Five today

WordPress informs me that today is my five-year blogiversary. Yay! Shall we celebrate? There’s home-made lemon drizzle cake (eggs from the garden, lemons from the limery) and a pot of tea made with real leaves (no plastic teabags here).

Frankly, I’m quite astonished that I’ve managed to write so regularly for five years: previously I’ve been rubbish about keeping any sort of diary. I think that it’s probably you, the readers that have kept me going… I’ve made so many friends and so enjoy reading your comments.

Over the years I have, apparently, written 870 posts (excluding this one), but I thought it would be fun to choose one post from each year to mark this special day.

On 1 September 2012 I wrote a post entitled 21st Century Womble. It may be one of my all-time favourite posts. In those days I didn’t always include a picture and so this particular post is just words, but I still like it. In it, I mention finding an old spatula whilst out for a walk and bringing it home to use as a scoop to clean out the chicken house. And, you know what? I’m still using that object… it’s still going strong and I’m still a Womble at heart.

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Yes – it is worth growing potatoes

In August 2013 I turned my attention to the humble potato, asking the question Is it worth growing potatoes? At that time I had been experimenting with various more exotic crops and not necessarily enjoying them – I don’t mind oca, for example, but I wouldn’t want to eat it every day. Potatoes, on the other hand guarantee me a crop I like, but since they are easy and relatively cheap to buy, I wondered whether it was really worth bothering. The resounding answer was ‘yes’ – apart from avoiding all the associated pesticides and transportation, there is the simple joy of eating delicious, freshly harvested potatoes and knowing exactly where they have been.

 

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Charlotte’s books

No celebration of this blog would be complete without mentioning the all-time most-visited post. It still gets dozens of views every month and it originally appeared in May 2014. Why is it so popular? Well, I didn’t write it! It is the post that contains the full text of a poem entitled Just in Case by the late Charlotte Mitchell. My blog is, as far as I know, the only place on the net that you can find this poem and the book that it was originally published in is out of print. Don’t think, though, that I ignored copyright. In fact I contacted the author’s daughter, Candy Guard, to get permission to quote it. Hopefully one day Charlotte’s work will be republished, but until then The Snail of Happiness and second-hand bookshops are the only places to find what is probably her most famous poem (do follow the link and read it – I’m sure you will enjoy it).

 

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Abundance in the limery – year 1

New readers may be a little confused about my frequent references to The Limery (it’s what we call our plant-filled conservatory). You can, however, read about its origins and the search for a suitable name here. Regular readers from the time will recall my distress at having an influx of builders, but, as you all told me, it was really worth it in the long run. Today the limery is bursting with plants and it’s hard to remember life without it!

 

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WWKIP 2016

And finally, I have to choose a post about yarn. Perhaps that one that sums up all that is good about knitting and crochet is about what we did last year for Worldwide Knit in Public day. On the Street Where You Knit describes how I spent the day sitting outside The Make It Shop teaching folks to knit and making twiddlemuffs. I met lovely people, shared skills and made something for charity… what more could I ask for?

 

So, there we are, a selection of old posts that gives a flavour of what The Snail of Happiness is all about… and I managed not to mention knickers! Here’s to another five years of writing, crafting, gardening and trying to be that bit more sustainable.

The Sisterhood…

Some of you will have heard of The Sisterhood of the Travelling Sketchbook and some of you will not… a few of you are part of the sisterhood.

Last year, Anne Lawson decided to start a project to draw creative people together around the world. She made a book and invited fellow bloggers to contribute… all the folks who volunteered were women, and so the sisterhood was born.

This week the book arrived with me – the eleventh contributor on the list. From Australia, it went to the US and recently it has been travelling in Europe:

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the journey of the sketchbook

It contains drawings, paintings, quilting, stitching… words and visuals… love and creativity. It has its own blog and I encourage you to take a look here at the posts from the contributors, where there are beautiful pictures and lovely thoughts. Here is a little taster of some of the contributions to date:

Sadly one of our sisterhood, Viv, passed away before the book reached her, but some of her words have been included in the book.

I’m currently working on my contribution… news will follow.

Off on holiday… the people

Travelling around the UK on our holiday presented us with the opportunity  to visit people as well as places. West Wales is relatively inaccessible so it takes a bit of an effort to go anywhere and folks are rarely ‘in the neighbourhood’ so we don’t often get passing visitors. Because of this it’s very easy to remain safely at home and never get to meet friends face-to-face, We decided, however, that we would make specific arrangements to visit a couple of people on our latest jaunt – one a very old friend and one a blog friend who I’d never met in person before.

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A little jolly chunky bag for Karen

The first stop on our tour of people was in Devon – for afternoon tea with Karen of Sweet Baby Veg. My friendship with Karen started a few years ago when she posted a little piece on her blog about an incident that had really upset her. In my quest to spread happiness, I decided to cheer her up by making her a gift. I set to with my crochet hook and, using some lovely yarn I had left over from another project, I made her a bag. In the post it went and was duly delivered… and thus a friendship was born. I have been itching to meet Karen and see her garden ever since then and the fact that we would be passing within a few miles of her front door was an opportunity not to be missed.

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Take-away

Arrangements were made and we turned up on her doorstep on a glorious afternoon. Her garden did not disappoint – she apologised for the state of it, but to me it was just delightful (and so much tidier than mine!). We sat outside and chatted. Then we sat outside some more, but this time with tea and cake, and chatted some more, and laughed and talked and laughed. If you’d been watching us, you would never have guessed that we’d never met before. In fact, I’m sorry to say, that we got so carried away with chatting, that I completely forgot to take any photos! So, if you want to see Karen’s garden, you’ll just have to visit her blog. I also want to give special mention to the Ombre Cake that she made and served. In fact, it was so good that she gave us the remainder to take away with us… we ate it with Cornish clotted cream and strawberries. Please excuse the poor photo, but we were in a hurry to have another slice!

A Zwartbles Ewe – Credit: By Earthernware (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

An afternoon really wasn’t enough time, but eventually we had to progress on and so we left Karen and made our way down to our base in Cornwall for the week. As the days went by and we visited Heligan and Eden, I posted some pictures on Facebook and as a result, got another invitation. When you meet people via social networking it’s easy to forget their ‘real’ geographical location, so when I got a couple of comments from people to the effect ‘you are in our neck of the woods’ the opportunity to see one of them for tea and (more) cake was too good to pass up. I met Val as a result of doing my diploma in applied permaculture design and most of our interaction has been via Facebook, although we have met a couple of times at permaculture events. Val is my go-to-person for advice on livestock in general and yarn production (from the sheep to the shop) in particular. After a few years without sheep, she’s now keeping Zwartbles and so we had the fun of meeting her two bottle-fed boys. The were excessively friendly, allowing us to have a good look at their beautiful fleeces in situ, so to speak. I’ve never worked with it, but on the basis of this meeting I’m already a fan of the wool. Val has promised me some yarn when she’s got that far and I’m really looking forward to working with it. Again I was rubbish and didn’t take any photos… again too busy talking!

Stream below Garrow Tor. in a SSSI on Bodmin Moor- Credit: Sheila Russell [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

And finally, on our way home we visited friends we hadn’t seen for about 18 years and who live on the edge of Bodmin Moor. They have a small holding; again they keep livestock and again we were too busy talking for me to remember to take any photos, although to be fair it was wet and misty by this time. This was a more poignant meeting than the other two, with lots of catching up on our respective families, sharing memories of folks who had died and hearing what mutual friends have been up to. It was lovely to have a real chat and see how their place has changed since our last visit. We certainly agreed that we will not leave it so long next time.

Then we headed home, with friendships renewed and revitalised. Social media is a wonderful way to keep in touch and to meet new people, but personal contact adds new depth to friendships. So, now we’ve managed the logistics of a trip like this once (and it did take some organising), we must do it again… perhaps heading north next time…

 

Four years of successes and failures

Today, WordPress informs me, is my anniversary – four years since I started this blog. I’m not sure what I expected at the beginning, but it has certainly provided me with a good record of certain aspects of my life over the past few years. So I thought this would be a great opportunity to look back over old posts to see what I got up to and to reflect on what worked and what didn’t…

One of my very early posts (in the days before I knew how important pictures are) was about the magic of compost. I described making it from “vegetable peelings, teabags (unbleached), cotton rags, willow and paper shreddings, leaves, chicken poo and more”. Well, I’m still making compost, but the teabags have been ditched in favour of loose tea leaves, so that can surely be chalked up as a continuing success.

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The radio four years ago… it’s much scruffier now

In May 2012 I wrote about our solar/wind-up radio and all the repairs it had undergone. The only person who “liked” the post was Mr Snail and he was the one who had done all the hard work. Over the years I’ve I’ve mentioned it in several other posts, and Mr Snail wrote about one of its repairs in detail. It’s still going strong, although looking very dilapidated now and faded because of its time on the kitchen windowsill. I consider any repairs that extend the life of an object to be a big success and this is something that it would have been all too easy simply to throw out and replace with a new version.

Back in June 2012 I wrote my first post about decluttering. Well, clearly I have failed on that count because I’m still at it! When I think about it, over the years I have managed to get rid of lots of unwanted STUFF, but it still feels like I have only scratched the surface. At least my new approach of making sure there are no net gains will prevent it getting worse, but I am determined to continue with the idea of shedding at least one thing every day…I’ll come to today’s shed a bit later. I’m currently writing in my diary every day what I have got rid of which is at least giving me a sense that I am achieving something.

At a time of very limited readership, probably my most popular post was written in September 2012 and was entitled “21st Century Womble“. When I think about it, this post probably sums up much of what I have subsequently written about – repair, reuse, converting other people’s junk into something I value and generally treading more lightly on the plant. If I hadn’t come up with the name “The Snail of Happiness” (you can read the story of that here) I may well have entitled this blog 21st Century Womble.

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They look good but they really don’t taste of anything – and they are a real pain to prepare

Throughout my time blogging I have written about my garden. In the summer of 2013 I addressed the question of whether it’s worth growing potatoes. My resounding answer (much to my own surprise) was “yes” – to reduce food miles, produce a really useful crop and so you know exactly what chemicals you’re being exposed to. In fact, it was at this time that I was thinking very carefully about what to grow… and concluding that what I should plant is things we like and that I know we will eat. Experimental crops are all very well, but are of little value if they just end up on the compost heap! So, no more salsify and oca, I’m sticking to potatoes, lettuce, peppers, courgettes, squashes, chillies, beans, herbs, parsnip and leaks… the ‘different’ things are just for fun. And on that note… whilst sharks’ fin melons are easy to grow and produce a huge crop, they don’t taste of anything, so I’m never going to bother with them again.

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Arthur went to New Zealand in exchange for some some fabulous art

In the autumn of 2013 I wrote my first post about bartering. Over the years I’ve managed some very satisfactory swaps. I’m particularly pleased to own two of Pauline’s wonderful creations, which were exchanged for Arthur the dragon and another bundle of crochet goodies, including two hedgehogs. Every day I look at the picture “Grow where you are planted” and my light catcher and I smile. I love the sort of connections I have made this way but, sadly, bartering has turned out to be difficult. I’ve never successfully exchanged professional services (teaching, editing or ecological consultancy) for goods or services – everyone understands money and so it’s the preferred method. I will keep trying, but apart from some wonderful exceptions I can’t classify my bartering as a success.

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No longer refusing to darn

I have written a number of times about sewing (here, for example)… I keep returning to it, but I really have to confess that I don’t like making my own clothes. Other things I’m not so bad with… shopping bags and sock toys to name a couple… but not clothes. Time to accept it and stick to knitting and crochet I think! On the plus side, though, I’m coming to terms with mending and darning, in particular, is much less of a chore than it used to be. And, as I mentioned the other day, I’ve even managed to patch Mr Snail’s gardening jeans… a job I especially used to detest.

One project that has been a failure, despite initial high hopes, has been raising mealworms to feed to the hens. I have, over nearly two years, managed to maintain a colony of mealworms, but I have never managed to bulk up the population sufficiently to have enough to use as chicken feed. The whole thing has come to feel as if I am actually keeping the creatures for their own sake. And so, today’s ‘shed’ was, finally, to admit defeat. The hens made a good meal of the colony and I feel a great relief that I no longer have to try to make this experiment work. It’s good to try things out, but it’s also good to know when to let go.

So, that’s just a few of my adventures over the past four years. Writing this blog has yielded friendships, provided inspiration, served as a record what I’ve been up to and opened me up a whole community of like-minded people. There has been amazing kindness – the Masterpiece blanket being a particular example – and solace when I have been feeling blue. So thank you everyone! I hope you will keep visiting for another year.

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Cheers!

 

Busy hands

Somehow, I haven’t managed to put fingers to keyboard for nearly three weeks. Although I haven’t been writing, I have been “doing”. So as a gentle return to blog posting, I thought I’d share some of what I’ve been up to…

I’ve finished the hoodie – several times! First, I decided it was too short. So, I put a stripy border on it, but it looked like an afterthought (which, to be fair, it was). I unravelled that and worked a new border in the mixed yarn to match. All done and worn a couple of times before Sam decided to eat the wooden toggles off it when I left it on the bed. New glass toggles bought, and attached and I’m hoping that’s the last time I need to finish it! Of course, as soon as it was completed it for the final time the weather warmed up and it’s been in a cupboard since!

With the warmer weather and all the lovely space in the limery, I have been busy with seed sowing. The peppers, chillies and tomatoes planted earlier in the year are growing, but now there’s lots of pots and trays that we’re watching with avid interest for the first signs of green shoots. Amongst other things, I’ve planted melons, broad beans, coriander, oregano, parsley, courgettes, lettuces and mizuna. There are potatoes chitting and the perennials, including the passion fruit, are growing well. The sunny days have been accompanied by frosty nights, so only a little salad has been sown outside for the time being.

On the craft front, I’ve learned how to crochet star stitch and made a dishcloth to practise; I’m working on a pair of stripy socks; I’ve made another crochet snailvaark; I’ve made several mousevaarks from old socks and given several of them away as gifts; I’ve tested out a crochet pattern from my new friend, Danielle, at The Make It Shop; I’ve sourced jute for my crochet bird roosting pouch kits (on sale soon); and I continue to add a row here and there to the crochet sofa cover.

And then, I’ve also carried on with my letter writing – using real pen and paper. If you’d like a real letter from me, send me your postal address and I will write to you (can’t promise how soon though).

And then, I’ve been doing the laundry, because I’ve finally started sorting the vintage linen hankies and other bits and bobs I’ve been given. I’ve washed and ironed some of the handkerchiefs and I’m currently in the process of describing them and photographing them ready for listing on etsy. It’s very time-consuming, but I really want them to find homes where they will be treasured.

So what with all that and the swimming and working (yes, I still do that too!), the last few weeks have just slipped away…

However, more regular blogging will now resume!

The birth of a ‘vaark

With the immediate success of snailvaark, and the almost-as-immediate request from Danielle-inventor-of-the-mousevaark for a snailvaark of her own, I was carried along on a wave of creativity. This, in combination with the foul weather on Saturday lead to me and snailvaark #1 running a live ‘birth of a snailvaark’ on Twitter. What do you mean, you missed it? OK, I know Twitter isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so here is a look at how our day went…

First, we headed to the limery with a all the necessary materials:

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I bet you’ve forgotten something!

And then I started on the shell:

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This doesn’t look anything like my shell

The first half progressed quite quickly and I moved on to picking up the stitches for the second half:

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Well that looks more promising

And by lunchtime the knitting was done

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Are you sure it isn’t going to be a butterfly?

The next bit is tricky – grafting

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Apparently snailvaark does not like needles

And inserting the skeleton… hang on, where is the skeleton?

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So, no needles, but you’ll balance a skeleton on your nose?

Finally I was able to continue grafting, stuffing and inserting the pipe-cleaner skeleton

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This looks complicated

And snailvaark found some new friends who were watching the Six Nations rugby:

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‘Come on Wales!’ What do you mean ‘This is France-Italy’?

Finally, the shell was complete:

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OK, this is the ‘snail’ but where’s the ‘vaark?

And I made a start on the body:

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You begin with the nose

It grows

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Apparently embryonic ‘vaarks wear jewellery!

and grows

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A ‘vaark bust

Until it starts to be recognised by other ‘vaarks

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‘Hello… I said HELLO’… oh, sorry, no ears yet

And after a while there’s a body and a separate ‘vaark bottom

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We can rebuild him!

All the knitting and crochet is nearly done – we just need some ears

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Can you see the family resemblance yet?

For a ‘vaark stand up. it needs a heavy bottom, so they are filled with rice. To avoid unfortunate, embarrassing accidents, a little bag is employed:

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No, snailvaark, that is not a snack

It is inserted into the base of the ‘vaark

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Not looking!

And once the base is attached, the shell can be stitched on and the button nose added:

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Oh look, snailvaarks are born blind and deaf

Crochet ears and button eyes soon follow, and ‘voila’ there’s a finished snailvaark

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A new ‘vaark is born

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Welcome to my world!

 

Introducing… Snailvaark

Despite initial reservations, it’s turned out that I really rather like Twitter. I set up an account last April and, although making connections has been slow, it’s been great for finding like-minded people… especially folks recycling, reusing, repairing and repurposing. In addition, on days when I don’t want to embark on reading long posts, it keeps me connected with the world.

Anyway, through a regular weekly discussion via Twitter – Make do and mend Hour – I also encountered a large family of critters, The ‘Vaarks. Originally created by Danielle Lowy of The Make it Shop in Manchester, and featured in her booklet How to Make Monsters & Monkeys, the ‘vaarks have taken on a life of their own. Various ‘vaarks have their own Twitter feeds – @Ratvaark, @Mousevaark, @Bendivaark and @Phileas_Vaark – sharing their adventures in gardening, repairing, reusing objects and eating cake.

And, so I hankered after my own ‘vaark. The originals are each stitched from an old sock, but being me, I didn’t fancy sewing and kept looking at the spare knitted snail shell and some left-over sock yarn I had to hand. Then I mentioned on Twitter my desire to make a snail version of a ‘vaark, and thus the seed was sown. I just had to make a snailvaark. Not only did I have to make a snailvaark, however, I had to make one (at the request of Alfred, one of Ratvaark’s guardians) that was able to retreat into his shell. I thought about it long and hard and didn’t make any progress, and then I heard that Ratvaark and his folks are coming to west Wales in May, and want to meet up for cake… hopefully with snailvaark too.

So, this week, I picked up my crochet hook and set to. And I’m pleased to introduce Snailvaark:

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This is Snailvaark!

As you can see, he can be a bit shy:

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Gone!

But he can be persuaded to come out again:

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Oh, hello

Snailvaark has been very well-received. Danielle-creator-of-vaarks has already asked if she can have one (it’s on my list) and he got a good reception from some of his cousins on-line:

Snailvaark makes his internet debut

Snailvaark makes his internet début (courtesy of @Ratvaark)

In May, there will be a grand ‘vaark gathering (the crowd above plus Bendivaark who lives locally), with tea and cake… who says we can’t develop meaningful relationships via the internet?

If you want to follow Snailvaark’s adventures on Twitter, he has his own fledgeling account: @snailvaark (what else?)

And if you want to follow me, I’m @thesnailofhappy (happiness was, apparently, too much for it to cope with!)

Ready for some adventures

Ready for some adventures

And the winner is…

Entries for the yarny give-away closed last night.

All the names were placed in a bowl:

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The bowl of opportunity (note the use of scrap paper)

And a winner was selected by our impartial judge:

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The judge

And here is the draw itself (be patient):

So, congratulations itwasjudith… we will be in touch very soon to get your address so that we can post your yarns to you.

Commiserations to all the rest of you. That was fun, so we might have another one in the new year… watch this space.

 

Last chance

Today is your last chance to enter our yarny give-away: an Arctic tale and some cosy sock wool. Perfect for winter entertainment… or just entertainment if you are south of the equator!

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A gripping yarn

Simply leave a comment on the give-away post for one chance to win. For a second chance, head over to Mr Snail’s blog and leave another comment on his give-away post. Entries must be received before midnight tonight, 6 December, UK time.

Good luck everyone… we will be making the draw tomorrow.

And if you don’t knit, you can nominate someone else to receive the yarn.

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Lovely sock yarn, for you or a friend

Remember to enter our give-away

Just a note to remind you about our give-away for a chance to to win these two yarns

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Ripping yarn and knitting yarn

Whether you fancy a good read

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Kirkenes Blue (reader not included in the give-away)

Or creating a pair of socks

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This is what the yarn looks like when knitted into socks (socks not included in the give-away, they belong to my mum now!)

Our give-away is for you!

To enter, just leave a comment (not just a like) on the original give-away post HERE; and to double your chances of winning, leave another comment on the original give-away post on Mr Snail’s blog HERE. Actually, go visit Mr Snail’s blog anyway… he’s got a lovely new blue background and it’s snowing (he likes snow), plus his latest post has a very scary picture of a spider.

Entries for the give-away close at midnight on Sunday 6 December 2015, UK time… and you can enter no matter where you are in the world.

GOOD LUCK!

 

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