Tuesday, 1 June 2021

I Crocheted a Raven!

 Whatever possessed me?

    Well, actually it was another request from a customer.

    'I know how you like these little challenges,'says he 'So could you crochet me a raven?'

    In the background, Graham was hissing at me, 'Say no! Tell him we are too busy!'

    As I quite fancied having a go at crocheting a raven, I agreed to do it.

    That was a mistake.

    This was perhaps the fiddliest item I have ever crocheted. I did find a recipe for a little bird on the internet, but when I tried it out, I didn't like the proportions I ended up with. They were more for a cartoon chick type of bird, with a large head and triangular shaped body. So I put that on one side and started again.

    But the main problems with this project was that I was crocheting with a small hook (3mm which is small for me) and I'd decided to use up some thinner than usual wool, and it was all done in single crochet, black on black.

    There was no contrast, so following the stitches was very hard work for me. I couldn't go fast, because I was having to make it up as I went along.

    When I had finally finished the main head and body shape. I then had to figure out how to make the legs and feet, as I wanted the bird to be able to stand. I had a bit of garden wire, so I cut four lengths of it so that I would have four claws, then the four wires were twined together to make the legs and the joining bit opened out inside the body and stuffed around, to try and make sure the legs would stay in place.

    The tail was made as part of the body, but then I had to make an oval piece to go underneath and between the legs as it didn't look right just pulling the edges together together. Once the body was all together, I covered the legs and claws by wrapping black wool around them and fastening by holding the ends of the wool with the bent over ends of the claws - I'd already scratched myself with the wires and I didn't want anyone else doing that - and a strategic bob or two of glue.

    The pointed beak was a separate piece, as are the wings, and for the eyes I used two haematite beads.

    The finished raven stands about 15cm tall (6") - and don't anyone ask me to make another one, because it is not going to happen!

    I took the raven outside and stood it on the edge of the bird bath to take a photo.


It was at this point that I noticed our peony bud had, at long last, opened!

    All of April we have had a very large bud on the peony. We only planted the peony last autumn, so I wasn't sure whether it would flower this year - peonies can be notorious for not flowering, or for developing buds which do not open.
    I had had a look on the internet and it seemed the buds might not open for all sorts of reasons:
Your peony might be planted too deeply - well we knew this wasn't the case because we'd checked that last autumn (and Graham had actually dug the root up and re-planted it with a growth bud sticking out of the ground), some folks said you need to plant it near an ants nest as the ants eat the waxy substance which seals the bud closed. Some folks said you should pour warm water over the bud - presumably to try and melt this same waxy stuff.
    Others simply said it needed lots and lots of warm sun to make it open - and this April has been cold, grey and wet. I think we had one day of sunshine near the beginning of the month and that was it!
    But over the Bank Holiday weekend we have had sunshine, and the same again today, with some good warmth and that seems to have finally triggered the bud to open.

    And it was worth the wait!









Sunday, 23 May 2021

Eurovision 2021

 Last night the Eurovision Song Contest returned in triumph1

    This is a wonderfully eccentric and eclectic programme, which I have watched every year since childhood and there is much to love about it. It is wacky and over the top in just about every way you can think of.

    These days it tends to be staged in huge auditoriums with vast numbers in the audience - although this year because of the ongoing Covid pandemic numbers were strictly limited and monitored. Yet it still clings to some of its original rules such as 'only six people can be on the stage at any time' so heaven forfend if your group consists of seven people, someon will have to miss out. However this also limits the number of extras ie dancers, backing singers and other entertainers who can be on stage with the main singer(s).

    Note I said 'other entertainers' because over the years there have been all sorts of extra folk on with the singer, and sometimes you do wonder if they are there to draw attention away from the singer and their truly dreadful song.

    We have seen jugglers, mime artists, fire eaters, a Russian Olympic ice skater on perhaps the smallest ice rink ever, naked bodies - or as naked as they can get away with - wild animals and a whole lot more. 

    There are huge costumes! The Australian (yes, Australia! In the Eurovision Song Contest!) on a long bendy stick comes to mind. This year there was the Russian entry in a vast Russian doll costume. Oh and the entries do also try to go in for 'the biggest' entry in whatever sense they can manage. So this year we had the highest note ever sung in a Eurovision song, and allegedly the longest held note, oh and the biggest prop ever! This was a huge silver 'moon' which hung menacingly over the singer, although I was disappointed that it was simply a ginormous silver ball with none of the crates and features of the Moon's surface.

    The music is often either generic 'Euro-pop' or very niche, appealing only to people from the singer's own country. We have had yodelling and yoiking, and we always used to play 'spot the accordian', but these seem to have finally vanished from the competition.

    This year I absolutely loved the Ukraine entry, 'Shum' by Go A, which is a folk rock style song with a catchy tune and driving beat, which seems to be a celebration of the return of Spring. To me it would be fab circle dance music, or great for shamanic rituals and one I would have on a loop and really annoy other people with.

    It was nice to see that the songs Graham and I both particularly liked all ended up in the top six or so, including Iceland, Switzerland, the Ukraine and Graham's favourite Italy which was a heavy rock song and won!

    The French entry which ended up second, was very French - of the torch singer, Edith Piaf variety. It was staged very simply, with the singer in a spotlight. It was one I could appreciate rather than be fully enthusiastic about, but it was nice to see France near the top of the leader board.

    The voting, as always, was incredibly idiosyncratic and some might say biased and political. Certain countries always vote for each other and, unfortunately for our entry, nobody seems to like the UK, and so (as usual) we ended up with 'Null Points!'

    It doesn't matter whether our song is good or bad - and this years entry was by a prize winning composer - it would appear that we are always going to end up with 'Null Points!', so I hope our chap was prepared for it.

    Overall the competition and performances were brilliant and we thoroughly enjoyed them.

    And, as always, I remember the immortal Sir Terry Wogan who commentated on the competition for many years. Alone in his commentary box with just a bottle of Irish Cream to keep him company, his comments became less politically correct as the evening progressed and the level of the Irish Cream went down. Until his crowning comment one year, on two presenters who, because of their costumes and demeanor, he referred to as 'Dr Death and the Tooth Fairy.' !

    Long live the Eurovision Song Contest!



Saturday, 8 May 2021

We've Been Done - Twice!

 There we go!

    We are now fit to be allowed out with other humans!

    Yes, this morning we went to Brough Medical Centre for our second Covid 19 jab. It was all very well organised, no long queues, not huge numbers in the waiting room, so we could all be well spaced out.

    It was different people from the two ladies we saw previously. This morning it was a nice young chap called Matthew and a male doctor. Matthew was doing the talking and record taking, 'Hello my name is Matthew and this is Doctor ... (missed the name as I was doing a strange thing in a strange place)'

    'Can I have your date of births please?' - Graham and I went in together as per the first jab, but I think this must be to check they have got the right people.

    After the jabs, Matthew made out our vaccination cards, which we can flash at people to prove we are safe to be allowed out, or in, or wherever it is necessary to flash at people, and continued 'If you lose your card, such as putting it through the washer..'

    'Through the washer,' said the doctor, 'That's a bit specific.'

    'Speaking from personal experience,' said Matthew, 'My Debit card has been through the washer.'

    Anyway if you do lose it, (the vaccination card) all the details are on your medical records and you can get a replacement.

    We had been listening to Matthew give the same instructions to several people before us, so when it came to the directions out, Graham jumped in with 'Down the corridor, turn right and out of the Fire Door.' as they were working a one way system.

    As per last time, we sat and waited in the car for ten minutes (of course we did!) then came home.

    Saddly this time it was an early morning appointment so no fish and chips today!






Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Knickers!

 'Non-essential' shops were allowed to re-open last week, with the easing of the UK lockdown, and I saw an interview with a shopkeeper asking how things were going, and what sort of stuff people were buying.

    'Oh they are buying all sorts!' the shopkeeper said happily, 'But mainly knickers, pants, bras, well all underwear.'

    Well, to be honest I am not really surprised at this. 

    The underwear I have has been through the washer so many times that the fabric is now wearing into holes. Some of the elastic has worn its way through the waist band, or is so 'relaxed' that you have to wear tights or leggings on top of them to keep them up! But I have been loath to throw any away as we had no idea when we might be able to replace them - not being ones to buy stuff online.

    And so it was, dear reader, that yesterday Graham and I ventured off our well trod essential shopping route and went in search of our local(ish) 'economy' department store. And lo we were like kids in a candy store, with so much STUFF we could buy. Shelves full of all sorts!

    So we bought paints for me and some sandals, and legs and long sleeved tee shirts for Graham (incidentally since when have tee shirts begun to be referred to as 'tees'? How idle is that? Well you won't get me doing it!). We looked at all sorts of stuff, and then found the knicker aisle, and loaded up with so many pairs of pants that I was lost beneath them in my wheels.

    There aren't many people I could say this to, but I feel we get on so well, that I can tell you that today I am wearing a pair of surprisingly stretchy and comfortable BRAND NEW KNICKERS!

    And I may even (although I may have to build up to it) throw some of the old ones away!





Thursday, 15 April 2021

Gardening Questions

 Graham and I love our garden.

    It is a bit (lot) wild, but there is always something of interest in there, even through the Winter.

    We have got more involved with it this last year though, since the start of Lockdown. When you could not go out of the house except on essential trips for supplies or food, the garden became of far greater importance, and a source of enjoyment even more. 

    Neither of us are great 'gardeners'. If we find a plant we like, we pop it in the garden somewhere, water it a bit and see if it settles and grows/flourishes. If it dies we tend to think, 'Never mind, that obviously was not a plant that likes our garden.' 

    We have also been watching the gardening programmes on the TV a bit more too. Very often thinking to ourselves that there is no way we would be messing about like proper gardeners do, checking how acidic (or not) your soil is and mulching with banana leaves or unicorn droppings.

    But there are some things that come up that must be a part of the Hidden Lore of Gardening.

    For example: how do you know what is a weed?

    When I see all these little seedlings coming up in the bare earth, I have no idea which ones are things I want and which ones are things that have just 'arrived'. Especially now there is this fashion for planting grasses in the flower beds. I used to be safe and secure in the knowledge that any grass coming up in the flower bed was a weed! Now it could be something interesting and floaty which will add interest to the flowerbed through the Winter months

    Also a lot of the herbs and magical plants which I am interested in, may well be classed as 'weeds' by other folk. I remember horrifying one of our neighbours by transplanting dandelions into a flower bed. I like dandelions and they are a very useful plant.

    Another thing which often you read on seed packets or hear on the TV is: 'Plant out after the last frost.'

    How do you know when you have had the last frost? What sort of gardening divination is this? Do they use a pendulum and ask it if the frost we had last night is the last frost  - swing straight for yes or in a circle for no, or wiggle about randomly if you don't know either! Actually you could argue that there is no such thing as the 'last' frost as there are bound to be frosts if you wait long enough through the year ie October, November.

    If they mean 'Plant out in May or June.' SAY THAT.

    In the meantime I think I'll just carry on in my own way, pottering about, planting stuff randomly and plucking the odd bit of grass out of the flowerbed. 

    It's my garden and I'll garden it in my way.



    

Sunday, 21 March 2021

Equinoxes: Balance and Harmony?

 The 20th of March this year was the time of the Vernal or Spring Equinox.

    What this means is that the length of the day and the night are equal. There are only two times in the year when this happens: at the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes. At all other times, on all other days the length of the day and night will be slightly  (or even wildly) different.

    We are told that the powers of light and dark are in perfect balance and harmony. Well, they might be in balance, but that does not mean they are in harmony.

    At the Spring Equinox we are in the middle of a dynamic switch between primeval energies. This is sometimes portrayed as a battle between the Winter King and the Summer King, or Jack Frost and the Green Man.

    The prize they both desire is the Spring Maiden. This is the Queen of Winter, the White Lady, who at this time returns to the Upper world, bringing hope and new life. She is reborn and re-gains her Maidenhead.

    In nature as in the Universe there is no such thing as a balance for all time.

    Everything is in a state of constant flux and change. None of us can remain the same, neither can nature. Things are born, grow, evolve, change and die.

    There is no such thing as 'natural balance'. Now, natural imbalance is far more accurate.

    In the UK we have 75% of the worlds moorland, and conservationists are working hard to maintain this special environment.

    Note the phrase 'they are working hard' to maintain it, because moorland is not a natural environment. It was created through the actions and activities of humans.

    Once upon a time, all of that land was woodland and forest, but by cutting down the trees and clearing the land, moorland was created. Given half a chance and left to its own devices, it would become woodland and forest again - that is its natural state.

    Everyone who lives by the sea will know that you have to keep an eye on the tides. The sea retreats down the beach, then advances back up to the base of the cliffs or sand dunes over a period of hours, and at certain times of the year the height of the tides or the difference between high and low tides can be greater.

    The biggest differences of all are found just after the Equinoxes.

    The sea is never still, it is always moving. Sometimes it thrashes and lashes with great violence, at other times it is calm and gentle, but its moods can change with great rapidity.

    The Equinoxes are times of change.

    These changes will occur whether we like it or not. So perhaps this is a good time to learn how to embrace change. To understand that sometimes we just have to go with the flow - and it could be a bumpy ride!




Sunday, 14 March 2021

Maths and Crochet?

 Yes auto-correct spelling thing I have put 'Maths' above and I mean it - not the American spelling 'Math' - get over it.

    Ahem.

    I may have mentioned my next big(ish) project which I have decided to try and create an underwater scene, which will involve, coral, sea shells, fish etc. So I put 'crochet coral' into the Google search thingy and WOW! up came an exhibition of enormous crocheted pieces by Margaret Wertheim and her sister Christine who are based in Los Angeles.

    I was fascinated by the intricately curly pieces they had created, and which look enormously complicated to crochet. 

    After a bit of searching on the Net, I found that this was a well known thing called Hyperbolic Scumble and is actually very, very easy to have a go at, and to create some fab pieces.

    So I have.




The main principle is very simple: each round you increase the number of stitches in a set sequence you have decided upon before hand.

    So, for example, your pattern might be, increase a stitch every other stitch, or every third stitch or every fourth stitch. You must also decide on your basic shape before you start. The standard shapes are either rows or rounds. In the above photos the top and bottom ones are based around circles, the one in the middle is a 'dumbell' shape, two circles connected by a straight piece. And basically you just go round and round working your pattern.

    Now most folks who do crochet will know that when you are making a flat circle, you have to make increases in each row in order to keep it flat. If you do the same number of stitches in each row, your circle grows upwards like a vase or cup, instead of laying flat.

    The standard increase to make a flat circle is first round, say, 8 stitches, the second row needs two stitches in each of your base row, so 16 stitches, the next row needs an increase every other stitch so 24 stitches, the row after you leave two stitches then make an increase, the next you leave three stitches then make an increase and so on, leaving one more stitch between increases every row.

    So if you make more increases than this in each row, your 'circle' becomes more and more wavy.

    So I thought I'd have a go. And the standard pattern which you come across says that you should do one stitch, then do two in the next stitch, ie making an increase every other stitch. Now if you know the pattern for circles, you will immediately see that if you follow this for your second round, you are actually doing less stitches than you should do to make a flat circle, the third row will be the same as for a flat circle, and to be honest the fourth doesn't look much different.

    I was getting a bit frustrated and thought I was doing something wrong when I'd done three or four rows and nothing much seemed to be happening. Until I came across a little throw away comment on one site which said: 'You won't notice much different until around the 6th row ....' Which meant that being the impatient person I am, I hadn't given the pattern long enough to develop!

    Ok I know I am impatient, so I decided that rather than the slower growing 'leave one, double one, leave one, double one' pattern I'd try doing a double stitch in each stitch of the previous row, to see what happened. And you can see what happened in the pics above.

    All of these are done with standard double knitting wool and all of them have five rows of double crochets and a sixth row of single crochet edging. 

    I am very pleased with them and they should go into my finished piece nicely. But I am going to do some more experimenting, varying the number of single stitches, and yarns.


This last pic shows one of my first experiments. This uses a yarn which is thick and thin and varigated. And in this one I used the standard pattern of one single, one double on a crochet chain, but working up one side, around the end and back down the other side. I did three rows of double crochets, but in the third row I did two stitches in each stitch around the ends, then the 4th row in single crochet, two stitches in each stitch.

    I was after something that looked a bit like a sea slug and am quite please with the result.


Incidentally isn't it annoying when people start every sentence with 'so,' I shall be really glad when this fashion is dropped, the same as that inflection which sends the end of every sentence up, so it sounds like whoever you are talking to is continually asking questions instead of making a statement:

'So, I have a cup of tea?'