2021 week two

Ah, the optimism of these early weeknotes. I know by now that some weeks I won’t have much to say, and that some weeks I will barely even remember to try and start one. But it’s a nice habit to try and strike up. I’m not sure when is best to write these – it seems ‘right’ to me for the week in question to be Monday to Sunday, and so it follows that these should be written up on the Monday. Doing so on the Sunday evening would be a bit snake-eating-its-tail: I’m still very much in weekend mode on Sunday evening.


Managed to keep up a pretty consistent week of running. My new shoes continue to put a spring in my step.

I have joined Strava’s monthly challenge of running 100km in January, and I am pleased to say I’m well on my way there after a strong start. I only have another 5km or so to do and more than ten days to do it. It won’t be the first month I’ve achieved this but it’s a decent total to aim for.

I did also join the 200km challenge, but that will remain just that: a challenge. Maybe I can aim for it later in the year when the days are longer. I did run 800-odd kilometres in 2020, so if I can hit a thousand this year, that would be a good thing to aim for.

The most enjoyable run of the week was Sunday’s, where I deliberately wanted to take myself (and my new trail shoes) off-road. I fired up Rungo (a brilliant navigational app where you plug in a route and it provides turn-by-turn directions in your ears) and pointed myself towards some green spaces near Finchley. Is Finchley a place? Near there, anyway.

I knew there were a few golf courses around there, but there also seemed to be fields and nature reserves, so I hoped I would end up there. And I did! Having run about 9km on roads, I suddenly took a turn down a muddy bridleway and the next couple of Ks were incredibly muddy and wet. At times I was splashing through ankle deep liquid mud. The rest of the time it was sticky, tacky mud. It felt great.

I passed a handful of families out walking dogs etc, but my goal of going for a long run which didn’t take me into town and the busy places turned out very well. 

I managed to make it a neat half marathon – just over 21km – which is a distance I can just about do if I decide I am going to. And I’m so glad I found some proper countryside vibes and returned home muddy, scratched by brambles, and full of fresh air. My trainers were trashed, of course, but they cleaned up well enough.

Running aside, I have managed to stay home about as much as I can.

It’s hard when the weather is bright and I want to be out taking pictures. But I scratched that itch this week by taking some still life type shots around the home. It’ll do for now.

I ween myself on Flickr – beautiful light-filled shots of streetscapes (many taken in the before time, I am sure, as I follow a lot of film photographers or those who remaster and reupload older shots) and it makes me yearn for those environments and conditions.

I find myself spending probably more time watching Youtube tutorials of people editing in Lightroom than I do actually editing in Lightroom. It’s helpful to see others doing it, but I do need to tip that balance back the other way.

I’m starting to move more towards picking out individual shots or small series and spending much more time doing selective edits for a specific upload or project. This helps me hone my skills in particular areas, and hopefully produces good, one-off results.

I am so much more used to taking an entire travelogue-type series of shots from a trip or a long walk and applying similar edits to the whole set to give it a uniformity, so it is good to try and focus on a small handful of shots instead, or even just one individual shot. 

I’ve even started to think along the lines of going much further back into my archive and finding similar – one or a handful of shots – and giving them a new lick of paint using techniques I now use and find natural that I didn’t when I originally took (and possibly edited) the shots.

It’s quite a mental somersault contemplating that a single image can be given so many different looks. Making the decision to do something quite stark, like making it monochrome, or doing a heavy crop, feels so definite and final. And yet of course I can re-edit the same image a number of times. It’s a lot to wrap my head around.

I’ve started hacking together an /audio page at this domain.

For years I’ve collected random field recordings of specific places that had a nice sound to them, trying to capture what it is to be there in a similar way that I am compelled to take photographs. I don’t often succeed – recording audio, like taking a wide angle photo of a scene, often reveals that the small parts of that scene which are appealing to you are in fact nearly drowned out (visually or aurally) by other more ordinary elements which your brain had tuned out.

Much like zooming in or cropping out a photo to allow the viewer to focus on the elements you find most appealing in a scene, creating a decent sound recording of a place requires ‘zooming in’ on that sound, e.g. ensuring that any other distracting sounds are as minimal as they can be.

It is possible to do some EQ and filtering in post-production, but it’s not easy to polish a turd when it comes to making field recordings.

With that all in mind, I wanted a place to call my own where I can stick those field recordings that most ‘work’ in my head, or that most capably take me away to the place they were recorded. I also have a handful of more musical or compositional tracks that I’ve enjoyed mucking around in Garageband to create. I’ve a lot to learn there, but by the same token I have dipped into it on and off over the years and have a basic enough understanding of how the software works to make it possible to come up with a track or two that make me smile.

A final point: there will be a mixture of Soundcloud and self-hosted tracks on the /audio page for now. Soundcloud seems to be the de facto place to stick audio and music, but the website (and app) are appalling and riddled with spam and weird UX and UI choices. (It reminds me of Flickr in the post-Yahoo!, pre-Smugmug days where every upload was greeted with spam comments and all kinds of signs of a lack of care.) But part of the reason I’ve sat on some of these recordings for so long is not having anywhere to put them.

Now, inspired by a few self-built, self-hosted websites, I’ve decided to just make my own place to put them, rather than relying on third parties with their ads and their spam and their clunky interfaces.

It’ll take a little work to get everything over here, and I want to make sure each file has decent metadata and looks neat. But it’s a start for now.

And finally, I’ve been reading usesthis.com for ages – it’s a site that poses creative people a series of questions and collects their tools and how they use them in their work and life. Usually computery tools. Often nice pens and stuff.

The last question is usually along the lines of asking what that person’s dream setup would be.

Often it is half-invented sci-fi daydreams of some near-future, no-expenses-spared version of what they already have. Sometimes it’s a variation of “well I’m pleased to say I’m almost there…”. But the answer to this latest post by music video producer Ninian Dorf just took me away with its simple but perfect scenario:

What would be your dream setup?

Early morning. A great view in a window in front of me. A good desk. Just peaking on my first coffee of the day. A great idea in my head.


2021 week one

A couple of nights ago in our lounge was heard a very loud and piercing BANG, or more of a POP. I carefully went towards the source of the sound, in the kitchen, and started looking towards electricals – I assumed a fuse had blown, or possibly something under pressure had given way.

After a minute or so’s search, the source was identified: a button cell, or watch, battery had exploded. Or… popped, I guess. Just blown itself apart. Incredibly, it was in the kitchen in a zone which is currently the closest thing we have to a blast chamber: on a shelf between a cast iron set of weighing scales and a granite pestle and mortar. If I were performing the controlled detonation of another battery, this would be the sort of environment I would hastily erect around it.


Anyway, the battery had come from some cheap Christmas decorations we bought at The Works, the discount bookshop. They were some of those cute laser-cut wooden buildings with little LED lights inside. They were astonishingly cheap, and each was powered by three watch batteries. The cheapness of the whole set has now made it abundantly clear to me, and I am only glad a) that I chose to remove the batteries before we packed the decorations away recently, and b) that the event occurred between two of the hardest objects known to our kitchen, rather than, say, near some wine glasses.

It briefly crossed my mind that I should tell The Works, but really, even in the best case scenario, this would lead to a small black and white A4 recall notice in the front window of some of their shops, and wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference. It is slightly troubling, though, to consider that each of these cheap decorations contains three potential blasting caps and the number of these which must now be scattered around the home of many thousands of people.

I have been reading an anthropological study of a Polynesian community written by Raymond Firth. We, the Tikopia was written in 1936 about the peoples of the island of the same name. I was put onto the subject having read about the island in that wonderful bedside table book, the Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky. That gorgeous book – part atlas, part history, part creative writing anthology – has inspired so many strange thought explorations in the years I have owned it. As each island is given two pages: one a map, one a page of text, I have rationed my devouring of its contents.

The entry on Tikopia made reference to the people keeping their population relatively stable through various rather grizzly and morbid means which intrigued me to the point of needing to know more. Beyond that, of course, reading about remote islands is just an infinitely comforting and fascinating thing for me to do as I nod off.

Having ransacked Wikipedia, I found Firth’s text (being as it was the source for so much of what we seem to know about this still quite isolated community). I’ve been enjoying his reasonably transparent approach to describing the people and their customs, but as I read I constantly remind myself that I am not familiar with anthropological texts, particular from the past, and that I may well be merrily reading a book which has some deeply outdated notions about how to describe and depict ‘other’ communities. But it’s best not to turn bedtime reading into an academic exercise: sometimes it’s just delightful to read Firth’s descriptions of island life, the weather and setting of the island itself, and so on.

There is a double enjoyment in describing what it is like to be on a tiny, isolated island (a genre I love to get lost in – scaling the island’s peak so that one can overlook almost the entire mass of land? Bliss!), but it is also fascinating as the Tikopia people were (are?) one of the last communities to have western influences forced upon them. As a ‘primitive’ people (okay, there I know Firth is using outdated language), reading about their daily lives is almost like going back in time.

As I say, I have not read many anthropology books – or not by that name, at least – but one series I have loved for years is Ian Mortimer’s Time Traveller’s Guide books. The first – the Guide to Medieval England – still feels like the best to me. In his books, Mortimer holds the reader’s hand as though they have truly just arrived at this historical period and suddenly need to navigate an alien world. What is used for money? How do you obtain food? Lodgings? What customs might you be unaware of? And so on.

Mortimer’s books are lightly humorous and readable, but are also packed with decades of research and facts – he isn’t merely dreaming up some sort of cosplay version of the middle ages, but rather he translates the raw facts and history into what it would feel like to live there. Or at least to visit.

And as I read Firth’s work – he spent a year or so on the island, the sole European, living amongst the Tikopia, observing them, and (with his knowledge of Maori) learning to speak their tongue – I am immediately reminded of Mortimer’s books. Here, Firth is taking the reader with him: what is it like to wake up on Tikopia? What sounds can be heard beyond the walls of his hut? How do the people gather their main meal of the day? What games do they play in the evening, and what gossip do they discuss?

It is fabulous and readable stuff – feeling more often like some Time Traveller’s Guide to Polynesian life than some dry academic textbook. By all accounts it seems that it is still heavily used by students around the world today. But I am just so happy to read it ‘for fun’ as Firth’s descriptions are so vivid.

2021 is off to a decent enough start.

It was a shame to take down the Christmas tree, but it would have felt very odd leaving it up. The tree was still green and full of needles, but (despite some watering of its stump) was drying out very quickly. We have enough other, living plants in the flat.

We have kept the lights which adorn the windows and outside space as we tend to; they will probably remain until almost the time to put the clocks forward, or at least until the days feel sufficiently long. Already, one can sense the slight increase in day length on days when it is clear and bright.

I treated myself to some new running shoes at Christmas (my old pair had both Strava and my feet screaming at me to replace them for many months before), and they have taken me about 55km this year already so far. They are slightly more trail-y than my last shoes, with more knobbly soles, so some of those KMs have been muddy, grassy slopes (which is especially handy when one finds that most of north London seems to visit Hampstead Heath or Primrose Hill and sticks religiously to the narrow paths that make up perhaps 1% of those vast open spaces).

It is hard to treat the turn of the calendar year as a new start or a moment to look forward when it is in reality a time of abject, bleak darkness. It is rather a time of hunkering down and taking stock, if anything.

A bit like the fairy lights mentioned above, as each year passes I really think the new year hasn’t truly started until early spring. When the days lengthen and new life begins to appear, then I think it is really possible to draw a line under the previous year and look ahead as if having cleared the bottom of a curve which is now only just beginning to rise again.

So I will keep my head down for the coming weeks, and engage myself in more reading and genealogical research (Ancestry is currently free from home via my local library authority – maybe it is with yours too?) and embracing the fact that I have a cosy home with all I need for these short days. And I will continue to try and use what few daylight hours we have for breaking in my new running shoes some more.

Twenty Twenty

When reading recently some other people’s year-end round-ups, I felt a familiar sense of FOMO, that in not writing a funny, fascinating and well-written year-end round-up post of my own, that I was somehow letting the year slip through my fingers like grains of sand. It might be easy to say that, for a year like 2020, this is excusable. And yet, when I look back on the year, I can see a number of highlights – some of which came before, or outside of, THE GREAT EVENT, while other highlights happened in spite of it.

To tackle the sense of unaccomplishedness in not writing such a great round-up, I can console myself with two things:

Of the round-ups I’ve read and enjoyed, most are written by the chroniclers of our time – those bloggers who already keep consistent and interesting weeknotes. It should probably not come as a surprise that these people are capable of a good year-end round-up, too.

Secondly, I noticed a curious trend in the year-end round-ups I read: a majority of them referred to their jobs by the number of hours they had worked that year. A-ha. Suddenly the correlation of [people who blog good] and [people who have time to blog good] comes into focus.

This isn’t to say “I’m so sorry for not blogging enough, I’m just such a terribly busy person with my awfully important 9-5 job that I am lucky to have.” I obviously do have considerable spare time which, if I pushed myself, I could commit to such things as good weeknotes or year-end round-ups. But one thing I probably do lack that self-employed/freelancer blogging types have, is routine and self-discipline and so on. 

This is all really just to say: kudos* to you, o bloggers. I am grateful to you for keeping the torch aflame, and for a good number of those I follow who manage to do it to a rigid schedule. Your work is not in vain. There are people like me who are always so glad to see a new post appear from a particular blogger at a particular time, knowing I can either send it to my Kindle to read in bed, or save it for a later browser-based session due to that individual’s propensity for including multimedia content and grade-A hyperlinks.

* I noticed in this year’s Strava round-up the use of the singular ‘kudo’, implying that kudos, Strava’s form of ‘likes’ is a plural. Compounding this is Strava’s own suggestion to ‘give someone Kudos’ – I can only give one Kudos, not many Kudo-s. I don’t even want to know if the singular kudo has any grounding in linguistic reality (see also data as a plural), but it just feels wrong somehow. They’re not Mentos, Strava.

If you follow me here, or on Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, or have occasionally visited my Photography webpage (which needs updating) – then first of all thank you and I’m sorry. But second of all, you probably already have some idea of what my highlights of 2020 are like. I haven’t talked much about the lowlights. I’m just not the sort of person who does that in public. My mental health is fragile enough to just try and focus on the things that make me happy, and deal with the less happy things in my own way. 

Anyway, some highlights of my 2020 are listed below.

  • In January we somehow managed to get away to Bruges for a magical few days. This seems so unthinkable and other-worldly now, in view not just of Covid-19 but also Brexit. But this time last year both those things hadn’t happened yet, and this trip was a breeze.
  • We also went to the theatre in January, which isn’t something I do very often at all, to see Hamilton. Despite this being a rare outing of this kind, it still feels remarkably well-timed and I am so glad it could happen.
  • Robins! Working from home for most of last year meant I could observe the robins that visit our tiny, strange subterranean garden space. See two runs of baby robins venturing out, learning where the good food was found, and gaining their independence, was a wonderful thing to experience at close quarters. It’s helped me realise (or re-realise) how important outside space is to me. I’m lucky to have places like Hampstead Heath relatively close by, but having a garden directly outside my window has quickly shot up in my priorities (as I’m sure it did for many people in 2020).
  • Sunflowers. See above, but we tried to use this strange outdoor space for growing sunflowers this year, and had great results. Some reached 8-10ft in height – probably spurred on by the base being below ground as they yearned for sun. I’ve not grown many things as an adult, but it’s absolutely something I want to do more of. I also grew tomatoes from fresh seeds this year, in an unscripted attempt which I felt was doomed to failure. Well, it wasn’t! They grew marvellously, and I would really like to grow more next year, following the correct advice.
  • Running: I have been running for a few years now, but 2020 really gave me the opportunity to put more time into this. Working from home meant I had 30-60 minutes before and after work freed up that were normally spent commuting. In the height of summer I even managed to spend one or two weeks running twice a day. I haven’t managed to extract the raw data, but it is possible that I ran more in 2020 than all the years leading up to it. 
  • Mushrooms! A friend of ours one day randomly asked if we wanted to go mushroom foraging on the Heath. I was initially quite daunted by the prospect as I knew nothing about mushrooms and didn’t want to get sick. Luckily they didn’t really mean foraging, more hunting and identifying. This led to many more sessions with those friends, new friends-of-friends, and M and I going out doing the same. I have really enjoyed discovering a world I’ve never really paid attention to this year, and especially the photographic opportunities it has afforded me. We are even working on a collaborative zine revolving around mushrooms!
  • Cornwall – in August we somehow managed to get away to Cornwall between lockdowns for a nice break away biking around and camping. Looking back now, it really feels like we threaded the eye of a needle in terms of squeezing in a trip like that. But we did, and every stage of it went smoothly. Most of all, the welcome we received in Cornwall was warm indeed. We had been led to believe by the media that Cornish locals didn’t want outsiders potentially bringing the virus to their door. Perhaps that was true in parts, but we only met kind and welcoming folks (apart from that farmer who rather coldly told us the footpath marked on our map was very much not accessible down his track). Getting back to the coast after spending spring and early summer in London was just staggering: I will never forget the colour of the sea and the coastal plants and flowers.

There are many more minor highlights of 2020 I’ve not covered. I haven’t even mentioned going to a talk by Michael Palin this year and finally meeting the man! And we got away to Hastings again in February. I also got a new camera which I am really enjoying using.

And although we only got away for a couple of camping trips in 2020, we have slowly been upgrading our camping (and hiking and bikepacking) gear, and I can’t wait for more opportunities next year to try it all out again. I received a chalk bag for bouldering/climbing last Christmas, which was not used once in 2020 so I’m looking forward to doing that again whenever we can.

And I’m still astonished we were able to watch not one but three world tour bike races on the TV this summer. 

Broadly speaking, there have been elements of the government-imposed lockdown that have appealed to my introverted side. It’s quite disappointing knowing we are entering 2021 in much the same (or worse) conditions than we had way back in March. But in reflecting on what I liked about 2020 and ignoring the less pleasant sides of it, I think I can still look forward with some positivity.

Finally, my favourite picture that I took last year (and quickly becoming one of my all-time favourites) combines a number of odd things: timing, happenstance, light, architecture and engineering, and it was taken on a camera I don’t use enough, but love using all the same.

More ziney loveliness: Shawn Granton (via Charles Pope, cyclist and diarist)

Let’s just file this one under “things I was convinced I’d already blogged about but…2020?” and pretend it’s not already December, okay?

As well as the recent zines I have been enjoying, earlier this year I was a very happy recipient of a nice selection of work by Shawn Granton, behind the wonderfully-titled Urban Adventure League. A Portland resident, Shawn has a number of interests which dovetail neatly with my own: he’s regularly out on his bike, camping, taking pictures with film cameras, or playing with a short wave radio. Often all in one trip!

In fact, the detail that first led me to Shawn’s online presence was his use of the Minolta Hi-Matic 7s, a lovely 35mm range finder camera I’ve talked about several times before. The Hi-Matic gets a nice amount of coverage on blogs, Flickr and Instagram, and it’s always nice to see what people get out of theirs when you know the exact tool they’re using (differences in film stocks aside).

And as well as an enthusiastic film photographer, Shawn is also a great blogger. He’s been at it for years, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him in a distant sort of way via his blog posts which cover all of the kinds of hobbies I mentioned above.

As I was getting more familiar with his interests this past summer, during the same period I had been reading a lovely book called A Golden Age of Cycling, being a collection of recently-published selection of diaries kept by Charles Pope between 1924 and 1933. Pope wrote – somewhat prosaically at times – about his cycling adventures around the UK, and occasionally on the continent.

The mileage Pope would rack up on a given weekend – and the sheer numbers of weekends he spent awheel in any given year – boggled my mind. A lot of the places he visited were familiar to me, and it was always nice to see how much detail he wrote about the places along the route itself – or rather, the names of those places, if not vivid descriptions of them. Pope rarely waxed lyrical in his diary entries, but they often read as though he was frantically jotting down details at the end of a long day’s pedalling, or while he wolfed down some gargantuan breakfast, keen to hit the road again. At the very least, his route listings helped me to visualise a mental map of his route – or occasionally would lead me to actually try and plot the route he took on a map featuring today’s roads.

This always gave me pause, though; Pope was cycling Britain’s roads at a time long before motorways and dual carriageways, but also quite early on in the British love affair with the motor vehicle. These roads were old, windy – and very quiet by today’s standards.

Crucially, Pope could navigate towns and cities of various sizes without having to contend with vast ring roads, junctions and multi-lane roundabouts. He could instead weave his way in and out by the old roads which were still carrying the size and volume of traffic they were used to.

He did of course occasionally grumble about the vast numbers of day-trippers in their gas-guzzling automobiles clogging up pretty little Cotswolds villages, so I mustn’t presume the roads were entirely empty of cars. Pope was not a fan of this new menace. And it was therefore especially gut-wrenching to learn via this book that Charles Pope ultimately lost his life on his bicycle after a road traffic accident.

But despite this tragedy, what a happy book it is to read. The tales of his adventures have inspired a few of my own, and although I constantly needed to remind myself that British roads 100 years would be virtually unrecognisable to Pope, there are still pockets of the countryside – country lanes and pretty little villages – that would be instantly familiar to the man, as he propped his bike up and strode inside the nearest pub for his trademark refreshment of bread, cheese and Bass ale.

I provide all this detail into the Pope book because, as I read it, and as I became more familiar with Shawn Granton’s blog and general demeanour (not to mention his obsession with British three-speeds), I knew this would be a book Shawn would enjoy. Having read his blog for a while, I was aware he had a public PO Box address on his site, so it was clear what I had to do next: I sent Shawn a copy of the Pope book.

To my delight, not only did the book arrive in what seemed like less than a week, but in not much more time than that, I had received a reply by post from Shawn as well! I sent the book via what I presume used to be called ‘surface mail’ (Royal Mail’s International Economy) and had imagined it would be flung into the bilge of a creaking wooden ship and might wash up on the eastern seaboard of North America some time after a storm broke up its hull. Then, through snow/rain/heat/gloom it would eventually cross that vast continent and make its way into Shawn’s hands long after I had forgotten ever sending it.

But no! Even in a pandemic, the postal service blew me away, and did Shawn proud too: his neat little package was a joy for me to unpack, stuffed as it was with varieties of the stuff he makes and sells. You see, not only is Shawn an entertaining and knowledgable writer, but he’s also a great artist, sketching comics and logos for all sorts of projects.

I was thrilled to find in the pack he kindly sent me in gratitude for the Pope book a series of photography- and cycling-related comics, zines and stickers.

Thanks so much, Shawn – and if any of you reading this would like to see some of Shawn’s work, his Etsy store is the place to pick what you’d like: https://www.etsy.com/shop/urbanadventureleague – or just check out his blog at https://urbanadventureleague.wordpress.com/ – if you like the things I’ve been blabbing on about for a thousand words now, I’m sure you’ll enjoy Shawn’s blog, too.

Oh, and PS: after mentioning my delight at seeing some of the other recent zines in e-ink form, I should add that I regularly read Shawn’s blog posts on my Kindle – and here’s a recent example which just shows off how great e-ink makes certain types of illustration look:

Some recent reading

Somewhere along the way discovering more cool, individual, personal websites recently, I found that some people who dedicate their time to creating such things, also – gasp! – sometimes turn this creativity to the making of zines.

Of course!

Incidentally, I think this also sort of explains my lack of posts here lately: I’ve gone a bit into ‘receive’ rather than ‘transmit’. It happens. These things come in waves.

Anyway, it’s been nice to tap into an undercurrent of creative little publications – particularly the genre of autobiographical life-writing (a particular favourite of mine). In recent years I’ve found more and more examples of the kind of memoir and recollection that discusses the author’s life growing up on computers. I guess that generation is just of the age where a) they could grow up with computers, b) they are feeling nostalgic enough about that time to now write about it.

It’s a bit like the saying about the music you listen to when you’re c.14 years old being really important – it can also be applied to computers: the computers you use, and the games you play, and of course the internet communities you inhabit during those years inevitably has a profound effect on what kind of human being you grow into.

With this in mind, here are three zines that I found recently that scratch that itch for me:

First up we have a couple of submissions to the Lost Histories Jam run a couple of years ago that ran with this pitch:

[…]what was something specific to the way that you played or experienced videogames that you feel like hardly anyone ever talks about? How can the community-based, experiential, specific, overlooked and personal enrich the common-knowledge history of videogames?

Perfect! Personal histories in relation to videogames, but with a specific slant on those areas that may be overlooked by mainstream recollections.

The first find was the intriguingly-titled “I have always liked sci-fi, anime, and sex” by Freya C. But what I hoped would be a fun read was actually so much more interesting than that: Freya was born assigned as a male* and is now a trans female. Apart from that, they seem to have had a very similar computer life to me: I loved Freya’s recollections of storing school IT work on floppy discs.

* I’ve always found it is good to read things that cause me to look up a word or investigate a referenced work; in this case, the term ‘AMAB’ occurred just a few words into the first page and I had never come across it before. It stands for ‘assigned male at birth’ and can also be used as AFAB, for female. I’m really glad Freya thought to include this introductory text as it helped frame the work, and I learned something at the same time.

I loved the fact that as well as touching on the subject of wanting to play as female characters from quite early on, they also discussed games on Palm Pilot devices (of which I had one), and even something as niche as Terminal Velocity, a game I lost many hours to.

The next submission to the Lost Histories Jam was this neat little zine entitled “In the beginning we all played Family”. It’s made by an Argentinian called rumpel talking about how widespread videogame piracy was there when she grew up, how many Argentinian families kept playing the Famicom (or Nintendo Entertainment System / NES elsewhere) for years after its release, and how she feels that as videogame piracy is now less rampant across the console market there, a counterculture has somehow been lost.

Obviously I loved both of these for their mix of the familiar and the esoteric – a world I feel I know and understand well enough, but viewed through a lens I do not possess – but I also loved that they took the form of neat little digital zines. Even better, these A5-ish PDFs were the perfect size to be read on my Kindle. I even read Freya’s zine in the bath. Sorry, Freya.

I’ve talked before, I am sure, about how much I love how text and certain types of illustrations are rendered in e-ink; I much prefer to read the majority of web articles on my Kindle at bedtime using Five Filters’ Push to Kindle tool, but all the better when I can email a well-designed PDF to my device to enjoy. If it’s natively sized to fit the Kindle’s screen, all the better, but a bit of pinching and zooming where necessary is fine too.

And finally, a zine which wasn’t available digitally, but rather was pointed to from the author’s website. I can’t remember how I found Olivia’s neocities website, but it was very pretty, and had a button labeled ‘InternetNostalgia’ which I clicked faster than the speed of sound. On that page, which might have been enough on its own, she opened with the line: 

Hey, first of all, I wrote a zine specifically about my 2005-2007 internet nostalgia that goes into more detail than this section, and you can buy it here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/581796534/nostalgia-whiplash-1-the-internet-of

So naturally I clicked that as well – albeit slightly more warily – but found that she wasn’t charging very much at all for her zines, and I figured that chucking £2-3 at a creator I don’t know is something I like to do every now and then, particularly when there’s the promise of a little physical doohicky coming in the mail. So I ordered a copy.

To my delight, the zine (along with another – thanks Olivia!) turned up on Tuesday morning, having been posted from Connecticut on Friday evening. That’s mad! That would be surprisingly fast in normal times, but lately the post seems completely out of whack everywhere, so it was especially surprising and pleasant.

Anyway, it was all I hoped it would be: a deeply personal reflection on the experience of growing up online – in Olivia’s case in a home-schooled, religious household which put pressure on her to conform to certain ideals, but also allowed her enough freedom to discover communities which would allow her in turn to discover her own creativity. That’s awesome. 

As Olivia closes her zine by saying: Ah, the internet! 🙂