Books and reading and who I was

I went to see Mathilda in London about a year ago. I’m not about to say I loved it – I did really enjoy it but I’ve never read the book because it was published at a time when it just didn’t quite hit my age appropriate reading levels.

But I bought a Mathilda tote bag in London last week for two reasons: a) it’s illustrated by Quentin Blake (hero) and b) I was probably every bit as insufferable as Mathilda as a child. I Read Books. Lots of books.

I bought a lot of books during Covid but somehow, I never read them. Covid was a time o worry and not much to do for some people but I worked the whole way through the pandemic and there was no time for {re]learning Python, learning Japanese, At a point, because the bookshops in Brussels were the only things that were open, my book buying exceeded my bookreading by a substantial amount. My TBR is, at current rates, unworkable. Nevertheless, I am now working through it. There is a hell of a lot of non-fiction there.

Something like eight of them are lined up.

In fairness, I do still read a lot of stuff on social media, but I’ve found that there is never much closure to that. Reddit goes on forever. You cannot finish things on Reddit. I think this is, in a sense, one of the problems with Social Media reading. There is no end. And when we didn’t have online advertising, we didn’t need clickbait titles on news coverage as well. Things have changed, changed utterly, to quote an old man I never really liked all that much.

I’m middle aged now (young according to my mother but old according to the twenty year olds) and some of my time, now that I have some, is spent in reflection about who I am, who I used to be, who people think I am. I spend a lot of time in bookshops. When I go travelling I always want to go to bookshops. I still somehow wind up buying books despite having a monumental amount of books to read.

When I was a child, I used to plough through books. I used to read a lot of children’s fiction until well into my twenties, but also a lot of non-fiction, especially around history. I borrowed books from libraries by the new time and I do have a library card now. But I find actual books are not always practical for me. Those last two words are important because, for example, I see people reading on the metro. I don’t – and have never – really read in 5 minute blocks of time. It’s too short. I’ll happily read on 3 hour train journeys (but it’s been a while since that I have to do those regularly).

Middle aged me would like to go back to ploughing through books. I’m not all that interested in BookTok or Bookstagram per se. There are some booktubers who are fun. I’m just not sure I’ve found my own community. I have friends in bookclubs but that hasn’t really been anything I wanted to do – I was a solitary kid growing up, surrounded by books. I don’t really need help here in terms of access to books as I already have a substantial collection of my own thanks to Covid.

It’s aligned with something else that happened: I used to write stories. I’m not sure how or when that stopped. I know there were notes for two kids novels somewhere in my boxes of notebooks when I was backing up after Dublin. Most of the writing I’ve done in the last 20 years have not been “writing” as in “writing a book, or trying”. I have:

  • kept a diary for more than 30 years
  • written any amount of technical documentation
  • written any amount of governance documentation
  • written any number of formal proposals
  • written an unholy number of professional emails
  • written an unholy number of text messages.

When I was 8, I bought a notebook in the local stationery shop and started working on what was to be a girl detective series called Barbara Nash. I kind of liked Nancy Drew a lot, and the Blyton detective stuff, but I was a kid in rural Ireland, and I absolutely could not relate to a 16 year old in America with her own convertible car. I never wrote that series in the end.

I want to write again. I’m not sure I care about getting a book published but I’d like to get it written anyway. I’m struggling a lot with time management so that’s not helping. Nevertheless, I’ve read two books [at least] this month, and there are a few I am considering finishing that were started further back in the past.

One of the books I read was Diana Wynn-Jones wonderful Howl’s Moving Castle. The most recent one is The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. What stands out is that both are fiction – I haven’t read two fiction books in a row in an awfully long time, aside from some romance, which I consider to be pure escapism in a way that Howls Moving Castle is not.

One of the things I’ve toyed with doing over the years is buying some key books from my childhood = a couple I read from the library when I was a young teenager – from AbeBooks. I’m still considering it but in one way I’m afraid. Reading books at different stages in your life can be challenging, particularly if those books were written for children. In particular the books I am interested are the hardback editions of Lorna Hills Sadlers Wells books because they have truly beautiful dustjackets illustrated by Eve Guthrie. I’ve never forgotten them.

Much of my reflections lately have centred on how much I may have left my younger self down by wandering away from who I was then. It isn’t helpd in certain respects by seeing some of the book reading accounts where I’m clearly not really a reader in comparison to some of the high profile bookfluencers. But they are reading books I don’t necessarily want to read. There’s a whole industry around YA books which just don’t talk to me. In the way I felt outside, reading as a child, I feel outside reading as an adult too. I’ve a lot more to think about here, I suspect.

Limits to the community building on the web

One of the things I found “great” about Reddit was how there was a place for just about every interest going and today I want to talk about fountain pens.

I own a lot of fountain pens. You could call me a collector (or hoarder) of fountain pens, in particular Lamy AL-Star/Safaris, Pelikan M20x and Kaweco sport shaped pens. I have two of the art sports (the one I wanted I really can’t find any more).

I’ve mixed feelings about all this because I buy pens to write with. Sure there are FOMO colour issues there (man, there is a light pink M200 that I love in my possession now.

When you hang around the online fountain pen community, they are all very friendly. But I’ve realised that not many of them write as much as I do (and I use ballpoints a lot too) and their interest is less in writing and more in owning and trading. Sure, they will speak about grail pens.

But equally, they will trade to and from pens. And for that reason they keep boxes/packaging. Somehow this idea infected me. I am swiming in boxes for pens.

I own a couple of vintage pens too – bought in fleamarkets because I recognised that they represented good gambles (so I pay max 20E for a flea market pen). I understand that in 80 years time, having the packaging will matter.

But they don’t spark joy. I’ve realised with both the fountain pens and the journaling things that I although I have used fountain pens since I was about 9 years old, and I have been writing a journal since I was 19 years old, I don’t actually really feel at home in either community on Reddit. I cannot be too precious about pens – yes they get lost and I’ve lost about six Caran d’Ache Ecridor ballpoints over the course of my life (all of them replaced at one point or another). These things – at the end of the day – are tools. I might spend 114E on a Kaweco Artsport but I expect to be able to write with it too. I’m not interested in trading it/selling it at a profit in a few years’ time. Someone is going to clean up when I am dead because they’ll get a substantial collection of Ecridors in a job lot, probably.

Anyway…all this to say I’m not sure I really fit in online any more.

I just want to…

Instagram announced new updates to their algorithm again. I have a couple of accounts on Instagram, so I suppose I have some skin in the game.

It’s just mostly I consume. I don’t use Instagram professionally; and I don’t want to. I use it to a) share some photos and art with my friends and b) see what they share with me.

This type of user doesn’t matter. I mean, what I would like is to see the accounts I follow in reverse chronological order. But Meta have not wanted to give me this for years. Lately they have been giving me insane quantities of sponsored posts both in Stories and in the main feed.

There was a time I loved the idea of recommender systems. The idea is that the recommend accounts, posts, whatever, that I would really be interested in. But this isn’t really happening. When every second sponsored post is from Temu….is this really that personalised? I don’t think so.

From what I can see, recommender systems have moved from being what is most interesting for me to what is most interesting to the social media provider, mostly Meta in this case.

I’d like to say that somewhere, the tech giants have lost their way; but I think they haven’t. I think that everything they do is specifically so they can fleece money out of somewhere, be it me or an advertiser. Just for a short while, their interests and mine as a media consumer aligned.

Now though, most of the time I spend scrolling Instagram is time spent frustrated. My main objective is to look at excellent photography and drawing/painting which I find interesting. I’ve a special interest in water colour and travel photography and these form the bulk of what I post myself. Some time ago, I wound up seeing more short videos rather than single shots. I’m really not interested in moving photographs – if I was, I’d go to actual travel documentaries on Youtube (which I do) – and what the artists did to deal with this was start making reels which are close ups of fineliners moving around a centimetre, dabs of paint so detailed I get a headache trying to process them visually. All of this sucks to high hell as a consumer; and I can’t imagine it suits the average illustrator either.

I understand the problem is that the likes of Meta can’t make a huge amount of money out of delivering what I want. I’m not someone they can get to pay them for business services. I’m not going to pay 35E a month for services getting my posts in front of more eyes. I’m not buying stuff from their advertisers. But their ability to offer their professional users access to attention depends on a critical mass of people like me.

I recognise companies need to make money to survive. But the social media companies do not have a guaranteed right to my attention and lately, Instagram are heavily wasting it. I feel sorry for those who use it as a business platform. I’m not interested in the latest lot of algorithmic changes because again, it focuses not on me deciding what accounts I want to see = it focuses on them deciding what accounts they will promote to my timeline. And if god forbid on mobile I want to switch to the accounts I follow, well then I still can’t set that as a default.

inspired by Walter Mitty

I saw a thread on Reddit today where the Secret Life of Walter Mitty was recommended. I have some troubles with the idea of the film – I loved the novelette by James Thurber as a child and of course, they messed with the plot significantly. But I discovered it was streaming on Disney so I had a look at it. I haven’t watched all of it because I did my watching from the end trick.

I was a child with a big imagination. One of the stories I wrote as 12 year old I still feel like expanding into a kids’ book. I grew up in a small town in rural Ireland in the 1980s. Very often, my imagination was about the most exciting thing happening in my life. I identified a lot with Walter Mitty. I’m not a fan of Ben Stiller but he turned that character into something interesting – someone who did get to live life. I think about that sometimes.

I’ve written a personal diary for about 30 years now. I haven’t stopped yet and since I have a shops worth stock of notebooks, I need to do a whole pile more writing. Circling around my head lately has been the idea of travel memoirs. My mother says it’s a tragedy I wasn’t sketchbooking at the time that I was doing what seemed like more exciting travel. I get what she is saying. I documented them with photographs and around the time, with photos. I think I’d prefer sketchbooks too. I have a troubled relationship with all that at the moment. I’m working on fixing it.

Some time during the pandemic lockdowns, I realised that I was very deeply stressed, and doing very little for myself and I was not even finding the time to write my own journal. So I had picked up some A6 notebooks (pretty ones) at some stage and I pulled one out to be a five minute diary. The idea was that I would write into this little notebook for at least 5 minutes; in theory in the morning although that doesn’t always happen. I don’t often forget. I think it’s a habit I’ve had in place for around 3 and a half years now and I’m pretty sure I started this after I moved to Brussels. I also occasionally did a ten minute one at night time; I think I completed about 5 of them and there is one still by my bed that I am not writing in regularly at the moment, mostly because I actually have more time to write in what I call my big journal; the series that has been more or less unbroken since 1992.

I think a lot about writing and reading at the moment. Mostly because the person I am now is not necessarily the person that a 12 year old Treasa envisaged me becoming. I never did write the kids books I wanted to, never wrote the opinion pieces I wanted, nor the adult romantic fiction or indeed the fantasy. More oddly, I’m not reading much fiction (apart from escapist romantic stuff when I can’t sleep). There are a couple of reasons linked to that: a) I read a monumental amount of non-fiction in fits and starts and b) Terry Pratchett died.

I can’t emphasise how much the loss of Pratchett impacted my fiction reading. I don’t think I’ve read Snuff through yet and like a lot of Pratchett fans who have one or two left to go, it’s hard to do it, knowing that that will be it.

For a lot of the period 2003 to now, I blogged in one form or another. I had a long running photoblog as well, and there were variants linked to this domain name as well. In the grand scheme of things, I have been writing all my life, and a good chunk of it I self published. And then I wound up on Twitter for a long time. In a way I miss Twitter as it was and then I think that the loss of it is probably a good thing for me. One of the things that happened to me between having to snatch time to find out what was happening in the world, getting it from Twitter and not watching much television, my attention span shortened. I think this, again, was linked to stress related issues but I do think short form media did not help.

I own a monumental number of notebooks and sketchbooks at the moment. I bought a lot of them during the lockdowns, not so many since but even so, I have lots of them. Not all of them are lined so they will eventually be sketchbooks. I’m back sketching for myself [which means my Instragram followers don’t get to know much about what I am doing] and I am hoping they will get used up. I don’t need to save them for special occasions; I have so many now that it doesn’t seem like they are so special. One or two maybe.

On one of the shelves where I keep “live” notebooks is a sketchbook that was started during the pandemic of places I would like to go. I think the part that makes me most sad (aside from the fact that the sketchbook isn’t finished) is that my expectations of a post covid world were somewhat different to what the post covid world would turn out to be. I think about that sometimes too. How we figured out that if we got the world vaccinated maybe this immense economic and mental health stress would be replaced by something better. It wasn’t really.

I talk about that part with friends, sometimes. It may be a measure of getting old or something else but I’m not alone in thinking that the mental health of the lockdowns at a social level remains to be quantified.

And so, I think of Walter Mitty a lot lately, even the original Thurber persona. We used to talk about how much of the world was a known entity now, and how little exploring there was to be done. My mother would have given anything to see glaciers; I go to Zermatt in Switzerland twice a year and I’ve seen the glaciers in Iceland as well. They are accessible in a way that they weren’t to a woman born in 1930s Ireland. I don’t know what constitutes “adventure” any more.

One of the prices 50 year old women pay for perimenopause is highly frustrating insomnia. I’ve found I can deal with it more effectively if I can wander off in a daydream. I don’t always find them. It’s somewhat not reassuring when I look at the notebooks I tidied today and thought about feeling with imaginary adventures. What adventures?

One of my friends gave me a most excellent notebook for my birthday and it was hidden in my stash to be used for something special. I came across some piece of life advice (instragram is so full of this, it’s not even funny) about making a list of 100 things you want to have done by the time you die and of course, based on when you were making the list, it could include things you have already done; that were on your list. Anything else should be something that you have a realistic shot of making happen.

So I decided to set that book aside for it and will also journal the ones I have done.

The thing about that is that realistically, there are things you don’t know about and then don’t know you want to do…until a moment. It’s like walking into a book shop. I never knew this book existed but now I have to have it.

I’ve had some fantastic opportunities in my life. A lot of adventure is sanitised. Much of what isn’t is not an adventure I’d like to risk. If you asked me whether I would be photographing kitesurfers in Brazil or Western Sahara or at world championships, I would have laughed at you. Things like that don’t happen kids from rural Ireland, not much.

But beside that, I will think about the impossible dreams too, and write them as narratives and see where that brings me.

The new world of work

I’m tired of the office debate. From what I can see, where the question arises (ie, the work can be done from anywhere), there is an argument for facilitating people within reason. You want to work from home all the time? Hotdesks in the office should you have to come in. You want to work from the office at least 60% of your time? Here’s an office.

How hard can this be? I’ve no objection to people working from home a maximum of time but the person who invented flexible desks (ie, you don’t get a desk assigned to yourself because Flexibility) is a sociopath for those who actually come to the office.

I’m in favour of working from home, fully, partially, never, whatever you’re having yourself. If you want people back at the office, give them desks. If you want them not back at the office, then don’t give them desks or access badges.

Oh well.

Who was this person

I have entries on this site going back to 2012 and to be honest, this site, when it was built, replaced sites that had gone back to 2003 I think. So I have been blogging here or elsewhere the guts of 20 years.

That’s a frightening thought and then I went and read some of the older entries. I’m not sure I recognised myself. What was interesting though were a few entries about decisions I had made.

I’m back in Belgium, and have been for 4 years. I’m disillusioned with most of the social media around me – the recommendations on YouTube are heading for trash, their shorts package I really would like to have the option to not have served to me at all – I’m a Premium subscriber so it would be nice if they allowed me to tune content more effectively. Mostly I see viral content which can only be described as WTF.

But then I’m old. Maybe if I were back in my 30s, I might be more tolerant and I might even be on TikTok. * shrugs *. Anyhow, I have been blogging about my piano journey over on and I was thinking about what would replace the Twitter shaped hole on my life. I don’t spend much time in Threads or BlueSky – what’s the point really? If I do social, it tends to be image based. So the thought of coming back to the world of blogging was on my radar. It’s a question of time; I don’t have loads of it and I’m generally quiet tired. I’m also not sure I want to get into 386s on Reddit where the viral content has been getting a bit dire as well. At least, I have learned one thing and it’s that I don’t want cats.

Back in 2012, I still worked in IT operational support in a private sector company. I still lived in Dublin. I was doing an Open University maths degree which a year later I abandoned in favour of a MSc in Computer Science in UCD. I was still taking occasional photographs with a DLSR and spent a chunk of time on beaches. I drove a lot of places.

Since then, I’ve spent 4 years in Luxembourg and almost the same in Belgium. I still don’t own property. I still have very strong opinions, and I still take a dim view of other people’s unkindness but I’m a bit more resilient about it. My Ecridor, and assorted fountain pen collections are out of control and I have a family of toy elks and marmottes which started when I was living alone during Covid. There are Covid entries on this site from the early days.

But I have less certainty about who I am than I had 20 years ago. I’m still shy but also, I questioned whether I could in fact start blogging again. Almost afraid of the risk of doing so. There are so many unkind people in the world now. I don’t even get the worst online bullying.

So, looking back, there’s this person who used to inhabit this body that I am who had photos published in papers in two or three countries, who could stick a camera in people’s faces and they wanted me to do so, who moderated two major forums in Ireland, got nominated for blog awards back in the day, got profiled on TV for photograph (and recognised in a knitting shop for that)…who decided to start part time evening university courses, who was willing to learn anything, who decided to learn how to draw because really, practice was what mattered.

and now it’s not really me. Odd, really.

Messing with an interface


This taken from the Aiguille du Midi outside Chamonix. I have just learned an awful lot about WordPress and flickr from the mere hassle of trying to embed this picture.

Time was, you could go to flickr share, pick up some embed code and drop it into your editing window and everything just worked. THis was handy because you could decide which size image you wanted to put in the entry, for example.

It doesn’t work any more. It messes up your blocks and when you go and google “how do I get a flickr embed into WordPress” you get pointed at a block type which you cannot bloody customise. You give it the link to the picture and the software does everything else for you, including making design decisions.

This is beyond stupid. It is stupid in a way that I honestly wish to hell the people who did the user testing for Automattic would just resign en masse. When you change how the editor works significantly like that to the extent that I have to go and google how to find something, because “edit in html” doesn’t appear to work either, well that’s just horrible,

No doubt the team behind this have perfectly good engineering reasons but hell, this is the kind of thing that makes me look at the market again.

Please, for the love of all that is holy make it possible to drop embed script into a block and have it appear and work. Stop making me scroll through the block menu. Make the product better to use rather than worse to use.

I intend to write a travel piece. Now I am completely frustrated. That’s a great win. Not.

New way of working

I promised myself 45 minutes to blog this morning but before I get onto the meat of the next entry (Switzerland and France), I wanted to voice my own opinion on the arguments around remote working that are increasingly destroying my twitter feed.

Look, I get it. You want to remote work for the rest of your life. More power to you. But the world does not revolve around you and your needs. I hated, hated, hated teleworking. The lines between work and not work blurred to the point of being meaningless for me and while I technically have the space for a work desk in the corner, the fact remains that I had other plans for that space.

I’m fortunate enough to have a hybrid option and mostly I work in the office. But the reason that people want remote working seems to me to be because a) they have too long a commute and b) they loathe their coworkers/managers.

I’m utterly disillusioned with the debate. When I see it online, it is clear as daylight to me that the homeworking brigade cannot possibly absorb the fact that they might remotely be limited in their outlook. You cannot accidentally run into someone homeworking. Being stuck on video conference calls all day long is physically exhausting.

Home work if you want but for the love of god stop pretending that the people who hate it don’t matter. or are idiot managers who want to monitor. In my case I just want my bloody sewing machine table back.