Reflecting on 2019

Well, that's another year almost over. They seem to be happening faster and faster these days.

2019 was an interesting year for me. It bought me some significant challenges, but I've managed to overcome most of them to put myself in a much stronger position for 2019.

Be aware: There is nothing technical, nor particularly interesting, in this blogpost. I'm writing this for me; as a pat on the back for making it through some immense personal struggles. If you're the kind of person who's interested in that, press on. If not, I won't hold it against you. There's much more interesting stuff in the pipeline, hold out for that!

The rise and fall of $deskjob

I started 2019 in what I thought was a fairly good place - I was still in the honeymoon phase of a new job, enjoying some new-found stability, and generally finding my feet after a turbulent summer.

However, coming from a summer of work which had me climbing scottish hills to install point-to-point radio links, and splicing fibre against the lush backdrop of Loch Hourn had really depleted my tolerance for sitting at a desk five days a week, even if what I was doing sat at that desk was still very cool and engaging.

At the same time, I found myself finding it harder and harder to bury some of the personal struggles I'd been trying to ignore for so long. Details aside (this is the public internet, after all), I was slowly reaching my limit of mental exhaustion and my job was definitely contributing to that. So, I left, with the intention of finding myself something more sustainable, but ultimately more fulfilling.

This was... terrifying, to be honest. I gave up something which, whilst probably not great for me, was also a stable and reliable income, something that I definitely don't take for granted.

Nevertheless, the immediate relief I felt the first Monday I realised I didn't have to get at 7AM told me I was heading in the right direction, so I pressed onwards.


At the end of May, I found myself in a field in the middle of rural Scotland with a number of my best friends, a radio or two, and far too many LEDs. This was CampGND, a tiny hacker camp organised by the Scottish Consulate.

CampGND was a hell of a lot of fun. It was a great chance to catch up with people I hadn't seen since 2018, and gave me a much-needed weekend to detox from the 9-5 lifestyle. I ate far too much (it turns out deep-frying is a camping activity now), and extolled the virtues of hammock camping to some of my tent-dwelling friends.

Edinburgh Fringe

After CampGND, I set about working out what I wanted to do with myself. I had a bit of money in the bank and a couple of on-going freelance clients to tide me over, but I had to find something to sustain me in the long run.

A long time ago, before I took the job at BT which got me into telecommunications, I had a fairly successful job as a sound engineer in the various small to medium music venues and theatrical venues around the town I grew up. I loved this, but at the time it wasn't massively sustainable and so I never expected to make it my career.

However, the fringe was coming up so, on a whim, I reached out to Summerhall, the weird and wonderful arts venue who are the home of Edinburgh Hacklab.

This turned out to be an extremely good decision: one interview and many crossed fingers later, Summerhall were gracious enough to offer me a Senior Technician position for the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe.

So began one of the best seven weeks of my life. I do not think I could have found somewhere I was a better fit if I tried, and our two brilliant production managers, Brian and George, did a fantastic job of making sure I was supported and able to fulfil my role, despite having spent two and a half years pushing packets instead of pushing faders.

Summerhall's Fringe programme itself was brilliant this year: Highlights included Shasha & Taylor Productions' gorgeous Everything I See I Swallow, which incorporated aerial circus and shibari an incredibly well-composed exploration of feminist theory, and Sh!t Theatre's incredibly intense Sh!t Theatre Drink Rum with Expats, which was a 75-minute onslaught of hilarious, compelling, and at times bitterly uncomfortable agitprop performance art. They're on tour right now, go see it if you can.

The Fringe was a turning point for me: I felt tensions that had been building up over the past year begin to release, and I decided that yes: This is what I want to be doing.

FDX Productions

Off the back of the Fringe, I was able to submit myself to a number of Scottish production companies as a freelancer. It was initally slow going - I was effectively starting from scratch, after all - but, one by one, I started filling my calendar with bookings.

A milestone came when I started signing my emails "Alfie Pates, FDX Productions". That was the point where I committed to leaving the idea of a 9-5 behind, and throwing myself head-on at this job that I adore.

NorthernRST to now

NorthernRST was a friendly little conference put on by my wonderful friends hibby and [tj], from Aberdeen, and I had the priviledge of volunteering my time to hopefully the first of many Affa Fine events.

NorthernRST was a lot of fun. We sold out (and even sold a ticket on the door), and, despite some technical difficulties, we pulled it off!

We spent the following weekend hiding in 57North, playing with radio and drinking mulled buckfast. A good time was had by all.


So, that was my 2019! A year that started on a bit of a bum note, but also definitely not a year wasted. I'm proud of what I've achieved this year.

I wonder what I'll get up to next...

The soundtrack to this blogpost is the soundtrack to Season 2 of HBO's Watchmen, by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. I love Trent and Atticus' scoring work, and this is no exception. Driving synthesiser lines and sleazy piano-bar jazz go hand-in-hand, a contrast that only Trent and Atticus could execute so flawlessly. This one's worth listening start-to-finish, as loud as you dare.