Monday, 25 August 2008

Space, Time, and Probability

We have a slight problem with space in our house: it is a very small house and, in spite of the fact that there are only two of us, we have a lot of stuff. However, we also have a minor problem with time: we both work full time and so weekends tend to get eaten up by all sorts of dull but necessary activities like housework.

This weekend being a long weekend however, we should in theory have had ample time to do something about the space issue and still have a bit of relaxation. Specifically we decided that we would finally get round to boarding the loft, making extra storage space for some of the stuff currently residing in what is rather grandiosely known as "the study". This is something we've been meaning to do for absolutely ages, but somehow never got around to.

So the plan was as follows:

Saturday - go out and buy loft panels; board the loft; have a relaxing evening.
Sunday - (am) reorganise spare room shunting things which take up a lot of space but are hardly ever used (like my thesis) into the loft and creating lots of luxurious space; (pm) do various small jobs - C. to cut lawn, me to finish and block the "probably jumper" which I've been working on for ages.
Monday- go out for the day and do something nice and have dinner to celebrate my finally passing my driving test.

That was the theory. In practice it went more like this:

Saturday - Oversleep. Think about doing the loft but then decide that the weather is really quite nice and we should take advantage of it. Reschedule loft for the following day. Drive (with me at the wheel) to South Stoke just south of Bath, setting satnav to avoid motorways since I don't feel ready to attempt them just yet.

Satnav extracts revenge for the snubbing of its beloved motorways by sending me down several single track roads on 15% hills. Arrive white and shaking at destination. Have quite a pleasant 9 mile walk taking in part of the Foss Way, marred only slightly by a small amount of rain, being set upon by cows, and me falling into a ditch halfway round. Have the best pub food of the year at the Packhorse. Return home.

Sunday - Oversleep. Extract assorted detritus (our own and the previous occupier's) from loft, including mystery items 1

and 2

along with 7 vol. set of 1970s DIY manuals giving instructions on how to do everything from macrame to marquetry. Spend some time debating which of the fantastic bathroom designs to follow next time we redecorate.

Deposit assorted detritus (not including manuals which far too much fun to part with) at tip and drive to Abingdon to purchase loft boarding. Discover shop in question only has boarding for lofts with joists closer together than ours. Scour Abingdon for alternative boarding and draw a blank. Realise that it is now 3.30 and I am supposed to be meeting a friend at 5 to go to see the Garden Opera Company (arranged a month before). Revise plans for following day to include boarding the loft in the morning and various gardening/knitting tasks in the afternoon followed by slap-up dinner.

Monday - Wake up at 6. Decide it's too early to get up. Oversleep. Rush to Oxford and purchase appropriate boards then do excessively extravagant supermarket shop in preparation for gourmet bank holiday dinner later. Return home. C. disappears into loft; I decide I'll have to cut the grass myself as C won't have time to do it. C. comes out of loft to announce that the gap between the roof trusses isn't the same all the way along and boards will have to be cut to size. Realise have no C-clamps to hold boards onto cutting bench and it is now too late to go and buy any. Spend the rest of the afternoon impersonating a C-clamp by twisting into various bizarre contortions in order to hold bits of wood still while C saws through them with a handsaw having tried and discarded any number of promising-looking power tools. 6pm, still cutting; give up all hope of making complex dinner and decide to have simple baked fish instead. 7pm, second-to-last board; realise we've cut it upsidedown. Recut board with great difficulty since what is left is a funny shape and almost impossible to get a grip on without C. accidentally cutting my arm off. 9pm, loft is now covered in boards; everything else is covered in sawdust. Abandon all hope of dinner and set about clearing up. C. puts assorted detritus back in loft while I fail the basic IQ test which is "put the power tool back in the correctly shaped dent in the box". 10.30pm pizza and pink fizz for supper. Too tired to knit.

Where does the time go?

Friday, 22 August 2008

Brrrm... brrrm... brrrm....

Today, a mere 17 years after I got my provisional license, I finally got round to taking (and passing) my driving test.

So you'll all know to stay off the roads from now on.


Tuesday, 19 August 2008

In the dock

I keep hearing how the miserable, wretched, soggy so-called summer weather this year is, "good for the garden" and in particular is producing bumper crops of massive vegetables. Well not in my garden it isn't. All I have to show for it is about 200 small, sour, unrelentingly green tomatoes with not even the slightest suggestion of turning yellow, let alone red, and a greenhouse full of minuscule peppers and aubergines, barely a fruit between them, shivering and dreaming of warmer climes. Not only that but all my courgettes have got brewer's droop. The plants are big and strong and look as though they're going to be impressive performers, but just when the fruits reach about three inches long and everything seems to be going well suddenly go all limp and squashy and then fade away to nothing.* And it's not just the vegetables either: my nasturtiums have been reduced to the finest Shetland lace by caterpillars, although my hops are finally flowering, they are looking distinctly sad and autumnal, and unsurprisingly given the complete and total absence of sun, I have the most pathetically tiny sunflowers ever - about the size of a ten pence piece.

However, there are plants that don't seem to object to the weather: the docks on the allotment for one are going from strength to strength springing up as fast as we can cut them down, as unfortunately is the creeping buttercup. Taking advantage of a brief interlude in the deluge this weekend C. and I set about trying to stem the tide a little bit, digging up something in the region of 180 dock plants in the course of the two days, with roots varying in length between a couple of inches and a couple of feet.** When everyone else is busy taking in the harvest it was a little demoralising to be leaving with nothing but a bucket of rubbish and a bad back, but we also installed two more raised beds and a couple of enormous compost bins, so we're a little closer to having something recognisably allotment.

I did bring back a couple of rather splendid gladioli, a legacy of whoever had the plot before us, which helped to brighten the place up a bit even if they're not actually edible, and we have finally this week tasted the first fruits (or at least salad vegetables) of our labours in the form of two very hearty little lettuces, which the wet weather hasn't done any harm at all (though it's a fair measure of just how wet it has been that I've only had to water the things once since I planted them in July).

At the risk of coming over all Uncle Monty, I do have a soft spot for vegetables as things of beauty in themselves, and there's something very gratifying about such shiny green lusciousness. (They did also taste quite nice). But for the time being, in the absence of other produce I've been having to content myself with admiring illustrations in books and seed catalogues and dreaming of next year (when the weather will hopefully confound expectations and be perfect). If it's not, however, perhaps I can take a leaf out of Felix's book, or indeed this book half-inched from my mum's bookshelf at home, and knit myself a harvest. It's probably easier on the back and definitely less likely to result in nettle-rash.

* And they can't even claim this has never happened to them before either: it happened last year as well, though to be fair the weather was equally rubbish then.
** One of the larger variety did for my garden fork. Well, C. did for my garden fork by putting all his weight on it in an attempt to lever the thing out of the ground, and it was only a "ladies'" fork, but the result is the same. Splinters all round.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Tubas in the Moonlight

Actually there aren't really any tubas in this post*, but there are some tubers and quite a lot of knitting for once.

The tubers are these - Shetland Black potatoes - which we originally bought to eat, but some of them started sprouting so I planted them, and now have slightly more than I did to start with. It wasn't a very substantial crop, but not bad considering they were growing in a bucket round the back of the greenhouse, and they do scrub up to a rather striking purple colour which it turns out fades to blue when they're cooked, but can be made pink again by the addition of lemon juice.

The weather having reverted to type and gone back to being miserable, cold and wet, however, I've been spending more time indoors knitting than out amongst the plants and have finally managed to produce a few FOs.

First the Moonlight Sonata shawl which I started back in late May. Gratifyingly it used up exactly two of the three skeins of Jitterbug I bought for it, leaving the whole of the third for me to do something else with. I'm not sure that I blocked it quite to the right shape, as I found it a bit difficult to work out exactly how much to stretch the shaping around the shoulders. It doesn't quite do what it looks as though it ought to from the pictures on Ravelry, so perhaps I'll reblock it at some point, but on the whole I'm pleased and it promises to be very cosy. Needless to say, the lousy weather does nothing for the colour of the photos.

Mostly, though I've been fighting to complete two projects as presents for my sister (who was in the UK for a couple of weeks) before she left to go back to Australia again. She is a marine biologist and so coming across various knitted sea creatures on Ravelry I felt I had to have a go at making some of them. The first thing I attempted was Hansi Singh's Octopus. I decided to use some of the Debbie Bliss cotton I had left from Enfys, which turned out not to be the wisest choice since the inelasticity was once again a definite disadvantage when it came to doing lots of increases and decreases. However, I finally produced something which looked vaguely octopus-like (admittedly on the second attempt, the first having come to a sticky end when I came across a stray leg at the bottom of my knitting bag, and discovered to my dismay that I'd inadvertently made a Heptapus instead).

In order to allow her to use the octopus as a paperweight I struck on the idea of stuffing it with a balloon filled with fine gravel (the sort you use to mulch cacti). Getting the gravel into the balloon was a bit of a challenge. A certain amount went in fairly easily with the help of a kitchen funnel, but I soon reached the point at which I needed to stretch the balloon in order to get any more in. Ever resourceful, C. got around this problem for me by inserting his chin into the funnel up to the nose and blowing down it to inflate the balloon whilst simultaneous waggling his head from side to side to shake the gravel down into the balloon. This presented a very entertaining spectacle, not least when the waggling inadvertently moved his face away from the edge of the funnel on one side, allowing the balloon to deflate and leaving C. with a surprised expression and a mouthful of gravel.

However, the gravel balloon idea seemed to work relatively well, so having successfully completed the octopus I then moved on to something more challenging - the hermit crab. This is without doubt the most fiddly thing I have ever made and I won't be in a hurry to make another (certainly not in cotton). That's not to say that there's anything wrong with the pattern, which is a masterpiece of yarn-meets-mathematics which I find truly amazing. Grafting the shell together and watching it curl itself into a tight little helix was tremendously satisfying. However, it does require an awful lot of grafting - not least on each of four legs and two pincers, and consequently I overran rather in terms of completion time. Most of yesterday was spent frantically knitting and grafting together crustacean legs (and almost completely ignoring my sister as a result), and it finally got sewn together a mere 10 minutes before she had to leave for the airport.

So, what to knit next is the question now. I have sworn off creatures for a while, and will be returning to socks for the train. To this end I have already started on a pair of Hopscotch socks, which in this case really are Oxford Bluestockings, being not only blue, and knitted in (or around) Oxford, but made to Liz's pattern from Katie's yarn.

For home I have high hopes of conquering the infuriating River Stole which has been languishing in my stash for ages, but then what? Currently burning the biggest hole in my stash are 10 balls of grey Jaeger Matchmaker Merino 4ply...any suggestions?

*For anyone who's wondering, it's just the title of one of my favourite Bonzo Dog songs.