Minimalish: Six Month Brick Phone Review with a Small Detour into a Quite a Large Consumerism Rant

Sooo if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know I swapped my smart phone for a brick phone late last year. I did a one month review and thought, since it’s now been about six months, I’d do a proper, Which?-esque write up, especially as a few people have said they’d love to ditch their smart phone. Here’s what the phone looks like:

Nokia Brick phone next to a gold foil bow

Good things about the brick

To be honest, the best things about the brick are not the phone itself. As a device, it’s mediocre. But as a metaphor conduit thing to help me concentrate, it’s bloody brilliant.

  • Since buying it, I think I’ve developed a reasonably better attention span.
  • I think I’m less twitchy and less likely to pull out the phone for something to hold and stare at and poke when I’m in an awkward situation which, considering we are living in the End Times and my natural state is extreme twitchiness, feels like a big achievement.
  • I’m definitely more likely to look at things now, rather than snapping a picture of that thing and never look at it ever again.
  • Having a very boring screen has helped me realise that lots of apps and notifications stress me out. My mum’s phone has three screens of apps and just looking at the screen makes me anxious. She has all her notifications on too. It’s like having an insect buzzing around your ear, except more annoying because at least insects contribute to the eco system. I did cut down my notifications and apps on the smart phone, over the course of a few years, but it’s been lovely to look at a screen with absolutely nothing enticing apart from the odd game of Snake.
  • I charge it about once a fortnight and I’m smug about it.
  • Because the internet is a non-event, I pay a pound a week for my data, minutes and texts. A POUND A WEEK. I’m smug about that too.

Less good things

  • It’s so easy to lose a small device in your pockets! Like I said before, do you know how difficult it is to lose something in women’s cut pockets?
  • I have occasionally replaced mindless smart phone scrolling with other bad behaviours, like mindless scrolling of Reddit, so maybe don’t do that (but I am working on the social media thing. More on that another time).
  • The brick phone doesn’t have certain apps I use a lot, like WhatsApp, banking and Headspace, so I’ve kept my old, rickety smartphone. Because we’ve been in lockdown, it’s no hassle to swap between the two.

So the brick phone is here for life, right?

Not quite.

Some nuance and adult considerations

Having lived without one, I feel like I have a new appreciation for the fact that smart phones are great. That giant computer Alan Turing came up with plus the cassette tape Lou Ottens invented, plus the camera (I do not know who we consider to be the inventor of the camera), plus interactive maps, plus texting, plus a little torch, oh and plus a telephone, tucked in my pocket. There’s a reason they’re ubiquitous and that reason is that technology is great. Mobile phones, and smart phones specifically, represent innovation and, in many ways, social equality: about five billion people own mobile phones worldwide. I couldn’t find stats on how much of that is made up of smart phones but it’s probably a fair bit.

My issue with them – everyone’s issue with them, right? – is that they are lotus-eaters, designed to wriggle into your brain and whisper that you need never leave this brightly coloured screen. I can’t not think about the hours I’ve lost to Twitter threads, the Instagram browsing page, news sites and Facebook posts by people I don’t even like. I hate how reliant I used to be on one device. When was the last time I had to use my brain to figure out a route instead of consulting Google? I can tell you: Chiang Mai in Thailand four years ago, when my battery died and I found my way through badly lit streets using my memory and the map in a guide book. Can that really be the last time I used my braincells? No wonder my memory’s shit and my confidence is shot to pieces; I needed that bright, cheery screen to find my way out of bed.

But those things aren’t the smartphone’s fault. They’re mine, because I let the phone make the easy choices for me. Use my memory or consult Google Maps. Have difficult conversation face to face or have it over text. Converse with sort-of-friends-who-I-don’t-really-like or escape to social media, where I can look at content by people I’d actually like to be friends with. Think through response to email in a sensible, measured way or fire off an angry response because the message is right there. That was all me, letting the phone make my life easier in the short term even if it made me an anxious, irritable insomniac with bad communication skills and worse coping methods in the long term.

I don’t like how we always assume people own a smart phone, either. Getting Covid tested was a bit of a faff because I couldn’t scan my app thing, but I’m still pretty tech-savvy and could fill in all details with the staff. There was a story this week about older people being discriminated against because they don’t own smart phones and can’t use apps to order from tables in pubs, etc. My great uncle got a mobile a couple of years ago not by design but because one of his neighbours had a spare. He’s barely a telly bloke. He deserves to pop down the pub should he fancy, and not be turned away because he can’t scan himself in. If I remember correctly, he did something with radios in the Royal Navy. Could I do that? No. The digital divide is real and it’s not fair. Us Bright Young Millennials are going to be confused as fuck when our children start uploading their brains into the cloud. If tech isn’t working for one lot of society, is it working for all of us?

Then there’s the cost of smart phones. People are putting down a grand for a phone like it’s normal behaviour? My dudes. These phone companies are fucking us all over with their shiny marketing campaigns and their addictive screens and their insidious whisperings that you need to take out a payment plan or use your credit card to purchase a device that will be obsolete in two or three years’ time.

Don’t even start me on the social and environmental impact of the tech industry. Actually, I’ve started. Smart phones pollute. They are made from metals mined in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where militias often control the mines. Both those articles are a few years old; I’m not sure what the stats are at the moment. But my soapbox has been stood on: our consumerism is killing the planet and harming people we’ll never meet.

Cinderella uggghhh GIF
from giphy

This took a slightly angry turn. Back to my phone shite.

Things I quite liked about my smartphone (when its battery wasn’t dying, my brain wasn’t melting and the microchip wasn’t recording my every movement for the lizard people)

  • Usability. Tapping the ‘3’ key three times to get the letter F on the brick can be annoying. Making 6 clicks to activate silent mode is a moderate inconvenience when you’re trying to check your phone won’t go off in a meeting. The speaker, which isn’t brilliant, is a bit irritating when there’s background noise. Smart phones are just so easy to tap, man, and they’re so… solid. Well, other than that Samsung that used to catch fire if you glanced at it the wrong way.
  • Apps for boarding passes. I know it’s a non-issue at present but I love waving my phone at passport control. I don’t love carrying around bits of paper. It’s more stressful knowing that losing one item means loosing access to all your paperwork, but it’s less stressful keeping hold of one object than a file of papers.
  • Banking apps/Headspace/WhatsApp (basically the unholy trinity of my life ahaha).
  • The camera. I am so, so grateful I have about a thousand photos of my dogs from before they died. Do I look at all one thousand images every day? No. One day I may even find the strength to clear out duplicates. But for now, my folders of dog photos are important to me.

So. I will likely get a smart phone at some point now the world is opening up. I love not having to faff about with papers at the airport; I love that I can check my bank balance in five seconds. I want to take photos of my friends, and of cool things I do, and of other people’s dogs! I don’t love that the brick disappears into the folds of my trousers.

But what type of smart phone? My ideal device would be one that’s basically a Nokia 3310 I have now but with some app functions, and a bigger screen and better camera. I like the Light Phone for its simplicity (its screen uses the same tech as e-readers, so no irritating bright colours that keep you awake), but it doesn’t have apps like Whatsapp. So I guess my best option is to get an actual smartphone and just keep it in night mode forever, and be strict with myself about apps and notifcations? I try to follow a one-in-one-out rule with accounts I follow on social media, clothing and general stuff, and it’s done my mental health wonders; maybe I should do the same with apps (I think this whole Minimalish series is just me saying ‘my brain is cluttered and less physical items helps it be less cluttered’).

I’m not sure how much I’ve learnt, or how much sage advice I’ve passed on in this post. In the last couple of days I’ve finished an assignment, filmed, failed to edit and scheduled a video for the No. 1 Readers’ Club, phoned PayPal because my Patreon money is stuck in my Patreon account (it is still stuck) and done a cool thing with The Princess and the Dragon that I’ll share with you next week. So I’m ready to close the lid on the week and regain some human-ness. Wait, I wrote that sentence before I learnt that Helen McCrory died. I think I want to have a gin and watch Peaky Blinders. I was just thinking about Aunt Polly today. Stop taking nice things, 2021.

Let me know if this has inspired you to swap out your tech use, or put you off the whole idea of brick phones. Let me know your Helen McCrory memories. Let me know how much gin is the right amount for a Friday night in sort of-lockdown with a livestream and some laundry.

Look after yourselves.

Francesca


Here is the rest of the Minimalish series.

Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like. If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers.

Living in the Nine of Wands

Morning lovelies. (It is not might not be morning by the time I publish this, but I’m trying to stay optimistic.)

I thought I’d chat about things being not-quite-finished today. The Nine of Wands, if you will. I have a couple of meaty blogs in the works (a brick phone update and a post about the school work I found when I was clearing out recently. Some of the pieces I found are historic treasures aka completely ridiculous and deserving of photographic preservation for future generations. A one page biography of Frank Iero in French, anyone?) but they deserve a bit more polishing. I’m working on a couple of short stories too, and some dragonnovel stuff, but they too need more polishing before I can justify an entire blog post… or even a tweet, to be honest. Not-being-quite-done feels like a bit of a slogan at the moment. Lockdown is not-quite-done. Covid is definitely not done, but with a few bajillion more vaccinations we might be able to stop using the phrase ‘R rate’ with such regularity. My diploma is not-quite-done, but it’s close enough that I want to skip the final three assignments and be finished.

I don’t love that feeling where the end’s in sight but too far to see the details. Stop taunting me, deadline days! I overworked myself in spring term, spent all of Easter in a not-quite-sleeping-properly-because-I’m-still-stressed-from-the-last-deadline fog and now the deadlines are closer but I have no energy to open a document and talk about presenting business data.

It does not help that two of these last assignments are very boring (yes, one topic is analysing and presenting business data. The subject itself is quite interesting, but the assessment is a kind of academic vampire hellbent on sucking the enthusiasm out of it). One assignment is less boring but very long winded. Except you can’t spend too long on it, because the word count is absolutely miniscule, but you’re so limited with space that you have to decide which parts of your research are worth including and which aren’t when, actually, they are all worth including and the assessment criteria is nonsense.

Oops, I was not expecting to one-sentence that. I am not friends with these last assignments. I want to yeet them into the Suez Canal then spend approximately six weeks on a tropical island, eating noodles and doing Pilates outside. I want spring to come back! Why did it snow when we just had a heatwave? Why did I put away my big scarves? I’m not even sure if I’m on speaking terms with my career at the moment. Why can’t I finish a short story in forty five minutes and have it edited within two days? Why am I assuming that a forty five minute story is even possible for someone who uses 8,000 sentences in every piece of work? Seriously, what was I thinking washing and putting my woollen garments away after two days of sunshine? Oh, and the anxious bit of my brain is freaking out because I’m under 30 and had the AstraZeneca vaccine. The contraceptive pill I’m on carries a risk of blood clots and I’ve happily eaten that for several years, and the vaccine risks are miniscule compared to the ‘dying of Covid without immunisation’ risks , but does my brain know that? No.

So I think it’s fair to say I’m a bit overwhelmed. That’s the thing with Nine of Wands: it’s not the Ten. It literally represents being ‘nearly there,’ or ‘enough that you could stop now if you really wanted to.’ I don’t really want to stop now. I want to yeet those assignments into their respective upload boxes, smug in the knowledge that I’ve completed every part of my diploma, knowing I’ve polished each assessment until it shines. I want to stop using the word yeet as though I’m a 15-year-old who knows how TikTok works.

I think the solution might be a cup of tea. It usually is, innit. I know that in a few weeks I’ll have most of this diploma finished, those short stories will, for better or worse, be floating around my patrons’ inboxes and we might stop talking about snow? Oh, and we can go about beautifying ourselves again. I’ll probably feel better when my eyebrows don’t look like Troy Tempest’s and my fringe is cut properly. I just have to hang on until then, and try to find coping mechanisms that aren’t a) mindlessly reading Reddit or b) coming on here to talk about tarot. It’s just occurred to me that the whole of civilisation is sort of living in the Nine of Wands. There’s a route out of this pandemic, but the road is winding and some people are in cars driven by imbeciles. Some roads are tarmacked and some are full of potholes and bad lighting.

I’m going for a cup of tea. I can’t believe I’ve turned a post about ‘feeling a bit tired’ into a metaphor about governments as terrible drivers.

Thelma and Louise car driving off cliff gif
I don’t know where this came from but it feels relevant

What are your coping mechanisms for when you’re burned out and struggling with motivation? I know most students have some form of deadline approaching. Except for GCSEs and A Levels? They’ve cancelled those, haven’t they? Have they? God, no wonder I’m all over the place. Anyway. Tell me how you’re coping! If you have a work deadline on the horizon, or you’re barely clinging to sanity while you wait for lockdown to ease, I want to know how you’re doing. Let’s cling to sanity together.

Look after yourselves.

Francesca


Here is the rest of the Minimalish series.

Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like. If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers.

Top 10 Reasons to Read The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, by someone who is in no way biased

I haven’t slept properly because I spent yesterday in a Magnus Archives-ending bubble, then woke up at 5:30am which is probably not related but also I had at least one dream about [spoiler] so who knows. It’s the Easter holidays now, so I’m officially off the clock academia-wise for a few days, and between Magnus and holiday brain, my words aren’t working. So here’s a post I put together on a lark recently and figured I might as well finish because the world is on fire and I’m empathising with a boat stuck in the Suez Canal (that poor boat driver. I’m never going to feel bad about a work fuckup again. If a boss ever calls me out, I’ll look them dead in the eye and ask: ‘have I held up 12% of the world’s trade?’).

Top 10 Reasons to Read The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes*

*well, my top ten reasons. Yours might be different, but you’ll have to read it to find out, won’t you?

10) Upcycled fashion

9) Dragons that are people

8) Dragons that are dragons

7) Small to medium-sized nods to Real Life Events, although unfortunately none of them are boats stuck in the Suez Canal

6) Irritable psychics

5) Teenagers with ethically questionable levels of responsibility for those around them

4) One My Chemical Romance reference

3) Breakfast meetings

2) Rabbits wearing little harnesses so they can go for a walk

1) Cups of tea in difficult situations

ereader mockup of The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, on a Lilly pad/leaf background
Art by Nell from Instagram!

What more do you need from your fiction, honestly. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of retailers but you should be able to find a copy in most ebook stores or app, including library apps. Actually, while I’ve got you here and have a couple of spare braincells: would you, hypothetically, prefer to consume a hardback print copy of a book or an audiobook version of a book? I’m not saying that this question pertains to the rest of this post but, hypothetically, if it were to pertain to the rest of this post, which would you prefer? Potentially, at some point in the future?

Let me know. Imagine I’ve pasted four eyeball emojis here.

Look after yourselves.

Francesca


Here is the rest of the Minimalish series.

Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like. If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers.

No. 1 Readers’ Club Updates: Tarot, Merch, Books & More

Hi hi. Just a quick post today because a) I haven’t finished any of the lengthier ones I’m working on, b) I missed last week’s post and feel I have to abide to arbitrary goals so needed something that could work as a mini post and c) this is actually news.

I’ve updated the tiers on my Patreon, the No. 1 Readers’ Club! There are now six, which feels nice and even. I’ve changed up some of the rewards; essentially they’re a little quicker to fulfil my end and a bit more cost effective postage wise. I’m offering more stuff on the higher tiers, because I want you guys to get your money’s worth, and I’ve taken the free copy of The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes off there, because frankly it’s available to buy and I’d rather you bought it. Those of you on the higher tiers will get more regular merch-y bits including patron-only book merch, pieces from my stationery shop and books I’ve had on my shelf that I think you’ll like (I tend to know those of you on the higher tiers well through either real life or social media, so I thought it would be nice to do something personal and pass on a novel I’m finished with.) I’m also doing tarot readings! Not sure how they’ll look yet: I know a lot of people have a groovy camera set up and film themselves pulling cards on a flatlay type thing, but I am firstly inept at videos and secondly camera-less. Maybe photos or something, I don’t know. I’m looking forward to it, though. Mostly because I’ll get to test my memory… and offer you guys the most secular, non-spiritual card readings in human history, bahaha.

deck of tarot cards on a table

I’m going to have to reuse these photos for the rest of time, because my cards are dogeared as anything now. Look how shiny they were! Now they are full of existential crises. Right. Time for me to return to my Monday state of hibernation and schoolwork. See you later in the week, probably?

Look after yourselves!

Francesca


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like. If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers.

Minimalish: Misadventures in Zero Waste Dentistry

In the last couple of weeks I’ve covered fandom and the ethics of getting vaccinated, so let’s chill for a bit and talk about teeth. Okay, not teeth, teeth are strange. Let’s talk about dental products. I’ve been experimenting with zero waste products and I thought, since I like talking about minimalism and the planet, but I’m not living in a field with a compostable toilet and no electricity, I might offer a good ‘basic consumer’ perspective?

I should start with a couple of things. Firstly, I have a huge guilt complex about plastic and non-biodegradable waste. I mean, we all should, but I feel bad every time I chuck something in the regular bin that isn’t recyclable or might be recyclable in some areas if you say four prayers and leave an offering for the bin collectors. Anything that comes in non-plastic or reusable packaging piques my interest. So I really wanted solid toothpaste and aluminium-bottle mouthwash to work, but I’m aware that a lot of you would be less invested in their success than I was.

Secondly, I thought buying solid toothpaste, aluminium-bottle mouthwash and refillable, non-nylon dental floss would be cheaper than the regular stuff in the long run. It is not. Lots of zero waste toiletries do work out cheaper in the long term (my reusable cotton face pads, safety razor and solid soap have definitely saved me money) but alternative dental products are firstly more expensive than their mainstream counterparts and secondly seem smaller, so they don’t last as long. I am sort of regretting the cash I put down on some pieces, especially after I saw my dentist recently and he confirmed my suspicions that they are, um, not worth it. But we’ll get to that. Let’s start with something I do think is worth swapping!

Dental Floss

I’ve tried a couple of ‘alternative’ dental flosses. I’m currently using the Georganics charcoal dentil floss, made with corn and vegetable wax. I didn’t choose or pay for it initially, as it was a Christmas present, but I like it. It’s nicer to use than a different eco-friendly floss I tried last summer, which was made of corn and candelilla wax. It was uncoated, so it felt less like flossing and more like hauling twine through my teeth. I like the Georganics one though. It comes in a little refillable jar which is quite sweet (and very durable. I’ve dropped it a lot and it hasn’t smashed). I’ve bought refill and although it’s pricey, especially with postage, I think it might last longer than the usual stuff. I haven’t run the numbers though; in a pinch I’d switch back to the mainstream single use plastic versions, knowing that I’ve not bought them when I could.

Oil pulling mouthwash bottle, glass dental floss jar and solid toothpaste jar by Georganics, on a blue blanket.
Really should have photographed these before they got bathroom-y.

Toothpaste

My first foray into zero waste toothpaste was with tooth tabs, last summer. For the uninitiated, they’re little tablets that come in a refillable aluminium tin. They look like mints; their main ingredient is calcium carbonate. There is a slight issue with tooth tabs in that they work when activated by water: you pop one in your mouth, wet your toothbrush and scrub. It doesn’t froth or give you that zingy clean feeling, which on reflection I quite like, but I thought they were okay-ish… until my tin got damp and they all turned to sludge. A non-airtight tin sheltering water-activated products is a bit of a design flaw when that tin lives in a bathroom…

Solid toothpaste, which also uses calcium carbonate, seemed a better bet, so I tried some in January. It resembles toothpaste, right? Except… the first thing I thought of when I opened it was that it reminded me of concrete. It might not remind you of concrete, so don’t let that put you off. But we were not off to an auspicious start. Solid toothpaste works similarly to regular toothpaste: put a pea sized bit on your brush, wet the brush, scrubby scrubby. I thought it would slide out of the jar, like face cream or tube toothpaste, and onto your toothbrush. Maybe I’m doing it wrong (are you supposed to use a spoon?) but it has the consistency of solidified porridge. I sort of scraped it out of the jar and onto the toothbrush. It’s a bit messy, like plaster; I felt a bit like I was scrubbing my gums off.

I saw my dentist a couple of weeks ago and asked if it’s worth persevering with, given the plasteryness and lack of fluoride. Short answer: it isn’t. Apparently the relative amount of plastic in the standard toothpaste tube (which can be recycled in some places) isn’t really worth the swap given that eco-friendly toothpaste’s long term health benefits aren’t clear. Also, I had this crack in my tooth enamel or something, so I have to use fancy toothpaste for a while to stop my mouth exploding in pain every time I drink something cold. Even if I loved the solid toothpaste, toothache treatment has to come before the planet because I can’t do shit for the environment if my teeth have fallen out.

Mouthwash

I couldn’t get on with alternative mouthwash, but that was on me from the get go. I thought I was buying ‘normal’ mouthwash except in an aluminium bottle. It turned out to be ‘oil pulling mouthwash.’ Oil pulling, I have since learnt, is an alternative medicine. My opinions on alternative medicine can be summarised thus:

I made this! By myself! It’s from Tim Minchin’s Storm the Animated Movie, which is a nine minute beat poem about an atheist meeting a hippie at a dinner party.

You’re also supposed to swish for 20 minutes. I know there’s a pandemic on, but I don’t have 20 minutes to to swish. As I said, my dentist explained that there isn’t a lot of info around about long term impacts of these new organic/zero waste/alternative dental products, and he reckons in years to come, people might present with issues. Oil pulling is an ‘ancient practice,’ sure, but so is bloodletting. I’m too vain to risk the quality of my gnashers; the hassle around my braces alone has ensured a lifelong desire to keep these teeth as nice as possible. Also it turns out you can get regular (or more regular?) mouthwash in aluminium bottles, so I might give that a go when I have some extra cash.

In conclusion: continuing with one out of five potential products doesn’t sound great, but I’m glad I tried them all. I imagine their prices will come down as more sustainable brands enter supermarkets, and as the Colgates of the world improve their packaging. I do most of my eco-friendly shopping on Wearth, by the way, they’re a UK-based platform that offers carbon neutral delivery and, if you are so inclined, this referral link (this isn’t a sponsored post; I’m sharing the code from my personal account thing. It has something to do with points). Some of the brands Wearth stocks are selling products that you don’t need if you’re smart about your consumption, or use everyday products for multiple purposes (I don’t need a £23 refillable conditioner when I use olive oil on my hair like the financially-stretched Mediterranean grandma I’m evolving into), but they’re worth checking out. If you have the money to spend experimenting with zero waste toiletries, go for it. If you don’t, don’t feel bad: there are other things you can do to decrease your consumption.

Right, I need a cup of tea. I’m not sure what I’ll be discussing next week: I thought about writing something about Sarah Everard or the royals, but there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said more eloquently already. Both those topics are heavy, as well, and I’d like to keep it light for my own mental health. Maybe I’ll do a book post. We’ll see.

Look after yourselves!

Francesca


Here is the rest of the Minimalish series.

Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like. If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers.

On Getting the Covid Vaccine

Morning lovelies. Here is my part two to last week’s mild existential crisis over being offered the Covid jab.

I had the AstraZeneca vaccine on Thursday evening and the process was as smooth as a Hozier song. My ‘hub’ was a church hall with a one way system, a human being offering directions every 20 feet and a wait time of about five minutes. I’m pretty good with vaccinations and blood tests as long as I don’t look at the needle as it goes in (I learnt that the hard way with the cervical cancer vaccine circa 2008), but it still felt like an easy process? One moment I was chatting about hay fever with the nurse, the next she was telling me to take paracetamol if I felt flu-y and pointing to the exit. I’ve spent longer making a cup of tea.

I wasn’t sure what to expect symptoms-wise. I had the flu jab last year and immediately got a dead arm, then spent the next day brain foggy and napping. I’d never had the flu vaccine before but I have had rabies, Japanese encephalitis, Hep A and Hep B for travelling, and something similar happened with those. I think the rabies one knocked me for six, but one day of feeling shitty while my body builds antibodies against a brain disease seems fair. Anyway, the same thing’s happened with Covid: my arm went sore and dead straight away and I spent yesterday in a brain fog, snoozing at regular intervals. I made a cake to feel productive (turns out you’re meant to filter the coffee in coffee cake). This morning I’m still a bit tired and my arm is still sore, but I feel all right. Enough to have another stab at coffee cake with-filter, although I substituted virtually everything and broke the mixer. I promise that would have happened without the vaccine, I am either very successful in the kitchen or a full on celebrity Bake Off nightmare.

To be honest, I’ve been fatigued recently anyway (I fell asleep in an online lecture on Thursday afternoon. Nodded right off. Thank god it was an extra work situation and not a live MS Teams call for college). I’ve also been a bit hay fever-esque for a week or so too (thanks, global warming), and I am a strong proponent of the siesta anyway. So it’s hard to know what’s due to what; I seem to get fatigued and brain foggy with a tiny cold, or if I’ve had more than one day of eating junk food, or if the moon is in Capricorn.

(I do not know if the moon being in Capricorn is a thing.)

So yeah, we’re all good here. Thoroughly recommend the process if you’d prefer a day or two of minor inconvenience to a stint in intensive care or several months of long Covid! If you’re worried about needles, I know my brother has to lie down when he gets vaccinated, because needles make him pass out, so mention that to the staff and they’ll sort you out. If you’re worried about taking the place of someone ‘more vulnerable’ when you’re offered the jab, please try not to. Having had a week to think on it, I’m grateful I can do my part to keep everyone safe and get us out of this hellscape as soon as possible, and I feel a certain responsibility to talk about the process and promote the science as far as I understand it (this WHO page explains how vaccines work with nice graphics and easy language). Coincidentally I read an article about vaccine justification yesterday and anecdotally, people with historic respiratory issues like mine are being offered the vaccine now. The ethics of deciding who should go where on the list is still complex, and I’m not going to flounce around talking about being hashtag blessed when we collectively have so far to go before everyone is safe, but if you get offered this vaccine, please consider taking it.

photograph of Covid AstraZeneca vaccine card on top of package leaflet information
I don’t know if I needed to cover the batch number?!

I promise the next post will be about something more relaxed/less Covid-y. I’ve been working on a blog about my misadventures in zero waste dental products – I promise misadventures is the right word – and I might do some more Read, If You Like posts. I’ve been reading some absolute gems recently! Let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like to see, or if you’d like more chat about vaccines or suchlike. Or maybe a deep dive into how I managed to ruin a cake mixer?

Look after yourselves!
Francesca


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like. If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers.

On Easing Lockdown and, Plot Twist, Getting Offered the Vaccine When I’m Quite Young & Healthy

I started writing this early on Thursday and finished it on Friday evening and there was a bona fide plot twist while I was editing, so I wrote more and added to the first part and now it’s twice as long. I’ll add headers and random photos to break it up. ENJOY.

On lockdown easing, or, the original post

My hands are stiff from working on a report for college, so I thought I’d use the computer’s speech recognition software to write this. The system isn’t used to my voice, though, so words kept coming up as the @ symbol, or asterisks or an ampersand. Then I turned the screen to greyscale.

2021 in a nutshell, then. (I am typing this.) (I don’t know how to get the colour back on my screen ahaha.)

I can’t even remember what I wanted to talk about! I’ve started, now, though. Okay, let’s try this again. Let’s talk about lockdown easing.

How is everyone feeling about the possibility of a Return to Normal in June? I am… more anxious than I thought I would be. I wrote in the first lockdown about how I thought I’d be okay in isolation because I was already an introverted little hermit, but that even I was finding it hard. And I definitely still am – I had a dream the other night that I got a takeaway with some mates. My cousin moved house a few weeks ago and I can’t wait to see her new place. I miss mooching around charity shops and being rude about other people’s discarded clothes. I miss popping out. I want to get cocktails with my friends and gossip about colleagues and try to figure out if we know the person at the next table.

But.

I’m not sure if I’m ready for noisy pubs with tipsy people jostling you at the bar, or big family barbecues with forty people and lots of cheek kissing, or buses with squished-up queues. I know that even with hospitality reopening and easing of household mixing restrictions, we’re meant to still distance. But we won’t. Drunk people can’t. Anti-vaxxers and Covid-deniers won’t wear masks the moment they think they can get away with it. When lockdown eased in the summer, some of my family threw a boozy house party. Was it distanced and considered? Was it fuck. I know people who aren’t taking up their vaccine offers, or are sceptical that the pandemic is even a real thing. Will they do normal-things-plus-distancing or will they go back to 2019 behaviours, like elastic that’s been stretched and let go?

I went to Greece in the summer with family (not the house party family. I have, like, eight strands of family). I was anxious, but it was for a long-planned family event and on balance, when I’d done the reading, I reckoned it was safe enough to take the chance. No one I was with caught or transmitted Covid as far as I know, and although social distancing was less strict than here, Zakynthos felt safer than the UK (I’ve also never seen such clean aeroplanes). There’s been a lot of non-Covid family stuff over the last year and I’m grateful we got to do something normal for a week when the rules allowed it. So I’m not advocating for national lockdown and no fun until we hit zero new cases. But Southend’s pubs felt more disgusting and less safe on a personal level than Zakynthos’ bars before the pandemic. I don’t know if that speaks more to Southend’s grottiness or Zante’s friendliness. I’m digressing. Have a nice photo.

closeup photograph of bougainvillea
Did I just make my travel blues worse? Um yes

I don’t know if I can deal with coming out of lockdown again just to go back in when cases rise. I guess the theory is that with mass vaccination, cases can’t spike. But still. I think I’d rather stick out a longer lockdown and know what the rules are than yo-yo between tiers like we did in autumn. The constant changes made me anxious, but I know what lockdown involves. I know how to do it now. Southend’s been in lockdown since just before Christmas when we went into Tier 4, but I’ve been really busy so I’ve coped quite well. Better than first lockdown probably, because college and book promotion are keeping me occupied. I’ve got less time to spiral into doom thoughts. On the other hand, I can’t really remember what it’s like to not be in lockdown? And this roadmap whatsit seems like a lot of changes very quickly. I know the ‘back to normal’ date is in June and I’m writing this in February, but it feels soon. I was expecting to ease into ‘normal,’ the same way you dip a toe into a hot bath and acclimatise before getting in. Maybe start with a coffee on a park bench and work my way up. I guess going to Zakynthos was dipping a leg in? I’ve been there a dozen times, so visits are less like going to a foreign country and more like taking a really long journey to see old friends.

Then there’s the whole question of what ‘normal’ involves. I don’t hate what my life has been since Covid started. I hate lots of parts of it, but I feel like I’ve made progress with my mental health in the past year or so, probably because I can’t ignore issues when I’m stuck indoors. I’ve reconnected with friends over Zoom, done a tonne of reading, written a series of short stories, gone back to school. Published a book. I’m not mad about those things. So do I want things to go back to precisely how they were at the start of the pandemic? No. Plus, surviving 2020 feels like a badge of honour. I’m ready for parts of my life to start back up, while keeping hold of the good bits from Covid. I’m just not as ready as I’d like to be?

Perhaps I’ll feel differently when I’ve had a vaccine. And I think some people’s behaviours have changed permanently, for the better. I feel like it’s going to be really normal to see people with hay fever wearing masks, and it’s going to be more acceptable to call in sick to work when you have a cold. Hand sanitiser is going stay in people’s bags when they use public transport. More people will wash their hands before they eat.

Probably?

The second aspect of The Return to Normality that’s giving me nerves is money. As in, I don’t have a lot since I went back to college. It hasn’t been that big of a deal, because what is there to spend money on? Except I’ve promised at least three groups of people that when this thing is over, we’re going for dinner or drinks or suchlike (and I want to do it properly, with a nice outfit and cocktails with an umbrella). I looked at a restaurant menu the other day and thought ‘shit that looks pricy. Was it always this pricy?’ Everywhere’ s going to up their prices to make up their losses. I don’t blame them, and I do want to buy from my favourite places. God, I miss browsing bookshops. It just feels like a lot to commit fifty quid to a night out or a dinner I don’t feel completely safe going to.

from Giphy. I don’t know the film/show this is from I want to see it.

Oh, and the sudden ‘maybe’ of concerts going ahead is nerve wracking. I don’t think MCR’s tour will happen, at least for the UK, because their UK shows are in a stadium that seats 30,000 people and their run finishes the day before the legal limits are removed. If I were any of the dozens of people involved in the tour, I’d want to postpone. Just to be on the safe side and reduce the risk of getting stranded if a country’s rules change suddenly. But if it does go ahead, I (and presumably 30k other people) have to weigh up safety versus, you know, the return of Jesus. Also, I thought I had a while to save up for inane merchandise (that baby is me at a merch stand) and finish making my Killjoy jacket. JUNE IS TOO SOON.

Part two, or, plot twist

I took a break from working on this (and somehow turned the greyscale off, ha) to get lunch. I was faffing about when I got a text from my GP asking me to call to arrange a vaccine appointment. I have never made a phone call so fast. I’m the youngest person I know who’s been offered it (I’m 25), and I’m not completely sure why? It might be because I had asthma for a bit as a child, or more likely due to the respiratory issues I had when I was born. I was in A&E the Christmas before last with heart palpitations (did I ever tell you guys about that? Christmas Eve on a hospital ward, what a treat). Or maybe I’ve been up the doctor enough times in the past couple of years with my IBS and shitty wrists that I flag up on their system. Maybe I’ve got points on my loyalty card.

Seriously, though, I’m not sure how to feel. I mean, there was unrelenting joy and relief once I booked my appointment, followed by crushing guilt that I’ve been offered it when people with learning difficulties have had to fight to be moved up the list. I guess I’m in the ‘everyone over 16 with a health condition that increases their risk’ bracket, even if this is the first I’ve heard of it. Do I deserve the vaccine more than people who have been shielding for a year? No. As we’ve established, I don’t go out much. I’m not a key worker, I don’t see many people day to day. I’m not a huge risk to others, nor am I necessarily at risk of a bad Covid experience. But I didn’t turn the appointment down, because I have a responsibility to protect everyone who is at risk. If popping up the vaccination hub next week contributes to The Return of Normality, it’s the literally the least I can do. I’m just not sure if I’m quite ready for The Return of Normality. I gave myself a day to think about it before coming back to this post, and although I think getting the first vaccine will make me less nervous about socialising, I’m still not sure about pubs or crowded indoor gatherings. I’m definitely not sure about an open air stadium with 30,000 people. And by ‘not sure’ I mean ‘will probably refuse to unless I’m reassured by the data we’re given closer to the time regarding vaccinations and new cases.’ Obviously I’m hoping that things will continue to go well and by the time places open up, I’ll feel more confident. But we’ve been in lockdown-easing territory before, you know? Nothing’s certain until it’s happening.

I wasn’t sure whether to talk about being offered the vaccine. Bragging about getting it at 25 when I’m not even certain it’s for a current health issue is not a good look when so many more people are more deserving. Then I watched a Royal Institution livestream (which is now on YouTube, check it out!) about vaccination myths and the panel talked about how young people might be more inclined to get vaccinated if influencers were getting it. I hope to never, ever be considered an influencer, unless I’ve influenced you to read a book I’ve raved about or some shit, but it won’t hurt to add my voice to the number of people talking about their experience. So I’m due to get vaccinated on Thursday, and I’ll pop in over the weekend to talk about what it was like, and discuss any side effects. If it’s anything like the flu jab, I’ll have a sore arm and take a nap… which is really not that different from a normal day. Might take a selfie with my little cotton arm swab for Instagram and caption it Be The Change.

So, yeah. This was a weird post to write: I’ve never had the topic I’m writing about have such a dramatic plot twist half way though! Editing was harder than it should have been. I’m not sure what tone I’m going for. Reticent? Nervy? Not looking forward to the possibility of getting yelled at on Twitter for getting the vaccine when I’m healthy and young versus not looking forward to listening to people talk about how if the pandemic was real, there would be bodies in the streets (real quote from a very intelligent human being). I’m still conflicted. About all eight billion words I just wrote. I usually end with a question, so I guess today I’m asking: if you’re under 30 or so, have you been offered the vaccine? How was it? Regardless of age, how are you feeling about going back to ‘normal’? If you are also an anxious neurotic who isn’t sure about hugging people, please let me know. Day to day I’m mostly surrounded by people who can’t wait to go partying and take off masks and pretend this shit never happened. Speak to me, my people…

Oh, I feel like you guys would appreciate that I celebrated booking my appointment by ordering a new bra. I mean, I was thinking about it anyway because the one I was wearing the day I began this post was literally falling apart at the seams and wouldn’t survive until the shops reopen. It had sort of begun garrotting my back. I figured it’s a very 2021 experience to celebrate one’s vaccination from Covid with the purchase of a (non-wired, obviously) bra. We’re supposed to celebrate the little things in life, right?!

Look after yourselves.
Francesca

Update: here is the post where I talk about getting the vaccine, symptoms and, er, cake baking.


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like. If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers.

So What Constitutes a Fan, Anyway?

Let’s talk about fans. Followers. Subscribers. Readers, in my case. I’ve thought about this a lot over the last few years, I was chatting about it with a friend recently and I figured, let’s chat with the internet. In 10+ years of blogging and posting stories on the internet, and five working in marketing, I’ve noticed an interesting disconnect between subscriber count/newsletter signups/social media follows/Patreon members, and engagement. As in, they look like this:

messily-drawn purple felt tip comparing views/subscribers/followers with engagement. Engagement is a fraction of the size of views/subscribers/followers.
I do so love doing visual art

It makes sense, right? In marketing, they say that if you convert 1% of your ‘leads’ into buyers, you’re doing well. There’s a whole funnel thing people go through between learning about you and making a purchase or, in this case, defining themselves as a fan, and you lose people at each stage of the funnel. So it follows that if you have 10,000 YouTube subscribers you probably don’t have 10,000 patrons. You don’t get 10,000 comments on each video. You can’t say you have 10,000 dedicated viewers. You might only have 10 patrons or sell 10 t-shirts and if that’s the case, you’re statistically doing quite well.

This disparity not a big deal in the grand scheme of, you know, real life. Anyone can click ‘follow’ or ‘subscribe’ to a webpage, then never look at that page again. People can buy followers, too, and then there are multiple accounts run by the same person, bot accounts, etc. It’s just one of those things. So how do you differentiate between someone who’s clicked the follow button and someone who’s an engaged reader or viewer? When do you know that that person has become, for want of a better word, a fan? I have no idea how other creators decide, but I’ve figured out how I do it and since there’s a pandemic on and I don’t have a life anyway I’ve written it up. Before we start: I do sort of feel that a person has to identify as a fan or member of a fandom. It’s like gender. If someone says they’re a fan, they’re a fan. If they don’t, they aren’t. So when I’m saying ‘fan,’ I really mean ‘engaged human.’ ‘A person with ongoing interest in a creator.’ You can be engaged with a creator and not really consider yourself a fan of theirs. It’s up to you to wave your fan flag from the rooftops! Your choice to become an active member of a fandom and wear little pin badges proclaiming your fan-ness! I can’t believe I’ve drawn a link between fandom and gender identity. Let’s get on with this thing before I unwittingly insult a lot of people.

How I Figure Out How Many Readers and/or ‘Fans’ I Have

Let’s start with a story time and wind it back to 2012. My friends and I were in school. We were busy (12 classes on a timetable. How was that legal?!) but also not that busy. So if I tapped out a blog post, they would come and read and comment on it. A lot. We had some serious threads going on! You can still find them if you look, which I don’t hugely recommend as I was just as grumpy as I am now but also way more ignorant. Oh, the irony.

Anyway. As the years went by, my friends got busy with the real world and average monthly views dropped significantly but as they got busier, I got more serious about making money from writing. I realised that had I monetised the blog when it reported 800, 1000, 2,000 monthly views, I could have made, well, not a lot of money, but maybe enough to contribute to the domain names. Alas, the ship had sailed. A lot of those friends weren’t really readers, anymore, anyway.

How can you know that, though, you ask. Are analytics that good you can tell all your readers by name? No. No, they aren’t that good. I can see the country people arrive from. I can see visitors versus views, ie when one person comes to the site multiple times (I think it’s to do with cookies, though, so if you clear your browser history a new visit might count you as a new visitor, or if you’re in a private browser it might not count you at all. It’s not an exact science). You can see from these screenshots that the visitor/view count can, however, mislead or confuse you depending on which statistics you’re interested in tracking. In 2012, I had my best year for views ever. Almost 16k total views! That’s not huge for an influencer, but it was pretty big for 16/17 year old me.

Graph showing visitors and views for IndifferentIgnorance.com from 2012-2014.
The darker bit is visitors, the lighter bit views.

2013 and 2014 look pretty low in comparison, right? Half as many views. But when you focus on the number of visitors I had from 2012 to 2014, it’s a completely different picture:

Graph of visitors to IndifferentIgnorance.com from 2012 to 2014.
This is the darker part of the graph above, the visitor count.

Although I had fewer visits in 2013 and 2014, the people who did visit came back multiple times. In 2012, it was mostly the same people clicking back lots of times. If you only care about view count, it doesn’t matter to you if 16k people click on your page once and never return. If you care about building a community, you’re likely more interested in who’s revisiting. So these graphs are a data-filled minefield! And maybe you can’t trust your stats if you’re not even sure what you want to track!

Another thing: I can see search terms and number of email subscribers and number of WordPress subscribers but I can’t see name, age, post code, etc. There’s no way of telling if someone’s a casual reader, or pops in twice a year, or reads every post as soon as I press publish. You could go by how many comments each post gets, but I’ll talk more in a tick about how that’s not necessarily a good way of working things out either. Essentially, unless you’re only interested in views or subscriber count, there’s no formula you can plug in. A over B minus C equals engaged fan, etc.

So here’s how I work it out.

I’ve been blogging since 2009. I post one to four posts a month, thereabouts. Back in the day I posted one to four posts a week (insane), but over the last four or five years it’s about one to four monthly. My rule of thumb for discerning a ‘regular reader’ is that they are anyone who leaves a comment, or does a reply to a publication post on social media, or drops me a message, or brings it up in conversation if we know each other in real life, every two-four months. Because I can’t discern ‘casual reader’ from ‘one time viewer’ from ‘very enthusiastic reader, essentially a fan’ from the analytics, I go by how often the reader actively tells me they’re there. And if you don’t tell me you’re there every quarter, or every 12 or so posts, I’m going to assume you’re not there and haven’t been since I last heard from you.

Does that sound too strict to you? Or not strict enough? I came to the ‘every two-four months or assume they’ve gone’ ‘rule’ by considering how I engage with creators, and assuming that the rest of the world acts in a same-ish way. Look, I used the phrase ‘rule of thumb,’ you can’t have expected lots of science. Maybe I’m the only person in the universe who engages how I do.

To break it down my consumer habits a bit: I don’t comment on every YouTube video I watch or comment on every blog I read. But when I think of the creators I like giving my time to, I might post a comment every third or fourth post (or comment on a comment). Sometimes I only comment once in a blue moon, because I don’t have anything to add to the conversation, or I’m not quite ready to start chatting to the creator. Sometimes it’s nice to just be a bit casual or anonymous, especially if the creator’s subject is something I’m new to, or if I’m educating myself about a topic. Sometimes, my way of engaging is to tell people to check out so-and-so (speaking of. Remind me to tell you guys how much fun this last series of The Magnus Archives has been). So I consider myself ‘engaged’ with a creator if I do those semi-regular, well, engagements. If I engage casually, maybe only commenting every few months, then I’m a casual reader/viewer. A fan but in a very relaxed way. No flag waving! It’s flexible, though. You can go back and forth between ‘casual’ and ‘active’ a lot over the years of liking something or someone’s work.

For example, I spent three or four months as a casual listener of The Magnus Archives, but then I joined a subreddit which I comment on sometimes and I’ve been nerding out about the plot of the final series with my friend and I wrote a script inspired by [spoilers] for my friend to illustrate, so now I reckon I’m a committed fan. Oh, and I’m telling you guys about it! So, yeah, I’m a member of the Red String Brigade as of the day I’m writing this. Will I always be this entrenched in the show? No. But I’ll always have a soft spot for the creators and the fandom, which seems to be stocked with very nice people. In the same way that I don’t listen to My Chemical Romance every day* but I do still retweet Frank Iero and keep half an eye on solo projects and merchandise. Many fandom friends from 2011 are still my friends now. If MCR ever comes out with new music, I’ll hit that order button faster than Biden re-joined the Paris Climate Agreement. I’ve spent months designing a jacket for their comeback show. ‘Being a fan’ is an elastic experience, like attending an exercise class. You can stop for a bit and then go back when you feel like it. Let the tide take you where it will.

None of this is designed to make you feel bad if you’ve been reading this blog for 10 years and you’ve never left a comment. You’re consuming entertainment, not applying for a mortgage. I do not need proof of your existence. Like I said, there are some creators I engage with rarely, if ever. Those I’m watching or reading because I’d like to learn more about a subject are more likely to get a quiet private message from me saying thanks for the info than they are a five paragraph comment, you know? Maybe one day I’ll start engaging more publicly or regularly, but I might not. I might not even send that private message; I’m not contractually required to. As a consumer I like to show my appreciation but I don’t like being made to feel obliged to do so. As a creator, I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to comment on every Tweet or blog post in order for me to consider them ‘a real reader.’ If you like the things I write on this blog, you’re one of my readers, as far as I’m concerned! Which probably negates a lot of what I’ve just written but like I said, these things are self-identified so really this rule of thumb business is just me being a giant Guessy McGuesser.

I feel like I’m going to get a question about books, so:

How does this work with books?

Shockingly, I do not know the identity of everyone who buys my book (please buy my book). My royalty statements aren’t through yet but they won’t contain a list of customer names. No one wants that much depth in their analytics… I suppose my only way of telling a casual reader from an engaged one is if they actively engage with the book after they’ve finished reading. For example if they hit me up in a private message, or leave a review.

So what have we learnt? I learnt that I wanted to put a gif of Klaus Hargreeves in a swimming pool below the paragraph about the tide and I couldn’t find a suitable one. Have you learnt anything? If you’re a consumer, how do you know when you’ve become a fan as opposed to a casual viewer? If you’re a creator and a consumer, how do you work it out?

Look after yourselves!
Francesca

*I am listening to My Chemical Romance as I edit, though, ha!


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like. If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers.