Monday, 6 June 2011


As of today I'll no longer be updating my blog here, instead I've moved it all over to wordpress where I'm finding it more organised. I've split it into two, one for travel related writings & another for the general stuff.
The travel stuff will be at - i'm trying to move towards writing actual articles instead of trip diaries, so eventually those posts may be re written / trashed.
All blogbeat type ramblings will be at

It'll take a while to get them both looking how I want, but please check back!

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Rudiments of Letterpress

A short while ago I spent a weekend at Hotbed Press Print Studios learning the ancient (well several hundred year old) art of letter press. To start somewhere near the beginning, Hot Bed Press is an open studio in Salford that offers facilities for a wide range of printmaking techniques including silk screen, etching, Lino cut alongside book art which members can do at their leisure, they also run loads of courses open to members and the public alike.
After signing up for the course we got an email outlining the weekend - we would start by learning how to do simple book binding stitching pages together to make a notebook, followed by making at least 2 different printed articles to take home at the end of the course from the following list:

1. An address card (business card style)

2. A headed note card (postcard sized with a name, address, phone number and email address)

3. A bookmark

4. A Greetings card

5. A Short poem (four to eight lines)

I opted for a business card and bookmark with a quote from Kerouac's On The Road, because what's more bookish than a book quote?

The tutor, Graham from Incline Press started with telling us how we would be sticking examples of different types of letter press printed stuff in our notebooks along with examples of what we made - including our mistakes - for future reference. Needless to say my book was bulging by the end as I'm pretty sure I was the only one to destroy type and I didn't just do it once (lead is pretty soft, so if your type isn't lined up properly it gets squished, but it just gets put into a box for recycling). The course allows a maximum of 6 people so everyone gets enough time to try stuff and ask questions etc..
I'm not gonna go into loads of details of how everything is done, as it would be a 3 page essay, besides if you've got an interest - get yourself down to HBP to try it for yourself!
We learnt how to set the type, it has to be laid out and all squished* firmly together, then packed and locked up in a chase ready for printing
*not a technical term

Type, Set, Match

We used an Adana hand operated platen press, here's mine all inked up and ready to go

Adana Press

Here is the business card I made (I blurred out the number because I don't want random people from the internet ringing me)

Business Card

We all managed to make ourselves business cards by the end of the first day, we then got asked what special 'furniture' we'd like to add to whatever we were planning on printing the following day as Graham had a whole collection of random animals, pointing hands etc... I settled for an eagle sat on top of the world.

On Sunday we all arrived fresh faced & on time, and with much warmer clothing than the day before, as it was quite chilly in the studios.

We set about setting type for our second print item, here's the type for my bookmark - one of the difficult things for me, is that you lay the type upside down, and of course, back to front - this can become confusing.

Setting Type

You do a test run first, which allows you to inspect the type, I'd managed to select a box of type that had the wrong type in it, so had to take out several letters, which has to be done with really sharp pointy tweezers and is quite fiddly.
Here's the finished product


I managed to make quite a few as you can tell, this will stop me turning the pages down on my books to mark the pages in future, but should you want one of these lovely things, you can buy them on my Etsy store that I have recently set up.

I enjoyed the course even more than I thought I would, and it's made me wonder yet again why I didn't pursue Graphic Design & Typography at College (as it would've been a wiser career choice .. maybe)as I love this stuff so much but then I remember how much I procrastinate over anything remotely creative - case in point, I attended this course in January and it's taken until now to write about it. If you want to see some really good examples of what you can do with letterpress, you should check out the We Love Letterpress Tumblog

Sunday, 23 January 2011

New Years Resolutions

Just looking back on last year's resolutions and I was quite surprised to see that this year, many are the same! In fact the only ones I kept were to run a race (Race for Life 5km July 2010) and travel to 2 new countries (I made 3: Denmark, Sweden & Prague).

I failed at going to Hot Bed Press regularly and when I did go, I don't think I was successful enough in my prints.

I failed spectacularly at finishing my NVQ through work, which was out of my hands. Basically due to cost cutting in the public sector, the NVQ's offered through my workplace no longer come with proper support (it used to be in the form of a person from Mancat who would meet with you every 2 to 3 weeks in your office) and I got non existent support from the assessor who I managed to get to see a grand total of 3 times last year. So I'm still doing the course, no rush now though, seeing as the recession has hit even harder and even if I did get my qualification I can't apply for a job in a higher band, thanks to the conditions of the NHS clearing house, which means I can only apply for jobs at the same rate of pay I'm on now. (thanks Labour and Cameron)

I didn't read a new book every month at least I don't think I did, I didn't keep track of what I did read. I really need another 2 weeks somewhere hot type holiday, I normally plough through one a day then.

I didn't learn how to use Illustrator, I did however buy "Illustrator for Dummies" which I started reading last week... I'm still not getting it however :(

I didn't try colour processing at home either, but I am still keen to try...

and lastly I really didn't keep my blog up to date at all.

So 2011

* Learn how to use Illustrator - even if I have to take lessons
* Read more, I wish I had a job that involved public transport instead of walking, at least then I'd have guaranteed daily reading time
* Visiting Hot Bed Press more often - I've already signed up for the Letter Press Course which is at the end of this month
* Crafting - Santa Mum bought me a rather nice sewing machine for Christmas, so now I just need to get off my lazy arse and make curtains & bags and whatnot out of the fabric I bought 4 months ago!
* Go out of my comfort zone - I've signed up for volunteering at Manchester International Festival once again, but this time I've put down my office skills and could very well find myself on reception, this face to face stuff is what my very shy self is terrified of. I've convinced myself it will be character building.
* Not sweating the little things - I spend far too much time getting wound up by other people's actions, especially when driving etc... As long as the other person isn't hurting anyone, I'm taking a deep breath and ignoring it. Life's too short to sweat other people's misgivings and being angry inside is not good for one's health or mental wellbeing.
* Lose weight - the age old new year resolution, well after literally packing on the pounds over Christmas (which for me started mid November!) I've joined Weight Watchers, doing well so far and feeling positive about getting my health back on track
* Organising our wedding - after 7 years of engagement, we've finally set a date (well by date I mean 2 week period), and now I need to book everything and start organising shit. Scary.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Roadhouse - A 3 Day Supernatural Convention

OK i suppose I should start with an explanation: The Roadhouse is the name of a bar in the CW's Tv show Supernatural. The Roadhouse convention was a 3 day convention organised by Massive Events dedicated to the tv show, with guests from the show doing talks, autograph & photo sessions etc with themed parties in the evenings. 6 months ago I didn't realise these things existed, apart from for real geeky sci fi stuff like Star trek & Dr Who - I've obviously been living under a rock for a few years! Having only been introduced to Supernatural earlier this year by my step daughter, I was instantly hooked and it was a chance internet browsing around the super cool '67 Chevy Impala (don't ask) that features in the show that I stumbled upon details for the convention. After browsing the Showmasters/Massive events forums for a few days I decided to buy 2 ticket for myself & step daughter [SD] the princely sum of £160. As the convention is held at a hotel there is usually a con rate which gets you a discount on the room, which was approx £70 a night for the room (not per person) including breakfast - although the breakfast thing wasn't mentioned at check in, we had to ask to confirm.

So on Friday 3rd September, we boarded a train to Birmingham International for the Roadhouse. We arrived around 4pm, the Hilton hotel is a mere 5 minutes walk from the train station, provided you don’t take a wrong turn at the lake (which is very peaceful and unexpected). We checked in without hitch - the room was fab, the bathroom even nicer but I wont bore you with details, just click through the pic to my flickr set if interested - bathroom was stocked with Crabtree & Evelyn products and Twinings & Douwe Egberts for the much needed morning after supplies!
Uber Comfy Beds
Hmmmmm Tea
Much needed tea & coffee

We then headed down to register, much like any other sort of convention, you get the pack - obligatory pass (these were very cool), a glossy booklet with the guests in that also doubles as your 'autograph tickets' - you get an autograph from each guest, which is checked off on the booklet (extras available for an additional fee). You also receive a photograph of each guest to get signed, alternatively you can bring your own photo/item to be sighed or buy a different photo from the dealers room (prices start at £1). We also got a 'Metallicar' badge, word-search & crossword puzzle (more on that later). we had standard tickets, silver tickets cost around £135 and Gold £195! Although for this you get special extras including priority seating for talks etc. As we were standard ticket holders we also had to buy our tickets for photo sessions £10 each - I originally bought 2, but bought a 3rd on the Saturday morning. There was an opening ceremony at 7pm where all the guests are brought on stage briefly for introductions, and you get a run down of the weekend, they then go off for the Gold Pass Drinks reception where Gold Ticket holders are in small groups around a table and the guests come and spend time at each table for a chat basically. After this was the World Premier of Hell Hazers II - a fan made spoof video which was hilarious. Later on there was a party with the theme "Hollywood Babylon Bar & Casino" which wasn't quite what we were expecting if I'm honest - there was a roulette table and black jack, but this was packed away at 11pm (and the 'dealer' wasn't playing properly anyway). There was a variety of music played everything from total cheese (a lot of cheese) to Rock (which seemed to go down better with the attendees both nights). The drinks were pricey,even by hotel standards, considered there was 20% discount at the 'Convention Bar' which was really a make shift bar with bottles & spirits available - with 2 vodkas and one bottle of coca cola costing almost £10, this meant we spent most of the night walking out to the main Hilton bar where beer was *only* £4 odd a pint.


Up bright & early (as not to miss anything), we headed for breakfast and it was - amazing, everything from full cooked, to continental (cold meat, cheeses, pastries) and everything in between.
Next we checked out the dealer rooms again, as this was also where the autograph sessions happened. The dealer room was basically stalls selling Supernatural and other Sci-fi type merchandise as well as lots of photos of the guests and other actors from the show that you could get signed. During the day all the events (photo ops,autographs and talks) were well timed,so nothing clashed and there was time to see and do everything. So we got autographs from all the guests: Samantha Ferris,Chad Lindberg, Rob Benedict & Mark Rolston.
Because the event hadn't sold out it meant that there was more time for guests to do everything as well, which meant they could personalise autographs and had time for a brief chat too which was nice and we never waited in line for anything for more than 5-10 minutes which was great. There was also the opportunity for bid on a more intimate experience of having a 'Guest Encounter' in which a small group of people eg.10 spend half an hour/45mins chatting to the guests,however we couldn't figure out the bidding system to didn't bother (also we couldn't think of what we would want to say). As the Hilton food was a bit pricey (they did have an offer on pizza but we didn't fancy it for every meal) we went to hunt down the local Wetherspoons which was supposed to be a godsend. Now, I can appreciate that it's in a train station and at the NEC, so therefore we expected to pay more than a normal wetherspoons but their lunchtime 'deal' was a £9 cheeseburger and chips, more than double the price of their pubs in Manchester, so we weren't particularly impressed, plus the service from the bar staff was pretty rubbish too,oh did I mention the 'free wifi' didn't work either?

So after lunch it was time for the talks. For these the guests are on stage answering questions from the audience either submitted before hand or standing up to ask. Whilst I can't remember details all the guests were hilarious; Sam Ferris can talk for England (although I wasn't surprised at this) and would frequently go off on a tangent about something or other, she was also really good at giving an insiders view of how a film set works. Rob Benedict was very reminiscent of his character Chuck especially with his mannerisms and again fabulously funny (no surprise as he told us a bit about his stand up career).
Chad was also very funny,amusing the crowd with his David Caruso impression (that's Horatio Caine from CSI Miami) but the major surprise awesome guest was Mark Rolston (feedback from other fans after the weekend also backed me up on this).
Mark,despite only appearing in 2 episodes of Supernatural as Uber Demon Alistair was very popular, he's had a long career starring in numerous shows,including NCIS, Criminal Minds, the CSI franchises, X-files, the list is endless -however some of his best anecdotes were from working on Shawshank Redemption with Morgan Freeman, he was also very funny. The only downside to the talks was that the stage wasn't high enough and you couldn't always see over people's heads (story of my life, like every gig I've ever been to), although they were filmed and projected on screens the camera was often zoomed in on a guests face so if they were gesticulating or interacting with someone else this was lost. Also the lighting in the room was very subdued with a couple of bright spot lights on the guests, which made taking decent photos very difficult.
After the talks had finished there was an auction of various Supernatural stuff, from the huge banner posters used on stage (that must have been 8 feet long/tall) signed by all guests to the directors chairs they sit in, with their names on, signed. Also auctioned off was stuff from the dealers tables but the auctioneer guy was a bit clueless in that he tried to start the bids off at the prices they were for sale at, next door... I mean really? Anyways, me and SD didn't bid on anything as we had another party to get through, so it was another meal in the Hilton bar/restaurant then off to beautify ourselves before the themed "Ben's Birthday Bash" party.
The Saturday night parties are apparently the biggies, so it was a bit fancier than the previous night, there was also a bouncy castle! which attendees and guests alike enjoyed! However I just felt sick and totally blame if for my bout of hiccups later on!

At the time of the Saturday night party, Supernatural's favourite angel Misha Collins was just starting what would become an immensely long run for charity, I believe he exceeded 50miles (83km) for his Random Acts Charity to egg him on a couple of fans & supporters (who I shall call Pinkpezilla & Doubleshiny) started a twitter campaign to get RunMishaRun! trending, with lovely RunMishaRun signs, they photographed and tweeted as many attendees as possible, including the guests, it was one of my personal highlights for the weekend!

Image © @pinkpezilla & @doublyshiny (on twitter)

The Hilton is quite a bizarre place, with pervy old men at the bar which made me & SD v. uncomfortable, and after a lovely bout of hiccups retired to bed.
But not before firing off a few arty photos of the architecture in the Hilton

The music for this party was again, quite a mix of cheese & rock which would be fine if the DJ could read the crowd, when you've got a dance floor full of people dancing to Guns N Roses, then the floor empties when you play STEPS, you'd think they'd learn, but no, apparently not...

Sunday was slightly more relaxed, as we had all our autographs & photo ops done, and slightly hungover (yet refreshed from the Hilton's amazing breakfast), Sunday gave way to the joint talks. These again were really interesting, the first talk was Mark & Rob, which was hilarious because Rob was almost like his character in that he was scared/in awe of Mark, this was swiftly followed by the Quiz!

This Supernatural based quiz involved audience members joining Rob & Mark on stage in opposing teams (Alastairs Angels & Chuck's Chicks - check facebook for the teams!) where they not only answered hard core fan questions (with audience help) but also acted out scenes, both guests being very involved and hilarious.
Afterwards there was a lunch break then more talks.

So after lunch was Chad & Samantha, who are good friends off set, so they have amazing banter and just really bounce off each other, you didn't even really need questions as they could just keep chatting all afternoon, it really was great to see the guests being so comfortable and natural.
After this talk there was almost a 2 hour gap until the last group talk, at this point though the dealers had pretty much cleared their tables away but fortunately they showed Supernatural S5 episodes on the screens, however after 1 ep someone decided that there wasn't enough time for another full episode, cue 40 minutes later and we're all still sat in silence... sigh!
Until the final talks, which again, were so good, the only disappointing part is finding out that despite filming it all, Massive Events/Showmasters aren't going to release a DVD of the event (even though their rivals are offering DVD's of theirs!)
After this was the closing ceremony and it was all over.

Well for those hardcore fans, who were staying for the Sunday night party! We'd mistakenly thought we could stay and see peoples fancy dress costumes and that there would be stuff to do, but alas no - so we spent the next 2.5 hours in Birmingham train station waiting for a train (and with no one selling coffee etc!)

Not to mention our connecting train at Coventry being cancelled!
We arrived back home after midnight tired but happy!

Roadhouse 2 takes place in March 2011 and will also feature guests from True Blood and the Vampire Diaries.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Prague Day 5

Mystik Cup
Our final day in Prague was to be pretty chilled, we didn't have to leave for the airport until 7pm, so we started with a gentle stroll back towards the river and and The National Theatre, where we saw a woman sat outside, alone in full period costume.
Lady in Waiting
We then headed back towards the Old Town Square as it seems perfect for eating our lunch, on the way there we passed a Bride just entering what I assume is a Church.

The incredibly futuristic looking train station at Staroměstská

We then took a train to our destination for the afternoon which was actually on Stvanice Island. Mystic Skate Park is host the Mystic Sk8 Cup, an annual skateboard competition. My friend Jen had already recommened we go there just for place to hang out with cheap beer, but once we arrived in Prague we saw posters advertising the comp, we couldn't not go!
It turned out we were only staying a 5 minute walk from the skate shop and enquired about tickets, but we couldn't buy a day ticket in advance so it was a case of turning up and hoping for the best, fortunatly it was only qualifiers on the Friday (people who have never skated in a World Cup Skate event, or didn't have enough points), so there were no names I recognised apart from out of the women's group Evelien Bouilliart who I'd met and seen skate previously at the UK's Girls Skate Jam back in 2007.
IMG_0707 copy

IMG_0706 copy2

It was really hot (like everyday had been in Prague) despite being 'undercover' as the sun ended up pounding on our backs and we didn't manage to make it to the indoor bowl & miniramp. There was also quite a few stalls from local shops selling the usual skate merchandise as well as a very nice food area, which unlike most British skate comps wasn't filled with burgers/chips/hotdogs etc we had a really nice spicy chicken & salad wrapped in a tortilla for a couple of quid, coupled with the beer which was less than £2 50cl, really nothing to complain about! The only odd part to the day is that they were still erecting the scaffolding that made the 'bleachers' so as the day went on, seats higher and higher up became available (not that I could stomach going up that high and I'd already dropped my sunglasses underneath once).
Mystik Sk8 World Cup

Mystic Sk8 World Cup

All in all we had a fantastic chilled day, I myself don't skate any more and can't 'name tricks' but it was still great to watch everyone.
We left about half past four to get back towards the hotel, we went for one last dinner at Jiný Stav a great restaurant selling Czech food that we found simply walking from the hotel to the metro station, then wandering around the block. Although not all the staff speak amazing English they speak enough to communicate the order and more importantly they have English menus so you can at least point.
Jiný stav – kavárna, restaurace & bar

We ate here 3 evenings out of the 5 we were there, which just shows how nice it was. The menu did keep us amused, Ant order the 'Pork Medallions from Italian Guy - no idea who he was, but it was great! Also the beer Kozel was less than £1 for 50cl and again, very tasty.
So after filling our chops here, we departed back to Miss Sophie's to await our taxi back to the airport and home.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Prague Day 4

Prague Zoo
After spending the first 3 days almost non stop sightseeing, we opted for something more relaxing on day 4 of our trip - Prague Zoo was described as Prague's hidden gem, but seeing as there was a road sign almost outside our hotel we decided it couldn't be that hidden.
How wrong were we?!
The lovely reception guy at Miss Sophie's told us if we got to Nádraží Holešovice that there was a nice relaxing walk through Letna Park that would take 40 minutes or 20 mins brisk walk.
It took almost an hour of brisk walking after having to double back around the expo grounds next to the Tesla arena, however it was worth an exploration with it's fantastic Art Deco buildings
Prague Industrial Palace

Prague Expo Grounds

So after a prolonged walk across the park, across the river to Troja and then the Zoo sign posts vanishing, we managed to see a group of school kids and decided to follow, luckily this lead us to the Zoo rather than making us seem creepy.
So we paid the approx £5 entry fee for the day (for a mere £18 you can get a yearly pass!) and entered into the most amazing environment and were immediately face with brightly coloured Macaws.
Ara zelenokřídlý (Green Winged Macaw)
It just wasn't like any zoo I've ever been to, whilst some areas were 'enclosed' by nets (I assume to stop birds flying away) but allowed you to enter via a kissing gate system, some were just open to allow the animals free reign of the zoo/park which is built into a hillside with a variety of surfaces. Everything from rocks for mountain goats to pastures for ponies, and a very real river running through the middle housing the same sort of wildlife you'd see in a British river - mallards, moor hens and kingfishers.
We spent a good 7 hours there and still missed out a huge chunk of the Zoo, but our personal highlights were the Indonesian Jungle area with Fruit Bats & Talapoin monkey
Kaloň pobřežní

Talapoin Monkey

Also when this monkey decided to pee at me
Monkey Pee Monkey Do

And the lemur area is amazing, they just sit on the fence literally inches away from you and pose, so cute
Lemur, not lemar.
and finally the chair lift, I wasn't brave enough to take that transports you from the top to bottom of the Zoo or vice versa
Chair Lift

I can honestly say this was a mind blowing visit, totally exceeded al expectations in terms of how close you can get to most of the animals, and for big cats and other more dangerous ones, they are behind thick perspex rather than a cage, also for a top tourist attraction the food and drink was very reasonable once again (less than £2 a large beer etc..)
If you go to Prague and don't czech out the Zoo, you're a fool!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Prague Day 3

Kutna Hora

Day 3 of our trip to Prague we went Kutna Hora a small town about an hours train ride from central Prague, which started out as a silver mining town around the 13th Century. Famous for it's Bone Church as well as several other religious buildings which I'll get to in good time, this was one of the main reasons for choosing Prague as our next destination and we'd done a bit of research on Trip Advisor on how to get there.
Trains run frequently from Prague main railway station (which itself is worth a visit with its grand old Art Nouveau booking hall) which is about 5 mins walk from the National Museum and a joint (for 2 persons) return ticket was 262ck (approx £8). Once arriving at our first Church we bought a discounted ticket that got us into 5 attractions for 165ck (approx £5) which was a fair bit cheaper than the organised tour we saw for 700ck (approx £22) which included public transport and only entry to 2 attractions and whilst we didn't have a personalised tour guide, we really didn't need one as there was plenty of (free)information available in English. There was a local taxi service which charged approx £1 each to ferry you from the Bone Church end of town to the main town - the driver provided us with a map and suggested a walking route through the town - we also booked him to collect us at the end of our day and take us back to the train station - perfect!

After arriving at Kutna Hora train station, it was pretty easy to find the route into the town - we just followed everyone else! Past the Philip Morris factory and you come to a crossroads type area in the suburb of Sedlec, to the left is the Cathedral of Our Lady and to the right the Ossuary of Sedlec (afore mentioned Bone Church).

Cathedral of Our Lady (click to view full size)

Cathedral of Our Lady at Sedlec

Cathedral of Our Lady at Sedlec

Cathedral of Our Lady at Sedlec

The Cathedral was first a Bohemian Cistercian Monastery founded in 1142AD and has had a troubled history due to debt & conflict, it is home to breathtaking architecture and detail.

Sedlec Ossuary (click to view full size)

The Bone Church

The Bone Church

The Bone Church

Sedlec Ossuary or The All Saints Cemetery Church is decorated almost entirely of human bones, originally piled in a pyramid by half blind monks in 1511 - the current 'design' was by Frantisek Rint and was created by the remains of approx 40,000 people and you'll be glad to know the bones were disinfected before hand! The Ossuary is a far less creepy or solemn than the Paris Catacombes and even had a little gift shop area at the entrance, where you could purchase afore mentioned taxi tickets.
We then got our taxi to the main town of Kutna Hora, we were dropped outside the impressive Gothic Cathedral of St Barbora.

Cathedral of St Barbara

We sat outside here to eat our packed lunch (hmmm ham & cheese butties) and watch what appeared to be a young sparrow hawk or kestral be harassed by one of the local stall holders, who decided it needed a drink
Kestral for a knave

This cathedral was not dissimilar to the other one, so I wont bore you with the simuilar interior photographs (although the are not any less impressive), however from up here there was an impressive view of the town below
View over Kutná Hora
After lunch we embarked on the rough walking tour marked out by our taxi driver, which was cool as it took you past pretty much all the interesting looking architecture and places and also the Czech Medieval Silver Mine museum, which was slightly odd. We had a very strange tour - basically it was timed tours, so we had to leave our bags locked up then rush to join a tour that was about 15 minutes in (although that was fine, I really don't think I could've managed the entire tour), the tour shows the history of silver minining and it's importance to Kutna Hora and takes you into a real mine. Now I'm only 5'4" and I banged my head about 5 times, thank god for the hard hats - at times it was so narrow and the ceiling so low you were almost crouched, not very comfortable ending up down a hill about 300 yards away from the museum. At first we thought our tour guide was uninterested in giving the tour but it turns out it was her first tour in English which was why she was constantly looking at her notes and her intonation wasn't great, but all things considered it was a way to pass 45mins.
Kutná Hora, Famous Fountain type thing?
The town itself is full of interesting buildings, churches and this stone fountain, currently under renovation.
However we found a much better way in the form of a bar that advertised Staropramen for 28ck (less than a pound) for half a litre - bargain! after a couple we headed to meet our taxi and back to Kutna Hora train station, back to Prague for another meal at Jiny Stav
Moomin Papa, Kutná Hora