Conspicuous Consumption [266]

Greetings from my shed...

All those emails and you clicked on mine. Thank you.


If I may temporarily define freedom as a moment of perceived normality outside the home — then there have been a few slithers of freedom this week.

A coffee and a book in the car.

The view of an empty winding road as it blurs at the edge of my visor.

And the walk to school with a happy child.

Of course wrapping these moments up in ‘essential shopping’ trips and MOT’s has us feeling more confined than we’d like. But no matter the external restraints, we can be what we are, our freedom lies in how we react to our situation. It’s up to us to give our life meaning.


I watched the film ‘Beauty is Embarrassing’.

A documentary about the artist Wayne White. Someone I didn’t know but who’s work I was certainly aware of.

I was shared this app via @StevenKeevil. It turns your phone into a cosmic ray detector. Here is more background.

If you want to see what a silo’d government looks like check out this table.

It looks like in the heat of the pandemic, DHSC used Skype with restricted access to Teams, while No10 used Teams with restricted access to Skype. Nobody who had secrets to keep used Zoom and Jitsi Meet is either unknown or a secret weapon. Check out this thread for more.


Substack has been getting a lot of flack recently. Not just from me. Take this post from Annalee Newitz. I read it with interest and really wanted to comment. But by the time I hit post the comments had been turned off.

This is what I’d wrote:

Thanks for this Annalee.

I'm a small fry scribbler here. Never been featured, (not bitter) never been paid by Substack and never will. I do have a small number of paying subscribers though and for this I am very grateful. It's been a trickle of an income for a little over a year now.

Having had many interactions with Hamish and his team (mostly reporting bugs and asking for features early on) I think some bad editorial decisions have been made. Personally I would not call it a scam. They seemed like good people. Just perhaps a little out of touch with the ethical behaviour I'd expect from a decent publishing platform.

In an ideal world I'd like Substack to backtrack on this. To put their hands up and say they will try harder. Mostly I’d like this for selfish reasons. Because I like it here. I can drop thoughts and audio into my feed and so far nothing has gotten in the way of a simple workflow.

But startup culture and its quest for unlimited growth might put a stop to all that. when you are beholden to shareholders you can’t love people more than money. And no matter how much good is created on, or flows out of a platform, it's this inherent toxicity that will eventually bring it down.

Good luck wherever you head next Annalee. And please send a message of hope when you get there.

Ever optimistic, I hope to be last to the lifeboats.


Fingers crossed Annalee finds a new home for her writings. Or maybe Substack will manage to entice her and many others back into the fold. Just not financially behind closed doors.

If I do decide to move this dispatch it might be to ButtonDown.

Some words from Herman Hesse read by Natascha McElhone at Kew Gardens.


If you are a supporting subscriber you would have found a new recording in the dispatch podcast feed last night. A chat with Harriet Dodd. I’ve unlocked it so all subscribers can listen on the page. I’m hoping to grab some more chats soon.

In the audio I also mention our mutual friend Phil Sands, you can hear him in this audio I recorded while working in Syria. Thanks to @McFontaine for reminding me of our collaboration. Mark is another person I’d like to record a chat with.

Anybody can be a supporting subscriber of this email. It costs less than a beer a month.

If you have already hit the red button and would like to be on the podcast, let me know and i’ll add you to the list.

Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots.

I’ve started listening to The Atlas Obscura Podcast.

I can’t really comment on Clubhouse as I didn’t even download it. It’s one of the rare occasions when my FOMO didn’t get the better of me. As well as spending more time offline I have a backlog of unfinished projects and putting time aside to explore another social platform was not going to help. This thread is interesting and kind of brought me up to speed.


Leftover roasted vegetables on tomatoes, cucumber and mixed lettuce.

Fill a large roasting tray with chopped veg. Any veg. Just remember to chop smaller chunks of hard veg like swede compared to things like leek. Season with salt pepper and herbs of choice and then roast for 20 mins before pouring some chopped tomatoes or passata over it all. Then roast some more. Maybe another 20 mins..

Make lots of it then you can have the leftovers on a salad like in the photo.


I think you can grab yourself a bargain here.

Seriously though, if we have another lockdown I’m wearing one of these. I bet you could travel anywhere you like.

Although I’m really keen to have my own NFT’s, I’m very uncomfortable with the environmental impact of minting a token on the Ethereum Blockchain. This will certainly change at some point as there is a growing eco friendly cryptoart movement. But it’s not quite ready. So what about we conduct a little experiment right here in this email?

If you are interested I’m selling this art piece.

Email me how much you are willing to pay and I will sell to the highest bidder. It’s not minted yet but can be in the future. When it’s more environmentally friendly to do so. If you bid and win, I shall announce who owns it in the next email. Should you wish to sell it on, I can also announce that it’s for sale in a future emails (and so on). I will keep track of ownership by logging the owners name in future dispatches. In good NFT tradition I shall be eligible to receive 10% of all future sales and the ‘immutable record’ will exist in thousands of inboxes as well as the dispatch archives.

I know this isn’t exactly the same mechanism as what goes on with NFT’s but this is my artistic interpretation of it. The winning bidder will be sent a signed version of the above representation.

So… Who wants to be the very first owner of the above piece of artwork entitled ‘Banana going on and off’? All you have to do is reply to this email with a bid. You never know, you might be the only one bidding. ;-)



You made it. Thanks for reading.

Next week will have the same number of days as this one. But if you look closely, it will be quite different.

“Freiheit ist immer die Freiheit des Andersdenkenden

Freedom is always, and exclusively, freedom for the one who thinks differently.” 

Rosa Luxemburg

Be real,

See you out there.