Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Calanas Course

Calanas is the Gaelic term for spinning or working with wool. I've been knitting for a few years now, using a variety of yarn from cheap acrylic to breathtakingly expensive merino. I had never considered making yarn myself until a colleague passed me a flyer for a Calanas course.

Gratuitous Herdwicks being photogenic in the Lake District

The course takes place at Whitmuir; a local organic farm. We start with soup at the farm restaurant then get stuck into the task of the week. The first week we met the flock (one of whom escaped...) and got our hands dirty with a stack of fleeces. With tangled and dirty parts removed (and a surprising amount of thorns) we washed and dried the fleeces. The following week we started carding the wool.

Giant sheep or tiny man?

Last night was our first attempt at spinning. I found it quite surprising the number of people who happened to have spinning wheels already - at least half of the group! Now for an admission; I signed up for this course thinking it would be fun and relaxing to learn a new skill. Spinning is not relaxing. Spinning is frustrating, complicated and addictive. I had thought I had reasonable hand-foot coordination, it turns out I can make my hands and feet work together but can't breathe at the same time. Hopefully next time I'll manage to get into a rhythm without getting so over excited that I let go and it all goes wrong. I've also attempted spinning on a spindle - slightly less stressful as it's much slower. Not necessarily easier though.

In the end I was very pleased to realise that somewhere in all the confusion I had managed to spin a significant amount of fleece into something approximating wool:

Wool spun on a wheel and a spindle

I can't wait for next time!

Friday, 29 July 2011


Photography has interested me since I was about 14 or 15. My parents have always been interested in photography and I always loved the theatre of getting a big white screen out and looking at their slides in the dark. I got my first *real* camera, an SLR, at university and enjoyed taking photos and waiting to get the prints back. It was always exciting to see if shots had worked, and to notice things I hadn't seen at the time.

Next I got a digital SLR and loved the instant feedback - knowing straight away if a shot had turned out how I had planned. My Nikon D40 has definitely helped me become a better photographer - trying different lenses and settings and seeing what happens.

When my parents said they were thinking of getting rid of their old cameras I felt sad to think of them just sitting in a cupboard, not being used. So now as well as my Nikon I have an old-school Canon AE-1 Program. I love the feel of it, it feels light and comfortable in my hands.

After a couple of weeks of hail, lightning and torrential downpours (cars shouldn't float in Edinburgh!), we've had two glorious evenings of golden sunshine. Perfect for photography. We went for a walk in the Pentlands by Threipmuir reservoir and up Blackford Hill. Unfortunately our plans for glass-still water and dramatic hills didn't quite work out - the triathletes had decided it was a great day for a swim. I've taken 36 shots though and finished my film. I'll take it to the camera shop tomorrow and am already looking forward to getting the prints back next weekend!

I don't have to wait for all my gratification though - technology these days is amazing and my camera phone is perfectly capable of taking a nice snap. Hopefully the film camera will still be suitable for taking shots like these:

Threipmuir Reservoir

Monday, 30 May 2011

Chocolate and cherry

This has been a productive weekend; chocolate cake, bread and knitting. The bread was too tasty to remain un-scoffed long enough for photos but I can't eat a *whole* cake in one sitting:

This is a wonderful cake for weekends - quick, easy and tasty!

175g soft butter or margarine
175g caster sugar
3 eggs (medium or large)
150g self raising flour
25g cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder

Beat together the sugar and butter (I use a wooden spoon, you can use electric beaters if you have them)
Mix in the eggs
Mix in the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder until smooth
If it's hard to mix, add a splash of milk (couple of tablespoons) until it's nice and smooth

Put into two 7inch cake tins (lined with grease proof paper)
Bake at 170C for about 30 minutes - poke it with a sharp knife after this time - if the knife comes out clean it's done
Leave in the tins for 10minutes or so then cool the cakes on a wire rack.

I like to fill it with chocolate spread (easy!) but this weekend I went for cherry compote and creme fraiche. Then all you have to do is try to resist eating it before friends pop round to help ;)

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Eurovision and other music

First of all I'd like to point out that I'm generally indifferent to Eurovision. However when a friend bought tickets and invited me along I couldn't resist. I was intrigued and also I really like Germany! Look, Cologne has random art in empty shops:

So that's how I came to be in Dusseldorf at the Jury Final of Eurovision 2011 (50% of the total score is based on a jury from each country, the other 50% is based on the public telephone votes). I actually found it a lot more fun than I'd expected - perhaps helped by the fact that there were several non-traditional Eurovision songs (i.e. they were musical rather than an ode to sparkle).

First for Finland was Paradise Oskar (real name Axel Ehnström) singing a song about saving the planet. Later on there were Sjonni's Friends from Iceland with "Coming Home". The song was written by Sigurjón Brink who died before it could be picked as the Icelandic entry. His musician friends put together a band and sang it in tribute to him.

Of course my two favourites didn't win - they were more singer-songwritery, boy with guitar type songs so not really in the spirit of Eurovision. It was interesting watching the jury final and wondering how different the total scores would be (in the jury final Italy and Britain were joint first). With jury and public votes combined; Italy came second and Britain in 10th, the winners were Azerbaijan.

On the Saturday night we watched the Eurovision final in a gay bar - they had score cards, pencils with flags on *and* transvestites (I may have been a little jealous of their dresses and hats...) Gay bars are the way forward - everyone is just lovely and friendly. Earlier in the day there had been a football match on with chanting fans everywhere, the difference was rather pronounced.

Whilst in Germany we did manage a little culture as well, we had a wander round Cologne cathedral:
Cologne Cathedral

Walked along the Hohenzollern bridge and looked at all the padlocks (each the symbol of a couple's love):
Hohenzollern Bridge, Cologne

We even managed to spot an incongruous flying car:

All in all a bizarre but fun trip! I can't wait to visit Germany again later on in Summer - might stick to my sort of gigs in future though.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011


If you know me in the real world (which admittedly is probably everyone who reads this blog) then you'll probably know I'm left-handed. Most of the time I don't feel disadvantaged by this, I have my computers at work and home set up how I like them, I knit right-handed (much easier to find instructions for difficult stitches), I play guitar right-handed. Generally if I want to do something left-handed it is possible, though sometimes it is easier just to fit in with normality.

Recently I found something that isn't available to left-handers - cake forks. Now most of you probably don't think this is a big issue - how often do people use cake forks anyway? Well actually I like cake a lot, and therefore eat cake quite a lot. In public I generally have to make do with a right-handed cake fork and don't often end up covered in chocolate and cream. However I do feel the whole event would be more relaxed and pleasant if I had the correct implement for the job.

Sadly, it seems I am too much in the minority to make this viable for cutlery manufacturers. If anyone does find a source of left-handed cake forks, please let me know!

Someone who probably thinks cake forks are silly is this little Adder, seen up Mount Keen on 29th April:
Adder, Mount Keen

Sunday, 6 March 2011


Warning: Epic post
As anyone reading this is likely to know, Iain won another Nokia competition recently. This time he got to take me too! His winning entry:

Friday: Got up ridiculously early (4.30am) to catch a flight from Edinburgh airport to Gatwick. Have some leisurely coffee and croissants in Gatwick then fly to Orlando, Florida. Second flight in particular had epic leg-room, about 6feet for Iain! Exit seats are good :)

Arrived into Orlando about 6pm and Iain recognised Frank in the queue and met Mike. Wandered round Orlando airport until we found our driver! The car was massive. It was like being enveloped by a huge leather sofa! An hour later we got to the hotel, met some of the Nokia/WOMworld people in reception and checked in. Our room/suite was also massive (this seems to be a recurring theme in America). Big bedroom, with kingsize bed, big living room/kitchenette thing, bathroom, balcony overlooking the atlantic ocean. It was dark when we arrived but we could just about make out the crashing waves below. The thing that baffled me about the hotel was that the *double* room had *three* sinks... (and two tvs, and two games consoles).

After an hour or so to settle in, we met most of the other Nokia people in reception and had a walk to a barbecue restaurant. I think it must have been obvious we were foreigners, in the mile long walk to the restaurant, we saw *noone* else walking. Restaurant place was what we expected; pick an animal and sides (most of which seemed to be deep-fried). Then utterly fail to eat even half of what was on the plate. It was very nice but given we'd been awake for 24hours by this point we were starting to flag! I went for beef with Hush puppies (ordered out of curiosity, they were deep-fried corn bread rather than shoes), deep-fried okra and sweet potato chips. Even the drinks were massive - I had a bucket of coke that I needed two hands to lift.

All the other people there (N8 producers winners, Nokia/WOMworld people and the film crew) were lovely and from all over the world (Britain, Croatia, Slovenia, Spain, France, USA, Canada, Brazil, Philippines, South Africa - via Finland).

Following the meal we went back to the hotel, and slept. At least for about 4 hours until we woke up at 3am thinking it was time to get up. Few more hours of attempting to sleep we gave up and watched the sunrise from our balcony:
Florida Sunrise

Once the sun was up we went for a swim in the outdoor swimming pool, went for a paddle in the ocean (pelicans kept flying past and fishing - they're huge!) and then went for breakfast. Buffet full of tastiness! Wonderful eggs, bacon, French toast and a waffle machine!

Pelican Beach

Saturday was the day we had all been waiting for - Zero gravity flight! We all loaded onto the bus to the venue. There we got our own flight bags with flightsuit, special socks, t-shirt and wristband. Watched a video of what we would experience, and got told hardly anyone gets ill. Then we had a second breakfast and got taken to the flight strip!

We were in 3 groups of about 8 people each led by a trained member of the zero gravity company. The plane was like any normal plane except the engines were on the tail rather than the wings. Also there were only about 50 seats at the back of the plane, the rest was stripped out and padded. Once the plane got to normal cruising altitude we were taken forward of the seats to lie down in our groups. The pilot then took the plane into parabolic dives and rises so that we could experience weightlessness. The first gave us the experience of Martian gravity (1/3 of Earth gravity), the second and third were Lunar gravity (1/6 of Earth gravity), we then had two dives of zero gravity.

Zero gravity is hard to explain, it's like no other experience. We were lying on the floor of the plane, then suddenly we would lift up off the floor and float around. There was no "lurch" or feeling of dropping. We just went from normal weight to weighing nothing. The closest thing is floating in water, except that there is no resistance. Any push against the floor or wall (or ceiling) would cause you to career off in the opposite direction. This led to bodies flying everywhere and colliding off each other and the walls - great fun! The guy in charge would then say "Feet down, coming out" and everyone would attempt to get their feet beneath them for when gravity suddenly came back. We would then all lie down still for while the plane regained altitude - experiencing about 1.8G. We had been told that the heavy gravity was the bit that could make people feel queasy so tried to stay motionless to reduce any effects.

We had 12 goes of total weightlessness and the team leaders set up various things for us to do - handfuls of sweets and globules of water to chase after. Several people began to feel ill and were taken to the back of the plane with sickbags. Most people had a great time though. It was all over very soon and were taken back to have a buffet, get our certificates of weightlessness and generally recover from the experience.

Zero-gravity plane

After a couple of hours in the hotel we all met up and went to the bar next door - Lou's Blues (confusingly not a Blues bar...) We all seemed to be the youngest by quite a way but it was fun to relax with a couple of beers and some more deep-fried food.

Sunday morning was more swimming in the pool and the ocean, more buffet breakfast then Universal Studios. It was fun out of season but I can't imagine what it must be like in the height of Summer (a steady 28C was plenty for me!) with lots of people. It was great being able to just walk on to rides rather than queue for hours. Especially for the Harry Potter ride - it took us a good 10 minutes to walk through without stopping, bypassing the majority of the queuing pens!


Sunday evening, those of us who were still awake went back to Lou's Blues bar. I tried my first ever oyster - surprisingly nice, like a slightly oceany custard but much more refreshing and tasty than that sounds! There was then much competitiveness over the foosball table, then an hour or two singing round the piano - much to the delight of one of the bargirls. Apparently noone ever plays the piano, especially not with vast quantities of interesting, young singing foreigners!

Monday was a day to relax, buy chocolates from the massive Walmart across the road (it took me about 10 minutes to find the food section, it was so big), and try surfing. For me this mostly involved wading out with the surfboard, struggling onto it, cruising along on my stomach for a bit then losing me balance, getting splatted by the board and crashing my knees on the rocks. It was fun though! Shortly after we stopped attempting to surf we saw a dead shark on the beach. Am glad we saw it *after* getting out! It was about 4 or 5 feet long and could have given me a good nibbling!

We then proceeded to eat the majority of the buffet in preparation for travelling, then sat chatting to the WOMworld guys in reception. It was a bit of a mac-fest. They all had macbook pros or airs. Iain had his ipad and I felt slightly outclassed with my ipod touch... Iain got some very exciting news from Heriot-Watt and then we got a taxi back to the airport.

All in all a wonderful experience with some great people, vast quantities of food and many pretty Mustangs and Corvettes to lust after :)

Now I just need to work out how to get my hands on a Nokia N8!

Nokia have uploaded the first unofficial videos from the trip at:

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

January Review

So, January. My kind of New Year's plans (not really resolutions) were to play guitar more and do more photography. Hmm, I seem to mostly have spent January baking instead! In no particular order, the things I baked in January:

Macaroons (The posh almond ones, they're just so easy! And yes I am addicted)
Lemon drizzle cake
Seedy wholemeal loaf
Sweet cardamom bread rolls
Brezels (they were ok but just like bread rolls, not really brezelly at all)
Stromboli (bread with mozzarella, smoked cheddar, basil and garlic in)
Black forest rolls (bread with posh ham, cheese and mustard baked in (very tasty)
Chocolate chip buns
Blueberry Muffins
Scones (I may have made scones twice, I forget)
Rice pudding (though I'm not sure this counts as it's so easy)

Unfortunately due to the lack of sunlight in these northern climes (or perhaps because everything was too yummy to resist), not many photos were taken...

Therefore I'm going to distract you with a couple of sunset photos instead:


Both taken on the train ride north from Yorkshire to Edinburgh on 3rd January.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Music of 2010

Hmm, oddly I can't write a blogpost in the normal way, I have to be in HTML mode. My iPod would let me type in the title but didn't recognise the blog field as a text field. Apologies if the formatting goes freaky but hopefully it'll be readable. Once I'm reunited with my computer I should be able to improve it.

Also it won't let me see all of what I've typed or even choose which bit to edit. Not ideal! I'll do another post tomorrow with my ideal playlist :)

2010 was a funny year for me. With my other half working so hard I was generally trying to make as little noise as possible. Also I've lost one of my musical gurus to fatherhood. However with the other. Half's working patterns it means he's wanted new music rather than listening to the same things repeatedly. This has led to vast quantities of spotify surfing.

I would occasionally something that caught my attention and would ask who it was. Almost always, the answer was Frank Turner. I have since listened pretty much entirely to Frank Turner and went to see him live in early December. (Awesome).

My music choices seem to have changed quite alot this year, starting out with older classics like
Muse and REM. Nowadays I seem to have a preference for solo singer songwriters. The fowooing are a selection of my favourite artists/songs from 2010 (not all are new in 2010 I just happen to have enjoyed them in 2010).

Favourite album:
Dark Was the Night (Songs from a variety of artists)

Favourite soundtrack:

Favourite artists (order is fairly fluid depending on mood):
1. Frank Turner
2. Joshua Radin
3. Mumford & Sons
4. Ben Harper
5. Ben Folds Five
6. Eels
7. Death Cab for Cutie
8. Malcolm Middleton
9. Chris Velan
10. Philip Glass

Special mentions also go to Tommy Reilly and mewithoutyou as artists I plan to search out more of in future.

Comedic songwriters:
Jonathan Coulton - Skullcrusher Mountain and Code Monkey are just adorable love songs!
Tim Minchin - his songs are just so witty and true. Plus if the salvation army finds him annoying I can't help but like him ;)