Book Review: Murakami Haruki’s After The Quake

I first became aware of Murakami’s work when I was in Japan in June 2010. Every bookshop I passed, and almost every commuter on each train, had 1Q84 and the cover intrigued me. Of course, the book itself was in Japanese but I recognised it at once when the translation arrived here. I thought it might be a little heavy going to jump into without tasting the author’s work before, so I picked up this short book first.

After The Quake is a short story collection, focused on life for several Japanese men, women and children in the aftermath of the 1995 Kobe earthquake. None of the stories are set in Kobe, nor do any of the characters visit there. It is instead told through the prism of news reports, reaction to news reports, nightmares, hallucinations and a recognition of mortality. And a giant talking Frog, whose mention on the book blurb confused and intrigued me. I remain confused and intrigued, which I think is exactly as Murakami intended it.

I found the stories moving and genuinely interesting, to read and to deconstruct once I had finished each one. The last story ‘Honey Pie’ was my favourite because of the relationships between the three main characters, but a special mention must be made of the discomfiting undertones in ‘All God’s Children Can Dance’ as religion and sex lie together, and the children’s folk tale meets visceral near-Lovecraftian horrors of ‘Super-Frog saves Tokyo’.

I will be reading more of Murakami’s work in the near-future.

Reading list

My list! My list of books that I have mostly skipped over in my 32 years of life, that I think I should give a look at. I hope to read them over the next year or so and I’ll cross them off as I do. I’ll be using a number generator to choose a random title each time so I imagine this will result in a lot of smooshing of reading experience and references.

  1. Blind Barber by John Dickson Carr
  2. The Jewel That Was Ours by Colin Dexter
  3. The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights: Volume 1 (Penguin Classics)
  4. The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (Short Story) (Early Science Fiction Series)
  5. The Tale of Genji
  6. The Wild Girl by Robert Michele
  7. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  8. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  9. The Complete Robot (Robot Series) by Isaac Asimov
  10. The Lord of the Rings (3 Book Box set) by JRR Tolkien
  11. Vanity Fair (Vintage Classics) by William Makepace Thackeray
  12. Moby-Dick (Vintage Classics) by Herman Melville
  13. Good Omens by Pratchett and Gaiman
  14. Madame Bovary (Penguin Classics) by Gustave Flaubert
  15. A Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne
  16. The Moonstone (Penguin English Library) by Wilkie Collins
  17. In A Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu
  18. Around the World in Eighty Days (Penguin Classics) by Jules Verne
  19. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Illustrated) by Arthur Conan Doyle
  20. Consider Phlebas (The Culture) by Iain M. Banks
  21. Emma (Penguin English Library) by Jane Austen
  22. I am a Cat (Tuttle classics) by Soseki Natsume
  23. The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Writings (Penguin Classics) by Edgar Allen Poe
  24. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
  25. The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake
  26. The Time Machine (Penguin Classics) by H G Wells
  27. The Hound of the Baskervilles (Penguin Classics) by Arthur Conan Doyle
  28. Kokoro by Soseki Natsume
  29. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  30. Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers
  31. The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers
  32. At the Mountains of Madness by H P Lovecraft
  33. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
  34. The Big Sleep: by Raymond Chandler
  35. The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery
  36. The Long Good-Bye by Raymond Chandler
  37. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  38. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
  39. Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes
  40. Hawksmoor (Penguin Decades) by Peter Ackroyd
  41. Watchmen by Alan Moore
  42. Death Note (Box Set: Vols 1-13) by Tsugumi Ohba
  43. Akira by Katshiro Otomo
  44. Love Hina by Ken Akamatsu
  45. Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama
  46. Battle Royale by Masayuki Taguchi
  47. Alice in the Country of Hearts by x QuinRose
  48. The Dark Elf Trilogy: “Homeland”, “Exile”, “Sojourn” (Forgotten Realms) by R A Salvatore
  49. Astonishing X-Men By Whedon & Cassaday (Ultimate Collection 1)
  50. Sandman (Slipcase Set) by Neil Gaiman
  51. Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot
  52. New X-Men by Grant Morrison
  53. Batman: The Killing Joke (Deluxe Edition) by Alan Moore and Brian Bollard
  54. Concrete Volume 1: Depths by Paul Chadwick
  55. Fables: v. 1 by Bill Willingham
  56. The Complete MAUS by Art Spiegelman
  57. Fullmetal Alchemist Box Set: 1-27 by Hiromu Arakawa
  58. Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life by Gretchen Rubin
  59. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar
  60. Paradise Lost (Penguin Classics) by John Milton
  61. The Divine Comedy (Oxford World’s Classics) by Dante Alighieri
  62. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
  63. Atomic Sushi by Simon May
  64. After The Quake by Haruki Murakami
  65. Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
  66. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  67. The Player Of Games (The Culture) by Iain M. Banks

Random number generator has given me the following order (which I will follow, availability and library reservations allowing): 67, 16, 42, 1, 37, 59, 19, 13, 66, 20, 31, 24, 49, 26, 46, 35, 25, 53, 75, 54, 45, 52, 44, 6, 34, 22, 57, 55, 30, 33, 41, 56, 21, 50, 10, 69, 71, 23, 64, 12, 39, 3, 60, 4, 11, 28, 73, 14, 47, 58, 63, 51, 72, 15, 61, 43, 38, 32, 65, 62, 2, 3, 36, 70, 8, 9, 18, 48, 17, 5, 7, 68, 23, 27, 29, 35, 40, 74.

I’ve gone up to 75 to allow for inevitable additions and sequels I’ll want to throw in, plus I’m sure I’ll read a few out of order as the mood takes me.

Conference organisers: a point for your consideration.

I had the great fortune to attend XOXO last week (which is another post I’ll try and get done before the same event next year or something) and people were chatting about how nice it was to be at a conference with a good range of female speakers. I was having a conversation of this ilk with Tom Coates and he mentioned how he had tried to help other conferences pull in female speakers, but the ones they asked often said no – leading to unfair criticism when there was an all-male line-up. It wasn’t that these organisers hadn’t gone looking but that these ladies just didn’t say yes when asked. I said casually that this was probably because something about the offer didn’t seem right, that not enough information was offered upfront. Tom asked me what I meant and I told him, and then he asked me to write it down and show people as it was something that had never crossed his mind and so, perhaps, hadn’t crossed others either. So here we go:

When you ask me to come speak and I don’t really know you and/or your event, I want to know the usual stuff like type of event/what you want from me/date/ fee BUT I also want to know:

1) Location of event AND location of where you are putting me up.

The questions in my head are: Are they near public transport lines and how safe is it for me to travel with stuff between airport/station and hotel? Are they close together? Will I need to walk with heavy stuff in between them(especially if I’m doing a workshop)? Is the after party in a different part of town and will I be able to get cab? Is there a small shopping/eating area within walkable distance?

2) What are your policies if I have to pull out?

Women are statistically more likely to be primary carers for dependents – either children or elderly parents, often one and then the other. If my kid gets a cold my husband can take care of him but if he should get taken to hospital I will want to be with him. This shouldn’t put you off asking me (I’ve never had to pull out of an event yet) but you should consider what your backup plan might be. If you don’t have one, or you seem at all skeezy about this, it puts me off because I don’t want to piss you off if something does happen.

3) What have you organised for speakers?

Knowing you have arranged for me to meet some people and get to see a little of your town makes me feel like you want me there, and that you are looking out for me. A speakers’ dinner so I can meet some folks (doesn’t need to be fancy) and some suggestion of places to go means I won’t feel like the only safe and sensible thing for me to do is to eat at the hotel and stay in my room. I don’t know that your city is fine to walk round apart from any area with East in the name, so I really appreciate guidance.

4)Who else is going?

Even if I’m the only woman speaking, do you have others involved with organising and volunteering? Is there someone I can chat to at a speakers dinner if stuff gets a bit Sports! or Linux! or Snazzy Ties!, or if someone a bit creepy comes and bothers me at the after party (it happens, sadly). My experience is the more balanced the attendance of social events, the less likely the conversation skews one way or anyone gets creepy too. And, regardless of gender, who else is speaking or attending that I know? I’m much more likely to say yes, if I know there will be a couple of friendly faces.

Basically, I’m working out if I’m going to be sat in a small poky hotel near a conference centre two miles outside the nearest town for three nights, or trapped in a swanky hotel in a financial district of a city that shuts down at weekends having flown in Saturday morning for something starting Monday, or if I’ll end up wandering alone round a town centre at chucking out time, carrying my heels, trying to get a cab to get back from an after party that all the young, hip things are still enjoying while I have to leave at 7am to get back to my family – all of which have happened to me before.

It’s a sad but true fact, as a woman I am more vulnerable and have to weigh up the risks and rewards of exploring new areas when traveling alone. I don’t believe there is a rapist hanging around every street corner of every town but I do believe there is one around some corners, and sadly you don’t know which ones. Knowing that organisers have considered the location of their accommodation, planned some things for me to do and spent the time finding the number for a reliable cab firm for me to use, means I am much more likely to say yes if you ask me to speak.


Getcha Content Strategy Workshop here, cheap as chips!

Ridiculously small fee of £300 to have me present a day long content strategy workshop at your company, good for the next 12 months. Very limited numbers. email or at-reply me @RellyAB to get booking details.

As many of you lovely people know, I am a freelance Content Strategy consultant. I specialise in teaching CS skills and helping companies use these as part of their web strategy, especially as part of a multidisciplinary approach. I think it’s pretty important that every company with a web presence has an opportunity to make content creation into something that makes them money as opposed to simply costs them money. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to do that too, once you see how it works. With that in mind, I’ve created a workshop that I can take in-house to organizations and get everyone together to work out what they need to be doing and when. I am going to ‘soft-launch’ this via Twitter and my blog, with an introductory price so I can make some bookings and, quite literally, get this show on the road.

Here’s the deal:

I will come to your company and do a day long workshop with you and your team – web team, marketing team, director of happiness – whoever you think should hear more about the why, how and when of making great web content. I’ve done this workshop around a dozen times in varying formats, for Higher Education, non-profits, huge organizations and small start-ups, but I will also take plenty of instructions on how to target it to your needs. We will cover research, planning, creating, governance and selling content internally. To give you an idea of what we might do, I would expect to cover some research work around user personas and design personas, and feeding those into useful tools for content planning such as scenarios and content mapping. Next would be planning content – so taking those scenarios and content requirements and turning them into page tables and tone of voice/style guides, and talking about how these slot into the creation process. I’d cover editorial calendars and how the content touches everything from big articles to microcopy like error messages. We’d then have a go creating an article while looking at story shapes that work well to deliver content online, before moving onto various ways to test content and measure effectiveness from all kinds of key performance indicators. Finally, I’d finish up with selling these skills and their results to clients (and/or colleagues). It’s a lot to fit in but I do make sure I leave everyone with a good bundle of resources to follow up on.
Also, it’s fun – and it involves cutting and sticking. You can have up to 25 people in one session.

And the fee for this wondrous content strategy smorgasbord of delights? A paltry £300 (+VAT). This is, in all sincerity, A STEAL. And VERY, VERY LIMITED in number and time. You won’t have to take your socks off to count them all. You might not even have to take off your other glove.

Cost and booking:

You agree to pay my travel and a hotel for the night (two nights if you aren’t in the UK) plus my fee for the workshop of £300 (+VAT). If you don’t have a date in mind, or you need time to organize your team, it’s cool. I will send you a shiny booking confirmation and honour any booking for within the next 12 months. I will try and do whatever date you want, outside of any travel commitments I already have. Best thing is to give me a choice of three dates and we can come to an agreement from there.
To book, you will need to be able to pay in full for the workshop by paypal or bank transfer. This is non-refundable. Email me at or send me an at-reply on Twitter (I’m @RellyAB) to let me know you want to book, and I’ll send you the paypal/bank transfer details.

I am also happy for groups of freelancers or meet-up groups clubbing together to share the workshop, but you are responsible for finding a venue (and a projector, or I have to draw my slides and my stick men always look like they’ve had a can too many of Special Brew). Numbers are limited to 25, which is £12 each for the workshop (plus my travel/venue/VAT). The very organized and entrepreneurial amongst you may even be able to charge a fee that raises money for your group.

I don’t expect this to be a long-term deal because I like things like paying bills and eating more than economy beans BUT I do want to get this going, so it seems a good start to offer this to my Twitter and blog friends (and their friends too, of course).

Looking forward to meeting bunches more of you in person!


Obligatory trumpet blowing

Some comments about Relly’s online classes:

“Totally amazing and incredibly useful!” – Jo Lankester

“I’d absolutely recommend @RellyAB‘s course. It’s been so useful to me. I’m really delighted.” – Pam McCormac

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Relly’s class and would definitely recommend it to others! It’s been very useful.” – Phil Matthews

… and about her conference presentations:

“…This is the best presentation I’ve seen in ages.” – Mark Boulton

“Someone give @RellyAB her own conference – and then a medal. Superb.” – Owen Gregory

“@RellyAB was a highlight this year – she is a fantastic speaker. Loads of laughs and plenty real points made too.” – Rachel Andrew

“Truly the best presentation of the conference [Web Directions South]” – James Fehon

Doves and Eagles

Thing 1, aged 6, wrote a poem today:

Doves and eagles
Are the finest birds in the world.
Parrots are funny.

I love birds
I love bugs too
But I think birds are the best.

Robins are beautiful.
Puffins are cute.
The birds that I like the best
Are doves and eagles.

So are rabbits and I love birds.
Ducks are birds but I don’t think
Ducks are the best sort of birds to choose.

I love birds
I love bugs too
But I think birds are the best.

Look ma, I’m a coder now!

Speak and Spell tou

Speak and Spell tou
Last week I had the great fortune to attend Seb Lee-Delisle’s fabulous creative javascript course for non-coders. It was brain-bending and tiring and frustrating and eyeopening and amazing. What did we do? Over the course of two days we went from ‘so, er, what’s javascript?’ to ‘hey, check it out, I’ve made a simple particle system and it changes size and colour too!’.

There were 10 of us (8 gals, 2 guys) from a variety of backgrounds but all with the common thread of not really having much to do with code. Seb took us through some basic drawing commands (using HTML canvas, not that it made much difference what we were drawing on) and the first hour or so was spent making wobbly aliens. In fact, have a look at mine. (works best in Chrome). Better than that, I (mostly) understand what I wrote to make it happen. There was a lot of experimenting and happy accidents throughout the course. As an example, when I made that alien, I edited and re-edited several commands to work out why the circle I drew was the size it was, or why it was a random colour or opacity and then scribbled down lots of notes.

The thing that was so good about this course was not only was it very visual – you could see the results of what you had just done, then and there – but it was a great way to learn the building blocks of programming slowly, being able to ask dumb questions and finding others nodding along too. Being a nerdy child, I learned to code in Basic when I was around 5 and was pretty darn competent age 9 or so (before someone told me that girls don’t code and I was letting the side down). I was delighted to find the stuff lodged in the back of my brain – dusty and ignored for a couple of decades – were still relevant, things like loops and arrays and variables. Though the syntax and language was different the fundamental stuff seemed to be the same. Not that this gave me much of a head start, as Seb’s examples were really clear and almost everyone was ready to throw in their own ideas and tweaks in no time. Every new tweak elicited an ‘oooooooh!’followed by some frantic cog turning to work out why what had happened did happen.

This course doesn’t make you a fully proficient javascript wizard in two days but it does give you a working glossary of examples and ideas to understand what the hell your developers are going on about. I have a much deeper appreciation for the detailed eye required to create good clean code, and I’m much less impressed by people who can create wobbly aliens for show. And you can definitely go on from here to become a javascript whizz.

As for my next step, I’ve bought a book on Processing and I thought I might give Corona a poke about. That and my blog will soon have a big, blobby, random rainbow particle system for a background. MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

And just to show how easy it is, Seb made this adorable video:

Bermuda shorts: an analogy about data and context

Terrible terrible shorts.

This is a cautionary tale about interpreting people by data alone. I have sometimes told it to clients and they have found it helpful so I’m going to share it here too. It’s also about Bermuda shorts. I’m aware as I get older that some of you whippersnappers born in the 90s (is that legal?) may not be aware of the fashion tragedy that were these hideous neon clashing geometric print garments, so I’m going to make a huge sacrifice of dignity here:

Terrible terrible shorts.

Yup, this is yours truly. In my Bermuda shorts. And in the 80s they were everywhere.

Actually this is me on holiday, in a Caravan park, probably about 1988. Every photo in my album from that year, bar a Christmas day shot and a school play, has me in Bermuda shorts. So, clearly, despite their obvious hideousness I loved them. I mean, they probably had to peel them off me to get me in my costume for school. I bet I had them on underneath. Out of 18 photos of me in this year, only 2 were with no visible Bermuda-ing. Relly x Bermuda 4 EVA.

Except, here’s the thing. I bloody hated Bermuda shorts. Not in retrospect, I mean that I hated them at the time I wore them. I especially hated the pair above. I think my ‘arms pulled down in front of me’ stance was probably in some vain attempt to hide their hideousness. Even the dorky cardigan knitted by my mother seemed a better bet. So, if I hated them so much why am I wearing them so often in my photo album? This is a question of choices and context.

1) I was 8. And 8 year olds in the 80s didn’t choose their own clothes. They got what their mothers bought them, like it or not, and at this time if you wanted shorts you got Bermudas because that’s what there was to buy. And when my mother came to pack  the suitcase for our annual holiday I needed shorts.

2) All my pictures were shot on film. My parents were not photographers. They bought around 3 rolls of 24 exposures a year. One for Christmas, one for holiday and one for their kids’ achievements – plays, assemblies, choir trips etc. It should also be noted that my dad was exceptionally gifted at getting his thumb part way in front of the lens and never remembered to turn the flash on when it was dark. This meant that a disproportionate number of shots of me that made it into my book are taken outside, on a sunny day, on holiday. The conditions were optimal for my dad getting a picture of me and optimal for me to be wearing the aforementioned loathed clothing. The reason for taking various photos, ‘I should get some photos of my daughter to remember her when we were 8 and on holiday’ or ‘I should take some photos of my daughter while she is 8 and singing in a choir inside on a wet day’, were essentially that same but the context dictated whether my dad would be successful in getting a photo that you could put in my book.

Why do I bring this up? I have talked about my Bermuda short problem when clients are looking at analytics and data they have taken and are using that to try to work out what their users are doing the most/least/longest/fastest etc. It is easy to see the data form a beautiful line and get excited. I try and encourage people to look at their content and its related data and ask

What choices do your users have? Are they truly engaged or are they doing this because they have to – you have offered them no alternative? Have you packed their suitcase with ten pairs of horrible shorts?

What is the best context for success? How could you create content that works in other contexts? Is one context blurring your requisites for success by being naturally easier to work with? Can they take a picture on a wet indoors day as well as a sunny outdoors day?

Is the way you are capturing your data introducing bias? Is self-selection an issue (ie, with surveys)? Is one topic wildly more popular than another but measured on equal terms? Are you only taking photos three times but measuring a whole year’s outfits by it?

None of this is revolutionary thinking but I have found the Bermuda shorts analogy has helped people understand what I mean by different interpretations of the same data – data without context, and data with. To measure successful content, you need data and context. Otherwise, you are assuming that doing something a lot means that your user likes it.


Why I like International Women’s Day.

International Women's Day logo

International Women's Day logo


I’ve seen a range of grumbling on Twitter today from chaps who think International Women’s Day is inherently unfair and not doing anything for equality. So, I thought I’d post some interesting titbits.

1) There is an International Men’s Day on the 19th November. As there should be. Men have plenty of gender-based issues that should be given more public awareness – things like childcare inequality, value within a family unit and men’s health issues to name just a few.

2) International means just that. While you may see your female co-worker doing exactly the same job as you and wonder what the fuss is about, Plan UK highlights the inequality for girls the world over, with their campaign Because I Am A Girl. Forced marriage, no access to education, childbirth while still a child and female genital mutilation is a reality for millions of young girls. Feel free to sponsor a kid to help them out of that situation. Plan will help you select an area of the world and the gender and age of your sponsor child if you like. This isn’t to say bad things don’t happen to boys, of course they do. But girls are traditionally less-valued than boys and are more likely to die before they reach their fifth birthday in many communities. They are often seen as a commodity to be traded, rather than people. And helping girls in this situation is actually the key to helping boys too. By educating young girls, they are more likely to remain healthy, will marry at a later age and for every year they are in education they are likely to increase their earning capabilities to pull themselves and their families (including their sons) out of poverty. Those sons will come to respect women, and will break the chain for their own wives and daughters. According to Plan UK, 75 million girls worldwide are missing out on this opportunity.

3) Of course, it isn’t all roses in the garden back home either. This Sunday, Celibate men will use their pulpit to decree gynecological health care cover for women to be a sin. This reinforces the message that sex is only for within marriage, and marriage is only for making babies, and that none of this ever requires any sort of medical assistance. (For those of you still wondering if there is a gender neutral campaign to support, you could do worse than to examine the Catholic Church’s stance on the abuse of children within its care. Systematic and Industrial Scale are two phrases that spring to mind. But women wanting to opt out of babies. That’s the worst.) Access to advice on reproductive issues, abortion and contraception is increasingly under fire for reasons of religious dogma and cost-cutting.

4) Contraception issues leads me in a round about way to the thorny issue of child care. Did you know, in the UK a chauffeured car is a business expense but child care is not (outside of the fundamentally flawed voucher scheme)? I can tell you from experience this makes running any kind of business hideously expensive. Most of my money goes on childcare. Without access to contraception, I’d have several more children by now (assuming my fertility holds up) and I’d be at home, unable to work because the cost of childcare would be too great – and frankly, I’d be too knackered. Sex is the glue that holds relationships together (sorry if that’s, er, too visceral an image). Those relationships are often what support a happy family life. If a family choose to have lots of kids and one, or other, parents wants to stay at home that is *fabulous* – but that’s a choice. Not because of a dictat from men who have forgotten about women.

5) The recent round of cuts in the UK impacts on women disproportionately, often because women are more likely to work part-time, contract or on lower-wage jobs around childcare, so much so the Fawcett Society launched a legal contest in the High Court. (If you don’t have children, ask yourself – do you know what to do with a 5 year old for six weeks in the summer if you’re needed at the office everyday? Nurseries are for up to 5. Summer schools are usually for only a week or two and not all kids are suited to them. People live further away from families now to be close to their jobs. The only option is to drop out of the career circuit and take a job with some flexibility – McDonalds is meant to be excellent for its flexible working policies. Yup, I wrinkled my nose too but those kids aren’t going to disappear.) I’m lucky to have work that means I can be flexible. And by flexible, I mean I can piss off a certain number of clients by saying ‘sorry, I’m not available for six weeks’ and hope they come back to me in the future, oh and also out of pocket for a month and a half.

6) And let’s just go back to your female co-worker, doing the same role as you chaps, there is an excellent chance she is on up to 20% less than you. There is some hope: in the UK, women in their 20’s are earning around 3.6% more than their male counterparts but if you account for money lost to maternity leave (women are likely to be the primary caregivers) or to being someone’s carer (ditto), she will likely earn significantly less across the course of her working life. Not least because a spot in the boardroom is still pretty unlikely for her, so much so the EU is planning to intervene to much ire from the business community. Interestingly, this was introduced in Norway and found to make for better business, as found by Agnes Bolsø’s independent research.

These are not exclusively women’s issues but they are all issues that impact on women, often disproportionately. Even if we only have one day a year in which the media, social networks, and you and I discuss them the impact of that is not to be undervalued. That’s why I like International Women’s Day.

The 3 ingredient biscuit for entertaining small people.

a baked biscuit

I have moved this over to my recipe/parenting blog. The 3 ingredient biscuit

New New Adventures

Trent speaking at New Adventures
Trent speaking at New Adventures

Trent Walton by Drew M on flickr

I’ve just got back from Nottingham, where I went to volunteer for a second year at New Adventures Conference. I joined the merry band of volunteers last year after Colly kindly invited me to come to the first event for free and I had a Skype conversation with him asking if there was anything I could do. After a little prodding, he said he would like a little help with registration (as I had done the honours at dConstruct for a couple of years) and there was some minor editing to do on the first newspaper if I had time to cast an eye over it. In the end it was quite a lot of editing, as we begin to read the articles back-to-back, and could see how we could bring some of themes of individual articles together but that early preview already told me that New Adventures (NA) 2011 was going to be a special event.

The day itself was amazing, hiccups around queues and the like aside (at one point we had a queue around the block in -4 when everyone decided to arrive at 9.30am!), and come 6pm pack up I was rolling up tubes of branding and already hoping Colly would put on another one. The moment he announced he was taking the plunge for 2012, I signed right back up for more editing and volunteering.

Volunteering at a small (ish!) conference gives you a unique perspective on what it takes to create an event. I saw speakers in the aptly named green room looking a bit sick as they walked towards the stage, and flushed and grinning as they walked back. I saw the Audio Visual team working away like pros. I saw Colly arrive at 7.45am on three hours sleep. I saw newspapers come out of their wrappers and ready to be devoured. I saw volunteers pull on t-shirts and gamely volunteer to swap shifts so everyone could see the talks they wanted to. I saw people taking seats, full of anticipation, chatting with neighbours and comparing notes on the night before.

I saw the amazing team behind the scenes at the Albert Hall conference centre making everything run like clockwork – including one memorable moment when towards the end of the day a couple of guys decided they might try their luck at nipping in and seeing if there was anything laying around to help themselves to. Know that your iPads and MacBooks were defended by one of the security team, who was clocking off at that point, and that he gave chase half-dressed! One of the scallies (to use the regional nomenclature) was half-way to the stage when he was apprehended. I almost wish he’d got there. Imagine 1 scummy thief vs 500 geeks. “Officer, it was the man in the checked shirt wot punched me!”

I saw attendees talking about what they had just seen on stage, about beer, about making stuff together, about being part of a community. I loved being able to give just a small bit back by volunteering. I was assigned the role of dealing with anyone difficult (Colly even had a one-off t-shirt printed just for me with ‘New Adventures in Fuck Yeah!’ on it to denote the level of kicking ass and taking names I was responsible for) but – light fingered outsiders aside – I had an easy, enjoyable day. Colly and Greg had taken a lot of the feedback from attendees, sponsors and volunteers last year, such as my request for first name registration to spread people out more alphabetically, and made it a reality. A special sort of reality that you only get with the attention to detail the two guys put in. Colly was putting in a good number of hours a day in the run-up to ensure as many people on the waiting list got tickets wherever possible, that signs were printed ahead of time, and that the volunteers had everything we could possibly need to do the best we could for attendees.

But, even as a so-called writer, I have to admit that words wouldn’t do it justice. I wanted to show people what it looked like, how special it was to be a very small part of – so, wobbily shot on an iPhone by me and edited beautifully by my husband, here’s NA 2012 from my perspective:

New Adventures conference 2012 from nicepaul on Vimeo.