Home Ownership!

Well, we’ve owned a house for slightly more than a month, and we’ve been living in it for exactly four weeks today. Somehow, it feels longer. That may be because the internet has yet to be installed, thanks to a series of fuckups by Openreach, and I’m still hotspotting off a phone, so most of the things I would normally do to pass the time are off the table. But it’s not like there hasn’t been plenty to do.

But still bit by bit, the place is starting to take shape. It’s got any number of little niggles – the cooker is too small, there’s a horrible cupboard in my office, and if we tear it out, the carpet will look dreadful – but we own a house.

I’ve been pleased to find that for almost every niggle, there’s been something I like more than I expected to (because, like I said last time, we bought it on the basis of 5 mins viewing). The carpets are better than I thought, the red in the bedroom is much more liveable with, most of the kitchen cupboards are pretty decent…

We’ve already had the first bit of work done – ripping out a hideous old 70s gas fireplace in the dining room – and we’re booking people to get new floors in downstairs, which will hopefully take care of the rather chilly draftiness we’re getting with the current exposed floorboards. (They look nice, and they’re characterful, but they’re not remotely insulated at all, and we like to be warm.)

Each week brings something new, or at least something booked to look forward to – this week, our dining room table and chairs get delivered. It’ll be nice to actually eat at a table again. And we have a list of ongoing stuff – painting and decorating, cabinetry, furniture and so on that’ll last us the next few years, in a one-step-at-a-time sort of way.

I am 100% sure that all this rubbish, and the fact that I have unquestionably become someone whose major topic of conversation is “their new house and what they’re going to do with it” makes me wildly tedious at the moment. In my defense, I’ve been renting for 20 years, living with a place that I liked living in, but could not change. Now, we live somewhere we really can make our own, and Covid means there really isn’t anything else going on in my life right now. But I am at least aware of how fortunate I am, even as I bore my friends rigid. That makes it better, right?

Housebuying, part 2

I won’t be publishing this until I get the news that contracts have been exchanged (because that’s the point everything is locked in, and I refuse to jinx it by saying we’re done in public until we are) but we’re a whisper away from that now. It was supposed to be today, but I just got the email telling me it’ll be tomorrow now.

And that’s been painfully characteristic of the last 3 months. A constant nagging sense of waiting for someone else to do something, that they’re nearly ready to do. Nearly, but not quite.

And now here we are at the end of the process. Or rather, the start of the next process. Frankly, the rather more daunting one: actually moving. Packing the accumulated detritus of 20 years in one place, and transferring it to somewhere it’ll spend the next couple of decades. I have a 30 item to-do list assembled, all of which is waiting on the final confirmed go date before I can do any of it. Some of it is mundae stuff like “cancel gym membership”. Some of is no less mundane, but is sufficiently new to me that it feels less mundane that I have to do it. (“Buy washing machine”.) And some of it is stuff I never thought I’d get to do in my life (“get quotes to re-do the double glazing”).

It still feels absolutely mad to me that we have shelled out close to seventy thousand pounds (and taken on more in debt obviously) to buy a house that we’ve been in for five minutes. I’ve spent longer deciding which pasta shape I want to buy in the supermarket before now.

But still: if all goes to plan, by the end of this week I’ll have life insurance, and a house. And I’m still not going to feel like a grown up.

Housebuying, Part 1

I’m sure I’ll want to add more to this in the future, hence the part 1.

So, at the start of the year, Miranda and I decided 2021 was going to be the year we bought somewhere to live. We thought we might just about have scraped together enough deposit money to get a toe-hold on the ladder, thanks to the latest round of freelancing I’ve been doing. (Thanks to a couple of surpises, and some fortutitous timing, we’re doing a bit better than that, but we didn’t know that when we started.)

So we went house hunting, and we’ve had an offer accepted, and mortgage approved. There’s a couple of survey-type hurdles to clear, and we’re very aware that nothing’s final until we’ve got the keys in our hands, but in the space of 4 weeks we’ve gone from “can we really do this?” to already being very much into the tedious part, where paperwork largely gets sorted out at one remove from us, and other people get their ducks in a row so that we eventually end up with a moving date.

The speed that this has gone from “a pipe dream” to “this is really happening” is little scary. And at the same time, it can’t possibly happen fast enough.

Tune in next time, when I’ll either be complaining about how the survey was terrible, and the house not fit for purchase, or about the sheer stress of moving after most of 20 years in one flat.

2020

I’ve written a year in review most years since this blog started. I have not always published them. This year feels almost like it needs no reviewing, because god, it was rubbish.

At the end of 2019 I wrote: “I can’t say I’m looking forward to 2020 on a global scale, but on a small and personal level, I’m really excited for the year to come.”

I feels rather like that came true with knobs on.

Within the scope of the dreadful, dreadful year it has been, it hasn’t been all bad. I could not have wished for anyone better to spend this year with than Miranda. I got a new job that I like very much, I took on freelance work I’m proud of, and I’ve generally been as happy as the situation has allowed. I’ve missed all my friends and my family hugely, but I feel I’ve made reasonable use of my time, which is as much as one can ask, really.

No-one close to me has died, which makes me more fortunate than many people I know, and even after clearing the “no-one died” bar, this has been a record-settingly appalling year for those near and dear to me.

I also wrote: “I hope that when the time comes to take stock at the end of 2020, we can all find ourselves happier than we are today.”

It seems foolish to repeat that wish for 2021, because it almost seems impossible that we won’t be – and yet, I know there are plenty of people for whom 2021 will very likely be worse, because this isn’t all magically going to end at midnight.

So, I don’t really what to wish for. “2021: may it suck as little as possible for the largest number of people” is not exactly the optimistic start to the new year I’d like.

So instead, I’ll fall back on an old Irish saying that I like at this time of year:

Let those who love us, love us;
And those who do not love us,
May God turn their hearts;
And if he cannot turn their hearts,
Let him turn their ankles,
So we may know them by their limp

Happy New Year, folks. Here’s to 2021, for as much good as it may do us.

Maybe I Can Manage Monthly Updates

It’s not likely, though, is it? I remain lightly frustrated that the ongoing problem with pinboard’s RSS feed means my automated linkposts have gone the way of the dodo, so this place is getting nothing unless I remember it exists. Still, onwards…

So, COVID. Everything is halfway back to normal, and still deeply weird. Still full-time WFH, no serious prospect of that changing before the end of the year, I think. I went to pubs and restaurants last week, but I honestly felt guilty about doing it, and my plans for this week don’t involve leaving the house.

I’m back at the gym – I’m actually about to pause drafting this entry to go, because I have to book in advance for specific timeslots, to prevent overcrowding – and managing to go 5-6 days a week, which I’m pleased about.

That’s symptomatic of how the world feels at the moment – most things are open, but nothing’s the same as it was, and everything still feels like it’s a risk assessment to do anything, and everything could turn back into “don’t leave the house for any reason” at any moment. I suppose if there’s anything that I want to capture as an aide-memoire for this moment, it’s that – the oddity and precariousness of “normal life”.

Oh, and the awful sense that the worst is yet to come as the monsters running the country have clearly decided that they can hide the economic impact of their no-deal brexit in amidst the economic impact of COVID, and basically everything will be ruined forever.

And that sounds like a joke, but really it’s not. I don’t know how I can forgive the generation ahead of me, or apologise enough to the ones behind me. The gap between the lives of privilege that my parents enjoyed, and what I, and more importantly, my nieces, have to look forward to has never seemed starker. My parents got a free education, free healthcare all their lives, and then have been able to retire to a comfortable standard of living, and then their generation rolled the ladder back up after them to destroy their children and grandchildren’s future.

Well, that took a turn, didn’t it? I’ll stop now before I get really depressed.

20 years

This blog – in the sense of this archive of material – turned 20 years old on the 20th of June this year. It started out on powered by Blogger in 2000, quite a lot of it was written on Livejournal, there was a brief period where parts of it were on some other self-hosted platform I don’t remember the name of, but for the most part, it’s been on a number of WordPress installs, across something like seven different servers now.

I’d put plenty of writing on-line by June 2000 – I hand-coded the HTML of my first website in 1996, and I’d perpetrated all sorts of juvenalia in the intervening 4 years for PopImage.com, Machinima.com and a bunch of other places, (and I’ve even been paid for some of it), but by June 2000, I owned this domain, and had hooked it up to Blogger, via the charmingly naive expedient of giving a third party tool FTP access to my server. The past really was another country, wasn’t it? At that time, it was a sub-page of my site, titled “Inkstains”, and it wasn’t until a 2002 “redesign” that it became the main page. (That’s in quotes because for much of the time prior to that point, the “main page” more or less said “Coming soon, in the meantime, check out my blog”.)

I wrote custom code over the years to ship posts from here to Livejournal, and from other sources to here, and ran other topic specific blogs that scraped each others feeds for posts and all sorts of other nonsense through the 00’s and early teens, and then spent about a week in 2014 bringing it all back here, where it has lived ever since.

I don’t see that changing. I’m sure I’ll move servers and writing platforms in the future, but only when they can keep this archive intact. I really like controlling my own little slice of the internet. It’s a disused backwater, sure, but it’s been my disused backwater for quite a long time.

I was in my last week of working for This Is Local London when I started this blog. I moved from there to a company called iPoints, where I spent a couple of years learning to code badly (no reflection on my colleagues of the time) and from there to a number of different employers, where I’ve learned to code semi-adequately. This blog has outlasted most of my commercial projects. Some companies have gone bust, others been acquired, but I don’t think any company I worked for prior to 2018 still exists in quite the same form, and I would not be confident that any code I wrote is live anywhere except at the job I finsihed at this week, or on websites I operate.

The internet is kind of an impermanent place, and my two-decade career has left very few lasting marks anywhere on the internet, except for this archive.

I hope I’ll be able to look back on it in the same way when it turns 30.

Looking Back in Sorrow

So the comic writer Warren Ellis has been publically outed as a predatory individual. That’s both tremendously sad and, if I’m honest, not suprising. We all knew about it, in ways that seemed excusable at the time. We were wrong to think it was as excusable as we did.

I could write at length about it, but a) this isn’t about me, and b) someone else from that era has written at length about it, and done a better job that I might.

As Harris says in his article, it’s not about him, or me, or even (in some senses) really about Warren, but about a broader culture. But still, I, and many of my friends are reckoning with our small parts in that culture, and the things we did not say or do, and with hindsight, wish we might have, and how we can do better in future.

Mostly, of course, it starts with listening to, and believing, what women say about him, and men like him.

And selfishly, I just wish that was harder than it is.

Actual News

After weeks of feeling very “every day is the same”, it’s nice to have an actual change to report.

It’s been a marvellous couple of years with my current employer, but it’s time to move on – not least because the stress of working for a company that relies very heavily on airport travel for profitability was rather beginning to get to me. Ironically, now I’m moving on, they’ve probably got a better chance of getting through this, as it means their ongoing costs are down by my salary at least, and we’re parting amicably.

I’m off to work for a law firm, building internal systems for use by lawyers and clients, that I won’t name here just yet, because I haven’t seen any employee handbook for online conduct, and don’t want to accidentally screw things up before I even join the firm.

So, er, yeah, that’s the thing worth marking this week. I start in more or less exactly a month, and it’ll be interesting, trying to learn a new job while physically distanced from all my new colleagues, but I’m sure we’ll work it out. And it’ll be nice to be back on Laravel as my primary back-end development platform, and I’m going to need to learn Ember.js and get to grips with Tailwind rather better than I have to date, which is nice, because it’ll bring me a bit more up to date – at least on the CSS side.

Jambalaya

I’m not pretending this is authentic. But it’s pretty much my favourite thing to cook. I love it, and I love cooking it for people. If there’s any one dish I could eat every day for the rest of time, there’s a strong chance this is it. It’s a delicious one pot meal.

To make this jambalya you will need roughly:

  • 220g chicken breast or thigh
  • About the same amount of pre-cooked chorizo.
  • Red and green peppers – bell, or long and sweet. Yellow also acceptable. Really, you need one green, and y’know, other.
  • 1 onion.
  • 2-3 tsp Barts Creole Spice Mix
  • A bottle of Innis and Gunn Blood Red Sky
  • A tin of tomatoes.
  • 3-400ml of chicken stock
  • 2-300g of mixed basmatic and wild rice.
  • 2 bay leaves and a spring of fresh rosemary
  • Other stuff you think will be nice.
  • 3 cloves of garlic. Ideally, smoked garlic, if you can get it.

As you can tell, this is super specific, and you have to be totally precise with it. I got the base recipe off a tin of the named spice mix, and have messed around with it for years. I’ve tried making my own spice blend, but honestly, I’ve never got it quite as good as when I’ve made it with that mix.

Peel the skin off the cooked chorizo (because while it’s edible, it toughens when cooked), dice it small, and throw it into a large saucepan/stockpot/dutch oven/whatever you make one-pot meals in, on a low-medium heat. Dice the chicken into thumb size bits. Once the chorizo has given up a good amount of fat, turn the heat up to medium, throw the chicken in there for just long enough to colour it on all sides. Remove chicken and chorizo from the pot, leaving the chorizo oil behind.

Dice the onion and peppers and mince the garlic. Throw them in the pot on medium to fry in the fat that’s in there. After about 5-10 mins, when they’re softened and fragrant, add the meat back in. Add the 2-3 teaspoons of the spice mix, stir it all about to coat everything, and let it all cook a bit longer to toast the spices a little. Then add the rice, and give it another stir about, and let the rice toast just a bit. Then add the tinned tomatoes, about 2/3rds of the beer, and the chicken stock, the bay leaves and a spring of rosemary. Partially cover, and simmer it all for like, 45 mins, until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is cooked. Finish the last mouthful or two of the beer as you clean up while waiting for it to be ready.

Eat a double helping, if you’re me, and then live on the leftovers for 2-3 days, because this makes enough for 4, and I live with one other person, who is a vegetarian.

You can fuck about with this in all sorts of ways. I often add liquid smoke, or a chopped chilli or two, or add some fresh chopped up tomatoes as well as the tinned. I’ve swapped the beer for other beer, or red wine, or just more stock before, although I name that beer because all the best versions of this I’ve made have used it. I want to experiment with adding either ancho or chipolte chillis to it, as well, just haven’t got around to it, and I want to try finishing it with lime juice/zest before serving. Sometimes I get a bit heavy on the liquid and it’s almost like a stew, and the liquid can be soaked up with bread afterward sometimes not. It’s never quite the same twice, but it’s always lovely.

Skipped One

That’s how normal-and-boring all this has become – I didn’t register a week without an update passing (and ironically, this one is a day late, but only because I was a bit busy last night – it was drafted in time, though). It’s a bit more than just “normal and boring”, though – it’s the constant sense of all days being the same that is starting to grind me down.

I was chatting to my folks the other day, and we were saying there’s nothing to talk about, because we’re not doing anything. There’s whatever’s on the news, and there’s whatever’s happening with our supermarket shopping, and there’s anything nice we might have cooked. And that’s more or less it.

But what is on the news this week is that America is on fire again. The police murdered another black man, and riots have ensued.

I feel stupid saying things like #blacklivesmatter, (even though, obviously, they absolutely do) because I am a middle-class middle-aged (cis het etc etc) white man from the UK. And for all the privilige that carries, there is next to nothing I can do to help defeat the institutional racism in the US. There’s almost nothing I can do defeat in the UK, especially when I can’t leave the house.

This post is very nearly the limit of what I can do – to own that I have a pile of privilege, and commit to using that when I can, in the small ways I can, to ensure that the world is just a little less white-centric because of it. And I know that’s not enough, and so I remain part of the problem, and feel like I should not use the hashtag.

I lieu of anything more useful I’ve made the dontations, I’ve signed the petitions, and that’s that, and things will keep getting worse when Trump wins again in November. (I don’t have any optimism left, it turns out. He’ll either win, or he’ll be allowed to get away with declaring the election invalid in some way.)

But I write this in part because I feel like silence on this topic is absolute complicity. So I tick the box that says “I’m not complicit”, even though, in a great many ways I am.

Yeah, yet another lukewarm take the world didn’t need. Marking time.