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The Month of May

May begins the summer season here, but I’m still trying to process that June is next week, and after that we’ll be nearer to next Christmas than the last one. How did that happen? Time just seems to be whizzing past, but I do have one item of good news: I’ve been selected as a finalist in the Beau Monde Royal Ascot contest for the second time. It’s such a surprise, but I am pleased and feel a sense of encouragement that has perhaps eluded me for a little while.

In other news I’ve attended an RNA lunch in Edinburgh and booked for the RNA Conference at Harper Adams University in July. I’ve also booked my train ticket, which was about half the cost of the Conference! I do enjoy train journeys, though; the only civilised way to travel. I can get my books and papers out and be distracted by the passing scenery. Harper Adams is a lovely venue – I was there before in 2014 and enjoyed it very much. It’s an agricultural college so there were surreal moments such as walking to a lecture on romance writing and passing a sign saying ‘Pig Unit’.

This month’s charity knitting is some 8 inch squares for Knit for Peace. The Big Woolly Weekend is being organised by Bergere de France, a French yarn company, and they’re asking for knitted squares. The idea is that these will make bunting for the Jo Cox Foundation, which is organising street parties in June, and then be turned into blankets by Knit for Peace. I don’t imagine I’ll be able to make a very long length of bunting, but anything I – or anyone – can do, will be a help. And it’s good to feel I’m doing something positive.

April’s charity knit

These were sent off earlier this month; two 12 inch knitted squares. A charity called Woolly Hugs makes them into blankets for children from Chernobyl, who come to the UK for a holiday over the summer months. Besides enjoying some fun by the beach, a stay here can improve their immunity against childhood cancers, which run at around 75% in the area surrounding Chernobyl. Woolly Hugs also collects small gifts, of the sorts teenagers  teenagers would like, and a little money for ice-cream, which I sent along with the squares.

March already!

I don’t know why, but since October I seem to have had less time than ever, and it’s whizzing past far too quickly. Nearly the end of March now, and I haven’t managed to post anything except this month’s charity knit. It’s a neck-warmer for the Warm Hands Network, which sends warm clothing to children in the far north of Canada. I thought it was an excellent idea, and I’m trying to choose different places to send things to. I stumbled across the pattern on Ravelry and felt it was a very ingenious design, providing warmth without too much weight. So that’s this month’s achievement – oh, and I also entered the Beau Monde’s Royal Ascot contest with the start of another novel. I finaled last year, which was very exciting, but I don’t know I can expect that twice in two years. Wish me luck!

February Charity Knit

knitted-chicksJust in time, here’s a photo of my charity knitting project for February. I made two chicks, which will each hide a chocolate egg inside for Easter. They were made for Francis House, a children’s hospice in Manchester.  For the last few years, knitters have produced thousands of chicks to raise funds; in 2016 over £27,000 was raised. If you fancy trying your hand at these, these is a knitting and a crochet pattern available here.

The instructions for the chicks use double knitting wool, but as I didn’t have any in yellow I used two strands of four ply instead. I dyed the wool myself using food colouring, which is great fun and very easy. There’s a great article here about how to do it. That suggests Kool Aid, but any type of food colouring will work, as long as your wool is made from, or is blended with, animal fibre; so silk, cashmere, angora will all work, but not cotton or linen.  A tiny piece of felt for a beak and a couple of black eyes, and they’re ready. The 13th of March is the last date to send chicks in, but they don’t take long to knit if you wanted to try one for yourself.

Tiger cake

tiger-cakeI was given a book on Cool Layer Cakes last year (find it on Amazon here and the Tiger Cake was the one which really captured my imagination, not least because the stripes in it go up and down. I couldn’t see how this could be achieved in cake but it turns out not to be so difficult after all.

All you have to do is mix up some different colours of cake mix and drop it, spoonful by spoonful, into the centre of a cake tin. As each new layer presses down on what’s underneath, the batter is slowly pushed to the sides to rise up in stripes. A soft batter is the key; mine wasn’t quite as soft as I had hoped and it took a bit of effort to ease it off the spoon. I used cocoa powder to flavour the brown batter and orange zest and juice for the orange one, leaving a small amount plain.

I used this youtube video  as inspiration for the icing but instead of black buttercream I used cut pieces of black fondant icing. These were layered over a buttercream base in shades of cream and orange. The real test, of course, was cutting into it, and I was so pleased when I  realised it had actually worked! Baking isn’t really my thing but I may be making this one again…

New Year’s Resolutions

innocent-hatsToday, apparently, is ‘Ditch Your New Year’s Resolutions’ day – which is a little sad, since it’s only January 17th. I may be about to buck the trend, though, as I spent the weekend working on what I hope may become my 2017 resolution; to knit something for charity every month. I made a couple of projects for charity last summer, and I want to see if I can manage one each month this year.

The weekend was spent knitting tiny hats for Innocent smoothie bottles.  When people buy the cosy little bottles, 25p is donated to Help the Aged. There are lots of patterns and tips at http://www.thebigknit.co.uk, if you want to try making your own. Mine are the stripy ones on the lower row; the others were knitted by my friend Jane, who came for the weekend and insisted on borrowing a pair of knitting needles. The bobbles are made by winding wool around the tines of a fork, then tying the little bundle in the middle and cutting the loops.

Let me know if you see one of these on your supermarket shelf!

Paris

Eiffel TowerWell, I didn’t win the Beau Monde’s contest – but I have been abroad for the first time in ten years, which is also something to celebrate. My fourth visit to Paris, but at seven days away it was the longest time I’ve ever spent there, and enabled me to revisit some of my favourite sites as well as see others I’d never managed to reach before.

It may sound incredible, but the Eiffel Tower was one of these latter. I had never taken the time to visit it before, as my interest lies in earlier buildings. Now, though, I was determined to reach the top – which actually needed a second visit, as the top was closed the first time so I could only go as far as the second stage. Using the elevator, naturally. I hadn’t realised just what a massive construction it is. It’s tall, of course – over a thousand feet – but there are lots of tall buildings now. What really impressed me was the massiveness of its construction, with hundreds and hundreds of girders in a complicated latticework, like a giant’s version of Meccano. And it has toilets at the top! – though I have no idea where the flush goes…

Around the lowest stage were the names of 72 French inventors and scientists. I’d only heard of one – Ampere – but it struck me as I was going around Paris how many streets and subways stations are named after people the French want to celebrate and remember, which I thought was admirable. There are other ways the French celebrate their history, too; admission to all the national monuments in Paris is free for children, so that families can show their children their heritage.

Saint DenisThe Eiffel Tower, of course, is the internationally recognised symbol of Paris and France – even the logo of the airports is a little Eiffel Tower with wings – but centuries ago it was the fleur-de-lis which represented France and the French monarchy. Many pre-Revolutionary kings and queens are buried at St Denis, my favourite place in Paris. I’d visited it nearly thirty years ago, and just fell in love. Unlike the Eiffel Tower, even in July it was almost empty, which really let me appreciate its scale. I love the intersecting voids which you see when you look between pillars to more pillars and the spaces between them. There is some stunning stained glass in the little ring of chapels on the east.

The shape of a Christian Church is meant to represent Christ on his cross, and early churches often had the choir at a slight angle off the straight to indicate this. I’d completely forgotten until I realised that the first bay in the choir was squint! My guide to Paris recommended Notre Dame and the Museum of the Middle Ages to visitors interested in the medieval period, which may explain why St Denis was so empty – but if you do go to Paris, don’t miss it. It even has its own station on the Metro network, Basilica de Saint Denis, so it couldn’t be easier to get to, and it’s just stunning.