h-notes ∈ September 2022
September took its toll and I’ve written about it here.
As is often the case, R was invited to two birthday parties in one day. She was keen to go to both of them which was challenging given they were back-to-back and about 30 minutes apart no matter how we sliced the public transport options. The first was for someone R spent a lot of time with at nursery, but not so much now they’re in different schools whereas the second was for class-mate. The first would have only a handful of kids, most of whom R wouldn’t know versus the second which would be attended by most of her class. The first was in a park with a great playground and paddling pool and the second was in a local hall with standard party games. Pros and cons to each, but we decided that the first one would be the one we sacrificed time for in order to make it to the second more-or-less on time.
As expected, it was a nightmare convincing R to leave. I didn’t want to make too much of a song-and-dance about being late to the next party, but eventually I managed to drag R away – although not before she’d embarrassed me by asking the parents of the birthday girl where the party bags were. Not every party has party bags I tried to explain to R as we headed to the bus, but I’m not sure she got it.
I told R we should stay downstairs and stand as we’d be getting off in a few stops time to switch to the tube. We were making good time until the bus got stuck in traffic on a part of the road without a bus lane. Eventually, as it crawled towards the bus stop another passenger decided that they’d had enough and pulled the emergency door open and got off. A few more folk got off.
And so did R.
Exactly just as the doors closed.
I could see R’s face turn from excitement to terror as the doors closed with me still on the bus.
The driver pulled off towards the bus stop as the bus erupted in “open the doors, his daughter just got off” shouts. The driver, inexplicably, screamed “you shouldn’t have opened the doors, you shouldn’t have let her off”. He did not relent and screamed at everyone until he got to the stop a few hundred metres later.
I could, just about, still see R throughout. Except when I was also looking at the bus driver and shouting “you have to let me off”.
The doors opened and I sprinted back up the street to bundle R up in my arms. She was sobbing. I was shaking. A passenger who had got off the bus at the same time as her had taken her hand and started leading her towards the bus-stop. I thanked them profusely as I simultaneously tried to calm R and myself down. We must have been apart for all of a minute at most, but it felt both far too long and far too short. The doors closed, seemingly in an instant, but the bus took forever to get to the stop and re-open the doors. Time is weird.
In the heat of the moment, I cannot recall if I told R to get off or not. It happened so fast, but it’s definitely the kind of thing I would have said. We were standing right by the doors and a bunch of other people got off. It’s possible. I just don’t know. Memory is weird.
As I carried her down the street towards the tube, looking for something, anything, with which to distract her and cheer her up, we passed the bus-stop. The bus was still parked and there was still a screaming match going on. The driver spotted me and screamed at me some more about how I shouldn’t have opened the doors or let my daughter get off. I yelled back that it wasn’t me, adding my voice to the chorus of passengers asserting the same. I get that he’s probably on the defensive because driving off when a child has left the bus without their grown-up is probably frowned on. I’m on the defensive too; my brain has elided whether or not I told R to leave the bus1. Such see-it-from-their-point-of-view-ism doesn’t really help in the moment. I was angry and scared and didn’t need to be yelled at, not least as I was doing my best to play it for laughs to calm R down.
Happily, at the next road crossing we spotted a graffiti mural of a fox and used that to calm us both down.
On the tube we had a good discussion about what to do if something like that happened again and worked out scenarios for it being a bus, or tube, or train. R seemed fine, but as the month’s rolled on I have noticed reticence about transport and an insistence that she holds our hand when getting on or off. I’m well aware that now she’s 5 anything we do could be an “earliest memory” for her and will shape her for years to come. The weight of which is almost too much to bear.
An in-person LRUG
This month we had our first in-person LRUG meetup since March 2020 and the start of the pandemic. Each time we had thought about doing this over the past few years the case numbers took a turn for the worse and we decided not to chance it. Everything seems to have settled down, or we’re just “living with it” and so the time felt right. We had run a survey on the mailing list to see what people wanted out of a return to in-person events, but honestly, the results were inconclusive. Some people were happy with remote, some people were happy with in-person, some people were happy with a hybrid solution.
Remote LRUG meetings have been a great opportunity to expand our attendee and speaker pools. It was great to have speakers from Europe and the US, and I liked spotting attendees I knew no longer lived in London lurking in the zoom participants list. On the flip-side the meetings have definitely missed out on the socialising aspect. We settled on leaving the zoom call running after the talks were finished, but until the attendees dwindled to ~5-10 it was awkward and stilted.
Happily, this first in-person event managed to work on both fronts. One of our speakers was from Amsterdam and had come over to London specifically to run their talk. The socialising before and after was much easier and I could sense some real community bonding2. I even managed to talk to 2 or 3 people afterwards and convince them to give talks, or at least to think about giving talks – something that proved particularly difficult during the remote years.
One oddity was that the pub we chose to go to after the talks closed at 10pm and was very keen on letting us know this from about 9:40pm onwards. We headed to another pub, but it did act as a forcing function for some people to go home and so the evening felt artificially curtailed.
We’ll see how it goes, but I suspect we’ll be in-person again for the foreseeable. The talks are the excuse to get together, but it’s the community that has always been the major draw of a local meetup group like this and that’s been missing.
We made it through the summer holidays and R started year 1 at school. I don’t understand the English school system yet and find thinking about it quite confusing. When people talk about year 5 or year 8 it’s exactly the same as when US movies talk about sixth grade or whatever – I have literally no idea what age a child is expected to be in these years and so you may as well be speaking
language_I_do_not_speak to me. Luckily I have ~5 more years before I have to worry about it too much when we have to think about secondary schools. Perhaps by then I’ll have got it all right in my brain. Or R will and I won’t have to.
The change from Reception to Year 1 in R’s school involves a slight time change (9am to 3:30pm from 8:55am to 3:00pm) which is marginally better for us in terms of not having to rush for pickups. It also involved a big change for R in that they mixed the reception classes up to balance out the ability levels in each class. For whatever reason this meant R going into a year 1 class with hardly any of her close friends from her reception class, nor any of her close friends from the other reception classes. Her closest friend is with her, but the rest of the kids she didn’t really hang out with. R said she didn’t mind, but she was biting her fingernails a lot, which we now know is a sign of anxiety in her as she did the same going into reception and it only stopped a week or so after starting once she’d relaxed into it. R isn’t the only one having to adjust to the class mixing, T & I are also trying to learn all the new names and make friends with the new parents.
We’re also adjusting to a difference in how the school communicates. Reception sent us a newsletter each week so we were kept up to date with what the kids were doing. Something we found particularly useful as we cannot get anything out of R about what they’re doing. Apparently this is normal so it’s not like R is being uncommunicative. However, year 1 doesn’t do that, but neither did they tell us they weren’t doing it – we just had to discover it ourselves, along with discovering a fairly light touch curriculum timetable for the year in the depths of the school website. The school now has more options for after-school activities that are available now she’s in year 1, but information about these has so far been drip-fed to us one-to-one or much later than is useful via group emails well into the first few weeks. At which point we’ve all already arranged our after-school care. Meaning if we do want to sign R up to some extra courses, we end up paying double for generic after-school care + the more focused after-school clubs, or need to think about re-arranging our work schedules to let her attend. Of course, the generic after-school club runs to 6pm and the specialised ones don’t so you have to pay double anyway.
I know schools aren’t well funded and I know arranging all this stuff is hard. It’s just frustrating when everyone seems to be chasing around finding this stuff out on their own.
Gor bless ‘er
The Queen died and the country lost its collective mind for several weeks. It was impossible not to be caught up in it, and I found myself having multiple conversations about The Queen and the royal family over this period. As someone who would rather there was no royal family I found myself annoyed at how easily I was sucked in to knowing about it all. I did enjoy, however, saying “as a mark of respect” or “it’s what she would have wanted” at the start or end of almost any statement I would make that would inconvenience someone else
“As a mark of respect I am 5 minutes late to this meeting”
“No, I won’t make you a cup of tea, it’s what she would have wanted”
And so-on and so-on until the “joke” was well and truly run into the ground.
Honestly, working and living with me is such a joy.
Musing on Musicals
We took R to see Frozen: The Musical in the west end one Sunday evening. We booked well in advance in order to not spend £200 per person on tickets and luckily, it ended up being the Sunday before the Statey Funes bank holiday and so the late evening and excitement wasn’t a problem for getting R to school the next day.
The show itself is pretty spectacular. I’m not particularly into musical theatre, no doubt because of being dragged to loads of it as a kid as my parents were both into it and helped out in the props dept of the local am-dram society, but even I was impressed by the staging and effects they’re able to pull off, and enjoyed it despite myself.
R was touch and go at the start. Had we not been in the middle of an aisle I think she would have tried to leave. However, by the time we got through the dark opening with the parental death and into the brighter coronation day song she was into it.
In order to have “Let it Go” be the big set piece to close the first half of the show, the musical has shuffled some of the plot elements from the movie. Including adding some new songs. The new songs are all, bar one, pretty weak and I was surprised to learn they were written by the same team as the film. They are, of course, musical songs – meaning they’re really all about advancing the plot, rather than being good in-and-of-themselves. This is not to say that the songs in the original movie are all wall-to-wall bangers3, but they have hooks and staying power. It made me realise that this is why I struggle with the music from Moana and Encanto – even the “big songs” reek of musicals and I just want them to be songs on their own. In particular I just want “How far I’ll go” to actually … go far, but it seems reined in – this may be thematically appropriate, but it’s frustrating. It’s probably an unpopular opinion, particularly given how wildly successful these films have been, but I reckon Lin-Manuel Miranda isn’t very good4.
Of course, as if to prove my point, the best new song is “Hygge” which is a big set-piece ode to nordic cosiness and does nothing to advance the plot. It’s just fun and good.
I went to the pub with Tom again. This time we met in Shoreditch as I’d gone into the office. Devoid of any exciting new ideas I suggested we just go to an old favourite and so we went to The Reliance. Unfortunately we couldn’t use the quieter upstairs like we might have in times gone by because there was a life-drawing class there. I’d have probably wanted somewhere somewhat more private for that kind of thing if I was the model, but each to their own I guess. Unfortunately, and for reasons I can’t quite place, downstairs at the reliance isn’t as good as upstairs so we went for dinner at Wahaca to finish up the evening.
As ever, a night out in the pub was bolstering and I resolved afterwards to do more of it. Also as ever, I didn’t make any attempt to follow through on that promise to myself. Perhaps I’ll do better in the rest of the year as dark evening pub cosiness5 beckons.
R had a couple more firsts this month. She lost her first tooth and had her first sleepover at a friends house. The sleepover was to let T & I go to a lecture about Agatha Christie by Lucy Worsley to promote her book - the key revelation of which is that the mystery of Agatha Christie’s disappearance in 1926 isn’t really much of a mystery at all. Agatha gave an interview to a newspaper explaining it all as a mental health issue after learning of her husband’s adultery. People don’t really like listening to women though so this interview seems to have been ignored in order to let The Great Mystery persist.
R was very anxious about the sleepover, as she has a very fixed bed routine that still involves one of us reading her stories and staying until she falls asleep. We luckily could rely on some books and cartoons about sleepovers to get her over it, although even right up to us taking her over there she was quite anxious. T & I went over in the morning with breakfast and R didn’t really want to leave. Especially as she revealed to us she had a wobbly tooth.
The following week was full of poking and prodding and wobbling from her. No matter how much we told her to leave it alone and how it would come out on its own when it was ready. Of course, that’s just what it did a week later as R was watching TV in the afternoon. She was most excited to find two coins under her pillow along with a short note from the tooth fairy the next morning. The two coins amounted to £1.20 because, honestly, we don’t really have much cash on hand so have no idea if this is the going rate, but we had fun working out how to write a little note that she wouldn’t spot was our hand writing.
The biggest complication now is that R was given two separate “my first tooth” keepsake boxes which she knows are for her first tooth, but also she knows that the tooth fairy took it. I’m not really sure how we’re supposed to square that circle.
Team building not “Team building”
Work took us all for an offsite to
Alicante Benidorm. It was lovely to meet everyone, some of whom have joined the company during the pandemic and I’d previously only met over zoom. Also nice is that we took over an entire hotel, so you were safe in the knowledge that everyone you saw there was someone you worked with. Worst-case, if you sat with someone you didn’t recognise you could always talk about work to jumpstart the conversation, or about one of the pre-planned activities from the day.
In previous jobs, when I’ve gone on these kinds of trips away together they’ve been about work. We’ve run vision sessions or big planning meetings to set ourselves up for the months ahead. There’s been time for fun and socialising, but it’s been primarily work-focused. This was entirely a social trip. We hung out and had fun together, obviously this helped build relationships and we’ll work together more effectively because of it, but it was all natural, rather than being forced through some “team building”-style activities6.
Being old and grumpy, I decided not to opt for the company arranged flights which required getting to an airport for between 4 and 6 AM depending on the flight. While it did mean missing out on morning pints in a airport ‘spoons I did get about 6hrs to myself on the way out when I combine transit + airport milling around + flights. On the way back a few colleagues were also eschewing the company flights which were again super early and so I only had the 2.5hrs of the flight to myself. With all this solo time I was able to read almost an entire book. It was great. Now that R is at school and our holiday time revolves around her time-off the gift that I want is time, and time I can spend on myself without guilt.
Here are some in-transit selfies I sent to T & R to commemorate the occasion:
I guess I still think my critical musings are interesting.
When this Adam Sandler movie came out in 2019 everyone was abuzz with “omg, it’s so good, Adam Sandler shows that he can act in something serious and not just do crass comedies” and I was caught up in that. I finally got round to watching it and can happily report that everyone is an idiot. Yes, Adam Sandler isn’t making constant poop jokes, but that is a low bar to cross to get near universal critical acclaim. What he does instead is just shout and gurn his way through it – which, now I think of it, seems to be all that you have to do to get people to think you are an amazing actor in an amazing film. Bradley Cooper, generally but also specifically in Silver Linings Playbook, I’m looking at you.
Back to Uncut Gems though – it’s not good. On the one hand it’s really well put together with some interesting artistic choices to let you know “This Is A Piece of Cinema, Not A Movie” and does a great job of creating a tense atmosphere. It even has a fairly surprising twist ending that I didn’t see coming7. On the other hand though I’d rather not have spent one of my evenings watching this.
The trailer for this Marvel series made it clear that it was heavily influenced by a particular run of Hawkeye comics by Matt Fraction and David Aja. A series I really enjoyed so I was excited to see how they transferred it to the screen. Unfortunately, the answer is, not well. It’s not bad, but neither is it good. I saw someone describe most of the Marvel shows as “media landfill” and I think that fits. I am kinda excited that they might be setting up all the characters necessary to have a “Young Avengers” show or movie eventually, but at the same time it’s clear that a good run of comics won’t always translate to a good show or movie, and while there is one run that’s particularly great, there are several less good ones any live-action version could be inspired by, so I’m tempering my excitement.
For all mankind S3
I really like this show. It’s hopeful and that’s a nice change in a TV show. In previous series it seemed like it was suggesting that if America came 2nd in the race to land on the moon there’d be a general reduction in toxic masculinity, which I thought was an interesting, if somewhat wild leap. As the series progress it has walked back from that, which is a shame, but I guess it has allowed for some drama. This is nitpicking though, it’s a great show and I really enjoy jumping forwards each series to see where the world is. It’ll be interesting to see how many more series some of the actors can get away with. At the end of both S2 and S3 some characters die and I can’t shake the suspicion that it’s not always narrative that’s driving those choices rather than “we can’t realistically age these people up more”.
This is what I consider a good number, as even factoring in the work trip time off I managed a decent cadence of runs. I’ve even started to extend my range a bit on my weekend runs. Nothing astonishing, just steadily pushing up from 10k to 13k and feeling good about it.
Infrastructure update: For most of this month Runkeeper managed to break the “upload your run” page so that it wouldn’t show the “save” button. Of course, because nothing is a simple form anymore you couldn’t just hit
<enter> while the form was focussed to submit it either.
Was this enough to push me off the site: no. I just grumbled about it here and waited until they fixed it.
Turns out, all three of these were published by MIT press which is weird.
Two of these were from the Twelve Tomorrows series of sci-fi anthologies. I have gone on about my love for short fiction before but this series in particular I enjoy because it follows some of the beats of Mundane SF which is a genre I really enjoy. The stories are all based on technology we have now, or that’s maybe a few years out from being ubiquitous and explores ideas that way. Good SF is usually a reflection of what’s happening as it’s written rather than a prediction for what might happen in the actual future, and these anthologies really hit that for me.
The other was a history of Dungeons & Dragons focusing on the rise of TSR up until the moment that Gary Gygax is ousted from it in the 90s. It starts out as a historical mapping out of how D&D came to be, rising up out of the wargaming community, but then slowly turns into a blow by blow account of how the TSR business was run (poorly, mostly). Probably useful as a warning tale of growing too quick and over-extending yourself, but I had hoped for a bit more about D&D itself, rather than a cautionary business manual. Interesting, but not quite what I was expecting or interested in. If it hadn’t had the birth of role-playing games as a background I doubt I’d have made my way through it, but I am glad for the bit of history I did learn.