Category Archives: Clogblogger
October in London: it’s dark in the morning, a chill is in the air and at work the central heating isn’t working so we wear scarves all day long. It isn’t even Hallowe’en yet.
Cue a timely newsletter from the folk at Fuelmyblog asking for interested bloggers to review the snug boots made by Australian brand, Emu. I needed no prompting to reply. This sort of footwear is right up my street, having a reputation for being both warm and comfortable. I fired off an e-mail to say I would be more than happy to review a pair of tall, black, Bronte-style Emus.
The boots arrived yesterday, which was perfect timing as it was a cool 18 degrees Celsius in the office. With blue lips I skipped back to my desk, box under one arm, to try them on. Opening the box I pulled out the Emus and smiled. In smart black suede with merino wool lining, they have a sensible rubber sole with the sort of traction that should help me to stay upright in the snow this winter, a feat not easily achieved. The boots certainly looked warm and comfortable from the outside, but how would they feel once on?
I pulled on the first boot and – what? – my foot would only go so far. I wriggled my toes and felt scrunching. Ah. This doofus had forgotten to remove the paper ball keeping the boot in shape. Paper ball jettisoned, I tried again, this time with success. The boot fitted perfectly and my right foot had found its cold weather heaven. Until that moment on an early winter’s morning I had not realised exactly how cold my feet had been.
For some time I kept just that one boot on. I didn’t think I could get away with wearing my Emus to meetings; at least not yet, but while I was at my desk I could at least get a feel for them. Eventually realising how odd I must have looked with loafer on left foot and Emu on right, I reluctantly removed the Emu, wishing the day away so I could take my Emus for a test drive after work.
On leaving the office it was suitably cold, grey and dull, but I was now happily wearing my Emus, every step taken a delight to my spoiled feet which adore comfort such as this. It’s like walking on a sheepskin, with full support, especially in the arches, and on sitting down I had to stamp my feet a couple of times to make sure they weren’t floating above ground.
The verdict? I love Emus and may well invest in a tan pair in one of their different styles. But this is not the end of this tale.
Earlier in the day French Colleague had noticed my Emus sitting under my desk.
“Aaah, you have EEEE-mus!” she enthused, “I have them too. I prefer them to UGGs.”
“Why’s that?” I asked,
“Because they have better traction. Actually, I have two pairs of Emus now.” Quite the menagerie.
That can only be a good thing for me as long ago I stopped wearing heels in the street due to a rather nasty accident. I caught a heel between cobbles, resulting in a broken front tooth, severely bruised knee, grazed forehand and grazed hands. No, I didn’t call a ‘trip-or-fall’ lawyer, although perhaps I should have, given the size of the dental bill. Overnight I changed from no-pain-no-gain perpetual-heel-wearer to flat-footwear-afficionado. There’d be no more heels caught in cobbles or tube station grates for me. Heels are now reserved for work or special occasions.
On the travel footwear front, Monsieur and I will be visiting Portugal in a few weeks. Breton-Crêpe-Lover was giving me advice on Lisbon this morning when suitable footwear came into the conversation.
“In the streets there are lots of… what you call… stones, errr…”
“Yes, cobblestones, so you shouldn’t wear heels. Just flat shoes.”
Looking at my feet she noticed the Emus.
“Yes, those are PER-fect.” she said with a nod. “Wear THOSE in Lisbon.”
So not only are my new Emus comfortable, toasty-warm and soft on the sole, they’re also going to keep me safe from broken teeth. What a relief.
Fitness Footwear UK stockist of Emus with FREE UK delivery
Their homepage is here.
When Jaz Cummins of Londonist approached me for an interview for their London blogger series, I was naturally delighted to oblige. As usual, I’m late with posting the result, which went live on Monday 6 July. And, as usual, ‘better late than never’ is my catch phrase. Voilà – the Epic answers to some Jaz-y questions.
The London Blogger Interviews #22: Epicurienne
(Villefranche sur Mer, 1 January 2008)
If you had to describe your blog in less than 15 words how would you do it?
Tales of travel and culinary adventure in London, Paris and Auckland (and the places in between).
Why did you start blogging?
I’ve always been one of those people who suffers irrational panic attacks if I don’t have a notebook and pen with me at all times. For that reason I wouldn’t last a day in the Big Brother house. I’ve been keeping journals since I was about nine years old, mostly filled with jottings about travels and restaurants and recipe ideas and inspirational quotes… A blog seemed like the logical next step to take.
What about London inspires your blog?
London full stop inspires my blog. I love the melting-pot atmosphere and the fact that if you can’t be it/ wear it/ try it on the streets of London, then you might just say it’s impossible. I particularly appreciate the fact that it’s possible to eat a different cuisine from a different part of the world every night of the month if you were really so-inclined. And I love the parks and green spaces all over London. Come rain or shine they’re a great place to go and observe Londoners and visitors to London, undertaking all manner of activity from picnicking to roller-blading or sitting quietly under a tree with a book.
What’s been your favourite cause, series or post on the blog?
I thoroughly enjoyed writing about our travels in Malaysia, which earned me a few fans in that part of the world and an interview with the Malay Mail, and you don’t have to ask me twice to write about Italy. But my favourite ever post has to be the video entry I made for the London Bloggers’ Meetup competition stating why I deserved to win a ticket to Blog08. I promised to wear big, wooden clogs to the conference, which someone obviously decided to test, because I did in fact win. And yes, I wore big cow-pattern clogs to the conference, earning me more than my fair share of odd treatment, but I’m pleased I did it.
Tips I can share with wannabe clog- wearers are 1. take them off before taking stairs OR take out comprehensive medical insurance before attempting to go up or down any number of steps. 2. they’re very warm. 3 wear thick woollen socks to make them really comfy. 4. they’re completely waterproof and 5. they make great pot plant holders when you get home.
What are your ‘last supper’ essentials if you had one day left to eat in London?
This is a really tricky one. I think if it were my last day in London, I’d go to Borough Market for breakfast, taking whatever was seasonally available for a snack. Needless to say, I’d take a tonne of photos to remember it by, and probably splurge on a few culinary bits and pieces for my new kitchen cupboard, wherever that might be.
I’d probably lunch somewhere Asian, like LiKo in Lisle street, where the tempura noodle bowls are fantastic value and you really get the feeling of being somewhere completely different from London, which is one of the reasons I like it so much. If my bank balance was looking really healthy, I might be persuaded to go to Nobu. But the main event of the day would be dinner. I’d invite our friends over for a big raclette buffet with asparagus and new potatoes, garlic button mushrooms and sweet vine tomatoes, with some fine French charcuterie courtesy of Monsieur, Epic’s herby chicken fillets and some crusty sourdough bread from the Hammersmith Farmer’s Market. I guess my last day in London had better be in May, given how much I love asparagus! The raclette would come from La Fromagerie in Marylebone, and I’d ask the nice chap at Nicolas to supply a few bottles of his driest Provençale rose to wash it all down. I have a tendancy to make myself hungry when describing food. That would be right now.
Would you feel more or less connected to London, or missed out on things without your blog?
I’ve lived in London for 15 years now, so you might say there’d be something wrong with me if I didn’t feel connected to London by now. However, the blog has made me feel a greater connection to London through extending my London-based community.
It also makes me think twice about things we take for granted as Londoners, which can be of interest to readers elsewhere in the world.
How has your blog connected you to another community of bloggers in London? The world?
In my earliest blogging days I found out about the London Bloggers Meetup Group, run by the most welcoming self-confessed marketing blagger Andy Bargery. Through the Group I have been lucky enough to meet a lot of London-based bloggers, which is definitely helpful when most of the people you might get to know through a blog live miles away. The LBM Group gives a sense of reality to writing in the ether.
As for the rest of the world, I have had the great good fortune to ‘meet’ a group of regular readers, who give me a kick up the backside when necessary, are also funny, supportive and intelligent folk. I count them as friends and they live as far afield as the States, Japan, Australia and Paraguay.
What’s the most underrated thing about London?
It might sound crazy but in my opinion the weather is the most underrated thing about London. Why? Because when the sun shines, even if it’s just for a few hours, it transforms everyone’s demeanour from grumpy to friendly. Admittedly, it can be too grey, too cold, too wet, too depressing at times, especially in the winter, but even that’s good because it means we don’t take the good weather for granted. Ever. Even the heavy snow in January seemed to unite neighbours as they moaned about not being able to get to work, whilst secretly enjoying building their snowmen and igloos.
And for some general London chat…Where do you live and why do you love it?
I live in Maida Vale, which neither Monsieur nor I knew very well before moving here. It didn’t take long to convince us that it’s a great place to be in London, though. It’s handy for getting to the West End and has good connections to most parts of London. It’s not far from Paddington. It’s leafy in summer with hidden communal gardens where we can picnic. There’s a great sense of community. On Guy Fawke’s Day there are some fantastic fireworks displays in the area and at the end of a rough day at work, it FEELS like home. There are some great pubs in the neighbourhood and people are as friendly as I’ve ever found them to be in any part of London.
At our tube stop there is one London Underground employee whom I swear must be the happiest man in their employ, writing silly messages on the whiteboard each morning to cheer us on the way to work, and Little Venice is a picturesque place to visit – with canal cruises to take with visitors and decent eateries with water views. Right now, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else in London, although now I’ve said that, we’ll probably find ourselves on the move.
What’s your favourite place in London?
My favourite place in London would have to be around the river. At lunchtime I sometimes walk down to the Thames near Hammersmith, where I work. There’s always a tonne of interest going on down there – rowers in training, people walking their dogs, runners, pub-goers, interesting places to eat, strange buildings… The river gives a sense of openness. When entertaining visitors to London, it gives a lot of options. I love walking along the various sections of the South Bank, be it in Battersea Park or past the Tate Modern, or hanging out at Butler’s Wharf, or taking photos of Tower Bridge, or having a pint by the boats at St Katherine’s Dock… There’s the wobbly bridge to cross, strange river traffic to watch, not to mention the wonderful views of the city, including St Paul’s and the Gherkin. If you want to invite me somewhere, just make sure it’s on the river and I’ll be there, bells ringing loudly.
What do you know about London that noone else does?
I once met a woman whose husband fell seriously ill quite out of the blue. He went into a coma and the doctors were quite certain he wouldn’t come out of it. The woman had heard about the Tyburn Convent at Marble Arch, going there each day to pray for her husband. He subsequently made an astonishing recovery, encouraging his doctors to write about it in medical journals. They couldn’t explain it. Everyone called it a miracle and the woman has no doubt that that’s exactly what it was. So if you’re ever in the honest need of a miracle, I would recommend visiting the Tyburn Convent, which is dedicated to the Catholic nuns who were hanged during the Reformation on the site where Marble Arch now stands.
Have you ever been sick on the tube?
No, thankfully I have never been sick on the tube, as in physically lose my lunch all over someone’s Jimmy Choos. I’ve felt faint in summer and claustrophobic on sardine days and certain armpits have made me gag at times, but luckily I’ve always made it to my stop without having an Exorcist moment. Having said that, as I was thinking about this question, I overheard a guy on the street chatting to his friend about having vomited on the tube the night before. That made me chuckle.
Anything else we should know?
Nope, I think that covers it. Thank you for asking me to do this interview.
For a link directly to the page, please click here.
I don’t usually write about feet or shoes, apart from the fact that I’d rather spend my annual footwear allowance on travel than on a pair of Manolos and I just might have set up a site called Clogblogger once upon a time. However, if you’ve ever worn Fit Flops, you’ll know why I’m writing about them today.
Last year, I invested in a pair of these flip flops with ‘the gym built in,’ that claim to help you tone and exercise muscles in your legs and back whilst simply walking. A couple of friends already had them and swore by them, so I bought a pair of rather unsubtle gold-sequinned Fit Flops with the suitably flamboyant style name of Elektra. By the end of last summer, including a full two weeks in Vietnam where I seldom wore anything else (on my feet, to be specific, because clothes definitely did feature. At times.), I didn’t want to take them off. No, it’s worse than that. My feet, a couple of particularly sensitive souls (pardon the pun), grieved the advent of autumn, for it meant that their beloved Fit Flops would be exiled to the back of the wardrobe. Poor feet!
Here’s the gold variety that stirs an alarming amount of interest from my male colleagues. Oo er, missus! Who knew they’d be such attention-grabbers?
And this is the black equivalent that I wear on more sombre occasions:
There are one, two, three, four more Fit Flop wearers within 5 metres of me right now. Most of my girlfriends are advocates, and when I went to a wedding recently, my feet were understandably NOT happy about abandoning the Fit Flops in favour of something high and elegant. No siree. In case of a Feet-Against-Heels uprising during the day, I stuffed a pair of ballet pumps in my bag, but as it was, most of the girls went barefoot in the grass at the reception, so the ballet pumps were surplus to requirement. Chatting to an acquaintance, I admitted being relieved not to have to trot around in my heels all afternoon,
“My feet are spoiled. They’ve been in Fit Flops all week.”
“Mine, too!” confessed the acquaintance, “and I have a pair of ballet pumps in my bag, for dancing, later.”
“Me, too!” I squeaked, so happy to have located a kindred spirit with high-maintenance feet like mine. High five, girlfriend!
Even so, I couldn’t wait to slide back into my Fit Flops when we got home.
The next question is inevitably: do they work? Well, it’s hard to tell, because my legs are the most-utilised part of me and are therefore pretty fit already. But a good test was during the recent 48-hour tube strike when I had to walk to and from work each day. That was a total of 4 hours and 40 minutes fast walking, in Fit Flops, over a two-day period, and boy, did I ache by the end of it. The aches were in unusual places, too, usually untouched by regular walking or hiking. (At least, that’s how THIS particular body behaves.) So the Fit Flop’s claims to give you a workout while you walk seem to be true. Having said that, for me it’s kinda like TV. I’m not interested in knowing how it works, as long as it works.
Long may the summer last, though, because in spite of Fit Flop’s foray into winter-weather alternatives, they’re lacking the funk of the spangly Elektra, and I’m not a big UGG fan. But I may have to eat my words soon, because this here high heel-phobe has been invited to an evening with Jimmy Choo. Help. I’ve never spent £368.00 on a pair of shoes in my life and I really can’t afford to start such an expensive habit now. Besides which, £368.00 could pay for a long weekend in Venice, in my Fit Flops, and that’s what I’d really rather do.
Here’s another Blog08 post, originally written for Londonbloggers.net
Pete Cashmore, the famed creator of Mashable, the social networking news site, was the first speaker at Blog08, telling us how to build a blog empire. He should know, because, as the Blog08 site tells us, Mashable has 5 million monthly pageviews and Cashmore was recently named the 22nd most important Web Celeb by Forbes.com
(Forgive the shot; the light and people’s inconveniently-placed heads conspired against my dream of a Magnum photographic moment at Blog08! )
The twenty three year-old English-born, Scottish-raised internet entrepreneur was at ease on stage as he imparted his wisdom to the crowd. He confided that he’d been unwell as a youngster so hadn’t been able to attend college or university, concentrating on the money-making opportunities that the internet could provide him. At first, Cashmore had wanted to build his own social network, but while he was working out how to do this, he started blogging about the social networks that already existed or were then in development. That’s how Mashable came about and now his site is THE authority on social networking.
In a nutshell, Cashmore says that in order to build a blog empire, you have to eat, live and breathe the business, which is exactly what he’d done himself. In Mashable’s early days, Cashmore existed on four hours’ sleep per night, but the effort paid off, didn’t it?
Here are his main tips for blog success:
- 1. Build something you love. No one fell in love with a market opportunity.
- 2. The passion for what you do will help you work hard with little sleep if necessary.
- 3. Don’t waste too much time making your blog look good. Content is king. If you blog about what you’re passionate about, well enough and for long enough, eventually someone will take notice.
- 4. Just do it.
- 5. Read, write, comment, improve – and repeat. Blog, eat and sleep – for years, if necessary. Seek out interesting blogs related to what you do and subscribe to them. Use Google reader. Do not worry about funding yet.
- 6. Use WordPress as your platform. In Cashmore’s opinion, WordPress is the most extensible platform for a blog.
- 7. ANALYSE. Look at your stats and steer into the areas where you’re successful. Find out what’s working on your blog. Extend it. Serialise it. Give readers what they want. Use analysis sites like Woopra, getclicky.com and Google analytics, which Cashmore thinks is the best. Check out your referrers and stats twice every day. If people are checking out your site via Digg, then target Digg.
- 8. MONETISE. Mashable uses Google Adsense but Cashmore doesn’t think it’s that effective. He says that CPMs are not that great either. Look into niche advertising and find a network selling ads across your niche. Think about direct selling. (Mashable sells ads on its sidebar). Consider creating a marketplace or job boards.
- 9. Cashmore’s favourite networks are:
- TWITTER: This engages your audience, reaches friends, creates ripples so you don’t need a big hit. It’s a good tool for tracking conversations and syndicating headlines and for finding negative feedback about your site quickly so you can act on it before it becomes farther-reaching.
- FLICKR: Isn’t great for traffic-building but is good for creating community.
- FACEBOOK is most effective if you work with groups but loses effectiveness at scale. How many REAL friends do you have on Facebook?
- DIGG: Here you can vote for the best stories. It’s useful for learning how to write a rocking headline. A blogger asks “Is it okay to DIGG yourself?” Cashmore replies: “Yes, but the system is starting to make this harder.”
- STUMBLE UPON: this is a useful tool for watching what’s popular but here it is not so good to vote for your own site.
Cashmore then takes us to the next stage: you’ve built a successful blog and it’s been recognised, monetised etc. YOU’VE GOT COMPANY! His tips about staffing your blog company are simple:
HIRE carefully, frugally and remotely. Personality isn’t that important if you’re working with someone on an internet platform, so if you like what you see of their internet presence and it’s what you need at the time, then that should be sufficient proof that they can help you.
FIRE quickly, decisively and mathematically. Remember that people are assets so they need to make you more money than they’re costing you.
Then, before leaving the stage Cashmore took some audience Q&A, providing us with the following nuggets of information:
- Cashmore IS Pete Cashmore’s real name. Someone thought it might not be, probably because this internet guru has more cash than he can shake a stick at! He said he’d rather have been called ‘Cashman’, however, because it sounds funnier.
- Cashmore as a name has it’s origins in meaning ‘castle man’, which is what castle caretakers were once called.
- He receives about 400 e-mails per day.
- His view is that a blog takes a long time to set up properly, but once that’s been done, it’s stable.
Sadly, by the end of Blog08, Pete Cashmore still hadn’t invited me to a Mashable party, insisting I wear party-on clogs. I suppose there’s still time. As some consolation, however, I did get to sit next to him at dinner and his chocolate lasagne dessert looked amazing. But that’s another story…
Get clicky: http://getclicky.com/
Google analytics: http://www.google.com/analytics/en-GB/
Cashmore reviewed by Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/2007/12/18/web-celeb-fame-tech-cx_de_07webceleb_1218top_slide_23.html?thisSpeed=20000
[Warning: you may like to grab a cuppa and take your time with this post. It's a LONG one.]
When Andy Bargery announced the London Bloggers Meetup competition where entrants had to state why they felt they deserved a free ticket to Blog08, the day-long conference for bloggers in Amsterdam, I entered for fun. I never dreamed that playing around with Powerpoint with pictures of strange clogs and a tune called ‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips’ could possibly win; it was surely too weird. Regardless, I put the entry together and dutifully sent it off, only to be shocked to the hilt when the bloggers’ website announced I’d won. I really thought Lolly had it in the bag because her entry was so social networking-tastic.
Of course, plenty of people are capable of winning competitions without promising to do something stupid if they win. Not me. In my entry I promised to wear clogs, All. Day. Long. at Blog08 and I also pledged to set up a blog about clogs. When I won, (and being a woman of my word), that’s exactly what I did. Would I do it again? If it involves wearing big wooden clogs painted with a Fresian cow pattern to an event where I know not a single soul, then probably not. However, Clogblogger, the blog I started as a result of the competition, has actually been a surprising amount of fun, so yes to that one.
Blog08 was the brainchild of two Dutch blog prodigies, Ernst-Jan Pfauth and Edial Dekker. Compared to me, these early twenty-somethings are babes in arms but their c.v.s are impressive. For instance, Ernst-Jan is Editor-in-Chief of The Next Web Blog and also of award-winning blog, Spotlight Effect, whilst somehow finding time to write an e-book about the Dutch blogosphere AND plan this blog conference. Meanwhile, his partner in crime, Edial, is an editor of Spotlight Effect and founder of MaptheGap, a mobile start-up. The three of us had chatted a bit online prior to me reaching Amsterdam, and the lads were encouraging about my wearing of clogs; they’d even put a post about me on the Blog08 site. However, Ernst-Jan’s face when he saw me in the Fresian Wonders is something I will not easily forget. His jaw dropped slightly, eyebrows raised high and the forthcoming high-pitched giggle showed that he hadn’t really believed that I’d wear clogs. “They’re…um…. COOL!” he told me, still laughing a bit, “and you match!” That was certainly true. I was black-and-white colour-coordinated with my clogs. Too cool for school. Or not, as the case may be.
Initially, my fellow bloggers looked me up and down and dismissed me as a viable person to talk to as soon as they spotted the clogs. I started to think I’d made a serious error of judgment in wearing these things. Then no one sat in my row so clog-related paranoia set in. There were plenty of rows to sit in about the hall, yet mine remained ominously empty as the rest filled up with bloggers keen to hear the experts’ views on the blogosphere. When a man did finally sit with me and chat a bit, I was relieved, but he made such a quick getaway at tea time that I couldn’t keep up in my cumbersome Klompen.
Meanwhile, the conference commenced and a tall bald guy in a white suit reminiscent of those worn by the hosts on Fantasy Island, introduced himself as Patrick de Laive, the Blog08 moderator. Then Pete Cashmore taught us his technique for building a blog empire the Mashable way (see my Cashing-in with Cashmore post), and a Dutch chap called Nalden took to the stage to show off what you can do with your blog if you have 150,000 Euros to burn and a talent for merchandising.
At different points there were panels of blogging aficionados inviting active discussion on current affairs of relevance to bloggers, but somehow they always got stuck on one topic so that the tweets from the Blog08 backchannel, being projected onto screens to either side of the stage, would get a bit antsy, referring to stuck records and the like.
The most debated topics were:
- Why aren’t there more women at Blog08? (this was an issue, both on-stage AND in the audience, so a journalist from England was pulled up onto the stage to represent women in one panel.)
- Can you be transparent on the web? (Some say yes; Loren Feldman says an unequivocal NO).
- Is blogging journalism and can journalism use blogging? (Fiery activity on this one; the general consensus was that the two are inter-linked and sometimes inter-changeable but the polar opposite opinions of yes or no could not see eye-to-eye).
- Is blogging dead? Well, obviously not because otherwise what were 250 of us doing at the conference?
- Is micro-blogging the new blogging? Only if you can’t spell or you work in PR, apparently. People either love to tweet or can’t be bothered. The audience was split, even though the Blog08 Twitter backchannel was unavoidably displayed to us with such lively tweet activity that it had to be hidden at times.
After a full-on morning, we bloggers needed sustenance and I have to say that lunch was a bit odd. By this point I’d made friends with some of the more clog-friendly bloggers, so I didn’t eat alone (thank my sainted clogs) and the buffet of filled ciabatta sandwiches was normal enough, but the drinks made me wonder. There were three groups of glasses filled with milk, orange juice or more milk. What? I’d never seen anything like it before, but as my new friend informed me, the Dutch love to drink milk. At least all this milk seemed to complement my cow clog theme. Meanwhile, in the corner of the lunch room, a couple of men watched me with suspicion, as if I might jump up and clogger them with my clogs at any moment. The sense of humour I’d so expected was lacking in such folk and, unfortunately for me, they weren’t alone.
Back in the lecture hall, we heard a range of speakers, their presentations varying greatly in both theme and viewpoint. Boris van der Ham, a member of the Dutch House of Representatives, talked about using his blog to connect with his constituents , something of particular interest given the 2008 US elections witnessing a huge boom in political blogging.
Scott Rafer, the CEO of Lookery, blinded us with science as he told us how his site provides a service to help site owners ‘amplify their audience data’. In explaining the importance of his particular tools, he vented frustration from his dealings with Facebook management, telling us that ‘they don’t care about anyone’. He also recommended considering carefully before signing up to the new Facebook Connect because of data storage concerns which Facebook staff aren’t sufficiently answering. Rafer claims that Facebook is helping Microsoft to gain market share against Google, but that’s hardly surprising in a competitive market. What interested me was that Facebook tracks every search made through its platform, linking those searches with relevant advertisers, which is how we end up getting so much SPAM. According to Rafer this will only intensify under Facebook Connect. Conversely, Rafer’s site, Lookery, was set up according to the strictest privacy laws on the planet, (which just so happen to be German), and they utilise and store their data according to those laws. When Rafer’s presentation ended, the audience sat slightly stunned. The Blog08 moderator thanked Rafer by telling him: “That was a really nerdy presentation!” Nerdy, perhaps, but I’ve already signed up to Lookery to learn more about my audience. So far, so good.
Next on stage was Loren Feldman, controversial vlogger-stroke-puppeteer, telling us how he got to where he is today. In a nutshell, he found himself to be an ageing actor with plenty to say about everything, so chose the blog/ vlog arena in which to say it. Most of the bloggers in the audience had already seen his Blog08 site vlog post appealing for our help as he claimed not to know where Amsterdam was (this was thankfully prior to his arrival). Did Björk come from Amsterdam? he pondered. I’ll have to dedicate a separate post to Feldman because he was one of the most refreshingly direct and unabashedly opinionated presenters at Blog08, making him one of the conference’s highlights.
Then we heard from Dutch internet millionaire and entrepreneur, Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, co-founder of The Next Web Blog and unnervingly wearing the same white suit as Patrick de Laive. It turns out they’re business partners, so this wasn’t a new Dutch trend, as had occurred to me might be the case. White suits on men are unusual enough in summer; in Amsterdam the weather outside was atrocious, so the white suits looked even more odd. To intensify the surrealism of this, Boris demonstrated his unicycle techniques by riding from one end of the stage to the other, and back again. Just when we were pinching ourselves to check we weren’t in some sort of Fantasy Island circus hallucination, Boris started to explain why he thinks that blog prowess is next to godliness. It was a confusion of philosophy and theology, of technology and circus performance leading to the very special conclusion that (to himself, at least) Boris is God. Perhaps that’s why he wears white. This presentation was strange, yes, but forgettable? Not likely.
Moving swiftly on, an obviously jet-lagged Hugh MacLeod, cartoonist extraordinaire of Gaping Void fame, whose post ‘How to be Creative’ has been downloaded a million-plus times and is due to be published as a book next year, entertained us with his amusing doodles and ponderings on life. I’ll write a separate post about MacLeod, as some of his advice is wisdom on a stick.
It was the last presenter who made us all sit up and take notice at the end of this nine-hour blog-fest: Gabe Mac, self-proclaimed Bad Mother Vlogger, took the day’s Rockstar theme to the extreme as he pranced around the stage to a funky remix of a classic Scottish pipes tune. He wore streaks of blusher, serious eye make-up and twanged his Wii Air Guitar madly. He had our full attention. His siren of a sidekick sported bright red stilettos and figure-hugging leggings, dancing about him with a giant video camera, causing the feminists in the audience to tut tut and shake their heads. I think that was the point. Then Gabe Mac toked on a spliff rolled for him on stage by Stiletto Chick, crooning “good stuff, baby”, and any thoughts of audience fatigue left the room. Like him or hate him, we wouldn’t be bored by him.
Gabe Mac told us his vlogging evolution story which suitably began in Amsterdam but is now based in Madrid. We watched some of his own favourite posts and tolerated his thespian arrogance and shameless self-promotion. In summary, I think Gabe Mac was acting his pants off for us, but can’t really be sure, just that off-stage he seemed like a much quieter soul than he was projecting to us in his presentation. You probably need to decide for yourself whether or not he’s worth watching. Check the link at the end of this post to see what this Bad Mother Vlogger is all about.
Throughout the day a band of rock musicians called Love OD rocked us awake, literally, so that we’d soon OD-ed on their brand of ‘love’. However, as the theme for Blog08 was “Rockstars of the Web”, I suppose the first theme accessory must be a rock band, so there they were and, in keeping with said theme, the lone freebie handed out to everyone on arrival had been Blog08-branded guitar picks. Somewhat bemused as to what I’d use it for, mine went in my pocket, but I later saw someone wearing a bracelet made with lots of the picks and it looked fantastic. I’d found out too late that the dress code was ‘Rock star’ so hadn’t had time to change my clogs to something a bit zanier, however, at Heathrow I had bought a few rock guitar-shaped pins in aid of the charity, Ability Net, which uses technology to help people with disabilities, so I was wearing one of these to show willing. It also struck me as a suitable charity for bloggers to support.
In summary, Blog08 was a fascinating exercise in debating what’s hot and what’s not on the web today. Transparent or not, microblogger or not, there were strong opinions and plenty of voices willing to air their views. The presenters were a varied bunch, providing us with valuable insight into the blogosphere of today, and the audience was keen to participate. As this was an inaugural event, it’ll be interesting to see whether Ernst-Jan and Edial plan a Blog09. If they do, I’d be keen to attend, only this time I think I’ll leave the clogs at home.
The Next Web Blog: http://thenextweb.com/
Spotlight Effect: http://www.spotlighteffect.nl/
Loren Feldman http://www.1938media.com/
Ability Net: http://www.abilitynet.org.uk/
Gaping Void: http://www.gapingvoid.com/
Gabe Mac: http://gabemac.com/
Casa di David, Singel 426, 1017 AV Amsterdam, http://www.casadidavid.com
Monsieur and I went to Casa di David on the recommendation of a Swissotel receptionist, who goes there frequently and couldn’t rate it highly enough. What a disappointment. We had an 8pm reservation on a Saturday night and because there was a crush of people trying to get in at the time we arrived, we weren’t even acknowledged (in spite of waving and smiling at any passing waiter) for around 20 minutes. Finally, we were led upstairs to a table in the midst of an attractive room decorated with a Tuscan theme. As we sat down, the table of 4 next to us finished their starters. We were promptly given a menu, then ignored for around 30 minutes. Meanwhile, our neighbours’ plates were not cleared.
I started to get cheesed off when 3 more couples arrived, were seated at different tables around the room, and were served straight away. Our attempts at attracting the attention of a waiter (there were 5 on deck, so no excuse of short-staffing) didn’t work. The other couples had placed their orders, received their drinks and were already waiting for their food. We were obviously invisible.
When we were finally deemed fit for a waiter’s time, the food came quite quickly; at least the starters did. Monsieur ordered a seafood casserole, which looked and smelled tasty, and I tucked into warm goat’s cheese with honey and berries. The goat’s cheese was superb. Then we sat and almost finished the (vastly overpriced) bottle of Italian white wine as we waited and waited and waited again for our plates to be cleared and the mains to arrive. If this was a ploy to encourage us to order a second bottle, as our neighbours had, then they failed.
My main was seppie di neri tagliolini but there was nothing -ini about it. It was tagliatelle. You’d think Italian restaurateurs would know the difference. It was served with a creamy seafood sauce, but there were only about 3 prawns and 3 scallops in the whole thing. Tasty, yes, but could I make it better myself? Definitely. For one thing, there would have been more than a cursory appearance of seafood. This sort of recipe is mainly down to fresh ingredients. It’s not rocket science.
When the mains arrived, I asked the waiter to bring the bill so we could settle up without another long wait. In a huffy tone, he told me to try the food first, just in case I didn’t like it. He didn’t check back later to see whether or not we were satisfied; he just ignored us again.
We eventually received the bill of 110 Euros. Ouch. That really hurt, especially given the current exchange rate. Around 40 Euros of the total was for the wine that we could have bought for a fiver in Sainsbury’s. It definitely wasn’t worth the splurge. We paid the exact amount in cash and left without tipping. As we walked down the stairs, I saw our designated waiter, who’d been so superb at ignoring us, run to our table, no doubt expecting something in appreciation of his vast lack of effort. He was to be disappointed. Not one member of staff said goodbye, good night or thank you to us on our way out. It was a highly expensive way to be treated appallingly, and rates as my worst restaurant experience for 2008.
Avoid, avoid, avoid.
I give one star for the goat’s cheese starter only. The potential of 4 more stars was lost due to too many waiters and not enough attention, and a VERY expensive wine list.
At long last, I flew to Amsterdam for Blog08 last week, with the clogs I’d promised to wear packed dutifully in my case. Friday’s conference was packed with interest and Monsieur joined me on Saturday for some Amsterdam sightseeing. We packed five museums and a lot of clog photography into the weekend, and then we flew home. Separately.
As part of my competition prize had included flights, I was taking KLM. Monsieur, meanwhile, had a free flight on BA courtesy of a diligent accrual of points with his favoured airline. His flight left Schiphol an hour before mine but I didn’t get home until three hours after him; instead of racing onto the Heathrow Express homeward-bound, I was instead the subject of a Very Special Greeting by customs officials when KLM landed at Terminal 4.
As we filed off the plane, an official instructed us to walk single-file along one side of the corridor so we could be sniffed by a drugs dog. When it came my turn, I fully expected the dog to take a cursory sniff and move on, but he didn’t. Apparently I smelled GOOOD, so as his nose went all around my nether regions, I wondered what could be so interesting about me. Then he sat at my feet and looked up at his handler. That was the sign. According to the hound I was a problem so I was waved out of the corridor and taken aside.
An official took my passport and asked a number of questions as he worked his way through my previously neatly-arranged carry on bags. Meanwhile, my fellow passengers walked past, casting looks of disdain in my direction. ‘Great. They think I’m one of those people on Airport, with all sorts of illegal substances ferretted away on my person,’ I thought to myself. I already knew that they couldn’t be more wrong; sauvignon blanc is my substance of choice and unless they considered that to be Class A on a list of drugs (I’d just consumed some on the flight) then I was going to be a complete waste of their time.
The officials separated me from my bags and brought the dog back. He didn’t find anything of interest in my carry-on, so they brought him across to sniff me again. His nose kept finding its way to my crotch in a disturbingly-insistent fashion. Perhaps he thought I’d squirreled some narcotics into a particular orifice? Thoughts of latex gloves started to feature in my mind. Whatever would I tell Monsieur?
The main official overseeing this investigation told me they’d now have to fast-track me through customs and retrieve my suitcase from the conveyor. As we approached a customs desk from a side gate, my seat neighbour, a visiting professional from the Phillipines with whom I’d had a friendly in-flight chat, looked directly at me. She frowned and shook her head before turning away. Oh joy. Now it was confirmed in my fellow passengers’ heads that I was a drug-runner. How little did they know! My face burned.
On the way down to baggage collection, I turned to the official.
“I hope you don’t mind me being graphic for a minute, but I have my period. Could that be a factor in what the dog can smell?”
“No,” he replied, “the dog is trained to sniff out Class A drugs.”
That was the end of that Epicurienne theory. It had only occurred to me because I’ve noticed that when it’s that time of the month, dogs take an extra-special interest in sniffing girls. Apparently we give off a similar smell to a bitch on heat. (Some might say that’s exactly what we are, but I couldn’t possibly agree.)
Wondering now if someone could have planted something in my case when I left it at the hotel after check-out this morning, the officials and I collected my luggage before going to the red “Something to Declare” section of the customs exit. There my case was opened and underwear, nightwear and big, wooden CLOGS bared for all to see, along with a pack of tampax. With two pairs of clogs in my luggage, I certainly can’t have been your usual suspect. I answered questions about what I did for a living, how long I’ve lived in the UK, why I was in Amsterdam (I won a blogging competition) and with whom I’d been travelling. When I explained that my fiancé had been with me but had flown back earlier, faces frowned again. They probably thought Monsieur was the drug baron and I was his mule. Poor Monsieur. I was quite relieved he wasn’t there to see this.
Little pieces of drug-sensitive cloth were rubbed around my suitcase and on my clothes before being put into a sniffer machine. Negative, negative came the machine’s response to the situation. Had I used drugs in the past two weeks, they asked. No, came my reply. Not unless you count ibuprofen. Would I be averse to a urine test to prove that? was the next question. Not at all, I replied whilst thinking ‘Where’s the cup? Just give me the cup. I’d gladly pee into any receptacle if that’s what it takes to get out of here and GO HOME.’
By now I could see that the officials were somewhat perplexed. As they told me, I’m well-spoken, obviously professional and could prove my reason for a visit to Amsterdam (no whacky backy required). Physically, I was on form (apart from blushing with shame at being escorted through the airport by uniformed officials). I wasn’t shaky or red-eyed, didn’t stink of an all-nighter or three like many visitors to the grass-capital of Europe might and was relatively calm considering the massive embarrassment I was currently enduring. Apart from a canine with an interest in my crotch, there was nothing to show that I had any contact with drugs.
Then a female official came up to me.
“Can I ask you a personal question?” she asked,
“Of course,” I replied (still wondering when I was going to be taken away for a more thorough inspection),
“You don’t by any chance have your period?” she ventured,
“Yes I do. Could that be a factor?”
“Yes it could.”
“Really?” asked the male official,
“Yes.” said the woman. I think that’s what you’d call a Homer Simpson moment. DOH.
The male official went off to consult his serious-faced boss. They talked for ages. I looked at the ceiling. I looked at the floor. I looked at my dishevelled belongings and I looked at the door marked with “Authorised Personnel Only”, wondering how long it would be before I was led off to somewhere more ‘private’. Then the male official returned.
“I’ve told my boss that you should be allowed to go. You’re too helpful to be a druggie. We can’t find any evidence of drugs here. We’ll just say that the dog was wrong.”
He continued “You may simply have sat in a seat where someone using drugs had been before you.” God bless the liberality of Amsterdam. Major sarcasm intended.
So with that, I packed up my suitcase, clogs included, and left for home. Home, sweet home. I wouldn’t be in the clink tonight. As Monsieur later told me with a big, comforting hug, “Darling, I just can’t let you travel on your own, can I?” He might just be right.
PS I have debated with myself all morning whether or not to write about this because I don’t usually get so personal. Although the dog was obviously barking up the wrong tree, so to speak, causing a great amount of embarrassment and inconvenience to all concerned, I have to say that the customs officials dealing with me were polite and professional. At the end of the ordeal, they apologised and admitted that an error had occurred. However, because I never realised that something like this could happen, I do think it’s important for Epicurienne readers to take note of my experience, just in case the dog ever gets it wrong with one of you.