December Photo Fun 2013 – Week 4 – Curious


The kids chose Curious as the theme for Christmas week and I must admit that when they chose it I suspected that we might simply get lots of photos of wrapped presents but of course I was doing all of you who take part a disservice as you were bound to interpret the theme in lots of great ways, as well as a few presents.  I think that being curious is perhaps one of the best attributes you can have as a person and it’s something about myself that I’ve really grown to appreciate the older I get – a sense of wonder if you like at all that’s around me.  When I was younger my ability to day dream was legendary, my mind wandering all over the show and it’s something that I still do pretty much all the time.  I can vividly recall one of my teachers saying “Street, be careful or you will end up daydreaming your whole life away” – wow what a perfect thing I thought to spend my life in a state of daydream.  I think that my daydreaming then was and still is simply allowing my brain to be curious about stuff, whatever that is, and by doing so it helps keep it flexible, creative and open to ideas.  I’ve been reading some stuff on Einstein recently and one of the most interesting things was his passion (or curiosity) for the world around him which he summed up as follows:

I have no special talents.  I am only passionately curious

The gallery is a great example of this and none more so that the photo at the top where you can see the sense of wonder and curiosity in the little boys face as he looks at the image of himself on the phone screen, hopefully that curiosity will stay with him throughout his life.  Thanks as ever to all who took part, young and old alike, and as ever click on the gallery to open up and scroll through the various interpretations from Alice in Wonderland to Gay Cats ! and let us know what you liked and what made you curious.


Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage


This year has been another classic year for our book club. As we get to the end of the year, we always take a backwards glance at the year’s books in our annual review and it’s always a delight to go back over the reading material and re-appraise the books—time often provides another filter in which to consider their impact.

We have read some really challenging and stimulating books this year in book club and none mere so than this collection of short stories by Nobel prize winner, Alice Munro. I’ve said many times before, the measure of a great book club book is the conversation it stimulates, the book itself doesn’t have to be amazing: in fact if it is, it’s usually high scores all round and a fairly dull meeting ensues.

I think we’ve only read short stories before on one occasion (Sci Fi as I recall) and we knew we were in safe short story hands with Munro, given her recent Nobel accolade for her literature. Awards are no guarantee of a satisfying book and discussion as we’ve found in the past, but the book ticked a lot of boxes, so in we went.

This book was easy to read, although I found short stories need to be consumed in one sitting, otherwise the characters in different story fuse together. In fact looking back, I feel the themes were far more important across the collection than the characters. Good short stories are impressive feats of writing too—a compelling and believable world has to be created quickly and efficiently with no luxury of 800 pages to flesh it out.

Munro examines the trajectories of lives, criss-crossing, delicately woven together, smashed part, unfolding, unravelling. She tackles the difficult issues of the bargains we make with ourselves to make things work or rationalise in our hearts and heads. She enjoys the untidy nature of life which, as much as we try to keep it in order, can never be mastered. She is a master at portraying the complexity of emotions, the fragility of relationships, unbreakable family ties, duty and responsibility. Furniture is a theme that re-occurs constantly, an analogy I think for the everyday stuff that surrounds us in our lives, physical things that we can move around but never goes away.

The men in her book are hard, unattainable, dutiful, arms length objects of female desire to be lusted after or fearful of. The women are trapped, hemmed in by their duty and loyalty, occupying traditional stereotypes that perhaps speaks more of her Canadian home.

Her prose is like a delicate filigree, beautifully realising the relentlessly chilly tales. I found many of the stories bereft of emotion, Munro doesn’t flinch from the harshness of life and relationships, as the reader, one gets cold comfort from her elegant, neatly realised writing.

This collection is ultimately a mediation on morality and mortality—each story prodding, poking, picking at the edges of life. There aren’t many answers to be found in her pages, she simply sets out the scenes and asks the reader to decide. As each story unfolds, Munro seems to get bolder, finishing with the powerful Bear came over the mountain, laying out the components of loss: memory, relationships, tragedy and mundanity.

Of course a collection of stories like this got us all hot under the collar and a seriously good discussion ensued. I scored the book highly as this is clearly the work of a great writer and writing this, three weeks after we met, the themes have matured and lurk in the back of my mind, gloomily reminding me that it’s a fine line between happiness and sadness. And it’s a line that we all tread daily.

December Photo Fun – Week 3 – Red



Red was the theme chosen by the kids for the third week of this year’s DecemberPhotoFun and it was a lovely theme as it enabled contributors to link it to Christmas if they wanted to as, after all Red is a classic Christmas colour, but gave complete free rein when it came to interpretation and as always there have been lots of lovely photos.  The kids have chosen a single colour a couple of times before (green and yellow from memory) and I really like seeing the gallery with all the interpretations expressed through one vivid colour.  Red is one of the first colours ever used in art as ochre was mixed with iron oxide and used in cave paintings 170,000 years ago and is a colour that runs through many societies signalling as it can passion, love, warmth, life, beauty, danger, happiness, Christmas of course, socialism and is a colour that appears in many countries flags and sports kits.  Many of these were represented in the photos that came through this week.  As always click on the gallery to see all the photos as they came in and huge thanks for all who contributed (hope I haven’t missed anyone) and do let us know which ones you liked.





Wine Cork Reindeer

reindeer gang

I think that I could quite easily win the title of Britain’s least practical man so to find myself this afternoon brandishing secateurs a screwdriver and a sharp blade was enough to bring me out in a cold sweat, not least as I was going to attempt to make something crafty.  Practical and crafty – hmmmm.  The idea was to try and make Reindeer table decorations that we’d seen in a magazine but of course then couldn’t find the magazine so a bit of Googling later and I had a vague idea of what to do and together with the kids we came up with our own little herdgang !  We had huge fun doing this and if I can do it you can too.  Here’s how:

  • Drink copious amounts of wine over the previous few weeks and save the corks (you need one and a half cork per reindeer that you want to make
  • Head out into (in my case) the Mordor-like winter garden and cut some lengths of twig, keeping your eye open in particular for bits that that branch off that can form the antlers
  • Cut up the twigs into the same lengths.  You need 5 pieces for each reindeer (4 legs and 1 neck) as well as 2 antler sets.
  • Take one of the corks and cut it in half with a sharp knife (you want something like a Stanley knife/ craft knife here).  These halves will form the heads.
  • Find your smallest phillips screwdriver and make all the holes you will need.  Do this before you start putting the reindeer together.  You will need 4 holes for the legs in one of the complete corks then on the other side from where you have done the leg holes, 1 for the neck.  In one of the half corks, again 1 for the neck and 2 on the other other side for the antlers.  I found that by holding the cork firmly, twisting and pushing quite hard on the screwdriver you can make the holes easily.
  • Now for assembly.  4 legs in, antlers into the head, then neck into the head then head onto the body.
  • Finally we added some decoration.  I used the secateurs to cut up some red pins so they could form the nose and we used various bits of wool, tinsel, ribbon etc to make some scarfs.


Mince Pie Taste Test


As we all know the key choice we have to make at this time of year is not about presents, TV choices, which family members are you going to fall out with but which mince pie you are going to buy.  Much debate ensued at work so the motley collection of rogues and rapscallions who I work with decided that we’d put a few to the test, cue much hilarity and expansion of waistlines.  Over the last few weeks people brought in different boxes from different suppliers, we dived in and debated the pie giving an overall score out of 10.

Many questions were raised, not least what constitutes a pie? For example can something that doesn’t have a proper top (Heston) be a pie or is that a tart?  Each pie got the soggy bottom testing treatment and we discussed type of pastry (crumbly, soft, buttery, greasy etc), filling (too much, too little, sweetness), booze content (a wee hint or soaking).

The result of all this dedication gave a top three on average score out of 10:

  1. Tesco finest deep filled – 7.86
  2. Morrisons cake shop baked in store – 7.5
  3. Co-op luxury all butter – 7.25


The Park – Oscar Zarate

The park

My latest recommendation from OKComics as I slowly delve into the comic/ graphic novel world was the whimsical revenge tale The Park by Oscar Zarate.  What I found interesting was that it was only really after I had finished reading and put it away that the concepts and themes really began to seep through me as I went about my everyday life.  The story centres around a chance encounter in the park between Ivan (columnist /blogger and soon to be radio presenter) and Chris (postman / musician) after Ivan’s dog bites Chris and how this incident unfolds, is seen by each side and how others react to it, particularly their grown up children.  Chris loves Laurel and Hardy films and he and Ivan play out an over the top absurd reaction to the dog incident that mirrors Stan and Ollie who Chris watches and draws solace from throughout the developing story.

In many ways you can just read it as a bit of whimsical fun but there are I think some really interesting themes that are being commented on within the book, not least how we communicate and interact with each other.  I think the author is asking the question of whether, despite all of our technology, have we not regressed to characters in a silent movie with wild gestures that lack nuance and understanding?  People jumping to conclusions and reacting without thinking things through, looking at the whole picture and without talking?  Ivan sees Chris kick his dog and takes to his blog to denounce this hooligan and bragging about how he took matters into his own hands despite the fact that Mel, his daughter, told him that Chris had been bitten by the dog and was reacting defensively.  Chris is angered when he learns what is being said about him, wrongly, via the internet but does not really want to do anything about it and is not sure what he could about it, which makes his son Victor very angry who decides to try and seek revenge.


Has the immediacy and omnipotence of social media clouded our judgement as individuals within a society and made us less reflective and more eager to spout opinion on all things without perhaps knowing the facts and has the eagerness to rush to the keyboard affected how we actually behave towards other people in real life?  These are quite large and profound questions on how our society is changing that are explored through four main characters in the story.  In addition the idea of reflection I found interesting, after all it’s only on reflecting on what I had read that I really thought about what Zarate might be saying with his story and the fact that it’s set around a Park is telling I feel as, for those of us who live in an urban environment, Parks are one of the main places that we go for peace, fresh air and reflection.  Zarate sets the scene for our urban splashes of greenery thus:

The Park.  Blue skies, only a few wisps of cloud.  If you close your eyes for a moment and listen, jumbled sounds gradually become distinct.  Kids playing football, a brass band bringing an echo of the past (you think of your parents, something of your childhood comes back to you).  You hear fragments of conversations, the squeak of buggies, the chirping of birds, the swoosh of kites, the caw-caw of crows, the rustling of leaves……. sudden yells of delight – a kid has scored a phenomenal goal.  Young people are singing a song by Oasis.  A dog barks, you smell the grass.  Just for a moment you feel intensely alive.  Now you open your eyes then you know why we love this park.  Woodland, wildlife and people meet together in the middle of the city, the pace slows.  People linger over conversations.  It’s like the countryside.  Gentle, green hills, ponds, bridges, lines of old hedgerow with rarities such as wild service trees and woodland hawthorn, old poplars, oaks, maybe over 500 years old, ancient witnesses of other times, their roots twisted like exposed varicose veins.

This beautiful paean to park life stands in stark contrast to how many of us live the rest of our lives in cities, cooped up in small boxes, not knowing our neighbours, little if any sense of community or communication where after working we close the front door and retire to the keyboard where we moan about our existence and criticise people that we don’t know.

For me therefore The Park acted as a modern day parable focussing on us as the modern day inter-connected people that we are but warning us of the importance of real relationships, communication, shared space, community and to form our judgements slowly.  Be wary of the keyboard.

An illustration from The Park by Oscar Zarate

December Photo Fun – Week 2 – Warmth


Warmth, a lovely word I think that conjures up deep seated feelings of comfort and satisfaction in me and I suspect all of us, after all since we crawled out of the swamps and into the caves and lit our fires we have understood the comfort and life affirming qualities that warmth provides.  There is of course another element to warmth which again we would have felt back in those caves as our family and friends gathered around and that is the emotional warmth of friendship, kinship and love.  These feelings are universal and both elements have been displayed beautifully by the contributors to this weeks photofun theme.  Fires, food, warming drinks, clothing and a hot bath are well presented alongside the human emotions of friendship, sympathy, kinship.  The photo at the top manages for me to pull in all elements, the gent is wrapped up against the winter cold, but the smile of friendship is as warm as anything you can think of.  As always thanks goes to all who submitted an entry, watching them come in was in itself a thing of warmth and felt like a big hug as all these people we don’t know join in around our communal twitter campfire.  Click on the gallery to scroll through the photos and do let us know which ones you liked.