Monday, 29 April 2013

Oh happy scissors, this is thy sheath

I have been on a major sewing crafty kick as of late. The ideas just keep flowing and the projects just keep coming. To celebrate the fact that I have been doing so much sewing I treated myself to a pair of decent pair of sewing shears. The first rule of sewing is you don’t talk about sewing….sorry that was Fight Club. The first rule of sewing is you NEVER use your sewing shears for anything but fabric because it will make them DULL. While I followed that rule I never took great care of my previous shears. They weren’t really great quality to begin with. They came in a multi pack of scissors and so I thought, “Right, the biggest ones will be for sewing.” They never cut terrible well--they had a tendency to chew fabric. So I vowed that these would be different.

I invested in a proper pair that came with instructions how to clean the blades and insisted that they be stored in a protective pouch to keep them from being blunted. I’ve been on a bit of an upcycling kick and I found this adorable way to make a scissor sheath out of an old necktie. Look at this lovely tie I bought for £1.


Here is the underside.


It reminded me of Monet’s water lilies

File:Monet Water Lilies 1916.jpg

The trouble I had was every time I found a tie with a pattern that I liked and was the correct size for my shears --it turned out to be silk. At Save the Children I had to ask “Are there any ties that *aren’t* made of silk?” The lady was a wee bit confused and said, “But the silk are top of the range!” I explained that the silk industry was a cruel one. Silk worms in their cocoons are thrown into boiling water whilst still alive and then they die so the silk they have been spinning can be harvested. I don’t want to have anything to do with things that cause pain and suffering so I wanted a polyester tie. I think she was a bit shocked by it all. Most people don’t know about how cruel silk production methods are. She asked me a sincere question in response to my statement about not wanting to do anything that caused pain. She asked, “But you eat meat and animals died for that, right?” To which I was pleased to respond:

Actually, no I don’t. I don’t consume anything that has a mother. I don’t consume anything that comes from animals because of the way that animals are treated. Animals are not vending machines--they were not created to give up parts of themselves (eggs), their children, (milk production) and their lives (meat) just for us to be able to eat. Animals are my friends and I don’t eat my friends.    

So she kindly directed me to the polyester ties. And that’s how I found the lovely one pictured above. My first thought when I saw this gorgeous necktie in a charity shop was Oh happy scissors, this is thy sheath! which is a shameless paraphrase from Romeo and Juliet. Then I looked at the label and it said FOLKSPEARE which sounded a bit like Shakespeare and I felt like it was destiny. Lastly, I saw that it was made in England which practically guaranteed that it wasn’t produced in a sweatshop. That made me ridiculously happy because I care about human rights as much as I do animal rights.

All you do is measure how deep your scissors slide in and then cut below that. Turn the cut edges inside and press with an iron and then sew the bottom end shut. Then add some decorative buttons on if you want. I did because I wanted to give some extra support to the front seam of the tie which was only tacked together. Plus it made it purdy. Everything is nicer with decorative buttons. FACT.  That’s it! You could even do it all by hand if you don’t have a sewing machine.

Here it is without the shears.

 Here it is with my new sewing scissors safely tucked inside.

It is clever and practical and upcycled from an old tie. Plus it is darned cute, if I do say so myself.
Now go and make one yourself!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Softly, softly

We have hard water. White chalky deposits cover every stainless steel surface. If we didn’t descale it our kettle would grow enough fur inside that it would look like magic rocks. FACT.
remember growing these crystals in a jar as a child?

 We also don’t have a tumble drier. Which means that most things--especially towels--are more than a wee bit on the scratchy side. Most fabric softeners contain a whole host of chemicals--including beef tallow in the case of Downey and some brands of drier sheets. YUK. You can buy eco ones but they cost a packet. I tried just using vinegar in combination with washing soda (soda crystals) as a water softener and there was a bit of improvement. But the towels were still quite sandpaper-y.

I found several recipes online about making your own from water, vinegar and hair conditioner. Most websites talked about buying the cheapest hair conditioner you could get. The problem is many beauty products--cheap and expensive--can contain some pretty nasty ingredients.


Petroleum in the form of paraffinium liquidum  which is mineral oil.

Propylene glycol which is a form of anti-freeze.

Paraben preservatives which can disrupt hormone function and have been found in breast tissue of women with breast cancer.

MEA, DEA or TEA which mix with other ingredients to form formaldehyde in the body.

Cheap foaming agent sodium lauryl sulphate which is an industrial degreaser and can cause serious, burn like skin irritation.

I wanted to try this so I hunted around for an inexpensive conditioner that didn’t contain any nasties or animal excretions. It also could not be owned by a parent company like Proctor and Gamble who we boycott because they do horrible things with animal testing.

I found this conditioner at Wilkinsons. It was Wilko brand and was called Fruity Citrus Conditioner. It contained lots of more gentle ingredients I was familiar with and none of the nasties on the above list. It also had citrus aurantifolia fruit extract which seemed more natural that fake smelling stuff. It smelled faintly of oranges and I thought it would go well with the orange vinegar I was brewing. Plus it was on special 2 bottles for £2.

So I made it. The original recipe made a huge amount and I’ve not got a container big enough nor the place to store it so I halved the recipe.

Original recipe--makes 11 cups

6 cups water

3 cups vinegar

2 cups hair conditioner

My recipe--makes 5.5 cups

3 cups water

1.5  cups (orange) vinegar

1 cup conditioner

I put it in this 1 litre jug and gave it a good old shake for the whole length of Tom and Olly’s Love at the Disco that I was jamming to on my I-pod. That was it. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. It had a faint pleasant scent--like an orange creamsicle. But not overpowering like a French whorehouse the way so many fabric softeners do. Smelling heavily perfumed fabric softener makes me reach for my asthma inhaler.  Plus with this recipe you can’t smell it on the final product when it comes out of the washing machine—it just smells fresh and clean. Perfect for us.

I’ll let you know how it goes--but I’m pretty pleased so far. Now go and make it yourself. 

Monday, 22 April 2013

R.I.P. Tibia

this is the only photo we have as every time we took the lid off her tank to try to take one she would hide.

Poor Tibia has gone to that big web in the sky. We have been half expecting it, really. You see it is very difficult to tell the sex of an immature spider. At between the ages of three and five a tarantula will become sexually mature. One always hopes they will be female as a female tarantula can live, ten, fifteen maybe up to twenty years--moulting again about once a year (immature spiders moult every 3 months, then 6 months then finally once a year). Bad luck if they turn out to be male as male tarantulas usually die within a year of reaching sexual maturity.

How can you tell? Well male spiders typically have considerably smaller abdomens than females and upon their final moult develop bulbous like protrusions that resemble boxing gloves as a place to store their sperm. Some can develop tibial hooks on their legs to help hold a female back so she can’t bite him whilst mating.

We have always suspected poor Tibs might be male as she had an abdomen the size of a grape (our other spiders of similar size have abdomens the size of walnuts) and her last moult we suspected her palps were enlarged, but we never saw tibial hooks. But to be fair, not all species of spider develop them. We got her fairly late in her growth cycle--she was a sub adult when we brought her home three years ago for my 40th birthday.

On the weekend we noticed she was sitting with her legs curled up underneath her--a sure sign of death. Don’t be fooled if you see a spider on it’s back--they are not dying, but moulting (shedding their skin.)  We tried to joggle the tank a bit and put some water in--both events would have sent her (him) running in the past as Tibs was a bit of a fraidy-cat. No go. Not a movement. Poor thing.

Every spider has their own temperament. Some are neat, some are messy. Some like to climb, some like to burrow. Some are chilled out and some are skittish. Some are aggressive, some are passive. None are passive-aggressive. Tibia was very nervous. Lifting the lid, pouring water in the tank, the cricket jumping about on the substrate made Tibia hide in a corner and suck her (his) thumb. OK, I made the last bit up because spiders don’t have thumbs--but you can bet if they did, Tibia would have.

We will miss Tibia, the first parting that was among us here in England. We have already said goodbye to Shirley and Charlotte from our U.S. days. We will think of Tibs fondly and recall the time we had to camp out for hours in the bathroom trying to coax her (him)  out so we could clean the tank. I will struggle to use the male gendered pronouns as we have always thought of Tibia as female, but wherever you are Tibs--I hope you can find a corner to hide in. 



Saturday, 20 April 2013

Sunshine in a bottle

I am a confirmed crunchy granola eco warrior. I don’t go in for all that chemical stuff. It’s bad for you and bad for the environment. Plus it stinks. Have you smelled bleach lately? Blech.

The problem is that eco cleaning may be good for you and good for the environment but it can also be on the whiffy side. Anyone who has ever smelled vinegar knows what I mean. When I clean with bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and vinegar I get excellent results, but the flat really pongs. Spiderman always gets that look on his face that says, “I can smell you’ve been cleaning again.”

But wrinkle your nose no longer, oh best beloved. I saw this idea all over the internet and just *had* to try it. Orange vinegar. You know the power of orange oil for cleaning? How about that mixed with the cleaning power of  vinegar? What if you could harness the two together? To paraphrase that old Reeces Peanut Butter Cup advert from olden days:

Person 1: Hey! You got your orange in my vinegar!

Person 2: Hey! You got your vinegar in my orange!

Together: It smells great!

All you have to do is add 2-3 orange peels to some white vinegar, put it in a wide mouth container and let it sit for 2 weeks then strain out the orange and use the vinegar for cleaning. Seriously, that’s it. Look at this--this had only been brewing for 3 days when I took this photo. Look at the colour of that white vinegar!


I’ve got 1 week to go before it’s ready and it already smells great. I just give the glass bottle a bit of shake every couple of days and open it and check the scent because I‘m nosy. We put the orange peels in over the course of 3 days as we ate oranges. It’s that easy.

When it’s ready to use I’m going to make some fabric softener using it. Watch the blog for the upcoming post with the recipe!

Now go and make your own.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Time And Relative Dimension In Soap

Who has the coolest Mum? That would be me, your old pal Spidergrrl. My Mum knows me well. When she finds something special--something so special it is worth posting all the across the sea (even when she has to practically sell a kidney to pay for postage)--she sends it and she is never wrong. I’ve gotten a draught excluder shaped like the Wicked Witch of the East’s legs (ruby slippers included!) and an enormous salmon pink tee-shirt with a huge blue iridescent spider on it that I am wearing as I type this. But the coolest gift, by far, was the one I received today.

Soap. But not just any soap. Real, handmade, artisan soap with quality animal-free ingredients. Not just any posh soap, but Doctor Who Soap!


Isn’t that a scream! The soap called The Doctor contains a richly aromatic blend of peppercorns, juniper berries, clary sage, ylang ylang, elemi, bergamot, clove buds, and nutmeg and has almost as many ingredients as the Doctor’s had regenerations! 

The blue soap is appropriately called  TARDIS calls itself Time And Relative Dimension In Soap.

Because witty packaging makes everything better. FACT.

It is real serendipity that this arrived today as I actually was at the Health Food Shop trying to scope out a new bar of  real soap. I used to think I hated soap. It made my hands dry. It was more convenient to use liquid. But then liquid soap is often made with scary chemicals and petroleum and comes in a plastic bottle. I tried buying some soaps from LUSH that had clever packaging, but they made my hands unbelievably dry and scaly like I was some sort of lizard woman. It was only later that I understood that LUSH soap--despite their marketing as eco-friendly and green was actually not soap at all. It was harsh chemicals in a soap shape. Real soap is made from nourishing oils and lye (you’d think the lye would make it harsh but quite the opposite)  not sodium lauryl sulphate, an industrial degreaser.  Check your soap, your shampoo, your body wash. This harsh chemical sticks it’s little nose into everything these days. We avoid it like the plague.

Our friend Karen gave me a bar or artisan soap with coconut oil as the first ingredient. I fell in love with it. The soap was so creamy; my hands were soft. It lasted for ages. No more plastic. But the soap is getting smaller and I had a real fear about what I was going to do when it ran out. So today I started looking for a replacement--not to buy yet--but to know where the next bar was going to come from. And here it is! Two bars arrived on my doorstep--and you know what? The first ingredient in both soaps is coconut oil so I know these will be super mild and gentle. Hoorah!

I cannot wait to try this out! Thank you Mum! You are the greatest time traveler I know!

Monday, 15 April 2013

Teeny Tiny

There once was a teeny tiny woman who lived
in a teeny tiny flat.
And in the teeny tiny flat
there was a teeny tiny kitchen.
And in the teeny tiny kitchen there was
a teeny tiny freezer…

This is my kitchen, for better or for worse. I will admit I sometimes suffer from kitchen envy. I love the look of an open plan kitchen which is the heart of every home. In my ideal home I would love to have a big weathered table and benches in the corner, an island on the middle of the kitchen and a rack that lowered from the ceiling with all the pots and pans hanging from it. It would be nice to have an oven that had a light or didn’t need a piece of blue tack to hold the oven temperature dial in the right place so 180 degrees doesn‘t somehow fall into 200 degrees when you are not looking.  But, hey--this is my kitchen. It may be small, but I do lots of amazing stuff in it.

Can you see the space? There is exactly 30 inches of space between the counter on the left and the photo covered fridge on the right. It actually narrows to 25 inches from the sticky out handle of the stove and the wooden trolley. It is so small that I can't use a mop to clean the floor--I have to scrub on my hands and knees like in olden days. But I make the most of it. The trolley is great storage for overflow utensils and pots and the colander. It holds the bananas in a bowl as well as my rye crackers in a tin. It also gives me a bit more counter space.  I also have 2 coat racks that Spiderman painted and hung up for me to hold tea towels, my cooking apron and bag dispensers for cleaning rags. This saves on drawer space.
I make good use of the few cupboards I have by keeping quite a lot of items such as bulk jars of rice and dried beans, appliances and storage containers down the hall on a set of bookshelves. The shelves are called Ainsley Harriet after a funky TV chef who used to be the host of a programme called Ready, Steady, Cook. Don’t your bookshelves have names? All of ours do. How else can you tell someone else where to find something with out getting up off the sofa? You say something like, “It’s on the bottom of Papa Bear” and they can find it for themselves. Obviously.

Anyway, many British households have a tiny fridge. FACT. Most have one that fits under the counter like a dishwasher would. If you watch Britcoms like Keeping Up Appearances you’ll see Hyacinth Bucket (it’s pronounced bouquet) has a tiny fridge. Big ones are called American style fridges. We were chuffed to bits when we bought this one. It was bigger and had a decent sized freezer on top. But the whole thing--fridge and freezer combined--is actually only 47 inches high. It comes up to my boobs. The fridge is just the right size because we buy fresh stuff  little and often, but the freezer has always been a bit of squeeze.

We don’t rely on frozen processed convenience food, bit it would be nice to do some batch cooking and put some away for easy meals later. I have recently found a fantastic recipe for gluten free chickpea cutlets. They are wonderful with potatoes and veg and smothered in gravy. But the recipe makes eight cutlets. I really wanted the space to cook once and freeze the rest and be able to pull out some to defrost and pan fry to reheat on at another time. 

We eat a copious amount of frozen fruit. We put frozen berries and frozen pineapple in our morning green smoothie. The greengrocer sells me overripe bananas at a discount which I peel, cut up and freeze and make the most delicious soft serve ice cream with no weird additives like soy ice cream has. But this takes up lots of freezer space. I like to keep frozen peas, corn and edamame as well and this makes the freezer PACKED. There is not room for frozen cutlets or batch cooked beans or extra portions of soup to be eaten next week. So what to do? OK, let me rephrase--what to do in the teeny tiny kitchen?

Get a teeny tiny freezer of course! We found this “dorm sized” table top freezer for £90 at ARGOS and it has an A+ rating for energy. I used some of tutoring money to pay for it. You can see we have squeezed it in the corner on the other side of the trolley. Sadly, it means I can’t open one of my under sink cabinets any more, but I can still get to one and so I have shifted every thing forward for easy access. My cleaning stuff really is just some bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and vinegar so it doesn’t need much room. Stay tuned for my report on how to make orange scented vinegar coming soon!   

I am loving this little guy already. We now have a fruit/potato waffles freezer and a veg/batch cooked freezer. I kept the potato waffles up top so they are easier to get to. I have already cooked a big batch of white beans and stored away 2 frozen portions--one for later this week and one for next week which will save me over an hour of cooking. Our beloved tempeh which for so long has been out of stock at the Health Food Shop has reappeared in the freezer section. I’ve got a couple on hand for meals in the next month. I like to cook with soy products like tofu of tempeh about once a week and have beans and legumes the rest of the time. But now I have a stock of them. I bought a bag of good looking stir fry veg that can be pulled out at a moments notice and quickly stir fried with a homemade sauce for a fast evening meal.

I think of all the good that I do in the kitchen--all the animals who are safe because we would not put a creature who could feel joy or pain and fear on our plates. I think of the healthy food we eat, made from whole foods which tastes delicious and clean and peaceful. There is no death in my teeny tiny kitchen.  I do it all (and infinitely more) on a teeny tiny budget in my teeny tiny kitchen and we are vibrant and healthy because of it.

Whoever said size matters, they were wrong. Teeny tiny is the way to go.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Book Town chapter three--Animals

What separates us from the animals is our ability to recycle. And sometimes a pane of glass.

This is the last chapter of our lovely holiday to Hay-on-Wye and I thought I’d talk about the cool animal sculptures in an art gallery we saw (we took the pictures from the outside on Sunday when the gallery was closed so the animals were technically behind a pane of glass) and then the lovely nature walk we went on by the River Wye and our last minute tidy-ups that made it be an eco-friendly trip.

Sunday was the perfect day to wander around town with a camera as most things were shut and hardly anyone was about. There was this cool art gallery that sold items for well into the thousands (and they were totally worth it, but we don’t have that kind of money.) There was a wolf sculpture made out of --not sure what--twisty wire? Twisty vines?

Then there was a fox sculpture called Slinky Malinki which made us laugh as that is the name of a sneaky cat in a children’s book. The fox was made out of--not sure what--wires or vines covered in mud or clay. But the best bit was that it was eating a cupcake.

This, at first, seemed out of order but then we once saw a squirrel eat a mince pie at Christmas and recently saw a squirrel dragging around a Starbucks coffee cup with the dregs of coffee in it so anything is possible. 

There was also a cooler wolf--but he was inside and partially obscured but he was definitely made of metal--wires and cogs and steel wool. The picture isn’t great--but you get the idea.

click on this to enlarge and see the detail

While those were groovy animal sculptures, this was not. Some eejit had a dead animal head hanging in the window that he had garlanded with flowers. I found it sad and a bit repulsive.

Then we ambled on down to the river.

There was a bridge spanning the river and this was underneath.

Have you ever played Pooh Sticks (for you heathens who don’t know, it is when you stand on a bridge and drop a stick with a friend and then race to the other side to see whose stick came out first. Winnie the Pooh and Piglet used to play in the Hundred Acre Wood) and your stick never came out the other side? That’s because it was log jammed under the bridge like this:

There were all sorts of lovely trees with twisty vines like this one. I like the contrast of the bark, the vines and the leaves.

We also spied some lovely flowers who were blooming despite the cold.

We spotted some black and white ducks paddling *furiously* upstream, but they were too far away to be seen clearly. But I like the artiness of this shot with the branches being in focus the black and white ducks a blur.
click on this to enlarge and actually see the duck
We came upon this adorable bench held up by bears!

Time for a joke break:
Q: what do you call a man who lives in a hole in the ground?
A: Warren!

We saw a sign that said “Warren” and sure enough the hillside was covered with holes and so we knew that this was rabbit warren. Sadly we saw no rabbits as it wasn’t dawn or dusk when rabbits come out to eat.

On Monday we rested up, tidied up the cottage and got packing again. We have done this self catering cottage thing 3 other times and it is a lovely and cheap way to go. Much cheaper than a hotel and you never have to pay to eat out. The only disadvantage is it often is very wasteful. I am a confirmed user of family cloth (google the term if you really want to know) and I hate going back to regular scratchy toilet paper for a week. Plus you often can’t recycle or compost and so you end up throwing away bags and bags of rubbish which makes us incredibly sad. At home we fill up a black bin bag about once a month (a few times up to 6 weeks) -without recycling or composting that would be filling up more than one bag a week. But luckily, this place was different!

We first noticed that there was a compost caddy in the kitchen and the dude who let us in and showed us around told us to use the biodegradable bags and when the caddy filled up we could put the bag into the larger compost bin outside. We were hugely happy and proceeded to compost four bags of fruit and veg peelings over the week. They also had kerbside recycling collection, but sadly not on the week we were there. Like most places in the UK--one week is domestic waste and the other recycling. But all was not lost! When we crossed the border into England to do our shopping there was a whole row of recycle bins outside the Co-op so on the Monday we marched back down with a big sack of tins, glass, plastic, paper and cardboard and recycled the lot. The only thing we couldn’t recycle that we normally do was tetra packs. In the end we only had a small bin bag to throw away. Hoorah and lashings of ginger beer!

So that was the holiday in Book Town. It was wonderful to get away and read and rest and just be ourselves. I know this wasn’t everyone’s idea of a good time, but we have learned that you have to do what makes you happy. We changed our lives by selling everything and taking that leap of faith to move across the world to another country--one that we have never regretted. These last nine years have been the happiest of our lives.

The last souvenir we bought was this whitewashed metal hanging doo-dah of 2 love birds (or love boids as we call them in my family) with a little tinkle-y bell at the bottom.   I know we’ve had a running joke with my Mum for years about “No boids!” because of her tendency to cover the Christmas tree with artificial ones, but this seemed fitting. Right before we left we were told that Spiderman has been promoted at the London Zoo. He has been a volunteer there for two years now--just generally helping out and being useful and friendly, but now he’s been promoted to animal specific volunteer and will be working in the aviary  with the boids. I am so proud of him and his commitment to animal welfare and we thought that some love boids hung on the back of  our front door would remind us every day of our lovely holiday and the deep love we share.

Awwww…isn’t that tweet.  

Friday, 12 April 2013

Book Town, chapter two

I know I mentioned the 23 book shops, but did I also mention there were antique shops? Yes there were. So many places to potter around, so little time.

Things were pretty laid back in Hay and most shops didn’t open until 10:00 or 11:00am so it gave us plenty of time to be lazy and have a bit of a lie in (as long as my back would allow it) and then lie about on the sofa reading until closer to the opening times which was fine with me. Holidays are made for lying about with a book in your hand.

We went to between one and three shops each morning and then home for a spot of lunch and then back out to a few more shops. Perfect day. Some shops were tiny, but most were *massive*--like the TARDIS--much bigger looking on the inside. They just went on…and on…and on…each time you thought you were finished there was another room full of books.

The shops were also bloody freezing the further back you got. The front room often had windows and a bit of sun warmed the room up. The owner would sit by the window with a 3 bar electric fire and keep themselves toasty whilst the customer would trudge deeper into Antarctica looking at books. I didn’t mind really--we were both bundled up with thermals and coats and hats and gloves so you only felt the chill when you had to take off your gloves to thumb through a book.

Even though we set ourselves limits we still came back with a suitcase full of books. In the past, we would buy any thing that struck our fancy but space is more precious here and we really only buy books that are worth keeping and re-looking at. We have categories of books that are of interest to us and for the most part we stuck to it. These categories include:

Children’s lit/illustrated books
Fairy tales
Vegan/animal rights

We did allow for some cheap, disposable holiday reads for fun--a few mysteries and a cheap paperback of The Christian Way to Raise Your Children (that’s not the actual title--but it was something like that) that I got for 50p. I bought it mostly so I could tut and I did a lot of tutting, particularly in the chapter on discipline which recommended beating your child with a wooden implement--you could choose something as low key as a wooden spoon they recommended a wooden paddle inscribed with To (child’s name) with love so that every time you beat your child they would know you were doing it out of love.  Also if your child showed anger after a beating, you were to beat them again straight away and tell them this beating was because they were angry and then  you could lovingly embrace them.  I did so much tutting in the chapter I sounded like a pigeon in tap shoes. Tk tk tk tk tk. In the end I said I wouldn’t wipe my arse with it and wouldn’t want anyone else to read it and think all Christians were child abusing nut jobs so we recycled it rather than put it back in circulation.

So which shops did we go to? Well…the first place we went was one called  Rose’s Books and specialised in rare and out of print children’s illustrated books. Yeah…we spent most of our money here. 

This shop was full of wonderful illustrated books--it had a whole room on fairy tales and legends. We ended up with a rare copy of a Fairy Tales, retold and illustrated by BB (the pen name of Denys Watkins Pitchford) and a total of three (count ‘em three) different illustrated version of Anderson’s Fairy Tales--which all included lesser know stories like my favourite The Shirt Collar (about a collar who fancies himself a ladies man and is always flirting with the other household objects. For example he tells the scissors that she must be a prima ballerina on account of the way she can spread her legs. When she rejects him he proposes to the comb--who at least still has all her own teeth.) and also the Darning Needle who gets eyes above her station and tells everyone she was actually a broach pin. Anyway we got illustrated books by Edward Ardizzone, Kay Nielson and Chris Riddell.
Kay |Nielson's Steadfast Tin Soldier

We also got a signed copy of Betsy Byars The Pinballs (illustrated by Shirley Hughes--the next time she’s at the Illustration Cupboard we’ll get her to sign it as well.)  This was a favourite book of my childhood about 3 children in a foster home--I spent many hours as a child pretending to be a sad orphan so I was pleased to have a signed copy. It is a wee bit dated (they watch Tony Orlando and Dawn on the telly) but I still loved it.

Lastly, we managed to score a really old fashioned illustrated abridged Wizard of Oz from the 1950s which was clearly influenced by the original WW Denslow illustrations but there were some changes as well.

Another shop we spent quite a bit time in was this one. Murder and Mayhem. Just what it says on the sign. A shop filed with mystery and horror books. Outside had a silhouette of the Hound of the Baskervilles and inside had a chalk outline of a dead body on the floor. What fun. I picked up a few easy reads like a Daisy Dalrymple mystery set in the 1920s which reads like PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster if they were amateur detectives. A cracking bit of fluff I read and left behind for someone else to enjoy. 

More shops this way..

..and that.

We also picked up an interesting book on the Victorian language of flowers as exhibited in Pre-Raphaelite paintings. This is a complicated language and the Pre-Raphs were sticklers for every detail. You will never just find some generic flowers and a wash of green to represent grass. No ,no, no, no, no, no. Every blade of grass will be rendered individually and each flower have specific meaning. I also found a fascinated books called  Tell Me, Pretty Maiden about nudity in Victorian and Edwardian times. There were many chapters on the Pre-Raphs who used nudity in their artwork--particularly in painting classical scenes where you might be wearing a toga. I also have a small collection of Victorian erotica and this compliments that nicely. As I am a hairy fairy (I don’t shave my legs or under my arms) neither did many Victorian women even thought they were rendered hairless in classical art, but not in my erotic photos. The most famous patron of the Pre-Raphs John Ruskin was so disgusted by the body hair on his wife because she did not look like the statues he had seen he refused to consummate their marriage and she eventually divorced him and married the painter John Millais. Spiderman and I have a theory about Victorian art--the test on whether something is art or pornography. One breast--art--both breasts porn. It doesn’t always work--but you’d be surprised how much this works for Victorian paintings.

The castle was lovely and lots of interesting shops around it as well as a whole slew of books that were £1 hardback, 50p paperback and an honesty box. There were out in all weathers under a small roof and so some were not in good shape but hey--for that price it didn’t matter. They made good fluff reading. We saw what seemed to be the entire collection of the works of PD James…in French. Go figure.

I found a friendly brightly coloured book of Nursery Rhymes for a little guy I know who has a birthday coming up. Then at another bookshops they were giving away a free board book with every purchase so Spiderman and I were sneaky and queued separately and got 2 more toddler friendly books for my little friend. Happy birthday Pavel!

We also bought a good book about spiders and I got The Pig That Sang To The Moon--the emotional life of farm animals which is fascinating--it is a real study of the complex array of emotions and behaviours that animals have. I cannot see how anyone who read this could eat another sentient being with feelings  and emotions. I rejected a very interesting book about women and theology--helping to make your church more gender inclusive--because I am in a denomination that is gender equal. Quakers believe everyone--male, female, black white, straight, gay, transgender--are equal and always have. I feel lucky to be part of such a wonderful worshiping tradition.

Lastly, this was not a bookshop but I just loved the pun on the sign. Because after a day nosing around bookshops, I was!

Stay tuned tomorrow for the Sunday nature outing!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Ding ding! All aboard for Book Town!

Imagine a town with 23 book shops. Who wouldn’t want to go there? Well, people who hate reading, for a start. Ok, discounting them, how many bibliophiles would think they had died and gone to Heaven? Answer: ALL of THEM.

We are that sort of people-- the kind who love books and enjoy pottering around bookshops and browsing endless shelves and lazy days lying about reading. We’ve lived in England for over 9 years and, would you believe it, we had never been before. What are you on about, Spidergrrl, I hear you ask. Hay-on-Wye. The Book Town. A town made of bookshops. A town filled with enough paper that it could have once been a forest. That is where we have been for the past week. HEAVEN.

Hay-on-Wye is in Wales and as the name suggests the town of Hay sits on the River Wye. It is pretty tricky to get there being the car-free eco-people that we are, but we managed it. We had to train to Kings Cross station, tube to Paddington station, train to Worcester Foregate, change trains and then train to Hereford and then bus for 1 hour into Hay. All in all, it was about 7 hours, which sounds like a lot, but the pleasure of taking the train is you don’t have to drive or navigate so you can just sit and read or chill out listening to tunes on your I-pod. We weren’t tired, cranky or crooked (I have lots of back issues--more on that later)  the way we used to be after driving so it makes for a pleasant journey.  On the way home we went a different way--bus to Hereford, train to Newport Gwent, change trains and then train to Paddington station, tube to Kings Cross and then train home. It took about the same amount of time, but the reason we went a different way was it made the train tickets cheaper. Go figure.

Anyway, we arrived in Hay (which always makes me want to say, “Hay the official snack food of the reindeer games”--if you’ve seen the animated Christmas film Robbie the Reindeer you’ll know what I am talking about) and were greeted with the sight of our lovely front door.

It was a lovely duck egg blue (my Granny Blair’s favourite colour--which is fitting as she was a children’s author and fellow bibliophile) and the cottage did not disappoint. It was a nice sized “two up, two down” and was perfectly comfortable for our needs.

A very blurry photo (it looks like Spiderman sneezed as he took it) of the lovely and comfortable living room--with a sofa for me to lie on and a chair for Spiderman--just the way we like to read. Or rather, the way I like to be selfish and take up all the space and Spiderman accommodates me. 

Here is the conservatory round the back of the kitchen. On two of the days it was warm enough to eat our lunch out here, but the rest of the days it was *freezing.*

Here is the sign warning you as you come down the stairs. There’s a reason for this.

Here is me (all 5”3 of me) and can you see how I am taller than the sign? I was very proud of this--as if this were some sort of accomplishment of me growing taller rather than being part of the design of the house--but as Spiderman pointed out it was the house and not me. Which is a shame as it made me feel like a giant. But if  I could hit my head coming downstairs, then imagine poor Spiderman who is head and shoulders taller then me. Yikes! You had to be really careful in the middle of the night as the bedroom was upstairs but the toilet was down! But hey--it added to the fun!

Here is the beautiful bed with about a dozen decorative pillows. Sadly, it was a VERY soft mattress which does not sit very well with my bad back. I have a mild case of scoliosis, plus a twice broken coccyx which needs very firm support. To (badly) paraphrase Shakespeare, “All the pillows of Arabia will not strengthen this little bed.”   I managed it for the first few nights but soon, waking up all crooked persuaded me that I needed a firmer place to sleep. Luckily, there was a single bed in the spare room with a much firmer mattress. I was sad to not sleep with Spiderman, but my back demanded it. Luckily, I was not alone. If you noticed the teddy in the photo, I had my trusty, old, well-loved friend Laurence with me. I am so thankful to be married to a man who is not bothered that after 20 years of marriage I still sleep with a teddy bear.

After a bit of a rest and an unpacking session we walked back to England to the Co-op to “make groceries” (as they say in Louisiana) which is not as impressive as it sounds as England was only a 10 minute walk--Hay being right over the Welsh border. I had meticulously planned our menus to be cheap and easy, bringing with us many things like bags of lentils and rice so we’d only have to buy the fresh stuff.

Look at the lovely display of fruit and veg. We each had 3 pieces of fruit a day to snack on and then some onions and two kinds of potatoes for meals. Lemons for cooking and for making water taste better and the lone garlic.

Just so you don’t think we were *completely* healthy on the trip--we had brought along some of our favourite vegan, fair trade dark chocolate bars. These come in amazing flavours like (from L to R) lemon and cardamom, Sicilian hazelnut, coffee espresso, lavender, raspberry and coconut. Every night we would get 2 squares of each flavour--they smell as good as they taste--and savour them as we watched mindless telly. A treat for us as we don’t have a television at home--and  a CSI marathon until well past midnight reminded us why.

Well, that’s just day one of the Book Town tour. Stay tuned!