Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for January, 2016

Tree Huggers of the World Unite

Monday, January 25th, 2016

Leaf of the Day will never be the same again.  The beech tree, prime leaf drop culprit at Court Cottage, is no more.

When we moved in over 10 years ago, there were three fairly mature trees in the back garden area. This is a bit you do not see if you come to a workshop.  There is access to the main drive, garage, car-port etc from the side road – there’s a wood store and the veg garden etc.  There is also a piece of ground that I am going to call ‘lawn’.  It resembles lawn in that it is partially green, though much of this is now moss.

These trees – a copper beech, a cedar and a rowan-tree – were planted about 30 years ago.  In the time we have lived here, we have had them crowned/reduced three times, pretty drastically.  There is, however, a limit to how effective this will be in terms of a) keeping the trees looking good; and b) encouraging them to not push the cottage right over.  The cedar in particular was looking less stately and more towering lollipop as a result of its 3 haircuts, while the beech was just spreading, as they do, being forest trees.

Here they are:

The last time we had a tree surgeon over which was a couple of weeks back, he told us honestly that he could reduce them, again, but they’d just keep coming back at us; that it’d cost almost 4 times as much to have them topped/pruned as felled; and that if he lived here, he’d get shut of them.

The ‘little’ fir trees on the side of the drive are actually too tall to trim without a tall ladder – but the beech and the cedar dwarf them.

I wavered still, but Mark was keen to have them chopped down.  And in the end, I had to agree because of the proximity to the cottage – closer than any sane person would plant forest trees and within bough-touching distance by the close of 2015.

The chap whose company came over to look at the trees was very kind.  Basically, he humoured me as I blathered on about how sad it was, how we loved the trees, how we’d miss them, how we’d tried to practice SRT in the beech tree (fail)…he didn’t say much but I could tell he was sympathetic.

So anyway, very soon, came dreaded the day – and of course, it dawned frosty, blue and beautiful, just so the majestic trees would look their very best as they spread their limbs out against the glittering, winter-ice sky and rosy dawn.

I began a sniveling, eye-watering limbering up to full-on crying at sunrise.  By 7.30 I was quietly sobbing in the kitchen, trying but failing to imagine my view without the trees, as I stood in the gloomy-end of the kitchen, looking at the ‘lawn’ and drive. It is (was) gloomy here all year round. In summer, the copper beech, in full leaf, robbed about half this area and half the kitchen of any natural light save that filtered by its bronze leaves.  Copper beech, stately and lovely as they are, especially when viewed in park-land estates or on telly when watching Woolf Hall, are light-thieves.  They actively soak up light around them, quite apart from creating a shade so deep it is oceanic in its depths.

Even in winter, it towered and anyway, the cedar was evergreen, so it always loomed.  Recently it had taken to shedding its pernicious brown needles, much finer than a Christmas tree’s, all over its potion of ‘lawn’, the drive and the paths.  From here, it was easy for all humans and animals who use the back door, which is everyone basically, to tread these all over the house.

But still, that morning, I was very sad.  The moment arrived when the tree-men maneuvered their truck and trailer down the road – always an exciting time for this village, any work being done by someone they have not approved, are related to or recognise.  Well!  The owner had sent two little boys! They were tall for children it is true, but still about eleven years old.  So now I was upset and anxious about these little boys having chain saws and climbing things – on my property – and also, being English, I was suppressed, being unable to express this anxiety in case they were insulted.  Mark took a quick look, in response to me hissing at him that the kindergarten class of tree-surgery had rocked up.  He pronounced them to be adults. Hmmm.  Only just.  I made them tea (they declined squash and cookies, most odd) and may have brought them up to date with my ‘I love these trees, but they have to go’ dilemma.

I went indoors and actually begged Mark to give them the cheque for the work – just to go away.  He said no.

As they fiddled about on the road, out of eye-line, I crept out and bade a last goodbye to my trees.  I took some photos.  Then  I wondered, as you do, just how wide that cedar had grown.  When we moved in it was mature but still fairly slender.  It looked much sturdier, so thick-set now.  So, I put my arms around its trunk.  My longest fingers could only just touch.  That’s a big tree.  It wasn’t meant to be a hug, but of course, it sort of was.  It was just my curiosity to see how big it had grown.

Unfortunately at this moment, the older (well, taller) of the two man-child tree-surgeons wandered back up the drive carrying a mile or two of coiled ropes.  Our eyes met.  He paused.  I let go of the tree and stepped away.  He proceeded to lay out the ropes.  We agreed, via the silent code of our people, not to attempt an explanation or ever to mention it.  So, he thinks I am a red-eyed tree-hugger.

Some hours – but fewer than you might suppose – and an awful lot of noise later, the children had finished playing in the trees.  They were no more.  I had also asked them to leave circles of the trunks for me, on the drive, plus any boughs we can saw up for fire-wood.  The circles make great eco-seats for the garden, we have two stacks of them from some trees that were felled elsewhere and were given to us – they are useful, home to lots of creatures and they look nice.  Now I have enough to make some more seats here and take to the allotment to sit upon.

And, I like it better now.  It is bright, light and just less gloomy.  So much soul-searching, and so many other solutions tried – but Mark and the tree-man were right.

The ‘lawn’ may recover; or I might use this space to keep chickens – a recurring dream. It may never be realised, but this would now be a good space. The  rowan-tree was spared, posing no threat and probably being full size now, but it may do better now it is not cowering in the vast shadow of the cedar.

And a small lesson learned about being less resistant to even fairly small changes and to listening to the views and advice of others.  They were right, and I am glad.

Some New Designs

Thursday, January 21st, 2016

I want to show you these.

There are three Thronchos which I began designing for my 2016 workshops and which seem to have taken on a life of their own.  This collection is in standard chunky, DK and 4 ply yarns.  I am now working on three further designs for 2017.  Meanwhile these three are all featured in my Court Cottage Thronchos Workshops in 2016 all of which are full, but as I do have a small waiting list, I may offer an extra date – let me know if you’d be interested.

This is the chunky shoulder-wrap buttoned Throncho, which can be worn in two ways:


Here is the 4 ply beaded lace Throncho:

And here is the lace rib DK Throncho:

If, as I hope, these workshops go well, aside from offering a new date or dates, I may design three more for 2017.  These are just a real joy to knit and to wear.  Incredibly versatile, practical and so flattering.

May I now introduce you to a little beaded number I have been working on?

This has a specific design home awaiting.  It is not suitable for workshops as it is so very large-scale.  But more of that later…

And finally for now, here is a Hollywood-inspired cape trimmed with fur-yarn.  I love this very much and once you slip it on, you do come over all Judy Garland:

Workshop & Fashion Show, 30 June 2016: Knit the Drift Mittens from ‘Elements’

Sunday, January 17th, 2016

Come with me to Cornwall in June.  It’s not often you get that sort of offer is it?  On Thursday 30 June I am teaching at Coastal Yarns in Bude. The full-day workshop (10.30 – 4.30) is all about the Drift Mittens from Elements.


This workshop will be strictly limited for numbers so I suggest you contact the lovely Coastal girls now to get your place saved.

These mittens are knitted in the round – I used DPNs.  You can use other means but that is how I will teach it.  They are rather elegant, frosty and have some intriguing design features.  This includes the beaded, folded cuff sections, a lace-edged thumb and a neat ribbed hand.  I class these as suitable for someone who is reasonably confident, and who can already knit in the round.  Otherwise, no special skills will be needed as I will teach all the rest on the day.

And – after the workshop, they are hosting an exclusive Cornish fashion show for Elements. I will talk through the book’s design roots and will be featuring all the designs in the book.  You can see all 24 pieces, have a fondle, see them on and talk to me about what you’d like to make.  There will be wine, I believe, and snacks.  This is actually all my favourite things right there in one go:  Cornwall, a wool shop, lovely knitters, wine and crisps (I imagine.  It might be posher than that.  Olives, maybe, or vol-au-vents. I love a vol-au-vent!).  You can  come to both the workshop and show, or just one.

So please come to support hand-knitting, knit-wear design, and crisp-eating in Cornwall, on 30 June, which is just after my birthday so I may still be in birthday mode.

Folder beaded swatch

What We Say. What We Mean.

Thursday, January 7th, 2016

I love the subtlety of the English language.  In fact, I love the non-subtle words too.  I just love words.  But what you get when you combine English, as spoken by the British, is another language all together.

For example, in my other life, the one where I am grown up, wear business (like) outfits, carry, give out, and receive cards in the age-old business card exchange ceremony, that sort of thing, language is critical.  Each word I use in the corporate writing I do in this other life, is weighed and measured. My words have to be accurate, truthful, empathetic, sensitive, sometimes very forthright – and accessible.  But most of all, valuable.  Tough criteria.  I love it.

In normal life I like to de-code what people say, and arrive at what they mean. Sometimes, these are the same. I don’t hang out with a bunch of habitual liars.  Most of the time, we can take what we hear at face value. But often, this is only because we ourselves know the code-words.  Such as:

‘This cave is sporting’.  This almost certainly means it will be a challenging (see below) trip, especially for me, as ‘sporting’ is not playful or fun, its meaning ranges from ‘it may push you down a waterfall’ to ‘this will be very scary’.

‘Challenging’.  In life, and not just in caving, challenging means ‘this (thing we are being asked to do) is virtually impossible’.  Or ‘this (situation we are being asked to deal with) is a nightmare and there will never be a resolution’.  A challenging individual means: ‘this person is a knob-head’.  A variation of this is:  ‘I think they found it a bit challenging’.  This means they were hopeless at it, despite this being a very straight forward task, in the opinion of the person speaking.

‘I am not sure’.  This means I am completely sure, but as I am also sure I don’t agree with you/won’t do this/won’t be going anyway, I am saying ‘I am not sure’ in the hope and almost certain knowledge that you also speak my code and understand that I profoundly disagree/refuse.

Related to the above, is ‘Um, maybe’. It amounts to the same implacable determination not to go along with it, but is less formal.

‘You might like it’.  This means ‘I hated it, and I think, since we are friends and share some basic settings, you also will hate it’.  There is an even more subtle sub-text here.  It can also mean (but not always):  ‘If you like it, maybe we are not friends after all’.  This latter part depends on the circumstances.  For example, if it is whether or not dried currants are a delicious food item and should be allowed to be on the planet (the answer is they are not, and should not, by the way), it doesn’t matter.  Much.  An even further sub-text in this simple sentence which has more turns than a corkscrew drop in OFD, is:  ‘You might like it, but I don’t really like you, and so if you do like it, I will be confirmed in my dislike of it, and of you.’

‘You may want to think about your options’.  If someone says this to you, it means the course you are suggesting, or are on, is doomed. This is how sensitive people, or people who you are paying to undertake work for you say:  You are joking! Rather you than me, mate!

‘Interesting’.  This is a tricky one, as it genuinely can mean that the person finds the subject of the sentence interesting.  I think it depends on what it is applied to.  For example, a book.  In this case it probably means it is actually interesting. If it is food, it probably means:  ‘I think this is rank’. Then it may be followed by ‘you might like it’ (see above) and thus you know it means ‘This is rank.  If you like it, our friendship is over.’  The sentence would be something like:  ‘Mmmm (tasting the dried-currant-curry-jam)…interesting…(spitting out jam)…you might like it?’

‘Somehow, we just didn’t “click”‘.  Very straight forward and basic code for:  ‘I hated this person, but it wasn’t my fault’.

‘I was a bit miffed’.  Easily translates into:  I was madder than a bull-dog with a hornet up its nose.  If this is accompanied by the speaker miming ‘a bit’ with their fingers indicating a tiny portion of miffed, it means:  I actually wanted to drop-kick someone into orbit about this.

‘I speak as I find’ (regional variations apply, such as ‘I call a spade a spade’, a very bizarre claim to anything other than spade-recognition which is, quite rightly, a very lowly prized skill). This is both code and a warning.  It is code for:  ‘I am about to be very rude to you but as I have implied that it is a virtue, you will feel unable to respond in kind.’  It is also fair warning to you to leave, never engage that person again, and/or, be ready with a cutting response such as ‘bugger off you miserable old scrote’.  I detest spade-speakers and as soon as someone utters these dread words I just walk off mid-insult because I know from bitter experience that they will be nasty and I will be unable to resist being gloriously horrid back with interest.

‘Well, it was all a bit odd…’ This is code for:  ‘it was utterly, unnervingly and inexplicable weird, everyone there was quite mad and I feel blessed to have got away with my life.’  It is usually applied to drinks parties given by a friend of someone you are staying with.  Variations include private viewings at modern art galleries and interpretative dance events.

‘It was a bit embarrassing.’ The incident that the speaker is remembering was so mortifyingly awful that they still blush to the roots of their arm-pit hair when they accidentally recall any of the events of that evening, walk past the building or even see someone wearing a red coat.  They are hoping to reduce the therapy sessions and medication soon.  The event may be quite innocuous.  For all we know, they simply spilled a cup of water on someone who was wearing a red coat.  Or it might involve a story well worth telling.  But we will never know, because this is also code for: I can never speak of these events.  You must not ask me to.  And because we speak the code, we just nod and look away to give them a chance to mop their beaded brow in private.

‘There is an odd dynamic.’  Often used in corporate circles but equally can apply to any group of people who are trying, for reasons of work or shared interests to do something together.  It means:  ‘In my opinion, A hates B and B will never get along with C.  Etcetera.  Meetings are an endless vale of tears.  We may as well be from opposing tribes’.  Tip:  if you ever get offered a job and they actually say:  ‘there is an odd dynamic in this office/group’, just run away because they are either after fresh meat or a saviour and you really don’t want to be either.

‘It’s all water under the bridge now’.  This means they have absolutely not forgotten the incident. They will never forget it.  It is not so much water under a bridge as water in a festering pool of un-moving fetid water, that will never move again except for the times when they stir it all up it with the long, bony finger of resentment.

‘I quite enjoyed it’.  To the British, this innocent phrase is a small kingdom of understatement that can go one of two ways.  You would probably need to have been there, or know the person very well to know which way.  The ways are: 1) I hated every minute of it.  And 2)  I absolutely adored it. Personally, if I absolutely adore something I am more than happy to say so.  So if it was me, it would mean I did not enjoy it.  As I said, you’d need to know the person, because Mark, for example, would simply say if he did not enjoy something (assuming he was asked, otherwise he would say nothing); but if he loved it, he might murmur that it was ‘alright, yes, not too bad. Really.’

‘You know me.  I never (insert word such as gossip, or argue)’.  A further example of the code and warning combo.  The speaker is coding that they habitually do the thing they claim to be a stranger to.  Furthermore, they are warning you to tacitly agree that they never gossip or argue even though they may as well have the legend GOSSIP tattooed across their forehead.  It is almost always a precursor to some gossip or an attempt at an argument.

‘I’m sure it will all work out.’  The speaker is prepared to wager their house on it not working out.

‘S/he is rather assertive’.  In the opinion of the speaker, the subject is a towering inferno of unmanageable and dangerous aggression.

‘There are some *quite* nice areas there I’m sure.’  So easily broken, it is not really code at all, and it plainly means that in the view of the speaker, this destination will be really unpleasant, and you ought not to go on holiday/move there.

‘So.  That’s all sorted then.’  This code is the last resort of people who wish with all their soul to avoid an in-depth ‘let’s have it all out’ discussion of the sort that some folk go in for.  If you are the sort of person who likes, even craves, ‘let’s have it all out’ discussions (and I am not), well, that’s fine – (which is code for:  ‘it’s not fine for me, but I am sure it is fine for you, just do it with someone else).  If someone says this, they are begging you, or the person to whom they are speaking, to allow the conversation to be closed at once, with no confrontation of emotions and feelings or analysis of events. I am very firmly in this camp.  But if you are not, that’s fine. (See above).

How rich our language is!  It’s a language and a set of behaviours and warning flags all in one.  There are countless other examples, I am sure.  But where would we be without code?  We’d all be aggressive spade-speakers, or appalled recipients of rudeness. We would be accepting jobs in cult-HQ, or invitations to participative mime evenings that we were quite unsuited for. There would be lengthy arguments about dried-currant-curry-jam, and extended silences about bridges and water. We’d be miserable.  So, code.  It’s our short cut to peace, even if it is of the armed variety.  I quite like it.