The Makers of Things


You might remember that I mentioned SMEE a few times when I was jotting weeknotes. It debuted last week as The Makers of Things, a four-part film series by Anne Hollowday about the Society of Model and Experimental Engineers.

The response to Anne’s films since has been brilliant. Her interviews with Newspaper Club and Makezine were lovely, as was the write up on Core 77. Twitter’s been charming too.


But the bit I was most chuffed with was the part where almost fifty people rocked up to SMEE’s headquarters and watched the films projected in the main room. In Norman‘s words, it was ‘the youngest audience assembled in this room by quite some way’. The SMEE members who helped facilitate were terrific, and extremely happy to guide scruffy friends and co-conspirators around the century-old HQ.

Of all the random ideas that have fed into the project (‘Take the camera up to Ally Pally’, ‘See if we can get Mike to show us around the workshop’, ‘Stick a few of the interviews in a newspaper’) it feels like ‘Premiere the films at SMEE’ is the one that best celebrated fourteen months of new friendships and hard work.

Nice one, Anne!


The sound of makers

Gavin Singleton is one of the extremely talented folks collaborating with Anne on The Makers of Things (the short film project I referred to in week notes as SMEE).

He’s released the soundtrack for the films, and it’s beautiful. My favourite piece is probably ‘The Model Engineer’, which sits very comfortably alongside my slate of music to work to (Clint Mansell scores, Dear Esther, Doctor Who clips and Tron: Legacy).

You can check all of the tracks out on his Soundcloud and Bandcamp pages, and you can buy it for a very reasonable £4.

Gavin Singleton - The Makers of Things (Original Soundtrack) - cover

Weeks 50 and 51

I was sick for most of last week – a bone-chilling flu that kept me wrapped up while GOV.UK was busy winning awards – keeping my blogging arm at bay for a few sickly days. On the plus side I got a lot of sleep.

Haar/We Are Words and Pictures

Haar is a lovely word. However, as anyone who’s bought me a whisky in the last year knows, it is a useless word. While one-person companies are basically just games of Pretend Office, names still mean something. Names you have to spell each time you say them don’t mean quite as much though.

So, I made the changes necessary to do what I should have done right when I started out – register the name We Are Words and Pictures. It’s kept evolving as a project for almost five years now, long may that continue.

However, this hasn’t been entirely without problems. The registration happened much faster than anticipated, delaying my contract extension at GDS and leading to all kinds of unnecessary hassle. I fully expect that state to continue for the rest of April, after which I’ll start thinking about how to do things like sort out the WAWAP website, get Sandsmark moving, etc.


Contractual wrangling aside, the GDS team had a great couple of weeks. The service manual I mentioned a month ago launched Version 1 while I was down with flu, on top of which they won the Design of the Year award. Russell’s written about that, and it’s a neat summation of the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of GDS right now.


Flat-planning a newspaper for Anne stirred all kinds of muscle memory from the Paper Science days. Very good fun, and lovely work from the designer too. I’m looking forward to seeing that in print.

Week 44

I like trains…


I’m jotting this down on the train back from Sheffield, where I’ve spent a morning chatting to DWP staff about digital capability. It was brilliant; super useful feedback, and a good way of snapping out of the perspective of the ‘home ground’. It’s also a massive contrast to the card sort exercise I went through with Alex on Friday to make sense of the guidance we’re coralling for services throughout government.

Such massive differences in task made for a very good week, actually, though I was knackered by the end of it. February was a lot of hard work, after the ‘infinite Monday’ that was January, so I’m looking forward to a holiday at the end of March.


As retribution for last week declaring that work on the SMEE films had finished, I found myself playing runner for a day of filming on Sunday. Shoots in Brighton and St. Albans made for a long day of train journeys, but the interviewees made it well worth it. Lovely people.


A tiny bit of work left to wrap up my quarterly accounts, and then it’s time to do a bit of a review of the last near-year. The way I currently keep my books means I don’t have especially good oversight about how much money has been spent on different projects, so I need to find a way of adapting my current process to keep track of that. Shoudn’t be too hard, but a bit of a bugger to backdate. Later, I will find ways of graphing such things.

Anything else…

First theatre trip in ages, a miserable encounter with one of those vile people from Foxtons, a bit of poker (I left a little ahead, for a change), a gig, many booze. A good week, all told.

Week 43

I’d forgotten how important a change of environment can be to powering through work. Two days in the last week I’ve worked from home, and gained about a day back on my to-do list. It introduces other complications (communication across team, slightly more time spent getting up to speed the next day) but it feels like a worthwhile trade-off from this direction.


Freshest in my mind, as it looks like I’ve wrapped up most of the work I need to do on this project. Last week I went through the interviews with Anne to pick out highlights for a print edition. Really nice to get a different perspective on the speakers, and it should be a lovely accompaniment to the films.

I might have a bit more work once the drafts come back from the designer, but for the most part I’m done. The films are now being graded, the sound is being mixed, and Anne’s putting the finishing touches on the edits. It’s been fun playing a part in her creative process.


Lots of copy triage, reviewing guidance on how to build services for new teams across different departments. I’ve got a skirmish list (a pre-release checklist of triage and tweaks) that’s behaving more like a game of whack-a-mole than a to-do list. Work on that will dominate the start of Week 44.

Anything else…

A very small bit of work for Lonelyleap, and a day out in London Town for The Story.

Also worth drawing your attention to two things I can’t visit. Secure, The Koestler trust’s exhibition of artwork from prisons, secure hospitals and by people on probation opens in Wales in a couple of weeks. Playng a small part in judging this year’s awards was hugely eye-opening, humbling and rewarding, and if you’re in the area it’s worth taking a look. Meanwhile, Zainab Akhtar is working to establish a Comic Collection as part of Leeds City College Library – keep an eye on that as I’m sure it’ll blossom as the year rolls on.

Week 42

A surprisingly singular-focus this week. All GDS, all the time. Three half-day workshops dominated the week, two focused on the Digital by Default standard and the other an all-hands. Plus lots of ‘the usual’, which is probably worth defining at some point. A good week.

Besides invoicing for Kent and SMEE there’s been remarkably little project work this week. That’s probably good. The last few weeks have been a bit exhausting, so it’s been good to have a breather before motoring on the final leg of the SMEE films. I did manage to head to a Sophia Coppola double bill, go to a Dan Deacon gig, and visit The Shard, the Ansel Adams exhibition at the National Maritime Museum and an RSPB sanctuary though.

Rainham Marshes

Week 38

My Grandad died last week. William Dibben, Keith to his friends, played a big part in bringing my sister and I up. Twice-a-week most weeks he made sure we got home safe and sound, cooked us dinner, and did whatever he could to help us with homework.

He introduced me to Star Trek and The Animals of Farthing Wood. He sat with me when I came home and saw the second tower fall. He broke his collarbone in the search for instamatic camera shots when I told him about The Polaroid Press. He cared deeply for his children and their children, and I’ll miss him.

Grandad was a man familiar with blurring the boundary between work-life and social-life, and he seemed to get the best of both worlds. I’ve learned a lot from that. Personal projects will be stepping down a gear for a few weeks as I visit family, but work continues. Here’s Week 38…