Friday, 15 November 2013


Just a quick post to share my almost finished scarf for Mr Click:

I had considered arranging it to day 'done' but it's not quite long enough, despite being around eight feet long!

I still have some finishing work to do on it but I'm pretty pleased with it.

And I've already cast on for my next project; another hedgehog!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Day Zero Project: Hit Step Target Every Day For A Month

This target is kind of linked to my target to go for a walk every week, and since we've got Tara this is something which turned out to be quite easy to achieve. Several years ago Mr Click and I got the Walk With Me 'game' for my Nintendo DS and started trying to increase the number of steps we were taking each day.

The white one is mine and the black one is Mr Click's. We've got slightly different step targets, but have both had good runs of achieving them. We've been a bit lax about checking them more recently but it's good fun to check how many steps you've taken if you've been on your feet or been on a new walk.

I managed to achieve this target between April and May last year, I think at one point my step target actually increased and I still managed to maintain it. I was pretty pleased with myself for doing that, even though I didn't keep it up and managed to slip back below my step target on several occasions a few days afterwards.

Having Tara certainly helps to keep those step counts up. Of course you do need to wear the step counter for them to count, it's a little bit frustrating to forget to put it on and then realise that you're missing out on steps later on in the day. I still wear it every day though, even if I don't check the steps. When New Year Resolutions come around in a month and a bit's time I suspect that checking my counts more regularly will be on the list.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Tired Tup Tup

As I mentioned on Monday, Tara and I went for a lovely long (and painful) walk on Sunday morning. I was pretty tired out afterwards but I got on with the day, albeit a fairly lazy day (largely spent knitting a scarf and writing out blog posts for the week ahead).

Tara on the other hand, she did this:

That's our sleepy Labrador draped across her daddy's lap. I've never known a dog as cuddly as Tara. She loves to snuggle up with people, especially with Mr Click.

Later in the day Grandad vacated his chair, so Tara decided to keep it warm for him while he was out of the room.

What you can't see in this picture is the fact that she was dreaming and her little cheeks were flapping around as she gave these little woofs. It was ridiculously cute.

And at the time of writing this, Tara's actually upside in Grandma's chair, in much the same sort of position.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Book 41 of 2013: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Do you have books that you come back to time and time again? For me they tend to be books that I associate with my early to mid teens. It was an age where a lot of stuff happened, like moving four hundred miles to a different country and starting a new school, making new friends and all that stuff. I guess it was a time when I was looking for comfort and I found a lot of it in the books that I read. Now I like to go back and revisit them and relive some of that security that I felt back when they were brand new to me.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is one of those books for me. I didn't get caught up in the initial hype back in 1997/8 when it was first released and everyone started going crazy. I'm one of those stubborn people who digs their heels in when there's a book that everyone is raving about. A family member knew that all of my books were going to be in boxes after the move and so ordered the four Harry Potter books that were out at the time and had them delivered to the new house so I'd have something to read when I got there. I read them twice during the first two weeks I was there.

In case you've lived under a rock for the last sixteen (woah! that's scary!) years, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is a children's book in which Harry, who has been raised by his disapproving (of everything) aunt and uncle, discovers that he is in fact a wizard and will shortly be attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Along the way he learns that his parents were a talented witch and wizard who were killed by the most evil wizard ever, Lord Voldemort; he also makes friends, learns magic and becomes a dab hand at wielding a broomstick. Then Lord Voldemort makes an appearance and little eleven-year-old HP has to do his best to defeat him.

I normally make a habit of rereading this series of books pretty regularly although I didn't get to them at all last year because I had so many other things to be reading. I didn't really realise how much I missed not reading them until I picked it up again this year and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series over the next few months (once again I've gotten a little bogged down with reading my course materials but once I'm caught up with that I'm sure my reading will be back on track).

Part of my reason for rereading it when I did was because it was due to be covered in EA300. I read it way back in July and thoroughly enjoyed the fact that it's a nice quick read which I can get lost in easily. I've lost count of the number of times I've read it and it's all so familiar to me. There are whole sections that I practically know off by heart.

Interestingly that kind of relates to why it was covered in the course materials. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was looked at alongside Philip Pullman's Northern Lights as being books intended for children (or in Pullman's case, teens) but which have been adopted as enthusiastically by adults. One of the things that I love about this series of books is the way that J.K. Rowling's writing style sort of changes through the books; this one seems kind of simplistic but by the last two or three they are so much more sophisticated. You get the sense that you're really following the children as they age, and at the same time I suppose that at the time they were being published the children who were reading them were aging alongside the characters; when the books were published both Harry and myself were starting secondary school.

One of my absolute favourite things about this book is how fully imagined the world is. I love how little mentions of things crop up later on as being bigger and more important. I love how the wizarding world is integrated alongside the non-magical world. And I love the way that the characters change and grow as the series progresses.

I can't wait to go on and read all the others in the series again.

Monday, 11 November 2013

An Eventful Walk

Yesterday I decided to take Tara for a nice long walk to tire her out first thing in the morning. We'd been off the island on Saturday so she'd missed out on her usual long Saturday walk, and woke me up at 7am on Sunday to tell me about it, so I figured I'd give her a long walk for a bit of peace and quiet to get on with my knitting. Plus I had an idea of what I wanted to photograph for my Project 52 picture and if I was heading in that direction it made sense to carry round in a big loop.

The problem was that there had been a heavy frost and so a large portion of the ground was frosted up. Not too bad on the grass, but decidedly slippery on the road. I couldn't very well turn back with my hyperactive Labrador who was very excited to be getting her walk, so I headed for the back gate. A short way down the road things thawed out and I decided that maybe it wasn't too bad after all. Besides, most of the walk was on grass and track paths so that was unlikely to be an issue for us.

I was wrong.

There's a small set of stone steps that led down to a gravel path and those were frosted up too. I tentatively tested the top one with my snow-booted foot and realised that this could be a bit dangerous. Icy steps coupled with a Labrador who thought mum was going just a bit too slowly caused me to rethink the way down.

There's a grassy bank on either side of the steps. It's steep but I figured it would be easier to go down that than to risk falling down stone steps. I mean, worst case you slide a bit, maybe fall back onto your bum.

Which is what I did.

About halfway down the slope Tara gave a tug on the lead, I leaned back, slipped onto my bum with a nice bump and skidded down the slope. I picked myself up at the bottom feeling a bit bruised, embarrassed, and wet, and on we went with our journey. After all, that was probably the worst bit over.

I was wrong.

The slope down to the path running alongside the beach was covered with fallen leaves. Wet fallen leaves lying on top of wet muddy grass. You can probably see where this is going.

Tara pulled forward, I said 'Heel' and pulled her back, the Labrador acted as a kind of brake but both feet skidded forward at the same time. And down I went. This time onto my thigh and knee, and almost onto the Labrador who shot away from me, pulling the lead off my wrist in the process. Once she had established that mum wasn't in fact trying to jump onto her, she came back to check I was okay. I picked myself up, brushed myself down and carried on.

For about three feet.

Then I went down again. This time into a branch which seemed very keen to get inside my rib cage.

I picked myself up. Again. And assessed the situation; ahead was a walk alongside the beach, a muddy-ish track leading to a path and road, a road which was leading uphill, but which hopefully would not be too icy because the sun had been on it; behind was a slippery track which I'd already fallen down twice, icy steps and an icy road. I decided to keep walking.

Luckily I only nearly fell over once more, when I tripped over a stone. There was a little bit more skidding and some very wet toes when I got dragged through a large puddle by a Labrador who thought that this was the best walk we had ever been on. We got home, wet, muddy and bedraggled (and that was just me!) but in more or less one piece.

And I'm thinking maybe the Shore Walk is one I should put off until the drier weather returns!

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Project 52: Week 45 - Industrial

This week's photo was a little tricky because I live in a really rural place and I don't often see things which spark me as being Industrial. I had hoped to see some sort of farm equipment or building machinery that I could use as my photo but when nothing had presented itself by this morning I took Tara for a walk (which was very eventful, but more on that another day) to where we can see a power station on a neighbouring island.

I very nearly took my DSLR with me, but at the last minute switched to my little compact camera. This was a very wise decision because mere minutes after I'd taken this week's photo I slid down a bank on my bottom and by the time I reached home an hour later I'd fallen over a further two times!

Week 45: Industrial
It's not a great photo because I had to use the zoom to actually be able to get a decent view of the station and the sun was shining on the screen and I had a Labrador who couldn't understand why we had stopped and oh-my-goodness-why-can't-we-go-and-smell-that-brown-thing-over-there! But I like what it's a photo of; I like the tops of the trees, I like the big expanse of sky, I like the wind turbines and I like the power station in front of them. I think this is a photo I may try recreating on a less icy and muddy day with my DSLR.

I also played around with the shot on a website I spotted on BBC Click the other day. It's called Fotor and it's kind of like a Picasa-type site where you can add effects and simply edit your photos. I figured that this photo was the perfect one to play around with, though the end result is mostly just sharpened and contrast/brightness adjusted. I think it's an improvement on the washed out original:

The BBC site now has all the themes up for the weeks until the end of the year. I can't believe how close it is now. Next week is Masks and the week after that is Tools. I'm already thinking up ideas for those, and hopefully I'll be able to take some decent photos, instead of these 'ooh shoot, it's Sunday and I've not got a picture' posts that I've been doing during the last few weeks.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

It's that time of year again...

Time to start cracking out the Christmas films!

We've got a little tradition of collecting Christmas films which we then go on to watch during the run up to Christmas. We've now got so many of them that we have to start watching them in November in order to get through them all, and each year we pick a different order to watch them in, just to mix things up.
The first year we were moved into our new home we watched them in order of the year they were made. This was good fun because it meant that we started with the oldest; the likes of Holiday Inn and White Christmas, then gradually moved forward until we were watching Disney's A Christmas Carol right before the big day. It was also interesting to see how things changed over time, the new technologies that crept in and some of the little bits which were kind of advanced for the time they were made.

Then last year I suggested Mr Click pick the order we watch them in, strongly hinting that I'd like to watch them in order of length (either longest to shortest or vice versa). He suggested alphabetical order and as I'd picked the last order we went with that.

This worked out well too although we did end up with a Christmas Carol week, then a little while after that we had another little batch of Christmas Carols. I quite enjoyed seeing how they all differed from each other; there are certain bits that every version, whether it's Muppets or CGI or live action all share, and then there are other bits which only occasionally get included.

This year it was my turn to pick the order we'd watch the films in and the collection has grown somewhat over the last couple of years. On one shopping trip alone we managed to pick up two more versions of A Christmas Carol so I decided to go for the order of length option that I'd wanted to do the year before.

I've also had to divide our films into Christmas Films and Not Quite Christmas Films. The Not Quite Christmas Films are the ones which you can watch in the run up to Christmas. The obvious ones are things like The Holiday and Love Actually, but there are others I associate with Christmas, like ITV's adaptation of Ballet Shoes from 2007. Christmas does feature briefly but it's not the whole part of the story or it originally aired around Christmas time.

All the Not Quite Christmas Films are scheduled for viewing in November (we've already watched two of them) then the Christmas Films will start in December. We've got The Snowman and Father Christmas at the beginning and we'll finish with White Christmas and It's A Wonderful Life.

And last Thursday we watched our traditional first film of the run up to Christmas; The Nightmare Before Christmas. We watched it with our Chinese takeaway and it was pretty much perfect.

Do you have Christmas films that help to make Christmas for you?

Friday, 8 November 2013

Scarf Progress

Just a quick post to show my progress on OU and NaNo procrastination knitting project:

It's not a great photo, but this is it coiled up. Uncoiled it's taller than I am and still not quite finished in this picture.

I'm quite looking forward to getting it finished so I can start work on another hedgehog from Jean Greenhowe's Knitted Hedgehogs.

Watch this space for progress (and hopefully better photos)!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Day Zero Project: Take a walk at least once a week

Looking back through all my Day Zero Project targets is kind of fun when I come across targets like this. I classify some as still 'in progress' even when they've become a part of my every day routine, and taking a walk at least once a week is definitely one of them.

When I wrote this list it was January 1st 2012, we were in the middle of a miserable cold winter and I was dreaming of adopting a dog (who wouldn't join the family for another four months), so we'd been a little bit lax about going for a weekly walk. When we'd moved into our new house we'd gone for a different walk each time we went out and rarely did the exact same route twice, but by the time winter set in, there wasn't really much of an incentive for going out into the freezing cold.

But now we have Tara and so a weekly walk is kind of a given. There are some days when we're really naughty and don't go for a long walk, but invariably there is some form of trek outside the garden, no matter what the state of the weather is.

And I don't grudge it in the slightest.

For one thing I've gone down a size in jeans, always a nice thing to happen (even if it does mean you have to donate all of your jeans to the rats for bedding and buy new ones). I've also worn through one pair of walking boots and several pairs of trainers.

I've found lots of interesting and beautiful walks around the estate where we live. More now that we've got a proper map showing us where we can and can't go with Tara. As well as that, we often go for walks into town and get to look into shops that I might otherwise miss out on.

So the weekly walk is well and truly ingrained into our lifestyle now. All thanks to Tara!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

OU EA300 TMA01 Results

I was pleasantly surprised, when checking my email after a long day away from home on Saturday, to find that the results for my first TMA were up. I'm used to waiting two weeks (or more sometimes) for results to come back, so a little over a week from submission to results was a very nice thing to come home to. It was of course made even more pleasant by the fact that I got a pretty good mark for a first assignment.

I've got some useful feedback from this assignment but I can't help but feel a bit like I'm just going to get this course finished as best as I can because it's the last one I need before I graduate with my B.A. It's not that I don't find the course interesting, I do, I'm just struggling with it a bit because of the way it's presented.

There is a Study Guide which you follow through and do the activities when you're told to; activities include watching DVDs, using the DVD ROM, reading the set texts and answering questions about what's in them as well as reading chapters in these two 'Readers' which are like collections of journal articles or chapters taken from other books. Honestly, some of the formatting and editing of the first Reader (I've not gone onto the second one yet) is awful. There's glaring typos and book titles not written correctly and it bugs the hell out of me.

Added to that is the fact that the OU has changed the format for online tutorials and the software used is different now. And it won't work for me. I've tried changing numerous settings on my laptop and also on Mr Click's and no matter what settings I change or how many instructions I follow. I know there's a helpline I can call but unfortunately that's just not convenient for the amount of time I get to spend online each week.

For my next assignment I need to try to reference the Study Guide a little less, and also I've been doing my references incorrectly, even though I thought I was doing them the way the Assignment Guide had been telling me to.

The next one is due at the end of November and then it'll be just four more, plus the EMA. As long as I get a decent pass for each one I'll be satisfied.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Book 40 of 2013: A Dance With Dragons, Part 1: After the Feast by George R.R. Martin

Almost a year to the day after I got the Kindle edition 'box set' of the Song of Ice and Fire books, I finally finished the last one. A Dance With Dragons was split into two volumes and about a month after finishing the first part I decided to go on to the second part; it was a little bit sad because I had been reading these books on and off for a year and I'd actually believed that the next one had already been published, which is not the case at all. I think it's due out at some point next year, so there's going to be a bit of a wait going on until I get it.

Honestly, at this point in the book series it's a bit hard to summarise exactly what's been going on. Everyone is fairly well scattered across the lands of Westeros (and beyond) particularly the Stark children; the girls are off pretending that they're not really Starks, Bran is learning about his talents, Jon is trying to be the Commander of the Wall as best he can. The royal family at Kings Landing is fairing little better with Cersei finally being pulled up for everything she's done in the past, Tyrion is off across the sea having been sold as a slave. Meanwhile things aren't exactly going well for Daenarys either as her dragons have gotten decidedly out of hand.

As much as I did enjoy this book, it was pretty huge. That's not necessarily a good thing because there are now so many characters that I didn't get to see as much of them as I would've liked. I think that felt worse somehow because with the previous books if someone's not had a lot of page-time I've been able to think, that's fine, there'll be a lot of them in the next book. That might still be the case with this one, but I'm going to have to wait an awful lot longer to get to see them again. And I'm not always the most patient of people!

I've been struggling to like Daenarys as much over the last two books as well. I liked her when she was being a crusading warrior queen. Being stuck in a city whilst trying to hold onto her morals and rule doesn't suit her. The ending to this book was starting to bring me back around to her but it looks like we're going to have to wait until the next book before we see any real change in her. I hope we do because I want her to be one of my favourite characters again, I mean, she has dragons which makes her cool regardless of what she's doing.

My copy ended with the beginning part of the next book, which was cool because it seemed like a good start. Unfortunately it seems like ages until it's going to be published and it kind of leaves me feeling torn about what to do next. I like to reread all the books in a series before the next one is published, but these books took me a little while to get through and I strongly doubt I'd be able to rush through them right before the next one is published. Plus, I've just finished them, I'm not sure I want to go right back to the beginning so soon afterwards.

That said, I would really like to reread all the series again, as well as maybe looking out for some of the short stories or stand alones like the Dunk and Egg stories because I'm not really ready to leave that world behind just yet.

Thank goodness we've only watched the first series of the TV series, we'll be investing in the second after Christmas and so at least that way I won't have too long to wait until my next fix!

Monday, 4 November 2013

First Weekend NaNo Progress

This year, being an incredibly sad person and also having some holiday hours to spare, I took the first of November off. Mr Click and I had Chinese takeaway for tea, watched a couple of films, then he went to bed and I sat up watching a Disney film followed by two episodes of BBC's Sherlock to start NaNo bang on midnight.

It's been a couple of years since I've been able to do this due to work. Normally I'll do a bit of writing first thing in the morning when I get up, then more when I get home in the evening. As I sat there waiting for the clock to tick over to 00:00 I couldn't help but wonder whether I was getting a bit old for staying up like this. But then November the first hit and I was away just as I always used to.

As of yesterday lunch time I had 12,177 words, which produced this word cloud:

Day 2 NaNo Word Cloud
As you can probably guess, Sean is my main character. The surname 'Watson' gets a mention because for a good four or five thousand words I hadn't decided on names for his parents so I just used Mr and Mrs Watson as place holders until I came up with something else. For now they're called Colin and Karen because I just went with the names of two popular crime writers, but that'll probably change in the future.

I'm learning some things about my story as I go. At the moment it's a bit slow, mainly because I was sticking to the plan I'd drawn up for myself. I'm heading into sketchier territory now however so things might start to speed up as I try to work out what's happening. If I ever get around to editing, large chunks of what I have so far will be cut or changed.

Sean on his own doesn't feel very likeable because he seems a bit self-centred, luckily now Charlotte's come into the story and I've worked out that he's moping over the fact that his parents won't let him be as independent as he wants to be, and won't let him have a mobile phone, I'm starting to like him a bit more. Charlotte's really turning out to be his complete opposite and the bit I'm at just now is having them spend time together so it's giving me lots of fun things to write about because they're just chalk and cheese.

I managed to have a 10k day on November the 1st, in fact, I probably could've made it a 20k day because I got just over 4,000 words before I went to bed at 2:30am, then did the other 6,000 in the evening. I spent most of Friday sitting in bed watching films and knitting so had I devoted a little more time to writing I would've sailed way beyond 10k. But my target was 10,000 and I hit 10,016 so I was satisfied with that. Things are going to slow down over the next week and a bit but then I should be able to pick it up shortly after that.

How's everyone else's NaNos coming along?

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Project 52: Week 44 - Fireworks

Throughout the summer we have a dearth of fireworks at home. The estate where we live often plays host to weddings and almost every Saturday during the height of the summer there can be large firework displays going off. I don't usually get to see much of them beyond the few flashes which might show through the curtains because Tara hates fireworks so most of the time is spent trying to calm her down and stop her from barking.

I saw my first actually firework display for years a couple of weeks ago when we had the Viking Invasion and there was a display at the end of the day. Of course I was on first aid duty so didn't have my camera with me to capture any of those beautiful bangs and besides, it was another few weeks before this prompt popped up.

Logically it's the right time of year for photos of fireworks. And I did actually see some yesterday evening. I was a bit worried at the time because we'd just got back from a day away in Inverary and were walking Tara along the front when directly across the bay we saw some sparkles and flashes. Sure enough there was a firework display going on and I thought we'd have to turn around and go back into the house until it had died down.

But no, it would appear that Tara only hates fireworks when they are loud and right outside her bedroom when she's trying to sleep. Outside with them going off in the distance didn't phase her at all. In fact, at one point she actually stood there watching them, totally curious.

Unfortunately I didn't have a camera on me then either. So I've had to improvise with my picture this week.

So here we have evidence of my NaNo procrastination, complete with fireworks:

Week 44: Fireworks
Yes, that would be me completing Spider Solitaire. I'll not say how many attempts it took to actually get the fireworks. It does seem I'm a little bit out of practice. I guess I should probably try it a couple more times before I get on with my NaNo story...

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Professionals

A few weeks ago we finished watching the TV series, The Professionals. After finishing up with The Sweeney it seemed like the most logical thing to follow it up with.

It follows a specialised (and fictional) branch of British law enforcement known as CI5, with the head of the department, George Cowley, and two of his best agents Bodie (played by Lewis Collins) and Doyle (played by Martin Shaw). They don't seem to have a specific sort of remit, they deal with all sorts of things from terrorists to kidnappings to other sorts of crimes.

Whereas The Sweeney seemed to be a more serious sort of drama, The Professionals seems a lot more tongue in cheek and more inclined to laugh at itself. There is a lot more in the way of comedy in this series than in The Sweeney. It meant that it took me a little while to get into it because Mr Click had told me it was like The Sweeney, which in a way it was, but at the same time it was very different.

It ran for four series and my favourite was probably the third. It had really found its feet by then and there were some really outstanding episodes. My absolute favourite was one which had a terrorist group preparing to attack some gathering (a conference, I think), meanwhile the guys from CI5 were preparing to counter the attack. The whole episode switched between the point of view of the good guys and bad guys; it seemed like quite a modern episode, considering when it was made.

The fourth series was probably my least favourite because by that point it felt like it was recycling the same old storylines. Nine times out of ten if there was something strange going on, or the team were doing something unusual, it was some sort of investigation into the department or there was a cover-up going on.

The DVD box set that Mr Click has was pretty good, in that the episodes had little tidbits (through the first series at least) with notable things to look out for (like the now Mrs Billy Connolly's appearance in three episodes, playing three different characters). Unfortunately later episodes didn't have the same sort of information, and the little text interviews that they had weren't very easy to read (white text on a green background) so we stopped looking at those. Also in the final series they sort of gave up with the box set and all the episode titles were printed for a different series!

On the whole though it made for good bedtime viewing (particularly once we got the TV set up in the bedroom so we didn't have to watch it on my little laptop screen). It was fun looking out for famous faces, before they were famous (it was particularly cool to spot Max Gallagher from Casualty back when he had hair!) and as I said above, there was a fair bit of humour in the episodes.

For now we've been watching Friends, which takes me back because we're watching ER on an evening as well. It's like every night is Thursday night (circa. late 90s/early 00s).

Friday, 1 November 2013

It's NaNo Time!

And so it begins!

Hopefully by the time you're reading this I will already have several thousand words towards my target of 50,000 during the month of November. I'll try and check in regularly with my progress, though I apologise if these posts aren't always completely coherent, anyone who has taken part in NaNo before will understand.

This year I'm writing a general I've not played with for many year; Children's! Which ties in nicely with the course I'm doing this year with the OU. It's a crime story for children, along the lines of the Sherlock Holmes novels, featuring a couple of kids who are massive fans of the books (well, one of them is, the other just likes a good game). It's heavily inspired by Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet.

The working title is A Study of Charlotte: The Game is Afoot and I'm yet to work out all of the little plot holes and details.

It's going to be an interesting month!