Monthly Archives: August 2011

The Black Banner by Helen Hart

This summer, the Bristolian pirate theme started with the Old Vic’s presentation of Treasure Island and it seems apt to follow up with a similar swashbuckling adventure set in the same city and published by a little publishing house just around the corner from King Street.

In The Black Banner by Helen Hart the star is 13 year-old Becky Baxter who, in 1719, longs for an escape from poverty and cruelty. Dressing as a boy, she embarks on a new life of adventure on a merchant ship heading for the Windward Islands.

Becky is soon in for more adventure than she bargained for when the ship is captured by one of the many bands of pirates plaguing the Caribbean Sea. Choosing life over death, she joins Captain Logan’s crew on the search for gold and glory.

That’s what the blurb says but the reality of reading this novel aimed for nine to 13 year olds is a bit of a shock. The cruelty and harshness of the conditions are not left to the imagination and we get to read about the brutal effects of being whipped by a cat-o-nine-tails and the reality of a girl being discovered on a ship full of men.

This is a well written book and if I could have gotten past the brutal reality then I may have enjoyed it and finished it. I did wonder how a young, poor girl in the early 1700s was able to write so well and keep a diary on board a ship but this was the only part I briefly questioned.

I think that other people would find it an enjoyable read.

The Black Banner is published by the small independent press SilverWood Originals and billed as a historical adventure.

SilverWood Books, 30 Queen Charlotte Street, Bristol, BS1 4HJ, @SilverWoodBooks.

For a chance to win a gently read copy of the Black Banner just ‘like’ them on Facebook and comment to tell me you’ve done so. The winner will be drawn on September 3.

Finding my ‘why’ in order to find the ‘how’ in blogging

I scrolled through some old posts in my blog and they all felt so uninspiring. I was bored just looking at them, let alone reading them. I’ve definitely lost my mojo when it comes to blogging.

I started up all inspired and enthusiastic nearly two years ago. I wanted to be a journalist and writing seemed like a great way to do it. That idea of writing for practise and to explore different styles kept me going for a while. I signed up for a journalism course, long distance, and started picturing what it would be like to live in Brussels and get involved with European political scenes.

I then became pregnant and the ideas of journalism kind of flew out of my head. I had a job I loved, great colleagues, supportive family and a baby on the way. I just didn’t see me pursuing a career as a young professional with great shorthand skills.

What then though? Why was I writing?

For a while I kept going with thoughts about the baby during and after pregnancy. Once I split the baby stuff off to somewhere else though it all faded away. Maybe I’m not so good at compartmentalising.

The things on my mind were no longer the kind of things I could talk about. Family and friends seemed to be reading so discussions on personal relationships just weren’t appropriate. Even if I just wanted to vent about something I couldn’t afford to insult anyone.

I wasn’t getting out too often so there couldn’t be too many posts about what I’d been doing. A few food reviews have made it on to the blog but even these have been half-hearted.

I am now on a mission to understand why I blog. I read this great article a couple of days ago and it resonated with me. Ollin Morales quotes Nietsche and then goes on to explain how it applies to blogging: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

It’s worth a read if you’re also feeling a bit of a slump or just want to find out how to produce 201 eggs. You’ll see what I mean.

Grand Place

No rioting for this single mum’s kid

Single parent? Check. Two adults intended to raise a family? No. A present father? No and then yes. Interesting characteristics, no?

I tick nearly all the boxes on David Lammy’s statement last week about the rioters but I am pretty sure it’s not me he’s talking about.

He said:

David Lammy, MP for Tottenham,

“In areas like mine, we know that 59% of black Caribbean children are looked after by a lone parent. There is none of the basic starting presumption of two adults who want to start a family, raise children together, love them, nourish them and lead them to full independence. The parents are not married and the child has come, frankly, out of casual sex; the father isn’t present, and isn’t expected to be. There aren’t the networks of extended families to make up for it. We are seeing huge consequences of the lack of male role models in young men’s lives..”

Apart from the black Caribbean ethnicity, he could have been talking about my situation. I am a single parent. The father is now part of my daughter’s life but we didn’t start our trip into parenthood wanting to be a family, nor to raise our child together.

So what’s the difference between me and the people Lammy is describing? It’s primarily a socio-economic one. I have been to university, more than once, I have a good non-manual job as a statistical analyst and I have the support of my friends and family. I am also in my 30s.

Knowing that someone is black Caribbean may make it easy to guess that they will be a single parent. However, knowing that I am a single parent says nothing about whether my child will be out there rioting in a couple of decades time.

I’ve been trying to find some redeeming quality to the way our daughter was conceived and born but I can’t. Most importantly, though, I no longer care. I refuse to feel guilty about the way this little miracle of a child was brought into the world and there’s no minister or columnist out there who can make me.

I don’t feel guilty because the bulk of evidence suggests that being a lone parent is not what causes children to behave badly. In fact “[b]ehavioural problems were less likely among children living in families with higher levels of parental qualifications” (source).

Other factors include the mother’s age, economic security, attention and guidance that were provided and the likelihood of living in a deprived area. In fact all these factors are what the government can have direct influence such as with schooling, maternity leave, austerity cuts that increase the chances of a recession and decrease economic security.

David Lammy will be more successful in reducing rioting in the future if he brings to task the government rather than point his finger at us single parents. I know he was, on this occasion, pointing at the areas with high levels of ethnic minorities but I don’t believe that race on its own makes up the difference.

Further sources.

Blood Sisters by Melanie Clegg

Twitter celebrity and gruesome murders’ afficionado Melanie Clegg’s, latest book, Blood Sisters is out now for Kindle on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Swept from the splendours of Versailles to the horror of Revolutionary Paris, can three aristocratic sisters save themselves and find love in a world that has been turned upside down?’

Blood Sisters was inspired by the inspiring yet tragic stories of several intrepid, courageous and amazing women who lived through the upheaval of the French Revolution, in particular the Princesse Joseph de Monaco, Emilie de Sainte-Amaranthe, Princesse Rosalie Lubomirska and Lucile Desmoulins. I’ve been fascinated by their stories since childhood and in the end decided to allow them to inspire the novel that eventually became Blood Sisters.

‘When the beautiful Comtesse de Saint-Valèry is dragged unwillingly from her Parisian home in the dead of night, her three young daughters are left to an uncertain fate at the hands of their father in a world that is teetering on the very edge of Revolution.

Cassandre, the eldest is a beautiful and heartless society beauty, trapped in an unhappy marriage and part of the dazzling court of Versailles. Lucrèce, her twin, is married to a man she adores but he pushes her away for another woman. Meanwhile, Adélaïde, the youngest, rebels against the destiny that her position in society appears to have doomed her to.

As the horror, turmoil and excitement of the French Revolution unfolds around them, the three very different sisters struggle to survive the bloodshed, find love and discover their true selves…’

If any of that sounds fascinating to you then check out Melanie Clegg’s latest offering and find her on Twitter as well. She is very witty.

The UK riots, how the media and David Cameron finally get it right

Shop keepers are banding together to protect their properties, random groups of people are organizing clean up operations, random strangers are tackling criminals who are smashing up Windows and a 21 year old is cycling around Bristol doing his best to verify the truth of riot stories.

The first few examples are heartwarming and pretty predictable. The last one surprised me as did the ever increasing messages about posting verified information and not spreading rumours. One of the messages was from Bristol Evening Post reporter Emily Koch and many others include reporters from the nationals.

Twitter did amazingly well during the Bristol riot in April because

all the elements were there to bind people into a community. External forces, such as Tesco and the police; lack of media coverage which meant the conversation wasn’t redirected; and the violent attack against protestors and the police.

Bristol Culture also point to the lack of media coverage at the Stokes Croft riot as being key to the differences in the information about the riots.

On the first night of the riots in Stokes Croft, the media in Bristol were taken completely unaware by the seriousness of the situation. And unlike in London, we do not have television news helicopters on standby.

But something happened between the first riots in April and the ones now which has partly shown people to be as unreliable as journalists doing a vox pop assume them to be.

One of the reasons, as Bristol Culture point out, is that the coverage is now mainstream. We’re no longer dealing with an intimate little outbreak of violence in our backyard. Our celebrities have moved on from a handful of locals who grabbed the opportunity to take charge and help out with information to the nationals.

Our communications are guided by the big boys who do this for a living. Paul Lewis, from the Guardian, tweeted his experiences in Tottenham when the action first took place. He spoke to radio stations, other journalists and filed his story by morning. He, and other professionals like him, were out there again the next night and the days that followed. He brought the truth. It must be the truth because the papers published it the next morning.

There’s something peculiar about watching professionals do their job. They are thorough in terms of coverage, they are articulate and they have access to reliable information.

One of the first stories to break about the riots in Bristol was from @bristol247 editor Chris Brown and he quoted the police and reported his adventures as he experienced the action in person.

His further communications through Twitter were careful to point out the information that came from the police.

The #ukriots information is largely controlled by the media who do their best to provide reliable and robust information about what is going on. They are best placed to do that when news reporting works as it should (see #hackgate).

When there are gaps in the information then bloggers, tweeters and the rest are there to fill them.

There don’t seem to be too many gaps at the moment. Newspapers are running live blogs, MPs are talking to the cameras and the police are filling in where the others leave off.

That leaves the rest of us, when not engaged in cleaning up and reporting our unverified information to gossip and make it up (apparently).

Some of it is opinion and other bits are lies but it doesn’t matter because ultimately we are just playing and the people in charge will take care of the truth.

There’s a real sense of handing over responsibility for the truth to those who are used to dealing with it because they have the resources to do it well.

But there is a danger here that because the media are good at reporting we decide that they are also the best at understanding and providing solutions. I don’t think they are. They are people who do their job well but they work for others who have an agenda and their conclusions can be often found to support their own biases.

For now I’ll sit back and let the professionals do their job and applaud Prime Minister David Cameron for getting it right at least once while in office remarking that too many twits do make a twat.

What is crowdsourcing?

When answering the question “what is crowdsourcing” I could give a technical answer such as “it is a form of online collaboration that incorporates Web2.0 principles, to promote businesses and products, and foster innovation through dedicated web based platforms and social networking websites.” Simply stated, crowdsourcing involves tapping the wisdom and knowledge of the smart crowd and operates on the principle that many thousands of heads are better than one.

Say if you were to ask a group of friends whether or not you should buy a new car; you would get several opinions for and against the notion. Those who are for it will offer advice as to the best make and model based on performance reports such as fuel consumption, wear and tear, or simply which is the better colour. Those against will argue holding out for a better model, or express environmental and financial concerns. Having considered all this information you then make your decision. This is crowdsourcing.

The principle of crowdsourcing is simple and can be anything you want it to be. There are some misconceptions surrounding the use of crowdsourcing and so to best understand its use, some of these assumptions should be touched upon and debunked.

Crowdsourcing is a fancy form of marketing that benefits business. Crowdsourcing is a term that describes a process of consultation and collaboration in the Web 2.0 world, in much the same way as blogging. The specifics lay in (as mentioned previously stated) whatever you want it to be. It also does not benefit business solely having been successfully used by charities, NGOs, governments, media outlets (not involved in sales), watchdog organisations, and even individuals.

The variety ways in which crowdsourcing has been used includes;

  • a way of raising money for a project (known as crowdfunding)
  • to monitor natural disasters and political upheavals
  • fight crime
  • guide collaborative innovation and development (open innovation).
  • a source of online labour (microtasking).

You need special software and a lot of money to run a crowdsourcing exercise. This is not true. Anyone with a mobile smartphone, PC/laptop, or even a PC tablet can launch a crowdsourcing exercise.

As for software, many successful crowdsourcing ventures are due to the use of online document sharing packages such as Google Docs as well as social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter. The only cost is the monthly fee you pay to your ISP or even the price of a cup of coffee should you choose to work from your local coffee house with free wifi.

There are dedicated online platforms and service providers specifically geared to running crowdsourcing projects, and it is true they are costly. Yet crowdsourcing has proven to be cost effective compared to traditional methods, a highly treasured quality given the current stark financial climate.

Before jumping to conclusions that lower costs mean poor quality results, crowdsourcing has provided high quality results and often in real time. This is the principle advantage of sourcing your solution from a very large crowd with different types of knowledge and levels of expertise.

Crowdsourcing exploits the crowd. This is a purely subjective argument but is actually based on genuine concerns surrounding what has been termed as “spec” work. These are crowdsourced competitions in which a brief is issued for a campaign idea or a new design, inviting creative applicants to compete for a prize (be it cash or equivalent). It is argued that those who are not successful put in the time and work for little or no gain whilst the business responsible profits from the submissions.

Yet what is largely overlooked when criticising the use of crowdsourcing in this way is that spec work has opened more doors for all the participants that would otherwise have been closed. Crowdsourcing offers plenty of rewards to those who join the crowd and take part, from employment opportunities to cash rewards and one off merchandise, the options are limitless.

Ramon Youseph runs the website

St Stephen’s Cafe

The bad news is that my soya decaf latte was curdled and I couldn’t finish it because it had become a thick sludge creature at the bottom of my mug. The good news is that this was the only bad news and really I should have known better. There are very few cafes that serve a perfect soy latte.

St Stephen’s Cafe is a lovely little addition to the church and has seating inside and outside. Proof of how friendly it is comes in the form of white laminated sheets of paper above the counter that read ‘you are the most inspiring human being today’.

A little further up and you can see the stained glass windows of the church through the glass roof.

The clientele appeared to be mostly older people until it came to past one o’clock and a few more ‘young ones’ came in. I doubt the cafe is much competition for Start the Bus across the street, however.

I had a chocolate brownie and haloumi wrap with my coffee and the wrap would give Magic Roll some good competition if it was being sold on the Clifton Triangle. The dressing was similar, the haloumi was plentiful and there were even jalapenos in there.

A folk singer was performing at the church next door so my daughter and I enjoyed our lunch time break and then went out and around the outside to the church entrance which was pram accessible. You can get to the church from inside the cafe but you need to go down some steps.

The music by Rebecca Cant was a gentle lyrical and musical pleasure. The young woman with her guitar played to, and amused, the crowd which filled up the right side of the church with anecdotes about the songs that came from her travels and experiences.

St Stephen’s cafe is a lovely little find right in the heart of central Bristol. It has good food, cakes, coffee and tables both inside and outside. It also has occasional music sets which can be a particularly unexpected treat over lunch.

No feminists in this household


A rare find in Broadmead, a perfect cliche of a family. Mum, dad, boy in blue holding a toy gun, girl in pink holding a hand bag.

Boston Tea Party, Cheltenham Road

The Boston Tea Party chain of cafés have Stokes Croft as their newest location in the West Country. They pride themselves on serving outstanding coffee, tea and creating delicious, original affordable meals. That’s what they say and I tend to agree.

My daughter and I visited Cheltenham Road for their newest addition with a dash of trepidation. My daughter Mersina was in her pram and cafes around that area are independent and arty and usually quite small or feature various sets of steps or tables on pavements.

In contrast, the new cafe is spacious with plenty of room between tables that are placed inside and outside in the courtyard. I had a 12oz soya, decaf latte with chai flavouring and the barrista barely blinked at the order, which was encouraging.

I also tried one of the pastel de nata little tarts which are lovely. My coffee was curdled unfortunately but that has to be a one off as Boston Tea Party is one of the places that usually know how to treat soy milk.

The best thing about the new cafe is that it also sells pancakes among its delicious sounding menu items. The Boston Tea Party on Park Road did not do so the last time I was there. I look forward to going back and trying some of the food.

Arrietty, review

Be quiet and loving and fearless.
– Buddha

Both bravery and cowardice need fear to exist. When you are fearless you are somewhere outside of this concept, like a five month old baby about to roll off the bed without understanding that there is any danger. You don’t have to overcome fear – bravery – and you don’t give in to it – cowardice. You just do what comes naturally.

In this spirit of fearlessness, 14 year old and 10cm tall, Arrietty ventures outside of her safe house to collect flowers and follows her father into the enormous and unknown world of the human house. Her parents live a grey and conservative life but the flame haired little girl with her red dress just cannot hide.

New visitor to the house, Sho, spots Arrietty and this is the beginning of an adventure that will cause much upheaval to those who want to play it safe.

Arrietty is a beautifully crafted production by Studio Ghibli who have adapted Mary Norton’s classic book The Borrowers. Their previous showing at the Watershed in Bristol was Ponyo with its tale of love among difficulties.

Arrietty is an invitation to see the world from the fearless eyes of little people. It is such a beautiful sight.

Note: matinee shows are dubbed and evening shows are subtitled

Showing at the Watershed in Bristol