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Small thoughts, observations, joys, worries, and cultural tidbits — posted almost daily.

11th August 2020 4:35pm

Geri's Japanese language series

I’m in awe of Geri’s commitment to learning Japanese and the happiness she derives from it. She’s now pushing beyond her comfort zone to make short videos entirely in Japanese (with subtitles). I’d love it if you’d watch the first video, give it a thumbs-up, and subscribe.

10th August 2020 4:50pm

Feeling grateful

Bearface in a basket

There are still jobs to do before we complete our garden project, but they can wait. After all the effort, and with Autumn approaching fast, we wanted to make the most of this glorious weather.

So, out came the new rug and chairs and other carefully-considered comforts, arranged under my trusty old parasol. A useless old barbecue is reborn as a mini firepit, and last night we toasted marshmallows, in lieu of the annual Middle Cove beach meet.

I’m writing this outside. Dear old Bearface is curled asleep in a small basket; bees buzz around the remaining honeysuckle flowers; goldfinches argue over the best perch at the feeder. Earlier, I watched my wife water her plants and felt an incredible sense of gratitude, both for her and for my modest home.

I worry about all sorts of things all of the time, but I never lose sight of my good fortune.

7th August 2020 10:25am

Corner of My Sky

I love this collab between Welsh artists Kelly Lee Owens and John Cale (Cale provides the sole vocal in both English and Welsh — The Quietus has more about the process). The depth and texture of the track is captivating, and those flourishes at 3:25 and 5:00 are beautiful. I can't wait for Kelly’s new album.

6th August 2020 8:15am

75 years

Today, I’m thinking about Hiroshima—a city Geri and I both love—on the 75th anniversary of the first atomic bomb. Here’s a passage from the account of my second visit.

We’d already spent a full day here on our first visit, absorbing the horrors of August 1945 and the lasting effects. Still, the lovely riverside and emblematic dome are hard to resist. We arrive under a close red sun and hazy orange skies; it’s a beautiful, warm evening. We spot stained glass before-and-after models of Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall (the dome). Some people are chatting with the gentleman who made the models, and he asks we join. The man’s name is Okihiro Terao, and he is hibakusha: a survivor. With great grace, he patiently teaches us to fold paper cranes. Geri can make origami birds with her eyes shut but I struggle — although I’m not really trying; I’m thinking about this man and his life. I’ve read John Hersey, watched The World at War, shed a tear in the museum; I've spent plenty of time thinking about the bomb. But when this survivor shakes my hand, it unlocks a deeper level of empathy; makes everything tangible and immediate. It’s such a gift to feel a direct human connection to that terrible event.

1st August 2020 6:50pm

Eid Mubarak!

It's Eid al-Adha. While working on the garden, we mentioned to our Muslim neighbour that her cooking always smells so good. Ten minutes later, she and the kids returned with two portions of today’s family meal: chicken breast and leg with lamb rice, salad and tasty sauce (plus two mini Cokes). The food was delicious and their kind gesture totally made our day.

31st July 2020 6:25pm

Lacto-ferments update

Lacto-fermented plums
Lacto-fermented plums
Fermented plums and juice

Two of my lacto-ferments have turned out well. I decided to stop the process on Thursday night, eager to retain the fruit’s character and avoid overdoing the acidity.

The plums and tomatoes are pleasingly acidic and very umami, and the distinct carbon dioxide fizz softened after a night in the fridge. The plum juice is sharp and tart, and the tomato water has real depth; they’re both very potent in the best way.

I’m letting the blueberries go a little longer. I’d spotted some questionable mould and chucked out the top inch. The remaining bloobs look ok now, so fingers crossed for a full recovery.

My ferments will last a week in the fridge, or I could freeze them. The Noma guide recommends all sorts of uses, but I expect we’ll continue to pick a few plums every time we open the fridge.

Update: I puréed and thinly spread some toms, which I then baked to make tangy ‘leather’. I marinaded some veg in tom water overnight; turned out great. I seprated some plums from their skins and baked everything; the peeled plums became shrivelled chews, the skins excellent crisps.

29th July 2020 3:00pm

Don't fight it, feel it

Denise Johnson was a brilliant human. She gold-plated some of my fave early 90s dance songs: Electronic’s Get The Message, A Certain Ratio’s Be What You Wanna Be, and most famously Primal Scream’s Don’t Fight It, Feel It. With her first solo album imminent, her sudden death is a shock.

27th July 2020 10:50am

A step closer

The step was even fiddlier than we’d anticipated, consuming the weekend. Aligning the slab and clad to several points was tricky, and as ever, we made final decisions by eye. Still loads to do, but it’s dawning on us how much we’ve turned this patch around.

Careful preparations
Aligning everything
Slab and clad detail
From above

26th July 2020 9:00pm

100-year-old selfie

I’ve fallen for this colourised selfie from 1920. This young couple looks relatable and happy, challenging our notion of Japanese reserve. I love the woman’s smile and the way the man so lovingly holds her hand. I want to know everything about them. Source: Marija Stefanovic.

100-year-old Japanese couple selfie, colourised
100-year-old Japanese couple selfie, original

25th July 2020 12:40pm

Lacto-fermenting fruits

Time to put some fermentation theory into practice. I’m hoping the lactic acid bacteria on these tom, plum and bloob skins will ferment their natural sugars and produce exciting umami flavours over the next week. I’ll report back.

Sweet plums and pink salt
Toms, bloobs and plums

24th July 2020 5:00pm

It’s a cover-up

The weekly trip to Morrisons. At last, almost all shoppers wore face coverings — now law after months of Tory dither. Well, it’s a law of sorts; one of Boris’s special corona-laws where offenders will be punished with no punishment whatsoever and allowed to “go on then, mate”.

Seriously though, I’m happy. No more will I be in the minority. No more will I be mocked for wearing a mask (yes, several times, and sometimes by those we might consider high risk). It’s a huge relief after all these months.

21st July 2020 4:40pm

Fascinating ferments

The Noma Guide to Fermentation

I’ve finally bought The Noma Guide to Fermentation. My desire to make the most of fresh fruit and vegetables has increased, as has our fascination for uniquely Japanese flavours. I’m particularly interested in homemade miso and shoyu, and as Geri already buys pre-grown koji for cooking, we hope to grow our own at some point.

You might expect Noma to take a highbrow tone, but there’s no pretension whatsoever in Redzepi and Zilber’s gorgeous and accessible book. They assume some readers will use it merely as a reference (I’ve already learned loads from the primer) and make it clear that you don’t have to make anything; that it’s ok to use pre-made ferments in your cooking.

But I’m giving it a go, starting simple. This week, I’ll prepare my first lacto-ferments, then move on to kombucha and vinegar, and I’ll be sure to document my successes and failures as I learn.

20th July 2020 11:25am

A delicate dance

We finally installed the front panel. Despite weeks of prep and many measurements, it needed a little persuasion. Still, we did an excellent job and I’m proud of us. Next, in this delicate little dance, we’ll slab and clad the step.

Site manager
Assembling the cladding
Pleasing alignment
Side detail

17th July 2020 3:10pm

New work for Dan Ritz

I enjoyed helping Boston-based designer Daniel Ritzenthaler with his new site. Dan was 90% of the way there but sought critique and guidance to nail the last 10%. I also set up Kirby CMS for him.

I asked @colly to help me with my new personal blog. Excellent design critique. Guidance on building a light and nimble content management system. Shockingly efficient and fun to work with. So glad I finally got to work with him! 🤩 danritz.com

Recently, I’ve done lots of listening and talking — you might call it coaching. Critiques, contextualising, problem-solving, pair-designing. I would love to do more of this work, so please reach out if you need a design partner.

15th July 2020 6:00pm

My favourite customer

Maurice Roeves

Maurice Roëves, the veteran actor known for Last of the Mohicans, The Eagle Has Landed, Star Trek, Dr Who and many more things you’ve seen, has died. He moved to a village near Nottingham and would regularly buy cigarettes from the shop where I worked during my struggling artist years.

He seemed inseparable from his characters, like they walked in with him. But I think he appreciated that we never mentioned his work; that the shop was a safe place. This was something I’d learned from serving famous folk at a prominent London bar.

Maurice was quiet but friendly and always shared a few words in his deep Scottish accent before disappearing out into the street. He was my favourite customer.

13th July 2020 2:30pm

RSS reply links

Inspired by Jonnie and Robin, I’ve added a reply link to each RSS post; a prompt to email me if you’ve a response to something I’ve shared.

Jonnie has sometimes reached out after reading my words in his feed reader. On one occasion, we’d discussed the possibility of some sort of RSS feedback mechanism, so it’s nice to see him instigate this.

My link includes subject=Reply: [Kirby title variable] to help organise and sort replies. Perhaps later, the link will appear on the site, but I particularly like that it’s a subscriber-only invitation.

13th July 2020 12:00pm

The larch assembling

All the graft and prep is paying off. This weekend we cut, stained and assembled the first of two Siberian larch cladding panels. We also washed and spread some Derbyshire Grey gravel. There’s still lots to do, but it’s getting exciting.

Tools and diagrams
Assembling the cladding
Garden textures
Cladding, pavers, gravel

11th July 2020 11:05am

Capturing Saturn

Saturn as seen from Gunthorpe
Saturn as seen from Gunthorpe.

Geri needed a wide sky for our first stargazing outing, so Trent-side at Gunthorpe made sense. Arriving just before midnight, we immediately spotted NEOWISE close to the horizon, so we set up her telescope by a farm gate. I liked that the comet appears stationary when its form — a bright ball with trails of gas and dust in its wake — suggests immense speed.

A little later, we turned to face our primary targets. First, Jupiter and its moons, and then Saturn. SATURN! I mean, we could actually see its rings, pulled down to earth by a modest tube, roadside in Gunthorpe! It was so exciting that for a few minutes I forgot how cold I was.

Briefly, Saturn was ours, and it was hard to believe. “It’s the planet you would draw as a kid,” said my wife through happy tears.

10th July 2020 6:45pm

New Adventures 2020 videos

The most recent New Adventures took place in January, which was a lifetime ago. We’re fortunate that Covid-19 didn’t derail our conference, but we still took a hit. Client work has taken priority ever since.

Thankfully, our friends at Sitepoint offered to edit and host the videos, and all seven are now streaming on Sitepoint Premium, exclusively for the first month. If there’s enough interest, Sitepoint may release more unseen NA talks.

To watch the videos for free, subscribe to the NA YouTube channel. We’ll upload one per day starting mid-August.

8th July 2020 6:40pm

Call in the Crash Team

I’ve long been a fan of poet Simon Armitage, but when I heard the first single from his LYR music project, I thought his poetry sat uneasily with the music and dismissed it.

The album’s out now so I gave LYR another go — and I’ve changed my mind. Call in the Crash Team is an intriguing and often beautiful collection of evocative sketches. I feel now that the spoken word and music are intertwined, underpinning each tale with tension.

I also love recent single Lockdown, which originated as a pandemic poem about ye olde Eyam’s 17th-century self-quarantine. Recorded with additional vocals from actor Florence Pugh, the track was released to support Refuge.

BTW, Armitage’s podcast, The Poet Laureate Has Gone to His Shed, is great.