"If you don’t learn a new skill during quarantine, you don’t lack time, you lack a trust fund" (@kaichoyce / Twitter)

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April 2020

We only have so much bandwidth

I hope this finds you well. Words that now carry a lot more weight than they used to. Particularly in the form I tend to use them now: ‘I hope you and the ones you love are safe and well.’ And for me at least, that comes with the implication that, if not, nothing I'm going to say next is going to matter in the slightest.

I would say 'these are strange times', but... I'm not actually sure they are. H & I were talking today about why late March crawled by so slowly, and yet April seems to have flashed by in a blink. Maybe it's because March was so full of new experience, and in April every day is the same. The strangeness of March just feels normal now.

That phrase again: 'the new normal'. Feels like 2010 to 2020 was pretty much a decade of new normals.

Anyway, what's on the cards for this month?

Even more recommendations than 'normal'. I know it seems hard to believe, but I usually keep a bit of an eye on the length of these newsletters, because, y'know, who has that kind of time?

Well, turns out... pretty much everyone.

There's finally some new music! Well, some new, old, new... but also technically old music. And the first of what I hope are several collaborative folkie music videos.

Also, the Bastard English Session is, for the short to mid-term at least, reborn as the Bastard Online Session, on the world's favourite video conferencing platform: Zoom.

But before we get to that, there is something rather important from the vaults that I feel the need to share...

Last time I linked to this I titled it 'shameless clickbait'...

New Video

Newcastle To Portsmouth Via Jamaica. (Incredible.)

I’ve seen some great video collaborations between folk musicians lately, and thought I’d try to get in on the act.

And, much to my mischievous joy, this involved summoning up that ancient lurking evil that is the Half Moon All Stars.

This is a version of our tune set Newcastle To Portsmouth Via Jamaica.

Watch out for Sam Twigg Johnson's exploding sunglasses at the end...

Upcoming Events

Friday 1st of May

Every other Friday, all of a sudden. 

So this is new!

After being recruited almost last-minute to host a purely online folk session for this year’s fully-online Folk Weekend Oxford festival, there was a general consensus that we do this on a regular basis.

Every fortnight, as it happens. From 8pm to 10pm. For now at least.

Folk Weekend organiser Cat has very generously let us use the FWO Zoom account, so it promises to be a similar experience to a couple of weeks ago.

In order to log in on Friday, you need to click this link:

And then enter the password, which is:

  • bitshowy

As you all know, because I have mentioned many times, “I don’t make the rules!" So here are some new rules:

  1. If you want to perform something, click on 'Raise your Hand' (it's a thing).
  2. If you’re performing, you’ll need to change your Zoom settings to ‘Use Original Sound’.
  3. It’s a one-at-a-time performing thing, and I have to mute everyone during each performance (because of audio lag) (and also, because I get an enormous kick out of it).
  4. Feel free to use the Chat function throughout!
  5. Also, I find all Zoom calls weirdly tiring, so feel free to hide your video, and wander in and out.



Star of 'A Quiet Place' hosts his own YouTube show devoted to just good news.

For those that don’t know (and until recently I didn’t), John Krasinski is a US film and TV actor. He was in the US version of The Office, and he’s perhaps better known now as the star of the film A Quiet Place, and the husband of actor Emily Blunt.

Anyway, clearly ground down by the recent news – not just the content but the sensationalising style – he decided to set up his own YouTube news channel from home: ‘SGN’. Some Good News.

It became an instant hit, reaching millions of people around the world. And it is as it sounds: a collection of inspiring and joyful stories that viewers (mainly from Twitter) have sent in.

It’s unashamedly feel-good stuff, well put together, despite revelling in its shonky production values.

Emergency break glass in need of cheering up.



This is a kind of similar project from closer to home, which I think is also plugging an emotional hole brought on by the lockdown.

Phoebe Nicholson is a poet and hardcore Catweazler since days of yore. She's the editor of the Catweazle Magazine in fact, and also founder of the Oxford Poetry Library, which… again is sort of what it sounds like. Except that it’s on a bicycle.

Now the OPL has a newsletter, which can send you a poem first thing, before the headlines get you – to remind you that the business of being human is a constant, even if nothing else seems to be right now.

You can open your inbox to incoming poetry by clicking here.


I'm going to keep plugging this until you watch it. (I can do this all day.)

H & I watched this again at the weekend, having loved it when we saw it in the cinema. It’s definitely threatening the front-runners on my all-time-favourite-movies list.

If you’re looking for a sharply written, beautifully shot and impeccably acted feel-good film to, again, remind yourself of the business of being human, The Peanut Butter Falcon is a great starting place.

Just watch 30 seconds of the video above to see what I mean.


The context that news channels don't give you, delivered in a measured and accessible way,

Okay, so that’s a lot of things to look at instead of the news, but what if you just want better, more informative news?

I’m finding the videos made by Vox to be very good for this.

They’re short, well-researched and they focus more on the wider context of the coronavirus pandemic, rather than the headlines of the last 24 hours.

In fact, that's one of the things I really like about them: my impression is that they don’t think about making a video until they feel that ‘the evidence is in’ on a subject.

Also a shout out to another really good resource for genuinely informative news, specifically for the more scientific side: the YouTube channel SciShow.

SciShow News – Does Getting COVID-19 Make You Immune To It?


"I would beg to disagree but begging disagrees with me..."

This is Fiona Apple, and this is her dog:

Fiona Apple listening to Florence & The Machine with her dog.

She makes an album on average every 10 years, and when she does people generally tend to get excited. This one has the music industry even more excited than usual, with a coveted 10/10 score from Pitchfork (which is apparently about as rare… as a Fiona Apple album).

I’ve heard critics comparing it to Bone Machine by Tom Waits, which is a deeply weird album, and if you don’t like Waits’s album then Bolt Cutters might not be for you. I love Bone Machine to death, and I think the reason I’m drawn to both is (a) fantastic lyrics and (b) that the weirdness and the disjointedness and the mad jumble all feel to me to be in service of a clear point.

It’s not weirdness for the sake of being weird. It's about exploring a specific emotional landscape that couldn't be done in another way.



They give philanthropists a good name.

Generally speaking I consider the word ‘philanthropist’ to be code for ‘the living embodiment of evil’.

That guy who used his inherited wealth and influence to perfect a means of harvesting orphans’ tears and turning them into beauty products which leave their users scarred and deformed but convinced they need more… that guy who used the proceeds from this to fund political despots… that guy who got even richer by instructing the despots to enact policies that asset-strip public resources… that guy who used a private army of lawyers, private detectives and thugs to bury any news stories about him…

That guy usually ends up being described as a ‘philanthropist’.

Because he donated some works of art that cost him pocket-change to some institution, on the condition that they are displayed under a 40ft statue of himself in daily-polished bronze.

Maybe Bill Gates would have taken that route if not for the influence of Melinda, who knows.

But both do seem to be a collective powerhouse of public good, and have been for some time now – focusing the Gates millions on eradicating diseases worldwide.

Which turns out to be rather a useful skill.

Indeed, Bill Gates gave a prophetic TED talk in 2015 about how the world is not ready for the next global pandemic.

Having spent around $100 million of Gates Foundation money on COVID-19 solutions, these two are the people everyone seems to be turning to right now.



I've been sharing this a lot on socials, but only because it's so great.

I’m going to do my own little bit of poetry sharing here.

This is John Green reading a short poem entitled Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem.

My favourite bit is the part about underlining the essay on Rilke.



A slapdash Norah Jones gig is tighter than me at my most rehearsed.

It seems we can’t move for musicians of all shapes and sizes performing live gigs in their living rooms.

And why not, frankly? We can’t go and see them play in person.

I think a lot of us are putting them on in the background while we potter around the home. And Norah Jones’s are perfect for that. Old school musicianship with just the most laid-back attitude.

Dear Diary...

So, who will win in the 2020 coronavirus pandemic?

It's a terrible thing to say, but... I am getting this sense that this is a big moment in history, and... big things are happening, and... I want to be a part of that. Somehow. Shouldn't I be out there, doing more?

After maybe a month of everything being on pause, my innate social status anxiety started to kick in, in a dark way. But I saw a tweet (yes, the pandemic has lured me back to Twitter: that's how serious things have got) that really resonated with me, in which someone said 'You don't need to beat yourself up: no one is going to win the pandemic'.

Right now, so many people are doing extraordinary things just by showing up to work. Pretty much all healthcare workers are doing extraordinary things. Many UK healthcare workers would rather they weren't, as they don't have the personal protective equipment. But they do it anyway. In a twisted way, it's the UK's punishment for their decision to devote their lives to protecting the health of others.

I feel like I want to help, to get involved, volunteer. But there's also the small issue of paying the bills, with an income becoming more and more uncertain. And then, of course, there's the fact that we are being directly asked to stay home unless we absolutely have to leave.

But there's another reason why I'm trying to convince myself to just ease off the accelerator on this for a moment. Why I'm not seizing this 'golden opportunity for productivity'. And that is to do with what I call bandwidth.

If I'm going to get enough sleep, and eat properly, and do the things I need to stay healthy and sane (and hopefully help H to do the things she needs to stay healthy and sane) then I have, let's say, X hours of time and Y units of energy.

Well, it's really only in the last few days that I have realised that, even though the amount of time and energy I have stays fairly constant right now... the amount of things I can do with it is very much not constant.

Because my bandwidth keeps changing.

If my To Do list is just full of straightforward tasks, they take up very little bandwidth. And so I can do a lot of them. Even if they require a fair bit of skill. I can just assign a big bunch of them each day, and comfortably tick off at least most of them.

But if I'm working on something that has a high degree of uncertainty in it – either because it's very new or because I keep getting it wrong – then that project is going to take up most of my bandwidth.

And I'll suddenly find that I absolutely cannot face looking at my To Do list. Because even if I tick everything else off the list, I'll still have to deal with this big troublesome project that I can't seem to figure out.

I realise I have had this problem for years. This is the reason why I'm so terrible at replying to messages! It's the reason why, unless I plan very carefully in advance, I find it so hard to update social media. It's why I'll even have occasional days when the whole schedule comes to a stop.

The problem, specifically, has been that I have been failing to recognise that my bandwidth is all being used up. I've been failing to recognise that because I keep saying to myself: 'I don't get it! I have the same X hours and the same Y energy... why can't I get anything done?'

What I should be doing instead is going into my To Do list and stripping it right down. Not deleting everything necessarily, but kicking anything into the future that doesn't need to be done right now.

I need to reclassify what I consider as Urgent (otherwise I have 18 urgent things scheduled, outside of paid work, to do in any given day). And I need to free up bandwidth, so I can deal with whatever is troubling me as quickly as possible.

And that's why, like a lot of people, I'm growing tired of the hustle porn tweets that say "If you don't emerge from this quarantine with a new skill and a new side hustle, you don't lack time: you lack discipline." I'm not even entirely sure that attitude comes from a bad place, but I think it's just a bit of a lazy gig-economy mindset that doesn't apply right now.

We're all still processing, I think.

So What Have We Learnt?

There's a line in this key scene (perhaps the key scene) in The Peanut Butter Falcon which I've been thinking about.

This whole scene, incidentally, just breaks me every time I see it. Guaranteed to open the floodgates. Particularly how it ends, and we find out why Tyler has got himself into such a self-destructive mess.

Tyler is giving a pep-talk to Zack, telling him that the people who have written him off because of his Down's Syndrome are wrong.

But he adds: "There's some shit you ain't never gonna do! But that's alright."

I think we don't hear that message enough. People are much more likely to say "You can do anything you set your mind to." But we can't be everything.

And I don't think it's a golden opportunity right now, for anything other than saving lives. Now, I think there will come a golden opportunity to help make a more equal and just society, but that's going to happen in the aftermath. We're too up-close to do more than that. Now I think it's enough to just make it through the day, and try where possible to be the good guy.

Ask me things

If you have any questions then seriously, do please drop me a message using one of the pretty social media buttons below. About the recordings. About the gigs. About life. About the universe. About whether it's all going to be okay. It's all going to be okay.

  • Click on the images to see the originals. (It just means less admin for me this way.)
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