What follows is a series of letters to friends and family sent while my wife and I were working with the Sierra Leone government in Freetown between April and December 2009.
27 April 2009
We’ve just finished our first full week in Freetown, and thought it was time we let you know that we’re still alive and well.
We’re in Sierra Leone for about a year working inside their Government to contribute to their policy making and delivery processes. We’re part of a small team employed by Tony Blair’s office. We’re living in relative luxury (running cold water and intermittent generator powered electricity) with three others in a team house that resembles a ramshackle Spanish villa, nestling in the hills above Freetown. All around us is a hive of activity with houses being built wherever space allows. The planning laws exist more in theory than practice, and the builders merchants across the street from us seem to be doing a roaring trade. Our house overlooks the American embassy, which is rather an isolated fortress on a hill, and in stark contrast to the UK embassy which we visited last week, which as you might expect, contains genial diplomats with a pink gin in one hand and regrets for the passing of the Empire in the other.
Every workplace has different values: different cultures and stories that shape and reflect staff habits. When I was at the Treasury, credibility came from getting a ‘measure’ into the budget, with cheers as the Chancellor duly read it out at the dispatch box. At Google, it came from having been there a long time – being one of the apostles, there at the start. At the Department of Energy & Climate Change, it was being recognised as expert in your particular field.
Where I currently work is different. At GDS, one thing that reliably brings respect is to be able to say ‘I made a thing’. Things like Roo’s Jargone, Jordan’s departure lounge, or Richard’s dials. I don’t make many things, alas. Just words, and occasionally pictures. But it is a complete pleasure to work with those who do.
I prefer not to carry a bag around, but I often want to take a tablet or a book. Limited by the size of my pockets, I looked around for things to buy. This shoulder holster looked a little strange. And the neoprene laptop rucksack just looked hot. I wanted something slim that could fit under a jacket. So rather than buying a thing, I asked a friend to help make something better. I drew a sketch and worked with Emily to cut and stitch a prototype from a cotton/linen mix. After a bit more measuring, cutting and trimming, voilà.
It is unusual to start a blog with a farewell, but I thought I would post the eulogy that my sister and I gave for our Grandfather, who died just before Christmas.
We stand here today as the eldest of Grandad’s five grandchildren and we would like to spend a few minutes sharing Peter’s early life and adventures followed by our own memories of Grandad, which I hope will highlight just what a truly special man he was.
Peter was born in 1919, the eldest of four children, to William and Ellen Sargeant, a working class and practical family of blacksmiths. Peter’s brother Don is here today. He went to Little Baddow Primary School and was a good student. It was here, aged seven, that Peter met his future wife Jean Ager when she and her sister Betty joined the school. Jean sat at the desk in front of Peter and at that time their friendship was limited to Peter pulling her hair to get her attention; but she soon became his childhood sweetheart and a growing friendship with Jean’s brother Bernard enabled Peter to visit the family more often. In his spare time, Peter made some pocket money working on local farms plucking chickens, gathering potatoes and picking peas in addition to helping his parents with the chores; collecting water daily from the spring and getting fresh milk from Holybread Farm. His education continued at King Edward’s Grammar School and in 1936 Peter secured his first proper job at Marconi’s before being called up for military service, aged 20.