Friday, June 13, 2008


Inspiration for a cloudy Friday

Here are some inspiring stories I've come across today.

Local communities are taking direct action to protect asylum seekers

A New York apartment turns out to be a giant puzzle box, thanks to an ingenious architect

Engagement 101 have invited various community moderators from Reed Business Information to try a "chogging" (chat/liveblogging) experiment today - you can head on over and ask them a question, or share a picture of a tractor or a pilot's moustache, here.

Tim Ferriss, he of the infamous Four-Hour Work Week, has thoughtfully provided an insider's guide to Tokyo on the cheap (Part 1 and Part 2) - some day I'll get there and it will be AWESOME.

And that link came courtesy of the fabulous Gala Darling, an inspiring writer on her own creative journey from NZ to Melbourne to NYC and beyond. Now that I'm planting myself in UK soil, I love following other people's travels.

Labels: , , , , ,


Migratory Books and Art in a Carton

I'm delighted to be taking part in a couple of exciting creative projects.

For one, I will receive a Migratory Book to study, following which I'll answer a question about the connections between us (and perhaps create some related artwork), before sending it on to someone else. It's rather like BookCrossing, except with artists' books.

The other project, Art in a Carton, is a pay-it-forward concept which, perhaps because it originates with Susan, who lives in Germany, reminds me of a German Friendship Cake.

These cakes generally work when you receive a cup of starter mixture (which I think includes live yeast) and a copy of the recipe. You make up a big bowl of cake mix but before putting it in the oven, scoop out a couple more cupfuls of raw batter to share with other people. I clearly remember us doing this a couple of times when I was younger, but as I type this now I'm wondering whether, in our health and safety conscious modern world, people are quite so trusting of bacterial cultures.

Back to Art in a Carton - I'll receive a reused, decorated fruit juice carton filled with art materials and interesting bits and bobs. I will then make up other cartons to post to other people. This is a great opportunity to share some of the ATCs, postcards, beads and buttons and cardstock scraps I've been holding on to for too long!

When I met up with friends for a lindy-hop class this week, I got to chatting with another mate who, seeking more creativity in her life, has begun volunteering at a local museum and art gallery. In one of those serendipitous moments where your minds turn out to be in perfect harmony, we've decided to establish our own art group. It will take place along the lines of a book group, meeting once a month in a different person's house each time. Hopefully, everyone coming together with paints and paper will get us producing more artwork - even if it's just making sets of greetings cards and attempting to capture some still lifes, it should give us a reason to get together and catch up with wine and cupcakes.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, April 13, 2008


Perez Hilton to boycott Xtina?

One of my guilty pleasures is checking out gossip sites for celebrity tittle-tattle - Perez Hilton, Holy Moly, Popbitch and Go Fug Yourself. Although they get a lot of readers, how much influence do these sites have on the big corporations? We may find out soon, as Perez has declared he will no longer support any of Sony BMG's artists on his site.
We KNOW that our support can help their artists, some of our favorites,
immensely. We hope alienating us was worth it for Sony BMG!

Every other
label out there wants to have us as a friend. It really makes us question the
business practices of Sony BMG that they would rather have Perez as an enemy.

Their loss!

And, though we may never write about Leona again, we
still love her. Always will. Same for Xtina. And J Lo. And Adele. And Ditto.

Our heart is sad.

My question is, will Sony even notice this? Will it get picked up by the blogosphere, or will it just be quietly forgotten?

As Joanna Lumley sensibly pointed out in her very wise Guardian interview yesterday, we survived perfectly well without these sites and magazines before they became so prominent, and we certainly can do again!

Finally, I'd like to share my soundtrack for this week: Robyn's "Who's That Girl?"

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Being Human 101

A quote that moves me because it seems to sum up everything I've been through so far:

"Being Human 101: Make Mistake, Apologize, Fix Mistake, Learn From Mistake, Live a Bit, (repeat)."

From Megan Wallent, whose site describes her male-to-female transition in a way that is elegant, throughtful, and calm.

I just seem to make more mistakes, more frequently, than most. Ho hum.

Light dawns even at the lowest points, though, as I put my intentions out into the world and gradually, from unexpected corners, people respond.

I've been corresponding with a sympathetic writer who emailed me after I left a comment on her blog. Another friend has sent me a link for a job she thinks I'd be perfect at. Finally, out of all the CVs I've been sending, I have one definite and one possible interview for next week. And I've volunteered to help out at a couple of things ... more details to come if I'm accepted ...

And Project Snapshot 2007, for which I interviewed 3 Australian writers here on this very blog, has won the Ditmar Award it was nominated for. I am, officially, award-winning - a fact I have already added to my CV, and a certificate is on the way. I may have to take a photo of it. I have never been award-winning before, except when I was part of a winning pub quiz team and marched proudly home, bearing in triumph a tin of amaretti biscuits that no-one else fancied.

Congratulations to everyone else involved, and particularly to my fellow artiste, and to Alisa, the guiding genius behind Asif! Twelfth Planet Press, and so much else. Meeting such interesting people is inspirational. I don't know quite where the energy for all their projects (reading every Australian specfic short story published during the entire year, anyone?) comes from. There are some people, though, whose influence spreads wider than they realise, and who put good things into the world that didn't exist before they thought of them - and I'm grateful to know them.

Reading Patry Francis' words also puts me into a frame of mind that is at once thoughtful and grateful for the things I take for granted.

I think my advice for anyone going through a period of self-doubt would be to find somebody to say yes to you. About anything. When you feel helpless and as if your skills are not valued ... make an offer, whether it's lending a book or making a cake, and see how much more energised you feel when someone accepts it. No-one is going to call you up and request that you do them the honour of writing for them. You have to keep making those moves, and maybe one in ten or twenty or seventy-eight will say yes.

Experimental baking is making me happy ... as is granting wishes.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Pancake Day in St Albans

I took my bemused Australian cousin to a strange local event, the annual St Albans Pancake Day race. Four teams can do the relay at once - there were groups from local businesses, the Abbey (you can see the Abbey's bell tower at the back of this photo) and various Council departments, all taking time out from their lunch breaks to race up and down tossing pancakes.

Some people could watch from comfort, indoors.

Hertfordshire's Fourth Estate were out in force.

The Planning Department team were victorious and the Deputy Mayor (the verbose chap on the right who looks like a football manager) presented them with the Frying Pan of Glory.

The phalanx of photographers insisted on decorating the conquering heroes with clammy pancakes to mark their triumph.

I was delighted to capture this dramatic semi-final heat on video: this is the first time I've uploaded anything to YouTube. You can hear me squawk "Oooh, the vicar's down!" as if I'm watching a wrestling match. Which I suppose this is, in a way: a clash of the veritable titans of the pancake-entertainment world.

The sprinting vicars remind me of Bishop Brennan's magnificent fury in a certain Father Ted episode. Dad commented that they remind him more of the Spanish Inquisition. There's just something inherently comical about people sprinting in robes.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Fired Up, Ready to Go - another music video about Obama!

To follow on from yesterday's post, I discovered another Obama fan-club song. I've always found gospel music emotionally stirring, even though it's a long way from the restrained British hymns I grew up with.

What an exciting time to be in the US! Best of luck for Super Tuesday, everyone!

Labels: , , , , , ,


It's politics, Jim, but not as we know it - Barack Obama's "Yes We Can"

I came across this video today. It's a rousing, inspirational clip setting a speech by Barack Obama to music. All those celebrities, actors and musicians are very fervently, earnestly, reciting a political speech. Obama's delivery has definite echoes of preaching (notice I say preaching, rather than the British equivalent, giving a sermon.) This is a uniquely American artifact: no other country would make this without sending it up somehow (I have no doubt that some YouTubers are creating parody versions as I write...)

I have to admit, my reactions are mixed. On the one hand he's discussing an epic narrative, a nation's journey, and it is stirring stuff emotionally. On the other hand ... this is a politician, people! Not the President or Prime Minister, just someone currently in Opposition. Can you imagine this reaction to one of David Cameron's speeches? Or indeed, to any speech by a British politician?

We Brits are perhaps too cynical. I admit that parts of the video are slightly toe-curling (well, anyone who closes their eyes as they warble, shaking their head and staring off into the middle distance has me narrowing my eyes and retreating to a safe distance) but isn't this a fascinating outpouring?

I'm reminded of my reactionary A-Level History teacher, who for two years endeavoured to get us to think analytically about the history of the United States. We looked at the idealistic plans of the white settlers, the twists and turns of the colonies gradually becoming a country, and the way the language of idealism and manifest destiny would be used to justify horrific policies. What would the Founding Fathers think? We discussed Bill Clinton's potential impeachment desultorily, with detached interest: for most of us, I think, America was an exciting place we hoped to visit some day.

During uni I went to live in America on an academic exchange programme. I graduated. I travelled, living in many different places. I came to realise that the news I read and watched and heard was overwhelmingly influenced by the decisions of the US government. After these interminable Bush years - like the Howard era in Australia, or the endless corrupt Tories here in England - anything would be an improvement.

I'm dedicating this post to Mr Davies, wherever he is now. I didn't understand all the points he made at the time, but I've often thought back to our debates. It has to be uniquely American to create something like this - about politics!

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Patry Francis - The Liar's Diary

This is a special post in honour of a new writer, Patry Francis. She's just published a book, The Liar's Diary.

Her story is here, while this is the LitPark post I came across via Neil Gaiman's blog, explaining how the online community established this carnival in her honour.

I haven't read her book yet. I don't know the woman personally. But I'm deeply touched by her 25 years of waitressing while dreaming of this book, writing in her spare time, and believing that she had more to offer than just the day job she happened to do. So many times when I've been working one of my random things-I've-done-merely-to-make-money positions - all of which I try to do as well as I can - I've been typing away, or building walls, or trimming fish, or stuffing envelopes, or picking grapes but in my imagination I've been stringing together sentences, crafting turns of phrase, imagining paint and fabric and drawing and collage coming together, mentally stepping through a dance routine, thinking about what spices I might add to the next batch of biscuits, plotting the next leg of my journey, knowing that I am more than just what my hands are doing at this moment.

We all have imagination, and dreams, and grand plans. I even had to create a blog tag for "grand plans", they seem to come up so often. Patry Francis followed her dream, and although she's going through a personal time of great trouble, I salute her courage and her determination. Best wishes to her, and to everyone involved in the Carnival!

Labels: , , , ,


Canoe polo, marmalade and lindy hop - my disjointed life

It's been an interesting few days.

On Saturday, Mum, Dad and I drove up to Coventry to see my sister competing in a Ladies Division 1 canoe polo tournament. She's been playing for over 10 years, captaining the GB Ladies Under 21s, and even getting into the GB Ladies squad. However, she'll be away in Botswana for two years, so this was really our last chance to see her play. It was pretty hot sitting up in the viewing gallery of that huge pool, but great to get a view of the action from above the pitch. As with all sports, from above you see the tactics in play - how certain players try different attacks, or work together to set up defences. She got one scorching goal and made some great saves, but the standard was very high overall. Things have come on a lot since I watched her and her friends training by sprinting up and down the cold muddy waters of the canal, before I went travelling!

On Sunday, we made marmalade. We're in the three-week season of Seville oranges, too tart and ugly to eat but perfect for marmalade. It's a long process: boiling the whole fruit until soft; scraping the pips into one saucepan to be boiled up for their pectin, the natural setting agent; scraping the mushy fruit into the liquid-filled main vat; scraping out the pith and stringy bits; chopping the hot, moist peel into fine shreds; adding sugar, lemon juice and chopped fresh ginger and keeping this vast concoction at a rolling boil for hours until it reduces by a third. We made 16 large jars full: that's a lot. Today I delivered a jar each to our neighbours - those on one side will reciprocate with mincemeat for mince pies at Christmas, while those on the other side will share the illicit Limoncello they made from an Italian recipe. This is another great thing about being back at home - being part of such a great community!

Last night I went into London to meet up with friends: the travel companion I journeyed through Romania with, now a scientist and celebrated dancer; a girl I knew a long time ago from a drama group who now has a job so exciting I still can't quite believe it; my wonderful cousin Anna, always up for fun in the big city; and some new acquaintances who were keen to have a go at something a bit different. We arrived at the celebrated 100 Club thinking a little dubiously, "Is this it?" There's a modern skyscraper built on top of an ancient basement jazz club. Once through the cream and brown foyer your clamber down a dark staircase and into a sweaty, red-painted slice of authentic Old London Town.

There were well over 100 people there - a few more women than men, as should be expected. What I hadn't appreciated was that so many would be in costume! High-waisted baggy trousers held up with braces seemed to be the norm, along with two-toned shoes and debonair hats and hairclips. We started with a casual class, learning individual Charleston routines and then putting together a sequence with a partner. As the band, King Groovy and the Horn Stars, took to the stage, we began attempting to do these routines ... to the music.

The - frequently - rather fast music.

To covers of Glenn Miller, the Andrews Sisters and other 1940s classics, we had to take a partner and endeavour to sashay across the crowded dancefloor, in time, without treading on each others' feet or twisting ankles while doing the Suzy Q. This, for me, was easier while looking down at my feet and counting under my breath, occasionally sharing an anxious glance with an equally timid new partner. Of course, when you look down at your feet, you're much more likely to crash into other dancers. Well, it's a good way to meet people! You tend to learn best when dancing with people who are slightly better than you, and there were certainly a lot of experts around. The ages ranged from teenagers to spry old dapper chaps in their 70s and 80s, one of whom wiped his perspiring face with one towel and mopped his armpits with another as a courtesy before escorting me to the dancefloor.

A great time was had by all, and if I were living in London, rather than out in St Albans, I'd love to go regularly.

Sometimes you read an article that's so inspirational, such a breath of fresh air, that you sit back in your seat thinking "Wow! That's what the world should be like." That was my reaction to this: we need this guy to come and run the British trains!

As part of my getting-ahead-with-Web 2.0 mission, I have signed up for Google Reader and am adding RSS feeds from the various blogs I like to catch up with. It was amazingly easy: all my questions were answered by this video, Common Craft's Guide to RSS.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, January 21, 2008


Postcards from the edge

These guys did a journey of the sort I'd definitely be interested in doing - exploring the UK slowly, in depth, taking their time and having chance encounters with archaeological celebrities. Who should they encounter while recharging their milk float (definition added for the benefit of confused readers who buy their milk in shops) but an archaeological luminary,
none other than Phil Harding from Time Team, who was soon regaling us with
stories of the only other person he'd ever come across who owned a milk float -
our unofficial patron saint, Keith Moon.

In other news, a huge box of postcards kept by Mollie have turned up. Most of them are from the 1950s onwards, from family holidays, featuring comments about the weather. However, there is also a treasured packet dating from around 1900 - 1910. The few that were posted are dated between 1904 and 1906. Excitingly, they feature theatrical stars such as Ellaline Terriss (not the same person as Ellen Terry - although there are a few of her as well), Edna May, Seymour Hicks, Henry Irving, Wilson Barrett, Maud Jeffries and various other intensely glamorous characters.

There are several featuring Mr C. Hayden Coffin giving us his dandy highwayman pose, his American newspaperman impersonation, and demonstrating many other ardent stances in a manner that seems to me the epitome of high camp. I promise to scan some!

It's as if people sent postcards several times a day - I suppose there were several postal deliveries, and no telephones. Some are rather peremptory, like this one (with an image of Mr Seymour Hicks as "Dickie" and Miss Ellaline Terriss as "Blue Bell"), which could have been penned by Lord Peter Wimsey's mother:
Dear G,

I sent the goloshes off this afternoon by maid. I don't think they are much
Hope you are well. With love - Mother.

Goloshes! Maids! I am charmed. I imagine these read in the perfectly clipped tones of a dowager duchess.

There is also a very repressed, suitably inhibited one-sided British love story, tantalisingly played out ... if only I knew how it ended! More to follow soon.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?