Today was Arthur's first birthday. We had a little party for him and discovered he has tonsillitis. Unsurprisingly, I've learnt a lot of things this year. Here are the two most important lessons The Boy has taught me

1 The birth is only the beginning

Midwives, antenatal classes and parenting books all talk about the importance of having a birth plan. This is so that, in the midst of the tiredness and pain and confusion of labour, the mother and her birth partner have a record of the way that not-tired-and-confused them would prefer the birth to unfold. It generally refers to things like pain relief and intervention, but also things like music to make the experience more comfortable.

We had a birth plan. It wasn't very detailed and we weren't 100% committed to it, if I'm honest. What I really wish we'd had, though, was a first-three-months plan.

Nothing prepared me for the utter insanity of the first three months of being a parent. We thought we were totally on top of it; in retrospect, we were running on little sleep and much emotion. Parenting is up there with religion and politics as a subject to avoid in polite conversation. Parenting decisions are driven by many factors and the Internet is as full of judgment and misinformation as it is helpful or factual advice.

We made a couple of decisions in these early days that were influenced by the well-meaning agenda of midwives, health visitors, and others. At the time they made sense, but on later examination we realised that they weren't our values, and weren't things that we felt strongly enough about to add stress or expense to our days at that point.

I wish we'd taken the time to write down the things that were important to us (as well as the things that weren't) before Artie was born, so that in the midst of the tiredness and euphoria and confusion of new-parenthood, we'd had a record of the way that not-tired-and-confused us would prefer our lives to unfold.

2 To stay present, plan to not be

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The life-adjustment that none of the classes or books prepared me for was the complete lack of downtime. I was prepared to not sleep at night and I knew that my priorities would change, but I hadn't got my head around how that would impact the countless little jobs that I used to 'squeeze in' when I had five or ten minutes. Email, news, photo processing, general tinkering - all things I took for granted that I'd find a bit of time to do.

Of course, that absolutely didn't happen. Instead, I'd find myself trying to fit in a quick email reply while The Boy entertained himself on his playmat. Or I'd spend all of a sunny hour in the park trying to get a nice photo rather than pushing the swing.

After too long, the penny dropped. Although I was spending lots of time with Arthur, I was often distracted or, at least, he wasn't always my primary focus.

I'd already made commitments with myself (and agreements with my wife) to ensure I continued trumpet practice and exercise and other activities that require protracted periods of focus. I decided if these little jobs were worth doing (a question that itself required some attention) then they deserved their own chunk of time carved out to get them done, without them impinging on my attention the rest of the time.

And, on that note, if you'll excuse me, it's bathtime.

My birthday present from The Wife this year was a Curing and Smoking course at Seasoned Cookery School in Derbyshire. The rather wonderfully-named Turan T Turan took us through the processes of curing, brining, air-drying, hot-smoking and cold-smoking, and I left with various paraphernalia for food-smoking at home. Although I've done less with it than I hoped, I'm determined to nail smoked salmon by Christmas, and I have a couple of stupid ideas I'd like to try out. I also managed a passable slow-smoked pork shoulder on my barbecue.


  • 5kg boned & rolled pork shoulder
  • 250g soft brown sugar
  • Sea salt (flakes, preferably)


  • A largish barbecue with a lid
  • Apple wood chips
  • a deep foil tray, or a deep baking tray you don't mind getting all gross, filled with water
  • slow-burning charcoal briquettes

The pork needs preparing at least 24 hours ahead of cooking. Unroll it, and generously cover in the salt and brown sugar. Re-roll, cover, and put in the fridge, basting at regular intervals.

Lay your coals on one side of the barbecue - you need to leave enough space without coals for the water tray. Light them and, while they're getting up to temperature, soak a handful of the wood chips in a bowl of water. You don't need a lot of chips to get a reasonable amount of smoke, and it's easy to over-smoke, so be restrained.

Once the coals are up to temperature, put the water tray in the space beside them and put the pork on the grill above them. Then throw the wood chips onto the coals and shut the lid for 5 hours.

Before the lid went down

I made a simple dipping / mopping sauce by reducing 250ml of white wine vinegar with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and some chopped chiles by about two-thirds so it was sticky but not syrupy.

I took a few notes for improvement next time:

  • The charcoal I was using was a bit rubbish, and needed topping up several times, which I think raised the temperature too high. Any recommendations for long-, slow-burning charcoal gratefully received
  • I put the pork on the grill skin-side-down, in theory to protect the meat, but in retrospect I might have been better off with the skin and fat on top so the pork self-basted
  • I don't have a very efficient process for the actual pulling of the pork. I used two standard forks, and it took quite a while to do the whole shoulder. Again, if anyone has a better method I'd be keen to hear it.

NB: this week's post was delayed by lack of Internet, which in turn led to unforeseen DropBox shenanigans.

In three weeks time, The Boy will be a year old, which is - frankly - bonkers. In that time, I have taken literally hundreds of pictures of him, lovingly curated into a growing set of Arthur, Daily books; got just-under-halfway through a stalled alphabet project; and posted here only twice (neither time in 2014). I have been on courses to learn how to cure and smoke food, brew beer, and butcher meat and done very little with any of the knowledge I gleaned, apart from make myself feel bad about that fact.

Maybe it's just the constant tiredness that comes with a small child, but but idly browsing websites reading about doing things has subsumed the actual doing of them. Leafing through Kickstarter projects for new camera straps has replaced actually doing anything with any of the stack of unprocessed memory cards sitting on my desk, and buying a new pen to capture tasks has apparently become a serviceable substitute for doing them.

Worst, I spend what time I do have stuck in a loop of distraction. I won't watch a film or read a book, because that's committing that chunk of time. Far better to fritter away the same amount of time, longer, under the illusion that I'll go and do something less boring instead as soon as I finish looking at these t-shirts.

So today I'm declaring bankruptcy. I'm abandoning the guilt of the unfinished A-Z projects, unopened Kickstarter rewards and the unread items in my RSS feeds. I'm going to stop berating myself about the not-doing, and just do, in the hope that somewhere a rhythm will find itself and I'll be making stuff again. But I do need structure, so I'm going to set myself a really low, uncomplicated bar. Every week, from this week, I'll post something here. It might be a photo, some kind of kitcheny experiment or something else. I will try and make it interesting. It will very likely be imperfect, if not horribly, dreadfully flawed. But it'll be something that didn't exist before I touched it.

Widowspeak - Almanac

The first album I bought this year, and it's been an enduring fixture. Their self-titled debut had more than a touch of Elysian Fields' breathy vocals and twangy reverb; it sounded like smoky backroom dive bars, dark woods and David Lynch films (shockingly, I rather liked it). All that's still here, but tempered with a folkier vibe and lighter production that makes the record feel like a genuine step forward for them. I just noticed they had another EP 'The Swamps' come out in October, which I am looking forward to listening to.

Savages - Silence Yourself

A recommendation from my brother. Classic Sismey fare - Gun Clubesque wailing over reverby distortion and feedback makes me happy.

Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels

El-P and Killer Mike join forces to make an album inspired by old-school 80s Electro hip-hop, and give it away for free online. As close to a party record as El-P is likely to ever make.

Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold

Hat-tip to @bladkin for this one. Scratchy New York garage rock, the Strokes' snottier and more-punk little brother.

The Joy Formidable - Wolf's Law

The Joy Formidable's 'A Balloon Called Moaning' remains one of my favourite debuts of the last few years. Much like Metric's 'Fantasies', it's stadium rock for tiny venues and they remain second only to Dinosaur Jr for loudest show I have seen. The re-recorded versions of those songs that appeared on their first album proper didn't capture that same energy for me but, despite the cleaner production, 'Wolf's Law' gets right back to the pomp and pyrotechnics. I make no claim to any kind of synesthesia, but listening to this, you can see the light show.

Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady

The Cindi Mayweather saga reaches its third installment, and Janelle Monae is still managing to walk the fine line between maintaining the concept and keeping the music up-to-scratch. A handful of pop-funk hits here no doubt but, as on 'The Archandroid', it's the slower numbers where Monae's voice really shines.

Daughn Gibson - Me Moan

I was drawn to this by the "Johnny Cash produced by Burial" elevator pitch on a poster in Brighton. To be honest, it's more 'Sisters of Mercy go Country' (and I mean that 100% as a positive). Gibson's Scott Walkeresque baritone rides roughshod over glitchy samples and lap steel guitars, to best effect on 'The Sound Of Law' and 'You Don't Fade' (a 21st century 'Temple Of Love' if ever I heard one).

Charles Bradley - Victim of Love

From the 'Car Wash' font on the front cover to the psychedelic soul of 'Where Do We Go From Here', everything about this album suggests Charles Bradley genuinely has no clue that it isn't still 1969. Bradley's incredible voice and force of personality, combined with endearingly imperfect production, gives this the feeling of a long-lost Otis Redding album.

Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest

My favourite riding on a train album since Plastikman's 'Consumed', I like to put this on my headphones when I am walking through a city at night and pretend I am in Blade Runner.

Honourable mentions and surprising omissions

I Hate Music - Superchunk

Warp and Weft - Laura Veirs

Have listened to these two a bunch this year, but they haven't really cemented themselves.

Mark Lanegan - Imitations

Was late picking this up, and haven't listened to it as much as I'd have liked

Chime in with your lists at this branch:

Papa Sis was born sometime in the early 2000s, in a student accommodation living room in St Andrews. Ben, Mark and I were visiting Malcs, and a Hungover Tismey was sitting in an armchair, wrapped in a blanket, grumbling about how rubbish everything was. I don't recall if it was Mark or Malcs who first coined Papa Sis to describe the curmudgeonly figure I cut, but it kind of stuck. Since then, it's been recycled as a DJ and stage name, and I quite like it, so I've been planning some kind of self-portrait for Papa since starting this project in January.

I've been thinking a lot about personal branding recently. In a recent episode of Back To Work, Merlin Mann was talking about this, and said something that really struck a chord with me:

"You can have a fancy car without being 'Fancy Car Guy'"

This happened to coincide with a difficult period at work, and with the news of my impending fatherhood. If anything is going to prompt a reassessment of priorities and assumptions, then that's going to be it. Unconsciously, over a period of a few months, I started to gradually unpick my makeup and consider which bits of Tismey and Papa Sis are useful, and which just get in the way of things a bit. I don't have a fancy car, so I'm never going to be Fancy Car Guy, but I have plenty of other tics that could end up unwittingly becoming my Defining Feature for some people. I started to think more carefully about the motivations behind my actions, and about whether I'd be happy with each decision, each purchase, each offhand comment, being reflective of me. As the months have gone on, and things have changed around me, I think this re-examination was a useful process to go through.

So, this 'montage of stuff' self-portait had been kicking around for a while. And then Artie came along and, just like everyone said, immediately the focus of my time and attention completely shifted, so it made total sense for the focus of the shot to change too.

One of the reasons I am so very, very far behind on this year's alphabet is that, rather excitingly, we're expecting a baby. He's actually overdue now, so one way or another I will definitely be a father this time next week.

The Wife knows what she wants to call a daughter (it has been decided for some time, apparently), but as we're having a boy, I get some skin in the name game. I'm fond of Apollo (middle name Creed), Anakin, Ulysses and Tyrannosaurus. Unfortunately, we had to rule these last two out because of the excessive sibilance when combined with our surname.

We've had a long shortlist of names that we've been trying out on the bump. Oscar is one of them, although it's pretty low down on the list now, I think.

Lighting this shot of Karen on her birthing ball was a right pain, and I ended up with loads that weren't sharp, or that were horribly underexposed. At some point I really need to investigate proper indoor lighting options - sometimes an anglepoise lamp and a foil-covered cake board just doesn't cut it.

Remember, remember the Fifth of November: gunpowder, treason and plot.

November is, of course, inextricably linked with fireworks. But I realised if I waited until Actual Bonfire Night, I'd be even further behind than I currently am. So I decided to go for fireworks in miniature, and try to capture the point at which a match ignites. A tripod, a dark room and a big box of Original Cooks Matches later and I had this, and a bedroom that smells of matches. The Wife was ecstatic, as you can imagine.

This is Mike.

Mike seemed an obvious subject for my Mike picture. We've discussed shooting him as a part of previous A-Zs, but our schedules have never really aligned and I've needed to move on. So when a mutually free Saturday gave me the chance to observe Mike in his natural habitat - the independent record shop - it seemed like an opportunity not to be missed.

Mike likes loud guitars, and men with beards playing acoustic guitars who used to play loud guitars. Mike's introduced me to numerous folk-punk troubadours, including Frank Turner, Jonah Matranga and Tim Barry, and various Scandinavian metal bands who scare me a bit. Mike has also won more competition prizes than anyone else I know. He seems to be constantly winning competitions.

Anyway, thanks to Head records in Leamington for letting us shoot while Mike shopped. He bought CDs by Lemuria and letlive, as you ask.

Revolution34 has had several homes over the last eight-and-a-half years, starting with an experimental MySQL / Apache / Wordpress install running on my laptop (that was stupid), a long stint on some kindly-offered server space (thanks Dave!), and then a nomadic existence bouncing around the blog engines of the wider internets, getting my DNS settings horribly wrong at every opportunity (thanks Dan!).

Sometime last year, I started writing my posts in Markdown. I find it an intuitive and unobtrusive way to write, and I particularly enjoy the fact I can use one of the many excellent Markdown-compatible text editors for writing, rather than a browser window. I also like the fact that a Markdown file is a portable, human-readable artifact in and of itself, as opposed to the abstract, and incompatible, export formats kicked out by most of the major blogging platforms (I have three separate versions of the Revolution34 archive, none of which I can easily look through).

After a while, I tired of writing intuitive Markdown in elegant text editors, then publishing by copy-and-pasting the generated HTML into clunky web interfaces, so I went looking for options that explicitly supported Markdown as a first-class input syntax. Eventually, I found Calepin, which blew my tiny mind: a blog engine pulling its content from Markdown files in a Dropbox folder, no faffing. It's a beautifully simple idea, but Calepin was a little too simple for my tastes - all Calepin blogs look alike, a purist utopia where substance trumps style and words are king. Which is fine, but not what Revolution34 is about. I have pictures and stuff, for starters.

But now I was properly on my way down the rabbit hole. My next discovery was Scriptogram, based on the same principle but with slightly more control over the appearance. Revolution34 lived on Scriptogram for the first three months of 2013; it was a better experience than, say, Blogger, but I found the templates limited, the performance a bit slow, and the lack of an auto-update took away some of the seamlessness of the process. To be honest it would have done me fine for a while, but then my Markbox beta invite turned up, and turned my head.

Markbox takes the Dropbox Blog concept a step further, adding the option to customise the layout of the site with templates, stylesheets, images and JavaScript which all also live in Dropbox. Posts synchronise from Dropbox on a schedule, meaning that publishing really is as simple as saving a file in a folder. Remember when I said the first incarnation of Revolution34 was ill-advisedly hosted on my laptop? Well, Markbox feels like that, only without the failing hard drives. Text files on my computer somehow magically become the internet.

I switched the site to Markbox full-time about 5 months ago. There have been various under-the-hood changes in this time, and it recently transitioned to a paid beta. I've been 'helpfully' breaking the new version for the last few weeks (my Fake Nerd status is useful for testing things like this, where there are things you can do, but probably shouldn't ), and the support has been excellent: swift to respond, patient with my half-formed bug reporting, and committed to the idea that even a geek-niche product such as a Blog engine based on Markdown and Dropbox (think about that Venn diagram for a second) should be accessible to users of all stripes.

Lima is the capital of, and largest city in, Peru. Around one-third of the Peruvian population live in the Lima Metropolitan area and as well as the oldest continuously functioning University in the Americas, the National University of San Marcos, the city is home to The Home for Retired Bears. It was to here that Aunt Lucy moved when she sent her nephew off to England, with only his hat and suitcase and a label politely requesting someone to 'Please look after this bear, thank you'. It was at this very station that the Brown family found him and, being unable to pronounce his Peruvian name, christened him Paddington Bear.

I don't know who these three were waiting for, but it was nice of them to stand so still while they did so.