Wondering about Wands

Have you ever wondered about the wands in Harry Potter? I have…


The wand chooses the wizard, remember…
~ Garrick Ollivander, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

We were in Alnwick Castle recently. They filmed parts of the first Harry Potter movie there, and the gift shop had quite a range of collectable replica wands. Harry, Ron and Hermione’s were all there, as were the wands belonging to Snape, Luna, Tonks and assorted other characters. The kids and I spent a while poring over them discussing which ones we liked best.

It was the wands belonging to the dark wizards which struck me as most interesting.

If, as the book suggests, the wand chooses the wizard, would it not be really easy to tell a bad ‘un by their wand?

Take, for example, the Death Eater wand (it’s the one next to Voldemort’s in the photo). The grinning skull in the handle has got to be a bit of a giveaway, hasn’t it? Imagine before You Know Who turns up again. You’re a Death Eater[1], minding your own business when someone spots your wand.

“Ere, you’re one of them Death Eater’s, ain’t cha?”
“Me, madam? Certainly not! What a preposterous suggestion!”
“Why’s your wand got a skull on it then?”
“Oh, drat. Avada Kedavra!
“Oh, bum.” [dies]

Or the ‘snatcher’ wand.

“Ere mate. That’s not a wand. It’s a stick.”
“It’s a wand! Look!” [flourishes]
“Oh, bum. You’re right. It’s a stick. Now, where did I put me wand?”

[1] What a stupid name that is. Honestly, if anyone can give me a *good* explanation of why they’re called Death Eaters, I’ll give you ONE MILLION HOUSE POINTS.

Going bananas

Recently I discovered a colleague at work liked to snap his bananas.

“Like a monkey,” he said. “You’ve got half a banana to eat now, and half a banana to eat later. Kind of a bonus banana.”


Now, this was new to us. It’s kind of genius – you do have half a banana later, and it’s still in its skin (mostly) so it stays ok for a while.

Another colleague had a go.

It’s not as easy at it seems! However, when I showed this to kids (after they’d stopped falling about laughing), they immediately asked if they could try.

Sure, I said. But if you snap it, you’ve got to eat it.

The quantity of bananas consumed in our house went up quite dramatically (at least for a short while). It even put a dent in the quantity of black banana cake that I was able to make.

After all, to make black banana cake, you need (unsurprisingly) black bananas.

As I was writing this post, I idly typed ‘snap banana like a monkey’ into YouTube, and came across this.

Whoa. One-handed banana opening. Genius!

So, dear reader. How do you eat your bananas? Do you snap them like a monkey? Peel them from the bottom (also a favoured technique of our monkey chums), or something else?

I leave you with this – a gif of a banana which has been put through an MRI. Oddly beautiful.

What has it got in its pockets, precious?


Discovered in my coat pocket this morning. This is the the same coat I wear for work most days. I have no idea how they got there.

I recognise the badge – I did Russian at school and there was a class trip to Moscow & St Petersburg but at the time it was too expensive for us so I didn’t go. Friends did and one of them brought this back. The text reads ‘Moscow – City of Heroes’ and I’ve had it for at nearly 30 years. How it ended up in my coat…

As for the dime, I’ve got a pot of foreign notes & coins which occasionally the kids get out and go through. Perhaps this got dropped out of it then picked up later, thinking it was a 5p.

Either that, or the Universe is trying to tell me something. I just wish it works be slightly less cryptic…


The school coat

I was picking my son up from school the other day. It was raining and we were heading off for the weekend, so I drove down to his school to get him. As usual, he wasn’t the first one out, so I sat in the car and watched, bemused as a stream of kids wandered past in the drizzle, not one of them wearing a coat, arms wrapped around themselves against the cold, chatting and laughing, happy that the week was over.

It seems that it’s not cool to be seen wearing a coat, even on a cold, wet day in February.

Those few kids who were wearing coats were wearing that very typical, very sensible school coat. The one which comes in black or dark navy and is sensibly padded for warmth, with large, sensible pockets and a large, sensible hood. The kind that your mum buys you for school and you only ever wear at school for as long as you absolutely have to and which, as soon as you’re able, you replace with something cool and un-sensible.

Then you get older, and you go through a variety of other coats. Maybe you’ll favour a denim jacket (if you’re of a certain age, *cough*), or a leather biker jacket. Or a nice wool coat which looks smart with a suit, dressing to impress. Maybe you prefer the gore-tex jacket for out on the hills or walking the dog in our lovely British weather.

But then, as the years go on you’ll get to a certain age, where elasticated waistband beige slacks seem like a sensible fashion choice, and some nice beige shoes to go with them. And a nice, sensibly padded coat, with large, sensible pockets and a sensible hood…


I was late for my train home the other night so found myself at the station in that weird dead spot you get around half-past five where the 5 o’clock finishers have all gone and the people who finish work at half past haven’t made it as far as the station yet. It’s odd – the station goes from bustling and heaving with hordes of people to being really quiet, if only briefly.

I’ve caught this later train a couple of times in the past. It’s the Sheffield train, leaving Leeds at 17.48, but oddly arrives half an hour early and sits on the platform, with the lights off.

There are usually a couple of people waiting to get on the train. As it’s so early, and there’s no sign of the guard, people tend to loiter near-ish to the doors, but not right up next to them, as they do on the early trains.

Look, I did a diagram. Take a moment to admire my fearsome artistic skills. Yes the other red line bit is another door, and the big blue block is another carriage, but by this point in the art I’d kind of started losing the will to live as I’d done something weird with layers. I digress.


ok, you can stop admiring it now. The green blobs are the people who’ve arrived before me. I’m the slightly larger (those art skillz at work again) blue blob. As you can see, I’ve taken up a position nearish to the door, but behind the people who’ve already arrived. This *is* Britain. We queue properly here, even when no actual queue exists. No-one wants to go and stand next to the train door, as that looks a bit keen and needy. We’re being kind, and leaving sufficent room for people to get past along the platform.

After a while, a few more people turn up. We move into the phase of waiting where surreptitious eye-contact is made, with everyone marking their space and the order of the virtual non-queue. All is well at this point. We check our phones or read a book.


Then this happens:


That purple star? That’s someone who has turned up after everyone else in the not-a-queue queue and has taken up a position not only in front of the door but in front of everyone else who was there first.

Now, I know we weren’t properly queueing, and there was a gap and everything, but what are they thinking? This is a blatant breach of queue ettiquette!

The green dots and myself exchange eye contact with each other, silently fuming at this ne’er-do-well interloper in his skinny jeans, plaid shirt and post-ironic hipster hornrims.

Look. He’s started a trend, the miscreant.  


See? More people have noted this blatant act of queue disregardation and join in, standing next to the doors. Those of us who were here first exchange glances, and start shuffling, taking a step forward, subtly jockeying for position. After all, we were here first. We need to get on this train! We want a seat, dammit!

No matter that there are currently about a dozen people waiting for two carriages worth of empty train, it’s the principle of the thing!

We watch out of the corner of our eyes as the driver ambles down the platform, bag slung over one shoulder. He breezes past us and gets into the driver’s compartment. The train whirrs and chugs into life. Lights go on inside the carriages and this happens.


Everyone has given up on the whole queue thing, and bodies press together, eyes all fixed on the little circular door open button which resolutely remains un-lit. No-one dares look at each other. Phones are returned to pockets and bags as we all wait for…

The button lights. A hand jabs out at it, the pressee wanting to avoid the shame of taking more than half a second between the button lighting up and being pressed. We’re all judging how quickly this is done, and this time he’s passed the test. The doors open and we surge as one onto the train.

The weird thing is, once we’re all on there are plenty of seats to go around. I end up with that nirvana of train travel, a table seat. Not only that, but a table seat with no-one else sat at the table.

Bliss. What’s all the fuss about?


The post-christmas beard

Beards are strange and wonderful things. Before Christmas I went a week or so without shaving, which turned into a pre-Christmas not-quite-a-beard, which, with a suitable disdain for shaving over the festive period, turned into a post-christmas actually-nearly-a-beard.

Fastforward a couple of weeks, and we’re fully into the actually it really *is* a beard now phase, with all the attendant difficulties that go with it. Food, for example. How the permanently-bearded manage with such things as soup baffle me. I had some last week and had to go and wash half of it out of my face.

It’s also strange when you meet people who have only ever known you as clean-shaven, or at the very least, marginally bestubbled. Reactions range from ‘oh, so you’re growing a beard eh?’, to ‘hey, that quite suits you’, to my personal favourite, them quite obviously and determinedly ignoring the fact that my face is now resolutely more hirsute than it was last time they saw me.

Now, some of those people are probably just being polite, but I just *know* that some of them were thinking ‘dear god, what have you done to your face?’, whilst being far too polite to actually say so.

It then becomes a game of manners, where I’ll deliberately not ask what they think, and they’ll very deliberately not tell me what they think. We’ll be chatting, and I’ll reach up and twirl a bit of moustache, a playful glint in my eye, whilst they even more deliberately ignore it.

It’s enormous fun.

However, you eventually get to this stage where the choice is to trim it or shave the damn thing off.

did you spill my coffee?

I asked the kids what they thought. Ed announced that he’d disown me if I shaved it off, but Lil said (begrudgingly) that I could, *if* I took some photos.

Never one to shy away from some narcissistic camerawork, I set to with a pair of beard trimmers.

First up, the goatee. Now I had one of these many many moons ago and considered myself quite dashing in it. I had it for about a year, back when I was working for a large law firm. Towards the end, one of the firm’s partners stopped me in the corridor and said ‘hey! You’ve grown a beard!’ I didn’t like to point out that whilst yes, I had grown a beard (don’t get much past these lawyer types), I’d actually had it for twelve months and what’s more, had talked to this chap on a weekly basis. Not long afterwards, I shaved it off. It took him a further six months to notice that!

I’m no longer so sure it’s a good look for me. It also does nothing to solve the food-in-beard problem. I took a photo and pressed ahead.

yes, the eyebrows are that crazy.

I call this one ‘The Capaldi‘, in honour of Mr Capaldi’s splendid facial furniture in the current BBC adaptation of The Musketeers. The level of general hilarity that ensued when I showed the family was something to behold, and left me in little doubt that I should set to with the trimmers once more.

the Capaldi
this makes me giggle every time I see it.

The next stage of the situation was an interesting one. I’ve often considered taking part in Movember, and wondered what form of ‘tache I’d end up with. I think it’s clear. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you:  The Selleck:

the Selleck
Higgins! Where are the keys to the Ferrari?

Alas, even that had to come off, and I sit here, bereft of beard and sore of chin. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of reaction I get when I see people again…

So, dear reader. What do you think? Bearded or un-bearded? Could I pull off a Capaldi, day to day? Or even the mighty Selleck?

Friday roundup

Trying something new on the blog – a roundup of some of the funky stuff I’ve found during the week, either mooching about online or via Twitter/Facebook.

For those interested, I’m using a combination of IFTTT to scrape Twitter for tweets I’ve favourited – it them dumps them into an Evernote folder. Also using the Evernote web clipper tool, which is pretty groovy.

So, onto the wonderful things.

First up, Amazon are getting keen with season 8 of Doctor Who up for pre-order. The early reviews are worth a look. Well played, amazon reviewers!

Then we have some wildly detailed drawings that combine math and butterflies courtesy of Wired. The drawings are wonderfully complex and done completely by hand. I am in generally awe of anyone who can draw, but these pictures are simply stunning.

NYC artist Jon Burgerman uses movie subway posters to highlight violence & gore. Interesting idea. (HT to @Jamie_McHale for the tweet)

On the subject of movies, here are 100 famous movie quotes as charts.

And finally a timelapse video of a cruise ship being cut in half and extended. (via fstoppers.com

Tweets of the week:

I know I won’t be sleeping tonight. Thanks Liz!

Obligatory New Year resolutions post

Well, here we are in 2014. Traditionally the time of year when we start making resolutions for all the things we’re going to do (or not do, or stop doing) over the course of the next twelve months.


I’ve given this some thought. Photo a day? Blog post a day? Read all my unread books?

Handily I managed to get through January 1st without doing anything much other than relax, so all thoughts of ‘do X every day in 2014’ have neatly gone out of the window. It does rather take the pressure off.

That said, I would like to do more things in 2014. I hesitate to call them resolutions as such, but for my own reference, here they are.

Blog more
Or at the very least, blog more regularly.
The handy WordPress review of the year showed that I posted 201 blog posts in 2013. That seems like a nice number – I put up a post for just over half of the year. However, lots of this was clustered – February and November had a post every day as part of various challenges, whereas other months were very quiet. December, I’m looking at you. So, I’d like to get into more of a routine, post more regularly and make more use of scheduled posts for when I’m not feeling inspired. I’m sure there will be various ‘blog every day in [month]’ challenges along the way as well!

Make more photographs
I took a lot of photos last year with the (admittedly quite good) camera on my phone. But I want to get out and explore the city more as part of an upcoming collaborative project I’ve got in the works. As part of that I’ll be digging out my DSLR and getting back into the habit of making more photos.

Read more
I used GoodReads last year to keep track of the books I’ve read. I’d planned to make inroads into my Great Unread Book Pile, which didn’t really happen. I got through 27 books last year, though quite a few of them were new ones. This year I’d like to spend more time reading rather than faffing around on the internet. Can I clear some more books off the list?

Practice on my guitar
I bought a guitar towards the end of 2012, with the intention of teaching myself how to play it – I’ve never played an instrument before but figured now was as good a time as any to get started. I’ve taken it out of the case at least four times in the course of 2013, had a go and put it away again. A friend has persuaded me that ten minutes’ practice each day will pay dividends, and has given me some exercises to get started. We’ll see where that ends up.

Ride my bike more
I didn’t get out on my bike as much as I’d have liked last year, mainly due to laziness on my behalf. Couple that with a nasty spill towards the end of the year which left me with bloodied palms, bashed elbows, grazed knees and a lovely scratch on the face of my new watch. Always wear a helmet when out riding, kids. And gloves…
I’d find that I had an hour spare, but think it wasn’t worth going out for such a short time – I love the weekend long 20-30 mile rides! So I’d make excuses and leave the bike in the garage. Now wish I’d taken the chances where I’d got them. After all, an hour spent on the bike is better than an hour spent not on a bike.

That’s it, I think. Have you made any resolutions for 2014? What are yours?

take note

The problem with flashes of inspiration is that, like lightning, they’re exciting, but too often and quickly forgotten.
~ bobbi

We’ve all been there, I’m sure.

You have a brilliant idea, remember something to add to the shopping list or think you should really book your car in for a service. You’ve just worked out how to get your hero from point A to point B whilst avoiding the giant snapping jaws of doom. A new idea for a blogpost presents itself. Sparks of inspiration.

You’ll remember it later, of course, because right now you’re at work or out shopping or just about to fall asleep.

People will say ‘oh, keep a pen and paper by your bed’ or (usually with a slightly smug air) ‘I always carry a notebook with me.’

As if that’s helpful. If I keep a pen and paper by my bed I’ll come to it days later to find that my daughter has discovered it and now it’s full of elaborate drawings of pandas or lists of people I’ve never heard of with slightly ominous ticks against their names. Usually in a rainbow of colours, and smattered with stickers.

Same with carrying a notebook. I’ll carry one with me for a while but inevitably I’ll need to put it down for some reason, immediately forget to pick it up again and well, that’s the end of that. I’ve got half a dozen perfectly lovely notebooks (mmm, Moleskine) and a selection of pens and pencils, but they get put down, they get forgotten, they get claimed by my darling daughter and filled with her joyous scribbles.

Just use your phone, I hear you cry.

Well, yes. I do, sometimes.

I’ve tried all sorts of note-taking apps – Evernote, Springpad, Google Keep, the list is ever-growing and never-ending. But I find writing on my phone slightly awkward – even with a great keyboard such as Swiftkey you’ve still got to actually fire up the phone, find the app, open it, transcribe your epiphany and save it.

That said, I find Google Keep really is pretty good – you can snap a photo with the phone camera, tag it and set a reminder. Useful stuff. But for capturing story ideas and plot snippets? Not so much.

So, dear reader. I’m throwing it over to you.

How do you keep track of your notes and ideas? Do you use your phone? A notebook and pen? Carve symbols into the walls?

Tell me your secrets. I’ll make notes, just as soon as I can find that pencil…

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