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Details

It’s been a long time, but I’ve started writing again.

I’m still not touching any of the great works I’d had planned, but instead I’m trying something completely new. Or rather, incredibly old-hat. I’m writing with Biro on paper.

The last time I did this was in my various classes at school. I’d have my work on my desk, get bored of that and then take out my identical-looking jotter (which I’d thieved from the RE department) and used it to pen stories in. And my goodness, I told some stories! Great pirate airships taking on authoritarian Zeppelins, fairy tale characters in reality TV shows somehow solving crimes*,  epic treks through mountains and valleys all ending with unsuccessful heroes lying forgotten on a moonlit beach…

There’s something about the process of totally narrowing the world around you to a small square of paper and some black squiggles which really focuses my mind. I used to be fine working on the computer, but that was in the days of dial-up and expensive software – when there was so little to distract that a word-processor really was just like using a very good typewriter.

Aside for aiding my concentration, the whole process has really made me aware of the details in what I’m doing, and how such small things as a character’s morning ritual – do they have breakfast as soon as they get up, or do they nurse a cup of tea for hours? – can say a great deal about them.

Some of my favourite examples:

The Bloc Party song, Trojan Horse; “You used to take your watch off, before we made love/you didn’t want to share our time with anyone.” I mean, it’s pretty perfect. It’s succinct, poetic and tells us a crazy amount about the person it’s describing without using a single adjective. Beautiful. Wish I’d thought of it.

Elton John’s Tiny Dancer; “Pretty eyes, pirate smile.” The juxtaposition of pretty and pirate just really does it for me. I think it hints at a darker side to the girl’s personality.

The age difference between Shepard and Garrus; Yeah, Mass Effect was always going to feature somewhere. I freakin’ love this game and I’ve played through most combinations of options now… and to be honest, ‘Shakarian’ never used to by my favourite coupling. I really loved Shepard and Thane to begin with – he had a grown up family whilst no previous significant others were mentioned for Shepard. The difference in where they were with their lives made this a fascinating pairing (to me at least), especially seeing Shepard with Thane’s adult son in the final game. I played through the Garrus romance simply because he’s great and I’m a completionist, but I never really invested in it. Until I read somewhere** that Garrus was younger than Shepard by about four years - which altered the dynamic to the point where I invested heart and soul. And I’ve no idea why that number made such a difference for me, but after learning that, the relationship felt warmed and wholly more satisfying.
Joe Abercrombie’s character ‘Dogman’ in the First Law trilogy; Just before every battle, this guy needs to pee. It is such a tiny detail and it’s only ever mentioned in passing (pun not entirely intended). It just makes him feel human, despite the incredible things happening in the world around him. I actually think that’s the main beauty in Abercrombie’s writing – he’s taken the time to make the people seem whole and plain, and as a result even the incredible seems plausible.

I still haven’t figured out which little details will make my characters special – I guess if I’m doing a good enough job I’ll find out when I come to type up all of those paper scribbles  - but I hope I can come up with at least one sparkling example I can be proud of.
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*I’m not making this up – that’s actually one of the best things I’ve ever written. Little Bo Peep makes an epic private eye.
** https://twitter.com/PatrickWeekes/status/211110027774275585

Dear Facebook…

Or more specifically, “Dear everyone posting about Denmark and the Dolphins via that Chinese site“:

Firstly, it’s not Denmark – it’s the Faroe Isles*. It’s the same distinction as Australia and the UK. So… you know, not cool.

Secondly, they’re whales, not dolphins** – not that that makes bludgeoning them any better but get your facts right.

Thirdly, What do you think reposting a poorly translated story is going to do? If you want to make a difference, either go to the Faroe Islands and protest this thing, or – more sensibly – donate to/volunteer with WWF, Peta or a similar charity with some clout. In fact, why not write to various animal charities and ask what they’re doing to prevent this and make your choice accordingly.

I’m so damn sick of this popping up on my news feed (seriously – it’s been up there at least 4 times in the last 2 hours) that I can’t keep my mouth shut anymore.

THINK. Don’t post.

Ta.
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* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faroe_Islands “under the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Denmark”.
**Long-finned Pilot Whales to be exact http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long-finned_Pilot_Whale

If you’d like to learn about this phenomenon and pledge your support in a way that actually matters, you can read about the hunting here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whaling_in_the_Faroe_Islands  and then visit Peta here: http://action.peta.org.uk/ea-campaign/clientcampaign.do?ea.client.id=5&ea.campaign.id=1911&c=pukfpaa

FYI – this is not me endorsing Peta. I don’t see eye-to-eye with them on lots of points, but since it’s the first charity actively engaged in this campaign that google threw at me, I’ve included the link anyway.

This one is all about picking your wool well, much like the shawl I made last year.

Personally, I like chunky things like Sirdar Big Softie, but this formula will work for any wool. A word to the wise though – pick something washable and tactile.

Basically, knit 10 stitches of stocking stitch for about an inch. Measure how wide the swatch is in cms. Measure your head and divide the head measurement by that of the swatch. That’s how many x10 stitches you’ll need (so by example, if my head was 54cm and my swatch was 4cm wide, I would get a number of 13.5 – 135 stitches). Then, you make the number of stitches divisible by 6. I usually go for a lower number than the original (so in the example, I would pick 132 to cast on). 

Then, you knit about an inch in rib stitch (if you want a rolled brim, just begin in stocking stitch). Continue in stocking stitch until you have a length of knitting from your eyebrow to your crown.

Begin to decrease on a knit side – (knit 4 k2tog) all the way along the row. P the next row. (Knit 3 k2tog) . P the next row. (Knit 2 2tog) until end. P next row. k1 k2tog to end. P next row. K2tog all the way along and pass thread through remaining stitches to finish. Sew up the seam by grafting.

To this you can add long strips of knitting to make rabbit ears, short triangles for  cats, crochet some flowers and stitch them on, add some buttons, line it with fleece or extra squish… the possibilities are endless. Personally, I prefer a good fat wool and some needles to match, but whatever floats your boat, really.

Wondering  where I’ve been?

Well, my house is up for sale, for a start. We’re moving to Scotland in an effort to be closer to family and to live the proverbial Good Life. So aside from tidying like a mad-woman, I’ve been crafting my little socks off, making exciting things like these crocheted butterflies which will become bunting…

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and which I’ve traded for a Christmas gift. I’ve also been busy making hats, baby sweaters, cowls, mittens… you name it, I’m knitting it.

Because that’s a wonderful thing about social media. I’m always quick to bad-mouth facebook and the like, but it can be a wonderful way to connect with like-minded people. And with all manner of craft-swap groups out there, it’s easy to find people  willing to trade the amazing things they make for the amazing things you make.

And if you’re not crafty, there are  still some great ways to acquire gifts without parting with money.

Freecycle seems like a really stingy way to go, but if you have young children, then they’re not going to care whether a toy kitchen is pre-loved or not. They’re just going to be thrilled that they’ve got a toy kitchen.  In a similar vein, you can always arrange swap parties with friends. Everyone brings unwanted toys/clothes etc. and puts them in a pile and then you leave with things you think your child will enjoy more. The group of women I’ve been doing this with have made a childrens clothes library from what’s left at the end. Bundled into age, the clothes are ready for whichever member sprogs next to use free of charge. If you don’t have the space to create such a thing, you could always donate any surplus to a local women’s refuge or charity shop.

Finally, you could try your hand at earning money through online surveys. Valued Opinions has always paid off for me, and I’m really getting into Global Test Market. Also, if you’re with Vodafone’s PayG plans, you can collect your FreeBee points and spend them on shopping vouchers. There’re both Sainsbury’s and Amazon available so you could even put them towards your family feast, or give the Amazon ones as a gift in itself.

And now, for some shameless pictures of some of the things I’ve been making. Remember… I’m open to swaps.

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What if I were to tell you that you could give a lovely gift of homemade vinegar by doing doing little more than slurping half a bottle of wine. You’d call my a filthy rotten liar, no doubt, and give be the flogging I deserve.

Except I wouldn’t be lying.

Go and drink have a bottle of wine. Go on. Right now. I won’t tell. Add a tablespoon of vinegar to the remaining half bottle, pop the cork back in and leave it alone until Christmas*. Stick it in a fancy bottle, wrap some ribbon or something around the neck and bask in the impressed ‘ooo’s and ‘aaa’s of your recipient.

Then go drink another half bottle and  make some for yourself.

*In all seriousness, the process takes around three months, so get quaffing now for the holiday season.

Braced for impact.

And so here I am – stood on the precipice of making myself vastly unpopular. Here goes anyway…

I am absolutely, totally and utterly against the banning of porn.

As in, I am livid  that such a thing is being proposed. To avoid my inevitably terrible paraphrasing, here is the point that Husband made on the issue, pasted from his facebook wall:

What really bothers me about this debacle is that the discussion is now centered around feasibility and enforcement, when the very premise is dubious at best. 

So Cameron believes “online pornography is corroding childhood”. This could only ever apply if they are allowed access to it, and censorship is not a solution for bad/lazy parenting. Many ISPs already offer an opt-in option for filtering such content, and there are plenty of other FREE filtering solutions out there for the ones who can be bothered to look for them. This move seems to be aimed at those who can’t be bothered – and as such, it only serves to perpetuate the problem.

I for one don’t want, expect or trust the Government to parent my child(ren). That is my responsibility, and if I need help, I will ask for it – I will, however, not ask someone else to do it for me. But as usual, you can always count on Cameron to deflect attention away from the real issues and try to spin a “vote winner” at the same time…

I feel that hiding the truth from children is far more damaging than acknowledging the fact that the world isn’t perfect. A better idea – in my opinion – would be to try and prepare them for it as best we can. I would like to see open discussion about porn – highlighting the differences between loving, respectful sex and what is portrayed in the sex industry. A better use of the money this ridiculous venture will cost would be to educate teachers and parents on how to deal with such conversations as they arise. Let’s give our children some credit – explain to them that porn is out there but that it isn’t real life. Explain that certain things are and aren’t appropriate and that situations with which they’re uncomfortable need to be talked about. Hiding porn away creates shame, and shame leads to secrets  - why, when charities like the NSPCC are advocating open discussion – is the government looking at adding more layers of  secrets and shame to something which should be talked about.

And people are talking about it – or the ban at least. As far back as September 2012, the Daily Mail called a petition to instigate an opt-in  on porn, a “crusade to protect children”.

Only… what’s that down the right hand side of the article? Half naked ladies! If newspapers were actually worried about porn and erotica being a danger to children then page  3 would be a thing of the past and pictures like the one in question wouldn’t be present. The hypocrisy of the thing is blinding. Yes, some porn is degrading to women, but so is the idea that we’re only worth the brand of clothes we can  afford.  Since sexualised advertising, hideous ‘articles’ and idiotic stereotypes  are everywhere – rather than confined to a computer screen – I would rather they were tackled first.

dailyfail

Because that’s the thing – I can’t possibly know what my child is looking at when she’s out and about, but I can tell what she’s looking at when she’s at home. I can keep the computer she uses in family space and open discussions with her about what she finds online. I would never – with a filter up or not – think to let a child, or young teenager take an internet capable device into their bedroom where I can’t see what they’re doing. That goes for phones and games consoles as well. In the end, I think this ban is creating complacency. “The government has stopped porn being available on my computer so I don’t need to look at what my child is doing.” The type of filters being used look to be easy to circumvent – The Pirate Bay on  BT connections, anyone? – and there’s no reason that tech-savvy children won’t be able to do that with this proposed ban.

There are a myriad of other issues involved here too – if the government can ban porn (presumably because people are too embaressed to stand up and say, “Oi! No! I was watching that!”) then what comes next? Do they ban sites which talk about the porn block in an uncomplimentary fashion? Then any site which talks about the government in a less than favourable light? It sounds extreme, but it’s something to consider. Then, there are the somewhat fuzzy lines between what is art/acceptable nudity and what is porn/erotica. Will images of Greek statues be banned? Or breastfeeding mothers (see recent ‘nurse in’ against facebook)? But those are topics for another day. This particular rant was simply to discuss the flawed logic in introducing such measures to ‘protect’ our children. And when the whole reason for bringing in this ridiculous law is so tenuous, shouldn’t we be diverting our attention to something that matters…?

https://submissions.epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/51746 – A petition against the block.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2196623/Call-arms-110-000-sign-petition-porn-Demand-tough-online-controls-heard-MP-tells-parents.html –  A Daily Fail article about a petition calling for the block in the first place.

http://paulbernal.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/10-questions-about-camerons-new-porn-blocking/ – Excellent post which deals more with the technical side of things.

http://www.netmums.com/coffeehouse/general-coffeehouse-chat-514/news-current-affairs-topical-discussion-12/962865-automatic-block-internet-porn.html – discussions about the topic on a  popular parenting forum. Be warned – some answers will make you want to slap people across the face with a wet kipper, regardless of which side of the fence you’re sat on. One of the  really thought-provoking arguments is from Julie P (791) – “I have 2 teenage boys, 1 of whom is very tech savvy – in many ways, more so than me and his dad. I do not have and never intend to have, any filtering software, because I know how flawed it is and how easy it is to circumvent. However, what I do do, is talk to my children about the stuff that is on the internet, and we discuss the issues around it. We have talked about porn and the risks associated with it. I have always found that to be a far more effective method of handling the whole issue.

I have no problem with the opt in system. The problem is clear, that most people haven’t got the faintest idea what it is, and I am sorry, but this post is a perfect example of the lack of understanding.” (The post she was referring to: “I have 3 young daughters and to be honest I don’t want them seeing that on the internet. Its all over rated. Everything is sex this sex that. Its a load of rubbish.”)

I also urge you to watch: The Simpsons Marge vs.  Itchy and Scratchy and Adventure Time’s Business Time - the first deals with how one form of censorship can lead to another, whilst the second involves protecting the populous by imprisoning them… go figure.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6eFNRKEROw – finally, this being the case, if the government actually follow through on this proposal then their effort at increasing connection speeds across the country will have been for nothing ;).

More tiny trousers.

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My leggings ripped today in the most epic of fashions – right across the bum. Oh yeah. That gaping hole there was big enough so that the world and his daft aunt Tiffany could see my Sesame Street pants.

In any case, being half way through reading Lucy Siegel’s book To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World, I couldn’t quite bring myself to chuck them out. But, as the old saying goes, what can you do?

Well, you can turn them into soft baby jeans by cutting one line and sewing two. Using the same principals I covered when I turned hoodie sleeves into jogging bottoms, these took about ten minutes to make and you could customise* them in all kinds of cute ways – odd buttons, sequins, embroidery, iron on patches… whatever, really.

Anyways, all you need to do is cut around the crotch of a stiff pair of trousers which fit your child. I tried cutting around leggings and tights in the past, pulling the elastic to the max, but always ended up with skewed sizing. Denim all the way here, from now on.  To get the length right, line up the bottom of the ‘model’ trousers with the bottom of the leggings.

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Once you’ve done that, you end up with two very short legs.

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Assemble these as per this post.

And voila:

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A tea-party in jeans.

Does anyone have any more good ideas for making toddler clothes from adult items? Anyone got any awesome upcycling tips for the coming cull of my wardrobe?

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*Not sure the spelling of ‘customise’ here looks right, but ‘customize’ with a z looks wrong too. I’ve decided to go UK style-e and stick with the s… those in the know, please forgive me if it’s incorrect. ;)

The coolest toy ever.

I found this in a charity shop today for the vast sum of £2! It’s a mint-condition-never-played-with copy of a Spears game called Misfits. The cards aren’t even separated. Somehow, it has survived intact since 1964!

Not for long! Going to have so much fun playing with this and Bub. I felt I needed to document it though, before I decimate it ;)

Had a bit of a retro toy day today all round. We walked  around  town for about two hours trying to find a snap set (which will double as a memory game for now) in the rain, only to find that the snap cards available in Bury were clarted in Peppa  Pig. Now, whilst I don’t have anything against Peppa, per se, she’s not exactly my favourite fictional character for children. Dull, dull, dull. Also, the cards were enormous! I don’t get this thing about giving kids giant stuff to put  in their tiny hands… I guess it’s to avoid it being a choking hazard, but Bub can barely hold some of the toys she’s given. Anyways, some more searching took us to a really old-school toy shop and lo-and-behold, nursery rhyme snap for 75p! And they’re tiny cards!

She seems to have figured out the yelling and hitting part of snap, but not the bit where the cards have to match and that she shouldn’t look at them as she puts them down. We’ll get there.

Response

Those who read my last post are forgiven for thinking that I’d just about had enough with the world and was ready to volunteer for a mission to Mars. Which, actually, I kind of fancy doing, but that’s a story for another day. 

In any case, the following article has restored my faith in mankind a little. Maybe, just maybe, there’s hope:

http://jezebel.com/5946643/reddit-users-attempt-to-shame-sikh-woman-get-righteously-schooled

“Go home, you fucking foreigner.”

Go home, you fucking foreigner.

It’s been a long time since he yelled it. In fact, it’s been so long that I’ve forgotten the Danish words he muttered before the tactical switch to English and confrontational squaring of shoulders. I was only just 21 and at 155cm on a good day, he dwarfed me in both age  and size.

He was a lawyer. One of the men appointed by the city to stand up for those who couldn’t afford justice. And he obviously spent too much time at the gym. I was kitchen  staff, working from 5am to 12 noon to pay the bills while my boyfriend finished university. I’d already completed my education by that point and had a good degree – specifically in the language of the country I was living in. I’d applied for all kinds of exciting post-graduate jobs when I arrived – and even a few boring things where the ‘working language’ was English.  But they were always looking for someone more vaguely hand-waving you know. And Danish. Even the jobs which advertised English as the daily business language told me that although my Danish was, “excellent – for a foreigner”, it wasn’t good enough for them. Eventually, I took a temp job washing dishes since it was the only thing I could get.

And don’t get me wrong, I met some really interesting people while I was there. But I also met the lawyer.

There was some kind of function – the firm had ordered my time and a giant pile of food in take-away containers. I warmed it up, set it out and cleared away the plates afterwards. Talking to the receptionist about the leftovers, she mentioned that the usual practice was to send out an email and see if anyone wanted the food that hadn’t been eated. I asked her if she would do the honours since I didn’t have a company computer account and she happily agreed.

For the next hour people trickled down to see me. Most of them were chatty and polite. They wrote their names on container lids and put them back in the fridge to collect at the end of the day. Finally, the Angry Man appeared. He began pawing through what was left, even poking at some things. He eventually started opening claimed trays of food. I intervened.

I was polite, I remember that much – told him that he was looking through what had already been taken. He muttered something, laughed at his hilarious witty remark, then – when I didn’t look to back down – he started with the English and  trying to look intimidating. I stood my ground, more through shock than any kind of design, and I told him – in Danish – that he could take from the pile on the left but to leave the rest alone. The receptionist had stood to watch at this point and having seen her there, he backed down and went back to work. I burst into tears.

The receptionist was kind and made me some tea. She asked where I was from and was genuinely surprised when I said I was British.

“But you should be in an office job,” she said, “You’ve got English as you native language. We all thought you were Polish.”

So it would have been reasonable for him to react like that if I had been brought up in Poland?

I said what I always did, “I wanted to work with Danish. I made the effort to learn the language so I want to use it.”

I went home and told my boyfriend. We decided to move to Britain when he was finished studying.

You see, that wasn’t the first time such a thing had happened. We’d been walking down the street and someone had yelled – in that sarcastic way morons do – ‘where’s your Burka?’ (having dark eyes and dark hair amongst a predominantly blonde population marked me as a devout Muslim, it would seem). And when it was convenient – say, if  I were complaining in a shop when something was faulty – I was repeatedly told that my accent made me impossible to understand, despite the fact I’d had an in depth conversation about the window display with the very same server a few days earlier.

When we came to Britain, I was so proud of the reception my now-husband received. I kid you not, he had work within three days of moving here. People who ask where he’s from have been genuinely interested, or have spoken to him about time they spent in his homeland. One woman at an antique stall even gave him a Royal Copenhagen cake plate because she thought it would be best if it ‘went home’.

Which is why it came as such a shock when something akin to the following appeared on a ‘Mums selling in Bury St Edmunds’ facebook page (why I have a facebook account again is a story for another day):

“Just seen an Eastern European looking guy stroking my cat. Watch out – he left when he realised I was watching. Wearing a black hoodie and jeans.”

The correct spelling is my own embellishment. It was a ‘shared’ message – the woman posting had screenshotted a friend’s status.

I couldn’t help it. I commented. Yes, yes, I know:

duty_calls

 

But until someone stands up and says something, this is going to go on. These assumptions that we are somehow more entitled to respect as an individual than someone who didn’t happen to be born on our tiny rock of an island… well, they made me cry tonight. And when I spoke out, saying, “I don’t think you can tell where someone comes from by looking at them. His nationality isn’t important anyway. Maybe he left because he was uncomfortable being stared at,” the spate of  responses shocked me.

“Nationality is relevant when the fucking Eastern Europeans are robbing old women and children.”
“My friend called the police on him because he was being suspicious.”
“Them fuckers steal everything.”

All of these comments had ‘likes’.

At that point, I posted the above picture and reported the message – something I’ve never felt the  need to do before.

In response to that first comment theft is not a uniquely Eastern European concept. We were fairly good at it over here even before people began to move en masse.  Even Chaucer  speaks about it happening in Cambridge during the Reeve’s Tale. And some scholars think he stole that story from an Italian work called DecameronSo even old Geoff was at it and he’s about as British as they come.

People are people, wherever they’re from in the world. Humans do human things, like talk to cats and steal stuff. That anyone  can judge someone because they think they look like they’re from a different country is totally beyond any logic I can fathom.

It’s impossible to define a nation with a general sweeping statement. You can’t say that everyone in America likes red, white and blue, nor can you say that everyone in France loves baguettes. Not everyone in Britain likes tea. Yet somehow, some people seem to think that it’s fine to brand not only one country as thieves, but a massive geographical region.

I have only one thing to say to the women who made these slurs, “Go home, you fucking wankers.”*

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*I realise most of them are at home but… I like the whole ‘full circle’ sort of vibe in that sentence.

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