My hometown

Day 12 of Blog Every Day in November, and we’re talking about our hometown.

Tyne Bridge

Me? I’m a Geordie, born & raised in Newcastle. I left there in 1989 to go to university in Leeds, but always intended to go home after my three years there. But, life intervened, I got a summer job after graduation at the university library which turned into a year-long placement which got me a place on a postgrad course at Leeds Met which turned into a job…

You know the story. It seems I’ve lived in Yorkshire now for longer than I’d ever lived in Newcastle, but I’m still a Geordie at heart.

I love the city, from the bustling city centre to the Quayside with its wonderful array of bridges over the Tyne.

Millennium Bridge

Bridges over the Tyne

The Tyne Bridge was built by the same company who constructed the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but the Tyne Bridge opened a couple of years earlier in 1928, four years before its Australian counterpart. It’s a beautiful bridge, in my humble opinion.

I’ve run across it several times as part of the Great North Run, Newcastle’s famous half-marathon. The view is rather splendid, especially when surrounded by 40,000 other runners!

What else can I say about my hometown? I love its proximity to the coast, and the fact that you can get from town to the seaside in half an hour for fish & chips (and an ice-cream, of course!)

My family are mostly based up there too – there are a few of us who’ve moved away, but the vast proportion of them have stayed up in the North East. There’s a real cultural identity up there, and we’re all fiercely proud of being Geordies. Howay the lads!

We go up there on a regular basis to see my mam and the family, and one of my favourite sights is when you’re driving at night and pass the Angel of the North on the A1. The road curls away to the right and suddenly you’re presented with the millions of streetlights in the valley from Gateshead up to Newcastle. I know it’s all light pollution, but it really is rather brilliant.

Where are you from? Do you still live in your hometown or have you moved away?

Sign o’ the times

speed camera sign

Often, whilst out driving, the kids will ask questions. Oh, so many questions. Recently, they asked what that sign meant.

“Oh, that’s the sign for a speed camera”

It struck me that it’s a really odd sign. It depicts a old large-format film camera with bellows attached – a bit like a Brownie and to a person of a certain age, it’s immediately apparent that it’s a camera. To the kids? No idea. They’ll learn it as part of their driving test, of course, but it’s still weirdly anachronistic.

What makes it even stranger is Britain’s first speed camera was switched on in 1992.

Not that long ago surely that the sign needed to depict a vintage camera?

Have you noticed any other weird signs? Do you know why the speed camera sign features such an old camera?

Some others…

The sign for a level crossing without a gate or barrier features a steam train. Now, much as I adore steam trains (quite a lot, really), when was the last time you saw one?
level crossing

Slippery road. This one has always troubled me. The tyre marks crossing over just aren’t possible!
slippery road sign

And finally (as they say on the news), I discovered this. No explosives. Good advice generally, I’d have thought. Do we really need a sign for it?
no explosives


Day nine of Blog Every Day in November, and today we’re talking blogging.

Lego Tourist Guy

I’ve pinched Janet’s questions from her blogpost on the same topic – I’ve talked about blogging before on here a few times, but I quite liked these questions. She assures me that she doesn’t mind me using them. You should go over and read her post too.

How and when did you decide to start blogging?
It was back in March of 2003 – I’d always fancied starting some sort of blog and my friend Jon invited me to set up a Livejournal blog. Ten years and over ten thousand blog posts later, here I am. Livejournal used to be a real community place where the conversations in the comments were often more entertaining than the posts themselves. LJ is still going, but a lot of my friends on there have migrated over to Facebook, Twitter or Google+, or a combination of the three. Some have even ended up on wordpress or blogger. Some have, sadly, vanished off the face of the internet.

What’s the story behind your blog’s name?
I used to have a blog (actually, I used to have lots of blogs) called That took a lot of explaining. Then one day I woke up from a dream in which I was drinking in a coffee shop called Espresso Coco, decided that it was far to lovely a name not to have, and promptly acquired the domain I sat on it for a while, wondering quite what to do with it. Then I decided it was the perfect name for a blog, set it up on and here we are. I may link it up to at some point if I can find the funds to do so.

What’s the best post you’ve ever written?
In terms of pageviews, it’d be stationery geek, but it’s really hard to choose a personal favourite. I had huge fun writing the Bond Skyfall one and the one about the perfect movie length, and the top ten Discworld books post generated a load of discussion over on Twitter.

I’ve also got one in draft about the Sam Neil Haircut Theory, but you’ll have to wait for that one. #tease

What are your favourite and least favourite things about blogging?
Favourite things are easy – I love the process of writing and coming up with stuff. I found this with photography, noticing the little things which others might have missed. It’s great fun writing a post and setting it loose, generating conversations with new people and learning new stuff.
Least favourite? Spending ages crafting a lovely blog post and watching as it gets no comments, no mentions, nothing on Twitter. Wondering if it was as interesting written down as it was to me in my head…

Right. Question time. Tell me about your favourite blogs and bloggers. Bonus points for links!

Studio Ghibli

There’s a new movie coming out from Studio Ghibli, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (Kaguya-hime no Monogatari). It looks like a bit of a departure from their usual style, but being a Ghibli film, it still looks utterly gorgeous. It’s based on a 10th century Japanese folktale, and tells the story of Kaguya, a princess who was discovered as a baby inside the stalk of a glowing bamboo plant.

We’re all huge Ghibli fans in our house. Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and our favourite, My Neighbour Totoro.

I’m even wearing my glow-in-the-dark Totorobot t-shirt today, though depressingly few of my colleagues recognise it. I see it as an opportunity to spread the word of Totoro. 🙂

We even built a Snowtoro last winter, which is possibly the best snowman I’ve ever made.

So, dear reader. Are you a Studio Ghibli fan? What’s your favourite film? Do you want to see The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter?

Top ten Discworld books

Today’s Blog Every Day in November prompt is ’10 things’

Hmm. Now, I love a good top ten list as much as the next person and, of course, I’ve written a few in the past – my top ten books, ten simple ways to improve your photos , ten reasons why Skyfall is the best Bond movie and so on. That Skyfall post *still* gets hits 8 months on!

So, what should today’s top ten be?

Aha! Today sees the publication of Terry Pratchett’s 40th Discworld novel, Raising Steam. I’m a huge fan of Mr Pratchett’s work and have rather a lot of his books, mostly in first edition hardback[1]. Some of them aren’t even signed[2]!

So, here then I present my top ten favourite Discworld books. Not necessarily in order.

1. Pyramids
This is my all-time favourite Discworld story. It’s pretty much self-contained. It concerns the story of Pteppic[3], prince of the tiny kingdom of Djelibeybi (it took me ages to get that). Pteppic has just passed his exams at the Assassins Guild in Ankh-Morpork when he discovers that his father has died and he must return home. Pyramids happen, and we meet the greatest mathematician on the Disc, who just happens to be a camel.
It also features some wonderful quotes, my favourite of which comes from Pteppic’s friend, Arthur (a fellow student at the Assassin’s Guild), when faced with some erstwhile muggers.

The leading thief tore his fascinated gaze away from it just as he heard Arthur say, quite pleasantly, ‘This is a number two throwing knife. I got ninety-six per cent for throwing knives. Which eyeball don’t you need?’

2. Guards! Guards!

A good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read.

It wouldn’t be a top ten Discworld list without featuring the City Watch. G!G! is the first of the many City Watch books and one of my favourites. The story follows a plot by a secret brotherhood, the Unique and Supreme Lodge of the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night, to overthrow the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork and install a king. They summon a dragon to strike fear into the people of Ankh-Morpork.

In it we meet the Night Watch – Captain Vimes, Sergeant Colon, Corporal Nobbs, and new volunteer Carrot, a six foot tall dwarf, who to stop them, with some help from the Librarian of the Unseen University (who just happens to be an orangutan) trying to get the stolen book back. We’re introduced to the idea of L-space – that books in large quantities warp the space and time around them. All libraries are linked together through L-space. Makes perfect sense, if you think about it.

3. Mort

Although the scythe isn’t pre-eminent among the weapons of war, anyone who has been on the wrong end of, say, a peasants’ revolt will know that in skilled hands it is fearsome.

Death (a recurrning character in the Discworld books) takes an apprentice. He’s called Mort. Hijinks ensue. Brilliant stuff.

4. Lords and Ladies

In the Beginning there was nothing, which exploded.

Ah, the witches. Much as with the Watch, no list would be complete without at least one book featuring Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick. It follows directly on from Witches Abroad. so I suppose you probably should read that one first. Some young witches have been summoning elves, who we discover aren’t *quite* as nice as everyone seems to think.

5. Men at Arms

The river Ankh is probably the only river in the universe on which the investigators can chalk the outline of the corpse.

The second book concerning the City Watch. Essentially a whodunnit, in which the Watch must investigate a string of gruesome murders as well as work out who stole the the Disc’s first and only firearm…

6. Thief of Time

“Sometimes I really think people ought to have to pass a proper exam before they’re allowed to be parents. Not just the practical, I mean.”

The Auditors of Reality commission a perfect clock which will imprison Time (the character) and therefore freeze time on the Discworld. Death sends his granddaughter Susan Sto-Helit to stop them, with the help of the Death of Rats and Quoth, the raven. I love Quoth.

We also meet the History Monks (aka The Order of Wen the Eternally Surprised), a highly secretive religious organisation who maintain Discworld history up in the Ramtops mountains. Death rounds up the other Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Hijinks, as per usual, ensue.

7. Night Watch

He hated being thought of as one of those people that wore stupid ornamental armour. It was gilt by association.

The City Watch meet the History Monks. Sam Vimes is sent back in time and has to become his hero and former mentor to fix a temporal anomaly…

8. Reaper Man

Five exclamation marks, the sure sign of an insane mind.

The Auditors decide that Death isn’t doing his job properly and send him off to live as a normal person. As there is no longer a death, the life force of dead humans starts to build up. Snow globes happen, along with the usual hijinks.

9. A Hat Full of Sky
This is possibly a controversial entry in the list. Not everyone likes Tiffany Aching, a young girl who is learning to be a witch. I’m rather fond of her as a character though. It’s aimed at a slightly younger audience, but is still great fun. We get to meet the Witches again, and the Nac Mac Feegles, who we first saw in The Wee Free Men. Great fun.

10. I Shall Wear Midnight
And another Tiffany Aching book. Told you I liked them. This is the fourth one featuring our young witch.

There are some which I’ve not enjoyed quite so much. Monstrous Regiment was fairly average, and I’ve heard quite enough of Moist von bloody Lipwig, thankyouverymuch. Slightly disappointed to see that the latest book is also a von Lipwig one, but it’s got steam trains in. And, as we all know, steam trains are awesome.

Interestingly[4], I was asked recently which Discworld book you should start with. Not the same list as above. Maybe I’ll save that for another day…

So, there we have it. My top 10 Discworld books. I’m sure I’ve missed some favourites in there, and reserve the right to change my mind at a moment’s notice. Will Raising Steam make the list?

Are you a Pratchett fan? What are your favourites?

[1] I wish I could remember who I loaned my first print, first edition copy of Lords & Ladies to. If it’s you, can I have it back? Ta.
[2] if you’re a Pratchett fan, you’ll understand that this is very very unusual.
[3] which is why you’ll sometimes see Terry referred to as Pterry. Us Pratchett fans love an in-joke almost as much as we love a good footnote.
[4] to me, anyway. YMMV.

National Stress Awareness Day: BEDN #6

Day 6 of Blog Every Day In November and today we’re talking about stress as today is National Stress Awareness Day.

What do you when you get stressed? I like to juggle.

Tossaball juggling balls

I’ve talked about juggling before on the blog, so I won’t repeat myself too much. I’ve been juggling since I was at university *cough* years ago and I find it enormously relaxing. That said, I can actually juggle – I can see how if you’re a non-juggler that it might just add to the stress!

There’s something hypnotic about juggling. It forces you to be in the moment. All other worries fade to one side as you get into the rhythm of throw, catch, throw, catch. It’s all very zen (and there’s an excellent book called The Zen of Juggling by Dave Finnigan).

I’ve taught quite a few people to juggle over the years too – and you’d be surprised at how many of them started with “oh, I couldn’t possibly/I’m too clumsy/I’ve got no co-ordination”

Can you juggle? Do you find it relaxing?

What other stress-relieving tips do you have?

Fireworks: BEDN #5

Remember, remember the fifth of November…

Day 5 of Blogging Every Day in November, and we’re on the subject of bonfire night. And, of course, you can’t have a good bonfire without having some fireworks. Time to dust off the camera and get some funky long-exposure firework photos!


sparkler swirl

twin explosions

Food, glorious food: BEDN #4

Day four of Blogging Every Day in November and today’s subject is food.

Ah, food. One of my favourite things. Have you ever noticed how restaurants tend to… overcomplicate things?

As my friend Jon pointed out on the menu for his work’s christmas do:

“Shoal of Atlantic Prawns Served on Mixed Salad Leaves with our Special Cognac Marie Rose Sauce”

that’ll be prawn cocktail then. Do atlantic prawns come in shoals? What *is* the collective noun for prawns? If memory serves, shrimps come in troups…

Anyhoo. Getting back to the subject at hand.

We were out last night at Salvo’s with some friends where we had a jolly nice meal. We shared a basket of Pane e Olio (assorted bread in a basket with some olive oil and roasted garlic butter), then I went for a chef’s special pizza carne, which came with ham, chorizo, salami and duck.

Duck, on a pizza? Odd, but very nice. There was a *lot* of meat on there though. The duck may have been a carne too much, in retrospect!

My dinner companions were somewhat surprised to discover that in all the many years[1] I’ve lived in Leeds, I’ve never been to Salvo’s. It’s a bit of a Headingley institution. Even K, who’s from waaay darn sarf has been there and, many years ago, used to work there!

So, I’ve finally eaten at Salvo’s. I wonder what other Leeds institutions I’ve been missing for all this time?

Where’s your favourite restaurant? Do you have one? Tell me all about it. What makes it so good?

[1] Twenty four. Crikey. I’ve lived in Leeds/Yorkshire for longer than I ever lived in my home town of Newcastle. I’ll never be a Yorkshireman though, but will always be a Geordie!