Open Thinkering


Month: July 2021

Weeknote 30/2021

Our Devon holiday home

I’m composing this in the WordPress mobile app as my wife and I share the drive back home. We’re also stopping off overnight and splitting the journey into two, as seven or eight hours in the car is not conducive to harmonious Team Belshaw relationships!

Some holiday weeks seem to go really quickly and you’re back to work before you know it. Thankfully, this week hasn’t been like that, and we’ve had a proper break. We needed a period of decompression after my mothers in-law’s funeral last Friday and this week has certainly given us that.

The weather in Devon hasn’t been as hot and dry as in previous years, but that’s no bad thing. It’s given us an excuse to watch plenty of the Olympics on TV in the mornings and then go out and about in the afternoons. I’m not too comfortable in heat above 25C anyway.

One of the highlights of this week for me was hiring bikes on Monday and cycling along the River Exe from Exeter to Starcross. Both our kids are good on two wheels, and during that trio our youngest learned to ride with no hands. Unfortunately, on the return leg, a bee stung my son quite badly on the chest, and my daughter steered herself into a hedge full of nettles while looking up at a plane.

We spent a large chunk of the rest of the week at my sister-in-law’s house; their kids are only slightly younger than our two. It’s always good to hang out with them.

Other than that, I’ve been minimally checking (but not replying to) emails, and I deleted the Slack app from my phone completely. Some people seem to live for work and seem not to know what to do when away from it. That was me about a decade ago, but no more. As I saw someone say on social media recently, you may be able to get anything you want if you work hard, but what if your goal is not to work hard?

Either way, I feel pretty refreshed and relaxed heading back to work next week. It’ll be a quiet-ish August on the work front anyway, as I need to be on-hand to take the kids to their various sports camps.

One thing I’ve definitely realised this week is that its time to lose those pandemic pounds. I’m still relatively fit, but running and other exercise is harder than it needs to be at the moment. I’ve ordered some sample packs from Genesis Foods as they’re a small UK-based company committed to environmental sustainability and sharing profits with their staff. Let’s hope their product tastes good!

Weeknote 29/2021

Wheat field

It’s been a busy week. The whole thing was centred around Friday, which was the funeral for my mother-in-law, Lorraine. There were separate events and locations for the burial, church celebration of her life, and refreshments. The whole thing was planned meticulously by my wife, Hannah, and her sister Laura.

I don’t think Lorraine could have asked for a better send-off, with around 100 people paying their respects, and the overall feeling being one of celebrating a life well-lived but sadly curtailed. I was proud of Hannah for the joint eulogy she gave, and my son, Ben, for the short reading he did. Having given a eulogy before, I know how difficult that can be.

We live in Northumberland, the other end of the country to where Lorraine lived and was laid to rest. It’s a long drive and, thankfully, the roads were relatively clear on Thursday as we travelled down. We’re staying at a place we’ve stayed a few times before — at a small wooden cottage built by friends of my father-in-law. It’s in an idyllic location.

The previous three days from Monday to Wednesday I spent doing a lot of work with and for Julie’s Bicycle, a pioneering not-for-profit mobilising the arts and culture to take action on the climate and ecological crisis. As a collaboration between my home co-op, WAO, and Outlandish, we’re helping them with some development of their tools as well as overall strategy.

I’m looking forward to a full week off work while down here in Devon. There’s always stuff to be done and things to be organised but, as deaths in the family all too poignantly illustrate, life goes on whether you’re there or not.

So next week, I’m going to be reading, drinking, and playing games with my family and my sister-in-law’s family. Hopefully the weather should be good, and we can spend time decompressing after a pretty intense few weeks.

Image taken of a wheat field during a family walk near Gittisham, Devon.

Weeknote 28/2021

Two cupcakes cut in half and the opposites sandwiched together.

I’m not sure whether to start summarising this week by pointing to external things in my environment or gesturing to internal changes that I’ve experienced during it. I feel like I want to write more about the latter, but I’ll start with the former as they’re easier and more tangible.

To simply say “I bought a new tent and rucksack” would be factually accurate but descriptively poor. It would be more appropriate to talk about what walking in the mountains and wild camping means to me. But let’s start with specifics: as I mentioned last week, I did plenty of research into one-person tents and, after breaking out a spreadsheet, ended up going for a Grand Canyon Richmond 1. Not only is it the perfect size for my 6’1″ frame, it’s light and compact, with a standalone inner tent. I flirted with the idea of an Alpkit Polestar, which uses walking poles as tent poles, but decided to keep things simple (plus I could buy two Grand Canyon tents for the price of the Alpkit!)

Now I just needed a new rucksack to carry the tent and my other equipment. We’re very fortunate in having a Montane outlet located only a mile away from my parents’ house, and I headed there last Sunday intending to look at their options around the 45-litre mark. When I got there, however, I discovered their ‘Medusa’ 32-litre rucksack, which now seems to be discontinued. This has great reviews, and seemed to be pretty much the perfect size for what I wanted. It was also relatively cheap at £51. I was even more delighted when I got home and realised that my Thermarest Z-Lite sleeping mat would be held securely by the bag’s ice-axe loops.

The only other thing I decided to invest it was a Snugpak Jungle Blanket, which I settled on instead of a new sleeping bag. After much introspection, I realised that I’m only likely to go camping between March and October, so this in combination with my existing (tiny!) 2-season sleeping bag should be enough. In total, then, I spent less than the Alpkit tent I’d been looking at. I’ll be testing it out in early August and very much look forward to how much faster and lighter I’ll be able to travel!

Now then to the more internal stuff, which I’ll preface with a bit of context about the confluence of circumstances which made this such an intense week. As I mentioned last week without naming specifics, my mother-in-law passed away recently, and her funeral is in Devon next Friday. My wife, Hannah, started a new contract a few days before her mother’s death and, this week, was away for a couple of nights meeting her new team within NHS Digital.

It’s been the last week of the school term for our children and we considered keeping them off for the last few days so that, should they have to self-isolate, it wouldn’t interfere with our plans for travelling to Devon. In the event, both were asked to self-isolate on Monday after someone in their bubbles tested positive for Covid. Thankfully, my parents were available to look after them for most of the week, and the experience of remote learning meant that it was a relatively seamless transition from classroom to Chromebook.

With all of this in the background, I spent this week on a Sustainable Leadership and Deep Adaptation course. I’m still processing the effect that the experience of the five days has had upon me, but it’s perhaps best summed-up for now as being more of an emotional experience than an intellectual one. We deconstructed traditional notions of leadership using Critical Discourse Analysis, engaged in debates, and formed study groups. But the Deep Relating activities, the guided meditation, and the visceral examples of how patriarchy can be constructed were, for me, key.

There was such a mix of people on the course. Of the 16 of us who attended each day, most were based in Europe while the two facilitators, Katie Carr and Jem Bendell were in Bali. There were psychospiritual counsellors, UN staff members, former investment bankers, novelists, PhD researchers, a whole panoply of occupations.

I confess to finding the first two days difficult. I realise in retrospect this is because I spend most of my time, and ascribe most of my value to others, as being located in my head. I like to think, write, and work things out logically. As I discovered on this course, that doesn’t even get me halfway to the kinds of insights we’re going to need to respond to the climate emergency. I’ve come across people talking about ‘holding space’ before but, to be blunt, I’ve considered them charlatans. It took me a while, therefore, to come round to Katie’s style of facilitation.

After leaving Moodle last year, I went back to work with We Are Open Co-op full-time. After some internal drama which ultimately led to two people leaving, I’ve inadvertently, it seems, been drawn to work around non-violent communication, consent-based decision-making, and ways in which we can bring our whole selves to work. This course built upon what I’ve learned over the past year, layering on insights about intuitive and relational ways of understanding and knowing.

I don’t think I’ve ever come across a facilitator like Katie who exudes both strength and vulnerability. She is extremely well-organised, able to tweak things on the fly, and seemed to be able to intuit when to switch things round, intervene in a situation, or give more or less time for an activity. While I’ve worked in things like check-ins and check-outs, pauses, and focusing on ‘I-statements’ in my own facilitation work, it was amazing to be able to learn from someone with such a deeper, richer experience on which to draw.

I think the only thing I wrote this week were the 23 pages of notes from the course. These included a reflection on a walk through some local woods that formed part of Wednesday morning’s activities. I didn’t post anything to Thought Shrapnel, and I paused updating What I did do, in the limited brainspace I had left at the end of each day, was flip over to the version I created a couple of months ago. In addition, I’ve reduced the page load size of this blog via various tweaks. As a result, according to Website Carbon Calculator, each visit to my personal website emits ‘0.00g’ of carbon (as it’s less than 1KB), and this blog emits 0.37g. Apparently I should switch to green energy for them both, which I’ll probably look into next.

I’d like to mention that my friend Oliver Quinlan, aka Mentat, not only has a new track out on his own label but (even more excitingly!) has embarked on a new side project called Synth Soundscapes. These are 8-hour long “ambient soundscapes for focus, sleep and meditation”. I found it useful to have on Swirling Synths really quietly in the background while I was on Zoom calls to help me focus.

Next week is going to be… quite busy. My calendar tells me that, in the three days I’m working next week, I have two half-day workshops plus 11(!) other meetings. My brain is going to be fried from context-switching. On the plus side, those two workshops are with Outlandish and Julie’s Bicycle, the latter organisation having nothing to do with cycling but rather “mobilising the arts and culture to take action on the climate and ecological crisis”.

Team Belshaw then travels to Devon for my mother-in-law’s funeral. We’re then staying in Devon for a holiday that was already planned. It’s just a shame that Lorraine won’t be there. I’m going to miss the keen interest she showed in other people’s pursuits, fondness for walking, and (yes) the way she used to arrange yogurts in a basket during buffet teas.

Photo of two different cupcakes cut in half, swapped around, and sandwiched together to celebrate my daughter’s half-birthday. I celebrated mine last month, and it’s my son’s next week.