Outdoors Knows It’s Pretty

You’ve still got time (just!) to enter the Wool And The Gang yarn giveaway! Just head over here…

Meanwhile, I’ve been all over the place – knitting a bit of this, crocheting a bit of that, drifting from room to room, bumping into members of the household whom I’d forgotten existed… “Great uncle Mortimer! Heavens, I haven’t seen you since the Great Tidying Up of ’96! How the very devil are you, ol’ bean? What’s that you say? Huh? Oh. What, that cupboard there? The one with the hefty lock on the door? Oh gosh, I’m sorry. Very sorry. I might have got a tad over-enthusiastic towards the end of the Great Tidying Up… I must say though, you’re looking remarkably chipper for a chap who’s been locked in a cupboard for twenty years, existing on a diet of gnawed wood and roof-leakage. Kudos to you. And what’s that you say? Oh, this thing? It’s called a mobile phone: they’re quite common now. Come, allow me to introduce you to the modern world. First, we’d better set you up with a Facebook account…”

I blame the weather.

Seriously, it’s been nuts. One minute it’s simultaneously snowing and hailing – snailing, if you will – and the next minute, I’m applying suncream to the twinnage using a trowel. Nuts, I tell you.

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Even the moss looks beautiful in spring.

Still, the blossom’s been good this year.

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And we’ve just reached that point when the baby lambs venture away from their mothers’ sides and all try to hang out in the cool gang. If you’re a lamb, being cool involves gently head-butting your mates and occasionally scampering up a small hillock. Oh that social hierarchies could have been that simple and scalable when I was a teenager.

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There really is lots and lots of blossom. There’s summat wonderful about the loveliness and hope of all this fresh unsullied new life, don’t you think? (Let’s just forget about the existence of hay fever for a wee minute.) I know you’re supposed to feel such optimistic sentiments when you see a newborn baby, but I reckon that blossom has the edge when it comes to not screaming or puking in your hair at 3am.

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In Japan, according to my friend who lived there for a while, they have a whole festival day devoted to the first appearance of the cherry blossom. It’s a big deal, apparently. Frankly, I’m with the Japanese on this one, but I’m lacking the courage to phone up my boss and say, “I’m not coming in to work today, because blossom.

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Anyway. I’ve written before about the cherry-growing heritage of this village in which we live. There aren’t many cherry orchards left here now, but in the one that’s near my house, there are sheep/lambs wandering amongst the trees. Not only does this promise the magical combination of yarn and luscious cherries as future products, but also it’s a traditional approach: the sheep keep the grass/weeds down, and their poo helps fertilize the cherry trees. Organic production at its best.

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And its cutest:-

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You can’t move for wildlife around here at the moment. And even the light feels optimistic and fresh:-

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Photo taken whilst I was out on a run. So the quality was never going to be great.

Indoors, too, there are flowers. My good friend gave me these beauties when she came to discuss the knitting/crochet book that we’re writing together. Which reminds me, I really should get on with some work on that…

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(And I had so many knitting/crochet progress photos to show you! Ah well, next time.)

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The Moo-Cowl Pattern. AKA Simon The Cowl.

Before we knuckle down to the knitting, allow me to remind you that the absurdly overgenerous Wool And The Gang (WATG) giveaway touted in my previous post is still very much w-i-d-e open for business. Can I just say how much I’ve loved reading your warm, witty, woolly comments on that thread? Do pop over and enter (but only if you fancy a stonk-load of soft, fluffsome, chunky, Peruvian, pure wool in shades of your choice – no pressure).

Oh and whilst you’re entering, I’d be most eternally humbly honoured if you gave the ‘Yarn’s Facebook page a wee ‘like’, too: if nowt else, it’ll help you be amongst the first to know about future giveaways and other shenanigans. Do please share news of the giveaway with anyone else who might appreciate a bundle of luscious sheep-fluff.

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Anyway, back to business. I’ve got a free pattern to share with you.

When WATG sent me a whole hairy heap of yarn, I made a cowl, because it’s cold here. I’m not joking: the Stoic Spouse has been seen wearing a hat indoors. Anyway, the cowl is a very simple knit. You’ll need a couple of shades of WATG Crazy Sexy Wool or something equivalently chunky. When it arrives, do try to resist the urge to stroke it, name it Tiddles, and install it in the cat bed in the corner of your kitchen. But be warned: this beast is strokable. Also, I swear I heard it meow.

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The advantage of this cowl (other than its enormity and its softness and its snugglyness) is that you can wear it either-colour-up, to match whatever else you’re wearing that day. It’s an easy knit, as long as you’re not scared of a tiny bit of stranded work for the middle section. C’mon, it’s not difficult. What could possibly go wrong? One word of advice if you’re newish to stranded/fairisle: stretch the recently-knitted stitches out lots so that the floats of the inactive colour are long: the most common failing in stranded work is over-tight floats, and that’s summat that’s impossible to fix afterwards.

Perfect for the giraffe in your life.

Perfect for the giraffe in your life.

Now, there’s one thing we need to get out of the way first. The version I’ve made uses one-and-a-bit balls of colour A, and one-and-a-bit balls of colour B. I’ll write the pattern for that, but also for a slightly smaller and more sensible version that uses only one ball of each shade. OK? OK. Let’s go.

Size: The cowl is 76cm/30” circumference. The shorter version is 70cm/27.5” tall, and the longer version is 39cm/15.5” tall. Where materials/instructions for the two sizes differ, I’ve given information for the smaller size first, (and then for the larger size in brackets).

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Gauge: Don’t get overly hung up on gauge this time. So your cowl is a tiny bit wider/narrower than my cowl? No biggy. Let’s not fall out over it. But in case you need to know because you’re substituting in another yarn, Crazy Sexy Wool is billed as 8 stitches per 10cm/4″ in stockinette on 10mm (size 15) needles, and a 200g ball gives you 80m/87yds. Yup, that’s pretty darn chunky: your arm muscles are about to get a serious workout. In stranded stockinette, my cowl worked out at 9.5 stitches per 10cm/4″.

Materials: One (two) 200g balls of each of two colours of WATG Crazy Sexy Wool or equivalent, depending on whether you’re making the shorter (taller) version. I used the shades ‘Moss Green’ and ‘Sherpa Blue’. In case you’re substituting for summat else, you’ll need about 200g/80m/87yds (260g/104m/113yds) of each colour. You’ll also need 10mm circular needles of approximately 64cm/25” length. And your favourite stitch marker.

Stuff you'll need. And wool, obviously.

Stuff you’ll need. And wool, obviously.

Abbreviations:-

k = knit. (Now there’s a surprise.) p = purl. kfb = increase by knitting front and back. K2tog = decrease by knitting two together.

SM = stitch marker.

OK, let’s knit this baby.

  1. For either size, pour yourself a drink, and cast on 72 stitches in colour A, preferably using the long-tail cast-on. Place SM and join in round, taking care not to twist.
  2. k1,p1, all the way around. SM. Then repeat another 5 times.
  3. (k all stitches then SM) twice.
  4. OK, now you’re going to introduce colour B as well as continuing with colour A. Yup, we’re getting stranded. *k1 in colour B. k5 in colour A.** Repeat *→** around until 6 stitches remain in round. k1 in B. k3 in A. kfb in A. k1 in B. You may as well discard the marker now, because it ain’t gonna help you for the next section. (73 stitches.) IMG_6734
  5. Continue working around and around (and around) in the (k1 in B, k5 in A) pattern. Because you’ve sneakily snuck in that extra 73rd stitch, your single B-colour stitches will be displaced by one each round. Carry on until your diagonal stack of B-colour stitches is 7(10) stitches high in all 12 stacks, finishing on that last B-colour stitch. Note: this won’t be at the exact point where you were finishing a round with the stitch marker – that’s why we threw the stitch marker out of the window earlier. IMG_6784
  6. k4 in A, k3 in B. *k3 in A, k3 in B.** Repeat *→** round and round and round until every diagonal stack of B-colour stitches in this section is 7(10) rows high, ending after 3 B-colour stitches. Again, keep an eye on the height of all 12 B-colour stacks, because you’ll finish this section in a new and different place from before.
  7. k1 in colour B. k1 in A. *k5 in B, k1 in A.** Repeat *→** round and round until every diagonal stack of B-colour stitches in this section is 7(10) rows high, ending after 5 B-colour stitches. Go and find that stitch marker you discarded earlier, and place it now. Cut the yarn of colour A.
  8. Continuing in colour B, knit all stitches. SM.
  9. In colour B, knit every stitch until only two stitches remain. K2tog. SM. (72.)
  10. Continuing in colour B, work 6 rounds of k1,p1 rib.
  11. Cast off in rib pattern.
  12. Weave in ends. IMG_6848

Wear and enjoy.

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Ludicrously Generous Yarn Giveaway, Right Here

So. Today, we have a giveaway of such monumental extravagance that the Plausibility Police are after me because it surely can’t be true.

And yet it is. 🙂

Some of you will no doubt have heard of those fine fibrous folks at Wool And The Gang, yes? Well it turns out that they’re rather generous as well as being super-friendly. I’ve had to keep this a secret these past few weeks, but they contacted me recently in order to hatch a little plan. No wait, that’s a lie, it’s a big plan. It’s the sort of plan that involves one of you winning a vast stonk-load of the softest Peruvian mega-chunky pure wool in funky colours of your choice, so I’m assuming that you’ll approve. (And once you’ve won, it also involves me popping round to your house on a daily basis in order to admire the aforementioned yarn and stroke it gently whilst dropping hints about you lending me just a wee bit. Sorry-not-sorry about that. I promise that I’ll be quiet and keep out of your way.)

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This giveaway is open worldwide.

So in case you haven’t yet had the pleasure, allow me to introduce you to Crazy Sexy Wool.

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It comes in a splendid box.

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And within, a bag.

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Before you finally, near-wild with excitement, tear open the packaging to reveal the treasures within. Look at this!

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Let’s be serious for a minute. This wool is very, very chunky (a massive 7 stitches per 10cm – woah!) And very, very soft. And it’s fluffy. Yes I confess that I didn’t pay for this gorgeous collection, but I’m a mean and cynical old curmudgeon, so I’d cheerfully tell you ‘It’s rubbish’ if that was what I thought. But you know, this wool is very pleasantly vibrant and soft and warm. There isn’t a great deal by way of twist, so it is rather prone to descending into a floaty length of random fluff but hey, I can’t complain when it’s so soft and luscious. But if you want a defined number of neat plies all tidily, tightly, twisted, you might be disappointed. The colours are rich and strong – that’s good.

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It will surprise precisely nobody that I started knitting at this point. Those WATG people (did I mention that they’re generous?) sent me nearly a kilogram of pure Peruvian wool in colours of my choice. They didn’t ask for payment, although they did hint that I might like to help with the washing up next time I’m near their office. Fair enough.

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But what to make? Yarn this big really needs to be used for a statement piece. I decided to design a cowl.

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Much fun was had.

I went bold. This is not a cowl for shrinking violets on a shy day. Just sayin’.

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I’ll post the pattern for this cowl (free, of course) within the next few days, just in case you’re feeling bold, too.

But really, you want to know about the giveaway, don’t you? OK. WATG are offering four balls (i.e. 800g) of their luscious Crazy Sexy Wool to one over-lucky winner of this giveaway. That’s £62-worth ($90) of pure wool. And you get to choose the colours. Not entirely bad, all things considered, huh?

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The usual Twisted rules apply, except that there are no Facebook entries allowed this time. In order to enter, leave a comment on this post ↓below↓ hinting that you’re not entirely averse to the prospect of winning. In doing so, you agree to your email address being eaten for lunch with a superior brand of mayonnaise by the people at WATG. (Don’t worry, you can un-subscribe at any time. They definitely won’t steal your soul.)

See, the cowl is also perfect for giraffes.

See, the cowl is also perfect for giraffes.

The competition is open from RIGHT NOW THIS VERY SECOND, YO, until Weds 4th May at 12.00 noon British time. As I said, anyone, anywhere on this marvellous planet may enter. (Sorry, Tim Peake.) As the great bell tolls midday on that auspicious date, I’ll use an online random number generator to select a winner, whose email address will be forwarded to WATG so that the lucky person can select their colours. OK? Please share, here and via your favourite social media. You could even leave your house and pop next door to tell Mrs Entwistle next door: I’m sure she’d like to win.

So as I said, I knitted a cowl. The pattern will be here for you within days. I named it the Moo-Cowl. The Stoic Spouse reckons that it should be called Simon. Groan. I’m convinced that no court in the land would convict me if I murdered him at this point, right?

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Yes, I really do have a tree growing out of the top of my head. But I’m sure you’re far too polite to mention it.

 

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Dinner Is On Its Way

Just as I love to be able to turn any ol’ yarn into something you can wear, or sit on, or fly from the flagpole atop your roof, I also love to be able to pop a vegetable seed in the ground and wait for it to turn into DINNER. OK, you do have to wait months for that dinner to even be ready to cook (just like you have to wait weeks for the cardigan to be ready to wear), but hey, it’s good to work up an appetite, no?

Last spring was a wash-out on the growing things front (final unsuccessful IVF, blah blah blah) and the year before that, snails and cabbage-white caterpillars scoffed all my brassicas. Not that I’m still bitter about that or owt.

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…But this year, I’m back to my foolishly over-ambitious self.

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In the back garden, I’ve cleared out our little veg patch with the help of one of the twinnage, and planted it up with a variety of goodies, then covered it securely with a netting cage to prevent any of the vegetable plants from escaping.

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A Twin. Good At Digging.

Can you tell that I’m no horticultural expert? If you want someone who knows what they’re doing, speak to Narf (sustainable cultivation of the most amazing array of fruit and veg in Tasmania: she’s just moved her blog to here), or Gardening Nirvana (stunning, creative, beautiful and wise gardening in the US), or The Contented Crafter, who has converted an unprepossessing backyard in New Zealand into the most verdant oasis of colour.

But meanwhile you’re here, so let’s proceed with the amateurish bumblings.

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With some very inconsistent help from the twinnage, I’ve planted peas, rocket, radish, purple carrot, dill, sprouts, spinach, and potatoes outdoors, and then leeks, peppers, courgettes, broccoli, cauliflowers, giant pumpkins, lettuce, basil, runner beans, two kinds of climbing bean, tomatoes, and two kinds of courgettes indoors. I’m sure that the local wildlife will thoroughly enjoy devouring the whole lot. In the wake of the great caterpillar-brassica fiasco of 2014, this year’s pest defences include beer traps for snails (the Stoic Spouse’s home-brew should do the job), planting nasturtiums to attract things that eat pests, and also shouting “STOP IT!” very loudly at the twinnage if they venture too near the seedlings.

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So right now, there are 117 tiny pots of planted seeds and also the next batch of chitting potatoes sitting on the windowsill, all waiting to be neglected. It’s survival of the fittest round here. I mean, they’re going to have to be tough to live in our garden, so they may as well begin to prove their determination and resilience whilst they’re still being mollycoddled in their own private pots on a cushy windowsill. Dinner will be ready in about July, but you might have to bring your own wine, because my grape vine is showing very little inclination to stir itself.

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And in the time taken to write this post, they’ve germinated!

Meanwhile on the allotment, potatoes have been planted, and the broad beans and onions are s-l-o-w-l-y beginning to acknowledge that they’re supposed to be growing:-

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My genius allotment-mate suggested we use square foot gardening to interest the twinnage. Please note that this practice does NOT involve slicing your feet into equilateral tetragons. (Gawd, my humour is dismal today.) Instead, you divide a small plot (a yard/metre square, for example), into roughly foot-square sub-plots and grow a different crop in each of these. It’s an efficient way to produce a high yield of lots and lots of lunch. And it’s fun and manageable for kids.

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They wrote the labels, too.

So the twinnage each helped to make their own little divided plot. The idea was embraced with enthusiasm.

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Planting a potato. Because home-grown potatoes are like buried treasure for small children. (And for 43-year-old clinical psychologists.)

Each little area was carefully labelled and planted. The twinnage got to decide what should be planted where.They kept at it for quite a while, but were then overtaken by the excitement of digging down to the water table in another part of the allotment, and jumping up and down in the resulting quagmire. I’d probably have been the same at their age. I think their motivation will improve as things actually begin to grow.

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Back home, I’m grudgingly acknowledging that it’s sometimes worth growing things to look at as well as things to eat, so I’ve planted up the hanging baskets:-

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And having done all THAT, I think I’m finally allowed to sit down and get back to crocheting the yarny garden of my giant project, yes? Speaking of which, many photos coming soon…

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Trying Hard Not To Get Shot

I hate getting caught in the middle of a shoot-out when I’m half-way through my run. (Or, indeed, at pretty much any stage of my run.)

Hang on, just let me do a bit more work on the giant crochet house/garden project (that REALLY is nearly finished). Gotta steady my nerves. Is it me, or do these attempts at daisies on the lawn resemble fried eggs? Sigh. Back to the drawing board.
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We live in the countryside, so like it or not, people shoot things and then eat them. (Sometimes they even cook them first.) It’s not at all uncommon to hear shots or to see spent cartridges lying in the mud. So as I ran the other morning, I didn’t pay much attention to the noise of a gun going off to my left, even though the sound was quite close. But meh, I was fine, right up until I started hearing shots close by to my right as well. Hmm, that wasn’t good.
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And at the same moment that I heard another shot, what I think was a partridge scuttled across the path not far ahead, then disappeared into the hedge. No I didn’t catch a photo, but here are some partridge loitering outside my parents’ house in the snow at Christmas a few years ago:-

OK, I didn't catch a pic of the partridge, so here are some partridge I photographed a few years ago in the snow on Christmas day at my parents' door. I failed in my efforts to persuade them to pose in a pear tree.

I tried and failed to persuade them to pose in a pear tree.

Back to the bird in hand (whose worth presumably halved as it dived into the bush). I’m not sure whether the partridge knew that it was theoretically safe because open season for most game birds is over by late spring. But you can’t blame it for not taking chances. And maybe whoever was firing those guns (neither of whom I could see) didn’t care about the law anyway, and just fancied a really tasty dinner. Whilst I did feel sorry for the partridge (which is hypocritical because I do eat meat), I was also increasingly not enjoying being near the thing that people were possibly trying to kill.

Being cursed with both an anxious disposition and a very active imagination (two traits that I suspect cruelly co-occur for quite a lot of folks), I began to worry about whether I’d get peppered with lead-shot by mistake. Not that I look much like a partridge, especially when I’m wearing fluorescent snot-coloured lycra running gear, but not being an especially competent athlete, my scurrying scamper could, at speed, perhaps be mistaken for the gait of a partridge. I slowed down as I got close to where I’d seen the bird.

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Maybe I should have turned round and gone back the way I’d come, rather than risking crossing the poor partridge’s path, but that would have meant running a very long way, and I’m cursed with an anxious disposition, a wild imagination, AND LAZINESS. So I carried on.

I passed the exact point where I’d last seen the bird, and managed not to get shot. Well that was a plus.

But what if the two shooters were actually sworn enemies, taking a pop at each other from either side of my path? I slowed down, not wanting to confuse these still-invisible adversaries.

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And then, the most worrying thought of all… What if – and you’ll have to bear with me whilst I explain a little – they were such experienced marksmen that they’d started going deaf from all those years of noisy guns (although such experience would also have made them terrifyingly skilled shots)? So when the organizer-person-thingy had said to them that morning, “Go shoot some pheasant,” what they’d mistakenly heard was, “Go shoot some peasants,” in which case I was doomed, not having a single aristocratic bone in my body.

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I speeded up again. All that high-viz clothing made me rather an obvious target. Camouflage would only have been an option if I’d been running through either (i) a tulip field, or (ii) a children’s soft-play area. So all I could do was try to run in a very fast and very non-peasanty way. I’m not sure I really succeeded at either of those, but I managed to get home unscathed… where I found a bunch of red kites circling in the sky above our driveway, sensing my exhaustion and clearly anticipating imminent carrion after all this carry-on.

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“Pick on someone your own size,” I growled at them, which to be fair was pretty much what they were doing, because I’m not very tall and those birds’ wingspan is BIG.

But at least I was home. And I realized that I’m cursed with anxiety, an overactive imagination, laziness, AND STUPIDITY.

And hey, at least I didn’t get shot.

As far as I know, the partridge lived to waddle another day.

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Amongst The Ordinary, The Extraordinary

One of the reasons – and there are many – why I’m fundamentally unsuited to modern life is the fact that I’m more interested in the micro-details of the natural world than in all the manufactured concepts to which I’m supposed to be paying attention. Yes I do manage to hold down a job, but there’s a good reason why I’m a mid-level clinical psychologist and not the big fancy-pants boss of the whole shebang.

See this? All will be explained later in this post.

See this? All will be explained later in this post.

It’s fair to say that I’ll never be CEO of a major company. Because if I was, my inaugural board meeting would go something like this…

“So, Twisted, congratulations on your appointment,” says the obsequious second-in-command (OSIC), who is secretly scheming to get his grubby mitts on my job. “It’s an honour to work for you. Here are the company sales figures for the last quarter.”

I take the papers from him. They’ve got numbers on them. I like numbers a lot, except when they relate to money, and unfortunately these numbers definitely relate to money, so they’re quite boring. But I look at them for a minute, just to be polite. The OSIC is watching me closely. He seems to be sulking because I shifted the venue for this meeting from the board room at Megacorps HQ to the edge of a small field in the Cotswolds. I don’t think he likes sitting in mud. To be fair, I hadn’t realized that it would be raining so heavily this morning. Anyway, he’s watching me for a reaction to the sales figures.

“Oh. My. Goodness.,” I murmur.

There is a collective intake of breath around the fallen tree trunk that we’re using for a table. The deputy finance director stops trying to wipe the mud off her laptop with a monogrammed hankie and says, “Is something the matter? Sales are through the roof this quarter!”

(Not that we have a roof. Because we’re sitting in a field. But still.)

“Over there,” I whisper, and the gaze of a dozen be-suited women and men follows where I’m pointing. “Look! An actual woodlark! I can’t believe it!”

Fortunately for the economy, nobody is ever going to make me CEO of anything especially now that I’ve written this career-suicide blog post.

Ditto: look closely, for all will be revealed below.

Ditto: look closely, for all will be revealed below.

But I wanted to talk to you about the awesome details that are right there, under your nose and that are, in my un-humble opinion, far more interesting than last quarter’s sales figures. This post came about when I was in the garden the other day. I’ve talked before about how my love of geology was sparked by finding my father’s book about minerals as a child. By the time I was 17/18 I was studying geology at school and loving it even though I hated that school so much that I shudder at the memory. (I’ll tell you about the dinosaur skeleton I found another day.) At the time, we were living near the sea in a very fossiliferous part of south Wales, and when my friends and I weren’t heading to the pub to get drunk, we drove down to the coast to look for fossils of an evening. We were rarely disappointed.

These are Jurassic gryphaea, aka 'devil's toenails'. You can't move on the south Wales coast without tripping over a few.

These are Jurassic gryphaea, aka ‘devil’s toenails’. You can’t move on the south Wales coast without tripping over a few.

Ever since, whenever I’m outside I’ve had one eye on what I’m doing and one eye on the ground, admiring the rock. I’d hate to miss a decent fossil or geological feature. You can’t switch off that instinct once you’ve got it. You just can’t. And the thing is, there’s a lot of gravel around this old brewery we live in. Nowt to do with us: it was there when we moved in (and it won’t be there much longer because I’m going to completely redevelop the garden). Gravel is pretty boring because it’s a mish-mash of bashed-up stuff that could’ve come from anywhere, but I just can’t help myself. Interesting bits and pieces catch my eye, which is awkward when you’re trying to have a polite conversation with someone. So the other day, I spent ten minutes pottering around the garden, picking up a few pieces. (T’was only ten minutes: the twinnage got tetchy.) Here, to prove how easy it is, you can see what I found…

That picture of the pot full of fossils and bits and pieces near the top of this post? That was ten minutes’ haul. Let’s take a closer look. First, there are the near-modern non-fossil thingummyjigs. In my vegetable bed, I found a couple of segments of Victorian clay pipe. Hardly surprising. I can picture the late 19th century owners of this brewery standing there, frowning and discussing the price of hops, long slender pipes between their teeth. (Apparently, Victorian men had terrible teeth due to the omnipresence of clay tobacco pipes in their mouths. The advent of cigarettes was a godsend for dental shapeliness.)

Pieces of Victorian clay pipes.

Pieces of Victorian clay pipes.

But let’s leave those pompous, wonky-toothed, Victorian men behind and go back a couple of hundred million years. Have you any idea how easy it is to find treasure? Look!

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Well the one on the right has to be a little piece of ammonite, top and left are from some sorts of bivalves, and bottom one maybe a crinoid. Cool, huh? And what about this…

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Fossilized coral, if I’m not very much mistaken. Oh, and these:-

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The tiniest snail, the tiniest creature, and some coral. All very, very beautiful. Oh, and these:-

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On the left, see that tiny imprint of an ancient bivalve shell? And on the right… well I’m struggling with the one on the right. Any geologists reading this? Coral? Oolitic limestone writ large?

Oh, and you know I mentioned gryphaea, above? Well my ten-minute-trawl didn’t yield any immaculate specimens, but I found loads of weathered, bashed-up gryphaea remains. Look!

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So. If you’re bored, go and rummage outside amongst the gravel. You won’t be disappointed.

 

TL,DR: Gravel is cool.

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Mad March Hares

I love how nature goes stark staring bonkers right around this time of year. To be fair, I’d go bonkers too at the first sign of spring if I’d spent the winter shivering in the garden, surviving on a dwindling supply of berries, bugs, and birdseed. But right now, you can’t move for nature frisking, flirting, squabbling, and, ahem, doing what comes naturally.

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All of the ladybirds in this bush were in pairs. I had to tell the twinnage they were having ‘special cuddles’.

I’ll save the best for last.

If you think the trade in homes for people is brutal, then you should see the avian property market. A respectable-looking pair of house sparrows has been showing interest in the nest box just outside our sitting room.

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Daddy house sparrow had to physically fight off a great tit before he could view his potential new pad, and then it took him a sustained period of cheeping to persuade the mummy sparrow to come take a look. She did, reluctantly, and then spent ages and ages peering into the box whilst her spouse sat on a branch below and preened himself.

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I hope they stay.

Even the moss is pretty in the sunshine.

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And we’re getting a bloom or two:-

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There are lambs, ambling and gambolling along with their mothers:-

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And the landscape is starting to look a little less barren:-

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But the best, the very best, is my favourite creature of all, doing its special spring thing.

The hare.

I love hares. I’ve loved them particularly since our house-before-last, on the edge of the rolling Cotswolds, where we stood in the kitchen and watched hares in the field behind our little garden. I love their proud, aloof, sleek, dignity. Except in March, when they lose all that and go completely potty. Have you ever seen mad March hares boxing? I’ve only seen it once, and I’ll never forget it. Disclaimer: this will be the only time I describe physical violence as funny. But honestly, you should have seen them. The female hare was minding her own business, hangin’ with her mates. And there was this one male hare – and I’m sorry, but you could see that he was a little sleazy – who kept trying it on. It went like this: he’d sidle up to her, she’d punch him squarely on the nose, he’d retreat. And then he’d try again. And AGAIN. He. Did. Not. Learn. It was magical, and hilarious, and bonkers, all at once. And I felt like the luckiest person in the world to be able to witness it.

Anyway, when I was out on my run the other day, I saw something move in the field to my right. So I stopped. (ANY excuse to stop, quite frankly.) And it was three hares zig-zagging across the field, completely off their heads with March-time craziness. They didn’t box, well not that I saw, but it was fairly obvious that they’d abandoned their sanity. HUGE respect to people who have captured brilliant photos of March hares, because with the little point-and-shoot that I take when I’m running, it was all I could do to keep up with them at all.

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You see? Not much of a photo. But to be honest, I was mostly just mesmerized by the sight of them.

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As I said. Bonkers.

Enjoy the last hour or so of March, people.

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Let Them Eat Cake. (And Chocolate).

Chocolaty felicitations to those amongst you of an Eastery inclination. And even if Easter isn’t your thing, I hope you have some cocoa solids handy anyway. Because, well, chocolate.

Given the ongoing grey/damp outside, I’ve been creating colour in the indoor flowerbeds. This. Project. Is. Going. To. Be. Finished. Very. Soon. Or. I. Will. Scream.

Begonias Begoni-ing

Begonias Begoni-ing

The plants/foliage are aggressively crocheted, and then I’m embroidering on the flowers.

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But never mind that, it’s Easter. Despite the fact that we’re not very good at seasonal celebrations in this house, something of an arms race has developed this weekend. After the Stoic Spouse’s home-made hot cross buns on Friday, I decided to make a simnel cake (well two, actually, so that we could give one away).

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Not to be outdone, the Stoic Spouse is at this very moment preparing a feast of duck à l’orange for later tonight. Early indications are that it smells good. Hmm, not sure how to better that. A home-made six-foot-high statue of the Easter bunny worked in chocolate? I’d better get carving…

There's a LOT of fruit in simnel cake.

There’s a LOT of fruit in simnel cake. So much that it could possibly count as a health food. Possibly. If you squint a bit.

Anyway, simnel cake is delicious. Recipe for the cake here, and for the marzipan here. Home-made marzipan is much more alcoholic nicer than shop-bought. Inspiration for the whole thing comes from my good friend Selma, who is much better at seasonal celebrations than I am.

I didn't have any brandy, so I made do with Grand Marnier. Life is tough...

I didn’t have any brandy, so I made do with Grand Marnier. Life is tough…

Unlike Selma, I’m not good enough at adulting to plan ahead and soak the dried fruit for two days in alcohol, orange juice, and lemon juice, so I plopped it all in a pan and warmed it on the lowest possible heat, as a way of encouraging the currants and sultanas and candied peel to get thirsty and soak up a little of the delicious juice. I’m not sure how far it worked, but I swear I got drunk on the fumes.

Drunk raisins

Drunk sultanas

There are lots of glacé cherries in a simnel cake. There are even more in two simnel cakes. Ditto eggs:-

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But it smells gorgeous as you add the ground mixed spice and the boozy fruit, and beat the mixture until your arms ache.

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Seriously, though, I recommend making your own marzipan. The only disadvantage other than cost is that it’s not as malleable as the shop-bought sort.

Eleven apostles.

Eleven apostles.

You glaze the top with egg, and then you dice with failure by popping the whole thing under the grill. It’s one of those times when there’s a two-second difference between RAW and IRREVOCABLY CHARRED. You have been warned.

Not taking my eyes off this for one second.

Not taking my eyes off this for one second.

It’s worth it, though. The layer of marzipan through the middle of the cake is just delicious and will be mandatory in all cakes when I become Ruler Of The Whole World.

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So then of course, there’s all that cake to be worked off. The weather has been vile, and so the ****ing, ****ing, ************ING running has been even more of a chore than usual. (I may have graduated to lycra and fitness trackers, but I’m still a gasping, wheezing, exercise-phobe in my heart.) So here is a picture from yesterday’s run. My running partner has disappeared off to the Alps to bask in the snowy sunshine amongst the mountains. I bet she was wishing she was back home. Drowned rat number one:-

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And this was at the end of today’s run. Drowned rat number two.

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I’m going for a hat-trick of sodden-ness tomorrow.

No, this is not fun and it’s not my hobby.

Happy Easter, folks! 🙂

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Filed under House stuff

Easter. Chocolate. Home-Brew.

Typical. You put out a blog post about how cold and grey it is, and barely have the pixels dried on the screen (my understanding of technological hardware may be imperfect) when the sun leaps out from behind a cloud, yelling “TA-DA!” and makes everything springlike. That said, by the time you read this, it’s due to be dull and damp again.

This blog post is brought to you courtesy of the Stoic Spouse’s homebrew (which is actually rather tasty), so don’t be surprised if the final few paragraphs consist mostly of, “I luffs you I do.”

Another gratuitous butterfly shot, left over from last post.

Another gratuitous butterfly shot, left over from last post.

We’re not very good at seasonal celebrations around here, but we seem to be surpassing ourselves this Easter weekend. Between me and the Stoic Spouse, the ritual usually goes something like this:-

Year one: Spouse 1 presents Spouse 2 with Easter egg. Spouse 2 says, “Oops, sorry, I didn’t get you one.”

Year two: Spouse 2 presents Spouse 1 with Easter egg. Spouse 1 says, “Oops, sorry, I didn’t get you one.”

…And repeat.

But this year we’re upping our game, before our children start putting in formal complaints about us. So on Good Friday, the Stoic Spouse sneaked downstairs at preposterous-o’clock in the morning to start baking hot cross buns. Look!

home-made hot cross buns thetwistedyarn.com

They tasted gorgeous but, poor things, their existence was briefer than the lovely smell of cinnamon they left behind.

Not to be outdone, my plan for Saturday is to bake simnel cake. Oh, and just for the record: Stoic Spouse, if you’re reading, I’ve got you an Easter egg this year.

The twinnage get a better deal than the grownups, of course, and will be certifiably comprised of 90% cocoa solids and uncontrollably manic by this time on Sunday. I do think that the Easter bunny should be encouraged in the giving of broccoli instead, with delicious florets wrapped in coloured foil, and joyful Easter broccoli hunts in the garden involving all the family.

But no, we’re tediously conventional and so we laid out a (chocolate) egg hunt for the twinnage.

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Both boys relished the challenge, and never once whined that they’d rather have had broccoli. C’mon kids, couldn’t you have been a little more whingey because none of these treasures contained 30% of your RDA of Vitamin A and pantothenic acid?

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Pah! In my day, all we had to look forward to at Easter was playing hunt-the-cold-gruel in the back yard next to the coal shed, and right grateful we were too… (Shall I step back into my Dickensian novel / episode of Monty Python now?)

Ha! Found the broccoli! Victory is MINE!

Ha! Found the broccoli! Victory is MINE!

Anyway, a very happy Easter to you – if Easter is your thing – and may there be much broccoli chocolate in your weekend.

Oh, and did I mention that I reeeeeally luffs you?! Hic!

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Filed under House stuff

Knitted Butterflies

So it’s been cold and grey and damp in a way that suggests the arrival of spring. This cold-and-grey is definitely different from winter cold-and-grey because this is cold-and-grey-WITH-DAFFODILS.* Here’s what happens when you try and photograph daffodils at dusk in the pouring rain after an exceptionally tricky day at work. (Don’t try this at home, folks: as you can see, it’s liable to end with wobbly edges.)

Yeah, we're a little gloomy and wobbly-of-focus. That's because we're shivering right here in the gloaming.

Yeah, we’re a little gloomy and wobbly-of-focus. That’s because we’re shivering right here in the gloaming, as is our photographer.

So in the absence of spring sunshine, we have to make our own colour. Fortunately, a beloved friend arrived for chatter/wine/dinner/sleeps, and she came bearing tulips. She has taste, does my friend:-

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Tulips rock, so here’s a gratuitous bonus tulip shot:-

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I can’t wait until they do their floppy tulipy thing and drape themselves over the edge of the jug with louche abandon. When they do that, they’re the 1920s flapper-girls of the floral world, leaning laughingly backwards over a rail, champagne coupe in hand, carefree.

There’s been knitting too, of course, but you probably already guessed that. The population of home-grown butterflies has been increasing at a rate that suggests infestation, and after quite a few versions of the pattern, I think I’ve designed a better butterfly.

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They’re fun to make, if fiddly. All those DPNs…

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In the making, I got to indulge my inner ten-year-old for half an hour and play with beads.

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Actually, scrub that: my ten-year-old self was a serious character, more interested in graphing how the temperature at different depths in the pond varied throughout the day, and in damming the scarily-polluted micro-stream at the bottom of the garden (only occasionally flooding the neighbours’ lawn in the process) than in playing with beads. Gosh, that was a long sentence. Clearly I didn’t spend enough of my childhood learning to be succinct.

(Seriously, though: despite the skin-reddening pollution, there were freshwater shrimps, water lice, and whirligig beetles a-plenty, all of which were properly cool.)

Oh look, butterfly shadows!

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But let’s get back to the knitting. I think the final version of the butterfly garland needs… something else, but I’m not sure what. Much pondering is occurring.

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And whilst I ponder, I’m chaotic and distracted about everything else, as per usual. Mostly this tendency is a huge disadvantage. (A protracted n=1 study suggests that it only ends in stress…) But just occasionally there can be small advantages. Like when the new edition of Simply Knitting plops through the letterbox onto the doormat, and you flick through its pages with cheery curiosity… And you notice a column with a name and photo that definitely ring a bell somewhere very far buried in your tangled brain. And it actually takes the vast majority of a second for you to twig that this is your column and that the name and photo are yours. Duh!

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In my defence, I had small children pesking around my knees at the time, and it would’ve been hard to focus on anything else even if the house had been on fire. “Boys, for the love of yarn, will you please stop sticking play-dough up my nose… Hey, why is there so much smoke round here? … No, I will not let you drive Mummy’s car. Whaddya mean, ‘why’? Because you’re FIVE, that’s why… Hang on, aren’t those orange things leaping from the bannisters actually flames? … Oh I give up: just take Daddy’s car keys and drive his car: just don’t tell him that I let you…”

Ah, another day in Twisted-land. I’d add something saccharine along the lines of ‘and we wouldn’t have it any other way’, but that wouldn’t be strictly true, however much I love the blighters.

Adios yarniacs. May stunning creations fly from your needles/hooks.

 

*I know, I mentioned the unseasonal daffs in my falling-in-the-flood post, but there were only a few of those. Now, you can’t move in Oxfordshire for daffodils.

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Filed under Knitting