2021

Well, that was a year that happened, wasn’t it? I more or less skipped the year-in-review last year, because it felt kind of like a write-off.

2021 did not. Miranda and I bought a house. That’s still astounding to me. It’s been stressful at times, and will continue to be stressful, I’m sure, but we bought a house. It was interesting to go through that process, and I feel like I understand it much better now than I did before. I mean, you’d hope, wouldn’t you? But also, it’s a frighteningly opaque thing if you haven’t done it – it’s one of those practical life things that is not taught, and everyone is just kind of left to blunder through, despite it being just about the biggest thing one will ever do, in financial terms, at least.

Not much else of huge note happened, and I still haven’t been able to properly resume my hobbies, life is definitely not back to “normal” yet, but Miranda and I have been very fortunate this year. Many of our friends and family have not.

So if I have a hope for 2022, it’s for everyone else. I say some variant on it every year, that I just want us all to be happier next year than we were this, and I always mean it, but god, 2021 has been just ghastly, and I just want things to improve for you all, both on a personal level, and on a state-of-the-world level.

As far as personal plans: well, I’m going to start running a classic tabletop RPG campaign (Masks of Nyarlathotep), and I really hope I do it justice for my players. And I’d like to figure out the process of getting a new kitchen. Another hugely expensive thing that no-one teaches you how to do. Oh and in theory, a big project I’ve been working on in my spare time for most of this year will go live at some point, but I’m filing that under wait-and-see.

Bill Vaughan, the American aphorist, has a new year phrase. “An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.”

Tonight, I’m strongly considering just going to bed early.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Everything Old Is New Again

Which is to say, I got a new laptop that is virtually indistinguishable from my old laptop, it arrived today, and I am writing this blogpost on it. There is literally no difference in the experience, in that I am looking at the same external monitor, and using the same bluetooth keyboard. But the laptop itself has double the RAM, and a decent processor bump, and is running very snappily.

Actually the biggest observable difference is that I’m using the new machine as an excuse to switch browsers and have installed Firefox, replacing Opera and Chrome. We’ll see how long it lasts, although I have to say I like it so far.

In lockdown related news: Ocado have switched how they’re managing delivery slot allocation, and we haven’t had a slot available in over a fortnight now. We’ve had one delivery from a New Covent Garden Market grocers who are now doing veg boxes, and a Sainsburys order is due on Saturday. This is trivial nonsense, but it’s sort of reflective of life these days. There’s this huge, scary, hard-to-comprehend-it’s-so-massive thing going on Out There, but day to day, nothing important at all happens, so major life events consist of the shopping.

Well, I say that – I saw my first humans-who-aren’t-Miranda in months at the weekend, now that we’re allowed to meet up one-on-one with people not in our household outdoors. It was, of course, lovely. It helps that the weather was pretty damn good, too.

(Although we’ve already tipped into the “it’s too hot” part of the year, and it’s basically disgustingly hot and sticky in the flat.)

What scares me about all this – aside from job worries, worries about the broader economy, and the prospect of someone near and dear to me catching this – is general fear that this will not end, in the same sort of way that Terrorism never went away after 9/11. The idea that lockdown will be eased, but never actually go away. That life we remain more or less reduced to online gaming and phone calls, and the biggest excitment to be had will be which supermarket is delivery the groceries this week.

I mean, there are other things happening that provide little blips of dopamine. We’re watching the so-far-superb final season of She-Ra one episode at at time, which I think means we’ll watch the final episode this time next week. I expect to be a wreck. But more broadly, there’s something a little bit The Machine Stops about our current existence, and it’s the not really knowing when or how we get to whatever will be “normal” in the future, that is becoming increasingly hard. And the longer this goes on, the weirder “normal” becomes likely to be.

You’d never know that I felt like I was in a better mood than this time last week, would you?

Feeling It Again

The last few days have been rough. I can’t concentrate on anything, I can’t seem to sustain a good mood, and all my fears and worries are magnified. It doesn’t help that quite a few of them are (or at least seem to me to be) in fact, pretty reasonable. This isn’t a good time to work for a company that relies heavily on on airport travel, for example. (Not exclusively, and we can get by for now, but somewhere in the background, I’m very aware both that there is a ticking clock tied to things picking up again, and that the timeline for “things picking up” is likely to be quite long.)

My major achievement this week has been defeating the Tyrant Nook’s vile debt bondage, leaving me free to concentrate on the aesthetics of my island. And speculate on the Stalk Market, and with half a million bells sunk in turnips, you can bet I’m tracking it closely. (This is a paragraph that will only make sense to Animal Crossing players, and I’ll enjoy finding out if I still understand it when I read it back in a few year’s time.)

The government “relaxed” the lockdown at the weekend. The instruction “Stay at Home” has been replaced with “Stay Alert” in a way that is confusing, stupid, meaningless, and a moderately transparent attempt to start creating a narrative that shifts the responsibility for anyone that dies during this pandemic back onto a public who were not “Alert” enough, as opposed to a government who did not manage the crisis well enough. Everyone who can is still to stay at home. Except for people who have to work (this now includes people with non-essential jobs that cannot be done from home). Who must do so safely. Exactly what that means is not clearly defined, and it’s all a mess.

We’re both still working from home, because we’re fortunate. But I’m definitely feeling a toll from the ongoing situation now – not so much the having to stay at home, but more in the fear-for-what-the-future-brings way. And sadly, I do not know what to do to shift that, other than move into the future, one day at a time.

Here’s hoping for a happier update next week.

Late Again

[I wrote this last Thursday, and failed to post it. Not that it was really worth posting, but hey, completeness.]

Busy work day yesterday, that’s all. Spirits remain good, honestly, there’s a bit of me that is quite enjoying all the time with Miranda, and the excuse not to leave the house. We’re certainly not finding ourselves bored at any point, although we are missing our friends.

Very little new or interesting to report, other than the purchase of a new computer, which is due to arrive in a couple of weeks time. It turns out that staying at home 24/7 is a great way to save money.

Because a friend of ours really wanted Miranda to Star Wars I-III (which she’s never seen) we’ve embarked on a re-watch, syncing up hitting play at the same time in two separate households. The Phantom Menace was slightly better than I remembered, but Attack of the Clones is still absolutely terrible. Stay tuned for more brilliant insights like this.

[Monday edit: we have Revenge of the Sith coming up tonight, in fact. So this week’s post will doubtless by full of searing film criticism, too.]

Shackled By Debt

I’m late on writing this week’s post up. This is largely the fault of what happened at the weekend. All told, we’re still doing pretty well, and in fact, a really nice thing happened that has more or less caused me to forget we can’t leave the house because I haven’t wanted to. You see, a number of my friends had a whip-round for my birthday, and, as a belated gift, got me a Nintendo Switch.

I am, needless to say, very touched.

The reason for this (aside from my friends being very lovely), and for the subject of this post, takes a little explaining. On the very day this lockdown began in the UK, a game called Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released for the switch. It could not have been more tailor-made for this if it had tried, as it’s basically a nice, happy little game about designing a small virtual island full of happy little animals. And while it can be played solo, it is vastly improved by the fact that friends can visit one another’s islands, and generally cooperate.

Miranda has been playing it from day one, while hanging out on Discord with friends, visiting one another’s islands, and generally having a disgustingly wholesome time. Their discord chatter has been full of “I can make that for you” and “Oh, I love your outfit” and so on. A complete 180 on the normal gamer abuse one might link with Call of Duty.

For the first couple of weeks, I sort of dismissed it, in all honestly. I was very happy my friends were having fun, but I was playing City of Heroes and I was coding. But one morning about three weeks back, I thought I’d have a go myself, just to see what it was like. Only to discover that the way the game is set up, only one player per switch can be the “owner” of the island, and there is only one island per switch. So if I wanted to play, I would be a second class citizen on Miranda’s island. I posted on Facebook, lamenting this. And unknown to me, my friends sprang into action.

The Switch arrived on Sunday, and honestly, every spare waking moment since then has been spent playing, as a first class citizen on my own island.

There’s a whole other post I might get around to, on the smart game mechanics, and how the designers engineered two interlocking economies designed to drive activities with high variation and a constant sense of just- one-more-thing-before-I-switch-off, but I’ll close off by explaining that a a moderately key component of the game is the constant taking of loans to improve your living situation. The game gives you very little choice in the manner, resulting in a constant sense of debt bondage to a cheery raccoon called Tom Nook, better know in this house as “the tyrant Nook”, as in “What’re you doing tonight?” “Oh, just slaving away for the tyrant Nook”.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing, and why this post is late.