.... a lovely frosty morning, a very slow stroll through glittering hedgerows, birdsong and a blue sky. Cocoa and homemade date and walnut cake... my velvet slippers have holes in them.

on being slow

I was quite interested to read this article by Jon Henley in the Guardian the other day about Slow Blogging. Slow Bloggers, apparently, are those who "take the time to think, study and reflect before they post; who do not feel the need to slap the first thing that comes out of their head straight onto the web." The Slow Blogging movement has also recently attracted the attention of the NY Times where the practice is compared to that of meditation, whilst fast, news-driven blogging is "the equivalent of fast-food restaurants". In some ways though, I can't help thinking that Slow Blogging seems almost like anti-blogging: it is described as “a rejection of immediacy … an affirmation that not all things worth reading are written quickly”, an act of “speaking like it matters, like the pixels that give your words form are precious and rare”.

I don't think I would be very good at being a Slow Blogger. I think I am probably a Fast and Sloppy Blogger, but I can't help thinking that maybe that's half the fun.

Sometimes, though, I do think it is good to be slow. Right now, I am moving very slowly. I am being a cat cushion. I am knitting, one row at a time. I am having a cup of tea, and then maybe a bit later, another one. I am watching a blackbird eating orange berries off a bush in the garden, and noticing the clouds move slowly across the sky. I am meandering, dawdling.

I like this example of really, really slow blogging.

I feel like a sloth.


I have a little something up on a handful of stones today. You can find it here.

lists are good

I think I have struck on something with this list business. I wrote my list of 100 favourite things the other day, and then my lovely cousin Shona joined in here (Shona likes "Agent Provocateur lingerie," "Christian Loboutin shoes" and "chip butties"), and then today my mum wrote herself a list (my mum likes "red wine", "Chanel perfume", "the National Portrait Gallery" and "peas in pods"). Everyone really enjoyed making their list, and it seemed to cheer my mum up a lot, which is a good thing because she is not at all well at the moment - in fact she is suffering from an extremely nasty dose of shingles, which is not a very cheering illness. Anyway, making a list of things she liked made her feel better. It is undoubtedly medicinal.

Making the list was so much fun that we then went on and wrote a list of our cat's favourite things, which was a bit silly but we have got a lot of time on our hands at the moment. It didn't reach a hundred but we thought of quite a few (Mim likes "ham", "plastic bags", "tinned tuna", "hiding places" and "chewing hair"). I think making lists is good for you - theraputic, and surprisingly satisfying.

I am ill too. What I thought was just a bad case of my usual throat of doom (plus a few extra ‘lucky dip’ symptoms thrown in for variety) has actually proven to be a virus, and my doctor has signed me off work for a week. I feel fairly ghastly, but also a bit bored. I am bored of being ill. Be prepared for lots of unpremeditated, badly-written, slightly incoherent blog posts. And possibly more rabbits.

My mum and I are trying to find things to cheer us up. As well as lists, we have been trying to create an Enid Blyton-style convalescence for ourselves. We have been having nice cups of tea and cakes (and the odd hot toddy) and watching old films and playing card games and reading children's books and knitting, and waiting, perhaps somewhat optimistically, for the doctor to send us off to recover at the seaside for a month.

In spite of all our good efforts though, sometimes I feel a bit grumpy. I feel like I've had enough illness. Instead, I would like to be bursting with health and energy. Instead of pyjamas, I would like to be wearing a stylish, elegant and distinctive outfit. Instead of languishing in bed, I would like to be sitting in a cafe looking interesting and writing something wonderful. I would like to be writing lots of new things - proper things - like a really good new novel and some excellent short stories. I would like to make this blog a bit less twee, and have fewer of what Sally, in her blog post of earlier this week, aptly terms “silk scarf moments”.

For now though, I think silk scarves are really all that I can manage. I’m just going to concentrate on bunnies and writing lists of nice things.

favourite things, tra-la-la

Yesterday I was mainly reclining and enjoying the December issue of UK Vogue - the ‘Fantastic Fashion Fantasy Issue.’ I have to admit to having mixed feelings about fashion magazines, but for me, this issue of Vogue is absolutely what it should be all about. Ridiculous Christmas gift ideas aside (magnum of Moet with bespoke Swarovski crystal lettering, anyone? £175 leather rubik's cube? nope, thought not) it is a delight - an imaginative wonderland of beautiful and inspirational images, showcasing high fashion at its most fabulously outrageous, playful, romantic and whimsical.

Tim Walker’s brilliant ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ shoot is a hugely enjoyable tribute to Roald Dahl, starring a gleefully grotesque Tim Burton, Helena Bohnam Carter and Karen Elson, accompanied with a text by Sophie Dahl. The ‘Unbelievable Fashion’ spread by Nick Knight takes unapologetic pleasure in fashion that pushes the boundaries, celebrating couture at its most experimental (and utterly bonkers). There’s also some beautiful new fashion illustrations, including Karl Lagerfeld’s ‘Secret Ball’ and even a fantasy shoe designed by who else but Manolo Blahnik.

I enjoyed four new ‘fashion fairytales’ commissioned from writers Rose Tremain, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Poppy Adams and Linda Grant - whose twist on the original ‘Little Mermaid’ featured surprise, surprise a pair of strangely compelling red shoes - and was also intrigued by the ‘In My Dreams’ feature revisiting a project from 1967, when Yves Saint Laurent was invited to illustrate a ‘dream wall’ for Vogue bringing together ‘favourite people, colours, ideas, things not yet or ever done... places, sunsets, faces’ (Yves Saint Laurent, Vogue, 1967). In this issue, fashion creatives including Giles Deacon, Rick Owens and Bruno Frisconi were invited to create their own visual representation of their favourite things: I especially liked the response from the wonderful Luella Bartley (you have to love a fashion designer who calls their shows stuff like 'Dial F for Fluro' or 'Daddy I Want a Pony') which included “my 2 sheep”, “Wednesday Adams’ plaits” and “geeky girls like Thora Birch in Ghostworld.”

I got thinking about what I might include on my own ‘dream wall’ and started making a list of ‘a few of my favourite things’ - Von Trapp chorus optional - though once I got started it was hard to stop. This is highly recommended as entertainment for dismal grey November afternoons...
  1. ginger chocolate
  2. velvet ribbon
  3. teapots
  4. libraries
  5. hot baths
  6. striped socks
  7. daisies on the lawn
  8. crayons
  9. mexican food
  10. red shoes (obviously)
  11. rum and ginger beer
  12. 1950s rock and roll
  13. old photographs
  14. earl grey tea
  15. sleeper trains
  16. meadows
  17. french accents
  18. children’s books
  19. sausage dogs
  20. ballet shoes
  21. red poppies
  22. typewriters
  23. snowfall
  24. old records
  25. date and walnut cake
  26. blankets
  27. attics
  28. black ink pens
  29. bluebell woods
  30. vintage illustrations
  31. pecan pie
  32. polka dots
  33. candlelight
  34. piano music
  35. seafood
  36. all hats, especially berets
  37. hammocks
  38. moomins
  39. bonfires
  40. raspberries
  41. penny sweets
  42. stationery shops
  43. wellington boots
  44. leopard print
  45. the smell of the sea
  46. butterflies
  47. victorian novels
  48. bicycles with baskets
  49. line drawings
  50. cherries
  51. breakfast pancakes
  52. knitting
  53. sketchbooks
  54. sushi
  55. fairy lights
  56. eyeliner
  57. cinema popcorn
  58. chinatown
  59. scrabble
  60. pavement cafes
  61. earmuffs
  62. 1940s/1950s dresses
  63. treasure boxes
  64. black cats
  65. amaretto
  66. cinnamon tea
  67. stripy jumpers
  68. red lipstick
  69. bare feet
  70. yellow lined paper
  71. roast chicken dinners
  72. swimming in the sea
  73. coca cola in a glass bottle
  74. black polo necks
  75. ponytails
  76. lemons
  77. radio 4
  78. blue skies
  79. super 8 films
  80. junk shops
  81. country lanes
  82. chandeliers
  83. hot water bottles
  84. peanut butter
  85. satchels
  86. rock pools
  87. woolly tights
  88. drinking through a straw
  89. brown paper
  90. peep toes
  91. bread sauce
  92. red umbrellas
  93. allotments
  94. glass milk bottles
  95. postcards
  96. breton stripes
  97. shuttered windows
  98. cocktail glasses
  99. foreign stamps
  100. secret gardens

beware: this post may be bad for you

...'bad for women' is one of the things someone searched for on google which brought them here. I can't imagine why that should be, but perhaps, unbeknownst to me, this is actually very dangerous and subersive. Perhaps it is a bad influence. Perhaps it should come with a warning at the top in big, scary, flashing red letters: BAD FOR WOMEN. Maybe it is bad for women, or indeed... even men (shock!). Perhaps it's just too pink and there are too many bunnies, you know, in a sort of dangerous and subversive way.

Or maybe it's the red shoes that do it. Red shoes have after all been known to be a little dangerous on occasion.

Now for a few messages to some of the other visitors who made there way here via the magic of google search:

to the person who searched ‘leopard tights’: I really hope you meant leopard PRINT tights, not tights FOR leopards. I don’t think that would be practical. It would also be quite weird.

to the person who searched ‘boeuf bourginnone’: I’m very sorry there are no boeuf recipes here. I bet you were expecting lots of nice beefy, stewy-type things, and then you wound up here where there were mainly just pictures of rabbits, and not even stewed ones at that. Actually, I can’t remember ever having actually written anything about boeuf, but it does sound like something I would do.

And finally, to the person who searched ‘you know what they say about girls in red shoes’: what they say, actually, is that they are extremely stylish and fabulous. And that’s really all there is to it.

And last of all, here's a picture of Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes, just because why not?

bunnies are best for bad moods

I am feeling cross today. I am in a bit of a bad temper. There are various reasons for this, but it is perhaps partly just an accumulation of little things. It's been a long week and I have a very sore throat, and someone has stolen my recycling box from my front garden, and I have had a disaster with the blanket I am knitting for my friends’ baby, and my kitchen door has fallen off its hinges and my hair is not looking good today. None of these are especially important, but they are the kinds of small things that do sometimes put one in a bad mood.

There are lots of things I would quite like to be doing this weekend but I am not going to do any of them. Here are some of the things I would like to be doing:

I would like to be going to see the new play Peacock Boy by Crystal Stewart. Described as 'a grubby adult fairy tale of desperation and deception' this combination of live action, music and puppetry is on at Contact Theatre this weekend.

I would like to be going to look at lovely new artist's books and publications at the Liverpool Artist's Book Fair at Wolstenholme Projects this weekend.

I would like to be going to 'Night of the Owl' at A Foundation tonight. This event will offer the chance to see and hear some of the first results of a collaboration between the Owl Project and musicians Leafcutter John, Kaffe Matthews and Thor Magnusson to develop a new range of wooden instruments for live performance. It will also include performances from Philip Jeck, Tim Lambert and Simon Whetham as well as short films from Jacob Cartwright & Nick Jordan. There is more here.

Instead I have been staying inside, nourishing myself with cups of cinnamon tea and a hot water bottle, and reading The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard for the hundredth time, which is always very cheering. Sometimes small things can also put you in a better mood, especially if they are things like small fluffy bunnies.

I have also been looking at some good things on the internet. I have been listening to lovely live birdsong here, which can only be a very cheerful sort of thing.

I have also been reading about this interesting new project from the excellent if:book London, which describes itself as ‘an experiment in close-reading’: seven women, including Laura Kipnis and Naomi Alderman are reading The Golden Notebook by Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing, and will be carrying out an ongoing online conversation in the margins. The project went live on 10 November and it will be interesting to see how it develops: project objectives are to enable a culture of collaborative learning, and to explore the possibilities of carrying out complex conversations ‘messy, non-linear and complicated’ via the platforms offered by the web. I’m embarassed to admit that I’ve never actually read The Golden Notebook though it’s been on my 'to read' list for a long time - this project makes me want to go out and get myself a copy so I can read along.

And for moments when I feel a bit less intellectual, I have also been looking at pictures of other people’s breakfasts (mmm, breakfasts) and oh yes, of course, looking at photographs of bunnies. An orange rabbit is the best antidote to a bad mood. You can also try looking at silly photographs of dogs and videos of cats doing ridiculous things, of course. If a cat getting excited about putting its head in a box doesn't cheer you up, then I'm afraid nothing will. It's a fact.

In case you too are having a bad mood day and the bunnies haven't done the trick, there's some videos of a particularly entertaining cat called Maru doing that very thing here. I feel better already.

handmade nation

...along with the news of a very welcome election result, last week brought a message from America of a different sort to my door - an exciting parcel wrapped in brown paper.

Inside was a copy of a brand new book, Handmade Nation, sent to me all the way from Boston by lovely Meighan.

Meighan is the curator/author of the beautiful blog my love for you is a stampede of horses, where right now amongst many other things, you can find pictures from studio visits, images from artists' sketchbooks, meercat brooches, a q&a with artist christian rex van minnen and temporary unicorn tattoos, plus new work from a huge range of emerging artists.

Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft and Design
investigates today's new wave of craft - a vibrant movement of artists, crafters and designers working with both traditional and nontraditional media to create highly innovative work that's a world away from the traditions of floral embroidery and cross-stitch samplers. Authors Faythe Levine and Cortney Heimerel have travelled 19,000 miles across the US to document this new craft revolution, which fuses traditional handcraft techniques with radical thinking, punk and anti-capitalist culture and the DIY ethos, and frequently crosses the boundary between craft and contemporary art. The book will also be accompanied by a documentary film of the same name due for release in 2009.

This beautifully-presented and inspiring book brings together profiles of 24 artists, designers and makers working with everything from embroidery to rug-hooking, shoe-making and paper-cutting, documenting their work, inspirations and methodologies as well as their work environments and processes. The profiles are accompanied by an interesting and thought-provoking selection of texts which explore the 'handmade' phenomenon in more detail, focussing on some of the related cultural and political issues. Essayists include Andrew Wagner of American Craft Magazine, Callie Janoff of the rather fabulously named Church of Craft, Betsy Greer of and Susan Beal, author of Super Crafty. Particularly interesting is the essay by Garth Johnson of, 'Down the Tubes: In Search of Internet Craft,' which highlights the role of the online crafting community, emphasising the importance of the web both as a tool to market and sell products via sites like and as a platform to share ideas, network and collaborate.

With lovely illustrations and lettering by Kate Bingaman-Burt (including a beautiful timeline mapping the rise of craft's new wave that evokes Sara Fannelli's artist timeline at Tate Modern) Handmade Nation is a fascinating snapshot of the contemporary craft phenomenon in the US. The book also provides a valuable context for the movement, touching on the political ideologies at its heart; however, I would have been interested to read more critical writing unpacking some of these ideas in greater depth, investigating the potentially revolutionary agendas of craft's new wave, and positing what the possible futures of the handmade movement might be. Altogether though, there's no doubt that Handmade Nation is a hugely enjoyable read, packed with ideas and inspirations. Here's to the continued rise of DIY, art, craft and design!

For more information about Handmade Nation check out the blog and the official website. There's also a q&a with Faythe Levine on my love for you is a stampede of horses, and an interview with both authors in NYLON here. There are lots of other people jumping on the 'craft' bandwagon at the moment, most recently India Knight in last week's Sunday Times with this article on 'credit crunch chic'.

Whilst I was checking out the Princeton Architectural Press website, I also spotted this new book, A Year of Mornings. The book documents another interesting blog-based projects, 3191, which has a good story behind it. On the morning of December 7, 2006, Maria Alexandra Vettese and Stephanie Congdon Barnes each took a digital photo of everyday objects randomly arranged on their kitchen tables and, unbeknownst to one another, uploaded them to Flickr. Noticing a surprising similarity between their images, they decided to continue to document their respective mornings by posting one photo to a shared blog each weekday for a year - 3191, their site is named after the distance in miles between their homes in Portland, Maine, and Portland, Oregon. This new book brings together a range of images from the original Year of Mornings project, but Maria and Stephanie have already embarked on a new collaborative photographic project, entitled A Year of Evenings, which you can see here.

the intertwining line

The Intertwining Line: Drawing as Subversive Art opened at Cornerhouse on Thursday night. This new exhibition curated by Tereza Kotyk explores the relationship between animation and contemporary drawing, bringing together a selection of short films and animations alongside work by artists such as Melanie Jackson and Catherine Bertola. The exhibition also features drawings by Rachel Goodyear, whose Girl on a chair (2008) is shown above, and Naomi Kashiwagi, who performed her gramaphone DJ set at the exhibition launch. Coincidentally both Rachel and Naomi have recently been shortlisted for the Individual Artist category in the art08 awards - you can check out the full shortlist here.

The exhibition also features Go - a series of thirty short animated ‘road movies’ by artist Rob Bailey following planes, trains, boats and cars travelling across land air and sea.

Check out more of Rob's work right here!

The exhibition continues until Sunday 11 January 2009.

3 things to read online on 3 november

1. Rainy City Stories is Manchester's interactive literary cityscape. Go here at once to read commissioned stories by Nicholas Royle and Jackie Kay amongst others, as well as excellent new contributions from Richard Barrett, Socrates Adams-Florou and Jenn Ashworth.

Jenn's story made me feel ashamed because I frequent Cornerhouse and have been known to lay claim to a 'dairy intolerance'. Thankfully I do not own anything from American Apparel. I did once go in but was scared away by the plethora of neon leggings on display.

2. The Pygmy Giant has been reborn in a new incarnation, hosted by Wordpress. It looks pretty. You can find it here.

3. Flax have launched an exciting new blog project which may have something to do with writers Jenn Ashworth and Tolu Ogunlesi. Check out the brand new blogs Adorna Shine and Desiderus without further ado.

I am already intrigued by the case-book of Desiderus. And I have to admit I am 'adoring' Adorna. It’s the sparkly star cursor that does it. And the pink. And the picture of the dog. And the fact that she likes cheese triangles.

4. Six sentences brings me tiny six-sentence stories to brighten my day.

I tried to submit something to them recently but it turned out that I could not count to six.

Apparently I cannot count to three either.

Oh dear.


It’s November, and my autumn literature festival odyssey is now at an end. It’s been a good one. I have heard so many interesting and inspiring writers read over the last month or two that I have accumulated a huge list of new books to check out, starting with Claire Wigfall’s short stories, Sallie Day’s Palace of Strange Girls, Adam Marek’s Instruction Manual For Swallowing, and Anne Donovan’s Being Emily to name but a few. I have been to all kinds of great events, ranging from the Northern Poetry Slam to David Gaffney’s rather marvellous Destroy Powerpoint, to the very appropriately spooky Halloween launch for Comma Press’s New Uncanny anthology, and of course, the Manchester Blog Awards.

Since the blog awards, I have been enjoying reading the many and varied responses to the event, as well as to the shortlisted and award-winning blogs themselves. One or two have been less than complimentary, like this one from Manhattanchester, who dismissed the whole sorry affair as ‘whimsical’, ‘trite’ and ‘woefully middle-class’ and characterised the blog readings as 'flat, ill-chosen and uninteresting' mumbles 'about coffee and home appliances':

They chose the wrong winners... evidenced in part by the reaction of the crowd and the vox pops of the people I interrogated. The few that is who had actually heard of or read any of the blogs. Do your homework people!

...I have to admit, though, that actually I don’t mind much being considered whimsical or trite. In fact, dare I say it, I actually quite like it. I quite like domestic appliances too - they’re quite harmless really, sometimes quite useful for cooking and that kind of thing. I think it’s OK to write about domestic appliances if the mood takes you.

Anyway, other responses have been much more positive, emphasising the exciting possibilities of the critical mass of blogging activity in and around Manchester. I like this one from Adrian Slatcher on the Mancunian Way, which identifies the blog's potential to act as a ‘genuine platform for new writing:’

What was noticeable last night is that there's hardly a hair's breadth anymore between the blog writer and the writer. Follow the Yellow Brick Road or Chicken and Pies could easily be the first chapter of an autobiographical novel...

I’m intrigued by the idea of a blog functioning like an autobiographical (or perhaps even not-so-autobiographical) novel. After all, I think even if you try to be quite honest, there’s something about the nature of this medium which necessitates you to assume a certain voice, a certain character, to tiptoe over into the territory of fiction. I think the ‘character’ or ‘voice’ of this blog is not dissimilar to me as I am ‘in real life’, but is quite a lot more perky. I feel quite jaunty and frivolous when I write this blog, as if I am a peripheral character in a Nancy Mitford novel. There’s a touch of the lashings-of-ginger-beers too I suspect - that’s the bit of me that grew up on Enid Blyton and likes words like ‘marvellous’ and ‘lovely’ and has probably read I Capture the Castle one too many times.

I have to admit, though, that for me, the whole blog awards experience has been quite odd. I was genuinely very surprised to be shortlisted, and especially surprised to win. It was quite a shock to the system to realise that there are actual ‘readers’ out there - I don’t think I had really thought about readers before, having always assumed that very few people would be interested in listening to me happily rambling about things like baked potatoes or tights and sparrows. But suddenly lots of my friends are reading my blog, and the link even got sent around my office. It’s made me feel rather self-conscious: I realise that this blog has been largely a place for me to indulge myself, to play and experiment, rather than a particularly thought-out project. I started it mainly just because, not having much time to dedicate to writing at the moment, I hoped it would keep me going, even if just by forcing me to write the occasional small something-or-other. There’s never been a clear plan in mind: it feels entirely different from a polished piece of finished ‘proper’ writing.

Thinking about it though, maybe that’s part of what makes this medium interesting. It’s inherently organic, and there's always space to play or to move in unexpected directions - to write about stuff you see out of the window, or on the bus, or to post a picture of your shoes if you feel like it - in a way that you would never feel free do in a more formal context. It’s a good way to break down your own barriers, to banish the fear that every piece of writing has to be 'perfect' in some way. And in the end, in spite of all the strangeness, winning the blog award has been an enormous encouragement - just to keep on playing, if nothing else. Perhaps not everything we write has to be carefully considered. Perhaps all these unimportant, frivolous (even trite or whimsical!) words can come together and start to mean something more. Perhaps it's in precisely these kinds of fluid, open spaces, where you feel you can just meander about anything, just like I’m doing now, where sometimes things can happen.

So with all this in mind, in spite of the oddness, I’m going to keep going and see where this takes me. Isn’t it the whole point about yellow brick roads that they can lead you to good places, after all?