Monthnotes: May 2024

Life still feels pretty good at the moment, but it also feels like hard work. Part of this is that I was committed to giving three talks between May 28th and June 12th. I’ve also continued to feel like I was a little behind with everything. May brought two bank holidays and neither felt particularly relaxing. However, it was lovely to have lots of guests in the house during the month, including several visitors for Rosy’s birthday.

Walking continues to be a maintenance dose, with my target at 8000 steps a day. The daily average was a mere 10,489 steps a day for a total of 325,147 over the month. The highest total was 17,150 from my friend Laurence coming to visit, and being given a tour of the town. I’ve actually committed to an exercise programme starting in June which will hopefully get some control over my fitness.

My weekly writing on the substack continues, and I was particularly happy with Skin Fever, a piece I wrote for Wednesday Writers. I also released a zine, Once Upon a Time in Brighton and Hove, which is basically my sixth South Downs Way collection. I’ve not done very much promotion of this – I sent out some free copies, but these haven’t received much response. I’m pleased with how the writing is going, compared to where I was a year ago, but needs a change in approach to build momentum. The substack has been great for getting me to publish stories, but I want to focus on larger works. I’ve an idea about experimenting with novella-sized fictions, which can be shared on the substack as works-in-progress.

The local elections were at the start of May, and felt like an imposition as I’m not feeling particularly engaged with party politics. At the end of the month, the government announced the general election for July 4th. I’ve long expected that this would be closer than the polls are claiming but the shoddy launch suggests this will not be the case. The chaotic Tory campaign has been entertaining so far.

I watched slightly fewer movies than usual in May, and a couple were re-watches. I went to the Blackpool IMAX to watch Furiosa, which was bitterly disappointing. The best thing I saw was And the King Said What a Fantastic Machine, a documentary about the history of film. This was delightfully sprawling and full of provocative footage, a little like an Adam Curtis documentary, but without the overarching narrative.

I also watched most of Castle Rock season 1 before running out of steam. It felt a little too much like a drama, but it was interesting to see Stephen King done as an aesthetic. Dinosaur was a charming BBC comedy series. I tried watching Baby Reindeer. Despite it being a true story, I couldn’t believe that the main character would not immediately spot how odd/dangerous Martha was. The new Doctor Who series is good, but I’m taking time to settle into having a new Doctor.

My reading was a little less disordered than it has been, and I finished six books. Joelle Taylor’s The Night Alphabet was a patchwork novel, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately one I’m glad I read. Kathleen Hanna’s biography Rebel Girl was inspiring, but harrowing in places. I also read part of Annie Jacobsen’s Nuclear War: A Scenario but I’ve been taking it slow as it is so terrifying. Stephen King’s new collection You Like it Darker had some excellent stories. King has reached the stage of his career where everything feels elegaic. While some of the stories were simplistic and unremarkable, there were others that were moving.

Rory Stewart’s account of his time in government, Politics on the Edge was interesting. Stewart was undoubtedly effective as a minister, but the reasonable tone he takes against the idiocy of everyone else makes you wonder if there’s sometimges another side of the story. His portrait of Boris Johnson’s time in the Foreign Office is withering and suggests that the current system isn’t working.

I’m continuing to enjoy music, but I’m missing the music papers and the context that they gave context to upcoming releases. Nowadays music simply appears on streaming and I miss the background that reviews and promotional interviews gave. Among this month’s new releases was a Ghostface Killer album, but a homophobic slur made me drop that pretty fast. I also went out to a live gig when Zheani came to Manchester.

I’ve been mostly logged out of Twitter and Bluesky, having tired of social media’s current form. I’ve been posting regularly to my mastodon account, where I probably have more monthly posts than readers. But its good to return to the original feeling of microblogging. I’m completly ignoring Threads and Facebook. I have an account on the latter as I need to contact some local groups, but I am not adding anyone who’s not based in the valley. Given Facebook continues to allow problematic content, I want to give it as little support as possible.

On Rosy’s birthday, sat on the sofa with her and Olive, we went though the years of photos on my phone. It was a great way to to review memories – nights out, festivals, walks, hangover selfies – seeing us grow over the space of minutes. I think it’s good to have these sorts of archives. These monthnotes are another example.

I’ve no idea why there was a pair of peacocks on the houses opposite

The first of my three talks was for work, about Java on Serverless. I put a lot of work into it but, when it was delivered, it felt light and inconsequential. It could probably have had more technical details. Otherwise, work has been going a little better and I feel more on top of things. Consultancy means being busy on many simultaneous, unrelated projects, and I’m finding that doing tasks promptly is helping me to feel less swamped.

I finally got a decent photo of one of the local deer
  • Since Christmas, I’ve been wearing a beard, but decided to remove it this month.
  • I picked up a free sunflower from the station cafe at the start of the month, but it stubbornly refused to grow, despite me taking very great care of it.
  • Rosy and I discovered the Merlin app, and have been using it to identify local birds.
  • I made my first drive since January and discovered that I’d wrecked the car battery through driving so rarely.
  • On a drive later in the month, I had more car trouble. I am tiring of driving and wondering if train/taxi might be a cheaper combination for my rare journeys.
Rain coming in across the valley

Lists of advice on the internet can be trite, but I found this suggestion from Kevin Kelly incredibly moving: “When you think of someone easy to despise—a tyrant, a murderer, a torturer—don’t wish them harm. Wish that they welcome orphans into their home, and share their food with the hungry. Wish them goodness, and by this compassion you will increase your own happiness.” I love the idea of wishing for redemption rather than harm.

Monthnotes: April 2024

April was a weird month. I felt unsettled in work, and a little overwhelmed in the rest of my life. But I’ve also been happy to have a housemate for a large part of the time, with Rosy coming to stay. We also had a visit from Naomi Foyle, as well as a big group outing with my friends Dan and Jill to see Joelle Taylor reading from her new book. I also made a flying trip to London with work.

The Kickstarter for True Clown Stories hit its target, which is great news, meaning that the book will finally emerge after 14 years. Running a kickstarter was odd – after the initial launch it was hard to figure out what to do next, given how little reach social media now has. I’ve also continued writing the substack, which is going well. At times this month focus has been a struggle, but when I have settled down to actually write, it’s felt good. Sending the weekly emails is helping me to take writing more seriously.

After completing the 10-week step challenge, I dialled my daily target down to 10,000, which has felt a little tricky. Walking so much was easy in a sprawling city like Brighton, but it’s a little harder to find enough routes here to keep me interested. My daily average was 12,746, with a peak of merely 19,335. I’ve dropped my target to 8,000 steps for May.

It was another month where I struggled with reading, and only finished a couple of books. One of these was Scarlett Thomas’s excellent new novel The Sleepwalkers, which I read alongside my friend Jane. I started reading the Nadine Dorres book about the ‘plot’ against Boris Johnson. It wasn’t quite bad enough to be entertaining, but there’s an unsettling narrative here, with a dangerous conspiratorial view of politics. I can’t work out if this Dorres believes her own work, and she’s not quite a good enough writer to be able to tell if the spy novel flourishes are ironic.

I continue to struggle with backlogs, and it feels a little like trying to push down an air-bubble. For example, I catch up my email, but that sends more newsletters to the Kindle. Emails, text messages, RSS feeds, all constantly filling up. A few quiet weekends have helped me catch up properly, but I’m not sure how sustainable this is.

It’s the second month on my new project and work has been hard. Things are less structured than I am used to and I’ve not been enjoying the lack of clear goals. I have been enjoying working with typescript after almost 25 years of Java. Typescript feels less fussy and more responsive. I made a trip down to London to spend time with everyone on the project, which was lovely.

Another month where I watched a lot of movies. Ginger Snaps and Badlands were highlights, along with a rewatch of Bottoms. Monkey Man featured some impressive action sequences but relied on lazy, misogynistic tropes. I watched all of True Detective IV in about 24 hours, loving the acting and production values. The plot felt a little inconsequential but was redeemed by the last twenty minutes. I also watched the classic Dr Who story Pyramids of Mars, which was more entertaining than I expected.

I’ve had some quiet weekends, and one day, running errands in town on a Sunday, I realised that this is basically my personal paradise. I love living in the valley.

  • I left Facebook several years back, disgusted by their behaviour around Myanmar. But I’ve been forced to open an account there, as a lot of local tradespeople and events only appear there. I’m only adding people I know from up here.
  • My theory about my 25+ years of headaches being down to dehydration was proved correct as I forgot to drink one Friday afternoon and was knocked out with a massive headache the following day.

Monthnotes: March 2024

The start of March found me glitchy and disorganised, a little overstimulated. I wasn’t burned out, but I was definitely singed from the Sweden trip and juggling two projects at work. On top of that, my sleeping patterns have been terrible, so that I was sometimes waking up at 4am, unable to get back to sleep. The month was basically a slog towards easter and the relief of a four-day break.

Dan and I launched the kickstarter for True Clown Stories. I should have published this back in 2011, but never got it off the launchpad. I looked into running a kickstarter back in June 2022, but it only got moving once Dan was involved. Running a crowd-funding campaign is a fun experiment, but it’s hard to make a continued impact. We’re currently at 60% with 18 days to go. I’m not sure if we will make the target or not, but let’s see. If you’ve not checked it out then please have a look.

I had a couple of trips this month. I visited Muffy in Blackpool and also went to Sheffield to see Rosy Carrick’s show Musclebound. It’s an incredible performance and I loved seeing it again. The show also brought together a few old friends, which was lovely. A great night out.

It’s been the last few weeks of the work steps competition. I walked 511,243 steps in March, for an average of 16,492 a day, with my highest total being 34,538 when I walked to Todmorden and back. Among all the other chaos of March, my diet has been a little unfocussed, and my weight increasing by 1/5 pound. Now that I feel a little less burned out, I can hopefully sort my eating out a little.

Work has been interesting, as I’ve been transitioning between projects. I left my previous project with some excellent feedback, which I feel very happy about. I’ve taken a little time to find my rhythm with the new one, although I’m enjoying working with a typescript stack. I’ve also been doing some interesting investigations into lambda cold starts.

At Rosy’s show I saw some people I’d not seen in years and, when they asked me about work, I found myself saying how much I love my job. And I truly do. I’m 16 months in, but I still feel excitement at the start of most days. I’m rarely bored, I’m challenged, and I am learning lots of new things. I’d never thought I would find so much meaning and satisfaction in a job.

I made some effort to focus more on reading books in March. The highlight was Booker prize winner Prophet Song, recommended by Jude. It took me a few attempts to get going with this, but once I did, I read it in a matter of days. Richard Norris’s biography Strange things are Happening was a great easter read. I’ve also been enjoying the graphic novel series Something is Killing the Children, rationing out an issue a night.

I watched 20 movies over the month – too many maybe? Highlights included the The Third Men, which seemed wonderful, despite being almost 80 years old. The remake of Road House was entertaining AF, and Tom Cruise was impressive in Michael Mann’s Collateral. I went to the IMAX to watch Dune 2 which was looked incredible but was somehow empty. Under the Silver Lake was flawed but thought-provoking. About 20 years after seeing it at the cinema, I rewatched But I’m a Cheerleader and was, this time, blown away. I also wrote a blog post ranking the ten Best Picture Oscar nominees.

Before the Kickstarter launched, I was seriously thinking about quitting writing. I’ve sold very few copies of Memetic Infection Hazards and, after months of writing the substack, my subscriptions had been flat. It struck me that the time I spent writing might be more effectively spent on my job. Then came a mention in John Higgs’ newsletter which lifted my spirits, as well as boosting my substack readership. And while the kickstarter has been slow, these are real people who have signed up.

Thinking about it, eight months of sending out a weekly story is far from nothing, and would have been unthinkable at most points in my past. Having an audience on the Substack also forces me to think more carefully about what stories are worth working on. I’ve deleted a lot of old notes, and what remains is very exciting.

I spent Easter clearing the decks a little. Throughout March, I felt overwhelmed by too much media, too many emails, and too much that I needed to do. It would have been good to do more with the break, but I feel better for having got things under control.

  • I realised recently that it’s a year since my last visit to Brighton, which seems odd. While I miss people there, I’ve not missed the place much. Although I am longing for a La Choza burrito, and Rosy has promised to bring one up when she next visits.
  • I had a couple of minor headaches in March, but nothing bad enough to force me into bed. So, it looks like increasing the amount of water I drink is working.
  • I blogged about the depressing state of Britain.

Look who I have visiting at the moment:

Monthnotes: February 2024

After an awkward January, I had my mojo back for February. Work and writing flowed well, and I got to catch up with some people. I had a trip to Sheffield with Katharine, as well as a gathering in Hebden Bridge to see double-drummer dance band AK/DK. That was a highlight – a load of people meeting for food at my house before going out dancing. I’ve not done that since pre-pandemic. I ended the month with a business trip to Gothenburg.

The big news is, I think I’ve got to the bottom of what is causing my headaches. It seems to be dehydration, although the underlying problem is that, apparently, some people are not very good at knowing when they’re thirsty, and I’m one of them. It’s a little like when I destroyed my first car because the oil light didn’t work. I did have a couple of headaches last month, but they’ve not been severe, so drinking more water does seem to be the answer. What’s weird is that the headaches seem to come on Tuesdays.

A steps competition at work has encouraged me to do more walking, and my total for the month was 483,139 steps, the most since May last year (when I walked part of the Coast-to-Coast). That’s an average of 16,660 steps daily, with my largest total being 26,616 from the day I saw AK/DK. I am getting a little fitter from this, as measured against my climbs of the hill behind my house. My weight is still high, but it’s trending downwards, with 2½ pounds coming off this month.

My new approach to writing continues to go well. I’m deleting lots of old notes (18,000 words on the Souths Downs way in one day) and it feels like I’m making space for new ideas. I wrote two new stories for the Wednesday Writers (Shivers and Wabi Sabi), and another story came to me almost complete before work one morning (Don’t Just Bury Your Trauma). In the past I spent too much time writing notes rather than actually working on stories. Warren Ellis linked to a good piece discussing this: On notes, outlines, and somehow cobbling a script together… I’m more excited about my writing than ever before.

I watched 10 movies through the month, including 6 Best Picture nominations, three of them at the cinema. Zone of Interest was by far the best of the nominees. I also saw Wild Water at the Hebden Bridge cinema, a lovely documentary about Gaddings Dam. My favourite movie was All of Us Strangers, which might have been the best-looking film I’ve ever seen – all those gorgeous sunsets and dawns. I’m impressed I made it out to the cinema for 5 movies in a month.

I only read two books this month, one of them a re-read of Ben Graham’s excellent Electric Tibet. I also read Jess Richard’s memoir Birds and Ghosts which was beautiful and heartbreaking. Something to focus on in March is ensuring my reading is less chaotic. I’m trying to absorb more media than I have the capacity for, and I need to get a grip.

Work has been fun. My current client project hit a big milestone, with its first production transaction. Travelling to Sweden was fun, although my experience of Gothenburg was airport-hotel-office-dinners, although I did snatch 30 minutes to see Lou Ice. I gave a talk on Spring AI, which went well. I’ve been trying to write up more about the things I’ve looked which is proving helpful. There are a few new posts on my programming blog:

With all the walking, I’ve been listening to many more podcasts than usual. I worked my way through ODB: A Son Unique in a couple of days, and loved it. Also excellent was the Subterraneans podcast (which I’m almost up to date with) and Joseph Matheny’s appearance on The Long Seventies podcast.

Is it possible to change from being a cat person to a dog person? I still love cats, but I really want a dog. But I can’t see a way to fit one into my current lifestyle.

A found this amazing cake at Clouds In My Coffee with Jude

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