2015: Birdwatching, Walking, Love, Home

As with last year, a hard one to write about. I don’t think Ann or I expected our relationship to be such a central part of the year, but it was, for reasons both deeply sad and completely fabulous. The result is we’ve travelled loads, started projects, been to a thousand weddings and made a home together. On balance, for me, it’s been amazing.

The year included A barrow by a beaconStudy Group, Hipsterhammer, The Bureau of Small Observation, and a plenty of work at GDS. It’s been busy, but I’d like to have done at least one meatier thing. I start 2016 knowing I need to pull focus onto my work a bit more… I’m good with that.

I sort of came into myself over the last twelve months, and I’m more comfortable in my own skin. As a result the photos that best sum 2015 up are ones other people took of me… but that’s not what this post is for.

(Previously: 2014, 2013)

01 Richmond02 Bewl03 Winchester04 Whitstable05 Malmo06 Copenhagen07 Brixton08 Amsterdam09 South Downs10 Hyde Park11 Hyde Park12 Eastleigh13 Mersea Island14 Mersea Island15 Golden Lane16 GDS17 Rome18 Stockwell19 Tokyo20 Naoshima21 Naoshima22 Kyoto23 Kyoto24 Kew

Deleting things

Just read Warren’s musing on deleting tweets (and noticed, on clicking for that link, that we use the same WordPress theme). I did that. Got my 16000+ tweet archive, hooked up tweetdelete, got on with life.

I spent far longer than I thought I’d have to removing tweets from my timeline. I did about a third of them manually, which was a thing. Eventually I found a script (and the confidence to implement it) and got through them without affecting my follower list.

It feels fine.

Japan is awesome (and so can you)

I’m just home from a two week holiday in Japan and it was *amazing*. Everything I imagined and more. I’m sure the bulk of the amazing things will appear on Flickr over the coming weeks in some form or another.

I’m going to jot down some things in case the like of Greg or Davids or Becky ask for Japan tips, while this is all fresh in my mind. Also, so I stand a good chance of remembering them myself.

Ann and I were hugely indebted to past travellers like Chris, Yumiko, Chrissy and David for tips and guidance. I couldn’t match them for knowledge, but these are things what might be worth keeping in mind…

Don’t go too many different places – we visited Tokyo, Naoshima, Kyoto, and Oshino, all different and all brilliant. But we could have done with maybe a day longer in the cities, minimum, if only to feel more grounded (changing hotel in Tokyo didn’t help).

Stay put for the first few days – so, everyone I know deals with jetlag differently. For us it came on hard the first few days, but having the relative luxury of the Hyatt Regency to retreat to was a smart move. Shinjuku’s a super place to explore any time of day, so being around there was good too. If we’d jumped on a train across the country a few days in (our original plan) it’d have wrung us out.

Do all the touristy things – because OMG it’s wonderful. Seriously. It also meant we could have extremely different experiences in Kyoto and Tokyo without taxing our Japanese phrasebook. Generally this is something I want to get better at in other countries anyway (prompted in large part by a wonderful experience at the Space Needle), but the rewards paid off hugely throughout this holiday and we did nothing I wouldn’t recommend.

Get internet – a last-minute tip from Chris and immeasurably smart. We used the eConnect 3g package and the whole thing worked without any effort on our part.

Tokyo does an awful lot of hard work for you – very easy on tourists, that city.

Try cycling around Kyoto – we didn’t, but it likely would have been a wonderful way of exploring the town. Lots of people cycle there. Related: cyclists in Kyoto give no fucks.

Bean paste is a nasty trick played on naive visitors – it’s just the worst.

Go deeper at the big temples – two of the most magical moments of the trip came from pushing a little beyond the surface. We went in to the formal garden at Meigi Jingu where we saw a man feeding birds by the ponds. He gave Ann a few seeds and soon after a couple of birds had flown to her hand to eat from it. In Nanzenji we mooched up to a quiet temple before exploring a path behind it that led into the mountains, where we found a little waterfall behind a shrine that visitors can shower in. We did so as the sun set, in total seclusion. It was freezing and incredible.

There is so much of everything – seriously, there’s so much to explore. You’ll never see everything you want to see, and you have to be okay with that.

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BONUS Foursquare links:
Ann’s lists for Tokyo and around Mount Fuji. My lists for Naoshima and Kyoto.

Class dismissed

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This last year I’ve been making a podcast. It’s been a lot of fun. A pretty tight high-concept (lovey people review every episode of Community‘s second season) that basically acted as a McGuffin for a bunch of fabulous people to spend some time together.

The last episode just came out (scheduled posting willing) and I thought I’d type a bunch of things I’ve learned in case I do it again…

  1. Batches are good – we’d never, ever have managed to do this if we were trying to do an episode a week
  2. Talking is hard – recording in batches generally meant that we had lurches for the first episode where people got up to speed thinking aloud… It was a little weird… I don’t know how Ann gets past that doing One Life Left every week
  3. Publishing these things is harder than it should be – despite the maturity of the medium, it involves bumping up against a lot of unloved technologies
  4. Fewer voices in less time is better – too big a table and we all get lost (although the last two episodes are ace)
  5. It’s worth regimenting some of it – the more I listen actual, proper podcasts the more I hear the way they guide you through it (we had to record a special episode 0 because the cold start of episode 1 was AWFUL)
  6. It’s actually really easy to get a chunk of the way towards looking professional – I think we got about 75% of the way there… I imagine that last 25% is very, very hard to do
  7. I need to learn more about recording if I do this again – actually, I need to make that bit someone else’s problem

Anyway, I had a blast. I think Chrissy, Kieron, Ann and Tom did too. If you’ve got time in your life for more than ten hours of chat, check it out.

Push door closed

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I lived in Golden Lane Estate for the best part of a year. In the photo above it was the flat with the little orange blob in the window on the second floor. That was my old desk.

It. Was. Brilliant. A small, wonderfully designed flat that Russell remarked would be complete with a copy of Len Deighton’s Action Cookbook (I already owned it). Proper modern bachelor pad.

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Taught me a lot about what I want out of a home, that place. Last year marked my tenth in London… that flat was, I think, my twelfth in that time. Loads of them were so temporary, and so impossible to feel at ease in. This broke the curse.

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The whole estate is lived-in and loved. It suffers from quiet weekends, when half the occupants leave (presumably to go the their country homes) but the huge number of actual, round-the-calendar tenants put a lot of time and effort into making it home.

It’s beautiful. Although, I guess, it also made me think about the politics of these spaces a lot more. So many of the flats are studios like mine, where any more than one-and-a-half residents would be a stretch. That’s a choice to build for some people to the exclusion of others, and in such a politically conservative pocket of the city that’s a weird thing to confront.

But it’s still littered with social and co-operative features that generate community, even where that’s a hard thing to do. It feels like a good space, and that’s a huge thing in London.

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I’ve taken all those feelings (and loads of that furniture) down to a new place in South London. It’s already home. A big part of that is down to the stuff I learned in this place (although, our fabulous cat also helps).

Thanks GLE! Bye!

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Finishing things

(No, I haven’t quit GDS)

Sometimes, there are weeks when it feels like all the bits of culture are up in the air at once. And other weeks they all tumble down, in a little crescendo of finales.

Sunday night, Ann and I wrapped up watching Parks & Rec, which was delightful (‘Our first box set‘ etc). Wednesday was the end of Bake Off, which I’d only seen one episode of before getting enchanted by this series (‘Our first live series‘ etc). And I’ve just finished the third Imperial Radch book, Ancillary Mercy, which I really enjoyed and put a nice hat on a new and thought-provoking universe.

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Being inside stories

A few years ago I played a roleplay campaign with Kieron. I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently. Set in the Warhammer fantasy universe, so plenty of slaying of beasts and magicy stuff. Proper nerdy fun.

That’s not why I’ve been thinking about it though.

What I hadn’t realised when we started was that Kieron wanted to tell Quinns and Gril and I a story. Two stories, really.

The first story was the story of ourselves. For a year and a half of gaming we watched each other doing brave things, stupid things, funny things and, very occasionally poignant things. No matter what situation we were in, we were always slightly out of our depth. Always slightly catching up with our abilities. Always a bit more lucky than we were skilled.

A couple of games before the end he did something really interesting: he gave us new characters, and made us play a single game where the characters we’d built up over the previous year and a half just made cameo appearances. It was very odd: like being on the outside of ourselves. We saw these three leaders – heroes – in positions of authority, all doing the right thing. It made us realise how much we’d grown in that time. We played the last few games with our heads held a little higher after that.

The second story was about power. This story was sadder.

For a year we worked in the orbit of a man who’d risen through the ranks of the Empire – a very good soldier turned General. He’d seen a strategy to fix one of the great problems of the Empire and had cobbled together the means and the authority to make it happen. He was forging a road through an untameable forest, joining two major cities for the first time in centuries. Success would genuinely transform the way the old world worked, and it would mean the smart old soldier would become a legend in his own time.

Kieron used all the power of STORYTELLING to make us believe that it wasn’t going to work. It nearly collapsed around us, quite a few times. The final session we held out on the wall with the rest of the soldiery, waiting for help to arrive from the Empire, the fate of the road and our general in the balance.

Of course we made it – there’d have no point if we hadn’t made it – we actually won.

And then Kieron did the most evil thing.

The troops from the Empire pressed on through the enemy and into us. The powers that be – very secure in their knightly orders and their little fiefdoms – didn’t really want reform. They took the road and trampled the people who made it happen. We escaped, just. No-one else did. Roll credits.

Kieron said afterwards that he’d wanted to make a game about disaster capitalism, but it wasn’t quite that. It was just a story about change, and how much of a threat that is the people who fear it. Always odd, being part of a story like that.