Monday 29 February 2016

My Month in Numbers 2016: February

Hello hello.

After 73 episodes of my Month in Numbers I think I've landed on the easiest way to collect, annotate and photograph them, in real time: my Instagram account. 

That's not to say that I'm going to stop blogging them too, I'm not. At least not for the foreseeable future. But I just thought I'd mention it in case you're one of the people who've often said you'd join in if only you could find a way to keep track of your stories.

Well ... using Instagram's now the simplest answer I can give to that. And you don't even need to use it to keep track of them for a subsequent blog post ... sharing photos and using the hashtag  #monthinnumbers is all you need to join in, right then and there.  

Anyway ... the majority of my number-related tales this month began life over on Instagram but let me share them with you here [along with the original descriptions from IG], starting with one of my favourites ...

"Today I'm here for a public lecture. 10 years ago I came here to begin my job in disability support. 8 years ago I took a screenwriting night class here. 18 years ago I came here for lectures on my English degree. And around 50 years ago my Dad did his day release joinery training here before it was even a university. This building is in my DNA. #campustales #monthinnumbers"
To me that encapsulates everything that's worthwhile in recording my Month in Numbers; the numbers themselves aren't the important part, they just elegantly draw together various threads of my life and help me to capture a lifetime in a single moment.

And from a single moment ... to 10,000 of them ...

We visited the 'Manifest: 10,000 Hours' installation by Clare Twomey at York Art Gallery: 

As the official description explains: "Communities of helpers in York and beyond have assisted Twomey in the production of the bowls. Each bowl takes an hour to make and represents one of the 10,000 hours it is said to take to become a master craftsman.".

It was a wonderful thing to behold, for its artistic qualities, its conquering of logistics, its practicalities [how on earth did they stack them all so carefully?] and also ... for its defiance of preciousness ... as there are no barriers preventing you getting as close as you want to these delicate items:
No warnings not to get too close. No instructions to back off if you're carrying a big bag etc. And I find something comfortingly sanguine and trusting about all that.

In fact had such a brilliant time at the newly refurbished York Art Gallery last Saturday I plan to write a separate post about it soon!

But for now let's delve a little further back into February ...

"Today we finally put the Christmas decorations back in the loft. Only 48 days after we shoved them in the back bedroom out of sight" #monthinnumbers"
And ever since sharing this tale I've learned that we're not alone.

According to the comments I received here are more of us out there who - despite taking the decorations down well in time for Twelfth Night - just never quite took them as far as where they actually belong for the other 10/11 months of the year!

And now we all know that we're not the only ones we can support each other through our lazy - but not unique - housekeeping revelations.

Oh and ... while this next photo has nothing to do with numbers, it did happen during this long-awaited tidying, and so, I'm wondering ... has this one ever happened to you too? Anyone???

One minute you're putting Christmas decorations away, the next ... there's a man dangling his didgeridoo out of your loft hatch:

And, while we're on the subject of sharing our foibles ...

5 of my 'Bad Portraits'appeared on the Marie Claire UK website [along with plenty of my words]. 
When I pitched and then wrote an article all about my Bad Portraits project to such a well known publication, intellectually, I knew that - in order to have the piece make any true impact on readers who don't know me from Adam - I was going to have to include photographs. And bad photographs at that.

So yes, while it was amazing to see my words reach a new audience, it was also a little weird and led to what someone has since told me is known as a 'vulnerability hangover'; I'd shared awkward things and felt a bit naked as a result. But fortunately like any hangover ... it cleared up with some TLC,  and it certainly won't stop me continuing to share things which .... [dare I stoop to the cliche? Apparently yes I do] 'keep it real'. Hence this next number ...

Before spending 1... I found 5 more ...
"I went to the toilet at work and in the bottom of the bowl, glinting out at me from beneath the water, was a shiny 5p piece. #priceincrease #by4p #monthinnumbers (If you need 5p it's still there, library floor 1, cubicle 2.)"

Update: I've been back since and the 5p's no longer there. I checked.

Now while we're keeping things real ... how about a glimpse into another of the moments which characterises my current 'I've hit 40 so to hell with it' mood ...

"In hair salon. The words 'occipital bone' and 'No.3' have been used. 
So ... I'd been thinking about getting an undercut for a while and eventually this conversation happened:

Me: "I just want it all thinned out again and ... I don't know if I dare mention it's just, I've been thinking about ... getting the back shaved."
My hair stylist: "Why daren't you tell me that?"
Me: "Because I know if I tell you, you'll make me do it".
My hair stylist: "Well, we're doing it now!"

And off she went to get the clippers ... which led to the words mentioned above 'occipital bone' and No.3'. Which led to this ...
For the record: it's quite hard to take a photo of the back of your own head! And when I took the first blurry photo [left] I assumed that by the end of the month, the time Month in Numbers came around, I'd have had someone else to take a decent shot of the end result but I forgot. And so these are currently the only photographic evidence I have of my encounter with some clippers and a hairstylist who I trust with .... well put it this way, in around 7 years of styles she's never let me down with a cut and so ...  clearly, I trust her enough to let her shave my head!!

I took the other equally poor photo [right] this morning, which still give a great idea ... but hey ... I'm all about embracing the #BadPortrait. Apparently.

Continuing in the vein of 'I've hit 40 so to hell with it' ...

I bought a faux fur jacket for £20 based solely on the fact that Axl Rose wore something similar 25 years ago!  
Firstly - that's a terrible screenshot I took, if you'd like to see the jacket in action you can watch this video ... or, if you're not into early 90s Guns N Roses concerts that end in a stage dive and a riot ... you can just take my word for it.

It all stemmed from watching 'The Most Dangerous Band in the World: the story of Guns N Roses' a documentary on BBC4 [at the time of writing, 29.02.16 it was still available to view on BBC iPlayer for a few more days]. And when one clip showed Axl wearing nothing but boots, a pair of white hot pants and a jacket like this and I had some kind of style epiphany and I turned to James saying: "That is an amazing outfit". [It took some clarification to confirm to him that, no, I wasn't joking ...]

And then ... cut to, about a fortnight later, in Roman Originals of all shops [not exactly a rock n roll retailer ...] I spotted the jacket.

The. Jacket.

And of course I had to buy it. How I could I resist reliving my youth?

  • A youth where - had I come across that jacket - I would have worn the life out of it. [Despite it likely leading to people at school talking about me. That was kind of par for the course back then.]
  •  A youth where my sister and I saw Guns N Rose 3 times. And loved every minute of every one of those concerts ... except maybe the time those people fell under barriers in front of us and we had to hold a crowd back ... or the time we were crushed and I could lift my feet off the floor without falling over because people were so close ... or the time we got drenched to the skin in the rain and had to buy an XL t-shirt just to keep warm ...

Ah, but aren't those the moments that prove you were really there? The moments that may well be 25 years ago ... but when you relive them, the take you straight back there.

Right back to the huge stadiums, the vast crowds, the loud music, the screaming.

The singing in the sunshine.

The dancing in the rain.

And now ... if you'll excuse me ... I have got to go and pick an outfit to wear with a fake fur coat because this is not 1991 any more ... and, nostalgia or no, I will not be matching it with white hot pants.


If you fancy joining me in sharing your number-crunching stories on Instagram simply use the #monthinnumbers hashtag and tag me @withjuliekirk in your post if you want me to drop by.

Failing that ... I'll see you for another round up here, same time next month.

Until then here's to a shaved-head-and-fake-fur embracing bold March ahead!*  [*Metaphorically and/or figuratively speaking. Whichever you feel comfiest with.]

Julie x

Friday 12 February 2016

Bad Portraits ... in Marie Claire.

This week I've been battling with a double edged sword.

On the one hand

On the other hand ...

  • It's illustrated with photos of me looking like this ...

Which  is very much all my own fault of course.

It was my idea to pitch my Bad Portraits project to them as part of their 'Break Free from ...' campaign. And it went live last night as part of the 'Break free form body hate' week.

Now I'm left juggling the heady mix of having satisfied some professional ambition ... while feeling a little bit naked. [Like an anxiety dream where you get to go on a date with Jonny Lee Miller but you're wearing those lounge pants with the holes in. You know the ones I mean.]

So. Yes. I'm juggling double-edged swords. Naked.

This could be quite a dangerous time for me.


p.s: Thank you so much to all those who've left supportive comments on social media. It means a lot.

Tuesday 9 February 2016

Eggs. Pancakes. Collage. [Honestly, I have nothing better than this for a title.]

Hello. Hello.

It's Pancake Day ... and I forgot to buy eggs this morning when I was shopping.

Fortunately I'm a better blogger than I am Domestic Goddess [I'm a better tight-rope walker than I am Domestic Goddess] and I've whisked together some appropriately themed egg/pancake-based nonsense to share.

The first is a collage:
I made this a few months back in response to having read the Dr.Seuss book Green Eggs and Ham for the book club I attend at my local art gallery.

It has nothing to do with the book. It's just an egg thing. [Because that's a thing. Right?]
This combines an iamge from a fashion magazine, some patterned paper and some elemnts fomr a school cookery book. 

One of the things I like about making scrappy collages is how - by taking things out of context and butting them together - you can imbue things with a sense of the ridiculous and even the profound, [often at the same time] simply through their odd juxtaposition. 

I really liked the idea that a hen's egg weighs 'enough'. 

And I reckon hens would agree. 

*For a carefully curated, hand selected, [my hands!] inspiring collection of paper scraps to use in your collage work then drop by the area of my Etsy shop dedicated to Vintage Paper + Pages. Or commission a bespoke pack of all your favourite elements. 

In other egg news ... I was reading through some of my old Tweets this morning and came across the time I mentioned having just searched Google for where in the UK I could buy the US foodie zine Put A Egg On It ... and Google tried to offer me ... human egg donation sites


And finally ... 

Yesterday as I was sorting out the box of vintage pages I use to create my Snipped Tales and I came across the following random scrap [which I shared on Instagram today]. 

I must have snipped it free from some story book or other at some point, but what perfect timing for it to resurface!


If, unlike me, you have got eggs in the fridge today ... then happy flipping to you!

[Unless you're thinking about those other kinds of eggs. Maybe don't flip those.]


Saturday 6 February 2016

Happy National Libraries Day! Free books for all!

Hello hello.

I'm dropping in today - National Libraries Day - to ask the book lovers amongst you one thing [OK, admittedly, that might expand a bit ... you know I struggle to be brief ...] .

  • Do you have a library card? 
And if you do ...
  • Do you use it? 
National Libraries Day

I've experienced so, so, so much pleasure from the worlds and characters I've borrowed from libraries in recent years that I'm near-evangelical about them. So don't expect any balance argument from me today! 

To prevent me from ranting [about cuts and closures] and to stop me setting off on a full blown attempt to win over any non-library-ticket-holders ... I think I'd best just stick to cold facts and figures.

So here are 'My Library Habits ... in Numbers' 
  • I have 3 library cards which gives me access to all the libraries run by 2 local councils.
  • As a staff member at the university I can also borrow from the campus library at work [I'm spoilt, I know].. 
  • And James has a library card for a 3rd council ... 
  • Which means that, all in, I can browse the shelves of 36 different physical libraries ... 
  • and 4 online catalogues. 
In 2013 I started logging all my reading matter on Pinterest boards so I had a record to easily refer back to and, over the last 3 years ...
  • of the 95 books I've saved on there ...
  • 75 of them were library books! 
  • meaning that approximately 78% of the material I've read has been 100% free!!
And, library books being free means several important things to me: 
  • It means I can read more! I would never had read so much if I'd had to pay for each and every book. 
  • It means I can read broadly, risk free! I can try something different without worrying about liking it. You can never be disappointed with something that cost nothing and that you can return for nothing! Libraries keep their lending numbers up and you get to experiment and broaden your bookish horizons. Everyone wins.
  • It means I don't have to find space for all those books! One of my favourite things about borrowing books ... is returning them, leaving space on my bedside table, in my bag, for a brand new one. And I don't have to find somewhere to store the old lot!
  • It means I don't have any unread tomes languishing on a shelf! There's nothing glaring at me ... making me feel guilty for buying it then leaving it to gather dust.
  • It means I have a reading deadline! There's nothing like a deadline looming in the distance to really help focus the mind. A book that I've bought can sit on my shelves for weeks, months, years before I read them [just ask Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell. There was a lag of a decade between my starting and completing that book!!]. There's no urgency to spur me on. But a library book, with a return date? It's a self-contained mini time challenge!
Here ends the sales pitch. [Even though I'm trying to sell you free books!]

If you don't have a library card, and you fancy getting one, all you usually need to register is some ID and something with your address on it. 

In my experience you'll also need a big bag. Because before long you'll be selecting books like they're giving them away! 

And if you do have one that you haven't used for a while why not go and find it and treat yourself to some quality time with your local library. 

For a map of libraries hosting special events for #LibrariesDay visit the National Libraries Day events page here.*


*Note: this is not in any way a sponsored post. What would they pay me in? Free books?

Thursday 4 February 2016

Private Patterns #1. From the bathroom window

Private Patterns is a new blog [and Instagram] series that creates a space for us to share the small actions we find ourselves repeating, which print our unique identities into us. But at the same time it's a way to discover that we're each a part of a larger overall pattern too.

As I mention in the introductory post yesterday [which contains lots more details if you're looking for some]:
  • it's about connecting and realising that even though we're each a unique finished tapestry, we're made from the same threads that have been woven into others too.
 It's probably easiest to demonstrate by example and so ... let me share my first Private Pattern


I don't know exactly when this became one of my Private Patterns. But that's one of their subtle [sneaky?] traits ...

... they tend to hide the weaving process from you, secretly layering up the design before you're even aware of it. Then suddenly, one day, they present you with the finished fabric saying "Here, take this. It's one of your 'things' now".

And that's how I became someone who opens the bathroom window and peers out into the world beyond ... while cleaning her teeth.

Not that I do this every single time. But enough times for me to have recognised a pattern emerging.

When I used a regular, manual, toothbrush I used to wander around the house, half-dressing/ undressing, tidying, mooching, opening/closing curtains while brushing; but then the weight and the buzzing and the likelihood of spattering brought on by the switch to an electronic brush rooted me to the spot.

Maybe it was boredom. Maybe it was the incessant noise inside my brain. Maybe it was that awful tickling vibration rippling through my nose. But something drove me to lean across the sink, grip the handle, turn it and ... push ... "Hello world, you don't mind me resting my eyes on you while I get this minty mundanity over with do you? No? Thanks."

It must be something like that because, I certainly don't do it for the view. There's no dreamy, romantic, landscape out there to meditate upon.

Firstly I tend to notice the fine, smudged, coal-like, dirt on the inside of the open window frame; complete with the occasional metallic speck left over from that time one of the works' chimneys spewed out who knows what covering the county with a light dusting of silver glitter each morning.

Which could have been the best thing to happen, ever, if not for the fear it might ruin all our lungs...

So now we've established both the state of the air quality and my housekeeping ... let's move beyond the window where I can see the rolling hummocks of moss on our garage roof and, on mornings after wind-battered nights, I can check there's actually still a roof left at all. For the record: that roof's so old it's made with asbestos.

[Just so I know: is any of this making you want to come and stay over? The works, the lung thing, the asbestos? This would make the worst ever Airbnb listing ...]

From the roofs and the moss [and the asbestos] my eyes roam over my neighbours' gardens; bird-feeders, hand-strung peanuts, a swing seat, a washing line. And beyond them the green, with the occasional dog and its walker. Past that are the allotments [I wonder what ever happened to that cockerel ... you just don't hear it any more] and up and off into the horizon my eyes alight on the various chimneys of the works. 

What they're currently manufacturing and what company name they trade under, I don't know. To those in the know, all those chimneys and ocean-liner sized buildings of industry, [a bit like whoshisface from U2], are simply referred to as: 'The Works'.

Sometimes I slide myself around, between the sink and the wall, leaning into the tower of towels, as far as I can, until I can stick my head out into the day. Which is when I feel a strange, and rare, kinship with dogs. 

Here I can utterly appreciate the satisfaction dogs gain from sticking their heads out of car windows. I may not be able to go anywhere ... but no one can stop the air from drifting and dancing over my face.

Although, naturally, it's not always daytime when I clean my teeth [twice a day, every day, what do you take me for?] And my open window ritual isn't deterred by night ... or weather.

In fact sometimes it’s the cold nights that are the most alluring. Nights when the heating’s been on all day and the air is dry, oppressive, dense. Never is the sharp black freshness beyond the glass more welcome. 

And that smell ...

You know the one. It's the kind of scent that, in another time, would drive your Grandmother to say “You smell cold. Get in, get in, get those boots off. Get in front of the fire!"

On these nights I scan the black sheet for light and movement. High up the stars shimmer white while lower down, in brothel-red, the lights on the shoreline wind turbines flash to prevent aircraft, and maybe geese, from flying into them.

And I ponder how the turbines can be there, right there that spot, when that’s not where the sea is. Yet it must be. Unless they step out of the sea and head inland dusting sand and salt water from their ankles every evening. Apparently, much like my centrally heated dried out face, my sense of geography needs a little refreshing too. 

And I think I'll leave it there. It only takes a few minutes to clean my teeth after all. Anything else is just dawdling ... drifting ... daydreaming. 

Besides ... it is still only February out there, and I'm letting a draught in. If I ... can just ... lean over ... and pull that window over ...

Come in, come in. Get in front of that fire. 


If you want to share a Private Pattern of your own ... go right ahead! 
  • If you do so on Instagram use: #PrivatePatterns so I can find you. 
  • If you have a topic you'd like to cover ... go for it ... there are no wrong patterns!
If you'd like to take inspiration from my Private Pattern try could thinking/writing about / journaling / sketching / photographing ...
  • your morning / evening routine.
  • a moment out of your day that you often take for yourself.
  • a favourite/least favourite view from a familiar window.
  • something relating to how you seek/find fresh air. 

No pressure. No deadlines. No linky. No button. I'm leaving everything pretty undone, informal and breezy for now.

Private Patterns is just a simple space for us to share and connect. To offer up a glimpse behind closed doors. To nod in recognition with a smile on our faces ...

Let's see what kind of patchwork we can make by combining our individual patterns.


Introducing ... Private Patterns

It's National Storytelling Week this week so it seemed like the natural time to launch Private Patterns my newest blog feature all about telling stories. 

Stories about you

Well, don't panic, I won't be telling stories about you ... that would be weird [and  where would I get my information?] but, if you choose to join me from time to time ... this series offers you a space to reveal a little something about the patterns of your life.

What are Private Patterns? 
Apart from being a blog series I've had scribbled in a notebook for over a year, and a name which has gone through a dozen changes, Private Patterns are:
  • those actions, quirks, behaviours that you find yourself repeating.
  • those small rituals you carry out daily, weekly, monthly. 
  • those moments which, experienced singly, wouldn't be worth commenting on, but when repeated have a cumulative effect in defining your individuality. 
  • those small experiences which, when repeated, begin to lay down the grooves upon which you continue to run. 
Now, the aim of the series isn't to spur us all in to major confessions about our deep seated obsessions! No.
  • The aim is to mull, meditate, ponder and drift over what’s yours on a small, everyday, even mundane, scale.
  • The thrill will come from revealing what you've always thought was just one of your 'little foibles' ... then discovering that someone else knows exactly what you mean because they do it too! 
  • It's about connecting and realising that even though we're each a unique finished tapestry, we're made from the same threads that have been woven into others too. 
Those may be big claims but that doesnt mean the pattern itself needs to be deep and meaningful!
  • It could be something as fun - but downright essential - such as how you eat a Kit Kat. Are you finger biter? Or snapper? Are you an edge-nibbler? A tea dunker?
  • How about how you make or take your tea, the ritual you carry out. Milk first, last, never? What about the colour? Barely there? Bad false-tan-orange? 
  • Or how do you organise the clothes in your wardrobe? By colour? Style? Season? Organise? What's organise? 
Stuck for ideas? Don't force it ... you'll catch yourself uncovering them when you least expect it. There are countless possibilities just waiting to be revealed ...
  • Just let your mind wander to all those small things you repeat ...
  • those things that are so near you're almost too close to see them clearly ...
  • then take a step back ... as if moving your eyes away from a pixilated screen ... further and further back until you can see the bigger picture.
  • That's where you'll find your private pattern. 
How will Private Patterns run?
  • Once a month -  most likely on the 4th - I will share one of my own Private Patterns here on my blog.
  • Anyone who wishes to do the same is welcome to join me.
  • Mine will take the form of a piece of writing, probably with accompanying photos.
  • Yours can be anything at all!! [Collage, journal page, scrapbook layout, poem, photograph].
  • If you prefer you can share your #PrivatePatterns on Instagram. Just hashtag it and let me know @withjuliekirk
  • Your topic doesn't have to have anything at all to do with mine! You choose what to write about. However ...
  • You're more than welcome to take my topic as a starting point for your own. 
  • After all it is pretty likely that at some point you'll make a - "I thought I was the only person who did that!!" - connection then feel inspired to share your side of the story.
  • Reading other peoples' posts will become a great way to generate ideas on what you can share next.
  • And ... it might be fun to occasionally all work to the same topic. If so, I'll let you know in well in advance.
OK ... that's enough vague planning!

I'll be back to share my first Private Pattern tomorrow. It involves a bathroom. 

Bet you can't wait.

Any thoughts or questions I'm here [there, and everywhere].

See you soon.