I left this space 2,572 ago on my 26th birthday, exhausted and anxious.
Living online for the past fifteen months had worn me out in a way interacting in person never did and whilst working, writing, podcasting, and publishing fulfilled a desire to be heard, it came at a cost of being seen.
More people saw, read, and listened to things I had made in those fifteen months than Belgium, Barbados, Bermuda and Bahrain have people, combined. Previously taught that your value as a creative is not in what you make but in what you market, I took time over the past few months to take a different tact: doing what I want.
I'm now back – and better (more on that later) – and several months have passed since we last spoke, so I suppose it's time for a bit of a catch-up...
That's me posing with a ukulele at a pop-up radio station I had built at uni. Five years had passed since I last picked up an instrument and graced the world with my noise...
In June, I got a synth – the Arturia MicroFreak – paid a visit to independent music store Soundhouse in Gloucester to pick up a Zoom U22, made something resembling music, and put it on your favourite streaming service.
I had never done that before – it's surprisingly easy. Too easy, you might say.
Some of the more pleasant noise I've been making these past few months comes in the form of programmes.
With Ciaran and Dan at TWJ's Science+Nature magazine and Chris at Devaweb, we've been making Mysteries of Science and answering some of the biggest questions in our universe. Are aliens real? What is Deja vu? Is there a curse on King Tut's tomb? And how does the placebo effect work? It's intended for kids aged 8 to 11 but is a billiant listen whatever your age.
There's also Activity Quest which I make at Fun Kids and have given some real TLC to this summer. My favourite episodes include Dan Simpson's visit to Tower Bridge, my go at an at-home escape room experience known as Mini Mysteries, and a conversation I had about extreme-exposure analogue photography and astronomy with Sam from Solarcan.
In fact, analogue film photography is something I've gotten back into over the summer. I've been shooting on cameras ranging from a 1960s point-and-shoot to a mid-2000s SLR on films Kodak Portra and Ektar, and Ilford HP5 Plus and PanF 50. Almost all of the photos in this update were shot on film then scanned for storage; newly-founded Take It Easy Lab in Leeds has been handling that whole process for me.
I've rediscovered that having a mindful and respectful tactile relationship with things you create makes the experience more meaningful.
To inspire the range of things I've been doing this summer, I was gifted beautiful coffee-table books including Paul Smith and Tom Ford's self-titled retrospectives, Vivienne Westwood's Catwalk and a book containing a load of Andy Warhol polaroids. I've also been listening to In Praise of Shadows and Revelation as well as Rework, Remote, and It Doesn't Have to be Crazy at Work by Basecamp founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.
All of these pastimes – whether it's photography or podcasting, art or Audible – have something in common: They're all time-intense, creative outlets that present a slow-burn of gratification...
In amongst ten tonnes of hardcore and hidden beneath the concrete foundations of a log cabin, I placed a time capsule this summer. It'll be found long after you and I – 80 to 100 years in the future – when the concrete begins to deteriorate.
Preparing a stash of items to be intentionally found after your death makes you address mortality in a very intimate and profound way. Compiling my own time capsule – a message-in-a-bottle, launched into the ocean of potential futures – affected me in only positive ways.
It reminded me of a scene in the 2020 documentary Life in a Day where one man jumps into a lake, then speaking to camera, says:
What I fear the most is that my life will pass unnoticed, that my name won't matter in the history of the world.
Also containing its own time capsule, September 5th 2021 marks the 44th anniversary of the Voyager 1 launch. The Voyager Golden Record is a scrapbook of sounds and pictures from the planet, destined forever to float in interstellar space (or be intercepted by intelligent life). It's the furthest object from home that humankind has ever created; a record of our fleeting evolutionary fluke.
It is a statement.
Whatever happens to it in space, whatever its unknown destiny is, I think it represents a high water mark of our civilisation when we dreamed the biggest dreams. And I hope it will serve as an example, an inspiration for people to keep dreaming.
Those are the words of Jon Lomberg, the artist who created the symbols on the Voyager's Golden Record cover which detail exactly how it is to be played, where in the universe it came from, and how to decode the images on it.
The most important goal of any space mission is not to discover what's 'out there' but is instead an effort to understand ourselves a little bit better...
How did we get here? What is our position within the universe? Are we alone?
Speaking to artist Luke Jerram for Activity Quest and learning of something called the Overview Effect, to discovering humankind's other strides to communicate our existence on this tiny pearl transformed all of the anxiety and exhaustion I had in May – the thought of over 14 million people consuming things I had made, a population double the size of London – into something entirely different: affirming.
The point isn't being heard or seen. It is to make for the sake of making and in doing so perhaps understand ourselves a little bit better; a statement I knew 2,572 hours ago but that took 2,572 hours of practice to rediscover.
I'm now back – and better (thanks for waiting) – and in the several months that have passed since we last spoke, two billionaires touched the edge of space, Wimbledon, the Euros, and the Olympics all came and went, and almost one million more people laid eyes or ears on my work.
I won't leave it 2,572 hours next time, just 620 or so.
You'll next hear from me on October 1st, 2021.