Friday, 30 December 2011

Did You Meet Brian Cox in Manchester?

Pic courtesy Bob Lee, Flickr

On Wednesday 7th December, particle physicist / TV presenter Brian Cox was signing copies of his new book, The Quantum Universe: Everything That Can Happen Does Happen. He swung into Waterstones on Deansgate around lunchtime to talk about his book and answer questions.

I couldn't make it to the event due to work, which is a bit gutting, so I'm throwing it out to you guys. Did you go, and do you want to write it up and have your writing appear here? “PIASOM submission” in the subject field. You know the dance. I'll link back to your blog. Get on it!

Thursday, 29 December 2011

We've done that before

Pic courtesy Marsmet461, Flickr

At the last Writers Connect meetup before Christmas, a member suggested we perform a writing exercise on the prompt “Why not.” I reminded him that he had suggested that one earlier. See here.

It occurred to me later that both him and I had done this exercise in a totally different writing group, and that the other members of Writers Connect hadn't done it. But what the hell. We quickly decided on a new prompt line.

No, we've done that before.”

Have we?” she said. “When?”

About last week, I think. You said it was too convoluted.”

I said that?” she said, flipping to another page. “Well, there might be another book. Check above the cooker, in the cupboard.”

I sighed. “I can't be bothered. Let's just stick with this one. The instructions are clearer. You don't need to get any stuff for it either. We've got everything we need.”

This would be much easier if we were actually in the kitchen. At least with laminate flooring you can just mop up spills and whatever.”

Don't think about that,” I said.

Why not?”

Look,” I ordered. “Just let me take charge here, and it'll be good.” I flipped a page. “The instructions are clearer on this one. Even you could do it.”

Oi”, she said, and tried to kick me. She didn't find it easy barefoot. “Anyway, I think you're right. We've got all we need. In fact,” she said, gripping the book, “ I don't think we need this at all.”

She took the Karma Sutra off me and pulled me to the floor.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Jeru Da Damaja in Rusholme?

Check out this awesome 90s rap video from understated lyricist Jeru Da Damaja.

I first heard this on Tim Westwood's show on BBC Radio 1 in about 1996, just as I was getting into rap music and everyone in my (predominantly white Christian) school thought hip-hop was rubbish. As far as they were concerned it was black people's music, and there were about 2 black people out of about 1200 pupils in the school. Today, 14 out of the 40 tunes in Radio 1's Singles Chart include either a black singer or rap verses- even if it's not actually hip-hop.

Having said that, though, nowadays most of rap music IS rubbish, and it's white school kids who make up a large portion of the UK's music purchases- including, of course, the “hip hop” that makes it into the charts.

I digress. According to Twitter, Brooklyn rapper Jeru- who has always made REAL hip-hop- was in Manchester England on and around 10th December. Nightlife website Skiddle confirms that he was performingat Mansion club in Rusholme, on the edge of the city

Did anyone see him? And- I'll throw it out there- does anyone want to write the night up? I'll let you guest-post here and link back to a site if you've got one. Get involved!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Boiled Egg Fail

Why is it that I can perfect a cheese soufflĂ© after just a couple of goes, 

but boiling an egg- a pretty primitive task- seems beyond my capabilities?

Oh, Keda. You let me down. I closely followed your instructions for “Boiled Egg and Spice Bread”. You said, “bring to the boil then cook for three minutes” for a cooked but runny yolk. Is there something wrong with my hob? 'Cause that's what I did. Result? One hard-boiled egg.

Did I set the timer too late? Maybe I did. Maybe I shouldn't shift the blame.

And what is “spice bread”? I asked the guy in Tesco, and he suggested hot crossed buns. I'm not sure that's what Keda meant, as her diagram looked like Soreen malt loaf. Either product is a good twist on normal toast I supposed.

I tried again the next day. This time I tried pouring boiling water, straight from the kettle, over the egg in the pan. I gave it four minutes from then, on full hob heat. This time the egg was undercooked, so I slammed it in the microwave for 30 seconds. When I took it out, it looked like this:


I'm reminded of this inspiring quote:

    Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, 'I will try again tomorrow.'”

    -Mary Anne Radmacher, author of motivational books

And that's what I did. I gave Soreen a shot. I got the timing right somehow, so the egg was just right, but Soreen is shit for dunking! Bread is absorbent and takes up the yolk. Toast is just as absorbent but tougher, so stays dunkable without collapsing, but Soreen is like dunking cheese- it takes nothing in and squidges all over the show. Whatever it was Keda photographed under the heading “spice bread”, it's nothing I've ever seen before.

I guess cooking is like most things in my life. Most people my age can do it, because it's- on the whole- pretty simple. But I struggle. Yet I surprise people with all sorts of shit that I've learned in 29 years. I taught a group of MMA fighters the meaning of “Buridan's Ass.” I developed novel methods of building blog readership, with lots of success. 

Egg metaphor alert: I'm just going to have to keep cracking away at my cooking. I can't let it go off the boil. I'll have to keep soldiering on. Okay, that's enough.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Help Save Every Night Erotica

A few months ago, Every Night Erotica- a superb online fiction magazine- published my story, “Afterwards”.  The erotic fiction E-magazine publishes one story every night. As you might guess. It even pays for submissions!

The mag is having a bit of a tough time at the moment- not for financial reasons, it says, but due a lack of contributors!

Editor Jennifer Case says:

We need your sexy stories in order to keep up our daily publications or we won't survive. So please, we are asking for your help! Send your submissions to using our online form. Please email directly if you have any problems using our online submissions process. And please pass this plea along to your sexy writer friends -- there is plenty of room for everyone to get published.

“We are also accepting your XXX-mas stories for the holiday season!

“Remember our guidelines; stories must be 2000 words or less (or you can divide your story into two as long as each part is balanced with enough erotic sex to satisfy your reader!) and your story must be edited for continuity, spelling and grammar. You may submit only your stories you have the rights to if they have been published in the past. And you may submit up to three stories simultaneously!

“Check out our site for all the genres we publish”
So- erotica writers- get scribbling, polish your work off and get it sent in. You'll be paid, you'll get your work seen alongside mine and there's the potential for the whole online world to read your work. Just write good, and you're onto a winner.

Monday, 12 December 2011

There is no greater food on Earth than pizza.

I make myself pizza if it comes down to that drastic measurement.
-Corey Haim, actor

My situation may not be quite as drastic as Corey's was, but thankfully, cookbook writer Keda Black stuck my fave dish- Pizza Margherita - at the start of the book that I'm working through. I bought a couple of bases so I could be sure I'd get it right. Challenges:
  1. I live in a 1-bedroom council flat. The kitchen is tiny, with limited workspace.
  2. I don't own a garlic crusher. Instead I used a knife, cutting it as thin as possible, kind of like they do in Goodfellas' prison scene.

    Keda suggested flattening cherry tomatoes with a spatula to make the sauce, which I would never have thought of. I'd have gone for a tube of puree like I used to at my mum's. I'd also have automatically used Cheddar- Keda wisely listed Mozzarella.

The result: a taste sensation. A thousand times more flavoursome than a Tesco pizza. There's plenty of cheese in this blog post already, but regardless: I'm moving forward here. I'm getting good in the kitchen, and no longer feeling like a culinary lost boy. (That's a Corey Haim tie-in joke. Never mind.)

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Weaning Off Chocolate

Researchers have discovered that chocolate produces some of the same reactions in the brain as marijuana. The researchers also discovered other similarities between the two but can't remember what they are.

-Matt Lauer, US TV Journalist

This blog is about improving life. Particularly mine, but hopefully it will affect a few others as well. Most of these entries are my attempts to fine tune everything I do to make me a better person. Through this blog, I've experimented with weightlifting, tried to live off the cheapest possible food, then tried to live off anything but, tried a range of exercise classes, and experimented with social media and blogging so that my blog- including write-ups of all of these experiments- get seen online by as many people as possible.

Today, I'm still looking to sharpen myself up. I have fears to conquer, skills to develop (see my cookery posts) and belief to build on. Even though some of these need working on constantly, like cooking, others I like to focus on for one month. Sometimes this is a major task, like attempting to get my blog noticed in Hollywood, or just a little gym exercise like getting the most out of your membership by trying all the classes.

At the end of November my mum bought me a Cadbury's advent calendar. Yes, I know. I'm 29. Well. I certainly have an awesome mum. As I placed it on my fireplace, an idea hit me. At the time, I was trying to cut down on chocolate, to no avail. Chocolate contains a number of addictive chemicals, but which chemicals scientists are still trying to nail down.

An addiction- which, I suppose, I've got- implies a dependency on a certain chemical or chemicals. If I was to stop eating chocolate right now, my hands would itch, I'd lose concentration, I'd be tired permanently and eventually I'd just give up and buy a gluttonous 400g bar of Dairy Milk and smash the lot. And feel sickeningly guilty. Then repeat the cycle. (Writing this is making me want to nip to Tesco right now. Shit...)

I managed to go without chocolate for about 6 weeks back in 2008. It was hard. After the 5th week, though, the cravings started to die off and I was enjoying eating more healthily- particularly meat- and was doing well at the gym. I was also, for the first time ever, doing pretty well with girls. I think there's a connection. On one memorable date, though, a girl took me to a bar with a chocolate fountain. I fell back in again. To addiction, I mean. Not the fountain.

I'm not going to cut chocolate out completely this month. Through December so far, I've eaten only a tiny bite-size drop of chocolate per day, from my advent calendar, normally first thing in the morning. I'm hoping this constant drip-feed of chocolate will be regular and small enough to “wean” me off. I'm not buying any more than this, and the only other chocolate I'll have will be powdered, with hot milk (insomnia remedy). I'm obviously a fair way into the challenge right now (forgetfulness- I thought of this in November) but...

Provided nobody buys me any chocolate for Christmas, I will be able to cut it out for the foreseeable future.

The goals:
  1. Improvement to strength and cardio at the gym.
  2. Better concentration in work and with blogging/creative writing
  3. Calmer frame of mind overall, in work, with family and with friends, and when meeting new people.
  4. To generally man up, stop being a bitch and stop eating women's food all the time. For Christ's sake!
  5. I might even, as Lauer seems to suggest, find myself remembering a little more. You never know.

I'm doing pretty good so far. For anyone thinking they eat too much chocolate, the run-up to Christmas is the perfect time to start cutting down, contrary to what you might expect. I'll blog again in a month to see whether I'm still plagued with chocoholism.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Huddersfield Road: Fast Food Overload

This just opened down the road from me in Oldham.

It sits over the road from The Taj Mahal takeaway. You know, next to the other Indian takeaway. And the Chinese. Which leads onto the Subway, the Pizza Hut Delivery, the chippy and a number of other Asian takeaways. In fact, after chowing down in the Colonel's new outlet, I did a quick count-up of fast food joints on that section of Huddersfield Road. Within about 100 metres, there's a grand total of 17 fast food eateries.

There are plenty of other takeaways like this across the borough. There are plenty other nearby streets like this as well. In fact, you could say the whole town is “saturated” with them. Boom boom.

Is this why “41,000 people in Oldham are obese (Body Mass Index (BMI) >30), with an additional 36,000 men and 31,000 women overweight (BMI 25 – 30).”

The other question is, why do I keep banging on about fast food on my blog? And why do I keep trying out these outlets as they open? I especially shouldn't, seeing as I spend a large portion of my life in one gym or another, trying to get back to the (pretty impressive) shape I was in before I moved out. And it's not like I don't know what I'm going to experience in these restaurants. Also, a good number of my posts are about working out, and aside from that I write about Manchester, not Oldham. Hmm.

Regardless, I gave the Colonel one chance to redeem himself. The new restaurant is clean and smart. The staff are friendly. The food tastes good. I've no complaints. KFC is KFC. But seriously, that's quite enough fast food joints on Huddersfield Road, thanks. There might be one space left for a liposuction clinic. If it keeps its prices modest, it will have a LOT of business.

Thursday, 8 December 2011


Break down to pieces, make cocaine quiches
Money piled high as my nieces
  • Rapper “Pusha T” (?)
Crusading forth through Keda Black's cookbook, I had a bash at this traditional French dish. Mine, unlike Pusha's, did not have a Colombian slant to it.

It first involved making pastry, which I didn't knead for long enough. When I took it out of the fridge an hour after making, it was still sticky. I left it overnight and rolled it out the next morning on a kitchen work surface. It STILL stuck to the breadboard. I added some more flour before rolling it out.

I mixed up the quiche ingredients, but had to guess-measure the cream as the mixture itself was in my only mixing jug. After cooking, cooling and fridge-ing the dish, I gave it a shot.

It was good. It was better than I'd expected. I wasn't sure that the pastry had formed properly, being a bit soft, but it tasted fine. Better than fine. The only problem was, the recipe was for four people. It was a feast. I only got about a third of the way through before I had to bin it. The thought of freezing it in portions didn't cross my mind for some reason, the parents were away (again) so I couldn't give it to them, and I don't think many friends are ready to trust my cooking yet. I don't even know if I do. Especially with a dish like this, which people tell me is one of the more complicated ones. Come on, Keda, you could have stuck that in later in the book!

But that's why I'm doing this. When I got this cookbook for my birthday, I thought, I'd really like to be able to use this. But I'm going to do it all wrong.

I have short-term memory difficulties stemming from a complication at birth. After recent conversations with family and a few memory specialists, we've nailed down a hard home truth. I expect things to go wrong. I expect to fail, and because I expect I will, I do. I expect I will, however, because I have experienced 29 years of making the same mistakes and NOT remembering what went wrong. This has resulted in repeatedly NOT being able to foresee problems and avert them.

But this doesn't mean things will always be this way. I learned to drive and passed first time in 2002. I've got a 2:1 BSc Hons in Professional Broadcast Techniques. I've developed methods of organisation, using a phone, diaries and notebooks, to make sure things happen when they should. I devised a lever-arch file system for any info pertaining to the flat. I've had a number of pieces of writing published and have held down a public sector job for three years. I've also got a forty-thousand hit blog. I've learned to improve my writing. I've learned how to tailor my writing to attract blog hits using Search Engine Optimisation. If the human race can thrive by cooking and eating decent food, there's no reason why I can't join them on that, is there?

And so, I cook on, under the guidance of the very knowledgeable Keda Black. Stay tuned for more meal-making malarky.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Synaesthesia For Ten Minutes

Synaesthesia, in its simplest form, is best described as a “union of the senses” whereby two or more of the five senses that are normally experienced separately are involuntarily and automatically joined together.”- UK Synaesthesia

See for more info.

At a recent writer's group, a member explained this condition. A person affected by synaesthesia might see a certain colour and imagine hearing a particular sound, or might experience a certain event that they would then describe with a colour. The writer at our group had developed a writing exercise based on the notion of a colour linking to some of the other senses. She provided a range of pictures and asked us each to pick one that intrigued us. The ten minute exercise: Link the picture and the theme of synaesthesia within a story.

I didn't totally get it, to be honest, but I gave it a shot. Here's the picture I picked:

Here's the writing I wrote.

Jane sat at the kitchen work surface, surrounded by food. She had starved herself for two days, as a personal challenge. Her hands shook as she laid out the fruit and veg on the table.

Her hunger pangs had driven her senses to a heightened level. Tiredness had made her ravenous and now, with the uncooked banquet in front of her, consumption was paramount. But something was different. She picked up a carrot, still caked in dried soil, and bit into it.

She was no longer sat in her kitchen. Her work surface dissolved into hard mud. She could see the sky above her, the earth ploughed into rows, a distant tractor coughing out dirt and uprooting vegetables.

She chewed as the crows cried out above her head.

When she swallowed, she was jammed back into her kitchen chair in an instant. To her left, in a bed of crushed ice, lay a solitary dead haddock. She looked at the fish. It looked at her. She scooped it up in one hand. They stared face-to-face. Her work surface morphed into corrugated iron. A motor churned loudly.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Free Cards to Promote Your Blog

Keep your eyes peeled for these little beauties doing the rounds in and around Manchester...

If you're a blogger it's a good plan to check out Vistaprint,  a firm providing a wide range of office / business-based merchandise. The web-based company will give you 250 cards for free. Choose from 42 different designs. The site is easy to use and they deliver to pretty much everywhere in the world. You even get a snazzy free metal case to store them in.

The upside to having a blog card: You can always let people know your URL if you've featured something that they might be interested in. They can take it with them and, as long as they have the card, they'll remember you. It's handy for writing events, blog meetups, feedback groups or just for “accidentally” leaving around the place.

The downside to having a blog card: You look like these guys.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The Art of Blogging: Part 2

Photo Courtesy Rightee, Flickr

Having been to a fascinating talk by the ever knowledgeable Kate Feld, curator of Manchester blogging resource The Manchizzle, I came home with pages and pages of notes about finding your feet- and your niche- in the blogosphere. Kate, like many other social media experts, advised us that blog posts should be kept to around 500 words. People's patience on the internet, she reminds us, is very short. Hence, I've split this subject into two blog posts. The first instalment is here.

Here are a few examples of fine Manchester blogging shown on the OHP at the event.

Gill Moore Photography, a Manchester-based photo blog.

Having a Party Without Me, a very zany music review site

The Naughty Index. This woman is a legend. The concept of her blog is simple: she approaches women in the street and asks them to undress for the camera. Most refuse. Some do not. “The whole 'asking women to take their clothes off' thing, well, let's gloss over that,” says Kate. “But it's good!” Agreed.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road, a Manchester-based arts and culture blog. 

My Shitty Twenties, written by a very eloquent young lady about her life as a single mum. Kate tells us that this mummy-blogger had thought very carefully about how much of her son's life- and her own life- she was going to publicise through the blog, and how it might affect her boy, Tom, as he grew up. The blogger herself is anonymous, living in South Manchester.

Kate shows us a range of fascinating sites based outside of Manchester. Here's Delightfully Tacky, written by “a not-so-reformed tomboy with a love for vintage, art, music and the charm of tacky, kitschy things most often found lingering in the 70's”. It's appropriately retro-designed and photographed. The author, Elizabeth, gained popularity a few years ago by reviewing women's fashion. It wasn't long before fashion labels began to send her clothes for her to review. Kate has been reading this for some time; she suggests that Elizabeth's earlier posts were more entertaining before sponsorship started to change the blog's style and content.

Gawker is a very sarcastic but very funny celebrity blog. Kate tells us that the site has a team of bloggers updating the site every hour or so. Oh, to be as advanced as that!

The Tiny Sartorialist is a gem of a blog, written from the perspective of a very capable one-year-old. Marshall Ace, a “baby and fashion blogger,” is beautifully photographed by his parents (who doubtlessly double as his ghost-writing team) whilst wearing a range of cutting-edge baby clothes. I defy even the most stoney-hearted of non-child people not to aww at their screens. I know I did. Marshall, like Elizabeth at Delightfully Tacky, also receives clothes from fashion houses hoping to get publicity.

Reading up on good blogs is one way to find your feet as a blogger, but good solid advice from a successful blogger is essential. At her events, Kate certainly provides that. Here are some top tips:

  • Be generous with links. Provide opportunities to read something other than your own blog. Don't feel like you're sending them away from your blog. Links are like your karma: they come back. Make sure you're links are useful and suit the style and content of your blog. Make sure your links open in a separate tab, so your site stays open. On Blogger there's a box to tick on the “insert hyperlink” page.

  • Blogs are traditionally text-based websites, but due to the advancement of technology that's not strictly the case. Most blogging platforms allow for the inclusion of photos, videos and sound. Mixing these in will make your blog more lively and engaging. Also, your readers may find it easier to take in your information if it's presented in a different medium. A cookery blog, for instance, NEEDS pictures. Short Youtube videos might also help. A music blog wouldn't be a music blog without embedded Youtube videos or Soundcloud music tracks. Kate also suggests Audioboo, a site allowing you to record sound quickly and embed it into your blog, and Audacity, free open-source sound editing software.

What was your take on the blogs above? And have you used any of these sound packages? How well did they work for you?