2020 weeknotes 27-28

The world continues to spin unrelentingly, and we carry on.

Working from home continues to… work? And I have popped into the office for a few hours once a week. It is a little eerie still, but the office has a had a deep clean, and the idea that we can start to trickle back in is a reassuring one as the human / in-person element of our workplace has been lacking a little.

We are realising that, despite being good at communicating through various channels, it is so helpful to just occupy the same space and overhear things, as well as to just quickly pop and ask someone an informal question, rather than having write an email, or time a phonecall.

One lovely and unexpected thing I found waiting for me at work was an invitation back to Germany for the launch of an exhibition that we have been helping with. It’s in September which simultaneously feels too soon to consider travelling, and yet also just far enough away to seem entirely doable. I’d be delighted to go back. I’ll need to organise myself fairly soon if I do intend to go.


The weather has been a bit more mixed, but I have tried to continue with my running.

A few weeks ago I saw that my watch battery had died. As usual, I hadn’t bought a particularly expeensive watch, and so when it came to sourcing a replacement battery, the watch – which I quite liked – was a bit worn out, and not built to last, and the strap was quite worn, so I decided to just replace it outright.

My thoughts turned to other analogue watches, and I remembered the Withings Move watch which has an analogue face, along with an ‘activity’ dial which shows how close you are to your daily step goal.

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It also serves as an always-on activity tracker, including sleep. One other neat touch is that, although it has no GPS built-in, you can start GPS-tracked acitivities on the watch by pressing the crown, which sends a command to your phone to start tracking, meaning you can leave it in your bag/pocket/running belt.

It’s a neat product and the minimalist design appealed to me, as did the fact that although it is basically an activity tracker, it has no way of charging it – the standard watch battery is meant to last 18 months or so.

A few weeks later and I realised that although I liked it as a watch, and the connected GPS tracking worked well (the watch hands return to 12 o’clock when you start an activity and begin a timer so you can check the time of your run, if not your distance), the Withings Move was ultimately not for me.

Primarily, although I love the simplicity of the activity dial it actually doesn’t help me do much. Cleverly, your daily step goal can be set in the app, so the dial is always a percentage rather than fixed at say 10,000 steps. But… meeting a daily step goal is – currently – not something I am struggling with. For someone who might need a visual nudge to get them there – particularly if sat at a desk all day – this is a great little addition to your lifestyle as it gives a subtle hint to crack your daily steps.

Next, although I prefer an analogue watch, I do also like it to have the date displayed, which the Withings Move does not. It would be great if it could (and I think there is a more expensive model with a small display built in which could do this? But I prefer the simplicity of an analogue-only face with no displays – or a full display).

Overall, the Withings app and the device itself are great and I love that they exist – they just didn’t quite fulfil what I was hoping they would. But I’m very glad to have been able to give it a go and return it so easily. I’d been aware of the Withings analogue style watches for years, and the Move is now about sixty quid and briefly went down to forty quid, which is when I snapped this up. That’s a bargain. It’s just not quite the product I need right now.

What did I replace it with? Well, and this contradicts much of what I said above, I’ve gone with a Garmin Forerunner 35 instead. More on that in future when I’ve had a good few weeks with it. But so far things are looking good.

 


I shot and developed a new roll of film in my Minolta Hi-Matic 7s recently too. I’ve been really impressed with the results, and I want to continue in the swing of using this camera. It’s a little on the large side, but it’s a delight to use, and the results I get from it – particularly using black and white film – are always really compelling.

Self at home - 6 July 2020

I’ll put up another post here shortly with some more detail on the camera, the film, and the whole process, but the images themsevles are already online at the new photography section of this website. I spoke a little about why I’ve (re) added a photography page to the site in this post.


The garden continues to flourish. Our sunflowers are mostly growing thick and strong, but the brief high winds and heavy rain we’ve had have made them droop a little, so a little TLC has been necessary.

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The robin still returns frequently to the window-mounted feeder. I have had to remove other sources of food as we spotted an adult mouse recently, and then a baby, on the floor looking around for food.

The baby looked ridiculously cute. All huge ears and bright eyes and tiny body. But… a mouse is a mouse, and we don’t want to encourage mice to move in. The areas they explored are perilously close to the door/window which in summer we need to have open quite a lot.

I don’t think the mice will last. One evening when looking out of the window just before bedtime, I spotted a new visitor to the garden: a black and white cat. It had positioned itself in a hunting pose, tucked into a hidden corner, overlooking the exact space I had seen the mouse earlier that day. So I expect the circle of life will continue to spin and – hopefully – the mice will either move on to other pastures, or they will be ruthlessly dispatched by forces more primal and direct.

As I write, it has been three days since I last saw the mouse, so maybe they have already moved on…


We went to the pub on Saturday night for the first time since… well, at least March.

We met M’s friends Jess and Robbie in the park for some drinks and a catch up as the sun set. Spent a nice time there as the chaos of the park on a Saturday evening happened all around us.

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As it got cooler, Jess suggested we try the pub just next to the park. I was initially reticent, and as a group we decided to just see how it felt. But when we got there it seemed pretty empty so we went in. It was, on the face of it, a nice experience: a drink, a chat and catch-up with friends, and plenty of space. But in the world of Covid – and a pub in Brent – the pub exhibited next to none of the guidelines we had expected to see.

The only real concession to such guidelines was some markings on the floor, a few hand sanitiser stations, and some perspex screens at the bar. But you still ordered your drinks at the bar (though we sat in the dining room and were given table service later), and none of our details were taken.

I had thought the logging of visitors’ details was a crucial part of this whole reopening, but the guidelines actually seem to say this is only a suggested activity. There seems very little that places actually have to do. It is mostly left up to the individual organisations, and ultimately up to the customers themselves. Which is lovely and liberal, but also kind of horrifying.

It is now so difficult to know what one can do – what it is right for one to do – and what should be avoided. One topic of conversation was having these decisions being made by each individual, as well as the selective reading and listening one can do when it comes to which rules or habits one wishes to continue to follow. I keep finding myself surprised that shops and galleries are open. And yet I have yet to wear a mask in a public place, partly because – thus far – no one has said I have to. That may change soon, and we have picked up a stock of them, just in case.

The dining tables had disposable paper mats, but also slightly less disposable plastic ones. Possibly they will be disposed of between meals – but we sat and had drinks there so I don’t imagine the table would have been cleared in the same way. None of the staff wore masks.

It was a weird experience for so many reasons. I had glimmers of “Cor, I am drinking a Pint! In a Pub!” But these were shortlived and mostly I was slightly preoccupied with other concerns.

It will take a while – a long, long while – to get back to feelings of normality around any activities like this. And to get comfortable with booking trips and so on. As mentioned above, I would really like to get to Germany in September. I will go by train if I do go – flying is such a bore, even in the before times – and I think train travel will be alright even if it does mean masking up for most of a day. It really is a very enjoyable way to to get into and around Europe.

Speaking of travel, we have booked a little tour of Cornwall for August which will involve bikes and trains and camping. This, again, feels about as early as such a trip would be possible and/or enjoyable. It will inevitably push the boundaries of what feels normal, but we felt it better to bite the bullet and give such a trip a go, and aside from sharing some campsite facilities and using the train, it is mostly a very self-sufficient means of travel and accomodation.

We will see in four weeks’ time what ‘the world’ looks like, and if our trip can go ahead. I feel cautiously optimistic at this stage.

Well played, meat boy

I’m looking for ground beef,” I announced on arrival.

How much would you like?”, asked the jaunty young butcher.

Well played, meat boy.

Two burgers worth, please” I squeaked out, certain he could smell the vegetarian all over me.

– “Two burgers worth, please…” – ruk.ca

I love Peter Rukavina’s blog. He manages to post really frequently, and has a kind of secret sauce mix of short and long posts; some are short enough that they coud be tweets*, while others are just the right length to tell a story or make a point.

* As far as I know, Peter isn’t on Twitter; if this means all his writing/posting energies are devoted to his blog, it’s clearly a good call!

The above quote from a recent post about Peter, a vegetarian of many years, needing to buy burgers for his son, made me have a good old chuckle to myself.

I’ve never met Peter, but over the past year or so his blog has become an absolute favourite of mine. He writes about island life – which has become even more ‘isolated’ in recent months, but no less wanderlust-inducing; he writes about sustainable travel, including riding bicycles and driving electric vehicles. It was his posts about riding bicycles around town to get supplies last year some time that got me hooked. And he touches on family stuff – beautiful moments with his son, and – alas through necessity – he has revealed multiple times that he writes incredibly eloquently on the subject of loss.

Peter’s blog is in the ‘must read’ folder in my Inoreader. If I fail to catch up on my RSS feeds for a few days or more and the numbers get overwhelming, I simply nuke the other folders and just go through my must reads – it’s blogs like Peter’s that I absolutely cannot go without.

 

New Photography page on my website

I’ve updated this website a little bit, and added (reinstated, actually) a ‘portfolio’ element to display some photographs.

I’ve stuck to albums/sets as these are the most sensible way of displaying them, and I’ve added a simple but neat little lightbox plugin to make it a bit nicer to look at. (This looks pretty good on desktop, but on a mobile device the lightbox isn’t so well-suited. I will need to see if I can get it to play nicer on mobile, or simply put up with it because mobile devices aren’t the best for browsing photographic galleries outside of purpose built apps like Instagram, anyway.)

This is what it looks like at the moment: a selection of recent-ish galleries, including the very recent latest set of photographs taken just last week on my Minolta Hi-Matic 7s, which I love using, and on Ilford XP2, which I also love using. (It’s a black and white film, but it is developed using the colour C41 process, which makes things a bit easier and more economical for developing. It’s got great contrast, seems pretty versatile and, paired with the Minolta’s sharp 45mm f1.8 lens, produces really great-looking black and white images.)

I’ve added a few others – mostly trips away – partly because I gravitate towards these at the moment, in times of lockdown. In fact, four of the currently featured albums have also been made into photobooks, so they immediately seem like obvious choices for presenting here.

This is also, hopefully, an alternative (whether in place of, or alongside) to Flickr. I use Flickr still, and I browse Flickr daily. I follow loads of folks on there, and still vastly prefer it to Instagram in terms of delving into someone’s archive, or finding photographs of particular things, place, or taken on particular equipment.

I’ve been posting to Flickr in fits and starts – mostly because I have let my subscription lapse, and I am now limited to 1,000 uploads. I took the difficult decision to remove the vast majority of photographs I’ve had on Flickr, starting in 2005, as I am now more interested in posting new, fewer shots, than having vast archives online which are less relevant or representative of me now.

It was a difficult decision to do that, and I tried to preserve images or albums which have become sort of ‘classics’ of Flickr, by virtue of being discovered by enough people, or featured somewhere. But mostly I stripped away what was largely a sort of should-be-private photographic archive which felt anachronistic in 2020. What’s left is a collection of fewer images, but still quite a representative selection going back a decade or so. And I am keen to continue adding to it, including the new Minolta film, which is already online here via my new photography page.

I have some wider thoughts on Flickr, but I wanted to get this update up, and it made sense to talk a little bit about Flickr here now.

I hope the new galleries look okay at your end – feel free to offer me some advice if they could be improved. And I’ll continue to add to them in the near future.

Minolta Hi-Matic 7s – Ilford XP2 Super 400

The first day of July

It’s the first of July, and apparently one hundred days since lockdown began. Truly a Lost Year.

Except, my mornings lately start like this: I stir to some indie classic (or soon-to-be classic) on BBC 6Music, and feel comforted by the familiar warmth of Chris Hawkins’s voice.

A short while later I am stirred by just enough motivation to swing my legs out of bed and head upstairs, where another radio is playing the same station. Crucially they are both DAB and so there is no syncopation as I move up the stairs.

In the kitchen I boil the kettle. I’ve filled it the night before, so that my very first action in the kitchen is flicking the switch and not trying to carefully decant a litre of water from one vessel into another. As the sound of boiling water rises, I get out the things I need to make breakfast and – if I didn’t make it the night before – a packed lunch for M.

Today it’s granola, yogurt, coffee, rocket leaves, tomatoes, mozzarella, and some Tupperware boxes.

I assemble all of this and then take breakfast and coffee downstairs, where I spend the next 30-40 minutes sipping coffee, chewing mouthfuls of yogurty granola, scrolling Twitter, occasionally noting down the name of a song on the radio, and chatting on and off to M as she gets ready.

She leaves at 7.30 or so and I spend another half an hour scrolling or reading or sipping coffee until I decide I have the motivation, like this morning, to go out for a run.

When I went to sleep last night my legs had a warm ache from running in VivoBarefoot shoes that morning. Not pain, just a dull acknowledgement of having used muscles I don’t use every day. I am trying to acclimatise to these new shoes and my muscles and tendons are slowly adjusting.

When I woke this morning, the dull tiredness remained, and I just caught myself before saying out loud to M that I didn’t think I had a run in me this morning. “Wait until you’ve had your coffee. Woken up a bit,” I told myself.

Sure enough, not long after 8am, I am out the door and putting the pavements of West Hampstead and Hampstead under my shoes. My ASICS this morning – my muscles and feet thankful for the added support, such to the degree that they propel me faster and more smoothly along the roads than I could have hoped for this early in the day, even as we ascend Arkwright Road towards Hampstead high street.

The weather is good for a morning run. The sun peeks out from fluffy, fast-moving clouds. There is a light breeze, and an attendant freshness to the air.

Someone on the podcast I am listening to, an American, uses the word clique in a sentence, but he pronounces it ‘click’ as Americans do. I spend the next twenty seconds thinking that the words cheque and clique must have a kinship, and then I find myself unable to remember if Americans spell clique as click. Surely not, I think, but then, cheque/check?

I stop occasionally, to cross roads, to allow pedestrians a wide berth, or to catch my breath. But my legs need less time to recover, and this morning I discover that, pushing off, I don’t so much limp and lurch forward as slightly bounce back into my jogging, and then running, pace.

This small, unexpected burst carries me forward a few steps further and I settle into a decent rhythm. I am later told by my running apps that my pace was decent. Very much so for a morning run, when my muscles aren’t fully warmed up, or my joints sufficiently oiled.

I sit in the park by my house to massage my calf muscles. A couple and another woman pass each other and catch up. They are familiar with one another. They ask each other how things are going. The unspoken implication is “…during all of this,” as so many questions are at the moment.

They talk of webcams and Zoom meetings. One of the ladies is newly pregnant. Congratulations are given and received. They stand in the middle of the path and other park users edge around them, or pause just long enough for one of this triangle of conversing humans to notice and they all move, as one, to the side.

My calf muscles are feeling better for being massaged for a few minutes. I rise, relieved that my legs feel warm and used, but not sore or tight. I walk the short distance home.

I lock the door behind me, remove my running belt, earpiece and phone to the counter, and wash my hands. I pour myself the last of the coffee and I come to sit on the patio to drink it. Dappled sunlight falls on the patio, the sunflowers, and on me.

And then I write this.

2020 weeknotes 24-26

Another couple of weeks have floated by, as if on the wind.

The weather has changed over that time, too, from bright sunshine and temperatures over 30 degrees, to heavy rain, high winds and even some thunder. Nothing too unusual for summertime, but more noticeable than usual, perhaps.

Have managed to be outside a lot these past few weeks. A couple of socially-distanced picnics were attended – one in east London, where we decided to cycle over instead of taking the train, which was pretty pleasant. And that picnic was a lovely one as it was an annual affair and felt almost normal.

No team sports this time round, but nice catch-ups and some lovely smiles.

And then another smaller after-work picnic with friends who brought a solar oven which… almost worked! But late sun is less powerful, and trees kept obscuring the sunbeams.

I also took my recent daily routine of walking an hour before and after work to running before and after work most days. Initially I wanted to see how my body would react. Some days I run and feel like I could go again later, while other days I run and for days after, running is the last thing on my mind.

Turns out, my body (and mind) took to it rather well. I clocked up nearly 50 miles / 75 km in a week where I ran up to 5km before and after work, and then a half marathon on the weekend. One of those shorter runs was in M’s VivoBarefoot shoes, and I have to say I really enjoyed the new sensation. They make me feel very in contact with the ground – much more mindful of the surface I’m running over, and looking for edges and small sharp stones. Even running over the nobbly pedestrian crossing paving stones for visually impaired folks is a touch uncomfortable.

The motion is quite different because, unlike padded trainers, you’re on your own. Every impact and movement is just… your feet and ankles and knees. So instead of foam and air bubbles and padding, it’s your tendons, muscles and bones that need to absorb every step and push off for the next. It makes one hyper-aware of your gait and pace and position and the way your feet land.

I ran again in the Barefoots today, and spent a long day of walking in them last week. I’m on the verge of needing new running shoes and am at a crossroads: do I go with a new pair of VivoBarefoots to call my own? Or play it safe and replace my tried-and-tested Asics for a third time? Decisions, decisions…


In other news, I made some more progress in Zelda: Breath of the Wild. For a while now I’d been coasting, and using the progress map to explore places I’d somehow ignored so far. Inevitably there were a few places around where you first start the game which I’d overlooked in my ever-exploratory journeys.

But last week I tackled my third Divine Beast of four – Medoh, the bird one. I have a suspicion that I could have tackled this one earlier, as it felt easier than the others I’ve done. I always wondered if they were all equally difficult as you can tackle them in whatever order you like.

The ‘reward’/super-power it gives you is also not quite as profound as the other two I have so far, and would have been more useful earlier in the game as it helps climbing when your stamina isn’t high enough to tackle big climbs.

But anyway, a nice milestone and I will continue to level up my hearts – my stamina wheel is now full – and get into a better routine of re-stocking on weapons, meals and clothing before tackling new areas. Then it’s one more Divine Beast and then… well, the endgame I guess.

I have definitely been procrastinating because, although it’s a cliche, I never want this game to end.


Robin activity in the garden has diminished somewhat. The next set of fledglings have all but gone, moved on to pastures new. One adult returned one day looking extremely sorry for itself, and having ‘lost’ its tail. Very peculiar.

We’d had some pretty unsettled weather, so maybe it had an accident – or a run-in with a cat. Either way, we see this one now and then, but after seeing blue tits, great tits and even coal tits recently, we now see very few birds at all. I suppose that’s just the way of it.

Hopefully we’ll see some more if the robins get another brood in before summer ends.

I did have one lovely moment with one of the robin babies who visited the garden all on its own and perched for what was at least three or four minutes, almost motionless, just occasionally moving its head around, looking up, down, all around, just taking it all in. Quite a remarkable sight. I couldn’t look away.