Sunday, December 4, 2011

Ah, the inevitable coda.

Ok, so it's December.

I've failed at 101things. I got so far and then got interested in other things. Some of them are things I still want to do, some I did and never got round to writing up, some of them fell by the wayside for health and wealth reasons, and some were werk-displacement activities which became null after I got a new job. I do eat more fruit, generally for breakfast, and I try harder not to stop off for coffee on the way in, although that's quite difficult with Alex's place open a tiny diversion from my way into work of a morning. I swim more often and next year I'm entering a 10k. I wrote a business plan, learned what planning codes mean (and promptly forgot), took more photos (although one every day for a year, or one for publication? alas, no (sort of)), walked to work more often.

I failed to see a lot more of my friends (and I feel pretty guilty about that) although we did have a nice big party in 2009. I didn't eat at a Michelin restaurant, either. I wrote nothing on my "oh, I really have to get this book written" novel, Silver. Failed at the Farmer's Market, the English vineyard, the Civic Trust. No SCUBA, not that many libraries (although many closed during the 1001 days), no horse riding or rifle shooting. I made jam, but not from foraged fruit. No beetroot pasta, either (I couldn't get it to maintain colour during cooking).

I did go to I Love West Leeds, twice. I may have sent something to postsecret but that's a bit passe these days. I voted, I Did Something About It when it morphed into 38Degrees, made souffle and visited my LBS (and a foreign country, but that's by default), who is doing much better. Beekeeping happened. As did ginger beer, and writing letters to a couple of people. I grew stuff, too. And I did things not on the list, like sourdough and clowning and Light Night and the chocolates at Dock St last year, and things that make me wish I'd kept my LJ more up to date since I got the new job, because I'm forgetting stuff and that upsets me.

Anyway, it's Sunday, it's sleeting and I've just finished off some pear crumble and custard (finally, got the right ratio of eggs to milk and it was exactly right). Am practicing making bread, so my jumper is covered in flour and dough, and my grandmother was 87 last Friday and I'll be 49 years younger than that in ten days time. I have a job I like more than the last one, a partner I (still) adore, and friends who I don't seem to have pissed off too much by being too busy to see them.

Maybe I am too busy. Maybe I should stop and stand still for a while, but... since I started doing the 101 things I've felt more like I'm living my life instead of passing through it, even - or perhaps especially - when I'm doing things that were never on the original list. The year before I started doing 101 things I made a resolution, which I never really did before, or have since: to say "yes" more. It was probably the best resolution I ever had, to be perfectly honest. People should do more of that sort of thing, where they can.

I did, and look where it's got me.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Task #42 COMPLETED: Beekeeping

I've not updated this for a year, but I have been slowly getting on with things. I won't complete, but I will get a good number ticked off my list - including this one.

Over the last weekend I was doing something new and exciting. I was looking after some BEES.

Ok, learning how to look after them properly rather than being, like, a babysitter or something. Which is harder than you might think. There's about a billion ways in which they can go wrong, there's disease, there's what to do if they swarm, or you accientally squash the queen, there's recognising the different things you find on a comb, and numbers and grubs and mites and the fact that ivy honey is vile, vile stuff.


There's legislation to read, and stuff to buy (or build, but in the first instance just cough up), and sites to find and people to notify. There's how to sell your honey (if you're lucky enough to get any) and recognising that bees are pets as much as a cat or dog. You have to learn how to spot an egg, and to stop pointing at bees going "there's the que- oh, wait no it's a drone".


Two days wasn't nearly enough, and it was done in the wrong order. So we were bombarded with terminology from the get-go which would be explained in later sessions but because we didn't know what it was, we asked the questions in too-early sessions. Beekeepers like to talk - well, this lot do, anyway - and so we'd get off topic and by the end of day one we were half an hour over and a session behind. Yes, we caught up on day two but we were still an hour over by the end of the day.


We got two sessions in the apiary; on neither occasion did I spot the (unmarked) queen. On the second, neither did the tutor, so that's ok. But when stuff looks like this:


then it's hardly surprising.

Basically, though, I loved it. I liked the bee suits, the hives, the way you can tell how annoyed the bees are after a couple of minutes being surrounded by them. The calmness that you absolutely must have before doing anything with the hive. The descriptions of diseases were a bit scary but being given hard data was satisfying. And extracting honey is a total joy (and I have a jar of honey from Temple Newsam that I extracted myself [well, partially]! And it's tasty!) even when you get flecks of stuff that looks suspiciously like bee bits floating around in it.

Am currently on the lookout for somewhere to deposit hives. I want city centre, but I will probably take anywhere...

(more photos from the weekend are here.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

It's all a bit quiet here

Erm, it's gone a bit quiet here. Sorry about that.

I'm still doing 101Things, but I need to sort out in my head exactly how to write up some of the things I've been up to - series goals, especially are a bit of a pain. There's been a change, too; I'm never going to visit every LS swimming pool, not least because I'm worried my car will be halfinched while I'm visiting at least one of them, but the spirit of the quest was to get me fitter which is happening, just in the same pool, not different ones.

I'm writing up some personal project things on my non-101things blog, which is at and there's some bloody interesting stuff on there, like my talk on cake and the day I spent drinking coffee in indie coffee shops here in Leeds.

I'll get back on the writing up horse for this soon, as well as catch up on ticking things off the list. Keep reading :)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

How is it May already? (Swimming)

I missed all of April? How?

Right; time to pick up on some stuff, then. I've restarted the swimming in every LSx pool (task #38 by going to the new public access pool at work. About seven weeks ago I stopped going swimming at my usual pool for medical reasons, and in the meantime a swimming pool opened on campus, twenty years after the idea was first suggested. The intervening twenty years has seen us take over a school site that had its own pool, which we demolished because it was grim as anything, have no less than three sets of plans drawn up as to where a new pool might go, and all sorts of backpedalling and excuses trotted out by the establishment. It was only when LCC said "we're closing the City pool" and the subsequent uproar from the public caused them to go into partnership with the University over this that the money was forthcoming. So, we got a new fitness centre.

The pool is fab; a 25m, widescreen pool that uses less water than conventional pools (how? Magic, AFAICT) and has a revolutionary treatment plant that uses a quarter of the chlorine that pools usually do (how? Silver and UV, apparently). It has magic energy efficiency stuff going on, too. The upshot of this is that the pool is lovely. It doesn't hurt the eyes or the lungs, it's the right temperature (although possibly a bit warm for "proper" swimmers), the changing rooms have underfloor heating and fantastic showers, there's a steam room and sauna and although 2/3 of the pool was reserved for swim team practice sessions there was enough room for about twenty normal people to splash about. £4, which is 30p more than South Leeds.

I managed 16 lengths in 30 minutes, which isn't bad seeing as I was last in the water in March. Getting there early is a good idea, but one held by many people. So I'm back in the saddle; twice a week I go swimming, the other three days I walk to work. Saturdays and Sundays are cycling and running days. I was starting to miss exercise (and the Wii Fit has told me off for gaining weight - a whole pound in two weeks, BMI floating about the 29.4 mark), stiffening up too much and getting achey, so I'm glad to be back on the treadmill again, even if I don't actually use a, yanno, treadmill.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Day 382: Run 5k, volunteer

Thank you, Penny:

The GPS got a bit confused as to distance because we were running through built-up streets and it kept losing signal, but I did the route (3 miles) in 36:48 with an average HR of 161. The first mile took 11 mins, the second took about 14 and I tried to run for more of the last mile than the second, but still took 12 minutes. Stitch, although not as bad as the last time, and I had to walk in a couple of places, but all in all I'm quite pleased by it. Emil beat me hollow, obv.

Seen on the route: two people in gimp suits (how the hell do you run in those things?), a bunch of firemen, a whole load of people juggling, hula-ing, some people walking their dogs, far too many people just wearing pants and a whole load of red paint, some bloke in a spangly thong (my eyes!), and loads of corporate teams.

I got a medal, which was nice. And a prune. But the queue for tea was far too long.

Right, I now have a PB; time to start training properly for 5ks.

And, thank you for sponsoring me. You're all good bunnies. I raised £145 and counting! Not bad, not bad at all :)

Just for the record, though: I'm not considering 44 & 45 to be done yet. I have to do much more training and my aim for the summer is to get a sub-30 min on the 5k route. On the other hand, I am considering task #20, volunteer for something, to be COMPLETED. So far in this 101things I've helped raise well over £200 for charity and I'm not intending to stop, but I think I can tick #20 off.

Ask me next week and I'll probably change my mind :)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bad Mike, no biscuit.

I've been very, very poor at keeping this updated. More details for the below will come along in the next couple of days (I hope!) but this is a quick state of the blog, a couple of days past one year into the experiment.

1. Training and running the 5k is still going ahead (tasks 20, 44 and 45). That's happening on Sunday 21st at 9:30, starting at Victoria Gardens in Leeds - cheerleaders welcome, as is anybody who would like to sponsor me.

2. I've not been visiting different swimming pools (task 38), but I have been consistently going to the same one twice a week before work. As this task was primarily an exercise one I think I'm doing quite well here.

3. I discovered that Open Street Map doesn't have my area particularly well covered. So I'm going to fill in the blanks as part of the "explore my grid square" tasks (5 & 6).

4. Thanks to some interesting pointers and online documents I've learned more about planning regs (task 75) than I ever wanted to. And I've discovered just how much commercial rents in nice areas go for (task 74). A lot, is the answer.

5. Walking isn't happening as much as I'd like - 30 miles in any given week is a lot. I can do 20-mile weeks reasonably frequently - I've done eleven so far - so task 4 is getting modified downwards, I'm afraid.

6. New lightbulbs don't get hot enough to make a proper lava lamp (task 84), so I'm having to rethink the original plan. Thankfully I came across this, which has given me ideas.

7. Wordle-ing the blog posts has dropped off. I think I'm more cross about this than anything else; they're there as a prompter for me to actually update the blog, and didn't work. I shall have to kick myself into writing proper updates to this, and expand on the things I've written about in this entry.

So: bad Mike, no biscuit.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Day 333, 310110

I'm a third of the way through the time allowed for my 101things, and I'm nowhere near a third of the way through my list. This is not good. Time for drastic action.

Sport Relief is the activity wing of Comic Relief. You do sports for charity, and so far, so good. It came to my attention yesterday morning eating Crunchy Nut Cornflakes in front of the telly in my dressing gown - about as slobby as I can get - and Gary Lineker's earnest appeals touched me. And, as I thought about it, I can knock off three goals from my list as one thing. I've resisted double-dipping in the past, and this is sort-of treble-dipping, but if it all goes to plan I'll be repeating the experience later in the year in the Tree-athlon (but more of that later).

The three goals are: volunteer for something (task 20), run 5k (#44) and train for the 5k (#45).

The way it works is that there are a series of events held in your local area on Sunday 21st March; some 1 mile races, a couple of 3-milers and one or two six-milers. After thinking about it for a bit I decided I could do the 1 miler without too much trouble, so I should really enter the three-mile version in order to push myself. 3 miles is a bit less than 5k, but that's fine by me and when I was signing up through the website they have a three-week training plan that might just cover me.

So, yes, I signed up. I have a sponsorship page now (so please, sponsor me!) and will be getting paperwork and sponsorship forms and stuff through the post in the next couple of days. If anybody else in Leeds wants to run that would be pretty nifty also - we could start a team :)

I'm not exactly at a standing start for my training but it's not going to be easy. I have six weeks to get up to scratch, and that will be seriously hard work. But I like a challenge, and will begin my training on day 334, 010210.

I have a target for sponsorship, too; it's only £100, and if I get that I'll think of something T&C-related to do on the run - like handing out cups of tea or gingerbread men or something fun like that. So please, think about sponsoring me and if you're local join in, or show your support by cheering me on during the race! And if anybody wants to put together a cheerleading squad I'm not going to complain :)

Day 300 wordle

Still a bit behind on the Wordles...

From Wordles

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Day 307, 050110 - The Ukulele

For Christmas my delightful lady wife bought me a blue ukulele. It's blue, and lovely, and smells of wax and woodworking classrooms. I was going to take the penny whistle as my "learn a new instrument" task (#51) but this is a lot more fun, and playing it doesn't annoy other people quite as much as the penny whistle might.

I've been tinkering with the uke for a week and a bit now - trying to have at least five minutes with it per day, just tuning and doing a few chord changes if nothing else - and have a few thoughts on the wee beastie that I want to get down.

First of all, tuning. Standard soprano uke tuning is AECG (looking from the top), and would you look at that, the A is one note lower than the G. It's not a low A, it's a high A. This threw me completely for the first day, as I had no audio samples to tune against and so I read the tuning was AECG, and as I can whistle a decent C without needing to pitch it I could tune against that. Except the A was tuned low, not high, so the string was very slack and the uke sounded very peculiar.

Strings; I've been used to playing a steel strung guitar since... lord knows. 1988, at the latest. Nylon strings were on my second, 3/4 guitar, but I've been playing steelies since I acquired our Tony's Les Paul knockoff (no humbuckers) and played it a capella. Going back to nylons has been really odd, and interestingly playing barre chords seems harder.

ukulele fretboard

Once the tuning thing - high A - was sorted I discovered the peg was slipping; it would stay in tune for a few seconds, then drop out very quickly due to the string tension being higher than the peg would allow. Ten minutes research told me that unscrupulous music shops would take the uke, say that it was broken and you'd need a new one, or replace the peg completely charging for the labour. Or, you could have a look at the screws on the back of the pegs and tweak them a bit, as these adjust the tension in the pegs. Don't overtighten, as you could gouge holes in the headstock, but 1/8th of a turn sorted out the tension on mine nicely and it'll stay in tune for a whole session (and longer).

ukulele tuning pegs

I saw a few chord diagrams (and eventually came across this one [pdf] which I promptly printed off and stuck on the wall above my desk), and started thinking in terms of aECg rather than EAdgbe. The standard chords all have a similar shape - more or less - but the tuning puts them in different keys. So, a D shape on a guitar is a G on the uke. A G on the guitar is a C on the uke. An A is a D, and so on. I love A-D-F progressions on the uke, as they're all in roughly the same zone on the fretboard and sound great. There are only two problems with chords, really. 1: my fingers aren't loose enough to do fast changes, and 2: I keep on making guitar-tuned shapes for named notes. That's a case of retraining my brain, and why I need to spend time practicing chord changes.

Tab is something I was never really bothered about on the guitar, but I'm having fun with it on the uke; practising two songs in particular (A-Ha's Take on me and REM's Losing my Religion), whilst simple as far as tab goes does help get my brain into gear for thinking about this sort of thing. I use them as exercises for warming up my fingers, and in this weather that's really necessary.

So, I'm enjoying it. More time is needed on practice, like all things, but it's just beginning to get there. I can certainly see why the uke renaissance took off the way it did in 2007. Must learn more punk songs, though. I reckon most things by the Clash would sound nifty as anything on the uke.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Day 306, 040110

First proper post of the new year; let's go with something positive.

Because of time constraints and needing to be in two places at once I didn't manage to make the dip at White Wells this year (although Alex did). My 101 tasks over the yule season were somewhat warmer affairs.

I made chocolates and humbugs as Christmas presents for many people, and took two days over making them. At the end of day 1 I had these:
End of Day 1

This is what 7kg of sweeties look like after sorting:
7Kg of sweets

And this is the representative sample of what I made
 the list

Let's get the humbugs out of the way, shall we?
Boiled sugar and peppermint oil, basically. You heat the syrup to 154° C, and then fold and stretch it into a rope which is then cut into smaller pieces while still soft. I didn't make a big enough batch for my sugar thermometer to work properly so I was doing the "drop some into a bowl of iced water" method of testing the stages, and boiled it for about 10 seconds too long. As a result a lot of it crystallised too quickly on the slab, and it set far, far too fast for me to cut completely. Argh. Still, I managed to get about 70 wrapped and although some are a bit larger than others they're bloody tasty. Dangerous for fillings, though - don't chew these.

These do count as task #92 - make a batch of boiled sweets - as these are exactly what I had in mind, but... I'm not happy with the results, so not counting this as completed. I'll have another try when the weather is a bit warmer, as I'm sure the coldness of this winter, and our kitchen especially didn't help matters.

Thinking about it, I'm not sure that overcooking the syrup made that much difference. It was supersaturated of course, but it was the coldness of the ambient that made the sugar crystallise so quickly and I may have been a bit violent with the spatula when folding it over on itself, again causing crystallisation. I understand that using cream of tartar (tartaric acid, formed on grape skins) makes the sugar easier to handle but makes the results more hygroscopic. As they're fairly susceptible to atmospheric water anyway I'm not sure I want to make these any more sticky on the surface. Still, practice makes perfect.

Humbug Humbug

As for the rest of the sweets...

Truffles, next. I made two batches of "big" truffles (ie, hand-rolled) and one of small (piped into shells); the big truffles were coffee (made by adding 2 tbsp good instant coffee to the cream, then finally rolling or dusting with some chocolate offcuts flavoured with coffee oil)

Coffee Coffee

and Amaretto, made by flavouring with 50ml amaretto and rolling in crushed amaretti.

Amaretto Amaretto

The small truffles were cocoa pops, folded into a basic mixture and piped into moulded shells.

Cocoa pops truffle Cocoa pops truffle

Salt caramels are lovely; basic caramel made with milk and cream (and again, had the same problem with the sugar thermometer so was doing the drop-into-ice-water method, but got it right this time), salt added, dipped (because caramels are hygroscopic) and decorated with sea salt crystals.

Salt caramel Salt caramel

The fondants are made by mixing warm water with (what is basically) icing sugar to form a stiff paste, and adding peppermint oil, then piping into moulds. I tried to be clever and colour the moulds with a little green cocoa butter, but this failed (the warm chocolate melted the cocoa butter), hence the gap at the back end.

Mint fondant Mint fondant

The pralines are only technically pralines; I used a neutral paste, which is made up of fat, sugar and nut paste, but doesn't have a flavour of its own so you have to add flavour to it. In the case of the lemon pralines I added some lemon puree and some sicilian lemon oil, and piped into some white chocolate moulds.

Lemon praline Lemon praline

The Orange pralines were made with the same neutral base with cointreau, orange puree, and then some candied peel dropped into the top of the shell before piping the flavourings in. It was only later, when I realised these looked exactly the same as the cocoa pop truffles that I added the blob on top of the dome...

Orange praline Orange praline

Finally, the B&Cs. These are made by making a layer of chili jam, allowing it to set, then covering with a layer of blackcurrant ganache, then cutting and dipping, finally decorating with some white chocolate coloured with purple cocoa butter. These are seriously labour intensive and impossible to make in batches smaller than 140. By the end of dipping these my back was killing me. But they're so, so worth it.


There's a set on Flickr containing all these photos and a few more of the construction process - feel free to have a look. They're all really tasty, but if I could redo any it'd be the humbugs, because I boiled them for too long, and the hand-rolled truffles, because they're just too big and need to be about half the size.

Well worth the two days, I think. In the end it made sufficient presents for 24 people (some of whom were getting "proper" presents as well, but it all counts), and there were plenty of leftovers - there's still about 40 B&Cs and a similar number of humbugs - to pick at and put together a "randoms" box to scoff on NYE.

Next: Ukulele!

Day 306 wordle

I'm way, way behind on everything to do with this.

So, let's get the Day 270 Wordle uploaded.

From Screen Captures

The day 300 one will come after a couple of updates. Those updates are:

1. Boiling sugar is harder than it looks.
2. Blue Ukulele!

There's also a "I'm never going to be able to do this, so I'm changing it to that" -type update to come, and something to do with clowns. Once I've done them, then I'll do the day 300 Wordle.

Sorry, guys. I'll be trying harder.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Day 268, 271109 (gingerbread)

Concerning gingerbread people.

You know, if we were professional bakers we probably could have had this done and dusted in half the time. A third of the time. Total man hours required for myself and Sam (of Tea and Cake fame) to make 100 gingerbread people turned out to be about 14; my standard hourly rate (for callouts) is £50, which makes these some of the most expensive gingerbread men ever made. Or, would do, if we were charging for anything other than ingredients.

But, we did it, they are done and we did them. 100 gingerbread people, as a T&C enterprise for one of Sam's friends, getting married on Saturday and wanting wedding favours for people. You know how I say things like "try everything once, just so you know you'll never have to do it again"? Well, without a bigger oven, a higher working surface and something to pulverize crystallised ginger without gumming up I'm never making this many gingerbread men again...

The recipe was the standard one that I swiped from my mother, and modified slightly with some different spices and some maple syrup, with the extra addition of a couple of tablespoons of blitzed crystallised ginger. It's a bit gummy, that stuff, so my hand mixer didn't really like it very much. It makes quite a difference to the mixture, though - a bit of texture and some more ginger in there, without having big lumps of mouth-searing surprise. Fifty raw gingerbread men look like this:

Dough Raw

... and as they were cooling, but before I put them in airtight tins, they looked like this:

Awaiting decor


They stayed crisp overnight (hoorah!) in the airtight tins, but I did have to make another batch before going to bed because some were a bit too singed around the edges and were more like those biscuits you get in plastic packets when you order coffee in hotels that are trying, but don't quite get coffee. Perfectly edible if you like that sort of thing, but not really suitable.

Met Sam at the station, we went home and took out the ladies that she'd done, melted some chocolate (which set really quickly, so I decided that properly tempered chocolate was a luxury we couldn't afford in this situation and went for speed and simplicity over my own "technique above all else!" aesthetics), and decorated the ladies.


Then we set the chaps out, melted more chocolate, and did them. By the time we got to the end of the chaps it was 10pm, we were shattered and backs were really aching, and you can tell by the lack of suits and more... odd decor some of the chaps got. There was a skellington (userpic), someone in an X-ray machine, and a member of the Syndikat.


We did special ones for the bride and groom, too. Lots of chocolate! We did comment on the decoration as we were doing it; some of the ladies were very obviously grannies, some were in evening wear, some in dungarees. The gents were... eclectic, I think.

We certainly had fun making them - a lot of fun - but it's hard, hard work. I have much more respect for bakers, especially ones who do artisinal things like this. We could have done single colour, five blobs and a smile, and be done in ten minutes, but where's the artistry in that? This was all about the handmade product, the joy of uniqueness, and I think we did a pretty good job with that.

Richard was a star and ran out for tupperware with mere minutes to go before Sainsbury's closed; when packed up, the 100 gingerbread people looked like this:

What 100 Gingerbread men looks like

Fun, yes. Next time though, I'm charging more :)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Day 262, 211109 (Thought Bubble)

This weekend was the best sequential arts fair in the North, and possibly the country (although Birmingham may argue on size, I think this is the friendliest). By which I mean Thought Bubble.

In a city with two indie comics shops (one of which does games) and a FP, you'd think that a comics convention wouldn't be a huge thing here, and if there was one it'd be a small affair, stuffed in a church hall or in the basement of the Town Hall, or something. In fact, in year one it was in the basement of the town hall, and it was a fairly sedate affair with only a handful of names attending, and it wasn't bad, but not really enough to hold interest for very long (also, I was very ill at the time). Then in year two - it amazes me that it's only three years old now - it exploded into Saville Hall, a huge conference venue by the Armouries. It was rammed solid last year, with the queue stretching quite some way at opening time and not really shortening very much before lunch. At that one I looked after the fetishman stall for a bit and pretended to be Geof for an interview, and spent a bit of money - but not that much - on indie comics.

This year was something else entirely.

I went with a budget, and with the intention of spending money on indie comics. I arrived at lunchtimeish, found Mavis who gave me a quick tour - showing me some Doctor Who artwork that made me think "Oh, it's a shame t'other Penny isn't here" on the way - and then stood with me as I carried out my first purchase of the day, and one I've been looking forwards to for two years, a copy of Grandville.

A quick note from my diary from back then:
[...] A two-hour session with Bryan Talbot as part of the Ilkley Literature Festival, who was talking about his techniques in graphic novel design with specific reference to The Tale of One Bad Rat. He started off with a retrospective of his work up to that point - which took 40 minutes - and pointing out how he learned to use a brush, crosshatching, lines of convergence, vanishing points, use of colour (which happened very late on), and some seriously interesting things about passage of time - how he spread a six-second sequence in Luther Arkwright across 72 panels, for example - and plotting. Then he gets into One Bad Rat, which pulls all of this together. He talked about the nine-frame grid a lot, and intuitive reading, and how people's brains work when reading comics - their eyes jump everywhere, even though the conscious brain is only aware of the linear flow - and putting little things in a frame which aren't necessarily supposed to be seen, per se, but help the brain work out what is supposed to be happening. Really, it was an incredible session. I made a ton of notes, made a note of all his references and work, and thought "gosh, that's the sort of thing I learned in photo classes!" a lot.

Just as we were leaving he pulls out his portfolio and asks if people want to take a look at some of his stuff for Grandville (the first ten pages, which looked outstanding), the thing he's currently working on ("Steampunk meets Sherlock Holmes, with animals instead of humans.") so of course I did, and then someone suggested a beer. So, three of the attendees (a graphic designer, a philosophy lecturer at UoL who is taking a year out to write about comics, and, erm, me) took Bryan to a boozer where we spent the time between his two events getting gently sloshed, discussing his work, who is up-and-coming, why comics aren't really taken seriously in the UK as opposed to, say, France or Belgium, trying to get graphic novels published and how much easier it's getting - aha - and technology. Plus going over two versions of Grandville, one in vibrant colour, the other slightly desaturated and trying to work out which was the best ("I brought these along to get opinions - here, what do you think?") It was at this point that I learned about Thought Bubble, as we started talking about conventions and the characters who turn up.

Bryan is a nice chap, and seeing as I've known about him since I was nine years old and stealing my Dad's copy of Luther Arkwright (Book 1), it's quite nice to realise that one of my childhood, um, heroes is really accessable. No kidding, being asked to rate his work? That's a bit of a "wow" for me.

Of course, I got Grandville signed by Bryan, we had a quick chat about a panel in Luther Arkwright I'd been wondering about for over twenty years, and I mentioned my perhaps somewhat dodgy thought that his cover for Erskine's Dan Dare does look a bit like a, erm, "book cake" shoot (look, those cruisers are seriously phallic, ok?). Anyway.

We headed back to Geof where I deposited bags and biscotti, with the instruction to use the biscotti as they saw fit. Geof had a bottle of "Mr Reynold's Genuine Hand-Squeezed Kraken Ink".
Fetishman working

Next, to see John Allison, bought badges and a poster, and pestered Ellerby for more ellerbisms and requested he sign things. Also demanded "what's new?" of Lizz Lunney and had a quick chat to the guys at We Are Words and Pictures, from whom I bought my favourite print of last year.

I spotted Bunny! So went and got volume two, having loved volume 1; this is one of those comics that really deserves to be read in print. Reading it on the web is fine, but this is something else when it's a book. Next door to Bunny (ish) was Gunnerkrigg Court. Wandering over to the chap behind the desk my opening gambit was "where do I know your name from?" and we eventually worked out it was from John Allison. I picked up his book, thinking it was a little expensive, but was instantly hooked. This was some seriously good writing and printing, and whilst the art seems a little naive it picks up really quickly. When I got home I read Grandville, and then I read this; it was stunning work and I loved every panel. Much hard work has gone into producing this and I can't recommend it enough.

Some people had work that looked fun, but wasn't my cuppa; a book of lovingly rendered watercolours telling a mermaid's tale was startlingly expensive but obviously a lot of love went into it's production, for example. I just didn't like the story that was being told enough. There was a lot of "trying too hard" stuff; semicompetent artwork and writing basically consisting of vomit, scatalogical references and poorly-thought out storylines, all of which turn me off. Some sort-of big press items that were ok, but there were better artists not getting book deals. Oh, and I didn't queue up to see any of the Names other than Bryan (and there wasn't much of a queue for him). I should have gone to see Paul Cornell, but he wasn't there when did go to see him and the crush of people trying to see Templesmith was getting ridiculous. And then Tony Stark turned up (sorry, rubbish photo - my decent camera was at the bottom of my bag by this point) and everything stopped wherever he was standing.

Ollie East was there for Blank Slate, who are publishing Trains Are... Mint and Proper Go Well High (instead of him selfpublishing). I bought copies of both, and loved them; these were sweet watercolours with a nice, otherworldy feel to them, the stories being Ollie's walks from Manchester to Blackpool and Liverpool respectively. Love these books; they're great artifacts, beautiful objects to have. Won't be everybody's cuppa, though. (I later discovered Ollie was the cover artist for Seldom Seen Kid.)

I bought far too much small indie comics costing under a fiver, too. I'll do proper reviews of them when I've read them all, but particular highlights were My Cardboard Life (oh! so lovely!), and The Rainbow Orchid, the first volume of a gorgeous-looking series of three, inked in the very best Belgian style. Brilliant work, can't wait for volume two.

Finally, I coughed for some Fetishman stuff as well, including a mug this time. Swag:

Penny joined me, and we decided to make up some sort of creative salon. There was a talk about Grandville held in the casino, so I had to go along to that (learned all about anthropomorphic cartoons through history, as well as some of the in-jokes in Grandville itself), then I made balloon doggies for a bunch of people, and then I was shattered and had to come home. But I did well, and did my bit to support the indie comics industry. In amongst everything else I met the model for the Doctor Sketchy's event they were doing - I love that idea, a burlesque evening where you're encouraged to draw - and had an extended gossip session with Michelle Culturevulture.

Oh! When I left it had been raining, and Clarence dock looked like this:

Seriously, this was an outstanding day; Lisa does a brilliant job of organising the festival and it showed on the day. Of course I'll be back, and loving every minute, again.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Day 258, 161109

This is a bit of a catchup post.

I've not been doing much on 101things recently, because of other stuff getting in the way. Fully aware that you chaps aren't necessarily interested in that, I won't write about those things in great detail.

The beetroot pasta task (#36) needs a little explaining; I don't want to make pasta out of beetroot per se, but to use beetroot as a colouring agent so I end up with reddy purple pasta. Funky colours, see? The problem is, you need quite a lot of beetroot to get the colour. As an example of this, I present some marshmallows that I made a couple of weeks ago:
See that faint pinky colour? Two beetroot (grated and steeped in 100ml boiling water) in about 750ml of liquid. If a normal pasta dough is 500g of flour, I'm going to need the colour of six beetroot to get anything like the colour I want, and I can't have that much fluid in it, as the dough is basically egg and flour, with only a few sprinkles of water. Cooking beetroot juice turns it brown, too, so I can't concentrate it through evaporation. This is going to take some thought. Yes, I could cheat and make gnocci, but where's the fun in that?

Sam and myself are making a gingerbread army. Wedding favours for a friend of Sams, with proceeds going to charity, like we did with the Charming Armley Cake Comp. This has meant my making a lot of trial runs of gingerbread, but the final batch will be started next week; a mixture of maple syrup, pulverized stem ginger and careful use of bicarb will make these the finest gingerbread men and women the world has ever seen. Photos when available.

Exposure Leeds (#85) continues to skip lightly forwards; I think I've attended all the indoor ones to date and given talks at three of them. I was thinking about this the other day; in the 18 months since I met Jon Eland I've given four separate talks at Photocamps and three talks at Exposure Leeds sessions, and become involved in a pretty huge technology project. It's fun, I enjoy doing it, it's just an odd thing. Anyway, at the last Exposure I gave a talk on Panographs and Panoramix, the slides of which are available in four parts: [part 1] [part 2] [part 3] [part 4]. If you'd like me to present this anywhere - because obv, 80% of this is in the delivery - I'll do it for expenses :)

Because I needed to do proper research for my talk I popped into Leeds University's Arts library, the Brotherton. This enabled me to tick off another library from task 17. The Brotherton is a fab library, with special collections, books that are never checked out, and little corners to hide in. The little corners can be occupied by "characters" as in the case of the Library Foot-Sniffer, the scourge of many when we had open access to the libraries, but on the whole it's a lovely place to be. As a part of the talk I made a panorama of the interior...


... and came across a book that I had to check out; David Hockney's Cameraworks. This book contains most - not all - of his "joiners" and some I didn't know existed, and has an interesting monograph at the front by the compiler about the hows and whys. I may spend a bit of time writing about this book at some point.

Once the gingerbread army is out of the way I'll be making more chocolates, and trying to write up some articles for T&C. But... I had an idea for a cookbook. I shouldn't waste time on it, but as an idea I love it and want to take it forward, just a little bit.

That'll do for now. Just a quick state of the nation -type posting.