High Street Hat – pattern update!

I’ve reworked my popular High Street Hat knitting pattern with new photos, new sizes and clearer instructions.

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I’ve decided to offer the new pattern for sale. You can purchase it for £2.50, from Ravelry or from the I Knit London stand at the Ideal Homes Show (Earl’s Court, 20 March-5 April).

For more info, see my blog pattern page here or the Ravelry pattern page here. I hope you like it!

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Mirissa Beach

Finally it was time to hit the beach. We actually went to two beaches, first Mirissa Beach and then Unawatuna, but by the time we got to Unawatuna I was in full-on holiday mode and didn’t take any photos! Also, swimming and cameras don’t really mix.

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Sitting at breakfast, we saw this guy quickly scramble up a coconut palm, hack some coconuts down and climb down again. It happened very quickly but luckily I had my camera on me.
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The waves on this part of the beach were a bit dangerous. Some of our group went in for a swim though. The guys were all on a crazy adrenaline buzz afterwards.

I preferred to stick to the more gentle waters on the other side of the beach. Gentle, but there were submerged rocks – doh! So now I have a scar on my foot to remind me of my wonderful holiday!
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Unawatuna was incredible, but you’ll just have to imagine it. There was hardly any beach to speak of – the sand was very narrow – but our hotel was right next to the water. I tried to sit on the beach and read but occasionally a big wave would swamp the entire beach! The water was amazing though. I lay on my back and bobbed on the waves until the current floated me down the beach, then I swam back to the hotel and floated again.

I considered taking a cooking class that was on offer down the road. Marissa has taught me a lot about Sri Lankan cooking but I’m sure I could have learned a lot more in the class. Then I thought:
– do I really want to spend hours in a hot sticky kitchen in this kind of climate?
– how often do I find myself on a tropical beach?
… I stuck to the beach and bought a cookbook at the airport.

Safari!

We are nearly at the end of my Sri Lankan Odyssey. Driving through Yala National Park was an experience. We were surprised to see a huge military presence there. There were camouflaged bunkers every 200 metres or so, and lots of men with guns. Our driver explained that during the war, highwaymen operated here and the army were there to protect us. The danger had apparently passed but the army remained.

Then, we came across an entire herd of elephants. Females and alpha males (usually king elephants – the 7 in 100 males that have tusks) herd together, with their children. Teenage males are kicked out of the herd and go solo. It was usually these lone male elephants we saw. This time, there were about 15 elephants all together, right on the side of the road. We stopped and watched them for a while in the fading light until a man with a gun waved us on.

Compared to that the safari itself was a bit of an anticlimax. We had to get up at 5:30am, which was a little difficult for those in our group who had partied all night! This particular guest house was split into two areas: there were the hot water, nice rooms upstairs and the cold water, mosquito-ridden rooms downstairs. We were downstairs, but at least it was quiet! Maya dealt with the mosquitoes quite efficiently, and by the end of our stay we were the clear victors. I think I got one bite, but by using a mosquito net at night (and tucking it in), wearing long, pale-coloured clothing, and putting repellent on all exposed skin it’s not too difficult to keep the mossies off.

It was quite a long drive to the national park. We watched the sun rise over the salt marsh.

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The park was quite crowded with safari jeeps. Our group split up.

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Some of our group managed to see a leopard, but we didn’t. We saw a couple of elephants off in the distance, or hiding in the vegetation.

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(can you see it?)

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Our guide, Pusa (which means “cat”), was entertaining. There was a sobering moment though when we stopped at the tsunami memorial and he told us that many of his friends had died.

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Water buffalo. One of my favourite foods in Sri Lanka was buffalo curd with kitul treacle. The curd is like yoghurt, but with a really zingy flavour to it. It almost fizzes on your tongue. Kitul treacle is the sap of a type of palm tree, like maple syrup in consistency but with a different flavour. You can have it for breakfast or dessert. On my first morning back in London I woke up craving it.

We also saw a crocodile, two different types of deer, lots of different kinds of birds and an iguana. My wildlife photography skills leave much to be desired though!

More tea, vicar?

We spent the next day driving through tea country, which was breathtakingly beautiful when we could keep our eyes open for long enough to look at it. Some preferred to keep their eyes closed anyway – the roads were small and winding, and difficult even for our small mini-buses to negotiate. Eventually we reached Haputale.

Creon, who my journal says describes himself as an “anarcho-feminist post-structuralist” (that was a particularly raucus moment on the “cool bus”), entertained us with the following ditty:

After a stay of less than a day
the party moved on to Haputale;
they watched tea production
(or tea leaf destruction),
sampled the product and went on their way
But that diuretic venture
with the queen’s own thirst quencher
carried agonies extended
with bladders distended
the drive thus amended
by many a pit stop throughout the day.

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As the rhyme suggests, we visited a tea factory, where we watched lovely green juicy tea leaves being turned into dust in the name of Lipton.

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We had a taste test at the end and I’m sorry to say, it tasted awful!

Afterwards, we stopped off at a proper colonial tea bungalow for proper colonial tea, sandwiches with the crusts cut off, cake and bananas.

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Later on, we stopped for the best – and cheapest – meal of the whole trip. Vegetable rice and curry, a huge spread including red rice and several different curry accompaniments. My favourite was the okra – it was the first time I’d eaten crunchy green vegetables in some time. This feast cost us the princely sum of 70 rupees each – about 30p.

You know you’re old when…

… there’s a “Vintage Reproduction” of your first Barbie doll. Cripes.

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Isn’t she….. vile?

Mum had resisted buying me one for as long as she could, but pester power won in the end. At the age of five or six, I didn’t really grasp the concept of feminism; I just knew my friends had them. Once I had my Barbie she only came out when my girlfriends were around. The rest of the time I played with Lego, or did cut-and-stick with old cereal packets and chocolate wrappers, or made paper planes, or flew kites, or banged nails into wood offcuts (I think I had a child-sized hammer for this purpose).

Yet as soon as I saw this Barbie doll on Stitchywitch’s blog, I remembered her vividly. She obviously had some impact on my childhood. Though I definitely didn’t want to *be* Barbie. I think I wanted to be a Greenpeace activist (until Mum persuaded me I could save the whales by becoming a marine biologist).

The toys of my youth seem to be making a huge comeback at the moment. Children are playing with Care Bears, My Little Ponies, Sylvanian Families (I always wanted these, but they were really expensive), Polly Pockets and Transformers. I think even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are coming back (these were a little after my time, but I remember one Christmas when every gift my brother received was Turtle-themed! That was going a little too far). Is it because my generation are having children now, and they want the same toys for their children? I currently only give children unbranded toys, made (sometimes homemade) from natural materials. If I ever have a kid, I hope she/he doesn’t ever ask for a Barbie doll!

I’m out of words now. Discuss.

Polonnaruwa to Sri Pada

I think when my story last left off, we had just encountered an elephant in the middle of the road. By the time we got to Polonnaruwa it was time for dinner. Our hotel was right by the lake, which was actually a man-made reservoir built in ancient times. Behind our hotel lay an ancient ruined city, with a massive palace, and many temples and administrative buildings. It really looked like something out of Indiana Jones.

The place was full of monkeys. These two were babies:

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In the ruins, a queue was forming at the monkey spa:

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This was earlier in the day, when I still thought the monkeys were cute. Near the end of the day one tried to mug me. I changed my mind a little bit after that!

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This was one of the temples. There were over 6km of ruins, and we had to hire bicycles just to see them all. Now, I hadn’t written a bike in well over half my life (if you live on a dirt road, you can’t cycle – the cars kick up far too much dust), so I was a bit wobbly at first but soon we were tossing our heads from side to side and singing “Do, a deer”. There was even talk of turning curtains into play clothes.

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By the end of 6km of temples, I really was suffering from temple fatigue, and a rather sore bum (recent weight loss + potholes + no suspension = ouch). “Just like riding a bike” really is one of the most misleading idioms.

The evening was spent rather pleasantly, drinking arrack and eating cake by the lake in celebration of James’ 27th birthday.

In the morning, it was back on the bus again, for the longest ride of the trip. First we headed back towards Kandy, where we rendezvous-ed with the luggage van outside the Botanical Gardens. On the way we stopped at a lookout point and I snapped this lovely photo of the happy couple looking happy:

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We eventually arrived in Dalhousie Town, where we had what was possibly the second best meal of the entire trip. The guest house we stayed at put on a lovely spread, starting off with a delicious pumpkin soup that is quite hard to describe. It was quite thin, but full of flavour and contained some coconut, I think. The onion soup in Sri Lanka is also delicious. It was important to fortify ourselves for the challenge ahead:

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Sri Pada, or Adam’s Peak. The mountain is sacred to Buddhists, Christians and Muslims, and Buddhists in particular undertake pilgrimages to the temple at the top. Even though we were in the mountains, it was still quite warm, so the idea is that you climb the mountain at night, getting to the top in time for the sunrise. The sunrise actually causes a mysterious effect, casting a shadow of the mountain that is perfectly triangular, even though the mountain is irregularly shaped. Spooky! There’s a bell at the top that you need to ring for every time you have climbed the mountain, but you can only ring it from the second time you climb onwards. So a few mental individuals in our group decided to climb it twice. Most of us, however, went to bed and tried to get as much rest as we could!

We spent the next day in Dalhousie Town, relaxing, exploring and making friends with the local children. Some people went white water rafting, on the river where they filmed The Bridge Over The River Kwai. We had hoped to go to Nuwara Eliya, a colonial tea town, but unfortunately the road was out. It was nice to have a quiet day anyway.

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Then at night (after an unsuccessful attempt to get some sleep) it was time to climb. The mountain is lit all the way up, and lined with tea shops for rest breaks. The only way up is by foot, so food and drink gets more expensive the higher you climb. Halfway up, the lights went out. Florenci and I were in the middle of an interesting discussion about minority languages (Catalan, Maori, and Welsh) but when the lights didn’t come on straight away, we joined the others in a nearby tea house:

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It was an hour before we were on our way again. Eventually, we made it to the top, just in time for the sunrise:

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I won’t deny it was a difficult climb for me. It was steps all the way up, and I was still recovering from bronchitis. The lack of sleep was the real kicker. We got a bit caught up in some kind of ceremony at the top including the parading of some kind of relic followed by lots of chanting. I can’t say I had a particularly religious experience though. I have always admired Buddhist values. 90% of the population of Sri Lanka is Buddhist and I think this was reflected in the friendly and gentle way we were generally treated by the locals, but I don’t really get the point of climbing a lot of steps and chanting – what does it prove exactly? Still, there’s no denying the view from the top was breathtaking.

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I don’t think I’ll ever be ringing that bell though.

Speaking of cocktails

I’ve just spent an entire blog post talking about how women DON’T get together and drink cocktails and talk about men. Then I realised I mentioned cocktails in the previous post (lack thereof), and I’m about to talk about cocktails again. But not in the context of knitting group!

Lauren, one of my knitting friends (argh!) had some tickets she couldn’t use to a tasting event put on by Courvoisier, and she kindly gave them to me. I invited Tim as my plus one, and when we arrived we realised how lucky we were – there were over 270 applicants for only 15 tickets.

We were greeted with a welcome cocktail – either a classic Sidecar or a more modern Cooler which was mixed with ginger ale. Of course, we tried both, with the Sidecar the clear winner. We moved on to a talk about Courvoiser and how the brand is trying to reposition itself as a younger, more trendy drink that you can mix in cocktails as well as drinking straight. We were given a cocktail demonstration by the two mixologists, Tim and I can’t agree on the name of the first one, either Betsy or Patsy (Tim thinks Patsy and I’ll stick with that), and Ben. There’s only one way to describe Patsy and that’s as a cocktail geek. I’ve never seen so much passion and enthusiasm. Here she is demonstrating what do you with your twist of citrus:

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(squeeze it so the oils come out)

and getting enthusiastic about egg cups, which she theorises were the first shot measures:

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Neat trick with egg, by the way. Patsy removed the spring from a cocktail strainer, put it in the shaker with some egg white, shook it around a bit, and voila! Whisked egg whites. I don’t usually like eggy cocktails but the one she made was really nice.

Then we got to make our own cocktail:

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Ben rated mine, and I thought it tasted pretty good. Encouraged by the Canadian Patsy, Tim put beer in his. The less said the better.

At various stages small groups of us were led into the “secret room” for the promised special multi-sensory experience with – oooh – blindfolds.

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The idea was to put the blindfolds on and smell the (20- to 35-year-old) cognac in our glasses, as a diffuser wafted different scents over to us – crème brûlée, citrus and so on. It was really interesting picking out the different notes. Then we got to drink it.

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Canapés were matched with the cognac. The pea one and the smoked trout one were my favourites. Then it was time for dessert:

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Salt and pepper lolly, mini crème brûlée, and an amazing port and Stilton truffle (presumably courtesy of Paul A Young). Ohhh that truffle.

Clutching my goody bag, I made my merry way home, where I drank a LOT of water and rolled into bed. According to Tim, I wrote some funny tweets before I fell asleep, and according to Judy, Tim drunk dialled her on his way home. I think it’s safe to say a fun night was had by all. Laissez les bon temps rouler!