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 carry flowers in public: a spotter's guide

Based on my own previous experiences of commuting with a bouquet, and today’s observations of people struggling with blooms on public transport, I present this handy guide to how to carry flowers (either given to you or on your way to present them to someone else), without looking ridiculous.

There are in fact six main carrying stances:

bride1. The Bride

Stance: Single or double-handed, bouquet held in front of the body.

Notes: Tendency to look like blushing bride. Must avoid slow-walking, or wearing of white clothing.


nonchalant2. Nonchalant

Stance: Single-handed, bouquet held upright but tilted at a slight angle.

Notes: Pose suggests that the holder is unaware that they are holding a lovely bouquet of flowers, or that this sort of thing happens all the time. “What’s that? Nice flowers? Eh? Oh, you mean these flowers? Yes, I suppose they are…” NB: Can play havoc with weak wrists.


down3. The Sweep

Stance: Single-handed, bouquet grasped around the base and facing downwards.

Notes: Signals embarrassment about receiving or carrying flowers. Usually accompanied by intense blushes. Very effective for de-petalling the blooms, as downwards-orientation and pendulum motion conspire with gravity to cause petals to drop off.


torch4. The Torch

Stance: Single-handed, bouquet held upright, slightly aloft and at a right angle to the body, but at some distance.

Notes: Usually adopted by boyfriends/husbands, this posture signals that the carrier has bought the flowers for someone else, and is merely conveying them to their intended recipient, plus do you really think I’d be caught dead carrying flowers around in the street? Do you? Well, do you? What sort of bloke do you think I am? etc etc. NB: Can be painful on upper arms/shoulders if used for a long time.


award5. The Award

Stance: Single-handed grasp, with bouquet resting in the crook of the opposite arm.

Notes: The award for best flower carrying posture goes to….*drum roll*…. whoever carries their flowers like this! Impossible not to seem as if you are receiving an award, or holding a large, florid baby.


karaoke6. The Microphone

Stance: Single-handed, bouquet held upright and slightly aloft directly in front of the body, near the face.

Notes: Can seem as if you are about to break into karaoke, depending on the type of flowers. Avoid bulbous blooms.

Of course, it’s best to remember that, on today of all days, nothing says “I love you” like dead vegetation

Notes from Cairo

Egypt’s capital is in my thoughts this week because of everything that’s going on there.

I was in Cairo for nearly a week in July last year, training independent Egyptian news organisation Al-Masry Al-Youm in social media and digital engagement/community management. It was a great few days with a lovely group of people.

Al-Masry Al-Youm team

Because I was there for work, with a very packed schedule of all-day workshops and presentations, there was no time for sightseeing (and it was far too hot anyway), so instead my main impressions of Cairo are whatever I could see and hear from the back of a taxi, zooming from one place to another – airport to hotel, hotel to office, office to restaurant, restaurant to hotel.

View from balcony (night)

The other day, searching my computer for Cairo photos, I came across a text file I’d made containing notes from my visit there – impressions on arriving, things seen and heard and scribbled down on my iphone in the back of a taxi, trying to make sense of the city.

Unedited, and without further context, here they are.

Glint of the Nile as we entered Egyptian airspace.

Off the plane, the fug of the city, hot and thick like a badly-ventilated bathroom after a shower, dusty and heavy like the side of a road in summer.

People everywhere. No signs in the airport. No indication where to go, what to do.

The taxi, haring through the night streets.
Families picknicking on patches of ground at the side of the road, nestled into the shade of a tree despite being past one in the morning.

From the freeway, a glimpse down a dun-coloured dusty alley: children in bright shorts, illuminated by streetlights, playing scratch football.

In the back of a Cairo Taxi


Know your place

My new commute involves taking the train and transferring at a big, busy urban interchange. I’m learning a lot about my commute – and the fine art of commuting – of which more in time, I’m sure.

But a little glimpse for now: last night, waiting at St Pancras, I noticed that the people on the opposite platform (waiting for the northbound train) were huddled in particular formations relating to where the doors open when the train eventually arrives.

Know your place

This tells us three things.

1. The train’s obviously going to be busy when it arrives, so proximity to the door is everything
2. You’ve got to do a lot of commuting before you know not just which zone to stand in so you’re near the exit when you get off, but where the doors open
3. If you’re not standing in prime position (by the doors when they open), you’re going to get left behind

Missed calls and a travel tip

On the bus earlier today, I overheard a woman on the phone telling someone “I’ll missed-call you when I’m near your place, so you can come and meet me”

I mentioned this on Twitter, and various people responded, sharing their own versions of this little trick.

“My mum says ‘I’ll give you 3 rings'” (@a_williams)

“Brings back familiar sound of a trimphone ringing three times after grandparents got home safely” (@crouchingbadger)

“Even better, in italian, they have a proper word for it: ‘squillino’ which means ‘miss call’ or ‘buzz'” (@dvydra)

“V standard in Italy…they call it giving someone ‘uno squillo'” (@ron_n)

“In Australia, we say ‘I’ll prank you’ referring to a prank call you’re not supposed to pick up” (@lukely78)

“Known as the ‘one-ring’ round my parts” (@genzaichi)

“When I was little, my mum would get ‘three rings’ when I was heading home from a neighbour’s house” (@philgyford)

I’ve known for a while that people in (especially) sub-saharan Africa have used the missed-call functionality – calling someone, letting it ring once, then hanging up before they answer, so they see a missed call from the original caller, and use their mobile credit or account to call back. They call this “Beeping” and there are established social rules for doing it.


A couple of years ago, P and I went to a wedding on the North York Moors. We stayed in a rather faded (but decently-reviewed on Tripadvisor) hotel near the prom in Scarborough, and aside from a wobbly start when we arrived and discovered that the room had been cleaned but not the bathroom (eugh!) we had a perfectly pleasant stay for a couple of nights.

We barely spent any time there, just dashing in to shower and change outfits in between the social engagements which cluster around a wedding for old friends. But we made a point of having a decent breakfast both mornings, because you never know when you’re going to be fed at someone else’s nuptials, do you?

On the first morning, we showed up at the high-ceilinged breakfast room at eight, and were shown to a table in the window. Unsurprisingly for a hotel at the seaside on the first weekend in August, there were plenty of guests in residence, most of whom were already seated, in even-numbered clumps at tables adorned with white cloths and posies of plastic flowers in unnatural colours.

As we perused the menu, a man with a slightly Fawlty-esque moustache walked in carrying a pot of coffee. He approached the table to the left of us, which held two slightly rotund and red-faced couples wearing floral blouses (shes) and pastel polo shirts (hes).

“Right then, who’s for coffee?” the man with the pot bellowed

“Me please,” said one of the men.

“And me, Frank,” said his floral other half.

“Tea for me, thanks,” said the other man.

“Oh aye, I might’ve known there’d be trouble,” said the proprietor, “there’s always one awkward one.”

Empty sky

Just found this 2003 photo from when we first moved to SW14

For as long as I’ve lived in London, I’ve lived under the flight path.

That’s not saying much, of course – most of central, west and south-west London is affected by plane noise, as they circle over the suburbs, make a languid turn over Tower bridge and then approach to Heathrow along the Thames.

I remember standing on the school playing fields (when I should undoubtedly have been chasing a hockey ball or hustling to class) and looking up at planes not so far overhead, trying to identify the airline from the tail fin design. Alitalia. BA. Pan Am. SAS. Lufthansa. Countries in the sky.

For most of the last decade, I’ve lived directly under the flight path, in Mortlake by the river, which is the point where the wheels come down on the landing approach.

When we first moved here, I was hyper-aware of the planes. I’d wake up as the first flight droned overhead around 04.30, before dropping off again. And then, throughout the day and evening, every thirty seconds, they’d rumble over on their way to landing: loud enough that you’d miss a few seconds of important dialogue in the film you were watching, or have to pause your conversation for a spell. Before Concorde stopped flying, the air would be thunderous for nearly a minute as it slid overhead.

The power of ten

I missed the actual tenth birthday of this blog/me blogging but I can’t let a milestone like that go unmarked, can I?


Originally started as a place to store and share links, this blog gradually became a place to playfully interact with the world, and over time that turned from introspection to exploration of the world, media, experiences and ideas. I don’t think I’m alone in that kind of journey with blogs.

I am immensely (unreasonably, perhaps even pathetically) proud of having been blogging for so long. I can say confidently that I was in at the beginning, when all this were fields. I was here before many of you young whippersnappers who have gone on to eclipse me, and blogging, and the web entirely in their success and influence. I don’t put my early involvement down to canny prescience about the way the web was turning so much as an inevitability given my proclivity for tinkering with web things, my early academic and personal interest in communicating online and my inability to shut up. Blogging and me; it was only a matter of time and technology before we found each other.

I was there. I remember the start, and the hype, popularisation, commercialisation and ubiquitisation which followed. I couldn’t possibly have known it at the time, but my blogging was to introduce me to dozens of interesting people, influence others to start doing it too, cause interesting opportunities (and worrying situations) to develop. Blogging has become part of what I am, what I do. I blog now for the same reasons I did in early 2000: because I can’t not tinker with and publish to the web.

Ten years ago, I was embarrassed to mention having a blog in polite company, because it was so difficult to understand – not just what but why. These days, even both my parents have blogs. It’s not a weird niche oddball geek thing anymore. It’s so normal it’s almost passé. Good.


Sleeping in someone else's bed

You know, of course, that hotel rooms have multiple occupants. Multiple sequential occupants, that is – unless you’re staying in a supercheap eastern European hostel like I did in Budapest in 1993, where the number of occupants definitely outnumbered the number of bunk beds, and where you had to pick your way down corridors lined with coccoon-like sleeping bagged sleepers in the middle of the night if you needed the loo.

So you know, logically, that the hotel room you occupy for a night or longer was stayed in by someone else before you, and will be the resting place for someone else again after you. That’s the point of hotel rooms. That’s how they make their money.

But part of the deal of staying in a hotel is that while you’re there, you get to ignore the fact that you’re sharing a sleeping area with the microbes of hundreds, thousands of strangers.


If it’s a good hotel, they clean it properly before you arrive. They change the bedlinen (apart from the decorative pillows and the patterned comforter which you must NEVER TOUCH for this precise reason).
Vaccuum the floor to get rid of the crusty bits that come off other people’s feet when they’re padding around barefoot.
Wipe the bathroom down to get rid of odd smears and puddles, and mop the floor to remove stray pubes and dandruff.
Straighten the curtains, desk furniture, chairs.
Put the remote back next to the TV.
Whisk away old glasses and mugs and restock the minibar.

And when you’re gone, they’ll do the same all over again, to remove any evidence that you were ever there.