Monthnotes: April 2022

In April, spring arrived in the valley and filled the woods with bluebells. I joined a local writing group, and went to my first session, as well as attending their monthly spoken word night (the first such event I’ve been to since the pandemic started). I also made a few trips – seeing Helen in Manchester and Muffy in Blackpool, where we visited the tower with its terrifying glass floor. I also saw my family in the Midlands, where I got to meet my neice’s new pigs.

The world outside the valley continues to be a horrorshow. I’m finding the nuclear threats from Russia incredibly disconcerting. Meanwhile coronavirus continues to be an issue, despite the government acting as if it is all over. Two friends have been incredibly ill, one of them ending up in hospital with coronavirus after-effects. I’m risking more events now, but I am still very aware of the ongoing danger.

I walked a total of 254,918 steps in April, an average of 8,497 a day, with the maximum being on my visit to Manchester. Now the days are longer I’m going to increase my daily step count. I’ve also been fasting once a week or so, which has lost me a total of 0.9lb over the month. Fast days are, of course, sad and depressing, and I now feel motivated to focus on eating better all round.

Writing continues to be frustrating. I’m coming to terms with how much I dislike submitting stories (or, indeed, promoting myself very much at all). I’m not sure how to fix that. But I’ve been enjoying writing, particularly since I’ve been having more focussed, flow-based sessons. I was gifted access to Alan Moore’s writing course on BBC Maestro, which has been inspiring. I received some positive validation, with a piece published in the BFS newsletter, No-one knows why they built stonehenge; I also found some etsy reviews I’d missed (“all of the stories in the pamphlets are consistently well-written and simultaneously strange and comforting“). I was delighted to have Dan release of video of him reading my story A Disease of Books.

TV has been a mixed bag. I gave up on Moon Knight and Russian Doll‘s second season as I wasn’t enjoying them. Slow Horses was excellent, but I’m a little reluctant to proceed with it as I already have such a strong visual impression of the books that I don’t want to lose. I watched Severance remotely with Kate Shields while she was in covid jail – parts of it were fun, but I found the tension in the season finale contrived. Netflix’s Jimmy Savile documentary A British Horror Story was shocking, and brought the horrors of what happened home in a new way. In the bank holiday at the end of the month I binged the final season of Ozark and was bitterly disappointed by the ending. The conclusion seemed arbitrary and pointless, with little understanding of the story they seemed to have been telling.

I watched a few movies. Who Killed the KLF was a good retelling of the band’s story. I found Spiderman: Far From Home messy and confusing, but I’m not sure if that was due to the amount of wine drunk beforehand. I rewatched King of New York, a film I’d loved in the 90s and found that it aged reasonably well – and what a cast. A Classic Horror Story was a Netflix recommendation I’d never heard of before but turned out to be an interesting a playful film.

It’s been a good month for books – Emily St. John Mandel’s new book Sea of Tranquility was wise and beautiful, although it suffered a little from being a cover version of a sci-fi classic. While I found the autofiction aspects frustrating, I loved the book’s eerie quality. It’s very much a post-pandemic novel, with some striking observations. Tabitha Lasley’s Sea State was not quite the book about oil working in Scotland that I’d expected, but instead was a raw and vivid account of an affair. I very much enjoyed reading it.

Also good was Until Proven Safe, Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley’s history of quarantine. The book was researched before the pandemic, and looks at some of the huge risks that the world deals with. There are sections on the risks of inter-planetary infection, and the dangers of a plant plandemic. It is a grim book, in one section looking at nuclear materials and the sort of risks that are evaluated here: how an accident with nuclear waste transportation, while unlikely, would result in Las Vegas being abandoned. The book left me aware of how fragile the modern world is.

Highlight of the month was Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life, a popular guide to mycology. Every chapter fizzed with ideas and revelations, veering from Terence McKenna (“do psilocybin fungi wear our minds, as Ophiocordyceps and Massospora wear insect bodies?“) to the nature of mycelium networks (“it may be helpful to think of mycelial networks as a type of ‘liquid computer’“). The book was well-referenced, allowing the interesting points to be followed up.

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.

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: 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.

Monthnotes: November 2021

November has involved a lot of driving. The month opened with a trip back to Blackpool where I’d left my laptop and Kindle behind at the end of October. From Blackpool I went to Halifax, where I found a flat to rent. I’ve now signed all the contracts and will be moving in on December 10th. Going to a new town is both daunting and exciting – but the latter is definitely winning out.

I also had a surprise visit to Brighton to fix a tooth – my first trip since hiking with Emma in August. I was very grateful to my dentist for seeing me at short notice; and I also got to see Rosy for the first time in months. While there, I went to La Choza after not going at all during the pandemic. Sooxanne and I received a very warm welcome and the naga salsa was as delicious as I remembered.

Other trips were to Chichester, to meet up with my friend Naomi and deliver a seminar – on Alan Moore’s Promethea, about how all art is really magic. I also went to Buxton for the Toxteth Day of the Dead. The month ended with a drive through the tailend of storm Arwen to do an Arvon course on ‘Hybrid Writing: The Beauty of Brevity’.

Walking was a total of A total of 357,416 and a paltry average total of 11,914. My maximum for a single day was 19,180. The new move offers a chance to revitalise both my walking and general exercising.

I’d resisted going to the cinema for No Time to Die the new Bond film but finally watched it on streaming. I found it surprisingly dreadful. The only thing anyone wants from Bond is a violent tourist brochure with some luxury goods product placement. This movie seemed obsessed with Bond as a character rather than an icon. Also, given Bond’s issues with drinking (not least an attempt at drink-driving in Jamaica), he needs to get himself to a meeting. Boss Level was an entertaining-but-flawed time loop movie. Brand New Cherry Flavour was an excellent mix of LA Noir and body horror although, like all Netflix dramas, it was two episodes longer than it needed.

I finished seven books this month, some of which I’d had on the go for a while. The Institute was classic Stephen King, and the end was very moving. James Stanier’s Effective Remote Work was essential reading for all remote/hybrid workers. Chief of Staff by Gavin Barwell featured extensive detail about Theresa May’s Brexit negotiations, which I found both interesting and surprising. The best book was probably A Bit of A Stretch, Chris Atkins’ account of serving time Wormwood Scrubs. Atkins shows how poor our prison system is, with little effort at rehabilitation. Given the reoffending rate, this is a mssive waste of time and resources.

I played a little of Days Gone at the start of the month, which was both frustrating and compulsive. After consideration, I realised there were more useful skills I could be developing than playing one 60+ hour game, so put a stop to that. I also dabbled with AR mobile game Pikmin Bloom. While it’s well made, it’s basically a cookie clicker/incremental game. But it’s been just interesting enough to stay on my phone, and I spend about five minutes each day giving orders to Pikmin.

I shut down Brighton Java, the meetup group I’d run for almost ten years. Sadly, I don’t think we achieved as much with the group as we could/should have done, but it was definitely worth doing, and disbanding it makes space for someone else to start a new initiative.

I’ve also been back on twitter a bit. There’s no chance of my going back on Facebook, but I’m finding it a little too isolating to be completely without social media. Sadly, that is where most people are hanging out online these days.

And look! Some of my zines are now in the library at Chichester Uni.

Monthnotes: October 2021

October has come quickly and passed quickly. While I’m still enjoying my rural retreat, I’ve started to miss social events, and have been making more effort to get out and about. However, this comes against the background of rising covid cases. It’s weird to take the train and see no-one wearing masks while feeling like an idiot for doing so myself. But I can’t stay isolated forever, even if it does mean an increased risk of catching the virus. These are strange, unsettling times.

I’ve been making weekly trips to the Mindera office, combining that with visits to the Speculators Writing Group – moving writing away from being a solitary experience has been great for my enthusiasm. At the start of the month, I attended the DDD technical conference in Nottingham. I’ve also made visits to Hebden Bridge, Blackpool, and a visit to Halifax to watch a talk by Ben Graham on his book about the ill-fated Krumlin Festival.

Steps were middling with no big walks (although I’ve finally worked out how to remove spurious steps while driving from the fitbit’s total, rather than having to make them up later in the day). A total of 390,874 and an average total of 12,608. My maximum for a single day was 31,715, wandering around Hebden Bridge. Still no other exercise than walking.

Succession is back again, and it’s good to have that as a regular weekly show, along with Walking Dead: World Beyond. I also watched the BBC documentaries When Nirvana Came to Britain, and Nick Broomfield’s Last Man Standing: Suge Knight and the Murders of Biggie and Tupac. The Broomfield documentary was shocking. With Suge Knight in jail and time having passed, people are more willing to discuss the violence, crime and utter misogyny at the heart of Death Row Records. It’s a sad story.

I continued my exploration of Nicholas Cage movies with Prisoners of the Ghostland. Cage hits a 9/10 for performance with a unique and impressive rendition of the word ‘testicle’. The film itself was beautiful but slow, which was also a problem with Green Knight. I also re-watched Hostel, which is a more interesting film than it should be, probably deserving of a post of its own.

I played Resident Evil: Village on the PS4, but gave up near the end. It just felt too much like a video game. I couldn’t get into the Witcher 3, but towards the end of October I re-installed The Last of Us Part 2 for another playthough. That game feels a little like playing with dolls and playsets, but I enjoy the set-pieces; whereas replaying Death Stranding proved impossible because of the grind there. I’ve also been getting into Twitch streaming, mostly watching Ikeden‘s ‘Ultimate Runs’ on TLOU2, which is good to have on in the background when doing other things.

I’ve continued picking at books, finishing fewer than I’ve started. The Storyteller by Dave Grohl flirted with smugness, and just about survived. All the Marvels by Douglas Wolk was a fun project, looking at the Marvel Universe as a single consistent story, but too often felt like a blog in book form. Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends was tightly and precisely written but felt bland. The book seemed inconsequential and much less interesting than Patricia Lockwood’s recent novel. I’m very much in agreement with some of the criticism I’ve read.

I seem to have been enjoying a lot of interesting media this last month. The Content Mines has been a good weekly podcast, and I’ve been catching up with This Podcast is a Ritual. Fiq da Signifier has done an excellent pair of youtbe videos talking about why the ‘Old Kanye’ was important. I can also recommend Caw, one of the best short stories I’ve read in some time, where the world is ending because of crows. The new Lana Del Rey album has immediately become a favourite; Black Bathing Suit is a great pandemic ballad. I also love the new Helen Love song, This is My World.

Monthnotes: September 2021

It’s September, and time still feels like it’s passing slowly; but the summer is over, the days are getting shorter, and the outside world feels bleak. There’s the slow panic about logistics in the background to everything, which feels like the continuation of a crisis that started with the referendum. It seems like a bad winter is on the way, but nobody can do anything about it, particularly the government. Being English is exhausting. In the countryside, I feel a little insulated from this, but it’s also hard to get anywhere without petrol.

September has involved a few trips – a summer party and a client visit in Bracknell, and visits to and an office party with my employer in Leicester. I did the first four sections of the Coast to Coast. I also visited Hebden Bridge with Katharine where I drank cocktails and had my worst hangover in years. It cleared with a walk on the moors, but that was brutal, hard work.

My steps were higher than usual due to all the hiking, with an average of 15,706 and a total of 471,180. My maximum for a single day was 44,181 on the second day of the Coast-to-Coast where we managed to lose the trail. Despite all these steps, I’m not getting any fitter.

I only finished two books (although I have several books almost finished, as I’ve been picking at things). Gallows Pole by Ben Myers was an excellent historical novel set around the Calder Valley. Genesis P Orridge’s biography, Nonbinary, was interesting, but had little about the areas of his life I wanted to read about. I also read through The Debarkle, an online history of the Sad/Rabid Puppies.

I watched a few films early the month. I had a nightmare about A Quiet Place II, so watched it the next day and was mostly underwhelmed – it didn’t make a lot of sense. Mandy was an amazing movie which never compromised its vision. I’m not sure whether I liked it as such, and it ultimately relied on a woman being fridged. The Color out of Space was frustrating, not knowing if it was sci-fi or supernatural, and relied too much on lazy Lovecraft references.

I didn’t watch much TV beyond a few episodes of The Walking Dead, where I’m slowly figuring out what’s happening based on my knowledge of the comics. I’ve also been watching Midnight Mass, which is a little too obsessed with church and monologues. Inspired by my hike, I started replaying Death Stranding on hard mode, until the grind of it put me off again.

I’m feeling a little more settled at work now. The last few weeks have been spent fixing and upgrading builds for various projects, which I always find a fun challenge. Last weekend I gave a talk on JHipster for Mindera, which seemed like a lot of stress and it didn’t go as well as I would have liked. This is something I need to work on over the next few months.

Last month, I said that I wanted my writing to be more fun than video games, and that’s working out well. I’ve been working on several longer pieces and loving coming up with ideas for them. September ended with three rejections in two days which was a drag. I did have one piece published, a Drabble (a story that is exactly 100 words) called Instagram Famous.

The new issue of Bodge came out, with my page talking about an Invisibles event I am involved with at the end of the month. I also ran a Not for the Faint-Hearted writing session as a tie-in to Emma’s MA research. At the end of the month I went along to an in-person writing workshop in Leicester with the Speculators, which I really enjoyed.

I passed my probation in September, which means I’ve been able to start sorting out a mortgage. So, I guess I need to get on with finding somewhere to live.

Monthnotes: August 2021

August felt like a return to normality, as I’ve felt able to socialise with large groups again. It’s a strange time, as it’s hard to tell what I should be doing to protect myself. Cases are high and rising, vaccination effectiveness is fading, and the government has not said anything about how things proceed in the long-term. Being the only person in a supermarket wearing a mask has felt weird. But, while I’m still resolved to avoid coronavirus, I’m also reluctant to keep my life in suspension forever.

This month saw a fair bit of travelling. I visited Brighton twice – once to see Tom, the other time for a hike with Emma. Hiking with Emma was part of her MA, so the walk was written up in her research blog. I also visited Norwich, where we celebrated Rosy’s daughter leaving home (such emotion!) and ate some great meals. I spent some time in Hebden Bridge (Hepstonstall, actually), where I learned a valuable lesson about not trusting Calder Valley weather. I visited the offices of my new employer, Mindera, and loved meeting my colleagues in person. There was even a bit of camping in a field near where I’m living, and the Blame Blake event in Sheffield on Bank Holiday Monday. That’s a lot of travelling.

I continue to feel like I’m struggling with the new job, although the feedback I’ve had has been excellent. I’ve never had such a slow ramp-up to the point where I feel I’m contributing to a project with my full ability. I do love working on a mature microservice set-up – although I also feel a little awed by how much work it has taken the client to reach that point. Successful cloud architectures are not easy.

I’m continuing to write, and focussing on sending things out. I’ve had a small piece, Alex and the Face, published in Microfiction Monday and there are seven other stories out for submission. I’ve decided that writing should be at least as much fun as playing video games, and will let that idea guide what I work on from now on.

Other than the hike with Emma, I’ve mainly been keeping to my regular daily walks. My total for the month is 407,230 steps, with a daily maximum of 33,634 (thanks, Emma!) and an average of 13,136 steps (compared with 11,342 in July and 10,766 in April 2020’s lockdown).

I finished six books – highlights were Heroic Failures and CJ Stone’s Fierce Dancing, which was a great portrait of a lost culture. The Final Girl Support Group was a brisk read, which was great, but it wasn’t quite the book I’d hoped for. I wanted more revisionist slasher fiction (like the first series of the Nailbiter comics) but the novel was somewhat overwhelmed by the plot.

I watched very little TV, slowly making my way through Pose. I did watch the movie Pig, which was a wonderfully weird film about food culture, featuring an understated performance from Nicholas Cage. Music-wise, there were long-awaited releases from Kanye West and Lorde, both of which I’m finding hard to get into. The Lorde album feels a little too dreamy, possibly due to sharing a producer with Lana Del Rey.

Quitting caffeine last month was a successful experiment. I am sleeping better and less tired during the day than usual. It’s not cured my headaches, but they have been less frequent and less severe, so that is a definite win.

I’ve been replaying The Last of Us Part 2, this time on a harder difficulty level. I’m definitely better at it than I was the first time round, but it feels like a dumb way to spend my time. Video games are compulsive and gripping, but developing skills in them feels kind of pointless. I have considered getting a new game, but can’t see anything that won’t just devolve into repetition. As I said above, I’d rather focus on the sort of writing that is more interesting than games.

Overall, August felt pretty good. Now, with Summer coming towards an end, it’s time to start planning my next move.

Monthnotes: July 2021

I stayed close to home during July, not travelling more than a handful of miles away. While I did the same thing during a few months of 2020/1, this feels very different. I’m in the middle of the countryside which feels much less stressful than a large town. I’m enjoying time in nature, spotting new flowers and mushrooms appearing as the summer rolls on.

A lot of my walks have been with two dogs, Blue and Rosie. Rosie is too young for much walking, but I’ll take Blue out for a couple of miles most days. While my weight remains constant, Blue is looking good (the only Labrador I’ve met with hips). Stats wise, I’ve not done much: a total of 340,287 steps, with a daily maximum of 18,068 and an average of 11,342 steps (compared with 10,766 in April 2020’s lockdown). The main issue is that walking is all intentional and takes up a lot of time compared with, say, going to the shops or meeting up with friends for daily exercise.

Media wise, I’ve only finished a couple of books and don’t think I’ve watched any movies. I do read a lot of articles from RSS feeds on my kindle, and I’ve been getting back into watching TV again. The Mandalorian was an excellent fusion of space opera and spaghetti western. Atlanta was far weirder than expected and I’m looking forward to season 3.

I managed to watch two whole seasons of Snowpiercer, based on a recommendation on the Technoccult newsletter. It’s a fun show and compelling enough for me to keep watching. It’s set in the future, when a failed climate change solution has sent global temperature plummeting. The only remnants of humanity are living in a giant metaphor for the class system (a train that travels round the world).

A lot of this makes no sense – why would you use glass so much when it can’t be replaced easily? Who maintains the track? It’s nonsense, but it’s brisk, well-made nonsense. The acting has gripped me too, making it easy to believe when characters are seeing sunlight for the first time in years.

In the midst of everything, I also spent a week playing the rest of The Last of Us. I written in the past about what a nasty, cynical game I found it. I found aspects of the story revolting, particularly how the player was railroaded into immoral and wanton revenge, but the action setpieces and horror were compelling. But I suspect I’m done with PS4 games for a while. Nothing has come close to Death Stranding.

I’m finding the new job a little harder than expected. I think that’s a combination of moving to a new platform and remote onboarding. One of the things I was aware was lacking at Amex was the onboarding, and I tried to improve that as we expanded our teams. I now see that I should have been trying even harder than I did. Still, I have this weekend to recharge, and I’m going to try some new things next week.

One other thing I did this month was quit caffeine. I decided to stop immediately and deal with it. In retrospect, not a good idea. I lost a couple of days to a vicious headache, although I’d timed the acute phase to be over a weekend. I then had a while feeling laggy, sleeping through my alarm. I already feel positive changes – mostly smoother changes in energy through the day – but I’m still not feeling as alert as I was. If past experience is any guide, I’ll soon be waking up more easily, have more energy in the afternoons, and feel less caffeine jankiness.

Monthnotes: June 2021

June was a month of transition. While I moved out of my Brighton flat in May, there were loose ends to tidy up. I also did a little travelling: house-sitting in Norwich and visiting the Wirral. But, for the time being I’m in the middle of nowhere and finding space to relax.

My walking has been very much a maintenance dose, making sure I get a minimum level of exercise – my maximum was 31,724 (a day on the Pennine Way), and my average was a meagre 11,899. But walking has been great fun with these two as company:

I spent my birthday in Hebden Bridge, exploring the town a little and catching up with some friends. I walked a section of the Pennine Way and I’m happy to report the Landrover landmark is still there. It’s such a part of the route that it appears in the guidebook. (A similar sight on the South Downs Way, the old tank, was recently removed)

Also, I loved the chai boat, which travels between towns on the canal

Reading-wise, I’ve mostly been finishing books I started months ago. Jenny Odell’s book How to Do Nothing on the other hand was read over a few days. Most interesting to me was her discussion of attention. In combination with Cal Newport’s A World Without Email it got me thinking about how the world is set up for interruption and distraction (for example, having to turn off multiple notifications when installing a new Mac). So, I’m taking advantage of being in the countryside to do far less, and practise doing one thing at a time.

I don’t recall watching any movies during the month, and was mostly dipping into TV shows. Pose was fantastic, but I don’t seem to have the concentration it deserves.

One of the loose ends that needed tidying was moving on from American Express. I enjoyed the job, and loved the team I was working with. However, I was disappointed that a number of commitments made when I joined were not kept. It’s a shame, as there was a lot of good work to be done there. I do think I learned some useful lessons, and my skills are much sharper for being there.

The new job started three weeks ago, and I’m loving it so far. Working for a consultancy means joining two companies at once, and doing this while remote is a little strange. I love the idea of coding as a cottage industry, operating microservices from an old farm building in the middle of nowhere.