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Thursday December 31, 2009

Books in December

Frantic activity all through December left little room for reading. However, I received some great books as gifts.

  • Make Do and Mend: Keeping Family and Home Afloat on War Rations (Official WWII Info Reproductions) foreword by Jill Norman
    MakeDo.jpg A wonderful book reflecting my interests in this aspect of history and culture. These are fac similes of the "Make Do and Mend" leaflets issued by the British government during World War II. Clothes rationing was implemented by issuing coupons which allowed minimal purchases of not only clothes but the raw materials to make your own clothes - so recycling of fabrics** and yarns was a necessity. The initial coupon allowances introduced in 1940 were gradually reduced throughout the war, and ironically, when the war was "won", (and America ceased to subsidise the British economy), even stricter rations were imposed.
    There is some suggestion that many of the rules and guidelines could still be applied today - which is true. However, I think it's worth remembering that these makeovers had none of chic associated with the current fad for so-called recycling; everyone loathed it.
    ** I also own an original 1940s sewing pattern telling you how to cut out the two-tone blouse from "two of your husband's old shirts".

  • Spin Control: Techniques for Spinning the Yarns You Want by Amy King
    SpinControl.jpg I have been longing to read this book. I think I already "know" (the theory of) some of the fundamental information in it - with respect to woollen and worsted spin, and different methods of drafting - but there is so much more here. It gives excellent photos and explains clearly the actual effect of what what you are doing with respect to a finished knitted result - concepts I had never really considered.
    Now I have already read it from cover to cover, I am not sure it will actually alter my ability to control what I spin. However, I know I will refer to it again and again to remind myself what to expect from the techniques I am using. And who knows? maybe - gradually - the control will come.

  • Knitted Socks East and West: 30 Designs Inspired by Japanese Stitch Patterns by Judy Sumner
    SocksEastWest.jpg An interesting book with some great patterns - lots of complex stitch work though, so not so much for patterned yarns. I think this is a lovely and original collection, though I would take issue with the author's assertion that the actual stitches are unknown, or never before conceived of in the West. It's not that she is "wrong" and I am sure that she did spend many interesting hours interpreting Japanese patterns - and making it so much easier for us. However, there are a lot of old "western" patterns with many interesting techniques and frankly bizarre stitches which do reflect the same "kinds of" (that is not identical) techniques described in this book. As to the complexity of the stitches - my past experience of being taught the "Japanese" way of doing short rows and wrapping stitches gave me the impression that the method seemed unnecessarily complex for very little benefit, and very little observed difference in the result.
    But I do not wish to sound churlish - this is a lovely book and I look forward to knitting a number of the patterns from it in the next 12 months. [Maybe not so many of the type indicated on the cover photo ie those without toes or indeed in some cases no feet at all. Just to reassure you that many of the socks depicted are ..... well..... socks].

Posted on December 31, 2009 at 11:29 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Friday December 25, 2009

Christmas Dinner


[For once I remembered to take the picture before we actually ate the food.]

Posted on December 25, 2009 at 5:25 PM. Category: Red Letter Days.

Monday December 21, 2009

Good enough to eat.

The Bowtells have a website.


Long before "organic" and "green" became positively trendy, (and maybe now almost "normal"), my sister lived in East Tisted, where she was able to shop at Bowtell's Farm. They became good friends over the years, and a couple of times I was able to get my Christmas meat supplies at their Farm Shop. I even sewed them into a sampler, which was a little momento of my sister's time in the village.


I live a little too far away from East Tisted to use them for general food shopping, and I have to admit that in recent years I have been seduced by Waitrose's ability to supply such a good range of options in Organic produce that I usually buy my food there these days. They have obviously got their marketing and maybe their market well sorted out - offering "locally sourced" ranges as well as organic (far better than the larger chains) and give an altogether good impression of having "green" credentials. They have convinced me anyway.

[Waitrose opened their newly refurbished - after the fire - Banstead store on November 21st - and George and I rushed round to experience it that very evening. ]

Posted on December 21, 2009 at 5:27 PM. Category: Kitchen and food.

Monday December 7, 2009


George has long been complaining (quite justifiably) about my walnut collection. He collected them from our trees in France - with husks - some months ago. First they sat around in a plastic bag going mouldy - and at intervals he tried to throw them away. Eventually I put them into an old tin bath supplied by G's Mother with some water and left them to "mature". They have been on the boiler, keeping warm and infusing for a few weeks - and at intervals George has suggested throwing them away.
Now Christmas is approaching and I decided it was now or never - George would stop politely suggesting throwing them away and would be driven to action.

I prepared some fleece, and simmered it in the strained dye bath. My book advises not to leave it in for "longer than necessary" as walnut can harden the fleece; I always struggle with advice like this, though - how can I know what is necessary? However I took out test pieces and washed them through pretty vigorously with soap until the point at which the fleece retained some colour. This was much as advised - 45 minutes simmering at about 80 degrees.


Walnut is self-mordanting and the colour has turned out a pinkish beige - it looks very like the sample photo in my book. It is the pretty much the colour I was looking for ("grey-beige") which I plan to use for the Icelandic Shawl pattern. I have already spun some Southdown 2 ply natural fleece for this project - now I need 3 shades of blue/grey to get started (for which I plan to use a commercial dye).


The other walnut colours shown in my book, Spinning and Dyeing (by Gill Dalby and Liz Christmas), have made me want to try pre-mordanted wool, and to that end I have sent off for some mordants - poisonous and otherwise - to try out further samples with my bath. A little project for after Christmas.

Posted on December 7, 2009 at 12:41 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Thursday December 3, 2009

Amnesty Card Campaign


While I had my sewing things available, I decided to respond to a request from Amnesty International to send them a supportive Greetings card - explicitly not religious. The fabric piecework card took me longer than I had hoped, and I think the point of it was the accompanying donation - but I was quite satisfied with the use of my time.

I chose to send mine in support of the women of Zimbabwe, having attended the Everywoman Awards ceremony for 2009 at the Dorchester in London yesterday. Some of the recipients pointed out that not all women enjoy the same status as we do in the UK - and also how fragile that status can be, as has been proven in other countries where changes in government have caused astonishing reductions in status almost overnight.

Posted on December 3, 2009 at 12:08 PM. Category: Crafts.

Monday November 30, 2009

Books in November

This month I have been doing a lot of machine knitting - none of which worked out very well, and is due to be unraveled. However I worked to the accompaniment of a number of podcasts from the BBC, and a couple of light-weight talking books.

  • Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House and the Deadly Dance by M C Beaton
    [Read by Penelope Keith]
    HauntedHouse.jpg DeadlyDance.jpg
    Agatha finally opens her own detective agency, and realises that the opportunity for investigating murders on a professional basis is not what it's all about. In fact, it offers more in the line of finding lost cats. Despite this, she is soon embroiled in more "murders and mayhem" - and still trying to fight the signs of ageing whilst pursuing unworthy men.

Posted on November 30, 2009 at 10:31 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Sunday November 22, 2009

mmm .... chocolate

Although it's always a good time for tea as far as I'm concerned, we keep the tradition of "tea-time" at weekends. So occasionally at the weekend I like to make a cake.
This is a very grown-up chocolate cake; it's very rich but not too sickly. It's very chocolatey, so you need to use a good quality chocolate for the cake and the icing. Below is the recipe for a small version of the cake.




For the cake:

  • 2½ oz plain chocolate
  • 2 oz butter
  • 2 oz golden caster sugar
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1½ oz self-raising flour
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 3 teaspoons rum
  • ½ teaspoon almond essence
  • 2 teaspoons water

For the icing:

  • 1 generous tablespoon of apricot jam
  • 2 oz sugar
  • 3 tablespoons boiling water
  • 3 oz plain chocolate


  1. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C, or Gas Mark 3.
  2. Grease and line a 6 inch sandwich tin, (loose-bottomed, or springform is ideal).
  3. Melt the chocolate and allow to cool.
  4. Cream the softened butter with the caster sugar.
  5. Beat in the chocolate, and egg yolks.
  6. Sift the flour with the cocoa powder and fold into the mixture.
  7. Add the rum, almond essence and water.
  8. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold them into the chocolate mixture.
  9. Turn into the tin, and bake in the oven for about 40 minutes, or until the cake springs back when lightly pressed with the fingertip.
    Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out.
  10. When the cake has completely cooled, melt some apricot jam - sieve if necessary - and brush over the top and sides of the cake.
  11. Make the icing by dissolving the sugar in the boiling water and then breaking in chocolate. Stir with a wooden spoon until smooth, then boil for 1-2 minutes more, stir again, and pour over the top and sides of the cake, spreading with a palette knife. Allow to cool and set.
  12. The cake can be stored for a day or two - if it lasts that long.

Posted on November 22, 2009 at 7:14 PM. Category: Kitchen and food.

Saturday November 21, 2009

Christmas Decorations


For about a year I have been collecting milk bottle tops to make a Christmas Tree decoration, based on one that I saw George's Mother had made a couple of years ago. My kitchen drawer is teeming with the things, so I thought now would be an appropriate time to get on with the project.

The tops are covered in fabric and sewn together to make the shape you want. [Someone suggested you "could make other shapes as decorations- not just for Christmas!" - and this is true - but only, I would venture to suggest, if you have very bad taste. Somehow all good taste is suspended for the Christmas period.].

I padded the tops with a little piece of fleece material, which I stuck to the top with a dot of glue, just enough to hold it in place during the construction. I then cut a circle of fabric 4 inches in diameter; which I sewed round the edge with a running stitch, using the thread doubled. You can then draw up the thread tightly, covering the top with the fabric, and enclosing the fleece padding. Secure the gathering thread with a couple of stitches on the back, take the thread to the edge and leave a long tail when you cut it off. You can use the tails to do the catch stitches on the back to hold the shape together. I did not put any finishing the on the backs of the tops as I thought the gathering looked quite neat, even with the raw edges of fabric.


You sew the tops together to make the tree shape, and then have fun embellishing the tree with beads or gliterring stones. I sewed a ribbon hanger on top to hang the decoration on the wall. You can make a larger tree by simply adding rows to the pyramid part, and you can enlarge the "pot" section in proportion, if necessary.

I took all my bits and pieces along to the Guild meeting last week (it was Christmas themed) and although I think this is quite old hat, many of them were very interested and have since made their own trees. I think a lot of people have a collection of tops intended for charities that have since refused to take them. Once you have made a collection it's hard to stop and discard them all.

When it came to it, I found I had only enough tops to make 2 trees. One for myself and one destined for my dear friend in California.

If this is all too late for this year, my helpful suggestion is that you make these little craft projects in the early part of January, when it's quieter. They can then be packed away in the Christmas boxes ready to leap out and surprise you with your own forethought next year, by which time you are too busy to think of anything else other than how to fit the over-sized turkey into the oven, and how to fit all your many relatives around your dining table such that they can still have enough mobility in their arms to eat said turkey, (or is it the other way around?).

Posted on November 21, 2009 at 8:26 PM. Category: Crafts.

Friday November 20, 2009

Mrs Warren's Profession


The last of my tickets for the year is this interesting wordy drama from Bernard Shaw, at the Richmond theatre. I always like his plays but this one seemed to have an unnecessarily sad conclusion It seems Edwardian Woman could not have her cake and eat it too. Clearly, I am the audience that made him rewrite the ending to Pygmalion.

The play transfers to the West End in 2010

Posted on November 20, 2009 at 11:13 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Wednesday November 18, 2009

Inherit the Wind


Rob did not pass on a ticket for this Old Vic production starring Kevin Spacey and David Troughton, and directed by Trevor Nunn. The 1955 play is based on the true story of the Scopes Monkey Trial - the play, again, made famous by a film, in which a school teacher is prosecuted for teaching of Darwin's theories of evolution. The great lawyer Clarence Darrrow acted for the defence; a hugely popular Democrat politician, William Jennings Bryan was prosecutor. The trial became a worldwide sensation.

I enjoyed the performances of all the actors. David Troughton was surprisingly (only in that he is English) convincing as a populist American politician. Spacey produced his one of his favoured character roles, though I did feel that his playing to the audience in the final moments of the play was not warranted. During the trial scenes we, the audience were in the position of the jury, so both legal teams were "playing" to us. When it was all over, the character was alone on stage and his mimed summary should have been expressed more privately without the awareness of an audience.

I had no particular deep knowledge about this trial prior to seeing the play, but was interested to read in the programme that the real-life trial was a "put up job". Scopes "agreed" to admit he had been teaching evolution (which he may not have done in fact as he was a sports teacher) to enable the American Civil Liberties Union to defend a test case. I also did not realise that the defense did not succeed in this trial, and that the overall point on the teaching of evolution was not finally decided until 1968.

Posted on November 18, 2009 at 11:33 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Saturday November 7, 2009

Dial M for Murder


A month of theatre visits began with this innovative production of the 1952 play, made famous by the Hitchcock film of the same name. I thought it was really well done, and the actors were terrifyingly wonderful.

I was particularly smitten by the set, designed by Mike Britton. At first I was unsure - it was a brilliant blood red throughout (walls, floor, carpet), and the whole stage area rotated very slowly as the plot progressed. This sounds very distracting but in fact it took me some time to notice the movement, which says something for the strength of the acting as well as the staging adding to, rather than distracting from, the play. The overall effect was to emphasise the feeling that we were observing the characters as if they were in a goldfish bowl - the dark action played out with the villain and his plan known from the start. I thought it was excellent.

The final key action of the play is carried out off stage - in the previous production, only sound effects are heard, which can add to the tension. In this setting, the back wall of the apartment was a gauze cloth enabling us to see the hallway and directly observe the villain give himself away. My only comment on this is that producing it in this way makes the Scotland Yard detective's commentary on the action in the hallway redundant, and it could have been dropped. The curtain falls on brilliantly silent actors as the villain makes his final doomed entrance.

Robert refused the role of my companion in this outing, which was a shame, as I think he would have enjoyed it. However, he was permanently scarred by the memory of a production I "made him go to" in Worthing many years ago - I have wiped this episode from my memory, but it remains clear to him ("lots of stuff with the telephone" which he remembers as a shortcoming of the staging rather than a key element of the plot...).

Posted on November 7, 2009 at 9:12 AM. Category: Art and Culture.

Saturday October 31, 2009

Books in October

Almost a repeat of my entry for May - the autumn books from Debbie Bliss and Louisa Harding are now available.

  • Debbie Bliss magazine (issue 3) by Debbie Bliss
    DebbieBliss3.jpg DebbieBliss3preorder.jpg A number of interesting articles, and, as usual, a great selection of winter patterns from Debbie. Take a look at them at the Laughing Hens site. I love the cabled slipper socks, the fair-isle hot water bottle cover, the tartan tea cosy... and ... and... It's like POM condensed into one magazine ...well maybe with better looking and more up to date styles! Anyway lots of projects to look forward to this winter - will any of them make it as Christmas Gifts I wonder?
    I have put two cover images here, but it is only one magazine - the image on the left was the "preorder" marketing cover, and the one on the right was the one that was actually chosen when the magazine was published. I really preferred the preorder version (and when Laughing Hens sent me the magazine I thought I had received the wrong one somehow!) - but I can see the final choice may have more marketing impact. Not sure what this says about my fashion/style preferences - certainly not that I don't like red - but I have not rushed into knitting any of the items inside that red cover. Maybe I just have too many other things to finish right now.

  • Little Cake and Queen of Hearts by Louisa Harding
    LittleCake.jpg QueenofHearts.jpg Now here, unpredictably, I have already rushed into buying wool to make a couple of these styles. I bought wool at Ally Pally to make a cardigan (Puzzle ), and a dress (Two), both from Queen of Hearts. One item from Little Cake (Featherbed has already "made it" as a Christmas Gift (yes, completed and ready to go).
    I find the styling of the models most beguiling - even though I don't buy into looking like that myself (which is just as well - not just an age thing although that doesn't help!). I don't think I had the sense of style or the imagination to look like this even when I were younger. However, I love the idea of these quirky goth type models, and hope I can look stylish nonetheless. But first I have to knit them - right?

Posted on October 31, 2009 at 11:51 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Tuesday October 27, 2009

En automne

We managed one final trip to France for the year. This lovely photo of a giant pumpkin best represents the time of year - it is one of Lloyd's super squash crop - we had slightly less success with ours!


Peter, having recovered from his work-related injury, was back at work on the bakehouse - laying the concrete floor. I stopped him trying to get out of my shot to which he responded, not a little ironically: I know - 'just look like you're working!'. (I should mention that shifting concrete is back-breaking work).


George also put in some work on creating a strawberry bed using the many baby plants our strawberries produced this summer. Despite all the effort we left a lot for Lloyd to tidy up for us.


And my contribution to all this activity? More soda bread.


Posted on October 27, 2009 at 3:55 PM. Category: France.

Saturday October 10, 2009

Harrow Inn Beer Festival


Rob was dancing at the Harrow in honour of their beer festival, and as it's local to us, G and I went along.



It was fun, although I think the Landlord made a slight error in the logistics, since it resulted in my not drinking anything at all, never mind the beer, (though I did eat the pig roast).
The Morris Men were overcome with delight that they were joined by Roy Dommett a leading figure in Morris tradition and expert on its history and techniques.


Posted on October 10, 2009 at 4:54 PM. Category: Days Out.

Friday October 9, 2009

Knitting and Stitchery Show 2009

This year the main exhibit in the Alexandra Palace entrance hall was the impressive: "Casting Off...A Coat for a Boat!".


Textile designer Ingrid Wagner was lead artist and on this amazing community project which was created with the help of contributors hailing from the North East region as well as internationally, and with the support of The North East Maritime Trust.

Every section of the boat exhibit provided fascinating detailed works of knitted art.


All the poor little fish caught in the nets - though they look cheerful enough about it!


And spot the rats leaving the (hopefully not!) sinking ship.


Fewer photos overall than in previous years indicates how interesting it all was and how busy we were looking around.
I would have liked to take photos of some of the artist's work but of course that was mostly prohibited. I did enjoy one artist who made delightful fine ceramic mugs, jugs and other items, which looked as though they were made of paper, and charmingly painted with floral (and other) designs. Hard to describe without a photo! However, she had already sold all her stock on only Day 2 of the show.

My first item on the agenda for the day was to hand in my completed Macmillan Blanket at the Knitter Magazine stand. That done we were free to roam, observe and buy!

As to our purchases: we saw Fi Morris and Sheila was very smitten with one of her patterns; we had to order the (discontinued) Wendy wool for it when we got home. I am very glad I did Fi's workshop to understand her specialist techniques for when I get round to knitting it! I bought some bargain Sirdar Peru and Patons Misty - yet more cardigans; some lovely beads for Christmas gift necklaces; some earring attachments to supplement my Alison-made stitch markers (I use them all the time and never have enough); and Italian sock wool for... never you mind what.

Posted on October 9, 2009 at 11:49 PM. Category: Days Out.

Wednesday September 30, 2009

Books in September

  • T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton [Read by Liza Ross]
    Trespass.jpg A frightening tale for all of us who are "getting on a bit" - though I am not in possession of any substantial material wealth in the shape of jewellery or real estate, so maybe I don't warrant the attention of con men (or women). Lets hope.
    I see there is a version read by Lorelei King, who I think is an excellent reader and would very much like to hear her as the voice of Kinsey Millhone. I find Liza Ross a little whiny - partly this is her accent - but it has to be said that the character is a little whiny so I am not overly critical of her style!

  • Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan
    SavingFishFromDrowning.jpg This is a strange novel in that it starts with the premise that the narrator is dead - in that context I suppose it has some ethereal features in common with the Penelopiad. Even though the plot is fantastic in the true sense of the word, it is utterly gripping in a very much down-to-earth sense; you are right there with the characters, fearing for their every stupid move. Right up to the last few pages I feared for the outcome for the unworthy western heroes, which seemed would inevitably to end in tragedy. And I suppose if I had proper consideration for all the characters rather than just the western ones - it really did end most tragically. As usual, a very poignant (and political) story, even if told with a slightly more fantastical air.

  • End Games by Michael Dibdin
    EndGames.jpg This book is regarded as a return to form - it has a less glum feel about Zen's health and personal life. The plot however does bring us back to the usual deeply depressing view of a corrupt society - and the rather gruesome black humour.
    I think Peter Guttridge's article from 2007 provides an excellent review of both this book, and Dibdin's writings. [The reference to tomatoes in the title of the article refers to Zen's apparent dislike of their constant use in Calabrian cuisine]. I note that the first book, the Sherlock Holmes pastiche, which I found so very remarkable, has been "constantly in print in the UK for 30 years".
    It's hard to adjust to the idea that this really was the end of the game.

Posted on September 30, 2009 at 11:43 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Wednesday September 23, 2009

Squash anyone?

Everyone has been awash with courgettes and squashes. We enjoyed a number of Lloyd's while we were in France, Janet gave us some of hers, and we even had a couple of our own (that's how easy they were to grow!)
Here's a great vegetarian recipe that uses them. I did not realise that Tian is basically a Provençale vegetable stew and this is not an especially common variation of it. However the flavours and texture blend well. You can eat it on its own, or (a smaller portion!) alongside a meat or fish dish.

[One time, I cooked the spinach - in the microwave - but then forgot about it. So I can vouch for the fact that the Tian tastes pretty good even without it - just for all you gout sufferers out there.]




  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion or shallots, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 8 oz cougettes, chopped
  • 4 oz spinach, cooked, drained, and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons brown rice, cooked
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 oz Gruyère cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of mixed wholewheat breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese

Serves 2


  1. Fry the onion in the oil until soft.
  2. Add the garlic and courgettes and cook for about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the spinach, rice, eggs, Gruyère cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and mix well.
  4. Turn into a greased earthenware gratin dish and sprinkle with the breadcrumb/cheese mixture.
  5. Bake in a preheated oven at 170 degrees C, or Gas Mark 4 for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Posted on September 23, 2009 at 4:26 PM. Category: Kitchen and food.

Saturday September 19, 2009

Domino Workshop

The final workshop of the year was on Domino knitting. A name, so we are told, apparently chosen at random. More aptly called patchwork knitting, it uses a technique of increasing and decreasing to knit little squares, and then cunningly picking up stitches, so that you avoid all seaming - brilliant.
Our tutor was Fiona Morris, seen here modeling her Domino waistcoat.


We were aiming at producing a cushion cover, (in the foreground of the photo). Fiona has made this one using a variety of samples from a natural dye study.


Here is my sample effort.


I have previously made Vicki Sever's "Heart Sachet" which is based on this technique, and Fiona also had examples of little baby bootees - all shaped from squares, joined together with no sewing.

Posted on September 19, 2009 at 8:28 PM. Category: Knitting.

Saturday September 12, 2009

Home Grown

We had to dig up the potato. I say THE potato. We had only one plant, and along with all other related species in the garden, it got blight, so we dug them up before anything worse happened. I did find it very helpful that the Gardeners World team showed us all their blighted potatoes (it was common throughout the UK this year), and offered advice on how to deal with the results, and crop what you can.


We did not feel that our haul was especially mighty, but they were Desirees which should be "lates" - so it was a bit early for them (!), and it rendered enough for 2 meals for us.

Overall we have done very well with our other vegetables. Not certain it has been very economic overall, but for weeks now we have not had to buy any vegetables - though our diet has been restricted to eating only carrots and beans.


We had a few courgettes - but they are very easy to grow and we should have done better. We had lots of lettuce and rocket, and my fennel was very successful - almost too embarrassed to show photos as they did not develop good bulbs, but were very good in my fish soup nonetheless. Here is a group photo showing the beans, fennel, lettuce and tubs of carrots in the distance.


Our brassicas have all bolted - the brussel sprouts may be producing nodules about the size of peas, so we'll have to see, and the butternut squash - I planted four very late and one of them produced a tiny squash, which a squirrel has done its best to consume, but not altogether successfully!

Posted on September 12, 2009 at 8:11 PM. Category: The Garden.

Friday September 11, 2009

I Knit London Weekender


After meeting with a client in London, I went to the I Knit Weekender.

There was a lot to look at - not a huge venue but that made it quite relaxing. The vendors were high quality and more focused (on knitting and fibre) than at Ally Pally. I was delighted to see Jane Waller's vintage book "A Stitch in Time" had its own display on the Arbour House stand. I spent some time chatting to the people there and checking out the vintage knitting examples on show.


I bought one or two items and was very pleased with myself as they are all things I need - maybe! - bargain sock wool for Terry's what-is-now-traditional Christmas socks, "Herdy" mugs** (one for me, and others for gifts), and a bargain skein of silk/mohair from Knitwitches. It was great to see the Nichols button collection in the flesh - though I could not persuade myself to buy any right there and then (no suitable current projects); I did however find an excellent button seller - Textile Garden - really nice people and really nice-looking buttons that did not break the bank - and I bought a couple of sets of buttons for my cardigan projects, plus some that I simply "liked" to send to Alison.
I also bought a pattern for a remembrance day poppy - proceeds to the poppy fund. I thought this was an excellent idea but I can't see myself using it on the day - have to keep explaining to people that although it does not look much like a memorial poppy, it was sold in aid of the fund.

As well as things to buy there were fashion shows, workshops, and opportunities to meet other knitters over a nice cup of tea (and a sit down).


** At the show they had Herdy piggy banks, which were very appealing, and I see that I Knit now have a limited edition version available in yellow.

Posted on September 11, 2009 at 7:40 PM. Category: Knitting.

Wednesday September 2, 2009

Just a Lightweight

MansPinkCardigan.jpgMore on G's light-weight cardigan request and the "irresistible man's cardigan from the 1970s" (shown on the right - I left the moustache in the pattern picture just to demonstrate the gender of the model, but I now realise this is simply more gender stereotyping for which I profoundly apologise). You can see the charm of the original colour - disturbingly, I think I have some of the correct brand of wool in that exact colour in the attic - however after a great deal of thought (about 1 nanosecond) I settled on a light grey instead.

I finished the patterned part of the knitting on holiday in Norfolk and easily completed the main sections on the newly refurbished knitting machine. I took it all the pieces with me to France to hand-knit the button bands, and then sew it all up.


At last it was done, and George was finally able to wear it in France (my! - he's so handsome!) - although there are not really any summer evenings any more. They seemed to stop around mid-August.


[In case you are wondering, he is trying to emulate the spirit of the era using what little he remembers of the 1970s, along with the guileless expression of the model in the pattern.]

Posted on September 2, 2009 at 9:42 AM. Category: Knitting.

Monday August 31, 2009

Books in August

My peaceful August boating holiday gave me plenty of time to catch up with my reading as well as listening to the spoken word.

  • The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly
    BrassVerdict.jpg I think it's fair to say that I could not wait to get my hands on this book and enjoyed every minute of reading it. Our hero maintains some of what seems the Connelly tradition of being unable to retain any kind of settled relationships (and I mean that loosely - not with a capital "R") but maybe that's actually how life is, as well as adding drama to the book. He (hero) has been through a lot since we last met him and is having to reshape his life as the books starts out - and we leave him at the end of the book with a stated direction of reshaping his life yet again - but through choice this time.
    His interaction with Bosch is quite interesting. I find it hard to see the character we know and love portrayed as he is in this book - but it's just because it is through anothers eyes. And Bosch has some relevant baggage that he's hefting around.....
    This book is excellent in my opinion but .... although I hate to say it out loud.... not as good as the Lincoln Lawyer. I don't think it was simply due to my high expectation - I just think Lincoln Lawyer plot was so excellent that it's hard to match it - and I am not at all disappointed that Connelly did not quite do so.

  • The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
    Penelopiad.jpg Helen recommended that I read this book - she felt it was just the sort of thing I would enjoy - and she was right. It was very refreshing and funny. For some reason I conjured the idea of Ray Winston as Odysseus - not necessarily given her physical description of him (in case he finds my comparison offensive!).
    I have enjoyed a number of other Atwood novels - they are a joy to read in the sense of the written word - and they break your heart. I recommend Blind Assassin, Alias Grace, and her short stories.
    Rob lent me Alias Grace, (which I like a lot), and I gave him Surfacing, which he found perplexing... I have yet to read it.

  • Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris [Read by Diana Bishop]
    QuartersoftheOrange.jpg This was the novel I listened to while we were chugging along in our boat - and while I was knitting. It was brilliant and exceeded my expectation. I have seen the film version of Chocolat, and I have also read Blackberry Wine - which was perfect for me as the hero reminisced about his childhood in the same period as my own - and the book was set in two separate time periods with two stories running side by side, with a good dollop of romance thrown into the present day.
    Five Quarters of the Orange was of exactly the same form, but with an elderly heroine looking back to a much earlier period - and still managing an, albeit mature, romance in the present day. She described the struggle during her adolescence in her relationship with her Mother and siblings - and I found it all very resonant despite not having been brought up in poverty on a small holding in occupied France during WW2. Added to this there was almost a murder mystery element - so I was charmed and enthralled.
    The book was helped a lot by being simply beautifully read - totally convincing voice for the mature heroine, sounding both slightly wistful about the past and yet firmly settled in the present, and the inevitable phrases in French were excellently rendered - neither pretentious nor over-emphasised. Just perfectly judged.

Posted on August 31, 2009 at 12:45 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Tuesday August 25, 2009

A "Whatever" Day

Janet from the Guild invited everyone for a spinning, knitting, or whatever day at her house. I say her "house" but we were meeting in her greenhouse - in a moment you will see why that is not as odd as it sounds. My sister came along too - but with great trepidation in case someone tried to make her do some kind of fibre craft. However, she was there to investigate animal husbandry. Specifically Janets "boys" - who were very pleased to come and meet us.


Alpacas look very cuddly but sadly do not like to be touched at all. But they are very friendly - especially if you have a few bits of carrot and apple about your person. They also tend to nibble each other (and humans) affectionately.


Janet's greenhouse is in truth a huge conservatory. It's a massive Victorian construction, as her property is part of an old estate - her house being the "gardener's cottage". [Not so much a cottage though - but rather a house, emphasising the status of the man who managed a team of gardeners on the estate.]
We had a lovely day sitting spinning among the exotic plants - as well as the less exotic cucumbers, and courgettes. I was lucky enough to be given some wonderful courgettes to take home at the end of the day.


Posted on August 25, 2009 at 8:02 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Thursday August 13, 2009

An old friend

I took lots of knitting on my holidays - that is lots to knit but not lots of projects. One was my Debbie Bliss summer wrap - which I duly completed. The other was a cardigan for George.
For some time I had been planning this item - ever since last summer when he said he wanted a lighter weight jumper to put on at the end of hot days in France. So I decided it should be practical and not too precious, - but still look good. I chose the ever-practical fine Phildar Luxe (almost a 3ply) from my stash and selected an irresistible man's cardigan from the 1970s (what were they thinking?!).

The lower part of the cardigan is patterned with a twisted rib section but the rest - including the sleeves - is plain. There was a good deal of peaceful time for knitting, so by the end of the holiday I had finished the patterned sections. This meant there was nothing for it but to execute the second part of the plan.
Plan B was to use a knitting machine to complete all the stocking stitch knitting in that very fine wool. So now I have to confess - I do in fact already own a knitting machine.

In about 1981, and at great expense at that time, I purchased a second hand Toyota machine in Watford where Rob was working. I used it a lot in the 1980s - my favourite yarn was a light weight double knitting by Phildar (Pronostic). Rob still has much striped knitwear from this era (!). In all the years since, the machine has been loaned out, been through a number of house moves, and been deserted in the wet environments of various cellars and garages. In all that time I have been too frightened to open the case and come to terms with the results of my neglect. But now is the hour.


The great reveal showed it had stood up to all this very well - but every single needle was rusty and needed replacing. Since these are user-replaceable parts, this was not such a disaster on the face of it - though maybe a slight economic disaster. I searched on the web and to my amazement found the most wonderful shop (which seems to be not only the perfect shop but the only shop): Bedford Sewing and Knitting (or BSK), and they were able to sell me needles for my model of machine - amazing when you think that this was a already a second hand machine almost 30 years ago. I ordered 200 needles from them - and they even offered additional advice on my project - but more of that in a moment.

So - heartened - I took all the casing to pieces as much as I could...


... and cleaned all the parts, washing all the plastic elements with soapy water and oiling all the metal parts. I took photos as I went to try and ensure I knew how to put it all back together again, and carefully preserved each screw and bolt with notes on its origin (I have done this kind of thing before ...). My needles arrived and I put everything back together.

The advice from BSK was that I should check that the "needle retaining bar was not worn" as this makes the needles stick. Until I came to replace the needles I had no idea what a retaining bar was - and even when my machine was all back together, but not quite working properly, it took me some time to relate the symptoms of my problems with the helpful advice from BSK. But I had no idea what the bar was supposed to look like - only when I looked on the web did I realise quite how bad mine was (you mean there's supposed to be sponge in there?!). Surprisingly, I found quite detailed advice about "refurbishing the sponge bar", and so I did it - had to make a few adjustments to work with the raw materials I could get hold of in the UK, but now it all seems to work fine - in fact, rather better than it ever did as far as I can remember.

I know I should finish with a splendid photo of it looking all shiny and lovely - but that will have to wait for another occasion - George (who never before realised I owned such an item was quite put out when he saw it - thought aliens had landed in the kitchen).

Posted on August 13, 2009 at 6:50 PM. Category: Crafts.

Sunday August 9, 2009


We extended hour holiday as much as we could by executing a slight detour to the town of Lavenham. It is an almost fossilized medieval town in Suffolk, about 5 miles from Sudbury (where my Granny used to live..). It prospered from the wool trade in the 15th and 16th century, and became massively wealthy exporting the trademark blue broadcloth - high quality worsted cloth made from Suffolk sheep fleece (the same type given to me by my friend Ava).


We were there to see the National Trust property - the Guildhall of the wool guild of Corpus Christi. It is in the centre of the village overlooking the market square, and dates from 1529. Inside there was an exhibition detailing the history and manufacture of the cloth, and outside, a pretty dye garden with pictorial guide to the plants.


Yesterday, on our way to the coast, we briefly stopped at the National Trust property Horsey Windpump; the pump and the day were fine, but we were hoping to take advantage of a Tea Shop. Unfortunately theirs was just not the kind of cosy tea shop we were looking for (and sort of "expect" at NT properties, though they do vary according to their situation) - so we left.
Move on 24 hours and Lavenham provided the perfect venue - and so we ended our holiday - tucking into the perfect cream tea for two. If this picture makes you feel a little sea-sick, remember that Lavenham is renowned for its little crooked houses.


[This was probably the only saving grace for George, since his disgust equalled my delight in finding that the exhibits were devoted to spinning, dyeing, and weaving.]

Posted on August 9, 2009 at 10:58 PM. Category: Days Out.

Great Yarmouth

You can take your "pleasure craft" from the North Broads down to Yarmouth but this is not really a holiday for amateurs like us. The waters become tidal and you have to be very careful not to become stranded, and there are many other hazzards. So we decided to visit the historic town by spending our last night there before returning home.


Yarmouth's history is all around - and pretty easy to spot through the trappings of modern additions. Our hotel itself, the Imperial, was delightful - an old building on the sea front, originally opened in the 1800s as a boarding house for men - its fascinating history with photos is displayed in the hotel foyer.

However, Yarmouth was not quite what I expected. A little more like Blackpool rather than Portsmouth - though, as my colleague Tony points out, I do not think I have ever been to Blackpool so I cannot really make that comparison! It is a real bright-lights-and-entertainment-like place. True - there were many people with tattoos but just not the jolly jack tars I was expecting (ok I admit - my ideas lie somewhere in the 19th century). So - we were able to finally get an excellent "fish and chip supper" at the famous Harry Ramsden's - unfortunately not its traditional home, which is in Yorkshire, but part of a worldwide chain.

The town is full of relics of the Victorian era - read about them here - I wish I had printed off these walks and information prior to coming here. Many music halls and other venues are all still standing - but either derelict or mutilated by modern annexes and flashing neon lights. The saddest was the Winter Garden - where some attempt has been made to commercialise it as a theme park of sorts - but currently it is closed up (supposedly only temporarily for "essential maintenance") together with its theme park contents, and only the lovely Victorian glass house left to admire from the outside.

There was a lot more to offer beyond gazing glumly at the past - here I am reclining on a concrete sofa (modern sculpture) - and almost alongside are some archaeological remains of an ancient monastery.


Once we had moved along the sea front to the more industrial part, at the mouth of the river, we found the Nelson monument. It is out of the town and (on a Sunday at least) quite deserted. Some suggest it does not have the pride of position it deserves but I loved it, in all its splendour, surrounded by light industry.


On our way out, we saw the complications of living in a town divided by a busy river.


Posted on August 9, 2009 at 12:58 PM. Category: Days Out.

Saturday August 8, 2009



Our overnight destination was Great Yarmouth - but we first reached the coast at Caister, (that is the place of origin for Alison's knitalong gansey pattern).
Here we wanted to have the true seaside experience before going to (what turned out to be only) my vision of an industrial working port. More of that later....

In Caister we were lucky to witness their moving the old lifeboat - both George and I thought this was the lifeboat - as that's what they were like when we were kids! However you can see the two views of the boats: one, destined to be housed as a museum piece and the other, the modern boat they now use.

Caister_20090808_0684.jpg Caister_20090808_0689.jpg

There are wooden commemorative boards listing all the boats and "lives saved". From 1857 to 1969, a British record total of 1814 lives saved. And these guys are all volunteers.
"Caister Men Never Turn Back"

Posted on August 8, 2009 at 6:17 PM. Category: Days Out.

Leaving the boat and on to Hickling


We set off early - and cruised across Barton Broad in delightful sunlight. We were so early, we took a little diversion up to Sutton and back, before handing in the keys to the boat and returning to dry land and our car.

As we were not able to get under Potter Heigham Bridge and cruise around Hickling Broad, (frightening the living daylights out of the wildlife I suspect), we decided to visit the nature reserve at Hickling by road. It was an incredibly hot day, we took the nature trail, and saw "nothing" at least neither the crane family, nor the bitterns - which you see if you are patient - but we were not. We had lovely views across the Broad, but very few birds about in the middle of such a hot day.


Amusingly though, we saw a lot of "little birds" ahead on the dusty track and making a lot of noise in the adjacent scrub. They were not all the same species and having made notes of what I glimpsed of them, I concluded (after reference to the books) that one of them must have been the bearded tit I have been wanting to see all along. Not being a twitcher, I would have preferred a longer and better view of him - but maybe next time.

A Duck a Day: The Cormorant

No - these are not shags (butt of many a British joke) but cormorants.


They made a beautiful picture lining our route through Barton Broad, as they were drying their wings in the early morning sunshine on every post marking the navigable water.


Posted on August 8, 2009 at 12:20 PM. Category: Days Out.

Friday August 7, 2009

Cockshoot to Gayes Staithe


Our final day and night on board.
We spent the day at Cockshoot Broad, which is adjacent to the nature reserve at Ranworth Broad. You cannot motor into, or moor at the Ranworth - so you moor up at Cockshoot and take a riverside board-walk from there.

We decided to moor for the night at one of the staithes closest to the boat yard, as we had to be back there by about 9am the following morning. They are quite popular so we made good time and took the first berth we saw at the peaceful Gayes Staithe. However there were a couple of families there who (I would say somewhat charitably) were "having a good time" so in the end it was not quite as peaceful as we would have liked...
However we were able to walk into Neatishead for an excellent meal at Ye Olde Saddlery Restaurant.
While walking there we purchased some home-made fudge and flapjacks from unmanned stalls at the end of resident's gardens - an honesty-based industry. And our journey back was by moonlight (though in addition we had prudently packed torches).


And by the time we returned, peace reigned - the boisterous families having obviously collapsed in their beds ("tired and emotional" no doubt).

A Duck a Day: Tufted Ducks

A duck at last.
These may not look much like the typical picture of a tufted duck - in fact I had to reassure myself that I had identified them correctly with someone else's photo of a pair.


We watched this little duck family for some time from a hide in the nature reserve.


She had more than 3 ducklings but they were never above water all at the same time!


Along the board walk we also observed this secretive moorhen. We saw plenty of coots on our holiday but hardly any moorhens.


Posted on August 7, 2009 at 11:14 PM. Category: Days Out.

Thursday August 6, 2009

Horning again


We moored up opposite Horning*, that is, on the other side of the river. Try as we might we could not find a means to get to the other side and revisit the Bure River Cottage restaurant. There is a ferry but it does not run after 5pm - very frustrating - next time we vowed we would be towing a little rowing boat, even though that makes mooring even more stressful. So we had to settle for a walk through the nature reserve and "home cooking".

* note that the view of nature above is not our mooring at Horning, but taken earlier while on the move.

A Duck a Day: The Heron

Another amazing bird we take for granted. They are still as statues when at rest, and it seems incredible but you can miss spotting them even in the most obvious places.


They are so BIG - and so amusing in flight, with their untidy wing action and impossibly long legs trailing behind.


Time to dry out.


Posted on August 6, 2009 at 10:22 PM. Category: Days Out.

Wednesday August 5, 2009

North of Horning

In the spirit of a traditional self catering holiday from our youth, there have been many fry-ups and bacon sandwiches as brunch, lunch, and dinner (usually not all on the same day!). In this vein, it was our ambition to find somewhere to have fish and chips - but such places seemed hard to find; though one exists at Potter Heigham, we were not there at the right time to eat.
Last night in Horning however, we found a fish restaurant, and decided to eat there - but it was so much more than a "fish and chip" restaurant. It is a simply excellent restaurant, and you can find many other rave reviews on the web of the Bure River Cottage Restaurant ("possibly the best restaurant in East Anglia" etc). We tucked into much healthier (and tastier) fish cakes, sardines, and grilled sea bass.

Norfolk5-boats_8775.jpg Norfolk5-boats_8776.jpg

The pictures show two of the "other" types of boat we saw quite frequently - one the tourist trip mock paddle steamer, and the other an old style wooden sailing boat. The tourist boat regularly "steams" up and down the river form Horning all day. But this evening as we had we moored up in a peaceful location away from any of the towns, we discovered that it also does night trips....! First we heard a terrible disco beat in the distance which gradually got louder and louder until a brilliantly lit boat came into view - it passed by, with cheering party-goers shining spotlights on us as we stood gazing open-mouthed in horror from the deck of our little craft. The whole experience was quite unbelievable. Then the noise faded into the distance - and then grew louder again as it went into the Broad adjacent to our mooring, (this is a Broad with clearly well-heeled residents on its banks, so heaven knows how they put up with it every night! ). We were treated to this cheerful serenading for well over an hour, with their passing us on the river yet again before they returned to Horning.

A Duck a Day: The Grebe

The great crested grebe is no longer an uncommon sight on any of our rivers, but is such a wonderful and extraordinary bird. Grebes are some of the oldest species of bird, and do have a rather prehistoric look about them.


This is my favourite picture - not the usual smartly turned out grebe. It is sometimes hard to catch a picture of grebes - especially little grebes - no sooner you get the glasses on them than they dive. This is the result of all that effort - a bit waterlogged.


Here with a hanger-on...


The young do not look at all like the adults, and if you did not see them together you might not easily guess.


Posted on August 5, 2009 at 9:12 PM. Category: Days Out.

Tuesday August 4, 2009

South Walsham and Horning


We took our time cruising around the Broads on our way to Horning - which was hosting a regatta, held over several days. They were fine about allowing tourists to blunder through the racing ("keep to the right pleasure craft - you are fine"). Perversely we managed to blunder through quite a few times in our travels.
Mooring in Horning was difficult, but one of the major riverside pubs, the Ferry Inn, had closed down (hopefully temporarily), so it was possible to use their mooring without much difficulty, though they had annoying taken up all the mooring rings. It was then a short walk into the town for amusement and supplies.

A Duck a Day: The Coot

A very under-rated bird - by me at any rate.


But I do love their "almost" webbed feet. You mostly see them swimming, but their feet, when revealed, are huge and somehow ridiculous looking - like unintentional clowns.


I am not doing so well on showing actual ducks in this feature. However, here we have some Muscovy Ducks - not natives of course but fairly common in the UK - mostly domesticated rather then feral, I think.


Posted on August 4, 2009 at 4:37 PM. Category: Days Out.

Monday August 3, 2009

Potter Heigham... and back again


We went on what may develop into a ritual visit to Potter Heigham, hoping to be able to get under the bridge, and thus on to Hickling Broad. [It is my ambition to see a bearded tit (it's a bird) and they frequent only the north Broads]. However, the water was high and nothing of our height was being let through. We were only about 2 inches too high for the water level, and they said we could wait for low water at 5pm but we abandoned the enterprise and I accepted it wasn't going to happen this holiday. We turned back towards South Walsham Broad and Horning. Use the pop-up to see the map.


A Duck a Day: The Goose

I had forgotten the Egyptian Goose who features all over the Broads, so he was a lovely surprise for me all over again.


Such lovely plumage I can't resist another view of it.


This one looked very amusing to us - stuck on the skyline on the roof of someone's house. It shows you two features of the holiday - the goose and the wonderful decorative ridge of the thatched roof. Thatch is no longer a quaint olde worlde feature in Norfolk but is recognised as the economic and practical roofing material that it always was. The sedge is once again being properly managed (improving wildlife habitats) and more younger people are training as thatchers.


There were other geese too - here are some greylags. Huge honking flocks of them wheeled overhead at dusk.


Posted on August 3, 2009 at 6:36 PM. Category: Days Out.

Sunday August 2, 2009

How Hill to Thurne

Our first night was a How Hill - a well-known centre in the Broads.

Norfolk2-How Hill_0041.jpg

It is very beautiful - the Broads are full of views like this. Even the ubiquity of pleasure craft like our own does not spoil it (though I guess it might take the edge off it for those trying to sail!). And, amazingly, you can always find some peaceful places to moor up in the evening.


A Duck a Day: The Swan

Norfolk2-Duck_0576.jpg There are a lot of birds on the Broads - from the commonplace to the unusual. So rather than holiday snaps, I am featuring them. They are not all ducks, so forgive me.

Our very first bird was a splendid view of a Kingfisher - he was posing on a mooring rope but we failed to get a picture. After that we saw quite a few more typical views - just a flash of bright colour across the water.

So today we feature swans - as in our fist view here - they know how to exploit the tourists ...aaah.....


Much later in our trip we were to see black swans - on the Broads north of Horning.


Posted on August 2, 2009 at 9:12 PM. Category: Days Out.

Tranquility on the Broads

So what did we do?
We went on holiday!


It was great - we hired our "pleasure craft" (Ruby Gem) from Richardson's boatyard at Stalham. It started splendidly with nice late afternoon sunshine on Day One* and a reasonable mooring at How Hill. You can see that George immediately took to the relaxed way of it all.

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*Night One the rain absolutely swamped us and the retractable roof of our little craft leaked like a sieve, but I am glad to say that despite other rain incidents, this was not repeated.

Posted on August 2, 2009 at 6:42 PM. Category: Days Out.

Friday July 31, 2009

Books in July

  • Jackson's Dilemma by Iris Murdoch [read by Juliet Mills]
    JacksonsDilemma.jpg It's a long time since I read any Iris Murdoch novels - probably not since I was a student at which time she was very much in vogue. I am not sure I understood them very well at that time - I was trying to expand my reading matter and everything was new to me. Even now, when I read AS Byatt, or Angela Carter, I find it hard to understand them - so maybe it was just that era.
    This is her last novel and has engendered some harsh criticism which I think is unwarranted. I presume she had probably already begun to feel the effects of her disease, and there seems little point in saying what basically boils down to "it's not as good as her other novels". One critic complains that the people are not believable and date from a pre-war era - I think he is mistaken - the people are not 21st century, maybe not meant to be, but rather more from the 1960s I would say - one forgets how backward society still was at that time .... Literary criticisms when it was first published comment that "the writing is a mess" and sum it up as a "very odd book".
    For myself I did find it hard to see the dilemma of the title. However it seems clear that the tone of the book relayed anxiety, and towards the end, Jackson sits alone and reveals a confused state of thinking which surely must have reflected some of the authors own confusion.
    In addition, I'm afraid this novel was not improved by Juliet Mills as the reader.

  • Book Of The Dead by Patricia Cornwell [read by Lorelei King]
    BookOfTheDead.jpg This was an interesting novel, as usual from Patricia Cornwell - gory but interesting. I do find the characters hard to empathise with - all of them actually - not just Scarpetta, who is such a cold fish, for all her Italian genes. They seem to behave in a wholly unbelievable way. A certain amount of irrational behaviour makes a book interesting, and is eminently believable. But all the characters seem constantly embroiled in battling with each other, and all seem victims of such weird hang-ups you can hardly see how they function in society - and that's not even the serial killers...
    At he end of this volume Marino goes missing, and we have to wait for the next book for him to turn up again. Alive or dead I wonder?

  • Bare Bones by Kathy Reichs [Read by Barbara Rosenblat ]
    I am firmly hooked on the Kathy Reich's forensic detective novels, which have a far more human heroine in Tempe Brennan than the comparable Kay Scarpetta. This is an earlier book in the sequence, than the other novels I have listened to.
    These characters are believable and easier for me to understand - just classic detective novels, not psychological thrillers. Not so gory - more clinical - and not so weird.
    So on that basis, is my approval good or bad for an author?!

Posted on July 31, 2009 at 8:25 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Saturday July 18, 2009

Braiding sampler


Today saw the braiding workshop, where we were able to try all different kinds of braiding - basically all based around Kumihimo wheels of one sort or another. It was great to be able to try out so many different techniques - toe in the water.... Made me keen to get out my Marudai again.


Posted on July 18, 2009 at 7:28 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Wednesday July 15, 2009



For months (since I heard the review on Front Row) I have been looking forward to the musical version of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert - and it did not disappoint - me, that is - and Rob thought it was hilarious.
There was some criticism in the early reviews - that it lacked heart - and I do have to say that the "plot" did not come over quite as emotionally moving as in the film. However, it made up for it in humour and spectacle. The costumes were so outrageous - as each one appeared you could not imagine how they could ever outdo it, and yet they did so right through to the end of the show.
The film (which I loved) was all about the drama of the people and the scenery. It was hard to see how a musical could ever compete on those terms - so of course they changed it - into a musical - and I thought it was fantastic.

Priscilla is in London at the Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue.

Posted on July 15, 2009 at 9:27 AM. Category: Art and Culture.

Saturday July 11, 2009

Gipsy Kings

Last night Rob and I went to Kew Gardens Summer Swing concert to see the Gipsy Kings. They performed everything expected of them (Bamboleo) as well as newer materials - and were on excellent form. I was pretty keen on the Cuban sound of Motimba who entertained us for the first hour as well. A fun evening out.


Posted on July 11, 2009 at 9:27 AM. Category: Days Out.

Thursday July 9, 2009

150th (Last Ever) Royal Show

When we heard that this year's Royal Show at Stoneleigh is to be the last of its kind, my sister and I determined that we would go together. She really enjoyed last year - and brought me back some llama slivers which I made into this scarf.

Thus, naturally, my interest was in llamas as well as sheep and alpacas. I bought some alpaca fleece (white) and my sister found that an alpaca does not cost as much as she thought (watch this space!). However, Lyn's interest is mainly in the horses and chicken - so between us we sought out all of the animals and displays - not to mention the food - that we could find.

These pop-up panoramas give some idea of the size if the venues as well as the vast array of animals on show in just one category (which I think was dairy herds in this case).


We spent some time at the equestrian arena - watched a little Polocrosse and the Pony Club games. Here the young riders line up to show off native pony breeds.


Our final activity of the day was watching the final equestrian Driven Championship. A little different from the pony club...

And so... almost unbelievably, it really is to be the last such show ever - they have finally come to terms with it no longer being financially viable. [What will the Archers have to talk about now?]

Posted on July 9, 2009 at 11:25 PM. Category: Days Out.

Saturday July 4, 2009


To my surprise, George wanted to go to the Smallholders Show at Ardingly. It was a fun day out - especially for me as there were sheep and fleeces. I fell victim to another purchase - a Portland fleece. I have no idea how sought after they are (not very I suspect), or how well they spin, but I know they are a rare breed - the skein on show seemed pretty soft. My fleece is second from the right on the shelf.


We wandered around - there was lots going on, as in my little picture album below. Lots of things to buy, demonstrations, things to eat, and, of course, many animals. I favoured the sheep, but there were lots of more domestic animals on show - including ferrets, who simply would not be sufficiently still for me to capture a good picture (I have lot of bad ones). The ferrets were having races, but these more sedentary chaps made a good picture - cute little lop-eared bunnies.


I saw the Wealden Spinners, and admired a MajaCraft Little Gem, (I have never seen one in the flesh before). I missed seeing Pam from Creative Fibres, who was obviously taking a break as I passed by.

Posted on July 4, 2009 at 7:07 PM. Category: Days Out.

Thursday July 2, 2009



A lovely hot day which I spent at my sister's pool. It looks wonderful doesn't it?


But it's a little like the proverbial millstone for my sister, in that it takes a lot of effort to maintain and gets very little use. The last two summers have been so awful that she had resolved to fill it in - but the past week has seen neighbours and relatives "just dropping in" with their towels and costumes.... so now she feels like a local social amenity.... During the time I was there, two sets of neighbours and a golfing friend of Terry came for a swim. One of the visitors was Toria (Felicity's owner) and her little daughter, so I was able to hand over the pair of wild fetching mittens made from Felicity's fleece and some Kool-Aid.

I took my new spindle (with alpaca) and when I was not swimming I was spinning - which the observers found less eccentric than I imagined they might. But it was good to "drop" spin over grass, and was altogether such a lovely evening I found it hard to tear myself away from the poolside.


Posted on July 2, 2009 at 11:05 PM. Category: Days Out.

Tuesday June 30, 2009

Books in June

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, (translated by Reg Keeland)
    DragonTattoo.jpg This is yet another much publicised book that passed me by - my friend Helen said "...have you read it yet..." as opposed to "...have you heard of...." - so I immediately went to order it from the library to find it was another 30-copy investment on their part - but still with 12 reservations outstanding. There are two further novels involving the same characters, so I had better get my name into the reservation queue...
    I notice there has been some criticism of the actual writing style, and a suggestion that the characters may not be fully drawn, but it did not spoil my reading of the book. Jonathan Gibbs in the Independent says if it is "a little amateurish, then perhaps that works to its advantage. This never feels like a by-the-numbers thriller."
    The author was a journalist and this is his début novel. Given my devotion to Michael Connelly, I am further confirmed in my view that there is something about journalistic style in crime novels that I find particularly appealing. I say Larsson "was a journalist" since the author presented his publishers with this crime trilogy and promptly died of a heart attack. This sounded so unlikely - and since these are conspiracy-type books involving investigative journalism - I wondered if it were some kind of warped publicity stunt (début novels, died "suddenly" etc). However, all too sadly, it is true and so we also have to enjoy these books as his first and last.

  • Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
    LMNOP.jpg This book was featured in BBC's "A Good Read" on Radio 4 in early June. It sounded so intriguing that I had to read it.
    In order to intrigue you as well I have to mention the plot:
    There is a statue dedicated to an island's most famous celebrity, the (supposed) inventor of the pangram "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.". However, the sentence, which is inscribed on the statue, begins to crumble, and one by one the letters gradually fall off - so the council decides to bar islanders from using the fallen letters. Read on...
    The island on which the book is set must be modelled on Tangier Island (a little like Sark in the Channel Islands) - proud to embrace an "older" style of life and proud of its isolation. The book is slightly satirical about that in itself. However, mainly it is about the dangers of political power, religious manipulation as a tool of the state, and corruption. One cannot help making the comparison with Orwell, given the linguistic distortions imposed on the islanders by the council, though this is a much more light-hearted, (nonetheless thought provoking) novel. It is a very clever book and has lots of fun as it presents itself in the form of letters, each written to conform to the new and increasingly impossible laws.

  • Deep Black by Andy McNab [Read by Clive Mantle]
    DeepBlack.jpg I read Remote Control after I found I much enjoyed listening to a couple of other McNab thrillers (read by Colin Buchanan) on OneWord Radio*. Remote Control was his first fiction book in the Nick-Stone-action-hero series and introduced us to his ward Kelly; it was very moving and his relationship with Kelly was charmingly drawn. Hence I was a bit bit disappointed to find she had been despatched somewhere along the line and this book sees Nick in a resulting slough of despond at the start. It soon picks up, of course, and the usual exciting thriller ensues.
    His books are very convincing, and I retain a lot of sympathy with McNab after hearing him describe his childhood "in the system" prior to joining the army. I don't mean I feel sorry for him, just that, again, everything he said rang so true of that era from my own experiences. (I should make it clear that I did not by any means have a deprived childhood, but could see many around me not so fortunate).

    * OneWord Radio - the "only radio programme devoted to the spoken word" - specialised in broadcasting famous literary works, read either by the authors themselves or by well known actors; it ceased broadcasting at the beginning of 2008.

  • Dead Heat by Dick Francis and Felix Francis [Read by Tony Britton]
    DeadHeat.jpg This and other recent books published under the "Dick Francis" brand have been written with his son Felix, (and in at least one passage I can clearly hear the voice of the jump jockey's son coming through in the voice of the hero). This type of collaboration is not really a departure as he always acknowledged the heavy contributions of his wife to his previous books, even though she was never overtly credited as an author. However, this book lacked something - as much as I can narrow it down, it failed to convey the underlying threat of any real danger to the hero, and there was no sinister-villain-with-a-smile-on-his-face. I don't necessarily attribute this to being to do with the new co-authors - I remember being a little disappointed with Reflex which was written in 1980. Mostly I attribute it to being more of departure from the racing themes. There is no doubt that the racing-based novels are the best ones - and although they all seem to have a link with racing in some way, some seem less contrived than others. The heroes always have some less than average profession, and some of the novel is spent in telling you all about that profession - somehow this works better for Francis when the description is about racing - he knows what to explain and what to assume you know.
    And while we are on the theme of formula writing - his novels are written to a clear formula - explained in Wikipedia - though I beg to differ on their description of the love interests of his heroes. I always found the personal circumstances of the heroes and peripheral characters most interesting, often not revolving around simple nuclear family ideas - nor even conventional "difficult" marriages. They often express people quietly adapting their lives to their own requirements for modern living and making a go of things as best they can.
    His heroes are usually very successful in what they do, and in their prime - aged around 30. And this brings me to my problem with the reader. Tony Britton is an excellent reader and I have heard him read other Francis novels... but... Even in his prime Tony Britton always sounded avuncular and mature. He just does not sound like a 30 year old, and this is accentuated by the books being written in the first person. I note that there is a version of the book read by Martin Jarvis - he is no young slip of a lad but I would be interested to hear if he sounds any more convincing.

Posted on June 30, 2009 at 9:50 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Saturday June 27, 2009

Homeward bound

Still great weather as I head off back south after another substantial breakfast in perfect surroundings. As it's a 400 mile drive I decided to actively plan to take all day and make a couple of scheduled stops. First I found a National Trust property that was about half way and not too far off the M6 at Congleton:- Little Moreton Hall.


As you can see, it's a (real!) Tudor building in an amazingly good state of repair; I realised we must have visited it before when we were returning from a holiday in the Lakes about 10 years ago - but it is sufficiently remarkable that it certainly warrants more than one visit. It's one of the finest surviving timber-framed moated manor houses in the country. The earliest parts date from 1504, and despite being lived in and used as a farmhouse until 1938, the whole house has hardly changed since 1610.


Above is my best attempt at capturing a view of the internal courtyard design; the plants in the foreground are for sale - I bought my self a sorrel, which is not a herb I have seen much in supermarkets - it's a bit like a weed. But now I can make Delia's baked salmon and sorrel creams.

The sorrel was extra to requirements for the herb gardens they have planted - there's a charming hedged knot garden, which I could not photograph very effectively. However the herbs are also in beds outside the knot garden, with explanations as to how they were used as remedies. Here is a pretty view to one side along the moat - herbs on the right.


As I walked alongside the moat I saw this wonderful family of ducks. There were at least eight ducklings, but they kept diving under the water so not all in view at once! So cute...


Inside the building I could not take photos, but there's access to an example of the famous Tudor Long Gallery, grain store, and bedrooms, etc I was sorry to miss the exhibition on weaving and textiles planned for July, but this months exhibition was of medieval musical instruments, such as the tabor, and hurdy gurdy. There was a chap in full costume demonstrating how to play them and full hands-on for anyone who wanted.

I resumed my journey in the early afternoon and was able to round off the day by visiting Sheelagh and Roger as I passed through the Oxford area. As usual, they were very hospitable and I had a lovely break with them - plus (several) cups of tea and biscuits!

Posted on June 27, 2009 at 9:23 PM. Category: Days Out.

Friday June 26, 2009

Woolfest 2009

The second I entered the building (Mitchell's Lakeland Livestock Centre) and the faint but delightful smell of sheep hit my nostrils, I knew it was going to be a Good Day.
Indeed, it has been such a fantastic day I can hardly begin to describe it - but I shall anyway ...

I made my way first to the information desk and happily was able to book for the Natural Dying Lecture as well as the Tatie Pot dinner in the evening. I browsed the exhibition stands and immediately made my first purchase of a small bag of Spelsau fleece - I fancy it for the colour (grey) - Berit Kiilerich is doing a workshop on knitting directly from the fleece, but I plan to try spinning it.
I had a word with Nancy Bush, who seemed relatively thrilled to be here; I am not sure where she hails from but I think it was something to do with being here with the weather and "where it all comes from" - though the weather is atypically sunny here and everywhere is pretty hot at the moment.

I visited the large vendor's stands (P&M, Wingham, and Herring/Ashford) as there were one or two specific items on my list to buy while there. From there I worked my way towards the livestock stands, and the lovely old sheep, who were very brave and well-behaved considering all those human eyes staring at them. At this end of the building, there was an area devoted to the private sale of fleeces - I took the opportunity to look at as many different types of fleece as I could, and I did (in the end) buy a small black Hebridean lamb fleece (about 2lbs).

Just before lunch I went to the rare breeds parade in the auction ring. I really enjoyed this part. I found the information about rare breeds, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, and the specific sheep, truly fascinating. Here are all the stars of the show that I went to meet later in person.










Manx Loaghton


Rough Fell

Rough Fell




After lunch - more browsing to the constant faint sounds of traditional tunes from the Music area. Here you could sit down and (in my case) review your purchases. The later part of the afternoon was the lecture on Natural Dyeing given by Carol Leonard. I made lots of notes, and afterwards, I purchased the small booklet Natural Dyes - Fast or Fugitive by Gill Dalby, but as I suspected, when I got home I discovered that my earliest book on spinning from the 1980s is also by her and has similar information. I also bought a couple of natural dyes (Brazilwood and Alkanet), but mostly the lecture encouraged me to experiment and try out more natural substances - and as Carol said: "you can get some simply wonderful colours - if you like yellow...".

Then it was time for the final purchases before the Tatie Pot dinner and Spin-In. I was lucky to impose myself a lovely group of knitters from Coventry (by chance) who made me feel very welcome - whatever they thought! I had bought a pretty spindle - just for its looks (from Whorl Drop Spindles) - it's made from an exotic seed pod of some kind. So I spent the spin-in trying to spin some alpaca I had also just purchased. In my case, there was more dropping than spinning but Clare, Julie, and Jane were really encouraging, and I had great fun.

Finally, it all ended at 9 and I set off back to the hotel; it is very light in the evenings now, so I could fully appreciate the wonderful scenery of the winding back roads.

Finally - my pictorial album of the day:




Nancy's stand

Long Draw

Parade Ring


Fleece Sale

Fleece Sale


Herdwick Sheep


Swill Baskets

Music Area

Herdwick Rope

Herdwick Rope

Herdwick Rope




Posted on June 26, 2009 at 10:22 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Thursday June 25, 2009


Some time later I arrived at my planned destination in the Lake District. The drive up here was pleasurable and easy (although 300 miles and I am exhausted). My hotel is on the banks of the lake, and could not be more beautifully set.

I took a brief tour of the grounds, read my book in the gardens...

and then continued to read in the conservatory accompanied by a G&T. I retired to bed quite early. This is a self portrait - I have been unable to suppress this grin the entire time I've been here.

The hotel is at the north end of the lake, allowing me an short drive to Cockermouth tomorrow.
Because tomorrow....
Tomorrow I am going to... Woolfest!

Posted on June 25, 2009 at 9:21 PM. Category: Days Out.

Sent to Coventry

I have had the most fantastic few days, and it has taken me a while to gather my thoughts and write about it all here. It all began when a colleague asked me to visit a customer in Coventry....

The morning meeting went well, and at lunchtime I felt I should take the opportunity of taking another look at Coventry Cathedral.

I first went there when I was a child - it seemed an important talking point in my childhood both at school and at church - and I now realise it was because it was pretty well brand new at the time (foundation stone laid in 1956 and consecrated in 1962). Because of Coventry's history, for that generation of adults, it must have been a beacon of splendour, representing the final re-emergence after the "dark days" of World War II. These "dark days" were still very evident all through my childhood - everything was affected by them even though I had no real understanding of what it all meant.

The original cathedral was notoriously bombed in the 1940s and always rumoured to have been "left to burn" despite the government supposedly having prior information of the raid. As a consequence, Churchill was never accepted as the hero of the hour by the people of the Midlands, who felt he was personally responsible for letting them down. It was a devastating blow to see the spendour of such a beautiful building reduced to rubble.

Today, the old cathedral remains as a ruin alongside the new building which "bridges" from it. If anything I find the ruin a tranquil and beautiful place which seems strangely even more reverent and holy for its minimalism - perhaps because of the contrast with the modern.

The new building was designed by Basil Spence; his design was chosen after a competition, and used fragments of the rubble reset to create something quite remarkable. Warped nails were used as the centre of the main altar cross, and countless splinters of glass were used to create wonderful abstract stained glass windows. There are a lot of poor photos of these on the web but I liked this one - it gives some idea of being there.
The new stained glass windows are set at an angle to the walls of the building, so that as you face the altar you cannot see them. This is a design point intended so that as you walk away from the altar (after communion), you are struck full on by the wonderful light and glory - and so on...

The tapestry behind the altar was designed by Graham Sutherland - a controversial artist at the time - Churchill's wife is rumoured to have burnt Sutherland's portrait of the great man which demonstrated a little too much realism, showing not the hero but an old chap in decline. I seem to have disproportionate amount of Sutherland trivia in my brain which must have been drummed into it while at primary school.

After the cathedral, I walked past the adjacent Holy Trinity church and decided against entering (feet hurt - long journey ahead). Turns out this was a mistake. From 2002-4 a major restoration was carried out to make a Doom Painting dating from around 1430 visible once again. Something for my next visit - in sensible shoes.

And after all this excitement - instead of travelling home in the afternoon I set off North....

Posted on June 25, 2009 at 4:20 PM. Category: Days Out.

Tuesday June 23, 2009

Croydon College Festival of Creativity 2009

This evening saw the opening of Rob's students annual exhibition of their work.

As usual there were a lot of weird and wonderful ideas from the traditional costuming through props and puppetry. Below is an exhibit of some reject moulds and head explaining how the puppets for a live show were created.

This year seemed to have a greater showing of animations of one sort or another, (including one so peculiar that I did not really want to watch it - though I do think it was technically interesting, it included a lot of cultural symbolism that I was unable to understand - being not of that culture).

A more comprehensible rendering was a delightful piece called "Sewing Basket" created using stop animation by Sarah Slee. Below is the set on which it was viewed, plus a close up of the box itself.

My favourite costume was inspired by the music hall era.

Posted on June 23, 2009 at 11:19 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Saturday June 20, 2009

Straw into gold

Alison went on a retreat today - and I went to a Creative Fibres meeting - so we were united in spending the day spinning, and probably spinning the same fleece too - albeit separated by 8 hours in time. However, before I set off, the postman delivered the most beautiful gift from Alison...

...which is an Ishbel Shawl - and I had no idea she was making it for me - see the details here.
Isn't it wonderful? it is so soft and lovely - such a beautiful colour!

So to explain her entry where she says "in thanks for the fleece she prepared for me" - take note that I sent Alison this:

... and magically I got a wonderful silky bamboo shawl in return.

I am not sure how she did it - but now all my spinning friends want to send her their old fleeces, hoping she can effect the same transformation. I'm not sure that's how she did it, though....
[... and have they even read Rumplestiltskin? - there's always a price....]

Posted on June 20, 2009 at 11:07 AM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Friday June 5, 2009

Spider's Web

I have seen several productions of this play before* but luckily I never seem to retain much about the plot - although it incorporates a number of favourite AC devices, like the faked bridge game where the players set everything up but fail to notice that they are supposed to have played several rubbers with a card missing from the pack.

This version was excellently staged by the Agatha Christie Theatre Company who were responsible for And Then There Were None [from the book of a different name, based entirely on a (now) totally unacceptable nursery rhyme], and which we saw a couple of years ago in the West End. Melanie Gutteridge carries the show as the perfect and charming 1950s little woman Clarissa - a role apparently originally written with Margaret Lockwood in mind. The performances were convincing and made the dialogue light and humorous - quite unlike And Then There Were None which was suitably dark and menacing.

* I have also listened to a strangely-written talking book version of this play. "Strangely-written" since this was not originally ever a novel but always a script. The talking book more or less actually described the play and all its action within the single setting of the drawing room. Very odd.

Posted on June 5, 2009 at 11:39 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Wednesday June 3, 2009

Billy Again (again)

This should really be an entry early in May but it has only just come to my attention. Here are Offspring Morris at the Kingston May Merrie performing Constant Billy.
(I hope I have named the right dance - usually they sing a little when performing this but I detect no singing **).

A tidy and fairly pacey performance - probably due to slightly younger members these days!

** I am told that I have previously seen them perform Constant Billy as a long stick dance in the Adderbury tradition, which is often accompanied by songs. This is a different version that they have added to their repertoire - a short stick dance in the Headington tradition.

Posted on June 3, 2009 at 8:57 AM. Category: Art and Culture.

Sunday May 31, 2009

Books in May

Good value books and magazines with fresh wearable styles for the summer.

  • Debbie Bliss magazine (issue 2) by Debbie Bliss
    DebbieBliss2.jpg This is an excellent value magazine - it has a lot of great patterns and it's about a third of the price of most pattern books. But never mind the width - this magazine has high quality too. It is a magazine in the true sense of the word with many really good knitting articles, not just feature padding, and lots of ideas and information about Debbie's own inspirations over the years. I found it a very interesting read.
    Some of the patterns have appeared before in other collections - or at least I noticed one specifically - but this is a magazine not a "new pattern" book. Added to which, Debbie Bliss creations are so very wearable and if not timeless, certainly time resistant, which is what you want if you have put your heart into a knitting project. It's a shame I did not spot issue 1 of the magazine as it briefly hit the shops and then sold out - but I'm not keen to rectify this oversight by paying £20 for it now on eBay! I noticed that it is pretty clearly aimed at the American as well as the UK market - maybe that's why we sold out so quickly here...

  • Deco and Nouveau by Louisa Harding
    Nouveau.jpg Deco.jpg These are great books with very fresh and stylish presentation. I looked at them initially because the Debbie Bliss magazine had an article on Louisa and a pattern for one of her bags (which is lots of fun and just what I would knit if only I had the time....). The stitch patterns are nicely complicated and very pretty. It is great to find some designs with pretty patterns which change throughout the design adding to the shape as an inherent part of it.
    The yarns are Louisa's own which basically translate to a double knitting, or an Aran. I have already started knitting the cardigan Anouk from Nouveau - and although Louisa's own yarns are lovely, I am using the ivory colour in Rowan bamboo yarn as I loved knitting it so much for the POM summer cardigan last year; the bamboo is a little finer than the specified yarn so I am having to make a few adjustments in the size. In fact, that would be my only comment - for summer designs I would favour a finer yarn - however, the benefit is they knit up quickly.

Posted on May 31, 2009 at 7:16 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Wednesday May 27, 2009


I spent a great evening with my sister. I had an unexpected bonus in that the shearer came late in the day - it had rained heavily overnight and in the morning the sheep were too wet to shear early on. So I was able to watch the whole operation and collect 3 fleeces at the end and drive them straight home.
My car smells terrible and George is appalled - but ... it's great nonetheless.

1. Min

2. Min

3. Min

4. Min

5. Min

6. Columbine

7. Columbine

8. Columbine

9. Felicity

10. Felicity

11. Felicity

12. Felicity

13. Felicity

14. Felicity

15. Fleece

Felicity is a Southdown but the other two are uncertain - and obviously crosses. Lyn thought Columbine was a Black Welsh - but she is a ewe with horns - so probably a Jacob cross of some sort. After Felicity went back in the barn minus her fur, Columbine started frantically butting her; we assume she didn't recognise her without her customary rotund shape. Min is a young white ewe, also with horns - it was her first shearing experience - the fleece has a very tiny crimp, so looks promising.

Posted on May 27, 2009 at 5:42 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Monday May 25, 2009

Magic Beans

It seems no accident that Jack's magic plant was a bean. George left for France and I noticed that 2 little pimples had appeared in my indoor bean pots.

A day later all 8 are through - and they have scared me with their rate of growth. I have moved them outside to slow them down a bit.

Other than that - the holiday weekend has been warm and sunny and we exhausted ourselves in the garden. I have little to show for it but bare earth where the weedy drive used to be.

And I also scoured a fleece in preparation for more fleeces arriving from my sister tomorrow.

I rose very early today and started more work but after a couple of hours It began to rain and has continued on and off ever since, so no more real progress on the weeds.

Posted on May 25, 2009 at 10:34 PM. Category: The Garden.

Monday May 18, 2009

Doing His Best.

I was delighted to hear that Bear Grylls has been named as the new Chief Scout. To me he seems the perfect choice - though I have to admit I am not the "target market"! However, (to me), he represents youth (being relatively young at 34), but also stands for the traditional scouting backwoodsman image, as well as having a background in the army like the founder of the movement.

About 10 years ago he came to speak to us at a sales meeting - he was the "inspirational speaker". He acquitted himself well, and spoke about his experiences which seemed enough for any lifetime and yet he was still only in his early 20s. Having joined the SAS, been severely injured and invalided out at, he then recovered and climbed Everest - but was pipped at the post to be the youngest Briton to to reach the top at 23. He was charmingly candid and came over as a thoroughly nice chap.

His reputation as a "TV personality" has come after this - and is not without controversy. Indeed an item on the Guardian News Blog puts over the question of whether he will cope with the role, especially the PR. However, I think it could be said that his life and experiences are based around traditional outdoor feats of derring-do - plus a lot of PR enabling him to make a living out of them....

He has been criticised by another favourite of mine, Ray Mears, but I think their rivalry is unnecessary. They produce similar "outdoor survival" TV series - but I don't think Ray's skills and sincerity in this area are in any doubt, and he has no need to defend them.

Posted on May 18, 2009 at 1:08 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Sunday May 17, 2009

Digging In

We had hoped to make great progress this weekend, but the weather has been pretty horrid. What makes it most difficult is that there is an unpleasant cold wind, which means that going into the garden is not at all appealing. George made a lot of headway yesterday while I was enjoying myself at the workshop, and today we finished off digging over enough beds to finish planting the Brussels Sprouts from last weekend.


The plant tumbling over the rocky edge of the bed, to the right in the foreground, is an adventitious oregano**. As it has self-seeded, I never felt brave enough to try eating it - but it smells wonderful and attracts a huge number of bees when in flower - as does the geranium Herb Robert (a "weed") to the left of the picture, under the rose.
Our main problem was that it rained on and off all day. The digging was hard work, and although George prepared the canes, we did not plant the bean seeds, as it still seems so very cold. Meanwhile, I have planted up some pots of beans to germinate indoors.

** I never quite decided whether this plant was oregano or marjoram - I knew it was one or the other and tended to mentally label it marjoram. However, I thought I would determine which for this blog entry and now discover that this area is the subject of general confusion not just my own. I had never really thought before that they are even the same family - I just used the commercial dried herbs from jars. I now think this must be oregano on the grounds that it is perennial and has purple flowers; even then, oregano the herb is also known as "wild marjoram".

Posted on May 17, 2009 at 6:23 PM. Category: The Garden.

Saturday May 16, 2009

Beading workshop

I almost didn't make it to this workshop, as I had forgotten I had signed up for it. However, luckily they called to remind me, and as I live so close I was able to scamper round and join in. I had none of the required equipment with me, but everyone kindly loaned me bits and pieces. We made "flower pot" beaded necklaces.

The workshop was run by Jennifer Hughes, and here are her sample "pots":

The Flower Pot Necklace design and techniques were created by Karen Johnson, manager of Beads F.O.B. Sarasota, Florida.

Posted on May 16, 2009 at 6:18 PM. Category: Crafts.

Friday May 15, 2009

Winslow Boy at the Rose

WinslowBoy.jpg I have seen several productions of the Winslow Boy over the years, and I think this one was the best. As Robert observed, it was a privilege to see Timothy West bring such convincing life and humour to the role of the Father, and he lead an excellent cast, including Adrian Lukis as Sir Robert Morton. Indeed Mr West had me convinced that he probably needed the role of an elderly man these days to take the weight off his feet - until the curtain, when he showed his normal sprightly self! I had read that Mr West finds it hard to remember lengthy roles these days, and I would say he stumbled during a couple of the speeches, but the character is so overwrought throughout that it seemed thoroughly in keeping with the part.

The costumes were fabulous - Catherine Winslow seemed a little more glamorous than I had hitherto seen her, but why should she not be? Her position in society, it is intimated, is due to her strong character and opinions, not her looks. The set design was interesting; a drawing room set in a box with a slightly off-kilter gold picture frame, which was used to deftly hide the lighting. Rob spent some time before curtain up trying to see how such a design could be lit successfully at all.

The Rattigan play is based on a true story which is fascinating in itself. One has to understand the importance of proving the boys innocence of the apparently trivial charge of schoolboy theft, in the context of the time - and also, which I did not pick up on though it was there in the text, the fact that the Father was a retired banker, making the charge of forgery even more heinous and damaging.

This production emphasises throughout the closing scenes, and in the final tableau, the imminence of World War I. It is made quite clear that the Boy, his brother, and the ex-fiancé of the sister will all be joining up - doubly poignant to us, as we know they are not likely to survive. Indeed this was the fate of the real "Boy", though his family circumstances are Rattigan's invention.

The production is at the Rose until 30th May, and then tours at Bath, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Bromley, Brighton.

Posted on May 15, 2009 at 9:21 AM. Category: Art and Culture.

Tuesday May 12, 2009

Traffic Light Socks

I have finished the latest weird and wonderful socks made from my attempt to create something brighter when working with Kool Aid. I think we can all agree I succeeded on the bright.

Here's the fleece and the skeins:

I allowed the socks to knit up randomly, but I did make some changes to sock 2 to try and make it similar to, if not match, sock 1. Also I broke the yarn to exclude the areas that were in plain green, as they turned out positively luminous. In fact the two-ply contrasting colours generally work much better in this sock that any of the single coloured plies.

If you are worried about George wearing such weird socks, I can show them lounging casually on the sofa, where the part of the socks which is on normal display turns out to have a pleasing autumnal feel.

[George says they are not "Traffic Light" Socks as they are nothing like the colours of traffic lights. This is true - I was thinking 'red, amber, green' - however, I was also thinking maybe they were socks which would stop the traffic.]

Posted on May 12, 2009 at 10:42 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Sunday May 10, 2009

Dig for Victory

The BBC Dig In campaign that seems to have affected everyone in the UK (well, all the middle classes who watch Gardeners World, anyway). We always fancied the idea of growing vegetables - but in my past garden adventures I never really tried. My parents grew vegetables and so I know that (a) it involves hard work, and (b) the possibility of failure is always stalking you.

In our current garden, there is not an obviously good site with any amount of sun to dig a vegetable plot. However I seemed to remember dimly from my youth that runner beans were simple enough, so I bought some seeds and some canes with a view to making a wigwam in one of the sunnier flower beds - and I bought a growbag to raise some tomatoes. Then, yesterday, while weeding our drive, I noticed that an adjacent scruffy overgrown patch of garden was sitting in sunshine for a good part of the day. So that sealed its fate.

We (George) removed lawn turf and weeds, and dug over the tiniest patch of earth. And finally at the end of the day, we were ready to plant out some purple sprouting broccoli and Brussel sprouts. In fact, the bed is nothing like large enough for the brassica - so next weekend we will be attacking another patch of the little lawn

We also planted up some containers of tomatoes, courgettes, strawberries, and salad leaves.

Here are my floral pots that I planted last week, (a new pot due to fox activity on the old one last year...). Plus replanted pots of tarragon and thyme.

By the way, the title of this entry is not to suggest any chauvinistic call to arms - just a little historical nostalgia for a post-World-War-II world of allotments and potting sheds.

Posted on May 10, 2009 at 11:14 PM. Category: The Garden.

Sunday May 3, 2009

Unseasonal Cake

When we went to France at Easter, Sheila (G's Mother) gave us a cake to take with us. It was a Simnel cake, and was so delicious, that I decided to try my hand at an unseasonal cake for this weekend. Sheila had "not bothered" with the traditional marzipan topping (which suits me as I am not mad on marzipan) but the layer baked inside was ... mmmmm..... wonderful. So I copied her example.


My picture is of a slice of the cake, as I had a slight disaster after taking it out of the oven. I cooked it yesterday afternoon before we went to the theatre. We were so anxious to eat it that I took it straight out of the tin while it was still hot. [Not for me those silly instructions about "letting it cool fully in the tin" - o no...].
It fell apart. I then had to lassoo it back together with the tin, and let it cool, so it ended up maintaining some kind of round cake shape.

Simnel cakes seem to be made around Easter, but I had some vague memory of their being associated with Mothering Sunday in the UK - and it turns out I am not mistaken. I remember, as a little girl, that when we left church on Mothering Sunday morning, we each took a piece of fruit cake from a large tray of the same handed out by (and presumably baked by) a nice lady from the Mothers Union. We took these home to our grateful Mothers - or not. My Mother hated marzipan so the cake was always eaten by my Father (who loved it). [So our consumption of this cake has never been very traditional!]

The date of Mothering Sunday in the UK is set by the church calendar and is the middle Sunday in Lent (half way between Shrove Tuesday and Good Friday). Since my childhood, I had forgotten this, thinking all such days were invented by Hallmark Cards, even though UK Mother's Day is never the same day as in the US. The origin of the day was to do with attendance on that Sunday at the "Mother" church or the Cathedral of the diocese, and employers would send a rich fruit cake home to their servant girls' Mothers, as a charitable gift.

The name Simnel probably derives from the type of flour used but for a far more interesting set of suggestions, and an altogether more humorous entry than this one, read Raspberry Debacle.
[I especially like the explanation of the origin of marzipan which was "invented when Zeppo Marx fell into a giant pan of almonds just after he'd been for a swim in a pool that was unexpectedly filled with sugar, at which he was so angry that he broke eggs all over himself and rolled around until he was covered in a thick white paste; it certainly tastes like it." Also the author shares my view that it's nicer without the marzipan topping. A shame this blog is now archived.]

Read on for my recipe:

Simnel Cake


  • 6 oz (175 g) castor sugar (I like the 'golden' variety)
  • 6 oz (175 g) unsalted butter, well softened
  • 3 large eggs
  • grated zest 1 unwaxed lemon
  • 8 oz (225 g) plain flour sifted with 1½ rounded teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 rounded teaspoon mixed spice, or,
    ½ teaspoon of ground cinammon, ¼ teaspoon of ground ginger, and, ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 2oz ground almonds
  • 4oz (100g) glace cherries chopped small
  • 16oz (450g) mixed dried fruit
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 200g Marzipan


  1. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C, or Gas Mark 2. Use butter to grease an 8 inch loose-bottomed or springform cake tin and line with baking parchment.
  2. Mix together the sifted flour, baking powder, and spices.
  3. Roll out the 200g marzipan to a circle slightly smaller than your tin size. Use icing sugar to prevent sticking while rolling.
  4. Beat together the softened butter and sugar, until light and fluffy. (Use an electric whisk if possible as it makes it much easier to do this).
  5. Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a little of the flour with each one to avoid curdling.
  6. Fold in the sifted flour mixture, followed by the ground almonds.
  7. Mix in the milk, dried fruit, cherries, and lemon zest.
  8. Spread half of the mixture in the bottom of the tin, and make the surface level with a spatula. Place your circle of marzipan on top.
  9. Finally spread the remaining mixture over the marzipan.
  10. Now put it into the oven, and bake for about 2½ to 2¾ hours. Check towards the end of the cooking time to make sure the cake is not going too brown on the top, (if it is, you can cover lightly with a circle of foil for the remainder of the cooking time). The centre should feel firm and springy when lightly pressed.**
    When it is cooked, leave it to cool in the tin for at least 30 minutes before turning it out on to a wire rack to cool.
  11. Eat.

** I confess to having some difficulty knowing when the cake is cooked, as, with the skewer test, it never seems to come out clean due to the layer of gooey marzipan in the cake; if you leave it to cook too long, the sides and base of the cake can burn slightly. You can try insulating your cake by wrapping the outside with a layer of brown paper and string, as suggested by Nigella, or you can put greaseproof paper over the top, as suggested by Delia.
And in the end all this depends on how fierce your oven is, and whether or not it's a fan oven - you need to get to know your oven with a test cake.... or several....


It is a shame to leave off the decoration, as that's where you get the religious references - 11 marzipan balls representing the 11 true apostles, or less traditional egg shapes.

To make the topping you need about 300g more of marzipan, and apricot jam. Roll out and cut a circle of marzipan to fit the top of the cake, (use a dusting of icing to stop it sticking), and make your 'apostles' from the remainder. Brush the top of the cake with melted jam, put on the marzipan circle, and stick on your apostles (you may need egg white to make them stick firmly).

Nice traditional decoration on a cake from Tesco, [£7.99].
Note that the 11th apostle has been consumed....

Other (different) recipes, and pretty pictures of decorations appear at Delicious Magazine, Mary Berry at the BBC, and Delia Online. Raspberry Debacle (website sadly disappeared), chose to add faces to his apostles, and explains how he tried to like marzipan, using a preparation method which relied on the subsequent effect of Stockhausen Syndrome - but failed.

Posted on May 3, 2009 at 10:26 AM. Category: Kitchen and food.

Friday May 1, 2009

May Day

It was a beautiful sunny morning - the sun rose over a misty hillside and Morris Men danced in the Dawn at 5am on Box Hill.
Here they are:


And I missed it....

I am very disappointed with myself, when I think of all horrible May Days I have trekked up to Box Hill to greet a drizzly grey dawn. Sigh.
Anyway - they had quite a crowd attending as usual. There were several Morris sides as well as Spring Grove (Thames Valley, Wild Hunt, etc) - including a bunch of ramblers who turn up every year apparently - but this year they had specially learnt one dance so they could perform it on the day - great isn't it? Just what Morris should be. People dancing.

Here Spring Grove / Off Spring are on St Georges Day (23rd April) at the beginning of the "season" (with a surprisingly grand turn out). Several jigs have been performed, and baldrics presented to newly qualified members.


Posted on May 1, 2009 at 5:46 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Thursday April 30, 2009

Books in April

  • Black Plumes by Margery Allingham [read by Francis Matthews]
    BlackPlumes.jpg I have fun listening to Margery Allingham's work, but it is very dated. In fact that's probably part of the fun. It is so very dated by the language and manners portrayed - the society it reveals in the more casual asides to the plot, one can hardly believe ever existed... and yet it did, and therein lies some of the interest.
    This book is all about a wealthy upper class family who, when a murder happens in their midst, seem most concerned about being shunned by society, rather than by the shocking conclusion that one of them is going around murdering people. Quote of the book for me was: "....and the terse notes which arrived from him for every member of the family, stating fully, in the most abominable commercial English, that he would be glad if they would give him their attention for half an hour at 3 o'clock...". No need to tell you that "he" is not one of the Family, but merely one of their employees.
    Written in 1940, Albert Campion is not featured, though there is a hero (David) in similar mould playing the romantic lead. However, this book is a little darker than the Campion series. The story is not told through David's eyes, but those of Frances, the youngest girl in the family. It's an interesting viewpoint as she is not solving the crime, she is just the victim of the events going on around her, and does not fully understand them. The plot itself is an interesting mystery.

  • A Cure for all Diseases by Reginald Hill
    CureForAllDiseases.jpg This is a very enjoyable book if you like Jane Austen as well as Reginald Hill. It is a kind of extension of the unfinished Austen novel "Sanditon" - of which, I confess, I had never heard prior to this book drawing it to my attention. Apparently, Hill often uses "one writer or one oeuvre as a central organizing element of a given novel".
    It is a Dalziel and Pascoe novel, and set firmly on the contemporary Yorkshire coast (rather than 19th century Eastbourne). He has taken some names from the original, and it definitely has that Austen air in the humour and the claustrophobic society he describes - though possibly fewer murders in Austen.
    He uses several characters and methods to tell his story. Alongside the usual narrative of the police investigation led by Pascoe and Wield, we have a convalescing Dalziel dictating his thoughts into a tape (as well as secretly taping others inadvertently and otherwise), and we have a character writing a series of letters to her sister abroad (which would be very Austen but for the fact they are emails).

  • Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann
    ThreeBagsFull.jpg I set out to find this book in my local libraries, as it was reviewed by Cathy, and sounded like the sort of book I would like. [A sheep detective story - neatly combining all my interests in one]. However, it's obviously a very popular book that many have liked as there are about 30 copies of it available in Surrey libraries (and that's a fair number).
    The novel is set in "Glennkill" which is nice wordplay as Kill or Kil is common in Gaelic place names, meaning chapel or church. And chief among the amateur sheepy sleuths is "Miss Maple". However, picking these puns in isolation makes the book sound a bit crass - which it is not. It is full of charm as the sheep loyally think their woolly way through the mystery to its conclusion.
    Its anthropomorphic view of sheep is probably comparable to the rabbits in Watership Down (but less scary). Fun and easy to read.

Posted on April 30, 2009 at 3:11 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

Wednesday April 29, 2009

Old favourites

It's been a hectic season of art and culture this year. I signed up for a bunch of tickets available through our company, and George managed to acquire tickets to "see" a recording of the new series of I'm Sorry I haven't a Clue (the antidote to panel games) on Sunday night in London. With the death of Humphrey Littleton last year, there was some doubt as to whether there would be a new series at all, but it does have pretty solid supporters, who made it known that they could not do without 'Mornington Crescent', 'One Song to the Tune of Another', Name that Barcode', and so on - so on it goes. Of course, it wasn't the same without Humph, but Steven Fry did a very creditable job as host, and the guest, alongside Graham Garten, Barry Crier, and Tim Brooke-Taylor, was Victoria Wood, which was excellent as well. Just before the interval (they record 2 shows in an evening) Steven Fry recorded - and posted - an "audience boo" - some kind of techno-twittering joke that is beyond the middle aged from Surrey. However, if you like, you can hear it (me) here.
The shows will be broadcast on Radio 4 in June.

Yesterday, Rob and I went to see Defending the Caveman at the Rose in Kingston. I got the tickets to give Rob his first opportunity to see the Rose (inside at any rate). He was a little critical of the layout - thought it should not have restricted itself so much to the layout of what is known of the original Rose, and been a bit more adaptable, (and thought the lights were not very accessible.. ever the professional eye!).
Anyway, the show was lots of fun; a kind of humorous lecture, which in truth was a very digestible form of the book "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" - and unsurprisingly has a positive review from John Gray. We laughed a lot.

Posted on April 29, 2009 at 3:03 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Sunday April 26, 2009

New age craft

You know the kind of thing - craft is hip** - you take some old junk and recycle it into something else - which you then call "useful", "thrifty", "craft", and "green". Except in my opinion none of the above - you spend a fortune on other bits and pieces which usually includes a mountain of epoxy glue - and how's that good for the planet? I suppose I would grant that it is "Art"...

Anyway - I really did do this - and it really was "useful", "thrifty", "craft", and "green", though not Art. [OK, I did use a bit of PVA glue...]. And I, too, am disproportionately pleased with myself as I have been meaning to complete this little project idea for ages.

When I first did some flick carding, I decide to find a piece of leather from my attic treasure trove to protect my knees. I have bits of leather for making doll shoes but this is mostly gloving leather, which would be too lightweight. However, G's Mother finds me odd pieces and I remembered that she had come up with a large piece of pretty heavy weight leather which was a bit much for the dolls - I think I had already snicked a little for soles, and to support the back of some buttons in repair work.
When I found the piece, I remembered it is part of some kind of seat cover - car or airline (reminds me of American Airline seats but maybe too small). And, lo! it was already in a shape begging to become a spinner's apron. So here is it:

...the top was already stitched to be folded over, the bottom was already tailored into an apron shape. I covered some webbing with polka dot cotton from my material stash (Yes, I have one of those too...) and stitched it on as a neck piece (through stitching holes already in place), ditto for a waist tie which - and get this - was threaded through cuts in the leather already there in the perfect position. I then lined it, partly stitching in place, and partly gluing it round the edges.

** This Guardian newspaper site is actually pretty fun with links to good projects - tips on how I can use my inherited button collection and "the rebel knitter" [I especially like the "fruit cosy" - which had me puzzled for a bit but if they really did protect my bananas I guess it's worth a try...
My particular dislike was a project from a book called How to Make [Almost] Everything and featured in an article "The Borrowers" (Observer Magazine, September 2006). This was a lace doily made into a fruit bowl by saturating it in epoxy resin; I have no quibble if you want the "Thing" - it was quite nice looking. I have a quibble with calling it recycling or thrifty.

Posted on April 26, 2009 at 10:49 AM. Category: Crafts.

Sunday April 19, 2009


I took these views of the garden while it was still sunny in the evening.
The wisteria which just popped out during our stay:

The raspberry bed, still looking good. I weeded out a couple of nettles and buttercups, and George, having cut them back last year, contained the canes with some poles and twine:

Finally - the pieris forestii, of which I am not so very fond, it being more Surrey than Normandy - but - what a fabulous example, and especially splendid right now.

I always thought they were little shrubs, but now I read that they can reach over 5metres!

Posted on April 19, 2009 at 10:04 AM. Category: France.

Tuesday April 14, 2009


One man's rubbish is another man's (toad's) wildlife sanctuary.
Yesterday (at last) we started to bag up the rubbish evicted from the bakehouse. The lovely damp plasterboard (which helpfully disintegrated as we picked it up) had become home to a number of toads - sorry about that chaps. I carefully moved them to another suitably damp abode. No toads were harmed in the making of this blog entry.

(We also found a nest of shrews, which unavoidably had a slightly sadder outcome.)
Here is the bakehouse without rubbish pile, and showing the trench that Lloyd has dug to carry electrics, water etc from the main house. (Currently the electrical cable is strung through the apple trees!).

Today, Peter arrived at 9:30 with a trailer to help us move the rubbish to the déschetterie in Brécey. Unfortunately he did not realise the déschetterie is not open in the mornings so he was compelled to spend longer in our company than he had planned. We padded out the time until 2 pm with coffee and cake, and also lunch. But it wasn't long before I had inveigled him into moving our fridge and exploring the subsidence of our kitchen floor - which is such a disaster area of apparent dry rot that I don't want to dwell on it.

After he had gone, we went to buy new flooring, and later still, Lloyd came round bearing a circular saw, and set about cutting the wood to shape. Tomorrow we plan to soak everything in wood preservative/anti-fungus, and reassemble the floor.

Late in the evening I found one of the toads had decamped into our kitchen, imagining that under the cooker was a good place to set up a new house - even though it is not at all damp on top of the vinyl flooring as far as I know. I removed him back outside - explaining about the anti-fungus etc.

Posted on April 14, 2009 at 11:12 PM. Category: France.

Monday April 13, 2009

Kool Socks

The knitted socks have proved yet another surprise in colour variation. The knitting has pooled the colours more than they were in the skein (which was more my intention when spinning the yarn) and so the colour variation is more noticeable and less blandly grey. Lloyd says they are very New Age, (and I suppose he should know - and I am taking that as a compliment).

The colour is still very suitable for traditional mens socks (which is Good), whilst having a subtley wild air due to the pink.

I swatched the yarn and achieved 28sts to 4 inches using finer needles than usual. The yarn is not really as fine as a 4 ply weight, so knitting to this tension has produced a dense fabric. Some of the socks I have knitted in the past seem to have been a bit loose, so as well as using finer needles, I reduced the number of stitches for these socks. George likes these denser close fitting socks, which stay firmly on his feet "even in Wellingtons".

Posted on April 13, 2009 at 4:08 PM. Category: Knitting.

Thursday April 9, 2009

Encounters in Richmond

I am just slipping in a retrospective blog entry which was by-passed due to my hurried departure to France (it's always hurried).


The day before we left I had theatre tickets for "Brief Encounter" and Rob came with me as George was hard-pressed to finish up at work in time for our holiday. We had moderate expectations, but how wrong we were - it was brilliant. And I am now so very particularly glad Rob came with me to see this.

It really was a "theatrical extravaganza". It involved a full plate of multi-media offerings that really worked, including the actors stepping into back-projected films, singing and dancing, and many delightful tricks, with charming references to the famous film. It was original and fresh - and in Rob's words "restores your faith in provincial theatre" - if that's not too patronising - it's not meant to be.

The production was witty, entertaining and quite jolly, as it actually followed the interaction of 3 couples, not just the main protagonists. The projections were used brilliantly - designed by Jon Driscoll* with Gemma Carrington. They created such drama that the scene where Laura returns from the brink of flinging herself into the path of "the express" actually moved me to tears.

* Unbeknownst to me, Jon Driscoll is one of Rob's ex-students who worked on an amusingly short version of Brief Encounter for one of his peer's "Sound to Light" exercises while at college.

The production opened originally in the Haymarket and is now on tour - see their website, and also a much better review than I can give here.

Tempest revisited

If that weren't enough - I also need to say that, I failed to give a proper mention to the last production at Richmond that I went to the week before.


It was the Tempest, and it was more slight nostalgia that caused Rob to be my companion again on this occasion. Once again, our expectations were moderately low - and we were almost late (though not so in the end) as the curtain went up 30 minutes earlier than usual for Richmond. Yet again, how fantastic was this production and how lucky for Rob to get to see it, given his world music and theatrical interests. It was an "African" version including dance, live music, puppetry and lot of "theatre". It starred Anthony Sher as Prospero, and here is Ariel (Atandwa Kani) trapped by the witch's magic, giving some small idea of the power of the puppetry and spectacle.
Again - see the review.


In my defence, all these low expectations are based on the previous few touring plays we went to at Richmond, which were, in my estimation, adequate but not extraordinary. [And the Hound of the Baskervilles, which was downright poor!] But when you find yourself seeing something so terrific, it makes up for the rest - and the pleasure is even more when it is so unexpected.

Posted on April 9, 2009 at 11:22 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Sunday April 5, 2009


I finally finished spinning the last of the llama fleece my sister gave me - the cream colour. I have finally chosen something to knit from it - based on my sister's expressed wish that I "knit myself a nice scarf or something", and finding a pattern shown in similar colours in my "Fine Fleece" book.

I did start with the main colour in brown and the contrast in cream, (this was the colour option shown in the book), but this did not work out, so I started again. The brown was the first bag of llama that I tackled and I spun it into a thicker yarn than the cream; the pattern itself has a different quality of yarn for the contrast stripes - a mohair - which I thought may have been thicker than the main, and my hunch paid off as the result with the yarns swapped is quite good.
In knitting with this - the first and the last colour I spun - I find my spinning and plying has improved a little. The cream colour is pretty acceptable on the whole.

Posted on April 5, 2009 at 5:11 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Saturday April 4, 2009

More blending and plying

So now I have plied pink/grey with green/white. And here it is.

I plied the two blended singles - one pink and grey Suffolk, the other natural Suffolk and olive synthetic. At this stage of competence, I did not do myself any favours by using two different wool qualities to spin and ply, but the result is: OK.

The colour mix is "interesting". I discussed it at some length with Rob (colour being his Thing, in one way or another). I am sure this is all in the books I have about dyeing and colour theory, but this is what our discussion came around to: my mixture is an overall sludgy grey, as I suspected it would be. I tried to choose colours opposite each other on the colour wheel, as these are deemed to go well with each other. Indeed, if they are set side by side, then they do set each other off, and increase each others intensity; however, if they are blended together, complementary colours make black or white (depending on whether we are talking absorbing or reflecting), and in practical terms, given that pigments are not perfect, this will be sludgy grey. So you need to consider different aspects of colour mixing when dyeing, blending different coloured fibres, or Fair Isle knitting in blocks of colour.

My next steps in Kool Aid dying and spinning will be mixing red, orange, lemon, and lime green. They look good with the lumps of fleece side by side - but then orange and lime are almost complementary colours.

Posted on April 4, 2009 at 5:10 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Thursday April 2, 2009

Blending fibres II

I planned to make a second yarn to ply with my pink/grey mixture. I was going to use a soft olive coloured synthetic fibre of some sort (it was given to me), thinking it would go well and give the sock strength. However, I decided it was all a bit dark, so I have blended some of the natural Suffolk fleece with the green fibre.


After experimentation, I carded the two fibres together before spinning - they have such different qualities and staple lengths that just spinning them roughly together was not working.

I am expecting that the overall effect of these colours together will be rather like when you start at primary school and make your first picture; you try to make wonderful colours by mixing all those other lovely colours together, but you always achieve a sort of sludgy grey.

Posted on April 2, 2009 at 11:03 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Wednesday April 1, 2009

Stitch in Time

StitchinTime.jpgI have been waiting for some months to feature this book, as I wanted to keep it as a secret gift for Alison's birthday. The waiting has been hard - but is now finally over (Happy Birthday Alison). It is such a wonderful book but as usual my skill with words is not sufficient for me to describe how much I like it. It has obvious appeal to me, of course, but who could fail to be entranced by its beautiful production and styling?

The book was first printed in 1972, but in a very different form. I purchased the original in a 1980s reprinted edition. This did contain the basic same material, but with only a few colour prints showing some of the patterns reknitted in contemporary yarns. Subsequently - and lucky for us - the plates for this edition were lost which has led to the entire book being revamped with all the designs not only being reproduced as per the originals, but with the patterns redrafted to include modern instructions and yarn information. All the designs are knitted up and beautifully photographed. I particularly love that the knitters are also individually credited for their work in the book.

From my original book, I always liked this design for a Sun-Ray jumper from Woman and Home 1936.

SITsunray1.jpg SITsunray3.jpg

As all the original patterns were published with black and white photos the imagination was fired by the descriptions in the text. The yarn colour names were intended to be evocative of actual colours ("Lipstick Red"), rather than the current trend for yarns and colours with names that inspire an emotion ("Rustic", "Tickle", "Calm"). This pattern came with the following Helpful Fashion Advice on colour co-ordination:
"If you'd like it in Blue - choose a pottery blue with yellow buttons. Wear a buttercup-yellow woollen skirt. A yellow belt, Blue and yellow bracelets."
"If you'd like it in Pink - choose a coral with white buttons. Wear a two-piece of heavy natural tussore*. A matching coral-pink hat trimmed with white petersham ribbon. White shoes and handbag. Wear coral-pink gloves of fine suede" (* Tussore is a coarse brownish silk produced from a tussore moth Antheraea paphia).
"If you'd like it in White - choose glass buttons for the yoke. Wear a white linen tweed skirt. A matching linen hat trimmed with dark green ribbon. White court shoes with green leather trimming. Dark green gloves. Carry a green and white handbag."(sic)

Here is an example of the pages from the new edition - restyled with modern instructions, and reknitted in contemporary yarn, with great colour photos - all printed alongside the original black and white pattern, quoting the source and the year.


Please feel free to offer your own fashion advice in the comments, starting "If you'd like it in Red...".

If your interests are anything like my own - do buy this book. Even if you feel you will never knit these designs, it is a lovely book to own, crammed with historical design interest from the period.

I note it is called: "Volume 1 - 1920-1949", so I am hoping the book is a success and we can look forward to a Volume 2. If this kind of book does interest you, then you may like to look at Jane Waller's Knitting Fashions of the 1940s: Styles, Patterns and History which, like Stitch in Time is also available from Amazon. (And "no - I don't have any shares in these publications"!).

Posted on April 1, 2009 at 9:50 AM. Category: Knitting.

Tuesday March 31, 2009

Books in March

I seem to be spending less and less time reading - unless it's reading knitting books. So it occurred to me that I could actually write about the knitting books - here are a couple of them.

  • A Fine Fleece by Lisa Lloyd
    FineFleece.jpg This is a book all about knitting with handspun yarns; George's Mother gave it to me for my birthday. I had not previously looked at the book when I requested it via my Wish List - which is always risky - but it did not disappoint. It is a very good book - these are the specific points in its favour:
    • The author tells us about her journey through learning to spin, discusses mixing fibres, and reviews a few fleece types that she used for projects in the book. I was interested that she reviewed Suffolk fleeces, (Ava's sheep), as I have not seen much about them elsewhere - she used them for socks, which confirms the view I have gleaned while working with this fleece myself.
    • The book has a lot of patterns in it, (26 apparently), mostly for proper jumpers, not just little gifts. It is very good value on this point - so many books are lovely with maybe lots of ideas but few real patterns.
    • And here's the good bit - every pattern is knitted up not only in a handspun with the fibre content explained, but also in a commercial yarn. This is really an excellent idea. It demonstrates that you can achieve quite different results by changing the yarn type - it's very encouraging.
    I have now finished spinning the llama fleece that my sister gave me and immediately set about making the lacy scarf from the book.

  • Rowan 45 Spring/Summer 2009 edited by Marie Wallin
    Rowan45.jpg Despite the amusement that Rowan's styling always seems to cause everyone (including me), I always like their books and look forward to their publication each season. I admire the way they do their marketing and always hope that their innovations will prove successful.
    So I was truly dismayed by their anniversary edition (No 44) as, far from celebrating their history, it seemed a complete departure from anything that had gone before. I was motivated to complain to Rowan that there was not a single pattern for men in the book which I thought (apart from anything else) a real betrayal since the company was set up by men and their signature designers were men. Admittedly when they first started, the sweaters styles were not so gender specific, and often displayed on both men and women in the photo shoots. But now the girly, shaped sweaters are definitely not for men. I was impressed that I got a reply directly from Marie Wallin (whether "from the desk of" or whether a standard response is not important). However what she said was less convincing - that they did not "have space" to include men's patterns - though they seem to have space for patterns for dogs and fabric patterns for decorations. She also missed my point really - I am not actually short of patterns to knit for men and in truth I normally welcome the inclusion of patchwork and novelties in the magazines. I was simply angry that in a special anniversary edition she had made what was, in my opinion, an editorial decision ("mistake") to make it girls (and dogs..) only.
    So back to Book 45 - I loved it as usual - and I was relieved that men had got back into it.... I am planning to make a couple of the things featured in it, including some household items (placemats and peg bag). These are my favourites:


This is the full text of Rowan's reply on the subject of Rowan 44 "anniversary edition". I note that Marie seems to think that the exclusion of men's patterns is a consequence of it being an anniversary edition - how on earth does that work?

Dear Christina,
I am sorry to hear that you are disappointed that the latest magazine doesn't include any men's designs.
The main reason for this is that Mag 44 is a celebration of 30 years of Rowan, and consequently the stories reflect women's wear. As there was so much we wanted to cover within the stories to reflect the type of design that has become synonymous with Rowan over the years, there literally was not enough room to cover menswear as well. I appreciate that you would like to see more men's designs and we are hopefully planning to do a Rowan men's book in the near future, I myself would like to do a men's book! There will be a few men's designs in Mag 45 and there are also some planned for Mag 46.
Best wishes and happy knitting,
Marie Wallin - Head Designer, Rowan.

I do look forward to seeing her men's book. I always like her designs, (despite the simple lines and lack of florals), though many of them are frankly too hip for me to feel I can wear. Narvik (still working on it...) is one of hers.

Posted on March 31, 2009 at 10:34 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Saturday March 28, 2009

Blending fibres I

The cherry colour took to the wool quite well, producing a firey red, so I decided to go ahead and blend the more muted grape/pink colour with my brown/grey fleece.


I did not card the fibres together but spun two rollags at the same time, unevenly, to produce short stretches of each colour, sometimes twined together, sometimes more evenly blended.


George came in during this process and requested I make him socks with the yarn - though he was scornful when I said I was blending unevenly by intention. I shall make the socks, but am doubtful about it on account of the brillo-pad quality of the wool and the thickness of the yarn when plied. Maybe he was scared I was planning to make him an entire pink and grey scratchy sweater, and figured that socks were a lesser evil.

Posted on March 28, 2009 at 5:09 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Monday March 23, 2009

Colour work

I accidentally ended up with some of the Suffolk fleece dyed in an interesting shade of brown that I had not planned. I decide to dye some more wool in a different colour to combine with it. The fibre has the texture of wire wool so this is definitely experimental. However, I pressed on and consulted the colour wheel in my books about dying - failed to make any decision - and went ahead and dyed a couple of colours using my Kool Aid collection of fruit drinks.


I used grape and cherry, but was not at all careful in the way I did it, so the colours did not take evenly (as planned), but also were not quite cherry and grape (not as planned). I dipped the washed fleece in the dye and then wrapped it in cling-flim and microwaved it.


Posted on March 23, 2009 at 4:50 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Sunday March 22, 2009

More is... well... more!

I am finally posting this entry. I meant to do it before but am still lacking a photo which would have made it more interesting. So all the interest is in the Dress-a-Day website - and anyway it's a really good site so worth a visit. During the week of 9th to 13th of March, Erin did a daily "What's the Story?" on some dress patterns - great fun - but Gray Dress and Yellow Dress were the ones that struck a chord for me. It really is my friend Alison and I - though I'm not sure which is which - I think either could take either role depending on circumstance, (although generally I would be the one with the inappropriate complicated sleeves!).

So it was that, one Christmas in the early 1990's, we were planning our outfits for our Firm's "Family Dinner". I suspect Alison was the one who invested in the Vogue pattern and we each made outfits from it. We both made fitted velvet dresses, and found it hard to believe that no-one realised they were from the same basic design. Alison's version was a beautiful rich dark green velvet with long fitted sleeves, and mine was black and sleeveless. The collar was a ruched affair, high at the front and plunging low at the back - Alison's tastefully all in green velvet - mine, however... a kind of gold and black flock fabric - like wallpaper in 1970s Indian restaurants - lovely...

If I manage to track down the pattern I will append a photo. Meanwhile do look at Dress a Day for the origins of these musings.

Posted on March 22, 2009 at 11:33 AM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Wednesday March 18, 2009

Last minute gifts...

There comes a time when you have to choose between doing, and writing about it. And I am always thinking... that I ought to spend more time doing and less time thinking about it. Anyway, here is (finally) a product of my labours. I finished George's Christmas cardigan. In fact, I have "finished" it several times over, and he has even worn it - but it just kept coming back for little alterations.

You may think he looks a little grim - but actually he's looking tolerant.

Posted on March 18, 2009 at 10:36 PM. Category: Knitting.

Thursday March 12, 2009


I finished another pair of socks yesterday. The wool matches (ok - not quite, but better than the photo implies) the lovely bag Alison gave me - my new colours for Spring - and judging by the shops, the acid green is one of the new spring colours - perfect for me when combined with navy blue.

The pattern is by Nancy Bush in Interweave Knits; I chose it to match the gauge of the Phildar yarn (appropriately named Printemps) - and because the socks are pretty. In my yarn they feel a little thick - more like bedsocks - and I think they would have been nicer in the recommended cotton. But for all that I like them a lot and have been wearing them all day.

Posted on March 12, 2009 at 6:17 PM. Category: Knitting.

Sunday March 8, 2009


I have just spent a really great weekend in Worcester, meeting up with friends I have not really associated with for about 35 years. We all attended the Worthing Technical High School through the dawn of the 1970s. Here we are now - just the same - well - maybe a bit older - and with wives and girlfriends.

Tina (Christina) Mick (Titch) Robert David Nicolette Chris Frank Paul Sheila Ronnie Alison Sylvia Jane Pita Molly Kas

Our school was opened in 1955 as a school designed for vocational study; my own brother was one of the first students in the brand new school. It was endowed with excellent metalwork, woodwork, and home economics departments - and also a small farm!. By the time we were there, this educational experiment had been abandoned, and it was a conventional (although co-ed) grammar. Soon after we left it changed its name and merged with the adjacent school to become a "comprehensive". Now, my friends tell me, they have pulled the old building down, ("without even asking us!")

When we arrived in Worcester, George and I wandered around the town and visited the cathedral, where the Chamber Choir was practising for an early evening performance.

George was absorbed in reading a memorial to poor Richard Solly who in 1803 "whilft on a Tour of Pleafure with his Family was feized with an Inflammation of the Inteftines, which in five Days terminated his Life". George empathises with those who have inflammation of the Inteftines.
Thank heavens for modern medicine.

After George left, I rushed round the town alone - shopping. I was extremely successful, managing to acquire two coats and a pair of shoes - all bargains of course. I also bought myself some bamboo sock needles - a new venture in needles - as I seem to have a lot of sock wool, (not to mention patterns), to get through.

Posted on March 8, 2009 at 8:37 PM. Category: Friends.

Saturday February 28, 2009

Books in February

  • Problem at Pollensa Bay and other stories by Agatha Christie [read by Jonathan Cecil]
    PollensaBay.jpg This is a collection of stories published in the early 1990s but written in the 1920s and early 30s. They are very well read by Jonathan Cecil - a stalwart supporting actor in the UK - but a surprisingly (to me) versatile star at reading these books. I would say that usually he is rather type-cast as gormless Hooray Henries from an earlier era. There is also an audio book read by Hugh Fraser, who is excellent, and I am sure chosen for this task due to his role as Captain Hastings in the 1980s TV adaptations of Poirot.
    The stories feature Hercule Poirot, but also some other lesser-known but recurring Christie characters.
    • Problem at Pollensa Bay - 1935 (Mr Parker Pyne)
    • The Second Gong - 1932 (Hercule Poirot, and adapted for TV as Dead Man's Mirror)
    • Yellow Iris - 1937 (Hercule Poirot, and and adapted for TV with great knitwear!)
    • The Harlequin Tea Set - 1936 (Mr Satterthwaite and Mr Harley Quin)
    • The Regatta Mystery - 1939 (Mr Parker Pyne - but revamped from the original 1936 version with Poirot)
    • The Love Detectives - 1926 (Mr Satterthwaite and Mr Harley Quin)
    • Next To A Dog - 1929
    • Magnolia Blossom - 1926
    I enjoyed The Harlequin Tea Set as it followed a number of typical Christie themes, though I did think there was a bit of a hole in the plot, but perhaps I did not follow it properly. I was not sure why the victim had to be poisoned using a replacement cup of the wrong colour, (failing to notice due to his colour blindness) - why not simply slip the poison into his cup of the right colour? Still - what do I know? I am not the Queen of Crime.

  • Saturday by Ian McEwan[read by James Wilby]
    saturday.jpg This is a novel that shows how we live today - how some wealthy people live today, of course. But it is clear that even for this well-off brain surgeon, he started life in a small flat with 2 kids on limited income; and, though he and his wife have become successful (and wealthy) in their careers, they have their lovely central town house only through inheritance. Their children are grown to beautiful and talented young people, and the hero knows how lucky he is.
    And the reader is constantly aware of how very much there is to lose.
    Notable for the fact that the action takes place within 24 hours, some readers seem to think it's a day overly packed with activity. However, to me, it does not seem very out of the ordinary in terms of activities - though I'm not a brain surgeon of course, so that part of it would be extraordinary for me. Basically, he gets up, has breakfast with his son, goes out, sees the anti-war march, has a minor car accident, plays squash, visits his Mother in a care home, collects stuff to eat for dinner, briefly drops in to watch his son rehearse with a band, spends the evening with his family, gets called in to work to do an emergency operation.
    That tells you everything and nothing.
    It is paced quite slowly - especially noticeable as a talking book- the squash game, for example, is described point by point, and made me glad I had a few lessons when I was about 20 so I could better empathise with what was happening. However, throughout, there is a constant feeling of lurking menace, which made me permanently anxious for the plot to move on. I understand it was born out of the authors own sense of anxiety around potential global threats. The hero explores his general unease with moral dilemmas relating to the concept of war and terrorism - but this is suddenly sharply focussed by a very local threat, which leads to a very real moral dilemma.

  • Back to Bologna by Michael Dibdin
    BacktoBologna.jpg I am a real fan of this author and his hero, Italian police inspector Aurelio Zen, even though the books are often suffused with a sense of gloom, despite the humour. I picked up this book by chance, and realised that I have not actually read Dibdin's last couple of books, which is a pleasant surprise for me as there will be no more.
    The book features amusing and topical characters, in the shape of a dead owner of a football team (killed with a Parmesan cheese knife), and a temperamental operatic TV chef. Poignantly, Zen himself is suffering after an operation, and also suffering from hypochondria - and also not doing well in his love life. However, to quote a reviewer, it "delivers both comic and serious insights into the realities of today's Italy".

Posted on February 28, 2009 at 8:59 PM. Category: Books of the Month.

I'm with you in spirit

It's "Stitches West 2009" - and here is my friend greeting me - wearing her lovely Loppem...
and standing in front of a bunch of socks... perfick.

Really wish I could have been there too...

Posted on February 28, 2009 at 10:18 AM. Category: Knitting.

Saturday February 21, 2009

Nuno Felt

Today, Janice ran a Nuno felting workshop. It was a very energetic day. The idea was to felt 2 pieces that could be made into a simple bag. In fact, I made 2 differently patterned pieces, which shrank to very different shapes. Unfortunately none of my photos properly show the texture of the felt, which is an important part of the result.

If you want to understand the technique it is explained very nicely here. Basically, you start by welding the wool to the base fabric, which may be either a loose weave cotton muslin or silk, by friction through rolling layers together. You then knead the fabric with soap, and and "shock" it, so that it felts and shrinks. The watery nature of this experience is much more limited than with conventional felting. As the wool layers shrink they crinkle the base fabric to form a seersucker-like finish.

We used merino wool layers on both sides of our fabric base, and I think the pattern and direction in which I laid the wool pattern caused the relative shape differences in my two pieces. You can put the wool on only one side of the base. The photo below shows some work of Janice's where she has used the same patterned silk Georgette as the base with different coloured wool layers on the back, and created all these different effects:

It would have been nice to have more photos of other people's pieces - however, not only did most of us not finish off the final process while we were there, but my camera ended up in a puddle of water so no more pictures were possible. [Dried out nicely, though, I'm pleased to say.]

Posted on February 21, 2009 at 7:40 PM. Category: Crafts.

Thursday February 19, 2009

Not quite stripes.

Alison gave me a Knitpicks Sock Blank - an idea completely new to me. It's a piece of knitting that you can dye in stripes; you then unravel it, and when you reknit it to the desired shape it comes out striped - its a bit more predictable that painting a skein. Or so it should be.

I was very keen to try it out, and I had a great time, but singularly failed to get stripes. Also failed to get the colours I expected. In fact the whole experience was extremely unpredictable - but very arty and great fun!
Obviously no accident that I share Jackson Pollock's date of birth...

I won't dwell on the experiences much more here, but look out for more entries when I get to do the knitting, and a fuller explanation in my Knitalong category.

The blanks are knitted double, so you unravel into two balls of wool with the same colour sequence (two socks - see?). Also, apparently others in Alison's knitting group are spinning and making their own blanks, using a knitting machine.
"I could do that!"

Posted on February 19, 2009 at 7:02 PM. Category: Spinning, Dying, Weaving.

Saturday February 14, 2009

Pandora's box

Actually - it's my Mother's button box.
Similar to Pandora's box in that, at the bottom, there is hope.
Hope that one day I may find the perfect project on which to use my favourite gems.

My digression into reviewing my buttons came because of a book that Sheila (George's Mother) found for me. It was on sale as an ex-Public-Library book, and, as usual, it was a lovely thought. In fact, it is a real collectors book, (rather than a showy coffee-table book), being a kind of glossary of button types. This is a completely new area for me, and as the book is somewhat dated, it is talking about really rare or old buttons rather that "collectible" buttons - which as my own collection demonstrates - includes plastic and more modern offerings. Anyway, I read it from cover to cover - sadly I fear, retaining little of the information and facts therein - and regretting that the illustrations are not in colour.

So here are some of my personal favourites from my Mothers box.

Posted on February 14, 2009 at 1:46 PM. Category: Crafts.

Thursday February 12, 2009

The most expensive chocolate...

A week or two ago I saw that the ex-Woolworth's premises really was being reopened as a temporary rehousing for our Waitrose branch in Banstead. Actually, I heard it first as gossip in the queue at Asda... but I don't believe all I overhear in supermarket queues.
The store front itself announced the opening day as February 12th, and, as it's my day off, I decided to rush there on the first day of trading.
And what a jolly experience it all was - everyone cheerfully greeting Mr Thompson like a long lost friend, lots of well-stocked shelves (despite the much reduced floor space).... and free chocolates....

The council have also decided to offer a free hour of parking for shoppers ("until further notice"), which helps since Waitrose no longer have any associated parking. However, I got a bit carried away and my 6 minutes over the hour was punished with a parking ticket. I'm not very impressed actually, as I think it's a cynical move by the council to send out inspectors on the Waitrose opening day when everything is bound to take longer than expected - however... "it's a fair cop guv'ner" - etc

None of the above can dampen my spirits at being able to go back to my previous little routine of going to the library, followed by a quick trip to the supermarket. Hurrah. Just have to make sure it's only an hour of pleasure at a time in future.

Posted on February 12, 2009 at 2:12 PM. Category: Oddments and stray thoughts.

Thursday February 5, 2009

Rural Renewal

We spent this week in France, although I seemed to spend all week working. I managed to walk around the garden a couple of times and took these pictures of Bakehouse progress. Peter has installed a new (plastic..) door and window at the front of the house; this caused him more trouble than he expected as the door was taller than the little building really accommodates, so he had to remove a tier of bricks and put in a new lintel.


Here's a view of the back of the house bathed in wintry sunshine, where we expect soon to add a door ("French window"), which will eventually give access to a tiny conservatory.


Here is the interior view of the southern wall with the front door and "kitchen area" (use your imagination). The new French door is leaning against the wall here - we brought it with us strapped firmly to the car roof.


Here is the north wall with the oven and chimney. The space is very restricted and I had to inexpertly stitch a few shots together to give an idea of how it looks so forgive the weird perspective. You can see Lloyd's newly pointed chimney breast.


Posted on February 5, 2009 at 12:30 PM. Category: France.

Saturday January 31, 2009

Books in January

Just one solitary book for this month. I have a pile of books to read but have been so caught up in my work and other hobbies that I have not read many real books. I actually had to make a trip to the library to renew my books this month, as I had had them loan for so long. This was my bedtime talking book all this month, along with a couple of the BBC radio plays. SignoftheFour.jpg

  • The Sign of the Four by Arthur Conan Doyle [read by Derek Jacobi]
    An old favourite (for me) and an interesting choice of reader. He does well enough in his narration as Watson but is occasionally stretched when giving voice to the ne'er-do-well "Jonathan Small". This story almost follows the Doyle formula for the Holmes novels, being a book within a book, and consequently, Small has a large part of the narrative while telling his life's tale of adventures abroad.

  • SittafordMystery.jpg The Sittaford Mystery BBC Radio Play
    The play stars Stephen Tompkinson, and also John Moffatt - though not in his usual role as Hercule Poirot, who does not appear in this novel. The detective is, instead, an "Inspector Narracott", (who was used again by AC in a 1954 radio play). It was interesting to compare this radio play to the altered version of the novel used in the recent TV adaptation "Marple" - where Miss Marple was simply added into the cast of characters - perfectly suitably I thought...

Posted on January 31, 2009 at 10:41 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Monday January 26, 2009

Getting ahead...

While packing away the Christmas decorations, I resolved that this year I really would make my planned quilted Christmas cushion covers (from the vast collection of Christmas fabrics I have been amassing over the years for this very project*). As I admired the cheerful "quick" cushion covers I made in 2007, I realised how great it was to be able to simply decorate the house in Advent, and not have the mad dash of trying to make decorations at the same time as all those last minute gifts. It occurred to me that I should make my patchwork before the decorations were stored away - maybe while still feeling a bit Christmassy.
So here they are - doing a twirl before joining the others in the box.


It took me a day of messing about with the fabrics before coming up with these (rather conventional) designs - and that with the aid of some books - plus I had to buy a couple of extra neutrals to properly blend in. On top of that, once started, I got carried away with the pleasure of it all, and I did actually back and quilt the patchwork, and finished the covers off with a zip.
So:- I'm ready. (Well... ready to disguise my cushions anyway).

I made the pieces using the foundation method that I learnt on a Rowan workshop. I was very smitten by this technique, though, Sheila, (with whom I went), has no time for it at all. It suits the way I work very well. The pattern is drawn on a paper, you put your patches roughly on the back of the paper, then sew through the front, following your accurate lines, and voila! ...perfect seams.


You have to put very little effort into the preparation of your pieces, but the result produces those lovely crisp corners. In fact for very narrow angled corners, (such as in Kaffe Fassett's flag designs), this is really the only way to successfully execute them. Each time when I turn the papers over, I am astonished anew at how perfect the patching seems to be. (Any imperfections seen here demonstrate how sloppy a worker I am!).

Sheila has relented somewhat on papers; she recently did a workshop on machine Sashiko, where she used the technique of sewing through a design on paper to produce the simple embroidery on a fabric underneath. The fancy thread, (which can be relatively thick), is wound onto the bobbin, so the pattern comes out on the very bottom of your layers. Originating in Japan as a form of mending clothing, sashiko is usually done with white thread on indigo fabric. Maybe more on this another time!

[*Note: didn't even make a small dent in the Christmas fabrics...]

Posted on January 26, 2009 at 10:53 PM. Category: Quilting.

Monday January 19, 2009

A Good Hart

I could not let the death of Tony Hart pass without mentioning the life of such an extraordinary man. Unlike many other more youthful bloggers, I remember a young man, not a favourite grandfather. He did not inspire me to go to art school, and I am not known for my ability to express myself as a true artist, but he was simply part of childhood - and without him, would Nick Park have been quite so smitten with plasticine?

If you want 15 minutes more amusement watch the full interview "Tony Hart Meets Ricky Gervais" on You Tube, where Tony reveals his favourite painting is Leonardo da Vinci's The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne - but as Gervais points out "he couldn't have done it in pasta and rice, could he?".

Posted on January 19, 2009 at 9:14 AM. Category: Art and Culture.

Thursday January 15, 2009

Wondrous strange....

I had a lovely Christmas with lots of great presents, but I had to show this one as it seems to me to be all that a gift should be. George's Mother found it in a charity shop and wasn't sure what it was - isn't it great?


As I opened it I thought it was a charka wheel - but I think I've got the right idea now. Loads of bits that all fit onto the nice little drawer at the front.
[I think there might be a couple of bits missing but it seems to work as is.]


I wanted to show a picture of it "in action", but the pegs only expand out to accommodate a 40 inch skein and the ones I have to hand are somewhat longer. However, with my Father-George patented Niddy Noddy, I hope to be able to use it with my own hand-spun skeins in the future.

Posted on January 15, 2009 at 7:08 PM. Category: Knitting.

Saturday January 10, 2009

Dragons Green

Today we travelled through our (currently weird) wintry landscape...


...to meet my sister and have a New Year lunch with cousin David at the George and Dragon at (where else?) Dragons Green. Amusingly, our satellite navigation system was unable to track down the location, and denied all knowledge of any such postal code - "there be Dragons", (obviously). However, once there, food and company, excellent!


The George and Dragon has an unusual memorial at the front, dating from the 1800s; it is dedicated to the, then, landlord's son who was apparently driven to his death by bullying from the locals. The vicar would not tolerate the grave in the churchyard because it was not "suitable". Yet the inscription contained seemingly only the mildest of rebukes: "May God forgive those who forgot their duty to him who was just and afflicted".

Posted on January 10, 2009 at 6:47 PM. Category: Days Out.

Monday January 5, 2009

Henley between the holidays

We managed to get together again with Roger and Sheelagh between Christmas and New Year. I didn't take my camera, so I had to wait for this entry, as Sheelagh sent me the photos, (and general lack of time to blog).

We met up in Henley-on-Thames for lunch there's a lot of "-on-Thames" with lots of lovely towns to visit on its banks - see Three Men in a Boat or even the more modern adventure Three Men in a(nother) Boat for details! We lunched at the Angel on the Bridge, which turned out to be just perfect - I ate one of the most perfect traditional roast beef dinners ... well... ever, maybe.


It had fine views over the sunny but cold river, and after lunch we ventured on a short walk.


Here we are looking replete - and pleased with ourselves.

GeorgeandRoger.jpg ChristinaSheelagh.jpg

Posted on January 5, 2009 at 6:34 PM. Category: Days Out.