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Monday December 31, 2007

Books in December

  • At Risk Patricia Cornwell
    Her 2006 novel, but without Dr Kay Scarpetta, although it had a detached professional heroine Scarpetta look-alike. I thought the book read slightly oddly, and I now see that - like the last Michael Connelly I read - it was originally serialised for the New York Times. I have a love-hate relationship with her books - they are exciting and absorbing, but these ice-queen heroines do not evoke any empathy - even with detached professionals....
  • Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham M C Beaton
    Finally back in sequence, finding out what led up to the last two Agatha books I read.
    In this book, the author digresses a bit more than usual in talking about Evesham and its history; I feel she must like it very much, and it has certainly caught my interest, as it's an area with which I am not familiar.
    As I have mentioned previously, these books are, at face value, very light weight reading, and don't need to be pondered over to find some inner enlightenment. But really they do describe some very telling experiences which I find all too familiar, and make me laugh twice over; are all professional women in their 50s like this... or is it just me?! Here are a couple of quotes from this book:
    On grey hair: "She had bought one of those colour rinses but it had turned the grey to purple."
    On visiting the museum at the Almonry: "Agatha became uneasy as she saw household items she remembered from her youth."

Posted on December 31, 2007 at 8:34 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Friday December 28, 2007

Mobile Working

So here we are sitting on the ferry at Dover. I am working on-line (this is a great novelty for me - my former PC refused to co-operate with my 3G card or dial-up ever since the hard disk failure/replacement in August 2006).


Anyway - now we are about to sail, I have to stop - there is a high wind and the stewardess has just informed us that it is very rough. I feel pretty queasy already and we are still in the harbour....

Posted on December 28, 2007 at 3:31 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Thursday December 27, 2007

Quiet time

All my guests have gone, leaving George, Deborah and I to enjoy a peaceful time together scoffing wonderful cold meats and left over trifle. It is very quiet at work as well, so there has been much sitting in front of a comfortable fire, and admiring our perfectly proportioned tree (heaven knows how we got such a nice tree after a fraught and depressing evening at a DIY store in the week before Christmas, where they had decided, with 7 days still to go, that Christmas was over and it was time to remove all signs of the festival, leaving everything in total building site disarray! Anyway - we did - and it's lovely).


I received lots of really inspired gifts. Sheila gave me a set of hand made oriental table mats - a real labour of love - they are lovely and we used them throughout Christmas.


My sister gave me extraordinary blue and pink pastel Argyle Wellingtons; George's sister gave me a Debbie Abrahams knitted bag kit;


Alison gave me a great book of vintage sock patterns taken from old Weldon's magazines, (published in an era preceding Stitchcraft); and George, tired of my finding myself short of projects while in France produced the following:


I hope everyone else enjoyed themselves as much as I.

Posted on December 27, 2007 at 9:00 PM. Category: Red Letter Days.

Sunday December 16, 2007



By special request, the Santa-in-the-chimney stocking is complete, and due in the mail (special delivery) tomorrow.
And a real pain in the neck he was. Thank goodness I didn't have to make the whole crèche of figures - although I am full of admiration for Jean Greenhowe, who has presented dozens of little Christmas characters from the same basic design. They all look convincingly different with the simplest of detailing to fit with the small scale.

Posted on December 16, 2007 at 6:56 PM. Category: Knitting.

Thursday December 13, 2007

Stocking fillers

Not much in the blog but a lot of activity. I was working some very long hours traveling up and down to central London last week, so I've been pretty tired - but have been able to knit during the commuting.
The tedious painting and sanding continues in the bathroom - last weekend I made a couple of shelves. I am really poor at woodwork, and cannot cut straight - so the fact that they look like a couple of normal shelves is an achievement in itself.

I have been very focussed on sticking to plain knitting, one item at a time. This may sound normal to others but it's not usually how I work. The result is that the occasional finished item has just popped out of the woolbag, almost unbidden. An astrakhan cardigan from Debbie Bliss's "Out of Town" book - sporting wonderful buttons purchased at Saratoga Knitting Arts.


I needed small knitting for traveling up and down to London all last week, and Terry's Christmas socks have been the perfect project. One of the Austerman Step balls has been completely transformed and the other is in progress (I have 8 hours on the train next week going to Plymouth). Meanwhile here is "Pebble":


But never mind the fillers - I am supposed to be knitting an actual Christmas Stocking. It is very late in the day now, but as the request has been outstanding since last Christmas it seems unreasonable to have not found the time! I need to recruit some little elves....

Posted on December 13, 2007 at 5:38 PM. Category: Knitting.

Sunday December 2, 2007

Cleaning up and clearing out.

Have been feeling a little glum - but only due to minor things, like I cannot get my new computer notepad to work properly - more precisely, I can't get the software to work properly.
And I spent much of the weekend working on the "finishing touches" to our bathroom - it is starting to look really nice - well, half of it looked nice already of course - but it's a hard slog of filling, sanding, and painting - o and cleaning.... which I especially love.

SparklingStole4.jpg Still - nothing like finishing a bit of knitting to cheer you up, eh? So Pattern of the Month December is now complete and the pattern available on the site.
Here I am looking very glamorous.
OK - take it from me - I look much more glamorous than I did during the DIY and before the shower.

This made me feel quite Christmassy, in combination with making my (or rather Delia's) Whisky Dundee Cake for said festival; I much prefer it to traditional Christmas cake. [I get to make it, so I get to choose.]

In addition, I have made my Vintage Patterns link live, for any of you who have a strange love of old patterns. I seem to find them weirdly desirable even when I have no intention of knitting them. Most of them are there in the hope of finding someone to love them like their own - not because they are hot property, I'm afraid.
And yet, in posting them on the site, I felt very inspired to actually knit some of them - in fact, this morning, I even went as far as searching for a vintage yarn on eBay (Wendy Pampas) to match one of the patterns!
However, I hope my time in listing them is worth it for someone, as it is another (in the words of Hollis) "great time-suck". [But a wonderful excuse to review old patterns.]

Posted on December 2, 2007 at 6:40 PM. Category: Knitting.

Friday November 30, 2007

Books in November

  • The Ten Word Game Jonathan Gash
    This is a Lovejoy novel, the main character probably known better to us from his portrayal by Ian McShane in the eponymous TV series. In this story, Lovejoy comes across as a little more in control than in the previous (and only other) Lovejoy novel I read. The joy of this book, however, is not so much in the story, but in the fascinating information and trivia that Lovejoy shares with us along the way - this is presumably an outlet for Gash's own knowledge of interesting historical and antique-trade gossip.
    The title refers to an amusing game where you attempt to condense any description (event, person) into 10 words - try it with Hamlet - or Pride and Prejudice....
  • Living on a Prayer Sheila Quigley
    Third in the Grannylit series of thrillers set on the (fictitious) Seahillls Estate. This time a group of kids become involved with a sinister religious cult, and our DI heroine moves slightly closer to a life of bliss with her second in command.
  • Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wickhadden and the Fairies of Fryham M C Beaton
    Picked up these Agatha Raisin titles in the library, despite their being slightly out of my chronological reading sequence. I had hoped Alison and I might read them during my holiday - but we were too busy with joint knitting to do any joint reading. So they ended up as the perfect light reading on the flight home. I have reserved the missing title [Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham] for next month's literary delights.

Posted on November 30, 2007 at 12:01 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Wednesday November 28, 2007

Cunning foxes and broken pots

At the weekend, I made the Christmas puddings - one for me, one for my sister; maybe a bit early but next weekend is the cake... As part of this annual exercise, as usual, I went through all my dry goods and evicted all the out of date items especially those "Best before 2001" (OK so maybe I don't do it annually). I found two packets of desiccated coconut and rather than throw them out I thought "little birds like coconut" so I put little piles outside the house - for little birds or little squirrels. In the early evening, there was a terrible clatter from outside - and I went out to find one of my flower pots in pieces, and earth everywhere. It seemed very strange that it would spontaneously explode, and I had my suspicions....
10 minutes or so later, I cautiously peeped out of the window from behind the curtain and as I suspected there was a jolly fine looking fox chomping away at the coconut. In his initial enthusiasm he had knocked everything over in order to get at the tasty snack. Not what I had planned but glad some wildlife got to eat it (wildlife that was not, for example, rats, which is always a consideration when you leave food around your house!).

I've been putting off releasing this entry as I had hoped to get some pictures, but the garden mayhem was cleared up before I managed to get my camera out....!

Last night I attended the farewell "do" for my customer Sheelagh in Oxford, as she is leaving it all behind and becoming a lady of leisure. So she has now transitioned to be "my friend Sheelagh", which I guess will be the least of the transitions she has to worry about. The evening was very pleasant, and I drove home in the early hours (in my new mini) but was stunned to find the M25 London orbital road utterly stuffed with a traffic jam which delayed me by 35 minutes - I would have thought it very bad luck to have hit something like that during the day never mind at 1 in the morning. (Turns out they do roadworks at night when the road is full of lorries).

Other than that, I seem to be having continuing issues with technical "stuff" breaking. My phone broke, and I had the BT engineer out to my house fixing it (pretty quickly I might say, though it was their fault, as they disconnected me while doing some other work in our road). My brand new car of 2 weeks reported an engine failure, which the local dealer was able to look into, and hopefully has resolved. Two weeks ago, my computer notebook broke, so I have been working on a temporary machine, and I find the new one they had delivered for me is also broken (!).
I am hoping this is the end of the trend of broken things.

Posted on November 28, 2007 at 10:24 AM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Friday November 16, 2007


A lovely eBay-purchased book popped through my letterbox this morning. It is "Cornish Guernseys and Knit-frocks" by Mary Wright, and pleasingly it matches the format and style of the other two books I have about regional guernseys or ganseys. Not that this is part of any master plan to knit several hundred more guernseys - they involve a lot of stamina and dedicated knitting and I have yet to finish my first choice. However all three of these books contain so much more information than just the patterns - in fact although there are patterns, it is more a documentation (before it's too late I would say, since our fishing industry has more or less gone) of regional stitch variations previously communicated only by word of mouth.

Knit-frocks.jpg This picture on the cover has a great deal of interest all by itself - you could write a novel just based on it. Unfortunately it's not clear in this small scale but: the woman is knitting outdoors - she has the knitting pinned to her to support the weight - Alison and I can both attest to the impossible weight of a guernsey as you progress knitting all-in-one. You can see that, (take it from me if you can't make it out), charmingly she has her ball of wool stuck on one of the spikes of the iron fencing, as she works. She seems to me to be pretty well-dressed - maybe it's to catch the eye of what seems to be an admirer that you can see lounging ultra-casually in the background of the shot - hands behind his head...


My Web of Wool Austermann Step wool arrived also - "mit aloe und jojoba"- can't wait to start the socks - although the wool I am currently knitting is lovely and soft too! These are colours 6, Lark, and 14, Pebble.

Posted on November 16, 2007 at 12:01 PM. Category: Knitting.

Monday November 12, 2007

A real shower

Today we finally took delivery of a consignment from the US containing some mystery auction items that George purchased from an estate sale. George knew they original owner of the items and he was a true collector of lovely stuff, so the lots included quite a few interesting things (some of which we can't identify) as well as the eye baths which are George's real interest.


The sad thing is that quite a few items arrived broken - not so many of the eye baths but some of the larger items. This was no doubt due to the bizarre packing by the auction house - glass items wrapped in tissue, while metal items deserved bubble-wrap - as well as the fact that the delivery company had at least 4 delivery attempts, (four times on and off a lorry), where their modus operandi seems to be to driving up and down our road a couple of times, failing to see our entrance, going back to the depot, and not informing us of any problem.

The auction house do not seem to have covered themselves in glory over this sale. As I said, this was a large estate sale including lots of real rare and valuable items, which is why they were called in. They seem to have been overwhelmed by the quantity of objects, unable to properly assess them, and sold them off in bundles of lots without proper description, photos, or estimated sale values. George did get a number of pre-sale photos and the single eye bath for which he bought one entire lot (of 100 or so) was not actually found among the items. They clearly do not realise that the recipient is not going to overlook the odd eye bath just because they chose to sell the items in vast lots. Funny how the rarest one has gone missing eh?

The other sad thing is that the picture above is not all of the items... and our hall is still full of boxes.

Posted on November 12, 2007 at 6:38 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Friday November 9, 2007

Cleanliness is next to....

Maybe not.
bathroom.jpg Anyway, we now have a new bathroom. There are still a lot of details left for us to finish, but I hope I will be motivated long enough to stop knitting and do some DIY. I was somewhat unimpressed along the way as the tiler arrived and promptly told me he did not know about any border (my only decorative requirement) and that he was not prepared to sacrifice his artistic integrity and work with the mosaic tiles I had bought as they were not already laid on a backing in the pattern I wanted and would "look awful". The project manager came and helpfully repeated what the tiler had said (in case I had some learning difficulty obviously) - helpfully adding that he had "no idea" that I had bough these mosaics but thought I had bought border tiles. If that were indeed true, all I would say is that it's a pity he did not check the materials and brief the tiler somewhat before the day the guy turned up to work....

I then spent a challenging evening carefully peeling every alternate tile off the sheets of mosaics I had bought and then resticking alternate coloured tiles back into place with a two-part epoxy. As I had a cold and could not smell anything, I realised about half way through (ceaselessly coughing) that I was probably as high as a kite, so had to open all the windows, and try and concentrate very hard on keeping everything exactly square.

I am pleased to say, the following day, the tiler completely accepted the mysterious appearance of chequered tiles on sheets as required, and set about sticking them on the wall without further protest.
Note the delightful recessed tile soap dish that the project manager also assured me was unobtainable.

Posted on November 9, 2007 at 12:54 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Tuesday November 6, 2007


Thneed.jpg I'm being quite useful. This thing is a Thneed.
A Thneed's a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need!
It's a shirt. It's a sock. It's a glove. It's a hat.
But it has OTHER uses. Yes, far beyond that.
You can use it for carpets. For pillows! For sheets!
Or curtains! Or covers for bicycle seats!"
    [from The Lorax by Dr. Seuss].

I just read an article from the Observer's September magazine, and I'm feeling a bit insecure now.
Apparently this is the latest fashion article. They explained it was from a Dr Seuss story - which I would have thought in itself would make everyone think twice. I am struggling to find a picture on-line - even the accompanying one in the Observer - are they just making fun of me ? Anyway, it looks like a knitted burkha - or maybe a woollen Darlek interpretation ... [I like the original illustration better].

Even sadder than my being so out of it now that I can't even see the appeal of a quirky fashion, is the fact that the very story of the Lorax is a parable about greed, consumerism, and pollution. The point of the Thneed is that it is not needed at all.

[George simply thinks I should knit one - it sounds just perfect, what with being a sock and a glove and all....]

Posted on November 6, 2007 at 12:49 AM. Category: Knitting.

Sunday November 4, 2007

Cons or scakes?

Feeling like I need coddling (yes - still feeling like that!) so on a whim I made some rock buns. This is my award winning [1st prize, Lancing Arts and Crafts exhibition circa 1968] rock bun recipe taken from the Radiation Cookery Book designed for use with the "New World" Regulo-Controlled Gas Cooker. And you thought it was only retro knitwear that interested me......


They are a little overly brown - but I blame the fan oven being slightly hotter than the recipe expected. These Radiation cook books (presumably free with the cooker) turn up fairly frequently in Jumble and Boot Sales, mine being the original from my Mother - we had the matching cooker. My advice is - lower the oven temperature slightly. We ate them with butter - as they were a bit dry, and as I said to George: rock buns are a bit like a mixture between a cake and a scone - hence, Cons.

Finally set my mind to finishing the sewing up on George's birthday jumper. Here he models it, protesting at the use of flash photography, as well as demanding anonymity on the blog....


After this I had clearly run out of knitting..... so I cast on some socks for a Christmas present requested by my sister for her husband. I decided to use some sock wool bought at Full Thread Ahead.

Read on for the Award-winning rock bun recipe:

Rock Buns


  • ½ lb flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
  • 1½ oz butter
  • 1½ oz lard
  • 3 oz brown sugar
  • 3 oz currants
  • 1 egg
  • A little milk
  • A little grated nutmeg
  • Candied peel


  • Sift the flour, salt, and baking powder, and rub in the butter and lard.
  • Add the sugar, currants, and nutmeg.
  • Beat the egg with a little milk, and mix the whole into a stiff paste.
  • Arrange on greased baking sheet in rough heaps, (makes 10), and on top of each place a small piece of candied peel.
  • Bake for 20 minutes with the "Regulo" at mark 6.

Posted on November 4, 2007 at 4:24 PM. Category: Kitchen and food.

Wednesday October 31, 2007

Books in October

Halloween already....
As Alison explained, we were both a bit busy to be blogging while I was in Los Gatos, and I have been ill with a bad cold since getting back. [Alison struggled (wo)manfully on with her cold while I was there but I seem unable to recover properly...]. I will be entering some retrospective entries on our activities in due course.
Anyway - it's an ill wind etc - I have been doing a lot of reading this month:

  • S is for Silence Sue Grafton
    As usual, an excellent plot and thrilling finish. Following what seems to be a literary trend, Kinsey finds herself investigating a 30 year old disappearance, thus providing delightful period detail from both the 1950s and the 1980s.
    Also amused by the author's foreword. Sue Grafton is a lady of a "certain age" and seems to tolerate fools less gladly than ever before (along with her heroine!). Clearly pacing the writing of her alphabet series to last her through to retirement - by the time she gets to Z I am sure she will have totally lost patience with the general public.
  • The House Sitter Peter Lovesey [Read by Steve Hodson]
    Another charming (if murder can be...) police drama set between Bath and Bognor. Like the previous novel I read, the setting provided the interest for me, as I grew up on the south coast, and much of the action seems to take place around Sussex.
  • The Overlook Michael Connelly
    I spotted this latest novel in the library at Los Gatos during the weekly meeting of Alison's knitting group.
    It was relatively short but gripping and excellently written as usual. Apparently, this story was originally serialized in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, but the plot has been revamped and expanded to fit into the current Harry Bosch timeline.
    If you're a fan take a look at Michael Connelly's website - it's a lot of fun with added multimedia excerpts for you to enjoy.
  • Quietly in their Sleep Donna Leon
    I raided Alison's own bookshelves for this one. I think it's the latest Brunetti novel in paperback at the moment.
  • Under Orders Dick Francis
    I pounced on this one when I saw it in the library - as I surmised, this is his first new novel in a number of years - since his wife died in fact. There is some scurrilous suggestion that his wife wrote the books, but he seems happy to freely acknowledge and credit her input. Maybe at the grand age of 87 he simply feels no need to keep the day job. Anyway - happily for us he has written another jolly good novel.
    Appropriately, he returns to his hero Sid Halley, one of my favourites from early on in his writing, and the subject of a TV series in 1978 starring Michael Gwilym. I do remember how odd it was having to visually accept a such a tiny hero (ex-jockey - easy to overlook in a book).

Posted on October 31, 2007 at 1:15 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Thursday October 25, 2007

Hedonistic Heels

Alison took me for a pedicure. It was wonderful and comparatively inexpensive. Lovely Vietnamese American ladies fussed over our feet,while the chairs we sat in gave us a vigorous back massage!


I would love to be able to have these regularly - apart from the pleasure, it must be so good for your circulation as the whole lower leg is scrubbed and massaged. However, in the UK, I am afraid the experience is more expensive and less rewarding. Age concern recently raised a debate about the lack of NHS foot-care services, pointing out that when you cannot care for your own feet, it is no longer a beauty treatment but a health issue.

Posted on October 25, 2007 at 3:16 PM. Category: Holiday USA.

Sunday October 21, 2007

Back to reality

Two items left on the itinerary: kumihimo braiding and .... underwater knitting. Yes... you heard that right.

I was keen to try the braiding using the polystyrene circle tool, and it seemed to work out just fine; it produced the same kind of braid as my marudai, and the plastic bobbins seem very handy - could be used for intarsia - except I'm never doing that again(!). I hope to be able to use this method with thicker wools to make corded bag handles - to go with all those other bag handles I have bought in my time.... If you use thicker wools though, it will distort the polystyrene, making it unsuitable for further use with finer threads.


The under water knitting was really amusing - as the weather was so good, we did want to try it, and Alison managed to jolly a lot of people into it, even though the last thing she felt like was a dip in the pool. The rules were made easier for us, so you could chose full immersion or not, and only the knitting had to be under the water; some chose to stay at the side and some had snorkels...!


Alison was declared the winner, being first to 4 rows with her speedy continental style! Below is the winning knitting - Alison's in stocking stitch on the right and mine in garter on the left.


Finally it was all over, and we had to say good bye to everyone, and goodbye to our lovely room with the view of the sea, and set off for home. It was a thoroughly enjoyable few days, excellent value for money, and just the sort of break Alison and I wanted it to be. Hollis and her colleagues put a lot of effort into making it a great weekend - thanks to them, and looking forward to next year (or maybe the one after that...).


Posted on October 21, 2007 at 9:06 PM. Category: Holiday USA.

Saturday October 20, 2007

Carmel by the Sea

To breakfast, (and for most of the morning truth to tell), I wore what I now think of as my very luxurious Rowan bedjacket (Carolina - magazine 39) - a good opportunity to show off, I thought, - and our group of knitters did not disappoint with their nice comments. The seminar this morning was on shadow knitting; this is a method of knitting stripes in a combination of plain and purl stitches such that, when viewed at an angle, a "secret" pattern can be seen. There are entire books devoted to the subject, but I preferred the more abstract cushion covers over any form of clothing. We had a choice of what to knit - I did the "piano keys" scarf, and Alison chose the "DNA" scarf.


For lunch we adjourned to the Forge in the Forest - which is neither a forge nor in a forest - but does (as they advertise) love dogs - the dogs provided some unwanted distraction for our group. I think knitters are mainly cat people.... it seems inevitable.

ItalianWool.jpg After lunch, we went en masse to the woolshop, "Knitting by the Sea", conveniently situated across the road from the restaurant. I bought some wonderful Italian wool - wildly rich in colour and now definitely destined to be Pattern of the Month for December... I was also captivated by some buttons they had in a set of four with the playing card suits on them (heart, club, diamond, spade). This inspires in me some sort of memory - these card or gambling motifs are very fifties, James Bond etc and I think there a lot of retro patterns featuring them. Whether I find anything suitable is another matter; both Alison and I are agreed that any motif in the knitting should be very low key. I was so enamoured of Hollis' merino knitting wool which we used this morning that I plan to buy a cardigan's worth in black perhaps to use on such a project with these buttons....

Alison and I then spent the afternoon chilling out - buying patent cold remedies (Alison), buying sun glasses, (me), and sunning ourselves on a handy bench in the town.


In the evening it was back to work with the "short rows" clinic.


We tried 3 methods of essentially wrapping the stitches when knitting back on a short row (such as you might do, say,when turning a heel on a sock). I preferred the conventional method that I am used to, and the second method produced the same result with a slightly different technique. The third Japanese method seemed overly complicated for very little benefit - but some of the group thought it was less visible on the right side of the work (but much more visible from the wrong side). The continental knitters had some difficulty in getting the stitches twisted into the right orientation - but any short row pattern will inevitably be slower to knit than just whizzing away with plain stitches.


Note: this isn't Alison's new design for a knee warmer, it's the three methods of short row knitting. Can't really see a difference can you?

Posted on October 20, 2007 at 9:52 PM. Category: Holiday USA.

Friday October 19, 2007

Knitting Camp

With great excitement we set off for our weekend at the Full Thread Ahead Retreat in Carmel. After a dubious start to my holiday (rain), the weather is all set to be beautiful for the next few days. On the way to Carmel, we stopped off at Capitola for lunch, which turned out to be quite substantial ["I always eat a light lunch"] - I ate a kind of Chinese duck in a wrap served with a marmalade sauce - no really - delicious.

We arrived at 3 pm to find one other person already there, Trish, who was very friendly and waved her knitting at us from the seminar room windows. Our room - our suite of rooms! - was simply lovely with a full view of the sea from our balcony.


People were arriving throughout the rest of the afternoon, and we slipped out for a pre-prandial stroll via the Coach outlet, as per our itinerary, and popped in for a little aperitif at the Hogs Breath Inn before our pot-luck dinners.


There was a ton of food and we could see there was unlikely to be any necessity to actually go out in the evenings hereafter. Once we had knitted, introduced ourselves, and our projects, (which was actually really interesting - being one who copies rather than designs, I love seeing what other people are doing), we moved on to the "class" for the evening. We dyed 3 small skeins of wool, by micro-waving with KoolAid, and food colourings; I was very smitten by the brick-like red colour unexpectedly produced by the morello cherry drink.... Alison bravely managed to stay the course despite not being well, and we retired at about 9, and hung our skeins to dry on our towel rails in the room.


Kumihimo fingers. [We haven't learnt how to do this yet but I am sure this is close...]


We did not buy any coach bags but Robi bought the most wonderful.... well to call it a "tote" does not do it justice. It really was fabulous and - the best part - it was a thousand dollar bag sold for 250.


Posted on October 19, 2007 at 10:43 PM. Category: Holiday USA.

Thursday October 18, 2007

Saratoga Knitting Arts

Already visited Yarndogs in Los Gatos and bought some lovely sock wool ("Wildfoote"); I would have bought more but they had only 2 balls left - still, that's enough for socks eh?


Today we went shopping in Saratoga. The wool shop there is wonderful, and I bought a great bargain pack of mixed wool, which I am hoping to use on Pattern of the Month for December.

I also purchased some buttons - two to match the wool pack, and two for my latest project.

We also did some clothes shopping (for my benefit really - although Alison picked up some camouflage clothing and boots for the boys). Despite Alison's best efforts, after we had tried Nordstrom Rack and Favorite Footwear, we ended up in Ross "Dress-for-Less". We were looking for some cheap T-shirts that we can use this weekend in case the dyeing class gets splashy. Here we were successful - and I also bought a splendid 1950s/60s styled short jacket in loose weave plaid, and a rather busy patterned shirt for work (which I instantly mutilated when I got home in order to remove the pockets, which, to quote Alison, "might look nice if they were actually on the bosom rather than under the armpits" - at $7 mutilation seemed acceptable).

Posted on October 18, 2007 at 11:56 PM. Category: Holiday USA.

Sunday October 14, 2007

Santa Cruz

Day one and the whole family (and me!) were off to Santa Cruz for lunch.


We started with a little walk to get our apetites up.


Despite distractions on the way, the boys found the walk a bit too long but they were encouraged by the promise of seeing a surfing competition.


In fact we didn't get a very good view of the surfers (lots of onlookers) - but I was delighted with a really good view of a cormorant, who wasn't the least bit bothered by 3 adults and two small boys standing within touching distance.


Lunch was great and I ate the traditional sand dabs - yum.

Posted on October 14, 2007 at 9:50 PM. Category: Holiday USA.

Saturday October 13, 2007

Jiggedy Jig

I can't tell you how great it was to be here again. Alison and Finlay met me at the airport, and I was delighted to see them, [...and mightily relieved to have got through customs without having to have had to explain the various imported Christmas goods in my luggage (like that there is no actual meat in "mincemeat")].

My room is lovely and the weather is sunny and just .... perfect.


There was much excited talk of our planned weekend in Carmel, and I eagerly claimed the Knit Picks needles that Alison had ordered for me.

They are circular wires with interchangeable needle sizes. Such a good idea, and very nice to use. Discovered this almost right away by casting on for my next project.

Posted on October 13, 2007 at 11:21 PM. Category: Holiday USA.

Do you know the way to San Jose?



Posted on October 13, 2007 at 9:52 AM. Category: Holiday USA.

Friday October 12, 2007

Alexandra Palace Knitting and Stitchery Show 2007

We had a fantastic time at the show, as usual. Probably a bit more laid back than usual, and less of a buying frenzy. We worked out that we have been going every year now for 8 years - so probably accumulated enough stuff!

We started the day with a workshop about rag rug making. It was great fun and I am quite smitten. It is something I've been interested in for many years, but always concerned about starting a new hobby. However, as new hobbies go, there is no huge outlay on materials or equipment, you can almost start right away....
Here was what we achieved during the class.


Having said that, we did both buy Hessian (the ideal is to recycle animal feed sacks - but neither of us has access to that sort of stuff!), and Sheila bought a hook and a bodger. The more expensive shuttle tool is something I intend to look for during my holiday with Alison, as it may be cheaper in the US.

On this stall - the Shuttle -


I found some bargain priced Tana Lawn. Alison has been interested in getting some Liberty Tana Lawn for some time now but it is astonishingly expensive. The colours were all lovely but mostly tiny flower prints in blue shades - so I was delighted to find this somewhat retro print example in colours that will suit Alison.


See the extended entry for photo album of the show.

Click on the thumbnails to page through and view the pictures.

Rag Rugs

Rag Rugs

Rag Rugs

Rag Rugs

Braid - ducks

Rag Rugs

Bead flowers

Bead flower


Jewellery Beads



Knit a River

Relax and Knit


Posted on October 12, 2007 at 11:38 PM. Category: Knitting.

Thursday October 11, 2007


George tolerates his special birthday. Lovely chocolate cake supplied by his Mother.


Trying to make sense of mysterious rubber cushion.


George models his new cable socks, and the very best present ever (from his Mother of course): Crocs.

George_socks.jpg George_crocs.jpg

Posted on October 11, 2007 at 11:08 PM. Category: Red Letter Days.

Sunday October 7, 2007

Keepsake books

After the Bound to be Beautiful workshop I attended some months ago, we were given a second set of materials to complete another book cover. So I finally sat down today and made the companion booklet - so I can take it out to the US, and Alison and I can have one each to write about our Knitting Camp experiences - or that's the plan anyway.


Yet again, I was very pleased at how it turned out. Most of the cover is glued together with PVA, but in the final step, when the book section is glued into the cover, you have to use "paste". This can be made in various ways (or purchased), and as I needed very little, I made up some paste from flour and water, following some instructions on the web to judge proportions and consistency.
What fun!

Posted on October 7, 2007 at 5:02 PM. Category: Crafts.

Friday October 5, 2007

Where ginger-bread wives have a scanty sale...

I have been pretty busy all week - yesterday I went to a customer near St Pauls and it was such a lovely day and so wonderful walking around the City that I wished I had taken my camera. But I had not. However on the previous two days I was in Plymouth - which is about a 5 hour train journey (if you're unlucky). And on this occasion, I did take my camera - with an agenda.

In my working life I have been down to see customers in Plymouth with surprising frequency. Sometimes driving, and sometimes on the train. The first time I went I was astonished as I had not really thought about where I was going - basically through all those lovely Devon resorts, and beyond Exeter... [There be dragons... I expect...].

Dawlish1.jpg My memory of that first train journey is obviously fogged - I remember it being dark - certainly was when I set off, but unlikely to have been by the time I got "beyond Exeter". In my memory, dawn was breaking, grey and very stormy, and suddenly we seemed to be travelling actually in the water - it was astonishing, and the sea was spectacular - it seemed as if at any moment we could really be swept away!

This time, you can see the weather was cloudy as I travelled outbound - and the tide was out - but even so, in places the water came right up to the retaining walls and walkways. I leave in the window frame so you can get the real perspective.

So from the maps, I find that between Starcross and Teignmouth, the train does truly take a spectacular route which seems indeed almost to end up on the beach. If you hung out of the window (which I did not do and is not recommended) you could almost seem to be splashed by the waves.
The train snakes around the coastline, with a number of deep tunnels through the beautiful red sandstone cliffs. I have tried entirely inadequately to capture the moments from the train. [The first two photos taken on my outbound journey, and those that follow, taken on my return journey.]
Here, walkers along the broad sea wall walkway, the sea immediately to their left and separated from the rail track by a low wall:


Here is the Red Rock Cafe tucked behind the deep red cliffs:


And here a view of a wreck in the river mouth flats (I think) nearer to Starcross:


Try viewing some great photos from the perspective of walkers and bikers on this lovely stretch of coastline.

Posted on October 5, 2007 at 8:08 AM. Category: Days Out.

Sunday September 30, 2007

Books in September

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows J K Rowling
    It's official.
    I am the last person to read it.
    Nuff said.
  • Clerkenwell Tales Peter Ackroyd [Read by Nigel Graham]
    I'm fond of Peter Ackroyd - his books and his expressed interests in history and London. This book is set in the reign of Richard II. Chaucer is an obvious influence on the work, with short chapters, each focussed on one of the characters borrowed from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. It's very educational for me, knowing little about the politics of the period, and full of charming (and disgusting) period details of medieval life.
  • White Jazz James Ellroy [Read by L.J. Ganser]
    Set in 1958, this another story of crime and corruption in the LAPD of the time. I have not read an Ellroy novel before, (though I saw and was very impressed by the film LA Confidential), so I was quite taken aback by the writing style; that and the intense slang of the period made it very hard to listen to - but more evocative to listen to with the right accent. It became easier as the CDs and I progressed together through the story, and I think now that perhaps it would have been equally hard for me to read, and that part of my confusion was trying to take in all the character names presented to me in the first few chapters.
    I now find Ellroy is renowned for writing in fragments rather than sentences, and it is certainly a powerful method which he uses very skilfully. Quoting from the publisher's review: "Ellroy's telegraphic style, which reduces masses of plot information to quick-study shorthand, captures the seamy stream-of-consciousness."
    This is the last volume of what is known as Ellroy's "L.A. quartet" of crime novels, which includes his previous L.A. Confidential (1990), The Big Nowhere (1988), and The Black Dahlia (1987). It's disturbing but riveting.
  • The Last Detective Robert Crais [Read by William Roberts]
    Having seen a very amusing TV series with Peter Davison and also a 70s film with Bernard Cribbins in the title role, I thought it would be fun to "read" the original book; I should have known better, as I well know that the "Dangerous Davies" books were written by Leslie Thomas, (popular in my teenage years for the "Virgin Soldiers" which was appealing to me and my peers at the time as it contained "adult themes" - we were just lucky it was well written and funny).
    I was alerted to my mistake by the opening chapter which was read by an American, and pretty well unmistakably about bear hunting in Alaska. After a few minutes minutes it began to dawn on me that the venue was not about to change to 1970s North London. Once I had overcome my disappointment, it turned out to be a pretty good detective novel set in LA.
    Yet another case of mistaken identity - I seem to unwittingly extend my literary choices and find new authors in this manner so I try to think of it as a positive thing.
  • Bad Moon Rising Sheila Quigley
    Rob bought me two books by this author as a present; they turned out to be her second and third books, so I borrowed and read the first (Run for Home) from the library. The author was first published in her fifties, is a grandmother living on an estate in the North East, and writes about what she knows; there is a Woman's Hour interview with her from 2004. The books are thrillers set on the (fictitious) Seahillls Estate and have a "gritty realism" that also seems quite comfortable and reassuring, if that's possible. Slightly sadly, I think she's writing about how she would like the atmosphere of the estate she lives on to be (minus the evil drug barons etc!) rather than maybe how it is.
    This is the second book of the four she has written to date. (Grannylit apparently).

Posted on September 30, 2007 at 12:02 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Tuesday September 25, 2007

St Catherine's

I am attending a conference at St Catherine's College in Oxford.


It is a really lovely, as well as interesting place to be. It was designed in the 1960's by Arne Jacobsen; it opened in 1962, and the planned design was finally completed with the Bernard Sunley building in 1968. It is a striking modernist design, characterised by strong geometry, and, apparently became one of the first five post-war buildings to be given Grade 1 listed status.


The Bernard Sunley lecture theatre is unusual and pretty wonderful - but the seating is rather in need of refurbishment; however the college has some difficulty with this due to its listed status!

listed_chair1.jpg listed_chair2.jpg

Unlike most quads, St. Catherine's is not closed off; instead hedge-lined walks lead to other buildings. Here is a detail from the above photo, showing the rather odd maze-like narrowly spaced alternating walls of brick and (I think) yew hedges, which flank the walkways.


Jacobsen, considered the garden as an integral part of his design. As such it is now a Registered Garden to accompany the Grade 1 Listing of the buildings. This view of the quad shows the entrances to the accommodation blocks ("staircases") on the left; I was lucky enough to have a room here in the older original buildings, (although some aspects of the room clearly need a bit of decorative attention, I'm afraid).


And here is the rear of the block showing the view from my room's window, on the ground floor; there is a door opening on to this area - but sadly an instruction to the effect that I should not open it "except in emergency".


I know this looks like the usual 60s concrete block which we ("the man in the street") often - shortsightedly, I think - hold in contempt; however, the design details of, for example, unusual metal doors, huge picture windows, and just the overt use of modern materials, make it clear this is something special. A wonderful place to stay, and, I imagine, to study - never mind the dreaming spires.

Posted on September 25, 2007 at 10:18 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Monday September 24, 2007



Please excuse this entry if it's a bit fuzzy round the edges, only I have been up all hours of the day and night finishing Furrow in time for Rob's birthday. There's no excuse for it - I started it well in time about a year ago, (my first entry of "On the Needles"), but somehow "plenty of time" dwindled rapidly to "o my god I've finished the knitting but it takes an hour for every inch of sewing up".


I took it to the Creative Fibre group last week and the pattern was much admired. I must admit I am warming to it, and beginning to think that the designer, after all, was not carried away with the method as much as I had first thought, and I now think the chosen technique is, after all, the simplest way to achieve the design.


atonement.jpg After the grand present-giving ceremony, we went to see Atonement at the Screen in Reigate. It's a fabulous film, beautifully and brilliantly filmed, and I can hardly feel they left anything out, (obviously stretching the truth, as how can that be so?). Nonetheless, the book is ... wonderful... and the film does not disappoint, being true to the spirit of the book and evoking the same emotions I felt when reading it some years ago.
Just to prove I am not superficial I did have some views shared by other reviewers. They have indeed changed the focus of the story to be more about Cecelia and Robbie, whereas the book is definitely about Briony - it is after all her "atonement". And the end of the film is slightly altered, and you could say explicitly chooses to miss out the point of Briony's writing her own book; however in the film Briony explains why she "changed the end" of her book, and in doing so I think (à la book within a book) makes some sort of case for any change to the end of the film.

It worked for me - and the photography and the music.... fabulous....

Posted on September 24, 2007 at 7:25 AM. Category: Red Letter Days.

Sunday September 16, 2007

South Coast Tour

Bird_string.jpg We went to see George's sister and her family, and especially his niece, who has just had her 18th birthday. The whole family was recovering from the previous night's wild teenage party - but everything (and everyone) looked in pretty good shape to me. The puppies were exhausted having been up all night with the revelers. We took Elizabeth the "coming of age" gift, which in our case was a white gold necklace with tiny diamonds.

On the way down we made a stop at my sister's, where we were treated to the perfect lunch, and swag from her recent visit to Chennai (formerly Madras). She went to a conference with Carole, and both were surprised by the place. Hard for me to explain succinctly why - but, in a nutshell, it was the general level of dirt and lack of any influences of tourism. Even the most up-market and expensive local hotels they tried were very down-at -heel (and dirty apparently). I think it was the fact that it is the 4th largest city in India, and the capital of the state of Tamil Nadu which made this remarkable. [There were Marriots and Hiltons but they rejected these being determined to try something a little more "real"]. On the right is a souvenir string of birds with a bell, and below is a delightful bracelet, (a bit of a struggle for little fat hands!).


Finally we dropped in on George's parents, where he helped his Mother with her latest computing scheme (putting photos on DVDs as slideshows). She showed me her current artistic endeavours with her quilts, and I (at last) got to deliver the birthday gift of "short and sweet". Here she is posing for me in her lovely garden.
Note the beautiful display of hydrangeas - such a wonderful and unusual colour.


Posted on September 16, 2007 at 8:23 PM. Category: Days Out.

Wednesday September 12, 2007

He is no more.

He is an ex-parrot.

Well! I was only talking about him just recently .... and this evening listening to PM on the way home from Warwick I find he has died at the age of 31 - not old for a parrot apparently.

Alex.jpg I am a terrible bore on the subject of "talking" animals - I was completely captivated by Washoe the chimpanzee - and this is what led me to watch a Horizon** programme, where I first saw Alex the African grey parrot, along with Dr. Irene Pepperberg, the researcher who started working with Alex (Avian Learning EXperiment) 30 years ago. What I always found so amusing is that Alex, although he speaks cognitively, is actually a perfect mimic, so his voice, intonation, and accent are exactly that of Dr Pepperberg herself. She did have a rather obvious and somewhat maternal relationship with the bird ... but ... why not? He was very appealing. Here is a link where you can see him at work. Go on - he was one of the truly great parrots...

These animals who have learnt to communicate with us on our own terms are fascinating, and I enjoy reading articles on the research. I enjoy the fact that chimps are interested mainly in food and tickling (and sex I guess but that was never dwelt upon in the reports I heard of these studies). Although this communication is all in the form of signing, it seems very clear that they do have "language" - which maybe we would understand better if we were able to communicate with them on their own terms, rather than teaching them signing that we have invented.

This brings me to the second point that always amused me. Some (famous) linguists are quite determined that whatever these animals have, it is absolutely not language. They then define language to exclude these other forms of communication- the first attempt was suggesting that the chimps just use words but not sentences and have no idea of syntax. Then the researchers pointed out that the chimps knew full well the difference between "I tickle you" and "You tickle me". So the linguists changed the definition of language yet again. Such is the arrogance of the human race. I can see that they seem to have a small vocabulary, and limited grammar, so they have nothing like the sophistication of our verbal communication... but who knows? They are communicating in, not just a foreign language, but more like an alien language. I have not seen any more recent studies on chimps but I'm not sure we ever got to learn their own non-verbal method of communication, even though empirical research made it clear that they have one.

** I think the programme I watched was "HORIZON: SIGNS OF THE APES, SONGS OF THE WHALES" in 1984. Horizon is a TV documentary programme with a long history of excellence (here speaks a woman who watches only crime drama on TV). It covers a wide range of topics within the world of science and technology - which may be why I find it more appealing than other documentary series.

Posted on September 12, 2007 at 8:54 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Sunday September 9, 2007


About 11pm last night we heard a clanking noise outside the kitchen door. I had been forced to commandeer some porcelain bowls for use by the cat (due to large number of kittens - other bowls in the kitten shed...). To my delight I found a new pet tucking into the cat food (I had heard they do this but never experienced it before). We captured him on camera - the cat also came to investigate (cautiously...) and then he obviously thought discretion was the better part of valour and made a bid for freedom - they move pretty fast - no rolling up into a ball.

After the excitement had died down, and we had retreated back into the house, we heard the clanking yet again, so I quietly opened the door to check - and he was back, noisily snorfling down the crunchy dried cat food. I closed the door and left him in peace this time - not that he seemed at all put out - most determined to tuck in.
Note his sleek fur and bristles - that will be all the healthy vitamins in Hills Science Diet.


Posted on September 9, 2007 at 11:45 AM. Category: France.

Saturday September 8, 2007


The weather over the last couple of days has been fantastic.

We chose the hottest day to rip ivy away from the bakehouse. It's been dusty hot work, and the result is never wholly satisfactory. However it was more than necessary to make a start. The ivy is a variegated domesticised variety which is much more tenacious than the wild variety (both were present so we had a chance to compare the two).

After this we joined Lloyd to share tea and banana bread.
I mean: parfait.

Posted on September 8, 2007 at 6:20 PM. Category: France.

Friday September 7, 2007

Friendly Tortoise

I finished my woolly tortoise and he is now safely written up as pattern of the month.

As a kid, I had a number of tortoises, and funnily enough they all seemed to run away - I remember I acquired my first one as it was "on the run" and we could not find the original owner. They would just launch themselves into mid air down the steps from our garden - sometimes we would find them at the bottom, stuck with their legs waving uselessly in the air, but sooner or later (law of averages) they would land the right way up - and they were off...

Anyway the woolly one made it in and out of my life in record time. We went to Moulin de Jean this evening with Ava and Peter, and they dropped in to collect a Gnome (don't ask). Ava spotted the tortoise (Terence apparently) and said "I always wanted a tortoise" and to my amazement when I offered him to her she joyfully took him home. I do hope she wasn't just being polite. I know he's friendly and everything but....

Posted on September 7, 2007 at 11:19 PM. Category: Knitting.

Wednesday September 5, 2007

Maiden Over

Now the cricket season is safely over, and after several false starts, I finally completed the cricket pullover. Here is Lloyd being measured up one evening at the end of June - he doesn't look too optimistic at this point - and I must say, it's the first time I have been tempted to stand on a box in order to reach a bloke's chest.

Lloyd2.jpg Lloyd3.jpg

And here is the final result - tantara:

Posted on September 5, 2007 at 6:18 PM. Category: Knitting.

Sunday September 2, 2007

La Fermette - un siècle de la vie rurale

We saw a fête at Bellefontaine advertised on a poster, so, having missed the (similar) annual festivities at St Martin le Bouillant this year, we decided to give it a go. The poster said "rôtisserie à midi" but we failed to appreciate that the meal was the start of it all, and thus we arrived a bit early. However, we bought our tickets (repas compris), and headed off to kill some time, deciding to take a stroll around the now familiar Cascades at nearby Mortain.

We parked in the town this time and took a different walk altogether to get to the Petite Cascade. We walked through Place des Aiguilles - which I can easily translate due to my excellent knitting vocabulary, if not due to the obviously eponymous rocks.


Me_cascades.jpg G_cascades.jpg

We reached the Cascade from exactly the opposite direction from last time. This enabled me to actually see and experience the tranquility, take the picture, get the T-shirt etc.


La Fermette

We arrived back at the fête promptly at midday, briefly toured the fields - and then went to eat:


After this we had a great afternoon: there was a parade of rural workers in costume, and various demonstrations of old farming methods, including different techniques for harvesting, threshing, bailing, and also pressing apples for cider.

There were a number of stalls with people selling their craft wares. I fell in love with this lady's stall. She obviously takes old objects, and then paints them. I could not resist purchasing the colander.


Another rural craft item that interested me a lot was the making of rope using a slightly Heath-Robinson like machine. This is exactly the process used to prepare your threads for ply-split braiding - but on a much grander scale. [The contruction of the machine is like the advice given for making your own automatic winder using some cup hooks and an electric drill]. Note also the eccentric well in the background... seems to have gladioli growing out of the ridge....



The final item was very interesting for us to see: the cider pressing - especially since we have all this equipment rotting away in one of the out buildings at La Gonfrairie. (The building is a little odd since the boundary between our land and our neighbours cuts right through this building - it is half on our side and half on his!).
Back to the cider.
The apples are first minced in a machine....


....then packed into shape with straw bundles ready for pressing:



Posted on September 2, 2007 at 6:16 PM. Category: France.

Saturday September 1, 2007

J'ai faim

Heard George call me from the bottom of the garden and on joining him, he pointed out that his Mother had been wrong and that there were three kittens with our little cat, not just two, as she had reported when visiting a few weeks ago.

A moment or two later, one detached itself and it became clear there were in fact four kittens.


I watched for a while then went back in the house.

A while later I heard George chuckling away, still watching the kittens.

This was why.


Kittens1.jpg Kittens2.jpg

Posted on September 1, 2007 at 11:14 AM. Category: France.

Friday August 31, 2007

Books in August

August reading:

  • Echo Park Michael Connelly
    After the Lincoln Lawyer, we are back to Harry Bosch. I think I can only agree with the book blurbs and say how Connelly gets better and better. His is somewhat journalistic - which is where his roots are - and this makes for a pleasing economic and evocative style, for those who like a yarn. This story (in common with many in this series over the years now I come to think of it) is an old crime re-investigated, and of course now Harry is in a "cold case" squad this is quite apt! Is it me or are these cold case dramas taking over the crime genre lately? Anyway if they are all as well told as this one I am not complaining.
    [Reinforces to me that Peter Turnbull's style is awful after all... See below].
  • A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away Christopher Brookmyre
    I listened to this as a talking book read by Kenny Blyth. The author's style really lends itself to being read aloud and is enhanced for me hearing the vernacular in the proper accent. I also listened to The Sacred Art of Stealing, which I did not like quite so much as some of his other books - far too much characterisation and not enough plot (!) - but it occurred to me then that it sounded slightly like there was a prequel. Turns out this is it - same heroine (Angelique de Xavia) though wholly different situation - same problem with slightly too much back story for me.
  • False Knight Peter Turnbull
    I originally selected a Peter Turnbull novel on the grounds of it's being a crime genre talking book, and because I mistook his name for that of a another author (!). The first book was "Reality Checkpoint" and I felt a bit lukewarm about it - mostly as I became increasingly irritated by the slow elderly reading style (Who, pray, pronounces "cassette" in two distinct long syllables, the first to rhyme with cat?). I am obviously ageist here, but the whole style of the book seemed very dated - partly appealing and partly wearyingly slow **. Anyway I now discover that the author is not too far from my own age so I'll shut up. I liked the happy ending....
    This book proved better, mainly I think due to a different reader. The two books I have listened to do seem to dwell rather unpleasantly on the black serial killer aspects, and as this neither adds to the tension (compare Mark Billingham) nor the humour (Christopher Brookmyre) I feel I could do without it. But then the book would be short. I guess that's why I'm not an author.
    ** I have just read an amusing review of one of his books which actually pretty well captures my own negative views but much more coherently (that's why I'm not an author!). "Welcome to Peter Turnbull's world, where things never 'are' they 'reveal themselves to be'.", and, when "...[the hero]'s wife died she didn't just drop dead, she 'was seen to collapse', as if had not some passersby been there to see it, she might not have died after all...".
  • Miss Marple's Final Cases Agatha Christie
    This is an unabridged talking book of short stories read by Joan Hickson. It includes: "The man found dying in the church sanctuary", "The puzzle of Uncle Henry's hidden legacy", "The baffling mystery of the stabbing of Mrs Rhodes", "The question of the murderer with the tape-measure", "The case of Mrs Skinner's maid", and "The curious conduct of the caretaker".
    Perfect accompaniment to sock knitting.

Posted on August 31, 2007 at 8:04 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Tuesday August 21, 2007


Rowan sneaked out their Winter magazine without my noticing. Rushed off to get my copy today, and found it a bit disappointing - I don't want to be disloyal as I love their books whether to my taste or not, but periodically we get this kind of Lopi, Scandinavian, shapeless, Big Wool stuff which does not really lend itself to my size or shape (or taste).
[I notice they've brought out a whole book of the stuff called "New Shapes" - I will just stick with my old shape for now, I think].

Nonetheless, I seem to have managed to put markers on half a dozen pages. I did like a cushion - and then found it took about 8 balls of wool, which means I would have to really like it. And I was attracted to a long coat (Doon), but this would mean endless knitting in Kid Classic - so again - I would really have to want it. The truth is that you only ever want to knit a couple of the things, so the overall style of the book probably doesn't matter. The thing I really intend to knit (after the long list of stuff I have already stashed for) is Bridges - also kid classic - hopefully quick to do, following a theme I have noticed, and suitable for smoothing out that bulging waistline, - and giving the Short Person a Long Line.... hmm...

Narvik.jpg It all reminds me of the stuff I was doing in the 1980s - when the idea of spinning first appealed. Looking again, it strikes me that some of the items might well be suitable for those first lumpy efforts at spinning. I am embarrassed to admit I liked Narvik (right) - which is made of simple square shapes in different colours (any colour as long as it's grey) and definitely has possibilities... if I ever spin anything in time for such up-to-the-minute styling. Athough I don't believe in going out of my way to make stuff in which I look horrid, I live in hope of avoiding the (inevitable?) slide into Old Fogeyland, which (oddly) is worse than the prospect merely dressing badly.

OK - this item has nothing to do with the title I've given it which is actually a knitting technique rather like Fair Isle but the two strands of wool are the same colour rather than contrasting. Get it? No? O well read this...
I just liked the name, and it evokes all that Nordic stuff. Mmm.

Posted on August 21, 2007 at 11:05 PM. Category: Knitting.

Sunday August 19, 2007


I have had a rather more exciting 2 days than I planned. On our way back to Boulogne to catch the ferry on Friday, we got about half way to Caen when George was finally overcome by fearsome pains in his stomach. He had slight indigestion since about mid morning and we had left at about 3:30pm with me in the driving seat - but an hour later he was screaming in pain and (thank heaven for sat nav) I drove to the nearest hospital which turned out to be about 10 km away at Aunay sur Odon.

He was in such distress that they immediately whacked in a drip and did a cardiogram - which was fine - and then went on to X-rays and ultra sound. Fortunately during the X-rays his spasms abated and the pain with them. Despite our limitations in language we managed to communicate and they managed to convey all the information. They could see he had some blockage in his intestine and called an ambulance to take him to CHU in Caen (with a view to maybe having to operate!) I pottered after him with the car.

At Caen he was admitted through A&E again. What a difference at Caen - it was very busy with trollies stacked up all over the place - amazing at how they dealt steadily with it all. Lots of foreigners, lots of youthful people having limbs Xrayed, one amusing drunk strapped down in an examination room determinedly calling for another drink....

  smileyinbed.gif   [There would be a picture here of George on his A&E trolley but he made it plain that I might be the one needing surgery if I tried taking one at this point]

George saw a surgeon pretty quickly - lots of amusement with our pocket dictionary and the doctor looking up words like pee, poo, and fart, none of which appeared either in that form or more polite versions. Finally he had another X-ray, and they decided he had to be admitted, but had to wait for a bed. By this time it was about 1am. I hung on there until 4am, and then went to sleep in the car for a few hours. At 8am, they moved him to a bed in the main hospital and I joined him there. By this time he felt fine and, in rebellious mood, just wanted to leave. The doctors again arrived quite quickly and told him relatively good news. He would have another X-ray, and if all was still well with him (no more pain) he would have a light lunch, and if he kept all that down for 4 hours, we could go. Hurrah - no surgery.

This all panned out as hoped and we left at about 5:30. We managed to book the Fast Cat from Cherbourg for expediency (costing lots as it's summer of course) and were home again by midnight...


Every moment I was left to my own devices I fell asleep, and still slept for about 8 hours once I got home. George is also very tired as, although in a bed all the time, it was hard for him to sleep properly. He seems pretty fit at the moment and eating normally.

I missed my workshop on Saturday but we made it to the family party at Lyn's today. My cousin Jenny and her family are off to stay at La Gonfrairie and we had to issue them with the keys and reams of instructions, which I'm sure they don't need. I hope the weather is good for them and they have a lovely time - Jenny is so excited.

Posted on August 19, 2007 at 9:01 PM. Category: France.

Thursday August 16, 2007

Wool gathering

Went out with Ava and Peter this evening and was given two fleeces (from Willow and Parsnip I think). They are economically squashed into one plastic sack for travel. The sheep are Suffolks; I am making a note of it here as I keep forgetting.

Posted on August 16, 2007 at 10:55 PM. Category: France.

Les Cascades de Mortain

On advice, (from the relatives), we went to see the waterfalls at Mortain. They are in full flow this summer because of the unusually high rainfall (have I mentioned that before?!). And jolly splendid they were too.

We parked the car on the road at the head of the Grande Cascade and walked alongside them down the river. It is well-known for its rhododendrons - but they are more in evidence earlier in the year.


We then followed the pedestrian route through Neufbourg to the Petite Cascade, (noting the enticing petition on the gate and in the window of one house in the town of "CHATONS A DONNER" - then swiftly moving on). My photo is not so good as I stayed at the top of the "small" waterfall - you can see the intrepid explorer - a tiny speck in yellow in the bottom the left corner of the picture - who went to look but failed to tell me how pretty the view from below was - more of a waterfall than the raging torrent of the "big" one. It is part of the River Cançon, a tributary of the Cance, and is renowned for its peace and tranquility. Here is my rubbish view from the top:


Here is the lovely view taken by the intrepid explorer at the base of the fall:


Somewhere George said that the river Cance gets its name from its golden colour. I can find no other reference to this but include the evidence here, just in case its true. The water was very churned up due to the fast flow of the water.




Posted on August 16, 2007 at 7:49 PM. Category: France.

Tuesday August 14, 2007


Life here is the same as ever - which is Good.

Here we see stick-obsessed Tilly. She is so keen to play this game that immediately she spots a likely playmate (any human with a pulse), she searches for some kind of stick. The "stick" is sometimes a blade of grass, and sometimes an apple.... here, though, she has really excelled herself.


I finally remembered to take a picture of the raspberry bed to show you how much they have grown since April:


There has not been such a bumper crop of raspberries this year, though. This may have been our pruning at the wrong time, or it may have been the weather, which seems to have suited some fruits but not others; there is another set of canes elsewhere in the garden which seem equally fruit-free. Here are a few - you can see I ate the ripe one!


And the very last of the foxgloves:


Posted on August 14, 2007 at 1:12 PM. Category: France.

Sunday August 12, 2007


We arrived at La Gonfrairie at about 4am Saturday morning. There was some sleeping, and then some shopping, but no cooking, as Lloyd asked us to join him for a Barbecue.

His sister is staying with her two boys, (who are 4 and 8, and pretty cute if a little boisterous - like the dogs...), and he invited a few more people, most of whom are common acquaintances. Raoul, the local vet, joined us for a short while, but, before he could eat, he was called away to do his duty by a sick cow. We saved him some food.... the moules and mackerel were ....mmmmm....

Posted on August 12, 2007 at 11:06 AM. Category: France.

Friday August 10, 2007

Bonita update.


I finally got round to adding the shell decoration to Bonita. I found a suitable necklace in Accessorize and cannibalised it. I was unsure about whether I really wanted it like this or not, so I have made the necklace detachable - so it can be either a "normal" little knitted top, or something more for the evening perhaps. Having tried it, I now think it looks very pretty.

Posted on August 10, 2007 at 8:24 PM. Category: Knitting.

Wednesday August 8, 2007


At the group dinner in Montpellier I sat with Randy - an American colleague of many years standing - and in passing he mentioned 711 stores in the US not really living up to their name any more (in that they open all hours and not just 7am until 11pm). This led me to tell him about my first time in California in the 1980s, and that I really did not connect "711" with the hours of opening. I am still not sure when I even finally made the connection. However at the time, all it reminded me of was Auntie Glad and a perfume from years ago called "4711". I remember it on her dressing table with its pretty blue and gold label - and how my Mother was a bit scornful of it (I think she thought it a bit old fashioned, preferring Lanvin's Arpège).

As often happens, not a week or so later, I was browsing my 1937 Stitchcrafts and found a full page advert in the Christmas edition, which I reproduce here for your delight. In the 1960s it had a catchy TV jingle as well.

These 4711 products were by no means inexpensive (see footnote **). See the cologne is ten shillings and sixpence - which is half a guinea. Although this translates to only 52.5p today, it is hard to provide a true view of the value, even if you tried taking inflation into account it would be perhaps twenty or thirty pounds - in fact just about the price of perfumes today.

However this does not give a true view of an average person's ability to afford it, compared with today. Years ago, people could live on very little money for food and rent, and "luxury" goods were relatively a lot more expensive, whereas now it is possible to own TVs and mobile phones even when you are really quite poor. You could say for example, that in the 1960s you started work at 17 on a salary of about 7/6 a week, (living at home with Mum and Dad) - so this perfume exceeded a week's wage. Looking at starting salaries today, this makes the perfume about £500. So even though my salary may be only 10 times what it was in the 1970s, my relative ability to buy perfume is far more than 10 times.

Lets not even start on why "luxury" goods are relatively so much cheaper for us today....

**Footnote: I am amused to find that this perfume is still available today, is not so very expensive, (around £9 for 50ml), and there is a wealth of fascinating information on its origins.

Posted on August 8, 2007 at 8:17 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Saturday August 4, 2007

More heartless beauties for the thinking woman.

Every day new hydrangea bushes start flowering - or so it seems. This one is always very rewarding, not being deprived of water on a regular basis in the normal course of events, even in normal weather.

Then there's my clematis - designed to grow around the bird feeder (not needed in summer). I always thought this was a "Ville de Lyon" (based on memory of the label when I bought it!) - and I used to have one in another garden. However looking at web entries on the subject I am now not sure.
These flowers represent pure thoughts, or beauty of the mind, (which is odd as they are very beautiful on the outside and I don't think they'll be too insulted if I suggest they do not have a mind...).

clematis1.jpg clematis2.jpg

Posted on August 4, 2007 at 3:19 PM. Category: The Garden.

Tuesday July 31, 2007

Books in July

More crime books consumed by me in July:

  • The Lincoln Lawyer Michael Connelly
    The more of his books I read, the more impressed I am by his story-telling style and ability to grip the reader. The pace always accelerates towards the end of the books, which means it is always a disaster for bedtime reading. Far from dropping off after a chapter, you find that anywhere after half way through, you keep thinking "just one more chapter" and before you know it you have reached the end and it's 2am.
    This book is not one of the Harry Bosch series, and (unusually I think) does not make any peripheral reference to him either, although it is set in LA, with the hero being a defence lawyer.
  • Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death M C Beaton
    About number six in the series featuring Agatha Raisin. Fascinated by the tongue in cheek title "Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death" I borrowed the library book and was instantly captivated by this amateur sleuth (yes, she has to be a "sleuth"). I realised later that my liking for her is probably born of some very noticeable parallels: Agatha is 50, a very successful though semi-retired business woman with no kids, and a complete slave to her hormones. The books are written in a simple style but very skillful and amusing.
  • Be My Enemy Christopher Brookmyre
    The usual blend of thoughtful writing and black humour. A party of business people on a team building exercise are left stranded and helpless (apparently) when a mysterious group of para-military lay siege to their remote country hotel in Scotland. Laugh out loud at the amazing self decapitating man.... no really ... it's very funny.
  • Friends in High Places Donna Leon
    Alison kept recommending Donna Leon, and finally lent me a few of the early books while I was in the US. It took me a while to warm to Commissario Guido Brunetti - I needed more than one book to become interested in, and grow to like and appreciate all the characters properly. I have read quite a few since, up to the latest offerings. However this was an early book that I had not read, so I broke or bent my rule about talking books, (which is to always listen to the unabridged versions). The book was excellently read by Tim Pigott-Smith, which I am sure added to the enjoyment, but it was sufficiently good that I feel I should try and read the full text in the future (even though I now know who dunnit).

Posted on July 31, 2007 at 11:22 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Sunday July 29, 2007


Robert has been calling me at intervals during the weekend to let me listen to and experience remotely the fun he is having at WOMAD. He called this morning unable to decide whether or not to stay on - many other people were leaving [it being Sunday in any case] and everyone was being towed out of the field/campsite by a tractor. Apparently I am not the only person to have thought of the "joke" in the heading.


Anyway - it all sounded great - I will be adding pictures of mud here as soon as I acquire them....

Just imagine a lot of mud. That's what it will be like.

More fun pictures below (experienced vicariously courtesy of Rob)

Getting around was really tough through the clay mud


The last night




Posted on July 29, 2007 at 11:32 AM. Category: Art and Culture.

Saturday July 28, 2007

A head of steam

This afternoon we spent in a field in Fareham - at the annual open day of the Fareham and District Society of Model Engineers. George's Father (George) is an enthusiastic member and has built a model diesel train (running on a battery); rather ignorantly I do not know what scale they are made to, nor the gauge of the track, but they are large enough to take people for short trips - around the field.

Driver dedication despite the dreadful weather


View from my seat behind the driver


A head of steam!

In addition to the outdoor attractions, there were a number of display tents showing their models, and also a craft tent, in which I was delighted to find Web of Wool selling their wares. Something for everyone, indeed!

See more views of the day below

Here are some pictures of the day- click on the thumbnails to page through the album.

Fareham Model Engineers 2007

Posted on July 28, 2007 at 11:32 PM. Category: Days Out.

Friday July 27, 2007

Prétentieuse? Moi?

The past couple of days has provided some excellent opportunities for eating, which, as usual for business trips, plays havoc with any high-minded ideals about restraining one's eating.

On Wednesday night we went as a group to La Diligence where the food was already ordered for us so we didn't even have to try and translate a menu.... and jolly good it was too. We tried sitting at the largest table to contradict the idea that the English are insular, but it didn't quite work out as we were tucked into our own little space. The restaurant was very atmospheric as you can see from the photo - I decided to post the fuzzy photo as it shows the environment more clearly than the version with flash.


Yesterday, we went with a recommendation and visited Cellier & Morel: la Maison de la Lozère.
My colleagues thought the food was excellent, and while I don't disagree it was by no means inexpensive (although I am being very unfair as it was probably far better value as well as lower cost than an equivalent meal in the UK - also I should say I did not have to foot the bill myself). Throughout, we were treated to little extra tasters from the chef, some more welcome than others for me. The main course was accompanied by what I now know to be Aligots - a regional speciality of mashed potato, Tomme cheese, and garlic. It was again excellent but we had to endure the ostentatious serving technique à table (shown right).

Posted on July 27, 2007 at 8:42 AM. Category: Days Out.

Tuesday July 24, 2007

Graceful city.

I have come to Montpellier for a couple of days of business meetings. It is remarkably hot in comparison to where I have come from and yesterday I seemed to have brought entirely the wrong clothes; however our offices are severely air conditioned and the cardigans and jackets are quite welcome there. I have not been here before, but as I have been led to believe, it is a delightful city with a small centre where you can easily walk around. We did just that on arrival yesterday afternoon, walking from the Antigone right on through the centre, past the Préfecture, up Rue Foch past the Porte du Peyrou


and as far as the St-Clément Aqueduct.


The Place de la Comédie is just outside the old town centre and provides a main focus point in the city It is a popular meeting place and tourist site, containing the "Trois Graces" statue. Here they are: Beauty, Mirth, and Good Cheer:


We all stayed in various hotels in the Antigone district. Antigone is newly-built and (without previously knowing anything about it) seemed a very strange though impressive area of interconnected pedestrian squares or plazas enclosed by apartment buildings. Each square has a central focus of fountains or statues and it is all very airy in a neo-classical style. We walked through the Antigone every day on our way in and out of the centre. Here is my favourite fountain in the Place du Nombre d'Or; the construction of Antigone was started at this end in 1981, but the fountain was added here in 2000. There is a central (Greek type) figure, whose identity I never discovered, with water jets issuing directly from the paving around him.


The jet spouts vary in degree and vigour (0 to 15m) to the delight of dogs and small children.


It is also very beautiful at night when the jets are illuminated.

In the Place de Peyrou (the end of our walk by the aqueduct) was an 18th century water tower. The photo I took had some rather strange lighting and it reminds me very much of Magritte and also his painting (or paintings I should say) Empire of Lights. Mostly it's the clouds and the symmetry of the trees I think - as well as the day combined with night effect.


Posted on July 24, 2007 at 6:29 PM. Category: Days Out.

Jet streams

Set off for Gatwick by train this morning having my usual pre-travel chat with Bernard in the ticket office. Although the weather was nice and sunny, we could not help discussing the appalling weather we've have had in the UK. Having not seen any news over the weekend I was stunned when I viewed the TV on Sunday night to find large areas of the UK appear to be under water, and the latest news seems to be getting worse.

It seems all these amazing and endless downpours are due to the Jet Stream. I'd never given any consideration to this phenomena before but it seems that rain-bearing depressions start to form around the jet streams and percolate downwards, and are thus responsible for all our weather....

[Bernard told me that jet streams were first noticed by pilots during the Second World War one minute over the UK - the next in Norway - or something like that. Most educational. Don't know what I'll do for information when he retires. Wikipedia just doesn't compare.]

Anyway, apparently, in summer the jet stream lies across the north Atlantic, allowing high-pressure weather systems to move up from Europe to cover the UK.
Warm Sunny Weather.

This year, however, the jet stream has moved several hundred miles to the south bringing storms and heavy rain, to our little island. I have read "Scientists are unsure of the reason but believe there is a link to a natural phenomenon known as La Niña."
[And I always thought he was El Niño - but now I find there are two of them.]

So I was mentally well prepared (!) for my short flight to France. "Entering and leaving a jet stream can be a turbulent time for any aircraft no matter how big it is."

Posted on July 24, 2007 at 11:45 AM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Saturday July 21, 2007

Jolly good company

A loud thump in the morning announced the Amazon delivery of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I did not spend all weekend in it's grip though. I have a backlog of crime to get through first .... and anyway I expect George will want first go at it as he ordered it. We stayed in the right mood by going to see the recently released movie (Order of the Phoenix) this evening. I liked it a lot better than the book, where I found Harry a bit too unreasonable (I think it was supposed to be his teenage angst but it didn't work for me). I thought the writing left something to be desired, although I don't think it's a general decline in her style - I liked the Half Blood Prince much more. Perhaps she did not have much feel for her subject (as opposed to the wizard world which no doubt she has experienced first hand!). Needless to say I am looking forward to reading the new book.

I spent all day at the Creative Fibres - we formed a jolly little group and as usual benefited greatly from their hints and tips on a great range of topics. I told them about my blog and they all promptly refused to be photographed any more.


Mavis was there wearing a really great jacket. The colour and texture were wonderful.
mavis.jpg mavis_detail.jpg She had spun the yarn from a shetland wool mixed with some silk and her own cashmere rabbit's fur. She told me all about her rabbit (he is 7 years old) and her other animals. She has a great collection of guinea pigs (11?) which are in my experience somewhat unusual pets among my peer group - it turns out they are "rescue" guinea pigs. I find it hard to see how someone could abandon a guinea pig - but there we are. Anyway the fibre she had spun was lovely and she varied the fibre combinations as she spun and plied to produce a self patterning effect. The rabbit produces a very fluffy yarn and therefore she finds it better to combine it with other fibres.

Posted on July 21, 2007 at 11:22 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Friday July 20, 2007

"This is a disaster isn't it!" Mr Bingley

I recorded "Bride and Prejudice" recently, as I thought it would make the perfect viewing on a wet afternoon with the knitting. I had been so keen to see it ever since I listened to a radio item when they were in the process of filming. Despite much criticism from the Jane Austen Society prior to its release, they were won over I think by a special preview for them in Bath. I thought then as I do now that it was a simply perfect idea; the plot itself is tailor-made for an Indian interpretation. Having seen it, I am even more impressed; like Elizabeth Bennet our new heroine, Lalita Bakshi, is an intelligent modern woman in a society undergoing change. Her major motivations go well beyond making a perfect marriage to a rich man.

I cannot think why anyone would be at all concerned by this movie idea. It is a lovely interpretation, and is not even slightly pretending to be a film of the book; to add to all that it makes a fine quality job of what it is intended to be. The screenplay is excellent, adapting much dialogue from "Pride and Prefjudice" while remaining completely convincing in the language of today.

I must also say, it included one of the nicest interpretations of Mr Collins I have ever seen. The excellent actor Nitin Ganatra plays Mr Kohli (Kohli Sahib), an Indian now living in the US and completely obsessed with and enjoying every minute of his new American way of life. He is clearly hard-working and keen for others to enjoy everything with him. Although clearly a figure of fun, he offers a plausible reason for a modern audience to understand why Lalita's best friend Chandra would choose to marry him - she justifies her choice by saying he is "a good man" and there is more than appears on the surface. Her equivalent Austen character Charlotte Lucas rather more poignantly illustrates the plight of the plain unmarried woman in her society, by expressing her fear that she may not get a better offer. This may also be true of modern India (for plain women of a certain class), I don't know; however a Bollywood musical shows only beautiful actors, so they did not explore that idea.

Now you must read a proper review - I read this after my own ramblings and am delighted that it expresses much my own views. I could be a reviewer!! ... but for the small fact that my command of the language is not so adept.
"...these shortcomings .... are largely irrelevant to the merit and entertainment value inherent in Bride and Prejudice. .... this film is no more than a clothesline on which brilliantly colored bed linen and clothing has been hung out to dry and which are now dancing in the wind, creating fantastic displays of movement and images. This film deserves to be viewed from a fresh perspective. Yes, Austen's novel has been bowdlerized into pulp, but the shards have been turned into flares illuminating another purpose altogether."

Finally - the real disaster. I spent many hours, including those watching the above film, knitting the cricket sweater. I completed a 4 inch welt,(all in the round, so the whole sweater), changed to a second ball of the other dye lot, and knitted 2 more inches. I realised suddenly in full daylight that the colours of the two dyes are completely different from one another. One is a positively yellow ecru, and the other much more white. I find it amazing that this was not obvious in the ball - but it was not. Further, I did some weighing and calculations and am dubious that there will be enough wool for the sweater. So - I have had to go back to the attic stash; I have found eleven 50g balls of the same wool type and started all over again. I only hope Lloyd is still interested in cricket next year as it seems unlikely that this project will be completed in time for any play this season.....

I am thinking that these disastrous dye lots experiences of late should be teaching me something. I have done this kind of stuff often in the past but since my teenage years I always found dyes to be very consistent, even between lots. I am thinking back and wonder if the difference is that in the past I often worked with shetland tweedy blends which better lend themselves more to the intended trompe l'oeil effect than plain colours. I think if I plan to try this again I will definitely be knitting experimental swatches before I start.

Posted on July 20, 2007 at 7:20 AM. Category: Knitting.

Sunday July 15, 2007

Sweet dreams and flying ants

I finally finished off the July Pattern of the Month and it feels a very nice weight to wear - especially in this weird weather.
Stepping outside this evening you can actually breathe in the water vapour. I was going to liken it to some tropical country, but really that's outside my experience - the closest I can describe it is going into one of the humid greenhouses in Kew Gardens. This afternoon it went from bright sunshine to being so dark as to seem like a winter evening, then the classic moments of stillness prior to the wind getting up and a huge thunderstorm and yet another astonishing downpour of rain - the garden paths were flooded in a moment. I had to check on the blackbird's nest in the wisteria outside the kitchen window, (although quite what I could have done to assist is doubtful), and found that she was sitting right over it protecting the chicks; with rain drops that large and heavy it must have been like being bombarded with buckets of water. I find it amazing that they nested there at all but... all week she has been dashing in with beaks full of worms to a chorus of delight from within.

hook_roll.jpg With the left-over fabric snippets from POM (above) I made a holder for my crochet hooks. Not my best piece of work - but functionally long overdue. I am hoping that my hooks will now gravitate towards it from all the places spread round the house where they have been hiding... My next mini-roll will be to house my sets of double-pointed sock needles.
cushion.jpg While the red thread was in the machine I made two quick Christmas cushion covers - I bought the fabric in the sales in January but never got round to making it up. I always want to change the decor at Christmas but with all the other priorities I never seem to have time for much decorating, so now I am well ahead of the game.

After all these little items plus a few mending and alteration jobs (broken zips etc) the weekend seemed to slip away. Despite "poisoners weekend" (a definite sofa TV experience) I don't seem to have done much knitting - I am somewhat dispirited, having had to undo the inch I had knitted on the cricket sweater and start again - after I got that far I realised I was knitting a Möbius * strip, having twisted the welt somehow - and this, even after checking extra specially carefully as I am so aware that this can happen!

* For some reason, when I learned about Möbius strips at school, the examples always seemed to involve "ants walking along a strip" - which also seems appropriate today, as it was typical "flying ant" weather - and they fulfilled all expectations in coming out in abundance. I did wonder if they would care to come in and try out Lloyd's cricket sweater......

Posted on July 15, 2007 at 10:03 PM. Category: Quilting.

Tuesday July 10, 2007

"Better than shopping"

I went to Nuneaton to a customer today. Catching the train on the way back, I had about 40 minutes to wait at the station. The platform was pretty empty (lunchtime), but as I ate my sandwich I wandered out of the shelter into the sun, and noticed a bunch of people at the far end, apparently enjoying a picnic. It crossed my mind that they were beyond where the trains stopped, and gradually, (as I noticed their cameras, binoculars, and clothing), light dawned - they were train-spotting.

After that, I realised that a lot of the people on the station on all the platforms were actually train-spotters rather than passengers. Without being patronising, I can't tell you how good these people make me feel; some kind of security of a bygone age, even thought their own enthusiasm is right up to date - for sure, they are not anachronistic throw-backs at all. Far from being "sad" they make me feel full of joy - reminding me there is pleasure in life from all manner of things.

I finally plucked up the courage to speak to one of them:
Me: "Are you waiting for something special to come through?"
Him: "o no"
Me: "Just a nice day out, then?"
Him: "Aye - better than shopping..." (*see note)
Me: "Yes... weeell..... actually I'm probably 50-50 on that one..."
Much laughter all round.

I so much regret I did not have my camera with me; I searched the web for pictures and information but train-spotters take and post pictures of trains, of course, not each other..


I stole this picture from James's Railway Round-up (2005). I believe it shows platform 4 and a couple of the enthusiasts.

The link is to an item about Nuneaton, but in case you don't feel the need to look, I have to quote from him here, which partly explains the popularity of the station for the spotters (*see note).

"Rail traffic is in abundance at Nuneaton station, local services are provided by Central Trains, with the London expresses being provided by Virgin Trains. There's usually 2 trains an hour to Leicester and Birmingham, an hourly service to Coventry and an hourly service to London and Liverpool Lime Street. However, many passenger trains can be seen hurtling through Nuneaton at top speeds of 125mph!! and are all Pendolino tilting trains - again - all are operated by Virgin.

Freightwise, several operators can be seen at Nuneaton, including EWS, Freightliner, GBRf and DRS. Motive power is mainly in the shape of Class 60 and 66 diesel locomotives, electric locomotives appear in the shape of Class 86, 90 and 92 and mainly appear on Trafford Park - Daventry/Dollands Moor/Felixstowe freight flows. Network Rail also makes a periodic appearance in the shape of their bright yellow New Measurement HST, nicknamed by the rail fraternity "Doctor Yellow" or "The Flying Banana". The 2 newly acquired Class 86 loadbank locomotives, 86901 and 86902 also show up from time to time as they visit different sections of the WCML, these are stabled at Rugby."

I admit I was on the station for almost an hour, but even so there seemed to be quite a lot of traffic - and some of it interesting (I repeat - I was on the station for nearly an hour...) in the shape of freight marked from China, and, of course the astonishingly fast high speed trains - pretty scary from the viewpoint of the platform.

*Note: I noticed phrases during my search on the web, including: "....packing her husband off to Nuneaton station to do some train-spotting while she did her own thing..." and "She went shopping, and I returned the the station.". So perhaps it really was an alternative to shopping.

Posted on July 10, 2007 at 9:35 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Sunday July 8, 2007

All England

For my last 2 or three years at school, we essentially finished work some time in June, (exams over etc), but did not actually break up until several weeks later. These were great times for me, with the pressure of work gone, and pleasant summer weather.... I watched Wimbledon for 2 weeks, while doing dress making. I suddenly realised that having been taught needlework from the age of 12, (with Miss Soutar - but having given it up in favour of science at the age of 14), I could actually make my own clothes. So during those weeks I made a couple of summer dresses, always with Wimbledon in the background.

Later on I took a flat in Wimbledon, and spent hours on my own with my craft projects, listening to Radio 4 (no television), and at the right time of year - the tennis. The whole town was overwhelmed by the event, and after it was over the high street filled with cut price second hand tennis balls, and ripe strawberries that had been excess to requirements.

So today I was in nostalgic mood as I worked on this month's pattern, and watched a great match in the vein of those epics I remember from the 70s. There was a lot of nostalgia from the TV presenters as well, with many of the familiar players having become commentators, and Bjorn Borg was there watching his record equalised.


Now I'm off to make dinner - with strawberries for dessert, of course.

"I've never been more happy than I am today. Sometimes I have to pinch myself. It's really true: Life starts at 50." Bjorn Borg

Posted on July 8, 2007 at 7:40 PM. Category: Crafts.

Out of Africa

George has just returned from his trip (landed at 7:30 this morning). My friend Simon, who came from Rhodesia (as it was then), used to be driven to distraction by the habit of the English in referring to "Africa" as if it were a country - rather than a huge continent. So to be more specific, George was in Johannesburg all week. He had yesterday free to roam the markets and buy tourist art, and what he returned with is lovely. Here is my swag: a lovely pottery mug, a malachite cat, bead necklaces (one haematite), one bone bracelet and one bracelet with porcupine spines, (I am pretending no porcupines were harmed in the making of this jewellery but I am suspecting the worst), and a bag of multicoloured seed beads.


He also brought back some heavy cotton fabrics, which I think have been treated with some sort of water proofing, and are intended as table cloths. This hand printed one we have decided to keep for ourselves.


His Mother will have to tolerate the usual (or unusually large) haul of elephants - that being her "thing".

Other than that, it sounded like very hard work - they had to change the venue of the customer presentations at the last minute from the company offices to the hotel, as the water was turned off at the offices which meant it was pretty well impossible to work there, never mind host a customer. If you read Louise's blog I guess you see that different places are very ... different; expect the unexpected. (Louise is in Senegal, though, nowhere near South Africa).

Posted on July 8, 2007 at 10:55 AM. Category: Days Out.

Saturday July 7, 2007

Vain but not heartless, surely....

I just had to take a picture of the hydrangeas this year as they look so splendid.


I have always preferred the blue varieties to the pink and I am lucky at the moment to have soil that favours these beautiful blues. I like to imagine they were planted by Edwardians when the house was first built, though I also think this is dubious, but whatever the case the adjacent redwood has now grown to such a size that usually they suffer terribly from lack of water in the summer, as the tree takes any that's around. However, it has been so wet these past months that they are flourishing.

In the language of flowers they are listed variously as representing boastfulness, heartlessness; frigidity; vanity; - or saying a thank you for understanding (! - as a Victorian in receipt of such a flower however would you know? am I frigid or understanding? it seems the confusion casts doubts on the usefulness of this secret code). They are indeed beautiful superficial showy flowers - I can see they could be vain or boastful, but I can't see them as frigid**(see additional note at the end).

I like this link for the language of flowers. It not only tells you the flower meanings but allows you to enter your intended message and be informed of the flowers you need to send to your secret amour.




**[Note: my sister made the (good) suggestion that although beautiful, they have no fragrance and this might be why they could represent showy but not sensual. She loves hydrangeas and lacecaps and was recounting the tale of a 1970s gift of a lacecap in a pot, which seemed at the time inappropriate for a woman in her twenties living in a tiny flat overlooking the Thames. Nonetheless, it lived there indoors in Hammersmith for some time, and then it went to live outdoors in my Mother's garden in Sussex, where it flourished for many years (and still does). Finally, when my Mother died, Lyn took cuttings of it and she now has some fantastic plants, which have moved with her several times over the years. (I say: "finally"... but who knows where they may go next?).
No disrespect to my sister but they are quite easy to raise from cuttings, and I am now encouraged to try it.]

Posted on July 7, 2007 at 4:25 PM. Category: The Garden.

Friday July 6, 2007

So cool it's chili

The first Fashion Knits (1954) magazine arrived in the mail today and showed that the inspiration for the knitted fashion poncho started long before the 1970s - let me know if you'd like one...

poncho.jpg Slim.jpg

It also contained a pattern for "Slim black line", classic sleeveless sweater - "an essential in the well-dressed wardrobe" - "in fine wool to fit smoothly under coats and low neck sweaters".

However, having been initially keen (looks lovely - just my thing), I looked at the tension and I'm afraid it's an essential I will have to pass up. It's knitted on number 14 needles (I guess US 1) to a tension of: 46 sts to 4 inches!! [Cast on 155 sts and knit 4 inches in k1 p1 rib...... um... thanks - but no thanks]. Also it says "see how smart the sweater looks worn casually with slim black pants and pumps" - which might be an issue for me...

Posted on July 6, 2007 at 6:06 PM. Category: Knitting.

Thursday July 5, 2007

"A life lived in fear is a life half lived" Strictly Ballroom

So: clothes for the woman over 50... or the "forever forties" as we prefer to think of ourselves apparently - and I must say I prefer to be in that demographic. We accept what we must wear (and that's up to the individual where they draw the line) but we want to be able to wear the newest youngest styles "with our own twist " (as Mary Portas put it) to make it suitable for our age - whatever suitable is...

I read an article on what women over 50 should wear by Emma Soames in one of the Sunday papers, and it obviously disquieted me, as I referred to it a lot in conversations with friends thereafter. I think I did not like what she was saying - which was really "dress your age", don't risk being seen as "mutton dressed as lamb"- and yet, how could I disagree with that? But something about an article on how to dress by the editor of Saga magazine..... I don't know - I really don't think I am in denial over my actual age but I don't see myself as a Saga magazine reader, and as yet the magazine has not held any appeal for me. This article on dress did not change my mind. I feel that you should take risks to achieve a look that you like - and be capable of saying "OK, this is not working as I hoped". What's life without risk?

Emma is obviously doing the rounds on this topic, as I found a Daily Mail (Femail - almost as appealing to me as Saga!) article on the web "Older women: Should they be classy or brassy?" - and also the referenced Womans Hour item "Is the Fashion Industry Catering for the over 50s?" which is worth listening to - unfortunately Emma obviously represents classy, while Gok Wan is left with brassy - also Gok is by no means over 50. However, Rob (who is over 50) is a great fan of Gok's TV show "How To Look Good Naked" and proclaims loudly to anyone who will listen (me) that Gok is much better than "those two women" (Trinny and Susanna), as he offers much more positive confidence building. I like T&S but Rob is not to be ignored, (even if he does watch Big Brother).

Posted on July 5, 2007 at 11:37 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Serious shopping

I went to Oxford yesterday and thought I might do some shopping after my meeting but in the end I had no time. I had made a plan to look for some specific items, so to cover the disappointment I went to John Lewis in Kingston - where I found they had the sale to end all sales - mostly in the wool dept but more of that in a minute - and between there and Bentalls I came away with huge bags of swag.

FloralSkirt.jpg Most of the clothes I bought were sensible - in that they are replacements for items in my wardrobe that are a bit shabby - but I also bought this Fenwright and Manson skirt, which is lovely but I remain unsure about it, as it contains colours that are not "my" colours, and I had great difficulty in imagining what to wear with it. GreyTop.jpg In the end, I bought an uninteresting elephant grey top from the same source as it is an exact matching colour; the other colours in the skirt (rust and cream) are not so flattering on me. I noted that the grey Rowan 4ply soft is a good colour match but do not want to put a hand knitted top on the critical path to wearing the skirt. To brighten the grey top I added a chunky bead necklace

I also bought what seemed like a ton of wool - actually it still does seem like a lot but at exactly half price it was a veritable bargain, and not all new projects on a whim either. First up is Debbie Bliss Astrakhan....


....which I have been ogling ever since the Ally Pally show last year,. However, to date I have been hopelessly indecisive about the colour, and unwilling to take a risk with such expensive wool: but not with a limited palette on sale - sold! to the lady with the red fetish...
In fact I am planning to knit this for someone else but I note it may be a good colour match for the new skirt. Hmmm.

Cathay.jpg They had Debbie Bliss Cathay on sale in many wonderful colours. I find this a very appealing yarn, with a texture and composition similar to Calmer, but in a classic double knitting weight.
Despite being so smitten I managed to restrict myself to two colours: a burnt orange, which I am hoping will be suitable for a retro pattern from Jane Waller's "Mans Book", and the red for me, probably an Interweave knits pattern from last summer (it just fails to quite match the new skirt, and in consequence is a nice colour for me!).
The oatmeal colour is again a double knitting wool, Jaeger extrafine Merino DK; I was seduced by the lovely wool quality, (the price!), and the suitable Man Colour (or George Colour).
And just in case I don't have enough knitting books I bought the Jaeger knitting book for men too, as it was also on sale.


In the latest Rowan book 41, I really liked Orford - but unlike all those little 1950s tops it's made in Rowan Cotton Rope which as its name suggests is quite thick. So I thought it might be a bit heavy for a "little top". In addition, being thick heavy cotton, it used lots of balls of yarn, making it quite pricey.
But hey presto! Cotton Rope at half price! (and so quick to knit up...).

I am digging those red shorts out of my wardrobe as we speak.

Posted on July 5, 2007 at 9:46 PM. Category: Days Out.

Tuesday July 3, 2007

Swallows and Amazons (for ever?)

Even though Alison didn't tag me (whatever that is - pretty sure she didn't) I can't resist also displaying my all time favourite piece of hand knitting. It reaches the status of all-time favourite for a lot of strange reasons which run alongside my really loving to wear it. Like Alison's Hall of Fame alphabet sweater, I knitted in it the early 1990s, and the style is full blown 80s as she describes. All the feelings associated with this sweater are full of pleasure and comfort.


First the memory of the purchase: Alison and I bought the wool together at D H Evans in Richmond; (she bought wool for a Rowan patterned chenille/beaded sweater which did not turn out so well for her - though I loved it too!). They had "my" sweater knitted up on display - and I loved it - and then even better - the wool was on sale (sadly due to the demise of the wool department, though).

Second the design and styling: it's a Rowan pattern from book number 10 which was evidently themed on Swallows and Amazons (although Nancy, Peggy and Co were a lot sexier in the photo shoot than I remember from the original books!). These books probably rate among my all-time favourites as well (yes, I am the sort of adult that reads Harry Potter, I'm afraid). The Rowan book seems to have had a lot of fun poked at it - but they have the last laugh maybe as one sold on eBay in 2006 for over 80 quid (maybe I should sell my copy...? ... as if!).

I also knitted the "domino" sweater from this magazine for Robert - in fact I suspect he never wears it now due his wool allergy. Maybe I will be able to snaffle it back for the ultra nostalgia experience...

A word on the wool:

I love the sweater so much I thought you might want to appreciate that it also has texture. The overall wool weight is double knitting (worsted): the main colour is a grey tweed; half the bow ties are in red pure wool double knit, and the other half are in fine chenille; the mustard/gold triangles are also in fine chenille. Mmmm.

Posted on July 3, 2007 at 4:50 PM. Category: Knitting.

Saturday June 30, 2007

Books of the Month

I'm not a great bookworm but I thought about adding a "stuff wot I am reading" list in the sidebar. As my sidebars are overly cluttered already, and its not very craft related, I decided it might be a better as a category in my blog. I have pretty mainstream interests in literature - I doubt you will find an eclectic inspirational set of works that you never heard of before but - if you find you like what I like (which you will swiftly discover is twee crime novels) then there may be the odd previously unconsidered title here.

Add to this that I'm a slow reader so there may be months when nothing appears but... here we are for June:

  • Blue Shoes and Happiness Alexander McCall Smith
    The usual charming fare about the straight-thinking lady detective and her agency.
  • Black Book Ian Rankin
    About number six in the series featuring the Edinburgh detective, John Rebus. I heard Ian Rankin say that Jekyll and Hyde was the inspiration for his first book Knots and Crosses, where he had two characters - one good the other bad versions of the same person sharing the same (SAS) roots - he was surprised to hear that from reviewers that he had written a crime novel. Before I knew about John Rebus and Gordon Reeve, I listened to "Blood Hunt" as a talking book (read by that genius Christian Rodska - "versatile British actor"); it featured a different version of Gordon Reeve who had previously played Hyde to Rebus's Jekyll. Blood Hunt as a talking book was utterly gripping and I can thoroughly recommend it - Ian Rankin wrote it under the pen name Jack Harvey.
  • A Tale Etched in Blood and a Thick Black Pencil Christopher Brookmyre
    First brought to my attention by my friend Helen (like much of my diet of crime) with what I think was his first book "Quite Ugly One Morning". I was slightly disappointed with "The Sacred Art of Stealing" but this book is very appealing. The subject focussed a lot on children as they went through school, finally brought together again as adults - a kind of "we are what life makes us" moral tale. However, I found it particularly strange that all these childhood memories were so familiar, when you consider we are talking about kids (a lot about boys) in a Scottish school set in an era about 20 years after my own schooldays.

Posted on June 30, 2007 at 10:54 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Wednesday June 27, 2007

Greener grass

I am a bit tired of current projects (and some got themselves finished even!) - and in need of some mindless stuff to work on while traveling, or in front of the TV - so I have kicked off a few new things.

CableSocks.jpg George expressed an interest in "perhaps more socks" or "just some socks" and as he seems so fond of his woollen Web-of-Wool socks these days, I thought I would try knitting some "proper" mens socks (circa 1950 maybe) in sober manly colours for his birthday. I will try to use up some of the Patons Nylox from the attic/eBay purchases - but to start with, I want to knit black, which I don't have. I saw recently that Sirdar now make a 4ply sock wool (strange really as in my local store it is only stocked in boring mens sock colours but... good for my purpose).

Leaf.jpg For myself, I finally dug out some excellent purple heathery colour (vintage) wool to knit the embossed leaves socks that I had previously attempted with a self-striping wool before I decided it was not suitable. They look really pretty, and I am really enjoying knitting them.

MaidenOver.jpg And last but not least: while we were in France Lloyd (our neighbour) expressed an interest in having a cricket sweater. He said "without sleeves" and then muttered something about being more likely to get it without sleeves, which considering he doesn't know me I thought was rather presumptuous....! He plays cricket every weekend (although I suspect there is a femme fatale - or it is to be hoped not actually fatale - at the bottom of it all), and is such a nice chap I am delighted to oblige. Even better it struck me that I could use some of the huge collection of Guernsey wool I was unable to stop myself collecting; I have a lot of smaller amounts - not-enough-for-a-whole-sweater amounts (or as advertised "enough for a child's guernsey"!) - and I found 400g of Wendy guernsey in ecru which should work out fine - despite finding that one of the balls is not actually the same dye lot (!). As you can see I have made a start...

Posted on June 27, 2007 at 2:05 PM. Category: Knitting.

Monday June 25, 2007

Whether there will be any weather... The Phantom Tollbooth

We spent the last couple of days trying to work in the garden. It looks pretty awful (if you count stuff growing like mad as "awful") but we have been severely hampered by continual sudden and torrential downpours. We managed to weed the paths and beds - pretty well I thought as we had to keep scampering for cover - but when we scampered so did the entire complement of household pets, (OK, just a cat and a dog), pell-mell into the house - mud and all.

Mowing such wet grass was just impossible, and then made absolutely impossible by the lawnmower exploding a number of springs and wires into the undergrowth, never to be recovered. [Monsieur Lawnmower Man has agreed to remove the beast and mend it while we are away.]

The good news is that the raspberry bed has also exploded (within the strict confines of its wooden border) - but alas I forgot to snap it for the record, (the little cat will be mortified as she spent hours working on it). Many nettles have appeared in the grass (which will be mown!) but none has dared to appear in the bed itself. The raspberries are fruiting already and we ate them every day - and even better we find that our numerous cherry trees have decided to produce this year - but tantalisingly, most of the fruit is way, way out of reach! The ones we managed to gather were excellent.

Posted on June 25, 2007 at 6:43 PM. Category: France.

Sunday June 24, 2007

Debout, debout, debout!

And so we come to the main event for the weekend - Peter turned 50 in April and he and Ava organised a splendid party to celebrate. The food was fantastic and all produced by Ava and friends.


As cool as you can look with an "air" guitar:



And the memorable "chanson paillarde", which seems designed to slaughter the celebrant in the shortest possible time.

debout.jpg Ceux qui sont nés aus mois d'avril
Debout, debout, debout!
Prenez votre verre à la main
Et buvez le jusqu'à la fin.

La fin, la fin, la fin, la fin.....

Ceux qui sont nés aus mois de juin....
You get the idea?

[This was Janvier - to which Ava admitted but I am ashamed to say I did not.... ]

Posted on June 24, 2007 at 10:03 AM. Category: Red Letter Days.

Friday June 22, 2007


We set off on a very early ferry and in consequence we hit Honfleur at just the right time for lunch; I had been meaning to stop there after my friend Peter recommended it, and it was just as lovely as he had described. Given the terrible rain storms of late we were lucky to be able to sit outside for lunch - I had the Soup de Poisson and George a sort of regional crostade. This is a view of the harbour, showing the restaurants on the far side:


So picturesque it will have to speak for itself:

MeinHonfleur.jpg GeorgeinHonfleur.jpg


Local inhabitant shares our lunch:


Posted on June 22, 2007 at 4:12 PM. Category: France.

Sunday June 17, 2007

Bound to be Beautiful

Yesterday was the monthly Creative Fibres meeting; it was a workshop day: "Make a Book" - all about book binding. MyBook.jpg My Father always wanted to have a go at this but was put off when he read about it, as it implied you needed a lot of specialised equipment. I guess, in a way, you do, otherwise you have to make compromises, and stick (no pun intended) with very simple books. Anyway, Chrisy and Diana put together a great workshop for us, during which we all made a simple book, (my finished book on the right). They do not normally teach crafts to hobbyists, but run a business [Bound to be Beautiful] as specialist book binders. At the end of the workshop they talked about more complex book construction methods, and we had a chance to look at the lovely books made or repaired by Chrisy and Diana.

Here is the sequence of the day. Much of what we did was concentrating on keeping glue off the work - or at least off the parts where it was not intended to go! Scroll through, and click on the preview image to see it in the viewing pane.

Loading image. Please wait
Folding and cutting the paper to make the pages.
Folding and cutting the paper to make the pages.
Paper is cut with a smooth bladed knife; the final fold is not cut.
A bradawl or heavy needle is used to make holes before sewing together the eight folded pages.
The pages are sewn with two outer (thicker) coloured end papers, and a strip of "fraynot".
Finishing the sewing, with a knot inside, and the ends neatly frayed.
Trimming the edges with a scalpel.
Attaching the mill board book covers with a coloured buckram spine; the spine is carefully spaced to match the thickness of the pages, using a spacer.
Pasting the decorative coloured paper onto the book cover.
Weighting the book to allow the glue to set; this is done throughout the procedures.
Pasting the end papers to set the pages into the covers.
Closing the book onto the sticky end papers.
Nipping the book for 10 seconds in a press.
Examples of finished books from "Bound to be Beautiful".

I am moderately enthused by all this, and would like to do more. In my usual fashion, though, I would like to craft my way through stuff I already have, whereas it's clear that to get a really good result you need to use the right materials. Maybe I'm not quite so interested in a really good result as such, but at the same time I feel I can't dismiss the many years of studying and experience that people like Chrisy and Diana have spent to become masters. Still - experimentation and innovation is everything for the amateur.

So yesterday was a very full day, as I had to bolt out of the class with 40 minutes to get home, change, and catch a train into London for the flamenco evening at the Barbican. I am expecting a quieter time of it today.....

Posted on June 17, 2007 at 10:31 AM. Category: Crafts.

King Prawn

I have just returned home from London on the last train of the evening.

Robert had got tickets at the Barbican to see a famous (flamboyant, sexy, gravel voiced) flamenco singer Diego "El Cigala" [various translated as "the gypsy" (wrongly?), "the little prawn" (owing to his height, it said), "King Prawn" (the evening's program), and "Norway lobster" (Altavista Babelfish)]. Prawn or lobster - he was great - singing both traditional gypsy flamenco, along with music with a Cuban flavour, which is apparently what brought him to more international attention outside Spain.

The evening's opener was the Martin Lubenov Orkestar, a line-up of young musicians from Bulgaria and the Balkans. This band combined elements of rumba, tango, gypsy swing, and jazz. Here's the best picture I could get of them (just to say "I was there"):


The performance was part of the Barbican's excellent festival of gypsy music. I think that all day they had been running flamenco lessons as part of their "family days", and in the foyer before the performance there were "Freestage" performances. We caught one of them, which had us puzzling all evening as to their nationality. Anyway, I now think they may have been: "Romani Rad - London's most celebrated Polish Romany ensemble performing wild wedding music and traditional songs". Here are some more pictures of moderately poor quality due to low lighting, but not quite so much due to my usual camera shake; in consequence it does give a great sense of their energy and movement.



Posted on June 17, 2007 at 12:35 AM. Category: Art and Culture.

Friday June 15, 2007

Bear necessities

This morning a (out of print) book arrived from Amazon marketplace. It cheered me up no end - it was another bear making book by Julia Jones (Favourite Bears to make and treasure). I haven't made a bear for a while but just looking at them makes me feel Good.
Bears are like that.

Early German.jpg Early Germanside_detail.jpg

This is one I made earlier; he's called Heisenberg.

Posted on June 15, 2007 at 5:01 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Sunday June 10, 2007

Bearing gifts.

George returned from his week in Beijing this afternoon. He was very tired but it sounded like he had a fabulous time. Here is a rather nice (in my opinion) Shishi ornament, which was a gift for all conference attendees:


He came back with some jolly nice gifts for me, (and everyone else), unable to resist the bargain prices. He chose some wonderfully thin (I use that word rather then "fine" which is open to misinterpretation) silk to use for dolls clothes - made me want to make some right away - and a pair of embroidered slippers. I also stole one of the bracelets he had intended for Deborah; I will bequeath it to her in my will (hopefully not to be enacted too soon!).

Here is my inevitable cat souvenir - actually I like it a lot:


Posted on June 10, 2007 at 9:58 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Thursday June 7, 2007

Tiger's eye

I have started work on Tobias. Yes, I know I have a few other things to work on but....


I started (conventionally) with the back and was very puzzled at the lack of instructions about the exciting zig-zag chart. After applying a lot of brain power I realised that the back is plain - or rather has stripes and texture - but no zig-zags. So I then decided to knit the front first (more exciting). Once finished I expect I will pack it all away - the challenge will be over. [I am a bit better at knitting finishing stuff I make as presents though, so maybe not.]

I had to back a few rows as I made some mistakes; I was watching TV and found it fascinating. It was "Mary Queen of Shops" and it was all about turning around the fortunes of a "ladies dress shop" in our local village. It was a great program and I really hope the shop survives. I have to say that although I am its exact target market, it is not my sort of shop - I am too cheap - but I will be venturing in next time I am in the village (which will be tomorrow in fact).

I have not had to venture much further than the local fish shop (I like fish) ever since George has been away. However he returns from China at the weekend and I need to get some real food (not fish). He has been attending a conference - today apparently he did tourist things - the Great Wall. I don't really envy him though, hearing about his struggles with jet lag and humidity, (potent super heroes in my experience); and anyway - I like fish.

Posted on June 7, 2007 at 11:17 PM. Category: Knitting.

Saturday June 2, 2007

Dates in history

Notable occasions for this date are: the Queen's coronation in 1953 and the US release of Sgt Pepper in 1967. Very nearly (June 3rd) on the very day itself, Edward VIII married Wallis Simpson, in 1937...... and .... George's Mother came into the world.

So this year it's a special "0", and, yes - I'm sorry Sheila - your birthday is now a date in history.

I'm not sure what kind of a birthday she had - but the rest of us had a great time, spending a lovely sunny day in her garden and being treated to a fantastic cold buffet meal - perfect - o and did I mention cake?

George's sister has just acquired 2 puppies - irresistible - here they are - the usual variety of border collie/springer spaniel cross - Freddie and Daisy:

puppies1.jpg puppies2.jpg


Posted on June 2, 2007 at 7:05 PM. Category: Days Out.

Wednesday May 30, 2007

Cool - it's all in the wearing

"It seemed like a good idea at the time"

Here we have lessons (for Becks) in retro-cool from Paul Michael Glaser and ... Action Man.

StarskyHutch3.jpg Beckamcardi.jpg actionman.jpg

And here the master of cool: so young as to be hardly recognisable, and then aged 26 with Stitchcraft aiming to make him look about 40....

Roger1.jpg Roger2.jpg

Posted on May 30, 2007 at 7:20 PM. Category: Knitting.

Tuesday May 29, 2007

People that make a difference.

This evening I attended the memorial service for Helen Hudson - former Dean of Students at Kings College, London, where I studied. When I was interviewed, before I took up life as an undergraduate, she was "Tutor to Women Students" - which I thought charmingly antiquated even at that time. During my first year they changed her title so that she could offer her wisdom to all students regardless of gender (although I think she had been helping chaps just as much as women all along).

During the service I was asked if she had been a "personal friend" - which I had to deny - but thinking about it, she really was a personal friend to all of us, and this was reflected by the large attendance (they had to bring extra chairs into the chapel). The novelist Michael Morpurgo (King's, French & English, 1967) has contributed to an obituary for Helen, published in Church Times, which is worth reading as a synopsis of her interesting life, and illustrates her exceptional kindness.

Visiting the chapel again after all these years brought back lots of good memories, including that of my wedding (which by coincidence was 26 years ago to the day, as it was the Tuesday after the Spring Bank Holiday). I was able to seek out my very own hassock that I had embroidered as part of a group effort for the 150 year anniversary about 30 years ago, while having a good look round and taking in the many changes (including the repositioning of the organ). I did think that I did not remember the new (and I thought rather incongruous) modern stained glass windows - and I was right. The Dean mentioned that he decided to have them installed in 2000 - the originals having been destroyed in the Blitz of the 2nd World War, and replaced by "temporary" plain glass. Helen sponsored two of them - the nicest I think - depicting the two Marys.

The chapel as it appears today was a refurbishment to a new design in 1864, by George Gilbert Scott, (who among many other things designed the Albert memorial); he is very noticeably inspired by Pugin and the chapel is typical Gothic architecture. In 1996 they set about substantially restoring the chapel to Scott's original design, and this is now largely completed (apparently).

Picture from the Illustrated London News, June 26, 1869, (where donations were invited to complete the chapel), showing the original design with the vaulted ceiling (removed in the 1930s), compared with today, showing some of the 19 new windows (the east wall).

chapel.jpg chapel_300.jpg

"Faithful to the balancing of the tradition and the new situation, we commissioned from the renowned artist, Joseph Nuttgens, new window designs to the old topics and to reflect upon the objects of the College in its Charters."
Yes but...
In my opinion however, the windows, though beautiful, just don't fit in.
But (sigh) I accept that we have to move forward.

Posted on May 29, 2007 at 9:45 PM. Category: Days Out.

Monday May 28, 2007

Oxbloods, Swirls, and Bumblebees

I have finished Marble; actually finished knitting it on Friday and it has taken me 3 days to sew it together. Somehow not as I imagined although I can't think why as it is exactly as pictured in the magazine, (though the model did seem a little younger...). I think the marble imagery of my imagination overcame reality; I am thinking Kaffe and I may have had different kinds of marble in mind. Anyway I much enjoyed knitting it, and like wearing it too, so how much better could that be?


A word on the Wool
For anyone considering making it - buy only one ball in every colour, and then more as you need it. It knits up quickly (the double thread turned out not to be very hard to manage), and, as it is mixed up throughout, you should not have a problem with unmatched dye lots. The "main" colour, Cheeky (pink), was quoted as 4 balls and I barely started the third ball - that was for the smallest size - and it is a roomy design so the smallest size was plenty for me at a chubby UK size 12. Had I not already bought the third ball I would have used other colours for the side and neck edging. I needed a second ball of Fennel (green) and Bluebell (blue), both of which barely used but still required.

I bought the recommended Rowan buttons for this top - I believe in following designer's .... designs - even though I suspect they are limited by commercial considerations rather than being able to follow their artistic leanings in some cases. I tried to purchase the shell accessories for "Bonita" only to find no sign of any such thing at the suggested website [this is known as the "Delia Smith" effect in mass marketing]. Anyway - the required buttons for Marble cost over seven pounds (!) - compare with the vintage bargains for "Bliss" at 20p.

Posted on May 28, 2007 at 4:23 PM. Category: Knitting.

Pipe and slippers

This is really a message for Alison. Just to show her that on this occasion my mind was not willfully wandering.

cardigan.jpg Some time ago I mentioned I was thinking of knitting a cardigan, or sleeveless cardigan,for my brother-in-law. I had thought I had read an article in one of the colour supplements saying that mens cardigans were now very fashionable. Alison said this was a mistake and they are the pits; I could not find any trace of the article. Anyway, now it seems, they are so very mainstream as to be featured as a topic on Woman's Hour (today); do "Listen Again" - it was pretty amusing

For my brother-in-law? I fear Alison may be correct. He comes from an era where I doubt he will be able to shake off the Val-Doonican-pipe-and-slippers image. And...Alison? I suggest you contribute to the Woman's Hour messageboard - you are not alone.

AyresArt.jpg Woman's Hour today also introduced me to the art of Gillian Ayres; I'm afraid I was (up until now) ignorant of her and her work. She was interesting to listen to - a radio program is not the best medium to demonstrate art work - but of course it encourages you to find out more, and this could not be much simpler in our multi media world. The WH homepage link above currently shows some of the pictures. Apparently, they are typically very large canvases, which does not come over on a small screen.

Famous or "in"-famous?


Posted on May 28, 2007 at 11:30 AM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Sunday May 27, 2007

Bank Holidays and other wet weekends

On Friday evening, post curry, Rob and I watched a DVD created by one of his video students as course work. It is a "horror" story, containing love, murder, and body parts - all the elements required. Without wishing to be patronising, it was pretty good; most importantly I think it demonstrated an excellent talent for putting the video together to tell the story, which is after all what they were learning. However it made me look up a couple of (interesting) things on the web.

In addition to the short story she had included 2 other chapters on her DVD. Apart from a really nice spoof of "most haunted", she documented a little experiment. Using a night vision camera in the totally dark theatre, she filmed her fellow students experiencing psychic phenomena (or not). In addition to a number of young cynics, the film illustrated an interesting effect called "orbs" which are spots of light with apparently no source - and not visible to the participants at the time. She said she had "researched" the topic and that they are considered to be psychic in origin. Well - I had to follow this up didn't I? and they are indeed an interesting effect - and not entirely well understood or explained (I am thinking more in photographic terms) - but they seem to be part of the "crop circle" mind set, with more written about (what I believe to be) less likely explanations than probable ones.

The second element of her tale which interested me was a slight reference to "cellular memory" - used in her plot really more to be part of her ghost story - perhaps more akin to the "Mummy's Hand" genre than any pretence at a scientific basis. But it did remind me of the Alexander McCall Smith story from the Sunday Philosophy Club series, and again I was prompted to surf the net. [Unfortunately the references I found at the time are all broken links now so you will have to look into it yourself...].

So what a rich vein of intellectual ore the student DVD experience led me to. Quite a contrast to "Treats", the West End play we went to see on Saturday. It was the penultimate performance (matinee) so I feel OK about insulting it. It seemed a very weak topic, which if it had any interest deeper than that portrayed, I have to doubt its political correctness in expressing them - it seemed to imply a superficial view that women prefer rats and that's that. I was reminded strongly of Cowards "Design for Living" and felt the latter a much better play. Can't fault the cast though - which is why we were tempted to go and see it - Billy Piper (came to popular culture/TV fame in Dr Who), Kris Marshall (My Family), and Laurence Fox (Lewis). Sadly not worth anything like the ticket price, especially as it is a very short play - seemingly missing a third act - the one where everything comes to a point.

Today, making up for this disappointment, and with the weather steadily worsening, we went to the Screen at Reigate to see: Pirates of the Caribbean - At World's End. Guaranteed to have a good time all round (Yo Ho Ho) even without the bottle of rum (shiver my timbers and pieces of eight). By contrast with the play, this was a very long film - but every second counted. As a bonus I was able to secretly knit all the way through as well - secretly, as knitting often distracts others I find, even though it does not distract me in any way!

Posted on May 27, 2007 at 9:47 PM. Category: Days Out.

Friday May 25, 2007


I retired last night somewhat distressed after George pointed out a nasty story in our local paper. It seems some charmer has kicked one of the swans on the Mere Pond to death - and then incredibly sent a film of it around on their mobile phones. At first I thought "well you can't be sentimental - nasty stuff happens, birds die". However, I think when it said "it was the female" (and the male had been taken to a sanctuary for protection) - that really personalised it. A year ago I wrote about the Mere Pond, where I had taken a walk and seen the lovely site of a pile of cygnets in a little heap right by the side of the road. It was our swan - not just a swan.

I am sad but I am very angry. Not just anger at the person or the act, but angry that in beautiful leafy Surrey, haven of the well-heeled middle classes, that we could have managed to bring up someone who actually wanted to do such a useless destructive thing. I know there is much worse violence in the world, but this almost ridiculous episode makes me feel even more hopeless for humanity.

Posted on May 25, 2007 at 7:28 AM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Tuesday May 22, 2007


While I was in Germany, my extra ball of wool to complete Bliss arrived, (from what used to be "Shoreham Knitting and Needlecraft" shop but is now also a website called English Yarns).
Now it's finshed and here I am - all blissful:


I used some vintage buttons from my hoard - the photo does not do them real justice - they are a lovely antique gold colour. I bought them from our village antiques fair; an ancient lady there always has a veritable treasure trove (she clearly cares about buttons) and I am a regular buyer from her. These were a bargain at only 20p !


In the same package was some Rowan handknit cotton in a new shade "Spanish Red". It is the perfect colour for my Short and Sweet project for G's Mother, altough it does not quite have the rich lustre of the Phildar yarn I used previously.


Posted on May 22, 2007 at 1:04 PM. Category: Knitting.

Saturday May 19, 2007

Maxime's rediscovered

Today - during the FA cup final (match went to extra time and Chelsea made it 1-0 at the 11th hour for those who are interested) - I went on a small tour of wool shops in the area, that I have heard about but not yet visited.

First up was Whichcraft in Cheam. They are listed as a Rowan stockist but did not have what I needed (4ply cotton - I need a couple of balls to finish Marble). Apparently they are currently ordering stocks of everything and thus a little low it seemed. But a delightful shop and I shall certainly go there again - although probably telephone first to check availability. I bought a 4.5mm crochet hook just to show willing.

Second was Maxime's, which used to be in Banstead High Street; I was devastated when I saw it had closed. However,it seems it has relocated to Carshalton - which is not quite so convenient, but nice to know it is still trading. The original owners (a delightful elderly couple) retired and sold the business.
Of course, it no longer has the old-fashioned wool shop feeling with wool toppling out everywhere and a peculiar treasure trove of ancient stock; all that is replaced with the new clean lines wool shop image - less stock of course. They had Rowan 4ply cotton in only one colour (Fennel), which luckily was one of the ones I need; even more amazing it happened to be the same dye lot, but that mattered less.
Looking at Maxime's website I see they have a knitting group - I may try and go along although I have little time. I even skipped Creative Fibres today; they were doing a workshop on papercraft (and after a week away I wanted to knit!).

GreenWool.jpg Sadly, despite hugely increasing my carbon footprint in searching for wool, neither shop will stay in business if they have to rely on me (one ball of wool and a crochet hook). Still - you can only support so many woolshops that don't stock what you need.

Once back at home, I ordered a strange set of odd balls of wool from Janette's Rare Yarns, including the extra ball of 4 ply cotton. Janette sells in dollars in her eBay shop, and her prices seem very reasonable.

Posted on May 19, 2007 at 10:29 PM. Category: Knitting.

Friday May 18, 2007

The time is :

We spent a day longer in Mainz than usual as it proved less expensive to balance a reduced air fare and have a extra night in the hotel. It did have the advantage of not having to rush away to the airport half way through the final afternoon's teaching, which is what usually happens. However, we chose a bad day to have a morning to kill in Mainz, as it was Ascension Day on Thursday which is a public holiday in Germany - not only could we not shop but the office was closed. As it was, I need not have worried, we spent all morning on conference calls and had no time for sight seeing.

I would like to have had time to see Chagall's luminous blue quire windows in St Stephan's, (apparently only a step away from the Eisgrub-Bräu). Every time I go to Mainz I think I will make time to go but it never happens. I could I suppose start nearer to home as there are some at All Saints in Tudeley (Kent), but that never happens either.

On the way to and from Heathrow I was made to ponder on things such as this, by endless mobile phone ads urging me to "make the most of now". Not sure I like the concept to be hijacked by advertisers but ...

Posted on May 18, 2007 at 7:09 PM. Category: Days Out.

Blick über den Rhein

I am not sure where May went as a whole (it seems I am booking my diary into June now) but the last few days were spent in Mainz. The travel and the stay were altogether very easy, and the educational course I attended was of great interest to me; I feel very lucky.

I stayed at the Hilton, where my room overlooked the Rhein, which always lifts my spirits. The photo (a publicity shot I'm afraid) shows the back of the hotel (my room to the left on the 7th floor); you can - and I have in rather more clement weather - eat outside on the terrace by the Rhein. As it was, (raining - proper rain), we breakfasted firmly indoors, and watched the brave souls out for an early morning run or bike ride beside the river.


On Monday evening, six of our number ate at Heilig Geist, which is a restaurant in a converted church building. It is asparagus season, and they had a special asparagus menu. We dutifully ate lots of asparagus.
Tuesday was a beautiful evening full of soft sunshine, and we were able to stroll through the square before joining our colleagues for a group meal at the Eisgrub-Bräu, which is a brewery - micro or otherwise.
Wednesday was pouring with rain once again, and we ate at Cubo Negro - a sort of nouveau cuisine Italian. There seem to be 3 associated premises here: a cafe, a bar, and the restaurant, which had recently been refurbished. It was by far the most refined of our choices, as well as the most expensive. All very pleasant, and in charming company.
I feel very ..... lucky.

Posted on May 18, 2007 at 8:18 AM. Category: Days Out.

Thursday May 3, 2007

"A tree is a large plant." Wikipedia

"Though there is no set definition regarding minimum size, the term generally applies to plants at least 6 m (20 ft) high at maturity".

So the lumberjacks arrived to deal with some of our larger "plants", and finally to remove the fallen tree. They were quite manly but I was a little disappointed that there was not a single checked shirt among them - in fact, they seemed to have some kind of polo shirt style uniform.

Lumberjacks1.jpg Lumberjacks2.jpg

Here, an example Jack prepares to scale the giddy heights of our Sequoia (not really a Sequoia, but certainly a redwood and near enough for me to pretend). It's way above our rooftop, even after they took about 10 feet off the top.


Soon, I will have to leave all this excitement, and scuttle off in to work in London.

Posted on May 3, 2007 at 10:02 AM. Category: The Garden.

Tuesday April 24, 2007

George's World Famous Chicken Risotto


Errr - that's "world famous" as in the American sense.

I am authorised to add the recipe here, which may not be reproduced in any but an edible form, and even that not for profit.... © George 2007

Ingredients for two.

  • Fry a small finely chopped onion with some finely chopped mushrooms in olive oil.
  • Add cooked chicken (sufficient for 2 - whatever your taste).
  • Add 2 handfuls of risotto (short grained) rice; fry and stir for a few minutes to coat with oil.
  • Add chicken stock (lovingly home-prepared previously by someone else). This should be approximately twice the volume of the rice you used, which will be half a pint of stock (that's 10 fluid ounces, you Americans, not eight).
  • At this point you add any herbs (I like tarragon), seasoning, and - the secret ingredient - which I am not authorised to reveal.
  • Cook with a lid for at least 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Towards the end of the cooking time, add half a small tin of Jolly Green Giant sweetcorn niblets.
  • Serve with parmesan cheese to accompanying applause.

Posted on April 24, 2007 at 9:12 PM. Category: Kitchen and food.

Saturday April 21, 2007

Passenger pigeon passing through

Actually I think it may have been wood pigeon, (I got a really good view of its bottom), and it was passing through our chimney.
We heard scrabbling early this morning coming from the attic and, being unable to find anything, opened the window in case a bird had got in - we have had a number of wrens in the house in the past. I thought no more about it.

I spent all day at the Creative Fibres meeting: Sandy was making a fantastic PC bag cover in split ply braid work [thinks: must try this at home], Jennifer and Sharron were weaving (completing a workshop item); Norma - new member - was starting on her Inkle loom work; Betty and Amanda were drop spindle spinning; Iris, Brenda, and the precocious child Charlie were spinning; Wendy was completing her beaded bag workshop purse from last year; and I took my knitting.

This evening I found a load of chimney debris in the spare room, and shortly afterwards, I realised that whatever it was making the noise and creating the soot fall, was still in there and could not get out. So George prized the hardboard cover away from the fireplace - to reveal: nothing. On peering up the chimney with a torch we could see the pigeon perched on a ledge about a foot or two away - well I could see a grey bottom poking over the edge. George then tried the feather duster treatment:



...and it fell down a couple of times (see right: smudgy view of soot falling and possibly a pigeon foot), but despite slithering on the sloping chimney back, it kept flying back up to the ledge.
In the end we left the room with the window open and I hope it has gone away. [Failing all else, if it pegs out, it will no doubt fall down.....]

Posted on April 21, 2007 at 10:35 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Friday April 20, 2007

April Showers

We are finally having work done on the house to renovate our bathroom and plumbing system.

plumbing.jpgWe have started with the latter, which involved the plumber (Gordon) doing all the basic new pipework and installation of a new water tank in the attic, giving us more space in the bathroom. In the interim, the bathroom is left looking like a building site, with a hole in the ceiling through to the attic, and all the pipework (old and new) on full display.
Gordon had the unenviable task of trying to work round all my stuff in the attic. When I laid the wooden floor up there, I left a lot of the boards unglued to allow access to the pipework. What none of us understood properly was the exact location of the bathroom relative to the attic; consequently, Gordon had ripped up a large part of the floor. To his credit he has done it very neatly as it is really hard to pull that stuff apart. However he does keep saying cheerfully: "I expect you'll want to put a whole new floor down" - to the extent that I want to bop him on the nose.
Gordon started work while we were in France and is finished now; the next step is for the plumber (Phil) to install the new bathroom....

Just a minor detail.

Posted on April 20, 2007 at 7:13 AM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Sunday April 15, 2007

"Plus je vois l'homme, plus j'aimie mon chien" Pascal

I realised the dogs hadn't got many column inches so far, so here is a charming sequence which is fully representative of any interaction with them. Tilly (whom you know already) is in her prime - bonkers, lovable, charming, anxious to please, and moves like lightening. Borg (Lloyd's dog) is also in his prime, but, shall we say, not quite as fast as he used to be; however he has an excellent eye for the ball, and a lot of grey cells up top where it counts.

Loading image. Please wait
Pick up the ball...
["What's he up to?"]
Pay attention... ["Is he talking to us?"]
Pay close attention... ["What's he saying?"]
Wait for it... ["No idea"]
Fetch! ["What? Good grief, I think he's dropped that ball"]
["It's OK, Tilly, I've got it"]
["OK, now don't lose it again..."]

Posted on April 15, 2007 at 3:33 PM. Category: France.

Saturday April 14, 2007

"And it soft as silk remains"

So here is the state of play at the Raspberry Bed. George has finished digging in the retaining boards (all his own invention), and I have removed the weeds.


You were quite right about the helpfulness of that Little Cat. She was utterly exhausted after all that effort with those weeds. Even this morning she was out there, scraping away around the edges of the bed, not content that I had completely uprooted all those nettles. [At least I think that's what she was doing...]


Later on in the afternoon she felt up to a little bird-watching.


Posted on April 14, 2007 at 6:51 PM. Category: France.

Monday April 9, 2007

"Grasp it like a man of mettle"

I spent an idyllic Easter Monday, knitting another pair of fetching mittens.

These are for Ava. I have used a Rowan tweed aran wool in grey - not exactly funky but she did express a liking for "grey and earth tones" - and I thought it might be a practical colour for one who works on the land, as opposed to the eau de nil colour, in which I knitted a pair for Diane.

The weather has been simply fabulous since we've been here and there has been lots of gardening. I am pleased to note that it took me no time at all to weed the beds and generally tidy the garden. I am hoping this is a sign of persistence rewarded (previous bouts of weeding, I mean).

My current task is pulling all the nettles out of the raspberry canes. It's very satisfying work; the nettles are very old with huge thick roots, so you just have to loosen the soil and carefully tug them up, but you get stung a lot as well (despite leather gauntlets, thick trousers, and Wellington boots). The roots go for yards - right out into the grass - and of course, there is no hope of removing every last piece, which is really what's required, but I have had a lot of success with another area of the garden and expect to be able to eradicate them from the raspberries as well. It is hopeless leaving them, as it makes picking the raspberries impossible without serious nettle rash. As a Desk Johnny I find this exercise back breaking so am doing a little at a time; however I may need to accelerate my timetable as I think the weather is turning. The nettle story so far:

The scrapings are where I have removed nettles. The very pale green bits nearest the camera are the raspberries - the rest is still nettles.

Posted on April 9, 2007 at 9:25 PM. Category: France.

Sunday April 8, 2007

Easter Day

We ate eggs and enjoyed the garden. The weather is lovely and I am delighted that we are here in time to appreciate the tulips - some of which I planted.

Little Cat is doing well - more kittens on the way I'm afraid - Lloyd, our new neighbour is feeding her along with his two cats. In fact, with the two dogs, we are "all animalled out" as George puts it.
Here she is, on the left, having chased Tuna up a tree; all three cats share Lloyd's garden just fine but our garden is apparently Little Cat territory and Tuna is not allowed.
"The Cat with No Name".

Here are the tulips:

Posted on April 8, 2007 at 9:32 PM. Category: France.

Saturday April 7, 2007


We went to Avranches to the market to buy some fresh fruit and vegetables....

..and some Teurgeule (rice pudding)...

....and here is "Chicken Man" - but we did not buy anything from him today...
(who is that handsome chap in the background?).

So we went to Avranches for the market....

...and so that I could visit the Phildar wool shop and buy some Coton No 4 to make another "Short and Sweet" shrug from the Happy Hooker. In fact, I went to get some for George's Mother to make her said shrug for her birthday in June, (she was very keen on it when we were at the Alexandra Palace show in October last year); however, they did not have any of the yarn in red (the colour in the book) - but they did have it in the most lovely gentian blue - so I am having one as well.
It will be fine as long as Alison, Sheila, and I do not have any common social events in our calendars this season.

Posted on April 7, 2007 at 8:22 PM. Category: France.

Friday April 6, 2007

"O you do like to amuse yourself, don't you?" [My Father]

I started to knit something from the Erika Knight book "New Knits" that I bought last year - the one of the knitted Aran chair cover. Two things in it appealed to me - daft yet lovely though all the stuff is...

This one is a knitted hanging basket liner, which sounds to me absolutely ideal in a natural knitted fibre (though others seem to find it amusing) as it will hopefully retain water well and gradually rot down to a nice natural colour. At least that is the theory.
Erika has made it in parcel string - I, however, decided to knit it in some really horrid fawn yarn I bought on eBay (don't ask). The yarn is some sort of acrylic 4ply so I had to adapt the pattern with more stitches, and probably it will never rot away, being synthetic... but nice Hessian colour (and texture!).

The perfect thing about this project is (and why there is one finished) is that I can happily knit it in the car in the dark - and it's a long way from Boulogne to Cuves.

Posted on April 6, 2007 at 11:55 PM. Category: Knitting.

Wednesday April 4, 2007

Gyring and gimbling

George came home from work with a fantastic gift for me. He had dropped in on his parents, and his Father has made me a Niddy Noddy. Isn't it great?

I am simply delighted, but now I really must spin something!

Today was a really fun day - the Niddy Noddy making it perfick, of course. I went on an urgent trip to John Lewis to try and find a remnant of curtain fabric for the French cottage dormer window - it is being replaced and having repainted the bedroom walls, I thought I would try and make a better job of the curtains. In the end I came away with a remnant to cover my kitchen chairs and a lot of wool (!). No curtain fabric, though.

The first yarn is Rowan 4ply cotton to make a Kaffe Fassett design for me from the latest Rowan book. It is called "Marble" and I am so smitten with it I am even prepared to knit 4ply double (which I hate) - it is an essential part of the design to do so as it provides the lovely effect of the marbles used in the children's game. The second lot of yarn is Rowan Summer Tweed to make "Tobias", which I hope will be ready for George's birthday on October; I am not planning to start to right away, as I was not able to get one of the colours - and I have Furrow to complete first!

I completed Fliss's dishcloths ready for the New Kitchen, which is due for completion in May. The yarn is again courtesy of Alison in the US, and her Mother, who ferried it over the Atlantic for me. The dishcloth patterns are from the left "Mason and Dixon Ann", "Little Houses", and "Alex" (available on-line at Knitting Pattern Central).

Finally, I have been fiddling around with a little project, which might be considered to be more than somewhat eccentric, but amused me nonetheless.
I bought an "odd job lot" of knitting needles on eBay [George: "Good grief, don't you have enough?!"] - but when the seller said "odd" I failed to realise that she meant every single one of them was odd - that is, not a pair. One of them actually matches a really old Aero one already in my possession (which is weirdly fortunate), but the others don't. Some I just put in the needle case as I find extra needles are often useful for projects; others are sitting around while I decide their fates.
Two of them are old Milward's needles, UK size 5s, with matching ends, but of different lengths. They are plastic. I thought about it for a while, and decided I would make them the same length. I have had Milward needles spontaneously lose their ends, so I carefully twiddled the end of the longer one until it turned freely, and carefully prized it off. I then took care to see how much extra I should leave to set into the needle end, and sawed it off to match the other needle. It is my plan to secure the end back on with glue, but it does "pop" back on pretty securely even without glue.

I have a pair of needles...
...to go with the other million or so in my possession...! In my defence, I mostly have very long needles, because as a student when I bought them, I always went for longer ones in that they would be long enough for any project, and I could not afford one in every length.


Posted on April 4, 2007 at 8:37 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Monday April 2, 2007

The past: another country after all

I watched the much anticipated (by me) Nation on Film and was quite amused by it. It was a couple who made rather professional "home movies" on cine film in the 1950s. I was expecting to be enthralled but found instead of course it was just a film of my childhood. It was very interesting to hear the (young) historians waxing lyrical about what a treasure it all was - and I agree that there is nothing like a chunk of contemporary film - some with sound even - for research, as the evidence is incontrovertible. However even though there were distinct social differences from my own background, I did wonder at the conclusions being drawn with such enthusiasm by the (did I say young?) reviewers.

This archive was portrayed as giving the lie to the "buttoned up" reputation of folk just after the war; the Ramsdens had jolly parties, many outings with friends, and even went on holidays abroad. But I remain unsure how secure the conclusions being drawn are. I discussed the topic with Rob to compare our family upbringing in the same period. The first thing that struck me about the couple was that they had no children - we too had jolly parties but the key difference was they were always family oriented, albeit very extended family; we did not have "friends" and there was no "social scene" in that sense. We did go abroad for holidays when we could afford it, going to Wimereux in 1956 [but then, my Mother had taken her honeymoon in Belgium in 1938 on a cycling tour! The vicar had even advised them not to go with "the uncertain situation in Europe", and apparently the Belgians quizzed them endlessly on what the British thought about said "situation"]. On the other hand, Rob's parents had very adventurous holidays compared with ours - but always in England. His Mother never went abroad in her life, and his Father only ventured overseas when forced to do so in the army during the war.

I estimate the biggest difference between the Ramsdens and us (Rob and I and our backgrounds) was that these were well-off middle class people (a teacher, and a dentist) with no children, and thus not very representative from my biased point of view. However, what I have not said is that they took their hobby very seriously, and made really professional films on all kinds of topics that were by no means limited to the moving equivalent of family "snaps"; they encompassed a more professional documentary style and even a short "horror" movie. As such, the interest of the archive is undeniable and, once again, I enjoyed the program very much.

Posted on April 2, 2007 at 10:55 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Sunday April 1, 2007

A multitude of small delights

Today is Alison's birthday (hurrah!).
And* today I find the perfect quotation from Baudelaire, courtesy of Stitch and Bitch calendar. S&B is not really where I would look for deep insights from metaphysical poets but it does seem to sum up what Alison and I have shared over the years. On the face of it, we never really had that much in common, (although I expect our respective partners would find that hard to understand looking at us now).

However, back to the quote: for me, this really does have something meaningful to say about us, because I think what we have always had in common is a willingness to take up those small delights and fully take advantage of the pleasure within them. I have always been able to say "I bought a doll head" or "I got a magazine on eBay..." and never feel at risk of being dismissed as superficial (eccentric maybe...). We can expand a discussion over a ball of wool (perhaps, as yet unpurchased), for many pleasurable minutes - or even days. Of course the pleasures are not restricted to acquisitions - the delights are easily found in Adam and Finlay's philosophical take on life, or in Rob's minor victories over his difficulties at work.

We were always very different people - but we did find some points of interest in common - and that was enough. Even more surprisingly to us, our friendship lasted - and on such strangely close terms - but it did, and it is, and I, for one, am jolly pleased.

So here's to you, Alison - have a wonderful day.... take up those small delights....be happy....

Posted on April 1, 2007 at 8:35 AM. Category: Red Letter Days.

Sunday March 25, 2007

Nation on Film

Last Monday, I found myself watching a documentary about the car (on BBC2), narrated by Sir David Jason1. It was part of the Open University's Nation on Film series, which is made up of professional and amateur movie footage, using a wide variety of film to illustrate historical themes.

I love vintage film collections of this type, (even though I have little interest in the history of the car as such), in the same way that I love Stitchcraft magazine. They provide a delightful insight on contemporary society of the time - even when they are presenting an idealised view of their world (such as in an advertisement) rather than picturing real contemporary life. However, apart from it being very interesting, it threw in what was for me the most astonishing statistic - so much so that I have had to trawl the web to check up that I had heard correctly. Here it is:

In the early 1930s, there were up to 1½ million cars on the road in the UK, and there were more than 7,000 road deaths per year - about twice the present level, when traffic levels are 12 times higher. I feel I must further emphasise that these are actual deaths, not proportional to number of cars, or population, or miles driven.
A c t u a l    d e a t h s.
It certainly caught my attention.

This terrible statistic led to the 1934 Road Traffic Act, which was responsible for introducing a number of safety measures including:

  • reintroduction of a 30mph speed limit in built-up areas
  • "a code of conduct for the roads (the Highway Code),
  • the compulsory driving test2 (fee 10 shillings), from 1935,
  • stipulation that drivers had to be aged at least 17,
  • Belisha beacons3 for pedestrian crossings, and
  • "cat's eyes" , which were invented in 1933.

According to propaganda at least, one of the most effective safety measures was the painting of a white line down the centre of the road. Seat belts were not introduced until the 1950s and for those too young to remember, they became law in 1983.

In the 1930s, safety glass was made compulsory for windscreens - after "terrible injuries" had been caused by accidents involving cars with ordinary glass in their windows. This leads me to comment on Smeed, (who had a fatalistic view of traffic flow), and His Law.
Smeed's Law is an empirical rule relating traffic fatalities to motor vehicle registrations and country population. His basic proposition is that people will drive recklessly until the number of deaths reaches the maximum they can tolerate. When the number exceeds that limit, they drive more carefully.
Depressing eh? But you may be cheered by the fact that the simple graph expressing his original formula is not longer a good fit with the data.4

Moving on - I find I am eagerly anticipating the Nation on Film scheduled for April 2nd, (19:30 BBC2), "The Ramsden Archive", which tells us the story of a newly-discovered amateur archive that sheds new light on life in post-war Britain. "For 20 years, husband and wife Betty and Cyril Ramsden recorded the world around them. They captured middle-class life in the north of England. Their rich celluloid legacy challenges the clichéd view of 50s Britain as a decade of dreariness."


1 I was amused to read apparent criticism on the choice of narrator in various forum entries saying "where did he get that accent?!" (duh - he's an ACTOR...) - one participant did gently point out that it is probably his real accent, and that Sir David probably does not actually speak like Del Boy, or Pop Larkin. The critics are obviously too young to remember the voice of the suave and intelligent "Danger Mouse" , which was always good for a pub quiz question or two on Sir David.
Click to hear those magic words: "Penfold Shush!"


  • Provisional licence (from 1947)
  • Eyesight test
  • Highway Code questions
  • Emergency Stop
  • Arm signals
  • Reverse left
  • Turn in the road
  • 'General driving'

(Source: Driving Standards Agency)

3 The Belisha beacon is named after Leslie Hore-Belisha (1895-1957), the Minister of Transport who introduced them in 1934. I was, again, amused to find from contemporary sources that in the 1930s there was the same public hostility to pedestrian crossings and Belisha beacons as there is towards traffic cameras today, even though it was, and is, empirically evident that they are an effective safety measure.
Even after the introduction of the crossings, the legal point, on who has right of way on a crossing, remained unclear. In June 1938, a judge decided that a pedestrian knocked down on a pedestrian crossing had no claim for compensation because he had been standing on the pavement a few moments earlier and "not presenting the appearance of a man about to cross the road".

4 Smeed's Law merely defines the number of deaths that we find psychologically tolerable. At the time he proposed this (1949) the evidence supported the theory, but now, the actual statistics deviate widely from the maths, suggesting that his relationships are spurious. However, there is still a valid argument that the basic psychological influence is still there, but has merely been masked by what is today the overwhelming (mathematically exponential) influence of improvement in car safety through technological advances.
Vorsprung durch Technik, and all that....
A paper by Adams in 1987 states: "....the death rate per vehicle has fallen enormously as exposure to traffic has increased. The parameters of [Smeed's] original model do not fit the experience of every country exactly, but the model still represents a very useful generalisation of the relationship between death rates and exposure."

Posted on March 25, 2007 at 10:22 AM. Category: Art and Culture.

Saturday March 24, 2007

Handsome N/S (GSOH) WLTM similar for LTR

Genuine replies only please.


For some days now I have been hearing that lonely explosive "cough through a megaphone" very close to the house. Today he started a 6 and I finally managed to see him. I had a great view of him from my bedroom window, but had to pelt downstairs to take his photo. He wandered around and then mounted the compost heap to best express his lonely mating call a few times, before wandering back onto the common. He is in such fine fettle I think he must belong to someone, and have gotten lost.

Posted on March 24, 2007 at 6:18 AM. Category: The Garden.

Monday March 19, 2007

The north wind, and snow.

I’m not sure what the “poor robin” was doing but we returned home last night to a very cold England. Unsurprisingly, everyone here enjoyed a lovely sunny week just as we did in France. It was truly spring, if not summer weather, but suddenly today the wind has switched round to the north and we have low temperatures again. It was snowing, sleeting and hailing today - all in brilliant sunshine - very odd. I was able to use my newly created "hottie" for real (I took it to France but it was surplus to requirements; look out for the pattern in "Pattern of the Month" in the autumn).

My living room was in a bit of a turmoil as I had used up the hour or so spare before leaving for the ferry in beginning to unpack “Pete's box of doll parts”. Well... more of this later, with pictures....

Owing to the rapid weather change I was unable to finish the minor (and hopefully temporary) repairs to the windows in the cottage. I had quite a successful time though, repainting the french window on the outside, and repainting the main bedroom walls, as they had become a bit shabby. I repainted the latter with an attempt at the same colour ("Mellow Sage"), which as usual turned out darker than the original - but a nice tone, matching the rest of the room well. Peter Bridges is due to replace the dormer window within the next month or so, as we suddenly realised the whole thing was totally rotten, and water pours in when it rains. We are hoping he will also address the main window downstairs - I have abandoned all hope of getting replacements that look like the originals, and am having to content myself with the knowledge that they will at least be wooden.

The cat has developed a cough, which I treated but hope to fix properly when I return at Easter (not long now) - as far as I can gather she should be OK until then, but you never know.... she is, after all, a "wild" cat.

Posted on March 19, 2007 at 9:44 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Saturday March 17, 2007

That hard work.

George made up for the meal yesterday by lots of activity in the garden.

There is a rather unpleasant enclosure of an evergreen hedge around the side of the house; it is not altogether clear what its purpose is. It may be that it offers some privacy from the neighbouring house, but there may be a better way to achieve this. It also shields a view of the back of the house where the fosse used to be; however the fosse is now replaced and the area grassed over, so again it is not necessary. It may be some kind of wind break, but it is not between the house and the prevailing wind. So we decided that we would like to remove it, but have decided to do it cautiously in stages in a pincer movement from each end of the L-shaped hedge.

George began by removing the first tree. Click on the thumbnails to view the album.

Posted on March 17, 2007 at 6:14 PM. Category: France.

Friday March 16, 2007

Good food, hard work, and cheerful company.

I am not sure we qualify on the hard work front but Ava and Peter, certainly do, and we spent the evening with them. Peter was late home as he is frantically trying to finish two house refurbishments to a March deadline. Ava as been managing the small holding alone for a few days, while Peter was in England; she had a disappointing time with her tiny flock of lambs, only one surviving out of the 5 born. After that it was continuous antibiotic injections for the ewes, to deal with infections ensuing from difficult labours. [Bruno, our French gardener, says that there have been a lot of lambs lost this year, although he himself was lucky, with his 5 lambs all surviving]. Ava's sheep are Suffolk, and, taking care of my own interests, despite my friend's troubles, I have placed the order for my fleece when shearing time comes.

My sister has sadly had to have her Jacob ram put down as he has now fully matured and was dangerously aggressive. He did his duty this year, though, and sired several chocolate brown lambs, so I have also placed an order for one of those fleeces as well. I think Jacob was a cross, and apparently these usually produce chocolate fleece rather than the usual mixed. So now I can spin all shades of brown and make arty lopi (or lumpy) sweaters....

Ava had booked us into a great restaurant, Les Martinaises, just outside Ducey, which is their nearest "proper" town. I ate warm oysters, lamb cutlets, and then finished with delices de pommes. [George ate my cheese course]. We are now both so stuffed, it's hard to even contemplate getting up the stairs to bed.

Posted on March 16, 2007 at 11:08 PM. Category: France.

Monday March 12, 2007

Precocious primrose

We arrived on the overnight ferry yesterday and the weather is just lovely. George has already mowed the grass, and the garden looks great. I am feeling very complacent about the garden as there are hardly any weeds at all in the beds; I am not sure if this is due to hard work eliminating them over the past few years, or if we have just not been over here at this time of year before, and it's always like this prior to the full growing season!





Perfect primrose
Then bloom profusely
When winter's done
Like city faces lifted to the sun.

Shirley Billing "November Primrose"

Posted on March 12, 2007 at 9:18 AM. Category: France.

Thursday March 8, 2007

Unexpected treasures


A hyacinth isn't just for Christmas.....

Two years ago, George's Mother gave me some hyacinths for my birthday. They had not progressed quickly enough to be actually flowering on the day, but they were lovely when they arrived.

Last year they did not flower, and I put them out on the porch, with a view to making a permanent home for them in one of the beds in the Autumn. Needless to say I forgot them - and this year - I found them giving it another shot, so I thought they deserved to show off in the kitchen.

Here they are emanating the most wonderful perfume, along with such a glorious colour - I would knit with them if I could!

Posted on March 8, 2007 at 7:37 AM. Category: The Garden.

Sunday March 4, 2007

Hidden treasures (aka Stuff)

We've just returned from Rotheram (Elsecar Heritage Centre, in fact) where they were holding a BBR auction today. Here is Alan, doing his stuff. All the guys are called Alan, which is very helpful for those of us who are unable to remember names.

BBR auction.jpg

George bid on a few items, in the end, coming away with two lots. He bought a couple of items from the dealers' stalls as well. There were very few doll heads on sale and while I was "just looking" at one labelled £6, (the nicest and cleanest one I had seen - even including others labelled £25-£40!), the seller said "£3 if you can use it..." - so it was a done deal. The head is a small (5 inches?) AM 1894 - not uncommon, but nice - I think I have a similar one already. Here's the swag:


On the way home, we stopped off at Leicester on a rather peculiar mission to see "Pete".
Some time ago, Pete contacted me through the China Dolls site and said he had "some doll parts" which had belonged to his Mother, and did I know anyone who would want them? I was lukewarm about this (I have a lot of "doll parts" of my own) but said I would drop in if I was ever up that way. I also failed to ask how many boxes of stuff we were talking about. Anyway, we have come away with 3 modest boxes, which seem to contain nice enough things, and I have suggested I try and put them up on eBay for him. They are certainly worth having, but there is virtually no doll market or hobby interest any more, so we will have to see. More on this when I do an inventory of the contents.

Posted on March 4, 2007 at 7:07 PM. Category: Days Out.

Friday March 2, 2007


The conference ended today, and Mickey finally put in an appearance at breakfast. Here he is Meeting and Greeting:

Mickey1.jpg Mickey2.jpg Mickey3.jpg

Strangely (to me) he is much more popular than Mini - kids queuing up to see him. Some of them were too scared to go up to him when it was their turn - which is quite understandable - faced with a huge mouse twice their size at least - he looks so tiny on the cartoons.

Anyway, here I am at home now - safe from six-foot mice, and his friends. And - what a civilised way to travel that Eurostar is; I don't think I've ever felt so relaxed on company business. On the way over I completed a bit of work left over from last week; on the way back,I listened to my talking book and completed a pair of socks. Now I am going to retire with said book - it's "Remote Control" by Andy McNabb (not usually my sort of thing but he is an excellent writer and I was very interested to hear him talking about his life on Desert Island Discs once....) - just the last few tracks to go....

Posted on March 2, 2007 at 10:05 PM. Category: Days Out.

Thursday March 1, 2007

You wanna take my picture..?


Mini posing for me at breakfast time; sadly I did not do her justice, (camera-shake sans-flash as usual).

Posted on March 1, 2007 at 8:20 AM. Category: Days Out.

Grog, anybody?

The night of the Great Gala Dinner
They kept the park open late for us, and we managed 3 rides within the hour before we were forced to go to dinner (!).

Fliss_Joe.jpg Accompanied by Fliss and Joe - and the other 3000 participants - we went on "Haunted House", "Thunder Mountain" (Fliss was very brave about this one), and "Pirates of the Carribean". Joe and I did try for "Space Tours", as Joe was enthusing about the virtual software being done by my company; however, it was firmly "fermé" by the time we got there - and I think I had a narrow escape as I was assured by several veterans that it makes you feel quite groggy.
I had a great time - but Joe explained that you haven't really had the true experience unless you have spent an hour in a queue for a ride with 2 small kids in tow.

Mini-Pete.jpg The dinner was fun - as usual they are never too good about dietary exceptions but that's usually because the organisers fail to relate the "do you have any special dietary needs?" adequately to the restaurants. Fliss, yet again, got a vegetarian meal while protesting "but it's not meat I'm allergic to!". Glad I have no problems in this area, as I would not have the endless patience she seems to have to deal with it all.

After dinner, we were treated to some excellent entertainment, (besides the "entertainment" in the photo), which was pretty high quality but a bit loud for me, and I have now retired back to the hotel, so I can get up tomorrow for the 8:30 start. I wonder how many colleagues will make it tomorrow (today!)?


Posted on March 1, 2007 at 12:12 AM. Category: Days Out.

Monday February 26, 2007

I love Paris when it's raining


It is raining but not sure if it is Paris.
The hotel staff are surly enough but.... you might otherwise hardly guess.
Yesterday we were ruminating on the fact we were in France, in an American theme park, eating in a pseudo German beer keller.

So now you have guessed it - I am at at Eurodisney attending our annual business conference. It's not always here of course - I think the weirdest was in Crete where we appeared to have been booked into some kind of zoo. Everyone thought it was the drink causing them to see Emus and Ostriches roaming around as they returned to their chalets after hours.
However.... that was in another country....


I bought my Ears as soon as I arrived and wore them to the introductory drinks reception yesterday evening.
Most disconcertingly no-one mentioned them at all. Like having spinach on your teeth.
And I looked so cute in them - even though they are made to fit the under tens; an American colleague was just telling me that in Disneyworld they have Ears with a veil and Ears with a top hat for weddings - that's the spirit!
Anway I plan to give them another outing when we are let into the park on Wednesday - I was assured by another colleague that they will not only be acceptable at the gala dinner but de rigeur on the rides.


Posted on February 26, 2007 at 11:00 PM. Category: Days Out.

Saturday February 17, 2007

A niddy noddy of my very own - part two.

I set off with some trepidation to a spinning workshop at Headley; it was for spinners to improve their techniques so I was not sure that my beginner status would suit the level of the other participants. Actually it was fantastic - no-one cared about how bad I was and I benefited enormously from the day.

It turned out that the objective for many of the participants (about 14 of us) was to master the "long draw" technique. I am quite familiar with this as a concept as the very first spinner I saw in Chichester all those years ago was using this technique and talked about it a lot. However, here, we were taught what the method actually is. In some ways it's quite a good thing for a beginner to try, as you can slow it right down, even though the technique can enable fast spinning. The long draw is for woollen spun wools from a rollag, so most of the morning we learnt (or relearnt) preparation and carding. This was very helpful for me, of course.

In addition, for illustration purposes, Eve demonstrated using Louet mini-combs (which I will definitely be investing in), and drew out some carded wool to make a worsted top. I have been dying to see these things in the flesh, having read lots but feeling I did not quite "get" it.

After lunch it was time to start with the wheel.

wheel.jpg It was my wheel's first outing - here she is (Peggy) strapped into the passenger seat in Mini. I have not used the wheel at all since I bought it, apart from practising treadling. At first I set it up but could not treadle very successfully; I discovered that wool was caught around the shaft of the wheel, so I untangled it, which helped. Then two members (Eve and Betty) told me that the string attaching the treadle to the wheel was too long, and once I had shortened it - well - it was a totally different beast, and I was away. I set up the scotch tensioner properly, (you can also run it as a double band I think but the previous owner used it single band), having purchased the little spring to attach it as I understood it should be. Then Eve was able to check it through and she oiled it for me - and ... fantastic.

I did some "long draw"ing, and I would say that as far as the technique was concerned I wasn't much worse than the others (just that I can't actually spin very well and they can!). Specific points I learnt (and need to read more about) were:

  • although you tend to spin more finely with practice, it is harder to spin thick than thin
  • the thicker the wool the fewer the twists per inch required
  • the direction of spin (Z or S) is pertinant to whether you will use the yarn for knitting or crochet

wheel.jpg wheel.jpg

The workshop ended at 4pm, so I was driving home exactly as an item on indigo dye was being broadcast on BBC Radio 4, which seemed spookily pertinent. The item was giving publicity to an exhibition in Manchester, and you can listen to the item at the Radio 4 website.
The trivia nuggets that I learnt:

  • indigo is the only natural blue dye - I was all set to dispute this until they told me that that woad is actually a form of indigo;
  • Bluebeard comes from the habit of using indigo to dye beards for a black and shiny effect;
  • blue stocking for academics because dark blue indigo wool stockings were cheaper than fine black.

Posted on February 17, 2007 at 9:35 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Wednesday February 14, 2007

My funny valentine.

George steels himself for the traditional celebrations.


Posted on February 14, 2007 at 7:26 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Monday February 12, 2007

Harder than I remember.

Diane liked the mittens and sent me this cute card.


For me - knitting is much easier than I remember - and I was taught by my Mother, of course. Memories of winter evenings by the kitchen range. And - no - I am not claiming to be so very old but my childhood was a little Dickensian, for all that.

Posted on February 12, 2007 at 9:18 AM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Sunday February 11, 2007

A day of rest.

What would have been my Dad's birthday (were he still with us), and a day I had planned to spend on a family outing. As it was, I chose not to spread my germs to all my relatives and retired gracelessly to bed. In consequence, the Jaywalker socks were finished prematurely; Alison kindly gave me my instructions, and the wool (Lorna's laces) for my birthday and now here I am wearing them. I like the way that by happy accident the stitch count has produced a sort of spiral stripe around the leg. I lengthened the socks, but really this is not a good idea for this pattern as there is no calf shaping, and for me they have turned out a little like support stockings. Much more flattering length for the chubby calf, though.
I sacrifice all for elegance.


I started these socks last Tuesday when I went to the National theatre - I know how to enjoy an evening out - how cultured I am.

jcottesloe.jpg cottesloedetail.jpg

Posted on February 11, 2007 at 6:51 PM. Category: Knitting.

Friday February 9, 2007

The white stuff.

Yesterday, the whole of the 6pm news was full of nothing but cute snow stories about kids, snowmen, and people having awful journeys to work. This, despite the snow mostly having melted by the end of the day - even though it was quite deep by our standards the temperatures rose and it began raining which happily saw off the white stuff.

The news also showed Canadians in London saying "call this snow?" and I read Yarnharlot's blog entry today saying: "my camera batteries are dead and it's too cold to go to the store. It will warm up later and I'll go (a moment of respect for how quickly the human perspective can shift? I am now calling the change from -20 to -15 "warming up")".

You Canadians..... go on with you...

Posted on February 9, 2007 at 8:15 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Thursday February 8, 2007

Dashing through the snow.

Or rather dragging myself out to take pictures to demonstrate the remarkable change from yesterday. No idea if the pond is frozen or not, as all covered in snow (ok... well, you work it out..).

While outside I heard some persistent biffing noises coming from our big redwood tree; I thought: "I know what this is". I had explored the source of the noise once during the summer, and indeed, it proved to be a Nuthatch. Photographic evidence in extended entry.... (you'll have to trust me on this).

I also put out some more bird seed (on a dry patch under a tree and in one of our oven trays, which will no doubt cause alarm when George finds out). I expect the squirrels will enjoy it - they were much in evidence leaping from tree to tree, causing mini-avalanches.


The nuthatch - you will see that the two photos are of the same portion of tree, and the blurry spot has moved on the trunk (I had quite a good view of it - just no chance of a good photo).

nuthatch1.jpg nuthatch2.jpg

Posted on February 8, 2007 at 10:19 AM. Category: The Garden.

Wednesday February 7, 2007



This subject was called to mind initially by my discovering why the birds always prefer the peanut feeder, over the seed feeder (see left).
I could see from the house that the feeder was somehow discoloured, and even the squirrel seemed to have given up trying to eat from it. I imagined the seeds had gone rotten - but not a bit of it. Due to much rain, poor drainage and the avian penchant for peanuts, the seeds have germinated, effectively blocking the feeding holes.

Add to all this that I am languishing in bed with hot lemon drinks trying to outwit my own personal crop of germs, and the title seems apt; even though it is not strictly the seventh month of the Revolutionary calendar, there is plenty of evidence for it being the time for buds.

We have snowdrops emerging all over our garden, and I snapped some crocus in a sunny spot at the side of the road.
snowdrop.jpg crocus.jpg

Cold and clear day: the early morning frost has remained in shaded areas, in spite of the brilliant sunshine, and you can see the surface of the pond is still frozen, even in the afternoon.


Posted on February 7, 2007 at 3:59 PM. Category: The Garden.

Tuesday February 6, 2007


Just returned from an evening at the Cotttesloe seeing this adaptation of the Virgina Woolf novel: "A fragmented and dreamlike tale of friendship, loss, identity and love". It was a touch bizarre but wonderful, and I feel very lucky to have managed to get tickets to see it so near the end of its run. Unfortunately it's very hard for me to describe what it was like. Robert told me to expect a "sort of multimedia production" and that seems the closest I can get. The book is a stream of consciousness and the play echoes this.

waves.jpg The production and set is rather like being on the set of a radio play, where you see the creation of all sound effects, as well as hearing the play; but not only that, since there are also lighting and visual effects being created and filmed in front of you and projected on screen.

In the first five minutes I felt completely distracted by all the business going on on the stage, and thought it was hopeless; but very quickly I adjusted to the pace of the play and easily followed the real action, and dialogue. Sometimes your eye is drawn to a point-lit actor, sometimes to the creation of the effects, sometimes to the video screening. At a technical level, I think you would have been pleased to have produced a short video of the quality seen in the play, and there they were actually creating it for you as you watched...

The whole is a fantastic collage of theatrical media, which sadly I do not have the journalistic talent to praise enough.

Posted on February 6, 2007 at 11:41 AM. Category: Days Out.

Sunday February 4, 2007

Trashing, stashing, and rehashing.

The 500 polythene bags turned out to be 1000 polythene bags -and apparently they are "food safe" - so that's OK then....Multifiunctional.

I have spent a fruitful day repacking and labelling what I may now fashionably refer to as my stash. It is now cleaner and tidier and better organised. But sadly - no smaller.

Once upon a time, it was obviously my plan to spend all my free time (for ever) knitting socks - in sober manly shades apparently. I discovered that I am already well on my way with a half-knitted sock in 3ply "Little Dorrit" (shade: nutty brown). I have enquired of the sober manly man whether he would wear such socks and had a rather disappointingly negative reply. The ex-manly-man is allergic to wool so that rather rules him out.

Posted on February 4, 2007 at 4:31 PM. Category: Knitting.

Saturday February 3, 2007

Smitten by Aran.

Egged on by the intense competition from Ferretworld I have also completed my fetching mittens: mittens.jpg
I made them using Rowan Calmer as I had some left over from another project and I am very fond of this yarn. It does knit to an Aran weight tension but is slightly stretchy so on the smaller needles they have come out fairly small, but fit me fine.

This is a very nice pattern. It is very clearly explained and uses a method that has never occurred to me before, (even though I have knitted many gloves in my time), creating the thumb opening by means of a piece of waste wool. They were very satisfying to knit - so much so that I also immediately knitted another pair - for my friend Diane, (who is helping her friends by doing pretty well recovering from her illness and has even started back at work for a few days a week). Diane's birthday is in May but I think she needs mittens right now, even though May in Scotland may be a little chillier than further south.

The designer has reversed the cable pattern on each wrist so that "the cables on each hand will twist fetchingly toward your thumbs". This appeals to my Libran nature (or neurosis) for symmetry. This call to mind the first "real" sweater I ever knitted for myself, which was an Aran. It had two main cables either side of the main panel, and the pattern had the cables twisting in the same direction; I did not make it symmetrical - for all I know it's traditional to have them going the same way -some superstition or other... who can guess?

This is the very Aran here (I am guessing it does not fit me any more...). Click on the picture for a giant view.

I knitted it from specially oiled Aran wool by Patons (Capstan) and it was quite awful. The oil soaked into everything, while knitting it and subsequently when wearing it. After the first outing, I washed it (and my T shirt) thoroughly in soapy water; well, I was never planning to go deep sea fishing in it, after all.

The pattern was from one of the women's magazine in around 1969, which I borrowed from my school friend, (and clearly never returned) and I saw it reprinted in a booklet of "favourites" a few years later. My friend knitted the matching skirt as well as the jumper - and she reversed the cables so they were symmetrical. I attach the picture for your delight, and in addition the perfect 1960s trouser suit, for the complete retro experience.

Aran_suit1.jpg Aran_suit2.jpg

Bet you can't wait to knit that suit..... Just contact me if you need the pattern.

If you squint you might notice that the complete retro price tag was about £3 for the wool. I am not too ashamed to say, that in about 1976 I knitted the man's cardigan for my boyfriend Hamish, (a retro kind of guy - even for then!), who failed to stay my boyfriend long enough to claim it. My brother-in-law somehow took it over, and a few years ago it got "mothed". So I knitted him a replacement in a lovely soft Rowan Aran tweed in grey. The price tag for that was £50.

Posted on February 3, 2007 at 4:28 PM. Category: Knitting.

Thursday February 1, 2007

Aft aglay.

I am full of plans. Which is not so good really as I am still trundling on with a lot of old plans. [In my defence I am exclusively working on "Furrow" at the moment, and am half way up the front - it looks good and I have become more used to the strange technique].

Yesterday, while I was at work, 500 polythene bags were delivered - the box was rather larger than I had imagined. The intention is to repack and organise my impressive collection of (vintage) wool and hopefully weed out those half-knitted projects which are unlikely to ever be completed. Not that I think I have 500 packs of wool (we'll see) but they were only supplied in units of 500. I am also anxious to make good use of my new Dymo labelling machine (birthday gift), making it easier to find that perfect little ball of wool that I stored away in 1981.

Posted on February 1, 2007 at 6:50 PM. Category: Knitting.

Tuesday January 30, 2007

And I counted them back in.

This last weekend was the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. I dutifully reported my garden birds (1-2pm Sunday - not the best time of day). I managed two types of "less-common" birds - 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, and 3 Moorhens. The latter scratch around the garden every day - and every day I fear for their safety, and yet they seem to carry on OK. However, there was such a racket in the garden last night (about 1am) that I was forced to go out to try and intercede.
It was not exactly clear what kind of animals were involved, although it was pretty clear that a large part of it was a fox (or foxes) and that said fox was certainly the cause of all the other noise. After I went out there was some pathetic flapping and cheeping, but no more barking. I saw nothing. I assumed the worst.
But - this morning - there they were again - all three, messing about scratching in my lawn. I would dearly love to ask them what on earth all that noise was about. Try and keep it down after midnight, guys.

Posted on January 30, 2007 at 8:49 AM. Category: The Garden.

Monday January 29, 2007

Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words.

I have had a simply splendid weekend.

On Saturday we went to see George's sister, Karen, who had made a wonderful cold buffet lunch in honour of her Father's birthday (actually today) and my own birthday (yesterday).

George's Father returned to me an antique "swift" which he has lovingly repaired - it had a few missing struts and rivets. I was thus able to use it for the first time to wind the wool that Alison sent me for my birthday. Also in view is a spinning book and a personalised bag (from Alison) celebrating our websites; I plan to knit the toe-up socks from the book with the new wool, and keep the knitting in my new bag. Perfect.

The quilted place mat was made by George's Mother for me (also a gift). At Christmas, we gave her a sale bargain of "add on to Pandora's box" which is a series from Quilting from the Heartland. We then went to some lengths to get the original Pandora's Box booklet (seemingly out of print) from the web - I eventually tracked it down on the Amazon US "marketplace". This placemat is her first experiment with the patterns, and I think it's great. It is heat proof, for which she uses an ironing board lining material that she buys from Wilkinson's in the UK.

Yesterday, we had a great evening with Lyn (my sister) where we had a turkey dinner and Christmas pudding, as a sort of replacement Christmas, given that my sister was in Australia in December. We also exchanged presents. She gave me a wonderfully elegant white ceramic container for olive oil, as well as a summer top in a wonderful shade of green, along with a matching necklace.

Posted on January 29, 2007 at 11:15 PM. Category: Red Letter Days.

Wednesday January 24, 2007

Feet and fingers glowing.

It snowed.
It always seems such a surprise - like you don't really listen to the weather reports. Anyway, it cheered up the ticket office clerk at the station no end. It also had the effect of delaying trains into London, made worse on the way, with minor scuffles breaking out as commuters tried to squeeze onto the already crammed 2 coaches. This made for a disquieting journey before finally meeting up with an American colleague outside Holborn tube station. [We had never met before and he had no mobile (cell) phone - how much we (I) have grown to rely on these...].
Now the business meetings are over, and I have returned home to the snowy wastes (it has all melted, making my 2 pairs of socks seem like overkill) and I am utterly worn out, so time for hot cocoa and an early night.


Posted on January 24, 2007 at 9:04 PM. Category: The Garden.

Saturday January 20, 2007

Go home and weave a net.

Third Saturday in the month, and I was off to Headley Village Hall for the Creative Fibre group meeting. I did wonder if I would be able to get through as the road to Headley is over Box Hill. We had terrible frightening gales on Thursday and there were a lot of trees on the roads. We lost a small tree (which fell onto the road) and our neighbour's gate was blown down.


Yesterday was much calmer, but when Robert tried to take the train to meet me for a curry, he found that due to a tree on the line at Tattenham Corner there was only a bus service from Purley; rather than have him do that, I drove over to Coulsdon to meet him (different railway line).

Bettys_socks.jpg As it was I had no trouble, but there were many gale stories from the members; Jean,who lives on Box Hill, was unable to drive to her house on Thursday on the roads - the police got a local farmer to open up one of the tracks across his land - and currently she has no electricity. Other than the gossip ["great wool shops I have known" etc] I worked peacefully on my crocheted skirt (stop laughing - everyone else thought it was nice - they are going to call me "that woman with the crocheted skirt").

Betty (on the right) was knitting a pair of socks - no heel - just a patterned tube - thickish wool - but - here's the best bit -
she had spun the wool herself using a drop spindle.

I spent some time picking the brains of a weaver (and I have forgotten her name - damn...). She had woven a fabulous scarf and it was so inspirational I feel I must have a go... All these women talking about what they do in the way of cooking, growing their own vegetables, growing dye plants and dying their own wools - even if you allow for the fact that many of them are retired, it's still pretty impressive, (Eve had some fantastic examples - I really must have a go at that too.... I wish I had taken pictures of her wools).



Posted on January 20, 2007 at 5:27 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Saturday January 6, 2007

Freedom and Plastic People

Robert and I went to see Rock 'n' Roll at the Duke of York - it's the latest Tom Stoppard play which is partly set in Prague, between the Soviet invasion of 1968 and the Velvet Revolution of 1989. Some people said "at last he's written about Czechoslovakia" as though no-one realises he was born there - but I was so aware of his roots over the years that I was a bit surprised to learn he left when he was a baby. I also remember a play many years ago called "Professional Foul" which I really enjoyed a lot - but it may have been about an unnamed Iron Curtain country, rather than citing Czechoslovakia.

rocknroll.jpg It's a very elegant and wordy play, and described, by one reviewer, as "a brilliant exploration of liberty, rebellion and identity that captures the spirit of the Sixties, from the Prague underground to the fragile genius of Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett". I felt a bit lukewarm about it - it started life last June and I think may have been better with the original cast. Several reviewers said it was bold and innovative, raw and full of passion, seemingly written by a much younger man; this explains to me that I felt it was a little unformed - like a young man's play... However, even though I am not very imaginative, I can see that it's a very personal play, and it explores what life might have been like for Stoppard if he had returned to Prague in 1948, as his hero does in the play.

Everybody asks me "Did you enjoy it?" (you can see their brains ticking as they register that they do not know of the play), and I had no instantly prepared answer. However "Yes" I did enjoy it, and found it quite moving - probably the nostalgia over the music. The most musically moving scene for me was when our hero is living in Prague, and he finds the police have destroyed his entire record collection which he had managed to hang on to, despite everything else falling apart around him; all, that is, bar one that his friend had borrowed. It's a Beachboys album, ("I knew you wouldn't mind"), which of course they then play. Even before it hits the turntable I just knew what it was going to be. Up to then we had heard lots of Pink Floyd, Dylan etc. Now, after all the deprivation and persecutions, petty and otherwise, we hear "...and wouldn't it be nice to live together In the kind of world where we belong...."

The play also introduces us to the band "Plastic People of the Universe" who unwillingly became a symbol of the political struggle, while they were rather anarchists; they complained "no-one ever talks about our music!".

After all this intellectual stimulation we were quite hungry, so we went on to eat at Sofra in Tavistock Street. It's Turkish food, and really excellent. Even more amazingly, they charged us only for the lunch time special menu; I can only presume we must have been seated rather too early for qualify for the higher priced dinner.

Posted on January 6, 2007 at 11:55 PM. Category: Days Out.

Monday January 1, 2007

Parcours Santé

How better to start the new year than fresh air and exercise? We found an Arboretum in the Forest of St Sever, at La Vierge à la Vilaine ["the Virgin with the naughty one"? - it might make sense except Vilaine is feminine - so - she's a bad girl or what?].


But then we found the perfect entertainment to maintain our healthy bodies. [Click on the thumbnails to open the album].

Do not try this at home (so much for the healthy exercise): George severely strained a muscle on the parallel bars (luckily too high for me try it), and although I could hang from the monkey bars, I could not actually move my hands from one bar to another....!

Posted on January 1, 2007 at 8:42 PM. Category: France.