28 Nov 2010

The big freeze...

I timed my exit from Canada, in part, to avoid the upcoming winter. It's not unheard of to get temperatures of -40°C in Toronto – the kind of climate that makes your teeth hurt after being outside for about a minute. So coming back just ahead of winter's arrival seemed like a smart idea.

So what happened last week?

This happened! I was visiting my parents in the Borders region of Scotland when I awoke one morning to five inches of snow. It's the most snow to hit Britain at this time of year for 17 years. Oh well, at least it feels mild to me now after living in Canada!

I've been back in the UK for three weeks and it's been very busy with us looking for a house to rent. After a speedy search in the Bradford area and a rather protracted affair with an estate agent, we have finally found a great house in Clayton Heights. It's an end terrace three-bedroom house which will give me a much-needed studio space. I start work again for The Globe And Mail newspaper in a week's time and the clock is ticking down. The new Mac system is ordered, the shipping has cleared customs and we need to buy a washing machine and a few bits and bobs. Then it'll be the dreaded unpacking – we have 90 boxes to sort through.

But it's not been all work. Last week we went to a wine tasting evening in a church hall in Heaton. Not something I would ordinarily have done, but what a laugh it turned out to be. I can now swill, gurgle and savour the bouquet with the best of them. You can't go too wrong spending £10 to get six glasses of red and white wine and a tasting lesson from a bloke from Oddbins.

As well as savouring the delights of the grape and searching for a new home, I've rebuilt my website.

I felt my previous, completely Flash-based, site was too bloated and cumbersome. I was never very happy with its navigation or the way it behaved in any browser other than Safari. Plus it was nigh on impossible for Google bots to get in there and catalogue its contents as it was one large 3 meg self-contained .swf file. What I've done now is revert to a simpler, and in many ways more elegant, html structure. I thought very carefully about user interactions this time and...

... how they would apply to iPad users. I've optimised the size of buttons for both computer and tablet platforms, so on a PC you will get some roll-over actions and on the iPad you will get some brief touch animations that make a wee difference to the overall experience. It's quite telling that I was able to build the new site using free time here and there over a month, whereas the previous Flash site took three months – spending a few hours on it almost every day.

I'm very much looking forward to my next post which will hopefully be filed from my new office, hurrah!

9 Nov 2010

Back in Blighty...

I have never written a blog in my life. To be honest, I'm not quite sure what I'm supposed to do, so I imagine this is going to start out as a ramble until I find my way with it. Please bear with me.

Cutting to the chase, I'm a British graphic artist who has been working predominantly in news media for almost twenty years. After five years working abroad, I've returned to the UK to go it alone.

The last two weeks have been a chaotic mixture of getting ready to leave Toronto, saying farewell to friends, buying too many pairs of Crocs, having last meals in favourite restaurants and drinking too much beer - although not necessarily in that order.

I had a lovely leaving do from The Globe And Mail, down the Welly pub ten days ago with just my closest colleagues sharing a few cheeky wee halves with me, yet it still somehow ended up with a couple of us being the last ones thrown out of a different pub entirely and not getting home until 4am. Oh, well. After the hangover had subsided (a day later), it was pretty much a melee of tidying up the apartment, doing bank-type things, signing forms, trying to remember what we'd forgotten to do, and saying farewell to our favourite veggie restaurants... dammit, we forgot to go to Utopia on College for a last bout of poutine, sigh.

Anyway, our shippers came to us bright and early on Thursday morning last week. They comprised of two lads with hands like shovels who zoomed through the apartment in eight hours, disassembling furniture and boxing and custom-wrapping everything (with awesome stuff called crubble - a mixture of bubble wrap and corrugated cardboard). Then they were off to Mississauga to load it onto a container and away it went - it's now somewhere around Halifax (Nova Scotia, not West Yorkshire... yet).

On our final Canadian weekend holed-up in the Holiday Inn on Bloor, we squeezed in a last boozy leaving party, a farewell curry, a bit of culture at the Chinese Terracotta Army exhibition and finally a trip up the CN Tower. Then, before we knew it, we were on a flight to Manchester that got us back in a record-breaking 5hrs 40mins.

We arrived to a very soggy and chilly Britain and soon, confused and jet-lagged, I was stumbling around Morrisons supermarket looking for comfort food I've been unable to acquire since moving abroad - Monster Munch (18 bags for £2), Wensleydale cheese (cheese is at least half the price it is in Ontario), Heinz Baked Beans (now comes in fridge tubs), sage and onion slices, 'proper' coleslaw... oh the list goes on and on. Lunch comprised of a chip butty and after reading The Sun, I can safely say that I recognised about 10% of the people they were dishing the dirt on.

After a restless night's sleep, today is my first full day back in Blighty. It's still raining but not quite as badly as yesterday. I'm still knackered, but not quite as much as yesterday. I have a long list of things to do (like find somewhere to live) but it's slightly shorter than it was yesterday.

There's a lot to sort out in the next three weeks but it doesn't seem quite as insurmountable as it did yesterday.