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aloysius_bear
The week before last, my primary human and I took a trip up to Hebden Bridge to attend a week-long tutored writing retreat at Ted Hughes' house, Lumb Bank. We felt a great sense of nostalgia on arrival as this was where my human finished the first draft of her novel, back in September 2015.

Lumb Bank 1

The workshops were enhanced by beautiful table decorations, and there was much literary discussion.

Lumb Bank 2

While my human worked hard at her writing, I enjoyed the glorious view from our attic room:

Lumb Bank 3

The weather was wonderful all week, so we did managed to get outside at some points to enjoy the lovely grounds:

Lumb Bank 4

We may not have felt it so much back in London, but spring had definitely sprung up in Yorkshire!

Lumb Bank 5

There were lots of flowers to appreciate, so we did our best:

Lumb Bank 6

We made some new friends, my human wrote an entirely new story, and there was much enjoyment in listening to the other writers' work on the last night.  It really was a joy to be back at Lumb Bank, and I hope we will go there again in the future.
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My primary human and I were invited to go to Chipping Norton Literary Festival by the lovely friends we met at NAWG Fest last September, and we very eagerly accepted. It was great catching up with them, and I particularly enjoyed seeing Nawg Dawg again, not least because it meant I got to travel in style (rather than my usual transportation of being stuffed in a bag...):

Chip Lit 1

We met lots of bookworms scattered around the town in honour of the festival, and they were a friendly bunch:

Chip Lit 2

The sessions we attended were excellent, though a little hard on the wallet because we wanted to buy all the books being promoted by their authors. We ended up with a reasonably restrained haul of five:

Chip Lit 3

We managed to find time to wander round the town and admire the picturesque countryside:

Chip Lit 5

Then, I decided to get an early night, while Nawg Dawg rejoined the humans to take part in the quiz - and it all went a bit off the rails...

Chip Lit 6

The team made a decent showing and ended up solidly in the middle on the scoring, while my errant young friend found a novel use for one of the answer sheets:

Chip Lit 7

I can very safely say a marvellous time was had by all, and I shall look forward to reading my human's reviews of the books we bought!
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This past weekend, we travelled up to York to see a Blackbeard's Tea Party gig and do a really fun escape room. Rather than book into any mundane, boring type of accommodation, we stayed on a boat!

Boat 1

It had a permanent mooring, so didn't actually go anywhere, but I enjoyed pretending to be captain anyway:

Boat 2

It was so much bigger and wider than the narrowboats we were used, we generally forgot we were even afloat:

Boat 3

My humans argued a bit over how much bigger than our flat the boat was, but it's safe to say it was bigger:

Boat 4

It had a lighthouse motif that was repeated throughout the boat in various guises, and one of them was looked after by these friendly gulls:

Boat 5

In between our schedule activities, we took a wander round The Shambles, and stopped off for some refreshment at Hebden Tea:

Boat 6

We saw someone making fudge through a shop window and had to stop and purchase some - it was yummy:

Boat 7

We came across this fine, furry fellow, who was happy to pose for a photo:

Boat 8

This gentleman was less enthused:

Boat 9

But the sparkly hedgehogs of the yarn shop were very gracious hosts:

Boat 10

Board games were also purchased and played, so it was an awesome combination of many activities the humans really enjoy - and a good time was had by all!
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Our last stop on our US trip was New York! My secondary human was there last summer, but my primary human and I were new to the city, and initially a little overwhelmed. Still, this friendly fellow was right outside our hotel to welcome us! He's apparently a firebird, but he looks a lot like a Canadian Inukshuk to me, and we became fast friends:

New York 1

On our first afternoon in the Big Apple, my secondary human took us to Top of the Rock, the viewing platform at the top of the Rockerfeller Centre. My primary human was a little unsure about this, but the views were spectacular, especially of Central Park:

New York 2

My primary human was doubly amused and pleased to find a Dean and Deluca coffee shop on the same block as our hotel. This is not only the place where Felicity works throughout her time in New York in the show, Felicity, from the 90s, which we watched all the way through last year. It is also where John Green and Maureen Johnson used to meet up to write in the mid-2000s, and where he first told her about the Brotherhood 2.0 project, which spawned Nerdfighteria, so it brought us full circle to the reason we were in the US in the first place! The Jasmine and Orange Blossom tea was also extremely nice:

New York 3

My humans have a somewhat romantic connection to the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, which unfortunately didn't have any water in it when we visited. The trip was also slightly overshadowed by my primary human identifying the location as the setting of several important scenes in John Wick and John Wick 2, which rather dampened the romantic atmosphere:

New York 4

Another entertainment-related connection we made was to the Dakota Building, which you can just about make out through the tree I'm sitting in! This was the point from which the protagonist embarked on his trip through time in Time and Again by Jack Finney, a book we discussed for a family book club session a couple of years ago:

New York 5

One of the highlights of the trip was walking the High-Line (see what I did there?), a disused elevated train line, which has been transformed into a well-designed and very attractive pedestrian walkway. We unfortunately couldn't appreciate its true beauty, since there was little foliage in evidence at the start of March, but we did find some lovely blossom to admire:

New York 6 After all that walking, it was time for some refreshments, which we found at The Sugar Factory, where the bartender provided much entertainment by mixing ridiculous cocktails involving dry ice and jelly sweets. I enjoyed a giant milkshake with my secondary human, while my primary human was stuck with chamomile tea, as she was watching her sugar intake (honest!):

New York 7

After a much-needed rest back at the hotel, we took an evening stroll to Grand Central Station, where the humans yet again demonstrated a conflict in their associations. My secondary human brought to mind the sad and romantic conclusion to The Fisher King, whilst my primary human lowered the tone by reminiscing about the Hulk punching Thor in the face during the climax of Avengers Assemble:

New York 8

On our second full day, we took the Staten Island Ferry in order to view the Statue of Liberty from a short distance. The photo of that didn't come out very well, so here's me enjoying having the ferry viewing promenade all to myself:

New York 9

One of the new friends we made in Boston was Nicola Tesla, so we couldn't resist this shot when we spotted the sign for Nicola Tesla Corner near Bryant Park on our final morning in New York:

New York 10

Our main activity for the morning was to visit the New York Public Library, which has some spectacular rooms and ceilings - and also housed Winnie-The-Pooh and Friends:

New York 11

And what better way to pass the time before we have to go to the airport, than by enjoying some lovely tea and cakes at a posh French bakery:

New York 12

After a slightly anxious start, I have to say we ended up having a great time in New York, and we were glad we had decided to extend our trip to include a few days there.

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After NerdCon, we stayed in Boston for a couple of extra days, and saw the sites. This mostly involved walking the excellent Freedom Trail:

Boston 1

This is the 'new' Massachusetts State House, which its famous golden dome, the gold of which was originally taken from the South in the Civil War (so the building isn't that new...):

Boston 2

This is a memorial to Robert Gould Shaw, who took command of the first all-black military unit in the US Civil War. The memorial is unusual because it shows him with his men, rather than it just being a statue of him on his horse.

Boston 3

This is the Boston Democratic donkey, so placed in front of the town hall because Massachusetts habitually votes Democrat.

Boston 4

And here we have the 'old' Massachusetts State House, which displays the British symbology of lion and unicorn, which is why it was replaced by the new building.

Boston 5

We heard a great deal about Paul Revere on the tour, and all the many things he's remembered for doing, a lot of which he actually didn't. But he still gets a quite impressive statue:

Boston 6

The guided tour section of the trail only took us so far, so we continued on to cover the rest of it on our own. This was very easy, because it's actually embedded in the street so you always know where to go:

Boston 7

On our second free day in Boston, we walked to Harvard, over a bridge where the distance is measured in Smoots. This is the height of a particular MIT student from some time ago, but the new students each year have to repaint the markings, so they will always stay fresh.

Boston 8

This is Memorial Hall on the Harvard campus, which contains a dining hall and an auditorium for important speakers:

Boston 9

This is the famous statue of John Harvard, which isn't actually of him at all, because no records of what he looked like survived by the time it was built:

Boston 10 

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped off at MIT to complete our university tour:

Boston 11

Overall, our time in Boston was very educational and also fun.
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This past ten days, the humans and I have been in the US, and the reason we went was to attend NerdCon: Nerdfighteria in Boston on 25-26 February. This was a convention organised by Hank and John Green in their guise as The Vlogbrothers from YouTube, to celebrate the community (called Nerdfighteria) that has sprung up around their videos. The opening ceremony started with a retrospective video, charting the history of their collaboration and achievements, and it made my primary human cry.

1 NerdCon

The back of the programme featured the community's catchphrase, which are definitely words to live by:

2 Words to Live By

The first panel we went to was Healthcare Triage Live, hosted by Aaron Carrol, who does videos about the US healthcare system and answers general health-related questions from viewers - it was both fun and interesting:

3 Healthcare Triage

Nerdfighteria is an inclusive community, and we were impressed by the alteration of the standard bathroom arrangements:

4 Bathrooms

My primary human and I went to NerdWrito, as session where we were given three prompt cards and then had 40 minutes to compose a story based on them - she managed a complete story which she then entered into that week's Hour of Writes competition:

5 NerdWrito

There were lots of Nerdfighters in awesome t-shirts, but we particularly liked this one, especially when combined with a knitted Hanklerfish hat:

6 Hanklerfish Hat

We saw Hank and John themselves from quite some distance away, during the live recording of their Dear Hank and John podcast, which features news from AFC Wimbledon and Mars, dubious advice, and frequent discussion of death:

7 Hank and John

We also went to what turned out to be a really great presentation about the music that has come out of the Nerdfighter community, or is associated with it. The only reason we went was so as to get a good seat for the panel that came after it, but we really enjoyed this:

8 Nerd Punk

The main reason my primary human wanted to go to the con was to meet her favourite YouTubers, Jonathan and Ben Carlin, who do videos about Disney films, Harry Potter, and Marvel. They did an entertaining presentation about How To Not Suck At Vlogging, and were kind enough to pose for a picture afterwards:

9 J and Ben

We were also pleased to get the opportunity to meet Rosianna Halse Rojas, who makes very good videos about mental health, literary books, cooking and general life skills. She seemed a bit bemused by my request for a photo, but was very gracious about it:

10 Rosianna

Rosianna led the NerdFighter Book Club session on the Sunday afternoon, and there was a really excellent discussion of Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size Of A Fist, by Sunil Yappa. This is just one page of the many notes my primary human made about the book:

11 Book Club

In the main merchandise space, there was a wall with various questions posted on it, where attendees could share their experiences of Nerdfighteria, and it certainly got a lot of use over the course of the weekend:

12 Nerdfighteria

Overall, we had a great time. There was a huge range of different sessions to choose from, everyone we met was really lovely, and it was well worth the trip to the other side of the pond.

We extended our visit to Boston for a few days after the con, but that's for another post later in the week...
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My primary human and I took a very pleasant walk around Chinatown and its environs yesterday, with one of my human's friends, who helped us see things in a more artistic light. First of all, though, we stopped off to say hello to this fine fellow:

Chinatown 1

There was lots of tasty food on display to tempt us, but we refrained, since we were due to meet my secondary human for dinner later:

Chinatown 2

Resisting was particularly difficult when confronted with these amazing cakes!

Chinatown 3

So, we turned our attention to more creative thoughts, and I discovered my human's friend has a very good eye for photography:

Chinatown 4

My human had a go as well - with, um, interesting results:

Chinatown 5

We unexpectedly came across Agatha Christie and stopped for a chat:

Chinatown 6

Our walk ended in Trafalgar Square, where I took a moment to relax and enjoy the view:

Chinatown 7

Many thanks to Geena for her excellent company and photographic skills - we shall have to do this again sometime!

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Last week, my primary human and I took a very pleasant trip down to Dartmoor:

Stickwick 1

We were staying at Stickwick Manor, not far from Newton Abbott, where a group of writers had gathered for some welcome time away from daily life, to focus on their writing:

Stickwick 2

Some of the rooms were very luxurious with masses of space and opulent trimmings:

Stickwick 3

But we were much happier in our smaller, much cosier accommodations:

Stickwick 4

There was a big window, which provided a beautiful view out over the fields:

Stickwick 5

We found this intriguing door, but of course did not venture in, since we were there to work hard!

Stickwick 6

We did take a lovely walk on one of the days - after all, exercise is important to get the creative juices flowing:

Stickwick 7

There wasn't much interaction with the other residents during the day, but we generally gathered in this very comfy lounge an hour or so before dinner, to catch up and relax:

Stickwick 8

Everyone was very lovely, and the food was amazing, and my human very much enjoyed the time away.


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Back in the first week of December, my primary human and I took a trip up to the Moniack Mhor Writing Centre, a 30 minute drive from Inverness. The main building was an old farmhouse, with an interesting structure on the grounds, affectionately referred to as The Hobbit House:

Moniack Mhor 1

This was the view from our bedroom window - very atmospheric with all the mist. Perfect to gain inspiration for writing!

Moniack Mhor 2

The Hobbit House had two wood-burning stoves, but it was difficult to maintain a comfortable temperature in there. It always seemed to be either too cold or too hot. It was a lovely building, though, with seats all round the edge for group discussions or readings.

Moniack Mhor 3

On one of the days, we took a break from writing to go on a guided walk and discovered some lovely masonry in the woods:

Moniack Mhor 4

And when we returned, I found a friend to talk to on the grounds of the writing centre:

Moniack Mhor 5

I can't claim to have written much myself, while we were there, and it's taken me rather a long time to complete my account!  However, I heard tell that the tutor-led workshops were really excellent, and that my human had a lot of fun talking to the other writers. So, it was an excellent trip, all round!

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Welcome to the Oxenford Gatehouse, near Elstead in Surrey:

Gatehouse 1

It might look a bit forbidding at first, with these massive gates:

Gatehouse 2

And the key to the front door is far too heavy for me to lift:

Gatehouse 3

But, once inside, there's a lovely spot to sit and watch the cows:

Gatehouse 4

And the stone walls don't bar a view of the surrounding countryside:

Gatehouse 5

In fact, if you can reach the top, the view is quite expansive and very beautiful:

Gatehouse 6

There are mushrooms along the path:

Gatehouse 7

And a very restful moat - the perfect spot to enjoy the sunshine and watch the world go by:

Gatehouse 8

This small, but majestic building has a lot to recommend it:

Gatehouse 9

My human and I enjoyed the peace and quiet, away from the bustle of London.

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