Open Thinkering


Tag: camping

We’re back!

At over 1,200 words, this is a long-ish post so just  a quick heads-up that I’ve divided it into sections (signified by the included Prisma-enhanced images) covering: an overview our holiday, my new fitness regime, what I’ve been reading, why I’m planning to use my wiki more, and how we can work together. 

It’s been a great summer.

One of the great things about being your own boss is the fact that, on a macro level at least, you’re in charge of your own time. That means I get to choose to be ‘away’ when it suits me — for example, during the school summer holidays, or in December when my Seasonal Affective Disorder sets in.

I’d been banging the same drum with my family, repeating the same mantra over and over again: “we’re going away camping for the whole of August”. My wife thought it was too long. Friends said that three weeks would probably be a better idea. But I stuck to my guns. I even shaved my hair off in preparation!

Well, it turns out that other people were right: spending more than a couple of weeks under canvas is hard work. In the event, we split the month into several sections — partly due to external circumstances, partly due to conscious decision-making.

The original plan had been to travel down the east side of France, go a little way into Italy, come back along the south coast of France and into northern Spain, and then wend our way back up the west coast of France back to the UK. It didn’t quite work like that because of….


Thousands of them. And on the same night that our youngest contracted a tummy bug. Imagine being in a campsite on an Italian mountain with a five year-old up several times in the night to be sick, and ants swarming round you. It was me who decided enough was enough. We were going home.

My wife persuaded me to stay one night in an apartment (“just to get ourselves sorted out”) before the trip back. Now that Munchkin #2 was feeling better and we were in more salubrious surroundings, it all didn’t seem so bad. So we changed our plans, aiming to spend the money we would have spent on camping on hotels. We’d just have a shorter, more comfortable holiday.

To cut a long story short, we ended up making our way, via Avignon, Reims, and Orange to our favourite campsite: Municipal de Sézanne. We stayed there a week, enjoying the huge outdoor swimming pool, immaculately-clean facilities, and the fact it was (including electricity) only 15 Euros per night!

That final stretch of time on a single campsite, with a trip to Paris, leisurely walks through Champagne-producing vineyards, swimming, reading, and general messing about, was the best bit of the holiday. After returning to the UK via the Eurotunnel, we stopped off at the in-laws in Devon for a few days, then made our way back home via an overnight stay in Sheffield (where my wife and I met, at university).


It turns out that if, for a month, you do a lot less exercise than you’re used to, have pastries for breakfast every morning and an ice-cream every afternoon, you put on weight! Who knew?

Last week, I was the heaviest I’ve ever been. So I decided to do something about it. Luckily, I’d re-read most of the excellent Fitness for Geeks while I was away, which is a great addition to anyone’s shelf. In the last seven days I’ve lost half a stone, mainly through eating as little carbohydrate as possible, by starting running again (despite it increasing my risk of migraines), and by consuming the same things for breakfast (smoothie made from fruit, coffee, and various powders) and lunch (four egg omelette with cheese, tomatoes, spinach and peppers).

I’ve got another half a stone to go, but that should be gone by the end of September, especially seeing as our paused gym membership kicks back in today. One of the things I’ve had the children accompany me in doing is running up sand dunes at our nearest (National Trust) beach. My father used to get us down for pre-season training when he was manager of our football team, so I’m just passing on the baton. It’s hard work, I’ll tell you that!


Stepping out of the stream for a month is, unsurprisingly, a great way to reflect on your life, your priorities, and your habits. Something I’ve realised is how much I enjoy being up before everyone else in the morning. Not only does this give me a chance to read before the normal hustle-and-bustle of family life begins, but it gives me a chance to take my own emotional temperature before helping other people increase theirs.

One of things I like doing with my morning reading is to read things on repeat. My go-to for this purpose over the last few years has been the relatively-unknown work of a 17th-century Jesuit priest named Baltasar Gracián. Sometimes translated as ‘The Art of Worldly Wisdom’, the Penguin version I’ve got (both in print form and ebook) is entitled The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence. It contains 300 maxims about ways to approach the world and, in the Stoic tradition, is kind of a pithier version of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.

Over the last few months, and in the last few weeks in particular, I’ve collected eight books in total which I’m currently reading on repeat. I’ll swap out any when I feel I’ve fully digested what they contain. So in addition to the two above, I’ve also got as a Kindle ‘daily reading’ collection:

At the other end of the day, before bed, I tend to read fiction. Right now, I’m reading the excellent Saxon series by Bernard Cornwell. It’s set partly in Northumberland (where I live) and was recommended to me a few years ago by a colleague when I was at Mozilla. I should have paid attention as it’s great!

Since we’ve returned from holiday, I’ve settled into a new routine in the evening after putting the children to bed. I’ll put on some ambient music and read in the small ‘cubby hole’ (for want of a better word) that we’ve got next to our bedroom in our new-ish loft conversion. I’ve just finished Invisible Forms: a guide to literary curiosities, which I stumbled upon in a secondhand bookshop while I was away.


A quick note about my intentions for where I’ll be focusing my attention over the next few months. I’m wary of making grand pronouncements of what I intend to do because, as the saying goes, man plans and God laughs. However, I do intend to make more use of my wiki in the future.* Along with starting to use Feedly again (and its excellent ‘knowledge board’ feature) it’s time to spend at least as much time on the side of the river, curating, as it is in the stream itself.

Spiral staircase

Finally, I’m always looking for ways in which I can help people achieve their goals in a way that also helps me reach mine. I make my living as a consultant, which means I’m a knowledge worker, someone who advises, synthesises, and creates. If you, or someone you know could do with my input, please do direct them towards my Dynamic Skillset website, or towards We Are Open Co-op!

[INCOMING] #BelshawBlackOps16 Pt.1

Since 2010, I’ve taken a personal digital hiatus for a least one month each year. This involves abstaining from social networks, personal email, and blogging in an attempt to be more mindful about my existence in the world.

This is a quick note to say that I’ll be away for the entire month of August. I’ll be spending all (or nearly all) of it camping around Europe with my family. The plan is to spend lots of time with my wife and two children, slow down, read, play, and be a different kind of person than I am for the rest of the year.

I’ll take the second part of my digital hiatus in December, after experimenting with the August/December approach last year and it working well. Taking two months together is a little too much, I’ve found. A month in the summer (sunshine! family!) is great, and a month in the winter (Christmas! Seasonal Affective Disorder!) is regenerative.

On our camping trip I’ll be taking minimal tech, but I will be taking my iPad and smartphone, so I’ll still have access to my work emails. Get in touch if you want to discuss working with me in September and beyond! I’m spending the next couple of weeks finishing up existing work for clients, travelling to California for some work with the Corona-Norco schools district, and tying off other loose ends.


Image CC BY-NC-SA Tim Britton

What I learned while dragging my family around Europe with a car and a tent


Right now, had plans hatched last year come to fruition, our family would be about to return from a six-month spell living in Gozo, a little island just off Malta. That didn’t work out in the end, but did influence this year’s holiday planning. We usually go away in Autumn half-term, but this year we decided to do something a bit different.

Given plans for the Gozo move meant trading down our lovely blue Volvo S40 R-Design Sport for a 10 year-old VW Golf Estate, we decided to use this to our advantage. Borrowing a roof box from a friend, we packed our tent and other things we thought we’d need and headed for the Newcastle to Amsterdam ferry. We’d sketched out the broad details of a route we wanted to take, and decided to tweak it on the fly.

In the end, we drove around 2,300 miles in two weeks through the following countries, making it down to the Mediterranean! We camped in the places indicated with asterisks:

  • The Netherlands
  • Belgium*
  • Luxembourg
  • Germany
  • Switzerland
  • Italy*
  • France*


What I learned about my family

My wife is an organisational superstar, immensely practical, and fun to be with. We’ve kind of grown up as adults together, as we’ve been a couple since we were 19 years old. And it shows: we take decisions together. The first trip we took together was backpacking around Italy after the second year at university. Then, she wanted to plan everything in advance to the minutest detail, and was fairly risk-averse. Now, 13 years later, she’s more adaptable, flexible and at ease with changing her approach according to the context. I’m proud of her.

I have to say that I was slightly apprehensive about the amount of sleep we’d get having a seven year-old and a three year-old in tow. But they we’re great. Really great. There were times I had to tell them off, of course, but that’s just part of parenting. They slept well, played nicely, and bonded even more closely together than they had before the trip.

While I have the privilege of walking my children to school every morning, this holiday gave me the opportunity to observe them in more detail than before. I noticed little things, such as they way my daughter reacts emotionally to some things, but logically to others. And I noticed that my son was squinting a lot; he’s now wearing his glasses all of the time, on my recommendation.

We all react to one another in set patterns. Changing the context in which we do this allows us all to shake up and re-form these patterns. This can have a re-invigorating effect; it certainly has done for us.


What I learned about myself

I don’t see myself as an uptight person, but I was a coiled spring on Day 1 compared to the second week of our adventure. I’d expected to do a lot more reading than I actually did, but really enjoyed the couple of books I dived into: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) and The Concise Mastery by Robert Greene. I really must write a separate post about the latter, as reading it has come at just the right time in my career. It’s both cheap and short, too, so there’s no excuse not to read it!

I took some time to reflect on my career as a result of reading The Concise Mastery. I’m at the point now with my current role where, ordinarily, I’d be looking around for my next job. I’ve never stayed at the same place for more than about two and a half years – and I’ve been with Mozilla now for just over two. What tends to happen is that I get so frustrated with the limitations placed upon me that I look to escape elsewhere. There are three big differences this time around: my role is almost continually in flux (and changes more formally with the approximately six-monthly reorganisations we go through); there’s a lot less organisational bureaucracy and politicking; and I’m much more in control of my working environment in my home office.

As with my annual #BelshawBlackOps, spending time away from social networks helped with putting things into perspective. It’s difficult to maintain critical distance when you’re immersed in the usual routine. Interestingly, one week wasn’t enough; had I gone back to work then I wouldn’t have had time to get into, and explore, a different mindset. Developing this mindset was helped by camping, an activity that forces you to focus on the essentials – sleep, hygiene, the weather conditions, food, etc.

I can’t remember where or when I read it, but I can remember clearly the philosopher Iris Murdoch saying that she’d never really had “a strong sense of self”. This introspective insight keeps coming back to me as a kind of refrain throughout my life. I believe that one’s sense of self is diminished as one plays an active role in a community. This is usually a good thing as it builds solidarity and breeds understanding and tolerance. However, it can be problematic in terms of knowing enough about yourself to keep on an even keel. These last couple of weeks, even though I’ve been with people almost 24/7, I’ve had the headspace to develop a stronger sense of self. It’s made me ready to dive back into those social networks ready to hold fast to what I believe.


What I learned about Europe

On the recommendation of one of the many websites we visited in reading up for this holiday, we downloaded and used the ACSI iPad app to locate campsites. As the ACSI was originally a Dutch organisation, we camped alongside families from the Netherlands everywhere we went. With the exception of one rude family at the last campsite, we found the Dutch not only expert campers, but friendly and pleasant to be around. The fact that they all spoke excellent English helped, too!

Having only previously been to European cities, I found it refreshing to go off the beaten path to places only accessible with cars instead of planes and trains. France has beautiful towns and villages, the Swiss mountains are just breathtaking, and the Italian lakes are peaceful. That last sentence reads as a cliché, but it’s true: experiencing something is different to reading about it. The difference between people living so close together in Europe is amazing, if you think about it.

As a 16 year-old I gained a grade ‘B’ in GCSE French. At that point I had virtually zero experience of the world beyond my own country, meaning that my motivation for learning other languages was slight. Despite this, it’s amazing how much of prior learning comes back to you when you need it. I’m not saying I was anything like fluent, but I at least was able to make myself understood in brief interactions. This experience has spurred me on to learn more for next year. I’m delighted that it seems to have had the same effect on my children.

Bellavita campsite


This holiday went even better than I’d hoped it would. In fact, we’re already thinking about next year and what we’d do the same and what we’d do differently. I’ll be updating and expanding the Camping page on my wiki into a fully-fledged section over the coming weeks and months in preparation for that.

If you’ve thought about just getting out on the road with your family and a tent, my recommendation would be to just do it! We were massively helped by our ability to use our Three data plan in most of the countries we visited, but even without it we would have got by just fine. Sometimes you can over-think things: just get out there and take the first step!

Weeknote #10

This week I have been mostly…


I wasn’t very well at the start of the week – just a bug but it made me feel awful. I took a couple of days off work.


With my parents away on holiday and Hannah at work I’d booked Wednesday off to look after Ben. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to go camping, just us two, for the first time.

Ben was really well-behaved, but the rain was absolutely torrential on Tuesday night! I thought he’d slept reasonably well, but he asked to go to bed when we got home and slept for another 3 hours…


I’ve got some important stuff coming up:


I’m continuing the JISC Mobile & Wireless Technologies review I started last month, having some really interesting conversations with some extremely innovative people. There’s so much to learn and synthesize!

My thesis is starting to slightly concern me. Although I’ve announced that I’m no longer blogging here every day I’ve got so much left to do. The trouble isn’t the writing of the thing, it’s the keeping up with such a fast-moving field! I undertook my Ed.D. mainly because I love researching but I have to say I’ll be glad when it’s all over.

An idea went through my head earlier this week about a short, free ebook that would serve as a productivity kickstarter. I couldn’t stop thinking about what to include, how to format it, etc. so ended up spending a few hours writing #onfire: ignite your productivity. Do let me know what you think!

HOWTO: Go Camping (according to my Twitter network)

The more time I spend in front of a computer the more I feel the need to temper it with being outside. We bought two tents last weekend – a family-sized one and another for Ben (my 3 year-old son) and I to go away together. It’s something I really want to do regularly so it’s second nature to him.
Continue reading “HOWTO: Go Camping (according to my Twitter network)”