speech — not great when you are running an important programme and chairing a workshop with twenty people in the room. I decided there and then that I had to stop drinking for a bit. Again. I told myself that this wasn’t forever, it was just for a while. We were a week or two away from Christmas but I felt that this was as good a time as any; giving up early in December meant that I could avoid all of the stress around deciding which of the zillions of parties and social functions I would drink at whilst trying to still be great at my job, being a good dad, a good school governor etc. Deciding to not drink suddenly untangled the weeks ahead and made everything much more simple. At first, saying no to alcohol at dinners and events felt a bit awkward but I soon found a familiar pattern of getting through the first hour of curiosity and questioning before people started to get tipsy all around me and they became more interested in something else.

2015 — new year, new start. In the first week of January I signed up for both the London Revolution and Ride 999 long-distance cycling events. Training for these gave me the perfect excuse to continue my sobriety. In truth, whenever I went out on my bike I kept recalling the St John Ambulance First Aid at Work course I’d attended the previous month where the trainer had said that heart attacks are statistically much more likely the day after a drinking session. Given that I needed to get fit and had lots of training rides to get up early for I didn’t think that drinking would be a good idea. I felt very happy and content about the lifestyle choice I had made — right up until a few days into Ride 999 in June, where all the riders finished off each day with a lovely cold lager and my alcohol-free alternatives didn’t seem to cut it. I joined the team for the odd beer and by the time July and August rolled around I was back into my old routines.

Throughout 2015 and 2016 I had been feeling more and more as though alcohol was something I would give up eventually. I was just a whole lot happier when I had decided not to drink. I started looking for positive reinforcement and found articles, books and other resources that helped clarify my thinking. (Yes, I know this is confirmation bias!) Friends and relatives had also had time off in the past ranging from a month (the famous ‘dry January’) to six, and every single time they have said to me that they were happier and healthier when they did it. If everyone who has tried it knows it, why do we keep going back? I think that the social norms around alcohol are so strong that even though people realise they are more content when not drinking it is very easy to get pulled back into having one or two. And then, why stop there?

I knew that I wasn’t an alcoholic as I had easily given up or abstained many times in the past. It was more a question of mental commitment to what I wanted to do for the long term. Could I really give it up completely, forever? What about all of the great ‘special’ bottles of champagne, port etc. we had accumulated in the house? Would I miss out on them?

I kept thinking about my children and the interest they were taking in what the adults did, asking me questions about different types of alcohol. I thought back to my school days before I started drinking regularly — wasn’t I happy enough then without it? If so, why is it different when you’re an adult?

Some of my close friends and family had said that the best thing to do would be to live a lifestyle where I ‘just have one or two’. I had tried this many times before and it hadn’t worked out; I had always fallen back into the habit of ramping it up over time. This passage in The Sober Revolution really helped me in knowing that I wasn’t the only one who found moderation difficult:

“for a multitude of reasons people often toy with the notion that they can terminate their problematic drinking behaviour by simply imposing a few rules here and there and without actually committing to full time sobriety. In my experience, these efforts to control or moderate alcohol consumption do not work for people who have persistently displayed an inability to drink within reasonable limits.”

As we headed towards New Year’s Eve 2016, and my 40th birthday, I felt ever more strongly that the best present I could give myself would be to give up drinking completely. My friends hosted a brilliant party, but getting drunk on New Year’s Eve felt a little bit like going through the motions for the final time. It served as a useful reminder of one of the reasons I didn’t want to do it anymore; my seven-year-old boy wasn’t feeling too well and instead of looking after him I had left my wife to it while I selfishly indulged and danced the night away. I knew that even though I barely ever drank to excess anymore it was still taking more away from me than I was getting out of it, and it was time to stop.

“If one embarks on alcohol-free living with the deep-seated belief that they’ve given up something of worth then they are heading for a resounding fall from the wagon. To conquer alcohol-dependency, it is crucial never to consider one’s self to be ‘on the wagon’ in the first place; this expression is loaded with connotations of temporariness, a short-term quiescence from normal life. In order to walk away from booze for good, it is essential that upon reaching this incredibly positive and empowering decision, you recognise that it is a step which will lead you to great things, the beginning of an exciting adventure and a whole new way of life.”

Positive and empowering. This is exactly how it felt on New Year’s Day when I knew in my head that I was done with it completely. This year I have felt a lot like when I decided to stop eating meat nearly 20 years ago. One day I just decided that it wasn’t something that I did anymore. Once I had accepted it, really accepted it, everything else has been unbelievably easy. I am no longer clinging onto the ‘special’ bottles of champagne and other fancy drinks in our house and am happy to give them away to people who will enjoy them. They are of no use and have no value to me.

This year has been brilliant. Through the various nights out, including a weekend away in a big country house with all my close school friends to celebrate us all turning 40, I have realised that any ‘need’ to have a drink is a complete illusion. I have been able to have a laugh as well as being able to read a bit when I get into bed (and remember what I read!), have a good night’s sleep and be hangover-free the next day. Drinking adds nothing to who I am. My two young boys are aware that I don’t drink anymore and talking to them about alcohol and drugs no longer feels hypocritical. I’m more productive, less grumpy and a better dad and husband. There is no hardship or martyrdom, I’m just happier, and won’t be going back this time.

Rekindling my turbo trainer career and longing for the fitness that I had at the end of 2015. Can’t seem to get through an hour without getting the thought of ‘I can’t do this!’ In my head and having to stop for a rest. Things can only get better.