Monday, September 21, 2009

Day 201, 210909

So, I'm a fifth of the way through.


I'm nowhere near a fifth of the way through the tasks, though. Some are, of course, series tasks that will take a while, but it's still a bit daunting to see only 11 completeds - ten percent - in twenty percent of the time.

That's not what I'm writing about today. No, what I'm writing about today is this:
Yr Humble Svt will be appearing on Telly, again. So, task 7 rears its head again on Tuesday 22nd September 2009 - that's day 202 - at 5pm on ITV1. I shall be cooking on Britain's Best Dish, a starter of... well, you'll have to wait and see. I'll be writing up my experiences post-hoc (I wanted to write them up in advance, but didn't hear back from my producers), and the not-so-gory details will appear on here in due course. BBD is quite a bit of fun and worth watching anyway, just for seeing the state of British home cooking; the quality of the food coming through has been very high, so I'd say that state was pretty good.

Watch it, and let me know what you think!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Day 193, 130909

On day 193 I completed something I've been meaning to do for a good ten years. Task #63, climb the bell tower at Leeds Town Hall.

The clock tower at Leeds Town Hall is very high; Phill and the LHES managed to wangle a comprehensive tour a few years back (link, but his images aren't loading at time of writing) but we only had the mini tour, which didn't involve being crapped on my pigeons or falling through floorboards. First of all, this is what LTH looks like from the outside.
And this is one of the sets of stairs we had to take to get up to the clock faces.
There were 220 steps in all; thankfully there was a breather at 140 steps; the room where the chandelier above the vestibule is hung. I took a sneaky photo through the grating, but it's not very good (on the flickr photostream if you care). There is a huge pipe in this room, a flue from when the chandeliers were gaslit. Too dark to photograph. Boo.

The chap taking us on the tour was Eric, the FoH manager, a really nice bloke who knew the town hall inside out. The piano competition had been going on over the previous week (broadcasts start Friday, IIRC) and he'd been with the BBC taking photos of the town hall all lit up from various vantage points across the city, and was touchingly fond of the old building. He told us about how they change the lightbulbs in the chandeliers, the amount of pigeon crap they shovelled out of here over the summer (80 sacks! 80!), the various nooks and corners the town hall has. When we got past the bell tower (below the clock faces), we were in the clock mechanism, behind the faces, and I wasn't sure we'd be allowed out onto the balcony. Then he said "you can stay up here as long as you like, and the views are fantastic" and that was all the encouragement I needed. Outside, the clock faces look fantastic close up, with incredible detail nobody at ground level will notice...
... but really, he wasn't kidding about the views.


The clock mechanism itself is fairly simple and clockwork, and that's really all there is to it. Some cogs, some weights, and a mechanical winder. I learned that standard practice for all stopped municipal clocks is to set them to 12 o/c, as it's the time most people are bound to realise it isn't. They had a problem earlier in the year that needed the mechanical winder to be replaced by an electronic one, and replacing the bulbs in the clock faces is no joke. Replacing the bulb in the cupola is really not funny at all; we weren't allowed up there, because there's only room for one person and that person has to stand on the trapdoor.

The rest of the town hall is still a working building; the great hall is used for all kinds of events (recently the aforementioned piano competition)
Organ pano
But the cells, bridewell, and court are now just museum pieces (although all were in use until 1993). Interestingly, none of it is below ground; all at ground level, but behind so much stone it might as well be underground. I spotted one of those cracking mirrors that allows you to view around corners - presumably in case someone broke out of the cells, or was carrying prisoners and didn't want to bump into people - and selfportraited myself in it.

Eric, bless 'im, gave us an extended show round the building because I couldn't find the courts. He loves the building, and it shows; it is an easy building to love, with phenomenal history and stunning architecture. I was very pleased to have been able to take the tour and meet this tremendous chap with an incredible capacity and enthusiasm for the place he works.

So, task 63 is COMPLETED! Huzzah!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Day 191, 110909

A quick state of the nation post, just to keep track of where I am.

I have completed 10 - yes, that's ten - tasks.
  • climbing Pen-y-Ghent (#96)
  • had a go at archery (#68)
  • watched a play written by @wordweave, aka Mrs W, (#82)
  • attended four Exposure Leeds sessions (#85)
  • learned how to make chocolates (#8)
  • turned my handwriting into a font (#71)
  • visited Tropical World (#23)
  • appeared on telly (#7) but watch this space!
  • whacked some balls (#86)
  • and finally, registered for blood donation (#86).

Not a bad start!

What am I up to at the moment? Well...
In terms of explorations, I'm everso slowly working my way through all the libraries with an LS postcode (#17), even more slowly working my way through the municipal pools (#38), gone walking with Matt (#97) a few times, and have made serious inroads into visiting every museum with an LS postcode (#57). Roundhay park has been visited (#22), but I've not had a good poke around yet.

I have given away 17 books to charity (#60) and sponsored three people for doing things outside their comfort zones (#100). I gave away some of the photo stuff I don't need (#99) but need to give away more, I am still telling someone - guess who - that I love them every day (#13), and along with that am still being good and eating breakfast, not buying coffee, and eating more fruit (#88, #87 and #26, respectively). Also, I'm writing letters to people (#67). People like letters, I've found.

Exercise-wise, apart from climbing mountains I've been half-heartedly pursuing a training regimen, but not really talking about it because it's not been a concerted effort. When I get the focus for it, it'll join the other tasks such as getting the bike out (#81) about 14 times so far, and walking 30 mile weeks (#4), which is proving quite difficult. I'm getting lots of 25 mile weeks, four of them so far, but only one 30-miler.

Growing things has not gone well; not a good year for tomatoes and I lost heart when my chillies died out. I'll try those again next year. Herbs, as well; the parsley did ok, basil survived, just about, oregano smelled fantastic but didn't take very well. Again, reboot next summer. I'll have to restart my take 365 consecutive daily photos task (#3), too. I had a rough week about two months ago and it stalled, I lost track of where I was, and then it all descended into chaos.

But I am still doing quite well on bringing my lunch to work (#66); I'm on 80 out of 250! And I'm still remembering to wordle (#37), mostly.

I think that's where I'm up to right now. There may be a few things I've missed, but I'm fairly happy with how things are going. Not quite a fifth of the way through, and there's some good scores up there. Yeah, I'll take that.

Day 181, 010909, part 4 (the last bit!)

After visting Kirkstall Abbey I needed food, so parked up in Kirkstall Valley entertainment complex, or whatever they're calling it these days. The point is, I could get a vegeburger and walk over the river Aire to my final museum of the day, Armley Mills. There's a bridge at the back of the complex, between Frankie & Bennies and the everso amusingly named boozer, The Aire of the Dog, which has a sometimes-padlocked gate that leads into the Mill. Today, I was fortunate in that the gate wasn't padlocked, but it was jammed shut by an errant breeze, so needed to give it a bit of a shove to open. The usual route in is from Viaduct Road, but I was feeling lazy by this point and needed to get into the museum before I started thinking all I really needed was a cuppa and a slab of something sweet and fattening.

I'm glad I didn't do that, because Armley Mills is brilliant.

Armley Mill

First of all, there's a little steam train called Henry who jocularly threatened to run me over as I was trying to find the way in. Next, it has a huge millpond and stream fed off the Aire, and it runs underneath this astonishingly huge complex; just think of the architectural chutzpah needed to get this thing off the ground (literally, in this case)! I found the thought of all that water belting underneath this building a staggering one.

Once inside it was as most industrial museums; large hunks of metal that do fairly interesting repetitive tasks and some big signs in large type, with little detail. Except... there were some serious inconguities. Walking through one gallery I saw some balls of wool with a name next to them. Odd, I thought. Did this person make the wool, perhaps? There's a gallery of printing machinery with a brief history of printing in Leeds - which is great, but nothing actually to do with the Mill. Then it got really odd; a whole section full of old TV and film cameras and cinematic projection equipment from the 1890s upwards, with a chunk dedicated to Daguerreotypes and Louis Le Prince, for example. Le Prince, by the way, is a fascinating character. He didn't die, he vanished. Then I walked round a corner and found a small cinema.

No, seriously. Tilt-up seats, a little booth, and a silver screen with curtains across. I perhaps should mention that there was just me in the museum at this point, me and all the staff waiting for 5pm to roll 'round. So I was looking at this odd arrangement of stuff, when a little man, deaf in both ears, came over and started talking to me about why I was there, and where I was from, and so on, and then said "shall I put the film on?" and there was a film; 15 minutes of clips from silent slapstick black & white comedies, from the Keystone studios. Surreal? Yes. Being by myself in this little box cinema watching 1918 policemen dropping from a laundry chute into waiting cars was very odd.

The industrial galleries were hardly less odd. There were plaques everywhere with people's names on, and I was failing to work out why until I saw this:
Heads on bobbins

I was pretty sure that the mills didn't put little clay heads on their bobbins. I realised that the plaques related to pieces of installed artwork - probably from a final year show - that were scattered all over the museum. Bless 'em. I was instantly enchanted by some of the more obvious pieces - those heads in particular made me grin - and promptly went back to see if I could spot the ones I'd missed. Alas: no. But I did find this:
Installed art
which is equally as enchanting, although perhaps a little more peculiar.

Finally, there was an engine shed, filled with heavy chunks of metal used for pulling or pushing things. One side was filled with locomotives, including the now cooling down Henry (he made little pops and gasps as his boiler was expelling the remnants of the steam), and I spotted a sign on the wall that should be the motto of as many public bodies as you could possibly imagine:
No Skylarking
Or maybe a CD cover. Hm.

The Mill is a seriously peculiar place; I like its eccentricities and being there by myself gave me a peculiar sense of responsibility, and the installations are wonderful if a little difficult to spot. Again, another place I'd be happy to drag people, if they understood the innate sense of fun the place has. It could be a thoroughly dull-and-worthy place, but somehow it is anything but.

And that concludes my writeup of my day exploring Leeds Museums. I did 5, and for those of you keeping score that means I have 4 LCC museums left, plus a wodge of others that is still somewhat in flux. Thanks for reading thus far :)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Day 181, 010909, part 3

Right, where was I? Oh, yes.

After Lotherton Hall I was keen to carry on with my museum trips, and given I was quite close to the ring road thought the best place would be Kirkstall, for Abbey House and the Abbey itself. Although it was approaching lunchtime I thought I could fit in the two before needing to get some food, so made reasonable time getting there and parked up in the big car park next to Abbey House.

The last time I stopped at Abbey House was about five years ago, when we - that's Angela, Iain, Chris, Sarah and myself - went on a hard hat tour of the Abbey, and the museum was the meeting point. Didn't go in, which was probably remiss of me, as the museum is utterly, utterly barking and fun at the same time. It is a lovely building, the gatehouse to the Abbey, and now contains a somewhat peculiar pair of cobbled victorian streets, complete with skies, shops, undertakers, and cramped artisan cottages lifted brick-by-brick from Beeston back in the day. No kidding, this place would freak me the hell out if I was even remotely out of it for whatever reason.
Abbey House main street
The main street has a boozer at the end, a hatters, grocery, all sorts of shops. There's a barrow, and if you look carefully, some electric fans, all the rage in 1887.

The back alley was very different; it's designed to make you think about the juxtaposition between worlds in Victorian England.
Abbey House alley
The undertakers is here, as is the Sunday school and barbershop, with an interesting plaque about washerwomen, and how husbands would buy mangles as presents for their wives, just in case they became unable to work (or died) so their wives could take in washing to keep the wolves at bay.

Upstairs is a gallery of children's toys, the Tuke Map, and a small collection of local art influenced by Atkinson Grimshaw, which is deserving of more close study than I had time for. Also, the original artist skteches for the Town Hall; somewhat different to the reality, despite being done only three years before completion.

Popping over the road to the Abbey was a no-brainer. It has been many years since I'd had a good poke around Kirkstall Abbey, and it has changed quite a lot since then. The chapterhouse is now the entrance to the Abbey proper, and there's big fences around it to stop unauthorised access. Properly laid out routes exist, and all the really dangerous bits have signs on informing you that it is probably not a good idea to go scrambling over this loose brickwork or into these former drainage tunnels. I never tire of having a good look around ruined abbeys, and this is no exception, despite my first visit here being over 15 years ago.
Clouds Kirkstall Abbey
There was a photoshoot going on off to one side and I had to be careful not to wander into shot. But the place is really photogenic and makes a fantastic backdrop to photograph against.
The abbey tower

After I'd taken in enough crumbling architecture I decided to grab some food and go to my last museum, Armley Mills.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Day 185, 050909: Photocamp

September 5th 2009 was Photocamp09 in Bradford.

Thanks to various reasons I was very late packing my bag, and heading off to the National Media Museum for a day of discussing all forms of photography in Photocamp.

Yes, I arrived halfway through the keynote speech, missing the opening remarks, comments about missing people and the introductions (sorry, Jon). The keynote was presented by Miss Aniela (arguably nsfw, if you work in a puritan church). Now, some of her photos are incredible, but she does seem to have a bit of a cult following, and even though she says things like "some people may describe me as pretty and if that helps my print sales, I'm fine with that" I can't help but wonder if she would have a similar following if she took fewer photos in her pants. I know the techniques she's used to do some of the photos, too; I daresay that if I was selfportraiting like that I wouldn't get a fiftieth of the hits she gets, despite the wow factor of apparent levitation. Still, she makes a living from it, so who am I to comment. The speech was quite interesting, to be fair, and she did a good job of saying "at least my photos tell a story, unlike these" - examples - " where the photographer seemed to spend more time writing the copy that explains the photograph than actually taking it" which is something we can all relate to.

The keynote over, we had the group shot, then dispersed up some stairs to the conference suite. Where the a/c was buggered. Never mind! I had to find the room I was giving my pinhole workshop. Locked! So we started late, and there were a lot of people wanting to do this; I counted fifteen people (although I did need two goes at this), each making cameras from matchboxes, and I think it went pretty well; I found it hard to explain some of the bits, but everybody got there in the end, and it was a real pleasure to see people wandering around the museum with their little white-and-black cameras, taking shots of things. I even made it onto the NMM's blog :)

I stayed in the same room for Rick's talk on "how to make money from photography", an interesting talk on self-promotion and flogging your wares, and then got a breath of fresh air before heading off to lunch with Dave and Alex; a veggie curry buffet on Forster Sq, very tasty with some of the best chapatis I'd had in ages - you really shouldn't go to lunch in Bratfud and have anything other than a curry. The afternoon was the second of Natalie's sessions where I learned a little more about compositing, and then the print swap (I gave away a copy of Wastwater and took away someone's Anthony Gormley at Crosby sunset shot), then I had to shift the car, then I was up again, talking about Open Leeds, a project I've been working on that takes publically-owned data (specifically, OOC photographic archives held by local government bodies) but inaccessable due to having a shocking UI or some other faffy access layer, and makes it more accessable. I got a lot of interest from that, which was nice. The person who was on after me was talking about digital panoramas, something I'm interested in, and I thoroughly enjoyed his talk. Neil uses Hugin rather than Autostitch; I've had trouble with Hugin in the past because it doesn't like beach scenes and throws a wobbly whenever presented with lots of open, similar space, but apparently that's been fixed in more recent versions. And, to be fair, Hugin does give you acres more control than autostitch.

There was no closing session, no "thanks for coming"; it was all a bit messy at the end. Lots of people went to the pub (and, indeed, came back on the Sunday), but I wasn't able to think about alcohol by this point and just went home. A good day, but there were a few niggly bits that could have been done a bit better. I understand why we didn't have a closing session (the only space big enough was being used by actual paying customers watching a film), and the a/c was out of our control, but the print swap was a bit chaotic, there wasn't really any space to mingle, and there were too many sessions going on that I wanted to attend, but couldn't! We'll see what happens next year.

Also, I took two cameras with me (and helped build a further 15), and didn't take any photos at all. None. How daft is that?

Anyway, this isn't a thing per se, but it's a nifty bit of stuff that kicked off the whole Exposure Leeds thing, so is technically part of task 85, I suppose. And the Open Leeds thing is part of my volunteering project, (#20) which will start gearing up a little more soon.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Day 181, 010909, part 2

The Discovery Centre was enormous fun, and set me up for the rest of the day. I was in need of some breakfast by this point, so tried to find the closest museum to where I was, Thwaite Mills. Unfortunately I completely missed the turning due to the road signs being a bit confusing and me being a bit of a muppet, so rather than turn back I thought I'd head off to Lotherton instead.

Lotherton is best reached by following the road signs off the A1(M); just follow the brown signs and you'll be happy. Driving through some fantastic countryside with woods and parkland and excellent driving roads, with a great sense of "estate" to one side and "farm" to the other, was very pleasant indeed, and the hall entrance was well signposted with plenty of notice (although, the sign is starting to get a bit overgrown and will need cutting back soon). Parking was £3.60, which gave access to the bird sanctuary (more on this in a bit) and the estate and grounds. A toasted teacake and a cuppa in the cafe was very welcome - the cafe is lovely, by the way, and the catering in all the LCC museums is done very well by the same contractor - so after a bit of recuperation I was able to investigate the hall.

Lotherton Hall

Originally a 12th Centrury village, the only remnants of which are the chapel (a lovely building but not terribly photogenic), the hall was the family home of the Gascoines, although they rarely lived there before this century, living instead at Parlington Hall just down the road (flattened in 1950). I found this out watching a short film with bizzare editing and no captions at the start of the hall ("sorry, no photography and you'll have to leave your rucksack with us", along with a further £2.40 entry fee for Leeds Card holders), which referenced the Barnbow plot (which was something about overthrowing Charles II, but seems to have been overlooked by Wikipedia) and the Irish parliament, amongst many other things.

The hall nowadays serves as an interesting but typical stately home (cracking rooms, brilliant main hall, no kitchens) that houses a few of LM&G's pottery collections. One of the rooms is an "oriental gallery" that has Qilins, Celadons and - amusingly - an opium pipe purchased from a "Save the Children Fund" shop in 1970. There is the original The Irish House of Commons by Francis Wheatley in the dining room, and a gallery upstairs shows some photographs of interesting tunnels and cellars (and led me to the National Monuments Record, something I had no idea existed before now).

One thing to mention; unlike the National Trust -type stately home, where everything is cordoned off and woe betides anybody who Steps Over The Red Rope, there are very few cordoned off bits in Lotherton. It's almost as if you're encouraged to poke around the rooms. Don't touch anything (of course!) but there's nothing to stop you looking under the pianos or getting a closer look at the bookshelves. I heartily approve of this. People aren't as careless as many curators would have you believe, and getting up close to the objects on display gives you a better feel for the environment. About the only thing you were actively discouraged from doing was sitting in the wrong seats, and how did they do this? By putting a sprig of holly on the chair. It was a great syntax - you can sit in chairs without holly on, you can't sit in the ones that'll put spikes into your backside. I loved that, and more places should be encouraged to do similar things.

Outside is very pleasant; the formal gardens are well laid out, have some nice plants and there's a temple towards the back of the gardens.
Lotherton gardens
There's a deer park, some interesting woods, walks signposted all over the place which would take in a good afternoon's strolling, and a bird sanctuary. I was in a bit of a rush, and I'm not a huge bird lover, so didn't spend that much time in there, but they had some lovely iridescent tropical birds, plenty of flamingos and cranes, parrots, owls (I do, admittedly, love owls) and vultures. I didn't photograph any because of the time thing, but I will be going back to Lotherton to spend a bit more time poking around the grounds. The whole place is a very nice way of spending an afternoon with kids, parents and friends with a picnic, and if we're ever stuck for a "what shall we do today?" -type thing, would be happy to drag people out here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Day 180 redux

The book I forgot the title of was Carl Hiaasen's Basket Case. Because of this book, I've refused to pick up any other of Carl Hiaasen's ouvre, despite people saying "oh, you like Chris Brookmyre! You'll love this" at me. Erm, no.

Day 182 wordle

From Screen Captures

Day 180, 310809

(Not in order, sorry)

The bookshelves were starting to look desperately overcrowded, so a mini clearout happened over the weekend and a pile went to the usual recipient, Oxfam Books in Headingley. I managed to get rid of another six.

  • Little Tales of Misogyny by Patricia Highsmith. Originally given to me as a stocking filler by my mother way back in the mists of time, I never really got on with Highsmith. Of course, it's probably an out-of-print work of genius that'll sell for whole pounds on eBay, but never mind.
  • The Chimney Sweeper's Boy by Barbara Vine. This was a TSP book they sent me when I forgot to fill in the form saying "I don't want any books, please". It was ok, but was never really fussed about it. Having books foisted on me tends to leave me in an ambivalent state, and less likely to read them.
  • Yes, ok, I admit it, I had a copy of The Da Vinci Code, and I actually enjoyed it on first reading. Second reading made me throw it across the room, and I don't own a copy any more.
  • Modern-day writers doing "new" classic novels are, basically, fanfic writers with a better agent. In my opinion. This opinion was not altered by Sebastian Faulk's Devil May Care. It was a known author's name away from languishing on a website full of James Bond slash.
  • I didn't like Mark Gatiss' The Versuvius Club. Just... not that fussed by it. It wasn't bad, per se, but Gatiss writes better stuff for screen than the page.

There was one other as well, but I can't remember what that was! That's disappointing, although obviously didn't impinge on my thoughts very much. Anyway, I'm up to 17 books donated, which is... ok. Ish. Need to try harder, I guess.

Day 181, 010909

I had a day of pottering about museums as part of task #57; this is part one of the writeup for this day. It was a seriously good - but busy - day.

Tuesday was one of those odd days off. It meant I could take S to the train station, then go my own way for a day and see where the wind took me. The plan was to see as many LCC-owned museums as I could, as detailed on their Museums and Galleries page, and I'd booked a trip around the Discovery Centre at 9:30 to start it all off. I was so anxious to get started, of course, that I was half an hour early, so I parked up (and found a bloody brilliant photographic subject that I'll have to shoot one day, while trying to find a parking space; an enormous tower, industrial complex, for what I think is industrial sand or glass) and went for a wander down to the river and around Clarence Dock. The river was looking particularly pleasant that morning, and there was a narrowboat-dweller who'd chosen to dry his socks (possibly washed in the Aire, bu-dum *tschh*) in the air.

Poking around Clarence Dock was interesting; I found out where the church that looks like Batman actually was (I can see it every morning on my bus into work, and it always reminds me of Batman), and there's some new shiny balls that just demand to be photographed from interesting angles.
There's a cookware shop there I keep meaning to visit, but forget that it exists. Hm. Anyway, the Discovery centre beckoned.
Discovery Centre
Alas, I forgot to ask about photography inside the centre - indeed, I forgot to take my camera out of my pocket, I was so startled by it. A purpose-built warehouse for the collections owned by LM&G, it's a huge room at 16°C, with three smaller rooms for document and photographic storage. They have large objects, but not many bigger than pianos; the star is a life-sized giant squid model made for an exhibition a few years back, but they have no need for it now and can't bear to throw it out. It hangs from the ceiling. Most of the collections are quite small. A selection of things confiscated by customs, like butterflies and turtles as souveniers (both of which are illegal to import). Some spears, and other arms and armour that the Royal Armouries don't really need. Clothing from house estates, porcelein (some of which is really horrible), board games, chairs, stuffed animals, victorian showers, cookers, random bits of rock, a fantastic geology collection including meteorites (I got to hold something that had come from outer space!). A previous curator had an interest in molluscs, so out of their fairly large natural history collection all the shellfish are incredibly well organised and the aim is to get everything in the store that well catalogued. They have formerly private lepidoptery and beetle and insect collections, including a case I randomly opened that was full of hymenoptera, with special emphasis on bees.

They also have photo archives that are uncatalogued. Now, I'm a huge fan of photo archives, and what they have are industrial archives, personal photo collections and a lot of stuff that isn't in WYJA or Leodis, such as the building of Headingley and LS6, social history stuff that I want to get my hands on. And all I have to do is get in touch with the curators. It's mostly uncatalogued, so I may offer myself as an intern, perhaps building a DB and front end to all this, inputting it, and plugging it into OpenLeeds. The thought of it gives me damp palms and cottonmouth.

The people there are lovely, too. Very friendly, exceptionally helpful and appreciative of thanks. If you live in Leeds and want to spend half an hour wandering about the things they don't show to the public you could do much worse than phoning them up and asking for a quick shufty.

My research has told me there are 9 LCC museums, plus the Thackray, Armouries, technically Harwood House is a museum, Horsforth Village Museum is on the list, as is the Otley Civic, although I expect the last two are a bit pokey. Still, they have LS postcodes, so count. At this point on the journey I am only 1/9th of my way through the LCC museums, but by the end of the day I hoped to be considerably further...

(to be continued)