Tuesday, 31 May 2011

So they can see you coming!

Remember I told you about being a high-vis poet at Wenlock Poetry Festival?

Well it seems that it's all the rage to wear something that's visible from space.

The high-viz (or is it 'hi vis'?) vest is the thing to be seen in... fit for a poet, a lady of the night or the Queen of England!

I know you want one now, don't you? Here's where to get them from:

Friday, 27 May 2011

Just an udder post

This post is about cows - no special reason.

Except that I heard this week about a German teenager who has taken to riding - and show-jumping - a cow because her parents won't buy her a horse.

And I was thinking how very useful cows are.

Especially to the artiste.

I have a 'lucky' cow top which I sometimes wear for poetry performances - as you can see from this picture of me performing in The Cavern in Liverpool (yes! how groovy is that!)

I got it out of a cattle-log.

Sometimes I wear this top, and sometimes I wear a Jersey... it depends on my mooooooooood.

Stop me if you already herd all this.

I sometimes wear leopard print, but you just don't get the jokes-per-wear ratio with them.

Whereas with a cow top, you can get away with being really cheesy and talking a lot of bull.

Ah well, better not milk it.

The other cows aren't me, by the way. They're the cows Banksy used to practice on (no, really!) - I told you they were useful for the artiste.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

It must be true...

... or how to turn a throwaway comment into a fully corroborated international 'news' story.

A recent escapade of Graham Linehan (writer of Father Ted, Black Books and the IT Crowd) is absolutely enthralling if you have any interest at all in the power of social media and viral marketing or, indeed, human communication generally. It was covered here by the BBC.

Here's how it started:

In a nutshell: Linehan tweeted that examination of Osama bin Laden's property had shown the al Quaida leader enjoyed watching The IT Crowd, and he wasn't sure how he felt about it. The tweet was for a joke, but the response was such that he went along with it when it was picked up and, within days, reported as 'Fact!' by (fairly) respectable broadcasters. Read the link above to get the full nuances of the story.

It makes the mind reel with possibilities. Any intelligent person understands already how easy it is for myth and rumour to gain a foothold in reality once reported 'in the news'. But social media blurs the lines between 'respectable' journalism (which has rules and stuff) and spin, ill-researched conjecture, opinion, or sheer devilment.

I'm sure the latter was the case with Linehan - but if he stands up and confesses to it, how many people don't?

Of course this isn't a new phenomena. The well-known story that the word 'quiz' was invented and brought into popular usage for a bet is untrue - and yet the very fact that a made-up story about a supposedly made-up word becoming so widely believed sort of makes true the point the protagonists were supposed to be testing. Maybe the real story was that the bet was to make up a fake story about the origins of the word quiz and bring it into popular usage.

Oops, I just vanished up my own arse. (FACT)

Monday, 23 May 2011

Lady Gaga, Librarian?

Thank you, Lady Gaga for explaining why I am peculiarly suited to library work: I, too, live between fantasy and reality.

You can read the full quote from her in the Sun newspaper if you really want to.

Librarians have not all reacted positively to the comment. 'Annoyed Librarian' on LibraryJournal.com lists 5 reasons why lady Gaga could never be a librarian. Ironically her list actually manages to be insulting to librarians on many levels. Amongst the reasons (along with stuff about not filing things properly!): she's young and thin, she's fashionable and she's rich and famous at an age when 'most librarians are still failing in their first career.') And of course, according to some her image was created by copying a librarian!

As I am not especially young, thin or (whisper it) fashionable, and have... not necessarily failed at, I'd call it 'moved on from' ...various other careers, I can hardly quibble. But I'm not a librarian anyway - I'm a library assistant - so I cannot speak on their behalf.

I'm sure you can think of other reasons Lady Gaga is nothing like a librarian, but I've got one for the list: Those heels! She wouldn't last five minutes.

Oh, and I found this on YouTube... enjoy!

Friday, 20 May 2011

Jam today!

The other day I left you with one of life's essential dilemmas (especially with the world ending on Saturday): Jam today or jam tomorrow?

Jam tomorrow - planting seeds and stocking up on jam jars (i.e developing skills, toiling and saving for a comfortable retirement)

Jam today - eating jam (enjoying the moment, not worrying about ending up with sticky fingers)

And I asked the question: would the possibility of the world ending this Saturday make you more of a 'jam today' sort of person?

I was frankly a bit disappointed with your answers, which varied from falling back on the old comforts of chocolate:

"I'd be stuffing myself brainless with chocolate, buns and custard" said Fran over at Being Me... and I'm not sure she can be trusted to read the packaging correctly - see her very funny latest post.

or just worrying about how it will all end:

"Will there be giant locusts, brimstone, cyborgs, earthquakes,etc?" asked MsCaroline at Asia Vu.

Clare (and Gary) claim they will be industrious: making jam or finishing home projects. My home projects leave things in much the same state as the apolcalypse!

Only Dave has the sense to go on a spree: "I'm busy spending my life savings now. I've just bought Wirral Library Service. I'm going to turn them into jam shops." I suspect that's his newly diagnosed diabetes kicking in.

So here's the Top 10 things I'm going to stop doing if the world is about to end:

  1. weeding
  2. worrying about unfinished projects
  3. going to the gym
  4. filing things into alphabetical order
  5. working at the library
  6. housework
  7. writing, also blogging
  8. spending time with people I don't like
  9. 'to do' lists
  10. Top 10 lists... doh!

And here's my Top 10 things I'd do if I knew the world was about to end:

  1. draw out my life savings and splash it around a bit
  2. eat 'tasting menus' at really fancy restaurants
  3. listen to my favourite music very loud
  4. tell people how I feel about them
  5. talking of splashing - go skinny dipping
  6. do a parachute jump or sky dive
  7. have a splendid party
  8. act upon impulses, without fear of repercussions, like...
  9. random hugging and snogging, or...
  10. ...put on a green hat and go on a bus ride!

In fact... I'm starting to notice my Top 10 list is rather hedonistic and self-indulgent - a sort of 'to do' list of some of my favourite deadly sins, so I'll probably be one of the first to be smited (smote? smitten?) down.

See you in Hell!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The End of the World... again

I singularly failed to revisit Armaggedon* (pictured left) twice in my recent trip to Israel.

But fortunately you don't have to go to Armageddon - because it's coming to you. The world shall end on 21 May this year, at around 6pm according to a prominent US preacher.

That means you could only have a few days left to get done all those things you've been putting off... like write that novel, learn Spanish, lose weight...

... Just a minute. If we've only got a few days to live we don't have to do lots of the things on our 'To Do' lists - the ones which assume we're going to be around for a while, the ones which involve making an effort to invest in a future, better world where we are a fit and healthy best-selling novelist who also speaks Spanish.

If this woman knew she was going to lose her head in a supermarket one Friday afternoon, she probably wouldn't have gone on that diet and had those Spanish lessons, would she?

Which brings me to one of life's essential dilemmas: Jam today or jam tomorrow?

Jam tomorrow
is not just planting seeds and stocking up on jam jars, it is striving to learn and develop skills, creating works of art to leave our mark upon this earth, toiling and saving for a comfortable retirement, supressing opur baser instincts to 'become a better person'.

Jam today
allows you to enjoy each moment, stop to look at the clouds (or the stars, depending on time of day), spend time chilling with chums, read books, watch movies, play, make love to random strangers on a bus** ... in short it hasn't achieved very much and may leave you with sticky fingers and a guilty glow of self-indulgence.

It gets even more confusing if you go back to Lewis Carroll's original jam today / jam tomorrow theorum. But it's already difficult enough as it is.

Are you the kind of person who enjoys the moment... or are you head down, ears back, working for a better tomorrow?

And if you really did have just 3 more days to live, what would you be doing right now? Best answers (and mine!) tomorrow... like the jam!!

* It's ok - I've been there before, and to the end of the world in another sense too

** I've used this link before to Roger McGough's 'At lunchtime' - but it's worth repeating

Monday, 16 May 2011

Tweets from the ex

I was very disappointed to learn that my ex-husband has stood down from being an independent councillor in his current home town (not Wirral).

I was looking forward to the possibilities, as he rose in politics, to cause him some future embarrassment after he (perhaps foolishly) started following me on Twitter a while ago - as discussed in my 'Look Who's Stalking' post. I followed him back - without ever directly communicating - and watched... and waited.

I can't explain how I came to marry someone who couldn't spell and had really dodgy syntax, but I've been enjoying his tweets. Here are some of my favourites:

@___MP Hope this is the petition at M__, my wife works in W___ Rd in a sandwich shop and it puts people off their food and worse.

(Has she tried a paper bag?)

Pleased to see the move to have dead animal carcasses moved in sealed containers. Would certainly help people of M___.

Can't believe what I am seeing two old chaps standing on the A50 smoking just prior to Stanley Mathews Way. Unbelievable

(What will these people do next?)

We had another meeting meeting this afternoon at the (cont)

(Those 'meeting' meetings are the worst... wonder if they had a pre-meeting meeting meeting?_

More ASB issues in O____ last night fruit thrown at residents windows some names have been given.

(apple... orange... kumquat)

Not yet set in stone but a proposal to save 30 million may include loosing 700 jobs within the council from across directorates.

(release the jobs!!)

Had tea now going to spend some time with little man and have a game of SWAT on PS2. Prior to reading full Council papers again for tomorrow

(this probably isn't funny to anyone else, but when I was growing up 'little man' was what my mum called by brother's willy)

Anyway, following his tweets, I did learn something - maybe. Either he is still the consummate self-publicist, instinctively using new social media to appear to be a pillar of the community, a champion of the rights of young people and local residents, indeed a low-level superhero to the people... or he actually is all of those things. I'd like to believe the latter. It's possible.

See also: Another Anniversary

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Perito Moreno

What's 3 miles wide, 558ft tall and visibly moving forward 6ft a day all by itself?

Perito Moreno (click there & scroll down for the BEST panorama) is one of the few glaciers still growing - although that doesn't stop big chunks falling off all the time. It featured in Prof. Brian Cox's recent series.

It's relatively accessible: if you happen to be in Agentinian Patagonia, you can visit it as a half-day trip from El Calafate, a pretty lakeside town next to Los Glaciares National Park.

You can take a boat ride along the 'terminus' which rises 240ft above the lake's surface.

And you can walk along a viewing platform to the point where the glacier regularly collides with land, cutting off the link between two lakes until the building pressure and water erosion cause a 'rupture' where the built-up ice crashes into the water.

Even just watching it for an hour or two you are pretty well guaranteed to see chunks of ice the size of an apartment block cracking off under pressure. One of the most amazing things I've seen.

What's that? You want a picture of me in my silly hat again?

Anyway, a couple of pictures don't do it justice so I made a film. It gets exciting about half way through - and if you turn Brian Eno down and get someone to fire rifles in the garden to recreate the sound of the ice's movement. Cool!

Related posts:

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

One Year as a Library Assistant

Shhh... I've been working in the library for a year yesterday!! (My boss said: 'It feels like longer!' ... That's good, right?)

I feel like I'm really getting the hang of this. I have survived the biscuit embargo, and am 'professional-looking' enough to convince an innocent borrower that there is a sequel to Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath called The Pomegranates of Despair.

I haven't quite mastered the art of spotting who will appreciate my 'humour'. A man brought in a bunch of books about archery and wasn't amused when I asked him if they'd 'left him all a-quiver'. Some fall on stony ground.

But another time, a lady asked if we had any books on mind-reading. When I said: 'I knew you were going to say!' that she laughed like a loon.

So, here are 10 important lessons I have learned:

  1. First of all, we learned (alright... made up) lots of songs about librarians

  2. That you... yes YOU... are called 'borrowers'

  3. That technological wizardry is not as wide-spread as we supposed * and most library assistants are strangers to the spreadsheet

  4. That there tends to be a 1980's attitude to tea breaks (good!) and health and safety* ... nobody comes running at you with an accident form if you try and remove staples from a wooden board with a tin opener.

  5. That I'm not the only person who borrows guide books and takes them on holiday with me

  6. That you don't want to go to 'the scary branch' during a visit from the local primary school

  7. Useful general life lessons like: What to do if kidnapped by a comic beat poet or What to do if a dog eats your library book

  8. Oh and lots of stuff about books and authors and the basics of the Dewey decimal system... which I am starting to incorporate at home

  9. That libraries really, really do have an invaluable place in the community - lots of really useful services used and much-appreciated by lots of different kinds of people... and the last bastion of no-catches FREE stuff!

  10. That there are still people who never go to their library, who come in grudgingly to use the photocopier or one of the computers in an emergency or join 'to support libraries in principle' and are astonished at the range and quality of our books, DVDs and facilities... and, indeed, jokes... or is that just me?

Go on - visit your local library this week to help me celebrate!

* Sweeping generalisations based on limited research

Monday, 9 May 2011

Torres del Paine

You may think I will one day tire of saying: 'On this day XX years ago...' but I won't.

This time 2 years ago I was in Chilean Patagonia. Planning a 'round the world' trip you can't always be in 'the right place at the right time' - so we ended up in Puerto Natales (left) in early winter.

The Torres del Paine national park* is famously one of the best long distance walking routes in the world, but conditions (left) weren't great for walking... eek!

For much. MUCH prettier (summertime) pics click here.

When I saw Jinksy's post on Sunday my first response to her question about what we thought her picture was of was... Patagonia. (I didn't say so, though. It seemed a but show-offy.) But look at her link and then the picture on the left...

It was a bit bleak in parts, Patagonia - but not all of it. This is cheerfully-painted Punta Arenas. Chile reckons it's the southernmost city in the world, but Ushuaia (Argentina) is further south. Read about there in my End of the World post.

Here's one of the most famous feature of the park is ...

...no, not me pretending to be a llama... behind me... the Cuernos (Horns) del Paine.

I can't promise not to mention the Perito Moreno Glacier one day soon, too!

* Torres del Paine means 'blue towers' in a borrow from both the indigenous language and Spanish.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

I've been framed!

In my early teens, having wondered for years why teachers didn't write more clearly and buses didn't have bigger numbers on the front, I discovered I was shortsighted. It was a revelation to discover that the world wasn't as fuzzy as I'd first thought!

So I've worn glasses for about 100 years and think nothing of it. (Or I didn't until I made this collage of pics from my life for my 40th and the ONLY thing people commented on* was the SIZE of my specs in the 80's!!)

Here's me looking very trendy as the decade commences...

But here are the ones that everyone finds hysterical,

but which were BIG in the eighties...

It was the fashion - honest!

I wasn't trying to make a spectacle of myself.

Then a more chic, neutral tone for these whoppers...

But then along came the nineties, and I opted

for a more retro John Lennon look...


(see what I did there?... my jokes just get cornea!)

I wore them for much of the nineties when I couldn't afford new ones.

But then I went for smaller - still trendy - frames - like these...

... and also the ones you see in my profile pic

and various permutations of the same.

No-one could take offence at them surely?


Then when I started working in PR I went a bit 'whacky'

-it was in the contract... and there was a 'two for one offer'

so I got these stripy reactalight little beasties:

and the mad lattice red ones which I loved at the time

but then regretted... for the last 3 years!

which makes it odd

that I have chosen new ones

that actually aren't a million miles away...

... apart from being...


... a bit leopard skinny as well

...with a sort of buckle.

I'm not 'selling' them very well am I?

Here goes:

Whaddya think?

* Apart from the really dodgy hairstyles which I have cunningly edited out here!

Friday, 6 May 2011

I used to be indecisive...

... but now I'm not so sure. Don't worry - this isn't going to be political*, despite the topical picture.

Are you as terrible at making choices as I am? Decisions, I can manage - regular readers know I've made some dramatic ones. But ask me if I want tea OR coffee (or beer OR ice cream) and I'm stumped. Because I like tea AND coffee. Both have their merits.

I tried to adopt a system: when faced with choices I'd choose the option that came first alphabetically. But after a while I really missed tea. And I was saying 'No' to everything when sometimes I would have been happy enough to say 'Yes'.

And we know good things are supposed to happen when you say 'Yes' to everything - like in Yes Man by Danny Wallace where he says 'yes' to everything and ends up in Amsterdam after an email invites him to help a 'sultan' recover his lost millions (*note to self: erm... so maybe not yes to everything).

It's worth remembering that most things are easier to get into than out of. I'm wary of saying yes after a few leaps of faith that left me crumpled on the floor: like saying 'yes' to the 'wilt thou take this man...' (by the way, my Royal Wedding Day poem is on Poetry24 today and it's much more fun than this post!).

I often resort to making lists, not just of pros and cons of a certain course of action, but the pros and cons of both doing and not doing it and seeing which columns are longest and more serious-looking and how I feel about that. Sometimes I do a spreadsheet and give different possibilities scores for different aspects. It's no wonder I don't get very much done.

Asked yesterday which of my various projects was most 'important' to me - I found it impossible to answer... which is why I haven't finished the novel, got a poetry collection out, blagged myself a national tour, or become some kind of uber-Blogger. As usual I am suspended between the equal weights of conflicting pulls in opposing directions.

Are YOU:

  • a fence-sitter
  • a yes-man/woman
  • a 'no way!' Jose/Josephine
  • just one of life's 'don't know's?

* I'm pro AV by-the-way, so yesterday was easier than all of this. But I understand why, under the 'yes' and 'no' boxes to tick, some people would like one that says: 'it's complicated.'

Thursday, 5 May 2011

It's a swizz!

I forgot to mention something that happened at Ben Gurion Airport when I was coming home... or failed to happen?

Just to back track a second... you know how there was that big security scare a few years ago - I forget what exactly and where... it was something like the Fizzy Pop Bomber?

And you know how since then no-one has been allowed to take any liquids through the baggage check 'for security reasons'... just your sad little 100ml of whatever if you've got the right kind of plastic bag (in Manchester they try and make you buy a plastic bag for a pound. A pound!)?

And you know how this is all for our own good, and to protect us from insurgents who want to... spray us with Fanta or make bombs from chocolate milkshake?

And you know how the Israelis are famously the most security-conscious people in the world, with humourless special agents trying to trip you up with tricky questions before you get on any plane and Xray devices (sorry, Martin) the size of an average garage?

The Israelis let you take your liquid onto a plane.

Alright so you've probably been strip-searched and sold your grandmother to Mossad. But you can take your water on the plane.

This confirms my long-held suspicion that there are Commercial Forces at Work here:

  • retailers in Duty-Free want you to buy their bottled water instead of drinking your own tap water
  • And the airport staff want to keep all your toiletries and liquid refreshment along with your trusty nail scissors.
  • And the airlines don't want you smuggling a 'water' bottle of gin and tonic onto the plane when they can stiff you for a fiver for one once you're strapped down.

Or was that just me?

Or maybe, according to Travelsnitch, it's because technology has been perfected that can spot explosives in liquids...

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

May the 4th be with you

I'm supposed to be at the Dead Good Poets Society open floor which - at someone's *whistles* suggestion - is themed tonight in honour of Star Wars Day. I was going to do this poem... and my other Darth Vader ones (yes, I have more!).

But I'm not. I'm on the settee in my dressing gown with a bottle of red wine and 'some' chocolate.

Yes. I have gone over to the Dark Side.

... where, apparently, they have cookies.

Which is funny enough in itself, but apparently you can really get Star Wars cookies.

This lady themed her wedding breakfast around Star Wars to please her new hubby.

Oh, and you know what I found today. Wookiepedia. I wish I'd thought of that! I'm so happy I could... blow up a planet.

Anyway, I'm busy. So I'll leave you with this very funny video - Eddie Izzard's take on lunchtime at the Star Wars canteen.


Monday, 2 May 2011

Bad Gigs

I was going to post this last week, but I didn't want to put anyone (you know who you are!) off their first big performance...

Just when things are going well and you've had a short run of well-received performances and are starting to feel jolly pleased with yourself... comes the Bad Gig. And, confidence being more of a stalactite than a permanent structure - growing slowly from the drip of many layers - it all comes crashing down around you again.

I was invited to a Poetry Night I hadn't been to before. The other guests turned out to be especially 'poetic' - lyrical, composed, and in possession of slim volumes of their work published by reputable presses.

Now I do do that sort of poem, as you know. But last time I was at this venue (different night run by the same people) the comedy stuff went down great and the organisers seemed to want that.

But as I listened to the 'proper' poets I began to feel uncomfortable about my own work. I mentally rearranged my set to include some more 'clever' poems. But during the break, an acquaintance claimed to be desperate for humour, so I started rearranging it back to funny, thus ending up with an awkward mix of the two - which can work well, but just... didn't.

I don't like spotlights - I like venues where you can see your audience, make eye contact with them. When I can't see them, I'm like a bunny in the headlights.

So here are a few tips for gigs... to stop them being BAD:

  • Suss out your fellow guests. Do you really want to be the one who lowers the tone?
  • Beware of being 'the grand finale' when the audience is numbed already into a strokey-beard seriousness
  • Sometimes a small audience that has been required to be serious may be embarrassed to laugh
  • Avoid 'funny' at poetry events where no-one claps 'til the end of your set - the absence of applause will create a black hole which will sap your 'special' energy
  • Don't attempt your bestiality poem* in a royal wedding context unless you are sure the audience is with you (I thought it'd be perfect, combining as it does a disrespect for royalty and skepticism about romantic relationships generally)
  • Go home, go to bed, stay there. What are you even thinking of?

* Which I did post a while ago but removed because I submitted it for publication... and it's been accepted so it can't be that bad. Remember? The frog-kissing that got out of hand?

We should have told her then (perhaps in verse )
that beasts don’t change to men – quite the reverse.

A good rhyme had by all...

This is just a quick update of the highlights of my Saturday at Wenlock Poetry Festival.

As I mentioned in this post, 20+ Wirral poets went as a hit squad to Much Wenlock to join such luminaries as Carol Ann Duffy, Andrew Motion, Ian MacMillan, Simon Armitage and John Hegley (see here for our last encounter) - pictured with Jason and 'The Masked Poet'.

I say 'join'... what I mean is that during / between their indoor, paid-for performances, we took to the streets, performing for free in shops, galleries, gardens, cafes and, yes, the odd pub. And... well... the streets.

It's alright - John Gorman made us wear high-viz vests so people could see us coming and run away - unless of course one of us snuck up behind them...

As you'll see from the pictures, there were some curious characters about, including the Phantom Poet (top) - no idea who he was, but he wasn't with us! - and the Masked Poet... who looked suspiciously familiar.

It's a scary yet liberating thing to do. And what I love about our happy band is that we are all ages - from Wirral's current and former Young Poet Laureates (pictured here hard at work in the town square... ahem) to Glenys, a perky 70-something - and styles - from Stella's quiet, sensual poems to full throttle performance pieces from Ian and Martin via the comic detours of Jason.

Whether that means poetry is one of the great unifying forces in the universe or simply the lowest common denominator, I'll leave you to decide... but we're available for hire.

p.s. Did I mention that it was my birthday too!