When I first told The Belated Birthday Girl that I was going to do this, she looked at me like I had the word 'twat' tattooed on my forehead. Or, worse still, 'blogger'...
Today, July 14th 2006, is the eighth birthday of The Unpleasant Lair Of Spank The Monkey. (Feel free to give it the bumps if you like, but be gentle.) During those eight years, I've been regularly churning out three thousand word essays on all manner of artistic topics close to my heart: movies, music, comics, theatre, the Edinburgh Festival, whatever. But enjoyable as it's been, something probably had to change.
And change it did, in December 2005, when the people at my Moderately Responsible Job In The Computer Industry decided to give me a month's notice and a redundancy package for my Christmas present. It came as a bit of a shock, but I managed to churn out a hefty piece about Half Man Half Biscuit on the day it happened, which I think helped take my mind off things a tad. Throughout December, I cleared my desk in slow motion while doing all the usual end of year things - assembling my Pick Of The Year 2005 CD, holding the VidBinge video festival at Spank Towers, and wrapping up 2005 with a ten-day blowout of a holiday in New York (planned long before I was given notice), to officially draw the line under the 21.33recurring years I'd spent in my first job.
I'm man enough to admit that January 2006 was largely spent staring at the wall and screaming. February was more constructively spent putting together my CV, and plugging some of the gaps in it. And it was during a training course specifically aimed at plugging one such gap that I ended up stumbling into a job interview. That interview was held on the afternoon of March 1st, and after it I spent the rest of the day writing up the British Animation Awards, not realising that it would be the last thing I would ever write for The Unpleasant Lair Of Spank The Monkey!!! But I digress.
Within a few days of the interview I had a provisional offer, and not too long after that it became a firm offer, and at the beginning of April I started what has now officially become my New Moderately Responsible Job In The Computer Industry. Some new challenges, some interesting prospects, and - a bit of a first for me - the chance to work from home a couple of days a week.
All of which should make it easier for me to find time to update the site. Except, as you've probably spotted, it doesn't.
You see, the internet is a bit like a dog. I'm not, of course, suggesting that pictures exist of Paul Daniels' wife Debbie McGee having sex with the internet: that would be sick and wrong. But in the way that they say one year in a dog's life is equivalent to seven in human terms, time on the internet works at a similarly accelerated rate. Even before the boot up the backside that the redundancy announcement provided, I'd been thinking about how The Unpleasant Lair had remained more or less unchanged for the equivalent of the lifespan of a middle-aged Doberman. Since that very first piece about Transmetropolitan back in July 1998, it's all been three thousand word essays around these parts. Which is all well and good, but these things take time to put together. And, quite frankly, there's a lot of stuff out there that doesn't deserve that many words.
Put it this way: in the three months since the new job started, I've had four ideas on the boil for things to write about. I won't tell you what they were, because I suspect most (if not all) of them will end up on here sooner rather than later. But during those first few months, when I was learning the discipline of working daytime shifts in front of my home computer without giving in to the urge to take a quick break and flick off to Trisha, I found I simply couldn't get started on any of those pieces, even when I put time aside in the evenings to work on them. And eventually it dawned on me: the ideas weren't a problem, but bashing them into the expected shape was.
Because The Unpleasant Lair works within a fairly rigid layout. And it's a layout that's a bugger to maintain, too. My primitive HTML skillz don't extend to CSS stylesheets, so on the couple of occasions I've decided to give the site a makeover, that's meant hand-altering a couple of hundred pages. Visuals date fast on the internet, and I wanted the flexibility to play with formatting if I wanted to: plus, the flexibility to write shorter pieces if the subject demanded it.
There were a whole series of other issues I'd been encountering with what I'll now start ominously referring to as "the old site", some of which you may be familiar with. One of them was the decision by Webstats4U to feed unwanted pop-up ads through my hit counter, and do it in such a way that they looked like they came directly from me. (The fact that they were such atrociously designed ads made it even worse.) Meanwhile, the email form on the letters page is being used several times a day by a robot based at IP address 18.104.22.168, whose casino spamming operation is so technically spastic that the mails all end up blank. Finally, even though my new ad-free web counter says I get no more than a couple of dozen visitors a day to my homepage, I'm clocking up around a couple of hundred megabytes of bandwidth usage each week. I can only presume that thieving twunts are leeching my pictures of Arseface from Preacher because it's the closest facial match they can find for their MySpace user avatar.
Ultimately, you have to say 'no more': and that's what I'm doing. After eight years of pretty much flawless service from Demon Internet, I'm packing in the site there, and starting up Spank 2.0 over here at TypePad.
So: remake, remodel, relocate, reboot. It's a big step to take after eight years, but I think it's the right one. This despite the continual screams of The Belated Birthday Girl, who keeps insisting "it's going to be another fucking blog". Well, it isn't, honestly: although it may well look like one from a distance, simply because I'm doing it via a blogsite. But the reason why I went for TypePad rather than Blogger (apart from a general mistrust of people who want to host my data for nothing) is because their tagging system allows me to sort posts by the categories my regular readers will be familiar with. So as time goes on, you'll see categories like Movies, Telly, Music and so on appearing here [points to right of screen], and they'll work in the same way as the old archive did.
The blog format allows for other benefits too. I'll assume for the moment that allowing people to comment on individual posts actually is a benefit, though I'll need to keep a close eye on that one. Those of you with RSS capability can now grab a feed from the site to keep up with changes as they happen [points to left of screen]: or you can join the mailing list, and get an email directly from me whenever there's a new post. See the 'About' link in the top left hand corner for details.
The old site will still remain available, and any mails I receive about it will be posted and held up to ridicule on here. Also, I may well reprint the odd piece from The Unpleasant Lair on this site, particularly if it has any bearing on future posts. (For example, expect some reprints soon in the Travel section which may give you a clue regarding our holiday destination this year.)
Other than that, it should be business as usual. Will there be shorter posts? Yes, probably, when I feel the situation calls for it, although I'm still planning to keep the long essay as the main unit of currency here. Will there be tacky little gimmicks like embedded YouTube videos featuring peculiar mashups of Apocalypse Now and Winnie The Pooh, included purely because I can? Yes, occasionally, but I'll try to keep that sort of thing to a minimum. (Apart from the piece I've got plans for later this month which will have three videos embedded in it.)
But for the most part, it'll still be about the writing, and the recommendations, and the other stuff you've come to know and love. And if you don't know and love them yet, welcome aboard: you'll soon get used to it. In an age when Sandi Thom wishes she was a punk rocker with flowers in her hair, while all decent and right-thinking people are wishing she was a mute, I think there's still a place for me on the interweb. Being a monkey, and all.