bookmark_borderWeekend Reading

  • The Last Conversation You’ll Ever Need to Have About Eating Right
    It’s beyond strange that so many humans are clueless about how they should feed themselves. Every wild species on the planet knows how to do it; presumably ours did, too, before our oversized brains found new ways to complicate things.
    So many diets, so many foods to eat, to avoid… this pretty much nails it all. (for now at least).

  • Lift your way to strength – and help your body stay young
    Weightlifting isn’t just the preserve of musclebound hulks. Now women of all ages are increasingly turning to barbells as a way of staying healthy and warding off the effects of getting older Any woman can be strong.
    Hand in hand with the previous link. If you are in Glasgow, my gym embodies all of this.

  • Experience: I’ve played a game of tag for 23 years
    As teenagers, a group of friends and I spent every spare moment at school playing tag. The game developed into more than just chasing each other round the playground; it involved strategy and cunning.
    An oldie (that I’ve read before) but a goodie, cropped again this week for some reason but still worth revisiting.

  • If Meditation Stresses You Out, Try This
    I have a bad habit of trying to meditate, getting distracted, and immediately giving up, just to try it again six months later.
    If you’ve EVER tried to meditate but it didn’t click, this might be why.

  • Daughter Finds Box With 30,000 Never-Before-Seen Negatives In Attic, Her Jaw Drops When She Develops Them
    This is lovely.

  • Mark Zuckerberg Thinks We’re Idiots.
    Reacting to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t been as confrontational as Steve Jobs (“You’re holding it wrong”) or Sun Microsystems’ CEO Scott McNealy (“Get over it. You have no privacy”).
    I’ll just leave this here.

  • How Activists Turned Empty London Property into a Thriving Homeless Shelter
    This is good. WHY it has come to this is bad.

  • What is my dog?
    Everyone thinks my dog is a puppy. His large, wide-set eyes; small, soft body and playful demeanor belie his maturity and emotional depth — attributes that become obvious once you get to know him.
    I bloody love this. Of not real note but worth a read.

  • 6 Minutes and 20 Seconds
    When I was sixteen, I spent a couple wondrous summer weeks at a place called Governor’s School in North Carolina. It was here that country mouse me met all manner of bright and misfit kids, in social and academic pursuits. We started the term in shy quietude and ended it in tearful embrace.
    Powerful and moving.

  • The Extraordinary Inclusiveness of the March for Our Lives
    Maybe what was most extraordinary about the March for Our Lives, in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, was not its size, though that was impressive—likely hundreds of thousands of people in a long, dense ribbon winding down Pennsylvania Avenue.
    These are the kids that will run the world, I can’t wait for them to take over.

  • Having Your Smartphone Nearby Takes a Toll on Your Thinking
    “Put your phone away” has become a commonplace phrase that is just as often dismissed. Despite wanting to be in the moment, we often do everything within our power to the contrary.
    My phone is right next to me, yet I can still come up with witty remarks for … ummm.. the thing… of… what?

  • The People Who Can Control Their Goose Bumps
    How is this even possible? The “it” in this case was goose bumps, which Palejko, a 34-year-old tech worker in Argentina, says he can control at will.
    What the WHAT?

  • Heart Rate Variability (HRV): What is it, and why does the Apple Watch track it?
    Amidst the many improvements to Apple’s heart rate measurements with iOS 11 and Apple Watch, Apple also introduced a new measurement called an HRV (Heart Rate Variability) average.
    FINALLY! I’ve been trying to figure this out for ages.

  • Too Much Seep May Be Just as Harmful as Too Little
    Work was brutal this week, and as a result you got less than five hours of sleep every night. Finally, the weekend is here and you’re ready to earn those lost hours back with luxurious, back-to-back nights of 10-hour sleeping marathons. Well, science is here to tell you to reconsider that plan.
    Tomorrow, science says 4 hrs sleep is all we need. Next week on science, 10 hrs sleep a night!

  • What Are Screens Doing to Our Eyes—And Our Ability to See?
    The eyes are unwell. Their childhood suppleness is lost. The lenses, as we log hours on this earth, thicken, stiffen, even calcify. The eyes are no longer windows on souls. They’re closer to teeth.
    Yikes *turns off computer*

  • Exclusive: This is the most dexterous robot ever created
    It might not look that special, but the robot above is, according to a new measure, the most dexterous one ever created. Among other tricks, it could sort through your junk drawer with unrivaled speed and skill. The key to its dexterity is not in its mechanical grippers but in its brain.
    Item 4938 in ‘When our Robot Overlords ….’ ohhh you get the picture.

  • How One Writer Is Using Thrillers to Explore Misogyny
    Vladimir Nabokov once described the thriller as a “fond tradition” in which “the villain is generally punished, and the strong silent man wins the weak babbling girl.” We all know the kind of novel he means.
    More books to add to the reading list.

  • Utah’s ‘free-range parenting’ law said to be first in the nation
    It all started when Lenore Skenazy let her 9-year-old ride the subway home alone. She gave him a map, a MetroCard, a $20 bill and — just in case — some quarters for a pay phone call. Then she left him in the handbag section in New York’s original Bloomingdale’s. It was all his idea.
    I can hear the commentators now… “when I was growing up…”

  • How Europe’s new privacy rule is reshaping the internet
    If you’ve been looking for it, you may have seen a lot of privacy policies change in the past few months. From Google to Slack, companies are quietly updating terms, rewriting contracts, and rolling out new personal data tools in preparation for a massive shift in the legal landscape.
    GDPR fun! Remember, you have the ‘right to be forgotten’! (is ANYONE STILL READING THIS??)

  • An Essay by Vincent Gallo – Unfiltered and Unedited
    My name is Vincent Gallo. If you by chance know who I am, I hope that you don’t feel any negativity towards me. I don’t like to be called Vince. Please call me Vincent, Gallo, Vinnie Gallo, or Mister. Those are your choices. And I was not born Vincent Vito Gallo Jr.
    Uncommented by me. This is, startling.

  • Easter egg truthers: the annual religious row over chocolate
    It’s an annual row that seems to come round earlier and earlier every year – the great Easter egg debate.
    This fuckin country…

  • Adnan Syed, made famous in the podcast “Serial,” is getting a new trial
    If you didn’t listen to this podcast, now would be a good time to start.

  • Scientists have spent 60 years agonizing over how our knuckles crack
    Knuckle-cracking. Aside from worrying about whether it leads to arthritis (it doesn’t), most of us do it mindlessly to get ourselves in the mood to start a project—or while we fret about it.
    Snap crackle and pop indeed.

  • Those 2-Minute Walk Breaks? They Add Up
    Walk for two minutes. Repeat 15 times. Or walk for 10 minutes, thrice. The benefits for longevity appear to be almost exactly the same, according to an inspiring new study of physical activity patterns and life spans. It finds that exercise does not have to be prolonged in order to be beneficial.
    This is good news!


I’m sure I had full length trousers I could’ve worn – I know for certain I had a pair of dungarees at some point during the height of my Oor Wullie phase – but for some reason in my memories of cycling to my childhood piano lessons I’m always wearing shorts. Wheeling my big black Raleigh Enterprise out of the garage as the first snow of winter falls, I sling my music bag over my shoulder and head round to see Mr. Pullen (he wasn’t ‘Robert’ until much later on).

To properly paint this picture, let me give you some more detail. This was at a time when everyone, EVERYONE had a BMX. My bike was not a BMX, it was known then as a ‘classic tourer’ but today (if you stripped it back from 3 gears to none) it would pass for a fixed-gear bike, you know, the type all the hipsters use to slowly pedal up hills. It was not a cool bike.

And that music bag? It wasn’t a rucksack, or a sports holdall, but a music case. A satchel style leather briefcase that you could only, would only, buy in music stores.

And I took piano lessons.

I never was a cool kid.

These were my Saturday mornings for many years. I started my piano lessons when I was about 8 or 9, and the routine never really changed. Get (woken) up, have breakfast, then shove whatever piece of music I’d been learning into my bag, not forgetting the book of scales, and cycle round for the most dreaded 30 minutes of my week lesson.

On arriving at my piano teachers house, I’d leave my bike round the side of the house, ring the door-bell and, on hearing the bellowing ‘come in’ from upstairs, I’d walk in, and head up said stairs to wait in the spare room for the previous lesson to finish. It was only ever for a few minutes, but I realise now that it was my first real experience of nerves; sitting there wondering if I’d practised enough, or whether he’d get annoyed at me.

Once it was my turn, I’d warm up my fingers with scales and arpeggios. My piano teacher would correct mistakes and make me repeat things, making sure I got my finger positions correct, and that my stance and hand position. Then it was onto whichever exam pieces I was learning. Play it through. Faster… louder there… no that’s not quite right… and once that was done, on to the dreaded sight reading. I never got the hang of it, never found a way to make it easy but it was part of the exam so needs must.

After a few years, as I progressed, the exams got harder, the pieces more complex and challenging, and my relationship with my piano teacher, Mr. Pullen, changed. He would start to ask me what music I was listening to, start to give me pieces that weren’t classical… Joplin, Gershwin entered the fray.

At the time I had a love/hate relationship with the piano. It was something I felt I was ‘made’ to do and whilst my friends could skip out of school and go play, I had to go home and do my practice first. But looking back I realise that I really did enjoy the playing (not so much the endless practising), especially latterly when I realised I could transfer what I had learned to more contemporary songs, rock classics, Elton John et al.

Learning to play the piano, learning to play any instrument, includes learning the theory behind the music. At least it should’ve been a big part, but when it came to sit the mandatory Grade 5 Theory exam (all the grades before that only required a practical exam to be passed) I was a bit taken aback to find out I had to know ‘theory’ whatever the hell was. My piano teacher was confused, why was I surprised, hadn’t I done theory exams for all the other grades?

No, not I hadn’t yet, for some reason, he presumed we’d been covering that stuff all along, not sitting chatting about the latest bands of the day… oops.

What followed was the precursor to all of those wonderful school and college exams, a frantic few weeks cramming to learn what I could – the joy of mnemonics to learn the keys, Every Good Boy Deserves Fun, understanding how compose a tune based on a few opening bars – before heading up to the big city to sit an actual exam. I was 13/14 at the time, had never sat a written exam in my life and my memory of entering the exam room in Glasgow University is formatted movie style, with that long pullback zoom effect as I looked down row after row of single desks, stretching off into the distance. To this day I’ve no idea how, but I passed!

As I got older, the practice became a chore and eventually, in the lead up to my Grade 7 exams, I stopped. I was 15 and girls, and the desire to be ‘cool’ for them, took over my desires. For a while afterwards I would occasionally, if everyone was out of the house, pull some sheet music from the piano stool and belt out a few tunes, Billy Joel, Abba, The Beatles, but as other interests came to the fore, so my piano playing dwindled and eventually stopped completely.

Over the past few years, as I’ve started to focus more on how I spend my free time, I’ve been looking back with my rose tinted glasses on. It’s easy to forget how hard I worked, how much practise I had to do (and was cajoled/told to do!) to get to the level I was at. Mr. Pullen was a great teacher, he was strict and a bit shouty when he needed to be, but as we both grew older, my attitude improved and he mellowed. Now I look back with kind fondness on the man who helped embed the deep love and appreciation of music that I hold to this day.

My Mum played the piano which is why we had one in the house and thankfully when they moved they took it with them. It’s a gorgeous little upright that for years sat behind a dark black patina until my parents had the wood stripped and now it’s a glowing, dark golden colour, all wood grain and autumnal tones. It’s nothing special in terms of name, or sound, but having spent so many hours playing it, in my mind it’s definitely MY piano (a discussion I will have, forcibly, with my sister if needs be!). A couple of years ago when my parents sold the family home there was a serious conversation about whether they’d get rid of it and I protested loudly enough that it currently sits in the living room of their new flat.

That was probably the discussion which refreshed thoughts of piano playing somewhere in the dustier corners of my brain, stirring up memories to spiral into shafts of murky sunlight. Snippets of pieces I used to play became ear worms, Minuet in G topping a new playlist of piano tracks.

My musical tastes have grown in the intervening years and looking at the sheet music available now reveals a swathe of artists that I love; would I be able to play some Radiohead songs? How about some Weezer? Who knows, but it remains a thought that bounces around in my head now and then, could I re-learn enough to play a few tunes? Do I have the dedication to practice regularly? Where the hell would I put a Yamaha P115 keyboard anyway?

I guess there’s only one way to find out…

bookmark_borderWeekend Reading

Breaking with tradition, here’s a link to a wonderful newsletter. It’s only a few issues old but so far it’s made me pause and think each time.

Words. Daily. Because finding good words to think on (or use for calligraphy practice or journal pages) takes time and effort. Let me share my time and effort with you.

Disclaimer: I am not getting paid for the above link, I just happen to like it and happen to know the wonderfully talented person who has created it.

  • Alexandra Burke: UK has ‘massive problem’ with confident women
    Alexandra Burke has battled more than her fair share of criticism in the last year – something she says is partly down to the way confidence is perceived in the UK. There’s every reason for Alexandra to feel on top of the world.
    I don’t think this is specific to the UK, but very valid points.

  • Feminist Mug
    Either you run the day or the day runs you. Let everyone know who runs the world with this bold Feminist mug.
    Apropros of nothing. Actually, apropros of EVERYthing.

  • Father cheers on man running 10K race with son’s donated heart
    An Ontario man whose life was saved with a heart transplant ran his first 10-kilometre race over the weekend with the father of the donor cheering him on.
    Well this is just bloody, heartwarmingly, lovely.

  • With these patents, Apple could win the next major platform war
    The next stage of the platform wars may be in health. Despite being one of the most regulated sectors, where change is driven as much by law as by technological advances, the big tech giants are active.
    Apple gets a lot of criticism, but tend to play a longer game and not a reactionary one.

  • How Wikipedia Portrayed Humanity in a Single Photo
    In 1972, Carl Sagan was preparing to send humans into space. The Pioneer missions were unmanned, sure—but NASA had asked Sagan to design a depiction of Earth’s inhabitants for the trip, just in case the spacecraft ran across some aliens.
    File under: Things my privilege hid from me. What single photo would you choose to represent ALL of humanity?

  • Nearly 20% of women inmates in Japan’s prisons are seniors
    Shoplifting has become something of a lifeline for Japan’s elderly population. As Bloomberg reports, nearly one in five women in prison is 65 or older. These elderly women commit minor crimes in order to escape poverty and solitude.
    Sad when it comes to this. Loneliness really is a killer.

  • Green Mountain at Fox Run: The floodlight and the twinkle lights
    In the aforementioned Hungers That Influence Eating Behaviours class, Shiri explained that a binge acts like a floodlight. To quote her blog post: “The truth of the matter is that nothing will do it like food… Eating in that way lights up the pleasure centers of the brain.”
    Another thought inspiring post. Huge thanks to Shauna for sharing these.

  • Home
    THE COFFEE, HE THINKS. THE COFFEE’S A CONCERN. Only one hundred single-serving pouches of instant were allotted for him on Expedition Six, stowed in the galley in a metal drawer with a black net stretched over its mouth to make sure the pouches wouldn’t float away.
    Life in space is never not ordinary (no spoilers, but this is a great read).

  • Dear internet, instead of wearing your tinfoil hat ask intelligent questions
    In so many ways it’s an awful forum for in-depth analysis of Russian geo-politics – although perhaps I’m being a little too generous to label it analysis; it falls far more comfortably into the tinfoil hat conspiracy theory camp.
    Yes. More intelligent questions, less stating of ‘facts’ because you think you know them (you usually don’t. Yes, YOU).

  • The Agony and the Ecstasy of Taking Author Photos
    I walked into the bookstore gripping my debut novel, its cover puckering where my sweaty fingers clutched tight, as if to remind myself: You’ve published a book, you’re not an absolute imposter. What awaited was a lectern and a huddle of sad chairs.
    Ahhh this is REALLY what’s stopping me finishing that novel (2nd draft in progress though)

  • These Are the Most (and Least) Annoying Sounds Ever, …
    Nails on a chalkboard may be the most clichéd of the horrid noises out there, but apparently, it’s not the most annoying.
    I’m sorry. Really I am. I challenge you to not imagine these sounds and… ick ick ick! *shudder*

  • The Bidet’s Revival
    Invented centuries ago in France, the bidet has never taken off in the States. That might be changing. “It’s been completely Americanized!” my host declares proudly.
    Glad to hear this, I love having those little foot bath things when I’m abroad.

  • Romanian court tells man he is not alive
    In a case reminiscent of a Kafka novel, a Romanian court has ruled that a 63-year-old man is dead despite what would appear to be convincing evidence to the contrary: the man himself appearing alive and well in court.
    To the perennially late, this is a warning!

  • How To Change Your Facebook Settings To Opt Out of Platform API Sharing
    You shouldn’t have to do this. You shouldn’t have to wade through complicated privacy settings in order to ensure that the companies with which you’ve entrusted your personal information are making reasonable, legal efforts to protect it.
    I’ll just leave this here.

  • 143 Million People May Soon Become Climate Migrants
    Climate change will transform more than 143 million people into “climate migrants” escaping crop failure, water scarcity, and sea-level rise, a new World Bank report concludes.
    Anyone in the UK, given the last couple of months of weather that we clearly are not used to, still deny climate change?

  • Reasons to Believe
    In the good old days, the arrival of UFOs on the front page of America’s paper of record might have seemed like a loose-thread tear right through the fabric of reality — the closest that secular, space-race America could have gotten to a Second Coming.
    Ach, why not. If you can believe in a ‘being’ based on the stories made up thousands of years ago, why not UFOs?

  • How to Balance Your Media Diet
    In fact, ideas might be even more powerful drivers than food since we are willing to forgo food just because of entirely abstract ideas we hold. Our hunger predates our current condition.
    Following on from my Switching Off

  • I Got a Story to Tell
    My man Sam Cassell took me out the night before my very first NBA game. We were playing the Bucks down in Houston and he knew I was about to take his ass to the cleaners. But Sam is from Baltimore, and I’m from D.C.
    Yes, it’s about NBA basketball players, but it’s about so much more than that. Everyone has a story.

  • Small b blogging
    There’s an idea that starting a blog is harder than it used to be. That there used to be a way to write a few words, slap it online and wait for the traffic to roll in. I call BS. It’s not that it’s not true exactly – but that kind of thinking is living in the shadow of the Digg homepage.
    Yes to this. Ohhh hang on, I’ve been small b blogging for 19yrs FFS! Welcome back to the party!! (it was getting kinda lonely tbh)

  • One Decade to Rock, No Matter the Roll
    Obvious statement alert: The Beatles were an incredible band. But to me, the most incredible thing about them was that they released all of their albums — all the songs we all know and love — over an eight year span (from 1963’s Please Please Me to 1970’s Let It Be).
    This fact never really landed with me. It is utterly incredible (like them or not, the change in sound and approach is startling in such a short space of time)

  • Bill Murray Reads the Poetry of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson, Billy Collins, Lorine Niedecker, Lucille Clifton & More
    Who among us wouldn’t want the ineffably mellow, witty, and wise Bill Murray to crash their party, wedding, or White House press briefing room? Maybe you’re one of the few who could resist his comic charms.
    Because Bill Murray.

  • What Exactly Does a Librarian Do? Everything.
    Growing up, I liked to imagine what it would be like to work in a library. What little I knew about them was what I’d gleaned from movies and TV because my conservative parents never took us to any and only let me read books they purchased from the Bible Book Store.
    Who knew! Librarians are awesome.

  • 12 Things Everyone Should Understand About Tech
    Technology isn’t an industry, it’s a method of transforming the culture and economics of existing systems and institutions. That can be a little bit hard to understand if we only judge tech as a set of consumer products that we purchase.
    In light of the current Facebook news, this is a timely article, well worth a read.

  • The decades-long quest to end drought (and feed millions) by taking the salt out of seawater
    In October 2017, Charlie Paton was driving across the parched plains of northwestern Somaliland when he passed a seemingly endless queue of rumbling trucks. Each was piled high with containers of grain – 47,000 tonnes in all – to be distributed as food aid across Somalia and Ethiopia.
    Sounds straight forward enough.

  • Sony world photography awards 2018 – in pictures
    Belching volcanoes, a boy cuddling his goat, an upside-down car … here are some of the winners in the national and open competition categories of the world’s largest photography competition.
    Some breathtaking stuff here.

  • Stunt pilot restarts his single engine in the nick of time
    I always feel a little silly when I click through to watch videos with titles like “Plane Miraculously Flies To Safety After Sudden Engine Failure”, like I’m indulging in clickbait, a sugary online snack when I’m supposed to be consuming healthier fare.
    Take 5 mins to watch this. I guarantee it will raise your heart-rate!!

  • Omnisexual, gynosexual, demisexual: What’s behind the surge in sexual identities?
    In 1987, the French philosopher Michel Foucault made the meticulously researched case that sexuality is a social construct used as a form of control. In the 40 years since, society has been busy constructing sexualities.
    For those struggling to keep up with the terminology, a tip. Don’t worry about the terminology, just don’t be a dick if someone calls you on it!

bookmark_borderSix by Nico: New York, New York

It’s been far too long since my last visit to Six by Nico but – boy oh boy Riff – it’s sure been worth the wait!

The last menu – a best of complilation – was a nice way to kick start 2018 but as soon as I saw the first listing for the new menu I knew I had to start spreading the news… (ok, I’ll stop with the New York based puns… maybe).

And what a menu, go on, pick a bad one from this wonderful line up!

  1. BAGEL – Smoked Salmon Royale / Dill Pickle / Cream Cheese
  2. BUFFALO CHICKEN – Confit Chicken / Gorgonzola Mousse / Pickled Celery
  3. EGGS BENEDICT – Slow Cooked Egg / Miso & Brown Butter Hollandaise / Smoked Ham Hough
  4. CODFATHER – Shetland Cod / Fregola Pasta / Trapanese Pesto
  5. REUBEN SANDWICH – 24 Hours Brisket / Smoked Barley Risotto / Russian Dressing
  6. BIG APPLE – New York Cheesecake / Granola / Lemon Curd

But first, as always, SNACKS!

Actually, that’s not true. Hat tip to my apertif of choice, a tall slim cockatil of lychee liqueur, Caorunn gin (one of my favs), and cloudy apple juice. Wake up tastebuds, it’s eating time!

I should at this point mention that a colleague had already been to try this menu and, on his recommendation, we plumped for a snack plate each. Normally these are made for sharing but he assured me this was the best route.

Reader, he was not wrong.

The snack was a Pulled Pork Slider, with Smoked Mozzarella on a toasted brioche bun and a thick smoky barbecue sauce. It’s small, but even then I found myself eeking out every bite, desperate to make it last longer. I decree that, from henceforth, all mozzarella served before me shall be smoked!

The first course was a little fluffy bagel, with a delicious salmon cream cheese, and just enough dill pickle gel to cut through the richness. It was the smallest plate offered but delivered a ton of flavour. Think dawn spring sunshine in Central Park, a hot cup of joe and (a couple of) these wonderful little bagels. Yes please.

As the day moves on and the sunshine develops, it’s time to spread that Picnic blanket and grab some tasty fried chicken. And, Nico style, this turns out to be succulent confit chicken thighs, with a warming spiced crust on a smear of mousse with yet another new delight, pickled celery. Those tiny spots of sweet sharpness kept the dish from being too claggy, and the gentle building heat was perfectly judged, hot but not overwhelming.

Of course, if you’ve been wandering and doing the tourist thing, a tasty brunch always helps keep the energy up and if every brunch I had was as delicious and more-ish as this one (although to be fair, most brunches are bloody awesome) I’d never leave.

A slow cooked egg, scotch style, with a puff pastry encased disk of rich, deeply smoked, ham hough, with a few dabs of hollandaise to cut through the rich fattiness. If anything this dish could’ve done with a little more of the hollandaise but it’s a minor gripe because I could quite happily have eaten this several times over. The ham hough in particular was an utter delight for the tastebuds.

Of course, New York has a darker side, so tread carefully or you might get the attention of the Codfather… which wouldn’t be a bad thing to be honest. A perfectly cooked serving of fresh cod, fregola pasta in a herby rich broth, with sundried tomatoes and a dollop of trapanese pesto. Of all the dishes, and for one ingredient only, this was the lowest point of the menu for me; what can I say, me and olives don’t agree. That said, I still ate it and if I had the chance, would order it again. Sans olive, obviously.

There are two meat sandwiches that always make me think of New York. One is a pastrami on rye, hold the mustard, the other is an item that regardless of where I am, if it appears on the menu I’m likely to order it. I mean who doesn’t like a good Reuben?

My only fear with this dish is that, quite possibly, it has ruined all other Reubens for me, even though the Six by Nico adaptation isn’t even a sandwich! No, instead you get some of the juiciest, beefiest, most tastiest (it’s a word, shut up!) brisket that I have ever had the pleasure of slow savouring. A little square of fried barley risotto, and of course a nice tangy russian dressing, and some charred lettuce leaves completed the dish. I may need to look up a few new words for the brisket though, utterly utterly supreme.

As ever, suddenly, dessert appeared.

I should state that my cheesecake preference is ALWAYS baked and preferably without any gunk on top. Baked vanilla cheesecake is a thing of delight. I may have to change my preference now.

Served as a shiny red apple, with a (green) lemon curd core, from the first mouthful to the last plate scraping scoop it was perfect. The light cheesecake, the subtle curd balancing the sweetness well, and hell even the granola was tasty! What a wonderful, beautiful end to what was easily the second best menu they’ve ever presented (and for the cost of an olive or two, could’ve taken top spot for me).

Comparing to previous menus is, of course, nonsense but as I’ve still not missed one (yet) and it’s good to look back and marvel at some of the stellar food on offer here. £25 for the basic menu, a few quid more for the snack and apertif, throw in a bottle of wine and for about £45 a head you can eat like a very very lucky member of the royal family. What’s not to like?

bookmark_borderStop blaming Facebook

“The next two decades it’s gonna be privacy. I’m talking about the Internet. I’m talking about cell phones. I’m talking about health records and who’s gay and who’s not. And moreover, in a country born on the will to be free, what could be more fundamental than this?”
~ Sam Seaborn, The West Wing.

In case you missed the news, it turns out that tens of millions of people have had their Facebook data used by a company called Cambridge Analytics to help skew the last US Presidential election (good summary here). The joys!

Facebook privacy has always been a bit of an open secret, at least to those who work in IT. You can control a lot of the data that you give to Facebook, but every interaction you have adds to the huge amount of data they have access to and, as this particular ‘usage’ demonstrates, it isn’t all that hard to get more with a simple social hack; Hey, which Muppet do you resemble? Tell us your gender and a few other seemingly inconsequential pieces of data … hahaha you fell into our trap!

I am not preaching for a place of innocence either, I’ve filled in many of these daft little ‘games’ on Facebook, I have an active Instagram account where I sometimes include location information, I ‘check in’ to venues, I like and share articles and event posts. All of this adds to the bank of data that Facebook knows about me, and it sure isn’t rocket science to figure out that I’m a white, male, liberal, left-of-centrist who attends a lot of events in the Glasgow area (mind you, you just need to follow me on there to get a sense of any of that).

The details around this current headline grabbing sequence of events are still emerging but, regardless of whether you knowingly took the personality test that Cambridge Analytics posted or not, it’s the darker, blurrier edges of ‘my data’ that are finally making many people sit up and consider the implications.

I don’t think this is the end of Facebook, far from it, but I do hope it’s the beginning of a greater awareness for more people. For many years we’ve had it easy, blithely ignoring things like privacy because, after all, Facebook is a company and companies are held to account by … someone … somewhere, right? It’s another change in our online usage to which many of us will need to adapt; continually checking what data our apps and systems are sharing and who they are sharing it with, fact checking news to confirm if it’s fake or not, a higher state of vigilance than many of us have employed before.

Is this the payback for all those years of ‘free internet’? The assimiliation of all that free data is now coming back to bite us in the bum? Perhaps.

Or perhaps it’s society starting to move fully into the information and digital age, an age our parents can’t fully understand, one built in the cloud and manipulated by the behemoths that occupy those spaces, looking down on us like the gods they think they are.

Viva La Revolution? #deletefacebook? I don’t think so, but #bemoremindfulwithyourdecisions isn’t quite as catchy.

Yes, Facebook could and must do better in this space, transparency would help but I doubt it’ll ever happen, their entire business model is built on this kind of thing but regardless, blaming Facebook entirely is not a new line of thinking. Yes, I think they shoulder some of the blame here but whilst we have the pitchforks sharpened, perhaps we all need to look a little closer to home.

Step 1:

bookmark_borderSwitching Off

My bedroom is never completely dark. Sure, the black out curtains help, but the gentle glow of street lights still sneaks into the room, the orange glow casting gentle shadows. Once my eyes adjust I can make out the detail of the print hanging opposite my bed, the sleeve of a shirt hanging off the back of a chair.

In a bid to lull my brain into a state of rest – I’m not sure what woke me at 3am but I was most definitely awake – I started pondering what was in store for me tomorrow. Starting with the basics, what’s the date tomorrow?

And then it hit me, it’s March. The third month of the year. Already! Where does the time go? Christmas was only a few minutes ago and yet here we are in the beginnings of Spring. What happened? How did we end up here so soon.

These are the thoughts that flitted through my brain as I lay staring at the ceiling. I finally accepted that I wasn’t going to get back to sleep anytime soon and reached over and pick up my phone to see if anyone had posted any updates on Social Media. Just a few minutes distraction, what’s the harm?

Nothing on Facebook. Nope. Instagram. Nope. Twitter. YES! a few tweets from some Americans I follow. OK, checked those.

Now what? Another quick check of all three again, refresh, refresh, refresh. A link to a video, click that.

An hour later I’m somewhere in the depths of a YouTube shaped hole. I’m not quite sure why I’m watching what I’m watching, but as I glance at the clock I realise I should probably put the phone down and try and get some sleep…

Sound familiar?

Over the past couple of years I’ve focused a lot on my belongings, slowly shaping my life towards having fewer things. Fewer things to clean and maintain, fewer things to clutter my living space (and so clutter my mind) and throughout that time I’ve always known that, at some point, this focus would shift from physical objects to digital ones. After all, my entire reasoning behind this drive to simplify my life has always been about creating more time and energy to allow me to do more of the things I love; rather than tidying up and cleaning and other chores, I’m reading books and magazines, going for walks, attending more gigs and events.

Top tip: I’ve ended up managing to stop buying things on a whim. If I see something I think I want, I pop it on a list with the promise that if I have money spare at the end of the month then I’ll buy it. If I don’t have money, I don’t buy it but it stays on the list. Knock-on effect of this approach is that I’m spending more on gig/theatre/event tickets which, ultimately, are better for me anyway. Who needs a new lamp when you can go and dance like an idiot for a few hours at a gig, right?

Having tackled some of the physical objects I own(ed) my mind is now turning to the digital ones and where else to start but the most often used device I own, the one I turn to in the wee small hours of the morning when I can’t sleep, my iPhone.

It only takes a quick look to see I have a LOT of apps I don’t use at all, and many that I use occasionally but only when I remember I have them, which begs the question, do I really need them?

But simply removing apps I don’t use is a small step and, let’s be honest, it’s merely glossing over the real issue; the impact social media is having on my life.

This is not a new idea but more and more recently I’m seeing mentions of other people taking their own action to counter the time and energy drain that social media can be, and reading these articles has made me realise just how much time I spend on my phone and, now that I’m aware of it, I’m also becoming aware of how much that it’s annoying me. All too frequently I’ll pick up my phone and when I put it back down an hour has passed. It’s more noticeable of an evening during these darker nights, I get home from work as dusk is descending, pick up my phone and … suddenly it’s dark outside.

All of which annoys me, I could’ve spent that hour reading a book, or cooking a nice dinner, or phoning a friend, or… well, you get the picture.

The triumvirate that take my time the most; Instagram, Facebook and Twitter (in descending order at the moment) are the apps which draw the most ire. Obviously the solution is to cut back, or better still CUT OUT some of these? Perhaps, but which and how? Each app has a distinct use, and a distinct level of energy to which I attribute my usage so it’s not all that straightforward to just dump one, or any of them.

I find myself drawn more and more to Instagram these days, preferring the visual over the textual as a quick way to get an update on the goings on of the people I follow. Equally I enjoy photography for the sake of it and this is as good an outlet as any for my amateur snaps. I can’t remember the last time I took a picture with my camera, and my recent trip to Barcelona was entirely captured by my iPhone and I don’t feel the snapshots suffered because of it. I also, genuinely, enjoy Instagram as I follow not only friends but some photographers and benefit from a few moments of beauty filtered into my feed every day.

But not everyone is on Instagram so it’s not a ‘connection’ place, it’s more just a media channel for me.

Facebook is where most of my local friends/family are and is a good way to keep up to date on what they’ve been up to. My usage has become a bit more focussed on Events recently which means I spend less time idlly scrolling and more time hunting around for specific events and business postings. Equally the addition of the Facebook Local app has moved a lot of my event based interactions to a different app, meaning my use of Facebook is a lot more focused around getting updates from friends and family (judicious use of the ‘Following’ options also helps!).

Then there’s Twitter. I’m using it less and less these days and whilst it has historically been the place where my ‘tribe’ exist it feels more and more like nothing but noise, or at least, the nuggets of delight are harder to find amidst the rest of my timeline. Perhaps it’s time to trim the follower list? Or time to switch it off altogether? Of the three social media behemoths, Twitter has consistently offered me less value outside of itself; Facebook is more about events and people I care about, Instagram is a delight and opens my mind to other places/things to see, but Twitter is a mess of overly long threads (write a blog post already) and inane chit-chat that, it appears, I no longer really have the time to indulge in. That said, Twitter is still where I tend to post things to share more often than Facebook (blog posts, instagram posts, random tracks from Spotify). So I don’t know if I’m ready to give it up completely. Yet.

Am I doomed, forever trapped in a social media whirl of my own making? I don’t think it’s THAT bad.

Am I over stating some of the negatives and ignore many of the positives? I think so. It’s clear I’m not really ready to give up social media, or even one channel in particular as each offers me some level of value. So what to do, what to do?

For sure, there is a middle ground to be found. Recently I’ve spotted a few people saying that they are taking a day away from social media; #SwitchOffSunday. It’s an intriguing idea, an entire day away from social media, away from notifications and distractions, a day to reconnect with yourself or with loved ones, a day to do something just for you with no need or pressure to share it with the world.

Which definitely sounds like something worth trying and if my current train of thought really is about giving myself time to indulge in things that I’m passionate about, then it should make space for that, even if I’m only really achieving that by gaming myself. Perhaps it’s telling that the ‘day away’ is a hashtag?

What I’m realising is that social media isn’t the problem at all. I’m pretty sure I could turn off ALL of my social media and still end up suffering the same root problem. My social media usage is, more and more, a symptom of one undeniable fact.

I get bored and social media is an easy distraction. As soon as I realise I’m in midst of an endless scroll of nothing in particular I get annoyed with myself, after all there are so many more valuable things I could be doing; reading a book, playing the piano, hell I’d even suggest doing the hoovering is in that list too.

For now I think I’ll settle for taking a day away as one step to remove slowly break the habit that social media is ohhhh so good at creating and re-enforcing. One day where my phone will be in a different room, the laptop will remain closed. I might go for a walk, or read a book, or visit some friends, or all of that and more.

Yes. That’s what I’ll do, I thought, and as the clock ticked past 2am I closed my eyes and finally drifted off to sleep.

P.S. I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago. Since then the Cambridge Analytics/Facebook news has broken. This has, naturally, skewed my thinking somewhat and made me realise I missed an entire side to my thinking when I was writing this. Privacy. More on this later.