2020 for me

2020, the year of the virus, has been pretty alright for me actually. For me it was never going to be a normal year, with a new daughter arriving in January. By comparison the virus …well it’s a big deal, but impacted me relatively lightly.

The wife planned to be on maternity leave for a full year, expecting lots of quiet mother-daughter bonding time. Instead she’s had to put up with me working from home. During that first lockdown, the 4 year old little terror was at home too. I remember a period of a few weeks where the virus was pretty big news, having clearly arrived in the UK, yet still not quite impacting anyone significantly. Then suddenly things moved fast. My company decided we’d all work from home. At the time it seemed very cautious on the part of my employers (OpenCorporates) and I suppose it was a nice expression of care towards employees. But as it turned out, it was only a week ahead of everyone being told to work from home (first lockdown). It was a relatively easy transition for us, since we’ve always been geared up to do our software development work from home. Just a matter of getting used to the whole team being at home the whole time. We’ve since ditched our office and gone remote-only, as I’m sure many companies have.

I remember some friends laughed off the virus as an overreaction at the early stages, and I did begin asking myself a question which I can’t help keeping in the back of my mind: “Will history remember it as an overreaction?”. There’s a paradox. With a multiplying virus we need to take aggressive measures before they seem necessary. If they work, they won’t seem like they were necessary. I don’t envy decision-makers dealing with that lose-lose choice. My twitter feed is full of people either explicitly advocating stronger measures, or expressing worries about the virus (which implies we should respond more aggressively). I think that’s right, however I can’t help also thinking ahead to a time in the future where we will all look back and say “well that was a whole lot of fuss about nothing”. It’s almost inevitable actually. Surely the smart (cowardly) choice is to hold off being opinionated until we can be wise in hindsight. That said, I do have some opinions.

The first lockdown was the big one and (anecdotally) it felt like people were taking the virus more seriously than they are now, in my corner of North Islington. Myself included if I’m honest. I remember heading out to the supermarket, trying to choose a quiet time, and trying to get in enough supplies to avoid any more shopping trips for a week. The streets were eerily empty in a way I haven’t seen since (No traffic. No people. Crows squawking on a nearby rooftop. End of civilisation kind of vibe).

I followed a few people arguing for wearing masks. In the early days there was concern that demand for masks would cause a shortage for NHS workers, which I guess was the main reason it wasn’t a big recommendation. That seemed like a missed opportunity in the early days of the virus response. There could’ve been more encouragement to make your own mask (seemed quite fun to me!) But masks continue to be a missed opportunity. In this second wave they’re easily available to all, and required when shopping, and yet somehow many people who frequent my local corner shop don’t seem to have got that message. Given what an easy virus solution masks are (compared to other restrictions and shuttering of businesses) it is a shame people don’t seem to be doing it enough. I can only imagine this means people are not washing their hands enough either. Am I arguing for more enforcement? Not sure, but with so much debate and anguish about the tough measures of closing schools/theatres/pubs/whatever, it’s a shame if these relatively painless solutions are getting skipped by many people.

These days the news is all about the different tiers, but (because we’re lucky I suppose) the different tiers make very little difference to our lives. For us the big thing is school closures. Whether the primary school and nursery remain open makes a big difference to our lives and … some news just in … turns out schools are closing again next week. Oh joy.

Educating/entertaining the kids more than anything else, has been the theme for the year. Our son just turned 5 and so he started at school reception class this year. The daughter is turning 1 and has started at nursery. During the first lockdown our son would have been in nursery, but it was closed for his final months there. More recently during his first months at school:

  • 1st They sent the class home for one week due to a covid case
  • 2nd We were all self-isolating awaiting a test result for my wife, which took ages (quite a bizarre experience and a story in itself)
  • 3rd He got chickenpox!

Three weeks at home in all. It feels like more, maybe because school closes earlier than nursery. Coping with this extra childcare has been largely down to my wife to look after both kids while I was working, since she’s on maternity leave. She found that quite tough. I think in general our lad’s at an age where we’re struggling to find ways to avoid just screaming at him for being naughty the whole time!

But it’s also quite an interesting stage he’s at. I thought we were doing ok at introducing him to maths and reading/writing (not just with the games I developed!) and I was imagining he’d be ahead of his class for the first half year or so. But no! At school they’ve been motoring on through to more advanced reading and writing and he’s been coming home with ideas about writing whole sentences. I need to develop some new games! The pace of his learning (and the teaching) is impressive. I think less progress was made when we were officially supposed to be home-schooling. There wasn’t much to the materials his teachers posted onto “google classrooms” (and wow that google sign up process is surprisingly broken). Probably we should’ve done better at adding more structure.

But I do quite enjoy coming up with whacky ideas to entertain him. The xmas cardboard “reindeer project” as a recent example. I’ve been taking him on regular walks to try to burn off his energy. Avoiding unnecessary transport, this means we’re restricted to his walking range from the house around the neighbourhood, so I’m taking it as a challenge to avoid route repetition (That’s for my own entertainment. He’s probably not bothered), and I’ve been getting some OpenStreetMap address detail mapping while I’m about it. Sometimes I can interest him in reading people’s door numbers.

The 1 year old daughter meanwhile, is mostly a smiley bundle of joy. Of course it’s a kind of nappy-filling joy, and she’s less joyful when she head-buts the furniture (which is often), so it is also hard work looking after her. Because of the virus our family (especially the grandparents) are sad to be missing out on seeing all the rapid growing up that babies do in their first year. I had worried that she would be missing them, and generally missing meeting anyone outside the house, but she’s started nursery now, and seemed to take to it reasonably well.

But my wife has had a lot of extra time doing childcare and got a bit fed up of it at various stages. During the first lockdown she was craving an escape from the house, while I felt quite at home staying at home (I’ve been practicing for this moment my whole life). So she went online and booked a summer holiday cottage in Cornwall. Bit expensive as they were booking up fast, but we had a very pleasant week in Portscatho. The week before we were due to go there, the evening news had a piece on how Cornwall was overrun with visitors. Certainly when we went to the bigger town of St Ives, it was packed, but otherwise not so bad. Shopkeepers there were taking the virus very seriously. Strict distancing and mask wearing enforced. On the whole the biggest virus risk felt like the dirty overcrowded service stations on the motorway to get there.

The day job at OpenCorporates has been keeping me very busy. Working from home does make a difference and (this seems to be unusual but) I’m trying to decide if I like it. I’ve always allowed the day job to spread into my evenings but that feels different now that there’s no office time and no cycle home to divide up the day.

My OpenStreetMap obsession has fallen by the wayside in 2020. I think this is mostly because there’s been no OSMLondon pub meet-ups, which in turn makes it easier for me to forget about OpenStreetMap. I’ve neglected the Communications Working Group for example. Sorry about that. Hopefully OSMLondon pub sessions will resume in 2021!

So overall 2020 saw a lot of focus on family. That’s kind of a nice way of saying “focus on coping with childcare” although …it has been good on the whole, and I’m sure this year has been harder for many people. There’s some things to worry about with what’s coming in 2021, but let’s be optimistic. Happy New Year!