Tuesday, 29 December 2009


Sonata :

I've always loved kaleidescopes . Even tiny ones are entrancing , though difficult to photograph !

This is maybe why making miniature quilts is so appealing . The geometric shapes and colour combinations and the unpredictability of a One Patch is a constant surprise .
It's very relaxing and definitely addictive . For those of you who don't quilt , there is a game on zefrank.com , where you can have hours of fun building an endless series of kaleidescopic images on screen , though vertigo might ensue .

This little quilt is now going up on Etsy . I't's taken a while to finish , this month's been rather busy . But I've enjoyed making it enormously . Each of the 400 hexagons changing the end result .

And yes , one of my New Year resolutions is to learn how to link properly !

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

A very merry you know what to all...

Smitonius and Sonata:

It must be Christmas, our respective households have built Bethlehem in a day (in Sonata's case, she built two - the one on the top and bottom left hand side!):

And this year 'Chez Smitonius', we opted for a black plastic tree, having had one organic tree - full of bugs - one year, and one live one - planted in the garden to never thrive again! Used and re-used, this one might be more eco than most...

We both hope you all have a very merry Xmas, wherever in the world you are!


A Grumbling Sonata :

It's still snowing sporadically but the warmth from the window seems to have liberated a couple of the pansies in the window box .

I , on the other hand , am not a hardy winter variety and must climb into everything wooly I possess to go off to the shops for Christmas treats . Well , I say treats ....food of any kind would do by this stage . Given that our larder seems to be stocked with Roasted Tomatoes , coffee and raisins , I need to get to the nearest supermarket ....walking through aforementioned snow , with a rucksack .

All this "We live in town , we don't need a car and the trains are so good ", rather fails when you can't even find the bike path , let alone cycle on it .

And the trains ? All the points are frozen ( from one side of Europe to the other , it seems ) . And a lot are still gas-warmed . Guess what ? The snow puts the little burst of flame out ! Who'd have thought it .

This was Saturday ....now the river is frozen over .

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Mild Moment Of Panic

Sonata :
A quick peek outside the door this morning , followed by a moment of panic .

Then pre-coffee brain remembered that we don't have two cats and , even when we did , we never put them out for the night .
But my winter pansy window box might want to come in to sit next to my mutant hyacinths .

Snow is now at 20 inches and growing .

Friday, 18 December 2009

What A Difference A Week Makes

Sonata :

This time last week I was getting off the bus in Bremen , a city in its full Christmas glory .

Stalls full of stars

Stalls full of shiny red apples , big as a baby's head

Red tree ornaments , like these displayed so beautifully in a wonderful three-storey , beamed shop in the oldest part of town . A shop solely devoted to Christmas in all its gold , silver and red glitter and gleam .

All manner of delicacies were sampled . Appel Strudel and wild boar , goose and Gluhwein , baked mushrooms under a bubbly cheese blanket , baked potatoes and sour cream ( so retro ! ) and spicy fried potatoes ( so fattening ! ) . A Sunday morning breakfast buffet in a little cafe , full of young families and ancient old ladies , all cheerfully eating their way through smoked salmon , cheeses , hams and sausage before moving onto scrambled eggs , rice pudding , yoghurts and plates of melon , pineapple or kiwi fruit . I counted seven different sorts of bread and apparently missed the "Kellogs ". All for 5 Euros 95. a head ....all at a Tchibo near you ....if you live in Germany , that is .
Not to mention medieval mulled fruit wines

though not , unfortunately , the beautifully named Dragonfire wine .
We all enjoyed every calorie-laden colourful moment .
But this week it's snowing

It's dark

and the only flash of colour to be seen is the occasional loony cyclist
Not me though ....I'm tucked up at home , eating a slightly less medieval pizza and happily contemplating two weeks off .

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Xmas spirit in Bremen


If anyone had told me that I would positively enjoy Christmas fairs on my birthday when I was younger, I would have looked horrified.... I used to refuse to do anything seasonal until the 14th of December. I appear to have mellowed, as Bremen is my fourth or fifth continental fair visited.

The destination was chosen because it meant that Smitonius and Sonata could meet up for a week-end (in person rather than virtually, for a change!), but we were all pleasently surprised by Bremen's Christmas fair. There are a few lovely quarters to visit, as well as two quite distinct fairs. One of them is a Medieval or folk inspired one, which is lit by flame light at night (admitedly, it is atmospheric but a lot easier to navigate through it by day).

The main square was full of seasonal goodies:

and lights and crowds drinking mulled wine and eating sausages (well, the most popular food item seemed to be Schweinebraten actually, cooked over logs).

Although Father Christmas and the entire cast and crew of the nativity are very evident, the real stars of the city in any season are the Bremen musicians: in ceramic, fluffy toys, t-shirts, postcards, and sculpted.
But the best souvenir of all had to be these huge loaves handmade in the Medieval market section (Sonata modelling her loaf straight from the oven):

Fortunately, we had had the foresight to pay for a bag to be checked in - that loaf alone would have tipped the scales!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

I'll Have Mine Without The Grapes , Please

Sonata :

Actually , whatever we eat this weekend .....Bratworst was mentioned , more than once , I believe ......I doubt this Dutch recipe for sauerkraut with grapes

will be on the menu . At least I hope not .

But Smitonius and her partner are winging their way to Bremen this weekend and I will be joining them . We're going for the Christmas Market and will , incidentally , be celebrating Smitonius' birthday .
We'll have 2 days to stuff our faces with Bratworst , delicious bread , lovely beer , loads of hefty winter stews and Gluhwijn . I'll give the hot wine a miss , but , unlike the others , will definitely eat some sauerkraut ... without fruit . All the weaving our way through the dazzling displays of Angels , gnomes and candles ....not to mention stalls of steaming Bratworst can make one peckish .

On Sunday we'll rush home , clutching loads of pretty wooden Christmas tree decorations , sock wool , more lovely bread and , I don't know about everyone else , the 8 year old inner me would love a big feathery hat with ribbons .

And lots and lots of photos , which we'll inflict on you next week .

Sunday, 6 December 2009



I'm tidying up for the builders . Yes , I know I tidied up for the builders a while ago , but the windows take 6-8 weeks to be made in Belgium . So now we're nearly at the top of the queue .
Meanwhile a few more things have been acquired . ( Whoever squawked at the back ... I've heard it before , with a Dutch accent ) . Acquisitions must be sorted out , put away , categorised ..... So you can see how things can begin to go wrong , can't you .

These must be introduced to the herd

And then there's things that have no obvious place , which is why I can buy them for 10 cents . I'd love to know who painstakingly filled the pages of this sketch book , over 50 years ago , with faint (traced ?) drawings and tiny pattern pieces . Did she ever upscale her patterns with this handy measuring tape , and make the clothes ? I'd love the blouse on the right at the bottom .

And then it seems great fun to photograph odd pages and make a collage of them .

Which would explain why , on my own this evening , I'm now scuttling about and planning a bacon butty* and rocket salad for supper .
* a butty is a sandwich , not the delicate kind without crusts and cut in triangles .

Friday, 4 December 2009

Ornament exchange 2009


I participated in this year's Christmas ornament exchange:

And, whilst I am hoping that Kirstin has received my package by now, I have just received hers. She is one half of Signs and Salvage which create funky wooden signs with salvaged wood, and look at what I received - thank you!:

Hopefully Santa will think I have been nice this year....

Monday, 30 November 2009

7 things you didn't know

Smitonius and Sonata:

Well, we got tagged by Penny (thanks!), and the fun bit about this award is having to reveal 7 things about ourselves our blog readers don't know (Smitonius: my first thought was... well, there must be things that my mother does not know about her daughter, and viceversa!). Firstly, here are the rules:
1. Copy and paste the pretty picture which you see above onto your own blog. [TICK]

2. Thank the person who gave you the award and post a link to their blog. [TICK]

3. Write 7 things about yourself we do not know. [See below]

4. Choose 7 other bloggers to award. [Again, see below but do not feel obliged bloggers!]

5. Link to those 7 other bloggers. [Will do]

6. Notify your 7 bloggers. [again, will do]

So, revelations (imagine if you will a slow but increasing drum roll) and bear in mind that we have had a wandering life - having lived in Britain, Spain and the Netherlands:

1) Sonata: When I was ten, our dance class danced around the May Pole outside the Community Centre and I went the wrong way, tangling all the ribbons hopelessly. I was then positively encouraged to give up dancing and only took to the floor again when the twist became popular.

2) Smitonius: As a child, I did not entirely share my mother's sense of humour, and, in addition, was totally star struck: I longed for the black and white Hollywood glamour of the 1940s and 50s, perhaps I was rebelling against the orange floral bell bottomed trousers I had to wear. So, it seemed entirely appropriate to name one of our cat's litter, a patchy tortoiseshell, Lana (after, Lana Turner of course). My mother laughed, and noted that Lana is the Spanish word for wool, and renamed her Woolie. Now, I have to laugh, but then I didn't!

3) Sonata: Husband and I got married in Gibraltar, in the same room as John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Not at the same time, of course, and with considerably less media frenzy. But we were given the Honeymoon Suite at the hotel. It had burnt orange walls and a leaking roof, I remember.

4) Smitonius: The closest I have ever come to fame was emerging from a cake aged 18 and dressed up as a 'French' maid (it involved a black mini-skirt and a red beret, I seem to recall) for magazine editor Tina Brown's father's birthday party celebrated on the Costa del Sol. He was George Hambley Brown... and had I been able to google him then, I would have been quite struck by the fact that he had once directed Vivien Leigh!

5) Sonata: When Smitonius was researching something or other, I started picking up holy cards for her as they are so much easier to find in Holland than in England. Typically, I didn't stop there and now have loads of them. I love the lovely artwork, especially the Art Deco ones, and cannot resist any by the Belgian religious house and publisher Abbaye de Maredret. CLICK on picture below to see these ones close up:

6) Smitonius: In addition to the above Holy card craze, I have suffered other momentary crazes that result in a collection or a stash (you see, hoarding is genetic): some are self-evident, like knitting (this is hardly a revelation) but one craze was pretty peculiar. For although I was in my early 30s, I stared a Pokemon card collection - why? I have no idea how I became Pokemon Crazed, and it did break one day (rather like a fever), but my nephew will be grateful when he is older and I hand him over my collection (and, as it happens, I could combine my love of yarn with my enduring affection for Pikachu by making this hat - but maybe not!).

7) Sonata and Smitonius: Although we are both genetically programmed to like military bands (Sonata's grandfather was PSG O'Donnell), my mother loves [Youtube links follow]: anything I can sing along with (in private to) but particularly love a Spanish group Mocedades, and Willie Nelson... and Shhh! Roy Orbison. As for myself, my taste in music also suffers passing crazes, and recently had to download a load of Hang music after hearing this player in Brugges.

We pass on the award to the following bloggers - but do not feel obliged... though thinking about what to reveal is actually quite fun!

Molly Bawn Chronicles: her fairy name is Columbine Rainbowfilter!

Duyvken: such crafting loveliness!

Myrtle and Eunice: always craft-busy... her new tea towels are fab.

Slow lane life: she says 4 cats are enough... do we believe her?

Unleash the inner FWOG: another collaborative blog - the more the merrier!

My Farmhouse Kitchen: yummy, yummy...

Gugaw: a fellow Londoner who likes Spanish hot chocolate... and visits interesting places.


Thursday, 26 November 2009

How To Be All Of A Glow Despite The Rain


I seem to have spent all month in a pair of wet shoes and if one more person says , "Well , mustn't grumble . It's not cold ", I might say something colourful .

So to cheer myself up yesterday and with the prospect of a dismal night's television , I cycled to the library after work . It has a really good selection of foreign films and classics on DVD as well as modern films so there's always something worth watching .
Riding along , I noticed that my front wheel had developed a wheezy click so cycled faster to get there before it decided to fall off (Go on , you knit faster too when the ball of wool's nearly finished ) .

Having taken a short cut , I found myself cycling through the town's tiny red light district and past the Valhalla . I love the idea of Valhalla being accessed via a sex club . Very Viking somehow . But some of the other establishments seem less savoury so cycle even faster . I positively hurtle round the corner and pull up outside the library in record time and wheezing myself .

Grabbing a couple of Almodovar's and some C.D. s , I do battle with the new computerised check-out machines . The patient young woman at the desk is no longer surprised by the machine's reluctance to co-operate with me or mine with it and I get yet another tutorial .

Arrive home all of a glow , put a casserole in the oven and settle down to watch Todo Sobre Mi Madre . In dry fluffy socks . At last .

The drawings are both by Rie Cramer and come from a 1954 copy of Piet en Nel by Leonard Roggeveen .

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Blueberry sunday


Visited two Scandinavian Xmas fairs yesterday in south London: the elegant Norwegian fair held at St Olav's, where many women in traditional costume can be spotted. This church was built for Norwegian seamen in 1927, and has a lovely wood panel interior, which was crammed full of seasonal 'Nisse' ornaments: a type of gnome. When I was a teenager, there was a book by Wil Huygen and illustrated by Poortvliet that I loved... does anyone remember that one?

I resisted walking out with armfuls of the little creatures, though did find some presents (shhhh) and treated myself to salty licorice (not for everyone, but I do like it!).

Then I popped down the road to the Finnish fair held on the same day at the Finnish Church (if you are in London, it is on next week also!). This one is not as pretty but it is worth going to for the food alone: a nice bottle of Lapin Kulta beer with home smoked hot salmon, mash and sour cream for lunch followed by more retail. Stocked up on Moomin parafernalia, Finnish yarn, and treats (like Raspberry and Blueberry Jaffa cakes!). In fact, there was a fine young Fin doing a barrow boy impersonation and selling 1 kilo of frozen blueberries for £1. Guess what I spent this morning doing?

Blueberry jam (a 'Summer' variety following this recipe by Purplegirl plus a 'Christmas' version sort of inspired by the vague instruction in this recipe: Hendrick's cocktail) AND Blueberry vodka... not inky blue, but a velvety red I would say!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Three Bean Stew and the BeeGees .


You find yourself doing the oddest things sometimes . Kneeling on a concrete floor , pumping up and down on some limbless plastic doll's chest while singing "Staying Alive ", for instance . Mind you , I sincerely hope that , if I do ever have to reanimate someone , no one tries to help by counting along ....in Dutch . The seemingly backwards counting after 20 ( Eenentwintig , tweeentwintig , drieentwintig ....) kept on making me lose the thread . Never mind trying to ignore someone on the other side counting in Arabic .

No one had better look peaky round me for a while . Thanks to our employer's desire for no one to drop dead prematurely on our premises , I have every eventuality covered now from the Heimlich manoeuvre to making a sling . My pre-war Newnes Household Encyclopaedia , on the other hand , went straight from Fire-Kindlers to Fish . First Aid didn't seem to exist in the 1920s.
Nor , I suspect , did the supper kindly provided afterwards . 3 Bean Stew with Chili Peppers and Pineapple . It was probably chosen because it couldn't offend anyone , be they Muslim , Hindi or vegetarian . It made me long for toast and Marmite ....so , after I'd pedalled home through the rain , that's just what I ate .

But that damn song just goes on and on .....

Friday, 13 November 2009

My fairy name and embroidery download


If you go on into the (internet) woods today, you may find out your fairy name... Fairy Name Generator

Apparently, I am:

Your fairy is called Tangle Elffrost
She is a cheerful sprite.
She lives at the bottom of tangled gardens and in hedgerows.
She is only seen during the first snow of winter.
She wears tangled dresses of multicoloured petals. She has delicate green wings like a cicada.

Tangle is the operative word in relation to my appearance today! I most certainly do not look like the following damsel:
Now I am trying to experiment with creating some embroidery PDFs for the etsy shop, and who better to offer a free download to than the occasional blog reader in the hope for feedback! I have several copies of an early twentieth century embroidery magazine called 'El Consultor de los Bordados' published in Barcelona which is now out of copyright. I have scanned them and cleaned up the images to create a series of themed editions based on such things as fairy tales or geishas and so on. This free download is titled 'yesterdays children'.

Embroidery Free Edition Smitonius

I hope you like it!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Lanterns , Sweets And Silly Songs

Sonata :

Here I am , all ready for lanterns and silly songs .

The evening of St Martin's feast day is celebrated here by children who go round their neighbourhood with lanterns they've made at school .
There's giggling and shuffling feet outside and it usually begins with
"Sint Maarten , Sint Maarten , de koeien hebben staarten ,
De meisjes hebben rokjes aan , de jongens hebben sokjes aan
Heir komt Sint Martinus aan ."

Open the door and there's a circle of bright little faces , wobbly lanterns and optimistically big bags . If you're lucky , you get another silly song after you've handed over the loot . Meanies who hand over apples or mandarins , the healthy alternative , presumably get a raspberry once they've closed the door .

Lantern designs vary wildly from windmills or toadstools to goldfish . This year our playschool made these . I hope it earns them a surfeit of brightly coloured sugar and lots of praise .

P.S. The words of the song translate as
"St Martin , St Martin , the cows have tails ,
the girls have skirts on , the boys have socks on ,
here comes St Martin ."

Yes . It does sound better in Dutch ....at least it rhymes !
But I'm not sure what it has to do with a Roman soldier who ripped his cloak in two to give half to a beggar .

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Remembrance Sunday


Perhaps this will be too somber a post.... but I thought I would share a sad little family history story on this day of remembrance.

On both of my parent's sides there have been soldiers who found themselves caught up in WWI and, also, WWII. Some women also played their part in WWII, as one of my grandmother's was in the WAAF and the other volunteered in a military hospital whilst an army wife in Rawalpindi (now Pakistan).

My mother's grandfather survived WWI to have to go and do it all again in WWII (and he survived that too!), but some men on my father's side did not come back from France. I already knew about Major William Ernest Watson DSO (6th Dragoon Guards) who went missing in action in November 1914. His family, in hope, put a notice in The Times in February 1915 requesting information, but it was eventually concluded that he died in the Battle of Messines on 31 October 1914. William left a wife and two girls. His name is engraved on the Menin Gate. This is his portrait:

But yesterday I was reconstructing another family branch, the Beckett family (Hindon, Wiltshire), and I kept coming up against a brick wall for a Philip Arthur Beckett (born 1892). Most of the rest of the family emigrated to America in 1910, but Philip did not go with them. I checked through various photocopies that my father had sent me, and then saw a note that said a certain Arthur had been shot by a sniper as soon as he reached France.

So I checked various websites, and then all the pieces began to fit together. Philip Arthur had stayed behind because he had managed to get a place at Clare College, Cambridge. He completed his education, but in November of 1915 arrived in France with the Royal West Kent Regiment. He rose in rank from private to 2/Lieutenant and was attached to the 7th batallion by the start of 1917. I then found that C T Atkinson's history of the regiment was available online, and it states what happened on the 14th of February 1917. The batallion had had two months of respite after hard fighting in Ancre, and they then returned to the front line. Trenches, I found out, had names then: they had control of 'Desire' Trench but where trying to recapture 'Grandcourt' trench. 2/Lieutenant Beckett and another one called Dix commanded the lead platoons. Unfortunately, it all appears to have gone horribly wrong in the dark, and the casualties were 'deplorably heavy'. Although he was never found, Philip Arthur's name appears on the Thiepval memorial.

Sad, and such a waste.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

I Could Be On A Winning Streak ....


I suspect I'm still five years old at heart. One of the local supermarket chains has a promotion ....for every 15 Euros you spend you get a little shiny bag , containing one of the characters from Snow White ....only 2"high ( or smaller , obviously , for Dopey etc. ) .

Now , I'm not five and I know that tiny bits of plastic are a Bad Thing environmentally and I promise not to accept anymore . But .... I had to look just once .... and I got Snow White !!

And now she's supervising my latest quilt for Hitty . And for anyone who was thinking , "I wouldn't have put those colours together ", before this is finished I'll have sewn around 400 of these together . It all works out in the end , you'll see .

But if I'm on this sort of lucky streak , perhaps I should have listened to the overexcited chap who's just called from "Zurich ....Switzerland ", to tell me that I'm in the final draw for a Major Prize . I might have won , who knows ? But , since I'm not five years old , I put the phone down on whats'isname from "Zurich .... Switzerland " , while wondering why he had a local accent .

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Woolly All Over


It was 3 degrees Celsius this morning . A chill mist enveloped everything , me included , as I pedalled along the river bank to work . Perhaps it's time to embrace head-to-toe wool

and a brave face ?

or an alluring balaclava ?

My grandmother was of the opinion that one could never look one's best when one was cold so , at the very least , I ought to buy 12 balls of Sunbeam Cilicia and get cracking .

Friday, 30 October 2009

Ghostly goings on...


In Bamburgh (northumberland), the church is the resting place for Grace Darling, a local heroine. But what really caught my eye was a stained glass window which illustrates a virtuous woman. Now I know my price is not far above the proverbial rubies, but, for crafty reasons, I rather liked this particular stained glass window panel:

It was far too rainy to take decent photos of Northumbrian castles, and we took refuge in a pub for a gastro lunch. There was a van parked outside with the following ghostly transfers on the doors.... erm, now we know already which of the two ghosts I might be! But I rather like the moto: 'reality is an illusion created by a lack of alcohol'.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Floating About In The Ether


Felled by a headache at work yesterday , I came home early and spent the rest of the afternoon under a blanket on the sofa , like a moulting owl .
I never get headaches .....not as a matter of principle , I'm just lucky and don't . If I get anything , it's a sore throat ( no smirking from those who know how much I talk ) . So I had to consult my handy Enquire Within for remedies .

I see that one " should lie down in a darkened room with a cold bandage round the head . A few drops of ether may be used on a rag and added . Cover all with oiled silk to prevent evaporation " .
Unable to face climbing back on my bike to seek either oiled silk or ether , let alone do anything so noisy as rip an old sheet into bandages , I looked again . Luckily I then read that some cases are benefited by taking a strong cup of tea or coffee .
And it works .

Friday, 23 October 2009

Bubbly on a beach


On academic sabbatical this year, and one of the perks is not being tied to the schedule of meetings and classes, which means that I can accompany my partner to Northumberland for a week. Both of us are working during the day, one sorting out someone elses archives, and another catching up on reading (my challenge this week: to read a novel relevant to my research which is in Catalan, a Romance language I am not familiar with but can, with the aid of a dictionary, interpret adequately... have completed 200 pages out of 399!).

The evenings, though, are our own, and last night we dashed with a friend down to the beach at Beadnell. It was a rare evening without rain, though the sea was rough:

We toasted the three brave Guillemots that bobbed unperturbed on the crashing waves with a glass of bubbly wine.
Hope to snap a shot of a castle or two tomorrow on our return home!