the corner office

a blog, by Colin Pretorius

Snow Report 2024

Snow in the park

I timed it rather well. The forecast had said that snow was imminent. A few flakes were starting to come down as the boys and I bundled into the car, and it started snowing properly just as we got to the park. The snow got progressively heavier as we trudged towards the woods. An hour or so later, the snow had stopped, and we made our way back to the car, a thin blanket covering the fields.

And that, sadly, was all the snow we've had this winter. We were treated to some extremely cold weather in the weeks after that - dropping to -5C at some point, which is the coldest I've ever known it to be in our part of the world. But other than that, it's been another winter of storms, which, as always, isn't snow, but is at least interesting.

I don't know if this happens each year, and I just forget it, but I realised that winter was drawing to a close when I was standing on the train platform one mid-afternoon, and I could feel the warmth of the sun on my face; it no longer just being a cold, watery orb hanging low in the sky (not that I mind it being a cold, watery orb hanging low in the sky, that's what makes winter, winter). And then, within the space of two weeks I went from wearing a coat, to just wearing a hoodie, to taking my hoodie off on the longer, scenic walk home because it was getting too warm, to my Kiwi colleague coming to work in shorts and a t-shirt. The weather turned again, and he had to admit defeat, but coat weather is long gone, and the daily highs and lows inch upwards with the inevitability of the new season.

(Previous snow report, in keeping with long tradition, with gaps for 2022 and 2023. I don't remember whether it snowed in winter 2022, but my photos tell me we had snow last winter, enough for the boys to roll around in, at least).

{2024.04.10 05:17}

Catching up

So, what's happened since 2021?

I was never happy with how flippant I was in my final post about finishing my Masters. "project that doesn't suck". "another piece of paper". In-jokes for me, but probably nobody else. I'd said the two years had been heavy going, but finishing the research project turned into an even heavier three months as I rushed to get it all done. But in the end, I handed it in, and it was all over, me vowing I'd never put myself through that again, burned out, but free.

And then it was Ronwen's turn to go back to university, and my academic efforts since have been largely self-driven, when they've been driven at all.

Beyond that, I got COVID. And again. And again. Each experience was slightly different, but entirely horrible, and well over a year after my last (officially tested) bout of the disease, I still don't feel like I've fully recovered. It's been getting better since January, but it was quite sobering. Was this just me recovering from COVID, had I just lost that much fitness, or was I getting old?

Speaking of which, I turned 50 (and then 51). Turning 50 was ... a birthday, much like any other, except with more navel-gazing. I joke that I had my mid-life crisis in my 20s, and that wasn't pretty. I don't know whether I'm allowed another one. But either way, I'm now a 50-something. Mortality beckons, but youth still taunts from afar.

As of a couple of months back, my eldest is now taller than me. Maybe there's something to drinking lots of milk, after all. I perceive a subtle shift in the dynamics in our house. He'll stand next to me occasionally, I think just... enjoying it.

I returned to South Africa for the first time since we left in 2006. It was good to be there again, although it left me with mixed feelings. It was also a reminder that South African childhood, even now, is different to UK childhood, and I was glad that our boys got to experience something of it. We decided that they (and perhaps just a little less frequently, me) will be back more often, and for longer.

And finally, our eldest has been home-schooled for years, and as of last year, our youngest is, too. (Downsides: few, if you don't value free time. Upsides: off-season holidays. See previous paragraph).

{2024.03.20 05:10}


Few things on the Internet are sadder than a blog which has just slowly petered out. What is sadder, though, is a blog which slowly petered out, and then there's a post saying "hi! It's been a while, but I plan to start blogging again, hope to write more often," and then that, possibly with a desultory follow-up or few, is the last you see for years after.

I risk some sadness, therefore, by doing exactly that. It'd be far safer, surely, to just shut it all down, or (as some do), have a final post saying it's over, thanks for reading, but I'm done.

In truth, I had decided to stop blogging, and take the whole lot down. I got as far as writing up the page saying "my blog is gone, farewell!", which would have been about the only page remaining on my website. It had a lame joke about quality/quantity and it not being worth the effort to maintain and there being more important things I'd rather be doing, and saying maybe someday some of it would come back but life goes on etc etc. But ironically, a perfectionist part of me wanted to fix up the default "404 not found" page so that if anyone followed an incoming link to a now-missing page, they'd get a nice explanation and link to the "my blog is gone, farewell!" page.

So for ages, somewhere far down my TODO list, was an entry saying "read web server manual and tweak the 404 page config". But because there were more important things I'd rather be doing, and life was going on etc etc, the blog just sat there, petered out, with a post from June 2021, and AWS collecting a few quid a month (VAT included) for a mostly-forgotten blog, in perpetuity.

And then at some point recently, I mentioned to Ronwen that I was going to shut it all down. And she looked rather disappointed, and I felt a bit guilty. And I got to thinking. There was the TODO list item and firm resolution to shut it all down, but another part of me was saying, I do sort of have an itch to write again... But did I really want to start again? Didn't I have more important things to be doing? Wasn't life supposed to be going on, etc etc? What did I hope to accomplish? Would the blog just go from being sad and petered out to the even-sadder "I'm back! Hope to write more" variant?

And the answer is I don't really know. That may happen. But instead of taking it down, I'm writing this. Maybe I'll forget (again), maybe I'll shut it down sometime soon anyway. But in the meantime, here's a post, and a vague promise that there'll be more.

Now the fun part will be to see how soon anyone notices.

{2024.02.17 18:34}

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}

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