In today’s episode of “Brexit meets reality”…
In today’s episode of “Brexit meets reality”…
I am very pleased to find that The Stinky Meat Project, one of the greatest sites of all time, is still online.
Looks like Amazon video has reached the stage of enshittification where, having enticed businesses on to their platform, they start treating them like shit too.
Hmm, can anyone think of the 1001 ways this can go wrong?
This is a really good summary of why iCloud Drive is really good, until it’s not, at which point you had better start praying to whatever deities you believe in if you want to fix it.
This week, I mostly gave myself a week off which meant I hit level 60 on my character in the new Diablo 4 season. That’s understandable, but I need to make sure that I don’t spend too much time just lazing around even if there is a World Cup to watch.
If you don’t know about it, the wonderful publisher And Other Stories have a brilliant subscription scheme. For £70 a year, you get six books – but you also get your name in the back of the book, and get them a couple of months in advance of publication. That means you have to wait a while for your subscription to kick in, and my first book arrive this week. It’s “Traces of Enayat”, by Iman Mersal, and I’m looking forward to it.
I rediscovered a story which I started writing at some point about a doctor who isn’t quite what he appears, and pushed it a bit further. It took me a while to actually realise that I had written it – there are some interesting stylistic tricks in it which I had forgotten playing around with. Along with the story that I developed at Arvon I’m going to finish that in the coming week.
China Mieville’s “A Spectre, Haunting” crossed my radar and, as it’s a short one, I started reading it. It’s excellent of course, although China is very much in his academic mode rather than entertaining.
I’m thinking of moving my blog from Wordpress on to something else, and Micro.blog ticks a lot of boxes: incorporates ActivityPub and RSS; can do both short posts and long posts easily; easy to use; static site generation; small (but great) company. Hmm.
God Alexia Putellas is good. Really good close control and vision.
There is a player for Costa Rica called Pricila Chinchilla which may be the greatest name in football history.
The Sky Glass advert is basically “here’s all the features Apple has in Apple TV but we will charge you £17 a month plus a Sky subscription for it.”
It’s genuinely shocking how Musk has managed to completely destroy his reputation as a competent business person with the Twitter acquisition. I can’t think of a historical parallel.
Honestly Musk would have been better off just making Twitter 100% subscription from the day he bought it. At least that would have been a strategy.
Fox on the left, potential fox snack on the right
Well that was a pretty frustrating performance from England. Lots of chances – Alessia Russo should have had a hat trick – but no luck at all.
The new piece in the Turner Contemporary looked really rather nice at the weekend.
Currently reading: Yes! No! But Wait…! by Tim Lott 📚
Today I learned that Dave Winer has created another outliner, and now I feel like it’s 2000 again and I’m using Radio UserLand to publish a blog.
I’ve been feeling somewhat melancholy this week. I suspect the cause of that is mostly physical: I have also been feeling quite run down, not to the point of exhaustion but definitely lacking in energy. The two things usually go hand in hand: Kim has occasionally described how my emotions emerge from me like a cloud, surrounding me, and it works both ways. When my body is struggling, my emotions cluster around me, and when I’m feeling strong emotions, I wear it across my body like a gaudy sash.
We spent part of the last long weekend before August dog sitting two Bedlington terriers who manage to combine whip-smarts with the utter irrationality of all dog kind when it comes to the three things most important to them: snacks, shitting and chasing rabbits. I miss having a dog although I would probably want one that wasn’t quite so excitable. An elderly dog who likes a little amble and wistful glance towards the rabbits in the field is probably about my speed.
On Wednesday we went up to that there London to see Jeremy Deller in conversation with Emma Warren talking about Art is Magic. I love his work – honestly if you don’t like We’re here because we’re here you have no heart – but I also love that he’s not a trained artist, didn’t go to art school, and is what the art establishment likes to call and “outsider artist”. That’s a phrase which, of course, reeks of the privilege they have and how they like to project it. We are insiders – you are an outsider. And we all know that outsiders aren’t to be trusted.
It’s possibly one of the reasons why it’s taken me fifty years to admit to myself that some of what I do might actually be art, rather than craft or a trade. We shall see. It still feels more than a little uncomfortable.
Kim has been off in France – first Paris, then Montpellier – doing fun art things since Thursday. That meant she didn’t have to suffer the FA Cup Final with me (our friend Edward came round for shit talking and snack eating) and I’m taking the opportunity to do a bunch of chores that have been on my list of things to do for far too long. Related: my back now hurts. One more thing to talk to the doctor about at some point.
I wrote something on my experience of covid. This isn’t the first thing I have written about the pandemic, but I think it’s the most complete account of how it’s made me feel, and think, and act differently.
I finished off M John Harrison’s “anti-memoir” Wish I was here in just a couple of days. It’s very Harrison: don’t expect a linear narrative about the events in his life, or a how-to manual on writing weird fiction. It’s as much a piece of art writing as the rest of his recent work, and has the opacity and determination not to explain things which he’s really been playing around with for a long time.
Of course I loved it, but I’ve always loved his work, ever since as a nine or 10 year old I picked up a copy of The Centauri Device while on holiday in Spain. I was obsessed with science fiction and this was the only book I would find amongst the tiny selection of English-language paperbacks in the Spanish newsagent which catered to Brits on their cheap package holiday. Harold Robbins, James Clavell, Dennis Wheatley and M John Harrison. I have sometimes wondered quite how they ended up stocking it, but whoever decided that a Spanish newsagent was the right place for a story of spacefaring anarchists deserves my thanks.
I’m not sure what to read next. This is always an interesting moment: a few days of paralysis while I work out what my brain wants to absorb. I’m tempted to jump into Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki as a bit of a break from fiction. It’s been in the book pile for a couple of weeks, which is usually the optimum time for reading: any longer, and it tends to get buried by other options. Any shorter, and it interrupts what I’m already reading. And I hate to stop reading a book before the end: abandoning something always feels like a moral failure, even though intellectually I know it’s the right thing to do.
I think it’s only now, with the benefit of two years of processing, that I’m really able to think and write about covid and the lockdowns of March 2020 onwards. And it’s only now that I have started to feel like life has really resumed, that I’m able to just go out and do things: see art, go to talks, listen to live music. In the last few months, something has resumed. It’s not my old life, but it is something.
There was that amazingly strange moment in time when everyone was effectively housebound, confined in a way which no British population in history had been before. You couldn’t drive anywhere unless it was to get to essential work, or to shop – and if you did shop, only one person from a household was allowed to go unless there were extenuating circumstances. You could leave the house to exercise, for as long as you wanted, but only meeting the people within your household. Friends and strangers alike had to be kept at a distance. If someone was coming your way, you crossed the road to avoid them.
Before lockdown there was a period when everyone knew it was coming but everyone wanted to believe that washing your hands for 20 seconds was the solution. It hit us early. On the 13th March – naturally a Friday – one of our friends came from London for a visit. By Sunday, he was sick enough for us to have to drive him home, with rumours swirling that London would enter a lockdown which might see no one able to come in or out of it.
By Wednesday 18th March I was sick too. A minor cough, but what made me know it was covid was the exhaustion. It took me 30 minutes to write a five line email to my manager at work, telling her I thought I had covid, because I barely had the strength to type. Then Kim was sick. There were no tests available: the few PCR tests were going to hospitals. If you got sick, you just had to wait and hope it didn’t get bad enough for you to need an ambulance, breathing apparatus, intubation, critical care.
And the following Monday, 23rd March 2020, everyone was ordered to stay in their homes.
In lockdown, one weekend we walked from our home up on Tyler Hill in Canterbury down to one of the city centre parks because we had heard a rumour that there was a stall still selling takeaway coffee due to some kind of loophole in the regulations. A two mile walk to get a cappuccino. I almost cried – it was the first time in weeks that I had felt that somehow, perhaps, things might get better.
Lockdown has affected everything. I look at the fashions of the young people at university – kids who spent nearly two crucial years barely able to socialise with their friends except online – and they wear the kind of clothes that everyone adopts when they don’t have to leave the house: baggy sportswear, shapeless and comfortable, with none of the effort or styling which usually moulds your appearance at that age. It’s a bland conformity driven not by the surrounding culture but by a lack of surrounding culture. Humans are social animals: when that sociability turns into something which might kill them, they suffer.
And everyone I know has suffered in one way or another. Social bonds, prematurely loosened to the point of breakage. Friendships that took a hiatus during lockdown and have never returned. Mental health which means you struggle around strangers, or desperately seek the company of someone, anyone, while finding company strangely unrewarding.
No one feels like they did. And I don’t know anyone who feels they used the experience of lockdown and changed for the better. I know plenty of people for whom that was an intention: lockdown as a time to stop, a time to reinvent themselves, a time to study and take the time to read. But I don’t know anyone who came out of it more healthy or wise than they went into it.
I worry about kids. I know it’s possible to recover from badly disrupted schooling and from mental health issues in childhood (I went through it) but this is different. This was a mass trauma and I think we are, as always underestimating quite what an effect it will have both on individuals and our whole society. Children are more resilient than the mythologisers of childhood innocence would believe, but they are also more vulnerable than the stiff-upper-lip brigade fantasise about.
Covid isn’t over. While the rhetoric of “learning to live with covid” has been used as an ideological figleaf for a government policy of ignoring it and pretending it didn’t happen the truth is that we **do ** have to learn to live with it. It’s not going away and the wise course of action would be to put as many mitigations in place to prevent future outbreaks as possible. Better ventilation in buildings, encouraging wearing masks (as the Japanese always have) when you feel even slightly under the weather, and of course a consistent public campaign of booster vaccination could all play a part in ensuring that we never have to go through a lockdown again.
Our current government, which made a policy platform out of ignoring the consequences of Brexit are of course uniquely unsuited to doing any of this. They are born chancers, riding gamblers’ luck with our futures and our lives. They would rather believe something will come along to make covid go away entirely – or that they can do nothing and it will be someone else’s problem if and when it returns in strength.
I said earlier that only now has my old life resumed, but that does not mean I am unchanged. I’m in worse physical shape than I was pre-lockdown (and I wasn’t in great shape then). Perhaps connected to having had two bouts of covid, I came out of it with significantly higher blood pressure than I went in, and weighing a fair chunk more. Lack of mobility when I work from home means that, unless I deliberately exercise, my average steps per day hovers down at the 4,000 level rather than over 10,000, which was where it was “in the before times”.
My mental health suffered too, in ways which it’s hard to put my finger on. I am more anxious (and I was no stranger to anxiety). But I have also become more aware of my own needs in terms of people. Far from being the one who didn’t need a lot of people around him to, it turns out that I do, that I love being around people and function best when I am. Who would have predicted that I am, in fact, a thoroughly social animal – a perfect exemplar of how most of my fellow humans are?
It also radicalised me. Covid, and the government’s response to it, exposed the middle ground of politics for what it always was: a comforting lie, something that I wanted to believe was true because I always like to believe everyone has people’s best interests at heart. During lockdown, the capitalists and their cronies came out of the woodwork in droves to dip their snouts in the trough of government money, with chancers (or “entrepreneurs”, in Toryspeak) appearing to sell us billions of pounds of useless PPE, growing fat on margins. Profiteering shits of the kind which appear in any disaster, but which our “third way” centralist politics pretended had gone away.
Health workers who were clapped in the streets, then denied a decent wage once it was “all over”. Bus and train staff who were lauded as “key workers” in the pandemic and made to risk their lives so that people could continue to do vital work, only to be told they were greedy when they dared to ask for their salaries to rise in line with inflation.
The old histories always made out that great men make the times. But that’s nonsense. The times make us, and they also show us a little bit of what we really are. We have to live through whatever life throws at us, and the events around us shape us to a far greater degree than we like to admit. Covid, those two years of seclusion and loss, are going to be with us for a very long time. The only thing we can do to make it all more tolerable is to tell our stories, and hope for change.
Bank holiday! Another one! Yay!
On Friday we went over to Margate to see The Chimera Function, a performance lecture by artist and researched Lo Lo No which involved quite a bit of cutup spoken word stuff. I had never been to the Tom Thumb Theatre before and loved it – the work was pretty interesting, and if you’re interested in experimental spoken-word stuff I would recommend seeing it if you get the chance.
Saturday night I was doing my own spoken word piece at the Free Range open mic night. My work isn’t experimental: I just like telling stories. And as part of it I told my own story, or rather the story of how I didn’t write any stories for over 40 years and finally started when I decided that was really silly.
After that we went along to our friend Edward’s birthday drink, then headed home via a really rather large Five Guys burger (grilled cheese for me, of course). Memo to self: you really don’t need to have even the medium fries. Small is more than enough.
Today was my fortnightly writing group, but I ended up only being able to stay for an hour because I planned to meet up with Kim and head over to Herne Bay to collect her mobile phone (she had left it on the bus on Saturday night, and I needed to be with her to find the bus station where it had been left after being found).
I also took delivery of a new monitor. A couple of months ago I moved the Mac mini and my old monitor out of my study to give myself more desk space, so have been using my laptop on its own. It hasn’t quite worked: although it was nice to have such an open and uncluttered desk, leaning over a laptop doesn’t suit my body, and propping it up on a stand just means I end up peering into the 13in screen from a distance which isn’t great for my eyes.
The new monitor is a Dell S2722QC USB-C 27in 4K thing, which is similar to the ones we use in the office. It’s good – not only does having USB-C mean that I can connect and charge my laptop on it. But Dell’s stands allow me to move the monitor up and down which my old LG couldn’t. So no more having a monitor on top of a stand which isn’t quite the right height.
I didn’t realise how much the details of the environment that I work in made a difference to how I feel about working. Things like having a decent keyboard, a screen that’s the right size and height, and all the other things make a big difference not only on things like my posture and my back but also in how producing and creative I feel. It sounds stupid, but it’s true.
At today’s writing group I only had about half an hour so dived in and wrote a short piece of micro-fiction which I’m quite happy with – so I will be publishing that on the writing blog at some point soon.
I have been continuing on with Temereire, which is a fun and easy read. This week also saw the arrival of M John Harrison’s Wish I was here too, which is a sort-of biography from my absolute favourite author. I’m looking forward to diving into that.
There’s been a lot of London this week. I’m doing a stint of training sessions for various teams across the business – eight sessions this week, basically two a day – and I prefer to do them from the office so I was in for four days running. The good bit is that I get a later train in (the sessions start at 11, so I can get the 9.21) the bad bit is that it turns out commuting is quite tiring. Who knew???
It does have some plus points. It’s nice to see people face to face, and to have those kind of serendipitous chats to your colleagues which actually drive some of the more valuable creative work. It’s good to have a proper gap between work and home. The hour on the train serves that function really well. And it’s nice to have to avoid the inevitable temptation of ill-disciplined home work, where I slide out of bed at 8.45 and am furiously typing Teams messages fifteen minutes later.
I like working at home. But I like working at home on my stuff, rather than the business. That, I like to keep at arms length – and the blurring of home and work life which I fought hard to resist during the pandemic is finally catching up with me. I need more discipline about that, because I have lots of other things which I want to do.
I was reading Mo Morgan’s weeknote yesterday and he mentioned switching email providers. I’m not sure if Mo is actually my doppelgänger, but I have been doing exactly the same dance this week, working on trying out Fastmail. I’m impressed with it, and I am already certain that at the end of the trial period I’ll move all my email and calendars to it.
Another service that I’ve been looking at this week is Authory, which I have been using and recommending for a few years. I did an interview with them about how it meets my needs and was gushingly positive. If you don’t know it, and you’re a writer on the web, you should be using it: it basically scans sites that you write for for your work and create a personal archive of it. So, when someone on the site’s audience development team decides that your old content should be redirect fodder for strengthening another article’s rankings, you don’t lose your work.
(Yes, I have done that to people’s work. I’m sorry.)
Authory has some really nice features. You can use it to create a portfolio site which has all your content from across the web on it. Or you can have an email susbcription using it, so people get all your stuff if they sign up. Oh, and if you tell it a site where your content is, it will go through and find all the existing content to preserve, which is useful when, like me, you have done a bunch of freelance work over the years.
I am still getting slightly scratchy about how to set up my desk at home. A few weeks ago I exiled the Mac mini into the spare room, because although it was great it also tended to dominate the desk. I had a computer and pretty big monitor right in front of me, and it just didn’t feel right.
So I moved the Mac mini and now use my MacBook Air M2. It’s on a stand at the moment, which raise it to a nice height, and I use the Keychron K2 with it which has a lovely action on it. But somehow it still seems like… a lot? Just having the laptop on the desk might be a better option, even though ergonomically I know for a fact that’s terrible. Or maybe I should just go back to having a monitor and a minimal Mac mini setup. Decisions, decisions.
Yesterday we went down to Chichester and saw “Kaye Donachie: Song for the Last Act” at the Pallant House Gallery. It was really good and I would highly recommend it, and the whole gallery too. Pallant House specialises in modern art and does some really interesting curatorial stuff, contextualising the work in different ways. There’s also some great work by Gwen John, which you need to see.
For a bit of a change of pace I’ve been reading Temeraire, which is basically Napoleonic Wars with dragons. It’s really fun and of course I’m breezing through it.
This week was mostly about training at work. Not me doing training: me training other people, and developing supporting materials, and so on. It’s been a while since I did proper training, and it was a lot of work.
It was also interesting how different groups react differently: I did three sessions and two went really well, while the other felt like an absolute disaster. The people I was training in the hard session weren’t getting what they wanted from the tools I’m training out, and it really showed.
Wednesday evening I was lucky enough to spend some time in the company of a really lovely set of people at a dinner organised for Interesting by the redoubtable Russell Davies. It reminded me how much I like the company of people that I don’t know, as long as I let go and allow myself to enjoy it. Interesting 2023 is next week and there are still tickets available: I would strongly recommend you go.
On Friday, I woke up with a nasty sore throat, which meant that I could work, but couldn’t talk. It wasn’t much fun and – as I had the same issue last week when I was unwell – I wonder if it was something connected to that. When I poked around at the very swollen tonsil on the left-hand side, I got a really unpleasant squirt of something out, which probably means it was some kind of infection. It feels OK now, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
It’s not the only thing that’s wrong with me at the moment. I also have an odd trapped nerve in my back, which makes it hard to stand still for long periods of time. Walking is fine, but standing gives me a sore, uncomfortable feeling in my lower back on the left. I think it’s a trapped nerve because of the weird other symptom: when it’s really sore, the front of my left thigh goes a little numb. Getting old is fun!
It makes me realise quite how much the body is a set of interconnected parts which affect each other. Because I have that pain on the left of my back, when I stand for a long period I tend to put more weight on the right leg and that means I end up with a sore ankle. This is how bodies collapse: not in a single bad thing, but in a small series of problems which cause and amplify each other.
All fixable of course, and more important, preventable too. I’ll get there.
I wrote a piece of micro-fiction called The memory of everything you ever felt, about a quite unfamiliar kind of hell. It’s only a couple of hundred words, and I’ll post it once I have a chance to edit it.
I also started a longer short piece about a man who misses his plane and meets someone who is stuck in-between countries, and so has lived in the airport for some unspecified amount of time. If this sounds a bit like The Terminal… well, it’s not. All is not as it seems. It’s another small exploration of The Weird, and I want to finish it off this week.
I finished Julia Armfield’s Our wives under the sea, which was outstanding. I really love her writing style, and I wish I could write this kind of amazing clarity of voice.
Of course, that means I’m on to the next book — or rather, books. When I finish one thing, I rarely have a great idea of what I’m going to read next, and so I tend to dive into a few books and see what sticks. This week it’s been a few pages of Rooms of their own by Nino Strachey, some of All gates are open by Irmin Schmidt and a bit of Laine Looney’s look at the world of early microcomputers, The Apple II Age. None of them have quite stuck yet, so I may jump into something else instead. There’s a lot on the list.
I hate being ill, so I have hated this week. After having a tickly throat on Tuesday, Wednesday morning I woke up with a full-blown very sore throat which I couldn’t talk around, plus a head that felt like it was stuffed with old socks found at the bottom of a particularly disreputable drawer. Oh and, of course, the kind of tiredness that makes you feel completely out of control of your body.
That wrote off Wednesday and Thursday, which, because of the first flush of warm early summer weather, were unpleasantly spent in bed sweating and feeling dreadful. I was finally able to get up on Friday and feel human enough to head down to the sea for an evening “fuck the Tories” ice cream. Wasn’t it wonderful to see them defeated so comprehensively that they immediately had to crown a new king to get everyone distracted?
On Saturday, I was feeling well enough to demand a drive to a country house and some fresh air, which is how we ended up at Knole in Sevenoaks. It’s part of the character of Sevenoaks – and tells you a lot about it as a place – that there is a large country house and deer park right next to it. Or rather, in it: where most maps look like cities eat away at the surrounding countryside, Sevenoaks seems like Knole has devoured part of it, the green biting a chunk from the concrete grey.
Knole is an incredibly well-preserved 17th century house and was the home of the Sackville family, who later became the Sackville-West family. Vita Sackville-West was born here, and her inability to inherit the house – denied by British primogeniture laws – was something she was bitter about her entire life. Instead, the house (and title) went to her uncle Charles, who bequeathed it to the National Trust in 1947.
I skipped a few days reading this week – there is nothing I like less than reading when I’m confined to bed ill – but I have been pressing on with Julia Armfield’s Our wives under the sea, which I am enjoying a lot. I would love my own writing to be this accomplished. Many passages have been clipped from it, and there are times when she hits the mark with a sentence so well that it almost leaves me breathless. For example:
I see my mother in myself, though less in the sense of inherited features and more in the sense of an intruder poorly hidden behind a curtain.
Panic is a misuse of oxygen.
At Knole I bought Rooms of their own by Nino Strachey, which is a large format pictorial book of the rooms of Edward Sackville-West, Vita Sackville-West, and (of course) Virginia Woolf. If you don’t find the Bloomsbury group and their era fascinating, you’re missing out.
Related, I also bought The Crichel Boys by Simon Fenwick, which focuses in part on Eddy’s later life when he bought a house down in Dorset with some friends. That will be next on the list – I feel like I’ve read a lot of fiction lately and need to balance it out. Reading books about writers seems like a good half-way house.