A bricks and mortar Christmas

Christmas gift shopping. You can love it, you can hate it; you can buy into it, or you can opt out of it – no matter which way you cut it, you just can’t ignore it. I’m trying to do as much of my shopping as possible offline, from bricks and mortar shops in my home city and this is working well for me. I have had to resort to ordering one gift online, but I’m really hoping that is the limit for this year.

I’ve also found that it is a mistake even to check online to see if local shops have the things I’m thinking of in stock because the result will not necessarily bear any relation to the stock they actually hold. For example, I failed to find one particular item in town yesterday so I looked online and found the local branch of a stationery chainstore claimed to be carrying it. I changed my plans for this morning and walked into town, only to learn in the shop that they didn’t have any stock and the item was discontinued so they were unlikely to have any ever again.

Some you lose.

Despite this setback, since I was in town so I thought I’d just check in the bookshop where I found three different versions of the very thing I was looking for and also several other inspiring items, making significant inroads into my gift shopping.

Some you very much win.

Speaking of local shops, somewhere in the past three months, whilst I’ve been busy with my move, the niche beauty retailers Space NK have opened a branch in my home town which is just perfect for gift shopping. Note that: gift shopping. Not walking in, trying on perfume, then deciding you just can’t leave the shop without buying it for yourself.

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As soon as this fragrance hit my wrist, I knew I was lost. It is exactly what I want to smell like right now. It’s not a favourite of yesteryear, it’s not something that reminds me of a particular place or time (although I am getting a slight hit of 1970s bath cubes, which I can’t imagine anyone as sophisticated as Jo Malone was intending). It is right here, right now, au courant, fresh new me. I love it.

How is the approaching holiday season making you feel? Are you full of fresh ideas, enjoying established traditions, or wishing you could hide in a cave? Shopping online, or enjoying searching in local stores? I’m fascinated by how everyone approaches the season with different intentions.

 

2018 in 9 chapters

Prologue

2018 is singing a triumphant closing number and 2019 is poised to make its entrance so what better to do today than reflect on some key themes from the year? You might want to make yourself a cuppa before you head into this – it’s going to feel like you’ve been reading for a whole year before you get to the end!

Chapter 1 – the ignominy of scriptwriters

I’m going to start with Kojak, but I promise I will bang on a lot less about this subject in the New Year (maybe!). Today I want to talk about how cruel script-writers can be. Since July, I have sat through four series of this excellent show from the 1970s and in almost every episode, Detective Bobby Crocker has crossed a busy New York road. Every time he crosses a road, he does it perfectly – he looks in both directions before he crosses, he carries on looking both ways as he crosses, if a car approaches, he calmly and politely alerts the driver by holding up his hand, if a car stops he generously raises a hand in acknowledgement and thanks. I am not kidding, every time I cross a road now, I think about Bobby Crocker and his road-crossing technique!

I therefore consider it a betrayal that, in Series 5, the scriptwriters decided that he should get knocked over by a car whilst crossing the road! This scene could have been done with any other detective in Manhattan South and been utterly understandable. But no, they had to choose Crocker!

(It’s okay, he only banged up his elbow and lived to fight another day, but that’s not the point.)

Chapter 2 – knitting

So, on to the serious stuff. At the end of 2017, when my knitting spirit was slightly under par, I decided to set myself the goal of knitting one garment and three pairs of socks for each of the four seasons, with the year divided at December 21st 2017; March 20th 2018; June 21st 2018; September 23rd 2018 and ending on December 20th 2018. I actually knitted three garments (the chunky sweater, sleeveless top, and maroon superwash sweater) plus two pairs of socks (both in Mr B Yarns – “Where the Wild Things Are” and “An Inspector Calls” colourways). I am not downhearted because that’s an improvement on the previous couple of years. Also, I am only counting my personal knitting – it would be a lot more impressive if I added in stock I’ve knitted for my Etsy shop, and the Christmas gift jumper.

The most important thing is that I love and wear the items I’ve knitted this year, so I consider it good, solid progress. What I am taking forward into the new year is a renewed commitment to work on the project/s I have on the needles every day, rather than to revert to my normal ‘boom or bust’ nature. A tiny bit of progress every day is the best way to go, and I find if I pick up something intending to only knit a couple of rows I will probably still be there at the end of an hour thinking ‘just one more row’. This is especially true of the Gaudi caridgan I am currently working on.

I do like the idea of dividing the year into the four seasons and I will continue with that for the coming year, just in a more organic, less goal-driven way.

Chapter 3 – reading

I haven’t read as much in 2018 as I intended to, although I have read more than I did in the previous few years so, again, there’s been a bit of progress.

The reads I have recorded were:-
Frenchman’s Creek” Daphne du Maurier – re-reading of an old favourite
Eight Girls Taking Pictures” Whitney Otta – gift from my daughter and a thoroughly fascinating book
Hypothermia” Arnaldur Indridason – Skandi-noir crime-thriller passed on to me by my daughter
The Great Gatsby” F Scott Fitzgerald – another re-read; another old favourite

For Christmas this year I received four books as gifts, so these will be my initial reads going forward:-
Little Miss Christmas” Roger Hargreaves – read this as soon as I unwrapped it on Christmas morning
Iceling” Sasha Stephenson – science fiction, really keen to read this as soon as I’ve finished the Murakami
Killing Commendatore” Haruki Murakami – new book; my favourite author; lovely dustcover, but simply stunning covers underneath it; started reading this on Christmas Day
Uncommon Type” Tom Hanks – I’ve seen so many snippets about this since it was published and I’ve been thinking about getting it, so great to receive it as a gift, and keen to read after I’ve read the others

As with the knitting, I am finding with reading that if I do a little each day I achieve more than if I think I will spend a big block of time reading something.

Chapter 4 – creative writing

Back in the early part of summer I put in a lot of work on my creative writing and I hit 10,000 words on the first draft of what I like to refer to as my novel. Then I stopped. I had good reasons for stopping, not to do with lack of enthusiasm for the project, just that my attention was needed elsewhere. Towards the end of the year I’ve been thinking seriously about short fiction pieces, and looking at Medium as a platform to get some of my writing past the draft stage on into an arena where it stands a chance of being read. I intend to write more about this in the next couple of weeks as I firm up my plans.

Chapter 5 – weight and health

I think in 2018 the most beneficial thing I have done is change my diet, lose weight, and become more active. It took a big change in my lifestyle to prompt me to do this; I had been unhappy with my weight and generally feeling lumpy and unfit for a long while, but I was stuck in a rut of spending too much time on work I didn’t particularly enjoy and not enough time on creative things that I would enjoy, then compensating myself by over-eating.

Now I am two stone lighter than I was; I have eaten well, though not to excess, over Christmas without either gaining or losing any weight; and I feel a hundred times better about myself than I have for a long while. The trick (for me, at least) is to recognise what your particular downfall is and then just apply yourself to correcting it. For me, it’s snacking – I never have been one for eating huge meals, but will happily graze on sweetery until the cows come home. Forcing myself into a routine of eating three meals a day and not snacking in between has been the key as far as eating goes, and I think if I maintain this then I have a good chance of establishing a weight that I am happy with and can maintain.

That is one side of the equation. The second, equally important thing for weight loss is EXERCISE. I don’t think you can lose weight just by changing your eating (input); you also have to address your exercise (output). I initially committed to doing at least 30 minutes of exercise a day and quite quickly upped this to an hour a day. About 50% of the exercise I do is walking because it’s the thing I enjoy and I can easily do and I find it beats cycling into a cocked hat for general fitness.

The other 50% is down to that blue plastic step! No, it isn’t pretty; no, it isn’t exciting; but, boy, does it work! I don’t use it for fancy workouts; I don’t follow some wonderful programme – I literally just step on and off it for 30 minutes. Sometimes I listen to music whilst I’m doing it (Dusty Springfield is great!); sometimes I watch TV (The Professionals; Alias Smith & Jones); I just make sure I do at least one session a day – two if it’s rubbish weather or there’s some other reason I don’t want to go out for a walk.

The third element in my fitness triumvirate is the Apple Activity App (and it’s only the Apple Exercise App because I choose to live within the Apple ecosystem as opposed to the alternatives). I use this to keep me accountable for exercise and general movement. It tracks three things:-
Move – I keep this target purposely low; it’s currently set to making sure I burn 360 calories per day and most days I will double this, every so often I will triple it. ‘Move’ is hard to define as I notice I get a higher ‘score’ if I sit and knit than I do if I actually go out and walk, but you take it as it comes, really. The app also tots up your Move streak and at the moment I have met my Move target for 110 consecutive days.
Exercise – I have this set to 30 minutes per day; again, I usually achieve more than this. Both timed workout sessions and general exercise count in this one, although you have to go for a brisk walk rather than a general amble for it to be deemed exercise.
Stand – This is always set to a minimum of 12 hours ‘standing’ per day – which means that you have got off your chair and moved around for a minimum of a minute in each of those 12 hours. It’s a good one because it is surprisingly easy to remain relatively motionless for huge stretches of time, and on this one sitting knitting doesn’t count as ‘standing’ – you do actually have to get up and walk about.

Using this app has shown me that I am very motivated by achieving targets, no matter if they are completely arbitrary and even if I don’t really understand what constitutes a particular achievement. Give me a big, shiny, virtual medal and I’ll obey you!

Chapter 6 – stationery

My love of stationery has continued to thrive in 2018 and I have been lucky enough to be able to use my fountain pens and lovely notebooks even more as I have gone through the year. In February I took part in InCoWriMo for the second year and totally sucked at it! I will do it again in 2019 and I’m determined to succeed in sending out 28 letters this time. I’ve corresponded with some lovely and interesting people doing this challenge and it is well worth it.

I didn’t increase my store of fountain pens during the year, and I don’t have any intention of doing so in 2019. I did receive two lovely new bottles of ink as Christmas gifts. These are from Lamy’s new Crystal ink range and they are both simply gorgeous. I feel rather ho-hum about Lamy’s standard inks so wasn’t sure if this higher-end range would inspire me, but I am very impressed with the initial try-out. Although they aren’t huge bottles (30ml compared to 75ml in a bottle from Graf von Faber-Castell), this keeps the price at a point where you can comfortably put it on a gift list. (I am a normal person some of the time and I can completely understand that people who don’t use fountain pens might baulk at shelling out £23-£29 for a bottle of ink from lines like Graf von Faber-Castell and Pilot Iroshizuku.)

I am still a sucker for a pretty, or simple but incredibly well-made, notebook. In fact, I choose my handbags based on how easily I can fit an A5 notebook and pen into it. On that front, I received a further very thoughtful gift at Christmas, a leather case to carry three pens which is proving to be such a good item to take in and out of your bag.

Chapter 7 – being a fan

A huge part of this year for me has been about being a fan, primarily of Blake’s 7, but also of Dr. Who, Kojak, Alias Smith and Jones, and the hundred other little flames I keep burning across the years. Being a fan brings me so much pleasure and it is a joy that I share with my grandson which is even better than experiencing it alone.

This year was a happy one as we went about celebrating 40 years since the first showing of Blake’s 7, and we pushed the boat out with a weekend convention where I met loads of lovely people: fans, crew and cast members. I am still smiling with pleasure every time I think about it. It was sad, too, as the inimitable Jacqueline “Servalan” Pearce passed away; a tiny, but larger than life lady who leaves behind the most marvellous memories with all who met her, however fleetingly.

I know it has also been a tough year for Ian Kubiak who organises the Cygnus Alpha conventions and I just want to ackowledge how much poorer my life would be if I had not stumbled upon his web page in 2016 and reignited my love of Blake’s 7. Ian, his family and all who help out at the conventions have earned a very special place in my affections.

Chapter 8 – word of the year

I am not keen on New Year’s Resolutions, but for a few years now I have chosen a ‘word of the year’ to give me something to focus on. These have been “Return” (2016); “Flexibility (2017); “Home” (2018). Whilst I didn’t really manage to be terribly flexible in any way at all during 2017, I think keeping home in mind through 2018 helped me a lot and it was very successful. I have always been very much a homebody – it is where I feel happy and free to be creative. For me, there is nothing better than shutting the door and knowing that nothing needs to intrude unless I will it. Except, of course, for those lovely people I don’t actually know who like to spread joy by phoning me from foreign climes to suggest that my broadband will be disconnected unless I give them control of my computer.

For 2019 I have chosen “Establish” as my word of the year and this is to help me focus on getting things onto a firm footing through 2019 whilst trying to be more the person I want to be and less the person that convention suggests I should be. I am looking forward to seeing how this works through the upcoming year.

Chapter 9 – visitors on WordPress

I have loved writing my blog this past few months, but I think even more than the writing, I enjoy seeing all the countries where visitors have logged in to view my posts. In 2018 these have been (from lowest number of visits to highest number):

Switzerland – Thailand – Philippines – Netherlands – Austria – Japan – United Arab Emirates – New Zealand – Ukraine – France – Portugal – Egypt – Russia – Croatia – Indonesia – Sweden – Hong Kong – Finland – China – South Africa – Australia – Romania – India – Ireland – Germany – Canada – United States – United Kingdom.

So, if you are the person who visited from Switzerland today and read my Quote of the Week from Bob Dylan, thank you, I hope you enjoyed your trip. And, of course, my heartfelt thanks to everyone who has come to look at my tiny plot on the internet and has enjoyed what they have read here.

Epilogue

Whew, this is a mammoth blog entry. I would like to end it by wishing everyone all the best for the coming year.

Propser 2019
“Live long and prosper.”

 

Bikes and bags and secret knits

Fully laden Trek

So, when I want to do my grocery shopping, this is my modus operandi.  My Trek bicycle is my everyday transport, in that I ride it to work, for leisure, and for shopping.  And, yes, I use it in the wind, and the rain, when it’s light, or it’s dark, but I wimp out when it’s snowy or icy.

This is the Trek loaded up with a grocery shop.  Depending on what I’ve bought, it can be a bit of a haul getting home – groceries can be very heavy.  Sometimes it’s just bulky stuff like cereal and tissues so the weight isn’t quite so bad.  After a lot of experimentation the combination of bags shown works for grocery shopping.  There are two Basil designs which hook onto the rear rack of the bicycle.  The black and white one also doubles as a day-bag (well, when it’s not beyond use as it is now – waiting for the replacement as we speak!!) but the grey one on the side next to the wall tends only to be used for shopping.  The rack pack which sits on top of the rack is for overflow items, as I found that I always buy one more item than will fit into the two shoppers!

I’ve been really happy with the design of the bags from Basil, which is a Dutch firm.  They do a good variety, plain and fancy.  I also have a couple of their designs for little girls which are the ideal size for a ‘handbag’.

But I haven’t only been doing my grocery shopping.  No siree.

Unfortunately, what I have been doing is somewhat secret.  Hush.  Not a word.  There’s one secret knitting project which has a definite deadline which it might meet.

Hush, can't say

This is being knit in Wendy Supreme Cotton DK.  Despite hating working with cotton, this is actually very nice indeed and I’m really happy with how it’s knitting up.  Mind you, I’m getting nowhere near the “correct” gauge, either for the project I’m working or for the suggested gauge for the yarn.  Strangely enough, although I usually knit very loose, I’m rather tight on this one, although admittedly I’m using a size smaller needles than suggested.  But then I like the fabric it’s making so maybe I’d find the next size needle making a slightly sloppy fabric for my taste.

Then there’s another secret knit which I started this weekend.  This might have a deadline, or it might not.  It might be going to one person, or it might be going to a different person.  What the deadline is, and who the recipient may be, and, indeed, what the project turns out as, are all in the lap of the gods at the moment.  Given that I must complete the first secret project, I might not have time to finish the second one to meet the earlier deadline, in which case it will become a Christmas gift.  In fact, the yarn was bought with the Christmas gift in mind, so has been slightly hijacked for the summer gift idea.

No, really, can't talk about it

This time the yarn is raw silk.  I am calling the project Recalcitrant.  This is not because I’m having any problems with the knitting, but the yarn was a real problem to wind from skein to ball.  It has a slightly ‘sticky’ feel and kept clinging to itself and twisting into knots as I wound it.  Plus, I kept dropping the ball.  Note to self: must invest in ball winder one of these old years. The colours are just gorgeous, for either of the people I have in mind.  It reminds me of different coloured lichen growing on a rock.  Of course, if I was knitting this for myself I would be doing plain old stocking stitch.  Even as I’m knitting the very simple lace pattern, I keep thinking “Wow, this would look good in stocking stitch”.  It’s lucky that I occasionally knit for other people, otherwise this blog would just be a sea of stocking stitch.

So that’s what I’ve been up to this weekend.  How about you?