Semi-inspired by a similar project by Kev Quirk,
I’ve got a project I want to run on my blog in 2024.
I want you to be my pen pal for a month. Get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or any other way you like and let’s do this!
I don’t know much about the people who read my blog, whether they’re ad-hoc visitors or regular followers1.
So here’s the plan: I’m looking to do is to fill a “dance card” of interesting people each of with whom I’ll “pen pal” for a month.
The following month, I’ll blog about the experience: who I met, what I learned about them, what I learned about myself. Have a look below and see if there’s a slot for you: I’d love to
chat to you about, well – anything!
Get inspired to blog about new/different things (and hopefully help inspire others to do the same).
Connect with a dozen folks on a more-interpersonal level than I normally do via my blog.
Maybe even make, or deepen, some friendships!
Aiming for at least 3 email exchanges over a month. Maybe more.2
There’s no specific agenda: I promise to bring what I’ve been thinking about and working on, and possibly a spicy conversation-starter from LetsLifeChat.com. You bring whatever you like. No topic is explicitly off the table unless somebody says it is (which anybody can do
at any time, for any or no reason).
I’ll blog a summary of my experience the month afterwards, but I won’t share anything without permission. I’ll happily share an unpublished draft with each penpal first so they
can veto any bits they don’t like. I’ll refer to you by whatever name, link etc. suits you best.
If you have a blog/digital garden/social presence of any kind, you’re welcome to blog about it too. Or not: entirely up to you!
You! If you’re reading this, you’re probably somebody I want to meet! But I’d be especially interested in penpalling with people who tick one or more of the following
Personal bloggers at the edges of or just outside my usual social circles. Maybe you’re an IndieWeb, RSS Club, or Geminispace explorer?
Regular readers, whether you just skim the post titles and dive in once in a blue moon or read every post and comment on the things you care about.
Automatticians from parts of the company I don’t get to interact with. Let’s build some bridges!
People whose interests overlap with mine in any way, large or small. That overlap might be technology (web standards, accessibility, security, blogging, open
source…), hobbies (GPS sports, board games, magic, murder mysteries, science fiction, getting lost on Wikipedia…),
volunteering (third sector support, tech for good, diversity in tech…), social (queer issues, polyamory, socialism…), or something else entirely.
Missed connections. Did we meet briefly or in-passing (conferences, meetups, friends-of-friends, overlapping volunteering circles) but not develop anything further?
I’d love to pick up where we left off!
Distant- and nearly-friends. Did we drift apart long ago, or never quite move into one another’s orbit in the first place? This could be your excuse to touch bases!
If you read this far and didn’t email email@example.com yet, go do that. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!
1 Not-knowing who reads my blog might come at least in part from the fact that I actively sabotage any plugin that might give me any analytics! One might say I’ve shot myself in the foot, there.
2 If we stay in touch afterwards that’s fine too, but it’s not essential.
3 I’m looking for longer-form, but slower, communication than you get via e.g. instant
messengers and whatnot: a more “penpal” experience.
One of the benefits of being in a camera club full of largely retired people who were all into photography long before digital was ever a thing, is that lots of them have old film,
paper and gear lying around they’re happy to give away.
Last year I was offered a photographic enlarger for making prints, but I initially turned it down because I didn’t think I’d have the space to set up a darkroom and use it. Well,
turns out with a little imagination our windowless bathroom actually converts into a pretty tidy darkroom with fairly minimal setup and teardown – thankfully we also have an
ensuite so my partner can cope with this arrangement with only minimal grumbling
My friend Rory tells the story of how he set up a darkroom in his (spare) windowless bathroom and shares his experience of becoming an
increasingly analogue photographer in an increasingly almost-completely digital world.
Apparently the NCSF (US) are typing to make 28 February into Metamour Day: a
celebration of one’s lover’s lovers. While I’m not convinced that’ll ever get Hallmark’s interest, I thought it provided a good opportunity to sing the praises of my metamour, JTA.
I first met JTA 15 years ago at Troma Night XX, when his girlfriend Ruth – an attendee of Troma Night since its earliest days the previous year – brought him along and we all mocked his three-letter initialism.
Contrary to our previous experience, thanks to Liz, of people bringing boyfriends once but never again (we always assumed that we
scared them off), JTA became a regular, even getting to relive some of the early nights that he’d missed in our nostalgic 50th event. Before long, I felt glad to count him among my friends.
You have a fantastic temper which you keep carefully bottled away and of which you draw out only a little at a time and only where it is genuinely justly deserved. Conversely, your
devotion to the things you love and care about is equally inspiring.
Unless they happened to bump into each other at QParty, the first time Ruth and JTA met my school friend Gary was at my dad’s funeral. Gary had seen mention of the death in the local paper and came to the wake. About 30 seconds later, Gary and I were reminiscing, exchanging anecdotes about our misspent youths, when
suddenly JTA blurted out: “Oh my God… you’re Sc… Sc-gary?”
Ever since then, my internal monologue has referred to Gary by the new nickname “Scgary”, but to understand why requires a little bit of history…
Despite having been close for over a decade, Gary and I drifted apart somewhat after I moved to Aberystwyth in 1999, especially as I became more and more deeply involved with volunteering at Aberystwyth Nightline and the
resulting change in my social circle which soon was 90% comprised of fellow volunteers, (ultimately resulting in JTA’s “What,
Everyone?” moment). We still kept in touch, but our once more-intense relationship – which started in a primary school playground! – was put on a backburner as we tackled the next
big things in our lives.
Something I was always particularly interested both at Nightline and in the helplines I volunteered with subsequently was training. At Nightline, I proposed and pushed forward a
reimplementation of their traditional training programme that put a far greater focus on experience and practical skills and less on topical presentations. My experience as a trainee
and as a helpline volunteer had given me an appreciation of the fundamentals of listening and I wanted future
trainees to be able to benefit from this by giving them less time talking about listening and more time practising listening.
The primary mechanism by which helplines facilitate such practical training is through roleplaying. A trainer will pretend to be a caller and will talk to a trainee, after which the
pair (along with any other trainers or trainees who are observing) will debrief and talk about how it went. The only problem with switching wholesale to a roleplay/skills-driven
approach to training at Aberystwyth Nightline, as I saw it, was the approach that was historically taken to the generation of roleplay material, which favoured the use of anonymised
adaptations of real or imagined calls.
Roleplay scenarios must be realistic (so that they simulate the experience of genuine calls with sufficient accuracy that they are meaningful) but they must also be
effective (at promoting the growth of the skills that are needed to best-support callers). Those two criteria often come into conflict in roleplay scenarios: a caller who sits
in near-silence for 20 minutes may well be realistic, but there’s a limit to how much you can learn from sitting in silence; a roleplay which tests every facet of a trainee’s practical
knowledge provides efficiency, but does not reflect the content of any call that has ever really happened.
I spent some time outlining the characteristics of best-practice roleplays and providing guidelines to help “train the trainers”. These included ideas, some of which were (then) a
little radical, like:
A roleplay should be based upon a character, not a story: if the trainer knows how the call is going to end, this constrains the opportunity for the
trainee to explore the space and experiment with listening concepts. A roleplay is necessarily improvisational: get into your character, let go of your preconceptions.
Avoid using emotionally-charged experiences from your own life: use your own experience, certainly, but put your own emotional baggage aside. Not only is it unfair to
your trainee (they’re not your therapist!) but it can be a can of worms in its own right – I’ve seen a (great) trainee help a trainer to make a personal breakthrough for which they
were perhaps not yet ready.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes: you’re not infallible, and you neither need to be nor to present yourself as a perfect example of a volunteer. Be willing to learn
from the trainees (I’ve definitely made use of things I’ve learned from trainees in real calls I’ve taken at Samaritans) and create a space in which you can collectively discuss how
roleplays went, rather than simply critiquing them.
In order to demonstrate the concepts I was promoting, I wrote and demonstrated a significant number of sample roleplay ideas, many of which I (or others) would then go on to flesh-out
into full roleplays at training sessions. One of these for which I became well-known was entitled My Friend Scott.
The caller in this roleplay presents with suicidal ideation fuelled by feelings of guilt and loneliness following the accidental death, about six months prior, of his best friend Scott,
for which he feels responsible. Scott had been the caller’s best friend since childhood, and he’s fixated on the adventures that they’d had together. He clearly has a huge admiration
for his dead friend, bordering on infatuation, and blames himself not only for the death but for the resulting fracturing of their shared friendship group and his subsequent isolation.
(We’re close to getting back to the “Scgary story”, I promise. Hang in here.)
When I would perform this roleplay as the caller, I’d routinely flesh out Scott and the caller’s backstory with anecdotes from my own childhood and early-adulthood: it seemed important
to be able to fill in these kinds of details in order to demonstrate how important Scott was to the caller’s life. Things that I really did with any of several of my childhood
friends found their way, with or without embellishment, into the roleplay, like:
Building a raft on the local duck pond and paddling out to an island, only to have the raft disintegrate and have to swim back
An effort to dye a friend’s hair bright red which didn’t produce a terribly satisfactory result but did stain many parts of a bathroom
Camping in the garden, dragging out a desktop computer and extension cable to fully replicate the “in the wild” experience
Flooding my mother’s garden (which at that time was a long slope on clay soil) in order to make a muddy waterslide
Generating fake credit card numbers to facilitate repeated month-long free trials of an ISP‘s services
Riding on the bonnet of a friend’s first car, hanging on to the windscreen wipers, eventually (unsurprisingly) falling off and getting run over
Of course: none of the new Nightliners I trained knew which, if any, of these stories were real – that was never a part of the experience. But many were real, or had a morsel of truth.
And a reasonable number of them – four of those in the list above – were things that Gary and I had done together in our youth.
JTA’s surprise came from that strange feeling that occurs when two very parts of your life that you thought were completely separate suddenly and unexpectedly collide with one another
(I’m familiar with it). The anecdote that Gary had just shared about our teen years was one that exactly mirrored something
he’d heard me say during the My Friend Scott roleplay, and it briefly crashed his brain. Suddenly, this was Scott standing in front of him, and he’d been able to get
far enough through his sentence to begin saying that name (“Sc…”) before the crash stopped him in his tracks and he finished off with “…gary”.
I’m not sure whether or not Gary realises that, in my house at least, he’s to this day been called “Scgary”.
I bumped into him, completely by chance, while visiting my family in Preston this weekend. That reminded me that I’d long planned to tell this story: the story of Scgary, the imaginary
person who exists only in the minds of the tiny intersection of people who’ve both (a) met my friend Gary and know about some of the crazy shit we got up to together when we were young
and foolish and (b) trained as a volunteer at Aberystwyth Nightline during the window between me overhauling how training was provided and ceasing to be involved with the training
programme (as far as I’m aware, nobody is performing My Friend Scott in my absence, but it’s possible…).
Gary asked me to give him a shout and meet up for a beer next time I’m in his neck of the woods, but it only occurred to me after I said goodbye that I’ve no idea what the best way to
reach him is, these days. Like many children of the 80s, I’ve still got the landline phone numbers memorised of all of my childhood friends, but even if that number is still
valid, it’d be his parents house!
I guess that I’ll let the Internet do the work for me: perhaps if I write this, here, he’ll find it, somehow. Hi, Scgary!
It’s was a busy weekend; the first of several, I’m sure. Mostly – put briefly – it’s been spent thusly:
Democracy: I’ll be voting “Yes” on Thursday’s referendum, and you should too (unless you’ve already been
persuaded or are even helping with the fight). And while I’ve not had as
much opportunity to help get this message out as Ruth and JTA have, I’ve tried to do my bit by joining them for a spot of leafleting over the weekend. I’m not entirely in favour of some of the campaign
tactics being used (like the separate “Labour Yes” and “Conservative Yes” campaigns which act as if one another don’t exist: to me, whether or not we adopt AV has nothing to do with parties or
candidates and everything to do with it just being a better way of representing the opinion of the voters), but I guess that they’re necessary to get the point across to
some folks. And this slight spindoctoring quickly pales in the light of some of the lies that the no-to-AV campaigners are telling.
Injury: Not to me, this time, but to my
father, who came off his bike while cycling around Scotland this weekend. I’ve not had the chance to talk to him since they pushed back his surgery (he’s broken parts of himself and
they want to turn him into a cyborg put a metal plate in him, or something) until later this week. Right now, then, he’s confined to
hospital, which I can’t imagine he’s enjoying very much. If they’ve hooked you up with Internet access, dad – get well soon.
Packing: Oh, so much packing. I got started on boxing up all of the board games, the other day, only to find out that there were quite a few more of them
than I remembered. I’ve also started on my collection of cables and computer knick-knacks, and discovered that I have no fewer than five male-to-male VGA cables. Why? I’ve no idea. I’ve
been gradually cutting down on my spare supplies (do I really need three spare floppy drive cables when I don’t use any floppy disks?), but it’s hard: the very next day after I
throw them out, you can guarantee that’ll be the moment I need one of my many AT-to-PS2 keyboard adapters.
Friendship: A couple of weeks ago I met Adrian, an international student from the USA who’s been in Oxford for a year or so for the final year of zer* study.
Ze and I ‘clicked’ and formed an immediate connection, instantly getting along remarkably well. We spent a little of this weekend together, and for a moment there, it seemed like there
might be the potential for a romantic connection, too. But sadly, by the time we got into gear ze had only two days left in the UK before jetting off back home to the States… and 3,900
miles is a long, long way. We both agreed that we should have met a year ago, but c’est la vie: the world is smaller, these days, thanks to the Internet, so
there’s every chance of building an online friendship, punctuated those rare occasions when we happen to be in one another’s country.
* It’s a gender-neutral pronoun, if you haven’t come across one before (and as I usually only find
myself using them in the context of BiCon, you’d be forgiven). Aside from their linguistic benefits in politically-correct
society, they’re often favoured by those whose gender identity is
neither male nor female.
I’d just like to take a moment to say how amazing my friends are. It’s likely to be a little sappy: for those of you who like your blog posts on the other side of the wall, please
switch off your eyes now.
Earlier this month, I blogged about Claire and I’s break-up. For many of the people I know, this will have been the very first they’ll have heard about it. Over the 36 hours or so that followed, I was
completely swamped by consolations and concern: by comment, text message, Facebook,
instant message, e-mail and phone – as well as in person from those I’ve seen in the meantime. Every single one of those messages is appreciated so very much. Thank you all.
And that’s not even mentioning the check-ins that people have made in the weeks since. It’s so kind of you all. I hope that Claire’s feeling as supported as I’ve been lucky enough to
So how’s it going? That’s what everybody asks. Well…
…it’s still difficult. I’m not sure why I might have expected anything else: Claire and I were together for a quarter of my life so far. I still cry quite a lot, especially when
Grooveshark Radio conspires against me and decides to queue up a whole series of songs that remind me of her. I
don’t see as much of her as I used to, and I miss her, but when we’re together I often find it quite painfully awkward: even just down to little things, like the times that I realise
that for the last few minutes I’d forgotten we aren’t a couple. I’m intensely keen on us being friends, and at least salvaging the awesome friendship we’ve shared for most of the
millenium, but it’s not as comfortable as I’d like.
As I’ve said to a handful of people, now: without Claire, there’s no compelling reason for me to stay in Aberystwyth, so in the New Year, I’ll be aiming to leave town. I’m not sure
where I’ll go, yet, or what I’ll do, but I’ve got some ideas. Today, I told my boss about my situation and that I’d like to start taking steps to make sure that the company can do
without me: the joy of small-team development, eh?
When I first came to town, I promised myself that I wouldn’t get caught in the trap of being “stuck” here. I realised that Aberystwyth was a place that I could really fall in love with,
and I promised myself that I wouldn’t stay more than ten years.
That was ten years and two months ago. I think it’s time to leave my love behind.
Paul M: fucking nutter. The most random person you’re ever likely to meet. But you’ve got to love his
This morning, I’m happily sat at my workstation, staring, as I do, at program code and pausing from time to time to check the RSS
feeds of the usual crew, when the phone rings: Matt answers it; it’s Technium reception – they’ve got a parcel for us. Ooh; that’s exciting, but
Matt’s deeply involved in some code so I offer to go and collect it. The arrangement here among us lazy folks is that the receptionist puts the parcel in the lift, and one of us toddles
along the corridor and takes it out of the lift on this floor.
I stood outside the lift and listened as it came up to the first floor. The door opened, and I lifted out the parcel… and that’s when I noticed the first strange thing: the parcel was
addressed to me, personally (which is very unusual) and the address was written entirely in marker pen (rather than being a printed label, as most goods delivered to us here are). I’m
not expecting anything; least of all at work: I never give my work address to anybody. Who could have sent this?
I opened it and laughed out loud. It took just a second to realise what was going on, as I recalled a conversation in the RockMonkeyChatRoom yesterday lunchtime…
[11:38]* Ava_Work goes to nuke food [11:38] <Ava_Work> Hmm… spaghetti hoops on toast for me, methinks…
[11:39] <Pacifist_049> You’re microwaving spaghetti hoops?
[11:41] <Ava_Work> Yup.
[11:41] <Ava_Work> Why?
[11:41] <Pacifist_049> Philistine
[11:41] <Ava_Work> So…
[11:41] <Ava_Work> …how else can I do it?
[11:41] <Ava_Work> And think carefully now…
[11:41] <Pacifist_049> Pan
[11:41] <Ava_Work> A pan. Which I don’t have. But let’s pretend I did. How would I heat it?
[11:41] <Pacifist_049> I know you don’t have a cooker at work, but that’s not the issue here. It’s the principle, damnit!
[11:42] <Ava_Work> So; as it pisses YOU off so much, feel free to bring me a pan and a cooker. Then I’ll do it your way, which is – in the end – preferable.
[11:42] <Ava_Work> However, it doesn’t piss ME off enough that I’ll go hungry rather than nuke spaghetti hoops.
Click on images for larger versions.
The parcel, as shown above, contains a pan, wooden spoon, loaf of bread, tin of spaghetti hoops, and a strangely familiar electric
Which is a fab gesture, although if I use it for my lunch today I’ll have to do so on the sly, on account of the fact that the Technium facilities manager is in today and this
particular piece of electrical equipment has not been electrically safety-tested.
I’ve been celebrating my new-found freedom [removed link] by letting myself post to De’s forums. For those of
you who aren’t following this little campaign, I really hurt him about a year ago, and he decided to hate me but not tell me why, and asked me not to contact him. So I didn’t, until I
realised what an arse he was, not long ago.
I’ve discovered what Kit‘s evil plan is: he’s transforming Paul
into another Kit!
Paul, like Kit (another jobless bum) now comes around to my house and tidies up in exchange for not being allowed to starve. Okay; it’s not quite that bad (or organised), but Kit’s
quite obviously just beginning a long and complex plan, here.
Cycling home last night I realised once again quite what a happy bunny I am. I enjoy my job, for which I am paid very reasonably. I live in a town that I love, and I’m surrounded by
good friends. And, above all else, I have the love of a beautiful woman whom I love and adore with all my heart. When I got home, I told Kit, Bryn and Paul (who were already at my house, playing Super Monkey Ball 2) quite what a happy little creature I was. They didn’t seem particularly impressed.
Kit continues to get better at Super Monkey Ball 2. He kicked my arse at Monkey Target 2, in which the aim is to land gliders on small targets at sea, at least as much as I beat him.
Might need to get some Super Monkey Practice in.
Andy’s latest journal entry is weird as ever. Slightly trippy, but inspirational nonetheless. I have a
thought for a similar tale of my own, published to this site, but with an interesting twist upon the typical “serial story” theme. If I can be arsed I’ll make it happen. No promises. I
have lots of other stuff to be getting on with.
This morning, picked up our insurance report from Daton Systems, who I’ve given a link because they didn’t charge me for
the privilege. This report claims that the laptop is a write-off, which lets us stop the insurance company bugging us about having claimed it as such and bought a new one without any
Many of my friends here in Aber seem to have their own weblogs on LiveJournal. I’m almost tempted to download the (open) source of LJ and set
up AberJournal, a site for Aberites to post their journals to. Could be cool.
I’m glad to report that I now feel that I have recovered from something that’s afflicted me for most of the last year.
As you may be aware, almost eleven months ago my girlfriend, Claire, and I got together. At the time, she’d recently started (in part by my orchestration) going out with De, a great and
close friend of mine.
For some reason – the obvious one seems clear, but he insisted upon playing a “guessing game” and I’ve tried all the ideas I can think of – De then decided to hate me. He won’t tell me
what I’ve done to hurt him so much, but insists that it’s not any of the things that I suggested it was.
For the greatest part I wanted to make it up. I wanted him back – we were great friends, we really were. And I would have done anything for him if I thought it would give me a chance of
getting that back. But he’d made up his mind – he asked me not to try to contact him, and I, for my love of him, did exactly that, as far as I could. It was hard. Were it not for
Claire’s support, I couldn’t have done it.
My friends assured me he’d come around.
It is now over ten and a half months later, and I’m happy – relieved – to report that the part of my heart that he held has now been released. I no longer care about him enough to want
him back. It took almost a year, and at times it felt like a lifetime, but I can now be proud knowing that I did not let his hatred beat me!
I don’t care about him enough to want him back. I just want him to stop being such a bastard.
I don’t care about him enough to want him back. I don’t even care about him enough to honor his request not to contact him. He’s a wanker, and I shouldn’t have let him control me for
this last year through the false hope that we could once again be friends.
I’ll always remember the good times we had. This is where it ends.