Friday, 26 April 2013

Finished Project: Japanese Flower Scarf

I have a finished project to reveal! Yay!! This is very exciting for me :)

So, here is my finished Japanese Flower Scarf! 
Ta Dah!!
Ta Dah for the other side

I say finished, but I do have one minor detail to attend to – this is to be a gift for my Mum, and I think she will like these bugle beads on it (if she doesn’t like the beads, then she can always just take them off and use them for something else). The colours obviously look different in different lights, but although they don’t seem it in the below photos they do reflect the colours of the scarf really well so I think they will be quite subtle. 

Bugle Beads

Bugle Beads

I’m still trying to decide the best way to arrange the beads before I sew them on, and post it off to my Mum. But I love how the scarf looks anyway.

I like the different colours from the self-patterning yarn. I used James C Brett Monsoon for this project, in colour S3, on a 6mm hook. The Monsoon is 30% wool and 70% acrylic. It is very soft and lovely, although it was a little splitty and slightly uneven to work with, so I did have to take care while I was crocheting it. I am very happy with the results though – I have read that self-patterning yarn is not very successful in crochet, but I think that because this was such a long repeat then that’s perhaps why it came out ok.

I crocheted each flower continuously, i.e. without changing yarn at the different rows, except for where I wanted to reduce the amount of just grey or green – as I wanted the pink and turquoise colours to be dominant – I had bought 6 balls altogether, but I probably used about 5 balls-worth of yarn.



The scarf is 4 flowers and almost 16 inches wide. On the longest edge it has 13 flowers, and at a total length of 68½ inches, it is 6 inches longer than I am tall!

Lovely Long Smooshy Scarf

I’m very happy with it this big soft smooshy scarf, I hope my Mum will be too!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Turquoise Doily

Remember this?

I had not been able to finish the pattern, running out of cord for the final round. I said that it didn't matter - I now had an excuse for getting more supplies. So that is exactly what I did...

I got a gorgeous turquoise cotton DK from Paton, I love blues and turquoises! and I hooked up this little beauty.

Looks a bit wonky in this pic - not particularly well blocked!

I have absolutely no history of using doilies, but I really enjoyed making them…  I think I will have to look at what else can be made from doilies (I’ve seen table runners, cushion embellishments etc), and maybe make a few into one larger project. 

But for now my new little turquoise doily has a home on my husband's vintage table...

Under my Tunisian bowls...

I quite like it there :)

Monday, 22 April 2013

Voyage on the Sir Winston Churchill ~ part 3

Thursday, 20th March

It was all hands on deck after breakfast to prepare the ship for leaving port. John and I from our Watch were under the Boatswain’s (Pronounced ‘bosun’) charge to let go the mooring lines from the quayside. The Boatswain is a senior member of the ship’s crew who is responsible for the rigging, anchors, cables, sails, and other items that keep a ship running smoothly. They are like a foreman of the ship's crew, as they issue orders to the deck crew.

As we were left ashore from letting go the moorings, we had to return to ship in the dinghy and climb up the ladder aboard, just like something out of a good pirate film.

Mizzen Watch were duty Watch again, and I was starboard lookout and had to keep watch with binoculars for ships and buoys that were on our course. Technically motor ships should give way to sail, but larger ships such as tankers have such large turning circles that it may not be physically possible for them to change course to avoid us. My job was very important as we were heading into some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, as we headed away from Weymouth and south, towards the French coast.

The rest of the day was plain sailing as the wind had dropped considerably from the strength of the previous night – so much so that we even had to motor-sail part of the way. We spent our second night at sea, this one much calmer than the first.

Friday, 21st March

The following day brought another day of plain sailing. The weather was glorious, no-one was sick, and despite being only early Spring most people even got sunburned. As the weather was so fine, the sun so bright, and all but one sail was set we launched the rubber dubby (the ship’s dinghy) and a small party of designated photographers went out with all of the crew’s cameras to take pictures of the ship in her near-full glory.

We did our watches as usual, Mizzen had the second dog watch, from 1800hrs to 2000hrs. Most watches are four hours long, and you would spend one watch period on standby, ready to be called or woken in the event of an emergency, then start duty on the next watch, then have your rest. With three Watches of crew rotating through six work watches in 24 hours, obviously everyone would always be stuck on the same timings each day. Therefore one four-hour period is split into the two dog watches, meaning there are 7 watches in total and the crew rotates onto different timings each day.

We had been up in the rigging setting the square topsail before darkness arrived, and as we were descending the ratlines we were treated to the most beautiful sunset. In the middle of the channel, with no light pollution, the darkness also brought us not only a brilliant array of stars, but also spectacular views of the twin tailed Hale-Bopp’s comet which, although I didn’t know it at the time, was then very nearly at its closest point to the Earth.

We absorbed this spectacular view and enjoyed the calmness for a while, but we didn’t linger too long as by this point we had learned to sleep whenever the opportunity presented itself, so we were all early to bed after watch.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Born to Travel

I am currently in the very privileged position of being able to make new travel plans. 

I love having travel plans to new places – I love the anticipation and planning of a trip. I love reading articles and books about the place. I love browsing through photography of the people, landscapes and architecture. I love trying to learn the basics of the language. I love knowing that no matter how prepared you feel, you don’t actually know what to expect and it will hit you full in the face when you arrive. Sweep you off your feet and swirl your thoughts all over the place.

I love arriving in a new place. I love the assault to the senses as your eyes take in new colours and patterns, your ears absorb the different sounds of new voices, traffic and animals. Your nose is bombarded by unfamiliar smells, and your whole body is subjected to different temperatures and humidity. I love to discover new things – new words, new sights, new tastes, new people, new ways of doing things. 

I love being in a new place. I love how that initial sense of disorientation resolves into understanding of your new surroundings, and the sense of excitement and accomplishment that this brings. I love the experience of simply being there. The feeling of wonder. I love the escapism of it all. I love to see things that I’ve only ever seen before in pictures, or heard about in books. I love the encounters with the unexpected, and all of the little coincidences that add up to unique experiences. I love to meet new people and hear about their lives, their thoughts, their attitudes. The way they feel about the world.

And once it’s all over I love the memory of it all. The people, the places, the food. I love recalling conversations I’ve had along the way. I love to reminisce about everything. I love to go through my photographs and see how they came out, feel the memories they trigger. I love to place the things I have brought back around my home, so a little bit of there is always here. I love how the memories become me, how my experiences shape the way I think and feel. How I look at everything with new eyes, from a new perspective, and think about things with a new mind.

But most of all I love just being there. I feel like I was born to travel :)

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

My First Crochet Project

I wanted to introduce you to my first ever crochet project. It is a ripple blanket, using the Neat Ripple Pattern from over at Attic 24. I did start on a small sample, but couldn’t get the hang of it so I decided instead to just start the thing and REALLY concentrate.

I decided to learn to crochet almost a year ago. I was constantly playing some pointless game on my phone in any spare time I had - apparently, intensively studying a new language fires up your brain, but only works certain parts and leaves other parts sort of 'frustrated' and in need of their own stimulation. Or something like that, so we were told. After a few weeks it dawned on me that I was spending a lot of time doing nothing worthwhile at all, and that I could better spend this time learning something new and having some results to show for my efforts!

I basically started it and learned as I went, and took only about 5 weeks to complete it as I was crocheting so obsessively! My first ever project, or even attempt at crocheting anything, I was very proud of it by the time it was finished. It is hooked up in James C Brett extra fine merino wool, which is so so so soft and lovely. It doesn’t come in colours I would have chosen, but I can’t complain at all as my mother in law very kindly gave me a bag of yarn to get me started, and it does feel just beautiful. So soft and silky. Mmm mmm mmmmm…

Although I obviously hadn’t started blogging back then, I did take some progress photos with my phone to send to my mother in law, so she knew that her gift of yarn wasn’t going to waste – but as they are phone pics please forgive the bad quality!

Phone pic - sorry about the quality!

Another phone pic

So here it began, unfortunately, being a first ever project, I made the foundation chain a bit loose. This meant that although I made the chain long enough to have a blanket wide enough for a double bed, once I started the ripples it came in a bit, and it is not wide enough for a double bed. But no worries – it’s perfect as a sofa blanket, which has the added advantage that I can snuggle in when I’m watching TV, and I can show it off to visitors!

Once it was the right length, which was a time both sad and happy all at once (no more rippling… …but a nearly finished blanket!) I decided I wanted a border. Lucy at Attic 24 hadn’t bordered hers, but I decided that I would prefer the look of it if it was more ‘finished’. Plus it helped to even up any bits where my lack of experience/skill had left the edges not quite as neat as they could have been. 

 (Phone pic)

I worked out the initial bit of the border by myself, just UK double crocheting up the sides, and using different height stitches to straighten out the ripply ends. Then I went for some lovely grannying around that – I hadn’t done any grannying before, but I really liked the look and I thought it would make a lovely border for the solid blanket. Once I felt I had done enough on the border, I made up a bit of a scallopy edging for the final round. I would have made it a bit better, 5 trebles per scallop rather than 4, but I didn’t have enough yarn left for that!

Then what to do with all the small leftover bits of yarn? Well, I figured that you can’t just have a sofa blanket all by itself – it would get lonely. What a lovely snuggly sofa blanket needs to keep it company is a lovely snuggly cushion…   I made little 2-round granny squares. I had seen lots of pictures of cushion covers made this way, and I really liked the look. I decided to join as I went – I had figured out how to do this, but there are tutorials around if you need them. 

  (Phone pic)

  (Phone pic)

 (Phone pic)

I like the finishing effect that a border gives, so I decided to give a border to my cushion cover as well. I got to almost the right size for it to cover the cushion pad I had bought when – disaster – I ran out of yarn! I didn’t have enough yarn in any one colour to do the final round. I had had to learn how to start a new yarn when you run out in the middle of a row (I can’t remember where I learned this from, but it could have been a book I borrowed at the start of my project, which I have forgotten the name of I’m afraid) during the rippling, so I decided to see if I could use the same principle to alternate colours in the final round. I had just enough of the blue and green yarn left for this, and it worked out really well. I was so pleased that I had figured this out for myself, and that it had worked out so well!

 (Phone pic)

So here’s my lovely blankie

And here’s my lovely cushion

And here they are together. What a fine pair they are!

I really love my first crochet project, my lovely blanket. I couldn’t quite believe that I had made it all by myself! Every single one of those stitches had run through my fingers, been hooked up by my hands. Such joy to create something so wonderful.

And of course because it isn’t quite big enough for a double bed, I’ll have to make another… and it’s no good just having one cushion, you surely need at least two… *sigh* it’s such a hard life… ;) 

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Weston Sand Sculpture Festival

This weekend, I took up a very lovely offer from my Aunt and her husband to go and stay with them for a bit in their home town of Weston-Super-Mare. 

The new Grand Pier at Weston-Super-Mare

We had plans for a lovely outdoorsy weekend, but sadly the Somerset weather had other ideas! Our long walks in the countryside were swapped for short strolls in the rain, but there was still plenty to do: I finished another book – Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones. I nearly finished my Japanese Flower Scarf – just two smooshy flowers left to hook. We visited the Thatchers Cider Shop at Myrtle Farm, Sandford where I bought a selection of specialist ciders as a welcome home present for my husband, for when he gets back in a couple of weeks (He is a lucky husband! ;)   I enjoyed good food at my Aunt and Uncle’s dinner party, and good music when we went to watch my Uncle’s band play at a local pub. We also did a couple of short walks in Cheddar (the place with the cheese and the gorge) and Weston itself.

Now I hadn’t realised this, but apparently the beach at Weston-Super-Mare has ideal sand for sand sculpting. This has something to do with the sharp jagged edges of the sand particles, meaning that they sort of lock together and hold the structure of your sandcastle or whatever you are making. But there are some very clever people who don’t stop at just sandcastles. Oh no. They make huge, full on sculptures out of the sand, and this has led to Weston having a Sand Sculpture Festival! They have a theme – the theme for 2013 is ‘Hollywood’ – and sand sculptors from around the world come to build their creations. Some of the sculptors have even won awards for their skills!

The sculptures are made just out of wet sand, no internal structures or cement or anything else to help with the moulding. The only thing that is added is some type of coating which is sprayed on once they are finished to help protect the outside. Sadly this year’s weather has not been kind to the sculptures and frost has caused cracking and breakages to them all, some more than others. They have plans in place for getting the damage fixed, so they will all be restored to their full glory. You have to pay a few pounds for entry to the display, so in the meantime the organisers are stamping your tickets to show that you have visited while they were damaged, and you can use this stamped ticket to get free entry again later on so you can see the sculptures as the artists intended.

So do you fancy a look?  

 The sign. Such a shame about the frost damage! Good to know they can be fixed :)


Jurassic Park

King Kong


Gollum from Lord of the Rings

Yoda and Darth Vader - Star Wars

Davy Jones and Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean - just look at the detail in those textures!

Davy Jones and Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean - the whole thing. I think this one is my favourite.

The Life of Pi (although that tiger looks suspiciously like a lion to me...)

Hermione and Ron from the Harry Potter films

Marilyn Monroe

Amazing aren’t they? I know what I’ll be trying to do next time I have a trip to a sandy beach…

Friday, 12 April 2013

Stay-at-Home-Holiday in Buckinghamshire

Disclaimer - this one is a bit long!!!

It’s so easy to not make the most of the travel opportunities right on your doorstep. And who can blame you? – how can you prioritise something when you could do it anytime? It can be pretty difficult, and before you know it you’ve passed the same signs hundreds of times, and there is no longer the lure to visit that particular place or attraction.

But with a little planning and determination, you can recapture the desire to visit places familiar, and how rewarding that can be!

Last weekend a friend came to stay.  He's back in Britain after working in America for some months, and he came for a visit. Jet lagged (and a bit hungover!) he was not in the mood for boozy nights out, so we decided to play tourists for the weekend instead.

I have lived in Buckinghamshire for the last year and a half or so. My husband moved here with work, and when I got work I moved to join him. So we decided that Buckinghamshire would be our holiday for the weekend – with the massive bonus that we wouldn’t need to book hotel rooms or make any long journeys.

So first thing on the agenda for any weekend break, dinner! In the small village of Forty Green is a lovely pub, the Royal Standard of England. Evolving from its roots as a Saxon dwelling, this pub has a strong claim as being the oldest in England. The pub has not only starred in TV’s Midsomer Murders, but also on the big-screen as the interior of the village pub in Hot Fuzz. So with that pedigree and its award winning food and drink, plus unique local microbrewery ales, why choose anywhere else?

In Hot Fuzz

The Royal Standard of England, Forty Green

Also located in Buckinghamshire is Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. Now I am a right sucker for superlatives when it comes to travel, so this ticked enough boxes to be the headline event for Stay-at-Home-Holiday, Day 1. Parking is expensive in Windsor, but going as two friends we were able to split the cost – and it was cheaper than the train (and cheaper than getting a hostel or hotel somewhere).

Considering how awful our weather has been in the UK lately, the day was looking pretty good. Not wanting to waste the rare sunshine, first up we embraced our inner-tourists and took a ride on the open-top City Sightseeing bus. This was also a little expensive, but the commentary was really good to give insight to things that you would otherwise have no clue about – the significance of the riverside train station (built with a Royal Waiting Room for Queen Victoria, and with arches high enough that the Monarch’s escort could ride their horses in to greet her without having to dismount!) or a particular stretch of road (where the World’s first motor car journey took place!).


Although the bus is a little expensive, the tickets are valid for 24 hours. Therefore I would recommend, if you are staying in a place overnight, that you could begin you tour at lunchtime, use the hop-on hop-off facility as much as possible, and then have the following morning to trip out to somewhere as well.

The Thames at Windsor

We hopped-off at Eton for a walk around the famous and prestigious Eton College. Given that Eton is famous for providing the very best education to the most privileged boys, it really surprised me to learn that when Eton College was originally founded in 1440 by King Henry VI, it was as a charity school to provide free education to seventy poor boys. A far cry indeed from the Eton of today!

Eton College

Eton College

Walking through the town of Eton, we strolled past a tailor’s that we later learned is the traditional tailor to Eton College, making all of the uniforms, and then back on the bus we drove past the town hall which we learned had been attended by Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson’s daughters for ballet lessons. (How much valuable trivia for the price of a bus ticket?!)

Back in Windsor we had a quick lunch, keeping the costs down with tea and pasty (and maybe a naughty cake…) before the main event: Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle

It was great to walk around, and definitely worth another visit (I am very lucky in this respect, as on this visit we discovered that we can get in free with our work ID cards). The staff were extremely knowledgeable and helpful, so you could ask questions wherever you were (This is really excellent if you are not really into those audio guides you can get).

The Castle covers an area of about 5 hectares (13 acres) and contains the magnificent State Apartments, furnished with treasures from the Royal Collection. St George's Chapel, a spectacular and beautiful ecclesiastical building, and the burial place of 10 monarchs (sadly photography is not allowed inside either).

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle (St George's Chapel on the left)

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle

In addition, which we didn’t visit on this occasion, are Queen Mary's Dolls House, “a masterpiece in miniature”, and the Drawings Gallery which features exhibitions. For more information about visiting Windsor Castle, there are a few websites you can use – these two seemed quite useful:

Being a reasonable train journey away from the Big Smoke, we decided that our touristy day would be only enhanced by a trip to London’s West End. Getting off the tube at Piccadilly Circus you are treated to all the sights you would expect of the West End – the lights, the street performers, the theatres and theatre goers. Even with no booking and a low budget you can enjoy the West End, we simply strolled along absorbing the atmosphere until we were offered a flyer for reduced entry fee into the Soho Comedy Club. Perfect!

The next day was our wild-card day. West Wycombe may not be in quite the same league as London and Windsor Castle on the tourism scale, but if a sign for “Hell Fire Caves” doesn’t capture your imagination then, well…

West Wycombe is an incredibly pretty, Olde Worlde English village. Despite its tiny size, it plays host to not only the caves but also West Wycombe Hill, which dominates the local landscape, topped as it is with an 18th Century mausoleum and St Lawrence's Church – the church in turn is topped with a golden globe which has become a local symbol.

The Dashwood Mausoleum

St Lawrence's Church's Golden Globe

Inside - the church ceiling

Reference to a Dashwood inside the church

We parked in the garden centre at the base of the hill, where we fortified ourselves with tea and cake (more cake? Well, we were on holiday…) before walking up the hill to the church. It’s not a massive hill, but the flatness around it means it does command superb views, and with the large town of High Wycombe so nearby it’s amazing how the view is almost all green. You can climb up the church tower for a mere £2 as well, for an even better view. The church is quite Italianate in décor once inside, and as well as commemorative plaques to those souls lost in the World Wars, you can find references throughout to the Dashwoods, the local noble family. Francis Dashwood, 15th Baron le Despencer (who was in fact educated at Eton!) was responsible for both this church and the caves.

Hell Fire Caves

Hell Fire Caves

Hell Fire Caves

The caves are really not much more than tunnels leading underground with some waxwork models and some fake stalactites and stalagmites, but are unusual nonetheless. The reason for their existence seems to vary from account to account, maybe to provide employment to local people during a hard period, or to quarry the chalk for the building of a road, or other reasons… Whatever the reason, they were definitely used for visitors even from the early stages, and also for meeting of the notorious and mysterious Hell Fire Club, with such distinguished members as the Earl of Sandwich, and occasional visits from Benjamin Franklin. The history of it makes for an interesting read though – English eccentricity at its best, and the entry price is not too steep. There’s also a café where you can indulge in more tea and cake…

The entrance to Hell Fire Caves, with cafe

Also available to visit, though closed when we were there, is West Wycombe Park – a country house built between 1740 and 1800. Originally conceived as a pleasure palace for Francis Dashwood, the mansion is set within an 18th-century landscaped park containing many small temples and follies and is often used in TV and films. And the eccentricity did not die out with the 15th Baron back in the 1700s – in the late 20th century Sir Francis Dashwood (11th Baronet) acquired a huge equestrian sculpture, installed as the focal point of a long tree lined vista from the house. On close inspection, it proves to be a fibre glass prop found at Pinewood Studios, and paid for with 12 bottles of champagne! (Apparently the local Planning Authority was furious, but lost their action to have it removed…)

Amazing what fantastic travel experiences you can have within striking distance of your own home (or a friend’s home of course). I must do it more often!