These are my week notes, (semi) regular updates on what I'm up to along with the books, films, articles and other cultural flotsam that have caught my attention.

Week notes 2020-19

Of course self-control is important, but research on self-regulation should pay just as much attention to hedonism, or short-term pleasure.” That’s because Bernecker’s new research shows that people’s capacity to experience pleasure or enjoyment contributes at least as much to a happy and satisfied life as successful self-control.
  • Above, a piece of advice that we should all try and bear in mind, I think.
  • I forgot to mention the other week that we watched Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield. A really good Sunday afternoon film that’s packed with brilliant performances (Tilda Swinton should be in every film).
  • Do you have Talking Pictures TV saved as one the favourite channels on your telly box? If not, then you should. So many gems. Last night, 70s Robert Mitchum gangster classic The Friends of Eddy Coyle came on and kept me glued for two hours. Great stuff.
  • On Saturday I cycled out to my old friend (and one-time Londonist contributor) Ken’s house and then on to Box Hill. It was so nice to get out of London, be up above the countryside for a bit and just sit in the sun sipping a coffee, with strangers around you all doing the same thing.
  • I totally forgot how far away Box Hill is though! Today is the day after and I can barely walk.
  • This week I christened my new barbecue table set up with Kenji’s Carne Asada steak tacos. It was pretty damn good. P.S. If you don’t subscribe to Kenji’s YouTube channel you should take a look, I’m addicted.
  • Music this week: have something delightfully soulful and summery:

Week notes 2020-18

  • Thursday night was Wingspan night! And, boy, that was fun. We played it twice through and both times it took a bit longer than it should have. The first time because the rules take some getting used to; the second time… well, we were drunk. I can’t wait to play it again, just to start getting to the real nitty gritty strategy of it all.
  • Utopia was a Channel 4 TV series from seven (!) years ago, written by the brilliant Dennis Kelly. I was lucky enough to have worked on the accompanying ‘digital experience’, which meant I got to visit the set and learn a lot about TV production (I still have a souvenir Utopia comic book prop on my bookshelf upstairs). Well now Utopia is a US series starring John Cusack and coming to Amazon soon. Very weird. Here’s the trailer:
  • We watched The Way Back the other night, because schlubby, depressed Affleck is the best type of Affleck.
  • Losing Religion and Finding Ecstasy in Houston is a longish article I’ve had on my ‘to read’ list since it appeared in the New Yorker about a year ago. You should read it if only for sentences like this:

“We swallowed pills that had been crushed into Kleenex, and then we slipped into a sweaty black box of a music venue down the street, and I felt weightless, like I’d come back around to a truth that I had first been taught in church: that anything could happen, and a sort of grace that was both within you and outside you would pull you through.”

  • For your listening pleasure this week, here’s Luke ‘The Rapture’ Jenner’s beautiful new solo album:

Week notes 2020-17

  • Turns out I’ve been averaging one of these posts every two weeks. I’m not sure why I get so frantic about not posting here regularly. or why I get so concerned about posting the ‘right’ things. Surely I get to say what’s ‘right’ and what’s not. You’d think so wouldn’t you?
  • Since we last ‘spoke’ I have read My Absolute Darling (beautiful, but brutal) and The Biggest Bluff How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win (not nearly as self-helpy as it sounds and very very good indeed, especially if, like me, you enjoy a good poker book).
  • I just bought Thousand Year Old Vampire a ‘solo roleplaying game’ which looks terrific. I have ten-sided die for what must be the first time in 30 years. I am very excited.
  • Also, some friends bought me Wingspan for my birthday. This Thursday is Wingspan night. I cannot wait.
  • This weekend I got a bit inspired by this YouTube video and built a DIY Weber grill cart from scratch! Took me five hours, but I did it and now I’m extremely smug about the whole thing. I just need to sand and stain it now and it will be ready for some BBQ action.
  • Watched some very good films recently, both new stuff (Athlete A on Netflix is horrific but vital viewing, while Palm Springs is nicely done, light, fluffy romantic comedy); and some classics (Hal Ashby’s Being There is no Harold and Maude but it’s still pretty great; and Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz is pretty intense and a lot but it’s something you have to see it… especially the erotic musical theatre scene).

Week notes 2020-16

  • Above, David Lynch takes a break from reporting on the weather to explain his Incredible Checking Stick. And he’s right, wood is such a blessing for humanity. The last line of this video will keep me smiling for weeks.
  • I don’t post a lot of work-related ‘strategy’ stuff here in my Week Notes, but this article from Ben Thompson’s Stratechery blog goes way beyond advertising and marketing to talk about the press, media distribution, “the nichification of everything” and why “the New York Times is finding it difficult to sustain an opinion section purporting to represent all sides of an issue” (i.e. the Black Lives Matter protests).

The web is still a very young medium, and it has been influenced more than anything else by print media design. There is so much more that can be done with text on a screen than is being done today. Citations, drawing, chat, speech-to-text. There are opportunities everywhere, and the bar is low! If we are serious about unlocking the value of knowledge we should consider how to improve every part of the knowledge production stack, and that includes reading. As Laurel Schwulst says: “Imaginative functionality is important, even if it’s only a trace of what was, as it’s still a sketch for a more ideal world.”

  • I generated that nice looking quote with the Quotebacks Chrome extension by Toby Critchlow and Tom Shorin. It’s very neat and quick and very very handy.
  • Days of Bagnold Summer is a gentle, funny, and really touching film, whch I really enjoyed. It’s also under 90 minutes long!
  • Every year I compile four hour-ish Spotify playlist of my favourite songs I’ve discovered this year (usually a mix of brand new stuff and older things I’ve only recently heard for the first time). Here’s 2020’s edition. Enjoy.

Week notes 2020-15

  • It’s been a while since updated my WeekNotes. A whole month in fact. I think that’s because I was focused on getting my lockdown head straight and then just fell out the habit a little bit.
  • I think I went through a small dip in lockdown mood, with a few work things getting me down more than they should have done, and that had a knock on effect on other things. But I figured it out and now feel much more on an even keel.
  • I’ve also been reading a lot less and watching far fewer films the past few months. You’d think I’d be gorging on anything remotely distracting, but my brain can’t seem to hold on to anything that requires sustained concentration. I kind of imagine all my synapses reforming themselves into new structures to deal with the ‘new normal’ and having to reject anything that needs focus as being too big a drain on their energy.
  • That hasn’t stopped us mainlining The Last Dance (The Michael Jordan/Chicago Bulls documentary on Netflix). Forget Tiger King, this is the binge TV your lockdown needs. It’s great. Incredible footage from the 90s, awesome soundtrack, a fascinating story and cast of characters. Even if you never watched basketball game in your life you will eat this up with a spoon.
  • One of my favourite pieces of lockdown reading so far has come from the brilliant Jenny Odell: On Taking the Time You Need to Notice, Think, and Grow.
  • I’ve also been really enjoying Matt Webb’s blog and his writing on a post-pandemic work e.g. There is no After:

“…our shift into a new way of feeling about the world has now happened. We won’t and can’t return to our old habit of knowing-but-not-acting.”

  • Obviously Matt wrote that before the death of George Floyd, but it’s interesting to read that post in the midst of the incredible protests that have resulted and to wonder how much the mental shift that Coronavirus forced upon us contributed to what happened next.
  • Something else read a few weeks ago was this post from Doug Belshaw entitled The best place to be is somewhere else?:

“The same goes with social media, of course, except that it’s even more insidious, as an ‘action’ can just be liking or retweeting. It leads to slacktivism instead of making actual, meaningful change in the world.”

“As the web used to be, today podcasting is an open market, with advertising, podcasting, and distribution mostly separated from one another. Distribution happens through an open standard called RSS, and there’s very little behavioral ad targeting. I’m asked on fun weird podcasts all the time; podcasting feels like the web prior to the roll-up of power by Google and Facebook, with a lot of new voices, some very successful and most marginal, but quite authentic.”

Week notes 2020-14

  • Above, my favourite lockdown tweet so far. Hell, it might even my favourite tweet ever!
  • It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted an update here. Not sure why that is really. I think it might have something to do with the nice weather, and the garden… and maybe also something to do with Animal Crossing (it’s taken a few goes but I’m gradually more and more hooked… and in debt).
  • Really enjoyed watching Grayson Perry’s Art Club on Channel 4 last night. Who knew that you could give someone funny, talented and interesting a camera and let him film himself creating things and talking to his (adorable, and equally talented wife) and other people about art, that it would produce amazing television. We’re going to have to rethink the whole commissioning process after this.
  • A friend sent me this Twitter thread about the history of the legendary Bradley’s Spanish Bar on Hanway Street. A great dive bar that has an incedible story. Go have a read and then donate if you can to keep the place open (£25k raised so far!).
  • Lockdown cooking tip: Over in the New Yorker Bill Buford (ex Granta editor) talks about Mastering the Art of Making a French Omelette.
  • And talking of food: the essay My Restaurant Was My Life for 20 Years. Does the World Need It Anymore? from the NY Times was probably the best thing I read this week, especially this bit:

“And God, the brunch, the brunch. The phone hauled out for every single pancake and every single Bloody Mary to be photographed and Instagrammed. That guy who strolls in and won’t remove his sunglasses as he holds up two fingers at my hostess without saying a word: He wants a table for two. The purebred lap dogs now passed off as service animals to calm the anxieties that might arise from eating eggs Benedict on a Sunday afternoon. I want the girl who called the first day of our mandated shut down to call back, in however many months when restaurants are allowed to reopen, so I can tell her with delight and sincerity: No. We are not open for brunch. There is no more brunch.”

  • Elsewhere Larry David, is Master of His Quarantine (again from the NY Times). Warning: Contains controversial Woody Allen opinion.
  • Going back to art: David Shrigley shares his latest commission (for a champagne house inredibly!) and artistic motto: “If you put the hours in then the work makes itself”
  • One of my favourite artists, Geoff McFetridge created this lovely visual essay for the NY Times, called The Pandemic Has Turned Los Angeles Into a Walking City.
  • And Jamie Harmon’s “Quarantine Portrait” series is a fantastic example of creating something beautiful out of a shitty situation.
  • We just finished the latest series of Beter Call Saul and just wanted to share this article which appreciated Rhea Sheehorn’s performance as Kim Wexler. Best character on TV by a long shot in my opinion.
  • And to end this week: Here’s my personal Spotify playlist of my favourite tracks (new and old) from the past few months:

Week notes 2020-13

  • I’m on the sofa, my Google Pixelbook on my lap, about to write this post, and Buster lies down on the rug at my feet and just lays his head on my right foot. It’s warm, it’s furry and it is, at this very moment, perfect. I can be locked down with this guy (and my wife) for as long as it takes.
  • I’m also drinking a really good glass of wine (I bought a bottle for a friend for her lockdown 40th, and decided to get myself one while I was there). So that helps.
  • Speaking of booze… The Calming Ritual of the Cocktail Hour is a lovely little article from the excellent Grub Street, which I definitely identify with right now.
  • Also from New York, the NY Times interviews David Chang about his depression, the restaurant industry and Covid-19 . It’s less miserable than I just made it sound.
  • How is House of Leaves 20 years old?! Despite it making me feel old, I enjoyed this Guardian interview with the book’s author and some of it’s biggest fans.
  • I’ve never read any Robert Stone, but this ‘unvarnished look at the troubled life’ of the novelist (from the Washington Post) has made me put him on my ‘to read’ list.
  • Also this week, I caved and bought a robot vaccum cleaner (Buster is white-haired and sheds… a lot!). It’s pretty amazing.
  • We got hot cross buns and some great bread delivered to our door, courtest of Breadwinners, a charity who (normally) “provide training and jobs for refugees across London farmers market stalls”. If you’re in London you should check them out.
  • Music-wise: the tweet at the top of this post is great. It weaves together Britney Spears, James and Bollywood. How could you not want to watch that?
  • Also music-wise: my friends continue to create top-notch Spotify playlists, for which I am eternally grateful:

Week notes 2020-12

That’s David Hockney and his dog, Ruby, sat in his garden in Normandy where he’s been painting the blossom in his back garden and dispensing wisdom like this:

“We have lost touch with nature rather foolishly as we are a part of it, not outside it. This will in time be over and then what? What have we learned? I am 83 years old, I will die. The cause of death is birth. The only real things in life are food and love in that order, just like our little dog Ruby. I really believe this and the source of art is love…. I love life.”

  • I can’t tell you how much that quote has helped me over the past week.
  • It’s also really made me want to buy a house in Normandy, retire there to paint and hang out with my dog.
  • If you want more Hockney wisdom, the Guardian has some: “We need art, and I do think it can relieve stress. What is stress? It’s worrying about something in the future. Art is now.”
  • Like most people lucky enough to have a garden I spent most of the past weekend weeding, mowing, planting and even a bit of power washing and just generally making things habitable and comfy.
  • Outside of that I’ve read and watched precious little outside of Netflix. Work has been full on, so evenings have been taken up with taking Buster for a walk, making dinner and then a bit of TV and reading (still Catch and Kill) before falling asleep.
  • Somehow, working from home is more tiring than going to the office. Not sure why, think it might have something to do with the ‘micro breaks’ that come with chatting to colleagues in the kitchen over a cup of tea etc. And also video chat fatigue obviously. VCF is definitely a thing.
  • Done a bit of Zoom socialising too. A spot of online poker with friends, and a quiz with the family. All good stuff.
  • I’ve noticed my podcast consumption has shrunk dramatically too, simply because I only listen to podcasts during my commute. I need to figure out a new podcast routine.
  • This from Hanya Yanagihara on Instagram was also a welcome artistic distraction.
  • And I have been getting a steady stream of great music thanks to my friend, Mark and his excellent playlists:

Week notes 2020-11

  • Above, Kermit doing Talking Heads, for no other reason than it’s fantastic and joyful and daft.
  • I wrote a blog post last week. Honestly I did. Then I closed my browser without saving the draft, and lost all but the next two bullet points. Oh well. There are other things to worry about right now. Here’s how I started a week ago…
  • One of the things about writing these week notes is that you’re able to see just how quickly things change from one week to the next. Never more so than in the last seven fourteen days.
  • Last week was a full week of working from home. A lot of video calls, most of them back-to-back, not really being able to step away from the computer for any decent stretch of time and a feeling that it was taking twice as long to achieve half as much.
  • But, on the other hand, we are very lucky. We have food, we have wine and beer. We have each other, we have friends nearby who we can shout to from the end of their driveway, and we have our beautiful, stupid dog who we’re still able to take out for walks and run round the garden with. Life could be a lot worse.
  • Talking of dogs, the NY Times just ran an piece on why Walking the Dog Is ‘a Piece of Paradise’ and they are absolutely right about that.
  • And talking of food, wine and beer, Little Places is a website that aims to catalogue “any business, creator or maker who is doing something different during this pandemic that brings a bit of delight to people”.
  • Speaking honestly, it’s times like this that I miss having a platform like Londonist to work with, to help people wth, to entertain people with.
  • What are we doing in isolation other than eating and drinking and playing with Buster? Well, for one, I’m immersing myself in Animal Crossing, because it’s calming and wierdly beautiful and also a little bit addictive.
  • I’m reading. I finished How to Listen to Jazz last week, and now I’m on to Roman Farrow’s Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, which is maybe not the most escapist book, but is just fascinating and very well put together. I bought it from Bookseller Crow by the way, just before the lockdown. You can still buy from them using their website though.
  • We’re watching TV. We’re deep into the new seriesof Better Call Saul and about to embark on new Ozark. And, no we haven’t watchd Tiger King yet.
  • We’re watching the odd film. We watched 21 Bridges last night (at Nina’s insistence, she loved Black Panther) and it is definitely escapist but it’s also quite flawed.
  • And I have been listening to a lot of music. Spotify has been a nice way of ‘staying in touch’ with friends. Take this playlist my friend Mark put together:

Week notes 2020-10

  • This week marks three years since my wife went into hospital with an abcess on her brain, and two years since I decided to start seeing a therapist (these two events are not unrelated).
  • In a few weeks I’ll stop seeing a therapist. I can honestly say it’s been one of the most positive and helpful things I’ve ever done and I would recommend it to anyone (I say that in the full knowledge that I’m lucky enough to have the time, money and access to a choice of therapists that definitely helped make my experience a positive one, but still… everyone should do it).
  • Last night we flaunted the social distancing guidelines and invited some friends round for wine, food and stupid games, to celebrate my wife’s birthday. It was a fantastic time and made me realise just how much we rely on the comany of others (as well as these margaritas) to get us through the shit times.
  • Myself and Nina will both be working from home for the forseeable future. I have a feeling that ending therapy at this time may have been a terrible mistake!
  • Just started reading How to Listen to Jazz by Ted Gioia, so far it’s an incredibly accessible and not-at-all-up-its-own-arse read, which I’m very thankful for.
  • Not watched many films recently. Mainly because TV has gotten good again (Curb, Better Call Saul, The Trip to Greece, etc). That may all change if I’m consigned to the house for the next few weeks though.
  • I read an article entitled How a Hot $100 Million Design Startup Collapsed Overnight this week. Kind of against my better judgement really. All these articles follow the same pattern: what starts out a decent idea for a small company outgrows itself fuelled by ego and arrogance and dumb VC funding, until it smashes into a hubris-shaped iceberg taking down a bunch of innocent, hardworking employees with it. And, more often than not, the idiot CEO pockets a bunch of cash and moves on to the next world-changing idea.
  • As an antidote to all that, I also read The Culinary Couple Who Built a British Empire, a lovely article about Fergus and Margot Henderson, who built a successful tiny empire fuelled by love, care and joy; and whose passion has inspired others to go on to similar success.
  • In these uncertain times, the Hendersons are the heroes we need.
  • Music this week is an easy choice: New Four Tet!
  • P.S. 100 posts on this blog now. Go me.