Monday, 31 December 2012

Ten albums I liked in 2012

(in no particular order)
1. L - R: Best Coast - The Only Place, Field Music - Plumb, Allo Darlin' - Europe; 2. L - R: Gallops - Yours Sincerely, Dr. Hardcore, Hot Chip - In Our Heads, Mystery Jets - Radlands; 3. L - R: Tall Ships - Everything Touching, Errors - Have Some Faith in Magic, Golden Fable - Star Map; 4. Efterklang - Piramida

These are the albums I have loved the most in 2012 (and will continue to play well into the future, I hope). I've popped each album in full onto this Spotify playlist, in case you want to hear what I'm making such a fuss about.
Of these bands, in 2012 I saw Field Music, Allo Darlin', Gallops, Mystery Jets, Tall Ships and Golden Fable live, and I have a ticket to see Efterklang in the new year! 2013 is going to be lots of fun!

Sunday, 30 December 2012

My 21 Days of Christmas: Northern leg

Knowing I would be all tied up in Bristol over the Christmas period, I fled North in the middle of the month to begin the festivities early. I drank soy chai lattes at Flat White Durham, went for rainy walks on cobbled hills, exchanged gifts and gossip and even squeezed in a trip to my old stomping ground, Newcastle.

1. Christmassy market in Durham. 2. Ben unwraps a gift.

5. A fleeting return to Newcastle; Northumberland Street.

6 & 7. My Mum's gorgeous dresser, adorned with well wishes.

8. Our little baby tree was looking slightly bare, so we tied gift tags on it once we'd open our presents.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

When Bristol Froze: Harbour Wonderland

On the last weekend before Christmas, Bristol's historic harbourside around M Shed was lit up in such a way as to capture the hearts and imaginations of adults and children alike and draw us into a world of ice, snow and myth. It was the first "Harbour Wonderland" event to have taken place, and combined light projections, video, sound and even a little snow.

The cranes were illuminated in striking green, a round screen dangling impossible between two of them. Braziers sent fluffy ash into the sky, and as it fell, mingling with the harsh rain and glistening suds of a hidden bubble machine, you could almost be sure that what drifted downwards was snow.

Above the churning sea of umbrella tops fell a projection. The film made was by young people from South Bristol with Knowle West Media Centre and was a charming kaleidoscope of stop motion animation and the imagined story of when Bristol's harbour froze: "The only things that can survive are penguins. They're alright."

Kathy Hinde's origami cranes
Roosting up on the cranes were - cranes! A cloud of origami planes, lit from beneath and looking out over the harbour. These were the work of audio-visual artist Kathy Hinde.

Inside the M Shed cafe, a choir sang carols to families as they learned to craft their own origami cranes and tucked into a mince pie or glass of mulled wine. Outside, the braziers fought to keep the cold at bay and I picked my way between the puddles and amongst the soapy residue of what I wanted to believe was snow. There will always be a little bit of me that wants to believe in a world where the harbour froze and penguins skated where the ferry now makes its rounds.

I'm wishing for snow in the new year.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

A Very Making Things Club Christmas

Lori and Chris must love Christmas at least as much as I do, because in the weeks leading up to the big day we were treated to a two-part Making Things Club Christmas bonanza! Back in November, we met to make cute little snowmen and wrap up the handmade goodies we had crafted at home for our contemporaries in the Manchester Craft Mafia. I had spent the morning making a plush Christmas pudding from felt, beads and, of course, a little bit of glitter. Chris showed me how to make an adorable snowman and I sent him up to Manchester as a present too.

Felt Christmas pudding in progress
The gifts I sent to Manchester - isn't the snowman's little hat adorable?
Because the gifts were to be sent up to Manchester and opened by the Mafia a few weeks after we'd wrapped them up, I've had to keep these photos under wraps (see what I did there?) until now.

From Bristol with love - the presents we sent to the MCM.
A few weeks later and we reconvened for more festive crafting fun. Cafe Kino was awash with Christmas jumpers and jangling songs. I taught a new friend how to finger knit and felt quite some pride at having done so - I've never taught anything at MTC before, only learnt. We scattered around tables and made Christmas decorations that looked good enough to eat.

Of course, we still had the gift swap to look forward to! An exciting box had winged its way to us all the way from Manchester and was full of handmade goodies, all beautifully wrapped.

Chris with the presents from Manchester Craft Mafia
The Craft Mafia had been so generous that those of us who had contributed more than one present to the swap got an extra present in return! There were so many beautiful gifts, some of them quite inspired. A favourite of mine was the pin cushion ring. What a perfect idea!

Presents and a feast!

I received a gorgeous floral brooch and some re-usable chocolate decorations: four cute and festive drawstring pouches to hang on my tree, each containing a Lindt d'Or. They fit perfectly with the mainly red theme of my trimming and I've even managed not to eat them yet!

Re-usable chocolate decorations.
Of course, they say it's about giving - but receiving feels pretty special too!

Merry Christmas, Manchester!

Christmas Wrapping

That time of year is almost upon us - it's practically clambered into our laps already! For once, I had all my gifts bought and wrapped well in advance. If you don't, it's not too late to make them look a treat under the tree. First, you need Christmas music to keep your spirits in the right place...

Another way to make your wrapping go easily is to have the right materials at hand. If you've got bottles, don't work yourself into a state trying to neatly cover them in tissue paper. I've tried it every year for as long as I can remember and this year I finally admitted defeat. Buy a couple of nice bottle bags - not too garish (unless that's what you like) - and have them at the ready. As for the rest of your presents, buy a roll of paper or get inventive: use brown paper or newspaper and use ribbons, garlands and even pompoms to jazz things up.

I bought some Fair Isle printed tissue paper (Next) and used cute washi tape (Paperchase), stickers and Pritt stick in place of Sellotape. If you're using tissue paper, you'll usually need more than one layer. When using patterned tissues, begin with a layer of a block coloured paper first - I used black and white sheets that I had saved from things people had sent me.

I've always struggled to find gift tags that I actually like and usually prefer to keep them very simple, so I played around with cutting out the initial (or entire name, when it was a short one) of the intended recipient from brown paper and glueing it onto the parcel. I also picked up a pack of gorgeous tags (Next) and enjoyed mix-and-matching patterns on my presents for once.

Small gifts such as jewellery deserve their own beautiful packaging as much as larger items. Gift boxes lined with tissue paper serve well for this. I bought a plain one (super cheap at all craft shops) and drew my sister on the lid (the present was for her). I then made a nest of tissue paper, popped in a few sequins and laid the earrings I'd bought her inside.

A tiny bit of time and effort will make sure your gifts entice loved ones down onto their knees beneath the tree, wondering what it is they'll be unwrapping come Tuesday!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Homecoming: an ode to Durham

It's all very well scavenging for excitement in a new town, but sometimes all the soul really craves is some downtime in your own hometown. At this time of year, there really is no place I'd rather be than amongst my friends and family - it wouldn't be Christmas without loved ones! It's not only the people who I love: pulling into Durham city, high up on the railway bridge, remains one of the best feelings. I arrived on Thursday, when the city was glazed in a sugary frost and bathed in the rosy haze of retreating afternoon.

View of the cathedral from over the river.
I awoke yesterday to a dusting of the snow I've so been yearning for, back in the West country, stirred date syrup into a warm bowl of porridge and spent the day running errands, catching up with friends and sporting a silly grin. I steepled my fingers around a steaming cup of tea at Flat White Durham, leapt over puddles in the shadow of the cathedral and gobbled low GI mince pies baked fresh for me by my wonderful mum.

Low GI mince pie.
The house has been made ready for our premature Christmas day: cards from far-away friends and relatives adorn the dresser along with a string of red, heart-shaped fairy lights. Under the tree nestle the gifts I lovingly wrapped in Fair Isle printed tissue paper and jazzy washi tape. I can barely wait to see look on the faces of my family as they tear through the paper to discover the treasures I have picked out for them!

My beloved Ben snoozing beneath the tree.
It seems I'm not the only one to be having Christmas early this year. A couple of people have told me they plan to do the same: a lady who shared my train was travelling the length of the country to spend a weekend with her family too, and exchanges on Twitter suggest it's not uncommon. If you're having an early celebration, will you do it all over again on the 25th?

With festive cheer,

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Snapshots of late: winter sunshine

I love the light in winter: sharper than before; cleaner. I love trudging around in my sturdy old Doc Martens, headphones cushioning my ears from the cold and eyes alert, scanning for moments to freeze. I love the bite in the air when we tilt away from the suns beams, and the caress of its light on my cheeks as we're drawn in closer along the path we cut around it. Just as much, I love escaping into caf├ęs and warming my hands and heart on something fruity, tucking into a hearty lunch and discovering trinkets in the transient pop-up boutiques that pepper Bristol but don't always stick around for long!

 1. Winter sunshine at St. Nick's market. 2. Clean reflections on St. Augustine's Parade.

3 & 4. Filling up on sandwiches and "Granny's Garden" tea at Cox & Baloney's tearoom (adjacent to their delightful vintage boutique). 5. Their tea blends are available to buy to take home. Granny's Garden is a glorious, warming hug in delicate bone china.

6, 7 & 8. The Birdcage on Corn Street.

9 & 10. I picked up these hummingbird earrings from the Artizans Emporium at the Looking Glass arts space (the Emporium has sadly passed on by now). The darling deer is a little something I nabbed from my parents' house when they were moving earlier this year.