the corner office

a blog, by Colin Pretorius

Exams are over

Second year exams are over. When I said I wouldn't have anything to say about my studies because I'd be too damned busy, that turned out to be all too true. It's been a crazy ride.

I've learned a lot over the past two years. Lots of statisticsy things, obviously, but I feel like I've also learned a bit about myself. I've learned, or re-learned, or perhaps just realised in a rather deep and intense way that I'd never realised before, that I really don't enjoy exams. I enjoy studying, and learning new things, but I don't enjoy exams.

No more exams thankfully, but I'm not out of the woods just yet. I still need to crank out a research project which doesn't suck over the next few months. There's still a lot of work to do, but at least it's a different kind of pressure, and I'm sort of looking forward to it.

And if that goes well (and assuming/hoping I didn't crash out in any exams), then I'll have added another piece of paper to my collection, and I'll be free. To do something else. I'm not sure what ... but I'm pretty sure it won't involve exams.

{2021.06.12 18:19}

Lockdown Easing

The first step of lockdown easing happened on Monday - outdoor dining and boozing allowed. I went into the office on Tuesday, and walking back to Charing Cross station after work, there were more than a few little vom puddles around London. Some people are clearly out of practice.

I took a slightly roundabout walk through the West End, to see what things looked like. A lot of places were still closed, but those which were open with outside tables were packed. My first thoughts were "you fools, you're all going to die!" I know they won't (well, most of them at least), but that's how a year of isolation conditions you, I suppose.

Beyond that, lockdown life plods on. I go into the office once a week, but commuting isn't much of a worry. I catch off-peak trains and they're quiet as can be. The tube is a little busier than the trains but not enough uncomfortably so. Along with empty coaches, some parts of the commuting experience are still very much out of the ordinary, like the Charing Cross toilets being cleaner than I've ever seen them, in 13 years of going through the station. In other ways, thing are very much unchanged, like the escalator going down to the Charing Cross tube station being broken every other week.

The next easing of restrictions happens in May, assuming the numbers don't start ticking up again. Will they? With more places opening up and people massing at restaurants and pubs, even if it's outdoors, it seems inevitable to me that they will, but time will tell.

{2021.04.14 20:11}

Snow Report 2021

One thing I remember from Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise was that weather forecasters are systematically pessimistic. They overstate the chance of bad weather. The reason for this is commercial - they've learned that most people are a lot less unhappy being told it'll rain and then finding out that it won't, than being told it won't rain and then having their picnic ruined.

My boys and I, however, are not most people.

The end of 2020 was mild, as it usually is, and then leading into January the weather forecasts were continuous, overstated pessimism. The forecasts kept saying there'd be sleet and snow "ahead" - a week ahead, a few days ahead, tomorrow. And then as tomorrow got closer, the forecast would change, and the sleet and snow would still be due but a few hours later, or the next "tomorrow."

One night the forecast was still predicting snow for the next morning. I should've known better, but I said to the kids "hey, the forecast says it's going to snow tomorrow morning." And of course it didn't, and the kids woke up to no snow, and the breakfast table was not a happy place that morning.

And then, a week or so later, it happened. Again, heavy snow forecast for the next day and the forecast wasn't changing. I said to the kids "look, don't get your hopes up, because we know the weather forecasters are LIARS who LIE all the time, and I've broken your hearts once this winter already, but there's snow forecast for the morning." And lo, we woke up that Sunday morning, and it started to snow, and it snowed pretty heavily for a couple of hours, and the kids went out and had a blast, and then it stopped, and by the late afternoon, it had started to melt. But at least we'd seen snow.

And that was just the start. A couple of weeks later, we had more. And more, and more. And in the end, we had snow on the ground for about a week, and even after that, while there wasn't enough to settle, snowflakes blowing past my window every couple of days become the new normal.

And what a wonderful normal it was. All in all, a pretty good snow result for 2021.


{2021.03.09 19:53}

A phone call

Almost nobody calls us on our land line except for spammers, so I don't usually answer with any enthusiasm if I don't recognise the number, if I bother at all. But today, I'm glad I did.


"Hi, it's Brian"

"Erm, I think you may have the wrong number, I don't know any Brians"

"It's Brian from Australia"

"OK no, I definitely don't know any Brians from Australia"

"Oh, ... oh, ... then I'm really sorry ... really sorry for wasting your time"

"No problem, ..."

"It's bloody hot in Australia"



"It's bloody hot here. In Australia"

"Oh, hah, no such luck here I'm afraid..."

"Where did I get through to? Malaysia?"

"No, the UK"

"Ah, that's where I was calling, my brother lives there, I was trying to call him."


"You don't sound English... where are you from?"

"South Africa, but I live in London"

(strictly speaking, "Greater London", but from the other side of the planet it's not worth explaining)

"Ah right, I thought so. What's it like in London?"

"It's pretty cold, just above freezing outside London, and I believe it snowed elsewhere... "

"No, I meant ... - the Queen's had the injection, hasn't she?"

"Oh, er yes, I believe so"

"That's alright then, if she's had it then you know there can't be any problems with it"

(me laughing)

"Well, listen, the best of luck to all of you over there, and sorry again for calling you"

(heartfelt pleasantries all round, end of call)

{2021.01.10 16:33}

Grounds For Divorce?

"I've just had a great idea"

"Oh, sh**"

{2020.12.23 20:05}

9 Months Later

I'd sort of forgotten that I had a blog. I'd written up a few more posts at the beginning of the year, but never did the final edit-and-publish. They're up, now. Beyond that, it's just been a busy year of studying and doing things. And of course, COVID-19.

We weathered the initial lockdown, and the madness of March and April. Shortages, stockpiling and kids going stir crazy.

I must admit to having a bit of a first-world freak-out as it became apparent that we wouldn't be getting a home grocery delivery any time soon, and I eyed our toilet roll supply with increasing alarm. But I gave myself a bit of a talking to, reminding myself that my ancestors had gotten by for a very long time with alternative technologies, as it were. And in the end, some friends shared a spare pack with us, and we shared with our neighbours, and then we had a grocery delivery, and nobody had to resort to flannels or sea shells.

In other ways, we did actually have shortages. Our eldest has shouldered off "you're drinking too much milk" admonitions for ages and ages. Apparently, suggesting we make him pay for excessive milk consumption out of his pocket money makes me a Grumpy Dad. Until one day, early in the lockdown, he polished off the milk, and we had to say "sorry son, there hasn't been any milk in the shops recently, and there's not likely to be for a few more days". It was a shock for him - his first introduction to Scarcity. And for at least a few weeks after milk supplies returned to normal, he allowed himself no more than a thimbleful a day, even after we told him it was fine, and that milk shortages were unlikely to return. Milk quaffing has since returned mostly to normal, but a "please go easy on the milk, we're running low" is now taken a little more seriously.

I've continued to work from home - mostly. I go into the office once a week. Ironically, the things I liked least about my commute before are now less of an issue. Walking through the West End no longer entails elbowing your way through hordes of selfie-taking tourists (it's now the occasional tourist looking lost, and a good few boarded up shops and restaurants). The trains and tube are also still really quiet, at least on my route. I've invented a new sport for myself, called 'tube surfing'. The idea is to stand in the open area of the carriage and try to do the entire journey without leaning against or touching anything. Extra marks if you do it with your hands in your pockets.

What else is there to say? The world's turned upside down, and even with vaccines looming, what will 'normal' be like in years to come? I'm grateful we're doing OK, so far. I know many people aren't.

{2020.12.02 19:20}


It says something about my news ignorance that when I saw the Sky News headlines at Charing Cross saying that Nadine Dorries had Coronavirus, my first reaction was "Nadine Dorries is the health minister!?"

The world has changed. I first noticed it on Wednesday morning - the Tube was quieter than normal. Walking to the train station on Wednesday night after lectures, the West End was quiet. Not a ghost town, but quieter than I'd ever seen it.

By Thursday, a person coughing on the train drew nervous glances from everyone around.

We had mixed messages coming from the university: first, an email saying one lecturer at the university had shown symptoms after a visit to Italy, the classes and people possibly affected had been traced and contacted. One email said students should stay at home if they wanted, but another said official government advice was that it was business as usual and lectures were still being held. But tonight at lectures, about 8 of us showed up, and just before the lecture started, the university announced that from next week, face to face lectures are all cancelled.

The West End was even quieter tonight. Surreal.

Most surreal of all - myself and most of my colleagues left the office yesterday afternoon for the last time in who knows how long - we're working from home indefinitely.

{2020.03.13 22:19}

Snow Report 2020

My annual tradition. I thought this year's snow report would end up being "there hasn't been any," but no. On Thursday I was treated to a marvellous five minutes of seeing snow flakes falling past my window at work. That, I've assumed, is it for the year.

Worth mentioning that this has been another winter of storms. I've lost track of the names and how far up the alphabet we've gotten. It started with some nasty ones, by which I mean 60mph gusts blowing things around the garden and flattening the occasional fence in the neighbourhood. During one recent storm we sat in the dark in the lounge one evening with the curtains open, watching the near-horizontal rain under the streetlamps and the trees blowing wildly. It was quite something.

Since then it's mostly degenerated into rain and heavy wind every few days. It's not snow, but it's at least interesting weather, which is better than nothing.

{2020.02.29 14:07}

John Wick Chapter 3: a review in two lines

They excommunicated him so he shot them in the face or kicked them in the nads, if the dogs didn't get there first. Not as entertaining as the first two.

(Previously. I'd thought I'd done a similar review for John Wick 2 which we saw sometime between the first and this one, and was pretty much the same: shooting people in the face for some reason I've long since forgotten)

{2020.02.15 21:23}


Something which happened over the past six months, is that I've become a (part time) student again. I enrolled for an MSc in Applied Statistics at Birkbeck, because as I used to say during my earlier studying days, having free time is highly overrated.

Actually, this comes just over 10 years after the start of my previous foray into the world of studenting, and is both a continuation of what I was doing, and in some sense, taking care of unfinished business. Life, work and everything else back then meant that most of my studies were a stressed-out blur, and while I graduated and got the piece of paper, I never got what I'd really wanted from the experience. This time around, the hope is that things will go differently. With life, work and everything else now being a bit more amenable to it all, I'm also trying to avoid some of the mistakes I made before.

Still, it's a lot of work. I intend to write very little about it because, well, I'm too damned busy.

{2020.01.25 20:45}

« Older