Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Learning to Crochet

If anyone reading this has ever glanced at my instagram photos then you would know that over the last year or so I have taught myself to crochet.

I find it relaxing and almost meditative now, but it wasn't quite as simple to start...

Many an evening I struggled with youtube clips and various websites. How hard could it be to 'insert hook, yarn over and pull through'?? Well, let me tell you - it was!

So I shared a little of my struggle and attempts at learning the stitches one evening on instagram and got lots of little tips by some lovely people who knew what they were doing. Apparently it was all in the tension. Once I controlled that and also found a way that I was comfortable holding the yarn it just clicked. It probably took a couple of weeks of an hour or so in the evenings just practising lines of basic single, double and treble crochet. Add in a slip stitch and then half double and half crochet and I was away! That was once I worked out the US and UK crochet is different!

I was so impatient though...

I wanted to make something.

So I started to learn how to make granny squares. You know the ones - think '70s afghan throws in mustard, orange and brown!

What started off as a small granny square scarf morphed into a throw. Although I'm not sure that my confidence matched my ability at this point!

In hindsight, a smaller project would have been a little more realistic. These throws don't just appear overnight.

Anyhow, I was crocheting, albeit rather slowly and clumsily. It was true - it did get easier. Just being comfortable holding the crochet stick takes time. Knowing how tight or loose to hold the yarn in your hand, being able to twist the hook into and out of a stitch rather than holding it rigidly - none of this was natural.

My first throw took ages...and then some more!

I started and completed a very simple baby blanket in the middle of it. I left it untouched for a couple of months when I went overseas. But I kept going back to it and eventually it was done.

That feeling of satisfaction was pretty immense. Too right I was proud of myself!

I didn't follow a pattern (not my best move!) but I did use a great blog to guide me through a lot of it.

There is a delightful lady called Lucy who keeps a blog - ATTIC24
Lucy lives in Skipton in the Yorkshire Dales - the town I was lucky enough to call my home for 10 years. Apart from the gorgeous photos of the countryside that make me quite homesick, Lucy is an extremely generous soul who shares patterns, tutorials and general crochet tips.

Through her blog I learnt how to join the little granny squares as I went, rather than pile them up and then have to stitch then together, and I used the edging from one of her projects to finish off my throw.

I've made lots of Attic 24 projects since - daffodils for St David's day, flower brooches to sell at the school fete, quite a few stripy bags.

Sometimes my crochet is full of colour....

Other times it's a little more subdued...

But each piece gives a lot of self satisfaction when I see it coming together.

So if you're thinking of taking up a crafty hobby you could always try crochet - it's not just for grannies.

I'm definitely no expert, but I'm happy to share through this blog some of the basics and the things that I have learnt and some of the quick and easy things that I have made. I needed an easy, peasy, right back to the beginning' crochet lesson when I started and I gathered it from lots of different sources.

It's very satisfying making things for other people and I'm just about to post this creation off to Skipton.

It's for a project called Yarndale -  you can find out more HERE
I knew about Yarndale last year but didn't feel competent or confident enough to send through any crochet. I'm guessing (hoping) they're not after total perfection, so I'm contributing my little piece this time.

Right, things to do, places to go before school pick up,

Happy Tuesday,

Tuesday, 13 May 2014


Last October Sibs and I had a long weekend away in Auckland.  The anticipation and the travelling was almost as good as the time away. It was wonderful, and we made a little promise that we would try and organise another get away to spend time together.

Like a lot of things - I knew that it would be easier said than done!

Life gets so busy and packed with weekend activities and school work  and time just rolls on. So when an opportunity came to travel to Thailand recently I grabbed it and we packed our bags, set the alarm for a silly time and caught an early morning flight to Bangkok via Sydney.

  I can tell I've been living in Australia as it's funny how a 9 hour flight to Thailand felt like a short haul!

Our first sight of Bangkok was rather a blur... To say that they drive rather fast would be an understatement! The city whizzed by and we were weaving through lanes of motorway traffic avoiding trucks and cars with amazing precision. Sibs was a little subdued and I tried not to think too much about the speedometer creeping up to 160 km per hour!

Wat Arun, Bangkok
Anyhow, we made it to our first destination and were given a lovely welcome by family. It was all very exciting catching up with cousins and it was made even more special as my uncle and aunt were visiting from Wales too.

At the end of our first day, after a quick dip in the pool, Sibs and I dodged the mosquitoes (no-body told me there were mozzies in Thailand - and they were aggressive ones too!) and made our way to our own little cottage at the bottom of the garden.  So lucky and grateful for a comfy bed and air con.

Floating markets

Having our very own tour guides for the first few days was a real treat. We learnt about some Thai customs and expectations and how to pronounce the basic greetings.

On one hand this was an 'out of comfort zone' travel experience to be undertaking with an eleven year old. Sibs has been fortunate enough to cross the oceans a few times in her lifetime but her exposure to the world has been mainly Europe, Australia and New Zealand. This was going to expose her to different people, different culture and open her eyes to another world. At times it was slightly confronting, but we had emptied the shelves of our local library of Thailand books and had some expectations. Although I don't think anything could have prepared us for the sight of a road side dentist!

The Sanctuary of Truth

The heat in Thailand was rather surprising. I should be used to warm hazy days by now, but at times this was quite energy sapping. It didn't stop us doing anything although we needed to make sure that we were keeping hydrated and seeking shade whenever we could. There was bottled water available everywhere and in some of the larger tourist areas there was even free water with your entry ticket.

Wat Pho - The Temple of the Reclining Buddha.
Dropping coins in the 108 monk bowls.

The Emerald Buddha

 There were obvious crowds of tourists all seeking similar experiences but we managed to find some quieter, more contemplative moments during the trip. My family were wonderful in looking after us and we were also so fortunate to have a driver during the time we spent with them.

During the second part of the trip in Bangkok, rather than booking organised tours, we caught a train, a boat and a tuk tuk and (most of the time) it was all hassle free. We did experience the 'helpful' local who seeing us studying a map at the train station tried to tell us that one of the temples we were planning to visit was closed for the morning. He then just happened to have his friend waiting near by to whisk us to another temple for a 'very cheap price'! Thank you Lonely Planet Guide for warning me about that one.

I have to admit to having some reservations about staying in the city of Bangkok in the lead up to the holiday. I was reading various reports in the media about the anti government protesters and the disruption that this was creating. Even though I researched hotels, I didn't book any accommodation until a couple of days before.  I took advice from various sources and made an informed decision and apart from a quiet convoy and march that we viewed on one morning it was all calm.

Well as calm as a city with thousands and thousands of people can be....

Thailand was a colourful place with shrines and places of worship on street corners. Most people seemed happy with their lives, however humble we may have deemed it to be.

Sibs was fascinated by the street sellers who would be earning a living any way they could. One little old man proudly displayed a collection of rusty safety pins and paper clips amongst other scraps of metal on his patch of pavement. It was a reminder of how blessed we are...

We stayed in the hotel after dark and made sure that we chatted to the concierge each day to keep updated. The staff were very well informed and looked after us so well. It was a bit of luxury to return to after a day in the heat and a lovely place to relax. Sibs would catch up on a bit of homework at the same time that there just happened to be a happy hour for cocktails!

Sampling some Thai cuisine

We took hundreds of photos and have fabulous memories of a great trip. It was joyous to experience it with Sibs. She embraced the adventure, accepted the unexpected and hopefully learnt a bit too.
She is still young enough to be mesmerised with the moment and I hope this has ignited a little wonderment that the world is an amazing place.

Grand Palace

Arriving and leaving Thailand.
Two weeks away and she grew up!

Now where to next....?

Monday, 5 May 2014

Hugh Laurie and The Copper Bottom Band in Brisbane

My ticket had been safely secured the second I heard that Hugh Laurie and The Copper Bottom Band were including Brisbane on their Australian tour. (Thank you QPAC)

So off I went on Friday night in the pouring rain  - me and my new shoes, to join 1599 others for a night out at the magnificent Concert Hall in South Bank.

After his opening 'Iko Iko' number and some gentle encouragement to join in the second song Mr Laurie pronounced to his adoring audience,

"You're taking a leap of faith here"

Just in case we didn't know, he shared with us that until recently he was an actor.  He gratefully acknowledged that we were allowing him to indulge in his sometimes nerdy appreciation of music and his passion for American blues and jazz sounds.

I must say that he has gathered a formidable band to indulge with...

The stage was shared with seven truly outstanding individuals who shone throughout.

Now no offence here Hugh,  (Can I call him Hugh...? Should I be more formal? Heck I was in the fourth row - we're practically best friends!) but 'Hugh Laurie and The Copper Bottom Band' could easily be just 'The Copper Bottom Band'.
I guess that without the name they may not have sold out.., but from a musical and performance point of view there was no lead on Friday night. Each musician offered his or her unique and flawless contribution.

Soul Sista Jean's dramatic rendition of 'Lectric Chair' and 'I hate a man like you' were standout moments.

There there was the equally captivating and beautiful voice of Gaby Moreno with  'The Weed Smoker's Dream', 'Bona Sera' and 'Kiss of Fire' complete with a little Tango dancing to authenticate the experience.

Everyone on stage appeared to be having a good time. They smiled and congratulated each other after solo slots. They clearly loved their jobs.
Maybe it was the whisky shots that were delivered part way through? Probably not, it seemed a genuine enjoyment.

Hugh peppered the music with slightly comic exchanges with the audience - a touch of his Blackadder genius from years ago. He deliberately avoided any references to the Dr House character and politely informed a rather enthusiastic fan who asked about the Dr that madam was at the wrong show!

The girls were on fire throughout the night and the boys got a combined moment of glory centre stage and performed 'Lazy River' around a snazzy microphone with Hugh as sole accompaniment on the guitar.

The Copper Bottom Band musicians often drew well deserved spontaneous applause. Boy they were good! Laurie knew this and praised them throughout, often looking a little sheepish and rather  amazed that he was actually part of it!

The last number brought an instantaneous standing ovation and we stayed on our feet for the encore.
We didn't want to leave.

I had forgotten quite how much I enjoyed the blues.

(All photos were taken on my phone hence the rather dodgy quality)