Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for July, 2011


Thursday, July 28th, 2011

We don’t tend to go on ‘proper’ summer holidays anymore – the joys of self-employment and a lot of pets maybe?  So when Mark bought us a ‘bargain basement’ weekend in Amsterdam recently (my birthday present, actually), I was really pleased.  I’d never been and I’m not much of a traveller, so going to an airport is an adventure!  Humour me, you know I don’t get out much.

Whatever images I had of Amsterdam before I went were partially true, plus a whole lot more.  To get into ‘town’ from our hotel, we had to walk about 2 miles each way through pleasant, normal suburbs – which because it looked so foreign to me, and involved walking alongside canals and dodging bikes, seemed quite exotic.  By doing this (4 times!) I learned these things:

  • people do cycle everywhere, on unbelievably heavy ‘butcher-boy’ style bikes, with kiddies trailers on the back, huge baskets on the front, often festooned with plastic flowers or other decor.  It was lovely.  Here in the UK, cyclists can be seen as pariahs by busy motorists and if a cyclist goes on a pavement in fear of his life on the roads, that’s wrong too.  In Amsterdam, they have a very cool ‘shared space’ concept, with special cycle lanes but if there is no room for these, then that’s fine, pedestrians, cyclists and even motorists seem to cohabit in peace and harmony.  ‘Giving way’ is normal, not a sign of weakness, I observed no aggression, even towards the dazed and confused tourists, dodging the bikes, cars and people.

  • This attitude seems to characterise the folks we met.  The cafes, bars and shops all welcome you.  It’s really friendly!  You read that this is a very tolerant society – it is, in a structural and legislative sense.  But in fact what I felt that phrase really means is this:  it’s not judgemental.  You do this, I do that, but that’s fine. 
  • So many smokers!  Oy – but hey, that’s fine (see how Dutch I am becoming?) I can walk on the other side of the canal.
  • It’s an incredibly beautiful city, where whenever you gaze upwards, you see even more simply stunning architecture.
  • There are at least 3 yarn shops in the central area, none of which I had time to locate.
  • It turns out that I am not a massive fan of museums…Amsterdam does them very well but I just get bored.  I embrace my shallowness though and Amsterdam just smiles tolerantly at me, it does not take it personally.

And I knitted in the cafe at the Van Gogh museum – which was a very good museum – before we left for our flight home.  That was lovely.

Mary’s mittens (Nicola’s mum)

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Another ‘show and tell’ triumph!  Mary, a workshop participant back in April, made these, Frost Flower mitts (yes, yes, very soon now, they will be a kit…) and I adore them!

You can see the green KSH on its own in the top layer of the flowers on the cuff and the Shimmer alone on the finger-frills – but together, look how they work and mingle!  Lovely, thank you Mary.  Mary is the mother of another of my star-knitters, Nicola.  Mary wishes it to be known that she has also made a lot of quilts etc as she is a fab stitcher, too, since April…

I do not know why I spend so long agonising over, thinking about, pondering – messing about with, if I’m honest – my kits.  I’d like to know why it is.  Then I could avoid it.  If I have a book/commission deadline, no problem, by and large.  I don’t procrastinate and if I need a wee bit of extra time, it’s because of yarn/technical issues and it’s rare.

However, give me a kit for my own use and wow!  I can fiddle with them for ever, re-work them, pass the patterns around to anyone who will knit them in order to test them, take them to workshops and see what folk think, come back, think some more…it’s as if I don’t want to let them go.

Weird. Any ideas what my problem is, Doctor?  Seriously, do you ever have these sort of issues?  Help appreciated.

However, I have finally drafted a prototype kit page and my lovely web-wizard man is now no doubt having a lot of fun making sense of Frost Flower mittens etc…

It’s coming to this website real soon.  I promise.

Kit images are emerging

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

I think I am going to like my new camera.

It can do some interesting things, like make my camera skills a little less pathetic.  Some of the images for the kits are underway, here are a few:

Serious displacement activity leads to happy outcome…

Friday, July 8th, 2011

(That post title, by the way, sounds like a clever cross-word clue in the Telegraph – the one I can never do but do a victory-lap of the kitchen if I get even one right).

It may be the cold weather – here in Somerset, we are struggling to get temps into the low 60s, despite a lovely weekend last weekend, now a distant memory.  Or it may be that we’ve passed the magical half-way, tipping point of the year and each night is now 2 minutes longer.  Already, I sleep a little longer, and a little better.  Whatever it is, I am – O!  I can hardly bear to tell you!  Oh OK, here goes:  Christmas shopping. 

Don’t judge me. I didn’t do much.  It’s only a few select things that I am sure won’t be available to me in the real Christmas shopping season.  But it’s a start.  It prompted me to start My List.  I have A List that I fill in and check off as items and people are dealt with.  I was also supposed to be doing some extra story-board stuff, the less creative side and I may have been procrastinating…I have procrastinated by cleaning, baking, gardening, running…but I’ve done it now.  I don’t know why I didn’t just do it in the first place.

However, mainly it prompted me to decide that this year, I really will knit a gift for some friends and family.  I usually manage one item!

Now be honest, mentally make a roll-call of your friends and relatives.  Which of these a) would appreciate and b) deserve, a hand-knitted gift?  They have to qualify for both a) and b).  If they might deserve it but are liable to say things like:  Oooh, Ali!  could you knit one of these for me? (holding up a picture of a 20 ball blanket throw or an all-over intarsia jacket in 10 shades of 4 ply).  These people obviously don’t/can’t knit and therefore have no idea that to make such items take more commitment than marriage.  They do not qualify. 

If they do appreciate the work, but have an inherent distrust of the ‘home-made’ they don’t qualify.  In fact, you and I wouldn’t be friends with them anyway, but they may be in the category we do not choose:  relis.  The relative knit-gift is tricky.  After socks once lovingly knitted and given and never even mentioned, I don’t bother anymore.  I’m over it, it’s fine.  That, my friends, is what Johnny Lou Lou’s Gift Vouchers are for!  The related but ungrateful.  It’s far less painful all round.

This year, I’m going to design 2 basic gifts (that will double as kits).  One will be delicate mittens;  the other a lace beaded scarf.  Each will take 1 – 2 balls and some beads.  If I make them in 3 basic shades and stick to the same dye-lots, I will get huge value as the left-overs will just roll forward into the next gift.  Since I can design and knit for two purposes:  love and the website, I think this year will be the year I win. 

If you get a Johnny Lou Lou’s Gift Voucher (and I’m a huge John Lewis fan, so that’s a good pressie in my book since they stock yarn), well, that’s OK.  But.  If you get a knitted or knitting related gift, you know you are really loved!  At least by me…

Garden crisis averted; and the trials of village flower shows

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

I’m fully back in love with the garden.  I have decided that I need more than a ‘Colin’ (Colin is my hedge man, also a post-man and I increasingly feel he doesn’t enjoy his hedge trimming gig here;  he ‘does’ us 2 hours a week, including rolling and smoking 2 fags, drinking 1 cuppa and eating a biscuit, and changing out of his post-man uniform in the garage).  I like Colin.  He grows huge vegetables and enters them in various village flower and produce shows.  Sometimes, towards autumn, he brings me giant marrows.  I feel I ought to make something delicious and cheap with them but in fact, they seem to taste mainly of water…

Anyway, I have decided to spend a little money on a real gardener, to supplement Colin.  I haven’t found him or her yet but knowing I am going to has made me feel better.

I am also deep into the preliminary stages of my next book and it is rooted in the garden.  This garden.  Now I know this book is going to happen (probably), I feel I have made my peace with the garden’s wilder side.

And I have made a new rule.  It’s the 2 – 4 bag rule.  When I garden, especially at this time of year and from now to the late autumn really, I tend to be transferring it (the garden) from my land to the recycling place.  I do this by using old compost bags.  Big ones.  My new rule is:  I will work until I have filled between 2 and 4 bags and then, no matter what, I will stop and do something I enjoy such as pruning properly, or taking cuttings or transplanting free seedlings.  Having abided by this rule all week, I  find I am working more frequently, am less exhausted and have less difficulty drawing a line under what I will do and where to leave it.

I have also made a very big decision.  I am going to have a work room in the garden!  Yes a Room Of My Own.  A wooden cabin, warm and airy, with lights and power and a day-bed!

Speaking of Flower Shows – I was, do try and keep up – it’s Puriton’s Flower Show in August and the brochure inviting entries has just arrived.  I don’t enter.  I did once, along with my friend, Hilda.  I entered the ‘unusual vegetable’ category with black French beans (un-placed);  the ‘six plain scones on a plate’ category (first place.  I knew I was going to win when I saw the other scones.  They were about half the height of mine.  For the first time in my adult life I realised I was feeling really competitive!  I walked in, put my scones down, cast a withering, pitying look at the flat scones, and I knew I’d won.  Ha);  and the Knitted Item category.  This was years ago and before my first book was even thought of.  I came second.  Hilda, however, entered the patchwork category.  She was the only entrant and I thought her piece was lovely.  Hilda is a really good sewer and patch-worker.  It’s not my thing, but I can see how good at it she is.  She also came second.  Now, how can the only person entered come second?  That is the sort of committee that runs Puriton’s Flower Show – mean and small-minded.  Never mind that they bowed down and worshiped my plain scones, Hilda and I shook the dust of the village hall off our shoes and vowed never the enter again. (The show, not the hall, you have to enter the hall to vote).

It was all rather tribal too.  It turns out that there are two families in Puriton who vie with each other to win the most categories.  The person to win the most categories, gets a special cup, to keep for a year.  Again and again, as the categories were announced, these two family names cropped up.  Cheers and boos from opposing sides of the hall erupted each time, until one man emerged, victorious, having earned his tribe the cup that year.  Well, it’s 3 miles into Bridgwater.  We don’t get out much.

But today, when the brochure for this year’s show arrived, I thought:  I could win the plain scone category again!   O, siren voice in my head.  I won’t enter, because of how mean they were to Hilda that year.  As Ann Shirley would say:  the iron has entered my soul.  But I do want to!

Be careful what you wish for

Friday, July 1st, 2011

I always think the saying:  ‘be careful what you wish for, you might just get it’ is rather sad and limiting.  Because, mainly if we wish for something, we know we do want it, and the act of wishing for it, rather than being just a magic trick, is a resolve to do something to make that wish happen. 

Once upon a time, I wished to be a good knitter.  After discovering that writing down:  please, Knitting Gods, can I be a good knitter? on a bit of paper and sending it up the chimney wasn’t in fact the way to make that wish come true, I practiced knitting.  A lot.  I read knitting pattern books as if they they were novels or cookery books.  I quested.  I still do.

Later, I wished that I worked for Rowan.  And I did!  And so on, until I ended up here, somewhere along my journey, maybe half-way, who knows?  I wished these things – almost unconsciously, I think and these things then happening was slow and in some cases,  due to serendipity as much as planning.  But anyway, I did get what I wished for, and I love it. 

On the other hand, these last few weeks, I have been worried about the garden, here at Court Cottage.  Not huge but it’s big, by usual standards, about 2/3rds of an acre, all round the cottage in ‘bits’ as it were.  Sections.  Rooms, if I was a National Trust guide book.  Trouble is, it’s a bit of a mess and since I am the only labour other than Colin, who ‘does us’ 2 hours a week about 8 months of the year, and he cuts the hedges, basically.  We are hedged in, in Sleeping Beauty fashion;  the huge, numerous and looming hedges may well, as far as the world is concerned, shield a secret palace full of slumbering souls.  I wish. Once, we had to have an especially massive hedge of giant fir tress, all striving to become a forest, taken out and replaced with- wait for this, Puriton wasn’t ready for it, are you? –  a fence!  Oh yes, a fence, in front of which we dutifully planted another, smaller, more well behaved hedge.  Well.  My dear, you would have thought we’d opened a brothel!  Puriton was outraged.  In fact, most of Puriton was glad the leylandii hedge that was threatening to push over a huge boundary wall and obscured traffic, had gone, and experienced a range of emotions from ‘meh…’ to ‘great!’.  But this being village life in Somerset, outrage was experienced in some quarters.  I observed one woman taking photographs of the house and garden from in the middle of the road.  When I queried this, wondering if perhaps I had absent mindedly popped the house on the ‘for sale’ market and she was my estate agent, she said oh no!  she was in fact a local artist, keen to capture a watercolour of the cottage as it briefly emerged from behind its leylandii prison but before the fence went up.  Two elderly ladies came to the gate and requested a tour…it’s fine, no problem, but it was a relief when the fence went up…

Anyway, back to the garden.

I toil and I wrestle huge portions of the garden into bags and then I haul these bags to the tip (sorry, recycling facility:  opening hours:  working hours only, 4 days a week, slogan:  ‘we are here to be as inconvenient and unhelpful as we possibly can!  have a nice day!  Love, Somerset Waste Partnership XX’) as there is far too much for a normal re-cycling collection.  I visit the tip so often, the lads down there invited me to their Christmas party last year.  It was a good laugh actually.  If I go away for a week or so, they ask me where I’ve been.  Don’t get me wrong, they don’t go so far as to help me with the eleventy-eight bags of garden, but you know, they chat as I work.

I wished for this garden.  I wished hard and long and when I saw it, we made it come true.  And now – and this makes me really sad, which is not a usual ‘setting’ for me – I have to admit, I can’t cope with it anymore.  I could, if I did little else, or if I had a proper gardener to help me (by ‘proper’ I don’t mean someone with a BTEC in hard-landscaping and no idea how to prune a clematis, I mean someone like me, actually:  hard working and experienced who is not afraid of critters!  these latter three qualities rule out my children;  and my husband has no leisure at all anyway, so that’s out, too).

Having wished for it, I set to work on it.  I love gardening.  No, I loved gardening.  I used to set seeds and take cuttings and create new spaces and dig up lawns and feed us with many fruits and vegetables.  I do still do  some of these things but far less.  Instead, I focus on controlling the garden.  That in itself is not a way I like to approach anything or anyone.  And anyway, it’s not working.  I haven’t enough time or energy to even control it.  The trouble is, I still love it.  Even as I grind out stumps and wrangle a ton of spent or rampant vegetation into a recycling bag, I straighten my sore back and look at the garden – and I still love it.  Because suddenly, it does this:

This, by the way, is a path. Yes, a lavender path.  The lavender – which I chose because it was going to be small – is now about 6 years old and rampant.  Bee-heaven, but I strongly suspect (and in many ways hope) that there is a small troop of fairies or gnomes dwelling in it  So here is another project.  The whole of this path-hedge (and another in the same area) has to come out and be replaced by something else.  I feel unequal to the task even as I type it.  These plants are HUGE and you know how spiky lavender can be. 

Will I, in another year or so, stop loving my garden?  Will the resentment and annoyance slowly assert itself over the love?  I am annoyed because I wished for it.  No-one forced me to have it, I didn’t just volunteer, I leapt at it!

So, what to do?  I could let it get even more wild or ‘natural’ as I prefer to think of it.  I could abandon most of my other hobbies, work and past-times and just garden.  I heard a radio programme about a scheme in Totnes, where people with too much garden, or too little time, let other gardeners ‘have’ a bit of it, to cultivate whatever they please.  Shall I advertise:  free to good home, portion of Court Cottage garden…?


In other news, the B’ham Royal Ballet on Saturday was just stunning, especially Carmina Burana.  So sexy, funny, odd and beautiful.  It’s a great bargain because you get the ballet, the orchestra and of course, being a choral work, a chorus and soloist singers.  I have no doubt, after years of going to the ballet, that I now prefer modern ballet interpretations.  However, I am not avant garde enough to fully enjoy modern ballet without some music that I know, or can get to know, or which is composed by a composer whose other work I know and enjoy, such as Nyman or Glass, thus giving me a compass, as it were.  What I love best is what we saw last night with Carmina Burana, and recently, with Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella:  well-known, loved music (well, I did love Carmina Burana the other night possibly because I haven’t heard it live or otherwise for many years, having been completely over-exposed to it some years ago, and thus, tiring of it; all better now), to which a clever, free-thinking, inspired choreographer such as Bourne or Bintley adds an entirely new dance, set and treatment.  I haven’t got any ‘traditonal’ ballet booked in the future, though I will always love Swan Lake, Giselle and especially Romeo and Juliet.  The next theatre trip is in July, ‘Midnight Tango’ – Argentinian Tango, courtesy of Flavia and Vincent – I know, I’m an utter dance tart and I don’t care!