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Friday, 20 March 2015

It's an eclipse Jim....

...but not as we know it!

A partial eclipse over most of the UK today, and thankfully I live in one of the few bits with very little cloud :)

I wish I'd cleaned my windows...

Thursday, 19 March 2015

New knitting pattern: Mercia tea cosy

My next pattern is available now to download as a pdf file HERE.

A pretty tea cosy in 2 sizes, named after my current home, the kingdom of Mercia.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Thank you to the Royal Mail

As you might imagine, I have a love-hate relationship with the Royal Mail (and USPS, but this post isn't about them). I spend monthly on stamps what most people spend on their mobile phone contract, and some months it feels like I'm literally paying my postman's wages.

On 30 March 2015, the Royal Mail are putting up the postage rates again. Nothing new there, it happens every year and I'm not against businesses making a profit. Except we know that the Royal Mail hardly makes a profit, if at all, and is slowly losing the battle with other mail carriers here in the UK. There has been talk of stopping Saturday deliveries, reducing deliveries to certain more remote areas of the UK, and the more obvious putting prices up by a lot more than they usually do. New postage rates pdf is HERE.

Many of you reading this might be struggling to remember the last time you actually sent something through the post. We all use texts and emails now, don't we? Well no, not all of us.

I have started buying greetings cards on Folksy, rather than on the high street. Generally they cost the same even when postage is included, and I like to support small businesses. One in particular is DaisyWings, run by a lady artist based in Berkshire who puts her gorgeous watercolour illustrations onto greetings cards. The Royal Mail get two hits out of this: one when the cards are sent to me, and another when I send them on to the recipient.

But in general, I use the Royal Mail to communicate with my husband and my penpals. Over the past 10 years I have sent on average 6 letters each week and the international letter rate has gone up steadily from around 60p to the new lowest rate of £1 for anything up to 10g (basically a postcard). There used to be a large table of prices and weights, but the Royal Mail have now simplified things wonderfully, and there are just 3 rates for international letters. The majority of mine will fit in the "up to 20g" rate, which will be £1.33 a time.

When you consider how many hands that letter will pass through, and the 4800 km journey it goes on between me and my husband, I think £1.33 is still a pretty good deal. So well done and thank you Royal Mail, for getting the vast majority of our letters across the pond safely.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

There once was an alpaca....

A bit of publicity for a random act of kindness today (RAK). My friend at work likes alpacas; she went to an alpaca farm for her birthday and when I got some alpaca fibre recently she was daydreaming about having a headband with alpaca ears on it.

So I went one better....

It's a bit big, but it will shrink a little when washed in hot water. The yarn is handspun 50% Texel, 45% alpaca, 5% merino, and there is enough left over to make another couple of hats - so hop over to my Folksy shop and bag yourself some RAK alpaca too!

Monday, 9 February 2015

Sad? No way!

(or How To Make Your Birthday Last A Week).

Yes, it's my birthday this week, and as usual I have taken the week off work. Why anyone would want to work on their birthday is beyond me; it's the first date I book for leave every year and I have no intention of working on my birthday ever. So there!

I have had a couple of comments recently, from well-meaning friends and colleagues, along the lines of, "It must be hard when your husband can't celebrate your birthday with you". Isn't it odd how people make assumptions? Of all the 365 days in each year, birthdays are no more or less hard than any other day. Him not being here (or being there) is just how it's always been for us.

To me, birthdays are more important than other national or religious holidays. In our family they have always been the day when the birthday person gets to choose what to have for tea, and what to watch on telly. We also tend to spin our birthdays out too, covering as many days as possible. In previous years I've been to gigs, exhibitions and on general adventures in the days before and after my birthday. If week-long celebrations were good enough for the Romans....

My husband is very good at getting his cards to arrive before the actual day. I have no idea how he manages it, given the number of different hands our mail passes through and the inevitable delays and disappearances. My birthday envelope arrived at the end of last week, and I have been very good and not opened it yet.

Of course most people associate birthday with presents. I get enough from my friends and other family, I'm not in need of anything more from my husband. If the giving of gifts was a requirement of mine for a successful relationship, I really shouldn't have married him! And at least this way, I don't have to share my chocolates, or worry that the flowers I treated myself to this afternoon will bring on his allergies.

We are focused on our next visit now in a few weeks, so this week is more a time to get practical stuff like dental appointments and boiler servicing done than being too extravagant. I am visiting Oxford later this week with my daughter and we are going to the William Blake exhibition at the Ashmolean, and for burgers at Atomic Burger down the Cowley Road.

I have no need to ask for more.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Elderly, cold, hungry and alone

There is an elderly chap, we'll call him Joe, who spends most of his days in a small room. Like many others of his generation, Joe has outlived his parents, siblings and even some younger members of his extended family. Friends drifted away many years ago.

Joe tries to make ends meet by being creative. He has a little enterprise where he makes twine from scraps that other people discard, and the twine is useful to occasional interested parties. But making the twine is getting harder as Joe's fingers are developing arthritis, and his eye sight isn't what it used to be. Joe doesn't complain; no one would listen if he did and he prefers to keep himself to himself these days.

Getting up at 3am every day for breakfast is getting harder, especially in the winter. The thermal underwear he was given a few years ago by someone passing through is full of holes but it is still one of his prized possessions. But Joe dare not stay in bed and miss a meal - he doesn't have the means of making a snack to keep him going until the next meal time rolls around, whenever that might be. After breakfast, Joe sits by the window looking out at the sleet falling from a grey sky not too dissimilar from the walls surrounding him. He wonders how many more winters he will see, and whether any will be from the other side of the glass and grey walls. What will happen if his sight goes completely? Will they move him away from his familiar surroundings that he can navigate now if he needed to, to somewhere "more suitable" but completely unfamiliar?

You out there reading this, are you thinking "there are charities who can help Joe"? Unfortunately, Joe is just one of thousands of inmates in America's prisons serving a long sentence with little to no chance of parole. Joe's crime was committed decades ago, when he by his own admissions was "young and stupid". No one got killed, but criminals had to be made examples of. Even if Joe was able to apply for parole, he would not meet the requirements of having a stable address and prospects of employment to parole out to. He is in a catch 22 situation that is only partly of his own making.

This is not a European stereotypical call for all inmates to be released. Some of us over here are more sensible than that, and clearly there are some inmates who continue to pose a threat to themselves or others regardless of their mental or physical age. But they are not the majority.

TDCJ is one of the few corrections agencies that have an official age designation for "geriatric inmates". You may find it hard to believe that it is the age of 55. Prison can preserve a body or accelerate its demise. TDCJ recommend around 450 inmates for early medical parole every year, and yet fewer than 1/8 of those inmates are approved by the Board or Pardons and Paroles (BPP). The BPP believe that it is better to keep these individuals inside a prison and have the tax payer fund their increasing medical bills, rather than release them into a community where the remaining friends, family and social support networks are often willing and able to help.

My husband knows a number of Joes in his prison. We help where we can, but the system discourages inmates from sharing, selling or giving away physical items. My husband officially became a geriatric inmate himself recently and we have another 10 years to hang on before we get to ride the parole roller coaster. In a country that prides itself on opportunity, there is a large pool of unproductive but willing labour at the country's disposal. Imagine, instead of 2 million inmates sucking the life out of the country's finances, what if there were even 1 million less of them and 1 million more contributing to the economy even in a small way and paying some of their own medical bills. Maybe not the land of the free, but more the land of the hard working repentants?  

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

30 Q&As for last year and this

I know I said no looking back, but I saw this meme on a few other blogs over the past week so decided to join in.

  1.  What did you do in 2014 that you'd never done before?
    Published my first knitting pattern, and got some orthopaedic inserts for my shoes.

    2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
    I don't normally make new year resolutions, but I did want to get better at spinning and I've achieved that. 

    3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

    Two of my friends had babies this year, both little boys.

    4. Did anyone close to you die?
    Not particularly close to me, but one of my husband's relatives died in November.

    5. What countries did you visit?
    Wales, America and Denmark. I think people forget that Wales is a different country to England sometimes.

    6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?

    A pair of Viking combs.

    7. What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

    Definitely our time in Denmark in September. Four nights and 3 whole days exploring Copenhagen and Roskilde with my daughter was exciting and chilled at the same time. 

    8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
    Apart from not quitting my day job in a blaze of glory (or just a blaze); publishing and selling my knitting patterns.

    9. What was your biggest failure?
    I haven't failed at anything specifically this year, but I haven't finished everything I had hoped to. 

    10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
    Quite the contrary, my blood pressure is now well under control, my feet are responding well to the inserts (though my back is still protesting) and I've lost a few pounds in weight. Mentally I've had a few wobbly days, but nothing that got out of hand.

    11. What was the best thing you bought?
    A washing machine for my daughter and her chap, for their new house.

    12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
    Stephen Sutton. Without doubt a very special young man who devoted his final months of life to raising funds to assist other teenagers with cancer. If you would like to donate, you still can here Stephen's Just Giving Page

      13. Where did most of your money go?
    Flights. Which makes it sound like I jet set around the globe regularly, but I don't. The cost of a return flight from London to Houston is now around £800, which is more than twice what it was the first time I flew there in 2006. It is also more than I spent in total for 4 nights in a hotel, flight and spends in Denmark.

    14. What songs will always remind you of 2014?

    Nickelback – Edge of a Revolution
    Ed Sherring – Sing
    Royal Blood – Little Monster

    15. What do you wish you'd done more of?

    16. What do you wish you'd done less of?

    Banging my head against metaphorical brick walls.

    17. How did you spend Christmas?
    I don't celebrate Christmas. We celebrate the winter solstice instead, doing much the same thing as everyone else does a few days later. On Christmas day this year I cleaned my front room carpet and did loads of laundry.

    18. Did you fall in love in 2014?
    Yes, with a bakery in Copenhagen.

    19. What was your favourite TV program?
    I really don't watch a lot of telly, I tend to have it on in the background just to help me keep track of time. I did enjoy the BBC's Musketeers, Crimes of Passion (the Swedish murder mystery series on BBC4) and my guilty pleasure, Strictly Come Dancing.

    20. What was the best book you read?
    Jo Nesbo “Phantom” - I adore his writing and can't wait to read the next in the series “Police”

    21. What was your greatest musical discovery?
    Royal Blood – gutted that their tour sold out before I could get a ticket.

    22. What did you want and get?


    23. What did you want and not get?

    Less stress at work, less micromanagement, less deception.

    24. What was your favourite film of this year?
    I didn't see many films this year, certainly fewer than in 2013, but I really enjoyed Dallas Buyers Club, Out of the Furnace, and the 3
    rd Hobbit.

    25. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
    Apparently I was 44. Not the exact day of my birthday, but we did go to Southampton to see Killswitch Engage and Trivium.

    26. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
    Not having to explain and accept the inconsistencies and bloody-mindedness of TDCJ. There is no sensible reason why TDCJ inmates are not permitted to make pre-paid overseas calls. But maybe we'll get video visits instead before he comes home.

    27. What kept you sane?
    Knitting, my daughter, loud music, the robin on my window feeder, frozen yoghurt.

    28. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
    Christian Bale. Nuff said.

    29. Who did you miss?

    My parents. My husband. My dearest friend.

    30. What does 2015 hold for you?
    A new job (secondment), more European-style eating, and possibly (hopefully) a trip to Norway.