April Monthnotes

April turned out to be a much better month than March, not least because I’m working in the office again. While I prefer working from home, I find that doing it under pandemic conditions is difficult. Office life is currently austere, but the daily change of scene is improving things. On top of that, I’ve been socialising more, which is making me feel more like myself. The first loosening of lockdown restrictions meant I could visit family for the first time in months, and it was great to head out of the city.

The increased mobility has made my daily steps total much easier. My average was a more convincing 14,414, with a maximum of 33,472. I now need to focus on fixing my bad back (like, actually doing my physio regularly) and doing more than simply walking, as nearly four months of lockdown has had a significant impact on my general fitness.

I watched several films, all of which were pretty decent. Godzilla vs Kong was a bit of a mess, but entertaining enough as a watch-at-home blockbuster. Suspiria and No Country for Old Men were intense, Palm Springs was an awesome timeloop film that I’ve yet to write up. Most enjoyable was probably Get Duked, a low budget classic recommended by Cat Vincent.

I’ve continued to be unfocussed with my reading, meaning I finished only a couple of books on politics.

That was a long, hard winter! But it feels good to be into spring and able to make plans once more!

Monthnotes: March 2021

(I forgot to actually post this at the start of April. March was not a great month, completely overshadowed by lockdown. Things are feeling much better now Spring has arrived)

The winter feels like it’s been going on forever. Physically, my eyes, my teeth, my body all feel like they’re falling apart. This lockdown has dragged, and even the clocks going forward doesn’t feel like much improvement.

I continued dragging myself out for 10,000 steps a day, managing an average of 11,550 and a maximum of 15,350. It’s taking a lot of effort to get outside, but I somehow still manage it. However, this is my only exercise and it’s really not doing its job. Maybe I will do some swimming now the spring is here, and hopefully I can find some way to reinvigorate the walking.

I watched a stack of movies, most of which were time loop films. I also watched:

  • Starship Troopers
  • Airplane
  • Rambo: First Blood Part 2
  • Synchronic
  • Sacrifice (2020)
  • The Empty Man

My reading has been a little all over the place, and I only finished six books, while having dipped into many, many more. The ones I finished were mostly about ley lines, but I did finish Suzanne Buffam’s The Pillow Book, which was a beautiful response to Sei Shonogan’s work. I also read Tom Bowers’ biography of Boris Johnson which, while deeply flawed, was also thought-provoking.

Ministry For the Future was an interesting novel, which with its multiple voices and long discussions of banking, felt closer to a ’lyrical essay’. Ultimately Robinson seems to imply that the world can be saved with cryptocoins based on carbon sequestration; mass civil disobedience; and targeted assassination of senior staff in polluting organisations. I should probably be reading actual non-fiction about how we save the planet, but this felt both sobering and hopeful.

Wandavision was ultimately disappointing, abandoning the playfulness for CGI combat – it was interesting while it lasted. Ultimately the show found itself uncomfortable and ignored the implication of many of its themes. Aaron Brady’s long essay in the LA Review of books had an eloquent summary of the show’s failures.

Rupaul’s Drag Race (US) has been great fun, despite the producers’ heavy handed interference. I’m warming (well, more thawing) to Kandy Muse, Gottmik is my favourite, and Symone seems a dead certainty to take the crown. With two series of Drag Race UK in 2022, I suspect this will jump the shark soon, but the show has been great pandemic entertainment.

February Monthnotes

February was a bleak month but, as it drew to a close, I was feeling hopeful. The government’s plans for returning to normality gave me something to look forward to. At the same time, my house sale is ticking over in the background, with the promise of big changes once that completes. Most of February was challenging, though. I felt isolated under lockdown, and my company was handling remote working poorly. The repetition of the days was difficult, with my energy very low.

I reduced my daily step goal to 10,000 in the middle of the month as I was struggling to do much more than that. My total for February was 323,882 (compared to 415,784 in January), an average of about 11,500. I’ve been so bored of walking that I resorted to buying a new pair of running shoes. I’ve not been doing any more than occasional lengths of jogging, but it is the first positive thing I’ve done towards running in some time. I’m taking it very easy and doing lots of physio to avoid setting my hip off.

Not for the Faint-Hearted has continued its weekly writing session, and I’m enjoying being part of that community. There was also a new issue of Bodge, and sending out the physical copies of that is fun.

Work on the South Downs Way project continues slowly. I’m in an informal workshop with Rosy and Sam, where I’ve polished up a couple of new pieces. I’m finally putting a new actual collection of stories together. I’m moving slowly (so slowly!) but I don’t feel as if I am wasting time. Rather I’ve been improving as a writer and this will hopefully show in the new work.

I’ve been reading less news, which has resulting in me spending a lot more time with books. I read Salena Godden’s Mrs Death Misses Death, and long to hear that as an audiobook. David Mitchell’s Slade House was light but fun; Empireland by Sathnam Sanghera was an effective book on a lot of current debates; Derek Jarman’s At Your Own Risk was a powerful depiction of gay life in the 90’s. Patricia Lockwood’s No-one is Talking About This was an impressive novel about being Extremely Online and very inspiring.

I watched a pile of movies last month: Wheel of Time, Kill List, The Wailing, Quatermass and the Pit and Apostle. Glitch In the Matrix was interesting, but the interview with killer Joshua Cooke unbalanced it somewhat. I also watched Bill & Ted Face the Music which was exactly the positive film I needed at the time. TV included more Wandavision, Rupaul’s Drag Race US, and the Mandalorian. It was great to see Joe Black brought back to Drag Race UK, even if he failed to make it through to the next episode.

Onward into March!

Monthnotes: January 2021

Total January

They say time gets faster as you get older, but January has managed to be the slowest month I’ve ever experienced. There has been no travel anywhere, few events, and I’ve been waiting out the time. I don’t know how other people are coping with this, particularly those in cramped accommodation, or unstable shared houses, or with no opportunity for income. We’re hearing promises from the government about a great summer, but it’s hard to put much stock in those. Life is just work, screens and staying safe.

Inspired by my friend Justin, I’ve been keeping a diary to help tell the days apart. It’s just a few lines for each day, noting what was remarkable about it. It’s helped to distinguish the days from each other, and has made life a little more vivid.

Work feels particularly strange at the moment – I’ve not seen my colleagues for almost a year, and I was only about five months into the job before this begun. The advantages of being in a permanent role are pretty much obliterated and I long to go contracting.

I’ve continued my maintenance dose of walking, with a target 11,000 steps a day. My total for January was a healthy 415,784, which is an average of over 13,000. I feel like I’ve been wasting my daily steps by not doing more interesting things with them. But some days it’s hard to summon the energy just to pace without trying to feel inspired too. I’ve considered starting running again, despite the bad hip, just to see if I can make my exercise more interesting.

After a long pause, I restarted Not for the Faint-Hearted, my now-online writing group. I feel like I’ve relaxed into this year’s sessions and have been enjoying them a great deal. At the end of the session, we each discuss a piece of culture we’ve enjoyed the past week, and the question has unearthed some fascinating passions.

I finished reading a good brace of books. Wintering by Katherine May has a strong book-of-the-year vibe to it. I also read Gideon the Ninth, and I’m still trying to work out if I liked it enough to invest time in the series. I loved Gideon’s smirking and inappropriate humour, and would be up for more of that. I’m going to wait for a while and see if I’m drawn back.

I’m still listening to audiobooks through an Audible subscription, although it seems to be mostly there as a fallback for when I run out of podcasts. The first audiobook I listened to was the stunning Beastie Boys book, and the others are having a hard time living up to that.

On the PS4, I’ve been playing Horizon: Zero Dawn a little, but that feels compulsive rather than fun. TV has included Wandavision, Rupaul’s Drag Race and the Mandalorian. I also managed a couple of movies: Pixar’s Soul had its message undermined by its provenance, and Chris Morris’s The Day Shall Come felt weirdly slight.

Via Kate, I’ve been getting into twitch. Listening to someone chatting over a video game is a good ambient experience. And, you know, the fact it’s streamed makes it a little better than me just being an old person who has the TV on for company.

While January has been grim, I’ve felt less lonely than I did in the previous lockdown. I’m making more effort to socialise on zoom and it is definitely helping. Being in a bubble, along with the simple act of sharing food, is also doing a great deal to keep me sane.

According to the almanac, we gain about 100 minutes of daylight through the course of February. We also have the start of Lent on February 17th. I’ve been trying to make use of festivals as calendar markers wherever I can. On that basis, Lent is a good thing. But do I need to follow a festival around giving things up, when we have already giving up so much?

December Monthnotes

December was a hard month, where the confinement and stress of the pandemic hit me harder than ever. Motivating myself for daily walks continued to be difficult, and I’ve done few long walk recently. A 20,000 step walk with Ben Graham, at the start of December, left my feet aching. My walking total for the month was 440,948, with a minimum of just 5 steps above my target, and a maximum of 25,220 when I was holidaying in Sheringham. My total for the year was 5,034,033 steps and 2,347 miles.

I managed to watch six films in the month, more than I’ve managed in a while:

  • Tenet (fun, but I’m glad I didn’t risk a cinema for it)
  • The Shot Caller (a rewatch of a favourite prison film. It had fewer prison scenes than I remembered and on reflection I think I prefer Felon, from the same director)
  • American Utopia
  • Sunset Boulevard (finally! And a much weirder film than I expected)
  • The 40-year-old version
  • Host

I finished the story of Death Stranding and continued playing afterwards, completing the road system on Christmas Eve. That evening, a lovely email went out to Bridges operatives, which made the night feel less weird and isolated. I’m a little obsessed by this game. I’ve looked for something else to play on my PS4 but can’t find anything similar.

I spent a few days in Sheringham and looked for fossils. Short after returning, I learned a valuable lesson about hairdressing: it’s not a game for amateurs. I was obliged to shave my head and was relieved when it grew to a grade-1 again. On the 25th, I had a lovely Christmas with Kate Shields, despite leaving preparations to the last minute.

December was a tough month, and it will get worse before it gets better. But, as January starts, I feel more resilient and, maybe, prepared for what is to come. But as 2020 has taught us, it’s hard to guess exactly what the future holds.

I’ve set this post to publish at 1:51pm. According to my almanac, this is the perihelion, when the earth passes closes to the sun, about 91 million miles.

Looking forward to 2021 / Day 291

I welcomed in 2021 sharing homemade soup with a friend, on a Brighton seafront bench. Living on my own, it’s rare to share food these days, so this felt like a blessing. We were socially distanced and the police patrols ignored us. I had lit some incense, but placed it badly so that the wind just swept the smoke away. Later, the walk home was edgy, none of the friendly cameraderie of a normal New Year’s Eve.

I saw out 2020 with a couple of zoom calls: catching up with the CERN pilgrims, and some of Kate Shields’ DJ set. She’d placed the decks so that, at midnight, her camera caught the reflection of the beachfront fireworks in a door’s glass. It was a beautiful-crafted moment, one of the highlights of a grim year.

My main priority for 2021 is not to get sick. As the numbers of covid-19 cases go through the roof, this begins to seem challenging. Does the basic method of “hands, face, space” work? Brighton has about 208 new cases a week per 100,000 residents: one in every few hundred people is infected. How are so many people catching the infection at this point in time? Is it even safe to be walking along the seafront? A good friend has long covid, and it is not something I want to deal with.

(Over the past year, I’ve kept an eye on the Lockdown Sceptics site. It’s been interesting to see the alternative narratives to ongoing events. But, with the second wave, Toby Young’s endeavour looks intellectually threadbare. There is no comfort left in misinterpreted data).

Despite the pandemic, I achieved my modest aims for 2020. Having a year of nothing at this stage in my life has provided time to reflect. I’m glad that did not come too late for me.

What I am excited about in 2021? What makes a good life within a dangerous and ongoing pandemic? Even with the vaccine, we could be a long way from normality, and the government’s promise of ‘normality by Easter’ requires a competence that’s not so far been displayed.

I’ve mocked the idea of comparing life to video-games but Death Stranding has been a powerful metaphor for the isolation and strangeness of my pandemic experience. A few days ago, someone reminded me of the game’s lesson. So, in 2021, I want to be a good Bridges operative, and to make connections amidst the isolation.

2021 will have a rough start. But my 2021 almanac tells me that there is an hour more daylight at the end of January than at the start. We can see the first glimmer of better days ahead.

Monthnotes – November 2020

November brought with it a small rekindling of hope. As the Verge’s headline put it, President Trump is defeated: the timeline is restored. Of course, 2020 has taught me to be cautious about promises, but we are apparently a couple of weeks from the first vaccine rollouts. Even allowing for government incompetence, we have a pathway towards normality. Although we still have to get through the post-Christmas spike and the disruption of Covexit; and even the most optimistic timelines suggest pandemic disruption will continue until Easter 2021. But an end is in sight.

November has been spent under lockdown, so I’ve done very little. The days feel quite repetitious and I am thoroughly bored of spending time in my own flat. My walking total was a slack 385,978 steps, with a maximum of 23,852. Doing the steps continues to be a chore, but the motivation for daily exercise seems essential.

I finished just one book, Sasha Swire’s Diary of an MP’s Wife which is a spectacularly candid book about the Cameron government. I also finished listening to my first audiobook, The Beastie Boys Book. I’ve never paid particular attention to the band, but I love music biographies, and this audiobook was designed as a spectacular. Rather than an actor or the band reading, they brought in friends and colleagues. The sections set in England, for example, are read by Jarvis Cocker and Elvis Costello.

I’ve also been impressed by the Louder than a Riot podcast, a series about the history of hip-hop and mass incarceration. Obviously, much of the content is depressing, but there are a few lighter moments – not least rapper Too Short discussing his (abandoned) plans for a conscious hip-hop album.

The only film I watched was prison drama The Animal Factory. Directed by Steve Buscemi (who also appeared on the Beastie Boys audiobook), this movie had a great cast and story. Much of my leisure time was spent finishing PS4 game Death Stranding, which proved a strange and moving experience. I’ve been half-watching Star Trek: Discovery and Walking Dead: The World Beyond, but I’m finding it hard to get excited about TV shows.

Life continues to feel frozen by the pandemic. I’m becoming more engaged with my writing a blogging, and making plans for the future. I’m looking forward more to January than December, and the new year ahead.

Monthnotes – October 2020

October ended with the announcement of another lockdown, which makes me grateful that I did a little travelling. I visited Shropshire, Oxford, the Forest of Dean and spent a couple of days on the South Downs Way. The clocks going back brought in an abrupt winter and I’m now trying to get used to the daylight finishing before six.

This month, I’ve reduced the amount of live news that I’ve been consuming as it was making me anxious for little benefit. I’m still reading summaries and longform pieces, and I’m not missing much by not following every minor update.

My walking total was a fairly low 402,082 steps, with only one proper walk in the month – an average of just under 13,000 steps a day, and a maximum of just 34,727. But, despite the weather and my feelings of lethargy, I am still managing 10,500 steps a day. Just about.

The trip to Shropshire was a great chance to relax, and got me back into reading actual books. I managed to finish six this month, relatively high for 2020. Among them was Nick Hayes’ The Book of Trespass and Gareth Rees’ Unofficial Britain, both excellent.

I’ve watched a little more TV than usual. After a disappointing middle, Lovecraft Country rallied to finish its season on a very high note. The Haunting of Bly Manor managed to be incredibly tense and spooky, despite falling apart at the end. Walking Dead: The World Beyond is loathed by most of the critics I’ve read, but is a great show so far, and the apocalyptic mood is perfect.

On the PS4 I’ve mostly been playing The Last of Us Part 2. I’ve wanted to like this game so much, given the glorious scenery and strong ruined-world energy. In the end, the linear world design and grim murders have proved too much and made it all feel like a chore. I think I will be back to Death Stranding in November.

I saw three films: rewatches of Arrival and The Craft, and Trial of the Chicago 7 on Netflix. The last of these was stunning, with some great performances. I find Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman fascinating and loved the portrayals of them.

Monthnotes – September 2020

September has been about negotiating with the new normal. This pandemic isn’t going away, and there’s no obvious exit strategy. Even a vaccine won’t be an instant fix, and may not be a permanent one. The situation is dangerous, but I’ve been trying to find a balance between safety and continuing my life.

This month has included a visit to Norwich and hiking the White to Dark Trail in the Pennines. I’ve also returned to the office. This has meant commuting, which feels risky but – it’s so great to have time out of the house! I love working remotely, but the current situation removes a lot of the things I enjoy about it.

My walking has been a little variable, with the last 1/3 of the month being little more than a maintenance dose. My total was still a respectable 487,076 steps, an average of just over 16,000 steps a day. My maximum was 44,468 and the minimum was 10,401. Given the worsening weather, I’m happy enough to be forcing out 10,000 steps most days.

I’ve been reading a lot of news on my Kindle, but not many books. The only one I finished in September was The Museum of Whales You’ll Never See. I basically bought this on the strength of the title, and was not disappointed. It’s like Borges writing a travel book.

I’ve continued watching Lovecraft Country, which hasn’t lived up to its initial promise. I also watched Oz Season 1 over a weekend, which was interesting. Like Babylon 5 it was a harbinger of the golden age of TV, but it is a little dated. Very watchable though. I saw a couple of movies: Felon and Charlie Kaufman’s new movie I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Kaufman’s film was impressive, but it’s odd to see such great arthouse movies going straight to streaming. I’m not missing the cinema as much as I expected.

My exploration of videogames has continued. I’m finding the big games less enthralling than I expected. However, I started playing Death Stranding at the end of the month and I’m blown away. I love scrabbling over the landscapes, and the storyline is like being trapped in someone else’s dream.

The weather has now definitely turned towards winter, and the nights are drawing in. I feel less dread about the coming season than I did a few weeks back. It’s going to be a strange autumn, but I’m going to make my home as cosy as I can, and do my best to enjoy it.

Monthnotes – August 2020

August has been a month. I’m doing my best to get out and do things, but there’s an unavoidable crappiness to pandemic life. Without cafes and bars and galleries, Brighton is just an overcrowded town with too much building work, too many drunks, and junkies shooting up by the bins. Life isn’t as fun as it used to be, and some days I feel isolated and trapped. There isn’t much to be done about much of this – even when the office re-opens, socialising and moving about is banned, so that’s not yet an option. In the meantime, I’m in my flat most of the time.

I guess it’s about finding little things to hold the days together. I’ve been doing lots of hiking. Another highlight has been Naomi Wood’s Creative Writing workshops, hosted by Brighton’s feminist bookshop. I’ve been enjoying the challenge of these, and Naomi has pushed me to try new things. I’ve also been watching Bad Seed Tee Vee, Nick Cave’s YouTube channel. There’s also something reassuring about the burble of chat on the side of the screen.

Work feels like it has a little more flow, particularly since the team have solved a couple of major issues. There are still things to be faced, but the team’s daily life feels much easier now – we can focus on the challenges rather than the problems. I’ve also got to write some code, a pleasure I’ve not been allowed as much as I would like.

My daily walking felt a little easier recently, and I’ve managed a respectable amount. My total was 563,173 with a daily average of 18,167, with a high of 43,492. Not bad. I’m still a little frustrated by the lack of hiking options around Brighton, but I’ve made the best of this, with walks including Pyecombe, Southease, Amberley to Devil’s Dyke, Belle Tout lighthouse to Alfriston and along the Ouse, as well as a couple I’ve yet to write up on the blog.

Reading continues to be slow. I only finished a couple of actual books, but KJ Parker’s How To Rule An Empire and Get Away With It was a fun light read, a light fantasy which looks at some interesting details. I also re-read Nemesis the warlock and was amazed at how well it held up today.

I’m also finding it hard to concentrate on films. Much of my TV time has been spent scrolling through Prime and Netflix until I run out of time for a movie. I watched most of Upgrade, without managing to finish it. Blackkklansman was another excellent Spike Lee film; The Edge of Tomorrow started interesting but the contrived concept fell apart as it went on. I finally watched Stalker which was incredibly slow, and finished the month with gritty prison drama Starred Up.

Lovecraft Country is on Now TV and started with one of the best episodes of TV I’ve seen in a long time. The subsequent two episodes were less gripping, but I am enjoying having a weekly show to watch.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking ahead to winter. The claustrophobia is likely to feel more intense as the weather worsens, and the pandemic is not going away any time soon. I’ve picked up a PS4 and have been (slowly) making my way through The Last of Us. I expect it is going to be a slow, boring winter.