my juggling nemesis

juggling balls
I’m a keen juggler. I’ve been juggling since I went to university, oh *mumble* years ago. Over the years I’ve practiced on and off, and have got to the point where I can do a convincing three-ball juggling routine fairly smoothly.

I’ve heard it said that juggling 3 balls, on a scale of 1 to 10, is about a two, maybe three. Juggling four balls (which I can do, just about) comes in at about a seven.

Juggling five? About a hundred. It’s that much more difficult – with three you’ve got a lot of time (no, really) between throws and catches. You can be a bit erratic (often for comic effect) and still keep the cascade going.

With four, you’re juggling a different pattern – two balls in each hand, and keeping them in synch. You can practice your weaker hand easily and it doesn’t take too long to get the hang of it.

Five is a different beast. Same base pattern (the figure of eight cascade),but the balls are going higher and the speed notches up. You no longer have the luxury of time to correct any wonky throws with five – you’ve got three balls airborne to keep track of now, unlike juggling three where you’ve essentially got a ball in each hand and one in the air, most of the time.

Starting with five is also harder as you’ve got three balls in your good hand and two in the other, and you’re trying to launch one of the three in a perfect arc, leaving the other two. Five ball juggling often involves smaller balls!

This year I’m determined to at least get a basic cascade going with five.

Now, meet my other nemesis. The juggling clubs. I bought these bad boys in a shop in Islington many years ago. If I practice really hard, I can *just* about get a couple of spins in before they clatter to the floor (or, more usually, off my shins. Ouch). I also want to get to the point where I can do a fairly fluent three club cascade after an incident where Ed told his mates that I was a really good juggler and handed me my clubs. Never again…

juggling clubs

I’ve finally been reacquainted with this beauty, which I got for my 21st birthday present. Yes, it was a long time ago. I fully intend to clean ‘er up and teach myself to not fall off. THIS YEAR.


[edit] YT, juggling four. Juggling balls are hybrids, from the lovely folk at Tossaball Juggling. Tell them I sent you. 🙂 And yes, i’m juggling in a tent. Long story.


Things found inside books


Inscription inside a copy of Robert W. Service’s ‘The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses’, bought in Robin Hood’s Bay, Oct 2005. It’s a first edition, 1907.

It reads:

April 24th to May 3rd

A small token given with every good wish, in grateful remembrance of a most pleasant trip.

“A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke” – Rudyard Kipling from ‘The Betrothed’

(full text of The Betrothed, for those interested)

I love finding stuff like this in second hand books. This one struck me in particular as I was browsing through a tiny second-hand bookshop in Robin Hood’s Bay, a wonderful place in and of itself. The book caught my eye as Robert Service was a writer that my dad much admired. I’d picked up the book to leaf through it and on seeing the inscription, knew immediately that I had to buy it.

Why? A couple of things. Not only was this a first edition in remarkably good nick for a book nearly a century old, April 24th was my dad’s birthday. And the reference to Kipling – my in-laws lived at the time in East Sussex, in a little village called Burwash, where Kipling also lived. He had a house there called Bateman’s, which we’d walked the dogs past many many times.


Kipling’s house dates back to 1634, about a hundred years after the wonderful house where my in-laws lived!

On a tangent (I’m good at them), this is Leo, the door-knocker on their house. Isn’t he a handsome kitty?

So, dear reader. What’s the best/most interesting thing you’ve ever found in a book?

My love affair with books – the early years

Following on from yesterday’s ebook vs paperback debate, I wanted to talk about reading in general. I’ve always been a keen reader. I was reading before I started school and quickly exhausted the set reading books available, to the point where the teacher in my last year at junior school said to just bring in a book from home.

Cover of "The Stainless Steel Rat"

I’d already been plundering my dad’s book collection – it was fairly small, consisting of books on the shelf by his bed and some in his office at work, but I soon picked up a taste for pulp sci-fi. Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat is still a favourite of mine, and I went through Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series in no time. Followed up with Asimov’s I, Robot, and his Lucky Starr -Space Ranger series, E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s Lensman books, the list goes on. I think my teacher was a bit alarmed when I turned up with a well-thumbed copy of one of the early Mars books, with their covers strewn with giant green aliens and bikini-clad heroines.

Back in those days, books also seemed to be a lot thinner!

I’d joined the local library too, and whizzed through books at a rate of knots. This was back in the days before computerised library issue systems, and each book had a little card ticket[1] which went into a pocket in one of your library cards. I got told off by the librarian at the tiny local branch library (maybe 50 metres from our front door, bliss!) for reading too quickly, as I’d returned a book that I’d borrowed a couple of hours earlier and she hadn’t got round to filing the tickets yet! Luckily she took pity on me and gave me a couple of extra library tickets.

My own bookshelves followed and were soon groaning under the weight. Then came the dream weekend job – working in a public library to make a bit of extra money, and getting paid to look after and talk to people about books. Great fun, and with a whole world of books at my disposal. Plus I got to persuade the librarians there to buy copies of a book I wanted to read, and got to read them before anyone else. I spent a few happy years working evenings and weekends in a variety of libraries across the city, from the tiny little local libraries to the bigger city branches. Had a weird moment one day working in Byker library when I realised that it was *exactly* the same design of building as my base at Fenham library, only with half the number of books.

I’ve got a load of library-related tales to tell, but that’s for another day. The question I have for you today, dear reader, is about your early reading – did you start young, late, what sort of books did you like?

[1] The Browne Issue System, for the curious amongst you

books – ebook vs dead-tree

This week’s Weekly Writing Challenge: Mind the Gap: (from

How do you prefer to read, with an eReader like a Kindle or Nook, or with an old school paperback in hand?

Now, there’s an interesting question. Subtly different to ‘do you prefer ebooks over paperbacks?’

For a long time I thought about getting an eReader. The ability to carry many books in a small space really appealed – often I’d go on holiday or on a business trip with a selection of books to read, just in case one didn’t take my fancy or I finished one and needed another one whilst I was away.

Finally, for a birthday a couple of years ago, I got a Kindle. I became a shameless convert, loading it up with a wide variety of books. Fiction, non-fiction, some I’d already read in paperback, some new. I probably read more that first year with the Kindle than I had done for a long time beforehand. The convenience, the size, weight were all perfect. The lovely e-ink screen, readable in full sunlight on a beach. It had (still has) a case with a built-in light, so I could read at night. Brilliant. I thought I’d also solved the problem of running out of bookshelf space at home too – after all, my virtual bookshelf was as long as I needed it to be.

Books, pre-ordered weeks or months ago would automagically appear on my Kindle on the day of release. I remember the first time I pre-ordered something, switching the Kindle on at midnight and hitting Sync. There it was – a fresh book, ready to be enjoyed. Bargains to be had too – Amazon often had offers on with books for £1.99 or less. I stocked up for a rainy day. My ebookshelf was getting longer and longer…

There were niggles, of course. Remembering to make sure it was charged up (a minor problem, given the astonishing battery life of the Kindle). The page refresh, which was *just* a shade slower than I’d like it to be. The slightly clunky user interface, and the fingermarks from the kids who expected it to be a touchscreen. 🙂

The biggest problem for me? Sharing books. One of the true joys of reading a dead-tree book is that moment you finish it and want to press it into a friend’s hands, urging them to read it as you just *know* they’ll love it. My brother and I would see each other occasionally and do a book swap – half a dozen paperbacks picked up across the intervening months that we knew each other would enjoy. With the Kindle, that wasn’t possible. Sure, we could recommend books to each other, but both had to buy a copy. Which, I’m sure the publishers (and Amazon) loved. (Yes, I hear Amazon is doing a lending library thing, but having an ebook for 2 weeks just isn’t enough.) We’d lost the discovery, the book that you wouldn’t have bought, but having read one, would happily go and acquire the author’s back catalogue.

The other thing I’ve found is that I missed reading a ‘proper’ book. Knowing how much you had left to read by the ever-decreasing pile of pages under your right thumb. Sorry Amazon, but a ‘percentage read’ just doesn’t give you the same feel. The ability to flick back a few pages to refresh your memory on a scene or plot point – again, the Kindle lets you do that, but frankly, it’s a faff.

And also there’s something just brilliant about holding and reading a physical book. The tactile sensation of flicking through the pages, or peeling back the covers on an unread book is something I don’t ever want to be without.

So, these days I split my time between the ebook and the dead-tree versions. They both have their place, and I wouldn’t be without either.

How about you, dear reader? Are you an ebook convert, or an old-school die-hard? Or, like me, somewhere inbetween?


double espresso macchiato

Today, dear reader, I’d like to talk about coffee.

A conspiracy of events this morning[1] left me in a bit of a rush, and without my usual home-brewed coffee to hand. As I walked up the hill to work, I realised that I really could do with a nice hot cup of coffee. I’d already passed Laynes, Bottega was too far out of the way and I’d just gone past the big Starbucks.

Oh look, there’s a Greggs. I can combine coffee with maybe a sneaky little bacon sarnie. Oh, go on then.

Now, I ought to make it clear that I’m quite fond of coffee, and go out of my way to at least try to spend most of my coffee-related purchases at one of Leeds’ excellent independent coffee shops. Usually the aforementioned Bottega or Laynes, with the odd foray out to Brewbar Espresso under the Art Gallery. They all make a quite splendid cup of coffee. Tell them I sent you, that’ll confuse ’em.

The coffee from Greggs was quite awful. No, very awful. It had a nasty, chemical taste to it. According to their website

Every coffee bean we use is 100% Fairtrade. Each cup of coffee is made with our blend of high-grown Arabica beans and rich-tasting Robusta beans, which are slow-roasted to create a delicious full flavour.

Hmm. Ick. Won’t be doing that again. The bacon sarnie, however, was quite tasty.

Now, having said that I’m fond of good coffee, I have to say that I do spend a reasonable amount of time in Starbucks[2]. Oh, hush at the back. Their coffee isn’t as bad as you’re making out. No, really. It’s perfectly fine, and has the added bonus of being reliably and consistently fine no matter which branch (and there are oh so many branches) of the ‘bucks you choose to frequent.

Some mornings you just *need* a very large cup of hot coffee-flavoured milk. And whilst Bottega/Laynes et al produce a superb coffee, they come in smaller cups. For very good reasons, of course, but when you need a vast quantity of caffeine to get you started, Starbucks it is.

Also at lunchtimes I feel less guillty about paying a couple of quid for a large mug of coffee and reading my book for an hour than I would at one of the smaller indie places. On account of them being smaller, I’d be taking up more of their valuable seating space. And, as I said earlier, I reckon I spend 80% of my coffee money in the independents anyway.

I’ll be talking about coffee more as part of another project I’m working on. In the meantime, where’s your favourite coffee shop?

[1] largely my fault, but I blame the snow/trains/children. *cough*
[2] yes, I know about the tax thing. However, I’m firmly of the opinion that it should be the government doing something about it rather than leaving it to the conscience of large corporations. Heck, if I could get away with paying less tax, I would. Wouldn’t you? Of course you would. Now shush. Back to the story.

#DaBloPoMo day #5

Stationery geek

a potful of pens

#DaBloPoMo, day 4.

My twitter bio says “writer, photographer, coffee-lover, cyclist, bookworm and stationery geek.”

Today, dear reader, we’re going to talk about that last bit: stationery geek.

No, not stationary geek[1].

Stationery, as defined at

sta·tion·er·y [stey-shuh-ner-ee]
1. writing paper.
2. writing materials, as pens, pencils, paper, and envelopes.

I just love the feeling of opening a new notebook, finding the perfect pen or pencil[2]. I have quite a selection, as you can see. My favourite pen is the Muji gel ink pen, but sadly the Muji in Leeds closed some time ago (sob), so I’m on the hunt for a good alternative. I’ve heard good things about the Pilot G2 gel pens, but they and I have never really got on. I’m quite fond of the Sharpie fineline pen, but it’s a bit too heavy in the line department for regular use.

If anyone can recommend a good, regular daily use pen, drop me a comment.

I’d love to get a decent fountain pen too, though I don’t know when I’d ever get to use it. They’re so nice to write with, but require time and patience that I’m not sure I have any more. I’ve been known to spend entirely too long browsing the used pen categories on ebay, looking for the perfect fountain pen, something classic, but not *too* expensive.

Ah well. One day.

As for notebooks, I do love a nice Moleskine. They’re the perfect size, have deliciously off-white paper that’s really nice to write on, and just look great. I’ve got a stash of them, and always have one in my bag – though I do find that it’s most often filled with just odd notes and reminders, rather than earth-shattering truths or swathes of my as-yet-unfnished Great Novel.

On a separate but tangentially-related note, I started a project many years ago where I sent a fresh Moleskine off into the world to visit my various online friends. It’s been travelling for… seven years this year, I think. It’s been to a whole host of interesting places, including the White House on the day after Obama was inaugurated the first time.

How cool is that?

One day I hope to be reunited with it. Given current rate of progress, and my general uselessness at prodding people to move it on, I’m expecting it home some time in 2016/17…

[1] Though, according to my Fitbit[2], I do spend quite a lot of time not moving. Pesky office jobs, eh?
[2] of which more, inevitably, later
[3] the Dixon Ticonderoga is my current pencil of choice. That classic yellow pencil with the pink eraser that you see in American schools. I got sent a box of 4 dozen many years ago by my good friend Greg, who is sadly no longer with us. Every time I pick up one of those pencils, I think of him. To Greg! *raises pencil*

YT, or what a load of balls

#DaBloPoMo day 2: YT[1]

day13 18SEP2009

Playing with an acrylic juggling ball, which is great fun for both juggling *and* photography.

I’m not so great at the juggling though – I’d love to be able to do the stuff that went on in Labyrinth. It was actually a guy called Michael Moschen who did all the crystal ball juggling. He’s ace.

He did a performance at TED in 2002: Michael Moschen juggles rhythm and motion (can’t get the embed to work, sorry!)

Or Okotanpe, playing a park in Japan. Seriously, just take a few minutes and watch. Thank me later.

[edit] stupid YouTube embed link not working. Try this for now:

[1] YT = Yours Truly. Hello!

Spam – cue the vikings

Today marks the start of #DaBloPoMo[1], a month-long festival of blogging, courtesy of YT[2].

Today’s topic is spam[3]. Cue the Vikings.

We’ve all experienced the weird and often wonderful messages that you get via email. Most of the time the spam filters are pretty good at sifting out the offers for various pills and potions, get-rich-quick schemes and other assorted offers. But, every now and again, one gets through.

I *love* trawling through spam emails. Some of the subject lines and fake authors are briliant. I had one many years ago purporting to be from a Yooit Hugentobler.

Seriously. How awesome is that name? It’s become a mission to try and squeeze it into a short story somewhere. Yes, I know it’s probably horribly rude in some language, but still.

I usually skim the contents of my gmail spam folder, on the off-chance that something is in there that shouldn’t be. A while ago I was struck by some of the titles, and mused that they almost sounded like poetry.

I present, for your edification and enjoyment, a pome. I call it ‘Spam, entitled’. Made up entirely of genuine spam subject headers.

To himself on the Crumpetty Tree
Down the slippery slopes of Myrtle
Beware of cold, deterministically skipped
Why it falls quick? Did you asked something?
Spin the wheel of chance
See you there, address attached.

Now, it turns out the first line is from Edward Lear’s The Quangle Wangle. I rather suspect that Myrtle’s slippery slopes are *not* Lear though. 🙂

These days, you also get spam via Twitter. Which is all to be expected. Some of it, again, is pure genius. I present, for your enjoyment and edification, the pure unadulterated joy that is @Horse_ebooks

Dear reader. What’s the best spam you’ve ever seen?

[1] Dave’s Blog Posting Month. I told you about it yesterday. Weren’t you paying attention?
[2] YT = Yours Truly. ie. me. The ‘Dave’ part of DaBloPoMo. Hi! *waves*
[3] No, not the meat product inna tin. The other type[4]
[4] Though that is interesting in and of itself. More later. Perhaps.