Weblog (home)


Pattern of
the Month

On the Needles
(...and Off the Needles)



About the
Idle Hands

Category Entries for Oddments and stray thoughts

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Sunday January 24, 2021

No grit here...


Someone's car slid for quite a distance down our road, (including over the pavement), deftly avoiding people and parked cars, and finally coming to rest in our fence ....

Posted on January 24, 2021 at 1:36 PM | Comments (0) Leave a comment

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Thursday June 18, 2020

The day today...


Slight snag.
no "h" available at Hobbycraft.

Posted on June 18, 2020 at 10:41 AM | Comments (0) Leave a comment

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Wednesday June 17, 2020

The day today...


Posted on June 17, 2020 at 10:40 AM | Comments (0) Leave a comment

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Tuesday June 16, 2020

The day today...


Posted on June 16, 2020 at 10:40 AM | Comments (0) Leave a comment

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Monday June 15, 2020

The day today...


Posted on June 15, 2020 at 10:39 AM | Comments (0) Leave a comment

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Sunday June 14, 2020

The day today...


Posted on June 14, 2020 at 10:39 AM | Comments (0) Leave a comment

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Saturday June 13, 2020

The day today...


Posted on June 13, 2020 at 10:37 AM | Comments (0) Leave a comment

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Friday June 12, 2020

So what day IS it?

I'm making my own "days of the week" pin-up board.
[Because I can...]


Posted on June 12, 2020 at 10:54 AM | Comments (0) Leave a comment

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Thursday June 4, 2020

Day Three

What day is it again?

Posted on June 4, 2020 at 8:10 AM | Comments (0) Leave a comment

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Wednesday June 3, 2020

Day Two

Sandwich Sudoku from Saturday's Guardian completed.


Posted on June 3, 2020 at 8:42 AM | Comments (0) Leave a comment

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Monday September 28, 2015



I was a bit surprised to find myself awake at 4am just in time to remember that there was an eclipse of the moon going on - and I had a great view of it. Not really represented in my picture but you get the idea...

Rob also took a set of photos with some wonderful detail (and a better lens!).




Posted on September 28, 2015 at 3:47 PM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Sunday August 25, 2013

Top Cat


Our second week in France and the weather just as promising as our last visit. Again I spent most of my time in the Bakehouse, painting - and <drum roll and excitement> putting the doors on the kitchen wall cupboards.
However, before all that - we arrived on the overnight ferry, and on our way through one of the local villages at the crack of dawn, we saw a sign advertising a vide grenier - so we went. And I found this wonderful cat - he's a wooden money box, which is not obvious. He looks a bit grubby in the photo but he cleaned up well. I love him.


Here is more of Peter's handiwork - and these shelves and their background is mainly what will occupy me in the Bakehouse this week.


Posted on August 25, 2013 at 10:14 AM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Friday March 15, 2013

Gotta new motor?


So ..... some guy wantonly drove into the side of Rob's car - which was a bit of a blow as he was fond of it. The result being that the insurance company decided it was a write-off, which it may have been technically (ie the car was not worth more than the repair) but in reality only needed the passenger door replacing.
So ..... while they are busy sorting it all out, (I say "busy" but they are taking weeks), Rob has been driving around in this huge tank of a vehicle, which all-told has cost the insurance company as much to hire, as he is being compensated for the loss of his car.
I guess it's kind of fun.

Posted on March 15, 2013 at 10:48 PM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Saturday January 28, 2012

Why the big paws?

A bear walks into a bar and the bartender says: "What will you have?"
And the bear says nothing for a while - and then finally , "....I'd like a beer"
So the bartender fetches the beer and says briskly: "Anything else I can get for you?"
The bear considers a while and then says: "............ and some of those peanuts."
The bartender says: "Sure, ...but why the big pause?"


[photo by steven kazlowski]

Posted on January 28, 2012 at 12:29 PM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Friday June 10, 2011

New Technology


I have a new toy: an electronic reader. The title says "New Technology" but almost before I can put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard, stylus to screen, etc) it is not longer new, nor unique in its function. This is hardly a surprise as I bought it "used" on eBay, although it is virtually new.
I chose to get the smaller version of the Sony eReader. for a number of reasons, some of which are no longer relevant. One of them is unchanging, which is, that it is light in weight and fits well into my bag, while at the same time feeling quite like holding a little book when reading. I first saw it when out with Helen (she was buying a Netbook), and was smitten, but reviews did not rate it as the best; a closer look however seemed to show that many reviewers did rate it as "the best" and their main objection was the price. My eBay purchase, of course, overcame that objection.

I think the eBay seller had bought some other device with a reading app making a specific reader device redundant. However, despite my now owning a Sony tablet - with Sony eReader and Kindle apps installed - I still find I have a very strong need for the eReader, which is just like putting a tiny light-weight book in my bag when travelling. It's very useful having the reader apps on my tablet, but I would not use the tablet as a replacement for the specialist device.

Posted on June 10, 2011 at 8:24 AM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Sunday June 6, 2010

Minor problems

We spent the week in France, and I took a few photos of the garden - our wonderful strawberry bed and so on (on our last day there were just two ripe strawberries - one each) - but when I got back I found that all my photos were black. My camera had every appearance of working - but was not. It's a nice camera but I have mistreated it somewhat - and it's now sufficiently old that I was quickly able to find a refurbished replacement of exactly the same model (with no extras - I have all the extras...) at a very reasonable price.

While I was in France I finished a couple of projects - and started some more.
A new project is yet another Louisa Harding cardigan using Sirdar Peru that I bought at Alexandra Palace last year. I am very fond of this yarn, and it feels lovely when knitted - but - I was a bit surprised to find it coming out in stripes. I knew it had colour variations but I had not expected it to be so evenly striped in this way.


I think it would knit up better into Fiona Morris' modular knitting designs - but too late for that thought now I'm afraid.

Posted on June 6, 2010 at 12:01 AM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Monday May 18, 2009

Doing His Best.

I was delighted to hear that Bear Grylls has been named as the new Chief Scout. To me he seems the perfect choice - though I have to admit I am not the "target market"! However, (to me), he represents youth (being relatively young at 34), but also stands for the traditional scouting backwoodsman image, as well as having a background in the army like the founder of the movement.

About 10 years ago he came to speak to us at a sales meeting - he was the "inspirational speaker". He acquitted himself well, and spoke about his experiences which seemed enough for any lifetime and yet he was still only in his early 20s. Having joined the SAS, been severely injured and invalided out at, he then recovered and climbed Everest - but was pipped at the post to be the youngest Briton to to reach the top at 23. He was charmingly candid and came over as a thoroughly nice chap.

His reputation as a "TV personality" has come after this - and is not without controversy. Indeed an item on the Guardian News Blog puts over the question of whether he will cope with the role, especially the PR. However, I think it could be said that his life and experiences are based around traditional outdoor feats of derring-do - plus a lot of PR enabling him to make a living out of them....

He has been criticised by another favourite of mine, Ray Mears, but I think their rivalry is unnecessary. They produce similar "outdoor survival" TV series - but I don't think Ray's skills and sincerity in this area are in any doubt, and he has no need to defend them.

Posted on May 18, 2009 at 1:08 PM


The boys were really pleased about Bear Grylls being chief scout - I agree that his talents are in line with the self-sufficiency encouraged by the scouts. We are waiting for Man Vs Wild to return to cable here for the inevitable re-runs.

Posted by: Alison on May 25, 2009 9:39 PM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Sunday March 22, 2009

More is... well... more!

I am finally posting this entry. I meant to do it before but am still lacking a photo which would have made it more interesting. So all the interest is in the Dress-a-Day website - and anyway it's a really good site so worth a visit. During the week of 9th to 13th of March, Erin did a daily "What's the Story?" on some dress patterns - great fun - but Gray Dress and Yellow Dress were the ones that struck a chord for me. It really is my friend Alison and I - though I'm not sure which is which - I think either could take either role depending on circumstance, (although generally I would be the one with the inappropriate complicated sleeves!).

So it was that, one Christmas in the early 1990's, we were planning our outfits for our Firm's "Family Dinner". I suspect Alison was the one who invested in the Vogue pattern and we each made outfits from it. We both made fitted velvet dresses, and found it hard to believe that no-one realised they were from the same basic design. Alison's version was a beautiful rich dark green velvet with long fitted sleeves, and mine was black and sleeveless. The collar was a ruched affair, high at the front and plunging low at the back - Alison's tastefully all in green velvet - mine, however... a kind of gold and black flock fabric - like wallpaper in 1970s Indian restaurants - lovely...

If I manage to track down the pattern I will append a photo. Meanwhile do look at Dress a Day for the origins of these musings.

Posted on March 22, 2009 at 11:33 AM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Thursday February 12, 2009

The most expensive chocolate...

A week or two ago I saw that the ex-Woolworth's premises really was being reopened as a temporary rehousing for our Waitrose branch in Banstead. Actually, I heard it first as gossip in the queue at Asda... but I don't believe all I overhear in supermarket queues.
The store front itself announced the opening day as February 12th, and, as it's my day off, I decided to rush there on the first day of trading.
And what a jolly experience it all was - everyone cheerfully greeting Mr Thompson like a long lost friend, lots of well-stocked shelves (despite the much reduced floor space).... and free chocolates....

The council have also decided to offer a free hour of parking for shoppers ("until further notice"), which helps since Waitrose no longer have any associated parking. However, I got a bit carried away and my 6 minutes over the hour was punished with a parking ticket. I'm not very impressed actually, as I think it's a cynical move by the council to send out inspectors on the Waitrose opening day when everything is bound to take longer than expected - however... "it's a fair cop guv'ner" - etc

None of the above can dampen my spirits at being able to go back to my previous little routine of going to the library, followed by a quick trip to the supermarket. Hurrah. Just have to make sure it's only an hour of pleasure at a time in future.

Posted on February 12, 2009 at 2:12 PM


As I said already - that sucks and I would definitely complain to the council.

Posted by: Alison on February 15, 2009 8:26 PM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Saturday December 20, 2008

Finger of Fate

Said finger seems to have singled out the village of Banstead to be at the forefront of the defence against the Great Downturn. Our local Waitrose supermarket there has been rased to the ground last Friday night by a huge fire; it was a remarkable event in the village. It took 15 hours to put out the blaze and the High Street was closed for almost a week.

I was ignorant of the fact all week, since I went elsewhere to shop in larger towns (Christmas shopping). All week I meant to pop into Banstead and failed to do so; I can't imagine how stunned I would have been to see such a sad sight without being pre-warned. In fact, I still have not plucked up courage to go and look. George says the saddest part is that it still has the basic shape of a supermarket (so not quite rased to the ground). However, they estimate it will take up to two years to rebuild.

[This picture submitted to a local website by Nicola Court]

So - it is a very sad event for the locality, and much speculation that it will add to the pressures on the local shops to try and retain customers without the draw of a major supermarket in the village.

[Waitrose (Mr Thompson) wrote to their customers (me) "apologising" for the fire and giving me vouchers to spend in other stores - it is so devastating (in the context of the comfortable environment in which I live) - I felt it would have been more appropriate for me to write a sympathetic letter to them! To everyone's relief, it was only property that was damaged - no people.]

Posted on December 20, 2008 at 2:28 PM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Thursday December 11, 2008

Goodbye Woolies

A shop on every high street. From Lancing, (village of my birth), to the present in Banstead village. A permanent fixture. Until now.


I went to the closing down sale of one of the saddest victims of the financial crisis. It's all sentiment of course - all us middle aged middle class middle-of-the-road folk, who no longer shop there but remember it fondly as the only affordable place of our teenage youth. Now where will I get my minit-mop replacement heads and my "old stock" range of dyes?

The whole store was full of people saying "I remember when..." and "...how sad..." - but what can we do? all club together for a nationwide buyout? Because the truth is we certainly did not shop there enough to keep it going.

Goodbye Woolies - I hope you have gone to a better place.

Posted on December 11, 2008 at 3:17 PM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Thursday September 18, 2008


rutabaga-120.jpg In France, they don't seem very big on the range of root vegetables we seem to thrive on in England. O - except turnips - every where you look - turnips - for any foreigners (and by that I refer to the Scots - see below*) I mean those round white-with-a-hint-of-mauve unappealing tasteless vegetables. When compared with delicious swedes and parsnips (again - see below*) ... what can I say?
Turnips (the round white etc..) are navets in French and on one occasion only George did see parsnips at our favourite veg stall in Brécey market. He pounced, and Mme Batard told him they were called "navets" - he pointed out the "other" navets and she simply shrugged**.
On one other single occasion, we found swedes in a supermarket. However, we were unable to find any name for them - and none of the staff knew what they were called - so we all stood around the scales shaking our heads and shrugging in a true Gallic manner. In the end, we decided - by a process of elimination of 92 other vegetables - that they were rutabaga***.

All these linguistic mysteries were brought to mind by the Rutabaga shopping bag knitting pattern. I may have to make it just for nostalgia. Or in preparation for future nostalgia.

* In Scotland, they do not use the word swede, but seem to call everything root-vegetable-wise, turnips - except the tatties of course... So we have the traditional Haggis, tatties, and neeps which are actually pudding, spuds and mashed swede. [I mention this to goad my Scottish friends - so I probably don't have any now.]

** Using the power of the interweb I find that parsnips are "panais" - but French wikipedia does say they are a vegetable "a little neglected these days - except in Great Britain and the Nordics".

*** In fact these Normans were probably confused by the vast choice of names for a vegetable you never normally see there: "chou-navet", "chou de Siam", "choux suédois" - and all variations on cabbage.

Posted on September 18, 2008 at 11:04 PM


Swedes are Rutabagas here in the USA. Easier to find this out in Safeway where they are labelled.
Also - since getting our veg box I am a new convert to turnips - we get tiny, sweet, white ones, and they are delicious. The main difference between these and turnips at home is that they have a more starchy texture - delicious in soups.

Posted by: Alison on September 21, 2008 3:21 AM

....just to say it’s not just Scotland that calls “swedes” turnips, it’s the same story in the north-east too. I can’t be buying a swede, they are forever turnips to me :o)

Posted by: Sheelagh on September 22, 2008 8:36 AM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Friday July 18, 2008

I ♥ London

It seems so long since the cherries. And we are missing them so much we have already booked our next stay in France - the annual 2 week holiday no less - only a week to go.

I spent several days this week at customers in London, and traveled from the various railways stations and offices by bus. It was moderately efficient, though I noticed a clear difference from when the "congestion charge" first hit London. During those first weeks and months, buses really worked; there was much less traffic in the centre. Since then, the traffic has gradually increased again - now we've all found out how to pay the charge, we are all just doing so, and going into London with our cars when the need arises, just as we did before. They need to invent some new red tape that will have us mystified for a few more months....

However, traveling on the top deck of a bus in the current English summer weather (not too hot; the occasional shower) is just the perfect way to make the most of London during your working day. The tube is more efficient but .... well it's Under Ground isn't it? [the clue's in the name]. Also there isn't a tube right next to our office - and you get to walk along the river from the bus stop.... All so perfect.

This evening I stayed on in London, as Rob and I had booked to go and see "Spamalot" (a "two-for-one" offer - George would have liked to go but has been working late all week and could not make the available dates). It was very funny - nostalgic for us but with some new material and jokes clearly fitted to the latest Arthur.


"I am your king."
"Well I didn't vote for you."
"You don't vote for kings."
"Well how'd you become king then?"
"The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. That is why I am your king."
"Listen - strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony."

Posted on July 18, 2008 at 11:18 PM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Sunday May 18, 2008

No strings

I have fallen in love with some pretty unsuitable chaps in my time - but despite the obvious drawbacks, I am now thinking that I cannot understand why I did not see what a cool guy he was all those years ago was when I was 10.


Ah, the follies of youth. Unfortunately now, although we are about the same age, he has remained as youthful as ever, and probably I am a bit raggedy around the edges. Years ago when he was a nerd, maybe I would have stood a chance - but now... I am not the only one to have noticed him.

Next week they promise to tell us how it was done. I desperately wanted it to be pure puppetry - but of course it isn't.
Though I don't really think I should do Britvic's advertising for them - surely after this inspired work, they deserve it?

Brains then and now:

BrainsThen.jpg BrainsNow.jpg

Posted on May 18, 2008 at 7:35 PM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Monday January 28, 2008

Jobs for the girls

I have been working on a Pattern of the Month from the 1940s. As always, I'm slightly uncertain if it will prove a really useful item for "the Great Britain of today". I feel it might have a good application in some outdoor sports, but hard to tell when you don't actively participate in any!

This theme was nicely taken up by a news item today, that Land Girls and Lumberjills are being given recognition for their efforts during World War II. It was decided after the war that the civilian population would not receive medals in the same way that the soldiers did, but now, surviving members of the WLA and WTC are to receive a commemorative badge. There are a number of other organisations not (yet) included that also should have their contributions acknowledged formally - I hope this will happen while there are still some alive to appreciate it.

girlsonrd.jpg I feel that, for myself anyway, we do not fully realise what really hard work it was for women to take up these jobs, and certainly by today's standards, if not for those of the time, the conditions were poor, and the pay low.

I filched the picture on the right from the fashion link below with no idea I'm afraid if they are land girls or just "girls on road" as photo name implies (they may not even be English girls - who knows?). I was unable to resist the picture as they look jolly, and dressed for practicality rather than glamour, but I hope I don't offend any Land Girls as these are perhaps a bit scruffy compared with the efficient dungareed women shown on the Imperial War Museum site.
In surfing I found the following interesting links on women's work during WWII.

Posted on January 28, 2008 at 8:24 AM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Friday December 28, 2007

Mobile Working

So here we are sitting on the ferry at Dover. I am working on-line (this is a great novelty for me - my former PC refused to co-operate with my 3G card or dial-up ever since the hard disk failure/replacement in August 2006).


Anyway - now we are about to sail, I have to stop - there is a high wind and the stewardess has just informed us that it is very rough. I feel pretty queasy already and we are still in the harbour....

Posted on December 28, 2007 at 3:31 PM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Wednesday November 28, 2007

Cunning foxes and broken pots

At the weekend, I made the Christmas puddings - one for me, one for my sister; maybe a bit early but next weekend is the cake... As part of this annual exercise, as usual, I went through all my dry goods and evicted all the out of date items especially those "Best before 2001" (OK so maybe I don't do it annually). I found two packets of desiccated coconut and rather than throw them out I thought "little birds like coconut" so I put little piles outside the house - for little birds or little squirrels. In the early evening, there was a terrible clatter from outside - and I went out to find one of my flower pots in pieces, and earth everywhere. It seemed very strange that it would spontaneously explode, and I had my suspicions....
10 minutes or so later, I cautiously peeped out of the window from behind the curtain and as I suspected there was a jolly fine looking fox chomping away at the coconut. In his initial enthusiasm he had knocked everything over in order to get at the tasty snack. Not what I had planned but glad some wildlife got to eat it (wildlife that was not, for example, rats, which is always a consideration when you leave food around your house!).

I've been putting off releasing this entry as I had hoped to get some pictures, but the garden mayhem was cleared up before I managed to get my camera out....!

Last night I attended the farewell "do" for my customer Sheelagh in Oxford, as she is leaving it all behind and becoming a lady of leisure. So she has now transitioned to be "my friend Sheelagh", which I guess will be the least of the transitions she has to worry about. The evening was very pleasant, and I drove home in the early hours (in my new mini) but was stunned to find the M25 London orbital road utterly stuffed with a traffic jam which delayed me by 35 minutes - I would have thought it very bad luck to have hit something like that during the day never mind at 1 in the morning. (Turns out they do roadworks at night when the road is full of lorries).

Other than that, I seem to be having continuing issues with technical "stuff" breaking. My phone broke, and I had the BT engineer out to my house fixing it (pretty quickly I might say, though it was their fault, as they disconnected me while doing some other work in our road). My brand new car of 2 weeks reported an engine failure, which the local dealer was able to look into, and hopefully has resolved. Two weeks ago, my computer notebook broke, so I have been working on a temporary machine, and I find the new one they had delivered for me is also broken (!).
I am hoping this is the end of the trend of broken things.

Posted on November 28, 2007 at 10:24 AM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Monday November 12, 2007

A real shower

Today we finally took delivery of a consignment from the US containing some mystery auction items that George purchased from an estate sale. George knew they original owner of the items and he was a true collector of lovely stuff, so the lots included quite a few interesting things (some of which we can't identify) as well as the eye baths which are George's real interest.


The sad thing is that quite a few items arrived broken - not so many of the eye baths but some of the larger items. This was no doubt due to the bizarre packing by the auction house - glass items wrapped in tissue, while metal items deserved bubble-wrap - as well as the fact that the delivery company had at least 4 delivery attempts, (four times on and off a lorry), where their modus operandi seems to be to driving up and down our road a couple of times, failing to see our entrance, going back to the depot, and not informing us of any problem.

The auction house do not seem to have covered themselves in glory over this sale. As I said, this was a large estate sale including lots of real rare and valuable items, which is why they were called in. They seem to have been overwhelmed by the quantity of objects, unable to properly assess them, and sold them off in bundles of lots without proper description, photos, or estimated sale values. George did get a number of pre-sale photos and the single eye bath for which he bought one entire lot (of 100 or so) was not actually found among the items. They clearly do not realise that the recipient is not going to overlook the odd eye bath just because they chose to sell the items in vast lots. Funny how the rarest one has gone missing eh?

The other sad thing is that the picture above is not all of the items... and our hall is still full of boxes.

Posted on November 12, 2007 at 6:38 PM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Friday November 9, 2007

Cleanliness is next to....

Maybe not.
bathroom.jpg Anyway, we now have a new bathroom. There are still a lot of details left for us to finish, but I hope I will be motivated long enough to stop knitting and do some DIY. I was somewhat unimpressed along the way as the tiler arrived and promptly told me he did not know about any border (my only decorative requirement) and that he was not prepared to sacrifice his artistic integrity and work with the mosaic tiles I had bought as they were not already laid on a backing in the pattern I wanted and would "look awful". The project manager came and helpfully repeated what the tiler had said (in case I had some learning difficulty obviously) - helpfully adding that he had "no idea" that I had bough these mosaics but thought I had bought border tiles. If that were indeed true, all I would say is that it's a pity he did not check the materials and brief the tiler somewhat before the day the guy turned up to work....

I then spent a challenging evening carefully peeling every alternate tile off the sheets of mosaics I had bought and then resticking alternate coloured tiles back into place with a two-part epoxy. As I had a cold and could not smell anything, I realised about half way through (ceaselessly coughing) that I was probably as high as a kite, so had to open all the windows, and try and concentrate very hard on keeping everything exactly square.

I am pleased to say, the following day, the tiler completely accepted the mysterious appearance of chequered tiles on sheets as required, and set about sticking them on the wall without further protest.
Note the delightful recessed tile soap dish that the project manager also assured me was unobtainable.

Posted on November 9, 2007 at 12:54 PM


You creating the tile mosaic is hysterical! What a dodo the tiler sounds. Anyway - the bathroom looks lovely.

Posted by: Alison on November 15, 2007 8:17 PM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Wednesday September 12, 2007

He is no more.

He is an ex-parrot.

Well! I was only talking about him just recently .... and this evening listening to PM on the way home from Warwick I find he has died at the age of 31 - not old for a parrot apparently.

Alex.jpg I am a terrible bore on the subject of "talking" animals - I was completely captivated by Washoe the chimpanzee - and this is what led me to watch a Horizon** programme, where I first saw Alex the African grey parrot, along with Dr. Irene Pepperberg, the researcher who started working with Alex (Avian Learning EXperiment) 30 years ago. What I always found so amusing is that Alex, although he speaks cognitively, is actually a perfect mimic, so his voice, intonation, and accent are exactly that of Dr Pepperberg herself. She did have a rather obvious and somewhat maternal relationship with the bird ... but ... why not? He was very appealing. Here is a link where you can see him at work. Go on - he was one of the truly great parrots...

These animals who have learnt to communicate with us on our own terms are fascinating, and I enjoy reading articles on the research. I enjoy the fact that chimps are interested mainly in food and tickling (and sex I guess but that was never dwelt upon in the reports I heard of these studies). Although this communication is all in the form of signing, it seems very clear that they do have "language" - which maybe we would understand better if we were able to communicate with them on their own terms, rather than teaching them signing that we have invented.

This brings me to the second point that always amused me. Some (famous) linguists are quite determined that whatever these animals have, it is absolutely not language. They then define language to exclude these other forms of communication- the first attempt was suggesting that the chimps just use words but not sentences and have no idea of syntax. Then the researchers pointed out that the chimps knew full well the difference between "I tickle you" and "You tickle me". So the linguists changed the definition of language yet again. Such is the arrogance of the human race. I can see that they seem to have a small vocabulary, and limited grammar, so they have nothing like the sophistication of our verbal communication... but who knows? They are communicating in, not just a foreign language, but more like an alien language. I have not seen any more recent studies on chimps but I'm not sure we ever got to learn their own non-verbal method of communication, even though empirical research made it clear that they have one.

** I think the programme I watched was "HORIZON: SIGNS OF THE APES, SONGS OF THE WHALES" in 1984. Horizon is a TV documentary programme with a long history of excellence (here speaks a woman who watches only crime drama on TV). It covers a wide range of topics within the world of science and technology - which may be why I find it more appealing than other documentary series.

Posted on September 12, 2007 at 8:54 PM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Wednesday August 8, 2007


At the group dinner in Montpellier I sat with Randy - an American colleague of many years standing - and in passing he mentioned 711 stores in the US not really living up to their name any more (in that they open all hours and not just 7am until 11pm). This led me to tell him about my first time in California in the 1980s, and that I really did not connect "711" with the hours of opening. I am still not sure when I even finally made the connection. However at the time, all it reminded me of was Auntie Glad and a perfume from years ago called "4711". I remember it on her dressing table with its pretty blue and gold label - and how my Mother was a bit scornful of it (I think she thought it a bit old fashioned, preferring Lanvin's Arpège).

As often happens, not a week or so later, I was browsing my 1937 Stitchcrafts and found a full page advert in the Christmas edition, which I reproduce here for your delight. In the 1960s it had a catchy TV jingle as well.

These 4711 products were by no means inexpensive (see footnote **). See the cologne is ten shillings and sixpence - which is half a guinea. Although this translates to only 52.5p today, it is hard to provide a true view of the value, even if you tried taking inflation into account it would be perhaps twenty or thirty pounds - in fact just about the price of perfumes today.

However this does not give a true view of an average person's ability to afford it, compared with today. Years ago, people could live on very little money for food and rent, and "luxury" goods were relatively a lot more expensive, whereas now it is possible to own TVs and mobile phones even when you are really quite poor. You could say for example, that in the 1960s you started work at 17 on a salary of about 7/6 a week, (living at home with Mum and Dad) - so this perfume exceeded a week's wage. Looking at starting salaries today, this makes the perfume about £500. So even though my salary may be only 10 times what it was in the 1970s, my relative ability to buy perfume is far more than 10 times.

Lets not even start on why "luxury" goods are relatively so much cheaper for us today....

**Footnote: I am amused to find that this perfume is still available today, is not so very expensive, (around £9 for 50ml), and there is a wealth of fascinating information on its origins.

Posted on August 8, 2007 at 8:17 PM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Tuesday July 24, 2007

Jet streams

Set off for Gatwick by train this morning having my usual pre-travel chat with Bernard in the ticket office. Although the weather was nice and sunny, we could not help discussing the appalling weather we've have had in the UK. Having not seen any news over the weekend I was stunned when I viewed the TV on Sunday night to find large areas of the UK appear to be under water, and the latest news seems to be getting worse.

It seems all these amazing and endless downpours are due to the Jet Stream. I'd never given any consideration to this phenomena before but it seems that rain-bearing depressions start to form around the jet streams and percolate downwards, and are thus responsible for all our weather....

[Bernard told me that jet streams were first noticed by pilots during the Second World War one minute over the UK - the next in Norway - or something like that. Most educational. Don't know what I'll do for information when he retires. Wikipedia just doesn't compare.]

Anyway, apparently, in summer the jet stream lies across the north Atlantic, allowing high-pressure weather systems to move up from Europe to cover the UK.
Warm Sunny Weather.

This year, however, the jet stream has moved several hundred miles to the south bringing storms and heavy rain, to our little island. I have read "Scientists are unsure of the reason but believe there is a link to a natural phenomenon known as La Niña."
[And I always thought he was El Niño - but now I find there are two of them.]

So I was mentally well prepared (!) for my short flight to France. "Entering and leaving a jet stream can be a turbulent time for any aircraft no matter how big it is."

Posted on July 24, 2007 at 11:45 AM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Tuesday July 10, 2007

"Better than shopping"

I went to Nuneaton to a customer today. Catching the train on the way back, I had about 40 minutes to wait at the station. The platform was pretty empty (lunchtime), but as I ate my sandwich I wandered out of the shelter into the sun, and noticed a bunch of people at the far end, apparently enjoying a picnic. It crossed my mind that they were beyond where the trains stopped, and gradually, (as I noticed their cameras, binoculars, and clothing), light dawned - they were train-spotting.

After that, I realised that a lot of the people on the station on all the platforms were actually train-spotters rather than passengers. Without being patronising, I can't tell you how good these people make me feel; some kind of security of a bygone age, even thought their own enthusiasm is right up to date - for sure, they are not anachronistic throw-backs at all. Far from being "sad" they make me feel full of joy - reminding me there is pleasure in life from all manner of things.

I finally plucked up the courage to speak to one of them:
Me: "Are you waiting for something special to come through?"
Him: "o no"
Me: "Just a nice day out, then?"
Him: "Aye - better than shopping..." (*see note)
Me: "Yes... weeell..... actually I'm probably 50-50 on that one..."
Much laughter all round.

I so much regret I did not have my camera with me; I searched the web for pictures and information but train-spotters take and post pictures of trains, of course, not each other..


I stole this picture from James's Railway Round-up (2005). I believe it shows platform 4 and a couple of the enthusiasts.

The link is to an item about Nuneaton, but in case you don't feel the need to look, I have to quote from him here, which partly explains the popularity of the station for the spotters (*see note).

"Rail traffic is in abundance at Nuneaton station, local services are provided by Central Trains, with the London expresses being provided by Virgin Trains. There's usually 2 trains an hour to Leicester and Birmingham, an hourly service to Coventry and an hourly service to London and Liverpool Lime Street. However, many passenger trains can be seen hurtling through Nuneaton at top speeds of 125mph!! and are all Pendolino tilting trains - again - all are operated by Virgin.

Freightwise, several operators can be seen at Nuneaton, including EWS, Freightliner, GBRf and DRS. Motive power is mainly in the shape of Class 60 and 66 diesel locomotives, electric locomotives appear in the shape of Class 86, 90 and 92 and mainly appear on Trafford Park - Daventry/Dollands Moor/Felixstowe freight flows. Network Rail also makes a periodic appearance in the shape of their bright yellow New Measurement HST, nicknamed by the rail fraternity "Doctor Yellow" or "The Flying Banana". The 2 newly acquired Class 86 loadbank locomotives, 86901 and 86902 also show up from time to time as they visit different sections of the WCML, these are stabled at Rugby."

I admit I was on the station for almost an hour, but even so there seemed to be quite a lot of traffic - and some of it interesting (I repeat - I was on the station for nearly an hour...) in the shape of freight marked from China, and, of course the astonishingly fast high speed trains - pretty scary from the viewpoint of the platform.

*Note: I noticed phrases during my search on the web, including: "....packing her husband off to Nuneaton station to do some train-spotting while she did her own thing..." and "She went shopping, and I returned the the station.". So perhaps it really was an alternative to shopping.

Posted on July 10, 2007 at 9:35 PM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Thursday July 5, 2007

"A life lived in fear is a life half lived" Strictly Ballroom

So: clothes for the woman over 50... or the "forever forties" as we prefer to think of ourselves apparently - and I must say I prefer to be in that demographic. We accept what we must wear (and that's up to the individual where they draw the line) but we want to be able to wear the newest youngest styles "with our own twist " (as Mary Portas put it) to make it suitable for our age - whatever suitable is...

I read an article on what women over 50 should wear by Emma Soames in one of the Sunday papers, and it obviously disquieted me, as I referred to it a lot in conversations with friends thereafter. I think I did not like what she was saying - which was really "dress your age", don't risk being seen as "mutton dressed as lamb"- and yet, how could I disagree with that? But something about an article on how to dress by the editor of Saga magazine..... I don't know - I really don't think I am in denial over my actual age but I don't see myself as a Saga magazine reader, and as yet the magazine has not held any appeal for me. This article on dress did not change my mind. I feel that you should take risks to achieve a look that you like - and be capable of saying "OK, this is not working as I hoped". What's life without risk?

Emma is obviously doing the rounds on this topic, as I found a Daily Mail (Femail - almost as appealing to me as Saga!) article on the web "Older women: Should they be classy or brassy?" - and also the referenced Womans Hour item "Is the Fashion Industry Catering for the over 50s?" which is worth listening to - unfortunately Emma obviously represents classy, while Gok Wan is left with brassy - also Gok is by no means over 50. However, Rob (who is over 50) is a great fan of Gok's TV show "How To Look Good Naked" and proclaims loudly to anyone who will listen (me) that Gok is much better than "those two women" (Trinny and Susanna), as he offers much more positive confidence building. I like T&S but Rob is not to be ignored, (even if he does watch Big Brother).

Posted on July 5, 2007 at 11:37 PM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Friday June 15, 2007

Bear necessities

This morning a (out of print) book arrived from Amazon marketplace. It cheered me up no end - it was another bear making book by Julia Jones (Favourite Bears to make and treasure). I haven't made a bear for a while but just looking at them makes me feel Good.
Bears are like that.

Early German.jpg Early Germanside_detail.jpg

This is one I made earlier; he's called Heisenberg.

Posted on June 15, 2007 at 5:01 PM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Sunday June 10, 2007

Bearing gifts.

George returned from his week in Beijing this afternoon. He was very tired but it sounded like he had a fabulous time. Here is a rather nice (in my opinion) Shishi ornament, which was a gift for all conference attendees:


He came back with some jolly nice gifts for me, (and everyone else), unable to resist the bargain prices. He chose some wonderfully thin (I use that word rather then "fine" which is open to misinterpretation) silk to use for dolls clothes - made me want to make some right away - and a pair of embroidered slippers. I also stole one of the bracelets he had intended for Deborah; I will bequeath it to her in my will (hopefully not to be enacted too soon!).

Here is my inevitable cat souvenir - actually I like it a lot:


Posted on June 10, 2007 at 9:58 PM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Monday May 28, 2007

Pipe and slippers

This is really a message for Alison. Just to show her that on this occasion my mind was not willfully wandering.

cardigan.jpg Some time ago I mentioned I was thinking of knitting a cardigan, or sleeveless cardigan,for my brother-in-law. I had thought I had read an article in one of the colour supplements saying that mens cardigans were now very fashionable. Alison said this was a mistake and they are the pits; I could not find any trace of the article. Anyway, now it seems, they are so very mainstream as to be featured as a topic on Woman's Hour (today); do "Listen Again" - it was pretty amusing

For my brother-in-law? I fear Alison may be correct. He comes from an era where I doubt he will be able to shake off the Val-Doonican-pipe-and-slippers image. And...Alison? I suggest you contribute to the Woman's Hour messageboard - you are not alone.

AyresArt.jpg Woman's Hour today also introduced me to the art of Gillian Ayres; I'm afraid I was (up until now) ignorant of her and her work. She was interesting to listen to - a radio program is not the best medium to demonstrate art work - but of course it encourages you to find out more, and this could not be much simpler in our multi media world. The WH homepage link above currently shows some of the pictures. Apparently, they are typically very large canvases, which does not come over on a small screen.

Famous or "in"-famous?


Posted on May 28, 2007 at 11:30 AM


Gosh, I knitted a cardi for John like the one Becks is wearing (but in black) at his request. If that does not tell volumes about cardigans - I dont know what will!

Posted by: Alison on May 29, 2007 3:48 AM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Friday May 25, 2007


I retired last night somewhat distressed after George pointed out a nasty story in our local paper. It seems some charmer has kicked one of the swans on the Mere Pond to death - and then incredibly sent a film of it around on their mobile phones. At first I thought "well you can't be sentimental - nasty stuff happens, birds die". However, I think when it said "it was the female" (and the male had been taken to a sanctuary for protection) - that really personalised it. A year ago I wrote about the Mere Pond, where I had taken a walk and seen the lovely site of a pile of cygnets in a little heap right by the side of the road. It was our swan - not just a swan.

I am sad but I am very angry. Not just anger at the person or the act, but angry that in beautiful leafy Surrey, haven of the well-heeled middle classes, that we could have managed to bring up someone who actually wanted to do such a useless destructive thing. I know there is much worse violence in the world, but this almost ridiculous episode makes me feel even more hopeless for humanity.

Posted on May 25, 2007 at 7:28 AM


Oh how sad. I agree that it's so distressing that some psycopath would want to do something so pointlessly violent. A year or so ago someone here killed a load of ducks - and again, it seemed so random and extremely violent. It's scary to think that we are living among people like that.

Posted by: Alison on May 27, 2007 3:34 PM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Saturday April 21, 2007

Passenger pigeon passing through

Actually I think it may have been wood pigeon, (I got a really good view of its bottom), and it was passing through our chimney.
We heard scrabbling early this morning coming from the attic and, being unable to find anything, opened the window in case a bird had got in - we have had a number of wrens in the house in the past. I thought no more about it.

I spent all day at the Creative Fibres meeting: Sandy was making a fantastic PC bag cover in split ply braid work [thinks: must try this at home], Jennifer and Sharron were weaving (completing a workshop item); Norma - new member - was starting on her Inkle loom work; Betty and Amanda were drop spindle spinning; Iris, Brenda, and the precocious child Charlie were spinning; Wendy was completing her beaded bag workshop purse from last year; and I took my knitting.

This evening I found a load of chimney debris in the spare room, and shortly afterwards, I realised that whatever it was making the noise and creating the soot fall, was still in there and could not get out. So George prized the hardboard cover away from the fireplace - to reveal: nothing. On peering up the chimney with a torch we could see the pigeon perched on a ledge about a foot or two away - well I could see a grey bottom poking over the edge. George then tried the feather duster treatment:



...and it fell down a couple of times (see right: smudgy view of soot falling and possibly a pigeon foot), but despite slithering on the sloping chimney back, it kept flying back up to the ledge.
In the end we left the room with the window open and I hope it has gone away. [Failing all else, if it pegs out, it will no doubt fall down.....]

Posted on April 21, 2007 at 10:35 PM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Friday April 20, 2007

April Showers

We are finally having work done on the house to renovate our bathroom and plumbing system.

plumbing.jpgWe have started with the latter, which involved the plumber (Gordon) doing all the basic new pipework and installation of a new water tank in the attic, giving us more space in the bathroom. In the interim, the bathroom is left looking like a building site, with a hole in the ceiling through to the attic, and all the pipework (old and new) on full display.
Gordon had the unenviable task of trying to work round all my stuff in the attic. When I laid the wooden floor up there, I left a lot of the boards unglued to allow access to the pipework. What none of us understood properly was the exact location of the bathroom relative to the attic; consequently, Gordon had ripped up a large part of the floor. To his credit he has done it very neatly as it is really hard to pull that stuff apart. However he does keep saying cheerfully: "I expect you'll want to put a whole new floor down" - to the extent that I want to bop him on the nose.
Gordon started work while we were in France and is finished now; the next step is for the plumber (Phil) to install the new bathroom....

Just a minor detail.

Posted on April 20, 2007 at 7:13 AM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Monday April 2, 2007

The past: another country after all

I watched the much anticipated (by me) Nation on Film and was quite amused by it. It was a couple who made rather professional "home movies" on cine film in the 1950s. I was expecting to be enthralled but found instead of course it was just a film of my childhood. It was very interesting to hear the (young) historians waxing lyrical about what a treasure it all was - and I agree that there is nothing like a chunk of contemporary film - some with sound even - for research, as the evidence is incontrovertible. However even though there were distinct social differences from my own background, I did wonder at the conclusions being drawn with such enthusiasm by the (did I say young?) reviewers.

This archive was portrayed as giving the lie to the "buttoned up" reputation of folk just after the war; the Ramsdens had jolly parties, many outings with friends, and even went on holidays abroad. But I remain unsure how secure the conclusions being drawn are. I discussed the topic with Rob to compare our family upbringing in the same period. The first thing that struck me about the couple was that they had no children - we too had jolly parties but the key difference was they were always family oriented, albeit very extended family; we did not have "friends" and there was no "social scene" in that sense. We did go abroad for holidays when we could afford it, going to Wimereux in 1956 [but then, my Mother had taken her honeymoon in Belgium in 1938 on a cycling tour! The vicar had even advised them not to go with "the uncertain situation in Europe", and apparently the Belgians quizzed them endlessly on what the British thought about said "situation"]. On the other hand, Rob's parents had very adventurous holidays compared with ours - but always in England. His Mother never went abroad in her life, and his Father only ventured overseas when forced to do so in the army during the war.

I estimate the biggest difference between the Ramsdens and us (Rob and I and our backgrounds) was that these were well-off middle class people (a teacher, and a dentist) with no children, and thus not very representative from my biased point of view. However, what I have not said is that they took their hobby very seriously, and made really professional films on all kinds of topics that were by no means limited to the moving equivalent of family "snaps"; they encompassed a more professional documentary style and even a short "horror" movie. As such, the interest of the archive is undeniable and, once again, I enjoyed the program very much.

Posted on April 2, 2007 at 10:55 PM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Monday March 19, 2007

The north wind, and snow.

I’m not sure what the “poor robin” was doing but we returned home last night to a very cold England. Unsurprisingly, everyone here enjoyed a lovely sunny week just as we did in France. It was truly spring, if not summer weather, but suddenly today the wind has switched round to the north and we have low temperatures again. It was snowing, sleeting and hailing today - all in brilliant sunshine - very odd. I was able to use my newly created "hottie" for real (I took it to France but it was surplus to requirements; look out for the pattern in "Pattern of the Month" in the autumn).

My living room was in a bit of a turmoil as I had used up the hour or so spare before leaving for the ferry in beginning to unpack “Pete's box of doll parts”. Well... more of this later, with pictures....

Owing to the rapid weather change I was unable to finish the minor (and hopefully temporary) repairs to the windows in the cottage. I had quite a successful time though, repainting the french window on the outside, and repainting the main bedroom walls, as they had become a bit shabby. I repainted the latter with an attempt at the same colour ("Mellow Sage"), which as usual turned out darker than the original - but a nice tone, matching the rest of the room well. Peter Bridges is due to replace the dormer window within the next month or so, as we suddenly realised the whole thing was totally rotten, and water pours in when it rains. We are hoping he will also address the main window downstairs - I have abandoned all hope of getting replacements that look like the originals, and am having to content myself with the knowledge that they will at least be wooden.

The cat has developed a cough, which I treated but hope to fix properly when I return at Easter (not long now) - as far as I can gather she should be OK until then, but you never know.... she is, after all, a "wild" cat.

Posted on March 19, 2007 at 9:44 PM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Wednesday February 14, 2007

My funny valentine.

George steels himself for the traditional celebrations.


Posted on February 14, 2007 at 7:26 PM



Posted by: Alison on February 17, 2007 10:18 PM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Monday February 12, 2007

Harder than I remember.

Diane liked the mittens and sent me this cute card.


For me - knitting is much easier than I remember - and I was taught by my Mother, of course. Memories of winter evenings by the kitchen range. And - no - I am not claiming to be so very old but my childhood was a little Dickensian, for all that.

Posted on February 12, 2007 at 9:18 AM

« Previous entry | Main | Next entry »

Friday February 9, 2007

The white stuff.

Yesterday, the whole of the 6pm news was full of nothing but cute snow stories about kids, snowmen, and people having awful journeys to work. This, despite the snow mostly having melted by the end of the day - even though it was quite deep by our standards the temperatures rose and it began raining which happily saw off the white stuff.

The news also showed Canadians in London saying "call this snow?" and I read Yarnharlot's blog entry today saying: "my camera batteries are dead and it's too cold to go to the store. It will warm up later and I'll go (a moment of respect for how quickly the human perspective can shift? I am now calling the change from -20 to -15 "warming up")".

You Canadians..... go on with you...

Posted on February 9, 2007 at 8:15 PM