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.If you want to follow what I'm up to, sign up to my mailing list