Friday, March 29, 2013

Facebook - Land of TOAPs

English: Albert Einstein Français : Portrait d...
Albert Einstein - inventor of Angry Birds.

Some time ago there was a social networking site called MySpace which seemed to exist primarily for younger teenage girls to show off duckface photographs of themselves and to allow wannabe stadium rock bands to beg for your custom from the security of their manager’s office.  Their mum’s living room that is.

MySpace eventually drowned beneath the combined weight of glittery faery gifs and pointless TOAPs. TOAP ? Text On A Picture, or Text On A Photo.  TOAPs became to MySpace users what Panini trading cards were to young boys, exciting and shiny, something to show off instantly to your mates.

But TOAPs are more insidious than that.  People on Facebook are lazy.  Not all of you I understand, some of you are fine and upstanding individuals possessed of sound and inquiring minds, the sort of people who want to know the reason behind the story and not just the story itself.  Sadly, most Facebook users are not like this.

It seems that if you add text to a picture and promulgate it via your newsfeed, then you pass off any old bullshit as actual facts.  Add any written garbage to a picture of Albert Einstein looking studious and people will believe than Einstein said it.

 “I truly believe that Justin Bieber is the future of popular music” – Albert Einstein.

I am not immune to charm of TOAPs myself, my newsfeed has a photograph of Martin Luther King holding up a shiny fish and expressing the sentiment “I have a bream.” This tickled my fancy so much I thought it was worth sharing with the wider on-line community.

American with no sense of irony.

This sort of thing isn’t so bad, but the sort of people who might be taken in by lightweight humour on Facebook also seem prone to believing anything else written in TOAP form with the worst offenders being the base and ill-informed pictures used to express anti-immigrantion feelings.  Often these memes play off immigrants against someone who perceived to be a valued part of the home community that suffers directly because of immigration. “Thousands of illegal immigrants get council houses but this disabled soldier can’t get a wheelchair.”  Now we have also crossed over into the world of Daily Mail / Express headline writing.

To simple folk, or just to lazy people, it is easy to equate one thing with another.  Can’t get an appointment at the surgery this morning ? It must be full of illegal immigrants. Can’t get a job ? Hungarian ex-pats have stolen them all.  Tube train full of people who don’t speak English ? Illegal immigrants, they cannot possibly be on holiday here.  Can’t get educated enough to seek out the truth behind a TOAP ? You’re too lazy and stupid to use Facebook, please close your account immediately.

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Run Fatboy Run

I have entered a race.  A real running race that will have numbers and marshals and everything.  How exciting.  And how absolutely terrifying.

I did think a couple of years ago when I was running a lot that I might like to do a race again. When I say again, my last race of any sort was way back in the dawn of time, 1985 or so, when I did the Chevin race, and when I was young and fat and not old and fat.

However, the entrance fee has been paid so I will be a-racing come April 20th.

On the entry site the race is described as, and I quote, a 'road race.' Well that's fine, I can plod or walk my way around 10 kilometres of roads.  Howver, the quoted style of race is, and I cannot dress this up as anything else, it is a bald faced lie.  Click on the info tag and you get the official entry flyer which includes prominently the words challenging and undulating.

Looking on the official route description I can find further things to worry me, the route is described in terms determined to put the fear into portly novices, "Follow the steep path"..."Climb the steep field"..."Continue down the steep hillside (with care!)."  There are two pages like this, and hardly a word of it does anything to settle the nerves.

Some keen soul has run the route to provide a map for the race, this looks fast to me, I can just about run a ten minute mile going downhill with a following wind.  On uphill bits I just grind to a wobbly halt and sweat profusely.  This is just over the hill from my house.  Everywhere from my house if just over, under, down or around a hill.  It's also feet deep in snow at the moment.

I am taking this at least semi-seriously of course, here is my training run from this morning, during which I accomplished my normal running goal of not expiring.

If the worst comes to the worst, I can at least walk for ten kilometres, apologies in advance to any marshals who may have their afternoons ruined by waiting for me to stumble home over the finishing line.

I wasn't initially going to do this for charity, but I have had to cut some of my charitable giving recently due to my unexpected change in personal circumstances, therefore if you feel you can donate anything, even a single pound, then the folk at Sightsavers do some really tremendous work in preventing and eradicating blindness across Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

My Sightsavers Just Giving Page

If you want to donate, you can do so on the above link.  If you want to come along and support, or just point and laugh, then the race starts at 10am Saturday 20th April in Hawksworth.  I'll be the bloke at the rear in the Metallica t-shirt.
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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spanish Chicken

Spanish chorizo
Spanish chorizo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Spanish style chicken - 11 ProPoints

160g skinless chicken breast (4 PP)
30g sliced chorizo (3 PP)
4 cloves thinly sliced garlic (0 PP)
1 cup red wine (3 PP)
1 generous pinch paprika (0 PP)
1 tsp olive oil (1 PP)

Sautee the garlic in the olive oil until it begins to colour, add the chorizo and the paprika and keep it moving, fry for a minute more, add the wine and simmer for a couple of minutes.  Wasn't that easy.

Cut the chicken in half to create two flat pieces, rub about a teaspoon of olive oil over the chicken and fry in a non-stick pan.

You can reduce the sauce down a bit if you like, you could omit the chorizo but the Spanish sausage makes it taste wonderful.

I served this with skinny cauliflower cheese; cauli with grated parmesan flashed under the grill, celeriac puree and roast potatoes - par-boiled and rubbed with olive oil.

Total cost of meal - 14 ProPoints I reckon.  Which just leaves enough for two glasses of vino, hurrah!
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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Weight Watchers - Silver 7

Traditional Fish 'n' Chips
Traditional Fish 'n' Chips (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
First week completed, and half a stone lost. It does work then.  The plan manager gadget says I used an average of 42.3 ProPoints per day, so despite having a pig out on fish and chips at Murgatroyds and a beer and more chips lunch with Dad, following the plan for the rest of the week worked really well.

I honestly found it quite hard to eat all the available points when I was cooking and eating a diet heavily biased towards vegetables and fruit with only small amounts of carbohydrates and low fat meat.  There is only so much in the way of boiled carrots and assorted veggy stir fries you can cram in.  I don't really make desserts at home unless we are entertaining, so there isn't much temptation there, and now I am out of the work kitchen I don't have the additional temptations of constantly available chips, crisps and buttery crumpets.  At the end of the week I had 20 points from my weekly allowance left* plus I had not exchanged any of the 20 exercise points I had built up.

For losing half a stone you get a little Silver 7 sticker in your record card, then they take away one of your points, so I have dropped to a daily allowance of 44. They took one of my points ! That's a glug of wine gone there.

*If you're unfamiliar with WeightWatchers ProPoints, you get a daily allowance of food points, plus a 'bonus' weekly allowance which allows you to be sensible for most the seven days, but still have a few pints and a curry on Saturday night.

I'm pleased with the plan so far, I have followed it fairly well and it seems to have worked, therefore I'll stick with it for the while.  Onwards and downwards!
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Monday, March 25, 2013

Guiseley - The All-Consuming Traffic Black Hole

English: The Station public house, Town Street...
The Station, it's good that it is a nice looking pub because
you'll spend an age staring at it.
I thought to myself this morning, just for a change, instead of visiting the Tesco in Ilkley that I would visit the giant Tesco on Cabal Road in lovely Bradford instead.  Why visit Tesco when you have Morrisons on your doorstep I hear you ask ? Well, I have some vouchers to spend so in effect it is food for free.

A nice little run out to Bradford, that sounds good, a change of scenery and a different drive from my normal shopping run.  And then I reach Guiseley.

In many other towns the traffic control system has been designed in such a manner as to facilitate the flow of traffic through the area, conveying each car to its desired destination with as little hindrance as is possible.  Indeed, in the aforementioned Bradford the City Council have designed the roads in such a way as to channel all traffic on a trajectory that entirely avoids Bradford altogether, thus taking the driver's gaze away from the giant hole in the ground that used to be half of the city centre until the council knocked it down, dug it up and then put blue boards around it and forgot all it until the end of time or the second coming.

In Guiseley though the traffic control system has been built for the sole purpose of bringing all the traffic on the roads in West Yorkshire into Guiseley and then leaving it there.  Stuck at a traffic light. Forever.  Any jaunt that requires you to pass through the middle of Guiseley requires you to add lengthy amounts of time to your journey.  If you plan to be passing through in rush hour you should consider carrying essential emergency supplies, water say, a sandwich, perhaps a medium length novel or the Times Literary Supplement.

Perhaps the good burghers of Guiseley thought that if you spent truly exceptional amounts of time staring out of your car windows then it would add as free advertising for the businesses on the roadside, but as I sit staring forlornly at the window of a closed down panini emporium I can tell that this visionary media notion has failed to pull starving drivers from their stationary vehicles.

Further down the road you may have the misfortune, well, when I say may, I mean you will be parked in a line of stalled motor carriages for some considerable period, outside KFC.  KFC is one of those places where you don't really want to be staring in the windows.  This is because, as with late night minicab queues and the taproom of the Knife & Spleen, some of the people that dine at fried chicken emporiums are the sort of people who take violent objection to eye contact, the sort of people who ask, vehemently, "what are you looking at?" as foreplay to a head-butt.

It isn't that Guiseley is an awful place, far from it, it's alright. In fact, that could be taken on as Guiseley's slogan - "Guiseley, it isn't Ilkley, but it's alright."  Perhaps they could punt for the slightly less aspirational "Guiseley - at least it isn't Shipley."

Still, having taken in the sights of The Station, The Regent and Coopers, and watched the same man have a pint in all three hostelries before calling in at the Lotus Chop Suey House for sweete and sour pork and fried rice, you are now stuck between staring at the patrons of the American south's premier fast food chain, or gazing aimlessly over towards the leisure centre where the man carrying the take-a-way has vaulted the wall in order to relieve himself of six pints of Madston's Old Ferret.  Looking toward the head of the rank of vehicles there is a man driving a Morris 1100, this isn't because he is on his way to a vintage car rally, it's because he set off  through Guiseley in 1971.

The most terrible thing about this whole journey, and one that readers familiar with the area will have picked up on right from the start, is that I can be terribly absent-minded when driving. Indeed had I not been happily singing along to Professor Elemental and had paid rather more attention to where I was going on the approach to White Cross, then I would have taken the correct turning and never had to experience Guiseley's hellish gridlock at all.

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Yorkshire Soul the LP

Oi ! What is this ? Some noisy punkniks have named an album after me, how lovely ;-)

Or on the other hand, perhaps they've never heard of me.  Anyway, give it a listen, you can download it for any price and any profits go towards buying an autism dog.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Death Comes - The New House Episode #5

Wild Rabbit
Wild Rabbit (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Two reports sound in the morning air, flat and dull.  The rabbits bolt for hedgerow hideaways leaving two of their number lifeless behind them.  Dogs come for the dead, one whippet, one lurcher, unceremoniously snatching up the corpses and returning them to their green clad waiting masters.  They are deposited next to cages of ferrets who writhe and chitter in excitement and blood-lust.  It is morning on the moors of Yorkshire, and death has come calling.

Kyle turns out to be a nice chap.  He's hunting the fields with the farmers' permission and explains that the two shotgun blasts we heard will be the only gunfire.  Once the rabbits have been put to ground by the guns it is the work of ferrets and purse nets.  The ferrets enter the warrens eagerly and if the hunters have judged correctly the rabbits will be flushed into the nets where they can be despatched with a swift blow.  The rabbits though have more holes than the ferreters have nets, many of the flushing attempts end with rabbits making fast dashes from one open hole into another part of the hedge bottom.

The hunters take several rabbits during the morning, and Kyle says he's going to tackle the mole problem if farmer Stephen wants him to.   Wandering lines of mole hills stud the fields round about, a rampant black infection disrupting the already thin early spring grazing.

That evening though, rabbits are once again busy in the field edges and making scampering runs into the more open spaces.  Their numbers may have been lessened, but they remain unbowed by their losses, going about their business of eating, mating and re-populating the burrows.

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Fat Class - Week One

1905 Quaker Oats magazine advertisement
1905 Quaker Oats magazine advertisement (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Tomorrow night will be my second Weight Watchers meeting, time for a quick review of this week's meals and exercise then.

Tuesday Food - Beer and chips put me 14 ProPoints over my daily allowance.
Tuesday Exercise - a 20 minute run gave me 2 points back

Wednesday Food - a good day, beans on toast for lunch and a vegetable heavy dinner leaves me with 5 points over.
Wednesday Exercise - Half an hour's fast walking for 3 ProPoints

Thursday Food - Porridge with skimmed milk everyday for breakfast = 5 Points, home-made vegetable soup with home-made bread and a bit of Flora Pro-Active for lunch = 6 Points, dinner =

Pan seared lamb rump in olive oil
Sauteed peppers
Braised celery
1/2 Pack Crosse & Blackwell Chicken Rice = 16 Points

Thursday Exercise - A longish ramble around Golden Acre Park = 6 Points earned

Friday Food - Porridge, soup with broad beans and bread (6 Points), dinner =

Baked potato and filo samosa with Greek yoghurt = 7 Points
Honey stir fried turkey with carrot, peppers and onions and boiled white rice = 11 Points
= 18 Points total

Friday Exercise - 20 mins brisk walk up and down Derry Hill = 2 Points earned

Saturday Food - Breakfast and lunch same, dinner...

Turkey and mushroom filo pastry pie (inc olive oil, flour and real cream for the sauce) = 10 Points
Carrot and swede mash, mange tout, baby corn = all free

Saturday Exercise - 4.5 miles in the snow to Morrisons and back with a much heavier backpack = 7 Points

Sunday Food - Breakfast and lunch will be similar, I'm planning a bit of a blow out with lamb shanks in rosemary gravy for dinner.

Sunday Exercise - good grief but it's bitter again outside.  I may yet be tempted into a bit of a walk, but the weather ins't conducive to getting out in it.

As the first week draws to a close, I have been under my allowance most days - and I have had wine with every evening meal, I have 32 weekly Points still to spend, plus 20 Activity Points that I have not exchanged for food.  The weight should be falling away.
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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Fatty Boom Boom Metal Version

Will Sasso Lemon Compilation

WTF I suppose, but it made me laugh until water came out of my eyes.

Spring in Menston

Back garden snowdrift

Small drift at back door

Young rabbits

I wasn't planning on setting foot outside today, but I'm sat watching my bird feeding station where some desperately hungry blackbirds are trying to hang on to the feeders.  I'll nip out and put some ground food down for them, which is probably going to blow away as fast as I put it out.

We were stood at the front window yesterday afternoon when a clutch of four young rabbits popped out from a hole in the dry stone wall.  They looked cute and comical as they bounced around making little scrapes looking for food, so cute that I was almost tempted to put some kitchen scraps out for them, but I don't really want to encourage them.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Small Crowd, Overzealous Security

A travelling England fan just texted Cricinfo to say this about the relaxed manner in which the Kiwis are treating their paying customers in Auckland...

 "I was at the game yesterday and saw more bizarre overzealous security guards.... I saw, among other things, people being told sternly to sit down in their seats in the middle of lunch and tea guards aggressively chasing after beachballs being bunted around the crowd and deflating them... this is a day at the cricket, not a primary school detention class. Come on NZ cricket, do something about this behaviour with a view to the fans' benefit for once"

Walking Yorkshire - Menston Village

The weather today is unpleasant verging on blizzard like in places, just the conditions for a short walk down Derry Hill to Menston Village then.

Ice, no kidding.

Derry hill is slippery for walkers, and as can be seen by the flowing tyre marks in the photo below, much more hazardous for cars. Bingley Road is much clearer though, for the moment.

Derry Hill

A strong wind blasting icy snow over the dry stone wall at face height, lovely.  Mind you, the beasts in the fields are having a herder time of it, and the local farmers are working hard to keep them fed.  This is the worst possible weather for hill farms, there are new lambs in the fields, more lambs being born, the ewes can't crop any grass. There are tractors passing up and down the hill carrying loads of beets and bales to be unloaded in boggy fields while being lashed by ice laden winds.  Be grateful if you have an indoors job today.

St. John the Divine CofE

Top wildlife photography

I was not carrying a long lens when I spotted the red kite.  If you peer closely at the point where the hedge line meets the trees there is a red kite, and below it a crow rising over the hedge.  This is still rather lovely though,  that is the corner of my house, and I can see kites from here, that makes me happy.

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Call of Duty Players' Rage

Watch this and then see if you can chant the mantra of  "violent video games do not make their players violent."

BBC Weather

Did you perchance see the BBC Weather Twitter feed this morning ?  The forecasts were a tad unusual.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Weight Watching

red wine
red wine (Photo credit: Judy **)
Tonight's dinner was...

Sliced lamb rump fried in a griddle pan with a splash of olive oil
Red and yellow peppers fried with a teaspoon of olive oil
Celery braised in vegetable stock
Half a pack of Campbell's chicken & corn rice 
Onion tagine 

For a grand total of 16 points, which I rounded out with a rather nice 2011 Joven D Silos from Ribuero del Duero.
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Walking Yorkshire - Golden Acre Park to Paul's Pond

It has been a while since I did any walking and photography, but being short of gainful employment I got off my backside today and went to lovely Golden Acre Park just outside posh Bramhope in Leeds' merchant banker belt.

There wasn't so much in the way of flowers to be seen at the moment, but the lake was thronged with waterfowl and the woodland hide at Adel Dam Nature Reserve was a great spot for watching the woodland birds packing the feeding stations.

Black headed gulls
The gulls were whirling overhead in screaming packs as small children alternately threw bread to the eager diners and then wailed in fear as angry geese tore like honking feathered missiles through the packs of ducks, Coots and Moorhens.

A feeding frenzy of waterfowl
Male Tufted Duck

Gulls on the partially frozen lake

After watching the water birds for a while I pressed on to the wooded Adel Dam Nature Reserve, and was happily ensconced in the hide at the feeding stations when my camera, which claimed to be on two thirds charge earlier in the morning, suddenly black-screened and went on strike.

Great and Blue Tits feeding

I don't know what the park keepers have put out in this mesh box, but the Tits loved it.  There was a tree full of them queuing up to take turns.

Female Chaffinch

And at this point the camera gave up.  I however did not, and had a nice stroll around the rest of the park, through the Arboretum, Black Hill Plantation, Cherry Orchard and gardens and then pushed on through Breary Marsh, a SSSI next door to Golden Acre. A little further on to Paul's Pond and then proceeding through a gate I found myself surrounding by closely shorn grass and people wearing plus-fours.  I had wandered in to the land of golfists at Cookridge Hall, time to turn for home then.

A nice morning's wander, four and a half miles at no great pace.  Looking at the weather forecast, any walking this coming weekend will require snow shoes and Ranulph Fiennes.

All that and 6 WeightWatchers activity ProPoints to boot, that calls for a large glass of red please landlord.
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Fat Class

English: The Malt Shovel public house, Main St...
The Malt Shovel public house, Main Street, Menston, West Yorkshire. Taken on the afternoon of Saturday 22nd August 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I went to fat class on Monday evening.  I had not put any great amount of thought into this, I was just discussing many things with best mate John and when we got around to discussing various health issues John mentioned the group on the following evening and asked if I wanted to come.

I said yes.  The Menston Weight Watchers group has a number of advantages for me.  It is on the one hand literally just down the hill from where I live, and on the other hand, it is almost directly opposite the pub.

I haven't been t one of these things before so I didn't know what to expect.  It is seems rather friendly though, the nice group leader Mary greeted me, weighed me without any inward gasps of breath, asked me if I had any targets in mind (I kept the imminent visit to the ale house quiet at this point) and then wrote down on my personal planner what seemed to be a quite reasonable and achievable first goal of weight loss.

The rest of the meeting took the form of a proselytising Amway marketer preaching to the would-be converted.  I don't mean this in an unkind way, the attendees at Weight Watchers want to be there and the group leader is giving them information and inspiration to bring about the changes in their lives that they desire so it's all good.  Anyway, I have sat through two hours of hard sell from Amercian time-share agents in order to get a cheap night in a resort, so I can shrug off the imprecations of earnest weight loss devotees should they fail to inspire me.

I was suspecting at first that this might be like Alcoholics Anonymous for big people and that I might have to stand up in front of the group to confess my sins of beer, chocolate and late night donner kebabs.  It isn't like that at all though, there is no mention made of anyone's weight, goals or points' allowances, instead the meeting focusses on upcoming events that may be hard to manage, Easter lunches and the perils of chocolate consumption in this case, and some general hints, advice and recipes.

Although I suspect that the Weight Watchers congregation will be largely made up of women, it really ought to appeal to men, the actual method of combining and counting foods is so fantastically geeky that most blokes should be right at home with it. I was given a starting total of 45 points a day, plus a sort of lucky dip bag of 49 points a week.  After stating this out loud to the group I quickly gathered that this is quite a high total and that women get less points than men, I was rapidly informed of just how lucky I was to get quite so many food tokens to spend.

The first day didn't go well.  Dad took me out for lunch, two beers and a gammon, egg and chips later I was already perilously close to my ProPoints allowance for the day.  Some wine and a coconut milk based curry that evening ensured that I had already dug deeply into my weekly bonuses.

Healthy dinner ingredients.

Yesterday I made a better effort of it.  A stiff walk up and down Derry Hill in the driving sleet earned me an extra 3 Activity Points, and the bag of veggies I hauled back from Menston Fruit & Veg was a virtually ProPoints free dinner.  I turned the above heap of stuff into...

Chicken and mushroom kebabs.
Bakla - a Turkish broad bean and cabbage dish with olive oil, mint and lemon.
Tagine of onions - sweated down with olive oil, sugar, black pepper, cumin and ground ginger.
Baked tomatoes with garlic.
Green beans and broccoli.

And for dessert, plums baked with just a hint of sugar and a splash of sherry, with some low fat Greek yoghurt.

ProPoints total for the dinner - 14, and I have allowed for the oil and sugar in that, had I been cooking in my normal and more expansive style I would have at least doubled the amount of oil in the meal, more oil over the kebabs would have been welcome.

Day one then, porridge for breakfast, beans on toast for lunch, a pear to snack on, the dinner as listed above, two glasses of Rioja and a large whisky and I was still 5 points short of using my daily allowance. Onwards and upwards, or perhaps onwards and downwards then.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

No, No, This Is The Comment Of The Week

I don't know what weird language programme these spammers use, but this piece of garbled English takes first prize for weirdness....

"74 artificial vagina doesn't complain about insensitivity. Most days we would have liked more information about this adorable craft, head over toPetit ElefantWant even more Valentine's Day ideas in our slideshow. Look into my web site; male sex toys on N/um Tchai: Ceremonial Medicine Dance of the Bushmen"

What exactly are they trying to sell to me ? Small elephant sex toys hand crafted by Kalahari Bushmen ? It seems to be a fairly small niche market.

Monday, March 18, 2013

KKK Fails

Johnny Lee Clary (born June 18, 1959) is a former Ku Klux Klan leader who became a born again Christian and now travels around the globe preaching the gospel and teaching against racism and hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, Neo Nazis, and Aryan Nations.

Kittens on a slide

Comment Of The Week

Apparently penned with absolutely no sense of irony...."Do you have a spam issue on this website; I also am a blogger, and I was wondering your situation; we have developed some nice methods and we are looking to swap techniques with others, be sure to shoot me an e-mail if interested. my webpage :: Buy Viagra 25mg on"

Spam, wonderful spam, beautiful spam etc.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Night Is Darkening Round Me

A portrait of Emily, painted by her brother Br...
A portrait of Emily, painted by her brother Branwell. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The night is darkening round me,
The wild winds coldly blow;
But a tyrant spell has bound me,
And I cannot, cannot go.

The giant trees are bending
Their bare boughs weighed with snow;
The storm is fast descending,
And yet I cannot go.

Clouds beyond clouds above me,
Wastes beyond wastes below;
But nothing drear can move me;
I will not, cannot go.

- Emily Bronte, 1818–1848

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The Rock and Rock Lifestyle of the Freelance Copywriter

Image representing Google AdWords as depicted ...
Image via CrunchBase
Andreas, the nice Greek man based in London who sells Greek deli products to Russia, has e-mailed saying he needs a 500 word piece on alternative uses of olive oil.  Mohamed from Calgary needs a factual piece on the benefits of water to the human body.  Bravesh, who runs an Apple review site based in Delhi wants three short app reviews doing and I'm negotiating with Phil in London to see if I can help with both content and strategy for his business Facebook page.  This then is the exciting rock and roll lifestyle of the freelance writer, working across three continents, before breakfast, and I'm still in my dressing gown.

This is on a good day of course, when my proposals have been accepted and there is work to do.  On other days the life of the freelance copywriter is rather more lingering on Facebook, poke around on b3ta, have a search for as proper job, another chocolate biscuit - well why not, play Civilisation for a while, back to Facebook, watch an episode of an obscure Kurdish crime drama on Netflix and then consider going to the pub.

The actual researching and writing part is fun, I love reading and I love writing.  Most of the work I have picked up so far falls within the fields I have worked in, food, nutrition and hospitality.  I have put in bids for work in other areas that I can confidently research and deliver good content in, which includes most areas of the arts and humanities, health, social media, technology, customer service and other topics. In addition I am spending some time familiarising myself with Facebook and other social media optimisation, writing fluent and natural sounding text with embedded keywords and learning about related fields such as Google Adwords,  organic SEO and white hats versus black hats, which until now I believed was an obscure Bank Holiday cricket match held in Ilkley.

Today seems to be one of the less fiscally productive days, so I'm playing a bit of Civilisation, I have stirred myself and been for a run / plod / wheeze around Menston, and I'm reading some articles on SEO and a collection of poetry and prose by the Brontes.  Then obviously, later on, I may go down the pub.

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Comment Moderation 2

Having just reviewed this morning's batch of anonymously posted spam comments, I am quite glad I have enabled the comment moderation feature. Amongst the normal spam trying to direct readers to pay day loan sites and similar money grabbing scammers were some quite explicitly worded adverts for porno sites.  Now, I have no objection to adult stuff, and I do occasionally blur the boundaries here a little with images or opinion sections that sail close to the wind, but, I'm not turning Yorkshiresoul into an 18+ blog so the moderation stays, and the porno spam doesn't make it to the front page.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lauren Aquilina - Sass Queen Pop Star

Depending on how much time you spend listening to daytime Radio 1 you may or may not have heard of Lauren Aquilina.

Lauren is a 17 year old singer-songwriter of mixed British and Maltese heritage.  She first came to my attention on Wikipedia, an attempt had been made to create a full wiki page for her and as a junior editor I had initially supported the decision to create a page.  The page was eventually removed under a rule that determined she wasn't important enough for Wikipedia, but since then I have followed her emerging pop career and well orchestrated social media campaign with equal interest.

Lauren updates her Facebook and Twitter pretty much daily, and it is done pretty much as any other 17 year  girl's updates.  Everything is all like Wow and exciting and incredible and new and brilliant and what a wonderful adventure I am on and I am so glad that you are all here with me on the journey.  To someone outside the target audience, a middle aged bloke for example, this might all seem trivial and even annoying, but to the target customer base this is a well marketed social media campaign that hits the bull's eye every time.  Let's just analyse what Lauren does so well.

  • Frequency of updates
Not so much as to be painful, but regular enough to keep her audience engaged.  Updates are posted almost every day on Facebook and in spurts of activity on Twitter.  Lauren is to her fans, the unfortunately self-named Aquisluts, new and exciting, she has not yet reached a point where daily updates will be seen as a newsfeed annoyance.

  • Relevance
Lauren is a teenage girl primarily communicating with a fanbase of other teenage girls.  She mentions every career milestone from photo shoots to gigs to radio airplay, and when she hasn't got an urgent career update to broadcast she updates things that other teenage girls do, new dresses, jewellery, places she has been and people she has met, it all goes on Facebook. Lauren also mentions that just like her fans, she's an ordinary schoolgirl who spends as much time in education as she does performing,

  • Tone
Lauren's social media campaign is incredibly positive, she may well have days when things are not going so well and she'd rather just stay in bed and hide from the world, but you're not going to find out about it.  Everything in Lauren's world is new and exciting and fabulous and crazy cool.  She's permanently happy and ready to spread the love, she's as generous in praising her fans as she is excited about her singing.

  • Engagement
Lauren has built a following of around 20,000 Facebook 'likes' and a similar amount of YouTube subscriptions, where she has racked up an impressive 2.1 million views.  Despite this, if you ask a question or post a comment on Facebook or Twitter, you'll most likely still get a direct response from the singer herself - you don't get this level of interactivity with Britney Spears.  This week I noticed a new album had been added to Lauren's Spotify page, but Lauren has confirmed that the singles Euphoria and Glorious, and the album Best Of Song Contest are not her work and she is trying to get them moved from her page.

  • Sass Queen
Apparently Scott Mills called her this on Radio 1, she sounded happy with it so it must be a compliment.

This is a well pitched, friendly feeling social media campaign.  Whether Lauren Aquilina has great social media management, or whether she just has a great gift for communication, her ongoing career is going to ably supported by a likeable and agreeable social media strategy.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Meet The Neighbours - The New House Episode #4

red kite
red kite (Photo credit: kristos_b)
Dawn and that period when the early morning sunlight slants golden light across the frosty stubble in the fields surrounding the house is the time when the majority of my new neighbours are most active.

There are no sheep in the fields on three sides of the house as yet, this is not arable country though so I expect we shall have woolly, black-faced company in the weeks to come.  In the meanwhile, flocks of wood pigeons, up to 40 strong, alight beneath the stand of trees at the rear of the house and spend the morning pecking through the grass, occasionally all jumping upwards in short lived panicky flight, scared of their own shadows and the wind in the trees.

Running along the hedge at the top of the field are a clutch of female pheasants, their morning capers are comical, running in a bobble-headed group up one side of the hawthorns then suddenly changing direction, plunging through the hedge and tearing back down the other side.  When they tire of hundred yard sprints they create a whirlpool of brown feathers, circling each other at speed and leaping briefly into the air with flashes of lighter under wings.

Rabbits crowd the hedge bottoms, venturing out only a few feet from cover until the surging insistence of spring blood gets the better of them and then they tear pell-mell, headlong and heedless, white tails flashing in the early morning sun, celebrating the life of the day and the expectation of new life to come. Meadow Pipits prefer the open expanses of the field, quietly going about the days' feeding until put to flight by the carelessly rushing rabbits.

Over the fence and into the garden, feasting at bird table and hanging fat treats, come the usual parade of visitors, Great and Blue Tits, Blackbirds, shy Dunnock, the increasingly uncommon Sparrow, rosy breasted Chaffinch.  I have positioned my writing desk so as to have a direct view of the bird table and the as yet unidentified tree from which I have hung various fat balls and meal worm blocks and the local avian population had responded well to it.  As I sit here writing this morning there is a constant flight of birds to and from the tree, where they perch for a few moments assessing the breakfast laid out for them before before hopping down through the branches to make rapid forays to the ground for a beak of seeds.

A murder of crows rises from a more distant copse to noisily greet and ward off another morning visitor.  They flap untidily into the sky, cawing and creaking, all mob aggression and incoherent anger.  The target of their early morning ire has caught the gentle breeze beneath his pinions and the Red Kite sweeps effortlessly over the rabble of would be pursuers, his eyes sweeping the fields and roads for easier pickings than the crows' territory will allow.
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Friday, March 08, 2013

Gardening - The New House Episode #3

A molehill

This week I have undertaken some gardening.  This is a pastime that all true Englishmen take extremely seriously.  The cut of your lawn edging is as important a public display of your self as the cut of your hair, suit or jib.  Every Englishman's home is his castle, and every tiny square of neatly cropped flower bordered soil his own personal Kew.

I approached yesterday's attempt to tame the overgrown wilds of my back garden with more zeal than knowledge.  I attacked the flower beds with a fanatic's fervour, ripping out dried clumps of dead looking sticks, and then looking sheepishly over my shoulder to see if my wife was watching as one sticky clump came up with a batch of healthy looking red tubers attached.  These I cautiously pushed back into the soil along with the various bulbs I had grubbed up.

Some plants are attached to soil by giant tap roots, bifurcated with branching capillaries designed to grip the soil as if implanted by heavy machinery, fighting to the very end for its chance to dwell and succeed in my border.  Other plants seem to have the gentlest grip on life, attaching themselves to the loam by the most delicate and easily torn roots, feather like in their delicacy and seeming almost to desire to vegetal suicide in your your grasp.  The former I gather are weeds, the latter, expensive designer flowers bought at great expense from the local nursery and now laying snap-stemmed and severed in the palm of my hand. Using the flat of a shovel to beat down a thicket of nettles was not perhaps the best planned of gardening ideas.

Next I turned my attention to a molehill.  What incredible things mole's leavings are, the notion that a mammal that can fit comfortably in the palm of my hand has created a mound a foot high by three feet wide, and seemingly composed of a clay like material denser and heavier than say, concrete or Berni Inn Yorkshire pudding is quite fantastic.  No so fantastic though as to provide any joy as both my spade and back creak alarmingly in the effort to reduce this mole hummock to a more flattened surface.  Predictably, my shovelling efforts do not uncover any subterranean tunnel borers, but do reveal another healthy crop of bulbs, rhizomes and corms, the last appearing to have neither a top nor a bottom, or perhaps both, and as such may now be planted facing the sky or the centre of the Earth.  Except the ones that I accidentally chopped in half and surreptitiously his in the garden waste bag.

The final tasks of the day were planting a herb barrel, which was simplicity itself, although I have doubts that the growing herb garden is out of reach of the resident rabbit population, and pruning the various roses, shrubs and bushes.  Pruning, again this is a task I approached with much verve and little actual knowledge.  Roses I know should be chopped back to the first, or perhaps second bud, or something like that.  What of other shrub-like vegetation ? Indeed, just what is that thing in the corner looking like a collection of thick upright straws ? It yields easily enough to the secateurs revealing a somewhat woody looking core and at its new six inch height is at least rather tidier than its previous three foot sprawl.

And if it dies, it dies.  I can always cover it with gravel.
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