Monthnotes: September 2022

September felt like a transitional month. I was still settling in the house, and slowly moving things into the right places. There’s a lot to do, and I was grateful to my sister and her husband for coming by to strip down the ivy and creepers. The old flat in Halifax had to be cleaned and handed back. I also wound up my job with Mindera, which I finished on the last day of the month.

Along with all this, I went out hiking for a week on Coast-to-Coast with my brother-in-law. Katharine came to visit and, inspired by a guardian article, we took a hike in Bradford, which turned out to be a little underwhelming. I did get to see an original Lowry painting, though. I think we had a copy in the house when I was small, and the original turned out to be much larger than I expected. I did local sections of the Pennine Way with James Spratt, including my first wild swim in Gaddings Dam reservoir. Vicky brought her greyhound Libby to visit and I discovered that greyhounds are weird creatures, nothing like other dogs. I was surprised to learn that they chatter their teeth to express joy.

With the long hike included, I walked 536,907 steps in September, with a maximum of 46,870 on the second day’s walking on the Coast to Coast. This means a daily average of 17,896, which is the highest for some time. My weight continues to float gently downwards, although only by a pound and a half, despite a sometimes poor diet.

The Guardian’s Bradford hike

My writing has been a little slower this month, with only six submissions, and one new story finished but not sent out (James Joyce’s Ulysses as a Cursed Object). For the first time, I had all of my current stories submitted at the same time (11 in total). I withdrew a couple of stories from submission (Wreckage and The Leech Catchers) as I didn’t feel they were as instantly appealing as my other pieces, but they might emerge somewhere eventually. The month ended with a flurry of rejections, bringing my stats for the year so far to 41 submitted, 7 accepted, 29 rejected. I’m more excited about writing than ever, and looking forward to playing with some ideas before I start the new job. Three stories were published:

I’ve been reading some great books this month, although in a disordered way, switching between them. Of the books I finished, three were non-fiction books about music – it’s as if reading about music has replaced getting into new bands. Curious about how the Beatles went on to make Abbey Road after the finality of Let It be, I read Ken McNab’s And in the End. There is a lot in the book about business dealings, shareholdings and corporate takeovers, but I guess that is a reflection of where the Beatles had found themselves. Nicholas Soulsby’s Dark Slivers focussed on Nirvana’s Incesticide, and produced a surprising number of fresh insights and revelations about Kurt Cobain. The book-length Nick Cave interview Faith, Hope and Carnage discussed Cave’s creative process and spirituality, as well as being a provocative engagement with grief.

Grief was also a substantial theme of Ru Callender’s memoir What Remains?. I’d expected this to be good, but I was surprised by how good. I discussed this a little on Twitter, but plan to write more soon. Storyland by Amy Jeffs managed to be more engaging than most books of myths, and contained many I’d not read before. I was inspired to read No Country for Old Men by the movie, and loved the grit of the language. Olivia Laing’s Everybody was another triumph – less cohesive than The Lonely City maybe, but it brought together people including William Reich, de Sade, Malcolm X and Nina Simone. There was also an amazing section on Ana Mendieta, an artist I couldn’t believe I’d missed out on. I also read a novel about music, David Keenan’s This is Memorial Device, which I think I need to revisit, as I don’t think I gave it as much attention as it deserved. It seems a book that would be better suited to physical form than on a Kindle. Finally, Sally Jenkinson’s new pamphlet Pantomime Horse, Russian Doll, Egg was released (for sale here), and it was a powerful and moving work. September’s reading might have been disordered, but I read some amazing books.

I didn’t manage much TV, although I finished watching Better Call Saul with Kate Shields. It was a great show, but I’m not sure what story it wanted to tell. And maybe telling its story alongside the events of Breaking Bad harmed it in the end. I saw several movies. Everything Everywhere All At Once was delightful, and as good as everyone promised. Kes was an interesting period piece. I watched The Return (2005) with James Spratt and it was somewhat disappointing. Withnail and I was quotable but the alcoholism just felt sad. I also made two trips to the cinema. The Forgiven was great, and I enjoyed watching a drama with no CGI, spaceships or superheroes. Nope was more my usual fare and was excellently constructed, although it didn’t grab me as tightly as I would have liked.

It’s been weird having such a long time between accepting the new job and finishing the old one. I’m looking forward to getting stuck into some new challenges. In the meantime, I’ve updated my programming blog with some missing content that was only on linked in. I also reviewed Dave Farley’s Modern Software Engineering book, which was excellent. I’ve got a couple of weeks off between the two jobs and I’m hoping to play with a few tech things in that time.

It’s been another battering month for the UK politically. Liz Truss came into power then a few days later the queen died. This meant that politics was out on hold despite the ongoing crisis. I was away for the mourning period, although this meant I caught a few TV screens where the BBC news seemed to be doing nothing more than interviewing people in the queue. When politics returned, Truss failed to solve the energy crisis for many people then unleashed the worst budget of my lifetime. Along with the nuclear posturing over Ukraine, this continues to be an anxious time.

Something musical I’ve enjoyed recently – Alison Rose’s acoustic version of the Nevermind album. Acoustic covers can be a cheap trick, but this album draws out how good the originals were.

Monthnotes: August 2022

At the start of August I finally moved into my new house in Hebden Bridge. Even now, four weeks later, I’m still overjoyed to be waking up here. It’s been a particularly idyllic time to arrive with the good weather, and I’ve reminded myself not to get too used to Hebden Bridge being dry. The move itself was shoddy, with no attempt to prepare bedding, or keep things tidy enough that I could find my chargers. I’ve now moved all the boxes to one room and am working to make each of the rooms cosy. It’s going to take some time, but I’m looking forward to it.

The day before I moved in, Tom messaged to say “Now you can start getting stressed about maintenance”. And yes, I am discovering that an old house will require a fair bit of work. To start with, I have a whole host of trailing plants that need to be brought under control. I’ve bought a ladder and garden tools and am slowly dealing with the creepers. I’m enjoying the prospect of this new workload. Reading Four Thousand Weeks last month made it clear that there is never enough time, and we just have to choose how to spend it.

The other exciting news is that I have accepted an offer for a new job, starting in October. The interviews for the new job took place either side of the move, which in retrospect was crazy. I’ve loved working at Mindera, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a new type of company. In the end, it comes down to geography – as much as I love remote working, I want to move to a one-day-a-week hybrid model. I went to Leeds for the company barbecue and met some of my new colleagues and am incredibly excited about working with them.

Despite the move, I’ve been getting on with regular things. Kit had been booked to come visit weeks ago, in what turned out to be a couple of days after the move, but it was good to have him help me settle. I went to an excellent talk on Coin Trees with Wil, one of the Cerne2CERN pilgrims. I also attended a one-day Arvon workshop at Hebden Town Hall with Amy Liptrot and Will Self. Amy was particularly inspiring, filling me with ideas about place writing. On Bank Holiday Monday, I had a visit from another pilgrim, Dan, and his sheepdog Molly. Other than that I’ve been trying to discover all the little paths in the woodland behind my house.

Walking continues to be little more than a maintenance dose, with a total of 339,822 steps for August. An average of 10,962 and the highest 20,734 when I was moving house – more activity than distance that day. My weight has continued to float downwards, but slightly more slowly than last month, with another 2.2 pounds disappearing without effort. As the house purchase became stressful last month, I started drinking coffee again. Even just having one or two coffees a day was affecting my concentration and sleep patterns, so I needed to stop. I lost a Saturday to caffeine withdrawal, which felt like an awful hangover. Hopefully I won’t need to do that again.

I wrote two new stories in August (Little Piggies and The Leech Catchers) and sent six submissions, with my stats for the year standing at 35 submitted, 6 accepted, 21 rejected. That means I had 9 rejections in August, which I feel pretty OK about. Three stories are due to be published in September.

I’m picking up the pace of the pace of the submissions now, which is good. Submissions are hard work and involve a spreadsheet, but Chuck Palahniuk recently wrote about how you need to love all parts of the writing process. I sometimes feel anxious about running out of places to send stories – there are markets closing all the time. But Dave Farley’s Modern Software Engineering has been a good reassurance about the importance of making small bets and learning from those. The more I submit, the more clearly I can see which elements of my writing are working for other people. For example, I’m focussing more on characters than concepts, which is producing better stories.

Out of the books I’ve read this month, the highlights were Hannah Gadsby’s Ten Steps to Nannette, which provides an interesting glimpse into how her austistic mind works. Chuck Wendig’s The Book of Accidents was an interesting novel that felt very much influenced by Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and one I wished had been a little less cosmic. Dave Farley’s Modern Software Engineering was a good guide to the state of the art in the discipline. Sally Coulthard’s A Short History of the World According to Sheep was very much in the quirk-non-fiction genre kicked off by Longitude, covering a broad swathe of history including some interesting details about Halifax’s history.

Despite how much was going on in August, I managed to watch a fair amount of TV. Netflix’s Trainwreck: Woodstock 99 was a good documentary, although showing the footage of sexual assaults seemed unnecessary and violating. I tried The Sandman but gave up after a few minutes – I love the comics, but the adaptation felt twee and overly faithful. I’m glad other people are enjoying it so much. Westworld season 4 managed brief moments of genius but was, overall, tired and confused. I’ve also been catching up with Better Call Saul. I’m not sure why I’d stopped, particularly in the middle of a pandemic with so little else going on. Kate had been hyping it, and I’ve been enjoying watching remotely with her. Just a few episodes to go!

When Kit came up we watched Nicholas Cage metafiction The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent which was both fun and about twenty minutes too long. I also went on my first trip to the Picturehouse in Hebden Bridge to see Alex Garland’s Men. While I have quibbles with the movie, it was a great one to see in the cinema, with some amazing visuals.

I was sad not to make it to the Edinburgh fringe to see the new version of Rosy’s show Musclebound, but I did enjoy her appearance on the Persistent and Nasty podcast. I also enjoyed Gemma Files’ short story Each Thing I Show You is a Piece of My Death.

Politically, Britain continues to feel like it’s in decline, with nothing good coming down the road. The energy price increases are shocking, given that they make it impossible for so many people to make ends meet. It seems incredible that a government would put a large proportion of the country in a position where rent, food and energy have risen to the point they simply cannot afford them. And that’s to say nothing of the costs to business, schools, and nurseries, which threaten a horrifying economic contagion. It’s terrifying, particularly given the lack of engagement by the Conservative party, who are distracted by their leadership campaign. I’m expecting Truss to take action once she is in power, but even so, putting people into a position like this is unacceptable. Nobody should be made anxious about how to heat their homes. The job of a government is to look after its people.

Monthnotes: July 2022

In just a couple of day’s time, I’m moving to Hebden Bridge! This has been in the works since mid-March, and the purchase has been a long and difficult process. But it all worked out in the end. There’s a huge amount to do, both before and after the move, but I am very excited.

Throughout much of July, it looked like the house purchase would not go through, so I tried to keep busy. I caught up with my old friend Liz in Leeds; Jen and Dave from Liverpool Arts Lab came by to pick up the Bodge back issues (it was a little emotional to say farewell to them). I also had visits from Naomi and Kate Shields. I went out with my niece to celebrate Mum’s birthday (everyone else had the rona), and got to see the pigs. A trip to sign paperwork also meant dropping by the Mindera offices in Leicester. I even tried to distract myself from house woes by attending a vogue class – ouch! My poor toes! Everyone was very friendly, but it felt weird to be the only man in the class, particularly when I had 20 years on everyone else.

I went to visit Muffy in Blackpool, and we watched Thor: Love and Thunder. In theory, Muffy lives a short hop down the train line, but returning from Blackpool on the Sunday took over 10 hours. It really does feel like this country is falling apart. Among my misadventures were a ride with a racist taxi driver. In my haste to exit his cab, I left my Kindle behind. Further problems in July came from an incompetent hosting company causing DNS issues and knocking out my email out for a few days.

I’ve not been doing much walking recently, and a planned hike along the Pennine Way was cancelled due to the mid-July heatwave. My step total for the month was 352,571, with an average of 11,373 steps, and the highest total being 27,341 on the day I was trapped in Blackpool. I also missed my daily target for the first day since probably 2019 – only by 32 steps, but that gives you an idea how stressful everything has been. I’m not sure if it’s been better eating habits, stress or the heat, but I lost 4.9 pounds over the month with very little effort. I’ve not been drinking since May and feel much better for that, although I am having a daily coffee again which I need to stop. I’m also benefitting from Sooxanne’s recommendation of Floradix, which seems to be reducing my tiredness.

I wrote one new story this month (The Appalling Fate of Henry Fluffstock) and sent 4 out. My stats for 2022 so far are 29 submitted, 5 accepted, 12 rejected. Two of July’s acceptances were for long horror stories, which is great. I also launched a new South Downs Way zine and didn’t really tell anyone – although I did get a very positive review from ZeenScene. I also read at the Todmorden open mic, which was great fun.

My reading in July has not really flowed, and I’ve found it hard to concentrate, despite reading some excellent books. One of the best things I’ve read in some time is Oliver Burkeman’s 4,000 Weeks. This turns the usual productivity advice on its head by starting with the fact that there will never be enough time, and we will never feel on top of our workloads. “Productivity is a trap. Becoming more efficient just makes you more rushed, and trying to clear the decks simply makes them fill up again faster”. Burkeman uses this as a basis for liberation. Highly recommended, and something that deserves its own blog post at some point.

Zakiya Dalila Harris’s The Other Black Girl was an excellent novel about racism, which sometimes felt like eavesdropping. Danny Goldberg’s Serving the Servant was a biography of Cobain by his manager, and an interesting angle on a singer who claimed to shun success. Bodies by Ian Winwood was a good book on mental health and addiction in the music industry, which I read following an brilliant excerpt in the Quietus. The awful journey from Blackpool was eased somewhat by standing in a crowded train next to someone reading Tabitha Lasley’s Sea State and getting to talk about what an excellent book that is.

Thor: Love and Thunder was everything a Marvel movie ought to be (including being a little disposable). I also watched Jennifer’s Body and Netflix Internet-horror Cam. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair was an interesting and moody film about the Internet and isolation. Everything Everywhere All at Once was as crazy and creative as people had promised. Sadly, I only got to watch the first half, as my friend wasn’t into it, but it’s definitely a film that demands to be rented again.

The TV highlight for July was Atlanta season 3, which was both flawed and one of the most interesting shows I’ve seen in years. Westworld continues its recovery – while not reaching the first season’s standard, the show is a massive improvement on seasons 2 and 3. One of my favourite things about ‘prestige TV’ is the discussion around it, and The Prestige TV Podcast has been excellent on Westworld and very, very good on Atlanta. I didn’t end up continuing with The Lazarus Project – there was just too much going on for me to follow much TV.

Stray on the PS4 is a short video game where you play a cat. The puzzles were perfectly pitched, with just a little struggle needed, and being a cat was fun. I also started replaying The Last of Us Part 2 on a permadeath mode.

When driving I listen to one of the two CDs in my car (Philip Glass’s Metamorphosis or Lana Del Rey’s Blue Banisters), or Radio 4. Travelling back from my Mum’s birthday, I listened to a radio 4 documentary Children’s Homes: Profits Before Care? The report was shocking, laying out how much the country pays for private children’s homes, how profitable they are for international players such as the Abu Dhabi Sovereign Wealth Fund, and how much worse the outcomes are for children in such homes. It was a shocking explication of how poorly we are being served by privatisation. The show is still available to listen to online.

British politics has continued to be a car-crash, with the Johnson government collapsing quickly – surprisingly due to someone else’s sex scandal. I was appalled that his ministers quit due to him being unsuitable for office and then left him in place. The Conservative leadership election is being played out against a background of a record-breaking heatwave and increasing energy prices. Both of these are terrifying, in the long-term and short-term respectively. For the energy cap, the government is faced with a choice between supporting energy company profits or people being able to heat their homes. It looks like we are choosing the profits, which makes plain the implications of years of privatisation. I don’t see this ending well.

artwork by Heather Peak and Ivan Morison

In a milestone of aging, during July I was asked by a teenager whether I “knew what hip-hop was”.

Monthnotes: June 2022

June has been a slow blur. The days are getting longer, and a dense heat is settling into my valley, more muggy than hot. The month started with the four-day Jubilee weekend, which seemed like a lot of fuss over nothing. I had my friends Sophie and Katharine both visiting and, with Katharine, walked a section of the Pennine Way, south from Ponden reservoir to Hebden Bridge. On the Saturday, I drove all the way to Brighton for one evening so that I could attend Rosy’s birthday party. It’s a long journey, and not one I’m likely to make often, but it was good to see everyone. The journey was made easier by stopping off at my sister’s both ways, where I got to see my parents, and of course, my niece’s pigs.

The following weekend was another celebration of Rosy’s birthday, with a boat journey on the river Thames. It’s been a long time since I went on a boating holiday. I loved it – the slow pace, red kites gliding above us, and finding good places to moor. The following week, I had my own birthday which was a little muted, before doing the Yorkshire Three Peaks with work (I’ve blogged about this in detail). June’s final weekend was spent in Blackpool. It’s been good to get out and about but I do wonder if I should have spent more time locally. Maybe soon. At the end of the month I had a visit from my old housemate Sooxanne, who came up for a little co-working.

My Yorkshire Three Peaks walk was the longest day’s hiking I’ve done, with a total of 66,178 steps. I managed a total of 367,125 steps for the month, which is an average of 12,237 a day. My weight was exactly the same at the end of the month as it was at the start, despite trying to eat a little better. I guess I need to put more effort in.

I’ve somehow managed to read 50 books so far this year, and most of them have been pretty good. I started June with Tender is the Flesh by Argentinian writer Agustina Bazterrica, one of the darkest things I’ve read. The book describes a world where, due to a virus, animals can no longer be eaten. Instead, humans are farmed and slaughtered for meat. The book was pitiless and uncomfortable. Leaving Mundania by Lizzie Stark described the author’s experiences with larping. This was entertaining, particularly when she described the world of Nordic larp.

I’d expected Andrew Allen’s Dictionary of Sussex Folk Medicene to be dry and obscure. Instead it’s one of the most vivid local histories that I’ve read. After finishing it I had a much clearer idea of life in mediaeval Sussex, and learned about oddities such as toad-eaters, leech catchers, and the use of walnut leaves to induce dwarfism – a historical precendent for the characters in Geek Love. I enjoyed Ben Myers’ new novel The Perfect Golden Circle, a strange and vivid book about crop circles. I also read Lucy Easthope’s When the Dust Settles, an account of her career in disaster preparation. It is terrifying in places, and scathing about how the Tory austerity has hollowed out disaster planning. A deeply worrying and unsettling book.

Cake by the amazing KittyGirlBakes

I’ve not watched a lot of TV this month. While Katharine was visiting we watched The Pennine Journey, an 80s documentary following a group of teenagers walking the trail. It was fascinating to see how different documentaries were back then. I also finished watching Dispatches from Elsewhere. The show was uneven, going from a stunning opening episode to a slightly flabby middle section, but the series was open-hearted and daring. Dispatches from Elsewhere was based on a documentary called The Institute and it was interesting to watch the source material for that. I tried watching Happy Valley, a police drama set around this area, but it was too grim for me. Is watching people being sexually assaulted really mainstream TV? I started a few new series at the end of the month that will take me into July: Atlanta Season 3, Westworld Season 4 and Sky’s The Lazarus Project.

I watched some movies this month (as well as The Institute). The Batman was yet another grimdark Batman story, making me long for the fun Adam West version. Sunshine felt like a bland cover version of Event Horizon, and I’m not sure why they made it. Being Frank; The Chris Sievey Story was a fascinating documentary about the man behind Frank Sidebottom.

After clearing my backlog in last month’s deluge of submissions, my pace this month was slower with only 3 things going out. My piece Holiday Wardrobe was read at Liars League by Jennifer Aries. I also wrote two new stories, a flash fiction called Glitch and a micro fiction about a bath haunted by John Lennon’s ghost. The next South Downs Way zine went off to the printers, and will be out next month. In July I’m going to focus on writing a batch of flash fictions about technology. And maybe work on the long-delayed book of clown stories.

I’ve also been doing a little blogging. Mostly things I didn’t want to let pass without mentioning, such as the return of Buck 65 and a ritual I was involved with back in March. I’ve finally got my programming blog running again, and had a piece on Test-Driven Development published on the Mindera blog. I also started a new website, which I’m adding content to but not announcing just yet. The only visitor so far was a bot in the early part of the month, but I’m enjoying working on it, slowly building to the point where it’s found or it’s detailed enough to announce.

It’s been another dramatic and chaotic month in politics, and it’s hard to keep up with everything. Covid is still in the background, despite the government actively ignoring in the hope it goes away. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been dreading my parents catching coronavirus. Finally, after two years, my Dad caught covid – at the Download festival, no less. It was soon passed on to my Mum. We’ve been fortunate that the NHS has provided excellent treatment, reducing the virus to little more than an irritation, but it’s a reminder that the pandemic has not gone away. After growing lax about mask-wearing for a time, I am not back to wearing one more regularly, particularly in trains and shops. I’ve still not caught a symptomatic infection, and I’m not enthusiastic about the idea of coming down with it.

Monthnotes: May 2022

I did a lot during May and, looking back, it seems to have lasted a really long time. I started with a trip to Stratford to see Tom, which included a surprise boat ride. There were day trips to York and Blackpool, as well as a couple of hard days hiking, walking the Pennine Way between Malham and Ponden. I made a trip to Scarborough for Chillercon, which was inspiring, although travelling back to Halifax on the Sunday was complicated.

I also made my first trip to Brighton since moving, where I saw Rosy’s new show, Musclebound. She’s talked about this over the last few years and it was felt both strange and exciting to finally see the show. It’s an excellent piece, and I can’t wait to see what people make of it on tour. It was lovely to catch up with lots of friends but, even so, it was returning to Halifax that felt like coming home.

May has also been the most sociable month I’ve had since the pandemic started. I went on a couple of Ramblers’ walks, and attended Tod Writers and the UFO meet. I also finally made it to Halifax’s spoken word night Turn the Page, which was a lovely, warm community. The Centre for Folklore, Myth and Magic has opened in Todmorden and I visited for a talk on the UFO meet. I also had my friend Sophie come to stay. All this social activity was tiring, but it feels like I’m settling up here.

I’ve done more walking this month, which I suspect is down to the longer days. I walked a total of 380,559 steps, which makes a daily average of 12,276. My longest daily total was on the Pennine Way from Malham. Having been so busy, I managed only one fast day, but managed to lose about half a pound through sensible portion control.

I’m feeling a lot happier with my writing. Having hemmed and hawed, I’ve established a proper flow to my work. This involves new stories being submitted, as well as catching up with my backlog, and I sent out 18 pieces this month – more than ever before. Sending out the stories felt very positive. I wrote two new pieces of flash fiction – one about crypto-currencies and the other about a holiday, and I’m delighted that the latter was accepted by Liar’s League. I also have 2-3 booklets close to finishing, so something new will be published in June or July.

I read a lot in May. I’m not sure how I ended up finishing ten books, but it was a good mix. Among the highlights were:

  • Andrew McCloy’s The Pennine Way was a fascinating overview of the trail and its history.
  • Amy Liptrot’s The Instant was vivid and enjoyable, but could have been longer.
  • Plain Bad Heroines by emily m. danford was a compelling character-based gothic.
  • Bad Actors by Mick Herron was a fun, easy read but with less of the spark of the earlier books in the series.
  • Despite his reputation, I enjoyed Johann Hari’s new book Stolen Focus. Although it could have done with more fact-checking (at one point it mentioned an “85-page newspaper”), but its discussion of social media’s effects was striking.
  • A Libertarian Walks into a Bear was recommended by Tom. What happens when a group of small-government libertarians take over a town with a bear problem?
  • I finished William S. Burroughs vs the Qu’ran by Michael Muhammed Knight the same day that I learned Hakim Bey had died. Knight’s book is a transgressive and likely-blasphemous look at his muslim faith, which starts as a biography of Bey. Knight abandons the problem because he cannot find a way around Bey’s disturbing and problematic views. Knight’s writing is excellent about his membership of the Five-Percent Nation. It’s a messy, difficult book, and one of the most provocative things I’ve read in years.
  • Chums by Simon Kuper was heralded by some good newspaper excerpts. The book looks at how 80s Oxford has influenced the current state of the UK. Kuper blames the ascendancy of a shallow, bombastic Oxford-style for the current problems in the country.

I’ve not watched many TV shows or films. Pentaverate looked promising, but ended up being crude rather than witty. Dr Strange and the Multiverse of Madness was the usual Marvel-by-numbers: entertaining but not worth thinking too much about. I started watching Obi Wan Kenobi until it was obvious it wasn’t going to be as good as The Mandalorian (the only good Star Wars spin-off since 1999). The best thing I saw was South Korean mediaeval zombie thriller, The Kingdom; both epic and creepy, I’m taking a short break before Season Two rather than wolfing it down in one go. I’m now rewatching Dispatches frome Elsewhere which I started earlier this year and didn’t finish. I think I’m enjoying the early episodes even more a second time. The acting is phenomenal and delivers a script which could easily have felt hokey.

That state of the country has been depressing recently. Johnson seems to have evaded any censure from the Sue Gray report, while Starmer finds himself tangled up in the blowback from it. It’s a pretty good metaphor for parliamentary politics in general: Starmer makes good, clear points in PMQs, only for Johnson to sweep them aside. It’s depressing that this is the best we can do as a country. I’ve been grateful for the light relief of the Vardy/Rooney trial.

Looking back, May was quite a month. Socialising so much has made me nervous about infection, but I seem to have been OK. June looks like it could be at least as much fun.

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.