In Bruges and a Misplaced Camera

If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.

Colin Farrell’s character in In Bruges does not provide the most glowing review of the City and I initially dismissed it as a handy stopping point in between Brussels and Amsterdam when backpacking across Europe. Though I didn’t have high expectations, it ended up being one of the highlights of the trip for me.

The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy actually started playing from somewhere unbeknown as we made our way along the cobblestone streets from the train station to our hostel. 🙂 There was no doubt from the very beginning that the City was calming, charming, and beautiful in character.

I have strong memories from my short stay in the City: canals; the view from the top of the Belfy; a strapping American tour guide; medieval architecture; cobblestone streets; eating Belgian fries and stopping to admire the view from a bridge only to be joined by a random man who needed €2 in order to catch a bus and win back the love of his life, Mary offered him some fries; waffles; colourful buildings; a lazy dog who rests at the window looking over one of the canals and has become a local celebrity after his appearance in In Bruges.

Strong memories but no photos for this post! I borrowed my Mum’s camera for the trip and never got round to uploading the many photos that I took, despite the years that have passed. I will make it my mission to find the camera and (hopefully!) uncover the photos this weekend. They contain so many good memories and I hope they’re not lost.

Seeking Words of Wisdom

These photos are from 2013, when I was lucky enough to visit Japan with my sister. My sister (on the utmost right) and a couple of her team mates are reading the “ema” at a shrine just outside of Tokyo.

“Ema” is the name given to the wooden plaques that people write their prayers on and leave to hang in a Shinto shrine.

Across the shrines we visited, we must have comes across hundreds of these plaques, in many different languages. I felt a little like I was peeping in on the personal hopes, wishes, and dreams of strangers by reading, but it was also calming to find so much positivity in them.

Who Made My Clothes?

Today’s the first day of Fashion Revolution Week, 2016.

Taking on fast fashion may seem like a hopeless task but we live in an age where a hashtag holds a lot of power. I really admire Fashion Revolution for encouraging us to take on responsibility as consumers and to ask #whomademyclothes of the brands we buy from.

Taxi Milano25

One evening in Florence, I walked past a white taxi covered in flowers and other colourful cartoon-like patterns. The taxi caught my attention and my eyes met with the driver, a smiling lady with glittering eyes and a huge colourful hat to match her taxi. She seemed like a character straight from a children’s story.

I was with a group and we were merry after having a few drinks in the City centre. It’s not something I’d usually do but something prompted me to wave at the lady as we passed. She smiled cheerfully and waved right back.

That brief interaction led me to do some research. I wanted to know her story! I spoke about her to locals in Florence and searched the web for the little information I had.

I found that her name was Caterina Bellandi and that she is well loved.

Caterina was once an office worker but took over the taxi from her partner, who tragically died from lung cancer at the age of 39. While driving the taxi, she gained some healing through sharing her story with her passengers.

One day she spoke with a family who had lost their child to a brain tumour. Through their pain, they had set up a charitable foundation for the cure and study of paediatric tumours. Inspired by the family’s story, Caterina began to provide free rides to and from Meyer Children’s Hospital in Florence. This led to the setting up of her charity, Milano25.

Taxi Milano25 is decorated with stuffed animals, balloons, and sweets. Disney tunes usually make up the background music and Caterina makes every one of her passengers feel special. She provides more than just a free ride. She provides some hope.

I never spoke with or interacted with Caterina beyond that one tipsy wave, but her story left a big impression on me. She’s proof that fairy godmother’s do exist and inspiration to find some magic in spite of tough times.

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Photo taken from Milano25.com

Ghost Boat

243 People Disappeared. Young People. Women. Children. And No One Cares.

Ghost Boat is project on Medium that aims to make sense of how a boat of 243 refugees, who had set sail from Libya in hope of a better life, disappeared without a trace on the 28th June, 2014.

In the most recent post, the team behind the project have put a call for action for people to help with the investigation:

We have satellite photographs covering the parts of the Libyan coast where we believe the Ghost Boat is most likely to have departed from. It’s a large zone of interest, several thousand square kilometers, stretching eight miles or so into the Mediterranean.

To make it searchable, we’re slicing up the images into easy-to-digest chunks and allowing anyone to go and look at those slices to look for visual evidence. What are we looking for? Anything that could indicate a boat’s presence — an actual vessel, or maybe an oil slick left behind by a ship in distress.

The project is wonderful example of the democratisation of publishing and participatory journalism. I plan to join in the most recent call for action, let me know if you do too. 🙂

Digital Detox?

Instagram, WhatsApp, Telegram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, WordPress.com, Slack. It’s fair to say that I spend a good amount of time on my phone. 🙂 I love using technology to stay in touch with my family/friends and to store memories away. I also never get tired of the fact that my colleagues are spread out across all corners of the World, and I still get to chat with them each day.

That said, I want to try my best to avoid the point where I’m living entirely outside of the real world. I’ve been thinking of booking tickets to Innocent’s Un-Plugged Festival or going on a similar digital detox event. The only thing stopping me? Finding someone else willing to give up their phone for a few days at the same time as me. 😉

PostSecret

I realised recently that I’ve been following PostSecret since 2006. Ten years!

In case you’re not familiar with the project, it involves people sending in their secrets on one side of a homemade postcard. A selection of the postcards are posted over at PostSecret.com every Sunday. Some are fun, some are sad…

I think one of the reasons that I like the project so much is that it’s a reminder to be kind. You never know what burdens a person may be carrying.

Thorpe Park

It’s standard for students of Reading University to celebrate the end of exams with a trip to Thorpe Park. The last time I visited the theme park was in 2011 to do just that. As I’m staying in Reading this week, I met up with one of my old University friends, Simon, to relive the memories today.

I was willing to go on any of the rides with the exception of the log flumes. My hope was to stay dry as I hadn’t come prepared for a soaking and Tidal Wave in particular leaves you drenched through to the bone.

It was raining, though, and so I still took the chance to purchase this snazzy Thorpe Park ensemble.

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Little did I know that the point Simon had rather enthusiastically guided me to for the above photo just so happened to be the point where the splash from the log flume lands. Shortly after this photo was taken I was soaked by the big splash! Simon apparently attempted to video the surprise soaking but failed (a crying shame!) A passing man did, however, inform me that it was hilarious.

I subsequently insisted that we both ride Tidal Wave and am happy to report that Simon got a well-deserved soaking too.

We managed to work our way through most of the park’s main rides and played some of the games. It was a fun day and nice to walk down memory lane with an old friend. He even very patiently put up with my new-found Snapchat habit. True friendship. 🙂

WordCamp London

WordCamp London was this weekend. 🙂

The sponsors upped their game when it came to swag. There were London themed stickers, selfie sticks, yo yos, and more. Gemma and Scott also made some limited edition R2-Wapuu stickers, which went quickly after WP Tavern spread the word. Oh, and 34SP brought Wapuu along!

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The organising team were super busy and hard at work throughout the conference, and I can only imagine the amount of time that they must have put in beforehand. The hard work definitely paid off.

I felt an underlying focus on accessibility and inclusion throughout the weekend:

  • The organising team had planned out lactation rooms, a crèche, a quiet area, a multi-faith room, and clearly laid out plans for wheelchair access.
  • Live captioning meant those with hearing difficulties could attend the talks and that those who spoke English as a second language had a backup if needed, too.
  • There were retro games at the after party, which meant that alcohol wasn’t the only thing to participate in.
  • It’s a bit of a taboo to speak publicly about periods and I’m even a bit conscious writing this but, really, that’s silly. Most women know that it’s easy to get caught short when busy at events and so I thought it was a thoughtful touch for the team to add little baskets of sanitary towels in the ladies.

There are likely points that I’m missing but it’s fair to say that the organisers really went above and beyond to try to accommodate for everyone’s basic needs and interests.

I found the theme continued in the talks themselves. Some highlights for me:

  • Graham Armfield talked about how to make accordions accessible. Graham is a rockstar on the accessibility team for WordPress.org and I found it helpful to see how seemingly tricky functionality could be made accessible. I always learn something after speaking to Graham and, at the after party, he assured me that you could make pretty much anything on the web accessible with a little work.
  • My colleague, Tammie Lister, spoke about design patterns. Tammie is one of the people that I look up to the most in the WordPress community and she’s got a well-deserved reputation for her speaking. I can see the processes she described of identifying patterns at the beginning of a project being useful in many settings. I particularly liked that she doesn’t confine herself to the web when looking for patterns.
  • Emanuel Blagonic‘s talk was entitled “How WordPress changed the face of Croatian politics.” He shared the story of building a new site for the City of Rijeka on WordPress, one of the first large-scale “design in the open” projects in Croatia. It was inspiring to hear how WordPress was being used as a tool for change.

I’ll add a link to each of the above talks once they’re added to WordPress.tv. 🙂

It’s tough to find time to speak with everyone that you want to at WordCamps and there are always people I miss. This is especially true of WordCamp London as it’s a bigger event and I had to leave a little earlier than originally planned today. That said, I left full of new knowledge and happy to have spent some time with people that I don’t get to see that often.

Thank you to all of the organisers, speakers, volunteers, and attendees!