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...

25 February 2008

Where you find out what I did today, whether you wanted to or not.

I'm beat.

It's been one of those days when I've rushed around like a lunatic; one of those days when you think it's 10pm and actually it's wishful thinking - it's only 5.30pm and that magic glass of wine is still a while off.

This morning started with a trip to the park, in what felt like sub-zero temperatures. I think I'm becoming one of those Victorian nannies obsessed with "getting some fresh air" in all weathers. The next thing you know, I'll be insisting on flannels until May, cod liver oil, and button boots.

Anyway, M climbed up and down slides, swung on swings, visited the rabbits (who were all nibbling on halves of melon, rather like some scene at a Hawaiian beach bar) and attempted to feed the ducks (who were surprisingly hungry after their usual weekend sliced-white blowout).

This was followed by an afternoon of taxi duties, a trip round Tesco, a not-half-bad cappuccino in the Tyneside Coffee Rooms (who were sweet enough to bring M her own espresso cup full of frothy milk with chocolate sprinkles on top) and then two hours of wrangling four children under 7 so a friend could go to a parents' evening.

All surprisingly enjoyable (except the bit this morning when my fingers gave up in protest at the cold, and turned blue, even though they were inside some rather posh leather gloves). But knackering. So this evening's been a washout. Tea and some telly for once. In fact, returning to the whole American election theme, some vintage Matt Santos.

I'm rather looking forward to tomorrow morning, though, when I get to do some work in peace.

21 February 2008

I don't think I'm cut out to be a travel agent

I've just spent the last two hours surfing the net, trying to find prices for (a) flying and (b) going by car to France in the summer. It's a tricky one - on the one hand, you have eco-hubby who hates flying, on the other, me who will be bored witless after about two hours of the 20-odd car drive from Gateshead to the southwest of France. Throw in the delights of entertaining a two-year-old en voyage, and the fact that there's not a lot of cash spare for the trip in the first place, and it becomes a tough call.

In fact, we've done both in the past. I tend to fly when it's just me and M, and we're being met by my parents at the other end. She's entranced by the weird vehicles they have at airports (those things that pull the aircraft around, and deliver baggage), and by the fact that you can see your suitcase being put on the plane (our flybe aircraft is usually one of those tiny ones with propeller engines and two seats either side of the aisle, so there's not usually a lot of baggage to hoy onboard).

The downside is the airport delays (eight hours at the two-shed terminal that is Bergerac airport was a low point), and the hell that is trying to carry a knackered toddler and hand luggage through the airport to the baggage hall after the flight, when the airline won't give you your pushchair back. Luckily, there's usually a horde of very nice retired folk on the flights out and back to the Dordogne, who are more than happy to help grab bags from carousels, amuse small children in the waiting areas, and help carry pushchairs up and down steps.

As for the road trips, well, it's just a very long way from up here, requiring much sitting in cars. There are advantages - ferries are exciting (especially the SpeedFerries one that zips you over to France so fast you bounce across the waves), and there's usually an overnight stop at a random hotel (which from M's perspective involves pain au chocolat for breakfast, which is always A GOOD THING, and has been talked about ever since).

But oh, the tedium! Broken by a bit of navigation - which I'm pretty good at, I have to say, although I'm not helped by the fact that the French seem to have an aversion to putting road numbers on their signs, and expect you to navigate by knowing the city 200 miles away which the road is pointing towards. There's the odd moment of excitement which culminates in a three-point turn, but in the main it's just miles and miles and miles of roads. France is big, let's face it.

Actually, I think I'm the world's worst passenger - all I want to do is read (but it does make me travel sick after an hour), I can't get Radio 4 very well the further south you go in France, and games of all descriptions (especially I spy and its ilk) bore me to tears inside the first five minutes. I may, in fact, be a worse passenger than the two-year-old. Oh dear.

So, suggestions please. My journey (if it turns out to be by road), would be enlivened by somewhere other than the Hotel Ibis in Chartres to stay (rooms ok, food abysmal), and something to occupy me (and the two-year-old), when I'm not driving.

Answers on a postcard. Please...

Oh it's all terribly confusing

Art imitates real life, which then imitates art...

Or rather, how the US would really rather like Matt Santos as president. Assuming Jed Bartlett can't run again, obv.

18 February 2008

The possibilities are endless

I'm a member of our local Freecycle group, and it never ceases to amaze me what people will (a) ask for and (b) give away.

This week, for example, I've seen pleas for ladies pants (size 14), a widescreen tv (yeah, I'd probably like one of those as well), a gazebo, and a sandwich toaster. On offer has been a knitting machine, the Encyclopedia Britannica, an array of computer parts and a huge soft toy unicorn. The mind really boggles.

It's a great idea. We've recycled all sorts of stuff (an old electric oven which was left in the garage by the previous owners, acres of magazines which were cluttering up the house and even a massive 2m-long pond liner), and were lucky enough to bag a slide for M, which has saved endless trips down to the park.

I know heading park-wards means more exercise, but Saltwell Park, though wonderful, is decidedly on the nippy side at this time of year, and comes complete with attack formations of geese. Woe betide those who rustle a plastic bag - the geese have learned that this means sliced white, and arrive en masse within 2.56 seconds. I swear they can hear the rumble of a pushchair a mile off.

If you've ever been confronted by a goose (or, even worse, by a swan), they're much bigger than you think. And have very sharp beaks. I can confirm that it doesn't do much for your street cred with your two-year-old when you start to panic that they're coming too close, turn tail and flee for the hills, but trust me, it's the only option.

17 February 2008

Lift muzak

Following on from the charity book stuff, we had a listen to War Child's Help album in the car on the way back from Alnwick. I'd forgotten how good it was - this was the original one, containing 1995's finest. Remember Salad? Or Terrorvision? Nope, thought not.

My favourite's still Blur's Eine Kleine Lift Musik - the out of tune piano rocks. They have a way of doing that kind of thing - gnarly sounds that are actually very beautiful (see also Tender).

The Alnwick Garden

As you can see, more fountains than plants at the moment...

16 February 2008


We turned up to a farm shop in rural Northumberland today to be met by a crowd of people watching an acrobat jumping over a Hummer.

Outside the farm shop was a stall giving away (very nice) Middle Eastern food (flatbreads, dips, tagines etc), and out the back was a rather large yurt, filled with more people cooking.

I'm still slightly puzzled.

14 February 2008

It's all for charidee

Peach over at the Peach blog is putting together a book of blog posts to be sold in aid of War Child, which is a simply brilliant idea.

There must be hundreds of bloggers out there writing all kinds of lovely stuff which is hidden away on the interweb, and unless you spend hours and hours following all the links, you'd never come across it. This way, you get to see a whole cross-section of fascinating stuff, work out who you like the look of, and then drop in to see what their blog is like. Oh, and raise some money for a rather good cause as well.

Go here to submit a post, then remember to buy a book (from the fiendishly clever lulu.com).

I've submitted a ramble about French football and the delights of going to footie matches with my dad, which may not be quite serious enough. Ah well, at least I've tried.

13 February 2008


Thank you, Stuart Maconie. As ever, Brian Sewell is wrong, wrong, wrong.

The Angel (10 tomorrow) is one of the most arresting views in the North East, right up there with Hadrian's Wall, the shipbuilding cranes at Wallsend, and the Millennium Bridge. It's equal to anything down south. And it does have that emotional wallop - when you see it up close, you're amazed, astonished...and you know you're home.

Mind, I also love the view as you come down at night over the Gateshead flyover - the one that runs between the tower blocks down to the Tyne Bridge. Stretched out ahead of you is the Newcastle skyline, the road is usually deserted, and you can pretend that you're in some bad 1970s cop drama. It's the first scene of the film in my head...preferably with Queen's Don't Stop Me Now as the soundtrack, for that 70s vibe.

Update: Spirit of the North. Another good article from someone who's actually come up here and talked to people. Sewell, take note.

12 February 2008

Spring's a comin'

In the last three days we've:
  • had a picnic in the woods (after hunting for gruffalo - sadly, none were to be found)
  • eaten ice cream in the sunshine, after cycling along the Quayside
  • seen the hyacinths grow really long roots in their vases
  • acquired a theremin
It's definitely spring.

05 February 2008

It's been a Blue Peter kind of day...

what with the eggbox turtles (who are currently fast asleep on their couscous beach), and a pasta/cheerio necklace.

04 February 2008

Could try harder

Sadly, Sunday was not one of our finer excursions. It was cold, grey and miserable, so we thought we'd amuse M by going to look at some trains (Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat is still inordinately popular). We'd really enjoyed the National Railway Museum in York, so off we scampered to Locomotion, the National Railway Museum at Shildon.

Hey, it was free. How bad could it be?


How to annoy your visitors:
  • Have a museum full of engines/carriages etc etc to look at, but not one that you can clamber about on. Try constantly explaining that to a two-year-old - it's fun!
  • Don't open the all-day visitor cafe until the end of March, but advertise its existence on all your leaflets. That'll really, really piss them off, especially if they arrive on a Sunday lunchtime expecting to get a nice cup of coffee and a bit of lunch.
  • Have lots of interactive displays...but don't repair them. See two-year-old comment above.
We just weren't impressed. It's a museum for people who really really like trains, and want to go and see rolling stock SE9783242 so they can tick it off their list. There's really not a lot to do apart from wander round admiringly...and if you're not that fussed about the trains in the first place, then you'll get bored alarmingly quickly.

Sadly, lovely though Shildon may be, there didn't appear to be a lot else on offer on a dank Sunday in February either. So we came home and (a) had some food and (b) did some fingerpainting with purple, yellow and green paint. Which was far more fun.

03 February 2008

Things wot I have watched

I've had a bit of a purple patch recently. Yes, I actually tore myself away from the computer, and managed to sit down and look at a bit of telly. Hey, I even went out to the cinema and saw a film. My god. How retro.

Scores on the doors:
  • Torchwood. I can't resist the lure of Captain Jack and co. No, not that Captain Jack (he's currently in need of a jolly good wash, and is skulking around until Saturday, when he becomes Captain Jack the Theatre Cat and gets taken to see Cats at the Theatre Royal. But I digress). It's fast, laugh-out-loud funny, and had James Marsters in episode 1. What's not to like? 10/10
  • Stuart Little. What else do you do on a drizzly, dank, cold and grey Saturday afternoon, than go to the local charity shop, buy a video for 50p, and have a Saturday matinee? We made popcorn, cinema tickets and got a torch to show the customers (me, R, M and several stuffed toys) to their seats. I'd forgotten how funny the film is - that cat is a killer. 8/10
  • The West Wing (series 2, ep 1&2). Genius. But oh the hair! 10/10 (with possible big hair deductions)
  • My Kid Could Paint That. Intriguing. I like to splash a bit of paint about now and again (sadly, not worth $25,000 a pop) as does my two-year-old, so this was interesting. I'm sure she did paint lots of stuff. Whether it was directed (unwittingly or not) was another matter. I know when I'm doing painting with M, I often say things like "look, here's an empty bit of paper", "why don't you try it with a brush", and all sorts of stuff in an encouraging manner - you can't help it. It would be really odd if you sat there in silence. Made you think, 9/10.
So not a bad haul. I could also critique Kipper (not bad, if you don't mind Martin Clunes being a bit whiny occasionally), Pingu (theme tune gets a bit repetitive) and Shaun the Sheep (sheer brilliance), but I've run out of energy.