The Future of Money

I had a rare day off today — the kind that’s not just a day off from work but from childcare too — so took the opportunity to visit the Bank of England Museum, and in particular their new exhibit on The Future of Money which opened this past Wednesday.

Poster outside the Bank of England Museum advertising The Future of Money exhibition

To be completely honest, the main reason I went was to see the new banknotes featuring King Charles III, which are planned to go into circulation later this year.

A complete set of British banknotes and coins featuring the new King.

The way things are going with payments shifting away from cash in favour of cards and digital payments it’s not obvious how much we’ll all end up using these. As if to highlight the diminished role of cash in my life, it was only when I looked at the display of different sets of notes through the ages that I discovered the Adam Smith £20 was phased out and replaced by JMW Turner way back in 2020. I hope I’m not the only one who didn’t notice.

A couple of sets of banknotes from different time periods. The most recent ones feature Winston Churchill, Jane Austen, JMW Turner, and Alan Turing.

Two other points of interest to note: the vending machine that I got stuck in…

I'm holding a gold bar that's extremely well secured in a display that nonetheless allows you to experience how heavy it is.

… and the book selection in the gift shop being right on point.

A bookshelf full of Terry Pratchett's "Making Money"

The exhibition is on until late next year so you have plenty of time to check it out if you’re interested.

Leap Day

Happy Leap Day! I think we can all agree that it’s a crime that February 29 isn’t an internationally recognized holiday, but we can still enjoy this rarest of all days. And in particular, a very happy birthday to anyone who hasn’t had one in a few years.

A lot has happened since the last Leap Day. The USA replaced its president with a human being. The UK went through Prime Ministers like they’re Sugababes, and then moved on to monarchs. Everyone became and expert on epidemiology for a bit. It’s been a whirlwind.

Plenty has changed for me since then too. I’m still in the same flat in London, which I was actually in for the previous Leap Day too — by far the longest I’ve lived anywhere since my parents’ house — but now I share it with an eight-year old, which most people will agree is different to a four-year-old.

This particular eight-year-old got to start school in the middle of a pandemic. That began a tumultuous year full of sudden changes to routines as lockdowns came and went. As he’s autistic, this wasn’t ideal. Half way through Year 1 it became very clear that his needs couldn’t be met in mainstream, so the two years since then have been a battle to get him a place in a school that works for him. Maybe by next Leap Day I’ll have good things to report on that front.

I’ve changed jobs too, but because I’m averse to change I did it within the same company. I moved from Google Search to Fitbit in 2021, and it appears to have gone well since then because they promoted me to staff engineer late last year. It’s a bit of a shame, as I was enjoying not having imposter syndrome for a while.

I turned forty last year. You might think I would have seen it coming, but it took me by surprise nonetheless. I’m still waiting to find out when I’ll start feeling like a grown-up. I’m sure that’s just around the corner. For now I’ll continue to fake it.

We also celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary last summer. We had a bottle of wine from our honeymoon set aside to open after ten years, but we forgot to open it and now it feels impossible to choose an occasion worthy of it. We might need to wait for our twenty-year anniversary.

I hope you’ve had a good four years, and that the next four are kind to you too.


A colleague pointed me to this article in the New York times today: There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing.

In psychology, we think about mental health on a spectrum from depression to flourishing. Flourishing is the peak of well-being: You have a strong sense of meaning, mastery and mattering to others. Depression is the valley of ill-being: You feel despondent, drained and worthless.

Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being.

My nature is one that’s comparatively amenable to the kinds of restrictions we’ve lived with for the last year. On top of that, I tend to have a sort of intrinsic okayness that makes it take a lot to move my baseline happiness very far in the wrong direction. Nonetheless, I found it very easy to relate to this article. I expect many people can.

The article concludes that the antidote to languishing is to find a state of flow, but I would actually put more value on an earlier point: the value of naming our emotions. This is something I’ve learned from parenting and have had great success applying to myself too. In fact I have a pretty extensive personal lexicon for emotional states I’ve found didn’t have obvious names already (my favourite is “fighting duck-sized horses”, for the anxiety I get from dealing with too many tasks even if none of them are individually very challenging). Naming emotions makes them easier to recognise and acknowledge. Crucially, it also makes it easier to separate the temporary emotional state from the permanent self.

I’ve added “languishing” to my lexicon.

One year

This week is the week of “one year ago today” for many people.

  • On February 26 last year I arrived home from a short break in Germany, my last trip outside of England.
  • I worked from home on March 11 for reasons unrelated to the pandemic. On that same day we were told not to come in to the office for the foreseeable future. Initially it was a recommendation. Some time later it was an instruction. Eventually it was the law. I haven’t been in since, nor seen any of my colleagues in person.
  • My parents visited from March 12 to March 16. In two days it will be a year since I’ve seen them, and since they’ve seen their grandson.

What I blog about when I blog about running

At the time I stopped blogging in early 2016 I was preparing to run my first 10 km race, which I did in April of that year. I immediately signed up for another that September, and before long I was regularly running that distance or farther just on regular weekend runs and eventually even on my commute. I always expected that all of that moving would eventually result in some weight loss, but somehow my fork was always able to keep up the pace. But I was fitter than I’ve ever been before.

In late 2017 I set my sights higher (or farther) and planned to do a half marathon, but had a lot of bad luck with organised races being postponed or cancelled, and with my own life getting in the way. Eventually I ran a half marathon distance, 13.1 miles, by myself in April of 2018. I did that several more times that year.

I hadn’t told anyone else this at the time, because I wasn’t sure I was up to it and didn’t want people to know if I chose to drop out, but by the time I ran that half I had already signed up to take part in the Dublin Marathon in October 2018.

My Dad had taken part in one of the first Dublin Marathons in the early 80s, so I grew up with a photo in our front room of him crossing the finish line, a clock above him reading 3:45 or thereabouts. Even ignoring that he would have started farther back and not even crossed the start line until 10-15 minutes after the official race start, I never had the pace to approach a time like that. My 10 km best is a slower pace. But if you want to be a runner you need to embrace the fact that you’re only ever competing with yourself.

So October came around, as it always does. I had built up my training distances and peaked at 30 km in September. I hadn’t kept anywhere close to my training plan, frankly. I didn’t feel ready. I even messed up my planning for the morning of the race and ended up running the whole thing having had just a banana for breakfast. I didn’t know if I’d ever run another marathon, so I decided to let myself at least enjoy the part that it’s possible to enjoy, so I ran the first half far too fast. Then I hobble-ran the second half with much less gusto. Five hours later I crossed the finish line, collected my medal, temporarily lost the ability to regulate my body temperature, and swore I’d never do it again.

One week later I signed up for the 2019 Dublin Marathon.

My training was no better this time around, but my race was. I stayed overnight in Dublin instead of at my parents’ so I didn’t have the early travel in to the city. I paced myself much better so I spent about half the time on each half of the race instead of the previous year’s 40:60 split. My time was almost exactly the same, but I felt I’d done a lot better, and I was happier afterwards than I had been the first time.

As I had done after the 2018 race, I reduced my running a lot for the next few months. It’s hard to stay motivated to run in London in November to January, and having completed a marathon feels like a good excuse to take the foot off the gas. I had some travel in February of 2020 but was ready to really pick things up again in earnest in March. You see where this is going.

Actually I did a pretty good job of working running into the new routine of working from home, with the occasional interruption from last-minute changes to school and childcare arrangements. I didn’t cover as much distance in 2020 as in previous years, but I didn’t have any huge gaps where I didn’t run at all.

During these days of lockdown where we can’t go far from home it’s such a relief to be able to run beyond the 2-3 km radius of home that I’m otherwise limited to. If you can run 15-20 km there’s a lot of places to explore in London. I was regularly visiting Hyde Park, which for me is a 10 km round trip just to reach its closest corner, plus whatever distance I cover inside.

Unfortunately I started to suffer some back pain at the end of the year, so I was forced to ease up a lot. A few times I pushed myself too hard and ended up needing a week to recover, then I’d get a couple of runs in over a few days before I did it again and needed more time off. The pattern was frustrating. Eventually I identified the culprit as my hamstrings, particularly the left.

I’ve been working on hamstring mobility for a few weeks now, and it seems to have improved a lot. I’m very carefully ramping up distance and speed again, trying not to undo the good work. Today I ran 4 km. I plan to do the same tomorrow. All going well I’ll go up to 5 by the end of the week. Once I get past about 5 km that’s when I start to be able to visit places that I can’t reasonably walk to without it taking up a big chunk of my day. I really want to be able to go back to Hyde Park when the weather is better.

Rules for Getting Things Done

These are my mottos / rules / slogans / mantras to help myself get things done:

If not now, when?

This is for those times when you have something that has to be done at some point, but you just don’t feel like doing it right now. The problem is that if you don’t feel like doing it now, chances are you won’t feel like doing it later either. Importantly, it’s not just a rhetorical device. If you have a good answer to the “when” part, then go right ahead and defer the task until that later time.

Spend the extra 30 seconds

You’ve moved something from the living room to the bedroom because that’s where it belongs. You dump it on the bed with the intention of putting it away later. Don’t do that. Spend the extra 30 seconds now and get it completely done, to get it off your mind and to save your future self the work.

Floss one tooth

This one is for when you have a big task in front of you that feels too daunting to start. Maybe a huge pile of dirty dishes to wash, or a whole closet to clear out. If the whole thing is too much, tell yourself you don’t have to do it all. Just do the one smallest possible amount of the work. Clean one bowl, read and archive one email, write one sentence of a blog post. Once you’ve started you may feel like doing a bit more, but you can stop at any time.

In the literal sense, once you’ve flossed one tooth you’re likely to floss them all. In the figurative sense, you won’t always get through the whole task, but you’ll have improved the situation and made it much more likely you’ll get through the remainder next time.

I didn’t study for this test

A couple of weeks ago I got a letter inviting me to take part in a nationwide study into the prevalence of Covid-19. I had been selected at random from all of those registered with a GP in England. All it required was to complete an online questionnaire about any symptoms I currently have (easy – none!) and to self-administer an at-home test they would send me.

It may sound weird, but I was excited to get this opportunity. I know the test is supposedly unpleasant (ranging from mildly to deeply, when I surveyed some friends). I don’t want to minimise that for the poor folks who have to take them regularly, or who take them in an atmosphere of fear rather than curiosity. But I would have felt like I missed out if we got through this situation and I’d never taken a test. It’s not Woodstock, but it’s an era-defining experience in its own way and I didn’t want to miss out on it.

I got the test in the post on Thursday this week, along with instructions on when and how to administer it. It needs to be returned for analysis quickly after administering, which means I don’t actually do anything with it until the morning of the day when it will be collected. I have my alarm set so I can make sure it’s ready at the start of the courier’s collection window at 8 am.

Along with the instructions was a link to an explanatory video. When I got to the end of that video, the “Thank you for your essential contribution to this important study” part, it felt like part of a science fiction film. Another reminder that none of this is normal.

January 2021 in Media

What are you watching, reading, and listening to these days? Here’s mine:


Last year was a big year for streaming TV, thanks in part to the astoundingly well-timed launch of Disney+. The Mandalorian was effectively required viewing in my circle. More like the Mandatorian, am I right? Personally I really enjoyed the show about a socially distant silent type guy and his developing parental relationship with a non-verbal child. Something struck a chord for whatever reason.

Anyway, that’s over for this year, so here’s what we’re watching now in the Parle household:


Hard to talk about this one without spoilers, so I’ll just say that I absolutely love the mid-century suburban Americana and I unironically enjoy the old style sitcom humour. But if that’s not your cup of tea, give it a couple more episodes and see where it goes.


The fantasy sibling of Futurama is in its third season. Coming from Netflix, it all arrived on the same day, but we’re working through it more slowly so only about half way at this point. Extra points for the addition of Richard Ayoade, but points off for lack of Matt Berry.

Ted Lasso

An American football manager moves to London to manage a floundering Premiership football club. No knowledge of or interest in either sport is required.

We came late to this because it’s on Apple TV+ and we’re not much of an Apple household outside of the Mac (no iPhones or recent iPads). But I got myself one of the new M1 MacBook Pros as soon as they were released and it came with a year’s free subscription. There isn’t support for watching Apple TV+ on a Chromecast yet, but it turns out there’s a PlayStation app.

As many before me have said, Ted Lasso is a perfect show for these times. It’s funny — really funny — but it’s also optimistic.


New films haven’t really been a thing for me this last year. I have been hanging out with friends in a Discord voice channel every Wednesday night since April watching some rubbish we can talk over. Or occasionally something good we can talk over. Most recently was Cyborg 2, the straight to video sequel to Jean Claude Van Damme’s Cyborg, featuring none of the original cast or indeed anything else resembling the original in any way. It does have a young Angelina Jolie in the title role, though she has no redeeming effect on the film whatsoever.

In an attempt to balance the quality level a little, I’ve also been trying to find time to watch all of the Oscar Best Pictures of my lifetime. That means from 1983’s Terms of Endearment onwards. Optimistically I think I can manage about one a fortnight, which means there’ll be at least a couple more on the list before I finish.

I only managed one this month, 1992’s Unforgiven. I’ll say this for it: it’s better than Cyborg 2.


When the whole… everything… started last year I recommended Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven to anyone who thought that reading a book about a global pandemic and its apocalyptic aftermath was a good idea.

I stand by that recommendation, and I can now add Sarah Pinsker’s A Song for a New Day. It’s hard to know whether it was good timing or bad to publish a book about a musician in a future where concerts are illegal because of pandemics and terrorism at the end of 2019. It won the Nebula award for best novel though, and I’m enjoying it.

My favourite books of 2020

One of my last posts back in 2016 was about recent books I’d read. I haven’t read nearly as much since then as I might have hoped, but here are a few I enjoyed last year.

Famine, Affluence, and Morality — Peter Singer

I promise I’m not trying to show off with the charity books, but purely by coincidence this one is very similar in theme to “Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference” from my previous post.

This is a very short book, composed of three articles Singer, a moral philosopher, wrote for lay audiences in the 1970s. The core argument of the main article, from which the book takes its name, can be broadly presented as this: there’s no moral distinction between a child drowning in a pond next to you and a person starving on the other side of the world. Most people would agree that helping the drowning child is not only a good thing to do but an obligation, and consequently it’s also a moral obligation to do what we can to help the more geographically distant.

The Thursday Murder Club — Richard Osman

This one is cheerier, despite the name. This debut novel from TV’s most genial quiz show host is a murder mystery in a retirement community. It’s cosy and pleasant, good natured and optimistic, but also a decent mystery. It’s also the only book I read last year with a proper laugh-out-loud GregWallace joke. This was a perfect book for 2020, and given its performance on the fiction charts it seems quite a lot of people agree with me.

The Last Day — Andrew Hunter Murray

Another debut novel, this one from one of the researchers for QI, and host of the spinoff podcast No Such Thing As a Fish. This is a post apocalyptic sci-fi set after a cosmic disaster leaves Earth tidally locked to the Sun so that one side is always in day, the other side always in night, and only the sliver of surface in permanent twilight remains habitable.

Part mystery, part thriller, part “ooh, I know the bit of London he’s talking about.”

The End of Everything — Katie Mack

A pop science exploration of the many ways the universe might come to an end. Heat death, a big crunch, spontaneous vacuum decay. Not only informative, but also one of the funnier books about the ultimate and inevitable destruction of everything that ever has been.

And on that note, I think it’s time to make a bit more progress on this year’s reading list.