Tag Archives: crochet

My year in review – 2020

31 Dec

It seems redundant to say that this year has not been what I expected. Unless you’ve been living in an isolated Amazon tribe (in which case I’d love to know how you’re reading this) you already know that 2020 was the year that said ‘no’. If you want to read about my experiences of the first lockdown, click the link. This winter lockdown feels much less new and exciting and much more of a dull, dark slog. However, life goes on regardless, so I will give you a quick review of my year as a whole.

Travel

Let’s get the obvious one of out the way: I went nowhere. Well, virtually nowhere. I was meant to go to Leiden in the Netherlands in February, but that was scuppered by Storm Ciara. I could have rescheduled it for April but there was talk of this novel coronavirus thing so I hedged my bets and went to St Andrews for a day trip instead.

However, once things opened up again in the summer, I did get to – Haddington! I have a good friend, Susan, who hails from this East-Coast town and who is almost always overseas, so I risked my life at Hermiston Gait and took the opportunity to visit while she was temporarily stuck in the UK between exotic postings.

Haddington was kind of charming in a small-town way, with a nice river walk and some identical metal bars they laughably call an outside gym. It reminded me of Dunbar, and I said so, and thereby found out that the way to annoy a Haddingtonian is to compare their town to the very similar town half an hour or so down the coast. I think this insight will provide endless fun in my relationship with Susan 🤭

I also managed to get down to Derbyshire for my mother’s birthday, which miraculously fell between periods of restrictions, and as the celebration was held in a hotel, we were even able to get three households together.

The only other travel I have been doing this year is in my mind, planning an epic Interrailling trip for when the world is back to normal.

Learning

This category has been much, much more active than my globe trotting.

Sourdough

At the start of the pandemic, when yeast was scarce, I saw someone on Twitter saying “yeast is never scarce” and so my journey into sourdough making began. Sourdough uses wild yeast, which is found in random places like the air and the bloom on grapes. I raised a sourdough starter from scratch, which my nieces named Olaf. He is a little less pampered now than he was, but he’s still going strong and makes us a dense, crusty loaf about once a week.

I used the same wild yeast to make elderflower ‘champagne’ a little while later. It was – alright. Not much like champagne, but kind of like very sweet, slightly alcoholic elderflower Schloer. I also tried making elderflower cordial, not realising (because my foraging book did not tell me!) that the stalks are poisonous and must be removed before you make the cordial. No harm done, but not a pleasant experience.

Esperanto

My cancelled journey to Leiden gave me the opportunity to go to an Esperanto club in Glasgow, because I had cleared my diary for the trip. I started an Esperanto course on Duolingo (where I had been learning Dutch) because I had fond memories of learning it as a teenager after reading the Stainless Steel Rat books. I thought the club would be a one-off, but 2020 has given me the opportunity to attend pretty much every club meeting, as they are all online, and the woman who runs the anti-trafficking group I’m also a member of kindly changed those meetings so I could attend both. I have just about finished the Duolingo course, have read my first novela in Esperanto (see Books, below) and have even written an article for the magazine Esperanto in Scotland (Esperanto en Skotlando). I’m not fluent (yet) but it’s definitely become my third-most proficient language, after English and Albanian. I didn’t see that coming!

Paleography

I had almost forgotten about this one – I took a wee online course in paleography, in case I ever have cause to read old documents (not that unlikely, in my line of work). It was very interesting and I could definitely read more by the the end of it. It was one of those courses where the lessons are free but you have to pay if you want a certificate, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

First Aid

My new year’s resolution for 2020 was to learn first aid. I thought that would be easy – booked a course with the Red Cross, job done. Unfortunately the original date was cancelled due to lack of participants and the rescheduled date was cancelled due to Covid. Instead, I downloaded the British Red Cross apps, First Aid and Baby & Child First Aid (both free) and worked my way through them. In theory, I now know basic first aid, and if I forget, I still have the apps to refer to.

Calligraphy

Most recently, I have been busy getting half-decent at calligraphy. Again, this is a hobby from my childhood that I’ve picked up again. I’ve been doing mostly brush pen, but some pointed pen (nibs and ink) as well. My ambition when I started to get serious about it was to make gifts for my new friends from my friend Tanya’s Check In and Catch Up group, which she started in order to keep us all sane during the first lockdown. I managed that, and also make quite a few Christmas cards using calligraphy, so I feel the effort has not been wasted.

One amusing side effect of learning calligraphy is that you see it everywhere. My sister must be sick of me picking up a magazine, greetings card or menu and saying, “Oh look, modern calligraphy!”

As these last two categories suggest, I’ve made quite a few new friends and acquaintances this year – more than most years, I think. Zoom/Skype/Teams are annoying in comparison with real meet-ups, but after this year I can’t deny that you can form genuine friendships with people you have only met in the form of electronic pixels on a screen.

I have also learned to darn socks this year – a less social pursuit, but handy, and one that is very much in line with my attempts to be eco-friendly. The fact that I spilled red nail varnish on a perfectly good pair of jeans while writing this post is less eco-friendly of me, but according to the internet, hairspray will sort it out. We’ll see.

Books

I’m letting GoodReads do the heavy lifting for me again, even though I’ve almost certainly missed some out. There were a couple of re-reads this year, including Dracula, which is rather quaintly written from this distance in time, but still interesting. I read it again after coming across the nugget of information that Dracula was an alchemist. As you may know, I’m trying to write a non-fiction book on alchemy, a subject that fascinates me. Unfortunately, like many people, I have found that 2020 gave me plenty of spare time, but not that much mental energy or direction. Maybe next year…

Meanwhile, my novel Daughters of Fire creeps along. It’s the second in a series of three, the first of which is called The Sarcophagus Scroll. I was planning to do a fair bit of travel as research for book two, so that being cancelled hasn’t helped much, and I’m also suffering from the lethargy induced by yet another lockdown. However, sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph it is getting there.

I did manage to write a couple of not-bad short stories this year, ‘The Untouchable Collection’ and ‘The Price of Exposure’. I’m fond of short stories, reading them and writing them, so it’s good to dip my toe back in while the novel is slightly in the doldrums. I also wrote a couple of articles for Christianity magazine and there should be another one coming out near the start of next year. And I won a limerick-writing competition about the pandemic, netting a modest cash prize.

Getting back to books I have read, the one that packed the greatest emotional punch, if you can believe it, is Lemony Snicket’s All the Wrong Questions series (which are all so short, you may as well consider them a single book). I only picked it up from the library for my niece, read the blurb on my way up the library stairs, and was instantly hooked by the humour. It’s a perfect little noir mystery, with dry wit and a wonderful femme fatale “with eyebrows like question marks and a smile that could mean anything.” And it leads unarguably up to an ending of inescapable, exquisite tragedy where there is simply no good option. It was heartbreaking.

I should add, for the sake of balance, that my nine-year-old niece said, “it’s not sad at all”.

The best book I read this year was David Copperfield, but that feels like cheating because it is such a classic. The best new book was probably The Golem and the Jinni, which really surprised me. The worst was The Serpent Grail, which was utter tosh.

Hacks

From David Copperfield I learnt that you can use beeswax on thread to get it to go through a needle, rather than licking it. This is useful to know in times of pandemic, and it is also more effective and longer-lasting.

I also found out while writing this post that hairspray does remove nail varnish from jeans – at least from black jeans. Phew!

Miscellaneous

I was a guest on a podcast about dyslexia; did a reading at an online ‘bar’ and subsequently had a story published in the bar’s best-selling anthology (that was nice, as you can imagine); appeared in a ceilidh video by Jiggered; hosted a YouTube/WhatsApp Eurovision party (which was probably the highlight of my whole year); and made a gingerbread zoo as my Christmas gingerbread project. There’s a wee ‘flyover’ of it embedded here.

Pets

My budgie Roland moved cage this year to bigger digs, and on Christmas morning, two adorable guinea pigs, Squiggles and Socks, arrived to join the family!

Crochet

I made a few wee things this year, including snowflakes, socks with decent ribbing (using knowledge acquired last year), a couple of baby blankets, a random wee shawl, a gingerbread man square for my patchwork blanket and a couple of dinosaurs. (I also made a fair number of face masks for obvious reasons, but not in crochet, for equally obvious reasons.)

And of course…

🥁🥁🥁

…the temperature blanket! Here it is, in all its multi-coloured glory! (Click on the photo for a larger image.)

Naturally, I have another ambitious crochet project planned, but it can wait for next year. Meanwhile, there’s hogmanay to enjoy, with champagne for the bells to bid a firm farewell to 2020. Never have the words of Tennyson’s ‘Ring Out, Wild Bells’ been more appropriate than this year, so here it is to finish. Have a wonderful 2021, and I hope it brings you everything you are dreaming of.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
   The flying cloud, the frosty light:
   The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
   Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
   The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Sci-fi and fantasising

27 Oct

Over a month has flashed by since I last blogged, even though time also appears to be practically standing still. It’s just one of the weird things about 2020. “Time distort 4”, as Blake might say.

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Blake’s 17°

11 Jul

A lot has happened since I started making my temperature blanket back in January. We’ve had a couple of wee cold snaps, a couple of mini-heatwaves, and the small matter of a global pandemic and consequent lockdown.

An update on my blanket. It’s getting too big to photograph easily!

I’ve also, finally, finished watching all four series of Blake’s 7. Progress slowed with lockdown because everyone was in the house all the time, and I’m the only one who enjoys Blake’s 7, or sci-fi in general. However, with the easing of restrictions, I found a bit more time and finished the fourth series – although I did have to work up the emotional energy to watch Orbit and then Blake, the ante-penultimate (an underused word) and final episodes respectively. Having seen them before, I know they pack a bit of a punch.

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My Year in Review – 2019

31 Dec

It is the final day of the year (and indeed the decade) so I thought I would do a quick and thoroughly arbitrary review of my 2019.

It’s been a pretty good year for me, certainly better than last year, so here’s hoping that pattern continues into the ’20s.

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A game of patience

5 Dec

The inspiration for this post was my rather splendid new Christmas jumper, which you can see in the photo below. Christmas jumpers have become a bit of a thing in recent years (I know they were around before that, but they were mocked rather than mandatory) and I didn’t have one last year, so I decided to make one for this Christmas.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…
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By hook or by crook

23 Nov

Anyone who has seen me out and about in Glasgow recently may have spotted me, hook in hand, working away at a large blue and white object. This is my Christmas jumper which I have been crocheting for what feels like aeons (since last winter, actually, with a big break for the summer) and which I intend to finish before I go carol singing on the 7th of December.

YARN WITH CROCHET HOOKS
Image by Davina Harrison on Flickr

But crochet hooks aren’t only good for giving me repetitive strain injury, they also have a variety of household uses – so much so that I think every home should have at least one.

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Time-Money Exchange Rates

18 Jul

I should be working just now. I should be writing an essay that will take me about three days, for which I will receive about as much money as my husband can make in one day. (He’s a stonemason and builder, in case you were wondering. He’s very good, and he has his own website here: Tony Murdarasi, Builder.)

The thing is, though, when I say “about three days”, I mean three days in which I find the time to write this blog, do the housework, get out in the sunshine for a while, and maybe (if the work goes well) get to the cinema and / or finish a short story I’m working on. We’re not talking 18-hour days. This, and the fact that the work is interesting, make the job worth taking on, even though three solid days at a minimum wage job would actually earn me more.

The reason I’ve been thinking about the value of time is that I’ve spent quite a lot of it lately doing unpleasant things, and some of it doing pleasant things, and it has made me realise that if time is money, there must be a variety of exchange rates. Let me illustrate.

Image

This is a wee blanket toy that I made for a friend’s baby. I estimate it took about five hours altogether, although it didn’t feel like a terribly long time because for some of it I was chatting with friends and for other bits I was sitting on the grass getting a tan. (What an amazing summer, by the way!) Items like this sell for between £10 and £25, so let’s say it’s worth £20, to keep the arithmetic simple. That would mean I “earned” about £4 per hour. Not much. But on the other hand, I enjoy crochet, I get a sense of satisfaction from creating something beautiful, and I know that my present is unique.

Now take car insurance. My husband has a van for his business, so he needs insurance, but things are complicated by the fact that for many years he had a non-EU licence, and most insurers won’t take those years into account. I spent a good hour and a half finding him insurance the night after he bought it, only to find when the documents came through that it wasn’t valid (a problem with the website wording), so I had to spend another hour and a half finding more insurance. That’s three hours, and by spending that time I managed to save at least £1,000 on what we would have spent if I hadn’t shopped around. That makes an hourly rate of £333, much better than the crochet, but far, far less satisfying. I know which hours I’d like to get back.

Inbetween the two, there was a cleaning shift I did, to fill a gap in a rota. Eight hours of sweaty slog, up and down stairs, and pulling hair out of plugholes (eugh!) at minimum wage, making a few dozen quid. (You can work out exactly how much if you have a calculator, information on the current minimum wage and tax levels, and too much time on your hands.) To be honest, that one shift was fine, but I’ve done that job before on a more regular basis, and when you come in again, and do exactly the same things again, and go home with sore legs again, the value of your time seems to increase in your mind, compared with what you’re getting paid for it. It’s disheartening to earn less in a day than a lawyer can make (or rather, charge, which is actually a different thing) in fifteen or twenty minutes.

So what is an hour worth? How much have I therefore squandered in writing this short blog post? I don’t think there’s a straightforward answer. It depends on how much you’re enjoying, or suffering through, the activity. It depends on the individual, and how important liberty is to you, compared to financial stability. It depends on your state of mind, which can make hours stretch or fly, and can make an amount of money seem either tempting or insulting. Whatever my time is worth, though, there is only a limited amount of it between now and my deadline, so I will leave you to ponder the question, and I’ll get back to work.

Snowflakes, Real and Homemade

3 Dec

The first snow in Glasgow fell last night, so it seems the right time to write about something a bit Christmassy – crocheted snowflakes!

crocheted snowflakes

crocheted snowflakes

The ones you see here are my own creation, the pointy one from an online pattern and the chunkier one from a YouTube tutorial. These are made out of thread. You can make them out of wool, of course, but then they’re not so sweet and delicate.

I learnt to crochet in Albania, where all the women seem to crochet, because there’s not much else to do when the electricity goes off (as it did at that time) every evening. I’ve never been any good at knitting, so it was good to find an alternative handicraft.

I think everyone understands the thrill of creating something yourself, especially if it’s something good enough to show people or put to use. I have made a scarf that I still wear, a baby blanket, and a tablecloth, amongst my bigger projects. At times it feels like you will never finish but the good thing about crochet, unlike knitting, is that a lot of patterns are either made up of small pieces, so you have a sense of completion as you go along, or look good after the first 50 stitches or so. With knitting, at 50 stitches it would still look like a straight line.

The wee snowflakes here didn’t take anything like as long, although I did make the pointy one in a silky thread and cursed my decision several times through the hour it took to make it, as the slippery thread slipped away again. Anyway, they took less than an hour each and will now decorate my Christmas tree – whenever I can be bothered to get it down from the loft. I prefer to ease myself into Christmas, not jump right in on 1st December.

If you would like to have a go yourself you will need thread (or wool) and a hook (just the one – another advantage over knitting) which you can get for a quid or two from a department store or haberdashers. There are loads of sites that will teach you the basics, and then the world is your crocheted oyster.