It really turned autumnal in the space of a day or two this month. One day it was unseasonably warm, the next it was AUTUMNAL. Has this affected my mood? Read on.
A parental visit
At the start of the month my folks came down for a visit. It was their first trip to London since all this began, a stark contrast to The Before Times when they’d come down several times a year. They were down during the week and over the weekend, so they got to take R to school and pick her up again, which they really enjoyed. R got more out of seeing them in-person rather than as faces on a video call, and really interacted with them. It was something we’d worried about because she can be dismissive over video and we weren’t sure how she’d be with them in the flesh. Happily we needn’t have worried and she loved having them around. It was great to see them but it was a reminder of how much time we’ve all lost over this past year and half of not really being able to see each other.
Reinforcement of gender roles
We took R to get her first haircut this month at a fancy kids salon in Crouch End that has Netflix screens and fun car-chairs for each kid. Given the COVID situation, it’s a one parent at a time deal and R asked for T to join her. Later that day we took her to the park and she decided she wanted to climb a tree, which she asked me to help her with. We do our best to not play up societal expectations of gender roles, but we do live in that society and it’s unlikely that R won’t pick things up no matter what we try. It’s just unusual to have it rubbed in our faces quite so starkly on one day.
We run performance reviews twice a year at work, which has it’s pros and cons. On the one hand it can feel frustrating when the reviews are on a schedule that your own progression doesn’t line up with and so you don’t get the recognition you’re hoping for and you feel out of step with the process, but on the other hand it is better than running them once a year so if you do miss out, it’s not a full year until the next one. The alternative would be having them completely ad-hoc whenever people feel ready, but that sounds so fraught with bias and danger that on balance I think having a schedule is better than not.
I mostly dislike performance review season because I feel like I have to judge my reports very critically, and like there’s an unwritten expectation that I don’t ask to promote lots of people every time1. I don’t know that I have the best viewpoint on all my reports day-to-day behaviour and so my judgement feels arbitrary. I do my best to seek out opinions from those they work with more closely, but it still feels second or third hand.
I’m pretty sure I’ve fucked-up something every performance review season I’ve gone through, and this pushes my manager vs developer buttons so hard. It’s fine when your fuck-up is some bug in a production system. It feels significantly worse when it’s someone else’s career and you can’t correct for another six months, at which time the damage my have festered.
I also dislike it because this is when I have to have difficult conversations with people, something I definitely shy away from. Arguably, I should be having these conversations throughout the year so that at perf review time it’s not a surprise to anyone what the outcomes are. I think I do reasonably well at these, but it seems there’s always something that means A Difficult Conversation needs to be had. I do need to get better at coaching up to review season, and to deliver outcomes, but the fact that it’s on a schedule means it’s something I get to build up and dread. As opposed to the random ad-hoc difficult conversations you have to have with people that just come up when something happens. There’s no time to build them up, you just have to dive in.
Still, it’s over now for another six months (pending any fallout that’ll rumble through those months). Consider this another cry for help from a junior manager: please send me your tips on navigating perf reviews, because I hate them but I need to do them, so I’d like to get better at it, if only for my report’s sake.
We get a lot of pears and apples in our veg box at the moment, which means we made a bunch of crumbles; my favourite pudding. It’s worth remembering that crumble is easy to make, and you can just have one mid-week if you’d like, they’re not a big complex thing you should reserve for the weekend.
My preferred recipe2 is this one from the guardian. Although I find that I want to add the full amount of flour (150g) and the ground almonds (50g) rather than reducing the flour to account for the almonds.
After refusing to try crumble several times R turned to say “I like crumble, can I have some” and then scoff a full bowl. It later transpired that they’d made some at school. It seems that if she’s involved in making them she can be more open to trying new things, so we’ll try to incorporate this trick and expand her palate.
Exercising my critical brain
A subsection in which I attempt to style myself as a media critic and let you know about some of the stuff I’ve watched this month. Most of which I’ve watched because it’s easy and comforting, rather than because I thought it would be good.
Hailed as serious, but it’s a low bar to pass based on the other x-men movies. So, yes, Wolverine says fuck and there’s loads of gore. It’s full of the same superhero nonsense as other x-men films, but it doesn’t revel in it, instead it shies away and films it in dismal muddy browns to leach the fun out of it. Ultimately they made a film where the kind of people who like Wolverine and have Wolverine advertised to them (e.g mostly children), can’t see it, and the people who they’re trying to convince that “bash, pow, crunch, superhero movies aren’t just for kids” won’t be convinced for the same reason they weren’t with the actual comics in the 90s.
I finished Loki this month which means I’ve now watched all the Disney+ MCU TV shows3. They’re interesting things, but not necessarily good things though.
WandaVision got lots of praise for having a quirky “history of sitcoms” structure with which to hang the story off. The first episode in particular is kinda amazing for it’s commitment to the bit, but it is also, I think, bad, like the 1950s sitcoms it apes are when viewed through a modern lens. It also has to give up on the conceit as the episodes advance in order to tell the big superhero battle story that finishes everything off. There is change in the world and our main characters by the end, but it really feels like an incomplete story as we don’t get resolution, just setup for future MCU movies.
Loki got praise for the Hiddleston / Wilson pairing and the wide-ranging scope of the plot We get to bounce around time and space and see lots of things in a bigger world; superheroes don’t just hang out in New York after all. Not going to lie, I really enjoyed the 70s sci-fi aesthetic of the TVA sections, and the “purple” episode clearly homages modern Dr Who. The last episode though … eeech. It doesn’t really satisfy any of the setup from the rest of the series as it’s just there to introduce us to the big bad for the whole next phase of the MCU. And it does so with what seems like a whole episode of monologuing from a character we’ve just met. Finally it ends on a hard cliffhanger with a promise of a series 2, so we don’t even get internal resolution of the story from the show itself.
Falcon and the Winter Solider didn’t really get any praise, I suspect, because it didn’t have a fun conceit. It doesn’t really have lofty ambitions, it just tells a story. It has it’s missteps (the Madripoor episode, everyone is a super soldier, the final big punch-up) but it’s more successful than the other two series because while it is setting up a new status-quo for the characters that we’ll no doubt explore in future movies, it does so at the same time as telling a complete story that actually resolves the points it sets up. It’s the least ambitious of the three shows, but for that, it’s the most successful.
I don’t think I’d really recommend watching any of them, but chances are, if you’ve read this you already have, or know if you’re going to whether I recommend it or not.
Back to Life
I watch series one of Back to Life. I really liked it. It reminded me of The Detectorists, not in theme or content, but for it’s deep sense of time and place. This isn’t a show that could be set anywhere else, and it’s a show that revels in the particular time of year that it’s filmed. It lingers on the scenery and weather and the establishing shots of the locations. It’s autumnal and coastal and sad in the same way that The Detectorists is summery and bucolic and charming.
A half-term trip
Now R is at school we’re beholden to school holidays with all the abundance and expense that entails. As it was our first half-term we decided to all take it off together and spend the week in Brighton having seaside fun and frolics. Of course, being the end of October it wasn’t exactly warm, and Brighton has one of those bullshit stoney beaches so frolics are harder than you’d want.
- We were all recovering from heavy colds and so barely managed any late afternoon fun, let alone evening fun, after dragging ourselves up the hill off the beachfront back to our holiday house.
- We introduced R to gambling in the form of the 2p pusher machines at the pier. She got quite into collecting the tickets and feeding them into the counting machine, particularly the clear one so you could see exactly what it was doing (shredding the tickets at speed and spitting them into a bin). Our haul:
- Day one: 60 tickets for a lollipop and some bubbles - probably about £5 of 2ps
- Day two: 100 tickets for a scratch art set and we gave 28 extra tickets to another family - again probably about £5 of 2ps They are raking it in.
- After a recommendation from Alice we introduced R to crazy golf and despite extreme protestations about not wanting to go, she absolutely loved it when we got there. So much so she demanded we play both courses.
- I got to take a pilgrimage to the ghost pier and catalogue it’s decay again. I love this place so much; not only because of a fetishistic obsession with terrible 90s internet murder show Killer Net.
- We decided to watch another series of «Engrenages», but due to a iPlayer UI mistake we ended up watching the final episode of the entire show, instead of the first episode of the penultimate series. It says a lot about this show that instead of thinking, “huh, this series is really jumping into it” we thought “eh, this show has weird storytelling energy anyway, lets go with it”.
- We went on a ride at the pier that I thought was quite mild and R would be fine with, but turns out I’d spotted the end of the ride, and it was, instead, fairly fast and jerky. I hung onto my hat and felt a bit urgh as it flipped us up and down whereas R screamed with delight throughout.
R loves Hallowe’en, and was excited for weeks in the lead up to the big day. She likes autumn and winter because she has her bath when it gets dark, and she can light candles and turn out the lights. She calls doing this “Hallowe’en”. She even got up really early to decorate the house with bats and skulls and pumpkins. I might even say she’s more excited by Hallowe’en than she is Christmas.
Last year we walked around locally following an online map people had put together of houses doing decorations and COVID-safe treats. It was fun, but pretty low-key and we anticipated the same this year.
This year we met up with a bunch of her school friends and roamed the streets in a chaotic huddle for about an hour pouncing on every house with a hint of pumpkin. Even with a roughly equal ratio of adults to children, it was hard keeping the tiny horde in control. Even more so when we crossed paths with other groups. The kids loved it, but I found it pretty stressful. Shout out to the one house a few streets down who had mulled wine and cocktail sausages for the adults as well as sweets for the kids though.
5 times - but I’m still happy with this; it was twice a week until I fell ill in the last couple of weeks of the month. It’s always weird how even a week off due to a cold can knock your fitness back, but also it doesn’t take that long to get it back. I’m hopeful that as the winter months creep in I’ll still be able to fit in at least a couple of runs a week.
1 book, and I’d read half of it last month. I don’t really know why I didn’t pick up another book once I finished the other one, I guess maybe I’d just fallen out of the habit. Turns out habits are easy to break and hard to get back into.