Neil Gaiman: Where to start

Make Good Art sign on my desk

Make Good Art sign on my desk

I posted the above photo of my new Locomocean cinema style lightbox with the words "Make Good Art" on it, and with the following quote from Neil Gaiman's Address to the University of the Arts Class of 2012:

Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.

Make good art.

I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.

Make it on the good days too.
— Neil Gaiman

These words have given me comfort and the strength to keep going with my #10minsbeforebed project throughout this year of "growth opportunity".

One of the commenters on that instagram post said she'd not heard of Neil before, and asked where to start, and given that instagram doesn't let you post URLs, and this is a question I love to be asked, I figured I'd go old-school, dust of this here blog and write a blog post about it.

So here goes - a quick quite to where to start with Neil Gaiman.

The 'Make Good Art' Speech

The video of the full address is below, and absolutely worth a watch, or if you're not somewhere you can watch a video, click through using the link below the video and you'll find a full transcript which you can read at your leisure. 

The Day The Saucers Came

Author Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) reads his poem "The Day the Saucers Came" at Minnesota Public Radio's Wits.

I love this poem beyond the telling of it. I heard it before I read it, at the book tour for Fragile Things, one of several books of short stories and other groups of words, which is also a fine place to start if you want to dip your toe in the Gaiman water without the commitment that goes with reading a novel or long story.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

One of his more recent books, written for his wife, musician Amanda Palmer. Never intended to be published, but I'm very glad it did.

One of his more recent books, written for his wife, musician Amanda Palmer. Never intended to be published, but I'm very glad it did.

About to become a TV Series, which is hugely exciting.

About to become a TV Series, which is hugely exciting.

Theoretically a kids story, but a good, short read. Made into a fabulous stop-motion animated film.

Theoretically a kids story, but a good, short read. Made into a fabulous stop-motion animated film.

From Henry Selick, visionary director of THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, and based on Neil Gaimans international best-selling book, comes a spectacular stop-motion animated adventure the first to be originally filmed in 3D! Coraline Jones (Dakota Fanning) is bored in her new home until she finds a secret door and discovers an alternate version of her life on the other side.
Where it all started, for me. The amazing graphic novel series, of which Preludes and Nocturnes is the beginning.

Where it all started, for me. The amazing graphic novel series, of which Preludes and Nocturnes is the beginning.

Books for Kids

He's also written a bunch of books for kids, so if you know small people, you can get them started early with:

Chu's Day

Blueberry Girl

The Wolves in the Walls

The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish

The Graveyard Book

Other Favourites

I could go on and on and on, because he's a) so good and b) so prolific, but I'll just list a few other favourites here, and then stop, because basically, the tl;dr is - start anywhere, then keep going.

Neverwhere - You'll never see London the same again. Was made into a BBC TV series.

Good Omens - Written with Terry Pratchett.

Stardust - Worth hunting down the illustrated version because Charles Vess's artwork is beautiful, but the novel is still good. Was made into a film.


Crustless Mini Breakfast Quiches

3 Crustless Mini Breakfast Quiches

3 Crustless Mini Breakfast Quiches

I don't do well with cereal in the morning. I hate the stuff. Not a huge fan of milk. Toast doesn't do it for me and I end up eating way too much bread. So I struggle to find interesting, healthy, tasty things to eat in the mornings.  

I've read a few things on Pinterest about crustless mini quiches and when pottering around this morning decided to give them a go.

Here's what I did. 

I pre-heated the oven to about 180. Dug out the muffin tray, sprayed a bit of that 1 cal oil spray into each divot and set about seeing what we had in the fridge.  

I found some leftover ham, a couple of courgettes and some baby plum tomatoes, as well as some Double Gloucester cheese and 4 eggs.

I sliced the courgette quite thinly and then cut each slice into quarters and chucked 4 quarters into each divot. 

I then sliced the tomato into 4 slices and chucked them in too. 

Then I cut some small cubes of ham and added them too, getting slightly worried that I was over-filling each divot and leaving no room for egg.  

I cracked the eggs into one of my trusty Pyrex jugs, set about them with a fork and added some freshly ground black pepper before pouring the mixture into the each divot.  

Amazingly, 4 eggs was the perfect amount of egg for filling, and each divot was filled to just below the top.  

I grated 30g of Double Gloucester and added a pinch to the top of each mini quiche-to-be, like so.

12 Mini Quiches-to-be

12 Mini Quiches-to-be

I bunged them in the oven and set the timer for 10 minutes, hoping for the best, staying nearby so I could keep an eye on them in case they went up in flames or did the tango or something.

10 minutes later they came out of the oven looking fab and smelling great, and with a tiny bit of persuasion from a knife, were transferred to my plate.  

12 Mini Quiches

12 Mini Quiches

At which point Jnr came into the kitchen, looked at my plate and announced that he wanted a pizza. So I gave him a mini quiche and didn't bother correcting him, figuring it's no bad thing if he thinks these are pizzas.   

His eating of it went surprisingly well until he encountered unexpected tomato in the eating area, at which point the game was a bogey and his dad finished the rest of the quiche. 

Many way. Surprisingly easy, tasty and fun. No idea why I haven't tried this before. And in terms of what you chuck in the divots - the possibilities are endless. If you give these or something similar a go, I'd love to see/hear what you did, either in the comments or in Twitter.

And yes, I do like the word divot, why do you ask? 

Using a website as a screensaver in OS X

Being a blog post mostly written as a reminder so that I can remember how I do this when I change machine the next time.

  1. Use Alastair Tse's WebViewScreensaver (new window) because Gavin Brock's WebSaver (new window) doesn't come with any installation instructions and there isn't an obvious .saver file or similar to double click (and who needs a helping of feeling stupid when trying to just have a pretty screen saver appear.
  2. Go into Security & Privacy in System Preferences to tell OS X that you really really do want to install the thing.
  3. Add What colour is it? or Design Quotes Display to the URL list. Or whatever site is currently rocking your world.
  4. Win.


Blogging Like It's 2000

Blogging in 2015 is a funny beast. When I began, in March 2000, there were an awful lot more personal blogs than any other kind. Nowadays, it's all about being a Lifestyle blog, or a Fashion blog or a M(o)ummy Blog or a whatever the hell blog. And I get it. Blogs are big business now, and how can you make money unless you're specific about your audience and what you offer them, but I miss the old personal blogs.

I miss writing a personal blog.

I miss writing.

I've tried so many times over the last few years to start blogging again, even creating separate blogs, but the truth is that I don't want to be limited by writing about just the one thing. I don't want a knitting blog, or a mummy blog, or a professional design blog, or a running blog, or a stationery blog, or a craft blog, or a nail blog. I just want a me blog.

So that's what I'm going to do. I'm just going to write. About whatever moves me, and not worry about audience or social media strategies or following any of what seem like the million rules that have sprung up about how to blog.

Why now? Well, I was a bit inspired by what Norm and Neil wrote this week about side projects, and accountability.

So here goes.

Things I didn't really understand before becoming a mum

Being up and awake before anyone else in the house is

I used to read these magazine or newspaper articles where some famous/successful/interesting woman would be interviewed and she'd say something along the lines of: 

"My favourite time of the day is first thing in the morning. I like to get up at [the crack of sparrowfart, or earlier] before everyone else gets up. It's so peaceful, and I can have that time to myself before the demands of the day kick in".

and I'd be thinking to myself how crazy she was, and that she could be sleeping!

Oh, how little I knew.

Since becoming a mother, I have a window of approximately 30 seconds in the morning, where, if all goes well, I can go back to sleep. Anything beyond that and it's too late. I'm up for the day. I didn't used to be like this. I sometimes really wish I wasn't like this.


There is something kind of magical about the peace and quiet in those early hours. The gift they give of being able to come in to yourself slowly. With a cup of tea and a book, or some knitting, or the breakfast you want, when you want it, without a tiny human hanging off your legs. To sit on the toilet without someone actually sitting on you. The time to be you. Not mum, not wife, not host. No demands, no conversation, no noise.


Hand cream

I knew about hand cream before I became a mum. And occasionally I bought some, thinking that I should really use it, but I never really did.

Then I became a mum and the hand-washing really started. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I was a dirty skank before. I washed my hands. I just didn't have the need to wash my hands quite so bloody much before.

Never mind washing that man right out of your hair - babies will make you wash that skin right offa your hands.

Hand cream. Bloody brilliant. Current fave: Neal's Yard Melissa Hand Cream.

Spa Days

Sure, they're nice and all, but you can get the same effect just having a bath and doing stuff at home, right?

That was before I knew that actually having the time to run a bath, get into it, have a soak, a read, a relax, uninterrupted for at least an hour, was likely to be rarer than hen's teeth.

Sometimes, I fantasise about running away to a Premier Inn for a night. Just so I can have a bloody bath and not have to sleep with one ear open, in case Junior needs me.

That you can't call in sick to being a mum

As I enter week 3 of the virus that keeps on giving, I'm reminded again that no matter what else is going on, I can't just retire to my bed with a box of Kleenex Balsam and all of netflix for days, until I feel better. That's not to say that MrP doesn't help - he does, but sometimes, only mummy will do. So unless I'm out of the house, I'm very very rarely entirely off duty.

I know this will get better as he gets older, but sometimes, when I'm feeling really really awful, I just want to hibernate and not have to deal with anyone else's needs. 


Not in London Anymore, Toto

After 12 years and 26 days of living the London life, I took a deep breath and moved outside the M25.


The commute is longer, but though I loved living in East Dulwich for the last 5 years, this feels better. The sky is bigger, the grass is greener (and there's a lot more of it, almost everywhere I look) and we're weeks away from having a home to call our own.

We're beginning to put down roots and I can feel my wings beginning to uncurl.

Whooga Boots

When I got pregnant last year, my feet did the pregnant thing of growing, unexpectedly, almost overnight. I went from a size 5 to a size 7 in quite a short space of time, leaving me irritatingly and uncomfortably shoeless (at possibly the worst possible time to be uncomfortable and unshod). In desperation, just before I was due to give birth, I bought a pair of knitted Ugg style boots, which, though not the foxiest of footwear, were at least comfortable enough that I could walk in them, and wide enough that my newly boatlike feet could fit in them.

Fast forward to January and the wind is blowing a gale through the (synthetic) knitted ankle and they're battered and collapsing and generally in that baggy ugly state that everyone associates with this style of boot, and often mocks. Not good. So I'm in York at the end of January, and it's freezing, and I'm thinking that I should really get a pair of proper Ugg type boots, maybe even bite the bullet and buy UGG brand boots, but the cost stops me in my tracks. They might be warm, but I don't love them nearly enough to pay that much for them. So I don't, and I go home, with cold feet and consider wearing two pairs of socks for the next couple of months.

Then a couple of days later I get an email, asking if I've got cold feet, and do I want to try a pair of Ugg style boots and do a review on my blog.


Yes. I have cold feet.

Yes, I was going to buy a new pair of boots, but didn't think my maternity pay would stretch to UGGs (I firmly believe that if you're going to cough up a lot of money for shoes that they should make you happy).

No, I don't usually do blog reviews of products because there's usually strings attached, or the products offered are things I wouldn't normally buy.

So I email back, somewhat disbelieving, and long story short, there were no strings attached. I was allowed to choose any boots I wanted, and have been free to wear them, keep them and write what I want about them.

So here's my review:

Short version

I love these and will not be parted from them. They are like walking in clouds. I may buy another pair in a different colour. Especially because there's a sale on right now making them less than half the price of their equivalent UGG brethren

Whooga Boots

Long version

Customer Experience

Working in UX I'm all about the customer experience, and although I didn't use the website to order, because they were ordered for me, I got all the steps from the point of order onwards, and I was very impressed.

I did check out the site though, and was really pleased to see detailed information on how to make sure you get the right size, as well as information about the materials used and how to wear (and care for) them, and after a bit of consideration, I chose the Classic Short Boots in Black.

I got a confirmation email as soon as the order was placed, with all the order details.

A day later I got another email to let me know that they had shipped, complete with tracking details.

A day later, they were delivered. Brilliant.

I did get an email that day saying that there'd been an attempted delivery (which was in reality successful, but I'd rather have an extra email in error than nothing at all), and three days later, a final email following up to make sure I'd received them, asking me to fill out a customer survey and giving returns information.

Cool. Never had that before.

But on to the important bit.

The Boots

Whooga Box

The Box. I'm a sucker for packaging, and though this was a nice try, it didn't entirely get me going.

Back View

The Boots. Nice subtle label. Reinforced heel, to avoid that collapsing thing that makes UGG boots look so sloppy.

The Boots. On.

The Boots. On.

Top View

The View from The Top.

I'm happy to report that despite my slight apprehension, the boots are a perfect fit. They're neat around my calf, which is great but I can still get my trousers into them, but does make them a wee bit more challenging to put on (these are not shove your feet into them and go boots - you have to put them on properly). They're also not too long or wide in the foot, which avoids the "swimming" feeling I've had with other similar style boots - and which has resulted in the most impressive blisters you've ever seen.

I went with the website's suggestion of wearing them barefoot and they were incredibly comfortable and warm. The only downside being the black colour, which transferred to my feet by the time I took them off. Still, a small price to pay for comfort, and not something I imagine that happens with the natural colour ones.

I've worn these to walk some fairly long distances (around RHS Wisley, around Dulwich Park with the local mums, etc. etc. etc.) for the last three weeks and they've been great. They've stood up to accidental mud (RHS Wisley + Mud + Pram Wheels = Woe), light rain, bitter cold wind and bright, warm sunshine. The inner pile has compressed a bit, but not too much, and my feet haven't felt hideously overheated at any point. I've worn them barefoot (and washed my feet a lot after), with thin socks and with thicker socks. If you were going to wear them with thicker socks a lot it might make sense to buy a size bigger, but it was doable.

As I said in the tl;dr version, I really love these. They're comfortable, warm and have withstood everything I've thrown at them. In the time I've had them I've only worn other shoes twice, and both times I've been less comfortable - make of that what you will.

Some Things I Learned in 2011

That even if you want to be pregnant and have actively been trying to get pregnant, there will still be a moment when you look at the positive test and think "Holy SHIT! I'm pregnant!" and your knees will go weak and you'll panic a bit. That my body, which has failed me so much and so often in the past, can conceive, carry to term and nourish a child. Not effortlessly, by any stretch of the imagination, but it worked, and it is continuing to work, and this astonishes me daily.

That really good friends can be found in places you don't expect, and that people you thought were friends can disappear from your life with very little warning.

That everything washes.

That making pastry isn't as scary as it seems.

That there's a very good reason that pregnancy takes so damn long, and even then, it isn't nearly long enough to adjust to the culture shock that is being a first-time parent.

That quality really is better than quantity in almost everything.