Saturday, 31 January 2009


It seems there is no limit to the new ways you can waste, ahem I mean spend, time online. I'm slowly getting to grips with Twitter and pleasantly surprised at the gems it's been throwing my way, from great blogs, to funny videos and daft news stories. My latest discovery is

As the more technologically savvy of you probably already know, blip is a bit like You Tube in that you can post video online, but is where you can create your own radio station. You 'blip' a song - a bit like a Twitter update really - and others can listen to your station, and add your blips to their playlist and you can do likewise with the other people - what would the word be, exactly? Blipping? God the internet revels in infantile language -anyway, where was I? Right, so you play your favourite music, and listen to others. Which is perfect for me as regular radio stations end up annoying the crap out of me - I hate the adverts, the inane chat from mindless djs, the completely unfunny pranks/jokes/studio banter, and the endlessly repeated playlist of about 10 tracks.

So, from the rolling blips on my screen I'm already sampling a load of bands I've never heard of and being reminded of some forgotten classics. Nice.

You'll find yet another icon on the righthand side of this blog for you to click through to hidden treasures. Don't say I don't give you a few new ways to kill some time on your coffee break.

I know, I know. I need to get out more...

The knitting continues apace, just nothing I can show you yet. Bear with me.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009


I'm sure I can't be alone in remembering a book we read in my kindergarten class when I was about four years old - The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark. Brilliant, brilliant book.

So I was thrilled to learn that my childhood love of a nyctophobic baby barn owl called Plop can now be put into my knitting, thanks to Kate Davies and her fabulous Owls jumper. It seems there are also plans afoot to create a knit kit for a children's version, which would just be too cute, especially as you could give it with a copy of the book.

Only one problem. Yet another project in my queue....

Monday, 26 January 2009

Thin End of the Wedge

I should warn you now, this post will have nothing to do with knitting. Instead, I have been moved to vent on a subject that tends to get me a little riled, thanks to a BBC documentary that aired tonight.

The doc in question was the rather literally titled 'Why Are Thin People Not Fat?' The basic premise was to take a dozen young slender people, who are naturally at the low end of the weight scale, and get them to double their calorie intake for one month to see if it would explain why some people are unaffected by the so-called obesity epidemic.

To explain my fascination with this subject, I am thin. I have always been thin. I am also fairly tall and I have very long arms and legs which make me appear even more gangly. I'd like to quickly reassure you at this point that I'm happy with the way I look; I have made peace with my simian-like reach and my chicken-like legs.

Unfortunately it seems to bother other people sometimes. There were the nicknames at school - beanpole, stick insect and so on; the school nurse who took me aside to ask if I was doing anything silly - despite having weighed me every term for 7 years she suddenly decided I'd been taking laxatives to lose weight; the boyfriend who was convinced I was bulimic and when I denied it, claimed I was in denial about my condition (you really can't win an argument with an idiot); the other mothers who, when I worked as an au pair, would ask my employer about her 'anorexic' nanny; the complete stranger who took my arm in a bar, loudly exclaiming to all his friends that he could easily wrap his fingers around my wrist; the kindly friend who asked me only two days ago, her voice full of concern, if I was on a diet as she thought I had lost weight. I could go on, but you get the idea.

So I was intrigued to see what happened when this group doubled their intake. I've tried incresing the amount of food I eat. The fact is donuts, burgers, fried chicken, chocolate, coke, beer, and candy floss have had absolutely no effect. I managed to gain a few pounds by eating extra protein and carbohydrates but god, the effort, it was so boring! But doubling your calories?! The only way these guys could manage to hit their daily target was to consume a family-sized pizza, with an entire tub of ice cream, or a litre of coke, pork pies, and a whole chocolate cake in one meal. One guy was reduced to eating a carton of clotted cream as a bedtime snack. Another was delighted to find a cake that contained well over 1000 calories. Needless to say these people felt wretched. Several threw up at some point. Two of them never actually managed it - their bodies increased the amount of the hormone that makes you feel full which rendered them incapable of eating it all without vomiting. So to all those people who keep telling me to just eat more burgers and donuts - it's not that simple. And of course, once the experiment ended, every single one went back to their original weight, leading the doctors to conclude that our bodies set themselves at a certain weight - fat, thin or somewhere in the middle - and simply try to maintain that weight over the course of adult life.

I was a fussy eater as a baby. I've never had a big appetite. I eat when I'm hungry and lose all interest in food when I'm full (something I have in common with all the people in the BBC's study). I come from a family of other long'n'lean types. I have never ever had an eating disorder. I have never ever been on a diet. I have never weighed more than I do right now and I've been pretty much the same weight for at least ten years.

If you follow one of those medical diagrams that charts height vs weight, I am underweight. My BMI is also in the underweight category. But these are both measurements that are based on the average range for people of my height - meaning that there will always be people who fall outside the average at either end without it being the result of under or over-eating, and without it being a medical problem. I'm perfectly healthy. (I was thrilled a few years ago when I went to see a consultant professor about a persistant back ache. In the end he concluded it was simply because I am tall and thin - I have less fat and muscle to support my spine so it takes more stress, thinness ain't all it's cracked up to be - and he asked me if I'd ever had an eating disorder. When I said no, he replied 'No, you don't seem the type'. Vindication!).

All the people in the study did put on weight, but some less than others. Of those, their bodies either increased their metabolic rate, converting the calories into muscle rather than fat (even without exercise), or increased the amount they fidgeted, gestured and so on in order to burn off the extra calories.

I've always maintained that I'm this weight because that's just how I am. I don't eat a huge amount, but it seems to be enough to keep me going and this study seems to confirm that basic idea. And those of you who know me will be able to confirm that I talk at a mile a minute, gesticulate wildly and walk as if the hounds of hell were after me. Fat or thin, our bodies deal with excess calories in different ways, but it seems that your own biology is the main factor in determining this.

People often tell me I'm lucky, simply because I happen conform to a current, arbitrary stereotype . But the truth is, whatever our weight, we all have our own insecurities about our appearance. I have days where I long to look like Kate Winslet or Scarlet Johansson ('real' women, as they're so often called). Whereas some people worry that an outfit may make them look fat, I worry it will make me look anorexic. So, in this image obssessed society we're clearly all as mad as each other. What bothers me is the assumption some people make that I'm either unwell with a serious medical condition, or that I'm somehow artificial, starving myself to try and look more like Posh Spice and rejecting my natural state.

But there's some consolation in knowing that I'm not alone. Along with the people in the programme, there are any number of my lovely friends and family who don't diet and who are slender. And the issues of obesity and health need to be addressed and investigated. But for all those lifetsyle shows and fashion magazines telling women to embrace their natural size and then clammering over photos of some 'anorexic' celebrity, it's worth remembering it goes both ways. We come in all shapes and sizes. Naturally.

Sunday, 25 January 2009


Sorry for the radio silence recently - work has been crazy. But I've finally managed to take some photos of Martha, so here's a speedy post:

Rowan Felted Tweed may be pricey but it's lovely stuff. And a small pattern like this only took 5 balls.

So it's not a bad pattern, but here's the shoulder seam that bugged me. Just a shame to lose the edge of the cable into the shoulder, but I realise I'm being pedantic.

Few other things on the go, including some seriously gorgeous cashmere tweed, so more to follow soon....

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Yey! vs. Meh...

Conflicting emotions when it comes to knitting in the last couple of days.

On the Yey! front, Knit Night over at Prague went a little crazy as not one, not two, but five new faces came through the door, in such quick succession that it was comical. Two of them were a crocheting couple - see, boys do this stuff too you know - and the entire group got a whole crochet envy thing going by the end of the evening. Yet another thing to add to the to-do list.

So there were 11 of us in the end! We had to grab a second table, squeezing everyone in round the door but it was great. Such a lovely atmosphere with everyone happily chatting away - must remember to take my camera next time.

But then there's Martha (scroll down for the pic). Now there are folks over on Ravelry desperately hunting for this pattern as copies of Rowan Studio Two seem to be hard to find in the States, but I'm half tempted to email them saying not to bother. Which is odd, as it's not really a disaster.

It's in Felted Tweed, which is lovely. The cabling is fiddly but looks good when it's done. Unlike some Rowan patterns, it's a pretty good fit and the swing part doesn't turn it into a maternity outfit. And with short sleeves it's sweet for layering over things.

And yet. Meh...

I think part of the problem is that I'm a bit bored of it by now. It took ages to knit, in a fiddly, tiresome sort of way. Then there are three button bands to pick up (about 250 stitches). Then you have to sew together endless bits and pieces, which is frustrating in such a small garment. But also there are aspects of the design that I'm not crazy about.

The cabling,as I say, is pretty but it's so far over that it's not actually very visible (but try and move it and it's running down over your boobs, which wouldn't work either of course). But, more annoyingly, the cables are the edge of the armsyce. After shaping, there are no edge stitches, so when you set the sleeves the seam has to go through the edge of the cabling, which just looks a bit messy. With all that effort it seems such a shame that you don't get a nice clean line to show off the cables. And finally, the textured knit/purl pattern that borders the body and sleeves doesn't quite lit flat. Which I suppose is a nice contrast to the flatness of the stockinette around it, but it sort of rolls, even after ironing/blocking.

In know, I'm being hopelessly pedantic. I'm sure it will settle the more I wear it, or after a wash. At least it's done, instead of sitting on the arm of my sofa and glaring at me every time I pick up something more interesting. Once I have some daylight I'll take some pictures and you can decide for yourself.

On a separate note, it seems the whole Twitter thing is about to get crazy. As you may know, people like Stephen Fry have been tweeting madly for months, with thousands of people following him. Fair enough and I guess it's nice he's talking to his fans, but then Fry is a well known technophile. He's now been joined by some less obvious characters, like Jonathan Ross. I confess I wasn't that interested in what he was up to even before I discovered his Twitter name is Wossy. 'Nuff said. But, as others have pointed out, Fry is one of Ross's guests on his first show back after the suspension and you can bet Twitter is going to come up.

Then there's the Twitterer the Daily Mail threatened with legal action (so he must be doing something right). He was tweeting as The Daily Mail, posting satirical, sarcastic, mildly offensive headlines, but he's now amended it to Not Daily Mail. (Of course this is a classic example of something going a little bit Hawking as it straddles existence in two realities simultaneously - although not The Daily Mail it's so terrifyingly realistic that it essentially is The Daily Mail). Twitter-related stories just seem to keep popping up in the papers lately.

As with blogging and FaceBook, I suspect it may become one of those internet things that no one really needs, but everyone somehow ends up using.

And one final thought for this evening. BSG starts up again in the States on Friday and then on FX over here (but alas, I don't have cable). So how the hell am I meant to avoid the gazillions of internet spoilers that will soon be everywhere, telling us all who the final 12th Cylon is and thus destroying the one key question of a four-season story??!


Realise I'm scaring you now with my sci-fi telly geekery. But seriously. This is going to be a nightmare to avoid...

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Cosy in the Cold

As those of you who regularly read my ramblings here will know, I am something of a solitary knitter amongst my immediate friends and family, which at least gives them something to laugh at (it's only fair to keep providing relatives with fresh material - lord knows they give enough to me). However I'm happy to have found a new recruit.

My sister-in-law was taught to knit when she was small and has now decided to give it another go. Imagine my delight at a phonecall a couple of days after Christmas asking me what the hell was all this about slipping a stitch at the end of row? Another convert! I'll be solemnly passing on my faithful copy of Stitch'n'Bitch to her this weekend, along with the warning that this is all going to get somewhat addictive...

And, as I mentioned a little while ago, I've discovered a couple of friends are closet knitters, quietly making bootees without my knowledge. So knitters are lurking in unexpected places and there are a lot more of us than you think.

As promised, here's the Chunky Throw, which I've finally finished.

It's a bit of a beast, but a nice size to cosy up with on the sofa which is pretty perfect for this cold snap. Even though it's a very basic pattern, I'm pleased with how it's turned out. The pattern calls for the Chunky Elite yarn Twinkle uses all the time and which isn't available over here. I found an affordable alternative in Wendy Pampas. Not sure how it will wear, but super chunky yarn tends to pill quickly anyway, regardless of how posh/expensive it is, and it's a nice rich colour. Cucumber Patch have a couple of colors on sale if anyone wants to give it a try.

Hope everyone's keeping warm. One good thing about the current freeze is that it's the perfect opportunity to indulge in all your favourite handknits.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Detox Your Ears

First day back at work feels rather like the first day back at school. Getting up early, battling the commute and bracing against the arctic wind outside wasn’t really as bad as I had feared. I almost enjoyed myself today (although no need to tell the boss that). I’ve had a lovely break but it’s nice to be back in the bustle of things, engaging my brain – or at least trying to. And for all the corniness of resolutions and fresh starts there is something about a clean slate that’s emboldening somehow, especially when it’s crisp and cold outside.

I’ve been watching Once again (possibly the sweetest, saccharine-free film ever) which in turn has got me to put down my knitting needles and pick up the guitar, whilst re-programming my iPod to a playlist of folky singer-songwriters.

Knitting wise, I’ve just finished the Chunky Lacy Throw, but need to wait for daylight for some decent pictures. I’m onto the final button band for the Martha cardigan so again there’ll be pictures once it’s in shape. And the two remaining Christmas presents are making slow but steady progress. Of course today was the perfect weather for both of them if only they’d been ready, but they’ll just have to wait their turn for now. I’m alternating them with other, smaller things to stop myself going crazy but I’m hoping for a full-on attack this weekend (an evening’s babysitting will be put to good use).

So, rather than the knits, today I thought I’d share a brief playlist of tunes that I’ve been playing over and over lately. An excellent New Year’s detox for the festive over-indulgence of Slade, Cliff Richard and Alexandra bloody Burke.

Bon Iver is the ultimate soundtrack for this kind of weather. Recording most of his album For Emma, Forever Ago in a cabin in Wisconsin in the depths of winter, this is music that seems to be drifting to you through a snowstorm. If the thought of a bloke with a guitar angsting in a wooden shed fills you with horror, be brave and give it a chance. It’s way better than the stereotype. Have a listen of Skinny Love. My personal album of 2008.

Followed very closely by the precocious talent of Laura Marling, who recorded Alas, I Cannot Swim at the age of 17 and was therefore thrown out of one of her own gigs for being underage. So she played on the pavement instead, bless her. Night Terror crawled into my head and won’t budge.

The aforementioned Once, featuring the musical talents of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who won an Oscar for their efforts. Falling Slowly is the sweet love song that bagged them the statue but there are other tracks with more of a bitter bite.

I’d never heard of Seth Lakeman until I found myself at a gig of his, which turned into some kind of West Country craic by the end of the evening. Lots of fun. Again, if a man with a fiddle isn’t generally your cup of tea, you might be surprised. Watching him play Kitty Jay live is pretty impressive and I find it oddly comforting that people are writing songs about ghosts and shipwrecks and the beast of Bodmin Moor. Makes a nice change from all that post-modern ironic wit flying about.

St. Vincent is another talented lady, often to be found playing with Sufjan Stevens, whose songs vary from waltzes about the French Revolution to marriage proposals to strangers (“We’ll do what Mary and Joseph did. Without the kid”).

And finally, she may have a voice from another planet, but Joanna Newsom (and that bloke from the whiskey advert) show that if you’re not rocking out with a harp then you’re just not trying hard enough. Bridges and Balloons is probably what the Owl and the Pussycat listen to on their travels.

All the hot-tip predictions I’ve heard so far for 2009 have involved electronica/synths/the 80s for some reason, although I’m pleased a lot of them are women, after the recent glut of testosterone-loaded guitar bands. Anyone have any folksome predictions or recommendations?