Splits challenge FAIL

Spoiler alert: I didn’t pull off doing the splits after 12 months of trying. It was no big surprise as I didn’t make the required effort to get any more flexible. Plus I was pretty much starting from cold each time – I probably should have filmed it after a stretchy yoga or tone class, not a tai chi one.

Ah well. Another goal bites the dust.

I did learn some things though.

One is that technique is everything. For the first few months you can see my hips are twisted to one side. For the August attempt, a yoga teacher suggested I keep my hips in line to avoid injury, and suddenly it looked a lot more stable. Then she said to add the blocks to stop slipping – and that gave me time to wriggle a bit further towards the floor.

Possibly the biggest discovery, though, has come from watching the video compilation. I wonder if you can spot it?







For 10 out of 12 times I led with my left leg. Then in September, and on the finale, suddenly I led with the right – and it looks to be a bit lower. Maybe the muscle tension is different somehow that way around. Weird!

So, yeah, my 2019 goal was a fail overall but it looks as if I may have done it with my worst leg forward. That’s my excuse anyway.

Next challenge? Maybe a full press-up, which I’ve never managed, and/or a Brummie gambol (forward roll), which I used to find quite easy – or at least I did 40 years ago.

The random, chaotic list of middle-age, what-you-do-when-you-don’t-have-kids microadventure/challenges continues.

A walk underneath Spaghetti Junction

Birmingham’s famous 1972 concrete megastructure – which criscrosses the M6 and various other slip roads and expressways – makes as much sense from below as it does from above. Probably less so once you add in the Tame River, a fishing lake, three canals, a train track and those swooping forests of pillars.

The underbelly of the  Gravelly Hill Interchange is a daunting place to visit alone. There is the grave-like monument to PC Michael Swindells, who was stabbed and killed in 2004 on the Tame Valley Canal while in pursuit of a knife-wielding paranoid schizophrenic. On today’s visit there were three or four semi-threatening dirtbikers using it as their playground. Sadly there was litter everywhere – next time, I’ll bring a bag.

But it is also desolately beautiful in its own way, with birdlife, an ongoing Bill Drummond artwork, stark lines and angles and reflections, the monolithic grandeur of the concrete supports, and the relentless chunking of the stitched highways carrying ‘flying cars’ overhead like a preview of a future that never came to be.

This is my fourth or fifth time visiting. The low winter sun brought me out this time but Spag Junction is impressive on every visit – and differently moody .

These 25 photos are from today’s winter walk with Photo School. Pete leads walks there every winter, spring, summer and autumn so you get the effect of the changing seasons. The spring walk is on 26 April 2020.  Details here… 

Click photos to view larger.

Sleeping to an escalating world of weird ASMR podcasts

I wanted to try doing a daily meditation. Everyone seemed to be recommending it. It’s good for mental health, racing minds, anxiety, stress, a better night’s sleep, so that’s how I got suckered in. It wasn’t for the entertainment. At first.

From meditation apps to sleep triggers

I started by installing a few freemium app options – Headspace, Calm, Breethe.  Usually I switched them on when I went to bed as that was the only regular time to grab some peace and quiet. And they worked pretty well. Lots of body scans and soporific voices and storytelling or guided meditation with gently babbling brooks or wave-washed beaches. I chilled and got a surprisingly good night’s sleep.

But soft voices directing me to various body parts were just the gateway. After exhausting the free options, I needed more variety to calm my busy monkey mind. So I turned to free relaxation and sleep podcasts on Spotify (also on YouTube).

That was when the recommendation engine then started throwing up ‘binaural ASMR sleep triggers’ – you what now? – and my carriage to the land of nod started to get really weird.

ASMR stands for ‘autonomous sensory meridian response’. It is often recorded binaurally with two microphones to give the feeling of being in the room with the audio when you put headphones in.

What is ASMR?

To borrow a better explanation than I can give, the Sleep Doctor site says:

Some of the most common ASMR stimuli involve watching and listening to people performing very simple, ordinary tasks and routines. Folding laundry, turning pages of a book or magazine, brushing hair, and eating are some of the most popular ASMR triggers. Sounds involving water running also can be powerful ASMR triggers. So-called “crisp” sounds, such as the scratching of nails along a hard surface, and the crinkling of plastic are also popular ASMR stimuli. But it’s whispering that is the single most common and popular ASMR stimulus.

Close whispering in particular can trigger tingling across the scalp or other pleasurable sensory phenomena. I tried it but got immediately anxious, feeling like the disembodied whispers were a little too close to the inner voices in my head, or maybe it was reprogramming my brain through some crazy Clockwork Orange nightmare.

Sleeping to thunderstorms

Running water though, that worked. And I soon discovered the joys of going to sleep to international thunderstorms recorded in Hawaii, Tokyo, Copenhagen and other exotic locations. They pretty much all sounded the same, just different intensities: gentle rain, hard rain, rumbling thunder, crashing thunder… I went to sleep to all strengths of storm.

In fact, I learnt to sleep to noise so much so that when I didn’t put on a noise meditation, I couldn’t drop off. The silence was too deafening. Give me a drone, a hum, a rainstorm, white noise from white goods… all these things crowded out my thoughts. More usefully, they stopped the plague of music earworms that often keeps me awake.

Within 10-20 minutes, I was gone, every time.

The weird world of ASMR

The ASMR addiction escalated. What weird thing could I sleep to next? Dehumidifiers, air conditioners, sloshing washing machines and dishwashers? No problem.

Horses at pasture? Atmosphere of the past (old village)? An escalator? Don’t mind if I do.

Bubble wrap popping, creaking wooden ship, stamping office documents, relaxing womb noise with slow heartbeat, Tibetan temple, snow crunching? Why the hell not.

My favourite in the end was Spaceship Ambience. It delivered just the right level of white noise and clean, white, minimalist images in my head.

My ASMR experiments came to an end when we bought a dehumidifier to reduce condensation. I also decided to switch from sleep meditations to general pockets of stillness in the day. Which basically involves me staring off into the sky, sunset, flowers, etc, whenever I let the rabbits out for their daily garden run.

I haven’t done an ASMR podcast for months. But writing this up, I’m tempted to put one on tonight, for old time’s sake. What to choose, what to choose?

ASMR collection

Or do I just turn the bathroom fan on?

But seriously I enjoyed my ASMR experiments. And I love the fact that there are listener requests where you can request the sound you want to hear and ASMR podcasters will record it for you. And the romantic in me wonders if, somewhere out there, ASMR nerd boys are making mix tapes/playlists of this stuff for their ASMR nerd girls? I sincerely hope so.

Independent toes pt 2

Having set the goal of achieving independent toes – good for ageing, balance, gait, etc – I finally got around to videoing the challenge 11 months on.

Well, at least they all move on command.

When I started practising, a very weird thing happened. I’d be willing one of those awkward middle toes to move but there was zilch response. Which is why you roll the foot over something to wake the nerves up first.

Want a go? More on how to improve your toe mobility here…


Year-long photo project based on the colours of the rainbow

As humans we tend to look for patterns and perhaps see shapes in clouds or faces in objects. I’m definitely a human who likes to organise and categorise and edit.

Back in January I had that fresh, free, new year reset feeling and kind of went a bit mad on the New Year Resolutions. A lot of this list was about developing habits because a habit is less draining and more sustainable in the long run.

So one of the ‘creative’ goals was to run a little photo challenge. Each month I’d photograph things of a certain colour and then mash them into a little video diary using the 1SE phone app (1 Second Everyday).

The spectrum started with the seven basic rainbow colours, beginning with blue just because it was an unusually clear and sunny New Year break in Wales:

  • Jan – blue
  • Feb – indigo
  • March – violet
  • April – red
  • May – orange
  • June –yellow
  • July – green

After July, I started looking for white, black, silver/grey and other shades.

The seven shades of the rainbow turned out to be a blunt tool for colour and the project has since morphed into one featuring many, many, many more colour variations. The chronology has also had to be rewritten in favour of the colours blending and slowly shifting. 

So here’s my 2019 visual diary sorted into colour order, roughly: turquoise, cyan blue, sky blue, indigo, violet, pink, magenta, red, brown, gold, vermillion, orange, saffron, yellow, apple green, leaf green, grey, white, beige, silver and black. (Video below, or the flattened version is here.)

Some of my favourite things that happened in 2019 and are worth looking out for with some context are:

  • the other-worldly reflections of the Cregennan Lakes, south Snowdonia – a lovely kickoff to the year
  • investing in proper ballet shoes – spot the Birmingham Royal Ballet studio for a public workshop later in the year
  • a Christmas gift of Speedo swimming aids – these have made the pool a lot more fun
  • four collages including a rat singing ‘I will always love you’ at sunset – Birmingham Collage Collective has been a big thing this year
  • Pete building a Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome in the garden and introducing Bunminster Fuller the rabbit to his namesake (sort of)
  • many bunnies, sunrises, sunsets and four visits to the UK seaside.

Can I say I’m an artist who works with multimedia and autobiography now?



Stirchley – Seven Capital’s retail park amended plans

Comments sent 30/11/19 to Birmingham planning, application number 2018/10370/PA. Deadline for comments: Sunday 1 December 2019.

To comment: go to the council planning portal at and put in the planning application number in the search box, making sure there are no extra spaces at the end, or you’ll get no results.

1. Commercial outline plans: 2018/10370/PA
2. Residential outline plans: 2018/10368/PA

And if like me, you can’t submit through the portal’s form, then you can email comments (with name, planning number, etc) to :

After talking to other Superstirchley members, here are some supermarket-related comments on application number : 2018/10370/PA – the retail outline plans for Land at Hazelwell Lane Stirchley Birmingham B30.

As a member of Superstirchley – a local campaign group of residents which is concerned about supermarkets applying to build in the area and how this will be managed overall – I am concerned that the anchor retail store (a suggested Aldi) is now redundant.
With Morrison’s taking over the Coop, one of the main arguments by local community for a cheaper supermarket in the area has been addressed. We need to give Morrison’s a chance to survive and not be undercut by an Aldi literally over the road.
I want to also say that Stirchley is still in a supermarket battle over Lidl wanting to develop a site on Pershore Rd/Cartland Road – which had its planning overturned but in the meantime decimated local sports and leisure facilities.
Lidl is just a five minute walk to the new Morrison’s. We would advocate that any new supermarket development take place at the other end of Stirchley so that residents from the new Hazelwells estate and Cotteridge can access a supermarket. The concentration of a Morrisons, Farm Foods, Aldi and Lidl at one end of Stirchley is bad news for the community, for traffic and for community needs.
There are two small retail outlets in the planning – we’d like to see more so that more independents can move into the area, which is developing a unique character based around non-chain and cooperative-run businesses – which is made sustainable by local community support. There used to be a row of shops where one of the units is located. We’d like to see that reinstated in the planning.
On a positive note, I’m happy the drive-thru option has been dropped. There was little support for this and it shows we have a chance to get the planning right for Stirchley’s needs and wants.

Stirchley – Seven Capital’s outline plans for residential development

Comments sent 29/11/19 to Birmingham planning, application number 2018/10368/PA. Deadline for comments: Sunday 1 December 2019.

To comment: go to the council planning portal at  and put in the planning application number in the search box, making sure there are no extra spaces at the end, or you’ll get no results.

1. Commercial outline plans: 2018/10370/PA
2. Residential outline plans: 2018/10368/PA

And if like me, you can’t submit through the portal’s form, then you can email comments (with name, planning number, etc) to :

I’ve previously written in response to this application with concerns about flooding – the site is almost all paved and housing crammed in. Flooding is a problem in this area and surface drainage is going to worsen. I would like reassurances that this has been thoroughly considered and checked, as the site currently drains though the empty land. Also, there is a lack of green spaces on this estate, tree planting (there were trees on this land previously), and grassy play areas for children, etc. All these would help with drainage and also improve the environment for residents.

A major concern is the social housing element being less than 9%. I want the council to enforce its own targets of 35%. We actively want Stirchley to provide social housing – and not just fodder for landlords and the wealthy. Developers need to be held to account by the council on this front and provide homes for nurses, teachers and other key workers who are being priced out of the city.

87 new homes is really cramming housing into this space and the outline plans look like very basic designs. I would like the council to hold the developer to account for sustainable, eco-friendly homes, and not just give permission for the most basic, cheapest option. The design aesthetics seem to be the lowest common denominator of generic housing estate (similar to the bland Hazelwells) – which at a time when Stirchley is improving its offering and developing its independent unique character is a missed opportunity. We would like the council to push back for better, more sustainable options for the future residents of this area.

With so many new residential properties being built locally, and Seven Capital prioritising more supermarket type retail – why is there no facility for more doctors surgeries, nursery schools, leisure and community facilities, etc, that will service this massive influx? The choice in the outline plans is either retail or residential but Stirchley needs a more rounded offering that will benefit its communities.

Seven Capital has repeatedly said it is engaging with local stakeholders. It has not. Its representatives have not shown up to any Neighbourhood Forum meetings, despite repeat invitations. I am very concerned that they are operating as a self-interest company and not listening to any concerns, except via planning which is reactive not proactive, and capitalises on local comment fatigue with each amendment.

Finally, the fact that the residential element is a separate application means it is (a) getting lost as people comment on the commercial element, and (b) not being considered in conjunction with the commercial element – surely these adjacent areas need planning and comments to be considered in conjunction together.

Regarding the commercial plot – now that Morrisons is taking over the Coop site, is there a need for a supermarket anchor store here? Surely a second supermarket would be better at the other end of Stirchley High Street, where the Magnet is. Also, a retail estate is not a great place to walk through for residents at night to get to Stirchley and back. A proper set of shops (as was partly there before) would be more in keeping with Stirchley’s architectural and independent character.

On the plus side, I’m happy that a gym is planned – we need more social, sports and leisure facilities – not more supermarkets.

Side gripe – the planning portal is difficult to manage. Even a space at the end of the application number will return no results. Also, I did reply to the first residential plans but was not emailed about the amendments. I was only advised of the commercial update. Finally, when I submitted my comments (which took an hour), the ‘requested URL was rejected’ and I was given a support number.

It is pretty unacceptable – how many other comments and objections are being lost as a result? The portal is not fit for purpose and seems to actively encourage people not to find planning or comment.

Birmingham Collage Collective: new website, new show and new zine

The Birmingham Collage Collective website is live and it looks great. All 28 current members are listed on there, complete with bios and collage. Plus, there is a shop selling the supercute limited edition enamel badges for £5 – and soon, hopefully, original collage pieces by BCC members.

The collective formed in 2018, set up by Adam Wynn. It features a number of talented Birmingham-based collage artists including Mark Murphy and Barbara Gibson, who had a successful joint collage exhibition at Argentea Gallery earlier this year.  My photomontage course tutor Hazel Pitt who teaches collage at mac Birmingham, is also in the group, and there are many other local artists and designers.

We aim to have two shows a year. The first was a successful launch exhibition in May – CLIPS – in Digbeth in central Birmingham.

The second will be happening in Stirchley in November. We launch on 21 November at Attic Brewery on Mary Vale Rd, close to Bournville train station. Attic turns one year old that weekend so it’ll be a ‘boozy do’ all round. The show runs to 24 November.

There will be several elements. One is to launch a Birmingham Collage Collective edition of of the gorgeous Provide Zine – which will be on sale for £4.99. These usually sell out so it’s a chance to get in and grab a copy.

The other part is that collective members are putting together a ’20 for 20′ show for the walls of Attic Brewery, with 20 original collages, each going for £20. Christmas is coming…

Finally, if you fancy trying collage in a social environment, then check out the Stirchley Collage Club events held monthly (or so) at Artefact in Stirchley. Artefact announce them on their Facebook events page and Twitter. Come along, why dontcha? The next one is on Saturday 9 November.

For the interested, my BCC bio is here.

Catching the dawn

Civil dawn at Cofton Park this morning.

The great thing about winter is that you can actually get up at a reasonable hour to catch the dawn and see in the sunrise. When I first thought of doing this last year, it was in June and there was just no way I was going to get up at 4am.

Of course, what you want is the awesome sunset effect but in reverse: the bit where the skies glow red-gold before the sun actually rises. This, I learned after a bit of Duckduckgo research, is called the ‘civil twilight’ or ‘civil dawn’– when the sun is six degrees below the horizon, starting to light up the higher skies and giving enough light to see by. In Birmingham, UK, at 52 degrees north, in October, this starts around 35 minutes before sunrise. This is also normally the time I reach for my sleeping mask.

By the way, for sunrise nerds, civil dawn follows two other phases of pre-dawn twilight:

  • astronomical twilight – 12 and 18 degrees below the horizon, still dark but with the fainter stars starting to blink out
  • nautical twilight – 6 and 12 degrees below the horizon, with some light right on the horizon and main stars still visible enough to navigate by.

This morning, we enjoyed all three twilights and a waning gibbous moon (thanks Matthew, aged 3). I’d set up a ‘Ladies of the Sunrise’ message group and three of us, who were prepared to check the morning skies, called it ‘go’ at 6.30am.

We set out at 6.40am in astronomical darkness and drove along the beautifully empty, rain-wetted, neon-reflective streets of Stirchley, Kings Norton and Longbridge. Chiquitita by Abba was on the radio, singing “But the sun is still in the sky and shining above you – shining, shining, shining”.

I think I see Jonathan Livingston Seagull..

We pulled up at our chosen sunrise viewing spot, Cofton Park – at 7am as nautical twilight ended, and headed up the hill. Already a number of dogwalkers were there ahead of us. We laid out a cheery fleecy picnic mat on a wet bench, handed out hot water bottles and gloves, drank tea and hot chocolate from flasks, and cut up cinnamon and cardamom or chocolate buns for breakfast.

We watched civil twilight unfold – the brightest of the three twilights – with hints of orange in the purple-grey sky. Clouds drifted across the sky, hill fog threatening and clear blue sky momentarily tantalising. A flock of gulls swirled around the park, low-flying then marching en masse along the grass. The young dogs chased them, the older ones knew better. I stood up and my borrowed hot water bottle fell in the mud.

The sun rose at 7.39am somewhere beyond the hilly horizon.

Spot the gothic Ladies of the Sunrise, far right.

We decided to head to Beacon Hill, a Lickey Hills viewpoint five minutes drive up the road, to see the sun come up over the city. But it was so foggy we almost lost our way back.

Still, even the thick fog had its charms, providing a mystical journey among the spruce and pine trees. Broken red-and-white toadstools lay along the path, like fairymarkers. As a bunnymom, the plentiful rabbit droppings pleased me. A dumping of multiple silver canisters depressed me. This must be what despair looks like – or is this somebody’s winter fun times?

Misty treetops at Beacon Hill while the sun shone down in the valley.

Although we didn’t get the perfect sunrise this time around, I enjoyed reclaiming this time and space. At some point, someone suggested feeling like witches, perhaps as if in Macbeth, three wandering dark shapes on the misty moors. I definitely felt less anxious and more dominant in the environment for being in the company of two other women. Would I do this solo? Maybe, now I’ve done it once. As much as the park sunrise was the reason for getting up early, it was the fogbound summit of Beacon Hill that cast the magic spell for doing it again.

Dude, where’s the car park?

There will be a few more chances to catch the dawn/pre-sunrise before the clocks go back, and again around the Solstice in December. There have to be some good things about winter and the chance of seeing the sunrise is one of them.

Bemused modern witch.