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

Make art, not war

Razia with the ropes

I’ve come to the conclusion that if artists ruled the world there would be no wars, with any conflict confined to minor skirmishes rooted in artistic differences of the kind that split up The Beatles.

The latest installation at Gallery II, tucked away in the decidedly un-arty engineering block at the University of Bradford brings together art and conflict on a very personal level. Changing Spaces is an interactive installation, in other words the visitors make it happen which is what I like in my art. None of this standing around and looking, let’s get in there and do it!

Artist Sorrel Muggridge was commissioned by Lisa Cumming, from the University’s Peace Studies Department and David Robison of the Media School to create an  installation where people could say something about conflict and how they have dealt with it by making rope.

I joined Lisa and Gallery helper Raiza to bring my own conflict and commit it to rope which I would make myself. Sounds bizarre, but it was an amazingly moving experience.  I started by writing my own conflict down on a tiny roll of tape, a challenge in itself and not something to share here. Lisa and Raiza helped me make the rope, stretching out from hook to hook across the room, winding, twisting and tying and of course chatting, which to me was all part of the interactivity and the art. The finished rope is hung from the ceiling, joining those made by others, all making a statement about dealing with conflict.

My own rope was two, one rough, one smooth, brought together with the climber’s figure-of-eight knot, my conflict right there in the middle. How satisfying. How moving.

Torch magnet

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What’s metal and has magnetic properties, but isn’t a magnet? Easy, the Olympic torch. There are 8,000 of them carried by 8,000 people, each with 8,000 holes and presumably 8,000 little metal disks jangling away in the pockets of the white tracksuits worn by the torchbearers.

One of our students at the University of Bradford had the honour to carry the torch through Brighouse. Amateur boxer Saira Tabasum volunteers at a primary school in the city where she helps to run a girls-only non-contact boxing club. She also won the final of the British Universities and Colleges Sport Women’s Boxing Championships in her 67kg weight category. So no-one’s arguing with HER!

The 21-year-old agreed to bring in her torch, which comes in its own designer bag, for a photocall to feature in our in-house magazine. Once she’d been photographed she sat down for a quiet coffee in the atrium. But it wasn’t quiet for long, as the magnet-like torch drew admirers with cameraphones from all around. First my staff, who were supposed to be there to oversee the photocall wanted a photo. Then the security staff who sit in a windowless room spotted the activity on their CCTV and hot-footed it out for their photos. The chef and his team turned up too, and the students and random people who were passing through.

Saira was very patient but did eventually have to leave. She explained the torchbearers could buy their torches for £200 which personally I think is a bargain. The boxing club had paid for hers because students really don’t have that kind of money. Hopefully we’ll be seeing her at the next Olympics as one of our champions, then she’ll have a medal to add to the Olympic torch.



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!


On the front row

There were just a couple of seats left and, bloomin’ ‘ummer, they were on the front row. Great, I thought, right there in the firing line, with my knobbly knees and Red or Dead shoes on display. But at least I won’t be near the TV cameras, they’ll be pointing at Ed Milliband when he comes in the the question and answer session at the university. That just shows how wrong you can be.

Next week’s by-election in Bradford, caused by the resignation of current Labour MP due to ill health, has attracted the big gun politicians from all parties. Today Ed Milliband came to the university to by quizzed by a selection of local people and a few of our students. The students, all undergraduates, all had ideas on what they wanted to ask. I’d met and briefed them, then taken them to the meeting room. I thought I’d be able to blend seamlessly into the background.

Ed had requested a circle of chairs, with a tall table for his notes. My seat wasn’t far from the table, but Ed did a nifty about turn and the next thing I knew, he was in front of me and the cameras were clicking, flashing and whirring. All the time he was talking, I was behind, trying not to look gormless or pick my nose and get caught on camera. I think I got away with it…..

Ed meets the students



Ah, so you brought your mum….

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The campus is throbbing with activity as wannabe students flock to the open days to check out what Big School has to offer. They look so young and scared, it’s a far cry from the sixth form where they are the oldest and the wisest.

I snuck into the session run by SCIM, the School of Computing, Informatics and Mathematics, somewhere I’d not normally be qualified to enter, what with all that fancy C++, lines of code and sums that try to add letters and curly brackets. But hidden in there is the Media School, home of many whizzy gadgets.

The wonderful Will Godfrey, Undergraduate Admissions Tutor, wowed the assembled youngsters with tales of fantastic futures in the world of media. I almost wished I could join them and go back to student days with all the possibilities undergraduate life can offer…. Almost. I would significantly affect the average age of the class and am certainly older than most of the lecturers. Damn.

The snake of students was led around the studios and rooms full of kit, cameras and cables. The department is particularly proud of its new £1.5million outside broadcast unit which was – errr – outside. We were greeted by the cheery Chris who, as I brought up the rear, eyeballed me and quipped ‘ah, good to see the parents here too’. No, I told him, I was staff. Still cheery, he tried a recovery ‘But I suppose you’re a parent…’ Nope, Chris, carry on digging. ‘Ah, but maybe you will be….’ That would certainly be a surprise to all concerned!

Coffee and learning

The coffee of coffees, my latest coffee mosaic

Keeping a diary has always been a bit of an ‘I’ve started so I’ll not finish’ for me. I usually get to January 18, having carefully documented the post-Christmas pre-birthday goings-on with flowery prose and witty comments. Then after that it tends to peter out and I’m left with random words scattered through the remaining weeks of spring, a couple of comments in summer months then come autumn, just a list of birthdays. I ran out of inspiration, I ran out of provocation, I just ran out.

Then came caffeine, nectar of the gods, fuel for the body and food for the brain. Actually, there had always been coffee, I just hadn’t appreciated how it could drive my diary-writing. That realisation came about the same time I came to the conclusion that instant coffee was an abomination and a crime against coffee cups everywhere. Time was when I would happily sip Mellow Birds, which, according to the publicity, would ‘make you smile’. I can tell you, there was no smiling, it was all about frowning and unladylike spitting. No more Mellow Birds for me. No Nescafe Gold Blend and absolutely no Camp Coffee.

The pop pop popping of the percolator and permeating aroma of Lyons Fresh Ground Coffee had whetted my appetite for ‘proper’ coffee as we called it in our house. But that soon gave way to espresso and the House Blend, perfected after many experimental mixtures and quite a few sleep-deprived nights as the caffeine kicked in.

The coffee inspired my diary, in fact, it became my diary, With the help of the camera on my phone, I began a photo diary, taking pictures of coffees wherever I went, each telling a story.

When I started work at the University of Bradford, I took my coffee cup with me. Much to the amusement of staff, colleagues and students, I’ve placed the sparkly Starbucks mug in all kinds of settings. It’s been fun it’s been a challenge, it’s been yet more pages for my caffeine-fuelled photo diary.

I’ve taken all my coffee photos from the past three years and made them into a mosaic using a clever piece of software from the cuddly open source community.

Phone floatation device saves soggy calls

Dropping the phone down the toilet the first time was unfortunate. It was just one of those things that can happen to anyone who puts their mobile in their back pocket and forgets it’s there. But twice? The same back pocket? This was more like a trend.

Of course the good thing about trends is the learning gained from doing it in the first place. So I knew not to try turn it on and to whip out the battery. I knew to whisk it on to a bed of rice and pop it somewhere nice and warm for a couple of days to encourage the whole drying-out process. If only I’d remembered to take the SIM card out, it just wasn’t the same, all the ringtones warbled and then the screen looked like a flat lava lamp.

Ah well I’ll know next time. Next time? There will be no next time because thanks to the wonderful academic environment at the University of Bradford, some of the inventive cleverness has rubbed off and I am on the point of patenting an Anti Plop Phone Protector™ for my new smartphone. As with all works of genius, it’s simple. Inspired by the many aircraft safety demonstrations I’ve seen from my cramped seat in economy class, I’ve adapted the flotation device principles for the phone.

This phone won't sink

It’s still in the testing stage. I’ve not yet figured out how to fit it in my pocket, though the up-side of that is if it’s not in my pocket, it won’t fall out into the toilet. And it does keep floating away in an Up Up and Away fashion, so I have to keep it on a length of string. But these are just snagging issues, the inventive process has started, there’s no stopping it.

Now all I have to do is to work out how to use the damned phone. Smartphone? It’s not that smart if the keypad won’t unlock.


Beans, not Barry

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The tombola at the Student Union Christmas fair promised everything from beans to Barry Manilow and it was those old 33-and-a-thirds that caught my eye. Oooo the nostalgia oozing out of those album sleeves. Even though I’ve nothing to play them on and don’t particularly like Bazza, there was something about those old LPs that took me back to teenage years and making instant judgement on my peers based on the musical tastes on display in their record racks.

All I had to do was pick a ticket ending in a zero or five. And for just 20p a throw, I reckoned an investment of £2 was well worth it if I was to take home those prized albums. Oo the suspense! I wondered out loud whether the two students knew what the large black discs were and if they had tried to get the music out of them by sticking a USB into the album sleeve. Yes, the told me, of course they’d heard of records, their grandparents had them, back in the days of BC – Before Computers.

Oh joy, I had a winning ticket. Oh damn, it wasn’t the 75 on the LPs. It was 40. I had won a tin of beans. Ah well, I couldn’t have played the LPs, but at least I can eat the beans.


The world in the atrium

The world in the atrium

Within the space of an hour today I’d spoken to people from Libya to Latvia, Turkey to Malaysia, India to Iraq, Dubai to Nigeria, China to Germany, Paris to Bulgaria and our very own Batley and Bradford.

The world was in the atrium at the University of Bradford to celebrate graduation and I’d been drafted in to sign up as many of them as possible to our alumni programme. Of course, being terminally nosey I had to know more.

Why, I asked many of them, did you want to come to Bradford? They had the world within their reach, so why Bradford? It’s not the biggest or even, by its own admission, the best.  It all boiled down to the courses, the education and learning they expected. The bonus when they got here was the warmth of the welcome and the friendliness on the campus. This actually rang true with all the other research I’ve done.

The buzz of excitement, the chatter of many languages and the cuts and colours of the clothes was a slice of the world right before my eyes. My own graduation went in such a whirl of gown-fitting and avoidance of falling off the stage that I hardly had time to enjoy it, so being part of the graduation of others was just wonderful.

The only downside was asking the new BSc, MScs, MBAs, MAs and PhDs about their next steps. Many from abroad were staying in this country, hoping to find work. None had done so far. Good luck guys, you deserve it.