Charles Harries

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February 2022

Monthnotes from February 2022.

Back on the monthnotes. I'll get more consistent with this one day, I promise. February 2022 was a hell of a month and I'm writing to try and get some perspective on it.

Work

Kicked off the month by going to check out Komodo's new digs. They're absolutely stunning. They're in the Cathedral Buildings in Newcastle, which feels like a remarkably well-preserved piece of city history. There's old-style glazed tiling on the walls and a sign by the door listing the historical occupants of the building. I think that's a nice touch, even if none of those businesses are still around. Komodo's really done the place up: it's open without being sterile, comfortable and intimate without being too homey. There's a big orange neon skull on the wall reminding you that you will die. I wondered a bit about that.

The following week I travelled to Leeds to see my own office for the first time, the HQ of NHS Digital. It's a massive, brand-new building housing a few other government orgs. Banks and banks of desks, a couple of breakout areas, official looking people walking around with coffee and lanyards. I felt a sort of oblique pride at being one of them. It felt like a university library: quiet, industrious, anonymous. I love to disappear into the fabric of places like that; I think a lot of people grate against the idea of being a cog in a machine but for me there's something comforting about having a place and a job to do. I don't think I'd like to perform that kind of self-erasure on the reg, but every once in a while it's lovely to get away and find a quiet place to bang on a keyboard for 8 hours w/ 30 mins for lunch.

The headquarters of NHS Digital in Leeds
The headquarters of NHS Digital in Leeds

Got me thinking about what a workplace should be—there's been plenty of chatter about that, lately, as businesses either try to manhandle their employees back into the office or plant their flag on Remote Hill for once and for all. I think a lot of people conflate remote work with working from home, which isn't true: remote working is about being able to choose where you want to work. I think that's valuable—even if (& maybe especially if) you choose to work in the office. I guess it's about having choice.

Outdoors

Remind me to stay in for February. Our relatively mild winter had lulled me into a bit of a false sense of confidence in weather; in January we escaped to the Lakes on two occasions as were barely inconvenienced by cloud, wind, and rain; on the second we even caught a rare day of fine weather on the north end of the Coniston Fells.

Yours truly atop the Old Man of Coniston
Yours truly atop the Old Man of Coniston

Not so in February. We started with a return to south Lakeland for a walk around Longsleddale, but were turned back after two or three km for the driving rain and wind. Neither of us were particularly prepared—Sam's jacket was leaking and I didn't have any overtrousers, so my feet were soaked—and we decided that as walking is meant to be enjoyed, we'd come back for it when the weather had turned around some.

The next day we crossed the rest of the southern Conistons off our list; the weather was relatively clear and the clouds were mercifully high. A descent down Old Man Breast, with the gaping quarries below, made the mid-walk exhilarating; the rough walk back down Walna Scar Road, however, was a bit of a trudge by the end.

The following weekend I'd taken some time off for a trip to Wales. The weather wasn't looking great but we'd booked the Travelodge and weren't about to pass up a trip to a country we'd never been to before.

Not looking great didn't half cover it, though: winds on the summits exceeded 100 mph, and everywhere else, the water was coming down in sheets you could curl up under. We visited an an aquarium and a castle instead, and hunkered down in warm pubs when the sun went down and the wind came up again.

Canada

Mid-month I went back to Canada to be with my mom and sister just as my grandma passed away. Everyone called her Grandma Sweet; that's what we called her as well (to distinguish her from every other grandma). I'd have liked to go back under different circumstances but I guess we don't get to choose stuff like that.

Grandma Sweet was easily the most exuberant person in our family—we've all always been a little bit introverted in our own way but Grandma Sweet could always be counted on to make friends, lighten up rooms, and be the life of any get-together. Aww heck, she'd have rather we call it what any get-together'd have been with her around: a party. I miss her a lot.

A picture of a photo of Grandma Sweet
A picture of photo of Grandma Sweet

Ukraine

There's not much that I can say here that hasn't been said elsewhere, but the invasion appalls and horrifies me. I'm trying not to dwell on it but it maintains a low-level fire of anxiety in me that's not going away. I'm putting a little prayer out every day that Russian leadership comes to their senses. I don't know what shape that takes, but it can't come soon enough.

Downtime

Since finishing Crash back at the very beginning of the month, I haven't found (or made) much time for reading. I started Pynchon's Bleeding Edge sometime midmonth and I've made it about halfway through. It's fantastic. I missed Pynchon's off-the-wall humour, his zany writing style and colourful words. I missed the way that the story comes at you thick, a mile a minute. Almost over-rich. When I finish the book I expect I'm only going to have absorbed like 60% of it, and I'm going to go back to it in a year or two and pick up some of what remained.

Like Mr. Darcy, I'm generally not a fan of surprises—in most cases I'll read the Wikipedia summary for a work beforehand. I find that knowing what's coming helps appreciate it when it arrives. But certain works—like Bleeding Edge compel me in such a way that I just can't know what's coming—the suspense is part of the whole experience.

Beyond reading, I've been playing Fallout: New Vegas on the recommendation of hbomberguy on YouTube. The game was £2 at CEX so I figured I might as well. I can tell that I have a bit of an addictive personality when it comes to video games: hours will pass without me noticing and I'll still want more. The clarity of progress in the vidya world is extremely compelling to me: you can level up, you can complete quests, there is a solution to every problem. There are hard boundaries around entities, distinct beginnings and endings. It's so easy to watch numbers grow and know that it's right. I dunno. This is getting a bit self-indulgent. I like playing video games, but I don't want to play them too much. Don't ask me to justify it.

Monthnotes