Monday, 31 December 2012

Clickety clack, clickety clack...

What's that? Clickety clack, clickety clack - its the sound of a commuter knitting along the track. Well - not actually 'on' the track - that would be a hazard! Just as a train passenger (but that doesn't scan as well).

In my November blog about how I love reading, I confessed to having purchased in excess of 150 ebooks in a two year period. This was in no small part due to my daily commute, when there really isn't much else to do for 25 minutes either way, but

  1. sleep (but I might miss my stop and end up in London/Bournemouth or Manchester depending on the direction of travel);
  2. listen to other people's conversations (always entertaining - especially the two young ladies who I often end up sitting near to on the 8.10am, one of whom has possibly the worst housemate in the world)
  3. read - the Metro used to keep me entertained when I first started commuting, but my kindle quickly supplanted my news reading, as I'd always rather be kept amused by something made up, rather than being depressed by how awful the world/state of journalism has become.
Obviously there are some other options, but they're not very 'me'. If you're in the right carriage and have the right sort of earphones you can enjoy almost a full episode of something that wasn't a commercial success on the train TV. I know some commuters even work on their laptops, or email on their blackberries. I refuse to accept the latter (work have offered me one a couple of times) and although I have a laptop, it generally lives a snug and comfy life in our living room, only brought out to be taken as far as the sofa, or the dining room table.

So that leaves only one other pastime for commuting that can help keep my bank balance looking a little healthier - knitting! I really only thought of this because I'd wanted to make Izzy a scarf for Christmas, and as the second week of November loomed and all free time at home was spent in the kitchen on edible goodies, the only time left available to me for making it was during my journey to and from work.

The pattern is from the MillaMia Bright Young Things book and the yarn is Debbie Bliss eco baby (100% organic cotton) in mint and white. This was my first real attempt at intarsia, or stranded, knitting - and required me to learn the continental knitting technique (where the yarn is held in the left hand) for my second colour. I chose a cotton yarn because Izzy has sensitive skin and I didn't want it to be itchy, but this did mean that the scarf was a bit prone to rolling up, even after pressing, so I backed it with some organic fleece I had left over from another project (and which, by the way, turned out to be the first time I used my new sewing machine!). One toddler scarf, completed in 6 weeks of commuting (6 weeks x 4 days = 48 journeys of 20 mins or 16 hours + time to apply the backing, which obviously wasn't done on the train.)

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Homemade gifts (2) - thank goodness it isn't a trilogy!

The end is in sight - a manic fortnight of candying, preserving, baking and wrapping has almost reached its conclusion (and in time for the second class post, too!) I thought it would be illuminating to write a post about handmade gifts whilst this period of frenzied activity is fresh in my mind, as, too often, in the hazy post-Christmas glow I find myself downplaying the sheer amount of time and effort that goes into creating what is, in the end, only a handful of edible festive boxes. In the last two weeks I've alternately felt:

  • smug (that I'm giving friends and family something completely unique);
  • worried (that everything wasn't going to come together in time;
  • resentful (lets not go there...);
  • angry (with myself, for choosing NOW as a time to experiment with a new, completely untried recipe that resulted in a completely wasted afternoon with masses of sticky washing up and no 'gift element');
  • panicky (that no one will like what I've sent them/that some of the foods won't have kept well/that there isn't enough in each box);
  • satisfaction (as each box is packed up, with ribbon and trimmings);
  • boredom (trying to use the Post Office in central Reading on the second Saturday before Christmas results in a lot of standing around in a queue);
  • utter relief that it's all over for another year
Maybe next year I'll just do a bit of chifting (charity shop gifting to the uninitiated)....!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Green Christmas gift guide: Homemade gifts (1)

An interesting piece in The Guardian today on 'Are homemade Christmas presents always better?' I'd have to question their premise though, as the reasons most of us give homemade gifts isn't to compete with a shop-bought alternative (on quality or price), but because we enjoy making and like to demonstrate our affection for our loved ones by spending not just money, but that other most precious commodity, time.

For the last two years I've made homemade gifts to give to friends and family at Christmas. Both years I've produced an edible hamper with a range of goodies from our garden raspberry gin, to mini Christmas puddings, to popping corn complete with homemade seasoning. Almost every component could have been bought from a shop, and unlike some of the examples cited in the Guardian article, I'm pretty sure that mine cost more to make! But if I'd bought everything, the hamper just wouldn't have been the same. And I certainly wouldn't have been able to bask in the glow of a job well done, or feel a sense of pride every time one of the recipients told me how much they'd enjoyed something.

And that's why I'll be making presents again this Christmas.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Green Christmas gift guide: Gifts of membership

Added to my Green Christmas gift ideas board on Pinterest today - some ideas for those of you looking for something a little different for your eco-conscious friends and relations: gifts of membership.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

John Lewis: I love you and I hate you (with an aside about M&S)

Ah - the first Saturday in December in Reading town centre. Truly hideous! Still, I was on a mission to by my new sewing machine, and after weeks of research and prevaricating, today was the day I'd go to John Lewis and buy it. Or not. And I'm afraid this has led me to list the reasons why, John Lewis (Reading), that I love you and I hate you:

  • I love you because: of your business model. It's a good one, and more organisations should consider following it and having actual principles to act upon, rather than corporate social responsibility waffle.
  • I hate you because: your model doesn't go quite far enough in today's society. Where is your commitment to fairtrade, to British-made, to organic in the products and concessions you stock/support?

  • I love you because: you have an excellent, child-friendly cafe.
  • I hate you because: you only have a single toilet in the parent room, and toddlers don't like waiting.
  • I love you because: you have an actual haberdashery, one of only two (that I'm aware of) in Reading town centre and by far the better stocked.
  • I hate you because: you've now moved it to a difficult-to-access mezzanine area, meaning I can't just pop in to browse if I've got the pushchair with me.

  • I love you because: you're never knowingly undersold - and that's a good promise.
  • I hate you because: of the experience I had today. Sewing machines aren't really very big, or heavy, in the grand scheme of things, so why can I not just go into your store and pick one up to take away with me (after paying for it, obviously)? The only options I was offered by the surly sales assistant (after the clueless till boy had gone off to get some assistance) was to pick it up 'from Mill Lane' or have it 'delivered'. 
'Where is Mill Lane?', I asked.
 (Vague pointing) 'Oh, over that way, by the IDR - easy to get to by car.' 
'I don't have a car', quoth I.
'Oh. Well you can have it delivered for free.' 
'When would it be delivered?'
'Oh, within the next 10 days - we can't guarantee when.' 
'But I'm at work on week days so would need to know when it was arriving.
'Well, you could pay £50 for Parcelforce Delivery.'

No thanks - I think I'll just go and buy a machine from Argos, where I can order it online and the item will be waiting for me to collect it, at an easily accessible store, within a few hours. Of course, having just looked at the John Lewis website, this option also appears to be available to me, if I buy a sewing machine from them too (I can specify that I want to collect from the town centre store, rather than Mill Lane) - would have been helpful to be told that by the 'assistant'.

Oh, and Marks & Spencer - what's the point of having a Plan A to support, amongst other things, the environment and then having your heating turned up so high at the beginning of December that your staff are all wearing t-shirts?!!