Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Season's Greetings

Wishing everyone a 
Very Merry Christmas 
and a 
Healthy and Prosperous 
New Year 2014

(c) P Hubbard 2013

Saturday, 31 August 2013

But we didn't see the elephant ...

‘Why are you going to Nantes?’ Everyone asked us...
Well, first of all, it’s in France, and we like to get over there at least once a year on a short break, whether we’ve arranged our main holiday there or not.
Second, it’s on a fast train route, so wimps like me who won’t go on a boat can get there via Eurostar.
But the main reason for picking Nantes itself was because of the Great Elephant.
Those of you paying attention at the time of Liverpool’s year as European City of Culture might have heard of La Princesse, the Enormous Spider that patrolled the streets there in 2008. She was made by a company in Nantes that specialises in such automata, Les Machines de L’Île. Le Grand Éléphant is another of their creations, and I wanted to see it.
We arrived in the early afternoon at the beginning of the really hot weather - mid-July. After an 8.15 am Eurostar from Ebbsfleet, and an uneventful connection from Gare du Nord to Gare Montparnasse on the Metro we had travelled westwards on a TGV line that we hadn’t been over before, and set out for the hotel. We reached the Tourist Office first, who pinpointed the street on a free map of the town, so we were easily able to find the hotel and book in. Despite it only being about 3 pm, after our early start - 4 am alarm - and the heat, we just couldn’t summon enough energy to go looking for elephants that afternoon, so we rested and then had a stroll round the immediate area, which was full of pavement restaurants, and found a splendid crêpérie for our evening meal.

Castle Bailey - still wet!
Thus fortified, we explored a little further and found Le Cigalle - a restaurant recommended to us - and booked for the next evening.
Thunder and heavy rain in the early morning didn’t daunt us, and after learning of the birth of Prince George of Wales - though his name was still unknown - via the French television news in the breakfast room, we set out for the castle as somewhere undercover for the morning.

L'Oubliette in the sunshine 

By the time we were finished from a fascinating tour, the rain had stopped, and it was lunchtime, so we ate in the open-air L’Oubliette in the castle bailey, and after walking round the walls and crossing the moat, went up to the cathedral forecourt to catch the tourist train. For whatever reason, the 2.30 train was not running, so we spent time in the cathedral itself and then caught the 3 pm one, which took us all around the city, and past Le Cigalle, as well as the ‘Île des Machines.’

The Tourist Train

We could see the Marine Carousel and the beginnings of the Heron Tree … but no sign of the Elephant.
We completed our tour of the cathedral and its crypt, and bought a few goodies in La Trinitaine - a shop specialising in Breton delicacies - before returning to the hotel to change ready for Le Cigalle. We walked there through the newly restored Passage Pomméry, a nineteenth-century shopping arcade set into the side of the hill.

Le Cigalle

The ‘Place’ where the restaurant is situated was under repair, so the outside of the building is not currently at its best, and the outside tables had been moved round the corner from where they were the previous evening, according to the changing area of the work being done. But we had booked, so an inside table was reserved for us … in the most riotous Art Nouveau suite of rooms you could wish to see.

Inside Le Cigalle

The food lived up to the surroundings, so we felt our second day had been a success.

...fell from the sky?

The next morning saw us finding ‘the wall that fell from the sky’ and then taking the tram to the Talensac market. 

Talensac Market -
southern outer arcade

Apparently it is so well-thought-of that it is on the American tourist route, and certainly it is well up with other ‘halles’ we have seen. 

Japanese Gardens

From there it was a short walk beside a tributary of the Loire to L’Île de Versailles - another former industrial area that was made into a Japanese garden in the 1980s.

Looking towards New York!

Another short tram hop [all included in the city pass we’d bought, which got us into the castle and on the tourist train without extra payment, too] and we were at La Tour de Bretagne - self-styled 'the only skyscraper between Paris and New York,' taking a lift up the 32 storeys to Le Nid. The covered balcony all the way round gave us wonderful views across the city; we were able to pick out where we had been - though we couldn’t manage to discern either Paris or New York on the east or western horizons! 

Stork's head ...

...and his body - and the eggs!

Our city passes also came up trumps for a free drink at the bar inside, where we could sit on the neck of a giant stork - the bar was his body - and look over the parapet to the views. 

Our table, and the individual chairs, were like hard boiled eggs.

Duchess Anne of Britanny

Another open-air lunch, though nothing special - our antennae let us down this time , and we returned to the hotel to cool off. We had planned to go back to ‘L’Île des Machines’ in the afternoon to see all the automata and perhaps even get a ride on the Elephant himself … but it was just too hot, and we couldn’t manage to get ourselves out again until the evening cool, when we strolled round the corner to find a Moroccan restaurant. Wonderful briques, couscous, Boulaouane rosé wine, and mint tea - oh yes, and an Île flottant between us for pud.

The final morning was just a quick march for the train before the day heated up. Then another hot metro crossing of Paris and Eurostar home. We had a lovely time - we must go back some time …

Monday, 29 July 2013

Someone else called their baby George!!

...and Joshua is no longer Joshua! Baby has been registered as Joseph - I haven't heard yet the reason for the change of heart/mind, but there it is.

And best wishes, too, to our new Prince George ... do you think he'd like a monkey?

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Monkey Business

Another baby due in the family – I was told at Christmas that I should get my needles out again for the summer, and asked whether a garment or a toy would be preferred. A toy is an heirloom, said the father-to-be. That’s that, then, thought I and began to wonder what to make.

A crochet pattern for Raymond Briggs’s Snowman attracted me to start with, and I sent off for it. 

DMC Snowman pattern - 'not a toy'!

But on reflection I decided a snowman for a summer baby wasn't particularly appropriate … and a white toy, for what we now knew was going to be a boy, might not last very long – or at least not remain white for very long. And there was a scarf, which would have needed to be sewn on very strongly … and when I read the pattern it said, very sternly,
‘This is not a toy’!

Not a snowman, then.

Then I saw a pattern for a dog. The family like dogs; this one looked a bit like the baby’s grandfather’s dog – to start with. I turned the page … and it had a sort of frill round the bottom of the body, and didn't look like anything much at all.

Not a dog, then.

Perhaps a teddy-bear? You can’t go wrong with a teddy bear, surely. I sifted through dozens, perhaps hundreds, of patterns on Ravelry. I didn't find a teddy bear I liked the look of.

So not a teddy bear.

In the meantime I had bought some aran cotton mix in a sale from an internet yarn dealer. 

Cardigan & hat made for one-year-old
It looked a really nice heathery colour on my screen, and when it arrived on a dull grey February day, when we had the lights on in the living room, it still looked a good heathery colour. I started knitting a cardigan for myself – the pattern is a scaled-up version of the one I'd made for another cousin’s child for her first birthday in January, which starts with the sleeves. I took it to the February Folk Dance weekend in Worthing. 

On the Saturday morning the sun shone. I looked at my knitting – hard, sharp purple – and knew I would never wear it.

My two dilemmas seemed to sort each other out. This bright purple would be great for a toy – maybe a purple teddy? I looked through the teddy patterns again, but still was not inspired. I changed my Ravelry search to ‘free’ ‘toy’ and left the knit or crochet undifferentiated. There was a monkey! I downloaded the pattern and made a start. It wasn't a particularly straightforward pattern, having been translated – probably by a robot – and I put it aside thinking ‘end of June, early July’ was a very long way ahead.

One day I had a few minutes between having my feet done and seeing the optician. So I looked round the yarn/haberdashery section of our local department store – as you do – and there was a stand of pattern books. Staring at me was a very engaging monkey. He was brown and fawn, but I thought he would work in my purple. I began to knit. To start with, I thought I’d make him entirely purple, but later decided that at least the face would need more definition, so I found some cream aran yarn, and made the face pieces in that. I decided that the tail was better purple, and swiss-darned cream for the inside of his ears. Face, hands and feet would be cream, instead of the pattern’s fawn, and all the pieces originally brown, plus ears and tail, were knitted in purple.

Then came the question of what to call him. I like to give my creatures names, sometimes before they have faces, as it can make quite a difference to how the face goes. I did give this chap a face, though, because the line of the mouth was very evident as soon as his face-piece and muzzle were attached; the right places for the nose and eyes were immediately obvious thereafter, so I had him complete. So, what name should he have? I put a picture of him on Facebook, to see if anyone could inspire me, and in the doing of that, and a bit of exchange of views on there, was able to sort my thoughts out.

Many of you know that I am quite interested in medieval monastic orders, in particular the Cistercians. so I thought about calling him Bernard, after their founder. [Monks and Monk-eys have to be associated, don’t they? Think of capuchins – and Friends!] 

But this monkey had a definite resemblance – apart from his colour – to Curious George. H L Rey’s endearing little monkey, called Zozo in some parts of the world, has a face very like my little chap. But I didn't want to call him George, in case the soon-to-be parents wanted to call the baby George! And then I thought of another well-known George, whose surname rhymes with another monastic order … and Clooney was born.

Just to add that Joshua [not George!] arrived safely on Thursday 6 June ...

Since then I have been persuaded to make another monkey – after all, I have plenty of purple wool! – for the raffle at the forthcoming Cleeve Gathering of the EJO Society. So the second one will be Cluny!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013


Just thinking of all my friends in the Boston area, and pondering what goes through the mind of someone who can set bombs where families are watching a sporting event ...

Friday, 29 March 2013

Eyes Right

Three days after I last posted, I had a cataract operation.  Phaco-emulsion, they call it - all done by ultrasound these days. You may remember from the dreaded dishwasher post that I had a cataract that had developed more quickly than the optician had expected. When I saw the Eye Consultant in the autumn - I see her regularly because I have a family history of glaucoma, so although I haven't thankfully, got that myself, they are keeping an eye on me, by means of annual photos of my eyes in September, and an appointment with the consultant in November - this, naturally, was discussed as well.

So I was referred for surgery - about a 2 month waiting list, I was told - and just after Christmas had the letter inviting me for a pre-op assessment appointment at the end of January. At the end of that appointment I was given a date for the actual op. of 7th March. Well, that was very pleasing, as I had just been to my folk-dance weekend in Eastbourne, which happens on the last weekend of each January, and the op. date was safely beyond the February folk-dance weekend in Worthing. 

On Monday 4th February - less than a week later - at 09:55, the phone rang. TMH answered, as I was not long out of the shower and still leisurely getting dressed. It was the Eye Unit: 'We've had a cancellation; can you get here for half past ten?' - and then, at my stunned silence: 'Well, quarter to eleven then?' Yes, I could, and still not feeling entirely real, I grabbed a cardigan and we drove down to the hospital, parked in their multi-storey car park, and were on Floor C as directed at 10:35. 

By one o'clock, after a short chat with the surgeon, several lots of eye drops, 15 minutes looking at the light in the operating theatre, and two slices of toast that they insisted I ate, I was home, all done, with a leaflet telling me about eye drops - two different types four times a day for 2 weeks, then one of them twice a day for another two weeks - and a shield over my eye that I was to remove the next day. No chance to get worried or worked up before The Day; no hanging around, no pain, no injections. The whole thing was over and done with before I had time to think about it.

Naturally I rationed my 'screen time' for a while, though my leaflet had told me I could read if it was comfortable to do so. I was a little disgruntled the afternoon of the operation day, as the nurse had told me I shouldn't put my contact lens in the eye that hadn't been done 'until tomorrow'. But when, the following day, I put that lens in, I didn't enjoy the sensation at all! Because my newly inserted left lens was allowing good middle-distance sight, I didn't need the [short-sighted] right eye to be corrected for distance at all! I wanted to be able to read, which without the contact lens, I found I was well able to do ... and to thread a needle, which is even more important  and something I hadn't been able to manage without reading glasses when wearing my contacts beforehand. 

So from having contact lenses that corrected my right eye for distance, and my left eye for reading - but not very small print - this is known as 'monovision' - I am now not using contacts in either eye, and my left eye is the distance one, and my right eye the reading one - which can manage very well with small print. This settled fairly quickly after the op. and happily has continued  so when I go for my post-op appointment next week, and am allowed to go to the opticians - which I have already booked for the end of the week, to be able to see the one I like, who only works there on a Friday - all I will need is a pair of glasses for theatre and driving. I've tried driving a short distance with my old spare glasses, but they are wrong for the left eye, and after a while it feels strained, so I'm eagerly waiting for next week when I can order the new ones. In the meantime, this miraculous op. has enabled me to enjoy seeing the weather out of the window as soon as I wake up, being able to recognise people across a room, and - because my astigmatism has also been partially corrected with the implanted lens - I am no longer getting the sensation that the nearside hedge or kerb is leaping out to get me when I'm being driven; which makes me a calmer passenger for TMH to chauffeur around!

I'm also saving over £20 a month because of no longer needing the lenses or their cleaning/storing solution. Pretty good result, don't you think?

Oh yes, and I went to the February Folk-dance weekend in Worthing, too!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Quick Pudding [to liven up fruit from the bottom of the freezer!]

Take an ovenproof dish – mine is an oval about 12 inches by 8 inches – and grease it well with whatever fat you are using for the sponge [this is additional to the amount to weigh out below] then pour the [thawed] fruit into the bottom of the dish with any juices it has produced.

Weigh 2 eggs – or use them on the weight tray instead of actual weights if you have a balance scale
Take the same weight of:
Flour [to which add 1 teaspoon of baking powder, and about half a teaspoon of spice(s) to suit the fruit*]
Caster sugar
Fat – I use Bertolli, but softened butter is good, too

Preheat oven to 180°C [375°F]

Cream the fat and sugar together and add the eggs one at a time, beating them well in, and adding a tablespoon of flour after each egg to prevent curdling. Then sieve in the rest of the flour and mix in well. If necessary, add a splash or two of milk to get a nice soft mixture – not quite as thin as pouring, but not as thick as whipped cream.
Spoon the sponge mixture over the fruit and smooth out.
Bake in oven for 30-35 minutes until top is golden brown.
Serve with crème fraîche or cream, or custard, according to your preference.

Just to add [Tuesday evening] - we've had the last 2 helpings tonight - so it has done the two of us 4 days, which means this quantity produces 8 portions, and not stingy ones at that!

*As I was using rhubarb, I put a little bit of ginger and mixed spice in with the flour, but for apples you could use cloves or cinnamon, for cherries cinnamon, or whatever you think goes best. It only needs a hint – I added about a quarter of a teaspoon of each of the two I used

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Nearly missed January!

Where did that time go? I'm not long back from a folk-dance weekend and the Australian Open is over, so it must be nearly the end of the month!

So in order to show you something, I'm putting up a couple of pictures of things I've been knitting recently.

This was the cardigan I made for myself from some yarn I got at a Stitch and Craft exhibition. I'd bought two colourways of what I now know was the just discontinued Noro Silk Garden Chunky. The first made up into a sleeveless jacket/body warmer - not quite a gilet, as it had cap sleeves. I don't appear to have any photos of that, so I can't show it to you today. But I wanted something more of a jacket for the second lot of yarn, so I scoured the country on the net, and managed to get enough for a full cardigan. And then of course, being me, got about halfway up the body and decided it wasn't right, so unpicked it all. Last April's Simply Knitting came to the rescue with a cable patterned cardigan in chunky - and you see the results here. The cabling helps keep the whole thing from being too unstructured, which the pattern I started first of all was in danger of being, as it was in plain stocking-stitch. They also interlock  so that the widest part of each cable is next to the crossover part of the next-door one, which I thought was a great effect.

Naturally I changed things; theirs was a demure grey, as opposed to my vibrant colour mix - I had to use two different dye lot numbers  but with a variegated yarn, dye batches are not that important anyway. And the original had a wrap-over with a belt, which I knew would make me look like a sack of potatoes, so I made buttonholes and sewed on some buttons instead.

And then I decided to make a first birthday present for the little girl who had Lewis the elephant so I started with some supposedly baby yarn - but after a while it seemed to feel almost slimy, and I just couldn't work with it any more. So I started another jumper with some soya cotton ... only to find it was making up into something that would be enormous on a five-year-old! So I found yet another pattern, this time for aran yarn, and made this little cardigan - and had enough over to make a hat to go with it. 

So there you are ... just made it before the new month is upon us!