Tuesday, 28 August 2012

We Love You Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. . .

Last week Liverpool celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' first appearance at the Cavern Club and during the Bank Holiday weekend, the city was full of tourists who had come for the annual Mathew Street Festival - two days of free music featuring dozens of bands (including lots of Beatles tribute bands) playing on outdoor stages throughout the city.  Unfortunately, we chose the wrong day to go. We walked downtown yesterday only to find that the concerts had been cancelled for the day due to the risk of high winds and rain.  It was so disappointing especially as the bad weather didn't really materialize. However, some of the music moved indoors, especially into the clubs on Mathew Street itself, the starting point for all things Beatles.  As you are walking through the crowds, Beatles music is pouring through all the open windows.

So in celebration of Liverpool's famous sons, here's a little tour of some of the key sites, starting with the spot on Mathew Street where the original Cavern Club stood (another one has opened within spitting distance).

 Not too far away is this statue of Eleanor Rigby.

Not too far from where I live is Mendips, the childhood home of John Lennon which you can tour on selected days though I haven't been yet.

Here's "Strawberry Fields".

And here's Penny Lane.  It's quite a nice street to walk down and you'll pass a gallery devoted to all things Beatles as well as a decent fish and chips shop.

There is also this rather extraordinary building, the Dovedale Towers which is now a pub after being empty for several years.   Nothing to do with the Fab Four, but just another example of the interesting architecture that is everywhere in this city.  And apparently Freddy Mercury used to stay here in the 1960s when it was a hotel. 

Saturday, 25 August 2012

My Favourite Telly Program. . .

Tuesday night, my Liverpud and I are stuck to the settee watching The Great British Bake Off.  It's such a wonderful and refreshing reality cooking show, trying to find the best amateur baker in the U.K.  I really like the fact that the focus is on the baking - both sweet and savoury - and the contestants have been chosen because they all really enjoy cooking, and not because they are nasty and would make good television. There's a range of ages and backgrounds, but all of them are so nice and inventive that you find yourself rooting for all of them and gutted when one gets into trouble.  The judges - Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood - are critical but not mean.  And you get tons of good baking tips. 
I immediately went out and bought the accompanying cookbook, the Great British Bake Off: How to Turn Everyday Bakes into Showstoppers by Linda Collister (it's a bit strange that it's come out before the end of this season so you do get a bit of a preview of the challenges to come, although no spoilers are given in terms of the winner).  It's quickly become one of my favourite cookbooks - there are SO many recipes I want to try.  This show is really inspiring.  This week's episode focused on flatbreads - the contestants had to come up with both savoury and sweet ones, and the flavour combinations they concocted had my mouth watering.  So I gave making homemade naan a try, adding lime and coriander.  It wasn't perfect - it could have used more seasoning and the dough was a bit thicker than I would have liked, but still never having done any kind of bread baking before, I was quite chuffed with the results.

Liverpool is hosting a Food and Drink Festival at the beginning of September which I'm really excited about. Paul Hollywood will be attending (he's originally from the Wirral) and judging a Merseyside Bake Off and there will also be a chef demonstrating Malaysian cooking, lots of beer and wine tasting and something called a Heavenly Chocolate Garden.  Can't wait!

Friday, 24 August 2012

Daytripping: Leeds. . .

I'll be doing a bit of travelling around England in the next few weeks - just day trips to explore cities, art galleries and of course checking out the odd yarn shop.  This week I was off to Leeds, a city I always enjoy visiting, being a Yorkshire lass myself.

First stop was the Art Gallery which is quite small but has a nice collection of Stanley Spencers, Walter Sickerts and a tiny but effective area devoted to artists painting during and just after the First World War - Mark Gertler, Wyndham Lewis, C.R.W. Nevinson  to name a few. I also like peeking at the side display of books from WWI writers just next to the library which is attached to the gallery.

This building also has one of the most stunning cafes of any museum I've been in.

Next door is the Henry Moore Foundation (he studied art in Leeds), that showcases modern sculpters and I popped in there briefly. And then on the bottom floor of the art gallery there's a very cool craft and design shop that sells beautiful prints, ceramics and jewelry. Well worth a browse.  But I had to keep my money in check (although I have my eye on a few possible Christmas gifts), because it was time for a walk through the city in the direction of Headingley. The best way to get to know a city is always to walk it; you just never know what you'll discover. Like many cities in the U.K., Leeds has some interesting architecture. I'm always intrigued by the juxtaposition of new buildings with the preservation of the old, and how they co-exist and sometimes energize the urban landscape.

After about forty-five minutes, walking past the university, a lovely park and popping into the odd vintage and antiques shop, I reached my ultimate destination.

Baa Ram Ewe has to be one of the most lovely yarn shops I've ever been in.  I've subscribed to their newsletter for a few months and I love that they specialize in wools from all parts of the U.K. Their staff are just wonderful - knowledgeable, friendly and just brimming with excitement and enthusiasm for all things woolly.  Though the shop is small, it's just brimming with gorgeous yarns and patterns and I probably spent over an hour just fondling and trying to make up my mind.  And yes, I definitely did come away with some goodies including a very particular yarn that I have a personal connection to.  Photos and story coming soon.

I then took the bus back into town and spent the rest of the afternoon walking through the markets and shopping areas. Leeds is known for its beautiful Victorian arcades and while many of the stores are the chains you find everywhere, there still lurks the odd independent, including a bead store called Yumyum Beads where I stocked up on some interesting colours.

There was also a Harvey Nichols (the equivalent in Toronto would be Holt Renfrew) which Liverpool doesn't have.  I bought some lemon curd and this snack which I'm almost embarassed to say was really, really tasty.

Then it was off to the train station and the two hour ride back to Liverpool.  All in all, a lovely day out.  Oooh and I have some more really yummy wool!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

My First Mystery Knit-a-Long. . .

I've long wanted to join a mystery KAL on Ravelry and when designer Stephen West offered up one last month, I immediately signed up. I've long admired his designs which are really original and modern in their shaping. All we knew was the name of the shawl and the yardage we'd need. It's called Rockefeller and every Friday for four weeks a new clue would come in my email and you'd knit that bit and wait for the next clue, not knowing how the whole thing would turn out. Over four thousand knitters were participating providing plenty of chat and help on the ravelry forums, and it was fun seeing everyone's different yarn and colour choices. I used two skeins of British wool that I picked up at Woolfest - a variegated Bluefaced Leicester/Gotland mix from Jillybean Yarns called Knot Another Granny Yarn, in the colour Mountain View, and an alpaca sock yarn from Fibre Harvest. 

This was Clue One in which I practiced doing short rows.

Clue Two was this middle bit of stockinette with some yarnovers and Clue Three became the bottom border which had some fun slip stitching. 

And here's the final shawl with two long narrow pointy wings of garter stitch stripes that were Clue Four.

I really love it - I think it's going to be my go-to fall wrap as you can wear it a lot of different ways. It looks equally good as a shawl with the main bit on your back and the two wings coming around the front, or as a squishy scarf with the main bit on the front and the two wings tying behind your neck. I really enjoyed the experience of doing the mystery KAL as well and have already signed up for another one which starts at the end of this week.  It's a lace shawl called Out of Darkness by Boo Knits and calls for 700 beads!  I'll be using some Madeleine Tosh Prairie from my stash in the Oak colourway in combination with one of these beads. It's hard to see, but I'm leaning towards the beads on the far left which are a dark gray.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

More Garden Envy. . .

We recently went to visit friends on the Wirral - across the Mersey from Liverpool - and in particular I was keen to see a garden I had heard so much about.

I wasn't disappointed - it was huge and gorgeous.  The woman who owns and tends it is a marvel.  She lives in an 18th century house with nooks and crannies filled with colourful textiles - tapestries on every wall and richly patterned rugs.  She's also a knitter and weaver and has a wonderful wooden shed adjacent to this in which she and her friends keep their looms.  I am now aching for a tiny summerhouse of my own in the garden. She also has the most glamourous scarecrow I've ever seen.  Isn't she fab?

On the way there we passed this house.  Words cannot express how much I'd love to live in it.  Very Vita Sackville West.

Monday, 20 August 2012

In Which My Thumb Is Growing Greener. . .

You can't live in England for long without meeting Brits who are passionate about their gardens and it's easy to get caught up in all the enthusiasm.  I've never really had a garden of my own; in Toronto I lived in an apartment with no green space, no balcony and very little natural light.  Great for cozying up with a book in the winter, but almost every bit of plant life that crossed the threshold shortly died.  So I was eager to attend my first English garden show last week, held in Southport, just a bit north of Liverpool.  There were flowers . . . lots and lots of gorgeous flowers.  And the profusion of colour was just spectacular.

British pride was well on display.

I had a lot of fun (and ice cream) at the show and came away determined to get in on the craze.  Our back yard has been a bit neglected over the summer but I spent the weekend weeding and sweeping and cutting back some overgrowth. It was very satisfying and I did it just in time to enable us to enjoy a meal out on the patio as I hosted my first mini-dinner party for the Liverpud's brother, wife and two year old.  Given the time of year I can't really get a garden going, but I do have herbs bought at the show on the kitchen windowsill and they are still alive after several days. 

And I picked up this beautiful streptocarpus for my craft room/library.  The care instructions basically say to water when it droops. I should be able to handle that. 

I also picked up some tulip bulbs to plant in October for next spring.  Like choosing wine, I'm often drawn to things because of their names AND I love all things red so how could I pass up on these bulbs?

I love the idea of having a bit of "Toronto" in the backyard next year.  Along with some "Backpackers".   Stay tuned.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

End of the Games. . . both of them

And so we come to the end of another Olympics - one I really enjoyed watching.  Team GB was amazing. Obviously home advantage and the huge crowds must have played a large part in the medal haul; there were so many athletes who really pushed hard and had terrific events whether they won a medal or not. It made for some very exciting and tense watching. It certainly inspires one to finally get off the couch and get active (after tonight's closing ceremonies of course, which I'm very much looking forward to watching.) Hopefully I'll be getting on my bike shortly - just as soon as I feel entirely comfortable as a pedestrian with the traffic on the other side of the road.  Liverpool has quite a lot of bike lanes and some lovely parks to cycle in, but like a lot of cities, the bike lanes will just suddenly stop (usually at a busy intersection), or cars will park in them and many of the roads get very narrow.  So I'm still a little skittish, but I'll get there.

One good thing about sitting on the settee for numerous hours over the last two weeks - I got a lot of knitting done and finished my shawl for the Ravellenic Games.

I'm really pleased with it - it was a lovely pattern to knit. It's called Sweet Dreams by Boo Knits and allowed me to try beading for the first time. I am hooked!  I didn't order enough beads so only did them on the last lace chart but I really like how they weigh the shawl down. I purposely tried to match the colour of the beads with the yarn so there was a bit of sparkle but it wasn't overwhelming.

The yarn is Scrumptious Lace from Fyberspates which is a lovely mixture of merino and silk, making it very strong with a nice lustre. I would definitely recommend it for lace work.   And I was able to enter this project in four Ravellenic categories: Shawl Sailing, Single Skein Sprint, Balance Beads and Lace Longjump.  It was a lot of fun to participate and chat with knitters all over the world.  And now I have the perfect summer evening shawl.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Woolly Wants. . .

One of the lovely things about living in the UK is that I am now truly in the land of sheep and wool. British people tend to think you're a bit strange when you go potty over sheep but no matter where you live on this island, you don't have to go far to see a fields of them. But despite this, the wool industry isn't as robust as one might think and I've been in several yarn shops in the country that strangely don't stock a lot of British wool. However, this may be changing.  There have been lots of recent campaigns to bring wool to the national consciousness as a wonderful and sustainable material to use in fashion and home furnishings, and something to be proud of.  The Campaign For Wool hosts an entire week devoted to celebrating the fibre in October. I would love some day to be able to attend all the wonderful events happening at the Shetland Wool Week  but it's a bit far; hopefully I'll pop over to Yorkshire for their Wool Week festivities instead.

Meanwhile, I'm obsessing these days about wool throws. I know it's summer but it can get chilly in the evenings and I like to snuggle under a blanket on the couch.  All our couches are beige (the Liverpud is quite basic in his decorating style) and I need to punch them up with some colour.  I also love using wool throws as a blanket over the bed, not only for another needed burst of colour, but there's nothing warmer or cosier. And yes, I'm very far behind in my ongoing hexi-puff knitted quilt and I really need to sew up my knitted log cabin quilt.  But it's just so much easier to drool over the gorgeous throws at this Yorkshire company with the enticing name of Bronte. Just beautiful stuff, and I love how all their goods are manufactured from start to finish in their mill in Guiseley, trying to be as environmentally conscious as they can.   They also create lovely bags and I'm really coveting this Heathcliff.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Smut (Not the Fifty Shades type). . .

This is the first book I've taken out and read from my new local library, which is quite nice and airy with a decent selection and no shortage of titles that I want to read.  However there is no drop-off box to return books after hours!  This seems to be fairly common, at least with all the branches I've seen so far in the U.K. I'm guessing it harkens back to IRA days but it is a bit frustrating and inconvenient as my nearest branch isn't open on the weekends and has no late nights.

Oh well, back to the book.  I've been a huge fan of Alan Bennett and his Yorkshire humour for years and especially appreciate his talent as a playwright.  Smut: Two Unseemly Stories was entertaining but not his best work.  I did enjoy the first novella, "The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson".  It's the story of a recent (but not grieving) widow, who in order to supplement her income takes in two student lodgers and a job at the university's medical faculty posing as different patients to aid the students not only in their diagnostic skills but also their bedside manner.  She turns out to have quite the acting talent and ability to catch not only the students off guard, but their attentive professor, Dr Ballantyne. Meanwhile, her two lodgers behind on the rent offer in lieu of money to stage a performance of a rather more sexual nature with rather unexpected results.  Jane Donaldson is a typical Bennett character of a certain age - tougher and wiser than she first comes across, able to view the world with a witty and cynical eye, and most importantly is someone who by the end of the story can completely surprise herself and be rather chuffed at the outcome.
"The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes" is about a mother coming to terms with her son's marriage to a woman she deems beneath him, while the new Mrs. Forbes realises that her husband isn't all he was cracked up to be. It was a little too pat and predictable for my tastes, but I think I might have warmed up to it had I listened to the audio version, which is read by Bennett himself.  I have a LOT of Alan Bennett on CD - his fabulous Talking Head series, many of his plays adapted for radio by the BBC, and other writings of his that are read by him.  They are performed by the cream of British acting and Bennett himself can absolutely nail his characterizations with his dry delivery.  I'll probably add this someday to my collection.