Category Archives: Words

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!

I’m Back

When I started this blog, back in February 2001, its title meant something: Life – because it was a journal of mine – and Less Literary – because I didn’t want anything on it to be over-thought, over-worked. This was a very deliberate strategy, prompted by the fact that I’d spent the last couple of years intending to put more writing online, but was stymied by my own perfectionism.

In those early days the volume of stuff I wrote on here was, with hindsight, phenomenal. Often several posts per day, some of them surprisingly lengthy. I quickly built up an archive of stuff on diverse topics than in later years became the stuff of legend and mockery. I migrated from Blogger to some-other-platform-whose-name-I-forgot to WordPress, and moved servers at least a couple of times. I added various templates and plugins, most of which have died in some way or other over the years (any WordPress experts out there fancy helping me with some housekeeping?) And gradually, year by year, my written output slowed down. Until we reach the present day, where it seems hard for me to scrape together even one post per year – and even then it’s usually when someone dies.

Then last night, in a beer-fuelled conversation with Si Wilson and Emma Jane Hogbin Westby somebody suggested that I write blog posts to help firm up my thinking on technical topics. Which is something I’ve been meaning to do for yonks but, yeah, perfectionism. And then I was reminded of the original purpose of this blog, of the title of the bloody thing, and I thought “fuck it. It’s time to get less literary again”.

And so, here I go, again. I hope this will be the start of a renaissance of less-literaryism. I would love to post here every day, but I suspect that a couple of times per week would be a more realistic target. Please harass me if I don’t. The contents will be a little more technical than in the past (funnily enough, for somebody who has worked mainly as a developer for the last 20 years, I’ve managed to maintain this blog for 14 of those years with a surprisingly low level of pollution from overly-dry code samples and technical arguments; it was too good to last). But there will still be plenty of random shit. Enough, I hope, that I will be able to look back in ten years’ time and say, in response to a discussion on any topic under the sun, “oh, I wrote a blog post about that in 2015”.

social networking

For almost 18 months now, I’ve been meaning to blog about my “current situation” (admittedly a moving target over that period). But my blogging has gone stale: I only wrote 8 posts in 2008 – in the distant past there have been single days when I’ve almost managed this many (the period leading up to September 11 2001 seems to have been particularly fertile). But what’s even more obvious to me is that I didn’t write anything of substance in 2008, just quick status updates and links to photos I’d taken.
Continue reading social networking

Ones to Watch – Baby Long Legs

Published in this month’s Sandman Magazine:

For some thirty years now, the phrase “prog rock” has been a dirty term, uttered only in whispers or among clandestine groups. And while the sombre musical odysseys of Yes are still beyond the pale for most sane-thinking people, increasing cross-pollination of musical genres means that elements of prog have started to creep in through the back door. And about time too.

Enter Baby Long Legs. This band aren’t afraid to chuck the occasional obscure time-signature into their folk-tinged pop songs, but they always do so gently, and with a sense of humour: more reminiscent of Caravan and other Canterbury-scene bands than of more pompous and po-faced practitioners of “symphonic rock”. You couldn’t imagine Baby Long Legs ever composing hour-long paeans to imaginary oceans; instead they stick to three-minute pop songs with oodles of added quirkiness (“stick it where you like, it’s made of felt so it’ll stay there”), like a slightly crusty version of Ooberman.

Seeing Baby Long Legs live is always a treat. The whirling tunes and driving rhythms, the hotchpotch of instruments (it’s a given that, at some point in the evening, a trombone and a penny whistle will put in an appearance), the da-riddle-me-dee sing-alongs, the angelic clarity of the lead guitar-lines, the mullets (ahem), and the mischievous grins which show that the band are enjoying themselves every bit as much as their audience. Seasoned Sheffield gig goers will no-doubt spot a few familiar faces, among them past and present members of Chicken Legs Weaver, Rumpus and Monkey Swallows the Universe. Baby Long Legs has already acquired a devoted following in Sheffield, and truly deserves recognition on a wider scale.

Definition of the word “Luftmensch”

Jeez, I just posted that Merriam Webster entry while reading through my email, and then I open up the next day’s (today’s) word – even more fascinating, useful and, err, relevant to my current situation:

The Word of the Day for Jul 27 is:
luftmensch \LOOFT-mensh (“OO” as in “foot”)\ noun: an impractical contemplative person having no definite business or income

Example sentence:
“The son …,” wrote American author Irving Howe, “is leaving to be a luftmensch ” a starving poet, a painter without pictures, a radical leader without followers.”
Did you know?
Are you someone who always seems to have your head in the clouds? Do you have trouble getting down to the lowly business of earning a living? If so, you may deserve to be labeled a “luftmensch.” That airy appellation is an adaptation of the Yiddish “luftmentsh,” which breaks down into “luft” (a Germanic root that can be tied linguistically to the English words “loft” and “lofty”), meaning “air,” plus “mentsh,” meaning “human being.” “Luftmensch” was first introduced to English prose in 1907, when Israel Zangwill wrote “The word ‘Luftmensch’ flew into Barstein’s mind. Nehemiah was not an earth-man …. He was an air-man, floating on facile wings.”

*Indicates the sense illustrated in the example sentence.



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