Five best things I tried this week



Upcycling my first, felted, jumper

When I say first, I mean, firstly, the jumper I designed and knitted after I (re)learnt to knit, and secondly, the only garment I’ve ever felted. It was made in Rowan Big Wool, of four rectangles (front, back, two sleeves) and I loved it. And then, five months ago, I washed it in the washing machine. On a wool cycle. Because I didn’t know I shouldn’t. And it felted.

Being a bit of a hoarder, I couldn’t bear to throw my new miniature jumper away. I wanted to upcycle it. And this week I did. I cut the sleeves off, sewed the front and back together where necessary, cut two strips – and made a bag. It’s lovely. I’ve had compliments. But I’d still prefer the jumper.

IMG_5685Seeing The Rising Tide

Part of the annual Thames Festival, this sometimes-submerged sculpture by Jason Decaires Taylor, is on the south side of the Thames by Vauxhall Bridge, next to the MI6 building. It’s designed to encourage environmental awareness and features four horses with nodding donkey oil drills for heads. Men in suits sit astride two of the horses, looking upward, avoiding looking at the rising water. Children sit astride the other two, and their gaze is directed at the river. The sculpture is in situ until September 30.

Taking vitamin B12

That’s the one that vegetarians like me worry about. It’s found in meat, eggs and dairy produce, and is needed for the production of healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body. Symptoms of deficiency include extreme tiredness and lack of energy. I’m certainly not lacking in energy at the moment, but as always it’s hard to know what’s responsible – I’ve had a few positive changes in my life recently.

There are lots of vitamin B12 supplements out there, but if you take daily supplements in tablet form, as I do, you might like Better You Boost B12 Oral Spray (£11.95). If you’re necking a succession of capsules it’s a pleasant change to squirt this deliciously peachy-tasting supplement inside your cheek, where it’s more easily absorbed by the body than via the stomach.
This product was supplied for testing free of charge.

Making elderberry cordial

I’ve been making elderflower ‘champagne’ for several years, and I haven’t even finished this year’s ‘vintage’ when with the sudden arrival of autumn (which felt like it happened overnight) the elder trees were covered with sprigs of black berries.

Elderberry, or Sambucus nigra, concoctions have been a folk remedy for colds for donkeys’ years, and there are several cold-fighting products on sale that contain it. However, I’m content to take my homemade cordial with hot water if I’m struck down by the virus. And in the meantime, it makes a very acceptable alternative to crème de cassis for a kir.

Pick some berries (by cutting the sprigs off the tree, not individually), then run a fork down the stems to remove the berries. Give them a rinse, drain, weigh them, put them in a saucepan and just cover with water. Add half their weight in sugar, bring to the boil and stir until the sugar dissolves. Then pour the cordial into sterilised bottles.

Storing my earrings

Until this week, my earrings have been jumbled up together in a lidded box from Habitat. Not very satisfactory – it leads to endless rummaging, usually when I’m in a hurry. This week, inspiration struck… so I bought a canvas from Tiger (£3), and poked my earrings through it. You could also use it for necklaces, suspending them on a couple of pins poked through the canvas.

The five best…things I tried this week


IMG_5646Where did you get that hat?

When I was little and we were out shopping, my family always knew where to find me if I disappeared: in the hats department, jamming them on my head in quick succession. I’ve never lost my affection for hats; which is why I was gutted to lose my perfect alternative to the umbrella (I hate umbrellas) when I left my patent-finish Barbour rainhat on the train. It was drying on my lap, fell off when I stood up, I filled in a lost property form… let it go, it’s gone.

So I was really pleased to finally buy a hat for myself from Snooks, milliners of renown in Bridport, Dorset since 1896. I’ve been in there several times with my hat-sporting OH, but I’ve never been shopping for me. Snooks is more than a shop; it’s a millinery museum, with headgear of all types on display including a pith helmet, an authentic fez and a Madeiran ‘Tinky-Winky’ (I have one of those too). And when I tried on a bowler, one of the staff explained how it was originally a protective item, sparking amusing images of old-school bankers bashing each other on the head with their brollies.

Wandering the shop while my OH was trying on, I spotted the words ‘water-repellent’ on the label of a Fedora-type hat. A note on the label about how it can be rolled up – v handy for the handbag. Another hat to try on and… sold. And with the weather forecast as it was, it came in very handy.

As well as hats, Snooks also sells hankies (another OH foible) and nightshirts (yes, OH again). And I believe the establishment was instrumental n the birth of the Bridport Hat Festival (Sept 5-6).

Bridport Open Studios

Bridport is home to a real cluster of creative people, and for one weekend a year you can explore the creative process with a look at the studios of the artists who work here and nearby. We headed for St Michael’s Studios where, among my favourites, were the work of Marion Taylor, whose views of the iconic Colmer’s Hill just outside Bridport (above) are as compelling as the hill itself. Her book, Colmer’s Hill, One Artist’s Obsession, can be seen in local shops. Completely different in style, the sparse, minimalist graphic work of David Smith also caught my eye. There are many works in many media (mediums?) to see – and it’s free.

The event continues until Bank Holiday Monday – get the guide here.

Buying cider from the farm

I love proper cider, and have been happily drinking it without ice for years (no offence, Magners). My taste has been shaped partly by my experiences at Middle Farm in Sussex (hello Rod and Helen), where over 100 ciders and perries are available to taste and take home. But I’ve never bought it straight from the farm, until now. Cycling along the Bride valley in Dorset, we saw a ‘cider’ sign and turned off. A couple of tasting sips later at a makeshift bar in a barn, and two two-litre containers of Talbot Harris cider were stowed in the saddlebags The bloke who served us also knew the band who’ll be playing at the East Malling Beer Festival which is where I’ll be when the Bridport Hat Festival takes place.

Banksy at Rise

Not going to make it to Dismaland so contented myself with a Banksy exhibition at Croydon’s Rise Gallery. I have to say I found the approach down dilapidated shuttered-up shops St George’s Walk a little depressing. (Don’t get me wrong; I’m not dissing Croydon; it’s near where I grew up and was my Saturday shopping haunt as a teenager and I’m aware of the regeneration that’s going on.) But the gallery space was great, and the wall pieces by Banksy including Di-Faced Tenners and Rude Copper were thought-provoking and amusing. Unfortunately it’s over now.

Wild swimming

Or what used to be known as taking a dip. At Weymouth, with thunderous clouds rolling in, it was time to take the plunge. Anecdotally, a lot of people give up swimming in British seas once they’ve got used to holidays abroad. I think that’s a real shame.

Determined to go for it, we waded in to ankle level. ‘Ooh, cold,’ I thought. ‘Too cold?’ Then I distracted myself with the idea that I was going in to save a child, as I’ve noticed that when you have to get in water, for example, to board a boat, or wade a stream, you don’t notice the cold of the water as much because it’s incidental. On I strode, gasping and jerking my arms up as rolling waves climbed up my body. Once above the bikini bottom, it was only prolonging the agony not to get fully submerged. I flung myself forward and snapped out a few strokes of a record-breaking breast-stroke pace before standing up for more gasping. Then the ‘I’m wet and you’re not’ pleasure of advancing on my OH, while threatening to flick him with water. He did his own entering the water dance, and then we swam and floated around, becoming acclimatised. It is, as they say, life-affirming.

The five best… things I tried this week


In no order whatsoever…
Les Amies, by Ishbel MyerscoughFriendship portraits
Sometimes you stumble across good things while you’re looking for something else. I was in the National Portrait Gallery hoping for a last-minute entry to the Audrey Hepburn exhibition (on until October 18 so plenty of time). No joy, but had a great time dipping in and out of the Tudors, the BP Portrait Awards, while enjoying music from the DJ who plays on Thursdays and Fridays, when the gallery is open until 9pm.

What really touched me, though was the Friendship Portraits by Chantal Joffe and Ishbel Myerscough, who’ve recorded their friendship in their two very different painting styles – one hyper-realistically detailed, one more abstract – since student days at Glasgow School of Art, with their changing bodies, and the birth of their children. It’s on until September 27.

‘Chocolate milk’
I love chocolate but I’m aware I eat too much sugar and avoid cow’s milk, so picked up Chi 100% Natural Chocolate Coconut Milk, a mix of coconut cream, coconut palm sugar, fat-reduced cocoa powder, inulin (natural fibre), at 155 calories per 330ml carton. Some lumps had formed so it needed shaking. It’s not too sweet, like many chocolate drinks are, and nor is it too thick and claggy. Best of all, the slightly tangy taste reminded me of the chocolate yogurt I used to love as a child. Haven’t seen it for years…

The Apartment
Sometimes it’s hard to agree on a film choice with your OH, but often a classic film will hit the spot. (We recently both loved Roman Holiday, from the Audrey Hepburn box set on the narrowboat we rented.) The Apartment is set in 1960s Manhattan, in an insurance company with the biggest open-plan office ever, starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. Our viewing involved a lot of shouting at the behaviour of some of the male characters. Directed by Billy Wilder, it won four Oscars, and it’s on Netflix.

Dragon fruit
Wrapped in scaly bright pink scales with green tips, the flesh inside the dragon fruit, aka pitaya, is dotted with black seeds and creamy-sweet and quite bland. Not the tastiest fruit I’ve ever eaten, but up there with the prettiest. Health-wise, it’s high in vitamin C and is believed to lower cholesterol. It’s worth buying for how it will look in the fruit bowl.

Wearing more of my clothes
I don’t mean all at once – although it is chilly in my house. I mean consciously remembering what I have in the wardrobe and the drawers and giving them an airing, or rather a wearing. I work from home, and I know some of my fellow homeworkers stay in their pyjamas. Me personally, I prefer to get dressed every day. Like having breakfast, it just seems natural.

So this week, I’ve enjoyed wearing my red linen seven-eighths-length trousers from last summer, a pale blue long vest dress that’s 15 years old, an amber necklace I’d forgotten I owned, and a tan suede jacket I bought in a second-hand shop around 20 years ago.

The five best… things I tried this week

Bingley five-rise locks

Bingley five-rise locks

British skyr: Skyr is an Icelandic yogurt-type dairy product which has recently hit our supermarket shelves. I first tasted it at a breakfast buffet in Iceland in 1990, and went back for more every morning. It’s like yogurt but has a higher protein content. This morning I ate Hesper Farm skyr – Britain’s first home-produced skyr: creamy, thick and tangy. I bought it from Town End farm shop, when we stopped off on a bike ride from Malham Cove to Gargrave.

Straw Poll beer: Brewed by Thwaites, this is a light ale with a very subtle hint of strawberry – nothing like traditional Belgian fruit beers (which I’m also very fond of). Supped after a long walk at a hillside pub in Foulridge, Lancashire it was very refreshing.

Leeds & Liverpool Canal: I’ve been narrowboating before but not on this canal. The stretch we covered included the above-mentioned Gargrave, five miles from the magically stunning Malham Cove, the impressive staircase of five locks at Bingley, Salts Mill gallery at Saltaire, Skipton Castle, Bolton Abbey.

Digital detox: Not my choice! However, the twisting, turning canal, sometimes high in the hills, sometimes sunk in the valleys, meant an elusive mobile phone signal, affecting our 3G, 4G and thus internet access. Very, very frustrating but in the end, very relaxing.

Memory foam bike saddle: I’ve been using the saddle that came with my bike, but storing my bike outdoors over the winter has caused deterioration. Then I was offered the chance to try the Selle Royal Classic Freeway Fit Foam saddle, £29.99 from Halfords. Initially mounting up near home I thought it felt harder and less squishy than I would have imagined. However, last week, on gravelly towpaths, rutted dirt tracks and potholed country roads, it’s proved its worth. Its solid malleability offers sound shockproofing against the cycling surface, and now I don’t want to ride on anything else!

See my five best… pubs on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal