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Sunday, 21 June 2015


Father's Day and Mother's Day are not things my family does. And now that I have neither a mum or a dad still living, they are events that I am completely detached from. But I've been thinking about my dad this week, and trying to tease out things that I learned from him, directly or indirectly.

The first thing was very definitely, follow your heart. Because he wasn't able to. My dad wanted to play football and work on boats. But his knee was dodgy so the playing of football was short-lived, and my Grandad decided that working on boats was not a suitable career and insisted that dad did his apprenticeship on cars and lorries instead. I wouldn't say that dad hated it, because an engine is an engine, regardless of it's wrapper, but dad wanted to be on and around the water, not in a garage in a town. The apprenticeship was a good thing, and lead to mum and dad being able to get their first mortgage too as dad's employer was also their referee, but it wasn't in his heart.

The next thing is, you are good enough. This I probably learned more directly from my mum, but indirectly through dad's own self-depreciation and long-term depression. Trying to sell a house while the owner is pointing out all the things they haven't yet fixed or even started isn't easy. Allowing someone else to form an opinion of you as you stand, warts and all isn't easy. But it brings with it a sense of achievement, that they want the house, or you, for what is there.

Finally, say yes more than you say no. Or not yet. Or I can't. The more you say no, the more you paint yourself into a corner. Saying yes is a stepping stone on to something else. Of course, you should be careful of what you are saying yes to, but if it doesn't hurt anyone and you can afford it, and more importantly if it takes you out of your "normal" expreiences, try a yes more often. You might only get that opportunity once.

Saturday, 13 June 2015


Saturday 13 June 2015 was World Wide Knit In Public day, and if I had been more organised I would have been at the Bath Assembly Rooms to join the other knitters there. It looked a lot of fun, but as with many things, I only found out about it at the last minute.

Instead I did my own KIP mission around Cheltenham. I packed my essentials and jumped on the bus.

The weather was not helpful; my first location was on a damp bench (I took a plastic carrier bag with me to sit on!) under a tree next to the Neptune fountain. It had just started mizzling again (that misty rain that gets everywhere and for which umbrellas are little defence), but the tree kept most of it off me.

I had chosen to work on a new pair of cotton socks for myself, something that I can knit from memory. Several people watched me knit as they walked past, and one lady did come over and ask me what I was knitting. She said she knits, but she had never seen anyone using 4 needles before.

After about half an hour, the mizzle turned to proper rain and the drips from the tree were finding their way onto my hands. Time to decamp and find somewhere under cover. I walked to one of the two shopping arcades in the town and found a space on a bench there. I alternated keeping my eyes down and looking up and knitting by feel. People are a bit wary of direct eye contact, though many were either glued to their phones or on their own missions to get in, around, and out of town as quickly as possible. I did catch a few people watching me though, and several young children were very curious as they were walked past me by their otherwise distracted adults. I got some smiles, which was nice, and I heard a couple of people talking about knitting once they had moved past me.

I stayed there for about an hour, and managed to convince a nice chap to take a photo of me as proof.

I had hoped to do a final KIP in Boston Tea Party, with a cup of tea and a slice of their wonderful berry yoghurt flapjack, but when I got there they were packed and not a table to be had. So I had to admit defeat, and did a final few rounds of the sock while waiting for my bus home instead.

Next year I shall be more organised ....

Friday, 12 June 2015

Introductory offer

There is a new knitting pattern at Hare's Moon: the "End of September" cowl. Available as an instant download via Payhip for just £1 until 31 August 2015.

It's a loose-fitting, quick to knit cowl, ideal for the first days of autumn. Knitted in the round, using Aran weight / Worsted yarn. Suitable for a beginner knitter, this garment can be completed in an afternoon.

Materials required: approx 100g / 200 m Aran weight yarn; size 4.5 mm double point needles.

It's also listed in the Ravelry.com pattern library here: http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/end-of-september-cowl so you can link to it and show off your own versions!

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Long time ago

In Lidl this morning, doing my usual Saturday wander around the sliced sausages and raspberries, I was humming First Aid Kit's song "Long Time Ago" to myself. It's the tune that BBC 4 have been using to promote their new Danish drama "1864", so I'm sure you'd know it if you heard it. A little old lady was stood next to me at the bacon section and she commented what a pretty tune it was. I just said thank you, and then she said she had eaten some of the bacon last week and it was lovely. She was digging around for a later use-by date so I helped her find one.

This of course led to a little more conversation. Turns out her husband died a few weeks ago. She was also buying herself some flowers, because, she said, her parents always said to enjoy them while you can see them. She and her husband had been married almost 60 years. Then I got a brief summary of how they had grown up together in Bristol and how he had waited until she was 17 before asking her out. She was engaged at 21, married at 23 when he came out of the navy.

She told me that a man she has known a few years asked her to marry him last week, and that he wanted to take her to Europe for 3 months. She said "I'm nearly 84, I can't go to Europe!" I said she could go wherever she wanted to, to which she put her head on one side and said "yes, but not with him!"

I can't hope for 60 years of marriage, but I do at least hope that the years we have together are as happy as that lady's were with her husband.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Another "Finished Object"

The jumper I was commissioned to make for one of my mother-in-law's friends turned out to be quicker than I expected. Knitting in the round eliminates the sewing up of the seams at the end, although for this pattern I did still have to set in the sleeves. You just need to remember that if you are knitting in the round a pattern that was originally designed to be knitted flat, reduce the stitch count by 2 because you wont need the seam allowance.

So here it is:

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Hot and cold

Busy week, with eating out and knitting jumpers. Mother-in-law ordered a small jumper for her great nephew after the first one I made fitted him but had no room for growth. It's never easy doing this from 4000km away with only a "he's about 18 months old" to go by! Still, the second one for him has a bit more room, and is a tried and tested pattern I've had since my daughter was a baby. Very simple to knit, and you can play around with the seed stitches to create diamonds if you like - I did that on a peach version for my daughter and then embroidered flowers in the centres of a few on the front.

I've now started another jumper for one of MIL's friends, a 3/4 sleeve scoop neck with a patterned panel at the front. 

At work, it was my turn to organise a Team Eat which we do every couple of months. There is a new Caribbean restaurant/bar in town called Turtle Bay, and we went there on Thursday evening. Even though we knew it was a school night, cocktails flowed freely (2-for-1 until 7pm was just too much to resist), and the food was hot ... and very HOT. Even veteran curry eaters were struggling to finish their main courses. The atmosphere was great though, and we all had a really good time. The only downside is Turtle Bay can't accommodate parties larger than 8 at the weekends, so with 20 in our team we're struggling to find places where we can all go for a night out together.


Sunday, 19 April 2015

Immigration, without the hysteria

Did you watch the Opposition Debate on the BBC last Thursday? For my American and other non-Brit readers, the UK will be voting in a new government on May 7th, and the whole of our media has gone election crazy.

Though 4 of the 5 leaders tried to stick to the topics as they were presented, it wasn't long before Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) was blaming immigration for all of the UK's current woes. It was good to see the other leaders rally together, and present an almost united front to oppose UKIP's far right theology, but all too many people get hysterical on the topic of immigration and I think it needs some careful unpicking to get to the roots.

The news coverage of the boatloads of migrants from north Africa crossing the Mediterranean Sea and landing in Italy, and the migrants waiting at Calais in France for a chance to jump under a lorry's axle or inside its load to get onto either a ferry or through the Chunnel surely shows the desperation and the lengths that these people are prepared to go to for a better life. Some British newspapers have given too many column inches to some extreme right-wing views this week. I can't claim to have the same readership, but I can put forward a different view.

UKIP, by Farage's own admission, would drastically reduce the UK's overseas aid budget. They see it as handing over money to people in other countries with no real benefit to the UK. They are misguided.

The purpose of the overseas aid budget is to reduce immigration. If we can help these developing and struggling countries tackle some of their social issues, by giving them aid in a variety of forms, their populations are less likely to want to leave. Our pounds sterling go much further when spent in African countries to help educate children, provide safe drinking water and sanitation, or assist with housing and health programmes, than it does when spent on people who actually make it across our borders and then ask for help.

UKIP want the UK to leave the EU, so that we don't have to accept European migrants. European migration works for all European member countries, not just those in the east. You may not want to go and live in Poland or Slovakia or Bulgaria, but your children might especially if they decide to study higher education in a European country. Many young Brits already go to France, Germany and the BeNeLux to study at university level: if you have to pay a fee here at home, then why not pay a similar amount in a different country and have some extra experience to add to your CV at the end of your studies as well?

And what about when you retire, and the British summers just don't give you the amount of sun that you would like. Moving to Spain, the south of France or Portugal has long been the option of British retirees, who take their state pensions with them. If we leave the Euro Zone, you wont be able to take your state pension with you, and your medical care wont be covered either. Does it still sound like a good idea?

"They come here and take our jobs" How many times have we heard that over the last 100 years? It's not a new complaint, and you can go back further than 100 years and still see it in historical records, if perhaps not using those exact words. It's also not just uttered by Brits; in countries all around the world, an influx of "others" usually creates a backlash with a similar sentiment. It's convenient, but it's normally not true.

Migrants want to work, it's the driving force behind the risks they take to get to their chosen destination. They want to work, earn some money and then send a portion of it back to their families in their home country. Some want to work and save so that when they return home, they will be able to buy a home, perhaps with a bit of land, to support themselves and their families. Typically, Poles tend to stay in the UK for just 2 or 3 years before returning home. They are fiercely patriotic for their own country, and have no intention of staying in the UK indefinitely.

So what are these jobs that the migrants are taking from under the noses of our young men (who generally are the ones complaining the loudest)? I accept that immigrants can be found in all employment sectors, but immigrants usually fill gaps in our employment market that Brits can't or wont fill themselves. Bus drivers, dentists, cleaners, daffodil pickers. Don't blame the immigrant for obtaining the job; ask why the employer didn't give the job to a Brit - could it be the attitude that some work is beneath us, or the level of English is better in a Polish student than in a native speaking English man or woman?

Housing, schools and our health system are undoubtedly struggling at the moment. It is easy to blame that on immigration, as if a single factor could account for all the ills in our society. We know we have been building the wrong kinds of housing in the wrong areas for decades, yet we have done very little about it. Selling off council housing stock and then wilfully preventing those councils from re-investing in building more housing with the proceeds is one of the main reasons why there is so little social housing today. That's not the fault of immigrants, that's the fault of a middle aged white woman.

Schools, particularly primary schools, have fewer places because the planners didn't take into account social mobility across Europe, and because there are not enough teachers. Why would anyone want to be a teacher in a British school today when they will spend most of their time on paperwork and coaching children to jump through hoop after hoop of tests, for very little pay or recognition? Neither of those things are the fault of immigrants.

Our health service would simply grind to a halt if we were to sack all of the immigrants working in it. From GPs and surgeons to cleaners and ancillary staff and every post in between, immigrants working alongside nationals do an amazing job with the resources available to them.

So what can we do? We are an island, with finite space to fill with housing. Austerity has taken a significant chunk out of the social welfare system, and many people are still finding things tough despite being told that we've turned a corner and prospects are improving. The first thing we should do is stop the hysteria. We need to talk about immigration calmly and sensibly, without demonising the immigrants and making them scapegoats for our own political failings and short-sightedness over the past decades.

As someone who loves to travel and would quite like to live and work in another country one day, I would be a hypocrite if I said we should close our borders. More than that, I'd be stupid and unrealistic. Make something hard to get hold of and you immediately increase the demand. Our streets are not paved with gold, and we need to do more overseas to ensure people know that.

We could:
  • Allow people to come here, but not give them financial support in the form of social housing or benefits. Make it clear that if you have nowhere to stay and no money to live on when you arrive, you'll be sent home straight away. This might not be a popular move, but it seems the most sensible to me, and is one that plenty of other countries work with.
  • If an immigrant commits a crime, send them home straight away at the start of their sentence, rather than insisting they serve all their time at our expense and then trying to find them to send them home once they have been released.
  • Possibly introduce a new tax rate for immigrants, so they pay slightly more for the first 5 years of their stay. Also introduce a slightly higher business tax rate for those companies who employ a higher percentage of foreign nationals. Only slightly higher for both though.
  • Do more overseas to improve the locations from which the greater numbers of migrants are arriving. Some are fleeing poverty and war, and we can do something about both of those. We need to implement education programmes that do not paint the UK as a financial utopia, but give a realistic view of how hard it can be to live here with very little money. 
  • Work within Europe to create a fairer dispersal of immigrants. It is not fair to expect Italy to accommodate everyone who happens to land on their shores, but equally we can't take everyone who wants to come here.
  • Encourage more people to return home, or migrate onwards. We already know many people intend to return home after a few years, so we could make this an easier option for them, assisting with travel costs rather than assisting with living costs while they are here. 
  • Encourage more Brits to expand their horizons and work, study and live overseas. It's not something often talked about in immigration debates, but it could be a real benefit to the UK to have citizens who are outward thinking and have a better understanding of our place in the world. We have always been a nation of travellers and explorers, and we could use the European migration possibilities to our advantage instead of only ever criticising them.  

But just stop with the name-calling and rhetoric that is not dissimilar from the Nazi ravings of last century. We are better than that.