Saturday, December 31

Finished objects - Pimlico cowl and two-at-a-time socks

After a long knitting drought I made the most of the train journey to Chesterfield and a few days at home with the folks to finish up the socks that had been hanging around for ages, and to knock up a little cowl to suit my new coat.

The cowl is the Pimlico pattern by Alexandra Brinck, and I made it with a ball of sock yarn that's been knocking around in my stash for years.

The other finished object(s) is a pair of socks that I've been struggling with for months. I was using 'magic carpet' yarn from the Yarn Yard and decided it made sense to try and knit two at a time socks, since the yarn 'carpet' was knitted up in a double strand.

Well let's say I've tried it, I've succeeded, and I'm putting it in my list of things I've done and I'm never doing again. Too much faffing with the yarn in order to prevent it twisting and getting tangled up. Couldn't get any real speed up even though I was making plain stocking stitch socks.

However the yarn was lovely and the colours created a pair of very stunning socks.

Monday, December 26

Cuxton calling

With the Curse off to a Boxing Day footy match, I took the opportunity to strike out to the Medway for a nice leg stretch today.

Whenever I have driven over the River Medway on the M2 motorway bridge, I have gazed upstream along the valley and suspected that glorious walks await me on its wooded shoulders.

So despite the rather grey demeanour of the day, the occasional glimpses of sunshine persuaded me to pack my bag, print out the directions for a walk, and head off eastwards to Cuxton near Rochester. The basic walk on the leaflet is less than 4 miles - a bit too short to qualify as a leg stretch for me - but it has the so-called Darnley Diversion which brings it closer to 6 miles.

There's lots of ups and downs (although mostly quite short), a really rich variety of woodlands (including some dangerous trees!) and views over the Medway and a few of the valleys that surround it.

The Darnley diversion took me into denser woodland, and through the old deer park where the sun caught these skeletal trees with a breathtaking winter light.

The Darnley Mausoleum itself is the big reveal of the walk - the drama marred only by the enormous steel fence that has been erected around it since its restoration, presumably to prevent vandalism and theft. It's a real shame that the visual impact of this incredible structure and its rural setting are totally ruined by the security fence.

Upper Bush is a delightful little hamlet with only half a dozen houses - according to the walk leaflet there used to be many more and the remaining ones were only saved from being demolished in the 1960s by a campaign by locals.

This being Kent, of course there were also one or two oast houses here and there.

The woodlands were decorated with nature's winter colours and textures; brightly coloured lichen, wispy Old Man's Beard and these mysterious bright red berries which I've always thought were bindweed but it seems not - any ideas?

Update: the berries belong to Bryony although I'm not sure whether they are White Bryony or Black Bryony, without having studied the plants and leaves. Oddly the two plants are unrelated, although the berries of both are poisonous. Thanks mum & dad for the ID!

Modesty prevails

Christmas was a rather modest affair chez Knit Nurse - I cooked the traditional christmas ham on christmas eve and we sampled it in a quiche that night, but other than that it was a rather non-traditional christmas.

I dragged the Curse out somewhat reluctantly for a short bike ride along the Waterlink Way - to be fair it was pretty windy and not the best weather for it - and then we cycled over to Peckham for a low key dinner with a few of the Curse's close family.

I'm pretty sure that's the first christmas dinner I've ever eaten that did not feature roast spuds - although brussel sprouts were present (and deliciously spicey). I'll be honest, rice and peas is no substitute for roast spuds, but looking on the bright side I probably saved myself about a thousand calories in that simple substitution. (Although I did spend the calories later that night once we were home again - on a massive cheeseboard!)

Friday, December 23

Birthday novelty

It seems to have become a bit of a habit for me to try and do something I've never done before on my birthday every year. This year I went to Bethnal Green!

I've been wanting to visit knit/craft/gifty shop Prick Your Finger for ages, but it's not the easiest place to get to from south east London, particularly since the Greenwich foot tunnel has been under refurbishment, making it awkward to get my bike across the river.

So I decided to combine it with a few other bits of birthday exploration of the East End, and I was lucky to get a gloriously sunny day on which to wander the streets.

In preparation I put on my favourite boots.

First stop was Hoxton and the Geffrye Museum, to see the Christmas Past exhibition for which they dress all the period rooms in decorations of the era, with information about the customs of the time.

I don't think the sticks with red teardrop beads were from any particular era, but they looked lovely in the windows of the chapel, with the sunlight coming through them!

From Hoxton I walked along Columbia Road, past all the chi-chi little shops that mostly only open on the weekends, and through the beautiful streets and squares that surround it.

Although these little cottages look lovely, I did find the shabbiness of Bethnal Green Road rather more comforting and familiar. It reminded me strongly of Deptford with its market and inviting-looking shops selling all kinds of fascinating goods - and not just for the depressing reason that it also features far too many betting shops and pawn shops.

Prick your finger proved to be just as quirky and fascinating as I had been led to believe by my most regular commenter Colleen whom it seems from her blog is a frequent visitor. I was also quite surprised by the amount of yarn that they stock, and the range of colours, to such an extent that it took me some time to pick out my own little birthday treat - two balls of 4-ply Wensleydale Sheepshop yarn in a lovely pastel blue. Definitely the place to return to when I have a specific project in mind.

The Larder just across the road proved to be an excellent lunch stop, serving the kind of food that I would imagine convincing even the most hardened carnivore that vegetarian food can be really special. Polenta chips, smokey beans (oh so deliciously smokey!) and a fried duck egg. Like breakfast but not like breakfast - perfect!

Next came a visit to Two Temple Place - a new museum which has opened in a former private house near Temple - to see the William Morris exhibition that is currently on show there. Morris' glorious tapestries and wallpaper designs that were on display inside were almost overshadowed by the interior itself, which features a stunningly over-the-top wooden staircase, lots of panelling and a huge stained glass window. Worth a look - and free entry as it's owned and run by the charitable institute the Bulldog Trust.

I rounded off the day out by meeting my lovely friends Gareth and Martin in town for a cream tea at the National Gallery restaurant, then it was home to dinner with the Curse at the Rivington in Greenwich. Quite the perfect day!

Thursday, December 22

Christmas cometh

Like it or not, Christmas is on the way. The Curse demanded a tree this year, which I'm fine about as long as he goes out and buys it and brings it home. We decorated it on Monday night and the little clay stars I made about a month ago finally found their rightful place.

With two birthdays on successive days, just a few days ahead of christmas, this time of year is complicated as far as cards go. The christmas cards go on display for a couple of weeks, then get taken down to make way for my birthday cards. The following day my cards get taken down to make way for the Curse's birthday cards, then we try to put everything back up but there's not really enough space!

Thursday, December 8

Northern soul

A weekend in York was a tonic for myself and the Curse. We passed bridges old and new, walked the full extent of the city walls, drank pricey but sublime coffee in Betty's, caught up with an old friend, and looked at lots of very shiny trains in the National Railway Museum. They must spend a lot of time polishing in there!

Unfortunately you can't buy Bile Beans any longer, which is a shame as they sound so tasty.

Sunday, November 20

Autumn woodland beauty

I've been itching to get out for a good autumn woodland walk for ages, and last Friday the planets were all in the right aspect as my friend Gareth and I set out for an 8-mile leg-stretch in the Surrey countryside.

The weather met the expectations of the forecast (dry, sunny with cloudy spells); the trains were all running well; we both managed to get out of bed on time and make it to Waterloo station at 10am, and any physical niggles were put aside for a day.

We're not normally so well-organised, but I think it was a sign of how determined I was to get my woodland fix that by Wednesday I'd already picked out a walk (from the copious range published by Southwest Trains which are perfect because they all start from railway stations) and by 10.15 we were on our way to Godalming.

The walk did not disappoint; probably about 95% of it was through woodlands on footpaths ankle deep in crunchy beech, oak and chestnut leaves. The changing light as the canopy opened up or closed in, the colours of the beech leaves still on the trees, which ranged from bright yellow through orange to brown, and the huge ancient trunks around us were memorable.

The woods were awash with fungi, if only we'd had an expert with us we could perhaps have come home with a basketful for dinner.

The walk has the benefit of Winkworth Arboretum halfway round; the teashop supplied soup, sandwiches, cake and tea and it was warm enough to sit outside at the picnic tables. The walk goes right through the grounds on a public footpath, so you get to see the boathouse and lake as you pass by.

Gareth has some lovely pictures here.

Thursday, November 17

Famous in Russia!

This morning I noticed that my blog seemed to be getting a lot of attention from Russia, the Ukraine, Bulgaria, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus and Lithuania - not my normal visitors! And they were all looking at my Green Dragon Socks!

With my investigator's hat on I went to the website where everyone seemed to be coming from, and discovered that they had used one of my photos to illustrate what seems to be a piece about dragon-inspired crafty items (anyone who can read Russian out there?). The site seems to be some kind of crafting website, as far as I can work out from the pictures.

Добро пожаловать to all my Russian readers! (note: I cut and pasted this from Wiki Answers, I do hope it does actually mean 'welcome' and not some awful insult that someone has posted as a laugh...!)

Monday, November 14

Autumnal colours

Leaving London early Saturday morning, heading for the west country, did not start off too well - the train trundled through thick fog and gloom for what seemed like forever, robbing me of the usual soothing views of urban sprawl giving way to rolling hills.

Luckily the fog lifted just past Newbury and the stage was set for two glorious days of autumnal sunshine in Somerset and surrounds. This time of year is the season for the illuminated carnivals in the west country, and although we didn't attend the Glastonbury parade on Saturday night, preparations were evident as we passed through. It seemed like every burger van in the west country was setting up along the route!

I've been to the Glastonbury carnival in the past, it's an amazing spectacle which consists of a huge parade of illuminated carts each of which can be up to 30m long. The carts - which are designed and created over the preceding year by local carnival clubs - are usually themed and carry dancers dressed in elaborate costumes, speakers blaring out very loud music, and literally hundreds of light bulbs. The carts that you see at Glastonbury also visit other towns in the area during a two-week carnival circuit, with Bridgwater being the biggest and most famous - and the town where the tradition originates.

Apparently the origin of the west country carnivals was as a celebration of the failure of the gunpowder plot - it's a kind of alternative and much more elaborate Guy Fawkes night! The instigator of the plot was a Jesuit priest named Robert Parsons who came from Nether Stowey, a short distance from Bridgwater. Towns in the south west of England were predominantly Protestant, which is why the failure of this Catholic plot was so enthusiastically celebrated in the area. These days you'd be very hard pushed to work that out - same for bonfire night I guess! And it's all in the name of charity anyway, with the carnivals these days being a way of raising money for local charities.

Sunday was a glorious sunny day so we, along with what seemed like most of the rest of the west country population, headed over the county border to Stourhead in Wiltshire.

It was a perfect day for a walk around the lake - the autumnal colours were glorious and the size of the estate does at least make it possible to escape the madding crowds from time to time when you step off the beaten track.

Friday, November 11

Guerrilla gardening: autumn planting

You may recall my first adventures in guerrilla gardening some months ago, which resulted in a lovely crop of sunflowers which made me smile every time I went past on my way to work.

They are still flowering now - one sunflower in particular is like a huge sunflower tree - not just one tall stem with a single flower on the top, this plant is pushing out flowers like there's no tomorrow!

When I went down to tidy them up a few weeks ago, I realised that quite a few of the flowers had been picked during the time they were there (or rather there was evidence that people had torn off the flowers rather than cutting them). But because there were so many of them the loss of some didn't seem to matter - although I was a bit annoyed that some cack-handedness on behalf of the pickers had damaged one of the plants so that it was laying along the ground rather trampled.

I did have interest and vague offers of help from a few individuals over the summer, but nothing has come of it so I'm fairly resolved to the fact that it's my patch to look after and any contributions - whether in person or anonymously - will be a welcome addition.

I got a nice surprise a couple of weeks ago when I noticed that the wall around the bed had been repaired - finally!

A few of the slabs had been missing for a long time, but it was way back one February morning that I witnessed an idiot lorry driver demolishing one side of the flower bed with his appalling driving. Being the neighbourhood busybody I did take his numberplate and lorry details and report the damage to our local authority - I have no idea whether they bother to follow these kind of things up or not - but it's great to see that the wall was finally repaired.

I'm leaving the last couple of sunflower plants there for a little bit longer, they are a welcome bit of colour in this rather humdrum corner, but I've also planted a few clusters of bulbs which I'm chuffed to notice are now coming out of the ground!

I also collected a few hollyhock seeds which I've planted on the balcony and in the flower bed - the ones on the balcony have already popped their heads out so things are looking good for next year!

Friday, October 14

A postcard from Walmer, Kent

Five days on the Kentish coast suited us very well, especially staying in the Greenhouse Apartment at Walmer Castle.

Rather pricey, but worth saving up for a bit of a treat - of particular note is the fact that you get to enjoy the extensive gardens out of hours. We felt hugely priviledged to do so, as if we lived in the castle itself!

The sunny and warm weather made for glorious walks at Sandwich and St Margaret's, as well as along the coast to Deal and the other way to Kingsdown. I even dipped in the sea one evening, quite a surprise to find myself doing that in October (and warmer than it was in Devon last month!).

Friday, October 7

A postcard from Folkestone

Taken a few weeks ago when I spent two nights there with my friend Gareth, enjoying the Folkestone Triennial arts festival. We had hot, sunny weather and these fountains, which played away day and night, were hugely popular with all the kids. As for myself, I preferred the chilli and garlic scallops that were freshly cooked up by Chummy's seafood stall (in the background).

Folkestone has a lot more to it than most people give it credit for, and the triennial gives it an added buzz. The cliffs to the west and the east offer great views of the town, and one of my favourite parts is the Lower Leas Coastal Park, which has been very cleverly landscaped to make it feel like a massive area when in fact it is just a thin strip of land along the seafront.

Thursday, October 6

A postcard from Little Bourton

I have been enjoying Colleen's postcard series so thought I would copy it, with imitation being the sincerest form of flattery of course :-)

Last weekend for my spoon carving course I stayed at a lovely bed & breakfast in Little Bourton, and on the Saturday evening after a scorching day, took a walk down to the canal at the end of the farm's land.

I was desperate to swim but wasn't sure about the practicalities of getting out again, not to mention the nasties that could be lurking in the muddy bottom of the canal (whether heavy metals or leeches!) so I contented myself with dipping my feet in. I did not see a soul; the evening sun was pleasant but not too hot, and it made a very restful and peaceful end to the day. My only disappointment was that I didn't see a kingfisher...

Wednesday, October 5

Stories of bridges and spoons

I don't seem to have time to post much these days - I'm very tied up with local issues including a campaign to try and get a massive local development redesigned - but I'm still here and I'm still busy doing new and exciting things.

The craft side of my life has not been neglected even though my knitting is rather in the doldrums - I spent last weekend learning the ancient craft of spoon carving and I have to say I did not expect it to be so physically demanding! I had a romantic vision of some gentle whittling with a small knife on some nice soft wood. In fact much of the shaping and initial creation of the spoon is done using an axe - in my case a rather small axe since the full-sized one quickly tired my arm out. It takes a lot of concentration (firstly to hit the wood in the right place) and effort (repetitive movements can be very tiring) and when it's using muscles that don't normally get much of a workout, it's even more exhausting.

Just six of us were on the course in Great Bourton village hall, taught by local woodworker Martin Damen. In fact there were only five of us most of the time, after one of our number got over-excited in the first few minutes and gave himself a nasty cut on the hand from the very sharp knife we were working with.

Starting off with logs of alder and beech we sawed off a chunk which we then cleaved into two pieces using the axe and a mallet.
Martin taught us safe techniques for use of the axe, the straight knife and the bowl knife (a hooked knife used for shaping the spoon bowl) and then led us through the process of making a butter knife (this only uses the axe and the straight knife) and then a spoon the following day.

I was very proud of how my spoon and knife turned out, and am looking forward to using them. We came away with a straight knife each so if I decide to take it up as a hobby, that's one less thing I'll have to buy. But I am not sure where I would be able to get wood from to carve, and the need to have an axe and chopping block would also make it fairly difficult to take up as a sporadic hobby.

This week I was very privileged to get the opportunity to visit the Forth Railway Bridge, including the very top of one of the main trusses. It was a thrilling experience - not least the opportunity to examine this beautiful structure up close. It was a long and cold walk out along the access gantry to the middle of the bridge, and a rather shaky trip in the rack and pinion lift to the top of the tower, but it was all worth it when I got there.

Added later: another pic of the bridge since you can't really get the full glory in the picture above!

Friday, September 16

Torcross and surrounds

The Curse and I took a trip to Devon last week, and enjoyed a good few days of warm sunshine, a couple of showery days, and one day when it pissed it down all day without remorse. Such is the British summer of course - but it didn't stop me swimming in the sea nearly every day and we enjoyed a couple of good walks and some lovely visits to the towns of Dartmouth, Kingsbridge and Totnes.

We ate and drank very copiously, read the paper and did the crossword every day, a rare luxury, and had plenty of time to chill out. Here's a few highlights.

Slapton Ley at dusk

Torcross and its beach - my morning swimming spot

The River Dart at Dartmouth

Transition town Totnes - the original transition town. These guerrilla-gardened planters on the quays are full of veg, herbs and edible flowers, with signs urging people to help themselves (and handy hints too!)