Category Archives: Uncategorized

Writing challenge 2017

Write for five minutes a day [see link].

Also, is Scrivener worth using?

 

Books for Christmas Lists

I have far too many half-written book reviews unposted so I’m going to ignore them for a second and post about books for Christmas from DK.  [NOT SPONSORED] They sent a list of their books to see what I thought and these are the ones I liked – and we have some of them.

star-wars_year-by-yearStar Wars Year by Year: A Visual History, Updated Edition presents the full story of Star Wars, including all the latest additions to the saga, just in time for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. £35

 

 

 

baby-touch-and-feelBaby Touch and Feel Christmas – £3.99 Ages 0-2 We got this one for Lois. It’s very sweet: explore the sparkly world of snowflakes and Santa together with this touchy feely book.

 

 

 

Disney Pixar Finding Dory Essential Collection – £14.99

Ages 6-12

dory-the-collection

The slipcase for the books lights up when you press a button to illuminate the sparkling coral reef and help find Dory.  It contains the Finding Dory Essential Guide and the Finding Dory Ultimate Sticker Book.

 

 

 

peter-rabbit-anniversary-edition

 

The Ultimate Peter Rabbit £14.99

This special anniversary edition celebrates 150 years since Beatrix Potter’s birth. Packed with artworks and insight from the Potter estate archives.

 

az-of-garden-plants

 

A – Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants £75

The ultimate garden reference book  that comes in a carry-box.

 

 

365-lego365 Things to Do with LEGO® Bricks – £16.99

Ages 6+

LEGO fun for every day of the year. This book is packed with fun and quirky activities, such as: build your own LEGO pet; challenge your friends to make the tallest LEGO tower against the clock; and learn how to make a stop-motion LEGO movie.

 

winter-wonderland-stickers-legoLEGO Winter Wonderland Ultimate Sticker Collection – £7.99

Ages 6+

Lots of Lego this year for Mersina but all while keeping in mind that anything Lois gets her hands on will be destroyed (or eaten). Nevertheless, this one also looks good – exploring wintery worlds and decking the halls with candy canes. I

 

 

 

No, you stand up

As one mass murder after another places men on the front pages of newspapers these last few weeks, another man, on Facebook, is telling women to take up more space. Be noisier. Be loud and gross. Stand up for yourselves etc. As if these are good things because men already do them. 
Apart from the obvious irony of a man telling women what to do, I wonder for what kind of woman would this be relevant?
Would it work on Serena Williams after her 19?
Ellen Degeneres and her $70 million annual salary?
Marie Curie who won two Nobel Prizes?
Steffi Graff who won 19 Grand Slams and the only one to win a Golden Slam?
Chrissie Wellington- ironman champion who wrote about using her urine to disincentivise fellow competitors from using her slipstream in races?
Would it work on Hilary Clinton? Whose number of people killed is a lot higher than the number of shares this guy got?
Would it work on Theresa May or Margaret Thatcher? Destroyer of countries, societies and individuals?
Who are these girls who need to take up more space? Who need to be loud and gross
The ones already doing full time jobs plus many other unpaid jobs and whose hours are filled with responsibilities?
The women who are leaving their homes as refugees and being the strongest survivors amongst the roughest (literal) waters?
He is not talking to empowered, strong, intelligent women or girls. He is talking to victims who if they want to be heard must rise up. He is not rallying against the structural inequalities, which see women weighed down with all the opposing forces available and still succeeding more than men. The ones who couldn’t work because they had to care for children and then had their pensions ripped away with no chance of making money to sustain themselves in the meantime. 
He is not talking to the ones succeeding in making black lives matter, speaking up for the environment and the world when men seek to destroy it. 
He is not speaking to the doctors and the teachers and the nurses who not only are expected to work for free but are now going to be paying the universities to let them work. 
Don’t tell us to take up more space. Look at yourself and own your guilt and role in this crazy and unequal world. 
Let’s look at some reality for a second?
How many mass murders have there been in the last 12 months?
How many were committed by women?
How many countries were invaded? Who invaded them? Who benefited?
Who destroyed more of the planet?
Who perpetrated more of the crimes?
Who had more road accidents?
Who caused more harm?
Who abused more?
Who helped more?
Who provided for more?
Who took care of the children?
Who took care of the dying? Of the patients? Of the babies?
Who created humanity?
It’s a sad state of affairs when most of the negatives are perpetrated by men, most of the positives are created and sustained by women, and it’s men who are telling women to be like them?
Why, for God’s sake? We don’t need more chaos, aggression and disaster. It’s time for men to become the humans they were meant to be. It’s time for them to sit down, shut up and care about things around them. Talk less, listen more, help others and repair, rebuild, and nurture. 
You stand up. You acknowledge your shame and blame. We will do just fine without some guy on Facebook telling us what to do. We will be even better with fewer men on the front of newspapers. 

What I look like

I read someone’s post about how they hated having their photo taken and it reminded me of how I felt about my appearance.

Actually, it reminded me of how I felt about other people’s.

I saw a documentary about the smallest man alive a while ago and he met the tallest man alive. Both were so beautiful and kind and loving. How could anyone not love these people? They deserved love. If they deserved love, I deserved love.

I saw another show about burn victims and there was a little girl just four years old who had most of her face burnt terribly and was writhing and screaming in agony in the hospital. What kind of person would not love that little girl more than anything? She deserved love.

There was a man who because of cancer had no nose. Who was I to worry about the size of my nose?

Another man had his jaw smashed off in a car accident when he went flying through the windscreen.  He had to wear a prosthetic so as not to provoke the responses of horror from others. How arrogant and shallow would I have to be to worry about any problems with my jaw?

I cut my hair as short as possible to donate it for wigs for cancer patients and as it grew out the appearance niggled at me. I then saw a woman on Instagram with no hair due to chemotherapy. She looked amazing. If I could love her and her appearance then why would I worry about mine?

It made me realise I was very grateful for my hair.

The bigger thing I realised was that I was not interested in hearing from anyone about my appearance because if they could judge me, what would they say about that four year old girl? What about the littlest man in the world or the woman without hair?

That’s my standard. Those people deserve to be loved and if people can judge me then they are judging those beautiful people who have gone through so much, too.

I’m not here to judge others’ appearance, I’m just passing through.

Crocheted rib cowl

Not sponsored and even though I mention brand names, there are no affiliate links or anything of the sort

I’ve not written much about any type of craft recently but thought I would mention this new crocheted rib cowl that I’m making for the second time.

I started to crochet less than a year ago because I was looking to make a baby blanket and I wanted to make one like the ones my friends Kimberlee and Mouse made for their babies. I couldn’t find any knitting patterns that were similar and then discovered Granny Squares. It was a bit of a revelation. Well, for the next 11 months or so, I didn’t know there was more to crocheting than Granny Squares. I bought lovely yarn and made many. At some point I moved on to another project and part of the reason was that my baby had arrived and her wonderful auntie Jenny had already crocheted her a perfect blanket herself so I wasn’t as motivated as I had been.

Lois's baby blanket from Auntie Jenny

The granny squares are still unjoined but I learnt to love crochet.

I have found that it’s easier for me to crochet than knit because the project isn’t as likely to unravel. When I’ve crocheted enough, I take out the hook, pull the loop to make it longer, and put it all away for another day. With knitting, and especially lace knitting, there is so much that can go wrong and with my sleep deprivation and lack of energy, I just couldn’t find it in me to make some of the more creative stuff.

Crochet seems to be more comforting, mindless (depending on the pattern – see Sophie’s Universe) and quicker for me.

Unlike with knitting, where I already knew some of the basic stitches, I found crocheting harder in terms of learning the physical process of it. There was a proper learning curve with in-built frustration and lots of repetition required to perfect / learn the techniques. I could create a chain with no problem but then making the magic circle was incredibly tough for me and also learning how to hold the yarn with the right amount of tension.

I used two books I borrowed from the library and plenty of YouTube videos. I still couldn’t do a magic circle until I found a new technique from one of the most amazing CALs (crochet a long’s) I’ve ever been part of and read. Hours and hours of work have contributed to this tutorial for the Sophie’s Universe project. Also, this Facebook group of crocheters is genuinely the nicest group I’ve belonged to. There is rarely any arguing at all and the members spend a lot of time supporting each other and praising everyone’s work. It also represents a hell of a lot of countries.

So here we are to the mindless but great crocheted rib cowl:

 

Crocheted rib cowl in Skeino

Finished rib cowl in Skeino

 

I had some luxurious and beautiful yarn by Skeino that I wanted to make sure I used up so I found something that I thought would be easy and that I would wear. I mainly scrolled through Pinterest while nursing Lois.

 

yarn skein

Skein of Skeino from Yarnbox March

 

 

IMG_6564

Half-way through the Skeino crocheted rib cowl

I am now making the same cowl but with Manos del Uruguay yarn from the Clasica range.

 

boxed yarn

Manos del Uruguay yarn, Clasica, from Yarnbox April shipment

IMG_6563

Crocheted rib cowl in Manos Clasica

IMG_6563

Half-way through crocheted rib cowl in Manos Clasica

I’m not sure it’s turning out as nicely so will see. I may even try to find a different pattern but so far the actual crafting itself is nice.

After writing this I remembered a competition that Deramores had for blogging about a trend and the chance to win £500 worth of yarn. The competition is now closed but there are six blog posts about different trends and the rib cowl is one of the ones written about – crocheting that looks like knitting. If you’re interested, the blogs are here. They seem to be great crafty blogs too.

The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds and how men get to speak while women stay silent

secretlife4yearolds_150309a

The following are some thoughts after seeing the show:

I have just watched the Secret Life of 4 Year Olds which is based on observation over two weekends, each six months apart, observing children. The men with PhDs, who said they had never been able to listen to children like that before (this group of children wore microphones), were the only ones who commented on behaviour while the female teachers were not shown expressing any opinion even though they had a lot more contact with children this age. This felt one-sided. 

The children were fascinating but I won’t comment on their behaviour. 

Channel 4 describes the show as follows: 

 This documentary follows 10 four-year-olds as they meet at nursery, exploring how children make and break friendships, share, stand up for themselves, and find their place in a new social group.

Dr Paul Howard -Jones is from the University of Bristol and one of two educational neuroscientists who observe the children from behind the scenes by observing the action on monitors. The show cuts away at regular intervals to the two male scientists reacting to the children while watching them and listening on headphones. 

Jones said :”Even though I wasn’t interacting with the children, I found myself becoming incredibly involved, emotionally, in the narratives that were developing for each individual child.”

The other scientist was Dr Sam Wass from the Cognition and Brain Science Unit at Cambridge University.

The two women who do interact with the children are “highly trained teachers” and their profiles are not posted on the website and their opinions are not sought. 

 The questions I have about this show 

 1. How much of children’s  behaviour is copied from their carers? 

 2. How can the scientists draw conclusions from the children’s actions without seeing how their carers behave? 

3. Do the teachers agree with all the conclusions?

 4. what do the teachers have to add about individual children and group behaviour based on their experience and education?

5. What do they think about the limitations and benefits of filming  children over such short periods of time?

How dumb do you have to be to call a baby lazy?

The first person who implied my seven day old newborn was lazy was the midwife. She was teasing, supposedly, and when talking about how Lois slept a lot she said “it’s a hard life, isn’t it?” in a sarcastic tone. She was a very helpful health professional who showed me how to breastfeed, checked that we were both ok and made sure I knew what to do in an emergency. She was brilliant but there was still something in her tone that implied my child, any child that age, was lazy.

Today on instagram, a woman with a baby born under a week ago called her baby lazy for sleeping all the time. She probably meant to be funny and cute but she made me angry.

A woman in a blog post a few months ago didn’t know why people were criticising her for saying her two-year-old had nothing to worry or get upset about and then listed a whole host of reasons that effectively made fun of him for getting upset at things like having a green rather than a blue sippy cup. He had told her jokingly that he’d been having a tough day so she wrote a blog post mocking him. She didn’t understand the criticism.

My child is just over three weeks old. She can’t hold her head up and can’t control her body movements and has no control of her life at all. She is defenceless and vulnerable and has to sleep a lot and feed to grow. I don’t think it’s easy to grow a whole body from nothing. I think the energy it takes induces lethargy to the extent that the only time in my life I can remember being like that is when I had the measles and thought that I might be dying.

Growing is tough for a little baby. Losing the few things that are familiar to you in a world you simply can’t understand must be tough for a two year old. Life doesn’t feel easy for a lot of the time but when you’re little, things being different to normal are unexplained and can bring on a terror close to thinking you’re going to die.

A mum walked out of St Michael’s Hospital two days ago with her four-day-old baby in her arms. The police found and identified their bodies in the last 24 hours. That baby was utterly defenceless and had no chance and no choice.

Not lazy. Just growing and defenceless.

What does 4G testing mean for Bristol?

This post was not written by me

wifi-297697_1280

The rise of the famed 4G mobile internet network has a lot more significance to the smartphone users of today than just a flurry of Kevin Bacon adverts.

Short for fourth generation, 4G provides mobile internet at considerably faster speeds than its predecessor, 3G, averaging around six megabytes per second compared to the average speeds of one megabyte per second during the 3G era.

While it may not sound like much, this increase in speed has given rise to a whole new host of opportunities for those who browse on the go. Whereas 3G could scarcely do more than open an email or allow a user to access a relatively uncomplicated website, 4G is apt for video streaming, video calls and more.

But how has 4G affected Bristol? In August of this year, mobile telecommunications giant O2 announced that they were commencing 4G testing in the area. At the time, the company kept quiet about testing, choosing to tell their followers on Twitter that anybody experiencing 4G was doing so because of the testing.

However, keen to outdo their competitors Three and EE (Everything Everywhere), O2 soon began bringing their services to the city. Masts are now springing up everywhere around the city in locations such as Ashton Road, which has already proven to have speeds far higher than the aforementioned average of six megabytes per second.

A test taken in the area this August near the Dovecote Pub revealed that smartphone users could actually achieve download speeds of up to 57.3 megabytes per second, while upload speeds of 21.9 megabytes per second were equally as impressive. With speeds faster than those afforded by most home broadband packages, the rise of 4G could mean big changes for Bristol.

As one of the most populous areas of Britain, Bristol has its fair share of mobile internet demands, particularly in city centres where Wi-Fi facilities can only do so much. This gives Bristol’s residents the chance to take on all that the internet has to offer, with the mobile internet offering of today extending beyond just communication.

The online gaming world, for instance, has only grown in popularity thanks to the the availability of wireless internet and the new range of choice out there. For example, games at MrSmithCasino have come a long way in recent years, moving away from traditional slot games to incorporating gamification and working to many topical themes.

So whether we’re gaming, talking to our friends on Facetime or just checking our emails, the rise of 4G can only be good news for Bristol.

Week 3: the Sense of an Ending vs Infinite Skies

This week’s choices are a good opportunity to explore the definition of a Bristol novel. When I was crowd sourcing the books for my list, I tried to impose as few limits as possible so the long list could actually be long. There just aren’t that many works of fiction associated with Bristol.

I didn’t know whether having a Local author or setting or theme would be the appropriate criteria and I was open to going with whatever seemed right.

I ended up thinking that the novel itself had to represent Bristol culturally and physically. A Bristol novel wouldn’t just come from the domicile of the authors but would be the fictional space the city occupies in the creative world.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I left a book on the list because the author lived in Bristol and I didn’t check the setting.

Infinite Skies is a novel from the Young Adult genre, written by University of East Anglia’s Creative Writing MA alumnus Chelsey Flood. C.J. Flood is 29 and likes to work in the Bristol Central Library which also occupies a big part of my Bristol heart.

Unfortunately that’s about as Bristolian as the amble about Infinite Skies gets. Its protagonist Iris is 13 and her mother has just left their home to travel around and, presumably, find herself. Older brother Sam is struggling to cope and dad is having a hard time and it all gets worse when a group of travellers move in on the family’s land. The story is set near Derby and not in the south west at all.

Any kind of interest or suspense in the story is slowly killed off with the overwriting however and it feels like technique is prioritised, rather than used for effect, which is the wrong choice to make.

The characters are all likeable enough but the storyline is not strong enough to compel further reading.

I’m stealing from someone else when I say this but it’s relevant if not original: similes and metaphors are used to help the reader picture and understand a situation. With access to so much information, these days, the need for these literary techniques has been drastically reduced.

Flood fills most pages with constant description, similes and metaphors and when we finally got to a sunset looking like Chinese pork, I had to give up pretending I could stand it.

When each scene feels like a creative writing exercise then the story has taken second place.

Power of expression: 7/10
Bristol content: 0/15
Bristol integration: 0/15
Well written: 7/10

Total: 14/50

I am sad to say that Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending is this week’s winner because I disliked it, a lot. However it does have some Bristol content.

A group of boys form a friendship in high school, go off to separate universities, something a bit dramatic happens with friendships and girlfriends and that’s the end of part one.

Part two starts consists of our much older protagonist revisiting the past because of a discovery. He spends a lot of time being tedious on purpose, as he tells us. He has an unpleasant and judgemental ex-wife with who he is still friends.

He isn’t particularly likeable and he is forced to face an unpleasant letter he wrote as a young man when his girlfriend left him for one of his best friends. It seemed a perfectly reasonable time to be unpleasant, if you ask me. If you can’t be vile at that point in your life, when can you be?

The plot is very boring and I expect Barnes thought he was being clever by putting in an irrational and erratic ex-girlfriend to show off the unexpected behaviour in the past that our hero/non -hero was not even aware of. I found her behaviour in the end more than a bit ludicrous and pointless.

I had to force myself to finish it but there were two points which I quite liked. One, there was a good use of the Clifton Suspension Bridge as both a Bristol tourist spot and a theoretical suicide location; and two, in one of the literary bits, Barnes pontificates on a philosopher’s wish to a newborn baby, “May you lead a boring life,” and this resonated with me.

Barnes got his wish but it’s not much of one to bestow on a newly born piece of fiction. This is a boring book with barely a hero’s journey to speak of.

In 2011, The Sense of an Ending won the Man Booker prize but then Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize while keeping people locked up without charge in Guantanamo and killing more people while in power than Bush did. Awards are wrong all the time.

Power of expression: 5/10
Bristol content: 5/15
Bristol integration: 9/15
Well written: 6/10

Total: 25/50

Week 2: The Shock of the Fall vs The Choice

Pitting Susan Lewis against Nathan Filer is like making Tweetie bird fight Muhammad Ali and I just don’t have it in me. Well, I do but I’ll do my best to keep as bloodless as possible.

filer_nathan_shock_of_the_Fall_140225a vs susan lewis_the choice

The Shock of the Fall describes the life of a boy from Bristol dealing with his grief at the death of his brother and experience of mental health care services for schizophrenia. The Choice is about a young girl (21, not 19 as the blurb says) who falls pregnant, falls out with her parents and then is confronted by a choice no parent should have to make.

Whereas Filer’s first book is sparse and clear, Lewis’s writing is filled with adjectives, adverbs and every possible type of description she could find.

There are mischievous eyes, eyes full of mischief and eyes of grey lead. Hearts surge, worried faces light up, voices soften with tenderness, or are husky with pride. Cliches fill the pages, serving no purpose other than to provide fodder for those who don’t have the time to turn on their television at midday and catch another made-for-TV-melodrama.

We don’t even find out what The Choice is until about 300 pages in to a 500 page novel and then every possible plot combination gets thrown in for good measure.

In direct contrast, Filer shows and never tells. As the writer he doesn’t presume anything about our understanding. Every word in the Shock of the Fall is direct and helps the story. He is a storyteller because he has a story to tell and nothing more. Lewis’s 26th* novel is an example of pulp publication where words are put in one after the other and spat out to people who just want to stay distracted for a few hours and aren’t too fussed about engaging and growing with their characters.

One thing Lewis does do well, however, is write about Bristol. It doesn’t matter whether the story requires it, and it seldom does, but if you read the Choice, you’ll find yourself finding out all about Brunel, Corn Street, Broadmead, the Banana bridge, the ss Great Britain, Southville, the Tobacco Factory and the Clifton Suspension Bridge. All are mentioned quite familiarly by the Bristol writer and are well written. They add nothing to the story, however. Lewis could just as easily have set her story somewhere else and it wouldn’t have changed a thing.

The Shock of the Fall is not inherently Bristolian but unlike Lewis, Filer touches on location only where he has to. The occasional mention of Kingsdown in passing doesn’t have to mean much but when his protagonist talks to a homeless man on the corner of Jamaica Street and Stokes Croft (not Cheltenham Road as he writes) we Bristolians, know exactly what he’s talking about and why it’s easy to make that mistake. The area adds to the story, to the characters, it needs no further explanation.

One of the most poignant scenes takes a Bristolian landmark and misses it. The protagonist Matthew Homes’ mother, tells him of how she had tried to find the Clifton Suspension Bridge when she was younger and in despair about what to do wanted to jump off it but ended up circling around Clifton instead. Bristol is integrated into the story, not an aside, not a random description. Filer does it beautifully. The Shock of the Fall won Best First Novel and Book of the Year at the 2013 Costa Book Awards.

The winner this week, Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall, was never in doubt but it’s interesting to see that even though Lewis wrote pages and pages about Bristol, the snippets which Filer uses add more to a Bristolian sense of his work than constant references used as filler.