Libraries are the best, and cheapest, at easing cravings

Smashing Plates Last December, Mark Taylor, the food reviewer, talked excitedly about a brand new cookbook he had received for review. It was called Smashing Plates and I wanted it. I went to Amazon ready to buy, but at £18+ I became a bit hesitant. What could I do? How long could I wait? I had no idea when I’d be able to afford £18 given over to just one purchase, and a trivial one at that.

On the very unlikely chance I could reserve it for the future, I went to the library catalogue to see if our library had it registered yet. Not only did they have it on their system but it was in our local library, just sitting on the shelf. I went and picked it up that evening after work.

Two months later and I was coveting a book about how Detroit went bust.


This is a topic which I find endlessly fascinating but I doubt I would ever do more than skim through this new work. At £4+ on Kindle, the price wasn’t excessive but it was too much to just buy a book that I would never read past the first few pages. This didn’t stop me wanting it ever since I’d seen it in Waterstones yesterday. Again I looked on the library’s catalogue as the very last resort and once again it was at the library just sitting there waiting for me.

Libraries are a beautiful thing. The one thing I didn’t manage to find there recently was a new knitting book called Botanical Knits 2.

I guess you can’t have everything.

Think again, a free online course

I am studying for an online course. This isn’t just any course, it is being taught by professors at the Ivy League Duke University in the US where if I wanted to attend I would have to pay tuition fees of $43,623. I am paying nothing at all.

I have written previously about this new trend in massive online courses (MOOCs) and this is the one I thought I would try: Think again, how to reason and argue. Learning to argue sounds like a good plan if you’re going to blog and criticise, so, how perfect.

The course will take 12 weeks to teach me “how to analyze and evaluate arguments and how to avoid common mistakes in reasoning” through a series of short lectures, exercises and a quiz at the end of each of the four parts of the course.

Time required should be about 2 hours per week watching the lectures, another 2 hours per week doing the exercises, and about 1 hour on each quiz.

There will also be a discussion forum. So far it sounds positive. I have done a few online courses with the Open University and the only thing missing so far is an advance look at the materials. It would have been nice to have it all beforehand but never mind.

There is no required reading or additional purchases but there is an accompanying book which I got excited about. If it had been affordable I would have downloaded the ebook straight away so I could get started but no such luck.

Understanding Arguments, Eighth Edition, by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Robert Fogelin costs £49.99 from the publishers and £54.99 from Amazon. I found it through an inter-library loan via Birmingham so hopefully that will arrive soon and not cost too much. The chapters are also available individually at £1.99 from the publishers.

The course starts on Monday, 26 November.

Anyone can join in, just follow the link to sign-up.

University Day, 1911

Craft time at the library

Tuesday is our busy day which starts with swimming at 10.30 and usually sees us stay out of the house for as long as possible seeing as we are already out there. We usually have unstructured time at the library or go to the soft play at At Bristol.

For the first time, however, we joined in with our friends Jess and Mollie, Lydia and Max and Finn, in Craft Time at the library. The biggest selling point was the little outfits the children wear. They are a complete cover all over clothes so there is little chance of muckiness and the little ones can just have fun.

The craft session is led by a woman named Sam who greets the children and parents and then introduces something from the imagination box. This is a wooden chest which contains something which will be used for the creative and tactile part of the session.

Today there was a rolled up piece of paper which was to be the body of the rocket we created and built. First, there were paints and palettes and rollers. Then there was pvc glue and sparkly stars and squares and streamers and then we cut out a hole in the rocket and stapled on a triangular piece of paper to make the head or pointy bit of it.

Mersina managed pretty well with only a couple of escapes into the book section when she lost interest. For the most part she enjoyed eating the paint and glue and sticking on little sparklies after having given up on the painting with the rollers.

We paid £4.50 for the session and the next one is free so we can see if we like it enough to join up. We’ll try it again next week and then see if we keep going.

Mersina at craft times at the library

Self service machines, Bristol Central Library

The self service machines are amazing and I pray, pray, pray that no one hurts them.

To return a book, simply click on ‘return’ on the touch screen. Place the item in the shelf underneath the monitor, the machine recognizes the book(s), choose to receive a receipt or not and you’re done.

To borrow a book is just as simple. There is a slot where the library card’s barcode is read. You place the book(s) in the tray in the machine and when you receive your optional receipt, all the items you’ve borrowed are listed on there.

How could anyone not love it?

More firsts for the baby

Five weeks, five days

From going up a nappy size to a visit to the first Foyles book store outside of London, this week has been full of firsts for the baby and more energy and sleep for mama.

Mersina’s first official smile has been written down, in her Junior Moleskine diary, as having taken place on March 14. Since then she has smiled once or twice a day in response to prompts until a day or so ago when she increased the instances to lots. We even had an unprompted smile when I held her hand and she looked up at me. Her smiles light her up like big energy glow worm and she has chortled and laughed a couple of times too.

On Thursday we quite serendipitously met up with dad going and leaving, respectively, from Foyles bookstore in Quakers Friars at Cabot Circus. After browsing for a bit, he was more excited than the baby, we went to lunch at Brasserie Blanc so Mersina had her first restaurant visit which she mostly slept through luckily.

As soon as she woke she was hungry so I rushed off, leaving dad with the bill, and visited the Family Room at Cabot Circus which is amazing. There is a comfortable chair in the corner for feeding, a changing bench, a sink and a toilet. The room locks as well so it’s wonderfully private. Well, kind of private as there were three or four attempts to get in and when I left there was a queue of mums with prams outside.

We also had our first trip to the Bristol Central Library, in the beautiful building designed by Charles Holden, at the College Green and right next to the Bristol Cathedral. We returned my housemate’s books and borrowed Asterix en Espana for the little one. Never too early to learn a second or third language and to find out more about the Gauls. A brave nation who have managed to withstand invasion by the Romans thanks to their magic potion which gives them great strength. Obelix, of course, doesn’t need to drink any because he fell into the cauldron as a child but that’s another story.

One of our most exciting adventures was to the wonderful Clifton Lido and baby’s first glance of the pool in sunlight and later on in softer lighting which turned the water a deeper blue green colour. I would have loved a dip in the pool and apparently baby had to be restrained from diving in herself although that’s quite surprising as she hates bath time.

She also met some lovely friends for the first time, Fritha, Nancy, Helen and some other knitting and non-knitting folk at our tweet up.

On our way back from the Lido we stopped in at Waitrose, her second trip there, and spotted some great reductions so it was baby’s first bargain hunt achievement. The best purchase of the evening was a bouquet of flowers reduced from £20 to 49p. Incredible and beautiful.

A successful week all around, I think, although I have yet to try out her new Baby Bjorn carrying pouch thing. Soon. Very soon.

Stoneground Cafe, Bristol Central Library


The Bristol Central Library can be found just past College Green and right next to the Bristol Cathedral in a location that is both beautiful and historical. One recent addition in this area provides a further reason to visit and that is the Stoneground Cafe. Located near the back of the library, just past the DVDs and travel guides, is a newly formed area of eight tables and a central stall selling food and drinks.

A filter coffee sells for £1.40, a freshly squeezed orange juice for £2 and speciality teas, including the peppermint (Twinings) that I bought, are £1.20. On Saturday there is a special offer of crisps and any sandwich for £2.99. The many snacks available on the counter are more of a natural range although see previous special which mentions the crisps. There are muesli bars at 80p and bananas at 60p. There are gluten free brownies among other cakes at 99p which look particularly tempting.

The Stoneground Cafe is a family run business with a passion for cooking great quality food using the finest local ingredients and working with local suppliers apparently.

Its location in the library is not as socially prohibitive or as quiet as I would have thought. I sat at a table with a view of the College Green and the goings on of the passers by. I was on my own but a group of people sat right near me and quietly discussed their work with no real inhibition. Now and then there was the guilty start at a file being closed too noisily or a tap being too loud but it quickly felt normal.

A magazine stand included editions of Focus, The Wisden Cricketer and Ideal Home for those looking to keep occupied. I already had my library books with me but a newspaper could have been handy. Unfortunately they’re kept upstairs.

There’s quite an academic feel to the cafe, more of a college meeting room than illustrious dining area admittedly, but it did feel welcoming.

My only reservation would be about the disposable cups provided. These don’t seem entirely in keeping with the natural and fair trade proclamations littered around the place.

Just before I left to make my way home I glanced out the window and saw the Naked Bike Ride making its way past the Council House. A lot can be said for the view and the location of this place. It may be worth a look, or two.

Bristol Photography Festival: Bristol Central Library


The North Somerset Photo Competition asked the young people of its region aged 0-19: do you have a good eye for a photo?

The results are displayed in the library’s foyer and the answer is a definite yes.

One beautifully captured example is the Under 11 Judges Favourite ‘Lining Up’ by Jacob Brown age 5.


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