28 November 2010

Snow! (part 2)

Dusty Springfield lion (left by the house's previous owner, I hasten to add):

The icicles are still growing...

26 November 2010

Knitted decorations!

Not content with making Captain Jack a knitted stocking (and finding some chocolate mice to go in it), I've also knitted a star. This might not sound much, but it's very exciting - it means I have finally learned how to increase and decrease stitches properly!

Anyway, I'm very glad it's finished, as the small girl is desperate to put her Christmas tree up on December 1. We've already made little paper birds to hang from the branches - and if the weather stays cold and snowy this weekend, I suspect there might be some craft/glitter work going on (as well as some sledging).

19 November 2010


No, nothing to do with Alan Partridge. Think 80s synth-pop instead...

After many, many years of waiting (so that'll be *mumble* years since I was 10), I finally got to see A-ha in concert on Tuesday, at the Newcastle Arena, before they retire for good. Here's the Arena beforehand (can't you just smell the anticipation of hordes of middle-aged folk?)

I don't think there was anyone under the age of 30 in the audience, but there were a surprising number of blokes (several of whom knew all the words, and were dancing and waving their arms about). Lots of leather jackets, but not many leather wrist bands (a la Morten circa 1987).

And here's the band onstage, complete with a rather snazzy video wall, which they made good use of:

I think it was probably one of the best gigs I've been to - for a start, I knew all the words to every song, and there was the added bonus of the soundtrack to my teenage years being played in front of me. I'd not heard some of the songs for years (I have the albums on cassette, which isn't wildly practical these days) - and had forgotten how magic things like Manhattan Skyline were.

15 November 2010

Knit one, purloin several

I'm definitely at the simple end of the knitting spectrum. Over the last couple of years I've managed to make two bags, a ballet wrap (which took *ages* due to the increasing/decreasing stitches nonsense), a hat and a baby blanket. I can cast on, cast off, knit and purl - and that's about it. Anything more complicated than knitting two stitches together has me scratching my head and reaching for the manual.

So I was really pleased to be sent one of the latest books by Quadrille: Simple Knitting, by Erika Knight. Finally, I thought, I might have something to help me decipher those evil knitting patterns, and give me some nice ideas for projects that are not blanket-shaped. (My last project was a cot blanket for my baby niece, who arrived three weeks early...cue some late night knitting sessions).

The book is beautifully photographed, and has some excellent (large and clear) line drawings which illustrate the techniques required. My favourite bit is definitely the stitch library, which shows you in detail what the different stitches look like when worked up into a test square. As I never really know what moss stitch or whatever should look like when I'm making it, that's going to be very useful. I also love the glossary of knitting pattern terms and abbreviations - there's no way I'll ever remember what k2tog tbl means when I come across it. I thoroughly recommend the first half of the book - it's ideal for people like me who know a little bit, but really could do with some help.

Where the book falls down for me, though, is in the projects section. There's just not much there I'd like to make - frankly, life's too short to knit a dishcloth, even if it is in moss stitch. My other gripe is that quite a lot of the projects tend towards the expensive, even if you do ignore the yarn suggestions - one of the cushion covers, for example, uses 6 balls of wool. Even if you do find them in the charity shop at £3 a time or on ebay, it's still not particularly cheap. I dread to think how much 28 balls of Rowan Classic Baby Alpaca for the stripe throw would cost.

However, I do like the rag bag (made with strips of fabric) - it's at least (a) cheap and (b) not in ecru or beige, the dominant colours of the book. And it's one of the simpler patterns - there's 10 that are relatively easy or for beginners - the rest rapidly get more complicated, involving socks, cabling and fair isle (but not all at once!). I might get that far by 2020...

The verdict? Well, I like it, but with reservations. I suspect there are better books out there to inspire people who have never knitted before - but for those like me who have a vague idea what they're doing but need a bit of help along the way (and who love ecru cushion covers), this would be quite a good place to start.

09 November 2010


I've been trying to do lots of new, exciting (and/or terrifying) things over the last couple of months. I figured now that M was at school, I'd have a bit more space to give some new things a go. So far that's included:

  • playing netball again for the first time since I was 15 (sadly, it now takes rather longer to recover from a training session than it did then)
  • buying a mountain bike, and zooming along some very level forest paths
  • going to see a couple of radio shows recorded for the Radio 3 Free Thinking festival
  • going to a speedmatching event run by the lovely people at the Media Trust, and meeting some amazing local charities

Coming up over the next month:

  • I'm going to the Newcastle Arena to see A-ha play their farewell tour (they'd better be good - I've been dying to see them live since I was 10)
  • on Friday, I'll be giving a seminar to a group of academics about editing and proofreading journal articles
  • I'm heading to a workshop to learn how to make knitted Christmas decorations
Phew. I'll be either thoroughly exhilarated, or completely terrified by Christmas...

04 November 2010

Games, games and more games

The nice people at Random House sent me another book to review this week. It's not a kid's story book this time - but a compendium of games, aimed at all the family.

365 Everyday Games and Pastimes is written by two brothers, Martin and Simon Toseland. It really does contain 365 games - everything from seasonal specials for Christmas or Halloween to games for long journeys or children's party favourites. The games had to be practical, easy to learn and need a minimum of equipment to be included - so the most complicated thing you require seems to be a cricket bat.

The instructions for each game are pretty clear, though for some of the more complicated ones it would have been useful to have more diagrams. There's some line-drawn illustrations scattered throughout the book, but more would certainly help, and might lift the design, which is on the dull side. In fact, that would be one of my major criticisms of the book - that the retro theme on the cover isn't really followed through in the design and layout of the inside - which is surprising, given the recent success of retro books like The Dangerous Book for Boys.

There's a reasonable index, and the book is well-written - but not exactly compelling reading. A little bit of humour would probably have gone a long way, and maybe enticed people to read on further than they would otherwise have done when searching for a particular game or category. It's very definitely a book for adults too, which is a shame - I think a lot of 10-year-olds would be put off by the dryness of the text.

But, having said all that, it does have an excellent collection of games. We'll certainly use some of the card ones (we can never remember the rules to anything), and give some of the car ones a go.