Friday, 28 February 2014

What Next?

As I get near to the end of my OU course, and so at the same time the end of my degree, I'm starting to think about what to do next.

For the last couple of years my plan has been to go on and study Latin with the Open University. Mainly because I loved the Linguistics courses that I did and two of the languages which fascinated me most were two which I'd never studied before, Old English and Latin. As the OU doesn't have an Old English course Latin seemed like the next logical one to go for.

Except that plan recently went out the window when I discovered that they've finished the course for the Level 2 Latin for the time being. Periodically the OU withdraws courses so that they can be revised and updated. When I last looked it appeared that a new version of it would be available around October 2015, although I can't even find that now.

So I have a choice.

My first thought was to take a year out. I'll finish this course in June (when I submit my ECA) and all being well I'll be ready to graduate come August. I'd then have just over a year to take a nice long break, read lots of books that I want to read, knit whatever I want to, play computer games and all those other things I often don't get to do because I've always got a deadline.

But then I worry that if I do that, maybe I won't actually get to start back up again. I'm sure I wouldn't forget to register, but what if I did. Or I decided I was having too much fun to bother to register. And what would I actually do with that free time. I mean, I enjoy the summer break when I'm not studying, but I start to get a bit antsy towards the end of it because I've played all the computer games, my fingers are sore from knitting and I've read everything I feel like reading.

I've been in some form of education continually since I was four and a half and I guess I'm kind of institutionalised for it. I have this weird desire to constantly be learning something new!

So the other option is to study something else, and do the Latin later.

And now I'm considering my other options. There's a Reading Classical Greek course which I've looked at. My one issue with that is that it looks like there's a lot of my old nemesis, philosophy, involved there. As interesting as I think that might be, I'm not sure I want to do that to myself. I did French and German at school and I'm in no hurry to pick those back up again, Spanish or Italian might be fun, but again, I'm not sure, I'd need to do an introduction course for those.

My plan has been to do an Open Degree, just picking courses that appeal to me, rather than for any particular outcome. I'm thinking I might do Advanced Creative Writing at some point, but I don't want to go straight into Creative Writing, so I'm leaning towards some sort of Sociology type courses.

Right now Child Development is coming out on top. I think there's a fair bit of this that I would've already covered when I was at university, which would make it a nice gentle start to a new degree. And it might inspire me to go on to some other Social Sciences courses.

At least I've got a few months to go before I make up my mind for definite.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Day Zero Project: Give up chocolate for a month

I'm kind of skipping a head a little bit on my list of Day Zero Project things, partly because there's only so much you can say about some things and partly because it gets a bit boring saying, I've not done this yet every week!

I decided I wanted to give up chocolate for a month as a bit of a whim, figuring maybe I could do it for charity or to support a friend who was giving up something for Lent. In the end I gave up chocolate for the month of October last year in order to better motivate myself during NaNoWriMo with chocolate.

It's no secret that I'm a massive chocoholic. I love all things chocolatey. So giving up chocolate was kind of a big deal for me.

Except that it really wasn't.

I probably have some form of chocolate most days. We get things like chocolatey breakfast cereals, or I'll have a chocolate spread sandwich for my lunch, or maybe a chocolate bar from the vending machine at work to get me through a long afternoon if I'm feeling a bit tired, or a mug of hot chocolate before bed at the end of the day.

Giving it up for a month probably made me more aware of just how much chocolate I do actually consume. During my chocolate-free month I drank more tea, and probably ate more crisps, but on the whole I think I was more careful about what I was eating. And when I was able to eat chocolate again I was a little bit slower to pick chocolate over other snacks.

Case in point, I still have a Terry's Chocolate Orange from Christmas sitting in the cupboard at home.

I think that giving up something like this was probably a good little experiment and one which I think I'll repeat again in the future. Perhaps giving up crisps, or fizzy juice, or perhaps but making myself eat a particular number of pieces of fruit each day or something.

But for now I'll just carry on enjoying my chocolate while I can. In moderation, of course.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Book 53 of 2013: The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan

One of the things that I've been doing whilst working through my the EA300 course materials is to make a note of all the books that get a mention that we aren't studying. Periodically a book'll get a mention in a special box in the Study Guide, it gives an overview of what the book's about and might get mentioned in a couple of the essays that we have to read. There's also a bit at the end of some of the Blocks with 'Suggested Further Reading' and a list of other related or similar texts.

I've been carefully noting all of these down, and downloading any that are available free for my Kindle. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was one of the first I got, but The Pilgrim's Progress was one of the next.

Image from Wikipedia
This is a religious allegory which follows the character of Christian, a sort of everyman character, as he travels towards the Celestial City, aka Heaven. Along the way he has to go through all sorts of trials and tribulations, but thanks to various Christian messages he is able to overcome these hurdles and learn from them, along with the help of several other characters.

I decided to read this because it not only gets several mentions in my course book but it also is important to the plot of Little Women. Little Women begins with the four March sisters each being given a copy of Pilgrim's Progress and their story throughout the rest of the book follows the course of Christian in the story. At times they actually 'play' the story and there are frequent allusions made to it throughout the book.

Obviously, as it's a Christian allegory, it's very heavy on the religious messages. Although it's only 121 pages long, it took me five days to read because I struggled to read more than a few pages of it at a time. In part it was due to the constant hammering home of the central messages, but also because it was published way back in 1678 and the language is quite different to modern English.

I have to say, it's unlikely that I'll ever pick it up and read it again. It's not something I would say that I enjoyed reading, although I'm glad that I have. I think that I was better able to appreciate the links between it and Little Women far better than I would've done if I'd just read the list of similarities in the Study Guide and the blurb on the book included with this. I was also able to reference it quite confidently in my assignment which I was pleased about.

And who knows, perhaps someday this information will come in handy for a pub quiz or something.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Hats and Monsters

Yesterday I posted a photo of the hat that I've been working on. Hopefully as you're reading this it's in a state of (or very near) completion. I've had to put it down to write this week's batch of blog posts, but you can bet that as soon as I'm done with this I'll be picking it up and doing my best to finish it off.

I acquired this pattern after seeing a post on Ravelry for someone looking for test knitters for a hat pattern. I was getting more and more cheesed off with my dragon so decided to go for it. It's a different sort of pattern to what I would usually do and I'll probably do a proper review of it at some point in the future, but I've really enjoyed watching it come together.

This picture was taken just as I was starting the top decreases. The bottom part of the hat involves knitting a length of I-cord, which twists over at the front, all the stitches are picked up from this to make the main bit of the hat, and then again to make the ribbing (not pictured here) to form the bottom of the hat.

It's very pretty and definitely the sort of thing I can see myself wearing. Unfortunately the wool that I've been using has a habit of leaving fluffy bits (just while you're working with it, once it's finished and you brush them all off it's fine). As I've largely been knitting this in bed while we watch ER, my side of the bed has these little green fluffy bits all over the floor. I'm trying to be good about picking them up but I regularly get out of bed in the morning and nearly have a heart attack at the sight of all these little beasties on my floor!

I've been rushing to get this hat finished, not only because it's a test knit and I owe it to the designer to get it done, but also because I need to knit a monster!

I treated myself to Rebecca Danger's The Big Book of Knitted Monsters at Christmas and have kept it by my bed, looking through the pictures regularly, ever since it arrived. And now I need to make a monster.

All of the monsters in this book have a purpose in life. There's a Computer Monster (whose sole purpose in life is to tangle your computer cables), there's a Laundry Monster (who makes sure that you always have odd socks in your wash) and a whole host of other monsters who can be knitted up with pretty much any yarn you have to hand.

I'm going to be making a Claude, who is technically a Closet Monster, but who I believe has a side line in keeping bad dreams away. He's going to be made in a pretty variegated pastel yarn with some random dark brown stripes. I can picture exactly how he'll look in my mind so I just have to hope I can transfer that onto my needles.

I'll also be embroidering his eyes, rather than using the plastic safety ones pictured above and I'm not sure about his random tooth. I like it, but since it's done with felt, and I haven't got any, I'm thinking I might knit or embroider that as well. I've got plenty of time to decide that anyway.

And I'm hoping he'll be the first of many, because there's so many different monsters in this book and no two need ever look alike!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Weekly Rundown

This week has been one of those long slow weeks. Wednesday alone felt like it should've been about three days by itself. That, coupled with being out three nights in a row have conspired to make me feel thoroughly tired out. And now the weekend is whizzing by far too quickly for my liking!

Considering how but I've been I managed to get loads of OU done. I started work on the next block two days after submitting my assignment (I thought I'd earned one night off). Got most of that finished by Saturday and did the last bit of that week's work on Monday.

Last Friday I started the chapter that was due to begin on Saturday and finished it yesterday. So I'm now one full week ahead of myself.

Part of the reason for getting along so quickly is that the current area of study is picturebooks so the set texts aren't particularly heavy going. I'm using this as an opportunity to get myself well ahead, mainly so I can take a week off studying around my birthday!

I'm also getting ready to buy the final five set texts that I'll need for the final block and a half of this course. If I'm a little ahead of myself it'll give me extra time to read them all (especially as for one of the units of study you're supposed to pick one of two books and I like to do both so I can make an informed choice when it comes to the TMA).

This week I've been taking a break from actually reading books for my course. It's been nice. As I let myself get behind on my reading I ended up needing to read three children's books in the space of about two weeks and after that I went onto my Kindle and downloaded every free smutty romance, violent crime novel and scary horror book that I could find to try and get it out of my system.

Obviously, after adding over a hundred books to my virtual bookshelf I had to actually pick what I wanted to read. I did this in much the same way as I pick which pattern to knit next; by using a random number generator. This meant that I spent last week reading a book called Smallworld by Dominic Green. It's really a collection of short stories about a family who lives on a teeny tiny planet and who have a large number of weird and wonderful visitors to their little land. It was quite funny, reminding me of Terry Pratchett or Robert Asprin at times, although the characters' names took a little getting used to (they're all a bit reminiscent of the old Pilgrim names, 'Beguiled-of-the-Serpent' is one of my favourites).

Now I'm reading The Saltmarsh Murders by Gladys Mitchell, one of a set of books belonging to Mr Click. I read the first one last year and found it a bit slow going but this one is going much quicker for me. I'm about halfway through it now and I'm enjoying it more than I was expecting to.

As for TV viewing, as we've been out of the house a fair bit this week we've not watching very much of The Good Life. In a way this is kind of a good thing because it means that we're not getting through the series as quickly as we might otherwise. We're halfway through the third series and there's only one more after this. If we have a quiet week we'll probably finish it quite quickly.

And we're nearly finished with ER now as well. As of this morning we've started the fifteenth (and final) series. The last couple of series I've only seen each episode once so I'm enjoying it a lot more because the stories are almost new to me; although there have been occasions where I've been thinking things like 'she got the heart of someone he loved' and I've been right.

I remember the first (and only) time I saw this final series and thinking that it was just perfect. ER went through a shaky patch at the beginning of the last third of the show but gradually worked its way back. As much as I've enjoyed watching the whole thing in one go, I've been really looking forward to watching this last series and I'm hoping it's as great as I remember it being.

Above is my knitting project for the last week. I actually started it on the fifteenth and I'm hoping to finish it in the next couple of days. I've already got my next couple of projects lined up as well.

More about that in tomorrow's knitting post.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Film Review: The Poseidon Adventure

I mentioned last week that Valentine's Day is pretty much just an excuse to get some more films and treat ourselves to Chinese. The film we ended up watched was the oh-so-romantic (at least compared to my gift: The Wolverine) 1972 version of The Poseidon Adventure.

They don't make film posters like that anymore, do they?

This is a film in the same sort of genre as Towering Inferno. In fact, Towering Inferno could probably have been described as The Poseidon Adventure, in a tower, on fire! Basically, a big cruise ship is carrying a bunch of passengers on New Year's Eve is struck by a massive wave which flips the whole ship upside down. The passengers, most of whom are trapped in the ballroom, are faced with only one way off the boat; they must climb up (or should that be down?) to the very bowels of the ship to attempt to find their way our through the hull.

Among the passengers trying to make their escape are a young boy, a reverend, an elderly couple (one of whom was once a champion swimmer - a useful skill on a capsized ship) and three young women, all of whom are wearing hot pants!

Considering it's dramatic subject matter, it feels a little like a comedy to begin with. Helped along by the fact that Leslie Nielsen (yup, the Leslie Nielsen of Airplane! and the Naked Gun films) plays the Captain of the Poseidon. Even though he's playing it straight, you can't help but kind of expect him to start doing something funny.

When the film first started I commented to Mr Click, That guy looks like Leslie Nielsen. Five minutes on IMDB later I commented again, That's because that is Leslie Nielsen.

I vaguely remember watching this film when I was quite small. I must've been about eight-ish because I know it stuck with me when we were going on holiday, a holiday which involved a trip on a ferry. I may or may not have decided on the best way to get off the ferry in the event that it flipped over.

I've maybe seen it two or three times since then, but that was a long time ago, so most of this film felt new to me. But at the same time, I kept on remembering bits moments before or just as they happened. I didn't really remember much of the beginning, presumably because it wasn't as exciting to an eight-year-old as the bits with the ship upside down. All the bits while they battled against the water and fire and bits of broken boat.

It is kind of funny in places. The action kicks off during the New Year's party so obviously the women are dressed in their party best. These outfits aren't practical to climb up a Christmas tree to escape the ballroom, so skirts are ripped off and they spend the rest of the film wearing their hot pants.

No one is really safe in this film either. People you don't expect to die kick the proverbial bucket, while those that you think will probably croak manage to survive to the end. I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen the film, but one death, even though I remembered that it was coming, still hit me. It's tragic and sad.

And it's an all star cast. It's not just got Leslie Nielsen in it; there's Charlie Bucket's Grandpa, Jack Albertson; Gene Hackman, Shelley Winters, Roddy McDowell. Lots of names that mean more to me now as an adult than they ever would've when I first watched it.

Plus, I also feel I should mention the music in the film. Like Towering Inferno there's a song playing while everyone's partying before the disaster hits. I love the hints at the impending disaster in the words of the song, sung by Maureen McGovern.

Friday, 21 February 2014

TMA 04 Word Cloud & how to write an essay.

Last week I submitted my fourth TMA for my final module of this course. I realise that I've had plenty of practice writing essays. I went from writing school essays, to university essays, to OU essays; but I feel like I'm really getting the hang of this now.

Obviously the tutor's marks might disagree with me, but it does make for a pretty word cloud.

As with all of my other essays so far for this course, I went with Option 2, which was looking at the prevalence of 'orphaned or near-orphaned characters'. For this one you had to pick two of the five books covered in this block; two of those Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and Northern Lights were an either/or option for the block. I picked Swallows and Amazons, Tom's Midnight Garden and the aforementioned Harry Potter. My reasoning was purely selfish, those were the ones I thought I could say the most about.

I think that the word cloud shows the argument I was going for. I was talking about kids being separated from their family and I also talked about how this helped them to find their identity and grow up.

Throughout this course I've been changing my approach to writing my essays. I always had this terrible habit of writing what I wanted to say, then spent ages scrabbling for references. It always worked for me because I've got a fairly good memory for what I've read, I'd know that such-and-such an author had said such-and-such a thing, but which book did they say it in? And which chapter? Which page? Suffice to say, while this method works, it's not exactly time-efficient.

My new approach involves, bizarrely, reading the essay questions before actually starting the block. This does two things; firstly, it scares you into paying attention to what you're studying because holycrapIdon'tunderstandawordofwhatthisquestionisaskingmetodo! and secondly, it tells you what you're looking for while you're reading, especially as the guidance notes point out particularly useful chapters (you pay extra attention to those ones while you're reading).

Then, when I actually come to answer the question, I do my usual thing first. I know that you're usually allowed to be over your word count or under by 10%, so I work out what my minimum and maximum are. I aim for the minimum, I always go over, so that way it saves me from having to cut words. In a 2000 word essay, I can go 10% over, but because I'm aiming for 1800 I've got 200 extra words to play with.

Then I give myself 80% of those words for the main body (the rest is used for introduction and conclusion) and divide that 80% into chunk based on what I'm talking about. For example, TMA 04 looked at three books, so I might spend a third of my essay on Harry Potter, a third on Swallows and Amazons and a third on Tom's Midnight Garden. Alternatively I'll decide I'm wanting to talk about four particular points, so I divide up my words based on that.

Very quickly I find I'm not writing a 2000 word essay, instead I'm writing four 360 word essays. Much more manageable.

In the past, this was where I would dive into the actual essay writing. Sure I might make some notes about the things I wanted to say (I call it a join-the-dots approach) bullet pointing all the pertinent points and organising them into some sort of logical order.

What I've taken to doing now is pouring through all of the essays in the course Readers, making notes on all the relevant bits for my essay. I make notes of the author and the page reference (sometimes even the paragraph it's in) to make it easier to find later and which bit of the essay it links to. That saves me the hassle of going back and finding them later because I can just slot them in as I go. This is probably really obvious to most people, but I'm so glad I've finally convinced myself that this is an easier way to do things than my old method.

An old tutor also taught me to use the idea 'PEE' when writing an essay. I've since amended that to 'PEEL' which is probably slightly more socially acceptable than 'pee'ing all over your essay. That stands for 'Point' (where you make your initial statement), 'Evidence' (where you give a quote or something from your course materials to support/refute your statement), 'Explanation' (where you explain how your statement is supported/refuted by your evidence), and then my L stands for 'Link' (to link it back to the question, the previous paragraph, or the next paragraph).

It's actually got to the point where I quite enjoy writing my essays. I've probably gotten a bit lazy about it, because this method does enable me to churn out an almost completed essays in a matter of hours. I did this one whilst watching The Fellowship of the Ring and finished some time around the point when the Fellowship left Rivendell.

I just hope that my approach worked for this one and that I can maintain my passing marks.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Day Zero Project: Finish the video of our trip to North Yorkshire

Way back in 2009 my husband and I went to North Yorkshire for a holiday. It was my first proper holiday without my family and we planned it religiously.

And we had a fantastic time!

It was such a beautiful place to visit and we had a wonderful time exploring and finding new places. Mr Click had gone there with his family as a youngster so he was able to show me some of the places he had been, just as we had done when we took him to Cornwall. But it was a long time since he had been there last so there was a lot that we discovered for ourselves for the first time.

I took my camera with me (this was pre-funky DSLR) and also my video camera and filmed a few bits and pieces while we were there.

And since then most of the photos have resided on DVDs, CDs and my external hard drive (I like to have back-ups of my back-ups). But I did start work on a video of the trip. I was trying to make it light-hearted, kind of pop-up video style, but there's nothing quite so boring as hours and hours of clips of people's holidays.

I've dabbled with it, but I keep taking long breaks and so have to go back and relearn how to use my software. Then I moved house and lost my access to a scanner which I had been using to scan things in. And then all the holiday stuff was packaged away in inaccessible places which made it even more difficult to work on.

But now, for the first time in almost five years, all the stars have aligned. I have access to the software I need, I have the photos and video footage easily accessible, I have a scanner for scanning stuff in, and I know where all that stuff to be scanned is!

So I have no excuses.

Apart from the fact that I have got to get my OU course finished and it's tricky to work on the video when Mr Click is around because I want the finished product to be a surprise to him.

But this summer I am going to get it done. I will! And maybe I will share the results on here... maybe not... we'll see how badly it turns out!

Oh, and just for a laugh, because I haven't got any photos that that trip on my laptop at the moment, here's the photo we had taken of ourselves in Whitby. It's actually hanging up in our living room and I love it a ridiculous amount.

Personally, I think I'm rocking that hat!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Book 52 of 2013: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

This was one of two books which were covered during the first couple of weeks of my course, and then came up again more recently. With these things where they give you an option I don't like to choose one over the other until I've considered both options, so for that reason I set about reading (and doing the coursework for) both Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling, as well as Philip Pullman's Northern Lights.

Ultimately, for my most recent assignment, I used Harry Potter because I felt like I had more to say about it, but it still seemed like a good idea to revisit Northern Lights as it's been some time since I last read it and I wanted it fresh in my mind for my studies.

This book follows Lyra, a little girl who lives on an alternate version of earth where everyone has a daemon which is basically part of their soul in animal form. At first blush the world is fairly similar to our own, however there is an element of magic with witches and large talking bears. Lyra has spent her whole life living in a university, occasionally being visited by her Uncle. One day a beautiful but dangerous woman, Mrs Coulter, comes to take her away to begin a new life.

Before she leaves the university, Lyra is given an aleithiometer, a device which allows the user to find out the truth. Meanwhile children all over the country have been going missing, taking by 'Gobblers' and Lyra soon discovers that Mrs Coulter is involved. And so begins Lyra's journey to learn about Dust, where the children have been going and her parents' involvement in the whole mystery.

I've read this book several times now; once way back when I was sixteen and I borrowed the whole series from the school library when I went to England for a week. As much as I like this book, and I know it's popular, I always find myself struggling to get into it.

I think part of the problem is that the world the story is set in is very well developed. It feels like a real place and there's a great deal of depth to it. Which shouldn't be a problem really, except that this book only seems to scratch the surface. I always want more. I want to know more about the history of Lyra's earth, about daemons, about the politic and religious background to the story. But it doesn't quite go deep enough for me.

My favourite part of this story is always the beginning. I love the bits at the college and the bits with Lyra and the Gyptians. As the story goes on I find myself enjoying it less though, which I suppose it because the story gets darker and more bleak. The bits which take place in the Arctic always make me feel sort of uncomfortable.

I suppose that's because it's basically a story about people doing bad things to children, no matter how well-intentioned. Something about the description of the hospital-place they are all sent to reminds me of a film I saw when I was very small about the Dionne Quintuplets and I guess all that comes in to play when I'm picturing it in my mind.

I always imagined my old dog, Patch, to be like my daemon, (who wouldn't want a permanent part of yourself that you could talk to and that could reassure you when you were scared or worried). So the thought of the children being separated from their daemons always makes me feel anxious and I can really relate to that, having been separated from my pooch.

I really must go back and read the other two books in the trilogy; I keep saying I will but never get around to it. Maybe some day.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Bobble Hat and All!

Finally got my octopus finished Saturday before last.

Once I'd got his hat sewn up it didn't take me too long to make the bobble.

I used to make loads of these when I was younger. I remember spending weeks on a large blue one which I insisted was a present for my baby brother but which was really for me.

This one has a cool mottled effect from the variegated wool that I used.

I think he looks great now he's finished (I've changed him to my profile picture on Facebook which I only do for the projects I'm really proud of).

As I mentioned yesterday, the dragon I had moved onto is taking a timeout and I've been knitting myself a hat instead. I'm feeling in the mood for some instant gratification projects at the moment so we'll see what ends up on the needles next!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Weekly Rundown

This week has been my first week in a while when I've had a full five days at work. What with a half day for an appointment a few weeks ago, my eye appointment and my day off last week I've gotten a little bit used to four day weeks! Now I'm exhausted!

I also had a bit of a late night on Friday as we had decided on having Chinese for tea, seeing as it was Valentine's Day. By the time we'd gotten home, showered and were ready to order it was gone 6:30. So we tried calling, and tried and tried and tried. It was permanently engaged.

After half an hour of getting nowhere Mr Click ventured out into the snow and wind to buy it in person. It seems that the local Chinese were ever so slightly busy.

We ended up not eating until nearly eight and not finishing our film until after ten!

All the same, it was a lovely meal and a nice treat so I can't complain.

This week I've had a bit of a break from studying. On Monday I spent about an hour on putting in references and tidying up the wording of my assignment. Then got it submitted the next day.

I kept on planning to do coursework over the rest of the week, but decided to give myself a bit of a break until Saturday. I can do a full week's worth of work on a Saturday if need be so I didn't worry about getting behind.

I always feel like I need a break after doing and assignment and this time was no different. Now I've only got two more assignments and my End of Course Assessment and I'm done! Until my next course that is.

Writing my assignment has left me without much knitting time. I've been knitting my dragon using the pattern from my Cuddly Knitted Animals book but I've kind of taken a break, at first it was because my OU took priority but partly because I'm finding the pattern needlessly complicated.

I guess I'm so used to patterns where things are made in a few pieces with minimal seaming and everything is done by clever shaping techniques, this pattern is supposed to be simpler because everything is done working in the round. You have to pick up stitches and join them and knit those in the round. It's a very small project so really fiddly. I've got loads of bits of thread holding live stitches, I'm using all bar one of my cables and I'm torn between giving up and frogging and continuing what's looking to be a rather misshapen dragon. It seems like such a waste of such nice yarn!

At the moment the dragon is in timeout while I decide whether or not I want to continue with him. He was using up so many bits and pieces that I couldn't even start another project; luckily some scrap yarn gave me back all my needles, cables and stitch holders and I've moved on to knitting a hat, which while fairly complicated (picking up dozens and dozens of stitches) is moving along quite quickly now.

I've also spent a good chunk of time reading. I've spent so much time reading children's books that on Sunday when I finished Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry I downloaded as many free Kindle books as I could find that weren't children's ones.

The first one I read was Murder Passes the Buck which was a pretty quick read. I decided to go for a crime story because it was pretty far from the last three books I'd been reading and also because it was a comedy, making it refreshing after the heavy-going Roll of Thunder.

That only lasted me a couple of days though so I moved on to The Soddit which is by the same author as Star Warped and The Sellamillion. It was funny, but I didn't enjoy it as much as the other two. I couldn't help wondering how it would be different had it been written post-Hobbit films because they were obviously influenced by the Rings films.

So now I'm reading another Kindle book, called Smallworld.

As for TV, we're still working our way through ER. It's not going to be long now until we're done. Just one and a half more series to go!

We're also watching The Good Life, which has a lot more sex jokes in it than it seemed to have when I was younger! I'm really enjoying it and I'm just disappointed that there aren't more episodes; we're about halfway through already!

It's been really nice getting all caught up on my reading material but I'm determined to get more knitting done this week.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

TV Series Review: Silent Witness

It hardly seems like any time since I was writing my last series review for Silent Witness. That was the series which ended with Leo being unexpectedly killed off. This series is presumably picking up less than eleven months after this event because he’s still not been replaced (until the first episode) and so a good chunk of time is spent with Nikki’s reaction to the new guy.

I have to admit, as much as I enjoy Silent Witness, it’s not quite the same as it used to be. I like my crime procedurals, as anyone who looks at my DVD collection will be able to tell you, but part of the fun of Silent Witness, like Bones, is the interaction between the main characters. There are some TV series where you’re watching for the cases, and others for the cast, Silent Witness always used to be one of those shows that I watched for the combination of cast and storylines, though now it’s kind of veering towards the cases alone and that makes me a little sad.

Before I go into that though, I knew this series was going to be different right from the start. How did I figure that out? Because the opening titles don’t use Verdana anymore! Did that happen last year as well? I couldn’t help but notice this year and it was really glaringly obvious to me, particularly at the bit where the episode title shows up. It’s really silly that something like that should bother me, but I always used to have Verdana set as my default font for everything and it used to make me smile.

Of course, times are changing and I’ve moved on to being more of a Trebuchet MS kind of girl now so I suppose I shouldn’t really complain.

This series consisted of five stories in their usual format of two episodes per story, one airing on a Thursday and one on a Friday. Because I rely on my in-laws’ internet connection and BBC iPlayer I was a little behind in my viewing, usually not getting to see the episodes until the following Sunday or even later in the week.

The actual cases were pretty good this series. Part of the fun of watching these sorts of programmes, like reading crime books, is trying to solve the crime alongside the experts on screen. This was a good series for trying to figure things out and I was happily satisfied when I managed to crack bits of the crime before the police and pathologists did. It’s always entertaining when you can do that.

I particularly enjoyed the second episode of the series which had a guy released from prison based on evidence which Nikki had helped to overturn, after being convicted of killing both his boyfriend and another gay man. Upon being released from prison the murders immediately started again and so there was the question of who the actual murderer was. Mr Click and I agreed that it was too easy to have the murderer be the one everyone thought it was but there was a good twist in the story. We kind of figured out how it was going to end, but it still felt like a satisfying ending.

The first and penultimate episodes were also pretty good as well. The third was set in Scotland which I enjoyed. It dealt with old suspicions and grudges in a small Scottish community. I’m happy to watch any programmes visiting Scotland, even if they were on the east coast instead of the west like us. It reminded me of the Ian Rankin stories with the bleak sort of landscape and rundown town.

There are little things that you always expect from a series of Silent Witness, one of this is the travel episode where they all visit some exotic location in connection with a death or murder. I’m guessing that the BBC is lowering their budget for these Silent Witness travel episodes; in the past they’ve been to Eastern Europe and Africa, this year they went up the M1!

Other things you can count on are Nikki being bopped on the head/kidnapped/held hostage/generally put in moral peril (check: episode two) and a suspicious police detective who is involved in the case. This series had the corrupt/involved members of law enforcement in spades! Episodes three and four both had police detectives involved in covering up crimes, plus bonus points for a lawyer’s involvement in episode two and Jack’s brother being involved in the final episode of the series. It was definitely the series of good guys being bad guys, even the first episode had a detective who was determined that they knew who the killer was and didn’t want to look any further, as well as Mossad!

And what about the characters?

It’s probably telling that I couldn’t actually remember the name of the new guy without looking him up; for the record, it’s Thomas. He’s not really that memorable and didn’t seem to be as involved as Leo was in the series. He had very few of his own scenes until the final episode and even then it was because he’d brought in an old school friend to replace Jack and he was usually talking to her. He’s basically a replacement Leo, right down to the separation from his wife and daughter (though this is separation, not a car crashing into a cafe).

I’m still not really that concerned about Jack either. His attack in the final episode didn’t have me feeling the way that I felt when they faked Harry’s death a few years ago. I’d not read any spoilers and I was really worried about Harry not making it. This time I wasn’t really concerned and I actually quite liked the old friend Thomas had brought in to take his place. I wouldn’t have minded if they’d killed Jack off and kept her instead.

Although I’ve not warmed to the character of Thomas yet, I think there’s potential with him. I wish they had given him a completely different storyline to Leo, there’s so much they could’ve done with him; single-father, happily married father of seven, gay, whatever. It makes it seem like killing Leo off was unplanned and they created a new character to be Leo 2.0. Jack, on the other hand, just isn’t that likeable. He comes across as immature and aggressive and I could’ve even feel that concerned about his relationship with his brother in the last episode.

I actually enjoyed the character of Clarissa more in this series. I think because she didn’t seem to spend as much time with Jack as in the last series. Their verbal sparring didn’t always ring true last year but it seemed more natural this year, mainly because a lot of the time her sarcasm was being directed at Nikki, Not!Leo or the police detective of the week.

Nikki is still Nikki, but somehow without Harry and Leo she’s kind of missing something. I miss the old dynamic with the joking and flirting with Harry. She spent all of last series being sad about Harry going, and this series being sad about Leo, so the sense of fun isn’t really there. I realise that it’s a show which often involves a lot of time with death bodies, so it’s never really going to be all fun and games, but it was still nice to have a touch of humour there.

I know that they’re not going to be able to return to the old dynamic because these are new characters and they won’t bring the old ones back (not going to lie, totally looking out for fan fiction where Harry comes back to be the new head of the Lyell Centre instead of Thomas), but I’d like to see a return to the style of a few years ago. I can’t help but wonder whether perhaps it needs more of a reshuffle in the cast, like when Amanda Burton left. That could’ve been the end of the show and they used a strong cast to reinvent it; I think that if it returns for another series (and let’s face it, it’s popular so it probably will) they need to either give more weight to Nikki to make her into a stronger character without her old team, or dare I say it, replace her with a new character to reflect the changing dynamic of the team.

Whatever happens, I’ll still be watching it. I just might have to hurry up and buy the old series on DVD to remind myself how it used to be!

Friday, 14 February 2014

Can you feel the love tonight?

Happy Valentine's Day guys!

I know you don't need a special day to show your loved ones you care. But all the same, it certainly makes for a good excuse for a Chinese takeaway!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Day Zero Project: Reorganise the music on my mp3 player

I like music. I have quite a big music collection. So big in fact that I have to be quite choosey about what I have on my mp3 player at any one time. Christmas music, for example, is put on at the end of November, but then if I want to listen to other stuff the rest of the year I have to take it off otherwise I’m at risk of running out of space on it.

My mp3 player is a (slightly ancient) 30Gb Creative Zen Vision:M. I don’t even think that Creative make those sorts of mp3 players any more which is a shame because I’ve only ever had two mp3 players, both Creative Zens and I’ve loved them both (not least because it saves me the hassle of having to use iTunes to organise my music). It’s kind of slowly dying and I’m hanging onto it for as long as I can, even if it does occasionally randomly delete my music or refuse to turn off.

Part of my problem is that whenever I get a CD, or more recently buy an mp3, I stick it on my Zen. New film soundtrack? On it goes. Free download from Amazon? On it goes. Those free CDs you get with the paper? On it goes. It’s resulted in quite a bit of junk on my Zen that I don’t actually listen to, it’s just there because, hey, you never know when you’re going to feel in the mood for Top Kids Party Songs 3!

My music collection is becoming even more complicated with the arrival of my iPhone and Kindle. Because my music collection is in desperate need of reorganising on my Zen I’ve got into the habit of not adding to the problem, but obviously, I want to be able to listen to my music on the go. So onto my iPhone it goes. My iPhone which has even less free space on it than my Zen. This means I have to do the music rotation thing on it; do I want a country music CD on there or The Hobbit soundtrack? I like to rock to Taylor Swift in the shower, do I leave that on or try something else?

And now I’ve got my Kindle I’ve got yet another device storing my music. And it’s so easy to put stuff on there that it just makes things even worse! Like last week, I ordered myself the soundtrack for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, as soon as I paid for it there was a little link to download the mp3 version, so I had it on my Kindle two days before the actual hard copy arrived.

That coupled with some things being backed up to my external hard drive, some back up to the cloud, some backed up onto DVDs and some stored on my computer (which are probably backed up in one of those other places, but which I can’t be bothered to check at any one time, so get rebacked up somewhere else) means that my music collection is in a bit of a mess.

What I really want to do is make some nice playlists for my mp3 player, Kindle and phone so that I have things that match my mood. A few years ago I made an awesome (but sadly now lost) Summer playlist. It was the perfect music for relaxing in the garden on a hot summer day, or driving through the countryside during warm sunny weather. I started making a Winter one as well which I never finished. I like having music that suits my mood, music which tells a story, music that reminds me of particular things, places or people. I really need to get my act together and do that.

The problem is, unless I ban myself from buying any more music (and we all know that’s never going to happen) I’m just going to have to suck it up and try to organise things. Part of me thinks it might be easier to just wipe everything, dig out the CDs and rerip everything. Although considering I’ve had an mp3 player since I was 19, that could take even longer to do than just going through things a bit at a time and tidying them up.

How do you guys keep track of what you’ve got and where?

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Book 51 of 2013: Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

I like to alternate between reading book-books and Kindle books, so whenever I finish reading a book-book I like to follow it up with something from my Kindle. At least, that’s the theory. Since I’ve spent the last two years studying literature a lot of my reading time is taken up reading books for my courses which have to take priority over anything that I actually want to read. Way back in September last year though my course hadn’t quite started yet and I so I was still enjoying the tail end of the summer where I had complete freedom over my reading choices.

I was still kind of being influenced by what I’d being studying though, travel writing being one of the things covered in my previous OU course, so when it came to picking something to read from my Kindle I decided I wanted something which would be a kind of bridge between my old course and my new one. Oh, and my next course was going to start within a couple of weeks so I wanted something that wouldn’t take me too long to read. Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne filled that gap.

Image of first edition from Wikipedia.
It tells the story of Phileas Fogg, who lives a fairly boring and regular man who winds up making an unexpected bet that he can circumnavigate the world in just 80 days, dragging his new valet, Passepartout along with him for the trip. Meanwhile a Scotland Yard detective, Fix, has been sent out in search of a man wanted for bank robbery, and he decides that Fogg is his man so sets out to delay him. Along with way Fogg and Passepartout manage to rescue a young woman, Aouda, who joins their group as well as overcome barriers set up by Fix as they attempt to get back to London within the time scale to allow them to receive their reward.

I really, really enjoyed this and it’s one that I’m definitely going to read again. A good sign of how much I enjoy a book on my Kindle is whether I think it’s worth buying in hard copy, and I think if I see a nice edition of of Around the World in 80 Days I’ll definitely pick it up.

Considering it was written in 1873 I wasn’t expecting to find it so funny in places, but it really was. Fogg is quite a funny character with his particular ways of doing things (his shaving water must be ready at a particular time and at a particular temperature each day); Passepartout often has moments of pure comedy and Fix’s determination to catch Fogg and prove that he is the criminal he’s after is also really funny in places. I don’t know why I always find it strange when humour is so evident in older books, I guess I always expect them to be more serious. I was kind of expecting it to be a bit dry, but didn’t mind too much if it was because I thought ‘at least it’s short’ so the humour was a pleasant surprise.

As I said above, I was looking for some reading material to tide me over until my course started. I decided I wanted something classic, so did a little bit of searching on my Kindle and one of the reasons I selected this, aside from the links between my old course and the new, was because it was just 150 pages. It made for a lovely little quick read.

It was interesting to see links between this and the travel writing that I looked at on my course last year. I think I probably would’ve enjoyed it just as much without that knowledge, but it made it interesting to read the descriptions of the people, places and the methods of transport that were used. It would’ve been interesting to study if this had been one of the books in A230, I think I definitely could’ve found enough to say to write an essay on it.

I spent the whole time reading it being reminded of a cartoon that I used to watch as a child. I’ve probably not thought of that in years, or at least not since going to see the Steve Coogan and Jackie Chan film version in the cinema! Since reading the book I’ve looked up the cartoon, all I could remember about it was that all the characters were animals and Aouda was cat-shaped. I managed to find it (through the power of Google) and it’s actually called Around the World with Willy Fog and was a Spanish series originally, made around the same time as Dogtanian and the Three Musketeers. I must’ve been about five when I watched that, it’s funny how something can give you a blast from the past that you’ve not thought about in years!

I enjoyed this so much that I’m going to have to look at other books by Jules Verne, I’m fairly certain that I’ve got both Journey to the Centre of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea on my Kindle. I also think it’s something that Mr Click might enjoy, so I’ll probably keep my eye out for book-book versions of those too.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Magic Knitting

Please excuse the badly-lit iPhone photos. I was sitting in bed when I took these just moments after I finished this clever little piece of knitting and I had to share it with someone right away. So I took a couple of quick snaps and posted them to Facebook. Then the next day I took it to work and I've had it on my desk ever since so haven't been able to get any better photos.

Do you see it?

How about now?
This is done using a particularly clever technique known as illusion knitting. I stumbled across it in a forum on Ravelry the other week and became fascinated looking at some of the clever, not to mention artistic, things that people had knitted this way.

I decided that I wanted to try it myself, but not wanting to commit to a big or expensive pattern I chose a little free chart to see how it worked out. And it was incredible. I got it finished within a couple of days and decided against making it any longer so that I could pin it to my desk at work. It makes me smile whenever I move around the room and look back at it because like a hologram I can see the image appearing and disappearing.

It looks like it is really complicated to do but it's actually really simple, relying on contrasting colours, and knit rows with purled stitches to make the raised areas of the image. When it's looked at from head on you just see the stripes, then when it's laid down flat and you look at it from the right angle the image appears.

The one thing I would change if I did this again is that I misinterpreted the chart's directions for main colour and contrast colour. I think it would've looked a little better if the paw print was in dark blue and the background in yellow, just to make it pop out a bit more. But at least now I know how this works I can definitely justify investing the time and money in making an actual wall-hanging.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Weekly Rundown

This week wound up being a nice short week for me, as I had the day off and the house to myself on Friday. It’s always nice to have a bit of time to yourself. I used to hate being home alone, but I’m beginning to find that I enjoy it more, the one thing I really hate is being in a big double bed all by myself when Mr Click’s not there. The benefit of having a nice long lie-in the next day is always cancelled out by the hours I spend tossing and turning trying to drift off the night before.

I’ve mentioned letting myself get a little bit behind with my OU and being more than a little bit lax about getting organised for my latest assignment. Wednesday I set that to rights and printed out a copy of the assignment brief and decided that I was definitely going to do Option 2.

I’ve gone for Option 2 for all three of the previous assignments so I kind of felt like I had a reputation to uphold. I’m being predictable! Actually, I think part of the reason for always going for Option 2 is that the two options usually cover two halves of each block, each block being covered in roughly a month; Option 1 deals with stuff from the first half of the block and Option 2 with stuff from the second. The Option 2 stuff is always freshest in my mind, so that’s what I tend to go to, because as soon as I read it, I’m able to think of what I want to say. I guess I’m being lazy because it’s just what’s easiest for me.

Once I knew which Option I was going for I was able to start looking through for references I could use and then on Thursday night I stuck on The Fellowship of the Ring and set to work writing. I’d planned on making a start that night and then working on it more on Friday morning, but by 9:30pm I’d actually managed to write about 1800 words, including a good attempt at a conclusion. So I sat and knitted while I watched The Two Towers and finally crawled into bed at 2am!

Actually, I’d felt really sleepy when I finished my assignment draft, but when the time came to go to bed all I really wanted to do was sit up and watch The Return of the King. I waited until the following morning in the end.

This week we’ve also started watching The Good Life, which I’m enjoying. We’re not watching it quite as quickly as I’d like. We were watching four episodes of Friends an evening, whereas we’ve dropped down to watching two episodes of The Good Life while we eat our tea, then watching two episodes of ER in bed. It’s probably better that we do it that way really as there’s only four series and we’d be finished within a couple of weeks if we weren’t careful. Plus we’re getting through ER more quickly now so we’ll soon be watching something new, like maybe Criminal Minds which I got for Christmas.

I’ve been getting through my reading material a lot more quickly this week than I have since the beginning of the year. Tom’s Midnight Garden was a nice quick read and I’ve been reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Call which is going quickly too. I managed to read about 100 pages of that within the first day of starting it and only slowed down because I had to write an assignment (luckily not on it).

I’ll have to look at which books I’ll be needing to read next for my course and get those ordered soon so that I don’t end up have to read them in such a rush for my next assignment. I finally finished it this morning and since then have been downloading as many free books on Amazon as I can find. I want something that wasn't written for children, isn't set in the past and which is as different from the last three books as possible. Roll of Thunder was a bit of a depressing book (rightly so given the subject matter) so now I want something really light-hearted to contrast with it.

And knitting, well, I kind of broke my plans there. After I knitted up Oscar Octopus’s hat I had to take a break because we put all the cardboard out for recycling so I had nothing to use to make the pom-pom for the top of it. I get itchy hands when I’ve not got anything on my needles, so despite using my random number generator to pick my next pattern (a clown) I just didn’t feel like knitting that.

So I printed off a free chart pattern from Ravelry to make a little thingy to pin on my muffle-board at work. I’ll share more about that tomorrow because it’s so awesome that it deserves a post all of its own! And it only took two days to make, and I needed something to reward myself for actually thinking about doing my assignment, I decided to cast on for something new.

I mentioned last week that the wool Mr Click bought me from Cardwell Garden Centre looked like it wanted to be a dragon, well, the pattern book I won from Simply Knitting has a cute little dragon pattern in it. It’s really complicated though so although I’m getting on with the body, I’m preparing to frog it or change it at every row. It’s interesting watching it come together though and I wonder if I’ll actually get it finished to my satisfaction to share here.

Friday, 7 February 2014

TV Series Review: Friends

For Christmas the year before last Mr Click bought me the complete box set of Friends, The One With All Ten Seasons. We've had it on the bookcase ever since, just waiting for the chance to sit down and watch it.

It used to be a staple part of Thursday night viewing, so what with watching ER on an evening it only seemed right that we should start watching Friends as well. It started off being our before bed viewing, watching two or four episodes while we drank tea or hot chocolate in bed, until our Blu-ray player decided to be a bit temperamental about playing the double-sided ER discs, so we swapped and made it our tea time viewing instead.

Some might say that this is a sensible move as ER isn't always particularly good viewing when you're wanting to eat your tea! Then again, it's not always brilliant right-before-bed viewing either!

I'll start with the box. It's perfect. All ten series are housed inside it and if they're lined up they spell out the Friends logo. Each series has three discs to it, which are double-sided so you have to flip them over when you get to the end.

On thing I did feel it was slightly lacking in were special features. For the first few series each disc has the music video on it (which I'd occasionally watch while I was waiting for Mr Click to come out of the kitchen) and the London episodes have a special feature about making Friends in London. Other than that there's nothing until you get to the final episode. Then you get a (hilarious) gag reel looking back over all ten series, watching every cast member completely flubbing their lines or corpsing. There's also a featurette on how Friends is dubbed in other countries, a Behind the Scenes on the creation of an episode (this originally aired right before the start of, I think, the sixth series, because I remember watching it on TV at the time) and also some interviews with series regulars which we've not gotten to yet.

I would've liked to have seen more behind the scenes stuff, as well as maybe some more features on how the series was received at first, grew in popularity, and how the cast felt as it drew to a close. Or perhaps some commentaries on some of the key episodes in the series.

Watching the episodes the way we did, two to four a night, meant that towards the end we were watching a series a week. Even when I was younger and used to marathon the series I never got through them all that quickly. It was kind of funny to watch the cast and characters growing up so quickly before my very eyes and even weirder to think that when I'd originally watched some of those episodes I'd been twelve, and now I was the same age as, or older than, the characters I was watching.

I've watched most of the series multiple times, when I was younger I had up to series seven on video and whenever my cousin came to stay we'd sit up late watching as many episodes as I could. I probably know the entire first series completely off by heart.

There's a sort of magic to those earlier episodes which I don't always feel with the later ones. Perhaps because I don't know them quite so well; I think I've only seen series ten a handful of times. I'm not about to start listing all of my favourite episodes because I could easily just turn this into a massive list of all the greatest Friends episodes, and besides, I think any Friends fan will have their own list and probably won't include all of the same episodes as any other fan.

I love the flashback episodes, I don't mean the ones which consist of clips from older episodes - those do get a little bit tiresome when you're marathoning the series the way that we did, because you know those jokes, you watched them two weeks ago! - I mean the ones where we see the gang in their youth or before the start of the show.

Monica and Chandler will probably always be two of my favourite characters on the show. I know it's all about the Ross and Rachel relationship, but at times they seem so immature and petty about things, whereas Monica and Chandler seem more real. This time around I probably felt a greater attachment to them as well for other reasons too.

Of course I have to mention Phoebe as well. I love how zany and random she is. The episode where she and Rachel go running in the park sums it up perfectly. She is who she is and she doesn't care what other people think about her. I always secretly wanted to be like her when I was a teen but wasn't really brave enough. Now I'm a lot happier about just being who I want to be, but I wish I'd stopped trying to be who other people wanted me to be when I was younger.

I think that on the whole it's aged pretty well. Aside from the fashions and hairstyles (and the grainer picture/harsher lighting) of the earlier episodes, there's very little which ties it to a particular era. Little things like Joey having an audition tape, Chandler getting a brand new computer with a whole twelve megabytes of RAM, and references to the Mayor of New York, which you can kind of gloss over.

Watching ER alongside Friends has helped me to appreciate how timeless Friends is by comparison. The early series of ER feel more like they're going to become Period Pieces because there's a lot more talk of technology and you see the medical and computer equipment changing. Unless we all suddenly start driving flying cars or wearing all silver jumpsuits all the time, Friends doesn't feel like it's going to change a huge amount. It'll be interesting to see if I can watch it in the same way in another ten years' time.

Of course, I'm not going to be waiting ten years to marathon the whole series again. The next time I've got the house all to myself I'll probably be watching the whole thing from beginning to end again, purely because I can!

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Day Zero Project: Get my coffee table revarnished

This is probably one of my more random Day Zeroes. I have this coffee table which I have quite literally grown up with. It's been in my house for as long as I can remember. I have some very vivid early childhood memories of 'dancing' to Status Quo songs by skipping round this table.

I don't think I've actually got any photos of the table just on its own, being a table, but it's been the backdrop to numerous photos of smaller things. As you can see above.

This table was the family coffee table until I was about eleven or twelve when it became the table where my rats and hamster lived. In their cages, obviously, not just hanging out on the table. The hamster I had at the time liked to hang out in the wheel that stuck out the side of his house, it leaked and caused some damage to the top of the table which my Grampy sanded down and fixed for me. The table survived to live another day.

When we moved to Scotland, it came with us, finding a new home in a new house. Since then it's also lived in a flat in Glasgow and in a different living room in the new house. There have been several occasions when it's nearly been disposed of or replaced, but every time I've saved it.

Part of the reason for saving it is because it was made by my Great-Grandfather. I think that the story goes that a family member needed a new coffee table and he just whipped it up just like that. I can't bring myself to part with it.

Now it's in our house with us but it's sort of showing its age. It's got a couple of scratches on the stop and it's generally worn and tired looking. I really think that a bit of a polish and varnish will give it a new lease of life, and hopefully keep it going for another thirty years.

It sounds strange, but we're waiting until the weather is right so that we can take it to my father-in-law's greenhouse to give it the work up that it deserves. When I eventually get around to that, I'll post some before and after photos.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Book 50 of 2013: The Sellamillion by A.R.R.R. Roberts

I like to pick up books that are related to Tolkien in any way, shape or form. This extends to parodies of Tolkien and so on my bookcase I have a little selection of parodies of his writing, the first of these being The Sellamillion.

In short, it's a parody of The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien. Except that it kind of isn't because there are some bits at the end which parody other Tolkien-based works, like the book of his letters and some other things. Also, it would be very hard to actually parody The Silmarillion but this takes the gist of it, makes it funny and then just runs with that.

I did find it really funny. There were lots of bits that I kept on wanting to share with John and I could easily have copied out quotes from a large chunk of the book. In a way the jokes kind of reminded me of Terry Pratchett because he's another author where you get a throwaway comment on one page, then two or three pages later you get the punchline. It's really funny, but not the sort of thing you can read to someone else without reading them a large portion of the book, and it also makes it really hard to copy stuff into my book journal.

I think that it must have been quite a challenge to write because, let's face it, The Silmarillion isn't exactly light reading. I imagine that a parody of The Hobbit or even The Lord of the Rings had to be easier to write than this. That said, I think it shows how well he understood the source material in order to make jokes about it and to twist things to make them funny.

I'm fairly certain that I picked up this book on one of my many charity shop trawls. I know from at least one review online that it can be a bit tricky to pick up, though that may be easier now that you can get the Kindle version on Amazon. I imagine that writing it was a bit of a gamble because it had to have a very limited audience. I mean, I have read and enjoyed reading The Silmarillion but that's a much smaller group of people than who have read and enjoyed Tolkien's other books. Plus the number of people who have read, enjoyed, and want to see the book made fun of (in the nicest possible way) much be even smaller again!

This was written by the same person who wrote the Star Wars parody and as with that one of my favourite things were the creative names that he came up with. I'm sure anyone can come up with funny names, but I love the way that they link to the original but are funny in their setting as well. For example the opening has 'And the Holy Spirits that are called Valüpac, gathered about Emu and their names are Gion, Poll, Gorge, Thingo, and Moregothic.' There's also Lúthien's alternate, Lüthwoman, which I found funny. Tuoni Bleary took me a little longer to figure out, until he started talking politics, that is.

I've still got The Soddit and Bored of the Rings on my shelf to read as well so I'm looking forward to getting to those in the future.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Meet Oscar Oswald Octopus

Okay, so he's not quite finishing in this photo, but he's very nearly done and I like to get my blog posts scheduled on a Sunday for the following week. It's also very unlikely that I'll have anything halfway reasonable to share next Monday as I'll be frantically getting my latest OU assignment finished, so I can share a properly finished photo next week.

Please excuse my tea at his feet in the photo, I took this last night:

Oscar comes from a Jean Greenhowe toy octopus pattern. It's designed to be a football mascot (with socks, scarf and hat in your team's colours) but has modifications for making it into a plain toy. I decided to make him in the colours of Mr Click's temperature scarf.

I even went so far as to adapt his scarf into a little mini temperature scarf (hence the blocks of colour with the black dividers, just like on Mr Click's). I couldn't calculate just how long I needed each colour block to be, so I started with dark blue and worked through them in the order that I used for the real temperature scarf. Once I got to the dark red I worked back the way this time to purple and then repeated it in reverse again. It still seemed a little bit too short, but since it's garter stitch it's very stretchy, and after a couple of little stretches it was the perfect length.

Obviously at ten stitches wide it was too small to put any lettering on like onto the original temperature scarf, so I used my 'Paintbox' yarn to make the fringes. Funnily enough I'd wanted to use this yarn to make a fringe on the real scarf but Mr Click wasn't keen, so I'm glad I've got to make a fringe out of it now.

One thing I'm really impressed about is how he stands up on his own. Most of the photos of finished ones on Ravelry have him lying down, so it came as quite the surprise to me when I plonked him down on the bed as I pinned all his legs on and found that he didn't fall over. He's basically a tripod with an extra five legs! He'll stand on virtually any surface.

In the pictures in the pattern the legs are right the way round his head/body, but mine didn't work out like that. I think I seamed them a little too tightly in a couple of places, so I centred them along his back seam, four on each side. There's a row of purl stitches which is used to mark where the legs should be attached and as there's a gap between his two foremost legs you can see it. The scarf helps to cover it up. In future if I was to do this (if I ever mention doing it again somebody stop me, eight is a lot of legs!) I'd probably not do the purl row as a marker, I'd just stick a bunch of thread markers every so many stitches on that row so I wouldn't have to worry about that happening again.

And as for his name. There's something funny about knitting toys. It doesn't happen with hats and scarves and socks, they might feel special but they don't develop characters in the same way. When I embroidered on his eyes and mouth onto the egg shaped head/body, suddenly he needed a name. Both Mr Click and I were thinking Oscar.

So I kept on calling him Oscar Octopus while I was knitting his half a gazillion, uh, I mean eight, legs. But once they were attached he didn't look quite so Oscarish anymore. And with the scarf he looked more like an Oswald. So he's become Oscar Oswald Octopus, which suits him much better than just Oscar or Oswald on its own.

Yeah, it's weird, but that's just the kind of knitter I am!

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Weekly Rundown

I've spent a good chunk of time this week working hard to get all caught up on my OU coursework. I thought that my next assignment was due on the 20th of February, giving me an extra week to get things done, and then looked stuff up online and realised I was a week behind myself. I know that there's always the option to get an extension, but I don't really need one. I'll get it all done, especially as pretty much all I have left to do is reading anyway.

I've spent the last week reading Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. It's seemed to take me forever to get through it. Although the book is 400 pages long, it's not actually that long because the text is quite big and there are some full page illustrations, for some reason I just haven't seemed to be able to read it very quickly.

In the end on Friday I decided that I wanted it done by the following day and read about fifty pages, then ploughed through the rest first thing the following morning, whilst watching the Back to the Future films, relaxing in the bath, and in bed last thing.

As soon as I finished I picked up Tom's Midnight Garden which I've read a lot more recently and I'm already over 50 pages through it. Again it's fairly large print with some big pictures are the beginnings of chapters, but it's only 200 pages long so I'm anticipating getting through it well before the end of the week.

This week we finally reached the end of Friends. It's not taken us that long to watch the whole series. A few weeks ago we started watching them four episodes at the time and as each series consists of three double-sided discs we've pretty much been able to watch one series a week. I'll do a bigger post on that later in the week. Tomorrow we'll start watching The Good Life, which I got for my birthday last year.

I mentioned earlier in the weeks that I'd got a clean bill of health at my eyeball freckle appointment. I'm inclined to be a bit of a baby about my eyes so Mr Click promised me a trip to the craft shop at Cardwell Garden Centre if I behaved myself.

I did, so I was treated to some lovely variegated yarn. It's King Cole so proper branded stuff as well. On the ferry on the way home I cast on for a hexipuff:

It's really pretty yarn, lime green plied with a multi-coloured strand. I have decided that as nice as it looks in a hexipuff, it really wants to be a dragon. The Cuddly Knitted Animals book that I won from Simply Knitting has a pattern for a dragon in it. It looks kind of complicated but I think it'll be really effective once it's finished.

And in the meantime I've been working on getting my octopus finished. This week I decided that I just had to get him finished and spent the last few days sewing on legs and weaving in scarf ends. Right now I'm just finishing off his hat.

I love the rainbow effect this stripe pattern has created. It fits him perfectly but I kind of want to scale it up and make one for myself. All that's left to do now is to take it off the needles, sew it up, and make a pom-pom to go on the top.

And then I need to settle 100% on what I'm going to knit next!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Clean Bill of Health

Last year I had to go to get my eyes looked at because at a routine eye appointment my optician found something a bit strange.

That's a freckle on the back of my eyeball.

I had to go get it checked out which involved horrible eye drops and a funky camera to photograph the thing so they can check if it's getting bigger.

Well on Wednesday I had to go for a check up. I'll admit, I put it off. I was in no hurry to get my pupils dilated and a flashy camera stuck in them, but I was a big brave girl and was promised a ball of yarn if I behaved, so I went.

And it was all fine. Absolutely no change. Just a reminder to keep going for regular optician appointments and the offer to go to Glasgow Caledonian University to get it photographed by a super-duper-inside-your-eyeball camera.

And I got a lovely ball of line green yarn with multicoloured strands plied through it. Definitely worth the stingy drops and flashy camera!