Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for April, 2012

Royals and caravans. Not together.

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

*in reading the following you accept that I don’t hate the Royal family, I agree that the Queen is amazing for her age and I don’t think (unlike Millington) that ‘she (her Maj) shouldn’t be allowed to go outside’.  Millington is harsh, sometimes, for one so young and lovely.  Also, I have several very good friends who own/use caravans and I am not caravanist. It’s just that, because we live very close to the M5, caravan play-ground of the world, in much the same way as Monte Carlo is the play-ground of the rich and Tango-tan-tastic, we are blessed with many caravans.


Sometimes I think I am out of step with the world.  I reflected on this today because a year ago today, (no offense Kate and William) I didn’t watch the Royal wedding.  They were gutted, natch. This is was partly because we were en route to the Isle of Wight that day – which we found in an utter ferment of ardent Royalist/wedding activity – but even so we could have watched the highlights later.  We didn’t.  We avoided it and that, my friends, was tough.  I know most people really did love it, and I did like her dress, but I felt a bit isolated in thinking:  this is their big day and I’m really happy for them, they do seem lovely and they sure do look great especially together, having double-handed improved the attractiveness rating of the Royal family by 1, 109%;  but it’s nothing to do with me, I don’t want to watch it.

I think they will bring – maybe this has started, I have not checked – a breath of fresh air to the Royal family (she gushed, brushing up her glossy celebrity/Royal family magazine journo skills in case I get a chance of a free-lance gig at one of them).  Kate has a unique sense of personal style, she is both an icon and yet, touchingly, she is at one with modern culture:  a wise and pretty head on young shoulders – oh it’s no good, I can’t go on.  I don’t think any of that.  I think she’s about as normal as a daughter of the super-rich can be; and she needs to gain about 10lbs.  Oh and shock-horror:  Kate once went in Zara.  And bought a dress.

I was tempted by having a Royal wedding party (had we been at home) but honestly, that would have only been in order to wear every sparkly thing I have ever owned or knitted, plus a tiara, whilst drinking (M&S) Champagne and eating buffet food.  Sometimes I think my fondness for bog-standard buffet food (not you, Value Range) is a key indicator of my proley roots.  In this I imagine I am exactly like Kate.  I don’t care, I love a cocktail sausage, me.  I don’t like posh buffets, with things on rock hard slices of ciabatta bread that are at once too big to neck down in one mouth-full, yet also certain to shatter into a thousand shards of splinter-like bread needles beloved by assassins at buffets, if you bite it.  Either you risk an unseemly choking, cheek-bulging few seconds to 2 full minutes depending on the topping, or everyone in your orbit gets a bit. Lose lose.  Likewise I don’t like things that are crimped and folded into bread-or-pastry-like-material, thus making is impossible to discern what this conceals.  Sniffing the buffet is (apparently)  frowned upon.  As is my favourite past-time with chocolates (this is gross, so you might want to skip): biting it, eating that half and giving the rest to Mark because I don’t like it.  I’m fussy.  But greedy.  And curious.  Can’t give it to the dogs, chocolate is toxic to dogs.  Isn’t it, Roo?  I mean, you can’t bite half a mystery crimped crescent moon-shaped pastry affair and then pop the other half back or give it to your husband.  In public.  I also, oddly, given what I have just shared, don’t like communal dips or being a long way down the line at a buffet because I suspect all the people in front of me of sniffing it as I would very much like to do, or at least breathing on the food and maybe touching it.

Sorry, small digression.  It’s not unusual.

This next bit is something I think I  share with a lot of people.  I do get a bit fed up with loads of caravans.  I accept that this is because I don’t indulge, but I really don’t get caravan rage and I acknowledge that a significant number of really lovely people derive innocent pleasure from this past-time.  In fact, I think I’d really like a camper van, but it has to be pistachio green and cream.  It is a long-standing dream of mine to own a VW Camper Van.

This is my problem with caravans and it’s to do with the product-branding, not the users:  it just really makes me laugh (out loud, yes, I lol, but it’s OK ‘cos I’m usually alone in my car at this point) when I read names on the backs of caravans like ‘Marauder’, ‘Adventurer’, or ‘Crusader Hurricane’.  Oh come on.  You’re not a Marauder, now, are you?  Because if you are, sorry but you’ve backed a loser coming to Brean Down Caravan park for 2 weeks, the others are not going to be impressed with your marauding ways and it’s not a great way to make friends in the club house.  I suspect.

I sometimes drive past the people towing ‘Marauder’ and glance at them.  You’d never know. They look so normal and nice, but I suspect if you ARE a marauder, you might not want to advertise.  No, wait – they have it on the back of their van!

Why do the marketing teams give their products such inappropriate names?  It’s not like they can seriously think:  ‘I know, if we call this new van ‘Thor’, we’ll attract a new niche of god-like, if possibly rather aggressive, customers’, is it?  Should I buy a caravan, I’d be positively discouraged from buying if it was called ‘Thunderer’ or some-such nonsense.  I’d honestly rather have one called Betty or Tetley.  Because, in the caravan-owning segment of my friends and acquaintances, none of them is remotely like the sort of person who you’d associate with ‘Buccaneer’.  No offence, on the contrary, I have actively rooted out all my buccaneering friends and deleted them from my FaceBook account.

On the other hand, sometimes I think I won’t like something, perhaps partly because of its overwhelming popularity, and then for some reason I do try it and lo and behold!  I was wrong, Millington was right, I DO like it after all!  One such thing was knitting in the round on 2 short circs, though here it must be said that the very moment Millington lets me out of her sight, I instantly revert to DPNs.  But yes, I do like 2 short circs.  The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  Nothing was going to make me read that because I thought it’d be nasty and also it was so popular, it sort of repelled me.  To be fair, I didn’t read it, I listened to an unabridged version – and I loved it, though I was right, it is a bit nasty.  I went right on and got the next 2 volumes and was desolate when they ended.

I acknowledge that in posting this blog, I may have reduced the chances of a call any time soon from the editors of ‘Royals! They’re Just Like Us!’ and ‘Marauding Today:  Modern Caravaning’.  Oh well, there go 2 gigs.

Anyway, I must go now and resume worrying about how on earth I’m going to water my veg garden while we are in the grip of this hose-pipe ban and drought.  *rigs life-lines for Dachshunds to safely navigate the torrent of flood water formerly known as Our Garden*


Knit ‘Shimmer’ with me at Spin-a-Yarn, Thursday 10 May

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Alison cordially invites you to come and knit this with her at Spin-a-Yarn in Bovey Tracey, Devon:

This is the beautiful Shimmer Stole from my Lacy Knits book.  It’s a very chic and fairly easily mastered technique which we will fully master together.  The stole is knitted in Kidsilk Haze and Shimmer.  I don’t teach this event here at Court Cottage so if you’d like to knit this with me, contact Joyce and the team at Spin-a-Yarn.

We will knit a swatch to learn the stitch and then you choose and buy your yarns (a voucher gives you a discount on the day!) before we cast on the project for real. 2 places are now available and I’d really love to see you there on 10 May, 10.00 – 4.00.



The strangeness of kindness

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Before you lose the will to live in my relentless blogging about caving I just want to say, this is a brief observation-post.

1) you know how much knitters like cake?  Well, I have found a new species which loves the cake even more than knitters:  cavers.  I have never seen so much cake, all home made and it was all eaten.  They eat more cake even than cyclists after a Sportive.  Arguably, caving expends more energy than knitting and as someone who also runs and cycles, I think caving expends more energy than either of those activities too, or at least it does the way I do it.  So they need cake, and chocolate and chili and cheesecake…I personally ate 5 kinds of cake or biscuit this weekend.  Oh and I went down 2 new caves.

2) my caving form is far from elegant. It does not flow. I flail, trip, scramble and flop.  I might use less energy if I didn’t do this but maybe better form will come with time.  After all, once I could not run 3 miles let alone 13.2.  Once I fell off my road bike on a fairly regular basis and this is now (more) rare.  Presently, I am like the water in caves:  I find the lowest point and bumble along there.  Whilst others sprint along narrow passages with their feet on either side out of the water, describing a sort of star-jump shape, I am folded in half and ferret along the boulder-strewn stream-bed.  This weekend, at one point I flopped head-first into a fairly deep pool of water at the top of a little climb and just had a full body immersion experience.  I was so wet already I didn’t care and it was quite warm.  But not a pretty sight.  However, no-one actually laughed out-loud. I did, mainly on the inside.

3) I didn’t know anyone on the cave club weekend I have just attended except Florence and she’s a lot better, younger and more experienced than me.  I left on Sunday having met nothing but kindness, help, training, advice, support and fun.  Kindliness is vital down a cave, kindness plus vim and an ‘oh, you’ll be fine!’ attitude.  These cavers, with a wealth of experience and skill, gave up an entire weekend to share that with the likes of me.  It’s an amazing sport, because of the people who do it and their spirit of generosity.  It’s probably the most effective team activity I have ever witnessed.

4) it’s not all about the cake.  There was a possibility of a call-out on the Saturday night, a good time to have to organise it I suppose since there were about 50 highly experienced cavers in the hut. In the end, it was fine, no-one needed rescuing, but if I was down a cave and needed help, I know they’d be there and they’d get me out.

5) I jumped (if by jumped you mean lowered myself very gingerly) off the top of a very high training tower at the hut, wearing a harness that was being controlled by rope by someone amazing on the ground.  I was ‘encouraged’ to do this to prove to myself that the rope and harness would save my life if I fell.  I did it because I did believe him, also I wanted to test it and mainly because I really didn’t want to climb down the wire non-fixed ladder again. The next day when caving, I climbed a free-hanging wire ladder that had been pitched to get down a 20 foot vertical drop that also accommodates a water-fall. In climbing down and later, up, you climb under and in the falling water.  Next time I am aiming to not crash into the arms of a waiting fellow-caver on landing at the bottom; not to crush my hands against the rock at the top of the pitch with the force of my own body-weight;  and to try and remember all the words of the special song I was taught at the top to take my mind off what I was about to do.

6) I am much less tired than when I caved last Monday which I think means I am getting a bit cave fit.

7) I am desperate to go down a cave again, really soon.

8) I kept the hot-pink manicure mainly because Fiona said to and I couldn’t be bothered to take it off. Yes, it did survive the caves, sort of and yes, it did get some comment. Good humoured. Florence was right, no-one else had hot-pink nails. I now have very chipped hot-pink nails and black and blue hands to tone with that. Nice.

9) I knitted a bit of my current moebius in the hut on Saturday afternoon after caving, whilst having tea and cake and cuddling a spare Border Terrier who was also there.

Next time:  knitting! I will be putting up details of 2 new workshops here in early 2013.


Knitting packing dilema

Friday, April 20th, 2012

I hardly dare say this but I’m going caving again tomorrow.  Oh, calm down, I’m not going to go on about the caving again.  No, that will be a little treat for you to look forward to next week, my lovely reader and I bet you simply can’t wait.  However, I will just say, before moving on to the real point of this post, that I’m staying with Florence in a Cave Club Hut (which is in fact a large detached purpose built dwelling) and sleeping in a bunk-room.  A quick image-stalk of this place via the interweaves reveals that this room contains real bunk-beds! I am uber-excited, I who have never even stayed in a youth hostel or a tent.  It is a long-overdue rite of passage.  Florence is just a tiny bit concerned that I might not fit the usual profile of cave-hut-dweller, and I am not allowed to take my hair straighteners and may have to remove the current hot-pink nail polish and apply maybe khaki or battleship grey…I however hold a strong conviction that the caving community will be non-judgmental and won’t care or even notice if I am unable to resist a little eye-liner and mascara.  After all this very well-known club is throwing open its doors to us lot – we are a group of 15 strangers – and taking a great deal of trouble to make us welcome and take us underground.  I simply know they are going to be lovely.

Anyway, I want to take some knitting, of course, because although we are promised ‘caving games’ on the Saturday evening, I will want to knit, I know I will probably find this quite soothing.  So, what to take?

On the go at the moment, are the following WIPs:

  • a moebius loop that will be a cowl, edged in KSH flutes
  • a pair of beaded mitts
  • a pair of frilly mitts
  • a pair of beaded and frilly cuffs
  • a *mature* Kim Hargreaves jumper in Aura (that’s how old) and KSH
  • some toe-up lace patterned bed-socks in KSH and Fine Lace, beaded

The decisions about knitting packing for holidays always take me far longer than all the rest of the packing put together.  BUT, do you know, I once knew a knitter – a well-known and excellent knitter, too – who told me that s/he never took knitting on holiday anymore! I know! Me too, I was shocked, but anyway…This isn’t as bad as preparing knitting for a 2 week break away from all my yarn and resources, granted, but you know how crucial the perfect knitting for a journey or holiday can be, don’t you? I’m thinking the loop as it’s not very technical.  What would you take?

(PS aside from cave gear, towels/toiletries and clothes, I am also taking:  1 bag of cashew nuts; 1 bag of peanuts; 4 pitta breads with cheese in them; 1 pack of Tuc; 10 gels that we use for energy boosts when cycling; a choice of 3 kinds of gloves for caving – Marigold basic, Marigold luxury-lined and heavy-duty cotton with suction bumps; hand-wipes; 4 flannels;  my current iPod listen, which is a very spooky ghost story, oh my God, if I listen to that in the bunk room and then have to traipse to the loo there might be trouble, poor Florence; hand-cream; wine; chocolate; 3 books.  I think that ought to be OK, don’t you?)


A cave too far, perhaps

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

If, like my extended circle of friends and some family members, it bores you rigid to hear me waffle on about caves, wait until I post something different, something interesting, maybe about decorating or pruning.

In the middle of the Mendips is a small village called Priddy.  It’s a beautiful place, with a couple of handfuls of houses strung out round the ancient green which is open grazing land;  and a few more dwellings on the roads in and out of the village, spaced away from each other, remote.  Two pubs appear to thrive in the village, due in the case of one to its amazing location and many visitors who walk and cycle in the hills.  The other is tucked away and seems to have more local trade as well as cyclists and hikers, dog walkers and cavers.  There is another pub, not in Priddy but not far away, that is the real cavers pub.  Two caves are accessed from it’s car park and the landlord holds the keys to these.  I have not been there.  I am told he assesses the cut of your gib before deciding if your party is worthy of a trip down these caves, so I may need to toughen up a bit more first.

We have lived in the area for over 20 years and Priddy has always drawn us.  We often cycle there, ascending the Gorge from Cheddar village, making it an arduous, long climbing ride, that is also very rewarding and great training for Sportives.  We have walked many times from Priddy and one of the most haunting and spiritual places I have ever visited is just outwith the village, Nine Barrows, an ancient burial site with its 9 huge raised mounds, spread all across this area of vast exposed moorland on the top of the Mendip hills.

I have often seen cavers in Priddy, kitting up for a trip or coming back, muddy, wet and wrung out.  My reaction was always to wonder at their foolishness, if I’m honest.  And until yesterday I had never been underground in the Mendips, my other caving having been in Devon. However, yesterday we set off to a pair of linked caves, not in Priddy but not all that far away, close enough to come back to the village after and a visit to the pub anyway.  These caves are accessed from a disused quarry which is locked as is the entrance to the caves.  To cave here you need access codes and keys which have to be applied for and now, having done these caves, I think this is a very good thing.  The first trips I did were introductory, easy by caving standards, if challenging to me.  I have no fear of closed, tight spaces and the idea of being underground, beneath millions of tons of rock, worming about in (mainly) natural water-made burrows does not worry me.  I do think about it.  I think:  above me is a church yard, a farm, a lane.  Or a quarry, as it was yesterday.  Sandwiched between planes of rock for very tight squeezes, I feel hugely aware that I am wedged between ancient stones.  But I don’t fantasise about rock-falls or ‘what if’ scenarios all that much, because I trust Florence and Will and we only go into caves that are known, surveyed and, insomuch as any cave can be, safe.

However, I feel that caves have atmospheres, and of the 4 I have done, 3 have been largely happy, intriguing places.  But the first cave we did yesterday did make me uneasy and I really don’t know why.  Here is the locked entrance to the cave we travelled to and from where we exited:

I think it looks rather forbidding and in fact we didn’t go in this way though we did come out of it. We went in to the other cave, here:

Sorry it’s rather blurry.  This entrance is quite small and to be honest, I preferred the 2 fixed ladders climb into the last cave I did, to this short descent into the passage. It just felt eerie.  I wanted to drop out of the trip right then.

We were not 100% sure that we were in the cave we meant to start from, though it soon became apparent that we almost certainly were.  The options in caves are usually either go in and climb, crawl and squeeze about, look at the decorated chambers and do a few challenges, turn round and come back, more or less the same way.  Or, as in this cave, travel through the first cave into the next.  At some point you have to decide if going on or turning back is your best bet.  The passages in the first cave, whilst listed as ‘moderate’ in terms of challenge, were really tough, we were constantly descending (meaning that turning back would involve a lot of climbing back up) and there were some interesting squeezes that whilst well do-able, I didn’t want to repeat in reverse.  We are a great group of squeezers because, like Russian dolls, we are perfectly arranged in descending order of size:  my friend Lou is smaller than me; I am smaller than Florence;  Florence is smaller than Will.  So when I say it’s perfect, that’s mainly from my perspective and Lou’s, not so much from Will’s because we use Will as our squeeze tester.  If he fits, we’ll all fit.  Poor Will, we also stand on him, drag ourselves up squeezes by holding his cave suit trousers and get bodily shoved through and up holes by Will.  It’s mainly me who needs this level of assistance, but he does the work of 2 men. Here are some images from the trip, all in the first cave:

This is typical of the lovely formations to be seen in these Mendip caves. And in this incredibly attractive shot you can see from L to R, Will, me and Florence but the sparkly stuff is both super-fine tree roots beaded with droplets of water running from the roof of the cave and also curtain formations of calcite.

In this cave, after about an hour and a half of hard work you reach a point where there is a fairly long, very low wet passage to negotiate, a ‘duck’ though you are not required to put your head under water and duck through, that is called a sump.  You don’t really get your face wet in a duck, there is always air, ie a gap between the water and the roof of the passage, but, as in this case, you may be lying in water and wriggling on your back or side through the water to get to the next dry section.  This was shallow but the space was also very low, about 18 – 24 inches so you had to lie down flat on your back in the water, turn your face to the side and push through with feet and elbows.  To be honest the worst part is that from then on, you’re wet through and the water was shockingly cold at first.  Only 1 caver can go at a time and it takes a while.

So before we went through this, we needed to decide if it was better to go on and hope to be soon in the second cave;  or to turn back.  Will, our test-pilot, valiantly went ahead, so whatever we did now, he was soaking wet.  He went on after the duck and shouted back that he was sure he’d found the rift that he recognised – Drop Out Rift – that signified the start of the next cave.  Florence went.  Lou and I had an urgent whispered conference about what we wanted to do.  Apart from the fact that the 2 experienced and strong cavers were now through the duck, so they’d have to come back if we backed out, neither of us wanted to go back into Fairy’s Cave.  Partly because we didn’t fancy the climbs and squeezes and partly because we just plain didn’t like that cave.

We decided the do the duck.  Had I known beforehand that I’d be doing this, I would almost certainly have declined to go on the trip, so it’s just as well I didn’t know because despite my fruity language (I am told) and the fact that it’s unpleasant, it wasn’t that bad or even that hard.  The good news was that once through that and after a dry flat-out then hands-and-knees crawl, Will knew for sure that we had traversed from the first cave to the next cave, the duck being the meeting point and we were not far from the exit.  Maybe an hour. Which was reassuring as we were all wet to our skins, my boots were full of water, which I tried to empty and you need to keep moving to stay warm.

This cave was quite different.  A bit more roomy and we took a detour to look at a fine, well decorated chamber which I have no shots of as the camera was in our dry pot some way back ready for us to retrieve it later.  The going seemed easier, which is odd as this cave  is rated as difficult in places and then we reached the passage where the locked entrance is, and through the metal door, we could smell and feel fresh air.  Problem:  there was a 3 meter pretty much vertical climb to the door, with a rope and few hand/foot holds.  This is my weakness, climbing.  I say this as if I can offer several compensating strengths such as amazing descent skills or fearless squeezing but I can’t.  It’s the weakest of my weaknesses.  I stood at the bottom and wept.  I am now really ashamed of that little weep and I think it may have been a reaction to the adrenaline of the past 3 hours of work.  Anyway, Will and Florence rigged me up and of course I got out in a few minutes, followed by the brave and goat-like Louella.

Even the first cave I did, in a freezing cold February, didn’t make me shake as these caves did.  I shook so much I could barely walk back to the car, strip off my layers of wet clothes and cave-suit and dress in dry warm clothes.  An hour later, in the pub in Priddy, hogging the fire and eating spicy chili, I was still cold and shaking.

Making the most of the university hols, I am due to cave again tomorrow with Will and Florence and we can either re-visit a cave I have done in Devon, and see more of it, or choose another Mendip cave.  As if that wasn’t riches enough, Florence and I are attending a residential caving weekend this weekend, an introduction offered by one of the Mendip’s leading cave clubs, with a night in the bunkhouse of their ‘hut’ thrown in, and some options for caves on the Saturday and the Sunday.  Florence isn’t a novice, far from it, but they said it’s fine to go along anyway.  If I had to cave today, unless some-one’s life depended on it, I couldn’t do it.  My body hurts so much, but I know it will recover if I rest it. Worse than that, my self-confidence took a hard knock because the caves we did yesterday revealed my personal short-comings and illustrated how very dependent I am on the others.  I was afraid in that cave, I was afraid we’d get lost, that the door wouldn’t open, that I’d get stuck and finally that I couldn’t get up that last blasted climb.  If I’d been alone (which would never, ever happen to any sane caver and they are sane, risk-averse people within the obvious confines of their activities underground) I’d still be at the bottom of that rock wall.

Part way into Fairy, I vowed never to cave again, if I got out.  I said I wasn’t going to Bakers tomorrow or the Mendips again at the weekend.  However, I think I will do the weekend trip as I know I will be among novice cavers and I want to meet the club members.  If you never challenge yourself, you never move on.  This is my mantra, though it must be said here that I class adding a new cake to my baking repertoire as a challenge.  I do challenge myself with things like cycling and running, I like to achieve new goals.  But maybe I’m challenging myself too much with the caves.  Or maybe once the gloomy sense of unease and ill-will that pervaded Fairy has dissipated and my mind and body hurt less, I’ll be fine.



Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Recently I have been watching quite a few old films, on my PC, as I knit.  I don’t find it easy to sit and watch television because I just get bored, and I fidget in the cinema and/or get a bit freaked out by how long I have to commit to be there including the 30 minutes of pointless trailers in which they basically tell you the entire plot, and I also hate kids behind me kicking my seat or people in front with big massive hair and noisy, smelly food… geez Alison, breathe and relax… but I do really love old films from the 1930s and 1940s mainly.  I can see the PC screen easily without my telly glasses and can perch my old schoolmarm reading glasses down my nose to knit by.  The cat (who believes the chair in the office is his) squashes in behind me and it’s altogether really cosy.

Films in the public domain (Google-search that phrase) seem to be many and readily available.  There are lots of choices and each film is given a brief synopsis.  Sometimes the quality is dodgy and the buffering can be a pain but it’s no worse than the guy behind you grabbing the back of your seat repeatedly…there is no-one behind me here, in the linen cupboard, that was last time I went to the pictures.  Attack Of The Giant Leeches was tempting – come on, you know you’re going to give in – as was Diary Of A Nudist, but ever the traditionalist I  first re-watched a fantastic British WW2 propaganda film called Went The day Well? which I first saw as a child, lying on the carpet of the shrouded sitting room on a Saturday afternoon, probably with my mother either lying on the sofa, smoking, or leaning through the hatch from the kitchen (did you ever have a hatch? Marvellous invention, rarely seen now, sadly) watching while she peeled some veg or had a crafty sherry.

In Went The Day Well? Nazis invade a sleepy English village, disguised as a troop of good old Tommys.  The villagers must first recognise this enemy threat and then organise to meet it. Made in 1942, it conveyed a message to the public to be ever-vigilant to the threat of invasion, not perhaps by an outright attack but in the form of covert activity.  It is both an innocently made and yet still powerfully compelling film, conveying the daily threat that people lived under, real and potential.  I think (but do not know for sure) that some of the cast were not actors but real troops and civilians, though the main characters were actors.  The Lord of the Manor turns out to be a Nazi sympathiser who collaborates with the invaders and is swiftly shot by his own selfless wife when she discovers this fact;  she also perishes.  All across the village, people react, resist and finally, with quite a lot of bloodshed and death, they overcome and the Home Guard arrives.  I love this film.  The home front during WW2 fascinates me and a lot of my reading is about it.  Went The Day Well serves to illustrate many facets of this.  The use of fairly simple scenarios to illustrate the threats – and the uplifting message of ultimate triumph despite the sacrifices;  the way life was conveyed in this film and others;  and the need to be ready to make that sacrifice.  When I read home-front diaries or see films like this, I try very hard to imagine what it must have been like, not to actually fight because I really can’t imagine that, but just to stay at home and work and live, daily, with such fear.

In need of an uplifting alternative, I then watched an old American film, Three Cheers for Miss Bishop.  Schmaltzy, incredibly romanticised and just really beautiful.  Miss Ella Bishop looks back at her long and distinguished career as a teacher in Mid-Western America, so the film (which jumps in the middle, missing I think about 5 or 10 minutes of plot but it doesn’t really matter) is seen in flash-backs.  Miss Bishop sees personal sadnesses and happiness, never marries but retains a life-long friendship with her adoring suitor, Sam and they end the film together, after she retires.  I think the film hints at Miss Bishop’s death here but it’s no more than a hint and so I reject that and foresee instead a long happy retirement for them both.

Next, here in the Cinema Of Yarn, I watched Love Affair:

This was made in 1939 and it’s really lovely if you like your films steeped – nay, drenched – in schmaltz, but with some wise-cracks thrown in for good measure, mostly from Irene Dunne whom I adore;  Charles Boyer’s role is to smoke (actually smoke, all the time), smoulder and be dapper and French.  Sorted.  Now, this film really excited me because one of my all-time favourite films is An Affair To Remember starring Deborah Kerr and Carry Grant.  I had not realised that that film was a re-make of Love Affair, but it is.  The re-make is incredibly faithful, the scenes are almost identical, the scenery even.  Nowadays a re-make can mean that everything changes, even the plot.  But not here.  I loved it.

My next matinee was Penny Serenade made in 1941 and starring Irene Dunne again but this time with Cary Grant.  This is billed as a romantic comedy.  I think this description may be rather misleading, since the plot, whilst it is romantic, also features earthquakes, miscarriage, infertility, near-bankruptcy, infant mortality and marriage break-down.  I don’t think there is a single laugh, not even so much as a smile, in it.  It’s not Cary’s finest moment and Irene Dunne, still as beautiful  as ever, is struggling against the ceaseless backdrop of misery and heart-break.  However, don’t let me put you off, it has a sudden and incredibly contrived happy ending and the songs (played on a gramophone, not sung by the cast) are gorgeous, as are her hats.

I am currently part way through Rain starring Joan Crawford.  I love the W Somerset Maugham short story on which this is based and so far the melodrama is excruciating!

It’s really old, and the quality is poor, the style very stilted but Joan C just blazes away like a proper old-fashioned hussy.

I serve no pop-corn here, only tea and cake (I once went to see a film in a little cinema in Whitstable where you got a mug of tea to take to your seat, there is similar in Holmfirth I believe) but you’re most welcome to drop in for the next performance.  Bring knitting.

Flannels of shame

Friday, April 6th, 2012

You know when I recently shared my hoarding of things like Tuc biscuits and Fairy Liquid? Well I forgot to tell you about my main collecting obsession:  flannels.  Above is part of the collection;  here is another part:

There are a few more in the downstairs loo and in various stashes round the house.  Being in denial about the scale of this little obsession, I haven’t counted recently. Once, I lost about a dozen in a terrible ‘red sock in the flannel wash’ accident. *Shudder*. Bad times.  This event is known in our house as TGRSI – The Great Red Sock Incident.

Why?  Why flannels I mean?  I like a nice stack of flannels for hand-drying purposes – single use, washable, stack-able.  Somehow, I find them comforting. I may have over-shared with this story and to be fair to myself, I no longer aquire flannels as a rule.  But establishing the national collection of flannels (like the RHS collection of penstemons or bearded iris) has been a blast.  Friends who knew of my ‘interest’ in flannels would bring me a cheeky hotel room flannel back from all over the world and the South Coast.  My favourite flannel from overseas was from Italy and it had a crest embossed on it.  RIP, Italian flannel, you were lost in TGRSI (do try and keep up at the back, there will be a questionnaire later).  I miss that flannel.  Once or twice, very sweet friends have bought me a Special Flannel – I have 2 from The White Company and for years, I kept these in my PJ drawer, but recently, I have brought them into use.

If you’d like to make a flannel donation, as a rule I prefer white (I know there are some blue in there and a handful of peach, but I don’t like them and they aren’t allowed downstairs).  So white please and any vintage or provenance is welcome, but the flannel’s story is always interesting to me.  Thanks!

I also really like large, real linen (or at least real fabric) napkins.  In the sort of  hotel where these are used for serving tea and so on, I once found myself quite unable to resist folding one up and just holding onto it, even after I had left the tea-room and was en-route to some work related matter. Back-story:  I used to create technical training events for public sector finance staff and sometimes I’d be required to attend the larger of these.  Events, not staff.  These would be held in quite nice hotels and my role was never awfully clear – if I’m honest I’d prefer not to have had to go at all, my work being complete once the programmes were finished, really.  But anyway, sometimes I was called upon to carry out vital tasks such as talking to the people who were going to chair the technical sessions, and once or twice, I got to deploy the ‘roving microphones’.  More, maybe on another occasion about my roving microphone experiences, it’s fascinating. On this occasion (the napkin story), I was halted by the chairman and another speaker, eager for some briefing.  In the next half-hour, their glances often strayed to the napkin, now tightly screwed up in my hot little hands.  So I explained that I just wanted it.  Anyway, they soon stopped asking me for any further help and legged it back to the bar, I assume – and I abandoned the napkin, overcome with shame…now I wish I’d kept it.

Resolutions: not too late, is it?

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

I have a strong urge to make a new year’s resolution, I’m going to call it a Spring Resolution.  It’s this:  I want to stop using global companies to the detriment of local companies and my emotional well-being.  Now, I am aware that as someone with a (very small) website business that sells via the internet – and trades with the yarn I love best, ie, Rowan – I am not an artisan, in a cave weaving sandals from rushes.  But really, my activities are local for they mainly focus on teaching and even that, not all that much.  The reason I teach locally and not much elsewhere isn’t because I’m lazy (though I am not a good traveller as you may have detected).  It’s because I like local activities.  Local for my purposes is the south west of England  and South Wales, a bit.

I’m a huge fan of the interweaves and the  bounty and knowledge it brings us, the immediacy of learning, the sharing and instant contact.  The convenience.  The shopping.  I’m not going to turn my back on all that.  But today I got an email from a huge, global company upon which I feel I may have developed an unhealthy reliance, and at the bottom of this email (which concluded a session of ‘live chat’ between me and M from X company, a concept that both amazed and repelled me), it said:

‘Help us build Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company’


Customer-centric is a good thing, don’t get me wrong.  I like it when I’m made to feel valued and all that.  I think what made me shudder was the use of the word Earth.  As if, next, it’s off to become the most customer-centric company on Mars or the moon.

So as far as the internets are concerned I am going to make an effort to use it like a local market place and source my buying from small, independent sites wherever I can.  And use sites like Etsy more. Though I don’t know that much about it but like to imagine it as a market-place that I can browse and I hope it doesn’t have Universal take-over plans or policies that rip off its sellers.  Yes Ebay, I’m looking at you.  I know this idea – ‘local’ internetting – is not a new or brilliantly original one but it’s kind of new to me, just because I’ve never really thought of it much before.  I don’t actually mean ‘local’ because that would be to miss the point of the internet;  I mean independent, sound, and small, probably.

Real-life, real-time buying is another matter.  In semi-rural Somerset, there is a problem, as our closest town is Bridgwater;  and the main form of shopping and even entertainment there appears to be super-market shopping.  I mean, 2 years ago the local authority actually knocked down the town’s swimming pool, in the town centre, and have allocated that land to Tesco.  No alternative pool has yet been built though one is promised, albeit as part of a school complex, in a far less convenient location making walking there less likely or possible.  With no parking.  All this, despite my letter.  I know!  How rude.  I did write in, as I do, to let them know that as a big fan of exercise and getting people, especially The Young People and The Old People, fit and healthy, I wondered if their strategy of closing the only pool in reach of the entire population of this part of Sedgmoor, with at least a 3 year interregnum before the new pool opened (if it ever does) was really sound.  They did think it was.  Oh OK that’s fine then, I’m sure you know best.  Anyway, what stung me almost as much was that this prime swathe of town centre land is now going to have a huge Tesco store on it.  Instead of a swimming pool.  It’s mad.

Bridgwater is blessed with Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s, Budgeon’s – small, convenience and twinned with a Sub-Way, Asda of course, Aldi, Farm Foods, Iceland and another European supermarket chain that I can’t remember now.  (Note:  I am never clear on the thorny issue of placing apostrophes in supermarket names, so this application may vary.  We apologise for any irritation this may cause you and we value your feedback).  We also now have the Morrison’s Hub for its Earth-based activities.  It’s a site, just north of Bridgwater, so it’s almost in Puriton, that is literally the size of our village.  And it’s clad in 3 shades of sick-green.  It takes almost 1 entire motorway junction interval to pass it.  At night, it looks like one of those science fiction space stations, always working, always blazing away, never ceasing its restless moving, shunting, chilling, loading and ferrying operations.  From the moon, it must be both visible and scary.  I do like to think of something on the moon, don’t spoil it for me.  Not only that but our roads are now infested with Morrison’s trucks, night and day, for never must the supply of baked goods be interrupted.

I can walk or cycle into Bridgwater though it’s an unpleasant experience in parts due to its reliance for some of the 3 miles or so on the A38 which is a dual carriageway near here.  Once there, I could use the ‘market’ and there is a deli.  Or I could drive another junction down the M5 and use the new complex that houses ‘local’ butchers although we have a butcher in the village and we do buy there because it’s good and also, I love the fact that they are here at all.

Oh, I don’t know maybe it’s just spring fever that has me in its grip.  But I just feel really uneasy about the big operators, yet I do use them.  When Florence was doing her GCSEs, many years ago, she wrote a short story about Tesco taking over the world, in a Brave New World sort of scenario.  We discussed this concept a lot at the time and the story she then wrote, 8 years ago, seemed funny in a bleak way and utterly fantastic.

It’s coming true.

I’ve made a good start though.  I bought our new washing machine in an independent store in Bridgwater and that experience was super – if a washing machine ‘experience’ can be categorised as ‘super’ which arguably it can’t or ought not to be, at least.  I’m going to leave that now and go outside to sew some seeds…



Panic hits Somerset

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

Rumours of an imminent shortage of AC-S knitting kits have sparked a flood of panic-fuelled kit sales, as concerned knitters rush to stock up.  A Government spokesman said:  ‘in the event of a petrol shortage, people are worried that they will be stuck in their houses and that they won’t have anything to do.  AC-S kit sales have soared and now the real threat is that these will run out. Please don’t buy more than 3 kits per household.  This kind of panic-buying is dangerous and inconsiderate, if everyone just buys a few kits, there will be plenty to go round.  Our advice remains the same as ever:  only buy 3 kits at a time, and do not store them near your petrol stash.’

Not really.  April Fools.  It’s fine, you can buy as many as you like!

However, not to be left out, in an outbreak of panic-buying, the following items have been acquired and hoarded at Crowther-Smith Towers:

1) washing-up liquid.  I don’t know why, but I like to have plenty of washing-up liquid in the house, specifically in the cupboard under the sink.  I prefer Fairy Liquid by the way but I am not being paid by the multi-gazillion dollar organisation that makes this product.  I just like it best.  Ideally, I’d have 1 bottle ‘on the go’ and at least 3 but preferably 4 in the cupboard, ready.  I used to need 6 but years of therapy and Mark assuming grocery shopping duties has eased this somewhat.

2) loo roll.  A habit inherited from my parents, along with paranoia about getting lost on car journeys, being late and making left-overs into a whole new food group.  I like to have at least 10 rolls – in each lavatory space, so that’s 30 ish at any given time.  When my parents were old and about to move from Manchester to be down here, I found a stash of loo rolls in a storage space of their loft, there must have been 100 rolls.  All peach coloured.  But they were Andrex so it wasn’t all bad.

3) random toiletries.  I have a wicker storage chest that I fill to the brim with ‘spare’ items such as mouth wash, toothpaste, shampoo, face cream etc.  A swift audit of this chest reveals that there is currently an over-supply (5 bottles) of sun-tan lotion, factor 5,000.  Well, as you know I don’t tan, I freckle.  Let’s hope the summer is good and hot.  However, I am down to the last matching shampoo and conditioner combo which is making me a bit anxious (writes these items on list).

4) night-lights.  You know those squat candles in tin holders that you put in glass burners.  I have 2 kinds:  Citronella (summer-house stash) and plain (dining room).  I like to have a bag of 100 of each to hand.

5) Tuc Cheese Sandwich biscuits:

Tuc Cheese

This is a new hoarding habit. I simply love these biscuits, they are so crisp and the ‘cheese’ filling is so weirdly orange and non-cheesey – well, more salmon pink.  And they taste of childhood.  And of being a student, too.  As does boil-in-the-bag fish in parsley sauce, bleugh.  I like to have 3 packs of Tuc in the cupboard, this can be relaxed to include the open one, which I seal with sellotape.

Which leads me to:

6)  sellotape (and other related stationary).  I’m struggling to keep on top of this as I never, ever use paper-clips anymore yet I find myself compelled to buy them when I am in W H Smith.  I also love buying luggage labels with string;  actual string;  reams of white paper;  folders and binders;  staples;  and cardboard.

Do you hoard or comfort-stash some perhaps oddly random items?  Please say you do even if it’s not true and then, please tell me what they are.

Right, I’m off to nibble a Tuc and count my post-it note pads.