Thursday 27 December 2012

Frankfurt and the Christmas Market

In the beginning of December ‘im outdoors, one of my girl friends and I went to visit another girl friend who had moved to Frankfurt in Germany over a year ago with work.  While we were out there we also made time to visit the Christmas Market, Zoo and Botanical Gardens.  You can read all about it on my ‘Not all who wander are lost’ blog.

Monday 24 December 2012

Happy Christmas from Fred

You might recognise Fred here from the beginning of the Lola course where we created person shapes.  Once we'd named him we didn't want to pull him up and as Christmas approached he wanted to join in.  In the end we sent this image out as our Christmas card to all our friends and family.
Happy Christmas everyone.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

December's Writers Group

After some beautiful if sad pieces today, following my 11th November homework from last month, I thought we better have a more upbeat homework this month and set this: Off in the distance, I heard the sound of sleigh bells… Write a short story or poem. Or try and answer this question – Does falling snow have a sound?

Sunday 9 December 2012

Toxic Paper Factory

Lola seems to have given me back my creativity.  I'm full of projects now, although I still don't have the time to do them.  While looking round the internet for something completely different I stumbled across the Toxic Paper Factory.  This amazing site is full of paper models which you can download, print out and bring to life. If you have never made anything out of paper before you might find them a little hard as they don't really come with instructions, but if you know how to fold, cut and glue paper you won't have any trouble with these models.  The cats above are just the first of many.  What I love about the cats is they took me about half an hour to put together so I had a finished product very quickly.  I can't wait to make more.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

November Writers Group

This week I actually had something to read out to the group.
There is nothing better than reading something out and getting the responses you were hoping for, the groan or the laugh as you mess with your characters head.
The fact that it also helped me to deal with the frustration of the police being able to do nothing when things are stolen from 'im outdoors truck is a bonus.

This months homework: What does 11th November mean to you?  Poppies, parades, or family history?  Use this to inspire a short story or poem.

Sunday 11 November 2012

Operation Christmas Child

With just 7 days to go my shoe box is packed and ready to start its journey to a child somewhere who has nothing.  This year it's aimed at a little boy, but I'm sure most children would be happy to get their hands on a monkey and lots of pencils and felt tip pens etc.  I just hope it makes them smile, but maybe it will be the start of the journey to becoming an artist or maker, who can create things to make other people smile.
Good luck little monkey, I hope you are loved.

Sunday 4 November 2012

Fantasmagorical Machines

Yesterday I drove all the way to Oxford for the first Lola day school.  I managed to see a little more of Oxford than I was expecting but the day went really well.  Just a shame that there were only 2 people from my tutor group in attendance – 3 tutors and their groups made up the session so we had the chance to work on three very different sides of design – photography, problem solving and my favourite; the making of Fantasmagorical Machines.
We were given a choice of machine to make, things like a machine to make a mountain out of a mole hill, or a machine for weighing up your options or, in my groups case, a machine to help you find cloud cuckoo land.  Of course with only an hour to work on it no one was expecting a fully working machine, but I was impressed with all the prototypes that were produced.
We ended up creating a compass which would take your thumb print and then calibrate to find your very own version of cloud cuckoo land.  We added a light to help with navigation and a button on the lid which would fold everything away when we were finished with it so it would travel in a pocket or bag.  If I’d been working on my own it probably would have been a little more minimalist, but these are all part of the challenges of design.
I can’t wait to see what they get us doing at the next day school.

Wednesday 31 October 2012

Play Dough

This weekend after a month of Lola I've got my first Day School.  I'm pretty excited; the list of things to bring didn't include one book, unless you count a sketch pad!  One of the suggested things to bring was some play dough, and as I'm always up for learning new things, I had a go at making my own.  There are loads of recipes on the web but I liked this one best as you don't have to cook the dough.  It was mega easy to make and maybe next time I'll add some glitter.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Writing inspiration

The writers group meeting last week was really good - we had quite a few turn up so lots to listen to.

The homework I set was: What are you fascinated by?  Maybe you don’t even like it, maybe it grosses you out, maybe you adore it….. Write about it as a short story or poem. (borrowed from the one minute writer)

However I've found something else far more inspiring.  'im outdoors' truck has been messed about with again, this time they took half a tank of fuel, about £50 worth, along with his filler cap.  This is the 4th incident this year.  It makes me so angry, which isn't great but I'm enjoying writing about what I would like to do to them if I ever caught them.

Sunday 14 October 2012

Person shape

Finally AA312 Total War and Social Change is finish with the exam last week.  Result should come out just before Christmas.  
So now I need to catch up with Lola - I'm about a week behind.  And what fun I've had so far.  Normally an exercise in an OU module consists of answering a question about whatever you have been reading about, so maybe something to do with Hitler or Stalin or Mussolini then with AA312; I've never been asked to draw round someone with masking tape before. Brilliant.
Of course now we have the problem of not wanting to pull him up.  We shouldn't have named him.

Friday 5 October 2012

Already feeling left behind

Lola doesn’t start until tomorrow and yet the forum is already filled with people doing things and posting photos and learning how to use the special software, while I’m stuck revising welfare policies across Europe in 1912.
The exam is next Thursday and I’m starting to feel left behind on Lola already, even thought it hasn’t started yet!  Why does everyone have to be so enthusiastic?

However someone put up a link to this video - 'the greatest creative professional design advice I have ever received' and I can’t help but think I’ll be in good hands here.  I know exactly what he means, and I am hoping that Design Thinking will help me to move forward.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

No way of stopping now...

Today we met for the Lunchtime Creative Writers Group.  The university is still closed for the summer, although the freshers will be starting next week so it was only a small group who met.  As there weren’t many things to share, although what was read out was really good, we had time to do a quick 10 minute exercise.

We all started with the line - His heart pounded as the car hurtled towards the cliff edge.  There was no way of stopping it now…  and it was amazing what different ideas everyone had.

This is how mine turned out.

His heart pounded as the car hurtled towards the cliff edge.  There was no way of stopping it now…
But he had to time it just right, too early and he wouldn’t get the lift needed and too late and he’d be in the sea.
His hand hovered over the button mounted in the middle of the dash, the temptation to hit it now very strong but he waited, counting under his breath.
Finally he came to the place, that if his caculations were corrected was the perfect place, and he hit the red button with the palm of his hand.
There was a bang but he’d been expecting that, and in the rear view mirror he saw smoke but that was also to be expected.
Had it worked?
He couldn’t see from the windows but in his door mirrors he could see the wings as they unfolded in a chitty chitty bang bang style, although blue to match the car.
The material rippled in the wind but seemed to hold and he suddenly realised he was no longer on the cliff but meters above the sea with seagulls giving him very strange looks.
Moving the steering wheel seemed to work the rudder and he turned in a deep cuerve till he ran in line with the cliffs.  He didn’t seem to be loosing height at all.

I then set a homework for the group (borrowed from Mslexia), it made me think of the the hush puppy shoes my friend had that I coveted and the horrible coat I had, the only good thing about it was the huge pockets it had.

Think of an item of clothing you loved or hated; an ugly winter coat, ballet shows, a naught push up bra.  Imagine a scene where you are wearing the item.  How did you acquire it?  Did you lose it, damage it?  Try to recall an obstacle or scene of conflict involving it, turn it into a short story or poem.

Sunday 16 September 2012

Finally something to write about

For the last month I’ve been lost in an essay regarding who started the Cold War, with a little bit of pro cycling (watching not taking part) thrown in to keep me sane.  But the essay is submitted and the end is in sight, even if it does involve an exam and lots of revision.
Anyway this morning something really exciting happened.  The welcome pack for my next module arrived.  The next module is U101 Design Thinking: Creativity for the 21st Century and with luck will be my last.  But what was so exciting I hear you ask, only the fact that rather than a big heavy box filled with text books, this box only had one book in it and that book only had 22 pages.  The rest of the box was filled with exciting design stuff including a pencil, baby steel rule, postcards, sticky notes and masking tape!  Much as I want to start playing now I’ve put it all back for the moment, but I’m really really looking forward to getting started.

Of course ‘im outside saw the box upside down and is now insisting on calling the course Lola, so if I start talking about Lola you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Sunday 5 August 2012

An ecological business card

Life has been a little crazy these past few weeks, what with a restructure at work, the last double length TMA to write and a car crash which wrote my car off and left me with stitches to the back of my head.
That last one really does put your life into perspective and remind you of the good things in your life right now.  But it has also made it hard to get going with the essay when you can’t help but think how little importance it has compared other things.

Now I’m recovering from the shock and things are getting back to normal I wanted to share this amazing idea for an ecological business card.  It’s basically a stamp which you can use on any found material so maybe a napkin from that business lunch, or my favourite an empty envelope.  I love that this makes me think.  Why does a business card have to be a rectangle of card?

Friday 13 July 2012

New bike

As I’ve been getting fitter and reading more about the things we can do to make our environment a better place to live, I’ve started to think about buying a bike.
On the top of the list of things we should do is ‘get rid out your car’ which does make sense to me and I’d be willing to do if it wasn’t so darn useful.  If I lived in London for instance I’d be more than happy to ditch my car, but living out in the sticks makes it just that little bit harder to convince myself that I can live without it.  Going to see my parents would be out as they have no public transport to speak of, getting to work would take a little longer (but not by much unless you include the walking at both ends) but would cost quite a bit more along with a change half way through.  Seeing my friends would be more difficult.
But do I really need my car if I’m just popping into town to visit the library? 
And the answer to that is not really.  And this is where the idea of a bike really is attractive, 30 minutes walk both ways is just that little bit too much, but easily half that on a bike.
So meet my new bike.  A Land Rover hybrid; I’m hoping we can go on many adventures together and not just to the library.  And it looks like I might have encouraged ‘im outdoors to dust his old bike off and join me.  I can’t wait to find out where we’ll end up.

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Junes writers group

I had to run the writers group a little later this month due to exam boards being run in the room, so we clashed with the poetry reading group.  It might have been a smaller group than normal but we still had some lovely stories and poems read out.  I didn't have anything to read this month, but at last I've had some ideas that I hope to work on in the very near future.
Homework - Choose between the following as the starting point for a story or poem: Coffee, toast and three paracetamol…  Or;  There was something unbelievable in the desk drawer…

Monday 18 June 2012

Business and consumerism and Buddhist principles

Last week one of my good friends set me the link to a 20 minute speech/lecture about business and consumerism and Buddhist principles. 
Clare Melford was the speaker and that 20 minutes flew by as I listened to her ideas which make such sense.  As she says what individuals do is important but business can make more of an impact over a wider audience.
The three principles which she thinks businesses should take from the Buddhist mind set are:
  • That everything is connected
  • Mastery of our impulses and desires
  • And finding a middle way
These are all things that can be taken into personal life not just in business;  thinking about the consequences of our actions, learning to understand ourselves and trying to live in a sensible way rather than by extremes.
There was so much to take in I shall have to listen to it again (and again).
If you’d like to listen to it you can find it on the Radio 4 Four Thought site, look for 2nd May, Clare Melford.  I don’t know how long it will be there for but having looked at the rest of the podcasts in the series I’ve downloaded a large number to listen to later.

Friday 15 June 2012

Rocking Chameleon

Did you know that chameleon's rock?  No neither did I until I came across one of Rob Ives new projects - a rocking chameleon.  It's taken me a few weeks to create due to all the other stuff I'm also doing but I'm pleased with the end result, even if the rocking is a little creepy - check out Rob's video to see it in action.

Tuesday 5 June 2012

The Electric Tooling Iron

For my birthday this year I was lucky enough to receive an Electric Tooling Iron.  This is a tool that book binders use for marking their books with metallic foils or for marking directly onto leather.  It might be words or just decoration.  Below is an example of how you would use it. 
First you need to know what you are using it for.  In this case I have traced the title of one of my favourite books, which has a beautiful title font.  I would do this if I was repairing the book and going to replace the cover.
First the metallic foil needs to be stuck to the new cover with masking tape.  It must be perfectly flat. 
The tracing is then placed over the foil.  Using the iron, once it is hot enough, you trace the design onto your book.  This takes a little practice as you can't hold it as close to the tip as you would a normal pen.  It doesn't matter too much if you need to go back over it as long as your design doesn't move half way through.
The finished design.  If I had another coloured foil I could go over it again as long as it was lined up right.
This is a great tool and I look forward to having some more practice with it.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

May's writing group

The writers group met today and although numbers were low it was an interesting meeting.  With my head filled with totalitarian regimes and fascist Italy there was no room left for creative writing so nothing to read out again.  But we did have time to do a short exercise which was interesting so managed to read that out instead.
This months homework: To think of nursery rhymes from your childhood.  Take the first line of whichever appeals the most, ignore the original context and use as inspiration for a poem or short story.
For instance: ‘Little Jack Horner sat in the corner…’ Was he hearing voices?  Was he being bullied?  What happened next?  (borrowed from Mslexia)

Friday 20 April 2012

A new perspective

Last weekend, much to my surprise, I ran 4 whole miles.
I shouldn’t really be surprised; I did after all set out to run 4 miles.  But it had taken me a good six months to run a whole 3 miles (about 5km) and this was only my second attempt to run 4.  Not only did I manage to run all of it, including the steepest hill I’ve ever seen, but I also managed it in just under 39 mins.  As you can imagine I’m very pleased with myself, even if my knees are starting to question my sanity.

I think a lot of this is to do with belief.  I never believe I would be able to run; never mind 4 miles.  So every time I tried to run the 3 miles my brain would tell me that I couldn’t run the whole thing, I’d have to walk some of it, even though my breathing and my legs were fine.
With the 4 miles I was doing fine, but coming to my second smaller hill and thinking how I’d never make it, I should walk now, when I came across a little boy ‘running’ with his dad.  I ran past them and then thought ‘I can’t stop’ at least not while they could see me.  By the time I was out of sight I was back on the flat and suddenly realised that there was no reason why I shouldn’t run the whole thing.  So I did.

Good luck to everyone running the London Marathon this weekend.  For the first time in my life I am starting to see why you do it.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

April Writers Group

Today the Writers Group met.  No prize for guessing that once again I had nothing to read out.  But this week I really should have had something, even if it wasn't related to the homework.  
I've spent my Easter break doing all sorts of things and feeling really inspired but I never got past this feeling to an idea to write about.  I find this happens quite often and is really frustrating.  I find myself buzzing with 'inspiration' but can't find the outlet, whether it be a story or drawing or just making something.  It feels like there are hundreds of ideas in my head but every time I try to use one it escapes and leaves me with nothing but a glimmer of how amazing it would have been if I'd manage to grab it.   
Anyway this months homework is to write a short story, essay or poem using the form of an instructional article, employing a step-by-step method, such as ‘how to know if you’re enlightened’ or ‘ten steps to losing your mind’. (taken from Jack Heffron's The Writer's Idea Book)

Friday 13 April 2012

Paper safe

Another Rob Ives project.  I find them very refreshing after all my essay writing and module reading.  This is his paper safe.  It took a couple of sessions to create it but I am very pleased with the outcome.  If it was just a little bigger it would be the perfect place to keep my Easter chocolate (you can seal the bottom compartment to people can't work out the combination).  Maybe one day I will try scaling it up.

Thursday 5 April 2012

Gift box with four compartments

With a little time off work for Easter and being up to date with my course work I decided to try another Rob Ives project.  This is his gift box with four compartments, which then folds up into a cover.  This is a pretty rough attempt but now I understand how it works I can have another go and smooth off the 'rough edges'.  I love boxes and think this is great. Any box that isn't quite what you expect gets my thumbs up.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Writers group March homework

The writers group met for our lunch time meeting today. It was a good meeting but once again I had nothing to read out, as I don't think they would be much interested in an essay about the origins of the first world war. As always I was amazed at what they came up with using the same prompts. This months home work is to take something you have already written and to try telling it in another way. For example as an animal story; as a myth; as sci-fi; as an adventure; as a legend; as a school story; as fantasy; as a ghost tale; as an urban legend; as a western... The point is to try something you wouldn't normally try.

Sunday 11 March 2012

Paper bird

I had a spare hour between reading text books, writing essays, working and running and thought I'd have a go at another of Rob Ives paper projects.  I love this dipping bird, although mine doesn't seem to be as up right as Rob's paper bird.  I wonder if I can change the design slightly to turn the bird into a chicken, then I can make myself a flock and 'im outdoors won't need to worry about his veg.

Thursday 16 February 2012

The mysterious disappearing prop shaft

Yesterday morning ‘im outdoors got into his truck, started it up and went to pull away.  But the truck didn’t go anywhere and he feared the gear box was having issues again.  He hopped out and had a quick look underneath to make sure everything looked ok and there he found a small pile of bolts and a space where his prop shaft should be.
Luckily he wasn’t on his way to work and so he had time to ring the police and then some garages to find a new one.  Seems prop shafts for his truck are hard to come by and it is going to cost £800+ for it to be replaced.  We can only assume that someone else didn’t have the £800+ to fix theirs and so has nicked one instead.  But what makes them think we can afford that cost our selves?  ‘im outdoors has not had any work for the last 6 weeks – part of being a landscaper that we are aware of and do plan for, but that doesn’t make it any easier.  And now he has some work he can’t get to it.
At least they did not steal all his tools, as happened to friends of ours a couple of years ago, but we are both still fuming.
I hate living in a society where nicking stuff happens and where more often than not they get away with it.  My boss’ bike was stolen from outside work just before Christmas.  Even with his details stamped on it, it is still very unlikely he will see it again.  (I’m not blaming the police, I’m sure they try their very best, and I know I wouldn’t know where to start if I had to find a stolen bike.)
It makes me want to shout – What is wrong with these people?

Tuesday 14 February 2012


For my birthday last month I was lucky enough to receive a StoryWorld set.
The idea is to help inspire story telling, so I thought it might be fun to take to the writers group today.
The set consist of a set of cards which cover four different worlds (The World of Everyday, the Land of Faery, The World of Magic and The Realm of the Court) and a book to help you on your way.  There are many different ways you can use the set and many more cards to collect too.
Each card has so much happening on it that you could just use the image to inspire you.  Then again each card has an introduction and questions on the back which you might find inspiring.  Or you could pull out a group of cards (maybe at random, maybe your favourites) and see what sort of story grows from them.  The possibilities are endless.

What I love is that all the cards are discreetly linked.  I manage to find the links between about half the cards, but the rest eluded me.

I’ve pulled out some of my favourites in the image above.  They include The Well of Memory, The Star Blanket, The Knight, and The Dog, what fun I could have with just the titles never mind the wonderful images.  I might be a bit busy with fact to right fiction right now, but the rest of the group I'm sure will be busy.

Friday 3 February 2012

Starting out - Total War and Social Change

Tomorrow I start my 5th (if you don’t count the small 12 week ‘start writing fiction’ course which started it all off) Open University module – AA312 Total War and Social Change.  9 months work for 60 credits towards my degree.
As always I am nervous and excited but this module is a little more daunting than normal.  
Partly because it is my first History module, and as it is a Level 3 module this puts me straight in at the deep end.  But I have now had a look at the study calendar and this is the really scary bit.  
The OU are great in giving you a plan of what you should be reading/listen to/watching each week making it easier for you to plan your time.  Normally you would ‘study’ for 4 or 5 weeks and then having a ‘reading week’ where you can catch up if you need to and work on your assignment.  The AA312 calendar has no reading weeks.  Studying and assignment writing have to be done at the same time.  
You could speculate that this is just part of it being a level 3 course, but I have done other level 3 course (two in fact – what is wrong with me?) which had reading weeks.  I think it is just that there is so much to cover in the time we have that there is no time for breaks.
With this in mind I rather fear the blog will get forgotten, so if you find that not much is happening here over the next 9 months, spare a thought for me as I cram as much information into my head as possible and work towards my first exam in 7 years.

I should point out that I am doing this off my own back and am really exciting about the subject material.  It’s just the timetable and exam which are really scary.  I can always drop out if it all gets too much; but I like to finish what I start.

Thursday 26 January 2012


Today I became a citizen of Nowhereisland
This is part of a public art project which will form part of the Cultural Olympiad this summer.  There are 12 art projects running across the UK and this one is based in South West England.  In fact it will be floating round the coast.

This is what the website says “Nowhereisland has already come to represent the possibilities for thinking about our values and beliefs as citizens. 52 Resident Thinkers from around the world are contributing to a year-long programme of Letters to Nowhereisland. Over 4000 people have already signed up to become citizens of Nowhereisland and will begin collectively writing the island’s constitution from January 2012 […] in a time of global crisis, it opens up an opportunity to debate and consider important global questions that affect us all.
Two of those resident thinkers are people I really admire – Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall and Keri Smith and they are giving the citizens the chance to write letters too.

So if you had the chance to start again from scratch what would you do?
I’d like a place of community.  Somewhere where I know my neighbours.  Where I can buy all my food from a farm just down the road.  Where I can buy all my clothing from someone else down the road, or even make my own.  Where people respect each other and their skills.
The best example I can give of this is an episode of Grand Designs that I watched last year.  A stonemason was renovating an old stone pump house in Cornwall.  If he needed help with plumbing he got his mate round and then paid him back by spending the equivalent time building him a shed for his tools or what ever he needed.  He did this over and over again with all the trades that he couldn’t do himself.  I would love to have the skills to be able to exchange in this way.
What I think we really need to work on is greed and this consumer culture that we currently exist in.  Why do I need this new product of yours – phone, computer, car, etc – the one I have works fine or, even, why do I need it in the first place?

Owning things doesn’t make me happy.  Doing things makes me happy.  Helping others makes me happy.  Creating things makes me happy.”

Saturday 14 January 2012

Fluttering model butterfly

With a membership to the Rob Ives paper animation website for Christmas, I couldn't resist this butterfly.  You have to see it move to understand what is so special about it - check out Rob's video to see it move.

Sunday 8 January 2012

An apple pie a day...

I really like baking.  So much that I have an album of all my cakes etc on my facebook page.  Recently a friend was looking at this album and said that it all looked so nice, I should write about my cooking.  I thought about it a bit then created the 'An apple pie a day...' blog.  I'm not sure it works as well as a screen of cake photos, but I thought it might be fun.
The above is a double cheese and chive loaf from Dan Lepard's book 'Short and Sweet' a gratefully received Christmas present.  It is my first really successful bread.  I look forward to trying out the rest of the book.

Sunday 1 January 2012

Junk Mail Origami

For Christmas I received ‘Junk Mail Origami’.   A little book full of projects to use up the junk mail that gets shoved through our door.  Once I’d worked out how to read the instructions they were quite simple to follow.  So far my favourite it the Viking’s Helmet that you can see being modelled by Bertie Badger.  I shall have to try it with bigger paper.  The only problem with the book is the part that says what size paper I should be using.  Apparently the projects have been ‘specially formulated to work with paper in the approximate size of 6 1/8 by 2 5/8’, which I thought would be normal junk mail size but it isn’t.  I had to ask ‘im outdoors to work out what that was in millimetres.  So now I just need some more junk mail to work with.