My little knitting blog has been a bit unloved of late and I’ve decided that with the new year it might be time to cast on afresh and see where we end up. Casting on, I think, is always the most exciting part of the knitting adventure. With the Year of the Rooster approaching I also checked my Chinese horoscope to see what it might hold and came away with the rather inscrutable advice that it “is always better to carry a Jade Mandarin Ducks Tassel with you always”. OK.
I do have a quite bit of knitting catching up to report on, but I thought I might start with a small project that I call my Charleston socks because (one of them at least) came with me on my travels to South Carolina last November.
It’s been an eventful year workwise and I’d only just been appointed to a new role managing our university library before I headed off to to Charleston where I’d been invited to give a lunchtime talk about ebooks. I used to get horribly nervous speaking in public but I guess like most things it’s just practice and I actually enjoyed it – it got a nice write up here.
When I first got the speaking gig I was hoping I could organise a little stopover or side trip but it all became a bit difficult with last minute bookings so I ended up flying straight through Melbourne to Charleston via Los Angeles and Chicago. I was initially hoping for Qantas but the flight connections through Dallas were pretty tight and the company sponsoring my trip thought United Airlines seemed like a safer option. Sorry United, but I think I’d take my chances on Qantas next time.
The trip started out with the longest checkin line I’ve ever seen and a flight delayed by two hours. Luckily all the other flights were also delayed by two hours so at least I made all my connections, including at Los Angeles which always seems to be in a state of collapse. They really should knock the whole thing down and start again. At Chicago they seemed to have misplaced the plane and we got shunted from gate to gate until they found it. About 32 hours after checking in at Melbourne I fell into my bed in Charleston.
Charleston is a great little city and home to a great library conference, the eponymously named Charleston Conference, which brings together libraries and publishers. It’s not too big and is held at a number of hotels around Marion Square in the centre of town rather than a big conference venue so it feels even more small scale.
My socks are plain old vanilla ones from a pattern by Ann Budd, but I really love the yarn: Schoppel-Wolle Relikt in a tweedy olive green colour. It’s made up of 70% recycled roving from the production of Zauberball but the bright colours of Zauberball become more muted in the recycling process. This is my second pair of sock in this yarn and I love it.
The people from the company that sponsored my talk were lovely and looked after me really well, but it can get a bit lonely when you’re away from home all alone so I’m glad I had my socks along for company.
Not much (or any actually) knitting going on for the past couple of weeks as I had to have surgery on my hand, and it looks like it will be at least a couple more weeks until I can get back to my projects – of which I have a few!
For the last day of #blogjune we leave London with a short stop in Singapore on the way home to Melbourne.
We left rainy Heathrow via a short stop in Amsterdam before flying home via Singapore where we’d planned a one night stopover at the Hotel New Majestic in Chinatown.
We’d always regretted missing seeing the old Tiger Balm Gardens in Hong Kong, now long demolished and replaced by apartment towers. But then I read that the Singapore Tiger Balm Gardens (correctly, Haw Par Villa) not only still existed but had been restored, so we really had to organise a visit. We took the metro to Haw Par Villa and, dripping with sweat in the humid morning heat, walked up the hill through the old Chinese gateway. What an amazing place!
Haw Par Villa is named after the Aw brothers, who created the medical ointment Tiger Balm.
Built in 1937, Haw Par Villa is famous for its often gruesome depictions of Chinese folklore’s 10 Courts of Hell. But this wonderful theme park also has more, shall we say, tasteful scenes from other Chinese legends, such as Journey to the West and Madame White Snake. Pick your favourite from the over 1,000 colourful statues and tableaux on display, among them a giant gorilla and massive deity heads.
For day 29 of #blogjune we visit a magical garden…
The old Derry & Toms department store on Kensington High Street closed in 1974, being replaced briefly by Biba before its days as a shopping emporium ended. It’s a beautiful art deco building opened in 1930 which thankfully remains, especially so as that means the beautiful roof gardens which opened in 1938 also not only remain but flourish.
The roof gardens are now mostly used for corporate events but if there are no events taking place you can visit this magical place completely free of charge. One morning we arrived at the old side door to Derry & Toms, asked the doorman if we could visit the gardens, signed in (you’ll need photo identification) and took the lift up to the sixth floor.
There are actually three gardens: a Spanish garden looking out over Kensington High Street and the neighbouring former Barkers department store…
The lovely Tudor garden…
And the Woodland garden, complete with resident Pintail ducks and four pink flamingos called Bill, Ben, Splosh and Pecks. There are over 30 different species of trees in the woodland garden, including trees from the original planting over sixty years ago, despite having only a metre of soil in which to grow.
For day 28 of #blogjune we head out east…
On the Saturday we met up with Wayne’s friend Pam at Spitalfields Market for a bit of mooching around the markets and record stores in the East End.
We had hoped to have lunch at the Square Pie Shop in Spitalfields but couldn’t find it, so we found a Thai cafe instead.
Then we headed off to the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood which, being a Saturday, was full of not only hundreds of screaming children but a brass band to boot. Despite the mayhem, it was fun.
We did eventually find the pie shop on our last day in London. Perseverance pays off!
Then on Sunday we met up with Wayne’s friend Sarah who cooked us a fab brunch in her groovy pad (there is no other word) in Camden Town.
For day 27 of #blogjune we go to Brighton
We had originally planned to stay at Virginia Woolf’s garden studio as a base for exploring the area around Brighton, which we had to cancel, but we did still have a day at the seaside by taking the Southern Railway train down to the coast – sustained with a picnic of drinks and sandwiches from the Marks and Spencer food store at Victoria station.
It was cold and gloomy as we left London, but the weather improved with sunshine and bright blue skies. I think I even returned to London a little red from the sun.
After a walk along the pier we headed back into town to the Clifton district where we met Wayne’s friend Lorraine Bowen.
Lorraine is a music teacher, singer and cabaret performer who became famous through being a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent singing the Crumble Song, and being sent through to the semi-final by David Walliams.
Lorraine was lovely and so generous with her time and took us on a tour of parts of Brighton we’d never seen.
Then down to the beach for some excellent chips…
…and ice creams.
For day 26 we arrive in London
What glorious weather greeted us for our week’s stay in London!
We stayed at the Citadines apartment hotel in South Kensington which is a super location – just a short walk to Gloucester Road tube station, and a little further to Kensington Gardens and the museums along the Cromwell Road.
We spent our first couple of days mooching around with a bit of shopping. I bought some new shoes at Lambretta near Carnaby Street…
…and we had to visit Liberty, having watched the reality television show. We didn’t spot anyone from the telly but I did get a Rowan knitting book. Wayne was tempted by a Liberty needlework cushion which they had on display on a reupholstered chair. He asked the sales assistant if he could take a photo of the chair – “You can sit in it if you want!” – at least the staff here weren’t snooty at all unlike some other stores.
We also went to the V&A Museum, and the wonderfully eccentric Sir John Soane’s Museum – no photos permitted but here’s a postcard I bought of Mrs Soane’s dog Fanny.
For day 25 of #blogjune, in which our plans are put off for another day… and just as well
When planning our trip through England I had booked a three night stay at the garden studio of Monk’s House in the village of Rodmell near Lewes. The studio is set in the garden of Virginia Woolf’s country retreat, Monk’s House, and I’d discovered it while looking for a base to visit Brighton and Sissinghurst. In the end we had to shorten our trip a little and so a stay at Monk’s House has been put off for another time.
(Also, in one of those Monopoly “Bank error in your favour” moments in life, due to the Australian dollar improving in value against the pound, when I cancelled our booking with the National Trust I made a small profit even after paying the cancellation fee. Score!)
It was while exploring the area around Monk’s House that I thought of a little day trip to the Ashdown Forest, the real place that served as inspiration for the magical world inhabited by Pooh, Piglet and their friends in the Hundred Acre Wood.
(Pooh and Piglet aren’t there any more but you can visit them at the New York Public Library.)
I didn’t think much more about this little part of our trip until I spotted this wonderful book at Kinokuniya in Singapore on the way home. The Natural world of Winnie the Pooh, by Kathryn Aalto is wonderful – a must for any Pooh (or Piglet) fan!
I’m now pretty glad that we didn’t get to stay at the Monk’s House, at least just yet, because a visit to the Hundred Acre Wood will be much more special after reading this lovely book.
For day 24 of #blogjune, another white horse
White horses were a theme of our holiday. We stayed at White Horses Cottage at Portmeirion, and then we saw a little pamphlet of the Wiltshire white horses in the village shop in Avebury. There was also a story on the television news of a white horse at Westbury being cleaned as part of the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations.
We checked the white horses pamphlet and found that there was one not far away from Avebury, along the road to Devizes…
The figure at Cherhill was first cut in 1780 by a Dr Christopher Alsop, of Calne, and was created by stripping away the turf to expose the chalk hillside beneath… Dr Alsop, who was Guild Steward of the Borough of Calne, has been called “the mad doctor”, and is reported to have directed the making of the horse from a distance, shouting through a megaphone from below Labour-in-Vain Hill.
For day 23 of #blogjune, a daytrip to Bath
Avebury turned out to be a perfect base for exploring south-west England with so many day trips to choose from. On our last full day, under overcast skies, we headed towards the beautiful city of Bath.
The Park & Ride facilities in British towns are pretty neat for keeping the town centres free of traffic. We’d used the Park & Ride in Oxford, although a mistake in entering the postcode sent us off towards Woodstock before we realised something was wrong. We got the right postcode for Bath but the GPS sent us through the centre of town – but we got there in the end. At Bath the car park was free and we just paid for the bus ticket, and got the couples discount, and also the world’s friendliest bus driver on the return trip.
And, although it was grey and drizzly through most of our little visit, we did get a spot of blue sky in the afternoon…