Category Archives: In My Life

Peakrill Press

Our h
Our new house in the North Pennines, during Storm Arwen

2021 was a landmark year for us. After starting and ending a new job in Sheffield’s Moor Market at the end of 2020, I spent the year unemployed; the strangeness of COVID-19 bored on; and in June, we sold our house and left Sheffield, after 23 very happy years living there.

We did not have a new house to move to, and so spent two months driving around the country, staying with friends and relatives or sleeping in our little van. It was a fun time, but my back didn’t half suffer!

At the end of August we moved to our new forever home, Middlehope Lodge, bang in the horizontal middle of the country, not far below Scotland. Out on its own the countryside, no other houses in sight, with a (rather rickety) barn and outhouses plus a third-of-an-acre of garden, it’s remote. Or, as we like to call it, “on the edge of nowhere”: the nearest village, St John’s Chapel, is a little under 2 miles walk, and has 2 pubs, a café, a Co-op store, school, garage, doctor’s and ambulance station – all the essentials!

We’re also off-grid: when we moved in, electricity was solely provided by a 12v leisure battery, although we have since added solar panels: enough to pump our water, run a freezer, and charge laptops & phones. Plus there’s a generator for emergencies. It’s heated solely by a Rayburn and one wood-stove, (barely) powering two tiny radiators, and one half of the house rarely gets above the ouside temperature. We have no Internet (we can just about get a mobile signal, if atmospheric conditions are right, by leaning a phone up in the top-right corner of the bedroom window), no TV, and like to spend our evenings reading to one another and crafting (although Gill has taken to downloading films on her tablet). We love it!

There are hares and deer and rabbits and barn owls and kestrels all over the place, with red kites just over the hill. Moving to the countryside has been a lifelong dream for Gill, who spent happy childhood holidays at a family friend’s in the remote Scottish isle of Kerrera. And so here we are, with our chickens (and hopefully soon a new dog – our beloved Toto just made it into 2022, but sadly died a few days ago at the age of 13).

All of which means that life is quite a bit cheaper for us now, but I still need a job (in fact, neither of us has been working since we moved here). I’ve ruled out the tech industry, after a very messy situation at my former job a couple of years ago which made me realise that I am too old/tired/confused/mental/disillusioned/scared to work in the tech industry any more (although I half fancy training people to program), and my increasingly cranky bipolar disorder makes me feel like I can never stick out a “regular” job.

Salvation has, perhaps, come via a very unexpected route. As a kid, I was obsessed with roleplaying games: Dungeons & Dragons from the age of 10 and, subsequently, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. I gave them up as a childish thing at the age of around 20, but my old books & zines have remained in the attic these subsequent 30 years.

During the first COVID lockdown, I had those old rulebooks out and was browsing through them and, with a lot of spare time on my hands, got the urge to start playing again. I was introduced to a bunch of folks half my age, and had the most wonderful fun playing D&D online with them. And as time passed, I got more and more drawn into the world of “tabletop roleplaying games”, reading blogs and eventually starting to write my own games content.

At the end of 2021 I took things a stage further, and joined a “zine jam”, SideQuest 2021. This involved setting up a Kickstarter to raise funds to publish my own zine (“Mostly Harmless Meetings – a zine of countryside encounters”; basically a list of vignettes which can be inserted into fantasy games, inspired by the flora, fauna and folklore of the English countryside). I’d budgeted £400 to cover printing and posting perhaps up to 50 magazines. Things took off far more than I’d expected, I ended up getting over 150 pledges for physical copies of the zine, and another 100 for the PDF – raising over £2100 in all. I estimate that, after costs, this will leave me with perhaps £1000 profit.

This got me thinking: if (and it’s a big if) I could manage something similar every 2 months, that would bring in £500 a month – not even minimum wage but, like I said, our outgoings are greatly reduced. Plus I may be able to scratch out some extra cash doing odd jobs (I recently helped a local farmer with shearing their sheep’s tails, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and the idea of working outdoors appeals to me, after a lifetime sat at desks).

So I have taken the plunge and founded Peakrill Press. I’ve got 10 ISBNs and I intend to use them! Mostly Harmless Meetings will be my first publication, and I have a whole bunch of things already planned for 2021. In fact, since making that list I have added another planned zine: “nanodeities”, loosely inspired by Terry Pratchett’s novel Small Gods. Nanodeities will be a compendium of completely insignificant gods, goddesses and goddexxes. Each will have their own backstory and portrait – hopefully to be provided by Rich Tingley – and each will also have statistics for use in games such as D&D. The basics for each deity will be spewed out at random by my Twitter bot @deitygalaxy.

But before all of that, I have another Kickstarter launching at the beginning of February, Learning to Draw Trees…

Bodge magazine December, featuring my ancient yew

Throughout 2021 I had a monthly page in Bodge Magazine called Learning to Draw Trees. It was exactly that: one tree per month, with the hope that over the year I would get better at it. I did. Much better. And so my next zine/book is a collection of all 12 drawings, plus extra pictures and sketches, plus thoughts and advice based on what the project taught me. And, to keep the project gaming-adjacent and hopefully attract a few pledges from those TTRPGers, it contains a small pullout roleplaying game called You Are A Tree by Côme Martin.

Please sign up to be notified on the launch of the Learning to Draw Trees Kickstarter.

My tree drawings will also, hopefully, be another revenue stream. I had a couple of enquiries about buying prints last year, but wanted to keep that year purely for learning. Now that it’s 2022, I plan to produce prints, T-shirts, mugs – perhaps even sell the odd original, if my mum can bear not to have any of them on her wall. I’ve yet to figure out how all of that will work, watch this space!

So, after two years with no idea what I could do for the rest of my life, an answer seems to have come to me. One which makes me really, really happy. I do hope it works: financially, it’s not going to be easy, and I will appreciate any and all support that my friends can give: it would be especially helpful if you could share/cross-promote my Peakrill projects.

Like I said, watch this space. And perhaps also follow Peakrill Press on Twitter, and watch the Peakrill blog too. Thanks!

What is the “Refugee Crisis”? And why should you care?

AKA: why are there suddenly refugees everywhere, and when are they going to go away? (Hint: never)

This is a summary of the notes I took on the first day of the effect.org “Hacking the Refugee Crisis” expedition in Athens. More on that in a bit, but first…

Crisis, What Crisis?

Today, globally, there are 65 million displaced people. More than ever before.

Refugees have always existed. In the past, a country would go to war; people would be displaced; they’d spend a year or two as refugees; and eventually return home.

Today though, the problem is chronic. Global warming and permanent instability means displaced people no longer have homes to return to. Folks are born and grow up as refugees.
Continue reading What is the “Refugee Crisis”? And why should you care?

Vibrant Sheffield

I recently attended Grant Thornton’s Sheffield “Vibrant Economy” Live Lab at the Millennium Galleries.

This day-long workshop was intended to “bring together key leaders and influencers … to co-create a visionary identity for Sheffield and the wider city region”, posing the question “How can Sheffield become the innovation and creativity capital of Europe?”

It’s easy to by cynical (many of my friends are) about a swish event, laid on by a big financial consultancy firm, around a woolly, warm, fuzzy-sounding topic. But I like to approach things with an open mind. I have heard good things about Sacha Romanovitch, Grant Thornton’s new CEO, and the kind of right-thinking policies she’s implementing. I was sure it would at least be an interesting day.

It was. And it was inspiring. It generated reams of ideas — good, bad, intermediate, and plain silly — for the betterment of Sheffield. And, coming to it fresh from Thinking Digital conference in Newcastle/Gateshead, my mind was fully fired-up for some brainstorming and refining of big audacious plans.
Continue reading Vibrant Sheffield

Sheffugees

This weekend I attended a “Sheffield refugee hackathon” organised by the folks at Yoomee. I really wasn’t sure what to expect, having never been to a hackathon before, and being unsure how well the fairly specific set of application-development skills I’ve been using over the last few years would generalise to building something that could be of benefit to refugees and asylum-seekers, but it was a great experience and I’m really looking forward to the next one (which should be happening in around 6 weeks time).
Continue reading Sheffugees

Just Giving

No doubt you’ve noticed me spamming you these last few days with links to my charity fundraising page. This will be the last time, please read it…

If you’re anything like me, you may well be thinking “yeah, yeah, doing something that you enjoy & would probably have done anyway, then claiming some noble cause for it. I’m not falling for that”.

In a way, you’d be right. This has been an amazing experience for me, and one that I’m really glad to have had. And I could probably have found ways to raise the money that would involve me having slightly less fun.

But the end result has been that, through persuading and cajoling and haranguing, I (or rather you) have raised almost £1700 for one amazing charity. And that’s ALL for the charity: this isn’t one of those jollies where the cost of the trip comes out of the amount raised; I have paid my way in hotel bills and ferry fares, and right down to the energy bars & support van costs.

I URGE you to take a quick look at my chosen charity, and the amazing work they do – including running the UKs only refuge for young people under 16, by visiting their website at safeatlast.org.UK

And, if you can afford anything more to support this valuable work, even if it’s only a quid, then please help me end this weekend with a bang by donating on my justgiving page, or by texting “DANS95 £1″ to 70070. You know, we’re not all that far off raising £2000 together right now…

www.justgiving.com/dansumption2

(Please share, if you feel so inclined)

No Riot Here

Last night, I went for a cycle ride around the inner suburbs of Sheffield. On the way, I started tweeting about the everyday scenes I was seeing, and the fact that there were no riots, using the #noRiotsHere hashtag (I plucked the hashtag out of thin air: it turns out one of two people had used it earlier in the day, although not in Sheffield). You can see a collection of my evening’s cycling/noRiotHere tweets on Storify. Soon, other people started joining in, and by the time I got home #noRiotHere was trending in Sheffield.

A few people accused me of “trolling for riots” – most did it humorously, one or two seemed genuinely confused about what I was doing. So I’ll try to account for myself here…

First and foremost, I was going for a bike ride. It’s something I’ve done a lot recently (especially since getting my new bike), generally heading West from our house into the Peak District, the hills and moors around Strines and Bradfield. I’d already been considering taking a more urban ride, exploring some of the parts of Sheffield I hardly know, and I was running out of country lanes within easy cycling distance.

But I think what really galvanised me was the steady stream of rumours I’d been reading about incipient riots in Sheffield. As I follow a lot of people on Twitter and Facebook, and a majority of them are in Sheffield, I’d seen endless rumour and counter-rumour – in particular about civil disorder starting up on London Road. The excellent South Yorkshire Police twitter feed had been quashing these rumours all day, but I felt that some people would feel more reassured if they heard that someone they know had been there and reported back that all was peaceful.

And so I set off in the direction of London Road. My initial plan had just been to go there, check out the area, and then return home, but as I got closer my head started whirling with memories of other “riot-prone” areas people had been tweeting earlier, and as I felt like I could handle a much longer cycle ride, I decided to roam further afield. The idea for “#noRiotHere” literally came to me as I was cycling along (as is true of so many good ideas). I didn’t just want to give people the bare fact of “no riot here”, I wanted to emphasise the fact that normal things were going on, that people could and ought to make an evening of it, walk in the evening sunshine, go to the pub, treat it as a normal evening and not hide behind closed curtains. And so I started to tweet one mundane but beautiful thing that I saw in each suburb I passed through (admittedly I eventually started to tire of the mundane but beautiful, and resorted to the slightly comical instead).

I realised, of course, that to anyone outside Sheffield reading my updates, I could come across as insufferably smug; I thought (with apologies to all in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester and elsewhere) that this was a price worth paying. Civic pride breeds more civic pride, and I thought it better to try instilling some of this before riots started. Last night’s #steelcitynotstealcity/#steelnotsteal hashtags did the same thing. To be honest, I thought there was already enough pride in this wonderful city to prevent people from smashing it up (particularly while the city’s youth are still basking in the memory of the incredible and inclusive Tramlines festival). But how to know what other people think? This week I’ve heard, via Twitter and Radio 5 Live, many cries of confusion and disbelief from residents of the riot-hit cities; how are we to know until something kicks off whether our civic pride that “Sheffield is different” is justified or just hubris?

And finally, I wasn’t trolling for riots, and was 95% certain I wouldn’t find any, but I was prepared – at least inasmuch as I had a fast bike, a mobile phone, and my wits about me. If I had stumbled on some disorder, I would have informed the police if necessary, informed Twitter whether necessary or not (it’d be stupid to deny that I’d feel the slightest bit smug for sharing the news before anyone else, massively outweighed of course by sadness at unrest in my home city), and a small part of me hopes that I might have been able to mobilise a public tut-mob early enough to shame potential rioters into going home. A stupidly vain fantasy, of course, but I think we should all be defined by our stupidly vein fantasies.

As it turned out, I had a lovely cycle ride, got to see parts of this beautiful city which are normally hidden to me (including the most amazing view from Gleadless), had a bit of fun along the way, and spawned an idea which was proudly reported on Radio Sheffield this morning. Sorry to be smug (and fingers crossed that this isn’t hubris), but it was a good night for Sheffield.

Desert Island Disco

A few weeks ago, Cherry Red Promotions very kindly asked me to play my Desert Island Discs at their monthly Desert Island Disco at The Shakespeare in Sheffield. Here are the tracks I picked, in the order in which I played ‘em. Lizzie also produced a little booklet, handed out on the night, and the following descriptions appeared in it:

1: The Lake of Puppies – Largelife
I got married to this song! “To have and to hold, the stuff in my hands, and if my hands are small, all that I hold must be even smaller…. Be it a large or a small world, nothing is larger than life.”

2: Cardiacs – Manhoo
Cardiacs are the one constant in my life: I could have filled this entire list with their songs. Manhoo is perfect pop, something the Beatles would have written if they’d still been on-form in the mid-90s. I like to think of it as the final word on all the Blur/Oasis nonsense going on at the time.

3: Material – Disappearing
As a student bass player, I had four heroes: first Lemmy, then JJ Burnel, Chris Squire, and finally Bill Laswell. Laswell introduced me to a world of music I had no idea existed (after 20 consecutive listens to Last Exit’s Noise of Trouble, I suddenly “got” free noise). He made me realise I didn’t need heroes any more. This is one of his funkiest tracks, which also introduced me to the sax of Henry Threadgill and guitar of Sonny Sharrock, both of whom also deserve to be on my desert island.

4: The Fuzztones – 1-2-5
Makes me feel like a teenager again.

5: Ronald Shannon Jackson & The Decoding Society – When We Return
A beautiful, mysterious beginning and ending, joined by the most insane-yet-somehow-logical magical manic middle mess. The world’s greatest drummer keeps time while Vernon Reid rocks his fucking socks off. If I could just keep one of the eight, it would be this.

6: Claude Debussy – Claire de Lune
It feels like these five minutes describe an entire lifetime: from the first tentative movements of a baby, through increasing confidence and experience, to a noble, wise and peaceful death. When you bury me, please do it to this piano piece.

7: Caspar Brötzmann Massaker – Tribe
…and when I come back as a zombie, I’d like to hear this pumping out at a few hundred decibels. Immense! Terrifying! German!

8: Ooberman – Blossoms Falling (accoustic version)
Sunday morning lie-ins. True love. Warm, fuzzy perfection. Love you Gill!

Book:Viriconium Nights by M John Harrison
Reading this, during a lost-weekend in Amsterdam, changed my life. Made me realise stories don’t need endings, fantasies aren’t real, and some people waste a lifetime trying to get to the other side of the looking-glass. I think I grew up that weekend. This book contains nothing but language and imagery; but I could lose myself forever in it.
Buy Viriconium by M John Harrison on Amazon

Luxury: an oojamaflip
One thing I’m forever searching for, so I probably ought to have one handy on my desert island.

Of course, eight records is never enough. I brought a few extra, in the hope that there’d be some spare time at the end, and indeed there was – I managed to slip in a whole side of the Cramps’ Off The Bone. But what really limited me was not being able to play many very long tracks. Here’s a couple which have just as much right to be included as the other eight:

9: Henry Threadgill’s Very Very Circus – Hope A Hope A
One of the most sublime orchestrations ever created – who else but Henry Threadgill would replace the bass with two tubas, and back up battling electric guitars with a trombone and a french horn. I saw this live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with my friend Ed: probably the best gig I’ve ever been to.

10: Igor Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring
When I was around 19, I decided to “get into” classical music. So I picked a CD at random from my Dad’s collection. Boy, was I surprised. It knocked me off my feet, punkier than the punkiest punk I’d ever heard. It was The Rite of Spring, performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra (still the most violent version of this music I’ve ever heard – and I’ve heard many). However, for my desert island I think I’d pick Fazil Say’s four-handed piano version: surprisingly, just as rich and dischordant as the orchestral version, at times more so.

Finally, one of the other desert islanders picked a Blur track for his list, and explained that he’d listened almost exclusively to classical music until Blur awakened him to the possibilities of popular music. I hadn’t though about this beforehand, but Blur did something very similar for me: from around 1990 to 1995, I listened only to jazz, improvised music and other forms of avant-garde noiseism. I considered myself above crass pop songs. Then by chance I saw a Blur video, Sunday Sunday, on a late night TV show, and I was surprised by the intelligence and beauty of it. From then on, I never looked down on pop music, and my tasted expanded to include a bit of everything. So I really owe a place in this list to Blur, and of all their tracks I think the one I’d pick is the oh-so-beautiful Tender.

Postscript: I’m loving the SEO Smart Links WordPress plugin, if only because its automatically-generated links remind me of stuff I wrote ages ago and have forgotten. Case in point: Check out the “Henry Threadgill” and “When We Return” links above.