Awaken the artist

This is what happens when you wonder what’s behind the board……..

Being fundamentally lazy, I do need a challenge, something to get me going, either mentally, physically or preferably both. Challenge me, and I’m there, unless it’s anything to do with spreadsheets of course, I have an allergy to them, especially when they are used purely for text. What’s wrong with tables, FFS?  I’m also terminally curious, always asking… ‘what if I just…….?’ or ‘I wonder what this does…..?’

Challenges which come very low down the list, usually near the bottom, right next to ‘re-locate the compost bin’ include anything connected with decorating. Yes, I like the finished article, all smelling of new paint and fresh linen, especially when I can sit staring at it with a glass of something suitable in hand, but all that preparation, sanding and cleaning brushes, tripping over drop cloths and having a permanent layer of dust around the house? No, just no.

The year started with a challenge, 31 of them to be precise, as a friend invited me to join the 64 Million Artists January Challenge.  Do something arty every day of January, I was definitely up for that, beats toggling through social media for something to rant at. I loved it and wanted to do more, in fact I did do more, investing in a sketch pad which now goes everywhere with me.

But the next challenge was to be more than 31 days and was all my own fault, I was curious. After we stripped the bedroom wallpaper, it was clear there was something hidden behind a board. There were two options, paper over it or see what was there. Who, with a Press card, and a certificate that says she’s a proper journalist, would not want to know what was hidden? There could have been treasure, or maybe a couple of dead pigeons. I expected rubble, Victorian soot and an old copy of the Yorkshire Evening Post, I didn’t expect a complete fireplace.

Of course, there was no mantelpiece or surround. I immediately announced I’d make a mosaic, I have no idea where that came from, I’ve only ever done one once and that was making a tile from a kit. This challenge would involve design, drawing, maths to work out how many tiles I’d need (without the help of a spreadsheet) and of course goggles, you can’t have bits of glass embedding themselves in your eyes. Gary the Joiner worked his joinery magic and there I was with a blank canvas, or rather plasterboard and off I went.

When it was finished, I wasn’t happy with the bare black firebricks, so in a devil-may-care way, I designed another mosaic inspired by my favourite painting, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, fitting it on boards, expertly cut by Noel the Wood-Cutter.

If it hadn’t been for taking up that arty January Challenge, I’d never have thought of making those mosaics. We’d probably have bought some over-priced tiles and left it at that but my arty self had been awoken.

Don’t ask me how long it took, I just did it when I felt like it, sometimes not moving from the table for hours, though that may have been the glue stuck to my bum, the cats certainly had more than their fair share of tiles stuck to their backsides, but I did warn them.

It was a lot of work, mentally and physically, but it was so worth it. 
Every time I look at this fireplace, it makes me smile. People come to see it and say kind things too, I’m thinking I may sell tickets!

I’ll certainly be doing the January Challenge in 2019 along with my biggest ever physical challenge. Well, in my Big Birthday year, it would be rude not to do an ultra marathon……

Saying it in the language of coffee

All my uni coffees in one mosaic. That’s one big caffeine buzz!

My first coffee in my new job was a bit of a blur, with good reason, I’d forgotten my glasses. Colleagues and staff must have thought I was being aloof as I looked at them through narrowed eyes. Not a bit of it, I was just trying to focus!

The final coffee, drunk from what had become my trademark sparkly red mug from a certain Seattle-based cafe chain tasted good, mainly because it was free. I’d made such a nuisance of myself at the coffee bar with my skinny-latte-but-don’t-overfill-the-cup-because-I-like-it-strong requests that they gave me a freebie just to give me a send-off in a kind-off ‘thank goodness she’s going’ way.

Over the year I’ve been at the University of Bradford, every coffee I’ve drunk has told a story. I’ve continued what I started three years ago, keeping a photo diary, a coffee diary, all my coffees in all the places I’ve been. That’s a lot of caffeine, yeeee haaaaaw I feel good and very much awake. For good measure, I’ve made my coffees into photo mosaics, coffees within coffees within coffees, like a Mandelbrot espresso set.

So here’s the highlights:

The coffee that helped me through the business and chaos of the British Science Festival which put Bradford on the map of cool places, rather than the city of riots.

The coffee to celebrate with new graduates, all be-gowned and dewy-eyed, rewarded for all their hard work and looking forward to the future, though dreading the job-hunting.

The coffees with the many cakes consumed in the office, they tasted particularly good, especially when we had the chocolate cake bakeathon. My word that lot could consume their own body weight in cake

The coffees and cheers for good times, the coffees and tears  for times that weren’t as good, that’s being a manager for you.

So I said a fond farewell, a contract is a contract and there was nothing else to do but have a final coffee, graciously accept the lovely gifts which they really shouldn’t have (but I do like pressies so thanks, thanks, thanks!) and go out with a splash. We all headed for Bradford’s newest attraction, the multi-fountained mirror-pooled City Park where, joined by three brave staff and watched by many more, we legged it through the water. But not before we’d had a coffee to warm us up.

Emma, Kate and moi before the dash through City Park

An embarrassing win

Oh my goodness, I won!

When I entered the competition, it wasn’t about the winning, it really was about the taking part. It would have been embarrassing to win, because I’d had the idea for the competition in the first place and put in an entry, just to get the ball rolling. But despite my worst efforts, I won. Damn, I was embarrassed!

We have a photo group at the University with enthusiastic members who, I thought, would appreciate a little encouragement, maybe an incentive. Well, I do work in PR. Our in-house printers Inprint were keen to support us, they offered a prize and they would be the judges.

What can I say? My photo of ‘texture’ on the campus won. Damn. Though my embarrassment didn’t last too long when I found my prize was an A1 canvas of a photo of my choice. I chose one of my coffee mosaics, I have quite a collection now, using the photos of coffees I have drunk over the past three years, it is quite a lot of coffee, but a sacrifice I’m prepared to make for my art.

Thanks Brian and Inprint. Apologies fellow members of Bradford University Photo Network, I’ll not win again!


2010, a coffee kind of year

If 2010 was a coffee, it would have been a Costa espresso. At its best, a powerful shot of glorious flavour, perfect in every way. bringing contentment and a fluttering of the heart. At its worst, a tasteless tepid brew, best forgotten and written off as another of those character-building experiences.

My year was defined by coffee, where I drank it, with whom and whether cake was involved. Using the organic maths formula for which I am famous, I calculated how many coffees I’d consumed in 2010. Granted, my fame only extends to Noel and my friend Clare, who both have top qualifications in Serious Sums and Adding Up and Lowell who has a PhD in mathematics, though he still lost us the pub quiz when he couldn’t figure out how many spots there were on a set of dominoes (168). My calculation came to 42, that’s organic maths for you. With Noel’s help, working on the three-coffees-six-shots-a-day with a few days off when coffee was unobtainable, or there was only a jar if instant, which doesn’t count, we’re looking at over 2000 shots of espresso, and not one of them caffeine-free, I’m pleased to say.

The best coffee of all has been the Friends Coffee, not the 20-somethings at TV’s Central Perk, but coffee shared with friends at home, their place, or in a cafe. There was coffee with parents-to-be, newlyweds and new parents, fellow photographers, fellow runners and climbers and new friends made during the course of the year. The best tasting coffee was in Italy, well, you’d expect that, wouldn’t you?  The mountain cafe on the slopes at Courmayeur. overlooking Monte Bianco serves round about the best espresso you can hope to taste. The apple cake is pretty good too…

Travel Coffee featured strongly, as I clocked up airmiles to Switzerland on weekend visits and coffee-tasting expeditions to see Noel who started his ski training with energy and determination and finished it all in one piece which, given all the falling over at high speed, was a bonus. And it did wonders for his buns of steel… but I digress….

Then there was Occasion Coffee, a fine brew to celebrate my graduation with an MA in Cinema, Television and Society at York University; Noel’s gritty Swiss coffee to mark his new qualification as a ski instructor and coffee with flowers at the various garden-related events we’ve attended. Sadly there was a goodbye coffee to Uncle Trevor.

The award for the worst coffee goes to an entire organisation, Ferrero, producer of Espresso to Go, a foul liquid in a plastic capsule, drunk through a mini straw. We bought a three-pack at an Italian service station. Why a three-pack? Surely no-one has ever drunk more than one, we certainly didn’t, passing the rest to our coffee-loving friend Andrew who amazingly is still our friend.

Finally there was Arty Coffee, I’d already decided I’d to a coffee photo diary, and some coffees were works of art. The Flat White made its first appearance in the UK during the year, rather like a latte, but with a better brew and fancier foam. Good to drink, but needs cake, and definitely photogenic. With the help of a fancy piece of Open Source software, I put them together as a mosaic. Thanks Andrea Mosaic!

In the interests of research, and with absolutely no thought for myself, I intend to continue the coffee quest in the expectation that 2011 will  be the Best Coffee Ever.

Happy New Year!

Here’s a few of 2010s coffees. There are 400 other photos, I may have to write a book!