h-notes ∈ March 2022

An evening at The Prince

Emboldened by my experiences going out in Feb I arranged to meet Tom for an evening in a local pub. We drank beers after squinting at the bar to work out which beers were least likely to be sneakily 6% and ruin our mornings the next day. We spoke about work and life and holidays and made awful jokes and compared notes on media consumption. It was so normal. I loved it.

I didn’t manage to do anything similar for the rest of the month.

What a performance!

Although we now organise our year into terms (four months) instead of quarters (three months) we still do our performance reviews every six months and so March was, as ever, performance season. I felt slightly more on top of it this time around, although I’m not at all sure I’ve taken any extra steps in the past six months to be more mindful of the things I was complaining after the last one. Outcomes are yet to be decided at the time of writing, so I can’t say for sure how it’s all gone, or what the fallout of that will be, but I feel confident that it’ll be ok. Maybe I’m getting better at delivering hard information, or maybe I just feel like I will be, or maybe my expectation management skills have gotten better so I don’t think anyone has any wildly unrealistic ideas going into it.

One thing that I do miss is that our review process no longer includes any peer feedback by default. As a manager who doesn’t spend much day-to-day time working with my reports, I do spend a decent amount of time (and more in the run up to performance review season) talking to those that do to get their feelings on things. As part of performance season I’ll ask to turn those chats into some written feedback I can share. This isn’t a formal part of the process though, so it can be pretty ad-hoc – no-one knows who they might be asked to provide some written feedback for, nor how many people, nor when. Turns out, some people were being asked to provide 10 pieces of feedback but most people weren’t being asked to provide any.

There’s a lot to be said, good and bad, about 360 feedback as part of performance reviews. When people know feedback is linked to performance they tend to soften it, and people are generally already quite bad at giving feedback, so you can get some pretty watered down “so and so is great” feedback. We’ve rolled out some radical candour inspired training at work to try to get around this, and the basics of the methodology are good – but there’s a huge difference between reading a book or watching a training course, and actually giving and receiving good feedback.

In case it wasn’t obvious, I am definitely not writing this because I think I’m particularly good at feedback, it’s just all these pesky others who aren’t. I suspect I’m probably as bad as everyone else, but as it’s part of my job I’m trying to get better at it.

Reflecting on reflecting

Late in February I was invited to run a retrospective for the senior leadership team as part of their 2022 get together in early March. The goal was to help them come together as a team and set up some of the themes they’d discuss in the rest of their time together. I thought about how this might work and decided the sailboat metaphor1 might work well.

I was, it has to be said, fairly apprehensive about running it. An important part of running retrospectives is to create a safe space for the team to have open and honest conversations with each other. I find that easiest when the team knows me and I know them, but I don’t spend a huge amount of time working with most of the senior leadership team so I definitely wasn’t confident I’d be able to create that safety. Imposter syndrome also kicked in – what if running this retrospective was when they all found out I was crap at my job? Obviously the kinds of silly retrospectives I run for squads wouldn’t cut it for senior leaders and I’d be summarily fired.

As it happened, the retrospective got shuffled around a few times in the calendar, before being cancelled completely. I don’t think because they did’t see the merit or 😬didn’t want me to run it😬, but the schedule kept changing because of illness and holidays and in the end, there just wasn’t the time to run it. I was both relieved and gutted that I wasn’t running it.

Mostly gutted though, so as part of writing up my own performance review I decided that I want to get better at retrospective facilitation, and to try to make the whole company better at reflection and team building too. Retrospectives are just one tool for doing this, and facilitating them is just one way I can help the company. I don’t really have many ideas yet, but I’m going to work on it over the next 2-3 months and see where I get to.

A trip to the woods

R’s school class took a trip to highgate woods where they did some mild woodcraft, larked about in the playground, and just generally walked through the woods to marvel at nature. I wasn’t entirely sure about the pedagogical merit of the trip when they told us what the agenda was, but honestly, just being out in this natural environment was clearly exciting to all of the kids. They’re not jaded by the world, and nothing is more exciting to them than seeing a squirrel, or slightly uncommon bird, or some wild flowers among the undergrowth. They weren’t even deterred by the rain we had for much of the afternoon2.

Due to a dearth of parents being available to help, T and I both ended up volunteering to make sure it would go ahead. There wasn’t much notice, and it was a whole day-long trip so it’s understandable that not many folk could make it, but people really pulled out the stops – there were plenty of grandparents and aunts and uncles taking part. What this meant for T and I is that T looked after R and I looked after two kids who I didn’t know at all. I’m not sure who had it easier – R probably played up a bit because her mum was there, and her partner was one of her friends we know well, whereas I’ve no idea if the two I looked after were behaving normally, or playing up because I have no authority over them. Either way – kids are pretty much the same and will broadly behave the same and so we all got on fine enough. A far cry from the Murray who 5 years ago had never held a child and really didn’t know how to relate to them at all. Now I’ll take 2 to the woods and help them do a poo.

Revisiting R.E.M.

We spotted BBC Four doing one of it’s music nights, and that one hour was REM at the BBC, a compilation of a bunch of REM appearances across the BBC’s musical output over the years. I don’t really listen to REM much anymore, but this hour was a great reminder of how good they were. There were so many songs that it turns out I really like, well, up to about the mid 2000s anyway. It’s hard to tell if REM got worse after that, or up to then was just the period where music was so important to me that it really lodged in my brain.

I also found it undeniable that Michael Stipe is still my style goal. Not in terms of fashion, I don’t think I could define a Michael Stipe look, other than maybe that he wears pork pie hats a bunch? Or did? I mean that I used to obsess a bit about losing my hair3 and saw Michael Stipe as someone leaning into it. He’s also a man who wears makeup, not a little bit of mascara and nail polish, but full on “half my face is blue and glittery” and I could go for that4.

It is 5!

R turned 5 this month. Restrictions are gone so we booked a venue, and an entertainer, invited ~20 of her friends and had a party. In the end, it was great, R had an amazing time and we had to claw her down from the ceiling after all the excitement even if she was a bit scared early on that the science show entertainer we’d booked was going to make too many explosions. The run up to it though was pretty frustrating5 – venues and entertainers are clearly in such demand that they don’t actually need to be communicative or professional at all. So many of them just didn’t get back to us when enquiring about prices or availability. We only managed to book the venue because the person that runs it is on the parental WhatsApp group for R’s class at school and we could get in touch directly that way.

It all came together even if I did have to dash home a few times to deal with AV related mishaps.

  1. The venue only had headphone jack connectivity and no-one has a phone with one of those these days grandad – so I fetched my laptop and tethered my phone to stream music.

  2. Once everyone was in the venue, all those extra phones ate all the Gs so my phone had no signal anymore for streaming – so I took the laptop back home to download the tracks from the playlist we were using.

Minor setbacks, obviously, but stressful in the moment and another reminder not to rely on internet connectivity. Eventually we were all set up and could finally play pas the parcel and I’ve never been more stressed in all my life. At a previous party I scoffed at how pass the parcel was played with a pre-recorded track with in-built stops to the music. Now I understand why – trying to time the pauses in the music to line up with the kid who is getting the most upset about not getting to tear off a layer, or to not give someone multiple goes is nigh on impossible. I wielded a lot of power for those 5 minutes that no-one should ever have.

A WELLSEC breach

T & I harbour suspicions that we had COVID early in the pandemic, but as it was before widespread testing we have nothing confirmed, and we never had any of the classic symptoms other than tiredness, so it’s hard to say one way or another. The week after R’s party though, I tested positive. Somewhat surprisingly as although I had mild cold symptoms they’d peaked a couple of days before I tested positive, and had been negative until then. It’s hard to properly self-isolate from R, but I slept in our spare room. Thankfully it was the week the weather turned more spring-like so that made keeping the windows open to ventilate the house more bearable. From what I’ve heard from others who’ve had it recently, I got off pretty lightly; I had what I’d class as a mild cold for about a week, and didn’t even need to take any time off work. I did have one particularly bad night sleep (on the first day I tested negative no less), but this felt more like food poisoning than cold or what I’d expect from COVID6.

I tested negative twice in a row on the last day of the month, so I’ll have to see how I feel in April to find out if there are any longer term repercussions. I know of a few folk who have had long-term effects of varying intensities, and none of which seem to line up with how severe the symptoms were while testing positive.

I originally thought I’d caught a mild cold from the day traipsing about in the rain in Highgate Woods. Assuming this was the day I caught it, it’d mean I did so on one of the two bus rides I took that day, which, sure, lots of people are unmasked and the bus was busy, but this seems pretty unlucky. The only other obvious candidate would have been Rs birthday party, but my symptoms presented before this so it seems unlikely7.

T and R, happily, if somewhat surprisingly, both tested negative throughout my positive results.


3 times.

I did have what I thought was a cold, but then turned out to be covid so not surprising really. From chatting to some people who’ve had covid at work I suspect this is going to set back my fitness levels significantly, so it’s probably convenient I hadn’t managed to sign up to any organised runs for May or June yet. Ah, well, maybe I’ll target Autumn and revisit the Aviemore Half Marathon: it’s where I got my PB, it’s near my folks, the scenery is stunning, it’s half-trail, half-road, and, crucially, mostly downhill (hence the PB I guess).


8! But, 5 were comics. But! 3 were physical books. But! 1 of those was effectively a zine. Eh, I’ll take it.

One of the books was a collection of short stories by John Wyndham. TBH, there’s probably a reason most people have heard of “The Day of the Triffids”, “The Midwich Cuckoos”, “The Kraken Wakes” and not much else. There’s certainly a sense of diminishing returns with exploring his less famous works, but I have a definite soft-spot for his form of matter-of-fact sci-fi.