Pete's newsletter for the start of July

Got covid again, wrote some blog posts, watched some films, rabbit got ill, hedgehogs appeared in the garden, other stuff.

A hedgehog sitting at the end of some ducting.
Why is there a hedgehog here? Read to the end...

Hello all,

Status update


Mid-June saw me catch Covid again, which was a distinct lack of fun. I was wiped out for a good 10 days and am still feeling the its effect on my energy levels and mood three weeks later. As I approach the second anniversary of my Long-Covid it's put a bit of a damper on any sense of recovery I was feeling recently. Interestingly when Fiona inevitably caught it she was through the worst in a couple of days and is pretty much back to normal, as did the other people I know who've had this strain recently. I guess I'm just one of those people who when they get Covid they get it bad. Yay for me.

I've really struggled with how to talk about my experience of this disease as it's really really boring and there's a tangible sense that people have moved on, which I totally get as I am also desperate to move on. I was reluctant to start this newsletter with it, assuming that most of you would see the moaning about Covid and just skip to the next thing, because if I'm brutally honest that's what I often do because this shit is boring. But this is a major and significant part of my life now and I'm very aware we've just been through a general election where the subject of people like myself who have been disabled to some degree by a pandemic that is still not officially over never came up. Not once. So yeah, I'm gonna write about it.

Sam Wooloston did a powerful series of articles about Long Covid in the Guardian last month which I would highly recommend. In the first one he creates a "crude amalgam patient" of the 950 responses to his callout for stories, all the contradictory symptoms and the realisation that no-one can really help, and it really hit home. I'm not remotely as disabled as some – a good friend has barely left her room in over a year – but I am totally in that picture.

‘I could bench-press 100kg. Now, I can’t walk’: Lucy’s life with long Covid
Before the pandemic, Lucy Keighley ran a gym, worked as a personal trainer and went on gruelling, exhilarating runs. But after three and a half years of illness, she isn’t sure she will ever recover

So far this month I've been working on a one-day-on, one-day-off policy. If I do something significantly physical, mental or social for a few hours (I don't make the distinction any more - they all have the same effect on me) I budget in the next day of grumpy frustrated exhaustion. I know that things will get better, because they got better before. But I'm under no illusions that it'll be soon.

Here's a graph of my symptom tracker for the last two years which I made to help me get my head around what's going on. A friend at work said it was "the most Pete thing I've ever seen", and which I take as a compliment.

On the blog

Things obviously stalled last month but I've written two decent posts recently.

The first is on scanning the thousands of zines and self-published comics from the 1990s that I've been keeping in boxes in the spare room because I knew they were important but had no idea what to do with them.

Scanning the BugPowder zine archive
I have boxes containing thousands of zines. I’ve started scanning them. It’s going to take a while. I have time.
As some of you will know, in the 1990s I was involved in various overlapping zine and self-published comic book scenes. Mostly I did review zines and ran a mail order service, which meant I got sent loads photocopied zines for review or speculative sale or both. Initially my scope was comics in the UK but, as was the nature of these things, by the end of the 90s I was getting stuff about all topics sent from all over the world. I was also buying things for myself, of course, often getting everything at a comics mart or zine fair, and it all added up to many thousands of zines, usually photocopied and assembled by hand in runs of around a hundred, if that.
I stopped most of my activity around 2000 and slowly drifted away from the scene, eventually drawing a firm line so I could start new things afresh, but I carried these boxes of zines around with me. They had no financial value so I couldn't eBay them, or donate them to Oxfam (as I did with my "normal" comics). No-one was ever going to pay me money for them – with a tiny number of exceptions there were no famous names. But they felt important and I can wax lyrical about how the 90s zine scenes were the proto-web, open access, zero-budget publishing and distribution networks where anyone could publish anything. Technological progress had put a photocopier in every college and community centre and the postal service was still affordable. If you had an idea and a need to tell other people about it, this was how you did it. The quality might have varied wildly, from unique gems to what-were-you-thinking trashfires, but what they represented felt worth saving.

I talk about my efforts to get them into a proper archive (in short, the British Library are happy to take them when I'm ready), my reasons for deciding to scan them before handing them over (a process that at the last estimate will take two years at my current rate) and the ethics of what I should or should not do with the terabyte of digital scans I'll have at the end of it all.

I'm aware that this is the sort of project that will either happen in total obscurity because no-one is remotely interested in it (which I totally get) or that will spark significant interest from people who were there at the time or who have an interest in what was going on in zine communities and networks. If it's the latter I might do even do a crowdfunder for a faster, larger scanner!

I'm updating this webpage every few days with a list of the scanned zines and stats on the scanning progress. And if you were one of the people that were there and are still in touch with other people who were there at the time, please do pass this on.

The second is a somewhat inevitable post on this week's general election, mostly written to get some thoughts out of my head but I think it stands well as a constructive addition to the post-election chatter. Along with the national picture I wrote a bit about what happened in my local constituency, which like the rest of Birmingham was touched by the revolt against Labour over Gaza, and I tried to end on a positive note.

Reflections on the election
There was a general election in the UK. It was complicated.
I would be happy to see the end of the Tories if that is what had just happened. It didn't. The Conservative coalition was just split in two, by accident or design, and will now begin to re-stitch itself in some new form. Given the British establishment's inertia this is the only way it could happen and while the next few years will be messy, they will return. The big question is in what form.
Reform are a Conservative tribe. They may be attractive to some demographics of traditional Labour voters, but so was Thatcher. If Farage has a plan (and I really don't want to give him too much credit - my default position is he's surfing on grievance and vibes and fuckit-let's-see-what-happens) it's for his tribe to capture the Conservative party in its entirety and remake the establishment in his image. This is theoretically possible (again, if he actually has a plan), partly because the main driver of the Conservative party is to be in power regardless of which ideological variant is in charge (contrasted with Labour's traditional desire fight over ideology to the detriment of actually getting into power), and because this is what the establishment does when given the choice between the mass of the people and fascism.

Rabbit news

I tempted fate in the last newsletter when I said "Wally and Lavender are well" as a cheery send-off. With impeccable timing, just as both Fi and I were coming through the worst of our Covid bouts, Wally developed a severe head tilt and lost a significant amount of weight, so we were off to the vet, talking over the phone from the car park like when Bunminster got sick during the 2020 lockdown. A blood test revealed he has E. Cuniculi, a parasite in his ear, which is probably the most positive diagnosis as it's common thing which is very treatable. We're now 10 days into the medication and he's made signifiant progress, which is awesome, but it was touch and go there for a while. Lavender is fine. Here's a photo from last week.

Two rabbits, one alert and fat, the other flopped and saggy.
Lav and Wally. You'll notice Lav has put on some weight, presumably from eating Wally's share of treats. We're working on that.

Like everything, my linklog took a bit of a break this month but I've been posting stuff over the last fortnight and am really pleased with how it reads as a coherent whole, so please go check it out. Here's three I think deserve a bit more attention:

What Have Fourteen Years of Conservative Rule Done to Britain?

I’m a big fan of journalists explaining Britain to non-British readers because it gets me right out of our parochial bubbles of assumptions and prejudices and gives a new perspective on the absurd stuff I’ve gotten used to.
This is a loooong read from the New Yorker, so set aside some time, but it’s a good one. I particularly like how it’s written by someone who grew up in London as the son of a City banker, so they have access to the mindset of people like George Osborne and speak their language.

“Debilitating a Generation”: Expert Warns That Long COVID May Eventually Affect Most Americans

I’m nearly at the end of my second year of Covid-related health bullshit and it’s really depressing how no-one in any position of power is talking about how a decent chunk of the working population have been mentally and physically compromised. Here’s some scary stats and speculations from across the pond:
LP: That’s a really alarming possibility — that most Americans could potentially have Long COVID in as little as four years?
PA: That’s what I’m saying. And we know that somewhere between five and eight percent of those people will be so debilitated that they will no longer be able to work.

Money, Magic and the Imagination

I find ritual money burners fascinating because even though I get the reasoning behind setting fire to banknotes it still sparks a revulsion in me, and that’s interesting. I suppose it speaks to the power of money and how it’s programmed my brain to respect it.
Anyway, here’s an account of visiting the Bank of England in London and burning the new King Charles notes on their first official day of issue, which also serves as a handy introduction to the value of “magic” in the 21st century.

Media diet

Adam Greenfield's Lifehouse: Taking Care of Ourselves in a World on Fire was probably my most anticipated new book this year and the ebook was released a couple of weeks early. I'm loving it so far and want to buy copies for all the people I know who are working in some kind of mutual aid. If we're geographically close friends and you'd like to borrow my print copy when it arrives, let me know.

I wasn't expecting David Baddiel's Jews Don't Count to hit me as hard as it did, but that's effectively his point, that progressives and the activist left have a massive blind spot when it comes to fighting anti-Semitism. It's not a perfect book and he does take too many examples from exchanges on Twitter, but the core argument is very sound and shook me out of some complacencies I didn't realise I had. And let's be clear, I was already fairly concerned about the left's casual denial of anti-Jewish racism.

My inner child has been enjoying the latest Star Wars nonsense, The Acolyte, giving me the blessed relief of pretending I'm 10 again for an hour each week. It's nice and chewy and complicated and not a little thrilling, unlike the damp squib of Ashoka. Manny Jacinto, last seen as the feckless Jason Mendoza in The Good Place, is particularly inspired casting. It's almost as good as The Bad Batch which remains the gold standard for Star Wars storytelling in the 21st century. (I exclude Andor because no matter how awesome it is, it's for adults, and proper Star Wars is for little kids.)

I've been watching a fair few movies while I've been relatively housebound. The following I can heartily recommend:

  • Love Lies Bleeding - lesbian bodybuilder crime drama with some impeccable performances that's not afraid to embrace the batshit crazy.
  • The Royal Hotel - gap year yanks tend bar for coin in rural Oz.
  • Drive Away Dolls - best summed up by this review I saw: "some dumb lesbians who are styled to be hot in a gay way and make the worst decisions possible given the circumstances".
  • Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger - I'd been waiting impatiently for this and it didn't disappoint. A loving deep dive into the stories behind some of my favourite movies.

Compost news

I hope to have a new Aerobic Digest out this month but it's not a priority as I don't have the capacity to do any significant work on the allotment right now. I did get to top up my compost heaps this week with a significant (in quantity and stink) amount of rotting vegetable matter, and it's been great to see how well Fiona's crops are thriving in the compost we spread in the winter.

Related to this, the apple tree we planted on the allotment last year in memory of my mum has produced an amazing amount of fruit considering it was a bare twig when I planted it. Looking forward to eating these in a couple of months.

Apples on a tree in the sun.

I'm pondering getting more fruit trees on the allotment. Their maintenance requirement is about the right level for me and they clearly like this location.

Hedgehog cam

In the last few weeks we've spotted hedgehogs exploring in our garden, which is great as they're seriously under threat in this country. Fi's been scattering cat food around and recently bought a fancy hedgehog house which the instructions said would probably take a year before they accepted it as a home. Last week we saw a hog coming out and this week discovered there are two babies living in there. Result! So of course I set up a camera this evening and got a surprising amount of footage. Next time I'll try to get a decent camera angle as well.

That'll do for this issue. A bit of a big one – on reflection I should probably have broken a few of these out as stand-alone blog posts – so thanks if you made it this far.

All my love, in whatever form you feel comfortable with.

Pete Ashton