Thursday, September 30, 2010

New Meetings in Norwich

Well, I had a lovely day. At the weekend, I e-mailed SusieH to see if she was free to meet up, as we've been promising to for several years now, and I was on holiday; and she was!

We had a slightly rocky start - we'd agreed to meet at "the station" and I got to Norwich, hung around for a few minutes and then checked my phone (which even at full blast has a pathetic little ring, unless you're in the middle of a cathedral - see below...) to find that I was at Norwich, and Susie was at King's Lynn... Major crossed wires. S is blaming herself; I think it was definitely six of one and half a dozen of the other... But we met!

And we had lunch at the very wonderful Belgian Monk. Mussels, cheese croquettes and other wonderful things including, of course, frites with mayo, were eaten. (We'll have to meet up again; the next lunch is on me.)

Then I had the pleasure of introducing Susie to the wonder that is Country and Eastern, just behind the City Hall in Bethel Street. Half the attraction is in the wonderful things they sell, and half is in the beauty of the building. It used to be an ice-rink.

Here's the upstairs.
We ambled through the shopping streets, and went to the cathedral. I'll blog more about that later, because I'm hoping to do a post a day in October to celebrate my fifth blogiversary, but it was lovely.

Halfway round the cathedral, a text came in on my phone (which it turns out, despite being inaudible on a train, is incredibly loud in a cathedral) - to announce the new arrival of a bébé-cousine, a second child for my cousins, and a girl this time, to accompany her 3-year-old brother. As well as the good news on the text, the fact the message was being sent less than 2 hours after the birth was also reassuring!

In the circumstances, lighting a candle and saying a prayer seemed like a good idea. Welcome to the world, little as-yet-nameless one; you are so much wanted and anticipated, and it'll be a magic adventure. May you be happy.

While you're busy growing up, your semi-auntie will be on Ravelry queueing girlie stuff...

Friday, September 24, 2010

2010 books, #61-65

The third option, by Vince Flynn. London: Pocket Books, 2001.

Another very gripping thriller by Flynn, which incorporates characters from his first two novels Term limits and Transfer of power. Covert CIA operative Mitch Rapp is sent to Germany to kill a prominent businessman with links to Saddam Hussein, but the operation goes catastrophically wrong. Simultaneously there's a fight for control of the Agency itself - the current director is dying and the political, military and intelligence communities all have their own candidates. Very tightly plotted, and with enough politics to be unputdownable. There's quite a lot of weapons technology, but Flynn writes engagingly enough that you don't have to care too much about the toys to enjoy the story.

Evidence, by Jonathan Kellerman [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Oxford: Isis, 2010.

I keep giving Jonathan Kellerman another try - I enjoy his wife's, and now his son's, books, and he writes well enough. I don't really understand why I can't engage with the Alex Delaware books, but somehow they just don't do anything for me. This one was read with Jeff Harding's usual panache, but I can't really remember what happens in it even one day after finishing it. I think that's probably my last encounter with Dr Delaware...

The slap, by Christos Tsiolkas. London: Tuskar Rock, 2010. Originally published in Australia in 2008.

This is a book club book - and not one I'd have picked up otherwise. By about 50 pages in I was really wondering whether I'd bother finishing it; a lot of the characters are pretty repulsive, and I didn't really feel much sympathy for any of them. The premise of the book is that at a suburban barbecue, a man slaps a child who isn't his child, and the characters at the barbecue are explored. Most of it's pretty grim, and examines how much people within families, and groups of friends, can hate each other while still sticking together. But there are moments of hope, and the final few scenes are full of light. I came out of it being glad that I'd read it, but I can't explain why; and it has to be said that nobody at book club had enjoyed it that much. It won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize in 2009 and was longlisted (but not shortlisted) for the Booker this year.

Last rites, by Neil White [audiobook]. Read by Jack Paulin. Long Preston: Magna, 2010.

Strange one this - set near Pendle Hill, with all the history that involves; abduction, witchcraft and family history all blended in. Pretty compelling towards the end, although it loses itself a little in the middle. Good reading by Paulin, as ever.

The chalk circle man, by Fred Vargas. Translated by Siân Reynolds. London: Vintage, 2010. Originally published in French in 1996.

The first of the Adamsberg novels; and very interestingly French in its slight surreality. Some interesting characters; I could definitely see this as a Jean-Jacques Beineix film... Someone is drawing chalk circles around random objects on the pavements of Paris; the random objects escalate... Gradually, other characters are drawn in, including a very handsome blind man and a world expert on fish who becomes his landlady. I somewhat lost track of this because I lost it about three-quarters of the way through and found it in a basket of laundry, but it was very enjoyable.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Just, you know, gah

Edited to update: Drama over... thanks all for your good wishes.

I got an e-mail from the lost property office at Cambridge station mid-morning to say they had my bag; went down there and picked it up just now...

Everything intact. Phew. And a good reminder of the fact that there are a large number of decent, honest people in the world; I think I've just had too much exposure to one of the few who isn't recently!

(Small moment of additional drama earlier when my one remaining card wouldn't let me have any cash, but it turns out it was the crappy machine at the village shop rather than the card...)

I just need sympathy here, frankly.

Complete train snafu this evening; lots of misinformation on whether the train was 4 or 8 carriages (as it was advertised from platform 9B, which means 4 carriages, and that platform has a kink in it which means that unless you go way up to the top of the train, you don't realise there's another, unadvertised, attached, train there. Which, apparently, there was.) Somewhere in this mess, while being bossed around and hurriedly made to change trains from Cambridge, I left my handbag behind. [I had two work carrier bags with me as well as the usual load, so the fourth bag passed unnoticed].

That would be the handbag with my purse, my travel card, my season ticket, cash, my credit and debit cards, house keys, work security pass, etc. [life?] in it...

[I also quite like the actual handbag].

I realised it about 100 yards away from home...

Thankfully, my lovely neighbour Edd helped me break into the back of the house with the aid of a sledgehammer and a towel (turns out the glass in the bathroom window is security glass!); I have cancelled all my cards... thankfully I'm working at home tomorrow but I have no idea how I'm going to get to work on Friday. (I have one credit card in a drawer at home and am hoping it will still remember me...)

Needless to say the First Capital Connect lost property office is managed "centrally" - from Plymouth; although the actual lost property office is at City Thameslink. I have no idea how that works. It gives me no confidence that I'll see my belongings again though.

Just to say, if you have to report cards missing, and you have a Smile/Co-Op card, I'd recommend you report that one last, as I did this evening, because it's so much nicer than the robotic script-stuff. I had the impression I'd stumbled into a party (they were all disputing where Manchester actually was, geographically, which was something I'd had occasion to wonder about during thel day, professionally), but you get professional, not-at-all-impersonal, service (both the previous lots were working from a script; this one was a guy saying 'so, you're pretty sure about the time'; 'yes, that was the time the whole handbag went missing'; 'oh, sorry; bummer... are you phoning from home? were you able to get there OK? Nightmare...')

I knew there was a reason I banked with Smile. Just-professional-enough will do me, in the circumstances. And although they kept me on hold, I liked the Madchester hold music.

I'll be interested to see which cards are replaced first.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Knit Camp 7: the aftermath - stories emerge

I was going to post on the entirely positive experience which was the I Knit Weekender last weekend; but I couldn't avoid talking about this first.

Starting this post with a picture of the Stirling campus lake. Still waters, and all that.

I don't take back anything I've posted about my personal experience of Knit Camp while it was happening - I think I was honest. There's been a fair amount of criticism online of those of us who did post some positive comments, accusing us of Pollyanna-ish tendencies (which will come as a surprise to anyone who's actually met me in real life!), but I posted what I saw and experienced.

I was aware of some of the background shenanighans which went on before camp, because oddly enough I do talk to other people online and in real life, some of whom had first-hand information. I knew that a couple of people I know, think of as friends and was looking forward to meeting had decided not to participate as tutors because of problems with the organisation, shifting terms and conditions, etc. But by that stage I'd handed over my money...

Since the event, though, those of us who paid fees in good faith have become aware that that money has not gone to tutors, helpers who were expecting to be paid, people expecting refunds, etc. The British Yarn site has been taken down, and my understanding is that the company formed to organise the event has been dissolved. A minority of tutors appear to have been paid, some appear to have been part-paid, others appear to have received nothing.

I would like to present you a trio of blog posts, in chronological order.

First, one from the organiser (apologies if this link doesn't work when you get to it; communications from this source have a habit of disappearing post facto). This has the joint themes of self-justification and complete lack of apology we grew to expect. And of getting retaliation in first. It was a surprise to me to learn that I don't travel to knitting events; presumably that six and a half hour train journey was some sort of delusion.

(This blog post was put out shortly after Camp; at that point I think lot of us still had hopes that people who were owed money would be paid it; although we feared they mightn't. The 28 days in people's contracts, and cited in this blog post, have now expired without full payment, so over the last day or two, insiders have published more complete information on what actually went on.)

Second, one from an internationally known tutor (with whom I took an excellent class), confirming in print some of the things I'd heard by e-mail and conversation.

Third, one from the person who was KnitCampers' main link with the organisation in the month before the event. I have no idea how much worse it would have been without her, because she was really the only source of definitive information like where we were meant to go to register, etc., when she could get the information herself.

Don't think I can really add to these. Other than to say that organisers of large-scale events in the UK may well have difficulty in recruiting both UK and overseas tutors in the next couple of years, and that's both completely understandable, and an awful shame.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Shameless plug: KnitFest at Cocoon

I was going to blog about IKnit - but this event starts tomorrow and it'll be lovely. Hope anyone from the area who was at the Weekender picked up one of the fliers!

Cocoon is a lovely shop in Hove run by very nice people who are trying to get the message out; so if you live in the area or fancy a day-trip, they're about 10 minutes' walk downhill from Hove Station. George Street is a wonderful (pedestrian, during the day) shopping street with very nice cafés, charity shops etc.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Well. Since I last posted it's been busy.

I went down to Jan's and we knitted on her balcony in the sun and ate a couple of very nice meals out, and nattered, and did a bit of clothes shopping for a college reunion in a couple of weeks - it was really useful having someone else along to say whether things looked OK. Last time we did this I bought a winter coat for my then-new-job and it was a seriously good choice.

I then had what felt like a very long week at work despite it only being 4 days; but ended it up in the Royal Festival Hall with some I Knitters.

I slept through 2 alarms today but still made it to the I Knit Weekender well in time for my class (more of that in a later post).

And it was the Bug's birthday last Saturday. She's had a bit of a hard year - dental surgery in February, blood tests for which revealed she has dodgy kidneys, so she's now on a low-everything diet; and then two visits to the vet for abscessed bites on her leg - still can't work out who she was fighting with, but at least we're able to verify that both the inhabitants of the house are lefties/southpaws/sinisters!

But she's still on the path to World Domination.


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Knit Camp 6: Out and About at Loch Katrine

Trip the Second: the Trossachs and Loch Katrine

Couldn't have been more glad that the outings were in this order - because this one was lovely from start to finish, with additional hilarious aspects.

We set off on time, in a single coach; checking in etc. was calm, with the main organiser's husband in charge; and we had a lovely, friendly, funny Scottish driver in charge for the whole trip up to the Loch. He gave us a commentary on interesting things to be seen to our left and right, and pointed us at some Highland cattle; he gave us historic background on the towns we passed through, and made everyone laugh at some point; and then he announced he was going to spend the evening having dinner with his wife. Aww.

We got to the loch and were divided into two groups - the first noticeably larger than the second, but it seemed to work. I was on the second group, and we did worry that the sun might have gone down before we got onto the boat. But then we got to eat first; and after two quite intense classes with Jared Flood and Nancy Bush, I was pretty hungry! Nice, simple, tasty, barbecue meal - cooked in the pavilion on the top level of this photo.

with good home-made coleslaw which is just about my only requirement with a burger and chicken and green salad - and then shortly afterwards it was our turn on the boat, the Lady of the Lake.

With her very amusing and informative guide. He was great.

One of the snippets of information he provided was that we were putting along largely powered by second-hand chip fat. There were surprisingly few deep-fried Mars Bar jokes.

Loch Katrine (pronounced without the final "e", like CATT-rin rather than Ka-TREEN) turns out to be the main water supply for Glasgow; it's always been a lake, but was turned into a reservoir in the 20th century.

Walter Scott was very familiar with the area and wrote the poem The Lady of the Lake around Loch Katrine; the paths he walked are now underwater.

Until recently, there were many sheep grazing on the banks, but after it was discovered they carry crypto they had to be removed because of the threat to the water supply. I gather some of them make their way back because sheep have homing instincts...

It really was a lovely boat trip.

The flags were particularly pretty as we came back into dock.

I don't quite know how to describe what happened after that... except for one word.


I grew up with them, in the north east of England; and when we set off they were starting to group; on the lake, they weren't all that much in evidence... But when we got back into the restaurant/bar, they were certainly happily flocking around in hordes. Generally the whole Swipe gesture was used to attempt to get rid of them, with no success whatsoever...

We were called down to the coaches, and as ever people got in gradually; the poor driver was trying to keep as many flying menaces out of the coach as possible but was having to open the door every minute or so to let more people in, with accompanying clouds of ickletinybeasties... I suspect the various threads on Ravelry worrying our across-the-pond cousins didn't help either...

Apparently, what you do when confronted with midges, as a knitter, is to to get into your seat and then develop your very own personal ethnic clapping dance. The Katrine Knit Tangle, maybe? It involves putting on one's seatbelt, and then a gyration including the destruction of any small flying insect in the immediate vicinity...

I was sitting next to someone who was suffering badly from coach-sickness throughout the return journey, (and who womanfully controlled it) - which was the only thing which stopped me weeping with sheer amusement at the Sound of So Many Hands Clapping to So Little Effect.

The noise made by it sounded like someone doing strenuous Creative Play with a class of 50 or so children with auditory difficulties. Later on, Nic and I re-enacted this for people on the Saturday night. (I haven't listened to her podcast yet - I wasn't aware of it before the weekend- ; I'm hoping she'll do the description better...)

Just for a change, nobody could possibly blame the Management for the beasties; we were absolutely and totally warned.

We had enough time for everything, it was relaxed; it was a really lovely evening.

And just for the record; as someone prone to slightly extreme histamine reactions to bites, and someone who gets bitten really badly; I'd been taking the vitamin B1 tablets for a good month before the event, and had sprayed myself all over with Jungle Formula before setting out, and had antihistamine tablets with me. I got away more or less unscathed. I had a couple of annoying bites on my scalp for a week or so, but that was about it. B1; highly recommended!

Knit Camp 5: Out and About at New Lanark

I booked on two afternoon/evening outings from Camp; and as with everything at Camp, it was a game of two halves...

Trip the first: New Lanark

I was aware of New Lanark's yarn well before I knew anything else about the place, and once I'd realised it was also a World Heritage Site with C19 mill machinery, I booked in immediately.

I think the most charitable description of the proceedings was "chaotic". As one who had to do the on-the-ground sheepdog-type work on this sort of excursion, repeatedly, over 6 weeks, as a 23-year-old new graduate (and managed it better), I'd personally go for "shambolic", though.

It started before we'd even left the campus - 15 minutes after we were meant to have set off, someone left the other coach, went dashing back into the building and emerged a good 10 minutes later with another person. Presumably neither of the organisers had a mobile with them, because although our coach had a microphone, no information was shared as to what the hell was going on (20 years ago I wouldn't have had a mobile either, but I'd have legged it out of the coach to find out what the problem was!).

Then we hit roadworks (OK; roadworks are basically an Act of God as far as a trip arranged six or more months in advance are concerned); but, again, presumably neither of the organisers had a mobile with them, because once we'd arrived and walked down the hill,

we met a couple of rather agitated guides who believed we'd be with them 1.5 hours earlier (5 minutes after we left Stirling)...

That sort of set the tone for the whole visit. I had the impression that we'd have been divided into smaller groups if we'd arrived when they were ready for us; and we got there an hour and a half before everything closed up for the day, rather than the 3 hours they'd anticipated... They did their level best, but there was a lot to see. They'd prepared a special tour for us focusing on the yarn production at the mills (which is one of their profitable areas - brilliant, given the entirely reasonable prices they charge!) but basically the general effect was Huge Flocks of Confused Knitters milling (sorry) about, not quite sure where they were meant to be going.
The first thing we saw was a bit of the turbine and watermill machinery

and then we went on the New Lanark Experience - which was a sort of fairground ride (think ghost train, but with tunnel-of-love style two-person carriages) focused on the experience of a 10-year-old girl called Annie who worked crawling under the spinning machines to clean out all the waste. It was beautifully done, and pretty moving. This is a terrible picture, but given as a general impression;

but there were lots of holograms and lights, as well as some more realistic models and so on, and snippets of archive film footage of other mills. Originally it was a cotton mill, but they got in the wool spinning machines more recently as this seemed to be a more local and sustainable way of spinning (and also healthier for all concerned).

I'd guessed, wandering down the hill, that this was a Model Community; and while work was obviously completely back-breaking, they were also keen to emphasise the work of Robert Owen, the founder of the mill and an early Socialist. It was a huge example of both the positive and the negative elements of Victorian Values, and absolutely fascinating.

We saw the ridiculously huge and beautiful carding machine, which is, brilliantly, behind a glass wall at the back of the shop, and produces 28 strands of pencil roving which correspond (of course) to the 28 spinnaret-thingies (I have no idea what they're called for this sort of spinning wheel, but I know what they are in spiders!).

We went upstairs and saw the spinning being done; and how complicated it is to rethread everything when it gets tangled.

Some of us knitted in company with 19th century mill workers.

And for the end (my favourite bit) we went down to the cellars with Alan (?), the consultant who got all the machinery in there, and saw the huge sacks of yarn waiting to be processed, and the blending machine - a sort of domestic-swimming-pool-sized metal vat in which all the colours for the tweeds are layered, and then blended using a set of wheels, and then sent up to the carding machine by fan and vacuum. Fascinating.

I thought I'd managed a photo of the blending machine; but evidently not. Here's a shot of the river above the mill, though...

We didn't, unfortunately, have enough time to see the rest of the attractions, like the mineworkers' cottages, Robert Owen's house and so on; it would have been lovely to do so. But we had an evening buffet booked for 5pm (which was extremely nicely done; and they also did a prize draw for a bag of yarn, which was very kind of them).

The yarn consultant was also around for questions after dinner; I asked about the organic yarn production they'd mentioned, as I have friends who've had to jump through the Soil Association's various hoops for a completely unrelated business. It turns out they have to process it on separate days, with different oil, and they have to clean everything really carefully beforehand...

We left more-or-less on time - further chaos as everyone on our coach was asked to keep the same seats on the way back so we could work out whether all our neighbours had returned; but presumably that message hadn't been communicated to people on the other coach who piled onto the nearer one to the exit, meaning that nobody had a clue.

Yarn was bought. Actually yarn was bought, and exchanged on the same afternoon - I picked up what I thought was a lovely granite colour with burgundy and green flecks; and got it out into the air to realise it was definitely lovely and granite, but the flecks were orange and duck-egg blue; I changed it for a generic mid-aran-type colour called "Pebble"...

In the evening, Stitch and Bitch with Debbie Stoller. A very nice evening; she was surprisingly shy (I'm only going by the impression from the photos on the cover of her books, you understand), and had a proof copy of her new book which looks very good... Photographic evidence of the evening courtesy of Lydia Jensen's blog (scroll towards the end.)