Last week I was set to be an international observer for the recent National Assembly elections in Venezuela. The trip didn’t work out, though I understand the elections all went well. As a result I was back in Oxford a couple of days earlier than planned, and readjusting to life on ‘High Alert’.

Berinsfield

At the weekend I visited the village of Berinsfield with my family, and I’m curious about this village for a lot of reasons.

berinsfield_roman_road

The village was built around the former RAF Mount Farm airfield. After the Second World War it became redundant for military use and was illegally squatted by over 100 families in 1946. You can see in that the coincidence of demobilisation, a housing crisis, and an assertive popular movement.

berinsfield map

There are traces of the runways visible on satellite imagery of the surrounding fields, and on the ground there are still small signs of the former base.

berinsfield_housing

The area began slum clearance and reconstruction in 1958, and it has all the features of a planned development. There’s definitely more to this story, which I would investigate if I had time.

Dessert island competition

I won $100 in a graphics competition on Openclipart, along the theme of a ‘dessert island’. Taking it very literally, I drew an island which looks a bit like an ice cream cone. Snowconia!

dessert island

OCAL went offline for a long while last year, from 19th April to Christmas 2019. I don’t know what happened there, although in the meantime the files were copied and backed-up by alternative projects. The mirrored collection of 157,000 images only took up 23GB, and it’s strange to think the entire archive is small enough it could be easily backed up to a cheap pen drive.

Since then, Openclipart bounced back with a new website design, and at least from the outside the project looks in much better health. Insofar as there’s a community around the site, it’s remarkably absent of the nihilistic self-deprecating attitudes you might find on twitter or reddit. It’s a blessed little space on the internet full of genuine cleary-eyed appreciation for vector art.

It also feels kind of serious to actually win something, especially for a drawing which is deliberately lighthearted. The only other recognition for these cliparts is when I see them crop up in unexpected places (eg. on stickers around Malmö). I have a friend who now works as a semi-professinal designer, and I love spotting his drawings in real life.

Other contributions

I got a new dictaphone and I’ve been doing field recordings for Freesound. I also registered a geograph account with some photos of a coronavirus testing centre, and submitted my first bug report on github.

These are enjoyable and very distracting forms of procrastination. At the same time it’s all necessary to stop me from going mad trying to think through my impossible thesis.

Ambient friendships

Speaking of procrastination, I’m spending a lot of time composing long emails, and participating in big discussions in various group chats. All this makes up my social life now, and through the last ‘full’ confinement I wondered if I would eventually lose my composure.

I’m encountering a form of loneliness that I’m not used to. It’s like an unshakeable feeling of alienation, despite abundant social contact. I called a friend, who admitted part way through the conversation it was the first time he’d spoken with anyone in days, and yet we had been chatting regularly by text.

On another level, everyone is now very comfortable following each other from a respectful distance. Even here, I get introspective and akward about maintaining what is essentially a one-sided dialogue with myself.

In the first lockdown I went home to Oxford; everyone withdrew inside to wait out the emergency, and there was a palpable sense of danger. This time around the threat of infection seemed less of an immediate concern. I went up to Leicester and attempted to live a ‘normal’ life as much as possible. Even while there was nothing going on outside, at least I had my own dedicated living space; bed, desk, kitchen, etc. I took my time on cleaning, personal admin, I got into making coffee, and often lingered longer than necessary in Morrison’s.

I had a kind of hermit experience, along the lines of Deleuze and Guattari:

An extremely populous solitude, like the desert itself, a solitude already interlaced with a people to come, one that invokes and awaits that people, existing only through it, though it is not yet here.

Peter is preparing for an exam, and he found an extra effort re-learning how to write out relatively long passages on pen and paper. Social behaviour is like this, and in confinement I gradually forget how to properly interact with people. When society returns, will I mumble, or talk too loudly, or generally act out of character?

Bike maintainance

In the period before leaving Leicester, I finally got around to fixing up my bike. I replaced the crankshaft, and the pedals, and back brakes, cleaned and re-oiled the chain, and basically gave it a full service.

bottom_bracket

There’s still a lot of work I could do on it, I have a set of replacement gear shifters, I’m keen to take apart the new pedals, and possibly replace or re-seat the bottom bracket. Also, I’ve got a bike repair stand now!

Zero-G pizza

This came up under /r/showerthoughts and it struck me as a surprisingly profound little question. In 2017, astronauts on the International Space Station tried cooking pizzas in orbit. They made traditional Italian pizzas with a dough base, tomato and toppings on one side.

A pizza on Earth was baked in a telluric context, which never has to be consciously confronted and thought through. Why do we make pizzas with toppings on only one side? In space there’s no gravity, so there’s no reason you can’t put tomato sauce on both sides of the base.

I spent a puzzled evening turning this little detail of science-fiction over in my mind before going to sleep.

Rebel girl

I’ve been listeing to Rachel Hardy singing this classic IWW song.

She brings courage and pride and joy
to the fighting rebel boy.
It’s great to fight for freedom,
with a rebel girl.