Saturday, April 19, 2014

Bank Holiday

The bank holiday weekend managed to coincide with some absolutely magnificent weather, so on Friday we loaded up the car - me with my picnic blanket and knitting, Steve and a friend with more camera equipment than you can shake a stick at - and set off for Wales in search of Scenery.

It'll be a while before the lads get round to uploading anything from their Big Cameras, but here's a snapshot from Steve's action cam:

Lake Vyrnwy

This is Lake Vyrnwy, as viewed from a picnic spot accessible from the perimeter road. Getting from the parking area to the grass, while only a few metres, was a bit precarious in places. I opted for wobbling rather than wheeling, although I think a fit person in a more sporty chair might well manage. No filters have been added to the picture - the sky really was that blue. I started off knitting on my blanket, but after a couple of rounds I was just sprawled out, soaking up the sunshine and listening to the water.

We considered trying to visit the area by the waterfall where Steve and I got engaged, but the track now has a locked gate across it, so we had to abandon that plan. It's slightly sad that I won't be able to get to it again, but we're not planning to get engaged again, so it's not too much of a tragedy. And it was a bit of a dire track.

So instead, we carried on with a scenic drive along to Bala, with another couple of stops around the lake there. I seem to have avoided getting sunburnt, although that's more luck than judgement. It's a good start to the summer.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Doorbell: a revision

I waited oh-so-patiently for the sugru to set. The full 24 hours, and then an extra night's sleep to be on the safe side and to share the trial run with Steve (only fair since it was him who sourced the doorbell itself and created the mp3 for it to play).


The sugru blob I'd made - thick enough to accommodate the smiley face drawn onto it - was, when set, too thick to be flexible enough to push the doorbell-button through it with a single finger. It was also too large in diameter to press the button with it, as the whole red circle couldn't go into the casing.

I haven't explained that well, but the upshot was that the only way to press the doorbell was to hold the unit in your hand and squeeze as hard as possible. Not really practical.

In retrospect, the sugru blob needed to be smaller than the original button, or thin enough to be bendy, or both. At least, unlike with the daffodils I ruined, I know what I did wrong.

Thankfully, the folks at sugru are aware that their products may be used by the inept and hard-of-thinking and give tips on their website for how to remove it. A few minutes of running my fingernail around and around the red button loosened it enough for me to be able to peel it away.

As a happy side effect, the previously white button has taken on some of the red hue from the sugru, making it visible - which was the original aim.

I've managed to correctly spell my name, so that's something.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Bill Bailey's Devil's Interval Doorbell

The other night, Steve and I were watching Bill Bailey's Tinselworm. It's entertaining in many ways - interesting as well as funny - and we've both watched it several times before.

For some reason, this time, we got to the section on doorbells...

... and looked at each other.

To the internet!

Step one: a doorbell which can be personalised. Soon Steve had found one that would play mp3s from an SD card.

Step two: creating an mp3 of the notes we wanted. The notes in question are at about 1:50 on that YouTube clip. But trying to get those few seconds from the DVD, without the crowd sounds, would have been tricky. Since we only needed three notes - and since Steve has enough of a musical ear to be able to identify what those notes are - the free trial version of Pianoteq was our friend here.

Step three was a poor design issue. The "button" part of the doorbell is white, and the bit you press, is also white. It needed to be more visible. Clearly a job for Sugru.

Twenty-four hours for the Sugru to set, and then who knows how long desperately waiting for somebody, anybody, to press the doorbell...

Tuesday, April 08, 2014



These are the daffodils that had not yet bloomed at the time I was messing up primary school science. The ones in the black pot on the right, as you can see, were not so fortunate.

The two in front seem to have double flowers on them - almost like a second daffodil blooming inside the "nose" of the first. They're rather topheavy.

I think it's for the best if these ones remain in their pots, attached to their bulbs, and beautifully bright yellow.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Not the return I'd hoped for

You thought the adventures in cake were pathetic?


It can be safely said that 2013 was a catastrophically bad year for me. Things happening to and around me that I could not influence, things I tried to do going horribly wrong despite my best efforts. I would go so far as to say that it was the worst year of my life (the previous contender being around 1998; the big difference being that now I'm in my 30s I have more and better coping strategies than my teenage self). Some of it was single events, some of it was longer-term dramas that just went from bad to worse in ways that would be dismissed by soap-opera writers as simply too implausible. Much of it is still ongoing. Most of it I prefer to keep off the internet.

Still, there were good things. There was sunshine. There was a trip to see friends and family. There were two trips to the Eden Project. There was blue hair.

And through it all, there was my blog, dusty and neglected. I kept thinking about posting but couldn't. Every time I sat down to write, it just seemed too personal or too pointless - or sometimes both.

Coping strategies, right? I should just sit down and write something. Get on with it. Worried about it being too personal? Okay, write something impersonal. Can't think of anything to write about? Well, do something you can write about, and then write about that.

Out came the daffodils, and they reminded me of a primary school "science experiment" where we put food dye in the vases of cut daffodils. The flowers pull up the coloured water, and the petals take on the colour of the dye. For the competent among you, here's the instructions.

So. This blog post was meant to be a nice, positive comeback, lots of pretty pictures, of my lovely yellow daffodils, followed by my lovely multicoloured daffodils.

Unfortunately, this week I've thrown out about a dozen daffodils that... well. If you peered closely, under a good light, you'd recognise a few streaks of colour, but before that, the word that would come to mind would be "dead". "Withered", perhaps, if you were feeling generous.

It's only a mercy that I don't have offspring to look disappointed at me and demand to know why it hasn't worked.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cake (picture-heavy)

For reasons too complicated to explain, I found myself committed to baking a cake for a friend in another country who isn't going to be here to eat it any time soon. The only relevant part of the backstory is that I was meant to make a cake some months ago and made a bloody great mess on the floor instead. It's almost like I got DLA for a reason.


Part One was done in advance. I found a recipe, of the sort that tells the cook to get an adult to help them with the oven, and went and bought the stuff I'd need.
this bit i can do.
I think eggs and butter were the only things I had in the house anyway, and I didn't have enough of either, so I purchased the whole recipe. Using mostly supermarket-own-brand ingredients this came to about £15. Admittedly I have a lot of stuff left over - flour, sugar, icing sugar, vanilla essence - but I'm really unlikely to use any of it. Even if we just add up the things that were entirely used up it comes to over £8. It would definitely have been cheaper, in monetary terms, to just buy a cake.

Nevertheless, again. This is not about eating cake. This is about making a cake.

Greasing the cake tin wasn’t too traumatic. Measuring ingredients was a bit okay if a little messy at points. Creaming the butter and sugar brought me back to that whole "DLA for a reason" thing. But that's okay, because the difference between making a cake and cooking a meal is that I can take as long as I like to make a cake, and it doesn't matter if it's the only thing I do today (I will now stop banging on about DLA. I'm just always worried, when I post about my biannual adventures in cookery, that someone's going to try and use it to report me).

Adding the eggs to the butter and sugar was… well it started okay and then I thought it looked a bit lumpy, but no matter how much I stirred the lumps wouldn’t go away, so I figured, it’s butter, it’ll have to melt when it cooks if nothing else, and pressed on, adding a tidge of vanilla essence, a tidge of milk, and the sifted cocoa and self-raising flour.

The resulting dough was tasty… uh, did I say tasty? I meant it looked tasty. Yes. Looked. Having no great cake-making expertise I did wonder whether it was meant to be dough. If it was meant to be batter then I’d done something really badly wrong at the measuring stage. But I was too messy to Google it, or to take pictures and ask Twitter. So I kept going.

Wrangling the wodge of dough from the mixing bowl was awkward, and then it kind of sat in a big sticky messy lump in the middle of the cake tin. It didn't really look like any kind of proto-cake so I sort of splatted it out a bit. Not squished it flat or anything, but made it a bit more circular and more evenly shaped. I probably should have taken a picture before it went into the oven, but it was already in the oven when I realised that, and even I know you're not allowed to keep opening it.

The time it took to bake was longer than the time I needed to find instructional videos on how to check a cake is done and how to get it out of the tin. I have a springform cake tin with a removable base, so getting the cake onto the cooling rack was remarkably easy. A couple of people have already expressed jealousy about my cake tin. Seriously, it cost less than the cake ingredients. If you enjoy baking, and are frustrated by normal tins, then just get one.

And lo! Cake! Properly baked, not dry, not burnt, not soggy!

There was, however, one small problem.
vertically challenged
At just an inch and a half in height, the stage of the recipe that called for cutting the entire cake in half horizontally was going to be more of a challenge than this novice could handle. Happily, I'd been looking for a way to avoid that particular challenge anyway, so it didn't take me too long to decide that actually, I'd just cut the cake in half the easy way, and stack the halves into a semicircular cake.

I mixed up the filling and while that was chilling in the fridge, I had my lunch:

It was very tasty.

Finally, it was time to assemble the cake.

From this side it pretty much looks like chocolate mousse with cake somewhere in the middle...
chocolate mousse with cake inside

... but from the other side it looks much more cakelike.
side view

If I was doing it again, I would probably try and get a smaller cake tin. I also think that while the whole raspberries look good on the top, for inside the cake, making it a sandwich of chocolate filling on one side and raspberry jam on the other would work better than thick chocolate filling with whole raspberries added.

I have a great sense of accomplishment for having successfully made a cake. All things considered, though, I probably won't be doing it again. The cost of ingredients, the pain, the time, the cleanup, are just all too much for what's basically a pretty mediocre cake. In future I will continue to outsource all of my cake requirements to the lovely experts at Sweet As.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Eden Project - Time of Gifts

(picture heavy)

Steve recently finished what I shall tactfully describe as a "gruelling" work contract (and yes, that is putting it mildly) which took a toll on both of us, and we decided that we were owed a little break before getting into the fun of preparing for Christmas and trying to figure out where our life goes next.

Given a free choice of anywhere to go, nine times out of ten I will pick the Eden Project (the tenth time I will beg to stay in bed and be brought cups of tea). In the last year we've been to Cornwall three times, and on each occasion we've visited the Project for two or three days, and I still always feel sad to leave.

Last time we went was in May, when it looked like this:
Inside the Mediterranean Biome at Eden. Blue skies, blazing sun, abundant green leaves, people wearing summer clothes.

In November, even inside the Biomes, it's more like this:
Steve kisses me, in the same Biome. We are wearing warm jumpers, the leaves have dropped and those that remain have changed to autumnal colours, and the sky outside is grey and cloudy.

I still get a great sense of peacefulness and well-being from the Project. And the access. Oh, the access. No being sent round the back, no staff tutting at you if you can't keep up, no "special" holding pens areas, no leaving you sitting by the bins while they try to find out if anyone knows where the keys for the service lift have got to. Universal design, access is front doors and main paths all the way. The slopes can be a bit of a workout and there is a certain amount of mileage involved in getting around the place, but they have scooters and powerchairs which can be booked in advance. November being the off-season, they weren't all booked out, so at the gate I was politely offered the option of using one of their powerchairs "if it would be easier." More importantly, my choice of sticking with my own chair was accepted without fuss.

As he tends to, Steve took hundreds of photographs of all sorts of beautiful plants, flowers, sculptures and suchlike, and I'm sure soon he'll load them up to his Flickr stream which will be much better than me trying to describe. But he's let me pop a few onto my own Flickr stream so that I can blog this.

The second day of our stay, the Friday, was the beginning of the winter celebrations at Eden, which they call the "Time of Gifts". There is, of course, a Father Christmas with a cohort of elves and a stable full of actual reindeer, much of which is centred around the Sami people of Northern Europe. I was more interested in the goings-on within the Mediterranean Biome, though - storytelling, music and craft activities particularly. There are definitely worse things to do on a Friday afternoon than to sit and make Christmas decorations and chat with a bunch of friendly strangers, listening to live music and surrounded by the gorgeous smells of Mediterranean plants. As it got darker, Steve returned from his photography spree and brought me a hot chocolate to warm me up while we listened to the evening story and music.
Silhouette profile of a person's face, sipping from a cardboard cup of steaming hot chocolate which they are holding with both hands
Inside the Biome. The bubbles are dark blue with the reflections of lights looking like constellations. Some plants are uplit, others are in shadow

Then it was time to leave the Biome and get ready for the lantern parade. There were large sculpture lanterns being carried mostly by staff and volunteers, but anyone who wanted could join in the parade with a pyramid-shaped lantern on a stick, with a candle inside it. Anywhere else, I'd have assumed I couldn't participate. At Eden, no one batted an eyelid. So here I am, in front of the big Christmas tree outside the Core, carrying a lantern wedged between my legs and my wheelchair, waiting for the parade to start:
Mostly dark picture with pyramid lantern lit up. Me wrapped up in cold weather clothes and smiling. Some small twinkly lights in the background
And modelling my own handknit hat by the light of my lantern:
Me smiling, wearing a grey knitted hat. My face is yellow and red on the side lit by the lantern, and blue on the shadow side

The procession began with large sculpture-lanterns coming down the ZigZag path towards the Core building, where we were waiting. It was an impressive sight, although with a slightly hairy moment as a nearby child forgot to pay attention to his own lantern (my reaction of "excuse me! please don't set fire to me!" made me realise just how incurably English I can be). As the sculpture-lanterns and their accompanying drummers came past, we were filtered into the procession. It was quite a strange experience to be actively participating in something like this, being one of lots of little bits. There was a very carnival atmosphere.
The parade. Large white lanterns resembling a tea party, an origami bird, a mushroom. In between the white lanterns, lots of yellow pyramid lanterns. The carriers cannot be seen except as occasional silhouettes

The procession wound around the gardens outside the Biomes, lit by flame torches with occasional groups of non-participating onlookers. It ended by a gazebo of fairy-lights, where the Eden Choir were waiting to perform. Since the wheelchair makes me an honorary short person, I was ushered to the front with the kids so we could see.
the yellow pyramid lanterns and silhouetted carriers gather around a gazebo covered in white fairy lights, while the larger sculpture-lanterns continue past
lots of people including me, lit by the pyramid lanterns, listening to the Eden Choir

Listening to the Eden Choir was lovely, and some of the drummers joined in ad lib. Then there was a short and unexpected burst of fireworks which sent Steve whirling around to try and catch a shot:

Finally, this lovely piece of fire art, lit while the choir sang, reminded me very much of the Paralympic closing ceremony which meant that in a strange way it reminded me of summer again.
Fire picture of reindeer and the sun