Monday 29 Jan – Sunday 4 Feb 2018
Hooray, January is over. Now just to get through the equally worst month of the year, February. Me and Dave spent half of January in Gran Can. And last week we went off to Athens to break up February (we also have a trip to Berlin later this month). But last week was also about some great night’s out in London before we went away.
I got back on Wednesday night from my second good night out of the week – see below. Not that late (11.30) but a bit drunk. I should really have gone to the gym on Thursday but I decided to skip it as we were going away.
Thursday, no alarm and woke up naturally around 9.30. 🙂 Spent the day pottering and doing things that needed to be done: sorting out laundry, packing my bag, sorting out meds, getting Euros, etc. Afternoon me and Dave travelled to Heathrow to stay in a funky hotel to be ready for our early morning flight on Friday.
Flying to Greece
Up around 5.30am to catch our plane. The airport busy but all went well with our flight. 3 hours and wonderfully non-eventful, mainly reading. Wonderful that none of the kids on our plane were kicking off. We decided to get a taxi from the airport with a very nice taxi driver but it did cost us 55 Euros. Oh well, we just wanted to get to the hotel and find our bearings.
Our hotel in a surprisingly mixed city
The hotel itself is perfectly decent though above a shop and on a busy main road. One of the noticeable things about Athens is the number of migrants and refugees around. Indeed, it would appear several families are being sheltered in hotels including ours. They seem decent people and pretty much keep themselves to themselves but every so often you hear or see the children about. It was quite funny how the receptionist was surprised when we said we were staying at there. The hotel breakfast was very nice and worth getting up for each morning.
The first day – it’s a bit of a crazy place
The first afternoon / evening was spent exploring. We found a nice nearby area called Psiri – see below. And we also went up to the ‘gay area’ called Gazi which seemed just to have a couple of gay clubs that don’t open until late at night and a sauna.
Athens itself is a fascinating place. It is quite crazy in that parts of it are falling down, literally. And some of this is not recent but buildings that haven’t been renovated for decades. This is as well as the shops and buildings closed because of the economic problems. And there is loads of graffiti, it’s everywhere to the point where you just become totally used to it. Plus lots of migrants and refugees from all over the world as well as people from places you wouldn’t expect like Bangladesh and China who are running businesses. It’s surprisingly mixed and not ‘European’ in the sense of orderly northern Europe or even other parts of the Med.
Plus there’s a layer of nationalism over all this. On Sunday we found ourselves amongst streams of Greeks with flags protesting over Macedonia. People met around one of the biggest flags I have ever seen in my life.
We did find a lovely little square about 10 mins walk away in an area called Psiri – Iroon Square This became one of our go to places. It’s a fab place where lots of Athenians go to eat, drink and socialise. Especially the youngsters at night time
Nancy’s Sweet Home
In the square are two great shops. The first is an amazing cake shop called ‘Nancy’s Sweet Home’. The cakes are scrumptious and massive. You can easily share a cake with ice cream between two people. On our first visit, Dave had chocolate soup with ice cream which was huge and over-powering. Thick, rich liquid milk chocolate with lumps of real chocolate in it. The other shop next door is a traditional bakery with a wonderful selection of Greek pies sweet and savoury which provided a nice relatively light lunch. Food in Athens is normally big portions.
Night time eating is very much centred on traditional Greek restaurants. All very nice and home made including specialities such as feta cooked in honey and sesame seeds as well as moussaka, bean stews, and tzatziki. The main courses are very meaty with the obligatory lamb, pork or chicken cooked on a grill. We ended up walking through the main meat market in Athens on Saturday which was a real eye-opener and not for the squeemish.
No late night on Fri and up early to get to the Acropolis on Sat. Weather was cool and rainy, it is still winter. If you are going to the Acropolis, prepare to do a lot of walking. The old citadel of Athens, it towers above the city. And it is as amazing as you imagine – the one thing you must do if you come to Athens. It took us about half a day to wander around it, the ruins are magnificent with lots of good signage to guide you to what you are seeing.
Obviously the Parthenon is a big wow but so is everything else on the Acropolis, the other temples and shrines. We also walked around the base including the Theatre of Dionysus which is where the plays of the great Greek writers were performed. It is amazing to be on the Acropolis and you feel near the clouds and the wind blows strongly. It’s a perfect place to build a citadel with it’s defensive ability, views of the surrounding land, and closeness to nature.
National Archaeological Museum
Sunday we got up early to be at the National Archaeological Museum for when it opened at 9am. Actually we got there closer to 9.30 which was still good going considering that was the equivalent of 7.30 in the UK. What a fantastic museum. Light and airy with an amazing selection of ancient artefacts up to the Byzantine period. Some absolutely beautiful pieces of art including bronzes, vases, jewellery and particularly stone / marble statues. Me and Dave stayed there all morning including spending time in the cafe with its own atrium garden. After that a nice potter around a flea market in Monastiraki which was OK though quite touristy – a bit like Camden Market in London. Pleasant to wander around but there were no real bargains.
Two Great Nights Out in London
Rainmaker Foundation at the BT Tower
Two really good nights out in London last week before going away. First was Tuesday night. I attended an event at the BT Tower to celebrate the work of The Rainmaker Foundation. This is a charity led by the brilliant Cosmina Popa that matches up charities with high level volunteer mentors to help the charity’s development. The whole event was centred on how to encourage innovation in the not-for-profit sector. This is often through tech but not exclusively. Great to see some old friends such as Alan from Legal Education Foundation and Darshan from SuperBeingLabs. But also nice to meet some new people such as Simon Davey who runs Omega Alpha Ltd and is also linked to Cass Business School.
The event itself
It started with a couple of talks about the increasing innovation that is happening within BT and generally in the world. The key message was the sheer pace at which things are changing and the need to adapt. There was then a panel discussion about innovation in the not-for-profit sector. A short break and then the charities themselves presented what they are doing and the struggles they face. It is always inspirational to hear from people who really want to change the world. After that, all up to the top floor of the BT Tower for drinks whilst looking out over London. I further met some very interesting people including Roger Ross who featured in the recent TV programme about Lots Road Auctions which he owned.
And then ‘goodbye Adam’
Wed night it was out with some colleagues to mark my old boss Adam Askew leaving Comic Relief after 6 very successful years. It was a bit of a rush leaving as there was also an event to mark the leaving of my other fantastic colleague Pontso Mafethe.
We went bowling which I am not very good at but it was enjoyable primarily because I was bowling with women. Bowling with boys normally always get very competitive (true for nearly all sport involving just men). Then burgers and pizza followed by a karaoke room.
I don’t normally like karaoke primarily because I’ve got an awful singing voice (as horrible primary school teacher told me at a very young age 🙁 ). However it was great fun with about 15 of us crammed into a small and very hot room. And I was amazed by the brilliant singing / performing by several of my colleagues. I got a little bit pissed and ended up doing a song – only the second time in my life. I murdered ‘Don’t look back in anger’ by Oasis. Hopefully I didn’t embarrass myself too much. My old job-share Nissa was present – great to see her and lovely when she joined me on stage. Overall a night out of my comfort zone and one I really enjoyed.
Sabbatical is still on
Good news that my sabbatical with some paid leave is still possible. 🙂 It has been agreed that when previously promised to people it will still be honoured despite the restructuring. Something to think about for the future, perhaps Jan-May 2019?
Lot of talk re Red Shed – our social investment & innovation fund that I now oversee, especially until we recruit someone to specifically run it. Looking at where it has been and what it has achieved. Though as Paddy Ashdown said, ‘it doesn’t matter where you’ve been, what matters is where you are going’. I have agreed to do a paper internally for our grants committees to lay out a potential roadmap.
Development Impact Bond
Also lots of activity around a new development impact bond that we are planning to part-fund. Basically we will commit to pay out money on successful outcomes so long as they are achieved by a group of not-for-profit agencies who will be forward funded via private sector funding. Work still to be done on due-diligence and risk assessment as well as setting up an ability for user voice (those of children, teachers, and parents) to be captured during the process.
And some very useful internal meet-ups including around one of our big corporate partners and with the new internal UX design team looking at what we need and how systems can be developed to deliver this i.e. around collecting and presenting data. And particularly good to re-connect externally with Mark Walker at AbilityNet. We spoke about the upcoming Tech4Good Awards. Great news that we will be sponsoring a Tech4Good for Africa Award again, launching 5th March.
Health and Efficiency
Obviously last week was a very busy one and so I only managed to get to the gym once on Tues morning. A good session and I should have repeated it on Thurs morning but I was tired from the night before and had things to do before going away. I do worry that the big portions in Athens will put on weight. OK there’s lots of walking but the calorie loss by walking is relatively small. 🙁
Last week was about getting stuff done at work and going out in London and Athens. As such personal development fell by the wayside. I did do some Duolingo and coding practice on Tuesday, my non-work day. But that stopped on holiday. Indeed, I primarily tried my best to stay on top of emails whilst away without letting this over-take my holiday; I sort of succeeded. The issue is walking the tightrope between having time away and getting refreshed whilst keeping on top of things and stopping them being overwhelming on my return.
Books and Reading
‘The Heart in Exile’ by Rodney Garland
For the Velvet Page book club which I couldn’t make on Thursday night because me and Dave were at a hotel in Heathrow ready for our early morning flight to Athens. A 1953 book that is not brilliantly written but is very important as a social history document explaining the lives of gay men (inverts) before 1967 partial-decriminalisation. Similar to the film Victim starring Dirk Bogarde. The book explains a hidden and underground world with secrets signs and networks. The author (real name Adam Martin de Hegedus) clearly must have been gay and sadly committed suicide 5 years after writing this novel. There are some fascinating aspects to it including its idolisation of working class men, the massive theme of class, and the liberating effect of the war around sex generally. Also interesting how gay symbols were starting to be fetishised even then – gyms, vests, checked lumberjack shirts, military gear, etc.
I finished reading this wonderfully eclectic collection of short stories I wrote about in last week’s blog: ‘Normal – is it all it’s cracked up to be?’
It’s very typical for a short story collection: some brilliant self-contained tales as well as some weird shit plus writing that feels churned out to meet demand. There really are some strange and wonderful themes around the love of big men including a version of the story of Moby Dick, the Sultan who desires his tailor, lusting after the cook, fat Jewish lovers, demons conjured up to satisfy lust, well-built ‘Falstaffian’ actors, deliberately fattening up lovers, a battle between Greek Gods, and an obsession with wrestlers. LOL 🙂
The Week Ahead
- Me and Dave are in Athens until Fri so lots more museums and sites to visit. As well as lots of relaxing, drinking coffee and wine, plus reading.
- I’m hoping to get through two more books before my return to London.
- I’m going to try to keep up with emails but not worry too much about Duolingo nor coding practice till I get back home.
- Aim is gym on Sat and jog-run on Sun though the latter will depend on the weather.