Thursday, 13 May 2010


Hello, and Christ on a bike, it’s been well over a year since I last blogged. What happened? I changed jobs at the very end of March 2009 to one that takes up far more of my time than I want it to – I can’t say it was wholly a mistake as the pay is good, but sadly I find there to be few other redeeming features. That extra pay did help with the other major event: my wedding in September 2009. It involved an incredible amount of preparation (I didn’t quite believe people when they warned me) but was, in all seriousness, the best day of my life, so most certainly worth it. And as well as the new job and new surname, I’ve been getting a lot more serious on the knitting and wildlife fronts. I’m sure if I can get back into blogging I’ll cover all of those, barring work, in a few detailed catch-up posts.

For now, I should explain why, suddenly, on Thursday 13 May 2010, I am back.

As I’m sure most readers will know, we’ve just had a general election in the UK, with a shiny new Prime Minister. I was following some political discussions on the British Knitters group on Ravelry, when someone mentioned the Mass Observation social research project. Started in 1937, this seeks to create an archive of the experiences of the average British citizen, as a historical record of the populace. The sort of thing that we had to analyse in GCSE History, by the time I took it (at the time with much eye-rolling, but of great interest to me now). The original project ran until the 1950s, and was resurrected in 1981, the year of my birth. These days, participants are asked to write three pieces a year for the archive on their thoughts on specific issues, plus any other pieces they’d like to contribute. These are archived anonymously, catalogued by date and by topic, and available to researchers upon application to the University of Sussex. I am sure I could spend hours reading through the minutiae of people’s lives. I have, in fact, just ordered the first book of records by the prolific Nella Last, a housewife who kept very detailed records for Mass Observation through World War II and into peacetime, and I can’t wait for it to arrive.

I would absolutely love to write for Mass Observation, but unfortunately they are currently only recruiting males aged 16-44 who live in the north of England. They might consider those who meet two out of three criteria, but since I only meet the age requirement, I’m not going to get in. Given my blogging performance, that might be a good thing… Happily, and also by the power of Ravelry, I was alerted to a one-off project for anyone to submit a 750-word diary entry for 12 May 2010. I believe the date was chosen to be an ordinary day, because that same date had been used for the same project in 1937 (the date of the coronation of George VI); I am probably going to order that book too. As it happened, given the rather drawn-out process of forming a coalition government over the last week, the entries might be a bit more political than the Mass Observation people had anticipated.

Last night, after knitting, I sat down to write my diary, and, having done so, I realised that I had a ready-made blog entry – or at least half of one seeing as I suspect the above introduction might easily be as long. Longer, in fact, since I have a tendency to be verbose (perhaps that’s why I don’t keep up the blog – it takes too long to write all I want to say). My first draft of the diary entry came in at just under 1,000 words and still, in my mind, contained hardly anything. No details, no feelings. Cutting it down even further to meet the word limit pained me greatly. But having survived doing so, I might as well offer it up to any dear readers who might still be around.

The style is, therefore, sparser than usual, and contains the required background information. We were asked to describe our day, including whether it was typical, and to include such details as who we met, what we ate, and the like.

On that note, I will leave you with the entry itself below, and go and do some long-needed comment moderation since the spammers found this blog. I promise to be back soon!


I am a 29-year-old female living in north London with my husband. I am an accountant specialising in corporate tax.

Today was a typical Wednesday: work followed by my knitting group’s regular weekly meet-up.

I first woke up at 7am, when the alarm went off for my husband to get up – he is due in his office earlier than I am due in mine, and he has usually left the house before I get out of bed at 8.15am. I value sleep more than a leisurely time getting ready, so I rush to shower, dress and do basic make-up – I don’t make much of an effort with that for the office. I never eat breakfast at home – I might buy something on my way into work but often, including today, I skip it entirely. This morning getting up was harder than normal because I’ve been suffering with a cold for the last few days, and kept myself awake coughing during the night. I’d had the last two days off work sick, since I’d completely lost my voice, so today was my first day back.

My usual route into work is to take the bus down to the tube station. It is within walking distance but I am shamefully lazy. On arrival at the tube station I found the gates closed as one of the two lines it serves was disrupted and so the station was overcrowded. However we were let in reasonably soon, so that didn’t make me late for work. I have to change once on the tube, then there’s about a ten-minute walk to my office in the City.

My work involves the preparation of tax returns for our UK companies, plus dealing with correspondence with the Revenue, sorting out tax payments, and fielding queries from the accounting teams in our business units. Nothing out of the ordinary happened today work-wise.

I work in a team of five people, plus our boss who sits in her own office. We are quite sociable and chat whilst we work. Today’s main topic of conversation was of course the new coalition government, and in particular their tax plans. We will need to report to our board on the outcome of the replacement Budget that we have been told will be given soon, so that gave us an excuse to spend a lot of time surfing various news websites in search of any rumours. Plenty of tea was made, as always.

For lunch I bought a freshly-prepared salad from a take-away place by our office, plus a soft drink and a chocolate-chip cookie for later, but sadly the cookie turned out to be not very nice so I didn’t finish it.

At 5.45pm I left the office – this is unusually early for me, as I tend to stay until at least 6.30pm, often later. I am not paid overtime, but my contract says that I am required to work any additional hours needed to do my job. This is quite standard in financial services, but I do at least get a bonus (never enough!) once a year.

Having exchanged e-mails during the day to arrange a venue, I headed across to west London to a crêperie to meet my knitting group. This was to be a new venue for us, and did not work out very well. We do not generally all turn up at the same time, so need a place where we are able to take over a table big enough for all of us for the whole evening. The crêperie was extremely busy and the waitresses could not let us do that, but luckily fewer people than normal came along. We admired each other’s knitting, ate crêpes and chatted about the election, books, films etc. I was knitting a plain triangular shawl, since this is easy to do whilst talking!

We left the restaurant at 9pm. The tube disruption from earlier was still going on, so it took me longer than usual to get home. Coincidentally I arrived at my home station at the same time as my husband, who had been rock climbing with his friends, so we took the bus home together, arriving back at 10pm. We don’t have a television, so both spent some time reading and surfing the internet on our laptops, with the heating on as it is unusually cold for May. I wrote this diary entry at just past midnight, and will go to bed as soon as it is sent.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Belt up

Last week I finally made it to a class at The Make Lounge, after basically everybody I know has been there multiple times without me. Can't think why I haven't before. It's even really close to where I live, and opposite the road where my most-local yarn shop Loop is.

The Make Lounge is a tiny little studio devoted to interesting crafty classes, owned by the very friendly Jennifer, and has been open for nearly a year now. It's really bright and still cosy, and you get free wine, tea and biscuits with your class.

The one I went to was on leather belt-making, so something I figured I could not do at home. The class was run by the very lovely Merle and there were about eight of us doing it. We were given a basic design to work with and allowed to choose dark or light brown leather (or a combo), plus metal hardware in the form of buckles or studs, in gold or silver, then away we went with all the fun stuff. It was quite hard work: cutting the leather (it was very thick), polishing down the edges, conditioning and buffing the surface to a shine, painting the edges with dye, deciding to bevel everything so more polishing, buffing and dyeing... Better than a gym workout for the upper arms. That was even before we moved onto the hole punching and riveting, with rubber mallets, tiny little anvils, and strange punching machinery.

After all that, here's my attempt, modelled by me the next morning in the garden before work:

I also tried to get some shots of round the back to show off the fact that the holes go all the way round for decorative purposes, but it's really hard to twist and take a photo without displaying hideous rolls of fat, so I gave up. This was the best I could do.

Towards the end of the class I decided to use my offcuts to make a matching wrist cuff. It worked perfectly but I probably annoyed the hell out of Jennifer by still being at it well after the supposed end time of the class when she wanted to close up and go home. If you're reading this, my apologies, and thank you for your forbearance.

Jennifer took some photos of the class in progress, and I particularly like this one for the colours of my turquoise nails and mustard dress against the leather.

Gail has done this class before and her belt, different to mine, is here.

All in all not something I'll try at home, what with all the equipment needed, but a brilliant class and good value considering I got the belt and the cuff (and wine, had I wanted any). I'll definitely be going back!

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Proud to be...

At the very end of February I had a great weekend "representing", one way or the other.

On the Saturday I met with a group of UK-based members of the Lazy, Stupid & Godless (LSG or lsg if you want to live up to the lazy bit) group on Ravelry. The group was founded on 1 February 2008 - I am pleased to say I was there on day 1 - and so first birthday celebrations took place worldwide during February (taking the whole month Jack Daniels style). We lazily managed it on the last possible day.

For those not members, the group was founded after an argument on the main boards of Ravelry about swearing. Two camps quickly became apparent - those who think that four-letter words show the user to be a stupid moron sitting around scratching their pubes and drooling (but funny how using asterisks makes it all OK, isn't it, hmm?), versus those who consider the judicious use of solid and venerable Anglo-Saxon words to be an augmentation of the vocabulary. And why the fuck not? You know which side I was on, of course. We agreed to pander to the delicate sensibilities of the objectors, refrain from swearing on the "Big 6", and decamped to our own group to be as filthy as we liked. It remains one of the most fun, supportive and kind groups on the whole internet, let alone Ravelry. These really are my kind of people.

We decided to meet up at Prick Your Finger, a yarn shop in Bethnal Green, east London, which is sufficiently quirky for such purposes. Additionally, LSG-member Kirsty was performing an art installation there anyway, so it worked out very well. We arrived in dribs and drabs over the course of a couple of hours, and took over the whole floor for a knit-in, whilst owner Rachael Matthews made us many cups of tea.

We watched Kirsty's Pin Ritual. Her pin-based art is amazing - here's a close-up of one of her hanging pieces:

And the trail of pins she leaves wherever she goes (wear shoes):

Some fab stuff from around the shop:

We then decamped to the nearby pub for pies, alcohol, ice-cream, knitting and good conversation - it is called The Camel but was re-christened The Camel-Toe:

You're all awesome, twatweasels!

The next day I celebrated not my sweariness but my gingerness, at a photographic exhibition called Root Ginger, devoted to redheads. I'd seen something about this before but it was somewhere up north, Wolverhampton I think (yes, as far as I'm concerned that's north, way north), so I was thrilled to see it come to London.

It was fairly small, and consisted of large close-up portraits of redheads, all taken against a white background as if a scientific study. I think they're beautiful, but then I would!

There was also some video and printed interviews about the experiences of the participants with respect to having red hair - inevitably the bullying and teasing, the unthinking slights in folklore (the warning about tea-pouring and the threat of bearing ginger twins, the proverbially unwelcome "redheaded step-child", to name but two), but also the admiring comments from old ladies about children - that used to happen a lot to me too. What was particularly interesting was the number of gingers there. If I'd been manning the front desk, I'd have kept a tally of the redheaded visitors as a proportion of all visitors, and I bet it would have been far higher than the general population. Certainly there were plenty of us on the streets of Shoreditch, headed towards or away from the exhibition. I was able to direct a few people who looked lost, because their hair told me exactly what they were looking for.

Particularly nice to see were the number of ginger children there, and I say that as someone who would normally rather be anywhere but in a gallery full of kids. It is rather isolating - especially if you're the only one in the family like I was - and I thought it was great that they could see other people, celebrating their hair colour, particularly for the little boys who have a hard time of it. I like redheaded men but I know I'm in the minority there. I feel they're often forced to become extroverted to survive school, and to an extent that applies to us girls to in having to live up to our "fiesty" reputation. I'm not complaining, I love my hair as my screen-name suggests, and I wouldn't change it for the world. But it does get a little tiring when people casually say they'd hate to have a ginger child, or when my brother says on his Myspace page he'd do any member of Girls Aloud except for the ginger one because gingers are minging, or even family holidays spent hiding miserably under an umbrella wearing SPF 50 total sun block whilst my quick-tanning family basked on the sand. So of course I loved the exhibition.

Lots of people were having their photo taken with the big sign, so I got the boyfriend to do it for me. It's not a great photo as I have my eyes shut, but it turns out I'm inadvertently mimicing the pose of the child on the programme.

Gingers rule!

Monday, 2 March 2009

Baba Marta

Last week a colleague asked me, out of the blue, "How long does it take for your wool to arrive?" I blinked in slight confusion. To which particular wool of the many stash enhancement packages that arrive at my desk, er, several times a week, could she be referring? Then I realised that to "normal" people, there could quite conceivably only be one type of wool and only one supplier. I'm sure I'd be equally surprised by the variety of things available for any one of a million different past-times.

Anyway, some questioning revealed the rationale behind the question. This particular colleague is from Bulgaria, where there is a tradition of exchanging little red and white woolly things, called Martenitsa, on 1 March, which is a national holiday for the first day of spring. The ornaments placate Baba Marta, who is a crotchety old grandmother/witch - the archetypal crone. They are hung up or worn from 1 March until the owner first sees either a stork, a swallow, or a tree in bloom - if the latter, the ornaments should be tied to the tree (presumably this is not feasible with the stork or the swallow and therefore not required by tradition).

It is acceptable and common to purchase Martenitsa (although not for yourself, you have to exchange), but handmade is best. We therefore headed to John Lewis for wool, beads and other supplies, then spent an enjoyable lunch hour creating the ornaments.

Most of the Martenitsa are based on tassles, and the most traditional are little people, a man and a woman. For these, step 1 involves making a tassle:

And then binding it at various points to make a neck, waist and arms:

After some trimming, and the same process again in reverse colours, you have the couple:

Other kinds of tassles and pom-poms are also fine. I made these in the rest of our session:

Here are some examples of purchased ones, including friendship bracelets which are also popular:

Mine are now hung up on my desk, awaiting the sighting of a tree (storks and swallows not being common in central London):

My colleague also sent me a link to this news story from a Bulgarian website, which shows the street markets in Sofia at which these things are sold. They are all rather more complex than my attempts - I did find the knitter in the one I've linked to most amusing (the others are worth a look too for novel things to do with wool). I admit I tried to steal the photo but the site wouldn't let me, boo.

Happy March, and let's hope it is nearly spring!

Tuesday, 24 February 2009


I hope you are all enjoying your pancakes today.

I always use Delia's recipe, with very hot butter and a non-stick pan, and I'm pretty good at tossing them accurately (and more importantly, catching them).

Different fillings are nice, from time to time, but for me it really has to be the traditional lemon and sugar on Shrove Tuesday, even though the citrophobic boyfriend treats them like tangy yellow grenades.


Monday, 23 February 2009


Leyburn Socks

My Socks That Rock Leyburn socks for the KAL are finished! Done, done, done. And on time, even ahead of time, no less, seeing as the KAL runs until 31 March. That alone is an extraordinary achievement for me.

You might remember from before that the socks had spontaneously generated a grey quilted lattice effect over a coloured background, on the foot. That didn't last on the legs, of course, due to the different stitch count and floats all the way round. It's still cool though. Looking at the socks (and other ones in this colourway on Ravelry) I think I would have disliked the pooling of these colours in a plain sock, but the Leyburn pattern breaks it up just enough. I think I need to be more careful in buying sock yarn as I have a few which are just too contrasty for me. At some point I'm going to convert some of my skein photos to greyscale to see if there's any way of telling by hue what I will and won't like. I have the KAL rules, in that we all had to pick a different colour of STR and this was the only one I had that hadn't been taken, for getting me to knit with it, otherwise it might have languished in my stash forever. Check out the KAL projects in all those STR colours, so much fun!

Details: BMFA STR mediumweight in "Tide Pool" on 2.75mm needles for a very tight fabric indeed. Pattern as written with short row toes and heels (and not many gaps actually) until the leg, where I only increased to 60 stitches not 72. They are a little hard to get on and off, but fit perfectly once on. I finished these off with a picot cuff as I just didn't fancy doing ribbing and wasn't sure it would work all that well with the busy pattern and pooling. I hadn't done a picot edge before but enjoyed the process, even though stitching down all the live stitches at the end was more time consuming than a regular cast off. I think here it gives a crown-like effect which goes with the regal quilting.

There is one slightly amusing mistake in these, though not easy to spot. They were almost entirely knitted whilst watching the Joss Whedon sci-fi series Firefly, and then the follow-on film, Serenity, all on DVD. Not wishing to give the plot away, there is a particularly tragic moment towards the end of the film, and on reflection that has to correspond to the plain row I missed out of one pattern repeat near the top of the second sock, leading to one slightly shallower V. Proves I enjoyed the film, right?

I will definitely make this pattern again and am pondering whether or not it would be possible to do the socks in black and the floats in another colour, but will have to figure out what I'd do across the soles to get the yarns back into the right places. Not a task for just now though. I have promised the boyfriend a pair of socks and so will be working with STR mediumweight again straight away, doing plain stocking stitch songs in man-size. Possibly dull, but I am going to challenge myself by learning to use two circulars instead of DPNs, just to see if I can. Vaguely considered trying magic loop but will have that as next on the list.

I also have some other FOs but these are old, I just failed to do the finishing on them for ages, then failed to blog them.

Oil Slick Triangular Shawl

From back in July, oh, the shame. Worse still, I finished it back at the very start of November and then didn't do all the ends until some time in January. Never mind, I wear it around the house with pleasure now, although it's a bit rustic and bulky to wear out on the streets of London where I have to preserve my gritty urban cool.

It is huge. I can't measure it because my tape measure is AWOL, but it's wider than my armspan and that's meant to correspond to my height of 5'8". So about six feet. It's six balls of Noro Iro which were in the John Lewis sale in the summer. As far as I'm concerned, Noro = KNoto which is why there were so many bloody ends to avoid dealing with. The result is very snuggly though, and I love the striping.

The pattern is my own, just garter stitch starting at the nape of the neck, then increasing in the middle and at the edges until I ran out of yarn and/or would have given my soul to be finished, on 7mm bamboo circular needles borrowed from Ting.

Feather & Fan Silk Scarf

Worse still, I started this back in June, finished it not that much later, and again it sat waiting for weaving in until after Christmas. Sheesh.

There are lots of photos of this one because I adore the combination of the ripples of the pattern stitch and the glowing orange and pink yarn. It's Skein Queen Kimono, a pure silk aran weight, in "Phoenix". I have subsequently bought the same stuff in another two colours for more of these, but nowhere near as vibrant.

Again the pattern, such as it is, is my own. It's just feather and fan over 36 stitches, plus two stitches either side for a garter border. I got to use my favourite vintage 4.5mm Inox metal needles, which always make me happy in my knitting.

The yarn was wonderful to knit with although did shed pink, slightly fluffy silk strands all over me during the process, and it continues to do so now over my black coat. Must get the lint roller out.

But I can forgive the prettiness anything.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Battleship Potemkin

I don't like giving bad reviews. I feel horrible about it. Most of the time, I enjoy gigs, plays and restaurants, because I'm pretty easily pleased. The rest of the time, I just don't talk about them. However, this week I actually managed to have a restaurant experience so bad that I feel the need to write about it as a warning - as well as the mutiny we did, for my first time ever, stage at the restaurant. I doubt the Soviets would have approved of this as much as of the actual uprising.

It all started so well, at Potemkin, a Russian restaurant in Clerkenwell, to celebrate a friend's birthday. The promise of 108 different types of vodka was alluring, and indeed proved to be true:

Does that vodka menu look a bit odd to you? We were told that all their prices had gone up (in a recession? with a VAT cut?) and that a couple of the menus had been marked up with the new prices, but not all. Those of us without writing all over the menus would have to consult with others, or, er, guess what price we'd be charged. I'm not sure that's legal under Trading Standards. Possibly a sign of things to come.

In essence, to make your party of a dozen celebrants happy enough to spend lots of money in your establishment, I would recommend that you, dear restaurant owner, do not:

  • Agree a set menu over the phone when making the reservation then decide that only "a few" of us could actually have it;
  • Take half an hour to come and take our order;
  • Take another forty five minutes on top of that to bring our first drinks (if we hadn't seen the menu we would have lost faith in there being any vodka at all by this point, let alone 140 kinds);
  • Take even longer than that to bring our starters, whilst other tables around us arrived, ordered and pretty much got through three courses;
  • Ignore our repeated reminders that we had a set time to leave (which we delayed once for your convenience when it became clear even the starters weren't going to make it by then);
  • Despite our order being made first, sell out a main course dish to all the other tables so suddenly there was none left for us, especially if you only bother to mention this and ask for alternative choices about ten minutes before we really, really had to leave, thus demonstrating that the mains weren't even in the oven yet; and/or (but definitely not and)
  • Be extremely surly all the way through.
We left. It was just too frustrating for words. Many jokes were made by us about queuing and the stereotypical food shortages... Anyway, we walked out, which I've never done before. It was a shame, because the starters were actually very good, but we had no hope whatsoever of getting the rest of our meal in time to do anything else that night, and we weren't even getting drunk in the process.

We ended up in, horrors, Kentucky Fried Chicken. I don't think I'd been in one before. Actually, it wasn't too bad because the thing I ate bore some resemblance to an actual piece of chicken (although most certainly not free range) and certainly more edible than my place mat and cutlery at Potemkin. Best of all, it was in my hands about thirty seconds after I'd ordered. Magic! Demons!

Thus actually fed, where was this place we were in such a hurry to get to? Karaoke! More particularly, Karaoke Box by Smithfield Market. This was awesome fun. I'm a terrible singer but I do know the words to an awful lot of songs, and I'm a complete exhibitionist who always wanted to be a rock star. Even stone-cold sober, it's difficult to get me to give up the microphone to save the eardrums of everybody else. Luckily Karaoke Box rent you your own private room to do this in so as not to inflict the likes of me on the rest of the punters (and additional benefits of your own computer with 8,000 and waitress service). Here's our gang giving it large to Dancing Queen in our little room:

I had the dignity to sit that one out because I absolutely hate bloody Abba. What did I sing? Well, I rocked Depeche Mode's awesome Personal Jesus. That's a good one to chant along to, if you know the song well enough to avoid coming in at the wrong place.

We had a group mosh to Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit, just like in my teenage clubbing days. At least I was wearing flat boots for all that hardcore bouncing.

But the highlight of the night? The cod-Welsh singalong to Goldie Lookin' Chain's Your Mother's Got A Penis, which almost caused me to wet myself with laughter.

"Don't come back in huur!" As the owners of Potemkin might say, and we won't.