Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Poor Abandoned Puppy

My pup has a way of making you feel like whenever you leave her you're actually abandoning her, she's alone and has no idea when you're coming back. The very fact that you're turning and walking away is a sign that you clearly no longer love her.

On Saturday when we walked to the Greenhouse and I left Mr Click at the gate while I toddled off to take photos, Tara was convinced that this was just one of those moments of abandonment. Never mind the fact that I'd left her with Daddy (yes, we're those crazy people who are 'mummy' and 'daddy' to their pets); Mummy was leaving and this was clearly cause for concern.

Look at that face! Apparently she whined the whole time I was away. In a way it's nice to hear that she worries about me leaving her because she's such a Daddy's Girl, normally I have to listen to her crying about the fact that Mr Click has left her in the bedroom with me rather than taking her with him.

She was so pleased to see me when I came back that I was jumped all over (and covered in muddy footprints). Once home she collapsed on the floor and spent most of the day asleep, satisfied that both of her 'parents' loved her and weren't about to abandon her any time soon.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Book 28 of 2013: The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley

I used to have a copy of The Water Babies which was part of a set of 'Children's Classics' that my Grandparents got me when I was younger. I loved the picture on the cover (of a couple of babies swimming underwater) and tried to read it a couple of times, but just couldn't get into it and eventually gave up. When I got it as a free Kindle download I decided that the time had come to give it another go.

Picture from here.
This is the story of a little chimney sweep called Tom who runs away from his mean master and drowns becoming a 'water-baby'. It's basically a story about redemption as Tom is taught various moral lessons and learns what punishments the people who did bad things will be subjected to. Along the way Tom meets other Water Babies and learns important lessons before being allowed to return to the world as an improved man.

I quite enjoyed the beginning of this book. There was an interesting fantasy element to it and it was quite quick paced at first but as it went on it grew slower. By about halfway through it started to really drag. Although it grabbed my attention at first, towards the end I was looking forward to finishing it and moving on to something else.

It was actually quite dark and gruesome in places. Particularly with Tom's drowning. There was no mistaking what happened to him. I guess considering it from the point of view of the period it was written it that's maybe not too unusual, but for a modern child reader it might be a bit shocking or upsetting. I don't think it's really a suitable book for modern children and that's probably why I struggled to get into it on my first attempts.

It was funny in places. I understand that it was intended as a satire, though I wasn't aware of that at the time I was reading it. There was some playful repetition when things were listed, like all the people who were chasing Tom, which I think would make it fun to read aloud. Though I think if I was to read it to a modern child I'd maybe look for an abridged version.

There was a lot of religious and moral stuff in the book as well. I also picked up on an unexpected touch of evolution which I've since discovered was because it was intended as a satire in support of Darwin's The Origin of the Species.

I wouldn't say it's my favourite recent read, but I'm pleased that I've read it. It's another classic book that I can tick off my list.

Monday, 29 July 2013

A230 Reading & Studying Literature Results!

Yesterday morning I was woken by a wet Labrador nose in my ear telling me that it was absolutely vital that we paid a visit to the garden immediately otherwise there was a strong chance there would soon be a puddle on the bedroom floor. As I don't get a phone signal in the bedroom I take my phone out with me to check emails and various websites as I wait for Tara to do her thing.

I'd been expecting my results to go up this week but I never expected to hear about them on a Sunday. It caught me completely by surprise. So I stood in the rain in the garden waiting for the page to load so that I could see exactly what I'd got.

Yup, Grade 2 Pass. So that's my penultimate course under my belt. I've just got one more to go and then I'll be able to graduate and I'll have both a BA and a BA (Hons.). If anything I'm prouder of my (almost) second degree as I've done it whilst working full time as well.

It won't be long now until I'm starting EA300 Children's Literature, my sixth and final course. I'm quite looking forward to getting started on that now; my registration stuff has been received so now I'm eagerly awaiting my materials despatch so I can start getting stuck in!

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Project 52: Week 30 - The Greenhouse

As the BBC's photo prompts are taking a summer holiday I decided to give my big DSLR camera a break too and play around with my little compact. I tend to neglect it a bit these days, even though it lives in my bag and comes most places with me, mainly because it's so much easier to take photos on my phone because I can share them instantly online.

It's a shame because my little Canon compact is wonderfully portable and because it's older and didn't cost as much as my big camera I'm happier taking it to places where it might get a bit damp or grubby. Plus it fits easily into the back pocket of my jeans so I don't have to worry about carrying it around with all the other associated gear in a big bag.

I decided that for my photos this week I'd like to take some photos in the Greenhouse on the estate where we live. It's a massive structure filled with tropical plants and can be pretty humid in there with lots of moisture in the air at times so I've avoided taking my fancy camera in there. I don't feel quite so worried about my little camera as it's survived trips in there before, so I stuck it in my pocket and took it with me. This week instead of just one photo, I have a selection.

That's the Greenhouse. We drive past it every day on the way in and out of the estate and it's surrounded by beautiful gardens. That gate is as tall as I am and I have to stretch to get it open and closed. We'd walked Tara here and as we didn't think she'd be allowed into the Greenhouse I left Mr Click and Trouble at the gate while I toddled off to the Greenhouse.

It's a bit like the tropical biome at the Eden Project but on a miniature scale. The path follows round the building in a figure of eight shape and in places the plants grow across the path so you have to push past them like you're in a jungle or something. There's also a little pond as well with some pretty big fish. They weren't too keen on having their pictures taken though.

Plus there's lots of interesting plants as well. I'm rereading the first Harry Potter book at the moment (preparation for my next OU course) and I couldn't help but think of the Herbology classes. I'm not particularly green-fingered so I couldn't tell you what any of these plants were but they're all pretty interesting and eye-catching. It's also lovely and peaceful walking around the Greenhouse.

The plants in there also have a way of making you feel really small. At one point I looked up and realised that the leaves above my head were probably a lot taller than me!

There's really nothing in the above picture that gives an idea of scale, but trust me when I say that these leaves are probably approaching about six foot in length.

Since we've got the map of walks where dogs are allowed around the estate I'm hoping to take some more photos of places where we've not been for a while. We just have to hope that we have some nice dry weather for the next few weeks.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Film Review: The Pirate Movie

A few weeks back, whilst strolling around Oxfam, Mr Click picked up a film, laughed and said 'The Pirate Movie' before putting it back on the shelf. This sparked the cogs in the back of my brain and I suddenly found myself getting excited. I remembered that title from somewhere. He dug it out again and confirmed that yes, it was the film I thought it was. He parted with £1.99 and our afternoon's viewing was sorted.

Probably the best description I've ever seen of this movie is on TV Tropes which describes it as The Pirates of Penzance meets Grease meets Airplane! I don't think I could sum it up better myself. But I'll try.

It's the story of Mabel, who is a bit of a nerd, who attends a pirate festival with a bunch of friends and meets Frederic who plays a pirate in the show. He invites her and her friends to an island after the show, but they leave without Mabel who follows along by herself in a little boat. She sails into a storm and gets washed up on the island in Pirates of Penzance.

From there the story basically follows the story of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, complete with songs. Mabel becomes an extrovert who must try to convince her father to let her marry Frederic (even though she is the youngest daughter and so by rights should be married last). There's the Major General who wants his treasure back, and the Pirate King who originally stole it. It's perfectly zany and of course has a happy ending, which coincidentally is the name of the final song in the film.

The film was made in 1982 and I remember watching it when I was about four or five and loving it. At the time the innuendo went completely over my head and it was just a funny film about pirates with lots of singing in it. Watching it now as an adult I can't help but think I know why my parents enjoyed watching it with me.

I suspect Kirsty McNichol may have had something to do with my dad's watching it with me. I kind of think she looks a little like Sally Fields. She does a really good job of playing both the shy Mabel and the fiesty outgoing version. Both she and Christopher Atkins did their own singing in the film, even releasing a single of one of the songs in the film. Unfortunately it was a bit of a flop and seemed to be a bit of a career-killer for many of the actors involved in it.

All the same it's a wonderfully cheesy film that's totally aware of itself, Mabel regularly turns and talks directly to the audience. It kind of reminds me of the Carry On films with the sort of innocent innuendo that it employs. It's a film that I probably wouldn't have a problem with showing to my own kids, just as I watched it when I was little.

It's also a good introduction to the music of Gilbert and Sullivan. I think that they're performed in just the right way because The Pirates of Penzance is meant to be a comic opera, it's supposed to be zany and silly in places. Though I can't help but wonder what Gilbert and Sullivan would've made of it had they been around to see it today!

I could quite easily post all of the songs from it because they are all good fun, but I'll restrain myself and just share my top three. The first of which is the classic, 'I Am A Pirate King' performed by Ted Hamilton, complete with jewelled (and squeaking) codpiece:

My other favourite, which is also my favourite from the actual opera, is the Major General's Song. I love the Tom Lehrer, 'The Elements Song', parody but I think that the film version of this song is probably one of my other favourite versions. Anyone who can pull off one of these patter songs has my greatest respect because I'd probably pass out if I tried it:

And finally is the song that's guaranteed to become an earworm once you've listened to it. It's very eighties and at the same time I think it wouldn't sound out of place in the hands of a band like Steps. Plus the words are great, go on, listen:

Friday, 26 July 2013

The Sweeney TV Series (& Films)

For the last month or so we've been watching The Sweeney at night before bed. Mr Click has the complete series on DVD so it's been become a routine to sit in bed with my laptop between us and watch each episode.

Picture from Wikipedia
I have to admit to falling asleep on the previous two attempts to watch the pilot episode, Regan. In my defence we were watching it at a time when I was having eighteen hour days, wasn't very well and was pretty damn tired. It also wasn't really my kind of thing.

I was slightly skeptical when Mr Click decided that we'd be watching The Sweeney next, our previous viewing material had been my choice (Scrubs) as was my teatime viewing (ER), so it was only fair that he got to pick this time. I figured that I could always just sit and read if it wasn't quite my cup of tea, so I was kind of surprised at how much I got into it.

It focuses on Jack Regan, played by John Thaw, and George Carter, played by Dennis Waterman, who are two members of the Metropolitan Police's Flying Squad. The title comes from the rhyming slang for this division, Sweeney Todd. They deal with serious crimes, everything from bank robberies to kidnappings and various other things in between. Oh, and it's pretty violent. Most episodes have at least one gun fight, car chase, someone beating up someone else, or some combination of the three.

In a way it's quite different to modern police dramas, which is funny because it probably paved the way for the likes of Waking the Dead and Silent Witness. I've grown up watching CSI and Without a Trace so I'm used to the typical 48-minute mark crimes; that is when you're watching it on TV with the adverts by the time you hit the 48-minute mark you know who did it and all that's left is to wrap up the baddie of the week.

What stood out for me in The Sweeney is just how often the bad guys got away. Lots of episodes seem to end right before what would be the final act in a modern crime drama. While they do quite often get the bad guys, more often than not you realise that it doesn't end with catching them and putting them away, that it's just the tip of the iceberg. Once I got used to that format it was kind of refreshing.

My favourite episode, without a doubt, comes at the end of the fourth (and final) series, featuring a cameo from Morcambe and Wise (of all people)! It was so bizarre to see them in an episode of The Sweeney and yet in a way it was quite perfect. The Sweeney is obviously a serious TV series dealing with things that at the time were obviously hot topics; it was also not shy about mentioning things like race, class and homosexuality which I wasn't really expecting given the time period it was made. But there is a bit of humour in there as well which is probably why Morecambe and Wise fitted into the story so well (it was also funny to watch Dennis Waterman trying to keep a straight face in their scenes).

There were so many celebrities in the TV series, I couldn't even begin to list them all here. It was good fun spotting various members of The Bill, both incarnations of James Herriot's wife (plus once again in one of the films), Harry Potter's uncle, and Gimli. Some of the episodes had an introduction at the beginning from one of the guest stars who would explain about how they got the part, what filming was like, little stories about John Thaw and Dennis Waterman and other random facts. I'm also fairly certain that there's an orange campervan which crops up in almost every episode too. It was a bit like playing Where's Wally trying to spot it!

We just watched the films last weekend (out of order from when they were made in relation to the TV series). They were quite a bit more violent than the TV series but still pretty true to the series. They felt more like feature-length episodes and I enjoyed that they gave you more time to find out about the criminals which was something that sometimes seemed to be lacking in the series.

We also watched the recent 2012 film of The Sweeney as well last Saturday (after taking a break from the earlier ones with some ER lest we become all Sweeney-ed out). Mr Click picked it up on DVD cheaply from the local supermarket a while back but we held off watching it until we'd finished the series and watched the original films.

I'd had my reservations about it, but it wasn't really that bad. At times it kind of felt like they were over-doing some of the catchphrases and things from the TV series, just to kind of hammer home that it was the same idea as the original TV series. It felt a little bit like they were trying to make London seem like a big American city which made it quite interesting from a visual perspective; everything was very silver and white. But I think that on the whole it was probably a good way to update the story.

I've enjoyed watching this series and the films as well. Next up Mr Click has selected The Professionals which I think will be a good follow-on from The Sweeney. Now seems like a good time to watch this since I did get quite in to The Sweeney. Look out for my thoughts on that in the future.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Day Zero Project: Buy a washing machine

This is one of my targets that I achieved really quickly. When we moved into our new home money was a bit tight so we got the most essential items first; that was the cooker and the fridge. For the first eight months or so we got by without having a washing machine but it was obviously something that we were going to need to get sooner or later.

We survived by doing a lot of handwashing, drying things on coat hangers above the bath and on airers outside when the weather was nice. My in-laws were very generous about letting us use their washing machine and dryer when we needed it. Most things could be easily handwashed, tops, underwear and socks, but things like jeans and hoodies needed doing in a machine.

There's a local laundromat, so things got taken there. In fact, bedding still gets taken there even now we have our machine because we can get it washed and dried and back on the bed within a few hours. It's silly but I didn't really like handing over a bag of laundry containing my smalls to someone else to wash. Probably the best thing about having our own machine is the fact that I'm in charge of washing my own underwear, no one else has to see it!

We very carefully saved up our money and then experienced a massive powercut that put getting a washing machine to the back of our minds. But come February, when our local white goods shop had a sale so we took the plunge and went for it. So home came Bertie the Beko.

And I love it. We've since upgraded our airers to a wall-mounted washing line outside and it's become my favourite housework job to do. There's really nothing quite like folding freshly washed and dried washing. It's the small things that make me happy.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Another New Bookcase

When Mr Click picked me up from work last week he was grinning like a Cheshire Cat and told me that he had a surprise for me at home. Normally his surprises are along the lines of DVDs or books but he wouldn't let me try to guess what it was (beyond answering my question 'can I hold it?' with 'yes' which set me thinking along completely the wrong lines).

When I got into the house I couldn't miss my new treasure. It was big and white and sitting up against the living room wall; a brand new bookcase. He'd manage to pick it up at the Pass It On place for just £5! Absolute bargain!

So I spent Saturday playing that old favourite game, musical bookcases. In the past this used to involve picking out which books I wanted to bring down from the boxes in the spare bedroom and which I'd recently read and so needed to be returned to their boxes. This time it was more a case of picking out which books I wanted to bring down and the only ones that went back up were the books from my last OU course which hopefully I won't be needing again.

The new bookcase reminds me of the one I had in my bedroom as a child, it's slightly smaller and is a different design but it was also sturdy and wooden and white, so I decided to use the new one for all my favourite children's and young adult books. I have to say, I think this was the perfect choice. These books tend to be more brightly coloured so they stand out well against the white.

It was also a good excuse to reorganise all the stuff I've finished with, mainly the Terry Pratchett Discworld books. I've moved all of those into the book cupboard now so we've got all the books that we actually will be wanting to read in the future out on display.

Of course this means that now I kind of want to read ALL OF THE BOOKS right now! But at least now I can see what I've got and I should be able to get rid of another box up in the spare room. And I have a little extra space on the big bookcase so this probably means I should pick up a few new books, right?

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Book 27 of 2013: The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

I've mentioned it enough times now to be obvious that I'm a huge Tolkien fan. I started the year by rerererere(you get the picture)reading The Fellowship of the Ring and made a point of waiting a month between that and my re(etc.)read of The Two Towers. Normally I'd read them closer together but I decided to stagger them this time to draw it out a bit, mainly because I want to read The Hobbit towards the end of the year like I did last year, so it's fresh in my mind for the next film. So anyway, in May this year I got around to reading The Return of the King.

As you're probably aware, The Return of the King is the final installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and sees the divided Fellowship continuing in their various missions through Middle-earth; Sam and Frodo make their way through Mordor towards Mount Doom; Merry goes to battle with the Rohirrim; Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli face the Paths of the Dead; and Gandalf and Pippin find themselves on the frontlines in Minas Tirith. It's pretty much action-packed.

During this reread of the trilogy I've been finding myself loving the hobbits more than ever. With this one I especially enjoyed Merry and Pippin. Considering they're not technically human, they seem to be the closest to the way that many modern humans would be if they were plonked into Middle-earth and the situations they face. I'm sure if I was sent off to battle I'd be thinking about when I'd next get a decent meal. Aragorn, Legolas et al are all used to battle and trained for it, but the hobbits aren't and so they stand out against everyone else.

Even though I've read this so many times before and know the story back to front and inside out, I still can't help but feel a little bit on edge as I read Frodo's journey. It's highly unlikely that it will have changed in some way since the last time I read it, but I still get to the bit at Mount Doom and wonder whether or not Frodo will make it. I love that it can still make me feel like that even after all this time.

I once managed to read the whole second half of this book in about five hours (on New Year's Eve when I didn't want to end the year with an unfinished book). This time I read the first half of the book quite quickly, slowed down for the middle and then sped up as the end drew near. It took me a little bit longer than it has in the past but not too bad considering I had to do OU assignments and things as well.

I also felt like I took more away from the appendices this time. In the past I've sort of skim read them, glossing over the lists of names and paying more attention to the blocks of text, this time I read them all a little more equally. It was kind of cool to see some chunks that had been lifted virtually whole from the appendices and transplanted into the first Hobbit film. I'll be keeping my eyes open for more of that in the next one.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Knitted Chicken Family

You may have noticed that since my exam I've got slightly knitting crazy. I like to have something to do with my hands while in watching TV and with my Kindle I can sit and knit while I read as well. I've also got an 80 litre tub and a 30 litre bag full of wool which I kind of need to use up so these are all good excuses for getting my knit on.

My most recent project was a departure from the Jean Greenhowe patterns I've been doing of late. I'd seen the Knitted Farm Animals book online a couple of times but I'm always hesitant to buy pattern books without actually having a squint at the patterns themselves. I've actually come to prefer knitting toys flat and then sewing them up (rather than tackling them in the round, though if I have to knit a hat I wouldn't dream of anything involving seaming) and lots of toy patterns involve fiddly (to me) starts on DPNs.

When Sarah Keen's Knitted Farm Animals showed up with the book man at work I took one look at it and decided I HAD to have it. At £5 it was a bargain.

It's taken me a while to get to it because I had a few other projects to tackle. I'd originally planned to do the turkey first (because I figured it'd be ready for Thanksgiving/Christmas and might make a good gift). But several people mentioned chickens and my in-laws are planning to get some, so that decided it for me. I was going to knit chickens.

It also seemed like a good occasion to try out a technique I'd seen on Ravelry where someone had knitted the same pattern in different colours on the one pair of needles. The chickens seemed like a fairly simple knit so I decided to try it out with them and made one dark brown and one in white with black flecks.

It worked really well, until I got to the bit where I had to turn my work to shape it and then to avoid confusing myself I just worked one chicken at a time. I only had one ball of orange too so that meant I had to do the feet and beaks one at a time too. That made the feet a bit tedious because I needed to do eight pieces (two for each foot) but it was worth it for the end result.

The pattern calls for 'm1' increases which for some reason I had a complete mental block on at the time when I started knitting. I ended up adapting the pattern and just knitting into the front and back of a stitch at first. Then for shaping the neck I remembered, but forgot to knit into the back of the stitch I'd lifted onto the needle (which twists it to close the hole) so there are some holes in the neck shaping. It's only really noticeable on the brown chicken.

I've named them Gladys (the brown one) and Gertrude (the grey) and despite thinking that I wouldn't be too attached to them, I think they've got cute characters. They're currently living on my bookcase with their broods until I figure out who to give them too.

I have to admit to loving the effect of the wool I used on Gertrude. It's from a giant ball I bought ages ago and haven't been able to figure out what to do with it. I used it to make hats for Mr Click and I but the little black strands shed something terrible. It was awful stuff to knit with, especially in bed, because everything ends up covered in little black hairs! The end result is great though.

The chicks were also an attempt at knitting three different projects at once; after all, I'd managed two, three couldn't me much harder. And it isn't, as long as you keep your balls of wool in order, otherwise they sort of knit themselves together and you can get into a tangle.

I had a bright yellow and a light yellow (in fact I have a couple of balls of light yellow and no idea where it came from, I swear half my wool spontaneously generates!) so I decided to make the third chick in the same wool as Gertrude. It reminds me of the little fluffy white chicks you see.

Pip, Chip and Chucky were easily the most fiddly things I've ever knitted. The head and body were knit separately and then had to be sewn together; Chucky is the tallest at just over 3.5" so you can imagine how fiddly that would be! Not mentioning the tiny little feet and beaks! But it was totally worth it when I sewed their little eyes in and they suddenly got their character.

Lastly I made the eggs. I only had one ball of cream so did one egg on it's own and then the second cream and the tan one together. They're a bit lumpy but I guess that's because Egbert, Eglantine and Benedict are just getting ready to hatch. ;-)

This was my first Sarah Keen pattern and as I've got her Knitted Wild Animals Elephant on my needles next I was a little worried that I wouldn't love her patterns as much as the Jean Greenhowe ones. They're not the same as the Jean Greenhowe ones, but they're just as good, just different.

While I was knitting the chickens I couldn't help but find myself wishing I'd picked something with a bit more character like an endearing cow or quirky sheep, but gradually the chickens took shape and while they're not as cute as other animals, there is something very loveable about them.

The pattern book has lovely big photos of the projects in it; there's a gallery at the beginning as well as photos in the pattern and then illustrated instructions at the back too. There are fun facts all the way through the book: did you know the colour a chicken is determines the colour eggs it'll lay, I didn't but I took that into account when I was knitting Egbert, Eglantine and Benedict!

Some of the instructions could have been a bit clearer, particularly with the chicks; I wasn't really clear which end of the body the head was supposed to be sewn onto but the photos are so clear I was able to figure it out.

I'm already planning a flock of sheep from the pattern in this book (I've got just the right wool in mind) but right now I'm knitting elephants. As the two and three projects on one needle technique worked well for me I'm making three in blue, grey and a pink and purple mix. I'm excited to see how they turn out but I think they're going to take a little while.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Project 52: Week 29 - Urban Life

This week's photo theme was a little easier to work with for me. Plus we're in the middle of some scorching weather right now, all the better for getting outside with a camera. Though the theme of Urban Life was a little bit tricky considering that where we live we couldn't be more in the countryside.

In fact, considering I live on an island with approximately 7000 people on it, there's not really anywhere that's totally urban, hehe. I decided to go with a photo taken in town. Of a traffic light.

I should probably mention here that Rothesay didn't actually get traffic lights until fairly recently (ignoring the temporary ones which were sometimes put up for roadworks and things). This is the sort of place where a traffic jam is where you get stuck behind a bunch of cows being taken out of their field and across the road for milking! When I moved here we didn't have traffic lights and we didn't have roundabouts.

In the last thirteen years we've soared into the twenty-first century. Not only do we have our very own set of perfectly temperamental traffic lights, we have not one, but two roundabouts. It was a toss up whether to photograph one of those or the lights, the lights won because they're easier to take a picture of than a circle painted on the road. Plus I was kind of hoping that people would think that I was photographing an interesting bird or something while I snapped the traffic lights, taking a photo of a roundabout would be a little bit harder to disguise as something else!

Week 29: Urban Life
I actually managed to get the traffic light while it was green, amber and red which gave me quite a bit to work with. I did consider using the green version and saying that urban life is all go, except here that isn't really the case. Quite often things are more of a slow crawl. Plus the stop light was the closest one I took so I went with that. There's no real reason behind my choice beyond that, I couldn't think of anything profound to relate it to.

At the moment I don't have a theme for next week's photos. The BBC website where I get my prompts from is taking a break for the month of August and are coming back again at the beginning of September with Holidays and Frames. I was toying with the idea of finding another list of prompts to work with but I might just go wild without a prompt each week and see what I can come up with.

This probably means that for the next four weeks there will be lots of photos of knitting. For this, I appologise in advance.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Film Review: The Wizard of Oz

Mr Click preordered Oz the Great and Powerful on blu-ray so partly because we knew that was on the way, and partly because we were having a sleepy Saturday afternoon and wanted to watch a suitable film, we ended up watching the 1939 Wizard of Oz movie.

Considering what a film fiend I am, it's probably a little bit sacreligious to say that I've never been a huge fan of The Wizard of Oz. I'm not entirely sure what it was about it that used to irritate me so much, it seems to be something that I'm growing out of now though. I can say that a huge irritant came from the fact that we used to have the soundtrack in the CD player which we used as an alarm clock. Every morning it would play a bit of Somewhere Over the Rainbow until one of us managed to hit the button to shut it up; it'd gradually get louder and louder until you got it to stop. One morning Mr Click accidentally hit skip so we got a rendition of Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead instead. Not a good start to the day.

If you've been living in a cave or have never seen The Wizard of Oz, it's the story of a young girl, Dorothy, whose house is hit by a tornado and whisked away from Kansas and into the fantastical land of Oz. Once there the house lands on a witch, killing her and transporting the witch's fancy footwear onto Dorothy's feet. Dorothy's only hope of getting home is to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City and meet with the Wizard of Oz.

Along the way she meets with the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion (in need of brains, heart and courage, respectively) who join her, and her little dog, Toto, in their trek to the city. The Wizard agrees to grant them what they want if they bring him the Wicked Witch of the West's broomstick. Dorothy, being well-versed in witchicide by this point, offs the witch, brings back the broomstick and is finally able to return home with some help from the Good Witch who she met at the beginning. Where it is revealed that it was all a dream... or was it?

There's probably a lot that I could say about this film that's been said before, but for now I'll just focus on how groundbreaking it was at the time. I'm coming to love how clever it was playing around with the sepia tones at the beginning and then breaking out into fantastic technicolour once Dorothy arrives in Oz. In 1939 terms that's probably up there with films like Toy Story for the CG element and Avatar with the 3D. I guess because I'm so used to modern films being totally in colour, it's easy to forget just what a big deal this sort of film would have been.

The special effects are also pretty good for the time. Okay, so you can see the strings on the flying monkeys, and the witch on the broomstick is just a jerky silhouette at one point, but when the witch throws the fire balls at the Scarecrow, that's something.

Something I hadn't really thought about until this viewing of it was the costumes as well. Particularly the Scarecrow; his face is meant to have been made out of a piece of sacking, and it looks like it. The sack effect goes right up onto his cheeks and it's seamless. That's something that lots of modern films still can't achieve totally well! I've been marvelling at the prosthetics in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, but The Wizard of Oz was pretty advanced for its time.

It's a wonderfully simple sort of story which is easy for everyone to follow, no matter what their age. Mr Click likes to watch this one in the run up to Christmas, for much the same reason as I like to watch The Sound of Music around Easter; it was always shown around that time growing up so it's just become associated with that season. I think it's one of those films that has been ingrained in the national consciousness; someone can make a reference to a brick road, gingham or a tin man and you instinctively know what they're referencing. That's not bad for a film that's approaching seventy-five years old; with the exception of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs I'd struggle to name a film that's quite so well-known.

I'm glad that we rewatched this before watching Oz the Great and Powerful. It's never going to be my most favourite film, but I think that as I mature I'm coming to appreciate it more and more for what it is. It's a bit of an institution now and I think I'll probably enjoy future rewatches a little bit more.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Engelbert the Elephant by Tom Paxton

Do you ever hear a song which manages to take you right back to your childhood?

When I was little I had a tape which my dad had copied from one at the local library, he'd even designed a cover for the case for me with a little black and white clipart image of a teddy bear. Honestly, I didn't quite understand the process when I was very small and believed that it was him singing on it, but in reality it was Tom Paxton.

There were a whole selection of songs on it. One was called 'Katy' written by Tom for his daughter; I went by 'Caiti' when I was little so I was convinced that the song was for me. Another favourite song was called 'The Marvellous Toy' which I'll have to find online and share in the future.

But my favourite little earworm at the moment is a charming song called 'Engelbert the Elephant'. For quite a while now I've been wanting to knit an elephant in some lovely dark blue wool I got a few years ago and name him Engelbert, and this song is the reason why. By the way, I have no idea why my Engelbert should be knit in dark blue fleecy wool, just in my mind that's always been the way he'd looked.

In the song, Engelbert lives in the wild but one day he is accidentally invited to a Royal Ball. Not being one to turn down an invitation he learns to dance, gets himself an outfit and toddles off to join the royal party. A good time is had by all and Engelbert is a huge hit. I've mentioned my love of songs with stories and this one truly has a story to it, as you can hear (my favourite bit is just under two minutes into the song when Engelbert has to sit on the floor):

The image shown above is from the same CD that my family managed to track down for me a few Christmasses back. It costs a small fortune to get over here now, but my uncle in America found it for me and sent it over. I'd actually forgotten Engelbert's song until I opened the CD case and then I fell in love with it all over again.
And while I was in the process of searching for this song on YouTube I stumbled across a version of the same song performed by Val Doonican the year before I was born. I remember my Nan talking about his show and Mr Click and his parents remember watching it too, so it's quite cool that I found this version:

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Day Zero Project: Go through clothes every six months

I've not been doing too well with clearing out my old clothes. I think part of the reason why I've not checked this one off on my list is because of the timescale I set myself. I've not been religiously going through things every six months, but I am doing it more gradually; as and when I come across a sock with a hole in or a top that's getting a little bit shabby then I deal with it then.

Top which is now falling apart & trouswers which are too short in the leg, both of which still reside in my wardrobe, despite needing to be disposed of!
I really should have a proper big clear out though. I tend to wear long-sleeved tops underneath my regular t-shirts and I've got a stack of tops which are a bit worn out or have holes in them which are in dire need of being pulled out of the drawer and given to the rats or cut up for rags.

I've also lost a bit of weight recently too. My jeans are starting to get a bit looser and I'm becoming able to pull them down without undoing them, which is never a good thing. At some point I'll have to have a sort through what I have and see what fits, what doesn't and what's in danger of becoming obscene if I'm not careful.

Of couse, getting rid of clothes also means that you have to buy new ones. I'm not a huge fan of clothes shopping. I prefer to grab stuff from charity shops where it's cheap enough that if you get it home and it's awful on you, you can just donate it back. Most of the time I don't even worry about getting my money back, it's usually for a good cause after all.

I'm terrible for hanging onto things that I don't totally like, or that don't fit right any more, or that are too worn out to be of practical use. I've gotten better since we moved but I still could do with having a clear out more often. I keep on thinking I should just tackle it a drawer at a time, maybe once a week going through my clothes and pulling out whatever I can be rid of, but although I start with good intentions, I usually stop about halfway through.

Do you have a routine for clearing out old clothes? How do you get rid of things you don't want any more?

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Meet Great Uncle Angus MacScarecrow

I know that I gave a sneak peak of him last week, but I'm so proud of him that I think he needs a blog post all of his own. When I got some money from a relative at Christmas last year I quickly picked the first three Jean Greenhowe knitting pattern booklets that I wanted for myself, but the fourth was a lot harder to choose. There are so many fantastic patterns that I just couldn't quite decide which one I should go for.

In the end Mr Click helped me to make up my mind and I selected the MacScarecrow Clan booklet. It's in the same vein as the Scarecrow family booklet (which I'm going to have to get at some point) but features a different branch of the Scarecrow family; the Scottish ones. Living in Scotland I couldn't resist it but when it arrived I set it aside to tackle after I'd had a go at all of the other booklets I'd bought. I mean, these characters are wearing tartan outfits, how on earth do you go about knitting that!

Cover of booklet from
When I finally came to thinking about knitting my next project I asked Mr Click to help me pick which one I should do next. He took one look at Great Uncle Angus and told me I had to do him. Of course, Great Uncle Angus just happens to be about the most complicated pattern in the book. He's also pretty tall. After the challenge of making Cyril I was fairly certain that I wanted something quick and easy, Baby Bonnie or the Scamp the dog would've been more to my liking; Great Uncle Angus is over a foot tall!

He also comes complete with a small knitted set of bagpipes. As impressive as he looks, I was certain that he'd be a pattern I'd probably not finishing. I mean, there's so much tartan. I was having visions of complicated intarsia knitting and having several balls of wool on the go at once. But being a Jean Greenhowe pattern that was never going to be the case.

I was really surprised at how quickly he knit up. The doll's legs, body and head are all knit in one piece from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. I managed to that that in just over a day. You can't see it because of his trousers (and it would be rude to peak) but underneath those trouser legs are green socks and brown pants because his body is the same as Scotty's and he's wearing socks and pants so I figured it was only polite that Great Uncle Angus wore some too.

He's a scarecrow, hence the carrot nose and slightly raggedy appearance. I was really pleased with how his face turned out. As soon as I got those eyes and mouth on he started to get a proper sense of character. Jean Greenhowe usually stitches mouths on with a slight gap in the very centre, but I prefer to make them all one line. I just did that by bringing the thread down to the centre, then took it under the knitting to the top corner of the mouth and then back down to the centre again.

The hat is knit in that same horrible blue wool that I used for most of Cyril. It's lovely and soft and is a great colour, but so horrible to work with. He's supposed to have a red ribbon on the side of his hat which is done by casting on a number of stitches and then casting off again to make a strip you can tie into a bow. But either my cast on or cast off was too tight and I couldn't make it into a neat bow. I might add it at some point in the future, but I think he's fine without it.

The hair and beard are made by hooking threads through the hat and a knitted beard strip (made in the same way as the bow). That was done with a crochet hook and I wasn't too sure I was doing it right. I definitely did it wrong for the hair on the hat (you were supposed to do it so it just stuck out from under the edge of the hat) but for a first attempt it wasn't too bad.

All the tartan was a bit time-consuming. Basically you knit the horizontal stripes and then do the vertical ones afterwards using a technique called 'Swiss Darning' (better known in the US as duplicate stitch). I was convinced that this would be nearly impossible to do because the description of how to do this including one photograph and about a paragraph of text. But that was all I needed. It was just explained so clearly that the photo and text explained it perfectly.

I ended up taking those bits to work with me for my breaks because I was so keen to get him all finished. I probably spent about a week alone just doing my Swiss Darning thing on all of the bits and pieces that needed it.

And the last week of the three that were spent working on Angus, well that was all devoted to my anatomically correct set of bagpipes. They actually knit up very quickly. The time consuming bit was putting it all together.

The bag was all in one piece, but there were the horizontal stripes to work in (so it wasn't a completely straightforward piece of knitting) and then the Swiss Darning over the top (though the five columns felt like nothing after the fifteen, per leg, of the trousers). The pipe are made of straws with knitting tubes covering them and then there's those little rings on the pipes. I had to make and then sew on all twelve of those rings. That was probably the most frustrating bit because it's so close to being done, but not quite.

I also had to get some help from Mr Click to make the tassels for the cord as well because I needed about four sets of hands to get them to work. The one thing that was missing from the pattern was how to make the tassles. Luckily I had internet access so I was able to look that up and figured it out on the second attempt, but I can't help but think I might have gotten it quicker had Ms. Greenhowe explained it in her own words.

On the whole I'm really pleased with how he's turned out. He's standing on the front living room windowsill looking out at the world as it goes by. I like that you can see him from the front gate, so hopefully people staying in the holiday cottage next door will see him on their way to their house.

There are a couple of iffy bits (like his hair and the curling trousers and sash which I probably should have finished better) but those are all my own mistakes. I think I might have finished him a little better if I'd been making him for someone else, but after giving away so many of my recently knitted toys I kind of decided that I wanted to keep Great Uncle Angus all for myself. I'm really looking forward to knitting the rest of the MacScarecrow Clan, though I'm thinking I'll have a little bit of a break first of all. I've had enough of knitting tartan for a while!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Book 26 of 2013: The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald

I reread W.G. Sebald's The Emigrants in preparation for the final bit of my last OU course. It tells the stories of several people who moved away from Germany at various times and for various reasons.

It's really a series of disjointed stories, the only thing which seems to hold them all together is the relationship of the author to the people he is speaking about. It's a little unclear at times whether the narrator is the same person all the way through though.

I probably would've gotten more from this book if I'd paid more attention to the chapter discussing it in the course book. I'll admit, I skim-read that bit because it was getting close to the exam and I knew there was no way I was going to write about The Emigrants so I didn't want to waste too much time on it that could be better spent elsewhere.

I think I enjoyed my initial read of it more than the reread. On my first go through I kept on waiting for it to all come together and start making sense, I caught a couple of references to 'the butterfly man' an thought perhaps that was something I'd missed in the other stories. That wasn't the case though and I quickly found that on a second read through it was no more enlightening than on the first.

The stories were no less disjointed and I struggled to follow some of them; particularly the one about the older gentleman who ended up having electroshock treatment. One minute it was talking about how he died and the next moment it was following him as he travelled around Europe as a companion to the son of a wealthy family.

I felt like at times it was edging towards magic realism, but it never actually committed to it. I would've liked a touch of magic realism because it would've livened things up a bit. It was a pretty depressing book with everyone killing themselves or dying sad and lonely deaths.

I did enjoy the photos in the book. Though I would've liked to have some explanations of what they were photos of; some were explained but most weren't and it left me wondering who the people were and how they were linked to the stories. In a way they kind of reminded me of the pictures in the Lemony Snickett autobiography.

One thing it did have going for its favour is that it was a relatively quick read. It's not one that I'm going to revisit in the future. Providing I get good results back from my exam this book'll be going up on eBay for some other OU student to struggle through. I doubt whether I'll miss it!

Blog Readers?

Normally today I'd post a Blog Spotlight post but I've not had a chance to ask any of my friends if they'd mind me featuring them (and I don't like to do it without people's permission). This is partly because I've been struggling to actually read my friends' blogs recently.

You see, I used to use Feeddler to follow blogs on my phone. It worked well for me, I'd take my phone outside with me while I took Tara out for her morning ablutions (because I don't get a steady enough signal on my phone to update it in the bedroom), then when I came back in it'd let me read the blog posts regardless of whether or not I had a signal.

Any blog posts that I wanted to comment on, I could just load up in a Safari window and if I didn't have a signal at the time I could tackle them when I did. But it loads from Google Reader and now it won't work since Google Reader has been abandoned.

So I did a bit of googling and I found that lots of people were recommending Bloglovin. So I figured I'd go with the masses over to that.

Follow on Bloglovin
It was a bit tricky from the beginning. After a lot of struggling I managed to get it to accept my downloaded list of blogs from Google and I found the app for my iPhone. The website feed itself it nice and neat and easy to follow, but the app is useless.
It displays a set number of posts and then to see more you have to go to the bottom of the page and wait for it to load more. It doesn't mark them as read when I've read them if I've not got an internet connection (which means that once I've loaded them up I have to go through the ones I've already read and mark them off otherwise they'll keep showing up). And I can't seem to find an arrow button to move me on to the next most recent post like I had on Feeddler. That means that I have to come out of the post I've just read and then select the next one, and if the posts I was reading come after the set number that are displayed first then I have to wait for all of those to load again, which obviously doesn't happen once I've come back inside.
It's been driving me crazy and has basically led to me sitting and reading pages on Ravelry instead on a morning (I load up a page before I come in and then scroll through all the pretty pictures while I wait for Mr Click to get our breakfast).
Can anyone suggest what I'm doing wrong here (aside from living in a house with two-foot thick stone walls which prevent me from getting a decent permanent mobile internet connection) or better yet, suggest an app I can use for reading blogs on my iPhone which isn't Bloglovin?

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Project 52: Week 28 - Racing

I realise that I'm completely twisting the theme of racing here, but I've not really had many photo opportunities this week, and certainly none which would match with this week's theme.

I did think that I might be able to take a photo of Tara racing around the living room or garden, particularly as we spent a good hour yesterday morning pulling up weeds. Tara came out to help us but I didn't get a chance to snap her doing any running because she was a little bit too keen to help pull up weeds (including the nice healthy leaves on Arthur II, a potted palm who lives in our back garden), so she ended up finding herself attached to a fence post to keep her out of mischief. Good for her, less good for my weekly photo challenge.

I considered trying to take a photo of something like a finishing line or a checkered flag, but didn't have access to any of those. So instead I took a photo of my current knitting project, which I'm racing to finish. See what I did there?

Week 28: Racing
Uh, yeah, this isn't just an excuse to show off my apparently zombified chickens (if you could see their backs it just enhances this effect because I'd not sewn up the backs of their heads so their brain-like stuffing was spilling out their skulls). I have actually been rushing to get these two little chuck-chucks finished, partly because I've been a bit bored by knitting the same pattern twice at the same time, but also because the sooner I finish these girls, their chicks and their eggs, the sooner I can go on and knit my elephant!

Other than this, yes, it's a bit of a theme!fail for me. Mr Click suggested that I say they were racing chickens (as racing pigeons are in short supply here). Maybe I should've knit up some quick numbers to pin on their sides or a little finishing line sign for them.

Next week is urban life which I suppose gives me a little bit more of a scope for my photos. I must try harder and not leave it to the last minute like I have the last couple of weeks. Of course, urban life might be a tricky thing to find considering I live in the middle of the countryside!

Watch this space and keep your fingers crossed!

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Film Review: Wall-E

Without a doubt, Wall-E is one of my favourite Disney Pixar films. I probably say this about every single Disney Pixar film that I watch, but Wall-E is definitely up there as one of my very top favourites! Since we first got, and watched, Wreck-It Ralph I've been wanting to watch Wall-E again; I'm not entirely sure why but one just made me think of the other.

Wall-E is set on the Earth of the future. Human kind has abandoned the planet after filling it up with junk and pollution, leaving robots like Wall-E behind to clean up their mess. The plan is that they will return after around five years to a sparkly clean planet and in the meantime they'll sail around space in a cruise-ship type spaceship. Unfortunately that's not exactly what's happened; 700 years have passed and Wall-E is the only one left doing his thing, with just a cockroach for company.

Until Eve shows up. Eve is a robot sent down to look for signs of life on Earth and when she finds what she's looking for she has to return to the spaceship, the Axiom. By this point Wall-E is a robot in love and isn't going to let her leave him behind.

I didn't get to see Wall-E in the cinema, which I think made me love it even more. I heard so much about it but didn't get to see it for ages. For the first twenty minutes or so there is no speaking and when there is speaking it's two little robots saying 'Wall-E', 'Eeeve' and 'Directive'; it's practically a silent movie in the beginning. I think I actually read somewhere that when they were making it, they studied silent movies to get the balance right.

The characters in Wall-E are something really special. I think this is a brilliant example of animation at its best. After all, Wall-E is basically a big trash compacter and they've managed to make him into one of the cutest Disney characters ever. I think the big eyes play a big part but all of his little mannerism add up to make him into a really cute little guy.

Eve is a great contrast to Wall-E. I think that she kind of shows how technology has evolved for them since Wall-E was left behind on Earth. There's a bit of a May-December thing going on between her and Wall-E if you think about it, considering he's roughly 700-years her senior!

I feel like an honorable mention should go to Mo as well. I love the way that Wall-E keeps leaving dirt on the floor and eventually Mo just kind of crosses his arms and has a little sulk. Again it highlights just how much emotion the animators have managed to put into these little electronic characters.

And it's a film with a message. Unlike the usual Disney Pixar message (which tends to be about being true to yourself and who you are/where you come from) this one is more health/environment conscious. The film shows humans who have become sort of blobby from inactivity after having lived for so long on the Axiom and having robots to do everything for them.

Easily one of my favourite parts of the film is the end credits, they really make the film and are practically a little film all on their own. It basically continues the story so you can see what happened after the end of the film. I especially love the way that it shows all the different styles of art through the ages, right up to the 8-bit animation (which I suppose is why I felt like watching this after watching Wreck-It Ralph).

And the song is lovely too.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Mini Knitting Update

Because I'm a bit of an idiot I completely forgot to take photos of my latest finished knitting project so I'm not going to be able to write a proper pattern review for Great Uncle Angus MacScarecrow just yet.

But I didn't want to miss an opportunity to show him off, so here he is:

Please excuse the bad iPhone photo. This was taken last Friday about five minutes after I finished him. He took three weeks to complete (I started him immediately after finishing Cyril) and the last week was pretty much exclusively spent on the bagpipes (which are 'anatomically correct').

As soon as I finished him, I went straight on to knitting some chickens (trying to do two on the one set of needles, in two different colours) from the pattern in Knitted Farm Animals. To see how those turn out, watch this space!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Day Zero Project: Sort and organise all jewellery

I have a lot of jewellery. An awful lot of jewellery. When we were first going out it was one of those little gifts that Mr Click kept on bringing me and as a result my collection grew and grew and grew. Now we've kind of slowed down a little and I don't wear quite as much as I once did - mainly because at work I now have to wear a lanyard with an ID on it, and if I wear a necklace as well it pretty much doubles my likelihood of strangling myself!

I often throw on a necklace or bracelet if I'm dressing up though, or if we're going somewhere. There are some outfits that just don't look complete unless they've got a little accessory with them. And I'm always promising myself that I'll get a clip for my work ID and then I can get away with wearing a necklace every day again.

I always used to keep my necklaces hanging over my bedside lamp. It's a touch lamp so some of the chains for the necklaces conducted whatever was being conducted to make it operate by touch so you could just grab one of those instead of tapping the metal of the lamp. I always thought that was kind of cool. Unfortunately I had so many necklaces on it that they kind of knotted themselves together making it really difficult when you wanted to get to just one.

When we moved I just left everything as it was, stuck the lamp in a box and that's where it's been ever since. This means that this project is very closely linked with last week's bit of the Day Zero Project. As I've wanted to wear one necklace or another I've dug it out, worn it and then tidied it away into a 'necklace organiser' that I picked up in Primark.

It's basically a coathanger with a double-sided set of pockets hanging from it. It's quite handy because they're all different sizes to accommodate all different sorts of necklaces (I quite like chunky pendants and things so this is a real necessity). But I've not managed to migrate all of my jewellery downstairs from the spare bedroom yet.

It's kind of a gradual process but I am getting there.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Registering For EA200 Children's Literature

Or attempting to, at least.

For the last couple of years I've known that my final Open University course would be the Children's Literature one. I loved it when I was at University and our summer assignment for one subject was to read and review as many children's books as we could. I think I managed about fifteen (half of those were from the Lemony Snicket Series of Unfortunate Events).

I was wondering whether my planned next course might chance once I'd actually done the second level literature course (that I'm still waiting for my results for) but if anything it just made it more definite. I think I could happily study more Shakespeare, but I definitely don't want to study any more recent literature; the final bit of the course just didn't hold my attention the way the earlier bit did. Children's literature is different though, and having seen the reading list, I can't wait to get started.

That is if I actually am able to send my registration stuff off.

You see, in Scotland, if your earnings are below a certain threshold, then you qualify for a grant to pay your fees for you (as a part-time student). Each year I've had to go through the rigamarole of applying for this financial support because each year my circumstances have changed meaning I can't just tick the little box that said something along the lines of 'my circumstances have not changed since I last completed this application'.

Until this year!

Two and a half weeks ago I happily filled in my course registration, thinking longingly of that bit of the application. I'd be able to get it all printed out and submitted to the OU within a couple of days and rest assured that it was all in hand.

Imagine my surprise when I completed the registration stuff and then found that it wasn't giving me the financial support link. I sent off an email which didn't get a response for a couple of days (which basically just said I see you've now successfully registered for your course, contact us if you have any more problems) by which time I'd received an email with a link to the SAAS website to apply for the grant.

It seems you now have to do it through SAAS rather than through a link on the OU website. Of course, I'm still stuck. The form has two options; you've either applied for a grant before or you haven't. Obviously I have, but as I did it through the OU before I don't have my ILA number or a SAAS number which is the first question it then asks you. After a week of waiting for a response to the email I sent the OU about what I should do here I'm thinking I should just go ahead, fill in the form and hope for the best.

At least once I've actually succeeded in filling in the forms for the course, the actual essays should be a piece of cake!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Book 25 of 2013: Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson

I've mentioned my love for language in the past and Bill Bryson's Mother Tongue was mentioned on the OU forums for one of my previous linguistics courses. I forget exactly when it was that I got it, somewhere in a charity shop. At the time I got it, someone told me that they weren't a fan of Bill Bryson's writing and that it probably wouldn't appeal to me. In the end it was stuck in a box and only made it onto the bookcase quite recently.

It's a shame I waited so long to read it because it was really fascinating. Basically Bill Bryson looks at factors which have influenced the English language, how it has changed through time and why it continues to change today. This sort of thing is right up my street.

I found it really interesting. Lots of it was like a potted (and humorous) version of my first OU linguistics course (U211). I wish I'd had it to make reference to during my essays and exam! In a way it kind of reminded me of the Horrible Histories or The Knowledge books that I used to love when I was younger. It didn't have illustrations, but it did have lots of quirky facts and was often written in a tongue-in-cheek style.

As I often find with funny books that I enjoy, I couldn't help but keep on reading bits out to Mr Click (and I made loads and loads of notes of favourite quotes in my book journal as well). I have to admit that I preferred the bits about UK English to the bits about US English, that's probably because I know more about UK English as that's what I've been studying. Hopefully as I expand my collection of linguistics-themed books I'll learn more about other varieties of English and I'll find the US sections more interesting.

It's definitely going to be a book I'll revisit in the future and now that I know that I like Bill Bryson's style of writing. I think he's done some similar books which I think I'm going to definitely keep an eye out for in the future.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Another Nuffield Appointment

Last Tuesday was our latest Nuffield appointment, this was partly a follow on appointment from our last one when we received our big pack of consent forms to fill in. It was actually three appointments in one as we also had a counselling appointment and I was getting some blood taken for some genetic testing as well.

All in all it was a very busy day!

We were there a wee bit early for our first appointment with the counsellor, M, so we were able to get checked in at the desk and then have a drink and a rest in the waiting room. We weren't quite as early as we had been for our last appointment so it was just a thirty minute wait this time.

I'll admit, I was a little bit unsure what the counsellor appointment would involve. It's silly because when I saw a counsellor in the past (unrelated to the IVF stuff) I did find it really helpful.

M was lovely. Although she works at the Nuffield, she's sort of separate so whatever you tell her is confidential between you and her (except if there's any serious cause for concern). Mr Click and I saw her together; we talked about how long we'd been trying for a baby, how we felt about the IVF, the egg share programme and some other stuff.

It was a really good session and I think it really helped that M asked us questions that we hadn't necessarily considered ourselves. Her service is free to anyone undergoing IVF treatment throughout the process as well as for period of time afterwards as well. I think it's a great thing and I don't think Mr Click or I would have any worries about arranging another appointment with her in the future.

Then it was back to the waiting room for another little wait for our next nurse consultation. We'd only been there a few minutes when J, the nurse we saw last time, came through for something else. It was lovely the way she acknowledged us and said hi, it wasn't long after that that she called us through (a little bit before our actual appointment time).

This was a much shorter appointment than the last one mainly because it was just going through all the forms we have to fill in. We'd looked through them all beforehand but it was still a bit time consuming because we checked our responses as we went along.

A lot of it was stuff that you wouldn't have really thought about, like what happens to any frozen eggs or embryos if you die. A little morbid perhaps but definitely something that needs to be considered. There were lots of things to sign as well to show you've read documents; I'm glad we'd been able to read over them all before we went because otherwise it would be been a much longer appointment and I doubt whether I would've taken everything in.

We also had our results from our local health centre who kindly did some of our blood tests for us. The hospital requires anyone undergoing IVF to be tested for STIs because of contamination risks during sample storage. Being asked to do a test for HIV and chlamydia wasn't something I took personally because I wasn't worried about having anything, but it was still very nice to get the all clear!

Getting the tests done ourselves did save us a little bit of money, but I should really note it was actually suggested by the nurse at our last appointment that we go this route as our GP had offered to do tests like these. I just love that they aren't pushing us to spend money if we don't need to, it makes you feel really cared for. And as we were able to produce lab copies of the results, it's all good.

I still needed a few more blood tests so I had quite a few vials of blood taken. I knew that they needed to run several genetic tests (for the egg share) but I was still a bit surprised when I realised all the little tubes in J's tray were for me!

I'm not really bothered by getting blood taken, so long as I can watch what's going on. It's probably silly but if you're going yo come near me with a big pointy thing, I like to be able to see what you're doing with it!

Of course I should mention that throughout this appointment J was lovely and we chatted loads again. I liked that we were seeing the same nurse, though it wouldn't have bothered me if we'd seen someone different. It's just been nice having that bit of continuity.

When the forms were filled and the blood taken I asked what happens next and we're pretty much just waiting for a phone call. Once we get that I'll be able to start taking the Metformin I need to take from Day 20 of the cycle before we start. I asked about picking that up and J said that normally you'd just call to arrange to pick it up before Day 20, but go save us a trip she went and got me what I'd need so we'd be ready to go once we got the call. It can take a little while for everything we're having done to fall into place but if it all falls into place quickly I could be taken those pills before the end of the month!

What I loved about the end of our appointment was that after she'd been away to get the pills, J came back in and sat down to chat some more before we wrapped everything up. On the way home Mr Click and I both commented on how nice it is not to feel rushed at any of our appointments. I'm sure we haven't been the only patients on any of our appointment days; but we've kind of felt like we are. As we said to M at our appointment with her, how a place makes you feel definitely plays a huge part in the process and we both definitely feel comfortable at the Nuffield.

So now all we have to do is wait, and we've been doing a lot of that over the last three and a half years, but somehow this wait at the moment isn't feeling so bad.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Project 52: Week 27 - Lakes

Living in Scotland we don't really have any nearby lakes, so I had to make do with a photo of a loch for this week! ;-)

Initially I thought to take my camera with us on a walk round Calvary Pond, one of our new favourite walks on the estate. Although the pond is called Calvary Pond, it's really a very large pond. It takes a good few minutes to walk around and there's so much greenery there that when you're on one side of it you can't see the other side properly.

We've not taken Tara round the pond there until fairly recently because we weren't sure if it was somewhere that dogs were allowed. Since we received a copy of the map of the estate with all the routes that dogs are allowed on we've taken her there a couple of times. It's now become one of her favourite walks too; last Tuesday when I walked her first thing in the morning before leaving for our appointment at the Nuffield I had her on the extendable lead so she was walking well ahead of me, when we got to the Calvary Pond turning, she decided that was where we were going even though I'd planned to just walk towards the back gate!

But the route up there can be quite muddy, especially when the weather has been as wet as it's been at times this week. I didn't want to slip on any mud whilst carrying my camera (for obvious reasons) so I ended up avoiding it.

This morning the sun was shining and it was lovely and warm outside, so I suggested that instead of walking Tara through the estate and meeting Mr Click on the road where he picks me up before we go to his parents, perhaps we should go to the beach. So we headed off past the loch where our water used to come from (where we lived before). Mr Click pulled up as soon as the water came into view, I stood up and leaned on the door, snapped a few photos and then we headed to Ettrick Bay to tire out the dog.

Week 27: Lakes
Obvioulsy the focus in the photo above is on the tops of the hedge. At the time I took this one I just ignored it and carried on clicking away, but looking at it on the computer it became my favourite one of the lot!

I like that the water is just a soft feature in the background with the plants in the foreground. It's not the photo I would've chosen to take, but by happy accident it's turned out better than anything I might have planned!

Next week's photo theme is racing which I'll try and think of something good for. The BBC News website isn't posting any prompts for the month of August so I'm trying to decide whether I'll just go for random photos or if I'll try and come up with some prompts of my own.

If you're wanting to suggest any prompts for my weekly photo themes then go ahead and leave a comment. ;-)