Life Writing

    Went for the first swim of the year this morning. And if the app for the pool is to be believed, I haven’t been since March last year (not counting holidays). That whole ‘work getting in the way of things’ I was talking about yesterday. Or being a good excuse, at least.

    They had a sign up warning that the pool temperature was only 23.7°C. It was fine once I got going, though.

    A Look Back at my 2022

    The Year in Blogging

    Only 98 posts in 2022, broken down as follows.

    Month Posts
    Jan 11
    Feb 11
    Mar 7
    Apr 5
    May 2
    Jun 5
    Jul 4
    Aug 6
    Sep 11
    Oct 7
    Nov 11
    Dec 18

    I’m shocked that I posted less than 100 times, but there you go. I’ve been busy with other things.

    Other Things

    Writing a Novel

    What time I had for writing outside of work, I tried to spend mainly on completing my novel. You’ll recall that I did a Creative Writing MA in 2020–21. I graduated in May 2022. My dissertation was essentially the first 15,000 words of a novel (along with a preface on how it had all come together). I promised myself that I’d finish it by the end of the year. I haven’t quite achieved that goal, but I expect to in the next couple of weeks.

    New Job

    But to that ‘outside of work’, above: I started a new job in February. I never quite got round to writing about it here, except on my /now page, which is an infrequently-maintained page that’s meant to say what I’m up to at any time. I was and am glad to have it, of course, but it’s amazing how much working 9–5:30 again takes away from your ability to do other things.

    The job itself? I was employed as a Java Developer — that’s literally in my job title — and I have written precisely zero lines of Java.

    Instead, I found myself plunged into the exciting new world of infrastructure as code, or IaC, and the Terraform language. I might write more about that at some point, but in short, it seems I work in DevOps now, and I’m enjoying it.

    Digression: On Writing at Work

    I’ve written over 70,000 words of a novel over the past year-and-a-half or so. But since February I’ve written something like 100,000 words at work. This comes from keeping copious notes on what I’ve being doing and what I’ve learned, and so on. I thank Obsidian for making it easy to do so, and for working in a way that matches how I want to work. But I wonder: why didn’t I keep notes like this before? I always wrote things down, of course, but not this systematically, this comprehensively.

    It’s a mystery.

    Jury Duty

    In May I spent three weeks on a Jury at Wood Green Crown Court. That was an interesting experience. I might write more about it one day.


    And all the other things that make up life. Hey, I even read 33 books last year!

    My site is fully switched over to Everything has changed. Not just the look — I plan to work on that and try to make it more the way I want — but the URL scheme.

    There will be breakages. I’ll fix things over time, but let me know about any you see.

    A Note I'd Like to Send Back Through Time

    If you’re dealing with family photos back in the seventies, eighties, nineties, it’s great that you write the date and place on the back (thanks, Mum). That’s super useful. But could you please name the event and the people, too?

    Yes, of course, you know what it was and who they were. But you’re not writing it for you. You’re writing it for your descendants, decades later, who want to know who these people were.

    Why yes, I am scanning some old family photos, why do you ask?

    Oh, and also: don’t waste film on scenery. The Scottish hills and moors are lovely, but I’m not interested in scanning old photos of them. Give me people, family, friends. Give me backgrounds, the wallpaper in the old house. Show me bookcases, wood-effect stereo systems. Old streets and shop signs.

    And people, above all, people: that’s what casual photography should be for.

    You know what no one took pictures of in the film days? Food. I’d actually love to see some old Sunday roasts or birthday cakes, but I don’t suppose they’d look that different from today’s.


    Just got my booster vaccination. I now have a dose of Moderna sloshing around my veins. So we’ll see how that interacts with the previous two Oxford-AstraZeneca doses.

    Yes, we should be sending all this extra vaccine to poorer countries, because that would be the right thing to do, the moral thing. But even for self-preservation, we should be doing that. Every infected person is a mutation factory, so the fewer infected people there are in the world, the less chance there is of a mutation that’s vaccine-resistant or worse.

    That’s self-preservation on a societal scale. But that same sense, at a personal level, lets me say, if they’re offering it here, I’m going to take it.

    Have sunk into a tennis stupor. It’s likely to stay until tomorrow.

    Not So Quiet

    Just over a year ago I was posting, in passing, about ‘the quiet of early lockdown.’ Actually that particular phrase was a quote, but I was definitely aware of how quiet things were outside.

    Including – particularly, in fact – in our back gardern. We live in a terrace, which means there are other people’s back gardens in all directions around us, and quite close. A year ago it was quiet, not just from the lack of cars in the distance, of planes overhead, but also because no one much was in their gardens.

    Today, it’s a cacophony: music playing, dishes clattering, children shouting… I guess it’s part of our return to ‘normal’ – or toward ‘normal,’ at least. But it’s strange. It suggests that, last year in spring and early summer, people were scared to go out, not just into the streets, into shops, but into their own gardens.

    No one caught Covid over a garden fence. Or so I imagine. At the same time, it didn’t hurt to be cautious.

    Two Weeks

    They say the vaccines give maximum resistance ‘two to three weeks’ after the second dose. I hit the two-week mark yesterday, and now consider myself ‘maxinated,’ more or less.

    So I’m going swimming later today. It has been approximately fifteen and a half months since I last swam. Back in February 2020 and the preceding months, I was going two or three times a week, most weeks. So I’ve missed it.

    I had hoped to go to London Fields Lido: start outdoors, to keep things maximally safe. But it’s all booked up till Monday, so I’m going to the much closer, but less busy, King’s Hall, my local pool.

    Both, predictably, require bookings, so there’s little chance of them being crowded.

    In other covidian matters, remember back in March last year, when I shared a video of someone showing how to clean your shopping? And then I quickly walked it back, on better advice? Well, at that point we were already wiping down all items arriving in the house, much as the guy in the video was doing. And we continued to do it. I’ve used more antiseptic wipes this last year than I’ve owned in any previous year.

    Yes, we soon learned that Covid was almost entirely transferred by air, and hardly by surfaces at all (though we also learned the word ‘fomite'). But the idea that anything crossing the threshold was a potential infection vector burned deep, and remained.

    Now, post vaccination, post maxination, will we keep on doing that? Probably not. It’d be nice to get the time back when bringing the shopping home or receiving a delivery. But I don’t know, it could take a while to stop feeling suspicious of things that have come in from out there.

    Covid has made germophobes of us all.

    That Summer Feeling

    I’m sitting in the garden, writing on my iPad, and am wearing shorts for the first time this year (not counting cycling and exercising). Summer is here.

    Also listening to Psychocandy. The Jesus and Mary Chain are a surprisingly summery band. Well, not that surprising, considering their surf-pop influences.

    ‘Feedback-strewn pop narcosis,’ as an uncredited Apple Music contributor describes ‘Just Like Honey.’

    Pastieland and Getting Sick

    I’ve not posted here for a while. We managed a week-long trip to Cornwall – yes! Leaving home, leaving the city, staying in a rented house. It’s almost like things are getting back to normal.

    Though not quite. Mevagissey is a great wee town, but it’s far from fully open yet. Almost none of the restaurants have any outside space, what with it been squeezed in between the bottom of a steep hill and the sea, so they haven’t reopened yet. The takeaways were open, but it’s a sleepy place, and most things close early.

    We stayed in Tregoney House, on the hill of the same name, which I mention here as much for my own records as anything else. Nice house, though.

    We got to see family and eat pasties, fudge, and fish & chips. And visit the Lost Gardens of Heligan. It was all quite exciting, really.

    Then the day after we got home, I got sick. Not Covid, I’m pleased to say, but it knocked me out for about four or five days. No writing, just some reading.

    I’m all better now, though, and starting to buckle down for my dissertation. It’s due in four months time, which suddenly seems perilously short.

    How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee (Books 2021, 4)

    Despite the title, this is not a writing ‘how-to’ book, except maybe by example. Nor is it a novel itself; it is a collection of essays. The subjects they cover do include writing and writing courses, most notably the Iowa Writers' Workshop. That was one of the first, if not the first, postgraduate-level courses in creative writing, and Chee studied on it.

    But the book covers a lot else, too. As Chee is a mixed-race gay man, you won’t be surprised to hear that those details feature in a number of the essays. As does living in New York and trying to make it as a writer. And growing roses, and the origin of Catholic rosary beads.

    I was drawn to this because one of the essays was assigned reading on the MA early this term, and he was also cited at various other points on at least two modules.

    His debut novel is called Edinburgh, which immediately interests me. Though you learn from a couple of the essays that he hoped, when younger, to go to Edinburgh to study parapsychology, but didn’t; and that the Edinburgh connection in the novel didn’t survive the writing and editing process, but he kept the title anyway.

    I don’t know what his fiction is like yet, but he’s a fine essayist.

    Saw a guy in a shop just now and his ‘face covering’ was a bandana. That was me a year ago! Get up to date, jimmy!

    Astral Zen

    Phase one complete, for me. I’m not long back from the vaccination centre (a vacant unit at the Westfield shopping centre, slightly weirdly) where I got my first dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. I can feel my immune system surging, boosted with superpowers, and a strange, unearthly calm descend upon me.

    I exaggerate. But it feels pretty damn good to have taken this step. I don’t get the next one until June, and it’s not like we’ll be out of the woods even then; not even personally, and certainly not the country or the world. Especially given the panic over a statistically meaningless set of blood clots, and the news today that the UK’s supply is going to be temporarily constrained.

    But considering that it’s only just over year since we learned about this virus and the terrible disease it brings, it’s worth taking a moment to celebrate the scientists and doctors who were able to develop the vaccines so quickly. Not to mention all the NHS staff who are getting it to people.

    A Year Passes Like Nothing

    It’s exactly a year since I last went out to an event.1

    I referred to ‘being out on a cold, virus-infested night’ to see Glen Matlock in Leytonstone, and it seems really weird now that I did it.

    What were we thinking? Gathering together in a small hall, where people were singing and shouting. And not a mask to be seen! Masks? who had masks? How would we have drunk our beer while wearing a mask? You probably wouldn’t have been let in if you had turned up wearing a mask.

    Although I had good social distancing at the start, when I was almost the only one there.

    Memory, eh?

    1. I actually thought it was on the last day of February 2020, which was the 29th, not the 28th, making it hard to hit the exact anniversary, but my blog and calendar both tell me I was wrong. ↩︎

    Yesterday I tried removing my taped-on mask slowly, and it was actually much better. So I rescind my advice from the day before about removing it quickly.

    Stop Your Glasses Steaming Up by Sticking the Top of Your Mask to Your Face Using Micropore Tape

    The problem

    If, like all sensible people, you wear a mask over your mouth and nose when you go out these days; and if, like me and millions of others, you wear glasses; then you will have experienced your breath causing your glasses to steam up.

    The cause is a fundamental flaw in mask design: the mask fabric makes a straight line from our cheeks to the bridge of our noses, leaving a gap between face and mask seam. Most of our out-breaths are directed that way, just by taking the path of least resistance.

    Some masks have a wire insert that lets you mould the top section around your nose. I find that improves things, but is still imperfect. There are always gaps.

    The Bigger Problem

    This means that the masks are not as effective as they should be for their primary purpose. All that warm, damp air that’s condensing on our glasses is also the air that might be carrying virus particles.

    So while this solution helps with the steamed-up glasses problem, it also helps to make masks more effective, by ensuring that more of our potentially-poisonous breath goes through the fabric.

    The Solution

    It’s quite simple: apply a strip of micropore tape to the section of the mask that goes over the bridge of your nose, and seal it down well.

    A COVID-19-type facemask lying on a surface alongside a roll of micropore tape.
    Mask and Micropore

    Micropore tape is normally used for fixing dressings on wounds, so it’s designed to stick to skin and come off with minimal fuss (though see below).

    The roll we had when I thought of this is quite wide, so I’ve been folding a piece over and attaching it to the inside of the mask (at @FranChats’s suggestion).

    A COVID-19-type facemask with a piece of micropore tape attached.
    Mask With Micropore

    As you can see, it’s not attached very tidily, but we’re not in this for the aesthetics.

    A balding man (the author) wearing a COVID-19-type facemask and glasses.
    Martin With Mask With Micropore

    And it’s not actually visible when the mask is on.

    The New Problems: Removal, and Sensitivity

    Taking the taped mask off is the worst part, in my experience. I’ve been doing it quickly: take off my glasses (otherwise they might go flying across the room); unhook the ear loops and take a firm grip of them; close my eyes; then tug sharply forward.1

    It can make your eyes water, but honestly, for clear vision outside on these cold days, it’s worth it.

    Removing it slowly might be better for some people. And the whole thing will not be for some. If you have very sensitive skin, or get a reaction to the adhesive, then this won’t be for you. But if you can take it, I highly recommend it.

    Lastly, my pictures show a reusable mask, but it works for disposables too.

    1. Though see my later post. I think I’ll be doing it slowly from now on. ↩︎

    I played Dungeons and Dragons for the first time last night, with the family. My grown-up son plays, and he was our DM. It was more fun than I expected, but it takes a lot of work to set up. Mostly by my son, of course.

    People Still Aren't Getting It

    I got back on the bike today. First time since I came off back in April. Both because I felt the need to add some variety to my exercise regime, and because so many people are riding these days. And also because I missed it.

    It was good. Nice to be back on the bike. A bit annoying the way the mask makes your glasses steam up, but nothing that a bit of slipstream couldn’t clear.

    But it was very disappointing regarding people’s behaviour. I cycled around central Hackney for half an hour or so from about 9-9:30. It was pretty busy.

    I counted 11 people wearing masks (and two chin-wearers, so they don’t count). I must have passed about 500 people? 700? That’s just a guess, but it was a lot.

    Eleven masks.

    My mask was protecting all of them: why weren’t they protecting me, and each other?

    I mainly blame the government, of course. Incoherent messaging and absence of care. But… some of us have learned what’s best, even given the government.

    You Are Your Thoughts (I Think)

    Quiet Thoughts

    Colin Walker links to a post by Julian Summerhayes1 about silence:

    You see, I’m missing the silence of early lockdown.

    No, I’m really missing it.

    I can’t say everything’s back to normal but as soon as I step outside, BOOM, there it is! That infernal, torrid background noise, cars everywhere (the air smells dirty) and it’s like nothing ever happened.

    – Julian Summerhayes, A quiet space

    I can relate. I haven’t noticed the increased noise yet, but I have been enjoying much about lockdown, and the general quietness of things, especially when I sit out in the garden, is part of that. As is the cleaner air here in London.

    Unthinkable Thoughts

    But Julian goes on to say something that just seems so bizarre, so alien to me, that I can scarcely comprehend it:

    But when you realise that you’re not your thoughts, notwithstanding the apparent hold they have over us, and see that they flow naturally much like my beloved River Dart and there’s nothing we can do to orientate them one way or the other, life becomes a lot easier.

    – Julian Summerhayes, A quiet space

    Emphasis very much mine. We are not our thoughts? I can’t help but think that there’s a missing pair of words in that sentence: ‘nothing if’:

    … you’re nothing if not your thoughts…

    Now that makes a lot more sense to me. If we are not our thoughts, then what are we? If our thoughts are not us, then who is doing the thinking?

    People sometimes use phrasing like, ‘My brain told me to…’, which raises the same question: you are your brain, surely? If not, then what? We are our whole bodies, certainly, and perception and experience encompass all of our physiology, not just our brains. But the brain is the seat of consciousness, and we are conscious beings.

    Perhaps – just possibly – people are making a distinction between brain and mind. Maybe that would make sense for the latter formulation, but I’m not convinced that’s it. And certainly it doesn’t explain Julian’s concept of thoughts. Because whether thoughts happen in the physical organ we call brain, or the somewhat more metaphysical and amorphous mind: thoughts are what we are.

    In Other Heads

    Or so it seems to me. But I shouldn’t dismiss alternative perceptions. Over the last few months I’ve heard several conversations on podcasts, and read a couple of articles, about the different ways people’s brains/minds/psyches/consciousnesses work.

    There is aphantasia, which names the fact that some people do not form images in their minds. They have no ‘mind’s eye,’ in effect. Just yesterday I read an article about it and severely deficient autobiographical memory, or SDAM, which seems to be related.

    There has also been talk about whether or not we think in words. That can get confusing when people with different experiences discuss ‘the voice in your head.’ One will ask something like, ‘Whose voice is it?’ The answer – from my perspective – is that the voice in my head is my thoughts. That’s how I think. Hmm, except when I think in pictures, as I’m not aphantasic (aphantastic?)

    It’s hard to talk about these ideas in ways that someone whose experience is dramatically different will understand. And I find it surprising that we are so different. I wonder if we are just hitting the limitations of language (of English, at least). Maybe people’s experiences are not that different, but it’s just so hard to describe what goes on inside your own head in a way that is meaningful inside someone else’s head.

    Or not. After all, some people do hear voices in their heads which appear not to be their own. We generally categorise those people as having a mental illness, and sometimes medication changes their mental experience. And of course psychoactive drugs cause us to have experiences in our own heads that are different from our normal state, so it’s clear that thoughts and perceptions are at least partly chemical.

    This is all both fascinating and confusing, and I have no conclusions about it.

    1. And fascinating to learn that someone is still using LiveJournal. Good to know. ↩︎

    Strange seeing this tweet from the London Cycling Campaign:

    Cycling is up all over, apparently. Yet I stopped cycling for fear of putting extra strain on the NHS.

Older Posts →