Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The saga of learning to make dovetail joints

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.

Once upon a time, there was a woman who woodworked. She made some prototype shelves and wanted them to be better.

She spent a lot of time researching woodworking techniques and decided that dovetail joints were the way forward.

She watched some tutorials on Youtube, all by men who were experienced woodworkers. They made it look very easy to do and the finish was beautiful and just what she wanted for her handmade shelving.

The woman who woodworked bought some secondhand and new tools and put some of her school maths into action to work out the angles needed.

Then she began to practice. She soon realised that it was quite hard to do, nowhere near as easy as it looked on the tutorials.
She soon realised that she was NOT a natural when it came to being able to saw. In fact, it took her forever and she was very bad at it.
She perservered, as she wasn't a quitter.

After many, many, many failed attempts (left hand side of above photo) she finally ended up with one dovetail joint which didn't fall apart in her hands.
She was so pleased with herself she had a drink of wine to celebrate.

Then she looked closer at the joint and thought about how long it had taken, how many were needed for each shelf and at the actual size of the gaps.
She researched some more and then bought a dovetail jig and router, which do the job perfectly for her.
The end.
And, the moral of the story is, know when you are beaten and as this is destabled, when to stop flogging a dead horse.
Although that saying is actually very mean!

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

72 hours in Marrakech, Morocco, and 14 tips to get the most out of a short break there

Marrakech gets under your skin. There is a reason people rave about it. It's hot and dusty and busy and more-than-anywhere-else-I've-ever-been exhilarating!

Let's start with colour. Blue, actually.

This colour, this blue, got into my mind and wouldn't leave. It's not a colour we see much of in Northern England and that's possibly because it really comes to life in such bright sunlight. But, it's a happy colour, a hot colour, an exciting colour to me. This colour blue has me in a obsessive-grip. This trip to Marrakech has a lot to answer for too. In-a-good-way. This trip, 1 year ago today is what started me off on this journey to making handmade shelving.
This post isn't all about colours. I'd like to share some memories of my Marrakech trip, to inspire you to go or go-back or simply to day-dream or reminisce.

Marrakech was a place like no other I have visited. There was an energy there I had never experienced. It was enthralling, busy,hot, but not peaceful.
There were no cars in the centre, so people walked, rode scooters, pushed wheelbarrows or used Donkeys. It was like stepping back in time a bit.

Around every corner or through every doorway was something fantastic to see. No space was wasted.

The streets were narrow and often not very tall. I made my husband pose as a frame of reference. He had to duck many times.

Often coming out of streets you would walk into the unexpected, like a cart full of chickens.

Everything was seemingly done by hand. This guy was more than happy for me to take a picture as he carefully made these patterns by hand.
Very few machines were evident.

Those inspirational colours and patterns were everywhere. This is called 'zellige'.

The markets spilled out onto the streets in every direction. Plus some of the displays were amazing.

There was the occasional posh respite area. Here I am having a break in one with extremely comfy cushions, great views and a breeze, as most of the bars were on the roof.

The city is dominated by the Koutoubia mosque. It sounds the call to prayer over the whole city and is much taller than anything else.

Do you recognise this turquoise? It's very similar to my handmade shelving range of colours.

Oh that blue again. I love it!

One of the best bits was meeting all the master craftsman. This chap made these huge padlocks with, by the looks of it, just a metal file in a tiny shop.

This guy carved wood on the street with a few chisels and this fancy woodturning device he operated with his feet.
All the craftsmen were so happy to show you how they made things and to chat. It was an enjoyable shopping trip. And, it really worked on me, as I bought a lock from the smiley man above and a set of hand turned cedar kebab holders from the chap in the red trousers.

This was the site of one of the oldest universities in the world, the Medina Ben Youssef. The colours and zelige were amazing, and at last there was a peaceful place.
I didn't miss the lack of peace though. Living somewhere quite quiet and remote like I do, it was wonderful to get a sense of energy.

I bought some of that blue in pigment form. If only I really knew what to do with it!

More tradesmen, this one was very upset with me as I bought freshly squeezed orange juice from another stall, but he still wanted me to take his picture.

People just lived outside, they talked to their friends, they ate, they worked. That's the thing I dislike most about living in a cold place.
We don't have a proper street life.

And then I held a desert lizard. I'm sure it's not very kind, but I'm a bit of a wuss with creatures so I wanted to add this picture as it is me being brave.
Looking back I can see how I was inspired by colour and craftsmen and energy to do something different with my spare time. I also started to take myself out of my comfort zone and push myself to do new things and take the road less travelled. I realised I'd been coasting along on an easy life for too long.
If you are planning a trip to Marrakech here are my top tips to get the most out of your time there. We were only there 72 hours and yet I felt like we made the most of almost all of them.
1. Take a Tour
Book a private guide if you can afford it, we had Khalid Amor (you can read a great review about him here ) and spent our very first day with him. This was a great plan as it enabled us to ease into the hustle and bustle without getting lost and the street traders did not hassle us much as we were with a guide. He also gave us some useful advice about where to eat and not, and where to get money changed and all those useful bits you need at the beginning of a short break.
2. Have a Spa
Go for a hammam, this is a traditional Moroccan activity where you spend time in a steam room, have mud masks, and then are scrubbed with a mitt until it's almost painful - but afterwards your skin feels amazing and the whole experience is very relaxing. I went to this one, The Heritage Spa, as it was one of the few spa's offering male and female packages. It wasn't cheap but was worth every penny.
3. Pictures
Take lots of photographs, everywhere looks incredible and don't forget to peer around corners. Keep your camera out and not in a bag as lot's of weird and wonderful things will occur.
4. Weather
Maybe go at a slightly cooler time than early September as it was 40 degrees plus every day. I like the heat, and particularly like to have lots of stops for cold drinks, but if you just want to keep on the move, a slightly cooler time may suit you better.
5. Shopping
Look around the souks a lot before you buy anything as it will help you to get an idea of how much choice there is. Many stalls sell blankets, or carpets, or bags but actually there is a lot of difference, not all sell the exact same things.
6. Bartering/ Haggling
Haggle hard and I mean really hard. Start at a minimum of a quarter what they say ( or a tenth if you are braver than me) and pull wincing faces a lot. Be prepared to walk away. One blanket seller chased me for 100 metres to say I could have the last deal I offered. I did feel like I had probably been ripped off a little, even so, but then thought about how much I would have to spend to buy an imported item and got over that feeling.
7. Drinking
Go to lots of rooftop bars - the views are great and it's a respite from the busyness of the streets. Plus they tend to be breezier and more likely to sell alcohol too.
8. Small Coins
Save your little coins for beggars, it's heartbreaking to see them and you know there is no welfare state as such. Although the country is Muslim and one of the key points of Islam is around giving to charity so maybe it's not as bad as I think. Anyhow giving them little bits of money made me feel better.
Don't just read trip advisor on the restuarants - trust your gut feelings. We found some wonderful gems just by going and trying small items and then ordering more if we liked what we were given. We did try a few Trip Advisor recommended places and to me they were a little pretentious, so I preferred to judge by looking.
10. Directions
As even the main streets in the city are around 6 feet wide and the side streets even smaller with tunnels and 90 degree turns as normal, you have to expect to get lost. My ingenious system was to take pictures of the way home so we could navigate back to our place of residence. We stayed a a lovely, affordable and central Dar (Pamella) and the location was so perfect. During the day we could pop back to drop shopping off as it was so close to everywhere.
11. Be wary
Don't let male guides show you the way anywhere - they want paying and won't easily take no for an answer or often don't like how much you want to pay them which can be stressful. Most of the time we just kept going until we saw something, but the one time we got really lost, we asked women for help in the end.
12. What to wear
I was concerned about what to wear in the heat as I didn't want to offend. Most tips suggested long sleeve shirts and light weight trousers (which is the kind of clothes I wear in Winter!) but it turned out that I didn't need to worry about dressing modestly - hot pants and crop tops are inappropriate but vests and shorts below the knee were absoloutely fine.  
13. Souvenirs
Don't feel a cliché for buying Morroccan lanterns or carpets or anything. I bought both because I loved them and after living with them in my house for almost a year I still love them more than ever. If anything I want to go back and buy more.
14. Be streetwise
Don't walk in the middle of the street - I nearly got hit in the head by a guy on a scoter with 5 mattresses stacked diagonally behind him. It was quite funny how much traffic there was and how you had to be so careful. For this reason I would not recommend taking small children or any aged children who aren't great at spatial awareness.
Oh writing this makes me want to be going back tomorrow! I loved Marrakech.