Monday, 29 August 2011

Thank you for comments ++ bored of my blanket

I have been a bit AWOL. So, first I wanted to say, thank you everybody for your very helpful comments about my lace dilemma on my last post. I said to Partner, do you remember the shawl we looked at, I asked my blog readers about the pattern… And Partner said, ha! I bet they said it was very difficult! without taking his eyes off the television. Partner has been learning lots about knitting recently, I rub him with different wools (on his face, not as part of questionable practices) so he can tell the difference in fibres and so far he has pronounced Noro Kureyon Sock ‘very rough’ and says he can definitely tell it from Malabrigo (this would be a good game at Christmas, wouldn’t it? Look out for me on Dragons’ Den). Anyway, you will be excited to learn that I have decided I am going to do a Lace Apprenticeship before I attempt the difficult pattern, which might be a good thing anyway as it might make me confident enough to tackle the big size first off. So I have acquired a skein of laceweight and I am going to have a crack at Annis, which looks easy and is a shape I will wear, but has nupps so I think will be enough of a challenge. After that I shall consider myself a lace master and will go wildly crashing about knitting things that are patterned on two sides.
Non, Whiskery Grey Pussycat, genus, non te facundia, non te restituet pietas
Second, here is a traditional Cambridge pussycat photo, you might recognise this one as he has appeared on my blog before. It is Whiskery Grey Pussycat who has eyebrows just like the former Regius Professor of Latin. Partner has just walked past and told me I should not write that, and that in any case he actually looks more like the Regius Professor of Latin before the one I am referring to, whose eyebrows were apparently even more striking. What this tells you about classics faculty recruitment procedures I do not know. Anyway, Whiskery Grey Pussycat and I have advanced our acquaintance and now he lets me stroke his nose as I pass.
When will it be over?
Third, my crochet blanket which I had finished and woven the ends in on and then masochistically decided to add a border. Readers, I am very bored of this blanket and frankly I wish it would finish itself, but, I suspect it is going to be very useful very quickly as the thermostat on the central heating has broken and I have got a cold. So I press on doggedly.
A border with my trademark taste and subtlety
Fourth, it has come to my attention that a certain person of my acquaintance (it is Aunty Kath) has been looking for reduced price Mulberry bags on websites. Now, here is my handy guide for telling whether a website is likely to be genuine or not: if it refers to Mulberry bags being carried by such luminaries as ‘Kate Mose’ then I am suspecting it might not be an official Mulberry outlet. So Aunty Kath, please do not part with your credit card details for a cut-price Alexa, as I would be worried you might get something questionable with a Mulberry label sewn on, and also I am worried the label might not have Mulberry spelled correctly. Indeed it might have Primark crossed out and Mullllberrrry written underneath. The only places I know of to get cut-price it-bags are and also the various designer sample sales in London, also ebay, but recently I find I have lost my killer ebay instinct and sometimes I would rather just buy things in shops (this happens when you get old, also the whole flat shoe thing and you start to watch quiz shows on BBC4 with interest).

Hmm, that made me think. Is Only Connect on later?

Monday, 22 August 2011

Cheapo bargain and a questionable endeavour

First, you have probably seen this but just in case you haven’t, you can download the Fall 2009 Interweave Knits Accessories e-magazine (snappy title) for 10 cents which is 7p in proper money, joke. I am not fond of e-magazines as I don’t like having to sit squinting at my laptop, but this is a truly excellent bargain as it has Koolhaas and the Sideways Grande Cloche in it which you might want to knit (I mean, if you knit Koolhaas with all that cabling you deserve having Jared Flood come round to your house, strip naked and do your hoovering, but I bet some of you have greater tolerance for cables than me). Also if you look at the patterns in it on Ravelry a lot of them are selling for $6 each. And an unbudgeted 7p is not too bad. Also if you are feeling slightly more flush, you can get an Interweave Knits (or other magazine) subscription for $18 here; you have to pay $7 international postage (if you are in the UK like me), but I have worked out for you that for 4 issues this means you are paying about £3.75 each, which is cheaper than you would be able to get if you bought them individually.

I give with one hand, I take with the other, because now I need advice. As I said previously, like a fool I now think I can knit lace and it will not make me want to go out and stab someone, so I thought I would have a go at a shawl. Now, although I admire all the beautiful shawls I see people knitting, in terms of my own personal style I do not think many of them are me (my fault not the shawls!) so I thought what I would do is, go through patterns and see if any of them jumps out and says, knit me. So I have looked at shawl patterns until I have gone cross eyed, and the shawl that jumps out and says knit me is Jaali by Kitman Figueroa. I have bought the pattern and looked at it and although it is quite involved it does not look impossible, but, it has patterning on all rows including wrong side ones which is apparently difficult. I am relatively adventurous and I have googled how to insert lifelines, also we have quite a collection of spirits for if things go badly and a secret store of Harveys Bristol Cream which my dad’s neighbour Roger keeps buying him and which he passes on to us when a certain critical sweet sherry point is reached. Would this be a stupid shawl to start with? Whenever I look at beginner lace advice everyone says knit Traveling Woman, but while Traveling Woman is a great pattern and very pretty, it is just not me and I would never wear it, so that seems a waste of wool. What do you think? Am I setting myself up for misery? (In knitting terms. In life terms I often do. I am like this poem but you will be encouraged to hear that it is quite correct, some polish is indeed gained with one’s ruin, and also the ability to knit mittens).

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Huffington Post and whether feminists should knit. The definitive answer

If you have been on the internet recently you will know that someone on the Huffington Post has dissed the Yarn Harlot and essentially the internet has now ended because there is Fury. Well, I say, it is a shame the author of this piece about how we should all be tough like Sookie, whoever Sookie is, never read Dyke’s Delight comic circa 1993, where these issues have already been comprehensively explored and dealt with. I used to buy Dyke’s Delight and other indie comics from Forbidden Planet in London in the late 90s and sit on the commuter train back to Cambridge reading them, with men in suits looking at me thoughtfully. Forbidden Planet no longer have comics like this but I have a secret store for referring to in cases of internet crisis so we are very lucky and I can drag this one out tonight.

Rip Up Those Roles by Leanne Franson is the interesting story of Buzz, a Tuff Dyke, who feels herself trapped in the role of tough female. I don’t know if this is how Sookie, whoever she might be, feels, but I think we have to accept that it may be because it is never nice to feel that you can’t branch out.
Buzz the Tuff Dyke as approved of by the Huffington Post
Despite Buzz’s buzz cut, biceps and talent for motorbike maintenance, what she also – note, Huffington Post blogger – also wants is to spend time knitting, with her cat, and in a committed long term relationship with fellow Tuff Dyke, Bof. Oh the tragedy of attracting hoards of femmey chicks when what she wants is to escape the stereotype.
And this was pre-Ravelry so she probably had to make her own pattern
But triumph! In Yolanda’s Yarn Universe while buying a skein of Baby Sno Soft to knit pussy a mousie, Bof walks in, their eyes meet over a bin of Fancy Fluff yarns – mermaid bumfluff wasn’t yet being harvested in 1993 but you know, the next best thing – and Love Blossoms – because Bof knits too!
I don't know if they were into gardening and Hello Kitty but they may well have been
And they live happily ever after, baking cupcakes and knitting. But also being able to mend their motorbikes when necessary. So I am afraid the Huffington Post is a little bit behind the times but it has revealed that you do not mess with knitters, and we knew that, because we deal daily with terrifying things like Steeks and that is scarier than anything Sookie does. And don't anyone be putting any daft strictures on feminism because if you do I will have to show you Auntie Studs. What do you think she would say? Exactly.

Friday, 19 August 2011

End of summer pictures

It is coming up to the end of summer, although to be honest it has felt a bit to me like summer is on its way out ever since the solstice. This is why a tiny amount of knowledge of solar cycles is a dangerous thing and also why I always decide in December that winter is over and it is now spring, which really it isn't.
I imagine you're all very jealous of my Feature Plug Socket
Someone was kind enough to buy me orange flowers. Excitingly they match my orange candle and orange picture. My orange picture is from TK Maxx and my orange candle is from the New Atlantis Bookshop near the British Museum and is a spell candle which will bring me prosperity. It hasn't done yet but that is because we have not finished burning it down. You have to do these things properly and not rush them.
That jug is part of my Denby Arabesque collection. Actually it is the only part but one day I may find another bit
One thing our garden produces in great quantities is blackberries. This is actually a moral failing as I am not sure they are there deliberately, in fact to be completely honest I think they are weeds, however, we eat the blackberries, so they earn their keep and I leave them alone.
It'll be fine when it's blocked. 12 pages of charts, go me
I dangled my City Stole in the tree so you could see it more easily, it didn't work, so you will have to take my word for it that it is going well. I am near the end of Chart 2 and I am enjoying knitting it very much. It is dangerous however as it makes me think I can knit lace, then I will go out, buy laceweight, download a shawl pattern, knit one row, then succumb to misery and despair and be on this blog moaning.
The terrible consequences
This is what happens when you try to take artistic photographs. You get your balls of wool wound round trees and rolling about in the undergrowth and have to go retrieving them and picking the leaves off.
Look, I just like rainbows, is that so wrong?
You may remember a very long time ago I became annoyed by Jane Brocket suggesting in her knitting book that you should crochet a throw and spend almost £200 on the wool to do so. It is not as if she is the only person who has ever suggested this so I should not have been annoyed, also it is not as if she came to my house personally and laughed at all my acrylic and KnitPicks cheapo wool, however, I do get irritated by the All Fibre Arts Must Be Done With The Best Materials And Hang the Expense idea. Thus I decided to crochet my own throw out of cheap acrylic in a thrillingly transgressive manner and at a cost of only about £22. I am on the last colour and the end is now in sight, I feel I have crocheted summer into this nice bright throw, and I may even have sufficient energy to do a border around it. I got the pattern from Attic24 as the one in Jane's book has slightly more pointy ripples and you need flowing ripples for a rainbow (look, you just do). If you have the urge to spend a lot of money on a woolly throw, however, I do quite fancy this one and I can see why Noro would work well, so I point it out to you in case there is anyone reading this blog who has not spent all their yarn budget up to 2020 (there are variegated acrylics as well though so you probably could do it for much cheaper).

It is not quite the end of summer yet though, I think we have time for a few last hoorahs.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

I may just possibly

hypothetically and potentially have got new shoes.
OK, look, in an ideal world I wouldn't have chosen that carpet
What what? They're flat. They're practical! And everybody knows gold is literally the most hardwearing colour you can get. That's why all postmen wear gold shoes. And people digging the roads. And surgeons. Yes they do! Metallic gold jazz shoes! Practical shoes that last! You look closer.

They'll last me for years.

Susie exits stage left, doing jazz hands to match jazz shoes.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Antisocial behaviour

Cambridge can be quite a dangerous place to live. As I have documented earlier, there are the very bad cats who jump out at you from all directions and weave round your legs in a fashion contravening all health and safety directives. There are the tourists with enormous cameras who think it is an excellent idea to be walking along and then stop suddenly and crouch down so they can take photographs of something bizarre like a road junction, and that no-one will be inconvenienced or trip up over them. There is Partner, who is not friendly, and who I suspect sometimes says choice words to tourists who do this, especially when I am not there to supervise him, instead of just tutting in an annoyed manner like I do, which is the proper British way. And then there are the swans.
A swan pretending to be innocent. They aren't innocent
In Cambridge the river is quite a big presence and a lot of the time it is full of boats, often punts full of people thinking they are Sebastian Flyte (OK, I know that was Oxford). And that is lovely, especially if they want to take their enormous cameras with them and not photograph road junctions and trip me up. Or there are students rowing. There are also a lot of swans. The boats annoy the swans very much, because it is their river and the boats are interlopers and they are quite furious. However, in recent years a swan hero has emerged. I do not know if he was elected by some form of swan consensus or if he just rose to prominence because of natural swan superiority but, since 2009, Mr Asbo the Swan has been terrorising rowers and boats. It has obviously been a contentious issue because on the one hand there are the people who Mr Asbo has had a go at who are very frightened and want him relocated, and on the other there are people forming under a banner of Rights For Swans, Swans Were There First etc etc. It is like the Montagues and the Capulets or like Al-Amin and Sainsbury’s although I do think possibly Al-Amin’s case may have been boosted recently by a Cambridge woman finding glass in her Sainsbury’s Basic Sausage, but I digress. (Actually I will digress further and tell you that my mother once found glass in a Sarah Lee Gateau and ate it by mistake and bled. So I came home with the news that I had passed my driving test to find my mother hacking up blood in the sink, upstaging me as usual. She complained. We got vouchers. Here is a recipe for a nice easy non-Sarah Lee chocolate cake, you do not have to add glass unless you want to).

Anyway there is a sad postscript to Mr Asbo, which is, he has a bad toe and has had to be removed from the river, although he seems now to be recovering well. But, what new Animal Avenger will emerge in Cambridge? I will be keeping a close eye on the very bad cat down the road and also the collared dove, who now actually hovers over me when I am outside if I have not put his nuts out quickly enough. We are very close to nature here, which as you know is red in tooth and claw. Things can turn very quickly.

Get well soon, Mr Asbo!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Minor miracles

Well, I feel a bit odd asserting some cheerful things this week amongst all the horror, but...

This week, readers, two miracles have occurred. As things always come in threes when they are bad things, I do not see why the same rule would not apply to good things too, therefore I am confidently expecting Miracle Number Three. What might it be? Will elves come and deal with the garden while I am sleeping? Will someone push an anonymous donation of a £50 John Lewis voucher and a slender Alice Starmore volume through the letterbox? Will Vogue ring and beg me to do a regular column for huge remuneration which just involves criticising things? I am quite agog. These are the existing miracles.
Holes that line up miraculously
You have to understand how much I hate knitting lace. Oh, God, I hate it, I hate the yarnovers, I hate the way when you cock it up you have to undo it because it gets all confusing, I hate the whole miserable tortured experience. Well, I have started the City Stole with, shall we say, some trepidation, because my yarn budget is now spent up until 2015 and I cannot see anything else I would conceivably want to knit with the yarn I have bought for it. So this pig has got to work. And guess what: it does. I can understand the (12) charts, I can read what I am doing, I have managed to correct mistakes without undoing it all and starting again, I sit crossing lines off with my biro, I am a happy bunny and am confident I may be able to finish it at some point in the next 6 years. City Stole designer, I love you and your comprehensible charts but I am not changing my allegiance and after this scary interlude will be scooting back to colourwork gratefully.

You have to understand how bad I am at running. I am so bad, when I was at infant school, I was once so long finishing the egg and spoon race that they couldn’t wait any longer and they had to start the next race behind me. And I didn’t even win that one. However, rather tragically, I would like to be a good runner. I see myself, slicing silently through urban environments like an elegant blade in my Primark tracky bottoms. Therefore I have been chugging away at Couch to 5k for longer than I am going to admit, and yesterday, I had a breakthrough and I ran for 10 minutes. 10 minutes! This is 20 times as long as I could run when I started! This is a proper distance, where you can run round the corner before the dog walkers you have passed see you collapse! This is unprecedented, and I almost feel like doing a version of Father Ted’s Twats and Liars speech: ‘well, Mrs X who said I would never be an athlete after the egg and spoon debacle, very much has egg on her face now that at the age of 36 I have managed to run for 10 minutes! Consecutively!’.

What will happen next? The rules are being entirely rewritten.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

God save little shops, china cups, and virginity

This is a horrendous long one! Grit your teeth!

Those of you who have been with me for a while (and for those of you, congratulations and hello!) may remember that I once had a dramatic Damascene revelation in Sheringham and decided I was going to make more of an effort to avoid supermarkets and seek out more local options. Well, it has been quite a ride. It has had high points, i.e. I have discovered that there is still fruit that tastes like fruit in this world, and have been introduced to such things as purslane, sea bream, sloes, samphire, it has been thrilling. It has had low points, notably when I managed to spend £7 on a single portion of fish, how did I manage this and was it gold plated or the fish equivalent of fillet steak, I do not know but fortunately it has not been repeated. Before I started heading bravely out and seeking out markets and farm shops, this is what I thought of the whole avoiding-supermarkets situation:

1/ I thought people who made a point of avoiding supermarkets were effete middle class people who ought to be worrying about more serious things.
2/ I thought there were no local shopping alternatives anywhere near where I live.
3/ I thought when people talked about non-supermarket shopping they meant things like expensive Italian delis like on  food programmes on the TV where you go and buy a slice of proscuitto and a small block of parmesan and it costs you £10.
4/ I didn’t understand what people were talking about when they said eating seasonally was cheaper.
5/ I thought if I was busy or tired it was reasonable that cooking was the first thing to go and I could be perfectly healthy if I chose my ready meals carefully.
And the moral of this is, never pose with a pig, even a dead one, as the resulting photograph will inevitably turn up on some kind of protest literature
What I actually found was that there were lots of local alternatives to the supermarkets, and as soon as I looked for them, I found them. Like pixies. And they aren’t special expensive delis: they’re as cheap as or cheaper than the supermarket, for miles better quality. I mean, I don’t think it makes a difference necessarily in terms of taste if you’re getting your tinned tomatoes from the wholefood co-operative or Tesco, but for things like fruit and veg, meat and fish and especially CHEESE, I can’t describe how different it is when it’s not from the supermarket. And being able to get a sense of the seasons, and what’s new in, is so much easier, because you just cook what’s in season, simply. Then when you’re bored of eating rhubarb or peas or whatever bang, it’s out of season, and it’s time for something else. Whereas I couldn’t get any sense of what was in season when I bought things from the supermarket, because TBH, unless I got really lucky, strawberries from Tesco tasted just as crap in July as they did in January and often are on offer at really strange times anyway.

In terms of eating supermarket ready meals: I now cook from scratch for (virtually) every single meal. It’s often no more trouble than putting a ready meal in the oven, because I don’t cook complicated things all the time, and now I’m buying better food I don’t mind having it plain. I don’t know if it’s better for me, but I will tell you that I used to have IBS so badly that up until last year I used to spend a couple of days every fortnight doubled up with stomach ache, if I woke up too early I would throw up, and it was generally a bit miserable to be spending quite so much time googling ‘acute appendicitis’ every five minutes and wondering if I ought to drive myself to casualty. Now my stomach is fine, and I look a lot healthier. Obviously there are other factors (trust me on this one) so don’t take that as gospel, but, you know, I do wonder if eating better food has helped a tiny bit.
I can absolutely promise you that this shop sells things you can't find in Tesco
So this has been my experience. I don’t think we should have no supermarkets at all, I can see why that would be inconvenient: but I think there should be the choice to not shop there, and I think a vibrant non-supermarket food culture is a necessary thing. Unfortunately though, it feels a bit like, if Tesco or Sainsbury’s have decided they are going to bring their special brand of never-quite-fresh food to your neighbourhood, it is as if it has been ordained by God. You have got to have them. There is nothing you can do. You can fight, but they can fight harder. You can campaign, but they can campaign longer. I had been thinking about this because of what is happening on Mill Road in Cambridge, and then there was this article in the Guardian which talked about it as well.

Basically, because the supermarkets have levels of wealth that would make Croesus a bit nervous, they buy their way out of the planning regulations. They do this by appealing, appealing and appealing again, while the council runs out of money to fight the appeals, until they get a foothold, or by offering to pay for other things a town might need at the same time as building their depressing warehouse full of crisps. In Clay Cross, which is near where I am from, Tesco used the latter method, and gave Clay Cross money to ‘redevelop’ in return for building a huge superstore in the town centre. In Cambridge, which is a (relatively) wealthy city, Tesco used the first trick to get a supermarket on Mill Road, which is famous for its independent shops. Now Sainsbury’s is trying to open a store a couple of hundred yards down the road.
Apparently not universal support for a new Sainsbury's
People are protesting. Opposite the proposed Sainsbury’s is Al-Amin, which is a lovely grocery shop which has lots of brilliant things which Sainsbury’s would never stock in a million years, and the owner is standing for Chancellor of the University to publicise what is happening. There is an action group. There is the Mill Road Song (God help us). But, this is the thing: there was a HUGE swell of protest against Tesco, before. There were petitions. There were meetings. There were people arguing nicely and compellingly. There was an anarchist collective established in the building Tesco wanted to take over which held events for the local community. And none of it worked. Tesco opened. And I cannot believe that Sainsbury’s won’t open, too. For those of you thinking, well, people could just not shop there, that is true: but, Sainsbury’s and Tesco make huge, huge profits. Do you think every store they open has to turn a profit? Do you not think some of them might just be useful strategically? And for those of you thinking, well, perhaps there are some people who live near Mill Road who would find a local supermarket useful, well, yes, I agree. But the first Tesco was opened practically next door to a big Co-op: there was a supermarket there already. There is another small Tesco round the corner. There is a huge Sainsbury’s at the end of the road. There is a huge Asda behind. This is nothing about making useful provision for the local people; it is about destroying an area to make a profit. I do find it a bit depressing.

Now, this is where I normally think of something cheerful to say at the end: but, like I say, I do think it’s a bit depressing, so instead I’m going to recommend some things to read which will depress you more, but if you’re interested it’s worth having a look. When I was at university, someone once had a Tesco Value Range party (aaaaand I was at Oxford. You are more than welcome to refer to my last post about poverty tourism). They were more innocent times, when the blue and white of the Value Range was looked on with affection, and when Tesco was not seen as a mean old rampaging beast. Perhaps if the Big Four would all bugger off with their mad expansionist plans those happy times could come again?

Further Reading:
Tescopoly. Information, articles and reports on the impact of supermarket expansion
Shopped, by Joanna Blythman. This is v exciting and actually a page turner
Bad Food Britain, also by Joanna Blythman – more about the effects of supermarkets on our food culture. I am her biggest fan in a non-creepy way
The No Mill Road Tesco campaign which failed
The No Mill Road Sainsbury’s campaign setting off
Clay Cross, which was ‘regenerated’ with money from Tesco (I rang and asked how much but they refused to give me a figure, although he said they wouldn’t ever have had the chance to regenerate Clay Cross without Tesco)
Guardian article on supermarket protesters, no beard or muesli necessary

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Because everybody hates a tourist. Especially one who think's it's all such a laugh

Well it's raining here today so no pictures as everything is grey, but I just wondered what you thought of this. This is what Regretsy thinks of it (for those of you who don't want to click the links - perhaps your computer is very slow and sounds like a hairdryer whenever it encounters Flash, like mine - it's from the etsy blog, about two people who spent fifteen thousand dollars on a wedding with a depression/ hobo theme). I don't have time to say too much about it, because I'm too busy planning my Ragged Trousered Philanthropists themed party. We're all going to wear inadequate clothing and pretend to have consumption brought on by bad living conditions, and while we're nibbling canap├ęs I'm going to push someone off a ladder. It's going to be loads of fun, and not questionable at all, because apparently poverty is actually really quaint and a bit picturesque if it's pre-1940. (Mind you, I always find this book a bit difficult as well, although that is based on skim reading it in Heffers so I may be being entirely unfair. Has anyone read it? Also, my amazon-basket-hand, so to speak, is hovering over The Grapes Of Wrath. Should I?).

Bonus points for any of you who read the bit in the etsy article about cutting up vintage quilts to make table runners and bunting and winced. They couldn't find $40 out of that $15K to buy a couple of metres of Amy Butler? And here's half the internet thinking they don't know anything about deprivation.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Moving on emotionally

from mittens, honestly.
Cthulu is in a story by H P Lovecraft, I have to say, it is not very scary, and I am very easily scared. George Osborne? Chancellor? Nooooooo! See
Just as soon as I've finished these ones. (Partner thinks they're for him and I've told him more than once, no, they're too small. So he tells me what tiny hands he has, we compare, and his fingers are literally twice the width of mine. Sorry Partner, you may have short hands but they are wide and I am not letting you near my Cthulu mittens).

I am now going to go and make a start winding the wool for my City Stole. Have I told you how much I hate winding wool? I really really do. Do you know what annoys me? I think they sell it unwound to make it look prettier and then I, who am a rabid and unlikeable Yarn Utilitarian who cares nothing for prettiness and thus it is wasted on me, have to sit winding it round my knees grinding my teeth and thinking of all the other things I could be doing, like eating carrot cake or pulling up a nettle. I don't mind if it's a small indie person selling it in hanks, because if you're dyeing it or spinning it yourself I can see that might be easier selling it this way than balling it all up, but this is KnitPicks. Can they not afford a machine? Anyway I will go and make a start and I will not annoy myself sitting thinking about it. In the meantime, have you seen this blog/ site thing? She finds free patterns and links to them, and there are some really nice ones on there (I like to leave you with something positive! ;-) ).