January 26, 2011

Just another day of infamy


I think Niall’s car takes the weevilly biscuit, but we’ll get to it in due course.

            The badness of the day began with a phone call.  I was bundling hellhounds into harnesses earlier than usual because I had a dentist’s appointment this afternoon and I had some errands to run in Mauncester first.  I almost didn’t answer the phone because it was going to be the plumber managing to fit me in today after all, and I didn’t have TIME to be fitted in by even a plumber I’ve been chasing for at least two months.  But since it’s been two months, clearly I’d better cooperate. . . .

            It was Peter.  He had a dentist’s appointment this morning* and he’d just missed his bus.  Could I run him in?  GRAH GURG ARRGH BLAG NO.  NO.  ARRRRRRGH.

            I’ll be there in a few minutes, I said.  I finished bundling hellhounds into their harness, and bundled them into the back of Wolfgang, picked up a Man in Black waiting ominously by the side of the road opposite the mews, and shot off toward Mauncester. 

            Peter said, I can be back in. . . .

            No, I snapped.  That’s much too late.**  You can take the bus home.*** 

            So Peter went off in one direction, and I went off in another, effulgent with hellhounds.  I’d decided I’d try to do a few errands now, since I clearly wasn’t going to have time later, but I needed to run a little of the overnight build-up of jollity off the hellhounds before I expected them to mind their manners† on crowded pavements. 

            It was a beautiful morning and there are some very nice walks around the outskirts of Mauncester if you manage to avoid the aggressive off-lead dog brigade.  We started off along the river, and then took a turn (partly to avoid some off lead dogs and their attendant morons) to climb Citadel Hill.  We got about halfway up before we met the first fence.  There has been a row about Citadel Hill going on pretty much as long as I’ve lived here;  farmers want it for grazing, and irresponsible dog owners want it for letting their slavering nightmares off lead for fun and mayhem.  Citadel Hill is huge.  I could see if the dog walkers wanted to lobby for a fenced off area where their dogs could riot—a lot of cities have dog play areas—but nooooo they want it aaaaaalllll so their dogs can be freeeeeeee.  Spare me.  Anyway.  The farmers have won, at least this year. 

            On the fence there was a large sign that said CATTLE IN THIS FIELD.  Uh.  I don’t like taking predators through fields with cattle;  cattle are too sodding big.  I’ve been chased by heifers, and haven’t enjoyed it at all, and people—and dogs—do occasionally die of being trampled.  I don’t want to contribute to that statistic.  So we turned around and sidled through some undergrowth (still avoiding dogs with morons). 

            But, as I say, Citadel Hill is enormous.  The main entrance is farther along.  I had a good look around, and mainly what I saw was a hillside covered with lying-down sheep.††  And I thought I remembered that we could circle to yet another gate and eschew the cattle-infested section.  So we had a glorious if literally breath-taking slog to the top of the old hill fortress, toiling up wave after wave of grassy ramparts, scampered (slightly rubber-legged) across the top, with the wind tugging at us in several directions, down the far side . . . to another gate in another fence a short stone’s throw from the one we’d turned away from about twenty minutes ago, also saying, CATTLE IN THIS FIELD.  I stood there staring at it, and wondering if they’d done something funny with the fencing or I was just remembering wrong, but why is there now a narrow cattle-ring round Citadel Hill?  To a dog walker this is a bit like being expected to walk under a portcullis when you can smell the oil boiling.  And as I stood there, a Very Large Hairy Black Cow ambled into view.  Followed by another.  Followed by another.  Followed by another. . . .  Not only are they large, they have horns.  The crescent-moon type.  The type that, with suitable decoration, Charlemagne and Roland would have wound at each other.  I would much rather have them in the hands of epic soldiers several thousand miles away in another century, than on the heads of cattle between me and escape. 

            We cast back and forth along the fence a bit, but clearly what there was was this gate.  (So much for my memory.  I should know better than to think I might have remembered something useful.)   The Four Large Hairy Black Horned Cattle have settled down to eat a tree that happens to be slap next to the gate hellhounds and I need to get out through.  We stood there for about five minutes while I dithered. . . .

            Eventually I cranked hellhounds in to ultimate short lead, and we marched through the first gate . . . eased quietly past the cattle . . . and the second gate STUCK AND WOULD NOT OPEN.

            No, this is not written from my hospital bed, with hellhounds in traction across the room.  We got through eventually.  We got through eventually in one piece.†††  We were also nearly half an hour after Peter back to the car.  He was mild-manneredly reading his newspaper.

            Dentist from R’lyeh was running late this afternoon, of course.  I then spent an hour and a quarter in the frelling chair‡ to essentially no effect whatsoever:  I was supposed to come out with a full set of teeth on the lower right, for the first time in two or three years . . . but the D from R decided that the teeny-weeny transmitter that is going to make me a mindless slave of the star-spawn wasn’t working properly, and sent my new teeth back to the lab and me shambling home to mourn and detox from the sixteen gallons of anaesthetic.  With a fresh appointment in my diary to do it all over again because it was so much fun the first time.

            I had just enough time to take hellhounds for a final sprint before Niall was picking me up for us to go put the fear of handbells into a fresh vestal—I arrived at the mews perfectly on time to Peter telling me that Niall had phoned and Peter had told him he wasn’t sure I’d be back in time or not—AAAAAAAAAAAAUGH—and when I tried to ring Niall his PHONE WAS BUSY.  Having then wasted several minutes trying to ring to say I was here, I was late bolting down the extra-long grand-house driveway and met him driving in after me.  As I climbed in, panting, he said, in the best laconic British manner, I’m going to have to get out on your side.  The driver’s door just fell off.


            It’s okay, he said.  It only fell off halfway.  I lifted it back into place and—locked it.  And got in from your side. 

            I don’t think you’ve heard much about Niall’s car.  For as long as I’ve been a frequent passenger it (a) has  leaked and (b) has no indoor lights (yes these two idicyncracies are related) and a few weeks ago he and Fernanda spent two hours sitting by the side of the road when the gearbox fell out.  I was supposed to have been on that journey to handbells.  My good fairy was looking out for me that evening.  I stayed home.  But I think possibly the car is trying to tell him something:  like 150,000 miles is enough. 

            Three miles down the road the petrol light came on.  Fortunately we were going in the right direction for the only petrol station in rural Hampshire open past six p.m.  We stopped.  Don’t get out the driver’s side, we said to each other.  While the tank was filling we felt the driver’s door all over and compared it to the passenger side and decided it didn’t look too far out or low or twisted or bent or likely to fall off in the middle of the road.  We got back in the car and kept going.  Thoughtfully.  It’s noisier, isn’t it? said Niall.

            Yes, I said.  But it’s not any noisier now than it was when I got in this evening and you told me the door had fallen off.

            Oh, okay, said Niall, cheering up.

            We got there.  We rang handbells.‡‡

            We got home.  Nothing fell off.  Niall is taking his car to the garage (again) tomorrow.

            You will forgive me if I don’t practise my knitting tonight.

* * *

* Different dentist, mind you.  He has the Nice Dentist who threw me to the mutant lions and tentacled loathsomenesses of Dentist from R’lyeh when she decided she couldn’t cope.  My teeth are probably even beyond Lovecraft’s imagination.

** You leave your car at the edge of town, if you have any sense.  You do not want to get tangled up in the one-way system in the medieval heart of Mauncester.

*** I am a cow.  This is not news.

† Their what?  What was that again?

†† It was raining by midday.

††† Well, three pieces.  One Darkness piece, one Chaos piece, one hellgoddess piece.

Mostly I have not noticed the physical excesses of yesterday.  Except for the hour and a quarter I spent lying in the Cthulhuan chair.  During which I swear every muscle groaned and my bones were on fire.  I think I may have a little problem with tension. 

‡‡ We were hanging out in Caitlin’s kitchen while she made tea^ and I happened to notice that she had the line for Pudsey Surprise on sixteen [bells] lying nonchalantly on her counter.  Pudsey looks like a snake that’s just been plugged into a power socket at the best of times, but on SIXTEEN??  Oh, she said off handedly, we’re going to try for a peal this weekend in Birmingham.  And I’m helping teach this woman handbells??????

^ There were also excellent flapjacks.+  I’ll come back to Caitlin’s house any time.

+ British flapjacks are a kind of sweet chewy oatmeal bar.  Usually there are dates and nuts and things too.  Mmmmm.

Frelling knitting


You guys.  I have a life you know.*  I am not going to embrace knitting to the exclusion of all else.**  Although the dominance of that gene that links McKinley and knitting is beginning to frighten me.  What else is on it?***  Is the world ready?  Meanwhile, I think I’ve had more tweets about my latest demonstration of going to the bad than I’ve had for anything, possibly including the publication of PEGASUS.  Many of them are so uplifting and supportive too.  @casemama for example says:  Please anticipate never resurfacing after joining Ravelry. I forget to feed my children when knitting patterns are involved.  —I think I’m probably pretty safe.  The hellhounds might let the occasional manifestation of neglect pass, but my bell ringers wouldn’t.  And @knitronomicon says: Doomed! Doomed! Mwuahahahahahahaha!!!  —So encouraging.  And her user name fills me with confidence as well. 

            @jaimeleemoyer takes a different approach.  She says:  Blame Jodi. I know I do…and did. All things yarn related are her fault.  —Yes.  All you forum readers will have seen how she introduced last night’s blog post thread:  In other words, knitters, VICTORY!  —VERY FRELLING FUNNY.  And the very first comment was from . . . blondviolinist:  I’d try to write a cogent reply, but I’m too busy rolling on the floor laughing. (To set the record straight: I didn’t know Robin was online when I posted my whine about yarn bombing. All other accusations might be true.)  —I like that might. 

            Black Bear writes:  Casting on is dreadful.  —Hmm.   I don’t actually remember casting on being dreadful.  I remember the going on and on and on and on and on and on afterwards being at least slightly trying.†   Not that I’ve figured out casting on again this time.  Yet.††  But the version on the opening page of www.knittinghelp.com looks familiar.  That index-finger polka . . . I’ve seen it before.  It may be the way my demon knitter friend from Maine showed me, a quarter century ago.  If I get this blog post written soon enough I’ll go practise.

            Fiona—Fiona!—writes:   I’m still trying to work out whether I’m a bad influence on Robin, or she’s a bad influence on me…

            Oh?  You’re wondering?  Who keeps sending me emails about concerts?  I feel it is only getting a little of my own back that you left the shop with more yarn than I did.  She goes on, blithely:  Have you had any more thoughts about my suggestion of hellhound legwarmers?

             With little strings over their backs to keep them up?  No.  I haven’tNo.†† 

             Only I saw a post on Ravelry earlier today from someone who’d knitted some for her dog…..

             Thank you for not sending me the link.  Meanwhile, remember I told you recently that I have a pregnant friend?  She emailed me this today:  Let me first say:  hahahahahahaha! I knew it would only be a matter of time!  Secondly, if you want to practice on a smaller scale first, you could certainly try your hand at something like THIS:  http://www.babylegs.com/Leg-Warmers.aspx

            Jodi compounds her evilness by writing:   The other needles are lovely and I think you should have them too! Not that I am a horrible enabler anything.

            Yes, I keep thinking about them.  For Some Reason I had favourited that page—silly person—and I swear I was trying to go somewhere else and—‡‡
            (At any rate, you have an entire list of people you can ask if you get stuck. Or an entire list of people to blame if you get stuck.)

             I’ve already started on the blaming.  You may have noticed.  But yes, @rockharp suggested I view my capitulation as becoming a member of concerned and nurturing community:  ENDLESS FREE KNITTING TECH SUPPORT!  And @CymruLlewes has the spectacular effrontery to suggest that joining Ravelry is efficient:  Ravelry is good for seeing just why you shouldn’t knit that pattern or use that yarn. It does save time.

              Save . . . time?  SAVE???  TIME???? 

* * *

* Slightly depending on your definition of life.  Of course I went bell ringing tonight.  It’s Monday, isn’t it?    It’s usually South Desuetude on Mondays, but Colin is also responsible for Glaciation, Hampshire’s coldest frelling bell tower.  Usually ringing warms you up.  Usually having hands too stiff with cold to ring accurately is only a problem before the first touch.  Usually after your first touch you have to take a layer off.  Tonight at Glaciation after every touch Anthea and I sprinted for the electric fire while the others stood around blowing on their hands and complaining about the cold.   But the electric fire is only two people wide . . . and you’d be mad trying to dislodge either Anthea or me.  We’re fierce when we’re cold.  And bells don’t much like being that cold either, and these are more old, plain-bearing (rather than ball-bearing) ones which means the moving parts are full of surplus WWII grease the RAF didn’t get around to using in their Spitfires.  Iron is more gorblimey pliable.

             And I have somehow been talked into ringing more frelling handbells tomorrow night.  Somehow.  Niall and I are going to go drill the glurp out of one of the beginners from last Tuesday.  My problem is that Niall likes me for a partner in beginner-bashing.  As I was trying to explain my awful predicament to a somewhat hostile husband^, Peter said, you’re Niall’s favourite pedagogic aid.  Well, yes.  The globe, the chalkboard, and the McKinley.  As I keep saying, I don’t ring much^^, but by golly and crabgrass what there is of it I can ring.  Barring no sleep the night before or the ME eating my brain—the two things are frequently related—this makes me ideal for beginners because I can’t be knocked off my line.  And while in terms of morale this is a mixed blessing—because I know that I’m as steady as I am because it took me so dranglefabbing long to learn it at all—I also remember what it’s like being a beginner.  Although Caitlin is another of these overachieving tower ringers, and as soon as she gets her head around handbells she’ll be off in a blaze of small brass dingdong glory.   Sigh.  Well, she won’t be ringing Cambridge by the end of tomorrow night because I can’t

              But there is another reason I will be glad to do something indoors and sitting down tomorrow.  I’ve already got my dogminder booked for regular Mondays, in anticipation of voice lessons^^^, and having bagged Monday afternoons I didn’t want to upset any functioning systems.  So this afternoon I went up to Third House and started moving backlist.  I spent two hours carrying large heavy boxes full of books upstairs and trying to stack them both neatly and in some manner by which it will be possible to find what you are looking for, should you be so unfortunate as to need a copy of something from the McKinley or the Dickinson backlist. Why is so much of our respective backlists in large boxes.  Not your standard, slightly-heavier-weight cardboard books boxes, but the next size up, the general all-purposes stuff boxes.  The answer is, I think, that we used what the mover provided, six years ago, when we left the big house, and movers aren’t accustomed to people the majority of whose worldly goods are books.  New packing boxes cost money, and I think I remember that if we were willing to have used ones, they were free.  They were, however, what he had to give us, which is to say too low a percentage of book boxes.  I can handle a proper book box full of books.  These big things . . . gaaaah.  I’m not too bad tonight, but getting out of bed tomorrow morning. . . .

^ About an hour later he said in his mildest, most British tone, Please reintroduce to Niall’s attention the possibility of rebellion in the non-ringing spouse.  —Oops.  Niall and I had been discussing just this on the drive home tonight, because he’s sustaining a certain amount of strife and restiveness from Penelope.  I thought I was going to get away with it this time because our regular handbells on Thursday are early so I’ll be back down to the mews at what passes in my case for normal supper time. 

^^ I was saying gloomily to the demon in the driver’s seat tonight, I keep remembering that the plain bob methods—so the one method I do know on handbells (bob minor) and the one method I’m learning (bob major)—are more educational tools rather than methods rung for their own sake.  Nobody rings any of the plain bobs for the music:  they ring them because they can.  Because they’re extremely teachable.  And as handbells go, learnable.

^^^ We’re now waiting for a kitchen refit, and the builders to go away.   Working at home has serious drawbacks.

** Even in my wildest agonies of despair I do not dream of forsaking story-telling.  Even PEG II, which is seeing just how far it can push me.

*** Besides chocolate.  Creative cursing?  Accident-proneness? 

† It also developed a kind of list to one side.  As well as curly edges.

†† I’m trying to convince Fiona she has to come again really soon.

††† Dog froufrou is so limited.  I think that self-striping yarn would be fabulous.  Red, gold and maroon for Chaos . . . blue, green and teal for Darkness.  Perhaps.  Darkness would also look good in red.  And Chaos would look terrific in rust and burnt orange . . .

‡ And yes, too frelling cute or what.  So get pregnant again in a couple of years or something when maybe I’ve figured out casting on.  And knitting something that doesn’t list and curl.

‡‡ No, I HAVEN’T ordered them yet.  But speaking of things that are only a matter of time.  Uh.  I wonder what size . . .

The New Dark Side


So.  The Dark Side.  The new Dark Side.  I know you’ve spent the last forty-eight hours in breathless anticipation of the revelation of (b).*

Yep. That's what you think it is. And the boots in the lower left are a legwarmer pattern. A SCARY legwarmer pattern. (Fiona has given me a TRANSLATION.)

Stop that laughing.  You’ll do yourself an injury.**  Yes, I am wondering when I’m going to fit frelling knitting in.***  I have fantasies of spending more time on the sofa† watching the eight hundred and thirty-seven operas I’ve recorded off Sky over the last, uh, probably several years†† . . . but if I had time to watch them I’d be watching them.  Sigh. . . .

            I have known that my days were numbered, about knitting.  I had too many friends who read Yarn Harlot before I started the blog . . . which is when I discovered there seems to be some kind of genetic bond between reading McKinley and knitting.  And I’ve twice had a brief stab (so to speak) at knitting before this.  I like yarn.  I already have the Petting Reflex.  And I used to do hand sewing.  I enjoyed it.  I used to embroider pillowcases while I listened to Live at the Met when I was young. 

           And I’ve been shown the basics of knitting before.  But I permitted myself to be distracted.  To drift away from my knitting needles.††† That was also before the internet, let alone the blog, and while I’ve always had friends who knitted, they didn’t run in packs.  Third time is the charm, right?  Or possibly the curse.

            But I didn’t know it was going to happen now, when PEG II is driving me so mental that I’ve pretty well stopped composing and only play Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes and There Is A Tavern in the Town on my poor piano but I’m about to start voice lessons again, and I have a fancy new camera I still haven’t spent any real time figuring out, and in another month it’ll be rose-planting season‡—and there’s the Octopus and the Chandelier get through, uh . . . February sometime.  I’m trying not to think about it.  But rehearsals hit the frenzy level next Sunday, which is an ominous sign.  Also I have hellhounds.  And a blog.  And I ring several kinds of bells. ‡‡  And read in the bath.  Occasionally I sleep.  Or make brownies.

            What happened is that I was hanging out on a thread I sometimes hang out on when PEG II has driven me out beyond the Wall and slammed the gates shut ‡‡‡ and I don’t feel like sweeping the floor or taking hellhounds for an early hurtle. §  And blondviolinist made a disparaging comment about yarnbombing.  Yarnbombing? I said innocently.  And she sent me this link:  http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/2kSMb8/www.buzzfeed.com/melismashable/25-amazing-yarn-bombs  In hindsight I’ve decided that this was all a nefarious plan.  Clearly yarnbombing would amuse me.  And (in hindsight) I don’t believe blondviolinist isn’t amused by yarnbombing.  I was set up!  I was set up!

            And I fell, splat, like a rather small muskrat into a tiger pit.  I said, I think it looks like fun.  And then I may have said something about Wolfgang . . . or pianos . . . or rosebushes . . . or swords.  But I added, fatally, but someone would have to teach me how to knit.

            And they were all over me like wolves on a stray lamb:  chiefly the evil Jodi Meadows and the fiendish blondviolinist.  Don’t ever cross these women.§§  Your life will not be worth living. 

            The funny thing is that . . . I thought I’d get away with it.  I’d said something indiscreet about knitting a few months ago and the roof didn’t fall in, nor did the Spanish Inquisition show up with the comfy cushion.§§§  Jodi and blondviolinist must have been at a knitting convention or something, and off line.  Anyway.  I compounded my idiocy by admitting that Fiona knits—and she was coming on Friday.  I think I may still have been resisting at this point, but then Jodi, the Evil Queen, sent me this link:  http://www.etsy.com/listing/34687662/pink-rose-bamboo-knitting-needles-fr3e  . . . at which point I knew I was lost.#

            Fiona showed up Friday morning expecting to work.  Yes, yes, I said, thrusting copies of PEGASUS and mailing envelopes at her, hurry up, there’s a yarn shop in Mauncester.  A yarn shop? she said.##  Yes, I said.  I’ve decided that my life will not be complete till I’ve knitted myself some legwarmers.###

Mmmmmmm. Yarn. I was saying I still haven't figured out my new camera? One of the things I haven't figured out is shooting in indoor light without the flash. That flecked pink is a true pink, and the plain one is deepest, vividest rose. The blue and lavender tweedy one, while perfectly nice, is mainly because it's the right size for the frelling pattern. Fiona pointed out that a thicker-gauge yarn would knit up FASTER.

            Now all I have to do is learn to cast on.~ 

* * * 

* Any sad, confused, about-to-go-somewhere-else person just happening on this blog for the first time:  http://robinmckinleysblog.com/2011/01/22/more-adventures/

 ** At a guess, what do you suppose is the percentage of knitters in the readers of this blog?  No, that’s too difficult.  The percentage of forum members.  I’d say about 87.5% . . . maybe more.  Or maybe they’re just noisy. 

*** Forgot to tell you the other night . . . during the break, after I’d bought my album and had my pee^, and there was nothing else to do^^, I pulled Pooka out and had a fast blast of the 3-4 to bob major.

^ This particular venue is noteworthy for two things:  that the queue outside the men’s is longer than outside the women’s, which has never before happened in the history of architecture and gender-specific loos, and was the cause of much comment on both sides of the divide;  and the most appallingly poor design, so that as soon as there’s more than one person involved, no one can get in or out any of the doors.  And did I mention the queues?

^^ One of the disadvantages of the front row is that you may find yourself sitting next to Not The Good Kind of Really Enthusiastic Fan.  Protective colouration may be necessary. 

† Of course with hellhounds.  There is no such thing as Sofa Without Hellhounds, unless there are an unseemly number of live handbellers involved.  I keep the puppy gate—now permanently nailed into the wall—to the kitchen closed on handbell evenings, or there would be hellhounds.  I didn’t tell them about the cat the other night, and fortunately they don’t read the blog. 

†† If they haven’t been eaten by invisible gremlins.  If you have something on DVD, you have it.  I’m not at all sure what happens inside Sky’s black box.  And sometimes, late at night, there are these small giggling voices. . . . 

††† I found the yarn I’d brought over from Maine in the back of a closet when we moved out of the old house.  It went to Oxfam. 

‡ For those of us who didn’t get it done in the autumn 

‡‡ Niall was not at Sunday service ring this morning.  EEEEEEP.  He is not allowed to do this to me without warning.  No wonder I’ve been dazed and inclined to jump at small noises^ all the rest of today. 

^ Including giggling from the satellite TV box 

‡‡‡ Yes, they get shut in Part Two. 

§ Ha ha ha.  Or like learning the trebles to Cambridge minor. 

§§ Or carelessly say ‘knitting’ to them 

§§§ Of course you know this.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSe38dzJYkY 

# Yes.  I ordered them yesterday.  But it gets worse.  I was looking for the link to post here and found this:



            I could try to be positive about this.  I don’t have to knit anything.  I can just have a lot of really nice yarn and some fabulously pretty knitting needles. 

See? Rose coloured.

## Note that Fiona came out of the yarn shop with more yarn than I did.

 ### This is part of the whole awfulness of the situation.  I want some legwarmers.  My old ones disintegrated years ago and until Britain entered the New Ice Age last winter I rarely gave legwarmers a thought.  I thought about them a lot this past November-December.  And even I ought to be able to knit a short fat scarf and sew it up the back.  Oughtn’t I?

 ~Yes I know about http://www.knittinghelp.com/  Blondviolinist told me.

Making a Wedding Cake (cont.)- Guest Blog by B-Twin

Making a Wedding Cake (cont.)

Last year my sister asked me to make her wedding cake – and I started a small series of blog entries for Robin. I sort of fell off the wagon about getting this entry done because I had the bright idea I should make more flowers to make up for the decided lack of pictures. That was the theory.

Given that my sister’s first wedding anniversary is fast looming on the horizon I thought I had better just run with what I have. I hope you will still gain some insight into decorating a cake.  :)

To refresh your memories:

[Part 1A: Baking the cake]

[Part 1B: Covering the Cake]

Part 2: Decorations

Cake decorating is usually a series of little tasks that need wait time between them. This is especially true when making flowers and leaves from sugar paste. The creation of the decorations took days, mostly as a couple of hours here and there. As a result I forgot to take photos!

You may recall that my sister had asked for jasmine on the cake. And I, fool, said yes. I’ve never made jasmine from sugar paste and the jasmine flowering on our verandah had just finished blooming.  Ooops. As a result, I admit, there are some inaccuracies in my depiction!

For moulding flowers most decorators here (Australia) use a special flower or modelling paste version of sugar paste. There are many recipes for different circumstances, such as ones that can handle humidity or ones that can be rolled very thin for fine work.

As a general rule flower paste dries rather quickly, especially if it has been rolled very thin. This can be good if you want a shape to set in a hurry, it can be not so good if you are slow and fumble fingered. Nothing like a good incentive to find the right paste for you and the work you are doing!

There is a huge variety of leaf and petal cutters out there. It really is amazing. For jasmine, however, I decided that all I needed was a simple star-like cutter that is usually used for making the calyx on flowers such as roses.

Each bloom was “wired” so that it could be assembled later into a spray. This is done as soon as the flower is shaped. They can then be left to dry, upright, until the colouring phase.

Making the leaves was a trifle tricky because I didn’t have a cutter that was the exact shape of the real leaves. In the end I used a different cutter and slightly modified each one as I went. A wire was stuck into a small amount of pre-coloured paste and then I rolled out the paste on either side of the wire. Then I used the cutter to make the shape and tidied up with my fingers.

After the leaves were all made they were dipped in liquid colour to give more depth to their colour.

Leaves ready for dipping in liquid colour

Once leaves had been dipped and the flowers dusted with ‘petal dust’ the aim was to try and put them together in realistic combinations (I try to!).

Here is one of the sets of jasmine ready to be put into a final arrangement:

Jasmine spray

(Rose leaves also on the rack.)

I’m not sure if I had mentioned previously that my sister had wanted a Moongate on her cake? The groom thought they looked like a Stargate and so approved whole-heartedly! LOL  The Moongate was made out of the same sugarpaste that covers the cake. I had coloured it first and then dusted it. It didn’t turn out quite the colour I had wanted but by then it was too late to attempt another (it took several days to dry).

Final placing of all the flowers, leaves and assorted decorations can take hours. Especially when it is the night before the wedding and you are tired and keep having interruptions…and there is the detail of how difficult hard little sugar flowers on wires are to sit properly.

However, I was able to finish around midnight and then in the morning took these photos before it was delivered to the reception centre.

Wedding Cake!

"Moongate" and jasmine

Except for the flower wires and the ribbon that is all icing/sugar paste. The bride got her moongate. And there was a wee baby in one of the roses sitting on the second tier.


But wait! There’s more! :)

Part 3: The Recipe

This is the base recipe I tend to use. It’s very flexible. I have successfully swapped the flour for Spelt, dried cherries instead of glace ones (that really altered the flavour as they are very rich) and have used Lactose-free milk on occasion. I actually don’t use the pre-mix dried fruit that is available here and so every cake is slightly different depending on what people want – more cherries, less cherries etc. You can easily double or triple the mixture if needed (double would be used for a 12” tin).


This is the amount you would use for a 20cm/8” cake tin.


2 lb Mixed dried fruit (sultanas, raisins, currants, glace cherries & citrus peel) – which is bought here in Australia pre-mixed.

2 tablespoons Sherry or Brandy

2 cups Dark Brown Sugar

½ tsp Nutmeg

½ tsp Ginger

½ tsp Cinnamon

½ tsp Bi-carb Soda

½ tsp Salt

½ tsp Vanilla Essence (I use Extract though)

½ tsp Lemon Essence

½ lb Unsalted butter

½ cup Milk

3 Eggs

3 cups Plain Flour (All-purpose)


Combine fruit, sherry and sugar in a bowl, Mix well then stand for 2 hours (but overnight is better). Add soda, spices and mix well.

Melt butter in a saucepan with milk, add to fruit mixture.  Make sure the milk-butter mix has cooled down a bit before adding the beaten eggs, lemon and vanilla essences and sifted flour.

Bake in a slow oven for about 3-3 ½ hrs.

Tips for making a rich fruit cake:

  • Protect the edges of the cake from cooking too quickly by lining the tin with several layers of brown paper, or wrap newspaper or layered aluminium foil around the outside of the tin.
  • Be prepared to cover the top of the cake with foil in the last hour or so of cooking.
  • As soon as the cake is out of the oven then I always leave it in the tin and wrap the whole lot in a large towel. Remove from the tin after 24 hrs. You want the cake to cool slowly.
  • Like all things – PRACTISE. Slightly undercooked cake is still yummy. Just reheat and add ice-cream! Overcooked cake can be made into trifle etc.
  • Slow cooking is always better.
  • Any unused mix can be frozen and used later (mine doesn’t last that long… it’s yummy!)
  • Cooked cake will keep for months if wrapped securely and stored in a cool, dark place. It can also be frozen – just remember to pack it carefully and thaw it out in the fridge.

Rich Fruit Cake

More adventures


It’s already way past frelling midnight and I still have a blog post to write.  Fiona was here today and we’ve been having adventures.  Two entirely separate electrifying and sensational adventures that have nothing to do with each other!

(a)    We went to a Richard Thompson concert*

(b)   I have gone over to the Dark Side.**

Fiona has been a crucial assistant (not to say abettor) to both these life-bending enterprises.***   Toward (a), she has developed the really nasty habit of sending me little emails about concerts I might be interested in.†   And she’s hot off the mark too—we had front row seats again.

            This proved to be a mixed blessing.  We panted in about five minutes late††, and thirty seconds before the show started, and were confronted by stacks of amps on either end of the stage and a redoubt of more across the front.  I have got to start remembering to bring earplugs.   I stopped going to rock concerts about a quarter-century ago and haven’t yet reinstated my default habits. You think oh, folk, oh, all right, folk rock, but you should be thinking electric frelling folk rock and Richard Thompson has never been the kindly, gentle end anyway.  I do not know from guitars, so any better-educated person out there, please don’t yell at me, I did Google it†††, but the object Thompson was playing tonight was the classic Stratocaster type, which says ‘Jimi Hendrix’, ‘Eric Clapton’ and ‘Stevie Rae Vaughan’ to me.  It also says LOUD.  But Thompson is a known and venerated Guitar God and I think guitar gods are required to be LOUD.

            And it was loud.  There were five blokes up there‡ and they were all banging away like anything.  Mostly they were merely plugged in to enough hardware to raise the roof, but there was also The Biggest Saxophone You Ever Saw that made a noise like Ray Bradbury’s fog horn‡‡  The drums were amazing.  The bassist had at least twelve fingers.  The violinist was adorable.  And the saxophonist played about forty-seven other instruments too.  It was fabulous.  It was all fabulous.‡‡‡  You really do have to go hear live music occasionally—I don’t care how magnificent the album is, and yes, I did rush out during the break and buy the new album§ they’d played about three-quarters of in the first half—live is different.§§  Sensurround and HD-3D R2-D2 e=mc2 are all very well, but live is different. 

            And if I don’t go to bed soon I will not be alive.  Oh, you want to know about (b)?  Gee . . . I guess it’ll have to wait. . . .

* * *

* And we didn’t get lost.  I think this may be a first.  SatNav or no SatNav.  It did lose the plot a little on the way home and ordered us to return to New Arcadia via Alabama.  Hey!  I said.  That’s a dumb way to go!^  We’ll go my way!  It went on making snarky remarks however till Fiona turned it off. 

^ And we’d forgotten our water wings

** No, no!  This is a whole new dark side!

*** We also got most of the PEGASUSes and assorteds posted.^  At least I think we did.  I am not having one of my scintillating-with-intelligence days and I only know about the errors that we caught.  I am expecting the ‘many thanks for the signed book.  However I had asked it to be signed to my pet giraffe, Hester, and you didn’t actually write JANE EYRE although it’s a rather nice edition except for the corner that it looks like a hellhound puppy chewed off’^^ emails to start soon.

^  It amuses me a lot that the PRC winners are not only from three different countries but three different continents.

^^ Darkness has no idea how Near He Came to Death.

† I can’t remember if I blogged about the tragedy of missing Maddy Prior—she of Steeleye Span fame—and her Carnival Band, a few days before Christmas, when the weather gods closed Hampshire.  AAAAAAUGH.  Heartbreak and calamity.  Fiona, who is a reasonably intrepid driver under most conditions, was convinced to stay home without my having to resort to threats of violence.  Although she did climb on a train to London next day and saw them at the South Bank.  Buying me a copy of the CD for Christmas is no frelling comfort. 

†† We were late because we were pursuing (b).  Mwa ha ha ha ha ha. 

††† Note that I do know there are more search engines out there than Google.  But I’m always writing these blog posts in a hurry at the last minute, when I’m already three-quarters asleep and chiefly longing to get in a hot bath and read. 

‡ Most of the time.  For at least one song there was a small, discreet, black-garbed gremlin hitherto seen only briefly carrying one or another of the fabulous array of instruments to one or another member of the band, himself playing what I think was a guitar.  The real problem with the dranglefabbing amps wasn’t the noise but that they blocked my view.  What’s the point of the front row if you can’t SEE?

‡‡ One of his best.  I think.  http://members.fortunecity.com/ymir1/beastfro9.html  Now tell me how to find out if it’s okay that it’s hung on the web for free.

‡‡‡ It was all fabulous except for one crushing, diabolical playlist omission.  They didn’t play 1952 Vincent Black Lightning.^  Which is a motorcycle.  And one of my favourite songs ever.^^  I almost had

I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome,
Swooping down from heaven to carry me home

for my tag line, or what you call it, the little blast of text at the bottom of your forum reply box.  And then I found out that an Ariel is a car.  I don’t care how fast it is or what a miracle of engineering it is, it’s ugly.  I’d rather have my angels on Vincents.^^^  Thompson has also written a really good song about a car:  http://www.richardthompson-music.com/song_o_matic.asp?id=199  Which sort of thing is pretty much why I’m a huge fan.  How many people can write a brilliant song about a car?^^^^  Or drop not just a motorcycle but a specific motorcycle into a love song?  He also does the modern with the edgy trad folk stuff like nobody else.

            But Fiona got her Wall of Death.  And I didn’t get my Vincent.  Waaaah.

^ http://www.richardthompson-music.com/song_o_matic.asp?id=580

^^Right up there with Che Faro Senza Eurydice and Una Voce Poco Fa

^^^ Although I was seriously hot for Nortons in my youth. 

^^^^ That it’s an MG doesn’t hurt, although GTs—hardtops—are an error.  The true MG is a roadster.

§ Dream Attic  http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2010/aug/26/richard-thompson-dream-attic-review

And here’s a concert review:  http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/reviews/richard-thompson-royal-festival-hall-london-2190275.html

§§ Live is sitting for almost three hours with your fingers in your ears.  Sigh.  The unexpected bennies of bell-ringing:  shoulders that will let you spend three hours with your fingers stuck in your ears.  Or maybe it’s the hellhound wrangling.  Whatever.  I don’t expect performers to see what they’re looking at—when I’m giving a live performance, and I only do words, I try not to register what’s happening in the front row—and in this case I hope he didn’t engage with where his eyes were aiming.  But Thompson glared right at me for a good ten seconds at one point, and us front row was relentlessly well-lit.  No, no, I wanted to be in the front row!  I just forgot my earplugs!

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