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.

Monthnotes: July 2020

July has been something of a nothing-month. I did no significant hikes, and had little energy or enthusiasm. The main thing that happened this month was a much-delayed trip to visit family. Other than that it’s daily walks and work.

My step count was 344,666, 10% lower than in June, despite July being a longer month. My lowest total was 10,211, barely above my target, my highest just 15,490. I used to hit my totals easily, running errands, commuting or visiting people. Now it’s a drag doing the bare minimum.

I watched 4 films, remarkably all of them in the same weekend. Rambo: Last Blood was both terrible and unpleasant; See You Yesterday was a good spin on time-travel films; Dolemite is My Name was fantastic. The biggest surprise was Everybody’s Everything, a documentary about L’il Peep, a soundcloud rapper who died at 21. This story was sad in some places and ridiculous in others. But it did a great job in telling the story of a scene and the people involved. I finished a handful of books, including Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City, which was gripping and uplifting.

(Oh – one film I almost forgot, the Netflix documentary about Walter Mercado, Mucho Mucho Amore)

While I’ve enjoyed the quiet of lockdown, enough is enough. I really need to think of things to do so that August’s monthnotes are longer and more interesting.

Monthnotes – June 2020

June’s monthnotes are slow in coming, which is a reflection of how things feel right now. I actually have less energy now than I did during full lockdown. There’s something seductive about the calm of staying indoors, and I’m trying to think of ways to get out and about more.

My step count was a meagre 386,597, with a maximum of 29,732 – no epic hikes last month. Some of the morning walks were less tedious, thanks to my bubble-partner Rosy, but solo walking continued to be a chore.

In the whole month, I only finished three books. 16 ways to defend a walled city was an interesting post-Game-of-thrones read, looking at a lot of the details fantasy fiction skips over.

I watched six films ranging from the poor (Skyscraper, Tango and Cash) through to the good (Miss Americana). Not knowing anything about Taylor Swift made that documentary a very strange experience. Shin Godzilla couldn’t overcome poor special effects, Seeking a Friend of the World was less fun on this rewatch. Da 5 Bloods was an interesting film that fell apart on reflection.

Not much else, really. My first locked-down birthday, a little hiking, released a new pamphlet. Otherwise, lockdown feels like a tar pit. But, then, the effects of Covid-19 haven’t become less severe just because we’ve left lockdown, so it’s hard to know what to do.

Monthnotes – May 2020

I didn’t do a lot in April. With the first lifting of the restrictions, May has been a more active month, but far quieter than normal. In a regular year, I’d have spent the month running around to different festival events. Instead, I’ve been confined to my flat, waiting for the crisis to come to an end.

After a slow month in April, my step count was 437,226 – only 87K less than March. My highest total was 63,714 when I walked the Brighton and Hove Way. My lowest was 10,211, which I will set as my new daily target. Morning walks are starting to get very boring, and I miss the time when I would achieve much of my target commuting, shopping or visiting friends. It’s a lot of exercise to do in one go.

I managed to read more in May, finishing 7 books. Craig Brown’s new book on the Beatles was a fun retelling of a familiar story, but the best book by far was Emily St John Mandell’s The Glass Hotel, a ghost story about the financial crisis of 2008.

As well as reading, I watched a few more films than in recent months:
• Another Earth – moving mumblecore SF
• Colossal – interesting kaiju concept, but didn’t really like where it ended up
• Ex Machina – beautifully made, loved the use of Bluebeard, but it was not as clever as it thought it was
• Portrait of a Lady on Fire – a tragic and beautiful love story
• Extraction – like watching someone else playing a video game while using a cheat mode

There’s not much more to say. Writing is going well, with the next South Downs Way pamphlet being edited as we speak. I’m mostly enjoying working from home, although I miss seeing my colleagues in the real world. Generally, I’ve settled into a routine of isolation. Now that the rules are being relaxed, I need to take advantage of this and get back to having a social life – even if it has to be at a distance.

Monthnotes – April 2020

That was a very strange April – meaning some quite perfunctory monthnotes.

I am grateful every day for how easy my life is compared to a lot of people right now. I have a stable job I can do from home and a flat to myself. But life is still hard: I feel constantly anxious about the impact of the pandemic on my friends and community, and sleep is difficult. I wake very early most days, but this week I’ve been forcing myself to stay in bed till 5:30am which is helping.

Walking has been a consistent 10,000 steps of daily exercise, with rare errands adding a few thousand steps. My total for April was 323,007 (200K less than in March), with my highest being 17,804 steps on the 3rd. My lowest was 10145, 30 more than my lowest in March, but I will ratchet the steps up for that. I go out early most days, when it is quiet, but the morning walk still feels stressful. Brighton is just too densely populated for social distancing to work easily. Sometimes I think I should just stop taking my daily walk, and exercise indoors; but I think that would leave me feeling more burned out and lethargic.

A couple of mornings I’ve taken a dip in the sea, which has left me feeling awake and alive, but most days it’s hard to summon the intention to go swimming.

I finished 11 books in January, and just 2 last month – my concentration is not good. One of the books was a short one about Kurt Cobain, the other one of Mick Herron’s Slough House Spy Novels.

I didn’t watch any movies last month – my concentration is as bad at watching things as reading things. I’ve watched bits of a few series – Westworld has been mostly annoying, Devs started well and wore out its welcome. Netflix’s Sex Education (a recommendation from Rosy) was the only thing I enjoyed.

Above everything, writing has been rewarding. I’ve been running remote Not for the Faint-Hearted Sessions, and attending Naomi Wood’s workshops. I also published a new zine, the first part of my South Downs Way project. And today I’ll be working on a new spoken word piece for Zoom.

I read a blog recently where the author suggested the topic of “looking back at my 2020 resolutions and laughing/crying“. I had a read of my new year’s post:

No resolutions for 2020. Instead, I am planning to do less, making space for new things to enter my life. I am going to try reading more fiction, but that doesn’t require a programme or any goals.

I’ve found lots of space in my life, so I am winning at my new year’s resolution. I also re-read another post from January about the Pastoral Post-Apocalypse: “A world of fast fashion and cheap global air travel is coming to an end“. I hadn’t expected that to be so sudden.

We are in uncertain times. The days drag and the weeks fly by. But every day I am grateful for what I have. I miss people and sharing food and parties, but I’m happy enough for now.

Monthnotes – March 2020

Let’s pretend this month has been normal.

It’s been a stressful month in a lot of ways, but I have it relatively easy. My house is calm, work continues without interruption, and I make sure to be grateful for what I have.

My walking has been a regular 10,000 steps a day since the new routine was put in place. However some manic walking before lockdown pushed my stats up very high for the month. I walked a total of 524,200 steps, which is a daily average of 16,909. My record was 60,084 on a frantic hike the weekend before lockdown. My lowest was 10,115, just 3 more than my target. I keep walking, and long to be able to do a proper walk again.

I finished seven books this month, all but one of them in the first half of the month – my concentration is not good right now. Lavie Tidhar’s By Force Alone was entertaining, although a little longer than it needed to be. I loved the mix of Arthuriad with samples from action movies I re-read Justin Hopper’s excellent The Old Weird Albion, and an early copy of Ben Graham’s North Country Rock. Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West deserves a post of its own – many of the concerns it talks about feel more present in this new world.

Like last month I saw just three movies. The Jay and Silent Bob reboot was OK, Nightbreed a little frustrating. Netflix hit The Platform was very on-the-nose in the current situation.

I’m continuing to write, working on a new project about the South Downs Way. I’ve had my first feedback on this – it needs work, but I think it is going to be good. I should have a first zine of this out this month.

One of the good things about blogs and journals is looking back at old entries and being able to see how one has changed or not. I re-read some Seasonnotes from 2014. I was shocked to see I’d been talking about needing to get out of my rut in Brighton six years ago. I need to pay more attention to these things, and mke sure to produce actual change in my life. Once the current crisis ends, I will work towards leaving Brighton. And, more generally, if I cannot change my habits now, I never will.

Monthnotes – February 2020

February was a scrappy, windblown sort of month, which at first passed slowly then accelerated, leaving me a little surprised that it’s over. It’s been good though.

The month was bookended by two trips outside Brighton. On the 1st I went on a walk around the Long Man of Wilmington, and on the 29th, visited Hastings for a poetry workshop. In between, the month has been filled with amazing conversations and inspiration. New ideas and plans are blossoming.

Work was challenging, with a difficult release taking a lot of attention. My back has been better, but my sleeping (and sleep hygiene) has been less good, leaving me a little over-tired. Sometime to be more careful of this month. The job is still great fun, despite being challenging, and I wouldn’t want it to be easy all the time.

I didn’t finish as many books as I did last month, but have a lot of books that are almost finished. The highlight of the month was Jenny Offill’s Weather, which was inspiring and intensely emotional. I was also lucky enough to read a proof of Kate Bulpitt’s upcoming novel Purple People, which is being released in June. Kate describes the book as a ‘jolly distopia’, and it feels strangely relevant to the current situation (while being more fun and retro!)

Taking 10,000 steps a day proved challenging at points, particularly during Storm Ciara, when I was 8,000 steps short at 8pm. I still managed a total of 378,708, and a daily average of 13,058. My record was 33,241 on the 16th, when I went hiking on a rainy day. My lowest count was 10,112, just 9 steps more than my target. While I’m walking more than January, I’m also apparently getting better at only just passing my target. I think the walking is good for me though, and ensures I am out the house and moving every single day.

I saw three films – the Conan remake was terrible, Hustlers was OK, and Red Scorpion probably would have been more fun to watch at 15 years old.

Other things: Brighton Java had an interested talk from Luke Whiting about Kubernetes; I saw Emma Frankland’s stunning performance piece Hearty; and visited London for an Invisibles meet-up. As part of that visit to London I saw Cat Vincent give a stunning talk on magick that I’m still processing.

I was inspired by so many things last month, but I’ve also seen how important it is to focus on those things. It’s too easy for my attention to be distracted by background music, screens or general monkey mind. The new ideas and inspirations need to be given the space they deserve.