How dumb do you have to be to call a baby lazy?

The first person who implied my seven day old newborn was lazy was the midwife. She was teasing, supposedly, and when talking about how Lois slept a lot she said “it’s a hard life, isn’t it?” in a sarcastic tone. She was a very helpful health professional who showed me how to breastfeed, checked that we were both ok and made sure I knew what to do in an emergency. She was brilliant but there was still something in her tone that implied my child, any child that age, was lazy.

Today on instagram, a woman with a baby born under a week ago called her baby lazy for sleeping all the time. She probably meant to be funny and cute but she made me angry.

A woman in a blog post a few months ago didn’t know why people were criticising her for saying her two-year-old had nothing to worry or get upset about and then listed a whole host of reasons that effectively made fun of him for getting upset at things like having a green rather than a blue sippy cup. He had told her jokingly that he’d been having a tough day so she wrote a blog post mocking him. She didn’t understand the criticism.

My child is just over three weeks old. She can’t hold her head up and can’t control her body movements and has no control of her life at all. She is defenceless and vulnerable and has to sleep a lot and feed to grow. I don’t think it’s easy to grow a whole body from nothing. I think the energy it takes induces lethargy to the extent that the only time in my life I can remember being like that is when I had the measles and thought that I might be dying.

Growing is tough for a little baby. Losing the few things that are familiar to you in a world you simply can’t understand must be tough for a two year old. Life doesn’t feel easy for a lot of the time but when you’re little, things being different to normal are unexplained and can bring on a terror close to thinking you’re going to die.

A mum walked out of St Michael’s Hospital two days ago with her four-day-old baby in her arms. The police found and identified their bodies in the last 24 hours. That baby was utterly defenceless and had no chance and no choice.

Not lazy. Just growing and defenceless.

What does 4G testing mean for Bristol?

This post was not written by me

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The rise of the famed 4G mobile internet network has a lot more significance to the smartphone users of today than just a flurry of Kevin Bacon adverts.

Short for fourth generation, 4G provides mobile internet at considerably faster speeds than its predecessor, 3G, averaging around six megabytes per second compared to the average speeds of one megabyte per second during the 3G era.

While it may not sound like much, this increase in speed has given rise to a whole new host of opportunities for those who browse on the go. Whereas 3G could scarcely do more than open an email or allow a user to access a relatively uncomplicated website, 4G is apt for video streaming, video calls and more.

But how has 4G affected Bristol? In August of this year, mobile telecommunications giant O2 announced that they were commencing 4G testing in the area. At the time, the company kept quiet about testing, choosing to tell their followers on Twitter that anybody experiencing 4G was doing so because of the testing.

However, keen to outdo their competitors Three and EE (Everything Everywhere), O2 soon began bringing their services to the city. Masts are now springing up everywhere around the city in locations such as Ashton Road, which has already proven to have speeds far higher than the aforementioned average of six megabytes per second.

A test taken in the area this August near the Dovecote Pub revealed that smartphone users could actually achieve download speeds of up to 57.3 megabytes per second, while upload speeds of 21.9 megabytes per second were equally as impressive. With speeds faster than those afforded by most home broadband packages, the rise of 4G could mean big changes for Bristol.

As one of the most populous areas of Britain, Bristol has its fair share of mobile internet demands, particularly in city centres where Wi-Fi facilities can only do so much. This gives Bristol’s residents the chance to take on all that the internet has to offer, with the mobile internet offering of today extending beyond just communication.

The online gaming world, for instance, has only grown in popularity thanks to the the availability of wireless internet and the new range of choice out there. For example, games at MrSmithCasino have come a long way in recent years, moving away from traditional slot games to incorporating gamification and working to many topical themes.

So whether we’re gaming, talking to our friends on Facetime or just checking our emails, the rise of 4G can only be good news for Bristol.

Frozen DVD review

I received this DVD from Suppose.com for review and to let you know that they found it for £10.00 rather than £15.

Since we received this DVD, my three-and-a-half-year old daughter has been obsessed with it, when she isn’t watching Tangled and Max and Ruby on Netflix. I have had the songs stuck in my head and we have yet to convince her daddy to watch it all the way through.

Two sisters, torn apart by the distance of keeping feelings and powers secret have to confront a reality in which they need to be strong. The movie passes the Bechdel test and would be a bargain at any price.

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Lego movie review

We now have a copy of the Lego movie thanks to Suppose.com who sent it over for review purposes. My first thought was to say yes to the review so that my three-and-a-half year old could have something fun to watch but in reality she lasted perhaps five minutes in front of the movie action.

The other reason was a more surprising one. The FT gave the Lego movie five stars and as an avid FT reader I felt that I was being guided to a positive experience. I wasn’t entirely wrong.

The Lego Movie, as opposed to other Lego movies, of which there have been several in a variety of guises, is the first in a trilogy that will see releases in 2017 and 2020. The first one in the series sees ordinary, and instruction-abiding, construction worker Emmett accidentally stumble onto a great prophecy in which he is forced to confront not only a world outside of the limits of the instruction manuals but the scary power and responsibility that comes with freedom of thought.

Lego brings on a cast composed of past Lego incarnations including unicorn kitty, Batman, the characters from Lord of the Rings and various figures from past and present sets. It also brings an extremely catchy theme tune, lots of fun and witty dialogue and some out of character action that brought lots of giggles.

I have no idea why a serious, national newspaper would give this movie such a great rating. I can only imagine the reviewer had been eating the Opium-laced Chinese food because this movie is fun but it’s no genius creation. It makes for pleasant background entertainment and I’m glad we received it.

The Lego Movie from suppose.com

Week 7: Clever Girl vs Things Unborn

Two things are unavoidable in Bristol novels: slavery and the suspension bridge. I’m now almost certain that a reference to Bath Spa University will have to be added to that list.

Tessa Hadley would have walked alongside C.J. Flood, Nathan Filer and Anna Freeman at Corsham Court in Bath as she lectured and still lectures at that university. One way in which she stands out from the rest however is that she has often been published in the New Yorker, including two chapters from Clever Girl.

clevergirlIn Clever Girl, she writes about Stella who we follow from the bedsit she shares with her mum in Kingsdown in the 1960s, all the way to adulthood and through most of Bristol. Stella’s auntie ‘Andy went to work on the factory floor of the chocolate manufacturers where Uncle Ray was in dispatch.’ The chocolate manufacturer is Fry’s which was based at Nelson Street.

There is a move from the city centre to a new estate on Stoke Bishop. We chart her various phases through location. Young, single mother Stella works on Park Row and lives in a commune.

What got very tedious for me was the constant description of everyone’s face and personality. The way they were labelled in such detail. Hadley says that “I never think that the material detail is an addition to the story. A story is what it is through the detail.” And yet those details have to progress the story not just be used to add words.

Stella is a sad and burdened kind of character who is talked about by her future self as if she spent her whole life lacking self-awareness. The characters aren’t easy to enjoy but the story did bring up something very Bristolian that doesn’t get discussed very much; the wide disparity between those who participate in higher education and those who don’t. Or those who have opportunities and those who don’t.

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The map of Bristol above shows a range of areas with different levels of participation in HE. Dark blue areas are where most young people will go on to HE and the red patches show areas where few, if any, do. In Bristol, it is often the case that these areas are right next to each other. Clifton, Cotham and the city centre are all areas of higher participation and right next to St Philip’s where very few young people may know anyone in HE.

The two universities in Bristol are also very different. One is full of “girls and boys with glossy hair and loudly assured voices who’d been to private school” and the other is UWE, surprisingly not mentioned in this book. Stella in later life gets three As at A Level and ‘with these good grades [she] applied to university” and got in to study English literature. This of course makes little sense in real-world Bristol University. Every one who applies there has three As (or A*s now). Good grades are only a distinguishing factor if that’s what separates you from the other candidates. At Bristol this does not and most people of Stella’s background apply to and attend UWE instead.

Things Unborn by Eugene Byrne is the contender against Clever Girl this week and while I knew it was a novel set in London with very little Bristol reference, I just couldn’t resist writing about Byrne and seeing what his fiction was like. If there is ever a writer who knows Bristol then it is he. He has written about Bristol in magazines, online and in published books. He wrote about Brunel and about plans for Bristol that never did get built.

Things Unborn, however, is just not that informative about this West Country city. There is a wink at Bristol with reference to the Locarno Music Hall which used to be where the O2 Academy is now and was popular in the 1960s. There is also a pretty great description: ‘The great city of Bristol was the light and the shadow of their lives, a huge, sprawling, noisy port where merchants got rich on slaves and sugar, and the poor drank and pissed their money and miseries away in stinking dockside ale houses.

In 1962, the USA and Russia went to nuclear war over Cuba…after millions of deaths, people started returning. Not just those killed in the Atom War, but people who had died centuries previously. And they were always reborn in the place where they died, at the age of their death. In Britain, there were struggles for power between Catholics and Protestants, another Monmouth Rebellion. Now, in 2008, Richard III rules the country – although he holds no real power. And Protestant fanatics would see him, his government and their “Liberal Settlement” destroyed. A handful of policemen and their allies must hunt down the conspirators.

Protagonist Inspector Scipio Africanus lived his previous life as a slave in Bristol and is a reference back to a black slave or servant in the household of the Earl of Suffolk. He died aged about 18 and was buried at Henbury Churchyard, Bristol, in 1720. His grave is one of the few known burial places in the UK of an African from the period when Christian Englishmen traded in slaves.

The links to Bristol are there but not enough to make this book a real contender. It’s a heavy-going read with a lot of information to process. There are many explanations about the new reality, about the retread procedure, about each and every past era from which the people who have died have arrived. Also the new reality consists of current police procedures, geographies, machines and products that all take some explanation and then there’s the parallel world’s history, current politics and future trajectory. And in between all this there is a storyline.

The effect is one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld meets Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. A quality production but not light and breezy.

This week’s winner is unquestionably Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley.

Knitting in August 2014

My knitting news seems to expand and change by the day and invariably I just don’t get around to writing it down. At the back of my mind there is a thought of cataloguing different ideas, techniques and patterns in a more coherent and sequential way. A taxonomy of knitting, if you will. I haven’t yet because I worry that having an order will take away the fun of discovering new things but the idea is there. I have discovered new yarns, discovered designers and patterns and cast on a few times. I’ve also won a few patterns!

Patterns

Louisa Harding Amitola range of patterns; I knit a shawl for Mersina’s aunty Bridget recently and have begun another one with the Follow Your Arrow KAL. I liked the yarn well enough but it wasn’t until I saw the Louisa Harding Amitola patterns however that I became excited about its potential. I am now tempted to frog my just-begun-shawl and save the yarn for something else. lh_amitola_1 lh_amitola_2

Knitting terms

Talking about frogging, here’s a clip from NPR on the etymology of the word.

Projects

Brooklyn Tweed’s Wayfarer scarf is my current project.

wayfarer_140824aI’m not entirely convinced by the Rowan Tweed yarn I’m using but I’m getting more and more used to it. I love the design and the idea that you can create these ripples just through different types of stitches. One of my pictures has been selected as one of 10 finalists in a Brooklyn Tweed competition so if you feel like voting for the one with the three little people (I’m the one on the left) on the boot of a car, then click through to here. All the pictures are so cute.

Kate Davies designs – especially these two; kate_davies_2kate_davies_1

Kate Davies has made my favourite lists recently after Beshley’s Wool Shop (now shut down) posted about her owl jumper. I bought the Peerie Faerie hat and Paper Dolls jumper to try. I’ve been in the mood for some Fair Isle knitting for a while and had all the colours for the hat in Drops Karisma, apart from the greens which I ordered from wool warehouse.

After my sock debacle over Christmas and all the way through to March/April, I became very sick of them and never wanted to see another pair.

I got a bit excited with the Regia fluoro yarn however although it isn’t the most amazing in terms of texture and washing – the colours run. And now I’m still excited after knitting up some baby booties.

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I had to knit three socks because my gauge was so off on the first one and they were way too dense. By the third sock however I had the technique down pat and actually enjoyed all the decreases and the toes and the heel and the gussett. I’d happily knit a few more of these little guys and am thinking of selling some so let me know if you’re interested.

Books

Sockupedia looks good from the reviews so I’d like to take a look at that at some point. knitsocklove Love.Sock.Knit is a delightful collection of intricate but not-too-complicated, hopefully, sock patterns. I have some soothing, and bright sock weight yarn from Expression Fiber Arts with which I’m casting on the BFF socks and then hope to knit a few more pairs from the Cookie A book. mothernature knitsocklove_socks

Other projects

Christmas presents – My second tiny person is due to be born at the beginning of December so I thought my Christmas purchases needed some planning ahead this year. For my little people’s dad I have found a design for a cardigan that he likes and bought some Cascade Eco wool. It took three attempts to match the gauge on the swatch but I’ve now got it and am ready to cast on any day.

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I have bought some Sublime Vivacious Yarn for a cardigan for my sister but at £14 a skein I’m pacing the purchases. I recently found two more skeins at 30% off when Fyberspates had their last sale (code: lastsale) before stopping retail business. The yarn itself is half merino and half silk, very squidgy, silken and soft – definitely sublime.

I’ll stop there for now but would love to hear other suggestions about designers and yarn if you have any thoughts.

Week 6: Eye Contact vs Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion

Airship300 Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion is published by Wizard’s Tower Press who also produced the tribute Colinthology. They are a curious publisher who specialise in science fiction and fantasy but don’t want submissions and won’t read them if you send any. This isn’t the only reason they have become a firm favourite, they are also very friendly and are big fans of the south west.

The short stories in the current Roz Clarke and Joanne Hall edited work are Bristolian from title to end. The title is a play on the phrase ‘shipshape and Bristol fashion’, a term dating from 1840 when talking about the treachorous port of Bristol. Its very high tidal range of 13m meant that if things weren’t tied down they would end up overboard.

Not only is the time period fitting to these stories but their genre seems surprisingly apt. “Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century.” It all makes for a very respectful tribute to this city. The following quotation from the introduction says it quite nicely:

Take a walk around Bristol, and history seeps from the walls. The city can claim more than its fair share of firsts, including the first iron-hulled steamship, the first female doctor, the first chocolate bar and the first use of nitrous oxide as an anaesthetic, the invention of the Plimsoll line, the first undersea telegraph cable, the world’s first test tube baby and the first transplant organ grown from stem cells, and a large share of the world’s first supersonic airliner. Now, from this fertile ground comes an anthology charting other realities and alternate histories, in a collection as rich and varied as the true history of this great British city.

— Gareth L. Powell

“Not bad for a little city” said Bristol Culture editor, Martin Booth,  when I read the above to him and he would add that Bristol is where Ribena was invented too.

Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion doesn’t shy away from the less glamorous aspects of the city such as its slavery connections and the tobacco industry but all is included in a rich Bristol setting.

Two excellent stories from its collection are Joanne Hall’s Brass and Bone which is based in Clifton and touches on the use of the Suspension Bridge in both folklore and local awareness.

The Girl with Red Hair, by Myfanwy Rodman is written so beautifully and hauntingly while making sure to use Bristol to its most picturesque best, never losing sight of its story. Not all the stories are as strong but all are true to their setting.

eyecontact Eye Contact by Fergus McNeill on the other hand is a debut novel published by the same company that has published Stephen King. They are big and they have money to spare. McNeill’s work is about a serial killer whose method of choosing victims is in the title.

It starts on Severn Beach with a body and then begins from the serial killer’s perspective in Clifton. There is a subtitle in parentheses – DI Harland Book I and it has a sequel, published in 2013, with its follow-up title DI Harland Book II.

As all slickly published and promoted books, these days, there is a trailer.

Eye Contact is set in Bristol but it has no love of the city. At least none more than a passing acquaintance because of the fact that it is set here. Clifton Down, Whiteladies and Starbucks feature prominently in the beginning and even after a walk up to the Clifton Observatory, and the obligatory mention of the Suspension Bridge there is no sense that these characters are part of their setting.

Clifton is an obvious choice of a setting for tourists and casual Bristolians but when a character in Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion visits a pawnbroker on Hobbs Lane then you know you’re reading someone who knows their city.

Eye Contact could be set anywhere without the story changing. The depth of the characters doesn’t go far enough to touch anything more than a curiosity about the plot. The writing is smooth, it’s slick and it’s glib. If you like Peter James then you’ll like Fergus McNeill, and if you love Jeffrey Archer then you’re in for a treat.

For the purposes of this tournament however, there is only one choice for the work that is shipshape and Bristol fashion and it’s the collection of short stories which references many airships. Not bad for a little publisher, who certainly outshone Hodder & Stoughton on this occasion.

Week 5: the Fair Fight vs the Accidental Proposal

Once again I got it wrong in the case of a book’s setting. The Accidental Proposal is set in Brighton, not Bristol. It wouldn’t have fared well against Freeman anyway so I won’t say any more about it.

The Fair Fight is Anna Freeman’s debut novel after completing her BA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and then her MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is now a creative writing lecturer at Bath Spa University (where Nathan Filer also lectures).

Bristol, 1799. In Frog Lane, right in the city centre, is a brothel called the Convent and that’s where plain and unremarkable Ruth is born and raised. Destined to follow the profession of those around her she instead catches the eye of Mr Dryer, local merchant and boxing enthusiast.

Dryer takes Ruth under his wing and she soon makes a life as a female boxer – a pugilist – dropping more than her fair share of blood in the sawdust at the infamous Hatchett inn, where in modern times Freeman worked for six years.

On the other side of the class divide is genteel, rich, pockmarked and angry Charlotte, Dryer’s wife. She has lost most of her family to small pox, all except for her bullying brother who hides from the world and spends most of his time staring at the bottom of a bottle.

Freeman provides not only a level of emotional depth to her characters that makes them believable but her research adds some details which while not well-known ring true because they are based in reality.

She was inspired to write The Fair Fight after reading one of her nieces Horrible Histories books. She says “I had no idea that it happened but female prize-fighters used to write challenges to each other in newspapers. I read about Elizabeth Stokes who, in one example, answered Ann Field’s taunt with: “I, Elizabeth Stokes, of the City of London… Do assure her … that the blows I shall present her with will be more difficult to digest than any she ever gave her asses.”

Most women fighters were either prostitutes or suffering in poverty and while they may have made names for themselves in the ring, they had little value outside it.

Freeman’s research also encompassed reading diaries of Georgian women. “There are all these extracts from the diaries of spinsters and loads of them are so bitter and angry.”

There is an examination of injustice and personal power in the Fair Fight and quite a comprehensive look at the Bristol of the times. From schooling at St Michael’s Hill to the poverty in the dirty centre by the docks and the rich houses and families at Queen Square, there is a great sense that this take could not have taken place anywhere else. There is even a festival by the Harbourside which seems the ancestor of our current Harbour Festival.

The Fair Fight is not only a great Bristol novel but also one of the best books of the year.

Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson on August 28.

Are blogger reviewers better than journalists?

I once read that any such question in the title of an article means that the answer is no. That’s true but only in the sense that the answer isn’t yes. I don’t think it’s even the right question but let me very quickly tell you why.

I was looking for a review of Naomi Wolf’s book Vagina and instead I found a bunch of highly politicised campaigns against Wolf and her pro-Assange stance. The newspapers hated her because they hated Assange and Wikileaks. I looked for blogger reviews but the book had only been pre-released to professional media bodies. Us bloggers had to wait. Even highly educated, rational and academic bloggers had to wait. It was these latter types that I wanted to tell me whether there was any merit to the book. Not the politicised journalists.

I decided then and there that book bloggers had no vested interests so were better than journalists.

I was then asked to review a restaurant’s new tasting menu and so were a few other bloggers and Bristol Bites who I don’t really consider a blogger but a professional foodie. She does it for a living. Some other bloggers did it mainly for fun and their reviews were more free and utterly uncensored. They were at times crass, badly spelled and just a poor reflection of blogging reviews.

At least that’s what my inner critic told me. Because with blogging, unlike with journalism at a newspaper or magazine where your livelihood depends on what you write, there is no one to judge what you should publish but yourself.

There’s no sub to check the spelling of the post you wrote in the spare couple of hours between sleep and work. There’s no editor to guide you in what’s acceptable and there’s no management to take the flak when you screw up. Bloggers probably haven’t read McNae’s media law and aren’t too fussed about being sued because hardly anyone is reading.

Week 4: Bristol Bells vs Where’s My Money?

In front of a low, old house, opposite St Mary Redcliffe and tall business buildings, there sat a thoughtful effigy of Bristol’s best known literary figure, the boy poet Thomas Chatterton. This figure is hidden whilst the house is being repaired but a plaque still helps identify the location.

Feeling disgruntled and under appreciated in his home town of Bristol, Chatterton left for London in 1770. Finding no luck there either his life came to a sad end by the time he was 24.

Since I have not included poets in this tournament, however, I would have had no need to mention him were it not for Emma Marshall.

Marshall, author in 1890 of Bristol Bells, and of over 200 more stories in her lifetime, liked to base her works around a famous figure and in this case it was Chatterton.

The story is also about Bryda, the beautiful and refined granddaughter of a farmer, who wants to follow the sound of the Bristol bells and leave her house in Dundry. When an old debt needs to be repaid she has no choice but to gain employment as a servant in the same house where Chatterton is apprenticed to a lawyer.

Marshall clearly, and fittingly to the story, outlines what is known of Chatterton’s sad and short life. Bristol Bells is a pleasant and short read with two stories running parallel. It is informative of one of the great literary figures of Bristol as she includes bits and pieces of his life and snippets if his poetry along with biographical information.

Much of the story takes place between Corn Street and Dowry Square with ventures to Hot Wells and St Vincent’s Rocks. There is a villain and a love interest, suspense and intrigue and a delightful introduction to the Bristol of 250 years ago.

Power of expression: 6/10
Bristol content: 11/15
Bristol integration: 9/15
Characterisation: 6/10
Total: 32/50

Mike Manson’s Where’s My Money, on the other hand, is a classic in contemporary Bristol fiction and as the cover suggests, it will indeed make you laugh out loud.

Max Redcliffe joins the Ministry of Work at the unemployment office on Union Street after having been on the other side of the counter for quite a while. His colleagues include Lee Woods and Ashley Hill and if you don’t recognise a couple of these names then you’re obviously not a Bristolian.

There is a wicked charm to Redcliffe’s story of his adventures in the unemployment office which while failing to deliver much of a narrative arc does provide lots of entertainment and information about the south west city.

From cider to slavery, tobacco to chocolate, the Downs and the Clifton Suspension Bridge, there is so much Bristol in its pages that this story could not have taken place anywhere else and yet the book does not feel overburdened with facts.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge, hanging by a thread across a vertiginous gorge, is one of the world’s most fabulous bridges, and it goes nowhere. There’s nothing on the other side of the bridge apart from a few big houses and a wood. The bridge is an expensive conceit. And rightly so. This golden gateway frames the Avon Gorge – transforming the landscape of grey cliffs and hornbeam woods into a sublime vision of grandeur.

Set in the 70s, it is funny and consistently Bristolian and manages to cover the decade pretty well too. The only thing that seems to have changed in 40 years is that we now have some great places for coffee. Three in fact. Oh and that the Bristol sound is no longer jazz.

Power of expression: 8/10
Bristol content: 15/15
Bristol integration: 13/15
Characterisation: 8/10
Total: 44/5020140727-220433-79473448.jpg