Nath Knits

and should probably be doing something else.


Doodling – Day six-and-a-half-months-ish

Good weather for rainbows lately. From Lesnes Abbey

Hello from rainy London.  Because people have been asking: luckily, we haven’t been affected by the terrible weather and flooding in the southwest of England.   It has been rainy (so much rain) and windy, though, but nothing near as bad as what’s happening there.  Hopefully the rain will let up soon so that Somerset and Devon can catch their breath and start repairs.

Ruins of Lesnes Abbey, in Abbey Wood

We’ve taken it easy, tourism-wise, lately.  Just short trips around the city for museums and monuments.  My favourite was Lesnes Abbey (decommissioned by Cardinal Wolsey during Henry VIII’s reign, so that he (the Cardinal) could siphon the money from selling off the land into his new college at Oxford.  Which is topical, because I’m finally getting around to watching the fourth season of The Tudors, which, of course, required me to re-watch the first three seasons again.)

Soggy crocus that would open if it could just be sunny for more than 5 minutes at a time.

I’m in a concert this weekend, so it’ll be a good week of singing (Women of the Blackheath Choir, with the Lambeth Symphony Orchestra.  We’re doing Debussy’s Sirènes and Berlioz’ La mort d’Ophélie, if you want to come.) Speaking of singing, the choir I’m in has a workshop day every year on a Saturday in February.  There are two singing workshops in the afternoon, followed by a potluck dinner and ‘party pieces’.  The point is to branch out a little from the usual classical oratorio stuff.  One workshop was by the leader of a pop choir, which was ok, but the other was by a man who’s been studying and performing Balinese gamelan music for years. It was basically a couple of hours of this (well, a lot slower…).  So much fun!  The evening was good too – several choristers performed short pieces, and, probably coincidentally, none of that was classical either.  And I learned that it’s not only in schools that custard is used as a dessert gravy – just another reason to love this country!

I finished knitting a sweater

Badly in need of blocking. Which will happen if the dampness ever lets up. Did I mention it’s damp?

That’s the Striper Cardigan, by Amy Herzog, and the yarn is Rowan Pure Wool DK and Felted Tweed.  I added bust darts, as usual.  I’ll block it someday.

I’ve been doodling.  Well, knitting doodling.  I’ve accumulated a lot of leftovers, so I decided to make a Sabbatical Leftovers Souvenir Blanket (to replace the Leftovers Afghan of Love that I gave Mr.  Thingo years (and year) ago when he left for Seattle to become Dr. Thingo that is very much looking its age).  I figure knitted up yarn packs up better than a zillion little balls.  I made a template square in garter stitch, and I’ve been doodling while watching the aforementioned Tudors.  Garter stitch is good for this because two rows equals one stitch, so it’s easy to get all geometrical.

Template square

And I spun some.  This is some two-ply, undyed BFL, woolen-ish spun.  I think it’ll become a small-ish this.

Things sound ramp up, tourism-wise, in the spring.  Craig’s been asked to give a talk in Granada in May, so we’re all tagging along.  He’s giving another one in Bath at some point, so we’ll tag along for that too.  He’s also been asked to give one in Germany, but I think we’ll have to miss out on that one, unfortunately.  We’re swapping houses in May with the Orchard family, so we’ll see some Bristol/Cardiff goodness.  I’d like to head down to Dover and Brighton at some point (my Country Walks book has a great 20 km walk that includes a dip in the ocean that the kids are psyched about!).  And we should head up to Salisbury too.  And Cambridge!  And it’s already time to start thinking about getting back home!  I’ve registered the kids for school (at least, I think I have – I need to call the schools today to make sure the packages made it).  I’ve updated my resume after more than a decade of not doing so (hire me!).  I’m looking at my pantry in dismay (time for Eat Down the Pantry 2014!).

Remember to comment on my previous post by March 1 to win the cross-stitched message of your choice!







Halfway Contest – Day Six-months-and-a-bit

Happy Groundhog Day!

Not a groundhog, but the world’s neediest cat, enjoying a rare sunbeam. I’m kind of in love with her, and will miss her when we go.

It’s a sunny day in London, so, six more weeks of winter for us.  Though they don’t have groundhogs here, I don’t think.  I wonder if maybe they should use a badger.  Six more weeks of dampness and rain.  I’d say it was a dumb way to predict the weather, but given how changeable the weather is here, it seems as good a system as any.  Anyway.  Happy halfway mark between the solstice and the equinox!

I promised you this post a week ago.  Sorry about the delay.

So, cross-stitching.  Given my general dislike for hand-sewing, I’m surprised that I like cross-stitch as much as I do.  It’s painting, with thread, for the artistically challenged who like their pictures all pixelly.  Like paint-by-numbers, only less messy, and with the ability to fix your mistakes if you make them.  I got back into it after I discovered Julie’s work through Dr. Thingo*, who asked me to make one for his office.  Then another friend had me make one for his home (scroll down further in the same post).  And I made bookmarks for the kids (even further).  Another friend, while her awesome home office was being built, suggested, half-joking, that I should make her one labeled ‘Carrie’s folly’.  I never took a picture of it, but you can see it in action (as it were) here.  Dr. Thingo requested another one for his office (ever get the feeling that he gets a little stressed out at work?).  This is what we settled on:

Sorry about the wrinkles. But it’s coming back to Canada and getting framed there and will be packed in a suitcase and schlepped around, so there’s no point in ironing it now.

I love the combination of what was intended to be a wedding sampler, with roses and hearts and the initials of the newlyweds and the date of their special day, but with a less than loving message in it.  It tickles my inner 12-year-old (who doesn’t lurk very far beneath the surface, I’ll admit).  Dr. Thingo had initially wanted flames, befitting the message, but I like the irony of this one better.

I love working on these.  I like starting with a blank canvas and slowly seeing the thing take shape.  I have an idea that I’ll make a super-complicated food themed still life for the kitchen someday (haven’t found a pattern I like yet).  Thing is, there’s only so much cross-stitch a person needs in their home so I can’t just keep churning these out.  So…

… do you want one?  Is there a message you’d like cross-stitched?  Do you have a friend who’s currently undergoing medical treatment and you’d like them to know you’re thinking of them (warning, contains profanity)? Want to send a message to your coworkers that you’re not taking any more requests (‘NO’ in big letters on a background of lilies?).  Feeling misanthropic? Or fatalistic?  It doesn’t need to be rude, even.  You could be patriotic.  Or zen.  Or frisky.  Or lovestruck.  Or poetic.  Or all of the above.  Whatever you like.  Leave a comment on this post by March 1, telling me what message you’d like cross-stitched. I’ll pick a name from the list via random number generator and the winner and I will come up with a design together.  I promise to deliver by the end of 2014.  I have no issues with profanity (and be warned, if you are not a fan, that people may put some in the comments), but I reserve the right to veto (ie. no name-calling, hate speech, sexism (in either direction), or love letters for Rob Ford, please).  We can make it work!  Go nuts!

Also, happy Year of the Horse!

* Yes, Dr. Thingo has started a blog,(well, started anew, after abandoning another blog after many years of not posting**) about the adventures of his rocket cup.  Go see!  He made a logo and everything!

** No, it’s not blank.  But the letters have faded to white.  He built in a Stagnometer ™, which slowly faded the text away, to shame himself into posting more often.  As you can see, it was a raging success.  If you really want, you can see the text by highlighting it, or go visit the archives, once you figure out where the link is on the page.


UK vs. Canada – Halfway mark showdown – Day 186*

We landed in the UK six months ago today, which means we’re about halfway through.  In honour of this momentous event, I give you my random, London-centric, completely subjective, statistically invalid, probably unfair, and utterly meaningless decisions on who wins between Canada and the UK.  As George Carlin said, about something totally unrelated, “These are my rules; I make ’em up.”

Winter: Canada

Central heating and insulation, ventilation in houses:  Canada

Public transit: UK (inexpensive, extensive, and frequent)

Current: UK (240V current means the kettle boils my coffee water in less than a minute!  Though it also means that if you stick a fork in the socket, it will actually kill you.  Which is probably why the sockets all have off switches)

Wall sockets that look like faces: Canada.  Compare and contrast

Crisp/chip flavours: UK (I’ve had:  prawn cocktail, onion and cheese, worcester sauce, roast beef and horseradish, haggis, roast chicken, sausage and mustard, and others I can’t remember.  None of them were bad, though some were better than others)

Chip/fries: UK, if purchased from a chippy – I don’t know what they fry them in, but, damn!

Ridiculousness of bureaucracy: UK

Ease with which one can get a family doctor: UK

Food packaging: Canada

Labels indicating provenance of produce (and some dry goods): UK

Tea: UK (you might think this is a no-brainer, but I wasn’t much of a black tea drinker until I got here.  I ordered tea while I was out, on a whim (and because I didn’t have the £2.50 required to buy a decent cup of coffee around here on my person).  It was a revelation – it comes with milk here by default, and they kind of swish and squish the tea bag around in the hot milky water for about a minute before they take it out, when they decide the milk is the right colour.  Who knew I’d be a fan of weak milky tea?  But there you go!  Now I have it every day at home.  Which would be fine if I had cut my coffee consumption accordingly.  My blood pressure should be good and high by the time I get back)

Postal service: UK (again, inexpensive and frequent)

Mayors with unfortunate haircuts: UK

Mayors with unfortunate personal lives: Canada

Number of cyclists: Canada – I was surprised.  Then again, public transit here is pretty good.

Cured and/or smoked pork products: UK. I should do a blog post on this.

Access to haggis in January: UK

Access to black pudding anytime: UK

Coffee: Canada.

Dairy products: UK

Musical notation: Canada (Ok, this one’s a personal thing:  I first learned music notation in French (ronde, blanche, noire, croche, double-croche, etc).  Then I learned it in English in university (whole note, half note, quarter note, eighth note, etc).  Here, despite the fact that they speak English too, it’s totally different (semi-breve, minim, crotchet, quaver, etc).  And crotchet sounds like croche.  It’s messing me up.   Also, why is it a semi-breve when you hardly see breves anywhere.  And what’s a breve called in North-America, anyway?)

Choral pronunciation of Latin: Canada.  But only because I laughed at a choir rehearsal here when the director was telling the choir to please stop pronouncing ‘Hosanna in excelsis’ as hosanna-r-in excelsis.  And also because she keeps telling us to stop sounding like we’re Alan Rickman.  I’m sure my Canadian pronunciation of everything is equally hilarious to them.

Public radio: Canada

Public television: UK

Netflix: Canada (and that’s saying something…)

Cell phone plans: UK

Casual use of the word ‘fuck’ (in all parts of speech) in conversation: UK

Fences around city lots: UK – they love their fences.  Parks have fences around them.  And within them.  It is unheard of for yards not to be fenced.  It is impossible to walk through, say, an apartment building parking lot as a shortcut, because it, or the property it’s on, is fenced in.  In a city where the roads are not in a nice, tidy grid, this can make walking annoying.  By contrast, the countryside has rights-of-way everywhere, dating back hundreds of years, through which the public can walk, and even pet the cows, if one is so inclined and feeling adventurous.

Flowers blooming in winter:  UK.  This might be unfair, given my comment on the superiority of winters in Canada above, but the fact that the fuschias haven’t stopped blooming since July is pretty good consolation for the dreariness of the weather.  My rules; I make ’em up.

Museums: UK

Progress regarding gender stereotyping: Canada.

School year: UK – Only five weeks in the summer, but another seven weeks throughout the year. (In contrast with Canada, which has 9 weeks in the summer, and another three throughout the year.  Same number of weeks, different distribution).  This seems better for keeping the momentum going.  Though I don’t know if it’s easier or harder to find care for your kids that often if both parents are working full-time outside the home.

Overall attitude towards healthy eating: Canada

Ability to buy alcohol: UK (why Canada (except Québec) still has such ridiculous laws around alcohol sales, I do not understand)

Littering: UK

Acceptance and adherence to public recycling and composting programs: Canada

Currency: Canada, but only because they finally dropped the penny.  However, I like that the bills here are different sizes.  And!  It turns out that Scotland prints its own money, which is interchangeable with British currency, but prints the heads of people other than the queen on it.

Parliament Buildings: UK

Mountains: Canada

Enforcement of poop-and-scoop laws: Canada

Kids’ literature and magazines: Canada

Diversity of junk food: UK

Public libraries: Canada

Fish: UK

People knitting in public: Canada

Sunshine: Canada

Number of people with donut buns: UK

Ok.  That’s enough for today.  Thanks for indulging me.  Any requests?

* Day numbers were recalculated and I found I had been wrong in my previous posts.  At some point, like when your children get too old to refer to their ages in months, I should just change to a different unit


Three months of knitting. You have been warned. – Day 182

Bear with me.  This is long and picture-intensive.  Sorry!

I’ve been a monogamous knitter.  Weird, right?  But it’s true.  Lack of a sizeable stash means I can’t start anything on a whim.  So I’ve been working on one project at a time. Which, strangely enough, makes things feel like they get done very quickly, since that’s all I work on while I’m working on it.  If that makes any sense.

Block party on the faux-peruvian rug on my bedroom floor.

I briefly ventured into double knitting (in case you don’t know, double-knitting in this context is knitting a double-thickness, reversible fabric, usually using two colours of yarn, and usually creating a negative image on the wrong side.  Usually.).  I bought the electronic version of Alasdair Post-Quinn’s brilliant book a while ago.  I kept meaning to try out a few patterns, and never got around to it.  Not being bogged down by other knitting, I thought I’d give it a go and start small and made myself some pot holders.  The swirly one is one of the designs out of his book, and the coffee cup is a design Dr. Thingo pixelified (pixellated?  pixelificated?) for me.  They were fine, and work pretty well (better than the ratty oven mitts that came with the house).  You have to enjoy knitting ribbing, because that’s basically all you do.  Post-Quinn also ventures into 3-colour double-knitting, which makes me want to tear out my hair – he makes no mention of how he manages the third strand while working on the other two.  I thought I’d knit my Dad a double-knitted hat for Christmas but gave up, both because I wouldn’t have enough yarn, and because it was making me stabby.  I would like to spend some more time on this – it’s interesting, and after 30+ years of knitting, it’s nice to find something that offers a challenge, even if it does cause me to invent new cuss words.

The yarn is, surprisingly, Patons. At home, it’d be called Classic Wool, I think. I don’t remember what the label said here. So much for only buying yarns from the UK while I’m here…

There was a sweater!  The only hardcopy book I brought with me was Knit to Flatter, by Amy Herzog.  I like her aesthetic, and I figured it would keep me busy while I’m here.  This is the first sweater – the Draper Cardigan.  I made it to wear around the house, because I was chilly, despite the fact that there hasn’t been any time since we arrived where the air temperature dropped below 2 degrees (it’s the damp!!).  I made the sleeves short, so I wouldn’t have to pull them up when I’m cooking. I deepened the bust darts to accommodate my bosom, and tacked down the collar at the back to keep it in place (this is why you should block your knitting, people!).  Yarn: Sock Yarn. It has modal in it, instead of nylon, which is nice. The store is a 30 minute walk from my house, but she’s only open Thursday to Saturday.

Not sure why I look so annoyed.  Maybe because it was the zillionth attempt at a decent picture using the shutter timer.

I was part of a knitting-themed swap in November, for which I crocheted some snowflakes.  I really liked making these – and I have a bunch of thread left, so I may as well finish it off.

I also sent some yarn I spun out of blue fibre from an experimental process I was trying out.  I wanted to make woolen yarn out of sliver.  I remember reading this technique in Interweave Spin Magazine years ago – you basically tear off about a fibre’s length of top at a time, attenuate it a little, and then roll it, crosswise, in a pencil, to make tight rolags, from which to spin.  I can’t find a link to the article anywhere, so maybe I dreamed it up.  Anyway.  I layered different shades of blue, to make a variegated-type yarn.  It worked fairly well, though the punis were a little too tight.  I got some more fibre (in yellows this time) to make more which I will knit with, to see if this technique makes it fluffy enough.

After realising I hadn’t brought mittens with me, I made myself some mittens out of leftover Draper Cardigan yarn.  The pattern was inspired by snowman mittens I saw on Ravelry.  They really should have eyes and a mouth and buttons embroidered on, but, who are we kidding, that’ll never happen.

Already all pilly from being squished into my coat pockets.

Then, it occurred to me that I should knit my parents some Christmas stuff.  I had already made my Step-Dad a hat, which just needed eyes. I feel bad – this is a hat I actually knit him for last winter, but that I never finished.  John, I owe you another hat for this year!  Yarn: Cascade 220.

I decided my mom should have the wrap I’d been working on, from wool I got at the GLYC in September (Pattern: Nefertiti Wrap, by Miriam Felton.  Yarn: Fyberspates  Scrumptious Lace.  The colour’s name is Treacle Toffee, and that’s exactly what it looks like).  I love how it turned out – the yarn was lovely, and the pattern was great, though I did mess up somewhere in the middle and had to undo about 10 cm.  More new cuss words.

Out of yarn I received from my swap partner in the swap mentioned above, I made a scarf for my Step-Mom.  Pattern: 22 Little Clouds, by Martina Behm. Yarn: Squeaky Elliot Yarns Squeaky Sock.

Dad got a hat that was not double-knit, in the end.  Pattern: DROPS Colorado Hat  Yarn: Rowan Pure Wool DK

A lot of stuff had been lingering as a result of me not having blocking wires.  I borrowed some from Allison, who was kind enough to lend me hers, and blocked a pile of stuff at once, which resulted in my gift scarf getting finished (for the lady whose flat we stayed in while in Paris), the cowl I made out of handspun in October also getting finished, and the shawl for my mom being made presentable (anybody who’s knit any lace will know that it looks pretty much like a pile of ramen noodles before you block it.)

Pattern: Rill Scarf, by Miriam Felton. Yarn: Yarns Plus 2/10 Hand-Painted Tencel

Pattern: Burnished Leaves, by Chrissy Prange. Yarn: Hand-spun by me. I haven’t worn this yet because it isn’t cold enough here.

I finally sewed on the lace trim for my Paris Souvenir Shawl.  It doesn’t have its own picture for some reason, but that’s it, at the bottom of the Finished Objects pile after my blocking blitz.  Pattern: Grande écharpe Volvic, by La Droguerie, Yarn: provided in the kit by La Droguerie  It’s a strand of mohair with a strand of something glitzy.  It’s super-light, and very soft)

I made a skirt!  It even looks good!  I’ve been meaning to make one of these for years, and was spurred on after I saw a conversation on facebook between two friends of mine (one friend offered to make one for the other.  I should check to see if that ever happened).  I modified the pattern to make it seamless (basically, I calculated how long the diagonal needed to be for a certain length, and proceeded from there). It needs elastic band in the waist, but I did manage to wear it for the greater part of a day, including caroling in public, and I didn’t suffer any wardrobe malfunctions, so it’s likely the elastic ribbon I bought is going to come back to Canada with me, unused.  Pattern: Lanesplitter Skirt by Tina Whitmore.  Yarn: Schoppel-Wolle Zauberball Stärke 6.

I have had the following in my Ravelry queue for years – it’s the Selbu Modern pattern, by Kate Gagnon Osborn.  I had lots more Draper cardigan yarn leftovers, and some green yarn from the hat/scarf combo I brought to work on during the flight out of Canada.  I’m surprised how well the two yarns worked together.  I loved working on this pattern.  Both because the red perfectly matches her coat, and because she’s much cuter than I am, it ended up going to Zebula.  There was still Draper yarn left over, so I made her some mittens to go with it – with the colours reversed because I didn’t have enough green.  No pictures, though.  Just imagine a weirdly shaped mitten, green on red.

I made an Edinburgh souvenir scarf, out of yarn I bought there (at Kathy’s Knits – the store is very nice, with a good selection of Scottish yarn and fiber, and the owner was great with the kids.  I got a skein of yarn and a bag of tweedy fluff which will eventually be spun into some yarn).  Pattern: Lintilla, by Martina Behm (can I just say, I love her patterns!  She’s the queen of interesting garter stitch!)  Yarn: Yarn Pony Big Mustang 600 (the dyer lives in Edinburgh).

I like how it sits.

And, people, I got knitted out!  I stopped for a while, to work on a cross-stitch project, which will get its own post.  But I needed a break, and to plan what to do with the odds and ends that are slowly piling up (ugly afghan?  More hats?).

I have since started a new sweater, which is coming along nicely.  But.  I can NOT buy any more yarn until I have used up what I have on-hand.  All of it.  Because…  tomorrow, we will have left Canada six months ago.  Time to start paring things down again.  Eat Down the Pantry 2014 will be starting soon!  We’re halfway!  More or less.  So, there will be a special UK vs. Canada showdown post tomorrow (ish).  And a cross-stitch + contest post on Friday!  Stay tuned!!


Edinburgh – Day 175

Looking out to the Firth of Forth.  I wonder, whenever I’m in a city where there are beautiful views, whether the people who live there ever take them for granted.

It’s drizzly today, though it was gloriously sunny this morning.  The weather office is threatening ‘arctic weather’ but the forecast doesn’t show any lows below 4C for the next five days.  I’m not sure what to think.  They keep threatening snow.  The kids have been prompted to please check the school website every day in case of closures.  Meanwhile, our corner of Canada has been slammed by weather that can only be described as ‘bat-shit crazy’.

Edinburgh roofscape from the Camera Obscura

Anyway, Edinburgh!  We really went!  I loved it!

The ferris wheel in the Christmas Market. The pointy thing is the monument to Sir Walter Scott.

The trip there was annoying.  We set out on December 27.  The trip was originally supposed to be London to Carlisle, then Carlisle to Edinburgh.  There had been some bad weather the previous day, resulting in obstructions on the tracks, and the continuing windy conditions had resulted in a 4o mph speed limit for the trains (that’s about 64 km/h.  Which is pretty unimpressive) in the north of England.   The end result (which involved train changes, queues, and waiting) was that our 5 hour trip took 9.5.   But at least we got there!

Edinburgh Castle. Only one 12th century building remains – the rest is 16th century or newer. Never taken by force, but once by stealth by 30 guys who climbed up the northern side, which, when you see the cliff it’s on, is pretty impressive.

Statue of David Hume, by Alexander Stoddart (1996). The toe is worn shiny by many many students who supposedly come to rub his toe in order to absorb his great knowledge. Which is funny for a statue of a guy who was critical of superstitious beliefs. Though apparently the sculptor extended his toe beyond the plinth on purpose, for that very reason.

Edinburgh is very old (Old Town dates from the 12th century, and New Town from the 18th), and an important cultural centre.  Between the Fringe Festival in the summer (was it the first?), Hogmanay (New Year) in the winter and the fact that it’s a university town, the feeling here is of cultural quirkiness, but with a backdrop of super-old architecture.  I loved it!

We rented a flat for the three nights we stayed there (I love Air BnB!), which was in Leith, just north of Edinburgh proper, right on the Water of Leith.  We were lucky that the two full days we spent there were sunny, so we did a lot of walking.

Allotments between Leith and New Town

Most of our exploring was along the Royal Mile, which goes between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood House (where the Queen lives when she comes to town).  The mile is as you’d expect, crammed with alternating cashmere stores and whiskey shops (with about three times more of the former than the latter).  We walked along the shore of the Firth of Forth, and walked down on a great walking path (part of the National Cycle Network) through New Town to Old Town.

We visited Edinburgh Castle, St. Giles’ Cathedral, and the Scottish National Museum (which is excellent – go there if you go to Edinburgh).  We went to the Camera Obscura, which is basically a large pinhole camera, built in the 1850s that has a view of the city.  Unfortunately, it was already too dark when we got there to use the Camera Obscura, but the rest of the exhibit was an array of optical illusions and visual tricks that was a lot of fun to visit.

Photo I snuck of in St. Giles Cathedral. We were lucky – when we went in, there was a choir rehearsing a really cool arrangement of The Holly and the Ivy. They were good!

Since we were in a flat, we ate most of our meals at home, but we did manage dinner on the first night at a so-so Italian restaurant (it was close, and we were hungry after many trains and lots of queueing).  We had lunch the next day at a fantastic coffee shop type place called Earthy that we stumbled upon after our walk to the shore and back, where I had the most delicious stout ever (Cauld Reekie, it was called).  The food was delicious.  Vorlon actually voluntarily ate all his salad.  That’s how good the place was.  We also ate at a pie shop, where, to my delight, my pie, which I picked at random, had a blob of haggis on top.  Win!  The kids were pretty happy with that place too.  Oh!  And I had an Irn-Bru.  I don’t recommend it – it tastes of Cream Soda (there’s a caffeine warning for children on the can.  I honestly think the cloying sweetness is a higher cause for concern).  Dr. Thingo, of course, found us some excellent espresso everywhere.  We didn’t drink any scotch at all, which seems dumb in hindsight, but scotch is easy to come by in London.

The inevitable, but kinda disgusting, deep-fried Mars bar.

The fact that we were there just before Hogmanay meant the city was buzzing.  Apparently, the party on New Year’s Eve is huge!  I would love to go back.  But we also want to possibly go to Glasgow.  Maybe even farther north, though we’re definitely going to wait for spring if we go back.  With the sun rising at 8:15 and setting at 15:15, it felt like sunset all day!

The Royal Mile. It is possible you might find some wool tartan here. Maybe.

(for the picture-hungry, all the pictures are here)


Happy new year! – Day five-months-and-a-bit

This is blooming in my back yard, as I type. I’m guessing it’s some kind of cherry.

It’s only been the new year for 10 days.  I’m the worst blogger ever.

The kids are back at school this week, after a fortnight break.  Plus one PD day on Monday (or, as they call them here, an Inset Day).  That extra day, for some reason, made the break seem really long.  Anyway, it was a good break, with periods of intense doing-nothing-ness punctuated with periods of intense-doing-cool-stuff and periods of intense-eating-too-much-butter.

What a bunch of freaks.

Christmas was quiet.  It was just us, though we did manage a few Skype/Facetime sessions with family back in Ottawa and Montreal.  We took a walk to the park (it was a pretty nice day).  Listened to the Queen’s speech.  Watched Doctor Who (is it me, or did that episode make no damn sense??).  Oh, and what I’m hoping will become a yearly tradition, there was the hanging of the Christmas Sweatpants on the mantel.

Note the tacky-yet-endearing fibre-optic tree that came with the house.

I didn’t have the presence of mind to bring stockings with us, and I wasn’t going to buy any, so Craig had the great idea of using a pair of way-too-large sweatpants that I had gotten earlier in the month from a well-meaning relative and knotting the bottoms.  It was surprisingly effective.

Highlights from the break include a trip to Edinburgh (which will get its own post. Hopefully before I forget what we did), a trip to Oxford to meet the Orchard family, (note my use of the Oxford comma just now, in honour of our trip, and because it’s just better, dammit) and a trip on the Emirates Airline cable car, whose actual usefulness is up for debate.  Also, museums, four performances of Treasure Island in one weekend for Zebula, and lots of knitting (also in its own post.  Promises, promises)

Complement to a equivalent picture Tricia posted.  Great photobomb!

Meeting the Orchards in Oxford was fun, both because they’re lovely people, and because the city itself is wonderful.  I’d love to go back and spend more time there.  We met for lunch, and then quickly saw Christ Church, including the cathedral and the Great Hall.  We also visited a tiny fraction of the Ashmolean Museum (which wins for best museum name) before it was time to go.  Oxford is a fairly short (an hour’s train ride from London) distance away, so we’ll probably go back.

I can’t help but feel I might have done better in University if this is where I ate every day.

Another shot of an impressive ceiling.

The last photobomb was cuter.

Old graffiti. This was nailed into a door at Christ Church to protest then Prime Minister Robert Peel in the 1840s. I was kind of hoping for a better story.

Is it me, or does this building look like it’s leaning forward?

The Emirates Airlines cable was something the kids had been wanting to do for a while.  The cable itself was planned by the Transport for London, but underwritten in large part by Emirates Airlines.  Its existence is a mystery.  There’s some information about it here, if you’re curious. But basically, it just seems to be there to show off.  There are only 4 regular commuters that use it.  It’s cool for tourists, but it doesn’t really take you anywhere that interesting.  And, of course, its construction went over budget.  Anyway, since the best part of taking the cable cars is getting a good view of the city, I kept waiting for a sunny day to do it, which is optimistic around here this time of year.  The day started out sunny, but it got cloudy and windier as our trip across happened.  Being 90 m above the Thames on a cable made me a little nervous, but the view was great, and the kids loved it.

The O2 centre on the left, and the Docklands. You can see the Gherkin around the upper left if you squint.

So high! Note the complete absence of passengers in the car we’re about to cross. I think, while we were airborne, that there were maybe 8 people traveling, total.

I started work at my volunteer job this week.  I work at the Queen’s House.  It was a good first day, and I got to talk to quite a few people even though, since it was the first Wednesday after Christmas Break, it was pretty quiet.  My favourite was a retired taxi driver who was finally getting around to visiting the London landmarks he’d driven people to for years but never managed to visit himself.  I’m looking forward to next week.  Also, there’s a lady in my choir who started this project and asked me if I’d like to volunteer with data entry.  So I should be doing that one day a week as well, starting in the next couple of weeks.

While the weather has been pleasant here (highs between 7 and 12 degrees), I miss winter in Canada.  And they’re having a doozy this year!  We’re expecting ‘arctic winds’ here in the next week.  We might even have a hard frost!!

I can’t believe I only noticed this yesterday, since I go to Trafalgar Square fairly often. But it’s the Canadian Embassy! In the same block as the Serious Fraud Agency.  Make your own conclusions.

Next up, Edinburgh!  (Seriously, if I don’t post anything in the next couple of days, send me scathing emails and comments of protest!)

(More pictures than common sense here (for December) and here (for January))


An Atheist in England during Christmas – Day 153

Leicester Square

Happy Solstice, everybody!  The sun rose here at 8:04 and will set at 15:53.  It all gets better from here! It’ll be nice to be heading towards the summer, with 16 + hours of daylight vs. the 8-ish we’re getting right now.

Not too many pictures to contribute today – I haven’t taken many, and there aren’t very many Christmassy ones on my camera.  So, I apologize, you’ll be getting mostly crappy phone pictures, taken for a friend back home who asked for lots of BBMs with pictures of Christmassy London.

At the V&A. I love this museum!

The kids are off school until January 7th – there’s a PD day on the Monday immediately after the two-week Christmas break (or, rather, an Inset Day, as they’re called here).   They’ve worked hard and have settled into the school system nicely.  The break is most welcome, both for them and for me.  We’re going to be taking a short trip to Edinburgh after Christmas.  I’m hoping for snow, though that doesn’t seem likely at this point.  I’ve heard they’ve had a lot of snow in Waterloo, back home, which makes me a little homesick.

Giant menorah and even gianter tree in Trafalgar Square.

Christmas is a big deal in Britain.  There are no holidays except for Bonfire Night all fall – there haven’t been any statutory holidays (ie. days off) since the Bank Holiday on the last weekend in August (no Labour Day and no Thanksgiving here).   Also, there being no pretense of a separation of Church and State here (the Queen is the head of the Church of England, after all), there’s no reason to hold back.  My children, enrolled in a public school, have gone to a Christmas service as part of the school day last week.  Vorlon was invited to go sing carols at a nursing home.  Zebula was invited to be part of the recorder ensemble playing at a carol service, which I attended with Vorlon, making it the first Christmas service I’ve attended since probably the mid-80’s.  Though calling it a service in this case is pretty loose – the word “god”, outside of the carols we sang, was mentioned exactly once, during the blessing the rector gave at the end.  Christmas is everywhere in school, especially for the last week, where they didn’t really do much of anything academic, and instead had parties and crafts and singing.

My own relationship with Christmas has changed a lot over the years.  My background is Roman Catholic.  Dr. Thingo’s is Jewish. We’re both atheists, and the kids re getting a very secular upbringing.  My family went to Christmas services until I was in my early teens.  Our approach to Christmas is still evolving, especially now that we have kids.  Now, I think of it more like this (thanks, Ruth, for posting this on Facebook!!) – a time during the darkest days of the year for hanging out with loved ones, eating delicious things, and taking a break from the regular day-to-day routine.  I’m not terribly comfortable with the pervasiveness of the commercialism of Christmas at home, and the pressures we are under to make the season ‘magical’ somehow, and the assumption that this is something everybody celebrates.

Leicester Square

So I’m surprised by my own reaction to how omnipresent Christmas is here:  I kind of like it.  It could be that, due to the lack of commercial television and radio, I’m not getting a whole lot of pressure to buy, buy, buy, though the same is true at home.  It could be the upcoming Doctor Who, QI, and Downton Abbey specials.  It could be that I think mulled wine and mince pie are two of the most delicious things I’ve ever had, especially when consumed together.  It could be that they love caroling here, both for its own sake and for charity (I have gone twice for charity, and twice as just a performance, with two different groups.  People were generous!  In one case, we were in a subway station in the busy business district of Canary Wharf, during rush hour.  Even though people were rushing to get home, a large number of them gave some change and/or stopped to listen!  I would have gone a third time, but I have a cold, and I’m all squeaky).  It could be because I’m just here as a tourist, and I know I won’t have to deal with it year after year and can just experience it as part of the adventure.  I would have been shocked and upset if the kids had been made to attend a Christian (or any other kind) of service as part of their school day in Waterloo.  But it’s just what they do here, and you can opt out.  Easily half the children in the kids’ school are not white, with a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, many of them non-Christian.  And the kids have Religious Education classes, but those seem more like a survey of world religions than the indoctrination-type classes I had as a kid, which seems like a good idea.

It could just be that I’m just mellowing out in my old age.

St. Margaret’s Church, setting up risers for the concert. I did help! But I took the picture first.

It’s been a busy December.  Our weekends have been taken up with performance.  In my case, I had a performance the first Sunday in December, in the beautiful church above.  I had auditioned for one of the solos in the Kodaly mass we sang, and was asked to do it, much to my surprise.  I managed to pull it off, without making a fool of myself, and the choir was great.  Zebula has had two performances every Saturday since December 7, and two more tomorrow – I expect she’ll sleep in until noon on Monday*.

Whatever you celebrate, or don’t, I hope you have a beautiful and cozy couple of weeks.  Enjoy the return of the light!

That’s a rose, blooming in December, in front of a Christmas tree.

* Grandparents, there was no photography allowed during the performance, so I have nothing to show you from Zebula’s performances.  Sorry!  The performance was really good, though!  There was a photographer during the dress rehearsal, so maybe there’s a shot somewhere with Zebula in it.  Other pictures for December, if you’re interested, can be found here.