11 December 2008

Decorations (part III)


Terrible pic (mobile phone again), but you get the idea...

UPDATE: recipe here

08 December 2008

Decorations (part II)


(or how to entertain your small child on a cold and damp afternoon no 4,167)

Decorations (part 1)


(or how to make your dining room look like Top of the Pops)

06 December 2008

Durham

We spent the afternoon pottering around in Durham today - tea and cake in the Undercroft, a pootle round the craft fair, and a look at the reindeer in the market square. Lots of tinsel, some beautiful Christmas lights, and, of course, the cathedral, which is one of my favourite buildings.

The others being, in no particular order:
  • the Eiffel Tower (for sheer lunacy and its breathtaking views)
  • the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco (it's painted red - what more do you need? And Orb asked me to marry him in the middle of it)
  • the Pompidou Centre in Paris (again with the breathtaking views, but this time escalators rather than lifts)
  • the Angel of the North (less a building more a giant sculpture, but when I see it I know I'm home)
But back to the cathedral. It's the massive pillars down the nave that do it for me - they are just monstrous and beautiful, and contrast so well with the thin tracery of the stonework behind the high altar. I could witter on about it for hours, if I could remember much of the course on early Northumberland and its history and buildings that I took in my third year at the university.

Sadly, that was quite a while ago, as we realised today. Where did the last 16 years go?

05 December 2008

Tweet tweet

I've been playing around with Twitter for the last couple of days (the more observant among you may have noticed it's appeared in the Empire of Me sidebar). It's early days yet, but I'm reasonably impressed (mainly because the lovely Patroclus directed me towards TweetDeck, which is a rather less clunky method of reading and organising Twitter updates than the original).

It's good mainly because it is so stripped down - it literally is all about what people/organisations are doing. I'm on facebook too, and what really bugs me there is the extraneous tat that you have to find out about - so and so has fed their pet fish and gained so many star points, someone's scored 500 in a movie quiz...bleurgh.

It's also much broader than facebook, in that you have access to everyone (which in itself raises interesting dilemmas when everyone has access to you - what you post to where, personally and professionally, particularly if you don't have a pseudonym?) It can make for interesting reading (fancy following Stephen Fry? Join the other 26,000-odd people who already do...) or for total tedium. I guess you have to pick carefully. But you get the chance to reply or ask questions of people who might not ever consider reading an email from you, which could be an interesting prospect professionally.

I also like the way many content providers (eg MediaGuardian, or our own more local bdaily) are using it as a news feed - somehow it's easier to read snippets like this (especially via TweetDeck) than it is in Google Reader.

Anyhow, the experiment continues. Here's to minutiae.

04 December 2008

Sneak preview


Painting a giggling three-year-old's hands with glittery yellow paint was definitely the best bit.

Decisions, decisions

There's an interesting article on Hamlet skulduggery over at the Guardian - it turns out that David Tennant's been using a real one for the graveyard scene. I rather like the idea of leaving your body to a theatre company, rather than to science...but maybe that's the exhibitionist in me talking.

I once had one of the RSC's prop skulls in a box under my bed, which was a little macabre. It had been Ken Branagh's rehearsal skull for the RSC's 1992 production of Hamlet...so presumably looked a lot like this one:

(via the branaghcompenium.com)

I was stage managing a student production of Hamlet at the time (we're talking 1993, I think), probably due to the fact that I'd actually seen Ken in all four and a half hours of the RSC thing, and had been totally bowled over by it.

Rather pleasingly, the guy who played Hamlet, Adrian Fear, has gone on to become a pretty successful actor (even if he now has far less hair than he used to). He had stage presence, even then.

03 December 2008

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree...

...how spooky are your branches.

And angels...


This just goes to show the dangers of taking pictures on a dodgy mobile phone, rather than being bothered to get the actual camera out.

This is just M's tree - the small one that goes in the living room. We're off to the Forestry Commission tent at IKEA soon to get the large one for the dining room that gets decorated in the tasteful stuff. Hopefully this year we'll pick one that isn't too enormous...we always think it'll be fine, and then I end up sitting in the middle of a forest in the car on the way home.

Last year we really thought we'd cracked it - the tree fitted in lengthways; I didn't have needles up my nose...and then we got it home and it turned out to be about 7ft wide as well as tall.

This year I'm taking my measuring tape.

29 November 2008

More reindeer


Real ones, this time, snapped at Gateshead's Frost Fair. They were gorgeous - such velvety soft antlers and fur.



The Nordic Frost Fair was, as ever, a bit of a mixed bag. The reindeer were fantastic (and we managed to ask what they would like to be left on Christmas Eve - apparently carrots are acceptable) but the Frost Fair stalls were the usual dull not-very-nordic range of crafts (glass angels, silk bags, fudge, Northumberland cheese...etc etc etc). There were a couple of token 'country' stalls from Denmark, Iceland and Finland which were a little more interesting, but that was about your lot. It would have been lovely to learn a little more about Scandinavian culture and traditions, especially those relating to Christmas. Oh well.

What was amazing was the Los Kaos life-size polar bear, Bjorn, who had the children spellbound, eyes wide as saucers. He shuffled into the performance space, sniffing the air, and looking every inch the real polar bear (he's a puppet with an operator inside). He was a mixture of thrilling and terrifying - M refused to go and stroke him as he was too scary, but couldn't take her eyes off him.

28 November 2008

Dear Santa,


Here is a picture of you, Mrs Santa, Rudolph and Glitzen the Reindeer. We've posted it to you (at Santa's Grotto, Reindeerland, SAN TA1), and we hope you like it enough to reply...

It's amazing what you will do to keep a three-year-old amused on a damp, cold afternoon. Let's hope Santa's impressed...

(and yes, I know it's not Glitzen, but M insisted).

20 November 2008

Eco-silliness

(photo via the Guardian)

There's camping, and there's camping...our Rapido may not be quite as snazzy, but if we're heading off into the great outdoors to escape the urban grind, the last thing I want to be taking with me is an "on-board entertainment centre, complete with a projector, 6 speaker surround sound, and a roll down screen" or PC tablet stashed in the dashboard to check my email... I'll save my £86,540, thanks.

16 November 2008

Christmas is coming...

It's been a few days of feeling Christmassy (as well as stress about the sheer amount of work that has to be finished by then).

But we now have a Christmas cake - recipe over here at Recipes for Millie - which looks rather spiffing. The new silicon tin (Lidl's versions are brilliant, and come in at under £3) is a marvel. No more faffing about with all that baking parchment.


And yesterday we trundled up to Kielder to take part in the Northumberland Lights 2008 installation, Out of Water. It was a fantastic, magical experience, albeit a little eerie to be wandering around the woods in the dark. I loved the illuminated bridge, whose steel ropes 'twanged' a tune, and the immensely tall pine trees, lit from below to look like totem poles.

The moon rose over Kielder Water during our walk, and you could see for miles across the water. It was so beautiful, we made a resolution to go back up there in the summer, and have another look in daylight.

10 November 2008

Things to do with a three-year-old, no. 432

1. Finally get fed up with the fact that there's a gaping hole in the tiles behind the loo, and decide to do something about it.
2. Set off for Homebase in the freezing cold and rain.
3. Pick out lots and lots and lots and lots of wallpaper, giving the three-year-old free rein to choose.
4. Take wallpaper samples home; drink lots of frothy milk and eat cake (this part is essential).
5. Hold a wallpaper face-off, with a happy/sad/not-bothered-face scoresheet (make sure you outnumber the toddler here, unless you want a loo which is papered with pink roses).
6. Realise you've not actually got any money to sort it out just yet....

06 November 2008

Captain Jack Wakeman


He also has a rather natty wand, to match the tiara/cape/wings combo.

02 November 2008

It's amazing what you can do with sticky-backed plastic

1. Fairy wings (the kitchen is now awash with glitter, and the cat is leaving glittery pawprints throughout the house).



2. Halloween cat (the real cat was rather spooked).

31 October 2008

Things I would love to do this month*

1. Write a 50,000-word novel as part of NaNoWriMo

When I can't get beyond a few blog posts each month, I suspect this one will have to remain a pipe dream.

2. Bake more cakes

This might avoid the situation last night at 10.30pm when we realised there were no cakes or biscuits in the house, and for some reason, chocolate buttons just wouldn't do. There was no other option for it - I had to bake some scones (well, one rather large scone round, as it turned out). We demolished most of said large scone round at 11.10pm with lots of butter and jam. And yes, we did feel like fat pigs afterwards, but we were very smug and happy piggies.

3. Watch more telly

Aside from an episode of Merlin (which was mainly just an excuse to lust after JRT), all I appear to have watched last month was a couple of episodes of West Wing (yes folks, it is indeed the year 2000), some appalling kids' nonsense called Space Pirates, and the sainted Shaun the Sheep (please let there be a new series soon as the DVDs are about to wear out). It might be time to broaden my horizons.

Right, that'll do for starters. I'm sure there's more that will occur to me, but I can't stop - I'm off to eat the last bit of scone before Orb nicks it.

*UPDATE: I've just realised it's still October, isn't it. Especially as it's Halloween and all that. If you're halfway through reading this, just put it off until tomorrow - it'll make far more sense.

30 October 2008

Work-related stuff: networking

In a bid to make things even more confusing, I've installed Blog Link on my Linked In profile, which in theory will automatically post updates from here to Linked In. I'm not sure quite what the people there are going to make of the adventures of Captain Jack and the random musings that usually ensue, but it's an interesting experiment in social networking/marketing (insert any current buzzword except 'credit crunch' here).

It might actually force me to focus on posting more work-related stuff to the blog, rather than pictures of a small, rather scruffy cat. Then again, perhaps not.

29 October 2008

Up a bit...left...left..

I've spent the evening at the 'does what it says on the tin' Climb Newcastle, in the middle of the Byker wall. It's rather exciting being in the middle of a swimming pool (with the steps down still there at one end), especially now the walls are covered in handholds, and you can clamber about to a fair old height.

There's some great pictures of the construction on their website, together with some shots of the abandoned swimming pool. It's nice to see a building that's been out of use for so long (15 years or so) coming back to life.

27 October 2008

In which the death defying Captain Jack joins the circus


The long winter afternoons are definitely drawing in.

23 October 2008

Work-related stuff - survival

There's an interesting post here from Getting Ink on how journalists can survive the recession. (As a complete aside, isn't the phrase 'credit-crunch' the most hideous thing anyone's dreamed up this year?)

I particularly like point 1 - write about something boring. I quite agree. I never bother pitching for anything remotely 'sexy' like travel or arts-related material, as it's (a) appallingly paid and (b) overwhelmingly oversubscribed. I suspect I've probably wittered on about this before, but you can't go far wrong with government departments or higher education, in my opinion.

I also like point 6 - diversification. It's important - and also avoids you being pigeonholed. I write/research/edit/proofread/create web content/nitpick with the best of them. Preferably all at once.

16 October 2008

Captain Jack travels back in time...

...and spends a while in his cat moses basket, complete with mobile. His street cred may, I fear, be at an all time low.

12 October 2008

Alnwick Garden

I had a go at sidling between the metal slabs, which is harder than it looks - they're covered with a sheet of water. It's much easier when you're three.

The main cascades were beautiful, as ever. One day I will either (a) remember to take the proper camera or (b) get a better one on my phone.

10 October 2008

Work-related stuff - academics and blogging

Really interesting post here, on the subject of blogging in higher education - academics, not students. It's not something I'd ever really thought about much - and now I know why. There's hardly anyone doing it.

"It has not reached the kind of critical mass that it has among US
academics...you are very much at the cutting edge if you are doing it at the
moment."

Odd really - blogging doesn't feel remotely cutting edge these days. Even Downing Street has a fairly rip-roaring website, complete with blog-style news, flickr photos, YouTube videos and a Twitter feed. And it's not as if it's a 'yoof' thing (god only knows what's current with the 14-year-olds) - those silver surfers are everywhere you look.

07 October 2008

I'd forgotten...

...how much fun blackberrying is (especially when you get to play hide and seek in the woods, and are pelted with shells by squirrels scoffing nuts).

...how ridiculously funny Green Wing is. We've just sat in front of the telly eating tea and watching the deleted scenes from series 1. The carpet now has a light scattering of couscous, which blends perfectly into the pub-floor-style design.

...how much I like researching in libraries. I spent the morning perusing the stock at Newcastle City Council's Local Studies collection, for information for a project on Blyth - you can't beat the musty dusty smell of the old newspapers. It's one of the reasons I did a history degree, I suspect.

29 September 2008

Blue Peter eat your heart out


When your three-year-old demands "an alien in a ballerina dress with a sparkly necklace", a certain inventiveness with egg boxes is required...

22 September 2008

The open road beckons (very slowly)

Slight hiatus at the moment, for which apologies. There's been lots of work, together with a couple of weekends away. I've still been posting over on the Recipes for Millie site, so if you want more insight into the minutiae of life with a three-year-old then hop on over. Oh, and some recipes of course.

In other news, we appear to have bought a caravan. A Rapido Confortmatic folding caravan to be precise. Here it is up in the back yard in all its glory:



See - walls, roof and everything. Beats sitting in a tent, especially when you have this interior to play with:



Check out those 1970s colours! Here's how to put one up:



Needless to say, it took us slightly longer...

16 September 2008

Books galore

One of the nice things about going away for a week to France, apart from the fact that you can actually see some sunshine on a regular basis, is that you get time to read some books. Not that much reading was done in the sunshine - a certain young lady was too busy playing in sandpits, swimming in lakes and swimming pools and shopping at our favourite place in Bergerac (the fizzy sugar cubes for the bath were a big hit).

I did make a dint in my pile of books, though, mainly by staying up until the early hours until I needed matchsticks to hold my eyes open. It was such a luxury to read in peace and quiet (there's no broadband, hence no distractions).

Scores on the doors:

The Rose of Sebastopol, by Katharine McMahon

Found at the library, but I'd have been quite pleased if I'd bought it, as it wasn't a bad read. It lost its way towards the end (to be honest, it could have ended a couple of chapters earlier), but I liked the characters, and the way they were drawn (there were some nice sewing details too). And I'm a sucker for a long drawn-out romantic thread. Mind, I couldn't tell you anything about the Crimean War now - it obviously went in one ear and out the other.

The Palace of Strange Girls, by Sallie Day

I liked this one a lot, but I did manage to devour it in a couple of hours, which usually means it's light on the description and heavy on plot and characters. I liked the picture it drew of 1950s Blackpool (fairly accurate, according to my Mum who was brought up there), and I loved the way each chapter was opened by a quote from the I-Spy-at-the-Seaside book. Rather a predictable ending, but I liked how it got there.

The Ghost, by Robert Harris

Ooh, plot plot plot plot bit of character development plot plot plot. You know what you're getting with a Robert Harris, really, don't you? Not as good as Fatherland or Enigma - maybe because the subject matter wasn't as interesting - although I'm sure Tony Blair's memoirs will be a riveting read.

The Visible World, by Mark Slouka

I sort of liked this one - or rather I liked the fictional memoir which makes up the first half of this book. The romance thread lost me though - in fact I didn't bother with the second part (the romantic novel), as I could cheerfully have banged the main characters' heads together by that point.

04 September 2008

3 today, hip hip hooray

Following on from last year's Joseph and his multicolour dreamcoat cake, I present this year's birthday offering:


M was determined it was going to be a 'strawberry cake'. It came out pinker than I expected (I think for a true red colour you'd have to use an awful lot of food colouring), but tasted pretty good (it's just Nigella's all-purpose birthday sponge underneath). The rest of the birthday tea vanished fairly quickly too.

26 August 2008

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you:

(a) South Shields.


Perfect for a day trip. Includes a lovely park (complete with tiny steam train), some bonkers weebls overlooking the beach (see above), the best fish and chip shop in the world (otherwise known as Colmans), and the pleasingly retro Ocean Beach pleasure park (which contains some rather good dodgems and trampolines). If you had a 1970s childhood, you'll feel right at home.

(b) Low Newton (Northumberland).


Perfect for a day trip. Includes a lovely stretch of sand and a nice pub (sadly rather rah-infested with Portias, Sols and the like, all kitted out in Gap and mini Boden). There's some good BBQ spots, and limitless potential for digging holes and running around throwing frisbees.

I'm not sure which I prefer, to be honest. I've had a brilliant time at both over the last couple of weekends.

22 August 2008

The adventures of Captain Jack, no.4,236


Captain Jack was taken to the Shipley Art Gallery earlier this week (as mentioned on recipes for millie), to a Top Shop Toy Shop workshop. He returned home equipped with a very fetching red dress. A matching handbag can only be a matter of time.

21 August 2008

Networking

Or 'yet another web 2.0-y thing that I try and probably give up on within a couple of days', aka the Blog Networks function in facebook. Well, you've got to have a go, haven't you, in an attempt to be cool, trendy and down with da kids. I'll probably find that actually it's been around since the year dot, and I'm a late adopter, yet again.

Anyway, I've added this blog, named myself as the author, and now I'm going to sit back and wait and see if I've got any readers. I'm not holding my breath...

19 August 2008

Plain English

I found a really interesting article today, all about local government and its use of English, plain or otherwise. I spend quite a lot of my time making government-ish stuff more readable on the web, so it was quite interesting to see how Derby City Council is dealing with the issue.

I find there's just no getting away from some usages of jargon - in some cases it's hard to see what you would use instead of phrases like ‘place shaping’, ‘community cohesion’, ‘sustainable communities’ and ‘engagement’ that the author rails against. In the right setting, they're very useful. Yes, they're ugly, but they're concise - and my other task is usually turning long, meandering sentences into something shorter and snappier.

In a web context, a long-winded description of 'sustainable communities' is probably going to turn more readers off - especially if they're scanning the page. What's nice about the web, though, is that you can direct reader to an FAQ or a glossary if they're unsure of the terminology (there's a nice example on this climate change website, where the definitions pop up on mouseover).

It probably doesn't look quite as good in print, however, if you have to issue a glossary with every letter that you send out...

18 August 2008

The further adventures of Captain Jack


In which he comes face to face with his arch nemesis, Rustle.

11 August 2008

Thrift

There's an interesting spin on the credit crunch in the Guardian today, with their journalist looking at whether doing it yourself (cooking/cleaning/making clothes) actually saves money. There's a few flaws - she might be better comparing like with like when it comes to food (I don't for a minute imagine that Sainsbury's family chicken pie contains free-range anything), and I suspect food varies a lot - you'd probably get different results from testing a jar of tomato pasta sauce against making your own, for example, and it would be good to develop that. There's also the energy costs to factor in as well.

But it's all interesting stuff, and fun to see a different point of view from the usual 'thrift' articles. I don't mind investing the time in cooking from scratch and making things (hence the rhubarb chutney, the cakes, the handmade Christmas cards and the knitting), because it's something I enjoy doing, so I'd probably end up doing them even if it was cheaper to buy it in readymade. But there are some things I draw the line at - puff pastry being one, making clothes another (the last time I made anything that wasn't for a two-year-old was a pink sprigged nightie at secondary school - let's just say it was of its time (think mid-80s Laura Ashley) and leave it at that).

07 August 2008

Rhubarb vice

I have become addicted to chutney. Rhubarb chutney. It's a sad state of affairs when that becomes your major vice, isn't it?

I blame the weather. Although I have a rather smashing balcony overlooking the back lane, it's too damp and cold to be sat out there sipping exotic drinks with cocktail umbrellas, so that kind of rules that one out. There's also not much call for wafting about in long flowery summer dresses and elegant strappy sandals while brandishing secateurs in the garden (a la every young lady in a Miss Marple drama).

Neither will I be spending hours in front of the goggle box, due to the fact that as it's summer there's absolutely nowt on the telly. The cinema listings aren't up to much if you're not into superheroes (although, I have to admit, I'm rather liking Heroes now we're finally getting round to watching series one on DVD), and most concerts/gigs are Proms in the Park type stuff involving horrendous amounts of money to sit around in the rain wearing bin bags.

It really is make chutney or read a book, isn't it? Chutney's winning at the moment, probably on sheer novelty value.

04 August 2008

Doppelgangers (2)

Still on the theme of doppelgangers, I've just watched the very bizarre I'm Kylie's Body Double, which was unaccountably fascinating, and much more interesting than the title suggested - it followed a whole range of people whose body parts were in demand in the movie/tv/commercial/modelling worlds.

It's one of those things that you never think about - and certainly one that my careers adviser at school didn't cover. I know I don't have the most conventional of careers, but it's at least one that people have heard of (unlike my other half, who has had to repeatedly explain what a subtitler does to all and sundry over the last decade).

What really came across though was the maintenance required. I don't think I could cope with the endless manicures/pedicures/gym sessions - it would bore me to tears within a week (maybe this is why the actors being 'doubled' were also less than perfect). I think my record is two manicures in a year, so I sense a career in hand/foot modelling does not beckon (the wonky fingers that curve might also be a no-no, and my toes aren't exactly the straightest either). Maybe I can work on the bottom?

31 July 2008

Doppelgangers

I came across this earlier - a lovely article from the Guardian, all about a literary doubles, which made me giggle for ages at the absurdity of it all (check out the section about the Duncan Campbells and you'll see what I mean...).

I don't think there's another one of me, so I'm quite lucky. It must be very difficult if you're writing in one genre, and suddenly appear to have written a Mills and Boon or something even more random happens like becoming the UK windsurfing champion or owning prize-winning chihuahuas.

I've checked, anyway. If you look up "Rach Colling" on Google, all the search results relate to me. There's a few more under "Rachael Colling", only one of which (the BBC article) I can claim, although they're mainly confined to facebook.

What's strange, is if you look under my old name, Rachael Bradley. I've apparently written books about dragons (as well as my own thrilling tomes about writing for the web or international boundary issues), appeared in a little-known comedy called Brothers, and I'm also a chef and olive oil expert.

Even odder, I was a character in Cold Feet. Which made it very strange to watch.

30 July 2008

This isn't all I do with my time, honest

There seems to have been rather a lot of sandcastle building this summer...

Here's a stegosaurus eating 'an enormous dough ball'. I'm not sure that Pizza Express existed in the Late Jurassic period, but if it had, I'm sure it would have been a firm favourite...

29 July 2008

Food, glorious food

Mud cakes vs food waste.

Wrong on all counts. Start following those 20 tips now...

24 July 2008

I will definitely be planting nasturtiums again next year


They're about the only thing the slugs and snails haven't managed to get their teeth into. I think baskets might be the way forward...

23 July 2008

And another thing

While I'm on the subject of my knitting frenzy (not), here's something else I'd like to make, probably in around the year 2015 when I have a spare minute.

Erm...

I had a whole blog post in my head yesterday, but now for the life of me can't remember what it was about. It could have been a fascinating link to something really exciting that I'd seen or read, a controversial riff on a topical subject, or most likely just me pontificating about cake. Who knows?

Anyway, in the meantime, while I try and recover what few brain cells I have left after working on a rather large report all day, here's the messenger bag I'm currently knitting.

I've only managed about halfway up the first side so far, so it may or may not be ready for Christmas.

The suspense is killing you already, isn't it?

17 July 2008

The antidote to conference food



I should point out that I wasn't in charge of decoration.

The wanderer returns

Right, I'm back. It took a while, and was a delightful train journey (Virgin Trains, if you're listening, how about some more seats on your services?) but normal service is now resumed (ie, a blog post once in a while, if you're lucky).

You can read all the live blogs from the conference here, including those from a fantastic group of other bloggers. Nice to meet you all!

I'll try and organise some thoughts on liveblogging over the next couple of days (aside from dreaming up ways to make people talk slower).

16 July 2008

Blogging. Live!

Hello! So here I am, blogging live from the conference where I'm liveblogging. This is getting rather confusing...

So far, the liveblogging is going well. I've typed more in the last 2 days than I have in the last two months (thank god for touch typing), and discovered that it's quite hard to listen, type and synthesise the argument all at the same time.

Some thoughts so far:
  • get a clear brief from the client as to whether they're looking for verbatim (or almost verbatim) coverage, or more of an overview
  • be very grateful if a session has a powerpoint presentation - it makes life much easier, and if you can get a copy of it, it can be embedded into the post to give some added oomph
  • photos are great
  • audio/video is even better
  • make sure that the person chairing the session tells everyone to state their name and organisation before they outline a question (it helps if you have a participant list you can check this against)
  • check out all the rooms beforehand, and work out where to sit based on where the power points are (they're often hard to find in an auditorium, and the last thing you want is loud beeping halfway through the session as your laptop battery slowly dies)
More thoughts to undoubtedly follow. Once my fingers have recovered.

10 July 2008

Liveblogging (as opposed to dead blogging?)

The huge mountain of work continues, it's pouring with rain, and I'm wearing two jumpers. I guess that's my summer over and done with, then.

I shouldn't grumble, really. I've spent the last two weeks in 30 degree plus temperatures, been swimming every day, drunk a bathful of nice French wine (and discovered the delights of rum and coke - what can I say, I was virtually teetotal as a teenager so I missed out on this one), and eaten my entire body weight in cheese and croissants. It was pretty good while it lasted.

And while I might whinge about work, I shall actually be out and about next week, meeting real, live professional people. Woo! When you work at home (and have days where you get to 6pm and realise you've only talked to (a) the cat and (b) the two-year-old), you get quite excited about this sort of thing, you know.

Anyway, I'm off to a conference, to try my hand at liveblogging. While I might have been around on the interweb since March 2002, this will be the first time I've had to blog on the fly, and I have to confess to being a little nervous (some of the content will undoubtedly get quite technical in an area that I don't know a huge amount about).

I had a bit of a dig about on Google, and came up with some top tips on liveblogging from the great and the good. But does anyone have any other suggestions? All hints and tips gratefully received...

07 July 2008

The best sandcastle in the world (TM)

In case you're wondering what I've been up to for the last couple of weeks...



More to follow, when the bottomless pit of work has finished...

21 June 2008

Busy, back later

Apropos of nothing (it's pouring down with rain, I've spent the afternoon packing), here's:
Right, off for some sun. If there isn't any, I want my money back.

18 June 2008

Oooh, caaaake

I have run out of inspiration due to lots of work, but just popped in to say if anyone feels like cheering me up they can make me Good Food's latest cheesecake.

I'm a sucker for a good baked cheesecake, but I've never tried making one before - I might give this one a go.

The best cheesecake I ever had was at Patrick Goldenberg's delicatessen on avenue Wagram in Paris. I've just had to look up when we went, and it was back in 2004, but I can taste it even now...

You could buy cheesecake by the kilo in the deli, along with pastrami, all sorts of pickled things (including some rather marvellous gherkins), and a pretty good chicken liver pate. We sat at the tables outside, ate lots of pickled items with frites, drank lots of wine, and got serenaded by a mad accordionist. It was a top night out.

Later, we went back for the cheesecake, and returned with a large white box, which sat there enticingly in the corner of the apartment. For all of 10 minutes.

13 June 2008

The Flickr game


Ooh, couldn't resist trying this. Thanks to Miss Meep who showed me the way.

The concept:

a. Type your answer to each of the questions below into Flickr Search.
b. Using only the first page, pick an image.
c. Copy and paste each of the URLs for the images into fd's mosaic maker).

The Questions:

1. What is your first name?
2. What is your favorite food?
3. What high school did you go to?
4. What is your favorite color?
5. Who is your celebrity crush?
6. Favorite drink?
7. Dream vacation?
8. Favorite dessert?
9. What you want to be when you grow up?
10. What do you love most in life?
11. One Word to describe you.
12. Your flickr name

Answers when you click on the photo. Don't laugh.

12 June 2008

Captain Jack and the V.E.T.

To the vet's today, complete with (a) one cat in need of annual MOT and (b) one small toddler clutching Captain Jack in his 'cat box' (an old cardboard lunchbox).

That's Captain Jack over to the left. This was taken a while ago, so he's even more scrofulous now, despite a good scrub with a nail brush and a bit of Comfort. He's also currently sporting a rather natty red ribbon collar, complete with bell, in the hope that we don't lose him again. He does like to dress up - so far this week he's worn a pink diamante tiara, sunglasses and a red flower (not all at once, thankfully), but for the purposes of today's outing the snake lunchbox was deemed fancy enough.

The vet, bless her, played along, and listened to his heart with her stethoscope. Rustle (our real cat), was not impressed, and looked pissed off throughout. I think she'd been looking forward to her yearly moment in the spotlight...

10 June 2008

Happy campers

I appear to have ignored you all for a while. Sorry about that. It's sunny, ok? And we don't get much of that up here in the frozen north, so it's enough to turn any girl's head.

In fact, driven delirious by two whole days of sunshine I actually agreed to go camping on Saturday. I am not the world's greatest camper, and agree to endure nights under canvas only if we take (a) a blow up airbed/mattress (b) my coffee pot, so I can brew horribly strong coffee in a morning to balance out the fact I will get about three hours of sleep.

And, to be honest, it was rather fun. It didn't rain. The campsite was pleasingly low-tech and low key (two fields; a shower block in some old outbuildings), we managed to get the tent up without hitting the small child on the head with the mallet, and the 40-year-old camping stove created pasta and chorizo for tea with a minimum of fuss.

So far, so cool camping. We did look a little bit out of our league compared to the massive cars/tents/gazebos/deckchair-and-table-combos favoured by our neighbours, but hey, you've got to start somewhere. We had a bottle of wine. What more did we need?

Actually, a heater would have done nicely for a start. It was bloody freezing in the evening. With the child deliriously happy in bed in the tent, we sat in the car, read the paper, and tried not to think about the three nice pubs that we'd seen in the village.

It was still on the parky side at 4.30am, as I tried to sleep. And not much better at 7am, when everywhere outside the tent was covered in a thick carpet of condensation and dew. Still, sausages, beans and coffee for breakfast went down well (bizarrely, stirring beans on a stove was the toddler highlight of the whole experience), and it got pretty sunny fairly quickly.

Still suffering from the effects of little sleep and a massive caffeine hit, I may have agreed to repeat the whole experience.

Oops.

03 June 2008

Yet another work-related thing

On a completely different note, and following on from all the tagging malarkey, Badger Madge has some excellent advice for folks thinking of taking up this writing business.

02 June 2008

Whinge

You know how you build something up in your head, look forward to it fervently and then when it arrives it's truly disappointing?

(You might expect something epic from that spiel; rest assured, it's rather more mundane. I tend towards the drama queen on occasion.)

My favourite coffee bar closed for 18 months while the Tyneside Cinema was refurbished. It's now open to punters, in all its red leather glory. So on Friday night I trundled out for dinner, ate far too much bread and mezze, and thought I'd call in for an espresso, savour the atmosphere, and reminisce about old times.

Sadly, not. I wandered in 20 minutes before closing time only to be told they were shut. Not "the coffee machine's been switched off", but "we're closed".

Gah. Extremely annoyed (I'd quite like to finish working early too, but I don't tend to get paid if I follow Intermezzo's example), I wandered the streets...but it seems impossible to get a decent cup of coffee in Newcastle at 11pm. Everywhere (even the places with a late licence) had switched everything off. Beer, spirits, more wine, yes. Coffee, no.

I caught the bus home, made some coffee, and thought about moving to France. Philippe makes a mean espresso at his bar at the Lac de Gurson...

27 May 2008

In other news, there's an 8-mile tailback on the A69...

You know how you see the reports about the traffic on bank holidays, and think are they all really stupid or something? Do they not know that the entire urban population has had collective amnesia and is making its annual trip to the countryside?

Well, we are that stupid.

On the face of it, a trip out to the not-very-wilds-of-Northumberland to go to the Northumberland County Show sounded like a fun proposition. We exhumed the Triumph Dolomite SE for that 1970s feel, packed a retro picnic (cheesy puffs, cheese and pickle sandwiches, Tunnocks caramel wafers), and headed off.

Two hours later, we were still sat in the car, somewhere near the A69. The picnic was long gone, apart from the cheesy puffs (which were nowhere near as cheesy as I remembered - I blame the lack of additives), there was nothing on the (AM only) radio, and the small child in the back had managed to cover herself in tomatoes and pour water everywhere.

In true bank holiday spirit, we didn't admit defeat. The show must go on, and all that. And so it did. Eventually.

After being royally fleeced by the entry staff, we discovered the endless delights of tractors, hay baling equipment, motorcycle display teams, llamas, wrestling and other high quality agricultural attractions. I scored highly for knowing what a bunded storage tank was, but failed to impress on the 'is it a sheep or a goat?' round.

The small child decided the best bits were (a) the cake section - and I'm with her on that one, although the Fat Rascals were nowhere near as good as Betty's (b) the tweenage Irish dancers wearing huge corkscrew curl wigs and day-glo costumes and (c) the campervans. You can take the child out of the city...

Actually, it was wildly obvious that we were townies - we weren't wearing enough tweed, puffa bodywarmers, reflective sunglasses or turned up collars. I spent most of my formative years in deepest East Anglia, surrounded by Young Farmers, but the last decade in the fleshpots seems to have had an effect.

26 May 2008

In which I reveal all about my marvellous career

Blimey. I have been tagged by the fantastic Patroclus, and tasked with answering the burning question: 'What revelations have you had since taking up your writing career?'

I should point out that this is possibly the most exciting thing to actually happen during my writing career, so don't get your hopes up. I'm not one of those romantic novellists, languishing in a garret in Paris while writing my masterpiece, neither am I one of those irritating blog-type-people-with-publishing-deals (hello to all you publishers out there!) or one of those journalists who file exciting political stories from exotic locations while sipping mojitos at the poolside bar.

However, while my subject matter isn't remotely glamorous (in the last month it's been anything from wrought iron gates to leadership skills in HE), I do appear to be quite trendy by combining small child/working from home/mild guilt complex over state of house.

Woo.

Right, I'm supposed to be giving you all the benefit of my deep and enduring wisdom on this career that I started way back in depths of 1996. I started off writing press releases about squirrels, and sometimes I think it's been all downhill from then on.

1. Freelancing is indeed marvellous. If you get remarkably bored remarkably quickly (sorry, all my previous employers - it was nothing personal), then working for yourself is one way of curing this. There's variety a go-go (see selection of random topics above), you get to drink proper coffee and eat proper cake in the comfort of your own home (or anywhere else you fancy), and nobody tells you what to do*. Have laptop, will freelance.

The fact that scheduling can be a nightmare, and you'll end up working like a maniac every hour that God sends to finish three projects that all arrived at the same time might just be me, or it might be one of the delightful downsides. Along with unpredictable income and the ability to spend hours procrastinating by writing blog posts, checking the internet, and eating toast.

2. It doesn't have to be all writing. Actually, one of the bits I like best about what I do is the editing - turning pages of gobbledegook into something that works is a real challenge. Especially if there's a word limit (although that might just be the masochist in me).

I also love proofreading, although that's best when you can get a red pen out and scribble all over a piece of paper. It's just not the same when you amend it on screen, although there's a certain amount of satisfaction in turning on the Markup toggle in Word, and seeing exactly how ruthless you've been.

3. Creative writing doesn't necessarily have to mean writing a novel, screenplay or poem. Trust me, you've got to be very creative when you're trying to write descriptions of wrought iron gates. And anyway, gates pay the mortgage and scary nursery fees, and occasionally lead to the odd handbag or nice cake.

Actually, I guess what I love most is words, and the process of creating something readable with them. Yes, it would be fantastic to write only the ones that I wanted, rather than those I'm asked to write about, but for me it's the process rather than the subject matter that's important.

And, as Patroclus points out rather better than I have, the chances of working on your own material and earning a decent living are limited - what you really need to do is pick a sector, become an expert in turning jargon-filled, complicated prose into plain, readable English, and away you go. As well as tech and finance, I think government and HE are good areas - much of what's produced is complicated, obscure and often written by people who are amazing at what they do, but not very good at expressing it. And who find word limits to be an alien concept.

4. Another alien concept is spelling. I love the fact that the English language is so complicated, and that spelling is tricky. Most people don't. Please don't ever write our language as we speak it, as I'll be out of a job by Christmas. And I'll have to throw away my thesaurus, dictionary and beloved Guardian style guide, which would be most upsetting.

There's probably more, but (sadly), I actually need to go and do some work. Boo hiss. This is the problem with freelancing - you go to France for a week and all hell breaks loose when you come back. I'll have a think and let you know if I come up with anything else.

And while you're waiting, I think Louche, the Woo and Miss Meep should get their thinking caps on...

*except clients who are always right, obv

UPDATE: the lovely Miss Meep has more about life as a writer, and the magical properties of salt and vinegar crisps. Go visit!

UPDATE 2: So have the Woo and Louche. Boy, this tagging lark is fun!

15 May 2008

Work. Again.

I will stop wittering on about it at some point. Probably when I've perfected the recipe for chocolate ice-cream.*

In the meantime, here's 20 types of work available to freelancers, which I've just come across, and which made me smile. Still looking for number 1, mind.

*although it's looking likely that tomorrow's trial run will be banana, for the simple reason that there's not enough chocolate in the house.

14 May 2008

It's all work, work, work, you know

I've got a bit of a love-hate relationship with work at the moment. On the one hand, I start panicking if there's no work to do. On the other, I like to whinge when I've spent every evening for the last two weeks working on stuff for clients.

Boo hiss. There's no happy medium. It's probably a control thing, somewhere along the line. It usually is with me.

Anyway, aside from the work (which has to be finished by Saturday, when I hop off to sunny France for a week), I have
  • sat in the Free Trade's beer garden on Saturday, with an old school lemonade and lime
  • eaten a picnic in the sunshine at Aydon Castle on Sunday
  • shivered around Jesmond Dene and pets corner on Monday (only being revived by tea and a ridiculously large scone in the cafe)
  • scaled huge walls on Monday evening (I climbed three 5bs! Hurrah for knackered fingers!)
  • spent the afternoon reading terrible, terrible children's books in Gateshead library yesterday (moral of this tale, never let the two-year-old pick)
  • collected an ice-cream maker from a lovely Freecycle member today
I can see that the last one is going to be ideal procrastination fodder over the next few weeks, surpassing even the making of cakes. Let the ice-cream battle commence...

10 May 2008

On blogging. Again.

Aaaaaaargh. Yet more 'mummies and blogging' - thanks, Patroclus, for the heads up. It does indeed appear that to have any form of prominence in the media as a blogger and a woman you need to be (a) sex-mad or (b) writing about the delights of slumming it with children in London or the outer wilds of Northumberland.

Yes, I know I'm probably not best placed to talk, given that this blog is, after all, called View from Nappy Mountain, and I do wiffle on about my daughter in it, but I'd be very disappointed if that was all anyone saw me as. To be honest, there's very few of the 'mummy blogs' that I ever read - I spend my life trying to avoid the inane parenting chatter that passes for conversation at every toddler-based activity, so why would I want to read any online (or worse still, buy the book?).

It really would be rather nice to hear some other points of view, for a change. How about some older women for a start? You never hear anything about women in the 50s or 60s or older - it's like they've disappeared from view. (And if anyone can disprove it or point me in the direction of some cool older bloggers, please let me know...)

03 May 2008

Fishy

We tottered down to the Quayside today (after an exhausting morning collecting parcels, mowing lawns, painting, glitter pens and sticking - you know, all that suburban nonsense that goes on at the weekend) to the Fish on the Tyne Weekend (part of Eat! NewcastleGateshead).

It was a diverting way to spend an hour in the sunshine - lots of stalls selling fish and any variation on fishy food (paella, fish and chips, pizza), a couple of salmon sculptures (I especially liked the scales - see left), two Cornish blokes doing a comedy fish routine (very, very funny, and guaranteed to horrify and amuse small children), and a tent full of cookery demonstrations.

We wandered about, ate a pot full of shrimps (the other half having spent his formative years on the beach in Whitby with a newspaper cone of the things), and wondered why the whole event was so relentlessly middle-class (us included). You couldn't move for small children in mini-Boden (it was almost as bad as the Alnwick Garden) - and the highlight of the afternoon was one very smartly dressed lady with a very posh voice bellowing "Asriel, Asriel, come back here..." into the distance as we looked on, mouths agape. You couldn't make it up.

01 May 2008

And more books

Actually, on the subject of books, I've come across the BookMooch site, and am going to give it a go. The idea is you list the books you want to give away (and are prepared to post), and then each time you send someone a book, you earn a point (which you can then spend on a book from someone else).

So far I've mostly listed cookery stuff on my wishlist. I'm finding it harder and harder to get through novels - my problem is I speed read so much stuff for work, that it's really difficult to concentrate on the text as I just want to get to the next bit of the action. Fine for kids books (did you know I did a mean abbreviated version of The Tale of Mrs Tiggywinkle? God, that Beatrix Potter doesn't half go on sometimes...) but not so good for Salman Rushdie.

I'm quite looking forward to a week away shortly, where I'll actually be able to practice reading in an orderly fashion again. In the meantime, it's back to perusing Moro by Sam and Sam Clark.

27 April 2008

Books, books and more books - or how to set up a publishing company

Simply inspirational.

(and she makes me want to head straight for the library)

26 April 2008

Incongruity

M hops round excitedly, wearing a very pink party dress (passed on from a friend who was a bridesmaid) and glitzy tiara and clip on earrings (thank you, Grandma), ready to go to a five-year-old's birthday party in a castle. (We'll leave aside the disastrous princess overtones for now, suffice it to say it won't be happening again for a while...)

"I really really like Jimi Hendrix", she says.

That's my girl.

25 April 2008

Ooh, I've come over all techie

This post is brought to you by Facebook...I thought I'd try out a new method of blogging. Allegedly, if I type this in my Blog it application, it will magically appear on View from Nappy Mountain.

Woo.

I've yet to work out whether it's actually going to be any use or not - the interface is pretty basic compared to Blogger's WSIWYG, so I'm guessing you should really use it for posting the odd quick status update, rather than long and meaningful posts that you don't want to disappear into the ether.

Which is what I do all the time (long and meaningful posts, obv, not the disappearing lark), not write meandering nonsense that goes nowhere.

On that note, over and out.

UPDATE: It worked! Wheee!! I'll probably use it twice, and then never remember it ever again...

Ramblings about gardens

I love the idea of guerrilla gardening which the Guardian's picked up on today - there's so much waste ground or dull grassy roundabouts that could be made beautiful with a few bulbs or flowers. Maybe I should get a few packets of seed, throw them about and see what happens...

Mind, in Gateshead, the council is really proactive about its gardening. True, it specialises in 'municipal', with serried ranks of brightly coloured flowers, but it's none the worse for that. I love the oddities that turn up like the random daffodils outside the Springfield Hotel. More hanging baskets would be lovely (but I guess the watering requirements are rather high).

Speaking of which, it's time for me to get a handle on my garden. Lots of veg planted (runner beans, sugar snap peas, broad beans, tomatoes, courgettes, potatoes, swiss chard); lots more to go - spring onions, carrots, salad...it's amazing what you can get into a few containers/baskets.

I'm also attempting to turn our balcony into a sensory experience with bamboo and grasses - it could all get quite noisy as the force 9 gales swoosh past down the hill.

23 April 2008

It's a beautiful evening...

...and for the first time this year we've sat in the garden with a glass of wine/beer after work. Marvellous. Roll on the summer.

20 April 2008

IKEA hack


Or how to make a bookcase for your child's room out of four wooden storage boxes... Solves the problem of how to deal with outsize children's books (everything seems to be A4 high and a funny width these days) in one fell swoop.

Cost - about £23. It's expandable as they grow taller, and isn't the ubiquitous Billy bookcase. Job done.

16 April 2008

Wisdom beyond their years

Overhead in the pedestrian street outside my house - three little girls (about 7 or 8-years-old) were playing with their bicycles, and chasing each other up and down.

"Now, you be posh totty, I'll be an emo, and you can be a charver...."

Which begs the question, how exactly does one ride a bicycle if one is posh totty?

Leaving aside such complications, it's nice to see that aspirations in Gateshead are as high as usual...

Knit one, purl seven

I'm currently in the middle of knitting a new bag (both sides and one strap finished, since you ask). It's navy blue, with a blue stripy lining. No doubt I'll post a picture when it's finally finished (don't hold your breath).

But I think I may be missing a trick. Bags, schmags. What you really need to make is:
The mind boggles. Back to the bag.

UPDATE: Ooh, check this - the Museum of Kitschy Stiches. I haven't laughed so much in a long time.

13 April 2008

Outdoor feasts

Actually, while I'm on the subject of picnics, let's quote Elizabeth David:

"Picnic addicts seem to be roughly divided between those who frankly make elaborate preparations and leave nothing to chance, and those others whose organisation is no less complicated but who are more deceitful and pretend that everything will be obtained on the spot and cooked over a woodcutter's fire, conveniently to hand; and there are even those, according to Richard Jefferies, who wisely take the precaution of visiting the site of their intended picnic some days beforehand and there burying the champagne."

It might be time to read Of Pageants and Picnics again - today's was good (chicken, potatoes and salad, followed by chewy banana flapjacks), but there was definitely no buried champagne. Maybe next week.

I do tend towards the leaving-nothing-to-chance school of thought (don't ever go camping with me - it needs a pantechnicon to shift the equipment). I can't bear the idea of being in the middle of nowhere with nothing to eat. Partly that's a consequence of carting around a toddler and usually requiring a bagful of pacifying snacks, but there must be an inbuilt fear of famine somewhere. Blame the Eastern European genes.

Hills and scones - what more could you want?

We went on a spectacular journey to Cragside today (made slightly nerve-wracking by the Triumph Dolomite SE deciding that it wasn't going to play nice, and losing power whilst making worryingly loud noises).

There's something about seeing hills that makes my heart leap - and today the view across the tops to the Cheviot, all covered with snow in the sunshine was just bliss. There was moorland for miles around, with the odd pheasant wandering about (some still slightly squashed by the roadside), and hundreds of sheep and lambs pottering about in their fields.

Of course, being an urban girl at heart, I sped past in the car straight to the National Trust property with tearooms, rather than going for an actual walk.

Said property, Cragside, was spectacular as always. It really is a beautiful house, but, sadly, with not a huge amount to amuse a two-year-old raring to climb up and down boulders outside. The sauna/plunge bath was fun, as was the kitchen complete with mouse and mousetrap on the floor, but it was always just a bit too crowded. Rather more fun was had outside, spotting the tallest Douglas fir in Europe, clambering about in the rock garden, and eating fantastic scones in the courtyard tea room in the sunshine.

We also had one of the chilliest picnics in living memory, and have decided that the summer starts here. From now on, we shall have a picnic or barbeque every weekend until the autumn.

Right, that's doomed the summer to rain, hail and sleet. Anything else I can jinx?

08 April 2008

Step back in time

It's strange how the smell of something can bring back such vivid memories.

It was the dill today that did it - the smell reminded me of going to the Polish Club in Blackpool with my Grandad, years ago, when I'd be about 8 or 9. We all went for lunch - and I do remember there being chips, which was a great highlight when you were brought up in a 1970s health food house like I was (Mum was way ahead of her time). I couldn't tell you what else we had, but the place (actually called the White Eagle Club) smelled foreign - a fragrant mix of dill, cigarette smoke and hair pomade.

Of blogs and travel

Blogged to death? Sadly, I think not. Despite my best efforts, this seems to be my first post in April - eek. Blame too much work, people staying (it's just rude to wander off and start blogging, I always feel), and the delights of attempting to work out a summer holiday.

Actually, that's taken up most of my spare time over the last week. You'd have thought it would be easy to arrange a trip to France for two weeks, especially when you don't have to find any accommodation, and you've resolved the 'how do we get there?' argument (trains win).

But no. For a start, you can't book a through trip from London to Bordeaux on Eurostar until three months before your return date. So, Sunday comes round, and the final dates become available. I spend three hours trying to work out the timetables, come up with a variety of prices, and coordinate UK trains with French ones. So long, it seems, that by the end of the evening all the cheap tickets have gone, and we're faced with paying an extra £50. Much swearing.

Still, it's only £250. Not a bad price for getting 2 people (plus a small, free person) several thousand miles. Unlike the cheapest rail price that I can currently find for travelling from Newcastle to London (£200). Much swearing again. It seems that not all the tickets for UK travel have been released yet - and I now seem to need a crystal ball to predict when that might happen. We live in hope.

Anyway, we attempt to book the Eurostar tickets, only to discover that the RailEurope website crashes when you use Firefox (more swearing). A delightful evening all round.

Only bettered by attempting to book a cattery the following morning, and discovering the only one with vacancies was charging £11 a day for the privilege. I love my cat, I really do, but £11 a day is ridiculous. Are they watching wall-to-wall Sky Movies and being handfed free-range chicken for this price?

Only car hire left to fix. I await imminent disaster.

31 March 2008

Pink-tastic

Don't get me started on the perniciousness of pink.

"It felt like I'd woken up in some kind of one-party state (led by Barbie, naturally); a pink dystopia, and no one has even noticed."

It's not that I don't like the colour - hell, I've got a pink jumper, a couple of pink t-shirts and a fair selection of pink underwear...it's just that I think my two-year-old daughter should have a choice of colours to wear. Go into any high street shop or supermarket and everywhere it's pink sparkly fairy princesses with unicorns in tow (how on earth did they creep in?). And as Eleanor Bailey points out, even the clothes that aren't pink have pink flowers or sequins cluttering up the margins.

I've done the best I can - bought 'boys' colours, rummaged in charity shops for things from the 1970s and 80s and scavenged from friends. I refuse to spend a fortune I haven't got in Petit Bateau or Boden (as an aside, if you want to see Boden's latest range in all its finery just go to the Alnwick Garden on a Sunday - it's so wall-to-wall middle-class children, it's hilarious), and I shouldn't have to.

What's even more evil is that pink isn't confined to clothing. Anything aimed at girls, from 1 month upwards seems to only come in the colour pink. Pink books, decor, jigsaws, stickers...you name it, it's pink, floral and sparkly.

The upshot is, you might as well have a permanent sign round your neck that says "I'm a girl, aren't I pretty?" I really don't want that for my daughter - I want her to grow up thinking about other stuff, not just what she looks like. I'm all for celebrating your feminine side, but honestly, give me a break.

28 March 2008

Paint it...white

The decorating marathon continues.

The deep red Baroque hallway is no longer quite so red - in fact, it's pretty much white, and awaiting a final coat of off-white.

The 2ft frieze in the living room, with the decoration artfully picked out in yellow, is gradually going...white. The equally disturbing dining room frieze in blue will no doubt meet a similar fate.

I might be happy in around the year 2012 when I have whitewashed the house top to bottom. Either that or I'll need to move to Alaska so I can get my white fix year-round.

21 March 2008

Women and the web

Interesting article in the Guardian today about websites aimed at women. Apparently "women's websites offering intelligent content are booming, thanks to their appeal to those who feel patronised by glossy magazines".

Sadly, only in the States, to judge by the sites namechecked in the article, although there's an honourable mention for The Lipster (which I shall be checking out - although on first glance it's all a bit too music-related for me) and Dollymix.tv (yet more celeb stuff).

Over here, it seems to be all parent-related - mumsnet, Netmums et al. Maybe it's just me being bolshy, but I've never felt the need to go anywhere near any of that sort of stuff. I spend so much of my life dealing with a two-year-old - why would I want to talk about kids in my time off?

To be honest, I don't feel the need to spend much time on websites 'aimed at women' either. Fashion bores me to tears (although I can occasionally get excited about handbags), and I'll admit to having the odd glance through Heat in the supermarket, but celeb news leaves me cold. I'm not sure the opportunity to read about 'other women's lifestyles' would drive me wild with excitement either. I get news, comment and pop culture enough from the Guardian and Google News, and the blogs I read fill in the rest.

In fact, that's what I like about the web - you don't have to go to just one site and be forcefed their viewpoint (or read whatever they have decided 'intelligent' women should be reading), you can pick and choose what you read, watch and listen to. And the random connections that lead you through the blogosphere or via an odd set of websites throw up all sorts of things that you might never see otherwise, and make it far more fun.

Rant over. Back to work.

16 March 2008

Utterly bonkers, but brilliant

I've just come across this, in a random issue of Building Magazine (don't ask, I read some odd things for work...). It's called Hotel Monument, and is an installation planned for Grey's Monument in Newcastle, with a single hotel room at the top (complete with the lovely Earl Grey, who normally looks like this, and will be looming above you somewhat as you sleep).

When can I make a reservation?

Update: lots more info here

13 March 2008

A random selection of items

1. Granola to die for (I currently have a predilection for American-style pancakes, but this just might be my next obsession). Gorgeous photos on the rest of the site too.

2. The world's most inventive recycling site (love the story about the newspaper house).

3. Next instalment on the mag project - this week it's The Crack.

Right, back to work.

12 March 2008

oh no, I am working, honest

Always yearned for one of those shop assistant jobs where you float around folding up clothes, looking surly and avoiding the customers? Then this is for you - a handy guide to folding up t-shirts.

I've just gone and practised folding up several t-shirts, and I'm now pathetically excited. I really must get back to work...

11 March 2008

Oh, this and that

Over on the mag project, a review of the March issue of Olive magazine.

Back here in the suburban wilderness, we've given up remonstrating with the washing machine, and have ordered a replacement from John Lewis. The garden's a little more tidy, and the spring clean (apart from anything requiring laundering) moves on apace - I have managed to find a duster (although not actually use it).

Have I bored you into submission yet?

06 March 2008

Gadget hell

My appliances hate me.

Over the past month, my dishwasher gave up the ghost, my laptop decided that it would disable half its memory, my phone line thought it would be fun to sound like I'm making calls in a howling, crackling gale, and yesterday the washing machine decided to protest at being used daily for the last year and a half (I suspect it had an easier life during the reign of the last owners, a gay couple in their late 50s) and refused to budge any further than the cold water fill cycle.

Some of these problems have been easily (but not cheaply) rectified. We have a shiny new dishwasher, complete with labels on the controls and an instruction manual (both missing from the last, nameless, 15-year-old model - we'd been washing our plates on cycle 1 of 6 ever since we moved in, without ever having a clue as to what it actually did).

We have new memory in the laptop, meaning you can actually open Word, Excel and the internet all at the same time without the screen freezing. Which is a bonus.

The telephone line turned out to be water in the cable box outside (rather worrying, but that's the cable company's problem not mine), and was fixed within 12 hours by Virgin Media, in a remarkable display of efficiency.

The washing machine is sitting malevolently in the corner of the kitchen while we decide what action to take. I've suggested hitting it with a big stick, a la Basil Fawlty, although that's mainly for the purposes of making me feel better, rather than actually repairing the thing.

04 March 2008

the mag project

is now live. For a whole year, I promise to studiously review every magazine-type item I read.

Go here for the first issue. More will be forthcoming...

03 March 2008

Possibly the best thing I've ever found

I know, it doesn't look much here, mainly because I had 0.3 seconds to take a photo as it's some ridiculous hour and I should be in bed.

But trust me, this is really exciting - it's an original set of rubber stamps from Clarks in Leeds. A whole alphabet (in fact, two whole alphabets, in large and small sizes), a shedful of numbers, and some rather natty "finest quality", "special value", "per tin" and "per bottle" stamps.

I don't often fall in love with things in shops, but this leaped out at me when I was wandering round RE in Corbridge, shouting "buy me, buy me" extremely loudly.

I had no choice - I love lettering and fonts, so my credit card was in my hand before you could say Helvetica. Sadly, these are Times Roman, rather than my usual choice of sans serif, but you can't have everything. I'm guessing from the box that the set is probably 1950s/60s (it has to be pre-decimalisation), but if anyone can shed any light on the matter, or share some typesetting tips, do pipe up.

29 February 2008

On blogging

I've been thinking about the nature of blogging a lot recently, and the manner in which people go about it. It was sparked by reading a friend's blog, all about infertility - which is wonderful, but not for the faint-hearted. I love it because she tells it like it is...there's no sugar coating here, just bleak, dark humour and sheer rage. Amazing.

I'm not very good at writing that kind of confessional stuff, even anonymously. And I guess I'm aiming at the sly, wry glance at life, and the deeper darker stuff doesn't fit. What you get is lots of wittering on about daily life in suburbia, with a cross-section of meanderings about cake, JRT and the delights of two-year-olds. Oh yes, and a bit of work-related nonsense too. Angst-ridden, it ain't.

I've got an idea for a new blog, though, which I think I shall start shortly. Called the mag project, I plan to review every magazine I read over the next year. I come across several - some in the line of work; many in the course of junk mail or shopping in the supermarket; some I even deign to buy. Actually, it's just an excuse to go round buying all those exotic-sounding magazines (especially the food-related ones) that lie untouched on the shelves at Borders. You never know - it might liven up a dull March.

On a slightly different tack, I came across a blog about a play today, written by Carina. This post, Wallsend's Chesil Beach, is beautiful.

27 February 2008

Arts Corner: Imagine

I've always found Richard Rogers' buildings beautiful (especially the Pompidou in Paris), so it was interesting to watch last night's hour-long special on his career. But although the buildings kept me riveted to the end, it did turn into a bit of a love-fest. Yes, the talking heads from Rogers + Partners were interesting, but I'd have really liked to see some comments from people who actually have to work/live in his structures, to see what they make of them.

There was an awful lot of parading about Florence in the sunshine too, which was sickening in the middle of February...