Category Archives: Work

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!

TDD: When Not To Unit Test

Often when I speak to development teams about their technical debt, one of the issues they highlight is lack of unit test coverage. “We only have 30% coverage, so we’re hoping to set aside some time next sprint to get more tests in place. Our latest work all has 100% coverage, but there’s a lot of code from way-back-when which is completely lacking in tests”.

This seems to me to misunderstand the purpose of unit testing. I can see how this misunderstanding comes about: there is a general acceptance that tests are good, and that a high level of test coverage is good, therefore increasing coverage must be a worthwhile thing. Right?
Continue reading TDD: When Not To Unit Test

2008: Work

Like I said, I’ve been meaning to post a summary of my last 18 months. Perhaps easier if I split it into two: work, and personal. So, work: I started freelancing in the middle of 2007, and I’ve done a whole bunch of interesting jobs since then (see my CV for full details).
Continue reading 2008: Work

Sheffield Bench store launch party

On Thursday night, I was hired to photograph the launch of Bench‘s new flagship shop at Sheffield’s Meadowhall, and the subsequent VIP party.

Mani (Stone Roses/Primal Scream) and The Yell at Bench VIP party

I have to admit, my hopes weren’t that high. I mean, how exciting can a Meadowhall shop be? Well, how wrong could I be? The shop was amazing, and the evening even more so.
Continue reading Sheffield Bench store launch party

So Safe

Well, we finally launched the So Safe website – it officially goes live at a presentation tomorrow morning, at which I have to speak following a 5am train journey down from Sheffield (was going to travel tonight but… been busy trying to make things work).

I’m still not very happy with the site, especially the Flash bits which I tried to throw together today with too little understanding/memory of how to do so, and which as a result don’t work quite as they should (and it shows). I am, however, absurdly proud of the Photo Exhibition and the fact that I came as damn close to the W3C Web Content Accessibilty Guidelines as is possible on a Flash website (OK, almost, I still have to implement the Macromedia accessibilty gumph). It really is the simple things that make me the happiest.

Now I just want to spend the rest of my life* building straightforward, information-based totally accessible websites, like the Westall Artists one I mentioned the other day. I get a warm glow from that kind of stuff.

*except for the time spent with Gill, the kids and the allotment, of course.

More Published Writing now Online

I finally put some more of my written work online – in print has 5 new articles in it, 2 Brand Republic book reviews and 3 pieces for FAD, the new magazine on Fashion, Art and Design which Mark & I are putting together with our chums!

I would greatly appreciate any comments and constructive criticism on this work… by email or using the little comments link below.

Direct Marketing, Kiwi Juice and Office Gossip

Another weird dream (real-world tie-ins in the footnotes). I?ve lost most of it in the intervening couple of hours, but it seemed to centre around a meeting with Steve B of LeoNCo (sorry, can?t give complete names here because search engines have a nasty habit of spidering my pages and giving them undue prominence in embarrassing situations [oops – that search used to bring my Christmas Party pictures up at #2] where a company forgets to build its own website). Steve wanted us to undergo a second merger, and he had a huge list of direct marketing companies from which I was to pick our new partner. I hadn’t heard of any of them1 (well, maybe one or two), and I insisted that he choose, as he knew the industry inside-out, whereas I only know the Internet side of things. But nevertheless he kept pushing me for a reply, sparking off some kind of quest for the ultimate below-the-line agency which took on epic proportions (would probably have made a good movie. Then again, maybe not).

At another point in the dream, I was making fruit juice, the hard way – with my hands. I had a huge tub (like a water butt: green, plastic and barrel-like) full of green fruit (mainly apples and kiwis). I kept pushing and squashing, trying to squeeze every last drop of moisture2 out of the fruity pulp. Bits of kiwi skin slithered between my fingers as I tried in vein to separate the flesh from the skin. I threw my weight on top of thick round sections of something seeming like pineapple, but which was actually apple, knowing that the stringy pulp must still be harbouring some liquid. However much I laboured, I could never be completely successful and I felt the frustration bitterly.

I can’t quite recall how the dream ended, but I do remember that it was during a formal gossiping session3 – a group of males from work each teamed with their female “work-wife” (a person especially selected for their complementary personality – the next best thing to a girlfriend during events where partners are not permitted) and the group sat exchanging “he never did”‘s, “she did what”‘s and “ooh he is, isn’t he”‘s

At lunch yesterday, Joe had been talking about a Campaign report listing ad agencies – many of which he had never heard of. He was horrified (or faux-horrified or whatever) at the number of direct marketing agencies listed. 

I seem to have spent a large proportion of the last two hazy alcohol-sozzled days squeezing juice out of lemons. In the morning, I wake up, boil the kettle, and drop a lightly-bruised slice of lemon into my cup of steaming water. At lunch time, I order mineral water and repeatedly squeeze the lemon wedge nestling among the ice, trying to stimulate the alkaline-forming effect to combat the effects on my stomach of the previous night’s drinking. In the evening, I order Bloody Mary in the assumption than anything tasting quite so evil must be doing a modicum of good. Peeping through the swirling red and brown is an incongruous speck of yellow or green that betrays the lemon or lime chunk hiding below the surface.

Well, I’ve certainly been partaking in more than my fair share of gossip lately. And loving it.