Reflections on water bills… No, really.

I’m dubiously assured by the clever scales at the gym that I am around 64% water, which according to a quick Google search is either 4% too much or 6% too little but, by any way of reckoning, it’s significant proportion.

Water is essential to us being alive. Not only is it the majority contents of the meat bag behind this keyboard, but it’s also crucial in so many day to day activities – washing, cooking, cleaning, flushing, and – of course – without it, those waterproofs you’re keeping in the drawer would be entirely pointless.

There have been, and continue to be, public debates about how our water companies work. The FT does a relatively regular article in which they point out the folly of the way things are run; political parties argue for nationalisation; others talk about giant sewers cutting London in half; but what no one seems to talk about is the real issue affecting us all.

No water company, and I’ve experience of 3 (which feels like it might be above average) seem to have put any effort at all into their billing process – despite, presumably, water being the main thing a water company sells.

I have just had a quarterly statement which is what prompted this post; once again it brought news that having used some water, which was not what they expected, they needed to change the amount of money I am paying each month. It follows the last bill which told me I’d used some water, which had surprised them, and prompted them to put my bill down.

In seven years with this company, I have received 28 quarterly statements and 28 of them have told me I need to change what I’m paying, while also reporting – like most of our water bills, I imagine – a mundane, relatively consistent water usage. I live in a flat, I haven’t suddenly got a pool to be filling.

Where one bill professes that I have overpaid and can take a bit of a break – reducing my payment down to around £2.99 a month – the next will assert “you are not paying enough” and put it up to £40. And then the cycle will repeat.

By now at least 50% of my bill must be going on the admin team associated with changing the direct debits alone, and another 10% must be funding the 8 pages of charity fundraising and explanations of why I have to pay for water included with each one.

Why, in a world intelligent enough to have created gravy granules, can a water company not develop a billing system capable of working out – after six years of collecting evidence – how much water I use in a year, and, adding a smaller buffer perhaps, divide the cost of that by 12?

It’s not the biggest issue facing us today, I know, but we’ve got to start somewhere – and it’s these things which really niggle me.

You don’t have to do anything you don’t enjoy

Like you, I’ve had quite a lot more time to spend on the Internet over these last few months, and maybe like me you’ve also noticed that some of the fear, confusion and boredom of that time has been driving some of the worst parts to the fore.

When I joined Twitter back in 2007 it was a very positive place where people came together, and shared things they knew or had found. I followed my friends, and some people I’d never met, along with some celebrities.

I met people on there who I’ve since made into real friends (and a husband), and in 2012 I wrote my dissertation all about how Twitter was creating a place for us to meet and discuss the issues that affect us all.

But it has long felt different to how it used to; the echo bubbles abound and – as someone seeking to find both sides of the world and try and understand them – I’ve often felt caught between two warring tribes, convinced the other half are not only wrong but have poor intent.

What’s the point in sharing an opinion, on a platform perfectly designed for it, if your only persuasional technique is to say it louder, or with a more critical tone?

And as it (I’m guesturing wildly) went on, that only got worse.

And as it got worse, I remembered a book I’d read back in 2009. How to Leave Twitter, by Grace Dent. And more specifically I remembered the advice in its first few pages: you can unfollow, and follow whoever you like.

But 13 years of collecting people I now realise I might not want to hear from is a lot of people to unfollow. And for what?

Maybe when this is all over I’ll sit down and go through who I follow; when the world looks a little less scary and the predictions a little bit less close to my reality.

After so many years I guess I hadn’t remembered: I could just walk away.

And that’s an important lesson that we’d all do well to remember more often, I think. You do not have to do anything you don’t enjoy.

Sure, there are consequences sometimes to that choice – you don’t have to take your next breath – but if you’re not enjoying something, it’s worth checking the consequences of stopping are worse than the consequences of keeping going.

Objectives are important

I feel as though I’ll regret writing this post, but I feel the need anyway.

I’m seeing a lot of people who are saying they are communications experts judging the latest modifications to the Government’s advice communications and arguing that they are “bad comms”.

Ultimately, it’s easy to say they’re right. The messaging is vague, requires an explanation to make sense, and clearly moves from a direct “do as we say” type of message to a more suggestive “this is on you” kind of message.

But is this ‘bad comms’ or not?

Well, what is bad comms? It’s comms that doesn’t achieve its objectives. And the problem with making any judgements on this is that (unless I’m missing something) with the best intentions, we’re only guessing at the objectives that were set.

We are all talking about it. We are all paying attention. We are all aware of what the messages are and – because it is vague, and we’ve been talking about it – we’ve also been paying attention to the “complex multiple page explanation” – the nuance that is necessary for phase two.

And so I think it’s possible, possible, that the campaign is delivering exactly what those in charge wanted.

I’m sure we’ll have many conversations, thoughts and perhaps studies on this in the future, but that’s my contribution.

Reflections on ‘make a podcast’

Making a podcast is easier than it has ever been, that’s for sure. For a start, there’s plenty of help out there for the budding podcaster, and lots of people have gone before – so the mistakes are well documented.

It is no longer necessary to make your own arragements for a website, to find a way of creating an RSS feed in the right format nor to even submit your podcast to the various directories that exist – one tool (I picked Anchor, but others exist) can do all of those bits for you. But it still isn’t easy.

I decided, having started looking at the Adobe Audition tutorials, that editing a podcast was the perfect challenge for me to put my newly learnt (and soon to be quickly forgotten, if not used) skills to the test.

And so 3MoreWeeks was born. A look at the impacts of a virus-restricting lockdown imposed on us by the pandemic none of us can miss. How hard could it be, I thought?

I thought I’d jot down my thoughts here, as some kind of reminder to myself for podcast 2 (that’s inevitable) and a sharing of learnings for you (if you’re stumbling across this post, thinking you might want to start a podcast of your own).

Ep03: Work 3 More Weeks

Work is one of the most drastically affected area of our lives. Many of us are continuing to work, but doing it from home, some of us have stopped going altogether (and are being paid, at least in part, by the Government for it) and some of us have a new status of "key worker". Will we ever return to regularly commuting to the office? Will we keep our new-found admiration for "key workers" … or will it all just go back to being the same as it was? My guests: Dan Slee is co-founder of Comms2Point0. He's freelance, with years of experience working from home – and its pitfalls; while Dan Gough is a creative UX designer who has travelled the world while working. No guessing who's on which side of the argument for this edition.  This episode was recorded on 25 April. — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/3moreweekspod/message
  1. Ep03: Work
  2. Ep02: Education
  3. Ep01: Trailer

Ultimately, creating a podcast is creating a whole thing and if you’re doing it by yourself you’re going to find yourself turning in shifts as a presenter, producer, researcher, editor and publicist. If it’s just a hobby task alongside a job (like mine) then that is actually quite a bit of work to find time for.

If I do another podcast (well, I have a mic now) here are the things I’d be carefully considering.

Finding guests

This one really comes down to the format I’d chosen for the podcast. If you’ve just gone for doing the research and then talking it out then you can skip over this bit. But I didn’t. My plan was to speak to people who knew what they were talking about, and they… well, it turns out they are easy to find, but harder to co-ordinate, especially when you have a busy diary yourself.

But what totally surprised me was how willing people were to help. It might not be a surprise to you (perhaps I don’t have enough faith), but almost every person I asked said yes.

Of course, the environment will have a big impact. I imagine comparing staying at home to taking part in a podcast (at home) had an impact on my success rate.

Technical problems

At the time of writing, I’ve recorded two episodes – and edited and released one – and none have yet gone by without technical issues which have made it harder to get the finsihed product out the door.

On the first record, one of my guests’ microphones wouldn’t let them record on Zencastr so we had to switch to Zoom at the last minute.

On the second Virgin Media had a downtime so big it made the news, taking one of my guests with it fully and another on a connection that ducked in and out throughout.

Either way, recording a podcast remotely and keeping high quality is tough – even with a great tool like Zencastr. Wish me luck for episode 3.

Editing is daunting

Despite being the whole motivation for the project, learning about editing made me realise just how much hard work it would be.

First, the technical problems meant it was even more of a hassle than it had needed to be – I’d ended up recording on Zoom and so editing it was more challenging. A single, relatively low quality audio file was the product – no seperate wav files available. That meant no easy way of separating out what is said by one guest to another, and no way of editing the voices seperately (where levels are different, for example) without a lot of work.

I actually gold-plated this bit and re-recorded all of my side of the conversation, so it was at the quality I’d wanted it to be.

Second, I’d decided to “leave it to the edit”. It was always part of my plan to edit the first part of the podcast, including the welcomes on to the start of the episode, after the recording of the interviews. I wasn’t going for an “as live” recording so I didn’t have to get everything perfect when I had my guests on the line. This made sense from the outset – it reduced the pressure on me, and made the recording shorter potentially – but with hindsight it actually just created a more daunting, problematic edit.

I’ll be doing epsiode 3 ‘as live’, to avoid this problem and speed up my production process.

Going public

This is one of the most important parts of the podcast, if you’re interested in listening figures. I’m not really that worried about people listening to my podcast, but if you want listeners then you have to get this right.

Too early and you’ll do what I did and end up with a frustrated audience of family and friends who thought that when you posted to say you were doing something you meant you’d do it, y’know… soon.

That’s exactly what I did (totally in as you’d expect me to). I went live when I’d made a logo, bought a domain and recorded a trailer (I didn’t even have a script for the trailer, I just hit record and spoke). It added pressure, and that’s not what a creative needs to be creative.

Next time, I’d have the first episode ready to go (on a schedule) when I first exposed the podcast to reality, so I had a head start – and the space to be the creative procrastinator I know I am.

What is success for me?

I pulled this question out of my new “wordsmith” deck of writing prompts. I thought I should write and post something and so here I am with a coffee and an iPad.

I feel like “define success” in various iterations, is one of those things you’re supposed to be able to do a ‘call and response’ with. It shouldn’t need that much thought because it’s been drilled into you exactly what it means from a young age.

“What is success?” someone must shout, whilst you must retort with something platitiduinal (is that a word?) like “it’s a journey, not a destination.”

And that’s not an incorrect statement, but it is – for me at least – an unhelpful one, I think, without further nuance. And I’m sure I can’t be alone. In fact, I feel a bit like my closest relative might be a Sat Nav.

I’m competitive (I want to get there the fastest way possible), I’m goal-driven (tell me if you want me to avoid motorways) and need to know where I’m currently aiming to end up (try using a sat nav without setting the destination).

So I guess the response to “define success”, when it’s shouted out, should be something like “success is a series of destinations on a journey you have no choice but to make, each of which will slowly influence the final destination a tiny bit perhaps and almost certainly the battery will go and you’ll end up needing to be permanently plugged in to function.”

That is less snappy, in fairness. But it’s also true. As I look back over my last 10 years the answer to “what is success?” in some areas of my life – particularly work – has changed repeatedly, based on where I’ve been when I’ve asked.

I’ve reached it in some areas of my life, while others have suffered from a lack of attention as a result (and stood languishing not in “success”). In some areas, it’s become a joint journey rather than a lone, long drive. But whenever I’ve arrived at success, like a sat nav, I’ve found myself thinking “New destination?”

Chris Evans may have become an unintentional philosopher in explaining this when he left Radio 2.

“I’m going to leave. I’m leaving Radio 2,” he told listeners, but promised he’d stay on air until Christmas.

Explaining the decision, he said: “Some of us are mountain climbers [but] if you get to the top of your favourite mountain and you stay there, you become an observer.

“I want to keep climbing.”

So while it’s really tempting to give closure and say that success is something that can be defined in things or feelings or emotions, I’m going to take a “cop out”.

Success, to me, is knowing what your current destination is and what you’re doing to do when you get there. It’s having the flex to pick your own destination, to discuss it with the person you’re sharing it with, and to be able to keep track on your progress.

And a new one for me, and one that might shock you if you know me in reality: success is, I think, having the time to stop, and sit, and quietly enjoy where you’ve got to so far (perhaps in companionable silence – my new favourite phrase).