Two weeks off

I’m just coming to the end of two weeks off work – not for travelling anywhere, but just time spent mostly at home trying to relax and think about what I’m doing a bit more calmly.

This year has been a pretty stressful one at work, with me (unusually) having to work long days and some weekends, but we’re in a period of respite for the moment, and my lovely colleagues had been strongly encouraging me to take a some proper time off (rather than just odd days here and there). One of the amazing things about working at mySociety is the organisation’s real commitment to discouraging people from working over 37½ hours a week. Sometimes it has to happen, though, as it has for me this summer, but most of us keep time-sheets (in Freckle) and at the end of each quarter, we get an email saying how much over that we’ve worked, with a reminder to take it as TOIL (Time Off In Lieu), which built up into quite a bit of holiday time for me.

We couldn’t go away anywhere, because Jenny couldn’t take time off, but I think this was for the best – I find travel stressful at the best of times, and everything I wanted to do was probably easier from home anyway.

Here are some of the things I’ve been doing over the last few weeks:

  • Sleeping, lots of sleeping. I don’t just mean sleeping-in in the morning , but also about an hour or so during the day. It’s amazing: I highly recommend sleep.
  • Doing some writing: some of this was private (more journal-like material) but also a couple of blog posts I’d been trying to get done for a while on The Great British Bake Off and learning SPARQL for Wikidata. I didn’t get as many public blog posts done  as I’d hoped, but it’s good to be reminded that any post with technical content does take a long time, I suppose.
  • Exercise: running and climbing a bit more than I’d been able to recently. I also took some “bouldering selfie videos”, which I put on Instagram, even if that feels a bit weird.
  • I had a lovely afternoon and evening of board games with a couple of friends, which gave us a chance to do a slightly heavier strategy game than we normally have time for. In this case, that was Viticulture, but we also got in a game of Roll for the Galaxy and Star Realms. I didn’t do very well in Viticulture, but I think that’s to be expected the first time you play such a complex worker-placement game. The amount of time it took to play (I think our game was a whopping 4½ hours) is a bit off-putting, but I hope I’ll get another chance to try it.
  • We went up to Cambridge for a Christmas dinner with some friends at a Cambridge college, which was a very pleasant evening.
  • Reading: it was really great to have some relaxed and extended time for some reading; normally it feels like I’m just grabbing odd 15 minute periods here and there for reading. A couple of the things I was reading were about addiction and dependence, which has been thought-provoking and helpful as I’m trying to be more introspective about how I drink in particular. (I’d been teetotal for nearly two years, and I’m now having some alcohol again in situations where I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be unhealthy, and I still want to understand this all better.) These books were:
    • “Chasing the Scream” by Johann Hari. This is about all sides of the drug war, and makes a compelling case of decriminalisation and legalisation. I’m not wild about how it’s written, but it’s a very effective argument nonetheless.
    • “Her Best Kept Secret: Why Women Drink-And How They Can Regain Control” by Gabrielle Glaser. I read this on the strength of the author’s Atlantic article about Alcoholics Anonymous, which challenges the idea that 12-step programmes are the best way to treat problem drinking. This book does have more on the problems with AA, how wine was marketed to the US, and how women’s drinking has changed over the last century.
  • I had a violin lesson for the first time in about 20 years, since I had an orchestra concert coming up. This was helpful – I’m wary of making a regular commitment to having lessons because I have so little free time for practice (or at least time to practice when it wouldn’t disturb people), but having a lesson every now and then would help me, I think.
  • Played in a Chamber Academy Orchestra concert, which was made up of the Beethoven Egmont Overture, Mozart’s Double Piano Concerto No. 10 and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 (The New World Symphony). I still have lots of nerves around performing music, but I enjoyed this one.
  • Caught up on quite a lot of TV that people had been recommending for ages:
    • Bojack Horseman: starts pretty good and just gets better and better – season 4 in particular has some amazing, dark episodes.
    • Star Trek: Discovery: – it’s pretty variable at the start (and I do find the new Klingons quite dull) but there are a couple of episodes towards the end of the first nine (all that’s out so far) which I think are up there with my favourite Star Trek episodes from any series.
    • Rick and Morty: very mixed feelings about this; I find some of the voice acting (particularly Rick and Morty) just irritating, a lot of the humour is pretty juvenile, and I hate all Rick’s belching and drooling. At the same time, I like the science fiction side of it, the fourth-wall breaking jokes, and so on. The shoutiness of it gets quite wearing if you’re binge-watching.
    • The Good Place: I actually finished watching this before I started holiday, but in my head it’s grouped with these “recommendations from other people I’ve watched recently” – anyway, it’s excellent, and you should watch it :)

More broadly, I think it was good for me to have a bit of time to be more reflective about what I’m doing with life both in work and more generally. It wasn’t quite as calm as I’d have liked for this, but a lot better than the previous 4 months…

(The title of this post is a reference to one of my favourite Underworld songs: Two Months Off.)

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