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Notes for week ending 17th May 2020

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. I’m going to try and do the whole thing without saying the words pandemic, coronavirus or COVID-19 – instead, I shall refer to the entire situation ‘that thing that is happening’.

So, that thing that is happening is still happening. We follow the guidance rigorously, even if nobody else is, and as it becomes clearer that the government has screwed the whole thing up. Life is good, the daily routine is relaxed, we’re not annoying each other, and I haven’t filled my car with petrol for over a month – which is annoying because the price at the pump has just dropped below a quid a litre.

I’m pathologically avoidant when it comes to DIY, but the circumstances mean that I’ve finally run out of excuses. The garden looks much better for it, and I’ve finally dismantled the plumbing under the bathroom sink to remove the partial blockage that has plagued us since we moved in. I’m not willing to endure the queue at B&Q, so I still have an excuse to avoid the bigger stuff.

Shopping continues to be an awful experience. I can cope with being kettled by trollies while queuing outside, but I’m infuriated by the people who don’t follow the distancing rules inside. I am occasionally guilty of this, but by omission rather than intransigence. Last week, a check out assistant admonished me for overstepping a line when I wasn’t paying attention. This was mortifying because I’ve been quietly judging everyone I see committing the same offence.

The debate about whether it is safe for kids to go back to school is heating up, and some – perhaps under the grip of lockdown-induced psychosis, or living too close to a 5G transmitter – say they would prefer to home school indefinitely. I’ve enjoyed spending extra time with the youngest, but it’s not a satisfactory replacement for a classroom, and she misses her friends. She announced that she is ‘more of a gamer than a learner’, which I feel doesn’t bode well for her academic future or reflect well on our ability as educators.

Like many, I’ve enjoyed working from home. My employer tells me that I’ll be here until Christmas at the earliest, which is pleasing because I’d already been preparing to argue for my right to work from home permanently. I’m not travelling hundreds of miles a week for meetings that can be replaced by video calls – and removing a commute from my daily routine has done wonders for my mental health. Unexpectedly, I’m more motivated and productive at home too.

Messing around with video inputs instead of working

We watched the entirety of Tiger King, which was bizarre but brilliant, and also The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, which was lovely. Other than I’ve not watched much telly, which is odd given the enormous amount of free time that I have.

There’s still a big list of things that I meant to do but haven’t done – I might get round to them, I might not. Right now I’m happy to go with the flow.

Love what you do

I enjoyed this post by Kev Quirk, on the importance of doing work that you love.

If you’re working in a job you’re not happy with, move on. Even if you have to take a step back in your career, it’s so worth it in the long run.

Kev Quirk

It’s something I’ve thought about a lot over the past few years. I certainly don’t love my job. I can’t remember the last time I woke up raring to go in – it’s just what I’ve done for twenty-odd years. It pays the bills, it’s secure, and I’m good at it (or at least not bad at it). Is that enough? It’s more than a lot of people have – but if I’m honest with myself, probably not.

How many devices is too many?

In response to Kev, Bob and others who have posted lists of the extensive amount of devices that they use, while wondering aloud if they have too many. I absolutely do have too many, and I accept your judgement.

Here’s my list:

I’m a late adopter and usually a couple of iterations behind whatever is current, so while it looks like I’ve got the relatively new stuff – I’m just at that point in the cycle. My last phone, for example, was an iPhone 6. My laptop is seven years old, and I can’t see any reason to replace it.

I mean, it does look like a lot. But is it really?

Notes from week ending 12th April, 2020

The city of Hull is not a desirable place to live. People joke that even the Coronavirus doesn’t want to come to here. It does have one of the lowest infection rates in the country, so perhaps there is some truth to it. Hull isn’t on the way to anywhere. You have to come here with intent – and there’s really not that many reasons to do that. A copper once told me that the reason we don’t have much gun crime (compared to other cities) is that there’s only one road in and one road out, making escape problematic. It’s a strange place.

There are a lot of hours between waking and sleeping. It’s one of the many things that didn’t get much consideration before, but now seem very important – like knowing that your lungs will keep flapping without need of mechanical intervention or, to a lesser extent, that you have enough toilet roll.

My employer expects me to work during the week. I’m grateful for this. It passes the time and they are willing to pay me for it. I’m used to working from home and I’ve stuck dutifully to my regular schedule – it’s the hours after that now feel oppressive.

I started with good intentions: start running again, exercise daily, eat better – all the clichés. If I had an ounce of commitment, I would come out of the lockdown looking a little less like Peter Kaye and more like Arnold Schwarzenegger. I tried Jo Wicks once, at the beginning when motivation was high. That was a laugh. I nearly died. There’s no way those workouts are designed for kids. I bet he laughs when the camera is off – “bet the fat bastards are sweating now!”. Instead, I’ve been reading mental conspiracy theories on Twitter and selling imaginary turnips to strangers over the internet. I have not baked any sourdough bread – that’s one more thing I can add to my list of things that I probably won’t do.

It’s spookily quiet around here. Cities are loud places. There is a constant background noise of traffic, helicopters and sirens; interrupted sporadically by a dickhead on a scooter, a pisshead shouting at himself or the neighbour coughing up her lungs as she sparks up the tenth spliff of the day. Quiet is rare. Silence is rarer. Right now the predominant sounds are the blackbirds that live in the bush at the end of the garden and the gurgling of a pond fountain that has either only just appeared or was previously drowned out by the din. Normality will be difficult to get used to again.

Nature seems grateful for our absence. As I walk through the woodland near our house, I note that the local wildlife seems braver. Birds fly closer and chatter loudly. A fox watches me carefully from the path but doesn’t flee. They seem aware that the outside spaces are theirs again, for now. Good for them.

My week notes are intermittent because there’s not a lot going on. There’s only so much you can write about Zoom meetings, home working and this big, weird situation we all find ourselves in.

Until next time.

Weeknotes: XII

Well, it’s all getting a bit scary, isn’t it?

In the beginning, it didn’t feel significant. It was important in the vague way a lot of things in the news are, but it was a long way away a I filed it away in the ‘probably important, but not right now’ file. The vagueness resolved itself rather quickly. I was told to work from home, the phrase ‘social distancing’ became normalised, the schools closed, groceries became scarce, restaurants & pubs closed their doors. Many things are less certain than they did a couple of weeks ago.

Am I worried about the virus? We are young and healthy. We’ve got stable jobs and employers that allow us to work flexibly. By any measure, we are incredibly fortunate. We’ll follow the government advice and hope for the best – because that’s the responsible thing to do to ensure that the NHS can treat those affected by the virus along with all of the other people it needs to treat each day.

Yesterday, my eldest daughter remarked that we’re living through a time that the children of future generations will learn of in school. She’s having a bad week. It’s her eighteenth birthday on Friday and everywhere is shut. On top of that her exams, which she’s been working towards for two years, have been cancelled and her employer has cut her hours to zero.

We adapt to this new way of life. There’s no choice. It seems more of an inconvenience than an emergency, but we treat it with the seriousness it deserves. There is little grumbling, though there is rising anger at the cretins stockpiling pasta and toilet-roll. ‘What a surprise. Selfish bastards’ said a woman in Asda when she saw the rows of empty pasta shelves. What on earth are people doing with all that pasta?

I’m working from home, so have left the house rarely this week. That’s not a big change from normal, except that everyone else is home with me. We like each other though, and I’m sure we’ll be fine once we’ve worked out the logistics of it all. If push comes to shove, they can evict me to my office in town.

I’ve been making an effort to reach out to people I haven’t spoken to a while (by phone of course), just to say hi. For some people, this will all be quite scary, and knowing that someone else is thinking about you might be enough to take the edge off a really shitty day.

Be kind to each other, and wash your hands.

Weeknotes: XI

Most of my work week was spent wondering what we should or shouldn’t be doing about COVID-19. I don’t want to over-react, but it would undoubtedly be worse to under-react. I’m sure there is a nice safe space in the middle to be found somewhere. I’ll let you know if I find it. 

I joined Twitter to keep an eye on all the virus goodness. Holy crap, it’s such an awful shit show. It really does bring out the worst in people. Thank goodness it’s not an accurate reflection of real life. If it was, we’d be fucked.

On Friday, E and I headed away for the weekend. A rare treat. We left the flat plains of the Humber and headed north; the Pennines on one side of us and the Yorkshire Dales on the other. We spent Friday in Durham and Saturday in Newcastle. Two very different places, but each beautiful in their own way.  We ate a lot, shopped a lot and walked a lot, so it all balanced out.

I don’t want to start a bridge war, but the Tyne Bridge is far inferior to the Humber Bridge.

Week Notes IX – X

Our baby guppies are seven weeks old now. After the ill-fated release of a single fry a couple of weeks ago, we released them into the main tank today and they seem fine. A couple of them are in hiding. Assume this is because they observed the previous sacrifice.

People panic buy the weirdest things. Aspirin, paracetamol & ibuprofen I can understand. Toilet roll a little less so since you rarely get the runs with this type of illness. Bread flour? I have no idea why people would stockpile that, but I couldn’t find any in Asda, Tesco or Morrisons. Are people planning to spend their quarantine time baking? Anyway, while I’m not particularly worried about Covid-19, I’m starting to have some doubts about how we’ll manage if this thing blows up.

A bit hard to tell how this is all going to play out at the moment. Three years ago my family laughed when I installed a bidet, but when you suckers are fighting over toilet paper at Asda, I’ll be laughing all the way to the toilet.

We’ve been watching back to back episodes of Gavin & Stacey. I’ve never seen it before, probably because of my irrational hatred of James Cordon. He is a knob, but this is actually really good.

I’m elbow-deep in the 1200 pages of Edge of Eternity, so haven’t finished a single book over the past fortnight. Ken Follett’s books are a bit of a commitment – but usually worth it. I’ve also started a re-read of Walter Isaacson’s autobiography of Steve Jobs.

A friend sent me the photo below, posted on Facebook by someone I went to school with, of my final year class of primary school. Surprising that so many of the names came right back to me, even though I haven’t thought of them for decades.

I’m on the top row, second from the left.

Have a good week. Wash your hands, and leave some toilet roll for me.