Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Just a quick post to share my sneaking suspicion that the Secret Jumper may be ever so slightly behind schedule. My boss's response to being told it was meant to be finished by Friday was, "oh...Is it for a baby?" Ah, if only! (Erm, if only the recipient were child-sized, I mean. Not if only I had a baby to knit for. Just clarifying.) Unfortunately all sorts of strangely pointless activities seem to be vying to eat into my remaining available knitting time - this evening I was frogmarched along to an exhibition opening (can you technically call ten pictures an exhibition?); tomorrow I'm getting up at the crack of dawn to go to a pre-work English lesson with a group of MPs (well you never know, I might learn something...I did catch myself putting a verb at the end of an English sentence the other day); and on Thursday my flatmate has decided that we need to go and look at dinosaur skeletons in a museum round the corner. Normally I'm all in favour of dinosaur skeletons, but inbetween making and decorating a fruitcake; panicking about not having thought of, let alone bought, a single solitary Christmas present; and knitting oodles and oodles of ribbing, admiring dinosaur skeletons has slipped down my "must do" list a bit.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Guess who's been good this year?

Happy (belated) Nikolaus! (Note to self: next year polish shoes)

I've been a bit frazzled this week; time seems to be slipping away at an alarming rate. I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm not really cut out for the whole work-full-time-while-maintaining-semblance-of-a-life thing - sometimes I remind myself of the Nick Hornby character who muses, "life took up so much time, so how could one work and, say, take a bath on the same day? He suspected that one or two people he knew were making some pretty unsavoury short cuts".

But I'm guessing you really don't want to know about my new-and-improved speed-hair-washing technique, so instead I present my progress on the Secret Jumper: a sleeve!Well, two sleeves actually, but I'm sure your imaginations are up to picturing the other one. Apologies for the terrible lighting - as far as I can make out my entire room is illuminated by a single 2 watt bulb. (And the edges aren't really wonky, honest; they're just curling under a bit.) Progress has ground to a halt, though, as I've realised I don't know Mike's chest size. (Have I just lost all credibility as a girlfriend? I do know his collar size, his inside leg measurement, even the circumference of his head [62cm, just in case anyone ever wants to make him a hat or buy him a motorcycle helmet], but for some reason my knowledge of his chest measurement has never gone beyond the 'M's and 'L's on the tags of his t-shirts.) After extensive poking around on men's clothing sites I've come to the hesitant conclusion that it's probably about 40", but when miles of ribbing are involved I don't much like words like "probably", so I've cunningly enlisted one of his sisters to do some snooping for me. In the meantime there's not a lot I can do on the knitting front, other than marvel at the luminescent scrumptiousness of the wool:
Proof that I do indeed swatch! I even washed this one; how domestic goddess-y is that?

Friday, 30 November 2007

What's the German for "lay another finger on me and you'll really wish you hadn't had that croissant for breakfast"?

Hail! (Or maybe that should be Wassail, seeing as we're just a few hours away from Advent. Except I'm not entirely sure what Wassail means.) Apologies for the silence - it's mostly been due to not having the internet in the flat ("down for five days" my foot...), and partly simply because I don't have anything particularly cheery to report. Adam's hat (tragic victim of last post's over-zealous scissoring) finally made it back onto the needles, but (and I feel like the world's biggest idiot confessing this) history sort of, um, repeated itself. I have no adequate explanation to offer for this. However! I did manage to salvage a good 5" of Hat #2 (henceforth to be referred to as The Hat of Recurring Doom, for obvious reasons), so all is not lost.

On a less buoyant note, I've had the dubious pleasure of my first brush (ahh, the bad puns just keep on coming) with sexual harrassment (remember the slimy journalist? He's back, and slimier than ever before! Note to all would-be slimy journalists: you pretty much need my written permission for your hand to stray below my shoulders. Or, indeed, above my shoulders. And while I may be the Queen of Gullibility [hey, we're talking about someone who believed that treacle was mined in Russia... ] , even my internal alarm bells start ringing at the eleventieth "accidental" brushing). Luckily my boss, despite unfortunately being away, is an undercover knight in shining armour, and has promised to slay the slimy journalist with, erm, his superior grasp of German. Or something.

Ohh, and there's one good thing I almost forgot - the wool for the secret jumper! I picked it up on Monday (well, half of it on Monday and half yesterday, when I realised that I'd initially ordered enough to clad an anorexic Barbie doll rather than a burly male), and I've fallen head over heels in love with it. (Pictures to follow, so you can share in the adulation. They'll have to wait till my home internet access revives itself, though; I'm not sure what the protocoll on uploading knitting photos to government computers is. For now the best I can offer is this, swiped from an unsuspecting Raveller.) The plan is to make Mike a variation on Jesse's Flames for Christmas - he's been angling for a handknit jumper ever since I presented him with a rather wonky hat one Valentine's Day. (The hat was relegated to a tea cosy suspciously quickly, and has since dropped out of sight altogether. This may not bode particularly well for the jumper.)

P.S. I think I may actually love my boss. He's now enlisted the secretaries to form a protective barrier between me and the slimy journalist. Who do you think would win in a fight: three women armed with staplers and pot plants or a medium-sized man wielding camera equipment?

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Knit 1, accidentally annihilate 1

Normally I consider moderation to be overrated (excess just has a better ring to it, somehow), but when it comes to my Christmas knitting I have to concede that my list may have been a teeny bit overambitious. So it's been subject to a merciless cull, which only two hats and a jumper have survived (but shhhh! The jumper's a secret; more on that later). I cast on for the first hat the other night, and knit for an inch or so before finally admitting to myself that my stitches had been twisted when I joined, and I was now knitting a geometrically interesting but unfortunately unwearable object. Second time round (terrible pun unintended) everything went much better. So well, in fact, that three hours or so in it was finished. It even fit! (No mean feat, as my family all have excessively large heads, the better, I presume, to accommodate our equally large egos.) It looked ridiculous, obviously, as I'm unable to wear a hat without looking like a clown/mugger, but it's intended for my brother who can carry these things off with a bit more panache. Anyhow, the hat was pretty much perfect. The only niggle was that I didn't really like the way my cable cast-on looked with the ribbing. "No problem!" thought I. "I'll simply undo the cast-on edge and bind off in the rib pattern! What could be simpler?"

Oh dear.

I don't know if you've ever tried unpicking a cable cast-on, but let me tell you, it takes forever. Two dire German soap operas and half an episode of Super Nanny, to be precise. And once I'd finally reached the last stitch, the wool got sort of...stuck. I tugged and it didn't budge. Never having been one to recognise a doomed strategy, I tugged harder. Nothing. Frustrated, I cut the wool and pulled at the new end. Still nothing. I made a second cut. And a third. And...well, to cut (oops, there goes another accidental pun) a long story short, I, erm, somehow ended up hacking the entire hat to pieces with a pair of scissors. It is now an ex-hat.

Still, all is not doom and gloom. As I was knitting (from this pattern, not that you really need one), I couldn't help thinking that an asymetrical rib might be a bit more interesting, and make the resulting hat look slightly less like something that had escaped from Grange Hill (an inherrent risk in anything knit in grey). So I suppose now I have the opportunity to try that out - as soon as I figure out a damned ribbed cast-on, that is. The other positive thing is that I've been given permission to knit at work! Hurrah! (As you may deduce from that, assignments are a bit thin on the ground at present.) Oh, and I should be able to collect my wool for the Secret Jumper tomorrow, so hopefully more on that next time...

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Vorsprung durch Koffein

Hallöchen! Neglecting the blog wasn't some sort of cunning anticipation-building strategy (tempting though it is to try and pass it off as such), but rather a side-effect of the work placement I started last Monday, which has turned things like "free time" and "sleep" into fond but distant memories. I'm working at the Bundestag, in the office of a politician called Manfred Grund (nope, no one here's heard of him either), and - to cover up my complete lack of knitting news - I thought I'd give you a glimpse or two behind the scenes at the Bundesregierung. This will double up as a handy cure for insomnia for anyone who happens to be in need of one.


Firstly - I have my own office! The most work space I've ever staked a claim to before is half of a double desk at primary school, so this is a rather exciting development. The office is in Jakob Kaiser Haus, opposite the Reichstag on the map above, and if I tell you that this is an entirely typical picture of the interior you may understand why I get lost every time I venture more than a couple of metres in any direction. What's more, the government buildings in the immediate area are linked together in all sorts of baffling ways (every now and then you find yourself following painted arrows through an underground car park), and I have a curious habit of ending up in the right building but on the wrong side of the street. There are some welcome distractions among the labyrinthine corridors, though - the riverside canteen's lovely (though I'm not sure 'canteen' is an appropriate word for somewhere where you can choose from a dozen flavoured oils and vinegars to drizzle over your roast pepper salad [or, in my case, over your skirt] ), and the library's very soothing. My enjoyment of both has unfortunately been slightly hampered by the constant company of an over-friendly journalist (he calls me by my first name, which is pretty much second wedding anniversary territory for most Germans. Though it might be a bit less galling if he could actually pronounce it correctly. He also looks exactly like Ricky Gervais, or at least like Ricky Gervais would look if he wore a waistcoat.)

But I digress! The most exciting thing about this placement is really the little bit of laminated plastic I have to wear around my neck, which grants me access to all sorts of places I really shouldn't be allowed. Like, say, the Plenarsaal, which is essentially the German equivalent of the House of Commons. Although it's not clear from the picture, the blue seats are all in fact swivel chairs, and throughout one another's impassioned speeches the politicians rock back and forth, spin themselves around, wander off to talk to people on the other side of the room and even just amble out entirely when they feel like it. The one innocuously formal touch is the butlers in frock coats who bring round glasses of water. (Well, glasses of clear liquid; I've been giving them the benefit of the doubt.) Interestingly, whenever a vote is taken a fire alarm goes off throughout the entire government complex. No one else seems to consider this odd.

Over the course of the week I've also somehow ended up at a press conference (which, due to my mistranslation of the key word, went completely over my head, but hey, there was free champagne), and a Central Asian ambassadorial-type meeting (more free champagne! As well as cakes, biscuits and chocolates. Diplomats seem to be sweet-toothed), complete with half-hearted simultaneous interpretation and the distribution of "traditional" gifts from Kazakhstan (I bet they picked them up at the airport. One of them was a camel cuddly toy). This all makes a typical day sound much more glamorous than it really is - yes, there are exhilarating parts, but most of my time is spent staring in panic at letters from constituents and wondering what the hell 'Lastenausgleich' means. Still, I suppose placements are always useful to help narrow down what you're looking for in a job, and this one has confirmed what I always secretly suspected: that I like to swish through doors in a suit and heels, clutching reams of important-looking paperwork and frowning intelligently (can you frown intelligently? I'd give it my best shot) when people speak. Unfortunately my physical coordination isn't up to at least two of these.

If I can smuggle my camera past the security team, a proper picture or two might be forthcoming. For now, though, I leave you with this gripping dispatch from Mr Grund! If that doesn't knock your insomnia on the head once and for all, fear not; there are another thirteen in the series...

Saturday, 10 November 2007

It's snowing! (According to me, at least. According to Mike it's sleeting. I much prefer my version of events.) The finished Textured Tunic was going to have its photo shoot this afternoon, but I may need to rethink that a bit. To be updated...

Edit: Hurrah! It is now definitely, unequivecoally, Mike-satisfyingly snowing! The Textured Tunic was forced to retreat indoors, where dodgy lighting and puzzled passers-by were the order of the day. You can't tell an awful lot about it from this picture, beyond the fact that it does indeed exist, but as my semi-resident photographer appears to be asleep it's the best I can do for now:

When not standing in front of mildewed walls, I like to hang out with cardboard cutouts

I'm ridiculously proud of myself - it fits perfectly, is wonderfully soft and cosy, and was a doddle to make. (Though I hadn't got round to sewing on the button when this was taken - no prizes for guessing what the shoulder's held together with in the photo.) My only complaint is that the pattern called for eight balls of wool, so as I was planning to lengthen the sleeves I bought nine, but still have three left. Harumph - 12 €, wasted! Maybe I could make a matching top for an exceedingly small child.

Pattern: Textured Tunic from Stefanie Japel's Fitted Knits. The pattern seems to run a little large - I knit the 34 1/2" size at a slightly tighter tension than stated to get a good fit.

Yarn:
6 balls (bah! etc) of Lana Grossa Royal Tweed in colour 005

Needles:
6mm and 6.5mm 29" circulars (I'm never quite sure why people include this bit in their FO summaries - what are the odds that anyone's remotely interested in my needles? It might up the chances a bit if I told you that said needles are rather fetching shades of green and blue.)

Notes and modifications: Hmm, where to start? I'll take the "notes" bit first, and say that the photo of the finished top has been flipped in the book - the shoulder slit actually ends up on the right hand side (this confused me for a while; I was convinced that I'd somehow managed to knit the whole thing inside out). Also, unless I'm even more unobservant than previously suspected, there isn't a buttonhole for the shoulder button, so I just overlapped the front and back 'corners' and sewed them together while attaching the button.

As for mods:
a) I made the box stitch panel an inch shorter than directed, so that I could get started on the...
b)...waist shaping without wreaking havoc on the stitch pattern. (I don't mess with stitch patterns. Bad things happen.)
c) I left setting up the side slits until I was 13" in (as opposed to 10") - they were going to be above waist level otherwise (though I have a feeling this might be me rather than the pattern). Anyway, because I started them so late, and the sweater already seemed rather long, I decided not to go down the full long-side-slits-with-buttons route, and made mini-slits instead. I'm actually a bit mournful about this; I might need to make another one just to get those buttons...
d) The biggest change I made, though, was to the sleeves. I'd seen one Raveler complain that, as written, they "might as well be tourniquets", but I decided to ignore her words of wisdom on the grounds that my upper arms are pretty diminutive anyway (the last time I saw my sister, her friendly greeting of choice was "hey, your arms are looking slightly less skeletal than usual! Can you still do that freaky thing with sellotape? Erm, anyway, moving on...) A couple of ripping backs later and I can confirm that the pattern does indeed produce tourniquets! I abandoned the instructions and just invented my own sleeves, working the box stitch section even (and an inch or so shorter, so that it would line up with my shortened body panel), decreasing to the elbow and then increasing to the wrist for flared full length sleeves.
Did I mention that I'm feeling sort of proud of myself?

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Fame at last!

Who'd have thunk - there's a knitting pattern with my name on it! And it's rather sweet if I do say so myself. Actually, if you can get past the horribly dated styling on her website, lots of the designers' patterns are worth a look, but then maybe that's not surprising considering she's the author of this scrumptious-looking book.

Hmm. Does a post need to be longer than three sentences to justify its own existence?

Monday, 5 November 2007

Monday miscellany

1) a simple seed stitch (I know that's an Americanism, but doesn't it sound so much more appealing than moss stitch?) scarf, modelled by the ever-dignified Bangers. Not to be outdone, Bangers' long-term companion, Mash, is dropping hints for a balaclava with ear holes; I'll keep you posted on that one...

2) my Ravelry invitation came! (I'm 'Boffcat', originally enough.) I've already managed to squander spend a deeply alarming perfectly healthy amount of rummaging around on it, though rather than finding ideas to use up the yarn I already have I seem to have accidentally compiled a list of entirely unrelated projects requiring equally unrelated yarn. I'm sure it's just a teething problem. My one slight grievance with Ravelry is that you need a Flickr account to add photos to your projects, and this in turn requires you to set up a Yahoo ID. I can only assume that every subatomic particle in the known universe already has its own Yahoo ID, because it took me at least twenty minutes to find a name that wasn't taken. (When I tried the ever reliable "Boffcat", the best it could offer me was "Boffcat73". Is it honestly trying to tell me that there are already over seventy Boffcats availing themselves of Yahoo's services? Maybe we should have a reunion.)

3) the Textured Tunic is knitting up so suspiciously quickly that I've almost certainly overlooked some crucial step (like, say, making armholes). I was going to post a progress picture, but my camera is under the impression that it was left on all night and is therefore completely out of battery. (I dispute this, but it doesn't seem to make much difference.)

4) contain your excitement if you can, but I've just done a load of laundry! I realise this doesn't sound especially (or, indeed, remotely) newsworthy, but, as I don't have a washing machine in my flat, washing clothes necessitates knocking timidly on the landlord's door and asking if I can use his. It's amazing how much longer than you think you can go without...

5) and finally, 'tis the season for Christmas knitting! Curiously, my list seems to be comprised moreorless exclusively of hats this year. (More curiously still, apparently 'moreorless' isn't a word, which is a bit unfortunate given the frequency with which I use it.) One of my brothers specifically requested a beanie, but unfortunately I can't remember which brother, so I'm hedging my bets by making them for both. I was thinking of Knitty's Tychus for Rick, and something a bit more classic for Adam; possibly Harris from Noro Knits (though if he ever found out that the original was modeled on a girl, its desirability might suffer a fatal blow). I was planning to make a hat as a surprise for Mike, too, but he rather scuppered the surprise element by directly asking for one. Ohh, and last but not least, a beret and scarf set for my sister. It's proving a bit trickier to find the right pattern for that, though: I like the crisp texture of this moss stitch beret, but I'm not convinced by the i-cord crest (which, to my uneducated eye, looks more like the model has an apple stalk coming out of his head), and a matching scarf might be a bit on the dull side. The construction of SockPixie's 'La Parisenne' looks fairly Heather-proof, and the chevrons would be a bit more scarf-friendly, but I'm not sure my sister's really looking for a " kaleidoscopic effect" in her headwear, or indeed her neckwear (also, just as an aside, shouldn't it be Parisienne?). And soft, squishy and generally tempting though this beret looks, I'm guessing it requires a slightly more intimate knowledge of cable needles than having eyed them dubiously in John Lewis once or twice. Decisions, decisions...

Edit: I can't believe I forgot that it's Guy Fawkes Night today! Usually it's one of my favourite nights of the year, but alas, the Germans don't seem to have got the hang of it for some reason...Oh well, hope everyone else is marking the occasion more satisfactorily!

Friday, 2 November 2007

The secret lives of stitch markers

I know it looks like a Medieval hat, but it is in fact the beginning of my Textured Tunic from Fitted Knits. I'm just about to separate the sleeves from the body and start the box stitch section (for the third time - my inability to count to two is proving a bit of an obstacle). And nope, my tension's not spot on, but this is sort of intentional - the recommended 13 stitches per 4" makes for an overly loose and holey fabric, plus I've come across some people complaining that their tunics came out too large. (My general stinginess and reluctance to buy larger needles may also have something to do with it, but moving swiftly on...) I like the way the Lana Grossa Royal Tweed's knitting up - it's lovely and soft, and light and airy rather than heavy and bulky. (Incidentally, just in case anyone wanted another opportunity to marvel at my general dimwittedness, I always assumed that 'Lana Grossa' was a designer's name. Call myself a linguist...)

As for the title - gaah! Stitch markers are fast becoming the bane of my existence! They may look innocuous enough, but I am convinced that they are pure malice in plastic form, existing solely to derail my knitting as much as is within their power. Mine look rather like those round paperclips that were popular for a while in the 90s, and I can't help but feel that this is a bit of a design flaw, as it means they slip on and off my needle cord at whim. Spacial awareness Wunderkind that I am, I then invariably replace them in the wrong place, and my raglan seams end up meandering all over the place. My doomed Somewhat Cowl was similarly afflicted - do all stitch markers have it in for me, or should I do battle with my inner miser and fork out for some more sensibly conceived ones?

In non-knitting news, I have a flat! I'd show you pictures, but, well, I don't have any, and I imagine the current tenant might object to me traipsing into her room with camera in hand. (For some reason people generally do seem to object when I do that sort of thing.) But it, and my new flatmates, Lisa and Mischa, might make the odd appearance come December. Also - just to backtrack to knitting for a minute - thanks largely to the lovely people at Craftster I've thawed towards the purple cardigan a bit, and a full reprieve may be imminent. If nothing else it's incredibly cosy, and is putting in a sterling performance as an ersatz dressing gown.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Ta-daaa!

The purple cardigan made its debut! As you've no doubt deduced from the photo above, I : a) really ought to wear a slightly less revealing top with it, and b) should possibly learn how to use an iron. Luckily the second picture cunningly disguises my lack of iron expertise with a strategically placed coat:

I have no idea why I chose a mildewed wall as a backdrop. Nor why one side of my hair appears to be several inches longer than the other.

For some reason I didn't think to take any photos of the back, but rest assured that it looks exactly like you'd expect it to.

So, the boring technical bit:
Pattern: the work of my feverish imagination, loosely based on a picture of this. It's worked in a single piece from the bottom up, with the sleeves knit in the round and joined to the body at the yoke.
Yarn: 5 balls (and such a tiny bit of the 6th that I don't think it counts) of Rowan Pure Wool Aran in colour 682, "Amethyst".
Needles: 5 mm (US 8) and 5.75 mm (US 10) 29" circulars.
See that ribbon trailing redundantly across my chest? It was supposed to fasten the cardigan at the neck, just as in the Noro pictures. Unfortunately, though, I got so carried away working waist and bust shaping that the finished cardigan looked decidedly odd tied at the neck, not to mention the small problem of the ribbon constantly slipping and attempting to strangle me. In the photos the fronts are just held together with a safety pin, partly because I'm shameless like that, and partly because I genuinely believe that safety pins are the answers to almost all of life's clothing problems.

So, ribbon issues aside, is it a resounding success that I'll wear with pride? Erm...I don't think so. It's warm, colourful, and it even fits (all those years of maths finally paid off!), but it's just a bit too bulky and tricky to pair with other things. I'm pleased that I finished it, and that I learnt how to work magic loop and graft garter stitch (badly) along the way, but to be honest this poor thing probably has a very neglected future ahead of it.

P.S. For anyone who had a strange premonition that the cardboard torso blocking-technique wouldn't go entirely according to plan, I have to report that I didn't have enough cardboard to do my vision full justice. I still maintain it would work, though...

Thursday, 25 October 2007

The purple cardigan is finally finished, and just a blocking away from being launched on an unsuspecting world! (And a largely indifferent one, but hey, what can you do?) As for the blocking itself, I've somehow taken it into my head that the best thing to do would be to make a 2D cardboard replica of my torso and stretch the cardigan over that while it dries. This is either incredibly cunning or incredibly stupid. As the great Nigel Tufnel said, there's such a fine line...

Anyway, stay tuned for its inevitably anti-climatic unveiling!

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

How to make chocolate mousse


Ingredients:

dark chocolate
sugar
suspiciously white eggs
completely untried recipe
overweening confidence


Directions:

1) invite guest round for chocolate mousse. If possible, choose someone you don't know very well, to increase the pressure on yourself.

2) eat all chocolate not required by the recipe. This step is very important, as it makes it impossible to have another go if your first attempt goes horribly wrong. (You could, of course, achieve the same effect by eating all the surplass eggs and sugar, but this might not be quite as palatable.)

3) make mousse following recipe. Be sure to utilise as many pans, bowls and utensils as possible to maximise kitchen-hit-by-bomb effect.

4) notice that resulting dessert bears no resemblance to mousse. Decide that solution is to whisk whole thing vigorously.

4) whisk. In doing so, turn two generous portions of mousse into approximately 50ml of chocolate sauce. Sample sauce. Find that it tastes good. Eat sauce.

5) realise that guest is due to arrive in two hours. E-mail boyfriend in panic.

6) no reply. Remember that boyfriend doesn't know how to make desserts anyway.

7) write pointless yet lengthy post on the subject in the vague hope that this will somehow solve the dessert crisis.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Sugar and Spice

Proudly presenting my homemade sweet chilli dipping sauce! I'm not going to tell you how long it took me to get a semi-decent picture of it because you'd just feel embarrassed for me.

The emphasis is definitely on the "chilli" rather than the "sweet", which is just as well as I'm not really a fan of the syrupy stuff you get in supermarkets. Mine bears only a passing resemblance to the picture in the book (which looks suspiciously like the aforementioned syrupy stuff - maybe they took a few shortcuts as deadlines began to loom...), but it tastes scrumptious, and was a doddle to make, too. This is the fourth recipe I've tried from the Wagamama's books, and they've ranged from tasty to delicious - I think my stomach's going to enjoy this year! (Although, just to digress slightly, am I the only person who thought that rock salmon was a type of salmon? If you, too, were under this illusion - surprise! It is, in fact, dogfish, catfish or wolffish, rebranded by canny marketing types to make it sound more appetising. Surely this constitutes some sort of trade descriptions violation? I mean, I daresay that re-christening brussel sprouts "chocolate balls" would up their appeal a bit, but an awful lot of people would be left feeling slightly mislead. Just as me introducing myself as Giselle's younger sister might have a mystical effect on my perceived attractiveness, but would, alas, be entirely untrue.)

Anyhohow, I've got a bit of a culinary challenge looming - I have someone coming round for dinner on Wednesday who doesn't like spicy food or fish. This unfortunately rules out about nine tenths of the Wagamama's recipes, and my sad lack of a grill pan or a co-operative oven scuppers most of the rest. I was thinking of gyoza of some sort, but I'm not sure that the combination of me, time pressure and bubbling oil is a recipe for anything other than disaster...

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Good things come in threes. Or possibly fours

Good Thing Number One: the return of the sorely-neglected purple cardigan! The second sleeve's done, and I've joined both to the body (dunce that I am, I really couldn't visualise how that bit would work. In fact, I'm not entirely sure even now that it's done). It's actually finally starting to look like a cardigan, rather than an ungainly mass of wool with Lebensraum ambitions, and now that the end is in sight my enthusiasm's been upped accordingly. I even had it all stashed away (the cardigan, that is, not my enthusiasm) in a bag for some S-Bahn knitting, but that never quite got off the ground, because checking my postbox on the way out what
should I find but...
Good Thing Number Two! Or maybe that should be Numbers Two and Three, because in a fit of indecisiveness I ordered both of these at the weekend. They arrived just in time, as I can now jilt my stupendously ineffective oven (I'm pretty sure I could warm food more quickly by breathing on it) in favour of my wok. My earlier comment was slightly misleading, though - the books weren't actually in my postbox; I had one of those "while you were out..." cards instead. So, obedient instruction-follower that I am (must come from adhering to knitting patterns so diligently...), I trundled off to my nearest collection point, which, the card informed me, was at 71 Manteufelstrasse. What it neglected to inform me was that 71 Manteufelstrasse was in fact an off-license. Undaunted, I had a hopeful wander round, just in case a pile of parcels was lurking behind the East European beer section, but nope, it really was just an off-license. I headed despondently into the carpark, where I stumbled upon...

Never underestimate my ability to overlook large, bright yellow things

These things are amazing! They scan the barcode on your "while you were out" card, you sign the screen with your finger (oddly satisfying), and then one of the compartments in the grey cupboard-y bit slides open, revealing - ta daa! - your parcel. Why don't they have them everywhere? I mean, if you're going to put them in off-license car parks you may as well go the whole hog and have them outside, say, post offices. Just a thought. Anyway, the whole experience was sufficiently exciting to count as Good Thing Number Four, or at the very least Number Three and a Half.

As for the final Good Thing of the day - and this will appeal to an even narrower audience than the Amazing Yellow Parcel Retriever - I've found some really good value language courses at the TU! I won't be able to start till January, but I'm going to go along for a test next week so they can sort me into a group. Hopefully it'll be a bit more rigorous than the procedure at the Humboldt, where they accidentally put me in a class alongside German teachers. (I lasted precisely one and a half days. Perseverance is severely overrated.)

ETA: I've just realised that today marks the end of my first month in Berlin! So, as a mini-overview of my time here so far, I present:

number of places lived in:
four

number of sights seen, museums visited, and tourist attractions generally patronised: none (unless the zoo counts? What a culture vulture I am)

number of new words learnt: erm, about five. I should probably try upping that rate a bit, I suppose...

number of times said "einmal Laugenbretzel, bitte": enormous, shame-inducing number

things I miss most about Britain: Sainsbury's; skimmed milk; my kitchen equipment; supermarkets which deign to open more than two tills at busy periods; wooden spoons (have you ever seen a German wooden spoon? They're weedy, half-formed, eminently snappable things! I've been cooking with salad servers); toast; Marks & Spencers lingerie department

things I miss least: the weather; public transport; the conspicuous lack of excitingly yellow parcel-retrieval machines

And just to prove that I have left the flat at least once: (click for a version you can see without the need for a magnifying glass)

The Berlin Aquarium (right and left), and on the steps of the Französischer Dom (centre)

Friday, 12 October 2007

In which our heroine finds a flaw in her plan

Damnit, it's no good - I need a recipe book! It's all very well saying I don't want to tie myself down to a Sarah-style commitment, but without religiously ploughing through a book like she did I've got much too much freedom for pickiness, as witnessed by the fact that I've just spent 45 minutes dismissing a vast number of recipes for reasons ranging from "it uses a bottled sauce" (reasonable-ish) to "it includes ingredients I haven't got in my cupboard" (unreasonable, seeing as my cupboard contains only muesli and sesame seeds), and "hmm, it's written by someone called Dougie" (scraping the barrel).

Which recipe book, though? Back in the good old Edinburgh kitchen, the South East Asian section of my cookbook cupboard comprises Harumi's Japanese Cooking (good, but a bit heavy on difficult-to-get-hold-of ingredients), three Chinese cookbooks by Linda Doeser, only one of which appears to be available anymore (not bad, but a bit too much artery-clogging deep frying to make them ideal candidates), one Thai book (very repetitive), and Women's Weekly Vietnamese and Malaysian mini-volumes (to my shame, I have yet to cook anything from the former, and the one recipe I've tried from the latter was disappointing). Nothing really leaps out. What I really need is How to Eat's Asian equivalent; a sort of step-by-step training manual that would leave me confidently cleaving things left, right and centre. Any suggestions? Or should I just brave the cookery section in my local Dussmann? (German-Asian, now there's a fusion cuisine that never really took off...)

Thursday, 11 October 2007

And now for something completely different

Why yes, now that you mention it, I am under contract with Yukata

The lull in blogging activity is a pretty accurate reflection of the recent lull in knitting chez Boffcat. Never mind second sleeve syndrome, I seem to have second-half-of-knitted-item syndrome: whenever I get beyond the 50% mark on something my fickle mind abandons it and wanders onto the next project. (This may explain why I've never quite finished making anything larger than a cushion cover.) So in an attempt to reinvigorate my attention span a bit - not to mention providing blog fodder on sadly knitting-free days - I've decided to take on a different sort of project. As you may have guessed from the picture above, it's to do with cooking.

In the normal scheme of things I love to cook, and, though my knife 'skills' would make a trainee chef avert his eyes in embarrassment, I'm generally not too shabby in the kitchen department (a friend of my boyfriend's once opined that I "could cook sh*t and make it taste good," which I assume is the sort of elegantly-phrased compliment which Gordon Ramsay bats away all the time). However, being in Berlin means that I'm roughly 900 miles from my ridiculously well-equipped kitchen. (Just to give you a bit of an idea of the difference, there's a four-shelf cupboard in my Edinburgh kitchen crammed full of spices, with a large box stashed away in a second cupboard to take care of the considerable overspill. By contrast, my Berlin kitchen - which in its entirety is only marginally bigger than the spice cupboard - contains a pepper pot. The pepper pot is empty.) As you might imagine, cooking here presents a bit of a challenge, and it isn't one I've risen to with flying colours so far. Over the last few weeks my diet's basically consisted of a) museli and b) Thai red curry.

Inspired by the wonderfully titled Sarah Discovers How to Eat, though, that's set to change. The eponymous Sarah (whose current blog is over in the sidebar to your left, and well worth checking out) used this site to record her progress as she cooked her way through every recipe in Nigella Lawson's encyclopaedic How to Eat over the course of a year. While I'm not sure I'd want to take on that much of a commitment (not least financially), I really like the idea of expanding your repertoire this way and cooking recipes you'd never normally give a chance. So I've decided to try something (very) broadly similar. To save myself from stocking up on a vast and expensive array of ingredients, this year I'll be sticking to one type of cuisine, namely South East Asian. All right, I know that that's hardly a single category, encompassing as it does all sorts of different countries, but at least many of the ingredients and cooking techniques overlap. I've cooked Asian food before, obviously (if you're in the market for a Chinese hot pot or a batch of wontons, I'm your man!) but in a fairly limited way - hopefully sticking with it for such a long time period will force me out of my comfort zone a bit. I'm not promising to be totally monogamous - I'm much too fond of hearty British soups and Indian dahls for that - but insofar as specialist ingredients are being bought and new recipes experimented with, it's Far Eastern all the way.

I feel a rice-cooker expedition coming on...

Friday, 5 October 2007

Speaking of non-identical twins...

Sleeve #1 is on the bottom, and New and Improved Sleeve is on the top. As you can see, any furtive intention I might have had of ignoring slight discrepancies between the two and using them both regardless will probably have to go out the window. My inner sluggard (isn't that a lovely word? I only just learned it, but will henceforth use it whenever possible to make up for lost time) is inconsolable. Hopefully the second New and Improved Sleeve won't take as long, though; I had to keep ripping back the first one to make the stocking stitch section longer. My arms are obviously more monkey-like than I'd realised.


On a completely different note, have you seen Kim Hargreaves's Autumn collection? I'm not usually a huge fan of her designs, but this season's are gorgeous! (Though I'm not convinced that "The Thrown Together Collection" conveys quite the image you want for an upmarket range.) My particular favourites are Rosa, Still, Beatrix (with a change or two to the collar), Hannah and Flo. The prices make me wince, though (£57 for Still, and that's not including postage and packaging! I was never under the illusion that knitting was a cheap hobby, but that's practically the GDP of a small African nation), and I'm not sure all those ruffles really lie within my knitting ability anyway. Perhaps more realistic is my new fixation on Tempting II from Knitty Winter 2005. I'm picturing a long-sleeved version, knit in a wool rather than a cotton blend, sort of like this (take that, Ravelry! I'm doing just fine without you. Though, um, if you could see your way to winging an invitation in my direction sometime soon...), but with a lower neckline as per the original pattern.

First, though, the Tweed Tunic! The knitting shop called yesterday to say that my wool had arrived, which rather scuppers the last minute reservations I was having about the colour I'd chosen. And I'm down to my last few Euros, so essentially it's a choice between picking up this wool and buying groceries for the next few days. How long do you think a person can survive on two bananas and a packet of oats?

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Which of us is the evil twin, do you suppose?

I don't believe it - I have a knitting twin! This cheery looking, but sadly blogless, knitter, made the Textured Tunic from Fitted Knits - already earmarked as my next project - in exactly the same wool (same colour and everything!) that I was planning to use (and, um, may have already ordered, in a fit of linguistic over-enthusiasm), with all the modifications I had in mind, too: adding waist shaping, making the sleeves full length, eliminating the side slits, working moss stitch borders at the cuffs and hem...admittedly she did get rid of the neckline split, which I'll be keeping; I suppose that makes us fraternal rather than identical twins. But even so, it's slightly surreal seeing it, like a sneak-preview of mine. Lovely though she looks, the overall effect is a little bit too buttoned-up for me, so I might rethink my plan to knit the sleeves straight and go for more of a bell-shape. I'm considering tipping the cuffs and hem in a contrasting colour, too. Well, when I say 'considering' I mean that the idea popped into my head approximately three seconds before I typed it (for future reference, this is what I generally mean when I say 'considering').

Ohh, and I've become just about the last person in the known knitting universe to put my name down for Ravelry! Go me! I'd somehow failed to realised that you could actually do this; I assumed they had their select group of beta testers all sorted out, and that the rest of us had to patiently wait until they opened their doors to the public. D'oh. Oh well, only 16, 295 people ahead of me in the queue (and - mwahaha! - 345 people behind me! Amazing how quickly you develop a sense of superiority about these things).

I won't bore you with a photographic update on the cardigan (I think "sleeve-in-progress" shots are the kind of thing only a mother could love), but a post without any pictures at all is a rather sorry-looking creature, so I leave you with a glimpse of the wonderful knitting shop which tempted me into ordering wool for the Textured Tunic in the first place. It's the first good yarn shop I've found in Berlin, but I hear rumours that there's one in Kreuzburg worth investigating. That's my plans for tomorrow sorted, then...

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

This post narrowly avoided having a painfully bad pun for a title

After extensive comparative tasting (I don't know, the things I do for this blog...) I can finally announce that the best Laugenbrezeln in Berlin are those from the Ditsch in the lower level of Alexanderplatz station. All Ditschs do pretty damned good Brezeln though - they bake them in open ovens in front of you, so as often as not they're still orgasmically hot when you get them. (Is it wrong to use the word "orgasmically" in reference to baked goods? Maybe the love between woman and Brezel is one that ought not speak its name.)

Anyway, my much abused stomach is now recuperating from its Brezel marathon, but my hands have come out of retirement and started knitting again! Chiefly because I finally figured out how to do magic loop, which meant I could start on the sleeves of the purple cardigan I mentioned a post or two ago. Voici!

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's magic loop!

This is a commemorative picture, really, as the sleeve will be ripped out when I can muster the heart to do it. Partly because I misjudged where to start the garter stitch ever so slightly (by, erm, about two inches), and partly because I'm going to tweak the shaping a bit, so that the increases and decreases form a sort of underarm 'seam'. At the moment they form two 'side seams,' which seems a bit silly for a technique whose appeal lies in its seamlessness. Actually, though, the whole seam issue has led me to conclude that - much as I like the physical process - sewing sleeves in the round probably isn't for me. The thing is, I don't actually mind seaming sleeves. And sewing a sleeve on straight needles and then seaming it is much less time consuming than all the pushing and pulling of magic loop. Plus, if the sleeve's at all shaped you're going to get some sort of seam effect anyway, so why not have the real thing?

Still, if you've never tried magic loop - or if you have but without much success - I thought I'd share the tips I found most useful. To get you started, I'd recommend this video, but it's worth having a look at this one too, which will show you how to create a less visible join (it's actually aimed at knitters working with two circular needles, but this particular tip is just as applicable to magic loop). Both videos begin with a fair amount of spoken guff at the beginning, but bear with them! There's genuinely useful stuff buried in there.

Magic loop becomes much easier to work after you've done a few rounds and are getting into the swing of things, but to help you through those awkward early stages my top pointers would be: a) always slide the next set of stitches to be worked onto the needle before you slide the set just worked back onto the cord. This saves all sorts of confusion. And b) to avoid ladders of looser stitches forming at the joins of your work, pull especially tightly when working the second stitch on each side, rather than the first. (I have no idea why this should work, but it certainly seems to.)

In other knitting news (if 'news' isn't too grandiose a term for what is essentially me rambling), I'm rather taken with this scarf from the Autumn edition of Knitty; I have a feeling it'll worm its way onto my frantic-last-minute-whirlwind-panic-midnight-on-Christmas-Eve-knitting-list (to give my Christmas knitting list its full name), destined for an unsuspecting male or two. (I have yet to meet a man who was anything more than lukewarm at the prospect of receiving handknitted gifts from me. Fortunately this hasn't dampened my enthusiasm in the slightest.) As for the Woodins, I may have to hire someone to sit on my fingers full time and thus forcibly prevent me from abandoning all other occupations (eating, sleeping, breathing, etc) and knitting them for - I really wish I could say "my three-year-old nephew" here - myself.

Back in the present, I'm hoping to have the cardigan finished before Mike gets here so I can wear it to pick him up at the airport, but given that that's less than four days away, and that I still have almost all of both sleeves to do, not to mention re-knitting part of the back (it seems a bit baggy all of a sudden), working out how to do the yoke, grafting the underarms and finding the perfect ribbon to finish it all off, this may be one of my more wildly optimistic plans...

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Hallo aus Berlin!

(Admittedly this isn't precisely the view from my bedroom window, not least because I don't as yet have a bedroom window)

Ta-daaa - I've moved to Berlin! (Bet you didn't see that one coming! I really should drop these things into conversation now and then.) Well, maybe "moved" isn't the quite right word, implying as it does possession of some sort of address. And possibly a vague plan for the future. But who needs plans or accommodation when a constant supply of freshly-baked Laugenbrezeln is to hand?

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

An inconvenient truth

My Somewhat Cowl, which I was working on five weeks or so ago (such is my dedication to keeping you all up to date with these things), came out huuuuuge. Behold!

I'm still not entirely sure why this is. Admittedly my tension did change a bit (all right, confession time: I actually somehow managed to misread the tension specified by the pattern, and therefore spurned my perfect original swatch in favour of one knit on needles two sizes larger. Luckily a God of Knitting was smiling on me, and my tension mysteriously got itself back on track after a couple of inches. What's more, after reading several Craftsters' tales of woe about baggy armholes, I stopped working sleeve increases long before called to do so by the pattern. Unfortunately, however, neither of these were enough to save the cowl from its fate of gigantism, and it's now been reduced to a few extremely badly wound balls of Alpaca Silk. My dreams of cowl-ownership are at an end).

In happier news, I'm currently knitting (though those two words imply a greater level of recent activity than is strictly accurate) a cardigan based on this, and anything major has yet to go wrong with it! Hooray! Somewhat surprising, really, given that "based" here means "I squinted at the photo a bit for inspiration". If it works out without any hic-coughs, all credit will go to Mike's calculator. Pictures will be forthcoming when it resembles something slightly more impressive than a wonky rectangle.

And finally, look what winged its way over from Australia!

Hmm, what do you suppose Amazon's views on hot-linking are?

I won this, if you can believe it (and granted, it is pretty hard to believe, given that I'm usually the kind of person who could buy every ticket for a raffle and still somehow manage not to win anything), in a birthday prize-draw over at Jorth's always-entertaining blog. Huzzah! Although not generally a chunky knits sort of person (ahh, hips, what a limiting effect you have on my fashion choices), I'm particularly taken with the Coco jacket (the picture doesn't do it justice, but, mysteriously, I can't find any other completed examples online. Is this indicative of the jacket's unpopularity, or only of my googling incompetence?), the Twiggy tunic and the Skating Sweater. Now to find a bulky yarn which comes in colours other than sickly pastels...(Though in fairness, I suppose it isn't the pastels themselves which are sickly, but rather me in them. I feel there isn't an awful lot I can do about this at my end, however.)

Saturday, 28 July 2007

When she was good she was very, very good

But when she was bad...

The word that springs to mind is "oops"

If I were being entirely forthright and honest (which admittedly aren't compulsions which routinely trouble me) I might feel obliged to confess that this only represents about half of my recent purchases. Which may not be entirely in the spirit of budgeting (to be strictly accurate, it's not even remotely in the spirit of budgeting - don't let the 'Sale' bag fool you; while others hunt for bargains on the reduced racks I head unerringly for the 'new arrivals' Autumn ranges. I think credit my rating has a death wish), but to be honest (shucks, there I go again!) reporting on my inability to be frugal is getting a tad, well, depressing. So my next post will mark a new blogging direction! (I know, I know; the national press will be duly informed.)

Thursday, 19 July 2007

We interupt this silence to bring you...

...blogging! Strange though it may seem, I've only really just cottoned on to the fact that the purpose of a blog is to be blogged in, and as such mine has rather lost touch with its raison d'être over the last couple of weeks. In a sort of Paul-on-the-way-to-Damascus moment (though with less visual impairment), I realised that my favourite blogs are the ones which are constantly updated, and that mine's falling woefully short of the mark.

Part of the blame for my prolonged absence lies with The Sims 2. I got the original Sims when I was about 18, and I don't think anyone saw me that year beyond my occasional forages for food. My obsession - and geekiness - was such that my brother and I actually devised a talk show during which he interviewed me about a different Sim family each day. It ran for the whole summer. (Ye gads, I can't believe I just admitted that on the internet! I have no shame. Though come to think of it, my brother may emerge looking even more peculiar than me.) Anyway, I've had The Sims 2 for a while, but - for reasons that are now doubtless understandable - thought I might need protecting from myself and so didn't put it on my computer. (OK, this isn't strictly true. I did put it on my computer, but it ran so slowly that I was aging more quickly than the Sims.) But I've finally succumbed, with predictable results (and some not-so-predictable ones, too. Who'd have thought that staring at a computer screen for six hours straight could cause your contact lenses to pop out?).

In the small window of time that hasn't been eaten up by Sim-mania I've attempted a couple of forays into craftiness, with mixed success. Exhibit A, a découpaged box:


This was supposed to be a birthday present for my friend Chris, but for reasons that now escape me I decided that it was irreparably ruined, and therefore (again, for reasons which elude me) manhandled it. And, erm, broke it. So it is indeed now irreparably ruined, and instead of giving Chris a gratifyingly günstig present I'll be forking out for a costly paint-your-own-ceramics session, at the end of which I'll emerge with a cereal bowl which looks like it's been decorated by a small child who hasn't yet mastered hand-to-eye coordination. Poor Chris will then have to pretend to like it. Ah, the price of friendship.

Second up, I went along to the Edinburgh Stitch 'n' Bitch last night, which is held in the surprisingly lovely Chai Teahouse. (I doubt the staff are quite as keen on me as I am on their venue, as I spent the whole evening ignoring their extensive menu and ordering cups of hot water. I briefly considered explaining the budget to them, but I doubt they'd have been particularly receptive.) Five minutes before leaving the house I realised that I didn't actually have anything to knit, so I grabbed a ball of yarn and thought I'd just churn out a mindless scarf. Unfortunately, none of my fellow knitters recognised it as a scarf, and I felt too embarrassed to press the point. Which is how, when one member came round taking notes on what we were knitting, and told me that if I made up any old thing he'd probably buy it, I found myself saying that it was a coat to keep my cat warm in the aftermath of her chemotherapy treatment. Only when I went on to say that the loss of hair had revealed her unfortunate youthful penchant for tattoos did doubt begin to set in.

What kind of person thinks a cat coat is a likelier knitting project than a scarf?

In budget-ier news, I've been taking part in a few PhD students' experiments to try and counteract the effects of last post's budgeting blip. They're not the world's greatest money makers - I've done four so far, and earned a grand total of £19 - but, as the Evil Conglomerate that is Tesco says, every little helps. Some are more interesting than others: a particular low involved saying "the" rapidly and repeatedly for an hour solid while attempting to memorize the colours and positions of various shapes. I doubt that Sony will be releasing a game along similar lines any time soon.

Next time, some more of the Christmas decorations - promise! I need to improve my number-of-finished-decorations-per-week record (currently standing at 0.75) if I don't want to be in danger of missing Christmas entirely...

Sunday, 8 July 2007

For some reason - possibly because I've been living under some sort of view-impairing rock for the last few weeks - I hadn't really realised that the Summer sales were in full swing. So when I set off for John Lewis this afternoon it was in all innocence. Honest. I certainly wasn't going to buy anything. Nope, straight through the doors, beeline for the haberdashery department, eyes on the floor all the way. Quick scan for informative purposes only, about turn, beetle towards the exit. In and out in five minutes. Ten minutes, tops.

Except to get to the haberdashery department, you have to go through the wool department (well, you do if you take a cunningly circuitous route which bypasses haberdashery entirely. Cough). And the thing is, there was quite a large wool sale on. Also, in getting to the wool sale, you couldn't really avoid passing a large display of heavily discounted scarves. And a table of knitting patterns reduced to one pence each (ninety-nine per cent off! Doesn't that have a nice ring to it?). Forty-five minutes later I emerged with a bulging bag and a beaming smile. In fact, only now has the full scale of my idiocy really hit home. It's the middle of July. I have just bought:

1) a vast quantity of alpaca
2) a pattern for a woolen jumper
3) a Winter scarf


I may have to work on my concept of seasonality.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Does it count as cheating if you do it in your sleep?

My subconscious seems to be rebelling against the budget, as last night I dreamt I was on a shopping spree in H & M (more perplexingly, I also dreamt that I was part of a group of woodlice mercenaries which enslaved a colony of ants, but maybe this isn't the place to go into that...). My conscious self has been a bit better behaved - all I've bought in the last few days has been toiletries (which don't count because they were purchased with my Advantage Card points - huzzah! After four years of saving I'd amassed enough for an extremely small travel miniature of shampoo. I feel Advantage Card points may be a bit long-term for my general budgeting needs) and dye. Dying clothes (and my hands, and the bath, and the stretch of floor between the bathroom door and the washing machine) is my latest obsession. The anticipation! The mounting excitement at seeing the garment transform before your eyes! The realisation that you've accidentally dyed your sexiest lingerie a particularly virulent shade of puce! It's got it all. I'm not convinced that anything involving large vats of chemicals which carry warning signs is a suitable activity for someone as accident-prone as me, but at least it's better than the time I decided to take up fencing.

Friday, 29 June 2007

Ooops, I did it again

Um...the Boden autumn range may have come out a little bit earlier than I expected. And it may have been accompanied by a "buy before common sense kicks in and get 20% off!" offer. Which there is a slight possibility that I succumbed to. It's conceivable that the item I ordered was, erm, a pair of brown leather knee boots. Which - hypothetically, of course - might have cost ever so slightly more than The Boots of Debt.

Possibly.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

You know you have too much spare time when taking pictures of yourself is a legitimate use of an afternoon

One of the side effects of this budget is that I often find myself attempting to make my own entertainment. This has two major things going for it: (1) it's free, and (2) it doesn't require me to leave the flat and brace the random assortment of hostile elements which constitute an Edinburgh summer. Unfortunately, however, I suck at entertaining myself. I am not, for a start, remotely entertaining. And I lack that only-child knack of revelling in one's own company. When left in my own company I...well, do diddly squat, really. But not today! No, today I instead decided to - prepare to be underwhelmed - investigate a question that's been troubling me for some time: why do I photograph so badly?

I am weirdly, almost laws-of-physics-defyingly, unphotogenic. I generally come out looking like a sort of cross between Stephen Hawking and Ruud van Nistelrooy, if you can imagine such a creature. My brother would doubtless argue that this is a fairly accurate representation, but I choose instead to believe that, by freak coincidence, all the cameras in the Western hemisphere suffer from some kind of me-defacing glitch. However, after an embarrassing number of abortive attempts (does anyone else have problems getting their head in a picture, or is that just me?) I think I've finally found a way to look halfway presentable in photos!

Before:

"Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I think I'll go and eat worms..."

After:

All the better to eat you with, my dear...

(I did only say "halfway" - you weren't expecting miracles, were you?) The trick is to smile manically. As in, literally manically. Open your eyes as wide as they can go and grin inanely, as though you were auditioning for the part of the Big Bad Wolf in a particularly cheesy musical adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood, to be performed to an audience comprised entirely of the partially sighted. It feels ridiculous, obviously, but somehow (humour me here) the resulting photo ends up as a subdued version of the caricature-like expression. Having said that, it has yet to be seen if this method actually works when the camera's being wielded by someone other than my left hand...

And in a belated attempt to keep this post relevant to the budget, this week's £10 is still intact! Though this may say more about my laziness (see plan not to leave flat for duration of twenty-first century) than my self-control.

Edit: Alas! According to Mike I've over-estimated the subduing effect, and still look crazed in the "After" photo. Oh well, back to the drawing board...

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Who'd have thought Glaswegians had such good skin?

Ooops, I didn't mean to leave it so long! I sort of assumed that I'd be churning out Christmas decorations and accompanying posts at a rattling pace throughout the week, but somehow that didn't quite happen, and since I last wrote I haven't made a single one. I have, however, made some money! (I do earn money in the normal course of things, honest. It's just that I only work one day a week, and while that might keep my head above water it doesn't really support my inner shopaholic in the luxury to which she wishes she were accustomed.) It was a one-off thing: carrying out a travel survey among out-patients at a Glasgow hospital. I was assigned to the dermatology department. Unfortunately (well, fortunately for them, I suppose) the people of Glasgow do not appear to suffer from dermatological conditions. By lunchtime I'd read two copies of Good Housekeeping, one Elle , two Spectators, all the health notices dotted around the walls, and interviewed a grand total of nine patients. If I tell you that the morning was positively heaving compared to the afternoon you'll get an idea of how slowly the remaining hours passed.

Still, I think £65 is a fair rate for my boredom, especially considering I'm often bored for hours at a time for no charge whatsoever. Plus, since returning The Boots of Debt I actually have £21 credit on my credit card! Which, obviously, I choose to interpret as £21 of free money. I knew I had a knack for this budgeting thing.

At the risk of undermining the triumphant note slightly, I should probably confess that not a penny remains of last week's £10. The final £3.17 went on plasters, water, those pesky library fines and getting my passport photocopied (photocopies of my passport seem to be in great demand this month; I wonder if this should worry me?). But this week's £10 is as yet untouched, and for once I don't already have a long list of necessities staking a claim to it. Hooray! I've decided on a couple of rules, though, to keep over-excited spending in check:

  • Rule #1: Thou shalt not buy any new clothes until the Boden Autumn catalogue is released (I reckon this'll be sometime in July, so it's not exactly a demanding test of long-term willpower, but fractionally better than nothing).
  • Rule #2: Thou shalt not buy fabric to make Summery clothes until we get a forecast of at least 20 degrees C. This, judging by recent weeks, could be an awfully long way off; possibly sometime in the mid 2050s when global warming's really kicked in.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

No, I haven't gone mad! (Well, maybe I have, but that's a subject for a whole other post.) Christmas has come early to a corner of my sitting room rug (OK, to the entire sitting room...and the bedroom...and most of the bits inbetween. I should probably hoover before Mike gets back), because I've decided that my wedding present for Su and Barry is going to be Christmas decorations! And yes, I know that they've been married for two weeks already, and that Christmas decorations are a somewhat unconventional gift for a June wedding, but hey, at least I don't have to worry that someone else has given them the same thing. (Besides, this is what you get for not having a wedding list! I used to despise the idea of wedding lists, but now I have decided that they are a Most Excellent Thing, saving your guests many hours of anxiety, and eliminating the possibility that one of them will have the bright idea to present you with homemade Christmas ornaments in midsummer.)


Ta-daaa! You can't really tell from the picture (must learn what all the funny buttons on my camera actually do), but they're padded and (this you almost certainly can't tell from the picture, unless you're lucky enough to be possessed of x-ray vision) each is stuffed with a few cloves so that they smell appropriately Christmassy. I'm planning on making about twenty in a range of different designs, but so far these three have eaten up £6.83 of this week's budget, so I might have to reign my artistic ambitions in a bit for the rest.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Budget 1, Spirits 0

My boots arrived today. They will henceforth be referred to as The Boots of Debt, as they're the purchase which plunged me sufficiently far into my overdraft that even £10 began to seem rather extravagant for a week's expenditure, representing as it did approximately 50% of my remaining available funds. Still, this didn't trouble me unduly - I mean, everyone needs a pair of brown leather knee boots, right? In fact, you could argue that they're a necessity. So it was in a decidedly cheery frame of mind that I unwrapped them, paying no heed to the unfeasibly large sum printed on the invoice which fluttered out of the box as I did so.

The only problem is, I don't actually like them.

They look innocuous enough. In fact, you can judge this for yourselves. Behold! (Erm, I'm not entirely sure where the picture's going to pop up, but doubtless it'll be somewhere in this general vicinity.) I would go so far as to say that seeing these pictures I'd fall for them all over again and order away, budget or no budget. But when you actually get them out of the box, they're strangely oversized. I don't mean that they're too big - the width is perfect, and believe it or not you actually give your calf measurement when you order, so that's spot on too - but there are a good two inches or so of shoe happily continuing long after my toes have come to an abrupt end. They are in fact a full four centimetres (sorry to mix metric and imperial so recklessly; comes of being British) longer than even my pointiest-toed shoes, and make my legs and feet look rather like enormous right angled set-squares. While certainly interesting, this is not the look I was hoping for.

And so, I suppose, I'll send them back, and my critically-wounded credit card will give a sigh of relief. My feet, however, will sulk.

Monday, 11 June 2007

Budgeting isn't quite as fun when you've spent all your budget

As you've possibly guessed from the rather unequivocal title, the ten pound note and I went on a little excursion at the weekend and only one of us came back. He fought bravely, but was no match for my steely determination to buy a 75 pence carton of pineapple juice (harsh, I know, but the greater good - ie the need for punch to take to Lucy's - was at stake). I was just as merciless over the 89 pence orange juice, and downright pitiless when it came to the 55 pence loaf of bread. (Some might argue that, strictly speaking, bread isn't an essential ingredient in punch. But - hurrah! - none of those people are here. Plus I have decided to justify the wanton extravagance of the bread by the happy coincidence that it cost more or less the exact amount I found in my wallet the other day, which was sort of exempt from the budget anyway. This must be the kind of cunning rationalising that government departments have to do all the time.)

The poor ten pounds' trial wasn't over, however - their scattered remains still had the Edinburgh Treefest to contend with. To the uninitiated a treefest might sound like the kind of place where your wallet was fairly safe from assault, but to the true shopaholic there are self-bankrupting opportunities to be found in the unlikeliest of places. In this case, I came home proudly bearing a piece of spalted beech and another of burr elm. Although I am slightly less proud now that I've discovered that "spalted" means "suffering from fungal disease". Still, at least I've ticked another box (Mike's dad's birthday present - what man doesn't love diseased wood?) off my list. And if I went ever so slightly over budget in the process, then, erm...I'm sure I'll have thought up an excellent excuse for it by tomorrow.

Friday, 8 June 2007

OK, I know I'm updating too often to maintain any semblance of cool...

The ten pound note survived its trip to the library and lives to be squandered another day! Although only because the librarian had locked the till and was ill-equipped to deal with my ninety pence fine. Plus I found fifty-two pence in my wallet, so my running total has actually risen! I'm beginning to suspect I am some sort of financial genius.

Disaster looms!

Oh no, I've just discovered a loophole - I can still buy stuff from Amazon and ebay! Damned automatic payment systems...Can you ban yourself from sites? Maybe I could create fake ebay accounts and leave terrible feedback for myself so no-one will ever sell to me again? (Over-reacting? Me?)

And she's off!

Hooray, I'm a cybergeek again! Although I rather sullied my geek credentials by accidentally posting a blank message. Still, as my readership consists of one, and as his attention span is sufficiently short that he may have switched off a couple of sentences ago, my image might have survived untarnished.

Anyway, onto the budget! It doesn't actually feel like one yet, as the novelty of having a ten pound note has yet to wear off (though I might iron it, to make it look more crisp and alluring). I have a feeling it won't survive intact for long, though. Vying for its attention are:

* my library fines
* postage for my Dad's birthday present
* buying Mike's dad's birthday present (shoot, I'd forgotten about that! Do you think that's allowed to be an exception? What sort of wood could I get for £5? Maybe some kind of twig?)
* some sort of drink to take round to Lucy and Martin's tomorrow
* a new uni card (though considering that me extending my studies has garnered the university £1,200 in extra fees, you'd think they could throw in an extension on my card for free)
* wedding present for Su and Barry
* new face cream
* thread, for my latest living-room-takeover crafting
* flowerpots for my ever-expanding herb collection

Just think how much tougher it's going to be when the summer sales start...