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Monday, 28 December 2015

It's about time

A few days after I wrote the previous blog post on here, my life took a big jump to the left and I ended up moving house in less than a week. It was mayhem, exhausting, but wonderful at the same time. one of the hazards of social housing these days is that most councils have now adopted the practice of bidding for vacant homes. It means that only people who really want the home will be considered, which is good, but it also means that, at least where I live, you only get 24 hours to say yes or no when you are offered something.

I had bid on a smaller flat some weeks before, and had thought that I'd been unsuccessful as I hadn't heard anything from the council about my application. Little did I know that they had been carrying out background checks on me. The previous tenant of the new place had been a nightmare neighbour and the chap who lives below has Aspergers and they didn't want to give him another bad neighbour.

On the Tuesday I had a phone message left on my home phone, could I contact the council urgently. Wednesday I phoned, arranged to view the flat in my lunch hour, and the moment I walked in I knew I'd say yes. Council lady filled in the forms with me there and then, and because the Monday after next was a bank holiday she said I'd be able to take up to 3 weeks to move in, but I'd have to pay for both flats for that period. Or I could move in over the weekend and as long as the keys to my old place were handed in to the office by midday on the Monday, they wouldn't charge me rent for both flats. Challenge accepted!

Luckily, the two flats were just 10 minutes walk apart. I borrowed bags and holdalls from neighbours and carried as much as I could down in the evenings. Then friends from work helped with their big estate car and miraculously we managed to get even my bed and sofa moved down on the Sunday. And an amazing thing; moving from a 2 bedroom flat to a one bedroom flat with smaller rooms you'd think that I'd be falling over extra furniture. But with my daughter taking the spare bed to her place, everything else I have fits better here than it did in the old flat.

I've swapped a dark, cold, noisy flat in a block of 9, for a light, bright, warm first floor flat in a converted house - with a small garden - in a cul-de-sac. Downsizing is good!

And then I got offered a permanent position at work doing what I'd been seconded to do at the start of the year. So again, I said yes.

And then I got a bonus, which has meant booking my next trip to see my husband in March, and also a short break in Stockholm for me and my daughter in May - for EUROVISION! Oh my dog, we are so excited about that you would not believe.

So for the past 4 months I have been painting walls, tiling walls, throwing out the junk I didn't have time to sort through before I moved, working hard at a job I now love, and wandering round with a ridiculous smile on my face because I am so happy. I have decided that only "nice" things will come in to this flat - no more making do with stuff I don't really like. And this spring I will make a start on turning the square of grass that my bedroom window looks out onto into a pretty bird-friendly garden. So it may be a while again before my next post, but at least you'll know that I'll be keeping out of trouble and spending my time productively.   

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Burning the midnight oil

The quilt I have been making for my daughter is finally finished! It has taken around £80 of fabric and a good 9 months of stitching (on average around 10 hours a week), and on Friday night I was so determined to take it to her yesterday that I stitched from 6.30pm until almost midnight. But it is done and she is very happy with it, and I am very happy that it will no longer be cluttering up my work room.

Now I intend to move on to smaller projects that will use up some of my yarn stash. Luckily my friend is pregnant again, so I have a good excuse to be working on baby items! My first project is a toddler hat with a small cable detail:

I will be adding a smaller version for a 0-6 month old to the pattern and then it will be available to download through Payhip - this is the digital download service that is commonly used for self-published e-books but it works really well for craft patterns as well. Keep checking my Hare's Moon Patterns page on the right. I also have ideas for bibs and jackets to work on this autumn.

Things on the prison front are very quiet at the moment, which is a good thing. Unlike many other couples where one is incarcerated, we don't have much of the drama that can accompany this situation. It is almost certainly because we are older, and less worried about what other people are doing. But as we approach 11 years down, my husband is starting to put together a plan for things he needs to do in the next 9 years to put himself in the best position possible when he gets a chance of parole. Why start so early? Because laws do change, as do attitudes, and being an older inmate it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he may have a parole chance a little earlier than we current expect. Waiting until the last minute has always been my husband's way, so it's good to see him making a change in that area.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Day trip to Jorvik, and Quilt Museum

I've taken a few days off work for a long weekend and on Friday I went to York on a day coach trip. It's a long way, made longer when you have to pick up travellers from 3 towns before you even start, and then have a "comfort break" half way there and back in Derbyshire. But the coach wasn't full and I had the whole back seat to myself so I could spread out.

I did the same trip a couple of years ago with my daughter, but we didn't get to see inside the Minster as there was a wedding in progress, or go into the Jorvik Centre, so those were my plans for Friday. We arrived in York just after midday, and I headed directly to Jorvik. I had been looking forward to looking at the exhibition, and just managed to get in ahead of a party of school kids.

To say I was disappointed would be understating. I should mention here that I did my degree in Heritage and Landscape, and while I'm by no means an interpretation/exhibition expert, I do take a more professional view of things like this than your average tourist probably would. So with my critical eye, I have to say that a £10.50 entry fee - even if you can use it multiple times in a year - is a rip off. Given the huge amount of archaeology in York, there is very little on display in the Jorvik centre. The first room has a glass floor which covers a reconstructed "dig" or excavation of a typical Danelaw-era building. Not a real one, just a representation of one. There is a video screen on one wall, and a few interpretation panels set into the walls, along with a shoe which I think was a real one, but as it had no label I couldn't be sure. The lighting is very low, I assume so as to not have reflections on the glass, but it means you can't actually see very much of the shoe in its display case set into the wall.

Then you take a mechanical ride "through ancient Jorvik" in a moving gondola seat. The noise of the mechanics driving the seats around was too loud and distracted from the commentary coming from the head rests. The display was, well, embarrassing to be honest. Mannequins moving jerkily with their glazed expressions, some pretending to talk (to which the lady from the head rest responded - without explaining that the language would have been a mix of local dialect and imported Danish/Scandinavian). The smell I suppose was meant to evoke the varied smells of close-dwelling inhabitants of York in those times, but it just smelled like glue. I was rather glad to get off the ride, helped by a young lady who certainly looked of Scandinavian descent, and spoke with a slight Yorkshire accent, unlike some of the other staff in their too-clean clothes. There was even an American girl working there, and while I'm all for anyone getting a job here if they want one, having an American with a strong American accent in first-person interpretation set in a city in England before American had even been discovered, was just wrong!

The second room had more exhibition cases set into the walls, an interactive touch-screen "game" with Danelaw characters that you could take shopping and learn about the foods (except it didn't work very well, and wouldn't show me anything in the section on honey and bees), some skeletons in cases, and possibly the best part of the whole exhibition: a life size digital skeleton standing up with highlights of the medical wear and tear on the bones and possible causes, that then was dressed and had a facial reconstruction overlaid. She looked more real than the staff. But again, most of the exhibit cases were poorly lit and for items such as bone combs and jewellery, you really should be able to see all of the detail clearly.

It took me around 45 minutes to do the whole thing, and that was stretching it to read all of the interpretation and spend a few quid in the gift shop. Very disappointing and they seem to have taken the "pitch it at a 7-year-old" way too seriously as I didn't learn anything new from any of it. By contrast, you can go to the centre of Gloucester and look down on glass covered Roman remnants of the city in situ (not a reconstruction) for free, and as far as exhibits go, I prefer the Cirencester museum with lots of natural light and well thought-out displays of the roman and other jewellery and other artefacts.

From there I decided to pop into Duttons Buttons, a real treasure trove for the haberdasher! I bought some  gently sparkling cream with grey marble buttons for a cardigan I am currently spinning yarn for. Could have spent a lot more in there than I did.

Next on my list was a visit to the Quilt Museum. It took a while to find it, as the signage pointed down the wrong road! Eventually I managed to track it down, and what a gem of a place it is! A little more than half the entrance price of Jorvik, but well worth every penny. Sadly, the museum will be closing at the end of this summer as they can't afford the rent on the Guildhall that they currently inhabit. This is such a shame, and means the 800 historic quilts that they currently own will not be shown to the public until or unless another suitable building can be found - surely with 2 Universities in York, some space could be made available to the Quilter's Guild?

Over the summer, the museum has an exhibition of 15 historic quilts paired with 15 new quilts designed and made by the designer Kaffe Fassett under the title "Ancestral Gifts". Kaffe is well known as a knitware designer, and known for his colour work especially. The quilts he has made for this exhibition are a gorgeous riot of rich colours, predominantly reds, oranges and pinks, but a couple of pastel quilts are there too. And the building itself is prefect for displaying them, with its very high beamed ceilings and simple white walls. I'm really glad that I decided to visit while it is still open, and I'd encourage anyone else with a love of textiles to go if you are in York between now and September.

 My final destination was meant to be York Minster, but for the second time they seem determined to keep pagans like me out of the place! Last time we were in York there was a wedding at the Minster; this time they were ordaining a new lady Bishop and the Minster was closed to the public all day. I had wondered why there were so many black-clad vicars wandering around the streets while I was trying to find the Quilt Museum, and it got me thinking what is the collective noun for clergy? A "cassock" perhaps? I decided to sit in the gardens to the side of the Minster for a while and read my book in the sunshine, and I could hear the choir inside singing which was nice.

At 4pm I went to find some sustenance for my long journey home, and settled on some fudge and a hog roast in a bun with all the trimmings. I felt a little bit of olde worlde was called for after the Vikings had let me down!


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.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Small but welcome changes

Back from my latest marathon slog across the pond to visit my husband. A weekend in Texas is really enough for anyone, but he's worth it. This time I picked up a stinking cold on the way over and then added to it with around 10 mosquito bites from spending just 20 minutes in my friend's garden on Friday. I react badly to them, but thankfully none were on my face this time!

It being the Easter weekend, I had hoped that the visit room would be quiet and I was right. Saturday there were still 3 or 4 empty tables when I left, and on Sunday there was barely half the room full. That was good because we didn't have to raise our voices to be heard, and the guards were in a relaxed mood as well - probably because they were not rushed off their feet. Talking of feet, I was complimented on my socks by the guards who were doing the body searches. Pity I couldn't give them one of my business cards though as we're not allowed to take anything like that in with us.

A good addition to the visit room were colouring sets (a sheet of paper with a black and white drawing on and a few crayons) and a small book case for the kids to use. In 10 years I've never seen that provided by TDCJ, and it was great to see it there this weekend. And it's not just for kids; there was a young man with Downs Syndrome there on Saturday and he happily took a colouring set back to their table. That was lovely to see.

I felt a little bad that my husband was missing pork chops for his lunch. One of the other visitors was waiting on the table next to us for the inmate to come through, and after a while the guard came over and said that the inmate had already gone to lunch then the visit call went through, and that as it was pork chops they didn't want to make him leave the chow hall so he would be a little longer in arriving. That was nice that the guards let the visitors know - and that the guy got to eat his lunch first!

We had a good talk on both days. We had nothing that needed sorting out between us, but things that have happened in the family recently took up a bit of our time. That's OK though, as it's so much easier to do that in real time than via letters that still take on average 10 days to get to their destination.

Perhaps in a few more years TDCJ will have taken another step towards the modern age and will permit inmates to have tablets and perhaps video visits. Other states manage it without any security issues.

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.

Sunday, 4 January 2015


At this time of year, many people look back over the past 12 months and dissect their trials and tribulations. I find that a little depressing, even for the happy times, because they have gone and you can't get them back. So I prefer to look forwards, do a bit of planning (in the face of the Gods, just to see if they are taking any notice) and work out where I'd like to be in 12 months or so from now.

The recent VAT debacle has made me revise my original plans for developing the knitting patterns I've been working on. This has been a good thing, though I'd rather it hadn't been dropped on me at a moment's notice. But, carpe diem and all that jazz. I may not be as prolific as some designers out there, but I think I can contribute something to the global pattern library, so I will be working on those this year.

I'll still be spinning of course, and I have some more grey Gotland fleece on order. It's all part of the bigger picture really; I want to spin so I have yarn to create designs with, for myself and my family. I do also have a large stash of assorted yarns that I need to work with before buying any more... but any knitter out there will know how likely that is! 2015 is the Chinese year of the Sheep (goat/ram/etc) so I'm hoping to pick up some of the fleecy vibes.

I'll be seeing my husband again this spring, which is usually the main event in my year. I'm contemplating requesting a weekday visit at the moment, as it would fit our plans better. They are at the Warden's discretion of course, but if you don't ask, you're unlikely to get.

Blogging more often is also on my To Do list. I'm not one to blog for the sake of it, you are unlikely to see "this is my breakfast" or "my cat just did this" posts, but I do want to aim for at least once a month this year.

I've been offered a new opportunity at my day job, a secondment for up to 2 years, so things will be changing there and hopefully for the better. I'm not allowing myself to get excited about it until I have more details, but it has come at the right time for me. I've been doing my current job for just over 9 years now and things have changed a lot in that time.

There will be a bit of travel around the UK for my family history investigations. We have a castle in Durham ... well, we did, a few centuries ago, and it's now a mossy ruin, but I'd still like to go up and have a wander if I can. Plus there are still some bits of Berkshire that I need to get to and document properly.

So really 2015 will be more of the same, but hopefully bigger and better, and a little more lucrative!