Sunday, 30 December 2007

Roaming tit flocks

Which is a proper ornithological term, but makes me think irrepressibly rude things.

The boyfriend and I have just returned from our birdwatching holiday to RSPB Minsmere in Suffolk, which was our reciprocal Christmas present - going away together is much better than trying to buy each other something pointless. I should point out now that we are not twitchers, as we do not chase rarities or have tick lists, we just like wildlife and birds in particular are both beautiful and relatively easy to find.

Minsmere is a wonderful place, some call it the "cathedral of birdwatching". They have over 200 species visiting every year, and so there's always something new to see. As with previous visits, we booked ourselves onto a walk with one of the terribly knowledgeable volunteer guides, as the place is just too big otherwise, and so spent a very cold but immensely enjoyable morning pottering about from hide to hide, only just surviving the strong winds and discussing the finer points of seagull ID (we had common and greater black-backed gulls there in addition to all the ones I saw on Boxing Day).

The roaming tit flock of the title was something we came across on the return leg of our walk, a big, chirpy group of tiny little birds all gathered together for safety as they raided the alders for seeds. There were five species of tits (woohoo, I hear you saying): great, blue, long-tailed, marsh and coal (crested and willow not being found on the reserve) and also Britain's smallest bird, the goldcrest, which are ever so cute. They bounced and cheeped around the tree tops for a few minutes and then were on their way to carry on their circuit of the reserve.

Given it was the wrong time of year to see the bitterns or avocets for which Minsmere is famous, the two birds we really wanted to see were the marsh harrier, a stunning raptor, and the bearded tit, which we'd heard but failed to see last time we were there. It being Christmas and all, we saw both. The harriers were out in force, terrorising the inhabitants of the reed beds good and proper. Marsh harriers are beautifully coloured, the males in particular having tricolour wings, which are held in a characteristic dihedral (a shallow V shape) as they soar. The bearded tits are smart little birds, a tawny russet on the body, with a grey head and a sharply-defined big drooping black moustache for the male, making him look like a silent film star hanging around in the reeds. No chance of photographing either, but there are wonderful photos here and here.

Incongruously, one view across the waving seas of amber reeds is to the magnificent Sizewell B nuclear power station. This in itself is a great holiday destination for two geeky scientists, and so on previous visits we have spent a fun afternoon poking around the boundaries taking photos and dodging security guards - the visitor centre has, sadly, been closed for some time. Got to love that industrial architecture.

We also went to the excellent little antiquarian bookshop in the centre of Aldeburgh, called Reed Books, where I picked up Odham's Encyclopaedia of Knitting by James Norbury (apparently the BBC's TV Knitting Expert - I never knew they used to have one of those) and Margaret Agutter. No date, but I'd say roughly post-war. It seems very comprehensive, lots of diagrams, some nice lace motifs, although the patters are, as expected, rather dated. The shop owner laughed at the thought of buying a knitting book, which I thought was rather rude, but I didn't say anything. I also bought a very strange book called Sex-Lore: A Primer on Courtship, Marriage and Parenthood by Mrs Herbert. This was published in 1918, dedicated to "The Younger Generation" and purports to be an instructional text. However, it discusses animal courtship in great detail, and all the way through to the exact method by which amoebae split, but then becomes rather more coy when describing the mechanics for the multicellular animals and man. I'm not sure I'd have found it terribly useful... Amusingly, the preface mentions "the influence and stimulation of my husband's work" which in context seems a little unfortunate a choice of words. I also bought a copy of Fowler's Modern English Usage, but since it's a 1944 print of the original 1926 edition (which was only revised and updated in 1965) it may well render my writing even more archaic than it already is.

The observant among you may note that I am blogging and decidedly NOT scrapping it out online at the Posh Yarn sale which just started. I think I may have bought too much yarn lately (gasp!) and so I'm staying away. Going out now to make sure I don't succumb!

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Everyday is like Sunday

I wasn't going to blog again before the New Year, but the general post-Christmas ennui has got to me already so I'm occupying myself surfing the net and looking for hotel deals. The title song is one of my favourites by Morrissey, especially when I was younger and desperate to leave the coast for the bright lights of the city, and what an intro, and what a string section. Nowadays I'm not sure I agree that seaside resorts out of season are all that depressing - actually I prefer them, not being a sun worshipper, and my own southern hometown is hardly deserted in winter - but the song captures the desolate essence of what you imagine it should feel like perfectly.

As is Boxing Day tradition, after lunch we headed for the beach and a long family walk with the dog. Just like everybody else for miles around it seems; it was like Crufts. The weather was perfect: not cold, not windy, but damply grey and slightly foggy for the first hour or so of the walk, giving a steely cast to the sea. We trudged slowly along the wet sand for an hour or so, watching the breakers and endlessly throwing the ball - why are dogs and men so enamoured of balls? I found an interesting rock (flint?), bigger than my fist, with a hole worn through from decades or even centuries of water action, black-blue-grey like a falcon. There were plenty of gulls around: black-headed, in their demure winter plumage, waiting for the spring to come so that they can moult into their sexy chocolate-brown caps; lesser black-backs, screaming over food scraps; and paler herring gulls, wheeling and squawking. It threatened to rain.

Eventually we found a packed cafe and miraculously an outside table, so we sat down for hot chocolate lavishly piled with whipped cream, cocoa powder and a flake, and a bowl of hot, fat chips with lots of salt and vinegar. Perfect seaside food. Refreshed, we turned back to head for home, just as the sun unexpectedly made an appearance and the entire beachful of people seemed to cheer up all at once as the sea turned to a deep greeny-turquoise. A huge black cormorant flew low above our heads down the length of the beach, flapping with the air of absolute determination that all cormorants seem to have (that an a complete disregard for how scruffy they look, a kind of "sod you" attitude). Little pied wagtails bounced around the sand happily, ignoring the dogs.

Back home now, warming up with a whisky mac, and having turkey curry for dinner. I'm busy knitting a scarf for a friend's birthday, to be delivered tomorrow, so had better go and get on with it...

Monday, 24 December 2007

So here it is, Merry Christmas

Just a quick post (as I'm down with the 'rents for the hols) to send you all most wonderful wishes for a very happy non-religious winter festival, aka Christmas in shorthand (I see no hypocrisy in this, it's a takeover of the winter solstice and the Saturnalia anyway so I'm damn well going to have presents and sing songs).

Here is the tree chez Ginger:

As you will see, it's full of stuffed toy birds so that the boyfriend and I can birdwatch without having to go outside in the cold, although we will be doing so for real between Christmas and New Year. I'll therefore post again in 2008.

Have a fab holiday season!

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Party time, excellent

I have survived the week of parties by the skin of my teeth. Not entirely unscathed as my throat hurts and I spent most of yesterday afternoon asleep on the sofa (last day at work so half day, hoorah), but in general I feel like most of my liver is intact and I only had one really bad hangover, which is pretty good going really.

Tuesday was the office Christmas party, always deadly. I won't write too much but it was, in some ways, like the worst wedding ever (dinner then a tragic disco) and I have discovered that there are some people who I should avoid like the plague when they're drunk (or indeed sober).

Wednesday night was much more fun as the knitting group had its party in a nice little Japanese restaurant called Ribon on Holborn Viaduct. We were segregated from the mad Japanese karaoke party downstairs - I'm not sure if that was for their peace or ours. Presents were exchanged and I received the Divine book of chocolate recipes from Lotta, which I'd been lusting after for ages, and will definitely be using for experimentation when the girls come round for cake. Yummy. Gail made us all some sweet little lavender bags to keep the moths from our stashes. Thank you lovelies!

Then on Thursday it was down to IKnit for their party, which I very much felt I should attend after being publically accused of never having been there (true). On the way we noticed that someone had hung a flock of giant origami cranes under the railway bridge, and they were spinning gently in the turbulence from passing traffic:

What a cool shop! Lots of gorgeous yarn, a bar with some interesting raspberry cider (or zoider as I'm in part a West Country girl by breeding) and charming hosts in Craig and Gerard. We had plenty of party food, including cheese and pineapple on sticks, my favourite! Got a bit of knitting done (and then, in my case, frogged it all) - here are Ting and Gail happily doing some:

Had a raffle-based Secret Santa - here is my present, a cute little clockwork sushi (specifically an ikura gunkan) which zooms along the floor:

And, of course, bought some yarn - here is Ting being ever so happy to be doing so, and therefore ignoring the need to pay:

I bought some Cherry Tree Hill Supersock in Champlain Sunset, a combination of reds, pinks, oranges and blues:

And some Colinette Jitterbug in Alizerine, an almost fluorescent pink on a pale blue-grey background:

Tonight is the climbing party so just gearing up for that by playing with Ravelry. Then off down to the parents' place for Christmas. Good luck to you all with last minute shopping and/or knitting, you'll need it!

Monday, 17 December 2007

'Tis the season to spend money, fa la la la la...

More swish eating out today, with lunch at L'Oranger on St James' Street, just off Piccadilly. All rather nice, an espresso cup of velvety carrot and orange soup to get us in the mood (after a glass of pink champagne had started us well on the road to good humour) then a crab and courgette remoulade to start with a crunchy endive salad. My main was a lovely garlic-infused chicken supreme, accompanied by a perfectly circular gratin of pumpkin, and some gnocchi in orange (get the theme?) sauce, amazing little bombs of flavour. Finally a chocolate fondant pudding, on orange (yes, again) coulis, which amused me by coming with a wafer thing made from crisped rice. No room at all for the mini chocolate brownies served instead of petit-fours, sadly. All in all very pleasant.

After work frantic Christmas shopping was performed at Selfridges. Once again, what a great department store this is, very helpful staff, only too pleased to keep heavy bags for you to collect later (thus encouraging more shopping no doubt). Happily I discovered that there's a promotion at the moment where you get a £10 gift voucher (a normal gift voucher, not some funny restricted one, just an actual Selfridges gift voucher) if you spend anything at all on American Express. Not that I was told this until I made my third purchases of the evening, so tut tut to the previous two departments where they'd failed to mention this. I'm not one for great loyalty to banks, go with the one with the best deals of the moment I say, but Amex are genuinely good at this kind of offer, discounts and special shopping evenings etc, especially around Christmas. And they pay decent rates of cashback, have wonderful customer service (worldwide next day couriering of a replacement card if you lose yours) and a snazzy holographic card. OK, plug over, seeing as I'm not getting commission. Spending money, everyone's a winner, baby.

Some amusing items for sale in the 'Fridges, for those still looking for present inspiration. Wandering through cookwear, I saw the following:

It is, apparently, for growing your straggly live basil and coriander. But all I could think was professional hydroponics. Hmm.

And whilst I adore cupcakes, these seemed utterly pointless:

I mean, ceramic cupcakes on ceramic cakestands? Surely those of us who like cupcakes tend to be the ones with quite enough ornaments and very little spare shelf space as it is?

Happy shopping, only a few days to go!

P.S. Those of you having to work on Christmas Eve this year may wish to throw mince pies at Mr Scrooge in this article.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Christmas comes but once a year (thankfully)

I have spent this weekend mainly getting drunk and furiously trying to get on with Christmas knitting despite a slight aura of fuzziness in the head department. Several fried egg sandwiches (made with toasted English muffins) have helped somewhat, but have not alleviated the mounting sense of dread that there is only a week to go. I had intended to complete the following:
  • Grey bamboo neckwarmer for Dad to wear on his motorbike
  • Black silk Branching Out for grandma
  • Blue bamboo plain stocking stitch socks for grandpa (actually these were meant to be for his birthday back in August)
  • Pink cashmere/silk lacy anklets for my aunt
  • Ribbed hat/scarf set for a friend
  • Brown Knucks for my brother
  • Numerous small needle-felted animals as little gifts for all sorts of people
And what have I actually finished? Dad's neckwarmer. That's it. Bugger. Why did I seemingly forget, again, that Christmas is at the end of December, like it always is?

I'm nearly half way through grandma's Branching Out (OK OK, right now more like a third, but still have time left this evening except we are going out for dinner and I need to bake a cake, eek). I am just about confident of finishing that, although it's not something I can do socially (too difficult) and I have an awful lot of parties to attend this week. I am ready for the toe decreases on the first of grandpa's socks, but he has very big feet and swollen ankles, and are at a small gauge. I am therefore waiting for next weekend to go to the Whisky Exchange to pick up the last part of my dad's present, just in case I end up having to get something for grandpa too.

Everybody else? Well, thank the baby Jesus for Amazon, that's all I can say... Sorry, all of you.

Better get back to the needles...

Thursday, 13 December 2007


Don't you just love accessories? In my very unhumble opinion, a girl can never have too many shoes, bags, scarves, hats, gloves, jewellery...  and so on. From cheap and cheerful (thank you Topshop) to terribly high end (well hello De Beers), I do love my finishing touches. And accessories will never let you down, they'll always fit, even on the hideous days when your jeans won't even pull up over your bottom let alone do up, and people on the tube offer you their seat because they assume you're preggers...

So I am very pleased to have finished a most yummy pair of fingerless gloves (or wristwarmers, I'm not sure when one becomes t'other) in gorgeous cashmere from Posh Yarn. Here they are:

It's a 3x1 rib, knit finger end down to maximise arm length. The thumb was done using a bit of waste yarn, like Fetching, as I felt the ribbing would let me get away with no gusset (ugh, "gusset"). The yarn blend is called Sophia, which is 100% cashmere and I would say aran weight as these were done on 3.75mm needles. The colourway is Serenade, which is a beautiful spectrum of purples, from an almost rose-pink through to lavender, with occasional flashes of bright turquoise. Now these are exactly the sort of accessory to liven up a dull winter outfit, and make a girl smile on her way into work on a frosty London morning, whilst still being able to handle her Oyster Card dexterously.

Actually, I finished these a week ago. Here's an action shot of them assisting me in making sense of the subway map in Berlin: 

I have also just had some cute accessories in the post: a fab necklace and bracelet from Sassafras Creations, cunningly fashioned from slices of old aluminium knitting needles in a rainbow of pastel anodised finishes. They came beautifully wrapped in old sewing patterns, lovely.

I seem to be starting some kind of collection of jewellery made from old needles, as I already have a bangle from Liana Kabel from an old plastic one (red 6mm in my case). So why not let your accessories speak for you, and shout your knitting predelictions to the world?

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

I love Secret Santa!

How exciting, I have just received my Ravelry Secret Santa package! And no, I didn't wait for Christmas to open it...

My Santa was the wonderful Denise, a huge coincidence as she was the only person (out of the 90-odd swap participants) whom I actually knew (in the internet-based sense) at all beforehand as one of my fellow clappers. Who'd have thought it?

Such fun was had unwrapping the presents. First of all I couldn't help but notice the festive knitting stamps on the package, with cute little designs in Fair Isle. I have nicked better pics than I could take from the USPS:

Then a layer of beautiful paper featuring a pretty Japanese girl with a fan:

Followed by some layers of candy-cane-striped red and white tissue paper - I was too excited by now to take photos of this layer. Then the presents, hooray!

The main point of the swap was yarn, and Denise sent me a ball of Tofutsies sock yarn. This is exactly what I was after, something not readily available here in the UK (readers will note that I'm hardly reticent about ordering stuff to be delivered from the USA, but that's not the point). This stuff is made from (along with wool) soya and chitin, the latter from shrimp and crabs! Very cool. Even the boyfriend, who has a PhD in such invertebrate things, was impressed in a way not normally associated with him and yarn. It does strike me though, that a yarn named after tofu (obviously because of the soy content) should probably be vegan, whereas it's actually probably the least veggie-friendly yarn around, being made out of ground up crustacea. Not that I care of course, in fact I think it's a shame that something so virtually sushi probably won't taste like it when I'm sucking ends to weave them in.

Denise's blog says that this was partly chosen because of the Maryland/crabs connection - I'm afraid I wouldn't have got that myself because I only associate MD with cookies, not crabs, but now I know I am even more pleased at her thoughfulness in finding something "local". The colourway is 802 "Rainbow Warrior" (like the Greenpeace ship?) and it really lives up to it, with pretty much every colour in there. This will make some crazy socks, for me needless to say. I am not giving anything made from this away!

There were loads of extras too, probably far too many, Denise you are naughty. Firstly some lovely handmade cubic stitchmarkers, of which I am desperately in need as most of mine are currently employed in my clap which is "resting" until after the Christmas knitting rush. Then some sparkly dark green L'Oreal eyeliner, which is just perfect, I adore sparkly makeup and green is my favourite. I wish I could get a decent photo to show the colour (damn the winter darkness in the evenings and the lack of daylight bulbs in my house), but may get an action shot over the party season! Then some chocolates - Ghirardelli dark and mint squares, and some Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, which I've heard of but never tried. A fun Christmas-themed fridge magnet, to festive-up my kitchen. And a sweet little card with a delightful glittery fairy!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

My own package is currently winging its way to its recipient across the pond, I do hope she likes it...

Monday, 10 December 2007

Berlin woll

You know, Google assumes you’re an idiot or can’t spell if you type that in.

Alright, alright, I know most of you just want to read about the yarn, I’ll get on with it already.

Of course I could not go to the home of so many brands of sock yarn without seeking out some LYS’s for, ahem, research purposes. To that end, the lovely Gail provided me with a very useful list to work from. I set out bright and early on Saturday morning to verify its accuracy. Addresses and an underground map can be found at the excellent Berlin transport site. Unfortunately most of the small yarn shops don’t seem to have websites.

First stop, being in Prenzlauerberg and therefore closest to where I was staying, was Loops at Wörtherstraße 19, Berlin 10405 (tel +49 (30) 4405 4934, open until 3pm most Saturdays or 4.30pm in the run-up to Christmas, not open Sundays) a short-ish walk from Senefelderplatz U-Bahn on line U2. This was a great shop, very busy, with helpful English-speaking assistants. The stock was varied, including Lang Yarns, Lana Grossa and Regia (aber natürlich), loads of Colinette far from home, pretty cotton yarns all wrapped up like sweeties, and some interesting handspun yarns of various types, mainly chunky and reminiscent of Manos.

I picked up some Lang Jawoll (is it just me who finds that very funny indeed?) sock yarn in pumpkin orange for only €3.60 (about £2.50 or $5) per 50g ball, which most usefully includes a 5g reel of reinforcement yarn (I think it’s in the middle of the ball, I can feel something solid, but don’t want to make a mess disembowelling these to find out just yet). I also bought some Lang Mille Colori, which looks much like Rowan Tapestry (though with some acrylic in there which makes it softer than Tapestry), probably for some kind of cabled hat. I did succumb to the lovely handspun too, with three skeins of a pretty blue combo by Ingeborg Michels. The shop was very busy, which was nice to see. They don’t, however, take Visa or Mastercard, be warned.

Then on to FadenInsel, or rather not, seeing as it seems to have disappeared from its previous location on Adalbergstraße in Kreuzberg. I could only find dodgy-looking solariums and computer part shops. Boo. I hope it has moved rather than shut down completely, but I didn’t have the time or the geographical knowledge to search for it.

Transiting back through Alexanderplatz, I called in to the crafts annex of the big department store Galeria Kaufhof. Don’t even bother. Acrylic crap and fun fur rule here.

Heading west, I called into La Laine at Kantstraße 145, 10623 Berlin (tel +49 (30) 3138483, open until 3pm on a Saturday I think, not open Sundays), very close to Savignyplatz on lines S5, S7 and S9 and not too much of a walk from Zoologischer Garten for the U2 and U9. This was full of Lana Grossa to the exclusion of much else, although this is clearly where Berliners come for their Noro Kureyon. Again it was fairly busy. Nothing struck me as a must-have, so I didn’t stay long.

From there, it was a short walk to Berlin’s equivalent of Oxford Street, the Ku’Damm, and the very upmarket department store KaDeWe (technically on Tauentzienstraße 21-24, 10789 Berlin, tel +49 (30) 21210, nearest stop Wittenbergplatz which is right outside the doors, but Zoo is very close). After much confused wandering, I realised the craft stuff (the Kreativemarkt) is actually in a basement of a whole other building, with the entrance located on Passauerstraße just round the side of the main store, under a giant sign saying “Idee” (the big idea, you see). This was a huge space, with beads, fabric, paints, pens, paper, scrapbooks, needle felting, buttons and all kinds of other stuff. The yarn section was serviceable - not as big as a dedicated yarn store but good enough. One wall had a set of shelves in waves, on which yarn was arranged by colour rather than by brand or type, very cool to see although I would imagine difficult to find specific things. There was quite a bit of Rowan, and also large Opal and Regia sections; whilst I’m not the world’s biggest fan of their “fake isles” I did in the end buy a couple of balls of Regia Stretch Color in red-black-grey. Very cheap compared to the UK, and with lots of colourways and yarn types (such as a silk blend) not found over here. I also bought a Regia booklet on making socks, as it has a useful table of stitch numbers and measurements for different shoe sizes.

By that time I was feeling as if I had overstepped the mark of antisociability with K, so I headed back home to actually spend some time with her rather than just taking advantage of the free accommodation for yarn shopping purposes. So here is my final haul:

All in all, well worth it provided that you are after the big German sock yarn brands, not so much if you want anything else (except for Loops). But bargains galore – sehr gut!

Kommen hier die Weihnachtsmänner

First things first, a massive thank you to Craig and Gerard at IKnit for making me Blog of the Week in the IKnit Newsletter. I’m hugely touched, honoured and not a little astonished that anyone is reading this. Thanks guys!

I spent the weekend just gone in Berlin, visiting my good friend K, which I try to do about once a year. Of course there was some yarn shopping involved – for those impatient souls who wish to cut to the chase, I’m going to put up a separate post about that straight after this one.

I love flying, I really do, partly because of the harnessing of the great power of the laws of physics that it involves, but mainly because of the heart-stopping beauty of flying into or out of a city at night. I do, during daily life, strongly object to carbon emissions, light pollution, etc, etc, but I wouldn’t be able to bear never again seeing the golden glitter of humanity spread out below me. Berlin is particularly striking from the air, with the Fernsehturm at Alexanderplatz jutting into the sky like a sparkling hypodermic needle (as a contrast to in daylight when it looks like a stripey hypodermic needle which has spiked a golf ball). The taxiway lights at Berlin Schönefeld (the tounge-twisting SXF in airport acronyms) also seem to be an especially beautiful shade of blue, sliding from turquoise to lavender purple depending on the angle through the fog, but mainly a stunning, glowing, Piccadilly-line royal blue. The ones at London Luton on my return seemed to be much paler, shading to sky-blue, almost white. I don’t know why there’s a difference.

By contrast, I’ve always thought of Berlin as a grey city. I don’t mean that in a bad way at all, just that the predominant palette in my mind is dominated by shades of grey: dove, charcoal, slate. Perhaps that’s because I nearly always visit in winter, where the sky seems to look like snow regardless of actual weather conditions. London to me, whilst doubtless no less grey in reality, is more of a mess of different colours, like the Tube map or the various signs of high street shops, mixed and muddied against the red-brown of Victorian terraces, lit by the double yellow emissions of sodium streetlights. In my mental New York it is always night-time, cut with blazing neon colours, probably because most of my experience of it was living and working on Times Square during winter, where it even at midnight it was never dark.

So here are some suitably grey photos of Berlin, firstly the Fernsehturm in daylight, against an apocalyptic sky:

And some political graffiti, about the sale of state-owned accommodation to private owners:

Here is an awful, awful photo of one of Berlin’s monochrome residents, a hooded crow (Nebelkrähe or "fog crow" in German, how fitting). In England we normally have the all-black carrion crow, so I was delighted when one of these chaps perkily bounced onto the roof of a nearby car when I was out and about, unfortunately it bounced away again before I could choose anything like the right settings on my camera.

Here, however, is one of Berlin’s more famous residents who does pose readily for photos, monochrome in the single colour sense if not the white-grey-black one. This is the east German Ampelmann, the green man found on traffic lights, striding purposefully ahead with his natty little hat on. After reunification, I’m told they tried to replace all the green men with the more sedate west German version, to be met with strong protests until he was saved. Nowadays you can buy all sorts of merchandise with him (and his static red companion), including some very nice jelly babies.

I really hope this fishmonger doesn't sell what the sign suggests:

For some reason the whole country (generalising, moi?) seems to go bonkers over chocolate Father Christmases, the Weihnachtsmänner of the title, with supermarket and food hall sections full of them from all sorts of different manufacturers of all sorts of wonderful European chocolate. You just don’t get these in the UK. So a whole cohort had to accompany me home, and here they are all lined up for distribution. The small ones are Kinder, the tall two are Milka (normal and nutty) and the middle one, the most expensive, the Überschokoladenweinachtsman (I love using the prefix über- normally, how even more satisfying to have a genuine reason to do so, unless this should be ober- of course) is by Lindt, purveyors of all those yummy golden bunnies at Easter. A couple of them broke in transport, so I have selflessly volunteered to eat those myself.

Finally, I have visited K in roughly the same area of Berlin for at least the last five years or so, and never has this shop fixed its broken sign:

I can only therefore conclude that the sign must be correct, and that this is the world’s only sex shop that will not only sell you a porno featuring chicks with dicks, but will help you to become one too…

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Glamorama, or how to get a free drink on a Tuesday night in London in December

Even more pampering tonight, pleasantly fuelled by many free cocktails and a bit of retail therapy in between. What could be nicer?

As I mentioned last week, Lotta is the beauty guru and always knows what's going down in the city. So of course she was the one to find out about, and get us on the guest list for, tonight's party/open evening at Bloww, a very hip salon just of Regent Street. So along we trotted for a shuftie, spurred on by the promise of free drinks and, most excitingly, free treatments. No disappointment on either front. Cocktails were liberally supplied in the form of a subtle pear-pomegranite-vodka-martini, very more-ish. Lotta booked in for a manicure and I went for the hair styling.

All good so far. But then my stylist, who had muttered something about not doing "hair-ups", uttered the dreaded words: "hair straighteners".

Now I have a long-standing pact with my hair which has always served me well. I rarely do anything odd to it, I blow-dry as little as possible, and I only wash it when necessary, not daily. In return, it behaves. I certainly don't use hair straighteners, which in my book are pretty much the work of the devil. I mean, all that direct heat can't be good, surely? And if you start shrivelling your hair on a regular basis, surely that makes it frizzy in general, requiring even more straightening? I'd managed to fend off someone selling these tongs of terror in Selfridges the other night with only minimum application of heat to hair, but this guy meant business. I was, of course, far too polite to object.

He set to work, me eyeing him dubiously in the mirror. The ceramic plates sizzled. Steam rose alarmingly from my hair - apparently this was my hair's natural oils, and "nothing to worry about", only happening because he wasn't using heat-protective spray. Um, right. Still, what's a bit of keratin when a stiff upper lip is at stake?

Then he was finished... and here is me with a head full of curls:

I love it! Obviously not something I'll be doing myself, but still great fun, and wonderfully bouncy. Immediately after I'd had my head back for the hairspray, I looked like someone from an 80's pop video in front of a wind machine. It is a bit terrifying though, normally any curls in my hair from rollers etc drop out within about half an hour, whereas these are still going strong now, nearly six hours later. That just goes to show how harsh this was, I suppose. I think I will need some hard-core deep conditioning treatment sometime soon.

All glammed up, we headed on to Liberty's for one of their cardholder discount and drinks evenings. Here the cocktails were a perky gin-apple juice-cinnamon gomme long drink, interesting but possibly not something you'd want more than one of (we moved onto the wine later). These things are so terribly civilised - Christmas shopping late in the evening without the hoards, a cloakroom for bags, free drinks, mince pies and of course lots of money off. Perfect for stocking up on gifts. Remarkably I was quite restrained in the yarn department, only buying a couple of balls of Rowan Pure Wool Aran in a dark purple, as requested by my friend Cathy for a birthday scarf (for the very end of December, I have time). Mind you, we last saw Ting headed back in there for a second assault...

I could seriously get used to this sort of thing.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Alpaca is for lovers

Short post today as I spent most of Saturday in the pub (mmm, Guinness) and Sunday finishing (tah dah!) the giant alpaca scarf for the boyfriend:

To give an idea of scale, that's it taking up our entire dining table, seats 4-6.

It is enormous, probably the heaviest scarf I have ever laid eyes upon, let alone knit. It took seven skeins of Blue Sky Alpacas Bulky Naturals (three of the cream, two each of the caramel and dark brown), so weighs a whopping 700g (that's 1.5lb, imperial fans). It is currently 10 feet long, but will probably stretch out a fair bit over time. Tech details: 2x2 rib over 20 stitches on 12mm needles. 

This is all because my darling one likes to wear his scarf folded in half lengthwise then with the ends pulled through the middle (that probably doesn't describe it well) so it has to be very long to suit his tastes. This led to repeated requests by me as to whether I could cast off, each time to be asked for "just one more pattern repeat". The knot, as he wears it, is almost bigger than his head. He certainly won't be getting cold.  And he loves it, which is the main thing.  

I hadn't realised until now just how dense alpaca is - I'd assumed, naively, that once you'd reached a certain level of bulkiness, that was about it, and so I merrily assumed that the BSA would be roughly 100m/100g like Rowan Big Wool (his poor lost scarf took 400g of Big Wool to achieve the desired length, in the same rib pattern). Why I didn't look properly at the ball band when I bought the first lot of this a year ago, I don't know. Turns out this stuff is over twice as heavy, at only 45m/100g, hence the scarf that may actually generate some kind of alpaca-fuzzy black hole here in north London under its own mass. I won't even mention how much it cost in yarn - but those who wish to calcuate may note that I made repeated trips for materials to Loop.

If he loses this one any time soon, I will kill him.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Weekly roundup - Posies, preening and pattern-cutting

I seem to have fallen into the habit of a couple of round-up posts a week. There's just too much going on!

On Wednesday a few of us went to see on of my favourite bands, The Posies, at one of my favourite venues, The Borderline. I am prolific (as you may have noticed) at writing about things that I like a lot, but I am less forthcoming about things that I really love, there just aren't the words. So all I will say is that the gig was incredible. This was billed as an acoustic set, which wasn't true at all, unless "acoustic" has recently been redefined as "just electric guitars with no drums or bass". So it was just Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow up on the tiny little stage, singing and playing mainly very old stuff, showing just how genuinely talented a pair they are. I've always thought The Posies deserved to be more famous, as they really are blindingly good. If you haven't heard them, start with "Frosting on the Beater" from 1993. You won't regret it. Here's a blurry cameraphone picture of the band - I only took one as I can't stand people who stand there at concerts concentrating more on taking photos than watching the performance, and distracting everyone else with their little screens all lit up, but I thought one was acceptable:

The lovely Lotta, a girl with her finger most definitely on the beauty pulse, found out about Sparkling Thursdays at Selfridges, so off we went on Thursday evening to happily flit around the makeup department taking up their kind offers of free champers and mince pies. We all got makeovers at Givenchy, which was fun although I just could not convince my artiste that I wanted something fairly outrageous - the problem was I was dressed in my dull office gear with my dull office makeup on, and I don't think she thought I was telling the truth when I said I normally wear bright pink eyeshadow at weekends. So I got a muted aubergine look, although it was terribly polished and grown up. I was convinced into buying some foundation and blusher, things that until now I thought my skin was young enough to do without. But my skin just looked that much more dewy and even, so perhaps I have to admit I am losing precious collagen as I grow ever-nearer to moving from my mid-twenties to my (gasp!) late-twenties. I had to go to MAC straight afterwards to buy some stuff to convince myself I am still young and hip. Here we are, all glammed up - Lotta had the international makeup artiste so got the supermodel look:

Last night, the knitters hit Friday Lates at the V&A, which are a monthly series of free events on a Friday evenings on various arts and crafts subjects. Last night's was on couture. What with the all-important knitting time in the beautiful cafe, I didn't see many things, but I did go to a viewing of the 1995 documentary film Unzipped, which follows fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi (who to me looks like Gary Numan) as he designs and shows his winter 1994 collection. This was absolutely hilarious - so camp, and so deadly serious about fashion, exemplified by Mizrahi's utter devastation when he finds out, just before his own eskimo-inspired show, that Jean-Paul Gaultier has just also shown an eskimo-inspired collection. It also featured a very young and surprisingly nice Naomi Campbell, and an even younger, very sweet Kate Moss (mediating an argument between models on who got to wear heels versus flats on the catwalk). Both far removed from the [censored to avoid me getting sued] they are today.  I loved that the film was in black and white until the very end, where the catwalk show was filmed in colour, revealing just how bright the clothes were - you'd had no idea of this until that moment. I remember the 90's trend for acid-brights, I had bright orange jeans and an acid-green satin shirt, both from Topshop. But then I was a young teenager so must be forgiven for this.

Shame I missed the "create your own corset" pattern-cutting workshop during the film, though I might have to borrow the pattern from one of the others. I did get quite a lot of my second cashmere wristwarmer done during the film though, and I was quite impressed that I didn't go wrong in the dark, although it was hardly plot-heavy so I was able to look at the knitting quite a bit. I was pleased to find these in the V&A shop, big plastic milkshake cups filled with yarn, a pattern and needles:

This weekend will be mainly spent finishing the boyfriend's giant alpaca scarf. Hopefully there will be an update and an FO tomorrow!

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Wind-up merchants

After the success of Tash's yarn-winding party last weekend, Gail, Ting and I were desperate to get our hands on our own equipment to deal with all those skeins of posh yarn. I already had a swift but not a winder. Not being patient enough to wait for eBay deliveries, we decided to spend a Saturday afternoon raiding some of London's more obscure yarn shops, as the likes of Loop don't seem to carry them.

So on a very cold, windy Saturday we set off first of all for Bethnal Green, the home of Prick Your Finger, run by Rachel Matthews (of Cast Off and the author of Knitorama). Having braved the mean streets of east London and seen off one very friendly cabbie, I found the shop and the others. No winding equipment, but some very interesting merchandise nevertheless - think plenty of knitted ornaments, yarn wound around animal bones, and skulls mounted on the walls. Feeling I should buy something, I picked out some lovely (but very expensive) handspun yarn, which was a watery blue-green silk-Teeswater mix (that's a breed of sheep it seems). It was sold by weight and I chose a ball of about 100g, though have no idea on the yardage - it looks to be about a 4-ply in weight. Hopefully I can do a Column of Leaves scarf from it:

Fuelled by a pub lunch (mmm, pies) and the thrill of finishing one cashmere fingerless glove (me) and a Manos-silk scarf (Ting), we headed north to Walthamstow. Unfortunately this involved three buses, relentless cold and annoying men at bus stops, but we eventually made it to E17 and The Handweaver's Studio. Overwhelming in many ways. The owner, bless her, was what I can only describe as "eccentric". In fact, I reckon she's the female Brian Wilson, right down to the Californian twang and the kaftan - I can only assume she has a spinning wheel in a sandpit out the back. The range of stuff though was incredible - just don't say the "k" word as this was clearly meant to be a shop for weaving and spinning, not for what you might choose to do with your yarn after you've spun it. So cheap though! An incredible variety of yarns were sold by weight on little tubes, and I was delighted to find out later that these are called "cheeses". I picked up some tweedy orange silk-wool blend at £27/kg:

And some bright fuscia slubby cotton-linen blend for £40/kg:

Both are laceweight and I bought about 100g of each. So I'll get a scarf at least, maybe a small shawl, for less than a fiver each. Bargain!

Some chunky handspun yarn, in a lovely mix of pink, purple and orange - so lovely that I realised after we'd left the shop that I already have a scarf in exactly this weight and colourway, that I made back in January from Rowan Chunky Print. Oh dear. Well, never mind, it's still pretty:

The ballwinder I was after:

Merino tops to take up needle felting - something I've been dying to do since I read Fleece Dog:

And the wickedly sharp needles for it - I have to be very careful not to stab myself through the hand with these, as they have little barbs on them to perform the felting process:

Oh, and some random packets of fibers, just to play with, no practical purpose. Clockwise from the top there's pure alpaca (ginger of course), golden camel with tussah silk, gunmetal-grey alpaca with silk, and silvery cashmere with mulberry silk:

I'm debating whether there's any way I can justify getting a microscope to teach myself something about the science of fibers, the scales, length, cross-sections etc. I've always been fascinated by forensics so think this would be great fun. Not sure if there are courses on this, but we did all sign up for a spinning course with Brian, sorry, Nancy in January.

Today I've been cranking out a giant scarf for my boyfriend, as he sadly lost his previous one earlier in the week. I am at once incensed that someone should nick a scarf from a restaurant rather than handing it in, but also quite pleased that obviously they thought it was a nice scarf and worth having. Sigh. But it does give me an opportunity to use all the Blue Sky Alpacas Bulky that's been in my stash for a scarf for him for ages, and at least I had the ballwinder to speed things up this evening. The one condition with his scarves is that they must be very long indeed - the lost one was at least 10 feet long - and so every little helps with timesaving!

Friday, 23 November 2007

Foodie heaven

Wow, a night in. Seriously, I realised at work today that I haven't eaten at home once this week, not since Sunday night, and even then that was leftover Chinese takeaway. Dreadful. I've even been breakfasting at Pret every morning, as the boyfriend went and bought Fruit & Fibre rather than any kind of cereal I'd actually eat, and I didn't have a chance until this evening to go anywhere near a food shop.

So where have I been? Well, eating out. Constantly. I don't expect any sympathy for my "woe is me" attitude towards having been to two Michelin-starred restaurants this week, but it is a bit draining, especially when both times are with colleagues (nice as they are, they're not my friends). I don't get to do this all the time by any means, although it does get hectic on the work social front (and the social social front) in the run up to Christmas, which I guess we're now in.

Restaurant reviews are so absolutely subjective, it amazes me that anyone makes a living from them. One man's meat and all. But given the lack of anything else happening, I'd have nothing to blog about if I didn't at least comment on all the establishments which I've frequented this week. Apart from possibly the Starbucks in which I had a cranberry and orange muffin for dinner with Gail on Tuesday - that I will leave to your own research.


Monday was Mirabelle, the Mayfair showpiece of Marco Pierre White (and also a type of small yellow plum). This was a big corporate do, with all sorts of people who I didn't know and had absolutely nothing in common with. Up front: I like Mirabelle. I've been there before and it was lovely. This time I was disappointed, and I don't think it was entirely the restaurant's fault.

We had a set menu and at no time in the plans for the meal had any of us been asked (by the organisers, not Mirabelle) for likes, dislikes or dietary requirements, and as it turned out, the dishes on the menu were precisely those I'd have been least likely to choose for myself. The starter was a log of cold salmon mousse wrapped in smoked salmon, the kind of thing that I thought had gone out in the '80s apart from in Marks & Spencer's food departments. I love fish, I adore sushi, but chilly pink sludge? Not for me. And there was loads of it to wade through before a sensible amount could be politely left on the plate. The main course was roast saddle of lamb, which was well-executed, very pink and juicy, but it's my least favourite meat, and I could have done with a steak knife. It came with very good garlicky spinach, green beans (who can get excited about those?) and what was definitely pommes purées rather than mashed potato. You know, the kind of thing that's been through a blender rather than being mashed. I like my potato to have a bit more body. Pudding was a raspberry and mascarpone crème brûlée, which tasted lovely, but could have done with a little longer under the blowtorch as it was still more in the granulated sugar phase than the crunchy caramel one.

The main problem was, however, the company. I was sat between two people who I didn't know who don't work for my company, who immediately expressed disdain for my job, and who spent half the meal on their bloody CrackBerries. I had absolutely nothing in common with them and had exhausted my capacity for small talk even before the salmon sludge arrived. Had I been with more amusing fellow diners, I'm sure I'd have paid little attention to the food and pronounced it fab. Or had the food been great, I'd have been able to focus on that rather than my companions. Sadly, well before even pudding arrived, I wanted to saw my own head off (debate of the week: is that even possible?) and even drinking large quantities of wine didn't help. So not really Mirabelle's fault, but the food did nothing to mitigate the situation. My recommendation: go back and have what you want to eat from the menu, and take scintillating companions. Oh, but the champagne was cracking.


A very wet Wednesday took us eastside to Brick Lane and the wackiest of the week's eateries (I hate that word to the very depths of my soul), the Rootmaster. This is an old Routemaster bus, converted to host a vegan restaurant (kitchen downstairs, tables upstairs with very little headroom), and Ting had chosen this for her birthday celebrations. None of us are vegan, but it was remarkably good, if not a little weird. What is it with vegetarian restaurants and the kooky thing? They are without exception in strange locations, or unlicenced, or painted purple, or full of dogs (as in woof woof), or without the ability to take anything but cash (or possibly bartering for reiki treatments), or staffed by people odder than a field full of Glastonbury's finest on 'shrooms, or, in the case of some of them, all of the above. Rootmaster was probably the least weird of them, to be fair. But you have to wonder, is there really no call for a sensible, classy, straight-down-the-line vegetarian restaurant, which is like a normal restaurant, just with no meat? Or would that be way too subversive?

Anyway, the food... and bear in mind I am about as far from vegan as you can get, although by no means do I feel the need to eat meat daily. As a starter, I had bruschetta, full of flavour and apparently containing black cabbage, not that I could tell. Instead of ciabatta, it was served on doorstops of crusty wholemeal bread. I'm not sure why, as I'm not aware that ciabatta contains meaty goodness. I think the owner/waiter, who was certainly amusing enough on his own (think of a hippie vegan Russell Brand wannabe), had baked it himself which would explain it. It was excellent bread but I think better suited to bread and, um, non-dairy butter substitute than as a bruschetta base. The boyfriend pronounced his vegetable gyoza "the best ever", and he's something of a connoisseur of small Japanese vegetarian foodstuffs so that is a great compliment.

My main was a stir-fry of marinated teriyaki tofu, apparently made by some bloke near Spitalfields every Tuesday who then delivers it by bike. This was meant to demonstrate the minimal food miles involved, but I'm not convinced as I don't think there's a soy plantation within the M25. Anyway, it was excellent. I actually really like tofu - not as a meat substitute, as it just isn't, but as a foodstuff in its own right. Mmm, agedashi tofu... Again though, a slightly odd note was struck by it coming with brown rice rather than white, which would have been more correct for a Japanese dish. Is there some code of conduct by which vegans have to go for maximum healthfulness and fibre content at all times? Mind you, if so it was completely negated by the amount of (vegan) alcohol on offer. It was a great fun night, but we were tired and drunk and so bailed before pud.

Rhodes 24

I was not meant to be going out yesterday. We had a visitor from one of our foreign offices at work, and I was asked by a colleague to recommend somewhere to take them for a decent British meal, as (I'm told) when we are entertained in another country it tends to be with the relevant country's cuisine. Somewhere like Rules or Simpson's would have been far too heavy, so of course I recommended Rhodes 24, which is without question my favourite posh restaurant in London (not my favourite overall, that honour goes to the significantly cheaper Afghan Kitchen, but I'm sure Gary Rhodes won't mind, he seems like a fairly down-to-earth bloke). I wasn't actually invited to this dinner, but since someone else dropped out and we'd have lost some of the deposit, at the last minute I was asked if I'd like to come, and who am I to say no to that?

It was wonderful. Truly. As it has been every other time I've eaten there. The man is a genius. Far better than any of the Ramsay stable, in my opinion. Naturally, we started with a cocktail, for me a Red Passion, which involved lemon vodka with a variety of fruit liquers and juices, and my god, it was a revelation of mixology. Seriously, you could taste the fruits one by one. Heaven knows how they managed that.

Once we'd gasped sufficiently at the view (Rhodes 24 is on the 24th floor of Tower 42, aka the Natwest Tower, and the view of the glittering night-time Square Mile is only bettered by Vertigo 42, the champagne bar up on the 42nd floor) we processed to our table for the main event. After an amuse-bouche of a lovely, tiny cheese and salmon tart, I started with a crab raviolo, a huge pillow of crabmeat wrapped in the freshest, slipperiest pasta imaginable. I say "pillow" and this really was like the giant, feather-stuffed kind that you get in the most expensive hotels, swathed in tight, white, high thread-count Egyptian cotton and so thick that you end up with a crick in your neck if you try to sleep on more than one. Not the feeble little scatter cushions of normal ravioli. This thing was the size of a biggish hamster, although a hamster probably would have objected strongly to being sat on a bed of spinach and covered with coral-coloured fishy foam. Luscious.

My main, and in fact that of nearly all of our party, was steamed lemon sole with a lobster sauce, served with lobster champ. Now that's proper, robust mash, tasting of earthy potatoes and silky lobster. Not quite as spectacularly decadent as the lobster mash at Asia de Cuba, but very good indeed. The sole was delicate and juicy, just perfect, and served as three pretty, rolled-up, pure white fillets in a big white bowl. The kind of food that makes you feel clean to eat it, without all the vegan reliance on wholegrains.

Pudding... ah, pudding... We all nearly wept with the soul-wrenching horror of having to choose, but in the end I just had to have the "Ginger" (all Mr Rhodes' dishes are described on the menu as a single-word flavour before the more detailed prose). It was a ginger-drenched version of a rum baba, all moist sponge soaked in syrup, with poached pears encased in a crackly shell of burnt sugar, and oh my! ginger ice cream. Divine. This was paired with a good Tokaji (which always makes me think of the Philip Pullman novels where they always refer to this rather than "wine"). It never fails to surprise me how a sickly-sweet, viscous dessert wine can seem refined and almost dry when drunk alongside a sweet pudding, when a normal wine would become sour and jarring. I cannot understand how some people can drink something like coke with a good meal, it just becomes unbearably sweet in comparison. Stuffed, we nevertheless managed to force down some of the petit fours, including a marvellous white chocolate ball filled with strawberry ice cream. Now that's one kind of cold pink sludge I do like.

And now I'm happily sat on the sofa, about to start on the Terry's Chocolate Orange, my favourite chocolate, that my darling has just come home with for me. The diet most definitely starts next week.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

You can leave your hat on

An all-in-one weekend round-up, seeing as I've been so busy, again. I am deeply indebted to the concept of the nap, without which I'd never have got through. It's only going to get worse until Christmas, sigh.

Friday night: a trip to Shunt, an ace bar/performance art space under the arches of London Bridge station - in fact, when it's shut, the door looks much like a London Underground storage cupboard. It always has extremely odd arty things going on, which makes it much more fun than the average bar, but sadly is now shut for renovation until after Christmas (my liver is pleased at this news).

The boyfriend was so pleased with the reception given to his topper last weekend at White Mischief, he insisted that we all wear hats again this weekend. Of course, that ended up as just him and me, but we didn't mind. I love wearing formal hats. Mine, with the purchase of which I was assisted by Gail, was the following little number:

I didn't have time when getting ready to take a proper photo of my outfit, but here is a fuzzy photo taken when we got back at an ungodly hour of the morning, the fuzziness reflecting my mental abilities after a bottle of red wine to myself:

We fit right in at Shunt anyway - it's the one bar where wearing a hat won't really get questioned, or at least people will probably assume you're part of the performance. I had many compliments, and also some wanker trying to steal it off me - thankfully he returned it sharpish when I growled something unpleasant at him - next stop would have been one of the G&Ts with which my hands were full meeting his face. Performances seemed to involve lots of people doing a forensics investigation (who knows why) and a film, with live music from a rock band, about a troop of monkeys (people in monkey masks and tails) on bicycles, in some sort of traffic safety video, getting killed one by one as they ignored road signs. Cool.

Struggled out of bed on Saturday to attend the lovely Tash's yarn winding party. What fun! Yarn, winding equipment, knitting, baking, good company and plenty of prosecco with strawberries. I have a swift but not a ball winder, so I was childishly overjoyed with the speed of winding on the full set up, and just delighted with the pretty yarn cakes produced. Aren't they great?

I need a ball winder.

Today we went for a look at the new St Pancras station, as I'd missed the Wednesday night knitting excursion there this week. We were very impressed with the renovation - so much air and light and beautifully restored original features. The skeletal iron ribs of the roof have been painted a beautiful sky blue to enhance the effect:

Here's the statue of the late poet laureate John Betjeman, who campaigned against the whole thing, gothic revival hotel and all, being pulled down in the 60s, thankfully. I love statues at ground level, becoming part of the crowd, like the Famine Memorial in Dublin or some installations of the Burghers of Calais.

And here is the much-photographed giant statue of lovers not kissing (which could have caused offence apparently) but instead touching foreheads, which to me seems much more intimate.

Finished off with some sushi, and a fair bit of mindless knitting (WIP pics on Ravelry), and I am (almost) ready for the week ahead, once I've had just a bit more sleep...

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Pretty in pink, isn't she?

You know, I don't think I know a single other song by The Psychadelic Furs.

Anyway, I am very proud of myself for having finished the pink cashmere hat I started earlier in the week. That must be a record, for me anyway, for the minimum time between the purchase of the yarn on Saturday from Fluffenstuff at Stitch & Bitch Day, to an actual finished object. Just in time too, as it was viciously cold today, but my head was warm and snuggly in the hat. Attempting to take photographs of my own head was also a welcome distraction from waiting for the train on the frosty platform this morning. My fellow commuters ignored me determinedly.

The pattern is the Unoriginal Hat by the Yarn Harlot, modded because my yarn was less bulky than hers. I therefore added another cable section (making five round not four), a few rib rows round the bottom, and a half-sized cable repeat at the top. The hat is lovely and squishy, although does remind me slightly of brains.

I am calling this my Ice Cream Hat as the colourway (Raspberries & Chocolate) really does look like melted, swirled Neapolitan ice cream. The photo below shows off slightly better the brown and cream variegations in the pink background. Yummy!

I was waiting on the cold, exposed London Overground platform (as we are now supposed to call the bits of suburban railway round here since they were taken over and rebranded by LUL at the weekend; we are stripy orange on the new tube map!) as I was off to a conference here:

That's Lord's Cricket Ground, aka "The Home of Cricket". I have no particular love of the game, apart from the pleasant murmur of the commentary on Radio 4 longwave, the only thing that could be picked up on family holidays in the French countryside when I was younger. However I do think the media centre (the UFO-like pod hovering over the pitch) is quite fun, especially given the part of Life, the Universe and Everything that is set at Lord's, but no Chesterfield sofas in sight today thankfully.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Normal service resumed

Last night's problems with the blog (awful html errors when I tried to centre the many photos) seem to have been rectified, so see below for stash additions in all their glory.

Meanwhile, I have cast on for a Branching Out in inky black Debbie Bliss Pure Silk for my grandma for Christmas, and the Yarn Harlot's Unoriginal Hat in the Raspberries and Chocolate cashmere from Fluffenstuff. That must be some kind of record for yarn arriving at my house and getting on to the needles, given the length of time things tend to stay in my stash...

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Saturday, part the second - mischief making

The S&B Day "Aftershow Party", aka "We've got a discount so let's all go to the same club", was White Mischief's From the Earth to the Moon at the Scala in King's Cross. This is almost a mini-festival, held roughly every six months, with a vaudeville/burlesque/rock remit. Better descriptions can be found here. Dressing up themes were Victoriana, sky pirates and steampunk, and George Méliès A Trip to the Moon (which inspired the Smashing Pumpkins' video for Tonight Tonight).

A small group of us went along - me, the boyfriend, Flib, Purlpirate and husband, and a few more friends. Our outfits:

We didn't find any other knitters but we did find, variously, some girls being suspended from elastic via hooks through the flesh of their backs (eew), the brilliant 1927 Cabaret, more pith helmets than you see in ordinary life, an awful lot of corsetry, plenty of dandies, and a man with a large mirrorball on his head (being led around by friends). Band wise: Kunta Kinte, who orchestrated the whole event (respect!) were great fun although god knows what genre(s) they consider themselves to be; British Sea Power, who I love, headlined and were great, of course, and demonstrated plenty of their usual tendency to climb up on stage equipment and throw themselves off it in a reckless manner. The kids of today, hey? Here the lead singer comes face-to-face with a man dressed as a panda, crowd surfing:

A few burlesque acts, some gin and tonic and plenty of scratchy gramaphone records later, those of us dirty stop outs left in the club danced to Lord Large Experiment until very late, mainly because I was mesmerised by the swishyness of my petticoats. What fun! Sleeping in and a greasy spoon breakfast were very much obligatory this morning. Toodle-pip!

Saturday, part the first - knotology

A very long and varied day on Saturday, from which I have only just recovered enough to write about before (hopefully) a relatively early night, unless the boyfriend makes good his threat to have us watch one of the numerous DVDs we have out from Lovefilm. I really don't feel like either Bridge on the River Kwai or Evil Dead, so I might resist strongly.

I have therefore split this post into parts 1 and 2, day and evening, yin and yang.

Part 1 was the First Official UK Stitch & Bitch Day, wonderfully organised by Craig and Gerard at IKnit and held in Bloomsbury in possibly London's grimmest concrete monstrosity of a hotel. This was a charming day out, like a baby (and hence far more manageable) version of Ally Pally. It was very well attended by plenty of knitters of my acquaintance:

I found the most perfect campaign ever, for me anyway, from Shelter and Origins:

And a truly startling blanket (I have trouble with the name "afghan" as I just associate that with natives of the country, not large swathes of knitting). The "outstanding" square was, as I recall, from Cast Off. And to think our little group refrained from sending in a square as we thought it would be inappropriate to send in a representation of the Yarngina. Or a knitted tit

These things always seem to involve some jaw-dropping handknits. Hello Wonder Woman!

The fashion show saw a whole room of yarn junkies baying for a scared-looking group of amateur male models wearing scarves. Well done boys!

Needless to say, there was some yarn shopping... well, you didn't think I wouldn't, did you? And I had to do it, since I was being berated by my posse for not having brought any knitting with me. Reason being that all of my WIPs are in complex, non-transportable stages. So of course I had to buy some sock yarn and needles, from the Natural Dye Studio. I already have some of their yarn, bought from eBay, but it was wonderful to see all the soft, natural colours in the flesh. I found the right shade of yellow (most things being the wrong shade), a gently-variegated spring-like primrose/canary and a set of DPNs. I then started winding using the back of a chair... and of course it fell off. So I spent the rest of our group knitting time sorting out the knot, which was easily as meditative as knitting itself, but I need (k)not have bought the DPNs. Perhaps I should give up the pretence of knitting, just admit I enjoy playing with yarn to an unhealthy degree, and use my stash to study knot topology?

What else? Well I think we all fell fairly heavily for the merchandise on the Knitwitches stand. What is it about Wales? Colinette, Posh Yarns, Fyberspates, and now these guys... Nothing else to do? Too many sheep? I jest of course (I have Welsh relatives and they'd kill me). There does seem to be a remarkable concentration of truly excellent colour artists over the border, and I salute them. Most of us, it seemed, succumbed to the laceweight pure silk. For me, it was two skeins each of Summer Fruit and Jewelled Sea. I must actually do some lace knitting one of these days.

As for their compatriots, I'd intended to only patronise stalls which weren't at Ally Pally (or like the Natural Dye Studio, ones I didn't get to as we were exhausted before we got to the second room), but I couldn't resist the call of Fyberspates DK Scrumptious Yarn, a very soft BFL/silk mix, which came with a pattern for a scarf which looks a lot like the ubiquitous crochet ripple pattern. Which is good as I can't crochet, at least until Gail and Emma host another workshop. The colourway is Spring Greens, but I just cannot get a decent photo of the colours without daylight. It's much nicer - there are some examples on Ravelry.

Fluffenstuff do not seem to be from Wales, but still had some stunning colourways. Their almost crunchily-textured, aran weight pure silk in Fluorite called to me, as I love the colour of the semi-precious stone,  ice-white shot with green and purple veins. And whilst I was making the purchase, I happened to put my hand on some chunky cashmere, and overcome by the softness I had to have that as well, in a really pretty pink shot with brown, like neapolitan ice cream without the vanilla. Suitably, it's called Raspberries and Chocolate, and it might turn into a very squishy hat.

Everybody seems to be making My So Called Scarf in Manos del Uruguay (except Helen), and who am I to buck the trend? So here are two skeins of the evocatively-named 7306, or if you can't quite picture that, a striking combination of blues, purples, pinks and creams. It really does glow with colour, but it might need a dunking in hair conditioner to soften it up before I wear any resulting scarf.

Oh yes, I bought another skein of Artesano Alpaca Hummingbird as well, for the Graffiti Hoodie as I realised I'd probably need one more, but you already saw that in my Ally Pally stash photos, so no point wasting bandwidth doing that again.

Non-yarn related, I found Knittiotherapy, a great little stall selling sock project bags for a bargainous £15, so snapped up one in stripes with purple. Here it is with the lovely primrose sock yarn, happily unknotted and resting in its new home:

Whilst we're on the yarn porn, here're some examples of my haul of Mirasol Peru from Tuesday's trip to John Lewis:

And some sock yarn that arrived courtesy of Twisted Fiber Art on Etsy. The pink and green colourway is Ravelry, dyed in the site's colours, with a donation to their running costs. The other is Ankh; I don't know whether this is named for the river through Ankh-Morpork in Terry Pratchett's novels, or the Egyptian fertility symbol, but I suspect the former given the "muddy" water tones.

Thanks IKnit, it was great!