31 March 2009

Allotment frenzy (2)

Here's what we have to work with. It's slightly less weedy now, as I spent a couple of happy hours in the sunshine with the girl this afternoon, pulling up the dandelions hiding in the strawberry patch.

Every allotment needs a shed, preferably one held together with string and sticky-backed plastic.

28 March 2009

Point Hotel, Edinburgh

Fluorescent lights at the Point Hotel, where I stayed this week (I was blogging at the JISC Conference 2009). The place is looking a little shabby these days, but the lighting is still fun.

27 March 2009

Allotment frenzy

Yes, it's finally happened. I now have shares in an allotment, courtesy of my friend Gill who was wise enough to put herself on the council waiting list when she moved here around three years ago. It's a lovely plot, which has been really well looked after by an old couple - so there shouldn't be too much of the horrendous digging to start off with.

So, it's time for a little light website reading - I thought I'd start with Jane Perrone, and move on to Alan Titchmarsh (if the pink shirt, Estate Agent Capitals and apostrophe misuse on his site don't drive me mad in the meantime). Has anyone got any other suggestions?

Update: The RHS Grow your own veg site has an excellent calendar of what to plant each month. Might be time to get the onions in, I think.

15 March 2009

Ghosts of Paris past

Lurking on my dining room bookshelf is a Paris guidebook. In fact I've got several, as Paris is my favourite city, but this one's always intrigued me.

It's called Muirhead's Paris and its environs, and it was published in 1921, as part of the Blue Guides series. I picked it up in the Oxfam bookshop in Newcastle a few years ago for £1.99, mainly because I loved the maps inside. They're not in the most amazing nick (one or two have obviously seen some heavy use), but the sheer detail (and wonderful design of them) more than make up for it.

The text is also fascinating, particularly because it was written such a short time after the first world war.
"Paris, with the added prestige of the late ordeal of war heroically borne, is, more than ever, one of the most interesting cities in the world and has already practically resumed her normal state. But though the traces of the War are not conspicuous, its effects still linger in the uncertainty attending many points of practical detail. The tourist will be principally affected by the disorganisation of prices, which prevents any but the most general hints being given on this important topic."
As well as the usual 'how to get there' niceties (including regular air services from London's Croydon Aerodrome), there's a wonderful section of general hints.
"The traveller who knows no language but English can get along quite comfortably in Paris, though he may have to pay in cash for his ignorance. Even a slight knowledge of French makes the visit not only cheaper, but also much more interesting and more intellectually profitable."
No change there then.

I also love the section on politeness and the wearing of hats:
"Forms of politeness are more ceremonious in France than in Great Britain or America. Men doff their hats in restaurants and cafes, and frequently also in shops, picture-galleries, and the like, though in the theatre they keep them on until the curtain rises. They greet each other by raising their hats. Gentlemen are expected to uncover to a lady before she bows to them, and , in speaking to her, to remain uncovered until requested to resume their hats. The hat is raised also to any lady passed on the stair of a flat and when a funeral is passed in the streets."
But the other thing that's fascinating about the book, is the letter that's taped inside the back cover, which was written by Findlay Muirhead (the editor of the book and managing director of Muirhead Guide-Books Limited) on 9 June 1922.
Dear Mr Haigh,

Will you and Mrs Haigh accept the accompanying 'Blue Guide to Paris' as a small wedding gift, with my most cordial wishes for your prosperity and happiness, not only in Paris but all down the long road of life?

If you notice any inaccuracy, however small, in the book, I should be most grateful for a post-card pointing it out; and I am always open to receive hints as to new ideas fo the these guides.

Litellus seems to have had a fine time in Glasgow; he arrived this morning full of his experiences.

I am very truly yours

Findlay Muirhead
From the address at the bottom I can work out it's a Mr Philip Haigh, who seems to have been staying at the Grosvenor Hotel at the time. Litellus is Litellus Russell Muirhead, Findlay's son. (I love the non-sequitur paragraph about him!) But I'd love to know more - were the Haighs resident in Paris, or simply visiting on honeymoon? How did they know Findlay Muirhead? How on earth did this book end up in a Newcastle Oxfam shop?

Sadly, I suspect it'll have to remain a mystery.

12 March 2009

Stealth reporting

I came across some interesting stuff today about how to deal with the increase in blogging and twittering at conferences.

Having liveblogged JISC's Innovation Forum last year, I'm off to JISC09 in a couple of weeks to do a similar thing, so it's interesting to see the presenter's perspective covered...I'd never really thought about how intimidating it could look from up there on the platform, to see a raft of folk looking down at their laptops and typing away (me included).

It'll be fascinating to see how this year's speakers interact with the laptop audience, and whether they go down the route of actively incorporating material from the backchannel, especially as Twitter usage has become more widespread (and this is a fairly tech-heavy conference).

Hopefully I will have my exciting new netbook by then, so following what's going on on twitter and on the blogs (as well as the speaker) should be a lot easier - the laptop has a tendency to die with loud beeping after about 30 minutes, which doesn't do much for the stealth reporting.

11 March 2009


I'm a sucker for typefaces (especially Helvetica - although after my experience last year of watching the Helvetica documentary, my opinion may have dipped somewhat). I got sent a link to the rather wonderful Periodic Table of Typefaces today (via Patroclus), which reminded me of a few things I've been hoarding for a while:
By the way, I know I've got the most appallingly boring font on offer here in Blogger. I'll get round to changing the design at some point, but I can't find one I really like.

06 March 2009

The perniciousness of pink

We've been watching a bit of Charlie and Lola this week, the girl and I (blame it on the chicken pox). As merchandised-to-hell kids tv shows go, it's rather good (and in fact, the tv programmes work much better for me than the books, which although beautiful to look at don't seem to flow dialogue-wise).

What's really nice though, is having a heroine who isn't a princess, doesn't wear pink all the time, and certainly isn't obsessed with fairies. Lola seems pretty normal - she goes to school, she has an imaginary friend and a best friend, and likes wearing shiny red shoes, going to the park and watching tadpoles. Hallelujah.

I'm so fed up of the whole pink princess girly thing, and M's only three. God knows what'll happen when she's older - we were speculating the other night whether she'd turn into a goth at some point (as opposed to a Goth, which might be rather worrying) in sheer rebellion against the pinkness of it all.

I don't remember it being quite so nauseatingly pink when I was small (although I'm pretty sure I did have a pink stripy top and skirt at some point) - but now, if you go into any high street store it's wall to wall pink/lilac/purple for small girls, complete with fairy wands, sparkly shoes and princess tiaras. Nice some of the time, yes. But some choice (and also the idea that you can achieve more in your life than being a princess) would also be good.

Yearly anti-pink rant over. I'm off to bake a (not-pink) cake.

04 March 2009

Links to more work stuff

Here's a couple more things I've found while on my travels (Twitter is turning me into a dangerous procrastinator at times).
In other news, M is still covered in spots, but we are no longer a plague house. Hurrah! We can now go out to enclosed places, which is rather a bonus considering it snowed this afternoon.

02 March 2009

Bits and pieces on writing

  • Jakob Nielsen on writing content that can be used in different ways and in different contexts (eg headlines, summaries). He's got some excellent advice on assuming your information will be read out of context - you can combat this by modularising, and using specific language or keywords so it's searchable.