Sunday, 30 December 2012

Over for another year...

Well, that's Christmas done and dusted for another year.  I'm pretty glad it's done.  I've always found Christmas to be stressful - the lengthy buildup, the expectation, the demands on your time from people you don't particularly want to see, the non-invitations from people you really would like to see, the teeming hordes of Christmas shoppers (although online shopping is a boon in that regard, as long as the delivery couriers don't nick your parcels - long story...), the hell of doing the shop for the Christmas food.  I mean, yeah, this happens every year.

But this year I had the added bonus of being circled by the Black Dog again.  Except it wasn't quite as much of a Black Dog as the episode I had and wrote about last year, so perhaps it was more of a Black Puppy lolloping around.  But that makes it sound more adorable than it actually was.  This year's Christmas Episode of Woe luckily didn't involve my inner critic whispering in my ear how fucking useless I was and how no-one would miss me if I died, although I could hear her trying to get in through the door.  No, this year involved walking around for a good couple of weeks with The Stone of Misery heavily lodged in my chest, accompanied by much Deep Sighing and a complete lack of desire to Get Anything Done.  There was some sobbing and consideration of huge life changes, all undertaken in privacy in the garage and now all discarded as just me being mental (I've come through the other side and am now 'normal' again) and being oversensitive although there were extenuating circumstances.  But never mind, I'm back on an even keel again and that's to be welcomed.  Obviously I'm keeping an eye on these episodes and should they start getting more frequent and/or more intense, I shall head off to my doctor so fast you won't see me for dust.

So Christmas was 'interesting'.  We stayed at home and didn't see anyone on the actual day.  We had chicken with all the trimmings (no point in a big turkey for just the two of us - Sylvester the Cat doesn't eat real poultry anymore), opened our presents to each other - I got a Garmin GPS running watch thingy and a brilliant wireless hifi system, called Sonos,  to play music in every room in the house (I can highly recommend it - you can control it from your smartphone, laptop and tablet).  I also got a selection of stuff from my Amazon wishlist which makes me sound rather alarming - a three book set on the history of the Third Reich and two of the operas in Wagner's Ring Cycle.  We'll just draw a discreet veil over that, shall we?

I also got this brill thing called the 'Big Head Squirrel Feeder' which I spotted earlier in the year and thought was one of the funniest things I'd ever seen.  I laughed till I nearly had an accident.  The Lovely Husband had been paying attention and secretly got one for me for Christmas.  It's a large, hollow, caricature of a squirrel's head that you fill with seed and suspend about a foot from the ground.  The squirrels come along and eat the seeds while looking incredibly comical.  Look:

How could you NOT want one?

We've not set it up yet but I promise there will be photos when I do.

My lovely mum got me a painting that I'd taken a fancy to at a local arts society exhibition, my brother and his family got us wine.

We went to my brother's yesterday for the family get-together and present swap.  I gave my brother and his wife a painting I'd done of their two littlest kids taken from a photo he'd taken of them, which, I think, they liked:


I'd also made little crocheted rose brooches and knitted some twirly scarves for my sister-in-law and my two oldest nieces:
 Red May Rose
03Feb12 twirly scarf1
which they all seemed genuinely delighted with (thereby declaring themselves knitworthy), but none more so than my littlest 2-year old niece who grabbed her mum's scarf, wrapped it round her neck and went running around the room!  This, of course, means that I will now knit her her very own one in pink for her birthday in February!

So food was eaten and drink consumed (I now know I like Amaretto...), and a most convivial time was had by all.

We're now in that liminal period between Christmas and New Year, when thoughts turn to 2013.  I'm not normally one for New Year's Resolutions and there are some which will go without saying, such as 'do more painting', but I do think I'd rather like to try and lose some weight if possible and I'm definitely setting myself a new total distance running target because - drumroll, please - I ACHIEVED MY GOAL OF RUNNING 100 MILES IN 2012!!


I actually achieved this goal a few days before Christmas but couldn't be bothered to blog about it (see references to the Black Puppy above), but I did do it.  I actually ran further because I only set the target at the beginning of March so it doesn't take into account January and February's distances but, on the other hand, there were at least 6 to 8 weeks between March and December when I couldn't run at all due to crappy feet issues so perhaps it all evens out.

I decided to take a complete break from running over the Christmas period and will start again in the New Year.  And I've decided to stick my neck out and try and run 250 miles in 2013.  I'm pretty damn sure I could do 200 miles fairly easily - after all, that's only 3.8 miles per week or 16.66 miles per month, and my last two runs were both 5 miles each.  So adding an extra 50 overall increases that to 4.8 miles per week (i.e., only an extra mile)/20.8 miles per month.  I have at least two online friends who have both run over 1000 miles in 2012 alone so I'm thinking I can achieve a piddling 250 - as long as my feet hold out, though.  This year I've had to contend with a neuroma in my left foot and plantar fasciitis/tendonitis in my right but both seem to have sorted themselves out - fingers crossed this lasts.

So that's the running.  As for crafts, I'm joining a Knit-Along project with a group on Ravelry of a circular shawl in the form of a star-chart of the northern sky, with beads for constellations.

 I'm doing mine in a very dark blue with silver-lined glass beads for the stars.  A mass cast-on is scheduled for 1 January and I'm hoping that with approx. 200 other people also doing it at the same time as me that there'll be plenty of help available.  I sincerely hope so!  Anyway wish me luck!

I'll also do my best to try and blog and bit more, I think.  I know I'm not the most interesting and scintillating of writers but this blog does sort of act as a kind of diary and I'm currently finding it especially useful for keeping track of the arty painting stuff so for that alone it's worth keeping it going.

And with that, I shall love you and leave you, and wish you all the very best for 2013.

Friday, 14 December 2012

More Arty Stuff....

Ah.  Well, seems we're in need of a bit of a catch up again, aren't we?!? I have actually been pretty busy with the painting and stuff....

Last post but one I last left you halfway through a painting of a stormy sky over the sea somewhere in New Zealand.  That painting was finished quite some time ago now and has been hanging on the wall.  I took photos of progress and if I can find them, I'll post them.  Hang on.....

Right, this was the last photo I posted, and I had sketched in the basic outlines of the seashore and hills, and had started working on the stormy sky and rain storm.

This was it again after a few more hours work, the final version (there were more inbetween photos but I can't find them now) - the picture's a bit blue because of the lighting in the room at the time but you get the idea:

And this is it in a black frame and on the wall.  I took the picture with flash which is reflected in the glass unfortunately but you get a better idea of the blue/grey colour of the sky, and the blue/grey/green of the sea with the flash:


Next in my queue was to have a go at painting this very striking red cabin in the snow, taken in New England, that I found on Flickr:

And this is my final version, framed in white and hanging on the wall.  If you look closely, you'll see that I decided to save my sanity by not trying to draw in all the clapboard lines.  I don't think it's come out too badly:


I posted a link on the original photo's page to my Flickr page with the painting on it, and, rather fabulously, the photographer contacted me to say how much she liked the painting!  Thank Jebus!  I knew I was taking a risk by alerting her to the painting as I wasn't sure how it stood on copyright issues (it's fine, by they way - there's no problem with someone producing and publishing a drawing or painting based on someone else's work; the problem occurs if I were to reproduce the original photo and claim it as my work) or even if they would like it.  So, hooray!

Next up, then, I decided to have a crack at pastels again. All my paintings so far have been in acrylics and I've had some difficulty using pastels for some reason.  But my brother (who I think is a fantastic photographer), took this wonderfully enigmatic photo of his eldest daughter (and my niece), Jessica, wearing old-fashioned cardboard 3D glasses, then put it through a filter to make it black and white but left one lens red.  I've always loved this photograph, it looks very 1960s to me, what with Jessie's hair and the glasses:

 I thought I'd use black, grey, white and red pastels on black paper, A4.

This is the picture before putting in the glasses:
Jessie wearing 3D glasses (WIP)

And this is it finished off:
Jessie wearing 3D glasses - finished 29.11.12

I think it came out pretty well.  I'm so pleased I took these photos, though, before cocking it up by spraying it with fixative as it took out a lot of the white.  I tried to rework it but decided I was more like to make it worse so have left it.

Next - told you I've been busy! - was another seascape.  A quick little afternoon's painting, this one, again chosen from a photograph I found on Flickr (unfortunately Blogger seems to have cut off the right hand end of this wave but if you click on the photo it will take you to the original on Flickr):


And this is my 8"x6" painting of that photo:


My current painting is not actually going terribly well, I don't think.  I found this interesting architectural photo on Flickr and loved the angles and colours, and thought it was worth a bash:


But it's proving to be a tricky bugger.  I'm not sure it's working so may well not show you if it doesn't come out reasonably well!  Which would be a shame but it's my first attempt at painting a cityscape and it's something I'd like to get my head round a bit so maybe with a bit more practice I might produce something worth showing other people.

And that's where I'm up to so far.  I have a plan for a close up portrait of my brother, and I downloaded an online acrylic painting tutorial on impressionist seascapes which I will also get round to doing at some point.  Oh, and this term's art classes have now finished.  I have to admit I didn't go to the last three classes which were meant to be spent entirely on working on one large painting of a still life of your own choosing.  But I couldn't make my mind up what I wanted to paint and, to be honest, I wasn't really that interested in doing a still life (I was busy doing seascapes and pastel portraits, as you can see!) but as it's just a class for interest and there's no qualifications to be gained or anything, I decided to not bother with doing them.  Don't get me wrong, I'm glad I did the course as I learnt some interesting techniques this term - mono printing, ink washes, mixing hues/tints/tones/shades - which was brilliant but I'm not really that interested in painting still lifes at this point.

I have, though, signed up for the spring term which will be on landscapes and cityscapes, which is much more my thing and I'm looking forward to.  I expect there'll be lots of talk about perspective and vanishing points.

Anyway, lovelies, I don't expect I'll be posting again before Christmas (or perhaps just once, if I manage to reach a particular running milestone before the New Year!) so if I don't, I hope y'all have the Christmas you want, whether it's surrounded by family, or just on your own, and thanks for stopping by the blog!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Iris Scarf - Taa-daah!

Not had a Taa-daah post for a while but I've finally finished something so I can show you!

You may recall this post way back in the mists of February this year when I went to the Unravel Show at Farnham Maltings and came back with some lovely hand-dyed wool and a kit from The Natural Dye Studio to make a rather stunning crochet scarf.

Well, I finally got round to starting the scarf in June this year and half-heartedly worked at it, on and off, throughout this year's 'summer' until I eventually got into it and knuckled down about a month ago, finally finishing it off yesterday.

I couldn't get my head around the pattern for each 'snowflake' to begin with, and then the pattern called for joining them as you go, which further did my head in, until I had a word with myself, started to concentrate a bit and realised, actually, that the pattern was pretty easy and the joining was logical as long as I paid a bit of attention.

I tend to do my knitting/crochet at night in front of the telly and, yes, there was some unravelling necessary when I got distracted by Dexter or The Walking Dead and realised I'd cocked up the stitch or, more likely, had forgotten what came next so this, for me, was most definitely not a mindless piece of crochet-as-meditation - I actually had to be actively involved!

But it's finished!  And it's lovely!  And the colours are stunning! And, no, I'm not going to block it because that would drive me insane!

As it's a gorgeously sunny morning here today at Jones Towers, I took the opportunity to drape the scarf over the bridge handrail to photograph it in all its glory for you all:

Isn't it lovely?

I have a bit of wool left over in all the colours so what I'm going to do now is make up some more of the individual 'snowflakes' to hang as Christmas decorations, either on the tree or in windows.

If you fancy getting one of the kits yourself, you can get it here although I think they're out of stock at the moment.  The kit comes with all the wool and the pattern but you'll need to get yourself a 2.75mm crochet hook.  And it really is very easy - if you can crochet a chain, a half-treble and a treble then you can make this scarf.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Need to catch up!


Well, if you've been reading this blog for long enough you'll know updates are a bit erratic due to my terminal laziness, so this lengthy gap is nothing to be worried about.  All is as it ever was at Jones Towers.

But I need to catch up on the art classes postings as I know that one or two of you actually quite enjoyed reading them!

So each course, from start to finish, is one term and is about 10 or 12 classes in length.  I finished the last course (which was on portraiture) with the big portrait painting of The Lovely Husband, then after the summer break I signed up for Kim's next course which is on Still Life.  Lifes.  Lives.  Whatever.  Groups of objects.

First class for this new term was about a month ago, 27 September, so I've 3 or 4 classes to update you and I'll do separate posts about each class.  But first I'll fill you in with what I painted and drew in the summer.

So remember I was painting Winkworth Arboretum and briefly alluded to a painting I was starting of Fennigook Beach? And I decided that I liked the very basic painting of the beach where I'd just blocked in the areas? (I described it to my tutor and she said 'like David Hockney?' and I realised she was right) And I couldn't decide whether to leave the painting like that or carry on?  Well, I decided to do both!

As the painting in the post above was a big one, i.e., 16"x12", I decided to carry on with that one as the fully detailed version, and I painted a much smaller, i.e., 8"x6", Hockney version, and here they both are.  Only the smaller one is currently framed and on the wall:

The bigger version is finished and I'm just deciding what to do with it:

I'm quite pleased with it, although I think the colours may be a bit too bright.  Still, I think the green cliff face has worked very well and it's all good practice.

What else?  Oh yes, during the last course Kim suggested that I might get on with using charcoal as I obviously like using my fingers to smudge soft pencil to create shadow and tone, so I got myself a set of three charcoal pencils in light, medium and dark.  I got the ones that look like a pencil as charcoal is filthydirty to work with and I want to keep the smudging to where I deliberately put it, not where I accidentally touch the paper!

And, yeah, I like it.  I've not used it very much so far as I've been doing the painting, but I did do this sketch of a badger skull that I have (apologies the photo is so dark):

Finally I decided I wanted to have a go at doing a seascape, crashing waves on the shore, that sort of thing.  As I didn't have any suitable photos that I'd taken myself, I headed off to Flickr, the photography storage website.  Needless to say there are several thousand of them on Flickr and I wasn't sure what I was looking for but I've saved half a dozen or so that I really like and might make a bit of a series of them if I get on with them.

So, the first one I've done is based on this photograph, taken in Malta:


I particularly like the sea green colour of the wave and the contrast between it and the almost black sea behind it and dark grey sky; this is my 8"x6"version:

I've used a white mount (although I'm wondering if a very pale grey might not have been better...) and a black frame, and it's currently languishing in the sitting room waiting to find a place to go:

And I'm currently having a go at doing a painting of this particularly ambitious New Zealand seascape, although I might have bitten off more than I can chew with this one:

Beach Clouds

I decided to do a big painting of this, a 16"x12" version.  I only started it a couple of days ago and have been working on the sky so far, so there's a fair way to go yet and it's only in the very early stages:

It might work, it might not but I'll keep you posted.  And that's where we are with the artwork I've done at home.  As I said, I'll do separate posts about the classes as we've been doing some really interesting stuff in those, such as monoprinting and working with ink (and bleach!) but you'll have to wait for those.  And then there's the crochet I've been doing.....

All for future posts!!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Painting Winkworth Arboretum

I've finished another painting.  I'm quite pleased with it.  I hesitate to call myself an 'artist' but, I suppose, I am although I'm not comfortable with that.  It's a label I don't yet feel entitled to, like it's deeply pretentious to say 'I'm an artist'.  I admit I'm trying it on for size but it's still...embarrassing, shall we say?  Like admiring some really beautiful Louboutin shoes and daring to try them on but finding that they don't quite fit, and they're just too gorgeous and expensive to belong to the likes of me, who normally slobs about in Birkenstocks or trainers.  I'm not worthy of those Louboutins, and I'm not worthy to call myself - or be called - an artist.  I personally don't like my own paintings enough to be very comfortable in showing them, yet I still frame them and hang them on my walls, and post photographs of them on my Facebook page and, yes, blog about them.

It's a peculiar relationship.

I admit I like people saying nice things about them.  I like it a lot.  But it feels needy on my part.  I'm not very good at taking criticism - never have been.  I'm one of those people who if they start doing something have to be quite good at it almost immediately or else I'll never do it again.  I need praise and encouragement.  If I get told, 'well, it's quite nice but it's not one of your best, is it?' or 'never mind, it can always be painted over, can't it?' then I crumple internally like a small child and will cry about it later.  This is a huge failing on my part and I know it.  I'm sure there are reasons for it and if I were American I've no doubt I'd pursue some kind of therapy but I'm not, I pretend to have a stiff upper lip and soldier on through it.  I'm getting better at thinking, 'Thanks for that but sod you, I do actually like it and am going to carry on...' while just smiling at the critic and changing the subject.

I have no idea why I'm telling you all this.  Occasionally my blog turns into my accidental shrink where I say things I need to get off my chest - you might have noticed this! But enough of that for now.  Let's turn to what I was going to write about in the first place.

I have a friend on Facebook who is venturing into the world of painting with acrylics and one of my most recent posts on my FB profile was to put up a photo of the very beginning of my current painting.  It's of Fennigook Beach, Portwrinkle in Cornwall, based on a photo my brother took there in the summer.  It has a very strong composition so I've just sketched out the basic lines of the composition and blocked in the shapes with solid colour, basically just to cover the white canvas board.  The thing is that I really quite like it just like that, without any more detail. 

Here, I'll show you.  This is the photo my brother took on his phone, hence the muted colours:

And this is the start of my painting (don't forget you can click on all these pictures to embiggen them):

You see?  I really quite like that such as it is.  And now, of course, I'm worried that if I carry on I'll bugger it up and wish I'd not gone any further!*

Anyway, I posted the bottom photo and my friend commented that it was interesting to see the process, and I remembered that, like my previous paintings, I'd taken lots of photos of the previous work in progress, which was of Winkworth Arboretum, and that I'd been meaning to do a blog post about it so, in a very longwinded and roundabout way, this is that post!

So, almost exactly three years ago, I visited Winkworth Arboretum and took many photographs.  One particular photograph has stuck in my memory.  I was climbing the steps up from the grassy area on my way back to the car when I turned round and saw this almost perfectly framed gorgeous vista:

It was a gloriously sunny, late afternoon in early autumn and some of the leaves were starting to turn.  I decided I wanted to have a go at painting this.

About 10 or so - probably more - years ago I started watching a programme on the telly about how to paint watercolours, hosted by a very affable, silver-haired Irish chappy by the name of Frank Clarke.  I'd had a go at doing some of his 'paint-alongs' and the experience was very interesting, not least because it taught me that I didn't actually like using watercolours very much!  But he did have a few tips that I'd filed away in the back of my brain and one of them was an acronym/mnemonic that he recited to people when they asked in what order a painting should be done.  Have Some More Fun.  Or, translated - Horizon Sky Midground Foreground.  In other words, decide where your horizon is going to be, then do the sky first, then the midground and, last, the foreground.

Another thing Frank taught me was about how to use masking fluid.  Masking fluid is a thick rubbery liquid that you paint thickly onto an area of your painting that you want to keep paint off for the time being.  It dries and then you paint over it, and when the paint's dry, you peel off the masking fluid - which, incidentally, is as satisfying as peeling off strips of dead skin post-sunburn - to leave behind virgin canvas that you can then paint.

So following Frank's wise words, I decided to Have Some More Fun and do the sky first and I thought I'd experiment by using masking fluid where the tree trunks and main branches go across it.

I sketched in my horizon and then the two main trees on the left and right, and painted them in with the pale yellow masking fluid (it's pale yellow so you can see where you've put it.  You can also get it in pale blue).  I then painted in the sky.  I then realised I had a problem with using the masking fluid in relation to the way I use acrylic paints.  See, I tend to scrub the colours into the board and this, of course, means that I started to peel off the masking fluid with the brush.  Arse.  A useful lesson, though.

This mean I had to be a bit more careful and lighter with my touch where the trunks and branches were concerned.  Next I 'blocked in' the rest of the painting using various shades of green.  This, basically, just covers the white canvas board and gives you a base to start from:

In the next picture I've started adding more detail by basically stippling in more colours.  The leaves of the tree on the right are much darker than the one on the left.  I've also peeled off the masking tape so you can see how white the tree trunks are:

I next painted in the tree trunks and main branches solid black.  My art tutor said that one doesn't use black in paintings but, to me, in the photo I took they're black so black they will be! (I'm such a rebel!):

Next I started paying more attention to the midground, the more yellowy grassy section.  I also added more colour to the leaves to show where the sunlight was hitting them on the left hand tree, and also lightened and darkened the trees and hills in the distance:

Finally I sorted out the foreground, added the bushes and undergrowth, painted in the trees that were turning orange and put in the railway sleeper pathway, and it's done:

I think it's worked pretty well and took me about a week, I think, from start to finish, painting for about 2-3 hours a day.  I got a dark green frame for it and it's now hanging on the wall.  I think it bears a passing resemblance to the photograph so I'm pleased with it.  Plus I'm getting more confident in using colour and how acrylic paints work so it's all good practice!

*I've, more or less, decided to carry on with the more detailed painting as originally intended but if I do bugger it up, I'll just paint another one, like this one, instead since I know it already works!!

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Death and toe joints

I'm not much enjoying getting older.  It's getting harder to get up out of a chair, or even sit down in one, without groaning or going 'oof' from the effort.  More often than not reading the news, or watching it on the box, leaves me feeling more and more world-weary.  I've always been of a fairly misanthropic mindset but 24-hour world news doesn't exactly convince me that humankind is a particularly nice species.  I dunno.  Don't mind me, I'm been feeling a bit 'blah' for the last few days, as if I've got nothing particularly exciting to look forward to.  A bit 'Sunday afternoon in the 1970s', if you know what I mean.

The weather hasn't helped one bit.  We've had, frankly, a fucking appalling summer here, and now the nights are drawing in and the leaves are starting to turn yellow.  I hope we get some good weather in the Autumn; those crisp September days where the sky is a blue million miles, the air is sharp around the edges and there's the faintest whiff of woodsmoke swirling around the dew-besparkled spider's webs.

That'd be nice.

I'm getting older but when I complain about it to my mother, she rightly replies, a little tartly, 'well, it's better than the alternative'.  And she's got a point.

A relative came to visit the other day and, for some reason, conversation turned briefly to acquaintances/friends who had died too young (why, yes, I have always been of a morbid frame of mind, since you ask...) and I could not believe that she didn't have any.  I mean, she's about 5 years older than me so unless she had friends that were wrapped in cotton wool or took no chances, then I can't see how that's possible.

It immediately made me think of and enumerate people I've known who are no longer here:  Felix, a school friend, who fell off the Matterhorn in 1987; Bulldog and Alex, Guildford punks, who died of drugs overdoses; Johnny, who died by deliberately overdosing on methadone; Robert, who died of a brain haemorrhage; Ray, who also had a brain haemorrhage; Colin who succumbed to oesophageal cancer; Dave, who committed suicide; and Simon who managed to kill himself through misadventure (aka, being a complete twat).  All of these, apart from one, were under 45 when they went to their eternal reward.  Also - and I hadn't noticed this until I started to list them - they're all male.  I'm not sure what that says - females are more healthy or less stupid or less likely to take risks perhaps.

Anyway, I've ended up thinking about all this because of my bastard foot.  Feet.  Bastard feet.

If you recall, over the last year or so I've taken up running.  And I was getting better at it, slowly but surely.  I can't honestly say that I was enjoying the actual running much, but I was feeling the benefits and liked being out in the fields and woodland, seeing the changes in the seasons, and getting lungfuls of fresh air.  At one point I was running 5km three times a week.

But then I started to get a small twinge in the joint at the base of my left little toe while running.  It would come and go.  Then it started hurting sometimes across the top of my foot, then sometimes down the side.  And sometimes it wouldn't hurt at all.  Occasionally it was so painful it felt like toothache in my foot.  But it wasn't all the time.  It hurt after I'd been walking for any distance and - weirdly - when driving.

The pain was/is hard to pinpoint exactly and fiddling around with the foot didn't help locate it, but the bone that bumps out to the side, under the little toe, is definitely tender.  Sometimes the pain is so bad it makes me limp, and it's been getting progressively worse.  I've not been out for a proper run since 1 August because I was finding that, after about a mile or so, the pain was so bad that I couldn't continue and would just have to hobble back home.  And this was after taking paracetamol and rubbing Voltarol gel into the joint before going out.

The ongoing, long-standing plantar fasciitis in my right foot wasn't helping much but at least that never really troubled me when actually running, it was always afterwards when that tightened up and made me hobble.  So, yeah, both feet, for different reasons, making me hobble.  Awesome.

To be honest, the pain in the joint started niggling in about September/October last year but wasn't bothersome until about July this year.  I finally pulled my finger out and arranged to see the doctor about 3 weeks ago.

Needless to say, he was bemused and didn't know what was wrong.  Really, I hadn't expected him to but visiting the doctor is always the starting point for investigation.  He thought it was possible that it might be a stress fracture and, as I'd been hoping, decided to send me for an x-ray.  If there's no fracture, then it's more likely to be tendon/ligament damage, or some other sort of soft tissue malady that won't show up on an x-ray.  I was really hoping for there to be a fracture, because then it would be fixable.  However, I kind of knew that it wasn't - this pain had been going on, literally, for months.  If it was a fracture, surely it would've healed by now?

I had the x-ray, after a week's procrastination.  You guessed it - 'normal'.  So nothing is showing up on the x-ray, therefore there's no fracture.  You know what it's going to be, don't you?  Arthritis.  Because I'm getting old.


Next step, then, is a trip back to the doctor to see where we go now.  My choice is to either get referred to a foot specialist, but one who treats more than just elderly patients and/or try and find a good sports therapist locally as I'm inclined to think that whatever's happened has been as a result of my running.  Which, incidentally, the doctor has told me to stop until we know what's going on.  So I stopped running altogether about 3 weeks ago and have turned to swimming instead.  At the moment I'm averaging about 1.5 times a week, swimming 1km each time, which isn't really enough but each visit costs me at least £5 which soon mounts up, especially when you consider running is free.  I do like swimming, though, and, in an ideal world, if I can get back into running, I'd like to eventually do something three times a week - swim/run/swim or run/swim/run.  But until we know more about what's going on, just swimming it is.  I've given myself the goal to clock up 20km swum by the end of the year and since the beginning of July, I've so far covered 6km.  And I'm trying to build up from 1km each time to 1500m/1 mile but that's quite a big step up.

The pool I like swimming at is a new-ish one at Surrey University Sports Park.  It's 50m in length (the only one in Surrey) that, most of the time, is divided into two 25m pools with a transversable boom and a moveable floor that can give a depth from 0 to 2 metres.  But for a few hours a day they open the pool up to its full length of 50m, and that's when I prefer to go swimming.  I'm now used to doing 50m lengths (25m seems so short now) but, more importantly, it's much easier to keep track of how far you've gone when you're doing 50m at a time.  Therefore, 1km is 20 lengths.  Another 500m on top of that (to give 1500m/1 mile) is an additional 10 lengths which doesn't sound much but by the time I've done 20 lengths in around 45 minutes (I'm not a terribly fast swimmer), I really have had enough.  But I know I can get to 1500m eventually.

I really need goals to get through this, don't I?!!

So, then, next thing is to revisit the doctor and see where we go from here.  I'll keep you updated with further whiny, self-pitying posts, have no fear!!

Sunday, 26 August 2012

RIP Neil Armstrong

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds…and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of…wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up, the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor even eagle flew.
And while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space…
…put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
(John Gillespie Magee Jr., "High Flight")

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Just a small dot...

...that's home to the hopes and dreams of 6 billion humans.  And all it amounts to is just a white speck in a far distant red sky...

(Photo courtesy of the Mars Curiosity Rover)

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Other Stuff, mostly cat-based

Actually, I have to admit that I have been doing a few other things other than watching the 'lympics - poor old Sylvester Bean had to go to the vets.  He's just turned 16 and I suspected that his thyroid had started to muck about.
Sylvester Bean (on rug) with interloper Bruno Williams (on sofa)

This is a very, very common ailment with elderly cats these days - their thyroid goes hyper, pumping out far too much of a thing called T4 which revs up their metabolism, causing their heart rate to increase which, in turn, puts pressure on their kidneys.  An increased metabolism also means they're hungry all.the.damn.time and will bloody well let you know about it.  Constantly.  At deafening volume.  Like a small kid going 'mum? mum? mummy? muuuum? MUM!  mum?' relentlessly until you're shrieking at them like a fishwife to shut up already, damn.

Plus increased metabolism + increased food = increased quantity of ploppage.  This I can do without, especially as Sylvester has been preferring to use his indoor facilities (i.e., litter tray) rather than his outdoor ones (i.e., the garden).  We have become adept at knowing what many esoteric kinds of incense smell like (we like Champa, by the way). 

Also, increased metabolism, despite increased food, also = weight loss.  The poor things just can't get enough food inside them to keep up with it all, it passes through them so quickly they don't get a chance to absorb the nutrients properly so, in fact, they end up starving and getting very thin as their body utilises muscle tissue as their body fat has gone.

The weird thing is that the veterinary world doesn't know why all old cats these days seem to have hyperthyroid issues.  I had a vet once who had an interesting theory - he said that the increase in dodgy thyroids in pets started at about the same time as the Chernobyl disaster, and he reckoned it was down to radioactive fallout dropping all over Europe, where it would land on the ground and, of course, small household pets are closer to the ground that we are so are more likely to be affected by it.  It's an interesting theory but I've no idea if it holds any water.

Anyway, this time last year Sylvester had a blood test and his T4 levels were a little elevated - the normal range is from 10-60.  His figure then was 44, so getting towards the top end, but just about ok for now.  About a month ago, I decided it was time to check the levels again as I was sure he'd lost weight and was starting to feel bony about the shoulders and hipbones.  Sure enough, his levels were now 88 and he'd lost some weight.  Time for medication.

About 12 years or so ago, I had an old girl cat called Suki and her thyroid had gone doolally.  She was put on medication then, a small pill, twice a day, crushed into her food.  I remember she was more or less ok about taking it, and she lived to be 19.  Times have moved on since then and you now give them a single pill, once a day.  It's time-released which means it has an enteric coating so it doesn't dissolve in the stomach all in one go, but lasts for 24 hours.  This, however, means you can't crush it, it has to be given whole.

Sylvester doesn't like having pills jammed down his throat and I can't say I blame him.  Interestingly, in the last six months, there has also come onto the market hyperthyroid cat food, in both wet and dry varieties.  The pros of this is no forcing a pill down a reluctant cat's throat with subsequent blood letting (on your part), the cons are that the cat cannot eat anything else at all apart from this special food (it's to do with cutting out iodine in food).  The Lovely Husband and I debated for a while - I was pro-special food, he was pro-pill, not least because Sylvester does so love his cream and it would be an awful shame if he had to give that up.  Plus we had no idea if he would even eat the special food.

We decided to go with the pill.  Took us about 3 days before discovering there was no way we could shove it down his throat, so it was hidden in his food bowl overnight, tucked under a bit of tuna.  He ate this quite happily for 2 nights, then started spitting the pill out.

I went online and did some research and found some things called Pill Pockets made by a company called Greenies, which are specifically designed for hiding pills in, so I ordered some.  When they arrived, I took one out and showed it to Sylvester, who tried to bite it but spat it out.  I actually think it might have just been too big for his mouth and, as he has no back teeth, he couldn't chew it properly.
However, the pockets are very malleable, like meat flavoured Play Doh, so I thought I'd have a go at cutting one in half, and wrapping it around the pill (which is very small).  I then took one of his favourite Go Cat crunchies and smashed it to dust in a pestle and mortar.  Then I rolled the pill pocket in the dust so it was coated on all sides, and popped it on top of the pile of Go Cat in his bowl.  He loves his crunchies but because he has no back teeth, he can't chew them, so he just swallows them whole.  The pill pocket has to be no bigger than a crunchie, otherwise he can't swallow it.

And it works!  I've now done this every night for about a month and he swallows it every time.  Yes, it's a bit of a faff for me but this way he gets his medication without any stress on either of our parts so it's most definitely worth it.

After being on the medication for three weeks, he had to go back for another blood test to check the T4 levels to see if they're heading in the right downwards direction.  We had to do this last Saturday and, unfortunately, it was a bit traumatic for him.  He has to be starved for 12 hours before having the sample taken, which does not impress him AT ALL.  Plus he really hates going to the vet and, this time, he put up a struggle when they came to take a blood sample.  It seems that, at my vet at least, they shave the cat's neck and draw blood from there.  Seemed he wasn't having any of it this time and the vet said 'he bounced around on the needle a bit' which, unfortunately, meant some scabby lumps, bruising and blood on his pristine white bib, poor lovey.

Still, he got some compensatory cream when we got home and settled down.  The vet rang a few hours later to say that his T4 levels had gone down from 88 to 14!!! And he'd put back on a bit of weight, and his heart rate was better, and slower, than before.  So he's to stay on the prescribed pill and we have to take him back for yet another blood test in 3 months, just to keep an eye on everything.

The difference, I have to say, was noticeable practically from the first pill, so I guessed it was working.  He stopped shouting at me, was definitely less hungry and eating much less and - wonderously - not pooping nearly as much!  So I'm hopeful we'll get at least a couple more years out of him.

*I've put this post up as a kind of public information thing for those out there with cats that are starting to get a bit old and creaky, and whose thyroids may need checking out.  It's a condition that's easily treated these days with very simple medication, as long as you can get them to take it.  If they object to you sticking a pill down their throat manually, you may want to try the method I use*.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Is everyone else still there....?

*emerges from in front of the TV, blinking into the light*

Goodness, has the world carried on turning?  Have other things been happening apart from the Olympics?  I have to assume so but, you see, I have cared not one jot.  Nary a single one.  For I have been completely and utterly immersed in the world of running, jumping, swimming, diving, rowing, paddling, shooting, throwing, balancing, riding (both horses and bikes) and hitting (both targets and other people).  But not sailing, because that's really quite dull and utterly confusing to watch.

I am a utter Olympics-nerd.  To be honest, I don't really give a monkey's about any kind of sport and don't tend to watch any of it on the box or follow any of it on a regular basis, but give me a really big once-every-few-years global sporting occasion, and I'm riveted.  I love the summer Olympics, the winter Olympics, even the World Cup.  There's something deeply pleasurable about watching people do something that have trained all their lives for, something which they are the best at in the entire world.

And I do have to say that the crowds of spectators at the events have been amazing.  We really do seem to like our sport in the UK, and I suspect that was one of the reasons that we were awarded the Games this time round.  There wouldn't be the fiasco of empty seats at the venues, as there was at the Commonwealth Games held in Delhi, where only 500 people attended events at the 4000 seater velodrome,  only 20 people attended the final Tennis match in a venue which seats 5000 and the 19,000 capacity hockey stadium saw all of 100 people on the second day of the Games.  Okay, okay, I know there were empty seats at the Olympics but these weren't in the public seating areas which were rammed with people.  And that was why there was such a hoohah in the media about those empty corporate/Olympic 'family' tickets, because so many other people - myself included - had failed to get tickets and were rightly pissed off that any empty seats were there at all!  Demand for tickets outstripped supply by orders of magnitude.

Did you see how many people were on the streets for the cycle road races?  It was estimated to be a million.  Hyde Park was heaving with people lining the streets to watch the Triathlons (including my brother who took his young family up so they could be a part of it), and I've never seen so many spectators at the final men's marathon - they were easily 10 deep in places.  Extraordinary.

And I watched as much of it as I could on the television.  At times there were two things on I wanted to watch at the same time, so I had the telly on one of the 24 channels dedicated to the Olympics (how much do I love the BBC for doing that?  And how grateful am I to The Lovely Husband for getting us Freesat when we jacked in Sky?) while having my laptop open and watching the live streaming of something else entirely.  Regard:

I was watching the men's gymnastics on the telly and, at the same time, watching the men's road race (the one Brad 'The Mod' Wiggins won) on the laptop because they were cycling through small villages that I know very well - Gomshall, Abinger Hammer - that are about 15 mins drive away from my house, and it was quite peculiar to see houses, shops and pubs that I frequent go whizzing by.

Oh, and we'd also been to see the Olympic Torch as it passed through Godalming a week or so earlier:

I absolutely loved the Games, every second of it.  It did my blood pressure no good whatsoever, and I entirely blame Jessica Ennis, Chris Hoy and especially Mo Farah for that.

Like everyone else, I thought the Opening Ceremony was bloody marvellous (and the Closing Ceremony was amazingly cheesy although you'd have to have a heart of stone not to have squawked with delight at Fat Boy Slim and his enormous inflatable octopus) and, yes, I know it was expensive and blah blah blah, but damn it was good.

I'm going to check out the Paralympics too but I get confused with all the different classes of disability the athletes have.  Still, I find Oscar Pistorius' Borg-like legs utterly amazing and elegant and beautiful, so I'll turn the box on for them, if nothing else.

I have to admit, though, that 17-odd days of watching the telly for almost 12 hours a day did leave me feeling a bit square-eyed once the second week kicked off but I wouldn't have missed it for anything.  Let's hope Rio puts on a fantastic party, all samba bands and sequins!!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Brighton Pier Flagpole painting

A couple of days ago - Thursday, in fact - I finished another painting, the one I mentioned at the bottom of my last post.

I decided not to paint the sky all the same shade of blue but stuck with the three bands of colour and kept reworking over the transitions from one shade to another until they blended enough that I was happy with it.

At the last class I'd taken the painting with me to show Kim, the tutor, and to ask for her advice on this particular aspect.  She suggested that I get a Da Vinci pastel brush which is, apparently, like a stencilling brush but less flat on the top and softer.  I should then put some colour on the dry brush, then immediately wipe most of it off onto a cloth.  Then gently use a circular motion over the transitional areas until I get the level of blending that I want.  We looked up the price of Da Vinci pastel brushes online during the class and they were really quite pricey, so I said I already had a couple of stencilling brushes at home and I'd have a go with them first.

So that's what I did and it worked a treat!  Took a lot of circular 'scrubbing' with the brush and made my right shoulder ache like a bastard, and I spent far more time working on this aspect of the painting than any other but I wanted to get it right.  It's not perfect but I'm happy with it.

The next difficulty I had with the painting - although 'difficulty' is a bit strong - is that the building, in reality, is all white, so that meant painting white onto white canvas board, as well as several different shades of grey.  The greys were easy enough to see, but painting white onto white was interesting - the only way I could see where I'd been was to tilt the picture into the light so I could see which parts were shiny from being damp with the acrylic paint.

Anyway, as before, I took a series of photos as I was working on the painting - I find this works as well as standing back to look at it plus it gives me a progress record.  To remind you, this is the photo that I took:

This is the sketch onto the canvas board:

Here I've blocked in the three shades of blue - a pale, sea green colour at the bottom, a more turquoisey sky-blue in the middle, and a darker blue at the top.  I could have used masking fluid to mask off the long thin flagpole itself, as well as the flag, but decided to just be careful:

I decided to start putting in the details of the Union Jack, just to have a break from working in blue:

Then I realised that the white bits on the flag are, in actuality, shades of pale blue-grey because they were mostly in shade, so I was back to working with the blue again!  In the next picture, I've finished the flag, painted the silvery-gold knobble on the top of the flagpole, started painting the flagpole itself as well as starting with some of the grey shading on the building, and also finished blending the transitional blue bits with the stencilling brush:

In this picture I've done more work to the building:

And this is it finally finished off, with all the dark shadows and highlights:

I'm pretty pleased with it, there are some things that aren't quite right but I don't think they're obvious to the casual observer, so now it's time to find the next subject.....