Monday, June 26, 2006

Five things times two

We're really into the end game here. Tuesday we leave for a week (computer-free, so likely no updates) in Cornwall. Then back for a week or so, and then off! Perhaps today, since I got up freakishly early, I shall try to compile one of those "greatest hits" lists.

In no particular order, five things we didn't get around to:

Going to York
Renting a boat -- okay, it's not that we didn't get around to it, but it's something I would have liked to do, 20 years ago perhaps... Four people on a narrowboat for more than half an hour would have been crazy!
The Lake District
The Cotswolds -- What does it say that this page is in English and Japanese?? For more pictures, try here. There are buckets of images available, since it's a beautiful and photogenic part of the world.
Brighton -- The Pavilion and more.... I would actually have liked to see my old neighbourhood, where I lived in 1972!
Going here to get yarn!

Oops, that's six...

Five things that were super-fantastico:

Having to cross the river every day to get anywhere. A rare picture with no boats -- they all moved away for the duration of the Midsummer Fair.

Going across a field in the pouring rain to see standing stones, on Mull. The whole Mull trip was great, despite the car trouble and the rain and stuff!


The beach day at Harlech

The knitted wedding!

Hooking up with so many nice knitters! What would I have done without you?

Stonehenge, Ely, watching rowing races, all the great floors and ceilings I have seen, strolling past King's College and other wonderful buildings all the time, tracking down pillarboxes, having flowers in my garden, going places on the train, visiting London, meeting Kay, Polly, Amelia and Mary and having tea at Liberty! And many more...

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Punt and Knit!

Today was the (I hope) first annual Cambridge Punt and Knit! Do it again next year, guys, and I'll watch, from the faraway shores of Lake Ontario.

It worked really well. The skies were grey earlier in the day, but we had pretty fine weather (ie. we didn't have to use the umbrellas stashed in the punt). It is so much nicer to zoom along the Backs with a pro on the pole! If we'd been doing the punting, I'm betting we would have crashed a few times, since the river was very crowded, but whatshisname just got us in and out of the crowds quite handily.

And when we learned that Stephen and Elaine were waiting on the upcoming bridge to take our picture, he got us out from under a tree lickety-split.

We really should have done the group shot, everyone-line-up-on-the-dock style, but we ... didn't. Anyways, here you have Bekki, Emily, Alison, Anne, Avril, Arthur, taking the place of another knitter who was ill, Marcelle, me and Diane. I think Diane has to win the prize for the least accomplished, since she measured her gauge, then ripped out her piece and enjoyed the scenery.

We saw all the Cambridge sights, like King's College Chapel. Alison was doing some contortions to get a picture of the chapel and her new socks, but mine is just the usual view. Only one other puntload of people commented on our knitting. We noticed they were all drinking beer, but couldn't work out any trades.

After our allotted hour, we went back to the usual Saturday knitting spot, the Grads Cafe, where we continued to knit and chat for some time. (It was noted that knitters will put their needles down for food, but only temporarily.) Arthur got bored, despite eating a waffle with syrup and cream, so we left early. The others are still there, for all I know!

Stephen and Elaine, after catching us from the bridge, went to the Zoology Museum for special insect activities. We joined them, and let stick insects walk on our arms, saw ants that could swim, made bugs to stick in this giant web, and looked at all the cool stuff they have in the museum.

Punting, knitting and a museum, a perfect Cambridge day...

Going Tudor

On Thursday I went with Arthur's class to Kentwell. This is the back end of the house. It is privately owned, populated (at least on school visit days) by people in Tudor garb baking bread (the gentry get bread made with white flour, and we saw a woman sieving the bran out with a piece of muslin), dancing to lute music, making cheese balls decorated with flowers, brewing beer and all that lovely old stuff. It's a beautiful house, and there is a garden for cooking herbs and for medicinal herbs, and topiary hedges and a moat with the most well-fed fish! They were enormous. Apparently there's also a rare breed farm and lots more.

We had to dress in Tudor garb, too. You can see a typical Tudor on Bekki's page! I just wore a long skirt and vest of my own, with a white cap the teacher whipped up for me. I couldn't take pictures of the school kids, but I could take one of my own child, and just imagine busloads of these! All Tudor men's hats were apparently made from the same pattern! Remarkable...

When you go in, you can trade in your 2006 money for Tudor money. They sell biscuits and peaches, and little souvenirs (note: do not sit next to a kid with a new slate on the coach home. Screeeeeech). Arthur got some biscuits and clay buttons with his bigger coins, and saved the wee one.

Of course, there were ladies sewing, knitting stockings, embroidering wall-hangings and cushions and, I suppose, mending. There was a basket of unspun yarn, but no wheel. Hmm.

There was this pretty basket of blue.
There were some embroidered sleeves just hanging there.

And paint ingredients. By this point in the tour we were a tad behind schedule, and so couldn't stay to hear what they all were!

We also whoooshed past basket makers (now there's a skill I think I would like to learn) and alchemists, who showed us a jar full of eyeballs, just for the gross-out part of the tour. The kids loved it, and I would certainly like to go back.

Upon my return to 2006, I met up with my Wednesday knitters, except it was Friday. I wanted to unburden myself of some Summer Tweed (I finished the wrap and never showed you, I think) and so swapped with Alison. I got some more yarn for my pile of squares that will one day be an afghan, and this, which I believe she described to me as "lurid sock yarn." It is indeed! But good lurid, I think...

Friday, June 23, 2006

Kid stuff

The other day I told you of our trip to a streetcorner in London to find a pillar box. I didn't just drag the kids there and then home again. After our great discovery, we walked down Hendon Way to the Brent Cross shopping centre. This was a big mistake, because there's a big cross of roads. Motorways -- many-laned, pedestrian-unfriendly roads. With cars and trucks and buses zooming along! We found our way in alright, got our ice cream, and then tried to get to the Underground station. We stood outside and looked at the tangle for a few minutes before heading back into the shopping centre to find a bus to get us to the tube, and we eventually made it back down to town, despite work on the lines and key stations closed for the day.

Our new destination: the Diana playground!

This is a wonder! There is a pirate ship to climb on, even up to the crow's nest. There are little houses on stilts and teepees and gardens, and a moderate supply of water -- enough to moisten a sand castle, but not enough to get yourself soaked without considerable effort. And a million other children! Like many of these things, it should be twice the size to accommodate everyone, but then it would just be twice as busy. In any case, both kids climbed up that rope tube on the mast to get to the crow's nest, and had great fun exploring the whole thing.

Lucky me, there were also a few benches and rocks for the tuckered-out parents to sit on. I think I actually got some sock-knitting done. And after a while I discovered some large wooden sheep going across the grass.

We spent most of the afternoon there, before heading back to Kings Cross for our traditional London dinner of burger and fries before the train ride home.

I wish I could find more time for blogging, but things are getting more and more hectic here. I took Arthur's class to Kentwell Hall yesterday, and would love to show and tell about that! And just wait till the weekend, when I should have pictures of your favourite Cambridge knitters on my favourite Cambridge river, in a punt! That'll be fun, and surely multi-blogged... Stay tuned....

Added later: Ooooh, I wish I had the camera to show you what I just got! Boxes! Big empty boxes to put books and yarn and winter clothes in and then take to the post office! Lucky lucky me. Anything that can get packed away is a thrill for me these days.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The complete set

Today, postal thrills! I have completed my set of royal ciphers! There are still lots of weird and wonderful post box variations out there, but I now have at least one example of every king or queen's post box. I'll just put in here these three useful post box pages for you: the British Postal Museum and Archive, Paul's Unofficial Letterbox Pages and the Letter Box Study Group.

Uh, lots of pictures to follow!

First we have the anonymous box. Actually, they weren't first. These cylindrical
anonymous ones, with no royal cipher, were put
out from 1879 to 1887, but there were pillar boxes before then, including the marvellous hexagonal Penfolds, which came out in 1866.

But we will start with anonymous ones anyways... There are lots of these around here, especially in Chesterton, but my favourite is the spiky one on the river!

After 1887 the ciphers were always put on. The monarchs were, just in case your British history is weak, Victoria, Edward VII -- but this page has funnier illustrations if you scroll down -- then George V, Edward VIII, who reigned for less than a year, before abdicating to marry Wallis Simpson, who had great jewellry!

Ahem, where were we? Ah yes. Then there was George VI and Elizabeth II. I guess we shall one day see Charles' post boxes. I hope he has a decent stylin' cipher, that's all I can say.

From Victoria, we have the Penfold:

And here's a wall box:

And a close-up of the VR on a cylindrical box, with snow!

Edward VII also had a very loopy cipher. On a wall box it had to be much more restrained. You can see the VII under the crown.

George V has the simplest cipher, and I quite like it. Not sure why he only put GR, but there ya go. He has lots of wall boxes, it seems, and my fave weirdo box, in Llandudno.

Then, wait a minute! The next king was Edward VIII!
Hooray for me and my kids! We left Stephen on Father's Day to work in the lab, and we made it to the corner of Elliot Road and Hendon Way in north-west London, where we found this:

And there it is, an Edward VIII pillar box, one of a very few in the country. These folks say that only 161 pillar boxes were cast during his reign. (Someone, go find that one in Wolverhampton!)

I like his cipher, nice and bold and not all fancy and crazy. A bit anticlimactic? Perhaps, but although it looks much like any other pillar box, we connoisseurs know it is special!

Then we get George VI, who returned to loopy letters,

  and put out at least one very short box!

Here are the twin boxes from the Cambridge market area. One is George VI and the other is Elizabeth II. My fave EIIR box is the space-age one, like this one at Stonehenge:
The kids do get a bit tired of posing with pillar boxes...

This is way easier than collecting stamps!

Edited much much later: I see that people come here to see pillar boxes! I'd love it if you'd leave me a comment and say hello!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The British Museum and more

Time is running out! We made a lightning visit to London this week to make sure we'd been to the British Museum in our year here. I notice in the museum map that it says, "Distribution and publication of any ... images is not allowed in any media, including websites." Does that really mean me?? Can I not show you how the floors are not at all like the Louvre's floors, but made of plain grey stones with occasional fossils in them? And I'd love to show you the pics I took of the medieval tiles -- beee-you-tee-ful. And there's all the Parthenon stuff, and the Lewis chessmen and pocket watches and all sorts of great stuff. Also, a very expensive cafe... But go here to see their pictures of the collections.

We wandered all over the museum, and the kids were kinda pooped after lunch. How about a boat trip to Greenwich? Naah, might rain, too long. Westminster Abbey? Good idea, but maybe something outdoors would be better... So, we took a bus to the big parks, with a sort of idea of finding the Diana playground. We found another, which met our needs, and we hung around there for a bit, wondering where to go next. We had to get back to Cambridge that night and didn't want to get home too late, as the kids had to go to school the next morning, and we had to get our bag from our friend's house in Islington... (Next time, a pair of clean undies and a toothbrush in your pocket, no other baggage.)
So we decided not to go looking through all of the park for the bigger playground, but headed instead to Buck House. (Want to work for the queen? Look here!)

We had a nice walk through the parks, past an enormous garden with roses like crazy, and this blue flower for Project Spectrum (Stephen's comment on seeing the garden: "Let's not take pictures of every single flower, okay?"); past people riding horses; past the army or some other such organization, running with large packs on. Clouds were gathering. (This is called foreshadowing.)

At the palace, the guards were wearing dark plain uniforms, not the full beaver hats and all. There were gilded gates and a few tourists taking pictures. Queen Victoria overlooked the scene from her rather large memorial. We noticed a light on behind the big balcony and wondered who was up there, and was it the queen having a cup of tea, or someone dusting? We shall never know.

Notice the darkening sky... We headed down towards Trafalgar Square, and the skies opened up on us. We dashed from tree to tree. We got soaked. Finally we got to St Martin-in-the-Fields, where they have considerately opened a cafe in the crypt! We had tea with some scones and jam to get our energy up for the final push. Another bus, a short walk, and back to Katherine's for more tea. The kids ventured out into the backyard to see where the foxes live, and we got on yet another bus to the train station. It was still raining when we got to Cambridge and we cycled home through large puddles.

I think this will have been our last trip to see the sights of London. I really, really, really want to go to Elliott Road and Hendon Way, because I learned that there's an Edward VIII pillar box there. These kind people put up their 30-year-old newsletters, so poor schmoes like me can find out things like this! There are also Ed VIII boxes somewhere in Southwark, Birmingham, Coventry, Bawdsey (it's in the last line of this article), and Maidstone, I think. But I can't just go off to Birmingham and hope to spot the one mail box in the city I want. I may just have to leave the country without my Edward VIII, but perhaps I'll find a way. I did see this lovely Ed VII, unused but still sitting there, outside the British Museum. It looks like a wall box without a wall. Peculiar, non? And the cipher is much the same as the one he put on the fancy golden gates at Buckingham Palace.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Real estate

Sunday we took the train for 18 minutes and got to Audley End. Actually, we got to the train station and then had to walk along a rather busy road for a mile or so, and then we got to the big old house called Audley End. We went on Sunday because we wanted to go on the little train, which runs on steam on Sundays, but it didn't start until 2 pm. So we had our little picnic on the extensive lawn and toured the house and gardens.

You can't take pictures in the house, unfortunately. It is fantastic! There were libraries and drawing rooms and bedrooms and dining rooms. A nineteenth-century collection of seashells and stuffed birds, with the odd mammoth tooth or ammonite thrown in. A doll house the size of... well, really big, for a doll house! Views of the park (by Capability Brown) from the windows. Rooms decorated by Robert Adam, which looked like a green Wedgewood pot!

In October, the servants' rooms will be open, and if you're in the neighbourhood, you must go! We asked why they hadn't opened them before (they just did it for a weekend in March this year) and were told that the wallpaper was Georgian and the walls were Jacobean wood, so that along with the health and safety issues for the public, there are treasures up there that must be preserved from grubby fingers and so on. Apparently the coal for the house was kept up there, as it was easier to carry it down to the fireplaces bit by bit. The large quantity was hoisted up through the windows! There are no back stairs, so when the servants were carrying down coal, or taking out the lords' and ladies' chamber pots, they had to go down the main stairs and just hope they didn't meet some visiting poobah.

The gardens are also impressive. When the house was in full swing, perhaps mid-1800s, there were about 20 indoor servants, a dozen odd-jobbers, and FIFTY gardeners! Five-zero. They did cut the lawn with scythes, and not John Deeres, but still, that's a lot of gardeners.

This is called the Cloud Hedge, and it is the strangest looking thing. All very carefully shorn and moulded-looking! It hides the laundry and kitchen wing from the lawn.

There is a formal parterre garden and an organic kitchen garden, with greenhouses for the fruit trees, and a stream/pond/bit of water with ducks and geese and moorhens. Look, baby Canada Geese!

This was found in the kitchen garden.
There was an alley of them, all different colours and sizes. Wowee wow wow. (Perhaps just here I should say that Stephen took these pictures.) There were also trees growing along wire fences, which I think is called espaliering them. Just long flat trees!

And poppies with frilly edges -- the weird colour here is not Stephen's fault, but the poor camera just couldn't really handle all that colour!

Finally, it was time for the little train. Ah, the train people are not English Heritage, but private, and not very high tech... That is, they need cash! Cash, people. Well, we didn't have cash, so Stephen and Arthur had to walk into Saffron Walden to find a bank machine. Elaine and I sat on the grass again, went to the cafe where we bought very very very excellent ice cream with the debit card, watched the ducks, and got the full show-off treatment from a peacock! (Um, and we were camera-less.) Mostly we sat in the shade, since it was very warm.

We'd been told there was a surprise on the train ride. In fact, the woods were full of creatures! (We have many pictures which are just a teeny bit blurry as we chuggachugged past all these guys.) There was a tree full of pandas, one with little cats, bears everywhere, a cluster of Garfields.

Elaine was charmed to heck!

At last, after inspection of the engine and a visit to the ice-lolly fridge, we trudged back to the station, back to Cambridge, back to our house for a quick supper and bedtime.

Wait, one more picture! This is holding up the roof at the train station. The big train station, that is. Nice, eh?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Project Spectrum continues

I'm late getting the blue button on the blog! And who knows if I'll actually make anything blue! My denim bag project is on hold till I can find a better solution to the handle issue. The jeans I was going to cut up are stretchy! So they won't make decent handles... and I decided I didn't really like that handle idea after all.

I'll make a blue square or two for the afghan, that's what I'll do!

More excitment tomorrow, folks.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Sock progress

The camera has been busy these past few days, so I just seized the opportunity and took this picture tonight, even though it was getting dark out. Just by the way, I noticed on the BBC weather page the other day that the sun sets after 10 and rises again around 4! No wonder the birds seem to tweet and chirp all night long!

So this is the Swordfish sock, on Arthur's grubby foot. I will do more patterned socks, for sure! See how ridiculously long these needles are! Must get shorter teeny needles sometime soon.

It seems that England won their first game in the football World Cup. Hooray for them. Every kid in town has a team shirt, and every shop has England team stuff for sale. Even the yarn shop has a red and white display! There are two World Cup knitting affairs. Check this out! We don't really care here at the casa del Cam, but it's fun to catch the team spirit and all that jazz, although Cambridge these days is more concerned with finishing exams and gearing up for the May Bumps. Now there's a sporting event we will watch with glee! And we'll take the camera, unlike today when we saw the river full of boats, and unlike the other day when Arthur and I went rowing (not fast!) down toward Grantchester and saw 19 ducklings, 3 cygnets and a black swan on a nest.
We also discovered, buried deep in the weeds in our garden, two red roses! Arthur hacked a path toward them, and the sock posed with one for you.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

More blues!

It's blue month, well and truly. This is a boathouse on the river, and the wonderfully blue sky we've been seeing lately!
I'm pleased to report that the Strawberry Fair garbage on the Common did indeed get picked up. Today I think we saw the last of it carted away -- yesterday there were people walking around with bags and those long gripper thingies picking up the odds and ends, and a huge truck collecting glass for recycling. All is now set for the Midsummer Fair in a couple of weeks! Arthur and I were out looking for blue things, for Project Spectrum, and we did come across this intriguing bit of blue trash. Who knows what it could be??

We saw blue signs, and blue bins, and blue yarn, and of course, blue sky.
Tomorrow, perhaps, knitting!