Saturday, 1 January 2011

#4 Spoon carving

I'm going to cheat on this one a little bit, because I am working on the assumption that you own a penknife.

On a side side note - I have a real issue with the whole knife carrying thing.
I was 8 years old when I was given my first penknife (a crappy swiss army rip-off from my godfather - cheapskate. The saw broke after the first year, but it was my first proper knife).
It never occurred to me that I could use it as a weapon, and although I managed to cut my hand open fairly comprehensively whilst trying to use the crappy saw blade to cut down the tree outside my grandparent's house, I was fairly safe with it.

Skip forward 31 years, and I still manage to slice my fingers on a roughly twice yearly basis and I rarely leave the home without either an Opinel or a multitool - both of which are pretty much illegal and both of them probably get used at least once a day for some minor task or other that would have been impossible if I hadn't bought one with me.

I like walking. I especially like walking in the woods. And if you are walking in the woods on a warm summer evening, there is nothing better than to have a stick in your hand to whittle.

And whittling is fun (well, absorbing anyway). Ultimately though, all you get after an hour of mindless whittling is a smaller, slightly sharper, stick.

Next logical step: Whittle something useful.

Hence spoon carving.

I found out fairly quickly that a pen knife is not enough if you want to create a usable spoon. Even the sharpest knife doesn't possess enough of a curve to create the bowl part of the spoon.

The knife I needed was a Crook Knife - (this kind of thing, but cheaper can be found on Ebay).
Properly sharpened, this little knife makes carving spoons a 100% easier.

Soon you'll be amazing you friends with (at first) things that look a bit like spoons and (later on) actual spoons.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

#3 Coin tricks

Ok - I know people (actually one very specific person - you know who you are) who think this is about the lamest way of spending your time. She would probably say something like, "I just want to slap that stupid coin out of your hand."

She's wrong of course - and probably mental.

Anyway, I should also prefix this by saying I am no expert. In point of fact I think I would need to spend several more years practicing just to legitimately call myself an amateur.

The background: I have a five year old son. In a couple of years he's going to start hating me. Probably (if my own teenage years are anything to go by) end up thinking I am a huge hypocrite and would rather insert toenail clippings between all his teeth than spend time with his embarrassing dad.

Right now however, he thinks I'm great. I am capable of any feat. My powers are limitless in his young eyes. This is a great feeling, and one that I am happy to provide ample evidence to support.

It occurred to me that being able to perform slight of hand type tricks is exactly the sort of thing dads did in the 50s - so with than in mind I consulted the oracle (Google at any rate) and followed a step by step guide to 'the french drop' (a basic coin vanish) and re-appearing the coin from the ear of the near child.

My son thinks I am genuinely magic. Although today he said that he was bored of that trick. I showed him what I have spent the last week learning -the coin roll or Steeplechase Flourish. He was less impressed. He said "You just move the coin with your knuckles.". Tough crowd.

There you have it. The cheapest hobby so far. I find a ten pence piece is about the best size. Time will tell if I can be bothered to continue extending my repertoire - they all seem to be so difficult!

Total cost - Free - 10p (depending on whether the coin is yours)

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

#2 Mushroom picking

This is a good one, because it's seasonal. Allow me to explain.

The danger with most hobbies, is that over exposure can rapidly take the shine of them. Many a budding stamp collector must have given up after a month long stamp binge in their parent's attic/damp bedsit (you may get the sense that I don't see the point of collecting stamps...) and I'm sure there would be many more train-spotters if trains weren't so damn common.

One of the good things about mushrooms, though, is the fact that the majority of them only appear in late autumn. If you are lucky enough to have found so many that the novelty is wearing thin, it doesn't matter - because you're going to have to wait another year to get the opportunity to find some more.

So why mushrooms? Well, number 1, they are free. One of the most common mushrooms I pick - the trumpet chanterelle - retails for £25 a kilo in Borough Market. This year I picked a couple of kilos. And as much as I love Borough Market, I love walking in the woods more - so double bonus!

2 - If your friends can get over the fact that they are wild mushrooms and are satisfied that you aren't trying to either poison them or usher them into a new dawn of hallucinogenic mind expansion, giving people mushrooms is a really nice thing to do.

3 - They taste great. There are endless things you can do with fresh mushrooms - and if you have too many you can even dry them and use them throughout the rest of the year.

4 - You get to feel a little bit like a cross between Ray Mears and Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall - only thinner. Nothing beats foraging for food for a sense of achievement.

So what of the risks etc?

Many mushrooms are poisonous. A few will kill you - in a fairly horrific manner. But then, if you went picking blackberries and decided to just start eating any berry you could find in the hedgerow, I'd imagine your future would be very much like Jimmy Cranky. Painful and short.

The best advice I've ever read is this. You cannot learn all there is to know about mushrooms. So learn what one looks like - I recommend any of the Boletes, as almost all of them are edible - and avoid all the rest. Every time you find a new mushroom, try and identify it. If you can identify it with no doubt whatsoever - pick it and take it home. Mostly though, you will not feel that confident. Listen to that doubt. Every year, try and add a new one to your repertoire.

There are maybe half a dozen mushrooms that I would now pick and eat with out looking them up in a book to confirm their identity - and I am pretty familiar with quite a few more. I'm happy with this; it gives me a fairly good chance of finding a mushroom I can eat on most autumnal days.

The only equipment you will need is a mushroom identification book (two would be even better!). Amazon, ebay and second hand bookshops can help you out here - none of them are all that expensive.
If you can pick up a second hand copy of Mushrooms: River Cottage Handbook No.1, that is an excellent start.

Todays haul
A nice array of parasols, amethyst deceivers and boletes

Trumpet Chanterelles
Trumpet chanterelle

So enjoy foraging - plus, as an added bonus, your friends will think you're a scary risk-taker. You won't be, but you will have a nice, safe, wild mushroom omelette.

Mushroom book £8.50

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Hobby #1 - Barefoot running

I have never been the kind of person who enjoys running. I tried it a couple of times, and it didn't work for me. It was painful, boring and made me feel horrible.

Around September 2009 I saw Christopher McDonald being interviewed on the Daily Show, promoting his book, Born to Run. As I listened something chimed with me. The whole concept of running without cushioned, supportive shoes and the fact that (in McDonalds' opinion) expensive Nike and Adidas shoes may actually be causing injuries fitted in with my lefty, Guardian reader sensibilities.

It is my belief that running barefoot, and wearing minimalist footwear in my daily life is a more biomechanically correct way of running, this in turn reduces stress on my knee joints and back.

Mainly though, running barefoot is fun!

So, having listened to Christopher McDonald talking passionately about the Tarahumara indians of Copper Canyon, Mexico - I searched the web and found references to huarache sandals. These are the home made, traditional footwear of this tribe of super athletes - who routinely run 100 mile races over some of the most unforgiving terrain in the world. Not only that, but they continue to run well into what many of us would consider to be old age.

I found a local saddle maker and bought some thick leather and a couple of lengths of leather thong. Then I followed the simple instructions I found on Barefoot Ted's site (PDF here - the tying technique is the hardest part).

I was hooked. Running in them felt so liberating. Although they are not without problems (in the wet the leather gets very slippery, plus the knots if not tied correctly can cause blisters), running in them is about as close to running barefoot as you can get.

They are very light-weight, and in dry weather they are more backup footwear of choice if I am running barefoot over terrain I am not familiar with.

Total cost - £4.00

Yet another blog - just what the world needs.

Well, maybe.

I am a dilettante. This doesn't mean I like to listen to opera whilst sipping obscure blended teas. A dilettante is someone who likes to dabble.

I am a dabbler. I am completely fascinated by new things. And when I find something that fascinates me I binge on it. Many of these activities or interests run their course and are left by the wayside (often leaving a new pile of very specific equipment in the wardrobe) - but some get incorporated into my life. They become hobbies.

My father was much the same. In his 56 years he restored an vintage car, learned to sail, built an extensive model railway, made a canvas canoe (that leaked), flew model aircraft, ran a scout troop, collected and used antique printing presses, kept chickens, bred budgerigars, played bowls, rode motorcycles - well you get the idea. This is far from being a complete list.

But this lifestyle costs money - and frankly, I don't have any. So how to scratch that itch?

That's what this blog is about. Hobbies that that can consume a chunk of your life without costing more than a tenner.

Well, that's the idea anyway. I have a few in mind, so we'll have to see how it works out.

If you (I am assuming there is a you, else my first hobby is going to be trying to escape from the secure psychiatric unit) can suggest any cheap hobbies - feel free to let me know.