Information Age

 

I’ve spent a very frustrating week sorting out car woes – last weekend I was meant to be heading off up to Lancashire to stay with my best friends for a few days – something I’ve not been able to do for a few years for various reasons. I set off on Friday full of excitement and got an hour into the journey before our elderly car broke down on a fast busy dual carriageway. The next 6 hours or so were exhausting, frustrating, cold, tiring, educational and ultimately incredibly disappointing as the car proved unfixable after breaking down a second time. I got recovered by an AA lorry late in the evening and finally got back to my home some 8 hours after I’d left. I was bitterly disappointed at having to cancel a much looked forward to trip but I also reminded myself that I was very fortunate to break down where I did – both times, although it didn’t feel like it the second time (on a roundabout!!) and above all that I had a mobile phone which mean that with within seconds of jumping clear of my car I was able to contact the AA and get help and be rescued quickly from a very scary situation. Over the course of the hours it took for things to be sorted, my mobile earned it’s keep as I contacted not just emergency services but also my friends to let them know I wasn’t coming, my mum to break the bad news to her that our car was very poorly and that I was coming back home and for the times when I was sat in the dark feeling very lonely and a bit scared waiting for help, I was able to text a couple of friends to chat and keep spirits up.

We’ve had mobile phones so long now that we take the ability to contact others at a moments notice for granted – even getting annoyed at the fact we’re accessible 24/7 sometimes. I did find myself thinking how lucky we are to have them though – my experiences last week would have been so much more frightening as a woman out alone on a fast road if I hadn’t had a quick means of contacting the people I needed to. I also take it for granted that I can email my friends and family for free in seconds as I did with my oldest brother this week as he was travelling around various Asian countries and I needed to get hold of him urgently. I also earn some of my income from my online etsy shop. All of this was unthinkable to me 15 years ago (I came fairly late to technology!); now the idea of living without them is equally unthinkable.

At the beginning of September I spent a few days away in London taking some time off from country life and experiencing very different things – they say a change is a good as a rest! I did mean to blog about some of it but I’ve been busy catching up ever since as well as not being very well and it didn’t happen. However I had a lovely time; I visited galleries and museums, ate different food and walked around city streets looking at buildings and architecture (something I always enjoy doing when going to cities) as well as having interesting conversation with strangers – I love meeting new people and finding out about their lives, you have such fascinating conversations when you travel alone.

My middle brother lives in London and I had thought he was away the week that I was there so didn’t tell him I was there. My youngest brother however knew that I was there and also happened to speak to our middle brother and found out that his trip had been cut short and was back home and told him I was also in London so it was a lovely surprise to get a phone call from him towards the end of my trip and we arranged to meet for lunch on my last day before I caught the train back to Wales. My plans involved going to the V&A museum on that day but I’d been struggling with a chest infection the whole week and I woke on the last morning feeling really quite ill and not terribly interested in anything much. I did struggle with my luggage on the Tube to South Kensington and deposit it the holding facilities at the V&A and that effort pretty much wiped me out.

I’d hoped to see the Raphael Cartoons, not just as a textile artist and amateur weaver but also because my brother is a designer and his design studio BarberOsgerby had designed a temporary installation for BMW called Double Space in the room the cartoons are in which wasn’t due to open for another week. Sadly I wasn’t able to blag my way in to visit as I was on my own and it was being installed when I was there so the room was closed to the public (I did try!!) so instead I headed off on a hunt to find some other pieces of Ed’s and his design partner Jay’s work which are in the permanent collections at the V&A. Most are in store but I did manage to find the Loop Table after a good deal of hunting and take a not very exciting photo…

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I don’t have a Loop Table but I do have the Loop shelf which has been a CD rack in my bedroom for 15 years!

I did wander half heartedly around the textiles I could find on public display but apparently quite a few have been archived to protect them from damage by light which whilst understandable was a bit disappointing and you have to make an appointment to visit. I felt really quite wobbly and not in the mood for anything too heavy so after a while I headed across the road to the Natural History Museum. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this – I last visited when I was a 12 year old with my father who died last year. It did feel strange being there and remembering the last visit with mixed feelings but although the basic exhibits are the same, enough was different there now more than 20 years later to stop me from feeling too upset and after a ruinously expensive and not very nice cup of coffee and dried out brownie (some things haven’t changed apparently!!) to make up for not being able to eat breakfast I wandered around and took some photos.

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I was particularly entranced by the fabulous building itself which was something I’d not really noticed as a child fixated only on dinosaurs and animals – it really is an exquisitely beautiful piece of architecture and I spent some time gazing up at the fabulous ceiling panelled with depictions of plants and their latin names and amused myself by looking for ones I recognised like

Tea…

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Coffee…

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Cotton…

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…amongst others! My little compact camera really struggled with the light and focussing so the rest didn’t come out very well at all – I looked in the shop to see if I could find any images for sale of these but sadly it’s all predictable tourist tat aimed at children desperate to rid themselves of pocket money. I’d have loved some postcards with these on… hint hint….

I went outside and sat on a bench on Exhibition Road in the breeze and tried to cool off – I think I was running a temperature by then – and waited for my brother as arranged. He’d text me earlier to mysteriously ask me my shoe size. I was a bit flummoxed by this and he didn’t enlighten me as to why he needed to know but when he pitched up he said he had a bit of a treat for me; we were going to the Science Museum! By that point having dragged my pathetically sniffing person around two museums in one morning I wasn’t sure how much of a treat this was going to be but I was so wrong. His other design business Universal Design Studio was doing the new huge exhibition Information Age in the Science Museum and he was making a site visit to check on progress with his project manager and had arranged to take me along too as I was around and he knew I’d be interested. Because it was still a construction site at the beginning of September we had to be kitted out with high viz jackets and safety boots – hence the text to find out my shoe size! Once we’d been booked in and had our official stickers applied to our chests and been met by Ed’s design project manager Nick we headed off up to the exhibition for Ed to do boss-type stuff and check progress and for me to just be generally nosy! At that stage they were just starting to move some of the exhibits into place so I got to see some really interesting things albeit draped in sheeting and parcel tape in places! Taking centre place was the massive Rugby Radio Coil and we unpeeled some of the tape and lifted the edge of the plastic sheeting and crept under to have a wee peek at this awesome piece of communication technology – it’s 6m high and is a very striking object visually as well as what it represents in terms of the history of technology.

Some of the exhibits were put together from various places in the Design Museum, others had been bought in for it. Needless to say I didn’t take any pictures; at that point it was still very much “under wraps” and whilst some of the exhibition was available to view as artists impressions on the internet, other parts were secret and waiting for the Exhibition Opening to be revealed so I figured it was safer just not to talk about anything rather than land myself or anyone else in hot water!! If you click on the links I’ve inserted into the text though you can see some of what’s on display.

In terms of architectural space it was very much my cup of tea – the sweeping open spaces and galleried walkways and use of glass and clean lines are right up my alley although my tastes are general more traditional than my brother’s cutting edge modernity. I loved walking around the gallery and looking down on the main floor area as well as getting a closer look at the exhibits hanging from the ceiling such as the partially built satellite (which sounded terrifyingly expensive!!) and other models. Despite really not being bright eyed and bushy tailed and also being something of a technophobe and largely ignorant of anything to do with communications, I found it all fascinating and seeing it in a partially constructed state made it even more interesting to me – I’ve spent the past 5 years designing and building my own home so I find the construction of buildings and spaces even more interesting now and especially how those spaces work around us and how they affect our feelings and behaviours. This exhibition is divided into six areas, each one devoted to a different subject: Cable, Telephone, Broadcast, Constellation, Cell and Web and I loved the way the exhibition space flows around these.

Information Age was opened last night by her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh (the Queen even tweeted her first tweet – the first reigning monarch to do so apparently!! HM is doing better than Twitter-phobe me then… ;0) It’s open to the public from today and if you’re in London or are planning on visiting then do go and check out this free exhibition – even I found it completely fascinating and it will be a geeks paradise for those who really do have a passion for science and technology. I think my favourites were the cell mast from ? Mexico ? (I think) that’s disguised to look like a cactus – looking like something straight from The Dandy and Desperate Dan! And the completely cheesy Snoopy telephone which I caught my brother taking a sneaky photo of… ;0)

I suspect I will remain largely ignorant of technology and communications – they change and develop so fast that it’s as much as I can do to keep up with what the latest things are called, no hope of understand how they work! But although Imight choose to spend my days surrounded by the low tech, the hand made and the natural world, I’m grateful for those who do work with communications – and mean that people like me can make a quick phone call in emergencies or keep in touch with loved ones at the click of a button. I’m looking forward to going back and seeing the whole exhibition at some point soon when I can next get back to London. Just as long as I don’t break down on the way…

An apple a day…

You might remember back in March we had a small debacle involving our orchard, my sheep and some not very stock proof fencing. Whilst we won’t really know for another season or so how well the fruit trees coped with being stripped naked by a swarm of hungry sheep with a sudden attack of the munchies and if the bridge grafting Tom performed has really saved their lives, it was nonetheless heartening to see apples in our orchard this year along with, for the first time, pears and plums (although we only had the princely sum of one quince from our two quince trees). Apples tend to fruit biennially and last year was a good year for a lot of the varieties we have so we weren’t expecting them to crop so heavily this year anyway. I believe you can encourage then to crop more steadily each year by doing more vigorous thinning of the baby fruits back in the summer but that’s a job too many given we only have the apples for our own use and pleasure – in a proper orchard the trees would be managed far more efficiently than we can. But then in a proper orchard sheep wouldn’t feature within a mile of the trees either…

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So all in all, a very respectable showing, well done trees, pat yourselves on the backs, thank you very muchly. I should have taken a picture of the trees a couple of weeks ago when the apples were all still on the trees but my mum has already been quite busy picking and packing away on some of the earlier varieties and the wind has brought down some of the earlies too which have been hoovered up by the geese and various other wild critters out there. I do love a crisp, juicy flavoursome apple – and boy do they have different flavours – and it’s nice to know that the skins are bursting with goodness and have no pesticides soaked into them. The skin is the best bit I think! True you do have to watch out for the odd bug still clinging to it but on the whole I’d rather accidentally ingest one of those than the chemicals commercial fruit orchards get doused with :0)

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We pick them carefully and store them in old mushroom crates lined with newspaper and label the varieties and when they’re ready to eat. Some are ready as soon as you pick them and go over very fast, others taste sour or are too hard when you pick them but after  month or two in store develop their flavour and juiciness. This means we can have tasty eating and cooking apples all winter usually. The windfalls and damaged/bird pecked fruits get added to the pile in the wheelbarrow and buckets to be crushed and pressed to make the apple juice we freeze for drinking over the next few months. You can make cider or wine from the juice too which is the natural way of preserving the juice but we don’t drink much alcohol apart from special occasions and I’m not that talented at home brewing although I have done this in the past with varied result; sometimes it’s wonderful and sometimes terrible and I’d rather just have plain delicious pure juice than risk my turning it into something that would double as disinfectant for sanitising the bathroom and unblocking the drains…

Eating apples don’t always make great juice – the balance of sugars and acid can be too much in favour of the sugar and make a sweet, bland juice. Cookers on the other hand are usually too sharp to eat raw (although this has never stopped me – but then my brothers and I used to like eating raw lemons as kids partly as a dare and partly just because we liked them). But crushed and juiced the acid and sugars balance out to make lovely tart refreshing juice and you can mix the blander sweeter juices with the sharp ones to make some really beautiful blends. So we have a mixture of trees, this is an Adam’s Pearmain which has such pretty little apples on it – like picture book apples or little hearts

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and cookers like Golden Noble, Bramley’s Seedling and this one which is my mum’s and my favourite Annie Elizabeth

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How can you not love a tree which churns out monster sized apples like this?!

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And they taste beautiful too. Poor old Annie suffered very badly in the sheep attack so we’ll probably take cuttings from her and graft the scions onto new rootstocks as an insurance policy in case the shock proves too much for her and she doesn’t survive the next year or so.

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The branches were drooping to the ground and are so large that they needed two old bread trays to take them all.

Apart from Adam’s Pearmain, all the trees fruits are now safely stored away in the root cellar I built 10 years ago – one day I will build a proper Orchard House in the orchard itself using the same straw bale construction as my own home as this should provide the ideal conditions for storing apples for months over the winter. For now they have to share a home with stored potatoes and other roots which is less than ideal as they need different conditions and you’re not really meant to store them in the same place. However needs must and we do have plenty of these…

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…so if a few over ripen and go to waste then it’s no great loss – they will just get fed to our very appreciative Large Black pig Petunia, apples are one of her very favourite things to eat and she really doesn’t mind the soft bits!

Other animals who like the apples are our geese that graze in the orchard. Unfortunately this means they get to the windfalls before we do and peck them quite badly but it’s all food for them and we have enough for out use anyway. Here they’re taking a nap after feasting on juicy apples – I think it’s made them quite sleepy! They do help to keep the grass down being grazing birds – there aren’t enough of them to do this completely so we do have to trim the orchard too (as clearly trimming it with sheep is a veeeeeery bad idea!!!) so perhaps a few crunchy apples is fair wages for this!

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I think I’ll have to make some Dorset Apple Cake later which is my favourite apple pudding, especially with a dollop of Greek Yoghurt on top and drizzled with honey from our hives! mmmmmm :0)

Build a Batt Box – October – “Ruska’

Well the months roll round so fast don’t they. And here we are in Autumn and the leaves are turning and starting to drift to the ground. The quality of light at this time of year is golden and warm and to me it almost has a audible quality unlike the still watery pale light of the Spring Equinox at the opposite end of the year and seasons. So it’s unsurprising that I’ve chosen these inspirations for my October Build a Batt Box

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Autumn as I’ve mentioned before is my very favourite time of year. I feel as though the earth is winding down gradually towards the calmness and rest of winter without that season’s bleakness and deathlike embrace. I love watching the leaves float down like a more friendly grown up version of snow falling and it’s just as much fun to go walking through the leaves on the woodland floor as it is to kick up powder snow some months later. The smells of decaying leaf and bark, the fresh spicy damp scents of heavy dews after a chilly night and the drifting smokiness of bonfires and newly lit wood stoves trickling out of cottage chimneys and the rich sharpness of the last fruits from the garden and hedgerow make an all round sensory experience that would almost be too much if it wasn’t also so soothing and kind.

So I thought it might be fun to add another layer to this month’s Batt Box post – I can’t give you scents of bonfires and leaf mould on here (although you could always try these delicious natural perfumes I’ve recently “sniffed out” on Etsy – I ordered tiny samples of Winter Kitty, London Fog and November and they are all delicious! Especially pleasing as I can’t wear regular synthetic perfumes). I’ve decided to embed some seasonally inspiring music videos on here (and hope that they work!!) as well as the photos I’ve taken to show where my colours came from.

Autumn leaf colour is something people across the planet in temperate climates appreciate. Here our own British deciduous woodlands put on a long show over September and October and often reaching well into November before all the leaves are down and battered into the soil or tarmac by autumn storms, tyres and pressing feet and make walks around parks and countryside such a treat for at least a couple of months. I understand (but have yet to experience myself) the glorious intensity of Fall colour on the east coasts of America and Canada where there’s actually something of a tourist industry for “leaf peeping” as it’s called. One day I’d love to track this colour down the coast. When I’m rich maybe. Ha!…

In Japan I believe they do something similar – called Momijigari – and who could blame them when the beauty of Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum) are so spectacular when they start to change colour? I took these photos in the Japanese Garden at Tatton Park some 5 years ago when I visited with my best friend Kate and her husband and baby daughter. This was back when I used my 35mm SLR and the film was ancient sadly so the colours once developed were distorted. But I’ve ‘shopped them a bit to restore some of the depth and it’s made them more atmospheric if less life like. I’d love to go back soon – armed with a decent camera!

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But the title for this month’s box is “Ruska” which is the Finnish word for Autumn Leaf colour. Again, this is somewhere I would love to visit and I think even to an English speaker the word Ruska is a descriptive sound for the warm gingery russet colours of the leaves and foliage.

At times I can be a sad soul and melancholy songs tend to be my favourite and one of these is the much recorded and covered “Autumn Leaves”. There are several cracking versions out there and in the past I’ve also arranged it myself for singing a cappella and also with guitar or piano (and before you start to worry, none of these involve me singing or playing anything!!!! ;0) Look for the versions by Diana Krall or Eric Clapton for different styles. My very favourite version however is the stunning one by Eva Cassidy.

When I was teenager, my best friend and I used to meet up most days after school to play music together – we both played the piano, she played the clarinet and I the flute and we both used to sing. In the colder weather we’d make hot chocolate and park ourselves by the Aga in our kitchen and discuss our favourite pieces of music – being of Generation X back in the low tech days when you still made mix tapes for friends or the significant person you quite liked… we used to make tapes of “Nice Bits” which were sometimes really quite short extracts out of favourites songs and pieces of music and these were eclectic in the extreme!! I think I’ve still got one of these somewhere that she made for me – including Nina Simone, a chunk from the Bach Double Violin Concerto, various piano pieces mostly our adored Rachmaninov, Chopin and Liszt, songs from Cats, Miss Saigon, and Phantom, a few hits from REM, U2 and excerpts of film soundtracks. One of our favourite pieces about that time was the piano piece Automne by Cecile Chaminade and I think we were equally charmed by the fact she was that all to rare thing – a female composer – as well as the tempestuous showy runs up and down the keyboard in the middle section which we attempted endlessly and hopelessly (probably to the dismay of our families).

And for something very different here is a piece actually called Ruska by the Finnish metal cello band Apocalyptica.

So back to the Batt Box!!! This month’s colours are all about rusts and blood orange with hits of red and burgundy and gold and green tying it back to it’s leafy origins.

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Merino in 5 shades

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Silk noil in citrus shades of tangerine, lemon and lime, natural soy silk, orange bamboo, peachy silk brick and copper firestar.

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We’ve moved back to Gotland this month – marmalade curls – and copper beech shades of alpaca but for something different instead of BFL I’ve chosen Shetland direct from Shetland Wool Brokers in the Shetland Isles dyed in shades of moss and lichen. Very bouncy and soft even if not quite as fine as BFL. And perfect because in October it’s Shetland Wool Week :0)

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And a super squooshy soft batt “Bonfire” created from merino, damson silk, natural brown Finnish wool (Ruska remember? It had to be Finnish this month!) and natural brown alpaca I’ve prepped from local baby alpaca fleece grown just 3 miles from my home. There are also flashes of forest green Angelina to represent the sparks from the bonfire which you can’t really see that well in this photo.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this multi media blog post – I’ll leave you with some more photos I took over this past week whilst walking in the lanes around my home here in Wales. Hopefully they’ll give you some ideas for batt making and spinning wonderful autumnal yarns! Don’t forget to post pictures in my Ravelry group if you do – I’d love to see what you make!

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