Wednesday, December 31, 2008

In Retrospect: 2008 in wool (and other fibres)

To whit:

31 (ish) pairs of socks, 14 of which were for me - I promise you I never run out of socks
17 Lizard Ridge Squares (still a work in progress)
9 mystery diamonds - which turned into a baby blanket for a friend
7 baby surprise jackets
6 hats
4 tops for me
3 tiny wee socks
2 pairs of mittens
2 dishcloths
1 baby Crocus cardigan
1 entire baby's layette
1 jacket designed from scratch
1 shawl
1 scarf

It's like a really wonky version of the 12 days of Christmas.

Most of the knitting has been showcased on the blog at some point or other. A late arrival, knit in the middle of frantic Christmas knitting and finished on 21 December was the wonderful Unoriginal Hat:

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There may be no such thing as a new idea but this is a very good not-new idea. Anything knit on 7mm needles is never going to take too long and this was no exception. The yarn is Arucania Limari and I used a skein and a smidge.

Unlike my mermaid hat which is largely for show, this hat keeps your head warm and your ears toasty and I love it. It even got positive comments from a non-knitting new acquaintance which suggests that either (a) it is a good hat or (b) she is open to being introduced to the ways of the wool. Clearly whilst the hat is good, the answer is (b). Poor girl, she won't know what hit her.

The biggest hit of the year for me has got to be my Icarus shawl - I have worn it almost to death, certainly it is starting to need a re-block, but I need to wait until I finish something else that can be shawl and scarf and comforter all in one. I wear that shawl tucked up on the sofa, as my scarf on frosty mornings and at work to protect against the chill creeping round the window frames. In the summer it was the perfect early evening cover up - small enough to squash into a handbag.

In terms of knits that were given away, I like the Quarterpint cardigan jacket that I designed and knit for Mum and I think she does too. Of the 61 new projects finished (or mostly finished) this year, 35 have been gifts, so this has clearly been the year for knitting for friends and family, whether I realised it or not. If you get the right victims, knitting for family and friends is great (if I ever needed proof I just watch my husband showing off his hand knit socks) but hopefully next year there will be a few fewer babies to knit for, and a little more time to knit some bigger projects for me.

Having said all of that there's also quilting and spinning and .... and... life is good but it doesn't get any less busy.

Now then, before I can say "Roll on 2009", I have a sock and a half to knit to complete the Christmas knitting - anyone think I can do it by midnight?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

30 Years ago today

In a cold and snowy corner of England ...
My parents tied the knot:

Happy Pearl Wedding Anniversary - we'll be thinking happy thoughts for you today, and watch out for a few little surprises!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Underneath the purple rain

Did I mention that my Sister-in-law likes purple? Just a little bit? Just a tiny touch?

She likes purple. Things that come in purple tend to meet with approval. She is also a most enthusiastic recipient of knitwear, hence the mittens, and that's why, when I went digging in the stash before Christmas and found a skein of Jitterbug that spoke of purple I knew it was meant for her.

I wanted a pattern that wasn't too complicated to overshadow the colours of the Jitterbug, but wasn't just another plain pair of socks and rooting about on Ravelry I found the Anastasia Socks.

And here they are:
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The Jitterbug colour is Florentina (incidentally it's the same as the silk Tao in one of my hats, and on both occasions, H picked out the colour, it's a pity it's just too far on the girly side for him) and the socks are knit toe up which helps to use as much of the Jitterbug as possible, it not being overly generous in the yardage.

I knit the swirls going in opposite directions as suggested in the pattern but I changed the ribbing at the top. If you start ribbing at the point where the spiral is about to start, work (k1, p1, k1, p1, k1, p2, k2, p2, k2, p2) x 4; the single ribbing should line up with the purl stitches over the yarn overs and it gives a nice flow from the leg to the ribbing.

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In purple, more is more, is more, is more, and purple socks and mittens require just a little more purple!

Back in August when H and I went to the Quilt festival at the NEC we found some wonderful batik prints and panels from the African Fabric Shop, including two elephants on a lilac background and a deep royal purple covered with littler elephants. It is not uncharacteristic of my tendencies towards prevarication that I waited until yesterday to turn the fabric into the intended bag. My story is that I needed to go shopping for the handles and I'm sticking to it.

The pattern as such was rather made up on the fly, governed entirely by how much fabric I had, and I used most of it. I started with half a yard of backing fabric and the two panels that were about 8"x6.5".

I cut two 12 1/2 inch squares from the background fabric to be the lining and then played around with the offcuts to make borders for the elephant panels:

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One has short stubby side borders (2.5"x6.5") and then long thinner top and bottom borders (12.5" x 2" and 12.5" x 4.5") and the other has short top and bottom borders and long thin side borders. It's whatever works while making sure that the elephants all stay facing upwards.

The two outer panels turned out to be more like 12"x12 1/2" so I trimmed the lining panels to fit and then sewed up the sides and bottom of each 'set'.

For the gusset I lined up the seam on the base with the side seam which gives a triangular 'pinch' on the corner, then I marked an inch in from the corner and sewed across it. It makes the bag sit a bit more easily.

The handles are a massive amount of purple spotty ribbon - for each handle I sewed two lengths together, wrong sides facing, down each edge to make it nice and strong and spotty both sides but it would work equally well with just one length of ribbon.

To make the whole thing into a bag I put the lining bag inside the panel bag, folded the raw top edges to the wrong side in between the two layers and pinned it together. The handles simply tuck in between the two layers as well and the whole thing is kept together with two rounds of top stitching (using a walking foot to stop it puckering).December 138

Magic - and the best thing is that it's totally reversible:

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Sizewize it wouldn't fit an entire A4 book, and it hangs to hip height, but it would fit a small to medium sized knitting project, or as the case may be:
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A pair of mittens and

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A pair of socks!

I might have to see what other fabric is lying around in the stash!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Moveable Goalposts

As of this morning, or possibly this lunchtime, I have finished the Christmas knitting that is required for Monday when we see one half of the family. Yippee!

To finish, by New Year's Day I need:

- 1 pair of plain socks
- 1 patterned sock
- the cuff of a patterned sock

.. and that's it. Totally do-able. I hope!

Today's output included a pair of Heathery Morning Mittens for my SIL in Scotland:
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I had started these a little while ago, and finished incarnation one of mitten one last night when I needed the DPNs for something else. The original version had caused the yarn to pool really badly so I was knitting alternate rounds from each end of the ball to break it up. Incidentally that technique could win prizes for things most likely to break the knitter.

Only when I was finished did I realise that it was missing a pattern repeat on the width and was going to be too small. Ribbit, ribbit, ribbit.

Happily as you see, the proper pattern gives not unpleasant swirls, and knit up in no time.

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The patterns is the Maine Morning Mitts from Clara Parkes' Knitters Book of Yarn and the yarn is Manos del Uruguay Classic Wool. I think the colour might be 7306 but I've no idea where I put the ball band. It came from K1 in Edinburgh though - Lulla choose it having admired and hankered after H's mittens so now she has some too. They will match her coat and hat very nicely as purple is rather her colour.

Just wait until she sees her socks!

PS - Mickey and Minnie are this year's holiday Christmas Decoration to add to the tree; it's a china ornament and rather cute, if a little heavy. We're just impressed that we got it home intact.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Somewhere in my youth or childhood ...

... I must have done something good

MERRY CHRISTMAS to all and to those whom you love!

We have had a peaceful and magical Christmas, only slightly tempered by the lousy cold that started work on H as soon as it had finished punching me into a paper bag. H was well on Tuesday and Wednesday morning, so he did the food shopping and the last minute bits and bobs but spent Christmas Day wrapped up in a duvet while I was on the mend and cooking Christmas dinner. It was delicious if I say so myself:
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We have yet to eat Christmas pudding (and yes I do know that it's Boxing Day evening!).

The Christmas knitting required for Christmas Day itself was finished in time and greatly welcomed. Our friend A called us after church full of delight at his scarf and reported great admiration and envy from the rest of his family, all of whom apparently remarked on how well the muted colours suited A. Noro, take a bow - the colours were really nothing to do with me, I always look at the outside of the ball and take a flying leap of faith as to how they will turn out in a scarf!

H, being my one true fan when it comes to handknitted socks, has already worn both pairs of socks in rotation because he couldn't decide which ones he liked best. Our contenders:
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Spey Valley, from Nancy Bush's Knitting on the Road in Misti Alpaca Sock Yarn in the Marina colourway. It isn't perhaps the best colour for showing off the pattern, but you can see the rings around the cuffs - they're supposed to be the rings on whisky barrels and the rest of the sock is just ribbing. I adjusted the pattern from the book by going up to 2.5mm needles and adding another ribbing repeat (7 sts) which seems to have worked pretty well.

Technically these were finished on 23 December - but as I decided once he'd tried them on that he could do with a little more length, I hold my hands up to Christmas Day itself - I pulled back both toes and reknit yesterday after lunch while H snoozed on the sofa and Dr Who battled cybermen.
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The charm in these socks is all in the knitting - the yarn is so soft and fluffy and wonderful and to be honest, mostly I was thinking how glad I am that there are two more skeins in the stash!

Our rival in H's affections is a little less Scottish, a little less muted and subtly flavoured. If Spey Valley is an 18 year old malt, these next socks are a Jamaican Acid cocktail*. With flowery yellow umbrella:
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(I went in search of the socks while it was still sunny this morning and found them here. The idea of removing either the socks from the feet or the feet from the bed for the purposes of photography was not entertained. I took pity - the boy is ill)

The yarn is Socks that Rock mediumweight in the now discontinued (I think) Seastone. H chose it over my shoulder, laughed in glee when it arrived ... and promptly forgot about it when it disappeared into the stash, so these were a huge surprise.

I knit these as Dove socks from Cat Bordhi's New Pathways book, but I don't think these can be turtle doves, despite the song and the season. They look huge and all wrong when not on feet or sock blockers but they fit like a dream - particularly if you have high arches and/or larger ankles. For H's UK size 10ish feet I knit the largest size but on 3mm needles and I had plenty to spare from my skein of STR.

We were a very happy pair yesterday (and today for that matter) because H excelled himself in things that make me go squee. He handed me a little package which opened up to reveal:
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A very tiny spinning wheel (Doll's House size) ... and a magnifying glass. That's right - I'M GETTING A SPINNING WHEEL!!!!! (sorry, didn't mean to shout - still rather excited) (heee heee heeeeeeee!) If I take the tiny spinning wheel to a spinning shop H assures me that he will use magic and the magnifying glass to turn it into a big one - I can't wait.

My other present left me speechless. In a good way. Now H knows that I enjoy blogging, and taking the photos to put on the blog, and has shown me how to play around with photoshop to crop out the bits of my desk and other gubbins that ends up in the corners of photos. He had also apparently been listening when I said a couple of times that 'sometime' (meaning when I'd saved up and done some research into what would be best) I'd like to get a better camera to take really lovely photos without having to tie myself in knots with our little (and very excellent) point and shoot.

Not only has he been listening, he also spoke to A who is a talented photographer (he took all of our wedding photos) and A's father who is a pretty committed art photographer (he's just submitted his MA thesis and exhibited at a gallery in Sheffield) to see what would be best. And so after H's post-lunch restorative nap yesterday he presented me with a box. And in the box was a new camera. It's another Nikon and it's wonderful - just look:
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These are the pictures that I've been trying to show you for weeks
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This is what my Amaryllis really looks like.
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It takes a lot to make me speechless but for several minutes I sat on the floor with the camera in my lap making delighted fish faces while H smiled and wiggled his woolly toes at me from underneath the duvet.

It has been a very happy Christmas.

* I drank one once in a bar in York in a scavenger hunt so that we could get the umbrella - it involved Malibu, cranberry juice and Jagermeister among other things. It was bright!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Double Dragon

Once upon a time, long, long ago, in November, there were two tiny buds.
My creation

And look what they became - right in time for Christmas. This is the Amaryllis Double Dragon - all red and roaring and the perfect Christmas colour.

The first stem produced four enormous blooms and the second stem is taking up where they will leave off with another four.

I've been trying to take decent pictures of this for ages but it seems impossible to capture the velvet sheen in the very centre of the bloom, or the shot silk effect of the furled buds.

All I can do is keep checking them daily and enjoying while they last. And I've still got an Apple Blossom to go.

In other Christmas vegetation (and incidentally, difficult photography subjects):

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Our Christmas tree is still standing. This is impressive. We bought a Nordman fir this year as opposed to our usual blue spruce because the spruces that were left at our favourite Christmas tree centre were a bit rubbish. Nordman firs have a few crucial difference to Blue Spruces:

1, They are not as prickly. It is possible to hold onto one without needing to be wearing a coat and the oven gloves.
2, They drop very few needles.
3, Until the branches 'drop' it does look rather as if you're buying a Christmas hedge not a Christmas tree.
4, Most importantly, the trunk may be significantly thicker than that the same height tree in another variety.

We have a little metal Christmas tree stand - you pop the trunk in the hole, screw in the bolts and remember to keep watering the tree and all is well. Or so you would like to think. On the Sunday that we bought the tree it came home in the car, we pulled it halfway out of the boot and went to get the tree stand to bolt it on. Slight hitch - the trunk was bigger than the stand.

And so began one of the more entertaining hour and a halves that I have spent recently as H sawed away small slivers of tree trunk to try to make it fit. As most of the cutting involved H standing in the boot of the car and me grasping the tree to myself in a semi recumbent posture to try to stabilise it we could see how entertaining we would look to anyone that passed by, and started giggling. And, with perfect comedic timing, it was at this point that our next door neighbours and around 40 of their guests returned from a relation's 70th birthday party. In beautiful frocks, smart suits and covered with balloons, they traipsed up the drive. Of all 40 ish, only five or so made any comment at all; it was so terribly terribly British.

The story ends well as you see as H not only managed to slim the tree trunk to fit the stand, but also created a bracing system for the stand itself (which you can just see in the bottom of the picture) which apparently stops the stand legs flaying out everywhere and makes the tree stand up. The last time I studied physics I was 15 so I just say Yes Dear.

Outstanding Christmas Knitting
-One and three quarter mittens
- The foot of a sock
- A whole sock
- Most of a sock (the toe is done)
- A pair of socks

The only thing that has to be done for Christmas day itself is the foot of a sock so if I can escape from H long enough to finish it we should be OK. I was planning to finish it on the train and at work but with inescapably brilliant timing I have gone down with the office cold in impressive style - I was fine yesterday morning and by yesterday 4pm I couldn't really string together coherent sentences - so I'm spending the day tucked up in bed to try to get rid of it before Christmas. If you need me, I'll be the one knitting under the duvet in between naps.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas? Make it so!

The British press is currently full of articles asking 'whether it is OK to make your Christmas gifts' and announcing that sales of 'thrift' and make-it-yourself books have rocketed. It's all rather entertaining from the perspective of a long term crafter because I find it hard to envisage a Christmas or birthday in which many of my nearest and dearest are not the happy recipients of something that took time to make.

In this last week I've finished up a couple of things that I think I'm safe to show here. If you think that you get cold on the train in the morning and you work in Oxford then skedaddle - come back after Christmas!

For the rest of you (and Kay in particular who served as inspiration for this project):
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I fell down a little Noro shaped rabbit hole. Oops.

I asked our friend A whether he wanted anything particularly soft and woolly for Christmas and he may have mentioned more than once that he got a little chilly on the station in the morning. He is conservative in style and muted of colour so I cast around for the plain and simple but not so plain and simple that the knitter would end up in a garter stitch induced coma on Christmas eve.
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Enter Silk Garden colours 234 and 203 and the skills of Brooklyn Tweed - the scarf follows his pattern for a Noro striped scarf and the hat is Turn a Square using 203 for the main colour and 234 for the accent.
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H, who has hereto shown no interest in a scarf, is now dropping hints so I think this must be a hit.

The best bit though? I got to knit the scarf on my wonderful Peace Fleece ladybird needles - bought in Paris on our first wedding anniversary. I'm going to have to knit more of these scarves just to use the needles!
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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A little bit of magic

It is a sad truth that when in Florida I have at some point, needed a little pick me up expedition. Holly Golightly may have thought that nothing very bad could happen to you at Tiffany's but in Orlando, nothing sad can happen to you at Disney.

My favourite part is the Boardwalk - it's usually a lot quieter than Downtown Disney as it has fewer shops and instead it's a wonderful promenade around the lake in a very New England style. If I ever go back I'm determined that we should stay at the Boardwalk, and not just for the hot tub in a pirate ship wreck!

This is the view from the far side all lit up for the evening:
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And we watched the fireworks from Epcot from the bridge and the pedaling piano played wonderful jazz.
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The boardwalk also plays host to a couple of sideshow magicians who, because this is Disney, are fantastic. It's not just the way that they do the tricks, it's the banter and showmanship that go with it. We turned up to one just as a ten year old had volunteered to help out with a multiplying bunny rabbit trick, but the star of the show was her little sister - all blond curls and blue eyes, aged maybe 3 or 4.

She sat with the other children on the deck in front of us and as the showman started his patter a little voice broke in:

"That's my sister!" and a little while later, "I've got a monkey. Look at my monkey, I'm going to give it to my Dad!" and she got up to show it to the magician. Without pausing he looked at her, admired the monkey and delivered the immortal line:

"You just haven't had enough sugar today have you sweetheart!"

All was calm until the next trick where our magician explained that the new volunteer would have to jump from the fourth story window and be caught by another eight year old. He explained how if it went wrong his hapless assistant's insides would be outside, her arms and legs would be broken, the full blood and guts patter. And with a truly horrified expression our little blond friend hurriedly stood up and scuttled away from the point at which he was indicating, exclaiming:

"Well, I don't wanna see that!"

You couldn't make it up.

My second favourite Disney place is the golf course - not the big proper golf courses, but that classic staple of an Englishman's holiday - mini golf.
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We seem to have a habit of playing mini golf at night so I have very few photos of the courses themselves but this holiday we played WinterSummerland (the summer side):

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Fantasia - which has wonderful music and a spooky cavern; and where both H and Beth lost their golf balls in the water features on more than one occasion!

And the winter side of WinterSummerland on our last afternoon. And it was here that my finest hour occurred. For a brief moment (Saturday 6 December 2008), I was on the leader board:

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Ousting Tim of Wisconsin who had entered his score of 38 only moments before. Sorry Tim.

My memorial trophy was chosen and awarded by H:

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Apparently he was struck by the resemblance to me on a real golf course!

In Christmas news, I have finished my advent calendar:

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What do you mean "But Carie, it's December 16th" (or at least it was the day I finished it). Finished is finished and H has had great fun catching up on the days. We will gloss over the fact that I bought this panel in March (or possibly February) and concentrate instead on the need for the perfect backing fabric:

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I got this in Walmart in Florida and I love it unreservedly. I mean, what's not to like:

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The panel itself came with cut out pockets to sew on, with box pleats between the pockets in the lines running across the tree. To finish it I cut batting and the backing fabric to roughly the same shape and put them in a sandwich of front and back facing each other and batting on the back. Once I had sewed around the edges (all bar a little turning space) using my walking foot, I cropped the edges and the corners and turned the whole thing the right way out and slip stitched the turning closed.

It has very minimal quilting, just around the outer border and the two trees for stability in a wonderful red-green variegated thread so that you can see the Christmas tree shape on the back.

The hanging loops were not part of the pattern and were simply two tubes of stash fabric with a vaguely Christmassy theme folded in half lengthways and pinned into the top edge before sewing. The only tricky thing is remembering to get the loops on the inside of the seam so that the end up on the outside of the calendar.

All in all I consider this a most successful make, even if we haven't quite worked out where or how to hang it up!

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Carol of the Bells

But first some statistical housekeeping. This is a sock on a plane.

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It is making sure that the wings are still there.

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They were. If anyone is collecting information about knitting needles and aeroplanes I'll add this to the mix. In the last month I flew Birmingham to Edinburgh with BMI Baby with a sock in progress on 2.5mm bamboo DPNs and a few spare DPNs loose in my handbag with the spare pens and the needle gauge. No problems with security at either end. I didn't knit on the plane because we were a little bit too like sardines for that to be strictly comfortable.

The same kit and caboodle flew from Gatwick to Orlando and back, again no problems with security. I knit the sock you can see on the way out (and the stewards correctly identified it as a sock) and I slept on the way home. Bamboo DPNs at least do not seem to be a problem for airlines - hurray!

Now then, how about a little sunshine to brighten up those winter days? Well sadly the Sunshine State could produce nothing more than an English squib of a summer's day the first few days we were there (cue much searching for jumpers in suitcases). Although we were staying near Orlando we weren't much for the Disney and our first proper trip out was to a really unusual place - Bok Sanctuary, based on Iron Mountain which is the tallest 'mountain' in Florida.
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I say 'mountain' loosely because, to be honest, I hadn't realised that we'd gone up one until I read the sign telling me. It is I believe the highest point in Florida. Florida is kind of flat. And largely below sea level if the diagrams are to be believed. Having flown in over the Kennedy Space Centre and its surrounding ponds, I believe it.

The flowers however, were beautiful and the whole garden had a very serene atmosphere.

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There were enormous grapefruit trees with a wonderful citrus scent,

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Stripy butterflies (on the bottom of the pink flower), that make you stop to wonder how on earth something chocolate and lime stripes ever hides. And then you see it on a palm tree. It works.

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We found a red nose tree.

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And the most enormous lily pads - the sort that you're always half tempted to sit on, just to see if they could take your weight.

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The biggest attraction of all though (literally) was this:

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This is a Carillon, or rather, within this tower is a Carillon; a series of bells played by a keyboard, not unlike an organ console. Rather than using the English system of swinging the bell, with the clapper 'loose' within it to sound the note, the Carilloneur presses the pedals for a little clapper to hit the bell, sounding the note.

It produces beautiful, haunting melodies because the Carilloneurs play chords and tunes, rather than the peculiarly English trait of using bells to make mathematical patterns, and when we were there the lunchtime concert was all Christmas carols - it sounded like the tower was singing.

The architecture was also impressive, H was rather taken with this balcony as his college emblem is a Pelican.

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The traceries at the top, rather than simply being carved stone as they would be in England, are ceramic tile mosaics, something that could never endure the English winter, but which seems perfectly at home here. Colourful too.

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So if you feel in need of a little Christmas peace, close your eyes, smell a grapefruit, imagine you are in a garden on a soft breezy day, and listen to the bells. They have a sample here (scroll down)

The irony? The bells for this Carillon were cast by John Taylor of Loughborough, about 50 miles from where I live. In England.