Thursday, 30 September 2010

September Book Review

I’ve been looking forward to and dreading this post in equal measure. Looking forward to it in that this month has been so much better than last month’s terrible month for books, but dreading it because a week on holiday meant I plowed through quite a few babies this month.

I will try and keep these brief, as there were 5 books read this month.

Salem Falls – Jodi Picoult

I have a stockpile of these books because Culture Friend lent me a load an age ago. I just can’t read them all in one go though, I’ll start to convince myself I’m living a life of mystery and subterfuge. I am trying to battle my way through them though, I’ve had them for an embarrassingly long time.

I liked this one – Picoult goes a little bit edgy with her story about a man recently released from prison after being accused of statutory rape, trying to start his life over again, only to be accused for a second time by a group of teenage girls. Oh and they happen to be practicing witchcraft. Yeah I know.

I did like this one, I got very carried away with it and all kinds of theories about how it was going to end. I was wildly wrong though, mainly because I overshot quite a bit, I went pretty dark with my predictions and found myself disappointed when they turned out not to be true. The main ‘twist’ you can see coming from a million miles away though.

I feel bad because I still continue to kind of dismiss Picoult a little bit and never bother buying her books, but I haven’t read one of hers yet that I haven’t enjoyed and I think she needs to be applauded for covering a whole breadth of scenarios – from dying children to the Amish to rape convicts. Good work Ms Picoult.

Nocturnes – Kazuo Ishiguro

I have a confession to make. I really don’t like short stories. I can’t explain why, I just never enjoy them, I either find them irritating because they end before things have really got going or they’re just incredibly abstract as the author attempts to write a good story in very few words.

I picked this up by accident. I read Never Let Me Go a long time ago and it’s continued to haunt me ever since (and there’s a film due out this year apparently). I saw this and picked it up and it wasn’t until it finally got plucked off the bookshelf that I realised I’d bought a collection of short stories. “Bleurgh.” I thought to myself.

How wrong was I? Each and every story is so beautiful – each a love story but not your schmaltzy kind of love, real love warts and all, black and white and all the grey areas in between. Ishiguro must be quite the master at writing short stories, none of his books are great tomes that you struggle to lift off the shelf, and these stories didn’t feel unfinished and didn’t drive me demented as I tried to understand what they meant, instead leaving me with a pleasant glow and a wish to sit down and read them all again.

Remarkable Creatures – Tracy Chevalier
I have far too many books unread on my bookshelf and so I farm them out to people that I can trust not to destroy them before I’ve had a chance to read them. Sometimes I forget I’ve lent them out – as I did with this one when Culture Friend passed it over the table while we were out to dinner – “Oooh this looks good” I said. “Babe, it’s yours” she replied.

Moving on...

I’ve only just figured it out but Tracy Chevalier’s modus operandi is to take real life people/things and spin a tale of fiction around them. Earlier in the year I read The Lady and the Unicorn which was inspired by a tapestry. There’s the famous Girl with a Pearl Earring which I’ve yet to read and this book concerns real-life lady fossil hunters, namely Mary Anning (working class fossil hunter) and Elizabeth Philpot (middle class spinster whiling away her time finding fish fossils) who strike up a friendship when fossil hunting on the beaches of Lyme Regis. Ladies didn’t fossil hunt in those days you know, it was quite the scandal and Remarkable Creatures tells the story of how Mary and Elizabeth learn from each other, against the wider backdrop of history and society.

AWeek in December – Sebastian Faulks

I love the Faulks you know. He can’t do much wrong in my book. (Apart from Human Traces which really...did.....drag.....on.) How I managed to miss this bad boy I’ll never know but hurrah for The Times £2.99 book of the week a WH Smith (why yes I do keep them in business) who brought it to my attention, just before I set off for France. Perfect timing.

It does what it says on the tin. Taking place over seven days, you become immersed in the worlds of several characters, whose lives all intertwine throughout the book. It’s all very Of The Time – there’s a young radicalised Muslim, planning a terrorist attack, a nasty greedy hedge fund manager, a teen smoking too much dope watching a reality TV programme where people with mental health issues battle for a place in an institution, a tube driver spending too much time on an online game, among others.

The amount of research Faulks must have done is incredible – especially regarding the financial aspects of hedge funds. I’ll be honest, they completely baffled me, I had no idea what he was going on about but I don’t know if that was intentional – was he showing how messed up and tricky to understand it all was or was I really supposed to come away with a deep knowledge of hedge funds?

This book absolutely blew me away, I was completely captured and could not put it down, much to the annoyance at times of my Dad who I think saw it as a rival to the many sightseeing tours he had planned for me.

The thing that potentially worries me though is that this book is so consumed with pop culture that it might not stand the test of time. If you read it now you will love it and you will understand and shake your head and laugh ruefully at all the bits which reflect modern society. If you threw it at someone in 50 years time would they do the same? I don’t know that they would. The brilliant thing about this novel is that it does make sense to you, you can relate to it. Even I picked up on a small thing that I thought was a little out of date – the young Muslim is contacted over the book’s version of MySpace – I thought this a little odd, we all know that MySpace died a death a long while ago. However at the end of the book there’s a small word of thanks from the author and it gives the dates between which he wrote it – when he started writing this book there was a small thing in its infancy. Facebook. It doesn’t get mentioned at all which I suspect is because Facebook wasn’t on his radar when he began writing this.

Or maybe I’m being picky.

I loved this book. And I mean, loved it.

Corduroy Mansions – Alexander McCall Smith

Oh how I rejoice that I took this book away with me. Perfect to read when you have long bouts of travel ahead of you. Especially long bouts of travel that mean you end up missing your train back to Hull and having to wait for an hour and a half in London Kings Cross train station, with little tears sliding down your face because you’re very tired and just want to get home before 11.30pm.

I love the McCall Smith. He writes books which are ridiculously easy to read. I’m a huge fan and can’t really say anything bad about him.

Just one small criticism though...

This book worked for me on many levels because it was easy to read, had funny little characters and tiny little chapters because it originated as a column in The Observer newspaper. But. It’s just kind of the same thing as 44 Scotland Street which was easy to read, had funny little characters and tiny little chapters because it originated as a column in The Scotsman...see where I’m going.

I mean it’s good but it’s basically the same thing set in England. It’s not even a little bit different.

It’s a good job I like him really.


And now for the winner:

One Week in September – it just has to be, although it is very closely followed by Nocturnes.

Edited to add: I'm a moron and thank goodness Mooncalf isn't because she managed to spot that I called Sebastian Faulks' book One Week in September, instead of A Week in December, despite having a picture of the freakin' book in front of me. Apologies, I had September on the brain. And I'm a moron.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Larkin with Toads - Part 2

To begin to explain why Larkin with Toads was so brilliant, you have to explain that it was brilliant because it was special to Hull. Yeah fine London had elephants and Chester had rhinos but we had toads for a specific reason – they were linked to Phillip Larkin and thus linked the Hull.

But it goes deeper than that.

The name of the exhibition? Larkin with Toads? It might not make sense to you but it made us laugh – up here ‘larking out’ means ‘playing out’ and if you’re from Hull you must drop the g at the end (which is why no-one ever believes I’m from Hull) and so, growing up you were asked if you were “larkin’ out”. See? We understand the double meaning behind the name of the exhibition and we’re an inclusive lot, Hull isn’t so good sometimes at opening its arms wide to the outside community and although this is frustrating at times, in this case, it was great. The exhibition became ours. We understood what it was all about.

Then there were all the designs. Many were submitted and only 40 were chosen, some of the designs were pretty, some were funny, some were quite frankly boring (yes Architoad, I’m looking at you here) but the best ones were the ones that represented something to do with us.

Architoad - yawn

Take Eastwest toad. You might think he’s just a strange black and red and white striped toad with a blue stripe running down his back but you’d be wrong. In Hull we have two rugby league teams (just call us awesome). We have Hull FC (black and white) and Hull KR (red and white). Which team you support is determined by which side of the river you grew up (Hull is divided East and West by the River Hull - see the level of detail you need to know here?!). So this toad isn’t just a stripy toad. He’s a toad that explains, in one simple toady movement, the rivalry and importance of rugby league in Hull. (In case you were wondering, I’m from the East so it’s Hull KR for me. Although technically it’s neither because I can’t be doing with rugby.)

Eastwest toad

And take Hull Poem toad. He might just look like a pale blue toad with some writing on it. But that writing is important. They’re all things that we say – he has the word “Tenfoot” on one of his back legs – that’s what we call the back alleyway between rows of houses (because it’s ten foot across. Geddit?). And he says “Patty in a breadcake” because Hull is the only place you can get patties from the fish and chip shop – and no don’t ask me to explain what it is or what goes in it, just come here and have one for yourself. And what’s that he says on his side? Only what I was talking about in a previous post – the importance of the Humber Bridge to us.
Hull Poem Toad

What about 10-5 toad? You might wonder what he’s doing in Morrison’s car park down Holderness Road. He’s there because that’s the sight of the old Hull KR ground and 10-5 was the score when Hull FC and Hull KR were both down in London for the Challenge Cup in 1980.

10-5 toad

And you must surely know that Tiger Toad is so special because Hull City FC are known as The Tigers?
Tiger Toad

You know teletoad? You have to look closely but his design is made up of white phone boxes stood end to end. Hull has white phone boxes you know because we have our own telecommunications system called Kingston Communications. No BT here (which is actually incredibly annoying but we’re talking about how proud we are of things so I’ll let it slide just this once). No red boxes here peoples.

Teletoad - see his eyes are telephone receivers!

I could go on. But I won’t. I sense you’re getting annoyed with me. But I hope I’ve done a little to show just how great this exhibition was. Not only in terms of bringing in interest and tourism to the city but also in going some way to instilling a bit of pride. This isn’t always necessary, we’re ridiculously proud of our city and will defend it to the death but this was an opportunity to showcase our pride in our background and heritage that didn’t involve kicking the shit out of someone because they’d slagged us off.

I guess I should really pick a favourite and many have asked me over the past couple of months. But I find it too hard.

I have a soft spot for Tequila Toad (known affectionately by me as Doley Toad because he’s outside the JobCentre) because he was the first toad I spotted, one sleepy morning on the way into work.

And I love Floral Toad because I would see him every day as I walked in and out of work.

Reflective Toad was just beautiful and the first time I saw him I felt a little taken aback – there beside the tremendous noise of Clive Sullivan Way was this beautiful little mosaic amphibian.

And Spacehopper you have to love because he’s...well...he’s got a freakin’ spacesuit on hasn’t he?!

What about Global Pop Toad who needs to be loved just because he’s the coolest most colourful toad alive?

And oh my goodness I shouldn't really miss out Magenta Toad who went through the trauma of being stolen, before being returned back to his rightful spot - seriously, what did they think they were going to do with him? "What? This giant pink toad? Yeah I've had it for ages mate."

Left to right from the top: Tequila Toad, Floral, Reflective Colours, Spacehopper, Global Pop Toad, Magenta Toad

See? I can’t play favourites with my toad babies. I love them all (apart from the rubbish ones and I would never say which those were because this is art and totally subjective).

But you know who I might love the most?


Which I purchased for the princely sum of £15 (and no I couldn’t really bloody afford it) and is my own plastic little number, waiting for me to paint him in whatever design I so choose. I just need to buy some acrylic paints (which will be the 12th of never seeing as I couldn’t afford to buy him in the first place) and let my creative juices flow. Don’t be expecting to see him any time soon, I’m so unlikely to be able to afford the paints that I’ve asked my Mum to get me them for Christmas – he’ll be ready in the new year!

I’m going to miss my toady pals now that they’re up and disappearing. I hear that some of them will be staying where they are, having been purchased by their sponsors, and I hope I’ll still be able to see some of them. And when I look at them I’ll be reminded that although this summer was a fairly painful one it was also one where I stood for what I believed in, no matter what other people thought, and sat resolutely (although hopefully somewhat more gracefully) like a toad, refusing to be budged.

All the toads can be seen on Flickr, you can gasp in amazement at my awesome toad photographing skills – but only if you want to.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Larkin with Toads - Part One

I have failed in my duties as Hull Ambassador. I should have told you all about this months ago, when I first planned to. I don’t know what happened though – I wanted it to be a good post but for some reason couldn’t find the words so I just kept putting it off and putting it off. And then I knew that I was going to have to do some serious photo mosaic-ing and it just never seemed to happen.

And now it’s too late really to share it all with you.

Do you remember my post about Roy Hattersley and about how we Hull people like to adopt those that have anything vaguely, remotely to do with our city? (Don’t get us started on Maureen Lipman baby.) We have another adopted famous person – one Phillip Larkin. No he isn’t originally from Hull but he worked here (at the University of Hull library) and lived here and that’s good enough for us.

This year is the 25th year since he died and there have been a host of commemorative events organised by Larkin25 which are taking place between 12th June and the 2nd December.

The largest part of this project has been the Toad trail – which saw 40 giant fibreglass toads placed all around Hull city centre and the wider area. They were inspired by two of Larkin’s poems Toads and Toads Revisited. 

The exhibition/installation/whatever arty word is appropriate has not been without its low points. Unfortunately there are times when Hull disappoints me and none more so when it comes to culture. It’s just not given a high enough premium in the city. People “don’t see the point” in having cultural exhibitions in the city, it’s seen as a waste of money. When the Toad project was first announced, it caused a storm of publicity for all the wrong reasons. Council money was earmarked for the project and when there was an outcry from culturally-deprived people that it was a waste of money, the Council didn’t have the guts to stick by its conviction and instead withdrew their funding
I hope they are hanging their heads in shame now.  

The Toad project was reduced in size, but went ahead anyway, with most of the toads being sponsored by local businesses and schools. And guess what? It’s been ridiculously popular. The Council missed out on a huge trick here – they could have raked in money in merchandise, but because they have no balls and are as short-sighted as some of the people they represent they have lost out big time.

And when the toads were first plonked down in their locations there was a massively irritating spate of toad vandalism in the first couple of weeks. Poor Kasey Toad had a big hole kicked in his side the first weekend he was out and someone pulled off Punkphibian’s mohican. I so desperately didn’t want that to be the story of the toads – Hull doesn’t get to have nice cultural things because there are morons who just want to spoil it – and fortunately it wasn’t. After the initial vandalism, things calmed down and we began to just view them as part and parcel of the furniture.

I became over-the-top ridiculously excited about this project. Having seen the Cow Parade in Manchester and Prague I was loving the idea of having toads all over the city and the first day that they arrived I rushed out to Tourist Information to get my toad map. Once it was in my sweaty little hands I made a declaration – I was going to photograph each and every one of these toads. By hook or by crook they would become mine.

I don’t really know quite why I took to it so wildly and somewhat worryingly. I think it was just that it coincided with a fairly crappy time in my life and this gave me something fun to focus on. It allowed me to spread my little independent wings – some of these toads were spread across the city and not having a car doesn’t make them easier to get. Had I still been with my boyfriend we would have gone in his car to get them – it was important to me that I get as many of these toads on my own as possible, this was a demonstration that I could do things on my own.

(That’s not to say that I didn’t have help – on the way to stay at Culture Friend’s house she took a small detour so I could capture Magenta Toad and also walked with me around the docks and marina on our Day of Culture and my Mum took me on a trip out to Beverley to see Tannery Toad.)

It was more that this was a project for me to get excited about. Oh it’s hard to explain. This is why this post is so delayed you see, I couldn’t find the words to tell you that I liked this project not just because it was amazing, but because it somehow became representative to me of my new life.

And now I sound like a twat.

Anyway. I should have told you about this much earlier and persuaded you to come to Hull and see them for yourself. But I didn’t and now it’s too late because they were auctioned off this weekend (my plan was to provide photos but I ended up not being able to go) and today they are being moved and taken to their new loving homes.

So I’m hoping that you’ll indulge me with a couple of posthumous toad posts today and tomorrow as I try (and try and try and try) to explain how important this exhibition was both to Hull and to me. 

Friday, 24 September 2010

The Honeymoon Suite

So for most of this week I was in Liverpool doing some training, along with my boss.

(That’s why the blog posts were kept up to date – I had free wireless internet to take advantage of so I downloaded as many podcasts as possible and uploaded as many photos on to Flickr as possible.)

I was a last minute addition to this training, having taken the place of someone-else, so I hadn’t been involved in the booking of the hotel at all and on the way down to Liverpool my boss was saying that he hoped everything was sorted because it had been a bit complicated booking things and getting things sorted out.

We arrived at the hotel, just a 5-10 minute walk from Liverpool Lime Street and went up to the desk. My boss gave the receptionist his name and said that there was a booking for 2 single rooms. She fiddled on her computer and asked us to wait a moment and went through to the back.

Not looking good.

A few minutes later another woman came out of the back with a huge smile on her face and said probably the funniest thing she could have said, given the context:

“Hi there. Because it’s your wedding anniversary what we’ve actually done is upgraded you free of charge to one of our honeymoon suites which has a lovely four poster bed...”

At this point I interrupt her.

“Erm....we’re here for training over the next couple of days. This is my boss.”

Cue silence from all parties.

“Well we have written down here that it’s your anniversary.”

“Well I don’t know what to tell you. Us? Definitely not married.”

Ten minutes later we were sorted out and had our own rooms but all week we have speculated how on earth they managed to cock up so spectacularly. How in the name of all that is holy do you go from a booking for two single rooms to putting them in a honeymoon suite?!

And what’s sad is that I imagine that in that hotel at some point over the past week there has been a couple somewhere who have missed out on their free upgrade.

(Even though I spent a few nights there I didn’t really get to see much of Liverpool, which is a shame because I’ve only ever been once and that was a good nine years ago. I did get to pop round the Metropolitan Cathedral, but that’s a story for another post. Instead my Liverpool experience consisted of the Liverpool Science Park and the train station. And that was not a happy experience yesterday because THIS meant that I didn’t get home until after 10.30pm last night. I know I should feel bad and sorry for the person involved, but instead I was just mightily pissed off. Couldn’t have done it at any other time apart from rush hour? Yes, I know I’m going to hell. I’ll save you a seat.)

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The latest blanket

I had a brilliant idea a while back. I was jealous of the brightly coloured wool that one of The Stitchettes was using to make a blanket and I almost started salivating when I realised that big fat balls of it could be mine for the princely sum of £1.10 a ball from my local wool shop. I hadn’t made anything with cheapazoid wool, the two blankets I have made have been with my beautiful, beloved Baby Rico wool.

But I had a little spark in my head. And these don’t happen often. I don’t really have an artistic head you see, I’m not the ideas person. My brain just doesn’t work that way for some reason and although I’m engaging in fairly arty activities I find it incredibly difficult, if not nigh on impossible, to come up with a concept and an idea.

So I knew I had to grab hold of this idea with both hands. I would make a blanket for someone for Christmas. A friend in Manchester lives in a pretty cold and draughty flat and doesn’t have a lot of money for heating and has a few health problems – I would make her a blanket and it would be useful for her.

But it would be more than that.

It would be pretty.

I still haven’t got around to mastering the ripple, which is annoying me but is just a case of not having the time to sit and do something which might not be productive. But I didn’t want to do yet another boring granny square blanket. So my idea, having jealously looked and coveted people’s Babette blankets, was to do my own little version. I would do a little patchwork number. (See? Even this wasn't really my idea, just inspired by someone-else's - but this is the closest I'm going to come so I'm claiming it as my own.)

Great idea.


Annoying idea.

Great, but annoying. A lot of time had to go into preparing and assembling this bad boy. I did think about doing squares with just two rounds in, like the Babettes, but I decided I was making life too complicated for myself so stuck to just doing squares with 8 rounds and 4 rounds.

I joined squares together in batches so as to minimize the horror of having to join together a million billion of the buggers and this made life a lot more bearable. I decided I would join the squares together with contrasting bright red wool to make a kind of a feature of the process.

It soon took on a life of its own, as crochet blankets seem to do, and it even made a special journey over to France with me (I crammed and crammed that wool in my suitcase) where I continued my progress and gave it to Jess the dog to model for me.

It’s even come to Liverpool with me and is now on its final stages. I’ve decided to stop with the patchwork and build it up from now on with a border in all the different colours of wool. It won’t be a massive blanket at all, it’s just about the width of a single bed at the moment, but she’s only a wee person and it’ll be big enough to go over her lap or round her shoulders.

I’m more than a little bit proud of it.

And I’ll be even prouder when it’s finished and the realisation that I’ve officially started on my Christmas present list sinks in.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Observations en France

1. Cantoin, the village the house is in is very high up. High in the sky up the side of a valley. Do you know what this means?

High above sea level x amazing views / plummeting temperatures in the evening = nice photos but freezing your ass off in bed.

Note to self: Take more jumpers and bed socks. (And don’t even think about going during the winter.)

2. French country roads are a little mental. No places at the side for passing and French motorists don’t really enjoy sharing the road and do enjoy travelling down it at 100mph.

Note to self: Take tranquilisers when travelling. (And don’t think about going by yourself until you can remember how to drive in your own country. Which may be some time.)

3. They like their cows. Apparently it’s all about the cows in this region. Aubrac cows if we want to get specific. There are fields and fields and fields of them. I did spot a black and white one which is a cow I’m a familiar with, but for the most part they are brown cows. Very few sheep were spotted. The obsession with cows extends beyond just keeping them however, there are statues all over the place.

Note to self: Next time go on a proper cow hunt to try and get some really good cow pictures. Cows might be becoming one of my favourite animals – they just look amazingly stupid. (Sorry cows but you do.)

From left to right: Little metal cow on the roadside in Vitrac, big steel bull in Laguiole town centre, metal bull in Laguiole.
4. Nobody speaks English. Which is fine, this isn’t some crazy rant about people in France not speaking English, it’s a note to those of you who think you’ll be ok with a GCSE you got 9 years ago. This will not be enough as I soon found out. Faced with a French person talking at me in full throttle, any French I might have known flew out of head, closely followed by my command of the English language. I would instead wildly look around for my Dad and his wife who can both speak French. My main problem seems to be that I know lots of French words, I just have absolutely no idea of how to string them together in a sentence anymore. I did discover however that I can do ok reading French, I can figure out pretty much what the words mean.

Note to self: Buy French phrasebooks, download guides, do anything to try and kickstart your French skills, they must be in there somewhere, you got an A for god’s sake. (Or. Make sure you go with someone who can definitely speak French.)

5. There is a little known French law which stipulates that you have to have window box with red flowers in it to be considered truly French. They were freakin’ everywhere.

Note to self: Make sure Dad conforms to this rule immediately. Also. Don’t go mental taking photos of flowers, people will see you and think you have mental problems.

6. Weightwatchers and France are not compatible. I didn’t even try, it’s not called a holiday for nothing. I would let you know the grand gain but I conveniently can’t go to my weigh-in this week either so I have a week to make amends!

Note to self: Go mental and take the opportunity to eat as much bread as possible. And beef bourguignon. Revel in the fact that you can’t drink wine and don’t really like cheese otherwise the result could have been a lot worse.

7. They have possibly the best invention ever. A milk vending machine. Outside a supermarket. For reals. Just whack in 20c for a bottle and then for 1 Euro you can have a big juicy bottle of milk. No need to trek all the way round the supermarket if all you want is a bit of cow juice.

Note to self: Start petitioning Tesco.

I have indeed set up a Flickr account for my other photos so if you're desperate to see a lot more photos of France then head over here. In particular look out for Happy Tractor, he's one of my favourites. And you can get a  sneaky little glimpse of my latest crochet blanket project - a little patchwork number!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Professional Sightseer

The plan was for this to be a relaxing holiday, just a chance to get away and chill out after all the upheaval of the past few months. My Dad and his wife bought a house in France a couple of years ago and said I should come out and join them whilst they were over in September/October. “Great idea” I thought “I can help out with some of the work around the house or just sit about and read my book, have a lie-in, happy days.”

However something got lost in translation and last week turned into what can only be described as an epic sight-seeing tour that saw me out of bed by 7.30 every morning.

I think Dad was just so excited to have me at the house that he wanted to show me everything in the vicinity. And when I see vicinity please don’t mistake that for near vicinity. Because in the near vicinity there is nothing. This is rural France people. No-one can hear your scream.

They live in a tiny little village. So tiny it doesn’t get to appear on postcards of the Aveyron region but I can tell you that it is in the uppermost tippy top of the region. I could mark it for you on a postcard if you’d like.

So this was my abode for a week.

I was a little wary about going away because of the state of disrepair of the house when they first bought it. I wasn’t sure what awaited me, but thankfully the biggest jobs have been done (like getting a working shower and kitchen – all life’s essentials) and really it just needs cosmetic stuff doing it. When I left they were about to tackle the attic which is going to be a job and a half in itself.

So basically I’ve seen everything there is to offer in the northern part of Aveyron and a little bit of Cantal.

(I am of course joking. Kind of.)

Highlights included:

The National Resistance Museum in Mont-Mouchet which was amazing and with Dad’s help I could figure out pretty much what the exhibitions were talking about.

The Viaduc de Garabit which is a big viaduct over the Truyere river and was built by one Mr Eiffel before he went on to build some tower in Paris or something.

Vallee de la Haute-Truyere – let’s call it the lower gorge of the Truyere. It’s a funny old river because it’s dammed in about five places to provide hydroelectric power so it looks incredibly calm for a river and you also can’t swim in it in case they decide to drain it and you disappear down in to some awful mechanism.

Chaude Aigues – location of a very hot natural spring. I did ask if you could stick your hand in it but this was before I realised that it was 82 degrees. There was a part of me that wanted to try it out though, I mean it’s not like it’s boiling. It rather strangely had a pan with a boiled egg in it. I’m not entirely sure why. I mean I guess to prove it could boil an egg, but unless someone takes the egg out each day and sticks a new one in I don’t really get it.

Chateau de Thenieres – I’m all for ruins and this one was especially amazing because a) it offered stunning views across the valley and b) health and safety doesn’t exist over here and you could climb up things you definitely wouldn’t be able to if you were here in England. I took full advantage.

Trou de Bozouls – it’s a big hole in the ground! And who knows why. I vote we blame nature. It looks like a bore hole or like someone was making a gigantic pie and decided to use a great big pastry cutter to cut away the landscape. Very impressive and you can drive down to the bottom but we were running out of time as I had a date with Rodez airport to fly back home.

I am aware that there is a temptation to run away with oneself and write a gazillion posts about my holiday and the things I saw there but I am even more aware that those posts can get incredibly boring quickly and become the modern day equivalent of sitting through someone’s slideshow. So I am going to limit myself to a couple of posts (yesterday totally doesn’t count, it was about airports) and am in the process of sorting myself out with a proFlickr site so that I can put photos up there and if you were really really desperate you can go there to see them.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Stansted vs Rodez

I am back from my jollies and while I wade my way through the billion photos I took whilst I was away and try to find a spare moment to try and remain relaxed and feeling holiday fresh (bit of a fail when you consider I got back home at 11.30pm on Friday and was on a bus to York at 9am on Saturday to go and babysit my nephew for the weekend and I have 2 nights at home before I go to Liverpool for 3 days on a training course. Yeah....forget relaxing) I will give you a few comparisons I noted between the two airports I used to fly out and fly back.

Flying over France

Arriving into Rodez airport
- Come off plane (incidentally after one of the most mental landings I've ever experienced, we bounced twice.)
- Walk into terminal building
- Hand passport to one of 2 people stood immediately inside the door to have your identity checked
- Pick up bag off carousel immediately behind airport officials
- Walk through small turnstile to people waiting for you
- Get out of airport less than 10 minutes after landing

Arriving into Stansted airport
- Come off plane
- Walk for FIFTEEN-TWENTY minutes (and I walk fast) along corridors and up escalators and beside moving walkways
- Get to passport control which is total mayhem and is enormous. People are everywhere and the queues are crazy. Feel incredibly sorry for anyone not carrying a UK or EU passport because that queue doesn't move at all. Takes another 15 minutes to get through passport control.
- Try and fail to figure out which carousel bag is on. Realise this is because they haven't bothered putting it up on the screen. Take 10 minutes to figure it out.
- Walk all the way through the airport to get to where the train leaves to get back to Liverpool Street station
- Get out of the airport approximately one hour after landing.

Departing Rodez airport
- Walk into terminal building.
- Walk up to one of three check-in desks and check in
- Turn around and walk through security, set off alarm, take off bracelet and go back through. All ok.
- Sit in very large waiting room with a vending machine with drinks in it.
- Go through the one and only gate on to the plane.

Departing Stanstead airport
- Walk into terminal building
- Get caught up in what appears to be filming for Little Britain, I might appear on TV in the future looking incredibly flustered while David Walliams tries to get me to stick money in a bucket for a fake charity.
- Walk round in circles trying to go through security but getting distracted by shops like Accesorize and Monsoon and WH Smith books.
- Get through security, don't set off any alarms, happy days.
- Choose out of one of the many possible cafes and sit down in Starbucks to read magazine
- Walk for about 20 minutes to Gate 50 and on to the plane.

If you don't hear from me again for another week don't panic. Like I said, I'm off to Liverpool on Tuesday and won't hit the ground until Friday. I'm going to take my laptop away with me and try and get some blogging done but, to be honest with you, I'm not holding my breath. Which is also why you might not get any comments from me either. I logged into Google Reader and the number scared the crap out of me and I logged back out again, how dare you all keep posting while I was away?! I will do my best to catch up with you all, I promise.

Sunday, 12 September 2010


I gave the blanket to my brother and sister-in-law yesterday and am pleased to report it was well appreciated, the first thing out of my sister-in-law's mouth was "Wow this must have taken you ages" So there was no need for pounding of heads, which is always nice.

I do want to tell you all about the Freedom Festival which took place in Hull yesterday and tell you all about Plasticiens Volants: Monster Madness, the French street theatre group who paraded enormous inflatable balloon creatures above our heads, and the fireworks. But instead I have to finish my packing.

I'm off on a little holiday to France to stay at my Dad's house for a week, this promises to be both terrifying and hilarious in equal measure as I'm not even sure how habitable and comfortable the house is and I haven't spent this long in my Dad's company since before him and my Mum split up when I was 16.

But I figured at least I'll have something to tell you when I get back.

See you in a week or so!

Friday, 10 September 2010

Just awaiting a baby...

...Ha. No. Don't freak out.

I'm just showing you the finished baby blanket that I've made for my new niece/nephew, when they decide to show up at the end of October/beginning of November.

Remember? I told you about it like a million years ago?

Well it's done. It's been done for a while but I've been incredibly lazy in getting it photographed but tomorrow it will be given to my brother and sister-in-law for them to take home to await the arrival of Niece/Nephew Number Four.

It's probably a little large to really be allowed to be called a baby blanket but I have rationalised this by saying that
a) it might be a very big baby, and
b) he/she needs to be swaddled up good and proper.

I did want to do a fancy edging but in the end decided to keep it simples and just did one round of each colour before finishing with a bit of the white. I felt it was already big enough without going anymore overboard.

I'll be sad to see it go. Do you ever worry that people don't quite get how much time it takes to make a blanket like this? It's not that I don't think they won't appreciate it but there's a small part of me that wants to hand it over and go "You'd better be appreciative you bitches, this has taken me friggin' ages". But instead I will hand it over and say "I just wanted to make something for my new niece/nephew".

And so now we wait...

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Not just any old bridge

If you’re from Hull it’s practically the law that you have to love the Humber Bridge.

It used to be one of our main claims to fame. HULL – owner of the World’s Longest Single-Span Suspension Bridge.

However we only got to keep this accolade from 1981 to 1998 before China, Denmark and Japan came to ruin our party meaning that we are now the somewhat less impressive – HULL - owner of the 5th Longest Single-Span Suspension Bridge. (Click here for who else is in the running)


The Humber Bridge is special to us Hull People (still no idea what we’re supposed to be called – I might need to run a poll on this!) regardless of it being the longest or the 5th longest or whatever it may be. It’s especially special to those of us who travelled or lived away from the city at any point. When you’re coming in on the train you know you’re pretty much home when you see the Humber Bridge and it gives you one of those funny little feelings. Even though I was desperate to get away from Hull and go off to uni, I still used to have a little smile to myself when I came home for the holidays and saw it there, spanning the horrible brown River Humber.

It’s unfortunate really but there’s nothing to be done about it. The River Humber is brown. It’s just mud but, you know, it’s not the most pleasant of things to look at.

I think I’ve only ever attempted to walk across it once. I was a very little person and my Dad took me and my friend on an adventure. It was freezing and half way across we both cried and said we didn’t want to go any further so we turned and went back and went to play in a park, much more fun.

This Sunday however was my first time walking across it. I somehow got roped into accompanying a friend across who was walking across it and back with her dog for charity. It was one of those situations where I sort of casually mentioned “I’ll come with you!” in one of my excitable at-the-time-don’t-really-mean-it ways and before I knew it I was locked in and having to deliver on my promise.

How could I say no to this face?

The thing is, it turns out the Humber Bridge isn’t really that long at all. It’s only just over a mile long. Not a big deal. So can someone please explain to me why I found myself shattered by the time we’d completed the return journey and with pains in my legs the next day?! There are no excuses, I walk just over 4 miles a day going to and from work, this should not have been a big deal. What happened to me out there?!

Was it walking in a boring straight line? Was it the wind which was screaming through my ears on the way back? Was it just a little bit too much fresh air? Or am I just a wuss?

I have no idea but it knackered me out and I was too ashamed to admit that seeing as Alice, the 14 year old dog who accompanied us, was absolutely fine with the excursion and didn’t mind one bit.

And is it wrong of me to be jealous that the dog got a certificate and I didn’t?

I thought it would be great and I could take loads of amazing photos but it turns out:

Sludgy brown estuary + very flat landscape x limited photography skills = not very good photos

But despite my aching legs and slightly painful right ear and despite the lack of stunning scenic photos I still love you Humber Bridge and if I see you, or see a picture of you, you still mean home.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Criminal suspects

Last Friday afternoon was going to be fun. The reasons were twofold
a) It was Friday afternoon. Enough said.
b) It was Stitch in Public day and some of The Stitchettes were getting together to take part.

All we had to do was just take some pictures of us stitching in public. Easy peasy. No big deal. But no. It couldn’t just be us stitching in public, we do that every week in a nearby coffee shop, we had to go one better and do something really interesting. One person described it as “epic”.

It was decided that we wouldn’t just sit in a park and take some nice photos. Too easy. We would instead go and stitch in public against as many Hull landmarks and as many weird places as we could fit in.

We went to Ferens Art Gallery and posed among the pictures. All was good but our next move was the biggest mistake I think I’ve ever made.

We decided it would be hilarious to go into one of our shopping centres and take pictures of us embroidering in there. Then we decided it would be even more hilarious for one of us (me) to stand at the bottom of the escalator and to take a picture of the other three coming down it whilst embroidering.

I snapped a couple of pictures and we were marvelling at how hilarious we were when we discovered that actually we weren’t so hilarious after all. The bearer of bad news was a power-tripping security guard who came rushing down the escalator in a style akin to Jack Bauer.

He could have said to us nicely that actually we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the shopping centre. He could have explained that this was to do with terrorist risk alerts that meant you couldn’t take photos inside shopping centres. He could have told us that as the shopping centre is private property they are within their rights to not allow people to take photos. He could have done all of these things and we would have said we were very sorry, we had no idea, and gone along our way.

Instead the following conversation ensued...

Power-tripping security guard: No no no you can’t do that in here
Shocked Stitchettes: What? Why?
PTSG: Terrorism. We’re on a terrorist risk alert that’s one down from severe.
SS: Yeah but why does that mean we can’t take pictures of an escalator
PTSG: Reconnaissance
One Stitchette in particular [who hadn’t heard what he said]: Sorry, what did you say?
PTSG: Reconnaissance. Do you want me to spell that for you?

For. Reals. My mouth immediately fell open. Seriously did he just say that?!

At that point we were kind of, sort of, escorted out of the building which was mortifying to say the least. We are all good girls. We’re not crazy risk takers. We are not rule breakers. But apparently we could be terrorists.

I understand that these polices might be in place and I understand that they can’t discriminate against particular groups of people but surely a little bit of common sense and discretion must play a part. Do four middle class, white women, embroidering, really look like trouble? And besides all of that was there any need to be quite so obnoxious?

I think it’s a ridiculous policy. It doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense. And I have also found out that the terrorist risk that our delightful security guard was talking about refers to government buildings, not empty shopping centres in Hull that no-one goes to anymore because there’s a better one round the corner.

If we’d have been more together and less taken aback by the treatment we’d just received one of us might have had the werewithal to take him up on his offer of spelling reconnaissance. Just to see.

So lessons were learnt. You can, by all means stitch in public, but for god’s sake don’t try to capture it on camera for posterity.

Or. Don’t bother visiting Princes Quay (which isn’t getting a link to it like I normally would because it doesn’t deserve one).
Stitching at The Deep which apparently doesn't pose a security risk.
(And yeah none of those people is me either.)

Monday, 6 September 2010

Hell yeah this is in Hull - Part Two

Yeah we’re still on Bank Holiday. Yeah I know it was over a week ago.

Sometimes it is possible to complete forget what is right slap bang on your doorstep. Case in point, Pearson Park.

Now I walk through this park every single day on my way to and from work (apart from the days when I’m ridiculously lazy/late for work and get the bus in.) and I appreciate that it’s pretty and I appreciate the whole nature vibe it’s got going on but I’ve never really looked at it. Never really stopped to take it all in and I’ve never really thought to until I took someone else there. It’s strange to see things through someone else’s eyes. Instead of being the place I walk through to work or the park that I used to play in when I came to see my Grandma, it’s a totally new experience, a never before seen bit of greenery.

Like the archway. I know this arch. I walk through it some days. But I’d stopped noticing until the person that I was with wanted to know what it used to be.

Erm......I don’t know?! (Kidding I do. Kind of. I'm guessing it used to be the rather grand entrance.)

I also can’t remember the last time I went in to the Conservatory. In my mind’s eye it was this incredibly boring and muggy old place just filled with a load of plants. I think I’ve been to too many botanical gardens in my time and they’ve all merged into one because actually the place is rammed full of birds and fish and a ridiculously large iguana called George. I spent a good five minutes convinced that the dinosaur hanging off a branch couldn’t be real and must be a toy iguana whilst the ‘real’ George was much smaller and hiding in the undergrowth. Only when he blinked did I realise the truth. I’m sure iguanas shouldn’t be that big.

There’s all manner of very loud and very brightly coloured birds. I’m not a huge bird fan but I am a huge fan of pretty colours so I can put up with a fair amount of chirping and cheeping.

There’s more fish than you can shake a stick at including an incredibly large black fish who would scare the living daylights out of you if you were to ever come across him in real life, minding your own business and having a little swim. And way more importantly than any of the fish are the axolotls. When I saw these guys I began a little Axolotl Dance and immediately started snapping photos (no flash of course) because I know that I certain Mooncalf enjoys a good axolotl or two.

Apparently the day before we were in there it had been the 150th anniversary of the gifting of the land to create Pearson Park. I had absolutely no idea this was happening – why didn’t anyone tell me?!

As we sat and watched a bloke allow pigeons to land all over him to impress his delighted daughter, and watched a rather creepy bloke in dark sunglasses stand and stare at the ducklings I couldn’t help but wonder, how had I been so blind and never seen what was right in front of me all along?

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Hell yes this is in Hull - Part One

Can you indulge me for a couple of posts please? Can we pretend that I’m not posting a week after Bank Holiday and that instead I am a mere day late? I could be wrong, but just lately I get the feeling that my employers want me to actually work for a living. It’s incredibly inconvenient and has really gotten in the way of my blog posting duties.

So you remember Bank Holiday right? Of course you do, it was a just a day ago.

You might have picked this up by now but I love my Hull. I’m not the only one, all of us Hull citizens (do we have a name?!) are fiercely proud of our mothership. And when I say fiercely proud I mean scarily, up in your grill, proud of it. Don’t be talking shit about our city. Only we’re allowed to do that. I think it comes from being constantly under siege, we have to be proud, we have to believe that we are the greatest because if we believed everything we heard about ourselves we’d all throw ourselves in the Humber and have done with it.

I don’t know why everyone hates us but nobody wants to say anything nice about us. Like, ever. Instead people will say “You’re from Hull did you say? Oh yes don’t you have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Britain?” “Isn’t Hull the obese capital of Europe?” “Don’t you have the worst schools in the UK?” “Is it true that the streets are so vicious everyone wears stab vests?” “Didn’t you get voted number one when the Crap Towns book was first published?” (Yes. It’s a sore point.)

The main problem appears to be that there is this general impression that Hull is a not very nice place, for whatever reason, which is then perpetuated to the point where it becomes fact. You’ll get people telling you about the city who have never even been there. Bad form, people, bad form.

I am on a one woman mission to promote my city. Yes at times it is a little bit shit but I bloody love it thank you very much and you know what? Some parts of all cities are a little bit shit sometimes.

This Bank Holiday someone came to visit me and I wanted to show Hull at its very best. However with no car and with guinea pig duties pressing heavily on me I felt somewhat at a loss as to where to take them.

Inspiration came in the form of East Park. The house I grew up in backed on to it so I was there most weekends when I was growing up. It’s where I first learnt what a wallaby was. It’s where I got bitten by a goose (horrifying experience). It’s where I played bob-down tig with my Dad only didn’t bob down fast enough, leaving me with a crescent shaped scar on my forehead where his fingernail punctured my skin. Aaah happy days.

The best thing about East Park is that it has it all. Playground? Check. Animals? Check. Grassy areas. Check. Places to climb? Check. Water play area? Check.

It was the rather lucky recipient of a £6 million pot of money from the Heritage Lottery Fund a few years ago for the purposes of redevelopment and it is now a work of art. Whereas I made do with a paddling pool which would be filled up in early July and not emptied until the end of August, children now have a whole trickling river to play in complete with fountains and Archimedes Screw. Whereas I used to vainly stand at the fence, willing an animal, any animal, to come near me, I can now lean over and touch goats and point at guinea pigs and get close to the deer and wallabies.

An albino wallaby! Hello my name is awesome.

The little sweet shop on the corner that was there when I was a wee thing is still there now and you can still get a bag of duck food for 50p and go and sit near the boating lake and get attacked by ducks and geese and pigeons.

(Luckily my life changing experience of being bitten by a goose has not totally traumatised me)

You can wander amidst the gardens and you can now go to a freakin’ cafe which they built with the new money. You can clamber amongst the rocks of Khyber Pass, albeit with a little more health and safety considerations than when I was young. You can climb up some steps and see this view in front of you.

Yes. That is in Hull people.

And even more exciting than any of this is the fact that I’ve discovered that East Park has a free outdoor gym in it! I saw a BBC Breakfast segment about this a long time ago but had no idea where was one here right under my nose. So much fun and I swear, if I lived closer (another misconception is that Hull is small. It’s not. It’s freakin’ massive) I would go here. Exercise bikes, cross trainer type contraptions (which are harder work than the real thing), leg press, chest press machines. All there and available for you to use. For free. Unbelievable. You might have to fight the kids for it however, I did a fair amount of muttering that went something along the lines of “I’m not allowed to play on their swings, why do they get to go on this stuff” but I guess I should be gracious and be pleased that young people are taking an interest in being active. (God I’m such a zen master.)

All this.

For free.

Just call me Hull’s Official Ambassador.