31 Dec 2015

December was...a goodie


This has been one of the best Decembers, and one of the best lead ups to one of the best Christmases in a long while. I don't know what is was but everything just clicked this month. I was properly spoilt with some excellent evenings with friends, a variety of lovely festive family gatherings, three rather fun weeks at work, a weekend away aaand...the ultimate joy of finally collecting the keys to our first home! See what I mean, suuuuuper spoilt ;)

I'll save my 2015 reflections for another day because right now I need to get ready (and buy some fizz) for tonight's celebrations! I wish you all a fabulous night whether you're staying in or venturing out, with someone ace to kiss at midnight ;) H A P P Y  N E W  Y E A R

29 Dec 2015

Reading & Seeing 27

I hope you all had lovely Christmases, it was a particularly good one here (the cooking went well, we played lots of games and drank eggnog - which equals success in my book)!

This Reading & Seeing has been sitting in my drafts folder for some time so I thought I'd get on with it before we end up in January. It's a bit of a bumper edition, the last few months have been rather cultural it seems...!


Star Wars: the force awakens
Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few months, the hype around this was crazy and, thankfully, it managed to live up to the perfect film I'd wished for. There's an excellent set of new characters (I am crushing hard on Rey especially, but also Finn and don't even get me started on BB8) and the script is ace (none of that 'trade embargoes' yawnathon a la episode 1), dare I say it, it's actually pretty funny. Aaaand, aside from that there's a ton of original Star Wars film references (scene changes, similar-ish set pieces, not to mention some of the original cast). If Star Wars was never your thing, this is a good time to start getting into it. You don't need to have seen the previous 6 films (in the case of episodes 1-3 I wouldn't bother) but of course it does add a bit of depth to the story. Because Mitch and I are little nerds we watched it at the Science Museum as they've got a 70mm film projector. I can happily confirm that my viewing experience wasn't hindered in the slightest by watching it in 2D. How much did I love this film? I neeeed to see it again on the big screen!


Spectre
James Bond just really isn't my cup of tea, so why did I watch it you ask? Well, I actually liked Skyfall but Spectre not so much. The opening scene is the best bit but then it descended into this fairly predictable, clich├ęd, action romp. Some bits were incredibly cringey (I was squirming in my seat after they fight the big guy on the train) and, in my opinion a big mistake, the revealed the bloody villan in the trailer! What happened to less is more? Good points? Ben Wishaw and he gets more than 5 mins screen time in this one and that can't be a bad thing!

Mockingjay part two
The last of the Hunger Games films and, IMHO the weakest of the lot. It's not bad though it's just that mockingjay is the dullest book. The film was entertaining: the special effects were good, it's pretty true to the book and they handled the last bit (glimpse into the future) v.nicely. A not too shabby send off for Katniss and Co.

The Farm
Daniel's parents retire to an old farm in Sweden, his mother's homeland, a rustic but idyllic setting, or so he thinks... six months after the move, Daniel's father calls to say his mother is having some sort of breakdown. She then unexpectedly arrives in England armed with v.troubling stories on corruption, murder and accusations about their neighbours in Sweden but also Daniel's father. Crime isn't really my thing but I really enjoyed this, it's well paced, clever and suspenseful, most if the time I didn't know who to believe. Most of the action takes place in Sweden, and although it's messed up, it reeeally made we want to go there!

Annihilation
The first book in the Southern Reach trilogy wherein four women (known only by their professions) set out on the 12th expedition to explore the mysterious and hostile environment of Area X. This was exactly my kind of SF. Vivid descriptions, only a handful of characters to deal with and a whole bunch of questions that go unanswered. Also, how lush is that cover? As you can probably guess, I am itching to get my hands in the second book.

Lock In
Set in a future where a proportion of the population suffers from a disorder known as Hadens. Sufferers of the condition exist in a ''locked in'' state - they're minds function as normal but their bodies are completely unresponsive. In order for Hadens to exist within and interact with wider society their consciousness is transferred to human shaped transport units (I imagine them to look a bit like electionic manniquins) known as threeps. And that's just the start of it. The story follows the first week of new FBI agent (and Hadens victim) Daniel as he attempts to discover the truth about a suspicious suicide. Due to the back story of Hadens and the complexity of the disorder A LOT of explaining takes place in this story which slows it down and messes up the pace. I found it really annoying, sort of like 'oh, and another thing about Hadens which we didn't mention earlier', which is a shame because the crime drama at the centre of it is pretty good. There's also A LOT of tech talk about code which was completely lost on me and I found to be quite boring. I stuck it out and it did pick up about two thirds in but meh, I've read a lot of good SF this year (Harry August, Station Eleven, Ready Player One) and Lock In was clunky and dull in comparison.

The Humans
December's book club choice. It's written from the perspective of an alien (of a way more advanced civilisation and from a planet many many light years away) who is sent to earth to carry out a mission: to destroy all evidence that humans (or rather one human - mathematitian, Andrew Martin) has solved the riemann hypothesis. The alien and his species have been told that the humans are primitive, violent beings, unable to handle the repercussions and possibilities of such a discovery. In order to carry out his mission the alien takes a human form and attempts to live among us, learning about us as he goes. The alien's observations are spot on, some are very amusing and some are quite beautifully sad. Reading about human nature from an outsider so to speak, does really make you think about stuff - the good and bad that people do (to the planet, to each other) and it's sad because ultimately we are all the same, we have to live here together on this earth (it's the only home we've got after all). Some members of book club felt that the story was a little lacking, that the plot was just a vehicle for the writer to make his observations about humanity and at certain times in the book I could see their point. However, overall I found it a great easy read, thought-provoking and amusing with a sentimental ending, that on this occasion, I wanted.



Cosmonauts
Currently on at the Science Museum and certainly worth a look if you're interested in space travel. As the name of the exhibition suggests it's all about the Russian Cosmonauts. A lot is made about America's space story so for me it was great to read about the Russian achievements - after all they can claim a lot of acolades: first man in space, first women in space, first space walk as well as being the first to launch space stations. The highlight for me was seeing the actual craft that Valentina Tereshkova landed back on earth on June 19th 1963 (it's tiny and also kinda of crazy to think that people were sent into space in such fragile looking things). The tickets are a little pricey (£14) but seeing as how the actual science museum is free (and you get to see a lot of old and new stuff they use on the ISS) I was happy to pay. Lastly, the shop at the end is freaking awesome. They've got some great poster art plus a cutesy little bar selling Russian food (icecream weirdly enough) and beer in v.cool shaped bottles.


Joanna Newsom
I'd never seen her live before, and I confess I'd not heard any of her new album but I am so so glad I got to hear it for the first time live! She's a fantastic lyricist and so muscially talented, switching between her instruments even during the same song! The icing on the cake was Peach Plum Pear at the end - an oldie but a goodie which brought back lots of happy uni memories :)

Derren Brown
Having watched a good many of his shows I knew the type of thing to expect but damn, it's something else to see him live. The audience is under strict instruction not to say what goes on so all I will say is: if this particular show is televised, watch it. Just how does he do what does???!!!! He is one handsome mysterious man.

23 Dec 2015

all christmassy


Unlike my miserable December last year, this month's festive build up has been perfecto for a number of reasons: 

1. I actually got to go to my work christmas party this year (I was even on the committee that organised it)! We had a staff bake off (my team constructed a 'christmas dinner' cake - my contribution was the plate using this recipe), staff awards AND a dressing up competition. The theme was 'the Christmas spirit' so I went as bottle of Port (pretty much sums up my Xmas spirit).

2. Team Christmas lunch - an epic three hour lunch (complete with secret santa swaps, crackers, festive pass the parcel) followed by mulled wine in the pub.

3. Mini Christmas up in Norfolk with my granddad because we won't see him for actual Christmas. Both my sister and I wore Christmas jumpers and I instantly felt about a thousand times more festive. I've never really been into the whole jumper thing but I'm certainly getting warm to the idea (sorry)!

4. People were handing out mistletoe at Waterloo station one morning. Completely unexpected (and a little random) but lovely all the same.

5. I made Christmas biscuits which I've not done for quite a few years. Icing them was a lot of fun :)

6. Mulled wine and lots of it - drunk at various social meet ups throughout the month.

Today is my last day in the office until 2016 and then I have 11 whole days off!

It's Christmas at home in good old south west London this year, and Mitch and I are doing the cooking (or rather Mitch is and I'm assisting). But before that, it's dinner at a friends' tonight, a mini Christmas in Essex tomorrow with Mitch's family and then annual christmas eve drinks with friends in the evening. Excited doesn't even come close to how I'm feeling!

I wish you all fabulous Christmases with good food, good wine and excellent company :D


21 Dec 2015

A Christmas recipe: spiced biscuits

Every Christmas (as far back as I can remember) my family makes these spiced biscuits. It started off with my mum and then, when my sister and I were little we'd help ice them. As we got older, we took over and now it's down to us to bake the biscuits. My sis has made them the last few years but I had some left over biscuit mixture from my 'bake off' entry at work so did me some biscuits. Ta-da!

The recipe is very simple which means you can go as fancy as you like with the icing :) It being Christmas jumper day on Friday I thought the dinosaurs would look pretty ace wearing some!

Ingredients:
125g butter
250g flour
125g soft brown sugar
1 egg
2 tsp mixed spice
Pinch of salt

For the icing:
125g icing sugar
1-2 tablespoons of warm water
(a couple of drops of food colouring if you want different colours)
Any sprinkles or other toppings for decorating.

Cream the butter and sugar together. Beat the egg in a separate bowl and add gradually to the butter and sugar.

Sift the flour, mixed spice and salt into the mixture in small batches. It'll seem like there's too much flour but keeping adding it and stirring until it comes together to form one ball of firm dough.

Put a bit of flour on your surface (and rolling pin), roll out the dough to 0.5-1cm thick, then take your cookie cutters and start creating some shapes.

Sprinkle some flour on a baking tray before placing the biscuits on it. Bake at 190 degrees in a pre-heated oven for 15 mins. Don't worry if they look a bit soft, they'll firm up once they've been left to cool.

Mix up the icing sugar and water until it's of a spreadable but not drippy consistency, and, once they're cool, ice them biscuits!



Do you have any family/traditional Christmas recipes that make an appearance every year?

16 Dec 2015

a weekend in the brecon beacons

It was a bit of a last minute getaway this but seeing as I'd not left London for a night since Yorkshire (back in September), I was in desperate need of a getaway!

A small group of us pootled off to Wales for the last walking weekend of the year. The weather was pretty bad - 50mph winds, A LOT of rain and freezing temperatures - turns out the first week of December aint the best time of year for walks, who knew! We stayed in a great little YHA (aptly named the mountain bunkhouse) on a hill in the middle of nowhere, in the south east bit of the brecon beacons, a little south of Crickhowell in case that means anything to you. Afore mentioned terrible weather wasn't enough to put us off a short walk so we ventured out onto the hills up by the cliffs overlooking the hostel, stopping only to gawp at the beautiful scenery (and a drain a cup or two of mulled wine). As it started to get to dark (and progressively more and more windy) we decided to go back to the hostel, jump in the car and drive to Crickhowell in search of a cosy pub. We settled on The Bear which was perfect (and I'd reccommend it if you're ever in the area). Bellies full we returned to the hostel for much wine, cheese and games.

Before heading back to London on the Sunday we took a detour a little further north to spend a few hours at CAT, the centre for alternative technology. Built in an old disused quarry, it's a pretty incredible place, originally started up by a community in the 1970s who were united in the belief that the world needed more sustainable options in everyday life. The centre has grown since the 70s but inspiring, encouraging and researching more eco-friendly and sustainable ways of living is still very much at its core. The interative installations were interesting and certainly gave us a lot of food for thought but my favourite bit was the herb gardens. What with it being winter the centre was a bit of a ghost town - good for us because I hate crowds, but it did seem a little bleak, I imagine in the summer there's probably quite a lot going on. We posed for a pic on the blade of the wind turbine in the car park (naturally) before starting the long drive back to London. We'll definitely need to head back to the brecon beacons in warmer weather as there's so much of it we didn't see or climb!


9 Dec 2015

Knitted Raglan Jumper

Last year I knitted my first jumper (actually I knitted it, then unravelled it and knitted it again) and I'm not shy to say: it was crap. I took some pics of me wearing it (for prosperity's sake) and they were promptly deleted. Frumpy and unflattering, the jumper got stuffed into a drawer and I haven't tried it on since!

Now, I'm not one to let things go so easily... I WOULD knit my own jumper and it wouldn't be shit and unwearable. So, back in October I started another. It's for beginners and is dead simple to knit up (apart from the neckline which I'll come to in a second), just four pieces - front, back, two sleeves - plus that pesky neckline. I completed it a couple of weeks ago, so here, in all its glory, is the finished thing.

Sure it's not perfect (can't be doing with perfection), a little on the large side and the neckline is a dog's dinner but whatevs, it's cosy and warm and I made it myself.

Next time (a dark red I'm thinking) I'd choose a smaller size and start the neckline a bit lower. It doesn't look it (I don't think) in the pictures but the neckline is a little on the tight side, getting it over my head isn't the smoothest of operations. The other problem (which probably has something to do with the fact I'm a tight knitter) was picking up the stitches to add on the neckline. It was actually impossible to fit my needles back into the stitches so instead I picked the stitches on the row below, hence why it's all a bit uneven. I haven't helped matters by choosing a contrasting colour (dark navy on green is pretty noticeable). My mum, skilled knitter, suggested I pull it out and do it in green and my dad, who knows sweet f.a about knitting, said I should redo it in grey to match the sleeves. Being a mature adult, who's able to take constructive criticism, I decided to ignore them both, mostly because the thought of redoing the neckline again filled me with horror (three whole evenings I wrestled with it!) but also because it's actually a recreation of a jumper I had a couple of years. A victim of shrinkage on an ill-fated visit to the washing machine, I loved that jumper and have been looking to replace it ever since it's departure to the charity shop (some small child is very lucky).

It's not quite the same but the essence is there and, most importantly I suppose, I'm happy with it. It's even had a couple of wears too! So there you have it: the story of my second (but first wearable) knitted jumper.

Got any knitting triumphs (or fails, there's no judging here) you'd like to share or point me to? I'm always interested to see what other knitters are up to :)


2 Dec 2015

November was...productive


So here we are, the second of December, where did the last 31 days go? Who knows!

Anyway, as the title suggests I got my shit together in November, life admin wise but also in a creative sense: zippy tops (I've made a total of three now, pics to come), lavender birds, a fun little cushion pattern aaaand I finished my jumper (I'll do a post soon)! After a frankly shite October (the tail-end anyway), I decided that November would be spent doing the things I want to do. Aside from a few awesome events (seeing Derren Brown and Joanna Newsom live), going out on week nights has been reduced dramatically (how good is NOT going out?!), my time has become my own! I go to the gym a couple of nights a week but mostly my evenings are free to knit whilst watching Moonlighting/Man in the High Castle/Agents of Shield, and I couldn't be happier.

It's not going to last though, December, like every year, is looking busy...!


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