Pandemic Day 766: Ignoring the coronavirus

We are now 766 days into the pandemic (counting from the day after the government advised against “unnecessary social contact of all kinds” and my office was closed). I’ve not written much about my personal experience of coronavirus recently, but I wanted to make a note of how this current phase feels.

The government recently announced that it was time to get back to normal, and that coronavirus has to be accepted as little more than a bad flu. Testing is no longer free. In shops and trains I’m now often the only person wearing a mask. I even heard from a family member about a teacher who wore a mask to class as they were teaching after testing positive. At the same time, daily deaths continue, with the total for yesterday reaching 646 running around 250 or more (the 646 figure on 21/4 apparently included data from several days over Easter).

The question of how this might end has been there from the start. Despite the Prime Minister’s blithe promises that things would soon be back to normal, it was obvious that any permanent solution depended on preventing transmission of the virus either through ‘zero covid’ strategies or herd immunity.

Both of these options soon became unfeasible – the virus has escaped even the most intolerable and inhumane quarantine regimes. The vaccine, while an impressive scientific achievement, does not provide permanent immunity. For a time it looked as if the government would be bringing out regular vaccines but this seems to no longer be the case, (although further boosters are being provided to the clinically vulnerable).

As far as I know, I’ve not been infected with covid, but with the omicron virus being so transmissible this is inevitable – there was even a case recently of someone catching two variants within three weeks. I had my last booster on Christmas Eve, so my protection from the vaccine is waning. ’Long covid’ is affecting 1.5 million, a number that can only grow. For the more severe cases it proves impossible to work, yet diagnosis and intervention is limited.

It looks as if the current plan is to muddle along for now. People will catch and recatch the virus, with rising cases of long covid. It’s an alarming situation but people seem happy to go along with it, and few wear masks. Eventually, a new, more dangerous variant will emerge, or the toll of long covid will be unignorable. Those problems are being left for the future to deal with.

Faced with an unsolvable pandemic, the government has decided to do nothing, while not being honest about the impact this will have. While mitigating covid is expensive, even the affordable steps have been ignored. We wasted billions on corrupt PPE deals, incompetent testing, and Potemkin Nightingale hospitals, yet spent little on ventilation for spaces like schools and offices.

Since there’s little I can do, I’m getting on with my life like everyone else, albeit with a little caution. There’s a strange feeling that everything’s normal when it isn’t. Welcome to life in the Anthropocene.

Peakrill Press’s Mostly Harmless Meetings

Back in 2021, my friend Dan Sumption held a kickstarter for his book Mostly Harmless Meetings and I signed up, even though this wasn’t my usual sort of reading. The book contains a series of ‘encounters’ to be used in role-playing games. Dan describes the project as “a TTRPG zine containing tables for random countryside encounters with birds, beasts, trees, plants, and landscapes“.

I read Dan’s book book cover-to-cover last week, treating it like a strange piece of literature. It definitely works that way, becoming a sort of Borgesian/Oulippian take on British rural folklore, with a series of creatures and things you might meet. Dan’s encounters describe a place that is definitely England but a little.. wonky. An environment of woodland and hedges, with strange quests delivered by small creatures. It’s a place you could run into enchanted trees, rabbit funerals or talking spiders. The book is also beautifully illustrated with “art by dead artists”.

Mostly Harmless Meetings is an interesting example of Indie publishing. Dan joined a “zine jam” at the end of 2021, setting up a kickstarter for the zine, with a budget of £400 to print and post 50 magazines. The project boomed, receiving over 250 pledges. My favourite thing about the zine was the feeling of an ephemeral community building up around the project. It’s got me thinking about how Kickstarter seems to be its own genre.

The board games and role-playing communities are going through an incredibly exciting time, and Dan’s work through Peakrill Press is part of this. It’s a long way from the role-playing games that were around when I was a teenager, heavily in debt to heroic fantasy and epic sci-fi. Mostly Harmless Meetings is a glimpse into this wider world, and has me curious about what else is out there.

Dan is currently working on his next zine, Learning to Draw Trees, about a drawing experiment he tried in 2021 and what he learned from it – which also features a simple role-playing game by Côme Martin called You Are a Tree where you get to play a tree. I can’t wait to read that. There is a Peakrill Press mailing list, which you can subscribe to from their site.

Monthnotes: March 2022

March has been about exploring my new area a little. I went on several hikes, including one with the ramblers around Luddenden; visited Todmorden’s Golden Lion for the UFO society; and did some house-hunting. I made a couple of trips to Leeds: the first was for a talk by David Gaffney; the second to see the new work-in-progress show by Shit Theatre, Evita Too – this was the first show I’d seen in two years and it was very, very good.

I also travelled up to County Durham to visit Dan Sumption, one of the pilgrims, and got to hear about his ongoing work with Peakrill Press. I also popped down to the Midlands for Mother’s Day. Looking for a new place has proved more difficult than expected as there is not much on the market – one local estate agents is mostly advertising sold houses along with adverts for lost dogs and airbnbs.

I’ve done more walking this month, which I suspect is down to the longer days. I walked a total of 299,191 steps, which makes a daily average of 9,651. My longest daily total was for a day of house-hunting around Sowerby Bridge. Most of my walks have been along the local canal.

I’m continuing to read more books than usual, finishing eight books this month. The highlight was Ben Myer’s Under the Rock, an account of his life within the Calder Valley. I read a couple of music biographies – Mark Lanegan’s Sing backwards and Weep was frank about his addictions, and was one of the grubbiest books I’ve read. Hell is Round the Corner, Tricky’s biography, was a fascinating exploration of the musician, and took me back to the shock of hearing Aftermath in 1994. Never Split the Difference was an interesting book on negotiation.

I continue to spend too much time thinking about my writing instead of actually just doing it. Part of this is the frustration of not being able to find places to send some of the recent stories I’m very proud of, which suggests there is little point writing yet more new stories that I can’t submit anywhere. But I’ve made good progress on the 6th volume of the South Downs Way series, as well as another zine, so maybe I should try to get something out next month?

I managed to watch a little more TV than usual in March. I finished watching the two seasons of How to With John Wilson, which was fantastic. Wilson’s New York is a magical place, and you wonder how he captured some of the shots. He also avoids the cynicism of some similar shows – when he meets the group of Avatar fans I was braced for some Louis Theroux-style mockery, but the portrayal was sweet and sensitive.

Snowpiercer’s third season flagged in the middle, but picked up the pace dramatically in its closing episodes. Netflix’s Kanye West documentary Jeen-yus showed just how Kanye’s talent has unwound over the last few years. I watched a movie for the first time in ages, Adam Neville horror adaptation No-One Gets Out Alive.

I also watched Of Mics and Men, a 4-part series on Wu-Tang Clan, with the band looking back on its history. It’s very good on the band’s imperial phase, as well as the tragedy of Old Dirty Bastard – seeing the ODB go from being energetic and creative to being broke and disappointed was heart-breaking. We also got to see discussions of how the band fell apart, including some fascinating interviews with manager Divine. The episode focussing on Cilvaringz and the one-off Wu-Tang album felt awkward and trivial – just how it felt as a fan at the time. We’ll probably never get another great Wu-tang album, but this series was a great look at their legacy.

I’m still vexed by Amazon ruining the Comixology experience, but it’s driven me to read a couple of physical collections. The Nice House on the Lake was one of the most incredible horror stories I’ve read in some time, giving me actual chills as I read it. I am very tempted to read the upcoming singles, and it’s been a long time since that seemed like good value.

After Amazon’s updating of the Comixology app, they updated the Kindle UI, making it more garish and commercial. They also broke some of the ways that I use the app. I’m increasingly suspicious of how electronic content is forcing us into particular ways of accessing them. I unsubscribed from NowTV, which was a relief given how they insert ads into programs I’ve already paid for. Spotify continues to feel like a devil’s bargain – all the music in the world, easily accessible, at the cost of a lifetime subscribing to a somewhat dodgy corporation.

Many of my walks have been accompanied by podcasts, and I’ve got a few regular favourites. Ross Sutherland’s Imaginary Advice has made a welcome return from hiatus. The F23 podcast continues to find interesting and provocative guests, including a recent visit from Grant Morrison. The Content Mines does an amazing job of explaining the modern Internet. I also drop in on the Blindboy or You’re Wrong About podcasts if the episode summary sounds interesting to me.

Every month I complain about video games, but I keep on with them. In March I replayed The Last of Us Part 2. I still hate the nihilistic storyline, but I enjoy the game play and the characters. There’s also something attractive about the setting too – despite the end of the world, the characters live in such beautiful homes. Although I wonder where they get all the fuel for the jeeps, twenty-five years after the collapse of civilisation. The game poses a lot of questions about post-apocalyptic infrastructure.

The end of the month brought snow, just as the energy price cap intensified the cost of living crisis. The times feel bleak right now, with coronavirus, war in Ukraine, threats of nuclear escalation, rising poverty and cost of living, a dire yet boastful government and worsening climate change. It feels like everything is out of control, and nobody in power seems to want to stop the world from falling apart. All the regular rhythms of daily life are played out against this backdrop of wearying horror.

A Sussex Mystery: The Ardingly Suitcases

I found an odd story in Fortean times a few months back. Apparently, in June 2020, a group of 50 people were seen walking towards Ardingly Reservoir carrying suitcases. This was reported in several Sussex newspapers, including the Brighton Argus:

BIZARRE reports of 50 people with suitcases walking to a water reservoir remain a mystery.
Police officers were called to reports of a suitcase-carrying contingent at Ardingly Reservoir near Balcombe on Thursday.
But after a search nobody carrying a suitcase was found at the popular fishing spot.


This happened on June 25th 2020, so such gatherings were legal at the time, I think. It’s a strange story though, and a powerful image. Digging through the news reports, all of them refer to the same pair of tweets from police Prevention Inspector Darren Taylor, who started working in Sussex a month or two before. An article in Sussex Live talks about his new job and how he will use twitter to publicise his work. His account has since been deleted, but the original tweet is quoted in the articles:

Team are currently responding to calls from members of the public in regard to approx 50 people walking towards Ardingly reservoir, carrying suitcases! pic.twitter.com/ozM8HURJjd

The linked image no longer exists. A single follow-up tweet came just after:

An area search carried out and the team could not locate anyone with suitcases…most bizarre.

I guess it was a hoax – I mean, any sort of happening involving 50 people should have produced some content. But then it seems to have been taken seriously enough for the police to go out and investigate. The police twitter account even refers to multiple “calls”. So, while this is almost certainly a hoax, who was the hoaxer?

Forteana often finds a channel through local newspapers publishing quirky pieces which are then quoted elsewhere as evidence. Here we have a story that was printed without asking any of the obvious follow-up questions, with content sent direct from twitter to print. I guess that’s a reflection of the way media works now – the Brighton Argus is basically an online organisation, reduced to begging for stories from social media. They are so short-staffed that most stories simply cannot be dug into.

Maybe one reason for not investigating this is that it’s too good a story to ruin by investigating it. The idea that this happened is more interesting than it being a hoax. But I’d love to know what was going on.

Monthnotes: February 2022

I started exploring my new home a little last month. I joined a local co-working space and went to my first gig since the pandemic, watching Sea Power at the Hebden Bridge Trades club. I’d also hoped to visit a local spoken word night, Turn the Page, but a work problem (and subsequent 9-hour call) put paid to that. I looked at a couple of houses, although the market here is very slow. I also discovered some excellent food at Nelson’s, which included a vegan Camembert.

I’ve had visits from Emma, Kaylee, Rosy and Naomi. I also headed south to a delayed celebration of my Dad’s birthday. The weather throughtout February was extremely variable, with storms, snow, sleet, hail and a lot of rain.

I’m continuing work on the South Downs Way series, and have a draft finished of the next volume, although this one will probably not be published for a few months. Selling the zines through Etsy has been a success and has me thinking more about how to promote them better, leading to some changes in plans and focus for the project that I am very excited about.

There are definite downsides to self-publishing, but I think this is the right thing to do. As much as I’d love to be submitting short stories, there are very few magazines taking horror fiction, and the best ones don’t allow open submissions. I wrote a lovely 265 word horror flash fiction and there is nowhere to send it. I’d rather be printing and publishing my own work than having it waiting around on my hard drive.

Walking: 239,338 steps total, an average of 8,547, with a maximum of 19,131 while walking on the hills between Sowerby Bridge and Copley with Emma. I’m failing to do any real exercise and need to make that a priority in March; or else just admit I am never going to do it.

I finished 8 books this month. If It Bleeds and The Outsider were good late-period Stephen King. The Life of Chuck, published in the former, was an especially good novella. Shit Cassandra Saw was a lovely collection of short fiction by Gwen E Kirby. From the Streets of Shaolin by SH Fernando Jr was a history of the Wu-Tang Clan, from their hardscrabble beginnings to their imperial phase. It had particularly good background on the Five-Percent Nation. The latest Slow Horses novel, Slough House, was fun, but there seems to be some diminishing returns – too many returning characters and threads to keep track of. Having said that, the plot in this one was ingenious and it was still fun, so I’ll be buying the next one. I also read RAW’s Cosmic Trigger II, which was fascinating, braiding together the Calvi murder, Ireland’s Kerry Babies case and Wilson’s own life. This book was more focussed on physics, politics and Joyce than the first volume, and even included a discussion of the metaverse from 1990. Wilson looked at how his life was as determined by the history around his birth as by his horoscope. It should have felt like a disjointed mess, but was an interesting biography and made the early life more interesting than in many autobiographies

I’ve not watched much TV. Ozark was OK, but didn’t have enough about Ruth in this season. I’m also slowly watching How to With John Wilson, Jeen Yus, Snowpiercer and Wu-tang documentary Of Mics and Men. The last of these has been amazing so far, with the surviving crew look back on their youth. The tales of poverty and crime are striking, and the footage of the young ODB is heartbreaking. We also got to see the group arguing over who invented the name; and Method Man being delighted to visit the canteen where he had his first job.

I also read Tom King’s Rorschach comic, which was good, but basically didn’t need to be about Watchmen, and can’t hold its own against Moore’s original. I’d been getting back into comics reading when Comixology changed their app, and the new version is appalling. So, I guess I’m off comics for now. It’s frustrating to live in an app-based world, where corporate decisions alter the interfaces and ways we enjoy art. Along with the problems of Spotify (renting music while defunding musical artists to invest in weapons companies) it feels like there not right here.

Despite being frustrasted with PS4 game Days Gone, I’ve now completed all the missions. No, it wasn’t really worth it, and I think I’m done with games for a while. There’s definitely nothing coming out on the PS4 that I am excited about.

Monthnotes: January 2022

I spent much of January in the pandemic doldrums. I’d been planning to do more with my free time, but just can’t get enthusiastic about risking covid. But, at the same time, I’m spending too much time on my own, and need to make some effort to explore my new environment. It’s hard to know what to do. The combination of virus and political chaos sets a depressing backdrop.

But, while things are bleak, I’m trying to make the most of it. I had visits from Katharine and Kaylee, the latter bringing along her DJ equipment. I was tempted to get a set of my own, but had to be honest with myself – I don’t know how I’d find time to use them. I also visited family back in the midlands, and made a day-trip to York to visit Justin.

One of the things I wanted to do with 2022 was to put more writing out. This month I brought out a new zine of South Downs Way stories, Weird Tales. I also set up an etsy shop for my zines, something I should have done long ago. Putting the zines on sale is making me think about how to make my writing more appealing. This is feeding back into the writing of Volume 5 and, I think, making it stronger.

Another change for 2022 was reducing my daily walking commitment from 10,000 steps to 5,000. Despite that, I managed a total of 294,048 steps, a daily average of 9,485 – not that far off my old target. This was helped along by a few long hikes, and my highest total of 29,672 was a day out with the local Ramblers around Hebden Bridge. I got soaked, which serves me right for being complacent about Calder Valley weather. I didn’t manage much other exercise despite what I had promised myself. I must at least do my stretches.

1:35pm in January, the sun drops behind the valley in Hebden Bridge

It’s been a good month for TV. Snowpiercer and Ozark have both started new seasons – although Ozark suffers a little from spending too much time on the Byrde family and not enough time on Ruth. I’ve finally got hold of How to with John Wilson, and love the beautiful weirdness of Wilson’s New York. I came to Yellowjackets a little late, but it’s one of the best shows I’ve seen in years, and I binged the series in five days. The only film I saw was a rewatch of Midsommar.

I finished eight books this month. Last of the Hippies by CJ Stone was an interesting discussion of British counterculture, focussing on working class experience. Paint my name in Black and Gold described the early days of Sisters of Mercy and how Andy Taylor from Leeds was taken over by Andrew Eldritch. It was exhaustive in some aspects (Eldritch was partial to Fruit Shortcake biscuits), but I was sad not to hear any stories of the Sisters touring with Public Enemy. Also, Eldritch tried to get Werner Herzog to produce his album, although it faltered when Herzog suggested he and Eldritch go camping along some ley lines. Best book of the month was Olivia Yallop’s Break the Internet, which explored the world of influencers.

Halifax Piece Hall, transformed into a set for Marvel’s Secret Invasion

Like everyone else, I’ve been playing Wordle and enjoying the mix of luck and skill. I’ve also continued to waste time on Days Gone. It’s not a bad open world game, and I like the fact that it’s not entirely nihilistic. But sometimes it just feels like having a boring imaginary job.

And so we move into February… Let’s see what it brings…

New Zine of South Downs Way Stories

This month, I published a new zine of stories. This is the fourth in a set of flash fiction zines set along the South Downs Way. The stories are intended to work indepently, but contain links and recurring characters. Copies are available direct from me (drop me an email) or via my (new) etsy store.

This volume is slightly harsher than the other three. It had a long gestation period, which included the tough Winter 2021 lockdown. Some of the stories were influenced by reading Nick Hayes’ The Book of Trespass, which examines the politics of the British landscape. The stories also take a weirder tack than the earlier ones, and I love embedding this strangeness in a landscape I know well.

I’ve now written four volumes of this collection (the other three are also available on etsy) and am now working on the fifth. It’s been a long time since parts three and four, but I am looking forward to finishing the next set of stories. Between producing these booklets, I’ve been thinking more about the formats and how to share them. I’m also getting more excited about building links between tiny independent stories.

Matrix Resurrections discussion (with spoilers)

Given the review headlines for Matrix 4, I didn’t expect much. Whatever, I loved the film from the start and kept waiting for the moment where it turned shit. It never did. As the credits played, I thought that might be one of the best films I’d seen in years.

Matrix 4 is not a perfect film. I can see why some people didn’t like it – particularly when it was so uninterested in topping the spectacle of the previous three movies. Instead, there was a thoughtful film about nostalgia/retro culture.

I can’t claim my responses as a cis-male are as interesting or important as those of trans fans, but I took a lot from it. For me, it was a film about growing older, and losing touch with the power and optimism of youth – how ‘they’ “made you believe their world was all you deserved”. This is particularly poignant, given how the themes of the first Matrix film have been co-opted in the years since.

Resurrections is a metafictional critique of the way in which storytelling has been harvested for ‘intellectual property’. This has produced films like Soul, where Disney promotes ideals that would be anathema to its corporate culture. Resurrections responds directly to how, as one review put it, “the future is increasingly viewed through the franchise lenses of the past, trapping fans in corporate-controlled dream worlds where their fandom is constantly rewarded with new product“. Corporate storytelling has much in common with the matrix.

I like that this reboot did not just go for nostalgia or outdoing the original (I mean, Star Wars 7 and 9 had fights in the literal ruins of the first trilogy). Undercutting the originals seemed a good way to go. Some additional, miscellaneous points:

Matrix 4 looked at the failures of the original trilogy and asked whether we could try again and do it better. By the end of the film, I thought maybe we could.

Using AI as a writing partner

I’ve been curious about GPT-3 as a creative tool since reading about Matt Webb’s experiments in 2020. GPT-3 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3) is a language model that can create realistic text. The results are impressive, and it has even been used to write a Guardian editorial. In his experiments, Webb was confronted by phrases and ideas that did not exist before. The model produced original concepts such as the “The public bank of Britain”, and passages about “a three-mile wide black ring [that] was found in the ocean using sonar“.

The GPT-3 model is based upon millions of words of Internet content, and Webb has described elsewhere how “Reading GPT-3’s output, for me, feels like dowsing the collective unconscious. I’ve never seen anything so Jungian.

You can get a quick feel for GPT by playing with the Talk to Transformer page, which allows you to experiment with the basic trained model. There’s a good overview by the Verge, ‘OpenAI’s latest breakthrough is astonishingly powerful, but still fighting its flaws.’ Or, for a more whimsical experiment, Janelle Shae tried asking the model how many legs a horse has, concluding, “It’s grammatically correct, it’s confident, and it’s using a lot of the right vocabulary. But it’s also almost completely wrong. I’m sure I’ve had conversations like this at parties” The origins of the model means it’s also particularly well informed about topics such as Miley Cyrus and Harry Potter.

Sadly, I’ve got no chance of getting my hands on GPT-3 any time soon, since it is kept under tight control to stop it from being used for evil. But then I remembered that Shardcore had used the earlier GPT-2 model for his software-generated book length collaboration with John Higgs The Future Has Already Begun.

I realised that GPT-2 ought to be sophisticated enough to produce something worthwhile, so I decided to give the basic GPT-2 model some additional training based on my creative writing. I’ve read recommendations that you need 25MB-100MB of text, but I’m using 6MB of my writing as input (generated from the source documents using Apache Tika). I was then able to use this with a colab notebook build by Max Woolf to do the hard work.

(I’d not used colab notebooks before, but I am stunned at how they combine workbook and instructions, along with a free VM to run it all on. For more detail, check out Robin Sloan’s post The Slab and the Permacomputer. It’s amazing to see how lots of people’s hard work has combined, allowing me to play with sophisticated models without knowing much about python or machine learning).

The snippets of text generated are identifiably mine in a strange way, but there are flights of fancy that surprise me. A description of a character: “He was a man of his word, not a man of action.” A phrase: “Nobody felt safe watching another human being do something with their lives“. There was a whole mad fantasy about “a group of ‘dusk-blue crabs’ who ’went by the name of ‘the great snout’“. There are also moments where the model just goes on and on repeating “Wax tins! Wax tins! Wax tins!”. Weirdly enough there was also a passage about a John Higgs:

John Higgs, the English economist and writer, died on 26th October, 2001. He was 83 years old. He was happy to join the world scene, and for good reason. He and many of his ideas were burned at the stake for their uselessness.

The main issue I have is my training data, which is unbalanced in various ways – a few novel-length texts, lots of notes. As clever as machine learning is, it’s only as good as your inputs.

Writing with GPT-X is not simply about churning out text – this text does needs to be worked on (This is not ‘cheating’ – Burroughs used to screen his manual cut-ups, looking for poignant and interesting generated sections). There are also different ways to work with the system – Robin Sloan has described some of the techniques he has used, such as hiding prompts from the reader (but not the model) to produce effective writing. These techniques are all waiting to be explored.

Matt Webb has written in detail about his experience of this collaboration in GPT-3 is an idea machine:

Using GPT-3 is work, it’s not a one-shot automation like spellcheck or autocomplete. It’s an interactive, investigative process, and it’s down to the human user to interview GPT-3. There will be people who become expert at dowsing the A.I., just as there are people who are great at searching using Google or finding information in research libraries. I think the skill involved will be similar to being a good improv partner, that’s what it reminds me of.

GPT-3 is capable of novel ideas but it takes a human to identify the good ones. It’s not a replacement for creative imagination. In a 15 minute session with the A.I., I can usually generate one or two concepts, suitable for being worked up into a short story, or turned into a design brief for a product feature, or providing new perspectives in some analysis – it feels very much like a brainstorming workshop, or talking something through with a colleague or an editor.

GPT-X can produce text faster than anyone can read it, but as Sloan writes, “it’s clear that the best thing on the page, the thing that makes it glow, is the part supplied by a person“.

For me, the question is whether it can produce interesting art (particularly art that is not solely interesting because of its process). What I’ve seen so far is both spooky and exciting. Whether this is more than a cheap trick of text remains to be seen, but my initial explorations make me very excited about collaborating further with this model.

Monthnotes: December 2021

The year closed with the pandemic grinding on. My big news is that I’m now living in Halifax. This is quite a plot twist, and something I’d not imagined at the start of 2021. So far I like it. I’m living in a small wooded valley outside town and feel very comfortable – I love listening to the sound of rain on trees, or hearing the stream outside during the late watches of the night. I’ve not managed to explore much, or meet new people due to the pandemic, but am looking forward to exploring now Christmas is over.

I received my covid booster on Christmas Eve, and am now feeling more confident about coronavirus than I was. For the first two pandemic years, my aim was not to catch covid, particularly since I’d watch a friend suffer for months from long covid. Given the government’s policies, it looks like catching the virus is inevitable. However, even with omicron, it looks like vaccinations have severed the link between infection and the worst effects. I’m still frustrated with the government’s chaotic handling of everything, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t spend the rest of my life in lockdown.

I started December on an Arvon course tutored by Tania Hershman and Niall Campbell. While I wasn’t as focussed on any particular project as I should have been, the course was inspiring and gave me a lot of great ideas. It was also lovely to spend a week with a group of writers. The day after, I drove out to see my friend Sarah, along with her two dogs, and we walked a little of the Offa’s Dyke Path. My main impression was that it was incredibly windy.

During the month, I walked a total of 334,515 steps, a very low average of just under 10,800 steps a day. My largest total was 16,633 on the 27th, when my friend Naomi came to visit. After managing 10,000 daily steps for 2 years or more, I’m going to reduce this target to allow time for other forms of exercise. Rather than spending an hour and a half walking each day, I’d be better off spending a chunk of that time stretching or doing other exercise.

Several TV shows finished their runs in December. Hawkeye was fun but, like a lot of MCU stuff, felt inconsequential, too much continuity accounting. The Walking Dead: World Beyond was OK, but I found myself less interested in its politics than the wider world of the first season. After a slow start, Succession‘s third season ended with high drama, leaving a long wait for the next season. I also watched part of Dispatches from Elsewhere, which opened well, but didn’t sustain my interest beyond the first few episodes.

I saw the Matrix: Revolutions a couple of times – my first cinema trip since the pandemic. I loved the movie, finding it just what I needed right now. I’ve got a post in draft about that which will emerge in the next few days. I also watched Don’t Look Up, which is a great movie about inescapable doom.

I finished reading a few books. Paul Morley’s book on Tony Wilson was one of my favourite books of 2021. Laurie Woolever’s Bourdain: in Stories was an intimate portrait of Anthony Bourdain but I’d have liked to see more of the legend. Written by close friends, the book also took a very harsh view of the circumstances of his death. Blaming one person and not allowing them a response other than a legalese footnote felt rough.

I finally deleted Pikmin Bloom from my phone. While the game showed promise, it was mostly about increasing stats. I suspect it would have been more fun when playing in a group. I also played a little of The Last of Us: Remastered, filling in the story of Joel and Ellie. It’s interesting how positive the first game was compared with the cynicism of the second.