Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for February, 2015

The Archers. My Life in Ambridge

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

Like you (I imagine we are very alike), I grew up with The Archers.  The music will be one of my Desert Island Disc choices, when I am eventually invited onto the programme.

In fact, when I do appear on DIDs, I will ask for a compilation record called ‘Radio 4’, which will have on it The Archers theme tune, Sailing By (I know I do not need to explain), the old medley they used to play at the beginning of the Radio 4 day, which had stereotypical bits of Welsh, Scottish, Irish and English music, axed a few years ago by some eighteen year old BBC Executive, I imagine, the music for Round Britain Quiz, the intro music for I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue, and of course, the DIDs theme tune itself.  This will cocoon me in a safe pod of memories of BBC Radio 4, with which I have grown up, along, and now, maybe, down.

I love Radio 4.  I feel as if it is literally woven into my life’s pattern, like a thread or a cable.  As a child, my mother often listened to it, especially Woman’s Hour, which used to be on in the afternoon.  When I revised for O and A levels, I did so with Radio 4 as my background noise, probably absorbing more information about poetry and eagle hawks from its varied programming than I ever learned about oxbow lakes and the origins of WW1 from my books.

When I got married, I remember the night before, lying awake and hearing Sailing By, a sure sign that I was awake too late.  In times of troubled or child-prompted wakefulness at night, I have been soothed by the BBC World Service, which slips quietly into Radio 4’s bed-slippers in the small hours.  I have been revived and reassured by Radio 4’s re-appearance, like the sunrise, the next day, as I hear The Shipping Forecast, mentally hopping around the British Isles as its coastal anti-clockwise journey unfolds.

Ever wondered where Rockall is?  Or how North (or South) Utsire is spelt?  And, as you expect, Biscay is a long way away, but Trafalgar is even further, look:

Map of shipping forecast areas

(c) BBC Weather

My mother also listened, every day, to The Archers.  I think she heard most episodes three times.  So did I, of course.

I listen to The Archers still, but not always.  Sometimes, we are on a break.  It’s not me.  It’s them.  The Scriptwriters.  I have extended breaks for a variety of reasons, such as when Nigel fell to his untimely death from the roof of Lower Loxley.  Not only did we lose one of the best voices, and most fully formed characters, with whom I grew up, but also his death scene was the subject of a great deal of torrid soap-opera style ferment in the press (the press I read, that is, not Hello!  or Heat.  As far as I know).  There was another longer-running story-line at the same time, Helen’s pregnancy, and the scriptwriters were touted as being sure to bump off a character at New Year.  I had my money on the annoying and unstable Helen in a labour-related death, but no: out of the blue, it was Nigel who plummeted to his demise.  It irritated me so much, I just stopped listening for about six months, but of course, I drifted back.

Recently, we have been treated to another excruciatingly contrived plot line, the possible sale of Brookfield and the move by the entire Brookfield-based wing of the Archer clan, to somewhere in The North.  David Archer is now the head-honcho at Casa Brookfield, and his wife, Ruth (whom I remember arriving in Ambridge many years ago, as a work experience agricultural student, and she was monumentally annoying even then) is his help-meet and comfort.  Not.  First, she is from the north east of England and thus David is now called Daaaayveeed in a drawn out version of his rather nice, modest, two-syllable name which, as Ruth enunciates it, lasts for almost as long as the opening music.  Second, she never gives over whining.  Third, she is rude.

Ruth has been driving this move with the same zeal she displayed when, decades ago, she fixed Daaaayveeed in her cross-hairs and went all out to snare him, plus the farm.  If they go, and I have offered to pack for them, we will lose Ruth, David and (probably) the kids.  Also, Jill Archer, the former matriarch of Brookfield, David’s mother, would go.  I would regret the loss of Jill, and to a lesser extent, David.  But the others can clear off now as far I am concerned.

Except, and here you may be relieved to learn that I do still have a tenuous grip on reality, and I recognise that it is  only a fictional drama, it’s completely obvious even to the Stupids in The Archers, which includes Helen, the least sharp cheese-wire in the dairy, that of course they won’t sell Brookfield.  Of course they won’t do the listening public a huge favour and clear off to the north of England.  Nor will the road development through the farmland, which prompted Ruth to insist on this move, go ahead.  There.  That is my prediction.  It’s solid gold, you may rely upon it.  What may have surprised the editor and the script team, is how much support there is for the whole lot of them to scarper.  No-one wants them to stay.

The problem with the scripts now is that instead of having one or two big story lines unfolding, plus two or three lighter-hearted plots, which they used to be so good at, they have lots of really big dramas all at the same time, and little room for the every-day events which used to make this programme so special.  There is so much drama, it has almost no impact any more.  At the moment, we have the development which threatens Brookfield and the whole village; this in turn has lead Jill to be unwell, and (fingers crossed) now maybe Ruth will stomp off and her marriage to David appears to be once again in doubt; we have Helen, as thick as an organic full-fat yoghurt, becoming ever-more drawn into the web of her boyfriend, Rob, clearly a potential killer; we have Tony shuffling, I hope, away from death’s door, but still in a very bad way; we have the inexplicable and frankly disturbing sex triangle formed by Hayley, Roy and Elizabeth, now degenerating into a farce; we have Kate, back from Africa in disgrace…too much already.

The dilution to this seething, boiling pit of angst, is lead by the joint forces of La Snell, and her lovely hub, Robert; Lilian, my absolute favourite character; and the Grundys.  Even this force is not enough to lift the fog of gloom over Borcetshire.  And thus, I fear I may once again be heading for one of my breaks.  It’s just too miserable.  I fully expect Ruth and David will stay, miserably and whiningly together, in an economic axis, and the development will fall at a Christmas Eve planning hurdle.  If I am right, we have ten months of this.


Conversations With Lily – Up-Date and also ‘Rude’ Post Alert

Monday, February 16th, 2015

So, Lily has relented and I am once again allowed to record some of our convos.  This happened when I told her (and it’s true) that after they stopped, the search term on my website ‘Lilley Growther-Smyth’ (and variations on our incredibly obscure names) was higher than Alyson Crow-Smith (etc). Or Kidsilk Haze!

Also, I had emails.  So she has graciously agreed to let me continue.  However, the conversation I am about to share has just happened, and I am recording it now so I don’t have time to think better of it. If she sees it, she may rescind the permission.

Background.  I have not read the book ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, though my brother bought Mark a fairly funny book called ‘Fifty Sheds of Grey’ for Christmas.  I do know that the real book is mainly about sex.  And (related) DIY.  I don’t live under a rock. Wait. I do often live under a rock.  But anyway…my friend, who has read it, texted me recently to suggest that we go to see the film together.  This offer was further sweetened by the suggestion that we have a cocktail afterwards.  Yes.  Bridgwater has a cocktail bar.  It is called Bar Brunel, and I have been there.  The most popular cocktail is called ‘Mud Slide’.  It appears to be an alcoholic chocolate milk-shake. *urge*

Frankly, I think I’d need a litre of Mud Slide before I went to see Fifty Shades of Grey.  I am not a prude though.  No, really.  I know I look like a prude, but I honestly don’t give a damn what people do to themselves or one another assuming it’s not deathy or illegal, and that it is consensual.  It’s just that I have a very low threshold of tolerance to mortification and embarrassment.  I don’t really want to see the film either.  My favourite occupation is knitting while watching something about the Tudors on the BBC History Channel or listening to The Archers on Anytime.  If you look on iPlayer now,  there is a very interesting documentary about William Shakespeare’s mother, and another about Things That Killed People In Tudor Times. Other than the King.  Or plague.  It was fascinating.  One significant cause of death was SUGAR!  plus ca change…

Anyway, some of the above includes reasons why I am self-selecting not to go and see FSOG.  And I was explaining these to Lily.

Me:  …and so these are the reasons why I think I ought not to go and see Fifty Shades of Grey.

Lily:  fair point, also you might see someone you know in the pictures in Bridgwater.

Me:  yes, and your father showed me a news article* about a cinema chain in the UK (shocked tone, as if it would be less shocking in, say, Iceland or Fiji) which has had its seats covered in vinyl for the showing of this film!

Lily:  why?

Me:  um, well, I don’t really know exactly why…

Lily:  but why do you think?


Lily:  come on mum, what do you think?

Me:  (rallying) well, the manager said they thought it would be quicker for the staff to nip in after each show and give the seats a quick wipe down with a damp chamois leather…

Lily:  Oh my God!

Me:  …yes, rather than, he said, having to shampoo the velour fabric after each show!

Lily:  oh my  God!! Those poor staff.

Silence as we (I assume, both) contemplate this as a job.

Lily:  anyway, if they shampoo-ed the velour each time, it would still be damp for the next showing.

Me:  (happily grasping a chance to talk about something we both like, i.e. a cleaning related conversation) yes, it would take at least 12 hours with the heating on for velour to dry out.

Lily:  I think, if my cinema manager asked me to fit vinyl seat covers and then wipe them down after the film, I’d be sick.

Me:  same.  Also, I’d be asking him/her if we shouldn’t instead be asking our customers to refrain from activities which might result in the need for wipe-age.

Lily: (after a thoughtful pause) also, I don’t think a chamois leather is the right cloth for that sort of job.  I’d have thought a sponge/spray combo followed by a dry cloth buff.  It’ll ruin the chamois-es if they rub the plastic seats with it.  Chamois is expensive and hard to get really clean…

Me:  hmmm…

Lily:  got to say, this is a conversation I never thought I’d have.  With anyone.  Let alone MY MOTHER.

Me:  *proud face*

Lily:  is that your proud face?  Is it?  Because if it is, I suggest you wipe it off with a chamois leather.


* here’s the link.  It’s obviously a spoof but it was fun telling Lily.






Friday, February 6th, 2015

This is big (caving) news, or at least it is to me.  I have finally, as I begin year three of my caving odyssey, made it to Sump 1 in Swildon’s Hole, and I made it through the sump, which is Sump 1, into the part of the cave system known as Swildon’s Two.

This is me, and Florence, having a quick snap taken by Will in Swildon’s Two, just past the sump.  The road sign must have been lugged through the cave and then through the sump.  It refers to the fact that having tested the water flow with dye, it is clear that there is some passage, as yet un-caved and possibly all submerged, to Wookey Hole from this area of Swildon’s.

Now, Swildon’s and I have history.  It’s The Cave to be seen in.  All the best dressed cavers hang out here.  All the cave-royals, the cave-eratti as it were, are forever scurrying about in Swildon’s, free-climbing the 20 foot waterfall, free-diving the sumps, and generally having a cave-party that I could not attend.  Why?  Because I could not conquer my fear of The Twenty. This is a 20 foot waterfall, generally rigged with a narrow wire ladder. First, you climb down; later, after you and Swildon’s have had an amazing time, you climb back up.  At about 6 feet down, the water hits you.  And to get onto this wire ladder, which seems to me to be flaying wildly about in the water, and the breeze that water generates, you have to insinuate yourself over and round a big bulging boulder.  The fear so freaked me out, I was often almost crying with it as I attempted to get on the blasted ladder and then of course, exhausted by this and the adrenaline that fear produces, shaking with cold, I’d make the most monumental hash-up of the bloody climb itself.

I had climbed it four times before the other week.  Only four.  This was of course part of the problem.  I needed to do it more often.  Instead, I’d go to other caves, especially in South Wales.  But in January, we went caving in Wales and I climbed over a tricky little bit called Poached Egg.  And I thought:  this is very much like the nasty boulder as you get on the ladder at The Twenty. And furthermore (I thought), I did that.  I was not sobbing or shaking.  I was fine.  The next weekend we went to Swildon’s.

Another factor is stamina. I thought I had good stamina before I started caving.  I could run 13 miles.  I could cycle all day, given food and drink stops. But caving has tested my stamina like nothing else.  I know I have strengths in caves, such as my legs which are powerful from years of cycling; thus I can clamber upwards for extended periods, and use my legs to brace in rifts, for example, to good effect.  I am quite narrow, and for my age, very bendy, so small holes or gaps are generally OK with me.  But I am fearful of exposed climbs and this makes me shake (adrenaline, again).  My upper body is weak and I cannot rely on the strength of my arms in a crisis.  And I get very cold, really fast.  These latter weaknesses all make my endurance a problem.  I have gradually combated this by the simple devices of:  wear All Of The Wet-Suit Things including socks, hoods, full suits and gloves.  Eat as much cave-snackage as can reasonably be carried on a trip.  Keep practicing.  Stop panicking.

The other week, we set off.  Snow on the ground, just a sprinkle, but indicative of the temperature on the Mendips.  Which in turn, governs the temp of the water running into and through Swildon’s.  It had been wet so this water was as high as I have known it in the cave.  This is an issue, because it’s – um…playful.  It playfully knocked me off a climb, for example and made the water obstacles past The Twenty even more fun.  But do you know what?  I just climbed The Twenty, no drama.  I then steadily, with much guidance from Flos and Will, made my way to Sump 1.  This includes the Double Pots, into which I fell (there is much water, it’s OK), The Inclined Rift, which is quite good fun, and some watery climbs and scrambles, notably The Washing Machine which was very lively.  Nothing difficult and of course to me, all new.

Sump 1 is a flattened tubular space through which you must pass to go to Swildon’s Two.  It is at ground level, about 18 inches high, and I don’t know how wide as I couldn’t see that bit.  But it is filled with water.  No air-gap.  It is however, only a few feet long, so it is possible, having taken a huge deep breath, to submerge yourself and using a thoughtfully secured rope that goes through it, pull yourself in 3 hand pulls of this rope, through the water filled tube.  It’s really easy.

I have been through ‘ducks’ and canals – water passages where there is an air gap, even if you have to have your head on one side and one ear submerged in order to breathe as you swim or scuffle along.  But I had never sumped.

The thing is, water even in small spaces, does not bother me, so I knew that if I had the strength to make it to the sump, getting through it and back would not be a problem.  As I said the water levels in the cave were high, so the sump had no air space. This is usual, it’s rare that it has a gap.  It’s an odd little chamber, quite sandy and quiet.  The sump looks like a wall.  There is a thick rope that clearly goes into the water at the base of this wall, but the water was very murky and covered in foam, which is due to the high water activity at that time.  So it looks as if you will lie down in the water, and pull yourself into a solid rock. However, hidden away is the small space through which you must post yourself.

You are wet through already, having encountered many water hazards on the way.  But still, full immersion is called for and it’s a shock.  As you lie down on your tummy and grip the rope, you just have to trust that it’s only a few feet long and 1,000s of cavers go through it.  I was warned that your cave suit fills with air, and as it’s a very low space, this makes the thick canvas suit drag along the roof of the sump, which can make you feel as if you are getting stuck.  So although this did happen, I was expecting it.

Will went through, very fast, and then he gave three strong pulls on the rope to indicate that he was through and in the next chamber.  Then he came back.  Worryingly, he sort of curled up and down and held his head and pulled alarming faces for about five minutes as his brain froze due to the freezing water.  Florence quietly pulled on her luxury 3mm wet-hood.  Will and I looked envious. She went through, pulled three times on the rope – and then it was my turn.

I laid in the water and grabbed the rope.  One look back at Will, who assured me I did not have to do it, but if I did it would be OK, and I took a massive breath, submerged myself and hauled myself along and into the sump.  It is bitter cold, and eyes closed, ears full of water, suit scraping top and bottom, it is a very weird experience.  Three arm-length pulls later, and I was thinking:  this is longer than I was led to believe, I hope I have enough breath, but then I felt a rap on my helmet.  Florence was alerting me to the fact that I was through and was now just hauling myself through a deep puddle on the other side!

Quick picture in Swildon’s Two, then back through the sump.  It’s  easier from the other side as you can see the space you are aiming for, plus, of course, you’ve done it once so it seems less alarming.  Except, I wasn’t alarmed or frightened.  Just as I expected, privately, once I got to the sump, I was absolutely fine going through it.

The return trip was fast (for me), not very pretty, and the ascent back up the ladder at the 20 foot waterfall was back to my usual standards of rubbish caving, but I did not care.  I did it.  I had the stamina to get to, and through, Sump 1 and back.  This is a landmark for me.  Unless you can do this, you cannot do the classic Swildon’s trip known as The Short Round Trip.  It is not short, other than when compared to The Long Round Trip.  But it does involve Sump 1, and some other bits of the cave system that require stamina and confidence.  My new goal is to train up for this trip, this year.

From the entrance of the cave to Sump 1 is a distance of about half a mile, so the trip there and back is a mile of caving, with 400 feet of drop/climb. That is a lot of caving, for me.  Now I need to do this trip again but carry on past the sump to Sump Two which I will just have a look at.  It’s quite long, I think.  Then I need to do the same trip plus a climb up before Sump One at Tratman’s Temple, because this is the start of the deviation for The Short Round.  The Short Round includes a few muddy ducks or sumps, I suppose, but you bail them; and some awkward squeezes.  I think I will be OK with these, as long as there are no horrid climbs.  It’s my work in progress for 2015.

I now feel rather differently about Swildon’s. I think I am starting to get the Swildon’s ‘bug’. I am in year three of caving, with lengthy periods of weeks or even months when I have not been caving but on average over these years, I have caved at least once a month.  The last few trips have really been different.  I note that I am not feeling sick with nerves before a trip, and perhaps because of this, I am enjoying it far more.  I’ve always loved the pretty things that the cave unicorns make, but now I am starting to enjoy the physicality of the sport.  I love sport (only as a participant, I detest watching sport of any kind other than You Tube caving videos), so this is a natural progression.

Furthermore, I could not give two hoots that it’s taken me so long to make it through Sump 1. I have spent this time exploring a lot of different caves, returning to Swildon’s every now and then but not exclusively flogging myself about in one (admittedly amazing) cave system.  I have also spent this time exploring my own mental and physical toughness.  I am wanting.  But I am improving, and I will keep on trying new things until I can’t try anymore. At least when that day comes, I won’t regret not having a go at this awesome, incredibly wonderful activity, scurrying about in my world below the so-called real world.  The underground world is more real to me now than ever.  It does call you, once you get used to it.  Luckily, I am immune to addiction of any kind…


New Pattern: A Circle Shawl. Plus New Workshop: Shibori ‘Bump Bag’ Repeat Date

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

Roundabout Shawl Design – Pattern Released

I have added a new design to the website. This is The Roundabout Shawl, which can be knitted in DK or 4 ply yarn, and the pattern provides for both options.  However, you can really knit this is any weight of yarn within reason subject to also changing the needle size, and omit the beads if you do not want them.

The shawl is a big accessory.  It’s not a super-fast knit but nor is it very slow, because being based on simple (no wrapping) short-row shaping, it decreases gradually in each of its six segments.

Here is the beaded DK version:

And here is the un-beaded 4 ply version:

Reasons to love this knit are:

  • it is knitted flat, but unlike many half or full circle shawls, it does not grow from the top down (or the bottom up).  It is knitted from side to side, but in segments, using simple short-row shaping
  • the short-row shaping is combined with very simple lace so there is no need to wrap when turning
  • the number of stitches will never be greater than the number you begin with, and in fact goes down by one stitch every two rows
  • there is no sewing up, or picking up and knitting (except for the tiny and optional reinforcing area at the back-neck); despite being segmented, it is knitted all in one piece
  • its fullness means that as a piece worn simply slipped over the shoulders, it has a waterfall front effect; but when thrown back over a shoulder, it stays steadfastly put
  • it is deep at the back – about 4 inches below my waist – but at the front, it rests at elbow length so it is never in the way

Buy the pattern here.

Extra Shibori Knitted Felt Workshop: Knit the Bump Bag, 5 September 2015

I have also added another date for the Shibori Knitted Felt Workshop:  Knit the Bump Bag, as once again, there was a waiting list.  However, there are still 4 spaces available, so you can book it here.

We will be knitting the Bump Bag, but primarily this day is aimed at delivering an almost staggering amount of information about felting and Shibori techniques in the course of one mad-marble-filled-day.  Here is the bag and the matching beaded felted needle case:

Bump bag main image

Bump Bag needle case on side board

It is on 5 September 2015.  You can book here.