This month started warm but by the end I’d broken out my winter coat.
As predicted we took our annual trip to Zippos circus this month. Happily this year much of the show was different and so there was less of a sense of déjà vu this time around. The performers basically did the same things (tumbling, clowning, throwing things, acrobatics, and so-on), but they’d changed up the theme of their acts enough that it felt like watching something new. A highlight was when the ringmaster/clown climbed inside a large balloon he was inflating, leaving only his head poking out, and bounced around the ring. It’s not high art, but it was funny.
The first year we went, it was just he three of us. Last year we went with one of R’s friends and her family. This year we went with 6 other families. At this rate, next year we’ll be booking a whole grandstand for her entire class.
I wonder what I’ll write about it next year. Having gone for 3 years in a row I definitely now have circus opinions1 and that’s an interesting feeling to have.
A quest ended
For Christmas ‘21, R got me a pair of slippers. I really liked the look of them, and how cosy they were, but they had a classic Birkenstock cork footbed that I didn’t like. It was too formed around the foot, and had a fairly chunky heel-drop on it, so I just couldn’t get along with them at all. I tried taking the footbed out and just wearing the slippers without that, and they were comfy, but far too large so I would slip about, particularly on the stairs and I didn’t enjoy the frisson of danger that added to changing floors.
We tried exchanging them for a smaller size, after trying to work out how many sizes to drop to account for removing the footbed, but couldn’t get it right. In the end, we just sent them back for a full refund. I kept my eye on some other slippers that did meet my barefoot-style needs, but throughout the year they never had my size in stock whenever I checked. I wasn’t checking that often though as it’s been a hot year.
However, as the weather turned this month, I decided I definitely needed some slippers to keep me cosy. A couple of furious evenings searching for things that met all my requirements: no heel-drop, no hard-footbed, boot-style - I found my grail and bought some. Happily, they’re a good fit and really cosy. I imagine as it gets colder I’ll need to up my sock game to really stay warm, but these are getting along nicely.
A grey time
I spent a couple of weeks playing through Gris+, the version of Gris that’s free on Apple Arcade. I’d been aware of this game from seeing ads on steam and had heard good things. Particularly that it shared some DNA with Journey, I game I had finally played when it came out on iOS and really enjoyed (despite some awkward controls). Gris on iPhone also had some awkward control issues, but while they didn’t frustrate me while playing Journey, I found myself increasingly frustrated by them in Gris. Journey, from what I recall was fairly sedate and chill, it was more about exploration and fairly forgiving in terms of pixel-perfect platforming, unlike Gris. Gris is exploration-led, but, for me anyway, seemed to require much more perfection and quick reactions. I’ve never been a great enjoyer of those kinds of games, and so I just found myself irritated by it. It’s beautiful to look at, but I found that I left it alone for several days because I just couldn’t be bothered fiddling my way through the last level.
For better or worse I tend towards a completionist tendency in games2, but when I realised there were things I’d missed in earlier levels, I decided it didn’t matter as I actively disliked my time with the game and did not want to spend more time with it.
We have a tall spindly plant that a “what is my plant” website told us is a Dracaena Fragrans. We’ve had it for many years and had to move it around the house as it grew taller and taller. Eventually it sat on the bottom step of the stairs up to our loft conversion - the tallest part of the house and with ample light from a south facing window at the top of the stairs. It thrived there, but for the past year or so it’s been brushing the ceiling and/or falling over which makes going up the stairs somewhat fraught. R calls it “going into the jungle”.
After watching me duck and crouch to pass the plant on my way up to work (my “office” is in the top room) one too many times, T decided we should finally do something about it. T was all for getting rid of the plant entirely, but I was sure we could find another solution. Some work colleagues in our
#plants slack channel suggested propagating it, so we decided to give that a try. After some intense googling we learned that apparently it’s a fairly hardy plant and not only can you cut the stems right back and it’ll grow again, you can pop the cuttings in water and they’ll start rooting ready for planting.
We decided to give that a go, and now we might have three plants. The cuttings we took are quite spindly still, even though we didn’t keep that much, so we had to raid R’s craft box to get lollipop sticks and barbecue skewers to construct a support structure to prop the cutting up in the vases of water. We’ve no idea how long it might take to work, or if doing it in mid October is a bad idea or not. Only time will tell!
Wot I think about York
Even though it barely seemed like R had been back at school after summer, it was time for half-term break. We decided to visit York for a few days as it frequently comes at the top of “great city breaks for kids” type lists. I’m glad to report, that even on a rainy October half-term week, those lists aren’t wrong. We managed to fill our days easily and keep both R and ourselves entertained. Sometimes quite surprisingly.
The National Railway Museum was a real mixed bag. We spent way longer than we expected and managed to capture R’s attention easily, but it wasn’t really the railway stuff that did it. We were last there in 2015 and the museum is a lot bigger now, but it also seems like you can’t get on as many of the trains, you just get to look at them. The thing you forget about trains is, they’re absolutely massive when you’re not standing on a platform but are instead at rails-level - so you can’t actually even see inside many of them. What the museum does have going for it is an abundance of “Explainers” wandering about, or staffing temporary interactive exhibits. R loved making a “train of the future” from cardboard, tracing paths for a robot to follow, an interactive story-telling session, and playing a GTA3 mod to show off what a new train station in a suburb was going to look like (complete with pumpkins and ghosts to find).
York Minster was a revelation. We thought we’d kill 10, maybe 15 minutes by wandering round before R got bored, but we spent maybe 30 or 40 minutes and it was us who got bored. As soon as we entered and paid they directed us to a stall where we could collect a little explorer’s backpack for R. This was full of magnifying glasses, paper, pens, tape measures, binoculars and loads of activity sheets and treasure hunt games. Exactly the kind of things R loves and this kept her amused as well as acting as a guide for us wandering about. It made me wonder why more boring-for-kids places don’t do this sort of thing. Then T told me she heard it cost £22,000 a day to run York Minster and I guess that explains it.
Obvs, being a church it had to get weird. As I gazed up at the roof to look at some of the carvings I heard a man say “Uncap!” at me. I looked around to find a man, mildly agitated, looking at me. “Uncap!” he said again and gestured at my hat. “Oh, right!” I replied and removed my hat, “This is still consecrated ground.” he said in response and then moved away. At which point I could see he was just some guy, not staff or clergy. My mind raced with thoughts of “don’t you think if that was important one of the several members of staff I passed on the way in here would have mentioned it” and “why did you pick me, I can see 4 or 5 other people with hats on without turning around”, but of course, I didn’t say anything and just put my hat in my coat pocket.
Jorvik is somewhere I have memories of visiting as a child and thought it would be good to revisit with R. As it turns out I remember very little of the place at all other than the “it smells!” part, and I can confirm that in 2022 it still does stink. The one thing I do have a firm memory of is using a coin die to make a viking coin. I remember using a hammer to do it myself, whereas these days someone in viking costume and modern day protective glasses does it for you. When we got back home I dug out my old coin to show R and compare, and it’s fair to say that the imprint I made on a coin with my feeble child’s arms back in the ’80s was very poor compared to the impression made by a seasoned viking coinsmith, so maybe having someone that knows what they’re doing do it is better. Other than that, R didn’t seem that into it at all and we were in and out pretty quickly, but when we asked her on the train back to London what her favourite thing was she said it was Jorvik so who can tell.
York is, for a major city, fairly tiny and really walkable which works in its favour for a kid friendly trip too. It’s full of small weird streets and independent shops so you don’t feel like you’re just on an identikit high street either. It is, weirdly, heavy on the Harry Potter vibes - I guess the shambles was inspiration for Diagon Alley, but doesn’t feel like that’s enough to inspire quite as much Harry Potter themed stuff as there is.
Speaking of independent shops we managed to have lunch on our last day in the Lendal location of The House of the Trembling Madness. A craft beer pub / shop / cafe that now has two locations in York. The first is a tiny shop downstairs / pub upstairs, but this one on Lendal is an entire Georgian townhouse spread over several floors. It looks like a fairly standard cafe on street level, but once you find the stairs you realise the whole house is converted over and the place is huge. The food we had was delicious (“best chicken and chips ever!” declared R) and the beer choice was impressive. The only mild downside is the large print of “L’Origine du monde” in the gents toilets, positioned such that you would definitely see it while leaving. There was a sign underneath inviting you to consider how art still has the power to shock and to consider norms of nudity and art and pornography. Which is all well and good, in the right place. Here though, the art was big and the sign was small. Ultimately, you’ve just put up a great big nude-y pic in a gent’s loo where people are going to look, snigger and move on without “recontextualising pornography”. How is that significantly different to putting up a playboy centrefold “for the lads”?
On (failing to) encourage others
We hosted this months LRUG at our offices and I figured that it would be wise for us to add to the brand awareness we get by hosting by also giving a talk. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to convince anyone to actually step up to give that talk and so I ended up preparing the talk, on our ruby 3 upgrade process, myself.
First I attempted to convince individuals to speak about something they’d been working on, then I tried to convince some groups of people to do a talk on their combined work, all to no avail. To be fair, most people did have good reasons for not being able to talk that specific evening, but it still made me a little sad that I couldn’t convince anyone else to take the plunge.
That said, I did’t give the talk completely solo. I worked with the group who did the actual work to put the talk together. They were great at helping me outline the slides, and provided me pointers to interesting things to talk about that were part of the process. While I was aware of the work they were doing, and was a champion for getting it done, I wasn’t actively involved it, so I couldn’t have gone as deep on some of the stuff we found without their help.
Ultimately, I think the talk works quite well4. It could be tighter as it ran to 40 minutes when it should have been more like 25. I also couldn’t stop myself from secretly making it less about “how to upgrade ruby” and more about “how to work collaboratively” and I think that segue needed more work. I am happy with it though and hopefully it got someone interested in us.
Helping build our employer brand is something I want to work on more. I think we have a decent hiring process that rejects the wrong candidates, but provides a transparent way for all candidates to learn what we’re about and show us what we’re looking for. The problem is that hiring against our growth plans is still proving difficult and so increasing who knows about us seems like the next obvious lever to pull. A part of that is improving our visibility in the candidate pool by hosting and speaking at events like LRUG. It can’t just be me though every time, so I clearly have lots to work on in sponsoring and coaching people into talking.
Yet more pub-based life drawing
Weirdly, the pub we went to after the formal part of LRUG, The Crown & Shuttle, also had a life drawing class in it, just like last month’s trip to the pub with Tom. I guess life-drawing is just what happens in pubs in Shoreditch now.
Towards the end of the month R was invited to take part in an exam as part of her ballet class. Her class is run in a local secondary school, but the exam was run in a secondary school out in Stratford which is a bit of a pain to get to which made us think twice about doing it. The information from the dance school talked up how empowering the exam would be and R was excited by the prospect when we spoke to her about it so we decided to put her in for it.
The initial booking was for 9am to 2pm with a note that they’d tell us our actual 45 minute slot closer to the date. As we feared we had to get to Stratford for the 9am slot5, but they only told us this on the Thursday before, which made planning our weekend frustrating. When we got there we realised that the only real option for us to pass the time while R was doing the exam was to drink vending machine tea & coffee from the nearby Morrisons café.
Understandably, parents aren’t allowed into the school while the kids are doing the exam because it’d be a distraction, particularly at this age. But we don’t get any real feedback on how R is doing from the dance school so it’s a bit annoying that this exam was the same. We’ve no idea what she’s doing or if she’s good at it. At least with the drama class she does there is a show at the end of each term for us to watch and find out what she’s been doing. Ballet is a black6 box. She could be terrible. She could be amazing. We’ve no idea. The only thing we know is that she seems to enjoy it. I suspect that at her age, no-one is really good or bad, they’re just going through the motions, and the exam was less about R and more about has the teacher taught them what they’re meant to know. It would be nice to get some information though.
I watched the Ms. Marvel show and am happy to report that it’s good. Marvel does fun really well, and struggles with the tonal shift to more serious fare. Not that there’s nothing serious in Ms. Marvel, but the general tone is light and that suits Marvel so well. It does suffer from the big bad being yet another villain that has the same powers as the hero, but this is a well known trait of the MCU at this point so not even worth complaining about.
I was looking forward to watching this show, whereas I am not sure I can bring myself to work my way through Moon Knight knowing it’s going to be gritty.
At the start of the month I finally signed up to a new half-marathon. I’ll be doing the RunThrough Half-Marathon in the Olympic Park. RunThrough organise loads of relatively cheap runs throughout the year, usually consisting of laps of London parks. I’ve done 10k runs with them and they usually consist of at least 4 laps so I’ve mostly ignored their half-marathon offerings because I’m not a fan of lap running and didn’t fancy grinding away at 8+ laps. This one however, is not a bunch of laps – in order to accommodate a half-marathon distance in a single park without loads of laps the route is absolutely wild. It’s quite impressive that they’ve managed it TBH.
I don’t think I’m fit enough to do much in terms of my personal best times, but at least I can blame the route because it’s very corner-y and best guess for an “official” sub 2-hour marathon is on a course with very few corners - like Berlin.
A book about the shareware scene, which gave me some nostalgia for this era as I played a bunch of the games mentioned. Two volumes of a comic series which were excellent and I’m excited to read more as the next volume comes out. Another comic series set in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s sci-fi universe which was less so. I’ve read a bunch of these comics now as they have often come up as examples of great European comics outside the superhero genre. The problem is, they’re often incoherent and, at best, “a product of their time”, even if they do, very often, have stunning art. I will almost certainly read some more, because I’ve got them from various humble bundle’s I’ve bought, but it’s definitely diminishing returns.