Reading this now got me reflecting on both the experiences of the past year and my own period of wintering which marked the transition between an old life and the new.
I bookmarked a few pages to return to both for the ideas and rhythm of the writing.
The starkness of winter can reveal colours that we would otherwise miss. I once watched a fox cross a frosty field, her coat shining against the gloom. Walking in the bare winter woodland, I am also surrounded by astonishing foxy reds: the burnish of bracken, its dry fronds twisted to lacework; the crimson leaves left on brambles; the last remaining berries on honeysuckle; and orangey clusters of rosehips. The iconic holly, its boughs so thoroughly raided each Christmas. There is also the bright yellow of gorse on heathland, glowing on until spring comes, the stately evergreens, and the tangle of green leaves that remain unnoticed on the ground. Life goes on, abundantly, in winter, and this is where changes are made that usher us into future glories. (from p. 81)
Some people thrive on a little sleep deprivation, but I do not. I now know that I can achieve far more after nine hours than I can in the spare time afforded by a short night. Sleeping is my sanity, my luxury, my addiction. (from p. 86-7)
I clear the surface of my desk and make a pool of light with my lamp. I go off to fetch matches and light a candle. One light is steady and sure, the other uncertain and flickering. I open my notebook and work between these two poles. On balance, it's where I prefer to be: somewhere in the middle. Certainty is a dead space, in which there's no more room to grow. Wavering is painful. I'm glad to be travelling between the two. (from p. 94)
In our winter, a transformation happened. We read, and we worked, and we problem-solved, and we found new solutions. We changed our focus away from pushing through with normal life and towards making a new one. When everything is broken, everything is up for grabs. That's the gift of winter: it's irresistible. Change will happen in its wake, whether we like it or not. We can come out of it wearing a different coat. (from p. 140)
I've never used many services in the running of my website that require cookies to be set. I don't use sharing buttons or embed media from third party services, and I choose to use a privacy-friendly analytics tool with cookies turned off.
I gave the site an overhaul recently and part of that process was checking what cookies were set. The only ones listed in the report were those set by the cookie notification plugin I was using, which seems redundent when there's no other cookies to accept or reject...
So I've turned off that plugin and am pleased to report my site is cookie free.
No to spy pixels
I've also been following Dave Smyth's work on a new project, No To Spy Pixels, which aims to raise awareness, and encourage regulation, of what gets tracked when you open emails from mailing lists.
I use ConvertKit to send my newsletter which doesn't currently have the option to allow you to turn off tracking. However, following the launch of No To Spy Pixels, I went to find out if this was a planned feature and if not, to request it is added to the list.
I'm pleased that it is currently in development and I've joined the beta testing. From now on, my newsletter and other emails sent through ConvertKit won't track opens, location or device information. It's not yet possible to turn of link tracking, but I've requested this be added to the development. And I'm fully prepared to find an alternative email provider if I can't get this functionality.
I live near one of the main routes into the centre of Newcastle. Lately I've noticed that traffic during what you might describe as the morning rush hour has increased. It doesn't feel that different from what a typical rush hour might have been like before the pandemic.
When I see this, questions start popping in my head:
Where are they all going?
What is it going to be like when more people start returning to the office?
How much worse can this get?
My most niggling question concerns public transport. During rush hour before the pandemic there would be full buses going by every 5 minutes. Post pandemic, however, people will be more cautious about getting on a bus. That's perfectly understandable, but it worries me that instead of the bus they will opt to drive instead. Then we'll be in a situation where there are more cars than ever on the road during rush hour.
Here are some more questions that spring to mind when I think about possible ways to avoid this:
What needs to be in place to make public transport safe during busy times?
What will help increase people's confidence in using public transport?
What can we do to show people all the available options for their commute?
What can we do to help encourage and support transport decisions that benefit the environment?
I got to the end of the work day yesterday feeling pretty flat. As we sat down to eat our tea I put the radio on. It was right as Just a Minute was starting on Radio 4. If you're not familiar with it, and don't want to click that link, here's how it works:
contestants are challenged to speak for one minute without hesitation, deviation or repetition on any subject that comes up on the cards
Just a Minute has been running for 54 years and is a British broadcasting institution. And it never fails to make me laugh. So at the end of yesterday's episode my mood had significantly improved.
Laughter has been an essential feature of lockdown life. Whether it's been howling at the antics of Johnny Vegas, Daisy May Cooper, Katherine Parkinson, Mawaan Rizwan and Richard Herring on the latest series of Taskmaster or roaring at some of the ridiculous statements that fall from my family's mouths (which I won't repeat because you most definitely had to be there), having a good laugh at something trivial has been good for the soul.
So, if all goes to plan it looks like life will expand beyond the four walls of the home gradually over the next four months. It's nice to be able to think about making tentative plans for seeing family and friends in the not too distant future.
As with most news these days, however, I'll wait for the dust to settle and then only proceed with cautious optimism. The caution is largely around the details. I'm already hearing people pin their hopes on the dates that are mentioned in each step, speculating on when they may return to work, the gym, the pub or book the next holiday. But we need to be clear these are the earliest possible dates and it's highly likely they will change.
My preference is simply to think about the order that things will happen – this, then that, then that... And instead of thinking months ahead, to look forward a week or two at the most. It's easier then to come to terms with the inevitable shifts that happen. I think my stock phrase for the next few months will be 'let's wait and see.'
Most days I include sections of the Coxlodge wagonway on my lunchtime walk. I like it because it’s away from traffic (mostly) and is quieter than the nearby parks. The route was used in the 19th century to haul coal from Coxlodge Colliery, just north of Newcastle upon Tyne, to the staiths at Wallsend on the river Tyne.
There is an extensive network of wagonways in the region which have been turned into footpaths and cycle ways. Around 30 miles of routes, maintained by North Tyneside Council, include local nature reserves Rising Sun Country Park and Wallsend Dene.
One of the great highlights of the first lockdown was discovering that it’s possible to walk from my home to Rising Sun largely off road. Today I walked a new section and it’s clear I’ve got much more exploring to do.
I've spent this afternoon revisiting my personal values as part of a strategy session planning what projects I'm going to work on next.
My reason for doing this is simple – without understanding my values, and therefore what is important to me, it's very hard to make decisions about where best to spend my time and what to prioritize.
I've chosen to write out my values as a keyword and supporting statement. That currently looks like this:
Integrity; an unwavering belief in who I am and what I have to give.
Openness; staying curious and sharing what I learn.
Stability; a solid footing from which to grow and thrive.
Trust; building on honesty and clear communication as a foundation for all relationships.
Connection; building relationships for inspiration, encouragement, energy and empathy.
Sustainability; living and working at a sustainable pace, developed through reflection, routine and self-compassion.
With my values clearly articulated, I can go to my list of potential projects and see how they align with them. To do this, I annotate each project with icons (see image below) to represent each value that it fulfils. For example, my weekly newsletter aligns with integrity, openness, trust and connection. This activity helps me to feel more confident in the decisions I make around the projects I prioritize and pursue.
Let me say this first – I'm not against self-promotion, you can't be when you are a one-person business, but I believe there are boundaries and when they are pushed it aggravates me.
I'm writing this as a lament because recently one of the most supportive groups I've been involved with has been hijacked by people promoting their new products and services. When I joined it was a place to ask questions, get feedback or recommendations and share ideas. But those kinds of posts are now few and far between, and I miss it. I miss the safe space among peers to ask for, and offer, help.
I know it doesn't have to be this way. I've been, and am (thankfully), part of at least one community that has succeeded in maintaining a peer support space free from marketing. From what I've observed, the reason it succeeds is that all of the following are in place:
– clear and visible community guidelines
– multiple channels for different topics, rather than a single stream
– active moderators, who challenge guideline breaches