Monday, 30 April 2012

Pipe insulation to protect your furniture

I love wooden furniture but sometimes I do worry about knocking and damaging it - or in the case of this sofa, the damage that a the back was threatening to the freshly-painted wall. After just a few days we were starting to see a slight mark on the wall, just from sitting down.

It turns out that a length of cheap pipe insulation is perfect for protecting walls and furniture from one another. It holds itself in place, takes seconds to fit, and you can't even see it from the front.

You just need to find a piece of insulator that's designed for a pipe about the same size as than the part of the furniture you want to protect, or slightly smaller (because this stuff is quite stretchy and you want a snug fit so it doesn't fall off). If the insulation is a solid tube, as mine was, you also need to cut a straight line along the length so you can open it out.

Sofa back

Sofa back

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Rules for Writing

Whenever I write a post about the linguistic principles underlying common writing rules, someone suggests I should write a book about this stuff. One day I might well do that, but I thought I'd start with a series of essays here, and see whether it ends up book-length after a few months.

So I have a question for all of my readers - many of whom, I know, also enjoy writing. What writing rules have you heard thrown around? I don't at this stage mind whether you agree with them or not (there are, after all, exceptions to everything). I'm interested in capturing a big list of rules and cliches, and I'll work on explaining those that I can, from a scientific linguist's perspective.

As a starter for ten, here are a few rules off the top of my head. I've heard all these repeated often, and usually without any particular explanation attached:
Please feel free to leave your own ideas in the comments, and/or vote for those you'd most like me to write about. (The links are to posts I've already written.)

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

World Book Night 2012

World Book Night 2012

It's World Book Night!

Or rather, last night was World Book Night, but I've just today received my book: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I've never heard of this novel before, nor its author, but I think that's kind of the point. It'll inspire me to read something I otherwise might not have come across.

Twenty thousand volunteers have each been given 24 books to distribute, to friends, family, or strangers on the train. And in fact, the idea of giving out all these books is that they should be passed on to other readers when you've finished. There's even a tracking code in the front so you can register and watch its onward progress through (this is done through BookCrossing, if you've heard of that project). There are twenty-five different books being distributed, only five of which I've already read, so I wonder if I'll manage to "catch" any of the others as they're passed along.

As well as getting me to read something new, it'll also be very strange reading from paper. I've got so accustomed to my Kindle! (And paper books are much harder work, since I can't adjust the fonts without a magnifier.)

Of course, as soon as I've read The Book Thief, I'll post a review over at my book review site, so look out for that if you're interested.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Regency Dress #1 - Pattern Cutting

Some friends are having a regency ball to celebrate their anniversary next month, so I've somewhat naively decided to make myself a regency-style gown for the occasion. I actually bought the pattern last year, but you know what I'm like with deadlines, so I've only just got around to doing anything about it (with three weekends to go). Another friend is also making hers for the same party, so at least I'm not entirely alone in the crazy quest that is amateur dressmaking.

And I really am an amateur. This isn't quite my first attempt at historical costume-making, but my previous effort was a Roman stola, which is perhaps the simplest dress pattern ever (just two straight seams and some buttons). Although I did hand-sew that one for added authenticity, which I probably won't bother to do this time.

I spent a good chunk of this afternoon tracing and cutting the pattern - I'd prefer not to cut the original, you never know when you might want to make it again in a different size. The guidelines that came with the pattern give me a different size for each of my bust, waist, and hip measurements so I've gone for something in the middle and will tweak it as necessary later.

Next, I really need to find some suitable fabric for both the toile (to enable said tweaking) and the actual dress.

Regency dress pattern

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Music Videos

Following on from my last post about the Mechanical Music museum, a friend pointed me in the direction of an unconventional recording of Pachelbel's Canon. I'd seen this once or twice before, but it's wonderful enough to bear rewatching (several times), so I was very glad of the reminder:

I've also managed to find a couple of videos that nicely represent the things we saw in Northleach. First, here 's Vladimir Horowitz playing his Carmen Variations via pianola. We heard the same piece, on a similar instrument:

And a very early jukebox in action; we saw a machine very similar to this, but for us it played Amazing Grace rather than this odd plinky tune:

PS All this musicality somehow reminds me of the bounce juggling rendition of Steve Reich's Clapping Music which I blogged about last year. Worth a watch, if you missed it the first time around.

Monday, 16 April 2012

World of Mechanical Music in Northleach


We had friends visiting this weekend, and one of them has wanted for years to visit the World of Mechanical Music, so it seemed like a good excuse for a day out. I wasn't quite so excited by the concept, but actually, it was incredibly interesting and a lovely place to visit. The artifacts on display ranged from the familiar (such as a collection of gramophones) to earlier and rarer experiments in the recording and playback of music, and the guided tour means you get to see (and hear) many different machines in action.

The oldest piece on display was this barrel organ, whose music is laid out using a series of tacks and staples. These catch the pins as the barrel rotates, and each pin is linked to a different length of pipe at the back of the organ. Several songs could be played from each cylinder, by lining the pins up for a different piece of music.


This method was soon superceded by carefully crafted, fine metal cylinders. These were fitted into beautiful wooden boxes to furnish the homes of the wealthy, often decorated with inlaid wood or painted patterns, although our guide explained that there wasn't always a link between quality of finish and quality of sound!


Some early precursors of the record player had metal or wooden discs, stamped out with holes to represent the tune.



Later developments include a number of self-playing pianos, where rolls of paper tape are used to play the keys of a real piano. Some of the paper rolls had been recorded by virtuoso pianists and composers - we were given the chance to listen to Grieg playing a piece of his own composition, and it was quite spooky to watch the keys moving of their own accord.


As well as being open as a museum, there's an active restoration business here, and most of the music boxes on display are also up for sale... if you have a few thousand pounds to spare. This also means the tour will be slightly different on every visit, as current stock changes; I certainly wouldn't mind going back again one day.

I've also posted some videos of similar instruments if you'd like to see them in action.

And finally, little light entertainment for a Monday afternoon: I've just taken a fun general knowledge quiz about Europe on the Dorling Kindersley website. I'm almost embarrassed to say I only got 15 out of 20 on my first attempt, but geography has never been my strong point and there are some tricky questions like the number of canals in Venice. (At least it highlights the right answer when you get something wrong, so you can learn something along the way.) If you fancy playing the Europe Quiz for yourself, then do come back and let me know how you did!

Saturday, 14 April 2012



No left turn. No right turn. Oh, and no entry.... this set of signs made me smile when I spotted them in Wotton-under-Edge.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Best Way To Trim Asparagus

Asparagus is one of my favourite vegetables, so I'm always happy at this time of year when asparagus season comes around. So in preparation for the season just beginning, I wanted to share a handy little tip for preparing asparagus.

Rather than taking a knife it to trim the ends off, all you need to do is bend each spear gently between your fingers until it snaps. There's a natural breaking point which will remove all the woody stem to leave you with only the tender vegetable.

As you can see from the photos and video below, this point can vary a lot between different stems, even from the same crop of asparagus, and it's hard to second-guess it by appearance. But by taking advantage of the natural breaking characteristics, you can make sure you don't get woody bits stuck between your teeth, without wasting any of the good stuff.

PS I did this deliberately slowly for the video, but in reality it's much faster.





Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Portraits of Polar Life

I met Konstantin Savva in Nuuk, where we both enjoyed the processions, music, and dancing at Greenland's National Day celebrations. But while I went home after a couple of weeks, Konstantin has spent months exploring the polar regions. I'm very envious of his expedition, particularly getting to see the deep north in the depths of winter (something I plan to experience for myself one day). So I was thrilled to hear that the Sakhalin Regional Museum in Russia is holding an exhibition of Konstantin's photography, which runs until June.

Konstantin has kindly given me permission to share a few of his photos here as a taster. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. And if you can't make it to Russia in time (which, let's face it, most of us won't be able to), you can still visit the exhibition virtually via Facebook.

Yevgeniy Mikhailovich Galyatagin, walrus ivory carver and scrimshaw artist in Nutepelmen, Chukot.

Boris Vukvukay, famous deerherder of Chukotka, the hero of Aleksei Vakhrushev's film The Book of Tundra.

Karina, proud daughter of the deer herder.

Nomads getting ready to move on in Neshkan, Chukot.

Northern lights over Nuuk, Greenland.

All photos in this post are (c) Konstantin Savva, used with permission.

See all my posts about Greenland.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Deer in the garden



Sorry for being so quiet lately - we've had a few days without broadband, as a result of switching supplier. Thankfully we're up and running again now. More on that another day, but for now, here are some pictures of a deer happily settled in our garden earlier this week. They've been around a lot lately, munching at the new spring growth in the garden. Beautiful - but we are going to have to sort out some decent fencing before I get going with my vegetable patch again.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Win a Denby pan set

This giveaway is now closed - many thanks to all who entered and congratulations to winner Steven Butler. Why not subscribe to my monthly newsletter for exclusive giveaways and offers?

Is your kitchen full of battered and mismatched pans? How would you like to win a new set of shiny new Denby saucepans?

This week, I'm offering you the chance to win a Denby stainless steel saucepan set courtesy of Palmers Department Store (which is currently celebrating its 175th birthday!).

The pans are dishwasher-safe, and suitable for any hob type so they'll work even if, like me, you've gone over to induction. There are three saucepans (two with lids, and one milk pan), and a deep-sided frying pan. Although I haven't used Denby pans myself, all our crockery is Denby stoneware, so I know they make quality products. And there's also a ten-year guarantee on the pans, which is usually a good sign!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 2 April 2012

Introducing @PeopleOfUK

If you follow me on Twitter, you might already have noticed that I'm quieter than usual this week, because all my tweeting energy will be poured into representing Britain over on the @PeopleOfUK account.

Following in the footsteps of the hugely successful @Sweden, each week one person will take over the @PeopleOfUK account and tweet their life. And I'm first up!

But you shouldn't follow @PeopleOfUK just because you want to listen to me talking about cookies and the Cotswolds. As a project, the really cool thing will be in the diversity of individuals taking over the account each week. And over the course of weeks, months, and (I hope) years, this should grow into a fantastic portrait of life in modern Britain.

The PeopleOfUK Project also has a blog where you can learn a little about who's taking over each week, and find out more details of how to get involved yourself (only if you're in the UK, though). There's also a list of other active accounts in the "location curation" scene.

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