Weekly Update: Ink Washes, Health Scare and Finding My Stride

It’s been a while since I posted an update, and there’s been fewer posts than usual during the last two months. This is mostly because I started a new job in June, and it’s been longer hours and more work than I anticipated at first. I am enjoying myself, but the change means I have less free time, and that I need to prioritise things differently to better fit the things that I care about into my life. Was moving from a cushy and undemanding job to an interesting and fun but much more demanding one a mistake? Time will tell, but so far I’m not regretting the switch.

As I’m starting to find my footing, I’ve been able to find more time for my hobbies. During the early days of my new job the only thing I did was work, exercise, sleep and eat. Then reading came back into my life, and journalling and sketching followed. Meanwhile the Sketching Now Watercolour course is over and I only had time for the first week, but thankfully the materials are all available online so I’ll be able to complete it all eventually.

What’s left my life almost entirely so far is watching TV, and I doubt that it will regularly return. In terms of media consumption, I read and listen to podcasts and that’s about it. I will watch specific things on Disney Plus or watch Adam Savage make things on YouTube, but even that isn’t something that I do often these days. It’s not a value judgement on TV – it’s just that I have less time now, and of the things I could easily get rid of, this was one of them.

Lego Orchid set (it’s gorgeous). I find building these sets very relaxing, and as you can see in the background, I have quite a few more to build…

Another thing that went out the window is social media. I’ve stopped checking Twitter and Facebook regularly. The only thing left is Instagram, which I still spend too much time on for my liking, and as Facebook starts messing with it I may likely leave as well.

Health

I had a bit of a health scare in late June. It was 6 months after my last chemo treatment, and I had some blood work done for a check up with my hemato-oncologist. One of the results was extremely low, and it was for a test that people rarely get and I certainly have never gotten before, so I had no baseline to compare it to. What little information I found online indicated that I either was going through kidney failure/had a kidney tumor or had a rare form of blood cancer (beyond the blood cancer that I already had). Two sleepless nights later my hemato-oncologist (bless her), told me that everything was OK. The rest of my blood work was good, and this test was meaningless for people in my condition. She never asked for it, and I don’t know what possessed my GP to ask for it. In any case, I am now officially well enough to go on the regular post treatment checkup schedule, which means once every three months. Yay!!!

I’m running five times a week now, four 5ks a week and I’ve now started to work in a long run in the hopes to get back to running 10k. It’s tough running in this heat and humidity, especially with my lungs not being 100%, but I’m pushing through and enjoying myself. Running is my meditation, and has remained that way even though I now also meditate as part of ACT.

I’m also going twice a week to lift weights in the gym, nowadays with a mask on to avoid COVID. I’ve been vaccinated four times, but am now working from home again and staying masked as I can’t afford to get sick with the state of my lungs. Practically nobody is wearing masks anymore, and almost everyone around me is sick, so it’s been frustrating to try and stay healthy under these conditions. I’m hoping that the Omicron variant vaccine will be available here in a month or so, and I’m keeping an eye on the numbers to know when I can go back to the office and see people face to face again.

Reading

I’ve finished Hillary Mantel’s “The Mirror and the Light”, the third and final book in her trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. I’ll write a more lengthy review of it on Goodreads, but I will say that I got tired of the book at around the 60% mark (it’s about 900 pages long), and it didn’t really recover from that point on. I can see why Mantel struggled with this one, and I don’t regret reading it, but it’s not as good as the previous two books, and it could have done with some robust (and perhaps ruthless) editing.

I’ve also finished Ali Smith’s “Companion Piece”, which is a companion piece to her seasonal quartet of novels (Autumn, Winter, Spring, Summer) and is excellent. You don’t need to read the quartet to enjoy this book, and “Companion Piece” would also be a good introduction to Smith’s writing. It’s written in stream of consciousness style, although it’s fairly easy to understand (nothing as complex as Joyce), and there’s a joy in her writing, compassion, insight and humour that make reading her always an enjoyable and worthy pastime.

As these were a bit challenging to read, I had an Agatha Christie “palate cleanser” in the shape of two novels: “The Man in the Brown Suit” and “Crooked House”. “The Man in the Brown Suit” is a detective/adventure story that was originally light hearted, but today just doesn’t work. There’s too much racism and sexism to bear, especially if you know anything at all about the history of South Africa, diamond mines, and labour relations in Africa. “Crooked House” was one of Christie’s favourite novels, and it’s a fun and interesting book with many original characters (and yes, also spots of racism).

Pens, Pencils and Notebooks

I’ve been playing around a lot with ink washes lately, as I’ve written here. They’re a fun and quick way to add colour to a sketch, and having a limited palette makes me appreciate colour values more.

Quick sketch of squash plants gone wild in a local garden.

I’ve written almost all of my fountain pens dry, with the exception of a Franklin Christoph 45L Sage with a S.I.G fine nib (filled with Bungobox June Bride Something Blue ink) and a Platinum Plaisir filled with the blue cartridge it came with. The other fountain pens I have inked (two Lamy’s and two Sailor Fude pens) are used for sketching and not writing. I’ll likely fill up a few pens next week.

From left to right: Platinum Plaisir, Franklin Christoph 45L Sage, Sailor Fude pen, Lamy Lx Rose Gold, Lamy Safari white and red, Sailor Fude pen.

The BigIDesign Dual Side Click pen arrived from the kickstarted that I backed, and it’s fantastic. I hope to have a review up next week, but so far I’ve really enjoyed using it, and I think that it’s their best pen yet (which is saying something).

I’ve decided to start switching around the pencils that I use, instead of writing one down to a nub. I’ve been using a vintage Eberhard Faber Mongol pencil this week, and a Musgrave Tennessee Red one. They’re both #2 or HB pencils, but the Tennessee Red one is much softer and darker.

I’ve changed the way I use my notebooks, streamlining certain things, consolidating notebooks on the one hand, and starting a new notebook (MD A5 blank paper notebook) for insights and ideas that I would have previously explored on social media and now prefer to explore in private, on paper. I’m no longer chasing likes for these things, as I’m more interested in giving the thoughts in my head time and space to grow and change, and Twitter and Facebook are the last places to allow for that.

All the Rest

I’m back to decluttering my house, a project that I had started working on before I got sick and until now didn’t have energy to get back to. Yesterday I found a stash of half used notebooks that I forgot that I ever had, and it was bizarre to go over them and read what my pre-Covid, pre-cancer self thought about life in 2014-2015.

Weekly Update: PET CT, Pens and Mischief Movie Night In

I haven’t written an update in a long time, because my neuropathy has gotten much worse since I finished my treatments. It’s painful to type, to write or draw, and it gets worse in the cold. Of course we’ve been having a series of cold days here, which has meant that typing a blog post has been a considerable challenge.

Two Egyptian Geese are having a dip in a roadside “pond”.

Health

I went through a PET-CT, my third and hopefully my last, last Sunday. It’s a long and not very pleasant experience, but it’s not the worst thing in the world. This week I’ll get the results and discuss with my doctor what to expect over the coming months. Meanwhile, neuropathy is kicking my ass, so posts will be sporadic until things get a little better.

This contraption injected me with radioactive sugar before my PET-CT.

I also got my fourth Covid vaccine, in the hopes of staving off the dreaded Omicron variant. I’ve been constantly masked and hiding as much as possible at home, but I’ve got a series of hospital visits coming up, so I’m hoping that the vaccine (and mask) will help me avoid infection and stay safe.

Reading

I started a new reading challenge, but I’m taking my time with it. I just finished the fabulous “The Trees” by Percival Everett, and the pretty terrible “All’s Well” by Mona Awad (lots of good intentions, terrible delivery). If you enjoyed “My Sister, Serial Killer,” you’ll love “The Trees”. It is a darkly funny, fast and very clever detective/revenge story that is just a joy to read, despite the very difficult topic.

I’m not sure what’s next on my reading list, but it may just be a non-fiction book before I delve into the next Tournament of Books pairing.

Writing

My hands are making writing problematic, but I did manage to write a pretty long post on the blog this week. It’s a taste of a project that I’ve been wanting to work on even since I got sick, and I look forward to be able to actually sit down and type for longer periods of time to get it done.

Currently Inked

I finished my Diamine Inkvent 2021 reviews with 32 pens inked, and I promised myself that I will write them all dry. That’s the most pens I’ve ever had inked at one time, and it’s turning out to be quite a challenge, but a fun and interesting one. This week I’ve written four pens dry (a Lamy Safari, two Monteverde Giant Sequoias and a Sailor Pro Gear Graphite Lighthouse), bringing the count of inked pens down to 22. It’s slow going because I have trouble using my pens, but I am making an effort to journal each day with them, so I do hope to write them all dry by the end of next month. I’ve been using them in my Moleskine, because I love their format the best, and just writing on one side of the page since I have enough notebooks to afford to do that. That way I can use the pens I like in the notebook I like and not worry about avoiding bleedthrough.

Other Things

I got back to running, which is major. I’ve been a runner since November 2011, until the 7 month break in running that I was forced to take last year due to my cancer and treatments. It was very hard for me to stop running, and it is difficult to get back into it now for various reasons, but I’m lacing up and getting out there and that’s what matters at this point. The most important thing I’m having to learn is to be kind and patient with my body after all it’s been through.

I’ve also watched the charity broadcast of the Mischief Theatre group (of “The Play that Goes Wrong” fame), “Mischief Movie Night In: The Wizard of Paddington Station” . You have until the 31st of January to purchase a ticket to see the broadcast and all the profit goes to charity. It’s a fun, family friendly way to pass an evening and do some good at the same time.

2021: Looking Back at a “Heavy” Year

My hands have been killing me with the worst neuropathy since my treatments began, so I’ve been trying to limit my typing to what I need to do for work. That is why this post took so long to write, and why my posting schedule may be a little off until things improve with my neuropathy.

2021 was a hell of a year for me. It started with me doing Liz Steel‘s excellent Sketchbook Design course. I also took some fantastic and very illuminating tea seminars with Juyan Webster from the Chinese Tea Company. If you have any interest in tea and you get a chance to have a tea seminar with her, I highly recommend it.

Early on in the year is also when a close family member got diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and that’s also when my journalling went on the fritz. This was the notebook I was using at the time, a Moleskine Pokemon Charmander limited edition and I abandoned it 2/3rds of the way through.

Abandoned Moleskine.

Covid was raging, I was working from home, at a new job, and I spent the first quarter of the year trying to fit my drawing and running into the new quarantine rules that kept getting both stricter and more confusing with each iteration. I happily got vaccinated as soon as I could, and I’m still very grateful to the amazing scientists and doctors who came up with vaccines in such a short time frame.
I managed to participate in the OneWeek100People challenge, which is very demanding but also a lot of fun. If you can spare the time I recommend giving it a try.

In the beginning of April I started having shortness of breath (dyspnea) while running. It got worse with time and soon I couldn’t run at all, and then I couldn’t walk very fast or far, climb stairs, etc. After a long and laborious road to get a diagnosis, in the beginning of June I learned that I had cancer, and in the beginning of July I got a diagnosis and started ABVD chemotherapy to treat Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
A few things helped me get through that incredibly difficult time. First and foremost, my phenomenal family (mother, father and brother) that rallied around me and took care of me from the moment of the first diagnosis and to this day. I can’t imagine going through this process without them. Almost as important were my friends, who visited me in the hospital and cheered me up, and kept in touch and cheered me on during the treatments. Finally it was journaling and reading. I started this Moleskine “I am New York” on the day I was first admitted to hospital, and writing in it gave me perspective and kept me sane.

Journal of a bad year.

And books? Books have always been my comfort and escape. I saw a few things on Disney+ while I was hospitalized, but books helped distract me from a lot the most unpleasant and painful parts of this journey.
I was happy to discover that one of my favourite Moleskine limited edition series, the denim ones, was back in stock, and so once I finished the “I am New York” journal I moved into this Moleskine “Skinny. Flared. Bookcut.” one. It’s such a well conceptualized and executed design, it was a joy to use. This was when I decided to regularly use fountain pens to journal with, and just use only one side of the page. I have more than enough notebooks to support that decision.

This notebook took me through the second part of chemo to the end of it.

And now, and the beginning of 2022 I started a new journal, a Moleskine Peanuts Sakura. Pretty, right? Let’s hope I get to fill it with good news and positive thoughts.

A new Moleskine for a new and better year.

Some favourites from the past year:

My favourite pen was the Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass. Quite a surprise for me, but it hasn’t been out of rotation since I got it.

Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass – fantastic and beautiful pen.

Another pen purchase that came in at a close second was the Diplomat Elox Rings and the Diplomat Aero (basically the same pen with a slightly different body design). These are wonderful workhorses, and a joy to use.

Diplomat Elox Rings on the left and Diplomat Aero in Champagne on the right.

I didn’t read as much this year as last year, but I did read a few really great books. Here’s a list of a few standouts among them:

  • The Good War, by Studs Terkel. WWII as I’ve never experienced it before – as seen and told by the “regular people” who lived through it.
  • Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. Not an easy read by far, but a breathtaking work of fiction nonetheless. Worth the effort.
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz. A surprisingly moving tale of a character that you won’t expect to fall in love with, and yet you will.
  • Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, by Hillary Mantel. Why should I care about Thomas Cromwell? How can you not care about Thomas Cromwell after reading these books? An era and place come to life, in a world filled with complex and compelling characters.
  • Nomadland, by Jessica Bruder. Watch the movie AND read the book. Both are excellent, and both offer a chance to look into a part of modern living that we were hitherto oblivious of.
  • Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir. Just a fun and interesting sci-fi novel. If you enjoyed the Martian, you’ll enjoy this.
  • Underland, by Robert Macfarlane. What happens in the deep dark places beneath our feet? A lyrical work of non-fiction.
  • The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller. The love story between Achilles and Patroclus told with great gentleness and heart.
  • Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro. An understated and masterful work of science fiction that explores themes of humanity, identity, friendship and love, among other things.
  • Harlem Shuffle, by Colson Whitehead. How can you write a heist novel that isn’t a heist novel but rather a story of a person, a time and place? Whitehead’s writing is exceptional, and Harlem Shuffle is just another proof of that.
  • The Expanse books 1-4, James S.A. Corey. I haven’t read book 5 and onwards yet, but I did read the first four books of The Expanse this year. They aren’t perfect (Holden is a bit much), but they are very good at world-building, with interesting and unique plots and complex and believable characters (apart from Holden, who is a bit much). The books are each written in a different style, and they improve with time.

In terms of art supplies, 2021 was the year of the super-granulating watercolours from Schmincke, and also when I added Daniel Smith watercolours to my palette. Schmincke just announced that the super-granulating colours will be permanently added to their offerings, and that they are issuing three more permanent sets into this series (Desert, Shire and Vulcano), and another limited edition set, Haze.

I’ll be talking about planning for 2022 on one of my next posts. In the meanwhile, have a great new year, and don’t forget to take time and breath.

Nock Co Cases: An Urban Sketcher’s Companion

When I received the Nock Co newsletter Brad Dowdy sent, letting people know that he was closing the company down, the first thing I did was rush to buy every case I could lay my hands on. After I had secured my order I let myself feel the full measure of regret that such a great company is soon going to be no longer.

I use Nock Co cases a lot. This is just what I scrounged from a quick pass around the house:

Final Nockshot? A bevy of Nock Co cases.

The Nock Co website is still up and there’s still some stock left, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to write how I use some of my Nock Co cases, and recommend that you go get a case or two or more while they’re still around.

Sadly the Sinclair, my go to Urban Sketching case is out of stock at the moment. If it will be restocked or you find one in the secondary market I highly recommend it. Like all Nock Co cases it is built to last, and like all Nock Co cases it can hold much, much more than is advertised. My Sinclairs hold a slew of brush pens, fineliners, a mechanical pencil and an eraser, a waterbrush and a folded up piece of paper towel. I have several of these Urban Sketching kits deployed in several sketching bags, ready to go when I am.

The Tallulah is not sold out, and is also a must have case for Urban Sketchers. It holds a mini version of what my Sinclairs hold (again, it can hold so much more than the advertised two pens) and is compact enough for me to be able to toss it and a Stillman and Birn pocket alpha into my purse as an ultra portable urban sketching kit.

Got coloured pencils? Like sketching with woodcase pencils? The Chimneytop is for you. That’s where I keep my coloured pencils and their graphite counterparts. The design is simple but effective in that the middle zipper allows you a better view and access to the pencils you’ve placed inside.

The Brasstown is also sold out at the moment, but if it comes back in stock it’s a must have. This is where I keep the fountain pens and machined pens that I have in rotation. If they aren’t in a Sinclair, they are in a Brasstown. The Brasstown keeps them safe from scratches, and can hold even the widest barrelled pen. Like all the other cases, it can hold much more than advertised.

You really can’t go wrong with a Nock Co case, and I’m really going to miss them. The design, the material, the construction quality – there are many case makers out there but not many that get it so right all the time.

Now go get a Nock while you can.

How I Use My Notebooks: Daily Planner Update

I last posted about my planner and to do list setup here. To recap, my planning system includes two large Moleskine hard cover squared notebooks, one in which I plan my week, and one in which I use as a daily to do planner. I started using this setup once Covid hit and I started working from home. It worked very well for a year and a half.

Then I got cancer.

I was hospitalized for a month, in which I discovered that I have zero control over my time or how my day will shape out. When I got out I was already on a Chemo regiment. I had to make adjustments to my life, this time because of my personal health, not a global pandemic.

Score (another) one for self-made planners.

My old system was generic enough that it fit into my new lifestyle with very little adjustment. The weekly notebook stayed mostly the same, as you can see below. The main difference is that I manage less stuff there and more using reminders in Fantastical. It’s not that I don’t like paper planners any more, it’s just that Chemo Brain is a possible side effect of my treatment and I don’t want to risk not getting something important done because I forgot to check my weekly planner at the right moment, or I saw something there but didn’t remember it after I’ve seen it.

So why keep the weekly planner at all? Because it helps me see how the week is shaping up, and because it allows me to do a little long term planning, despite everything. All my plans at the moment are in two week batches (dictated by my chemo regiment), and this layout allows me to manage them.

Another addition to this notebook is a few tracker pages, marked by tabs. Some track purchases that I’m waiting for, some track bureaucracies that I need to take care of, others list things that I want to get done eventually but I haven’t decided yet when or how.

As for my daily planner notebook, I just finished one and started another. Here’s the finished notebook:

Moleskine Large Hardcover squared with a Star Wars The Last Jedi decal on the cover.

Here’s the new notebook. I love using these decals to make these notebooks my own:

Moleskine Large Hardcover squared with a Star Wars Chewbacca decal on the cover.

I used to manage every day on a full spread, with personal to dos on one side of the page and professional ones on a another. Since my life is less busy now than it used to be, I’ve downsized my to do to one page per day, with personal and professional mixed in (I work from home). This is a sample of my least busiest day: it’s a chemo day and I wasn’t planning on working after this treatment since it was a long one. Door to door I was in the hospital from 6:40 to 14:00, and completely wiped out after it. I don’t usually list my meals or naps in my notebook, but chemo days are so crazy (in terms of what my brain does on steroids) that I have to write everything down. Things that I didn’t do get a strike in them and are moved forward to another day.

Everybody has different needs from their planner, and those needs oftentimes change unexpectedly, and out of sync with “planner season”. It’s one of the reasons why I find making your own planner, working just a few days or a week or two ahead is the best and most consistent way for me to manage my time. There are some great planning systems out there, but if you’ve struggled with using them, or if your circumstances make you need a very flexible system, I highly recommend picking up a squared or lined notebook and creating your own.

How I Use My Notebooks: Three Good Things

I’ve been going through a rough time lately, and as many people have been so kind to say, staying optimistic despite all the bad things that I’ve had to deal with lately is key to getting through this terrible time. That is, of course, easier said than done. My mind tends to latch on to the painful and scary parts of the day, to the bad feelings, anxiety and doubt. It doesn’t help that we are all living through difficult times, and it’s hard to see and end in sight.

So I’ve started a new habit during the past month, and it’s helping me end the day on a positive note, with an added bonus of helping me use up some of my many notebooks.

I end each day by writing at least three good things that happened that day. I dedicate a page for each day, in my Dingbats notebook, with “Three Good Things” as the title, the date and day, and then the list of good things. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to find that day’s three good things, and for most days so far I’ve managed to find more than three good things to reflect on. They are usually conversations that I had with friends, or moments where I felt like my old self, or things that I enjoyed reading or watching.

Writing these down has been so helpful in getting me to see the good in each day, and in trying to stay positive when life is pretty tough.

Princess Diana’s Wedding Dress

On the day before our last of our latest trip to London we went to see the Royal Style in the Making exhibition at Kensington Palace, colloquially known as the “Diana Wedding Dress Exhibition”. The tickets included a visit to Victoria’s childhood rooms in the palace, and the exhibition had other dresses on display, but you knew immediately what it was about once you entered the exhibition pavilion.

The dress was prominently displayed, most of the visitors (not many, due to Covid restrictions) were congregated around it, and it was HUGE. The thing was large, and puffy like an overdecorated wedding cake, and had a train that was just bananas. I can’t imagine what it was like being cramped with so many meters of lacy, embroidered fabric in the back of a car on her way to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Looking at that dress I thought to myself that it ended up being more symbolic of Diana’s life than designers Elizabeth and David Emanuel had envisioned. She was stuffed into an overly symbolic, stifling, uncomfortable life that made it difficult for her to show her best qualities: her warmth, her ease with human connection, her genuine care for people, and the simple way she just lit every room she entered.

Royal Style: The Wedding Dress and Two Better Dress Designs.

There were two other dress designs in the exhibition that caught my eye. The first was a salmon coloured dress that David Sassoon created for Princess Diana as her wedding day dress and she ended up wearing as a “working” dress. It’s much more sensible, colourful, chic and warm and it although it still has terrible 80’s style stamped over it, you can see how it would have worked well on her at the time.

The second dress is prototype of the Queen Mother’s Coronation dress, and it is sleek, chic, and yet also intricate and sophisticated. Of all the dresses in the exhibition, this dress best stood the test of time, and I could see it be worn by an A-level star at the Met Gala.

If you are in London and you can get tickets to this exhibition, I do recommend going, both to see Victoria’s childhood rooms, and to see the dresses on display (although fair warning, there aren’t many of them). Princess Diana had a good eye for fashion and how it would allow her to connect with people (she didn’t wear hats because you can’t cuddle a child with a hat, and she liked costume jewellery because it gave the children she picked up something to play with), and to send subtle and not so subtle messages about what was going on in her life (search for the black sheep sweater or the fabulous “revenge dress” to see what I mean).

London: A Trip to a City Emerging From a Pandemic

I was in London for the past two weeks, and it was a strange and unique experience. Until Covid-19 I used to visit London once a year, every year. Once the travel restrictions changed so that I didn’t have to quarantine on the way there or on the way back, I decided to book a trip. It ended up being a good but somewhat bittersweet trip, with a lot of interesting new caveats and restrictions that I had to take into account.

Kensington Gardens on a sunny Sunday with very few people outside.
Kensington Gardens on a sunny Sunday with very few people outside.
  • I was travelling to London from a Green List country. That meant taking a Covid test 72 hours before the flight, filling a Locator Form, and taking a Covid test within 2 days of arrival. On the way back I had to take a Covid test 72 hours before my flight back, as well as another test upon arrival. These were all PCR tests in my case, which were uncomfortable to take (first time I took a Covid test) but not painful. They were expensive, and dealing with them did add an added layer of hassle to the trip. In London I bought a test package from Randox, using the British Airways code to bring the price down (it was still much, much more expensive than local tests here – 60 GBP per test after a 50% discount), and dropped the test at a clinic near the British Museum. I would have said that the experience was smooth, except one of the kits that I ordered had a test tube that wasn’t sealed properly, which meant that all the preserving liquid inside leaked. I got a replacement from Randox, but it was a hassle to get them on the phone and get my test kit replaced.
  • London is not for the spontaneous at the moment. You have to book every museum visit in advance. There are fewer musical and theatre tickets on sale as social distancing requirements are still in effect, and there are less show on, which means you need to book well in advance and there is no lining up for day-of tickets. Exhibitions are also at limited capacity, which means that for the popular ones at the V&A, for instance, you will have to book more than a month in advance. Concerts are the same deal, and many churches no longer offer concerts due to social distancing requirements. If you want to see or hear anything, you’re going to have to plan it out to the minute well before your trip.
  • Places are closed or have closed down. I expected that to some extent, as this was case here as well, but I was taken by surprise by the amount of closures, considering just how much support (relatively) the UK government provided to citizens during the lockdowns. Antique markets seem to have taken most of the brunt, with Portobello being a gutted (many arcades are half or three quarters shuttered), Spitalfields reverted mostly to crafts and food, and Greenwich losing one of its markets. A lot of stores in the most expensive and touristy parts of town (Covent Garden, Oxford/Regent Street) are closed and papered over with posters etc so you won’t notice as much. Some have moved to places with lower rents, most have shut down.
Socially distanced performance of Six: The Musical. Chairs with the cardboard sign remained empty. About half the chairs in the picture are marked with signs.
Socially distanced performance of Six: The Musical. Chairs with the cardboard sign remained empty.
  • There are upsides to visiting London now: there are much fewer tourists, which means much fewer lines to things, accommodation prices are lower, and as long as you book a ticket in advance, museums and attractions are emptier. There’s no shortage of cabs after a show, and you usual can find a place to sit in any restaurant you want to.
  • A lot of places have moved to contactless payment only (i.e. no cash), and restaurants are among the most aggressive of the bunch in terms of movement to no cash payment. In many places you will order your meal via an app or a website, and in almost everywhere you’ll be required to scan in via the NHS covid tracker app, or provide your personal details for tracking purposes. If that’s something you feel uncomfortable with, I understand, but do know that you are in one of the most surveilled cities in the world when you’re in London, so maybe it’s not the city for you.
  • Masks and disinfectants everywhere. Not much else to say about that.
  • Museums and larger stores have designated entrances and exits now, which means that you can’t go in through any door that you want.
Trafalgar Square deserted.
Trafalgar Square deserted.
  • London is still London though: there are a lot of interesting things to see and do, especially if you plan ahead. We saw the refurbished wings of the National Gallery (they take you through one of three set tours across the gallery, or you can do more than one tour. It’s not a guided tour – just a path that they want patrons to follow). It’s well worth the visit. We saw the Alice exhibition in V&A and it was wonderful, and the Fantastic Beasts exhibition the Natural History Museum, and it was nice, especially for children (very interactive).
Covent Garden. very few people outside.
Covent Garden. I have never seen it so empty before.
  • We also heard a jazz concert in St Martin in the Fields, heard Handel’s Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall, and even managed to see Princess Diana’s dress at Kensington Palace. All in all it was a good, if peculiar trip.
Fantastic Beasts

Analogue Planning and Task Management in Covid Times

When Covid-19 hit last year and I started working from home my old task management system completely disintegrated. It was a combination of trying to find a new work/life/health balance, coupled with starting a new job that really made me aware that my old running daily work checklist and home checklist were no longer going to work. I was also keenly aware that I could no longer do any long term planning, and yet that I had to find a way to plan ahead somehow, or I’d accomplish none of my long term goals. After trying several systems with little to no success, it took until January 2021 for me to find a system that worked for me. In the hopes that this may help someone build out their own system, here is a glimpse into mine.

The system is built into two separate Moleskine Large Hardcover Squared notebooks. This was my notebook of choice for my previous system, and it has served me well. I don’t use fountain pens for my planning, just fine gel pens, and I don’t mind the ghosting, as I find that it’s more pronounced in photos than it is when I actually use the page. One notebook is my weekly planner, and I reference it about once or twice a day. The other notebook is my daily task list, and I reference and update it all the time. Why two notebooks and not one notebook with both a weekly plan and daily pages? I tried that and the need to constantly flip between pages with no ability to see my weekly plan before me as I create my daily task lists was too much for me to deal with. I don’t have a dearth of notebooks and I do have dearth of time and attention, so two notebooks it is.

Here’s a weekly notebook spread:

Weekly notebook spread, before filling.

Each spread in my weekly notebook is divided between my weekly schedule/plan on the the left hand side of the spread, and a weekly goal list on the right hand side. This is a sample of the following week’s spread before I start really filling it. On the left hand side I fill in the days of the week and the dates. I put in appointments and things that I need to take into account while doing my planning, but this page isn’t a replacement for my Fantastical calendar. I still want and heavily use a digital calendar with reminders, but this notebook page is crucial for my ability to see and plan ahead. I plan and think better on paper, and so if I have a D&D game on a certain day, I know that I need to schedule time to prep for it. This is also where I plan my weekly training: when I run, when I go to the gym and when I rest. I also use it to plan ahead things that I need to be aware of for my mother’s various doctor’s appointments, from reminders, to various forms that need to be filled, blood tests scheduled etc.

The right side of the page is the most important part of each spread, as it is where I plan out what I want to get done each week. My yearly goals are broken down and mapped out week by week here. I break the goals down by title, and then write down 2-3 related goals under each one (except the fitness goal which gets more). Some goal groups are consistent – fitness, reading, writing, blog, cleaning. Other goal groups change depending on the week and my focus. The “Also” goal group is for miscellany, such as watching a weekly episode of a show that I don’t want spoiled, or renewing/cancelling subscriptions.

The daily notebook is much simpler, and is merely an evolution of my old task system, adapted to working from home:

Daily task list, in the afternoon of the day it was created.

On the left side of every work day there is a professional task list, with work related things that I want to do that day. On the right side of the page is the personal task list, with stuff that I want to do before and after work. On weekends the two sides of the page simply both list out personal tasks. This system is clear, simple to use, flexible and doesn’t require a lot of “meta” effort to set up or maintain.

If you’re struggling with time management lately, take some time to create a system that works for you and doesn’t overwhelm you. I highly recommend not using a planner but rather creating your own schedule, since it saves you from the disappointment and stress of empty planner pages. It also allows you to add specific pages to your setup as the need arises. For instance, as global shipping and our local post office have gone haywire since Covid, I dedicated a spread in my weekly notebook to tracking various shipments. When I need to go to the post office to collect a package I note it down in my schedule, and so it was easy for me to use a different page on the same notebook to track the status of each package.

Let me know if this was helpful, and if you’ve also been forced to revamp your planning over the past year.

TIMEX x DDC

I tried to get my hands on the Timex X DDC Scout watch designed by Aaron Draplin for three times before I managed to snag one. They are sold out so quickly that if you want one you really need to set an alarm and be quick with your keyboard and mouse. Then our local post office tried to do a vanishing act with my package, but finally, a month after I ordered it, I got my hands on this orange and black beauty. I only use analogue watches, usually Swatch watches (in recent years it was System 51 Swatch mechanical watches), but I’ve never owned such a heavy watch. It took me a day to get used to it, and since then it has been my constant companion. It is a beast of a MACHINE but an eye catching one, and I couldn’t be happier with my purchase. I highly recommend getting one, if you have any interest in watches.

This page was created as part of Liz Steel‘s Sketchbook Design course and is all about the white space.