ADHD Mental Health

The (ADHD) drugs do work

Not sure I was ever a huge fan of Richard Ashcroft but how the hell do you title something like this? This is as interesting a title as I could manage today. 

This is a follow up to this previous post where I described receiving an ADHD diagnosis relatively late in life. That post seemed to somehow have resonated with various people and made its way to the front page of Digg.com for a few days. The stats showed 9,000 unique impressions on it and then about half that the day after. That’s quite a lot for my small little blog where I post random thoughts at times. I also had lots of messages on Twitter and Instagram as well as a few random people via Digg.com who wanted to simply thank me as it sounded like what they had been through or it had been a revelation to them and that they were now going to get an assessment. For that reason I think it was the right thing to do to be so open and honest about it all. I know of two people who’ve gone and got an assessment as a result. 

Some caveats before going further. This is my experience of ADHD, stimulant medication and its effects on me. Your experience may vary and you should seek advice and support from a professional. The only reason for this post is to normalise and inform around a topic that doesn’t appear to have much written about it. 

The end of the previous post wasn’t hugely positive as the diagnosis wasn’t quite the moment of clarity I had hoped for. Having spent a few days crying and shocked to my very core I then headed deep into a confused and depressed state for a few weeks. I can only describe it as a complete feeling of numbness, confusion and depression which I likened to being within a glass bubble at the time and looking out into the world whilst kind of banging around inside this glass sphere. It’s probably best described as trying to deal with the seven stages of grief. We’re a bit closer to acceptance now I’m pleased to say. 

The most painful part was going back and thinking of the various moments in my life where knowing about all this could have really helped me or others. What relationships might still be intact? What could have been and so on. I seem to have escaped that a bit and am finding and accepting that this just seems to be the right time and moment to find out all about this, to then deal with it, and move forward. And I’m getting to the point of no regrets (kind of).

One thing that helped me climb out of the bubble was my follow up appointment with the psychiatrist. This seemed to validate it all for me slightly and convince me I wasn’t making it all up or a fraud. So we have our call and discuss treatment options. There are a number of treatment options presented. Stimulant medication, other medication, therapy, CBT and finally ADHD coaching. Out of all of these I wanted to give medication a go as I knew that I wouldn’t stick with CBT or therapy. I have also gone back to a therapist I’ve seen before but largely to deal with the issues around this than the actual ADHD. Best to deal with it now rather than later I think. 

Having discussed that medication would be my preferred option we discussed a treatment plan based on a medication called Elvanse, or Vyvanse in the US, which is a trade name for Lisdexamfetamine, which I still can’t work out how to pronounce. Wikipedia gives us this rather neat definition. 

Lisdexamfetamine, sold under the brand name Vyvanse among others, is a medication that is a derivative of amphetamine, it is converted to dextroamphetamine by the body which is chemically related to MDMA and other drugs of the amphetamine class. It is mainly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in people over the age of five as well as moderate-to-severe binge eating disorder in adults.

My main question was relating to the use of a stimulant to treat what I find to be a very active and restless brain. Surely this was just going to send me completely crazy? It was explained to me that this wasn’t the case and that it was simply going to help two parts of the brain talk to each other in my brain that are connected in neurotypical people. My other question related to any loss of character. I know that some medication used for depression or other issues can cause a bit of a fog or dampening down of oneself. I was assured that this wasn’t going to happen. Ok. Fine, let’s give it a go then. We talk about a base dose and then increasing steadily whilst reviewing and monitoring. We started at 20mg and I am now pretty stable on 60mg having gone up in increments over around 8 weeks. 

We discussed possible side effects and that I could no longer have alcohol or caffeine whilst taking these meds. Ok, that seemed slightly uncomfortable at first but more on that later. She said that most people have good results with this type but we would just have to see.

I decided that starting this would be best on a Sat so that if I did completely lose my mind it wouldn’t affect work. The night before I had a few drinks with friends and enough to probably give me a bit of a hangover – and also my last drinks for quite some time. The next morning I took my first meds with breakfast and about an hour or so later received the feeling of what I can only describe as clarity. Just pure clarity. No rumination. No negative spiralling or my mind running away being over active. How have you all existed like this in such a wonderful state of calm? It was quite a revelation. 

What came with this was a bit of a weird oversensitivity to anything I felt. Was that the meds? Am I talking all slurred. Am I being weird. And a weird hypersensitivity to feelings and mannerisms. This then developed later into questioning what was me, what was ADHD, what was medication along with some quite abstract thought as to the role of self in all of that. Something I’ve been exploring with a therapist and has got a lot easier since.

During the titration period there were a number of side effects and these have all come and largely gone. These have included; dry mouth, sore teeth, sore legs, increased anxiety, slight dizziness, loss of appetite, disrupted sleep, feeling a little off my face and weight loss… which all sounds quite bad. But most didn’t last more than a few days and were often around the point where I was going up a dose. I went 20 > 30 > 40 > 50 and ended up at 60mg where I’m staying. Two things have stayed actually and these are fairly easy to manage. The loss of appetite is fairly constant and I often have some very sweet WhatsApp reminders from my girlfriend to eat. I keep snack bars on me at all times to make sure I have something available and avoid an evening crash when the meds wear off. And I need to keep drinking loads of water! There’s been a bit of weight loss which is no bad thing but I also put that down to not drinking booze anymore. I also put some of the above symptoms down to giving up caffeine too. I seem to wake up quite early these days but now just embrace it and get on and get to work or go and do some exercise. I do feel really quite exhausted in the evenings when it wears off some days. Not such a bad thing as no working all night anymore. 

I thought giving up booze would be a nightmare. And the same for caffeine. But when on the medication I don’t have any real urge to drink at all! All I could think of was that this meant I was using alcohol and caffeine as stimulants to manage my ADHD. I’ve been having alcohol free beers and not really had an issue with them. I can still go out for a night out with friends or go for coffee with someone and then just have decaf, which again is completely fine. 

But then that brings us on to an interesting point. The oh “You’re not drinking” comment or the raised eyebrow in the regular coffee shop when asking for decaf. How do you explain this? What’s socially acceptable. Whilst thinking about this I realised I’d kind of been doing this for years and sometimes used the phrase “my brain works differently” in certain work settings where I didn’t quite get something or needed it explaining again. I’ve explained it a few ways but usually just say, “yeah, I can’t drink with some medication I’m taking”… and then sometimes explain a bit further. People are generally quite interested but I’m still not quite sure about it. It’s that thing of not wanting it to define you, yet wanting to be open and destigmatise it on so many levels. I often slip into the slightly jokey “I get to have MDMA for breakfast” or some variation of this, but it’s really not cool and I probably need to stop this as its somewhat reductive.

One other thing I read about was clouds of ADHD diagnosis. In that one person gets an assessment and then lots of others in the same social group end up with the same, as a result of people spending time with those who are most like them I guess. 

Overall I’ve been so much happier, positive and able to function better generally. It’s like a tailwind when cycling, it’s not doing all the work for you, but it does help you make progress in the right direction. Clearly there is more to life than being productive but it really has helped me fit in with the world at large and kind of just get on with life. So many things have now got done that I would have avoided previously not done. Now comes the task of sorting out some of the mess from before and trying to sort things for the future.


ADHD Mental Health

ADHD at aged 42 and 1/2

EDIT: True to form I focused on the content of this rather than the title. I’m actually 41 and 1/2. The URL slug is set now so will leave it but mildy amusing that this happened. Thanks to everyone who messaged me to say that this resonated with them in some way. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone. This has been updated with useful links at the end an another image.

Edit 2: 23.08.21 added more links and a useful Reddit thread to bottom of article.

This used to be a place where I would post things about riding or a video I liked somewhere and so on but now seems like a place where I come to record thoughts about mental health. I find the process of writing things down helpful, cathartic and often helps other people. Some people will probably think it’s all for attention and that’s fine, but the last thing I want is attention for this or for it to define me or really to talk about it that much in public (other than to help others). At the same time I’m not ashamed about this and if it helps one other person then it’s all worth it. Maybe I’ll find time to write up some rides again soon or some thoughts on the world but for now it’s back to another mental health post. This time we’re going to deal with my recent journey to an ADHD diagnosis.

So important caveats first. I’m not a psychologist or expert in this field. This is just my own lived experience and you should not take this as a guide to ADHD or how you might experience it. It’s simply a collection of thoughts and experiences that I have worked through and how I understand it as of date of writing. If you are exploring issues around ADHD this may be too much information and overwhelming for you.

Caveats out of the way… off we go.

I imagined that I might start this blog post with “…so I always knew I was a bit different” but that’s not the case. It’s simply not possible to know how other people experience the world and this is probably the biggest barrier I found to not quite dealing with this for the many years I’ve been on this earth. That and a lack of education about this field and a clear misunderstanding of what it actually is about stopped me getting anywhere near dealing with this until I was 42 and 1/2 years old.

This diagram is probably the most succinct explainer of what ADHD actually is as I understand it and how I relate to it.

I’ve previously had issues with depression and anxiety, general negative feelings, feeling like an imposter and so on. I’ve been to therapy a number of times to deal with this but not quite got to the root cause – through no fault of the therapist I should add. So how do you get to the point where you see a psychologist for an ADHD diagnosis? Well… I started with an online test after a friend noted of similar symptoms to me (but with a diagnosis). And then another. And then one more on a different website. But I thought I was gaming the system and that I was making it up. Maybe the websites were American and more likely to encourage a diagnosis. How could I possibly be this old and have ADHD? Nah. Not possible. Surely that was angry kids at school with difficult home lives? (I’m overstating that but it’s clear that it’s how this was what large sections of society thought about it when I was at school). I got 42 – 44 out of 48 on the test I refer to most often and I kept thinking that if I didn’t get a full house on it then it probably meant I was faking it.

I kept reading around the subject and what it meant. I looked at articles that referenced DSM 5 which any of this would be measured against. I made sure all google searches had “UK” appended to the search to try and make sure I was getting good advice. I still thought I was unlikely to get a positive diagnosis.

I finally plucked up the courage to book a test and went private. I got my test here with Psychiatry UK. I found the idea of trying to get a doctors appointment and referral almost impossible (and it is almost impossible) but also comes with a long waiting list. It’s possible to get a referral to a private consultant under the right to choose in the UK but more obstacles meant this was never going to happen. I bit the bullet and paid the money up front in June. I was pretty upset to see that my options for an appointment were in December onwards – quite a long way away and not quite the immediate feedback I’d hoped for. I stuck with it and filled out the forms. Again lots more self doubt here – many of the forms I didn’t feel like I hit them 100% and kept thinking of more faking it. If I wasn’t off the scale in all areas of the test they would just laugh me out of town.

The other part of the assessment is that someone else fills out some slightly shorter form about how they experience you, in this instance my GF. And holy shit that was hard to read. It did have the effect of making me ever so slightly more confident that maybe this was a thing. But then, what a nightmare I am. How did she live with me like this? How have I been this awful for so long.

One thing that did help was looking at ADHD meme accounts on Instagram which were alarming in the way in which I could relate to them. It kind of validated a lot of the behaviours and experiences I had. But then I was alarmed when not all described what I experienced.

And then I got an email saying my appointment had been re-allocated to early August back from December. I’m getting to the point soon I promise. This was a huge moment. Now just all the anxiety and worry to come from thinking about the appointment and what a diagnosis (or not) might mean. It was even worse when I mentioned it to a few people and then seemed slightly perplexed as to why I was doing it. “I wouldn’t have thought you were ADHD”… and shrugged. But then most people aren’t psychologists.

Appointment day comes and it’s via a remote call with an incredible person and psychologist. It’s fairly fast paced as you cover a LOT. It was meant to take just less than an hour but it lasted and hour and a half. It wasn’t until quite late in the session that it was confirmed that yes, I was ADHD, and no I had not been making it up. I’d been so nervous the whole call that we would get to the end of the call and she would thank me for my time but ultimately I was just lazy and smile at me and end the call. The last 15 mins were spent talking about treatment options – more on that in a bit. It covered everything from family, childhood, school, university, relationships, work, leisure, drugs, alcohol and so on. Pretty thorough and quite painful looking back at a few things really where I had come unstuck with this. A few examples are below. Kind of hilarious and sad to look back at this now and see it all make sense.

When I went to sixth form college I did a vocational course (GNVQ) and it was all coursework. All the modules were clearly defined in terms of outputs and you could take additional units to bulk out the course. Each piece of coursework I listed the bullet points out of the requirements and then just ticked them all off in the paper. I found it quite straightforward and I finished 3 months early and with a bunch of additional units done. I guess that wasn’t normal really. I was also quite socially awkward at the time and had very few friends or things to do in the evening so just did this instead. There were no other distractions.

When I did my degree I was top of my class, first class honours and had worked through Christmas at my shared house that year. Not because I was behind, but because I was hyper fixated on the work and just keep on at it. I would work from 8am until 1am most of the time just listening to music and working between a drawing board and computer. A completely all or nothing response. The boundaries were all super clear and a framework set for me to work and deliver against. I could work hard and deliver huge amounts of work and achieved incredible things within this framework. Then when I did my Diploma a few years later it was more open and less of a framework. I scraped a merit. There were also other distractions such as Internet cycling forums where I would be easily distracted as they were far more interesting. I found other ways to find stimulation and distraction away from work that someone else hadn’t set clear boundaries for me.

I was going through a bit of monotonous period at work around 2008 and 2009 and thought I’d get back into photography. Except I didn’t just do occasional photos. I took a photo every single day for an entire year becoming completely obsessive about it. Then I needed to know everything about photography. How to use off camera flash. How to do this that and the other. Then I started wanting to know everything about architectural photography and then turned it into a successful side business. Then I got bored of it as I felt I had completed it. I’d learnt everything I needed to. The fun was always in the obsessive learning and not necessarily repeating it once I had learnt it. I struggled to photograph buildings I didn’t like.

I used to read websites or forums and disappear down worm holes on the internet until 3am in the morning. Not the current addiction as designed YouTube type things but weird forums and news sites such as slashdot.org reading about obscure operating systems or delving deep into retro UNIX hardware from Sun, HP or DEC digital. Reading for four hours straight about programming languages and the latest MacOS release and its history and frameworks. Looking into all sorts of weird and wonderful hardware systems that never went very far. Apparently that’s not normal when you’re 25 and not a software engineer. And also not normal to do this at the desk next to your bed when your GF is in the bed next to you. I did the same with nuclear bunkers having grown up over one. Of course.

I drove someone to Scotland and back to a bike race in 2015 with someone I barely knew. It was around four days worth of driving there and back, plus another day and a bit for the actual race. I simply just said to him… “I can drive you if you like” and then figured out the consequences after. We’re now good friends, but still. Kind of not what a neurotypical person might do.

I get really really really offended by the most minor of things and then chew on them and continue to suffer from the pain and anger it causes me for weeks or months on end. The list of thrown away friendships and burned WhatsApp groups is extensive. I now know that this is likely to do with RSD – rejection sensitive dysphoria, quite common with ADHD. People just think I’m an arsehole, as do I.

I got into road cycling. Except I couldn’t just get into it I had to know everything about it and ride huge huge distances – 200km, 300km, 400km, 1200km… Kind of complete road cycling. Then I got bored of it and bought a different bike. I have now have nine bikes. I have poor impulse control and my finances are worse for it.

I can’t make a meal without eating half of it. Or making toast and eating it whilst my GF is plating up. Again, impulse control issues.

These are just a few of the many examples that came up in that appointment and that I’ve since been reflecting on since. It’s weird to see all of your traits and oddities laid out like that and how you’ve been fighting against it all for so long.

I’d pinned so much on getting a diagnosis that I saw it as some amazing moment of clarity that would hit me and my life would instantly become easier. That hasn’t happened, obviously. And it’s been hugely painful to reflect on life’s experiences and to think of what could have been. It’s left me feeling utterly bereft and isolated thinking about what could have been and how could I possibly have left it so long. It’s all so obvious in hindsight with the knowledge I have now. Why did I not help myself? Why did no one help me? Do I need to do some form of contact tracing and go back through my whole life and apologise and explain to people? It seems like it might ease some guilt or make things better.

It’s really hard to not look back and reflect on it. The one thing that is I guess some form of positive is that I’ve achieved a few things whilst all the time fighting this. Constantly battling against it. Maybe I could have achieved more. My only hope now that is by working with it, understanding it and managing it I can live a slightly less angst driven life and come to terms with it. It’s still really really fucking painful looking back though.

I start the next part of my treatment in a few weeks and may well update this once that hopefully starts to work. I’m going to try medication as a way of managing this as I know I just won’t engage with CBT type therapies and have already explored talking therapies at great length.

I guess that’s not quite the positive ending I’d hoped for. But I’m really quite glad I know and hopeful for how things can improve in the future. It’s going to take a while I think.

Here’s a few links to things I’ve found helpful.

What is neruodoversity and other conditions

ADHD 2.0: New Science and Essential Strategies for Thriving with Distraction–From Childhood Through Adulthood A good book on the subject. Naturally I got the audio version so I could actually get through it.

ADHD causes an inability to “feel” time. A really good Twitter thread.

Treatment for Adult ADHD The link between exercise and managing ADHD was really interesting for me in this one.

ADHD Meme therapy / adhdoers / adhdmemetherapy / livedexperiencecounsellor – A few Instagram accounts I found useful.

This post about the ‘spectrum of executive function‘ was also good. You colour in the areas where you struggle.

ADHD Designer A good Twitter account for those who are ADHD and designers.

Reddit thread on full process at psychiatry-UK. Super useful!

Russell Barkley explains ADHD – anything with Dr Russell is always good on this subject.

Will keep adding more as I find them.


Mental Health

The S word

Warning this post refers to mental health issues, self harm and suicide. Please do not read any further if this is difficult for you in any way.

This week has been pretty weird. I’m not quite sure why I’m writing this all down really. Maybe it’s to rationalise some thoughts, maybe it’s to make them leave my brain and onto a virtual page of sorts, maybe it is in the hope that someone else might find this and relate to it as they stumble around the internet. Maybe it’s to find some form of outlet that isn’t retweeting people supportive of this way of thinking to deal with my outrage at this week and the people who form and define the opinions in our media. That does fuck all. Will this do anything? Who knows, but it might make me feel better.

What happened this week? Well, a famous woman confessed to having suicidal thoughts on TV, a male TV host then said he didn’t believe her and has since doubled down on that, even after being sacked. Numerous folk have backed that person including such nice people as a famous football pundit usually known for his nice guy image. My timeline on Twitter is now full of discussion around suicide (in a round about way) and someone’s ability to say this out-loud and be recognised for it and have their thoughts accepted as being valid. This is extraordinarily difficult for anyone who has had the slightest dealings with either suicidal feelings or losing anyone to suicide in their lifetime.

I guess you could say I have been triggered.

My experience with this subject matter goes back to when I was a child, 15, and couldn’t cope with the world and the emotions it was generating in me. This resulted in self harm and a poor attempt on my own life. I played this down for many years until confronting in in therapy a few years ago and recognising and accepting that situation for what it was. It was real. It was serious. And it ended up with me at the GP with my very worried mother. I’m still embarrassed to go to the GP as this is on my record.

Two years later, when I was 17, my next door neighbour took his own life that Christmas. He was 26 I think. His room was the mirror image of mine in the terrace house we lived in and next door to my room. There’s details of that experience which haunt me to this day and won’t share. I still blame myself for not stopping him.

When I was at University in my second year of architecture school my housemate made an attempt on her own life and was hospitalised for a week. She survived. None of the rest of us quite knew how to deal with it or engage with the pain she felt. I think I was 20.

I’m now in my 40s and have struggled with my own mental health in recent years. Firstly in 2018 with some pretty dark thoughts – what I now know is referred to as suicidal ideation. I got myself back to therapy and seemed to have dealt with that for a while. And then again in 2019 it all got bad again. I wouldn’t use the tube when feeling like this for instance. The thing for me is when headspace / hot baths / exercise don’t shift it you know you really have a problem. I tried to ‘solve’ or do something about this and tried to find a walk in mental health clinic where I could seek professional help. I live pretty close to The Maudsley (a mental health hopsital) in South London and stupidly thought I would find an emergency clinic to walk into. As I left the house to try and find it Google Maps told me it had closed in 2017. I tried my GP and couldn’t get an appointment for weeks on end and gave up. Those thoughts come and go still. It’s like your brain is eating you from the inside. But ultimately I don’t think this gets fixed, it gets managed and you live with it perhaps.

This isn’t all about me either. I know of plenty of close friends who have dealt with many similar situations to the above. It hurts them and changes them.

One situation in the media that really affected me was the death of Caroline Flack. I’d not heard of her until her death. But the more I read about it and the more in which people so casually talked about it and even made jokes about it really deeply affected me. I left that WhatsApp group for good and struggled to relate to those people for a while.

I guess everyone’s lived experiences are different and you can’t possibly ask people to recognise how hard that is if you’ve never experienced it. But you can ask people to not be dismissive. I remember Ben Goldacre on Twitter remarking once “If you find me dead from suicide, it was the CIA”… or words to that effect. Again that shocked me, but more from a personal confidence level and his sheer arrogance and dismissiveness.

To say S word out-loud and admit to those feelings of ideation is extraordinarily hard regardless if you’re on TV or talking one to one with a loved one, GP or mental health professional. To have these feelings dismissed is the most shocking thing I’ve seen in a long time and is beyond contempt. It’s really really got to me.

It feels like we have made huge progress on the discussion of mental health recently but I feel this has set us back by years and years. I genuinely fear for what this has done to anyone who is struggling right now.

Again, I’m not sure what the point of writing this was or if there is any real conclusion to it all. I just needed to write something.


no category

A series of occasional links

I started a little newsletter back in late April 2020 as a way of sharing little links and good things I found each week in various places on the internet. I’m not quite sure how I came up with the idea but I think I’d seen someone mention the TinyLetter service previously, maybe Iso? It’s a bare bones email newsletter platform which is also free and now owned by MailChimp.

I think starting this was partly inspired by lockdown and having more time sat at home thinking about the world perhaps. I’m not quite sure what series of thoughts led to starting one but I came up with a name and a format and then pushed it out to anyone I could on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. The usual, hey follow this please request to all and sundry. To my surprise and joy 55 people signed up to the first one and then off we went.


Much like podcasts, does the world really need another email newsletter by a middle aged white guy right now? 

Probably not but it’s something to entertain myself with and share with people. Here is the first

I mucked up the formatting a bit with the first one as TinyLetter has some odd little quirks but others appear to have been more successful and I also managed to keep a bit of a handle on typos. The one’s you only see when you’ve hit the proper send not the draft send to yourself.

As with all these things I try and make rules or constraints for what is and isn’t allowed as a topic for the newsletter each week and as to how I imagine it should be formatted. Here’s a rough run down of my thoughts:

No self promotion in the links. It’s fine to talk about yourself a bit in the intro but no linking to my own work or activities. It should be about sharing links not telling the world what photos or building you worked on this week or some stupid bike ride you went on. There may be a very rare exception to this rule such as when I link to this blog post. 

No politics. The world has enough of that and we’re swamped with it as it is.

Nothing negative and shitty. No one needs to feel bad on their Sat morning after you send them a link to The Guardian about the end of the world. 

Be largely positive, uplifting and thoughtful with occasional use of amusing cute animals. 

Nothing too mean or making fun of individuals. A fine line with comedy sometimes but worth trying to avoid belittling people. 

Be engaging and humorous. 

A brief intro then ten links only. But allowed a few extras to link to similar things or to credit those who posted or shared the original thing you’re sharing.

No emojis. I broke this rule once and won’t do it again. 

I find all sorts of links to share during the week and put them into a note in SimpleNote then sort through and choose which ones to use each Friday night before hitting send on a Sat morning. I skipped a week or two in the early days but have been pretty regular since. It’s been a really nice thing to do and have had some lovely feedback from people. The title was specifically crafted to allow me to skip or pause when not feeling up to it or busy.

In terms of where I get all these things from I have a range of sources. Twitter is by far the biggest source but also various WhatsApp groups and people just generally sharing things there. I’m also still an RSS user and use Reeder on my phone/iPad/laptop to scan through and look for things. Kottke.org and daringfireball.net being two of my favourite feeds. One of the best places is another newsletter which kind of inspired me to start doing this and is called ‘The Overspill’ by Charles Arthur. I adore this in terms of the articles he sends as well as the commentary that goes with it. He also always responds to any feedback or further comments on Twitter. It arrives in my inbox at 8am every weekday and always good to rear at the start of the day. My favourite sources on Twitter are the Present & Correct account, Urban Fox and Dick King Smith. Maybe I need to keep updating this as time goes by. But all of the above has generated a huge amount of interesting things to share and gives me a reason to read, digest and then collate and post on for other folk. (I’m on a social media break so will link to the Twitter ones later).

The list is now up to 118 subscribers at the time of writing and hopefully it continue to grow organically. I’m a way away from hitting the 1000 subscriber limit of TinyLetter.

If you want to see the archive then have a poke around here and if you’re tempted to sign up then can sign up here



The perfect commuter bike – self build

About this time last summer I crashed my long term fixed commuter into a lamp post. I lunged away from the lights and then forgot to keep pedalling. I’ve no idea why this happened as I’d happily been riding fixed for 15 years and without an issue. I think I was tired, not concentrating or both. Anyway I threw myself and my bike onto the floor and slid along the tarmac until I hit a lamppost and snapped the front wheel in half and slammed all the force through the bottom bracket into my back. Good times.

After this I thought that perhaps I’m too old for fixed gear commuting and a more relaxed style of riding was probably more appropriate. It’s also a real pain having to clip in all the time for riding around town. The fixed went back to Neil, who was the original owner, and has now been repurposed as a shopping bike with a cute little basket on the front.

A few people have expressed an interest in the build I replaced that bike with so have written up some of the choices I made to build my ‘perfect commuter’ bike and how I did most of the self build. It’s been a perfect bike for rolling around town on but is now being replaced by something else. As usual it starts with a thought about maybe trying to build it from bits that are in the parts box but quickly changes into something else and the budget inevitably goes up – I tracked it all through a spreadsheet to try and avoid going too crazy. All in it was £1300, not cheap but then I don’t really pay any money in travel – £7 a day on the bus and underground soon adds up.

The main aim was for slow commuting. Flat pedals, normal clothes and not to be in a particular rush. A relaxed way of getting to work and also not be too good looking that you couldn’t leave outside the pub. I thought I could also use it for a bit of canal path bashing, my ride home to Bath from London etc.

The bit that started this off was having a 650b dynamo front wheel lying around and sat on a hook in the garage. I had bought from Clare for £100 and was a bargain I couldn’t pass on (the hub alone is £95) online but didn’t have a use for it at the time – I know, not exactly the definition of a bargain. That’s where the idea of a 650b commuter came from in the end. Next thing, well I really wanted a pizza rack on the front rather than the basket I’d had on my fixed. It’s hard to fold a bag into it and a bit more practical. It’s great strapping a bag on the front and not having a sweaty back when you arrive there – this I learnt from my Brompton days. I also really wanted to use 650b but in a bigger volume tyre for more comfort and the occasional off road bit perhaps.

So first things first. We need a frame. I looked at the Brother Cycles Kepler Disc especially as I could get from the local bike shop but didn’t quite like the look of the geometry, price or colour options going. The top tube seemed to slope down to the front slightly which to my eye was a bit odd. Anyway, next stop was Alpkit and their range of Sonder bikes. The Santiago in particular looked good and they had a load of different builds going including a flat bar version with 650b. It seemed to tick all the boxes and frame and forks for £400 was pretty good (now £500). Steel, loads of bottle bosses, mounts etc. I could have just ordered the full build but wouldn’t have given us the pleasure of tinkering with it all. I wanted to try and build it all myself, including bleeding disc brakes for the first time. More on that in a bit.

The main other parts:
Groupset: Shimano SLX, online and without brakes.
Brakes: Shimano SLX, again purchased online.
Bottom bracket: Cheapest Shimano one going.
Rear wheel: Shimano XT hub and cheap Kinlin rim, built up by a friend.
Headset: Orbit Pro XL – ashamed to say this was fitted with a hammer.
Locking QRs: Halo hex skewers, to avoid wheels being stolen.
Tyres: I went with the WTB Byways and love them.
Bars: Jones bars from local bike shop. Never used them before but are absolutely brilliant. So comfy and really add to that relaxed and more upright feel of the bike.
Seatpost: Cheapest one on Planet X.
Stem: Got a cheap one from Planet X but swapped with nicer one from turbo which was slightly longer.
Mudguards: SKS plastic ones from the local bike shop.
Saddle: Whatever was spare in the garage – WTB I think.
Dynamo lights: Reused from previous bike but B&M ones.
Pizza rack: There is only one really Specialized pizza rack.
Stickers: Models own. Make it look more ratty.
3M reflective tape (black): eBay. I cover the bike in this to hide the logos and add some sideways visibility.

Inevitably I didn’t build of much of it as I hoped and it went to Seabass for the brakes to be bled and gears to be sorted. I’m more confident on gears now and could probably do almost all of it now I have the correct BB tool.

There’s not much I would do differently other than maybe consider a hub gear for the rear. You could easily get away with a Deore groupset as more than enough for pootling around town. A later addition was a rear rack from Seabass (more carrying capacity), a bigger rear dynamo light (fitted to said rack), a few straps from pannier.cc and a second hand ‘rando bag’ Restrap bag. Sadly even the bigger Restrap bags aren’t big enough to fit a MacBook Pro otherwise it would be even better for commuting.

I’ve had some great times on this bike and carried a lot of shit on it! From shopping at the local Morrisons, large bits of wood, photography kit, a Christmas tree, bivvy kit, flowers, my rucksack, a pair of wheels and so on. A few pics below showing the full range of antics. It always brings a smile to my face to see some of the silly things I’ve tried to carry on it.

I think bikes like these are even more important as we try and refocus on starting some form of life after corona. There’s no way I’m taking public transport for shopping any more, no matter what the weather. I’ll start dismantling this next week to something that’s even more suited to reducing public transport and my van. The frame will be available if anyone wants it – 56cm. Otherwise it will get hung up in the garage for some other weird build.



Interviewing for an architecture job

Last week I took part in some mock interviews with third year students at Portsmouth University. Having studied at Portsmouth it was really nice to get involved with their work again having not had much contact for a while. We conducted a mock interview via Teams instead of meeting in person and was a good way of giving some feedback and preparing for the real thing hopefully. I thought I’d write this down to collate some of the tips I have for students and how I’d normally approach an interview both as interviewer and interviewee. I’m hoping to get some feedback via Twitter about what people do and how they approach them – I’ll update the post with anything useful.

Updated: I posted this Tweet and the replies are interesting and have updated the post with the feedback.

Firstly we started with a bit of a general chat about the world and how they were coping with lock down. The idea was to settle them in a bit and not make it too formal. This would normally take place in an office and then shown into the conference room obviously. Often the best place to start is to ask a bit more about them and explain their background and interest in Architecture.

Alex had a good way to start an interview…

I start telling them about us, so they can listen & compose themselves. Then ask them to tell me about their journey so far; where they’re from, a bit of backstory. Then we’ll do portfolio…

After that I asked them to talk me through their portfolio. They were allowed 20 mins but some went over as there was a lot to talk about.

Presentation is key here and both in terms of the layouts, graphics and work presented but also in terms of how you approach speaking about your work. Top tips include using cover pages to allow a suitable pause between work, especially if you are a fast talker – even more important if the presentation is screen based. Remembering that the person you’re presenting to may not know anything about your site or project is also really important – context please! It’s always really interesting to see how you respond if we ask a question about your work. This can vary from which software or workflow you used to make that beautiful section to have you seen this other thing that’s related or just teasing out a bit more info about the project generally.

One common comment I always have on work presented is that there should be a mix of work. It can be a bit boring to see endless Revit drawings (even if they’re really well presented). I always love to see models, sketches, collages, even a CGI. It also shows far more creativity and broader range of skills.

I have two stock questions that I ask and they’re both massive cliches, the first being… “so what do you do when you’re not architecting?” and it’s always interesting to see what the response is. By far the most frustrating response is to say how much they enjoy sketching / travelling / photography / making pots / carpentry and so on and to not have any evidence of it in the portfolio. I think every portfolio should have what I would call a ‘below the line’ section. A bit that’s after the architectural bit and if it’s gone well you can keep going with some broader chat.

The second one is so cliched it hurts. “Who’s your favourite architect?” … “and has that changed over time”. Whilst it’s cliched it’s always revealing about what people say and again another chance to start a discussion with people and see how they engage.

And then CVs… There seems to be a trend in CVs at present to show a series of icons of software packages used and also sometimes a 1 – 5 grade of where they sit with the skills – very tech industry. They also seem to look the same and suspect some form of template has been given (I think the RIBA do one). The point I tried to make to a few people was that if their work was good it would be really obvious that their skills were excellent and that these big icons of Revit and so on could have been used as thumbnails of their work. Ultimately training will be given on software but would prefer to see the skill described in the work and way in which it was presented. I’m probably in the minority but couldn’t care less about software skills. We can buy CGIs if we need them.

Am I way off with this? Would be interested in other peoples thoughts.

Owen also had some good feedback:

Interesting. I’m a bit removed form this now, but I would definitely lean towards attitude/interest/enthusiasm over technical ability too. Some stuff is less easy to teach, and bottom line, you’ve got to share a room with them.

And in a similar way Toby also suggested these pertinent thoughts:

+1 regarding stuff ‘below the line.’ As a candidate you should feel valued as a human being. All parties are going to share time, space, and ideas. How you think and what you value is so important.



Ricoh GR II, the perfect compact camera?

My previous ‘every day walking around camera’ was a lovely Fuji X100T in black and I enjoyed using it. Looks nice. Great lens. Great sensor and worked well etc but was too damn big. And the focus really annoyed me, even in the later models. I wrote a bit about it at the time as well as a first few shots from the GRII.

Having used it for around 18 months almost daily I feel I’m probably qualified to say why I like and how I shoot with it as well as any downsides. There is a newer model with more megapixels but I’m led to believe it has sacrificed some of the manual controls for touch screen driven ones.

In terms of how I use it. I have it set to Aperture priority and then have configured the rear rocker to adjust the ISO (I don’t really like auto ISO) the front rocker then controls aperture. Generally somewhere between f2.8 and f4, I like shooting wide open with it (there’s another reason for this too). I shoot with it a third of a stop under exposed as can blow out the highlights a bit. Really bright days I’ll do more. In terms of ISO I quite like the grain of the files at higher ISO and it’s safe well up to ISO 2000 if used carefully – most of it can be pulled back in Lightroom of course. The main thing about this camera is the lens – it’s just gorgeous. There’s just something so special about it and I’ve completely fallen in love with the look of the files from it.

When I first got it it felt too small in my hand and like it would fall out. I guess this was mainly due to using DSLR’s with a grip and big chunky ergonomics. To solve this I got a little thumb grip which I found on eBay for £10 I think. The only downside to this is that it digs in to your arse when you keep it in your back pocket as I do regularly. Talking of back pockets that’s the biggest advantage of this, you can keep it in a jacket pocket, cycling jersey or jeans pocket. There’s no reason not to take it out nor do you need to swing it over a shoulder with a strap like the X100. Sadly where this falls down is the lack of proper weather sealing and I often got dust on the sensor from keeping it in my rear pocket or taking it MTBing. I take the view that it’s meant to be used and I shouldn’t worry about it but would be great if it was slightly better protected. I should have got a little soft pouch for it but one more thing to fiddle with and the moment has gone. You can remove the dust yourself by dismantling it (no thanks) or send it in to be serviced. Whilst I thought this was the end of the world when it happened I just shot wide open for a while and was fine. Most of it shifted itself off the sensor and not really been too bothered by it since.

My one is now thoroughly worn but I like the patina of age. I think all cameras should look a bit worn really. No point keeping them in a case at home and this one got thoroughly used in 2019 for a 365 project.

One thing I’m always a little bit sceptical of when I see people’s images is how much work goes into them in post. I’m quite lazy when it comes to this so have a little recipe I apply to each image and then do some other minor adjustments from there. So here’s an image I took today and the straight out of camera version. f4, 1/1000s, ISO 320, RAW

and then the edited version…

and of course, here’s a 100% crop – not bad for such a tiny sensor.

I think I’ll be keeping hold of this one for a while longer until I destroy it on a MTB ride. I have also been looking at the Sony Alpha A7 r 4 which has been recommended by Benedict, but that’s a bigger investment and a potential D810 replacement…


Cycling Lockdown2020

Zwift lock down chat

I used to use Zwift in the winter or recovering from injury (two broken collarbones and a broken wrist) and had a fairly basic turbo and crank based power meter for it and managed to get quite a bit out of it in previous years. One year I’d done lots of Zwift and singlespeed mountain biking over winter and was the fittest I’d ever been in the spring. The joy of just tearing past friends on the hills was hard to beat but hadn’t quite got back into the habit since. That and not really doing much road riding generally but that’s another story.

I splurged on a new Wahoo Kickr Core at the end of last year (thanks RCC discount / PayPal credit) but hadn’t used it that much or felt inclined to train too much since. Of course then the lock down arrived this year and I was really quite pleased I’d got one. I’d heard a story of Sigma selling a couple of hundred smart turbo units in two days! Like hens teeth it seems as everyone adjusts to workout indoors and trying to get whatever exercise they can in and buys up all the kit.

Zwift for me previously was all about doing a horrible interval session, getting it done and jumping off the bike and getting out of the garage as soon as possible. This would usually only happen over the winter months and as soon as the weather improved the kit would be packed up, subscription cancelled and then back out on the road. I’d even made a rule to make sure all Zwift rides were marked as private on Strava with the faint idea that secret training would be fun to surprise people with in the spring as well as keeping people’s feeds with one less crappy garage ride. But then lock down brought a slightly new dynamic to it…

As well as the feeling of isolation it wasn’t possible to get normal exercise rides in, riding to work, a chatty ride around the park, a weekend MTB ride etc. I discovered the group ride function and invited a few people to ‘Zwift meet-ups’, I mean it sounds terrible and I’d never normally do it but needs must. I fucked up the technical details of my first one and missed my own ride but they’re good fun and a good work out. I had a phone call with my friend James on one and pretty good to just chat about the day before it got a bit too hard to talk. And then I’ve had a video call with David, again pretty good and a bit more of a sense of connection. Funny to get this pic from him after, kindly taken by his wife. Andy on a stick!

It’s no real substitute for the great outdoors but doing what we can to stay the fuck indoors I guess, especially in London. I’ve joined a few other group rides, one of which almost destroyed me going up Alpe Du Zwift. An supposed hour ride took two hours, stubbornness kicked in to keep me there but even so. The game type feel of chasing people down, raising the speed in the group and all the other childish things we do on rides sometimes can be done virtually and is a bit of a giggle at times.

Probably the best thing I’ve discovered is that dragging my fat arse out of bed at 6.30am and getting on the turbo by 7am has a huge effect on my mental wellbeing. Do the exercise first thing, get it done and then enjoy the day. Just try and stay awake! I’d still really like a mountain bike ride with friends though.


Cycling Lockdown2020

Home lump cycling

It’s all been quite difficult working from home these last few weeks for lots of reasons and I’ve been making do with using the turbo in the garage and also some running in the local park. I want to venture further afield but not super keen on riding on my own at the moment and not many options to get back if something does go wrong. I’d kind of had enough with the garage Zwift thing for a bit and decided that maybe I’d try and find some way of cycling outside properly but not straying too far from home. I usually do an hour in the garage on Zwift so thought that perhaps an hour outside would be a good target but see what I could achieve in that whilst staying as local as possible. Distance wasn’t going to be huge for an hour but no different to Zwift. Perhaps some hills and raise the HR for a bit…

Rather than plan a big route around South London with lots of hills I thought I’d make the most of what’s on my doorstep. I live at the top of a hill, Denmark Hill, and there’s lots of different ways of approaching it and wondered if I could ride every single way up, no repeating, in an hour? Normally I’d plan a route in ridewithGPS but in the end just went out on the bike and worked out a mental map of the place which was far more engaging. Rather pleasingly it all worked out in an hour! I also had Queens of The Stone Age on in one ear which seemed to help.

Looking at it again now it looks like I’ve missed one out through the park but maybe I’ll do that next time. In terms of climbing I got close to 300m in an hour which isn’t too bad allowing for stopping at traffic lights etc. Not exactly epic by any stretch of the imagination but kept me occupied for an hour and an enjoyable mental exercise planning which bit to ride up next. Felt terrible before I went out but felt incredible when I came back. A feeling I hadn’t quite had on the turbo. Just need to keep doing more of this to keep the mind in check.

Oh and also saw Sandi Toksvig in a Smart Car in East Dulwich.


365 Photography

365/2019, the rules

So that didn’t go quite to plan in terms of updating this site every week with images as per my last post here in the first week of January 2019. That was also my last post on here since then. As always it’s another ‘starting again’ and ‘I promise to write more here’ post. Maybe our current lockdown and isolation situation will help with wanting to write more.

A few things interested me about the whole 365 project and process but perhaps before reflecting on that too much more it’s worth looking back at the rules I set myself in an introductory blog post last year. The idea was to have a few constraints to work within and anyone who knows me will know that I like rules and structure. So the rules I set are below and how many I stuck with…

It’s got to be taken on the day – obviously. No cheating. 

Same as 2009 and again I managed to stick to this one despite it taking a while to get into the habit but definitely got easier after the first few weeks. There were a few moments where I almost forgot to take a shot but once I got used to it again it became second nature. I got into this weird habit of tapping my back pocket to check my camera was there the same way we all check for our phone, keys and wallet. What was even weirder was the panic that set in in the first few weeks of 2020 where I panicked when it wasn’t there.

No iPhone! Must be shot with a proper camera, currently a Ricoh GR II or Nikon D700 / D810 + various film cameras.  

This one is interesting as I thought I would be out with the tripod all the time looking at interesting things to take images of with the ‘proper’ camera (and shift lens) doing really architectural shots. I only used it once. No iPhone shots were used and they were all taken with the Ricoh GR II which I really grew to love over the year. Almost all of the images were landscape orientation

No selfies.

Well this was fairly easy but ended the series on 31st December with a selfie self portrait.

No work photos or commissioned work. 

Again no real issue with this and stuck to it but there were a few nice shots I would have liked to include and the trouble is that when you’re on a shoot all day your attention is very much away from thinking about taking 365 photos. So these days it felt like the non-paid for photo was a bit lame. Anyway, rules are rules.

Minimal cropping or editing. I have an astigmatism in one eye so all my pics come out wonky by 2 degrees. I’m allowing myself some straightening and cropping. 

I think this was a good rule. Try and keep whatever you originally captured in the frame but allowing for some straightening and cropping a tiny distraction out. I got some dust on the sensor later in the year and ended up having to crop this out a few times on more complex scenes where spot cloning was too tricky.

No wholesale image manipulation. The only one I’m going to allow is stitching two images together with a shift lens. But no comping of people / birds / cloning etc. 

There was something important about this one. Felt a bit like shooting with film and a basic scan and trying to keep it simple. No images had any brush work applied and did what I could with the basic sliders in Lightroom. It’s still possible to do a lot through this method though. I found my shots getting darker and moodier throughout the year. Lots of lower key processing.

Upload them all to Flickr each day to an album. 

I did manage to upload to Flickr also but there never seems to be much engagement there these days. I gave up on Flickr almost entirely towards the end of the year and only recently finished uploading the full set.

Post a weekly summary to Instagram and this blog. 

I posted them all to Instagram each week on a Sunday evening which was enough admin / work in itself. The last thing I wanted was yet more admin to do on a Sunday whilst getting ready for work the next day. It was hard enough choosing images each day, editing, sorting and then prepping for Instagram. I had a bit of a wobble during the year personally and stopped posting them but later resumed.

Maybe I’ll post next about what I learnt and what I got out of it.