Friday, January 30, 2015

Anyone for Temari? Or perhaps some Quaker Balls?


What's that then?

'Te' means hand and 'mari' means ball and it's the Japanese art of decorating balls with thread. It is a beautiful craft which I dabbled in about 20 years ago when we were coming to the end of renovating our previous home. We had a large woven platter on the dining table and I filled it with lots of large exotic seeds interspersed with knitted/crocheted balls for a splash of colour and that's when I discovered Temari. I made a beautiful ball with a dark brown background and shades of blue on top. I have no idea what happened to it and suspect I gave it to a charity shop when we moved house.

I can remember where I first saw some examples as it was in Foyles bookstore in London as they always stocked interesting and unusual Craft books. This is the book I bought:

There are many beautiful examples some with very complicated designs which are a bit beyond me so I just started with a very basic design to get the hang of it again.

I used a polystyrene ball as my base but you can make a soft ball shaped by moulding old socks/tee shirts etc into shape. The 2 yarns are for wrapping the ball.

First I wrapped it with a 4ply yarn

Then I used a much finer silk yarn to almost completely hide the base yarn. In this example the background yarn will not be covered completely by the surface design but in some examples I've seen the whole ball covered.

I marked out the centre points of the ball and then the quarter points and then just started to stitch using herringbone stitch

Side 1 in progress

I did side 2 in different colours just as an experiment

Tilly was a tremendous help and pounced on my yarn whenever it dangled!

This is the side of the ball still displaying the threads underneath. I like the contrast of the Chinese Bourette Silk of the background against the shiny Perle thread of the pattern

I added a few decorative lines using Anchor Artiste Metallic in pink and silver

In the next 2 photos you can see where my colour inspirations came from - the Dining Room curtains.

I'm thinking of making a display of different balls on one of the sideboards so this was just a test run. It certainly isn't perfect but I'm pleased with it as a 'sampler'. Now I need to have a go at the more complicated designs.

Quaker Balls

I'm not quite sure how I came across a Quaker Ball. I think it was on Pinterest which is such a wonderful place if you're looking for inspiration.

At first I thought they must have been a traditional item produced by the Quakers but further investigation suggests they are just ball shapes embroidered using Quaker style patterns.

I was hooked and sent for the book and kit to make the smallest ball. On reflection I should have opted for the largest ball because my kit uses 40 count Newcastle Linen Flax which means it's very closely woven (the 'count' refers to the number of threads per inch). Not such a good idea bearing in mind I've got poor eyesight!

Never mind, I shall just have to use my handy magnifying glass:

This one belonged to my mum and although I have my own version it seems to have gone awol! It is a very handy gizmo that hangs from a cord around your neck and sits against your ribs. It's ideal for embroidering small items that you don't want to put on a larger floor-standing frame.

This will not be a quick project as I will probably just embroider one side a month.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

London again

I can't believe how many times I've been into London in the past 12 months but I'm jolly glad I went in on Saturday because I met a very special lady; the wonderful and inspirational Liz Yelling but as usual I'm getting ahead of myself so I'll start at the beginning.

It was the day of the second annual ARUK get-together for people who will be running the London marathon and raising funds for them and I'd been asked to speak again. The only downside, I mentioned in my previous post, was the trains so it was with very low expectations that I headed off to the train station to embark upon what could be hours of misery on the railway network.

But the travel gods smiled upon me and when I chatted to the station master he told me that although no trains were going to Charing Cross that day, and I had to head for Cannon Street in the City, they had just announced that the train would be stopping at London Bridge.

Why did this make me happy?

I don't enjoy the London Underground aka the Tube and I'd rather walk for 45 minutes than go just 2 stops on the network. I realised that if I could get off at London Bridge then I could probably get away with just one stop on the Tube and then take a leisurely stroll across the river. Happiness!

When plotting my route the night before, Mike had spent ages trying to convince me that taking the tube from Cannon Street to 'Embankment', a tube station close to Charing Cross, was only about 4 stops and I couldn't possibly get lost. I'm pulling a face as I type this because I find the whole Tube thing confusing with its tunnels going off this way and that, East/West or North/South, lots of stairs and steep escalators, confusing maps with different coloured routes on, and people hurrying along as if they all know exactly which way to go.

I quickly phoned home to check I was correct just as the train pulled into the station and so I had to jump on and find a seat whilst clasping the phone to my ear. Now here's another thing I don't like - telephone conversations on the train, often spoken very loudly so that they disturb other passengers and yet here I was about to do exactly the same thing. So I cut it short and said I'd phone when I got off wherever I decided to get off. The other thing that was all wrong was that in my haste I'd sat in a seat going backwards and I hate going backwards as I prefer to see where I'm going rather than where I've been. Fussy thing aren't I!

As I settled myself, a familiar face smiled at me through the seat in front and it was a lady from our village who'd got on at the stop prior to mine. She motioned for me to join her and her husband and so not only did I get a forward facing seat, I enjoyed convivial company for the whole journey.What a treat.

In the end I decided to get off at London Bridge so phoned Mike who told me to take the 'Jubilee line' for one stop to Waterloo and then walk across the bridge to Charing Cross. It sounds so simple doesn't it but to travel that 'one stop' I had to walk down a long corridor, round a bend, down some steps, down an escalator, catch the train and then repeat a similar process to escape the underground tomb.

Within the labyrinth, I followed the signs for the South Bank and was delighted when I finally emerged just by the Royal Festival Hall so sprinted up the steps to walk across the bridge towards the station. The Golden Jubilee Bridges are interesting structures which opened in 2002 and I can remember watching them being built.

You get fabulous views across the river and I took several photos of the skyline.  It was a beautiful day.

You can see Charing Cross station in the background. I loved the contrast of the red handbag against the teal-coloured coat on the lady in front of me.

Looking out across the beautiful River Thames brought to mind a tragedy which happened just after I'd moved down to London in 1989. Known as the Marchioness disaster, it was a fatal collision between 2 boats in which 51 people drowned. Mike and I had often walked past the boat and wondered how much it would cost to go on a trip along the river.

Low tide
Each time I visit London I see new buildings climbing upwards into the sky. It must be a very lucrative business to hire out cranes!

As I walked up Villiers Street towards Charing Cross I realised that although I've walked this route many times I'd never been into the small public gardens on the righthand side of the street and so I did just that. Known as the Victoria Embankment Gardens, it is an open space with lots of benches for people to sit and enjoy a break whilst looking out over the river. When I moved down to London it was all closed off so must have been renovated.

I couldn't find any information about this gateway but presume it was erected during Queen Victoria's reign

There were rows of benches all along the edges and the massive trees gave the area a feeling of tranquility, something I always craved when I worked in the City

The venue for the meeting was just off Whitehall which is only a 10 minute walk from the station and so I wandered along the road being a tourist and taking photos. Here you can see one of the sentries outside the Horse Guards building. The horses always get lots of attention from tourists.

When I arrived at the venue, Walkers of Whitehall, there were already a few familiar faces including Chris and his wife Terri who do lots of work for ARUK. Chris and I were speaking about our experiences as both our mum's had dementia, as indeed we did last year.

For Harriet from ARUK it was her first time at organising an event and she was naturally nervous that everything should go well and I can confirm that it all went very well indeed and she should be very proud of herself.

As more people arrived I was delighted to see a couple of familiar faces, Mick Moody's son Pete (back row with a beard - Mick's wife Elaine had early-onset Alzheimer's and the whole family has done much to raise awareness) and Elizabeth Stapley (middle row, turquoise top), both of whom had run the London marathon for ARUK before.

I managed to avoid the photo-shoot at the end as I left early!

I was especially pleased to see Elizabeth returning as I met her last year. She's in her 20s and is running in memory of her grandma, sadly no longer with us, who suffered from Alzheimer's. It's wonderful to see younger people becoming involved and spreading the word about the need for research into dementia. She told me that her mum had been inspired by my antics and was hoping to run with her this year but unfortunately she's been ill and so has had to defer her place until next year. Last year Elizabeth completed the marathon in 5 hours 10 minutes which is a very respectable time but I suspect that this year she'll get below 5 hours. Good luck Elizabeth and well done for all your hard work and support.

The session opened with a  presentation by Ian Wilson, Director of Fundraising at ARUK, who outlined some of the exciting things that are happening. For now though, my lips are sealed!

My favourite young scientist, Lizzie Glennon, gave us her usual easy to understand insight into her latest research. It's rare for a scientist to be able to explain things in lay terms but Lizzie certainly has the knack. Here she is on the left at our meet-up in London last summer.

Then it was the turn of Liz Yelling, Olympian and all-round amazing athlete. I was so excited to meet her and hear her speak.  Her talk was full of no-nonsense advice geared towards us amateurs. She coaches others now and helped the lovely Richard Whitehead to Olympic Gold. Liz also has a connection with dementia as her mother-in-law had dementia and she is a regular park runner with whom ARUK now have a connection (the big launch hasn't happened yet, although parkrun announced the link via Facebook, so I'll save the details for the official launch - it's every exciting!).

She's so tall and slim that I felt rather short and dumpy standing next to her!

It was a delight to be able to chat with Liz and she was so down to earth and friendly. I'm sure she'll have inspired lots of the runners who attended.

After lunch it was time for Chris to do his talk and then me. I used the slides from the Alzheimer's Show as a basis. Then Jodie headed up a hints and tips session where we split into groups and then each group selected their 3 best ideas.

As I had very limited options for trains to take me home, I left just before the finish and walked across Charing Cross station to see all the departure boards displaying this announcement. There were lots of confused-looking people standing around staring blankly at the screens, almost willing them to change!


I'd already planned to take the dreaded Tube to Cannon Street but as I am familiar with Embankment Station I wash't too worried about it as I knew it didn't involve too many tunnels.

However, when I arrived on the station concourse at Cannon Street I spotted the 'cancellation' sign and guess whose train had been cancelled? Yes, mine. Bother and thrice bother! The next one was in 2 hours unless I wanted to take the next train to Hastings, due in 1 hour 15 mins, and then take another train back to my station 30 minutes later.  By my reckoning I wouldn't have gained any time by doing that, and of course there was no guarantee that my connection would be on time, so I just wandered off to look around the area.

The last time I'd been here was July 2014 and so I recognised many of the buildings but there's always something new to catch your eye if you're prepared to look isn't there.

I liked the way the sun was catching the top of 20 Fenchurch Street, aka the Walkie-Talkie building and look how the red-brick building stands out amidst the stone ones alongside it.

Massive cranes everywhere
As I was taking these photos I heard some music coming towards me and saw a pedibus speeding along but I was too slow to capture it on film. It looked great fun but I bet it was hard work.

The entrance to Cannon Street station is very bright and modern

The cladding on the front and side has a distinctly industrial feel about it

I thought this row of bollards looked like a line of Policemen standing guard

This cat window sticker made me smile. The shop was empty so I've no idea what it was all about.

That passed the time nicely and my journey home was uneventful with a bit of reading and some crochet to pass them time.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Show time

Christmas stitchery

Yep, I'm still playing catch-up and I shall probably have to miss things out otherwise I shall be blogging every day!

Whilst reorganising my room and sorting out my craft materials I came across a bundle of tapestry yarn and a needlepoint kit to make some curtain tie-backs. Oh my, that brought a tear to my eye as they had been chosen by me and mum and were intended for her bedroom when we moved to our present house but they were never made. I probably don't need to explain that when caring for my mum in the later stages of dementia, there was little time for needlepoint and so the kit had been put away and forgotten about.

I haven't done much needlepoint for a while and it looked such a fresh and attractive design that I decided to do it, not really thinking about whether I would make them into curtain tie-backs.

I thoroughly enjoyed stitching them and I think they're rather pretty but they don't fit the colour scheme in the spare bedroom so I'm going to be brave and use them for some crazy patchwork. Yes, that's right, I'm going to cut into them (gulp!). I don't know when I'll start this but I've been meaning to make some new covers for the bolster cushions on our bed and I like the idea of a Spring theme.


Or I could take small sections and use them as the basis for a pincushion, or mounted in a frame, or stuck around my pen/pencil holder to brighten it up. I've now got lots of ideas floating around in my mind so I'll need to go for a nice long run as that's when my best ideas are formulated.

Mike's cardigan (at  last)

This should have appeared on my blog ages ago but I've been waiting patiently for Mike to strike some poses whilst wearing it but, as you might have guessed, that hasn't happened. Oh the joys of a camera-shy hubby who doesn't want to be my model!

Whilst waiting I took the marking the button positions shot:

The  folded up shot:

Then last night I gave up and decided to model it myself! 

In the bathroom mirror:

Then the bedroom:

The verdict? A jolly useful and very warm cardigan but most important of all is that Mike loves it. He's actually wearing it today and it really makes me happy to see him wearing something I've made for him, knitted with love in every stitch.

The pattern, I'd saved from an old magazine, had several errors and things that I tweaked because I didn't like how it worked out as written but overall I enjoyed doing it. The stitch was really easy to memorise and, against my better judgement, I liked working with the yarn Stylecraft Life Aran, a 75% Acrylic 25% Wool blend in the Olive colour way. Mike chose this yarn over the more expensive yarns I showed him, mostly because he liked its colour, so it was a very economical knit. The high acrylic content should ensure it wears well anyway.

I'm off into London again tomorrow to speak at the ARUK Supporters' Day for people running the London marathon in April. I'm rather excited as there's a very special person coming along too but I'll save the details for my write-up next week. 

The only downside is that due to the engineering work going on at London Bridge railway station there are a very limited number of trains stopping at my station on the outward journey and the return journey will take 1 hour longer than usual so I'll be spending more time travelling than I'll spend at the meeting! Never mind, I shall arm myself with a new crochet project, my current reading material (A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini) and the newspaper to pass the time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A trip into Londonium to talk about dementia

Another day, another trip into London for something concerning dementia. This time it was a workshop focusing on current challenges for dementia research and the guest list was a thing of great beauty with eminent Professors from all over the country. Some of them I'd met before, some I hadn't but one thing I did know was that even if some of the things they talked about were hard for me to understand I would still be able to offer the view of a lay person.

The weather had been vile for several days and there was a chance that the trains would be disrupted and delayed not just because of that but also because trains on our line are not stopping at London Bridge station whilst it is renovated. This meant I had to catch a train which arrived 2 hours earlier than I would have liked as the next one didn't give me any contingency.

When I left home it was pouring with rain and blowing a gale and there was flooding everywhere. I half expected to have to turn back in the valley as the river often floods that road but it was OK and my journey to the station was uneventful thankfully. I tried to take a photo of the station in the rain but my camera decided to misbehave and make everything blurry.

Mike liked this photo as he said it was very Impressionist so I've included it. It makes my eyes go funny looking at it though!

The train arrived on time but was delayed outside London Bridge station due to speed restrictions causing a backlog so I arrived with over an hour and three quarters to kill. Thankfully the rain had stopped and so I decided to take a leisurely stroll through some of our old haunts in the West End and I'm so glad I did.

As I wandered through the streets of Soho I walked past the offices of Private Eye, a satirical magazine, and it made me think about the murders in Paris. Then I spotted this beautiful sculpture on the front of The Nadler, a 'boutique hotel' created in 2010 in the centre of Soho. It is entitled Selene and was commissioned by the hotel to represent sleep. In the details, the sculptor says it was created in the image of a black woman but I couldn't actually see that. It's very interesting though with lots of bits to catch your attention.

Even though I dawdled all the way I was still there far too early so I sat with a coffee and croissant and watched the world go by for a while. I love people watching. You can just let your mind wander as the images flood over you. Then I thought I'd go for a short wander in Regent's Park, known as one of the Royal Parks (on land originally owned by the Monarchy), which is directly opposite the venue and I'm so glad I did.

Regent's Park was used as a hunting ground for hundreds of years but when the lease expired the Prince Regent, who later became George 1V, commissioned  the architect John Nash to develop the area. The park was first opened to the general public in 1845.

This is the first thing I saw when I entered the park - this sweet man feeding the squirrels. I asked him if  he'd mind me taking some photos of him as it was such a charming sight and we chatted for a while. He was feeding them with pistachios and they looked very plump and prosperous. He told me he goes there every day so they must love him! They were so tame.

I love to see a park being used by all ages groups and it was nice to see some toddlers and their nannies coming out to play and run around. I saw several runners and lots of dog walkers, thankfully all on their leashes. I mention that because a fellow runner, Jeff Prestridge, (****warning, do not follow the link if you are squeamish***) was attacked by a dog in Hyde Park recently. 

It was lovely to see the bare bones of the park displayed and what kept drawing my eye were the huge planters and fountains.

The section of the park I was in is known as the 'Avenue Gardens', laid out and planted in the Victorian style. There are lots of walkways edged with evergreen hedges and rows and rows of deciduous trees. This massive planter atop winged lions, known as Griffins or Lion Tazza, make an impressive feature. 

I love the contrasting foliage used - the black strappy grass-like plant is Ophiopogon paniscapus 'Nigrescens' which I use a lot in our garden at home and in the main bowl there's a form of Heuchera, possibly 'marmalade', and a dark-leaved Phormium.

Beautiful cascading fountain

The ground was so sodden it looks as if this bed has got a moat around it!

I loved the shape of this tree and its beautiful catkins
At 10:30am I headed across the road to the Royal College of Physicians which is the oldest medical college in England with a focus on public health and preventive medicine. It was founded in 1518 during Henry V111's reign.

View from the side
This current building was built in 1964 and is considered a modernist masterpiece and is now protected by a Grade 1 listing (a system for protecting building of historical importance).

However, when the building was erected it did not receive a warm welcome from the local residents because they felt its modernity did not sit happily next to the glorious buildings nearby as seen in this photo below.

Inside there is an interesting display including this model of the building. I've enlarged the plaque so you can see a comment from a local resident who obviously did not like the building at all!

I didn't have much time to look around so I just snapped away at anything that caught my eye and I loved these 2 decorative plaques:

There were lots of paintings and busts of famous physicians but it was this stained glass window panel that caught my eye as the bright colours broke up the starkness of the marble tiles.

I met some very interesting people with whom I would love to speak in more depth, especially those dealing with end of life care and those dealing with severe dementia. It became clear that research into the final stages of dementia is virtually non-existent which was disappointing and the other thing that struck me was that no-one seems to be studying the effects on the carer of caring for someone with dementia. I exchanged email addresses with several Professors so it will interesting to see where that leads, if anywhere.

I was interested to hear from some people who are looking at caring for the emotional needs of dementia patients rather than just using a pharmaceutical option (aka 'interventions'), i.e. dispensing drugs. I've always said that the reason we were able to keep mum in the early stages for so long was that she lived with us, had interactions with all age groups, was surrounded by music, animals and plenty of mental stimulation.

It was rather disappointing that within my group there was little enthusiasm for Join dementia research and there were comments such as "theres no way to link researchers with sufferers of dementia" and "there aren't many people registered". Given that when I last checked there are 1421 volunteers and 26 studies on the system I think we might need to do a publicity drive in the Universities to capture these Professors! 

I'm hoping that the National launch will get lots of publicity so that more people will sign up. I am already signed up to take part in a long term trial known as the PROTECT study which will help understand the way our brains age and look at certain risk factors (genetic and lifestyle). 

The trial is open to anyone over the age of 50 in the UK who does not have dementia or any other neurodegenerative disorder. I think this is an excellent study as if we know how and why dementia develops then we can stop it happening rather trying to find a cure after dementia has taken hold. 

All I had to do was answer a series of questions focusing on how I feel I react in certain circumstances compared with 10 years ago (for example, am I more forgetful, less self-assured, problem solving/reasoning powers, that sort of thing). Then Mike answered the same questions based on how he perceived my reactions, not how I perceived myself. The next thing will be to provide a DNA sample using a simple kit to take a swab of saliva.

If anyone reading this is interested in taking part in any research studies, please take a look at the  Join dementia research website and sign-up. There are helplines available if you have any questions and representatives from both Alzheimer's Research UK and the Alzheimer's Society will be able to give you more details. 

Please do join me in the fight against dementia as together we can make a difference.

Unfortunately I missed my train on the way home and had to wait another 1.5 hours for the next one. I used the time to wander round a bookshop nearby and when I got back to Charing Cross station I glanced over towards Trafalger Square and the spire of St martin-in-the-fields looked so beautiful glinting in the sun. You can see some photos of the church and crypt here.