Monday, 31 October 2016

Half term

Small daughter went back to school today after her half-term holiday, and apart from the usual "my shoes don't fit me" conversation just as we were about to get in the car which I generally ignore (school shoes always feel  horrible after you've spent the week not wearing them!), seemed to be quite glad to be back.

We've had quite a busy week as we had planned to get small daughter's bedroom decorated during the holidays.  We'd had a roof leak earlier in the year which involved re-plastering her ceiling and finally we had time to talk about what we were going to do with her room, her furniture and her mountains of stuff which had been all over the landing for longer than we would have liked.

Small daughter was very happy to choose paints and get started, but less impressed to discover that she had to go through all the stuff before it went back into her room because she just wasn't keeping all of it.  I'm sure you know the kind of thing - little bits of paper with half-drawn pictures, the plastic cases of Kinder egg toys, Very Important Notes that she had written to friends and forgotten to give them ... I have no problem with her keeping her stuff but she does need to know what she's got and where it's going to go.  The floordrobe is not an option!  Anyway, she really got stuck in and I was very proud of her as I carted off boxes of books and toys to the charity shop this morning - and she loves her "new" space!

Apart from the painting, I've tried not to do too much this week - it is supposed to be a rest, after all!  I got a couple of new books which I managed to sit down with a couple of times.  It wasn't until I came to take the picture that I realised that they've both got a northern theme; I do have a bit of a thing for northern climes and we're coming into the season where it's perfectly acceptable to snuggle up in front of the fire with a book or knitting - or both!

With Hallowe'en coming up, we took a trip to a local farm to choose a couple of pumpkins for the girls to carve whilst big daughter was in charge on Saturday.   My husband was out and I was going to a workshop at Black Sheep Wools which I'll be telling you about later this week, so the girls decided to keep themselves busy.

The farm was very organised, with huge tables set out full of pumpkins of varying sizes and prices so that you didn't need to wade into the muddy field to choose one if you didn't want to.  We had our wellies on all ready to do a bit of wading but small daughter spotted the pumpkins she wanted on the tables so we kept our feet dry.

We liked the pumpkins that had been carved at the farm.  You can get much more inventive with a pumpkin than with the swede that we used to hack into to make a lantern when I was little - and you don't get that same smell of singed vegetable!

As it turned out, the farm shop sold presents for Mums as well ...

I love Uncle Joe's Mint Balls. They're minty but not too minty (unlike Extra Strong Mints which I can never manage to finish), and they're made in Wigan, not far from where I grew up so I have a soft spot for them!  Mike Harding, a northern singer/songwriter/comedian/ poet once wrote a song about them which you can listen to here.  And in case you're wondering, it's recommended that you drink the vodka as a shot, it is very mint ball-y, and it definitely leaves you all aglow! J 

Here are the girls' pumpkins.  They had a lovely time whilst my husband and I were also having a lovely time doing our own thing - it's good to do that sometimes, isn't it?

If your school is on half-term this week, I hope you have a great week off - and if not, then I saw in the supermarket today that it's only 55 sleeps till Christmas so the next holiday isn't far off at all!

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Super Socks now available at ....

Super Socks

Up until now, Super Socks has only been available online at Amazon in both the paperback and the Kindle format.  I'm delighted to tell you that it's now available at Barnes & Noble in paper and Nook format, and on Kobo in ebook format.  Not everyone likes to shop at Amazon so it's great for me to be able to tell you that there are now other options!

You can find it the Barnes & Noble paperback here, the Nook ebook here and the Kobo ebook here.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Back in the swing of things

Small daughter broke up for her school half term holiday on Friday and boy, am I glad!  I am sooo ready for a week of not having to get up and face the school run, cram everything that I need to do into the few hours that she's at school and generally run about like something daft until I fall into bed at night.  

It's always busy in our house, but it's been even more so just recently as we've just completed the sale of my Dad's house - in the end, more complicated and more emotional than I expected - and it's surprising what an amount of time it can take up even when you're not actually moving house yourself.  It's done now, though, and that chapter is closed, and now it's time to get back into the swing of things.  Time off the usual routine is just what I need!  I thought I'd start with a catch-up of what I have managed to do that wasn't anything remotely to do with house sales - it's nice to think about something different!

Something different was just what we did on Friday night - my husband and I were invited to a masked charity ball.  I've never been to a masked ball before, and it was quite strange to talk to people without being able to see their faces.  It was fascinating to see what a range of masks people had chosen as well; from sequinned face transfers to masks like ours below to full-face Chewbacca masks.  We also spotted Batman and Robin, presumably having a night off from fighting crime. I'm not entirely sure that Chewbacca, Batman or Robin would be seen at a ball, even if it was a charity one to support cancer research, but it made us smile. 

This afternoon, I pulled out my knitting bag and sat down to see where I was up with my projects. Some days recently, I've found it quite hard to fit knitting time in along with everything else, but I have realised that I am a nicer, calmer person if I can do even just a few rounds so it's been important to try to do that - for my family's sake as well as my own! 

I finished off my husband's DK socks.  I was really pleased that he chose this West Yorkshire Spinners Blue Lagoon yarn as up until now, his yarn of choice has been black with leftover colours for the heels and toes.  It's been much nicer to knit with stripes of blue!  He was having a hygge moment in front of the fire with his book.  You may have heard the word "hygge" (pronounced "hoo-ga") around quite a lot at the moment; it loosely translates from the original Danish as "cosy" but it's more about a feeling than anything physical - I think of it as being a time when everything is right with the world.  With his book, his comfy pants and new socks on, and a cup of coffee in his hands, everything was definitely right with his world just then! 

I've also finished off my Stylecraft Head over Heels socks.  It's taken me a blooming long time to finish the second sock - not second sock syndrome but I was distracted by something else which I'll show you in a minute.  I'm pleased with the way these socks have turned out - the shade is Kilimanjaro - and the stripes are easy to match if you're not keen on pulling the insides of the ball out to find the match before you start.  I've finished these just in time as some of my older pairs of socks are reaching the point where they need to be retired, so it's nice to have a new pair ready to wear.

This is what I was doing instead of my Stylecraft sock.  A friend's birthday was coming up and I had an idea to knit something for her.  I had another ball of the Stylecraft Head over Heels yarn which I knew would be perfect; this one is Olympus and it's a gradient yarn rather than stripes so just right for a shawl.

The pattern is Shore by Derya Davenport.  I've had my eye on it for a while and this was a good excuse to try it out.  It's lovely when you can choose a pattern and yarn that you think will be just right for the person you're knitting for - now that my friend's birthday has passed I can show this to you!

I think this yarn would have driven me nuts if I'd tried to use it for socks, but I was really happy with the way it turned out for the shawl.  It started off with 398 stitches (no, I do not recommend casting on late in the evening after a glass of wine ... just saying!) and got smaller which meant there were good long rows for the colours to change.  My friend was very pleased with it and she's worn it a lot since I gave it to her which is lovely - it's always double the pleasure when someone enjoys wearing something that you've enjoyed making for them.

I also wanted to show you the treats that I brought home from Yarndale before I forget.  Some are bought, some were gifts (thank you! xx) but I'm delighted with them all and I'll look forward to using them over the coming months.

Clockwise: The Sock Drawer book by Verity Harris of Truly Hooked (these are simple but effective lace sock patterns which I'm looking forward to knitting); Blacker Yarns Cornish Tin 2 in Wheal Rose Red (I sampled some of this limited edition yarn just before Yarndale and loved it - this is going to become socks); Blacker Yarns St Kilda Laceweight, another limited edition yarn dyed by The Yarn Goddess in Stac an Armin (actually deep pink shades, not purple as they look in the picture) and Stac Lee (undyed brown) which I absolutely didn't need to buy but couldn't resist after seeing this shawl knitted in it; a project bag from Three Bags Full, perfect for my next tutorial sock which is underway ... photos coming soon!; "Yarndale Socks Rock" sock blank from Suffolk Socks (I've never used a sock blank before, this is going to be fun!); a covered notebook from AnnieOBTextiles which will be perfect for knitting notes; hand-dyed sock yarn from West Green Loft Yarns (in the centre of the picture); a skein of sunshine-coloured Wollmeise Allegria (which will definitely become a shawl at some point); purple Exmoor Sock yarn by John Arbon (I haven't used this yarn before but have heard good things about it - I couldn't resist that colour!) and a wristlet project bag from MySisterKnits which is just right for knitting socks on the go!  

Oh, and I bought myself a new crochet hook from Fleabubs by Lala.  Lucy is going to be doing a new blanket CAL in January next year and I loved the sneak preview of the pattern she brought to Yarndale.  I'm going to join in (or at least, give it a good go!) and thought I'd get myself organised with a new hook.  My old crochet hooks are the old fashioned thin metal ones which make my fingers ache after a while, so I thought I'd try out an ergonomically-designed one.  Lucy and I have already established that I don't crochet in the same way that she does so I wasn't sure if I'd be able to hold a different style of hook, but this one fitted my hand perfectly.  And it's pink and sparkly and has a unicorn on it.  What's not to like?!

I think that's us just about caught up!  Finally, before I go and start some work in my poor neglected garden, the official photographs from the British Knitting Awards are available.  Here's me with a (not too cheesy) grin - I thought you might like to see it!  I'm with Sarah Neal who is the editor of Let's Knit.  I didn't get long to speak to her, but I thought she was very nice.  There's something about the crafting world that attracts nice people, isn't there?  

I hope you're having a wonderful weekend.  I'm feeling much relaxed already - bring on the school holidays!

Friday, 21 October 2016

Surrounded by socks - Yarndale Sock Line 2016

Four weeks ago this weekend, a certain woolly event called Yarndale took place in Skipton.  There can't be many in the crafting world now who haven't heard of this fabulous festival in the Yorkshire Dales, and I've been lucky enough to be involved with it for the last two years with the Yarndale Sock Line.

The Yarndale Sock Line started off as a suggestion that sock bunting might look nice in the Auction Mart to go with the crochet bunting in the Yarndale Hub.  I thought that it would be better if the bunting could be put to some good use rather than just be stored until the next year (and I knew that my husband would Not Be Pleased if he discovered rather a lot of sock bunting spilling all over stored in our garage!), and the idea of asking for pairs of socks which could later be given away came about.  You can read more about the first Yarndale Sock Line here.  It was much more of a success than I ever imagined, and I was touched by the generosity of so many people who gave their time and money (because let's be honest here, yarn isn't cheap) to make a pair of socks to give away to a stranger.  75 pairs of socks were given away last year - isn't that incredible?  Here they are ...

I was so terribly proud to see those socks on that line.  What was even more heartwarming was that almost straight after Yarndale last year, people were asking if I was going to organise a Yarndale Sock Line for this year because if I was, they wanted to join in. Lucy thought it would be a great idea to make the Yarndale Sock Line a regular feature and so it was decided that another washing line would be strung up high above the Knit n Natter lounge on the weekend in September when Yarndale took place.

Now, the thing about doing something for a second time is that it can go one of two ways, like the infamous "second album" syndrome that so many singers face.   Either people think "no thanks, I've done that once" and your plan bombs like a brick into a lake, or people think "yes, that's great, let's join in again!" and you never know what's going to happen until it does.  Luckily for me (and of course, knowing how generous crafters are) the second option happened.  When I met up with Lucy over the school holidays in August, she already had a bag of sock parcels waiting for me.

These socks were logged and photographed and put up on the Yarndale Sock Line Pinterest board and then I just had to wait until I saw Lucy again in September before I knew if there were any more.  

"There have been a few parcels for you," said Lucy, before I got up to Skipton.  She wasn't kidding!

Oh my life!  There were packets and packets of socks!  Quite early on, I knew that the Sock Line was going to be even better than last year's.  It was lovely to see names from last year, and I was very grateful to those people who had sent in more than one pair, and also to those people who sent treats for me!  Thank you! xx

How many pairs do you think there were this year?  Have a guess.  Here's a clue, there were more than 75!

When the Yarndale weekend came around, I headed up to Skipton with more socks than I had dared to imagine would be sent in.  Remembering Lucy's instructions from last year not to garotte anybody with the washing line, I put it back up in the same place.  I knew there were more socks this year but hoped they would still fit.

It's a lovely moment, that point when you're ready to hang up the first pair.  That's when you know that everybody's hard work is about to be on view for the whole weekend, that the socks are going to be admired and photographed and I'm going to be able to very proudly tell people that they've been sent in to be given away.

Right from start, there was a difference to the Sock Line last year.  I had to push the socks closer together to fit them all on, and working my way along the washing line, I even wondered at one point if I was going to run out of space after all.  What a nice situation to be in!  

You know what's coming now ... more pictures of socks than you thought you ever needed to see! - but how could I not show them off?  

It's actually quite hard to photograph the Sock Line and show the socks clearly because it's up in the air.  These are the adult socks which were sent in before the Yarndale weekend.

These ones are the children's socks, and also the photos of the socks that were gifted before Yarndale started.  I'm very happy for people to send me photos of their socks that have been gifted elsewhere, particularly if it's abroad as I know that the price of the postage can be off-putting.

These were the socks that came in after I'd collected the majority of them from Lucy; I kept them on their own separate part of the Sock Line as they hadn't been photographed yet and I knew that a few more pairs would be coming in over the weekend so I'd be able to do them all together.

When the time came to leave the Auction Mart for the evening, the Yarndale Sock Line was in place, socks on high and swinging proudly above the Knit n Natter lounge.  How many pairs did you think there were?  Have you changed your mind now you've seen them all?  If you scroll back up to the top of the page where you can see last year's picture, there's quite a difference, isn't there?

Whatever number you've got in your head - hold onto it!  Yarndale was the busiest it has ever been and the socks kept coming.  More and more socks.  I ran out of pegs.  They were balanced on the washing line, socks perched upon socks.  It was quite unbelievable - the Sock Line was literally groaning underneath all the pairs!

I don't think the photographs can really do justice to the Sock Line compared to actually seeing it in real life.  The colours, the sizes, the sheer number of them was quite amazing.  I don't think I spotted more than two or three pairs that were knitted in the same yarn, and there were many different patterns and styles.  People had taken such care over them, and you could tell.  Call me soft, but I think it was a line of love, and you could feel it.

I think lots of other people could too.  I could have sold the socks many times over, but although selling the socks and donating the money to charity is an option, it's not the one that I wanted to take for the Yarndale Sock Line.  If you're in need then although money is useful, it's sometimes too easy to spend it on something else, or for it not to be enough, or for you to not have the time or the inclination or the ability to go out and buy whatever it is for yourself.  By gifting the socks themselves, it's something extra to whatever you might already have or be given that doesn't require you to do anything more than put them on.  I love that in these times of uncertainty for everybody, there is still the capacity within us to do something for someone else, and I'm very grateful that you do too.

So what comes next?  Well, these were the extra socks that were donated at Yarndale ...

They've now been put up on the Pinterest board so you can see every one of the 160 pairs up there. Yes, you did read that right.  160 pairs!!  Isn't that amazing?  That's twice as many as last year and more, all to be sent to warm someone's toes.

The next bit is the nice bit; I get to send the socks out to the places where they're needed.  I had a list at Yarndale for suggestions but there's still time if you want to add somewhere to the list of places I can contact.  I'm looking for homeless hostels, crisis centres, refuges, hospices, old people's homes ... is there somewhere in your UK town where you think they might appreciate the delivery of a few pairs of socks?  Let me know in the comments, or email me if you prefer at winwickmum (at) gmail (dot) com and I'll get in touch with them.  I will of course let you know where all the socks go to when they've been mailed out.

No "second album" syndrome for the Yarndale Sock Line, and it's all down to you.  Thank you! xx

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Monthly Musing - October 2016 - It's all about you

“And then you’ll never guess what she said to me …!”  [insert indignant tone of voice]

It’s been fascinating watching my girls grow up and seeing them go through exactly the same situations as I remember from when I was their ages.  The insecurities, the interactions with friends, the learning how to cope in social situations … I find myself telling them “it’s not always all about you, you know!”, but actually, the more I think about it, it is.  It’s about all of us and it’s a very complicated situation.

We are constantly worrying about what people think of us, whether we’re wearing the right things or saying or doing the right things – when in reality nobody is thinking about us at all because they’re worrying about the same things themselves!   We are simultaneously inwardly-focussed and outwardly-focussed and that can be quite exhausting.  It becomes easy to take someone else’s words or actions personally because we hear or see them in relation to how we are feeling ourselves, and that’s something that I still very often struggle with however much I try not to let it affect me.  This is why the internet in particular can be such a dangerous place because text has no tone of voice and we hear the written words in our heads in any tone that we choose.

It’s at these times that I have to remind myself of something that I learnt on one of the meditation courses I attended: “Don’t see intentions in other people’s actions”.  In other words, don’t assume that the other person has spoken or behaved in a particular way just to upset you.  They have actually said or done whatever they did because of how they are feeling, and it’s not about you at all.  They might be worried, or frightened, feeling insecure themselves or they might be ill.   People who are poorly often speak in a way that offends the people who are caring for them and if we only listened without taking the words personally we would hear the despair and frustration behind words that are often not intended to hurt at all.

So here comes the complicated bit.  Conversation with someone else often isn’t about us – and at the same time it is all about us.  How we wear the words and choose to interpret them is entirely our choice.  No one else can make us happy or unhappy.  No one else can make us laugh or cry unless we choose to let them.  It’s always down to us and how we are feeling at the time we hear the words.  It’s a tough lesson to learn.  It takes practice, years and years of it sometimes, and even then we don’t always get it right, but knowing that it’s all about you – and not all about you – is liberating.  It’s something that I wish I’d known through my super-self-conscious teenage years but better late than never.  I just tell my girls about it now – and hope that they hear the words in the way they are intended! 

Saturday, 8 October 2016

British Knitting Awards 2016

Last Thursday morning, at 11.03am, I was to be found at Runcorn station getting on a train bound for London.  It was the day of the British Knitting Awards at Alexandra Palace and I was terribly excited to be going to the awards ceremony.

These annual awards, now in their 9th year, are hosted by Let's Knit magazine and the nominees in each category and later the winners are all voted for by the crafting community, so it's a huge honour to be included in the list at all, never mind win a prize!  Super Socks, the book of my Sockalong tutorials, was awarded 3rd place in the Favourite Book category and I was thrilled!  You can read about it here and you can find a list of all the other categories and winners here.  The awards always take place during the Knitting and Stitching Show which is great as it meant that I would get chance to look around there first!

Settled on the train with my hot chocolate, a picnic for the two hour journey (got to keep your strength up!), my iPod and of course my knitting, I couldn't stop smiling as the train left Runcorn and picked up speed, hurtling towards the Big Smoke.

The socks are for my husband, a pair of DK boot socks in West Yorkshire Spinners Aire Valley DK shade Blue Lagoon.  I started knitting them to replace the pair that we thought we had lost when we went to Betwys y Coed at the end of the summer (I live in fear of only bringing home one hand-knit sock of a pair when we go away somewhere!) - it turned out that the errant sock was hiding inside a boot but I'd started the new socks anyway so he's going to have another pair to add to his collection.

Two hours is just long enough for me to listen to a couple of episodes of my favourite podcast, In Our Time, a Radio 4 discussion programme which covers a wide range of topics.  I don't usually get chance to listen to programmes like this during the week as I rarely sit in one place for any length of time unless I'm writing and then I need to be quiet to concentrate, so it's a treat to have the opportunity to discover something else about the world - there's always more to know!  My episodes of choice for the journeys to and from London were circadian rhythms (how the body clock works), the Muses, Agrippina the Younger (mother of the emperor Nero) and the Maya civilisation.  Quite an eclectic mix, but it kept me amused whilst I worked my colourful rounds and the countryside flashed by the window.

Once in London, I met up with Lucy who won the categories for Favourite Crochet Blog and Favourite Crochet Designer, and also Emma and Kate who are two of the organisers (along with Lucy) of Yarndale which won Best Knitting Show/Event 2015-16 and we all headed out to Alexandra Palace (affectionately known as Ally Pally) together.  It's an enormous place, as you can see from this photo.  We went in through the arched entrance just in front of the domed roof which you can see on the left hand side and the show stretches through most of the building.

Alexandra Palace
Alexandra Palace opened in 1873 on Queen Victoria's 54th birthday.  The first building burnt down just 16 days later, and the new building was opened in 1875.  The palace has seen many events over the years, including use as an internment camp in 1915.  These days, the events are much friendlier, such as the Knitting and Stitching Show, car shows, firework festivals and even an ice rink!

It's a very grand building as you would expect, as the Victorians were very good at doing "grand". This is the entrance atrium (the Palm Court) which I actually thought looked more like a train station with the glass and arches ...

and this is the domed roof that you could see on the photo above.  It's quite a feat of engineering, isn't it?  I wouldn't like to be the one who had to wash all that glass!

Once inside, the four of us decided to go in separate directions for a while.  Lucy and I headed off to say hello to a few people that we knew (ooh, get me knowing exhibitors these days!  I feel like I've arrived!  J ) and to admire the other exhibits.  I'd love to show you pictures of all of them but - ahem - I was so busy looking that I forgot to take any!  

The Knitting and Stitching Show is very different to Yarndale.  The way the stands are set out reminded me of an indoor market, each row laid out on a grid system to help you to find your way around - as it's quite a lot bigger than Yarndale this is very helpful!  There was quite a difference in the types of exhibitor too.  At Yarndale there's lots of fleece, yarn and sheep.  Here, there were no sheep but there were other crafts - lots of fabric stands and textile exhibitions which is good - if all the yarn shows and festivals held during the year were the same, then there would be no point in visiting more than one.  It's always good to have an excuse to go and have a look around!  

We didn't have long before we had to meet up in the marvellously decorated Londsborough Room for the awards ceremony.  The room started to fill with other awards winners - some who were exhibiting at the show and others like us who had travelled there specially.  

The ceremony's opening speaker was Stephen Robertson who is the CEO of The Big Issue Foundation.  The Big Issue is an initiative which helps people facing poverty and exclusion to earn their own money by selling a weekly magazine which they buy from the publishers and then sell on at a profit.  It gives them an opportunity to earn money with dignity, not just become beggars on the streets, and the magazine is a good quality one written by professional journalists.  I don't buy a copy every week but I do buy one from time to time and it's a good read - if you've never looked at it before, then do buy yourself a copy from a seller when you see one, you won't be disappointed.  The Big Issue has been around for 15 years now and has a current circulation of around 100,000 copies every week so you can see that it's doing a lot of good for people who (often through no fault of their own) are in difficult circumstances.


You might be wondering what this has to do with knitting and there is a link, I promise!  Every year, The Big Issue has a Big Knitathon to help raise money for their work in supporting magazine vendors and this year they've teamed up with Hobbycraft to spread the word even further as Hobbycraft will be hosting a special Knitathon day on 12 November in their stores.  You can register to join in here.  

The second speaker was Stuart Hillard, who was a contestant in the first series of the BBC2 programme, The Great British Sewing Bee.  He was very entertaining to listen to, a natural storyteller who was a knitter before he was a sewer and whose love of crafting shines through his stories.  Since the series ended, Stuart has become a craft teacher and writer, running patchwork workshops and writing books on the subject.  After listening to him speak, I can imagine that those workshops are very popular!

Stuart HillardStuart Hillard

Finally, we listened to Jamie Sterry whose job it is to co-ordinate all the little hats that are sent in to Innocent Smoothie's The Big Knit campaign each year.  In case you've never heard of The Big Knit, this is something that started 13 years ago when people were asked to knit little hats to fit onto Innocent Smoothie bottles over the winter period.  Innocent would donate 25p per hat-wearing bottle to Age UK, a charity which helps older people and especially during the cold winter months.  

In the beginning, the hats were simply little bobble hats to adorn the tops of the bottles and I sent my few hats in along with many others, thinking that it was a good idea and I hoped they'd sell well.  The hats-on-bottles season not only sold well that year but has got bigger every year as more and more people join in. Over the years, whilst there are still many many little bobble hats sent in, the range of styles has got more extravagant and the bottles fly off the shelves as people hunt for their favourite style in the display.  Last year, more than 1 million hats were sent to The Big Knit, and over £2million has been raised for Age UK.  This year, they're going for 2 million hats!  That's an awful lot of cosy bottles and an awful lot of money to help combat the difficulties that so many older people face as the temperature drops.  If you want to get involved in this year's campaign, you can find more details here.

Innocent Smoothie - The Big Knit

Then it was time to collect our awards, have our photos taken by an official photographer (doesn't that make you feel posh!) and chat to a few more people before heading back to the tube stations. It made me smile to see all the awards left on tables as people circulated around the room to talk to other winners.

British Knitting Awards

It really was quite an amazing experience.  So much talent in one room, and to be part of it felt incredible.  Thank you so much for your votes which allowed me to be there!  

British Knitting Awards

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