Blog archive September 2021

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23.09.21 / 01 / new business cards!

I still think that a nice printed card has impact in a digital world. Incidentally, that work lounge idea is just what we need after the pandemic.

22.09.21 / 01 / what we learned

For people whose primary work is in an office, WFH is possible 95% of the time. Possible, not necessarily comfortable.

The efficiency of meeting in person. Human senses are in play. Online meetings can't replicate it. The screen and the apparatus are alienating factors. It only comes close in a one to one call where the focus is on a single person.

The emotional support of coworkers in the office is hard to replicate online. The sheer presence of someone next to you, without having to set up a call and break what both of you are doing. When things get stressful, this is the biggest loss in WFH.

The office as a meeting place more than a desk-working place. A venue for the human interaction that can’t be done remotely. A place that generates and supports the collective culture of an organisation.

The commute as a transitional space to prepare for work, or to prepare for home. As processing time. As a boundary with depth in time and space between work and home.

The boundary problems of WFH. Work invades everything. So do children.

Hidden overwork and stress. Because there are no boundaries, and we're not with our coworkers who can see and help.

Most homes are not set up for work - tech, a separate space, ergonomics, acoustics etc.

So from now on we need to see a workspace as a usual part of home, like a bedroom, dining space etc. From now it will always be needed some of the time, so we had better make it work.

21.09.21 / 02 / coffee to cake ratio

What always happens.

21.09.21 / 01 / a shift

Back when the second big English lockdown began to lift, I went into the office for the first time in a long while. On the tube, the few people in formerly-conventional workwear suddenly looked like holdovers from another century. Most people were heading to work in sportswear. Smart sportswear, athleisure you might say, but still tracksuits and head to foot lycra, black and white with pops of colour. I don't think they were going to change when they got to the office.

I can't see this going back much. Everyone has seen everyone else in sportswear on Zoom. Even the top people. I remember being laughed at in a client call for being smart when they were all in old hoodies. Nobody's fooled by a suit anymore or thinks it's needed to do good work. It's another ratchet in the 100-year transfer of sportswear into daily life (what after all was a 'sports jacket'?).

So tonight I solved my new work trousers problem with trackpants from asos. I've lived in similar for 18 months, they work and look good with a number of things. And they accommodate lockdown-induced changes of waistline. And can go straight to the gym to reverse said changes.

20.09.21 / 01 / emirates air line

And the next day I went to North Greenwich to take the Emirates Air Line to Royal Victoria DLR and thence to Gallions Reach to find the nice coffee shop at the far end of the docks. I felt sure that I would be travelling only one way on the cable car, and indeed it was scary (for me). Not unlike my fear of flying, in fact. I deliberately jumped on without much thought, and then the car went over the edge and swooped up 250 feet.

The London Eye is taller, but the cabins are larger and clearly attached to a very large structure - as opposed to a glass bubble on a single wire. I just concentrated on photographing the view and not thinking about the drop. In truth the ride was less shaky than I had feared, and I dare say that regular users (if there are any) think nothing of it - though I would hate to try it on a windy day.

The Air Line is essentially pointless. Few people need to commute from North Greenwich to Royal Docks and in any case the journey is only two stops via the tube and DLR. The Air Line runs at about 10% of its capacity, as evidenced by the number of empty cars. It was the most expensive cable car ever built at the time, and the tickets cost extra rather than being integrated into the general TfL fare system, which inhibits casual use. Londoners wonder why the money couldn't have been spent on something more useful like a bridge. It contributes to their sour perception of Boris Johnson (who was mayor 2008-2016) as a waster of public money on vanity projects (see also the ArcelorMittal Orbit and the Garden Bridge).

16.09.21 / 01 / the painted hall

The reason for my trip to Greenwich was to see the Painted Hall. The magnificence is quite stupefying. It was meant to be the dining hall for the naval pensioners, but it turned out too grand to risk on regular dining (thrown bread rolls, cabbage smells etc) and soon became a public attraction and ceremonial space as it is today.

There are padded benches down the centre of the room so that people can lie on their backs to examine the ceiling. For all its splendour there is something comical about the kings and queens placed among the gods - such adulation could only be carried off straight-faced by Louis XIV, or Elizabeth I - monarchs who are already myths. William and Mary, Anne, George I were too homely and constitutional to live up to the publicity. Still, it's entertaining.

The mirror-image space in the other half of the complex is the chapel. The original interior was lost in a fire in 1779, and the neoclassical replacement is fussy, heavy and a shade of beige made bilious peach by the lighting. The architect James 'Athenian' Stuart was apparently an alcoholic by the time he designed it - "his face declared him to be fond of what is called friendly society". Robert Adam would have had a lighter touch and better colours. People take a look at the chapel and go back to the Hall for more wonderment. Baroque is like blockbuster movies - a lot of expensive special effects and superstars, but it gets the audiences, even years later.

13.09.21 / 01 / river trip

Last week we had a brief burst of hot sunny weather, so it was time to get out and make the most of it. First I took a river boat to Greenwich and back. In all my years in London it was the first time I had ever been on a river trip of any kind. Notionally it's part of the transport system - there are sightseeing boats, but there are commuter boats which are faster and have less outside seating (but big windows). Strangely they are now a franchise operated by Uber. I don't think you can summon one for yourself.

From Westminster pier the boat zigzags across the river to pick up and drop off - there are many piers between Battersea and the Tower of London. As soon as we've passed under Tower Bridge the boat accelerates sharply to something like 40 knots, and we roar down to Canary Wharf past Wapping, Bermondsey, Limehouse and Rotherhithe (Dickensian names!). It is an experience of the actual distances which are obscured by the usual underground travel.

Greenwich was always meant to be approached by water, but unfortunately the pier is just before the palace so one doesn't get the axial view from the water. It would be nice if the boats went past and turned before docking. I suspect that the best way is to stay on the boat for North Greenwich. Must do that another time.

The Uber boats are nice inside - like a good aircraft - with a coffee bar. They are crewed by young people who throw the ropes and drop the gangways with deftness - there is no time to delay the boat with fluffed moves. Part of me thinks it's a nice job, and part thinks it probably gets boring like anything you do mechanically day in day out. You also have to rescue everybody in an emergency.

Unfortunately it's quite an expensive way to travel, which limits its potential as a post-pandemic well-ventilated alternative to tubes and buses. Historically the river was the main highway of London - to travel on it is to experience London as it was routinely experienced in past centuries. The locations of landing piers were in everyone's heads as much as the locations of tube stations are now. If services were cheaper and a little more frequent - but then one wonders about the carbon footprint of the boats - they are not electric or sail-powered! And we worry about the health and safety aspects of crowded boats on a crowded river. But people from past centuries would be astonished by the sheer emptiness of the river now.

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