Normal – is it all it’s cracked up to be?

Mon 22 – Sun 28 Jan 2018

immersion to avoid emails overloadMy first proper normal week at my new job with 3 working day and 2 non-work ones. Though my job-share Dilhani is in Malawi and Kenya for work. So we are still not in the proper swing of our job-share. Indeed we probably will not achieve that until March.

View of AthensNext week I am off to Athens with Dave. Another remnant of my sabbatical which was about exploring being a digital nomad – doing work via the internet but being based anywhere.

Last week I did try to do a lot of reading and watching films, all part of my escape from everyday, normal life. Plus the gym and my jog-run also played a key role.


I watched three films last week.

‘The King of Escape’

Poster of the filmThis is one strange film. It is by the same French director (Alain Guiraudie) who directed ‘Stranger by the Lake’. This was a widely acclaimed film though with some negative reception – I loved it. Others though a bit OTT with ugly and wooden characters. The story is very strange, based on a murder at a gay cruising area. King was the film before Stranger and is altogether a more weird film. Indeed it makes Stranger look like a portrayal of normal life.

The story

The main character is Armand, an overweight and depressed middle-aged tractor salesman. He meets men at cruising areas. One day he rescues the daughter of his main work rival. The two fall in love and try to run away together. It’s really strange that a gay man suddenly turns straight (though does he really?). Even stranger is that most of the local men (all older and out of shape) are involved in growing a plant that boosts their libido. Indeed, it gets them all sexually aroused and the centre of their desire is Armand.

The strengths of this weird film

If you like shots of chunky blokes running about in skimpy pants then this film is going to be one of your favourites. On a serious side it is a good portrayal of the mundanity and pettiness of rural life. It also portrays the disillusionment of life as people get older, the craving to be young again, and the clutching at straws to provide the change that is craved. One of it’s strongest cards is simply the way gay men are portrayed in their ordinariness of age and body type rather than the usual useless body beautiful images we are fed.

‘So Long at the Fair’

shadowy streetsI picked this DVD up at the charity shop as part of a 3 for £1 deal. I had never heard of it before but the blurb sounded really interesting. It’s a British film noir made in 1950 with an impressive cast.

The story is about a brother and sister who are visiting the 1889 world fair in Paris. The sister wakes up the next morning to find her brother gone as well as the room he stayed in and everyone denying he ever existed. The wiki page on it is here.

Dirk Bogarde

the great British actorThe film stars the brilliant Dirk Bogarde who always chose really interesting films to star in. I thought it was a straight forward murder mystery, but it is actually a far more sophisticated film with a wonderful twisting end. There is a lot of pigeon French and amusing accents but Bogarde’s control of the language shines as he lived in France.

‘Love in the Time of Civil War’

skull and crossbonesI bought this secondhand at Gay’s the Word bookshop on Thurs afternoon as I walked up to Kings Cross. It’s a French Canadian film which really isn’t that useful for improving my French. Quebecois French is so different to European French when you listen to it.

This is a fairly grim film about the life of a drug addict who ends up getting high a lot and having lots of sex – male and female. The sex is often linked to being high but also as a means to pay for drugs. I never hit that low with my drug taking but it happens and the darkness of that whole lifestyle is well portrayed in this movie. Though it does get a bit repetitive and nihilistic.

Books and Reading

Ursula Le Guin

Dreadfully sad news last week about the death of Ursula Le Guin. Indeed I found that much more upsetting than the death of Mark E. Smith of The Fall. Their music was shite; he was both rude and over-rated. The death of Hugh Masekela was also more important. But Ursula Le Guin was brilliant and I’m going to miss her. She challenged the old boys’ network that was science fiction and introduced gender issues.

I haven’t read the Earthsea quartet but I have read ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’ and it is quite simply one of the best sci-fi novels ever. She was also not scared to challenge unfairness in the normal everyday world. Ursula Le Guin – thank you for everything; may you rest in peace and rise in glory.

‘London’s Glory’

A burst of the Bryant and May detective genre from Christopher Fowler who regular blog readers will know is one of my favourite contemporary writers. This is a collection of short stories about the detectives. Ultimately most short stories are fairly fun but throw-away. This is very true here. We know the characters so they don’t need to be built up. We are just enjoying the stories themselves.

I totally enjoyed reading this collection including the recap on all the plots of the main books. Great to be reminded of the novels I enjoyed reading. My main criticism of the Bryant and May books and these short stories is not that they are completely unrealistic. You need to take the lack of reality with a pinch of salt. Rather I’m completely lost in terms of the time-line of these stories. Indeed most seem to have happened in the contemporary period. Strange for a pair who have been together for around 50 years. If the books and stories are meant to be set in other decades then perhaps one of the author’s weaknesses is his inability to create period atmospheres.

‘The Biggest Lover: Big-Boned Erotica for Chubs & Chasers’, edited by Ray Jackson

A bit of what is called ‘bearotica’ – erotica based on the gay bear cult. Erotica, particularly short stories, are a key part of gay culture historically not least because it was often one of the few ways isolated gay men could be in communication together. And such writing is great for showing the social history of LGBT people.

Eddie HallThe whole bear movement is fascinating. In a way it is a recognition that now with ARV meds, gay men are getting old and still have a sex drive, wanting to fancy and being fancied.

But old age in men basically means going grey, losing the hair on your head but gaining it on your body, and getting fat. In this sense there has become a ‘fetishisation’ of this look and the question is whether this is real or made up? Is there such a thing as the sexy, older man or is it just a myth?

Clearly we live in a society that puts young, thin, masculine, and muscular at the centre of what it finds attractive in men. Losing that as you become older is pretty much inevitable. However, what older men often gain is greater wealth. Thus they can try to beautify what they are (or buy rent – LOL). Is the bear cult much more than men losing it but trying to pretend they are still attractive and sexually exciting?

Some of the stories in this book are amusing but several are quite flimsy. I think it’s more interesting to have stories that are clever in themselves and don’t always end up in sex.

Indeed what I love about these type of stories is when you have glimpses of good plots and characters. This comes through occasionally here in between the ‘erotica’ itself which is actually really boring and routine.

Health and Efficiency


Managed to get there twice last week: Tues and Thurs morning. Tues was primarily spent on the treadmill. Good to get back to that. Also did some weights. Thurs was all about a proper weights session. I should have gone again at the weekend but it didn’t happen – simply not in the mood.


The new jog-run trainers I boughtSo Sat morning came and I should have done jog-run or gym. I set the alarm for 6.30 and turned it off when it sounded. Slept till 7.30 and realised I wanted a day-off. Sat was a really good day (see below), such that on Sun morning I was really keen to do a jog-run. Up and out first for coffee – the weather was dry and mild. This was the first jog-run in several weeks. It was hard. Overall, a poor time but the main thing was I did it. Video can be seen here.


Weighed myself during the week and looks like I’ve put a couple of pounds on after holiday. Me and Dave were both saying that we are eating and spending more in London with normal life than we did in Gran Can on holiday. So why exactly did we come back?

Personal Development

Saturday = day off

I’ve described in a previous blog the value of just taking out one day in a normal week and doing nothing. Last week I did that again and it was wonderful. I’ve described how I awoke early on Sat and realised I didn’t want to go to the gym or for a jog-run.

Instead I had a day off. I spent the time pottering around including getting my hair shaved, returning a book to the library and getting some new ones out, meeting Dave for lunch, and watching films. There was also the obligatory coffee as well as time on the pooter, reading, an afternoon snooze and wine. A blissful day that set me up for the jog-run the next morning.

Emails, coding & languages

Big success last week in keeping on top of work and personal emails. I’m trying to follow a policy of little and often. Did manage a bit of coding practice so that was a step forward. And some Duolingo. I am trying to make a routine of doing language practice via Duolingo on my phone before I go to sleep.

Paid Work

Saying goodbye to old work colleagues

old man giving adviceWed night we had a big do to say ‘goodbye’ to the people who had left at Christmas, taking redundancy after the major organisational restructuring. It was a great event with loads of people there – current staff, those leaving, and those who had left over the years. Amazing to see people I hadn’t seen for ages. I got slightly pissed but not too bad and left at a reasonable time.

Sue was supposed to do the speeches but was ill. So I was roped in with my colleague Rowena. She was nervous but once I started things off and then handed over to her, she flew. I don’t go to work for a social life but I have been blessed over the past 9 years by working with some really nice people. Considering you can’t choose your family or your work colleagues…

And hello to my new role

overwhelmed by notices

Several interesting things last week:

  • Two excellent catch-ups. First with Peter Jacobs from The Royal Foundation on Mon. Really good to find out how things are progressing with the Charity Digital Advisory Board that he and Zoe Amar are running. Then on Fri with Darshan Sanghrajka of Super Being Labs. He’s a social entrepreneur and it was nice to bat ideas around on new forms of funding and other support that would be of assistance in boosting the not-for-profit sector.
  • A nice check-in with my old boss Adam Askew before he goes off to his new role. With these things, you don’t really know what you need to know until they are gone. 🙁
  • The first meeting of the new leadership team that I had attended (one previously I was in Gran Can). Exec Director Ruth managed to be there but was ill. My colleague Sue couldn’t make it due to a stomach bug on the back of her return from Sierra Leone. I agreed to take notes to get my turn out of the way.
  • The above meeting was followed by attendance at our Trustees’ meeting so they could meet the new Impact & Investment leadership team. A bit nerve-wracking as they are some very important people. But they are only human and want things to go well. The fact I’ve been around for 9 years meant they were quite reassured by seeing a known face.
  • Fri morning I ended up chairing the group looking to select from the 120 video applications to the Tech for Good grants programme, the 50 to be longlisted and put in the public domain as well as within those the 22 to be assessed for a grant. Ultimately there are 12 Comic Relief / Paul Hamlyn Foundation grants to give out. I’m not running this programme any more but me being chair allowed Martha Young who does run it to be able to be involved in discussions.
  • Lots of chats with people internally particularly about what we learnt from our previous matched crowdfunding pilot.

Repeating the same mistakesOne big wake-up call for me is when I was talking to a colleague this week and waxing lyrically on the benefits of chatbots. The main respone was ‘What is a chatbot?’ I must remember not everyone is on the same page as me.

The Week Ahead

  • Off on Fri to Athens, a place I have never been
  • Work on Mon & Wed with days off on Tues & Thurs
  • Handover meetings at work, a meeting with a new project I am involved with, and 1:1 with my boss
  • On Tues evening I am attending the showcase for projects funded by Rainmaker Foundation
  • Then on Wed evening it is the leaving do for Adam – we are bowling
  • Gym twice
  • Get at least one book finished and start to listen to some audio books again
  • Keep and improve my good routines around emails, coding practice, and Duolingo

And Finally…

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