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.

Well.

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.

Cycling to Work

I got a bike through the Cycle to Work scheme a few months ago. I got it (in accordance with the stated purpose of the scheme) for cycling to work, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't have severe reservations about actually cycling to work using it. I kept telling myself it'd be a really good thing to do, and it'd help me keep fit and all that, but I didn't really believe it. Which made the realisation that I really really enjoy it all the more surprising.

My first couple of commutes were pretty hairy and the elation I felt on arrival was more relief that I survived, but as time has gone on and I've become more familiar with my route (much more pleasant thanks to a top tip from a bikeist mate) I've relaxed into it and it's become something I actually feel disappointed about if I can't do for whatever reason.

My fitness is improving exponentially too. I've managed to cut about 25 minutes off my time and even when I'm not able to beat my route record (usually due to chronic headwinds), I feel less and less wasted when I arrive.

Quite apart from the health benefits, it gives me time to think and room to be inspired. My brain mulls over work problems and wedding plans and things gently slot into place along the way. It's great. I didn't even mind the day that it poured rain the second I set off and stopped when I arrived.

Of course, when it rains, the views aren't quite as impressive as these, more's the pity…

On the Thames Path

Shadwell Basin

Mike Matas Photoblog

Via a tweet from @chrismessina, comes this fantastic teaser video for Mike Matas’ new photoblog design. It’s an interesting thing for two reasons. Firstly, it’s the first photoblog design of this kind that I’ve seen (and there are some really lovely UX touches demonstrated in the video) and secondly, the site hasn’t gone live yet [...]

Read More

The view from above

I've always loved seeing things from different angles. In fact, one of the most exciting things that ever happened to me was getting my Nikon Coolpix 995 camera with ace macro function and swivel body. Suddenly, I could see detail I would and couldn't have seen before (the underside of flowers, etc.).

Above London I

A few years ago now (five and a half, to be exact), I was lucky to be allowed up to the top of a very tall building in the centre of London. I was there to take publicity photos in advance of a charity abseil. I was very lucky to be allowed to do this (and also that they didn't make me read and sign the inch thick document most photographers are asked to sign before being allowed to take pictures at the top of this building) and I still love the pictures I took up there. I remember being totally blown away by details which I'd never seen before (and would, most likely, never see again).

Above London II

I was reminded of those photos by the fact that I'm working in a very tall building at the moment. I unfortunately don't have the time I'd like to stand and gaze out of windows on high floors, but the time I do have is taken up by a childlike sense of awe at how amazing London is when seen from such a high vantage point, removed from the hustle and bustle of the rat race. It energises and inspires me.

Above London III

I never got round to posting the photos I took that day, all those years ago, but I think it's time that I shared them.

Above London IV

For all it's grimness and grime, London is still an amazing city.

Above London V

This moment in this place

It's the 1st of October. I'm not entirely sure how that happened. It seems like only a minute ago it was July and we were off to San Francisco on the holiday of a lifetime.

I'm in Bristol, doing some work for a local digital agency. I've been here for three weeks now and those three weeks have exceeded any and all expectations I had on accepting the contract.

As I write this, I'm sat on a bench at a picnic table alongside the SS Great Britain looking across the floating harbour. The sky is blue with only the merest hint of fluffy cloud and the sun is warming my back. A light breeze stirs the weeds between the cobblestones below and gently ruffles my hair. Some workmen at the next table are laughing and joking and the noise from the construction nearby is barely audible over my music and the hum of the Matilda of Bristol's engine as she putters in to the side to pick up a passenger before moving off again.

A picture may be worth a thousand words but there isn't a camera in the world—nor are there enough words—to fully describe the myriad of details that make this moment in this place so perfect.

Life is short and moments like this frustratingly few and far between. Sometimes the most important thing is to stop.

Take a breath.

Look around.

Do whatever it takes to be fully in the moment.

It really is a beautiful world.

Poetry

Along with (and possibly related to) my love of oratory, is my love of poetry. It's not something I talk much about, or actively pursue, but it's there nonetheless, and likes to creep up on me occasionally, to remind me it's still there.

Most recently, this was in the form of some absolutely wonderful trailers for the BBC's Poetry Season, which feature various folk apparently going about their daily lives as usual, but with a short interruption for some poetry, before continuing as if nothing had happened.

The first trailer I saw featured Lauren Laverne, then I saw the Phil Jupitus one (which I think is my favourite so far) and the Frank Skinner one. I'm not sure whether I've seen/heard the Hugh Dennis one, and I know I definitely haven't seen/heard the Robert Webb one. I enjoyed the ones I've seen so much that I wanted to see them again (without having to watch the BBC 24/7 to do it) and made my way to the microsite on the assumption that the videos would be online.

They weren't, and for two days, I couldn't even find any kind of listing of who/what/how many until a chance glance at the description of a google search result revealed their presence and the information was found at the bottom of the TV & Radio schedule page with no kind of identifying information around it.

So for the benefit of other frustrated googlers and because the List of BBC Poetry Season Trailers (scroll to end) doesn't include links to the poems, I've included some links here:

List of BBC Poetry Season Trailers

The presence of the listing gave me a small spark of hope that the videos might be around on the site somewhere, just badly placed, but it doesn't seem to be the case, and nobody seems to have youtubed them either, which is a disappointment. If you've seen these up online somewhere, I'd be very grateful if you left a comment pointing me to them.

Anyway.

Random Live Poetry

It also reminded me of something that happened a couple of months ago.

I'd gone for a meeting with a new client and was killing time in Euston station because I was early, when I spotted a crowd of people around some camera equipment and boom microphones. Being the curious sort, I ambled over and tweeted thus:

no idea why, but just happened across Griff Rhys Jones reading WH Auden's Night Mail (youtube) on the station concourse. My favourite poem.

I then took and posted the following picture:

Griff Rhys-Jones reading Night Mail by WH Auden in Euston Station

After standing around and listening a bit more, I finally asked someone what was going on and followed up with:

has discovered it's for a telly programme to be broadcast at the end of May. Will have to keep an eye out to see if I stayed out of shot.

In true form, I completely forgot about it until tonight. On checking the schedule it turns out I missed the programme by a mere two hours. Luckily, the programme - Why Poetry Matters - is available on the BBC iPlayer. If you're viewing this after the 27th of May 2009 or can't see it because you're outside the UK, my apologies.

Oratory

I can't quite remember when I realised how much I love listening to someone speak well enough about a subject to move me. There's a bit of my brain that gives the credit to West Wing, but realistically, it's probably more closely related to the many years I spent in various churches listening to sermons when I was a kid. That's not to say that I love to listen to sermons - I don't - at least, not for the religious content.

I suppose what I enjoy is being moved, and when you listen to someone who is passionate about their subject speak well about that subject, you can't fail to be moved in some way.

I want to be inspired. I want to learn. I want to feel. I want to care. I want to leave the room a changed person from the one who entered.

A couple of months ago, I downloaded all the available audio podcasts from the TED conference. Ever since, any time I go to the supermarket, I plug in my headphones and listen to a TED talk. I've walked and bought groceries listening to people talk about literally everything under the sun - and above it too, and there hasn't yet been a talk that I've skipped because it was boring. I've had my mind blown while buying broccoli and been inspired while trying not to buy ice-cream. Some of the topics have been things I wouldn't have chosen to listen to had I been on the site and given the choice, but the randomness of the method has opened my mind to things I'd never have thought about otherwise.

It's been fabulous, and I'm not even done with them all yet.

A few weeks ago, I came back from a days work at a client site and I was just exhausted. I flopped on the sofa with my station-bought salad and was idly flicking through the channels when I stumbled across the opening couple of minutes of The Speaker.

I stopped because it was a competition about public speaking specifically involving teenagers, but I have to admit that I was a little bit doubtful about how it would pan out. I wasn't sure that Oratory Idol was a format that could work, but somehow, it did.

It was Stacy (who will forever in my mind be "the gobby one") talking about her life that stopped me from flipping on to a different channel but I think it was too-cool-for-school Haroon's speech that made me put down both my fork and the remote and really pay attention, and from that point on, I was hooked.

I was inspired. I learned. I felt. I cared. It changed me.

It was compelling in a way I didn't expect. I lived and died with the kids as they worked their way through the tasks given to them. There were more than a few occasions where it was so uncomfortable that I couldn't bear it and had to get up and leave the room, and I was more affected than I thought I'd be when some of my early favourites didn't make it to the final.

I've always said that I hate being the centre of attention - and that's true up to a point, in that it depends what kind of attention. Watching The Speaker reminded me how much I've grown to actually enjoy being a Speaker myself, and throughout the series, I actually learned a lot. It's even left me wanting to learn more - to the extent of seriously considering joining a Toastmasters club to get more experience and hone my skills.

I know I'm never going to be Jed Bartlett from The West Wing, or Barack Obama, but I really hope that one day, I'll be able to look back and not only feel, but know that I was able to educate, inspire or move people the way I've been moved by many of the Speakers I've listened to.

Formula 1

I know who is responsible for my indoctrination into the world of F1, even if I can't remember exactly which year it was. I know that it became a thing, to plan weekends around the coverage. Saturday lunchtimes are about qualifying, Sundays are all about the race.

The build up starts slowly. A lazy sunday morning spent either in bed, or pottering around making breakfast to take back to bed depending on whether we've got company or not. Then comes the move to the sofa to watch the start of the coverage. If we've got company, I'll sometimes do some preparation for a big roast dinner while this is on, stopping when they interview Jenson Button (my favourite) or Lewis Hamilton (who caught my attention for the last couple of years while Jenson was languishing in crap car hell) or if there's anything particularly contentious or controversial happening.

As we get closer to the start, I begin to locate the various bits and pieces that are necessary to facilitate the required race experience: snacks, drinks, knitting and Sharky.

Sharky was a forgotten. I rescued him from the IKEA Warehouse in Wembley very late on Friday night and he's my "don't break stuff" surrogate. When things get tense or stressful, I grab Sharky rather than breaking HFBB's fingers, and when things get reallytense or stressful, he has been known to fly. Across the room. At the TV.

But I digress.

It's a tradition. Post-race is for talking about the race, eating Sunday dinner and trying to forget that we're on the slippery slope downhill to Monday.

I don't know why I'm gripped by F1 but Touring Cars leaves me cold. I think I've only missed one, maybe two races in the last several years. I even watched a race on Arabic TV while on holiday in Crete (the most bizarre part of which was that the commentator was actually Scottish and kept switching from Arabic to English with a Scottish accent and it distracted me no end).

I was gripped two years ago when Lewis Hamilton came on the scene and blew everyone's ears off and nearly won the Championship. I was gripped last year when he blew everyone's ears off again and nearly lost the Championship and I'm most definitely gripped again this year, now that my beloved Jenson looks like he's back in the running.

I'm so gripped, I'm even contemplating staying up for the next couple of hours to watch the practice session (now it's being broadcast as part of the shift in coverage from ITV back to the BBC) just to see for myself if Jenson's got a hope in hell or not.

The thing I'm most excited about though, doesn't have anything to do with the actual racing. Oh no. After enduring the godawful ITV F1 theme music from the last few years, I literally cannot wait to hear the "dum, dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum duuummm" of The Chain start up.

So come Sunday, I'll be on the edge of my sofa, clutching Sharky, hoping for a great race. Keep your fingers crossed the soundproofing between my house and next door is decent.

I might get noisy.

Battlestar Galactica

I'm a big nerd. A really big nerd. I'm nerdy in many, many ways, and one of those ways is Sci Fi. I think it might be something I got from my dad (who, against my mother's wishes, let me watch Dr Who when I was 3 years old). My introduction to the web was actually mostly through Sci Fi (although back then it was the Sci Fi/Fantasy Media Forum on Compuserve, specifically the Star Wars section), before I caught the Babylon 5 bug.

The B5 bug was a serious one, and it got so bad I even went to a convention (and the internet is so fantastic that not only are there still convention reports from people I was there with hanging around, but there's also an entire Wolf 359 photo set on flickr).

But B5 ended, and the bug faded, and other things took over - most notably West Wing, which I love with a passion beyond reason, and have rewatched in its entirety several times - but I still needed some good hard Sci Fi satisfaction (which sounds a lot dirtier written down than it did in my head).

Then along came Battlestar Galactica and blew my mind. I remember watching the Mini Series on Sky One, and then watching the repeat. I still deeply appreciate the gift of the Season 1 and Mini Series DVDs, at a time in my life when things were really shitty. I've held on through ups and downs through this show (and my life) and I'm both sad that its ending and eagerly waiting to see how it ends.

After more than two years of protesting that he didn't like the shaky camera work, I finally persuaded the HFBB to give it another try, and apparently, a 42" telly makes all the difference, and he loves it. We've been gulping it down in multi-episode chunks, seemingly unable to stop mid-disc, and have caught up to the last few episodes of Season 3.

I wanted to wait to watch the second half of Season 4 with him for the first time, but I just couldn't. With the advent of twitter, it's almost impossible to stay spoiler free, and I'd rather re-watch it with him and try not to give the game away than be spoiled myself.

I'm just about to watch Episode 19 of Season 4, and the final episode is shown tomorrow night in the US, and Tuesday in the UK, so in case I'm too depressed by the end and forget to say it out loud...

Farewell BSG. It's been frakking awesome.