Mon 21 – Sun 27 Aug 2017
Last week started off really well. But then my old friend mental health stepped in. I was grappling with a torn muscle in my right calf prodding to remind me of my simple fleshness (there’s no such word but I like it) however life was pretty good. Then midweek a thought went through my head. Something in the scheme of things that really isn’t massive. However, my innate self kicks in particularly my ability to catastrophise. The fact that you can only see the negatives and disaster unfolding.
Old and useless
Mini-panic forms images in my head. I started thinking about my future in general and a particular article fed my insecurity which basically says people in their 50s and 60s should be glad to have a job full-stop even with less pay. Aagh, I’m turning into one of those old useless people I so despise. The ones who reject modernity and look back to the good old days. But that isn’t me, indeed I’m the complete opposite but simply by my external appearance so will I be judged.
It’s not always good to read about it
As you can see there’s a mixture here of useful stuff (considering what getting old means) and useless hyperbole (all old people are the same). I think this whole thing is not helped by me currently reading a book about somebody having a breakdown post her father’s death. There’s something really appealing about reading on other people’s mental health issues not least to be able to say ‘I recognise that, so it’s not just me!’ However you also then get sucked into their feelings, and past stuff you’ve overcome (or just temporarily buried) rears its head all over again. The key thing, I guess, is knowing what is happening and trying to control it rather than letting it run wild.
And yet if ‘disaster’ did strike – so what?
I have a very finite amount of time left while I still have reasonable mental and physical health. There are still so many things to do and so little time. My work around tech for good leads constantly back to this idea of transformation. That organisations should use technology not just as a plug-in to make existing things better but rather take this as an opportunity to totally redesign themselves to stay relevant for the future. Not easy nor painless but the other option is to fossilise. Yes, we all die. And yet we should enjoy that time before it happens. Should I really be worried about my world turned on its head?
Art and Culture
So apart from head wobbles, last week was actually a really cool one in terms of having a high component of art and culture. Regular readers will know I love the visual arts as well as music and reading. Last week I got to the theatre twice and the cinema once.
Tues night me and Dave plus our friends Cedric and Alan (a wonderful older couple full of stories and wit) went off to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. This is an amazing old and extravagant theatre, worth seeing and appreciating in its own right. The performance itself was a complete extravagance through primarily a series of songs pulled together with a flimsy story. As Dave said, like most 1930s films. It is very set in that decade with camped-up OTT dance routines and costumes – think lit up staircases and lots of shiny sequins. Some very classic songs such as ‘Stay young and beautiful’ plus Sheena Easton playing one of the lead roles. The best bit was when the female dancers sat in a circle, the mirror rises so we could see then, and they do one of those classic 30s routines of legs and arms kicking.
On Thurs night to The White Bear in Kennington to see my mate Jamie’s second performed play. I think he’s written a third one that has not been performed. A perfectly decent contained drama about modern life with some excellent touches of humour. It covers differences in relationships, dealing with ex-partners, and problems with parents (in a nutshell). A good cast and it is really impressive that someone working full-time and doing this as his hobby, is able to write sophisticated plays like this. I think he should leave his job and do this full-time but then we are back to transformational change my own brain seems slightly terrified by.
Tom of Finland
Also saw this on Thurs afternoon, Thurs was one of my non-work days – I wouldn’t want people thinking I’ve pulled a sickie. Indeed I don’t think I’ve had a sick day for about 3 years, it goes against my work ethic. Tom of Finland is an absolutely key figure in art and design of the second half of the twentieth century. He produced glamourised sexual images of men. Some are very sexual but it is important in how he impacted on gay and general culture.
He taught men they could be sexy and be seen as sexual objects. Perhaps not great in the way it has led onto problems for many with body image. But at least he put the same pressure and thinking into men’s heads that women have always had to deal with. And just as Barbie dolls and size zero models are impossible for women to be so the same with Tom’s men. But he also made sex fun, gave the gay scene its own imagery, and connected being gay with being masculine.
The film made me think how much I would love to get back to drawing and creating imagery. I used to love art at school doing it up to A level. Indeed my plan at one time was to go to art college. Strangely sign-writing was something I once also seriously thought about as a career. Watching the film made me think about techniques I could experiment with and pictures I could create. But it’s all about time. My current work commitments mean I just don’t have the time. Back to transformation again. The ability to do new things really means turning the world on its head. Interesting to note that Cedric and Alan we went to 42nd St with are now retired and spend much of their time on art and creative activities including making stuff to sell.
Health and Efficiency
Following the previous Sat’s jog-run, I mused how my body seemed to put pains in my way. One such pain was in my right calf. This continued through the week. Indeed, it ‘pinged’ on Tues walking to work – a very boring tipping point. So after that it was only gentle exercise and I pushed my jog-run from Sat to Bank Holiday Mon to give it more time to heel. Details on how the jog-run went in next week’s blog.
Three times last week which was good: Mon, Fri, and Sat mornings. No treadmill on any of the days because of my calf muscle. Rather focusing on weights to work my upper body and legs. Especially fun on Mon when we worked out to a remix of Kate Bush’s greatest hits.
Did this on Sun morning. I really enjoy it for two reasons. First, it is helping me keep my body flexible and supple. Though clearly I have problem parts such as my knees and hamstrings. Second, it is teaching me the importance of relaxed control especially through breathing. This is helpful in so many ways and situations. Breathing is something we forget about so easily and controlling that helps us control so many other emotions and feelings.
Tech for Good
Although I love my work, I do love my days off and last Mon in particular was one of those lovely chill and ‘do nothing’ days. Though actually I did lots of stuff on the pooter as well as lots of reading. Unfortunately my Chrome book died, luckily I had an old spare one to fall back on. It it is like Doctor Who’s back-up control room – very much used in the time of the fourth Doctor.
Is tech always the answer?
I am a great believer in not stupidly resisting the inevitable plus providing online / offline offerings. For instance, would I want to stop using online banking and want to go back to a system where one had to spend hours queuingat banks in order to get money or do anything with your bank account? I would rather eat my own testicle than go back to those days. But I love the way I can do 95% of the stuff with my account online without another human but also have the ability to talk to someone real in a crisis like when my card is cloned.
During the week, I was faced with a problem where the question was very clearly ‘is tech the answer?’ Partly yes, in the sense that the work involves young people and we need to be modern. However a big part of the problem is the young people not being given the support they want and need, plus the people who should support them not having the time to do so. Does a new platform they both connect through really solve the problem? Isn’t that just a plug in to the current failed system rather than something new? The real new might be letting the young people support each other via tech and forcing the statutory staff to use existing tech better to give more efficient support such as video conferencing and via What’s App or Facebook Messenger.
Collective Global Accelerator
Thurs morning I attended the presentations by nine projects taking part in the Collective Global Accelerator. Details on the initiative and the actual entrepreneurs can be found here The projects are all from the global south and represent people there seeing a social problem and identifying a tech for good solution. Some solutions are more advanced than others, and all are trying to reach scale and be sustainable. The accompanying cartoon from the Nigerian e-bulletin ‘Tech Cabal’ identifies how tech for good in a development context should be considered.
Good catch-ups last week with several key agencies: Apps for Good, Big Lottery Fund, and Building Change Trust in Northern Ireland. The latter was about their Techies in Residence programme and their upcoming event FusionFest that focuses on social innovation including tech for good.
Progress continues around languages and I managed sessions in French, German, Spanish and Portuguese on Duolingo. Apart from Tues which was a work day and work just takes up so much time and energy that I don’t have capacity for anything else. Also some time spent with Code Academy practising coding.
The bane of my life continues. Down to around 100 in my work account, all read but some needing action. And down to about 80 unread in my personal account. So some progress around something that takes up so much time.
Books and Reading
‘H is for Hawk’ by Helen MacDonald
Another book I picked up in a charity shop for 50p. But a very recent and much plaudited novel. This is the one about a woman who is fundamentally having a breakdown following the death of her father. She deals with this by buying a hawk which is something she has always wanted to do. The book covers her emotional recovery linked in with how she builds a relationship with a wild animal.
It’s a nature book in many ways and that in itself is amusing as I don’t normally do nature. My love is cities and their weird ecosystems. I have some vague memories of fields and country lanes from the bits of my disjointed childhood when we lived in the countryside. Forests amaze me though that is perhaps because they remind me of cities – inter-connected, dark, and anonymous. It is strange but I can never get into nature programmes on the TV. Don’t get me wrong, I think the natural environment is one of the most important things we should be protecting rather than trashing as we are now doing. Simply my love is the man-made environment.
H is for Hawk is a very good book not least because it is beautifully written. It is also centred around another book about falconry written by T.H.White. He tried to train a hawk in the 1930s and this fundamentally covered for his own problems not least around the threat of war and his own denied homosexuality. It’s like there is a book within a book. My only criticism is that it is all a bit self-centred and feels sorry for itself a lot. But that is one aspect of a breakdown. Those of us who have been through it realise (hopefully) how self-centred we were, ignoring the impact on those around us many of whom we actually love very dearly.
‘The Last Man Standing’ by David Longo
Now this is a book I picked up in my local library. Aren’t libraries one of the most perfect successful examples of that modern trend ‘the shared economy’? The concept that we share things rather than own them. The author is an Italian writer and the book was written in 2012. It’s an apocalypse story. Italy as a country has collapsed, perhaps the whole world has. We never find out why, rather we just see the result. People survive as best they can but the worst aspects of humanity take over.
Our ‘hero’ is an academic writer who did something in his past (an affair with a student?) that led to public disgrace. We join him on his wanderings with children, animals, and adults in tow. Fundamentally it’s the story of a journey ultimately with an ending but I don’t think it is necessarily a happy ending. I suppose the message is the fragility of society whose stability we take for granted. Witness the poor people who lived in Grenfell tower. It is a horrific book in many ways and well over the top. Indeed it reminds me a lot of ‘The Road’ which really is a slit your wrist kind of novel. Last Man is a good book but I wonder what it is in the human psyche that draws us so often to think about a transformed post-apocalyptic society?
Dr Who audio adventures
I usually write up on the total escapist Dr Who audio adventures I have listened to during the last week. But there were none. With enough going on last week, I decided just to listen to music when I got the chance (such as walking around). However I love my Dr Who adventures and, fear not, normal service should be resumed next week.
- Bank holiday Monday with the predictions of a hot one. Won’t do Notting Hill Carnival because too many people. However I will enjoy this day as it marks the end of summer and the last holiday before Xmas.
- Thursday I am off to Madeira. Never been there before. However not for holiday but to attend a conference being run by M-ITI (Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute) on tech for good /social tech in sub-Saharan Africa
- Looking forward to catching up with Elise and Chris whilst on Madeira
- Interesting meetings ahead including Zoe Amar, Global Disability Innovation Hub, Darshan Sanghrajka (Super Being Labs), James Boardwell, and Sharon Shea (Esmee Fairbairn)
- Going to try my jog-run on Mon and see if my calf holds up
- Finish my current book and start two new ones to be read simultaneously
- Listen to some Dr Who audio adventures
- Keep on top of emails
- Duolingo and coding practice
QPR defeats. So instead I’m going to leave on something to make you smile. I was close up to the three pelicans in St James Park during the week. They are fabulous guys. One took off and circled round then came down to land. His landing was incredibly clumsy and he nearly crashed into the crowd watching him.