Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Ok, so, it's like er about 14 hours (here in the UK) to go til the official start of NaNoWriMo.

For the uninitiated, it's a collective challenge to write a novel (over 50,000 words) in 30 days. In November.

Pros: Focus. Adventure. Challenge. My school teacher when I was ten told my parents that one day I would be a writer. It's a cheap way to spend time. There are NaNoWriMo meet-ups where I might make some new friends.

Cons: I have no story to tell.

This presents a major problem. As a film maker I'm a firm believer in Alfred Hitchcock's advice: To make a good movie, you need three things : a good story, a good story and… a good story.

But, this is not a movie. And when I begin to make a film, the most important part of the process is to find out what the story is. The story emerges, through the journey and the gentle handling of the camera operator, sound recordist, contributors, editor ... and in this process I try to let go as often as possible. To just believe in my instinct that there is a story to be told and let it unfold in it's own time.

Er. But then novel writing is a solitary activity. Unless I can find some way to conduct some sort of experiment that uses the interactions around me to create the same or a similar dynamic to the film-making process that I feel confident with.

I think I've had an idea. Oh dear.

More cons: I should be doing things that make money. I have a million jobs to do around here before winter really sets in.

Counter argument: You have always said that your best ideas come to you when you're doing other stuff, like making curtains, putting up coat hooks, stirring grape and chestnut christmas preserve (it's been upgraded).

13 hours and 23 minutes to decide.


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Grape chutney 2.0

Seasonal health and safety disclaimer: Allow at least 24 hours between collecting chestnuts (above), and chopping the chillies for this recipe.

Ruby's Red Hot Grape Chutney

A big saucepan of Red grapes, ripped in half and seeds removed (best to do this in front of a couple of soccer matches on the tv)
Juice of 3 lemons
Juice of 2 limes
Half a cup each of cider and red wine vinegar
Chilies, deseeded, roughly chopped* and whizzed in a blender with the lemon / lime juice
A cup of sugar
A big slug of maple syrup (I have a giant vat of the stuff to use up)
2 handfuls of raisins
Freshly ground black pepper
3 large onions, chopped and lightly fried before adding
3 shallots
2 red sweet pointed peppers, chopped

Cook til sludgy, pour into warmed washed jam jars.

*see health and safety disclaimer above, ouch!

Amazingly I still don't think we've used even half of our grapes. But I have an idea for grape chutney with mulled wine spices and roasted chestnuts ...

It all feels very much like an episode of The Good Life round here. The chickens have stopped laying. We have tried adding more light, more bedding, more water ... inspected for obvious signs of distress or disease but they appear, at least to the untrained eye, to be well-adjusted and healthy. Hmm. So we rang our chicken donors - some friends who have a farm and have loaned us their over-pecked birds ... and their chickens aren't laying either. Phew. At least I can stop holding myself responsible! Perhaps they are just reacting to the bizarre weather we're having? A poultry protest about global warming?


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Monday, October 30, 2006


Monday, October 23, 2006

How good is your colour vision?

The game above requires Flash, version 7. If you don't have it, you can click here to download it. Or not :)

I originally made this game, which I called 'Planet Pop' just ... well, I'm not really sure why to be honest. I was teaching a friend a bit about how to make flash animations and games. We started with a little circle. We made it change size, move around, change colour. We made it do stuff if you clicked on it, and suddenly we were building a game.

The interesting thing about this game is that it tests your colour vision acuity. And, I've found that I can track the objects better if I don't look at them, but look slightly away from the screen - just past the edge of the game, which I know is a technique that wildlife camera operators use for following fast moving birds and animals. Anyway ... I dug it out to show someone today and I'd forgotten how much fun it is. So I thought I'd share it!

High scores can be added to the comments :) Just click 'new game' to begin!

(and before anyone complains about bandwidth and file sizes, .... it's only 27k - ain't maths great?)


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Green, greener, greenest

Mary at A Breath of Air has blogged rather provocatively about her quandry over attending the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition now on at the Natural History Museum in London.

The exhibition looks amazing, and as Mary says, supporting the idea, the artists, the campaigners is definitely a reason to get down there and fork out the exhibition entry fee ... but, there is the not-small matter of the fact that the competition is sponsored by Shell. She reports that there have been protests over their selection as exhibition sponsor, due to their environmental record. For Mary this presents a quandry. Does her visit tacitly endorse selection, imply approval, say on some level "hey, you guys ain't so bad"? I have to be honest, it might not have occurred to me to question it if she hadn't pointed it out. Which probably says more about my ability to just gloss over such issues than it does my lack of concern for the planet.

I think it's so hard ... on the one hand, they're clearly shafting the planet. On the other hand, in order for people, groups, companies, nations to change we have to believe they have the capacity to change. Even my dog requires this space to learn new behaviours - requires my recognition that my expectations are part of the pattern too.

Are Shell genuinely concerned about their impact on the planet or are they just concerned to appear concerned? Does the end result outweigh the motivation? Do I, as an individual, do enough of the easy, tiny things each day that would make a difference? If I find it so easy to buy a drink in a plastic bottle, to take my car to the supermarket, to buy avocados that have clearly arrived by air ... how do I judge others?

I do pretty well - we only throw out half a black-bag of non-recyclables to the refuse collection each week. We compost, we recycle, we feed the chickens on scraps and make their bedding out of (hand) shredded paper. But I have a bigger car in order to accommodate my dog. I try to drive it at sixty rather than eighty to save fuel, but I still drive it. I switch the lights off, don't leave the TV on standby, but I still fill my life with electricity gobbling gadgets. I still buy clothes that were made in far off lands. I shop in stores that sell things cheaply and push away the nagging questions about how much the people who made these goods were paid. I freecycle but I still have more than I need.

Looks like a great exhibition anyway ... not sure I can resist :)


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Saturday, October 21, 2006

My magic sweatshirt

Yesterday I invested in the snuggliest jumper in the world ever. It is like wearing a cuddle. It possesses the same magical qualities as an axe-proof duvet ... you know, you get up at 3am in the dark, get the fear, perhaps there is a non-specific very scary thing about to attack you ... even a mad axe-man, but as soon as you're back under the covers nothing can hurt you.

So - nothing bad could ever possibly happen to me whilst wearing this jumper.

It appears to be made from 100 percent pure muppets. I don't think it sings or dances though, which might be a disappointment to others, but for a shy soul like me, is a major relief.

I think it might be overworked. I am pretty sure I will wear it constantly til march, so I might go back today and buy a back up. A friend for it ... muppets get lonely on their own.


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Thursday, October 19, 2006

The (f)laws of physics

During an enlightening conversation over lunch yesterday, myself and a few others managed to establish some of the rules that govern how the universe really works.

The missing sock from a pair is the larval form of the wire-coathanger. They apparently crawl off into the wardrobe and up to the clothes rail, where they eventually hatch into an unsolicited garment hanger.

When ball-point pens die, they enter a dark tunnel, at the end of which is the light inside my car glove-box, where their bodies rest for quite some time.


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Sunday, October 15, 2006

UK Mass Blog

"People throughout the country are being asked to contribute to a mass web log recording a day in the life of Britain.

Tuesday 17 October has been picked as an "ordinary day much like any other of no particular national significance".

The blogs will then be stored by the British Library and at other locations as a permanent record of everyday life."

from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6048392.stm

As well as the British Library, the BBC and the National Trust and other official sounding people are involved. Apparently, the duller the better. They want real minutae. What you ate for dinner kind of stuff. Kind of exciting though :)

Of course, my housemate pointed out that we'll have consumed ourselves into extinction long before this stuff becomes historically exciting, but it's nice to feel part of something anyway.

Take part here: History Matters


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Friday, October 13, 2006

podcasting ...

This is what I was writing ...

I shall be casting my iPod into the bin I fear.

It's been a fantastic three years (or more? ) together, but last night the hard drive began stuttering ominously. Today I have restored, rebooted and reformatted many times. There has been false hope ... a momentary recovery ... swiftly followed by disappointment.

What I need is some tech support. Unfortunately, I am the tech support. And I have diagnosed that it is definitely a hard drive failure. It makes a nasty whirring noise and I can feel it shuddering in my hand.

And then ... I thought, as I ended that sentence ... 'maybe I will just give it a bloody good whack'. So I did. Smacked it really hard with the palm of my hand, so hard that it stung - which shouldn't have surprised me as it is made of metal ... and I plugged it in. Amused at my ridiculous last ditch efforts.

And now ... it is happily responding to my every whim.

And to think ... I nearly put it on freecycle for spares.

Like in all such situations, I am happier than I would ever have been had it never stopped working in the first place. Delirious :)


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Tea for who?

This is my new teapot. I've had it for a few weeks and every time I look at it it brings a smile to my face.

There are three reasons for this.

Firstly, it's a nice teapot. A Denby. Just the right tubbiness, nicely weighted in my hand, holds 1 and a 1/4 pints - enough for 3 mugs, or two mugs and two top-ups.

Secondly, it was given to me by my dear friend Rebecca, with whom I spent and mis-spent a lot of my youth, and so every time I brew a pot of tea I also stir up some very fond memories.

Thirdly, it is a pre-loved teapot. Rebecca bought it second hand. Another hand, or hands, have held it, filled it, poured from it. And I wonder about them ... did they warm the pot? Were they Milk In First or Milk In Second? Did they take sugar? Did it provide comfort at funeral wakes, in periods of insomnia, after a near miss in the car? Was it a gift then as well? A wedding present or christmas surprise?

And what I love most of all, is that somewhere, out there, somebody remembers this teapot. It has stories, and I may never get to hear them, but it's still pretty cool that it's had a Life of it's own.


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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Warm as toast

Today I bought 3 hot water bottles. They were on a special offer at Boots ... buy two, get one free. It was lovely to sit on the sofa in the dark with my housemate, watching Cracker (recorded) and have a couple of hot-bottles each under some fluffy blankets a friend bought us. I am almost relishing the prospect of a winter with no central heating. We have a huge woodburner, and some dodgy sixties underfloor system which is effective but cost the previous occupier a whole kidney in electricity. So - blankets and the woodburner are the bigger part of the plan. The office has a small night-storage heater which can keep our fingers from freezing to the keyboards.

I say all this, feel enthused about it, now, in the warmest October since records began. Londoners are today still in short sleeves and sandals. Most peculiar. I believe people have an uncomfortable relationship with this much good weather - it's like they don't believe they deserve it. Especially in the city - where there is no investment, no personal risk. "We should be near a beach" said one guy I encountered in a waiting room this afternoon ... it seemed it was not so much that he wanted to be by the seaside, but that if he had chosen to invest in being near a beach today then his courage would have been rewarded. He would have earned his blue sky by putting himself in a place where it made a difference.

Perhaps I do feel that I've made that investment. Certainly, dry, warm and windy now means washing on the line, where once it meant sitting in the pub garden rather than the main bar. I listen for clues about when to walk the dog, when to bring the chickens in and out, when to chop wood.

Apparently tomorrow morning will begin with a light fog, lifting after lunch. That sounds like every morning to me!


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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Adorable Dora

You can't measure the cute-factor on a baby pigmy goat.

We encountered Dora whilst collecting some more chickens for our hen-respite center. Gladys and Hilary have joined Nancy and Margery, and the eggs were superb in our don-buri at lunchtime. Gladys is a bit of a character. On the first day she hid next to the door where we go in to the shed, and had escaped between my legs before I'd even finished stepping inside. I must look up the top-speed of a chicken ... she can really move. Ruby duly helped us round her up - she likes to chase and herd the chickens, perhaps even catching them under a paw, but never does anything more aggressive than that ... so she sniffed our escapee out in the undergrowth and then we followed the barks and returned Gladys to the safety of their shed and run.

I have my eye on her - I can see her plotting her next escape ...

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Grape chutney 1.0

We have so many grapes!

I'm overwhelmed ... this crop is only about a quarter of what is hanging on the vines. We washed, seeded and crushed half of these this weekend - enough to fill my pot to the 3 litre mark ... and made seven jars of grape chutney version 1.0 ... and it's fab!

Here's the approximate recipe ...

3 litres of red grapes, torn in half and seeded
Two large onions, finely chopped
Four shallots, finely chopped
One large apple, chopped into small chunks
Half a mug each of cider vinegar and red wine vinegar
A large slug of maple syrup
A large handful of raisins
Mild curry powder
Medium curry powder
Fresh ground black pepper

Cook all that up for about an hour, til it's all squishy, then remove from the heat and dissolve in sugar - about 2 cups of brown and half a cup of white. Return to the heat and simmer for about 45 minutes (half a football match).

Serve with dairy-lea cheese triangles and wholemeal toast :)

I think I will be making at least another two batches, varying the recipe. And I will be seeding grapes in my sleep for weeks!

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The trouble with blogging is that unless you have an incredibly well drawn map of the boundaries of your cyber-space, there are events that unfold which necessitate a lot of stewing over whether it is right to blog about them. Stuff that feels too big to miss out, but equally too big to slip in between three cat pictures and a grape chutney recipe.


But in the meantime, what amazing light we had today. And, as it happens, tonight too. The day-old harvest moon is filling my bedroom with blue light so bright I could read by it. Must make those curtains!

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Pacing myself (ii) ...

My housemate captured this beautiful tiny snail that had snuck in with our grape harvest. 'nuff said.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Chase me! Chase me!

Ruby stole this lovely yellow ball from an elderly golden retriever on Saunton Sands beach in North Devon.

She is looking a little chubby. Might be something to do with the half-a-pound of fudge and six bread rolls she stole from the kitchen counter last week.


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