Technology is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and stabs you in the back with the other.C.P. Snow – used as the epigraph to The UK Internet Book by Sue Schofield
In 1994 The UK Internet Book, by Sue Schofield was published. It was the first British book about the Internet, perhaps even the first explicitly British computer manual. I bought it as soon after it came out, and soon after that I “joined” the Internet, taking out a subscription to Demon Internet using the voucher contained in the book. It would be an understatement to say that it changed my life.
Around 5 years later I was introduced to the book’s author by a mutual friend. We soon became close, and exchanged novella-length emails, often daily. Suz was the last of the great email correspondents.
Suz was one-of-a-kind. As well as writing the UK’s first Internet book, she had helped design the Channel 4 logo, and had been a roadie for the Ramones. When I first got to know her she was working in Cambodia as volunteer photojournalist for an anti-mines charity. For many years she was one of the UK’s best tech journalists, and I wrote an article in praise of her for the first ever Ada Lovelace day in 2009.
A speed freak, when I first knew her she was haring around in speedboats and on motorbikes. As her back gave out, she traded her fuck-off great motorbike for a series of high performance cars. Every time I spoke to her she seemed to have a new car, and to be studying for a new Open University degree.
Suz was the kindest person I have ever know. She thought nothing of driving 100 miles out of her way to give you a lift. If you were eating or drinking with Suz, she would never let you pay for a thing. When Gill’s CD player (a portable £20 job from Argos) broke, Suz said “oh, you can have mine, I don’t use it any more because now I’ve got neighbours who I like”. A c0uple of weeks later she turned up and handed us this beast:
When social media arrived, it did not appeal to Suz. She would occasionally set up a Twitter account, purely so that she could follow me and one other person. She would often reply to my tweets by email, or telephone (Suz was one of the few people from whom I would gladly accept phone calls).
In 2020, during the “Eat Out to Help Out” phase of the COVID pandemic, we had one such phone call. I was in the car park of Lidl in Thurso (surely the supermarket with the best view in the UK: it looks out across the sea to the Orkney Isles). We talked for nearly an hour as the sun set.
Two weeks later, Suz was dead of COVID.
During her brief illness, I received two emails from Suz. I could tell that she was not well, from their brevity, and from her typos. I desperately wanted to talk to her, but she did not have enough oxygen for chit-chat. She mailed me:
Long chat with doc. What I have is symptom free covid version that just eats oxygen. Result is fatique. She is coming up with plan to hammer it with diet and meds,. Which sounds good to me. More as it happens…
3 days later:
Hope Baz sells House soon. Nothing worse than being trapped. Trying to get a cup of tea out of the sadists here but no luck.
After that, silence. Suz died.
All of this happened while prime minister Nero and his soon-to-be ennobled cronies were living it up and laughing at their subjects. Nero deserves to be in prison now, instead he has his column in the Daily Heil, his future speaking fees, and, no doubt, a victory lap on Have I Got News For You.
And so, in the last few weeks, I have been thinking again of Suz.
I am angry. I am sad and I’m so fucking angry.
We said goodbye to Suz at her funeral in November 2020, shortly after my dad too died. The funeral was wonderful, and occasionally farcical, as the undertakers struggled to carry manoeuvre her coffin down a steep slope tightly packed with tombstones, in the rain, to lay her to rest next to her late husband Charles. Funerals at the time were limited to eight people, and we were quickly ejected from the chapel of rest and into the graveyard where we had a picnic – seven lesbians and me, honorary lesbian – getting pissed and stoned between the stones, while eating M&S snacks.