I check my CafePress shops for sales regularly, and one came up in my feed that I realised was absolute genius, and I hadn’t intended for it to be at all!  Someone had purchased one of my Periodic Table themed babygros with the element Plutonium design….. The chemical symbol for Plutonium is “Pu”.


I’m so pleased that my customers are at least as geeky as me!


Ah, Lemmy, we miss you already.  Many a night of mine was spent in The Salisbury, or Jilly’s, listening to your back catalogue.  Just like Kenny Rogers, you also get the sceptical treatment from me.  Thing is, I was turning over the words in my head, and something just didn’t add up…

(lyrics courtesy of Google Play)

If you like to gamble, I tell you I’m your man,
You win some, lose some, it’s all the same to me,
The pleasure is to play, makes no difference what you say,
I don’t share your greed, the only card I need is
The Ace Of Spades
This song is quite obviously about life being a gamble, and the desire to take risks, and have a reckless and fun time.  But dig beneath the surface, and we can turn it into a mathematical problem (“Hurrah!” I hear you cry).  There are a few specific instances in which the Ace Of Spades would be the only card you need, but I’m not sure that those instances are the ones given below.
Playing for the high one, dancing with the devil,
Going with the flow, it’s all a game to me,
Seven or Eleven, snake eyes watching you,
Double up or quit, double stake or split,
The Ace Of Spades
It sounds like we’re talking about Blackjack / Pontoon here, but it doesn’t entirely make sense. I’m unsure of the meaning of “seven or eleven” here, as in Blackjack you might talk about an Ace (of any suit!) being worth 1 or 11.  “Snake eyes” is a roll of two dice, getting a 1 on each die. So now we’re talking about the use of dice, too… I don’t know what this has to do with Blackjack, or the Ace of Spades, but I did find out about a dice-rolling drinking game called 7s, 11s & doubles, that Lemmy could be talking about.
You know I’m born to lose, and gambling’s for fools,
But that’s the way I like it baby,
I don’t wanna live forever,
And don’t forget the joker!
The joker doesn’t play a role in most casino games, although it can be a Wild Card.  Maybe that’s the point – that it’s wild and dangerous, and represents taking whatever chances you can.  We only get one go at life, and would we want more than that?
Pushing up the ante, I know you got to see me,
Read ’em and weep, the dead man’s hand again,
I see it in your eyes, take one look and die,
The only thing you see, you know it’s gonna be,
The Ace Of Spades
The Dead Man’s Hand refers to a two pair hand in poker, made up of the black eights and the black aces.  According to legend, this is the hand Wild Bill Hickok had when he was shot dead during a poker game.  “Seven or Eleven” also has a meaning related to the Dead Man’s Hand, according to an early 20th-Century superstition.

Songwriters: Clarke, Edward Alan / Kilmister, Ian / Taylor, Philip John
Ace Of Spades lyrics © EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

So it actually seems that the song has nothing to do with Blackjack at all.  My interpretation is that it’s about living a dangerous and exciting life, much like that of Wild Bill Hickok.  Knowing that death could be around any corner, and laughing in its face anyway – sounds a bit like Lemmy: “I will be killed by death. I might be killed by too much booze, women or music, but it’s not a bad way to die.”.  Well, I’ve learnt a lot.  Mainly that there is no hidden mathematical message in the song (sorry, numerologists!).

I’m glad I put the time into figuring this out.  A song that I’ve heard thousands of times, yet never knew the tale behind it, or fully understood the metaphors.  But the reason it’s such a successful rock song is that its catchiness and appeal rely on its brevity.  Maybe some people don’t even listen to the lyrics, but the song is recognisable & powerful, and unmistakably Motorhead.  And just as per my last foray into literary analysis, here’s the track on YouTube:



This is one of my favourite songs (I do like a bit of Kenny Rogers), mainly for the meaning I attach to it (it was part of some advice a friend gave me before I delivered a speech to a packed-out lecture theatre).  And because it’s a song I hold in high esteem, I feel it deserves the sceptical treatment.  It’s jam-packed with beautiful metaphors. So let’s take a look at it, line-by-line:

(Lyrics courtesy of

On a warm summer’s eve
On a train bound for nowhere
I met up with the gambler
We were both too tired to sleep
So we took turns a-starin’
Out the window at the darkness
The boredom overtook us,
And he began to speak
A nice way to set the scene.  I’ve been that person on the train many a time, awkwardly avoiding eye contact with other passengers, until one of us summons the courage to see what will happen if they break the very British taboo of engaging in conversation with a stranger.
He said, “Son, I’ve made a life
Out of readin’ people’s faces
Knowin’ what the cards were
By the way they held their eyes
So if you don’t mind me sayin’
I can see you’re out of aces
For a taste of your whiskey
I’ll give you some advice”
Our stranger has some valuable advice to impart: his experience has taught him to get the measure of other people, to suss them out and use that information to his advantage.  He can tell from our traveller’s demeanour that they are down on their luck.  He’ll pass on some information, but only as part of a fair exchange – the gambler knows which currency to use to get a good deal.
So I handed him my bottle
And he drank down my last swallow
Then he bummed a cigarette
And asked me for a light
And the night got deathly quiet
And his face lost all expression
He said, “If you’re gonna play the game, boy
You gotta learn to play it right
The trade takes place and our gambler begins his tale:

Our traveller has to take life seriously and learn to make the right decisions to get what they want in life – to game the system.

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for counting
When the dealin’s done
It’s important to recognise which risks are worth taking, which ones are not, and to realise when you’re about to get conned.

Don’t put make yourself vulnerable by revealing what assets you have, take stock of your own situation in private so that others cannot take advantage of you.

Every gambler knows
That the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away
And knowin’ what to keep
‘Cause every hand’s a winner
And every hand’s a loser
And the best that you can hope for is to die
In your sleep
Experience will teach you how to make the best of every situation.  You can use some of what life throws at you to your advantage, and some thins you have to just let go.  And sometimes that means making unpleasant and ruthless decisions.

Whatever situation you find yourself in; you can choose to make the best of it, or not.  Life’s a gamble and you have to learn the odds.

Life, and death, are uncertain and inevitable.  Hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst, and play whatever hand you’re given.

And when he finished speakin’
He turned back toward the window
Crushed out his cigarette
And faded off to sleep
And somewhere in the darkness
The gambler he broke even
But in his final words
I found an ace that I could keep
The old gambler has given his advice, lived his life to his satisfaction, and now his time has come to die.  He succeeded at life, and death, and so broke even.

Our traveller takes on board the gambler’s advice, and sees a moment of purpose in the gambler’s death.  His legacy will live on in the wisdom he gifted to the traveller.

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em (when to hold ’em)
Know when to fold ’em (when to fold ’em)
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done

Songwriters: SCHLITZ, DON
The Gambler lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

And here it is, on YouTube.  I’ve had this on repeat so, so many times.  Resist it, I challenge you!


Being a relentless perfectionist (I have severe OCD), I often struggle to embark on a big task.  This is quite a common problem in academia, with many an essay being composed in the 48 hours before a deadline.  However, I see a mountain to climb where others see a grassy hill with lambs skipping and rainbows overhead.  When this happens, two immediate thoughts spring to mind:

  1. I could do this task with my eyes shut, and I’ll do an amazing job!
  2. If I don’t do it all in one go, and perfectly, it’s a failure.

This is not a good mindset for actually getting stuff done.  It’s like procrastination on crack – I ruminate about the task, feel rooted by the inertia, worry that I haven’t done anything, find it impossible to make a start, feel it’s pointless to try, then panic and repeat.

Sometimes the things that “normal” people take for granted are much tougher for those with a mental illness. I’m still the same person that I was before I got ill, and I’m still just as intelligent and capable, but my illness is like a big weight dragging my mind down, and imposing conditions that I cannot meet. A friend gave me some advice (which my psychiatrist thought was sensible), to forget (ok, that bit’s impossible) about crossing items off my to-do list, but to consider it an achievement if I can do something towards a task.

I know that realistically it is untrue that leaving a task unfinished is a Bad Thing. But I need to convince my brain of this. My strategy is to say that even if I can’t find a way of breaking a task down into smaller packages, I’ll just do 30 minutes of it and then take a break. This is the principle of the Pomodoro Technique, a thing I learnt about at Uni, and that one of my work buddies also uses. It’s also important to look back over what I have achieved and reflect on the fact that I did actually do something with my day.

One way of doing this is by composing a Gratitude Diary, although I have modified the concept slightly.  At bedtime, I take a moment to write down what I have achieved in the day (because I’m grateful that I was able to function) but I also use the next page to plan out my tasks for the following day.  It doesn’t have to be a comprehensive list (in fact, it shouldn’t be, because if I tried to note every single thing that needed doing, I’d overstretch myself and defeat the point of making a daily list).

And writing this post was one of my bitesize tasks.  Twenty minutes of doing something I love but struggle to begin.  And now it’s finished and I feel pretty good.  This one’s going in the diary.


Hey y’all!  I’m catching up on posts and what-not, but while I’m working on that, I can post something quickly right now; to promote my fundraising for Mind.

Here’s the link to my Virgin Money Giving page, with more info about what I’m doing, and details of crazy challenges I’m taking part in in addition to the run, to act as an incentive for donations.  I will, of course, be posting my exploits online….

Also, here is some more info on the Great Manchester Run.  It’s an annual 10K event, and this year it takes place on Sunday 22nd May. You can run for charity, by yourself, with your colleagues, and there’s stuff for people of all ages.  Oh, and it’s on the telly!

And, of course, Mind do a lot of important, useful, and relevant work.  Maybe you don’t know much about them, which is understandable if you’ve never been affected by mental health problems (good for you, and long may it continue).  But I can’t think of any good reason to not support their work.  Check out their website:

And in case you’re not all that bothered about clicking on my sponsorship plea link, check out the weird stuff I’ve promised to do at each funding milestone, and see if you still feel that way:

  • When I raise £100, I will dye my hair bright purple.
  • When I reach £250, I will wear this purple dragon onesie for the whole week after the event: Zicac Unisex Adult Anime Cosplay Costumes Onesie Children and Adult Pajamas Pyjamas Sleepwear Nightclothes Cosplay Gift For Hallowmas (Adult Height 160-169cm(63″-66.5″), Purple Dragon)
  • At £500, we’re doing seriously well.  If I raise this much, I will wear my pants outside my trousers, and a cape, for every day since the target is reached until the day of the run.
  • For £1000 in donations, I will bake or buy a cake to be shared among my donors and their friends every day for the two weeks following the target being met.
  • £1500 would be amazing!  If we can do that, I will eat only purple food for a month (this includes dyeing regular food purple, so I won’t end up malnourished!).
  • If I reach £2000, not only will I be seriously pleased and astonished, but I will also bestow the honour on you of designing a tattoo that I promise to get tattooed somewhere on my body!  When the £2000 target is reached, I will open a competition for you to submit your designs, and I will put all the entries on this website and let you (and anyone else who’s looking) vote on the preferred image!

Exciting, huh?  So if you want to see a tattoo competition (and photos of the outcome!) on my website, you’d better be generous!


Seeing as I’m one of the organisers, it’s only right that I promote the event on my blog.  This coming Monday, 21st March, it’s the next PubhD Manchester: this month on Psychological Sciences, Collaborative Performance, and Philosophy.  It’s a pretty brainy line-up; we hope you’ll have a stimulating evening!

Speakers: Monday 21st March 2016 – PubhD Manchester

We are at the Crown and Kettle, one of my favourite Manchester Pubs. It’s near to Piccadilly Station, and a short walk from Market Street. We are in the Snug, a room as cosy as it sounds. Real ale, a real fire, and a real good time. Join us for an 8pm start.


Some friends of mine have a project running on Kickstarter RIGHT NOW (it ends on 23rd Feb 2016), and I thought I’d publicise it here, as it’s so close to reaching its target, and more importantly, it’s bloody brilliant and needs to happen!

This is the total today, 14th Feb 2016 at 16.11:


Only £346 to go!!!!!!!!

It’s a book of sceptical and political cartoons, challenging irrational beliefs and conventions.  It’s almost guaranteed that there will be something in there to offend everyone, but don’t worry – you have the right to be offended as long as others have the right to offend!  And that’s kind of the point.  When people cling to dogmatic beliefs, there is no space for critical thought, and we end up moralising based on emotion rather than rationality.  thINK is designed to make you do just that – think about why people believe what they do, and expose dodgy ideas for what they are.  And what better weapon to do it with than humour?  They say the pen is mightier than the sword, but a sharp wit is the most incisive.

You can support the project here:

“thINK – a book of incendiary cartoon scepticism”

It’s a worthy project in its own right, but as with most kickstarter projects, there are some awesome goodies available for those who contribute!


Wow, I sure haven’t posted for a while!  Things have been pretty tough for me the last couple of months, with everything seeming either mentally or physically exhausting, or both.  And when this happens I sort of withdraw into myself, and do the bare minimum to get by.  With a reduced number of spoons, I have to use them wisely.

But now things seem to be improving for me, and I feel more able to do all those things I had exciting plans for. Like:

  • Blogging about all the things on my list (seriously, I have about 200 draft posts in the queue, some almost finished, some just a title).  Maybe I can go back and fill in the gaps since the end of September – although I will still have plenty of material to carry me on for three years minimum with the backlog.
  • Actually selling some stuff on my etsy page.  I’m thinking about creating a tattoo art shop, mainly selling flash and  prints (I’m not qualified to tattoo… yet).  And maybe promoting my cafepress store a bit better.  Hmmm.
  • Finally getting my Northern culture blog going.  It’s going to be good, and will celebrate all things from the North of England, from the obvious to the obscure.
  • Redrafting my first year report and actually doing my year one viva.  Remember this post?  Full of hope, and with a date set, I was ready to get stuff done and breeze into second year.  Didn’t happen.  My day job became more intense, I became iller, and I started to shut down.  But, being self-funding, and having the world’s most laid-back supervisor (this has its pros and its cons), I got to take my time and get back on my intellectual feet.  Blogging’s not the only thing I took a break from.
  • Reconnecting with friends.  When I feel low, my natural reaction is to go away and hide.  This is actually a really bad idea.  Withdrawing myself from other people reinforces the reason I feel so crappy in the first place.  Forcing myself to do something I like brings my mood up, gets me back into a good routine, and always makes me feel glad I made the effort.  But it does feel like an effort, and I have become a pro at putting off things that I know I need to do.
  • Carry on getting better.  I know that I might lapse at times, like the last few months, and that I can’t predict when or why it will happen.  But I know it will pass, and the trend is upwards overall.


Anyone remember the hilariously inappropriate bedtime recording by Samuel L. Jackson of Go The F*** To Sleep by Adam Mansbach?  Well, I feel like I’m living a version of this, in a battle of wills against my naughty child brain.  The rational me wants to have a proper bedtime routine, with things happening at the usual time of day, to have a normal body clock, to be able to cope with the demands of everyday society (not fit in, I definitely do not want to Fit In).  And the loud and pushy irrational me is excitable and tense, worrying that there is still more to do today, and it all has to happen RIGHT NOW OR ELSE BAD THINGS. And it’s All The Things.  Never any one thing is more important, my mind is like a butterfly, catching the last precious minutes of the day and stretching them into hours.

I struggle with this procrastination routine every night.  It’s like I am frightened to put the day to rest, not fully realising that I have another day tomorrow.  And if I could only get up on time, I could do all the important stuff then.

And just for all the new parents, insomniacs, and those with a dark sense of humour, here is Mr. Jackson’s soothing voice for your pleasure and amusement.  Sweet dreams.


 hug mug I made a sound investment today, with my Hug Mug purchased from the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons at Manchester University. I now have a portable coffee cup, and even better, it serves as a thinly-disguised sippy cup for adults – something I have been waiting for since the age of about 5 years. I can now safely transport my hot beverages, and avoid spilling my drink down my front (this still happens, and I’m in my 30s. It’s probably downhill from here anyway).

It’s made of plastic with a rubber insulated panel, and it has an easy-to-seal lid (very important, as disposable lids are the bane of my life). It cost me £6, and it gets me a 20p discount on coffees purchased in university buildings – so it will have paid for itself in 30 uses (so after about a week then). And I can use it for cheapo instant crap too – no-one can tell but me! Of course, the 20p saving is a great incentive to not fill the environment up with discarded paper cups (or worse, polystyrene), but it saves the university a bit of money too, which they pass back to consumers.

Mine is the same brand as the one in the ad above, but it looks like you have to spend a bit more online for the colourful options available in the link.