March 2021 Newsletter

Background

As has become usual, there have been a number of minor releases in the wake of version 5.6 which was released back in December, 2020. They typically comprise bug and security fixes. There were two releases on this occasion: 5.6.1 (February 3rd, 2021) and 5.6.2 (February 22nd, 2021).

Version 5.7 of WordPress was released on March 9th, 2021. See the Release Notice for full details. The WordPress 5.7 Field Guide provides more technical information if you are interested.

WordPress 5.7

This release concentrates principally on polishing the block editor. There is still no sign of the promised navigation block (menus) or of block-based widgets. It seems to me that they will form part and parcel of Full Site Editing when that appears.

Other changes include: improvements to import / export; the ability to send a reset password link to a contributor to your site; two security-related additions; plus a range of updates which are aimed at developers of WordPress.

Full Site Editing (FSE)

FSE is the principal focus of phase two of the WordPress Gutenberg project.

Put very succinctly, the idea behind FSE is to provide the ability to visually customise the theme, as well as the content, rather than use the Customiser. This includes the likes of headers, menus, footers and sidebars.

However, FSE will only work with block-based themes. What are they, you might ask? Block-based themes are composed of block templates. This is all part of the move to the situation where everything in WordPress will be stored in blocks. Block-based themes are very new, and there are currently very few of them around at this time. An article in WPTavern on February 24th, 2021 indicated that there were only four in the WordPress.org theme directory at that time, and they are all described as experimental.

When will FSE appear? In WordPress 5.8, they say. As an old IT cynic, I think that towards the end of 2021 is a more likely date for the initial version.

What will FSE mean to you? Unless block-based versions of existing themes are produced, which I doubt, it should not affect you at all, assuming that you stay with your existing theme. But we shall have to wait and see.

FSE may be a brave new world, but it seems to me that it will take quite some time for it to become widely used within the WordPress ecosystem.

December 2020 Newsletter

Background

As has become usual, there have been a number of minor releases in the wake of version 5.5 which was released back in August. They typically comprise bug and security fixes. There were three releases on this occasion: 5.5.1 (September 1st), 5.5.2 (October 29th) and 5.5.3 (October 31st).

Version 5.6 of WordPress was released on December 8th, 2020. See the Release Notice for full details. The WordPress 5.6 Field Guide provides slightly more technical information if you are interested.

WordPress 5.6

The main features in this release include:

Block editor. Seven versions (8.6 through to 9.2) of the Gutenberg development project for the block editor have been included, along with relevant bug fixes and performance improvements that subsequently arrived in versions 9.3 and 9.4. The general focus can be described as ongoing improvements to the editor and to the user’s experience. However, two major developments, the navigation block and block-based widgets, which were scheduled for this release were pulled from it. This is not the first time that the navigation block has been pulled. Obviously, it is proving somewhat problematic.

WordPress.org. There are a number of updates which specifically apply to these users: support for PHP 8 which was released on November 26th, 2020; an updated user interface for auto-updates, allowing users to opt-in to major updates; and 11 updates to the Site Health Check function.

The Twenty Twenty-One theme is introduced. It is based on the lightweight Seedlet theme which was released in August, 2020. I have not previously made it clear, and I should have done, that new default themes which are shipped by Automattic, the developers of WordPress.com, are based on the block editor, i.e. they are not relevant to users of the classic editor. This started with the Twenty Nineteen theme.

What is Next?

One hopes that the navigation and widget blocks will appear in 5.7!? Meanwhile, development of full-site editing continues in the Gutenberg project. I am not expecting to see it before mid-2021 at the very earliest. I read somewhere that only block-based themes will support full-site editing. I will wait to see if this is true. If it is then there are not going to be many users of it for quite some time.

Stay safe.

Another threat to retire the WordPress.com classic editor (August 2020)

WordPress.com’s blog of August 13th, 2020 is entitled The Classic Editing Experience is Moving, not Leaving.

Read it for yourself. It appears to be saying that WordPress.com users will shortly be forced to use the new block editor. However, they can continue to use the classic editor functionality by using the classic block. In essence, when you open a post or page in the new block editor for the first time your content will be contained in a single classic block. If you want to use all the block editor facilities then you would use the “convert to blocks” function at that point. However, if you want to continue to use the classic editor functionality then you simply leave it as a classic block.

In summary, it appears that you are being forced to use the framework of the new block editor, but you can continue to use the classic editor functions if you so wish.

The blog says that WordPress.com users will receive an email when you are to be moved to the new block editor.

I will update this post if I see any further information on this subject.

August 2020 Newsletter

Background

As mentioned in the April newsletter, WordPress 5.4 was officially released on March 31st, 2020. There have since been two maintenance releases, resolving security flaws, fixing various bugs and introducing a couple of enhancements: 5.4.1 came out on April 29th, 2020; and 5.4.2 on June 10th, 2020.

This newsletter primarily summarises WordPress 5.5 which was released on August 11th, 2020. See the official WordPress 5.5 release post for more detailed information or the WordPress 5.5 field guide if you are looking for something that is slightly more technical.

WordPress 5.5

Versions 7.5 to 8.4 of the Gutenberg project (alias the block editor project) have been included in this release. The main features are described below.

The block editor user interface continues to be refined. It includes: further use of colour in an increasing number of blocks; control of the font size in various blocks; the introduction of some inline image editing facilities; copy / relocate blocks more easily; refined drag and drop mechanism; multiple-block selection; and extended use of HTML anchors. Two new features have been introduced under the title of block tools: some blocks, notably the paragraph block, will have a line height option; and the cover block will have a custom unit option to control its size.

Note – HTML anchors allow you to specify a link which takes the user to a specified place within a post or page, as opposed to the beginning. An anchor was limited to a heading block, heading level two only if my memory serves me correctly. It has now been extended to other blocks, e.g. paragraph blocks.

XML sitemaps have been introduced to make it easier for search engines to crawl the content of a site comprehensively and quickly.

Auto-updating of themes and plug-ins. It is now possible for WordPress.org users to set up their sites to allow these updates to be performed automatically. Control can be exercised at the level of an individual theme or plug-in.

Lazy-loading of images means that they will happen only when the user nears them on the page or post. On a long page or post the user may not actually reach some images, which therefore will not need to be loaded, resulting in a bandwidth saving / performance improvement.

The block directory has been introduced which allows WordPress.org users access to individual third-party blocks. Before version 5.5, sets of blocks were stored in the plug-in directory. A complete set of blocks had to be downloaded even if you only wanted one of them. The new block directory now allows you to access only the block(s) that you want.

Block patterns have been announced although they have been present on my version of WordPress.com for a number of months! Block patterns make use of the group block feature to construct more complex, ready-made blocks which can be inserted into your page or post and subsequently modified. A limited number of such pre-built patterns are available for use. This may (or may not) be an initial step towards giving WordPress a true page-building facility.

Preview. It is now possible in the editor to see how your page or post will look on a desktop, tablet or mobile device. Once again, this feature has actually been available on my version of WordPress.com for several months.

Accessibility improvements are part of an ongoing project. There are 34 updates in this release. See the field guide for further details.

Collaboration Software

Automattic, the owner of WordPress.com, has been using P2, a home- built piece of software, to allow electronic collaboration between developers for sometime. They are now making a beta version of it available to WordPress.com users. If you are interested then read this blog in the first instance.

What is next?

It is difficult to be precise about what will be in version 5.6 of WordPress, which is due out in December, 2020. Various projects are simultaneously in progress, but it remains to be seen which of them will be considered ready to be released in the next version.

Navigation blocks (alias menus to you and me) and widget blocks were both due to appear in 5.5. However, they were pulled from the release late on. Perhaps they will make it into 5.6?

Accessibility improvements will continue to appear, and there will no doubt be an assortment of other refinements and enhancements.

Another major project that is currently in progress is Full Site Editing (FSE). It is in its infancy at the moment, and so it is not totally clear how the detailed design will look. However, it can be said that in the FSE world everything will be a block. So, not just the content, as at present. Headers, menus, footers, sidebars et cetera will also be implemented as blocks. The basic idea, as I understand it, is that an outline of the site will be displayed on the screen. Clicking on a particular area of this outline will take you into the relevant editing process. I am sure that it will all be much more complex than my one line description makes out! I consider that FSE is likely to appear sometime in 2021, i.e. it is extremely unlikely to be in 5.6. Have a look at this useful article in wpengine to gain a better understanding of the background to FSE and the general direction of travel.

Confusion over retirement of old WordPress.com editor

Please note that this post does NOT refer to the WordPress.com blog dated August 11th, 2020.

A blog was published by WordPress.com on May 18th, 2020 which says ..

On June 1 we’ll be retiring our older WordPress.com editor and transitioning to the more recent (and more powerful) WordPress block editor. Want to know how this may affect your site and what you can expect? Read on.

Reading on only confused the hell out of me. Are they going to remove the Classic Editor on June 1st?!

One of the subsequent comments / replies finally clarified what they mean ..

Comment – As long as I can still fire up and use the Classic Editor, I’m fine . . .

. . . but this post is a bit confusing in that regard.

You open with saying you’ll be retiring the old editor on June 1st.

You then make the exaggerated claim we’ll love the block editor (I don’t know any blogger that loves it; I certainly don’t). The most asked question I get is how to fire up the Classic Editor.

You close the post with saying we can still use the classic editor.

What am I missing? What are you retiring on June 1st? Bottom line: are you keeping the classic editor or are you about to make many users unhappy?

Yes, yes, I’m not supposed to ask questions here . . . but then, why post at all?

Reply – Thanks for asking! Sorry for the confusion. To clarify, there are currently three editors available on WP.com. The older editor that we’re retiring looks like this: https://a.cl.ly/L1u7ldwB The two editors that will remain are the block editor which looks like this: https://a.cl.ly/BluZe4w5 and the classic editor, which looks like this: https://a.cl.ly/L1u7ldNK

To explain in words that I can understand .. at the time of writing, in addition to the new Block Editor, WordPress.com has two different front-ends which relate to pre-block editor times: the original vanilla-flavoured version where the dashboard has white text on a black background; and an “improved” version called Calypso (although that name is seldom used in any of their material) that was introduced in 2015. This newsletter includes images of both front-ends.

In essence, new WordPress.com users from around 2016 were presented with the Calypso interface, while older users usually had a choice of either.

This was all before the introduction of the new Block Editor in late 2018. The dashboard for the Block Editor is based on Calypso.

Their blog is effectively saying that it is Calypso which is being retired. This will leave the original front-end, now known as the Classic Editor, and the Block Editor.

The question is .. what will Calypso users see on June 1st, 2020? My money is on the Block Editor in an attempt to get them to transfer to it. If this happens then click on the three dots icon (near the top-right-hand corner), scroll down to the bottom of the menu and click on “Switch to Classic Editor” if you do not wish to use the Block Editor.

I will check to see what actually happens on June 1st, and make any necessary modifications to this post.

Another Table Test

Pierre de Coubertin

Pierre de Coubertin
Inventor of Modern Olympics

Telephone
Email Address

Pecuniary Interests

Pierre de Coubertin

Pierre de Coubertin
Inventor of Modern Olympics

Telephone
Email Address

Pecuniary Interests

Pierre de Coubertin
Founder of Modern Olympics
Contact Details
Pecuniary Interests

Lord Hawke
Cricket Captain
Contact Details
Pecuniary Interests

W. G. Grace
Cricketer

Telephone
Email Address

Pecuniary Interests

<table style=”height:10px;” border=”0″ width=”10″ cellspacing=”10″ cellpadding=”20″>
<tbody>
<tr>
<td><strong>Date</strong></td>
<td style=”text-align:center;”><strong>Agenda</strong></td>
<td style=”text-align:center;”><strong>Minutes</strong></td>
</tr>
<tr>
<td>10 Mar 2020</td>
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a href=”https://sunningdale-pc.org.uk/council-meeting-10-march-2020/&#8221; target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Read</a></td>
<td style=”text-align:center;”>Read</td>
</tr>
<tr>
<td>7 Jan 2020</td>
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a href=”https://sunningdale-pc.org.uk/council-meeting-7-jan-2020/&#8221; target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Read</a></td>
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”Minutes 7 January 2020 – Unapproved” href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2020/03/minutes-7-january-2020-unapproved.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
</tr>
<tr>
<td>12 Nov 2019</td>
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a href=”https://sunningdale-pc.org.uk/council-meeting-12-nov-2019/”>Read</a></td&gt;
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”Minutes 12 November 2019″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2020/02/minutes-12-november-2019.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
</tr>
<tr>
<td>1 Oct 2019</td>
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a href=”https://sunningdale-pc.org.uk/council-meeting-1-oct-2019/”>Read</a></td&gt;
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”Minutes 1 October 2019″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/minutes-1-october-2019-1.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
</tr>
<tr>
<td>10 Sept 2019</td>
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a href=”https://sunningdale-pc.org.uk/council-meeting-tuesday-10-sept-2019/”>Read</a></td&gt;
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”Minutes 10 September 2019″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/minutes-10-september-2019.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
</tr>
<tr>
<td>9 July 2019</td>
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”Council Meeting Agenda 9th July 2019″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2019/07/council-meeting-agenda-9th-july-2019.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/minutes-9-july-2019-.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
</tr>
<tr>
<td>11 June 2019</td>
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”Council Meeting Agenda 11th June 2019″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2019/06/council-meeting-agenda-11th-june-2019.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”Minutes 11 June 2019″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2019/07/minutes-11-june-2019-.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
</tr>
<tr>
<td>7 May 2019</td>
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”Annual Parish Council Meeting Agenda 7th May 2019″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2019/05/annual-parish-council-meeting-agenda-7th-may-2019.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”Minutes 7 May 2019″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2019/06/minutes-7-may-2019.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
</tr>
<tr>
<td>9 April 2019</td>
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”Agenda 9th April 2019″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2019/04/agenda-9th-april-2019-1.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”Minutes 9th April 2019″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2019/05/minutes-9th-april-2019.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
</tr>
<tr>
<td>5 March 2019</td>
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”Agenda 5th March 2019″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2019/02/agenda-5th-march-2019.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”Minutes 5th March 2019″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2019/04/minutes-5th-march-2019.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
</tr>
<tr>
<td>5 February 2019</td>
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”agenda5thfebruary2019″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2019/01/agenda5thfebruary2019.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”Minutes 5th February 2019″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/minutes-5th-february-2019.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
</tr>
<tr>
<td>8 January 2019</td>
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”agenda 8 january 2019″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2019/01/agenda-8-january-2019.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”Minutes 8th January 2019″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2019/02/minutes-8th-january-2019.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
</tr>
<tr>
<td>13 November 2018</td>
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”Agenda 13 November 2018″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2018/11/agenda-13-november-2018.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”minutes 13th november 2018″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2019/01/minutes-13th-november-2018-1.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
</tr>
<tr>
<td>9 October 2018</td>
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”Agenda 9 October 2018″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2018/10/agenda-9-october-2018.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”minutes 9th october 2018″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2019/01/minutes-9th-october-2018.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
</tr>
<tr>
<td>14 August 2018</td>
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”Agenda 14th August 2018″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/agenda-14th-august-2018.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”Minutes 14th August 2018″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2018/10/minutes-14th-august-2018.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
</tr>
<tr>
<td>12 June 2018</td>
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”Agenda 12th June 2018″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2018/06/agenda-12th-june-20181.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”Minutes 12th June 2018″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/minutes-12th-june-2018.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
</tr>
<tr>
<td>8 May 2018</td>
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”Annual Parish Council Meeting Agenda 8th May 2018″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2018/05/annual-parish-council-meeting-agenda-8th-may-2018.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
<td style=”text-align:center;”><a title=”Minutes 8th May 2018″ href=”https://sunningdaleparishcouncil.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/minutes-8th-may-2018.pdf”>Read</a></td&gt;
</tr>
</tbody>
</table>

April 2020 Newsletter

This newsletter coincides with the release of WordPress 5.4.

Contents

WordPress 5.3 Maintenance Releases
WordPress.com Changes
WordPress.com Block Editor UI Redesign
WordPress 5.4 Release
What is Next?
Accessibility
Notes on Using WordPress Forums

WordPress 5.3 Maintenance Releases

Just for information. There were two maintenance releases back in December 2019, 5.3.1 and 5.3.2, which comprised a small number of security and bug fixes.

WordPress.com Changes

Several recent changes have been made to WordPress.com which are not part of the Gutenberg project.

My Home is displayed on the Calypso interface after you have clicked on My Site(s) as part of the login process. It contains a number of quick links which allow faster access to various parts of the system.

Page Layouts. When you add a new page you will now be presented with a screen which allows you to pick a layout for it. I would personally call it a template, but WordPress uses that term in a different context. There is quite a wide range of layouts. If you are not interested in any of them then simply select the blank layout. This blog describes the feature in more detail.

WordPress.com Block Editor UI Redesign

This appeared in my WordPress.com account last Thursday (March 26th, 2020). The general layout looks more professional. It includes redesigned icons, better spacing, text colour options and a range of initial block patterns that can be incorporated into posts / pages. See the relevant blog for more information.

I must admit that I am confused with the timing of this introduction. The features recently appeared in Gutenberg 7.7 which, when you read the section below on the WordPress 5.4 release, you will see is post WordPress 5.4?!

WordPress 5.4 Release

The latest version of WordPress was released to WordPress.org users on March 31st, 2020. It will follow shortly on WordPress.com. It incorporates 10 Gutenberg development releases, from 6.6 to 7.5.

FYI – Gutenberg releases appear approximately once a fortnight. They are mainly for internal use by the WordPress developers although they are available as a plugin on WordPress.org for anybody who is brave enough to play with it (but this is absolutely not recommended for typical users or for use on production sites).

WordPress 5.4 could be best described as a release which concentrates on polishing the block editor. It includes:

  • A new Social Icons block which allows you to incorporate links to multiple social media sites by using their standard logos. This is the sort of thing that you see on many websites nowadays, viz. a row of social media icons
  • The revised Buttons block now allows you to set up multiple adjacent buttons
  • Various updates to the ongoing accessibility and privacy projects
  • Full screen mode in the block editor is now the default on a new WordPress installation or on a new device. This means that the sidebars to the left and right of the display of the post / page are not shown. If you do not like this setup (and I do not) then you can change it by clicking on the three dots menu item in the top right-hand corner and un-checking the full screen mode.

See the Release Blog for further information, while the WordPress 5.4 Field Guide contains much more technical information, if you are interested.

What is Next?

A quick reminder on the overall Gutenberg project. It is said that it will consist of four phases:

  • Introduction of the block editor in phase 1
  • Expansion of the block editor to encompass other parts of the system in phase 2, e.g. menus, widget areas and the Customiser
  • Collaboration and multi-user editing in phase 3
  • And multilingual support in phase 4.

We are currently in phase 2, and tentative dates for further releases in 2020 are August for WordPress 5.5 and December for WordPress 5.6. I consider that this phase will probably go into 2021. Obviously, any talk of dates is purely speculative at the moment, given the COVID-19 virus.

It might be useful to know that work on the various aspects of phase 2 goes on in parallel. Decisions on what will be incorporated in any given release depend on the stability of the relevant software at the time, and on whether it fits coherently into the overall design at the time. For example, the navigation block (the menu in old money) was considered to be ready to go into 5.4. However, it did not fit coherently into the current design, and so it has been put on one side for the moment.

Work on the full-site editing feature continues. A prototype was developed back in September 2019 if you want to take a look at how it might possibly appear. I suspect that it will be WordPress 5.6, probably later, before it is likely to be released.

The block directory, a home for third-party blocks, is currently planned for inclusion in WordPress 5.5. It will primarily be for use by WordPress.org users.

The ability for WordPress.org users to control the automatic updating of plugins and themes is also slated for WordPress 5.5.

Finally, XML Sitemaps can be used by search engines to discover the content on a website with less fuss. A WordPress prototype, implemented as a plugin, has recently been developed. Presumably, it will eventually appear in the core WordPress product at some point.

Accessibility

Here are some notes if you have an interest in this subject:

  • The majority of the current development work in this area tends to relate to the use of the WordPress software, not to the website that you create / update. In addition, any new features are likely to be limited to use with the new block editor, not with the classic editor
  • However, there is a WordPress project which has been set up to look at accessibility on websites. Their Accessibility Handbook may provide some useful information
  • There is a theme review team which checks new themes for various things, including accessibility. If a theme passes the checks in this area then it is deemed “accessibility ready”. This relates to the theme itself, not necessarily to the website that you design with it
  • If you are interested in WCAG compliance read this document from gov.uk

Notes on Using WordPress Forums

There is a set of forums for WordPress.com users and a separate set for WordPress.org users.

You can browse any of the forums without logging in. However, if you wish to participate, e.g. start a new topic, then you will need to log in with your relevant account details.

The forums are manned by a mixture of Automattic employees, WordPress contributors, volunteers and ordinary users like you and me.

Beware that if you ask a question which relates to the other set of forums, then you will be politely requested to redirect it.

Martin's Cheese Show

A visit to Martins restaurant became one of the highlights of our festival visits.  It was situated in an unprepossessing street off Rose Lane (Rose Lane North) that you were only likely to find by accident if you did not know that it was there. I am not aware that it was widely advertised, relying mainly on recommendations by word of mouth. The Good Food Guide, as guides are prone to do I am afraid, provided a somewhat dry description of the place which in no way did it justice. 

It attracted more than its fair share of celebrities; I read that Kofi Annan, replete with bodyguards, dropped in during the G8 summit. It was a relatively small and intimate place which was owned and run by Martin and Gay Irons, an extremely pleasant and unassuming couple.  The emphasis was on the use of high quality ingredients; a scallop dish that we had there was among the top two or three scallop dishes that we have had anywhere.  Overall, the food was of a high standard and the wine list perfectly satisfactory.  Service was excellent, being attentive without being intrusive, as it is in too many restaurants today where the emphasis seems to be on getting you in and out of the door as quickly as possible.

The pièce de résistance was what we fondly remember as “Martin’s Cheese Show” – they specialised in unpasteurized Scottish and Irish cheeses.  On earlier visits we had always been limited for time, rushing between shows, and consequently we never had time for a dessert.  However, we eventually managed to organise ourselves so that we could spend a more leisurely couple of hours over the meal. The restaurant was fairly full on the evening in question, but we were first to get to the dessert stage having been the earliest couple to arrive. Being a cheese lover my choice was a foregone conclusion.  Martin carefully threaded his way between the tables with the cheese trolley and the show, for that is what it was, commenced. 

It took over 10 minutes, as he put on a captivating and frequently amusing performance on a subject that was very obviously a passion.  He started with the Irish cheeses, introducing us to the likes of: Cooleeneye – made by Breda Maher in County Tipperary – he even produced a picture of Bridget the cow, one of the Kerry herd (although we did notice that Bridget seemed to change over the years!); and Ardrachan – made by Mary Burns in County Cork.  Moving to Scotland, he introduced Lanark Blue, regaling us with the story of how the maker, Humphrey Errington, was unsuccessfully pursued by the “cheese police” – a tale of failed attempts to outlaw so called dangerous, i.e. unpasteurized, cheeses. Errington’s Revenge, Martin’s name for an evil-looking, life-threatening cheese, eventually brought the show to a conclusion.

I had noticed that, as the performance proceeded, other diners gradually started to listen in, until by the end the whole room seemed to be in rapt attention, all equally enthralled by the performance, so much so that every table appeared to have at least one person that plumped for the cheese, and of course they were each treated to a performance of Martin’s show.  We sampled the show on subsequent visits and never tired of it. And yes – the cheeses were excellent.  If you are a cheese lover then a visit to one of Mellis’s excellent cheese emporia is essential, as some of the above-mentioned cheeses can be found there.

I originally penned this piece around 2005. Unfortunately, the restaurant no longer exists. A great loss. I have resurrected this content, along with other items that come under the title of Edinburgh Memories.

Breakfast at Sibbet House

Jim and Aurora Sibbet

We struck gold in our first year at the Edinburgh Festival when we picked Sibbet House from The Which Guide to Bed & Breakfasts, using that well-renowned and virtually infallible method of selection, “eeny meeny miny mo”.  It was run by Aurora and Jim Sibbet. 

When Janet rang to inquire whether there were any rooms available at the inn, we were fortunate to find that there was just one left. As repeated in the glossy literature that subsequently arrived, Jim promised over the phone to play the bagpipes at breakfast – but we went anyway.

The house had a wonderful hanging staircase that elegantly snaked its way up to the top floor. It was beautifully decorated and furnished by Aurora.  The highlight was a French style drawing room that looked like something straight out of one those country mansions where visitors are allowed to look but not to touch. Well, the room was for use by the guests although we sat down very gingerly on the first occasion that we eventually managed to summon up the courage to cross the threshold. 

The highlight was breakfast. Jim was “front of house”, with Aurora acting as the chef.  He was an assiduous host, deciding on the seating arrangements, and ensuring that he introduced the guests to each other. He used any foible or relevant point of interest to break the ice, along with the occasional subtle sales pitch: “these are the Cohens, Susan and Cal from Washington DC, festival aficionados who have been staying with us for the last 15 years”. 

Service was punctuated with: keen observations such as American guests’ use of cutlery – what are they doing with the other hand?; frequent demonstrations of his encyclopedic knowledge of bus routes for those requiring directions; taking bookings for bagpipe recitals after breakfast; and recommendations on places to eat, usually to the north of Princes Street, as he proclaimed that the Old Town was “foreign parts”. 

This was followed by the daily joke, two if you were lucky, delivered in a dry style, perhaps accompanied by an anecdote or apocryphal tale. This could be followed by: a lesson in business; reviews of the shows that Aurora and he had seen the previous day; the role of organised religion in modern society (well in any society actually); plus totally unbiased views on the political scene (?!). They were all among the many topics in his catholic repertoire.  It was always important to ensure that requests for extra toast were made between topics, so as not to disrupt the flow. 

There were occasional references to the chef, protesting that, while he had been married to her for over 40 years, it was never going to last.  Aurora’s arrival on completion of her duties in the kitchen was always the signal for a more in-depth discussion of the festival.

There was no discrimination: people of all nationalities, religions, political hues – even “woolly liberals” as he called us (for several years we used to sport a “Friends of the Earth” bag for carrying our bits and pieces around during the day) – were welcomed and encouraged to participate in the performance.  His virtuoso routine was typically completed in around 45 minutes, but those who were acquainted with Jim, as we came to be, knew that we had only to toss an appetizing snippet into the air on one of his other little specialist subjects to get the performance extended to an hour, possibly more: Human Resources (a job in one of his previous existences); the effectiveness of Edinburgh City Council – discuss; shocking changes in local architecture; or his latest property acquisition were all staple items. 

It was only the fact that the breakfast dishes were gradually disappearing around us, being quietly removed by a patient member of staff who had probably heard enough over the years to make a passable stand-in for Jim should the need arise, that we were eventually forced to face the day, and we departed to see some shows, have a few beers and a bite to eat, all to help kill the next 23 hours until it was time to experience this coup de theatre all over again.

This piece was written about 15 years ago, as part of our general Edinburgh experiences. I have resurrected it in honour of Jim Sibbet who is approaching his 90th birthday.

November 2019 Newsletter

WordPress Version 5.2 was launched back in May 2019. Three minor versions (5.2.1 through to 5.2.3) subsequently followed at intervals, consisting mainly of bug fixes with the occasional enhancement. 5.2.4, a security fix release, appeared a month ago.

The latest major version, 5.3, has just been made available to WordPress.org users on November 12th, 2019. It will follow shortly to WordPress.com users. The main focus of this release is to polish current interactions and to make the user interface more friendly. A new theme, Twenty Twenty, is included in the release.

The Release blog contains an overview of what is included in WordPress 5.3, while more technical information can be found in the WordPress 5.3 Field Guide.

New Features in the Block Editor

Development continues with new versions appearing every fortnight as Gutenberg plugins (Gutenberg being the project name). Gutenberg versions 5.4 through to 6.5 have been incorporated into WordPress 5.3, along with bug fixes and performance enhancements in 6.6 and 6.7  Changes include:

  • Improved handling of large images which have been uploaded via a camera. WordPress will now reduce the size of big images to a default of 2560 pixels.
  • The cover block now supports a greater range of nested blocks. It also has a resizing option and the ability to have a solid colour background, as an alternative to an image.
  • The group block supports the concept of nested blocks.  A group can be saved as a reusable block.
  • The columns block includes various improvements: up to 7 columns in a block; the ability to size individual columns; and support for colour. 
  • Typewriter experience keeps the user’s place on the screen by automatically scrolling down appropriately as he types, thus avoiding the problem of typing right at the bottom of the screen, or even worse beyond the bottom when you cannot see what you are typing.
  • A Social Links block has been introduced
  • Widgets. There are now 9 widget blocks which can be incorporated into the main content area of a page or post: calendar, latest posts, categories, search, shortcode, archives, latest comments, RSS and tag cloud. The idea of legacy widgets in blocks which was being mooted appears to have been dropped.

Other Changes

Site admin email verification. This new screen will be displayed once every 6 months. It has been introduced because of problems where sites do not keep this email address up to date, resulting in important emails not being delivered to the current site admin.

Page templates. I have recently discovered on my WordPress.com account which runs the block editor that “add new page” now produces a display of various possible page templates that can be used. As I am not interested in any of them, I simply select the blank template.

Discouraging search engines. The method employed to keep a site secret, where this was required by the site owner, was only moderately successful. A change has been made to make it more likely that search engines will not display such sites.

Improved date / time component handling.

Site Health Check (WordPress.org users). Further features have been added.

PHP Support (WordPress.org users). PHP 7.4, which is due out shortly, will be supported.

Fixes. WordPress version 5.3 includes a lot of bug fixes and minor changes, generally making the product more reliable, while ironing out some of the idiosyncrasies.

Accessibility improvements for WordPress users. There are 50 updates in this area, including improved media controls, darker field borders and improved button styles.

My experiences with the block editor

I have been using the new block editor on my own website (bkthisandthat.org.uk) and on several other sites since January 2019. I have discovered a couple of minor bugs which I have reported, but I have generally found it to be stable.

My only concern at the present time is with tables. Before the block editor the user had to handcraft HTML tables. There is now a table block. However, HTML tables with empty cells or images will not convert correctly to a table block. The table block itself is somewhat rudimentary. In particular, it does not allow column widths to be specified, nor does it allow an image in a table cell.

I have dabbled with the media and text block and with the columns block. Neither is perfect at the current time. The media and text block does not appear to adhere to the margins that are used in the theme, at least not in my theme. The columns block is just about usable.

What will be next?

Gutenberg development has four phases:

  • the block editor
  • customisation
  • collaboration, allowing multiple users to co-edit content in real time
  • multilingual

Phase two (customisation) is currently in progress which includes headers, footers, menus and sidebars. A proposed design under the umbrella title of “full site editing” was put forward in September where these various elements, as well as the main content section, are each called block areas. The block editor would be able to display all block areas, just as a post or page might appear on the screen, and to work on any of them. Alternatively, a specified block area could be displayed on its own and worked on. At a very rough guess, it is likely to be mid-2020 before such a major change appears, always assuming that the idea is carried forward.

Auto-updating old versions (WordPress.org users). WordPress supplies security fixes back as far back as version 3.7, which was launched in October 2013. However, the effort required to support these old versions is an ever-growing problem. It is now proposed that, unless they deliberately opt out, old WordPress.org sites will be automatically updated (one version at a time) until they are on version 4.7. There has been much animated debate on this subject. It remains to be seen if the proposal will be adopted.