Weeknotes s01e03 — Hibernating


A late blog this week — not because I had a particularly busy weekend, but because I deliberately made sure I didn’t have a busy weekend. The sun was out, I spent a lot of time drinking coffee on the balcony and thinking about whether I should get additional flowerpots and what I’d put in them, but knowing I wouldn’t because I’m not very good at paying consistent attention to plants.

This week was hard. I was in London on Wednesday; the office is a 5 minute frogmarch or a 10 minute dawdle from Westminster, and despite seeing and hearing nothing of the awful events down the road in real time, it really got to me. I wondered how I would write about it, how I can communicate how it’s made me feel without being ridiculously over dramatic. This article by Deborah Orr sums it up for me — I needed to reach out and be with people I love, and who love me; I felt shocked by the randomness, the proximity. I felt horrible that there are such horrible people in the world. But as with many acts of violence, you see so many acts of love too that bubble up to try and counter and protect us from the raw fear and feelings of helplessness.

Wednesday afternoon meant that I wasn’t on top form on Thursday and Friday. I worked, I did stuff — but my brain wasn’t firing. It was on hold, and waiting to hibernate. So I hibernated this weekend, with sunshine and pasta.

My main work focuses have continued: working on a quality assurance process for policy making; and preparing for a ministerial meeting, collating papers and ensuring briefing notes are coherent and consistent. This week I was…

Monday — Bristol Office
Tuesday — Bristol Yurt
Wednesday — London
Thursday — London
Friday — Bristol

I’ve not ventured back to the 4th floor recently — I’ve been tucking myself round the corner on floor 2, on the side of the building which faces the library. This means a view of beautiful architecture, and being able to connect to the free Bristol City Council wi-fi network I helped to install six years ago. This is where the Strategy folk and EU Exit Programme Office park themselves, and my teammate and I worked together on the ministerial meeting prep — it was a busy day with teleconferences, checking content, formatting and seeking feedback from our Deputy Director. When I look back to a week ago I can see how much I’ve learnt already, and how I know I’ll be quicker at these tasks next time.

On Tuesday it was a different day altogether. I worked from home in the morning (no, I do not live in a yurt), continuing the tasks of the previous day, and then went to the yurt for an away day with the Business Planning and Performance team. This was a day for our two teams to get to know each other better, and discuss areas where our work overlaps and how we can work together more effectively. For me it was great to learn what our BPP team does, and as most of them are Bristol-based I already recognised a few faces. I wasn’t expecting to learn about the team through the media of poetry, pictures and interpretive dance, but I can’t deny that did happen. The space was very happy — a circular room with natural materials and plants, and the Bristol weather mostly held itself together. There was only a short period of rain, which was lucky as when it did start hammering down it was really hard to hear each other over the sound of stair-rods on canvas. After we’d finished our drawings of our ideal superhero colleague (ours was the ‘Can-Do Kid’, complete with shorts and juggling balls) (but no cape — I missed a trick as the nominated artist there), some of us went back to the office for a tour.

Horizon House is an interesting building — it’s won awards for sustainability, and is open to the public each year for Bristol Open Doors. A few of my London-based colleagues wanted to see where we worked and visit the Environment Agency’s National Incident Room, and as I’ve given tours before I volunteered here. After being signed in by our receptionist who sounds barky but is not in the least bit bitey, I took them over the building, pointing out the carpet tiles made of recycled tyres, the thick concrete walls that absorb and re-radiate heat, and the atrium that acts like a chimney with its automatically opening windows. We even ventured on to the roof garden briefly, although that was when the Bristol weather decided to revert to type, so we didn’t stay long.

Downstairs I attempted to talk through the processes and procedures of the National Incident Room, but fortunately one of the very knowledgeable EA incident team stepped in to fill all the gaps I’d missed! I’ve worked on incidents many times over the last four years, and it is something I enjoy, but I do forget all of the parts of the work which are not to do with making maps.

Wednesday was an early morning train, a couple of team meetings, a lunchtime walk, and a strange afternoon. After a murmur went around the room that there had been shots at Portcullis House, I checked in on twitter and some different news sites. After not very long, I checked out of twitter — there was too much conflicting and distressing information, and so kept tabs on the news sites instead. I flitted between being very absorbed in work, and entirely distracted by the news. I felt very calm. It felt very similar to being in the middle of an EA incident, where you know there’s a lot happening, but you’re insulated from it. There was an announcement over the tannoy advising us we could not leave the building, and then another about an hour and a half later saying we could, but not to go towards Westminster. Looking back now it seems surreal, and I did feel a little detached, but without being aware of it.

On Thursday I walked into work, past armed police at Vauxhall tube station, and taking a detour at the junction of Horseferry Road and Millbank to avoid the media vans which were almost forming a blockade across the roundabout. The only indication from the office of the hive of activity and previous day’s events was the police cordon on the link road to Millbank.

Thursday morning - Houses of Parliament at half mast.

I encountered the Secretary of State for the first time, as she held the door open for me walking through to the lifts. On another day this would have been the most notable event of my day, but it hardly registered in comparison with the police cordon.

I did carry on as normal though, and feel far stranger about that now than I did then. Continued to set up meetings, had good chats with colleagues, made plans for the next phase of a piece of work and finalised meeting papers, checking in with one of the Director Generals that they were happy to approve. It was only when I was on the train home that I really couldn’t wait to get home. Westminster was still a no-go direction, and as I got closer to Bristol I got more and more tired, and felt more and more overwhelmed by what had happened over the last 2 days. More than anything I just needed to see my partner.

I had a plan for Friday as I knew I would be busy, but was consistently half an hour behind it from my arrival time at work until mid-afternoon when it just went out the window. It became apparent one of my tasks was going to take much longer than I’d anticipated, especially as I wasn’t feeling all that sparky.

At our morning team meeting we talked a bit about how we’d been feeling, and I wasn’t alone in the impact taking a little while to sink in. The afternoon consisted of further meeting preparations, giving my first ever end of year feedback (noting how I can do it better next time), and although part of me was itching to continue with work that needed to be done I forced myself to go home at 5.30.

I’m glad I properly stopped. I revisited work later in the weekend when I felt better able to think, but my period of hibernation meant I could do that. It’s felt like a long week, but then it often does when a lot has happened.