My friendship with the Atheist Bus Campaign font creator

My friend Graham is a wonderful man – kind, funny and endlessly patient. But when he was younger, he had one flaw, which was using other people’s work without permission or payment. He once got in trouble with Getty Images for taking one of their photos from Google Images and using it for his company’s website. And when he came to design the Atheist Bus Campaign posters, he used the font without paying for it.

And so, one day in 2009, I got a message from an American man from Denver, Colorado called S. John Ross. He had created the font we’d used, Dirty Headline, and told me ‘The font was free for private use only. The side of a bus is not very private!’

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Now, approximately 75% of Americans are religious. I could have had the misfortune to have unknowingly misused the font of a Christian fundamentalist, and been sued for a pretty penny as a result – after all, this font had been used in campaigns in 13 different countries around the world, as well as being plastered all over the national and international press and endless Atheist Bus Campaign merchandise!

Luckily, S. John Ross was a very reasonable and generous man, and described himself as an ‘agnostic humanist’. I was skint as I’d been editing a charity book called The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas for free for six months. At my request, the publisher HarperCollins (who were using the font on the front of the book) paid S. John £500 for the privilege. I remember his invoice to them featuring the Bill and Ted quote ‘Be excellent to each other.’


S. John and I kept emailing, giant six-page-long emails (if emails had pages), and soon became firm friends. He told me how much he loved his wife, Sandra, and I told him I wished I could find someone who would feel the same way about me as he did for her. We wrote about all kinds of things, one of which was my fear of flying, as the Sunday Times wanted me to go up in a tiny two-seater Cessna to cure my fear of planes.

I told S. John that Anaïs Nin once said, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage”, and that this quote was helping me. In response, he wrote me a wonderful email which used another Anaïs Nin quote: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” He then added: ‘That’s a day to seek out, to strive for.’

So when I was asked to take part in a photography project, holding a quote that meant a lot to me, I used S. John’s. I also went up in the Cessna, clutching a sweaty printout of S. John’s email, and had my article about the experience published in the Sunday Times’ Travel section a few weeks later. It was my first ever article for them.

Me holding S John Ross quote 2

Sadly, S. John and I stopped writing around six months later. It was my fault: I was having a major nervous breakdown and just stopped emailing him without any warning or explanation. He was very hurt, but I hope he knows now that my mental illness was the true reason and not an excuse.

These days, we keep up with each other on Twitter. He’s at @SJohnRoss and is a super-smart and talented guy – as well as creating numerous fonts (which is no mean feat) he also makes role-playing games for a living.

I feel lucky to count him as a friend – and Sandra is a very lucky lady.

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This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon. 

Rewards start from just $1 a month, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!

A Sunday Times travel trip, and a shocking revelation

No word from Richard Dawkins about yesterday’s blog, despite my tagging him on Twitter. I suspect he has muted me and is presently sticking pins in a voodoo doll of my image. Anyhow, on to today’s true story…

One sunny day in June 2010, I was on my way to Geneva, on my third travel trip for the Sunday Times. It was a walking holiday in the French Alps, and I wasn’t much of a walker. I was also having a full-scale nervous breakdown, permanently trembling and worrying about being killed, thanks to running the Atheist Bus Campaign and receiving an Inbox full of hate mail. Two months later, my mental state would grow so dark that I would no longer be able to continue working, and would start frequenting suicide forums instead. But until that point, I struggled on.

That day, in addition to my acute anxiety, I was also worrying about flying. I hate flying, and even though the Sunday Times had sent me on a fear of flying course the previous September and I desperately wanted to travel, I couldn’t quite rid myself of my irrational fear of planes. (Read my quite fun piece on flying here, or just the quite fun first paragraph if you can’t get past the paywall.)

My boyfriend at the time, who I was deeply in love with, accompanied me to Gatwick, and I sat nervously with him in the airport. Suddenly, he started crying big tears. ‘Oh baby!’ I said, stroking his face, full of emotion, ‘I don’t want to leave you either!’

‘No, it’s not that,’ he replied.

‘What is it then?’ I asked, confused.

‘I’m thinking about my ex,’ he replied, dabbing at his eyes. ‘I dropped her off here a few years ago when she went away for a long time.’

So that was nice.

But I had bigger problems: I had a whole world of fear and depression in my head, and had to get on the plane. It was only a short flight to Geneva – less than two hours’ duration – but I was still terrified.


[An easyJet plane. I didn’t find flying in it so easy.]

Eventually I boarded the small easyJet aircraft, and settled into an aisle seat halfway down, next to a middle-aged man. Hoping to distract myself from the prospect of my impending death in a fireball, I tentatively struck up a conversation with him.

He was lovely and happy to chat: I remember that he reassured me about the safety of the plane, and showed me pictures of his kids. I showed him a picture of my boyfriend and told him how much I loved him (my boyfriend, not the middle-aged man. That would have been a bit forward).

‘Why are you going to Geneva?’ he asked.

‘I’m covering a walking holiday for the Travel section of the Sunday Times,’ I told him.

‘Oh wow,’ he answered. ‘That’s very cool. I’ll look out for your write-up.’

‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘How about you? Why are you going to Geneva?’

‘I’m on my way to a conference for work,’ he replied. So far, so dull.

‘What do you do?’ I asked.

‘I’m in armament sales,’ he said breezily.

Armament sales? This lovely man was an arms dealer!

I gulped, and tried to recover my composure. ‘And are you going to the conference alone?’

‘Oh no,’ he said matter-of-factly. ‘Pretty much everyone else on this plane is going, except you!’

I WAS ON A PLANE FULL OF ARMS DEALERS! I started freaking out even more inside, thinking the plane might be a target (for whom exactly, peace activists? I hadn’t really thought this through) but thankfully my fears were unfounded.

I made it to Geneva in one piece, and was met at the airport and driven to the location by the organiser of the trip. However, I was so sick with anxiety the whole time I was there, I failed to do any walking. Feeling guilty and unprofessional, I wrote the piece as though I had, but I actually spent all my time in the chalet shaking and crying.

On my last day, the organiser drove me up a hill and took some photos of me pretending to walk.


[Me in the Alps. I am smiling for the photograph. Inside, I was dying.]

The Sunday Times never ran the piece, though I’m not sure why. They said they were very happy with it; it was slated to run, and they accepted a pitch for a further piece, but sometimes features just don’t make it into print. I haven’t written for them since, though I’d like to.

I left the boyfriend two years later (he was still in love with his ex, and probably is to this day) and never really got over my fear of flying.

I also never met another arms dealer, to my knowledge – though if they’re all as nice as the bloke on the plane, I wouldn’t mind.


Day 7

Me: 12st 9.2lbs (total loss in seven days: 5lbs. Not bad for one week!)

If you’re wondering how I’m doing it, I’m mainly following Slimming World’s SP plan (protein and vegetables, no starchy carbs).

John: 14st 7.75lbs (total gain in seven days: 0.25lbs. Ahem!)


He is an amazing friend though, not least because he’s making my diet look like a comparative success.

Also: I bring you the exciting news that I have some cheap-but-excellent new scales! They only measure in lbs or kg, so I’m not using them for weight for this blog – but just look at what else they can do!

I’m going to hit the gym even harder and see if I can get my body fat down to 22% and my visceral fat way, way down. My muscle mass is very good for a woman of my age though, thanks to strength training. I’m practically Arnold Schwarzenegger!

This post has been made possible by an arms dealer AND my awesome Patreon supporters: Ricky Steer, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.

Rewards start from just $1 a month, and yesterday a wonderful man called Mark pledged $5 to take me up to $100 a month! I’m hoping to reach $200 by the end of the year. Can you help? For $5, you get excerpts of my secret fiction, photos of me I’ve never uploaded before, and my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but even better!