Sunday, 22 January 2012

Shed Clothes and Inhibitions at the Blue Lagoon

Like many other tourists to Iceland, I got sucked into the glossy leaflets for the Blue Lagoon. With a late afternoon flight, there was little I could fit in th final precious few hours. A few hours wondering minuscule Reykjavik...or the Blue Lagoon? I opted for the Blue Lagoon. I googled photographs and read gushing compliments about the whole experience. Decided. The day before, I perused more thorough reviews on Tripadvisor. Words started jumping off the screen and tugging at my reserved English self..."naked...communal changing showers". As the girl who always hides behind the towel in public, seeks out the single changing room and would like a lock on my door thank you very much, these words strike fear into my heart. Such deep-rooted feelings are hard to untangle and analyse. I know that I have no need to fear being naked in public, I have problem with the naked human body or of other people being naked-in fact I am envious of people who can let their clothes fall off at the drop of the hat. That is how I would choose to be if my character allowed.

My trepidation increased on the coach to the Blue Lagoon. Did somebody on Tripadvisor say that the showers were unisex or did I imagine that? Who knew how that Northerly latitude could affect you. I envisage myself in a huge room with showers around the side. The other females have all vanished and I am alone in the showers with a group of perfect, young men. I cower in the corner and want the ground to open up, away from their prying eyes.

I take ages fumbling with my locker, stalling for time. I pack, unpack and repack it. Have I got everything. Most importantly have I got my towel? God forbid I would forget my towel.

The changing rooms are hot and steaming. They are not open, but sectioned with a walkway down the middle. In each section is a large bench and a group of lockers. I sit down and start undressing. I hum to myself as a distraction and start to take my underwear off. Thank God my legs are smooth. Where's my towel? I sit awkwardly on the bench with my towel pessed to my front. All I have to do is hang the towel and swimming costume up, head to the showers-not more than 20 metres from the peg, twirl around under the hot water and head back to the peg. I can get my swimming costume on in two swift movements. If I did this with my eyes shut, it would be done and dusted in about 2 minutes.

A group of Americans, cheery and obese, saunter past. I wonder if they want to be thin. Do they even care they are not thin? Perhaps not, Americans are talented self believers. I follow in their shadows, hoping to hide behind them. This is ridiculous, if they don't care, then why should I? I turn my anger into action and hang my towel up. I wait for the spotlight to turn on me. I wait for the silence to fall and for everybody to turn around and stare at me. To my disappointment, nobody notices what I have done. I am naked and somehow invisible. A shower is free. The water is lovely and warm. It is the first time I have felt truly warm since I have arrived in Iceland and it is lovely. I stay under the water for a good minute. Another American is waiting and I smile at her and say "it's all yours". She laughs. She is probably about sixty years old and perhaps she had cellulite and stretch marks and was overweight but I don't really remember. We shared a smile and a laugh.

Nymphlike, I walk back to my peg and put my costume on. I walk out into the Icelandic drizzle towards the lagoon and feel elated.

It is the first time I have been naked in public since a school shower.

I will probably never be a naturalist but my experience at the Blue Lagoon made me face my inhibitions demon and he really isn't so scary after all.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Blue Bell Hill

Last Saturday was weatherwise one of those rare perfect winter days-blue-skied, sunny, still and cold. We made an impromptu decision to go to Blue Bell Hill for a promised spectacular sunset. We were not let down. We also explored a little meadow which I've seen in summer, full of wild flowers but only through the bus window. Hopefully I will have a car in time for the meadow's next bloom and I can take a trip there with my camera. With so many places to explore in Kent, and such a diverse landscape I often overlook Blue Bell Hill and its lovely views, a 5 minute car ride away, in favour of the coast and hills of the Weald. Sometimes you are so occupied scanning the horizon you don't always see what is right in front of you.

I am still without my laptop, which also renders me DSLRless by defunct. Instead I have been relying more and more on my iPhone as a promising camera in its own right. My phone's camera is not a gimmick or afterthought but a high quality, usable camera and I do wonder if eventually the 'point and shoot' will be supplanted by smartphones. I have installed a number of apps, including the hipstamatic camera, sepia and vintage effect programmes and also something called Instagram. I'm delighted with them all. The basic iPhone camera rivals my DSLR at close ups in good light. The others are good for creating a range of fun effects.

Below are a few photos taken with the various cameras and apps on my phone before the subzero temperatures made it uncomfortable to be outside:

Sunday, 15 January 2012

One Quiet Sunday=a Hand Crocheted Bowl

When I went to Iceland, we visited a town called Vik (a hamlet by English standards). One of the shops there had a splendid selection of Icelandic wools. Prices are very high in Iceland so I picked up a ball of marbled red wool without much hope-to be pleasantly surprised. Indeed, wool is one thing, perhaps the only thing actually, which I found to be cheaper than home in England. I bought three lovely fuzzy balls home with me.
The wool is a little on the rough and scratchy side so plans to make gloves were abandoned until I had a flash of inspiration. I decided the durability, though not suited to garments, would make a nice storage bowl.
I made the pattern (and actually bothered to transcribe for once!) as I crocheted along.
I crocheted a basic flat circle:
Chain 3, 6 dc in centre
2 dc in each (12)
*1 dc in next, 2 dc in next* to end
*1 dc in next 2, 2 dc in next* to end
*1 dc in next 3, 2 dc in next * to end
Continue pattern until *1 dc in next 14, 2 dc in next*
I changed to cream yarn to mark the end of the flat section (dc in back post) and then just crocheted the sides until I sadly ran out of yarn.
I worked the edge in cream as follows :
*dc in next 4 stitches, 6 ht in next stitch* to end.
It's the first time I've tried an edging so I was quite excited that it worked out ok.
I've transferred my collection of homeless ribbons into it.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

"Beauty Steals"-cheaper beauty secrets shared

I came across this wonderful little book at work and I can see it becoming indispensable.

The purpose of this book was to test cheaper, everyday beauty products to find the best ones for those who cannot afford to spend £100 on conditioner (yes, there really is a conditioner which costs that much). The experts in the book claim many of the high-scoring products are as good as their significantly more expensive siblings. I do not really follow trends or read reviews on beauty products so it's an area in which my knowledge is quite limited. My purchases are usually dictated by a Boot's No.7 voucher or sale. (I once treated myself to a Yves Saint Laurent red lipstick...but that's the most extravagant I've ever been . I've never had the courage to wear it either sadly). The products in the book have been tested by a panel of 'normal' women who have then rated the product out of 10. The price limit is £10 (with many products a lot under that of course) with the exception of anti-ageing and anti-cellulite creams for which the limit is £20.

As I don't have the money to spend on expensive make up and creams and lack the enthusiasm to do my own research, I really like that this book simply lists the top 3-5 products in each group. Amongst the products tested are: mascaras, anti-aging cream, conditioner, compact foundation, eyeliner, hair masks, facial toners and self tanning lotions. Here are a few high-scoring tips from the book:

BEST MASCARA- Maybelline Define-A-Lash (the iconic green tube really is *that* good apparently!)

'MIRACLE' ANTI-AGING CREAM-L'Oreal Derma Genesis Cellular-Youth Nurturing Night Cream (I checked the price in Boots today. It's currently £16.99 but I've seen it on special offer before. Still...£17 for a miracle is a bargain!)

POWDER EYE SHADOW-Prestige Skin Loving Minerals Dramatic Minerals Eyeshadow (100% oil/talc/paraben free. Instead it uses ingredients such as Shea butter, camomile and antioxidant vitamins).

EYELINER- Barbara Daly Make-up for Tesco Eye Pencil.

EYELASH CURLERS-Tweezerman (no surprises here!).

The hair care categories are dominated by Louise and Daniel Galvin products (Daniel was hair colourist to the late Princess Diana).

I'm definitely using this book to buy my next lot of beauty products. The anti-aging reviews are particular useful. Even just hitting 30 has meant a noticeable change to my skin. There's such a bewildering array of face creams I wouldn't know where to start. I'm currently using Evening Primrose Oil night cream which cost £1 from my local chemist. It smells lovely but is it time to start taking more care of myself?

Monday, 9 January 2012

Crochet + Taxidermy = Crochetdermy

When you think of crochet, you think of scarves, soft toys and the granny square. Have you ever thought of it as art? I hadn't until I saw these amazing crochet masterpieces by British crochet guru Shauna Richardson.

She uses standard crochet equipment-a 3mm hook, wool and mohair mix yarns. Each piece takes months to complete. As a newcomer to crochet I can hardly imagine the skill and patience required to execute these sculptures and attain the lifelike shape. I have now found a crochet artist who has inspired me to keep working on my crochet. Only through practice and perseverance will I improve. I will almost certainly never reach this high standard of crochet artistry-but I have been inspired and that is quite enough. Here are some more of her stunning animals:

(I think my iPhone has a way to go in understanding how to upload correctly to Blogger-apologies)

Saturday, 7 January 2012

10 Things I Want To Do Before I Die

As frequently occurs at this time of year, various lists do the rounds on blogs. I'm enthusiastically climbing onto this bandwagon (stolen from Alv).

No big, impressive entries here, just a few realistic dreams

1) Have a photograph featured in the annual Landscape Photographer of the Year award book.

2) Visit La Digue, Seychelles - many years ago I was given a calander featuring tropical island paradises for Christmas. My favourite photograph was the one of La Digue in the Seychelles. I reused that photograph for years, sticking the next year's calender over the top of the previous year's. I still think it's the most beautiful place I've ever seen and really hope I can visit it one day, to climb over the unique rocks and swim in the sea.

3) Own a dog - I hope I will one day have enough space for a dog. I'm fond of all dogs but have a soft spot for Border Collies, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Irish Setters and English Springer Spaniels

Border Collie

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Irish Setter

English Springer Spaniel

4) Design and plant my own garden, from scratch

5) Learn to draw. It's the one skill I've always envied in other people.When asked once what one skill I wish I had, I said to be able to draw. This led to many discussions with a number of people on whether drawing is a lucky talent or a learnable skill. This year I'm hoping to find out as I made it one of this year's resolutions:

6) Go diving - if I went diving in La Digue, I'd be able to cross two things off this list...

7) Hold a snake. Like many people, I'm fascinated by snakes but also very wary of them. It'd take a certain amount of courage for me to be able to hold one but I think I'd be able to do it

8) Make something I'm proud of - an embroidered cushion, knitted shawl, a painting. An heirloom that will be treasured and passed down through generations. Something that will stay long and be admired long after I've gone. I want to leave a little part of myself behind, a part of myself that is worth keeping. I think of all the beautiful things made by the people of Skogar:

9) Climb a (small!) mountain - I've no grand ambitions to climb Everest or K2, a small British mountain that could be climbed in a day would be perfect

10) Go on one of the world's great railway journeys-here are a few that have made my shortlist

Norway's Flamsbana through fjord country

Shinkansen: Tokyo-Kyoto (Japan)

The Ghan: Adelaide-Darwin (Australia)

The Rocky Mountaineer: Vancouver-Calgary,via Banff (Canada)

West Highland Railway: Glasgow-Fort William (Scotland)