Author Archives: Stephen Hale

Reboot

It’s 4 months now since I left my job. I said in my valedictory work blog that I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next, and that is still true. I haven’t felt any urge to rush back into an office. I’ve had little difficulty occupying myself with other things.

It’s been an odd period. I’ve struggled to name it. I was calling it a sabbatical, or a career break. But neither is quite right.

When I’ve told people that I’m not working some have been envious, but some have offered pity, as if I’d actually rather be employed (I wouldn’t), or am in the midst of a breakdown (I’m not). My situation is not sustainable indefinitely of course, but I’ve been enjoying not working.

More recently I’ve started to think about this period as delayed paternity leave, which feels more accurate to how I’m spending my days. More Swedish.

With more time available to me each day, I have occasionally felt guilty that I’ve not been using it more productively, that I’ve not made more progress on the grand plan.

But I have ticked off several little things I’ve been half meaning to do for years. And I’ve spent time with my dad, I’ve hung doors, and climbed a mountain. I’ve also had lots to divert me, like the Champions Trophy and the Women’s World Cup, and The West Wing Weekly, and elections.

I’ve spent no time at all thinking about the manoeuvring and politics of office life. I really haven’t missed any of that. But I have spent a lot of time thinking about the things I was trying to achieve through my work. A bit of distance is probably giving me some useful perspective on all that.

When I stopped working I unsubscribed from a bunch of RSS feeds and withdrew from some conversations, adjusting who and what I was paying attention to. I felt the need to clear the cache and reboot. The other day I quietly turned on an IFTTT applet, connecting my favourited Pocket articles to my dormant Twitter account.

Tribute

I used to tease Mum about her Walsall accent. Most of the time you couldn’t actually detect it, but it was definitely there – when she was excited or anxious, or when she used certain words: kettle, arboretum, pikelets. She didn’t get annoyed (I was definitely annoying). In fact, she never really got annoyed with me. Or at least if she did she hid it well.

I’ve been looking through a lot of old photographs with Alison and Dad. My favourite is one of Mum running at a sports day, aged 9. On the back, in her handwriting it says “I won this race”.

A couple of things struck me as I looked through the photographs. Firstly, that it was harder than I expected to find photographs in which Mum is the focus of attention. I think that Mum was generally more comfortable when she wasn’t the centre of attention.

The other thing that struck me as I looked through the photographs was how much of Mum’s life she spent doing things that she absolutely loved doing, and became expert at. There are photographs of her dancing, and teaching, and in her garden, and with her family. She did things that she really loved doing a lot, and I think that made her happy.

Mum was ill for a long time. She knew exactly what was happening, she was sometimes in pain, and towards the end she was definitely frustrated that her body wouldn’t allow her to do the things that she wanted to do. But she was determined to keep going.

So in December she came down to London for Stanley’s birthday, even though she probably wasn’t well enough to. She wanted a normal family Christmas, and she sat at the head of the table as usual with her family around her, and I know that she loved that. And she carried on dancing until it was no longer physically possible.

She didn’t really talk to me about dying. We always had something more interesting or urgent to talk about. But the last time I saw her she did tell me that I should look after Dad. Her actual words were “you should make sure Dad has enough cricket matches to go to” but I knew what she meant.

One of the things we were able to do with Mum in the last few years was to go on short holidays, mostly to places of her choosing. We never went for very long, and sometimes Mum would have to pause the holiday half way through to travel to London to get treatment at the Marsden. But she would come back the next day and just carry on.

One of the photographs I picked out is from one of those holidays. It shows Mum sat on a rock, on a beach, on Holy Isle, waiting for a boat to take her back to Arran. The sun is shining, and we’d just walked the length of the island and back. Mum is doing something that she loved doing, and she is happy. And that’s how I’m choosing to remember her.