Friday, 13 April 2018

Belly Dance Classes Relaunched!

Since effectively stopping classes last September, I've been doing a lot of planning, soul-searching and casual market research. I thought I would record and share the results and planning process!

'I think I'm probably too old (this from a 30 year old and a 73 year old!)'
Too old at 30? But seriously, you are never too old. You can work gently and within your comfort zone, at your own pace, and sit down and rest if you need to, whatever your age. I try to provide inclusive classes, whether for age, shape/size/level of fitness, disability, or gender.

'I want a midweek, evening class.'
Only one respondent wanted a daytime class, most were working or otherwise occupied (volunteering, other activities) during the day. Fridays were too vulnerable to weekend plans and the desire to just get home and put feet up at the end of the week.

One respondent wanted a class which started early, so they could go from work, but most wanted to at least be able to go home and change. (The danger is, of course, that once home, it can be hard to motivate yourself to go back out again!)

'An hour's class is enough - an hour and a half can feel like too much.'
So all classes are now an hour long, with an option for extra rehearsal time after class for those who wish to perform.

'It shouldn't end late - I want/need to be home by 9.30.'
(Because I have caring responsibilities/need to be up for work the next morning)
So classes are 7.00-8.00 pm, rehearsals 8.00-9.00 pm.

'I don't want to have to travel far - preferably not more than 5 miles.'
('Because it adds to costs, and time away from home - a consideration if you have other things to get done, or caring responsibilities.')
The location of classes is an issue; they are best placed in the population centres; that is, towns, rather than out in the villages. That said, being in town is no guarantee of attendees, particularly with the competition from other activities for attendees and venues.
With Narberth's Bloomfield Centre an established venue for the Thursday class, and Hubberston and Hakin Community Centre newly available on Tuesdays for a Milford Haven-based class, the main issue was to find a place for the Haverfordwest Wednesday class.
I checked out a dozen venues (over a couple of months - it took 3 weeks just to discover the booking contact for one venue!), only to find that none were suitable; either they were booked, or booked until 8.00 pm (therefore only for a late class), or they were too expensive (including one where if you wanted a full hour's class, you would have to book and pay for the venue for two hours). Or there was no adjacent parking (I have a lot of clobber, including a heavy suitcase) and no safe access after dark between the hall and a 'remote' car park. In the end, I rebooked Spittal, which is a nice hall and reduces the distance for anyone coming from the Fishguard end. Those in Haverfordwest then have a choice - Spittal or Hubberston.

And there's always car-sharing to split travel costs ....
'I don't have transport.'
It's difficult when you don't know anyone, but there are potentially car shares available, including a couple of spaces in my car for Narberth and Spittal classes.

'I can't/don't want to have to commit to classes.'
('Because of health conditions, cash flow, shift working or other activities, caring responsibilities.')
I understand that (however much it creates difficulties for me as the provider). So don't feel you have to 'commit', but do make an effort to come when you can, and let me know when you can't. Simple.

'I don't want to pay for a block of classes in advance.'
('Because I can't afford it, or I know that I might not be able to make all of them, so will feel like I'm paying for nothing and not getting my money's worth.')
Talking to other teachers, having students pay for a block of classes in advance is a recommended way to get a bit of commitment and attendance at classes. But I have seen in practice that this doesn't necessarily work, (see the comment above).
I did some research into motivating students, but it was largely based around 'youth' type classes such as ballet, modern/jazz, street dance, where it's mostly the parents/guardians who are paying for the lessons, and incentives such as freebies and discounts work both for the students, who then want to come to class and provide the pester-power, and the payers.

I settled on having a drop-in rate of £5 for occasional attendees, and reduced rates per class for pre-paid cards for 6 or 12 classes. Yes, these are paid in advance, but the cards are flexible. They are for any of my Imago classes, in any of the three venues, and also for £5 increments towards Imago workshops. So you can go to two classes one week and none the next, then one the following week, whatever you want. You can split the card with one or more friends (though you'll have to decide who holds it). You need to remember to present them at the start of class. And they are valid for 6 months or at least until the end of July, depending on how classes go.
I've had a 'class card' system before, and it worked quite well, although I formerly also had cards for 24 and 36 classes, which weren't used. When I was looking for the old cards file to update it and print new ones, I found that my class rates have scarcely changed and the 6-class card price is the same as it was in 2011! What's not to love about that?

'I don't want a course, because if I miss a week I'll feel left behind.'

Okay, so no 'course'. The lesson plans will still include learning moves, drilling, follow-along or improvised dance, combinations and various props, but if you miss a week, it's no biggie. You'll still be building your dance skills, you can ask questions and request things to be covered in class. Just come and enjoy, week by week, whatever we're doing.

'I don't want to have to fill in a load of paperwork. Learning plans, induction tick lists? I'm here to dance!'
Some paperwork is necessary so that I have your details and can keep in touch if a class needs to be cancelled and to record who is there week by week. Otherwise, having a learning plan or a tick sheet for moves is up to you.

'I don't want to feel like I'm the only beginner.'
My classes have always been mixed level, as there have never been enough dancers to justify separate classes for beginners and improvers. I believe very firmly that everyone still does 'the basics' (you never really stop drilling isolations, hip circles, eights and undulations) but more experienced dancers will do them better and with frills on (layers, shimmies!).
With relaunched classes, there should be other beginners. Everyone is different and working at their own pace, finding some moves easy, others not so much. Perhaps bring a friend who is also a beginner?

'I want to join a class with several people already in it.'
This is a really difficult one. These are effectively new classes, and although I have had lots of enquiries and enthusiastic replies, it may still be the case that few people come. If it's not a course or block of classes which people have to commit to, then there are no guarantees how many people will turn up each week. If you're a little nervous, it's natural to want to lie low and hide at the back for a bit, or if you are dropping in for the social contact as well as some dancing, then finding you are one of three in a class could be enough to make you drop back out again.

The only solution to this is for people to come to class! Turn up for class, and bring a friend or two, the more the merrier!

While I was writing this, it occurred to me that much of it deals with reasons why people don't come to class. Hopefully the answers and solutions I've found will be reassuring and motivating, but it still leaves me with one question:

Why do I do this?
Because I love 'belly dance', in all its forms. I love the music and rhythms, and the way dance flows out as you let the music fill you. I love to teach. I love seeing frowns turn into grins as dancers discover what their bodies can do, or that others have the same issues. I love the energy and fun to be had from dancing in a group. I love the way that dance can dissolve barriers and reveal the truly beautiful souls of the dancers. I believe there are very few valid reasons not to dance and that, if you let it, it will transform your life.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Knee-high everyday socks

Last winter, I made a pair of socks while I was testing out my 'everyday' sock pattern, with my Mum in mind. She didn't know, but told me when I was fishing for present ideas that she didn't need any socks. Ah. Hmm.

She and my Dad visited at the start of December, and I gave her the socks anyway. They fitted perfectly and she was thrilled with them. So much so, that she asked if I could make a pair of knee-high socks too.

Well of course, my pleasure! I'd been looking for an excuse to use Drops Fabel Lavender Print (#904).
I started by using a Drops pattern as a reference for number of stitches around the cuff, but I can never get their gauge. I referred to a couple of other patterns and the suggested 84 stitches would stretch, but seemed a bit too tight. The decreases to shape the calf seemed a bit off too, and I got halfway down the first sock leg before I thought it really wasn't going to work, and frogged it. Time to do my own calculations and pattern, then!

Gauge and Calculations
My approximate gauge for 4 ply on 2.75 mm needles is 9 stitches and 12 rows to the inch/2.5 cm. I know for the foot and ankle, a 64 stitch sock will fit her more slender feet and ankles. So it would be a matter of calculating the starting number of stitches for the cuff and decreases to shape the calf down the ankle for a sock which would be comfortable on a 14.5" calf and 15" high (bearing in mind that widthways stretch reduces length.)

Working on the basis of rounding up the calf measurement for comfort (15"), multiply by 9 (stitches per inch) = 135 stitches.
Then decrease this by 25-30% for negative ease and adjust the result so it's divisible by 4 (for the k2, p2 rib cuff) = 92 or 96 stitches.
As I'd already rounded up, I cast on 92 stitches, distributing them 23 stitches on each of 4 needles.

16 rounds k2, p2 rib (starting with the heel needles, designated N1 and N2, which is my preferred way of working, even if it's not perhaps a good technique. If you work differently, pay attention to where you place your centre back decreases as they need to align with the centre of the heel.)

40 rounds straight stocking stitch.

Decreases to shape the leg are in sets of 8 rounds. Reset the round counter and/or place a removable marker in the first stitch of the next round, which is a 'round 1' decrease round.
N1: knit to last 3 stitches on the needle, ssk (or k2tog tbl), k1
N2: k1, k2tog, knit to end of needle
N3 and N4 have the 'shin' stitches - knit all stitches.
Rounds 2-8 - knit all.
There are a total of 14 sets of 8 rounds to decrease 28 stitches, taking the total from 92 to 64 stitches.

Check the length and knit straight stocking stitch until it's time to start the heel. I added another 12 rounds at 64 stitches.
My preference is for Cat Bordhi's Sweet Tomato heel. If you're working a heel flap, you may not need the extra rounds.

For the heel, I have half the total number of stitches (=32) on the first needle.
Slip the first stitch purlwise on the first row, to help avoid a hole, then (for this number of stitches) work 5 pairs of stitches either side of a central 12 stitches.
I work three 'wedges', knitting the instep stitches after each wedge, and keeping the stitch tension very tight as I go from one needle to the next.
After the right hand pairs of stitches have been worked in for the last wedge, finish the round.

The next round starts the rounds for the foot. Reset the counter and/or place a removable marker in the next stitch to count the rounds for the foot. For this size, a UK 7/7.5, I worked 74 rounds.

The next round is the start of the toe shaping. Reset the counter and/or place a removable marker in the next stitch.
I use a paired decrease shaping; ssk or k2tog tbl at the start of the sole and upper needle(s) and k2tog at the end of the sole and upper needle(s) on rounds 1, 5, 8, 11, 13, 15, 17 (all stitches are knitted on the other rounds) and then decrease every subsequent round until you have a total of 20 stitches left.
With 10 sole stitches on one needle and the 10 'upper' stitches on a second, kitchener stitch the toe.

Start your second sock. (I find this helps avoid second sock syndrome, especially as longer socks take longer to knit.)

Weave in ends, give them a first wash and block to even out any loopiness in the heel shaping and other decreases.

Despite my best efforts to create a matched pair, differences in the dye pattern of the yarn meant that there were differences at the toe end. Oh well, best laid plans and all that.

Note, these were designed not to be very tight and the feedback was that they fitted perfectly, warm and comfortable, just right!

No elastic to cut in, no seams to rub, just warm toes and legs on cold winter days and a bit of happiness!

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Building Work and Black-Headed Gulls

Over the past few (week)days, five earth moving machines have been hard at work in the field behind the house; two JCB tracked excavators with a site dumper each, and a different make of midi digger. There's also a telehandler parked, ready for the stacks of blocks, and insulated sheets, bags of sand and aggregate, and whatever else. The sounds of  revving engines as the dumpers try to get a grip, excavator drivers bouncing their buckets to remove the claggy soil and workmen shouting to make themselves heard echo and amplify off the surrounding houses. The excavators' yellow arms appear and disappear above the fence line, like strange, mechanical monsters.

Piles of topsoil have been deposited at this end of the field and the first footings are in for the new homes. I wonder how long it will take to build them?

I've heard some lapwing voices at night, and seen a small flock of 20-30 flying over, but not seen any in the fields as I have on previous years, even when it goes quiet on the weekends. The cats dislike the disturbance and don't stay out for long while there's work going on. I find it stressful too, and I know what's going on.

There are some visitors who don't mind at all. On Friday, I counted around 100 black-headed gulls taking advantage of the disturbed soil on the building-site field, with another 30 to 40 in a nearby field (where the horses are and where I would normally see the lapwings). Scanning through the gulls sitting in the field, I could see about a dozen herring gulls, their larger bodies punctuating the drift of black-headed gulls. The black-headed gulls on the building site seem fearless, pattering around in the furrows left by the dumpers and only  flapping out of their way at the last minute. The only bird to join the black-headed gulls around the working machinery was a pied wagtail. Even the robins, normally so bold and ready to take advantage of freshly turned soil, were nowhere to be seen.

Men and birds at work

The herring gulls prefer to wait until all is quiet on the building site, before they go to see what they can find. On the field in between, a few starlings, rooks and pairs of jackdaws pecked around in the grass.

Yesterday was a Saturday. No building work. Freezing cold with frequent icy showers on the northerly wind, the only bird I could see was Mr Blackbird sitting in the lilac. A glance out of the window just now showed several herring gulls, rooks, jackdaws and starlings on the fields, while a red kite wandered through the air above. Movement on the grass at the edges of the topsoil heaps caught my eye, and I saw three redwings pecking around - the first winter thrushes I've seen which haven't just flown over!

The clay soil doesn't drain well, and there's a scatter of puddles across the site, which the birds use for drinking water and baths. It's good to know that someone is benefiting from the noisy mess, however temporarily.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Big Garden Bird Watch 2018

Here we are again, but the chosen hour watching birds on Sunday 28th January yielded results which were not representative of the visitors which I've seen during casual observation while washing up or generally gazing out at the back garden. And this despite putting out bird food, which has proved quite popular.

Present and correct:
1 blackbird (male)
8 sparrows (peak number  last autumn was 18)
1 robin (a second one has been around recently)
1 starling (although there are lots more around)
1 blue tit

Absent without leave:
Gold finch - although I haven't seen one since autumn
Long-tailed tits - I haven't seen any of these since autumn, when the family supergroup flitting through the gardens and partying in the trees numbered 22
The pair of bullfinches
The pair of chaffinches
Mrs blackbird, and there's been a second male around
Song thrush
Collared doves

The bird feeder, with seeds and peanuts as well as a net of fat balls, has been more popular than last year's single net of fat and seed balls. I just wish the birds would come and be counted when the Big Garden Bird Watch is on!

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Happy New Year 2018!

Wow, where did 2017 go? I know, I say something similar every year. It's true though! So here we are again, a new year before us, full of potential and possibilities. And of course, the now obligatory new year fireworks picture:

Fireworks around the London Eye, view across the Thames from the Embankment
There has been much discussion over gender equality and sexual harassment/assualt (#MeToo), and 2018 is the centenary of women being granted the right to vote in British parliamentary elections. To mark this, a female/Venus symbol was projected onto the Shell Centre tower building (left of the Eye in the above photo) while a soundtrack by various female artists played. It's a great milestone to celebrate, even though the Representation of the People Act 1918 only granted voting rights to some women (over 30 years old if they were either a member or married to a member of the Local Government Register, a property owner, or a graduate voting in a university constituency). It took another 10 years and an update to the act to grant votes for all women over 21, providing equal voting rights with men. A number of commentators have hailed 2018 as 'the year of the woman'; by this time next year, we'll see if they were right.

More officially, the UK government  has announced 2018 as the Year of Engineering, part of a year-long campaign to tackle the engineering skills gap and widen the pool of young people who join the profession. The UK Space Agency will be supporting the campaign by funding a series of education and outreach projects designed to inspire interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The Scottish Government has made 2018 the Year of Young People, providing a platform for those aged 8-26 in Scotland and opportunities to explore and showcase their personalities, talents and achievements.

National Geographic has decided 2018 will be the Year of the Bird, and has launched a year-long campaign dedicated to celebrating and protecting birds. So the first of my resolutions will be to do more wildlife watching, starting with birds (RSPB's Big Garden Bird Watch, last weekend of January!). More moths, more butterflies, other insects, spiders ....

Chinese New Year on February 16th is the start of the year of the dog, a male earth dog to be more precise.
I've seen lots of predictions that this will be a year of changes, but don't we all say that, every new year?

The first change for me was to change the layout of this blog a little - I was bored with seeing two sidebars, so back to a right hand side bar with all the usual bits and pieces, and the articles on the left. 

I was terribly untidy in 2016, with craft stash all over the place while I prepared for workshops in early 2017, so didn't put any decorations up. This Christmas, I loved rediscovering the various baubles, decorating the tree, putting lights in the window. My preference for decoration on Christmas Eve now feels like I don't get to enjoy my decorations for long enough, before it's time to take them down again. I don't like to see decorations up very early (certainly not before December 1st), but I've decided I shall put my decorations up earlier this coming December, and enjoy the sparkle for longer. And be tidier!

Another change for me will be to find a new car, not something which fills me with excitement. I've just put my car into the garage for some urgent work to shocks, brakes, exhaust and so on, only to find that the rear subframe is corroding and won't last another year, and would be uneconomic to repair/replace. Chatting to the mechanics, they suggested I buy myself some time by getting the work done, which will also give it some trade-in value. They said it was the sort of corrosion they see when a car has been used with a boat trailer, dipping its rear end into the sea. Of course, the original owner would probably not have owned up to that when he traded up. The corrosion isn't noticeable for the first few years, but it explains why the sump guard rusted through and gave up relatively early, too. It's only 10 years old, I've had it for 8 and the mileage hasn't even been that high.  Such a shame, as I've liked this car better than my previous ones.

So sadly, this is not the year for getting the central heating, soffits, gutters etc. done. Double glazing, replacement bathroom fan and shower and rebuilding the chimney all loom on the near horizon. As for fencing, new shed, greenhouse ... unless by great good fortune I win the lottery or some other prize. I don't know where the money's going to come from, so this is definitely going to be a year for trying to earn more.

In order to do that, it really is going to have to be a year to change my computer. I hardly dare type this, just in case it hears, but it has been making some alarming rattling, grinding noises.  

Looking back, 2017 was not as fabulous as I'd wished, but that's life, I guess. I learned a lot about editing, managed a lot of gardening (well, a lot of digging, and a certain amount of enjoying peas fresh from their pods) and did a lot of meditation. After a concerted effort to clean and move furniture and get a bit more sorted out in order to host a visit from my parents, I feel as though I've made headway, even though there is always more to do. I've decided that I like to have a selection of works in progress, and anything I didn't achieve last year I can continue to strive for; anything else can just have a veil drawn over it. Preferably one with sequins and beads along the edge.

2018 will hopefully also include more dance, yoga and exercise, regaining enough flexibility to sit in jazz 4th position on both sides; more beach time, more gardening and vegetable growing and crafting and blogging.
It's time to rouse myself from my inexplicable January funk, there's so much to look forward to!

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Unwelcome Developments

Back in October 2016, I reported that there had been no decision on the outline planning application for the field behind my house. A repeat check a few months later showed that the outline planning application had been approved in November.

Very quietly, without consulting the residents here (because we are deemed non-adjacent to the proposed development), the outline planning turned into full planning approval this year. Having not seen or heard anything about it, it was something of an unpleasant surprise when I saw renewed activity on 6th December. Diggers were moving in, and work started in earnest the following day, which sent me looking for the planning documents. Everything was passed, with not so much as a reminder that the ecology report had recommended a hedgebank on the north side, now reduced to a 1.2 m (4 foot) fence.

The site plan looks very nice (with the exception of most of the rotary washing lines, located way too close to the sheds and compost bins in the tiny gardens!). I'm sure the housing association who is due to take these 'dwellings' will be delighted, as will the potential residents in need of affordable housing. The jackdaws, starlings and seagulls have been enjoying the freshly turned soil (barely visible as black and white specks in the picture below). This phase of development is supposed to go as far as the mounds of soil. The planning was changed so that the buildings closest to the bungalows on the upper right of the picture were to be bungalows. However, I don't blame the bungalow owners for selling up; their view will go from a landscape across fields north to the Preselis, to a housing estate close enough to spit at.

The few horses left in the adjacent fields don't seem too bothered at the moment. However, although I heard lapwings after dark on 1st December, I haven't seen any yet (they normally settle on a portion of the fields out of the above shot to the left/north. It could be that they might find the disturbance too much.

Oh [expletives deleted]. Goodbye, peace and quiet, horses grazing just beyond the fence and the lack of need for bedroom curtains. What a way to start the year!

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Sliding Furniture Puzzle

Having guests to stay focuses the mind wonderfully on getting the house in order. Unfortunately, to do that, I have to move what feels like heaven and earth.

All of the furniture which ended up in the guest bedroom during the house move was put in the wrong place and then hemmed in with heavy boxes and trunks (including a box marked 'fragile' which was put on the bottom of a stack and now contains broken glass). I still don't have my bedroom sorted out to my satisfaction (it contains furniture which should be in the guest bedroom, but which they couldn't find space for, as some of the boxes in there belonged elsewhere), and the dining room is a mass of packed boxes and various chairs. The lounge is a mess of craft stash. There are even packed boxes and a worktop full of bits in the utility.

Add into the chaos finding that the shed has been leaking and the decorating kit boxes contained a few inches of water and a strange compost of slug/snail droppings and wet fluff from some rags which have been gnawed by a mouse hoping for a comfy bed. Then one of the cats threw up on my duvet, so not just the cover but the duvet itself needed cleaning. And the dishwasher stopped working.

And then the new mattresses arrived about 4 working days earlier than expected. (I've just seen a mail telling me the mattresses are on their way. Nope, they arrived two days ago! And another mail telling me that the old mattresses will be picked up next Wednesday, with a request to confirm the pick-up via a link which doesn't work.) I now cannot move for large, heavy boxes. There's no way I can get my double mattress up the stairs on my own, I'm going to have to plead for help from one of my neighbours.

It was a bit like this when I first moved, too. Like one of those sliding squares puzzles where you don't so much have an empty square as an empty half-square, and you have to be careful how you use it so as not to hem yourself in. Over time, the stacks in the lounge and kitchen disappeared, and some of the boxes in the dining room. I should have taken photos, some of the stacks were about 4 feet/1.2 metres high.
Just like the sliding squares puzzle, I have to accept that some of the pieces will have to move more than once before they're able to move into their final positions. Unlike the sliding squares puzzle, some pieces are rather larger than others, and so many smaller pieces will need to move to enable, for example, the single beds to go where they were originally intended.

And of course everything needs cleaning and I have a mountain of laundry too. The patio and garden are also a complete mess, as I haven't been out to sort out the growhouse and swingseat, damaged by the first storms of the season, let alone pick up scattered pots or any more digging and clearing. That's very low on the priority list at the moment!

Faced with this knotty problem, I've had to revert to project management planning to try to find the ends to pull, which squares to slide first. The task list is still very long and I have less than a week to go.

It will be great to have made a significant dent in the unpacking, cleaning and sorting, though I wonder if I shall ever attain my goal of having a clean and tidy house with a place for everything and everything in its place.