Archive for November, 2011

November 20, 2011

croc & choc

It was my brother Rick’s birthday yesterday, and once again I found myself in the same impoverished state that produced my other brother’s birthday present last month.

Unlike Andy, and everyone else in the family, Rick is a clutter-hating utilitarian, so I had to make him a gift that was functional. However, Rick is a highly competent adult, and thus has already equipped himself with all the functional objects he might need. Hence he is utterly infernal to find presents for, but he’s a very good egg which means I still want to give him birthday presents.

The problem: what to give the man who has everything he wants/needs, throws out anything he doesn’t, and who, incidentally, lives in a chilly house?

The solution:


Materials: green fabric from my sister-in-law’s late mother’s huge stash of upholstery textiles (the leaf print looked suitably suggestive of scales); scrap of red needlecord for the mouth; white felt teeth; stuffed with rags and half a disembowelled cushion. I sewed pintucks along the back, for the crocodile’s armoured ridges.

Grrrr, terrifying. Of course, my little niecephews immediately grabbed it and started thwacking each other.

Now my mum wants a draught-excluder for Christmas. What sort of beast should I make for her?

Here’s the other birthday thing I made for my brother:


Interior: chocolate sponge, coffee buttercream. Exterior: Toblerone frosting.

November 17, 2011

Twilight tour of Forks

In celebration of the release of Twilight IVa: She Bangs, He Fangs, I thought I’d take you on a little tour of the real-life Forks, Washington. Yes, I have been there! Not because I am a big crazy Twilight fan, heaven forfend (acting with too much sighing in it is a pet peeve of mine), although I admit I have seen the second film in the series: last year we stayed the night in a hotel with an in-house cinema, and when you’re staying in a hotel with an in-house cinema, you have to go to see the film, even if it’s a neutered borefest like New Moon. Mercifully the cinema had free wifi and an on-site brewery, otherwise I never would have made it to the end credits.

Anyway, Forks. My husband and I visited the town a few months ago on our honeymoon roadtrip, when we were driving around the Olympic Peninsula. Rainforests, mountains and lakes proliferate, but towns do not, so if you want to eat lunch, your choice is either chewing some moss off a treetrunk, or stopping off at Forks.

It’s a tiny town, only a few blocks in each direction, so I don’t know how Edward Cullen would have stuck it out there for so many decades without going round the bend. The town is looking a little shabby; it’s too remote to be able to capitalise on the Twilight connection like New York did with all the Sex and the City tours. However, that doesn’t stop Forks from doing its best. Even the hardware store managed to shoehorn a bit of Twilight into its window display.

So come with me
and you’ll be
in a world of pure imaginationTwilight shit. Viz:

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November 7, 2011

the mind Boggles

People often ask me what is my greatest crafting feat. Here’s how it came about.

A few years ago, I lived very near to my friend Josie and we were both underemployed. As a result, we watched a lot of ANTM, and we played a LOT of Boggle.

At the height of our obsession, we decided we had to share the joy and play boggle onstage with the audience at comedy gigs. We used to draw the grid on a flipchart, which was neither large enough for most of the audience to be able to read, nor showy enough for a gig. Bigger, we had to think bigger!

My mind was tickled by the engineering puzzle of how to expand the Boggle set, but make it easily portable so we could take it to gigs. Plus, I had to keep costs to a minimum.

So having expended about £25 on Primark bedsheets, iron-on fabric stiffener and acrylic paint, followed by a very tedious afternoon or two of construction, I became the proud inventor of the World’s First* Fully Collapsible Giant Inflatable Boggle Set.

*I haven’t confirmed this, but nobody has told me otherwise.

I’ve made some improvements to it since, so that all the blocks tie together at each corner and it lies flat; but my favourite picture of it in action is this one, from its first ever outing:

That was taken at the inaugural Latitude Festival in 2006. Martin White and Matthew Crosby are sportingly holding it up so the audience could see.

The pieces are each about 14 inches cubed, and I replicated the distribution of letters from my real, normal-sized Boggle set, for maximum accuracy. Inside each cube is one of those toy punch-bag balloons from the Pound Shop, and when those are deflated the whole set packs into a shopping bag.

Despite having cracked the issue of the Boggle set, the audience participation Boggle never really worked very well. However, the giant Boggle set still comes in handy sometimes, eg for leaving subtle messages around the place.

November 2, 2011



The above carrier bag, which held a jacket I bought on Sunday, summarises a debate about vintage I’ve been having with myself for quite some time.

I wear a lot of “vintage clothes”, which, lest you are confused, means clothes that are old, rather than clothes made of wine. My colossal inner pedant has never been happy with the term, although it doesn’t have a problem with “vintage cars”, probably because I have absolutely no opinion whatsoever on vintage cars (which, lest you are confused, means cars that are old, not cars made of wine, etc etc).

I understand why “vintage” entered the fashion lexicon, to denote valuable, not-old-enough-to-count-as-antique garments, and distinguish them from “second-hand”, ie clothes that were too shit for somebody else to hang on to. Now, although vintage still commands greater prices than second-hand, it is sweepingly used to describe any clothes that have no qualification beyond having previously graced a human body. Browsing on eBay, I come across “vintage” items which are 3-month-old Topshop, which is hardly akin to stumbling upon a well-preserved Horrocks dress. I’m now old enough to find clothes in vintage shops that I remember from the first time round, and not because I spent any time shopping at Dior or Madame Grès over the past century, but because they’re from H&M and even Primark!

So many liberties have been taken with it that I feel the already unmotivated “vintage” has been stripped of relevant meaning, and have reverted to using “second-hand” although I feel it smacks of inverse snobbery. So, friends, help me out: what do you think would be a better term?

My granny, who used to volunteer at her village’s thrift shop (thanks to which we had a dressing-up box full of dinner suits in improbable sizes – massive waist with stumpy legs, tall and skinny with short arms, etc), deployed the euphemism “pre-owned”. This, I now realise, would also cover stolen goods, so I begin wonder whether granny’s thrift shop was really a front for the shady industries of the North Hertfordshire criminal underworld.