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!

Thursday, 8 November 2007

To infinity, and beyond!

As requested, I have now added some FO pics to the previous entry and to Ravelry. No pics of the yarn until the weekend though, it's just too dark to take decent photos in the evenings, and I don't have enough high-powered light sources in this flat. Damn those energy saving bulbs.

Last night's entertainment was all in the realm of space-time. We started off with another lecture at the Royal Society, which purported to be on the role of infinity in physics. Right up my street. When the talk was introduced it was explained that it was in fact going to be about reductionism versus holism in the philosophy of science, again concepts with which I am familiar. But my god, I couldn't understand a word the (undeniably very clever) speaker was on about. I have never heard such an interesting topic made so unfathomably dull. To give some flavour of this, his slides (and he said he'd never used slides before - quite how that's possible in this age of powerpoint is beyond me) were just projected pages from a textbook, all solid paragraphs of text and equations. And there were handouts! Dear me, these lectures are meant to be entertaining and informative, not boring and unintelligible. Certainly they should not require handouts of pure mathematical formulae to understand.

Slightly piqued at having sat through that, we agreed to meet people to go to the cinema, without much idea of what we were going to see or why. It was Stardust, and I was dubious about going to see something that I only knew of as a fairy story. I was wrong, it was brilliant! Genuinely funny, intelligent and not for children. It didn't divert from the standard romantic formula, but it was all so clever and the cast were wonderful (especially Mark Williams and Robert de Niro). I came out, well, glowing like a star. This was all explained by the credits which revealed it to be a Neil Gaiman story - why I wasn't aware of this before I don't know, as I love his work. Definitely go see.

Tonight I am in making a lemon cake (the Nigella loaf cake again) for the lovely Lotta to see her through her weekend of horrible revision - good luck hun!  I am greatly contented when watching the Brownian motion of icing sugar particles suspended in hot lemon juice, stood in a cloud of citrus smell.

Incidentally I think I am obsessed with the craft thing, someone on the radio just mentioned "having a crafty cigarette" and my immediate thought was to wonder how they made that...

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

FO, FO, it's off to work (on more knitting) we go

To those who are uninitiated into the arcane vocabulary of knitters, that's "finished object", not "go forth and multiply".

For behold, not one but two completed knitted items! That's frankly astonishing for me, explained only by the fact that they both had deadlines.

First up, a ribbed beanie hat for my colleague to wear to watch her beloved Manchester United. I don't do football (that's "soccer", international types) but we found common ground over my ability to whip up a hat in team colours. The yarn is Rowan Cashsoft Aran and it's a 4x2 rib on 5mm circulars, knitted long so as to give a fold-up cuff to keep her ears warm on the terraces. Man U colours are black and red, and this is the most vivid red I've knitted with - not fire engine, not pillarbox, but the clearer, brighter red of traffic lights and warning signs. Not a hint of blue or orange undertones, it really is a true red. Not my colour at all, but football's not known for its subtle use of colours (and in fact Man U did badly when they tried being subtle for their strip).

Next, a pair of Fetching for my friend Abi's birthday (last week but not seeing her until this week gave me extra finishing time). These are in teal-blue Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran, pretty much the same yarn as the Rowan (the Rowan has immaterially more merino and less cashmere in the mix), both pleasant to work with but inclined to pill. I'm not overly keen on the flaring of the picot edge (my previous Fetchings were modded to add fingers) but I do appreciate how it flows from the ribbing. I did add another row as the original pattern gives very short gloves which don't even meet my knuckles.

I had to go to John Lewis this evening (honest, yer 'onour, I had to go to pick up some yarn requested by my mother) and, erm, "accidentally" ended up, well, buying more yarn. I just can't help it. It was mainly Mirasol Peru yarns which are too lovely to ignore. I picked up some more Miski, the loosely-plied pure baby llama yarn, as the heatheredness of the lilac and purple colourways pleased me greatly. I also just could not leave the burgundy Sulka, an alpaca/silk/merino blend, wonderfully soft. Again, the depth of colour is incredible, with such subtle variations in the fibres. When I have my alpaca farm, this is exactly what I will want to learn to spin.

I took the opportunity to check out the much advertised new food hall in the basement, as I have a passion for posh food halls. I was distinctly underwhelmed. Most of the produce is Waitrose-branded, and whilst I am fond of Waitrose food, it hardly holds up against the likes of Selfridges, Harrods or Harvey Nicks. I wandered around in a desultory fashion, looking for tapenade (which is remarkably hard to find), but they didn't have any so I ended up buying artichoke hearts and chocolate-covered ginger biscuits. Then I found the dedicated cheese room, and horror of horrors, it was refrigerated! NO! Fridges kill cheese. I almost cried when I saw a noble vacherin, sat there spoiling in the cold, so chilly that even the cut edges remained perfectly vertical with no oozing whatsoever. By contrast, the vacherin in La Fromagerie has to be restrained using marble bars to stop it escaping all over the shop. The other cheeses didn't look too happy either. I shall not be going back.

Hmmm, what to cast on next to take my mind off the vacherin's pain? Branching Out for my grandma's Christmas present I think, in Debbie Bliss Pure Silk. Now, where's my swift...

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Whizz! Bang!

I love fireworks, I really do. When I die, I want my ashes mixed with gunpowder and used to make a whole fireworks display (not just one like Hunter S Thompson, I mean a pinch of ashes in each rocket) which all my friends and family will attend and, more importantly, enjoy. I wouldn't want a depressing funeral. The fireworks should be orchestrated to something over-the-top upbeat, like Celebrate by Kool and the Gang. Ideally they would be shot off the pier in my hometown, but that might be difficult to sort out with the local council, so a garden will do if necessary. I've been telling people this for ages in the hope that someone will (a) take me seriously (because I am very serious), and (b) remember to do this. I do intend to put it in my will when I make one. I don't believe I will be looking down on the funeral enjoying it, but it would give me great pleasure if I was, if you know what I mean. At least I hope everyone will tell me they're going to do it, on my deathbed.

Why? Because of the colours, and the light, and the noise, and the chemistry. Who wouldn't want to be shot into space in a riot of colour and noise, making the crowd go "Ooooh"?

Given I'm also a cold weather type, I really look forward to Guy Fawkes' Night, or at least the relevant weekend even if not 5 November itself, for fireworks out in the chilly darkness. This weekend I managed to spend both Friday and Saturday nights out watching fireworks, surrounded by good friends, wrapped up warm with wine and sparklers. What could be better?

On Friday night we (me, the boyfriend and a good dozen of various friends) headed up Primrose Hill in north London to watch the various displays taking place over the city skyline. This is something of a tradition - I've done this every year since I came to London, which will make this the ninth time. We took plenty of alcohol and a picnic (mainly cheese admittedly). The most fun part of this is trying to work out where all the fireworks are coming from, armed only with our imprecise sense of direction and knowledge of obscure parts of south London in the dark, and a copy of the paper listing the various displays. This inevitably leads to arguments along the lines of, "No, that can't be Clapham, they're not close enough," and, "But I thought Kingston was south east!" It is strange and beautiful to see fireworks so small and silent in the distance, without the expected bangs, which just don't carry across the city. Normally this is made all the more exciting by gangs of youths setting fireworks off at each other on the lower slopes of the hill, but there was a zero-tolerance policy this year, and police were patrolling to send them packing. Two very nice policemen on bikes did come and investigate our party to make sure we weren't intending to stay there all night. They were terribly professional in refusing our offer of Choco Liebniz biscuits.

Saturday involved knitting and cherry beer in the afternoon at the Dove with the lovely ladies, where I continued to motor along with my colleague's football beanie (deadline of Friday in time for next Man U home game on Sunday). We then made a flying visit to Gail's new flat, which is really nice and much bigger than the photos suggested. Fuelled by pink champagne and chocolate cake from Adrienne, we hot-footed it to Victoria Park for some fireworks up close and personal. All I can say is: Best. Fireworks. Ever. They went on and on, they just would not die, as big, loud and relentless as you could wish for. Best of all were the hilarious, surreal, giant blazing outlines, hoisted by two cranes, one of a terribly camp skeleton in a hat waving to the crowd, and the other of Big Ben (as the tourists know it) with fins taking off like a rocket with a giant catherine wheel for a clock face. Inspired. And free! A poor photo is below from my cameraphone as I forgot to take my camera that can actually cope with fireworks. Finding a pub with even standing room afterwards was a mission but we even found a table in one in the end, for more red wine and great company. Oh, I was thankful for a lie-in this morning! Sigh, such a long wait for next year, although roll on next weekend for the Lord Mayor's Show fireworks!

P.S. I quite forgot... the words to "Dorset is Beautiful" can be found here (scroll down) - there is some variation compared to what I was singing but that's to be expected with a folk song. I'd forgotten there were other verses but we did sing these at school too, despite the obvious entendres. Do not attempt without the proper accent...

Friday, 2 November 2007

Continuing the theme

This is a very delayed blog post, mainly due to the absolute awfulness of Windows Vista. I bought a whizzy new laptop about six weeks ago as my old one had completely conked out. I hadn't wanted to upgrade to Vista as I wasn't sure iTunes worked with it, but that seems to have been sorted out, and to be honest there's not really any ability not to get Vista when buying a new laptop (before you ask, yes I've had a Mac before, and eventually sold it as being incompatible with most things I wanted to do at the time). Irritatingly, Vista crashes all the time! I mean, about every half hour. Sometimes when it's not even doing anything. I'll turn it on, leave it to boot up whilst I'm getting some food or something, and suddenly the dreaded blue screen of death (such a pretty colour) will appear and it will restart itself. Great. All that makes blogging rather more difficult - I do save my work but not every 30 seconds. I think I've tracked the problem down to incompatibility with my graphics card, but not a great deal I can do about that with a laptop. More fiddling tonight I think.

And I just found out about NaBloPoMo which would have been fun but I've missed the first day and somehow it would feel very wrong to me to start it a day late. Not that I'm obsessive at all, of course.

Thursday night was busy busy busy as I flitted between engagements like a true social butterfly. First up was a drinks thing held at the Freemasons' Hall on Great Queen Street, the HQ of the United Grand Lodge. An interesting building - I love big Art Deco/Stalinist architecture like this and Senate House - especially all the symbiology in the Grand Temple. And yes, I did find this fascinating before Dan Brown.

Pain in the arse (and feet given the heels I was wearing) finding a taxi outside afterwards though, as one of the hotels next door seemed to be disgorging a number of bizarrely dressed people holding strange props. They turned out to be auditionees for Bloody Britain's Got Bloody Talent. Great. Get out of my way, reality TV wannabes!

So onwards to the Barbican for the adult-themed art exhibition Seduced: Art and Sex from Antiquity to Now. Thursday night was hosted by Torture Garden (and I don't usually attend so many TG events in one week, in fact the last was several years ago, so this is purely coincidence). It was free entry for anyone dressed up, which sadly did not include me given I'd just come from work and those drinks. An awful lot of people had, which was fun to see, and made the whole gallery smell of latex - not a place to go for the allergic. Highly distracting from actually looking at the artwork!

The exhibition was amusing but very heavy on the antiquity side, with not an awful lot of twentieth century or later, and extremely heavy on the nymphs, seeing as classical scenes of Zeus rogering mortals were pretty much the only acceptable erotica for quite some time. Also seeing as I was quite late getting there (see taxi stress above) we had to rush the upper floor, where most of the modern stuff was including some great Jeff Koons and Robert Mapplethorpe work, in order to get round before the gallery closed. Recommended though, especially Thursdays which are open late and include free cocktails. There are some interesting talks coming up there over the next couple of months too. Here is the one exhibit I photographed before I realised it wasn't allowed, and perhaps the only example of modesty in there: a giant figleaf cast by the Victorians to preserve the decency of Michaelangelo's David. Honestly!

This was inaccurately written up in today's thelondonpaper as "Gimps in the Gallery". Incorrect as I only saw one gimp.

I think I may need to purify myself by not going anywhere else fetish-y for at least a week...