Catch-all category for anything and everything about my daily shenanigans or quotidian experience. Warning: may be very out of date and/or contain stuff only interesting to me or people who know me.
Dec 31, 2010 14
Almost forgot to do my Mayfly project summary for 2010.
Househunting. Negotiation. Fucked over by two vendors then landlady. House! Finally! Goodbye SW14, hello Surrey. Painting. Nesting. Happier, poorer, more in love than ever.
Remember: 24 words summing up the last 365 days.
Over to you, in the comments below this time (because I haven’t got time to set up a separate page before going out for dinner).
And happy new year. Hope 2011 is a good one.
Dec 16, 2010 1
On arrival at Newsfoo a couple of weeks ago in Phoenix, Arizona, each participant was given a notebook. The notebook may have just been a rather fine example of conference schwag, but looking back at it after the weekend, I realise that mine speaks volumes – not what I jotted down during sessions, but what I didn’t. Or rather, the pattern of my note-taking during the event.
I noted down on a fresh page the name of the session I was attending, and the time, so I would later be able to piece together the sequence of sessions I attended at least, through a fug of jetlag. Underneath each session’s title, there follows about a page of notes – the questions under discussion, framing the topic, perhaps, or salient quotes and ideas. And then, by the time we get to the second page, the notes descend into lists – of names (people in the room and beyond), book titles, publications, other references cited, half ideas, questions – all headed by an underlined FOLLOW UP LATER.
This tells me two things about my experience of Newsfoo: One, that I was frequently too busy listening, thinking and participating to record the event. There was so much going on! And two, that each session acted as a catalyst for further thinking, reading, conversation afterwards. In other words, you needed your attention in the room; and the session was only the beginning.
This perhaps provides some context for the misunderstood suggestion from O’Reilly organisers, who dissuaded people from liveblogging and tweeting during sessions. Some – who weren’t there, incidentally – saw this suggestion on the event wiki and reacted angrily, referring to a “twitter ban” and alleging that this was part of a conspiracy to keep the content of the event secret, cabal-like.
On the contrary. My impression was that people were free to socialise and cover their perspective of the event (at least anything that wasn’t covered by O’Reilly’s famous FrieNDA, which is like a person- or statement-specific Chatham House rule), just not in real time. And since the weekend in Phoenix, there have emerged a number of stimulating, informative and thoughtful blog posts – and I expect more will emerge in time.*
So it’s not that nothing was said. It’s that, like coffee, Newsfoo reactions took time to percolate – though, as a non-coffee-drinking Brit, I’m bound to say that a good cup of tea needs time to steep (we call this “masting”) before it’s ready to drink. Whisk the teabag out too soon and your cuppa is insipid, weak – hardly worth bothering with at all.
In my experience, inserting a pause in usual social reporting activities/obligations provided time and mental space to listen to, reflect on and add to what was being said.
Read the rest of this entry »
Sep 27, 2010 1
My lovely little sister Anna spent much of September circumnavigating the lower United States by train. Being the brilliant, webby, writery person she is, she conceived an intriguing participatory project to help while away the miles as well as atomising the memories, jotting moments onto a hundred and fifty custom-made and decorated postcards which were flung around the world to friends and strangers who had signed up to be on the receiving end.
I received my postcard last week, but entirely failed to capture it digitally until today. But it’s fun seeing the other postcards find their way onto the web – from mental, to analogue, to digital memories – so I finally got my act together and here it is…
It reads: This is the snailr project, crossing the border n.b. please to customise this card. and i love you.
It reads: #63 I remember our mum loving reading The Night Train to us as children. As a poem, it had precisely the same tempered metre of a slow, careful train. And she sounded it out just like that, coming down heavily on enough syllables to suggest clacking tracks. I now wonder what it would have been like if she’d had access to an American version of the same poem, reflecting the Amtrak policy of blowing the horn, constantly, all through the night. I like to think she would have brought a hawk to bedtime stories. Or a stuck pig.
She’s right – our mum did read Auden’s The Night Mail to us at bedtime. A wonderful, evocative out-loud poem – and one which becomes even more vivid at the thought of a train whistle piercing the rhythmic clacking, all night long.
My sister’s ace.
Jul 26, 2010 1
[I recently upgraded to a new phone. In the process of scrubbing things off the old handset, I found this word sketch of a tube journey home from an evening out a while back.]
Men on the northern line coming from the awards dinner I’ve just come from. I’m sober(ish), but they’re drooling on each other, discussing the best satellite porn channels and the acts they’re going to perform on their wives when they get home. It’s charming, in a ridiculous, pissed, shouty, colleaguey machismo bullshit obnoxious kind of way.
The bald northern one calls everything and everyone a cunt. The fat one apologises for him repeatedly, explaining “he’s from Leeds”, before leering at girls on adjacent seats and trying to persuade the other to stop off for a final pint at Charing Cross.
This, I feel, would be a bad move.
It seems that several pints, absinthe and champagne in (their words) “less time than it takes to have a wank” are a recipe for lurching, leering and idiocy.
“Have you got a mirror?” Baldy asks every female on the train. No-one has.
“Have I got bloodshot eyes?” he demands. He does, but no-one will tell him, because no-one wants to get involved. Wisely, it seems.
“You’re an ugly, fat cunt,” drools baldy.
“Yeah,” says fatty, “but at least I’ve still got hair”
Thank heaven for small mercies. And my stop.
Jul 20, 2010 Comments Off
“Eeeeeuw! Look at ‘er sandals, doh!”
“Wass wrong wiv ‘er sandals?”
“Dey Jesus sandals, innit?”
“Dey not even sandals, man! Dey flip-flops, innit?”
“Jesus flip-flops den. Cha!”
Feb 27, 2010 3
Part of my tenth blogiversary series.
Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive, and only really includes people who I’ve met or connected with through blogging rather than work or webbiness in general, though of course there are plenty of the latter who also blog. If you’re not on this particular list, please don’t be sad. It’s not that you’re not important too! And please note that everyone linked to here is still blogging…in some fashion.
- Paul is (now) my wonderful, talented, funny, endlessly patient husband. But before he was my husband or even my boyfriend, he was blogging at digitaltrickery and made me laugh and intrigued in his blog, over IM and at early blogmeets. He thinks a lot of blogging is nonsense. He’s not wrong. But I can’t dismiss the entire medium which introduced me to him, can I?
- Dan was present at the very first UK Blogmeet in June 2000 in Kings Cross (we must have a reunion later this summer, especially since I now work down the road from the place where it was held) and at the time, a student blogging under the name Daily Doozer. But Dan has gone on to amaze and impress me along with the rest of the world with his creative passion and insight about games and alternative ways of exploring worlds with the company he founded sixtostart.
- Katy was also at the first Blogmeet (back then, Kitschbitch) and in the last decade has gone from schoolgirl to student to insightful and accomplished ad agency doyenne, without breaking a sweat. How does she do it? Energizer batteries?
- Tom, another first Blogmeet attendee, but back then blogging at Barbelith. He probably needs no introduction to the majority of web-aware people. But in the decade I’ve known him, I’m glad to know there’s more to him than the web wunderkind legend many see. He’s playful, kind, creative and clever. Unfortunately, he lives thousands of bloody miles away now, the rotter.
- Giles is a dark horse. He came to the first blogmeet too, then (as now) blogging under his own name, and as a long-time freelance
writercreator he’s spent the last ten years being quietly, consistently brilliant both on his own site and hundreds of others, plus print and beyond. He’s funny and succinct and hugely astute. Giles is now, as much as then, an inspiration.
- Pete is a polymath. I came across him blogging at first at Bugpowder, then mainly about zines, but his unfolding adventures through his mental state, unemployment, a fascinating glimpse into a stint as a contract worker brought him to Birmingham and his current life which includes living (not just talking about) social media, co-working, creative experiments with the city and amazing photography using the most convoluted contraption you’re likely to see. Pete seems to have a knack for anything he turns his hand to. He’s a creative whirlwind.
- Darren‘s been doing this since before you were even online, probably. If there’s a good/interesting/funny/geeky site on the internet, he’s linked to it. Hugely (and rightfully) respected by old school bloggers, Darren’s been plodding away steadily at his site for about the same amount of time I have. His quiet dedication is obvious. Less obvious to the casual blog browser (but I’m glad to know it now as a friend) is his gentle good humour and kindness.
- Bobbie is one of the most talented writers I know. He’s bloody funny, brilliantly talented and vastly knowledgable in all sorts of expected (robots, technology) and unexpected (ukelele renditions of Radiohead) areas. Although he (until next month) works at The Guardian, I don’t know him through that context, though of course was aware of his name. No, our blog connection is a bit of a cheat, really. Not long after I started blogging, I helped my lovely sister hop on the bandwagon, and she became brilliant at it and through her general fabulousness eventually met BoJo, and now he’s my brother-out-law. So I like to think if I hadn’t had a blog in the first place, I might not have been lucky enough to know him as a friend and near-relation, not just a colleague.
- Mike is probably the most prolific blogger I know, with an almost neverending capacity for themeblogging, fresh thinking, collaborative projects, and funny, poignant, well-written think pieces. I’d long been impressed and tickled by Mike’s online persona, and was chuffed to discover years ago that it’s no facade. That’s who he is. Erudite, witty, charming, well-turned out both verbally and sartorially. It’s been amazing to see Mike’s hobby (going to gigs and knowing loads about music) turn into a burgeoning side-career, as well as watching him grow in curiosity and confidence about hyperlocal blogging for the village he (sometimes) lives in.
- Caroline is a true inspiration. She was, in fact, the reason that the first uk blogs mailing list formed in order to start discussing how to meet up when Prol came over in summer 2000. She didn’t make it that time, but we met up anyway (see above) and toasted her in absence. Caroline (who I’m afraid I still think of as Prol) is an inveterate, thoughtful, gifted web creator. Her personal blog is just the tip of a vast web iceberg which includes immensely successful community-driven fansites (though the word doesn’t do them justice) for U2 and Joss Whedon and accomplished artist site for her friend Gavin Friday. But she’s also managed to create incredible concert photography and thoughtful collaborative projects like the one which first introduced me to her – croon.org (now sadly gone, but not forgotten).
I’m lucky to have these people in my life, even if we’re not in each others’ everyday lives. And I’ve got blogging to thank for it.
Who have you met through blogging?
Feb 27, 2010 12
I missed the actual tenth birthday of this blog/me blogging but I can’t let a milestone like that go unmarked, can I?
Originally started as a place to store and share links, this blog gradually became a place to playfully interact with the world, and over time that turned from introspection to exploration of the world, media, experiences and ideas. I don’t think I’m alone in that kind of journey with blogs.
I am immensely (unreasonably, perhaps even pathetically) proud of having been blogging for so long. I can say confidently that I was in at the beginning, when all this were fields. I was here before many of you young whippersnappers who have gone on to eclipse me, and blogging, and the web entirely in their success and influence. I don’t put my early involvement down to canny prescience about the way the web was turning so much as an inevitability given my proclivity for tinkering with web things, my early academic and personal interest in communicating online and my inability to shut up. Blogging and me; it was only a matter of time and technology before we found each other.
I was there. I remember the start, and the hype, popularisation, commercialisation and ubiquitisation which followed. I couldn’t possibly have known it at the time, but my blogging was to introduce me to dozens of interesting people, influence others to start doing it too, cause interesting opportunities (and worrying situations) to develop. Blogging has become part of what I am, what I do. I blog now for the same reasons I did in early 2000: because I can’t not tinker with and publish to the web.
Ten years ago, I was embarrassed to mention having a blog in polite company, because it was so difficult to understand – not just what but why. These days, even both my parents have blogs. It’s not a weird niche oddball geek thing anymore. It’s so normal it’s almost passé. Good.
Feb 21, 2010 2
On Friday I attended The Story, a London conference about stories and storytelling.
The stated proposition for the event laid it out as
a celebration of everything that is wonderful, inspiring and awesome about stories, in whatever medium possible. We’re hoping to have stories that are written, spoken, played, described, enacted, whispered, projected, orchestrated, performed, printed – whatever form stories come in, we hope to have them here.
The Story is not about theories of stories, or making money from stories, but about the sheer visceral pleasure of telling a story. Whether it is in a game, a movie, a book, or a pub, we’ve all heard or told or been part of stories that have made us gasp, cry or just laugh.
There have never been so many stories, never so many ways to tell them. The Story will be a celebration of just a small sample of them.
It was an interesting day which has already been well documented elsewhere, but after the event I found myself reflecting on the content and which bits I’d enjoyed and craved more of, and which less so.
Throughout the day, I was variously amused, intrigued, distracted, confused, impressed and challenged at points, but didn’t leave feeling overly inspired to create myself – or at least, no more than usual. It felt like a brilliant event showcasing brilliant creators, but with less emphasis on the audience – a room packed full of potential creators – and how they could also play, create, bring stories into existence, either from their imaginations or from life.
Without dwelling on particular contributors and their participation, I tried to think about the wider classifications of activity experienced throughout the day and how I found them, and how they fit together. As I see it, there are four potential story-related events which could have appeared under this banner:
The first is a forum for established, published authors to read their works aloud in public. This is most like “an audience with” and suffers from three potential problems. Namely: that things that work when written down don’t necessarily work so well read aloud; that authors reading their work aloud rarely add anything to the interpretation except their identity (in this situation, their fame tends to compensates for the diminished quality of a live performance of a written text); that the audience can usually read for themselves and don’t need to attend to do so. In this context, the story is subservient to the identity and presence of the author. You are in the presence of a creator. The audience is required to participate only through attention and appropriately-timed ripples of laughter. This kind of event is opaque.
The second is a platform for the telling of original stories. The identity of the storyteller isn’t as important as their ability to tell a good story, and this is only heightened by context-specific or unique stories: tales woven specifically or only for a particular time and audience. There’s a long-established tradition of doing this – think about Fray Cafes for example – and like open mic nights, they require the audience’s support and potential participation. The story is more important than the teller, and the audience tends to want something which doesn’t feel like a well-honed routine, because that makes it seem more like a rote performance and less like an act of engaged sharing. This kind of event is levelling.
The third is an event about the craft of telling stories – via multiple media – from storytellers themselves. In this sort of event, writers and creators share their thought processes, techniques and patterns of working out ideas, and secrets of their industry or approach, while exploring how and why they do what they do. This provides additional layers of context and insight into the stories themselves, as well as positioning the author or storyteller as a skilled and thoughtful creator. The audience is let in on secrets, and gains a great and inspiring understanding of how these artists tell their stories. This kind of event is inspiring.
The fourth is a more theoretical platform for discussion of stories (plural rather than specific), in which the speakers may not be practitioners of storytelling itself but come from related disciplines and fields such as academia, publishing, commissioning, adaptation and editing. They speak about the patterns and particular aspects of storytelling as it relates to wider contexts than the urge to share a particular story, and may reflect on topics such as the art of the cliffhanger, how narrative curves engage the reader, the seven basic movie plots and why the future of stories is games. The audience is challenged to make a mental leap to the semi-abstract, and in the process gains insight into the general activity. They take lots of notes. This kind of event is stimulating.
The Story was none of these events, specifically. It was a combination of several of them – some of the first, a few sessions of the third and one or two of the second with (purposefully) very little of the fourth.
Personally, I’m fascinated by the third and fourth, and would really enjoy a day of them combined with a more relaxed evening participatory cabaret of the second type described above. The first leaves me a little cold, I’m afraid – possibly because while I like hearing from authors, I mainly want to hear them talk about their work and their ideas and their approach and their stories, and less straight reading from the printed page.
I know Matt Locke, the creator of The Story, has already stated his intention to put another event on next year. I look forward to seeing how The Story develops – or, to put it in more appropriate terms, what the next chapter contains.
Feb 14, 2010 1
Happy Chinese new year – Kung Hei Fat Choi.
Here are some of my photos of previous CNY celebrations in London. I’ll be heading along this weekend again, with various cameras.
Jan 7, 2010 2
I am not a sport-loving person, but I make one rather large exception every few years for the Olympics and – more specifically – the winter Olympics.
It started in the early eighties.
In 1984, I watched Torvill & Dean’s winning Sarajevo ice dance performance, and was enchanted.
Inspired by their performance, my older brother and I decided to recreate the performance on the slippy tiled floor of our hallway. We swooshed about in socks, and he grabbed my hands and told me to dive through his legs. At no point did he specify that I should attempt this manoevre feet-first, and the resulting broken nose was a humiliating reminder of the universal folly of letting oneself be cajoled into doing stupid things by elder siblings.
Around the same time – and not coincidentally – I started going ice-skating every Saturday at Queensway ice rink in Bayswater, with my friend Jane. If we got there early enough, we could be first to carve up the smooth surface after the Rolba Zamboni had trundled across the ice. For ten minutes of every hour, they would pump out disco music through the rink speakers which we could dance to in a shambolic sort of way. I couldn’t afford lessons, and so taught myself to do wobbly backwards skating and slow, clumsy spins.
But no matter – I had a pinky-purple leotard-like lycra dress with silver glittery raindrops on it and a skirt which flared out when I twizzled around, even if I couldn’t afford the proper thick skaters’ tights, and had to do with Pretty Polly instead. The cafe there served hot chips with vinegar, and I think I even had a birthday party there on year. Maybe my tenth or eleventh?
This was also around the same time that we got a home computer – a Dragon 32, which was terrible for just about everything – but a couple of years later, we finally got a family computer that could do good stuff.
And by good stuff, I mean games.
And by games, I mean more than just text-based adventures (as good as the H2G2 text game was).
Specifically, I mean Winter Games (Epyx, I think), which was the height of computer gaming brilliance at the time, rendered in woeful graphics and required the player to left-right-left-right-left-right to cross country ski or speed skate; leftleftleftleftrightrightrightrightright on the bobsled and luge; time your smacking of the space bar perfectly to hit the targets as your cross-hairs wobbled in the biathlon; mash various combinations of keys to produce camel toe loops and triple salco stunts (whatever they were) in the figure skating, all performed to a jangly 8-bit rendition of “Waltz of the Flowers” from “The Nutcracker Suite”.
[in German, but you get a great sense of the gameplay]
The game(s) also included a ski-jump simulation. You set off from the top of an impossibly steep slope by hitting the space bar, then hit it again at the bottom to “take off”, then once more to land in an upright position. Not exactly tricky, but sort of puzzling. Why would someone even want do do such a thing? Most perplexing.
In the years that followed, I got into the habit of watching Ski Sunday, which my family were completely bemused by – we were not a ski-holiday type of clan – but tolerated nevertheless.
I just liked watching people do technically complicated things in a seemingly effortless way. I liked the fact it was a solo pursuit, not a team thing. It focused the attention – and the performance pressure. There were brilliant interpersonal battles over hundredths of seconds, and occasional spectacular spills and tumbles. Plus it all happened in stunning apline snowy scenery, with spectators bundled in multiple layers of fleece, sounding cowbells. What’s not to like?
In 1988, I watched the winter Olympics from Calgary, mainly for the figure skating and downhill skiing, if I’m honest, but it was the ski-jumping that got me hooked. I hadn’t realised that the slope was so big and the men and women competing her basically flying. How cool! Can anyone have a go? Where do I sign up? Answer: not in west London.
That was the year that Finn Matti Nykänen won gold medals in both ski-jumping events.
I cut out pictures of a man in flight and stuck them on my bedroom wall. What an idol.
I hadn’t kept up with his colourful career since then, but it transpires that he’s become quite the tragic once-successful now-struggling sporting characte – the George Best of ski-jumping, only more so.
This excellent article by Barney Ronay contains a glimpse of the man behind the headlines, and is definitely worth a read, if only because any article with a standfirst like Matti Nykänen was Finland’s greatest sportsman, winner of four Olympic golds. Since then he has stabbed someone in a finger-pulling contest, worked for a sex phoneline – and found God – surely deserves further attention.
It also provides insight into how Nykänen remains a national hero of sorts, in his native Finland.
Nobody in Finland is excusing Nykänen’s worst transgressions; but it is perhaps to their credit that Finns appear willing to forgive this strangely home-made, ne’er-do-well kind of national hero. Finland is fascinated by the turbulence of his decline, but also sympathetic to his plight.
There was even a sense of a Nykänen revival in train before his latest explosion. In the autumn of 2007 he came out of retirement, then won the ski-jumping-for-veterans International Masters Championship the following year. And last year he moved, tentatively, into a new career as a celebrity chef.
Perhaps it is this wistful quality that has endeared Nykänen to his people: the man-child ex-superstar athlete with his look of rampaging bewilderment, his middle-aged puppy fat, and his inability to engage sensibly with the world beyond the icy slope and the jump ramp.
Fascinating story. Complete character. Unbelievable sport.
So, in short, the summer Olympics are good and everything, but it’s the winter Olympics which really get me excited. It contains so many more sports and disciplines that I’d like to have a go at myself. Curling! Biathlon! Luge FFS! Who wouldn’t want to have a go at the luge, really?
OK, maybe not. But I’ll certainly be watching it and all the other sports on telly when the Vancouver winter Olympics start in a little over a month’s time.
I. Cannot. Wait.
More snow! More crazy sports! More skintight lycra! More cowbell!