Thursday, 29 December 2011

Final Check In of 2011

This year I decided to make some resolutions. They're not the stuff dreams are made of but they were important to me. Here's a quick recap of my pithy goals for 2011:




  1. Lose weight
  2. Make more of an effort with my writing
  3. Be more organised (and this does not mean buying 101 pocket diaries)
  4. Be better at keeping in touch with people
  5. Be better at managing  in more control of my finances



1. Lose weight


I'd say that this has been my most successful goal of 2011. I am exiting 2011 2.5 stone lighter than when I entered it. This sounds incrediably morbid but I have become more aware of my mortality this year. My flat is located up three flats of (not very steep) stairs which left me wheezing like an old man. The final crunch came when I was running to catch a bus. After paying and finding a seat, my body took a good five minutes to approach recovery. A tad melodramatic but it scared me. Someone in their mid  late twenties should not be that unfit. 


So I decided to get off my couch and start following the Couch to 5K program. I'm fortunate to live close to Queen's Park which provides a pleasant landscape to my running. Running gave me time to think, to compete with myself, to start regaining my self-respect. My calves have become less wobbly. Unfortunately I've not made time to go running since September. The darker nights and tales of friends having nasty running accidents on the ice made me afraid to venture out. However I miss my 'me' running time and have decided to join a gym until the weather gets better. However I won't go until after the January rush. I've been in a gym post-Christmas slump and it's the closest circle to hell I'll ever get to be.


The other big diet change I made this year was to go vegan. I covered it in this post Check In October 2011 if you care to re-visit my reasons. Being vegan has not made a big impact on losing weight. I suspect I can attribute 0.5 stone to becoming a vegan. What it has helped to do is maintain my weight (with a slight hint of ethical smugness). 


2. Make more of an effort with my writing


This goal has had peaks and troughs. I abandoned my attempts at working through The Artist's Way due to landing my 'proper' job. But I still have some achievements. I performed my work at the lovely Three Cord Theatre night held at the Flying Duck. It's a great space for actors, writers, musicians, stand up comedians, film makers and other performers to showcase their work in front of an appreciative audience. The staff working at the event are extremely supportive and are extremely accommodating. I'll certainly be performing again when I get some messy first drafts edited and trimmed up. 


3. Be more organised (and this does not mean buying 101 pocket diaries)


This goal, along with no. 5, is probably my least successful. I've tried everything: paper diaries, Remember the sodding Milk, Google Calendar, back to paper diaries. At the moment I have one Google Calendar and one paper diary for work and a separate Google Calendar and paper diary for outside of work. But sometimes the two cross over if I'm working outside of office hours. 


And I still forget birthdays, anniversaries and when I'm meeting people for drinks. If anyone has a successful organisation tool, please let me know via the comments on this blog. I'll buy you a pint if it works on me. 


4. Be better at keeping in touch with people


I suppose this is a difficult goal to assess. Twitter and Facebook (supposedly) make it easier for people to keep in touch with each other. But then it removes the need for face to face contact on a regular basis. I've noticed in recent social gatherings that I've been itching to check my phone. Although I'm pleased to be meeting people, my attention span has shrunk somewhat. This scares me a little and makes my inner sociologist howl in despair. Earlier this year I did have a Twitter/Facebook/social media free week and I really enjoyed it. On my morning commute I read books, listening to some epic music and judged my fellow passengers on their reading material. Perhaps next year it might be a good idea to have one social media free week every month. I quite like the sound of that. 


5. Be better at managing  in more control of my finances


Ha! I have discovered an interesting correlation. The more money I earn, the more I spend on crap. This is a worrying development because, after June 2012, I will not have a job. So I'll need to be more thrifty next year. After I buy a Macbook Air. And more ebooks for my Kindle. And a new pair of jeans. And more shiny trinkets. 


Ideas for 2012


I quite enjoyed working towards five goals this year. To motivate me, I stuck them on the wall beside my bed so I'd see them most mornings. It makes me sad not to think of them being there any more. So I'm going to spend the last days of 2011 pondering my goals for 2012. Five seems to work well for me. I'm nowhere near the 101 goals in 1001 days standard set by Alex In Leeds but perhaps I will be, one day.  


Hope you all have a fabulous New Year when it comes. 

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Glasgow to Edinburgh via a notebook

I have always found the train journey from Glasgow to Edinburgh rather inspiring. Living in a rather urban area of Glasgow, I forget that Scotland really is a beautiful country. It's one of the few journeys I make that takes longer than my usual commute of twenty minutes. I tend to have a purpose when going through to Edinburgh: visiting a friend, going to a gig, work related events. It's not a city I target for a day out, wandering aimlessly around its streets.

One benefit to the journey is that is seems to inspire me to put pen to paper. Over the past year I have some scribblings from the forty-five minute journey that may turn into a bigger story. The structure appeals to me. So here's the first of one of my notebook scribblings. I suspect this was written in early summer when I was popping through to the capital to visit friends.

Notebook Ramblings One 

The train speed through the Scottish countryside. Watching the green of the land blur and merge into the colour of the seats then nohing made her feel sick so she stopped looking out the window. Her hand trembled against the glass of the window; the coolness felt re-assuring. It had been a chaotic day.


In the aisle the bored Scotrail employee pulled a metal trolley along, asking if anyone wanted tea or coffee. When asked, she acknowledged the tea attendant with a gentle shake of the head. She had had enough coffee for one day. The caffine was causing the shakes but there was something more.

The rhythm of her stomach matched the pounding, churning noise the wheels made as they thundered along the track. How could her fellow travellers remain so calm, so composed as they flew through the air at over a hundred miles per hour? In the seat opposite a women with a crisply ironed white shirt and sculpted hair to match.  The woman occupied a table meant for four, she had claimed the space by spreading out her work papers, laptop and a Starbucks coffee cup standing guard. The woman’s debris screamed I’m busy and very important! The problem was that no-one seemed to care. The flashing red light of the woman’s Blackberry kept catching Cassandra’s eye. An ominous red glow that burned her eyes. Cassandra decided the easiest course of action would be to close her eyes. All around the perils of modern living were attacking her. She needed to think. The train had left its last stop before Queen Street, giving her just under thirty minutes to make her decision.

Today had started off in a boring manner. She had boarded the train mid-morning, coffee cup in hand, her Kindle tucked under her arm. After a moment’s hesitation she selected a two seater sans table and plugged into her headphones. The warm tones of Jenni Murray, guardian of Woman’s Hour, soothed her ears as the discussion panels tackled female genital mutilation, slut walks and the importance of choosing the right lipstick. All worthy causes for the modern day feminist to consider.

Cassandra was not sure she considered herself a modern feminist. Today’s brand of feminism seemed concerned with women exercising the right to flaunt their bodies at will. As she listened to tales of the slutwalk, Cassandra wondered if she could have attended one wearing a baggy jeans and t-shirt. Slutwalks jarred with the statistics that a woman was more likely to be raped by someone she knew than a complete stranger. Luckily the conversation moved on onto the virtues of pastille pink verses rich red. Cassandra smiled. Woman’s Hour reminded her of her own mother and her contradicting views on being a woman. ‘Pretty not tarty,’ Mother would whisper as Cassandra shoved yet another load of baggy clothes into the washing machine.

The train juddered to a stop at Falkirk High. Cassandra had no strong desire to visit Falkirk or its misleading train station name. 

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Wasted Opportunities

I have realised, of late, I have squandered creative opportunities in order to make more money. This has been a regular occurrence since I was seventeen and got my first part time job. Since then I feel I've let money (and other things) cloud my judgement somewhat. My original intention for this post was to write out a list of my wasted opportunities. However, that is a little too narcissistic even for my tastes.

At the age of fifthteen I was published in an edition of New Writing Scotland. I even got a wee mention in the introduction by the editors. It gave me hope that writing was something I was good at; something I should pursue.

Then I'm not sure what happened. Writing drifted away from me. The words didn't come as easily as they used to. My time got swallowed up by university, friends, the pub, romantic interests, work, other things that make up life. At times the reading stopped too. That's when I knew I was in big trouble. As any student of writing knows, a good writer has to do a heck of a lot of reading too. How else are the words supposed to come?

It's time I took a big step. This week I handed in my notice to one of my part time jobs. After Christmas, I should have half a week to write, edit, ponder about the stories that have been floating around my head for the past decade.

I cannot bloody wait. 

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Occupy Glasgow: Move On?

I have been noticeably quiet on this blog for the past couple of weeks. Occupy Glasgow seemed to be collapsing in on itself and I wanted to see what the outcome was. It would be unfair to post any thoughts on the group before the dust had a chance to settle. There has been a lot of controversy about a rape that took place in the camp. It is disgusting to use a horrific event that happened to a young woman as a method of criticising an entire movement. Other women decided to speak out on behalf of their sisters in the camp – despite never having set foot in the place. I have had the privilege of speaking to women that were camping out in George Square. They state that they are treated as equals and are furious at other people speaking on their behalf. One commented “I hate feminists because they tell me what I can and can’t do.” It made me sad that the actions of women were taking away the freedom of their sisters.


So I decided to do something about it. Last week I organised a Women’s Working Group at the camp. It was a great opportunity to talk to the women campers. One woman brought up a valid point – instead of being a Women’s Group it should be an Action group. The camp was being the focus of every GA I attended. There were security issues with vulnerable people coming to the camp. This highlights Glasgow City Council’s shocking inability to handle Glasgow’s homeless and vulnerable people population. This was not the camp’s problem to solve but they were facing it every night. The same people were camping out each night and they were facing activist burn out. Also the Council were keen to move the protestors out the way for the Altar of Capitalism that appears every year: the ice rink and Christmas market.

A lot of people within the Occupy Glasgow group were keen to move, myself included. Internal camp matters were taking up too much time and effort. One of the proposed sites was Kelvingrove Park; to be more specific the patch of land next to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. High footfall, near transport links and shops, busy place. Sounded great.

Until I heard the news on Thursday. Occupy Glasgow were moving to Kelvingrove Park. Unfortunately they were moving to a patch of land just off Kelvin Way. That would be Kelvin Way that has a large number of sexual assaults then? Or the section of the Park that is notorious for cottaging? Or down the road from the “splendid chaps” at the GUU who are known for antics such as this? Any woman in Glasgow is well aware that Kelvin Way is not the safest place in Glasgow, not by a long shot. I mentioned the relocation to some female friends and they were horrified by the move.

I believe in the Occupy movement. It has highlighted that we live in a culture of greed: materialistic, financial, environmental greeds. Capitalism is broken and unsustainable. The system drastically needs to improve. The Occupy movement’s purpose is to show people across the world are concerned about the same issues. This is what unites us as human beings. Occupy Wall Street, and its sister movements, is a non violent statement to the 1% puppet masters: we’re fed up with your shit.

As much as I support the Occupy cause, I cannot support the move to Kelvingrove Park. It is not creating a safe space for anyone involved in the movement. The council can install as many floodlights as it wishes; it still does not create a safe space. I will join Occupy Glasgow on their activism ventures whether that’s writing letters, promoting the message or marching together through the streets of Glasgow. However I will stop at the entrance of Kelvingrove Park.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Vive la Revolution!

I do not cope terribly well with being busy. For the past year I have been working, and living, a part time lifestyle. I would like to say I spent my time productively, like re-reading interesting books from my undergraduate days or learning a new skill. Unfortunately I spent most of my time hitting refresh on Facebook and Twitter. Rock on, sister.

This weekend I volunteered to help out at Document 9, a human rights film festival. I can honestly say I had such a blast and a few instances of serendipity. The highlight came on Sunday evening when I was given a free ticket to watch How To Start A Revolution. After watching the film, I realised I had been waiting for this for years.

The documentary is about Doctor Gene Sharp, author of a little book called From Dictatorship to Democracy. Originally written to help the Burmese in the 1980s, this book has spread across the world as a vital tool in overthrowing dictatorships. Sharp's work has been credited with aiding non-violent revolutions including Serbia, Georgia and, more recently, Egypt. It contains 198 tools for non-violent protests against figures of power. It sounds so simple, so beautiful, so logical. Sharp's work doesn't claim to fix all wrongs in a society shaped by dictatorship. But his work is a delightful alternative to people that want to show their discontentment with the society they live in. I was reading parts of the book on my morning commute and kept muttering "That's brilliant" to myself. Unsurprisingly no-one sat next to me on a busy bus. I like Gene Sharp's method of revolution much better than the blood that has been shed recently in Libya.

His words are spreading. Already they're being adopting by the Occupy Glasgow moment (and putting their own stamp on it) and I'm sure his name has already cropped up in other Occupy movements across the world.



This has been a week of revolution on an international and personal level. For the first time in years I actually feel like there's a real sense of change in the air. When I hear the phrase "We are the 99%" I feel like I belong to a political group that represents me. In the last election I spoiled my ballot paper. There, I've admitted it. I had to vote, it's simply something I have to do to honour all the women (and men) who fought for my right to do so. But, when faced with a ballot paper, I thought "I can't imagine a single member of these shower of shites representing my best interests." So I drew a big cross across the paper.

Democracy - it seems such a hollow word. Growing up I knew it was important and something to be respected. The Occupy movement is a fine example of non-violent democratic protest. I feel excited, almost like a paradigm is shifting under my feet. The masses are getting pissed off about their power being chipped away. It's time to reclaim it from the 1%. I'll be standing there, with my copy of From Dictatorship to Democracy tucked under my arm.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Occupy Glasgow: A Week On

The past week has been a bit of a whirlwind. Since my post on Monday, the Occupy Glasgow movement has been gaining attention from the local population to sister movements across the world. There has been some negative coverage in the Daily Fail based upon a mis-leading press release issued by Glasgow City Council. One point I would like to touch upon is Armistice Day. Some people have been extremely upset by the incorrect information issued by the Council. All the occupiers have the upmost respect for Armistice Day and the history behind that day. Already they have had discussions at their meetings about to accomodate the upcoming events that also includes the Christmas lights switch on. I know the truth because I have been attending Occupy Glasgow's daily meetings held each evening at 6.30pm in George Square.

It has been an inspiring week for me. I've met some fantastic people including this young man who is only 14 and is taking such an active role in the movement. People participating in the occupation come from a range of backgrounds and political ideologies. They're all united by one thing: the need for change in the way society is run. The current system is running very close to empty and that needs to be addressed.

Today Occupy Glasgow are holding a rally in George Square at 15.00. They hope to have 1, 000 people there this afternoon: families, greens, Socialists, feminists, anti-war demonstrators, trade union groups, students, young people, teachers, artists. What do all these groups have in common? They're human beings that are concerned about the way that the world is run by the 1% at the top of the pile.

Sadly I can't make the rally today because I have to work to pay for my winter heating bill. But I'll be watching via the George Square web cam.

Monday, 17 October 2011

The Revolution Will Not Be....










This is happening in George Square, one of the most well know areas in Glasgow. In 1919 tanks rolled across its ground against the mass demonstration taking place. In 2011 Glasgow City Council are welcoming the protesters - for now.

It took Occupy Wall Street almost a month to be reported in the main stream media. Will the same happen in Glasgow: home to the 'Red Clydeside'; home to the famous 'nae hooligans...nae vandalism...nae bevying...' ethos adopted by the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders in the 1970s?

Get down and show your support to them. They're based on George Square. Look out for the tents and the gazebos. They need bin bags, warm clothes but most of all they need your support. 

This revolution will not be televised. Instead it will be broadcast via the web. Find out more at:

Occupy Glasgow Twitter

Occupy Glasgow website

Occupy Glasgow Facebook

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Check In October 2011

This blog has been rather neglected of late. My life has changed quite a bit since my last update in July. I’m a fan of the old bullet point update so let’s bring things up to speed:


• I started working on The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It really is an excellent resource and it got me writing something every day via the morning pages method. Granted some of it was utter rubbish like ‘Had a weird dream last night involving bricks, peanut butter and Shaun the Sheep’ but I enjoyed the routine of setting aside time to write. Even if it was utter bollocks. I’ve taken a wee break from the program due to things becoming utterly mental. All shall be revealed further down.

• At the beginning of September I performed my work to an audience for the first time at Three Cord Theatre run by acquaintances at Sonic Boom Theatre. It was a fun experience and my work seemed to go down rather well. Unfortunately it reminded me that I haven’t written or edited work of performance quality for quite some time. Fortunately I made a good enough impressed at TCH that I can return any time I wish. Top stuff. One of the stories I read out was Wedding in the Botanics which you can read here.

• Went to Prague in September and fell in love with the city. Here’s a lovely photo of me looking hot and sweaty with Kafka’s statue in the Jewish Quarter:




(c) Colin Brown 2011

• I’m still plugging away at Write in for Writing’s Sake but that has been a little neglected in the past couple of months. As mod I should really be contributing to each topic so I plan to do this until the end of the year. If contributions don’t pick up then I’ll need to decide whether or not to continue with the venture.

• Since starting Weight Watchers in February, I have lost 1.8 stone(s). I’m chuffed to bits and trying to avoid rewarding myself with lots of cake. Still have a bit to go before I’m back in a happy weight range (and out of the BMI scale charmingly labelled ‘Obese’). Sadly some of my clothes no longer fit me so I’ll need to have a clear out of the old wardrobe soon.

• Recently I changed from being a vegetarian to becoming a vegan. I met Gillian and she helped to remind me why I become a vegetarian in the first place. I read Fast Food Nation about five years ago and thought the practices surrounding the milk industry (and, in turn, how that feeds into the veal and leather industry) were horrendous. So what did I decide to do? Give up eating beef, pork and chicken but continued to consume dairy products. Erm, well done love. After doing some reading, I decided to finish what I’ve started and go vegan. It’s going well so far; Glasgow is quite a good city to go vegan in. The only difficulty has been buying new shoes. I have a dodgy ankle and it’s easier to try on shoes in shops than go through the mail order process. Still, it’s not that much of a pain and is manageable.

• The biggest change is that I have a new job as a Proper Archivist. I’m not entirely sure what the organisation’s policy is on personal blogging so I won’t name them. I have spent September getting an induction into the archive and the various duties that go with managing the collections. The staff is lovely and it’s probably one of the best places I have ever worked. Due to the meaty induction, I have spent September either working, eating, sleeping and, possibly, shouting at Him Indoors for leaving mouldy bread in the kitchen.

So there you have it. And, dear readers, how have you been?

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Reflections on a Writing Retreat

This week I have been on what I've called a writing retreat. My parents were away on holiday and I asked if I could borrow their house. It's located in a relatively quiet suburb and most of the neighbours are approaching retirement age. Bonus points: there was a nice garden I could sit in of an evening with beer. Unfortunately, most of this week has been spent writing indoors, staring out at the pouring rain. I did have to deal with a minor roof leak that saw Him Indoors ascending some wobbly ladders when he came to visit. Poor sod, the first thing I said to him was not "Honey I've missed you!" but "Can you help me fix a leak in the roof?"

Asides from roof leaks, the week has been reasonably productive. My original plan was to create a body of short stories intended for e-publishing. That course has changed a little because I have found a character I would like to slot into a novel. Originally the character started off as a bit player in a short story I'd written. Then I found myself thinking "Actually I'd like to spend more time with this dude." Currently my story is set in New York City and the gay scene in the 1950s. It's a period of history I know little about but I'm going to have fun writing about it. Even as I type one of the characters is shouting in my head (someone has just broken a bottle of very expensive bourbon) as though he's a real person. I'm taking this to be a good sign and not that I might be hearing voices.

Another interesting occurrence: I have been writing plot outlines. This is not a technique I have done before. When I wrote in my teens, I just kept typing at the computer until I ran out of steam. No character profiles, no plot outlines. I would have struggled to physically describe how most of my characters looked, talked or thought about when they weren't appearing in the Word doc. files on my computer. The OU course I completed earlier this year went over the importance of getting to know your characters and planning your writing. I realised it made sense why I ran out of steam when I was writing stories. In a previous writing class, the tutor asked me "Why did you end this story a particular way?" Unfortunately they were not entirely impressed with my answer of "I was bored and wanted to finish it the quickest way possible."

Earlier this week a friend got in touch with me concerning a possible script writing venture. This is all shiny and new so I'm not going to talk about it too much. I have been working on those plans these week when The Novel has been annoying me. Now I have an extra two scenes that I didn't have last week. Same with the The Novel: I have an extra 3, 000 words and a plot outline I didn't have a week ago.

This week has been good. It reminded me that I enjoy writing, that I'm happier when I make time to write. Now I'm determined to keep up this commitment. There's a sign on my living room wall that says If you have time to piss about on the Internet, then you have time to clean! Perhaps I should change "clean" to "write."

On a side note, I told the Mothership I was writing a novel. Her response was "Hmmm.....that's nice." Since she found out there were "naughty" bits, she is demanding advanced copies. 

Friday, 1 July 2011

Goals for 2011: Halfway Point Check In


Ho hum, it has been a little while since I’ve posted an update on here. I cannot believe it is almost halfway through 2011. Where has this year gone? So much for writing a monthly update about my progress. Bet some of you can guess how well I’ve done for goal no. 3: Be more organised.

1. Lose weight

This has probably been my most successful goal of the year. At the end of February I had had enough and decide to bite the bullet (pardon the awful and unintentional pun). One of my friends had re-joined Weight Watchers and was having a great success with it. However he was not going to the dreaded meetings. He was following their online system which was a bit nicer than being weighed in a drafty church hall in front of lots of people. Instead you can leap onto the scales in the comfort of your own home and without anyone tutting their disapproval.

I joined Weight Watchers at the beginning of March and have lost 1.5 stone since then. Tracking what I eat has really helped me lose weight. The points system helps my brain make sense of how many calories foods contain. For example, a bag of crisps is the same number of points as five portions of my breakfast porridge. That helps me reach for the bananas at snack time.

Two months ago I started doing a Couch to 5k program and I have been really enjoying it. Before the start of June I was easily mastering 1.5. The last time I did proper exercise was at P.E. in school: over ten years ago. To do 1.5k was a major achievement for me. Alas I have discovered the hard way that you cannot take time off from running. I took two weeks off due to a hen weekend and a cold I caught whilst on the hen weekend. Last week I went back on my route and was really struggling to run 1k. I was so disappointed in myself but I’m not giving up. One of my goals for 2012 is to run the Women’s 5k in Bellahouston Park.

On a side note I have noticed my calves becoming more toned since I started running. Unfortunately that has not happened to my other wobbly bits! A yoga class might be in my future but that’s still to be confirmed. I’m not, and highly doubt I ever will be, a gym bunny. However I need to find a method to tone up and yoga seems to be the best way to go about it.

Assessment: Excellent, keep going

2. Make more of an effort with my writing

I finished my OU writing course in April. It was a struggle towards the end to find time to complete the assignments. In March I was asked to provide cover at my old job because someone was on long term sick leave. Straight away I lost two full days I had been using to work on my OU assignments. Him Indoors became a freelancer around the same time and suffered from the freelancers’ curse of working all hours and taking any job that came his way. I snapped up what little time we could spent together, free of the bloody laptop. What I’m really trying to say is that excuses kept cropping up and I couldn’t find time to write. Scratch that: wouldn’t make time to write. I did send off some submissions at the end of May. So far I’ve had one rejection and I’m still waiting to hear back from the others.

On Monday I went to a talk by Sara Sheridan which you can read more about here. The short version is that I am going to work on creating a collection of short stories to self-publish on Amazon. Fortunately writing does not need to be my full time job (although it would be lovely) so I do not need to make a lot of profit from it. I would love more people to read my work so perhaps self-publishing a good path to take. 

Assessment: You were off track for a wee while but stick to the path you’re on

3. Be more organised (and this does not mean buying 101 pocket diaries)

Again, I’m plodding along with this goal. I became the owner of a Blackberry and have managed to sync it up to my Google Calendar. This has helped keep me a little more organised. Remember the Milk has been a great help especially with self-imposed deadlines. I appear to respond well to deadlines highlighted in red.

I have done away with carrying a paper diary and stick to using my Blackberry to mark in appointments and meetings to remember. The only drawback is that its calendar only syncs my Google Calendar entries that are happening in the next four weeks. In order to check more long term plans I have to log into my Google Calendar on my netbook. Not a major problem but it does annoy me, especially if I’m being asked to do more shifts in work.

Alas I sometimes still forget certain things, especially if I’m changing handbags over. I have toyed with pinning a checklist to my front door. That does tap into my mild OCD a little too much so I may avoid doing that.

Assessment: Don’t forget your bloody purse.

4. Be better at keeping in touch with people

There’s an amazing correlation between being more sociable and having a larger disposable income. Since my wages increased I have been going out a lot more for friends. Some of us are getting grown up and meet up for coffee rather than heading to the local pub. Shocking state of affairs.

As mentioned above, I went on a hen weekend in the first week of June. It was for a friend I had known since my first round of college, when we were both seventeen. Her hen do was fabulous but it made me sad about all the times I’ve forgotten to met up with her or made excuses not to. That’s something I plan to resolve when she returns from her honeymoon in a couple of weeks.

Assessment: Could do better

5. Be better at managing  in more control of my finances 

This goal has been a complete joke recently. When my income increased not once did I think “I’ll use some of that to clear my student debt.” No, instead I bought stuff. Lots of stuff, especially stuff that comes in brown boxes from Amazon. That came to an abrupt halt earlier this month. My dear bank decided to end my interest-free overdraft despite several assurances earlier this year that they would allow me to keep it until September. Fortunately I have some untapped resources I can use to pay it off and stop incurring the ridiculous charges they have.

That, dear readers, was my wake up call. I’ve managed to pay off some of my overdraft and should have it cleared by mid-July. One more step to being in more control of my finances. Looking back on my last entry, I can see not much has changed.

Assessment: Use the mantra of “Can I afford it? Do I need it? Can I buy it somewhere cheaper?”

All in all not a bad position to be in for this time of year. I have lost pounds from my figure and my purse (har har). Still as unorganised as ever though I never see that changing. Full steam ahead and let’s see what the rest of 2011 holds.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Write on, Explorers

On Monday I went to a talk given by Sara Sheridan, author of Secret of the Sands and explorer of the archives. It was hosted by the Section for Specialist Repositories and I went along as a baby archivist and as a dabbling writer (I should really mention there was also a fantastic free lunch). Some of my inspiration for my writing has come from handling documents in the archives. The first story I wrote in years was based upon my work with Gartnavel psychiatric records called Weber’s Puzzle (which will remain in the dreaded ‘To Edit’ pile for some time). Historians can lean towards writing historical fiction; especially if their research covers time periods with large gaps in the records. I attended a talk given by Alison Weir a number of years ago and she stated that such writers have to make a decision: do I write a monograph or do I write a novel based on the facts? Sara mentioned that a lot of historians are jealous of her job of ‘making things up.’

Sara was a fantastic speaker and I wonder if she has some archival fever in her blood. She covered topics that are important to today’s archivists: access, digitisation, copyright, the dawn of e-book readers. She spoke of chasing people through the records which struck a chord with me. I have dealt with many enquiries about individuals that bounced in and out of Glasgow’s asylums in the early twentieth century. My heart would break as the records revealed the sad truth of someone’s life. Post-natal depression was a common feature. Today that would be treatable. Back then, women were kept locked away for years with a little note that said Cause of Insanity: Post-partum melancholia. Many times I have wondered what that woman’s story was. What was their house like? How many children did they have? Did they miss being around their family? What was their favourite food? and on and on.

I was fortunate enough to chat to Sara over lunch. I was touched she had looked at this blog after I said hello to her on Twitter. It reminded me that I have neglected it over the past couple of months. She gave me advice about publishing my work for the Kindle; something I had not considered. At times I felt guilty about the advice she was giving me: after all, she was here to give a talk about archives not fight off a plucky young writer. It made me realise that I need to do something with the things I make up.

With this in mind, I have managed to borrow a house for a week in July. I plan to use this week to fire through my ‘To Edit’ folder which holds at least twenty doc files. Hopefully I will end the week with a decent body of work that I can create a collection of short stories from. Perhaps I’ll find a character I can squeeze a novel out of during that time. I am in awe of people who can write novels or find characters that they want to spend that amount of time with. My character might be languishing in my C drive, waiting to be discovered.

So thank you, Sara, for giving me that push and tweeting a link to this blog.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Writing Wednesdays: Gusto and Relish

Gusto and Relish
729 – 731 Pollokshaws Road
South Side


Gusto and Relish is two doors down from Tapa, the first cafe I reviewed in this series. I had not visited Gusto before but had heard glowing reports of its food. As well as being a cafe, Gusto has a deli counter filled with lovely goodies to take home. Due to the on-going diet (upcoming post about that) I resisted the temptation today. Though I may return to buy some of the chilli chocolate bars as a treat.

For the newbies, I divide my reviews into the following categories:

·                     Feed me for a fiver
·                     Good coffee
·                     Table space
·                     Power outlets and Wi Fi access
·                     Friendliness of staff
·                     General atmosphere

Feed me for a fiver

Goodness me, Gusto certainly rose to this challenge. I was immediately offered cake by the friendly girl at the counter. As tempting as it was to have a purely cake lunch, I declined and asked for a look at their menu. The choice for a vegetarian was excellent with the lunch menu taking the humble sandwich and making it sound exotic. Eventually I chose the bruschetta with haloumni, olive tapende, red tomato and red onions at £5.65. Over budget by 65p but oh so worth it. I had a generous two slices of bread and hearty helpings of haloumni to chomp down. The plate came with a lovely salad and some delicious cous cous. You can find out more about Gusto and Relish’s menu here. They also have daily specials which you can find out more about on Facebook.

There’s table service and my order arrived rather quickly, despite it being busy with the lunch crowd. Extra thumbs up from me, especially as I was doing battle with my Wi Fi dongle (more on that later).

N.B. Gusto and Relish take credit/debit card payments but add a charge of £0.50 for transactions under £10.00.

Coffee

A black coffee with milk on the side (I’m a fusspot) comes to £1.85. It tasted wonderful and much better than some of the watery concoctions that some chain coffeeshops offer. Excellent value for money.

Table Space

The tables at Gusto must be magic. At a table for two I could easily fit my netbook, A4 notepad, Kindle, glass of water, coffee cup and pencil case with plenty of room to spare. After all, they need big tables to accommodate the HUGE portions they dish out. The front of the cafe appears to cater for large groups (4 or more) while the back has more tables for two. Tables at the back have a mixture of bench and small stool seating which I can uncomfortable for long periods of time. Instead I decided to park at one of the tables for two with your standard-chair-with-back. The tables are well spaced out so you can spy on your neighbours or you can lose yourself in your work.

Power Outlets and Wi Fi

Alas Gusto seemed a bit short on power points. I spotted two but they were up the back beside the bench seating. Instead I decided to brave my netbook battery which seemed to behave for once.

There is no wi fi available at Gusto which is probably a USP for people. I had a wi fi dongle with me but it had run out of credit. Poor planning on my part so I decided to give up on the Web and actually do some work for a change. The battery on my netbook did last longer than usual and I spent less time refreshing Facebook pages. Still, this is a very minor negative and only affects writers that prefer the keyboard over the pen.

How friendly staff are?

As hinted above, the staff here are very friendly. Despite being busy, every customer got a warm welcome and a smile. Nothing seemed to be a bother and they seemed unfazed by the large groups coming through the door. They put up with my numerous questions and were apologetic about the lack of wi fi. My stay was not very long today but I didn’t feel under pressure to buy more coffee for the time I was there.

General atmosphere

I visited during the lunch period and it was very busy; especially with large groups. However the atmosphere was pleasant and I wasn’t distracted by the traffic coming in and out. There was quiet background music being played which become cancelled out by the chatter. I was working on some rather emotive material but I felt so relaxed in Gusto which took the edge off a little.

I have passed Gusto and Relish several times at the weekend and it has been packed out. After visiting today, I’m not surprised. Friendly staff, great food and a lovely atmosphere. What more could a writer girl (or guy) want? 

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Writing Wednesdays

As some of you may know, one of my goals for 2011 is to take my writing more seriously. Alas I do not work very well at home. There are too many distractions such as numerous repeats of Desperate Housewives, dusting, one of the pets. The list goes on and on. So I decided to explore alternative venues for writing outside of the house. Initial searches on Google did not not bring up what I was looking for. Which cafes were writer friendly? Would they hound me out for ordering one cup of coffee in two hours? Then I saw an excellent post by Liz Broomfield, a woman of many talents and who runs her proof reading business alongside various other projects. In her blog post she reviewed a local cafe for a suitable (co)working venue. And I thought "Hell, why don't I do that for cafes around Glasgow?"

So, ladies and gents, I give you my first review of one of Glasgow's many writer friendly cafes. I decided to start local, and cheating a little, a cafe I had used before. 

Tapa Coffeehouse
721 Pollokshaws Road 
South Side 



Tapa has become a Glasgow institution in a very short time. They opened their first outlet, a bakery, in the east end of Glasgow. I remember friends living in Denniston raving about Tapa's bread and other goodies  during my undergraduate days. In 2008 they expanded out into the south side and opened a coffeehouse. Amongst Tapa's many talents they roast their own coffee and provide a variety of mouth watering specials on a daily basis. I'm a vegetarian and it's such a lovely experience to be able to choose from a variety of items on the menu. 

I have based my review upon the following criteria and what I'm looking for in a writing venue. These are:

  • Feed me for a fiver
  • Good coffee
  • Table space
  • Power outlets and Wi Fi access
  • Friendliness of staff
  • General atmosphere

Feed me for a fiver 

Tapa has a range of sandwiches available for under £5.00. On my visit I purchased a falafel sandwich with hummus and a side salad for £4.65. The bread came from Tapa's bakery in the east end and tasted very fresh. Did I mention that you can buy some of Tapa's loaves to take home? Unfortunately I had to resist temptation due to my ongoing diet. They also have a small selection of cakes, including wheat free chocolate brownies, available to fuel mid-afternoon writing frenzies. 

N.B. Tapa do take credit/debit card payments but only for payments over £5.00. 

Good Coffee

One word sums up Tapa's coffee: sublime. It packs a punch, exactly the way fresh coffee should. After two cups my hands were dancing over my laptop keyboard. Unfortunately most of the typing was sending messages on Facebook. A cup of black coffee (with milk on the side) is an absolute steal at £1.90 and extremely wallet friendly to most writers. 

Table Space

Tapa is spread over two levels with seating available in the basement. From previous experience they only tend to open this up during busy weekends. Downstairs doubles as their coffee storage area so its understandable. Some of the tables are a wee bit too close together which can make you feel like you're spying on your neighbour. And this leads me onto.... 

Power Points and Wi Fi access

I counted a total of four power points. They are mounted on the walls that are very close to tables. You don't need to worry about causing any accidents with your laptop power cable. When I arrived the tables beside power points were occupied with non-laptop users. I was a bit shy about asking people to move but luckily a power point friendly table became available not long after I arrived. Still it might be worth charging up your laptop before venturing out. My Acer Notebook has a shockingly bad battery life so I am tied to my charger. 

The wifi access was easy to log into. All I had to do was scan for the networks using my notebook and ask a member of staff for the password. The connection speed is best described as "zippy" apart from when a chap next to me started using BBC iPlayer. Still I was rather impressed by the speed especially as I counted at least three other laptop users over the course of my visit. 

Friendliness of staff

Tapa provides table service which can mean a bit of a wait for your order. They did seem a bit over stretched which was puzzling for a Wednesday morning. There was a delivery being made when I arrived so I assumed it was down to that. However the slight air of "panic" did linger after the delivery men had departed. Less than half of the tables were occupied yet the wait staff seemed in a bit of a flap. This has happened on my other visits but it adds to the quirkiness of the place. The staff were quite happy to leave me on my own and I was not pestered to order more drinks during my time there. Thumbs up in that case. 

General atmosphere

Tapa manages to maintain a rather tranquil atmosphere even when it's busy. The background music playing ranges from The Clash to Mumford & Sons but is kept at an audible level without infringing on your conversation or your concentration. The coffeehouse seems to be popular for people coming in for a morning coffee and a read of the paper. Personally I love the downstairs which has ‘false windows’ installed which gives you the impression that you're not below ground level. I never felt rushed or unwelcomed by staff even though I was there for over three hours. 

All in all Tapa gets a solid thumbs up as a writing venue from me. Just don't forget to charge up your laptop

Monday, 4 April 2011

Reading Update: 1/4 of 2011

I am rather boastful when it comes to talking about books I've read. Past attempts to keep lists have usually fallen flat on their backsides. However I have got into the habit of keeping 2011's reads in a Google Doc which I can access each time I open my email (which is far too often). My reading tastes have been graphic novels of late. I find them rather fast and easy to read; I can usually polish one off in half an hour. Him Indoors got me a Kindle for my birthday and I have been downloading a lot of the classics I should have read years ago, like Pride and Prejudice. Unfortunately I have been somewhat distracted by easier reads. My brain finds it difficult to process the writing styles pre-mid 20th century when I'm tired. As I do most of my reading at night, this can slow my reading intake. There has been one book that kept me way up past my bedtime though.

That book has to be Any Human Heart by William Boyd. I love whacking huge literary books, especially ones that span decades. The portaginst is Logan Mountstuart and the novel is written in the format of his "personal diaries." I had to keep checking the back cover to make sure it was indeed a work of fiction. We follow Mountstuart through his time at Oxford, reporting on the Spanish Civil War, his sour friendship with Edward VI and Wallace Simpson, the knowledge that 'it all comes down to luck in the end. That's all it [life] is: good luck and bad luck.' 


Here's my list so far: 



January
1. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
2. A Week in December - Sebastian Faulks
3. Isabel Dalhouise: The Lost Art of Gratitude  - Alexander McCall Smith
4. The Election - Tom Percotta
5. Dead White Men and other Important People - Ralph Fevre and Angus Bancroft (DNF) *

February
6. Any Human Heart - William Boyd
7. Y The Last Man Vol. One: Unmaned - Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra and Pamela Rambo
8. The Abstinence Teacher - Tom Percotta
9. Hope for Newborns - Rodge Glass (DNF) *

March

10. Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro
11 Y The Last Man Vol. Two: Cycles - Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra and Pamela Rambo
12. Y The Last Man Vol. Three: One Small Step - Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra and Pamela Rambo
13. The Walking Dead Vol. Nine: Here We Remain - Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn and Robert Kirkman
14. Y The Last Man Vol. Four: Safeword - Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra and Pamela Rambo
15. Y The Last Man Book Five: Ring of Truth - Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra and Pamela Rambo

*DNF = Did Not Finish


Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Web 2.0 Tools aka My Happy Sticks

Today marks the beginning of an (almost) week off work. I need to go in on Thursday to provide some cover but I can live with that. Obviously a week off is golden time. Something to be savoured. Did I go out for a long walk in the sunshine? Did I indulge in some writing? Did I hell. Instead I faffed around on Twitter and answered the following question posed by Kate Theimer : Which Web 2.0 tools do we rely on socially and in the workplace?

The two worlds of "social" and "workplace" are starting to merge together. On Facebook I have a long list of ex-colleagues that I would never have kept in touch with pre-Web 2.0. Last week one of those ex-colleagues emailed me regarding a job I might be interested in. The same ex-colleague is someone I regularly have banter about music and other such non-work topics. It got the old brain ticking. I got my first mobile phone when I was thirteen. Since then I have been able to keep in touch with friends around the clock. You could text your friends after the forbidden time of ten pm and not have parents barking at you to hang up the phone. Perhaps that laid the foundations for the Web 2.0 generation. The latest label I have heard is the "Google generation" which is used to define anyone born after 1992. Just pause for a second. 1992?! There's something scary yet gently awesome about that. Then again I dislike tagging generations with wide sweeping labels; it makes for lazy sociology.

Anyway, back to the point at hand. Here follows a list of Web 2.0 tools I would be lost without:

Dropbox

This is a fantastic file sharing and storage service. You can install an app onto your computer and simply "drop" files into the assigned Dropbox folder. This is then mirrored by your Dropbox account which is stored on the cloud. From there you can download and upload files to computers that do not have your Dropbox app installed. This is very handy if you have numerous Dropbox accounts in one household or office area. A key feature is that you can revert back to previous versions of a file. Very handy if you have an "Oh whoops!" moment.

One drawback to Dropbox, but a very minor issue, you cannot edit files stored on the cloud. Currently I'm using it as a back up service for my netbook and as a method of transporting files across numerous computers. It's more reliable than using USB sticks and you're less likely to have issues with corrupted files or leaving the bloody thing on a train.

Diigo

I came across this website when the demise of Delicious was being banded around the web. The issue of sharing two computers was getting on my nerves. Having a cloud based bookmarking service would suit my purposes more than going between computers. I can't remember exactly how I came across Diigo but the brightly coloured website (yeah, I know...) attracted my attention.

The best feature of Diigo is the interaction the user can have with information stored on the web. You can highlight sections of a website, add your own sticky notes to specific web pages and the usual stuff like adding tags and descriptions to bookmarks. Diigo is iPad friendly and you can install an app in Google Chrome. I can log into my bookmarks from any computer with internet access. This has come in rather handy especially as I moved from work to volunteer placement to home.

I notice that they have more advanced settings for the premium account such as annotation specific areas of text. I'd consider paying for such a feature if I was still in full time education or carried out a lot of research on the web.

Adobe Workspaces

Ah, now this fills the gap left by Dropbox. Sometimes you might be working on something you don't want to download to a computer. In those quiet moments in work you may want to dabble away at that secret best selling novel you're writing. This is where Adobe Workspaces comes in.

The basic account is the only option available to those outside North America. Still, you get a pretty good deal for your money. You can upload read only documents such as PDFs and Word docs if you wish. Or you can import documents into Buzzword which allows you to edit the content. As with Dropbox, Adobe records the history of your document and you can revert back to previous editions of the document. The best bit is that you can import Word docs or Open Office docs and Buzzword retains a lot of the formatting during the conversion process. I've heard reports that Google Docs tends to jumble up the formatting and can get very clunky with documents over 20, 000 words. The largest word processing file I have stored in Adobe comes to around 12, 000 words. However I have heard of people using Adobe for NaNoWriMo without any problems.

An honourable mention should go to bit.ly for providing handy URL shortcuts. It looks a lot better than pasting lots of code into an email and potentially freaking out the recipient. Bit.ly appears to have a lot more advanced features than mere URL shortening but I have been too lazy to find out.

No doubt this list will change as time goes on. New, stronger, faster, fitter, better tools are being release all the time to facilitate the growth of born digital information. This time last year I was singing the praises of Zotero. Now I have left further education and have no need for an academic-centric tool. As the needs of people change so will the tools they use. Fortunately we are social creatures which fuels the ethos of bookmarking webpages. This very blog post is an example of this. I want to share my great experience of the above tools with others and spread the word. Evangelists of Web 2.0. That sounds a lot better than the "Google Generation."

 Please note I've left the more obvious tools out like Gmail and Google Calendar. As for social networking; I wrote so much about using Facebook and Twitter for my dissertation that I'm a little burned out on it. But they are still nifty tools for the Web 2.0 traveller. 

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Tories and School Libraries

The following news story keeps cropping up so I feel I should blog about it. After plans to close a large number of local libraries; Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has proclaimed that children should be reading "at least 50 books a year." Another typical Tory gaffe. In my personal experience school libraries have come very short on the pecking order when it comes to school finances. Perhaps things have changed in the nine years since I left high school.

Being an inquisitive creature, and for the sake of nostalgia, I decided to Google my old high school. Good old Google found this blog. My Web 2.0 spidey-sense went into overdrive when I saw this. The blog is not hosted on the official school's webpage which creates the perception that it's a separate space for students to interact in. Although the librarian has a great deal of control over the content, there's still room for students to project their own personalities. The library now runs a manga drawing club and a creative writing group at lunchtimes. Some of their work is posted on the blog or provides links to the external Flickr page.

I think this is wonderful. When I was there, it felt like that administration favoured the sciences over the arts. Students who enjoyed drama, music and art were seen as a bit "wacky" and to be indulged. Best to invest more time in the sciences and ignore students who wanted more options beyond bloody test tubes. In the years after I left something seemed to change. The school had a successful music group that seemed to be winning a lot of prizes. More drama teachers were recruited after demand increased for classes. Suddenly the more arty subjects became more prominent. Science is Latin for the pursuit of knowledge. Shame that none of the senior management staff realised this for a long time.

Enough about the failings of the school almost a decade ago. Times are hard and education needs to play an even bigger role in people's lives. Instead, with the current head-in-the-clouds government, it looks like it's going to revert back to a luxury of the middle classes. Apparently the upper class no longer exist according to the Independent. That is why a person's experience at school is so important. Looking back, I have quite a few subjects and teachers I have to thank for the person I am now. English, Drama, History and Information Systems helped me expand my knowledge and look beyond the confines of the classroom. It's only now I realise that.

The library blog gives me hope. Hope that it helps instil a love of learning, reading, books, ideas, research, thinking, processing. Otherwise we let our brains become wasted away by the mundane routine of everyday life.

I should sign off by thanking Michael Gove. His ridiculous statement set me off on a path of discovery and a reflection of my own education. Still think he's an utter twat though.