Thursday, 27 May 2010

The Australia Diaries Part 8 - Bright lights, big city...

Whilst it was hard to say goodbye to friends in country Victoria the blow was lessened by a few days acclimatising myself to city living once again with my friends Jan and Geoff who really make me feel like Melbourne is my second home.

I was also lucky enough to meet up with my friend Jacqueline who I met some years ago through the Knitters Review Forum and have been trying but failing to meet up with on my trips ever since. I was sad not to be able to catch up with my friend Rose but that just means that I have to come back soon!.

Jacqueline and I met up at what I am led to believe is a traditional meeting point for Melburnians, under the clocks at Flinders Street Station.

While I was waiting I was reminded by these wonderful shop fronts that I was not in London and that even in the big city, the bush is close to the heart, at least in the imagination of many Australians.

Akubra hats are an Australian icon, traditionally made from rabbit fur felt, something that, thanks to European settlement they have in abundance here.

One of the wonderful things about having friends in unfamiliar cities is that they can show you treasures that you would be very hard pressed to find on your own. On leaving Flinders Street, Jacqueline whisked me away into the unprepossessing entrance of the Nicholas Building on Swanson Street, an elderly but characterful building which turned out to be an absolute treasure house.
First we visited Buttonmania where the very helpful assistant with old fashioned grace pulled out drawer after drawer to find the perfect small brown button for a project that Jacqueline is working on.
Next we visited Kimono House where when running my hands over all the beautiful textiles I regretted my limited sewing skills.
Finally, we found, quite by chance, L'uccello , a newly opened shop selling vintage haberdashery and craft kits where Jacqueline found some gorgeously subtle vintage ribbon for edging a skirt to wear with every girl's winter wardrobe essential - red boots!
Of course, all this retail excitement meant that we were soon ready for lunch so we headed for Federation Square.

The architecture of Federation Square which was finished around five years ago has both its admirers and detractors as it is very contemporary and distinctive. I have to say that I really like it and revisiting it now after seeing it first just after it had been finished it is good to see how people have taken it to their hearts and are using it as a focal point for city life as it was intended to be.
We headed to the Chocolate Buddha for lunch and spent the best part of the afternoon putting the world to rights from the importance of knitting a tension square to the peculiarities of the male of the species.
My last day in Melbourne was full of friendship and relaxed conversation and one of the many reasons that it will always be part of my life.
But, life goes on and I have been home for several weeks now and of course have been knitting tirelessly to help acclimatise to real life. Next time I will share with you some of the things I have been doing and also some of the surely misguided plans I have for the year. Here are a couple of tasters to keep you going.

Socks! No surprises there then....

Sunday, 23 May 2010

The Australia Diaries Part 7 - Ladies who lunch

We're into the last few days of my trip now and it's hard sometimes not to let the shadow of my imminent departure and farewells to dear friends fall over the memories of these moments. On the road again we headed for eastern Victoria near Lakes Entrance to stay with Leon's brother Brian and his wife, Margaret to spend a couple of days while Leon took a woodworking course at the local technical college.

As you can see the location was, once again idyllic although the slightly brown caste you can see in the distance is smoke from the somewhat controversial practice of cool burning which some argue helps to forestall the catastrophic fires that the area has experienced in recent years.

With the right eye, even the silver gull who is a tireless scavenger and an absolute pest if you want to eat fish and chips peacefully by the sea can be appreciated for the beautiful creature that it is.
Margaret took charge of my entertainment while Leon was at college and what a wonderful job she made of it. Visits to the local wool shop, friends and relatives, I was never short of someone to talk to and best of all, a lot of these women are the most talented crafters so I was treated to looking at wonderful examples of their quilting, needlepoint and knitting.
I was also invited to the monthly fund raising lunch at the local parish church. Oh and by the way said Margaret, casually, they'd like you to do the after lunch speech. Splutter... Shall I talk about my knitting? I offered hopefully. Oh no, she said. They like a slightly more meaty subject than that - can you talk about mental health services in the UK. Blimey, I thought - this is getting me back in the swing for work just a couple of days too early.
As it turned out, it was easy to find enough to talk about a service I feel passionate about and the women were warm and interested and asked a lot of very pertinent questions. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, the lunch was excellent - and I think they let me win the raffle...
On the way back, Leon stopped and let me visit one of my favourite wool shops - the Jolly Jumbuck. They sell some of the most beautiful naturally coloured yarns as well as some very nice hand dyed skeins. I'll admit that I did indulge but I can't show you as when I packed up to head back to Melbourne it soon became clear that there was not enough room in my rucksack for everything so as we speak it is wending its way, at exorbitant cost across the seas to Blighty. It really is worth it!

In knitting news I have to admit that even on a road trip, monogamous knitting is not possible. There are times when it is not very sociable to knit a more complicated pattern so I cast on for another Damson, once again in Wollemeise, this time in shades of blue and green as my reserve project. I l=love the way this pattern is shaped, it makes the scarf so easy to wear that I wish I had half a dozen - although right now I will settle for two.

Next time will be my final post from Australia after which I will be telling you abut what I have been knitting these last couple of weeks.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The Australia Diaries Part 6 - on the road again

It only seemed like a couple of days before we were back on the road again, this time to Bendigo, a medium sized town in country Victoria, about a five hour drive from Churinga. The occasion was a weekend of meetings of the Victorian Green Party. I was warmly welcomed as a fellow Green from the UK and wished well in the coming election and then spontaneously invited to stand up and say a few words - into a microphone and everything - I was very glad to get back into my corner and carry on my knitting but it was also lovely to be surrounded by people who are equally concerned and interested in the environment.

I did get some time, however, to slip out and explore the urban environment. Bendigo clearly shows that it was built on prosperity back in the 19th century, prosperity, I understand, largely based on gold mining. There are many imposing buildings designed to showcase this new wealth. I always like to look upwards when I visit a modern town as a lot of the more interesting architecture is above the rather uniform modern shopping street.

Look at this riot of ornamentation high up on a rooftop, largely out of sight.

Leon and I also came across this rather exuberant decorative brickwork along the side of a building.

He has asked me to use the pattern to design him a hat. I think it can be done...

As in any environment, decay stands side by side with new development. I was struck by the way that this ruined building created a confusion between indoors and outdoors. It is clearly considered a rather photogenic location as later in day we came across a wedding party having some photographs done in the 'courtyard' which I imagine was once somebody's home.

Digressing momentarily on the subject of ruins.... Leon and I came across this abandoned house on our travels.

At first glance it looks like one of the fairly common abandoned homes that you come across as you drive around Australia which make you think about what life was like in this country when it was very young and without much in the way of infrastructure and people needed to make their homes with whatever materials came to hand. I am used to seeing the ubiquitous corrugated iron roofs but what made this building so interesting was what had been revealed when the corrugated iron slipped off.

Before the advent of corrugated iron people used to roof their houses with wooden shingles cut from the surrounding trees. Leon tells me that very few examples of these roofs remain in the area and that we were very lucky to see one.

We also managed to have a walk through the park at the centre of Bendigo. Some of the trees are familiar and European . Others aren't. This one looked like a giant monkey puzzle tree.

But just looking at the trunk with all its folds and texture it reminds me of a great elephant's foot.

Just in case you thought that this was no longer a knitting blog there isn't a knitter in Australia who doesn't know what the highlight of any visit to Bendigo is...

Could I leave empty handed? Of course not. On my visit, Lyn had been knitting a baby blanket with some gorgeous, beautifully soft grey yarn. I just had to have some. Here is my skein of Bendigo Luxury 4ply in a colour called Red Earth which is a rich, wholesome brown. It comes in large, satisfying 200g cakes and is quite easy on the purse as well. Whilst not labelled merino it is every bit as soft as many yarns that I have knit with labelled as such.

Of course, I had to cast on straight away so here is my third travel project - the beginnings of a Haruni lace shawl. So far it is knitting up into a warm, substantial shawl.I am finding the pattern easy and straightforward to follow and have decided to add a few repeats to ensure that as a warm shawl it is large enough to swaddle myself in.

In my next post we go back to the Lakes, I find another wool shop and have fun with a church ladies' luncheon club....

Thursday, 13 May 2010

The Australia Diaries Part 5 - 56 jars of chutney

After the excitement of my travels it was lovely to get back to Leon and Cathy's house in the bush and spend a few days indulging in more domestic pursuits. In Australia, April marks the beginning of autumn so we spent time in the garden making sure every last bit of the harvest was gathered in before the cold weather.

Tomato plants were stripped and yielded this rather motley collection of unripe fruit.

Which we turned into this:

Added an eye watering quantity of this:

Cooked them up with herbs and spices and all good things to make this: Green tomato chutney.

56 jars of it!

Apparently, I was a little generous with the chili on the first batch so it isn't for the faint hearted. I relented in subsequent boilings and produced a much less exciting brew which is perfectly safe for children and those of a nervous disposition....
Here is the recipe as best as I can remember it.
Nola's Green Tomato Chutney
6lbs green tomatoes
2lbs onions
1lb sugar
cinnamon, cloves and allspice tied up in muslin bag
3pints white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (more if you dare)
1 cup flour
Boil tomatoes, onions and vinegar (reserving a small amount of vinegar for later) with muslin bag of spices for 20 minutes. Add sugar and boil for another hour. Mix remaining ingredients to a paste with reserved vinegar, stir in until thickened.
Bottle in sterilised jars.
In knitting news I finished the Wandering the Moors Shawl. I really like the way it has turned out. I also had a huge amount of yarn left over. The feel is light and airy with no areas of significant over twist or over plying so it is still obviously hand spun .

Of course, I can never be without knitting in my hand so I will show you my next travel project very soon!

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Australia Diaries Part 4 - I love Sydney!

Do you know what I discovered on this trip? Australia is really, really big. I have travelled from Melbourne to Sydney before but it was only just over an hour in the plane so it felt like no distance at all. As I was already half way up the New South Wales coast we thought it would be a really good idea for me to complete the journey to Sydney by coach. At 6.30am I was standing, bleary eyed at the coach stop in Merimbula. At 4.00 pm I emerged, equally bleary eyed to be met by my blogging friend Lyn of Shades of Grey fame. We had already met up in London where Lyn very kindly offered her hospitality and the chance to come to love Sydney as my only previous experience had been work and rain soaked!

Lyn lives in Redfern, a diverse and colourful inner city suburb in an apartment that mine wants to be when it grows up, surrounded by books, beautiful and interesting objects, comfy sofas and the evidence of a lively, intelligent and creative mind.

No sooner had I put my bags down and she had whisked me off to a ballet at the opera house. Yes, the Sydney Opera House, most iconic of iconic buildings and I've been inside it! I have to admit that I was very excited.There are few urban views more spectacular than Sydney harbour with its bridge and opera house and ferries buzzing backwards and forwards. I was well and truly smitten.

The next couple of days were a whirl of good food, good company and knitters! On Saturday we went to a meeting of the Inner City branch of the Knitters Guild which was inspiring to me on many levels. Firstly, the number and variety of ages and skill levels of the knitters gathered in a small room at the central library. Secondly, the way that it was skillfully run with a very light but firm touch. There was a brief amount of business, an interesting and accessible tutorial, a very inclusive show and tell and of course tea and cakes! It certainly made me reflect on the UK Knitting and Crochet Guild and how much more vibrant and relevant this group feels to the organisation we currently have here which, to the general member feels very inward looking currently.

The other highlight of the trip was an invitation to Rose Red's baby shower. It was so lovely to be surrounded by warm, friendly knitters that I have known through their blogs for some time now and can at last put faces to the names. Of course there were so many people there my head was a bit of a whirl but it was particularly good to meet Miss Fee, DrK, and Bells knits as well as Rose Red and her impending arrival.

As a tribute to these lovely knitters who made me so welcome I wanted to find a way to show them to you on the blog without embarrassment as I know that not everybody likes to have their face on the Internet so, with their kind permission I have some images of knitters with their knitting.

People may recognise themselves....

And of course, the reason why I needed to abandon work on my shawl and do some speed knitting becomes obvious.

Little red socks for the new arrival.

I have just heard that baby Connor arrived safe and well on Mother's Day. Health and happiness always to all of you.
And thank you, knitters of Sydney, and especially Lyn for making it possible for me to say 'I love Sydney!'

Friday, 7 May 2010

The Australia Diaries Part 3 - Walking on the Moon

One of the things that I love about Australia is the opportunity to be out in some of the most beautiful landscape which, in the crowded islands that I live in would be overrun with walkers and bikers. Here, it is possible to feel that it is just you, the trees and the birds.

It is six years since I was in this part of the country and one of the places that lingered in my memory is Moon Bay, in the Mimosa National Park. The walk down to the beach is a steep but cool path down through woodland.

I do love that even the shrubs are unusual and interesting - like these mock oranges.

The trees in this area are Spotted Gums. Their bark puts me in mind of London Planes who survive the pollution of the city by shedding their bark in small pieces. I love the texture and pattern in this bark.

As you can see, Moon Bay is the most perfect crescent of sand with gently breaking waves and blue, blue sea - almost deserted apart from Leon and I. We were fortunate to be able to watch sea eagles returning to their nest in the cliffs and just to sit and listen to the waves breaking on the shore without any evidence of the presence of other human beings. Sometimes when I am weaving my way through the crowds at Bank underground station I find myself mentally walking along Moon Bay - I wonder where every other commuter has gone in their mind...

On this, our last day in the area we decided to go to Merimbula to take a dolphin watching trip. Can you see any dolphins?

No, nor could I.
Despite this disappointment, being out on this sapphire blue sea was wonderful and we had the opportunity to watch gannets diving for fish and to see the coastline from a completely different perspective.

Next morning we had to get up at stupid o'clock and go our separate ways - me on a coach going north and Leon heading back south.
Breakfast at Bateman Bay was an unexpected pleasure.

In knitting matters my Wandering the Moors shawl was growing well and I had reached the lace edging.

However, next time I will tell you how I needed to temporarily abandon this project and indulge in a little speed knitting and what else I did on a visit to a fellow knitter in Sydney.

Monday, 3 May 2010

The Australia Diaries Part 2 - In which I disturb the wildlife

One of the things that makes Australia so fascinating is the wildlife. Being isolated from the rest of the world for so many tens of thousands of years, there are species of animals here that really have few parallels anywhere else in the world. One of the most iconic of these has to be the kangaroo.

During the first week of my stay Leon and I spent a few days at Tathra, a beautiful seaside town on the New South Wales Coast. Early on the first morning of our stay, Leon asked 'Want to see some kangaroos?' Of course! I grabbed my camera and we set off.

I was a little baffled when I found myself on the fairway of the local golf course. Most of my friends will at this point be sniggering as they know my loathing for golf but apparently, golf courses are a prime location for spotting kangaroos - all that short, tasty grass apparently.

I wasn't to be disappointed - basking luxuriously in the sun was this female and her joey.

Now I have a new camera with a short zoom lens which as you can see does not really get you up close and personal with skittish wildlife so I thought I would just keep moving forward quietly and see how close I could get. Here are the results of my efforts.

I think I've been spotted.

What's going on?

The joey decided I was a bit too close at this point and hopped off into the undergrowth.
What do you want?

Oh do go away!

I think I need to invest in a longer lens as I would much prefer not to disturb animals in order to get a decent photograph.
In knitting news, the shawl that I decided to make is Wandering the Moor by Celeste Glassel whose design was inspired by Diana Rivers' shawl in the latest BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre. It is mainly stocking stitch with a lace border so I thought it would show this yarn to its best advantage. The rows get longer as the shawl progresses so the breadth of the colour repeats should start to get thinner and blend into the background by the tame I reach the lace edge.

That's the theory anyway...