Wintery Friday Fun

(I started writing this on Thursday night, intending to finish it on Friday for its usual publication – but life got in the way and given as the Olympics ended on Sunday, I figured there was a need to publish this soon rather than later!)

The Winter Olympics are nearing their inevitable conclusion, but it’s not too late to have some fun with them…

For starters, obviously the best part of any winter games is watching the ice skating. (This is apparently not a universal opinion, but this blog sticks with my opinion.) You can derive further pleasure by browsing this awesome collection of ‘Faces of Olympic Figure Skating’.

Faces of Olympic SkatingI imagine that’s pretty much the face I’d make in that context too.

The same site also brings us ‘Olympic skiers photoshopped onto toilets’, which is exactly what the name suggests.


If you have some spare time on your hands and some suitable craft materials lying around, you may want to engage in a Winter Olympics themed activity. My sister discovered this clothespin skier craft while preparing for our circle of friends’ day of fun last Wednesday – but as she had pipe cleaners, not clothes pegs, to hand, we used those instead. No, this is not a typical afternoon activity for a group of women aged 30ish, but it was raining outside and we had a surprising amount of fun. Honest. [We also considered doing skeleton bob races on the stairs, using trays, but decided against it in the end.]

Pipe Cleaner SkiersNot too shabby. Mine is the one with the helmet & red skies – a Tonga skier, to join the Tongan luger.

Talking of ice, have you seen “the best Disney movie since the Little Mermaid” [Mark Kermode] aka Frozen? I actually haven’t, because I’ve been spending money I might have spent on stupidly pricey London cinema seats on only marginally pricier West End theatre tickets. But, thanks to enthusiastic friends, I do know its Oscar nominated best song, Let It Go, very well – sung by star of the West End and Broadway, Idina Menzel. [Who I once met on one of my geekiest musical theatre days…] This song has gone down very well with a lot of people – not just Oscar judges – resulting in myriad versions appearing online. But there is a stand-out favourite as far as I’m concerned, in which one woman sings it in the voices of several divas:

Finally, in Cumberbatch Corner, is something that has nothing to do with winter, other than it’s the season in which awards season takes place. Awards season, as far as men are concerned, means suits – and we all know that a good suit on a good man is an excellent thing. Thus, my offering this week is Buzzfeed’s ’18 Times Benedict Cumberbatch Looked Like an Absolute GOD in a suit’. Leaving aside the obvious idolatry issue, it is worth a browse if you’re a Cumberbatch fan, and can’t get enough of Cumberbatch GIFs…

Sherlock Bow Tie

Hooked on a feeling

Ten days ago, I finally got the chance to have crochet lesson number two and discovered that my brain had retained a surprising amount of stitching knowledge – a length of chain stitch was quickly accomplished and it was straight on to some single stitching. By church time an hour later I had a semi-decent piece of work and the generous gift of wool and a hook for a week in order to practice. 

Where I’d got to at the end of lesson two and the progress by the time I got home – note how much better the stitching is at the top than at the bottom. 

Practice is what I did – almost straight away. It was as though my fingers couldn’t bear to be without something to do. Nervously, I reached for the wool as the sermon began and hooked away throughout it. [I was paying attention and ensured that I looked up from time to time and laughed at the jokes.] Out it came again after dinner and in the pub and on the tube home, I was totally erm…hooked.

The next day it continued. While in the pub the night before I’d started my first ‘project’ – a headband – and this proved to be addictive. Out it came on my morning commute; over lunch at my desk [an excellent method of indicating “do not disturb me, I am not currently working and am taking my lunch break”]; and on my way home. It was at some point that afternoon or evening that I had something of a crochet epiphany: I worked out that the flat bit on the hook was for measuring your stitches (i.e. that a 4.0mm hook creates stitches of 4.0mm). With this discovery, I started my project over and found myself truly crocheting with confidence.

Maybe it was because I was slightly on edge last week, but I could not get enough time spent lost in hooking. The weather became miraculously beautiful and for two lunch times I sat in a sunny church yard stitching with a passion, setting an alarm so that I made it back to work in time. The passion was cemented when I made a trip to John Lewis’ haberdashery department to buy my own hook and some more wool. [Crafty tip: if you don’t need a specific type of wool for a project, check out their bargain bucket – I found some gorgeous multi-coloured balls.]

Over the last week I’ve discovered a few things about crochet (and its sister, knitting)…

  • It’s immensely therapeutic and can quickly become an addiction. (Or is this just because I have something of an addictive personality?) 
  • Doing it on public transport creates something of a sensation – people will stare at you, but it’s not because they thing you’re odd, it’s because they’re entranced by the movement of your fingers. 
  • It does strange things to people – a colleague confessed that she now takes a slightly longer commute purely so that she has more chance of a seat and a longer continuous chunk of time in which to get on with her knitting. (The same colleague apparently also likes to hang out in Soho’s bars knitting hats and making conversation with drunk people – whatever floats your boat, I guess.) 
  • The oddest people have, at some point in their past, stitched with wool. 
  • Carrying my wool in the (bright pink) bag I was given at the Olympia Horse of the Year show adds somewhat to the air of eccentricity this hobby gives me.

We’re now looking into organising a stitch & bitch group at work (I’d always been very good at the bitching element, but ‘bitching sessions’ are generally frowned upon) and I have – as of Monday morning – completed my first project. Voila: 

Well, it had to be seen in context, didn’t it?

The finishing off was a little amateur as I improvised, not actually knowing how to do it, but I’m pleased with the results. Now I can’t wait to learn a few more stitches so I can make something even more useful – like a tea-cosy for my mother. I know for a fact that she can’t wait to get some piece of crocheted tat from her darling daughter…

Now do excuse me, I’m currently in the quaint town (ok, city – there’s a cathedral) of Ely and yesterday I discovered a super-cheap wool stall, so I’m off to make some purchases. 

Spending Sunday evening in stitches

For some time now, I’ve been rather in awe of a church friend’s crochet skills. During sermons I’d watch her hooking away (in a similar nature to the girl I once used to observe knitting) and was stunned at how quickly she could produce something rather decent – like a tea-cosy:

Battenburg Tea Cosy (Photo: J. North)

Chatting in the pub after church, while the crochet expert continued her work, she proposed organising classes on Sundays so that wannabe hookers [I’m thinking that probably isn’t the correct term for a practitioner of crochet, but I rather like it] could have a go. This Sunday a message popped up on Facebook indicating that wool & hooks would be available in the pub pre-church, so I decided to head over and have a go.
I’m not particularly wool-proficient. I can’t knit – mainly because my Mum’s left-handed so couldn’t pass the skill on to her daughters. However, I ought to have learned crochet in my youth as my Dad was, during his hippy phase, quite the hooker [I’m now seeing why this might be a problematic term to use…] and even crocheted a few blankets for me when I was small. 
[Tangent: My Dad has become a devoted reader of my blog, meaning that I now have fewer stories to tell during our phone calls. I’d like to think he could possibly weigh-in on this post and share with the world how he came to learn crochet, because for the life of me I can’t remember how it happened – if I’ve ever known it. I’m guessing it’s probably a skill picked up during his long convalescence after breaking his leg falling off a cliff…
Anyway, so yesterday evening saw me with a ball of red wool in my lap, a hook in my right hand and an arrangement of wool in my left hand. I learnt a basic chain stitch to begin with and then moved on to more complicated things. Chain stitch wasn’t so tricky – in fact, after 15 minutes I was teaching Mr Jackson how to do it after he stumbled upon the crochet gathering – but I made my chain too tight, which made the next stage rather more complicated. But after an hour of learning I was fairly addicted and loath to put away the supplies in order to get to church in time. 
The best thing about the crochet lesson was the way in which people were drawn into the activity – friends and strangers alike. In fact at one point the pub’s landlord appeared and seemed bemused that a space that had hosted rowdy rugby fans just a couple of hours earlier now contained a book club and what looked like a young Women’s Institute (albeit including two men). 
My attempt at chain stitch and Mr Jackson looking particularly special with his hook & pink wool (to match his shirt). 
Quite honestly, I’m almost on the verge of buying my own hook and some wool so I can get some serious crochet time in while on holiday next week. It’s been ages since I learnt a new craft (not since needle felting a year ago) and I like things that keep my hands busy while I watch TV. Plus, I’d quite like to make one of these: 
Crocheted hairband, as modelled by the crochet teacher. (Photo: J. North)

PS: Having stumbled upon ‘hooker’ as a term for a person engaged in the activity of crochet, it seems the crochet club may become known as ‘The Hookers’. Joyous – now that’s a club to include on one’s CV… 

Tape – of a double sided and sticky variety

There’s something terribly exciting about double sided sticky tape.

It’s possibly owing to its novelty factor – I’m guessing that I’m not alone in growing up in a household in which it didn’t feature as a stationary staple? But also probably owing to its Blue Peter craft project infamy – it featured in so many projects and seemed to be so vastly superior to regular sellotape…

It was an exciting day when I was first presented a role and ordered to spend a couple of hours playing with it – not least because I was being paid for the pleasure. My bookselling days had islands of creative display crafting moments in the midst of a sea of ringing tills and re-stocking the shelves, and I lived for quiet afternoons when I could get on with a project and use as much double sided tape as I could lay my hands on.

This week has had its craft frustrations. Last week’s Office Christmas Tree Project took a bit of a tumble on Wednesday, so I had to rebuild it on Thursday – an edict was issued to colleagues forbidding touching or moving, was that a little full-on?

But yesterday’s crafting brought joy to my soul. After a Christmas shopping expedition, I spent a few hours at church assisting with the rather massive mission to decorate the building ready for Sunday’s carol service extravaganza – it’s so massive a mission that this was the third day running that people had been working on it. From the moment I arrived and was handed a roll of double sided tape, I knew I’d come home.

It seems my crafting sensibilities amuse those who are simply there to perform tasks. Paired with a worship leader (whose idea of moving lights using a microphone stand in a kind of piñata style, rather than just climbing a ladder and using his hands is perhaps indicative of the commitment he had to the project) to decorate tables with tinsel, my suggestion that we use double sided tape so as not to ‘disturb’ the tinsel was greeted with hoots of laughter. But really, would you want the tinsel to look disturbed by putting tape over the top of it?!

I’m easily pleased – someone could buy me a roll of double sided tape for Christmas and I’d be happy. In fact, my mother’s gift of A5 Post-It notes last birthday was easily one of my favourites (I’m saving them for something important). Sometimes, my specialness concerns me…

Oh Christmas twigs, oh Christmas twigs…

Remember my foraging adventure? Well, I am now able to explain its purpose in full, technicolour glory…

I have a big mouth and a tendency towards sarcasm – the combination of these two things often lands me in trouble, especially at work. Add to the mix a propensity for sporadic creative ideas and it results in my occasionally finding myself in odd situations.

A classic recent example would be a conversation I had with our administrator about our cluster’s Christmas Tree. For the last two years we’ve had a real one, which though nice and smelly, I’ve seen as just a little pointless – especially as someone who finishes work as early as possible before the festivities owing to travelling obligations. I shared this thought and then (flippantly) remarked that “a bucket full of twigs would be just as good  to hang decorations on”. Fast forward to our next cluster meeting and under agenda item ‘Christmas Tree’, the administrator said that she wasn’t bothered about a real tree, but really liked the sound of the twigs. The cluster then decided that I should be given the task of creating such an installation and that I should spend Thursday lunchtime foraging for suitable bits of tree.

To be fair, this idea has been in the back of my mind for some years – I just don’t live near enough a decent source of twigs to make it possible at home. But I do have a track record of coming up with ridiculous creative ideas in the middle of meetings, that then land me with a whole heap of unexpected work. Like the time I suggested a ‘mugshots’ photography project in order to identify which colleague owned which mug and how they liked their beverages served – I never actually completed it and it still gets brought up from time to time (much to my annoyance).

Thus, I found myself facing the prospect of foraging under a foot of snow for twigs on one of the coldest days of the year. (C was also meant to be helping with the project, but he declined to join me, citing the bad weather as his excuse – hmph.) After initial sceptism that I’d find enough of the right type of twig, I ended up with a huge armful, including some that could be better termed as branches – and over 4 feet long. This is me, half-way through my collection, but gives you an idea of what I looked like crossing one of London’s busiest roads on my way back to the office:

This is what I ended up with:

That’s practically half a tree! Thankfully, the colleagues were impressed.

Left to dry overnight, Friday’s lunch time project was to assemble the other necessary ingredients – silver spray paint, oasis (in which to arrange the branches within the bucket) and silver paper to decorate the bucket – and then get on with the creative process.

Step 1 was to spray the twigs. It would have worked if I’d left them au naturel, but who doesn’t want a bit of extra Christmas sparkle? One can of paint was just about enough – possibly would have been fine if I’d been less over-enthusiastic with the first few.

That second photo’s from after the newspaper was cleared away.
 I possibly could’ve done with more newspaper – oops. Still, nice for the back stairs to shine…

Step 2 was to prepare the bucket – firstly covering it in silver wrapping paper (to disguise the fact that it was a generic under the desk bin) and then making it ready for the sticks. It needed weight to stabilise it (I found a couple of old Minutes that finally came in handy), some plastic bags for added height, a plate for the oasis to rest on and finally the insertion of the oasis. 

Finally, it was time to arrange the twigs and then to decorate it. Somehow I ended up without photos of the pre-decoration phase, but you get the idea…

Who says you need an expensive tree to make things feel Christmassy?