Tuesday, May 10, 2016
It seems that I have fallen out of love with the internet.
One thing niggles at my mind though - I know that that name is not original - something about it (or maybe it's something quite similar, or similar in the [Name McNameface] construction) rings a bell... not sure if it is from a (probably children's) book, or TV or film, or somewhere else entirely. I've searched and searched, and talked to people, face-to-face, about my suspicions, but nowhere and no-one has been able to shed any light on the subject.
No, it's not important, it's just my innate curiosity, that isn't satisfied by the internet.
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Thought for the day
Every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want.
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Thought for our times
Extremism can flourish only in an environment where basic governmental social responsibility for the welfare of the people is neglected. Political dictatorship and social hopelessness create the desperation that fuels religious extremism.
Thursday, February 25, 2016
Thought for our times
Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
The Truth is about to be Out There
While we were away...
Terry Wogan died, Stephen Fry left Twitter (again) "...let us grieve at what twitter has become. A stalking ground for the sanctimoniously self-righteous who love to second-guess, to leap to conclusions and be offended - worse, to be offended on behalf of others they do not even know."
All this could, of course, get worse if rumours about Twitter raising its character limit prove to be true.
But, it's worse than that.
One-fifth of the world’s adult population already has its thoughts controlled.
"Every time you open Facebook, one of the world’s most influential, controversial, and misunderstood algorithms springs into action. It scans and collects everything posted in the past week by each of your friends, everyone you follow, each group you belong to, and every Facebook page you’ve liked. For the average Facebook user, that’s more than 1,500 posts. If you have several hundred friends, it could be as many as 10,000. Then, according to a closely guarded and constantly shifting formula, Facebook’s news feed algorithm ranks them all, in what it believes to be the precise order of how likely you are to find each post worthwhile. Most users will only ever see the top few hundred.
No one outside Facebook knows for sure how it does this, and no one inside the company will tell you. And yet the results of this automated ranking process shape the social lives and reading habits of more than 1 billion daily active users - one-fifth of the world’s adult population. The algorithm’s viral power has turned the media industry upside down, propelling startups like BuzzFeed and Vox to national prominence while 100-year-old newspapers wither and die. It fueled the stratospheric rise of billion-dollar companies like Zynga and LivingSocial—only to suck the helium from them a year or two later with a few adjustments to its code, leaving behind empty-pocketed investors and laid-off workers. Facebook’s news feed algorithm can be tweaked to make us happy or sad; it can expose us to new and challenging ideas or insulate us in ideological bubbles."
But, all that is as nothing compared to what is about to happen (has already started happening in Somerset, West Hampshire, Blackburn, and Leeds) to your NHS medical records.
You may remember a couple of years ago there was a lot of publicity about the 'Summary Care Record' database. There were many concerns about its use and the potential for abuse, and many people chose to write to their GP surgery to opt out.
Perhaps because of this, there has been much less publicity about the new 'care.data' database (AFAIK - but then I've just spent a month out of the country, so do please correct me if I'm wrong). We certainly haven't had a leaflet about it, as we did when Summary Care was about to be introduced.
'care.data' is not about sharing your medical information with doctors, nurses and other health professionals outside of your GP surgery. It's not about enabling the sharing of patient medical records between hospitals and GP surgeries. It's not about the ways in which your GP shares information about you as part of providing essential medical care. It's not about ensuring that hospital specialists have the information that they need when you are referred to see them. It's not about creating a single electronic record that can be viewed by healthcare professionals in any clinical setting. And it's not about submitting information so that GP surgeries and hospitals are paid appropriately for the care that they provide.
It is about data extraction, linkage and analysis: in other words, data mining. Once your personal medical data is uploaded you can never get it removed from the HSCIC databases.
Once your personal medical data is uploaded, it will be released or sold for commercial purposes. Some of it will identify you personally. Who knows where the data will end up?
Add to it the data about you that is already freely available (some of it because you choose to put it out there), and...
It will happen.
Perhaps it doesn't bother you.
But, if you're already frustrated by the 'relevance' of the Amazon ads that pop up after you've been researching something online, just imagine where this could lead.
You can write to your GP surgery requesting that they add certain codes (eg 9Nu4) to your medical record to prevent the HSCIC from releasing or selling any information that it holds, and that clearly identifies you. There is lots of information (perhaps too much - it's very complicated, and the project keeps being delayed) on a website put together by a GP. Of particular interest are links from it: this, this, this.
But, if you act quickly, and write to your GP, you can opt out. There are suggested letters within the information here (none of which, I think, are great, so I'm not directly linking). There are also a lot of links to other sources of information right at the bottom.
One thing I do not understand is how doctors have gone along with this. Surely it is in direct contravention of the Hippocratic Oath that they all take?
On a related note, isn't the new series of the X-Files great?
Sunday, February 14, 2016
From a prickly pear/pair
Happy Valentine's Day.
The fruits are in season currently and are delicious, if a little seedy.
Saturday, February 13, 2016
Storm clouds gather over The Cape
But sadly, it's not for us - this rain is bound, we are told, for the area around Pretoria. This is our fourth visit here, and it is much, much drier than we have ever seen. Almost every stream and river is currently arid.
The moody clouds make for some fabulous pictures though.
Your Fact For The Day: Africa is the second largest and second most populous continent in the world and was formerly known as Ifriqiya or sunny place. It covers 20.4% of total land area and 6% of earth's total surface area. The African continent comprises 54 fully recognized countries and Western Sahara, whose statehood is disputed by Morocco. South Sudan is the continent's newest country.
We found another gorgeous garden, with an amazing history, at the Vergeleden Estate and vineyard:
Almost the only place that still has agapanthus in flower, as the season is so dry:
I've been feeling quite droopy and so have gone off winetasing a bit (unheard of for me):
So instead we found olive oil tasting:
And for those of you who are dog lovers - this resident of the place we are currently staying will be (or maybe already is) starring in TV adverts in the US and Europe, recently filmed on beaches near here:
Thursday, February 11, 2016
The Other Side
Today we went into Cape Town to find out all about the Square Kilometre Array.
Unfortunately we failed as a man was stabbed just in front of us in the museum foyer, and everywhere was rapidly closing. Museum staff told us to get out of the city fast, and while we still could, as there were three marches, several strikes and likely violence, due to this.
Our car was parked a mile away.
We had no idea what was going on when we arrived shorty after mid-day: we saw lots of suspended parking bays, closed roads, and lots of police, but we'd asked three separate groups of police what was happening (including a senior officer in a police car) and were reassured that it was just routine and nothing to worry about.
The kindly retired ex-director of the museum (who happened to be there delivering something, and who also hadn't expected what was happeing to be happening) saw how white I'd gone as I cowered behind the large pillar behind the entrance desk, to keep away from knives and sticks, and those wielding them, and took us in his small car (that was safely tucked up in the secured compound right next to the museum) back to our car, and then we headed for the local wine valley for some wine tastings to make ourselves feel better.
We got back to where we are staying and two more people were stabbed, and several shot, right in front of our eyes.
The last part was on TV (Silent Witness: downloaded before we left the UK, I hasten to add).
But only the last part.
I've never liked Cape Town.
It's very interesting to talk to people we meet on our travels. There seems to be a huge amount of ignorance of what is currently going on here politically, culturally, and economically, and the best quality information seems to be coming from expats, or people who have come, lived, and returned home and now return to holiday here, with the occasional SA white businessman telling us that the 'bubble' in this area is about to burst and that he's got an exit plan (which has already involved selling a lot of his property in highly-affluent white-dominated towns). After four visits we're beginning to understand a bit...
Nelson Mandela must be turning in his grave. 26 years today from his release, I don't think that what is happenning is at all what he had in mind; at least in his latter years.
Interesting words in the SONA, though.
Some random shots from the past couple of days
Chapman's Peak, from a moving car (coastal/blasted from the rock road that runs up from Noordhoek to Cape Town):
Scarborough Beach (a nature conservation area) - down near Cape Point:
Sunbird on agapanthus at Kirstenbosch (botanical gardens in Cape Town, my favouritest place):
Almost too late for protea this year (the weather has been so hot and so dry the season is two or three weeks ahead of normal), but there are still a few to be found by those who love them:
The new(ish) tree canopy walk at Kirstenbosch:
I cannot describe just how hot it was on there:
One of the six courses (for £16pp) of last night's delicious dinner:
And, from the chapel in the SA Naval Museum in Simon's Town (a most surreal place, with random models of ships, mock-ups of submarines and liferafts, and random facts about historic battles), a brief history of time:
Jesus, St George and the Dragon, Nelson, and then a few sailors from their navy.
Nice to see a 1982 made in Yeovil helicopter preserved:
And a 1935 Leyland Cub, made in the Midlands, fire engine in excellent condition:
There was a whole room of annual photographs of various ships' companies. We spent a good twenty minutes amusing ourselves looking at the ageing process on board, the paucity of women sailors, their placement in the photos, and the shortness of their skirts. We spotted a 1957 example of the early use of Photoshop (RHS):
Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Henrietta arrives at her final destination
Well OK, she's not actually going to live on the beach, but near it.
From Kiln to Kathy, via an Olive Farm, an Ostrich Farm, a Vineyard, and the beach.
Over 1,000 miles by road since we got here 13 days ago now, plus however far it is from UK to SA (cbatg), plus however far it is from where they make the glass in the US to the UK.
Grief, that chicken has one hell of a lot of airmiles under her wing.
Monday, February 8, 2016
The larger vineyards have impressive old Cape Dutch houses at their centre, and wonderful surrounding gardens.
"How quaint," I thought," an English-style post box; they must have known I was visiting!"
I looked a little closer and sighed:
Luckily, they were saved by their cushions in the facilities. Always judge a place by its facilties, I say.
We sent our postcards last week.
Sunday, February 7, 2016
Don't mention the war
"Hullo, we are de Germans who stay over there... [indicating the other cottage on this vineyard, in the distance] yesterday there was four pool chairs and today there is two. Where is de others, do you know?"
"Well, it's like this," I said, smiling engagingly, "in England we know that Germans always get up early and put their towels on the sun loungers so that no-one else can use them. We decided to get ahead of the game and so we took the sun loungers."
They looked at each other and didn't laugh. We didn't see them again, and the've gone home now.
[actually, the real story about the disappearance is rather different - having had the old wooden sun lounger by our cottage collapse with him in it - the fabric lacing strap had frayed and snapped - the lady who runs the place suggested that we take the poolside sun loungers for our cottage, but I wasn't going to tell the Germans, who clearly thought that we were breaking the rules, that]
Friday, February 5, 2016
In wine country
Perhaps surprisingly, this air-cooling ice-filled suspended balloon structure was not a feature of the fun, wine-filled Abba- and Gloria Gaynor-fest that we attended last night (first time I've ever seen five grand's worth of 'product' in a 'bathroom', and, had I known that they ran a hugely successful hairdressing and spa business in Switzerland, I might have been less confident in my rub-and-go hairstyle and minimal blue mascara look), but a cooling device in the 8 acre garden of Babylonstoren, a delightful organic and biodynamic principled garden in a vineyard that we visited (again) today.
We had an interesting and informative garden tour (with nibbly samples of things growing all the way around) with a stand-in guide as the usual bra-less wonder (having now experienced temperatures in the mid-30s or above for the past 10 days, I can understand exactly why she does it) was unfortunately sick. I won't tell you that Mr BW was disappointed, because he'll probably deny it.
This year, though, we knew about it, and Mr BW booked a table in the award-winning restaurant the requisite two months ahead.
Fabulous meal (I've never seen Mr BW defeated before the dessert course before, but he ordered the chicken and got a whole, full-sized dissection), with all fruit and vegetable ingredients grown in the garden.
The Red Starter (more than a meal in itself, but no-one told us, and we'd ordered mains too and didn't like to disappoint):
The Green Starter:
The two courses, with appetisers, cocktails and delightful refreshing natural iced 'teas' we had were so large that we had to go home and sleep for two hours afterwards. In the UK you'd get a bill for at least a hundred pounds for food and drink of a similar quality at a similar establishment. The damage here? £35 including a generous tip.
Tomorrow we're off early to an excellent craft and food market, and then to the summer wine festival here. We've been given free tickets. No, I don't know how we manage it either. Everyone is so friendly here.
Thursday, February 4, 2016
Keep up, keep up, we're two days ahead of you...
(The other posts are still in draft awaiting the pictures. Sorry.)
We went here for a wine tasting, and we got a personal tour, because, although it is a big vineyard, they weren't busy.
It's peak grape-picking season here and it was utterly fascinating watching the grapes come in by tractor in crates, being crushed, passed through pipes into huge stainless steel tanks, and then (a variable amount of time later) into barrels.
We also went in the museum and admired the art, and the sculpture, but particularly the lino prints.
Undoubtedly millions of pounds worth, because that's what rich people here buy, but we didn't know the artists and so smiled knowingly while being underwhelmed, and thinking, "I could do that!"
We went somewhere else just down the road from where we are now staying for a wine tasting (small vineyard that we think produces some of the best wines in SA, the lady owner recognised us from our previous visits - wellllll - she said that she recognised me as I looked like the midwife who delivered her two children, which may or may not be a compliment) and then we went for a wine tasting at the tiny vineyard where we are staying.
It must be said that the amount of wine that one can consume at a wine tasing is more than enough to put you over the driving limit, so Mr BW, who does most of the driving, tips most of his wine into mine and I end up utterly
And so it was that two Swiss gays, a bit younger than us, came into the tasting rooms. They were after 24 bottles for their party tonight.
After I'd guided them in their choice (remember I had had 3 times the legal driving limit by now, and I am at my most amusing when pissed, and am quite gay-friendly), they let slip that they know the previous but one owner of this vineyard, and that they bought the house where the party is from the ex-CEO of Eur0tunne1, and that they'd visited this house for a "short break" 5 times in the last year.
Chief Gay (the one with the platinum
credit charge cards and the most neatly trimmed beard) then scribbled something in red pen on the back of a tasting sheet, thrust it in our direction, with a, "You seem fun people, come to our party!" and left, clinking.
We have two hours to sober up, see if we have something suitable to wear, get dressed, and turn up to be amusing (note, SA time is 2 hours ahead of UK time).
Now, do we go, or do we stay?
If we go, I'll have to shave my legs, because gays will notice that it's nearly two weeks since I last did, right?
Friday, January 29, 2016
Hot hot hot
We're up in the Klein Karoo, in the hot pointy bits. As ever with us, in the middle of nowhere. 25kms from the nearest village, plus 3kms down a gravel track. Very very dry and dusty.
I finally found how hot was too hot yesterday: 47°C. About 3 degrees above my bearable maximum, I think. Mind you, even the farmer on the vegetable seed and ostrich farm where we are staying said it was too hot, and his seventeen workers are moving at snails' pace. And let's not mention the field of rams and goats just across the track from our front stoep (veranda), because looking at them trying to keep themselves cool is making me feel quite ill. Southern hemisphere Orion has nothing on them.
We have the whole of a colonial farmhouse, built in 1907, but abandoned 50 years ago in favour of a new homestead on the other side of the land. It has recently been renovated, keeping all of its original charm, but with modern luxury bathrooms and kitchen. 4 beds, and just over £30 a night for both of us. And the blacksmith's stamp 'Ambrose' is on every piece of original ironmongery (such as the shutter clips). We suspect he was a slave.
The farmhouse was originally built in the shelter of a mountain so that the breezes kept it cool. But, the weather has changed since then, and when it gets very hot the breeze disappears. As there are no fans, for the past three nights we have just had cold showers every time we woke up too hot. But, I have now discovered some hot water bottles in a drawer in one of the old dressers, so they are in the freezer and tonight we will have cold water bottles. Nothing like a bit of lateral thinking.
Today we have travelled up the Swartberg Pass again: just as spectacular as last time, but less scary as this time we had a full tank of fuel and 26 litres of water, just in case (well, OK, we'd just been shopping), whereas last time we had a quarter tank and a couple of litres. As a couple we met in Montagu (on their first visit here) said, "You run out of words to describe this country, don't you?"
We're now sitting in an antiquey collectables shop in Price Albert, sipping home-made lemonade and availing ourselves of the free wifi. It's still 36°C here. Can't see the screen properly, so will have to post the pics next time we grab some bandwidth from somewhere.
Hope it's not wet wet wet where you are.
Thursday, January 28, 2016
I love the Southern Hemisphere
Orion is always upside down.
That always makes me laugh.
You may need to know something about constellations to appreciate that one, because I don't think the picture, even from these dark skies up in the Montagu mountains, will allow you to see my point...
"What you looking at, eh?"
"Shut up or I'll get Mr BW to eat you!"
We're back at our usual first stop: 360° views like this and utterly peaceful (apart from the farm worker on a 1950s tractor spraying the olive trees at 8am). Just as lovely, although the people who created this idyllic place from a derelict colonial farm, 13 years ago, have unexpectedly moved on last autumn. The new 'chief of hospitality' (my title for him, not his boss's) is delightfully camp, and the place where we had a superb dinner tonight has a delightfully Aspergers owner.
Luckily, we had been warned, and it took me all of 3 seconds to make the diagnosis: no, you can't order your dinner until you have selected your wine (which was fabulous), because that's the correct order of service here; no you can't order your dessert until you have finished your wine, because it won't go; and no, don't tell me you've had a wonderful evening and then go and write something different on Trip Advisor.
We took the piss somewhat mercilessly, and we almost got the upper hand. Although, had we not been warned, we too might have thought him rude. Must remember to tell our camp CoH that he's harmless and socially challenged, rather than odd and unpredictable, as we were informed.
Did I ever tell you how much I love mountains?
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Things that Go A-Round
It finally went from September temperatures and colded down to around 2 degrees°C during the day and minus two by night, for the week from Wednesday 13th to Thursday 20th. The full moon has been fabulous in the early mornings too (here with a few clouds across it):
Mr BW decided to repaint the hall, stairs and landing during that time. They hadn't been done since we had the extension back 2006, so they needed doing, as, despite being regularly touched-up, the oil from the satinwood on the stairs and panelling had risen to the surface (as it does in old paint) and was making them look grubby.
We looked at a colour chart, shuddered, and decided to use exactly the same colours we had before: Dulux Ivory Lace matt emulsion for the walls and (new low-odour formulation - and it really was - the smell went away in 4 days, rather than the 6 weeks the old fornulation took, and it was dry well within two hours rather than still being sticky after 48) Dulux Trade water-based satinwood Natural Wicker, which now only exists as a 'special mix' colour (and is hideously expensive - £75 for 5 litres) for the stairs and panelling. (Just writing the names down there for my future benefit).
As I am ever-increasingly disturbed by paint fumes, that meant turning off the boiler, keeping the windows open all the time, night and day, for 5 days. During this time one of our h0ney customers rang the bell and asked me if I realised that all our windows were open. I had to work really hard not to say what came into my head. We did have two little oases, kept warm and smell-free with closed doors - the kitchen/dining room, which is heated by the Aga, and our bedroom, which is never very warm, and has the window open year-round, as that's how we like it.
Mr BW has done a fabulous job. And, as one of my Patchy Ladies said, saved us £800 in decorator's bills.
We've also been making lots and lots and lots of marmalade (adding Value to h0ney). The Seville (marmalade) oranges were very early this year - I bought the first on 6th January, whereas I usually reckon to buy them in the 3rd week of January - large, but dry - a friend whose brother lives in Spain told us that this is an indication of the successive summers of drought, which is now so bad that whole areas of olive and almond trees have died in the last year.
We have now, for the first time ever, totally run out of jars. I've even been eyeing up ones used to store things in the Studio, thinking that I might requisition and repurpose them. People are much less good at returning jars, or passing-on unwanted jars these days, we've found. Probably because glass is now collected in the mixed-recycling, from the kerb-side, so it's easier to just throw it 'away'.
Talking of refuse collection - one of our wheelie bins had its lid and lid mechanism clips ripped off during collection a couple of weeks ago. Not only did the refuse collectors not bother to tell us, but (I have discovered) the only way to get a new one is to find the correct place to ring, and then to wait "6 to 8 weeks". I have been advising the Director in charge of that service how to run her Department rather better (including adequate replacement stock planning and timely requisition, and putting a sticker on bins that have been broken, apologising and explaining the replacement process) and ensuring that she does by involving elected members.
But, it all takes time.
We've also been making lots of crafty things, and the glass kiln has been on again. This time full of hens, b33s and beads.
Turned out rather well.
These ones told me they want to go and live with one of our friends in South Africa, so we're off to take them (just as the weather is back up to 10 to 12 degrees C by day and night again, and the b33s, lacewings and ladybirds are all flying about).
Here a real bee (RHS, just below centre) is 'inspecting' her glass representation. I'm not sure that she was too impressed by the lack of anatomical correctness.
And we won't mention This Little Madam (never the tamest of creatures), who chose yesterday to fall out of a tree, or off the roof (or something similar), and require an emergency trip to the vet's. Luckily leg not broken, but the house-sitter could have done without having to catch her and force anti-inflammatories down her neck every day for the next week.
Updates as and when internet connectivity allows.
Monday, January 25, 2016
The Truth is Out There
Looking it up, I can't believe that it is 14 years since new episodes were last on our screens (for 201 episodes between 1993 and 2002).
It's unclear when it will be back with us in the UK - "sometime in February 2016" seems to be the current best guess, as far as I can see, although there are currently 20 key past episodes being shown on 5* (which, hitherto, I had no idea even existed) at 1am (I had no idea that existed either).
I think that it was probably watching The X-Files back in the early 90s that finally made the penny drop for me: nothing was what it seemed. That and working in a senior position in various Local Education Authorities.
The Daily Telegraph's Jonathan Bernstein perfectly captures my thoughts on this:
"What has changed is the internet. In The X-Files’ Nineties heyday, when network TV was dominated by cops, doctors and lawyers, a weekly show that baldly stated we were being lied to by our elected officials was a lone voice, and a unique one. The series took the paranoid ravings previously only shared by a shadowy minority and shoved them under a national spotlight.
But today, the comments section of any website no matter how monstrous or obscure, is it’s own X-Files. Everyone’s got insane theories they need to share. Everyone believes the worst about what we eat, what we watch, what we read, and who we vote for. (my bold; their mis-placed apostrophe)
This 14-years-later version of the series uses a professional fear-monger, a TV conspiracist (played by Joel McHale) to bring estranged ex-FBI agents Mulder and Scully back into each others orbits. McHale’s prophet of doom, who swans around in a bulletproof limousine guzzling champagne, informs the pair he needs them to help “…blow open maybe the most evil conspiracy the world has ever known.”
Characteristically, Scully is having none of it and Mulder is ablaze with a fervour—or as close to a fervour as David Duchovny can summon — to uncover the truth.
The truth he’s chasing in this mini-series isn’t the same truth he pursued in the Nineties.
This time, he’s convinced there is no alien conspiracy. Aliens, he now believes, were friendly emissaries worried about our warlike tendencies. The real conspirators are in the industrial-military complex which has been using stolen extra-terrestrial technology to stage fake alien abductions — “Roswell was a smokescreen!” seethes Mulder — harvest human foetuses and keep us in a state of passive, over-fed consumerism while they plot to take over America and, ultimately, the world.
You know who else believes that? EVERYBODY! At least everybody online.
Reputable sources claim the series grows a pulse and a sense of humour after the second episode. I want to believe - see what I did there? - that’s the case, but we’re in for a welter of similar TV revivals over the next few years. I don’t want to be in constant state of feeling old, disappointed and mistrustful of my own taste.
Unless, it’s all a conspiracy designed to make me feel that way."
From my point of view, the best thing about seeing revived series from the past, with their original characters, is that the once-glossy stars all look much older too! Ah, we can all grow older together.
Or not, as the case may be...
The party at the entrance to the next life is definitely the place to be right now, isn't it?
The fact that many were only in their 60s makes us more glad than ever that we eased into retirement 17 years before the governmint will pay us out. Fewer than 14 years to go for me now. At least until the rules are changed again...
Tuesday, January 5, 2016
Things you might not know, but which might be helpful to you or someone you know: Part 1
The best gadget I discovered last year?
Clover Wonder Clips.
Replace pins for many sewing uses.
Can also be used for holding many other crafty things in place while you are working on them.
Here I'm using them to hold a horrible collar construction in a stretch fabric.
As you can see, I wimped out and (most unlike me) tacked before sewing, but that's only because on the last jacket I made in this pattern I spent two hours unpicking the tiny machined stretch stitch on the stretch fabric, when it didn't hang properly when I'd finished it.
I've been finding more and more that, with my bad eyesight (especially in the dark) and poor fine motor co-ordination (especailly when I am tired), I stab myself on normal sewing pins, or fail to see pins in time to remove them before they go under the sewing machine foot and break a needle.
While it's good to replace a sewing machine needle about every 8 hours of sewing use (and these cost less than a pound, and much less if you buy them in bulk - 100s - and sell/share them with other sewers you know), now that I have an overlocker, not only would pins damage the two sewing needles, they'd also wreck the knife blade that trims the fabric as you sew, which is £25 to replace.
But - these clips are great. They don't leave pin holes in fine or sheer fabrics, they hold thick layers together without distorting or moving the fabrics, and they are impossible to sew over.
I don't know how long they have been around in the UK, and they're not widely available in haberdashery shops (where they still exist!), but you can get them from lots of places online, for hugely varying prices (around 30-40p each, and you'll want 50, but, if you are a serious sewer - or know someone who is - I promise you it will be the best money you spend this year).
Video of use here (I have permanently cut my computer's vocal chords, so I only watched part of the silent version of the three-minute movie, but it gives a good idea of what they can do).
Don't buy the cheap unbranded replica version as I did to start with - they are poorly made, with sharp plastic bits that catch on fine fabrics, and they pop apart (and cannot be reassembled, even by Mr BW) after a couple of uses.
By the way, if you do stab youself while sewing, and get spots of blood on your fabric, did you know that your own saliva, rubbed in immediately, will get it out?
Only your own saliva will do, though. No idea why this works, and when someone first told me, I looked at them very doubtfully, but work it does.
Monday, January 4, 2016
Happy Blogday to me
It's my thirteenth blogday today.
I'm a teenager again!
Perhaps I should take to writing some of those Grumpy Blue Witch posts that I used to.
Or maybe not. I think I'd be shouting in the dark these days. No-one is interested in discussions on small blogs anyway (social media unsociably killed all that). You can't be petulant as a teenager if you've been a tantrumy toddler, after all.
No point writing about Value and how to save money these days: there are plenty of other trendy blogs to provide support and encouragement there. Although we always have been more extreme than most of them.
No point writing about how to be self-sufficient: ditto, and ditto, above.
No point in writing about how to retire at 50, as, unless you have no kids, no debts - including mortgage, and are prepared to play with your money frequently (eighteen current accounts and around thirty savings accounts, anyone?), you can't hope to ever achieve it. Unless you are hugely 'independently mean'ed, of course, which we're not.
You also need a love of gardening and growing/producing things to eat, to be - largely - vegetarian, have advanced DIY skills in every area so you don't have to employ trandesmen and can extend the life of almost everything, and you mustn't celebrate the FOTCR™ (ha, got it in on January 4th, that must be a BW Record!) lavishly, or buy-in to consumerism (if you know what a brand or celebrity is, or know what the media is currently pimping as 'fashion', don't bother).
And you mustn't have a penchant for coffee shops, daily newspapers or magazines, gyms, ready meals, fast food, or eating out.
Without all those pieces in your puzzle, you haven't got a chance as your life will be just too expensive.
And, there aren't many people who'd be prepared to go to the lengths we do. That said, we do enjoy our lifestyle. Plus, I suspect no one would read as it would just seem like bragging.
Perhaps I should post more photos of the things we make. But, that always seems a bit dull, and again, rather like bragging.
Perhaps I should just post cat photos and be done with all the worrying about whether I'm interesting enough these days...
Whether you've been visiting and reading for one day or thirteen years, thank you. As I've always said, a blog without comments is just another website.
Friday, January 1, 2016
Happy New Year
Last night was only the second frost of the winter.
But it still wasn't that cold.
Today we went to church.
We took Mi1dred to see her friends.
We didn't go to the pub with everyone else.
We are reformed I tell you, reformed.
Monday, December 28, 2015
It wasn't a spell. Well, at least I don't think so...
The sun shone today.
It was 12°C at 3am and 13°C at 3pm.
Mr BW was outside pruning clematis in a t-shirt.
It wasn't cold.
It's drier than it's been for ages at this time of year.
Not sure what's going on elsewhere... I do suspect, though, that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Saturday, December 26, 2015
The BBC responded to my spells and put The Clangers into the schedule for yesterday morning.
The Universe provided the first full Moon on 25th since 1977 (and it will not happen again until 2034).
Signs, I tell you, signs...
Friday, December 25, 2015
Thursday, December 24, 2015
Technology is just so frustrating when it doesn't work. Whilst I may choose not to use a lot of it, I do know what it could (and should) do, so when it doesn't I just get annoyed by it and walk away.
And so it was that there have been lots of missing pictures of late... here's a quick run-through of a few.
Our first attempt at slumping bottles resulted in conjoining. Cute when you consider it was 23 years since we met on 23rd (yesterday):
As it was an unnaturally warm and sunny day, we went off to see a special place for us. Our original stump had disappeared, but the National Trust had kindly made us a replacement nearby:
Sadly they had also made a duck-feeding pontoon (heaving with over-excited and under-mannered small brats and doting grandparents), and hadn't thought to provide information on current wisdom which is "don't feed ducks bread!"
Here is our first kilnfull of glass test pieces (note the kiln is BW blue):
Those irregular shaped scraps of glass stacked on top of each other turn into wonderful smooth glass pellets/pebbles:
Here is an abstract panel and a sheep that I made on the original course we did a couple of weeks ago:
and a blue hen by Mr BW:
There is lots of this sort of cutesy stuff around to buy (craft fairs, galleries in country market towns, and etsy are full of it), but, once we have mastered the kiln temperatures, and the basic techniques (which are not hard, once you can reliably cut glass, which we can already, as we first did leaded glass work back in 2002, and Mr BW has done quite a lot since), I doubt we shall be doing much more of it...
I've already ordered several 'advanced techniques' books, once of which arrived at lunchtime, and has been half half-skimmed while watching a recording of last night's penultimate Professional Materchef episode (it only requires/is worthy of half-watching anyway). My aim is to make items that can work with other things I do (for example, printing onto glass before melting it, nuggets to use with yarn, or in felt pieces), and Mr BW will be incorporating custom-made panels into his b1acksmithing.
Here is the item that was piped into our festive get-together with friends last weekend (we don't eat haggis, but we do eat cheese):
And here is the seafood platter that we devoured: including home smoked salmon, prawns, eggs, and rocket and lettuce from the garden (we only finished the last cucumbers last week and the last tomatoes a couple of days ago).
Must go as I can feel a 'shouting at someone in the regional hospital' coming on - they discharged our almost-90 year old neighbour (who was blue-lighted in on Monday afternoon with undiagnosed severe pains in his side) from hospital last night at 9pm to an empty house (he lives alone, and has just a similarly aged brother who has terminal cancer and is very unwell and a niece and nephew living 3 miles away who are already trying to look after their dying father), without checking he had food in the house, and (supposedly) a care package which has turned into a district nurse coming in just now to tell him (but not ensure he could do it himself) how to change the bag they fitted him with until 'some time in the new year' when they will get him in again to operate to remove the bladder stones that they think are causing the problem - the operation that they had him prepared for yesteday when they decided to insert a catheter and send him home instead - when the district nurse came just now she said she would be back to see him, "In a week," but left no record sheets and no telephone numbers in case anything happened before then. Really? I'm wondering about professional accountability and responsibility issues here...
One of the other residents of our hamlet (who lives a good half a mile away) has already popped in and, hearing of his plight, offered to take him round a hot lunch tomorrow, as he obviously can't go anywhere, but why are we local residents being let to care for this elderly and vulnerable man who is far from well, over the festive period? What would happen if he didn't have neighbours who care? The hospital didn't know that we would pick up the pieces left by them discharging an elderly and unwell person so that they could close the ward.
I've got a bad cold and cough and am not at all well, so obviously can't go round to help out... but I am good at shouting.
I can feel a call to the local paper coming on too... our neighbour, who has lived here all his life, is well-known locally for his spiritual and financial kindness to people in need, and often receives mentions in the local paper, so it's exactly the sort of story they love.
And, if anything happens to him as a result of this (an infection, or another fall - he's already had several - so it easily might), then it will make national news, and questions will have to be answered at the highest level, you can be sure of that.
Any other ideas welcome...
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
Monday, December 21, 2015
happy Yule to you all
It was 17°C on Saturday afternoon, and 10.5°C in the middle of the night last night (not cold at all, more like a May night, amazing stars), when I decided to go to the summerhouse in just my nightie, to get the Turtle Mat to wash it.
Ah, strange happenings, strange happenings.
Saturday, December 19, 2015
Twas the Saturday before the FOTCR™
Mr BW informs me that the FOTCR™ has started. Well, that's not exactly what he said, he used the C-word, and we can't have that.
Anyway, it has, according to him, because the FOTCR™ Radio Times has started.
The new kiln (proudly made in Britain, and, despite it weighing 75kg, the least troublesome delivery of the week) has fired our first glass samples and creations. We've peeped in, but it's still got to cool some more. Most impressive. And less than 5kwh to get up to nearly 1000°C over several hours. That's 30p on our low-rate economy 7 tarrif. The incomers (typo there originally, I put 'incomes', which is the best Freudian slip of the month) round here burn lights around their houses at all hours, causing lots of light pollution. I'm sure that, even with the kiln on, we use lots less electricity than them, and at least we've got something useful and pretty.
We have friends coming for lunch. I seem to have over-catered, as usual.
I rarely go into Lidl, but I did yesterday, at 7.15am. I wanted a few perishable things and didn't want to have to fight my way into the town, or meet the hordes, so went early. The place was empty. Bliss. They have some fabulous festive goodies in the savoury non-wheat nibbles, cheese, and fruit and veg departments (can't comment on others as I didn't look or buy them). Much better than the selections I've seen in Sainsbury's, Waitrose or Aldi. And about half the price.
But, most of our feast is home-made. And also home-smoked, home-grown and sugar, wheat and meat free. Oh, and low-fat and non-creamy. Bloody hell, that was a difficult menu to devise.
Thursday, December 17, 2015
Happy Witchday to Me
After 53 years, I have finally discovered how my godmother has managed to be the only person who has always, unfailingly, reliably, managed to get a birthday card to make it through the annual snarl-up of FOTCR™ mail to arrive on or before my birthday.
She thought it was the 14th rather than the 17th.
But, I'm still impressed with her efforts. She is the only person who has sent me a card that I have had to open on the correct day, for every year of my life.
Incidentally, I've had several cards this week with notes in that suggest there may be an ongoing problem with my incoming email. If you've sent anything that hasn't received a reply, I apologise, and do please resend it... I don't always reply as immediately as I used to, as I spend much less time at a computer than I once did, and I choose not to have a smartphone (so only access email from a PC), but I do reply to urgent stuff within a few hours and less-urgent within a couple of days. Thank you!
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
This is Ground Control to Major Tim
The UK's first publicly funded astronaut, all set to go.
Slightly disappointed that this will be the first late afternoon for a couple of weeks that the ISS won't be visible from here.
And he's 43. In case anyone wondered, because I did, and I thought I'd save you the effort of looking it up.
The unseasonally warm weather continues. As warm at night (ie 13°C) as is usual in July, apparently. No hot air coming out of Paris is going to stop the climate changing, methinks. Just as well we're exploring space, then...
Thursday, December 10, 2015
Time continues to pass
The festive Radio Times has arrived in the post.
All is well with the world.
Well, at least it was for 20 seconds, until Mr BW pointed out that 'The Archers' Calendar Girls are pictured...
In other news, Mr BW took me to an excellent course in glass fusing today, as a week-early birthday pressie. Us two, plus an early-retired GP, who shared our belief in not working beyond what one needs to.
I can now do glass engraving (learnt 30 years ago), flamework (introductory course completed 6 weeks ago), stained glass (leaded and copper foiled, learnt 13 years ago) and fused. We already have materials for the former sorts. I can feel some serious expenditure on supplies for the the latter coming on tomorrow.
I love glass. I love colour. I love flowing form and undefined shape. I love design.
I think I might finally have found the right glass craft for me. I thought it was glass engraving, but sadly my eyesight is not up to this now. I can do the others, but I don't enjoy them the way Mr BW does, or the way that I enjoy textile crafts and printing.
And the best thing is that fusing combines beautifully with other crafts that we do between us.
Oh, I know, this post useless without pictures. But, this little netbook is useless, and I thought I'd solved our broadband speed/access problems when I took advantage of a free BT broadband offer last week. We can now have one connection each. The original TT one is 1.7 - 2.1Mb (on a very good day). The new BT one is 0.8Mb (they told me it would be between 2 and 3Mb). I need to complain, but I'm all out of strength to complain this week having already hit one shoe manufacturer, one credit card company, one ombudsman, and one small bank. Yield so far over £160, but I'd rather have decent, reliable, timely, service, and competent backup customer support, than cash compensation, frankly. Although... thinking about it... pretty glass doesn't come cheap...
Monday, December 7, 2015
The way of the world
A friend rang this morning.
She told me that the local vicar says that all the current terrorist atrocities and catastrophic weather events in the world are God's way of testing mankind and that all we have to do is have faith, and pray hard enough, and it will all be OK.
Had she not been a friend of 20 years, and of the Strong Godly Persuasion herself, she might have got a few words of BW Wisdom on those subjects. And god help the vicar if I happen to stumble upon him if he says such things to me.
Instead, I suggested to her that if people stopped bleating to each other, bleating to whichever 'god' they chose to use for offloading/guilt assuaging, bleating on Twitter and/or Facebook, and signing pointless online petitions, and actually did something tangible in the non-online world, then things might resolve somewhat more quickly.
She admitted that I did have a point.
Sunday, November 22, 2015
We never put the heating on until we return from Northumberland. That was two weeks ago.
We had the first fire in the downstairs log-burner last Tuesday.
Yesterday we had fires in the Studio and downstairs log burners.
The temperature, which has to date been unseasonally warm, fell ridiculously overnight - thick ice on standing water, but no frost, most odd - and we finally gave up and put on the central heating this morning.
Mind you, heating oil is currently at its cheapest since the beginning of 2005 (27.20ppl), so I've arranged to top up the tank. Given that a year ago it was 50.2ppl, and two years ago 58.5ppl, for once I'm feeling quite happy that we don't have mains gas here.
For posterity, I'll record that petrol is currently 103.9ppl and diesel 106.9ppl. Which is also cheaper than it's been for a while, but I'm not sure how long becuase my fuel book is in the car and it's now so cosy inside that I'm not venturing outside to get it.
In other news, this week I made cranberry mincemeat, cranberry and orange chutney, bought some new LED outdoor tree lights and a new FOTCR™ tree. The last one 8 years ago, cost £20. This one cost £34.99, minus a £5 voucher. And it will also be expected to last at least eight years. Please do not worry. I am not giving in. That is the FOTCR™ all sorted now.
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Computer might say no, but human says yes
Just for once, I had a good customer experience yesterday.
I went into the local library to collect some books Mr BW had ordered.
Unfortunately I didn't have his library card with me. I glanced over to the enquiry desk, where one can take out books if one has special needs or is unable to use the technology provided. None of the librarians I know were on duty. "Damn!" I thought.
I went up to the counter with the three books, and my library card, and explained my predicament. "Is there any chance that I could take them out on my ticket?" I asked the (very) young man.
"Of course," he said reassuringly, "we're here to get people reading, not provide reasons why they shouldn't!"
There is hope in the world after all.
Friday, November 13, 2015
Hell fire and damnation
Despite being sunny first thing, the weather forecast threatened howling winds and torrential rain, plus it was Friday 13th, so Mr BW decided that he'd fire up his forge.
It wasn't long before the rain came down and the wind started blowing.
But, that forge (fanned by a bouncy-castle blower - the yellow thing at the bottom of the picture) is extremely hot, and no amount of rain could either, (a) put it out, or (b) dampen Mr BW's enthusiasm.
He made parts of a sculpture commission for a friend, a tripodal kettle-hanging device for my new outdoor kettle (2 gallon size, as last seen at guide camp), no doubt a few other things, but I missed those, and then decided to harden the small portable anvil he'd previously made from a bit of leftover RSJ (steel beam used in construction), some scaffolding poles, and a few other things, and a whole lot of dangerous processes, that I don't understand, seek to understand, or indeed want to understand. He had fun doing it, and that's the main thing.
This hardening involved putting the contraption upside-down into the fire, and heating it for ages. Ages and ages.
So long that, while it was happening, I had time to peel and slice some cooked beetroot, put the end-of season grubby bee-suits into the washing machine, make two cups of tea, look through my notes from a meeting last night, wash some woolly slippers, wash up the pressure cooker used to cook the beetroot, take some braised red cabbage out of the Aga and curse that I'd forgotten it and cooked it for rather too long for it to still have any nutritional value at all, and open today's letters (sadly, our postie recently unexpectedly dropped dead, but the new one seems to get here at least an hour earlier; I'm still wondering if it was my spells...):
Then grabbing hold of it - despite it being 'small' and 'portable' it's jolly heavy and very hot, so hot that the heat coming off it was uncomfortable ten feet away - and chucking it onto the ground, luckily not hitting his feet or any stray cats in the process.
And then spraying water onto it with a hose. The picture below doesn't do justice to the amount of steam produced, and the ferocity with which it was emitted.
It was impressive.
A more technical explanation is to be found here. It is totally possible (nay, highly likely) that I have the names and procedures all wrong. I prefer my version though.
And soon after Mr BW had put the forge out (the price of coke is outrageous, and every little saved for re-use is helpful) the sun came out again.
Sounds emanating from downstairs suggest that he now has the arc welder out. I refuse to get stressed by the thought of what it's doing to the electricity bill. At least until the bill comes in.
Never a dull moment.
Thursday, November 12, 2015
Degrees of involvement
I often think that the skills, knowledge, and work and life experience that Mr BW and I have between us are a curse. They can make life complicated.
Between us, we often have a very wide - and sometimes differing - perspective, often backed by hard-won real-life experience, and a basic skeptical/questioning philosophy. Believe nothing until you see the proof, and always go back to original documents, especially when they involve statistics.
Plus, our differing professional skills, honed over many years, give us both the ability to make unexpected connections between things and extrapolate beyond the obvious. As one service head I worked with once said to me, "Everyone else is now just-about thinking outside the box; you're not even seeing the box as a necessary construct." Mr BW has an elephantine memory. I used to have a good memory, but sadly it's fading fast these days. Living memory is useful.
And, we are both 'doers' rather than 'moaners'. If we see something that needs improving, fixing, or exposing, either locally, or with consumer issues, we will tackle it and not give up until things change for the better.
We also both believe in issues being the important thing, particularly at a local level, rather than party politics. Politics always divides people. Issues can often unite people unexpectedly.
DG today has a post where he wonders why there isn't more protest within the UK about current cuts in public services. Despite stressing, several times, "To clarify, today's post isn't about your opinions on cuts, it's about general attitudes to cuts," predictably (given the political leaning of many of his readers) comments quickly deteriorated to party politics and let's blame Thatcher and/or the bankers.
My answer was:
"Of course, one simple answer must be that many people must believe that more cuts can be made without affecting front-line services.
People are now better informed by the availability of good-quality information on what is spent/wasted on what by public bodies.
Freedom of Information requests, and groups like the Taxpayers' Alliance show just how poor value for money public sector organisations often achieve.
The question that needs answering is why this happens. My view on this is that:
(1) people who bid for contracts know what they can get away with, price-wise, and
(2) people who commission services are often not well qualified/trained and often can't even manage their own finances, therefore have no grip on what is a fair price to pay, and lack understanding of Value.
Plus, there is information overload. People don't know what to believe these days (look how things often 'kick off' on social media - and, when one tries to find sources on assertions/statistics, it's often not as it seems).
As several older people have said to me recently (and I'm summarising/paraphrasing hugely here), "When you have little of your life left, you have less desire to spend what time you have on things that don't directly affect you - for example, getting involved in local issues, or protesing about things as you might have done in the past - there is no desire to bang your head against a wall as you know you'll be dead soon enough."
In our local area there are currently several huge issues that will change the quality and rurality of everyone's way of life, irrevocably.
Out of an area population of a couple of thousand, only about 30 (the 'usual suspects' who always give freely of their time for the community good) were regularly getting involved with attempts to consult and involve everyone in having a say, before it was too late to design the shape all our futures.
Until one day recently when something immediate threatened to happen right on people's doorsteps. Four or five times the number of people turned up at the next local meeting, vocally demanding that someone do something to stop it. I'm afraid I just sat and smirked and wondered how anyone could be so oblivious of the facts, given the availabilty of the basic information.
But, a third of the area's poluation are retired, so the last point of my comment that I've quoted above may apply. And that was something that hadn't occured to me until older friends from my crafty groups pointed it out.
I do hope that I never get to the point of not being interested in what is happening around me.
Saturday, October 31, 2015
Saturday in Sunderland
Mr BW knew that we were going to Sunderland, but not why.
Well, I might have told him that I'd booked a course for his birthday treat, but he had no idea where, or what we'd be doing. When I mentioned the Stadium of Light yesterday (I'd seen it on the map on the way to where we were going) he became convinced that it was a football course. Not that either of us likes football, but.
Luckily we had built an extra three quarters of an hour into our travel time (in case of Saturday morning delays around the Metro Centre, where they also have 30mph road works currently), because we had to change a wheel even before we left the farm after someone ran over a piece of angle iron scaffolding that the odd-job man/'builder' had left in a stupid place right next to our car.
It took Mr BW nearly a quarter of an hour of questions to which I'd only answer 'yes' or 'no' on the way down there to guess what we were to be doing in a futuristic building overlooking the wharf.
We had a great day. We have to return later in the week to collect the items we made. And I now have no fingerprints on my left thumb and forefinger where I dropped a piece on the floor and forgot it had been heating at 1200°C just seconds before I tried to retrieve it.
And a two-bedroom new flat overlooking the wharf: £135,000. It's a different world up here. I can see similar in London being £1.35 million.
The ill piglet missed us. He's poorlier tonight. And wrapped up in a blanket in the tack room. Snoring his snout off.
Friday, October 30, 2015
Update from The North
Everywhere above Scotch Corner there are Bales.
Some Round Bales have arrived at The Farm.
There are five five week old piglets. One is very poorly. I'm blaming The Bales. We are trying to help save him. Memories of helping out on various pig farms during my decade-long sojourn in the south west thirty-odd years ago are coming in very handy.
Meanwhile, all the reasons we eventually decided against moving up here 18 months ago have proved founded. And people are illegally hunting over what would have been our land on a regular basis.
Yeah, I know, you need pictures.... The camera has pictures. But technolgy is failing me.
Thursday, October 29, 2015
It's Mr BW's Witchday
So we are packing the Broom and heading north, to the land of halloween spells.
Whether or not t'inter works this year is anyone's guess.
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Why is it...
... that whatever system is invented, there will always be some moron(s) who wants to spoil it for others?
Hackers, spammers, vishers, terrorists, cyclists who jump red lights, motorists who drive with the phone to their ear (or, worse, sending/receiving text messages), people who don't put their phones on silent in meetings and performances...
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Kittens become Cats
Here are the now 6 months old kittens.
All four turned out to be girls. They're impossible to photograph. Except when they are taken out of cat carriers having had their bits chopped out:
I do wonder about young vets thse days. "They are outdoor cats!" Mr BW told them. "They are not very tame!"
So, they came back to us having been neutered through their tummies rather than their sides, with their heads in cones, with their front paws still wrapped in gauze and tape (stuck to their fur), and with the instructions, "Don't let them run or jump for three days, bring them back for a check up in four days, and keep them in, with their cones on, for ten days!" It was hard enough for Mr BW to catch them all in the first place. Chances of catching them all again? Nil.
Still, five days on they are all fine. And certainly not still. The first night, even with their cones on, after they'd given up trying to back out of them, they still managed to get into their usual sleeping places in the roof of Mr BW's Workshop, or on top of Mi1dred.
Any guesses as to who is the friendliest? Naughtiest?
Monday, October 26, 2015
Autumn has hit with all its might.
Yuck, yuck, yuck. Low light, short days, dark evenings, cold, wet, murk, browns and greys.
There is nothing nice about it, in my book.
I'm going to hibernate.
Wake me up in March.
This little chap/ess was hiding in the polytunnel as we were giving it its autumn sort-out yesterday:
What amazing camouflage.
I've been fighting the good consumer fight with the CEO's offices of several large companies in recent months (when I have a consumer issue that I feel will affect others, I tend to escalate it to the highest level, because that's the only way to get things sorted for all consumers, and, I like making suggestions for how they can solve issues: sometimes they even listen). I haven't lost yet.
I told the (very very unpleasant - undoubtedly the most unpleasant man in PR that I have ever had the misfortune to deal with) head of TalkTalk's CEO's office that their first data breach this year (which caused us to get several phone calls per day/night from scammers allegedly from TT for several months) would not be their last, because of their cavalier attitude and insistence that "all companies lose data to hackers" and that "data offshored to India is just as safe as data held in the UK".
I wish luck to anyone affected by the latest: I eventually got twenty times their initial compensation offer, but my Sharp Witchy Teeth suffered severe erosion in the process (mind you, he's probably still having nightmares about his dealings with me).
I still haven't had any communication from them - email or letter - following last Wednesday's data breach. No point going to the Information Commissioner's Office: last time I was told that, "We don't have the resources or time to investigate individual's concerns."
Would that there were a viable alternative for internet service here.
And the World Health Authority have said that processed meats cause cancer ("Its report said 50g of processed meat a day - less than two slices of bacon - increased the chance of developing colorectal cancer by 18%.")
What a surprise.
What an abuse of statistics?
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Rough around the edges
The very wide field margins of the farmer of the fields behind us are a source of great annoyance.
While they could potentially be of great benefit to wildlife and insects, unfortunately they are just one gloriously huge weed generator. Thistles, dandelions, and ragwort delight in seeding and blowing all over our garden, and we spend tens of hours each year removing seedlings from our pots, gravel paths, flower and vegetable beds.
We've spoken to him about it several times, over several years, but he doesn't consider that topping it before weed seeds form, or pulling common ragwort (which is a legal requirement under the Weeds Act 1959 and The Ragwort Control Act 2003) should be high on his priority list.
He's quite happy to trouser the government/EU subsidy for having the uncultivated strip, but not prepared to spend any of it on maintaining it. Mr BW has given it a quick strim several times this year, just before the seeds would be viable, which hopefully will help the situation next year, but it's a huge area that takes hours to do with our tools, but would minutes with a tractor with the proper kit attached.
We were driving to see the Old Friends BW up on the Suffolk/Essex border at the weekend when we spied this:
Alive with insects and wildlife, and showing just what a well-managed field boundary can/should be.
I'm just contemplating how best to transmit this idea to our farmer...
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
More peristent that Jehova's Witnesses
Front door: *knock knock*
Me (opening door): Hello?
Smartly dressed woman: Hello, I'm from [name of locally-based company that sells expensive meat, poulty and fish, door-to-door]. Have you heard of us?
Me: No... but I'm vegetarian.
Smartly dressed woman: We have vegetarian ready-meals too...
Me: We grow most of our food, and it's all cooked from scratch.
Smartly dressed woman: The meals are really nice... meat-free lasagne, spaghetti bolognese, cheese and onion pie...
Me: I am also wheat intolerant.
Smartly dressed woman: You're making this up aren't you?
Me: Maybe, maybe not. And that's something you'll never know. Now, I admire your persistence, but a no really is a no, and you need to learn to accept that. And that some people really are vegetarian and wheat intolerant. *fixed smile* *shuts door firmly*
Friday, October 16, 2015
I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth
I am utterly delighted by the news yesterday that a grammar school in Kent is to be allowed to open a second site.
How Labour can call grammar schools 'socially devisive' I have absolutely no idea.
The grammar school system was responsible for raising the social and life chances of many wartime, post-war and 'baby boomer' children, my parents, my aunts, me, and my brother, included.
On the back of five years in grammar school I was awarded the biggest scholarship that had ever been awarded to study A Levels at (what was then) the third most expensive public school in the country. I only chose to stay for less than a term, mind, but that's another story.
My plastic spoon became gold plated because I went to the right type of school to nurture my abilities.
There is no way that I'd have achieved what I did had I gone to a comprehensive school. Without doubt, my rebellious streak would not have been sufficiently challenged and I'd have been bored and gravitated to the lowest level, like so many of the able but disaffected youngsters I've worked with over 30 years of visiting every type of educational establishment.
In my opinion, it is the remnants of the grammar school system that is socially devisive now, as there are so few places that the children who are 'selected' for them are those who have been to fee-paying primary schools, or whose parents manage to afford private tuition out of school, rather than those of greatest academic potential. In my own county there were more than ever children competing for the few grammar school places that exist this year - I'm told that 16 sat the tests for every one place.
The solution is to make more grammar school places, which would lessen competition for them, and then there will be sufficient places for all those of ability to benefit from them.
"Oh it's unfair and the country can't afford it!" I often hear from my champagne socialist acquaintances. "The country can't afford NOT to afford it!" I reply. "And do you know how much is spent to support those kids with special needs, those at the other end of the spectrum who will never be the economic future of this country?"
I've said before that I hate the idea that people are viewed as economic units, but, in a developed capitalist country, there is no getting away from the fact that we need the able minority to generate revenue to support the less able majority. And there is no getting away form the fact that educational success largely shapes one's future life.
It amuses me greatly that many of those who now speak out against grammar schools either went to them (or to fee-paying schools) themselves, chose to send their kids to them, or moved to be in the 'catchment area of a 'good' school, in areas where there are no grammar schools.
If religious groups (and others) are allowed to set up their own schools, why should there not be schools for those of above average academic potential, who want a more pressured educational experience?
There should be all types of school, for all types of abilities.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Left, Right, Centre, Outcast
"May you live in interesting times," the saying goes.
Oh what's happening to the world?
Given that many Americans spent many months in ''holding camps'' in or near New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina when it was unsafe or impossible for them to return to their homes, why can't Syrians be kept in similar camps, near their own country until the situation can be sorted out? They may think they want to come to Europe, but wait until they get here. The weather and the way of life is so different to that to which they are habituated.
Could get madder, mind, if Boris becomes Prime Minister here and Bernie Sanders (aside: does he, visually, remind you of someone from British politics?) ends up as the Democratic successor to Obama. Good old Vox comes to the rescue again - this time with the answers to 6 questions about socialism you were too embarrassed to ask. That's interesting reading.
Still, all this current political and religious merriment is making for excellent material for the satirical news programmes, which, for once, are being rather more balanced than their usual Lefty, I feel.
I'm enjoying the new weekly series of The New Quiz, with Miles Jupp proving a more than worthy successor to Sandi Toksvig's nine years in the chair (despite my initial misgivings when the succession was announced), on R4 on Friday evenings, repeated Saturday lunch-times: listen again here. Episode 1 is probably the funniest thing I have heard in a long time. Jeremy Corbyn-Laden indeed. It's not good, that is now imprinted permanently on my mind, and the 'Laden' auto-appends every time I hear his name.
I don't know the answer, and nor does anyone else I know. Usually between us (and a significant proportion of my acquaintances are 'champagne socialist' types, who are always good for a wind-up) we can come up with some kind of idea, but this question has us all stumped.
Even Mr BW, who has an elephantine memory for factual information, and has travelled and interacted with local populations so extensively that I sometimes wonder if there isn't a country and a people he doesn't (a) know about, and (b) have a balanced and informed view on, has no idea.
Surely these non-white 'British' people are better off out of the country than being here, holding views so opposed to our culture, and radicalising and negatively influencing others?
"Oh think of the poor children!" I hear some wailing. Who are we to tell people how to bring up their kids? Teaching the six year old son of Jehovas Witness parents back in 1986 made me realise the power of parental belief and persuasion ('brainwashing'). Let 'em go. Make sure their child benefit is stopped, and never let 'em back in again. Simple. Or is it?
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
From the inbox
I was chatting to one of my Rotating Ladies yesterday. "I just do not understand why my grandchildren put the things they do on the internet. I am embarrassed just reading it, but they seem to have no shame! What if a prospective employer reads it?"
I sympathised and reassured her that, while nearly thirty years her junior, I feel exactly the same way. Another nearby person overheard. "I shall email you something," she promised.
"I am trying to make friends outside of Facebook while applying the same principles.
Therefore, every day I walk down the street and tell passers-by what I have eaten, how I feel at the moment, what I have done the night before, what I will do later, and with whom.
I give them pictures of my family, my dog, and of me gardening, taking things apart in the garage, watering the lawn, standing in front of landmarks, driving around town, having lunch, and doing what anybody and everybody does every day.
I also listen to their conversations, give them the "thumbs up" and tell them I like them.
And it works just like Facebook. I already have four people following me:
two police officers, a private investigator, and a psychiatrist."
Well, I'd not seen it before, and it made me smile...
Monday, October 12, 2015
Sunday, October 11, 2015
"BW shall never vanquished be until
Ickworth Wood to high Coven Grounds
Shall come against her."
Never mind, eh... half a tree worth of lime, ash, and sycamore might have sneaked into Mr BW's workshop, but this was what sneaked into my Studio after the Knit&Stitch Show on Thursday:
The sharp-eyed amongst you might note the brochure and samples on the RHS. My new toy will arrive on Tuesday. And then I'll be able to tranform the two bits of stretchy fabric into new cloaks.
It's been great to see some old friends' names appearing in the comments over the past few days. Nice to see you again and pleased you're still visiting!
Saturday, October 10, 2015
Reuse rather than recycle
Cotton p@tchwork fabric is now anything up to £16.50 per metre. That's up to 16.5 pence per centimetre cut across the width.
I'm always amazed that all my Patchy Ladies lived through the last war, or were children in the post-war rationing years. When they straighten up their fabric before cutting strips, they waste lots. When they have finished a project, they ditch any cut-out bits (and sometimes even sewn blocks) left over. And, because I hate to see waste, they give the bits to me.
I sort them into colours and keep them in a set of plastic drawers. And, when I have no inspiration for a new Patchy Project, or, as is more often the case, no time to sort out the necessary supplies before the next Patchy Meeting, I take their offcuts and make them into new fabric.
They are always mystified by how I do this. As I tell them, it's a case of:
Select just a couple of colours (thinking of colours that go together in nature is often a good starting point). Sew two little bits of fabric together with the narrowest seam you think will hold when in use and survive washing - somewhere between 1/8" and 1/4" (you can chain-piece lots of two bits to save time and thread), press seam to one side, cut a straight edge, add another bit, press seam to one side, cut a straight edge, and repeat until your boredom threshold is reached. Then, recut across the bits already made, rotate, and add strips or other new and/or recut bits until it looks pleasing. You have to watch our for dominant colours (yellows, whites, lime green, fluorescent colours, darks within an otherwise pastel palette, and anything with a large pattern) and spread them out by judicious cutting and repositioning, or, if they just don't look right, cut them out totally!
Then I make the fabric into something useful: here a cushion for the bench that was part of Mr BW's retirement present:
That photo was taken a few weeks ago. The flower troughs under the bench are now three times as bountiful.
Not to be outdone, Mr BW has been sculpturally reusing cans (not quite eaten enough yet, but he's threading them on to the LHS as we munch...):
And old spanners:
And he hasn't been near my spell book; it's all done by traditional forge, heat, and hammering.
Friday, October 9, 2015
Tuesday was Day 2 of our lino printing course.
Unfortunately, my wrists were wrecked after Monday (they still haven't fully recovered now) and I was finding it very hard to co-ordinate what was in my head with what emanated from the carving tool in my hand. I also wanted to do a small design that I could use for the front of cards.
This was the inspiration in my head (more Bawden):
This was my flower and my design sheet (the lines, the colours, and the double print, with some unprinted white border, abstracted from the original idea I'd liked):
These were the two (3") blocks inked up. The pink was printed first, and then the green:
This was the second layer on the registration sheet about to go through the press:
And this was the finished item (impression 1 at the top, and the second print without re-inking at the bottom; the second impression has the two prints more accurately placed and is how I hoped it would come out):
And yes, I forgot to reverse the design when I transferred it onto the block before cutting. I have no idea why most designs have a 'looks better in a particular orientation' quality. I'm left thinking, Echinacea or Sputnik?
If only my manual dexterity skills were up to what I'd like them to do. And we won't mention how I had to offset the flower stem to cover a slip (although I can now see how I can easily fix that, by removing a bit more of the block before I print that design again, which I plan to do, on fabric to use in other projects). But, at least I didn't run any blades into any digits, because (amazingly) I managed to do as the tutor told me: "Keep your hands behind the cutter at all times!"
Just making up the cards I've realised that I can rotate the image, even if the lines aren't then quite as I intended them. Not sure which orientation I prefer.
And, for those of you like me with 'perfect line', I can see that one of the margins needs another slight trim, and these aren't stuck down yet!
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Journey to The Moon
NASA has recently posted all photos taken on Apollo missions to Flickr, licensed as public domain.
That's my childhood viewing and newspaper reading recreated.
And The Planetary Society has taken the Apollo 11 ones and made them into a one-minute sequence.
It annoyed me the first time I watched it, but, it grew on me, after I'd watched it five times.
I wish they'd slowed it down... Mr BW informs me that I may be missing the point.
But it's all fabulous viewing.
As was the lunar eclipse last month. Sadly the photos (hand held camera) don't work well at the low resolution I need here, but, if you didn't see it, here's the sequence to give you a feel for it (over two and a half hours worth, reduced):
I have been enjoying flicking through all the photos I took on the camera - it's like viewing it all over again. Albeit without the amazing dark sky view of the stars and the Milky Way, or the eye-hurting brilliance of the moon at the outset. And rather like one of those 'flick for an action sequence books' anyone of a certain age will remember.
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
I loved the date yesterday. 5.10.15 (and 20, albeit out of order). A little frisson of excitment every time I wrote down the date. Which I did quite a lot of times, specially.
And I loved more, that one of the ex-Pupils BW (now at medical school) sent me an email late last night saying that he'd thought of me all day, every time he wrote the date, because it was me who had first enthused him about dates, when I worked with him a decade ago.
To mark the auspiciousness of the day, we went on a linocutting course.
I felt terribly Bawdenesque all day, even though the results weren't quite Bawden, despite being allowed to use Mr BW's special wood-cutting tools. I'm not allowed to sharpen them though..
Cutting the tile:
The tile with the ink-stain, after printing (so that you can see the relief). I was trying to get movement into the design, through the tool marks left in the material of the background:
After I'd given up hope of emulating Bawden, I decided to be Morrisesque in colourway:
And then I thought I'd go for contrast:
And today we have another day of it. Sadly my wrists aren't up to it though, so I shall have to do simple. Mr BW had already spent 24 hours woodcarving over the weekend, on another course. His wrists are fine. Which is just as well, as he may end up having to carve mine, once I've designed it and drawn it out.
Talking of Edward Bawden, my favourite art gallery is probably The Fry Gallery in Saffron Walden. Tiny but perfectly formed (and with a fabulous website that enables you to see most of their collection).
They currently have two stunning exhibitions:
"From Eric Ravilious to Grayson Perry
Sunday 5th April 2015 to 25th October
In 2015 we mark the thirtieth anniversary of the opening display of the North-West Essex Collection in the Fry Art Gallery. The Collection now numbers well over 2000 items, including paintings, prints, ceramics, books, designs and many other objects produced by the diverse artists who have lived in and around the Essex village of Great Bardfield since the early 1930s.
From April until the end of October 2015 our main gallery displays works by the 'Bardfield Artists' in broadly chronological order, from the arrival of Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious around 1930, through wartime, the resettlement after the war, the growth in the community of artists, and the emergence in the 1950s of Great Bardfield as a significant centre for British art and design."
And the second, in the other main room, is:
"The Art of Acquisition, The Great Bardfield Artists' Houses.
July 25 - October 25th 2015
This exhibition captures the spirit of the Great Bardfield artists' houses, from the eye to the home. Wallpaper designs, rag rugs, needlework cushions, fabrics, watercolours and ceramics, as well as found treasures, creating an approach to the domestic interior which has informed generations ever since."
Possibly the best exhibitions I've seen there. If you go let me know and I'll meet you there. It's not far away.
Monday, October 5, 2015
Update: Project Sweet Pea
Five weeks ago, at the end of August (how is that 5 weeks already?) I showed you this. Wet sweet peas:
I'm often quite bad at updating you on things I publish. A bit like the BBC News service.
I was reminded of this yesterday afternoon when the noise of a two cock pheasant stand-off in the field drew my eye/camera back to the same scene. Sunny sweet peas:
We've just had the tenth day of glorious sunshine here. Low 20s by day, but getting much colder (down to about 4 or 5°C) at nights (and hence some mist in the early mornings, which has quickly cleared). The weather bods are saying that we've just had the most consecutive days of sunshine that we've had all summer. Summer in autumn, then.
So, here is what happened with the yarn project in the week after we got back from holiday.
The fleece cooling after dyeing (with the A4 printed-version of the original photo that I used to colour-match):
The separate colours, when dried. I know that my tedious days of learning to colour-mix in watercolour paint (years ago) are responsible for my ability to colour-match by mixing dyes with (so far) no errors at all.
Here is the fleece around the drum-carder drum that I use to blend the separate colours:
These are the finished batts (each one is about 40g):
And here is the finished yarn. I dyed somewhere around 600g of fleece, and this is about two thirds of it. Lovely and chunky.
Don't ask me what I'm going to make with it, because my reply to that question is always the same: look at it, stroke it, and love it. And I'm guessing that only a couple of you will understand that :)
This might be my next wooly project:
A grapevine at Hyde Hall, photo taken on a recent visit.
Sunday, October 4, 2015
As if Pigs' Tail Beans weren't enough, we've now got co-joined eggs.
Shared a white but not a yolk (as it was a double yolker).
Usually double yolkers don't have obvious join marks where the two eggs were merged into one as they were forming.
Saturday, October 3, 2015
It's a mystery
Our beans are still doing well.
We grow a few runner, but most are climbing French, because they are less stringy if they hide and get a bit old, and taste and freeze better.
We grow them up all sorts of Heath-Robinson structures, and even some in old galvanised buckets on the balcony (these ones have an auto-watering system to save time, effort, and water). Next year we're going to make a bean tunnel by planting either side of the gravel path and growing them up and over some sort of structure made from whatever wood, branches and home-grown bamboo is around.
We buy seed cheaply at the end of season (the germination is fine for several years), and also save some of our own. I suspect that some varieties have hybridised now. But, we have a mixture of yellow, black, and green pods, with seed colours ranging from brown, to black, white, and pink and white.
This year we've grown a few sweet peas (mixed colours) up each structure. They look pretty and provide nectar for insect pollinators. With half a million Buzzy Familars at Peak Bee (mid-summer), every bean flower gets pollinated almost before it is open.
Mr BW generally starts plants off in the polytunnel in modules and then plants out later. We've found this gives an earlier crop and the young plants suffer less from pigeon, rodent and slug damage. He plants them out quite randomly, so different colour beans grow alongside each other on the same structure. There are bean structures dotted around all areas of the vegetable garden.
What I can't understand is why all the pods (irrespective of variety) on one particular structure this year are curly, like pigs' tails, or growing back on themselves at right angles. Another similar struture just a couple of feet away has normal straight pods, as do all the others in other areas of the garden. They haven't been treated any differently, and the soil, added mulch (our own garden compost), sun, and water conditions are identical. And there are no signs at all of pests or disease.
Friday, October 2, 2015
There's always someone looking at you
Mr BW has been topiarizing a friend's hedge.
It's on a hedge end, on a main road (well, main for the rural north part of the county) and is intended as a talking point / marker for directing delivery drivers.
It's quite tall, as you can see from Mr BW alongside (he's 6' 3").
It's not really the right kind of hedge for topiary, but this is it after its second cut.
After the first cut the mouth was rather overly large, so it's still growing back. As it looked rather grumpy with just a partial cut, we decided to give it a strategically-placed piece of downpipe with an attached elbow-bend section (not plumber's terms, obviously!) to distract attention.
The nose is now quite three-dimensional from the side, but the photo doesn't capture that. The effect is currently better than this is certain lights too.
Apparently Friend BW is going to add a pointy hat in a couple of weeks.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Food for Thought
If there's a game to be played, especially with matters financial, I'll play it.
And so it is that I find myself wtih a purse overly-full with store 'reward' cards.
And so it is that my email inbox and my snailmail letterbox are full of utter rubbish.
The latest offering (in the snailmail post that has just been delivered - I don't know what the postie is up to, but this is the second time this week that the post has been delivered this late): the bimonthly vouchers from Pets at Home. I only ever buy items in there when I have a voucher(s), and I actually only ever go into the store to be amused by the things that some people will spend money on for their pets.
In their last newsletter they were trying to flog me toothpaste and toothbrushes for cats, and this time they're trying to flog me medications 'proven to help pets cope with fireworks'. Holy god (or should we now be saying 'holy allah?'), they are AMIMALS. Treat them as such and you won't need such first-world products.
Is it just me or has the world gone mad?
I go to the shops and they are full of clothes straight out of the 70s. I turn on the news and the politics is full of ideas and characters straight out of the 80s dressed in scruffy clothes that look as if they are original 70s items. (Aside - dear men of the world, if you must go tie-less when you are wearing a formal jacket or suit, please wear a shirt that is meant to be worn open-necked or you just look ridiculous/ underdressed/ like you left the house in a rush and forgot your tie / like you spilt your coffee or dinner down it and had to remove it).
As I've said before, I've now given up on the dumbed-downess (and lack of citing of source material) of the BBC News website (try loading the visuals on that when you have a 'broadband' connection that is around 1.5MB), but, at last, I think I've found a reasonably balanced source of news.
And no-one is more surprised than me that it comes from the US
As far as Eurpoean issues go, it appears to be unbiased journalism with balance, and it has embedded links to external/original sources to read if one wants further information.
Plus, if one goes back to a story one has read a couple of days previously, at the bottom of the page it links all updated items on the story (I do find that in the UK often one never hears the end of what were yesterday's red-hot news stories).
Perhaps a US reader could tell me how it is viewed over there, and whether, from the viewpoint of US stories, it's as good as it seems?
Here are a few recent stories so that you can judge for yourselves:
And a summary of the Syrian 'refuge crisis' (and read the updates at the end of the page).
What do you think?
Monday, September 28, 2015
We've been as busy as our buzzy friends
Not sure what type of pollen this is, or where it's coming from, but they're madly collecting it on this beautiful September day. I'm amazed that they can still fly with the pollen baskets on their legs so full! This one seems to be collecting water too, before going back into her hive.
Where has the time gone?
It's now three weeks since we came back from Turkey and, aside from a couple of journeys around the M25 (once to the Wisley Flower Show, once to the Handmade Fair - both of whcih we got into for free), lots of harvesting and freezing (the freezer is now completely full), jarring (we've run out of jars and the cupboard for jams and chutneys is overly full), and drying (not even any more room for the ice-cube size portions of liquidised oven-dried tomatoes), tidying up the garden, sorting out the b33s, an emergency dentist visit for each of us (damage nearly £1,000), an optician visit for me (damage nearly £500), and a few meetings about things of local concern (of which there an increasing number), there's been little time for anything else.
I've been disenchanted with almost every bit of technology we own recently. Hence why I haven't been at the computer. Except my camera, which, for a tiny piece of cheapish kit takes amazing images.
I'll post some pics of last night's total supermoon lunar eclipse soon. I'm a bit tired today because I spent over three hours wrapped in fleece blankets and patchwork quilts, watching it, from my 'observatory' in the utility room, in the early hours - quite accidentally, as I only half-heard something about it on the radio yesterday, and I happened to need a bathroom visit at the perfect time to see it starting.
What have you all been up to?