I’m happier without a smartphone

It’s now just over a month since I gave up my smartphone and began an experiment with a Nokia 3310.

Much has already been written about smartphone sanity. Books, blog posts, tweets – just Google it to see other people doing the same, or poke this blog or my links to see some of the stuff people are saying about health, attention, kids and phones, life balance, etc.

So, I don’t want to go into this side of things – but it has been interesting, so here are a few thoughts.

The context

Prior to giving up my smartphone I already had a bunch of worries about technology use and what it does to family life and sanity – so had already done what (frankly) any sane person should do, right now, with their phone – stuff like this:

  • remove work email
  • turn off ALL non-critical notifications (and yes, definitely email notifications)
  • remove all social apps
  • have a policy to leave it upstairs on silent at night
  • never use it in the bedroom
  • never use it at the dining room table
  • be very aware about use, particularly when the kids are around

I’m also one of the 3 people on the planet without a Facebook account. I have been this way since being a very early Facebook adopter way back and deciding back then that:

  • Facebook are basically pretty evil
  • there’s a reason I lost touch with most of those people
  • I could see even back then that it was going to eat lives

I was, however, a news junkie – with a bad “first thing in the morning” addiction to the Guardian / BBC / Hacker News. I’ve also been through patches of getting a little bit Instagram obsessed (it’s easy to post narcissitic-fuckpump pictures of how great your life is when you live in Cornwall) and managed to get around not having a Twitter app (see above) by using the mobile web version.

I was also an information junkie – mid-way through a conversation I’d need to look up that word or fact, take a note, check my calendar, etc. Actually (more below) – not just mid-way through a conversation but mid-way through articles in the paper, books, magazines…

Even given the fact that the above pretty much doesn’t position me in the loony-check-it-all-the-time smartphone user category – I increasingly didn’t feel happy with the total, unremitting reliance that I felt on this device. The fact that I’d rather leave home without my wallet, without my keys or without my children than without my smartphone was a warning siren to me. I don’t like these sorts of external pressures – and when you start looking around and seeing THE ENTIRE WORLD looking out through a 3″ screen, you have got to start thinking big questions about why we’re here, what we’ll regret when we die, how we’re being and – frankly – what it’s all about.

Giving it up

So, I gave it up. And I can say – only a month in – that it has been absolutely transformative, in ways that I was completely not expecting.

The biggest, most important and most profound thing for me has been my attention and presence. I’ve found myself massively less distracted while doing, well, pretty much everything – but most noticeable is that I can read again for stretches of time without feeling the jitter and without having to look up every other word. It is incredibly ilberating to sit and not even think about whether I should check the news or a fact but to simply not have that option. And, bizarrely, I actually feel better informed than I did before. When I watch the news or read something I actually get into it rather than dotting around endlessly snacking on shit news-snippet-morsels.

Connected to this – it is strangely amazing to not have to take a damn picture every 5 fucking minutes, but just to be able to look at the sea or my kids or whatever and not be thinking about what a great shot that’d make. For me this isn’t “..what a great shot…for my [social] account..” because I didn’t really do that stuff anyway – but just being able to be in the picture rather than thinking about taking it all the time – this is pretty wonderful.

Having bored moments was also pretty strange at first: “go for a shit, take your phone” became instead ..take a book – or – nothing, and just think. Stand in a queue – just stand. Wait for a friend – just….yeh, wait..

It is also a royal fucking pain in the arse

Being in London this week highlighted the utility that comes with a smartphone. Most obviously: maps, having a podcast player, being able to look up when the next train is… and, fuck, no damn Spotify either…

..but also: wow, sending a text without being able to do it properly is truly, mind-blowlingy, appallingy awful. Dumbphones pretty much force your grammar into a ditch where it is left bleeding to death: my capitalisation has gone to shit, I simply cannot bring myself to deal with apostrophes, and YES I may be a mere 45 years old but fucking HELL I look like an old person when I am trying to text. I lean over the screen in a way which is just incredibly lonely and old and sad – I might as well switch the fucking key tones on as well..

The upside is: it’s SO awful I have started actually “ringing” people. I know. This is when you speak into the phone and the other person replies, and you hear what they say and then…anyway, yes, that. And it turns out this is really quite nice, to hear my friends and talk to them properly.

The Not Mobile Saviour

The real learning for me here is this: put all your shit – all your email shit, all your social shit, all your podcast and music shit – even What’s App – and put it on your desktop machine or laptop.

Why? Because here, you have a huge amount more control. You can – and I do – use an app like Focus to make sure there are good chunks of time when none of this is in your face. You aren’t carrying this thing around with you all the time; you don’t pop it on the table in the cafe or bar or have it open when your kids are trying to talk to you over food: or at least – you sad fucker – you really shouldn’t.

The compromises

A few of these:

My smartphone lives on my desk where I can get to it for critical things like Google Authenticator or my banking apps. But I’ve also realised it’s ok to take it out and about sometimes without the SIM in it so I can listen to podcasts in the car or whatever.

I’ve realised I probably will want some kind of camera at some point – but actually a good one, one which is a joy to use and which I will choose to use with some distinction rather than in the scattergun smartphone way of fucking-hell-another-shot-better-take-that-and-never-look-at-it-again way.

[ I realise absolutely by the way that this would be a story of terrible irony if I ended up with a pocket full of other gadgets which merely replaced the previous really rather elegant single gadget solution – this is not the intention… I am aware… ]


Will I be doing this forever? I honestly don’t know. I feel way, way more connected to the world than I have done for a long time, which given the promise of connectivity spouted by the tech is supremely ironic – and as of right now I don’t think I’ll be going back any day soon. But who knows.

Is this for everyone? No.

Should everyone try it? Yes, I think you really should, even if it is for a day or a weekend or a week. Give it a go, see how it makes you feel. You may be very surprised.

In the way of the old Buddhist saying (“If you don’t have ten minutes to meditate, you should sit down and meditate for twenty minutes”) – if it makes you uncomfortable not having your smartphone for a day, maybe you should try not having a smartphone for a week…

“Free” lance

It’s generally thought that the earliest written usage of the word “Freelance” was in Walter Scott’s historical novel Ivanhoe, written in 1820:

I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances, and he refused them—I will lead them to Hull, seize on shipping, and embark for Flanders; thanks to the bustling times, a man of action will always find employment.

So this was a two-word construction – a free lancer, a medieval fighter who would battle for whichever side offered to pay them the best wage. (Already, this sounds kind of familiar…)

Battles aside, what’s interesting about the phrase is the word “free”. This is someone who has freedom: an ability to choose their own path – to follow the work, follow the money, determine their own way through a working life.

Freedom is what motivates many freelancers, myself included. It’s been 7 years since I last worked for someone else in a traditional sense: 7 years that I’ve been deciding my own direction, waking up and deciding whether to go to work or sit on my arse for the day, 7 years of trying and failing to work out whether there is such a thing as a “balanced cashflow”. 7 years where I’ve been able to decide to dip out for a day, a week or a month ..and so on..

“Free” is all well and good, but at it’s heart, the basic freelance equation for most of us* goes something like this:

do more work -> get more money

..which quickly becomes this:

Take a holiday -> get less money.
Take time off sick -> get less money.
Spend time with the kids -> get less money.
Look at the sea -> get less money.
Take time out to meditate -> get less money.
Go for a run -> get less money.

..which ultimately boils down to..


[* this is of course if you work (like most freelancers do)
with clients, and not (as many freelancers aspire to)
with some kind of product ]

Store than in your mind for a moment, and now pop the person who is dealing with this already hard equation into an environment in which they’re working on their own – possibly with a partner, but ostensibly without a supportive organisational structure to hold them up. Now throw in some “I don’t know if there will be any work at all next month, I’d better say yes to this bit” and it becomes clear why freelancing can quickly become anything but “free”. Stress is high amongst us, and it’s easy to see why.

On the other hand… this is the most liberating, exciting, wonderfully deterministic way of living that there is. For me, this has been, and continues to be, bloody brilliant. I love it, and have absolutely no idea how I’d ever work for someone else. It’d almost definitely be a disaster [note to self to not include this on my CV] if I ever found myself in a more “traditional” business with a boss and a fixed week.

But: there is no doubt that I have to fight to retain balance – which means I have to actively watch the way I live. Watching in this way reminds me very much of mindfulness practice – it’s about observing the self, being aware at all time as to what is meshing, and what is crashing. Sometimes I get it wrong (for me, my indicator of things being out of kilter is that I begin to suffer nasty bouts of insomnia) but it is only after a bunch of years doing this that I am getting to know myself and my ways. I don’t get it right all the time: I’m still very much a novice, and I learn new things all the time.

The finding of this balance is what I find interesting, and what I intend to write more about in future posts. I see freelance as something which has to be viewed holistically. Living a freelance life has (almost by its “free” definition) to involve fitness, good eating, balance of work and life, family – as well as all those things we’ve already been fairly exhaustive as a community in writing about: to-do software, deep work, attention deficit, limiting mobile use, and so on.

So: coming up – some thoughts on exercise, software, in-box strategies, quick recipes for freelancers (vegetarian, obviously), that sort of thing. Now: I’m stepping away from the screen to go do something more interesting instead 😉

We stayed on holiday by mistake

Sometime in 2012, my wife and I and our two boys (aged 5 and 8) moved from Bath — our home of more than a decade — to a tiny shack in the woods in North Devon.

We’d been happy in Bath: we’d started two new lives with the births of our kids, founded a business and a digital festival, met many lifelong friends, and we lived in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Our move was an itch, and we were lucky enough to be in the position to scratch it. It started with my wife looking at houses in Orkney and Shetland and that usual fantasy of living a different kind of life, just for a little while: a remote, more self-sufficient, more simple way of being. Our itch morphed from fantasy to reality with the realisation that we could do up our holiday home (the shack) and spend a year living in the country. A friend separating from his wife and needing a new home quickly gave us an easy option to rent out our house, and the planets aligned still further when we got the kids into a fantastic school just down the road in Devon.

Fast forward 5 years and we’re still here — no longer in the same house (we still own it and eventually managed to do it up, too — the proof is on airbnb — and yes, you should book up and stay, it’s the loveliest place you can possibly imagine…) but still in the area, 10 miles away over the border in Cornwall.

We never meant to stay. It was going to be a year-long project, and then back home to Bath. As it is, we found some things that we didn’t even know we were looking for — among them balance, simplicity, freedom and perspective.

Our move to the middle of nowhere happened at a time that is typically called a mid life crisis: I was hitting 40, when previous assumptions about longevity and health are no longer as easy to rely on. Suddenly you’re half way through a typical average life span, and the big questions — why am I here, what is it all for, what is the shape of the life I want to lead, how can I make a difference to the people I care about — loom large. The smaller questions take on new shapes, too: should I be saving, am I eating ok, is my work eating my life and, fuck, how many times have I looked at my mobile today…

When you don’t have a belief system mapped out — and I’m one of those people who was never religious (more C of E by default just because it was there and I quite liked a hymn) but has become more and more convinced about a secular life as I’ve got older — questions like this feel as if they need a different kind of framing, one which is a bit more deliberate and thoughtful. The move and our now-life has led me to think hard about the way that people can choose to live — particularly about how a freelance working life can be moulded to fit a deeper and more satisfying balance in a wider spectrum of reflection, reading, friendships and family.
I’ve written a lot before: a book, numerous articles, blog posts for myself and others, courses, essays, short stories, workshops, and (my ten-year project, still going..) a novel — but now feels like a good time to focus some thoughts on this particular set of questions.

So: that’s my intention with Coast. If you work for yourself, maybe if you’re middle-aged, if you’re someone who is trying (not always successfully) to find balance and flow while juggling (not literally) kids and life, if you’re someone who has the black dog at their heels sometimes…maybe what I write might resonate with you.

Peace out x

Letter to Scott Mann MP about the Syrian crisis

My very lovely wife just wrote this to Scott Mann, our local MP.

I read it, nodded so much my head nearly fell off and asked her if I could post it on my blog. She said yes.

Dear Mr Mann,

It is a year ago that I contacted you about my concerns about UK military intervention in Syria. At the time there seemed to be no certainty across those who supported UK bombing in the House of Commons about what it would achieve. In your response to me you said that your reason for supporting military action was to “defend our country and our people” (against ISIL). You also said that “we cannot sit on our hands on this issue, and I believe we must extend action to defend our country and protect the long term security of the Syrian population”.

A year on and I see THE worst scenes of horror and human suffering that I have every witnessed in my whole life time. The security of the Syrian population is now so far beyond secure that I am unable to comprehend the level of suffering taking place in Aleppo.

It seems that the UK government were not prepared to sit on their hands a year ago, but have done so for the people of Aleppo. We are standing by while a city is massacred. People like me. People like you. Young. Old. Male. Female. Children. Babies.

I have just looked on your twitter timeline and see nothing about this humanitarian crisis. I have just looked on the PM’s twitter timeline and see nothing about this humanitarian crisis. Really? You have nothing to say about this?

The civilians in Aleppo are being left to the mercy of Assad and other civilians in other cities will also suffer too if we continue to do nothing. We must act now so that other civilians in cities in Syria are spared the fate of the people of Aleppo.

As someone who felt strongly enough to vote FOR military action in Syria last year I hope very much that you attended the emergency debate on Syria in Parliament yesterday. If you did not I hope you can find a way to be involved in future debates and action. We must be looking ahead and trying to prevent such atrocities continuing. Civilians in Syria need our help. UK MPs should be focusing on this, rather than standing by and saying nothing.

I want to register my utter despair with you about the situation in Syria. I urge you to support and push for any humanitarian support the UK government can provide. I urge you to represent the many members of your constituency who feel the despair that I do as they watch the news each evening.

I urge to think about the civilians of Syria and search for ways as a Member of Parliament that you can help them.


Rachel Ellis
Bude, Cornwall.

Kids own too many gadgets

I’ve been resisting writing this, as I know it’ll get up some people’s noses. I know there’s a danger I’ll come across as fairly sanctimonious – and definitely an Old Victorian Arse. But you know, along with getting a bit older is a certain dontgiveashitness, so here goes.

My contention is this: things have gone badly awry in a world in which our kids (and by “kids” I’m focusing on 7-15 year olds) own their own gadgets, expect their own gadgets and spend most of their time glued to gadgets. As parents we should be thinking harder about this, and not resting on our arses quite so much.

Why (apart from the fact I’m a grumpy old git who thought the world used to be a better place when we were kids) do I think this..? Funny you should ask..

#1: adults are spreading their addiction

We have a problem. All of us. Me, you, that bloke over there. We go to the pub with our friends, and sit there looking at our phones. We walk down the street bumping into people because we’ve just seen another narcissistic fuckpump posting a picture of how beautiful they look in their carefully curated, manicured, beautiful Facebook world. We feel more naked leaving the house without our phone than we do leaving it without a key. We “don’t work in the evenings” but, sure, we read our work emails.

Our relationship with mobile devices is badly, badly skewed. And we’re passing it on blindly to our kids.

#2: the money is really badly fucked up.

I see kids, and we have friends, who own an iPad, an iPhone and maybe also a laptop as well. This is, what, £1500 worth of kit? And £600 of it they’re carrying around in their pocket. To school. To town. To the beach.

Stop and consider. And, unfashionable though it is, think about what things used to be like: what you had in your pocket when you were 10. For me it was all about spark plugs and springs and unidentifiable gadgets I’d pulled out of the back of radios.

The idea of a 10 or 11 year old kid owning something – anything – worth this much is, frankly, utterly insane. Not only do kids break shit all the time but they lose it too. And, to be honest (and much as it pains me to say it, as I run screaming from the room as my boys lose another shoe/Lego model/book/bit of homework/etc) – losing and breaking stuff is a kind of childhood right of passage. It’s that losing, breaking thing which teaches you not to, well, lose and break things. But, FFS, learn that stuff with a bit of broken radio and not the latest iPhone..

#3: kids owning gadgets = totally unnecessary.

Just to take an example from an – albeit slightly geeky – household: our two kids have access to the following: a PC, a laptop, a Macbook Pro, an old Macbook, an iPhone, an android phone, an iPad mini and a Hudl. Oh, not forgetting a few Raspberry Pi’s for good measure. They seriously aren’t wanting for gadgets.

The difference is these gadgets aren’t theirs, and so they have to ask to use them – and their time is limited when they are allowed. (Hint: sometimes they aren’t allowed. I know, crazy, huh?).

Also (really heading into “In my day…” territory now..) – we didn’t have phones when we were kids and we didn’t get murdered / lost / in trouble (alright, maybe a bit), so I’m really not sure that the “they need a phone for safety” reason washes. We all accept (with the exception of SHOUTY DAILY EXPRESS HEADLINES) that life isn’t any more dangerous now than it was then. So why do our kids suddenly need phones? And if they really do need to get in touch then why not a £4.99 Nokia dumbphone rather than a £600 iPhone?

#4: owning gadgets almost always means “unrestricted web access”

Most of our friends with kids aged 7-15 have totally unrestricted access to the web. Yes, you might foolishly believe that your ISP can provide complete protection from All The Bad Stuff, but we hopefully all know (we do, right..?) that this is total fiction.

The problem gets worse when kids have gadgets that they own: they install stuff, they go online whenever and wherever they want – and you as a parent lose visibility of what account they’re creating, what apps they’re using, who they’re talking to and when.

I have a problem with this. It’s great that kids get to go on the web. Is it great that they get to see the whole, unfiltered, crazy-assed tangle that’s out there without their parents having a scoobie what they’re doing? No, I don’t think it is. This isn’t about spying on our kids – it’s about slowly introducing them to the world out there so that they can cope with some of the subtleties we adults live with all the time. How do we know that source X is to be trusted? Should I click that link? Can I install this app safely?

#5: “….but my daughter has to have an iPhone because all her friends have iPhones“.

Peer pressure isn’t going to kill anyone. It didn’t kill us as kids when we wanted that Grifter and our mum couldn’t afford it, and bought us a home-painted racing bike instead, and it won’t kill our kids now.

The thing is, Life is this place where some people have things and some people don’t have things – and actually: this is ok. And – more importantly – the sooner kids get used to this and realise there are other paths to happiness than rampant materialism, the better.

Finally: “No” is a thing.

You’re a parent. And as such, you have the power to say “no”. You have the absolute right to say – “no, I’m not buying you that tablet for Christmas” or “not in your room” or “not now, you have homework to do” or “I’ve turned off the WiFi, read a book”. It’s your house, your rules, and you’re a responsible adult with the means to absolutely define how some things are going to be done.

Your kid may cry or stomp their feet or shout at you or run screaming from the room. But that’s OK. You’re a parent. They don’t have to like you all the time. That’s part of the journey, too.

I know. I’m a sanctimonious Victorian twat.

Letting kids on the web

I’ve got kids – they’re 7 and 10 – and they’re at that age when they are just starting to spend a bit more time online. The last few months have seemed like a good time to look around and see what other parents are doing, and make some decisions about how best to approach this.

The first observation I have from doing this looking around is a depressing one: parents are mostly clueless. They either don’t have a strategy: “oh, I just let him/her do what they like – they’re much more tech-savvy than me anyway”, or they have a “oh my god, this shit is evil, I never let them go on the web” thing going on. There doesn’t seem to be much that is moderate, measured or thoughtful. This strikes me as a mistake.

My thoughts are these:

Cameron’s Firewall is a terrible, dangerous thing.
It’s utterly (and to anyone with half a brain in their heads) obviously futile to try and categorise the web. There’s porn, yes, but the whole “esoteric content” thing includes – as we know – sex educaton sites, stuff on suicide, drugs, etc. This represents censorship, pure and simple, and is enough of a reason on its own to rally againt it. But – more dangerously – as this excellent article points out, it leaves (mostly clueless) parents feeling like their kids are safe – when they just aren’t.

Kids ultimately need to be taught how to create their own, personal filters
The problem we’re trying to teach our kids about here is this: there is some horrific, horrible shit out there, some total loons talking total bollocks, some awful images and all manner of viruses, phishing sites and god knows what else. Hiding this away from them, pretending it doesn’t exist: this is prohibition – and if we’ve learnt anything about prohibition it’s that it makes things more desirable, not less. See also: drugs, alcohol, fags…

The thing we want our kids to come away with is self-awareness and empathy. At that inevitable moment when they do stumble across something horrible on the web (and lets be really clear here, this absolutely is inevitable – if they can’t get it at your house, they’re sure as hell going to have a dodgy mate who knows how to get around their parents’ crappy filtering system) we want them to have the mental capacity and maturity to say “I have seen this, but I have the knowledge and toolset to know to ignore it, to move on, to tell someone”.

Now, there is an age at which this self-filtering can’t take place, because there isn’t enough maturity or knowledge to do it. I’d say for instance that my boys are much too young right now to begin to understand this. So unfettered access to the web isn’t going to happen, not for a while. But – when they’re a bit older, I fully intend to say to them – look, you can use the web at home and should you want to, it’s all there. But I trust you to know what’s right, what isn’t and when to come and ask us for help.

Make the internet a sociable thing
As of right now, and for the forseeable future, my kids aren’t having personal internet devices, laptops, PCs. They have access to all of these – we have ipads, phones, laptops, PCs around the house – and on occasion they can, and do, ask to use them. But I simply don’t understand any need whatsoever – at the ages they are – for them to have ipods, tablets or phones of their own. The internet is a sociable thing, done in social spaces with other people – if they browse the web they don’t do it in their own room but downstairs where we are. This seems important to me, a way of making them and us feel safe. The moment will come when they get personal devices, but that time isn’t here yet, and I have to say I do find it kind of weird when kids this age have their own screens – it seems highly superfluous to me, and potentially dangerous.

Give them an email address
I have no issue whatsoever with my kids having their own email addresses – in fact having taught lots of CodeClub classes I can say that kids not having an email address badly gets in the way of stuff. Also – if they’ve got an email address they can set up stuff like Lego profiles, I can email them interesting things, and so on and so forth. What we’ve done though is to set up gmail accounts for them where all incoming email also gets cc’d to me – so I can keep an eye on anything dodgy coming in. They know this – it’s not a secret – and in time I’ve said I’ll turn it off, but it seems a sensible safeguard for now.

That’s it for now. It’s a changing strategy, but I think the fundamental points will remain the same whatever age they are – transparency, freedom, responsibility – but within a framework of safety.

The life project

My good friend @bealers just posted “Make life a side project” and it got me thinking.

My first reaction was something along the lines of shutup-you-crazy-person but now I’m veering slightly more to ah-i-think-i-kinda-see-what-you-mean. But not much.

The main thing that I reacted to was this notion of “sideness”. Putting life (yeah, we need to talk about what we all mean by that in a mo..) into a box marked “side project” seems to me to do something that’s potentially quite dangerous: It makes life “just another activity”, one which can be stalled, cut down to the minimum, fitted in around everything else, somehow made efficient.

I try* to think of this shit in a different way, a way that is a bit more redolent of Buddhist ways of thinking. I tend to think of us as being submerged in our lives, in life – and that the other shit that comes along: money, stress, illness, death even – are momentary interference. Another way of putting it: we float in life, and these things are ripples, tides, storms – but passing, not enduring.

There’s another complication here – one which Tolle alludes to when he talks about “life situation” – he famously said “Forget about your life situation and pay attention to your life”. This distinction between life and situation is crucial, I think, and “making life a side project” seems to miss this point.

* I say try above – because I am, like many of my peers – struggling a bit right now to keep things on the straight and narrow. Work balance, life balance, ill parents, moving house, finding time for the important things – this stuff can be a bit of a battle, and I’m not at my most shining at this moment.

But if there is one thing that I’ve taken away from all the reading, meditation, study and listening that I’ve done over the past ten years it is that things aren’t going to get better – by that I don’t mean fuck this shit, it’ll never get better but the notion of future-me-is-a-BETTER-me (or it’ll-all-be-great-as-soon-as-I’ve…) is a mind construct full of deceit. Those highlight reels on Instagram, the 18th new Javascript framework that just came out and YOU JUST GOTTA LEARN IT TO BE COOL, the new way of working, the smarter office you’re dreaming of, the future when business just ticks along and you get to spend time with your family on your yacht – these are all ok things to aspire to but as soon as they start running your life, you’re sunk.

The truth is this: you’re you, and life is now.




Childproofing relationships

So this piece: Who comes first, your partner or your kids? did the rounds yesterday. Go read it if you haven’t then come back…

I was struck by the negative comments to the piece – and also the fact that people clearly seem to think this is an OUTRAGEOUS thing to say. Personally, I read it and thought “er, yeah, that’s absolutely right. Of course it is. How could you possibly argue otherwise..?”

Looking back at 8 years of parenting we’ve always (not with any particular grand plan) done three things that seem to fit what Marshall says:

1) always said a firm and absolute no (apart from moments of illness where it was absolutely necessary and those first few weeks of non-sleep hell when – frankly – anything goes) to having kids in our bed.

2) Had a solid evening / bedtime routine back to very early on which still maintains to this day – thereby giving us “adult time” after the youth are in bed. No pissing about with fussing “I don’t want to go to bed” kids, no “oo, go to bed when you want” (IMO: wishy-washy bollocks that confuses the fuck out of both adults and kids alike), but a known, solid time when The World is No Longer For The Children. I should say BTW that now ours are 8 and 6 we can adapt this bed-time should we fancy a family night at the boozer or whatever – and the boys are very happy now being out and about until late every so often – but it’s only IMO by having a routine that you can break it once in a while…

3) Always been very open in our affection for each other and – more importantly – our solidarity as a married, coherent, loving unit. We spend a lot of time being supportive of each other’s parenting rather than combatative – I think we both know how hard the other works both in work (money-earning) terms and in family work. (To see the opposite of how I think this works, try reading that bullshit article recently about money being the last taboo in a relationship – there you’ll find a childish, gnarly, nit-picky way of being in a relationship which is wholly NOT how this should go if you want stuff to last IMO..)

We have – I know – been pretty lucky. We’ve got kids who (now) sleep like logs every night. They don’t come and find us in the middle of the night. They don’t fuss about bed-time. I really – REALLY – feel for people who have problems with this stuff. But….I also believe that parents are quite often walked all over by their kids, and this can quickly become a vicious circle: needy kids that always get what they want (“I won’t eat vegetables! I won’t sleep!” – er, yeah you will if you’re hungry and tired enough…) end up taking and taking – usually at the expense of increasingly tired and increasingly unable-to-cope parents – who inevitably, obviously, end up giving the kids what they want. Getting kids to eat non-crap, or into a solid sleep routine, or liking reading, or not spending 24 hours a day looking at a screen or..whatever – is bastard hard work – but you persevere, and persevere and persevere. And eventually it works.

The main thing for me, though, is this: If your solid central unit of family – (in our, traditional case, the man and woman who started it all..) – falls apart, then so does everything else. You and your partner are the hub of the whole thing, the central bit that everything else revolves around. This doesn’t mean (OBVIOUSLY – I hope) that you don’t love your children more than anything on earth – but if you don’t give yourselves time to consolidate, be together, talk about what’s working and what isn’t, be intimate, drink wine – whatever – then it’s gonna break. This central relationship needs as much – probably more – help to maintain than the relationship with the kids.


How long writing takes

For a long, long time, The Bone People was my favourite work of fiction. I haven’t been back to it for a long while, but found a battered copy again recently and have started it again. As I started it I was wondering whether it’d fit into that “I enjoyed it when I was a teenager but I’ve grown up now” thing – but instead I’m being reminded what a blindingly original, beautifully deep roller-coaster of a story it is.

I did a quick Google search for the author, Keri Hulme – and landed on this page which describes in some detail the astonishing journey behind the novel. Hulme won the Booker Prize with The Bone People in 1985, and also published a selection of short stories which I’ve also read (and recommend) but apart from that her literary career has been somewhat sparse. It seems amazing in some ways that an author who writes with the extraordinary scope and creativity represented in The Bone People hasn’t been more prolific, but this is explained perhaps by the obsession which obviously drove her to write it in the first place. According to the piece on the New Zealand Book Council site, one of the three characters of the novel, Simon Peter, a mute boy of unknown age and origin, began haunting Hulme’s dreams an incredible 17 years before she wrote and found success with the novel. The article describes the journey she took – and in particular how this character kept appearing in some form in her short stories, being slowly moulded into the person he is in the final work. It also explains how Hulme had to fight to keep the original text as various editors and publishers tried to cull it.

I found this stuff very interesting from a budding writers’ perspective – not only does it make me feel better about the long time it seems to be taking me to pull together a chunky piece of fiction, but also that this strange, ongoing, intimate relationship with the characters you’re writing about seems to be quite common amongst those of us trying to write a novel. I think a lot about my main protagonist, Palmer while I’m out and about – and find I’m very often coming back to ask: “what would he do here? how would he react now? can I use this somehow?”. Hulme’s obsession with this lost boy character was obviously hugely intense and drove her through nearly two decades of writing before arriving at some kind of end-point. I don’t dream about my characters (yet..!) but find it fascinating that they occupy large chunks of my thinking time. As a reasonably new arrival in the land of fiction writing, I also find it reassuring that this process of writing can go on over a long period of time and still reach some kind of satisfying and rounding conclusion.

Printing is broken.

In fact, as the ever-spot-on Oatmeal says: Printers were sent from Hell to make us miserable.

I own a printer. I’d rather not, and I run a mostly paper-free life, but there are still occasions when I need to print stuff – end of year stuff, the odd invoice, a letter or two.

Every single time I dust off my printer, these things happen:

  • The ink runs out. I go to Smiths, spend half an hour looking at a vast wall of different cartridges for printers with slightly different model numbers before realising that my exact model isn’t represented here and so I apparently need to order online instead
  • I go to Amazon and find an incredible array of possible inks – the official ones come in at about half the price of my printer. Let’s consider that again: my printer costs £45 new. The ink costs £25. This is like filling up a £5,000 car with £2,500 of petrol every time you want to use it.
  • I inevitably choose a dodgy non-HP ink and then suffer a deeply irritating “non compatible HP ink will DESTROY YOUR LIFE” message until that ink runs out too (normally only about 3 minutes, I grant you, but hey)
  • The printer crunks 15 sheets of paper with every print
  • The printer requires a 100 Tb driver download every time I’m in a hurry
  • If something breaks, I have absolutely no option but to bin the printer. I believe as an individual I have owned at least 5 inkjet printers in the last 10 years.

We all just accept this as the norm, and it’s obscene.

I refuse to believe that printers are SO complicated they need official inks, or can’t have replacement parts. I refuse to believe that in this year of our lord 2013, we can’t build a device that’ll print out one page of text without performing complicated origami techniques on the next 14 pages in the tray. I refuse to believe that I absolutely MUST download that fucking printer application, edit suite, Chrome toolbar, desktop helper and new OS in order to PRINT A FUCKING LETTER.

I’d much rather pay £100 upfront for a decent, open-sourced printer. One where I could buy spare parts and £5 replacement cartridges.

If it were on Kickstarter, I’d fund that shit.