Thursday, 30 June 2011

Z is for... Zoos!

I'm somewhat amazed I made it through these 30 days without missing a post! I'm also amazed you've all stuck with me through this challenge. I hope you've enjoyed reading through my A to Z of me.

Z is another tricky letter to pick for. I thought I'd post about zoos, since I've visited a fair few and have plans to visit more. Next on the list is Chester Zoo (amazingly, I never went even though I lived in Chester for a year) as they've just had a tiger cub born and I'd love to see it.

I have a love-hate relationship with zoos. Part of me loves to go and see all the amazing creatures I'll probably never have a chance to see in the wild. But part of me hates to go and see these animals caged in enclosures that are too small and not enriched enough for them. London Zoo is particularly bad for this; I feel so sad when I see the giraffes in their ancient giraffe house, with only a small concrete yard outside to stretch their long legs in. I was much happier seeing the giraffes at Longleat Safari Park.

They have an enormous field to run around in!
In fact, Longleat trumps most of the other zoos I've visited. We went last year, and had some wonderful up close encounters with a variety of animals. There's a room you can walk through with bats flying free; they fly so close to your face and sometimes wee on you as they go past! Fruit bats though, so it's mostly just processed fruit juice that comes out. Unfortunately, no flash photography in that room, so my photos of the bats are not brilliant.

In the big game reserve section of the park, we had a close encounter with a female ostritch, who was walking along the road sticking her head inside all the cars. She came right up to my window, but luckily we didn't have any food in the car so she didn't investigate too closely!

The rhinos are so impressive. They have a man sat in a tractor with a big padded ram on the front, in case they start getting agitated and try to charge the cars going past. We were lucky to drive by when they were very close to the road; as we drove away the tractor had to move in and gently urge them back into the field.

Credit where credit's due, this picture was taken by Jamie, not by me
(he was on the right side of the car)
 More recently, we visited Twycross Zoo. I wanted to go because I'd read they have a lot of monkeys, more than the other zoos. We happened to be up that way for a party, so headed over the following day (a tad hungover, but never mind). There were indeed lots of monkeys! The chimpanzees and bonobos both decided Jamie (being very tall, and wearing a big black coat) was a threat, so did a variety of dominance displays while we were watching them. The most impressive being the chimpanzee who swung his way up to the roof of his enclosure, hurling poo over the wall at us!

I didn't miss out on all the fun, though. While watching the gibbon's acrobatic displays, one took offense at me, and tried to wee on me through the mesh.

Luckily there were a couple of metres between it and me, and he missed.

He tried to look innocent, but I wasn't fooled.
The main highlight of Twycross is the Amur Leopard. We were lucky, he was out and about in his (rather tiny) enclosure, making a complete racket.

Amur Leopard
How beautiful is he?
They also have snow leopards, in a huge rocky enclosure next to the (overpriced) cafe. They were hiding when we arrived, and hiding the entire time we ate our (uninspiring) lunch. We had resigned ourselves to not seeing them at all, but then as we left, we spotted one.
He was just chillin'
It made my day. I love snow leopards, they are so rare. David Attenborough's team got some amazing footage of them in a recent series; the guy filming it camped out in a tiny hut in the freezing cold for something like three years to get it. Look at that huge fluffy tail! Gorgeous.
Most recently of course, we visited Beale Park, which featured in my K is for Kangaroos post. Mostly animals I'd seen before, or variations on a theme (rhea instead of ostriches, for example). But also some new ones, like the coati. 


On the whole, zoos have to be a force for good, otherwise they'd have all been shut down already. But I wish there was more money available for them to spend on improving the facilites for the animals they keep. I'd feel a lot happier about visiting them if I could see all the animals were happy.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Not WIPs yet!

So this would be a WIP Wednesday post, but I don't really have any WIPs to talk about. Mainly because... I finished my socks!!! Check back in on Friday to see them in all their pink stripey glory. But, because I've been working on them, I haven't done any more to the poncho or the filet panel, which are now my only two WIPs.

Never fear though, for I have been on a stash-enhancing mission this week. In preparation for the year of projects which kicks off on Friday, I've been doing a bit of shopping. I decided early on to work out exactly what yarn I needed for all my projects, so I could save money on postage costs by ordering it all from the same place. My first two orders were placed on Sunday.

From Deramores I ordered three yarns and four pairs of circular knitting needles.

James C Brett Marble Chunky, Sirdar Simply Recycled and Rowan
Pure Wool Aran, plus 4 pairs of circular needles

Deramores is great! You get free delivery if you spend over £20, and when you sign up to their newsletter they send you a special code to get 5% off all further orders. They have a great selection of yarns, including Rowan, Sirdar, James C Brett, King Cole and Patons. It's really cheap too, compared to my local shops. I ordered on Sunday and it came today.

My other order was a bit more exciting. I went to Great British Yarns as they stock Knit Picks. I've heard so many great things about Knit Picks yarn from the Americans on Ravelry, so I was desperate to get my hands on some for my Year of Projects patterns.

Shadow Tonal in Canopy, Palette in Serrano and Shimmer in Elderberry
Again, I ordered on Sunday and it arrived yesterday. Fabulously speedy service. Sharon's on Ravelry too, and has set up a group for the shop here. She's really helpful in the forum as well, so I know I'll be back to order from her again. I may even venture down to Bath to visit when the new studio is open later on in the year.

I am very pleased with my Knit Picks yarn. The colours are gorgeous, and the Shimmer is so silky soft (it's an alpaca/silk blend). My first project is going to involve the green laceweight, and I can't wait to get started.

I'm going to have to re-arrange my shelves to get all this yarn to fit. But look! I have a stash! Some of these yarns are going to sit on that shelf for months before I knit/crochet with them! I think I just levelled up again.

Y is for... York

Continuing the theme of waxing lyrical about places I have lived, I have decided that Y should be for York, that lovely old city in the north of England where I lived for three years while I studied at the university.

York Minster
The Minster is probably the first thing anyone thinks of when they think of York. I don't blame them, because it's a fabulous building, wonderful Gothic architecture and so full of history. There's a statue outside the side entrance of Constantine the Great, the first Roman Emperor who converted to Christianity, as he was declared Emperor of Rome while in the city on campaign. It was called Eboracum in those days.

One of the many awesome things you can do while visiting the Minster is to climb the tower, right to the top. I took this next photo, of the flying buttresses, from the halfway point of the climb, where you leave the side tower, walk along the edge of the roof, and access the main tower through a small doorway.

The Minster isn't the only sexy historical building in York. There are loads of churches all over the place, many with important historical connections of their own. For example, in one small churchyard hidden from the main roads, lies the grave of Dick Turpin. Sadly I don't have a photo of that of my own, but follow the link and you'll see it. 

One of many churches, I think this is in the
Walmgate area

The Merchant Adventurer's Hall

Bishop's Palace
I've been back to York twice since leaving. The first time was in December, and as we wandered through the side streets and back alleys known as The Quarter (York is filled with medieval streets and buildings, including the famous "Shambles") we came across the Festival of Angels. The streets were filled with beautiful ice sculptures. There was even an entire drinks bar made from ice! Even though I'd lived there for three years, I'd never actually seen the festival till I visited with Jamie. 

There are so many more awesome things in York that I simply don't have photos of. Cliffords Tower, the Jorvik Viking Centre, the National Railway Museum... The problem is, when I lived there, we didn't have digital cameras! So I didn't take anywhere near as many photos of things as I do now. At some point I will take another trip oop north and get some proper shots.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

X is for... X-rays!

Ok, so X is a tricky letter to try and fit in to any topic. I don't play the xylophone; I am neither xanthocomic (meaning yellow haired) nor do I suffer from xanthocyanopsy (a form of colour-blindness, where you only see blue and yellow). So I am falling back on a classic choice for X - X-rays.

I have a peculiar habit for injuring myself in embarrassing ways. Rather oddly, I don't have photos of any of the times I have ended up in hospital for ridiculous reasons, so this post is going to be word-heavy, I'm afraid.

When I was 11, I broke my wrist. Not so unusual, you might think, kids break bones all the time. But most of them do it while being terribly exciting and adventurous; they crash their BMX bike or fall out of a tree. Me, I broke my wrist in a drama class at school, in the midst of improvising a play about some aliens who had kidnapped the King's daughters. I was Chief Alien, and we'd put a chair on top of some rickety old wooden shelves to act as our spaceship. It wasn't so bad, at first, because I didn't really have to explain it to the school nurse. But then I had to tell my Dad what had happened; he took me to the hospital and I had to explain it to the receptionist, the triage nurse, the doctor, the radiographer, another doctor and the person who put my plaster cast on my arm.

Worst of all, I then had to explain my broken arm to my Mum when she came home from work to find me already home, watching Neighbours and eating my packed lunch!

In the sixth form, I ended up in casualty on Red Nose Day, because I'd injured my hip kicking a football across the school field. Of course, because the theme of Red Nose Day that year was Pants to Poverty, I was wearing a rather fetching pair of red furry pants over my jeans, which made getting them off for the x-ray even more uncomfortable!

My crowning achievement, in the world of silly injuries, has to be back in 2002, when I needed stitches after sitting on what we believe to have been a corkscrew. We were at a LRP event, and we'd just chucked our rucksacks full of kit inside our two man dome tent before dashing off to help other people put up their tents. When I went back into the tent to get something, I just threw myself in and landed on the bags. All I felt was the tiniest prick, as if I'd sat on a twig or something and it had just poked me. But when I investigated, my hand came out red to the knuckles with blood! Talk about scary! Turns out I had a cut on my bottom about 1cm wide and about 1cm deep, and it bled for ages before the first aiders were able to get it under control. Off I went to casualty to get it stitched up! All I can say is I am very grateful it was before the game had started, and I wasn't already in kit and painted green.

I did wind up in hospital days after the corkscrew incident as well, with nasty burns to my thumbs following a cooking oil incident in our kitchen. It was not a good week to be me! I think the nurse in the uni health centre felt quite sorry for me when I toddled in to get my stitch removed, with one hand strapped up in a plastic bag and the other one heavily bandaged.

Touch wood, I haven't done anything particularly stupid or painful for a while now. Hopefully it was just a youthful clumsiness that I have outgrown!

Have you guys ever done something as stupid (or even more stupid) than my injuries?

Monday, 27 June 2011

W is for... Wales!

Only four more letters left! I can't believe how quickly this month seems to have gone! Well, it's been mentioned a few times now that Jamie and I are both Welsh, so what better choice for the letter W than to talk about my homeland.

Nothing puts a smile on my face like driving past this sign.

Jamie and I are both from the south of the country, although he was a lot closer to civilisation, living as he did in a big town. I grew up in the countryside.

Haverfordwest Castle, partially destroyed by Oliver Cromwell's
forces during the Civil War
Being so far from civilisation (we were at least 30 miles away from the nearest M&S!) had it's upsides, of course. Less than 15 miles in three directions, and you hit the coast. What a wonderful coastline at that! It's a National Park, and has 186 miles of path you can walk along.

On the coast path

It's full of coves and cliffs and small coastal villages, full of history. Events like the last invasion of Britain by the French in 1797. We are also home to the birthplace of Bartholomew Roberts, the infamous pirate.

Newgale Beach
We have beaches for surfing on, like Newgale above, and Whitesands Bay. Then there are the beaches for swimming, and exploring rock pools, and clambering over the bottom of cliffs on.

Druidstone Haven
And then there are the really random coves, full of weird things. Like St Govan's, where there is a chapel built into the cliff-side.

St Govan's Chapel
But mostly what I love the coast for is how beautiful it is.

The Green Bridge of Wales
Of course, it would be wrong of me to only extoll the virtues of my part of Wales only. The North is also very beautiful. They have one thing we simply don't get in Pembrokeshire - proper mountains! I love Snowdonia. I first went there as a kid, and I keep going back. I've stood on the summit of Snowdon (the highest point in Wales) numerous times, although I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that at least twice I cheated and went up on the train. But we climbed it most recently last year.

Here's the view from half way up.

And here's the view from the top, of the path we climbed.
And one more shot, a nod to Jamie's home area:

He's got a castle too. Mine's bigger.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

V is for... Volunteering!

When I was younger, I did a fair amount of volunteering. My first volunteer project was between junior school and secondary school. The Prince's Trust had organised a summer landscaping project at Scolton Manor Country Park, where I spent a week helping build bridges, laying paths and making bird boxes for the conservation/nature reserve side of the park. It was a lot of fun!

During my sixth form years, I desperately wanted a weekend job to earn some extra pocket money. Unfortunately, everywhere I tried told me I didn't have enough experience. How are you meant to get experience when nobody gives you a job! The answer was of course to volunteer, so I did shifts in our local Cancer Research charity shop. I clocked up over 200 hours of service in the year or so I worked there, earning me a Millenium Volunteers award along the way. I had a lot of fun working there, as the other volunteers were all older women who were so entertaining to work alongside. Only the shop manager was a paid staff member. I really enjoyed doing the window displays, picking out clothes from the racks to create seasonal outfits that matched the colour scheme of that week's display.

Also while at school, I was introduced to another wonderful opportunity to volunteer. Treasure Trove was a charity set up to allow disabled youths between the ages of 16 and 25 to spend a week away from home, participating in a variety of normal activies; things like crafts, swimming, abseiling, trips to the theatre and so on. It gave their families and carers a break, and allowed them to feel like they were the same as everyone else. About half the people on the holiday were disabled; the rest, like me, were able-bodied, and while we were also there to have fun, we were also there to act as carers for our disabled companions. If you hadn't been before, everyone was a complete stranger, so you really did just have to get on with it, no time allowed for feeling weird about it. Within ten minutes of arriving and saying hello, you'd be off helping someone out of their wheelchair and on to the toilet!

We were of course supported by a team of qualified staff, including two trained nurses. But mostly they just sat back and let us all get on with it.

I went for three years, although I only seem to have photos from the first trip, in 2000. Each week was themed, and the theme of the week was Cowboys & Indians. The first activity was a group activity - we were split into teams and had to build a totem pole from random objects.

Here is our totem pole. That's me on the left, in the checked shirt...
Running through the week was a choice of activity you did every day; painting, something to do with marketing, and putting on a musical show. Every year I opted for the musical show. We had to write, direct, choreograph and perform a short musical play, which we performed on the final day, when everybody's parents came to collect them.

Can you tell what the show was? No, probably not. That's me with
the boxing gloves on, on the right.
The first year, our musical was a combination of The Wizard of Oz and the Eurovision Song Contest. Can you imagine? If I recall correctly, the basic premise was that Dorothy (played by a guy named Pete) and the rest of her gang were actually ABBA, trying to get to the Emerald City to see the Wizard (Terry Wogan) and win the Eurovision Song Contest. The good witch (played by a guy named Tom) was trying to help them, but the Wicked Witch of the West (played by my best mate Cath) was trying to stop them, with an evil plan involving sending Boyzone to defeat them. As you can see, I was in Boyzone. In the picture we are performing that song "When The Going Gets Tough". Now you understand the boxing gloves, I hope!

It was awesome. We sang lots of ABBA and Boyzone songs, and it was a real laugh. The cast were half able bodied and half disabled. Very inclusive, which I guess is the whole point of the thing.

Here we are on the deck of the Balmoral, on an afternoon sail along the Swansea Heritage Coast. After the captain came on the intercom announcing some kid's birthday (he was having a party in the indoor cabin area), we all sang happy birthday on deck, even though they couldn't hear us. Then some of the more mischievous lads in the group went to the captain to try and get him to announce something about us. In order to get it to work, they told them that we were on the boat celebrating my engagement to Tom, the lad sat next to me in the white shirt there. Talk about embarrassing!

Here I am helping one of the guys into the pool. He is blind.
At the end of the week, on the last night, they had a big fancy dress dinner. Most folks dressed up as cowboys, of course. I didn't. I went as an indian.

I bought that top especially for this costume, but wore it for years afterwards.
What was I thinking?

I have found one photo from the following year, when the theme was James Bond. Again, from the fancy dress night:

I was going for Teri Hatcher in
Tomorrow Never Dies
I'm not sure if the program is still running, certainly that website I've linked to is well out of date, and the current URL doesn't seem to work. It would be a shame if it's not still going on, because it was an incredible experience, for both the disabled and able-bodied alike. You made friends for life, if you were that way inclined.

I stopped going because I moved so far away, but my friend Cath kept going year after year, as she was a lot nearer. So I was very sad to hear recently that one of the girls I'd met at my first Treasure Trove week had passed away, complications from her disability I guess. I think we all take comfort in the fact that we all had a hand in making Treasure Trove such a great experience for her, and the others like her.

I don't seem to have the time to volunteer for stuff at the moment; hopefully when I am older and have time again I will be able to do some more giving back. It's definitely worth doing.

Friday, 24 June 2011

I finished my dragon!

Project: I has the Cyoot Sad Eyes
Pattern: Baby Snow Dragon (direct link here)
Yarn: King Cole Big Value Chunky
Hook: 5mm
Additional materials: two 10mm black safety eyes

I originally intended to make this as a gift; there's a lovely lady at the Welsh Rugby Union who collates good luck emails to stick up on the walls of the training barn and changing rooms for the team before international rugby matches, so I was going to ask her nicely if she would pass on an actual physical good luck token for the team for the world cup in September. I planned to make the dragon wearing a Welsh rugby shirt and holding a daffodil. However, once I'd started sewing it together, it looked so cute that Jamie decided he wanted to keep it.

So this dragon is finished as is, and I will make another one for the team. I've got lots of time, as it's only June!

I followed the pattern pretty much exactly, except for the spines. The pattern says to make three spines the same size, but I did them in different sizes. The middle spine is the size from the pattern, then I did one with an extra round of increases, and one with the final round missing.

He is So Cute. Once I'd sewn the arms on, he looked like he was so sad because nobody was giving him a hug.

I think on the next one I do, I will omit the second round of the eyelids, because they obscure the black eyes a bit too much.

For more finished objects, head on over to Tami's to see what everyone else is up to!

U is for... University Life!

Very few people go to university purely to study and get a degree. It's all about the life experience. If I'd wanted to do nothing but work hard, I'd have followed my teacher's advice and applied to Oxford or Cambridge. But when I was filling out my UCAS form, I was already in two minds about what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go. I put Durham on the form, as a nod to the whole "you should go to a posh redbrick university" idea, but after visiting them for an open day I decided it was too far away and too hilly for my liking. York was my first choice. It was only when I didn't quite get the grades I needed for my offer that I realised how much I actually wanted to go. Luckily, they let me in anyway.

The lake and Central Hall at York University
York is a campus based uni, with a huge shallow lake in the middle. The land was originally swampland that was reclaimed, so the lake had to exist in order for the buildings not to sink! It froze over in the winter, and drunk students would always try to walk on it. There was a campus myth that there was a car in the lake, sunk when someone tried to drive over the ice.

Vanbrugh College
So, rather than waffle on about how awesome university was, I thought I'd just share some snapshots of the stuff I was mainly getting up to when I wasn't studying. I apologise for the poor quality of some of the photographs, they are all old skool 35mm film prints scanned into the computer after years of abuse being pinned to walls.

The Wendy House, Leeds.

Each month the Lunatic Fringe society organised a coach trip to Leeds for the alternative club night at the Wendy House. I've never been big on clubbing, but it was always a fun night out. We'd colonise the balcony in the main room, drink, chat and play with balloons. It was an excuse to goth up a bit.

I've always been a rubbish goth

Another society I was occasionally involved with was the Douglas Adams society. A lot of crossover with the Science Fiction & Fantasy society, but DougSoc were that little bit more random.

Annual Final Battle between Good and Evil

My 21st Birthday
For my 21st, I left the organising of a party in the hands of two of my best friends. They were extremely sneaky, and right up to the day I had no idea of any plans. So much so, that I was going round to everyone saying "they're useless, they haven't organised anything! I have to do it myself, meet me in the pub". A few of them came to the pub, and we had food. Then two of them dashed off to the loo, came back in masks with toy guns and took me hostage. I was blindfolded and led back onto campus, where I was surprised with a fully organised fancy dress party, complete with three cakes. The Sindy doll I am holding here was in one of the cakes, you know the sort, where the cake part is her skirt. They even provided me with a fairy costume!

Graduation Ball
I didn't go to my graduation ball. I went to the one in my first year, though, as my boyfriend-at-the-time graduated that year. The highlight of the evening was a live performance by none other than Right Said Fred. It was awesome. Much better than the live act performing the year I graduated - they really went downhill. The year after Right Said Fred, they got the Vengaboys. My graduation year it was Jamelia. I definitely made the right call!

More about York itself as we get to the end of the alphabet!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

T is for... Tabletop Roleplay!

I expect by now, you're getting a pretty good picture of how geeky I am. This is the sixth post in the A to Z on a nerdy topic...

My love affair with tabletop roleplay began in sixth form, when my boyfriend-at-the-time got me playing Dungeons & Dragons. If ever there was a cliche for characters played in a roleplaying game, my friends and I had them all covered. Every single one of us had a character background that included one or both of our parents having been horribly murdered by some evil creature, and us being driven to hunt them down and seek revenge. So we had an Elven Ranger (me) hunting down a red dragon, a human Paladin hunting down some sort of evil cleric, the half-elven cleric's mum had been killed by orcs and so on. It was very silly, but we had a lot of fun.

I drew this picture of my elven
ranger from that first D&D game

When I went to university, I played a lot more tabletop. Mostly D&D still, but we did have a Vampire game going for a while. I always preferred D&D though. I joined in a game that had been running for years, so I started at 21st level. Everyone else in the party was a multiclassed character, as the game had originated with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (the second edition) where multiclassing was encouraged. But me being me, decided to min-max it and take 21 levels of rogue. My character could steal anything. From anywhere. I had the greatest fun, especially when we got to the very end, the big boss fight with the Big Bad Evil Dude who had been the antagonist for the entire campaign, and I killed him. The rest of the players were a bit put out, as they'd been looking forward to it for years!

And here's a pic of my human rogue
(was in better shape than the
other one when I scanned them in!)
I had a break from tabletop for a number of years, but more recently we've been playing with a group of local friends. We started with Vampire, which was a lot of fun. Then we played Werewolf. We've tried out GURPS, with a game based on Firefly. We've played a bit of D&D, in the Eberron campaign setting. More recently, we've tried out the Amber Diceless Roleplaying System, a game based on the Chronicles of Amber, and we're currently playing a game based in the futuristic setting devised by one of our group for the fiction he's been writing. Future plans include a game of Dark Heresy, which is based on the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and a return to some of the old favourites. Jamie is also keen to run a horror game, the Call of Cthulhu. We rotate who runs the games, so that everyone gets a chance to play. Although, I do not enjoy running games, so as of yet I have not volunteered (nor am I likely to).

Roleplay night is a great way to stay in touch with our friends who live locally, as it makes us make time in our busy schedules to see each other. I get a lot of crafting done too. The only real downside (and even then, it's not really a downside) is that tabletop roleplaying and snacking go hand in hand, so if we are not careful we end up eating far too many crisps, sweets and cake each week!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...