Thursday, 31 March 2016

holiday snaps

I've just been looking through the few pictures I took when I was back up in St. Andrews for a reunion at the beginning of the month. I was only away overnight but I had a lovely time - feels like ages ago already!

St. Andrews is frequently photogenic:

These two pictures are ones I took on the Sunday morning when I went for a wander before heading back to where I was staying to pack. It was probably about half past eightish and the light was silvery and amazing..

And this one is from the evening before, on the way to a restaurant to meet up with a bunch of people, some of whom I'd never met before, some who I'd not seen for more than 20 years. It was slightly intimidating actually, but it turned out to be a completely lovely evening.

South St at dusk

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

baking sand; or odd things to do at the weekend

Hello to any OU A334 buddies!

And to everybody else, here's how I came to be baking sand.

One of the interesting bits of independent study I was doing for my OU course recently was learning about writing technology of the past. If you're a bit of a stationery nerd, as I am, this is pretty interesting stuff.  The independent study options were related to the section on Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's Turkish Embassy Letters, so that we could imagine intrepid Lady M writing and rewriting her letters (she kept copies) with the available technology - quills, oak gall ink, writing slopes, sanders and what have you - knowing that some of her letters might never reach the recipients at all.

One thing led to another - an article on how quills were made and re-cut led to Youtube videos on making quill pens, naturally leading me to a walk round the local loch to see if the geese had moulted anything useful.  They hadn't, so I ordered some goose feathers from ebay (is there anything that you can't buy on ebay..?) and on Saturday I thought I'd have a go.

Stage 1 - cutting the feather down to a comfortable length and stripping the barbs. With the first feather I cut the barbs off with a knife but with the second I just pulled them off by hand which is easier and leaves a softer edge (so more comfortable to hold, I imagine).

Stage 2 - baking sand.
Apparently heating the quill in hot sand and then letting it cool makes it easier to cut and less brittle, so I baked some sand in the oven for 20 mins, then took it out and stuck the feathers in it. This makes you feel a) very silly and b) as if you're at playgroup again.

Actually while I was baking the sand I took one of the other feathers and thought I'd try skipping the heating the quill stage to see if there was a discernible difference (for Science! - and also for impatience and curiosity).

Stage 3 was the cutting. I have no pictures of this because I was too busy muttering and swearing. The sharpest knife I could find was my husband's Stanley knife which only had the tiniest bit of blade left, so it was a bit awkward. I may invest in a craft knife.

Quill 1, the unheated one, was indeed an absolute pig to cut, as you can probably see from the first bit of writing: 

However it was still exciting to have created a writing implement, and Miss M, who had been to a birthday party, decided to have a go too, hence 'The party was fun!'

Quill 2 was easier to cut but needed some trimming to get it to write in a vaguely satisfactory manner. If you click-to-embiggen that picture above you'll see it was writing double, so I was trying to smooth out any scratchy bits to make it clearer.

As you'll see from the next two pictures the writing can be pretty variable. My natural writing with a pencil or ballpoint is pretty small. With a fountain pen I write slightly larger and more slowly. With a quill, my writing was forced to be a good bit larger still, just to make it legible, though I imagine some of that would improve with practise. The first picture is the only half-decent one I managed to get of the tip of the quill. I imagine cutting the 'nib' would improve with practise too!

And finally, blotting (see this clip from The Wrong Box, 2 and half minutes in). Actually this was my editor. She likes to check everything I write. Or do. She was most offended when I wiped her paws after this, but I don't know how toxic ink is to kitties. (Incidentally, if you're one of my stationery-nerd chums, the ink is Diamine in green-black.)

What surprised me actually is how much I could write before dipping the quill into the ink again. I thought I'd be lucky to get a couple of words but I probably got at least three-quarters of a line each time. It does make me curious as to how much time Lady M spent on her letters, not just on the writing itself but recutting quills. It's also made me view the various letters in Pride and Prejudice in a different light - how long would it take Mr. Darcy to write his fairly epic letter to Elizabeth? Well, if he were me, ages.  I'd have given up, it would be a rather shorter story and Colin Firth wouldn't have to listen to jokes about wet shirts.

Monday, 29 February 2016


I should probably do a leap post - I don't think I've ever done one before.  There's not much to post about though. There has been a bit of a study frenzy and the assignment from hell. Judging by the Facebook group for this course most people found it difficult, despite there being a choice of two questions and a choice of texts to apply them to. I don't quite know why it was such a nightmare (writing it was like pulling teeth), but at least I wasn't alone in finding it tough going. Part of it was the subject - seventeenth century literature - which didn't really grab me and I know others felt the same. It's always easier to write about things which interest you. I did enjoy the Turkish Embassy Letters by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu though, so it wasn't all bad.

To celebrate vanquishing the pesky varmint assignment I bought a cheap but lovely fountain pen and some ink, and I have been practising writing more neatly, because nothing makes you want to use a pen as much as fighting a keyboard. The pen comes with a thing called a converter so you can put bottled ink in it, meaning you can break away from boring blue and black.

So I get a soft brown ink called Sepia because that's how it looks.  Also like tea.

Oooh, shiny. (Yes, we had sunshine!)

 Should anybody be pen nerdy the pen is a Jinhao X450 and the ink is by Diamine.

And that's it really!


Edited to add: I did a leap post in 2012!

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

being organised, part 2

just five more minutes..

The cat fancied a duvet day - don't we all? January does that to you, but, hey, nearly done with January so that's good!

The kids are back into their routine, I'm throwing myself into studying, though in a slightly haphazard manner, and stuff like laundry is getting done. I am moderately organised though it all goes to pot when I'm in a rush, such as last night.

I'm still doing a daily to-do list/bullet journal-esque thing most days and my new diary and notebook thing is working out much better than the Filofax did. The Filofax was brilliant in principle but the rings really do take up a lot of room.

In one of my notebooks I've been making (don't laugh) notes on ideas for blog posts. So I just have to put it into action! Which I am, just now. How very meta.

In other news I have started knitting a sock. Cue the fanfares!

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

The waves are rolling on


It's been one of those nights when nothing works out as planned. I drove over to my brother's flat, as planned, to watch the Up Helly Aa live webcast. I took stuff to make bannocks, as planned. And my brother ordered a Chinese takeaway (shut up, bannocks totally go with sweet and sour chicken; bannocks go with everything) as planned. Well, the takeaway arrived, so at least that went right.

The bannocks just went horribly wrong. I was adding the buttermilk gradually, but it went from 'too dry' to 'horrible claggy mess' in the blink of an eye. Eventually I got the mixture sorted and got them on the griddle but although they looked perfectly cooked on the outside they were still sticky on the inside.

So we started on the (excellent) takeaway and watched the procession. Every year tlhe coverage gets better and better and they seemed have more cameras including what appeared to be one in the playpark this year. Incidentally the commentators kept saying 'the burning site' but I still think of it as the playpark, which is exactly what it is on a normal day. They were reading out many of the #uphellyaa Tweets, including mine about the bannock disaster so that was my 3 seconds in the limelight!

Then I got a text from my husband asking if I knew where the keys to his car were, and I got that awful sinking feeling. Sure enough his keys were in my jacket pocket and he was supposed to be picking Miss M up from gymnastics at nine. So rather than sitting around reminiscing with my brother I had to head back out at half past eight to go and fetch Missy.

 Talk about wanting to kick yourself.

In other news I bought a fountain pen for 60p today. It would have been cheap anyway, we're talking a Sainburys' basic effort here, but it was in their sale so 60p. Sixty pee!  So I've been practising my neat writing.

Swings and roundabouts (and burning galleys).

The waves are rolling on.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

as if by magic

It stopped being dreich yesterday afternoon and decided to snow. And snow and snow. So today everything has changed, and everything that was grey and drab has been transformed into something a bit more magical. So I went for a short walk and took some pictures!

Yesterday these trees were sad, grey and bare and the ground was muddy. Add a bit of snow, and instant Christmas card scene!

 I loved the way the snow had made fluffy clouds on all the plants.

 I'm pretty sure this is the tree from my six-years-ago picture from yesterday. It's grown a bit I think, and I've taken it at a different angle - and of course the snow was very much deeper in the other picture!

I like this one, with the pale yellow of the cornus just showing through so it's not quite monochrome.

And the postbox just for a splash of colour!

The sky was looking very heavy and blank, and an hour or so later it started snowing again, though quite lightly. The forecast is for rain tomorrow so I'm glad I got out and enjoyed the snow however briefly. It does brighten things up a bit, even with the heavy sky.

And the boy cat was glad to get out and be actually camouflaged for once!

Friday, 8 January 2016

On this day in history..

.. And by history I mean my own history:


Six years ago today. That was a chilly winter.

This morning there was a frost and there are sleet showers predicted for later, but that's all - a normal grey, dreich January day, brightened up by a bunch of daffodils on my kitchen window-sill:

I am still recovering from whatever lurgy I had over Christmas - that's been over two weeks now so I wonder if it was actually some form of flu. I still feel very drained. Normally on a Friday morning I'd go to a Zumba class but that's still out of the question. However I do have a bit more energy today and have managed to get the kids to school, go to the supermarket (briefly), do laundry, clean out the cat tray and do the washing-up without having to go for a lie down between each one. I slept through most of yesterday so you can see that's a big improvement!

I've just realised this is my first post of January and it's not a very positive one! I don't really do New Year's Resolutions or anything like that, apart from the usual entirely sensible desire to get back into a normal routine after the Christmas break. This year however I do want to start knitting again, having had 2 or 3 months without knitting at all, which is most unlike me, so I'm on the hunt for something relatively simple and soothing to knit. I have some DK alpaca that I was going to make a hat from but I couldn't find a pattern that I liked enough and didn't require a gazillion different needle sizes, so I think I might possibly make a cowl instead as it doesn't require much thought or arithmetic to invent a pattern.

Time for a coffee I think.