2021ii26, Friday: the small things.

The big things are critical. For sanity’s sake, the small things are still more so.

And… breathe.

Short thought: Following the lifting of our self-isolation on Wednesday, all three of us (self, spouse, daughter) went to get re-tested. We’re lucky enough to live in Southend Borough, which has a no-questions policy re testing; anyone can get it, any time. So we sat in the car, probed nose and mouth, coughed and sneezed as a result, and handed the results out through the window.

This morning: negatives all round. I could have danced.

So again, to the beach. And I was reminded, yet again, of something I learned long ago whose truth has become still more self-evident over the past year. 

The small things matter.

Which isn’t to say the big things don’t. Of course they do. And they can be hell to cope with. But they’re far, far harder if you don’t have a substrate of small joys to see you through the hard times. 

I know I’m lucky. My work is plentiful. My family are wonderful. My friends and colleagues are smart, thoughtful and caring. I have more luxury to look for the small things, perhaps.

But they’re all around us. Like this morning. Barely a breath of wind, the water lapping at the sand. And as I stood still at the littoral, the quiet whisper of the wavelets filled me. 

Small things like that. Priceless.

Someone is right on the internet: On the subject of small things (well, near enough), the Atlantic has something that rings true. I won’t spoil it – it’s a very short piece – but it sings the song of adapting one’s expectations to the circumstances:

Strive for excellence, by all means… But lower the bar, and keep it low, when it comes to your personal attachment to the world. Gratification? Satisfaction? Having your needs met? Fool’s gold. 

Read the rest. Worth it.

(If you’d like to read more like this, and would prefer it simply landing in your inbox three or so times a week, please go ahead and subscribe at https://remoteaccessbar.substack.com/.)


So important, it needs to be in shouty caps. Sorry.

Image from Aeropress's website. Much obliged.

A very old friend just commented on my desk du jour pic, noting the lack of “a bluetooth/app-controlled espresso machine”. Can’t argue with the principle of the thing, including the absolute centrality of caffeinated beverages to a successful life at the Bar.

However, this is one of those very rare occasions where low tech is best. My amazing and wonderful spouse gave me an Aeropress for Valentine’s Day. And it’s the best thing ever, coffee-wise. Heartily recommended, both on taste grounds and because it’s quick and easy to wash up…

Staying sane

Lots of people know more than I do about this. This is just what’s keeping me going.

I’m lucky.

I’ve always worked remotely. So while this situation imposes stresses, they’re not entirely the shock of the new. And some might say that at the Bar we’re a rather solitary trade anyway.

But life’s changed nonetheless. Our whole family, including our 13-year-old daughter, are all stuck in here together. We’re going to annoy each other.

And while I might not have stuck my head round someone’s door in Chambers every day, knowing that now I can’t is something that hurts.

All told: we’re all going to need ways of keeping our heads on straight. Particularly given that there’s no clear end-date in sight.

I’ll leave the ways of keeping in professional contact for another day, and for the purposes of this post stick to a few things that I think work for me. Again, everyone’s mileage varies. I’m not a psychiatrist, a therapist, a counsellor or anyone else with the slightest right to talk about anyone’s mental health than my own. But it might give you an idea or two.

  • Firstly, don’t just sit. If – like me – you have a laptop on a platform, for heaven’s sake push your chair back and stand up to work at it once in a while. Your back will love you. If you’re flash enough to have a standing desk, then you’re well ahead of me. Good on you.
  • Further on that – goodness knows we’re a profession that can tend to swivel-chair spread. And if you usually commuted by public transport, you’ve probably lost several thousand steps a day by staying at home. So get up, and get out. Until – and god forbid it comes to that – there’s a genuine lockdown, going for a walk, a run, a ride, a whatever, will work wonders both for health and sanity. In fact, there’ll probably be fewer vehicles moving about – so the air will be cleaner and the roads safer. Make the most of it.
  • Better yet, find some form of exercise you can do. I play capoeira, a Brazilian martial art which is just about the most full-body form of exercise imaginable. (I play it badly. But I still love it.) My school, Brazilarte, has had to close its doors like other gyms and suchlike – but it’s running online training. For £20 a month, this is nothing short of a bargain. Find yourself something similar.
  • From the physical to the life of the mind and the soul… As a profession, we can tend towards the obsessive. So this is the perfect time to find something you can practise and perfect – or at least try to. Fallen behind on Duolingo, Drops or Memrise? Take a break from work (ad hoc or on a schedule – whichever works for you) and learn a language. For me it’s Portuguese. Or Korean. (Although I try to avoid the K-drama fest on Netflix. That’s a rabbit hole you’ll never get out of.) Or Gaelic. (Actually, Netflix can help with this – once you’ve downed tools of an evening, there’s a Google Chrome extension which allows you to pause, repeat and play back subtitles. Excellent. Again, watch out for the rabbit hole though…)
  • If you’re a musician, this is the perfect time to practise. I play the piano. Sort of. Ish. But I’m now practising more. If jazz is your thing (as it is mine), then there’s a wonderful guy in the US called Willie Myette. His site, Jazzedge, isn’t cheap – $349 a year or $39 a month – but it’s full of truly eye-opening video lessons and tuition. I gave it to myself as a birthday present late last year, and it’s been worth every cent several times over already. If you’re a beginner, Willie has just made the starter course on his beginning piano lesson site – Home School Piano – free till 1 September. Just sign up and go. Lovely man. I’m sure there are equivalents, and free resources, elsewhere for both the piano and other instruments. Go for it. But remember the neighbours if you decide to take the violin or trumpet up from scratch…

Finally, one more thing. We spend our lives immersed in the written word, and we might want to escape it when we step away from our desks. But novels are freedom for the heart and mind. Doesn’t matter if they’re deep or trashy, literary or genre. (Or all the above at the same time.) If you’re not already into ebooks, start now. You don’t need a Kindle, a Kobo or whatever. There’ll be an app for your phone or tablet. Go for it. Don’t starve your soul, people. Let it fly.