What do you like most about your writing ?

This year I’m taking part in “Bloganuary” – a series of writing prompts published throughout the month by Mindy Postoff. Today’s writing prompt is “What do you like most about your writing ?”.

Today’s writing prompt is perhaps the most difficult for me to answer so far – because it forces me to look inwards. I don’t tend to do a lot of self-analysis. My words are usually pretty transparent – of the moment. I write about whatever subject is in my head.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe the thing I like most about my writing is that it isn’t contrived. I don’t pretend to be somebody I’m not. I’m not playing a part, or portraying a character. I’m just a fairly straightforward guy that likes to write, sharing his thoughts with the world.

Back in the mists of time – before marketers got hold of the world wide web and insisted that everything should have purpose, polish, and dance with the woke brigade in terms of being politically correct, blogs were just diarys. Journals. People emptying their head into the keyboard late at night – expressing frustrations, divulging secrets, and chasing wishes.

I’m fully aware that I’m something of a throwback. A balrog in blogging terms. A writer of the old world. And I’m good with that.

Of course the trick is finding kindred spirits that we share at least a few character flaws with – so we might accompany each other along the winding road.


Make Me Laugh

This year I’m taking part in “Bloganuary” – a series of writing prompts published throughout the month by Mindy Postoff. Today’s writing prompt is “What makes you laugh?”.

I’ll get back to answering today’s writing prompt in a moment – in the meantime, please read on.

A little while ago I saw an interview with Stephen Fry, where a member of the audience asked him about the difference between comedy in the US and the UK. His answer has stuck with me ever since, and I now find myself subconsciously pulling supposedly “funny” TV shows to pieces over and over again.

His general observation was that most US comedy is based on somebody being the smartest, most popular person in the room – where the humor is centred either around them saying something funnier or doing something more entertaining than those around them, or contriving a situation that makes those around them look bad.

Counter to the US, UK comedy is based around somebody wanting to be the smartest, the most popular, or to achieve something, and the audience becoming aware far in advance of their inevitable failure. The joke is almost never at the expense of somebody else.

It’s an odd cultural difference when you think about it, but the more you do, the more true it becomes. Most of the humor you might see in a US comedy store is based around making fun of somebody – either the way they look, the way they sound, their views, or whatever else – whereas most stand-up comedians in the UK relate anecdotes about the many and various failures of their own lives.

I remember visiting a nearby theatre to watch Mark Watson perform stand-up some time ago, and was glad of the interval because my face hurt from laughing so much. While the many and varied stories of his heroic but desperate failures made you cringe, he of course leaned in and described increasingly steep descents into mayhem, bad luck, disaster, and outrageous misfortune.

So. In a roundabout way, I suppose I have arrived back at “what makes me laugh”.

A story I can relate to will often make me laugh.

A story somebody tells where the universe pulled the rug out from beneath them in spectacular fashion, despite their best efforts to the contrary. I guess the humour is in the shared experience – where we know what the story-teller is going to say before they say it. It’s the anticipation that gets us – the inevitability of it all – the realisation that the world is just as terrible for everyone.



This year I’m taking part in “Bloganuary” – a series of writing prompts published throughout the month by Mindy Postoff. Today’s writing prompt is “Who is someone that inspires you and why?”.

I’m going to answer today’s writing prompt somewhat indirectly.

I tend not to hero worship, or put anybody on pedestals, so naming an individual as an inspiration seems false. As the social internet has amplified celebrity, and more notable influencers have leaned into audience manipulation, reinvention of self, and the curation of alternate realities, I have become increasingly disillusioned by anybody that projects an ideal, an image, or a way of life.

In recent months I have begun searching the internet for honesty and transparency – searching for people telling their own story – their adventures, ideas, thoughts, hopes and dreams. Quiet voices of truth.

While it’s easy to be drowned out by armies of keyboard warriors fighting perceived injustices, or furthering ill-conceived idealistic crusades, some people continue placing one foot in front of the other, and find their own way through the mayhem – continuing to tell their own story.

Those are the people that inspire me.


The Communication Complication

This year I’m taking part in “Bloganuary” – a series of writing prompts published throughout the month by Mindy Postoff. Today’s writing prompt is “What is something you wish you knew how to do?”.

Whenever I happen upon somebody that can speak more than one language, I tend to regard it as the most wonderful parlour trick, and cannot quite fathom how they do it. I wish I could do it too, but the extent of my ability only extends as far as useful sentences such as “I am 12 years old”, “My name is Jonathan”, and “I have a black dog” in French.

I was always terrible at languages at school.

I would like to blame being elevated into the advanced French class at school when I was twelve years old for my lack of ability. We all learned French at school – I’m not sure if kids still do – if you were good enough at it, you learned German too. I never learned German. I had no place in the advanced French class. Sure, I could work hard at it and do well in tests, but I couldn’t string a useful sentence together. It didn’t come easily to me.

While working in Germany a couple of years ago I was invited to visit a co-worker and his family for the evening. He and his partner were from Romania. So they were in Germany, already speaking one foreign language, and inviting me over for dinner, and speaking another with me. They invited another co-worker from Holland. I gazed in wonder all night at their linguistic gymnastics.

They described switching languages like changing radio channels in your head. There was no conscious translation as such – you just switch from one to the other.

My brain doesn’t appear to work like that. I think I got the basic model. It’s very good at doing simple tasks, one after another, and that’s about it.

That being said, while working as a software and web developer I have learned all manner of computer languages – everything from Visual Basic, to Pascal, HTML, Javascript, C, C++, C#, Python, SQL, Perl, PHP, Ruby, and probably quite a few I can’t recall right now. Here’s the thing though – if I try to switch languages mid-conversation, I make huge mistakes. Most developers do. Thankfully modern computers catch those mistakes – although they never give a sensible reason for your idiocy not quite working as intended.


There’s my answer for today’s writing prompt – I wish I could speak multiple languages. I have no practical purpose for it, but I admire those that can do it tremendously.


Favourite Childhood Toys

This year I’m taking part in “Bloganuary” – a series of writing prompts published throughout the month by Mindy Postoff. Today’s writing prompt is “What was your favourite toy as a child?”.

I was born in 1973. Although the memories are hazy at best, I would have gone to the cinema to see “Star Wars” when it was originally released. I can vaguely remember “The Empire Strikes Back”, and can clearly remember “Return of the Jedi”. More than the movies, I remember the experience of visiting the cinema with my Dad and brother – the feeling of exhilaration while walked out into the night air afterwards, and the excited conversation during the car journey home.

In the years that followed, each Christmas brought another spaceship from the Star Wars universe, and one or two more figures for my collection. I vividly remember the year the AT-AT arrived, towering over the assembled rag-tag fleet of spaceships that assembled under the stairs before lunch.

I spent countless hours playing with the Star Wars toys during my formative years. Bookshelves became space stations, with books pulled out to provide blast doors. Darth Vader remained the villain throughout – although he only ever had one or two storm-troopers under his command in my stories – because that’s all I had. I never had an Imperial Tie-Fighter either, so most stories involved the theft of the X-Wing, or my brother’s Snow Speeder.

It’s funny – the more I write, the more I remember.

One day in my early teens – after computers had entered my life and swept all toys before them, my Mum told me about a fund-raiser for a local children’s home that was happening – and would I like to donate the Star Wars toys. I didn’t hesitate.

Collectors are probably grimacing at this point, but my Star Wars toys were played with – not locked in glass cabinets and admired – and they went on to be played with. We found out years later that the children’s home didn’t sell the Star Wars toys – they kept them. Countless children in their care shared them, and created their own memories with them.

Fast forward thirty years, and I (of course) took my own children to watch the new movies – to cheer as Rey awakened the force, to cry as first Luke and then Leia died, and to walk into the night air exhilarated all over again.

For several years my youngest daughter went everywhere dressed as a Jedi. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.


Leaving My Comfort Zone

This year I’m taking part in “Bloganuary” – a series of writing prompts published throughout the month by Mindy Postoff. Today’s theme is “Write about the last time you left your comfort zone”.

In the daytime I work as a software and web developer. Since the pandemic ravaged the world, for the most part that means sitting alone at home in front of a computer trying to make sense of requirements documents, and constructing solutions for staff I will never meet.

While I may not be able to speak multiple languages – a feat I’m always captivated by when others perform it – I can write software in multiple languages. Multiple machine languages come with the territory, because the development of computers doesn’t stand still. Just as real-world languages evolve, so do the means by which we instruct computers to get the job done.

Which leads me to the departure from my comfort zone. It’s happening right now.

For the last several years I’ve been in a comfortable little bubble – partially of my own making – using the same technology stack to build solution after solution. Well that has all come crashing down in recent months – with opportunities in the marketplace pivoting towards something different. It’s a little like turning up to a school to teach French as you have for the last decade, only to discover one morning the label on the door has been replaced with “German for beginners”.

The problem with computer languages isn’t so much the language itself – it’s what you’re doing with it. It’s never as simple as learning the wording, and the sentence structure. Invariably you need to also learn how it has been used for an entire library of pre-existing stuff. Perhaps an analogy might help. Instead of just learning about the fuel, springs, and the nuts and bolts your car is made from, you have to learn about suspension geometry, the theoretical workings of the combustion engine, the GPS system, the locking system, and so on.

For most software development projects you find yourself standing upon the shoulders of countless generations of giants that came before you – and that can make the learning curve incredibly steep.

I’m on that steep slope at the moment. Thankfully the hard climbing is already done, and the gradient is beginning to level off. Of course the problem now is looking back down, and realising how high you are – and how far you might fall if you make a mistake.

So yes. I’m out of my comfort zone at the moment. I have to remind myself that I’m surrounded by wonderful co-workers, and that the internet is but a few keystrokes away – where an army of fellow developers often share their knowledge and enthusiasm.

Fingers crossed for the months ahead.


Coast to Coast

This year I’m taking part in “Bloganuary” – a series of writing prompts published throughout the month by Mindy Postoff. Today’s theme is “what is a road trip you would love to take?”

Back in 1999, when the world and I were very different, I had just returned to England after visiting my younger cousin in San Francisco for the spring.

Being young, naive, and not having seen much of the world, America walked straight out of a movie. From the blue shirted police officers wandering the crowds in the airport, to the hotdog sellers, the impossibly pretty college girls, and the war veterans holding placards in the street. A new world filled with unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells.

I wouldn’t so much say San Francisco made an impression on me, so much as grabbed me by the collar and shook me. Days were spent walking the various parks, eating sourdough bread, and retracing the haunts of Kerouac and Ginsberg.

The America I experienced during the spring of 1999 has stayed with me ever since.

In the months that followed – having read “On the Road” – I started to make plans for a coast-to-coast adventure. Perhaps the following summer. I would fly to New York and travel westwards across the United States – using cars, busses, trains, boats, taxis, bicycles – as many forms of transport as possible. My cousin would meet me for parts of the journey – perhaps to revisit her birthplace in Chicago, or the home of her formative years at Lake Powell.

At the end of the year I began researching the papertrail to make the visit somewhat more permanent – sponsorship, green cards, and emigration forms became the subject of transatlantic phone calls.

And then none of it happened.

I met a girl.

A chance meeting with a girl in Oxford re-wrote my future during the spring of 2000, and the road trip, the emigration, and the arrival of an English web developer in San Francisco during the dot com boom never happened.

I’ve never forgotten the plans though. One day. One day. Quite how the money or time might ever present itself remains something of a mystery given the arrival of houses, daughters, pets, and so on – but the thought remains – one day.


Advice to my Teenage Self

While wandering the halls of WordPress late last night I stumbled upon Bloganuary – a series of writing prompts that will be published throughout the month. I’ve decided to take part. I’m a day late, so playing catch-up already. Enjoy!

This letter has travelled 30 years into the past to find your hands. At the time you read this you are single, you still live with your parents, you have just left college, and you are working for the family business.

You better sit down.

At the moment you’re pretty consigned to always being everybody’s best friend – to never meeting anybody. You couldn’t be more wrong.

In 30 years time you are married.

You met a girl in Oxford one Sunday afternoon in 2000. Neither of you thought it would go anywhere at first, but you saw each other again, and again, and nature took its course.

Months from now, your entire family will scatter across England. You will find your career a couple of miles from the girl you’re going to meet near London, and will work as a software and web developer. Code you are going to write will be used by big companies all over the world. Thousands of people will rely on the things you build to do their job every day. You will be regarded as a pretty good software developer by your peers, and a great web developer.

You’re going to love the web.

The next one is huge. You’re going to have three children. Three little girls. They will be fantastic, and will make you smile, laugh, and occasionally shout. The eldest will be just like you, the middle one will have the loudest voice in the known universe, and the youngest is going to be all sorts of trouble (and will have no idea).

You will write a journal.

Compuserve – that you’re thinking about joining at the moment – will not last for long. The “internet” will replace the various BBS and subscription services that you’ve just started using. The internet will be generally available to everybody, and will become everybody’s primary means of communicating. It will not be owned by anybody.

Your mobile phone will do everything your current computer does, and much more. You will use it as a camera, to listen to music, to watch movies, to play games, to send and receive emails, and to chat with people all over the world.

You will make friends across the globe. You will become closer to some of the friends you make through the internet than those in the real world, and will catch up with each other almost every day.

Your life is going to change enormously.

You are going to be happy, have a wonderful family, and many friends. Its all good. Look forward to it.


New Years Day

So here we are. Another new year. While it’s tempting to make resolutions, to “double down” on that which was intended but not done in the past, I’m resisting. Resolutions are invariably not kept. Aspirations are invariably not met. While it sounds tremendously boring to have no aims, given the past couple of years just making it through in one piece seems to be as good a goal as any.

We stayed in last night. Everybody we know stayed in. We ate dinner, watched television, and poured a glass of fizzy wine at the allotted hour.

My middle daughter worked throughout the afternoon and evening at a bar in the centre of town – I met her as her shift finished at 10pm and we wandered home through the Christmas lights together.

We were all in bed before 1am, and struggled to get up this morning. I think today might be very quiet indeed. A day for reading books, watching movies, playing board games, and setting out pages in new bullet journals.

My use of bullet journals over the last few years has now spread like a virus throughout my family. My other half now has one, as does my middle daughter. I wandered into the lounge yesterday and interrupted a very serious conversation about future logs and migration. I smiled.


Time to make a cup of tea, and catch up on the written adventures of far flung friends.