Fortnight (!) round up: tiredness, weaving, painting...etc.

This is not so much of a weekend round up, as a fortnight round up. I've been busy, tired, had heatstroke, been scared rigid over the Malaysian aircrash and generally in need of a break. I wouldn't say I've had one per se, but I do feel a bit less tired at the beginning of the week ahead. 

Outside of work what I've been up to is mainly cycling, cooking, painting and making in some form or another. I've also spend time with a good friend despite illness on her part, and forgotten train tickets and a dead bird on mine. 

We also had the big 4 0 upon us, but because Neil is so busy with work and study, we decided to keep it low key until we can go away properly and celebrate at the end of the summer. But 40 is still 40 and so I wanted to make sure we marked the day in some way. With so much stress flying around at the moment I figured the best thing I could do for him would be to relieve him of his usual jobs. So I took the day off work and did a bit of his thesis writing (references that is) and I prepared a 9-course taster menu a la Simon Rogan. Neil usually does all the cooking on the basis that I'm not very good, but it appears that little fib has finally caught up with me... 

I didn't use any recipes, I just designed the menu according to flavours I felt worked and then made them according to instinct. My biggest win was working out how to do venison carpaccio. 

Just a few of the courses I planned for the evening. I called the menu Flotsam and Forest...a nod to a menu that was all about the sea and the land, encompassing some of the flavours we've enjoyed the most over the years. 

Just a few of the courses I planned for the evening. I called the menu Flotsam and Forest...a nod to a menu that was all about the sea and the land, encompassing some of the flavours we've enjoyed the most over the years. 

Between cycle training for the alps this summer and tending the veg patch in the evenings (which is such a nice way to spend the evening) I've also been enjoying a dabble with paint over the last couple of weeks; painting all sorts of things with watercolour and ink. To be clear I've not used real watercolour paint for about 17 years, so I'm more or less satisfied with the doodles I've got on the page. Neil bought me some paints and they've totally got me hooked...

Iceland (which I ruined twice with smudges), mountains, forest, Yorkshire in miniature... there were more but I don't need to share it all (for that there's Instagram!)

Iceland (which I ruined twice with smudges), mountains, forest, Yorkshire in miniature... there were more but I don't need to share it all (for that there's Instagram!)

This weekend we've had a bbq for two, cloud-gazed, and got out into the Peaks briefly to the birding area around Carsington Water. I also made a weaving as a tribute to my spiritual home in the Cairngorms. I can't say it's amazing, but it kept me out of trouble and has a certain charm. I also got some orders packaged and sent out, and have been finishing up my commission pile. It sounds busy, but none of it required moving too far or fast!

This still requires finishing - I want to add definition to the mountains and maybe a small tent in the forest... 

This still requires finishing - I want to add definition to the mountains and maybe a small tent in the forest... 

I hope you've all had a good weekend too?

China: a love story and sales pitch.

Snippets of stories in the captions - hover over photos for more. 

The heat was perishing, and the wall gets really steep in places. It took an age to wait for a moment with no people. If you look behind me you would see about a million people walking in the other direction!

The heat was perishing, and the wall gets really steep in places. It took an age to wait for a moment with no people. If you look behind me you would see about a million people walking in the other direction!

There is more to China than the Great Wall (though I agree, it's not mediocre in any sense), and by saying that I am clearly pointing out the obvious. But sometimes you need to point out the obvious don't you, because sometimes the obvious gets forgotten. 

A man in a shop in Beijing asked us 'Why does no one come to China anymore?' noting that he'd seen a drop off since 2008 (Olympic year coincidence?) and we ourselves noted that there were very few western faces to be seen around and about. Such was my surprise to be photographed so much - being asked several times to pose with strangers, or simply to turn around and find someone sneaking a photo of the strange, larger-than-asian, broad shouldered viking creature sweating profusely under a parasol. 

Getting my own back: photographing the smallest elderly people I have ever seen at the Temple of Heaven. On the other side was a couple having wedding photographs...Bride in red (obviously). I much envied her...for the longest time I wanted a red wedding dress but gave up looking. Should have gone to China. 

Getting my own back: photographing the smallest elderly people I have ever seen at the Temple of Heaven. On the other side was a couple having wedding photographs...Bride in red (obviously). I much envied her...for the longest time I wanted a red wedding dress but gave up looking. Should have gone to China. 

And again....I love this! Parents dressing their kids up as emperors and taking photos. Brilliant!

And again....I love this! Parents dressing their kids up as emperors and taking photos. Brilliant!

Neither of us could give an explanation for why no one comes to China anymore. My guess would be something along the lines of a political system that gets a lot of bad press (and rightly so in many cases, though even this isn't simple), loss of favour next to Japan and South Korea who are the well-behaved neighbours throwing a better looking party...and maybe the off-putting factor of sheer size. Where do you start with a nation so big that everytime you wake up during a 8 hour flight leg you're 'still crossing China'. And let's not forget the unforgiving air pollution in the super-developing cities, which is so thick you can slice it. 

Yeah, there's a lot of reasons that China gets cast asunder, but actually this is a travesty of the modern travel age. The parts I saw were populated, ugly in parts and bewildering in scale, but yet China is wonderful. And utterly enchanting! I say this with a serious tongue in my cheek, but hey anyone can do a beautiful Thai beach, right? But you surely haven't experienced Asia until you go to China. The oldest libraries, the biggest train stations, the longest wall, the most people, the deepest culture...if Singapore is Asia Lite, then China is the heavy beating heart of the continent. 

You can't afford not to look up in China. The rooftops are a treat of little animals, chasing other little animals. 

You can't afford not to look up in China. The rooftops are a treat of little animals, chasing other little animals. 

All dressed up in the courtyard of the Forbidden City (Imperial Palace), Beijing. Oh the heat! 

All dressed up in the courtyard of the Forbidden City (Imperial Palace), Beijing. Oh the heat! 

Boy, is that a crazy wall they're got there, but also those green tea plantations clinging onto the hillside are magnificent, fresh and amazing smelling! You have not had dumplings until you've queued for an age with locals in a scruffy two-up, two-down in Shanghai old town to dribble hot but divine burning steamed bun innards down your chin. You can shop in better malls than we have here, but then stroll into a 16th century complex full of bonsai, lanterns and old stone buildings that look exactly like China of your imagination. You can see more cultural diversity in the Chinese population than in London, and yet you would never have known so much diversity exists without any element of it being 'western'. You can quickly get to huge mountains, amazing karst formations along gigantic rivers you can't see to the other side of, and journey on the longest bridges in the world. You can see people picking rice in paddy fields in their blue smocks and straw cone hats, but then walk amongst thousands of people workshipping their city gods in Buddhist temples that are everywhere. And did I mention how clean China is? They might have troublesome air but you will not see a speck of litter on the streets! This is a fastidious nation (cleaner than I have seen anywhere else in Asia) and the best food we had was off local market stalls. Think Peking Duck. Noodles everywhere. Japanese fusion. 

Such sweet fresh air! And one of my highlights. I bought tea from a farmer in a place that reputedly sells leaves to global royalty and nobility, including the queen. This stuff sells for thousands and thousands of pounds, but I bought a lower grade leaf for a tenner! Such was the state of my bank account after buying too many dangly cats!

Such sweet fresh air! And one of my highlights. I bought tea from a farmer in a place that reputedly sells leaves to global royalty and nobility, including the queen. This stuff sells for thousands and thousands of pounds, but I bought a lower grade leaf for a tenner! Such was the state of my bank account after buying too many dangly cats!

The lotus flowers were just opening in Hangzhou West Lake. Such beautiful flowers! 

The lotus flowers were just opening in Hangzhou West Lake. Such beautiful flowers! 

Bonsai at the oldest privately owned Library in China. Ningbo. Ningbo was our work stay for the first week. An otherwise non-descript and unknown city which is surprising given that it's one of the world's largest ports!

Bonsai at the oldest privately owned Library in China. Ningbo. Ningbo was our work stay for the first week. An otherwise non-descript and unknown city which is surprising given that it's one of the world's largest ports!

Lanterns, lanterns, lanterns.... the best places in China are the green bolt-holes where you can get away from the noise, the people, the clamour and say hello peace...hello MOSQUITOES!

Lanterns, lanterns, lanterns.... the best places in China are the green bolt-holes where you can get away from the noise, the people, the clamour and say hello peace...hello MOSQUITOES!

Lying on your back looking up from the cold stone slabs of a palace was the coolest place to be in the 28 degree heat. And there are worse views. 

Lying on your back looking up from the cold stone slabs of a palace was the coolest place to be in the 28 degree heat. And there are worse views. 

Truly, if you want to understand Asian culture and history you have to come to China. Next time I go my mission is to hit the rural areas (after all I'm not a city girl) and find some wildlife. A trip only seeing a few sparrows and faded magpies was unfamiliar for me, but you can't ignore the history, and colour and people in China. Oh the colour! 

And this is the saving grace of a country wrestling with its own development and smog output: you can forgive it (nearly) all for the colour at every turn. The shops are full of hot-red lanterns, silk materials, lucky waving cats, brightly-packaged food (and people)...most streets have an imperial archway or façade, and as you get closer to the historical sites so do the panels, tiles and roofs move from electric blue and green through to the brightest (and classiest) gold. If you can forgive the staring, the lack of birds on the eastern seaboard and the air pollution a whole world awaits you in just one country. This is a country that is great, and is trying to get better it's own way. And I guarantee you'll fall in love with it the way you love that crazy, errant friend of yours who refuses to tow the party line.

Definitely a country that has been stepping out of the shadows for a while now, China really is a beautiful nation and I have only seen a finger nail relative to the body!

Definitely a country that has been stepping out of the shadows for a while now, China really is a beautiful nation and I have only seen a finger nail relative to the body!

The flag flying over Tian'anmen Square, Beijing. 25 years since the uprising. The policing was heavy - too heavy - such is the paranoia in China. You can't get away from the fact that China as a 'difficult' political system...but adding my pre-existing knowledge, with what I have seen, I feel I have a shot at understanding China a little more now. For good and for bad. 

The flag flying over Tian'anmen Square, Beijing. 25 years since the uprising. The policing was heavy - too heavy - such is the paranoia in China. You can't get away from the fact that China as a 'difficult' political system...but adding my pre-existing knowledge, with what I have seen, I feel I have a shot at understanding China a little more now. For good and for bad. 

I went to China for a work trip and we took in Shanghai, Ningbo, parts of Hangzhou and Beijing. But mainly Ningbo. Perks of the day job aren't always obvious but this was one of the best learning curves I've been on in a long time.