Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for June, 2012

Look what else I grew…

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

…Lily, ready for her prom last week. She did look really lovely and that is of course an unbiased view.


I am unsure how it can be that she is 16 and has officially left school, wore a prom dress and heels that I can’t imagine walking in let alone dancing and looked so grown up, when I know for a fact that it was only yesterday we were playing rabbit dens in the spare bedroom in Jaycroft Road and she was about as tall as my hip.  I am not prone to looking back and being sad, which is just as well this week.  It’s not sad that she is so grown up and about to go to college and start her A levels.  Well, OK it is a bit sad if I’m honest but mainly it’s amazing.

In other news, Florence has now left university and for work, has moved back here.  So, full house again!

Gardening in the rain

Friday, June 29th, 2012

This ‘summer’ I have as usual been schlepping large bags of my garden to the tip.  But I fancy a bit less than usual because the weather has been so difficult.  I am more at peace with the garden than in the past two or three years.  I think this is because I am applying my self-imposed rule:  two hours of work OR two bags of gardening waste and then I stop.  Because of this, which I more or less stick to, I get less tired but I garden much more often – most days rather than maybe on two very fraught, long and exhausting days.

On Wednesday I harvested the garlic.  Much earlier than usual but it was rotting off so I had to get it out.  Worst crop I have ever had.  It went in before Christmas, as usual, but there were few frosts, which it likes.  Then we had a mild, dry winter and hot dry March.  This is when it would like some rain.  April – June has been wet and cold, just when it would like some sunshine and heat.

The loganberries are rotting on the plants – a bumper crop but they can’t ripen properly.  The rhubarb is OK but I don’t like rhubarb so I will be giving it all away.  Pop in if you want some.

However, some lovely things are happening.  For one thing I have done some gardening in the rain.  After I dug up, washed and stored the garlic it started to rain, but quite gently.  So I stuck to the parts of the garden where there is a bit of overhead shelter and had a lovely hour, dead-heading and pruning mainly.  Then it stopped and I took some pictures. Here is the mulberry, with it’s alien-like tiny berries, still green:

And here is my favourite little pot, succulents all sparkly with the rain.  I grew these by just sticking left-over bits from a big sink of succulents I have by the pond into the sandy loam I had put in this shallow dish:

Two of my favourite plants are alliums and foxgloves.  The foxgloves don’t mind the cool darker summer we are having but they took a beating from the storms and high winds so I was pleased to see that this foxglove had stumbled upon a helpful allium and stayed there, for support:


The alliums always cheer me up:

Just starting to show their emerald-button seed pods as the flowers gently fade.  Soon they will be puff-balls of spiky seeds, all bleached and starry.

Here is my ever-hopeful agapanthus, a flower stem trying to burst forth, but this is taking for ever because it is so cold. Like the garlic, this is the worst year I have had for agapanthus, which I have grown really successfully in several huge pots by the kitchen window where is does get hot, for many years.  This year, I have very few flower spikes and those I do have are struggling:

This poppy (of which I am very proud for I grew these plants from seed and I think oriental poppy is a very difficult plant to germinate from bought seed and indeed the seed of any you buy or grow yourself are sterile) has been lovely, not minding the dull days and being sheltered by some other tall plants, has survived the storms.  I love that it is holding onto it’s spiky/furry bud-leaf:

And finally, some plants that reflect my love of the darker shades, such as my ill-fated black petunias, AKA slug-snack-bar.  I do like dark or copper foliage and also darker blooms.  There is a lovely oriental poppy called Patties Plum that I did have but has now died.  However, take a look at this black elder.  It has dark chocolate coloured leaves, deeply cut and delicate, and then produces flat plates of palest pink blossoms that just look amazing:

And last of all, my best black lily.  Deep, dark flowers, and red stems, off-set by the fresh green leaves, edged with a dark red border.  Perfect:

Leaf of the day: petunia

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

This is the result of organic gardening:

All the leaves and flowers of my formerly lovely black velvety petunias have been eaten.  Overnight.

So strictly speaking, it’s not the leaf of the day.  It’s the dessicated skeletal stalk of the day.  Clearly I am labouring to provide a snack-bar for the slugs and snails, a little bijoux place they have just discovered and then told all their slimy mates about.  I must have had an amazing review in ‘Slug & Snail Weekly: where to eat’ column. Here is an action shot of a vile slug, chowing down on another soon-to-be-dead plant:

But I can’t use poison because I fear the frogs and newts (do newts eat slugs? I know frogs do and I know I have some newts in the pond because I saw them, once, ages ago) who live in and near the pond, and even worse, the hedgehogs and birds, will eat a slug or snail that I have poisoned and then they will die.  So that’s out. I tried beer traps and that was so gross I almost sold the cottage and moved into a hermetically sealed garden-less apartment with not so much as a window box.  Really – it is the most disgusting option I can imagine.  I am going to spare you the reasons but it’s rank.

Any tips?  I would rather not have plants that slugs love than use any poison and I have found the organic brands, harmless to pets and wild-life also appear to be harmless to slugs. So until this ‘summer’ it had been many years since I planted any petunias, so redolent of civic planting and your aunty’s garden when you were in ankle socks;  but I do love a petunia me, and these were (you are going to have to trust me on this) almost a true black and with a texture like fine velvet.

Here are some that have not yet been chomped:

…it is only a matter of time…




In which I once again seek out The Worst Hotel In The World – and succeed

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

Some readers may remember the truly bad B&B/Inn we stayed in last year when we did our first ever sportive, in the New Forest.  We have since found a lovely place there which is a secret.  However, with this exception, we seem to have an amazing ability to select odd or plain nasty places.  Two weeks ago, we took part in a sportive – a cycle race – in West Sussex, so we needed a B&B close to the starting place.  With a well-placed, as it turned out, sense of dread, we started our search. The small hotel we selected was, on the interweaves where we found it, apparently a lovely place with good reviews.  In real life, it was a lovely building with a nice garden – but oh my, the place was strange.

We had asked before booking if we might be able to have breakfast earlier than their usual weekend start time, 8.00 am, because we wanted to leave by about 7.30 and start the event at about 8.30.  Yes, this was no problem in fact they had just that weekend done the same for some other guests.  But on arrival, the receptionist to whom we mentioned this, seemed unsure.  In fact, she seemed alarmed, almost a bit afraid.  I think she was Italian.  Or Russian.  She ventured that well, by all means, she could ask the owner/breakfast maker (I assume)…but it was not really likely that he would agree.  To which we said, oh no it’s fine, don’t worry, it was him we spoke to when we booked it.  A nervous shake of the head, a shrug of sceptical shoulders – an anxious glance into the gloomy recesses of the dining room.  She brightened.  Did we want to book a table for dinner?  It was a good idea as tonight would be very busy with many guests so best to book now.  No thanks, we wanted only a pub meal and an early night.

Later, we came back from the pub at about 9.00pm and the owner was leaving, driving a member of staff home.  As we crossed the car-park, he drove up to us, wound down his window and demanded to know if we were Number 21.  We admitted that we were.  He then launched into a lengthy speech about how they never serve breakfast at 7.00 or any earlier than 8.00 on Sundays, and it was outrageous that we expected this.  Furthermore, it was impossible even if he was minded to offer this, as at 7.15 he himself departed from the hotel to collect his staff; and the guests still in residence were locked in – or I assume, locked out if they’d popped out for any reason at that hour.  Until his return some time later.  Startled, I asked if they’d be able to get out in the case of an emergency.  Yes, they could – but they couldn’t get back in.  In the case of an emergency I probably wouldn’t want to get back in but I let that go.  Mark said:  but, it was you I spoke to, why did you say it was OK if it’s not?  At this, both Hotel Owner and Staff Member babbled at us that it wasn’t him and no-one would agree to such an outrageous request, indeed, she was more vocal than he, but in a muted muttering sort of way.  We said, feeling very awkward, as if we had requested some service that was perhaps improper or outlandish, such as the provision of live sea-lions in the bath, that it was fine, we’d forgo breakfast but we would in any case be leaving (or attempting to leave) the hotel during the lock-down period.  This startled them.  Oh but how?  The front door and bar doors will be locked.  Well, we’d use the fire escape then, or we could just leave when he did.  Muttering followed and finally, with a theatrical sigh and an oh, alright then!  you win! sort of hand/shoulder throwing gesture from both – impressive if potentially dangerous in the front of a tiny Nissan Micra, a space they entirely filled – he said he himself would prepare us some breakfast but we’d have to eat it at 7.00.  As if 7.00 was probably a deal breaker, being the middle of the night and we’d say no.  In fact, 7.00 was what he’d agreed to on the phone when we booked.  They snapped up the window and attempted to get the Micra to flounce out of the car-park.  Leaving us just standing there.  Feeling in some way dirty, as if we had suggested tormenting their puppy was our greatest wish.

The thronging dining room that we had been led to expect was in fact an utterly deserted room, other than the scent of vegetables cooked many moons ago.  In the sorry tale of our stay there, our earlier decision not to book a table was indeed a beacon of light.  The thick, tomb-like gloom slowly loosened its grip to reveal the receptionist lady, hunched by a desk light in a lobby in the corner.  Agitated, she rushed over.  Oh, it was just as she had predicted, Hotel Owner had been furious about the breakfast.  She lamented and wrung her hands.  We all then had a nice little chat actually in which we bonded with each other about how odd he was, and nasty with it.  Of course this was disloyal of her but I didn’t blame her.  Why, we all pondered, did he agree and then say no and deny it all?  Mark for once really joined in, cross that his careful plan had been torn up in this way and that his word was doubted.  Why would we make such a thing up?  She indicated with a slight glass-drinking gesture – the international language of mime that says:  he was probably drunk.  No!  Oh but yes!  No!  And so on.  It was very satisfying.  Shortly, because we had no faith in the breakfast or any of his concessions, she showed us the fire escape, in case we wished to leave the hotel during the lock-down.  This was accompanied by her monologue about how she had worked in many hotels, most far better than this, but some small and none had been like this.  I believe her.

In fact we did get breakfast, served to us in the dark and with an atmosphere of electrifying tension and fury – not on our part, I might add – at 7.00 by Hotel Owner.  The entire place was locked down as if against some siege or plague and Mark had earlier spent some time breaking out of the fire escape to release our bikes and load up the car while I stood about uncertainly in the dining room of doom, listening to a rising crescendo of pot-and-pan overture from the kitchen.  An outburst of two breakfasts finally erupted, served at the temperature of magma which was terrible because after a brief encore of pot-beating, Hotel Owner loomed over us and paced about in the vicinity of the front door, indicating with a most eloquent silence that we must make haste.  This caused me to really burn my tongue as I tried to bolt the moulton-hot food and that made me really cross – you know if you accidentally bite your tongue or worse, your inner cheek?  How unreasonably angry does that make you?  It can’t just be me.  Anyway, we parted with our money and he saw us off before locking and bolting the entire place and screeching off into the West Sussex morning to fetch his lovely help-meet.

The race was rather tame after all this.  It was a tough 66 miles but in brighter news, I had painted my nails to match my new bike:

Please share any hotel/B&B tales with me.  I am starting to think I am jinxed.  If in the interests of research you wish to stay at that hotel, just email me.  It would be really funny if you arrived and said:  you agreed that you would have a troupe of monkeys dressed as Matadors here to mix cocktails for us, that is still OK isn’t it?  I expect he’d say but yes, of course.  Breakfast at 7.00 you say?  – how dare you?  Leave at once and do not (further) darken my door again!

Still caving

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

I know how much you must have been missing my caving stories, so I am here to tell you I am still caving and I now own some Kit.  And some Books.  And, in a move that appeals greatly to my inner-nerd, a caving log book.  My caving log book is sparkly and adorned with sequins and beads.  It was a Christmas present and was destined to become a future knitting design note book but I have decided that it has another purpose.  In this book, I record all my caving trips and a few notes about where we went, what we did and so on.  I am about to undertake my 11th caving trip, including the 2 trips planned for this coming week, but because I have re-visited some caves and once did 2 caves in 1 trip, the number of caves now explored is about to reach 9.

Caving kit could not be more different from knitting kit.  Aside from my log book, which I think may be the only sparkly caver log book in the club, possibly in the Mendips, or even the UK, the essential items are mostly not shiny or pretty.  However, they are still very cool.  It was recently my birthday and I was very excited to number amongst my gifts a karabiner and a sling! I know!

A karabiner can, for example, have a rope passed through it and then be clipped to your belt to secure you in a climb.  You (well, I certainly) also need a person to control that rope.  And rig it.  But I hope to begin to learn these additional skills as time goes by.  A sling appears to be a long loop of super-strong woven fabric, and some of the many operational uses for this bit of kit will, I am told, be revealed to me this weekend, in a cave.

As a birthday treat, I was taken to a very beautiful Mendip cave this week, Charterhouse cave.  This is a cave that features many really beautiful decorations, especially in Midsummer Chamber (aptly, for our trip was on the eve of midsummer day).  Access to the cave is therefore closely controlled.  Like most it is locked, but it also operates under a leadership system, so you cannot enter without a designated leader for that cave and the maximum number in the party including the leader is 4. Your kit must be clean.

Charterhouse also features a series of challenging squeezes.  We only went to the principle and most well-known areas, albeit that this fairly short trip took us about 2.5 hours, so I do not know if the rest of the system offers a similar level of challenge. Some of this time was passed, by me at least, having a little lie down whilst trapped between 2 rocks.  Interspersed with thrashing and wellie-boot loss.  But the part that we did was, in places, extremely small with spaces that ranged from really small and awkward to quite scary and on first observation, probably impossible.  They are possible, assuming you will bodily fit, even if to do so you have to wriggle, struggle and squeeze, usually lying down, often in enough water to drench you through.

In fact, I have a tendency to say in a repetitive fashion:  how on earth will I get out of here?  Or:  I am now fairly sure I won’t be able to get back up this.  And:  is this a round trip?  I ask this in the hope that it will be and therefore I won’t have to re-visit an area or feature (or several) that I didn’t like.  I have always read up about the cave beforehand and sometimes – though I am starting to think this might be a mistake – looked at YouTube videos of it before I go.  So I know, really, if it will be a round trip or not.  Yet somehow I seem to have to ask.  Florence now informs me that I am no longer allowed to say:  ‘I am pretty sure I will never get back up this’ as I slither in my amazingly graceful way, down a sporting climb.

Sporting.  A word often deployed by cavers and used in my current favourite book, Mendip Underground, to describe some caves or some features of the cave.  You may imagine, as I did, that sporting means quite good fun, a bit of a challenge maybe but basically rather jolly.  Here is a clue as to its real meaning – and an insight into the humour of the average caver:  aspects of this (climb/squeeze/rift etc) are tricky, even sporting.  Ah.  So, sporting is rather further up the challenge scale than tricky.  Perhaps rather as in England, if we say:  I’m not sure if I will be able to come/do that/be there, we probably mean:  there is no way I am coming/doing that/ being there, so it is in caves.

These are what the terms mean to me, someone who feels destined to be forever a novice.  Awkward means unpleasant, verging on difficult.  Tricky means difficult, verging on the alarming.  Sporting means alarming verging on the:  I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do that.

When I run and cycle in challenging races or training, I often think and sometimes say out loud if I am sure I am alone and have the breath:  your boundaries are not where you think they are.  I have had to use this mantra so many times when caving.  So far, not aloud though I fear it is only a matter of time…The thing is, whilst I accept that I need to push my mental boundaries and I am trying to do this, and I also accept that I can improve my technique with practice, strength building and confidence – I have a feeling that my caving boundaries might be a bit closer than I’d like.

Twice I have caved with absolute beginners and on both occasions, I have been awed by how good they are, from a standing start.  Once, I was also an absolute beginner but once I wasn’t.  Everyone I have ever caved with, is far better at it than I am.  Now, I have said before and it’s so true, that caving is as far from a competitive sport as you can get.  It’s the absolute embodiment of a team activity and the spirit of cavers is that of support and team-endeavour, partly because it’s a massive pain in the knickers to have to rescue a person out of a cave and I gather that the paperwork is epic afterwards.  So no-one has ever even by any hint or glance indicated that this is a problem.

I just wish I felt that I was contributing something to the activity, rather than taking.  Perhaps for now I will have to accept that whilst others may bring skill, teaching, patience, ropes and ladders, I will bring my karabiner and enthusiasm sometimes bordering on the manic (for example, when ‘climbing’ a lengthy free-hanging wire ladder out of a mine shaft recently, upon reaching the fixed metal ladder that I knew represented the end of the climb, my victory yell was amazing as I brought this glad news to the others, most of whom I’d never met before, one of whom was already at the top and basically hauling the rope, and all of whom were well aware of the existence of the metal ladder which I had, in fact, not installed or discovered. Awkward).  I also bring the tendency to point at amazing things down caves and say to the person who has been good enough to take me there and will later coax me back out:  Look!  Look at THAT as if it is me that has brought them down and then discovered this amazing feature.  Finally, I bring energy gels, the legal drug of choice of any endurance runner or cyclist and now, I have to tell you, a staple of my cave kit check list.  I offer to  share, but no-one cares to try them.  But I will continue to take double the number I think I will need to consume (usually 2) in case I can one day, be of help to a fellow caver.

Caving continues to be an activity I absolutely love, despite the personal frustrations and bruising it sometimes brings me.  If I repeat a cave, in some ways I enjoy it more than the first time, so far anyway.  And yet, there are so many new caves to explore too.  I think therefore there will be plenty of caves and trips that will fall somewhere between my current boundaries and the place where my boundaries might end up being, even if that place isn’t all that far.  I also think I am lucky to be visiting caves for the first time.  As when you first read an amazing book, no matter how often you may re-read it and however many new layers you may reveal, you can’t recapture the feeling of that first time.



Agony corner (not literally)

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

Q:  how should I hold my knitting needles?  My friend has told me the way I hold them is wrong.

A:  your friend is wrong.  Assuming that you are not holding the needles at fully extended arms length and in the very tips of your fingers;  or have them suspended by elastic bands from your wrists, however you hold them is probably fine.  Very odd knitting needle holding styles (of which I have witnessed none) might impact on enjoyment, tension or speed, but usually, this assertion is leveled against those who knit with their hands on the top of the needle and ‘let go’ as they move the yarn.  And it is usually made by those who hold the right hand needle (if you are right handed) resting on top and between thumb and index finger.  It doesn’t matter.  People in the north of the UK often adopt the hands on top style.  Some people like very long needles and ram one of these into their arm-pit, again, a trait I have seen more in the north of the UK.  I learned to knit (in Manchester) holding the needles on top and in fact, you never ‘let go’ as the tips are trapped by being pinched in the finger tips.  I now knit with my hand under the needle and I lever, or flick the moving yarn, I don’t ‘throw’.  I always revert to hand on top for really tricky manoeuvres however, I believe it delivers more precise control.

I can’t stand it when people say – as you might have guessed, this has been said to me but is not why I changed style – oh, how odd that style of knitting looks, you ought to knit like this (for ‘this’ read ‘me’ they mean, of course).  I decided to change because I suspected, rightly in my case, that it would stop some hand pain I was having and also be a little faster.  But I would never say:  how you knit is wrong, how I knit is right.  So, dear knitter, sweetly ignore your friend.

Q:  my tension is wrong.  It is too loose/tight.  What can I do?

A:  your tension is not wrong.  It is your tension and it’s just like your eyes, you can’t change their colour, nor can you really change your tension.  There is no such thing as good tension or bad.  You may be blessed with what at best I’d term ‘average’ tension, say, the tension suggested on the ball band of your yarn.  In fact, all you are trying to do is match the tension of the person who designed, knitted and wrote (or more usually, just knitted) the design you are working.  In my case, though I do sometimes have things knitted, I knit them first and maybe again, so it is my tension you are matching.  If you find your tension is often loose or tight, you can adjust your knitting style to allow for this.  However, I bet you any amount of yarn that you can’t keep it up.  And why bother?  It’s your tension, and if you try to be super-tight or whatever, probably you will just get shoulder pain.  The answer as always is to adjust by needle sizes as we all know, and do not worry about how you knit.

Q:  I find knitting tension squares really boring and I don’t bother;  is this OK?

A:  well, it is OK if you either never knit tension-critical items, or you are blessed with tension that always just matches that of the pattern, or you don’t mind your garments sometimes being too big/small.  But otherwise, yes, it is important to knit a tension square and essential for a new garment. When you design, swatching (a version of tension square knitting, really) becomes an essential part of your routine and in fact I have never minded knitting tension squares anyway.  So, I am pretty committed to the tension square and I really urge knitters to try and see them as their friends, not just an annoying and pointless delaying tactic dreamed up by yarn manufacturers to use a little more yarn and delay your (understandable) desire for instant cast-on satisfaction.  Also, try and see the tension square part of the garment as the first step in your dream finishing-off scenario, for if this is right, the garment will have component parts that match the design and it will not only fit, it will be far easier to block and seam.

Q:  I can’t afford much of the super-pricey hand-dyed, small batch yarns.

A:  I knit for a living, sort of (I also do other things that in fact contribute more income but I am a knitter, and it’s part of my work portfolio), so I have access to yarn.  On a yarn budget however, as I have been, I’d choose the finest – in ply terms –  yarns I could afford, be that 4 ply cotton or some fine sock yarns.  Because then I get more knitting for my money!  It lasts longer.  As knitters, lovely though it is to acquire yarn and look at it, stash and list it, we only add value to the yarn once we knit it up.  Since I like the process of knitting at least as much as I like finishing off an item, I’d be keen to make that process last for as long as possible.  Also there are some amazing value 4 ply wool and cotton yarns that are simple and beautiful – all you need to add is you!

On the other hand, people sometimes say they can’t ‘justify’ buying luxury yarns or luxury accessories – my chief weakness being knitting needles – and that is another matter.  Only you know what you can afford or ‘justify’.  It’s your hobby and only you can assess how much more pleasure you will gain if you knit with X yarn or Y needles.  I know I enjoy my ‘luxury’ needles – aside from being beautiful, they perform really well.  The whole thing enhances my work.  And I sometimes urge knitters I am teaching or working with, to weigh up their hobby against other hobbies, such as smoking (if that is a hobby, certainly it’s an activity), going down the pub, golf – maybe a bit close to home, but never mind – sailing, or many other past-times that require the acquisition of expensive items.  And also, in the end, a significant portion of your stash will be transformed into lovely knitted items.  So anyway, all I am saying is, we ought not to be spoiling our pleasure by feeling guilty.  If on the other hand you are in the very tiny knitting segment that also smokes, goes daily to the pub, plays golf and sails – you probably ought to cut back a bit on the yarn, OK?

And that concludes today’s agony knitting corner, but we do enjoy getting your queries, so keep them coming in.



Further blatant dachshund pictures

Friday, June 15th, 2012

Rupert is having a rather good phase.  Back-wise.  Food-wise – meh, not so good, at least not from my view point.  Given that he is a crippled dog who has had 3 lots of major surgery on his back and several other alarms and excursions, he’s remarkably agile.  But mainly, he’s very cunning.  He has recently stolen a parcel of wrapped chicken bones, ready for the fire or the recycling, eaten a good many of these and only, according to the vet escaped a serious bone-fragment internal injury because I had first simmered the bones along with an onion, some bay leaves, pepper corns and a stick of celery – all of which he also ate – for 12 hours in the AGA to make stock.  This made them far less dangerous, it seems. He broke into (I am not joking) a closed room and vaulted onto the side to gain this prize, whereupon he ate about half of it before being rudely interrupted by me.  He was so full, he was swaying.  And had to be starved for 2 days, water only.  Can you imagine what Arthur and I went through?

But anyway, all is now well and I have once again increased the security levels, so he is afforded more protection than a head of state.  Here he is on the right and front, sunbathing on my mat:

But since we haven’t had much sun recently, they have mainly been sleeping in the kitchen or the dining room by the fire:

Arthur loves Rupert so much, if Roo has to be in the cage on his own, Arthur can hardly bear it and so when they are actually together, he sort of lays on him in a childish way – sometimes, he takes a little of Rupert’s ‘spare skin’ – you know how Dachshunds have ‘folds’ round their necks – in his mouth and just goes to sleep, I think it is so he will instantly wake up if Roo moves.

Arthur wears a collar, Roo doesn’t, but he still owns one and recently has been on 2 little walks, once in Budleigh Salterton, where he and Arthur shared a very small ice-cream.  He wishes for more hot weather as he loves the sun on his poor old back, but failing that is happy with cold wet weather as long as I light the fire and they get to sleep beside it while I knit.  I usually oblige.

(By the way, the visit to BS was about 2 weeks before the Royal Jubilee and the town is clearly a hot-bed of fervent Royalism, every shop had a special display, but the most eye-catching of all – bordering on vulgar, so many union flags and photos of Her Maj were rammed into the windows – was in the local funeral directors.  Which I found – though I am unsure quite why – rather unsavoury).


Best and worst

Monday, June 11th, 2012

I have read a lot of books recently and listened to many more.  This is the book I have enjoyed reading the most recently:  The Casino by Margaret Bonham, here is the end paper from the Persephone book:

I got this book a while ago, read 1 or 2 stories – it is a collection of short stories – and then put it down, distracted by another book no doubt.  But recently I was unwell, and in this period of unwell-ness, I read such a lot (the only bonus of illness:  once the worst is passed, you can read and read with no sense of time or guilt.  You can read as if you were once again in your teens or early 20s and no-one’s ‘responsible adult’.  You can read as if you had never lost the ability to concentrate for more than 3 sentences together because that was the longest uninterrupted time you ever got).

The writing is clear, witty and very pleasing just in its own right.  But the stories themselves are little stars:  each one rather different, though the focus is on domestic life.  If you like writing that is deceptively simple, slyly funny, bitter-sweet, and if you like stories that might only cover half a day in the life of someone maybe like you or I had we lived then and been the subject of M Bonham’s pen, I think you’ll love these.

The worst book I read was the last book club read, and it was called Before I Go To Sleep by someone or other, really, don’t bother looking it up, you can have my copy if you really want.  Book club continues though we have had some drop-outs recently.  The last book wasn’t quite the worst we’ve had but it was hard going.  The chief problems were that it is based on someone – someone whom I disliked – losing her memory every night as she slept so each morning, she had to re-learn her life all over again.  Who is this man in bed with me for example (though I did wonder:  if she really didn’t know who the hell he was when she woke up but over the course of that day, gradually accepted that he was her husband etc etc – why did she get into bed naked?  I mean, she may have believed him but still, it would have felt like getting into bed with a near stranger, I’d have thought).  Anyway, this is a tiny flaw when compared to the plot.  This is the other chief problem.  As you can probably detect, the nature of her condition leads to a great deal of repetition, since every day we are treated to another ‘oh my God! who am I and who are you?’ scenario.  And every day she does the same or very similar things, chiefly squatting in the corner of her bedroom writing a diary.  Add to this that it is in that genre of literature I detest the most, possibly excepting novels about the wild west and Word Search books:  the psychological thriller.

It wasn’t that badly written.  It didn’t make me want to tear the pages out, due to the writing style, unlike some we’ve had.

I am choosing the next book.  It’s my turn again, which means it is over a year since Miss Pettigrew was scorned.  Then, the club, in it’s infancy, was about encouraging 1 of our number to read, as she had not at that point, ever read a book.  So I chose Miss P because a) I love it, and b) it’s a lovely, happy yet also deeply layered book about women.  This time I have chosen a book that I really love, and which isn’t ‘entry-level’ literature, but is nonetheless a pretty much perfect read, I think.  It’s Regeneration by Pat Barker, the first and I think the best of a trilogy.  Most of the characters are ‘real’ as is the event that provides the focus for the book, an act of anti-war writing.  A ‘novel’ set during WW1, it explores the moral perversion of war, its victims and also that of war as a well of brutally forged creativity.  Along the way, we deal with homosexuality, class and mental illness.  And yet, it isn’t a brutal or difficult book.  It is beautiful and deep.  Choosing it again, I am of course re-reading it, this is my third time and I love it more each time.

I am braced, ready for the possible reaction.  I think you should do likewise.

The worst book I have listened to is 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.  This is about 100 hours long and – oh – it’s so hard to sum it up or indeed summon up the energy to describe it.  I was going to tell you all how I felt about it some time ago but held back in case that might ‘spoil’ the outcome for other listeners.  However, I will now say that this novel, part fairy-tale, part mystery, part shopping list could have been so good.  And yet, it melted – but very slowly – into a frankly lazy mess.  I resorted to listening to it at a slightly faster pace on my iPod, and once or twice, in my sleep.  It made no difference whatsoever to my grasp of the plot, for the pace was like that of continental drift.  I was in fact listening to 1Q84 when I got on the wrong train some months ago.  This is, I think due to the mesmeric impact that the book and its audio presentation had on me.  I had to go on, though sometimes I felt rather numb…after it was finally over, I missed it in an odd way, but mainly I was downright angry with Mr Murakami because I honestly believe he could not be bothered to either edit it OR devise a real plot!

Recently I also pondered the books I listen to while I knit and this was because I took out of the knitting box some items from last year.  Out come the toe-up bed-socks and I am instantly remembering listening to The King’s Speech;  Christmas decorations:  the biography of Joyce Grenfell;  more recently, cuffs and beaded twirly mitts will always remind me of the biography of Charles Dickens by Claire Tomalin, which is very good indeed, by the way.  Knitting has always been a bit like a diary for me, because there is always a design book on the go and I date ideas, make notes, stick in swatches and photographs, and now I can add another memory layer to my knitting, my book listening.

Autumn dates in Devon

Friday, June 8th, 2012

On the evening of Thursday 25 October I am once again doing a fashion show with Martin Storey at The Guild in Bovey Tracey.  This is a really fun and informal evening where Martin show-cases all his latest designs and I sprinkle some beads and sequins around the room.  But first we have a delicious supper and a glass of wine or a coffee.  This event is organised by Spin-a-Yarn in Bovey so contact the lovely folks there for more information and tickets.

I am also teaching some autumn/early winter workshops for Joyce at the shop.  These are:

Thursday 8 November: Shibori Knitted Felt.  We will knit practice swatches to experiment with textural, beaded and other techniques, to create Shibori landscapes in felted knitting. All my felting is machine washed, no beating of knitting on a rock by the river required though this is, of course, always an option.

Thursday 15 November: New mittens.  We will knit a pair (well, we will knit 1, on the day) of fingerless mitten with a fully fashioned thumb.  These will be knitted in the round on 4 double pointed needles.  If you can knit in the round, great, if not, I will show you.  These will be knitted in Pure Wool 4 Ply (I think) and embellished with Kidsilk Haze but I won’t be held to that as I haven’t designed the final version yet.  On the day you will use your store discount to buy 1 ball each of the yarns I use – enough to make 1 pair of mitts.

Thursday 29 November: Kidsilk Haze at Christmas.  Knit lots of tiny decorations, beaded gift bags and similar frivolous nonsense.  This course teaches you all about Kidsilk Haze, if it’s new to you, and how to bead, knit with sequins and generally experiment with this yarn.  If on the other hand, you already knit with Kidsilk Haze, you can still come and enjoy knitting a host of little embellishments.  Using your store discount, you will buy 1 or more balls of KSH and some beads to knit your colour-themed collection. I suggest 2 shades which will make you a lot of little things.  I will bring the sequins as my gift to all participants, for yes, I am the Sequin Fairy.

For places and information, contact the shop.  I hope to see you there.


Actually, I taught there yesterday.  I designed a new pair of cuffs especially for the event, and we had a really good day.  I was inspired by the shade choices of the participants, which were all beautiful and included several combinations I would have – wrongly – over-looked; or just not thought of. I aim to teach as well as I can and with all my energy, to help everyone learn some new skill or gain some new level of confidence – oh and not least, to have a really good time – and whether I succeed or not, I always learn something from my class members, and usually come home with several new ideas that have bubbled up in the day simply as a result of talking to them and fermented into an idea on my drive back home or as I tidy up the workshop room here. After a Court Cottage event I always stay in the room for some hours, sometimes Millington is there too, playing with the beads, or sometimes I just slowly tidy up, get the fire going strong – and I knit until lured out with food and/or a glass of wine…I am not tired, usually, as I have the energy of the departed class to keep me going and I hope they have the same energy when they get home.

I have learned a lot of stuff since knitting became a major feature in my life.  I have learned the joy of amassing and then gazing at a unfeasibly large collection of stacking bead-slash-sequin storage towers.  I have learned to allow myself to see knitting as one of my real jobs, albeit one with no boundaries or regular form, whilst at the same time, avoiding feeling the ‘bad’ pressure that work can often bring (this took a while – and being made redundant or as I prefer to see it, liberated, helped by the way).  I’ve learned to simply avoid the (few) people who do not give my work the ‘respect’ I give theirs, just because mine is also a major hobby for so many makers and theirs takes place in a more corporate environment.  And the main thing I have learned is that for me, design cannot happen in isolation.  I can conjour ideas for a past-time but if I stop having real, valuable time with real knitters, I become less creative.  I have never felt more inspired to knit and design than when I worked on the shop floor of John Lewis in Bristol for Rowan, hard though that was at times, yes even amidst the stock room wrangling and system-baffling, I don’t think even now, I knit as much as I did then.  So I need to teach, you see.

These are the ‘Joyce’ cuffs that we knitted yesterday.  The pattern is written to be either knitted flat or in the round, colour-washed or in a single shade and it will soon be, along with about 4 others, a new kit here.