Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Musing about stuff

I was looking at the blog of one of my upcoming interviewees, Niccy from Scrapunzel Pixie (waves to Niccy in non-stalkerish fashion), and she is doing a 52 ways to leave your high street retailer where she is making 52 things she would normally buy. This got me to thinking. Now, obviously you may have worked out that I too like to make things that I would normally buy, and I was thinking about how I started doing this and why I continued. Because, and I know this may surprise you, grit your teeth ;-), I am not actually a natural anti-consumerist. I love shopping. I read the Boden catalogue with rapt attention. I don’t quite want to be buried in John Lewis but, you know, I do like Having Stuff.
An example of homemade charm. Don't get attached! Being ripped out as we speak!
Also I used to think, and for this I blame Germaine Greer, that trying to make a difference in terms of what you consume was a form of activism that was not powerful: that it caused women to spend a lot of time thinking about trivial things, such as whether or not to buy a ready meal, whereas actually we should buy the ready meal, save time, and spend the time saved doing something effective. I am not entirely sure what the something effective was (and indeed – neither was Germaine!), but I am quite sure I didn’t always do it, and I would have been better off not buying the ready meal and cooking something instead and eating something nice. To start with I am not convinced that ready meals do actually save time, and I definitely didn’t save the world in the 15 minutes it (arguably) saved me. And the price of the 15 minutes was that I didn’t enjoy my meal, or feel it had nourished me or done me any good.

My watershed moment came when I started buying handmade things from etsy (when I had money. Violins) and realised they were just better. I don’t mean this in an anti-consumerist, dignity-of-craft kind of way, I mean it just in really shallow terms. If I bought handmade I got miles better quality, unusual, effective things that I loved and enjoyed using, and which made the things I bought on the high street seem, well, a bit crap. And when you have had good quality things, you start to think, why should I pay what is after all only a bit less for a High Street something which has been produced in really questionable conditions and which I don’t like as much? Aren’t I worth more than that? So then I started making my own things because I was interested to see what it was realistically possible to integrate the making of into your life, and I discovered that actually some things (like soap) that I assumed before could only be made through a vast scary industrial process were actually really simple to produce at home and knocked anything L'Oreal could make into a cocked hat.

So now I have read books and poked my nose into things, and I can do the politics of why small production and handmade is good, and why big businesses don’t always act ethically and what should be done, and that kind of thing, but really, I just still come back to my first impression. I’ve always found handmade things to be just better, in a cheerful, life-enriching way, and that is why I make my own or buy handmade when I can. Otherwise, frankly, I wouldn’t be as motivated. I mean, obviously there’d still be the same arguments for, say, why Tesco shouldn’t be allowed to expand unchecked, if they still had all the same crappy business practices but they produced food that was like the nectar of the Gods: but for me the most effective argument is, if I make a scone myself it will be light, fresh, delicious and satisfying, whereas if I buy one from Tesco it will not. It will be a strange simulacrum that will leave me unsatisfied and will probably make me keep eating because I’m not full from a satisfying meal. And why should I have a nasty scone rather than a nice one? Don’t I merit a nice scone? (Is that the worst anti-Tesco rallying cry ever? Let’s never put it on a tshirt).

In fact, if I was cynical, I would say that this is how consumerism works, we’re sold things that are never quite right and because they are so unsatisfying we keep on buying more until we run out of money or end up on Hoarders. But obviously, as you know, I do not have a cynical bone in my body, so I just cook and knit and make cosmetics, whether it is unpowerful or unfeminist or not, and I enjoy all my stuff more than if I were buying it. In fact that’s the final irony in a way: all of us breaking our necks and ruining the planet to get Money to buy Stuff and then it’s just a mass-produced simulacrum of a satisfying thing and we could just have made it ourselves and it would have been better and more fun.

What do you think? Is handmade better or is this a slippery slope which will end in me making my own knickers and boasting about it? (I do actually make my own knickers. And they’re very comfy! OK, things are worse than I ever suspected).

Monday, 27 June 2011

The Friday Interview on Monday: Vicky from Luna Wolf

I’m starting off my interviews again, woot, go me, and I’ve got one for you today! And another on Friday so I can resume The Friday Interview! So my schedule is aligning and this makes me happy, although I appreciate it doesn’t mean quite as much to you ;-). Today’s interview is with Vicky from Luna Wolf who makes reusable menstrual pads.
Vicky at work immediately proving she is a better person than me by not swearing at her overlocker
Reusable pads are one of those things I think you can go through your life without anyone telling you about, unless you have come across them on the internet, because you don’t see them in mainstream shops. I think this is a real shame, because they’re really good. I’ve been using reusable pads for a good couple of years now (I’ve got a selection from various sellers on etsy) and I love them.

Now, this is the obligatory TMI alert so my mother can skip the next paragraph, but I thought I might as well give you a description of my experience so you can decide whether they sound like they’re for you or not: I have very heavy periods for about 2 days and then lighter for about 3/4 days more. On the first two days, I have found that some reusable pads work better than others, and I have some where, no, I probably wouldn’t want to sit through a three hour meeting in a white skirt, although I also have some where they are more absorbent than disposables: on the lighter 3/4 days, however, they are unbeatable. They are so comfortable and so much better than the naff plastic alternatives. In terms of washing, when I was looking into buying them, I read a lot about buying special handthrown pots to soak them in and then using the soaking water to water your roses. This might sound more attractive if you have roses that do not wilt and/ or fall on your head when you walk down the garden, however, our bathroom is quite literally (this is not an exaggeration) the smallest bathroom I have ever seen in a house, I think they must have converted a cupboard, and a Handthrown Pot Honouring The Inner Feminine would not last 5 minutes against Partner stumbling about clumsily in the middle of the night. I would probably have to put it on the coffee table for safety. So this put me off a bit. However, additional TMI alert, I have found that I can just wash them, unsoaked, in the normal wash (I do them at 60 degrees C with towels), and they are fine and do not stain. And I only use Ecover so there we are. Also, although one of the myriad ways in which I have failed at being a woman is that I don’t understand what panty liners are used for (panty!), if you do, and you are in the habit of using them, I would think using smaller pads would be much cheaper and way more comfortable.

OK Mum, you can look again now ;-). I found Luna Wolf pads through a recommendation on Ravelry and thought they looked brilliant: lovely colours, variety of sizes, and instructions to do it yourself! (Yes, of course I am. Yes, I’ll report back ;-) ), and Vicky very kindly agreed to do an interview for me. Thank you very much, Vicky! Take it away.
Luna Wolf pads in fantastic cheerful colours
1/ Could you tell us a bit about your pads, and why they’re better than commercial (disposable) pads/ tampons?
I make reusable cloth menstrual pads, using modern fabrics and prints - I firmly believe that just because an item is functional doesn't mean it can't be beautiful too! I wouldn't be so bold as to say they're "better" than commercial products because everybody is different, and what suits one person may not suit another. However, they are definitely a better option for me and for the many other women who find commercial disposable products uncomfortable. For some women, synthetic materials or chemicals in disposables cause irritation, whereas my pads put soft natural fabrics against the skin. The environmental and economic impact is fairly significant, too: in my case, seven years of cloth pad use equals approximately 1100 disposable pads I haven't had to buy and send to landfill.

2/ How do you use and care for reusable pads, i.e. changing them when you’re out and about and washing them?
Using cloth pads is very easy - as with disposables, you just need to make sure you change your pad before it gets too saturated. You can buy specialist "wetbags" for carrying pads when out and about, but a simple shower bag or resealable "ziploc" bag works just as effectively. Most cloth pads fold into neat little envelopes so that everything is contained.

There are lots of different ways to clean washable pads - my personal favourite is the "dry pail" method, which you can read about here: http://squidoo.com/easypadcare

3/ Reusable menstrual products haven’t really ever gone mainstream (i.e. I can buy them in my local health food shop but definitely not in Boots. And the ones in the health food shop aren’t cheerful like yours!). Why do you think this is, and do you think it will change?
I'd love to see cloth pads in Boots! I think the main reason you don't see them in large chains is because most cloth pad businesses are very small, usually WAHW (work at home women) operations. To supply somewhere like Boots you'd have to move into mass production, and that's a whole other kettle of fish. I think it will happen someday when the larger companies start to catch on that there is a growing demand for reusable pads. (Boots has already started carrying menstrual cups, for example.) [Note from me, I have to mention here that although I am a pad girl, many woman find the Mooncup absolutely wonderful – I have heard nothing but raves about this. It always looks a bit involved to me but then I said that about stranded knitting. So this is definitely worth considering as well].
DIY pads! Instructions and materials available in Vicky's shop
4/ I noticed you sell instructions and materials to make your own pads. I’m really tempted! Are they difficult to make?
Not at all! I wrote the instructions to suit all abilities, and there are notes for hand or machine sewing. If you can sew two pieces of fabric together, you'll be able to follow the instructions. A word of warning though: making them is addictive! Before you know it, you'll have more pads than you know what to do with.

5/ How do you feel about the way commercial pads and tampons are advertised? (Wooo! Bodyform for youuuuu!!! ;-) ).
I think most pad and tampon advertising is ridiculous! With all the euphemisms, the constant talk of "freshness" and the hush-hush packaging, you would think that a period is some kind of unfortunate disease. The products themselves look very clinical, as if dealing with menstruation is akin to bandaging a wound or treating an infection. I prefer to think of my pads as nice underwear, and have found that this small shift in perspective has helped me to feel much better about my menstrual cycle. [Note from me, the ones that are fragranced irritate me. Grrr].

6/ What would you recommend to someone who wanted to try out your pads? (i.e. how many of what size should they buy initially?).
I always suggest starting with just two or three pads. If you've never tried cloth pads, you don't want to buy an entire stash in one go, only to find that the style you've chosen isn't right for you. Try a couple of different sizes, and see what feels best. A good rule of thumb is to measure your favourite disposable pad and pick something in that ballpark.

7/ What of the things you’re doing with your business at the moment are you most excited about?
I've always wanted to carry pad storage pouches in my store, but have never had the time to make them. I've now found someone who can supply fabulous zippered pouches, and I hope to place my first order soon. I get asked about pouches all the time, so I'm very excited at the prospect of being able to offer them at last! I'm also hoping to add some new fabrics to my DIY section, which I'm really looking forward to.
Thank you very much, Vicky! I loved your interview and to be able to spread the word about reusable pads (gets evangelical gleam in eye). Have a look at the Luna Wolf shop (or catch Vicky on her blog) and see if there’s anything you fancy – if you haven’t tried reuseable pads before I really urge you to give them a try. You don’t have to jump in headfirst, you could just buy one and see how you go. It does feel a bit transgressive the first time, yes it does, but I promise you after 5 minutes you’ll think, why did I never do this before? (Like so many things!).

OK. Getting out to enjoy the sunshine. Have a lovely day, everyone x

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Kitchen decor

I want you to try to see this kitchen as Shabby Chic. You might need to concentrate quite hard
Because I am a hedgewitch thus declared on the recent UK census (Partner was excited, he says it makes him a Warlock. I can assure you it doesn't), I thought it would be nice to have a pentogram in the kitchen. So I bought one from here and hung it up. I think it looks rather nice.
We may feign indifference yet we are alert to possible peanut sounds
The Big Birds are massing. I put peanuts down daily for the Big Birds and they come and hang out just outside the kitchen window for most of the day, talking to me (you know, metaphorically). ‘Hoo Hooooo! Hooo Hooooooo! Get those peanuts out here, woman! Hooooo Hoooooo!’. I sometimes feel as if I have made a rod for my own back as if I ever run out of peanuts they sit and look at me and I feel terrible. We get two squirrel couples as well – the grey squirrels, and some new black interlopers. If they meet each other they square up and posture.
Veg box with banana lurking (is that a local banana???) + there is soap curing on that chair. I do move it if anyone wants to sit down
The kitchen is my favourite room in this house. To be honest this is mainly because it is always warm and has biscuits in it.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Destined to be a singleton? Or not?

I want you to know that I cleaned that table thoroughly very recently. AND NOW IT'S AS BAD AGAIN!
I can’t decide if this mitten is too ugly for me to knit its friend or not. What do you think? (I don’t think the pattern – Hippocampus, kindly offered free by Torirot Design – is ugly, I love the pattern, in fact this pattern was why I learned how to do stranded knitting. It’s my colour choice I’m questioning). I wanted two variegated colours because that's what I like about the original but I’m not sure the green quite works. The Noro is the only Noro that was on sale specially chosen with great care.
I am a Happy Hippocampus cunningly rendered in Wool
What do you think? Cut my losses or plough on? Don’t feel shy about letting me have it, I’m robust. Also I have already heard every joke going about my inadequate colour combinations as I appear to be living with Kaffe Fassett.

Monday, 20 June 2011

A post containing every single thing currently on my mind

Quick break from doing my filing (advice: do your filing more than once a year!) to do a quick roundup and Upcoming Stuff post. First here is a photograph of me that my mother has unearthed and emailed to me.
This is a hotel and not my house (I am not capable of putting up wallpaper)
I like to post a photograph occasionally just in case any of you are worrying that I don’t really exist or am actually a middle-aged man called Barry sitting tapping away in his Y-fronts, because if anyone was going to use a fake photograph they probably wouldn’t use one of someone wearing a top like that. Is that the most unflattering top you’ve ever seen? In my defence it was in Edinburgh after a whole-day car journey during which my mother had fed me my own weight in boiled sweets, anyway I thought the expression of rather stern amusement would go well for a roundup post so sit tight ladies and pay attention.

Firstly I would like to thank Kim and Julia for giving me blog awards, thank you both, ladies, I get too anxious about who to nominate to be good at passing on blog awards but that doesn’t mean I’m not grateful, I am very appreciative and should work on my anxiety issues.

Second, I seem to have acquired some new subscribers and followers recently, so, {waves} to all new people, thank you old people for sticking with me, and I would like to say that if you stick round for long enough I will say something sensible but I am not sure that is true.
Printing with bubble wrap! I will have to get over myself and actually read this magazine
Third, after my moaning about magazines the other day I am now going to reveal with breathtaking hypocrisy that I am in Sew Eco, available in all good newsagents now. I will promise you, however, that nowhere in Sew Eco does it suggest you eat an underripe banana in order to keep your ribs visible and stop your man going off with someone younger. Its views on labiaplasty are not clear but I suspect the general Sew Eco party line is anti.
With an integral pocket to put your remote in! Or your underripe banana in case your blood sugar dips below a certain level
This is my shirt/ tie cushion tutorial. Dad said he opened it in WH Smith and realised where his old shirt had gone. I have a couple of tutorials in it including a scarf dress and a tie-dye tshirt, I daren’t read them in case I missed out some vital instruction so if you try to tie-dye according to my instructions and it goes wrong and turns all your washing pink, I want to assure you that I am a nice person and did not do it on purpose for Lulz.

On the subject of magazines, I have been buying up zines on etsy and folksy with a view to doing a zine roundup and review in a couple of weeks (you know, rather than just slagging things off!), so if anyone has or knows of a self-published mag or zine they would like me to review (a cheap one. I hate to be mercenary but I have to buy them myself), just leave me a comment and I will have a look,

And on the subject of independent publications, I have got a giveaway coming up soon for a pdf book from Diana at Magickal Realism so stay tuned!

Right that’s enough about me. Stuff I read that other people had done: first, a couple of people have bravely taken up my New Thing Challenge, for which I am very grateful and interested, and I will post my own experiences and link to everyone else’s next Monday so if you would still like to take part you have lots of time,
Heloise with self portrait
And I noticed this: Heloise Toop, who I interviewed last year who is a local artist and is really, really good, was in the Guardian the other day because she is in a new London exhibition. If anyone is in the area I really encourage you to go and see Heloise’s paintings because they are fantastic, they are huge and stunning and I am a fan and wish I could afford one. I mean, they are pretty much bigger than all the walls in our house, but even so. I might see if I can trot down this weekend,

And I wanted to point you to Stitched Together’s blog post about the benefit changes in the UK, if you hadn’t already seen it. I’ve been trying to think of something intelligent to add to this but ST has pretty much said all I’d say, I’ll just add that while all the rhetoric at the moment is about benefit cheats etc I used to work as a benefits adviser (especially Disability Living Allowance) and the number of people I saw who claimed benefit to which they weren’t entitled was, well, I didn’t see any. Not one. The number of people, however, who were going through real hardship because they weren’t getting money they were entitled to was huge. That’s just my experience, but the whole undermining of disability benefits makes me hugely sad because a country which doesn’t recognise, support and fund (at a decent standard) people who aren’t able to work isn’t really a country I’m very happy with, and it’s certainly not what I voted for (although I didn’t actually vote for any part of the government so I suppose nothing is what I voted for, but you know what I mean). Anyway, ST says it more succinctly than me so go and look at her post.
Et in Arcadia Ego: the bad fish-eating leg-weaving cat, camouflaged and lying in wait. Is this the Worst Cat In Cambridge? The hunt continues
Right, that’s me done. I shall continue with my filing (it’s an exciting life) and go and rescue mitten-in-progress from the garden because if Satan The White Pussycat comes and does anything to it I might have to make him into a mitten himself. You think that’s an idle threat? It isn’t. (It is).

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Ten-fingered Susie and the ring of doom

Last night my mother was telling me about some jewellery from a family member who died a long time ago (this sounds a bit stilted because my mother will ring me up and say ‘Susie, stop putting private things I tell you about this family on your blog’. I am doing my best, mother. You get writing your next guest post). Anyway, this family member, who I will call W because her name began with W, had quite a lot of sadness in her life, and declared her jewellery to have Brought Bad Luck Upon Her. So once, apparently, she was walking with my grandmother, tore a ring off her finger, shouted ‘this ring has brought nothing but sorrow!’ and threw it in the river. For those of you who were not brought up in the North, yes we do sometimes segue into John Osborne, normally at New Year and funerals. And thus W’s jewellery has been declared Bad Luck. So my mother was telling me this and I had a thought.
One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to something something and in the darkness bind them
‘My black ring?’ I said. ‘My black ring is unlucky?’
‘No’ my mother said, briskly and confidently. ‘You haven’t got any of W’s jewellery’.
‘I have’ I said. ‘My black ring is from W. Also that other ring that’s too big for me. And a bracelet’.
‘Not the gold bracelet?’ my mother said. ‘Not the gold bracelet that W’s sister came up and shouted at C about after the funeral and said…’.
‘No, a kind of junk jewellery one. It’s nice. It is quite an odd ring though. It is the kind of ring you’d think would have a curse on’.

And so I got to thinking. I do seem to acquire jewellery that comes, how can I put this delicately, from dead people. In fact all my jewellery is either from dead people or something marvellously directional made from a rubber band and a feather and purchased on etsy. And I suppose dead people’s jewellery comes to you with a lifetime of vibes and energy attached to it.
It used to have blue enamel on it but it wore off. But it kept its pixie
This is my late grandmother’s necklace which she wore every day, including in the hospital all the time she was dying. Although I don’t generally ascribe power to objects, I would rescue this before any other of my possessions (I mean, obviously, I’d mention to Partner that there was a fire and get him out first. And he’d say ‘Just a minute Susie, I want to listen to who wins this wicket’). I think this is the nearest thing I’ve got to a lucky charm. I’m generally very unsuperstitious which is probably a good thing because walking home the other night, five black cats crossed my path. Five! And I have broken mirrors with impunity. My grandparents were very superstitious about birds in the house, and I did grow up with the idea that it was very, very unlucky to have pictures of birds or models of birds anywhere. Then, when Partner and I moved into this house, the first thing Partner did was produce a small bird ornament which apparently he had been storing carefully for years and has so far been his only contribution to our décor.
WTF?!! As they say
Where had he got the small bird ornament from? It is a mystery to me, because Partner and ornaments do not seem to be natural bedfellows. Anyway I decided I would get over my residual birdy squeamishness by reclaiming birds, and would see things that were traditionally bad luck as actually excellent omens. Thus I stop to stroke the black cats, walk under ladders, knit peacocks on mittens, do not quail from single magpies etc. I have not gone so far as to have ‘13’ tattooed on my bottom or anything but you understand the principle. I shall have to do the same with W’s ring, and wear it and make happy associations (I do actually wear it a lot, it is one of my favourites). In the meantime I thought of this poem (beware! Incorrectly transcribed apostrophes!) and how things are not perfect today but women have more options. I shall go and start working on imbuing things with positive vibes now.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Sneakily inserting my FOs into WIP Wednesday

I’m linking up with WIP Wednesday at Tami’s Amis this week to show you some knittedy things I’ve been working on, and if you go to Tami’s Amis you’ll be able to see lots of other posts about works in progress (generally woolly but not necessarily) so, do go and have a look, you might find a new favourite blogger.

I can’t believe it’s WIP Wednesday 45! I remember when WIP Wednesday started! (and all this was fields). And when WIP Wednesday started Tami hadn’t learned to knit yet, and look at her now, I try not to feel scared and inadequate but I do not succeed. Thanks Tami for all your sterling work on WIP Wednesday! I am going to repay you first of all by misusing it (;-) ) by showing a couple of finished objects and not waiting for FO Friday. I am very sorry and I will get to a WIP at the end although it isn’t actually a WIP because I am going to have to frog it. So this is a non-WIP-Wednesday but look, I am trying, I dragged things outside and photographed them and everything.
I even wove the ends in. I shall wear them, you know
This is the inside so you can admire my weaving
Endpaper mitts. I have not blocked these because I thought they looked ok unblocked and I am a great big lazy thing. I liked this pattern and would recommend it as a first colourwork project, because anything geometrical is easy to memorise (it is when you start messing about trying to knit seahorses that it gets difficult, see below). I did only two repeats of the pattern before beginning the thumb shaping. Eunny recommends three repeats, to which I say, Eunny, were you knitting these mitts perchance for a noble orangutan of your acquaintance or is it that you like your mitts to approach your elbow? Because two repeats is quite enough. Indeed one repeat is probably enough if you can’t be bothered to do two, perhaps you have to walk your Afghan hound, feed the koi carp, or rush off to watch The Real Housewives Of Orange County with absinthe and a Twix.
I failed at grafting the top. I had to codge it up
When I blocked them the Zauberball went hairy, I shall have nightmares
Having knitted endpaper mitts, I thought, gosh this is easy I shall knit more mittens. All the mittens! So I dug some sock yarn out of my stash, bought a zauberball, and started Mystery and Manners. Now, I have noticed on blogs and people’s ravelry project pages that people often downplay how difficult things are to knit. ‘Quick easy knit!’ they trill, brightly. ‘Knitted them in half an hour while waiting for Fluffy to have her ingrown toenail taken care of at the vet’s! Knitted with one arm while I was waiting for my wrist to come out of plaster! So easy I churned them out in less than one episode of The Apprentice and then just gave them to the postman!’. Well, these mittens were an absolute bloody nightmare. Not because of the pattern, which is well written, clear, and works, but because of the horrendous fiddliness. Oh, horrendous! Ladies: the thumb nearly broke me. Five needles, two colours, messing about with live stitches, horrific, I needed prozac. All I can say is that I suspect it gets easier with practice and I wanted the mittens enough that I ploughed on. Look, I even blocked them. That’s how much I like them.
Just like knitting with steel wire if steel wire had twigs in
Hippocampus. Please sympathise with me because, due to my own dopiness, I have made an error which can only be fixed by ripping back right to the cuff, and, as the cuff is a (simple) lace pattern and me and lace Do Not Go, I suspect I am going to end up just starting again (I have centred the pattern wrong. No, I can’t live with it, and I can live with a lot of things). I am loving these mitts (I will love them more when we are on track again) but I am knitting them out of Kureyon Sock and, gosh, what strange yarn. Have they roughed it up on purpose? Is it made out of (badly) spun Brillo pads? The colours are pretty but I hope it softens up a bit when it is blocked as otherwise, well, someone is going to be having some roughed-up hands this winter. Very strange yarn. I wonder if the error is secretly saying to me 'Go sell that nasty rough wool on ebay and start again with Mini Mochi', I shall have to consider.

Herewith my WIPS, and do click to see others. Wishing you merry WIPing.

Note for non-knitting readers: WIP = Work In Progress, FO = Finished Object, frog = unravel, Mittens = hard, Me = brave, Mitten Recipients = better be grateful (yes, I know that’s borrowing trouble. I know).

Monday, 13 June 2011

Urban scenes

Slightly blurry because the lights changed to green and people get narky if you hold them up without a proper reason. I think if someone's painted their garage door thematically it gives you faith in the quality of their chips

What kind of shop shall we have? I know, let's sell bikes. And we could cut keys as well, that would go together. And sharpen knives. Yeah. And let's have some LPs as well because we like them. And I don't see why we shouldn't fit in a tanning bed, do you? Excellent. Let's get started. I'll just nip out and get some nail polish as well, just in case

It pops up everywhere. I may invite them to perk up my pebbledash and scandalise Le Tout North Cambridge

A rant and a recipe FOR PIE

Because I am weak, and have started doing yoga regularly thus thinking I am An Athlete, which I can assure you I am not, I bought Top Santé magazine at the weekend. This was a magazine I had not read before. I thought it might have things in it like ‘how to do your couch to 5K in the local park without attracting lots of surprisingly furry and enthusiastic dogs who want to run with you and make you look like a comedy turn’ or ‘where to buy a top for yoga which costs only £3.50, is produced ethically and does not show your middle when you lift your arms up’ as I imagine these are both common problems. (Look, surely it can’t just be me. Do I give off a dog-attracting scent?).
Look pretty and be scared of everything! I think I've got the style. I shall pitch an article
I have not read a Wimmen’s Magazine for a long time. My magazines of choice these days feature knitting patterns/ 153 ways to furnish your house with only a ball of masking tape and a pair of old knickers, that kind of thing. Therefore I had forgotten that the role of Wimmen's Magazines was to make me feel neurotic and guilty. I should have known with this one to start with because of the line on the cover about, Is Exercise Making You Fat. Well – no, it isn’t. That is the absolute least of my problems in life. I am not even putting that on my list of things to worry about even though that is a list of epic proportions and covers such things as what if we get flying ants in the kitchen and if I give my mother something made out of Kureyon Sock Yarn will it bring her out in a rash.

Then I read the Editor’s Letter which is all about how guilty we all feel when we eat cake and how we all think about eating every minute of every day. ‘I suspect it’s a question that pops up pretty frequently in the course of your day too’ says the (thin) editor, blithely, who is ‘trying to lose a few pounds before bikini season starts’. Well, no, actually I try not to feel guilty about eating food. I mean, I can understand why people might want to lose weight and get fitter (because I am indeed trying to lose weight and get fitter), and I think it’s quite difficult for anyone to have a marvellously uncomplicated relationship with food in our society, but actually I really enjoy food – it’s pleasure, not guilt. Besides, I don’t want to read a magazine about how to be neurotic. I mean, I have OCD which I embrace & accept and is a part of me blah blah blah but I don’t want to read articles about how, actually, checking you’ve locked the front door for the third time at 3am is a really wonderful idea, either. I don’t see how this is any better.
Partner demonstrating how ludicrously small our alpine strawberries are. He says the garden centre saw me coming. He is not supportive. Summer term is now over and he will next wear clothes in September so currently every day is Nude Day
So I shall spare you my trenchant analysis of the article later on about how if you leave your miserable heterosexual relationship you will never get another man, but your ex will turn up to the next social function with an 18-year-old on his arm, because men can go out with younger women and so ‘have a wider pool of potential partners and get snapped up very quickly’. So you’d better get eating those fat-free meals because otherwise how will you compete? Honestly. I will only say that when Susan Faludi read made-up nonsense like this she wrote Backlash. In honour of this magazine, I will wear things that make me look fat and not care. I will embrace my muffin top. I will enjoy my food more than ever. And when a lifetime’s good nourishment and loving my body lets me go trekking in the Himalayas when I am 75, I will be glad I didn’t waste one minute of my (relative) youth worrying about whether I was too old to be attractive to men or whether it was ok to eat bananas (apparently only if you do it before they go brown as after that they’re too sugary. God.).
I have had that knife for 18 years. I bought it in Woolworths in Chesterfield in 1993
Pie I made yesterday from apples and blackcurrants from the lady on the WI stall at the farmer’s market. Stew 1 1/2 pounds fruit with a bit of sugar until it is soft, then taste and add more sugar if it needs it. Make pastry from: 4oz wholemeal flour, 4oz SR flour, 4oz butter/ marg, couple tablespoons water to bring it all together. Line a sandwich tin with half the pastry, put the fruit in, put the rest of the pastry on top, seal the edges (pinch them together then kind of roll them inwards. Don’t worry too much, there are worse things in life than a split pie crust. For example, exercise might be making you fat. That’s very important). Brush with milk, sprinkle with sugar, cook for 30 mins at 200 degrees C. This is the joy of seasonal cooking, you can drag out your boring old pie/ crumble/ ice cream recipe over and over but use different fruits so it is like a different recipe every time. Serve with cream (unless you are Vivianne) then put leftovers in fridge and eat for breakfast, yum.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Trying a new thing challenge. Join me!

Readers, I’ve been remiss! I did a post a while ago about wanting to do a thing where we all tried to learn a new skill and blogged about it, and then I got my cold and forgot. Anyway I’ve remembered, I’ve got a Mr Linky (bottom of the post) and I thought, if anyone wanted to have a go, you could blog and leave me a link and I’ll do a round up in a fortnight or so.

It can be small or large, a technique, a whole new skill, a recipe, anything. I was thinking of the kind of things you’ve always wanted to try, but something’s stopped you quite getting round to it: fear of failure or something like that. If that’s the case, then I’m officially giving you absolution. Yes I am! I’m afraid I can’t give you absolution if you’ve murdered someone/ given a pussycat a lion cut or something else terrible, but, if you’re wanting to, for example, try and make soap but you’re worried you’ll spend a lot of money on lye and oils and whatnot and then it won’t work, well, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t matter, the only way you can fail is by not trying, it’s all good practice and when in three years’ time you’re rivalling Lush you can look back on your first attempt with a wry smile and affection. Take the plunge! Blog posts detailing abject failure, fury, and drinking Bacardi Breezers to get over the whole affair are just as welcome as ones where it all goes perfectly and you get a new skill out of it.
I think in general it's supposed to be thinner
What am I going to do, you ask. Well, I thought I might have a go at spinning. I have had a very brief trial run and I was rubbish, so I am going to have another go and I will tell you about it when I have got more to tell (rather than ‘God what a strange thing to do, how does everybody ever manage this???’) which is where I am at the moment. Is that everybody’s initial thought when they try something new? And I am going to have another go at playing my guitar,
It took me 45 minutes to upload this. Sometimes I think I will crack and buy a new computer
Because I can play just the two songs and beyond that I fail. I sometimes wonder if I should get a different guitar book rather than Russ Shipton, as he seems to feel that the prospect of being able to play Hey Jude ought to be an incentive to me. It isn’t. I don’t want to play Hey Jude and actually I don’t want anybody else to play it either, I think they should all stop.

What is it that stops you trying something new? I mean, I think we can probably all agree that Hey Jude ought to put anyone off (oh go on, I know everyone else in the world loves it), but generally what stops me is perfectionism. I am a mad perfectionist and I feel I ought to do things absolutely perfectly on my very first try: I don’t like having to learn things. I somehow subconsciously feel it is wrong. Rachel had a Voltaire quote on her blog about the best being the enemy of the good and I thought this was very true, although in my case if I am not careful the best is the enemy of me actually getting off my bum and doing anything at all. It also puts me off things when I feel I am going to have to spend a lot on materials to start with, and this is why I get so narky with craft books which tell you to only use the best materials, because I feel that can put people off starting (although to be fair perhaps it encourages some people? All very confusing). Anyway, whatever it is that is stopping you doing something you have always fancied, here is your challenge: suck it and see, then put your post on my Mr Linky so others can either learn or be impressed. As for me, if I can conquer the spinning/ guitar fear I will be a short-term happy bunny. I don’t think there’s anything else I’m eyeing up at the moment. No, I’m pretty sure my conscience is clear and I’m not going to need to go buying equipment or forcing my cockeyed creations on loved ones or boring on about technique or anything like that. Honestly.
No special equipment necessary! Watch out Manolo!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Nascent Obsession

I’ve been ill! I’m better now so I’m just checking in quickly to let you know I’m still alive (I mean, not like you’ve been waiting agog) and to show you a quick picture of what I’ve been working on while I’ve not been well. Note to Dad – do not click on 'read more' below, as if this comes off the needles in a reasonably coherent whole I will be giving it to you for Christmas. Note to readers: you mean you haven’t started on your Christmas presents yet? Shame on you. (Joke).

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Updates ++ a bit of fibre

Quick check in today because I have a cold and I’ve scheduled in some hardcore whimpering (I know. Who gets a cold in June? AND an insect has bitten my finger!), but just wanted to show you my in-progress woolly things and update. First, many thanks to Yvette for your offer of the magnetic words! How exciting, I would love them! If you send me your email (my email button is at the side) we could swap addresses and I could send you some of my soap or something in return. Second, do you remember my post about the boring bits of Cambridge? Well, Rachel over at Growing Things and Making Things and Julia over at Pages of Julia did posts about where they live as well, which I really enjoyed reading. I love hearing about where other people live. I was particularly fascinated by the infrequency of the bus service in Devil’s Bridge and the fact that there are not always sidewalks (did you see, I said that in American) in Houston. No sidewalks! I don’t think I would cope very well because although I have never actually had an accident (touching wood now) I am not a very good driver, although I am better than the poor girl who tried to drive the wrong way up the one way system this morning while we fish van customers watched her in horror and sympathy. (Everybody hooted to warn her and then waited while she did a U-turn. There are a lot of us Sunday drivers in Cambridge).

Also (I know you don’t care, but indulge me) do you remember the lady who was harassed by the bad cat who wanted her fish? Today I saw the same lady, with the same bags, walking home the same route, but very nervously, and pointedly on the other side of the street, in the road - I suspect so she wouldn’t meet that cat again! Alas! I knew that it has now moved nearer to my house (because it leapt out at me enthusiastically the other night and nearly knocked me over) and her new route was taking her slowly, haltingly and irrevocably, into its lair. I should have stopped to warn her! But I had to get back as Partner was champing at the bit to see the answers to yesterday’s Guardian crossword which is really no excuse morally.
The traditional awkward operating-camera-with-teeth hand shot. Spot the obvious mistake
Right, now the woolly things. I finished one endpaper mitt and am halfway through another. This mitt is chock full of mistakes (I found another one while I was taking the photos) but, what I am going to do is, when I am wearing them, move my hands very quickly for emphasis because then not only will no-one notice where I have cocked it up but also I will look sexy and Gallic. I could also smoke a Gauloise perhaps but as I have never smoked anything I am not sure I could do it convincingly, the sexiness might be undercut by my having to rush off and be sick/ suck my Ventolin or something.
Please admire the even tension of my stitches. You know where this kind of thing leads, don't you? It leads to steeking
Close up of the stitches (unblocked). I thought this pattern was great for a beginning colour work project (the mistakes are all mine, the pattern is clear) as it is a quick knit, and the pattern is easy to memorise and see if you have gone wrong. You may remember a while ago I was bleating about not being able to understand how to twist the yarn to stop floats if I knitted with both yarns in my right hand. Well, I have worked it out, and I am now in a position to say to you that: if you are a person who is most comfortable holding the yarn in the right hand, there is no reason at all not to do colourwork like this. None at all. It is perfectly efficient. I have such a strong bias to righthanded knitting that it is as if God has ordained it, and if I hold one yarn in either hand I have all sorts of tension issues which just disappear if I do it my way (although the yarn-in-each-hand method would work very well if you are comfortable doing both). If anyone wants step-by-step pics of how to hold the yarn/ weave floats, let me know in the comments and I will do a tutorial next week when I am livelier.
You remember I said if you use yarn from the same range it will always match? That may not entirely apply to Stylecraft Special DK
The rainbow crochet throw. I started this mainly to have something to crochet when I am sitting in the garden, but I am enjoying it very much. The pattern is easy but there is enough going on to keep you entertained (I think I might have been subconsciously influenced by this). I have this vague idea of it absorbing all the summer energy as I sit crocheting feverishly while Simon next door makes me feel inadequate by creating what appears to be an exact replica of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Simon: your garden is now beautiful enough. You are making the rest of us (especially me) look bad. Could you please incorporate a small scruffy lawn, a pile of bricks and an upturned flower pot into your design to blend in with the rest of the row, thank you, only joking.

OK, off to go and wash up. And you know what's on later, don't you? Partner concerned me with the episode where they had to go out and buy a top hat and other things by sitting rattling off where they should have gone for everything. 'Top hats from Beyond Retro in Covent Garden, Susie, don't you remember me trying one on? And fabric from the scary shop in Kensington where we go in the basement. And...' This makes me think that Partner and I do not do intellectual things together. Anyway. I bet none of them can crochet ;-).