Tuesday 30 January 2018

Dark Nights, Extreme Knitting and 'Dumb' Phones.

It's not true, I tell you! Lovely sunny place!
I'd not realised that anyone kept such statistics but a recent edition of the Irish Times noted an article by Euro weather experts which says that "Northwest Europe is suffering one of its darkest winters since records began due to a seemingly never-ending series of low pressure systems shrouding us in cloud since late November" I can quite believe it. We are more familiar with stats on how many hours of sunshine places, especially resorts, get and this may just be the flip side of that coin. "If you live in Brussels, 10 hours and 31 minutes was your lot (of sunshine) for the entire month of December. The all but benighted inhabitants of Lille in France got just two hours, 42 minutes through the first half of January" (it says).

We got this one lovely sunny day Monday 29th. 
"Things weren’t too bright in Ireland either. (it goes on) Met √Čireann reported below average overall levels of sunshine throughout December.
The lowest total, just over 20 hours, was recorded at Valentia in Co Kerry while the highest total was 59 hours at Dublin Airport.
Monthly sunshine totals in other measurement stations ranged from 24.5 hours at Knock Airport in Co Mayo to just under 54 hours at Shannon Airport in Co Clare."

Preparing our own suet for the next
pie crust.
As I said, I can believe it and it may explain the dip in egg-laying felt by us and by all the chicken keepers I have heard from. Everybody experienced the 'drought' through December and January. Our geese would normally come back into lay in November and have yet to produce an egg this winter at all. We have nearly 'done' January. In other time of year news, incidentally, I wonder did you spot the unusual timings of the full moons at the start of this year - we have Jan 1st and Jan 31st, then March 1st and March 31st, so 2 'Blue' moons (2nd one in a calendar month) but no full moon at all in February.

A rather superb pie. A suet crust around a filling of (our own)
sausage meat, black pudding, leeks and apples.
At the weekend we re-started archery after a break of several weeks when either the hall, or too many archers were not available. My good friend Paul Fox and I spent the session just messing around on the unofficial targets - shooting at plastic rings from milk bottle tops which were pegged to the foam butt with golf tees, or playing '301' on a big dart board. 

Some fancy knitting going on here but will you have enough
wool for the sleeves? Knitting close to the edge.
For those unfamiliar with this pub game, you throw darts to try to score points to count you down from 301 to zero, making full use of the doubles and trebles on the board but with a little evil twist in the tail that you must finish on a double. I played plenty of this as a student and, although I was OK at the dart throwing, I was appallingly bad at the 'backwards' maths you needed to do in a hurry to get to a good finish. 73 left to get? OK - hit the 13 to bring you down to 60, then get a 20 and a double 20. Job done. I was so slow that I'd have been OK if they'd allowed me to bring in a pencil and paper and sit down somewhere quiet to do the sums, but that is not really on in a fast-moving shoot-out between a load of 'bevvied up' (This was Lancaster University, so I'm allowed a Northern expression!) lads, quaffing pints and wanting you to "Get on with it!" If I missed (in this case) the 13 and got, say, the 10 just next door, I was lost about what to do next to still finish (maybe a treble?) All that bad memory came back to me as I shot off the arrows but Paul coped and we took our time planning each other's finishes while the rest of the archers shot out the round.

A stressful and not very happy start to learning the skill of
"lace knitting" 
I was still chuckling as I arrived home and found Liz knitting, but (as I was to discover) not ordinary knitting. I told her my story of being rubbish at the maths and looked up at her to see a broad grin settling on her face. "Funny you should say that!", she said. Uh-Oh! She'd been knitting up to that point a complicated blue/green Aran number using up a gift of some left over wool and frightening herself as she knitted up the back panel with how quickly the wool was running out relative to how much she'd need to do the sleeves. She was keeping every morsel and off cut for the sewing up stage. 

It was all a bit stressful and at one stage the only answer to a premature run-out was to "rip back" the back and start again narrower. The jumper is cabled in front but has a plain back. Knitters will know that a cabled panel will come out narrower than a plain if you start by casting on as many stitches. Liz was looking at a good 3" of spare width across the back, so knew that if she ripped it back she could use the freed up wool to do those sleeves. We named it 'extreme' knitting. She just about got away with it, using the absolute last feet of wool to do the sewing up, often having to join 2 lengths to complete a seam. 

You might think that that was enough knitting stress, yes? Maybe go and do a nice simple scarf next? Oh No. Our knitter has always wanted to be able to make those fancy, intricate, light weight shawls done in "lacework knit". Grabbing a ball or two of light pink yarn, she sat down with a YouTube video and 15 re-starts later was hailing a successful fifth row (of about 79 before pattern repeat. But the mathematical ability was on a par with my darts-tactic sums, and every row involved such focused and intricate counting that the whole job soon became a pain rather than a pleasure. She threw in the towel and ripped it all back, determined to try something similar but less complicated. We had a day of that but our stressed out knitter admitted defeat again and is now calmly succeeding in a shawl/scarf thing which is one stage simpler again. None of this 79 row pattern repeat for the moment.

Works for me, and I bought this as a
"button phone" but it is now, allegedly a
"dumb phone"
Lastly, I was amused to find that I am once more at the cutting edge of fashion. How so? By owning no smart-phone but instead an old fashioned Samsung (or Nokia) button-phone. I killed my last one by drowning it (accidentally, of course) and went off to buy a replacement at Car-phone Warehouse, delighted to find that are they only €28, as opposed to €2-3-400 or more for a fancy, big screen smart-phone. The sales folk call them rather disparagingly a "button phone" to distinguish them from the touch screen, glass fronted smart phones. 

Well, apparently, I hear today, that there is now a big movement by people to put down their smart phones because they feel trapped in a world of Twitter and Facebook where every move you make, every plate of food you eat has to be photo'd and fired off onto the Internet for all your 'friends' and followers. The first thing you do when you get off a bus or arrive in a room is to check your (news) 'feed' rather than actually greet the real people you have just arrived in front of. People are so horrified at their addiction and enslavement to this virtual world that they are taking 'de-tox' breaks or 'digital holidays', going cold turkey and even putting down their smart phone and going about only with.... you guessed it, a button phone costing only €28. They can't see the Internet with one, and can only text or phone each other. 

I have to admit, I am here, all fashionable again, just by chance. I could never get on with the smart phones since I got a useful tip from our fencing contractor. He said he'd gone back to button phones because of working mainly outside and physically. He told me that he was often moving about between paddocks and through gates with both hands full and his phone in his pocket. He'd go to nudge the gate open with his hip and hear the crunch of another 'big screen' breaking up. Yes, you can buy a toughened glass protector (Gorilla glass) but a good fence-post nudge would break the thing anyway so, no, he'd given up. He'd leave the smart phones to the neat office workers with less physical lives. I was offered phones, of course, hand-me-down style but my other problem with them was battery life. They only seemed to be able to hold charge for half a day before you needed to put them back indoors, connected to the mains. My button phone will happily go 2 weeks before it needs re-charging. Liz spends a good part of her Internet time standing by the plug socket, connected to the wall by a wire. No good to me. So, I'll stick to my 'dumb' phone (as opposed to 'smart', I guess) - if you need me just call or text. The device is unlikely to be broken or have a flat battery. Talk to you again soon.

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