h-notes ∈ June 2022

It could be Rotterdam1

For half-term holidays we decided to travel abroad for the first time since 2019 and took the train to Rotterdam. Although it had good reviews for things to do with kids we had fairly low expectations, so we were pleasantly surprised by how much fun we had.

The first thing to praise is how easy it is to get around. The public transport was super clear with buses, trams, and metro lines providing links to everything we wanted to visit. Almost every street had segregated cycle lanes and so, if we’d wanted to, we could have pedalled around with ease too. It’s a real shame London has the former infrastructure, but not the latter. It’s getting better for sure, but visiting Rotterdam it was clear how much further London has to come. With that much cycling infrastructure I would say that bikes easily matched cars on the streets if not more. No doubt a large factor is not just that there’s good infrastructure making you feel safe, but that Rotterdam is incredibly flat. If you cycle somewhere you’re unlikely to break into a sweat and so the overwhelming majority of people on bikes we saw were not lycra clad, like you see in London, but just wearing normal clothes. Equally the bikes weren’t mostly thin and light race bikes, but a wide array of big city bikes with ample storage, including plenty of those with huge luggage or child storage trunks.

The second thing to praise (as showcased in Eurovision 2021) is the architecture. As an important port city Rotterdam suffered drastically in WW2 and so there isn’t much beautiful old European city left. This means they’ve really embraced exciting and weird buildings. The cube houses and market hall are probably the most well known, but every where you look there’s a slightly strange building with an overhang, or weird sweeping roof, or spindly legs. You just have to remember to look up. Or take a rooftop walk or tour because Rotterdam is a city with exciting urban rooftop vibes2.

Leaning in even more at work

Last month I was looking forward to an expansion of my role: to apply my skills for supporting my direct reports to entire squads and collections of squads. This month I found out I’d be doing that a lot on one particular collection of squads because some key people would be leaving. They didn’t actually leave this month, but in their winding down I’ve been spending a lot of time working out how best to support the squad they’re leaving. July’s when they’ll actually be gone and when I’ll find out if I’m any good at it.

I’m learning that a large part of what makes people good in senior roles is less about continuing to do the skill they’ve been good at until now, and much more about doing something else that is useful. In this case for me it’s stepping in to help a squad heal some rifts and provide product direction until a replacement can be found. My previous skills as a developer are pretty much useless, and my burgeoning skills as a engineering manager are also not entirely useful either. A lot of people we’ve been interviewing for engineering managers at work have “I’m an EM, but I do whatever the team needs” back stories – so I guess this is my chance to build one of those.

Teaching an old dog new tricks

In my late thirties I developed Hayfever and so it’s still something I consider “new”. This means that when the pollen count is high I am surprised and astounded to find myself sneezing and streaming and itching all over my sinuses.

It hasn’t been as bad this year compared to last. Maybe my pills and spray regime has been better. Maybe I’ve been outside less? Maybe I’ve been outside more and built up a tolerance? Maybe the pollen count is different?

It’s all so new to me. I wish I’d been symptomatic in my youth so it could just be part of my personality and dealing with it was baked in as something I did. As it is it’s a surprise each year and takes me a day or two to realise “oh, this isn’t a cold, I should check the pollen count”.

It’s too hot

We had a mini-heatwave this month and I didn’t cope well with it at all. I work from home from our loft conversion which is always the warmest room of the house – a combination of heat rising and it potentially having better insulation, being a more modern part of the building. I tried to minimise the heat by leaving the blinds down. Each day I thought it wasn’t too bad, until I peeled my wrists from my keyboard to take an afternoon break and chewed my way through the air to the cooler downstairs parts of the house. By the 3rd day I could barely think straight in the afternoons. We’re predicted to have more heatwaves later in the summer so I’m going to have to come up with something else to survive.

R-rated movies

Over the past few years R has convinced herself that she doesn’t watch movies. This is quite a change from a child who a few years ago would watch Frozen on repeat if given the chance. We finally wore her down and convinced her to watch Sing because she knows a lot of the songs. T and I enjoyed it, but R basically sobbed throughout. I can see why she thinks she doesn’t like movies - even in kiddie friendly stuff like this, the emotions are bigger, the threat is more intense, the stakes are higher and it’s a lot for her to process all in one go. A standard episode of Paw Patrol doesn’t deal with a robber family where the son disobeys his father, the father disowns his son, the father going to jail, then breaking out and finally making up with his son. It’s a nice little character arc, but R was distraught from the first scene with them “are they robbers? why are they robbers?”, lost it completely when the father disowned the son “why doesn’t he want to see his son anymore?”, but came around in the end when they reconciled - although she was still sobbing “these are happy tears”. I think we’ll wait a while yet before we introduce her to more movies.

Other media

We watched much less TV this month.

Essex Serpent

This is a beautifully shot show full of beautiful people doing questionable things and breaking each other’s hearts. I enjoyed being carried along by it for sure, but without spoiling the show, it’s fair to say it promises one thing and delivers another. Ultimately, this is something of a reflection of the journey taken by the characters in the show, so it’s very neatly layered and more media savvy viewers than I will no doubt be able to say a lot more about it. It’s definitely worth your time though.

Stranger Things 4 (Volume 1)

I’d read somewhere that this first part of Stranger Things 4 was going to be shorter, leading up to a big finale in Volume 2. Turns out there’s 7 episodes, all over an hour and the last one in the volume is 100 minutes long! I can’t help but feel like this show could have done with a few people saying “no” or “let’s trim that subplot down” or even, somewhat paradoxically, “couldn’t this be given more time to breathe as two shorter episodes”3. I’m keen to see where the remaining episodes in volume 2 take the story and enjoyed my time in this world again - but it’s not without it’s flaws. It’s still great that all the dads are terrible.

Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi

I haven’t actually watched the new miniseries yet. I decided that it might do me good to revisit the prequels as homework to refresh my memory on things likely to come up. It was clear from watching The Mandalorian and Book of Boba Fett that these new Star Wars live-action TV shows really want me to care a lot about the prequels, and the Clone Wars animated show too. So I watched Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones and then started in on the Clone Wars animated shows.

Spider-man: No way home

Given the lack of any clear understanding when the Spider-man movies might appear on Disney+ I decided to rent the latest one and settle in to see what was in store for the MCU Spider-man. Obviously, being on the internet as I am the big reveals were spoiled for me relatively quickly, so I knew what to expect. I can’t say I was holding out much hope as I reckon Spider-man 2 is one of the worst MCU movies, but I’ll say I was pleasantly surprised. It’s definitely weird that multiverses are now a thing that normal people talk about. I do feel like they basically squandered the opportunity to do something super interesting with these characters, but it’s a nice reset to a new status-quo at the end which honestly goes some ways to correcting the problems I had with the MCU portrayal of Spider-man so far5. They have me hooked to see what they do with an MCU Spider-man 4, although, I think I’d be genuinely most interested in seeing what they did with a Raimi-verse Spider-man 4.

Gun violence

News of school shootings in the US is depressingly commonplace, but something about the Uvalde shooting stuck in my brain. It happened in late May but I couldn’t stop thinking about it this month. Perhaps because R is at school now the idea of a school shooting is that much more directly imaginable to me. Parenting is mostly catastrophizing about situations in order to work out what you’d do to prevent it, but in the case of a school shooting it doesn’t seem like there’s much you can do except put your faith in the authorities to sort it out quickly. Of course, this is exactly what didn’t happen with this one - the authorities didn’t engage with the shooter, the authorities blocked parents from doing anything, the authorities failed to do their job and tried to wriggle their way out of it on the public stage. It’s this aspect of it that I found so hard to deal with and why it stuck in my brain.

The psychic damage of reading about these things is pretty intense here in the UK where it seems fairly unlikely to actually happen, I can’t really imagine what it’s like in the US where it’s a regular occurence. I can only hope that if it lodged in my brain, it lodged in others’ brains too and it manages to fix something about the political shitshow that is gun control in the US.


5 times.

Pretty much a similar story to last month. It’s getting a bit easier to run so whatever post-covid health matters I’m dealing with, they do seem to be easing off. Also, of course, maybe I’m just generally a bit less sedentary? It’s hard to say.

I did find a new route though which might make some long summer runs more interesting. I ran north along the new river and where I would normally loop back around about Winchmore Hill, I decided to keep going and ran up through Enfield until I worked out I had to come off the New River path and make my way to the train station to come back home. Part of my run took me along River View6 which was extremely pleasant. The end of my run took me up Lavender Hill towards Gordon Hill station, which was less so because the rest of the run, by virtue of following the river, had been predominantly flat.


3 books (ish)

One actual book in the form of one of the several issues of McSweeney’s Quarterly I have clogging up my bedside table to-read pile. Enjoyable as ever, but I don’t really seem to be making a dent in my backlog. The other 2 were me finishing up the Immortal Hulk that I spoke about last month.