Tuesday, 31 August 2010

While You Were Out…

You lucky lot! Today you are getting a real treat.... this is a guest post written by Ron from the marvellous blog called; "If I had a blog". Enjoy, and don't forget to drop by Ron's blog to say hello!

Well, Anne is away on holidays this week and she asked me to leave a guest post on her blog. I was very flattered and accepted. Anne gave me the keys to let myself in…I KNOW…right? It surprised the heck out of me too?!? She gave me the keys and didn’t even do a background check on me…silly girl! Honestly...it's a little like asking the patients to run the asylum...but she asked.

So here I am. You know, I’ve been following Anne for some time now, and I’ve never seen her blog from this side. There’s a lot of stuff back here. It’s neat and organized mind you…but maybe I’ll dust while I’m here.

Along with having access to post Anne asked me if I would keep an eye on Naughty George for her as well (in a cyber-babysitting sort of way). Well apparently Naughty George doesn’t do well with separation anxiety and as I write this he is online ordering a large amount of dog toys from what appears to be a very expensive online pet supply site. I can’t believe Anne gave him access to her credit cards…oh well, she won’t be able to return any of it because by the time she gets back NG will have chewed everything…Anne can sort it out later. “George…go with the red diamond laced collar…it goes with your eyes.” Oops…sorry.

I have a proclivity for practical jokes…and this is a perfect opportunity…but first I will give you examples.

I was a partner in a small ad agency years ago and at a time when we were very busy, one of the partners decided to go on holiday. He deserved the time off no doubt, but the timing was [stressful]. In his absence we (the other 3 partners) filled his office from floor to ceiling with Styrofoam packing peanuts and put a “For Lease” on the door. The reaction was obvious. The next time he went on vacation we were in the middle of renovating our offices and upon his return he found that we had his office repainted, all of the furniture updated and it was in pristine condition for his inspection. Seeing that everything was in place, clean, fresh and new…he became suspicious. He asked, “Okay it looks great, but what did you do?” He checked drawers and doors. He checked to be sure that the handset had not been super-glued to the phone, and the chair to be sure it didn’t fall apart when he sat down. Again and nervously he asked, “WHAT DID YOU DO?”

Knowing he was a mild germaphobe, we replied, “Well, we each took turns licking our fingers and touching EVERYTHING in the office!” We hadn’t really done that, but he spent the rest of the afternoon with disinfectant scrubbing his office.

To that end…I invite you all to the party. Let’s cut loose and have fun in Anne’s absence. I’m not sure that I can approve moderated comments, but leave them anyway. Have fun and tell Anne about all of the wild things you did on her blog while she was away. We have hidden things, rearranged things and otherwise wreaked havoc in the name of freedom (lack of supervision) and we will slyly welcome her back seemingly innocent of the scorched path we have left behind. I will try to have things cleaned up before she gets back…but we’ll see.

I’m reasonably sure Anne is going to change the locks when she gets back :)


I’m just saying

Posted by Ron Reed from "If I had a Blog"

Monday, 30 August 2010

I'm not a Badger

"Why the bloody hell did I agree to that?" I asked myself, following it up with a self-flagellating bonk on my head with a serving spoon as punishment (I was in the kitchen and had been trying to swat a persistent wasp with the spoon before I turned it on myself). 

"Agree to what?" I hear you cry (inquisitively).

"To go camping, that's what."

Yep, you read right. C.A.M.P.I.N.G......... Me. Lady M. Proponent of all things luxurious and all things stuffed with duck down.

I had been duped into partaking in a pastime that I had previously denounced as barbaric: Akin to bear baiting, dog fighting, and sympathising with investment bankers.   

Pic.No.1. Ahhhh. Camping in the UK is a heart-warming affair

I had been duped into camping. So instead of sleeping in my comfortable bed, having long hot showers, and knocking up leisurely lunches on my ample cooker, I was faced with the prospect of sleeping on a plank in a semi-waterproof nylon room, and trying to scrape together a meal using a single miniature gas-burning stove. Why would I want to do that?! I didn't want to do that, but as I say, I was duped.

It gets worse; there wasn't going to be room service or a Concierge in the tent. And that is before I start on the lack of electricity or internet connection. Let's look at how Stone Age men lived and then compare it with camping - see what I mean? - there's not much in it. Well except for the clothes. Looking on the bright side, at least I'll be wearing jeans and boots rather than a loincloth fashioned from pelt (although I wasn't 100% sure that'll be the case).

For god's sake, I'm a human being! I have my needs and my rights! If I was supposed to grub around living off the land, I would have been born a Badger.

 Pic.No.2. But I'm not a Badger!

So how did I get myself into this scrape? It was totally my daughter's fault. No actually, thinking about it, it was Izzy's Dad's fault. He had decided to take Izzy camping to help keep her entertained during the school holidays. So far so good. But then, during one of his regular coffee visits to my house, he got some devilment in him and said to Izzy; "shall we ask your Mummy if she wants to come camping?"

What a git. As soon as the words had fallen out of his mouth, I started frantically sawing the side of my hand across my throat ...... "Noooooooo!" I  mouthed at him behind Izzy's back. But it was too late. Izzy had picked up the baton and was running with it.

Not only was she running with it, but she was jumping up and down and clapping with happiness. To turn down a five year old who was so excited to have you camp with her, would have been like killing a kitten. So I hugged Izzy and said; "Ok darling, I would love to go camping with you," whilst silently mouthing "you bastard," to Steve who was laughing in the background.

So, tomorrow I will be driving to a campsite in Swanage for a "camping holiday" (that's got to be an oxymoron).  I'm not sure how long I'll be away, but the good news is that I have got two amazing Guest Bloggers lined up to keep you entertained....... please put your hands together for .......................

Ron Reed from "If I had a Blog" (who will be writing tomorrow)

Brahm from "Alfred Lives Here" (who will be writing on Wednesday)

Enjoy! And see you when I get back.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Nature is not human hearted

At last, the rain this week eventually let up long enough for Izzy and I to undertake some outdoor activities. That's because television is evil right? And children who watch too much of it are bound to have a penchant for mugging grannies and sniffing glue when they grow up. Come to think of it, I haven't seen my superglue for a while.....

I had decided that the theme for our activities was going be nature, because I wanted Izzy to see some wildlife outside their normal context of roadkill. And with this in mind, we headed off to the Sutton Courtenay Nature Reserve - a place that had been advertising children's activities for the summer holidays.

"Izzy," I said in the car, "we are going to experience nature in its natural habitat."

"What's habitat?" Izzy asked.

"It's like the outdoor house that animals live in," I replied inadequately, turning up the radio in the car to avert further questions.

It worked and Izzy started singing along to Razorlights, 'America' which, in truth, is wholly inappropriate for a five year old.  

Once we arrived at the Nature Reserve, I marched up to the Reserve's reception desk and said: "We would like to sample some of your nature and your finest children's activities as well please."

"No problem," smiled the lady behind the desk (nature nuts are always 'nice', it's from all that lovin' animals), "that'll be £2.50 please."

Blimey, nature had gone up since last time I experienced it. That'll be inflation then.

"So what's first then?" I asked Mrs Nice once she had prised the money out of my cold, clenched fists.

"Pond dipping," she said, "over at the pond." Unsurprisingly.

"What's that bloody hell's pond dipping?" I asked.

"One of our helpers will explain once you are there," she replied.

It took five minutes to walk to the pond, and I have to say, Izzy was pretty excited by the time we got there. We headed towards the helper, and I said, "we'd like to do some pond dipping please."

"No problem," she smiled (also terribly nice), "get one of those nets over there and dip it gently into the pond, decanting what you catch into one of these white trays," she said, thrusting one into my hand.

"So basically it's just fishing?" I asked her.

The horrified expression on her face told me that it wasn't. "No," she said, "we are looking for all manner of wildlife." These nature types are very defensive of their wildlife techniques [note to reader: if you are at a nature reserve and see a spider, don't shout "UGH there's a spider! Kill it!" because they don't like that either].

So there we were, balancing precariously on a muddy pond bank and going in for the 'catch'. The helper was watching us, and after dipping our net into the pond three times she shouted to us; "that'll be enough now."

Izzy and I scrambled back up the bank and poured the contents of our net into the white tray.

"Oh how exciting!" exclaimed the helper, "this is best variety of wildlife we have had all day."

Izzy and I peered into the white tray; "You are obviously seeing something that I'm not" I said, "I can only see green sludgy stuff."

Pic.No.1. Izzy not fishing... most definitely pond dipping... yeh

"There!" she pointed; "you've two fish, a water beetle and some mosquito larvae."

Call me a cynic, but it wasn't the haul I was expecting. In fact, I was coming to the conclusion that nature was a bit crap.

"We can have those fish for dinner," I said to Izzy, pointing at them and laughing my head off.

Izzy guffawed heartily in return, but Helper looked shocked beyond belief; "Oh no, you must put them back," she said seriously.

"Erm, it was a joke," I pointed out to Helper; "the fish they are no more than half an inch long, and even though I could do with going on a diet, that fish would be taking things to extremes."

"Oh sorry, of course," Helper laughed laughed nervously.

"Anyway, we've done pond dipping," I said. "What's next on the agenda?"

Helper looked totally relieved: "A bug hunt," she said thrusting a piece of paper into my hands. It was a list of ten different bugs.

"What do we do with this then?" I asked

"There are pictures of these bugs hidden throughout the nature reserve, and you have to find them and tick them off the list," she replied.

"Cool," I said to Izzy, "you understand what you are supposed to do?"

"Yeh of course," she replied indignantly like she had done a bug hunt every day of her life.

"Ok good. Now you are going to be Dora, and you are responsible for finding the bugs, and my name is Diego and I am responsible for writing the bugs' names onto our list." I said. Can you see the natural leader in me coming out? Yep, I felt the need to delegate even to a five year old. I shudder to think of the results of my Inkblot test.

Izzy, as always, threw herself into the task with gusto and rushed around with me lumbering and sweating glowing behind her. For hours we ran around meadows, squeezed behind bushes, climbed trees, scaled fences and explored dens in pursuit of those bloody bug pictures. 

Pic.No.2. This is Dennis the dinosaur. We stumbled upon him on our bug hunt. He's not real..... obviously ..... because he's extinct .... and made of metal

Pic.No.3. This was the 'Sound Garden' that we found on our expedition. It was a series of different sized metal tubes that you hit with a spoon. Izzy played on them for forty five (yep 45) minutes. Anyone got any paracetamol / Valium / self-administered weaponry I can borrow?

So, fast-forward a while. The sun was starting to set, and Izzy had found nine out of the ten bugs. We had spent the last hour trying to track down the elusive 'snail' but he wasn't to be found anywhere. As I saw it, we had two choices: 1. Set-up base camp and continue our search in the morning; or 2. Abandon our search for the damned snail and head home.

Despite Izzy insisting that she would like to live in the Nature Reserve until she had found the snail (she was soooo proud of herself for finding the other bugs), I decided against it. I mean, it would be downright weird for me and a five year old to sleep under a bush in a Nature Reserve because we hadn't found a picture of a snail. Especially all those people walking past us and pointing. I dread to think what Social Services would make of me trying to explain that one.

So we headed home, and to my great suprise, Izzy gabbled all the way home about what a good time she had had. Blimey, five year olds are really easily amused! How cool is that? She said that 'fishing' (her words not mine) was great fun, and that she 'loved' the bug hunt. Jeez, I am such a good parent - I didn't see that coming.

Me, on the other hand, woke up at 2am that night sweating about not finding the snail. Seriously, I had a dream and I was manically running around only to be met with dead ends, and empty places. And I had been frantically digging my pillow. That's not right is it?

Next installment of 'back to nature' coming soon....... in the meantime, has anyone else got any summer holiday tales?

Friday, 27 August 2010

The great 'Blog Button' exchange

Howdy! Today I did a post on how to create your very own blog button, but then it got me thinking.... maybe some of the yummy blogs that I follow might want to swap buttons? Yes, we can share the love!

Me and one of my all time favourite blogs, Alfred Lives Here, have already taken the plunge.... and it was quite exciting seeing my Blog Button pop up on his blog. I ate a packet of Cheese and Onion crisps to celebrate.

So, what do you think? [strikes a pose in the mirror]. How are my attempts at networking going? [attempts a Zoolander but fails].

 Pic.No.1. This is the button that you will post on your site...... be quick...... I'm sure we are gonna sell out fast

So, my fellow blogging chums, would you like to trade Blog Buttons? I have already got a section on my blog called 'These blogs are bloody brilliant - go on - have a peek', and that is where your blog button will live. [attempts a 'Blue Steel' in the mirror and succeeds].

I am looking forward to some constructive blog cross-pollination....... *wink*

How to: Create a Blog Button with the code underneath

I was creating myself a blog button, when all of a sudden I had a thought that it might be helpful to start a 'How to' series of posts. Basically, the idea is that everytime I come across anything that might be useful to other bloggers, I do a post on it...... so here you go!

Marketing your blog is a great way to encourage extra readers, and a blog button is just one way of doing this.

A blog button is basically a hyperlinked (to your blog) thumbnail image of your website that your followers can post onto their blogs to help encourage their readers to visit you.

Below is a screenshot of the blog button on my website showing an example of the code. Your readers would copy the code and paste it onto their own site. But how do you go about creating this image with the code beneath?

Pic.No.1. My blog button. My, who is that good looking gal?

You want to make your own Blog Button? Let's go......

Step One - Make your Blog Button Image

You need to create a .jpg image for your Blog Button. You can do this in any photo editing software, like Photoshop or Paint (if you don't have Photoshop).

Pic.No.2. I created my Blog Button in Photoshop

Step Two - Size your Blog Button

Make sure the image is the correct size. It should be around 150 pixels wide.

Step Three - Upload your Blog Button

Upload your image to a Image Hosting site like Photobucket or Flickr. I used Photobucket. If you don't have an account set up, you will have to register first.

Step Four - Create the code for your Blog Button

Look at the code below, you need to replace all of the green text with your own information (there is an example in Step Five which will help you).

<center><a href="http:Your Website URL" target="_blank" title="The Title of your Website"><img alt="The Title of your Website" src="The URL of the Image you Uploaded" /></a> <center>

<center><textarea id="code-source" rows="3" name="code-source"><center><a href="http:Your Website URL"><img border="0" src="The URL of the Image you Uploaded" /></a></center></textarea></center></center>

If you are not sure how to get the URL of your uploaded image, go into Photobucket, and click on the album that contains your Blog Button. Above the image of your Blog Button, click on the link called 'share'. A separate window will open. Click on the tab called 'Get Link Code'.

Copy the code in the 'Direct link for layout pages' box. This is your image URL and can be posted into the code above. 

Step Five - Check that your Blog Code is Correct using this Real Example

This is what the finished code looks like for my own website Blog Button, so that you can compare:

<center><a href="/" target="_blank" title="Anne Dickens | The day after yesterday"><img alt="Anne Dickens | The day after yesterday" src="http://i834.photobucket.com/albums/zz264/dangermousette/Blog%20Button/Blog-Button.jpg" /></a> <center>

<center><textarea id="code-source" rows="3" name="code-source"><center><a href="/"><img border="0" src="http://i834.photobucket.com/albums/zz264/dangermousette/Blog%20Button/Blog-Button.jpg" /></a></center></textarea></center></center>

Step Six - Post the Code onto Your Website or Blog

This is how to post your code in Blogger:

Copy the code that you created in Step Four

Make sure that you have your blog dashboard on the screen

Click on the 'Design' tab

Click on the link 'Add a Gadget'

Select the gadget 'HTML/Javascript'

In the 'Title' box, type 'Grab my Blog Button' or similar

Paste the code that you copied into the 'Content' box

Press 'Save' and the Gadget screen will close

Press 'Save' again on the 'Design' page, and that's it.  

Voila! There you have it - your very own blog button. Now all you have to do is approach your readers and see who wants to do a button swap!

Let me know how you get on and if you found this post useful!

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Random Police and Shrek Rants

Police. Sometimes I question their powers of deduction. I was reading an article in the Oxford News today, and it was about the discovery of a decapitated man in the grounds of a golf course. When the Investigating Officer was interviewed, he confirmed that the victim was dead, and said that they were treating the death as suspicious.

WTF? Of course the bloody victim was dead. He had no head! .... unless in my ignorance there are people out there who have actually recovered from that particular injury? And of course his death is suspicious!....well, unless he had the worst golf swing known to man........ 

Anyway, that story had nothing to do with today's post. It was just something I read whilst I was in the supermarket exchanging a faulty tube of superglue that had led to me accidentally sticking myself to a child's teapot earlier in the week.

Back to the matter in hand. After Izzy's school holiday jaunts, she was back in Oxford and I was excited about having her for four straight days before she set off on another holiday. I had made sure that all my house chores were done so that we could concentrate on having fun. Yeh, you got it ........ I'm the bloody double of Mary Poppins I am.

I had it all planned. We were going to be doing loads of 'outdoors stuff' because I am a Victorian parent in that I believe that television is evil and if a child watches it too much, when they get older they will do horrible things involving fireworks and animals. The television rule doesn't apply to me, obviously. I don't know what I would do without my daily dose of 'Big Brother'.

So along came Day 1 of our funfest. I opened the curtains and to my chagrin, it was raining. Damn! Actually, it wasn't just raining, it was totally pissing it down. As I peered through a hole in the condensation on the window, I could see Naughty George in the garden having a wee whilst the rain bounced off his head. 

It became instantly apparent that my strict outdoors regime had been washed out, and that I needed to come up with a contingency, and quickly.

I jumped onto my computer and typed; "what the bloody hell can I do with a five year old if it's raining outside?" Amazingly, Google came back with an answer, but I didn't like it; "Shrek Forever After at Witney Cineworld."

Ugh the cinema. I hate the cinema. But Izzy had already seen the picture of Shrek on my screen and had started jumping up and down and nearly spewing with excitement; "Can we go and see that mummy? Purlleeeeaase?"

I sighed....... and reluctantly agreed. Jeez, I'm a total pushover.

 Pic.No.1. The Shrek trailer.... woe is me...............

Two hours later, we arrived at Witney's Cineworld, and it wasn't long before all the things that I abhor about cinemas were pushed into my face. Firstly, there was the queue for tickets. For some bizarre reason, they were only selling tickets at the food counter (seems to be a new trend), so we had to stand in line for TWENTY minutes, watching people buy hot-dogs and popcorn, when all we wanted were the bloody tickets.

Then I had to actually pay for the tickets, and it cost £17.00 ($26.00 USD) .... oh yeh. For that price I could have bought the Shrek DVD and a DVD player to play it on.

So there I was, grumbling and swearing and cursing about the crap customer service at cinemas, but even I have to admit (begrudingly); Izzy abso-bloody-lutely loved it. It was all 3D, so things kept coming out of the screen making her laugh her head off. And I suppose that the film's storyline was moderately entertaining.

But! And I say, BUT! Surely cinemas cannot survive in the long term with their current levels of customer service and price structure? Is it me?

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Where's Izzy?

After all the dashing around I have been doing over the last couple of weeks, it took a while to dawn on me........

"What took a while to dawn on you?" I hear you cry.

Well, to be frank, the fact that I haven't seen my daughter for quite a long time. As in about a week or so. Let me elucidate; I am not normally this scatter-brained about where I put down my daughter, but diary management (both Izzy's and mine) has never been my strong point.

I decided to ring Izzy's Dad, Steve (who is in charge of all Izzy's engagements) and found out what was going on.

Me: [phone ringing]

Steve: Hello?

Me: Hi, it's me. I just thought I would ring up to find out when I was going to see my daughter again. It's been ages and I nearly had to refer to a photograph to remember what she looked like.

Steve: [sigh] I told you what she was up to, and that she is due back tomorrow.

Me: Oops, I'd forgotten, can you tell me again. ..............


It transpired that Izzy was like a real-life version of 'Where's Waldo' (or Where's Wally, as it is called in the UK). Basically the little tinker has been popping up everywhere, with all types of friends and family, just like a five year old metaphorical prairie dog.

After piecing together the evidence and the pictures, I discovered that she had undertaken three major engagements in the last week and a half. I mean, WTF? She is five! She has a busier social life than me, and I am an like a cross between Mother Theresa, Paris Hilton and Justin Bieber (except I don't do sex tapes.... like Mother Theresa ....... at least I hope that's the case).

So, Izzy's diary in the last week has been like this:

1. A weekend visit from Nana Shirley (paternal Grandmother)

Awww, it all started off so promising; Nana had dressed Izzy in a sweet little summer frock and matching sunhat. 'It'll never last' I thought to myself when I heard that they were going to Shotover Park (the place where I used to live off the land).

Pic.No.1 Izzy. A summery little girl

Sure enough, two hours later. Dress - gone. Hat - gone. Sparkly sandals - gone. And what do we have in its place? I guess the best description is 'feral' crossed with 'Bear Grylls'.

Pic.No.2. Izzy scaling trees in combat gear

Pic.No.3. After scaling trees, Izzy finds a mud flat and proceeds to demonstrate all that she has learned at Finishing School

Pic.No.4. Note to self - write letter of complaint to Finishing School. Honest to god, just look at her. She looks like she comes from a slum. Plus it seems as though she is standing in an open sewer (even though she isn't I hasten to add)

Pic.No.5. After the mud 'scenario', Nana Shirley doesn't give up and dresses Izzy in another sweet little summer frock. 

This time, the steady decline into feral-dom begins with an ice-cream...........

2. A holiday with her Dad in Woolacombe, Devon

How cute! Izzy and her dad went on a camping trip to Devon so that they could be by the sea for five days. Awww, it all started off so promising; Steve had dressed Izzy in a sweet little summer outfit with matching sunhat. 'It'll never last' I thought to myself when I heard that they might be going to the beach.

Pic.No.6. Izzy looks like a proper little girl on a scarecrow hunt in Woolacombe

Pic.No.7. Steve and Izzy on the way to the beach. Note that the hat has already been discarded

 Pic.No.8. Izzy frollicks in the azure English ocean. It's just like St Tropez but without the sun or the culture. And there are loads of dead fish flopping around in Woolacombe because in England we like pumping our sewers into the sea. Christ, turd-dodging is virtually a national sport. 

Sure enough, two hours later. Dress - gone. Hat - already gone. Sparkly sandals - gone. And what do we have in its place? I guess the best description is 'feral' crossed with 'Steve Irwin' ..... but without the stingray. That was killed weeks ago by the turds.

3. A weekend at Grandad Paul and Nanny Sue's house (paternal Grandfather and step-Grandmother)

The final stop of Izzy's England tour, was a weekend in Birmingham with Grandad Paul and Nanny Sue. Demonstrating extraordinary foresight, they decided to skip the 'lets dress her up all cute" stage and instead went for the jugular. Yep, straight off they geared her up for action. Roller blades on. Knee pads on, and accessorise with a Hello Kitty tube of sweets. Apparently she stayed in that exact same outfit for the full 48 hours she was there..... except for .................

Pic.No.9. Izzy happily engaged in another activity which could potentially cause injury. Unfortunately she doesn't appear to like anything other than injurous sports. We need private health insurance.

.............. the time when Grandad Paul asked Izzy to do an impression of Mummy and she came up with this..............

Pic.No.10 Note to self - Write another letter of complaint to that bloody Finishing School

4. Prodigal daughter returns home

So. That was a brief summary of what went on during Izzy's disappearance. And sure enough, as promised by Steve, she returned home on the predicted day, and he telephoned me to say that I could come and collect her. I arrived at Steve's flat to be confronted by this ........

Pic.No.11. Izzy enjoying the heady heights of a balmy British summer's evening .... erm ... yeh ... ok

I turned to Steve, "what the bloody hell is she doing?" I asked.

"I dunno," he said, "she told me that her teachers at school said that summer must be spent outside."

"But it's pissing it down with rain," I replied.

Steve shrugged and I shook my head; "We need to complain to that school," I said.

But I have to say - feral or not - danger seeking or not - I was mighty happy to have my little girl back from her jaunt..... and I had a whole load of activities ready for our impending weekend together.

So how are all you other parents getting on with the summer holidays? What are you doing to keep them entertained? ......... We need to swap notes ..... only another two week push before school starts again!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Do you want to know who's reading your blog?

I love statistics I do. And algorithms. I reckon I could write an algorithm for any situation..... because living life in binary always adds an interesting dimension.

"What the bloody hell are you waffling on about?" I hear you cry.

Ok, yeh, I have been sidetracked a little bit. Sometimes the Engineer in me bubbles to the surface and I have to knock it back down with a metaphorical 'reality bat', normally in the shape of my friends calling me a geek.

Anyway, back to the matter in hand: This week I was surfing the internet and I decided to find some interesting statistics relating to blogging.

Was I successful? ........ Was I?! I found an uber-interesting study done by an internet geek called Jakob Neilsen, who is renowned for examining the behaviour of internet users. In this particular investigation he had narrowed down his scope to encompass the behaviour of people who followed other people's blogs, and what he discovered was quite amazing.

His latest study found that 90% of online blog readers are 'lurkers' (people who read a blog without ever commenting on it) with only 9% of users contributing ‘a little’ and 1% actively contributing.

Pic.No.1. Just in case you didn't understand the previous sentence, Jakob Neilsen also included a pyramid picture. Thanks Jakob, it really helps because the previous sentence was a mind-bender

So in summary,  1% of your blog’s users are actively engaging with your blog and the rest are at best occasional contributers...... according to Jakob that is.

At first I thought it was all poppycock, but then I looked at the super-dooper graph that I get everyday that tells me how many people have visited my blog. And then I looked at the number of people who leave comments. And then it dawned on me......... most (i.e. nearly everyone) of my blog visitors are lurkers!

Hey lurkers ..... stop that! Come and say 'hello', I promise that I don't bite. Blogging is all about meeting new people and if you are 'lurking' I can't interact with you, so we need to put some de-lurking processes in place.

So, I decided to sneakily steal an idea from a blog that I follow called Alfred lives here.  He devised two cunning plans to coax lurkers from anonymity (whilst contributing to a good cause in the process). Here goes:

De-lurking process 1. 

If you leave a comment on my blog, I will donate £1.00 to the Pakistani flood relief fund

De-lurking process 2. 

If you become a 'follower' of my blog, I will donate £2.00 to the Pakistani flood relief fund.

Let's do it! (but not so much that I can't afford the charity bill!).

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Botanic Verses

As you've probably noticed, I have been a bit tardy with my blogging this month. It's not because I am lazy (well actually a bit of it is), it's because I have been inundated with visitors. As soon as the schools are out for the summer holidays, millions of parents (and non-parents for that matter) throughout England are suddenly faced with a six week stretch that they have to fill with .... something.

After a few days of fannying around trying to keep themselves entertained, they hit a wall. And that's when it happens. A light bulb goes on in their head, and they say, "I know! Let's go and stay with Annie in Oxford, it's free."

Sarah is one of those people. She is a teacher so she is usually on holiday or on strike, and as such, is a regular visitor to Oxford. She was here last week, and we were sitting in my kitchen on Monday morning when I pointed to the window and suddenly exclaimed; "what the bloody hell is that yellow stuff out there?"

Sarah ventured towards the window like ET walking to his rellys' spaceship. She was blinking and gasping in awe. "You know what," she said, "If I was a betting girl, I would say that it's sunshine."

"Quick! Take a photo for my blog," I shouted.

She ignored me and started pondering; "You know what? We should do something outside today." Then she added; "how about the Botanic Gardens?"

I looked at her doubtfully; "Nah, I'm not sure about that mate. I mean, I'm pretty open-minded and all that, but I can't get my head around ritual slaughter....... or men in diapers come to think of it."

Sarah sighed. I said "Botanic Gardens, not Satanic Gardens."

"Blimey, it still sounds dodgy to me. What's that all about then?" I asked with a puzzled look on my face.

"Exotic plants." She replied.

I looked at her suspiciously; "Hardly adrenalin-tastic is it? But if you agree to lunch out beforehand, I'll give it a go."

We had a deal, and even better, I was allowed to choose the eaterie. I chose the Tick Tock Cafe on Oxford's Cowley Road. Despite being full of Italian tourists (mind you the whole of Oxford is full of Italian tourists, so much so that it makes you wonder who is running the show in Italy ....it' gotta be tumbleweed-tastic), it serves amazing homecooked food.

It is so homecooked, that even the fries are handmade (sex in a sandwich). If you like oven chips..... 'nothing to see here.... move along now....."

Pic.No.1 Inside the Tick Tock Cafe on Cowley Road.

Pic.No.2 Shit a brick! This is the first picture I have managed to take of Sarah where she looks normal

And then if planning to visit the Botanic Gardens wasn't random enough, something else amazing happened ...... I managed to take a decent photograph of Sarah. She actually had her eyes open and was smiling (rather than grimacing). Man, it was rarer than rocking-horse shit.

"Jeez, Sarah, I have managed to take a good photo of you, have a look at this," I said. And instead of admiring my artwork, she said, "Cheeky bitch." Friends just aren't what they used to be in the olden days.

After lunch, we meandered to the Botanic Gardens, crossing a bridge over the River Thames, and stopping to take this photograph................

 Pic.No.3. The River Thames in Oxford. You can't really see it, but passing under the bridge is a punt

"What the blazes is a punt?" I hear you cry.

Well, a punt is a proper English boat and the concept behind it is almost beyond comprehension. It is powered by someone standing on a ledge at the back, pushing the boat along with a big stick that reaches the riverbed. If you look at it in a non-sentimental way, it should have been 'found out' years ago and become obsolete like Candy Cigarettes for children. But it hasn't because English people are sentimental and cling onto their 'heritage' like leeches to a sherpa.

Anyway, I digress...... after passing the River Thames, we arrived at the Botanic Gardens and it soon became apparent that it was full of........ well........ plants. You will also notice that the standard of photography has gone up because Sarah was doing it and she has got an SLR camera and knows how to use all the settings. She's a bit of a swot actually. It's sickening.

 Pic.No.4 A bloody great lily leaf in the Lily House. I could sit on that and eat a Big Mac and it wouldn't sink, even if I had an extra 'side'

Pic.No.5. It's me. Hurray! I am next to a bunch of yellow flowers. Thinking about it, this caption is unwarranted isn't it?

 Pic.No.6. A yellow leaf with a bee on it. How literal is this caption? Can somebody help me? Is there anybody who can help me? (That's a quote from the film Ghost when Demi Moore's chap got stabbled)

 Pic.No.7. A cactus that looks like a penis

The picture above was my favourite. I was jumping around pointing to the cactus and shouting to Sarah; "Look here! Come and take a picture! This one looks like a bloody long penis!"

Unfortunately, I hadn't noticed a pair of cerebral Oxford-Don type of people (they pop up everywhere in Oxford) who were staring at me in shock.

I returned their gaze, also in shock, but they turned away, pointing to the exact same cactus and commenting; "That looks like the extremely rare Candelabra Cactus found only in the Serengeti. Surely it's a member of dicotyledonous member of the Magnoliopsida class and the Caryophyllales order?"

How much of a dick did I feel?

 Pic.No.8. Ermmmm, a weird blue plant with freaky black pod things

 Pic.No.9. It's me again. I am next to a pink plant

Pic.No.10. This is the pink plant close up. Another one of Sarah's arty shots

Pic.No.11. A pond with fish in it

Pic.No.12. A view of Magdalen College's church spire

So was it a good day out? Bloody right it was. I discovered that all plants are pretty much the same apart from their colour, which (I am hoping) is the message that the Botanic Gardens wanted me to take home. Plus those guys taught me a lesson or two about weeding. I mean, half the things that I thought were plants in my garden are actually weeds. One of the members of staff at the Botanic Gardens said to me, "It doesn't matter if they are weeds, if you enjoy them, that's enough." Patronising git. Good job I was in a good mood or I would have slugged him with Sarah's handbag (and it is so full of shit that it would instantly kill most adults of average size. Above average, and I estimate it would take two slugs).

So, anyone out there with any good gardening stories? Go on, don't be shy... you know you want to!

Friday, 20 August 2010

An encounter with a complete and utter mentalist!

As you have probably already realised, I am a bit of a sucker for 'off-the-wall' action. It's because most of the time I  think; "Shit, yeh. I could do that." Yeh, I have a motorbike license, and yep, I like a bit of adrenaline.

But not this time. I watched this awesome video and thought, "JESUS! I would rather cut off my own leg with a rusty blade than attempt that shit!"

Vid.No.1. Total and utter mentalism

So may I introduce you to:

Mr Mental
On his motorbike
In the mountains.

So, I ask you....... what where your thoughts once you had watched it? Would you do the same? Be honest now...........

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Oh no, not again........

Bloody cracking start to the day today.

Managed to superglue my fingers onto the lid of a child's teapot. Bloody typical.

Pic.No.1. The lid from a child's teapot. Stuck to my fingers

Have you ever tried to extricate your fingers from the lid of a child's teapot? I can tell you right now that it is surprisingly tricky, especially if you want to keep your fingerprints.

Anyway else got an accident du jour? I hate suffering on my own.

Washing watches

Today was an abso-bloody-lutely typical English summer's day.

Well, it was a bit like this; the sun was appearing in fits and starts. "Ooh," I thought to myself, I can get some washing done and let it dry outside." Oh yeh, I am not just a wine-swilling layabout with a traffic cone on my head, I am also a bit of a domestic goddess. Which makes me a proper hardcore dichotomy. And for the record, I like being a dichotomy because it adds to my air of international mystery.

Back to the washing..... everything was going swimmingly in that the machine's drum was actually filled with water, had clothes in it, and was rotating.

"Shit I'm good at this," I said before pointing assertively at the washing machine, "I've got you nailed no matter how many crappy dial settings you throw at me."

Pic.No.1. Clothes washer and watch murderer

The wash ended and I opened the door to take out my clothes. What I saw next made me gasp and fall to my knees. My lovely, expensive Gucci diamond watch was lying in the bottom of the drum, obviously the victim of being shoved into some random pocket days ago.

"NOOOO!" I said, waving grief-stricken clenched fists to the heavens above. After losing my laptop, my iPhone and digital camera in the last year due to various mishaps, this was too much too bear. I reached into the washing machine and gently extricated the watch like a dead bird. It lay in my palm, motionless like a dead bird. And then I noticed something. The time on the watch was exactly right.

It was alive! Which just proves that buying quality pays in the event that you want to wash your watch. In fact, I have to say, after being on Cycle number 3, the diamonds around the face had come up a treat.

So it was with a spring in my step that I hung out my washing to dry, leaving it on a airer in the garden whilst I went to the supermarket. It was as I pulled into the Asda carpark that I noticed the skies darkening, I shrugged it off, after all it was sunny in Forest Hill when I left.

How bloody wrong could I be? I arrived back at home to be faced with torrential rain and this sight in my back garden..........

Pic.No.2. Decimated. It's like a scene from Chernobyl

Sacre-bloody-bleu! Had I been bad in a previous life or something? I actually had to check the date to make sure it wasn't Friday 13th...... oh well...... back to the washing.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

First date etiquette

Personal standards aand a sense of pride are the warp and weft in the moral fabric of our society. So imagine my horror when I was perusing the newspapers last week and found the following article:

"WOMEN from Perth are the cheapest dates in Scotland, a new survey has revealed.

One in ten women from the town say their dream night out is a burger at McDonald's. 

Fourteen per cent of women in Dundee don't blush if their new beau uses money-off coupons to pay for their meal.

Meanwhile 16 per cent of Aberdeen girls said they'd sleep with their fella after a first date."

Pic.No. Who said that romance was dead?

Read the article again. It states that not only are Perth women happy to go to McDonalds on a first date, but they say that it is their 'dream night out'. What's going on there then? How can any woman possibly feel bigged up by a Big Mac? Or maybe her date has a party piece up his sleeve; "'ere watch this. When I lob my gherkin at the window it sticks." It's just beyond comprehension.

Jeez, I just don't know what I would do if a date took me to McDonalds. Actually, thinking about it, I would probably beat him to death with a cheeseburger. And the courts would probably let me off because I would plead that it was a crime of passion caused by temporary insanity, and they would understand. 

The issue of using vouchers, and sleeping with a date after the first night are slightly more contentious. To me, the use of vouchers on a first date screams of penny pinching and that is always a bad look. Sure, the guy might be careful with money, but the vouchers should be saved for when you get to know each other. Same with the sleeping with each other thingy bob. Maybe I am old fashioned, but I think that jumping into the sack on a first date is hardly retaining the air of mystery that attracts men. 

Anyway I digress. I am interested in hearing your comments on bad dates that you have been on, and exactly why they were bad.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Annie's survival guide: Living off the land

Today I decided that I wanted to abandon all creature comforts and live off the land, so I drove to Shotover Park, just outside Oxford, to start my new 'simple life'. My friend Sarah was down for the weekend, so she agreed to come with me and chart the progress of my survival in the wilderness.

It was with trepidation that I parked my car in the visitors car-park. I knew that nature was unforgiving and that I would have to fight to stay alive. I made my way past the picnickers unloading wicker baskets and prams from the boots of their cars and turned to Sarah; "I need to get off the beaten track," I said, "it doesn't feel right living off the land next to a family having a picnic."

"No problem," she said, then added, "so where do you start in terms of living off the land?"

"Well," I said authoritatively, "first you have to love and respect nature. Then, you have to forage around for the basic necessities of water, food and shelter. I learnt that from Bear Grylls."

"Let's go," said Sarah, turning on her camera to capture my epic journey.

 Pic.No.1. To live off the land, first you have to love and respect nature. It was quite an easy start to be fair.

 Pic.No.2. Shelter is important and you have to use the tools that are available, so I fashioned myself this protection from the rain. It wasn't actually raining, but I was prepared and preparation is the name of the game. Just look at Boy Scouts.

 Pic.No.3. Food is important and should always be a priority in the wild, so I followed some animal tracks in an attempt to trap some prey. Sarah ruined it by pointing out that the tracks belonged to a horse so I learned to eat berries instead

Pic.No. 4. To quote Bear Grylls: "Building a fire is a great way to boost morale. And keeping morale up is the key to survival." So I got a stick, and spent half an hour rubbing it on a tree stump but nothing happened. It was quite lucky really because I realised that I had a lighter on me, so I threw the stick away. 

Pic.No.5. Getting regular rest is an important factor in keeping your strength up. I learnt to sleep in trees like a monkey, far from the dangerous creatures and insects inhabiting the forest floor. 

 Pic.No.6. A beetle. Just one of two potentially dangerous insects I encountered during my foray in the wild. Ok, I know that beetles aren't dangerous, but it does demonstrate how easy it is to come across insects, some of which could potentially be dangerous.

Pic. No.7. A weapon is essential for killing prey, and also killing members of other tribes or picnickers who show aggression. I fashioned this spear from a branch and Naughty George is being the prey to give me some practice. [Note to reader: I didn't actually kill Naughty George because killing my own dog would just be wrong even if I am living off the land. I just pretended to spear him in slow motion. He didn't mind though because he was wagging his tail throughout.]

Pic.No.8. Finally, as the afternoon closed in, I realised that I would need shelter to survive. So I found a canopy of leaves that formed a natural bivouac. I climbed in and prepared myself for the new dangers that come with nightfall. 

"Is that you done for the night?" Sarah asked, whilst I made myself comfortable. 

"Yep, I'll be spending the night here, and then rising at the crack of dawn to hunt my first meal of the day," I replied, scowling at a passing family who were dragging along a crying toddler. 

"Ok then, I'll leave you to it," said Sarah. 

"What do you mean 'you'll leave me to it'," I asked, "how are you going to chart my progress if you aren't here?"

"Well you aren't going to be doing anything other than sleeping, so there's no point in me hanging around," she replied.

"So what are you going to do?" I asked incredulously. 

"Go back to your house and order myself a pizza," she said. 

"What flavour?" I queried. 

"A vegetarian with extra ham topping," she answered. 

"That sounds nice," I mused, "I could just eat one of them; blackberries aren't that filling."

"Well why don't you come back and have one?" asked Sarah. 

"Because I am supposed to be living off the land," I said matter-of-factly. 

"Maybe you should build up to it gradually, like an athlete preparing for a marathon," she suggested. 

"Good point, well made," I nodded, "I have, after all, I've managed to complete an hour and a half in the wild so far." 

As I write this post, I have a large Dominos pizza on my lap, and I am fondly recounting the tales of my life in the wilderness to Sarah, who is watching CSI Miami on TV and showing no interest in learning about my new found survival skills.

Just wait until she gets stranded one day. She will regret this moment.

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