Podcasting for a while…

October 25th of this year marks 10 years of one of my favourite projects. Yr Haclediad is a monthly tech-focused podcast in Welsh, and is possibly the oldest (still-running) podcast in Welsh. I’m one of its three co-hosts (with Sioned and Iestyn). We’d come together through an earlier project, and since then have gone on to record 86 episodes. They’ve evolved somewhat to talk about pop culture and how tech permiates all of our lives.

Yr Haclediad – possibly the most “us” photograph that exists (Credit: Rhodri Ap Dyfrig)

Weirdly, we’ve known; worked with; and become close friends over 10 years despite only having met in person a handful of times (I would be surprised if we’ve met more than 10 times IRL in the whole time we’ve known each other).

British Podcast Awards: Best Podcast in the Welsh Language (2020 Nominations)

All this is prelude to the exiting news this week that the show was short-listed in the new category Best Welsh Podcast at the 2020 British Podcast Awards. The others being Siared Secs (Talking Sex – A series discussing sex, sexuality and relationships) and Dwy Iaith, Un Ymenydd (Two Languages, One Brain – exploring bilingualism and heritage).

It’s weirdly satisfying to me that our low-budget show has managed to be short-listed against two BBC-produced podcasts. We record ours over a Skype call (we started with Skype, switched to Google Hangouts, and now back on Skype), each of us recording our own audio and everything getting synced up during post-production. Our equipment has improved gradually over 10 years. I remember having to buy a basic USB headset because I got a really bad distortion when a microphone and the power cable were both plugged in together on my old Dell laptop.

We’d planned to get together to record our 10th Anniversary Show in person, but that seems unlikely at this stage (given the ongoing crisis). I’m looking forward to doing more shows with Sioned and Iestyn in the future. This project means a lot to me.

The awards are July 11th. Whatever happens, I’m happy that I still get to talk nonsense with my friends.

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Time Flies

My 2nd attempt at sowing chilli seeds took. It turns out the secret is not to plant them in waterlogged compost. Lesson learned. Four of the row I put down sprouted and are now planted in individual pots on my windowsill. I’m not sure all four will stay, I’m really just trying to maximise the odds of ending up with a viable plant.

Picture of a chilli seed having sprouted and grown a small stem with two leaves.
Green Shoots: The chilli seeds have sprouted!

The garden on the window sill is still a big help at the moment. My friend Sioned had also sent me some Dill seeds, which have also sprouted and started to grow at a pleasing rate. These represent the first time I’ve actually managed to start growing something from seeds.

The new planters from my birthday have also proven to be a big hit, with the rosemary and thyme showing good signs of new growth, and now the Basil has been planted in the second planter. Lots learned from the first attempt, which I’m hoping means I can end up with a far more sustainable garden in the future.

The other thing I’m trying it to temporarily lock myself out of my own Twitter account. The mechanics of how aren’t that important, but I’m curious to see how I’ll feel after being away from it for a while. It’ll be posting links from here, but I won’t be checking at-replies or DMs for a while at least.

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Cooking Videos!

I’ve long toyed with the idea of making videos, but could never work out what they should be. Since I’ve found myself with a significant amount of free time and mandate to stay at home, I ended up going through a box of random tech bits and rediscovered the wall mount for my GoPro.

An idea struck me.

Making Soup

I stuck the camera to the wall unit housing the extractor hood in my kitchen and was able to attach the GoPro to it. This gave me a good wide-angle view of the kitchen hobs and a bit of prep area each side. I then shot and edited this video of me making soup.

I’d thought of shooting it for Instagram TV, but their videos are shot portrait mode, and cropping the shot for that format didn’t do a great deal. The full-frame video got posted instead to YouTube.

Me making soup with Potato, Sweet Potato and Carrot

I muted out the audio from when I shot it (a lot of noise from the extractor fan and Encore Radio playing a lot of songs from Lloyd-Webber musicals. I recorded a voiceover for it, and whilst it lacks energy, I still had fun putting the whole thing together.

Might do more of these, and figure out a better way to do the audio. I’d like to do one for a chicken & chorizo jambalaya (one of my favourites). The visual transformation once the rice has finished cooking is quite something.

No promises.

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Another Year

Birthday!

My 37th Birthday came and went. Never really did a lot on my birthday until relatively recently. Three years ago I spent a week in New York, two years ago I went to Berlin, and last year I’d just switched jobs so it was a bit tricky to step away to go travelling. The whole “Stay at Home” thing obviously meant that this year’s one was going to be a quiet one.

A photo of a FaceTime call I had with my family.

The family got together on a Group FaceTime call for gift opening, which was a nice way to start off the day. Ended up with some new boxes for the window garden, some rather nice gins and a burger press. My sister had also sent a day or two before a “Lockdown Kit” from my favourite burger restaurant (Patty & Bun), and had sneakily arranged for a delivery from Crosstown Doughnuts.

I learned a lot from adding dark chocolate to a banana bread mixture, not least of which is the importance of adding some salt to balance out the bitterness. I went a little over the top in the evening by making a double-stacked “Smokey Robinson” from the aforementioned Lockdown Kit.

Going over the top with a large double cheeseburger.
Going OTT with a double cheeseburger…

All the interactions with family, the little projects and the messages from folks actually made it feel like a pretty good day. The days are kinda bleeding into each other right now, and everything that had happened made it feel like it was actually a different and distinct day. I remain grateful to everyone who got in touch.

Into the 37th Year…

Since then, I’ve been throwing myself into various little projects to keep busy. The attempt to sow some chilli seeds failed because I’d over-watered it and the thing turned into a claggy mess. I’ve since set up a new tray with fresh seeds and things might turn out okay this time (remains to be seen).

Some other chillis I got for the new sowing attempt are now in the process of being sun dried – with a view to try making some chilli powder down the line. I’m even working on some pickled red onions, but I guess all that deserves its own update…

Red Onions Pickling

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Mostly Indoors

I’ve been thinking about why I don’t really use this thing as much as I used to. I’ve tried a number of times and lots of what comes out feels like I’m trying too hard or that I’m writing for some imaginary audience. Having done that a lot, what I write comes off as pointless and a waste of everyone’s time. I’m trying to look at it in a new way, and writing for myself (or at least writing to get it out of my own head). Maybe that’ll get things going again…

Since last time…

Like a lot of folks, I’ve been mostly indoors for the last 40+ days. Most of that time has been by myself. The surgery I mentioned in my last update had meant I was still seeing a doctor twice a week for dressing changes. That stopped about a week ago so I’ve been left with myself for company. For the most part, it’s been okay. Been cooking and baking a fair bit, and I’d like to think I’m getting better at it.

Windowsill Garden

Window Garden

A few of the recipes I’d been looking at had included the standard array of herbs (Rosemary, Thyme, Basil etc) and I’d seen displays at M&S and Waitrose offering to sell you either the cut versions in a packet and a plant to take home and grow yourself. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and now I have an array of them in my living room.

I’d bought Thyme, Coriander and Basil as plants from Waitrose, and just re-planted them inside a larger container. They didn’t do particularly well. Mostly, it seems a significant number of each had been packed into the containers, and were starving each other. Having had success in reviving the Thyme (by removing most of its immediate neighbours), I did the same with the basil and coriander. They’re now doing pretty well. I’ve also now started growing mint, and re-growing a leek and spring onions from off-cuts (although at the moment I’m not thinking the leek will be a permanent fixture – it’s a pretty big thing to be growing).

A mad impulse took me, and I’ve also put some chilli seeds into some soil and a bag to see about growing a chilli plant. No idea what’ll become of it, but it’s kinda fun to see how it all works and rather satisfying to see something alive and growing.

Now all I have to do is figure out how to make use of it all whilst cooking.

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Back in the kitchen…

Having been forced to spend an extended period of time at home following recovery from surgery (a small abscess needed removing), I found myself spending more time trying to do things in the kitchen. In a WhatsApp group, this got nicknamed “Trying too Hard January”.

It’s been fun experimenting with various bits of cooking and baking. Everything from chocolate muffins to buttermilk chicken. A particular favourite was rediscovering a favourite from my childhood… a Sausage Pie. Legend has it that my Gran was told to “use sausages instead” by a home economics teacher after she’d told them her mum didn’t like lamb (the assignment was to make a shepherds pie). My Mum used to make it for us when I was younger and a bit of a fussy eater.

Going to see if I can make 2020 a year of trying too hard. I’m certainly off to a good start…

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Indelible

Back in July of 2015, I had a brief argument with a London Taxi whilst trying to cross the road. I’d been having a stressful day (and stewing over it), and in my rush to get across town I’d not paid enough attention to crossing the street and ended up hip-checking a taxi.

In the immediate aftermath, I’d got onto my feet, looked over to the taxi driver and apologised, then tried to continue on with my journey, only being stopped by passers-by who insisted I had to sit down and wait for an ambulance. After a trip in an ambulance, and a few X-Rays, I got the news that I’d suffered a tibial plateau fracture and would require some surgery to fix it (metal plate, pins, the works). With that done, I headed to North Wales to recover.

The surgery had happened at a weirdly transitional point in my life. Only a few days earlier I’d performed improv on stage for the first time (see “Yes And” and “Memory Lane“), I’d changed jobs and was contemplating another move. The scar from the surgery seemed to be part of that too, and I had an idle thought to have a tattoo done on the scar as a permanent reminder to myself not to let work swallow my life up again.

Smash cut to 2019, and at something of a low ebb, I decided to compile a list of things I’d been thinking about and avoiding over the past year or two. One of those was the tattoo on the scar. One of my improv teachers (the amazing Katy Shutte had told me about the place she’d had hers done (The Family Business), and I got in touch with them.

Coming back from the US after a brief trip to New York, I went over to see them and ended up getting something scheduled that day. I’m actually glad it happened that way, since it meant I didn’t have an opportunity to spend ages thinking about it again and back out.

We sat down, Chris (the artist doing the deed) warned me that it was either going to hurt a lot, or not at all. He ran a razor over the length of it, and he seemed more optimistic after I told him I hadn’t felt him doing that at all. Twenty or so minutes later, I walked out with this:

There was something incredibly satisfying about seeing this done after such a long time. A reminder to me to embrace what I’ve learned about myself over the past four years, and to reanalyse and reassess old assumptions about what I do or don’t like, or what I can or can’t do.

There’s a few more things on the list, but for now I’m enjoying the fact that this happened.

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[Monologue] Envy

Another monologue… this time from the suggestion of “Envy”.

Envy

I envy you. I envy your sense of certainty. That you see the world as one or the other. Black or White. The same or different. I just can’t see the world that way. I tried for the longest time, but it never happened.

When I was younger, Looking at the world was painful. Being told there was only two boxes, and no one could explain why. Why it was one or the other. I kept not fitting. I liked things that “weren’t meant for me”, and didn’t care for the things were. I started thinking I was broken somehow. My parents kept telling me I was being difficult, that everyone else was being normal, and I should try harder to fit in. Yeah, my parents. That no one wanted to be with the freak who stood out.

I buried it. I buried that feeling deep. It didn’t go well. I started getting worried my friends would find out. I worked hard at it. I got so good at adopting other people’s voices, that I lost mine in the process. All the while, that feeling simmered. I started feeling resentful that people liked that version of me, and they were trapping me in this world.

So the inevitable happened. I cracked. Through floods of tears I confessed to a close friend how I’d been hiding this part of me. All of it came out. After what felt like years, my friend just looked at me, hugged me and said “me too”. I cried again. A new feeling washed over me. Something I’d never felt before. Joy. Actual, tangible, unimaginable joy.

We’d found each other, and we went on to find others. All the people who didn’t fit in boxes. I saw myself in their eyes. The kid I’d been, and told them what I’d wish I’d heard back then. To say to them that it’s no bad thing to stand out. That you get to set your own terms. That you’re the only one that gets to pick your path.

Which brings us to me envying your certainty. I think I’d want to find that certainty… In the meantime though, you don’t get to use your certainty to deny me a chance to find mine.

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[Monologue] Pool

A Detective gets more than he bargained for… Based on the suggestion of “Pool”.

Of all the ways to go. Face down, floating in a pool.

You get into more than your share of scrapes as a detective. My problem is I’ve always been greedy. Pushed my luck a few too many times. You spend your time chasing spouses down dark alleys, odds are that one of them is going to take it personally. That’s how I ended up with a few more holes than I wanted and taking my final swim.

She’d walked into my office about a week ago. She’d put on the innocent act. Was worried her husband had gotten mixed up in some nasty business. Gambling she thought. Hadn’t been home in days. I ought to have trusted my instincts. There was something in her eyes. I’d never seen eyes that blue before. What I’d thought was sorrow turned out to be something far worse. The tears she wiped away were all part of the show… with me front-row centre.

The man she’d said was her husband was a sap by the name of O’Neil. Worked at the bank. The guard had helped him lock up the vault on the Friday before, he’d seemed on edge. He’d been talking about how he was planning to take his wife up to their cabin for the weekend. Monday came and his car was still in the parking lot. Cops had already searched the cabin, no sign anywhere.

I asked around. Seems O’Neil was a regular at the craps games down on 3rd. It’s the sort of place you go for a cheap thrill, then end up owing the wrong guy a favour. Something felt off about it all. I couldn’t shake the feeling I was being watched. Seems obvious now, but hindsight isn’t much use when you’re looking at St Peter.

A few days later I’d caught up with a buddy of mine. A cop by the name of Flynn. He’d drawn the short straw getting to look into the whole sorry mess. The beancounters had crunched the numbers at the bank and found a cool 100k had vanished. Flynn said something that threw me into a spin. He’d gone to confront the wife. He had it figured he’d skimmed off some cash ready for them both to make a break for it. She’d denied it and broke down in tears. He’d offered her a smoke, but she told him she never touched the stuff. That didn’t tally with when she’d been with me… she’d happily taken cigarettes from me in-between tears. I made my excuses and left. She’d been playing me. I didn’t know what for, but I thought I could start calling the tune.

I went over to the address she’d given me. A cottage out in the ‘burbs. I didn’t know it, but this would be my last drive.

I took in the view. Two of them. They’d been running the con all over the country. They’d get their hooks into a guy, bleed him for cash, then move on. They’d been spotted by a crook named Mitchell, who’d threatened to turn them over to the cops. They’d offered up O’Neil as downpayment on their escape… but one of them had fallen for him. The one I’d met had goaded him into going to the games, which got him into debt. It wasn’t hard then to convince him to skim some cash from the bank. Hell, I’d only known them a few days and I was ready to do the same for them.

I couldn’t figure out why they’d hired me. It turns out they’d wanted me to find out how much the cops knew. They figured I could shake down a few contacts, find out what they were thinking. Now they knew the cops were wise to their scam, they were getting ready to run. The one I’d met locked eyes with me and drew a pistol. The good sister screamed to just let it go and make good their escape before the cops showed up. I swear, she didn’t even blink as she shot her, twice. She pointed the pistol at me as the sounds of sirens and the smell of gunpowder filled the air.

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[Monologue] Wet

In another monologue, a parent comforts a child whilst the wind & rain lashes down outside:

I know you’re scared… but you shouldn’t be. The storm sounds scary, but I want to tell you about another one, a lot like this one… without it, you probably wouldn’t even be here. It’s the storm that brought you Mum into my life…

We were both trying to catch the same bus. I could barely see anything through the rain. My umbrella was ruined, and I saw her running. She slipped and fell. She just lay there for a minute being drenched. She got up and saw me stood there with my broken umbrella under a drip from the shelter and we laughed.

We both blew off work that day. We sat over a radiator at a Costa Coffee, trying to dry ourselves off. I think we both probably looked a bit like loonies, but it was the best day I’d had in ages. I’d never sat and spoken to a complete stranger like that before. Hell, that’s not even the bus I normally go for – nor was it hers. We’d both been running late that day and everythging was going wrong. My laptop broke, she’d had a power cut, I’d had to deal with the cat again, she’d left her lunch at home.

We spent the whole day there. Huddled over the radiator. We’d wander off occasionally for refils. The staff there got to be quite friendly towards the end of the day. They even brought us a little bakewell as a “dessert for our date”. It hadn’t felt like a date. It hadn’t even crossed my mind until they’d said it. Just calling it a date feels wrong. I mean, it felt deep, it felt like it had weight. Not like some of the terrible experiences I’d had dating until that point.

I asked to see her again sometime. She said yes. We went for drinks down by the river. It rained again. We went to the British Museum on another rainy day, and dinner a week or two later… another rainy day. I started to enjoy rainy days. I felt like Gene Kelly prancing around the street.

We went back to the same Costa a year later. Over another bakewell, I asked her to marry me and she said yes. I swear to you, the second she said yes, it started to rain. I actually started to cry.

It didn’t rain at our wedding. It did though when you were born. I remember being worried we’d crash on the way to the hospital, or that there’d be a snarlup, and all sorts of nasty things would end up happening. She was such a rock that day, she was in labor, and telling me to brethe.

So, you don’t need to be afraid of the storm, little one. You’re a child of the storm. Your Mum is the storm. We’re the storm. You’re going to take that and change the world, like Mum changed mine.

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