Monday, 20 August 2012

Howto: Make A Corrugated Cardboard Swift

When you get serious about knitting, you start to get serious about your tools. Getting a ball winder is just perfect for making squat, delicious cakes of yarn and seems like a fairly reasonable expenditure (It has a crank handle! It has COGS! It was only £20!) but between space and financial concerns I've never got round to buying a beautiful umbrella swift, so winding yarn has always been a slightly fraught process.

There are many good methods for making homebrew swifts, (lego, PVC pipe, etc) but none of them used the materials I had to hand.

To make a swift like mine, you will need:

A large piece of corrugated cardboard (like the side of a box)
Wide tape, duct or parcel (either works, but you may prefer a colour)
A sturdy cardboard tube (preferably with one closed end, but you could close one end yourself)
A spare kitchen roll spike (not necessarily even spare, because it won't be destroyed
Some pencils, sturdy skewers or other long thinnish rods.

1) Consider your corrugated cardboard. For this to work, the long side of the cardboard will need to be running perpendicular to the direction of the corrugations (I keep thinking of it as the grain of the cardboard). The long side of the cardboard should also measure twice the arm length of the swift. Mine was about 60-65cm.

2) Cut two strips about 10cm tall and about 60cm long, as shown in the hand-drawn diagram above.  Make sure you're going across the grain of the cardboard, not with it. This is important for the load-bearing capacity of your swift.  Score through the surface of the corrugated cardboard along the midline (see diagram below) to make the next bit easier.

You'll also need two more strips of cardboard, which should be about 5cm tall and about 10-20cm long. These are your  hinges. 

3) Fold the pieces of card in half along the score line. Tape it closed like in the diagram below. Then gently perpendicularise the pieces, avoiding making a sharp fold. Keep it curvy. You probably won't be able to keep them folded like this, but...

4) ... now you start to join the two halves of the cross together. Tape one end of a hinge just outside the perpendicularisation fold of the first half, and then tape the other end of the hinge to the corresponding bit on the second half.  This bit is likely to be a bit awkward, but when it's done you can place it down on a table, form the cross shape and then get the second hinge in position with relative ease. Duct tape it all down securely, making sure you've left a hole slightly smaller than the tube you're going to insert in it.

This is a bit difficult to describe - have a look at the diagram to see where the hinges go.

 5) Now insert the tube into the slightly-too small tube hole. It ought to stay put, but if it doesn't, try adding some thickness to it with a couple of layers of tape. The closed end of the tube should be on the same side of the cross as the open side of the folded arms.

6) Then pop your tubey-cross assemblage on your kitchen roll spike and check that it rotates smoothly. It does? Great!

7) Insert your skewers/pencils into the cardboard fold of each arm to create the yarn holding pegs. You can tape them into position, but I'd folded and taped the arms so securely that the pencils just stuck where I put them.

8) Set up your ball winder on the table, put the swift on the floor (or a lower table) and get winding. It should just about work.

Monday, 23 July 2012

EnCharter: Not Yet A Roadmap

So, the other day saw a flurry of EnCharter related activity.

I put out three flavours of version 0.0.2 (0.0.1 was a mac-only version that just didnae work, thanks to a cross compiling error) which I packaged up using the immensely helpful PyInstaller (Windows and Linux) and Py2App (Mac). Here's what's next.

Currently Broken:

  • Unresolved issue on Mac 10.5.8 makes the whole thing fail
Currently Working But Not Yet Ideal:
  • Maximum width of a pattern that will export correctly to pdf: 22 boxes. This means I should probably allow you access to the full print to pdf controls so you can choose landscape/portrait and scaling.
  • The evaluation text box doesn't fit in all situations, but displays correctly
  • Darned low res jaggy fonts.
Fixed for the next version already:
  • So, Mac users who got the thing to run may have been bemused by the total lack of menus. It turns out that Mac menus are a special case and need an additional setting. I fixed it, they'll be working again in v0.0.3.
  • There's an option to quit in the File menu.

Suggested Features:
  • Colourwork support (I can make it support colourwork, but I think that doing a separate program for that kind of thing would work better. Highlighting particular stitches in particular colours could be a good thing to include, though)
  • Double decreases (These are going in soon)
  • Non-pdf export. Would vector or non-vector graphics be favoured by designers? I would choose vector ones because I assume that the whole thing is going to be compiled into a pdf at some point, but I could be wrong about the way that works.

Does anyone have any other suggestions?

Thursday, 19 July 2012

EnCharter Alpha

I've got to the point where there's enough to EnCharter that it's worth giving it to people to play with.

Packaging the program as single executable files is an absolute pain, though, so at the moment there's only the mac version available for people to play with. I suppose the individual bits and bobs of python files that I'm making it from can be made available, but I'm not sure I want to put you through that.

So, let me know if you want a go on the mac version.

The windows version is next.

ETA: If you'd like to have a go with the mac alpha, there's a version available here.

Here's the 'need to know' list for the alpha:

  • It may not run at all. It appears to be very difficult to get a program built using PySide to cleanly export as a single executable file. However, I'm very, very interested if you download the program and it fails to run - email the error message to 
  • This is for testing the basic functionality of placing stitches in a grid. At the moment, we're only on stitches that take up one grid square. Complicated Estonian lace and cable stitches are something I hope to handle in the near future, though.
  • The evaluation button should provide accurate results unless you've incorporated blank stitches in your pattern. Blank stitches are another component that means totally reworking the handling of the pattern storage.
  • Things that should work:
    • navigating and placing stitches with the mouse and the keyboard
    • save and load files
    • export to pdf 
    • clear all should clear the grid and restart with a 10 x 10 grid
    • resizing the grid outside the main window should give you scroll bars
    • resizing the main window should proportionally resize the contents
    • the about box should contain a message 
  • Known issues:
    • the print options aren't connected to anything yet 
    • the text on exported pdf charts is very jaggy
  • Future features:
    • Export as written instructions for the chart-phobic
    • Export with an automatic legend showing the meaning of stitch symbols used in a chart.
    • Custom stitches?
    • Moving towards a 'stitch palette' idea where you choose the stitches in the clickable order from a wider selection. It'll make sense later, you'll see.
ETA2: Yes, version 0.0.1 on the mac didn't actually work. But it's fixed now and v0.0.2 is now sitting in the directory as linked above.
There's also a Linux version in the same place now.

Known issue on the mac: The menu bar isn't populated correctly, preventing you from accessing such useful features as 'save' 'load' and 'clear all'.

ETA3: Windows version now available here.! PyInstaller is absolutely cracking for making apps and exe files out of python things. Even I can do it!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Coding Practice: Staying Classy

There have been two EnCharter developments this weekend so far, one totally invisible to the user and one that is extremely useful to the user.

The invisible one is the change from having each stitch hardcoded as a very tenuous list structure to having a class called 'Stitch' which contains the name of the stitch and all the attributes, including the method of drawing it. This will eventually allow for the user to define their own stitches by how many loops go in and how many come out, so all my favourite crazy Estonian lace stitches will be representable. This class structure will also allow the automatic creation of stitch keys and technique descriptions when you make the final chart, all of which is terribly exciting. Oh, and I fixed the stitch logic checker so that it'll work again. Your lace will never come up short again!

The extremely useful change is that you can now export your  patterns as a pdf. This is something that I've been really wanting to get sorted so that I can start working on my other knitcoding project (Morphic: a fitted cardigan pattern distributed as software that generates a customised pattern based on user inputted measurements)

I could probably start letting people have a go at playing with EnCharter soon, so that I can see exactly how it is possible to break it.

ETA: Would you like to play with the current EnCharter alpha? I'm going to make it into an .exe so it can be distributed.

ETA2: Ok, so making EnCharter a single file executable for Windows or Mac isn't actually working at all well. In lieu of actually producing a playable alpha, I've added save and load functions and tried to do something about that damned resize bug. With limited effect.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Coding Practice: SPLITTERS!

No, not the People's Front of Judea, but the kind of splitters that allow you to waggle the widgets around automagically on the UI window. 

If you look closely at the new screenshot, you'll see the three little dots between the chart and row numbers and between the row numbers and the right hand controls. You drag those about to make the various bits of the thing bigger. It's... not quite right at the moment, I think I need to basically get the chart and row numbers to sit within the same splitter frame so they can resize together while leaving the right hand controls as they are.

Other small improvements:
- left clicking advances the stitch in the box, right clicking reverses it
- chart squares are always square

Coming soon:
- separating out the stitch palette from the grid
- changing how the handling of the stitches works so that we can have more than k2tog & yo
- row numbers
- telling you exactly where in the repeat things have gone wrong
- fixing the keyboard controls
- highlighting sections 
- making each splitter resize politely and automatically when the grid size changes

Friday, 15 June 2012

Coding Practice: Creative Destruction

EnCharter was working so well that it was clearly time to attempt something that could potentially break the lot. 

I've added more stitches! Take a look!

So, now you can do ssk, k2tog, m1, yo, plus PURL as well as knit. I haven't figured out how to display the en-dash that I'd like instead of the hyphen to represent the purl, but details, details.

The stitch count logic has totally broken, because I was handling it in a daft hardcoded way, but the beginnings of the way to make it work again are already in place.

I've also decided to keep the chart squares square, which has caused more problems. Previously, the size of the squares was just 'whatever it has to be to fit it in the widget', but I'd rather have them square. Forcing them to be square has overridden the 'fit in the widget' condition, so now I need to investigate how to change the size of the widget on the fly. Should be fine.

(Also, should probably work out how to size text to fit nicely in the row count and stitch boxes)

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Coding Practice: Now With Row Numbers

And now, EnCharter provides you with row numbering next to your chart. I've done it in such a manner that it's taught me a lot about signals and slots, but not so that it'll actually produce useful output when I sort out the printing. Silly me.

I also fixed the keyboard controls by fixing a stupid bug in the selected cell handling.

Coming soon:
- changing how the handling of the stitches works so that we can have more than k2tog & yo
- row numbers
- telling you exactly where in the repeat things have gone wrong
- fixing the keyboard controls
- separating out the stitch palette from the grid
- highlighting sections 

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Coding Practice: EnCharter post 2

EnCharter approaches adequate levels of usability!

Introduced since the last post:
- a clear all command
- visual feedback that tells you if the repeat works out or not (which took a surprising amount of doing)
- preparation for PDF export/print commands

Coming soon:
- changing how the handling of the stitches works so that we can have more than k2tog & yo
- row numbers
- telling you exactly where in the repeat things have gone wrong
- fixing the keyboard controls
- separating out the stitch palette from the grid

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Coding Practice: EnCharter

I've been meaning to start learning Python for a while, but as I've been short of an idea for something that I actually wanted to code, it's been very difficult getting past the initial "Hello World!" stage. That all changed recently - I realised that what I would like to make is some charting software for lace. So far the ideal feature list is a bit ambitious (especially when compared with what I've actually managed to do) and I am not entirely sure if there's actually any call for it outside my personal use. So, here's what I've managed to get so far:

  • A grid that you can resize to represent the size of a charted lace repeat
  • When you click on grid squares they cycle from blank to 'INC' to 'DEC' (placeholder graphics at the moment though)
  • A UI window that has the grid resize controls on it and a button called 'evaluate' that doesn't do anything (yet)
Things that still need to go in before I can declare it EnCharter v0.1:
  • The logic that computes whether your repeat obeys loop conservation logic (ie, does the lace pattern have the correct number of stitches per row to make it actually knittable)
  • More types of increase and decrease and their appropriate symbols
  • A way to display row-by-row stitch counts and any possible conflicts generated by the entered stitch pattern.
You're not getting any screenshots of it in action until it looks less like arse.

ETA: Some graphical work just got done. So proud.

ETA2: I think that'll do for now. I've been working on the loop conservation logic, which is causing me to rethink the chart square addressing and how I'm handing what properties stitch types have (at the moment they've just got a position in a vector which is used to determine their loop number) 

Also, the keyboard control for changing stitches doesn't work any more. When I introduced the controls for resizing the repeat grid, some priority thing went wrong so you can never get into keyboard control mode. Bum.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Get Excited and Make Things

With time on my hands, I'm doing a lot of projects.

I've been sewing up some of my less promising fabric stash into a dress inspired by the Cos aesthetic. I can show you the back, because that bit looks ok. The front of the bodice has some problems with the bust darts. Two prominent problems with the bust darts.


The project I'll be doing all year - graphically representing the temperature of my location each day - is coming on nicely and shows how all of a sudden, Amsterdam is warm and pleasant after all that dark blue unpleasantness at the start of February.


And I've been doing lots of reading on my Kindle, which needed a better case, so I made it one out of some fabric that a lovely Glasgow friend sent me as a treat.


I keep flitting from project to project without really settling on anything for very long. I've had a great idea for a computer game that I can use to teach myself python, I'm slowly working on an invention that you don't know you need yet and, oh yeah, I'm still looking for a job.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Eurovision 2012 Preview - Part 2

You know the drill by now. The songs from Semi Final 1 are analysed in scientific detail in this post and this post contains the songs from Semi Final 2 and the pre-qualified countries.

You can listen to the semi final 2 songs on this youtube playlist and the pre qualifiers on this one

Serbia have gone with Željko Joksimović singing a huge ballad called Nije Ljubav Stvar. It is no Molitva, but then, what is? It fits a terrific amount of epicness into the allotted 3 minutes, and there’s even a point after the stirring instrumental break where the glitter burst of celebration would look lovely with Željko clutching a trophy and jumping for joy. These Serbians know exactly what they’re doing with Eurovision.

FYR Macedonia
Kaliopi is from Fyrom and presents Crno i Belo (possible translation: ‘My language has badly distributed vowels’) and it’s a big metal power ballad that takes well over a minute to get going. When the chugging power chords and big strings kick in, and you realise that Kaliopi is wearing a Cher outfit, it gets quite good. Not as good as the Serbian one, but wait! WIDDLY GUITAR SOLO. Rock and flipping roll! I figured out what it needs - backing vocals. It’s just Kaliopi singing, and could be improved by shouty chorus bv.

The Netherlands
Joan is a young Dutch gal dressed as a Native American in a big frock and a feathery headress, in a manner which the internet gets angry about. The internet had better not look at the backing dancers dressed in ‘squaw’ costumes, or it’ll have one of it’s episodes. The song isn’t offensive though, in fact it is the very definition of inoffensive. It’s a gentle campfire singalong about being nostalgia for a childhood sweetheart. Not in anyway about Native Americans.

Malta present Kurt Calleja, who looks like the visual average of One Direction, but with a few years added. The band that appears in the video is very ‘oooh, we’re modern!’ as it has a lady drummer, a nerdy left handed guitarist, a guy on some decks (who isn’t doing anything reflected in the music), a bass player who hangs around out of shot and the aforementioned Kurt. Oh my. Breakdancy breakdown. The song has a ‘eh, eh, eh, eh, eh’ thing in the chorus, which is trying for earworm status, but failing. It’s ok.

Litesound are dressed as motorbiking robots and their song is called ‘We Are The Heroes’. They are going for the ‘We are the winners!’ motif that Lithuania failed so hard with the other year. The singer is a bit on the nasal side, but you can’t fault them for effort. The costumes don’t really add anything, but the chorus is quite huge. It’s rocky, the drummer is enclosed in a plastic motorbike thing, and there’s a big heroic key change for the last chorus. It’ll do fine.

Vida Minha, (Life of...something?) is Filipa Sousa’s slinky latin ballad. I miss all the Latin stuff that went into Eurovision in the late 90s and early 00s. There’s not a lot to dislike here - it reminds me a lot of the other recent Portugese ballad, Senhora de Mar, and gets progressively more and more overwrought and impassioned in an almost parodical manner. They have some gymnastic ballroom dancers twirling in the foreground. The lady shows a lot of gusset. Say what you see, say what you see.

Ukraine (wildcard)
Ukraine are going all out with Gaitana and Be My Guest - it sounds like a slightly naff David Guetta collaboration and it’s got one hell of a chorus. I can’t see it doing badly, and I figure if Ukraine are up for hosting next year, we may as well let them. Gaitana looks terrific in a wide range of frocks, hairstyles and CGI modesty flowers, and has an array of robot suit clad dude dancers. This is going to be great in May.

Love Unlimited has Sofi Marinova dressed in a big floor length ballad gown, but is in fact a pleasingly plonky late night house record. You could be bopping to it as you queued to put your coats in a cloakroom in a fairly trendy club. Oooh! Fireworks! Fancy. Sofi has got some pretty wicked arm tattoos, and to be honest I’m surprised there hasn’t been a dress reveal. It’s really nice, and although it’s got a near zero chance of winning, it makes my Best of 2012 Playlist without question.

Another sodding ballad. Verjamem. It’s by Eva Boto, but we start off with a soprano backing vocalist with a huge roll of tulle on her head for a little tune. Eva is wearing a white frock, a cardigan and a belt made of leaves and forest flowers. It’s impassioned, the backing singers look totally ridiculous with the tulle, and it’s not really that memorable. The keychange section over the bridge is so much like Molitva that my eyebrows raised up as far as my hairline. It’s Molitva but with frocks instead of lovely suits.

Nebo is sung by Nina Badric and has a very boring, grown-up dinner party soul intro. And first verse. And chorus. I keep expecting the disco fans to kick in and the song proper to start but evidently that won’t be happening. The beat just kicked in at 2:12 - far too late. It’s a big power ballad and all the hunks in pants in the world (that’s what the video is full of) can’t save it.

More plonky, dubby late night dance! Euphoria is even a nice ravey title. Loreen isn’t a promising name, but this is ace. Arms aloft! Rave whistles! Loreen looks fantastic with huge hair, wearing a black catsuit and huge chiffon robe over the top, as she throws some awesome early 90s shapes, backlit in an iron cage. I am going to need to listen to this again immediately. Final chorus features a surprise dance partner and a blizzard! FOR THE WIN. It makes me feel good. I would like to purchase this song and dance routine to do on my various dance games.

PS: On the second listen I got goosebumps. This is awesome. Not just going on my Eurovision playlist, but my main everyday playlist. Takk, Loreen, takk.

After all that excitement, whatever next was going to sound like a big old pile of poo. So Anri Jokhadze’s ‘I’m A Joker’ is probably in the right place. Anri (the Georgian version of BARROWMAN?) demonstrates various not-quite-rhymes for Joker, interspersed with some fiddle (2012: year of European fiddle abuse?) and a piano break following a rather extraordinary falsetto section. It’s sort of 21st century vaudeville or music hall, which I guess you could say is entirely suitable for Eurovision.

Onward, ever onwards, to Turkey and Love Me Back by Can Bonomo. It’s got a beat and you can dance to it, at least until the vocals come in. Boatloads of traditional instrumentation and a general nautical/piratical theme, which always goes down well with me. I wish the vocal melody and lyrics were as good as the instrumental breaks though, it seems a bit disjointed the way it is. But Turkey never really struggle, so it doesn’t matter what I think.

Another big sodding ballad. Ott Lepland sings Kuula in black and white with Adele’s pianist somewhere out of shot. Epically dull and just makes me think about how exciting that Swedish song was.
Sorry, I just zoned out there and accidentally looked at twitter. Yawn.

Oooh, I’ve already heard this one. It’s Don’t Close Your Eyes by the frankly ridiculous Max Jason Mai. It’s a shocking 80’s hair metal ballad throwback with speed metal verse guitars and a big silly shouty chorus. The video has the strange conceit of showing the shooting of a video of this song, complete with Max Jason Mai acting like a dick off camera, with a puppet. I’m sure Max will put on a superb show for us in May, although I can’t gauge Europe’s appetite for this song.

Tooji is a guy with very precisely shaped eyebrows. The song Stay is probably what you imagine a generic Scandinavian Eurovision entry sound like. It’s modern sounding, the dancing is impressive, the lyrics are arrant nonsense but it didn’t stir me in the way the Swedish one did. My boyfriend said that it was ‘Pretty boring’.

Bosnia & Herzegovina
Korake Ti Znam is yet another ballad. Maya Sar sits at the piano, unsafely suspended in a steelworks. Or something. It’s dull. The video has a donkey and a tiny donkey in it, which prompted a squeal of delight from your humble reviewer, but other than that, I basically was thinking about my dinner.

Lithuania (wildcard)
Donny Montell sings Love is Blind with a blindfold on. This doesn’t hide the fact that this song takes the form of a ballad. There have been so many different ballads that I can’t remember which one was which any more or what any of them sounded like. At 1:30, a beat kicks in and the blindfold comes off! Whoo hoo! It doesn’t improve it, but at least I’m still awake and listening.
(At this point, I stopped reviewing and had a massive dance around to Euphoria. It gave me the strength to carry on.)

United Kingdom
Ah, Englebert Humperdinck. It’s not bad. It’s not good, but it’s not bad either. Another ballad, which contains some interesting modulations to keep it from being entirely by-numbers. It’s pretty weak, and even on the studio pre-record Englebert doesn’t sound secure on the top notes in the key change. Maybe it’ll come alive on stage. Maybe.

And as we’ve said for a decade now, at least the French don’t take it seriously either. They’ve sent Anggun with a song called Echo (You and I) with a seriously irritating whistling hook in the pre-chorus and the unmistakeable spectre of autotune in the chorus. It’s pretty slick and credible, though. There are more hunks in pants in the video. For shame, France.

Now, I saw the video for Nina Zilli’s first song, which was a big ballad where she was dressed up as the ghost of Amy Winehouse. The actual entry is basically an Amy Winehouse song in the verse, and some sort of big pop rock mess in the chorus and she’s at least not wearing the beehive & eyeliner in the video I suspect they might come back out in May. It would be distasteful to submit an Amy Winehouse tribute act for Eurovision, right? She’s not even been dead a year.

I think this is the last big ballad I have to listen to tonight - Sabina Babayeva’s is called When The Music Dies. It has the distinguishing feature of having male backing vocals behind Sabina’s Celine Dion impression, but other than that, I wouldn’t be able to pick it out of a line-up of the Usual Low Tempo Suspects.

Aw hell. Spain have sent a big ballad too. Pastora Soler is emoting her way through a song called Quedate Conmigo. I have already forgotten what it sounds like, but you know what a big X Factor winners ballad sounds like and can probably recreate it for yourselves. Stirring strings, rising phrases, held notes, fists of pure emotion, slow motion gymnasts and frocks that are floor length at the very least.

Can we have more novelty records next year? I liked them, they were fun.

NO NO NO. It’s a sodding ballad. This time it’s a ballad sung by an indie chap with gauged ears and a wooly hat on. It’s a landfill indie ballad. It’s Roman Lob singing Standing Still. It’s a Train album track. It’s the soundtrack to an emotional scene in Doctors or Hollyoaks. It might not have gone down so badly if I hadn’t already listened to about twenty soggy ballads in the course of this. It is also very, very, very repetitive. Roman Lob is standing still, standing still, standing still, he’s just standing still.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Eurovision 2012 Preview - Part 1

It's that time again! All the songs have been chosen for Eurovision 2012 in Baku, Azerbaijan, and it's time for me to do my traditional preview post. In the past, I've worked in alphabetical order, resulting in significantly short shrift for certain alphabetically challenged countries. This year, I'll split it up by semi final. Here is what is in the first one...

If you want to see all the videos I'm writing about, put this playlist on. I think it autoplays.
Eurovision 2012 Semi Final 1 Playlist

Ok, Rambo Amadeus, let’s get started. The song is called Euro Neuro and contains some very funky warbling synth bass and the most laid back rapper in the Balkans. I like the out of tune fiddle break and the line about something being good for rheumatism. Genuinely interesting and will be on my ‘Best of 2012’ Eurovision edit, but I can’t believe it’ll do well.

This is a big dramatic duet between Greta Salome and Jonsi and also at times directly steals the bassline from Pink Floyd’s One Of These Days. It goes all Evanescence in the chorus, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Eurovision. More ethnic fiddles in the second chorus and, wait for it, HUGE FIDDLE SOLO. The video I’m watching also has a huge 10 second silence in it before the final chorus, which I’m sure will be shorter on the night. I think the worst I can say about it is that it’s a tad wordy.

Eleftheria Eleftheriou is singing a song called Aphrodisiac. It’s your typical vaguely Turkish electropop and also displays some misunderstanding over what exactly an aphrodisiac is. It’s the kind of thing that does really well, but the execution is all ‘will this do?’ and so it comes across as a slightly desultory effort. Also the video won’t buffer properly so I keep having to rewind and rewatch and it feels like I’ve been watching it forever. This is only song three. It’s going to be a long night. Oh, and they blew the golden key change opportunity. Fools.

Beautiful Song is sung by Anmary who was born in ‘distant 1980 when Johnny Logan won‘ and contains some rather presumptuous lines about how she’s going to join the parade of winners. Well. It’s one of those self referential songs about how wonderful it is to write a beautiful song that is universally successful but unlike, say, ‘Number 1 Song In Heaven’ it isn’t actually that memorable a tune. It’s not bad, but the bit about Mick Jagger was a pisstake too far. Is this whole song a pisstake? The video certainly suggests a certain levity. Plus, airport flashmob dance routine in the final chorus.

To sing her song Suus, Rona Nishliu is all dressed up like Audrey Hepburn, but Audrey Hepburn with her feet trapped in a black granite tombstone. This falls into Eurosong Type B, or the Huge Impassioned Ballad, (Type A is the Cheesy Dancefloor Hit, Type C is the Folk Nonsense, Type D is the Unsuccessful Flirtation With Modern Music and Type E is, well, Novelty/Other)
I liked it. I liked the unsettling modern art in the video, I liked the song, and I would listen to it again.

As I tweeted earlier this evening, Mandinga’s song Zaleilah left me in a state of confusion and distress. The intro instrumentation of drums, bagpipes, accordion and soft synth pads was enough to remind me that Euro-time was indeed here again, and then when the jaunty beat kicked in, I knew where we were. A pretty lady writhes and sings about something or other to do with dancing, and there’s a chorus with a fairly catchy hook, but then there’s also the jaunty flipping accordion.

Sinplus have brought us a song called Unbreakable. I am sure this is not the first Eurosong with that title. It’s a bit like an Editors song, or something you might hear in a live session on 6music from a band that you subsequently never hear of again. Maybe I should institute the Type F Eurosong for this sort of thing. I like it, apart from the parts where the guitars are too noticeably U2-esque. The backing vocals are also really nicely done. It makes the playlist.

Another big ballad, and this time Iris is our winsome balladeer. Her song Would You is perfectly inoffensive, but nothing profound. Her movement technique of bouncing from the knees in time with the music with her legs wide apart isn’t the most winsome and ladylike thing I’ve ever seen, but I’m sure she’ll work on that. The song is like the uptempo number on a Celine Dion album in the 90s.

Finland (wildcard)
I don’t know what Nar jag blundar means, but that’s what Pernilla Karlsson is singing. I think this is the incredibly dangerous hybrid between Type B and Type C, judging from the single dancer who is barefoot and dressed as a tree sprite and the dress covered in pine branches that Pernilla is wearing. It’s a lovely, lovely tune, a bit like a more relaxed version of the equally pastoral Horehronie that Slovenia sent a few years ago. Nicely done Finland, but will it get through a semi full of flamboyant nonsense?

Izabo’s song Time is one of the pieces of aforementioned flamboyant nonsense. With the strings and the general 70s vibe, there’s some sort of reaching for an ELO-type effort. The clowns in the video are deeply off-putting, and I hope that they don’t feature in the stage show.

San Marino
The Facebook Song makes the Fast Food Rockers sound like Bohemian Rhapsody. I cannot wait to hear the shoddy, hasty rewrite that makes it into The Social Networking Song. Awful. You can listen to it here if you must.

The lady representing Cyprus looks a bit Liv Tyler-esque. Her name is Ivi Adamou and her song La La Love is unforgivably catchy summer holiday dancefloor nonsense. The video features a lot of vaguely sexy Snow White stylings and has me feeling very well disposed towards the whole business. Excellent costuming. Ok tune.

Should’ve Known Better by Soluna Samay is in chart ballad territory. I am not even going to mention the sailor hat and the stupid epaulettes, because she won’t be wearing those in the final. Will she? The song is ok. It meanders around and doesn’t really go anywhere and lacks that hard-to-explain rising upward quality that a song of this type needs in order to be a big Eurohit.

Genuinely great to hear traditional singing techniques in this song by Buranovskiye Babushki, at least for the first 20 seconds. Then the PARTY FOR EVERYBODY nonsense kicks in. It has a lot of charm, and a choir of six old ladies in traditional costume isn’t the strangest thing we’ve seen at Eurovision in the past few years. The woman emerging from the piano? The paper plate robot? Sebastian Tellier’s backing singers? That hallucinatory business with the Moldovan gnomes? In comparison with all that lot, this is just fine.

Compact Disco bring their excellent band name and a slightly dull modern chart ballad called Sound of Our Hearts to Baku. I think it’s about homelessness and shutting up about first world problems. I lost interest and started worrying about my incipient carpal tunnel syndrome. See? First world problems.

Ah, Trackshittaz. With your exhortations to ‘Woki Mit Deim Popo’ you are really bringing new levels of boneheaded idiocy to Eurovision. Not only is your band called Trackshittaz, but when you say ‘woki’ (which means shake, apparently) with an Austrian accent, it sounds like ‘fucky’. It’s subversive, you see. ‘Popo’, of course, means ‘arse’. The whole spectacle is topped off with pole dancers in UV reactive catsuits with giant cartoon arses and tits drawn on them. Ah, well.

Pasha Parfeny seems to be a much nicer boy than either of the Tuneshittaz, as he prances with his folk fusion band and sings Lautar. It’s rather nice, with a groovy twiddly trumpet break. Ooh! More fiddle! Key change! This is great!

The Jedward have returnethed. I still think these guys are great. I may have said mean things about how they were stupid last year, but their sheer enthusiasm and curiosity and energy makes it pointless to be negative about them. The song is a bit different this time - it’s not a giant dodgy glam rock confection, it’s a huge Pat Benatar style pop anthem with a monumental chorus. Do you care if they’re singing the main vocals with significant help from the backing singers? No. Do you want to see them jump about like crazy little dynamos? Yes.

Yorkshire Interlude (Plus Bonus Abandoned University Campus)

I went back to Barnsley at the weekend, as it was Mother's Day. It was lovely, and was my sister's first go at having the full Mother's Day experience, lie in and all.

On the Sunday, we went along to the utterly stunning Yorkshire Sculpture Park to have a look at the Miro exhibition. I wasn't allowed to take any photos of the exhibits, so have a look at some general landscapes instead.


Re Miro: I prefer the paintings to the frankly extraordinarily vulvic sculptures.

Anyway, you might not know that the reason that the sculpture park is there at all is because the Bretton Hall art college managed to obtain a bunch of Henry Moore works to exhibit on their land. The exhibit turned into a permanent display, and eventually the council formalised the whole thing as the sculpture park as we know it - the sculpture park continues to be a great success (hence the major new exhibition of more Miro works than I knew even existed).

But what happened to the art college? Well, it's closed down. You get to it by going to this pond and then continuing on down the hill. Mum & Em have apparently been down here before and didn't get arrested or anything, so we figured it was ok.


So, feeling devilish and knowing that nothing bad would happen, we went for a wander in the supposedly off-limits site of the old Bretton Hall college.


It's the entire campus and infrastructure of a small university, including student halls, totally abandoned and unused. The place got taken over by the University of Leeds at one point and then was just closed down. On the website of the college alumni association there's the hint that the site was supposed to have been made into a luxury hotel and spa complex. The plans foundered for reasons possibly connected to asbestos in 2008, and I should expect that whatever money was behind the spa scheme has thoroughly fallen through by now.


If I were the more adventurous sort, I'd go and have a better look in the main buildings, as apparently the whole place was just abandoned in the manner of the Marie Celeste. The accommodation blocks still have furniture in them. It is pretty blooming creepy.


I think part of the reason that it's creepy is that when I was a kid, my mum was doing teacher training here. My youngest sister went to the onsite nursery, and I definitely went along a few times with my mum - I have a really strong memory of going into the Uni bookshop and playing with some cut out papercraft Roman buildings. To see it empty and lifeless like this is just plain wrong.


There really is a whole abandoned University in rural Yorkshire.


I'll leave you with a photo of (from left to right) the Emley Moor mast, a huge Henry Moore sculpture and the stately home that forms part of the college complex, Bretton Hall.


Thursday, 8 March 2012


Yep, I'm about halfway done with this sewn map.

I keep trying to go to a lovely shop called de Afstap to buy DMC 647, which is a colour that I've nearly run out of. I have failed twice. The first time, I just panicked and picked up the wrong colour (645, which I'm not even using in this project) and the second time, I was definitely holding a 647 & a 646 while I perused the incredible selection of alpaca lace yarn and crewel wool, but by the time I got home I just had two 646. Not best pleased. It seems to require just slightly more attention to get anything done successfully while you're waiting for people to talk to you in another language.

I have since ordered two skeins of 647 off of ebay. I was too ashamed to go back to de Afstap for the 3rd time in a week.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Two Wheeler

We've been here for four whole weeks now. We got through the 'WHAT HAVE WE DONE?' phase with a certain style and aplomb, we found the hummous and registered as officially sanctioned Amsterdammers and now we both have bikes. Cycles. Fiets. You know, velocipedes.

J brought his existing bike from Cardiff, and I have plumped for a delightfully lightweight aluminium road/commuter bike with seven gears, basket racks and a purple bell that says "I <3 My Bike". I can't say that I do <3 it yet, being that it gave me a pair of big purple bruises when it bucked me onto the pavement during my first long ride, but I am at least doing better than last time I cycled in Amsterdam (keywords: panic attack, canal edges, short skirt, expensive tights, total freakout).

No pictures this time, but as I'm nearly halfway through the Monkey Island cross stitch project, BRACE YOURSELVES.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Sort Of Frost Fair

Canal Skaters by EllieLaBelle
Canal Skaters, a photo by EllieLaBelle on Flickr.

We went for a walk to try and connect up parts of Amsterdam that we'd previously visited with the parts we now live in. What we mainly saw was hundreds and hundreds of people skating, sledging, sliding and drinking gluhwein on the frozen surface of (I think) Prinsengracht.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Frosty Nip

It continues to be below freezing in Amsterdam. It appears to be warming up after the weekend, but not before we get one last blast of what I am learning to call 'schneeuw'.

The canals have largely frozen over, the pavements are a treacherous, icy mess (although the bike paths are clear) and going outside is a major operation.

I tried to make the cold go away by knitting these charming blue mittens which seems to be working. I don't have too much in the way of charming local detail for you this week, only a report that I can express my own incomprehension and incompetence in Dutch. In a way that makes people laugh.

The two major things that we did this week were to get registered as official residents in Amsterdam and get ourselves bank accounts. It's almost like we're staying here for good.

I continue to miss having access to iplayer, because we've not sorted out a vpn tunnel. We do, however, have the parts on order for a hardware solution to our TV problem.

I also find myself coveting domestic electricals - they have these raclette grill things (also called 'gourmets') which I want but I fundamentally don't know why, and I'm also wanting to solve the problem of my continuing Radio 4 addiction by getting an internet radio gizmo like this one.

Then we get to the coffee grinder problem. I see a lot of coffee beans being sold in shops - usually taking up more shelf space than ground coffee - but I don't see any coffee grinders being sold next to the stunning arrays of coffee machines. Not all the machines are bean-to-cup either, most of them assume that you have some way of getting ground coffee. But this is probably just a continuation of the ongoing expat problem of not knowing what shops sell things.

I guess I could just put a big Amazon order in. That usually solves everything.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

I Promised You This Blogpost About Our Move

We only went and moved to Amsterdam!

In a fiercely planned operation, my bf & I packed up our respective households in Cardiff and Birmingham and sent all our stuff in a van to a mystery flat in the Middenmeer district of Amsterdam, thus forcing ourselves to go after it. On Tuesday afternoon we got in the car with a boot full of random things and drove, in a leisurely manner, to the non-glamorous international port of Harwich. We passed about a dozen Little Chefs and stopped in two of them (I had Jubilee Pancakes which came with cherries and ice-cream) and accidentally went into Kettering looking for a nice coffee that was never going to be found.

We arrived in Harwich at 8pm, and thinking that we wouldn't be let onto the midnight ferry we were booked on for a good three hours, we had a sad car picnic of cheese rolls and crisps while listening to an audiobook of The Secret Agent (it's about bomb-throwing anarchists and is tremendous). Of course, no sooner had we finished our repast than we were let onto the Stena Hollandica.

Car ferries appear to have changed since I was last on one, and I found the ferry unexpectedly nice. We had a cabin, which was quite plush in a sort of moderately luxe capsule hotel way. The cabin had a bathroom and a great deal of solid fake wood moulding. It was cool, I liked it. We had another dinner, because why not? We're ON A BOAT!

In the misty early morning, without having had quite enough sleep for the previous three nights, we pootled out of the boat and onto the motorways of the Netherlands. It was below freezing at this point, and it's been 0C or (quite a lot) below ever since. But yeah, we dragged ourselves to the flat in Middenmeer and pretty much fell over with tiredness.

The flat is, well, temporary. We're only here for a short while and will be moving when I've got my next job. It's a huge flat over two floors with a big open plan living room/kitchen and two large bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. The place has excellent climate control and underfloor heating, which has been unbelievably useful in the wintry blast. When the stuff gets here on Monday, that'll be great (quite a lot of our warmest clothes are in the packing boxes) but we've got a very tolerable set up until then.

What else has happened, apart from the Arctic blast? Oh, we found an anarchist bookshop and cafe, which was nice.

I will fill you in on the rest later.