Words and stitches

Jelly has been supporting art in Reading since 1993, hopping around the town as new locations become available. Currently they’re in a shop space in Broad Street Mall.

Jelly_strap9cm-600x398Words and Stitches

They’re holding a short exhibition called ‘words and stitches’ – “a weekend of hand knitted delights & to explore the act of knitting” displaying such things as this cushion:


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Not being particularly interested in knitting, I’d instead turned up for the ‘Words and stitches: creative writing workshop’ – “a free 90 minute creative writing workshop using knitting and fibre for our inspiration”. The ‘free’ bit sounded good and I was sure that if I couldn’t be inspired to write anything then that would be a good sign that I should try something else. 

First exercise (after free coffee and cake) was 5 minutes of continuous writing. Not something I’d ever tried before – just putting open to paper without stopping, without too much thought on what you are trying to write, as a way of loosening up. The workshop leader started us off with “I tugged at the loose thread and…” Soon I had an A4 page of untidy sci-fi drivel and an aching hand that hadn’t written so much in a loooong time.

Next was writing using a restricted vocabulary – each of us has a photocopy from a novel and could only use the words on the pages to describe a woollen item chosen from a pile of such objects. Appropriately, I had “Alice in Wonderland” and some weird thing to work with. I didn’t manage too much output as it took a while to scan the text for usable fragments but the end result wasn’t too bad.

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“What can all that green stuff be?” I thought. There is nothing graceful and I am more and more puzzled. I shook it a good deal rapidly but could not see its meaning. Leaves must be an idea, or hedges.

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Third exercise was to write something from a particular perspective. Another woollen item and a randomly selected view – in this case a ‘knitwear model’ (could have been ‘sheep’ which may have been more of a challenge).

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Colin was in a hurry. The photographer was waiting but had nothing to shoot and I had nothing to be shot in. The ball of rust was getting smaller and smaller as Gavin rushed to replace the cardigan, the machine whizzing from side to side. Soon it would have disappeared and I could get to work and, more importantly, get paid. I felt myself becoming annoyed with the wool even though it should be Colin that I’m glaring at. “Come on, faster,” I thought, “but don’t get knotted again.” Red/brown lines flew above the knitting machine and I gave up trying to follow them. Such a boring colour. It’s spring outside and I wanted to wear something bright and light but it’s the autumn catalogue we’re shooting for. If we ever start. I need something to take my mind off the clock. “Coffee?” The photographer agreed and followed me out to the little kitchen attached to the slightly larger studio. “Done,” called out Colin and we strolled back to the machine, steaming cups in hand. The ball was barely the size of an egg now. Almost gone.

Finally we had a chance to rework what we had already written or try again so I opted for the lucky dip. Quite a dark result. Luckily the other person reading out their effort described an amazingly vibrant and active ‘yarn shop’ which ended the day on a much more positive note.

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That’s not going to work. The colours clash terribly. I desire to create beauty. How can I breathe life into the wool with red and orange? Give me creams and greys, ochres and a pompom of charcoal. I don’t want boisterous shades – I demand calm solemnity. I am here to lend peace to the world through my being. I dread that my work will be used by the tribes on the terraces, shouting fiercely at others in woollen headwear just as bizarrely coloured. Why so much red or bright blue? Or red and blue! It pains me to be so misused. If only I could find a way to unravel my design, to remove myself. If I cannot make the world a better place, maybe I should not be in it.

For a first creative writing workshop, I thought it went really well and most of us seemed to enjoy the experience. Thanks to Jelly for putting the event on.

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“Paragon of Order” by the Doctor

Back in July I picked up a copy of “Paragon of Order” at Dr Fern’s impromptu book release at the Alehouse. Even got it signed.

PoO“Relations between the Paladins of Order and the Lords of Chaos have always been hostile with both sides turning a blind eye to cross-border raids, or actively sponsoring them. Despite this, a fragile balance of power has existed for a century or more which has kept their borders fairly unchanged. This balance is threatened when Sir Thomas D’Brentieu, Paladin of the Greater Prefecture of Brentieu, seeking to emulate the deeds of the ancient heroes of Order, begins planning a crusade against the heathen tribes of Pandemonium and their dark Lord, Legion. Sir Thomas’ neighbour, the newly appointed Paladin of the Greater Prefecture of Valan, find themselves with an unenviable choice: side with the orthodox, some might say fanatical, Sir Thomas and become embroiled in a war with the Lord of Shadow Keep, or remain neutral and risk attracting the ire of both sides?”

The contrast in the characters of the Paladins reminded me of the eternal discussions in the D&D world around codes of conduct and being Good. There are definitely a couple of scenes in the book (which still make me wince thinking of them) where the punishments meted out highlight that how you enforce law and order is highly subjective. There are three main groups of bad guys in this book although they are also good guys, depending on who’s opinion you are reading. The motivations behind the actions of the various groups is nicely explored so you feel that the flow of events makes sense from a cause-and-effect perspective.

I have a few quibbles – the map is too small to read at my age; keeping track of time was quite hard in that I couldn’t always appreciate how long it took for and groups of troops to move between places and whether that time taken made sense.

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A pox on your party

On my Facebook feed I recently saw someone posting that their child had chickenpox. Lots of mums posting support; the usual stuff.

Was shocked, though, at suggestions to have a “pox party”. One commented that they hoped that the child had chick pox bad enough that they didn’t get it again!

I’ve checked the calendar – it appears to be 2017. What is going on?

From Chickenpox Parties, an article on Seattle Children’s Hospital’s website (so obviously relates to US):

Chickenpox can cause serious infection complications and, rarely, it can be lethal.
Before the vaccine was approved and put into use in 1995, hundreds of children and adults died in this country every year from chickenpox and thousands were hospitalized.
Although most young children get chickenpox and recover (only left with pox or scars) some children develop life-threatening secondary infections.
Some children develop severe pneumonia (1 in 1000 children), some develop brain infections, and some children develop flesh-eating bacterial infections in their scabs that can even be fatal.

Pox parties are basically playing Russian roulette with the health of your children and everyone they then come in contact with, such as pregnant women and those with weak immune systems.

From Chickenpox vaccine, an article on the NHS website:

Who is at risk from chickenpox?

Chickenpox is a common childhood infection. Usually, it’s mild and complications are rare.
Almost all children develop immunity to chickenpox after infection, so most only catch it once.
The disease can be more severe in adults.

Certain groups of people, however, are at greater risk of serious complications from chickenpox. These include:

  • people who have weakened immune systems through illnesses such as HIV or treatments like chemotherapy
  • pregnant women – chickenpox can be very serious for an unborn baby when a pregnant woman catches the infection.
    It can cause a range of serious birth defects, as well as severe disease in the baby when it is born.

I wasn’t too impressed to catch chickenpox off my daughter when I was 30. I wouldn’t be surprised if she caught it off another child at school whose parents decided it would be great for everyone else to be involuntarily immunised too.

If your child has chickenpox, just keep them at home while they are getting better. The virus is highly contagious so why make other peoples’ lives miserable, now and in the future (when shingles can kick in if the virus becomes active again)?

If having chickenpox was such a non-event, there wouldn’t be a vaccine for it!

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Michael Palin at the Battle Library

Joan Bakewell chatted with Michael Palin about his life’s work to mark the donation of his personal archive – over 20 years of diaries and notebooks – to the British Library.

Samantha and I decided to watch but more remotely than the BL in London – on a projector screen at another BL, the Battle Library in Reading instead. This BL is a lot smaller – the events room probably sits around 50 and the screen isn’t going to challenge the cinema any time soon – but regularly puts on a talks for a small admission fee.

Tonight’s attendance was pretty disappointing – less than 20 people turned up despite the fact that all the tickets had been taken. My suspicion is that a lot of people booked the free tickets thinking it was a live talk and then were too embarrassed to cancel the booking when they realised later. There was a waiting list so this meant people were prevented from coming along. Lesson for the organisers, I suppose.

The live streaming was a service offered to an associated network of libraries – the introduction called out other locations like Sheffield that were watching too and could send in questions for the Q&A. No mention of Reading so it felt like they didn’t know we were there. The network link was adequate with only a few buffering pauses so we didn’t miss much.

Was surprised to find that Baroness Bakewell is 84, a full decade on Michael Palin, so over 150 years between them. It’s quite hard to shrug off the cultural bias that people that old are either past it or passed on but events like this help show that it’s possible to keep on going. Sir David Attenborough is 91! We need more exceptions in the public eye.

Michael, unsurprisingly, had a number of anecdotes and comprehensive answers to questions – I imagine that, with the number of interviews he’s done over the years, responses are by now well honed. There can’t be many questions left that he hasn’t been asked yet. I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a decent one should I ever have the opportunity to pose it. Anything I would actually want to know is probably in an article somewhere on the Internet or in a book and if I was that interested then I would have tracked the information down already. Next best thing would be to ask him a question he would want to be asked to give the opportunity to talk about something that he’s actually interested in discussing. Would that be different to what Joan was doing? I’m not sure – given no agenda, what would Michael want to talk about these days?

I had forgotten that Michael has written and/or appeared in a number of films – must dig out the “Time Bandits” and give that a watch. That reminds me – he’s in this year’s “The Death of Stalin” which we’re seeing in December. And maybe, afterwards, we’ll be inspired to watch the many hours of unwatched travel documentaries gathering dust on the shelf at home.

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Waving to my colleagues in the London office

Was working out how far away the London office is from the desk in Caversham where I sit – obviously a busy day – and it’s a 45 mile walk to 10 Upper Bank street. This was to help explain why I couldn’t just pop round to person X’s desk to tell them how to do their job properly.

Then I noticed that Google Maps shows me a cross section through the terrain.


So Canary Wharf is 7 feet above sea level and Caversham is 177 feet above that.

I wonder how many stories 177 feet would equate to?

Let’s see – the London building has 32 floors and is 495 feet high, according to Wikipedia (which I’ve edited as it didn’t show the Mastercard rebrand) – maybe 15 feet per floor?

So my colleagues on the 19th floor are nearly 300 feet above the pavement, effectively 8 floors above my head.

Ah, but that’s if the offices are adjacent – what about taking into account the curvature of the Earth?

If I looked out of my office window (ignoring the inspiring car park and surrounding semi-detached houses), the waters of Canary Wharf would be below the horizon.

The 44.9 miles between the buildings is 0.65° of longitude so, with a bit of trig, 10 Upper Bank Street would have to be over 1,500 feet high for the top to be visible at eye level in the far distance.

Maybe I’ll wave over Skype, then.

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Coining it

Clearing through some old coins from Sue’s parents and found some that were interesting.

[[The halfpenny is just for size comparison.]]

The coin on the left was issued during WW2 under the British Mandate to govern Palestine (from 1927 to 1947). Not often you see a coin with three languages on it – in this case English, Hebrew and Arabic. One Mil represented a thousandth of a Palestine Pound (equivalent to one British Pound Sterling), so the same as a farthing (of which there were 960 to the Pound). I think the image is an olive sprig. I assume the coin came into my in-laws’ hands by luck as it’s very similar to a modern penny in size.

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The coin on the right is a thrupnee bit from before WW1. It’s from 1912 so is made from sterling silver (92.5% silver, alloyed with (usually) copper); from 1920 the silver content in these coins was reduced to 50%. Completely different to the 12-sided coin I’m more familiar with that replaced it. I didn’t realise that the Royal Mint produced both types of the coins from 1937-1945 and each was still legal tender until decimalisation. The silver coins were being illegally melted down in the years approaching decimalisation due to their value as a metal exceeding their face value. In today’s prices, a Sterling silver three penny bit is worth about £0.60 as scrap metal.

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There’s vitamins in my drink?

Was listening to the latest podcast from the “Skeptics Guide to the Universe” where they were discussing the recent study associating excessive vitamin B consumption with increased chance of lung cancer. After chatting about about how people taking vitamin supplements can easily overdose, they commented how highly fortified Monster energy drinks were.

Wait a sec – I drink Monster energy drinks. There’s vitamin B in them? Who knew? (Clue : not me).

A quick search for “Monster Ultra White Energy Drink” found typical values per 500ml can were:

  • Niacin (Vitamin B3) – 43mg (266% daily reference intake)
  • Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5) – 21mg (350%)
  • Vitamin B6 – 4mg (286%)
  • Vitamin B12 – 13μg (500%)

In contrast, the (large) 75g portion of vitamin-fortified cornflakes that I have every morning contains ‘just’:

  • Niacin (Vitamin B3) – 12mg (75%)
  • Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5) – 4.5mg (75%)
  • Vitamin B6 – 1mg (75%)
  • Vitamin B12 – 2μg (75%)

And once you’ve added in all the other sources of these vitamins I eat each day, there’s little chance of me being deficient in any of them (which is nice).

Of course, the down-side is that too much of something can be just as bad as too little.

I did manage to find one table that gave some rough numbers for overdosing – at OverDoseInfo.com, coincidentally.

  Vitamin B3 Vitamin B6 Vitamin B12
Over dosage Level or Tolerable Limit 10 mg to 35 mg 30 mg to 100 mg Above 10,000 μg

Other sources give other numbers.

Niacin (B3)

One can alone seems to be enough to exceed the tolerable level.

High doses (50 mg or more) of niacin can cause side effects. The most common side effect is called ‘niacin flush,’ which is a burning, tingling sensation in the face and chest, and red or flushed skin.“UMM. 

Serious risk of damage, though, requires vastly more than I would encounter – in the region of 2,000mg, for example. That’s 50 cans of Monster a day. Death by hyperhydration would be more of a concern.

Pantothenic Acid (B5)

This would seem to be a pointless additive as vitamin B5 is obtained from a wide variety of food sources.

A high dose – over 10g (or 10,000mg) – may cause diarrhoea, fluid retention and swelling in the tissues, and calcification in the arteries and blood vessels. 150kg of cornflakes or 250 litres of Monster would contain such a high dose of pantothenic acid.

Vitamin B6

300mg would be dangerously excessive and lead to nerve toxicity.

Vitamin B12

Regarded as safe, even in very high doses. – Stichting Tekort (NL)

Interestingly, a significant number of people over 50 years old don’t absorb Vitamin B12 as efficiently as younger people so a can a day may keep the doctor away.

So, if I stick to my one can a day, I should be OK. Or maybe I could change to something else…

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