Monthnotes: January 2024

New Year’s Day rainbows

2024 started with headaches and ice. We had a big snowfall, which turned the streets icy and treacherous for a few days. Otherwise, January was mostly quiet, trying to get the year started, although I did have a visit from a friend of Rosy’s looking for somewhere quiet to write an essay. I also went down to the Midlands for my Dad’s 80th birthday.

The headaches were not much fun. For some reason, I had migraines on four consecutive Tuesdays, with one being so bad that I had a day off work. In response, I set up some alarms to remind me to take water, and that seems to be easing things.

After several months of reduced targets, I increased my step count because of a work competition. I walked 308,759 steps in total, an average of 9,960, with my highest being 29,000 on a hike with work. I looked back, and this current daily streak has been running since the first day of 2020. My weight continues to be high and at one point I hit what I think is my highest ever. Despite mostly cutting out sweets and crisps this month, things are stable and I only lost half a pound during January.

I finished watching Monarch: Legacy of Monsters on AppleTV. I thought there were only eight episodes, with an irritating cliffhanger, but there were actually two more, which failed to salvage things. I tried getting back into Oz but after a couple of week’s break I could not remember which episodes I’d seen and not, which seemed a bad sign. I rewatched the first episode of Mr Robot and loved it. I think I’ll continue watching that slowly.

Reading continues to be chaotic, but without any space to sort it out. I enjoyed David Bowie, Enid Blyton and the Sun Machine and Everything I Need I Get from You: How Fangirls Created the Internet. I also re-read Rules of Attraction, and liked how different it was from my memories. Otherwise, distraction is overwhelming and I’m just not able to settle into the enchantment of a good book.

It’s been a good month for movies, having watched 19, including 3 at the cinema. My love of films is being propelled by sharing responses with friends on Letterboxd. I watched three 3-hour epics: Killers of the Flower Moon was long but excellent; Oppenheimer was not quite the physics movie I wanted; and Malcolm X was stunning. Days of Heaven was beautiful but hard to engage with at home. I saw Poor Things in the cinema and loathed it, finding the film’s concept incredibly problematic. I watched A Few Good Men for the first time and loved the cast. And Bottoms turned out to be a superb high school movie.

Lou Ice sent me my favourite tea and a one-off zine.

Writing continues to be challenging. I find myself wondering if it’s worth the time I give it, since putting that effort into work would pay significant dividends. Sending out a weekly story email has got me thinking about how I do my best work, and I do think I can become more consistent. The main lesson so far is that my best work is written fast. I finished three stories for my fortnightly group this month: How Paul Sampson was kicked out of the Band, The Thing in the Churchyard and The Works. I’m still deciding if they are worth doing further work on.

I’ve mostly avoided social media, although I find myself flicking through it when I’m tired. I had considered rejoining Facebook for local information but then I caught up with Erin Kissane’s series on Facebook, which is truly shocking. The company made commercial decisions knowing they would cost lives. I’m increasingly excited by the blogging revival and wrote a number of posts last month:

Work feels like it’s going well. I gave a small talk on cucumber, and also started playing with GenAI. I’m hearing some people claim that this is another empty hype-cycle like blockchain. But, in this case, there is something solid behind the hype.

  • I read at a spoken word open mic in Todmorden. I’ve not read in a while and was rusty, but I did enjoy it.
  • The Indelicates released Cold War Bop the first single from their forthcoming album Avenue QAnon.
  • I learned that Small Batch Coffee in Brighton have closed most of their branches, which makes me feel a little sad. It’s been almost a year since I went to Brighton, and the town I knew is disappearing.
  • I finally put new curtains up in the lounge and the room feels totally different.
This print was posted through the door with no explanation. I’ve no idea where it came from.

Monthnotes: December 2023

December has been another month of feeling tired and fatigued. Looking back at my monthnotes over the last year, this has been a constant complaint, so I need to do something about it.

Christmas was December’s main event. Despite starting preparations in November, it still felt a little rushed. I had Rosy, Olive, Sally and Hannah come for Christmas celebrations early in the month, and cooked Christmas lunch for the family the following week. Christmas Day itself was spent in Hebden Bridge, enjoying some peace and quiet, followed by a lovely succession of visitors after Boxing Day.

Dan and I managed to get the Mycelium Parish News out so that the first copies arrived with readers in time for Christmas. A mention in John Higgs’ mailing list brought in an avalanche of orders and the necessary fulfilment, which I am still working through. I’m pleased with this project and have already started writing a document for the 2024 edition.

I’ve continued the Substack mailing list, but need to migrate this as Substack have doubled down on their support for Nazis. The work on True Clown Stories continues, with the pre-launch page now up – signup to be notified when the kickstarter begins!

It’s been another month of reduced steps and bad diet. I walked 236,064 steps in total, an average of just 7,614 a day. The highest number was 15,567, walking Libby the Greyhound in Hardcastle Crags. The one positive is that I’ve kept up with my physio exercises, but I now need to move onto actually starting the couch to 5k programme.

Her name is Sashimi, she’s a black cat in Blackpool

I’ve continued to struggle with reading, apart from Catherine Lacey’s Biography of X. After failing to get into this in May, I consumed it over a few days. Novels seem to be working better for me than non-fiction lately. I also read Nina Allen’s Conquest, which had rich and beautiful writing.

I’ve watched a lot of movies this month – 26 in total. As ever, I’ve reviewed all of them on letterboxed. Silent Night was the darkest possible Christmas movie; City of God was a compelling saga; and Influencer surprised me by how much I enjoyed it. Planes, Trains and Automobiles was fun and Infinity Pool was dark and twisted. Sherpa was an incredible documentary and there were 5-star rewatches on Christmas Day for A Ghost Story and These Final Hours.

Watching Monarch: Legacy of Monsters has felt like a chore, given that the show simply does not have enough kaiju in it. I also watched season 2 of Oz, having picked up the complete show as a cheap DVD box set. It’s very weirdly paced, but I’ll probably be happy to watch a season every year or so. The return of Dr Who has been triumphant, which is a relief after some dodgy series in recent years.

  • My ongoing exhaustion led me to spend a few nights playing Ghost of Tsushima. The play loop of video games is compelling but ultimately most are banal, so I decided to give up on that.
  • Due to time pressure, our team’s Delivery Lead wrote the Christmas quiz using chatGPT. The team figured this out due to an incorrect answer and a couple of weird questions.
  • A couple of blog posts I wrote on UK politics: What does Rishi Sunak think about when he watches Star Wars and one on The 2024 General Election.
  • I finished the year with an early night, deciding I preferred a good sleep to welcoming in the new year.

Monthnotes: November 2023

November felt like a slog, mostly due to very poor sleep. It took me a while to get used to the clocks going back, and I also felt like I had too much on. But the big news is that I finally released my new short story collection, Memetic Infections Hazards, which is now available on etsy. More about that below.

I had some good outings this month. I made a dawn hike over to Howarth to join a Wednesday Writers workshop. I also attended a workshop with Naomi Booth, who I knew from Sussex. Sophie came to visit with her new baby Rudyard, and Dan S came over to work on the Mycelium Parish News zine. I also saw Joelle Taylor perform in Todmorden, with a stunning performance from her book C+nto. The Thought Bubble comics convention in Harrogate was fun; although I didn’t spend too long there, I met some lovely people and bought some interesting things to read. At the end of the month was a night out in Manchester for the launch of David Bowie, Enid Blyton and the Sun Machine, where I got to meet some old friends.

November was a big month with my writing, as I finally managed to print up some copies of Memetic Infection Hazards. This has been ready for months, but I was very slow to do the final stages – my main problem with writing is getting things into the world. The cover and text of this were complete in July. This is now available on etsy.

I’ve been slightly faster with the Mycelium Parish News, which I’ve been working on with Dan Sumption. Pulling the text together has been tough. My lesson for next time is to compile it over the year, rather than having to pull together scrappy notes before the deadline. That should be available to buy early next week. Meanwhile I have continued writing pieces for the substack, and I am particularly proud of Distant Voices, which is probably the best thing I’ve written this year.

I cut down my daily steps to focus on eating better, which worked for a couple of weeks then fell apart. My total steps were 257,187, a decent proportion of the previous month’s 289,759. My average was 8573, and the highest was 21,666 when I hiked to Howarth. I’m going to keep the low step count for December and repeat my efforts to improve my diet. I’ve been doing better with my physio and maybe I’ll be good to start the couch to 5k once the weather gets better.

Liverpool from the ferry while on the Krossing

I watched 14 films, all reviewed on my letterbox diary. Foe was enjoyable, a suggestion from Jude, where I went to the cinema knowing nothing about what was coming. John Wick IV was beautifully-made nonsense. Talk to Me was a wonderful horror movie, which played with the tropes enough to remain interesting. I watched Dream Scenario in Harrogate’s Everyman cinema, which was ridiculously plush. My favourite movie of the month was Spike Lee’s 25 Hour. I must watch all the Spike Lee films I’ve missed!

I also watched a little TV. Marianne was great and Netflix’s failure to renew this for a second season is a tragedy. Monarch: Legacy of Monsters is going pretty well. The family drama is entertaining enough to fill in the time between monsters, and the kaiju are getting more interesting as the show continues. There was also a new episode of Dr Who, and it’s a relief to have the show being done properly again. I’m looking forward to Ncuti Gatwa taking over as the Doctor.

I am still struggling to focus on books, and have had a bit of an amnesty on unfinished books. However, when I set out to read John Darnielle’s novel Wolf in White Van, I finished it in a couple of days. I also finished Jay Owens’ book Dust. While this was non-fiction, it evoked the same emotions as cosmic horror.

While November was tough, I’ve mostly been enjoying work, and just passed my one-year anniversary. I’m both excited and terrified about how generative AI is about to change my job beyond all recognition, something I wrote about in my blog.

The People’s Pyramid (my future home)
  • Progress on fixing up the house is very slow, but I made a little. I now have vinyl flooring in the bathroom. This involved some DIY on my part, as I had to lift a door, but I am very happy with the results.
  • While I’ve done a lot of train travel in the last month, much of it has been blighted by cancellations. As public infrastructure collapses, the government seems more interested in picking culture war fights about the Parthenon Marbles as a distraction.
  • I grew a moustache for November. I removed it on the first day of December.

Monthnotes: October 2023

October was a hard month. It started with a lot of travel, four days of office visits sandwiched between trips to Stroud and Blackpool. I’ve been feeling run down and the cold spells and rising darkness haven’t helped.

I had a great time in Stroud, catching up with Mr. Spratt and the girls, as well as meeting Gus the Puppy. The Blackpool trip was to attend a horror convention with Muffy. The event was mostly merch stands and wrestling, but it was a fun day out. I also had Rosy visiting for a week before finally moving into her new house, which was lovely.

My step total for the month was 289,759, which is an average of 9,347. My highest was 13,569 when I was out in Manchester. I’m actually going to cut my step count target drastically for November, down to 5,000. With all the office days, I struggled to get everything else in my life done and, while I’ve always hit my exercise goal, my diet was sometimes shambolic. I think it would be better to prioritise eating properly over marching out steps.

It’s been another disordered month for reading, but I finished four books. Katherine Hale’s Slenderman focussed more on the people involved than memes or tulpas, and was a heartbreaking story about America’s lack of support for mental illness. Rachel O’Dwyer’s Tokens was an entertaining look at economics on the Internet. My favourite book was Taylor Lorenz’s book on influencers, Extremely Online, which proved a historical review of social media. The story of Vine was my highlight of the book. One takeaway was my shock that the viral classic Lazy Sunday is almost twenty years old.

Same, TBH

I’ve watched a lot of movies again this month, although some of them were disappointing choices from the £1 DVD store in Blackpool. I’ll leave talking about bad movies to my letterboxed account. I enjoyed Fall of the House of Usher, although it wasn’t as great as Mike Flanagan’s other Netflix shows, and very much felt like it killed the interesting characters too early. The Coleen Rooney documentary was a great retelling of the Wagatha Christie saga, and the Rooneys came across as lovely people. I’ve also been enjoying Marianne on Netflix which I found through a listicle about horror directors recommending scary films. It’s dark and well put together – even the cliched overhead drone shots of driving are good.

I sent out lots of email in October about the Mycelium Parish news zine, and it’s been delightful to see the responses coming in from that. I’ve also continued the weekly substack posts (sign up here). Getting a weekly story out is helping me hone and develop the huge backlog I’ve accrued. Memetic Infection Hazards finally went out to a printer and got stuck there, as I need to reformat the cover.

I’m trying to post a little more on Bluesky to reclaim that early twitter feeling, when it was more about microblogging than ‘engagement’. I do think that the future of social media is going to be more like self-hosted blogs and feed-readers. Letterboxed currently provides the best model of what I want from social sites, even if it’s hyperfocussed about films (I wonder if there is anyone using their film reviews as a regular blog?). If you need a Bluesky code, drop me an email, as I have a few invites going.

  • Free your Mind, the dance version of The Matrix was amazing, but having to stand for the second half rather took some of the delight away.
  • Tricky has released some ‘reincarnated’ tracks from Maxinquaye. The album is 30 years old and still sounds fresh. The new versions are even sparser and more menacing.
  • I gave a seminar at Leeds Trinity about ARGs and digital folklore. I now need to find a way to put some of this material onto video.
  • I’ve decided that I was probably wrong with my cool reception of AI/Machine Learning and that this might be a revolution on the scale of mobile or the web itself. I’ve started reading up on the topic with the aim of catching up as quickly as I can.

Monthnotes: September 2023

September has felt like a quiet month, despite a few trips, probably because I had some weekends of much-needed downtime. I was supposed to attend a couple of gigs, but one was cancelled due to the singer having covid, and the other due to me being potentially exposed. Meanwhile, Autumn is coming in, and the frightening heatwave was soon forgotten, replaced by a turn in the weather. I’m not sure that I’m ready for winter.

Over the past few years, I’ve occasionally had nightmares about roller-coasters. So, it seemed like the best response would be to spend a couple of days at Alton Towers with my sister. It was very quiet, so we got to do as many rides as we wanted – which was far fewer than the two girls we met who were going their 13th ride of the day on the Smiler. I had a great time, and loved Galactica, which I went on 3 times. I am still, however, terrified of Oblivion and might try to do that when my sister and I visit next year.

This terrifies me

My reading this month has mostly been blogs and newsletters on my Kindle. I finished Aaron A Reed’s updated epic, 50 years of Text Adventures, which was just as inspiring the second time. Coming Up, an oral history of hip-hop, was great, and gave due respect to Above the Law. Ubi Sunt was a great novella about AI. And Do Interesting was an inspiring little volume.

2023 does not feel like a strong year for walking, despite my day-trips along the Pennine Way during Spring. My total for September was 296,410 steps, an average of 9,880 a day. The longest day was 26,224, tramping around Alton Towers. My year-to-date total is actually 100,000 more than this time last year, so it’s not as bad as it feels. My physio continues, and I’m getting closer to being able to start the Couch-to-5K programme. After some sharp rises, my weight seems to be back under control.

Too soon?

I’ve continued sending out the weekly short story email (sign up here), which is growing very slowly. It’s working well for me as a means to develop a publishing practise, as well as simply a writing one. I’ve continued proofing Memetic Infection Hazards, my new zine. I still seem to find an error on every pass, but I’m hoping to send that to the printer in the next week or so. I also made it to my fortnightly writer’s group for the first time in months and loved catching up with everyone.

I’ve been faithfully logging my movies at letterboxd, which shows that I’ve watched 19 movies this month, so for the first month this year I’ve watched more films than I’ve finished books. I saw Barbie in the cinema, and was mostly disappointed. My highlights were probably horror road movie Bones and All, or disturbing Norwegian drama Good Boy, about dating someone whose dog is actually a man in a dog suit. Something in the Dirt was curious and didn’t grab me, but I would continue to watch anything produced by Moorhead and Benson in future. I’ve been playing the Judgement Night CD in my car recently but the movie was not such a classic.

My selection of £1 DVDs. Average rating, 3/5

I went to Blackpool to see Muffy and Sashimi. While there, I bought 6 DVDs for £1 each. 1999’s Go turned out to have well (although some of the language used would not fly today). 8mm was a better movie than I remembered from watching it at the cinema in 1999.

My social media use is settling down a little. I’ve deleted Threads from my phone as the app was so dull. I now rarely check Mastodon. Twitter lingers around while I set up the next Mycelium Parish Magazine, and I might put the account into hibernation after that. Bluesky is up to about a million users, and has a great energy (I’ve a pile of invite codes, so ping me if you want one – and I’m there as orbific). My favourite site remains Letterboxd, which is getting me excited about watching movies. It’s just been sold though, so let’s see how that goes.

I had my covid and flu jabs at the end of the month. I’m continuing to wear a mask on public transport, although I’m not sure how much that helps, or if it just makes me look like a weirdo. I find it impossible to evaluate whether covid is a risk of not at the moment, but I’d prefer to be over-cautious than risk some of the side-effects friends have suffered.

  • I went to get my ears cleared, which was a pleasantly disgusting experience – so much wax! Not cheap, but I feel better for it.
  • I enjoyed playing Dredge for a while until it began to feel like a grind. That main loop in video games feels too much like a job, but without the positive points.
  • I’ve quit drinking caffeine again, after taking it up again in May. The withdrawal was much less bad this time, but I’m also not feeling much of the benefit.
  • Spotify continues to turn up some interesting new music. The weirdest thing is having no idea of a recommendation’s cultural footprint. Everything is slightly flattened, and sometimes I realise the acts I’m enjoying are actually quite well know.

Monthnotes: August 2023

August has mostly been about work, but this month it’s been a friendly toad squatting on my life. I’m on a project with decent, smart people, and basically being paid to do my hobby. As we’re close to a deadline, we’ve been asked to work two days a week in the office, which has felt burdensome, and it’s questionable how useful in-person work is, when half my team is in India and staying there. Otherwise, I’m enjoying it. I take a lot of meaning from my work – I like being part of a huge organisation, as well as the joy of collaborating with large groups of people to make complicated systems. This job is a little like looking after a puppy – it improves my life, but it takes a lot of effort. Overall, I’m feeling very happy. I wish my life could stay like this forever.

It’s been a rainy August, so it’s not been too bad being indoors. While I’d expected to spend August with my head down working, I’ve seen a fair few friends. nwv, Dan and Edith came by on their way back from the lake district. I also had an impromptu Saturday night dinner with James and Alex. Jay stayed for a weekend, my first time seeing him since the pandemic, which he spent in Italy. I also headed down to Bristol to see Libby and Vicky, where I was very well looked after, eating fresh food from the garden.

When Vicky posted this picture of me, saying it was Banksy, a few people believed her.

The bank holiday was spent on retreat in Wales, which was lovely. Good food and friends helped me relax after the crazy times at work. I came back early on the Monday to see a friend who had been staying in my house. She had a lovely time in Yorkshire but, after dinner on the Monday, fell over and broke her shoulder. She is recovering now, but we were in A&E until 4am. I’m very grateful to the passers-by who helped, waiting with us for over two hours until the ambulance arrived. Being a good samaritan is time-consuming in modern Britiain! It’s frightening how stretched our emergency services are after years of austerity.

I think this is the most perfect window I’ve ever seen

I did very little walking in August, with a total of 315,484, an average of a mere 10,176 steps a day. I’ve been continuing my physio, and hopefully will soon be able to start running again.

I’ve been feeling much happier with my writing as I’ve been sending out a weekly short-story email (sign up here). I’ve now sent out 7 pieces from The South Downs Way and should be able to sustain this pace for some time. It’s a good way of working, although I need to figure out how to grow the audience. Memetic infection Hazards is still waiting on me completing the proof-reading. I think I am going to just have to book out an evening to do that. I’m not sure what’s blocking me there. Krill magazine was published with my micro-short story collection Fishscale and sold out quickly.

Turbo Island in Bristol.

My reading has been a little better this month. I’ve been commuting to Manchester and bought a couple of physical books for this. Christopher Priest’s Airside was peculiar and interesting. Hannah Silver’s My Child, the Algorithm was an impressive and moving auto-fiction. I also read Ben Myer’s The Offing, a birthday gift from Jude, which was a lovely comfort read. Tom King’s Strange Adventures graphic novel was interesting, but the trick of having an innocent character facing adult problems starts to face diminishing returns. I also published a review of John Higg’s re-released KLF book.

I read more books than I’ve watched movies, managing 3 movies in August against 5 books. Knock at the Cabin continued Shyamalan’s run of ruining a good film with the ending. I had to buy Lost Highway as a Polish DVD, but it was good to return to after many years. It’s still confusing but undoubtedly a masterpiece. The Menu was fantastic, with great performances from Ralph Fiennes and Anna Taylor Joy. The set-up felt hackneyed, but the cast sold the concepts, and the story rose to a satisfying ending. I finished the series From, which mostly continues to be a Lost-style puzzle box, even down to the cliff-hanger echoing the other show. I’ll be in for the third season but I’m expecting little.

The social media diaspora feels strange. I’m enjoying bluesky a lot more than most other sites. Threads continues to be a disaster – there are just too many brands and content farmers. I managed 3 minute on Artefact – opening a site about curated reading by flinging a Daily Mail article at me was a very particular introduction. Instagram is OK, but low engagement. Despite my attempts to love it, I’m not feeling Mastodon. Probably the best social media site is an indie band discord with a small number of interesting and engaged posters, which turns out to be all I want. I did wonder whether I should rejoin Facebook for the local events and marketplace, but no.

Received this via a WhatsApp from Katharine – my old number on a flyer I gave a girl back in 1995/6.
  • I recently passed the first anniversary of moving into this house, and celebrated by unpacking the last box.
  • I’ve also finally put up some proper curtains in the bedroom and it’s transformative. I need to pay attention to other things that would make my life more comfortable.
  • I realised with a shock that I don’t actually like vegan cheddar. It’s no good on its own, and I need to stop buying it.
  • Oliver Burkeman wrote an excellent post on to-do lists as menus.
  • My sleep hygiene has been improved by keeping my phone out of my bedroom to charge (something I normally do, but had got sloppy about). I don’t know how people manage who don’t do this.
  • I am a strict vegan as far as what goes into my mouth, but I am loving the French egg shampoo that my sister gave me, which is a nostalgic memory from childhood holidays.
A friendly cart that I met in the park

Monthnotes: July 2023

July has mostly been about two things: poor sleep and dog-sitting. As far as sleep goes, I’ve been getting by on about seven hours a night. Normally, anything less than eight makes me worn out and headachy, but I’ve avoided losing any days of work. Some of this lack of sleep has been due to travelling, but the main contributor has been Rosie the dog (who is a different person to Rosy my best friend, but the confusion is often hilarious).

July’s weather is not very summery

The month started with cat-sitting in Blackpool and catching up with some of my relatives there. I also watched the new Indiana Jones film, which was very OK. The following weekend was Sentry 23, a gathering of some friends at the sentry stone circle. On the way to that was a three hour traffic jam which was… intense. I also got to spend a morning with Tom, who was visiting from San Francisco. On the way back from that I picked up Rosie the dog. I’ve also been hanging out with Rosy and Olive, who came to stay after watching Pulp.

Rosie the pup!

Despite having the dog, long walks were prevented by work and rainy days, so I managed a total of 347,087 steps, with a daily average of 11,196, the highest being 27,942 walking around Blackpool at the start of the month, visiting relatives. Still no progress on my weight, but I’ve been reasonably compliant with my physio exercises and will hopefully be running again soon.

Rosie and Rosy: Twins! The only way to tell them apart is that they are spelt differently

My writing has gone better. I spent more time on writing new things, and also sent out the first two issues of a monthly substack (please subscribe!). The two stories I’ve sent out so far were The Lost Village and The Money Burner. My upcoming publications are all moving along. Krill Magazine, which features my A4-page short story collection Fishscale, is now funded and available for sale on Etsy. Memetic Infection Hazards has a cover ready to go, and I just need to proof it and print it. I also wrote a bizarre horror story about swedish pizza, which went out to LouIce.

It’s been another month of disordered reading, but I did re-read John Higgs’ classic about the KLF. I also read Keiron Gillen’s Immortal X-Men, which felt like it was collected in trade rather than written for it. The X-men books are now an ongoing crossover, so much of the action happens in different books, making it hard to follow. Still, taken as raw spectacle, it was exciting and intense. Katharine and I tried to read London Fields for our 90s book club and both gave up. It was well-written, but just did nothing for me. I posted a review of computer-generated novel All the Minutes and some links from my AI workshop in June.

I’ve started watching time loop films again, this month watching Meet Cute and Tamil drama Maanaadu (review to come). I also reviewed Edge of Tomorrow. With Rosy and Olive I watched The Virgin Suicides, which is an iconic movie, and I liked it more than the book. I tried and failed to get into Marvel TV show Secret Invasion. At the end of the month, Liz and Jude came over to watch the first two episodes of From season 2, which were tense and strange; but the show feels like Lost, in that it could be writing itself cheques it can’t cash.

I listened to the BBC’s new podcast, The Banksy Story, featuring John Higgs, which was interesting, although it continued the kayfabe around Banksy being unknown. The discussion of how Banksy works are authenticated was interesting but should have been earlier and more detailed. John Higgs also turned up on the We Can Be Weirdos podcast with some fascinating ideas (my favourite: Chaos Magic is Thatcherite). Whiley and Lamacq’s The Rise and Fall of Britpop had some interesting moments, but my recollection of Britpop is very different to the official histories. This Podcast in a Ritual has been a joy, with Devin doing interviews in preparation for his trip to Sweden.

Social media has been weird. The collapse of Twitter continued as it rebranded as X. Some of the most worrying issues haven’t had the media attention they deserve. Threads drowns out any authentic conversation with brandshit. I’m enjoying a small community on BeReal, although I mourn the global feed’s replacement with “RealPeople” influencers. My most joyful places online are a band discord and watching films alongside letterboxd – do link up with me there.

  • I completed the first section of The Last of Us Part 2 on grounded difficulty, but I have no idea how I’m going to get past the school.
  • I’ve also finally put up some new curtains, with the help of my sister and brother-in-law. I also started work on clearing my patch of back garden.
  • There are deer in the wood behind the house. It’s always magical to catch sight of them.
  • You know what’s weird? When a random taxi driver has a picture of you on his phone that he took the night before. This happened in Blackpool at the start of the month – the driver had snapped my group climbing the Big One.
  • My brother-in-law dropped off a stack of logs. It’s the middle of (a damp) summer, but it’s reassuring to have wood ready for the start of winter.

Monthnotes: June 2023

I started June feeling rough from a combination of caffeine, poor sleep, doomscrolling, bad food and illness. That slump lasted about a week, after which June rallied to become pretty good. I sailed on the Thames with Rosy, celebrated my birthday, spent some time in Wales, and ended the month in Blackpool. The week in Wales was particularly energising, spending time with friends old and new.

After a couple of high step-count months, June was calmer, with a total of 333,904 steps and a daily average of 11,130, the highest being on my birthday when I went hiking with Katharine and Helen. I’ve continued to put weight on, and am failing to muster any motivation to reverse that. I have, however, started seeing a local physio about fixing my hip problems so that I can start running again. I also wrote up the final stage of the Coast-to-Coast.

My writing was fairly scatty, but I have a number of projects moving. True Clown Stories, originally known as Clown Stories Volume 1, has been in progress for 12 years, but is set to come out in 2024 in association with Peakrill Press. I’ve also produced a short story collection for Peakrill, cramming 12 stories onto an A5 page (I’m particularly proud of a new six-word horror story). On top of all that, I’ve been working on Memetic Infection Hazards, a collection of horror stories which I’m, publishing and will likely be out in August. I’m enjoying working with self/small publishing, which is much more satisfying than submitting to online journals. I’ve just had a piece rejected after 13 months and, really, what is the fucking point? I’d rather sell my writing through etsy.

I finished a lot of half-complete books last month:

  • Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky was an interesting space opera, but was at its best when dealing with the intelligent spiders. The human characters just felt like they were in a science fiction novel.
  • I also read Tchaikovsky’s novella One Day This Will All Be Yours which was stuffed with clever ideas.
  • Death of An Author was produced using ChatGPT. While the novel itself left me unmoved, the afterword was exciting and provocative.
  • All The Minutes was a conceptual novel produced for NaNoGenMo, which was incredibly engaging.
  • The writing in Johnson at 10 was annoying, not least for censoring the swearing. It did a good job of describing Boris Johnson’s essential failure in winning an 80-seat majority and wasting it.
  • Andrew O’Neill’s History of Heavy Metal was engaging and helped me reclaim my 90’s self a little. I heard about this book through an excellent podcast appearance from O’Neill.
  • I also wrote a small blog post about The Virgin Suicides, which I read last month.

After a few failed attempts I finished watching Yellowjackets Season 2, although this involved a fair amount of double-screening. It’s tonally all over the place, with the lightly comic tone interrupted by some genuinely disturbing moments towards the end of the season. Black Mirror was, as ever a mixed bag, the highlight being Joan is Awful. The BBC’s documentary The Trouble with KanYe was a grim look at the West’s career since 2016. Such a waste of talent.

I watched a few movies but the highlight was Martyrs. It’s difficult to recommend such an unpleasant movie, and one that is based around women being tortured. It would be easy dismiss the film as ‘torture porn’, but I’ve been thinking about it for a month now. My strongest reaction has been a lingering sadness. This may be one of the best horror films I’ve seen.

A review of Martyrs from Letterboxd

Towards the end of the month I ran a workshop on AI and Creative Writing (details and links here). Running a two-hour online event on a weeknight was a bit much, but it was fun I’m still cynical about LLMs, but there is something important happening. At a neighbourhood barbecue someone was telling me about how his company is seeing impressive results through using AI to make unit tests and documentation.

I am totally going to win at Spotify Unwrapped this year – although no-one really loses, do they? My playlist of interesting songs for 2023 has now reached 104 items, mostly new music. Andrew O’Neill’s death metal recommendations have also added some interesting tracks. But it looks like the most-played song will be My Neighbourhood, a minimalist song from the Martyrs soundtrack that I can’t stop playing.

I ended the month in Blackpool, cat-sitting for Muffy’s cat Sashimi. On the last night in June, I went on the walk to the top of the Big One roller coaster. It was an amazing experience.

The month ended with an awful spell of insomnia. I function very poorly on low sleep, the nadir of which was managing to throw my Fitbit out with my lunch at the office.

  • I started playing the video game Alan Wake, but got bored when I reached the firsat boss fight. All of the combat elements made the story feel banal.
  • I’m still settling into the house, but I did finally get a couple of pictures framed. I’m still making no progress on putting up new curtains.
  • I published a blog post about my trip to Sweden in May.
  • I read a cache of blog posts from 2001/2 which I was considering importing to this blog. The posts were interesting but also very scrappy. I think I’ve improved considerably as a writer since then.

Monthnotes: May 2023

After several months of hard work, May brought opportunities for restoration and recreation. I rolled off the stressful project onto a new one, as well as taking a couple of holidays: hiking the end of the Coast-to-Coast trail, and spending a week in a tiny village in Sweden. I also had a number of visitors to the valley, which was lovely.

Sweden was the highlight of my month. I arrived in the country a few hours after rolling off the project. There was a sense of relief to being away from England, with Manchester airport feeling like a metaphor for where our country is at. After a night in an airport hotel I took a series of buses to Uddebo, a tiny village of 250-400 people. I spent my time there reading and swimming in the river Assman. While the trip definitely had a pagan/Midsommar vibe, all the people I met were lovely and I can’t wait to go back.

I walked 487,475 steps during the month, an average of 15,725 per day. My total was boosted by a few days walking the final stages of the Coast-to-Coast trail. This is an incredibly sociable route, with some very well good food and accommodation stops. The Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge was probably one of the best pubs I’ve ever visited. I’ve also written up some of the Pennine Way hikes I did in April: Hebden Bridge to Ponden, Ponden to Gargrave and my grim hike from Gargrave to Horton-in-Ribblesdale. Despite all the walking I did in May, I put on 2½ pounds, so I guess I need to pay a little more attention to my diet.

Between work and holidays, my writing has been a little scrappy, but I’ve also had the chance to do some more strategic thinking, and have a new zine of short stories almost ready to go. The big challenge is producing a good-looking cover, but I am hoping to have something to on etsy in June. Once that is done then I will be returning to the South Downs Way stories. ChatGPT and creative writing continues to be an interesting area, and I’ve written up some of my research into this. I’ve also published a much-delayed post on Why ARGs never worked.

If my writing has been chaotic, my reading has been even worse, not helped by the Kindle – I have about a dozen e-books in various states of completion, and probably need to abandon some of the slower-moving ones. The Jeremy Deller book Art is Magic was a highlight, and Nick Harkaway’s Titanium Noir was good, light riverside reading. Francis Wheen’s Strange Days Indeed was a second hand bookshop find, and provided an interesting view on how very strange the 70s were. One thing that stuck out in particular was how the current political situation is relatively stable compared to the depths Britain plumbed in the 70s.

Succession came to a close, although I’ve not really enjoyed the 4th season – I think I preferred watching Logan Roy torment the siblings to the actual succession drama. I completed From Season 1, still unsure where that is headed, and also finished The Last of Us. I managed to go about 8 weeks without watching a movie then crammed three in the Bank Holiday with Sooxanne: In the Earth, Old and a rewatch of time-loop sci-fi drama Edge of Tomorrow. I still haven’t managed to get into Yellowjackets Season 2.

I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts this month. Pop Could Never Save Us continues to be awesome. Despite being dropped by NPR, the Louder than a Riot team managed a great second season, including a fantastic episode about ilovemakonnen’s experience as a queer rapper. There was also a great emergency podcast on the coronation by the Indelicates, Cat Vincent and Rob Rider Hill.

I continue to feel uncertain about social media. Towards the end of the month, I had my Instagram account shut down because their automated systems thought I was a bot. The account wasn’t particularly precious to me, but almost losing it in such a high-handed way is frustrating. Mastodon seems great but doesn’t have the scale of community that Twitter does.

As I mentioned above, I rolled off the stressful work project. One downside to this was leaving a team that I loved working with (another is that I quickly stopped having work dreams and my nightmares are back to their old subjects). The new project has needed a little preparation, and I’ve enjoyed reading about Domain Driven Design and team topologies.

  • I actually went to a gig, seeing Talvin Singh at the Trades Club, with support from Mayshe Mayshe.
  • A lack of decent decaff in Sweden means I have started drinking caffeine again, which means I will have to go through the withdrawal at some point.
  • I’ve long been signed up to El Sandifer’s patreon, and was delighted that she had her first professional comics publication in 2000AD this month.
  • I failed to click with Department of Truth when I first read it, but I am now hooked. It’s a very strange comic about conspiracy theory, with some fantastic art.
  • Ava and I went to the Ley-hunter’s annual gathering, held this year run Todmorden.

Monthnotes: April 2023

My aim in April was not to have the toad of work squatting on my life quite so hard. I tried to do more with the weekends, which included some good hiking as well as visits to Blackpool and York. I also made it to my writing group for the first time in ages.

St Anne’s Beach, Easter Saturday

Easter Weekend was spent in Blackpool for a family wedding. I stayed with Muffy and met her kitten, Sashimi. The wedding was fun, and a few of us sneaked away in our wedding outfits to play the 2p slots on the pier. The following week I went to York to go book shopping. Sadly very few good second hand bookshops remain, most being put out of business by the charity shops, which don’t have such interesting selections. I also had a visit from Jen and Dave, who suggested I help found an Arts Lab.

Her name is Sashimi

I walked 498,526 steps in April, an average of 16,617 a day. Wow. My highest total was on the last day of the month, walking from Malham to Horton-in-Ribblesdale along the Pennine Way. That was also one of the grimmest hikes I’ve done due to appalling weather. I did 6 days out on the Pennine Way during April and have written up three of them so far: Edale to Crowden, Crowden to Standedge, Standedge to Hebden Bridge. Fitbit also awarded me the ‘Pole to Pole badge’ for the somewhat arbitrary feat of walking 12,430 miles since I bought my first fitbit (in November 2016, I think).

Pen-y-ghent… I decided not to climb that day

I’ve been doing a little more writing recently, including a couple of very short stories that have appeared on the blog: Seeing Voices and the Fifth Beatle. I’ve also done audio recordings of these to see how well that works. There’s a separate site for my recordings, which is technically a podcast (which I should probably promote at some point). I also wrote a blog post about Writing and ChatGPT, something I’ve been thinking more about (and dreaming about) recently.

I finished a few books this month. Age of Vice was an excellent thriller set in India, although it ran out of energy at the end when the book decided to become a trilogy. Her Majesty’s Royal Coven was picked up as it was partly set in Hebden Bridge. The book functions as an anti-Harry Potter and was fun to read, but also suffered from expanding into a series at the end. Fern Brady’s autism memoir Strong Female Lead was an impulse daily Kindle sale purchase, and a quick interesting read.

Donna Tartt’s The Secret History was mine and Katharine’s April choice for our 90’s book club (I’ve written this up on a separate post). Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke had an effective sense of dread in its title story, but the ending was not as dark as I expected. Stuart Braithwaite’s Spaceships Over Glasgow suffered the problem of many rock biographies – the rise is fascinating, but the storyline peters out towards the end, replaced by a list of records and celebrity encounters. Finally, literally show me a healthy person by Darcie Wilder was a fascinating short novel told as tweets, an interesting companion to Patricia Lockwood’s No-one is Talking About This.

The only movie I saw this month was The Empty Man, which I rewatched with Muffy in Blackpool and was slightly less impressed with on a second viewing. Otherwise, I’ve been watching a few TV series. Succession continues to be excellent, whereas From is interesting without so far moving much beyond the Strangehaven meets Lost concept.

I’d dismissed The Last of Us as being an unnecessary adaptation of the video game. Since I have a NowTV subscription for Succession I’ve started watching it and have enjoyed it, despite the slavish faithfulness to the source material. The characters of Henry and Sam were particularly moving, and I had a moment of fannish joy when the horse from part 2, Shimmer, was briefly introduced. I also restarted watching Yellowjackets, although I needed to read some recaps to remember where we were. Considering how much I loved the first season of this show, I’m finding it very hard to get into again.

No new music this month, but I’ve been relistening to Yoshimi Vs the Pink Robots – which has had a massive anniversary edition released. I’m in love with the live versions, where Wayne Coyne’s voice can’t quite hit the notes he’s aiming for, and somehow makes the songs even more beautiful. The Pop Could Never Save Us podcast continues to be amazing, with an 80s episode which looked at things such as how technology affected the charts and why Morten Harket’s voice is so special.

For years, I’ve had dreams about episodes from when I was a teenager. I hated how thirty years later, I was still dreaming about bitter things, when there were so many good things I could be dreaming of. One advantage of the work stress is that I’ve not had these sort of dreams for months – instead I dream about my job. I’ve now requested transfer to a new project. I felt I was unable to change the situation, and so it was be complicit in the toxic environment. I’m looking forward to the change.