Monthnotes: September 2021

It’s September, and time still feels like it’s passing slowly; but the summer is over, the days are getting shorter, and the outside world feels bleak. There’s the slow panic about logistics in the background to everything, which feels like the continuation of a crisis that started with the referendum. It seems like a bad winter is on the way, but nobody can do anything about it, particularly the government. Being English is exhausting. In the countryside, I feel a little insulated from this, but it’s also hard to get anywhere without petrol.

September has involved a few trips – a summer party and a client visit in Bracknell, and visits to and an office party with my employer in Leicester. I did the first four sections of the Coast to Coast. I also visited Hebden Bridge with Katharine where I drank cocktails and had my worst hangover in years. It cleared with a walk on the moors, but that was brutal, hard work.

My steps were higher than usual due to all the hiking, with an average of 15,706 and a total of 471,180. My maximum for a single day was 44,181 on the second day of the Coast-to-Coast where we managed to lose the trail. Despite all these steps, I’m not getting any fitter.

I only finished two books (although I have several books almost finished, as I’ve been picking at things). Gallows Pole by Ben Myers was an excellent historical novel set around the Calder Valley. Genesis P Orridge’s biography, Nonbinary, was interesting, but had little about the areas of his life I wanted to read about. I also read through The Debarkle, an online history of the Sad/Rabid Puppies.

I watched a few films early the month. I had a nightmare about A Quiet Place II, so watched it the next day and was mostly underwhelmed – it didn’t make a lot of sense. Mandy was an amazing movie which never compromised its vision. I’m not sure whether I liked it as such, and it ultimately relied on a woman being fridged. The Color out of Space was frustrating, not knowing if it was sci-fi or supernatural, and relied too much on lazy Lovecraft references.

I didn’t watch much TV beyond a few episodes of The Walking Dead, where I’m slowly figuring out what’s happening based on my knowledge of the comics. I’ve also been watching Midnight Mass, which is a little too obsessed with church and monologues. Inspired by my hike, I started replaying Death Stranding on hard mode, until the grind of it put me off again.

I’m feeling a little more settled at work now. The last few weeks have been spent fixing and upgrading builds for various projects, which I always find a fun challenge. Last weekend I gave a talk on JHipster for Mindera, which seemed like a lot of stress and it didn’t go as well as I would have liked. This is something I need to work on over the next few months.

Last month, I said that I wanted my writing to be more fun than video games, and that’s working out well. I’ve been working on several longer pieces and loving coming up with ideas for them. September ended with three rejections in two days which was a drag. I did have one piece published, a Drabble (a story that is exactly 100 words) called Instagram Famous.

The new issue of Bodge came out, with my page talking about an Invisibles event I am involved with at the end of the month. I also ran a Not for the Faint-Hearted writing session as a tie-in to Emma’s MA research. At the end of the month I went along to an in-person writing workshop in Leicester with the Speculators, which I really enjoyed.

I passed my probation in September, which means I’ve been able to start sorting out a mortgage. So, I guess I need to get on with finding somewhere to live.

Monthnotes: August 2021

August felt like a return to normality, as I’ve felt able to socialise with large groups again. It’s a strange time, as it’s hard to tell what I should be doing to protect myself. Cases are high and rising, vaccination effectiveness is fading, and the government has not said anything about how things proceed in the long-term. Being the only person in a supermarket wearing a mask has felt weird. But, while I’m still resolved to avoid coronavirus, I’m also reluctant to keep my life in suspension forever.

This month saw a fair bit of travelling. I visited Brighton twice – once to see Tom, the other time for a hike with Emma. Hiking with Emma was part of her MA, so the walk was written up in her research blog. I also visited Norwich, where we celebrated Rosy’s daughter leaving home (such emotion!) and ate some great meals. I spent some time in Hebden Bridge (Hepstonstall, actually), where I learned a valuable lesson about not trusting Calder Valley weather. I visited the offices of my new employer, Mindera, and loved meeting my colleagues in person. There was even a bit of camping in a field near where I’m living, and the Blame Blake event in Sheffield on Bank Holiday Monday. That’s a lot of travelling.

I continue to feel like I’m struggling with the new job, although the feedback I’ve had has been excellent. I’ve never had such a slow ramp-up to the point where I feel I’m contributing to a project with my full ability. I do love working on a mature microservice set-up – although I also feel a little awed by how much work it has taken the client to reach that point. Successful cloud architectures are not easy.

I’m continuing to write, and focussing on sending things out. I’ve had a small piece, Alex and the Face, published in Microfiction Monday and there are seven other stories out for submission. I’ve decided that writing should be at least as much fun as playing video games, and will let that idea guide what I work on from now on.

Other than the hike with Emma, I’ve mainly been keeping to my regular daily walks. My total for the month is 407,230 steps, with a daily maximum of 33,634 (thanks, Emma!) and an average of 13,136 steps (compared with 11,342 in July and 10,766 in April 2020’s lockdown).

I finished six books – highlights were Heroic Failures and CJ Stone’s Fierce Dancing, which was a great portrait of a lost culture. The Final Girl Support Group was a brisk read, which was great, but it wasn’t quite the book I’d hoped for. I wanted more revisionist slasher fiction (like the first series of the Nailbiter comics) but the novel was somewhat overwhelmed by the plot.

I watched very little TV, slowly making my way through Pose. I did watch the movie Pig, which was a wonderfully weird film about food culture, featuring an understated performance from Nicholas Cage. Music-wise, there were long-awaited releases from Kanye West and Lorde, both of which I’m finding hard to get into. The Lorde album feels a little too dreamy, possibly due to sharing a producer with Lana Del Rey.

Quitting caffeine last month was a successful experiment. I am sleeping better and less tired during the day than usual. It’s not cured my headaches, but they have been less frequent and less severe, so that is a definite win.

I’ve been replaying The Last of Us Part 2, this time on a harder difficulty level. I’m definitely better at it than I was the first time round, but it feels like a dumb way to spend my time. Video games are compulsive and gripping, but developing skills in them feels kind of pointless. I have considered getting a new game, but can’t see anything that won’t just devolve into repetition. As I said above, I’d rather focus on the sort of writing that is more interesting than games.

Overall, August felt pretty good. Now, with Summer coming towards an end, it’s time to start planning my next move.

Monthnotes: July 2021

I stayed close to home during July, not travelling more than a handful of miles away. While I did the same thing during a few months of 2020/1, this feels very different. I’m in the middle of the countryside which feels much less stressful than a large town. I’m enjoying time in nature, spotting new flowers and mushrooms appearing as the summer rolls on.

A lot of my walks have been with two dogs, Blue and Rosie. Rosie is too young for much walking, but I’ll take Blue out for a couple of miles most days. While my weight remains constant, Blue is looking good (the only Labrador I’ve met with hips). Stats wise, I’ve not done much: a total of 340,287 steps, with a daily maximum of 18,068 and an average of 11,342 steps (compared with 10,766 in April 2020’s lockdown). The main issue is that walking is all intentional and takes up a lot of time compared with, say, going to the shops or meeting up with friends for daily exercise.

Media wise, I’ve only finished a couple of books and don’t think I’ve watched any movies. I do read a lot of articles from RSS feeds on my kindle, and I’ve been getting back into watching TV again. The Mandalorian was an excellent fusion of space opera and spaghetti western. Atlanta was far weirder than expected and I’m looking forward to season 3.

I managed to watch two whole seasons of Snowpiercer, based on a recommendation on the Technoccult newsletter. It’s a fun show and compelling enough for me to keep watching. It’s set in the future, when a failed climate change solution has sent global temperature plummeting. The only remnants of humanity are living in a giant metaphor for the class system (a train that travels round the world).

A lot of this makes no sense – why would you use glass so much when it can’t be replaced easily? Who maintains the track? It’s nonsense, but it’s brisk, well-made nonsense. The acting has gripped me too, making it easy to believe when characters are seeing sunlight for the first time in years.

In the midst of everything, I also spent a week playing the rest of The Last of Us. I written in the past about what a nasty, cynical game I found it. I found aspects of the story revolting, particularly how the player was railroaded into immoral and wanton revenge, but the action setpieces and horror were compelling. But I suspect I’m done with PS4 games for a while. Nothing has come close to Death Stranding.

I’m finding the new job a little harder than expected. I think that’s a combination of moving to a new platform and remote onboarding. One of the things I was aware was lacking at Amex was the onboarding, and I tried to improve that as we expanded our teams. I now see that I should have been trying even harder than I did. Still, I have this weekend to recharge, and I’m going to try some new things next week.

One other thing I did this month was quit caffeine. I decided to stop immediately and deal with it. In retrospect, not a good idea. I lost a couple of days to a vicious headache, although I’d timed the acute phase to be over a weekend. I then had a while feeling laggy, sleeping through my alarm. I already feel positive changes – mostly smoother changes in energy through the day – but I’m still not feeling as alert as I was. If past experience is any guide, I’ll soon be waking up more easily, have more energy in the afternoons, and feel less caffeine jankiness.

Monthnotes: June 2021

June was a month of transition. While I moved out of my Brighton flat in May, there were loose ends to tidy up. I also did a little travelling: house-sitting in Norwich and visiting the Wirral. But, for the time being I’m in the middle of nowhere and finding space to relax.

My walking has been very much a maintenance dose, making sure I get a minimum level of exercise – my maximum was 31,724 (a day on the Pennine Way), and my average was a meagre 11,899. But walking has been great fun with these two as company:

I spent my birthday in Hebden Bridge, exploring the town a little and catching up with some friends. I walked a section of the Pennine Way and I’m happy to report the Landrover landmark is still there. It’s such a part of the route that it appears in the guidebook. (A similar sight on the South Downs Way, the old tank, was recently removed)

Also, I loved the chai boat, which travels between towns on the canal

Reading-wise, I’ve mostly been finishing books I started months ago. Jenny Odell’s book How to Do Nothing on the other hand was read over a few days. Most interesting to me was her discussion of attention. In combination with Cal Newport’s A World Without Email it got me thinking about how the world is set up for interruption and distraction (for example, having to turn off multiple notifications when installing a new Mac). So, I’m taking advantage of being in the countryside to do far less, and practise doing one thing at a time.

I don’t recall watching any movies during the month, and was mostly dipping into TV shows. Pose was fantastic, but I don’t seem to have the concentration it deserves.

One of the loose ends that needed tidying was moving on from American Express. I enjoyed the job, and loved the team I was working with. However, I was disappointed that a number of commitments made when I joined were not kept. It’s a shame, as there was a lot of good work to be done there. I do think I learned some useful lessons, and my skills are much sharper for being there.

The new job started three weeks ago, and I’m loving it so far. Working for a consultancy means joining two companies at once, and doing this while remote is a little strange. I love the idea of coding as a cottage industry, operating microservices from an old farm building in the middle of nowhere.

May Monthnotes

May was a month of big changes, but it was also mostly boring. I moved out of Brighton (which I’ve talked about elsewhere), but that meant a lot of time organising, fretting, and packing things into boxes. On top of that, my employer is not doing a great job of running a remote office, which makes a lot of my daily work dull & difficult.

Just before moving out I had my first vaccination. I was incredibly anxious throughout the third lockdown, and having the jab seems to have eased a lot of that tension. The crisis is far from over (particularly internationally) but it feels more manageable on a personal level.

I was dreading the moving day, but in the end it was less traumatic and time-consuming than expected. I was touched by the help I had from my friends, and we were done in about three hours.

I always notes my steps in these summaries, even while I’m finding walking underwhelming and uninteresting. May saw a total of 411,803, which is an average of 13,283, and the maximum of 32,656. I have a lot more mental freedom from leaving Brighton and lockdown; I am hoping to use this towards more interesting exercise. I’ve been doing my daily hip physio recently, and feeling a lot better for that.

With all the packing, I watched very few films properly. Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead was OK. That was just an appetizer for Army of the Dead, which was a brash and joyfully-stupid action flick. I also watched You Should Have Left, a Kevin Bacon-starring Blumhouse Horror film. It was very much a low-budget House of Leaves, but overwhelmed by a lot of cliches, including a dead woman in a bathtub. Yawn.

I only read a couple of book, but Alan Warner’s Kitchenley 434 came at the start of the month and absolutely gripped me. It’s just a great novel, the reader being drawn in by a network of details, an effect you can’t get with fewer than 60,000 words.

Other than that, I’ve been enjoying the F23 Podcast, a few writing workshops, and not having to pack any more boxes!

My sister got a new puppy
Getting to hang out live at a zoom nightclub
I had my first pint in many months on a drizzly Brighton seafront
Classy G&T in the park with my friend Nacho

April Monthnotes

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

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

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

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

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

Monthnotes: March 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February Monthnotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onward into March!

Monthnotes: January 2021

Total January

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December Monthnotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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