Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for November, 2011

Leaf of the day: beech

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Today’s leaf is beech, specifically, copper beech.

I have been gardening a lot.  If by gardening you mean being a leaf-sweeping garden troglodyte, permanently bent double dragging a sack of leaves/dog poo over my shoulder, Quasimodo style.

So, here are my observations (don’t say this blog is ever anything less than sparkling and fascinating).

Here is the rarely glimpsed single beech leaf.  In fact, this is never seen in my garden.  For the purposes of leaf-fall analysis, roughly estimate the number of leaves on your beech tree in late spring or summer and then, to achieve an approximate estimate of the number of leaves that will fall, multiply this number by eleven-million.

Further analysis on my part over many years has established that the beech leaf has an after-life longer than that of nuclear waste.  They never rot down.  I am baffled as to why we haven’t harnessed the staying power of the beech leaf and used it for insulation purposes or maybe devised some way to spin yarn from them – we have bamboo yarn, after all, and even soya-based yarns.

Finally, they have magical properties.  I have 2 dustbins by the back door (now redundant in the brave new world of recycling with Somerset Waste AKA ‘you do our work for us, OK?’).  These act as a kind of beech leaf trap, so every week in beech leaf falling time, I move them and sweep behind them.  Half an hour later, a ton of beech leaves is once again trapped behind them, even after the beech has dropped all its leaves. Spooky.  Yes, I know you’re thinking:  get rid of the dustbins.  But, I plan one day to single-handed, effect the fall of the waste ‘partership’ and then, oh yes then, I’ll be the one, laughing, with the dustbins, all ready and waiting.  Ahem.  Sorry.  But I suppose in the meantime I could move them.

Look out for future blogs in this leaf of the day series!  Next time:  the elm.




Serving suggestion

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

I am not recommending these books.  I fully agree that a serving suggestion is best.  So, feeling suggestible?  Great, here goes.  Well, we’ll go in a minute, you know I have to take you on a little preamble first, don’t you?  Come on.  If preamble isn’t your thing, skip the next few paras.

This autumn has been manic, busy to the point of ‘oh my God, I have no idea how I am going to get round Tesco’s’.  Yes, I know, Tesco’s.  It’s been that bad.  Not really, I’m kind of joking, it wasn’t that bad – it wasn’t Asda-bad.  (Please sign here………………. to agree that you understand that Tesco/Asda is a joke reference and no offence to Tesco/Asda or their shoppers is intended.  For Tesco/Asda, read Sainsbury’s or Aldi or Waitrose if you prefer).

Anyhoo, it’s been busy.  Loads of teaching, lots of designing, a mahoosive quantity of swatching.  Also, shipped out a fair weight in fascinating golf trolley thingies, some kits (hurrah!) and done my non-knitting free-lancing thing.  Do you know about my non-knitting free-lancing thing?  No?  OK, guess what it is.  Nope I’m not a body-double for Flavia on SCD, understandable though that suggestion is.  No, nor am I (yet) a secret agent working with George Smiley who has been time-warped back to 1963…oh knickers, that’s blown that option, should have kept that quiet.  I’ll tell you another day, it’s not that riveting (no, you at the back there, it’s not being a riveter, ‘cos that would be riveting, wouldn’t it?).  Maybe I’ll tell you on the same day that I tell you about my 5 year odyssey in the West Midlands Fire Brigade, about 2 lifetimes ago…

The good thing about the busiest knitting autumn since records began, is that it’s been incredibly creative, with new ventures being hatched and new developments being – um – developed.  Ah. The creativity seems to have run out already.  The down-side is that it squeezed out some of the usual touch-stones in my life, chiefly reading.  Now that I have taught my last workshop of 2011, and boarded my last story for the year, finished my last non-knitting free-lancing task and generally wriggled into a bit of space, I am reading again – a lot.  By reading, I mean absorbing books whether I take them intravenously, that is to say via audio or actually read a real book.

I dealt with The Alchemist already.  One foot note.  It has kind of stayed with me.  I have thought – I think wondered is more accurate – about it on and off.

Next I read Skippy Dies by Paul Murray:

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I listened to this book and I think this is partly why I loved it so much.  The narration is perfect.  This book is not my usual read at all.  It’s intensly masculine being set in a Catholic boarding school for boys in Dublin.  It deals with teenage boys (mainly, there are some girls in the school next door) and also the lives of some of the teachers and priests.   Almost all the chief characters are male.  It’s not a childrens book or a teen-reader book.  It’s gritty, there is little loveliness, and it deals with some sad material.  However, it is also very, very funny, if you like your funny about as dark as a Nigella chocolate and Guinness cake.  Without the white frothy top.  It’s very dark humour.  I think part of the humour is conveyed via the superb narration, so if I’d have found it as funny just reading it, I’m not sure.  And, most of all, it’s just such fine writing.  I love his words, the clever, sly, poignant, poetic and brutal way that he uses language. 

Also, it’s slow-burn.  To be honest, after 30 minutes I was about ready to give up and anyway my mind was wandering because I was swatching and during these processes, there are blank bits where I assume I have had to use all my brain for a few moments (these will be the bits with numbers in them, when the sound I hear is mainly white noise) and then I switch back in.  I have only ever given up on 2 audio books.  Bill Bryson’s At Home, read by the author.  Oh, how deadly it seemed to me.  An amazingly dull wander through Bill’s house, providing him with an excuse to go on and on about the historical features of how we used to live, and how we live now, with each room as a chapter.  Not helped by his voice, which has a lovely accent but is so rushed and breathless, like a middle-aged man doing a Marilyn Monroe impression.  And the Count of Monti Cristo.  Oy.  That will teach me to try and improve my mind.

But Skippy Dies  just gently picked up pace and interest.  One minute I’m all ‘meh, I think I might give Bill another go…’ and next thing I knew, I was hooked.  Couldn’t wait to get into the workshop room, light the fire, plump up the heap of Dachshunds in front of it and get listening.  As I say, I’m not recommending it partly because I have a strong feeling that if I’d read it myself, I might have given up 2 chapters in.  But I did really love it being trickled into my ears by the narrator.  It also did a rare thing to me:  I lolled (as the Young People say; note to those of my vintage:  LOL = laugh out loud, not as you think, Lots of Love.  Which is, like, totally lame, yeah?).  Actual lollage.  I do laugh out loud, a lot, but not so much when I’m reading.  This is due to years of training myself to laugh on the inside, because laughing on the outside on First Great Western or the Bakerloo Line is frowned upon.  Startled the dogs I can tell you, my lolling, far more used as they are to yarn-related cussin’.  It made me sad too.  Sad, not howling or gnashing/rending.  Sad, because of some of the content, and also sad when it was over.  I will certainly listen to this again.  And I will never underestimate the sheer terror, boredom, pain, angst and hope that adolescent boys must go through.  I am a girl.  I only had girl-children.  I think, if even half of this is actually realistic, they – boys – must have it even worse than girls in their teen years. 

I will warn you though that since finishing this, I think in an Irish accent.  I don’t mind this at all as I adore Irish accents, but it may irritate some.  Or, for all I know, it might not happen to you! 

Then, proudly wearing my ‘Head Girl Nerd of The Book Club’ badge, I read the next-but-one book on our list (emits horsey laugh and pushes reading glasses back up bridge of my nose). This is Sister by Rosamund Lupton:

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Now, the book after next (the next being The Alchemist, do try and keep up at the back there) was supposed to be chosen by the book club member for whom the club was formed, who had, shockingly, never read a book all the way through before.  We have now chosen about 6 or 7 books and she has only read 1 of them. This was the concentration camp book and she loved it.  The idea, a year or so ago, was that by now she would have read all our books and some others, one of which would be her choice.  However, that hasn’t happened.  So we have chosen a book for her.  We did this by a process of one of us saying:  how about such-and-such and me saying:  no I’ve read that already until we came to Sister.  I do not know if anyone else in our club has read it.  Once I’d admitted to not having read it yet, I was sorry as I didn’t fancy the subject at all.  Anyway, I got a copy and then devoured it. 

I’m not recommending this book to you, because, even more than Skippy Dies, it’s way out of my comfort zone.  And, it’s not even funny. That last sentence by the way, is the understatement of the year.  In fact, several passages made me  cry.  Or at least, well-up.  However, it is very well written and I was gripped (now I am starting to sound like a magazine reviewer.  But I was! gripped I mean) by the plot.  Which is, incidentally so improbable it made the difficult content slightly easier to handle, due to its fantasy-level pitch.  I mean fantasy in terms of plot devices, not fairies or unicorns.  It’s a dark, sinister mystery.  Loads of plot, as opposed to my usual:  oh, here we are 300 pages later and not much has happened.  There are some niggles such as the sequence of amazing coincidences that drive the plot for much of the time so that after a while you begin to think:  seriously?  you just happened to walk in at that moment and meet that person?  or see that event?  But in spite of that and an ambiguous ending (only slightly clarified by the author’s Book Club Read Notes at the back), I am glad I read it.  

Spoiler alert:  if you intend to read Sister, skip this paragraph.  The thing is, at the very end, the author kicks away the platform on which the entire story has been built.  This leaves the ‘real story’ very open to interpretation to say the least.  Now this did irritate me a bit because whilst I don’t mind a twist in the tail at all, and this has several, I do think in a mystery, the reader ought to have a least a slight clue in order to play the game.  There was no way anyone could have guessed the way the whole basis of the book would be de-constructed in the last chapter.  Which in fact made me question the entire story.  I concluded that the sister of the title, Tess, had never been murdered but committed suicide, as the police and most people believed all along;  and the older sister who narrates the story first person, Bea, was so consumed with guilt that she first went slowly insane, and as she did so, imagined all sorts of things (the plot), and then also committed suicide, like Tess.   I think this because the ‘murderer’ was never arrested, or about to stand trial.  There was to be no trial and the man to whom Bea makes her lengthy statement, which forms the main way in which the story is told to the reader, Mr Wright from the CPS, never existed either.  The only clue given was in his name.  Mr Wright.  I knew all along that was a red herring!

But I’m still glad to have read it.  Good quality prose, so good you actively notice the way she writes and (in my case) approve.  I love reading a passage or even a phrase and thinking:  perfect.

Finally, a biography of Joyce Grenfell:

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Read to me by Eleanor Bron, who I think is fantastic anyway and who can do a very good ‘Joyce’.  (I am struck by the contrast between these 3 books).  The author of this biography is Joyce’s God daughter I think, or a cousin or something, who knew Joyce, as well as having access to the source material used in this biography, which is rather less ‘edited’ than Joyce’s autobiographies.  In these, Joyce ‘edits out’ some things, notably her great generosity to friends and often, strangers.  But also, some other personal details that, whilst they certainly don’t detract from her, somehow make her more human.  Less perfect.  But just as wholesome, kind, funny and wise, if not more so.  Nice.  There, it’s out.  The N word.  Well, she was jolly nice and I love her.

Joyce was a relief-buffer in between Skippy Dies and Sister.  I am now reading a book of cycle rides that form the epic Lands End to John O’ Groats route, which is broken down into 10 – 20 miles sections, so you could do say 2 – 4 in a day, is illustrated with line-drawings and is quite funny.  Every now and again, the author – who has ridden this several times – features a Brewery Of  The Day along the way.  I hate beer, but love that!  I could do the same but feature yarn stores.

Workshops in Devon for 2012

Friday, November 25th, 2011

I have booked 3 teaching dates for the lovely yarn-universe that is Spin-a-Yarn, in Bovey Tracey, Devon.  The details are here.

One is about learning to love Kidsilk Haze (plus of course, its best friends, beads, sequins and frills).  I teach this every year because I need fresh victims students to maintain my status of main Kidsilk Haze pimp (South West Branch).

One is about knitting the Shimmer Stole.

And one is all about a brand new and exclusive decorative cuff design, designed specially for this workshop.


Monday, November 21st, 2011

First up:  ‘Nutcracker!’

It was good – very good in fact.  It was also very exciting that Matthew Bourne himself (praise be to Matthew) was there.  This chap just wandered onto the stage before it started looking as if he was going to ask to turn off our phones, and said:  hello, my name is Matthew Bourne…to which the entire audience made a collective and involuntary ‘ooooo’ noise, a cross between sharply sucked in breath and a proper coo.  Anyway, he was there to introduce a ‘curtain raiser’ in which a group of local school children who had been rehearsed with his leading dancers for some weeks, did a short dance as a ‘starter’, really.  Very moving it was too.

Then they served up the main ballet, which I did love.  However… it wasn’t quite as amazing as Cinderella.  I really wish Mark had seen that first, as I did.  Nonetheless, we really enjoyed it, it was dark (ish), funny and very clever.  Now, I am going to make a statement that I never expected to make:  it was slightly too pink.  I know!  I adore pink as you know and normally, anything pink makes me happy – and it did, don’t let’s over-react.  But oh my, there was an awful lot of pink, mainly hot pink, again, my preferred end of the pink spectrum, and in the end, it was just a tad too much.  Meh.

The Millenium Cntre is an amazing building, really beautiful:

Breathtaking, inside and out, with sweeping stairs and masses of open space giving the feeling of being on a huge liner, or in a very modern ball-room.  The theatre space itself is impressive and the acoustics (though no live orchestra of course so not able to judge that) and the overall vision of the stage were superb.  We had front row seats on the first balcony.  As we sat down I felt the stage was going to be much too far away – I am used to the Bristol Hippodrome, you see.  But in fact, once the lights were down and the curtain was up, it was fine. 

I did feel a little frisson, just a whiff, of ‘Colston Hall’ as we  went into the auditorium…Colston Hall is a venue in Bristol that, despite the recent foyer face-lift remains, for me, one of the deadliest venues ever.  Think sixth form college lecture theatre…I rarely go there anymore because the atmosphere is almost non-existent in the performing space and the wooden seats plus an odd, jumbled lay-out really detract from the performances, I think.  The ‘stalls’ (completely flat with movable seating so quite impossible to see the stage if anyone even vaguely normal in size sits in front of you) is even worse than the upper levels which are better.  And yet we have seen some lovely shows there, it’s such a shame.  I always feel the performers must have to make an even greater effort to overcome the setting.  Incidentally, having seen bands, solo performers, choral works and full orchestras there, the latter works best because although I couldn’t see the solo violinist or the conductor, it matters less with things like that. 

Inside the Millennium Centre auditorium, there is a lot of wood.  A forest (I assume sustainably grown!) of trees must have been used to clad the place, which therefore murmurs ‘sauna…?’ as you walk in.  And it makes it feel slightly chilly, not literally.  However, it just works.  Very comfy, Mark’s legs were able to stretch out, no loo-queues, no blasts of hot and then cold air.  And, the car-park was right next door and Nandos was 500 meters away.  Sweet!

Next my review – more of a ponder, really – of our next book club read.  It’s The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. 

The Alchemist - 10th Anniversary Edition

Yes, I am still in the book club though I have missed the last 2 meetings due to a mixture of work and not reading one of the books because it was set in a concentration camp.  The Alchemist is certainly not a book I’d a) ever heard of, yet I now realise it is famous, apparently;  and b) ever have read, voluntarily.  It is described as ‘inspirational’ and ‘life-changing’.  In fact 2 friends to whom I mentioned it both said:  this book changed my life.  Wow.  OK.  I’d better read it too!

It is a short story about a boy who dreams of finding his ‘treasure’ and follows his heart and his destiny to find it.  Along the way, he meets with strangers and teachers, robbers and warriors, love and loss.   And chiefly, the alchemist.  His ‘treasure’ which I assumed all along would be symbolic, for, say, love is in fact actual treasure– a chest of Spanish gold, though he does also find love – in the desert.  It’s an atmospheric little book, quite evocative of the places he visits and it is sweetly and childishly written making it feel very open and easy.  The translation is rather American.

In fact, sadly, I just don’t think I get it.  Maybe it is less open and easy than I thought.  Maybe it is because I can’t accept it as just so simple.  I think I could accept it as a simple allegorical tale, were it not for the fact that 2 people I know and respect told me that it changed their lives.  I have read it through, it’s very short and took about 3 hours to read from cover to cover with a further hour of back-tracking to make sure I hadn’t missed something.  It’s quite a gentle and sweet fable, really, or fairy story.  I do get that it is supposed to be illustrative rather than ‘real’.  I think I understand that its stages – his journey – represent  breaching personal barriers and having the courage to follow a dream.  I just have an uneasy ’emperor’s new clothes’ feeling about it all.  I did enjoy it more than I expected to, having read the preface.  I was really turned off by the book’s obsession, throughout, with money, gold and treasure.  It is very focused on the acquisition of wealth.  This may be an extended metaphore, but the fact that he does, in the end, dig up a chest of gold before going back to claim his love, makes me doubt it.

All that aside, I have almost never read any ‘self-help’ or self discovery books, though I do like books about running, for example, so maybe it depends on being very personally bound up in the things the author is exploring.  Finding my inner goddess, exploring my higher earth-mother-self, letting the child within me have a play in the park of my unconscious psyche – none of these appeal.  The Alchemist, however, isn’t really like that.  It’s much more simple.  It doesn’t ask anything, there are no ‘excercises’ or tasks or lists.  It seems too simple.  Which is why I feel as if I might be the only one who thinks:  how can this change your life?  Maybe I’ll read it again.

This led me to think if any books had changed my life.  Well, Anne of Green Gables did because it taught me that my love of puffed sleeves and dislike of my own freckles were normal and also, even more importantly, it taught me that books are a magical gateway to other worlds and with a book in your hand, you can escape your earthly life and fly.  Oh my, that was rather Alchemistic!  Sorry.  Many books and poems have had a powerful impact on me and may even have caused me to make changes – but I do not think one has changed my whole life, no.  Apart from anything else, what a responsibility for the author.

If you have read it, I’d be interested in what you think.  And, if there are any books that have changed your life – what are they?  and why?  I’m assuming it won’t be a book about making perfect pasta or how to grow straight carrots, but if that is your Alchemist, why not?  Go for it!

Christmas starts on Friday

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Because, every Christmas I have a list of Christmas activities, some of which always happen (walk round Wells on Christmas Eve);  some of which sometimes happen (visit to London);  some of which are new.  This year’s activity list starts a little early even for me, but anyway, there it is.  We are going to see Nutcracker, BUT this is not just any Nutcracker, it’s Matthew Bourne’s production and I simply cannot wait!  Look!

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Guess which one I am?

and furthermore:

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Look at the roses – and fluffy bobbles on the costumes!  So clever and mad and inspiring.  I have say it looks a bit more sexy than the last Nutcracker I saw – which was the one with the Gerald Scarfe sets, also fantastic, not traditional but slightly mad. For example, Grandpa had a floozie called Vi Agra, and the costumes looked like this:


Drosselmeyer and Clara

 The Matthew Bourne version is set, I think, in an orphanage…so pushing the boundary a litle further still.  Just as I like it!  Some friends went this week and they loved it, as I know we will.  We will of course be enjoying ye festive Nandos for dinner beforehand, also a pre-theatre tradition. 

In other festive planning, we are going to the candle-light Christmas concert in Wells Cathedral;  and also a concert for Christmas in Taunton.  These, plus the usual dinners, lunches etc seem to be enough.  I quite like ’empty’ Christmas days – this was especially good last year when it snowed – so you can just enjoy the feeling of it being almost Christmas…but not quite.


Friday, November 11th, 2011

Do you believe in SAD?  Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Well, it’s officially recognised as a – it’s not an illness, is it?  A condition.  Something that happens to some people.  Research seems to indicate that because we are genetically programmed to react to light levels, some people get what I suppose in the past we’d have called ‘the winter blues’.   For some people it stays as just ‘winter blues’ but for others, I think it’s a real problem.

I used to prefer wintertime to summertime.  As September – still the best month, I think – tipped into October, I loved the feeling of shorter days, cosy evenings, dark mornings.  Now – not so much.  In fact, not at all.  Apart from the lovely winter festivals and Strictly Come Dancing, that, literally, lighten the darkness.  I do love those.  

I wonder if my changed feeling about wintertime is a feature of age.  Because Lily and Florence still prefer winter, with the many rituals that we all do but which I think I do to an even greater extent than ‘normal’, even inventing new ones such as our Second Christmas.  This takes place in late January or early February at the latest.  Like Easter, it moves.  I think I’m trying to fend off the sinking feeling that post-Christmas days can bring, so strong a physical feeling that if I’m not careful, I can anticipate it before  Christmas and hasten its arrival, mourning Christmas’s passing before it has even arrived.

I know that if I spend a few hours outdoors, even on dark days, I feel much better that day and maybe for a day or so afterwards.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m not in a decline about this, but it’s crept into my consciousness that I feel better in summer than I do in winter.  So, I don’t think, thank God, that I have SAD, but maybe a lower-end of the spectrum version of it.  I don’t think I need to buy a special light that can help to re-balance the light levels for people who are badly affected, though it’s good to know they are out there, should the need arise! 

Strategies for coping are what we need.  Snow helped during the last 2 winters, making it at least feel like winter had a point, rather than just being muggy and dark.  But we cannot include snow in our strategy unless we go abroad for some, as it may well not snow at all, it usually doesn’t.  No, my strategy will include:  lighting the fire every day and spending some time knitting;  dragging the dogs round the village every day – well, Rupert maybe once a week due to his back condition, and to be honest neither is what you’d call mad keen;  and gardening, because unless it’s really cold, I can do ‘real’ gardening of the sort that usually has to take a back seat to the garden-wrangling/pruning/transporting -the-garden-to-the-tip activities that is the only thing keeping the cottage even visible in spring and summer.  And, it’s almost garlic-planting time!

Here is some light-filled knitting:

This little evening scarf is using a ridiculous number of beads even for me, but it’s very opulent and heavy so I think it’s just about worth it.

It is still on the needles but when it’s done, I’ll post it as a free pattern, in the blog.  It will take 2 balls of Kidsilk Haze and about 1,000 beads (this seems better if you say’2 bags of beads’!)

YouTube review for ‘Lacy Knits’

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

This is cool, a YouTube review from Jimmy Beans Wool in the USA for Lacy Knits.  Thank you Jimmy Beans Wool!

Anton or Vincent?

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

Inspired by a blog called ‘Why Miss Jones’ ( I am going to talk about a subject that is close to my heart:  Strictly Come Dancing.  If any of my US readers are looking, this is called Dancing With The Stars in America.  More specifically, isn’t it high time a knitter was featured, mmm?  No.  Not me!  Someone really famous like Kaffe, maybe.  Imagine the pent-up voting potential for one thing.  There must be eleventy-million of us knitters, furiously knitting away on a Saturday and Sunday night – nothing too complicated as the tension is really starting to rise at this point in the competition and my tension, literally, goes to pot at crucial SCD moments.

I’m about 5ft 4andabit tall.  So I am never sure who they’d pair me with.  (Oh, really?  please don’t say it’s only me who wonders:  if I was on SCD, who would my partner be…?) I think they’d save Vincent for someone lucky and really short, I am medium so I think I might get Pasha, or Robin or maybe Anton. Poor Anton always seems to get the ‘comedy’ value partner so I’d fit in there and he seems funny and kind (plus I loved it that, allegedly, his real name is Tony Beak or something, I really hope it is and power to him I say!)  Also, I think Anton  might be more willing to accept frequent knitting-breaks and even the idea of knitting beads and sequins into our own costumes, than, say, Brendan.  I can’t imagine that, really.  Me:  Brendan, what do you think about us knitting a little sequined bolero for your Passo…?

The chief drawback (I am going to overlook my lack of celebrity status and overpowering resistance to leaving Somerset) is my lack of dancing ability.  I like dancing, Lily will attest to that when she finds me, usually in my running gear, jiggling about in the kitchen, headphones still in, after a run.  This habit has, it seems now reached crisis proportions for Lily who asked me last weekend, because a friend was coming over to *help her with some maths homework* to ‘please mum, act normal.’ 

Wounded silence.

But I can’t remember the steps.  This is also a problem in the dance-based gym classes I attempted, such as Body Jam.  Ever tried that?  It’s amazing and I strongly suspect it’d be great fun, but it’s really hard for someone like me who has the dance-memory-retention of a fruit fly and can only turn right.  No, really, to turn left I have to be physically moved by someone else.  I have overcome this problem in my favourite gym class, Body Combat, by rigorous training and a lovely, understanding instructor, who only smiles when I rotate to the right again and again…

Anyway, let’s face it, the things about SCD – for me anyway – that make it more addictive than Kidsilk Haze, Nandos or Chocolate Guinness cake are the costumes and make-up.  I want all those dresses!  (not so much the cat-suits), I want the shoes and the head-dresses and the 3 inch long glitter-feather fake eye-lashes!  I do sometimes actually think that as I get older, my wardrobe will come to resemble a dressing-up box.  In fact, Mark said to me the other day:  you look like you got dressed out of the charity box and just put on the first 4 things that fitted.  Now in my defence, I had been running that morning, in long running tights and a sleeveless top.  When I got back, I didn’t want to get showered and changed as 1)  I am experimenting with Compression Wear, of which more later, you have been warned, and you have to leave it on for a bit after a run;  and 2)  I was planning some apple/garden wrangling so I thought I’d just get showered and back to ‘normal’ after that.  Anyway, I then remembered, as I heard his voice in the kitchen, that Lily’s *maths tutor friend from her class in school* was coming over.  I thought she’d/they’d be embarrassed if I was introduced wearing the compression leggings, day-glow running shoes, which are quite big and my legs are quite thin, think Minny Mouse – and a singlet.  SO, I grabbed a baggy jumper and a pair of pink Nike running shorts to go on top of the tights.  In the nano-seconds that I had, it was the best I could do.  Epic Fail.  Lily said (cringing and looking at the shorts):  Luke, this – THIS – is my mum;  mumthisisluke…and legged it, with Luke, into the sitting room.  Then Mark got home from work and I told you what he said.

Two weeks ago on SCD there was a wardrobe incident when Chelsee’s dress kind of gave way – the top part of the dress.  Frankly, right from the start of the programme, I thought and commented to Lily, my SCD addicted partner, that there was no way that dress was gonna man-up to the job of retaining Chelsee unless Pasha had choreographed a very sedate walk.  Chelsee is a talented dancer and it was an energetic dance, but bless her heart, when she thought she had revealed part of her anatomy on national TV, she really cried. 

Poor girl, I felt so sorry for her, and in fact, I don’t think it was that ‘revealing’, but anyway, I have advised her (‘cos I bet they love getting wardrobe advice from folks like me!) to opt for compression wear!  This is my new running/cycling wear. I’m a sucker for a new bit of running kit, and this is the Way Forward.  There is simply no way any part of your anatomy is ever getting out of compression wear, even, sometimes, when you want and need to get it out.  I got mine – a top and leggings – a few weeks ago and having literally fought my way into the top, suddenly had a real moment of panic, when I really did think:  I can’t get this off!  Choices:  1)  CUT it off, thus wasting £35. 2)  wear it until help arrived.  This would be Lily, getting in at 3.45 from the school bus.  Whilst this would have provided a brief moment of actual lollage, I also thought it might scar her.  And also, after a bit, I was starting to lose the heat and then the actual feeling in my arms and hands… 3)  enter into a to-the-death struggle with it.  I chose 3.  Now, after wearing this stuff a few times, I have established entry and exit strategies.  Getting the top and the leggings on or off is in itself a workout and also something that I couldn’t possibly do in public, say the gym changing room.  The writhing and the thrashing….however, should the SCD call ever come, I will suggest that I am allowed – even required – to base my costumes on it, because in this way, no-one gets hurt and everything stays where it started, other than my feet, of course, and there is no cure for that affliction.  Not even Anton.

OK, I’m going back in…

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

On Friday, I thought:  I think I’ll pack up doing this blog.  But, for the following reasons, I clearly haven’t.

Guess what happened to me this morning?  You never will.  A man, wearing a brown corduroy jacket and a fedora – honestly! – stepped off the pavement and into the road, which was the A38, to let me pass.  I was out running, he was out walking.  Suicidal, yes, but so chivalrous.  But also, and mainly, what are the chances of me meeting a lovely chap like that, in a fedora?  I swear this is the truth, or let me never place another bead or turn another heel.  Which just goes to show, you can’t judge a chap by his choice of hat!  Now, if I didn’t do the blog, I wouldn’t be able to tell you all about this amazing coincidence and I really wanted to!

Guess what happened to me yesterday?  This is easier for you to guess.  I ran the last workshop for 2011 here at Court Cottage and it was such a lovely day.  As you know, I’ve been knitting and designing little festive knits and this was the main purpose, to teach them at this event.  Well, I had such a lovely day, which I always do when I teach but this was just the best fun, with an amazing group of knitters – 8 knitters plus me and Millington, who is my lovely assistant, and that’s a lot of bods in my teaching small space, really – and I really needed a day like that.  Affirming.  Full of energy.  Positive.

I was especially pleased with my Ribbon Boutique:

 which is in fact, a lot of ribbons hung up on a coat hanger – well, it worked!

This was the room before the workshop:

Behold the vast array of Kidsilk Haze (and the biscuit tin).

After the workshop – yeah, not so tidy, but workshops are all about everyone getting stuck in and you can’t do that without making a bit of yarn-mess.  I love that.  When, in years to come, this old house is made-over in one of its many incarnations, the discovery, in every nook, cranny, crevice and gap, of glittering beads and the odd sequin will doubtless make future generations speculate that a ball-room dancer once lived here.  But no!  Just me and my knitters.

Also, after the workshop, Millington overhauled the (eleventy-nine) bead and sequin stacking towers and re-ordered them, until quite late and I did this:

I like looking at shoes, especially these and it felt amazing to put my feet up, rest, and watch Millington at play, bless her.  We have planned a Saturday soon when we will just light the fire, knit what we like and make a massive roasty dinner, with a proper pudding, featuring custard.  All welcome!

So these are the reasons why I’m not packing anything up, I’m growing a new, improved and maybe slightly thicker layer of skin, and thanking the Knitting Gods for my good friends, those I’ve met and those I haven’t (yet).

And on that note, veils are drawn and so on…

Book, covers, judgement…

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

I know, I just know, that I am not likely to enjoy a book if the publishers have decided that what it needs is a pink sparkly, even relief-effect cover, usually featuring a swirling cartoon image of a super-thin chic-chick with a diamante dog lead tangled round her impossibly high-heeled shoes, arms full of designer label shopping bags and a storm of butterflies round her head.  On the other hand, I’m grateful to the (I suspect) 14 year old ‘editors’ in the It’s Not Literature But There Are More Words Than Pictures publishing house who decide that what so-and-so’s new block-buster really must have is a quilted sateen cushion on the front with a stand-out diamond ring in relief.  It makes it easier for me to instantly reject an enormous number of potential books which, if they had normal covers, I might have to flick through before rejecting, thus saving valuable reading time.

I have the same sense of gratitude to people who have purple mohican hair-dos, facial tattoos and multiple body piercings that I can see.  Because, it’s as if they have a little notice above their heads that says:  warning, I may alarm or even frighten you, you might prefer to stand from London to Bristol rather than sit beside me.  Thanks!  I will.

Sometimes, being at heart a pinko-liberal, (small ‘L’ note!), I fight this boring and rather narrow mind-set and I DO sit beside the unconventional person on the train (if there is no other seat, obviously).  It’s often a mistake.  I recall one horrific journey from Bristol to Chester, for the now frankly bizarre sounding purpose of attending a work conference for about 4 hours, staying over-night and then coming back.  This is a linen cupboard reference.   He seemed alright at first, the man sharing my table, but when I produced my knitting – and he produced the first of several cans of cider – my heart sank.  He was VERY interested in the knitting and talked to me about it non-stop, other than the times when, at the many stops, he darted off the train and smoked a hand-rolled cigarette on the platform.  This was in the time when smoking on trains had been banned but it was still allowed on platforms, but more especially I can date it to the time when Debbie Abrahams’ cushion book was published, as that is what I was knitting from. 

So insistent was his questioning of my knitting, despite my increasingly monosyllabic answers, that the other passengers on the train, packed and smelly as it had become, seemed to associate me with him and his over-loud voice, his nervy fag-rolling as he readied himself for the next stop, and his carrier bag of booze.  He and I both got disapproving glances and sometimes frank, open stares.  He’d squeeze in and out of the carriage, and come back reeking of cigarette smoke, which he assured me was a nice smell – urging me to have a good sniff of his tobacco pouch – because he used a cherry-scented hand-rolling mix so that he didn’t smell horrid.  I doubt if he used the word horrid.

The trouble was, much as I disliked and even slightly feared him, I’m not sure why, much as I was anxious in case his smell contaminated the Rowan Hand Knit DK Cotton in cream and two shades of chocolate and coffee, that I was knitting, I was worried about him.  He had a long and hard-to-follow story about how his life was turning out, at the same time full of self-pity and bravado.  His relationships with women, his children and any work colleagues (this latter part was, I felt, really doubtful) were all fraught.  It was hard to follow because I just listened and didn’t ask the questions or head him off in a way that would have led us all into fewer cul-de-sacs and pointless diversions.  I told you I have ‘one of those faces’!  Each fresh outrage would be punctuated by his loud, braying laugh and nervous repetition of phrases such as:  oh well, that’s life, innit?  Can’t complain, mustn’t grumble…like an American film’s idea of how English people speak, perhaps we do;  and the recurrent sharp snap hiss of a new cider can being opened. 

Like him with his life story, I digress, sorry.  Maybe one day I’ll be a lonely train traveller, making people talk to me by cornering them with my knitting, making them smell the silk in Kidsilk Haze (you can smell it, by the way…). Given my social rectitude, even hermit-like tendencies, I feel this is unlikely but you never know, do you?

So, I think that my point is, sometimes you really can judge a book by its cover.  And then on the other hand, I’ve looked at the covers of books such as the George Smiley series by John le Carre, and over the years, rejected them for their dark forbidding jackets and the ‘blurb’ which put me off with its secret agent and cold-war references.  Wrong!  They are amazing, though to be fair, I am listening to them, being poured, like liquid art and happiness, into my ears by Michael Jayston, whose voice is just lovely.  By the way for real reading, I’ve just finsihed A Woman of Independent Means, lent to me me by someone who I’ve come to know through knitting teaching, and I really enjoyed it.  And an old volume that is a collection of stories published in The New Yorker magazine during the 1930s and 1940s.  The New Yorker was a very important literary outlet for lots of great writers in the UK as well as America, for example, Elizabeth Taylor (no, the other Elizabeth Tayor) had many published there over the years.  I love short stories, the pithier the better.  Long short stories annoy me a bit because I think, oh well, if you’d added a bit to it it’d could have been a short novel, or taken some away and made it a proper short story.  My favourite collections of short stories are published by Persephone Books, look for Dorothy Whipple and Mollie Panter-Downs in particular but they’re all excellent.  Often not a great deal happens, or at worst plot is hinted at, but they make vivid sketches of people, life and living then, usually in the sort of suburban way we live now, most of us. 

Another thing I have passed a negative judgment on in the past is very small knitting.  Not micro-knitting, for, say, dolls’ houses, that will never happen.  But really quite small items – actually, Christnas decorations.  But, again, I was wrong, I’ve been knitting mini gift bags and small sweaters and icicles – all hopelessly adorned with beads and sequins – and I love it!  Look!

It’s fun and I don’t care that I can’t wear it, I have done mine in a mon0-chrome scheme and hung the bags and sweaters and icicles on painted white twigs and tied the flowers to a silver-sprayed wooden wreath – result:  happiness! 

Hearts, and then:

…black with silver – not crystal, but silver – beads.

And icles:

And finally, flowers and frosty decorations for a little wreath:

I do hope the workshop participants this weekend will be happy too, as this what we will be making, in whatever colour-way they prefer. 

As a gift to them, they will also depart with a copy of a new and as yet not-quite-finished pattern for a slender evening scarf, that has even daunted me with its beading – pics when I have done a bit more of it.