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BorrowMyDoggy.com

I’m having a lovely weekend so far – I’ve been minding my neighbour’s dog and have loved it! We’ve had some good walks in the fields, making the most of the dry, October weather and on Friday, when I popped round to see him on my way home from having dinner at a friend’s, he was great company as we watched The Graham Norton Show together. And the best part about it (apart from the delicious fudge I was given as a thank-you present) is that I don’t have the responsibility of caring and looking after a dog full time.

 

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After having this little dog-minding taster, I’ve decided to sign myself up to “borrowmydoggy.com”. It’s a website designed to match dog owners with people who just like to dog walk, like me!

 

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www.borrowmydoggy.com

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Cambridgeshire Wine School’s World of Wine evening

What better way to escape a wet and wintry October night than inside the Royal Cambridge Hotel sipping on good wine, in cheerful company. On Tuesday, my Mum and I did exactly that when we attended the Cambridgeshire Wine School‘s “World of Wine; Chile & Argentina” evening. While, before Tuesday, I only knew the word ‘legs’ to refer to a limb and “vintage” to describe antique clothing, my Mum has a keen interest in wine and has several spent summers exploring wine regions abroad. (N.B. Legs in reference to wine is an indication of alcohol content and a vintage describes wine made in a particular year.)

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There were couples, colleagues and neighbours who had come together for the evening and, as we were chattering, laughing discussing the wines, the room resembled a good dinner party, full of old friends. We sniffed, swilled and swallowed six different wines, as former journalist Mark Anstead transported us to Chile and Argentina with vivid descriptions of distant vineyards and breathtaking images of their wine-making regions.

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I was listening intently to Mark’s instructions on how to observe, smell and taste the wine (he has a great analogy which compares the body of the wine to skimmed, semi-skimmed or full-fat milk) while my Mum was totally absorbed by the different grape varieties and Mark’s impeccable geographical knowledge. We are living proof that the evening promises to be enjoyable and informative whether you are a wine tasting novice or a wine connoisseur. As well as evening tasters like this one, the school run eight week courses and you can find out more about the different courses here.

Inspired to take an interest in the wine I drink, I set myself a challenge to cook a dinner and serve it with one that would compliment the flavours of the food. My Mum’s favourite wine of the evening was a Chilean red wine called Carménère so, applying my newly acquired knowledge thanks to the Cambridgeshire Wine School, I cooked a spicy beef chilli, serving it with a glass of Carménère. They did, indeed, work amazingly well together as a warming winter supper.

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My favourite wine of the evening was a white “Torrontes” from Argentina. That is next week’s challenge…

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“Aunty Alice”

On Tuesday my sister E gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and made me an Aunty! The sex of the baby was a complete surprise so I had waited to get a present (although I was well equipped with two cards – one pink, one blue). I kept my eyes peeled for the perfect baby gift throughout my sister’s pregnancy and had found so many adorable girls outfits in ditsy floral prints with little peter-pan collars but only found one thing I liked for a boy – these teeny apple-green leather shoes made by Inch-Blue in Ark, Cambridge. 

After meeting my little nephew, I popped into Cambridge on Friday and was delighted to find them still sitting on the shelf.

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They are handmade in Wales and I was reassured by the kind shop assistant that the dye and the leather is all completely baby-safe so, should he decided to chew his shoe, it wouldn’t be disastrous. I bought them home and wrapped them up nicely because little boys deserve pretty parcels, too…

 

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An interview with Katie O’Hagan

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From a huggable grizzly bear hanging decorations on his Christmas tree, to dashingly handsome red foxes dressed in country attire; illustrator Katie O’Hagan could give the deadliest of animals a sweet temperament and make it seem natural. After commissioning her to create the urban fox standing elegantly at the top of this page, I have been totally enthralled by her ability to capture such character in a two-dimensional painting. On Monday, I managed to steal five minutes from Katie’s busy schedule to ask her about her work and her techniques…

Urban Fox: Katie, you studied Illustration and Printmaking at University in Dundee, did you always know that illustration was what you wanted to do?

Katie: Absolutely – I went to school in Luxembourg where there was a heavy focus of Maths and Science and Art wasn’t really taken seriously at all. I was always really interested in drawing and began attending art lessons outside of school where I built a portfolio which secured me a place at University.

Urban Fox:  All your paintings have a very unique feel – did it take you a long time to solidify a distinguishable style?

Katie: It took me years! Even when I started University I was playing around with different styles and techniques. It was only really in my final year that I felt I had developed a unique and definitive style.

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Urban Fox: The soft colour palette that you use is one of the most distinctive features of your work, how do you achieve such consistency and what is your favourite medium to use?

Katie: My favourite medium is acrylic paint. I use a specific brand of fluid acrylics which have a particularly high pigmentation because the colours are amazing! I have experimented with oil paints and watercolours but have always returned to acrylics – they are much more forgiving. I also use an ink pen. I tend not to start out with a pencil drawing because I find it can make the drawing look stale. It’s risky, but instead, I go straight in with an ink pen to add fine detail and outlines and I think the animals seem more spontaneous and lively as a result.

Urban Fox: Do you have a favourite place to sit and paint?

Katie:  Not really – my paintings are relatively small scale and I don’t make too much of a mess so I mostly work at home. I have a desk where I keep all of my materials, but I prefer to spread out onto the kitchen table and I’ll sit and draw there.

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Urban Fox: Your paintings of animals are full of character. How do you begin a drawing, do you decide on their personality first?

Katie: It really depends on the job. When I develop a character for a book, it is all about the personality. I will do a lot of character sketches in so many different sizes, positions and situations. By the end, drawing the animal is so natural to me, I can envisage it doing anything! Commissions I approach differently and I tend to only do one version. The paintings and prints I make for my online shop are influenced by beautiful animals – whenever I see one, I am immediately inspired to draw it and facial portraits of animals are one of my favourite formats.

 

Urban Fox: You’ve illustrated a book about an ambitious goldfish (“What I think about when I think about…swimming”) and you’ve painted an array of animals. Where else can we find your designs?

Katie: Yes, at the minute I mostly make gift cards, paintings and prints which I sell online from my website and my Etsy shop. I have also recently discovered the hidden world of London craft fairs. I am considering how else to use my illustrations on products and have thought about expanding to use my designs on ceramics. But, for now, these keep me busy alongside commissions. Actually, I have been getting commissions from all over the world for some weird and wonderful illustrations…

Katie’s illustrations can be found in Indiana, on the label of goats milk soap, in Novia Scotia, on a gig poster, on a German Shiba Inu Breeders’ website and, perhaps soon, on a large jigsaw puzzle for French toy company Djeco.

 Excitingly, Katie will be at a craft fair a little closer to home. Find her charming prints, gift cards and paintings at the Crafty Fox Christmas Market on 14th December in the Bussey Building, Peckham.

A very big thank-you to Katie for bringing the urban fox to The Urban Fox Blog, for her time and for answering all my questions!

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For the love of pom-poms

As an incentive to finish knitting my blanket, I have been on the look out for some nice pom-poms to embellish the end once it is complete. Even after a good trawl through Cambridge’s best craft and fabric shops, I haven’t been able to find any that I like the colour or shape of. So, I turned my hand to making my own. I was surprised at how easy they are to make and, the best thing about it is that I’ve been able to use the same wool I’ve been knitting with, so the colours match perfectly! Bizarrely, the most important instrument is a fork…

 

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Using the spokes of the fork to secure your wool in place, wrap your wool round and round. The more times you wrap it round – the larger your pom-pom will be. I did 35 wrap-rounds for a large pom pom, 20 for a medium sized one and 10 made a small one. Once you’ve finished wrapping it round you need to tie it through the middle spoke of the fork (see below youtube video for detailed instructions).

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Once you’ve tied all the wool into a large circular shape, use scissors to cut the loops and trim the pom-pom so that the edges are round and smooth, or you could leave them shabby!

 

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Here is my collection of pom-poms so far. I’m going to mix my woollen ones with some felt ones for a bit of variation.

 

This you-tube video is great for detailed, step-by-step instructions:

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Afternoon Tease? Yes please!

Today was a sunny autumn day spent perusing the streets of Cambridge with my good friend E. We worked up an appetite on our non-urgent mission to find pom-poms (for my knitted blanket) and a necklace (for her birthday) and so retired to Afternoon Tease for…afternoon tea!

The sounds of busy shoppers and ringing bicycles faded away as we arrived at number 13 Kings Street. Tucked away behind one of the main shopping areas in Cambridge, the relaxed, echoey space in which Afternoon Tease is situated, deceives its central location.

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On entering the cafe, which is illuminated by natural light and a minimalist colour scheme, your eyes are immediately drawn to the chalk board filled with tea and coffee options and the counter, laden with an array of delicious homemade cakes. There are old favourites (an award-winning chocolate brownie or a slice of carrot and walnut cake), as well as something interestingly flavoured to try (chocolate and Guinness cake with cream cheese icing or a pear and sultana bunt with caramel icing).  The choice of cake attracts an equally wide range of customers; a cluster of students sit out the front chattering over cups of tea or coffee. Inside, a young professional types away on his MacBook, stopping every so often for a sip of coffee and a bite of cake, while a little girl in school uniform is enjoying an after-school treat with her Mum.

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We represented the ‘two young ladies catching up’ demographic. I chose the chocolate and Guinness cake with an English breakfast tea while E went for the carrot and walnut cake with a latte. We chatted for hours, admiring the mis-match crockery, the charming 1950’s sideboard and the display of fresh flowers and I was very satisfied with my choice of cake until, as we were leaving, I saw a lemon and pistachio loaf arrive on the counter, which only reaffirmed my desire to visit again, and soon!

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A word a day

I picked up this little journal in Waterstones today and, positioning it conveniently by the side of my bed, I am determined to fill the pages with new and interesting words, entering one more each evening. The idea is that you describe the day just gone using a word you wouldn’t usually use, an unusual word synonymous to ones that we would use in everyday language.

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For example – today, I made a delicious cottage pie. Instead of “delicious” I could use the word “ambrosial”. I made an ambrosial cottage pie. (Meaning especially delicious).

I’ve already learned a few words that I wasn’t aware existed. “Rip-snorting” being the first. It means excited, excellent and intense. It’s a great word but I’m not sure I’ll be able to subtly slip that one into conversation any time soon…

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Knitting with Nana

With expert knitter Grandma staying this weekend, I am taking full advantage and have dug out my balls of wool and needles to begin a blanket that I’ve been meaning to start for a while.  When it’s finished, it will be a big stripy blanket that I’ll throw on my bed but I’m definitely going to be needing a few one-to-one knitting consultations with Grandma along the way. It may take me a while, but watch this space!

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An accidental forage

I took to the fens this afternoon for a long walk. I’d taken this route only a few weeks ago and was surprised to see the fields looking darker and lumpier than usual – they’d been harvested! In early September onion farmers begin ploughing their fields to surface these root vegetables before the cold weather causes them to rot. 
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Luckily for me, the farmers had missed a few and, amongst a pile of rotten onions, I found four completely unscathed so, tucking them in my (very clean) welly sock, I carried them home.

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Does it get much fresher than this?

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