Street art tour in Manchester’s fashionable Northern Quarter

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Hayley Flynn aka Skyliner

Manchester is brimming with street art and the Northern Quarter, playground of the hip crowd, has probably attracted more than any part of the city.

I took a walking tour with award-winning local expert Hayley Flynn AKA Skyliner. I learned more about the street art I had seen and was guided to pieces I would have missed on my own.

Hayley’s knowledge of the history of the Northern Quarter was extensive, giving us background on each artist and work.

Delivered with great humour and a true passion for our burgeoning city of Manchester.

Look up!

These days we can find our tendency to look down at our phones means that we miss the beauty and spectacle in our own surrounding. So, using my  mobile purely for its camera function I set off on a mini adventure.

I’m not going to give a blow by blow account of the tour or tell you where you can find the art – you really should try Hayley’s tour  yourself.

Below is selection of my snaps from the tour. Find out more at Skyliner.org

 

Stand up to your public speaking fears

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John Cooper of Comedysportz

John Cooper of Comedysportz

I’m not someone who has a ‘bucket list’ as such. But I am a great believer of putting yourself outside your comfort zone, especially if it helps further your ambitions.

Public speaking is one the areas I’d love to improve in. I’ve done a few bits and pieces for Manchester Girl Geeks but would like to build the confidence to give longer talks and workshops.

This week, I stretched myself by signing up (and showing up) to John Cooper’s ‘Present Yourself’ workshop in Manchester.

John is a stand-up comedian, writer, illustrator and part of the Comedysportz line-up of talent.

I met him a few weeks ago at Bliss Group‘s ‘Laugh Your Head Off’ workshop where I enjoyed a brief comedy writing exercise he shared with us.

I had so much fun with that I decided to brush up on my presentation skills with John’s public speaking workshop which builds confidence by using a variety of games and activities.

It was great to join a mixed group of men and women of all ages, backgrounds and reasons for wanting to develop their public speaking skills and confidence.

Here’s a few things that we tried out at the workshop.

Danish Clapping

Fast action hand clapping game done in pairs.  The rules are very simply, when your gestures match you high five your partner. Sounds simple right? Try doing this at high speed with someone you’ve not met before – a great ice-breaker high energy and lots of fun!

There are also more advanced variations of the game with multiple players, but to see what we did at the workshop you only need to watch up 1m 14s – after that it goes into some more complicated options!

Speak for a minute

Each of us were invited on stage to talk for a one minute on a subject of our choice. Because of the small group (15 of us) and John’s use of games and activities as a warm up, everyone felt comfortable (enough) to get up on stage and have a go.

The interesting thing about ‘speak for a minute’ was that our performances weren’t timed. Without this discipline most of us performed for two to three minutes, something than John re-assured us was quite natural.

The spontaneity of the exercise generated a wide range of topics, ranging from grumpy bus drivers, lawn mowing techniques, beauty treatments, the futility of bacon and long-distance relationships.

I really relished the opportunity to get up on stage to try out my own material and even got some laughs which was really thrilling. Who knew my brother’s daily porridge ritual would go down so well?

OK, so what next?

1. Go to another one of John’s ‘Present Yourself’ workshops, each one is a bit different so it would be a great way to develop my skills and confidence.

2. Consider signing up for the more in-depth courses offered by Comedysportz – now just decide between improv and stand-up…

Become comfortable with being uncomfortable

This is mantra that was repeated by the guy who used to run the circuits class at my gym. I started off hating this phrase but it helped to numb the pain of squats an star jumps and I slowly bought into it.

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Truth.

Here are some things I’ve done in the past year which encroached on my comfort zone:

And here’s my list of ambitions from January – it’s definitely in need of a review!

Last minute New Year’s resolutions

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Enjoying the ball pool during with Girl Geeks in Manchester Science Week

It’s the last day of January and I still haven’t committed my New Year’s resolutions to digital pen and paper. I’ve needed to mull them over, organise them and let them settle.

I am not telling myself that I have to do all of these things. The list will also serve as a reference for longer-term aspirations.

Write more

This doesn’t just mean on my blog, but in my personal journals. Taking time to reflect on events and share my experience in a way I find comfortable.

Put pen to paper

Remembering that in an age where we can send a sentiment in a few seconds by text or messaging, the effort put into sending your thoughts through a physical medium speaks volumes.

Nail nutrition

I have been working hard for some time to find a healthy balance in what I eat an drink and continue to be guided in this. Today I made my first green juice.

Hit the gym (more)

Something I do already, but need to establish some firm habits. Went to my first Pilates class in an age this morning. It was tough but exhilarating.

Exercise elsewhere

I got a FitBit. It tracks lots of things like heart rate and sleep, but also very tangible and motivating things like daily number of steps and flights of stairs climbed. I’d like to walk at least 6,000 steps even on the most sedentary day.

Monitor my moods

I haven’t done this for quite some time and it will be interesting to see how the Mood Meter data fits in with what the FitBit captures in terms of wellbeing.

Reset my daily reminders

I use iCal to set mini prompts for me each day to make sure I maintain balance in life. These change from time to time so I need to get rid of any reminders that just aren’t relevant any more.

Develop my own ‘colour my week’ calendar

I’ve been experimenting in Google Calendar with a way of colour coding activities depending on how demanding they are so I can get balance across the week. A definite work in progress.

Read actual physical books

Instead of / as well as the many online articles and ebooks I dip into. I love the feeling of having a book in my hands

Speak more

Pick up the phone more often and meet friends in person. It’s too easy to rely on the convenience of email and messaging to make contact.

Put on an event

Happily I have achieved this already. I put on a ‘Meet the Bloggers’ event as part of Manchester Girl Geeks last weekend with six fabulous speakers. The room was packed the other volunteers, and folks at MadLab, made it a great and popular session.

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Me (front), with the Meet the Bloggers line-up. From left to right -Gill Kieran, Claire Gowler, Rosie Campbell, Natalie-Claire, Clare Sudbury and Sophie.

The event stimulated a lot of conversations between the bloggers and guests which carried on into social media after we’d wrapped up for the day.

I was particularly delighted when one of the attendees, Chrissy, wrote about how the panel discussion given the confidence to promote her own blog Making It Mindful.

My Week In Happy: Soaking up the Gong Bath

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With gong practitioner Martyn Cawthorne at his home Gong Spa

It is Saturday and a rainy Manchester afternoon and, along with two friends from Manchester Bliss group, are visiting the home of Martyn Cawthorne – gong practitioner and founder of Gong Spa.

Martyn gives the three of us a warm welcome before inviting us to prepare for the ‘gong bath’ which we have all enthusiastically signed up for.

What is a gong bath?

He describes the experience as:

“A unique experience in which you are bathed (clothes on!) in the sounds and vibrations of the gongs, which lend themselves to enhanced states of well-being, relaxation, happiness and pleasure.”

I’d had one previous experience of taking part in a large gong bath in a church hall, but what Martyn has to offer is a small, safe and intimate space which could be shared by up to three people.

The space is calm and softly lit, with four impressively large gongs suspended from a frame in the room and another resting on the floor. Other instruments are scattered around the room and will form a part of the gong bath experience.

We have a quick chat with Martyn about our needs and reasons for being there, before settling down on a bed and wrapping up with blankets. He explains to us that as the gong bath experience can be both physically and mentally intense, he’s going to give us a relatively gentle time.

What happens in the gong bath?

The session is an hour long and it’s important to feel comfortable. We’re  provided us with some egg-shaped shakers should we wish to indicate that the gong sounds have become too intense (we didn’t need them).

Once relaxed on the bed, the time seemed to speed by. Martyn opens the session with some ambient gong sounds before building up the intensity and varying the soundscape with other percussion instruments.

The vibrations from the gongs were instantly relaxing and I felt the sounds resonated throughout mind and body with a calming richness.

What does it feel like?

I felt my mind begin to turn over thoughts as it prepared to relax and let go, it was then that I started to locate the sources of tension in my body.

First comes a fluttering sensation in my side, before I develop an awareness of where the tightness across my shoulders originates – this makes me mindful that I need to take care of my posture each day.

As we opened our eyes at the end of the gong bath, it soon became clear that we had all had powerful but very different experiences.

One bather was so relaxed that she fell asleep (this is apparently quite common and does not prevent the gong bath from working). Another spoke of the vivid images she’d visualised.

We all felt that the gong bath had been deeply beneficial and wished to return, either alone or with partners.

Where can I take a gong bath?

Taking a gong bath aids meditation and is great for relaxation either individually, as a couple or a group.

Gong Goodies

Gong Spa – home of everything gong including dates of gong baths in Manchester and surrounding areas

Northern School of Soundsmiths – learn to craft sounds for your enjoyment and the benefit of others

Gong Spa Experiences – tracks to relax or meditate to – available to download

My Week In Happy: NQ Noms and Ladies That Launch

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Tuesday

I’ve noticed a recent trend to revive the term Cottonpolis as an alternative name for Manchester. This refers to the textiles industry on which the city built its wealth and global economic standing.

First it was the Women’s Institute – they have a Cottonpolis branch based in Ancoats, to the north-east of the city centre.

And then just the other week a lavish new eatery opened in Manchester’s fashionable Northern Quarter, also proudly bearing the Cottonpolis title.

The restaurant is located on Newton Street, the less developed end of the Northern Quarter. Indeed, the frontage is so unimposing that I managed to walk straight past it!

Once inside, a weird optical effect also rendered @cubicgarden and @si_lumb invisible. Though later on we were successfully located by @herbkim.

The menu at Cottonpolis revolves around Japanese inspired ‘small plates’ – ideal for tasting a number of dishes – good, fresh and cooked to order.

Thursday

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Proudly wearing her  Principia flight badge*

Had it broad daylight @ohlittlechief and I would have found ourselves in the shadow of the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank.

But it was 6.30pm and very dark when we arrived for a ‘Girls Night Out’ event put on by Manchester University.

Libby Jackson, Astronaut Flight Education Programme Manager at the UK Space Agency gave us a great introduction explaining how studying science – and a lot of dedication – had got her into her current role.

We then had the opportunity to try out some fun engineering tasks, including launching rockets and operating a robot arm.

But the highlight of the evening was getting a picture of @ohlittlechief posing with one of her heroes – the soon-to-be British astronaut Tim Peake*.

Tim’s launch in the Soyuz spacecraft from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, to the International Space Station will take place at 11:02 GMT on Tuesday 15 December. Read loads more about the big event here and use #BritInSpace on Twitter.

*It may not have been the real Tim Peake but a well-lit cardboard cut-out.

My Week In Happy: BarCamp bits and pieces

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I was lucky enough to attend the first day of BarCamp Manchester 2015. Having been to the previous year’s event at SpacePortX, I expected great things. I wasn’t disappointed.

The venue was AutoTrader, the same place we used for Manchester Girl Geeks’ Mini BarCamp (aka BraCamp) back in May.

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Massive thumbs up to @GirlGeekUpNorth and her fabulous team for putting on the best event of this type that I’ve ever attended.

I’d like to pick out a few highlights from Day 1. With it being an ‘unconference’ format where speakers are giving talks in a number of rooms at the same time, it feels important to say that there was lots of brilliant presentations / discussions I didn’t make it to. Check out the @BarCampMCR Twitter feed for a fuller picture.

If you haven’t heard of a BarCamp before @teknoteacher does a good job of explaining how it all works (film shot by @ColetteWeston).

Interactive fiction

This was a strong theme at this year’s events with @GirlGeekUpNorth demo-ing “The Dark Room” an interactive video-based adventure game built by linking YouTube videos together. This is fiendishly difficult to complete. You have been warned!

Elsewhere, @teknoteacher was giving a very quick tutorial on using storytelling software Twine to teach people who are new to coding how to create their own text-based adventures.

Crosswords

A great little session by @stecks @aPaulTaylor and@Andrew_Taylor running through the most common types of clues for cryptic crosswords and how to identify them. I haven’t done a crossword for ages and this really rekindled my interest in them.

Coding

Computer programming is always a popular area at BarCamp, and a lively debate was provoked by @RosieCampbell‘s talk on stereotypes applied to coders. This branched into a fierce discussion on whether computing should be taught as part of the curriculum.

Living in a van

So, @tdobson and @czmj2 live in a van. They both have full-time jobs, so how have they managed? A great story about how they’ve made it work for them. Cue lots of questions re parking, sanitation and wireless connectivity!

Music

Next to @erinmaochu‘s ‘Crowdsourcing a recycled Manchester robot orchestra’, a project which will be part of the line-up for Manchester’s stint as European City of Science in 2016. It was great to witness the potential for collaboration erupting in the room as several people, including @matthewshotton, excitedly shared their own experiences with robotics and music.

There’s lots of great geeky, science and tech events going on in and around Manchester (and in fact the whole of the NW). You can find out more at: