Handknitting Association of Iceland

Day 22/100 – Back in the zone

Today was hard, being back at work after a jam packed 4 to 5 days in Iceland. So I relaxed by getting back into my crochet, after lovingly stroking all the yarn I brought back with me. I make a point of visiting the Handknitting Association of Iceland, located a stone’s throw from Hallgrimskirkja on Skólavörðustígur. It serves as both a store where you can buy handmade (and some machine made) knitted/woollen clothing along with being the best place (in my opinion) to buy the yarn to knit or crochet something yourself. It’s certainly the cheapest place I’ve found in Iceland and certainly cheaper than back home in the UK – the shawl I’m currently working on will cost less than £14, which for pure wool is fantastic.

The association was set up in 1977 by women who were supporting their familes making garments,  establishing standards and guidelines for the production which are still in use today

Whilst the flagship store is on Skólavörðustígur , there used to be another, smaller store on the main shopping street in Reykjavik – Laugavegur, however that seems to be closed now that I have also visited. There has been quite a few pieces in Icelandic media over the last couple of years about the influx of chinese made ‘lopapeysa’ you know the infamous Icelandic sweaters – that the stores are ironically charging even more for! If you buy from the Handknitting Association, you will find a tag inside the sweater with the name (and sometimes contact details) of the person who handknitted your item, how cool is that?! You can also buy from their website (see link above) and they will customise the size and colours for you – because it’s being made for you (the only thing to consider is that as iceland is not in the EU, you’re liable to import taxes, which for the UK is 20%).

So if you’re a yarn-a-holic like me, you should definitely visit when in Iceland.

 

 

 

4/100 Learning a new language

Day 4/100 of my 100 days of blogging self set challenge. Today’s update is fresh. I recently decided to learn a bit of Icelandic. I’ve been learning Swedish for a little over 2 years on and off with Duolingo, but as I’m heading off in a few weeks on my seventh trip to Iceland it feels like this is the language I should be working on. I’ve always been interested in languages and that piqued even more after reading Lingo – A Language Spotter’s Guide To Europe, which is an enthralling book about where different languages originated, who borrowed from whom etc. I’d noticed several similarities between Swedish – Icelandic so this has definitely pulled me in a bit more – now I’ve gotten over the fear of pronunciation. Because that’s half the battle – learning the new sounds that your mother tongue doesn’t naturally make, it actually just reminds me of how I felt learning French in school the first time – all those rolling of Rrrrr’s and trying to remember what the different accents did to vowels – it’s really just that on a larger scale (please don’t tell me otherwise! I need to believe it).

So what am I using for language learning? Well Duolingo doesn’t have Icelandic (yet!), so that stays just for the Swedish. Memrise was one frequently mentioned on Facebook (facebook groups are good for something – plenty of language learners very ready and willing to swap tips and offer advice). I like Memrise in some respects, but it can be quite confusing in how they’ve structured it – for example you go from learning basics such as hello, good day, how are you? what are you called? to Are you attending the polyglot conference? I mean this maybe a bit of fun on their part.. but totally unnecessary I feel. And the clue is in the name, it does feel like you are just memorising phrases rather than learning in a usefully structured way – however it’s good for learning how words are pronounced but another downside is the ‘help me learn this’ sometimes it’s just a phonetically written version of the phrase, sometimes it’s some weird sentence that sounds similar but is clear nonsense. In the first 2-3 weeks, I kept with the free version, but it always tries to convince you to upgrade after your time limited session, eventually it will offer you a year’s subscription for not much more than a standard month, so I gave in given that it worked about about £2.50 a month.

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Random image from Drops…

Another app that is popular is Drops – basically a very beautifully designed app where words or phrases are dropped in from the top of the screen, in pictorial format – the voices for these are identical to the voices in the words by the instagram account Every Single Word In Icelandic (who also created the book – Iceland in Icons) – so I’m not sure if there’s a connection there or a generic voice/word bank that can be used. Drops is useful in that you can select what section to choose, ie basic phrases, numbers, foods  – however my only issue is that some of the icons are a little obscure and I can’t remember what they mean – so whilst I can match it to the correct word or phrase, I don’t actually know what it means. Drops gives you 5 minute bite-size sessions, logging in everyday gives you bonus time or you can go pro (also offers discounts like Memrise).

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I’ve also picked up a traditional phrase book (proper paper format) by Lonely Planet – part of their ‘Fast Talk’ series, this was a bargain coming in at under £3 – for almost 90 pocket sized pages. It includes what you’d expect – chatting, reading menus, transport and accommodation but also practicalities such as parts of the body and other healthcare related phrases you might need one day!

Finally there is a slightly more traditional course Icelandic Online run by the University of Iceland which I’ve just signed up to online and completed the first part of the ‘survival Icelandic’ aka level 0 (from a range of 0 – 5, where 5 is reading Icelandic literature).

Of Monsters and Men – Beneath The Skin

I know this album has been out going on for 9 months by now (in fact my procrastination skills are so on form, I just found an 8 month old draft… oops), but seeing as I’m not the sort of person who gets advance review copies, there was no way of pushing something out around the time of release. I also believe that these things take time to sink in and be fully absorbed – I can tell you that Crystals, which started out as a firm favourite in the beginning (released almost a year ago this week!), went to being at the bottom of the pile, then back up into my top 3 (maybe). Initially I loved it because it was new,  in terms of UK releases, the newest single in 3 years, then once the entire album was released I preferred other songs as they were newer, but then in late 2015, possibly after seeing it performed live I fell in love with in all over again. The huge swelling drum beats that start the song before Nanna’s vocals win me over every time. It was also used for a Disney film about dinosaurs which I have not seen.

Of Monsters and Men

Black Water was another instant favourite, I used to sing this in my head whilst I was swimming in the summer and found it was good for focusing, except where counting how many laps I was doing was concerned! Also the lyrics felt like they could have been written about the characters in the book series I reading within the supernatural genre which was an unusual twist. Wolves Without Teeth might just be my number one track though, again the drum beat starts up and it could be the rhythm of the beast running – now I’m in training for a 10km race later this year, this track is on my essential playlist as the beat is spot on for me. However Slow Life is a track that took until this year to really gain a place in my heart, I think maybe because it feels to me like a real winter tune, and here in Oxford at least, winter didn’t really kick in until February. The whole feel to the album is a generally more larger, all encompassing sound, the music press would probably say it’s a more ‘grown-up sound’ but that would also imply that the previous album was immature sounding? they haven’t lost their playfulness which is part of why I love them. There’s still plenty of creatures as metaphors à la Dirty Paws.

 

As I mentioned above, I travelled to see OMAM in concert back in November, as now we live in Oxford, a lot of bands don’t play locally, particularly non UK bands (where as in Manchester, most bands if playing outside London will play there as well). We live equilateral travel time from both Bristol and Birmingham so chose Bristol as my husband has never been, and also it was a Friday night rather than midweek which didn’t require time off work which is always a plus.

The gig itself was amazing, even if the venue was not. The band played their socks off, the sound was possibly better than on CD, I don’t know why I’m always amazed by how good Icelandic acts sound live, maybe I’ve seen too many poor bands or bands in bad venues? Or maybe they’re all just so good at what they do… Anyway, the only downside, was missing part of the gig – how did this happen you ask? well the doors opened at 6:30pm, usually gigs open the doors at 7 or 7:30pm with the main band being on stage at 9pm – and either 1 or 2 support acts on, curfew is usually 11pm unless it’s a Sunday – I say usually because me and my husband have collectively being going to gigs in various cities since the 1980’s and this is the only time we’ve come across a gig for all ages that the curfew was 9:30pm, I shit you not! So after finding our hotel, dropping our bags, rushing to find somewhere to eat quickly, then heading to the venue, stupidly thinking we might catch the end of the support act, we walked in part way through King and Lionheart (full set list here) Because as it turns out that in order to maximize profits, the Bristol O2 academy does a club night every Friday opening at 10:30pm – this is not something that is communicated to attendees despite it being highly unusual for a gig venue as speaking to other gig goers who’d also travelled from various cities in the UK they were all equally surprised. The venue was also overcrowded and a potential fire hazard IMO, with staircases that led to fire exits jam packed and impassable, and did I mention some parts of the room you can’t even see the stage?!… but I digress. Of Monsters and Men and their touring band played so amazingly, my favourite part was when Nanna took the drumsticks and started pounding what I think was a Timpani drum with a look of pure mischievousness on her face, before rushing back to get her guitar strapped back on to finish the song! which may or may not have been Crystals… I really hope I get the opportunity to see them play again with this album, but at the moment it seems to be festivals only and no mention of an Airwaves appearance yet (I was praying for last year, as they had two empty tour dates during Airwaves, but I guess everyone needs a break!

 

 

Places I’ll miss in Manchester – Part 1

If you’ve read my bio, you might be aware that in the process of moving around 250 miles down South to join my husband where’s he taken up a really good job in Oxford. The Day 4 writing challenge was a 3 part series on the theme of loss, I’ve interpreted it slightly differently than intended and I’m going to let you in on a few of my favourite places in Manchester that I’ll miss the most when I move later this year

Part 1 – Takk, 6 Tariff Street, Manchester

So much more than just another coffee shop, this Icelandic inspired coffee house has to be the most chilled and welcoming place I’ve been to. The back wall is lined with old school desks and you might notice, plug sockets for your laptop and other devices as they encourage people to use the space to work or just hangout, with free wifi as well as offering free refills on the drip coffee!

 

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Takk

They also do some damn tasty food – freshly made sandwiches and home-made soup (I’m not a soup person, but I took my mum to Takk for lunch and she had the most amazing bowl of soup there, i struggled to keep my hands of it, seriously) and also a good changing selection of cakes and brownies, not to mention of course the coffee – they are seriously serious about the coffee and offer many special blends designed to be drunk black and they’ll be happy to help you in your choice.

But back to the atmosphere – this is what holds this place as special for me, it’s somewhere I can go to in town, sit down with my book or writing pad and just lose myself and not feel like I’m taking up space, if they’d bring back the cinnamon buns I’d be ecstatic

 

The walls of Takk also play host to a bit of art here and there, from the hand drawn map of Iceland featuring famous names and places, to an exhibition of Icelandic photography there’s also a poster pillar to keep you in the know of the most happening events in town.

 

Icelandic Map

Did I mention they’re also pet friendly? this makes them pretty awesome in my book, I’ll be seriously sad not to have Takk practically on my doorstep in future

Snorri Helgason & Ásgeir – Deaf Institute, Manchester

Last night I headed on down to Manchester’s Deaf Institute for a gig featuring not one, but two Icelandic artists in the form of Snorri Helgason and Ásgeir who are both often described as folk, melodic sometimes poppy but most definitely folk.

I was looking forward to this immensely (despite only hearing of and booking my ticket less than 2 weeks ago), as I’d previously had the pleasure of seeing Snorri perform back in November at Iceland Airwaves festival, against the interesting back drop of a men’s clothing store, surrounded by deer stalker hats!

Up until a couple of weeks ago the only Ásgeir track I’d heard was a cover of Nirvana’s Heart Shaped Box on YouTube (and only a matter of days before Gizmodo ran an article entitled ‘watch this one woman band cover an uncoverable Nirvana song’ err yes not that uncoverable then). I’ve since listened to the few tracks available on Soundcloud and liked what I’d heard.

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The Deaf Institute is a wonderful gig venue, small and intimate without feeling overcrowded, bird print wallpaper lines the stage area which is draped with deep red, luscious curtains, there’s even a fireplace if you look hard enough!
Snorri kicked off proceedings with an all too short 30 minute set, playing at least a couple of songs I recognised from his most recent album Autumn Skies (give it a listen on Soundcloud) and the harmonica made an appearance. There was new track he wrote whilst in Nashville which at first I thought was called mad cap (and didn’t know what to expect!) But by the end of the anecdote I realised that as someone had described the song to him as ‘like the last you drink before you put the candles out’ I realised it was called Night Cap.
Then it was all over, I managed to grab a copy of Autumn Skies directly from the man himself after the gig and managed to not to say anything too embarrassing in the process.

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After a short break Ásgeir and his band took to the stage and started with two songs in Icelandic before introducing himself to the crowd and later on the rest of the band which includes his brother.

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The afore mentioned cover of Heart Shaped Box was in there along with Dreaming, new single Going Home and finishing with the upbeat Torrent. great night all round, I’m hoping to catch both artists back at airwaves in November.
Oh BTW Ásgeir’s record Here It Comes with Heart Shaped Box on the B side is a Record Store Day release on Saturday 19th April – go buy it!

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Of Monsters And Men & Mugison – Manchester Academy

At the end of February (the 24th to be precise) we went to our first gig of the year, I would’ve blogged sooner but it was not long after we headed up to Scotland for another gig (more on that later) mixed in with holiday so haven’t really sat still for a few weeks.
Unusual for us, we arrived early for the OMAM gig as I’d heard that fellow Icelandic artist Mugison was supporting them, and as I’d listened via his facebook page to a few tracks and decided we should get there early to check him out, we arrived at Manchester Academy 1 (the big one) before 8:30pm. At this point the place was fairly packed, but not with the usual teenage crowd I’d expected for a band that had hit the top ten in the UK and would be flooding a gig that catered for the age 14+ market. Instead plenty of people who made me feel young (which at early 30’s is usually reserved for bands who are on their reformation tour having split up at least 10 years ago), not to mention an abundance of Nordic inspired heavy woollen looking jumpers, which seemed a bit over kill for what was to soon become a hot sweaty venue.

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Mugison at Manchester Academy 1 © Karen Morecroft

Anyway, onto Mugison: every bit as excellent live as I heard from the tracks I listened to online, only with this very amusing off the wall banter, about sending farts in a jar to Andy Votel and his family having to hand-craft thousands of CD covers. He played in no particular order Poke-A-Pal, Pathetic Anthem, Itrekun (which my other half describes as very Nick Cave-ish, in a good way) and Murr Murr the latter of which was song of the year at the Icelandic Music Awards in 2004 and you can catch a a live performance of it here, he actually played a few more tracks that I didn’t catch the name of (we’re pretty sure Kletturinn was on there though), but I’m sure I’ll learn them all after I picked up a 5 (yes, 5!) CD pack of his albums for a mere ten quid at the merch table.

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Mugison at Manchester Academy 1 © Karen Morecroft

If you want to find out more about Mugison or read the full story about the fart in the jar, check out the extremely well written & researched wiki page.

On to Of Monsters & Men, well they started right in there with Dirty Paws which got the crowd riled up and ready to sing along and dance their socks off! I loved the way they almost marched back & forwards in sequence with each other, like a well rehearsed marching band

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Of Monsters & Men at Manchester Academy 1 © Karen Morecroft

Swiftly followed by From Finner and Slow & Steady, if I can remember it wasn’t until another few songs before they actually spoke to the crowd. They played what we assumed to be a new song but has turned out to be a Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Cover, and finished the set by playing the rest of the album (yup all 12 songs played) with Sloom & Yellow Light being the encores, before the lights went up. I was more than impressed with this gig, although I’ve seen live versions on youtube etc and knew they could pull it off, I wasn’t quite prepared for the extra oomph of the bass and what felt like more complex musical arrangements at times than on the album (or maybe I just don’t have a good enough pair of headphones?).
Highlight of the night? Possibly the fantastic trumpet solo from Ragnhildur Gunnarsdóttir, possibly the slightly disconcerting moment when the lead fell out of Nanna’s guitars almost creating the illusion of miming as the music continued…
Of Monsters & Men performing at Manchester Academy gig
Of Monsters & Men at Manchester Academy 1 © Karen Morecroft

Non the less one of my favourite gigs of the last few years, I’m hoping to see them again somewhere soon