Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Hampton Court Palace

The sunlight now is fleeting.  I try and make the most of it.  

At least the dark, damp days means I've been staying closer to home.  It's hard to hike or justify a trip out of the city when you'll be seeing nothing but inky darkness for the lot of it.  Time to catch up on movies and see what's been happening in London while I was out becoming a hill-person.  

I took a trip out to Hampton Court Palace.  Looking back on the past year, I decided it needed a bit of royal infusion and I searched for an appropriate palatial fix.  Hampton Court Palace in Surrey fit the bill nicely. 

It's not that far out of London and right on the Thames, meaning I could knock another section of the Thames path.

The storied history of the palace fills books.  The money embezzled by Cardinal Woolsey kicked off the building of this imposing mansion.  Once he fell out of favor, it was "gifted" to Henry VIII, who utilized it for his court.  It was passed down to the Stuarts, and Queen Anne took it upon herself to build an elegant addition, and then it became the main home of the Hanoverian kings.

A lot of my local friends told me they hadn't been since grade school- apparently this is very popular with school trips.  There was quite a production of people in Tudor dress and elegant Georgian getups.  

And really.  This was one of the more fantastic palaces I've ever visited.  The Georgian wing rivaled Versailles as far as a gilded casa, and they had lots of information to share.

Oh, and costumes!  You can dress up to get into the spirit.

For its size and status, I don't think this was huge on the tourist hit-list.  Yeah, there were people there, but it wasn't crowded at all, and I was able to take a leisurely stroll through each wing unhurried and unharried.  

The best thing I learned:

The Tudor dining hall was most impressive.

The most interesting bit was the nearby Tudor kitchens and wine cellars.  To feed the court was a production, and the king would have to move from castle to castle based on the fact that his court would have stripped the countryside of bare of anything edible if they stuck around too long.

This was the "refrigerator", a narrow and shady corridor that kept cold year-round...and it was wintry for a minute....

But the kitchens were truly spectacular, with loads of research into the vessels and methods of the tudor court cooks.  The rich meat-heavy diet was a recipe for gout that was so prevalent in the upper classes.  Just because you can afford to eat like a king doesn't mean you should.  

Oh, and I learned all about pies.  Originally, pies were just a cooking vessel as they didn't really have proper cookware for them.  It was a dough made from flour and water, and filled with meat and stew.  You didn't eat the crust- you unlidded it ate ate the good stuff and threw away the rest.

The later wings of the palace were much more elegant and Georgian in style.  But ah, the gardens....

In the waning afternoon light, I took a relaxed autumnal stroll through the rather famous hedge maze, took a peek at the original REAL tennis court.

You can pay membership and play on the same court that Henry VIII showed his prowess. have to serve off the wall and there seemed to be some other interesting rules.

Outside the garden gates, there is a deer park- a holdover for when the King would go out hunting in the nearby countryside.

I walked through the park and connected back to the Thames, and took a long meandering walk back to the train station.

Some wild-growing hops did not go unnoticed or unpicked.

Go if you get a chance- it was a quick 25 minute train ride out of Victoria Station (but don't count on it on Sundays) and a perfectly awesome way to eat up some or all daylight hours.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

FO: More hats! A shawl! And another thing!

Three hats, in fact.

Even though I don't celebrate Xmas, I feel swept up in the spirit of the cold dank weather and whip out gifts to my non-knitter friends.  My stack of hats is slowly diminishing as I send them to the four corners of the earth in time for the Winter Solstice.  Which is still a month away!  I don't even know how the days are going to get any shorter, but apparently they will.  This is the furthest north I've spent a winter.  I feel like I'm atoning for enjoying summertime so much.  I'm actually having a really hard time waking up in the mornings, and one recent weekend, I managed to sleep until 10:30.  Seriously!  That's half my day, gone.  It just wasn't light enough outside for my body to convince itself that it was indeed morning, and nearly afternoon.

I made a Whale Watch Hat from New England Knits.

It's all scraps- mostly Knit Picks Pallet.  For the price, it's a really nice yarn, similar to Jaimison's spindrift in weight and hand.  I was thinking of making the Whales a bit darker, but I kind of like them in the lighter shade of blue- they look kind of abstract, and probably more acceptable that a grown-ass adult might pull this off.

Speaking of which...the trend of grown-ass people wearing spirit-animal hats...why?  Kitten ears and giant false eyes are cute on toddlers, a bit weird on adults who aren't on their way to support a sports team.  Enlighten me.

Last fall when I was in Dublin, I visited a cute knitting shop and nabbed a couple skeins of Studio Donegal Tweed merino.  They knit up perfectly into a set of hats- kind of a his-and-hers affair.  The same, but different enough to not nauseate casual observers if they happen to leave the house together wearing them:

A masculine cable hat called One Bourbon, whose recipient has a smaller head size than my beau:

The brim will actually fold up when it fits properly.

And a lovely lace hat called Magnolia:

Oh!  And here's a shawl:

I usually do a better job of photographing these beastly shawls, but it's been raining like crazy every morning this week, and I needed to get this in the mail.  So you get to see my interior windows.

It's the Cladonia Shawl by Kristen Kapur.  It's written to have stripes and a looped bind-off, which looks fantastic, but I thought it gave it a much different appearance to make it plain and solid.  The yarn I used is Brooklyn Tweed Loft, and it used every last inch of yarn.  In fact, I ran out the very last bit- I needed about 10 inches more.  Panic!  Freak out!  I tinked back a few more stitches and then, gasp, SPLIT THE PLIES.  So there's one edge that has slightly thinner yarn in the bind off, and it survived blocking like a champion.  Honestly though, I couldn't think of anything else to do in that situation.  

The yarn is not my favorite.  The stitch definition is a bit muddled, which can be used to nice effect here with just the small bit of lace.  The one thing that does irk me is that if you tink back at all, the yarn will sometimes just un-spin itself and you are left with a broken strand.  It's lofty and loosely spun, making it great for warmth and texture, but it doesn't hold up to multiple mistakes.  Not that I ever make them.


One of my favorite blends to spin and knit would be Blue Face Leicester sheep wool blended with silk.  The BFL is a long, silky soft wool that has beautiful drape and lustre.  Add some silk with that and, oh, I become enraptured.  It begs you to hold it close.

While I loved the colors in this skein of Codex- gold and near-black- they pooled up terribly.  I tried and I tried to do anything with this- spirals, garter stitch, lace, broken rib- and I just couldn't get it to stop with the ugly pooling.  Disappointed, I was.  

Ah, wait.  I know how to crochet.  A quick search and I found something well within my abilities- the Chi-town Cowl.

That's not so bad, is it?

I made a moebius cowl.  Easy as pie, it used up almost the entire skein and only took a few hours.  It's soft and silky and if you have a small-ish head, you can loop it around twice comfortably.

 Now, to bring back the sun...I understand why the 21st December is such a celebratory affair.

Friday, 14 November 2014


Ah, the poppies.  

 2014 marked the 100 year anniversary of the first World War.  To remember the somber occasion, the moat of the Tower of London slowly became a field of ceramic poppies.  The installation, called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Blood,  almost 900,000 flowers were "planted" leading up to the 11 November.  Staggeringly, each poppy represents a British fatality in the war.

 Starting in August with the "waterfall", the art installation grew and grew to encompass the entire moat.  Soon, this became a huge attraction, with people standing in lines for hours and congesting central London and some of the busiest tube stations in town.  All the tube stations had signs asking people to use alternate routes to get to the Tower as millions made their way to see it in the final weeks.  This made me nervous- I get agitated in the friendliest of crowds and waiting for hours in such crowds is bound to ensure that by the time I got to the front of the line, I would be a sweaty clammy mess of angry angst and cease to be impressed by anything.  

I chose a rainy night to make my pilgrimage.  It was crowded, but do-able.  It also happened to be the last night before they started uninstalling after Armistice Day, so I really waited until the 11th hour on this.  

It's just....incredible and moving and somber.  However, I did openly mock a man who was front and center on Skype on an Ipad and having a loud conversation about how his day was with the tinny speakers turned up.  Was he a New Yorker?  That was my best guess.  It's a war memorial, have some humility and respect.  Save the laugh with your blokes for later.    

It was hard to grasp the scale of it, but the entire moat was filled and you would need a drone to capture the entire thing on flim.  Ah, but that is where the BBC steps in.  Now that the installation is being deconstructed, you can buy a poppy!  All the proceeds go to charity.  

You can still see it- I heard that the cascade will be left indefinitely, and there is an exhibit in the Tower itself about the military history that it played during the war.  I haven't bought a ticket for the tower in years- maybe the first trip I took over to London ages ago- but I remember it being well worth the price of admission.  There's so much creepy dark history here, it really made for an appropriate and dramatic backdrop.      

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Light Days?

A bit of movie magic in Angel....

I don't think there are too many theaters out there that haven't switched to an electronic stock-ticker movie marquis.  I feel like I caught someone in some secret ritual.