Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for December, 2014

Happy Christmas Past

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

Happy Christmas to my faithful reader.  I wish you every happiness now and in the New Year.



Christmas stockings 2


I do not send out cards anymore because I prefer to give that money to The Alzheimer’s Society.  My father died of dementia and I wish that no-one else ever had to suffer this cruel disease.

So, I notice too, we receive fewer each year.  I think lots of people now do what we do, and give the money to a charity.  I love getting cards though. Once Christmas is over, I cut the pictures up from the front of the cards we receive and the next year, I use these as gift-tags.  As I cut them up, I re-read them all.

If you don’t ‘see’ me on Face Book, you may not know why I don’t  send you cards anymore.  Well, that is why, but I still love you, I think about you at Christmas and wish you a very merry time.

The house is all decorated. The tree went up about two weeks ago, but this will be taken down on 27th December, or maybe a day or two later as this year, we have guests then.  I decorated the house in easy stages this year.  Some went up for the festive workshop and it stayed up – any excuse for wreaths of fairy lights and snow flakes on the windows.

Recently, I have begun to think that maybe I’d like to spend Christmas in a way that differs from my – or our – habitual pattern.  I have wrapped up Christmas (and other, chiefly winter festivals) in a tightly swaddled collection of traditions and habits.  These are comforting in their unvarying routine.  But maybe they are also somehow inhibiting.  Perhaps it is time for a change.  Oh, not Christmas in a hotel or abroad, in a hot country.  Let’s not get carried away.  But you know, just not following ‘the plan’, not having a timetable.  Or, would that just be sad-making?

Because Christmas, for all my love of it, does make me sad.  I thought for some time it was because my father died shortly before Christmas.  But actually, thinking back, I was like this even as a child.  Why is that, do you think?  Or maybe I am not typical.  Don’t you sometimes think, even if you are ‘happy’ at Christmas, that it can be tinged with sadness?

As a child, I remember thinking:  what if we never have a Christmas like this again?  That would have been an utterly typical, totally uneventful, suburban family Christmas.  A selection-box and Grandma sharing my bedroom for a week Christmas.  A sherry with the Thompsons next door, a Morcambe and Wise Christmas.  A dressing gown as your ‘main present’ Christmas.  A steamy kitchen, soft sprout, flushed and flustered Christmas.  A best dress for a family photo on the ‘patio’, amazing smells from the kitchen, growling stomach Christmas.  A sneaky bite of roast capon begged from mum as she cooked Christmas.  A proper home-made cake with brittle-hard, bright-white home-made icing, tortured into immovable peaks, hosting ancient plastic festive models of Mr and Mrs Christmas plus reindeer, sunk to hock-height in the plaster of icing sort of Christmas.  A sip of mum’s cherry brandy after lunch Christmas.  A napping parents, snoring Grandma, ‘will you get the coal in, Al?’ sort of Christmas.  A red lipstick wearing, ciggies in the ‘best’ ashtray, apron tight over sexy dress mum sort of Christmas.  A trifle for tea Christmas…

We neBaby half moon close upver had a row.  No-one got drunk, only a bit merry, my mother, chiefly, on the sherry before lunch.  We did not go to church, despite my pious attempts to make this happen when I was about twelve.  Really, it was just an ordinary Wellingborough Christmas, with vacuuming essential every day around the tree, a box of Black Magic for dad, Milk Tray for mum, opened a week before Christmas Day and handed round, one from each box, for my parents, my brother and me, each night as the telly programmes got more and more festive, until all that were left were the marzipans and the orange creams…

Although I thought fearfully every year:  what if this never happens again? seemingly forever, we did have the same Christmas again.  But I knew it couldn’t last.  And of course, it didn’t last.  

I think that to stop fearing change, you need to be in charge of your change, whatever that might be.

Whatever kind of Christmas you celebrate, I hope it’s a happy day.

Christmas Caving

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

An email has flooded in asking if I still go caving.  Happily, I have just been!

Last Saturday, I joined my lovely cave club, The Wessex, on  their Christmas Caving Extravaganza.  Some of the members organised a lot of different trips, all on the same day, with the onus being on the trips to caves that are usually closed, with access restrictions including leadership requirements; caves that are locked with leadership schemes; and cave trips that are ‘sporting’*

*hideously impossible for me

I went on two trips.  These two caves are located in the same quarry, also locked.  This quarry harbours several caves, and I have now caved in five of them; there are (I think) about three more for me try.  So, we first went to Withyhill Cave.  Here is your writer, looking relaxed prior to crawling into the entrance shaft/storm drain:

So, this horizontal pipe is about 6 meters long.  There is then a locked metal door/gate, which our leader opened with a magical key, and then the natural cave starts.

Withyhill is a moderate cave, with a bit of climbing, and short passages of crawling, one episode of lying down and wriggling through a puddle, but largely, it is roomy passage with a still active stream-way, which was very quiet when we were there.  It’s absolutely my sort of cave.  Not that hard, but it offers me just the right level of challenge, and I only needed to stand on Will once.  I rate my trips against a number of highly personal criteria, which I assume no other Wessex members need to worry about: 1) did I cry; 2) did I have to stand on someone/be lifted up or saved by my belt; 3) was it pretty; 4) did I do anything which made me proud?  I didn’t cry!

The cave then, almost at once, begins to reward you with really beautiful formations.  There are straws, wriggly-bits, stals and curtains.  Here are some of the images, taken by Florence and Will:

Withyhill ACS at Elephant's Trunk


This is me, staring at some formations, notably the long thin one hanging down in the centre, The Elephant’s Trunk.

Here are some more lovely formations:

And a back-lit curtain formation:

Really good fun, and I very much hope to go back to this cave.

Elated by my triumph in Withyhill, we then tackled the second cave, Fern Hill.  This cave is really a fairly deep hole, vertical, with a short, low and horizontal muddy passage at the end, giving way to a rift passage, which signifies the end of your trip, as this houses some of the most impressive curtain formations I have ever seen. I say this as if I do little else except seek out, and then look at, curtain formations, which isn’t really true. But still, they are amazing:

And also:

Look at the serration!  look at the colours!  Yes, I know, it’s begging to be knitted as a waterfall edge shawl.  Obvs.

The only slightly tricky bit to Fern Hill is the entrance shaft, viewed here from the half-way down point and looking back up:

There is no fixed ladder, so two wire ladders are rigged, one from the very top, which goes to the half-way point.  Up to here, the ladder is, as you can see, on the smooth wall of the drain pipe, which is not quite vertical so you can sort of slither and brace your shoulder against the concrete as you go.  Easy.  Then there is a little ledge – you are now in natural cave – and the second ladder is pitched from here to the bottom.  This section is ladder on natural rock, with a slightly tricky ledge and a few bumps.  The problem was, I stood and watched another group go down, all of whom basically seemed to swallow-dive in, without touching the rock.  I don’t like wire ladders, and I could feel my levels of anxiety, always high, even when I am asleep, starting to grow.

This is when I cock things up, when I get really anxious.  However, my lovely leader, who has had the misfortune to cave with me a fair bit, probably recognised my silence (I usually chat quite a lot) as the anxiety she has, I expect, come to know and despair of.  She said, quietly:  don’t get worried. And do you know what, dear reader?  I just thought:  she is right, screw it, I know I can do it.  And I did.  It’s been ages since I did a climb on the wires ladders – and it was fine.  OK, in the second half, I *may* have given myself a little pep-talk, unaware that the acoustics of a drain pipe are similar to an opera house, but anyway, I told myself not to be afraid and I was not afraid. Coming out was easy.  I am not as fast as the others, but it was no big deal at all.  And totally worth it.

Here I am (red suit) looking at the second half, and about to begin my amazingly smooth transition into the cave:

Why do I share these mini-triumphs with you? Well, simply because I sometimes think that there may be a similar caver to me out there, on the interweaves, looking for a trip report which features some elements of scardy-cat that are not about 12 hour long trips, involving swimming across underground lakes, levitating up slick-smooth rock faces, and posting yourself through 2 kilometers of bolder-choke with no sections that are bigger than your shoulders.  My club is great for people like me.  It has, in its ranks, amazing cavers who can, and do, cave in all sorts of  challenging spaces.  It also accommodates me.

I love caving, in spite of the evidence of some of my attempts at it.  This year I have not caved a lot – thinking back (as I have abandoned my sparkly log book) I think I have caved 8 times in 2014.  Not enough.  I am however, caving in Wales for a whole weekend, two weeks after Christmas, and I cannot wait.

So. This is for you,  possibly timid caver who likes the pretties and enjoys the fun  times in caves!  If you are also a knitter, please make yourself known to me.


Workshop Gift Vouchers

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

It’s not too late to give a Court Cottage Knitting Workshop Gift Voucher for Christmas.

If you want to buy a place for a friend, there are still a few places for 2015 events left, for example, one space on one of the Halloween events, two spaces on the Design Weekend, and five spaces on Frill Seeker Boa day in March, plus several spaces on the technical half-days, Mad Skills.

Contact me and I will send you (or them, direct) a Court Cottage Christmas card, with the details; you can choose the event or they can, I will book them on and that’s another gift sorted!

My knitting events are small, relaxed and personal, with knits to suit everyone, plus good company and great food.  New faces always welcome and more and more people come along each year.

Two New Patterns

Sunday, December 7th, 2014

I have added two new patterns to the Pattern Store.  I now have 32 designs in there – I am really happy to have such a nice little collection, all designed specially for my own website and my own workshops!  In 2015 I will be adding more, and hopefully some mini-collections of my own.

The new designs are the Cave Pearl Bobble Mitts:

Here you can see the lace-sided thumb.  Here they are lying flat:

And the other pattern is a collection of Star Decorations, which also includes a lovely festive star-shaped cushion.

Above, one of the stars; and here is the cushion:

I hope you like them.