Monday, October 31, 2011

I, Jack the Pumpkin King...

Happy halloween! May the great pumpkin visit your patch and a black cat cross your path (that's lucky, right?)...

Friday, October 28, 2011

A haiku a day...

It's been a bit of a quiet week for me on here as I spent last weekend away in the far reaches of Scotland and have been trying to catch up on work and sleep ever since I got back. Despite the lack of any other words on these here pages, I have a few extra haikus this week as Sunday was a very long and inspiring day spent walking along a beautiful Scottish beach. I spotted oystercatchers and black-headed gulls galore, picnic-ed on a cliff-side over-looking a secret bay, skipped around at the waves' edge like an excited child, collected shells and feathers, admired the pretty boats bobbing in the harbour, managed not to get blown away in the wind, stared in awe at some nutter kite-surfing on the wild waves, walked through a yellowing forest at sunset, spotted some deer on the horizon, sat in the prettiest, cosiest summerhouse in all the land admiring the many trinkets which adorn its ceilings, walls and windows and keeping warm by the light of many candles and blankets, stroked a beautiful cat, played scrabble and ate my weight in macaroni cheese. I couldn't limit all that inspiration into just seventeen syllables or even just words, so here are my haikus and some photos to accompany. Enjoy...


Sunrise, train ride (slow)
Grey rainy streets of Glasgow,
Later the drinks flow.

A glimpse of a fox,
As the train zooms through hayfields,
Sly sunset surprise.

Blustery beach walk
Sea spray, sandy shoes, footprints
tracing our escape.

A sudden flurry
Of black-headed gulls, flapping
up, surrounding us.

On the horizon,
leaping deer: grace incarnate
as they disappear.

All day on a train,
Sorry to complain but its
driving me insane.

Rainy afternoon,
I batten down the hatches,
Hide my face away.

Songs rise up, filling
the room, taking my thoughts on
a dreamy journey.

The sky is grey, wet,
the light muted, I forget
summer mornings.

Upon returning home, seeing this quote made me smile....

"For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
It's always our self we find in the sea..."
~ e.e. Cummings

I'll be back next week with more haikus and hopefully some sewing/crochet/crafty projects to share.
Enjoy your weekend - may it be full of autumn leaves, warm soups, cardigans, a good book, some nature, smiles and dreaming...


Friday, October 21, 2011

A haiku a day...

More little glimpses of my days delivered to your computer screen in the form of tiny poems...

Perfectly blue sky,
The crisp air warmed by sunshine,
As I run along.

The first real cold night,
so we pile the blankets high,
and snuggle for warmth.

Evenings in autumn
call for jazz: its strange rhythms
get cold toes tapping.

Gloomy monday blues,
Inexplicable shadows,
cast over my day.

Autumn soldiers on,
the chilly wind announces
her deathly presence.

Sparks are flying like
fireflies, a
magic burst
piercing the mundane.

Joni in my ears,
the crunch of leaves underfoot,
my morning soundtrack.

I'd love to hear about your day/week/random thoughts of the moment in haiku form... why not leave me one in the comments?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ce qui m'inspire en ce moment... Paris in film

I'm going to start this entry with something of a controversial statement. Paris is not my favourite French city. Incroyable? Mais non, mais non, c'est vrai - my favourite French city is definitely Lyon, the somewhat smaller, more southerly and lesser-known city and the place I called home for two wonderful years back in the good old days. As far as I'm concerned, nothing beats the real life beauty of its rusty red rooftops, the beautiful river banks of its two rivers (the Saône and the Rhône), the secret passageways (or traboules) that run beneath the streets and through whole bulding blocks, and the cobbled streets lined with little cafés and restaurants where you can sit and while away the days. When it comes to films, however, I won't even try to argue: Paris wins everytime. The only film I can actually think of which even features Lyon is Le fils de l'epicier, and that's only very briefly at the start, with a really depressing shot of the really long escalators at the Vieux Lyon, métro D station. Nope, the beauty and charm of Lyon has to be seen and experienced in real life because it really doesn't have much of a presence in films (at least, that I'm aware of. Please do correct me if I'm wrong!).

Paris, on the other hand, has been the beautiful backdrop of a whole plethora of great films, not least the latest Woody Allen film,
Midnight in Paris which I went to see at the weekend...

I love this poster. I have a big print of Van Gogh's Starry night
that I look at every night before I got to sleep, the swirls hypnotising me and sending me to dreamland....

Having watched as many Woody Allen films as I could get my hands on this summer after discovering Annie Hall and falling for the quick-witted dialogues and mysterious stories that characterise Woody Allen's work, I was really looking forward to seeing this latest offering. When Woody's at his best, he doesn't just use the cities he sets in films in as a pretty backdrop, he makes them the main character and we all get to know the charms and pitfuls of these picture-postcard places. Midnight in Paris certainly didn't disappoint - the film is like a love letter for Paris (most beautiful, according to the main character Gil, in the rain. As long as I've got my brolly, I'm happy to agree). The film opens on a series of shots of well known Parisien sights, the banks of the Seine, the opera, Montmartre, the Moulin Rouge and each one is as sumptuous and inviting as the next. I don't want to spoil the plot of the film, but lets just say a bit of time travel is involved....

[Incidentally, Paris in the 1920s sure does look like fun, but if I managed to find a loophole, I'd love to go back to the postwar years and find Sartre and Beauvoir getting philosphical in a smoky cafe on the leftbank...

This is not a scene from the film! Its Simone and her man Sartre :) But I digress...

Anyway it's fair to say that watching this film about Paris really made we want to return there - and luckily for me I'll be doing exactly that in a few weeks time when I head over for a conference! And so, in anticipation of my visit, I'm going to be re-watching some of my favourite films-set-in-Paris over the next few weeks and I thought I would share a few of them with you today.

Firstly, the brilliant and beautiful
Before Sunset (Sequel to Before Sunrise, a classic film that everybody should watch at once. That one makes me want to go to Vienna, but that's a whole other story to tell so let's just stick with Paris and the sequel for now). I love the way the characters wander about chatting in the soft light of the afternoon. A beverage in a little café off a cobbled side street? Oui, je veux bien! A boat ride on the Seine past Notre-dame? Oui, bien sur!

I would just love to have Céline's apartment, tucked away in a little Parisian courtyard and chock-a-block full of knick-knacks and Nina Simone records...

(And I have to find the Shakespeare and Company bookshop this time I visit Paris. It's the bookshop of legends with its very own cat, and the staff are all students/stow-aways that work there to pay their board. And if the pictures/films that I've seen are anything to go by, its full of nooks and crannys to hide away the hours reading...)

Who doesn't love Le fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain? I will definitely be strolling around Montmartre and taking the metro - can it be this pretty please?
I'll wear red and skim pebbles and do good deeds for strangers if it helps....

The Meryl Streep/Julia Childs part of Julie and Julia is set in Paris, and its a culinary feast of a film. I'm not one for Boeuf Bourgignon (I'm a veggie after all), but I will definitely be seeking out pastries galore, as much brie and baguette as I can devour in one weekend and maybe some pretty macarons to nibble on :) Also I have a thing for these weird crisps called Curlys, that are peanut butter flavoured and which I've only ever been able to buy in France. They look like this A ritual bag must be sought out, bought and devoured as soon as I find a a French supermarket whenever I'm in the country, along with cherry flavoured chewing gum. Oui, je sais, c'est un peu bizarre! Anyway, the film....!

Not sure what Julia Childs would've made of my culinary decisions....

Other great films which take in the Parisian streets, skyline, rivers and of course that most ubiquitous of Parisian symbols, the Eiffel tower include:

2 Jours à Paris, which features more Julie Delpy goodness, her American lover who can't speak a word of French, a whole lot of jealousy, a crazy French family and a great scene during the wonderful fête de la musique when everybody plays music everywhere in the streets and dances...

Le Divorce - Not Kate Hudson's best (that honour goes to Almost famous of course) but she's sultry, takes a lover, has a makeover, and it's all drama, drama, drama in the streets of Paris...

Her real-life mother, Goldie Hawn starts in Woody Allen's earlier magical classic,
Everybody Says that I love you

c'est magnifique

And last but not least, French Kiss sees Meg Ryan getting all jealous, falling in love and adventures all over France - starting in Paris...

What's your favourite film set in Paris? I'd love to hear your recommendations!
With that, I'll say au revoir! I've rambled on rather a lot in this post! What can I say? I love France and all things French and it's been fun to natter on about them for a while...

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Little diamond patchwork blanket.... crochet progress

I've been busy growing my latest crochet blanket, and inspired by the lovely MeMeRose and Attic24 who are showing off their lovely crochet works-in-progress (hexagons and ripples, respectively and oh! how pretty they are!) I thought I would share a few more pictures of my patchwork blanket. Here's how it's changed in the last week...
how to make gif
So, as I explained in this post, I was inspired by lots of colourful patchy things, and decided to use up all my leftover bits of wool but I neglected to mention that the one thing in particular that got me hooking up these little diamonds was a pattern on the lovely blog Do you mind if I knit? I got the idea after staring in wonder at her little squares scarf, admiring the little patches of colour and being reminded of Elmer the Elephant

Image via here

Basically, each little square/diamond that makes up the blanket is just the first round of a granny square. In Vanessa's pattern you hook up lots of little squares and then sew them together at the end. As I scrolled down the scarf pattern, I saw in the comments that someone had decided to make a blanket out of the little squares and that they estimated it would need 1000 tiny squares. For some reason, rather than being completely put off the idea by this startling number, the little imaginary lightbulb above my head went *ping* and I reached for my hook and my bag of wool and started crocheting up some little squares of my own.

Where it all began

I should mention that I have added a few tweaks to the original pattern - firstly by joining the squares as I go. There is no way that I have the organisation or patience to store hundreds of squares and then piece them together at the end. I need to see how much progress I'm making as I go along or I'll lose interest, and hooking them together not only saves time, it also allows me to judge how well the colours are going together and how big my blanket is getting. It also keeps my knees warm on these cooler autumn evenings (haha I sound like such an old lady!) After plenty of practice of joining up seemingly endless tiny squares (I'm not counting exactly just how many patches until I've finished or I may give up!) I think the joins are looking pretty seamless and neat...

My second personalisation of the pattern is that I've turned the squares into little diamonds - after I had finished the first few, I realised that I liked them better on an angle, so diamonds they became....

I'm really enjoying making this blanket - each little square only takes a few minutes, and as each one gets hooked onto the rest, it gets a little bit bigger and a little more colourful. I'm not following any particular order when it comes to picking colours, just using my judgement to pick out the next few at a time, making sure that there's plenty of variation all over the blanket. It's a great pattern for using up all my odds and ends of wool. Some colours are all over the blanket because there's lots of that wool left and I like those colours (there are soooo many shades of reds and purples and not so many greens or blues), and others have only a few diamonds each (making them extra special). It's fun to put together all different colour combinations and remember what each colour wool was originally used for...

Some close-ups of different colour combinations, confusingly looking more like squares than diamonds becase of how I was holding the camera!

I only wish that I had sorted out all the ends of each diamond as I went - for the most part they are woven in, but they sure aren't snipped and tidied away. I don't know why I didn't do it as I went along like I usually do - sorting them out is not going to be fun. Here's the view of the underside at the moment...


Anyway, a last few shots of my blanket-to-be, looking lovely draped on the sofa, whilst a badger watches on...

And folded up all pretty as can be in the morning sunlight...

This blanket is going to be nice and warm indeed, as there aren't lots of gaps in it and there's plenty of wool involved.
I think it's about two-thirds of the size I want it to be at the moment (I want it to be bigger than my granny square lap blanket, big enough for two people to snuggle under together comfortably) so I have a few more weeks of happy hooking to go yet - and then there's the border to think about :)

I love crocheting! What are you hooking up at the moment?

Friday, October 14, 2011

A haiku a day...

More haikus from the week that just was....


Big bright moon: spotlight
on me as i dodge traffic,
running for the bus.

Sat on the pebbles,
gulls screech overhead, flapping,
whilst the sea waves on.

Refreshed by sea air,
But still sleepy, i roll back
over into dreams.

Morning in the park,
Sun streams through the tree tops, a
happy burst of light.

Eight years with my love,
Tonight we kiss, reminisce,
Happy together.

Jaws ache; I wonder,
Where's the wisdom in these teeth?
I feel only pain.

Dreaming en français,
a past life revisited:

p.s if you enjoy reading haikus, then head over to my friend Sarah's blog, where she has started posting daily haikus :)


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"We live in a rainbow of chaos"

Looking through my photos from the last few years, I realised that I have lots of different photos of things in nature that are all one bright brazen colour. Here they are, making up my very own rainbow....

Red berries in a garden nearby

The orange sky one dawn morning on the beach in Scotland

Yellow blossoms from a hedge earlier this spring...

Bright green leafy goodness in the Queen's woods in London this spring

Blue Sea turning into sky, the view from the top of the mountain in Ischia a few autumns ago

Early evening lilac haze on the beach in Scotland one new year's

Purplish-pink sky as the sun set above London a few weeks ago

Pink cherry blossom on the trees on my street this spring. The same trees that are now all kinds of autumn colours

Sometimes, however, things are more black and white...
Piles of black slate piled up on the mountainside in Wales and a white snow scene on Dartmoor last Christmas

And sometimes, if you're really lucky, nature shows off a bit and you get to see all the colours at once...

Dawn rainbow on the beach in Scotland

Paul Cezanne is right - we do live in "a rainbow of chaos" - and it sure is pretty :)

Monday, October 10, 2011

The day I met the badgers...

So, yes, badgers. I do believe that in one of my very first posts I said of my love of badgers that I would write 'much much more very very soon' and although it's actually not very soon, but rather three whole months later, today I am here to do just that. I'm going to tell you about a magical summer evening that I had a few years ago, when I saw my first ever badger (and then 13 more of them all at once!)

I was camping in mid-wales with my man and we were staying at a place called
Gigrin farm, which as you will see if you click on the link, is a Red Kite feeding station and rehabilitation centre. We went there expressly to see these birds...

....and see them we did, every day - hundreds of them! They all fly in every afternoon to get their claws and beaks on the food that has been put out for them every day since the mid 90s in a bid to boost the population.

(I didn't have a very good camera, but this gives you an impression of how full of kites the sky was! This place is a must if you love birds of prey)

Another reason for staying there was the mention of a badger sett on the farm on their website. I was already slightly obsessed with the lovely stripy faced beasts but had never seen a real life badger in the wild, so I was really hoping we would be able to watch badgers there. Upon exploring the farm, however, we realised that the website had not been updated very recently as far as the gentle brocks were concerned - the sett on the farm had long since moved on to new pastures. So no badgers. But not for long. When we asked the lady in the gift shop about local badger-watching opportunities, she gave us the number of a local man named Gareth who she claimed "gets badgers crawling all over him." This seemed a little far-fetched, but we rang him up and arranged to meet him the next night and he promised us guaranteed badger sightings :)

Anyway, we met Gareth the next night about an hour or two before sunset. He was a friendly old man full of anecdotes and facts who took us along to the badgers' home - a sett in the corner of a field beneath a giant oak tree that was some way off the beaten track. It's worth mentioning at this point that badger setts are protected by law, and normally you're not allowed to walk on them. However, Gareth has been visiting the sett for over 25 years and has obtained special permission to spend time here, and to show visitors, with the aim of educating people, so we were able to get up close without breaking any laws.

As we approached, what should happen but... yes! A little badger head popped out! The badger started sniffing the air and when he judged it was safe, out he came, scurrying along searching for food!

Look at his snout sniffing around!

Badgers have really bad eyesight, so they rely on smell to sense for danger. Normally the scent of humans would scare them right off, but as Gareth has been visiting the sett for so long and has gained the trust of several generations of this family of badgers, they are used to his scent, and even when other people are with him, they know it's safe to come out. He feeds them when he brings people along, and during the winter when food is scarce, but not all the time, as they are wild creatures, and he doesn't want them to rely on him or get fat and lazy.
It had been a long hot summer, so their natural food sources (worms, bugs, berries) were running low so we threw handfuls of peanuts for them to eat. Soon, badgers were popping up all around from the different entrance holes to the sett to greet us and join in the feast...

Gareth was able to identify them all - male, female, young and old. He even has names for them... Betsy, Oops-oops, Seni, Young'un, Tiny - each and every brock had a story and a distinctive character...

As you can see from the blurs in the above picture, they move rather quickly! I suppose I had always thought of them as slow creatures, because in cartoons they're always grumpy, angry old characters, and because they're so big you would think they just amble along. But no - they can move! As the sun slowly started to set above the sett, we were surrounded by fourteen badgers, in front us, behind, all around, snuffling all over the ground, completely caught up in their early evening meal (or rather, their breakfast).
Here's a shot of all fourteen badgers. It was quite a sight to behold, and the noise was incredible too, all of them breathing and scurrying and crunch crunch crunching the nuts...

Given how shy these nocturnal beasts usuall are I was amazed at how unafraid of us they seemed to be, and I was even able to take photos with the flash on as it got darker and they didn't flinch. It was amazing to be able to admire they gorgeous grey coats, which you can see when you get close, are flecked with chestnut gold hairs. Their distinctive black and white facial markings are so handsome and it was really strange to look around and think - ahhhh these are real badgers!!!

Their claws are so sharp and their jaws so powerful, that you really wouldn't want to get on their bad side! After they had finished eating, they started to run around the field more, exploring and play-fighting each other. There is a strong sense of hierarchy in the sett, and once the badgers are more than a year old, the males in particular have to fight to remain in the sett. Many of them will have to leave and form new colonies elsewhere- and be prepared to defend their territory. Here you can see two of them (play?)fighting - nipping each other on the neck behind their heads...

Badgers are the biggest wild mammals in Great Britain. Watching them eat and run around and play and fight, it was crazy to think that there are hundreds of these creatures living wild all over the country without ever being seen. Normally they are so shy so you only ever see them on the side of the road when they have been killed by a car :( Seeing them run around so full of life and interact with each other up-close in their natural habitat really was truly an amazing experience...

They are such beautiful creatures - I took so many photos of them, and even a video, but I've just selected some of the best shots as I realise that not everybody is as obsessed with badgers as I am...

In this picture below, you can see some differences in the head sizes of the badgers, which is how you tell males and females apart. I wish I was expert enough to know for sure (I would guess from left to right: young badger, female and male)....

Gareth told us so many interesting stories about the badgers from over the years. He's seen generations grow up and die and observed their behaviour up close almost every evening. He draws them, and welcomes people from all over the place who are interested in finding out more.
He said that if he could he would bring his bed up to the field and sleep there by the sett if only his wife would agree to it! I'd love to live in the countryside when I'm older and find a local badger sett to visit every day (or even get badgers visiting in the garden!)

A film crew has been up there with him, capturing footage for BBC wildlife programmes- and a DVD that he's made which you can get here. It's full of great footage, and gives you as close an experience to visiting the place that you can get without actually going there. I have my own copy having found it online about a year after we went to see them, and I highly recommend it :) Watching it was like reliving the whole experience.

Ok, this post is getting a bit long, so I'll stop (for now! although now that I've started talking about badgers, I might find it hard to stop!) I'll finish by saying that watching badgers up close like this was really one of the most best experiences ever (especially for a nature geek like me). I hope seeing this pictures will spark your interest in these amazing creatures and in wildlife more generally. I've really enjoyed digging up all the pictures and chatting away about badgers!

What's the most amazing wildlife experience you've had? And have you ever seen a badger?