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2016 In Pictures – It’s Not All About Blackbird This Year

On April 16th 2016, my wonderful mum passed away following a long, proud and valiant battle against cancer and COPD.

Thankfully, in the month prior I was able to spend the weekend of Mother’s day with her, surprisingly without carers etc being needed, and she was in very good spirits. We blethered for ages, ate good food and drank fine wine together. She was delighted with the bouquet of flowers I’d brought for her and my surprise visit. Little did I suspect at the time that she would be gone within a month after that weekend.

The illnesses themselves alongside her medical treatments meant that when she had last visited me in Todmorden she had absolutely no appetite. I had so much wanted her to try the food at Blackbird, especially since she had inspired and encouraged my love for food and cooking since I was a small boy. It was only with hindsight after opening Blackbird that I realised she had made a love of good food part of my DNA. A current dish on the Blackbird menu is a almost a carbon copy of one she used to make, Persian spiced lentils with pan-fried cumin dusted cauliflower, crispy red onions and a cumin tahini dressing.

It was obviously going to be difficult to find any kind of silver lining for 2016, however the surprise of having Blackbird included for the second year running in The Waitrose Good Food Guide for 2017 definitely felt good and a little serendipitous under the circumstances. As I write, new dishes and menu ideas are being crafted, not for The Good Food Guide or anything like that, just for me, and my mum.

Sunset at Maidens, Ayrshire where my mother's remains were scattered

Sunset at Maidens in Ayrshire on September 2016, where my mother’s remains were scattered

2015 In Pictures – It’s All About Blackbird

Around this time of year, I usually post a selection of photos either taken or received by me, to sum up what kind of year I’ve had. However, this year has ultimately been defined for me by one thing and one thing only. Blackbird, and it being featured in the Waitrose Good Food Guide 2016.

When I initially opened the letter and gave it a cursory glance, I presumed it was an advertising mailshot, and was too busy doing the washing up at Blackbird, since the kitchen porter had failed to show up for work that day. So, I just left the letter on top of the dishwasher and carried on getting through all the dirty dishes. Three days later, the kitchen porter had again failed to show up for work and I found myself up to my elbows in dirty crockery and pans again. During a break, I wondered whether the letter was still on top of the dishwasher. It sure was, and when I gave it a more thorough read, it completely blew my mind.

There are few achievements in my life which can match the surprise, elation and satisfaction which finding Blackbird listed in the Good Food Guide elicited. And with tongue firmly in cheek, I still occasionally joke with customers that Blackbird even achieved a higher cooking score than the illustrious Ivy in London.

So anyway, here it is. My 2015 In Pictures. Well, just one really. Sorry to disappoint!

Blackbird in the Good Food Guide 2016

Visit the website of Blackbird in Todmorden

2014 In Pictures

Typically rushed and random selection of pictures either taken or sent to me over 2014. I thought I’d had a fairly quiet year, seems like the exact opposite is true according to the pics. Apologies for the overkill on Sorcha photos, but she is a bit cute..

Roma… Ti Amo!

I just can’t get enough of Rome.

Every time I visit, I fall in love with the place a little more. It’s just, right, as a city for me. It vibrates like a city should, it is stunningly beautiful to look at from almost any angle, and goddam I’ve never eaten so amazingly well in any other city including New York, Paris or London, and many other well-renowned foody cities. Rome is just a fantastic place, to be.

So anyhoo here’s a few shoddy snaps from what is easily becoming my favourite city-break and holiday destination, Rome.

PS – Excuse the black splodges on the photos. Think my phone must’ve acquired some sand back at Macarelleta Beach, Menorca earlier this year in May.

“You are not a number, and don’t fucking forget it!”

The above quote, paraphrasing ‘The Prisoner’, is from the musical genius Steve Mason (previously of The Beta Band) as he finished his incredible set at Festival No. 6 in Portmeirion, Wales this weekend.

Steve’s fantastic gig was one of a number of highlights over this spectacular three day music festival in the picturesque faux-Mediterranean coastal town of Portmeirion in North Wales, previously used as the setting for the slightly bizarre 60’s televison series ‘The Prisoner’ starring Patrick McGoohan.

For me the other great performances over the weekend were Beck, Kelis, Candelas, tUnE-yArDs, and a rare glimpse of the Motown legend Martha Reeves performing classics like “Nowhwere To Run’ and ‘Dancing In The Street’. Beck set the main stage and the whole festival alight on the Saturday night, with a set full of energy, musical brilliance, and humour.

I’d highly recommend booking up early for Festival No.6 in 2015. After this year’s blazing success, it is shaping up to be the best music festival in the UK, in a setting which is definitely second to none.

Anyhoo, here’s a handful of snaps (and a video snippet of Beck) from my awesome weekend at Festival No.6 2014.

 

 

2013 In Pictures – Streetcars Named Desire

Quickly throwing up this handful of photos from the past year which are roughly in chronological order I think. There are one or two that I especially treasure as memories from 2013, but mostly just snaps either taken or sent to me. The Streetcars title is a reference to the Todmorden taxi firm that I used extremely frequently over the Summer, so much so that I eventually didn’t have to give my name or destination when I called them.

It is definitely, definitely not in any way at all a reference to the Tennessee Williams play, or the character of Blanche DuBois, which was so cleverly portrayed in the excellent Blackshaw Head Players performance of the play this year.

Andy Kershaw – No Off Switch

I’ve recently been lucky enough to have had the privilege of maintaining and developing broadcasting legend (and newly resident in Todmorden) Andy Kershaw’s website. Andy is someone whom I admire and respect a great deal, and he is also a bizarre one-degree of separation from so many of my musical heroes such as Bob Dylan, Joe Strummer, and Neil Young to name only a few.

The website http://www.andykershaw.co.uk has been evolving from the previous incarnation built by publishing giants Random House to promote No Off Switch, Andy’s incredible autobiography, and I’m extremely pleased with the way it’s heading. It is most definitely a massive improvement on that first website built by Random House, in terms of both presentation and ease of managing content.

Recently, I’ve added the ability for users to  buy and download Audio Book and E-book versions of the No Off Switch book, using a plugin which handles both the payment transaction and the fulfillment of downloads extremely well. Not that other content delivery channels are any less well suited, such as iTunes, Google Play, or Amazon, but the simplicity with which the book can be sold directly in either format, is definitely empowering for any artist or author.

If you’ve not read Andy’s autobiography yet, I’d highly recommend it. As would the hundreds of 5 star reviewers on Amazon. Andy’s experiences as a broadcaster and journalist make compelling reading/listening, and his journey is both fascinating and inspiring.

2012 In Pictures

This is a fairly random selection of photographs taken by me plus a handful received from friends over the course of 2012. They’re in chronological order from my January trip to Alpandeire, through to New Year’s Eve at The 3 Wise Monkeys in Todmorden, stopping off at various holidays and events on the way.

Hebden Bridge Vintage Weekend Car Rally 2012

May as well throw up these snaps from the Hebden Bridge Vintage Weekend Car Rally while I have a minute. Think my favourite find was actually the random Honda C90 Super Cub Scooter that was parked up outside the rally venue. The extremely popular Hebden Bridge Vintage Weekend is held annually on Calder Holmes Park in Hebden Bridge.

Photos From Verona & Venice May 2012

Been so busy with web design projects recently that I’ve had little to even think about posting here, but I thought I’d at least throw up some Hipstamatic snaps from my recent holiday in the beautiful city of Verona. Also spent a day visiting Venice too, which was stunning but a little too busy with tourists to enjoy properly.

If anyone is thinking of taking a trip to Verona, I’d highly recommend you stay at either the spectacular Il Sogno di Giulietta hotel or with the lovely Elisabetta at the fantastic Corte delle Pigne which is easily the best B&B I’ve ever stayed at. If you’re eating out in Verona, you will unlikely to be disappointed wherever you go, but be sure to check out the Michelin rated Osteria La Fontanina, the chic Osteria Sottoriva on the medieval arcade that runs just by the bank of the Adige, and the sublime Hostaria La Vecchia Fontanina. Oh, and the fabulous Trattoria Al Pompiere is also definitely worth a special mention here too.

Ciao!

PS – This Guardian Travel article has some great tips on where to stay and eat in Verona.

Photos of Rome & Ravello 2011

Been so busy with work the past six months that I didn’t have time to get these holiday snaps onto this ‘blog’. Mostly pictures from around Rome and the amazing Vatican Museum, plus a few from places along the Amalfi Coast such as Ravello, Maiori and Sorrento.

Photos from Alpandeire & Ronda in Andalusia, Spain

Am just back from a very chilled out trip to Alpandeire, a small and very pretty Andalusian village high up in the hills above Ronda in Spain. With a population of less than 200 at this time of year, the village was hardly buzzing, but that was exactly what I was looking for, and I was extremely lucky with the weather which was both sunny and warm every single day I was there. Looking out of my window back here in Hebden Bridge today, I seem to have brought a little of the weather back with me.

And muchos gracias to Soph, Evie, and Alonso for being such wonderful hosts while I was there. Disappointed I didn’t get a chance to get up to see the finca and help out with the yurts, but I might get back over to Alpandeire another time soon to check it out.

So here’s some (typically Hipstamatic enhanced) snaps of my time in Alpandeire, Ronda, and also a few of the neighbouring village of Júzcar, whose buildings were painted blue last year to celebrate the premiere of The Smurfs movie!

 

Hebden Bridge Vintage Weekend Car Rally 2011

Despite not being particularly interested in cars, one of my favourite annual weekend events in Hebden Bridge is the Vintage Car Rally, which is organised by the local Rotary Club and held every August on Calder Holmes Park.

Here’s a handful of Hipstamatic iPhone snaps I took at the event on the Sunday 7th August 2011.

The Media, Security, Hindsight & JFK

It is indeed true that hindsight is always 20-20. And it was amongst the various posts and articles concerning the recent controversy about the world’s news media, phone-hacking, and also the activities of Anonymous and LulzSec etc, that I discovered this Youtube video of President John F. Kennedy. A montage of images, soundtracked by a speech he made in 1961 before the American Newspaper Publishers Association at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.

The points he raises and boldly addresses would appear alien to current political leaders at all levels, yet these are probably even more important now in this internet era, than they were when this courageous statement of intent was made back in the early 60’s.

…For we are opposed around the world, by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy, that relies primarily on covert means, for expanding its sphere of influence. On infiltration, instead of invasion. On subversion, instead of elections. On intimidation, instead of free choice…

…This administration intends to be candid about its errors, for as a wise man once said “An error doesn’t become a mistake, until you refuse to correct it”. We intend to accept full responsibility for our errors. And we expect you to point them out when we miss them…

Photos From Cala Galdana, Ciutadella & Barcelona

Got back this week from a very welcome and relaxing two week break over in Menorca, staying at the lovely Hotel Audax in Cala Galdana. Also took a weekend trip to the wonderful city of Barcelona, staying at a little hotel right on Plaça de Catalunya, within easy reach of all the places I wanted to visit.

I’ve been a fanboy of “Gods’s Architect” Antoni Gaudí long before I worked in the architecture industry in my 20’s, and it was fantastic to finally get up close and personal with some of his finest buildings, and see his signature written gently across this great city. Slightly disappointing to see some of the extremely incongruous additions to Sagrada Família (particulary the Passion Façade), but it remains a staggeringly beautiful piece of architecture, and is still one of my top ten.

Anyway, here’s some Hipstamatic enhanced iPhone holiday snaps of Cala Galdana, Ciutadella and Barcelona.

Street Life

Google Earth is a truly epic project.

Yesterday, I stumbled across a fascinating website which got me thinking about how amazing it really is. Jon Rafman’s 9 Eyes website shows a deeply fascinating selection of images from around the world taken by Google’s fleet of Street View camera vehicles.

In their endless quest to photograph every highway and byway in the free world, the nine Street View cameras on each of Google’s cars automatically capture whatever moves through their frame every ten to twenty meters. The resulting photographs are then stitched together to create a detailed panoramic window on the world in which we live.

Back in 2008, Canadian artist Jon Rafman began collecting some of the more interesting and unusual of these views, forming a collection which at times both embraces and defies the detached, automated process of their creation.

Hilarious, poignant, surreal and often quite beautiful, many of the images perfectly capture what Cartier-Bresson described as the “decisive moment”. And occasionally, some of these gritty urban snapshots appear reminiscent of the work of realist painters such as Hopper or Manet .

Here’s a few of my favourites from the collection…

All work and no play…

It’s been an extremely busy start to 2011 on the work front, and so little time for blogging. Several exciting new web development projects are underway, including a new constituency website for a well-known ex-cabinet minister, a fairly large website covering the environment and heritage of the South Pennines area, which will be built in Concrete5 and make extensive use of the Google Maps API. There’s also a few Magento based e-commerce projects in the offing, and a handful of smaller makeovers for existing web clients.

On the personal side of things, am looking forward to tidying up the plans for the new house, and getting the planning application done and dusted at last. More importantly though, I’m desperate for some free time to get up to Dumfries and visit my baby niece, Alba. She is totally gorgeous, no?

Alba Dunne

Alba Dunne

Big Up Zen Internet!

Myself and several of the clients that I work with use the web hosting services of Zen Internet, based nearby in sunny Rochdale.

I’ve been a Zen customer for around two years now, and cannot fault them on either reliability, customer service, or technical support. PC Pro magazine agrees, awarding them Best ISP for 2010, the seventh consecutive time Zen have won this award. And perhaps this would be a good example of why…

I was recently asked to help migrate several client websites from another hosting company’s dedicated server, over to a new Zen shared hosting account. More often than not, this would be fairly straightforward. However, one of the websites included an application for agents and franchisees to manage projects, and the database for this particular application included a MySQL Trigger. Problem was that the insertion of MySQL Triggers apparently requires the user to have Super privileges, which would be no problem on a dedicated server but understandably Zen could not allow individual users to have Super privileges on a shared hosting environment.

Following a bit of time learning more about MySQL Trigger problems, and considering alternative solutions, I decided to email Zen and ask if they could insert the Trigger into the database on my behalf, also defining Trigger (but not Super) privileges for a specific database user. I didn’t hold out much hope, and their initial response wasn’t too promising but they said they would look into it. Amazingly, after another couple of emails back and forth, Zen say the jobs a goodun!

I’ve had dealings with dozens of hosting providers over the years, and reckon I can safely say that very few if any would have taken this on, or would have resolved it so quickly. Most likely I’d have spent hours on hold or in a queue for technical support, and then ended up trying to explain the issue to someone who knew even less about it than I initially did.

Nice one Zen!

Jason Elliott’s Malicious Blackmail Allegation

Jason Elliott of Hebden Bridge Talks Big On Twitter

I thought for my next blog post I’d recount my rather grim experience from earlier this year, a couple of months prior to the UK General Election. It’s a wee bit complicated and there’s quite a lot to tell, but bear with me, I’ll try to keep it short and sweet.

In the six months or so prior to the 2010 Election, I’d begun to notice that one particular Calder Valley candidate was being briefed against by their own party members on local blogs, websites and in newspapers. To the extent that outrageous smears and utter lies were regularly being published, and without any kind of challenge to their validity.

One of the people whom I believe was heavily involved and instrumental in this smear campaign, is Jason Elliott, a local ‘entrepreneur’ with some kind of aspiration toward being a political kingmaker. Jason Elliott’s Hebden Bridge based businesses include British Recycled Products, Low Carbon Products, British Recycled Paint, Eco School Products, and Mobile Web Builders.

Joining Mr. Elliott in this nasty little political coven were (amongst others) his friends Chris Ratcliffe of the Hebden Bridge Web, Hebden Royd Town Councillor and Yorkshire Post journalist Susan Press, and Gareth Binding the boss of alternative education providers Cool UK and Alternative In Mind (AIM) (aka Cool Lancashire).

All of the above people are connected socially with Jason Elliott and each other, plus Gareth Binding and Jason Elliott are also good friends of the now Conservative Party MP for Calder Valley, Craig Whittaker. “Nothing wrong with that!” you might say, however…

Hebden Bridge's Jason Elliott's 10 minute Youtube rant about the Calder Valley Labour Candidate

OK, so there’s the political backdrop, but what came next is the real subject of this post.

I had been critical of a couple of these people in blog posts in the first few months of 2010, simply pointing out their lack of authenticity, or making clear the true, and bitterly personal nature of their campaign to destroy the reputation of another individual. It was obvious to me, that this was no battle of political ideology, but merely a resentful and rather puerile attempt at character assassination on behalf of a certain friend and Hebden Royd Councillor who had their nose put out of joint by losing out on their own opportunity of candidacy. Jason ‘unrelenting’ Elliott did not take kindly to this.

So now it’s March, 7pm on Sunday the 21st to be exact. I have been out all day walking the dog on the hilltops surrounding Hebden Bridge from about 1pm, and I’ve arranged to meet my partner and some friends at The Hole in t’Wall in Hebden Bridge to have some food together. When I get there I realise that I’ve no cash, so I leave the pub and make my way to the cashpoint. On my way there I check my mobile phone and see that I’ve got an answerphone message. Turns out it’s from a Halifax CID officer DC Simon Jenkinson, who asks me to call him back. As I’m doing so and having a conversation with him, I turn the corner to where the cashpoint is and am confronted by six police officers, one of whom takes the dog lead from my hand, whilst another reads me my rights, puts me in handcuffs and bundles me into an unmarked car.

Apparently, I’ve been arrested on suspicion of blackmail and am then taken to Halifax police station, where I’m held for six hours and then eventually questioned. Whilst being questioned, I’m informed that my partner has also been arrested for the same offense (while I was en-route to Halifax Poilce Station), our home completely turned over and searched by a team of CID officers, all mobile phones and computer equipment seized along with dozens of  files and documents (deemed ‘Special Procedure’ according to PACE). After the hour of questioning, the photographs, the fingerprinting, the DNA samples etc and then a mandatory drug test (which was obviously negative, but also unlawful under the circumstances), my partner and I were eventually released from custody at about 2am. Without any charge, but on police bail.

We then spend the next three and a half months on police bail, having to return a couple of times in that period to be questioned again or not as it turned out each time, and then re-bailed. Eventually, in July, DC Simon Jenkinson confirmed there would be no charges and no further action against either of us, and all the belongings which had been seized were finally returned a week later. We were never even questioned once by the investigating officers during that whole three month long investigation.

So why were we arrested? Well, it turns out that Jason Elliott had alleged to the police that I was responsible for hacking several of his websites and had made demands for money to undo these hacks. Yes, I know, utterly ridiculous. But there we both were, worrying about the unlikely circumstance that charges could be brought on some phoney witness statements and maybe even a conviction sought, therefore facing the possibility of up to 14 years in prison for blackmail. As I’m sure anyone will appreciate, irrespective of whether charges were brought or not, the whole experience was deeply traumatic for both of us and our respective families.

So, did Jason Elliott deliberately put us both in harms way by making a false allegation to the police? Yes, in my opinion he most certainly did. I believe the allegation was bogus, extremely malicious and that Jason Elliott deliberately intended to cause harm by doing this. His subsequent braggadocio, gleeful intimidation and threatening behaviour on his Blog (posted the day after the General Election), and social networking websites Facebook and Twitter, merely served to prove that. Jason Elliott’s very thinly veiled threats (along with the outrageous slander alluded to which followed that post) continued well into the following Summer.

Jason Elliott Twitter Twitter Threats 28th April 2010

These events, and the conduct of West Yorkshire Police (in particular DC Simon Jenkinson, DS Simon Archer, and the ‘time-traveling’ Detective Inspector Ashley Hewitt) throughout the whole ordeal, are the subject of a number of extremely serious complaints being made to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, and a separate civil action. I could go into a massive amount of detail about what exactly each of those complaints is all about, but I’ll spare you. All that I’ll say for now is that I’m very much looking forward to a positive outcome.

Anyhoo, for the record, I don’t hack websites. I just build them.

EDIT: You might also be interested in this forum thread which examines the potentially unlawful business practices of Jason Elliott.

Photos from Ravello, Rome & Pompeii

I’m experimenting with albums/galleries with this selection of Hipstamatic enhanced iPhone photographs taken during my holiday to Italy last September.

I was holidaying in Ravello, an amazingly beautiful hilltop town on the Amalfi coast, but also spent a couple of days in Rome and visited Pompeii and some other towns along the Amalfi coast.

If you ever get the chance to visit Ravello, be sure to check out Villa Cimbrone, the Palazzo Sasso, and Villa Maria.