Monthnotes: May 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monthnotes: April 2023

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

St Anne’s Beach, Easter Saturday

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

Her name is Sashimi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monthnotes: March 2023

I started March in Croydon, where I attended a series of work meetings. Despite all the times I’d been stranded in East Croydon station as a commuter, this was the first time I’d visited the place itself. Work went on to dominate my month.

Boxpark, Croydon: home to good but expensive vegan milkshakes

I made a trip to Brighton – although I worked a day of that, and was too busy/stressed to plan much. I went book shopping with Ben Graham, visited KateS, saw Anna & Chris, and stayed with Rosy. I was there to give a talk at the Sunday Assembly, which was great fun. Brighton did its best to persuade me I still loved the place, and I bumped into some old friends by accident. It would have been good to meet up with more people, but I didn’t have the energy to arrange anything. I did have a surprise text from Tom, who was also passing through Brighton, and we had a brief but wonderful reunion. I also had visited Newcastle where I caught up with Laurence.

I walked 341,043 steps in March, an average of 11,001 a day. My highest total was 24,930, on a borrowmydoggy trip with Lola the Labrador. I finally got a new pair of scales, which told me I had put on 3½ pounds this year. It’s miraculous it’s not higher given the amount of bad food and stress I’ve been dealing with.

I’ve done very little writing recently, since work has left little space for it. I published a new story on the blog, The Bone Wardrobe. One good thing about being forced to pause the writing is having time to think about what I would like to be working on – and I am determined to make more time to write in April. I also posted an Introduction to Psychogeography on the blog, written in preparation for the Sunday Assembly event.

I didn’t finish many books this month. I re-read American Psycho, which was both more abhorrent and better written than I remembered. I attended a good literary event at the Trades Club, organised by White Rabbit Books, with readings from Terri White, Amy Liptrot and Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite. That was a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Netflix B-Movie Fall was a great watch. Sadly I didn’t like Only God Forgives as much as Mr Spratt. I also made a rare trip to the cinema to watch Creed III which was disappointing. I enjoyed the first episode of Succession season 4, and have re-started The Last Of Us. I tried the first two episodes of Swarm which was good, but a little too ‘cold’ for me.

I’ve been working long days and have not had much energy by the end, so I’ve been playing more of The Last of Us Part 2, doing the encounters without auto-aiming, and experimenting with harder difficulty levels. The only trophy I’ve not claimed is for playing on Grounded difficulty. That seems an almost unthinkable achievement, but I seem to be working towards it.

  • I’ve rejoined BeReal and I love the ambient intimacy. The ‘discover’ page is fascinating. I’m not sure my daily life is interesting enough for me to sustain this, but let’s see. I’m orbific.
  • I had a power cut one Friday evening. I ended up going to bed very early that night, as I was too tired to think of things to do by candlelight.
  • We also had snow towards the end of the month – a very light touch, but the cold was unwelcome. I’ll be glad when this winter is done.
  • I find synchronicity fascinating, but I’ve always been immune to it. However, on my visit to Newcastle I had a run of 23’s. I’m not sure what this might mean.

The main theme in these monthnotes (as well as in February’s) is my job. I’m working hard, to the exclusion of many other things in my life. I should have visited Brighton twice last month, but missed Kate’s 40th as I didn’t have the energy. A few friends have asked if I’m enjoying it, and it’s been good to have the question raised. This job has not been fun, but it is compelling. However, I am not sure it’s worth the energy that I’ve been putting in. A recent announcement about layoffs – in response to the company’s highest-ever profits and growth – does suggest a need for more balance.

I asked myself what I would say to someone else working this hard at something. Back in 2005, working on Flirtomatic with Future Platforms, it felt good to be pushing myself that hard. There were times I hated that project, but I was working alongside talented and decent people. Looking back, I’m glad that I did that job. I can’t see myself feeling that way about this project, and if I’m going to work that hard then it needs to be for something meaningful. In April I will address my work/life balance. It’s good to know I can work this hard, and I should be spending that energy on things that matter.

Faded remants of the pandemic on Brighton seafront

Monthnotes: February 2023

In February, it felt like work took over my life. I do like the job, but I’m not enjoying its current form, with a limitless capacity for absorbing my energy. Weekends in February were mostly spent recovering, with some dreadful headaches. Work is also the reason why these monthnotes are so late. I enjoyed meeting up with colleagues in Manchester and Croydon, although I could have done without the long train journey.

My sister dropped off Rosie the puppy to stay while she was on holiday. It was lovely to have her to stay, but I think a dog will be too much trouble as a permanent pet. I also had my friends Naomi and Emma visit (the latter visit described on Emma’s visual diary). Emma lived in Hebden Bridge for a few years and introduced me to a few eating places I’ve not tried yet.

I walked 304,820 steps last month, an average of 10,886 a day, which is good enough. The highest total was for a day exploring woodlands with Rosie and Emma. I’ve not been particularly healthy this month. My scales have been broken and I’m in no particular hurry to find out what they have to say.

My writing was also underwhelming in February. I ended up dropping my usual daily writing towards the end of the month as work swamped me. Rosy had a look at my next South Downs Way pamphlet, and pointed out some huge flaws. This sets me a little behind, but I hope to pick things up in a few week’s time. I also received a single-line rejection for a long story, four months after sending it out. Submitting stories is relentlessly unrewarding, and I’ve had enough of it.

I did make a recording of a new story, A Slice of Heaven on Earth. It’s about how much the Devil loves fruitcake.

I didn’t read a great deal this month. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow was very readable and full of 90s gaming nostalgia. The plot was predictable and emotionally manipulative – but it was a good book to get lost in. I re-read House of Leaves with Katharine, and enjoyed the experience of sharing the book, even at a distance. I also finished Nice House on the Lake, which didn’t quite live up to its early promise.

The best book of the month was Paul LaFarge’s The Night Ocean, which was recommended by Tom. It starts out as a novel about a queer HP Lovecraft, and then becomes something even more wonderful. The book does not shy away from Lovecraft’s faults, but still manages an empathic portrayal. There are also appearances from William Burroughs and some wonderful jokes about fandom. A beautiful book about long, sad lives.

I also watched very few TV shows or movies this month (I’m definitely picking up a theme here). I tried a Shudder description but, while I was excited about the idea of watching some of the films, in practise I couldn’t get into them. Time loop movie Meet Cute was too frustrating to finish, even as part of my project on time loop movies – although I might try again in a month or two. I did watch all of Happy Valley, which was dark but contained some great footage of the Calder Valley.

I’m continuing to listen to new music, and the Spotify algorithm appears to have responded well to that. I’m also finding good tunes on the Misfits 2.0 and Our Generation playlists, although neither are really age-appropriate.

The stress of work is giving me some strange dreams, including one where someone was so angry with me that they threatened to break every bone in my body, in alphabetical order.

Monthnotes: January 2023

January has been an unobtrusive month, as shown by how few photographs I’ve taken. I started the new year with my friend Lizi and an appalling migraine. I visited Blackpool for a weekend with Muffy in between strikes, and went to the Midlands for my Dad’s birthday. Much of the remaining time was spent hibernating. Hebden Bridge weather is as intense as I was promised, with more snow making the pavements treacherous for a week.

My work project continues to be tough. I can feel myself responding to the stress, particularly with weird dreams and disrupted sleep patterns. But this is the job I want to be doing, and I’m OK with where things are for the moment. Enduring a stressful project seems a little harder with remote working and not having all those friendly, informal interactions with colleagues. I should have had a visit to London at the end of the month to meet my team in person, but that was cancelled due to train strikes.

I walked about 288,000 steps last month, an average of 9,287 a day. My Fitbit lost a few day’s totals, which is frustrating. My highest count was for a hike with some colleagues from the Manchester branch of my company. I also had a decent hike with Commoner’s Choir the day after their Hebden Bridge gig – that walk should be featured on one of Clare Balding’s Ramblings show in February. I’ve not been eating particularly healthily, although things are improving. I put on a couple of pounds, which I am going to try and remove in the next couple of months.

I’ve done very little decent writing this month – again, due to work. I did write a couple of pieces for the Wednesday Writers, which I was fairly happy with. I need to get both of them posted online, I think. I’m waiting on a review of the next South Downs Way volume, and working away at another one, due for release in the summer.

I’ve got my reading under a little more control recently, including catching up on a lot of zines (Hwaet continues to be essential reading). I enjoyed the McSweeny’s retrospective, which contained a great deal of detail about publishing. Girlfriend in a Coma was an interesting re-read, although I didn’t like it so much this time round. I also caught up on The Constant Gardener, a post-Cold War Le Carre book that I’d missed at the time. Joe Hill’s short story Pop Art (from his collection 20th Century Ghosts) was sad and well written, using a weird concept, (a child is friends with an inflatable boy) and taking it very seriously.

The TV highlight this month was Atlanta, which concluded with another weird and uncompromising season – one of the best shows I’ve seen in some time. I also finished Andor, which was well made, but I don’t really see the point in ‘Star Wars for adults’. I watched the first episode of The Last of Us, and found it too faithful to the video game – like a very expensive Twitch stream. I might have watched more, but NowTV’s ads are increasingly intrusive. It amazes me that paying to see a TV show gives a worse experience than pirating it. I’ve also been watching The Rig as background. Very sad to hear that Netflix cancelled 1899 – although I would still have watched the first season if I’d known what its fate would be.

I watched several films over the month. The most inventive was One Cut of the Dead, which used its low budget for a brilliant concept. Smile and Knives Out were slick without quite grabbing me. I enjoyed Glorious for its high-concept plot about a haunted glory-hole – and making a spirited attempt at living up to that. Bodies Bodies Bodies was fantastic, telling its story about murder in a mansion flawlessly. I also tried watching The Lighthouse which seems like a good film, but did not work for me.

One of my aims for 2023 is to listen to more new music, rather than the same 90s hits I’ve been playing for years. I’ve managed to find some great new music, notably- Ethel Caine’s Preacher’s Daughter album. Spotify has played several songs by Samia, but it was only when the album Honey emerged I realised these songs came from the same artist. I’ve also enjoyed tracks by Vot and Lizzie McAlpine; a new Princess Superstar record; and Caroline Rose’s haunting single Miami. Not bad for the first month.

My musical explorations were helped by new chart podcast Pop Could Never Save Us. Episode 1 looked at a recent UK top 5 and it turned out to be pretty good. The hosts provide interesting context – I now know how the SP1200 sampler led to the Wu-Tang production style. Escapism was a catchy and clever number one, and Messy in Heaven and the new SZA single were also worth listening to. Episode 2 featured a review of a 1959 chart, which included a digression into skiffle’s origins. I’m hoping this makes a good replacement for The Content Mines, which ended its regular run this month. I’m going to miss it.

As work has taken over my life, I’ve had less focus on British politics – probably a good thing. The little I have seen supports the feeling that Britain is falling apart through underinvestment and corruption. It just doesn’t feel like there’s much hope, and I can’t see Labour offering enough compelling reasons for people to vote against the government. There’s none of the rising optimism I remember from New Labour’s ascendency, no feeling that things can get better.

Writing up these notes, I can see how much work has loomed over January. Things are improving, but if I have another month like this then I am going to look at moving to another project.

Monthnotes: December 2022

December was dominated by settling into my new job. Things are chaotic at present, with five hours of meetings some days, and little time to do my actual work. I’m mostly enjoying it but the job has sometimes felt vampiric. Christmas preparations were continually blown away as work took all my energy, and I sent many of my cards late and never got a tree. I didn’t transition to a crunch-mode lifestyle, so my diet was very poor. Things should calm down at the start of next year, but this was a tricky month.

I have done a few things other than work, with Kaylee coming to visit, and Vicky bringing Libby the Greyhound after Christmas. I also worked on the Discordian Parish Magazine, which we’re selling via etsy. I’m enjoying the social side of working in an office in Leeds, including the office Christmas party where we went to a darts venue. Hebden Bridge had snow in December’s second week, which looked beautiful, but turned the streets into a dangerous ice-rink.

I walked 317,061 steps in November, an average of just 10,227 a day, with the highest daily total being for a walk to Howarth. That trek also included a wintry fresh water swim – very short but invigorating. I also had a good snowy walk to High Brown Knoll with Lola the Labrador. There was a failed attempt to walk to the Bridestones where we left too late in the afternoon. We might have annoyed the boggarts, since Jamie’s shoes fell apart. My weight remained pretty much unchanged through the month.

Elon Musk managed to turn twitter into a fiasco with surprising speed, and this spurred me to start using my Mastodon account. First impressions are that Mastodon is slower and quieter, but it’s also friendlier, with some of the feeling of early twitter. The local moderation seems to work much better than the one-size-fits-all approach taken by Twitter or Meta. It’s a very different experience, but could be a good replacement. I’m

With the end of the year, I’ve been thinking a lot about my writing and decided that I’d rather not spend so much energy on submitting stories to publications. I’d prefer to make my own little story zines, or other artefacts. I’m excited about the prospect, although self-publishing brings its own challenges.

I read 9 books in December. Last One at the Party was a sort of lit-fit versions of the 80s kids comics where only one person survives the apocalypse. Robin Ince’s Bibliomaniac was a cosy book-tour diary that should not have worked, but was a good book companion and got me excited about second hand bookshops again. Keiron Gillen’s Immortal X-Men was fun, but much of the wider plot was inscrutable. I think current Marvel continuity is very much aimed at people who want to be reading the whole X-Men franchise. I don’t really have the attention or the funds to keep up with plots across several ongoing series.

I agreed with most of the points in Laura Bates’ Men Who Hate Women, but sometimes the journalistic/sensational tone did not work for me. The issues Bates discusses are indeed sensational and horrifying, but I would have liked some deeper analysis. For example, while the men described are awful, there’s an odd tension between the sympathy for the boys and young men who are being radicalised, and how those embedded within the communities that were described as evil and irredeemable. Quibbles aside, it was an important book, and a brave one too, given the viciousness of the communities Bates wrote about. Violence and misogyny have been normalised in our culture, and sadly Bates’ book is not making the impact it should.

One Man and His Bog was an account of walking the Pennine Way in the 1980s. I found the humour a little forced, but the Goodreads reviews suggest many people disagree with me. Also disappointing was Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger 3, where Wilson had drifted from multi-model agnosticism to gammony opinions about feminism and PC. I also published a blog post listing my favourite books of 2022.

I watched the rest of The Peripheral, but never felt as gripped as I wanted to. Inspector Lowbeer stole the limelight once she turned up, making me wish she’d been the show’s focus. I watched a little of Netflix’s Turkish linguistics dystopia Hot Skull, which was interesting but didn’t quite take for me. Star Wars prequel-prequel Andor was mostly relegated to background watching. It was exquisitely made, but I wasn’t sure what aspect of the story required it to be set in the Star Wars universe. I did love much enjoyed seeing Cleveley’s seafront repurposed as the resort world Niamos. Just after Christmas, Disney Plus finally dropped the new season of Atlanta. I’m enjoying how disinterested this feels in being a regular show.

I watched 7 films in December, with highlights being Norwegian kaiju flick Troll, and star-filled drama Cop Land. X was a surprisingly good slasher film, with some editing that was so weird and disconcerting that I fell in love with the film. Saint Maud was a slow movie with a surprisingly strong payoff. Silent Night was a very dark Christmas movie that surprised me with how grim it was prepared to get. Even more than the film itself, I loved the reviews by outraged viewers who felt it went Too Far.

Some odds and ends:

  • After getting some awful headaches at the start of the month, I’ve been completely off coffee. However, I do have cravings for decaf most mornings.
  • Last December we had the log4shell issue, and this year we had the disasters at Lastpass. I’ve closed that account and updated all the passwords I had stored in that manager. Very frustrating.
  • Tim Harford hosted a podcast episode called The Conspiracy Theorist Who Changed his Mind which had some interesting discussion of how people do not change their views from argument, but rather from community. Some interesting lessons there.

Monthnotes: November 2022

November has been a busy month, dominated by the excitement of a new job. The remote onboarding was incredibly efficient, and it’s great to be part of a company with such energy and enthusiasm around technology. I’ve been enjoying dropping into the office in Leeds once a week, and made a trip to Newcastle at the end of the month. The role itself offers some big challenges, but I’m starting to get up to speed.

My free time has also been fairly busy. I visited the Thought Bubble Convention in Harrogate where I met El Sandifer and Penn; had my covid and flu jabs; went out dancing for the first time since the pandemic, at the Golden Lion in Todmorden; had a number of visitors in Hebden Bridge; and went to an epic bonfire in the midlands. At the start of the month I visited Leeds Trinity University to talk to a transmedia class about ARGs, Digital Folklore and how they can go wrong. The research for this was fascinating, and it was an opportunity to think deeply about a lot of things which was valuable in itself, even if I might not use the material for another talk.

I walked 307,702 steps in November, an average of just 10,256 a day, with the highest daily total for a walk around Withens Clough reservoir with a friend from Cragg Vale. I got soaked feet on this trek, which has been a problem a few times recently. Walking about the valleys in winter will require more robust footwear. I sneaked on a couple of pounds of weight, mostly through poor diet and snacking in the workday. It’s not a huge problem, but is something I need to keep an eye on.

I did a fair bit of writing during the month. I started out the month with FlashNano, a November writing challenge, but abandoned that after 10 days – trying to write a story a day wasn’t feasible while starting a new job. It was a good experiment, and useful to see that I could turn out a decent story in 30-90 minutes, with a few of them good enough to submit. I’ve been trying to send out more new work, submitting four new stories – Cinnamon, The Things We Don’t Talk About, Something in the Way and The End of the Second Hand Bookshop. I also published A Wedding Like Mariah’s on my blog. As we come towards the end of the year, my stats are 55 submitted, 6 accepted, 35 rejected.

I had a couple of new stories published. I’m delighted to have another story in the Horror Zine, who have printed Still Alive at the End of the Summer. I’ve also had Stragglers published by Flash Fiction Magazine.

I’ve continued reading lots of books. A Likely Lad by Peter Doherty is an autobiography where the subject comes off very badly. It was interesting to see how unrepentant Doherty was about the degradation of his addiction. I’d always seen him as someone who threw his talent away – but reading this book, I began to wonder if it had thrived because of his drug use, and he simply took it as far as he could. Our Wives Under the Sea was an excellent literary novel that tended towards cosmic horror. Malcolm Devlin’s And Then I Woke Up was an clever twist on zombie movies. It was notable how short the book was, given its inventiveness. It also featured some great jokes about looting supermarkets in video games. I finished Grant Morrison’s Luda mainly through perseverance, forcing myself to finish it. Morrison is a great writer, but I find his longform prose unengaging.

Meet me in the Bathroom was an oral history of New York music in the noughties. It starts in the period when I was living in Hoboken (the Strokes’ first gig was in September 1999). I did see one of the bands mentioned in the book, the Mooney Suzuki, who were bottom of the bill for the Donnas and were one the greatest live acts I’ve seen. Sadly they never quite took off. One of the most interesting things was how new technologies influenced the scene – the people with the first digital cameras became important, and blogs became influential, the first stages of making a paparazzi-life lifestyle universal. Changing technology was also used by TV on the Radio, who hid CDR-s in “furniture stores or bookstores”. The book also included a great theory that new musical movement depends on having their own particular style of trouser.

Harry Cole and James Heale’s quick-turnaround biography of Liz Truss was mocked when her premiership was over before the manuscript was submitted. The book is a good summary of Truss, and goes beyond the disastrous time as PM and the gaffes that made her famous. It was a good political book in that it was well-written, often gossipy, and explained the events in such a way that they made more sense. Hopefully I’ll write a proper review in the next few days.

I made it through November without watching any movies. I watched most of The Peripheral, which was beautifully made but somewhat unengaging. Netflix’s 1899 was fantastic, a mystery box show that delivered on a lot of its strangeness. I was slightly thrown by the ending, being unsure if 1899 was a single season or not. It was also announced that Westworld will not be getting a fifth season, which actually feels like a relief. The show has never returned to the heights of the first season. I would have watched another season, but it has mostly been disappointing.

I started playing Dying Light 2 on the PS4. In many ways this is a remarkable game, and I couldn’t believe they’d packed such a detailed open world onto a BlueRay. The parkour movement system was stunning, and I loved navigating between rooftops. But, ultimately, playing was a banal experience, with too much bad acting and fetch quests, so I stopped. While playing the game was compulsive, it also felt like I was switching myself off for an hour or too.

With the new job, I’ve been paying less attention to parliamentary politics recently. I’ve been ignoring the World Cup, an event I normally love and watch as much as I can. I don’t think a boycott of Qatar’s hosting achieves much, but the events around this World Cup have made it feel uncomfortable rather than fun.

A quick miscellany:

  • Cat Vincent’s post on 1000 days of covid is essential reading about the coronavirus and how those still sheltering have been neglected. I wrote a brief response.
  • A great joy of Radio 4 is interesting documentaries about subjects you’d never thought about. A drive down the M1 was enlived by Exit Game, a ‘drama documentary’ about the professional men’s football youth system, where the odds seem even harder than on creative writing courses.
  • Sharp Things, Killing Things was a very good horror short story
  • I subscribed to Sam Kriss’s substack as I love his writing and cannot bear to miss his occasional subscriber-only post. An example: “The American novelist is standing in the middle of a charnel house, with blood dripping off the walls, writing little autofictions about the time someone was rude to them in their MFA.
  • Twitter is so far surviving a difficult transition period, but I have set up an account on Mastodon – @orbific. This is a very different social network to Twitter, but I am growing excited about its potential.
  • I’m back to the occasional caffeinated coffee, which is not good for me, and resulted in an awful sleepless night while in Newcastle. I’ve also developed a bit of a decaf habit, which seems to be driven by my longing for proper coffee.
  • The year is starting to turn colder, which the current energy crisis is making particularly noticeable.
  • I’ve set up a Google alert on my own name. Not so much for vanity, but because I like reading obituaries, record releases and corporate announcements by other people with my name – they’re little alternate universes. I was delighted to learn that there is a James Burt Parkway in Auburn, Alabama:

November felt like it flew by at points. But, in writing these monthnotes, I realise how much I made of those thirty days. That’s a definite benefit to writing monthnotes.

Monthnotes: October 2022

October has been strange, with a two week break between jobs expanding to fill the entire month (basically, there was a problem with a third-party referencing system). A surprise month off sounds ideal, and it’s enabled me to spend some time on the house, catch up on a few projects and also to get myself a little better organised (which I’ll talk about at the end). Having said that, I’d rather have been working, particularly given the recent economic chaos.

Autumn has settled into the valley, and it looks beautiful with the trees changing colour. I can’t believe I’ve already been living here for three months – I still feel moved when I see the sunrise in the morning. Lou Ice came over from Sweden for a few days of hiking. We also had Plathfest, which Helen and Sophie visited for. Ilkley literature festival hosted a talk from John Higgs and it was good to catch up. I’m still exploring the valley, and last week went up to the trig point at High Brown Knoll with a borrowmydoggy friend, Lola the Labrador.

There was not as much walking as last month, when I was on the Coast-to-Coast trail. I still managed a total of 370,083 steps, which was an average of 11,938 a day. My highest total was 32,645, walking back from Haworth to Hebden Bridge with Lou. My weight has been stable, which is remarkable given a careless diet.

Despite not having worked all month, I’ve not submitted any new stories. I’ve written five new pieces for online and offline workshops which just need a quick review to be sent out. Six stories were resubmitted in the first half of the month, bringing my stats for the year to 47 submitted, 7 accepted, 32 rejected. Instead of submitting more writing, I’ve mostly been finishing off old blog posts, including one about a visit to Heptonstall that I particularly liked.

I did read a lot of books this month – 10 in total. The Anomaly was a literary airport novel, and felt a little like a TV show (an adaptation is in the works). There is No Anti-Memetics Division was one of the freshest pieces of horror I’ve read. Holly McNish’s poetry collection Slug was a lovely format, as it included the talk around the poems that you get in live performances that are usually dropped from books. John Higgs provided a combined history of the Beatles and Bond in Love and Let Die. Twyford Rising was a history of the M3 road protests, and an important glimpse of resistance in the 90s. Adrian Hon’s You’ve Been Played was a good, critical view of gamification. Swedish Cults by Anders Fagers has finally been translated to English and was an enjoyable read. Andrew Gimson’s recent Boris Johnson biography was an absolute car crash of a book.

I didn’t watch much TV, other than the web series about Kanye Quest 3030, where two Australian comedians finally solved the mystery. I tried The Midnight Club, but it had too much of a young adult vibe for my tastes. I caught several films. Crimes of the Future was well-acted and visually stunning, but the story didn’t grab me. Incantation was a creative found-footage movie, but the in-story filming sometimes felt contrived. 20,000 days on Earth, the Nick Cave documentary, was a re-watch with Lou, and proved almost unbearably sad given the tragedy that was lying in wait for Cave. Bullet Train was a fun cartoonish movie, very much post-Tarantino, but about 20 minutes longer than the concept could bear. Desert Coffee was a good Netflix documentary on Slab City. I also watched Haunters, which was a disturbing documentary about haunted house scares in the USA.

I’d been waiting to see Kevin Smith’s Tusk in the cinema. I figured there would be a big Brighton premier at the Duke of Yorks, but for whatever reason that never happened and I never got around to seeing it. Lou-Ice suggested watching and it was fun, despite some sloppy editing (the scenes from wife-beater Johnny Depp went on far too long). But, for all its ridiculous, over-the-top nature, the film was tragic, with Justin Long did a great job of portraying a man whose humanity was ripped away.

I continued playing The Last of Us Part 2, collecting all the main trophies. I finally completed Stray after a long break, then bought Red Dead Redemption 2. I’m finding that incredibly hard to get into, so ended up completing The Last of Us Part 1, which I’d also ignored for a long time. I love The Last of Us games for the atmosphere, ruinporn and world-building, but both Joel and Ellie are terrible people. I’d rather be playing positive games in that world, working towards better things.

The real world continues to be alarming. We had another flurry of posturing about nuclear weapons, which makes me anxious. Everyone seems reconciled to the idea that someone is going to use a nuclear weapon before long. Trident is not making me feel any safer, and maybe unilateral disarmament is a good thing. In the UK, we’ve had more political chaos, and a couple of power-cuts in the valley. As entertaining as I find the parliamentary side of the political situation, I am shocked at how poorly-managed the country is right now. It feels inevitable that something is going to go very wrong this winter.

Having five weeks off has been interesting. Having recently read Four thousand weeks, I was aware of the need to be selective about what how my time is spent. And that turned out to be true – five weeks is a long time, but I’ve not had enough time for large new projects, instead mostly progressing some old ones. I finally launched a basic site about the Pennine Way and started with Dan on Mycelic/Discordian Parish Magazine.

I’ve become much better organised over the past few weeks by following the advice in James Stanier’s book on management – keeping email and to-do list and calendar separate. It’s also made me feel healthier and distractible than I did beforehand. Even so, I’ve still achieved less than I would have expected, which makes me aware that I need to be selective about how I spend my time, particularly once I start work again. The non-work activity that is most important to me is writing stories, and I need to double-down on that. I’m thinking about trying to submit one new short story a week – that sort of arbitrary goal can be useful for developing something.

Monthnotes: September 2022

September felt like a transitional month. I was still settling in the house, and slowly moving things into the right places. There’s a lot to do, and I was grateful to my sister and her husband for coming by to strip down the ivy and creepers. The old flat in Halifax had to be cleaned and handed back. I also wound up my job with Mindera, which I finished on the last day of the month.

Along with all this, I went out hiking for a week on Coast-to-Coast with my brother-in-law. Katharine came to visit and, inspired by a guardian article, we took a hike in Bradford, which turned out to be a little underwhelming. I did get to see an original Lowry painting, though. I think we had a copy in the house when I was small, and the original turned out to be much larger than I expected. I did local sections of the Pennine Way with James Spratt, including my first wild swim in Gaddings Dam reservoir. Vicky brought her greyhound Libby to visit and I discovered that greyhounds are weird creatures, nothing like other dogs. I was surprised to learn that they chatter their teeth to express joy.

With the long hike included, I walked 536,907 steps in September, with a maximum of 46,870 on the second day’s walking on the Coast to Coast. This means a daily average of 17,896, which is the highest for some time. My weight continues to float gently downwards, although only by a pound and a half, despite a sometimes poor diet.

The Guardian’s Bradford hike

My writing has been a little slower this month, with only six submissions, and one new story finished but not sent out (James Joyce’s Ulysses as a Cursed Object). For the first time, I had all of my current stories submitted at the same time (11 in total). I withdrew a couple of stories from submission (Wreckage and The Leech Catchers) as I didn’t feel they were as instantly appealing as my other pieces, but they might emerge somewhere eventually. The month ended with a flurry of rejections, bringing my stats for the year so far to 41 submitted, 7 accepted, 29 rejected. I’m more excited about writing than ever, and looking forward to playing with some ideas before I start the new job. Three stories were published:

I’ve been reading some great books this month, although in a disordered way, switching between them. Of the books I finished, three were non-fiction books about music – it’s as if reading about music has replaced getting into new bands. Curious about how the Beatles went on to make Abbey Road after the finality of Let It be, I read Ken McNab’s And in the End. There is a lot in the book about business dealings, shareholdings and corporate takeovers, but I guess that is a reflection of where the Beatles had found themselves. Nicholas Soulsby’s Dark Slivers focussed on Nirvana’s Incesticide, and produced a surprising number of fresh insights and revelations about Kurt Cobain. The book-length Nick Cave interview Faith, Hope and Carnage discussed Cave’s creative process and spirituality, as well as being a provocative engagement with grief.

Grief was also a substantial theme of Ru Callender’s memoir What Remains?. I’d expected this to be good, but I was surprised by how good. I discussed this a little on Twitter, but plan to write more soon. Storyland by Amy Jeffs managed to be more engaging than most books of myths, and contained many I’d not read before. I was inspired to read No Country for Old Men by the movie, and loved the grit of the language. Olivia Laing’s Everybody was another triumph – less cohesive than The Lonely City maybe, but it brought together people including William Reich, de Sade, Malcolm X and Nina Simone. There was also an amazing section on Ana Mendieta, an artist I couldn’t believe I’d missed out on. I also read a novel about music, David Keenan’s This is Memorial Device, which I think I need to revisit, as I don’t think I gave it as much attention as it deserved. It seems a book that would be better suited to physical form than on a Kindle. Finally, Sally Jenkinson’s new pamphlet Pantomime Horse, Russian Doll, Egg was released (for sale here), and it was a powerful and moving work. September’s reading might have been disordered, but I read some amazing books.

I didn’t manage much TV, although I finished watching Better Call Saul with Kate Shields. It was a great show, but I’m not sure what story it wanted to tell. And maybe telling its story alongside the events of Breaking Bad harmed it in the end. I saw several movies. Everything Everywhere All At Once was delightful, and as good as everyone promised. Kes was an interesting period piece. I watched The Return (2005) with James Spratt and it was somewhat disappointing. Withnail and I was quotable but the alcoholism just felt sad. I also made two trips to the cinema. The Forgiven was great, and I enjoyed watching a drama with no CGI, spaceships or superheroes. Nope was more my usual fare and was excellently constructed, although it didn’t grab me as tightly as I would have liked.

It’s been weird having such a long time between accepting the new job and finishing the old one. I’m looking forward to getting stuck into some new challenges. In the meantime, I’ve updated my programming blog with some missing content that was only on linked in. I also reviewed Dave Farley’s Modern Software Engineering book, which was excellent. I’ve got a couple of weeks off between the two jobs and I’m hoping to play with a few tech things in that time.

It’s been another battering month for the UK politically. Liz Truss came into power then a few days later the queen died. This meant that politics was out on hold despite the ongoing crisis. I was away for the mourning period, although this meant I caught a few TV screens where the BBC news seemed to be doing nothing more than interviewing people in the queue. When politics returned, Truss failed to solve the energy crisis for many people then unleashed the worst budget of my lifetime. Along with the nuclear posturing over Ukraine, this continues to be an anxious time.

Something musical I’ve enjoyed recently – Alison Rose’s acoustic version of the Nevermind album. Acoustic covers can be a cheap trick, but this album draws out how good the originals were.

Monthnotes: August 2022

At the start of August I finally moved into my new house in Hebden Bridge. Even now, four weeks later, I’m still overjoyed to be waking up here. It’s been a particularly idyllic time to arrive with the good weather, and I’ve reminded myself not to get too used to Hebden Bridge being dry. The move itself was shoddy, with no attempt to prepare bedding, or keep things tidy enough that I could find my chargers. I’ve now moved all the boxes to one room and am working to make each of the rooms cosy. It’s going to take some time, but I’m looking forward to it.

The day before I moved in, Tom messaged to say “Now you can start getting stressed about maintenance”. And yes, I am discovering that an old house will require a fair bit of work. To start with, I have a whole host of trailing plants that need to be brought under control. I’ve bought a ladder and garden tools and am slowly dealing with the creepers. I’m enjoying the prospect of this new workload. Reading Four Thousand Weeks last month made it clear that there is never enough time, and we just have to choose how to spend it.

The other exciting news is that I have accepted an offer for a new job, starting in October. The interviews for the new job took place either side of the move, which in retrospect was crazy. I’ve loved working at Mindera, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a new type of company. In the end, it comes down to geography – as much as I love remote working, I want to move to a one-day-a-week hybrid model. I went to Leeds for the company barbecue and met some of my new colleagues and am incredibly excited about working with them.

Despite the move, I’ve been getting on with regular things. Kit had been booked to come visit weeks ago, in what turned out to be a couple of days after the move, but it was good to have him help me settle. I went to an excellent talk on Coin Trees with Wil, one of the Cerne2CERN pilgrims. I also attended a one-day Arvon workshop at Hebden Town Hall with Amy Liptrot and Will Self. Amy was particularly inspiring, filling me with ideas about place writing. On Bank Holiday Monday, I had a visit from another pilgrim, Dan, and his sheepdog Molly. Other than that I’ve been trying to discover all the little paths in the woodland behind my house.

Walking continues to be little more than a maintenance dose, with a total of 339,822 steps for August. An average of 10,962 and the highest 20,734 when I was moving house – more activity than distance that day. My weight has continued to float downwards, but slightly more slowly than last month, with another 2.2 pounds disappearing without effort. As the house purchase became stressful last month, I started drinking coffee again. Even just having one or two coffees a day was affecting my concentration and sleep patterns, so I needed to stop. I lost a Saturday to caffeine withdrawal, which felt like an awful hangover. Hopefully I won’t need to do that again.

I wrote two new stories in August (Little Piggies and The Leech Catchers) and sent six submissions, with my stats for the year standing at 35 submitted, 6 accepted, 21 rejected. That means I had 9 rejections in August, which I feel pretty OK about. Three stories are due to be published in September.

I’m picking up the pace of the pace of the submissions now, which is good. Submissions are hard work and involve a spreadsheet, but Chuck Palahniuk recently wrote about how you need to love all parts of the writing process. I sometimes feel anxious about running out of places to send stories – there are markets closing all the time. But Dave Farley’s Modern Software Engineering has been a good reassurance about the importance of making small bets and learning from those. The more I submit, the more clearly I can see which elements of my writing are working for other people. For example, I’m focussing more on characters than concepts, which is producing better stories.

Out of the books I’ve read this month, the highlights were Hannah Gadsby’s Ten Steps to Nannette, which provides an interesting glimpse into how her austistic mind works. Chuck Wendig’s The Book of Accidents was an interesting novel that felt very much influenced by Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and one I wished had been a little less cosmic. Dave Farley’s Modern Software Engineering was a good guide to the state of the art in the discipline. Sally Coulthard’s A Short History of the World According to Sheep was very much in the quirk-non-fiction genre kicked off by Longitude, covering a broad swathe of history including some interesting details about Halifax’s history.

Despite how much was going on in August, I managed to watch a fair amount of TV. Netflix’s Trainwreck: Woodstock 99 was a good documentary, although showing the footage of sexual assaults seemed unnecessary and violating. I tried The Sandman but gave up after a few minutes – I love the comics, but the adaptation felt twee and overly faithful. I’m glad other people are enjoying it so much. Westworld season 4 managed brief moments of genius but was, overall, tired and confused. I’ve also been catching up with Better Call Saul. I’m not sure why I’d stopped, particularly in the middle of a pandemic with so little else going on. Kate had been hyping it, and I’ve been enjoying watching remotely with her. Just a few episodes to go!

When Kit came up we watched Nicholas Cage metafiction The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent which was both fun and about twenty minutes too long. I also went on my first trip to the Picturehouse in Hebden Bridge to see Alex Garland’s Men. While I have quibbles with the movie, it was a great one to see in the cinema, with some amazing visuals.

I was sad not to make it to the Edinburgh fringe to see the new version of Rosy’s show Musclebound, but I did enjoy her appearance on the Persistent and Nasty podcast. I also enjoyed Gemma Files’ short story Each Thing I Show You is a Piece of My Death.

Politically, Britain continues to feel like it’s in decline, with nothing good coming down the road. The energy price increases are shocking, given that they make it impossible for so many people to make ends meet. It seems incredible that a government would put a large proportion of the country in a position where rent, food and energy have risen to the point they simply cannot afford them. And that’s to say nothing of the costs to business, schools, and nurseries, which threaten a horrifying economic contagion. It’s terrifying, particularly given the lack of engagement by the Conservative party, who are distracted by their leadership campaign. I’m expecting Truss to take action once she is in power, but even so, putting people into a position like this is unacceptable. Nobody should be made anxious about how to heat their homes. The job of a government is to look after its people.