Here comes 2024!

2023 was not a year of great achievements, but it was one of the most content years I’ve had. Life has felt pretty good, but I am also aware that there are a lot of things I need to get on with. So here are a few things I’m looking at doing in 2024.


Long-distance running was one of the great pleasures in my life. I took it up in my 30s but had to stop due to a recurring hip injury. During 2023 I started seeing a new physiotherapist and actually doing the exercises I was set. Now I need to move onto the second stage of this, which is to begin running, starting with a couch-to-5k programme. I also need to put much more effort into my diet as I’m carrying a couple of extra stone which seem more persistent than in the past.

When I come to the end of the year, I like to look back at my monthnotes and see how the year shaped up. There are patterns to daily life that cannot be seen day-to-day. And the main thing I’ve seen is exactly how much of 2023 was blighted by feeling awful. Headaches, tiredness, exhaustion. This has been an issue throughout my life, even when I was at school, and I’ve explored many of the possible causes. Caffeine and alcohol contributed, and I’ve cut out both of those. I now try to sleep eight hours a day, but even that is not enough. When I feel OK, it’s easy to ignore how wretched my headaches feel, and how often they come. But I can’t keep going on like this.


I’ve always struggled with writing, and I’m not sure if it improves my life or whether the effort I spend on it would be better spent on my career. The main focus for my writing in 2024 is the kickstarter for True Clown Stories. And, after that? Well, I’ve always wanted to write a novel, but I’ve also seen that as a waste of time, given the odds against being published – but I’m not sure I should be basing the decision on the odds of ‘success’ rather than the joys of working on something. In 2024, I want to look at making writing much more fulfilling.

Social Media

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2023 clicking through social media platforms. I’m not sure how well-spent that time was – I certainly find it hard to think of any benefits I have had from being involved in these sites recently. The main things that keep me going back are FOMO and a fear that I’ll lose a community – but the latter is ridiculous given how little engagement I get from these platforms anyway. Twitter is nothing like what it was in 2010.

So, for a few months at least, I am going to cut back on reading social media platforms. Particularly since the blogging revival seems to be gaining momentum, and I’m seeing more personal posts on my RSS reader.

A Swedish Scrapbook

Last month, I spent a week in Sweden with my friend Lou. I flew out from Manchester on the same day that I finished the Extremely Stressful Project that I’d been working on for six months. Being in the middle of nowhere brought a huge sense of relief.

I stayed in a tiny village called Uddebo, about 100km from Gothenburg. Uddebo had been in decline until a number of people moved there to explore alternative ways of living. The village now has several communes, all of which put on regular events. There are also several free shops, and a community sauna. The photo below shows the freegan Sunday lunch we were invited to.

There is also a raft across the river which was added after the bridge was damaged.

It was the perfect place to spend time recuperating. I went swimming in the river Asman every day. It turns out rivers are great for banishing (although English ones are too ridden with filth and plague to be much use).

The classic film about Sweden is Ari Aster’s folk horror Midsomar. Arriving in this small village on a beautifully sunny weekend, I kept seeing echoes of the movie – outdoor meals, small buildings and so on – even down to being given a flower crown.

We also found lots of strange art in the woods. I took photos but I did not touch any of it. I’ve seen enough horror films to know how to survive in the countryside.

I decided to spend a night sleeping outdoors. We’d found a small wooden shelter that looked perfect for this. Lou couldn’t join me, as she needed to sleep properly before an upcoming performance. I am of course terrified of the dark, from having watched too many horror films.

Walking into the woods as sun set felt creepy, like something from the start of a film.

One thing that amazed me was how the woods were noisy until dusk fell, when they went silent. The Dark Forest theory feels very different when you’re actually in a dark forest. But I soon relaxed and managed to sleep.

I also met a giant dog called Buins who was super-friendly, and didn’t really how massive he was and went to sit on my lap.

Lou performed her one-woman show at the Central Library while I was there. I didn’t understand the words, it was good to see her onstage again.

The next day we wandered around Gothenburg, where we encountered a lunchtime disco, which are apparently run to allow people to make the most of their lunchbreaks.

Lou had to return to Uddebo, but my luggage was stored at her friend’s flat so I took a visit to Liseburg, where I met one of the rabbits that owns it.

I’m too frit for roller-coasters, but I love watching people riding on them.

I did, of course, sample the notorious Swedish pizza. I am now working on a horror novella inspired by this cuisine.

I love Sweden and can’t wait to go back!

Looking back to 2022

It’s amazing how quickly we get used to change. 2022 has been a dramatic year and, looking back, I’m amazed at the journey I’ve taken. In January 2020, I was living in Brighton, getting used to a new job, and expecting things to continue as they were. In January 2022, I was renting a flat in Halifax and working remotely for a company in Leicester. Now I’m living in a house in Hebden Bridge, working in Leeds, and feeling happier than I’ve ever been.

In three years, I’ve had three house moves and three jobs. Thinking back to January 2020, I couldn’t have imagined ending up living in Hebden Bridge, surrounded by beautiful countryside and working in a job I love. Obviously, the pandemic helped move me from my comfortable everyday life, making me look for new things, but I’m still amazed that I’ve taken this leap.

(I remember, in the darkest days of the pandemic, how it felt as if I had slipped into an alternate universe. There’s some of that same feeling now, as if there’s another me, that did not have the pandemic, and did not leave Brighton. It would have been so easy to stay there, doing the same things and I’m grateful to be in the universe I am)

Another change since January, and easy to forget is the pandemic. In January 2022, the country teetered on the edge of another lockdown. Now, the UK Health Security agency has announced publishing the R-number is no longer necessary as we’re now ’living with covid’. Covid is definitely not over, and I’m not entirely comfortable with how society as a whole ignores the impact of repeated infections. I’ve still not had covid, but catching it now seems unavoidable. We’ve gone from forcing people into isolation to avoid the disease to forcing people to catch it or be isolated.

In October/November I had a five-week break between jobs. I had lots of projects I wanted to work on, but restricted myself to just a handful. Even then, I made little progress. As suggested by Oliver Burkeman’s 4000 weeks, I need to be realistic about how much space I have in my life, particularly with the new job hotting up.

At some point in 2022, I also stopped drinking alcohol. I may well take it up again, but at the moment I’m not feeling any particular interest in it.

Overall 2022 has been a good year, and I am happy with where I have ended up. I hope that things stay like they are for some time yet.

Coin Trees

The Centre for Folklore Myth Magic in Todmorden is putting on some excellent talks, and this weekend’s session on Coin Trees by Ceri Houlbrook was particularly good.

A coin tree is one that has had coins hammered into it. It usually happens with fallen trees, and while the tradition can be documented back to Victorian times, it seems to have taken off in the 21st century. Dr Houlbrook ascribes this to change in forestry practises since 2000, when fallen trees were moved off paths but otherwise left to rot in place.

The first coin tree I encountered was one in Malham, while walking the Pennine Way:

I also encountered something similar in Kathamandu, where a large block of wood has had nails hammered into it. This is said to ward off toothache, and the site is detailed in Atlas Obscura. It was interesting to hear that the earliest British coin trees were also used as a means of dealing with toothache.

Dr Houlbrook’s research has explored various forms of what she describes as “unofficial embellishments to landscapes”, particularly where this has become problematic, or is likely to. The earliest example she discussed with relation to coin trees was a site on Isle Maree, which began as a rag tree, before people took to nailing the rags to the trunk, before directly hammering in coins.

I attended the session with Will, one of the CERN pilgrims, so we were obviously considering coin trees in relation to money burning. At one point, the use of coins in wishing fountains and coin trees was described as ‘sacrifice’. There was also a mention of how coin trees produce sacred zones in secular areas – “turning a space into a place”. This can be seen in how queues develop at coin trees, with people taking their turn and approaching the act with a certain severance. We also learned about coin-folding to cure disease, which sounds like an interesting approach to currency destruction.

Rag tree at Avebury

One of the most interesting aspects of traditions like coin trees is how people explain it. Dr Houlbrook interviewed a number of people who had placed coins in trees and many could not clearly explain what the tradition was and why they had done it – participation went before explanation. Dr Houbrook went on to talk about how she had begun considering folklore as improvised in response to children’s questions rather than the model of it being taught by the old to the young. It’s fascinating to see the growth in coin trees, and how the retrospective explanations of these things generate references to traditions that do not truly exist.

Earlier this year, Dr Houlbrook released a book ‘Ritual Litter’ Redressed which I’ve ordered from Amazon to learn more about this subject.

Looking forward to 2022

2022 started quietly. As midnight came round, I was streaming Kate’s DJ set while drinking a fun-sized bottle of Prosecco.

I’m glad to see the back of 2021. While 2020 was a shock, 2021 was more challenging. Brighton felt incredibly claustrophobic and it was a relief to leave for open countryside in the midlands and, after that, to Halifax.

Moving to a new town is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done. I lived in Brighton for 27 years and loved it, but life there had become predictable. I’d been thinking of leaving for some time, but the pandemic finally spurred me into action. This is probably the biggest change I’ve ever made in my life, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

I don’t have any big resolutions for 2022, but there are a few things I’m going to try:

  • I’m cutting back on my daily walking. While the commitment to daily exercise has been good, the arbitrary figure of 10,000 steps is a huge time investment. I’m not sure it’s good value either – I’d be better off spending some of that time stretching, meditating or doing other exercise. So, let’s see how that goes.
  • I’m going to carbon offset my life this year. Yes, I know carbon offsets don’t really work, but its more about producing feedback. True offsetting with something like climeworks is out of my budget, so I am going to go with myclimate for now. This is about signalling a (small) commitment to carbon reduction, and making myself aware of my impact through a personal carbon tax (a good article on this was recently published by Tim Harford: Why Carbon Taxes really Work)
    • (20/10/22 – this never happened, mostly due to personal finances. This is how the world ends, with vague failure to meet commitments)
  • I’m going to put more of my writing into the world. I’ve always been very bad about sharing the things I’ve worked on. In 2022 I am going to publish more work, whether its on this blog, twitter, instagram or elsewhere.

That’s about it, as I have more than enough to be getting on with. Having avoided infection/isolation over the Christmas period, I need to focus on settling into my new hometown. 2021 was a tough year, and I’m not expecting 2022 to be easy. But, having made a huge change in my life, I’m excited to see what is next.


The People’s Pyramid in 2021

At some point in the 21st Century, I die. I hope it’s towards the end, but it could be tomorrow. However I feel about it, that ending is a fact.

Yesterday, I attended the Toxteth Day of the Dead, held this year in Buxton. I think the first one was in 2018, with the 2020 event cancelled due to covid. It’s a strange occasion, although I suspect it will make more sense as time passes.

When the KLF returned with Welcome to the Dark Ages in 2017, I was a little disappointed. Yes, the event itself was incredible, but the announcement that the band were becoming undertakers seemed perplexing, cryptic. I mean, I’m glad it wasn’t just a case of the band reforming (even if I did secretly want a new album of stadium house classics) but I didn’t really get it.

The plan is laid out on the Mumufication website:

The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu are building a pyramid.
The pyramid will be constructed of 34592 bricks.
Each brick in the pyramid will contain the cremated remains of a dead person.
This process is called MuMufication.

The Toxteth Day of the Dead was a great celebration. Tommy led a procession through Buxton, describing what we would see if we were in Toxteth. Some people followed us for a bit, curious about this crowd in hi-vis jackets. We sang a chorus of Lily the Pink. We followed a path through the woods, past an ice-cream van, and crossed dark moors towards a tower. It felt like the recreation of some older custom.

As I watched this year’s bricks being placed into the pyramid on a cold November night, it all made sense. The families of the beloved dead brought the bricks forward and the Bricklayer – the first Bricklayer – placed them into the pyramid. A few words were said about each person before a metal bucket was struck to mark that the job was done. It was an incredibly moving ceremony.

The story of a pyramid which might take decades to build had brought a couple of hundred people out on a cold November night. Afterwards we tramped back to the Works Kanteen for soup and talk and dancing. While there, I paid the 23 obols for my own mumufication. I’m not planning on dying any time soon – although there’s no way to be certain of what the future holds. But it feels reassuring to know, a year of so after that happens, a brick representing me will be added to the pyramid.

The 27th Annual Invisibles Unconvention

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been involved with a small group of Invisibles fans. We formed around the 25th anniversary of this comic book, originally as a reading group. But, rather than wallow in nostalgia, we’ve ended up doing a series of artistic projects. Shyness, pandemics and location have meant I’ve not been able to take part as much as I would have liked, but it’s been fun to be involved from a distance. We’ve made video pieces, music, a zine and on October 23rd we held our event at the Hundred Years Gallery in London, The 27th Annual Invisibles Unconvention.

The event featured a display of Invisibles-inspired artefacts the group has made, along with a series of performances – Lord Fanny Craddock, Black Badge, and an Invocation of the spirit of TiNA Hibbens.

I gave a short talk about the Invisibles comic. I spoke about how the world we live in feels very much like that of the comic; how we need a counterculture more than ever; and how that needs to function offline as well as online.

My talk was the least-prepared talk I’ve ever done, but also the most successful. I really enjoyed it and listening back to it, I’m fairly happy with it. Over the next week of so, I’ll sort out one of the recordings for release.

For me, the event was not just about the show, it was about bringing people together. The day was strange and powerful and joyful, and I loved being part of it. The trains that day were a nightmare, with the line to London blocked for hours, but I’m glad I persevered all the way.

It’s been fun and inspiring to be engaged in these sort of projects, and I’ve decided to get involved more directly in whatever the group comes up with next.

Moving on from Brighton

On Tuesday, I had what is probably my last trip to the flat where I’ve lived for the last seven years. Empty, it wasn’t the same place I remembered, as if the memories are packed away with my possessions. I was only there briefly, removing the last few items, including the the fold-up table I’d worked from the day before.

Leaving Brighton has been on the cards since January this year, so it doesn’t feel like a shock to me. But with the pandemic and everything else going on, I’ve not spoken much about leaving, so a lot of people were surprised. I haven’t got around to arranging a moving party yet either, but will do soon. (Soon-ish, anyway).

I’ve lived in Brighton for 27 years, apart from occasional six-month breaks in Norwich, Hastings, Hoboken NJ, Coventry and Derbyshire. Even when I was living away from Brighton it was the center of my life. Now, I am looking forward to new things. I have a few plans but I’m taking some time to relax and settle before acting on them. I don’t feel sad at all. I had a great time in Brighton, and I’m sure I’ll be visiting regularly. I’d been thinking about leaving for some time, but the upheavals of the pandemic gave me space to take the decision. My main feeling is excitement about the future.

Things to do before I leave town

Things to do before you leave town… It’s been a long drawn-out process, but it looks as if I am close to selling the flat. Obviously, it’s best to take nothing for granted when moving house, but the schedule is finally falling into place and… if everything goes through, it will be sooner than I expected. Maybe even this month.

The next few weeks are likely to be a mess of undignified packing and logistics. I’m not going to get chance to say goodbye to everyone (hardly anyone!) before I leave, but I will be back relatively soon to say goodbye properly. Far better to enjoy that, than trying to squeeze it in among everything else I need to do before leaving. And, you know, I’d hate to have a big occasion then have things fall through and be here another four months.

I first moved to Brighton in October 1994, and the town has changed a lot. I still love it, but I also need a change. I want to settle into a new place and build new patterns, find new landscapes. I’ve left Brighton before, but that was always with the intention of coming back. This time, it will be for good.

The immediate future holds lots of putting things into boxes. I’m looking forward to having a calming cup of tea with that out of the way. Then, I will get on with organising a leaving party.

Sorry to anyone who’s hearing about this for the first time. The pandemic is a weird time, and I’d also not wanted to jinx things.

Also! How fucking exciting! I am going to be living somewhere new this summer!

First thoughts on Adam Curtis’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head

Last weekend, I watched all six episodes of the new Adam Curtis show, Can’t Get You Out of My Head, which comes in at about eight hours. I’m still thinking about the show, but my initial thoughts are somewhat critical.

  • First off, I loved that the first mention of Discordianism was approximately 23 minutes in. Beautiful attention to detail.
  • In many ways, this felt like a direct continuation of Curtis’s other documentaries, with the same mix of B-roll footage, out of context archive shots and tasteful music.
  • In a show that talks about power and narrative, Curtis’s use of his voice as a patrician BBC voiceover is suspect. This should be parodic, but he seems to be playing it straight.
  • Many of the ideas Curtis uses are quite simple, and thrown out of linear order just to create patterns and juxtapositions.
  • Some of these juxtapositions begin to seem trite. ‘Saudi Arabia is a fairyland, just like Tupac Shakur’s version of LA!’ ‘The KKK are like Isis, who are just like English folk dances before world war two!’
  • There is a loss of context to the images, which is sometimes problematic. We’re lulled into not questioning the origin of footage and ideas. At one point, shocking footage is shown of what looks like preparations for a mass execution, the victim’s faces blurred. Were they blurred by the BBC or by the people who shot and edited the original footage?
  • Curtis often talks about how the world had gone “badly wrong” for the middle classes, sometimes supporting this by proximity to appalling outrages on less-privileged groups. I think that someone like Curtis could always show the middle classes being unhappy and unsettled with whatever the mainstream ideology was.
  • Towards the end, Curtis talks about use of neural networks on the web, and how patterns in the data are analysed without context or meaning. The implicit self-critique is palpable.
  • But, at the same time, there is a fascinating twist, which comes too late to be followed up. Having spoken about manipulation through social media, Curtis questions the idea of this through the replication crisis.
  • After talking for hours about the growth in bureaucratic power, Curtis briefly moves to discussing Brexit. He questions the idea that Brexit was a manipulation of Leavers by outside forces, implying that Brexit might even be a positive way of reclaiming the collective power has been undermined over years. It’s a disturbing and fascinating moment.
  • It feels like the next Curtis documentary could be very interesting.

What fascinates me about this show, and makes it worth discussing, is that Curtis seems to be making a provocative, inspiring narrative, but one that is almost drowned by his tropes. That positive story is about the limits of individuality, and the need for collective stories to change the world. Rather than focus on the anxiety and confusion, he could have focussed on people gathering together. It’s that show that has excited me, rather than the one discussed above.

Curtis deals in hidden narratives, but the film begins and ends with David Graeber’s inspiring quote: “The ultimate hidden truth of the world is that it is something we make. And could just as easily make different”.