Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The Gloomy Dane and the Comfy Chair

I went to the cinema on Thursday, quite out of the blue. How very spontaneous of me.

It was the encore showing of the National Theatre 2015 live broadcast of Hamlet, so NTNotLive then. My friend, who is an English teacher, suddenly texted me on Thursday afternoon saying this was on and did I went to go - then she had to run off to teach a class, so with a bit of intermittent texting between classes we managed to get it organised and she booked the tickets (more of which to follow).

Otter impressionist Benedict Cumberbatch was playing the gloomy Dane, and Ciarán Hinds was Claudius. The last time I saw Mr Hinds in anything he was falling off the cliffs at Eshaness in series 3 of Shetland. They were the only people I'd heard of in it, and actually I didn't recognise Ciarán for a bit. The only problem with famous people in big roles is that I get distracted by what they're famous for. Benedict has such a distinctive face that it's really difficult to to get away from 221b Baker Street and get immersed in Elsinore. Though that's not to say he made bad job of it - he didn't. Although talking of the vague distraction of previous roles, the Ghost and the Gravedigger were both played by Karl Johnson. I had to google him when I got home because I knew I'd seen him in something but couldn't place it. Turns out it was Hot Fuzz. He was PC Walker, the one who translates for the mumbling old farmer with the weapons. He was an excellent Gravedigger. 

Now in a stroke of absolute genius my friend had booked the comfy reclining seats which have been newly installed at the cinema. I am a terrible fidget at the cinema - I just can't sit still for long and get really uncomfortable. But the leg-rest, and in fact all the leg-room, made all the difference. Definitely worth it for a 'film' so long that it has an interval. And actually I got so desperate for a pee that I had to run to the loo before the interval, and completely missed Polonius getting offed. Of all the scenes to miss!

Ophelia got me thinking. She was very wispy. Every Hamlet I've seen has had a wispy Ophelia. I don't think this is really a reflection on those who've played her, but rather on the role - she's not really a character at all, but a plot device, poor thing. Not one of Shakespeare's best certainly. My other random thought was 'wouldn't it be fun if there was a (Shakespearean-)English-language Danish-cast production of Hamlet. I think Sandi Toksvig would make an excellent gravedigger - a thought that seems so completely right that I'm now half-convinced I've seen her do that scene, at least, somewhere. Most of the cast of The Killing would be brilliant - Ann Eleonora Jørgensen who played Pernilla Birk Larsen (and also was in the Midsomer Murders episode 'The Killings of Copenhagen') would be such a good Gertrude. This is how I deal with insomnia - I play fantasy Shakespeare-casting.

Yikes, better go...

Monday, 9 October 2017

Deja vu

Sickness Bug round 2 - Miss M this time. And fortunately (depending on how you look at it) I've got this week off work so I didn't have to figure out what to do when a puking child coincides with a work day. Actually it was yesterday that she was puking - today she was recovering, i.e. tired and hungry but otherwise pretty much okay. So we spent the day pottering around and it was all very pleasant.

What I'm supposed to be talking about of course is crochet. Now crochet and I have never really clicked. I can do the basic stitches, manage a wonky granny square and so on. I'm okay in the round as it were (spiraling), but not so good at going back and fore. But recently (well, a couple of months ago probably), I saw something lovely on Instagram. I follow Jane Lithgow (probablyjane) on there, and she shared a picture of some Tunisian crochet she was doing and I really liked the texture. After watching a couple of 'how to' Youtube videos I got an ordinary crochet hook and some scrap yarn, had a go, and promptly ordered a set of Tunisian crochet hooks (needles/?) for a proper go. I loved it - it's the ideal blending of knitting and crochet as far I'm concerned and I don't make it go wonky! Well, not very. I started making a cowl with some gorgeous sock yarn I'd had lying around for a while (that's it above) - and promptly broke the bamboo hook. So I started another cowl with some chunky yarn (Wendy Fusion - a discontinued one that I had three balls left of) and a thicker hook.

And it was so easy. I was only using the simple stitch as I wanted to get the hang of it properly before leaping on any further, but it's such a lovely texture it didn't need anything else. I didn't have enough of the Wendy Fusion to make a scarf so I made it just long enough to graft the end for a cowl. Well, I say graft, I just crocheted the ends together. I don't even know the proper crochet term for that. But it worked, so that's fine.  Item in picture modelled by cat, naturally.

I did have enough left to knit an alternating stripes hat. So this winter I will match.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Ancient history

Today has not gone as planned. It's my day off and I had a number of things to do, most of which I'd achieved by 10 o'clock (woohoo!), at which time I was standing in Primark trying to get Miss M cheap joggers for when she goes off on her school residential trip at the end of the month. And then my mobile rang and it was the Boy's school saying that he wasn't feeling well and looking very pale. So I legged it to pick him up, by which time he'd thrown up. The Boy is rarely unwell so he's not accustomed to it, and was looking distinctly green and horrified. So we came home, he's fallen asleep and I've been trying to think of things I can get on with without disturbing him. Aha! light-bulb moment - I can blog. At last! So, I'll share my pictures of Shetland plus a smidge of history and see how it goes.

Jarlshof is a multi-period historic site, 4000-years worth in fact, from the late neolithic up to what's left of 'the laird's house' which is the modern bit having been abandoned in the late 1600s - and although even that is pretty old, in the context of the site it feels as historically uninteresting as a 1970s bungalow.

In the laird's house there is a (thankfully modern metal) spiral staircase leading up to a point where you can get an overview of the site, which really helps make sense of it. And that's why most photos you see of Jarlshof look like the photo above, because that's the view from the top of the stairs! I would have liked to have taken more of a panoramic shot but it turns out I don't really have a head for heights any more so I was too busy hanging onto the railing (and cursing Miss M who was hopping around, completely unconcerned) to get more than a couple of photos. What you can see in that picture are the Iron Age wheelhouses, which are getting on for 2000 years old but are still amazing constructions. They're my favourite bit of the site and when you're inside one you're sheltered from the wind so they're really lovely to be in.

Looking up from inside a wheelhouse. 

When they were roofed over they must have really been relatively cosy. Building like that has always struck me as very sensible of the inhabitants given how windy Shetland is anyway, but especially this site which is on the narrow southern tip of Shetland and is exposed from pretty much all directions.

Looks pretty on a nice day, mind. And there's a very beautiful sandy beach nearby, should the Iron Age folks have fancied topping up their tans.

beach view for the Vikings

There's actually much more to the site than my pictures show - there are the remains of Viking houses off to one side. They're the low rectangular ruins in the photo above but they're difficult to photograph in a way that makes them interesting. There's also part of a broch, but that's on the seaward side of the laird's house and erosion has taken a fair chunk of it. As well as, I think, part of it being underneath the laird's house. It's quite a confusing site in some ways because of the long occupation and the re-use of parts by later inhabitants. Fascinating though, and to my delight the kids enjoyed it as much as I had a kid - well, why not? Space to run around, and not-so-secret passages all over the place!

As you look to the south there's Sumburgh Head and the lighthouse and then nothing but waves until Fair Isle. And after that nothing but waves until Orkney. The airport is just to the east of the Jarlshof, hence the helicopter in this picture and the first one. Actually the land is so narrow at this point that to get to Jarlshof and Sumburgh Head you have to drive across the end of the runway which is fun! There are traffic lights and barriers if anything is about to use the runway so it's not quite as adrenaline-rushy as it sounds.

On the last day we were in Shetland we took another drive down to Sumburgh Head to admire the views and watch the puffins, but we stopped in the hotel to get something to eat and while we were eating the fog rolled in so we could see nothing. Up until then it had been so clear we could see Fair Isle, so it was particularly disappointing! We bumped into my brother's old friend James in the car park - he runs Island Trails and was just taking a tour up to Sumburgh Head. I'm sure he would have made it interesting for them though, however little they could see.

So that's a bit of Shetland - the opposite end from the pictures in the previous post. I've stuff to write about (gasp) crochet, but I'll leave that for another post.

Friday, 15 September 2017

A taster

Foula from Eshaness

I've been trying to do a blog post since the end of July. And now it's mid-September. And actually I'm very tired just now so this isn't even a proper post, but I'm working on the assumption that if I write a short post tonight I'm more likely to write a longer one tomorrow. Well, it's worth a try.

The picture above is from our trip back to Shetland in July. There's at least a full-sized post to be had from that, plus about a gazillion photos, so the picture is a deal I make with myself to write more another day. Anyway, the picture is of Foula, off the west coast of Shetland, and is taken from Eshaness which is on the north-west coast of Shetland. It was a beautiful day that day, all sun and sparkle, and I love that this photo is all shades of blue, yet it looks warm.

And from the same day, heather and grass and blue sky as we climbed a steep hill that I climbed a lot as a kid.

It's not really very high, but it was the highest hill in our immediate area and has wonderful views (well, I think so anyway):

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

more plant/wool interaction

I may have got the dyeing bug again! Following last week's effort I did a bit more reading and went on an expedition with Miss M to a) get some burn water to top up the pond (without falling into nettles this time) and b) collect some cow parsley to dye with. This is not as easy as it sounds - there are a squillion plants that look something like cow parsley (*shakes fist at umbellifera*). My plant book seemed to think that quite a few are uncommon in Scotland, but there still seemed to be a lot. I googled as well of course and found loads of websites telling you how to distinguish cow parsley from hemlock, and hemlock from wild carrot, and hogweed from Queen Anne's Lace, as well as a certain amount of confusion over which plant Queen Anne's Lace actually refers to anyway.

Anyway, we found a substantial amount of what we chose to believe was cow parsley, and it yielded a huge amount of really quite bright yellow. The skein on the right in the picture above is the 4-ply I used first, and then when that was done and the dye seemed far from exhausted I chucked in the last skein of aran weight and it came out just as strong. I'd left that one in overnight and by morning the dye liqor was clear so I'm guessing I really had exhausted the exhaust by then!

I should probably add, the 4-ply skein was mordanted with alum before being dyed but the aran weight skein was unmordanted so I chucked some alum into the dye bath with the wool and did a two-in-one. It'll be interesting to see if this affects the fastness.

It always surprises me how much dye you can get from of the most unlikely plants. There really wasn't a lot to the cow parsley, or whatever it was, we collected - just skinny dryish stalks and tiny flowers - yet it dyed two skeins a really strong yellow. It was the same when I tried dyeing with horsetails a few years back - I felt as if I were dyeing with a pile of dead stick insects there's so little to them, but I got a pale but strong yellow from them.

In addition to all that I also turned the two-toned skein from last week into a ball:

I want to start knitting this into something soon, I'm so curious about how it'll turn out.

And here it is while still in the skein with that other skein I did with the fuchsia bark and the alchemilla mollis, last seen drying on a door handle!

It looks quite beigey in that picture but in reality it's a soft, warm, (maybe buttery?) yellow. When it stops raining* I'd like to get all my naturally-dyed yellows lined up and try to get a photo showing the range. It's worthwhile doing anyway because I'm inclined to think 'oh, another yellow' rather than 'yay, another yellow!'.

Anyway that's what I've done with some of my spare time this week. Also den-building with Miss M, a school trip to Edinburgh Zoo, and a school disco. Think I'd quite like a snooze now.

* for today was the last day of term for the kids and therefore it is bucketing down out there. This happens every year. It's traditional.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Dye day

It's been ages again hasn't it? It's all been a bit frenzied here recently, with the kids' schools doing stuff and so on. But today for the first time in ages I fancied doing a bit of dyeing. Come to think of it, it's the first time in ages that I've had the time! Part of it is that Miss M is away on a residential thing with her gymnastics club, and the gentlemen of the family were going to build a shed for my mother-in-law (well, put together a shed, it was a flatpack thing) so this afternoon I had an unusually quiet Saturday afternoon stretching before me. One thing I wanted to do was dig up the docken sprouting in the front garden, and then it occurred to me that it would be nice to try dyeing with it.

With a quick look at Wild Colour (one of Jenny Dean's books) and a bit of googling, I found out that the tap root can be used for dyeing, but I fancied just trying the leaves. Of course when I dug the flaming thing up I realised that the tap root is enormous! In fact I bent my trowel trying to lever it up..
So I've saved the taproot and will try it another time.

There were loads of leaves so after a bit of leisurely winding of wool into skeins and a bit of mordanting, I got to the dyeing bit. The end colour was a pleasant enough soft yellow but I fancied messing around with an alkaline modifier and as luck would have it there was a bag of soda crystals in the cupboard under the sink. I draped half of the skein into the modifier and it turned a more mustardy yellow. It's not the most gorgeous colour really, but I really like the two tone effect and I'm looking forward to knitting it up and seeing how it looks!

I had a second smaller skein mordanted so I had a go at dyeing with fuchsia bark, mainly because I hacked back the Fuchsia of Doom a few weeks ago and had loads of twigs/sticks left from it with lovely soft papery outer bark. Note to Self of the Future though, it gives beige, don't bother again! So I chucked in some alchemilla mollis leaves and flowers to simmer with the wool, and got another yellow:

That's it still damp and drip drying on the handle of the back door to the garage so I'll have to check the colour properly tomorrow morning.

So it's been a day that has been both lazy and productive - pretty good!

Sunday, 21 May 2017

A bit of knitting

I'm posting this from my mobile, and I can't figure out how to rearrange my pictures, so here's an out of order knitting photostory.

Once upon a time there was half-knitted hat. The wool was Noro Cash Island which I bought years ago, cheap I think because it was being discontinued. Which was a bit of a shame really because knitting with it is a real tactile pleasure.

Then the hat was finished (this afternoon) and the colours look quite different in different light.

And finally I cast it on. This was only a few days ago - it's been a very fast knit for me! Especially given that it was quite a busy week one way or another. 

This used to be a knitting blog; occasionally it still is!