The Mayfly project, 2011

The Project
At the end of every year since 2000, I’ve invited readers to look back on the last twelve months of their lives and reflect on what has been important, defining or constant during that particular year, and then sum their year up in just 24 words. Embracing the constraint of summing up the last year in a handful of words helps to focus what has really mattered.

The Background
In December of 2000, I met an old friend for dinner. We hadn’t seen each other in nine years, and hadn’t been in contact for eight. With only a few hours on a chilly evening in London to catch up before his plane left for Canada, we shared our stories in breathless bursts. So much had happened. We had to narrow it down to the essentials.

The best brief biography I’ve ever heard was for a mayfly:

Born. Eat. Shag. Die.

Because Ephemeroptera lives only for twenty-four hours, the summary of its life is refreshingly straightforward: To the point. The stuff that matters. Just the essentials.

I realised on the way home from the restaurant that there’s nothing quite like embracing the constraint of brevity (whether time or wordcount) when summing up the last year of your life to make you re-examine your priorities, or focus on what has affected you or was important to you over the last twelve months.

When I got home from seeing my friend, inspired by my evening and the biography of a mayfly bumping around in my head, I asked readers of this site to sum up the last year of their lives in just a handful of words. The Mayfly Project was born.

Due to popular demand, I’ve been running the Mayfly Project at the end of every year since then (here’s the 2006 edition, and here’s what happened in 2007 and 2008). It seems that people have got a lot to say or rather, that a lot of people have got not a lot to say: twenty-four words, to be precise, reflecting the mayfly’s short lifespan.

Another year has passed, and it’s back again.

The Instructions
Scroll down to sum up your 2011 in twenty-four words. But before you do, check:

  1. Is it twenty four words?
  2. Does it sum up the last year of your life?

If the answer to either of those is no, you’re going to look silly.

On Bonfire Night

Went up the hill to watch the local Rotary Club firework display – a big, booming, rockets-and-stars affair, to a We Will Rock You soundtrack distorted through not-powerful enough speakers. However cheesy, it’s hard not to love the magic of fireworks, and something about the ritual – wrapped warm in winter coat and scarf, nose slightly chilly, the smell of smoke and sulphur hanging in the air – brings with it a kind of nostalgia.

Whenever I see fireworks, I’m reminded of a favourite poem by Elizabeth Jennings…

Remembering Fireworks

Elizabeth Jennings

Always as if for the first time, we watch
the fireworks as if no-one had ever
done this before, made shapes, signs
cut diamonds on air, sent up stars
nameless, imperious. And in the falling
of fire, the spent rocket, there is a kind
of nostalgia, as normally only attaches
to things long known and lost. Such an absence
such emptiness of sky the fireworks leave
after their festival. We, fumbling
for words of love, remember the rockets
the spinning wheels, the sudden diamonds
and say with delight “Yes, like that, like that”
Oh and the air is full of falling
stars surrendered. We search for a sign.

"Oh and the air is full of falling stars, surrendered"

In transit again

It’s somewhat shameful that I haven’t updated this blog for a month, since I was last in North America for a journalism/digital engagement workshop in Columbia, Missouri. And now I’m back again, fleetingly – this time for a few days in Toronto where I was doing workshops about blogging (building readership and business case development – luckily, not too much detail on how often to update, because I’d have been a bit hypocritical…) for MagNet11 (the national magazines of Canada trade show) and then New York this weekend where I’ve been participating in Sparkcamp, a meeting of interesting minds from the digital and journalism worlds, around the theme of “Real Time”.

And now I’m in the BA lounge at JFK, on my way home, and rather thankful that this is my last travel commitment in 2011. I’m not saying I won’t go anywhere else – I’ve got a sabbatical coming up, after all, and I need a holiday at some point, too – but I’m done with the travelling and airports and hotel rooms and currency exchanges and shuttle buses and air conditioning for a while, I think.

Now that things will be settling down a bit, I’m going to try and blog a bit more/often about some of the things I’ve been getting up to, some of the ideas I’ve been exploring, and some of the things that have been going on. Please hold me to this!

For the moment, though, a slight change of pace.

I’ve fairly recently started using instagram to take and post photos on the move both at home and on my recent travels. I’m megpickard there if you want to link up. Here (and after the jump) are a select few that I’ve taken, along with a little context…

Sparkcamp this weekend was held at the CUNY (City University New York) school of Journalism, which is in a building next to the New York Times HQ, in the middle of the garment district in midtown Manhattan. The streets are lined with fabric shops, piled high with rich colours and bolts of material. As I was walking to the conference this morning, I glimpsed this scene through an open doorway. I liked the framing, and the face there was no-one else in shot, despite it being such a crowded, bustling area.

Found on the pavement
On my second night in Toronto, determined not to fall asleep by 9pm (like I had the night before), I went for a long, looping walk up Yonge Street, then west along Bloor, up through the Annexe, and then down through the University area to the Harbourfront. In the middle of university buildings, on the ground between two cycle racks, I found this (painted? stencilled?) onto the pavement. I thought it was rather lovely, because it was so unexpected.

Think pink
I took this photo while walking through the rain in Brighton, down towards the sea from my sister and brother-out-law‘s lovely new house. The rain meant the pink of the door was particularly striking, and the checked tiles really popped out in contrast.

Late train
On a recent Saturday night, Paul and I went into town for sushi and a glass of wine on a hot day. On the way home, we hustled to London Bridge to catch a late train. As I came down the stairs to the platform, I thought the scene would make an interesting timelapse image. I took several shots, then pieced them together using the autostitch iphone app, then put the resulting image through instagram to increase the contrast. I like the movement in the image (and the fact you can see P on the right hand side, checking his watch, concerned – and not for the first or last time – that my photo-taking is going to make us miss our train…)

A flying visit to the Isle of Mull (or Isle of Mum as it’s known in our house) for a family birthday in May meant only a short amount of time for walking on desolate, windswept beaches this time around. But we got one in, at least…

Think big
When I (finally) got to St Louis, MO, I still had a 2+ hour journey to Columbia. It’s very flat, and the highwayside is peppered with these tall billboards against an impossibly blue sky.

And finally…

Don't want to worry anyone, but I just spotted this scene at Victoria
On my way to Manchester one morning, I passed through Victoria station, and glimpsed this out of the corner of my eye. I have no idea what was going on, though I suspect they were shooting an ad or something. Rather concerning, though!

How to make: bunting

Bunting season is nearly upon us – an incipient royal wedding (with accompanying jingoism and jelly at street parties), a clutch of bank holidays and the next thing you know it’ll be summer and time for fairs, picnics and barbecues.

But you don’t need an excuse for bunting, really.

I like bunting. I’ve never really had a reason to string it outside, but my study (painted white) has a picture rail running around the top of the wall, and I had an idea to string some miniature bunting along it (and along the frames of a couple of pictures) as a sort of alternative decoration.

Step 15: Festoon!

So I did a bit of online research (of course) and discovered that you can pay not very much for fairly ugly and cheap-looking big flappy strings of bunting. You can pay quite a lot for the fruits of someone else’s labour on etsy, folksy or ebay and the like. Or you can make it yourself.

Several of the methods I found require cutting things out with pinking shears (I don’t have any, and John Lewis were out of stock when I went in to check) and/or making shapes which you sew and turn inside-out (far too much faff).

So I decided to see if I could figure out a way to make simple no-sew, no cut shapes which would look good front and back, not fray on the edges and would have some structural integrity. I came up with his origami-inspired kite-shape approach.

Step 6: Do the same on the other side

It works!

Step 14: Untangle

You will need:

— Some material, cut into squares (about 30)
— 16mm bias binding tape (about 5m)
— Pins
— A sewing machine (could do it by hand, it’s not that hard or much)
— (optional: webbox)
— An iron + flat surface to press on

Total time to make: about two hours

Step 15: Festoon!

Click through this set on Flickr to see step-by-step instructions with photos.

Let me know how you get on.

iPhone photography apps: addendum

After writing not long ago about my favourite iPhone photography apps, I have a small update.

I don’t know if it’s got something to do with the quality of the iPhone 4 camera, or the way they’ve tweaked the algorithms in the app, but my love for CameraBag (at least its Helga setting) has dwindled. It no longer seems to be able to bring out the punch in shots.

So for punchiness these days I turn instead to Lo Mob, which comes with 28 different filters, including TTV, instant, and more. Some are more interesting than others, and I’ve been particularly pleased with the transformative effect it’s had on some of my recent shots – the black and white ones with high contrast are especially effective.

Hard as

Keep calm

It’s almost as good as using an actual retro camera, like my beloved Holga.

Hunstanton groynes


A few recent moments

Given that there’s so much going on at the moment (of which more anon), rather than leaving this place to echo silently (frequently thought of but untended) I’m going to try and get into the habit of posting a few random things whenever I get a chance – photos, links, moments – without much context.

Wafting statue



I know the first rule of blogging is “never apologise” but I’m sure one of the other rules is something like “keep it up” which I have been woeful at doing recently – the terrible timing, so soon after my celebratory tenth blogiversary postings, was noted and probably deeply significant.

Lots of travel, lots of stuff happening at work, lots of really lousy things happening with regard to our housing situation (synopsis: After seven months dangling at the end of a property chain last year, we finally gave up on the place we were buying and found somewhere else with no chain. All progressed well until the owner of the house we were just about to exchange contracts on suddenly changed her mind about the sale which meant we, having given in our notice on current (rented) flat, were very nearly about to be homeless within weeks. We’ve sorted it out now, thankfully, and the hunt continues, though we are surrounded by boxes which I can’t bring myself to unpack just yet.)

So here’s something approaching content: I’ve been quietly making galleries on Flickr for a while. Here are some of my favourites…

What big eyes you have
(What big eyes you have)
Lone tree in winter
(Lone tree in winter)
Migraine-inducing carpet
(Migraine-inducing carpet)