Monthly Archives: April 2016

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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