Monday, October 16, 2017

So used to laughing at the things in my heart

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After our lovely evening introduction we woke up with one long day to spend getting to know Islay.

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And we managed to see quite a lot of it, more than I had expected. This is Kilarrow Parish Church in Bowmore, unusual for its completely round shape.

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Our first distillery was the mighty Laphroaig.

Driver's dram

In the visitor's centre we were greeted and offered a free dram each. I declined with a sad face, saying "I'm the driver," and the bar server produced this with a flourish. The driver's dram, to take away and drink later. Happy day!

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Sure, this historically important bottle is not at all drinkable, but maybe wipe out the display case? Ew.


No such luck at Lagavulin, where K scored my free drink instead.    P8210354 (2)

We also stopped at Ardbeg, which had a very impressive forecourt. (No free dram though.)

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This celtic knot design is not painted on - it's actually made with white and black/grey stones. The skull sculpture below, I can't explain. There was also a large copper still displayed outside, which made a bit more sense.

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We went through Port Ellen twice, on the way to and from the distilleries.

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St John's Church, Port Ellen. I didn't nail the kind of shot I wanted but there was something appealing and fascinating about this blocky brown church.

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A good chunk of our time in Islay was spent driving on single-lane roads, which we shared with sheep at times (just go slow, eventually honk the horn and they get out of the way). We stopped often to admire the views or the coo.

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After lunch we cruised quickly past another distillery, Bruichladdich. And later in the day we wound up visiting one more, Kilchoman. Here they had a malting floor you could peer into, which was interesting. The particularly malty smells are different at each distillery too. I thought we might visit one or two distilleries in our whole trip and not bother with many more. But they are all over the place and it was easy to make a quick stop and kind of fun to collect them. (I didn't have the luggage space to collect too many bottles though). There are still four or so Islay ones we didn't go to.


But the highlight in the Kilchoman area was the church. These colours in the stone and the surrounding landscape make me feel such good feelings. (See also the top photo in this post).

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It was a great day and we managed to get around most of the island, down to the Mull of Oa and over to Port Charlotte as well. Of course there was more we could have done with more planning/time - we took a long drive to the carpark and then didn't actually go for the walk to the American Monument at Oa. We also drove around quite a while looking for and failing to find the Ballinaby standing stone. I didn't really mind in either case though as there was so much beautiful country to enjoy, sheep to dodge and cows to photograph.


Finally we went back to the very comfortable Ballygrant Inn for the evening and enjoyed the good cooking and impressively-stocked bar, as well as the two dogs and a three-legged cat who liked to keep the guests company. I spilled a little bit of whiskey on my knitting. Only a little bit, thankfully I didn't waste too much. (Nevermind the knitting, it was perfectly washable). This was more or less the end of our Islay visit as planned to take the 7am ferry back to the mainland the next morning, because we needed to get to Skye by the following evening.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Heart beats like tomorrow

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Islay cow

K and I recently travelled to the UK for around four weeks. We decided to spend the biggest chunk of time in Scotland. In part we were inspired by Iain Banks We didn't feel the need to obsessively search for the 'perfect dram', but we do like a dram all right and the idea of driving around Scotland sounded like great fun. My love for Scottish folk music was also a factor, and I had a Scottish great-grandfather so there was that connection to explore too.


After a couple of nights in London we took the train to Glasgow, and spent a lot of the afternoon and evening walking around trying to stay awake. We also had a great vegan meal at the Hug and Pint and then also struggled to stay awake for most of a gig downstairs there. Don't know if I've just forgotten, but I don't remember struggling with arrival jet lag like that on previous trips. However, with a nine-hour time difference (on top of a 25 hr journey with not enough sleep), it's hardly surprising.

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Glasgow, Gallery of Modern Art

The next morning we collected our rental car and headed first west and then south, for the island of Islay. I was a little bit nervous that on my first day of driving I would still be falling asleep at the wrong time of day, but we seemed finally, after two days and a night in the UK, to be operating in the right time zone. We had a ferry to catch but also wanted to see as much as we could on the way, so we had a few short stops...

At Tarbet, for a squizz at Loch Lomond. First of many beautiful lochs.

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Inverary, which a big group of motorcyclists were also breaking their journey.

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Still Inverary
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A really large window

Finally we reached the ferry terminal at Kennacraig, secured a spot in the queue of cars and trucks, and watched the ferry approach. I was a bit apprehensive about driving into that gaping maw, especially manoeuvring an unfamiliar vehicle. To be honest I was also a bit apprehensive about the journey itself, not being so big on boats and the open sea. It turned out to be no big deal on either count. It was a very smooth crossing, and the sun came out during the two hour trip.


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The neighbouring isle of Jura, seen from the ferry.

It was a gorgeous evening and so nice to have light later at night, having come from the short days of winter at home. So even though we arrived on Islay in the late afternoon, after we checked in to our accomodation in Ballygrant we went out to have a look at nearby Finlaggan.

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Crossing to Eilean Mòr


The visitor centre was closed but we were able to walk the bridge out to the main island, where the only other occupants were the midges.



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Eilean na Comhairle (council isle) 



It was a fascinating place to explore, and with the perfect weather, a beautiful introduction to Islay.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

I want to tell you something you've known all along

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Back in February of this year I went to Tasmania to visit family, and I took a few of these hand towels as presents. My aunt, who has a private chef business, liked hers. We started talking about how when she is working (cooking, sometimes for lots of people) she has to wash her hands a lot and usually has a hand towel slung over her shoulder.

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She thought perhaps a small towel to hang at waist level might be handy. So I had a go at it - using face washers and a bit of a crochet topper to allow it to hang from an apron string or belt/belt loop. I guess these are a prototype as they haven't been tested yet.

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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Do you cringe a bit, now and again

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Mum's Christmas socks. She has finally received them, late in May.

They started out as perfectly nice cream cabled socks in soft Patonyle. Just a basic toe-up method, improvised design.

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I had chosen cream with dyeing in mind, but I did really like the way they looked undyed so asked Mum to choose. She threw caution to the wind and said go ahead and dye them!

Even so, I started out careful and subtle.

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After my previous experiment with dyed effects on knitted fabric, I said I was going to try applying the dye to the wrong side. That's why these are inside out in these photos. Oh and damp, so the powdered dye starts to take and spread a little even before they are rolled up in the jar and more water added.

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I can't really remember what they looked like after this step - it was ages ago and I didn't take photos, but in any case, I wasn't satisfied. I know I did something much bolder in the next round, with 'wine' coloured dye. And when I was done they looked like socks someone had bled onto, a lot!! I think then I did a soak in run remover to tone them down. After that I still wasn't happy and I left them to have a think about themselves for several weeks. Finally I decided I had to do something and so I made up a small dyebath and  'painted' stripes (using an old toothbrush!) onto the cabled sections, to try to make the whole thing look more coherant and deliberate.

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Now I don't know what to think. Overall I don't think this direction is turning out to be very fruitful, but no regrets about trying.

I do still like the surprise bits of other colours you get - see those messy unprofessional blue dots below.

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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Put my clarinet beneath your bed til I get back in town

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Mavis Staples

This Easter we went to Bluesfest in Byron Bay, for the first time. This meant I had to miss out on the National Folk Festival here at home (literally walking distance from home), which was actually a tough decision. I've gone on here before about how I love the National. Plus this year would have been the first since I've been learning to play fiddle and I knew there would be lots of inspiration to be found.


Bluesfest is a massive, legendary event that has been running for almost 30 years. It attracts a lot of very big acts. I'd always thought maybe I'd check it out one day. The inspiration finally came when I heard that Patti Smith would be there. She was announced for Bluesfest long before any of her separate shows were announced, so we decided to just go for it. And if we were going to travel so far, we were going to do the whole thing - five days! At that stage Neil Young was supposed to be coming too...he pulled out after we bought our tickets, which was disappointing, but not a deal breaker.

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Patti Smith

The whole time I was there, I couldn't help making comparisons between Bluesfest and other festivals I've been to. Overall it felt like quite deliberately focused on the music, not much else. The site felt plain and undecorated. The five stages are all in huge tents with some small national flags on top of these. Nice, but nothing like the large, gorgeous flags by Angus Watt which decorate the Womadelaide site. Both the folk festival and Womad also always include various community art projects and exhibits, art and craft demonstrations, and roving theatre/clowning performances. Bluesfest did have some art projects going on and a weaving workshop, but there really seemed to be little emphasis on this side of things.

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Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson. Plus someone's phone.

People also seemed to be mostly more straight in the way they were dressed - not really a lot of 'hippie' looks in spite of the location (Byron Bay is still holding out against McDonalds, KFC and fluoride in the water, and the broader region attracts a lot of alternative culture/communities.) At the festival I only saw a few groups in costumes, including a group of four men with disco costumes with mirrorball helmets.

Another group had costumes that included cheap native American style headdresses. I had seen them earlier in the day boarding the bus. They bounced, Tigger-like, as a group down to the front of the crowd late in Irish Mythen's set (a thing such groups do to call attention to themselves) and this didn't go unnoticed: she called them out for cultural appropriation - "That's not cool guys!"

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Irish Mythen - incredible voice and stage presence.

I saw a couple of cellos and couple of fiddles, but this more than anything else, this was the festival of the guitar. (But also Roy Ayers' electric vibraphone - woo!)
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Roy Ayers

Roy Ayers

On Friday, and especially Saturday and Sunday, there were SO. MANY. PEOPLE. Trying to filter in or out of the main venues between popular acts was extremely crowded and quite unpleasant. The organisers need to make some better crowd management arrangements because there were a few points where it felt like any kind of panic could have lead to a dangerous crush. There were also times when it was really difficult to walk into/around one of the big tents because so many people had parked their chairs outside to watch the big screens - then once you got inside there were relatively few people actually in front of the stage. In spite of the crowds, the queues for food and toilets and even for beer never seemed to be really bad.

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I did some knitting - of course - at various times and had some nice interactions with a couple of people about it. Also one weird/annoying one (Are you knitting? Yes. Why?? Um, I like it?) The odd thing is I didn't spot a single other knitter in the whole five days at that big festival, whereas I would always spot a few knitters or crocheters at the National or Womadelaide.
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Tenzin Choegyal

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Billy Bragg and Joe Henry - bloody good separately and together.

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I'll always take an opportunity to see Jeff Lang. Incredible guitarist. And the drummer here is smacking a cardboard box. (He did have a kit too).

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Melody Angel. A fantastic discovery. Incredible rock guitarist and singer. Bluesfest did well with including a decent proportion of women-lead acts, but there was still a much greater proportion of male musicians overall across all bands. So I'm always looking for the women wielding instruments, especially when they own it completely like Melody did.

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Round Mountain Girls. No girls in the band though.