Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for February, 2013

Back to the caves

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Alien-style walls, with formations above

It’s been several months since I caved.  I am comfortable with the fact that I am not going to be a winter caver.  It’s not just the cold, it’s the depressed light levels that  really gets to me.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to cave again in the Mendips, from The Wessex, which is the club I joined last year.  Florence and Will were staying here and so we decided to just do a quick ’round trip’ in a beautiful cave called GB, near Charterhouse.

Some of the lovely formations in GB

To be honest, I didn’t want to go and I did cast about for reasons not to.  I was actually very anxious because it had been a while since donning the kit and wriggling into a hole in the rocks.  And the longer that I stayed away, the more detached from it I felt, and the more detached I felt, the less inclined I was becoming to return.  And so on.  I guess this is how you stop being a caver.

Had I missed it?  Not really, because much as I have enjoyed caving for the last 12 months, I also dread the bone-penetrating cold that goes with being wet and inactive (as you are sometimes) underground, or more especially, on exiting the cave and getting de-kitted and dressed in the teeth of a north-east bitter wind as it whips off your scanties in a Mendip lay-bye.

I started caving last January and I stopped caving in late October.  It wasn’t a conscious decision to stop, I just was busy, then it got colder, then there were fewer trips, then I declined a couple of trips…I think it’s fair to say my caving season will run from late February to late October.  I especially like coming out in day-light and warm sunshine.  I also quite like summer evening caving when it’s light when you go in and dusk when you emerge, with the bats, from the hole.

Florence in the red hat, coaxing me down a little climb in GB - cheese works best

Yesterday, we explored a little de-tour in GB called Rhumba Alley – whose name I pinched for my Rhumba Alley cuffs – and we did the pretty standard round trip too.  This is a fairly gentle cave, very pretty, with mild to moderate challenges, some climbs and scrambles, a few small bits but nothing too tight.  It also has a waterfall climb that I have now completed 3 times, once when the water was so low it almost wasn’t a waterfall, once when it was so high it was in spate and once yesterday when it was just right.

Pretty back-drop - I look as if I am about to have tea

This little section makes you feel really epic, because, yes it’s a little bit exposed and yes, it is a long way down and it’d be awesome if you didn’t fall off, but it’s actually a series of achievable challenges rather than a massive scary experience and once you reach the top, you stand (in my case, you stand on one leg, because I lost a wellie in a crevasse and Will was retrieving it), hands on your hips, lumberjack style, surveying the way you’ve just come up and feeling pretty good.  You might nod your head a little in a way that affirms your climb.  I did.  It’s dark, no-one saw.

As the trip, which was about 2.5 hours long, went on, I was aware that I was really starting to enjoy it and the feeling of wanting to cave again had returned.  There were also hibernating bats in the cave, quite near the entrance, tiny black pods suspended from fragments of rock. Some caves are closed in winter so as not to disturb the bats, but GB is fine as long as you are aware of, and don’t shine your light at, them as this might awaken them – and if they wake up now, they surely will die.  I love bats.  On the way out, I was allowed to lead and as I came up a little climb, I looked up and saw a GIANT bat, an uber-bat, fat and black, on the rock face ahead of me.  I *may* have exclaimed about this mother-lode-bat.  I’m not scared of bats but seriously if this one had wanted to start a situation, it’d be trouble.

It was a black rock.  Let down.  And – mainly – relief.

More 'pretties' in GB - curtain formations

The shots here are why I love GB.  These pictures, taken by Will, are all of me and Florence in GB.  The light is of course from the flash, it doesn’t actually look like that usually.

This is MY cave, right?

I am back to the caves, with another trip next weekend and more in the pipe-line.

My absence has done me good.  I am (so far) less anxious and I am stronger, physically.  I am a little lighter – not much – but my upper body is stronger so it felt more secure, relying on my arms and shoulders.  It’s going to be a good season.



Lent: Millington’s Take

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Last year in Lent, for some reason I gave up sugar. Millington’s response was a single text:  ‘Are. You. Mad?’

I did it for purely selfish reasons and I don’t really know why I *need* an arbitrary period of time to do it.  As it happens, I don’t eat that much sugar.  Really, I don’t. Anyway.

This year, clearly still shaken by last year, Millington sent me a text to suggest other things I might give up.

Here they are, I am in blue.



Sue’s Moebius

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

One of my pupils at Moebius Day, 2 weeks ago, has made this, which I think is really beautiful:

I am very proud of Sue, especially as I *think* she may have some half-term time set aside for a new Moebius…

It is knitted in Rowan Baby Merino Silk DK and Kidsilk Haze.

What I think about when I’m running

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

(The title of this post is a shameless paraphrase.  It is also a warning to you, regular reader, that the knitting phase of blogging appears to be over).

We all knew that the outpouring of knitting posts would dry up eventually, didn’t we?  Have you missed my ramblings on subjects un-knitty?  Have you been wondering what I’ve had for dinner, what I have read, what I have listened to, what I have been doing, how many recycling melt-downs I have had, which caves I have dived into?

The answers are:

1) mainly roast dinners; plus scampi.  Not together.  How weird are you?  I love roast dinners and could eat them every day.  In winter, maybe not in summer.

The scampi is an actual addiction of mine.  I simply adore it.  Shop bought, frozen, breaded scampi.  Preferably the sort they call ‘giant’ or ‘large’ so there is a better scampi-to-breadcrumb ratio.  I sometimes have it – or used to – so often that a kind of scampi-sickness would descend upon me and I’d be forced to avoid the scampi isle for a few weeks.  But it always comes back, the call of the scampi, the lure of it’s squidgy sweet prawniness and the crunchy – not too crunchy – coat of breadcrumbs.  A dash of lemon juice, some mayo to dip into. I don’t want chips, I definitely don’t want peas – I just want scampi.  I want some now.

2) I have read Hawthorn and Child by Keith Ridgway:

Recommended to me by the bookish Karina Westermann whose designs are lovely and whose book choices I urge you to follow too.

Loved it. Could easily have devoured it in maybe 3 goes but was forced by lack of time and some self-will to nibble it rather than gorge.  It is a book quite unlike any I have read, with a duo of police officers – the Hawthorn and Child of the title – opening the novel and threading through it thereafter.  It’s more like a series of linked short stories and since I love short stories even more than whole books, this was perfect.  Like buffets which are my favorite meals.  Oh.  Wait.  No that’s wrong;  roast dinner is my favourite.  And scampi.  Well, buffets are among my favorites.

This book is a buffet –  stories sharing the tressel-table and gingham table-cloth of a book.  It’s graphic and adult.  In a proper, grown-up way, yes there is sex, gay sex and love.  It’s not shocking and it’s not coy.  It’s the sort of book that makes your (my) tummy tighten and tumble.  I was aware of a sense of mild to moderate peril just behind my right shoulder throughout the entire reading of it.  This was partly the edgy stories and partly the tingle of such powerful yet spare and clever writing.  Because aside from the compelling way he spins the stories, the way he writes is reward enough in itself.

Oh, by the way there are no speech marks. Do not let this put you off, instead, let it make the spoken words feel more natural.

I have read some other things lately but this is the one I wanted to tell you about because I want you to read it too.  I am unselfish this way, please, read it.  It almost makes me wish the ill-fated book club was still going (it is, kind of, but without me and that’s another story which I will save for later) so that I could recommend it – but then, I just know, that club being the club it is, that Hawthorn and Child would be carelessly and hideously dismissed with a shrug and upturned palms.  Because there is no conventional plot device or route-map.  I agree, once again, with Karina who has been known to say she couldn’t be in a book club – and I think I can’t either, much though I’d love to talk about this and other books I love, as you do with someone who also loves (or at least understands) the same books.  It’s not about agreeing or scoring – but it is about respecting writing and reading, two great arts, the latter often sadly underrated.

3)  I have finally finished listening to Ulysses by James Joyce.  This was an Audible download and it was a gift download so being a careful person I decided to choose a download that is eye watering expensive (or a credit, but my credits are usually fully allocated in my Wish List), and that I just know I’d never, ever actually read.  It is, of course, a great classic.  My, but it’s a book of so many parts – and I am no scholar so I cannot even begin to tell you how clever and yes, at times, how impenetrable I found it.  I adopted a policy of listening to it in sections, allocating time to it and having breaks.  Having breaks doesn’t matter in the least.  It’s just there, waiting for you as you drift back.

I found that sometimes I was very comfortable with the ‘story’.  Life, food, love, art, sex, death, music, class and religion – a clashing muddle, a dash through just one day in Dublin.  At times like these I felt really proud of my ears and brain, acting like a pair of old friends and together, passing understanding to me.

At other times I was drifting.  This was pleasant, even beautiful, for the writing is breathtaking.  I was drifting but a little lost.

And sometimes I was utterly, hopelessly lost, so lost I had to look things up on the Internet to try and see what the feck was going on, and even then, I was still left reeling, with that feeling you (I) get when you (I) look at maps or I try to negotiate my way to B from C when I usually go to B from A.  In these times, what I generally do is go back to A and then make my way to B, leaving C out of it altogether.  You can’t do that with this book.

However, I was and still am, awash with this book, which I now know I’d never read with my eyes because I just wouldn’t be able to cope, but to listen to it again – yes, that I will be doing.

I listened to it a lot while running.  The running has been in a good phase which leads me to 4).  In 4), I have been running more.  I have entered a half marathon in Birmingham in October.  My first and last HM was 2 years ago and I hated it so much I felt I might just give up running.  However, I have entered this one for several good reasons, or so it seemed and now I have got used to the idea, I am glad.  I can run 10 or 11 miles sometimes.  Usually I run 5 or 6.  Sometimes I only run 3.  But when I ran 10 or 11 recently, it was me and James Joyce.  The mind-bending wonder of his words, or sometimes the sheer beauty of what he tells me made the miles seem fewer or at least quicker – and they weren’t quicker, in fact I have lost pace this last 6 months, I’m not sure why.  Age, maybe.

5) No recycling melt-downs lately, since I have partially opted out of the recycling dictatorship that is Somerset Waste and set up my own independent state.  I burn food waste that I cannot compost on my open dining room fire.  I throw things away that I *think* the recycling police may whimsically reject, there being no discernable policy.  It’s good.  Opting out is the new recycling.

6) Sadly, no caves of late.  Maybe that will come back if the weather warms up.

All of the above and more, are what I think about when I run.



Debbie Abrahams Bead Club Members: new Court Cottage workshop, 15 June

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

If you have signed up for the Debbie Abrahams Bead Club 2013 – yay, well done you, you rock.

(If not, you can do so here. Then you’ll also rock. Yay).

Anyway, I designed one of the patterns for the 2013 club.  It’s the June pattern and it’s a lace stole or wrap.  It will come as no surprise that this features beads.  In fact, being the Bead Club I am guessing that if it hadn’t featured beads it might have baffled Debbie a bit and been sent back to try harder. Never fear, it’s got A Lot of beads on it. It really is a lovely item to feel over your shoulders being both light and airy as well as comfortingly weighted with the beads.

Also, it has a major swish-factor.  It’s quite big and features a beaded ruffle.  Swishing is almost impossible to resist.  Why resist?  Swish away and enjoy.  I know I do.

I am going to run a workshop on this design here at Court Cottage on Saturday 15 June. You should receive your bead club June design by the end of the first week of June, so the timing is perfect.  To participate, you will need to be a Bead Club 2013 member.

At this workshop, you and I will knit a sample of the design including the frilly beaded edging in the morning in order to make sure you’re really happy with the stitch and bead placing, and after lunch, you will cast on your actual stole.  Though the design is not a difficult knit, it might be rather nice to have a practice knit, see the real stole, try it on, decide if you want to change anything such as the width which we can easily do – and get a head start on your June project!

Here’s a link to the workshop booking page.