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Football free zone

Normally, during rush hour, this four-lane section of Newcastle’s Great North Road would be chockablock. As I walked home yesterday evening, it was eerily quiet. The England-Denmark Euro 2024 men’s football match clearly caused a major deviation from people’s usual travel habits—something I wouldn’t have predicted. I know consciously that football is extremely popular, but my own lack of interest blinkers me from casually anticipating these kinds of effects.

This post was filed under: Photos, , .

Summer solstice

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, today is the summer solstice.

I’ve read a lot over the last year about the mental health benefits of rituals—and how, for atheists like me, celebrating the passing of the year through equinoxes and solstices brings psychological benefits. For years now, I’ve marked the vernal equinox by balancing an egg on end. I dare say you’re sick of reading about it.

But I haven’t a ritual to mark the summer solstice, and I thought that, perhaps, I ought to institute one. Given the astronomical event the solstice marks, I initially imagined that I could simply make a habit of watching the sun rise and set. I knocked that idea on the head when I realised quite how early the sun rises at this time of year: I’m not making a pre-5am start an annual event.

Reading about solstice traditions revealed a whole load of water-based activities, including swimming on the day of the solstice, visiting the coast, or visiting a waterfall. I already swim regularly—indeed, I’m publishing this as I’m getting ready to head to the pool—so that doesn’t seem like a special activity. Making a habit of visiting a waterfall or the coast feels like making myself a hostage to fortune: it’s just not always going to be possible.

Many people mark the solstice by leaping over bonfires, but this seems a surefire way to end up in A&E. I’m not a man built for leaping.

And so: I have no good answer. I’ll just have to keep mulling it over for next year.


The image at the top of this post was generated by DALL·E 3.

This post was filed under: Miscellaneous.

Apparently, you gave the courier a six-foot fridge

This post was filed under: Technology, , , .

I don’t mind

On The Imperfectionist last week, Oliver Burkeman wrote:

If there’s one error of thought that most reliably holds me back from living an absorbing and meaningfully productive life, it’s the idea that certain things really matter, when the truth is that they don’t matter at all. Or at least nowhere near as much as I seem to believe.

This feels a bit thematically connected to my post yesterday about buying a ‘good enough’ fridge-freezer, but Burkeman’s post made me reflect more on understanding what matters in a professional context.

In my professional role, as is the case for most professionals, I’m asked to make hundreds of decisions per day. Most of them, however they may seem to the person who is asking, are pretty insignificant: whatever decision is made will have little impact on the public’s health.

A few years ago, I got into the habit of occasionally saying that ‘I didn’t care’ which option was chosen, often explaining that I didn’t think it would particularly influence the ultimate outcome. A typical example that comes to mind was whether a letter, whose content had been agreed upon by a group, should have my signature or someone else’s appended to the bottom.

One day, a kind colleague gently corrected me, saying that I did care, I just didn’t mind.

It was one of those useful small correctives that revealed to me the potential impact of the casual language I had habitually employed. It forced me to reflect and change my language.

The situation also made me reflect on the skill, wisdom, and kindness of the colleague who gave me that nudge. I hope that I one day have enough of the same qualities to help others.


The image at the top of this post was generated by DALL·E 3.

This post was filed under: Miscellaneous, , .

Good enough

Wendy and I recently needed to replace our fridge-freezer. Usually, this would have sent me down a rabbit hole of researching, reading reviews, comparing prices, and finding the very best fridge-freezer for our specific needs.

This time, it didn’t: we picked one fairly arbitrarily. We knew the size we required, we knew the colour we wanted, we knew we wanted it to be energy efficient, and we knew we wanted it conveniently delivered. The whole exercise, from deciding we needed a new fridge-freezer to receiving an order confirmation email, took less than half an hour.

I didn’t think much of it at the time, but Callum Booth’s latest post reflecting on his similar experience of buying earplugs caused me to reflect a little further.

It often feels like life involves countless decisions, most of which count for little. I have no doubt that we could have found a slightly cheaper model, or one that was better in one way or another. But sometimes, ‘good enough’ is good enough, and indeed preferable to a better outcome that takes longer to reach.


The image at the top of this post was generated by DALL·E 3. It looks nothing like our kitchen, but then, wouldn’t it have been far more disturbing if it did?

This post was filed under: Miscellaneous, , .

‘This is Me: Feel Again’

This film was very much Wendy’s streaming choice: a long-term fan of trance music, and of Armin van Buuren in particular, she was intrigued to see this 2023 release. It combines footage of one of van Buuren’s shows from Amsterdam’s Ziggo Dome with documentary footage and interviews.

This confounded my expectations. I didn’t expect a trance concert to feature a live orchestra of classical musicians, live singers and live ballet. Wendy has always argued that trance has its roots in classical music, and that couldn’t have been made plainer than in this production.

I didn’t expect the interviews to focus on van Buuren’s recent struggle with depression. He talked about how his therapy had taught him to live mindfully in the moment. It isn’t hard to see the parallel between that advice and trance music—which perhaps explains why this slightly bizarre combination of content slotted together so seamlessly.

He talked, too, about his struggle with social media and people’s criticism of him and his work online. I often read or hear of famous people simply ignoring this sort of content, and was struck by his different approach. He talked of recognising that everyone sees the world differently, but understanding that there may be a kernel of useful and usable feedback in even unjust criticism. He noted that he can’t control others’ opinions, but he can strive to be better by his own judgment. It seemed like a grounded and reflective approach.

I also found myself enjoying the music, perhaps all the more for understanding some of the thought processes which informed it.

This was not at all the film I expected it to be, and I very much enjoyed it.

This post was filed under: Film, Music, .

It’s nice to be nice… I think

In The Times Luxury newsletter this week, Kate Reardon wrote:

A lifetime ago, when I was editor of Tatler, I got into terrific trouble. I gave the Speech Day address at a girls’ boarding school in the Cotswolds (I did a lot of that sort of thing at the time — being editor of Tatler gives you the status of, if not a minor royal, then at least a non-royal duchess) and I said something that caused a bit of a stir.

It was along the lines of this: manners can be much more important than academic results (outside an ever-decreasing list of licensed professions). It’s a ticklish business, but bear with. Good manners will make people like you. If they like you, they will help you and, more importantly, they will want to work with you. I’m not talking about some weird etiquette like using the correct spoon for soup or eating asparagus with your left hand. I’m talking about being polite, respectful and making people feel valued.

A few years ago, I would have inwardly nodded while reading those paragraphs and moved on with my day. Yet in 2024, in the forty-eight hours or so since I read them, a debate has been raging between different parts of my brain.

My first reaction is strongly negative: Reardon’s is a privileged take which gives preference to people who adhere to a narrow set of cultural norms. It’s difficult to see someone with a strong regional accent and an underprivileged background being judged as polite by Reardon’s yardstick, let alone people from entirely different cultures. It reminds me of being at a House of Lords event and finding it deeply weird and confusing to be asked where I went to school, until it clicked, days later.

My second reaction is the opposite: there are many different ways to make people feel valued, and to act with politeness, respect, and consideration. Anyone can be nice—there’s really no class or cultural issue to be found.

My third reaction is disgust: this is a posh woman proudly declaring that she tells young girls that their agreeability is more important than their education. That is… problematic to say the least.

My fourth reaction is anxiety: it’s true that being nice is a useful quality in life regardless of gender. Is my disgust an inappropriate and revealingly prejudiced response to the writer’s identity rather than the content of her ideas?

I no longer know what to think.


The image at the top of this post was generated by DALL·E 3.

This post was filed under: Media, , .

The vibe

This post was filed under: Photos, .

The people who were Google

Amelia Tait has a great article in the July/August issue of Wired—not online as far as I can tell. She profiles some people who worked for 118 118, a UK phone service which once offered to ’answer any question’, and AQA 63336, a UK SMS service with essentially the same aim.

As a student, I did part-time work with AQA 63336 and very much enjoyed it, so this brought the memories flooding back. Working for the service meant logging onto an online system which would show all the questions flowing into the service. Click on one, and you’d get a feed of previous answers to similar questions which could be sent or tweaked. Or—more fun to my mind—one might have to write an entirely original answer.

This was made much more fun by the brand’s ‘voice’—they wanted workers to write in a wry style, and most importantly, to always have an opinion. If someone asked a yes/no question, they had to receive a yes/no answer, preferably with a dash of humour. And, of course, it had to fit in the length of a text message.

As I remember, there was a set payment per question answered, though the payment varied according to demand so that more workers would log on when the service was busy. As someone who liked the challenge of taking a few minutes to write new witty answers rather than picking pre-written items from a list, this served me quite poorly… but I nevertheless loved the job.

A few months after Steve Jobs announced the iPhone, AQA 63336 led an April Fool’s Day prank announcing their own phone. I’ve never quite worked out whether this was gallows humour from a company who understood that smartphones would kill their business, or just a simple attempt at promotion.

Wired isn’t where I typically turn to reminisce, but Tait’s article provided exactly that.

This post was filed under: Technology, , .

It’s windy in Newcastle

When you think of medical schools in Newcastle, this one might not be the first that springs to mind. Since 2007, it has been possible to study in Newcastle for a chunk of the five-year medical degree award by St George’s University in Grenada. These days, one can study as much as four years of a five-year medical programme with St George’s University in Newcastle.

This post was filed under: Photos, , .




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