Archive for November, 2011

November 20, 2011

croc & choc

It was my brother Rick’s birthday yesterday, and once again I found myself in the same impoverished state that produced my other brother’s birthday present last month.

Unlike Andy, and everyone else in the family, Rick is a clutter-hating utilitarian, so I had to make him a gift that was functional. However, Rick is a highly competent adult, and thus has already equipped himself with all the functional objects he might need. Hence he is utterly infernal to find presents for, but he’s a very good egg which means I still want to give him birthday presents.

The problem: what to give the man who has everything he wants/needs, throws out anything he doesn’t, and who, incidentally, lives in a chilly house?

The solution:


Materials: green fabric from my sister-in-law’s late mother’s huge stash of upholstery textiles (the leaf print looked suitably suggestive of scales); scrap of red needlecord for the mouth; white felt teeth; stuffed with rags and half a disembowelled cushion. I sewed pintucks along the back, for the crocodile’s armoured ridges.

Grrrr, terrifying. Of course, my little niecephews immediately grabbed it and started thwacking each other.

Now my mum wants a draught-excluder for Christmas. What sort of beast should I make for her?

Here’s the other birthday thing I made for my brother:


Interior: chocolate sponge, coffee buttercream. Exterior: Toblerone frosting.

November 19, 2011

noises on

This week was comparatively quiet, broken only by the familiar sound of AMT197 and Saturday Edition.

However, I was also chuffed to have a curry with podcasting heroes Jesse and Theresa Thorn of The Sound Of Young America, Jordan, Jesse, Go! and sundry other podcasts. They began this independent-podcasting-from-your-living-room schtick several years before I ever even heard of podcasts. Hence it was heartening to hear Jesse’s ‘Make Your Thing’ talk the following evening, as it turned out the twelve points he posits as central to independent, homemade endeavours are all tenets of Answer Me This!. Some of the points were conscious decisions we made at the beginning (eg getting off our arses and making the show in the first place; doing the show regularly) while others were inadvertent (keeping ownership of our content – this has been lovely and easy to do, since EvilCorp has shown no interest in buying it).

It was reassuring to hear from a man who seems to know what he’s doing that we’re not veering wildly up the wrong track. Podcasting is a lonely pursuit for us; there’s a delightful community of listeners, of course, but not really one of podcasters. I only know a handful of other people who do it, and we don’t all hang out together in the special clubhouse discussing our Method. (OK, only on weekends.) But despite the succour of our listeners, and external validation like the Sony Award and an ever-expanding audience far bigger than I ever expected, often I wonder what the hell I’ve been doing for the past five years, spending the majority of my time on an overgrown hobby, rather than pursuing a proper career with income, prospects, respectability, etc etc.

On the other hand, if I’d been really interested in having those, I probably wouldn’t have done a degree in Anglo-Saxon literature. Let me tell you, that is not a growth industry.

November 17, 2011

Twilight tour of Forks

In celebration of the release of Twilight IVa: She Bangs, He Fangs, I thought I’d take you on a little tour of the real-life Forks, Washington. Yes, I have been there! Not because I am a big crazy Twilight fan, heaven forfend (acting with too much sighing in it is a pet peeve of mine), although I admit I have seen the second film in the series: last year we stayed the night in a hotel with an in-house cinema, and when you’re staying in a hotel with an in-house cinema, you have to go to see the film, even if it’s a neutered borefest like New Moon. Mercifully the cinema had free wifi and an on-site brewery, otherwise I never would have made it to the end credits.

Anyway, Forks. My husband and I visited the town a few months ago on our honeymoon roadtrip, when we were driving around the Olympic Peninsula. Rainforests, mountains and lakes proliferate, but towns do not, so if you want to eat lunch, your choice is either chewing some moss off a treetrunk, or stopping off at Forks.

It’s a tiny town, only a few blocks in each direction, so I don’t know how Edward Cullen would have stuck it out there for so many decades without going round the bend. The town is looking a little shabby; it’s too remote to be able to capitalise on the Twilight connection like New York did with all the Sex and the City tours. However, that doesn’t stop Forks from doing its best. Even the hardware store managed to shoehorn a bit of Twilight into its window display.

So come with me
and you’ll be
in a world of pure imaginationTwilight shit. Viz:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

November 12, 2011

“Britain’s Most Glamorous Fattie”

No, it’s not me.

November 11, 2011

noises on

Double radio whammy today. First up was MacAulay & Co on Radio Scotland, although oddly neither the presenter Fred MacAulay nor fellow guest Jo Caulfield nor I was in Scotland. We were all crammed into a tiny room in London. Then I went upstairs for the monthly stint with Olly on Steve Wright In The Afternoon, to talk about internetty matters; afterwards we were hustled out of the offices sharpish, because David Cameron was on his way up. If he’s trying to steal our thunder by talking about his favourite new apps and YouTube videos, we will not be responsible for our actions…

There’s also the weekly dose of Answer Me This! – episode 196, containing fireworks, flapjacks and Frozen Planet.

November 7, 2011

the mind Boggles

People often ask me what is my greatest crafting feat. Here’s how it came about.

A few years ago, I lived very near to my friend Josie and we were both underemployed. As a result, we watched a lot of ANTM, and we played a LOT of Boggle.

At the height of our obsession, we decided we had to share the joy and play boggle onstage with the audience at comedy gigs. We used to draw the grid on a flipchart, which was neither large enough for most of the audience to be able to read, nor showy enough for a gig. Bigger, we had to think bigger!

My mind was tickled by the engineering puzzle of how to expand the Boggle set, but make it easily portable so we could take it to gigs. Plus, I had to keep costs to a minimum.

So having expended about £25 on Primark bedsheets, iron-on fabric stiffener and acrylic paint, followed by a very tedious afternoon or two of construction, I became the proud inventor of the World’s First* Fully Collapsible Giant Inflatable Boggle Set.

*I haven’t confirmed this, but nobody has told me otherwise.

I’ve made some improvements to it since, so that all the blocks tie together at each corner and it lies flat; but my favourite picture of it in action is this one, from its first ever outing:

That was taken at the inaugural Latitude Festival in 2006. Martin White and Matthew Crosby are sportingly holding it up so the audience could see.

The pieces are each about 14 inches cubed, and I replicated the distribution of letters from my real, normal-sized Boggle set, for maximum accuracy. Inside each cube is one of those toy punch-bag balloons from the Pound Shop, and when those are deflated the whole set packs into a shopping bag.

Despite having cracked the issue of the Boggle set, the audience participation Boggle never really worked very well. However, the giant Boggle set still comes in handy sometimes, eg for leaving subtle messages around the place.

November 6, 2011

noises on, and noises onstage

As well as the usual Answer Me This! Episode 195, I had my usual Saturday night gig talking about the week’s pressing online developments on BBC 5 Live’s Saturday Edition. However, for a change, the show was coming not from the studio, but from the Sage Gateshead, a place I was excited to visit as from the train it looks like a giant silver sleeping-bag hunched on the bank of the Tyne.

Allow me to let you in on a showbiz secret: the recording of talk radio is not visually exciting. At all. Nonetheless, the show was recorded in front of a live audience. Here they are:


A live audience, though not a lively audience. (Nor would I be in their position; I have a morbid horror of audience participation.) Their numbers swelled for the second half of the show, which, in another departure from the norm, was a debate collaboration with BBC Radio 3 – 5 Live’s least likely bedfellow – as part of their Free Thinking Festival. The topic under discussion was ‘What Is News?’, so in no way too broad to be dispatched in an hour, right?

The panel included: Ian Katz, deputy editor of the Guardian; ex-News of the Worlder Jules Stenson; Stewart Purvis, former editor of ITN News; Matthew Eltringham, in charge of User-Generated Content for BBC News; and that big-league newshound known as Helen Zaltzman. Wondering what I was doing there amongst such formidable company? Yes, so was I. I therefore decided that the best course of action was to keep my mouth shut. Of course, whenever I did speak, immediately afterwards I thought of much pithier and cleverer things I should have said instead. How tragic that the world will NEVER KNOW.

Anyway, if you’re interested, you can hear the debate HERE; and BBC iPlayer claims the show will be available until 1st January 2099, so several generations our blessed descendants will have the great fortune of hearing it after a hard day stuck in hover-traffic getting home from work at the powdered water factory.

November 2, 2011



The above carrier bag, which held a jacket I bought on Sunday, summarises a debate about vintage I’ve been having with myself for quite some time.

I wear a lot of “vintage clothes”, which, lest you are confused, means clothes that are old, rather than clothes made of wine. My colossal inner pedant has never been happy with the term, although it doesn’t have a problem with “vintage cars”, probably because I have absolutely no opinion whatsoever on vintage cars (which, lest you are confused, means cars that are old, not cars made of wine, etc etc).

I understand why “vintage” entered the fashion lexicon, to denote valuable, not-old-enough-to-count-as-antique garments, and distinguish them from “second-hand”, ie clothes that were too shit for somebody else to hang on to. Now, although vintage still commands greater prices than second-hand, it is sweepingly used to describe any clothes that have no qualification beyond having previously graced a human body. Browsing on eBay, I come across “vintage” items which are 3-month-old Topshop, which is hardly akin to stumbling upon a well-preserved Horrocks dress. I’m now old enough to find clothes in vintage shops that I remember from the first time round, and not because I spent any time shopping at Dior or Madame Grès over the past century, but because they’re from H&M and even Primark!

So many liberties have been taken with it that I feel the already unmotivated “vintage” has been stripped of relevant meaning, and have reverted to using “second-hand” although I feel it smacks of inverse snobbery. So, friends, help me out: what do you think would be a better term?

My granny, who used to volunteer at her village’s thrift shop (thanks to which we had a dressing-up box full of dinner suits in improbable sizes – massive waist with stumpy legs, tall and skinny with short arms, etc), deployed the euphemism “pre-owned”. This, I now realise, would also cover stolen goods, so I begin wonder whether granny’s thrift shop was really a front for the shady industries of the North Hertfordshire criminal underworld.