Newhaverin Leith and life


Breaking bread

Secret supper clubs. They're just a good idea. What's not to like? You sign up, you're contacted with an address and a menu, show up with wine in hand and eat in a stranger's house with other strangers. Secret supper clubs have all the attributes of what I consider a damn good time- food, booze and meeting new people.

Last night I had my first experience with a secret supper club in Edinburgh, Aoife Behan's My Home Supper Club. Named Molecular Spectacular, the night promised good food fashioned by a mad scientist and the results were fantastic. We were warmly welcomed into a big beautiful flat with a delicious glass of fruity vodka topped with a layer of dry ice fog and it wasn't long until the food started coming. Soft and crunchy balls of cheese and toast, delicate balls of liquor shots, fresh Vietnamese broth into which I injected noodles from a syringe, slow cooked beef with frozen horseradish and frozen beetroot and the hugest array of moulded jellies I've ever seen in my life. Everything was so delicious and the mysterious nature of some of the dishes made for great conversation around the table. Now, I don't have much in common with a table full of City bankers but the atmosphere and the reason for us being together in the first place meant I could have been at a table of train conductors and it would have been cool.

I'm also really impressed with Aoife's (and any supper club host's) willingness to open their home to strangers on a regular basis. The neurotic in me wonders about safety and insurance issues but hosting like this is the ultimate in humanity. It's good to know blind appreciation and trust of people is alive and well.

I'm really looking forward to doing it all again and I'm collecting local supper clubs on Twitter to keep up with the news. Follow Aoife @myhomesupper, The Crescent @CrescentDining, Meena Bahna @ChaiLounge77 for starters and I hope to see you around the table soon.


I’m not racist but…

The riots in England generated a lot of conversation and chatter among my friends and acquaintances on social media channels. Generally, like in the press, there were two camps- the camp that that put blame at the door of a society that condemns poor communities and their young people to continuous generations of hopelessness (Camila Batmanghelidjh wrote about this beautifully) and the camp that sees punishment and threats of humiliation for young people disrespecting their communities as the solution to the problems, like what we're hearing from David Cameron. But there is something I have seen coming from my personal circles that I haven't seen so much in the press and that is unmitigated racism. From the mouths, Facebooks and mobiles of the people I would consider the least likely offenders came messages that were meant to be funny or profound but really were straight up racist. This confused me for all kinds of reasons- the profiles of riot offenders spanning the spectrum of our society and institutional racism perhaps being at the core of the riots among them.

Writer and radio broadcaster Shalom Auslander says there are so many reasons to dislike people, why go with colour? So when you feel your inner racist coming through, what is it you really dislike?



I’m faster than my couch

I call it my 'childbirth experience'. During it I was in pain, hot, irritated and I wondered why I made the decision to go through it in the first place but when it was all over I thought I might do it again. Yes, it's the half-marathon and for the non-competitive non-athlete it can be hellish- it was for me this April- but I've decided to do it all again in May 2012. The rush came to me last night while I was investigating the toenails that disappeared after the race in April and I can't ignore my gut feelings. I want to beat my time, I want to focus and I need to steel myself for training during the winter. There are lots of things I didn't do during my last training period that I will do this time round like the weekly Edinburgh Parkrun and the Sweatshop's weekly social running club in Newhaven. I trained alone last time and for me it was a mistake. I felt lonely and easily unmotivated in training and so I probably didn't do my best. I felt lonely on the day of the race and that definitely affected my performance. This time I'm getting social and I'm not going to talk myself out of joining a group because I'm not Flo Jo- I'm faster than my couch and I have solid motivations. Bring it on!

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Radio playlist- African spectacular

Yet another smashing night at Leith FM! I drop in to Saturday night's Soul Stream with Clayton P every other week to spice things up and my picks this time were some favourites from Africa. Links to the tunes are below and I defy you to stay still when you're listening.  I've got some heavy festival activity this month so I'll be back to Soul Stream in September. If you have suggestions for the next time I'm on just get in touch!

Afrikan Boy- Lagos Town

Ba Cissoko- Silani

Baloji- Independence Cha Cha

Seun Kuti and Egypt 80- Rise

Oumou Sangare- Seya

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Fat bottom girls make the rockin’ world go round

I'm in full swing as a guest DJ at Leith FM now. I'm having a great time dropping in on Soul Stream every other week to take audiences around the world to discover new jazz, reggae and hip hop. Last week we went to the streets of LA and learned about the Jamaican communities in Puerto Rico and Panama that helped grow Reggae en Español or reggaeton. Have a listen to the podcast. And yes I know I need to sit closer to the microphone.

My next appearance is on Saturday July 30th from 8-10pm on 98.8 FM or listen online at I'm thinking Africa....

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Horn of plenty

First of the balcony cropIt's all go on the gardening front! My balcony is overflowing with big tumbling toms, sweet peppers and cayenne peppers. Last year a neighbour helped our street to establish (officially with a bank account and everything) a garden association and our efforts in planting communal food areas and general decorative planting are really taking off. I started growing food on my balcony a few years ago and I've really made some progress. I'm no longer handling young plants with kid gloves. Get 'em in! So it's gale force winds and horizontal rain? Get everything outside to become hardy! I've got lettuces coming out of my ears and I'm eating things I've only heard of on fancy cookery programmes like lovage and chervil. Keep your eyes peeled here for photos and stories of urban gardening in Newhaven and the wonderful things that come from seed.


Local government, community groups and social media. Do you get it?

Last year I was asked to co-facilitate a break out group about using social media for community engagement at the annual meeting of Edinburgh's Community Councils. My partner for the evening was Martin Gallacher of Queensferry and District Community Council that, at the time, was the first Community Council in the city to use Facebook to communicate with existing members and to attract new members.  It was all so groundbreaking and, despite the usual naysaying about the security of Facebook, people seemed interested in learning more about using social media, and the web generally, to engage people.

A year on and I was back with Martin and my work colleague Graham to the same meeting and the same breakout slot. Martin had a lot of really interesting updates including demographics (some mysterious) and good examples of engagement and sharing information through members posting photos and comments and Martin using Notes to present meeting minutes. Graham, who manages Edinburgh Council's South West Neighbourhood Facebook page, headed up the group with Martin this year (I was on the wings filming what turned out to be a horrible video) and he had a lot of good things to say about local government's place in the social media world- something that is still really hard for some people to get their heads around. Our audience was again mostly interested- there was furious note taking and great questions- with the obligatory cynic striking the balance. I think between Graham and Martin alone there is good practice to reference for Community Councils to get stuck in, however, I think there's a skills gap and I really hope that groups set up to help communities learn about using social media, like Edinbuzz, can be allowed to grow and reach out to share their expertise.

I think social media is ripe for local government and community groups to take advantage of. The benefits are immense and we just need to find and establish a way to get people going.

Filed under: Social media 1 Comment

A great night at Leith FM

Last night was my first time on the radio. I shadowed Leith FM DJ Clayton P on his fantastic Soul Stream show which airs every Saturday from 8-10pm and gets Leith boogying to soul, funk, disco, raggae and hip hop tunes.

I met with Clayton, Station Manager Momo and a group of new volunteers a couple of months ago to get to know more about the station, say what we as volunteers could offer and to get paired up with someone at the station to get some real practical experience.

If I do say so myself our show was great and the two hours flew by. My friends and family in America listened in online and gave us great feedback through my Facebook page. We also had lots of messages and texts from work colleagues (Clayton and I know each other through our day jobs) and all the correspondence gave us both a real buzz.

Clayton's keen on my having my own show but I don't know if I'm quite ready to make that commitment because I still have so much to learn. I'm meeting Momo again tomorrow to talk about how I can help get their website up to date so for the time being I might be beavering away behind the scenes and not on air. However, Clayton and I agreed last night that I would drop in to the show every other week so tune in again July 16th!

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Me as agony aunt?

My friend David and I have a regular lunch date and, as I think we're well adjusted and intelligent people, I thought our time together could benefit others. I put a shout out to friends on Facebook to gather problems I could tackle as a hack agony aunt (with David being the angony uncle.) Here are the problems and what we had to say:

I would dearly love to wear some pretty little pump-like shoes, but every time I try I get blisters all over my feet! Everyone else seems to manage fine. Have i got freaky feet or does everyone else suffer in silence?

My take on the situation was pretty radical- why should a woman feel she needs to wear pretty pump-like shoes, especially if they give her blisters? Does society pressure women so much that they consider wearing pumps despite pain? If the shoes hurt, honey, get some flats. David took a different angle saying that most women wearing flats are indeed in pain and have blisters- they're just hiding it. If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen.

I recently received clothes vouchers for my 40th but I am still breastfeeding and have a bit of mummy tummy going on. What can I wear that is easy access but hides the mid section. I spend my life in black.

As a single man with no children and a woman who has chosen to not have children this posed a small challenge but David came through with pointing out the benefits of an empire waisted summer dress. I recommend any one of the number of Spanx tummy taming products. I know from experience they are amazing. A bit of work but amazing. I also thought that it's kind of lame that ladies with post-partum bellies can't just get their bellies out or wear a brightly coloured shirt without feeling funny about it. So, post-partum friend, get that belly out! Start a trend!

I seem to be suffering from unfathomable rage: every time I see David Cameron's face on the TV I want to hurl a brick through the screen. HELP!

We had a long discussion about this issue. Both of us agreed that if you have a reaction like this to someone on TV you should turn off the TV. If, however, you think you should keep watching then you should examine your extreme reaction and relate it to a reaction you would have in real life. Would you throw bricks at someone at work or on the street? No? Then you're irrational. The other approach is to embrace what David Cameron has to say because it's the viewpoint of your enemy. Understanding your enemy is the key to strengthening your own argument.

What is the meaning of life?

This isn't a question that can be answered. As David said, it's like asking what the meaning of a table or chair is. What is the meaning of your life or a good life? Is that a better question?

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The things you can accomplish spending a weekend with a lot of people called James- Social Innovation Camp 2011

I'm only now coming down after my weekend at Social Innovation Camp last weekend. It was kind of an emotional experience for me because it's the first time I have spent time with people outside of my work who have a common interest in something that is relatively new to me- engagement through technology. I don't really have any technical skills-my background is dealing with people on the margins of society- but more recently, I've been managing web content and facilitating a social media presence for Edinburgh Council. It's also been a little bit emotional because my work colleague, Catherine, who came up with our idea for SI Camp, invited me along for the ride making me feel somehow valuable in the process even though my skills really are soft. While my emotions were overflowing I did learn some really valuable things that will stick with me:

  • Don't look to a technical solution for something that should be happening in real life, with real human relationships. We got to a point where we were tired and over-discussing our idea and we started creeping into the area of trying to build all solutions into the technical aspect of our project. The overwhelmingly brilliant James (one of four men called James on our team- @jarofgreen) shut us down to say that systems should not replace human interaction. James is a master geek- he knows best and pointed something out that, to me, only shone through as common sense after he said it.
  • 'Service design' is the term for what I want to do for a living. Who knew it had a name?
  • I am not alone in my struggle to communicate the purpose and benefits of web and social media to middle management. I pull my hair out on a weekly basis about this but I was so glad to find common frustration with fellow campers. It's a good feeling to vent about the lack of awareness of the impact on an organisation's customer services by communicating through  web and social media. Solidarity!
  • Eatalia's makes a fan-bloody-tastic pizza.
  • People who offer care and support to family members are hugely overtaxed,  stressed, sometimes lonely and could use some help from their close networks. Tackling this is the core of our idea, currently called Share Care Club. We hope to find a way that people can organise and connect their existing trusted circles of friends and family and thanks to our work last weekend and the understanding of the Social Innovation Camp judges we have an opportunity to work with IRISS to develop the business behind the idea. I'm truly excited and I really believe this idea will positively impact many lives.

Read my fellow camper, James's (another James) take on our weekend on his Pretty Simple blog.

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