He leant back in the chair and rubbed his eyes. Spots had started to dance in front of them again. He was only too aware that he spent far too much time in front of the monitor these days. Indeed, he worried at times that he was developing an addiction to the bloody computer. But the job he was trying to get finished at the moment was different. It was important. This wasn't just for himself. He needed to get it finished for the sake of all those people who had spent time and effort putting their submissions together.
He closed his eyes for a few moments hoping the spots would go away - so that he could focus on the screen for a wee while longer yet. Only another three mails to sort out now. And then check them all in the browser to try and find the mistakes he would surely have made again this time. Better catch them now, before he uploaded the new pages to the web.
He reached for the mug of coffee on the window sill beside the computer and took a mouthful. The caffeine-rush to his brain helped clear his eyes. Caffeine had become another of his addictions. It was about the only thing that kept him going nowadays. Looking across the room he could see that there was still over a pint of the stuff left in the filter machine. No need to refill it for a while yet.
Reaching his left hand past the keyboard he picked up the pouch of tobacco that was lying there and started to roll a cigarette.
"Fuck!" he thought to himself. "Too much coffee. Way too many cigarettes. Far too much time spent in front of the fucking computer. Is it any wonder people say you don't look well these days?"
"Have a break," he told himself. He briefly considered taking the dogs for a walk to refresh his mind. But he wanted to get the job over with. He'd let the mails pile up. People were becoming impatient to see them uploaded to the web.
He placed the half-smoked cigarette in the ashtray that lived on top of the computer, took another mouthful of coffee, and leaned forward again towards the keyboard.
Load template in HTML editor - copy header of next mail - paste into correct place in template - edit unnecessary details - make particularly sure sender's email address is removed - repeat with body of mail - add copyright message - save to correct folder - update subscriber's submissions page - update page showing recent submissions - mark mail in mailbox to show it has been sorted - make note on a piece of paper so as to remember what would need uploading when FTP-ing...
Dull, boring, repetitive, brain numbing work. But there were only two more mails left now. He might as well press on and get them out of the way.
More spots in front of eyes - relight cigarette - finish last of the mug of coffee - load blank template again - open next mail - copy/paste/edit - copy/paste/edit - copy/paste/edit...
His mind started to wander.
"What the fuck's happened to this list?" he asked himself.
Of course, he knew the answer. It didn't need asking really. Indeed, it was partly his own fault.
He should never have started the webpage.
He thought back to when the list had originally been set up. It had seemed a good idea at the time. To start an email list for original pieces of literature. And for the first fourteen months of its existence it had only attracted about one hundred and fifty mails, containing maybe just over a hundred actual pieces of original stuff, with the remainder being 'criticisms' of what had been sent in.
Around two pieces a week. Most of them bloody good as well. He had always looked forward to receiving them - and had actually enjoyed reading them. And more importantly, because the volume of posting to the list was so low, he actually had the time to read them.
But in the past three or four months - since he had actually started uploading the submissions to a webpage, in fact - the amount of stuff coming in had grown almost exponentially.
He clicked on the mailbox containing the full archive of the list. The total number of mails now stood at seven hundred and sixty-two. That meant around six hundred mails that had come in since he had announced the setting up of the webpage around the beginning of April. An average of about six a day. And when he looked at the mails for the past few weeks, he saw that the average was now over ten a day.
And it had to be admitted that an awful lot of what was coming in now was only really mediocre stuff. In the early days people tended only to post stuff if they actually thought that what they had written was in any way half decent.
"There's no doubt about it," he thought to himself. "The majority of them are only being sent in because of the fact that I started putting them on the web."
The list had more or less become a victim of its own success.
"Should I mail in and say something...?" he wondered to himself.
But he worried that people may take him up the wrong way - start accusing him of acting as a censor or something.
He'd have to do something, however. It was getting to the stage where he was spending hours every day just sorting the stuff out to add it to the page. And it wasn't as though he was actually getting paid for doing it.
"Shall I just pull the page off the web?"
That was a possibility. But it would be a shame. Among all the mediocrity there was the occasional really good piece. But it was getting more and more difficult these days to actually find the gems amongst all the dross. And if he started only putting up what he considered was worthwhile, he'd be be opening himself to criticism.
And anyway, as things stood at the moment, there was that much coming in that he often didn't have time to even read the stuff, let alone decide which pieces were worthwhile. He just tended to skim through them, and paste them into the HTML editor without actually studying them.
He shook his head to clear his mind again, and concentrated on finishing the last two posts, after which it was time to open the browser, load the opening page from his hard disk into it, and check that all the new links were working properly. It took about another ten minutes to fix the mistakes.
He was just getting ready to log on and FTP the changes to the site, when he spotted that there were four pieces of work that he had missed. They were from one of the better contributors as well, who had set his computer clock back by about six months for some reason. As a result they hadn't been stored in the correct place in the mailbox.
With a sigh he re-opened the HTML editor, and spent another fifteen minutes or so adding these submissions.
Before logging on to upload the changes, he poured himself another mug of coffee and rolled another cigarette. The thought crossed his mind to actually roll a single-skin joint to help relax after all the work. But he decided he was as well to at least wait until he had the pages uploaded before he did that. He needed to keep his mind clear until he had had a chance to check that he had uploaded everything correctly.
Logging onto the internet, he opened his FTP client and started the file transfers. As each page was uploaded he crossed it off on the sheet of paper that he had marked everything on.
He opened the page in his browser ready to check that he had everything uploaded correctly, at the same time clicking on "Check mail" in Eudora to start downloading mail in the background.
He was half way through checking that the changes had been correctly uploaded when Eudora's "You have new mail" message broke his concentration. He switched programs to see what new mail had come in.
His heart sank. The filter report showed that there were nineteen new submissions to the list...
"Fuck it!" he said out loud. "That's it. I'm mailing in to say that I'm not going to update the site any more."
He disconnected from the net, turned the computer off, and headed out the door with the dogs.
For a moment he couldn't work out what the strange sensation was that he could feel. And then he realised what it was. It was a feeling of freedom. Something that he hadn't experienced for a long time.