From Blubber with Love

Now please tell me that you have all seen the news stories from a few weeks ago about the Russian spy whale? I know I am a bit behind the times on this (and I promise I did actually start a post on this last week, but just never got chance to finish it), but this is possibly one of my most favourite things of this year and it’s important you are all fully aware of it.

The story goes that Norwegian fisherman/scientists who were milling about doing marine-y things in the waters off the coast of Norway were approached by a friendly Beluga whale sporting a very fashionable harness which boldly proclaimed “Equipment St Petersburg” on the front. According to some ‘sources’, the harness boasted mounts for Go-Pro cameras, possible weapons and all other sorts of gadgetry synonymous with nefarious spy-like behaviour. Obviously, various media outlets across the world took this and ran and the world woke up to headlines screaming “Boris the Beluga – Russian Spy”, “Is That Whale a Russian Agent?” and my personal favourite “Russian spy whale has defected to Norway, locals claim” (thank you to The Guardian for that beauty). It has been stressed by numerous researchers involved in reviewing the situation that everything regarding the whale’s intended purpose is “pure speculation” – but I do kind of feel the cat is out the the proverbial now, and we can all say that we’re not confirming anything all we like, but everyone is already on the espionage bandwagon.

Look at his happy little spy face

Now, one on hand, I want to think the “spy” theory might be slightly farfetched. I mean do you really want your spies going out there with Hello My Name Is badges stating exactly where they came from? If you’re going along that route, you might as well go along the Captain America style of tactics and dress it up in a cape with a big red hammer and sickle emblazoned across the chest. However, if you then look back to the whole Salisbury debacle who even knows what shady Governmental bodies are up to anymore – it’s all gone a bit Monty Python really.

Let’s face it though, it’s not as though involving animals in human warfare is a novelty; there are thousands of stories about horses, pigeons, cats, dogs and even bears being used as mascots, scouts, sniffers and safeguards. And personally, whilst I am against using animals in wars, I can see the tactical benefits they can provide. I mean, just ask Alexander the Great – using elephants on the front line is a perfect way of moving great distances, plowing through battalions and scaring the royal beejesus out of anyone in your way. If I was in a situation requiring of every advantage I could get, I can see why you might want to branch out and try different avenues to ensure your victory.

(Side note – as Woo pointed out during one of my rants at a recent episode of Game of Thrones, my knowledge of tactical and defensive warfare is wholly unexpected, but surprisingly comprehensive. Seriously, ask me about my views on expanding trench systems and the many varied uses for boiling oil. I think it’s mainly because I might be useless at fighting, but I have an overdeveloped sense of danger and compellingly strong survival instinct. That and an early introduction to Raymond E. Feist’s fantasy series “Magician” and the truly memorable selection of conflicts and combat situations described within. (Seriously, for a young impressionable tween, it made a big impact). Put me on a battle field and I’ll be dead in seconds, but give me a castle to defend and that sucker is going to be wrapped up tighter than a Christmas bow. If I’ve got a surplus menagerie of animals just waiting to be training up in combat, you can bet I’m probably going to use them).

More specifically, marine animals being trained by the military isn’t anything new and there are plenty of stories about dolphins, whales and sea lions being utilised to locate enemy mines, guarding naval bases and finding lost equipment using echolocation. From the 1960’s, the great old US of A have been apparently been training dolphins to detect mines and recover inert torpedoes – and there have been figures released from official sources that that sea lions from the Marine Mammal Program (not the catchiest name I think they could have come up with) have been responsible for recovering millions of dollars worth of equipment from the sea floor. From as recently as 2017, the Siberian Times has reported that the Murmansk Sea Biology Research Institute has trained all sorts of various sea creatures in military roles (fingers crossed for mermaid assassins). So perhaps it isn’t quite a leap to think that Russia have been employing passing beluga’s to keep an eye on things as we thought.

The aforementioned harness. Love a sensible clip.

Further research has provided other avenues though and there have been suggestions that rather than being the James Bond of the sea, our friendly neighbour Beluga is in face, a child therapist. In an article from The Guardian, Morten Vikeby, a former Norwegian consul, advised a local paper that the whale was reminiscent not of a spy, but of a previous therapy whale he’s encountered in a diving centre in Russia, who entertained children with mental disabilities. He provided the most fantastic quote:

“The whale has been accused of espionage. I see it as my big purpose to defend him.”

According to this article, this particular beluga is a bit of a local celebrity and can be regularly seen along the coast line, performing tricks and being generally very friendly. He has been christened “Hvaldimir”; a combination of the popular Russian name Vladamir and hval – the Norwegian word for whale. However, the notion that it is something similar to the therapy whale Mr Vikeby previously saw is being posited as unlikely. The dive centre advised that there haven’t been any whales in similar capacities for a few years, and the ones they previously had were never harnessed.

Either way, nobody has yet owned up to having lost him, and working from past experiences, I can’t imagine we’re going to find out anytime soon where is backstory originates from. Still, Hvaldimir appears to be living his best life; enjoying his belted look (which is very on trend at the moment) and making friends all along the coastline of Norway, and I wish him all the best.

Citations/Pictures:
https://edition.cnn.com/2019/05/04/europe/marine-mammals-military-training-scli-intl/index.html

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/10/mystery-of-the-missing-whale-is-it-a-russian-spy-or-child-therapist

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/04/29/europe/norway-whale-russian-military-scli-intl/index.html

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Je Suis une Fille Française

So I read an article on Facebook the other day. I try not to do this too much, because half the time the things on there are total utter guff that involve having to scroll through absolute troves of adverts to get anywhere near the actual crux of the issue, and the other half I spend getting outraged at people’s trite opinions about stupid inane topics. The other night though, I had a few free minutes and the title caught my eye.

“Trying To Be a Stereotypical “French Girl” Changed My Life”

It was a short post on Refinery29 by Judy Kim, interspersed with bright and colourful cartoon-esque drawings and bold quotations. I’m really not too sure what I was expecting when I opened it, or if I thought it would change my life, but I was already starting to ponder just exactly what specifically a “French Girl” was, and what they could do for me.

It started simply enough – Judy Kim tells us of her lifetime obsession over French culture and the rather fun line “I’ve found that the concept of the French woman is a gathering of contradictions”. To be honest, I’ve never put to much thought into French women or their general contradictory nature, but apparently it’s a big question for some folks out there. The woman the author goes onto describe is the “seductive stereotype” of “old movies”, a figure who is “effortlessly beautiful with an air of mystery and a touch of ennui” and it becomes clear that what we are discussing is more the ideal of what we believe a French woman to be, rather than what I imagine French women actually are (which is pretty much the same as women everywhere only with a saucier accent). Not to generalise or sweep away masses of cultural and national diversity, but a lot of this description is what I think men of the time believed or wanted women to be, rather than what they actually were; a “modern-day fairy tale”.

I respect the hanging plants heavily, but the underwear cooking leaves something to be desired, as I will discuss below…

Still, I was intrigued and had time to spare so I dove on in. Judy talks about going to brunch with a Parisienne (her spelling, not mine) pal who “embodies the French-woman stereotype”. She is described as wearing a jumper from the day before, talking about a drama with a love interest and, in what I thought was a sexy little description; “the remnants of her lipstick” which “offered an alluring, barely there stain”. For Judy, this friend is the epitome of all the French romance she wants and leads her to a sort of crisis of self; full of envy and insecurity. For me, the friend sounded like a pretty standard cross between your friendly neighbourhood Ebear (old jumper and grubby lipstick stains) and a standard teenager (love drama). This meeting led to an all round change in our author’s life though, and after finding herself newly single and directionless, encouraged her to embrace what she called the “ethos” of the French woman – someone with strong foundations, knows what she wants, is “unabashedly alluring” and, my personal favourite “purposefully undone”. (If day old clothes and make up smears is all it takes, I think I may already “French Girl” – who knew?)

Honestly though, my sarcasm aside, I understand more of what Judy is alluding to than I pretend. There are always those women who appear to be effortlessly chic in a kind of untamed way and ooze a sexy confidence that seems almost unattainable for mere mortals (looking at you here, Nigella Lawson) but how much of that is actually true versus how much of that is out own insecurities projecting or the filter of social media is something to be considered. Perhaps I am being unfair to Judy – she is clear that her infatuation is with an ideal rather than a specific person, and it is cruel to mock that which other people hold dear (and very much not what I intend to do here), but I did find some amusement in the the things she describes as being the hallmarks of what the “French Girl” is.

She starts off her month long journey of discovery by stopping for espresso in a cafe every morning before work. Now this does strike me as somewhat decadent, but possibly that’s only because I view anyone who can get out of bed early enough to allow them the time to do anything other than regret their life choices and try and brush their teeth and pull their shoes on at the same time as some kind of mythical wonder. I would very much like to be that person, but also find the extra ten minutes in bed after my alarm to be vital to my general well being (enforced early mornings do not agree with me). I’m also not sure how much this coincides with the argument – getting up early enough to have a coffee before work (in a cafe, I might add) strikes me as meaning you need to be someone who is structured, able to keep to time constraints and not afraid of routine, which seems somewhat opposed to the lackadaisical nature of this so called “French Girl”.

Judy then goes on to say how one morning it rained and she stayed in the cafe, sipping on her beverage and watching the world go by until the coast was clear and she “finally drifted into work – unrushed”. I’m not 100% sure, but if I were to float into work whenever I fancied, I wouldn’t be working here for much longer. They are flexible, but only up unto a point, and rocking up late due to a coffee break would be a tad beyond the pail.

She talks about fashion and style next – how she streamlined and “traded in trends for simple, flattering pieces”. Now, I am very much for having a ‘capsule’ wardrobe; though it’s not something I practice religiously yet. Having plain and easily mixable pieces makes life so much easier and means you can just grab whatever you want, but I feel my outlook is very much based on price and laziness – I have lots of plain jumpers because I can’t be arsed with the stress of trying to mix and match outfits and I have never shopped for trends. Handbags and perfumes with brand names that cost hundreds or thousands of pounds are very much not my thing. However, whilst she describes this as providing a “chic yet undone” vibe, I mainly look like a walking advert for the Edinburgh Wool Mill – not quite the romantic French look she seems to be going for. The day old jumpers of her brunch partner, grabbed carelessly from the back of the wardrobe is basically how I live my life every damn day, yet I imagine I don’t look quite as sexy as she did. Considering the amount of laundry I seem to do, practically everything I wear has some kind of stain on it somewhere and I don’t even know where our iron is (the only thing that gets smart treatment is the collar of TMM’s shirt if required for a serious work thing, and even then I just use my hair straighteners). According to this article though, this is sexy and effortless behaviour. I however, feel it’s more grubby and frazzled (at least when I do it) – when does it become “effortless beautiful” and stop being “a total minger”?

Judy’s changes in her spending habits allow her the money to spend on food though, and she talks about introducing carbs and sugar back into her life. I don’t have this extra purse of cash though (seeing as I am about cheap clothes) and I already eat whatever I want when I want (except black garlic, which whilst being absolutely delicious gives me crippling heartburn). I am lucky enough to have a good metabolism that currently serves me very well, though I have no doubt will fail me dramatically on my 40th birthday and will mean that TMM will wake up next to a human whale and will be forced to clean me with a sponge on a stick. Weight has luckily never been an issue for me (except me weirdly chubby ankles which whilst being a completely ridiculous thing to cause stress has brought me great anguish) so perhaps it is unfair of me to be so blasé about this, but food is one of life’s great pleasures and I feel so guilty about so many things in my life that I refuse to punish myself for eating nicely. Judy’s been depriving herself for five years though (we both italicized this period because it is criminally sad) and splashed out on a $20 jar of chocolate spread and a special silver spoon to eat it with , as well as the finest croissants the New York City had to offer. Honestly, this is the best bit of this article and I applaud anyone that goes from a diet lacking in pretty much any joy to such complete indulgence.

This is exactly how I sit and look at food too

After that, Judy moves onto dating and it all goes a bit rom-com for my personal tastes. She adopts a personal mantra of”anything goes” and there’s dates at bistros with charcuterie plates and in depth conversations on fire escapes with bottles of wine that go on late into the night. It’s not that I don’t applaud her or wish her any the worse for it, but my British cynicism doesn’t really give much truck to such things. I would love me a fire escape chat, but really that’s not what they’re there for (health and safety issue anyone) and I would much rather be curled up with TMM and a good book than out sowing my wild oats. What Judy describes as an “insistence on stability” leading to “lack of excitement and romance” doesn’t sit well with me.

She also talks about romancing herself; dancing by herself, visiting perfume boutiques, and cooking dinner in lacy lingerie. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of luxury shops and I quite often do dance by myself, but cooking in underwear seems fraught with danger – the hot oil splatters alone could ruin the mood, and I’m not really sure how happy my neighbours would be to see me frolicking about in my pants trying to make pancakes.

Overall, I was left mostly ambivalent by the article, which is possibly more of a reflection on me than the subject matter itself. However, there was one thing in particular which did strike a cord, and it’s something she concludes herself in the last paragraph.

Ms Kim writes “I dared to tell myself I deserved everything I could ask for…I treated myself like a Very Important Person. There were moments…in which I convinced myself I simply was a Very Important Person”. There is a beauty in that; in letting go of the guilt and shame that is so often associated with indulgence and self love and instead embracing it as a positive. Often, self-indulgence can be viewed as self-entitlement or as being conceited and egotistical and I honestly believe there is a big difference. One line, regarding the buttery croissant she bought herself, truly epitomises the need for this definition – “I am not exaggerating when I say that it was the kindest thing I had ever bought for myself”. I love me a good croissant, but we should be kind enough to ourselves that we don’t have to identify it as the best thing we’ve ever treated ourselves too. In today’s society where everything is focused to being better, thinner, cleverer, smarter and richer, perhaps we do all need a little more self-care like this.

You can look after yourself like a Very Important Person without it being at the expense of others; be nice to yourself whilst still being nice to everyone else and sometimes you really do deserve the nice food and lipstick stains. So I’d like to thank Judy Kim, because although I don’t particularly relate to her example, I applaud the message behind it. Perhaps if we were all a little bit more “French Girl” we could all just be a little bit happier.

All Aboard the Bank Holidays Banter Bus

REJOICE! For at least 3 days of a Bank Holiday weekend, we in dear old Blighty experienced temperatures that, perhaps unsurprisingly for Daily Mail readers, were THE HOTTEST DAYS EVER SINCE RECORDS BEGAN EVER. Shorts were on, legs were out and beer gardens were full to the brim of the pink shoulders and shiny bald spots of people who literally can’t believe their luck.

Sadly, it was a great start for TMM as he didn’t get the Friday off, but I can’t say really miss much. (He did get the pleasure of taking Molly to Morrisons though, which sounds like it was as much of a riot as it always is). I mainly ate chocolate pillows in bed and then cleaned the bathroom – there was some serious bleach application done with an old toothbrush and some seriously bad dancing. I can’t say I feel too guilty for not doing too much – I definitely needed a bit of a respite after the somewhat traumatic dramas of the last week at work (there was almost a heart-stopping moment where we thought 200+ people weren’t going to get paid and I was mentally preparing my new life as a goat herder in the Alps – thankfully we fixed it but my heart rate was high for a good long while afterwards).

We made a bit more of an effort on the Saturday though, after a couple of false starts here and there. We had initially planned to be up with the sparrows and on our way, but this didn’t seem quite as vital when we actually woke up and we eventually left the house at about 10am. This was after I’d been startled at the backdoor by a headless bunny that I’m assuming Bucky tried to bring in through the cat flap before getting bored and deciding to leave it nestled up right where I nearly stepped (side note, we still don’t actually know where the head is, which is concerning to say the least). After sorting out that disaster zone, we dropped in to see Molly (who was, for once, snuggled up in bed where she was supposed to be) and took Benji for a quick drag down the lane before popping into Sainsbury’s for what was supposed to be just a drink and petrol. Spoilers, it ended up being a trip for new trousers, cheese twists, an Easter egg/trashy religious card (for Molly) and precisely no petrol. Eventually though, we managed to get everything sorted and we off out on the open road, enjoying the glorious sunshine through the open windows of our little Hyundai.

Now, it could be said here that TMM and I made what may have been construed by some as a slight error in judgement and ended up spending a chunk of our journey sat in a traffic jam on the way to Formby. It wasn’t quite an Italian Job jam (back doors open and illegal poker games) but it was something we haven’t actually done before – we’re usually pretty canny at choosing destinations that other people don’t and therefore normally avoid this kind of thing. Still, we enjoyed ourselves (I had my feet up on the dash like some kind of rebellious summer youth) and were thankfully parked up free of charge and were out and about exploring in no time.

Sadly we didn’t see a single red squirrel which was a bit of a bummer (TMM has never seen one in the wild and was very hopeful of a good picture opportunity) but I’ve promised to take him to Brownsea Island one day, where they abound in their hundreds. We did see LOTS of Liverpudlian children in various stages of undress though (the youth of today really do have no qualms about showing a bit of skin) and a selection of great dogs frolicking about. We made it to the beach after an hour or so of woodland trekking, and I even divested myself of shoes and socks to get my feet wet. Admittedly, by the time we got part way to the sea, my ardour for it had cooled somewhat and I was somewhat more reluctant than I used to be to dip my toes in. TMM was very encouraging though (from the safety of his big Doc Martens) and cheered helpfully when I finally made it into the shallows. Thankfully, it wasn’t quite as cold as I had feared and I splashed about a bit as happy as Larry. By early evening we were on our way home (sans traffic) and treated ourselves to a fish and chips to complete the whole vibe of the day.

I look a lot calmer here than I actually was

Sunday we spent living the high life at the Nantwich annual Jazz and Blues festival in honour of my payroll pal’s birthday. A group of us spent the day drinking and lazing about in the sun outside pubs like beached seals. The whole town was absolutely rammo-ed – there was a 4 hours queue for one pub that we just passed by in confusion and judgement. We toured around a few of the slightly less populated bars (note – they were still packed in like sardines, but at least we didn’t have to queue) and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves though – there was much dancing like loons and enjoyment of various bands. TMM and I made it home by about 9.30 and proceeded to absolutely demolish a Chinese takeaway and pass out. Apparently our stamina is not what it used to be (but we apparently think we’re rich enough to eat take outs two nights in a row).

We look like real girls!

To be honest though, I think Monday was possibly my favourite day of the whole holiday. After returning to Sainsbury’s for some shopping and a Magnolia sproot we’d clocked on Saturday, we proceeded to spend THE ENTIRE REST OF THE DAY (except an hour spent watching the new Game of Thrones episode) in the garden listening to the Rivers of London audio book and crafting. TMM was loving life in his hammock; his patchwork blanket is coming along swimmingly, and I was stretched out on a deck chair covered in embroidery threads. Considering we barely moved or even talked for about 8 hours (so invested in the audio book were we) I think we were in our element. We embraced the sunshine and the delightful feeling of not having to be anywhere or do anything and it was glorious.

Admittedly, by 8pm that evening we were both a bit glum of the prospect of returning to the real world – a feeling that wasn’t helped on Tuesday morning when we woke up to a stoat corpse on the bedroom carpet. TMM did attempt to make Bucky see the error of his ways and take it out but Bucky mainly chose to ignore that completely and instead just spooned the poor little bugger until TMM managed to flick it out of the upstairs window and watch it cartwheel dramatically into the garden)

Bucky doing his best Lennie from “Of Mice and Men” impression

We’ve made it through most of the week with minimal stress though, and we’ve got a lot to look forward to so it’s not all bad. We’re going to watch Adam Kay (author of simultaneously incredibly hilarious and painfully heartbreaking “This is Going to Hurt”) at the theatre tonight and tomorrow evening we’ve got tickets to go and watch the new Avengers film (which is going to absolutely wreck me, I can tell you that for free). Our weekend is full of gardening and crafting plans (seriously, could we be any more like a retired couple from the suburbs if we tried) and there’s still our odyssey to pack for. It could definitely be worse.

Well I hope you’ve enjoyed your peek into “The Bank Holidays Lives” – I hope it wasn’t too dire. I really didn’t have much to talk about this week that was of any importance, but I ‘m trying to keep this blogging thing going with as little disruption as possible. Next week I shall definitely have something a little more tasty and or topical for you. Or at least I hope so; the rest of my life really isn’t that exciting…

Surviving A Writing Drought

I am very tired at the moment, Readers. Considering that my life currently consists of getting up, sulking, going to work, sulking, going home, specifically sulking whilst cuddling the cat and then going to bed, I’m not 100% sure of the cause of it, but I can tell you for free that it is very annoying. There is so much to be done in and around the house (read – all of the tidying and wedding flower making), as well as in life in general (I got a lot of people and places to visit) and yet all I can do is lie about apathetically making pathetic whiny sounds at TMM. I’m even starting to annoy myself, so I can’t begin to imagine how fed up he is.

I’m struggling to blog again as well, which is terribly frustrating. The world is full of goings on, though admittedly most of it is depressing as hell, that I could weigh in on, so I really have no valid reason for struggling. Woo even suggested I do an anti-Brexit post, in which I find as many relentlessly cheery and positive news stories and write about those, which is a good idea and something I shall definitely do in the future, but right now? I just can’t be arsed.

So, you see, I can’t even properly excuse myself or provide a good reason for such a blog-based drought. It just seems that the creative flow has stalled, and the fountain of blogging has all but dried up this week. Motivation has carelessly passed me by with no regard for my self-imposed deadline, and all literary potential has been leached from me. I remain nothing but a withered husk of a writer (though I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know my unnecessary verbosity is still in full force). I’ve spent 3 days staring blankly at an aggressively blinking cursor and demanding ideas and prompts from other people in an attempt to find inspiration, but sadly it has all been to no avail.

I’ve even tried to find stimulus in new environments (read – typing on the go). I wandered through the town on the way home from work trying to type whilst attempting to avoid the marauding hordes of youths who find delight in shadily loitering around empty market stalls. This seems to be the “done” thing these days, but I definitely don’t remember doing this when I was younger. What is the attraction of hanging round outside the poundshop when you could be sat on someone’s couch watching telly or any number of indoor friendly activities that don’t involve giving the evil eye to passing pedestrians just trying to make their way home after a long day in the office? I am obviously out of time as well as out of ideas.

I’ve done a little research though, to see what I can do to try and pull through this fugue of unwillingness and to see what great authors of the age have done in when faced with similar difficulties. So far, the main thing I’ve discovered is that you need accommodating friends and/or a little nest egg of funds, a good sized patch of land available for building on and a fat ton of free time. It does seem as though the actual place in which you write is one of the most crucial things for creating literary masterpieces. Perhaps I need to find somewhere other than the breakroom at work on my lunchbreak or curled up in the arm chair in the living room with my headphones in to get my writing groove on…

It’s clear though that are some rather excellent spots that writers have haunted in the midst of their creative outputs, and I really need to get on that bandwagon. Locations range from a little nooks and crannies in and around the house to altogether separate buildings in the garden. Agatha Christie wrote in her bath tub and even had a special ledge dedicated to holding paper, pencils and snacks (which I have a lot of respect for) whilst Roald Dahl had a writing hut in his garden (built for him by an old friend who was actually the inspiration behind the character of the BFG). Some writers took it a little bit further; Mark Twain had a specific summer house shaped like a Victorian gazebo built by his sister that allowed him to be away from the distractions of everyday life and focus on his work, and Wallace Stevens liked to compose his poetry on little scraps of paper whilst out and about and then got his friends to type them up whilst he went on his merry way.

Mark Twain’s “hut”. Looks alright doesn’t it? Credit to the Trip Adviser website for this image.

A couple really went above and beyond to ensure they were in the right frame of mind – one of my favourite locales belonged to George Bernard Shaw. He had a shed on his grounds which had an inbuilt rotating platform that would swivel to face the sun throughout the day and a little bunk for napping in. Absolute lad that he was, he also called it London, so when he had unwanted visitors, his staff could say “Sorry, Mr Shaw is in London at the moment” which I think is just inspired and could be classed as some early “bants”. Charles Dickens was also living the dream – he was sent a Swiss Chalet in 58 flat pack pieces by a friend in a perfect example of Ikea before Ikea was even Ikea. He reassembled it on his grounds and spent most of his time in it, even converting the top floor into a dedicated office space.

An article published about G.B.Shaw’s writing house in 1929. I particularly enjoy the section about how it is for his health and not a “wanton eccentricity”. Though considering he pushes it himself, I think I can attest to that. Image credit to a blog by ModernMechanix.

It’s clear to see that each of these writers really knew what they were about and exactly what needed to be done to make sure they were generating their work in the best possible way. There are also a few commonalities between them, and I think that what we can conclude from this mini-study is that I need friends who are willing to build me nice little outhouses to work in and then do the hard bit of typing up all my inane scribbling whilst I gallivant about getting more inspiration.

I wonder if any of them will be willing…

Origa-with-me

Capture

So hey, here’s one of those craft posts I promised you all 3 months ago. Good job on keeping up that Ebear! It was even supposed to be posted last week, but I had a few days off in preparation for my mother coming and got far too distracted. I did however enjoy some stellar family bonding time (Mother got to meet the new Muffin baby and we all had a good hour with Molly) so it’s not all bad.

However, I did manage to intersperse my busy schedule with some craft (because I am a craft guru) and *unrelated tangent – many brews made with milk delivered by an actual milkman (because I am living the goddamn dream). I have gotten down to business all over the place. I am basically defeating The Huns all over the place here (classic Disney reference for you there). This did give me plenty of ammo for today’s post, and you best all just prepare yourselves for the amount of pictures that are about to be all up in here.

So, today’s Blue Peter style craft project is an oldie but definitely a goodie. I first came across it a couple of years ago and went through a period of just smashing out completed projects wildly and without rhyme or reason. Let’s just say, nearly everyone got one for Christmas, regardless of whether or not they wanted it. I still have a whole box full that need to be given homes, and Tupperwares of component parts popping up all over the place.

But what is this wondrous craft I hear you cry – Kusudama Flowers.

Direct translation – Kusuri (medicine) and Tama (ball)

Japanese in origin (hardly surprising I feel) they were typically used to house incense or potpourri and be hung in the rooms of the sick or infirm. These days though, they have a slightly healthier appeal and are used as decorations. They are a form of modular origami and rife with controversy; to complete a full flower or bouquet, you actually need to use glue which can cause a bit of strife for a true at art origami-ist. Origami-er. Origami artist. These flowers are basically the black sheep of the the family and involve a little patience, a little time and very clean and nimble finger tips.

I actually have a reason to be crafting them this time (a novelty I know) other than my restless hands and need to create. A friend from work has commissioned me to help with the flowers and decorations for her wedding. She wants something that will last, as well as being able to incorporate little touches that have some nice meanings for her and her bethrothed. (Personally, I think she is a lovable fool with unfounded faith in my abilities for asking me to be involved with what could arguably be the most important day of her life, but that’s beside the point). After much faffing about though, I’ve finally gotten down to brass tacks and started compiling all the pieces I’ve promised her. The wedding isn’t until September but time flies around these parts and I want to have these done and back in her gentle care before it’s too late.

To the matter at hand then. Simply put, you just need a heck of a lot of paper, some glue and the ability to fold straight lines. I have used card, fancy decorative paper and just bog standard printer paper and each offers their own pros and cons. Card gives you longer lasting and more durable finished pieces, but can cause sore fingers and be difficult to fold neatly. Paper has the opposite problem – though I’m looking into extending the shelf life with some spray glue options. Either way, whatever you use – it’s difficult to make these look bad. They are pretty easy to make (a lot easier than they look, I promise), and worth the time.

Step 1 – Start with your square of paper. If you only have standard A4 – you just need to fold one corner down to make a square and trim away any excess. If you are making multiple sizes of petals, you can actually use some of the discarded strip, which pleases my adverse to waste sensibilities. All you need to do is make a sharp fold from one corner to the opposite so you end up with a neat little triangle. *disclaimer* If you do decide to have a go at making these for yourself I beg of you that you start big. Whilst the tiny ones are beautiful, they can be tricky as hell and there’s nothing more discouraging than trying a new project that ends up with you surround by thousands of balls of screwed up paper and a tear-strewn face #beenthere. Your ideal size is a starting square approx 2.5 inch but always have a few practices a couple of sizes up to get your eye in.

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Step 2 – Once you’ve got your triangle, You need to fold the furthermost outer corners into the top – basically creating a little paper diamond. You need to try and make sure that both wings of folded paper are done as evenly and as sharply as possible. At this point, I think it looks a little like the square is reaching out for a hug. Super cute.

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Step 3 – You need to take your little wings and basically fold them back on themselves. – you want to end up with the shape below.

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Step 4 – Here I have made a grave error in judgement in seemingly not taking a photo (of possibly the trickiest move to make in the whole process) so good luck to you if you are trying this at home. At least we’ll see if the money my parents spent on that English Degree was worth it… Once you’ve got the above shape, you want to open up the wings. To do this, you need to open the last fold you’ve just made slightly. I then find it easiest to slip my nail carefully into the gap between the two sides of paper and wiggle it gently to open the hole a little. You can then push down on the front of the now open wing and flatten it along the previous folds. And if you managed to follow those instructions correctly, you definitely deserve to take a little break for a brew and a biscuit. Ultimately, you want to end up with the image below (which you then need to do on the other side).

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Step 5 – Back to the easy and evidenced path now. Fold down the top point of each flattened wing so you are one again left with a triangle of paper.

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Step 6 – Fold the wings along the fold in the middle of each and press down so nice and flat.

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This image is blurry as hell but my nails look fab so what the hey

Step 7 – This is where your glue comes into play (sorry origami purists). It’s a simple case of carefully gluing (I like to use a pva glue with a fine point nozzle for easy application when working on the smaller flowers, and a little plastic spatula like you used in primary school when working on the bigger ones) the outermost plains of the folded wings and drawing them together. Hold it carefully for a few minutes until dry, being carefully not to let the two sides shift and get their wonk on. This will leave you with your first petal and a well deserved pat on the back required.

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Step 8

Rinse and repeat. Depending on the size of your flowers depends on how many petals you need to make. Smaller flowers only require 5, bigger ones could do with 6 or 7 to keep them tight and well rounded.

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Step 9

Homeward stretch now, my little craftineers! Being careful not to stick your fingers together, yow want to place a fine line of glue along one edge of each petal and stick them together. For just five petals, I find it best to stick one petal at a time, but for even numbers like 6, it’s best to stick three together first, then the remaining three and then glue both halves together (this allows you to make sure it’s even).

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BOOM. YOU HAVE MADE A FLOWER.

Now, you can just stick with one and stick it on a cocktail stick (I have a lovely little bouquet of teeny tiny flowers on bamboo skewers in a glass vase by my bed), or you can create a complete ball by gluing a couple of blooms together. For my friend’s buttonholes, I’ve just clustered 3 of differentiating sizes together (see first image) and decorated with some froof.

They are a really satisfying project though, and for anyone interested in paper crafts or just something to keep your hands busy whilst binge watching Netflix, I recommend giving them a go. I hope no matter what though, I have at least inspired someone to try something crafty this weekend.

His Much Anticipated Materials

The new teaser trailer for the BBC’s adaption of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” came out the other day and I am what could possibly be described as “dangerously overexcited” about it. There are so many shows and films that I’m trying to catch up with telly wise at the moment (having Netflix has really opened up a world of new viewing pleasures to me and I desperately need to give up my job so I can watch them all), and I’ve had to start a list on my phone of all the series that are either coming out soon or just started to make sure I don’t miss anything. I can’t even cope with thinking about all the shows I missed beforehand that are waiting for me; it sends me in a panic. This one though, is something I’ve been waiting on for quite a while – there have been rumors flying around for about 2 years but this is the first time I’ve actually seen something concrete and I am ready.

I am quietly hopeful for this version too. The Golden Compass film that came out a few years ago was fine, and an enjoyable watch if you didn’t think about it too closely, but in no way did it do the original books justice. (Though that being said, their casting of Sam Elliott as Texan aëronautical pilot Lee Scoresby was inspired. (I have always said that I would cast Connor Trinneer (who the nerdiest amongst you will recognise as Trip from Stark Trek:Enterprise) but Sam was a great shout). The producers of this new series have been quoted as saying that they want to ensure they are loyal to the books, which is something I am all for but am going to take with a pinch of salt. I am often sceptical about comments like that, but I think that it’s possibly more of a personal fault than something that can be solely blamed on the media industry. My idea of being loyal is to basically use the source material as the script and film every little nuance, but I understand that sometimes that might be a tad difficult (people get grouchy about films longer than 2 hours, and if I’d done Harry Potter it probably would have actually taken 8 years to watch – we would have been living it in real time).

Pick a Lee, any Lee. To be honest I think I might like Sam Elliott so much because he looks a little like my Uncle Dave…

The books themselves are so richly complex and multi-layered, I imagine it must be almost impossible to create something visual that could match the intricacy required. That isn’t to suggest that they are an example of an overachieving pretentious read for only those with the highest of IQs and snobbiest of tastes. The series is nominally for young adults, and as such they can be read easily and enjoyably. Some of the darker and more complex themes can either be ignored or brushed over if need be, perhaps until the reader is a little older or wiser. I remember reading sections of them when I was younger and being desperate to comprehend some of the wider issues around morality and religion that were being hinted at, but instead being far too impatient to get to the end and follow the dramatic journeys of the characters instead of focusing on the subtextual issues at play. Unlike some books, the more cerebral premises are not clunky or forceful (somewhat in contrast to something like C.S Lewis’ final Narnia book – “The Last Battle” which basically rammed Christian rhetoric down the throat of anyone who cared to read that far) but instead only serve to make each reading richer. Like only a few books I have read (such as those by the late great Diana Wynne Jones or Neil Gaiman) they offer some new insight each time you read them, and the older I get, the more I understand and the more time I spend mulling over some of the implications instead of being overtly involved in the initial overlying drama. That being said though, it is still a damn good adventure story and can be read as such. No wider knowledge is required and no deeper understanding is necessary if you just want to lose yourself in a great fantasy series.

I mean, look how fancy it looks. TMM thinks my daemon would be a bee (hence the bee cameo) but I’m pretty convinced I am far more likely to have a wasp.

I actually remember reading them for the first or second time when I was about 14 and being half way through the first book, The Northern Lights, on a weekend away to Bournemouth for a family gathering. I had a complete panic in the car about 30 minutes into the journey when I realised I’d packed the last book in the series, but forgotten the second one, and begged my dad to turn around and go home so we could pick it up. I couldn’t even begin to cope with the idea of finishing the first one and having to wait for days before diving straight back in. Because he is an actual hero and understands the emotional attachment formed between a book and it’s reader, as well as the importance of continuing a series, he turned us round and went home with minimal complaint. My dad is a firm believer in the “Spare Book Rule” – always have one more book than you think you’ll need, in case you finish the one you’re on unexpectedly) and thankfully wasn’t cruel enough to deny me. It’s a good job too because I finished The Northern Lights before we’d even made it to our destination and would have been utterly inconsolable it I’d had to survive two days and the trip back without the next one. (Don’t even think about suggesting I could have just read something else to tide me over, because people that can swap and change between a series of books at will are heathens).

There is a lot to look forward to though, as this new series boasts a great cast (James MacAvoy, Ruth Wilson and Lin-Manuel Miranda) and from what I can tell from scouring the IMDB and Wikipedia pages, seems to be focusing on just the first half of the first book. Rather than trying to cram everything in (which is what the film did and let me tell you, a 1.5 hour film was never going to be enough time to tell the story), they’re spreading it out over 8 hour long episodes which will hopefully allow for a fair representation of at least some of the action the book contains and to do it justice. A second series has already been commissioned as well, which leads me to believe they’re pretty confident it’s going to be well received, and I’m assuming will cover the second half of the first book, which fingers crossed will draw enough of an audience to mean they can continue and complete whole 3 book story arc.

Pullman’s work is a series in which whole worlds are traversed; in which characters are introduced, rounded and then (often to the gnashing of my teeth and much wailing) killed off in heartbreaking fashions, and which touches on so many different ideas and philosophies. If this new adaption manages to engage with even a fraction of that, I think they’ll be able to safely say it’s been a job well done.

Sofa So Good

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So we made a table this week (also a new blog title box).

Not too shabby is it?

It’s really not a secret that we enjoy a nice bit of DIY here and there and have a lot of willingness, if not quite as much ability, but we’re pretty proud of this one. For less that £20 (the cost of a piece of dowel and a mitre block), we managed to wrangle together a nice little lamp table for down by the arm chair; bringing not only light but a touch of homemade class to the surrounding area. Or something like that anyway.

We have gone a bit interior design crazy recently; I’m blaming our binges of Queer Eye, Pinterest home improvement boards and a promoter on Instagram who has purchased the most beautiful Victorian house somewhere down south and is doing it up live via her story feed. Renting means we are somewhat constricted in regards to making any grand changes (new walls and new floors are a no-no, much to my chagrin), but we’ve been upgrading our furniture and rearranging everything with truly gay abandon.

Our new sofa was delivered last week, coinciding nicely with a few days that I had taken off to use up the remainder of my holiday allowance. Admittedly, I could have arranged it slightly better, and there was some serious couch Tetris required when it dawned on us that the new sofa was coming on Thursday but the old one wasn’t being picked up until Friday. Still, it went better than could be expected and my slight and irrational fear that the sofa delivery men were all going to be serial killers was pleasingly unfounded. Both sets of men were in and out in less time than it took to complete a Stevie Wonder song (though all made a point of complimenting my blues and soul playlist which was nice) and the guys who delivered the new one even had little shower cap like booties to protect our carpets from their shoes. By lunch time on Friday, everything was settled (Bucky was pleased – he’d been pacing the hallway in a most perturbed fashion for two days) and I was even able to put back a couple of the shelving units I’d been painting in between bonding with delivery men.

I am actually quite proud of myself for those few days off. I painted, I did as much laundry as humanly possible and folded all the dry clothes like a full on grown up. We did get rid of an appalling amount of clothes the other weekend in an attempt to downsize by a wardrobe; I don’t even understand how we ended up with so much. We were harsh though and said goodbye to about 5 millions big bags worth stuff that has now gone to charity, and TMM dismantled an old rickety Ikea wardrobe with glee. We do now have a lovely system (shirts, cardigans and dresses in the wardrobe, pants and socks in wardrobe boxes and t-shirts, trousers and jumpers in the chest of drawers. We have one drawer completely dedicated to knitwear and it’s possibly the most pleasing thing my 90 year old heart has ever seen.

This is me upon our MOUNTAIN of clothes

Admittedly, I did also spend a lot of time lay about watching White Collar (a great series, especially if one is contemplating a life of crime in the art world which I often am) and only cried once which I think is high point for my mental state. We even treated ourselves to a showing of Much Ado About Nothing at the local theatre (our excuse is that it is a present to each other for our upcoming anniversary) on Friday night, so I’m classing the whole period as a success.

We’re not doing too badly in the living room though, and I think we’re actually starting to get something we like (after 5 years of being there). TMM has created a new book nook in the corner and put together a new mantle display, in order to best present our new plant obsession. They were supposed to be spread around the house, but I feel like they’ve gotten attached to each other now, so we’re going to have to get new ones for the bathroom. What a shame. Nothing’s died yet though, and I’ve been following Monty Don’s clear guidelines of watering once a week and misting regularly. I even have a little watering can and old fashioned perfume bottle full of water and plant food.

Here we have ZeeZee (in book corner) and then Diefenbaker, Spikey McGee and Peacious Lilious enjoying a little misting on the mantle.

The urge to make the table took TMM somewhat by surprise I think though, and I was powerless to resist his eager charm. He’s been moving light sources around like a madman; every time I come in there’s a lamp in a new place and after deciding the little lamp he’d put together himself (god he’s clever) he told me resolutely that we needed a table to put it on. He rescued the rusting paella dish from the greenhouse where it was to be repurposed as a bird feeder (sorry birds) and after a quick trip to Homebase, he was raring to go. There was much pontificating about “measuring twice, cutting once” because we are well aware of our inability to be patient and plan things through properly, and we ended up 3 slightly wonky legs (we are hopeless). I was in charge of decoration (TMM does not have the steady hand required for a good paint job) and proceeded to do the very thing I shout at TMM for constantly – slap the paint on whilst still dressed in my civilian clothes. I managed to remain unsplattered though, and even did a fancy bit of striping work with some masking tape (Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen eat your heart out – and yes I know how dated that reference is). Admittedly it’s probably not quite up to Ikea standards, but it’s fit for purpose and kept us out of trouble for an evening so I’m taking it as a win.

Please enjoy this step by step photo montage of the table making process. It looks terribly professional, doesn’t it?