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! 🙂

What’s updates?

I was already vaguely aware that I hadn’t updated my blog in a little while, and then yesterday I was pruning and sorting some RSS feeds in Inoreader, putting less active feeds into folders that identified them as being less frequently updated. I saw mine there as it hadn’t been updated in more than a month. (Inoreader’s ‘no updates in more than a month’ is a bit black and white, hence why I use folders for stuff that, say, hasn’t been updated at all since 2019, and so on.)

(It was interesting to me that the previous posts are all about experiences or things I did, and it made me wonder when I got away from writing about just anything, as opposed to specific events. I used to basically just keep a diary on my blog. The biggest change might simply be that I keep my diary more private now, so the stuff that ends up on my blog is the tip of that iceberg.)

Anyway in that time I’ve been thinking about the stuff I’ve been consuming recently, and a lot of it has been people’s homepages – not blogs as such, but homepages (which may incoporate a blog) – and yet again it’s something I find myself enchanted by.

Noah’s Distinctly Pink is a chaotic-yet-ordered collection of hyperlinked words – almost a wiki of their mind.

Evy’s Garden is a neat distillation of various ideas, concepts and mediums* into different rooms.

Meanwhile, Jamie just updated his blog with some updates and rationale that seem very sensible.

* I’m sorry, I know I mean media but it never feels right in my mouth

Noah has helped me want to further the development of a thus far hidden bit of my website which lets me hack together basic HTML pages to see if that’s a process I prefer to, say, using WordPress, or if it will remain a tinkering hobby and not a full standalone site. Crucially, Noah helped me by reminding me of some neat command line tricks for uploading data to a web server.

Evy gave me some ideas for how to present disparate, orphaned content: she has a jukebox that plays random songs she’s recorded, along with brief bits of metadata, and it gave me the idea to do something similar with various field recordings I have collected over the years. And to do it in a way that means inserting a single line of code pointing to a local MP3, and not a Soundcloud link or similar. I struggle with knowing how and where to present various types of content all under one website. I still think about this here website as blog-first, with optional sub-domains to be added as I see fit. But that’s the reverse of a website which also incorporates a blog.

And Jamie highlighted some design and layout choices that he has adapted to suit his blogging style, and – crucially – he has written about those choices, which I find interesting and helpful to read. Reading about a writer/web designer’s choices is a bit like seeing a website you like and viewing the source code – it reveals things that you might not have considered or thought possible/worthwhile. And that can set me off down another path of thought. That path of thought may not lead me to anything… but it just might. Either way, the process of wandering down that path is enjoyable in itself.


There’s a passage in this 2018 piece by Laurel Schwulst that I enjoyed a lot. I liked a lot of bits from the piece, actually, but this one really struck me. It has echoes of Evy’s ‘garden’ metaphor (and possibly I found this piece via Evy? I cannot remember now).

Website as plant

Plants can’t be rushed. They grow on their own. Your website can be the same way, as long as you pick the right soil, water it (but not too much), and provide adequate sunlight. Plant an idea seed one day and let it gradually grow.

Maybe it will flower after a couple of years. Maybe the next year it’ll bear fruit, if you’re lucky. Fruit could be friends or admiration or money—success comes in many forms. But don’t get too excited or set goals: that’s not the idea here. Like I said, plants can’t be rushed.

Website as garden

Fred Rogers said you can grow ideas in the garden of your mind. Sometimes, once they’re little seedlings and can stand on their own, it helps to plant them outside, in a garden, next to the others.

Gardens have their own ways each season. In the winter, not much might happen, and that’s perfectly fine. You might spend the less active months journaling in your notebook: less output, more stirring around on input. You need both. Plants remind us that life is about balance.

It’s nice to be outside working on your garden, just like it’s nice to quietly sit with your ideas and place them onto separate pages.

Thames Path day four: the Rose Revived at Newbridge to Oxford

This week being half term – and travel still being kinda, sorta, allowed – we took the opportunity to start a new long-distance walk – the Thames Path.

This is a 180-odd mile walk – or just shy of 300km if you work in those units, and I tend to. It runs right from the source of the river (or rather from a marked stone near where the source is meant to be) to the Thames Flood Barrier in London. Personally I’d like to see the walk run right to the sea, but I can only imagine there being a good number of reasons why that isn’t practical.

The first 100km or so of the Thames Path takes in some very remote locations, and it is worth lumping these early sections together where possible. This means getting a train to Kemble from London, which is straightforward enough, and then walking to Oxford which is the next big place where it’s easy to get to and from by public transport.

There are plenty of other ways of splitting the walk, but this worked for us based on the distances to be covered each day and the start and end points. It being October, we also opted for B&Bs and pubs with rooms – though camping is possible too.

Below is a recap and photos from the fourth section. Section one from the source at Kemble to Cricklade is here. Section two from Cricklade to Lechlade-on-Thames is here. Section three from Lechlade-on-Thames to the Rose Revived at Newbridge is here.


Our fourth – and final, for now – day of walking the Thames, and we have made it from the source near Kemble in Gloucestershire to Oxford. Our last day was the dampest, with mizzle and occasional showers.

Starting out from the Rose Revived at Newbridge – after a fine night’s sleep and a good cooked breakfast – was a nice start to the day as we were immediately on the Thames Path. We even passed a sign which gave us the mileage not just to the Thames Flood Barrier but to the coast! We had a couple of early fields containing cows but, unlike the previous day, we managed to get through easily. Lovely docile, brown cows just minding their own business. Whether breed or age or temperament, these cows did not show any interest in us and we got around them just fine.

Misty mizzle turned to showers and we enjoyed a lonely, quiet section of the Thames interspersed with interesting-looking boathouses on the opposite bank. We soon went through field after field of sheep, which make for much more pleasant walk companions.

There is one slightly unfortunate diversion on this section – at The Ferryman Inn one must divert away from the river for a short spell as a caravan park appears to own a length of the riverbank here. More fortunately however, the fields you end up walking through are easy going, and filled with lovely sheep.

After another lock or two and seeing a few more dog-walkers, we sensed that we were approaching Oxford. The other clue was that our sole ‘Thames Path’ walk signage was being joined by other local circular routes. The next section past Wytham Woods was rather nice, especially as the rain abated and glorious sunshine lit the treetops in all their autumnal colours. We learned that a nearby Oxford University research station means that these woods are among the ‘most studied’ woodlands in the world.

The final few kilometres on the approach to Oxford were very enjoyable, partly with the bright and dry weather, and partly as this is such a lovely way to approach a city like Oxford. I’ve visited a few times now and feel like I know it to some extent, but I also approach from the railway station and that section can feel a bit tacked-on. But approaching as if by boat is such a great way to encounter a place. And it meant I saw a whole side of Oxford I’ve never seen before as I’ve never been to the north west of the city.

From the ruins of Godstow Abbey and down along the river towards the railway station, you are greeted with views across the river to Oxford’s low and spire-dotted skyline, with rowers practising furiously at the behest of megaphone-toting coaches. We even saw a brave swimmer in the Thames (the first and only one we saw!) whose skin was a chilly shade of crimson. The view across the river to low-lying Port Meadow in the late afternoon light as the sun dipped to the horizon was just charming, and I will try to always remember this approach towards Oxford when I am battling my way up Hythe Bridge Street or Park End Street from the station into the town centre.

We called it a day at Osney Bridge, where we shall return at some point in the future to try and continue our way along the Thames Path. From here, things are easier, with public transport and more populated places meaning we can hop to and from smaller sections of the walk in a day or two, rather than having to lump four days together to get through the more remote parts. But I am so glad we were able to do so, and to enjoy the autumnal conditions and weather. It was damp, but we were well prepared for that. And you can tolerate heavy rain and soggy shoes when you know there’s a cosy and warm room awaiting you at the end of the day’s walk.

There’s a real romance to following ancient ways and paths. But following a river is a slightly different beast. Old roads and tracks are inherently man-made, and tend to cut through the landscape to enable efficient transit from A to B. A river knows no such bounds. It wends its way across the landscape, following the contours of the ground and snaking this way and that until it reaches its destination. And so it is all the more fascinating to follow this very natural course (albeit with the manmade bits where the river has been adapted and modified to our needs over the years).

Overall, I think my biggest takeaway is how the Thames seemingly pops up out of nowhere as a reasonable-sized stream. I had perhaps expected a trickle and some pools before it becomes a small stream. But it quite quickly becomes wide and flat, and is crossed by bridges and roads and is a sizeable feature of the landscape. But the other thing that I was naively less anticipating was how the river is not alone: it is joined by countless tributaries along the way, picking up speed and volume as it goes. And the most enjoyable thing was just soaking in the surroundings along its length – the remote countryside and the pretty little Cotswolds towns, and then the sudden jump in scale and majesty of Oxford acting as a neat book-end to this chapter.

I can’t wait to get going on the next section.

 


Thames Path day three: Lechlade to the Rose Revived at Newbridge

This week being half term – and travel still being kinda, sorta, allowed – we took the opportunity to start a new long-distance walk – the Thames Path.

This is a 180-odd mile walk – or just shy of 300km if you work in those units, and I tend to. It runs right from the source of the river (or rather from a marked stone near where the source is meant to be) to the Thames Flood Barrier in London. Personally I’d like to see the walk run right to the sea, but I can only imagine there being a good number of reasons why that isn’t practical.

The first 100km or so of the Thames Path takes in some very remote locations, and it is worth lumping these early sections together where possible. This means getting a train to Kemble from London, which is straightforward enough, and then walking to Oxford which is the next big place where it’s easy to get to and from by public transport.

There are plenty of other ways of splitting the walk, but this worked for us based on the distances to be covered each day and the start and end points. It being October, we also opted for B&Bs and pubs with rooms – though camping is possible too.

Below is a recap and photos from the third section, with posts to follow for the next stages. Section one from the source at Kemble to Cricklade is here. Section two from Cricklade to Lechlade-on-Thames is here.


Day three of following the course of the Thames, Lechlade to the Rose Revived at Newbridge. A long, but glorious day of quiet and isolated sunlit riverside views, some good bridges, and plenty of birdlife.

We knew today would be our longest – and loneliest – day. Setting off from Lechlade, the town has a lovely profile with the golden stone of the ha’penny bridge and the buildings themselves stacked up a small rise above the river. We set off at a decent pace as we had some concern about beating the sunset that evening. We had enjoyed a decadent but slightly late breakfast at the wonderful Vera’s Kitchen. We would gladly have spent the whole morning there but time is daylight when walking in October and later.

The phrase of the day was boshing it, and bosh it we did, trying to keep our average speed up as close to 5km/h as possible. Not easy with large backpacks and sticky, slippery mud underfoot for most of the way, but a decent target which gave us time to stop and refuel along the way. With our destination not being a town or village but merely two pubs either side of an old bridge, we knew we would not be heading for the bright lights of the city on our final approach.

We doffed our proverbials to the reclining statue of Father Thames at St John’s Lock, and we passed many pillboxes along the way. The number of locks and pillboxes was quite fascinating really – or perhaps they simply serve as decent landmarks to gauge progress along this rather remote section of the river. The pillboxes certainly cast a slightly bleak appearance on the river banks given their perceived need, and the locks were somewhat surprising: I think I had thought locks could only ‘work’ on canals, but the Thames has locks every few kilometres here. They also tend to be both technically fascinating as well as aesthetically pleasing with well-manicured gardens and pretty cottages.

We had passed through a couple of cow fields on the walk already – the first being literally at the source, so we knew what we were in for, this walk passing through mostly farmland. But we had been anxious that the time would come that we found a field whose entrance or exit was blocked by cows, and at a field just past Ye Olde Swan pub at Radcot bridge, our number was up. As we approached the field gate, scores of adolescent cows – as fluffy and cute as they were curious and bolshy – descended. We got closer to the gate to assess whether they were likely to disperse, but the closer we got, the closer they approached, until several were poking their heads through, all trying to eyeball us. We paused for a moment until we noticed one particularly spunky young cow wrapping its huge tongue around the gate handle – with one swift lick, that gate would be open and a flood of curious cows would be with us.

At this realisation, we slowly doubled back, frantically checking the OS map for an alternative route. There was a decent option a short way back – a pain, but it really seemed like the only option. As we began to double back, we became aware of a couple in their 60s heading our way. As they neared us – and could see our bovine friends champing at the bit – we briefly chatted about our options, before one of them confidently but kindly told us he would be happy to lead the way, and so he did. Hiking pole in hand, he opened the gate and began clapping and hollering at the young cows (his wife a few steps behind telling us, “a few years ago I would have been the same as you but I’m getting more used to them now.”)

And just like that, the cows nervously retreated and the four of us marched on through, attempting to mimic our new friend’s authoritative vocalisations and confident strides. It turned out that both he and his wife were recently-retired private school teachers – a fact which now made his confidence at herding a large group of rowdy adolescents make complete sense. It also turned out that they had until a few years ago lived a few miles from where I grew up. They were a lovely pair, and the four of us spent the next kilometre or so chatting away merrily – as much from the joy of doing so as the endorphins coursing through us at having made it through quite an anxious situation. They left us at Old Man’s Bridge where we heard they quite often kayak on the river – they’ve taken to their new life in the country very well, by the sounds of things.

The rest of the afternoon was without further issue, our only notable companion being an RAF 747 circling overhead as it made several wide arcs around Brize Norton, we hope, practising go-arounds (or practising – and failing – landings). We arrived at Newbridge (insert disclaimer here about this in fact being the second ((or first?)) oldest bridge on the Thames) as dusk fell. And although bright lights were absent as predicted, we could see the pretty twinkling fairylights of the Maybush pub and then finally our own destination for the night, the Rose Revived on the other side of the bridge.

This historic pub, now run by Greene King, appears in many tales throughout the centuries, not least the lives of our guardian angels earlier (we learned that they were married there many years ago). I recently read a great diary written by a British cyclist in the 1920s and 1930s who quite often called in at the Rose Revived – usually for a Bass (or two) along with his lunchtime staple of cheese and bread. Things are a bit more modern now, with an extensive and enticing selection of cooked meals and drinks available.

Our day could have been slightly more eventful – we were rung mid-afternoon by a concerned-sounding duty manager who told us our reserved room was no longer available due to an undisclosed incident the night before. He had secured alternative accommodation, but this was not what we wanted to hear as we walked. Happily, once he knew we were on foot, he made efforts to ask one of the other guests booked for that night – ideally if they were travelling by car – if they would mind taking up the other rooms instead. The pub hosts many Thames Path walkers, he told us. By the time we arrived at the pub, all was well, and we enjoyed a warm welcome from all the staff we dealt with during our stay.


Thames Path day two: Cricklade to Lechlade-on-Thames

This week being half term – and travel still being kinda, sorta, allowed – we took the opportunity to start a new long-distance walk – the Thames Path.

This is a 180-odd mile walk – or just shy of 300km if you work in those units, and I tend to. It runs right from the source of the river (or rather from a marked stone near where the source is meant to be) to the Thames Flood Barrier in London. Personally I’d like to see the walk run right to the sea, but I can only imagine there being a good number of reasons why that isn’t practical.

The first 100km or so of the Thames Path takes in some very remote locations, and it is worth lumping these early sections together where possible. This means getting a train to Kemble from London, which is straightforward enough, and then walking to Oxford which is the next big place where it’s easy to get to and from by public transport.

There are plenty of other ways of splitting the walk, but this worked for us based on the distances to be covered each day and the start and end points. It being October, we also opted for B&Bs and pubs with rooms – though camping is possible too.

Below is a recap and photos from the second section, with posts to follow for the next stages. Section one from the source at Kemble to Cricklade is here.


Day two of walking the Thames Path took us from pretty Cricklade to downright handsome Lechlade. Leaving Cricklade to the sounds of the bells for Sunday morning amidst bright sunshine and blue skies was a lovely way to start a day’s walking.

We dodged most of the passing showers (and were treated to some truly spectacular rainbows), although we did have to trudge through fields calf-deep in floodwater where the Thames had burst its banks. Truly, walking the Thames.

I picked up a pair of Sealskinz waterproof socks just before this trip. I knew from bitter experience that my Berghaus walking boots are no longer waterproof and have had a couple of walks soured somewhat from damp feet. I am pleased to report, having walked through waterlogged fields deep enough for water not just to seep in through the sole seals but actually pour in at the ankle, the Sealskinz socks worked perfectly. Once we had the opportunity to sit down and assess the situation at the gorgeous church of St Mary the Virgin at Castle Eaton, I found that my wool socks I’d worn inside the Sealskinz were bone dry. Amazing. And thank goodness the Sealskinz come halfway up my calf.

At Upper Inglesham we found to our delight that the route of the Thames Path had recently been altered to more closely follow the river rather than following a busy A-road for a short distance. Our guidebook was from 2015 but fortunately we use the Ordnance Survey’s mapping apps on walks like these, and these maps are always the most up to date they can be. All the route signage had also been updated to reflect the new route. It struck us as quite an achievement that a new public footpath – not just a permissive route over private land – had been put together by a number of organisations and private land owners. Well done and thank you to all involved.

This was also the section of the Thames Path where we first saw boats on the river – first some kayaks, and then two motor boats. The river still looks rather too small for boats at this point, but it must be possible.

At Lechlade – somehow even lovelier than Cricklade – we stayed at Vera’s Kitchen and B&B. We cannot recommend this place highly enough. Gorgeous self-contained units at the rear of a delightful cafe. Attentive and welcoming staff. And for the price you pay for a room for the night you get a huge and delicious breakfast and drinks the next morning, as well as a welcome fresh drink and cake each on arrival. Nothing better to warm up and dry out with when arriving in a new town.

Once warm and dry we set out for an evening wander round town and found lots of delightful details. The clocks having gone back the night before, sunset was now just before 5pm.