Sunday, January 24, 2010

Calling Anonymous Rachel...

Hi, Anonymous Rachel: you won the blog competition last week, but I haven't heard from you - do please send me an e-mail to liz AT lizmarley DOT co DOT uk so we can sort out getting your prize to you?

2010 books, #1-5

I had a phase before Christmas where I was getting very near the end of several books, but had so little to read of each that it wasn't worth taking them backwards and forwards on the train. However, I took this first one down to Jan's on the 30th and read most of it in one go.

Blood line, by Mark Billingham. London: Little, Brown, 2009.

Mark Billingham read the first, hair-raising, chapter of this at the Winter Wordfest event in November, and it was un-put-down-able. Tom Thorne is a wonderful creation, and this is tightly plotted with a twist in the tail to give you whiplash... As ever, his descriptions are graphic but not gratuitous, and you genuinely care what happens to his characters right from the first few pages...

The people's music, by Ian MacDonald. London: Pimlico, 2003.

A series of collected essays in music, with subjects ranging from Bob Dylan to The Supremes; the essays on Dylan and Nick Drake are particularly fine. The title essay talks about the passage of popular music from the essentially amateur process of folk music to the professionalism of writers such as Cole Porter and Irving Berlin and the manufactured artists of Motown; and then tracking its descent into amateurism again with the Beatles and Stones, and later the punk era. The piece was written in 2002 or so - it would be interesting to hear where MacDonald thinks we're going in the era of The X-Factor...

Little face, by Sophie Hannah [audiobook]. Oxford: Isis, 2007. Read by Charlotte Strevens.

Alice returns to her house after the first outing without her new baby, and claims that the baby in the cot upstairs isn't hers. Her husband is equally convinced she's lying, and her very controlling mother-in-law loses no time in weighing in. I don't think I'd have carried on with this after the first couple of chapters if it hadn't been an audiobook; I didn't really feel sympathetic to any of the characters, the final dénouement was a bit of a disappointment (and I couldn't make the reasoning add up), and some of the mental and physical sadism was just unpleasant. Strevens is a good reader though; now we can search the library catalogue by narrator as well as author, I'll be ordering up some more she's read.

Un Lun Dun, by China Miéville. London: Pan, 2008.

One intended for young adults; this is a wonderfully inventive trip through London and unLondon, with some great inventions such as the binja (fighting waste bins), unbrellas (ever wondered where all those broken umbrellas go?) and Webminster Abbey (populated by giant spiders). The style of it is much simpler than Miéville's complex prose when writing for adults, but none the worse for that, and the London cityscape is skewed just enough to make it magical without it becoming unrecognisable.

Scarpetta, by Patricia Cornwell. London: Sphere, 2009.

I didn't have a lot to say about this one, really; it's a Scarpetta. It is, however, less ridiculously angst-ridden and more plot-driven than some of the more recent ones. I keep reading these, despite vowing that I won't; I always come out of them feeling a little bit disappointed...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

BEST foot forward - competition results

Thanks to the 8 people who put in estimates/guesstimates for the end-of-year competition; there was a good span of guesses, none of which were wildly off! I do really appreciate people putting in their entries, and commenting, and generally making me feel as if I'm not wittering madly into a void. And I've been stash-diving and am reluctantly parting with a couple of prize items...

On the number of projects knitted:
Actual number: 50
Best guess: 51
, by Yvonne. Well done! I'll wait until I see you at IKL sometime - Thursday, maybe?

For anyone interested, and because I hadn't worked this out before, this breaks down as :
8 lace shawls/stoles/scarves
7 children's garments
7 pairs of socks
5 cowls
5 sweaters/cardigans
4 non-lace scarves
3 potholders (crochet!!)
3 washcloths
2 hats
1 baby blanket
1 bag
1 Christmas stocking
1 cushion
1 pair of mittens
1 tea cosy
and 0 partridges in pear trees, although I'm sure the extraordinarily clever Alan Dart has a pattern in development...

Yvonne wins two skeins of CTH Potluck Worsted (4 oz and 280 yards per skein; you'll have to work out what that is in British) in colour scheme Water.

On the metreage knitted up:
Actual figure: 21,120
Best guess: well, actually Yvonne got this one closest too with 21,000m (I'm beginning to think she's slipped some sort of monitoring apparatus into my knitting bag at some stage... that's only one ball of DK out, which is frankly just frightening).

However, I think she's the sort of nice, lovely, public-spirited person who would put her second winning raffle ticket back in the pot, so next closest is anonymous (and first) poster Rachel with 20,513m! I don't have a way to contact you, Rachel - so I'm hoping you're a regular reader. Please e-mail me at liz AT lizmarley DOT co DOT uk and send me your snail-mail address so I can get your prize to you.

For anyone interested; this averages out at 1760m/month; which is, according to Google (and don't you just love that you can put "1760m in miles" into Google and get an instant calculation?) 1.094 miles. I had a vague target for myself of a mile a month, because I was pretty close last year, but didn't calculate whether I'd reached it until the end of the year. My "worst" month was June with 845m and my "best" December with 2945m, but that's because I only count projects once they're finished, so it's all a bit random...

Rachel wins a scarf kit: 3 balls of Schoeller and Stahl's lovely Limbo in the blue/green colourway

and a PDF of my Helter Skelter scarf pattern (which isn't linked on Ravelry yet because I have yet to figure out the becoming-a-designer thing, but is proving very popular at I Knit London, who have been selling them pretty steadily for the last six months or so - I keep seeing people working on them and wearing them when I go to knit there, and it's lovely!).

And the other vital statistic for 2009:

Yarn knitted up this year: 7,659 grammes (equivalent of 153 50g balls; which is only 21g a day, but I'd refer you to the 8 lace shawls/scarves/stoles...).

I started counting up yarn acquired in the course of the year and gave up in mid-February.

However, with UK Knit Camp looming this year, I need to cut down, so I'm going to be counting yarn in as well as yarn out this year. Gifts and purchases will count as yarn in; but destashing and knitting up of yarn will count as yarn out... And I'm probably going to embarrass myself by posting a monthly total here... I shall, as ever, not be counting needles/magazines/books in that total, so IKL shouldn't suffer too badly...

And tomorrow, I vow to start blogging the Christmas Knitting (both given and received).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

BEST guarantee...

... of a thaw, seems to me, is knitting of a hot water bottle cover... I'm sure that by the time I do the decreases on this one over the next day or so, and knit its polo-neck sweater, the weather will be balmy and springlike. Surely tempting fate has to work the other way round sometime or other?

I haven't used a hot water bottle since a very cold winter 22 years ago... They didn't have Dream in Color Classy then... and hot water bottles came wrapped in very bad pseudo-polar-fleece from Boots (one cerise, one turquoise, IIRC)...

Interestingly, three people on the train asked me what I was knitting and said how beautiful the colours were. Dyers, take note - normally I get No Attention Whatever, and I think I usually use pretty yarns...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Ah well... and competition reminder.

NaBloPoMo isn't really working for this month. Partly it's the freezing temperatures; mostly it's spending 6+ hours each day just ploughing back and forth to work.... I shall keep trying. It's not as if knitting isn't being done...

And if everyone can Think Good Thoughts to prevent trains hitting people in my local area, that would be good too. I've no idea whether this was suicide or an accident (although I understand you would have to try very hard to end up on the line accidentally at that particular point); but please, let's just hope people stop doing that.

On a more cheerful note, my brother sent me a YouTube clip of Gypsy Girl by Cruella De Ville. At the time, we thought this was a really good video. How times change... In return, I sent him a YouTube clip of possibly the most absurd Christmas recording ever.

And I realised I never gave an end-date for the annual competition. Let's say Sandi-o'clock on Friday (i.e. 6:30pm GMT this Friday, January 15). I'm hoping I'll be enjoying a drink with colleagues at that point, but it's as good a time as any...

Friday, January 08, 2010

BEST comment of the week

Gave up entirely on my normal train route today, and went both ways via Liverpool Street, doubtless to the distress of the people who normally do that route, putting up with really quite nasty trains and a slow route in favour of actual reliability and then having dilettantes like me swarming all over the place...

Anyway. I got onto the train this evening and removed (a) over-mittens (b) fingerless gloves (c) hat (d) coat (e) scarf and (f) sweater (I still had many layers of clothing, thanks), and piled them all into the gap between seats. The woman in the seat opposite watched this with amusement and said, "you've seen that card, haven't you?" I admitted I had. "So this is sort of Knitters' Revenge Week, then?", she said.

Made me feel ever so much better about the whole thing.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

BEST achievement of last year...

... was definitely taking the garden in hand. I went out there today, and although it's pretty desolate at the moment (and covered in the thin layer of snow which stopped me getting into work this morning*), at least parts of it will come back in the spring, and it won't make me feel guilty and ashamed, as it would have at this time last year.
Over the last couple of days, mainly clad in many, many knitted layers while waiting for the house to warm up, I've put together a Flickr slide show of all the versions of this shot in date order - some of them turned up on the blog but not all...

So if you don't have any paint you could be watching dry (or just want to have some reassurance that warmer days will come), or you're trapped under something heavy while reading this, do have a look.

While looking for all the versions, I found the photo below, which I made last year but never posted. It also makes a change from the current state of my small resentful house-mate, who is spending 22 hours a day sleeping next to a radiator in the bedroom at the moment, emerging only to eat or dive briefly into the garden to answer the call of nature...

Keep warm, all.

*Bet you were wondering why I was more positive. I'm not the most disciplined worker-from-home, but after yesterday, only wasting 90 minutes of my day dealing with trains, with the knowledge I was only 10 minutes from home at any time, was just fine and I got a fair amount done.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

BEST thing said about today...

... is nothing. Well, about today's transport, anyway. Oh, OK. SIX AND A HALF HOUR RETURN JOURNEY TO WORK. I think that's all anyone needs to know really.

Except that, as if you didn't know it, knitting is very, very cool. I sat there, and knit reams on a secret project, while reflecting on the fact that if I wasn't knitting I would actually be lying on the carriage floor weeping at the sheer lies which were coming through the announcement systems, from people who weren't as well informed as the people who had Blackberries etc. in the carriages. Not the fault of the employees; but they have walkie-talkie radios and the people on the train have Bluetooth and WiFi...

(Oh, and podcasts are also very, very good, for the whole distraction-from-reality-thing. I was going to add some actual extra positive examples here). But it's frankly too cold; and I need to be up stupidly early.

Apologies - this was not meant to be NaBloPoMoWhinge. Tomorrow I shall Put on My Happy Face. And Ye Shall All Fear Me...

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

One of the BEST and worst things about living in the UK?

The railways. (I typed failways in originally - I nearly left it there).

The best thing about them - actually, on my line, normally, they really do work. And I'm saying this as someone who's used them a minimum of 10 times a week for 120 weeks now. That's 1200 journeys; and maybe 15 of those have been nightmarish; and those which are merely more than 30 minutes delayed get a small refund (I have 8 refund coupons so far this year, two of them from one day which, in my memory, is extremely happy other than the rail journey. I get a loan from work for the season ticket amount and buy myself a small treat from the amount saved on the coupons). It's not a bad record. It certainly beats planes for punctuality, in my experience.

You also get to see some of the most beautiful British scenery by train. Last night I put up a post on Ravelry about registering for Early Alerts for cheap fares on the East Coast line for the upcoming UK Knit Camp - you can travel from London to Edinburgh for about £20 each way if you book really early. (OK, it will cost you way more than a much more polluting plane journey if you have to go to something totally short notice and obviously inessential like, say, a funeral or job interview, but let's not disturb the bucolic peace of the moment for a second...) If you travel from points south past Berwick, you get the most beautiful view from the train - which you can probably tell from this picture of the train going over the bridge. At the other end of the country entirely, if you travel from Exeter to Plymouth, the view is equally spectacular when the train hugs the coastline .

However (and you knew there was a however coming...)

Tomorrow there is snow forecast for my area in the afternoon. So from 0300 a "snow timetable" will operate... I understand that there is snow forecast in London this evening, but I don't quite understand how that affects the early trains to London from my area, where there is currently no snow; not a flake...

It seems that if I set off from home at 6:15am or so, there is a chance I may be able to reach London by 9 or so. Possibly. By changing trains several times and sitting on endless stopping trains. Maybe. I'm not due in until 10, but then the snow's due at about 3pm, so I may have to leave early...

A colleague who lives not far from London found out at 4pm that most of the trains on her line (not one in the flagged "severe weather warning area") had been cancelled tomorrow. Again, without a flake falling...

I can't work out what's worse - advance scaremongering, or abject failure once the event's happened. But hey, they've tried both in the last month, so I'll let you know which is preferable.

(And yes, it is, additionally, that time of the month, thanks for noticing...)

Monday, January 04, 2010

BEST behaviour, and not...

I went into Peter Jones last Tuesday in my lunch hour, and stumbled, swiping my John Lewis card on the way down. The main purchase was a whole bag of Rowan's Felted Tweed at half price, in a colour which matches at least two of my skirts (I also picked up five balls of Scottish Tweed 4-ply to add to the Donegal/Scottish Tweed stash box - they're the sort of bright colours which liven up otherwise dull colourways). 1750m/1910 yds of tweedy niceness.

I love Felted Tweed, and have made a couple of scarves for my Dad from it, but at £5.50 a ball it's a little bit above my price range for garments, unless it's in a sale. (I'm not saying this is an unreasonable price, just that I'm a cheapskate generally when it comes to clothes, as those who've trawled charity shops with me will attest. One of the skirts this cardigan matches was a cast-off from my mother - who has very nice taste in clothes but bought too large a size - and the other was a charity shop find for the princely sum of £2.75, which is the cost of one ball of this yarn even on sale...)

Anyway; Felted Tweed is a fine-ish DK, nearer to a US sportweight, and has fabulous metreage, and I realised I have just the pattern for it, Véronik Avery's Nordique Swing from the Fall edition of Interweave Knits. As the name of the pattern implies, it's meant to be knitted in Avery's new yarn, Nordique, which seems to be a sportweight, but as Classic Elite who distribute the yarn don't sell outside North America and have no plans to, I thought I'd wait until a likely substitute yarn came along. I was thinking about the lovely Jaeger Trinity, but I have plans for that already...

Anyway; the best behaviour thing was - look!! I swatched!! (And then I felt very bad about myself. Not, you understand, for the action of swatching - but because actually what I was doing was knitting a tension square; we have a perfectly good phrase for this process in British English... in the same way as, thank you Google Chrome spellcheck, "colourway" is an actual word. Having said that, the spellcheck fails to recognise "Google", "spellcheck" or "swatching" as words either... Anyone know how to turn it off?)

Anyway, I knitted a square, and measured it, and washed and dried and blocked it, and patted myself on the head, and measured it again - and there was absolutely no difference. I did not get gauge because I'd given myself a talking to by then. Sadly I also did not achieve the appropriate tension, as UK knitting patterns used to have it. The tension demanded by the pattern is 24 sts and 32 rows to 4"/10cm. I got 21.5 sts and 34 rows to 4". But look, isn't it a pretty thing? And the fabric feels very nice and wearable. This sample is also done on a 3.25mm (US3) needle - I am not going to be knitting an entire garment for someone with my degree of, let's say, décolletage, on a 2.75mm needle... and anyway, then the row tension would be even more off and it might feel like wearing armour-plating...

I shall, nevertheless, be knitting Nordique Swing - having done the maths, the one three sizes down works with the number of stitches I need; with any luck that means I'll save a bit of yarn and have enough to work the sleeves till they're bracelet-length...

NB: Reading it back, this post sounds like an anti-American rant. For which, apologies - this was not my intention at all.

But my job is language (not grammar, by the way; I know my grammar's pretty awful when I'm not watching it like a hawk), and the beauty and variety of language, and being able to cope with how that language is used by actual human beings day-to-day. In my day job I take care that if someone types Roadside bombs or IEDs into our database to find information on what we've decided to call Improvised explosive devices, I've done as much second-guessing as I can so they still find what they need without even realising we've done something clever behind the scenes to help them; in my not-day-job I like the principle that you could have a US knitting thesaurus with Tension, see Gauge in it, and a British one with Gauge, see Tension; it's just nice to keep using both regional variations and everyone being aware of all of it because that's just interesting! Or indeed, all regional variations, if you think of British DK, and Australian 8-ply and US light worsted... And you could have entries for sport (French) and sportweight (US) which would alert you to the fact that the first is somewhere between a DK/8-ply/worsted/light worsted and an Aran/worsted/heavy worsted, and the second somewhere between a DK and a 4-ply/sock/fingering weight...

Hmmnnn. A Universal Knitting Thesaurus. Now that would be fun. And actually, I suspect that those wonderful people over at Ravelry have already done an awful lot of the work - they've sorted out most of the yarn weights, for instance, and you can enter either "tea cosy" or "tea cozy" into a search and get exactly the same results in the same order; which made me inordinately, geekishly happy a couple of weeks before Christmas when I was looking for just such an item...

Sunday, January 03, 2010

BEST things about a lazy Sunday morning...

A nice pot of Hattiali, from Palais des Thés (thanks, Wibbo!), with my favourite crockery, while listening to Broadcasting House, The Archers and Test Match Special...

A new lace project (stealth, so just visible on the right)...

And a new pair of mittens, the last finished object of last year... These are the Eleanor Roosevelt mittens from this time's Knitty, which accompany Franklin's fascinating interview - the yarn is the lovely James Brett merino I bought on Christmas Eve at Boyes in Chester-le-Street...
Heaven. I have to do all sorts of things this afternoon, but every now and then a couple of hours of total laziness is called for...

Saturday, January 02, 2010

BEST laid plans

I don't tend to make big New Year resolutions. Usually, January and February are just months to be endured rather than enjoyed, and putting any extra pressure on myself seems a bit silly.

I do have some things I'd like to do this year
  • I'd like to keep the garden under control, and plant some more things in it rather than just hacking back. (Having said that, after the couple of weeks we've just had, I'm glad I didn't plant anything which needs much care this year - it was all under several inches of snow for over a week...)
  • I'd like to tame the back bedroom which is the pit of hell. It's so bad that I won't be posting "before" pictures (although I will be taking them) until there are at least "during" pictures to show!
  • I'd like to knit something steeked - this was also on my mental list last year (along with knitting something from the top down, which I achieved with the February Lady Sweater in January). I got as far as taking an Alice Starmore class at the I Knit Weekender and seeing how it's done; and found a very lovely pattern. However, I'm also intending to continue losing weight, and making a cardi in 4-ply which can't be unravelled once steeked doesn't seem very sensible until that's done. Sometime later in the year, maybe; meanwhile I've seen some nice patterns for cushions and rugs which are steeked.
  • I'd like to finish St Brigid - I only have the front to go, and she's been in my WIP pile longer than I've had this blog!
  • I'd like to knit from my stash more. This is rather difficult with both the wonderful I Knit on my doorstep at work, and rumours of a lovely new yarn shop in Ely. However, I've just shelled out for classes and accommodation for UK Knit Camp in August, and will want to go to the I Knit Weekender in September (10th and 11th, I believe). So I'm not promising anything because that would just be foolish.

So, nothing dramatic - I rather like my life at the moment and have no desire for radical change.

Being able to get into the back bedroom without a block and tackle would be good, though...

Friday, January 01, 2010

BEST wishes for the New Year, and a competition...

Happy New Year! 2009 was a reasonable one for me - no major changes, no terrible events for me personally although several friends went through the mill this year; lots of knitting and many things I'm grateful for.

I've signed up to NaBloPoMo again - a few people have commented to me over the holidays that they liked the daily blogging, and actually I quite liked doing it too. Sometimes the theme for the month doesn't grab me (and I know you're not required to follow it anyway), but this month's theme is "BEST", and we all really need something to celebrate in January...

I had a very good Christmas - the best one for a while. Here are some of my fambly - Dad, SIL, Mam and Nephew - opening presents on Christmas Day.

I was allowed to cook Christmas dinner, and it seemed to go well...

OK; the competition. I will be doing 2 prizes this year, and simplifying it a bit. There are only 2 questions:

1. How many finished objects did I produce this year (NB this blog is not an accurate guide and nor is Ravelry - you probably just need to make a guess)?

2. How many metres of yarn did I knit this year (NB for visitors from North America, add approx 10% to a yardage estimate...)?

For some sort of idea - this was the roundup of last year's stats...

Happy competitioning... I won't bother doing an anonymous e-maily thing this year, just leave answers in the comments if you're so inclined!