Wednesday 24 December 2014

sunset at Christmas: 24th december

At the weekend, the man and I headed down to the south coast to spend the weekend with his parents.  It was a little nerve-wracking as I'd never met his family before, but as soon as we arrived my nerves disappeared: everyone was wonderfully friendly and welcoming, and I loved getting to know them. We watched films, played games on the Wii (I suck at everything apart from wakeboarding at which I am bizarrely talented) and had a lovely, cosy weekend. Plus I also traded pictures with his Mum: I got to see some of him when he was younger (long hair and a motorbike!) and was able to share my photographs from our holiday in October as she hadn't seen any.

As I'd never see that part of the coast before, we went for a drive to see the boats out on the water, the ponies in the New Forest and we even had dinner on a ferry moored in the harbour!  One evening heading back to the house the sky put on the most beautiful display as the sun set, and his parents kindly stopped and waited while I took a few photos.

It was very cold and crisp, and the sky was incredibly dramatic. We had a good giggle setting up some self-timed shots and trying to balance on the posts before the timer ran out.  Not always successfully.  Especially when he brandished seaweed at me! 

To me the idea of Christmas at the coast seems very strange; I'm usually between London and Yorkshire, so I loved seeing a different landscape in the festive season. It was beautiful.

Kisses xxx

P.S. As we are both with our respective families for Christmas, the man and I are going to have our own Christmas day a couple of days later back in London.  So this year I get to have two Christmasses!

Tuesday 23 December 2014

home for christmas: 23rd december

It's been a very busy few days!  But enjoyably busy.  I've been baking, getting the cards off, making plans for next summer's volunteering project with Girlguiding (guess who's stupidly volunteered to do all the finance), and wrapping.  Actually, I quite enjoy wrapping, as long as I can chain-drink cups of tea and watch something amusing on DVD.  This year it was Modern Family, which is brilliant!

And finally everything is wrapped and sorted. I've spent a lovely weekend with the man now that we're both off work, and now I'm settled in with the family for Christmas.  This evening I have absorbed a large hot chocolate with marshmallows.  And Baileys somehow fell into it as well, because the lid just came off in my hand when I twisted it.  A straight-to-TV predictably snowy Christmas film is on too, and the squishy slippers are keeping my feet toasty warm,

Merry Christmas to you all, and I hope you enjoy the season with loved ones.

Kisses xxx

P.S. Who knew that washi tape made for such good wrapping?

Sunday 21 December 2014

wellies officially warmed: 21st december

The early part of December found me attempting to manufacture welly toppers at an industrial rate.  You can in fact read all about why I was trying to do this in yesterday's blog post here.

Anyway, the knitting of welly toppers commenced and I got in a good couple of hours on the tube each day travelling to and from work, so that's time well spent.  But sometimes if there's a crush I can't always knit.  It's almost impossible to manage my school bag, my balance, my 5 double pointed needles, and my cup of tea without something to perch on. 

Then there was the day where I gave up my seat early on in my commute for a pregnant lady, and hurrying to get up, unravelled some knitting.  And one morning where I pulled a needle right out of my project and realised that I was missing one.  The stitches had to be picked up, pulled back into place where they had run down, and then re-distributed onto three needles instead of 4 to compensate for the missing one. Knitting at such a furious pace (if you can describe knitting like that) makes my shoulders ache too; sensible posture is hard to achieve in a crowded train when you don't want to elbow other passengers while your needles are flying along.

But, at the last minute, with approximately no time to spare I did manage to crank out the goods.  They're a bit of fun, I they made entertaining Christmas presents, they're handmade...and most important of all, we will all look super cool and dead amaze in our shiny new welly toppers.

Except me because I can't bring myself to knit my own pair. Right now I am returning gleefully to my delicious, soft baby alpaca.  I can't really face making any more welly toppers until at least 2015!

Kisses xxx

P.S. The Guiders were indeed pleased with their welly toppers.  Once everyone realised what they were, and how to put them on!

P.P.S. Best Christmas social ever though.  We had fish and chips from the local chippy, I knocked out the baked goods, and we had wine and played competitive Bananagrams until the wee small hours.  Although you should have seen some of the words that Brown Owl made with her letter tiles.  Blimey Charlie!

Saturday 20 December 2014

the gift of welly toppers: 20th december

Back in September, my Guide unit, my fellow leaders and I, along with 350 Guides from across North London went on camp. Which was made hectic by continuous rain, but only at night when the girls were in their tents, and loud thunderstorms. Unfortunately the thunderstorms woke the Guides who then went out in the rain to's a long story.

The upshot of the weekend was that a) we spent the entire time in wellies, and b) I introduced the other leaders to welly toppers.

Welly toppers are meant in theory to keep snow from falling into the top of your wellingtons.  In the UK we are not often greeted with snow deep enough to require welly toppers, and so they are more of a lovely woolly cuff to fit over the top of your boots and add a splash of personality to that most ubiquitous of rainy-day footwear.

When I explained welly toppers to my fellow Guide leaders, they of course liked the sound of them and we nattered about how totally super cool and totes amaze we would all be if we sported matching knitted wellington accessories.  I mentally filed this thought away under a tab labelled Christmas Presents, recognising the fact that welly toppers would be a hit, and that would be the Guiders taken care of come Christmas.

When I got back from camp, I found a pattern, and then decided to wait until a bit nearer the time to get stuck in with making. Classic rookie mistake. By the time December arrived and I bought yarn for the welly toppers, I had only 12 days until our final Guide meeting.  I thought about stretching a point, and maybe holding out until our social in 15 days time... but with 5 women to knit for, each of whom will need 2 welly toppers, the prospect did not look good.  Almost one a day would need to be cranked out.

And what about tea breaks?

I began in earnest.  My project of a lovely lacy confection knitted in fine baby alpaca was abandoned not-quite-complete in favour of sturdy yarn in cheerful colours that won't show the dirt.  After a cursory reading of the pattern, I simplified it significantly in the interests of speed and I began hastily manufacturing welly toppers, and watching days fall inexorably off the calendar.

To be continued...

Kisses xxx

P.S.  Next year, should I decide to knit for the Guiders, I will start in July.

Friday 19 December 2014

photobooth funtimes: 19th december

I love photobooth pictures, and when I discovered that Rough Trade (an independent record shop in Shore Ditch) had one, I added it to my list of Things to Do Before I'm 30. Last weekend, we were in the hood to catch the Lego exhibition, and so I dragged the man along to come and help me tick another goal off the list.  The photobooth itself is a proper one, in that it does 4 different shots, and then we loitered outside for our little black-and-white portraits to emerge.


Kisses xxx

P.S. I'm quite tempted to list photobooths around the world and see how many I can visit.  I also want to bring my friends here and build myself a little collection of snaps.

Thursday 18 December 2014

the art of the brick: 18th december

The Art of the Brick is an exhibition in Shore Ditch featuring Lego sculptures.  And one of them is a dinosaur.  This was all we needed to know in order to snag ourselves a couple of tickets and head to the Old Truman Brewery to see these models for ourselves.  I very much enjoyed prancing about with my camera, and I very much did not enjoy resisting the urge to poke the bricks,  Poking the bricks, or touching them in any way is forbidden. Anyway, it was a lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon!

Sadly you cannot get this T-Rex boxed up in a kit. While it would be a pretty big kit, building it would be kind of epic.

By the time Sunday evening rolled around, and I got home having spent an exhaustingly entertaining afternoon at the panto with the Guides, Lego was still in my system.  There was only one thing to do: hot shower, pyjamas on, cup of tea, order a pizza and... The Lego Movie!  Everything is awesome.

Kisses xxx

P.S. If you haven's seen the Lego movie, get it for Christmas.  Just do it.

Wednesday 17 December 2014

with every Christmas card I write: 17th december

We broke up from school unusually early this year, and it is absolutely wonderful to have some lovely quiet mornings at home to play Christmas music, have a relaxing cup of tea and enjoy the festivities.  I enjoyed sitting down to write my Christmas cards and send them winging around the country.  And I even caught a paper snowflake in my teacup!

Kisses xxx

P.S. Thank goodness for Facebook when it comes to looking up names of spouses and partners and spellings of names for Christmas cards!

P.P.S Although if you always call the lady that leads Brownies Brown Owl, then it's still hard to find her on Facebook.

P.P.P.S. Seriously, I call her Brown Owl even outside Guides. #awkwardinaChristmascard

Sunday 14 December 2014

gingerbread house: 14th december

Hello, and welcome to my Christmas Club offering of a story to add to the lovely Sian's collection of Christmas memories.

At Christmas, we try and get a little bit of the festive season into lessons at school. As a teacher, one of the branches of mathematics that I teach at A-level is mechanics.  Mechanics is all about modelling physical situations using mathematics and calculating effects and outcomes.  A couple of years ago, I wrote a problem about Father Christmas getting stuck dangling off the edge of a rooftop inclined at an angle, and asked them to calculate the force the reindeer needed to exert on the reins in order to yank Father Christmas to safety. It required them to resolve forces, to consider the coefficient of friction between the hooves of the reindeer and the snowy rooftop, and to calculate the good man's eventual acceleration.  I have included the full problem as an appendix to this post for the interested reader to attempt in a moment of idleness.  Answers on a postcard.

I now use this problem each year. And this year I knew I had to go one better.  This year there would be props.  And so I made a gingerbread house for my girls in the 6th form so that they could really get a solid visual of just how the situation might pan out.  And motivation with food never hurts. Either they can solve the problem, rescue Father Christmas and eat the gingerbread house, or they could sit and go hungry.

They worked pretty solidly actually, and I think it was out of genuine enthusiasm for the noble pursuit of Mechanics.

It must be noted that I am not particularly artistic and my fancy decoration skills are non-existent.  I took a punt on the idea that dumping a whole bunch of melted white chocolate over the top of the gingerbread might a) look a bit snowy and b) be a crowd-pleaser even if it looks stupid.  And it did indeed please the crowds.  Including my Mathematical colleagues who cheerfully demolished the remaining foundations.

It was a bit touch-and-go when I found myself up at 6:15am on a Monday morning cursing the yellow quality of light-bulb light that meant I couldn't get good photos, and wondering how on earth I was going to transport a frankly structurally unsound gingerbread house on the tube in half an hour. 

However, everything turned out fine and the whole episode with the gingerbread house and Father Christmas' mishap made for a lovely festive last lesson of the term. At the end of the class we munched quietly and watched a compilation of John Lewis adverts from years past.  Which was lovely in a sort of heart-rending way and made some of the pupils tear up. So I sent them off feeling a bit Christmassy, and yet sobbing quietly.  Unusual, but I think they had fun.

To read other festive stories from Christmas club, head over to Sian's where she's High in the Sky, collecting memories for us all to share.

Kisses xxx

P.S. As promised, here is the problem:

eg1. Father Christmas attempts to land on a snowy rooftop, but misses. The reindeer cling to the roof which is inclined at an angle alpha to the horizontal such that tan (alpha) = 3/4. Father Christmas, his sleigh and all the presents dangle over the edge of the roof on the end of the reins which run down along the line of greatest slope. The reindeer have a collective mass of 100kg and Father Christmas and his sleigh have a mass of 150kg.

(i) By modelling the reindeer and the sleigh as particles, and given that the coefficient of friction between the snow-capped roofs and the reindeer hoofs is 0.5, find the tension in the reins and state the minimum force the reindeer must exert on the reins in order to hold Father Christmas in limiting equilibrium. Don't forget to do a diagram.

(ii) The reindeer are fed carrots by the children in the house and with their strength renewed, make a huge effort and exert a force of 3000N on the reins. Given that Father Christmas is dangling at rest 2m below the roof, find his acceleration and the time taken for him to reach the edge of the roof and relative safety, giving your answer in surd form.

Finally, remember that if you miscalculate, not only do you get no presents; none of the boys and girls in the world will get presents. Father Christmas didn't take A-level maths so he only has you to save him.

Saturday 13 December 2014

by candlelight: 13th december

I love to light a candle or two at Christmas.  I find it calming and means I can reflect quietly on the season at hand.  I also love the play of flickering light and the soft golden glow and the feeling of warmth that even the tiniest flame can create. 

I put together my own candle centrepiece to sit on my coffee table during December.  It was simple to make and very inexpensive to assemble as almost all the components are recycled from other things.  I tend to hoard up the glass jars and pots that various food stuffs arrive in.  I knew that all that scrubbing off labels would come in handy! An assortment of different glass jars means that the display has variety of height and design and texture.  Their different shapes mean the candlelight bounces and refracts through the jars in different ways.  All I added was a white tea light to each jar.  And I love the effect; it's simple and pure and beautiful.  I scattered a few gold stars on the table as a finishing touch, and even those were recycled as they fell out of a present I was given several months ago.

My entire centrepiece cost £4, which was what I paid for a pack of 100 tea lights. So the good news is I'll be able to enjoy my candles for quite some time, and I look forward to the end of term, curling up with the man on the sofa with some mulled wine and some Downton Abbey.


Kisses xxx

P.S. One day, I would love to have a fireplace too.  That's a nice wish for Christmas yet to come.

Friday 12 December 2014

Lomography Petzval Workshop: The LensThat Dreams Are Shot With

Part gallery, part camera emporium, almost fully analogue and the base of London Lomography workshops, the Lomography shop in Soho is full of film delights. Whenever I venture near Carnaby Street, I always swing by the Lomography shop to coo over their beautiful cameras and admire the incredible design.  An entire wall is given over to a mosaic of film photographs and it provides a stunning backdrop that almost makes you want to fling away your dSLR and proclaim film to be apex of all things photographic. (Almost, because actually I love my camera and have no intention of flinging it anywhere). Lomography aims to resurrect retro film cameras, giving them a lovely vintage touch and encouraging you to get out and be amazed by the power of film.  While the equipment isn't cheap, it is enormously enticing. 
  While Lomography is centred on film they do produce some digital kit too. This particular chilly December afternoon found me in in the Lomography shop to take part in a workshop test-driving the shiny new Petzval lens.
While Lomography kit can be pricey especially with the added, regular cost of film and developing, it must be noted that the workshops are incredibly good value.  Most workshops retail for around £10 and you usually get a roll of film and loan of equipment included.  This particular workshop was even better value as it was free! 
 The Petzval is a weighty, golden lens which comes in a variety of mounts to attach to your dSLR. I have shot in digital for many years, and I do like to be able to take lots of shots without worrying about what film is going to cost me.  I also like to glance at the pictures I'm getting and tweak the shutter speed or aperture as I go.  However, I can't deny the appeal of getting that dreamy, filtered, film look for real in my trusty dSLR. To me, the Petzval embodies the best of both worlds.

The Petzval is designed to simulate these lovely, filmy effects in camera.  It is nothing if not beautifully retro from the reassuring heft of glass and metal to the screw-thread focus mechanism and the slot in the lens into which you place little plates of different sizes to adjust the aperture.

When I arrived at the shop with a maths department colleague, we were each given a lens for our cameras and a set of aperture plates to share.  After a quick introduction to its workings, the member of staff advised us that the best way to learn was to experiment, a philosophy that I think does indeed hold true for photography. Little more was really needed from the staff, so while the instruction was minimal, the mechanics of the lens were simple to operate and understand, and I appreciated the freedom to do as I pleased.
We were advised that the twinkly lights across the road made for good pictures, and that we needed to back in three hours.  So we bolted for the great outdoors (of Central London) each toting £450 of kit, winter sunlight glinting off the brass lens casing and very excited indeed to flaunt our new toys. We left behind our ID in return for the loan of the lenses, but to have literally hours to spend shooting with the lens, and to be able to keep all the digital photographs I could take made this workshop exceptionally good value.
So far, all the photos in this post have been from my dSLR as per usual.  The ones which follow are the result of having the Petzval lens screwed into place.

 The Petzval itself has areas of sharp focus which you need to manually adjust with absolute, hair-fine precision. This takes some practice as the slightly wobbly nature of some of these photos will testify.  We experimented with the aperture plates, and I opted for wide ones whenever possible.  Much time was spent twiddling the focus and getting the twinkles to pop with the correct white balance.  But oh, it was a lovely lens to use!
Kingly Court is decked out in all its Christmas glory and was a great place to experiment; the lights simply exploded across the lens in an excess of bokeh, and I LOVED everything about these soft, golden pictures from this gleaming lens. However, selfie-takers beware: this is not the lens for you.
As the afternoon wore on, we headed to Oxford Street to see how the lens would fare with the dancing twinkles of department stores in full Christmas flow.  It was interesting to capture tiny elements of Christmas displays and watch the light flare into bokeh effects in the background.  I have to admit to really hating that fluorescent light they have in shops, and muck about as I might with the white balance, I couldn't quite convince my camera to lose that cold yellow glow.  But the lens performed magnificently; it's definitely love!
The Petzval would be a difficult lens to use every day.  It's heavy for one thing, and given that the focus is entirely manual through the means of a delicate screw thread, it is not spontaneous.  But I found it to be a glorious lens and for special occasions and the times when light simply pours into your lens, it would get some remarkable photos.  I was very reluctant to hand the Petzval back as I adored experimenting with it; there's something quite exciting about the slightly unpredictable nature of the results.  It would have been nice to have it throughout December; it can make even a simple shot sing with unexpected pops of colour and light. It's the kind of lens I want to take to a candle-lit wedding, or a Christmas tree festival, or German market.  Anything special, romantic and twinkly, nothing too fast-paced.

As the light faded, we headed back through Kingly Court to Carnaby Street. I really think I fell in love with this lens.  I was very tempted to run away with it and never return to the Lomography shop. But they had my ID so I suppose they could track me down, and I don't know how to change my name by deed poll.  At £450, a Petzval lens is quite the investment, and I sadly do not have that large a quantity of freely disposable cash.  But my goodness if I did, I would have the prettiest pictures in all the land. 

Kisses xxx

P.S. I'm actually delighted with the shots I got.  Safe to say that I will be lapping up as many workshops as I can in future.