Sunday, August 28, 2005

Just hanging around.

After the past week of intense blogorama here, I have little left to say. We bought groceries, we visited Daddy's office, we went to the park, and yesterday we did the tourist thing and climbed the 123 steps of the tower of a big church in town. So here is King's College Chapel and a large chestnut tree from above. The lawn really is perfectly green and smooth and weed free. (The church was closed for the afternoon for a wedding, and we walked back past it in time to see the bride and groom get into their horse-drawn carriage and trot away. Many ridiculous hats in attendance!)

I have been trying to get a bit of knitting in, but with limited success. You'd think a couple of long train rides would have set me up great, but I really didn't get much done. I take the sock out to the pub and the park, but still it goes slowly. And I keep seeing more and more things to knit! I mean, couldn't one knit up a great blanket with all these stripes? It's the market from the church tower.

So, for those keeping track, here are my knitting projects:
  • the socks. One done, one half-finished.
  • the pink cardigan. I said this would be done for school, but that's next Monday, so it'll be done in time for the appropriate weather for a pink cotton cardigan, like ... later.
  • I started a blanket of cotton Denim yarn. It's my bedtime knitting, and it's fun, but I have to finish up this strip so I can start a more thrilling one!
  • And finally, I have a sweater for my husband that's just waiting for a free day for sewing it all together. Then I need to make a button band around the front and voila. Since I started it about 18 months ago, I'd really like to get it finished, but it can't be done in fits and starts, so it never gets looked at at all.
And of course I have that bag of wool for the big old sweater I've been planning for a while. Grr. So my plan (and I'll set it out here for the world to see) is to finish the sock and the pink cardigan with all speed, sew the sweater together once school starts, continue the denim knitting in bed, and get that other thing started before Xmas. And not start anything new until something here is done! So there. We shall see.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The last days on Mull

Our last day on Mull was Saturday. We had seen most of what we wanted to see, and were pooped, besides, so we didn't rush about. We could have driven over the top of the island to Calgary, but declined, despite the Canadian connection. We went into Tobermory and looked at some shops, including a tiny antique store that had loads of water jugs for whisky. The small ones were often about 15 pounds, so I didn't get one. They also had 60-year-old Meccano masterpieces for, what was it, 80 pounds?

We did find these perfect souvenirs, though! We had to talk to the car rent guy in the morning, and thought it would be a good idea to have the rental contract with us, so we searched the car from top to bottom, and came up with some
real gems from under the seats: a souvenir Haida dish from British Columbia and a bust of Dickens. Together with the black and white wool tufts found here and there, a perfect reminder of our time on Mull...

We also found a decent patch of heather for the first time. I guess this is just not the right part of Scotland for heathery hills. Anyways, it is lovely, and here, on the point outside of Tobermory, was a big clump of it. We decided to take a little path out of town that would lead us to a lighthouse. It did indeed, though it was longer than we had thought and very muddy going for a bunch of tourists in sandals. We all mushed along pretty well, though, and did see a very fine lighthouse at the end of the path. We had brought along Arthur's sketchbook and so had a quiet moment while he drew both the lighthouse and the ruined castle we could see across the water.

Time for a last nosh at the fish and chips van on the pier, and then off to the Mull Railway! This little steam train, named Victoria, took us on a short trip to another "castle" called Torosay. It was too late in the day to get a decent tour of the castle, so we just took the train ride and peeked at the gift shop at the end of the line and got back on the train. It was great, though, toodling along on this tiny train. The kids loved it. We had an open carriage on the way down but on the return journey we had a roof and real windows and all.

Near the station was a beach full of rocks, so we had another hour's amusement throwing rocks in the water. Rocks and water, I've found, are essential ingredients on any family holiday.

After the rock throwing, we went back to our lodge, packed all our dirty clothes into the bags, ate most of the remaining food, and prepared for the day of travel to come. Arthur met some other boys and got a few quick lessons in soccer goal-scoring, and said farewell to the sheep.

We left on a Sunday, which meant our choices of ferry were something like 8 am and 11 am. So we got a rather late start on the travelling, since we couldn't bring ourselves to get to the ferry for 8. We consolidated a bit by jamming boots and shovels into the big packs, but we still had 2 small backpacks, 2 large bags, a car seat, and 2 kids. We ferried to Oban, bused to Glasgow (past Loch Lomond), where we had to pick up tickets for the next stage of the journey. Foolishly, we had not noticed that there are several train stations in Glasgow, and clicked the button for picking up the tickets at one station, and leaving on a train from another! So that was a thrilling couple of taxi rides! But we got on and whooshed to Edinburgh. Here we had a very tight connection and managed to just jump on the first class coach at the end of the train before the door closed. So we were dragging all our bags past the upper crust, the kids tearing off in front of us... Did eventually get 4 seats together and chug through the evening down to Stevenage, where we changed to yet another train. One more taxi ride and we were home. At last... and learned one last lesson: when you are leaving home at 6 am, and going away for a week, it's a good idea for an adult to actually check that the child entrusted with the task has actually put out the note for the milkman. There were the empty bottles and the note saying we didn't need milk for a week, in the front hall, and there was the milk, piling up...

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The big adventure

For those of you following the saga of our trip to Mull, you'll be pleased to know that now we have come to Friday, the day of the trip to Staffa. This is a small island famous for its basaltic columns and its caves, especially the one called Fingal's Cave. Stephen (if you google "columnar joints basalt" his paper is the first hit) had a special permission to stay on the island longer than the usual tourist to meet with a group of people who were measuring the columns, and we had to get the 10 am boat, since there are only a very few boats per day. The plan was that we would go with him, come back after an hour and meet up with him later in the day. So, off we went, with sandwiches and juice and all the accoutrements.

Now maybe I didn't mention yet that each of the passing places on the single track roads begins and ends with a pothole. These vary in size... but we managed to hit an enormous one and drive on for a bit before realizing that the front tire (I mean "tyre") was flat.

So, ahem, we got out the spare and the tools and set about changing it. Another couple stopped on the road and offered some help, but somehow, we just couldn't get that spare tire on the wheel. Finally we measured the two rims and found that we had been given a car with a spare tire that was just the wrong size! There was no way we could go anywhere...

Lucky for us we had cell phones that actually worked (though between the two of them, one had lots of minutes and a low battery and the other had a fine battery but was running low on time) and we called the rental guy who was going to bring a new spare. But of course, we had to be somewhere at a specific time! So we hitched a ride (taking the sandwiches but leaving behind the kids' shovels and the extra clothes) with the one car on the island that wasn't full of a holidaying family, and, despite meeting actual road construction on the way (which stops traffic in both directions for arbitrary periods of time) did in fact make it to the dock in time!
So, phew, we got on this boat, in this grey weather, and set off. The seas were a bit rough but it only rained for about 20 minutes. We got to the island and went up to the top, which looks like a big green plouffe from a distance. It is also the basalt rock, but covered in grass and a few flowers -- no sheep though. People (and sheep) did once live there, but not for some time now. There is a bit of a ruined stone building. Then down to the cave! It's very hard to take a picture of a cave! This one shows the water rushing in (see?) and the big central layer of columns, and the smaller columns in the top layer. To get to the cave, you walk along a path, conveniently made of a pretty even layer of broken columns along the edge. Once again, it is single track most of the way, and with the two kids it was another challenge in safe travel. There is another spot of broken column, which makes a sort of seat alongside the path. This is the Wishing Chair, and you have to sit there and make 3 wishes, at least one of which is supposed to come true in a year. Since I wished for things like "I hope Arthur gets down from there safely" I got my wish sooner! Also I made my wishes from the path and not the chair, so maybe that doesn't even count. Oh well.

Here is the top of something called The Herdsman, which is a little side island. You can't get over to it, but as you look down you can see the more or less hexagonal structure of the columns.
Finally the kids and I had to leave. We were among the last on the boat and had to sit in the cabin, where the horizon was harder to see, and I thought we all three were going to need the barf bags provided, but we managed to get back to Mull without incident.

There were of course a few things nagging at me. We had a few hours to kill before Stephen got back, but that was ok. Then we had to get to the car which was
left at the side of the road several miles back. I had to get some minutes for the one phone, and we were short of cash, if we were going to have to pay for a cab. And just as we were getting on the boat the "captain" said to Stephen that the seas were so high it was hard for him to dock, and it might be that he'd have to cancel the afternoon's trip. The other people working on the island had all the camping gear, so it wouldn't have been impossible... for him! For me it would have meant a lot of extra fuss and worry and driving on the wrong side of the road in the twilight! And oh, did I mention, the night before this trip, the memory in the new camera decided to stop working and so Stephen had my camera for the day? So, you have no pictures of our afternoon (but if you want about a million more of Staffa, just ask him!).

First we had lunch. Then we bought some new sand shovels and went to this beach where the tide was out and the kids dug for treasure and even found some. Arthur spent all afternoon unearthing 2 tires, digging the sand (and crabs) out of them and rolling them over to the water to wash them. Later we met another family and they had found an inflated one on a rim, so that had to be taken to the water to see if they could use it as a boat. This went on until all were soaked, and I realized we had to go find some money somewhere. So I dragged them up to the row of little shops, and found a place that could top up my phone and give me cash from my credit card. But... my Canadian bank knew I was in Britain, but they figured out my card was no longer in Cambridge, and they wanted to make sure all was well. So the transaction wouldn't go through, the shopkeeper had to call and sit on hold for ages, then pass the phone to me and I sat on hold for ages and ages and ages before I had to give my mother's maiden name and all that nonsense. If a person had looked at my transactions, they would have seen train tickets and ferry tickets. Hmm, going somewhere? Anyways, it was an enormous chunk of time, but the kids were so exhausted they didn't run too far away while I was stuck on the phone.

Finally it was 5 pm and we spotted the little boat coming back from Staffa! Yay, Daddy's back! When the tide came in the docking at Staffa was easier, apparently. We did find a taxi (and the kids want me to mention that it had 3 rows of 3 seats, which is highly unusual and makes the whole car trouble worthwhile) which, for a small fortune, took us back to our car. Keys in the sunroof, tire on, all systems go.

And on the way home, we chased this perfect rainbow across the valley.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The day after the rain

Thursday on Mull it was clear and fine, and we thought we'd head for Iona, where there is a very old abbey, a ruined nunnery and great views and beaches. But first, to appease the children for taking them out all day in the rain the day before, we went to the Children's Farm. There we saw many cool animals, including sheep with 4 horns, a shetland pony, lots of lovely chickens and these little bunnies. We could pick up the babies, and man, were they soft! The farm didn't open till 10:30, I think, so the day got off to a slow start, but we decided to take the scenic route down to the bottom corner of the island anyways. This involves your basic single track road, but at the bottom of a cliff. It's hard to carve out passing places in said cliff.

But eventually we arrived at Fionnphort and got the ferry to Iona. The first thing you come to is the nunnery (men in the abbey up the hill, women down below, closer to any invaders??). The kids would have stayed here all day, running through arched doorways and clambering all over things! I think if this picture came with sound, you'd hear me say, "You can't climb on the walls, get down, stop, come back heeeeeere!"

Now I can't tell you all about the beauties of the abbey, mainly because some adult of the party, not me, brought the stuff from the car but forgot my inside glasses. So I had the choice of sunglasses or no glasses at all, but whatever, I couldn't really see. But I did see the crosses outside and the grave markers and so on. And I can tell you that most of the knots on the big old crosses are indeed one unbroken string. More cabled knitting....
This stone was in the museum (picture taken by the adult who could see in a museum). A lot of the very worn stones get put indoors, and some of what you see outside are concrete reproductions.

We walked about a bit more, bought some cookies at the little store, and found a beach where we could pass the time till the ferry came. It was great white sand, good incoming tide to dig holes for, and lucky for us, we had bought some buckets and shovels upon arrival on Mull.

Another long day, and the plan for Friday involved driving back down to Fionnphort to get on another ferry for Staffa. This trip to Staffa was the main reason for the trip in the first place. We had to get to the ferry at 10 am. We just had to. Really. Stay tuned....

It's just a little rain!

Wednesday morning on Mull we woke up to a wee downpour. So we decided to start indoors, at Duart Castle. This is the home of the clan MacLean and looks to be a real, thick-walled, battlement-topped castle. But, though the outer walls are indeed old, it was pretty ruined until the interior was completely restored in 1911. Imagine rebuilding a castle!

It was quite fun for kids and adults alike. There was a big 4-poster bed and old dresses for Elaine and arrow slits, cannonballs lodged in the old walls and spiral staircases for Arthur. There was also an excellent tearoom where we had a piece of homemade cake before heading out into the rain again.

Down in the southern part of the island there are more standing stones. And these are arranged in a circle! So, must see. You get to the circle by tramping across a farmer's field, following a path marked by stones painted white. Luckily when one gets close, one can distinguish these from wet sheep. After the first 3 or 4 ankle-deep puddles, we hardly noticed that we were soaked to the skin. Luckily the kids had spotted welly boots in a shop before we had left Cambridge, so they were a bit more protected than we were. As you can see, a great time was had by all. We slogged back through the field, drove through the rain to our digs and dried out.
We learned that other people from the lodge had spent the day searching for sea eagles, and after walking through the rain for 8 hours, did indeed see some. For the birders in the crowd, I will tell you that we saw cormorants and some other birds that look quite like cormorants, and some gull-ish birds and stuff like that. I'm a bit better at identifying rhododendrons and fuschias than birds!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Day one on Mull

The big city of Tobermory is on the north end of the island of Mull. It's where the Co-op store is, and the bank, and a pier with a great fish and chips van. The buildings along the water are all painted brightly like this, which looks lovely in the sunshine. We know this because we did get those brief moments of sun, when one scrambles for the camera only to have a cloud come back seconds later. I'm sure that they keep it nice for the tourists, but also because a children's TV show called Balamory is filmed there. We have no TV and I don't think Balamory is on in Canada anyways, as I explained to a souvenir-selling woman in town. "Ach," she said, "there's no harm in that."

We found this pile of old chain mesh out on the pier. Doesn't it make you want to knit an elaborate fair-isle masterpiece? Or could one cable all those interlocking circles? Love the rusty-browny-grey mixed with the tweedy rough turquoise! I might get this blown up for the wall.

Right, where were we? We'd got to Mull, gone to Tobermory for groceries. We were staying at a lodge where we had a big room with enough beds and space for all of us to be quite comfortable, a bathroom en suite, and a huge shared kitchen/lounge. The proprietor was very laid-back and helpful. There were a couple of pet sheep in the yard, and tons more out on the hills around. We had a great view of the water/hills/sheep. So, next morning, we decide to go see some standing stones, and set off in our little car. The roads on Mull are mostly single track. This means the roads are about wide enough for 1.5 cars to comfortably pass. It also means it takes 3 times as long to get anywhere as you'd expect. And it frays one's nerves. Don't forget we're driving on the left, too!

This is what we saw when we got where we were going. We parked at an old "castle" or big old house which is now a B&B. At the shore, way down there, is a ruin that we thought of going to, but it seemed a long way to walk once we got there with the kids. Sheep, sheep, everywhere. Also, right on the road where we wanted to go, were a dozen highland cattle. So we walked through the sheep, instead, since the cows are quite large and don't just run away when you approach them. It was a bit mucky and the kids learned to distinguish sheep poo from cow poo and we tramped along till we found a gate leading to more sheep, and finally we came to the stones.

Three big old stones, plunked down one day long ago and still standing there, all lichen-y and wonderful. There was a circle of smaller stones set around, which the kids walked around, and our host had told us we must hug the stones, so we did. There are actually loads of these around. One wonders what the purpose was. Showing off? The remnants of a prehistoric Iron Man competition? Marking the location of an especially good party? Elaine was telling us about how stone circles line up with the moon and the sun and all that, coz she'd read it in a book, but I think these three little guys have no astrological purpose. But, what do I know?

I tell you, I do know wool when I see it. This was just left behind by some sheep. You can see how the whole wool-gathering business began, because even without fences and barbed wire to snag it, there is wool just lying about here and there. Later in the week my son even found me a tuft of black wool! I won't be spinning it up to make socks any time soon, though. It would take a lot of wool-gathering to make anything! We also saw spotty sheep here and there, and their fleeces must make spotty wool! I guess that leads to your heathered or tweedy look. Great stuff though. Intriguing...

And here's more knitting inspiration! Look at the colours and the texture and the whole mossy loveliness of that wall! And here I was knitting pink cotton!

This wall was back by the old castle/B&B, and along the road we spied a fuschia growing. I'd seen them in California, and people have small ones in pots, but I'd never seen fuschia trees until I'd come to Britain. This one is enormous! Another plant note: the island is covered in rhododendrons! Where the heck did they come

from? It must look marvellous when they are all in bloom! And I will leave you with a picture of Elaine outside the distillery in Tobermory. She and I didn't take the tour because they don't take kids under 8 and they don't provide babysitting... but we had fun with Hagrid's bottle!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Back home at last!

This is us last Monday at 5:30 a.m. waiting for our train at the Cambridge train station. We changed trains at Peterborough, Edinbrugh and Glasgow, ending up in Oban. There we took a ferry to Mull. Then we picked up a rental car, drove to our "self-catering" lodge, ran into town to get groceries, ate, went to bed. The kids managed without too much trouble, thanks to the boring nature of the travel -- they are lulled to sleep.

And I just typed a whole thing, and neglected to save at a critical moment, and lost all my hard work. But I have got us to the island, and tomorrow I will continue the saga.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Amusing ourselves

This is us last night: Cambridge map, sock in progress (poor sock was started on the plane over, mid-July!), Mr Sneeze for child-amusing, and a pint of beer. Also you will see the laughing child inserting hand into picture, in an attempt to wreck the whole set-up. Hardy har har.

We were in the Castle pub, on Castle Road, near Castle Mound. There was once a castle there, but it became redundant some centuries ago, and is only a mound now. Fun to climb up, even in the rain. It was the last day of Stephen's conference, so we met up with him and another family with a young boy!! But the other boy was not feeling well, so that was a tad disappointing. But we hope he gets better soon! Like today. The kids are getting a bit bored with me...

This is the sort of thing they get to do with me. Look at different pillar boxes around town, and get all excited when we see a new king or queen's initials. This one is in the train station, and it was put there by King Edward VII . We have also seen George VI and several Victorias, including one that is hexagonal. I'm sure there are pillar-box-spotters around who know where all the rare and exciting ones are, like these in Oxford. Well, enough about that!

We were at the train station to get a family pass, which gives us discounts on train tickets for the whole year, for 20 pounds! Not a bad deal, I figure. Our first big expedition is next week, when we take the train to Oban. Then get a ferry to Mull. This will take all day... We get the train here at 6 am, and should get to Oban 9 hours later. This is twice as long as it took us to get across the Atlantic Ocean. I hope it's fun, but really, it'll be a challenge.

And when we're not out looking at pillar boxes and such, we have several crafty things to do at home. This is an assortment of the bead thingies the children have made. We've seen these kits before, but the beads have to get ironed together, and we don't normally have an iron. I know, shocking. But there ya go. But here in our furnished house, we have one, so when we were in Robert Sayle looking at yarn, the kids saw the kits and jumped at them. I must say, this is not my favourite thing. It's good to lay out the beads, and they are nice colours, and I guess they'll look good on the Christmas tree, but as you can see on the orangey-yellow star, sometimes they get broken, and really, what can one do with them, other than save them for the Christmas tree? We bought 15 000 beads, so the house will soon be filling up with them.

I don't know about the internet connections at our place on Mull, but I'll try to update as we go. First thing, pack!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Quick note for my loyal readers!

Things have been happening here, but I've not been able to update because my husband has been cycling off each morning to a conference here in town, taking the one and only computer with him. So now it's 7:30 am and I can quickly post this before even getting a cup of coffee....

We are planning a trip to Mull next week. It's a little island off the west coast of Scotland famed for rugged scenery and moss and rocks and the sea and wind and probably sea birds. Maybe for other stuff too, but we'll find out. Stephen will be going to Staffa for a day, which is a tiny island nearby with cool rocks he wants to look at. I hear the sheep of Mull produce coarse wool, used for rugs, but I'm sure that somewhere on our journey I'll find some nice wool! It's very hard to find accommodation for 4 people at short notice in the middle of August, but we found a great sounding place on Mull -- will give you more info later.

I have progressed very slowly on the pink cardigan. 207 stitches in a row, 1x1 rib, tiny needles, 2 kids clamouring for me to do something. So, very slowly! Yesterday I rediscovered the wonders of playdough. The kids will sit quietly for ages, squishing and squashing, and sharing their rolling pins and cutters. It's miraculous, really.

Must go get coffee.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Things we will get used to

This is our local playground. They don't seem to go in for a lot of swings, but this climber makes up for it, I think! It is a big web of ropes, and they are quite far apart so even long-legged 8-year-olds have a lot of work to get up to the top. And it can accomodate several climbers at once. I'm sure we'll get blase about it in time, but for now it is always great fun. In the rest of the playground there are places where you have to balance on chains and logs, and there's a slide, and a little kids' area with a wooden climber and a train to play in. The whole shebang is right on the river, so we can have a nice walk there along the towpath.

And speaking of the towpath, this is "our" bridge, which connects our little neighbourhood with the Common and the river and the way to town and to the store and all that. I have no idea how one gets to our house in a car! One day we did go out the street and turn right instead of left, and found a bunch of small streets, eventually leading to a biggish street, but I think we will most often just walk and bike over our bridge. The kids are already totally accustomed to this and don't think it odd, but isn't it wonderful to come and go over a bridge! And this is one of our neighbours! This is one of the narrowboats that moor along the river. They aren't all as colourful as this one, but many of them have flowerpots, and beautiful paint jobs and they come and go. I think some of them are holiday rentals, but some obviously are lived in full-time. This Sunday they are having a sort Open House of some of the boats, so we will check that out.

There are lots of amazing things all over! We put a letter in a mailbox (sorry, pillarbox) with the cipher of Queen Victoria on it. We cut through a cemetery yesterday and walked past broken and ancient graves. We bought our secondhand bikes in the old market square.

Some things I sure hope we get used to quickly. I really would like to be able to lock the doors of the house with ease... There has been a certain amount of "human error" on this issue, like mixing up the back and front door keys, and also a big bit of ignorance. The doors can't be unlocked from inside without keys, so we figured we should keep a key in the lock, so that if we really have to leave in a hurry, we don't have to first fish through a purse to get a key. But, we have now learned that you can't use a key in the outside of the door if there is a key in the lock on the inside! So, that accounts for much of our frustration. I think colour coding and little hooks in the wall near the door and stuff like that is in order.

And for the knitting content: I was passing a yarn shop and saw some Twilleys denim yarn on sale. Some people love this stuff: it shrinks a bit and it fades with age. First I restrained myself, since I figure I can't really just buy yarn every week, but overnight I envisioned a project, so I just had to go back and get it the next day. It'll be a blanket. I thought I would do cables, but the first square I made is lacy. Pictures to come, and of course, I am still working on the pink sweater. I'm making the body all in one piece, which means on 3 mm needles I have 207 stitches, so each row takes an age.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Knitting projects present and future

This is the present project. Pink sleeves. See the nice lacy bit at the cuff? See how it's sort of flat on the one sleeve and curling a bit on the other? So what do we think will happen if I use this nice lacy edging along the bottom of the whole sweater?? If it were wool, I would have some hope of blocking it to not curl, but with cotton, I dunno. So, I'm wondering about putting a ruffle on the bottom and then starting the lace. Or just ribbing, and then a vertical line of the lace up the fronts. I'm joining it all in a yoke and making raglans -- this will keep me from that not-sewing-together disease.

It will be for my daughter, seen below with the next project!

We sorted all the yarn into dark and light -- but she had her own ideas and did some other sorting, too! It's quite enough for an adult sweater, don't you think?

Monday, August 01, 2005

Bear with me!

I'm trying to figure this pictures and text business out, because I don't like how the pictures all jammed together in the punting post.

This, as you might guess, is my son in his new sweater. He's worn it out a few times, despite the fact that it is the middle of the summer! It's knit to the recommended gauge, but it's a very loose fabric. Soft and nice, but if I was using it again, I'd try on 10 mm instead of 15s, I think, just to make it more dense.

And here we have the Humped Zebra Crossing. We have so far seen no humped zebras, but are keeping our eyes open! I wonder why the humped ones get a special crosswalk?

Actually, lemme tell you! A crosswalk is painted black and white and called a zebra crossing. This one is on what we'd call a speed bump and they call a hump, I guess! So it's a bump that's painted in stripes...

We've seen another sign that says Heavy Plant Crossing, and always watch for large greenery at that point.

Last but not least, a daisy from our garden.