Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for December, 2011

Super powers

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

I have the following super-powers (and later I will delight you with a list of powers I wish I had):

I can empty the vacuum cleaner.  Yes, I alone have mastered this feat and I therefore single-handed hold the perils of over-full vacuum drums at bay.  This make me Dysono-Woman.

I can empty rubbish bins.  Unlike other mortals (that I live with) I can instantly identify when a rubbish bin is in need of emptying.  To do this I employ one of my highly developed sensory powers (eye-sight).  For this I am named Bag-Lady.

I can fill in, read and regularly consult a diary.  This super power was bestowed upon me by my super-power God-Mother, W H Smith-Woman.   This power conveys the title:  Date-Gurrl.  Yes, it is a very cool power.

I can make lists.  This is possibly my most awesome super-power because not only do I make my own lists, I make lists for the mortals in my care.  They super-love it when I do this!  And I sense (due to my super powers) rather than actually hear, their grateful thanks.  This makes me Listeria.

I can tell the difference between silver foil and aluminum cans.  Because I am the only person (living here) upon whom this gift has been bestowed, I cannot, despite my best efforts, pass this on to my humans.  They somehow seem to actually repel the knowledge.  Maybe it is self-defence.  I assume it may be because they would be unable to handle the pressure this would bring, or possibly they might be tempted to abuse this knowledge for evil purposes.  So I alone bear this burden – but I regard it as an honour.  Because of this power, I am known as Princess Re-cycle-Nurd

I can separate laundry.  OK, many of us have this power.  But wait for this:  I can, at a distance of at least 2 feet, distinguish a red sock in a white-washing load!  I know.  And, I can get it out before it goes into the washing machine.  This super-power earns me the title:  Launderama (it’s not a drama!)-Lady

Finally, I can, with a single bound, transport ‘things-that-live-half-way-up-the-stairs’ to the first floor of the house.  Add to this my whirl-wind tidying up powers and I am indeed a mighty force to be reckoned with.  For this, I am simply called Stupid.

And yet, despite being so blessed, sometimes I weary of my powers.  And I worry that I may be unable to carry on for ever.  It’s at times like that – in the lull between a rubbish collection timetable interpretation emergency and a dash to fend off a ‘no hot water’ crisis in down-town Puriton – that my mind idly turns to super-powers I wish I had.  Such as:

The power of sleep.  I like sleeping, and I can do this.  But I cannot stay asleep.  I think this failure is related to the power of:

Emptying the mind.  This also totally escapes me.  I have no idea what people mean when they say:  empty your mind.  How?  I might as well be urged to take unaided flight or do maths.  The instant I am commanded (say, at the end of a yoga class, which I tried 3 times before admitting utter defeat) to empty my mind – and then, by the way – with a small silk bag filled with dried peas (I assume) over my eyes – encouraged to take an imaginary stroll through a woody glade/warm beach/meadow full of sparkly ponies and fairy-lights, my mind just goes:  sod that!  and sprints off in all sorts of directions.  I did also think, against all the yogic rules, apparently, that the command:  empty your mind, was hard to reconcile with the next command, which followed only 2 seconds later, to take the imaginary stroll.  Bare foot.  Because, if you need to imagine you’re walking along a warm shore-line with a stream of trilling love-birds carrying the hem of your sarong, when in fact you’re lying on a cold, hard gym studio floor, on a mat the depth of an envelope, in frankly too close proximity to a bunch of hard-core yoga lovers, well, you need to use your mind!  So, I can’t damn well empty it, can I?  Ahem. 

So there I am, listening to the teacher intoning over the wooshy, bendy music, I’m lying down in some discomfort possibly due to the amazingly lengthy periods for we had been encouraged to hold extreme poses such as Deputy Dog or Cats Cradle or something.  And my mind is thinking:  this silk bag business is weird.  And gross.  What is its purpose?  I wish the lights were on.  The lady next to me – I think that may be her hair I can feel on my face…oh God, maybe it’s a spider, it is a spider, I can’t scream…no it is her hair, phew.  No, not ‘phew’, it’s also gross.  OK.  Calm.  Try and take this mind-walk with the others.  They can do it, so can you.  OK, imagine it without the others.  That’s better.  This field…is it the one by the motorway junction in our village?  Oh!  dental appointment detection super-power memory just kicked in!  that’s tomorrow, must write note for Lily’s teacher and…

See?  Am I a hopeless case?  If you have managed the mind-emptying trick, please help me.  I’m begging you.  It’s busy in here!  I need a break!

Finally that most elusive of all super-powers:

The power of No.  You may have Super-No Power for all I know.  I wonder what it is like.  The power to just say:  no.  I have tried it, in tiny ways.  I either instantly say:  I mean yes!  or I suffer agonies of guilt.  You know in some shops, at the till, they randomly ask you if you’d like a bar of chocolate the size of a single bed to go with the Telegraph?  ‘Cos it’s like, half-price?  I clearly don’t want the mattress sized chocolate bar, I don’t like chocolate that much (now if it was a duvet sized bag of crisps, now we’re talking, sister), and yet I really have to force myself to say no.  Ditto the requests to take out store cards.  I never do but I am wracked with guilt about refusing. God knows why.  I am going to practise this super-power.  I will start with (politely) refusing to eat things if I don’t want them (but not if I am at someone’s house, obviously).  

So if you’d like to offer me some guidance that’d be good.  I bet you also have amazing super-powers like mine – share!  I know mine are uber-super but don’t be shy!  And then – what would you have as a new super-power?  (I also want speed-knitting for deadline purposes and a moderator-switch in my brain to stop me sometimes when I get over-excited).

Oh – and happy new year.

A Christmas story: Elizabeth

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

I have been rambling away here for just over a year.  I now know some of you in real life and that has been marvellous.  I know some of you ‘virtually’ from your comments and more often, your emails to the website – and that’s also been so amazing.  I don’t know some of you at all, maybe you read this blog from time to time but we haven’t been introduced.  Yet.  I do thank you kindly for popping in now and again.

I am now going to have a mini-break for a few days.  If any kits or workshop places are ordered, I’ll get right on it a few days after Christmas (after Christmas! No, it’s too sad to even think of that now, I’m sorry).

But for now, if you hear a little knock on your door and see a trio of carollers, it will be me and the boys!  Don’t be scared, I’m only joking, I would come round – but I don’t have your address…

Here is a little Christmas Story for you.  It’s called Elizabeth and nothing much happens, really.  Despite its lack of activity or plot, I hope you enjoy it.  Click to download it. Elizabeth

Happy Christmas, whoever you are.

Winter pictures

Sunday, December 18th, 2011
You know how I go on (and on) about how lovely it is to receive a hand-knit/made item as a gift?  You know I do.  Well, recently, a knitter whom I got to know through knitting and who I have now happily come to regard as a friend of mine, foolishly but very kindly said to Millington and I that the boa she was wearing at the workshop and which Millington and I admired very muchly could be made by her, for us – one each!  Millington and I are like velociraptors when it comes to beautiful hand-crafted gift-offers.  We did not even bother with the polite demurs that might dislodge the amazing offer.  In fact there was an unseemly scuffle as we abandoned the workshop and sprinted upstairs to the yarn room to get the yarns of choice. 

Nicola, who made the kind offer and then crocheted the boas, is a very good knitter and crocheter, self-taught largely though her mother is also a gifted maker and I have the pleasure of knowing them both.  In what seemed like a nano-second of time – but to Nicola may have felt like an eternity of crocheting – the boas arrived.  I adore them, especially (luckily for Millington) mine.  I especially admire that they are crocheted  because, as you know, despite loving a crochet border and my own twirly uber-boa (free pattern by the way), I do regard crochet as the handiwork of the devil if I am called upon to do any.

Here are some pictures taken in my garden yesterday.  There are 2 of the boa and then 2 of the winter cherry in my garden, which is having a very good year.  When I look at it’s delicate, brave flowers, it really puts me in mind of the boa.

The yarn – KSH of course – is a new shade, a delicate soft pink, with a grey-tone that makes it look really beautiful but not ‘mucky’ which can happen.  I think it looks like the inside of a tiny shell.

I have worn it several times, as I will tonight for a carol service, and it always gains a lot of ooo-aaah attention.  Thank you Nicola, you really have no idea how much I appreciate that you did this for me.


 I have also been enjoying the way the garden looks in winter.  As you know I am programmed to clear, sweep, prune and generally tidy my garden but I always fail because it’s too big for me and I don’t have time.  I also like some areas to remain ‘messy’, which is lucky.  I love the jumble of leaf-litter, winter stalks and seed heads:

 There has been little frost here yet but this picture, taken yesterday, looks suitably bleached.  Bleak, even.  I love it.  I hope it’s providing a cosy place for some happy creatures.

I can so do winter when the sun shines and the sky is blue!  Look at this Mulberry, always the first tree to lose it’s leaves, which are large and turn lemon yellow in late September.  The Mulberry is also the last tree to pop its clothes back on in the spring, so for an awful lot of the year, it looks like this:

 On each twig, there is a pointy, pure black tip.  Like a witch’s manicure!  This tree has moved twice and always manages to come back strong – this year we had a lot of fruits, heavy, clotted black-purple berries, ultra-sweet and at the same time, cheek-hollowingly sharp.  I fought it out with the wasps, who usually won due to my morbid fear of  wasps.  Seriously, wasps?  What is the point?

We also have 3 very large but very old apple tress on the main lawn.  This summer I had a chap come over to reduce the beech and the fir, since they have been trying to push the cottage over, and I asked him to take a look at the apple trees.  He duly came back this month to prune them.  I say prune.  In fact, they have been drastically, radically reduced.  I liked the tree man who referred to my apple trees as ‘fragile old ladies’.  I love these trees. I really love them, it’s a physical feeling.  But he’s right, they are fragile, rotten in parts, hollow, huge and therefore, vulnerable.  When he and his 2 helpers came over, we all stood on the lawn, yelling at each other over the howling gale that was wracking the garden.  He said to me:  I strongly urge you to plant 2 or 3 new apple trees in 2012.  My heart flipped.  I said (possibly over-dramatically):  you don’t think they’re going to make it, do you??!!  Mark later said it was a bit like Casualty when it’s touch and go for un-named victim number 1 after a Boeing jet crashes onto his ice-cream van (or whatever entirely plausible story they’ve hallucinated that week).  One of his assistant-lads said:  oh yes! they’ll be fine!  But main tree-man just pursed his lips and looked doubtful. 

Later, when I came out to see the work I was really shocked by how much they’d reduced them by.  Main tree-man said, as they left (getting right into the Casualty spirit I felt):  ‘it was cruel to be kind, at least now they have a chance.  I’d still get some more trees in though, quick-sharp’.  Now that a couple of weeks have passed, I rather like the far more open feel of that lawn and the border which was pretty much over-shadowed by 2 of the trees. 


Meanwhile, inside the house, Christmas is all around.  This year, I have not felt quite as Christmassy as usual.  I peaked in November, because we had a lovely Christmas workshop, but after that my festive-rating declined.  By last week I was really worried.  However, it’s perked up this weekend and now I feel proper Christmassy.  Phew.  On behalf of owls, and in response to a lady in the Festive Village at our local garden centre, who felt that owls are not as Christmassy as badgers, I mildly disagree and here is my festive owl:

also, my festive sea-horse:

This leads me to an interesting dilemma.  Real v fake trees.  I was brought up with real trees, naked though they were by Boxing Day, with literally piles of grey needles on the carpet every day.  Recently however, I have been seriously wondering about getting a pretend tree.  I do love real trees, but honestly, the commitment is huge.  Last year, Mark and I took a trip to Ye Festive Garden Centre, from whence all traces of actual gardening have, as is traditional, been removed.  On our own, with no children (I say children, but as you know, whilst technically they are our children, they are not children), we rather furtively strolled by the pretend tree section.  Assuming you reject the black or white trees, likewise the ones with pre-attached lights, fir-cones or snow, some of the others are very realistic!  I was impressed.  We had a family meeting.  The fake tree suggestion was greeted with hostility.  This year, I once again loitered in the fake tree area.  I really do not know why this makes me feel as if I might be doing something slightly improper.  Once again, this item on the agenda caused some heated debate.  If by debate you mean Lily saying: no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no – no.  Right then, you can deploy the Dyson on a daily basis, madam!  I do think that next year, we’ll get a really nice pretend tree and honestly, it will be fine and I’ll be a lot less grumpy.  They – real tress, that is – don’t even smell like real trees anymore, do they?  They used to, but this one doesn’t smell at all.  Harrumph.

Candle-lit carol service tonight! I think the boiler at the church is still bust, so I am wearing thermals under my real clothes and a layer or 2 of KSH, plus Nicola’s boa!






Leaf of the day: pine needle (technically, is that a leaf? discuss)

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

The annual pilgrimage to the garden centre to get the tree has taken place and the tree is up.  I think it is our best tree for ages.  I can only hope that the poor boy who was our tree-host on the evening we chose it, agrees. We got off to a bad start because the tree selection area had been moved.  Usually it is outside but covered over a  bit so it feels almost like you are outside properly, with the dark outdoor plant area behind you and the lights of the garden centre itself in front.  And then the trees are stacked in areas determined by size and type and cost.  This year, they have been moved; they were practically in the entrance.  Lily has never liked change, nor do I.  But really, I wasn’t prepared for her reaction when she saw the new tree-sales location, she was outraged!  Might need to work on that with her in 2012  when she changes schools…

One of your party (or a designated tree-person) wrestles the tree that you fancy out of the stack and holds it up.  This is demeaning to trees, I know, being a sort of tree beauty pageant.  But I can’t stop myself.  I have very specific tree requirements.  A lot of our decorations are heavy, so we need a tree with some sturdy branches;  a graceful but floppy tree is of no use to me whatsoever.  Our cottage is small, yet we want a big tree due to the outrageous number of decorations we own, so it has to be wide but not too tall.  I also quite like a tree with a ‘flat’ side (to go towards the french doors bit of the corner into which we ram it), and an opposing ‘sticky out’ side.  I don’t want a lot of naked trunk anywhere and I like the needles to be perky.

However, there is an unwritten rule about how many trees you can have displayed to you by the tree-person before you are bound by the Code of Practice On Christmas Tree Buying to just say:  OK that one will do.  I feel (the Code is more given to guidance here) that this number is probably 3.  I am no longer bound by the Code.  Even though I feel awkward, and I do praise all the trees I am shown, even the clearly inadequate ones, I plough on – though not, yet, very far into double figures – until I find The Right Tree.

Last weekend, our tree-person was simply lovely.  After 3 trees had been praised but rejected, I shared some quite specific information about our (my) tree needs and after tree number 5, he was pre-rejecting trees for me!   He’d root about into the stack and muttering slightly, but happily I think, under his breath, he’d shove some aside:  mmm…maybe…? head turns slightly to me, sees almost imperceptible yet also sad shake of  my head – no, not this one…maybe this one…? No, not you…  THIS one!  He was right!  Now that’s a intuitive person, happy in his work.  He was also showing off the trees as if they were his celebrity partners on Strictly Come Dancing.  Out came the tree, and he’d pivot it into a good space, tap it lightly but firmly into the ground to shake out the branches and then execute a triple twirl sequence worthy of Anton and Erin.

I thought I’d make an excellent tree sales-lady, but then my family pointed out my aversion to the cold or even a slight chill, and also my tendency to get over-involved – I’d be offering to pop round and help them decorate.

The garden centre, by the way, has morphed into a disturbing Winter Wonderland with disjointed ‘rooms’ dedicated to styles and colours of decorations.  There is Narnia:  white, silver, with a sinister Ice Queen model figure (who I think was also the witch at Hallo’een but there we are).  There is Toy Land, with a train careering through a cardboard and cotton wool tunnel, and some robotic reindeer whose movements are so staccato, they look like they are body popping.  And there is Rustic Christmas, where there are really odd animal decorations, including owls (rejected by 1 woman whom I overheard discussing the merits of these versus the badger decorations, with her epically disengaged teenage son.  For the record, she felt that badgers are more Chritmassy than owls).  If you want a trowel, unless you want one with a Cath Kidston style flowery handle, you’re stuffed, basically.

However good your tree, it will shed, which brings me to the topic of the this post:  pine needles.  The festive vacuuming of the merry needles has begun.  We don’t have carpets in most of our rooms, and the sitting room has a stone floor, frankly a bit of trip-fall hazard, because it’s ancient and uneven and the flags have crevices.  I am *quite **assiduous (*very **obsessive) about getting last year’s pine needles out when the old tree gets taken down.  And yet, each time I put up the new tree, I always find old needles from last year in a crevice, wedged in a crack, under the radiator, even stuck into the skirting board.  It is a great Christmas mystery.  I feel if I had a carpet, I’d stand a chance against the needles.  In fact I do have carpet down in the dining room (AKA workshop/work room) and also, since it’s not a sitting room, more space.  However, my suggestion that we locate the tree in there was clearly outrageous, wrong and at odds with whole universe, and I am sorry I ever mentioned it, OK Lily?

Tweet, anyone?

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Do you tweet?

I do.  I just started with Twitter so no-one at all is following me and I’m following Nigella Lawson and Stephen Fry, I am sure they’ll soon return the favour.  Oh, and Miranda Hart whom I love.  I was wondering if she’d like me to teach her knitting in return for letting me look at her.

If you want to find me in Tweet-land, it’s @ACrowtherSmith

Early Christmas gift – to you!

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Here is a little free pattern, a 1st December present from me to you.  This is part of the ‘package’ of Christmas knits that we did here in November.  I have decided to do another Festive Knits day next November cos the last one was so much fun but with a new batch of little trinkets!


I think if you have this pattern now, you will still have time to knit a few little gift bags before the big day.  These little bags are knitted flat, starting at one frill and ending at the other frill, i.e., all in one piece and the yarn is held double.  A bag takes about 5 – 7g of KSH.  So stash-busting is indicated!  I haven’t knitted them in other yarns but I think they’d also be cool in 1 strand each of KSH and Shimmer, (with the frill just in KSH maybe);  or Fine Lace and KSH.  I can knit and finish one in about 2 hours or less and I am not a fast knitter by any means.

Using this as a template, you can of course decorate the bags anyway you like – stars and snow-flakes spring to mind.  I did one with hearts and this is also in your pattern:

There is also a bag with beads and sequins which you can just see twinkling away behind the star-stitch bag.  So that’s 3 for you to have a go at – if you go ahead and create a new design for your bags, such as a star, will you please share your pattern with us?

I wish I had a gift for you for every day of December up to Christmas Eve, like an Advent calendar.  Sadly, I don’t.  I do however have one more present, a short-story that I have written for you about Christmas and it does (briefly) feature knitting.  This will be left under your tree (if by tree you mean in this blog, on your computer) just before Christmas Day so be good boys and girls, won’t you?

Here is the document:  Christmas Gift Bags for blog