Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for February, 2016

Rupert and the Peanuts

Monday, February 29th, 2016

Warning:  do not read this if you are eating, have just eaten, are about to eat, and/or object to the word arse (for my USA-based reader, this is ass).

So, Rupert is both clever and deeply stupid.  He is the greediest dog I have ever met, and his greed creates levels of cunning that are quite awesome. He knows that in Lily’s room there are lots of lovely things.  He once hit the mother-lode in there and snaffled a whole Thornton’s Easter egg, resulting in an emergency dash to the vet for stomach evacuating.  So we are very vigilant about keeping it firmly latched.  But, with the cunning of a fox who has the keys to KFC, he has now learned that if he hurls his stumpy, barrel-chested little body at the door over and over again, it sometimes de-latches. And then he is in.

Last week, two things happened which became related.  First, Florence and Will moved house.  This is their first home-owner house and it’s lovely, but it is a project.  Second, Rupert, un-be-known to us de-latched the door to Lily’s room.  Some time later, Lily came home and asked me if peanuts were harmful to dogs.  I was of course instantly on high-alert.  She had found an empty, carefully ripped-open, bag of peanuts.  It had been full and in tact. A swift Googleize revealed that they are not toxic but being high in fat, they are not recommended.  In bulk.

That day, we toiled for hours helping with the move.  The dogs were left at home with one of us taking it in turns to be with them, let them out and so on.  That evening, we went back to the new house with the traditional moving in day offering – fish and chips and champagne.  We took the dogs. Rupert seemed a little restless but the day had been unusual.

As soon as we entered the new house, he began sniffing and running round, stopping, sniffing, running…There is a kaleidoscope of patterned carpets in this new house, riots of florals, swirls and curls – a migraine at your feet.  On a patterned carpet of many shades, it is hard to see peanuts which are being forcibly ejected from a dog’s arse.  It is far easier to feel them, with your stocking-ed feet.  At the same moment as the stench of peanut-poo hit my nose, Florence skidded through a small but crunchy portion of re-cycled peanut.  The poor neighbours.  I have a stomach so weak, I can’t even bear to smell anything gross without actual heaving and several times, when changing nappies or cleaning up after pets, I have added to the chaos by actually vomiting.

But this was their new house.  Bravely, I grabbed handfuls of the newspaper that had been wrapping china and began trying to collect the nut debris. Rupert can move quite fast when he wants to and with every bound, he fired another tiny peanut bomb out of his arse.  He was clearly feeling much better with each projectile evacuation and he really picked up some pace in all the downstairs rooms.  Florence was retching into the sink as she ripped off her socks.  So that was no help.  Finally he stopped.  I then conducted a finger-tip (with rubber gloves, calm down) search of the chaotic carpets. Whole peanuts, when shot out of a dog’s bum, are beige.  There is a lot of beige in the patterns of those carpets.

Anyway, I shampooed the carpets, washed the socks, immersed myself in neat Dettol, had a massive glass of Chard and really couldn’t face my fish and chips.  Rupert?  He’s fine.  He always is.

Here’s a New Course

Friday, February 26th, 2016

Knitting gifts in time for Christmas.  If you start in September, you can knit loads and be all smug and wrapped up by at least 2 weeks before Christmas Day.  There will be hats and mitts and kittens*, oh my!

There are still plenty of places available on the Saturday course.  Do come.  It is repeated on Sunday but that is full.

Aside from being devoted to gift knitting, this will be a Christmas free day.  Promise.

*There will be no kittens.

New Courses

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

I am going to add 2 dates in September for Knit Gifts For Christmas.  These will be the same event, repeated.  If you are not on my email alert list, please contact me to be added this week.  The gifts will be small (1 – 3 balls of yarn, typically) and fairly fast gift-knits.  I think there will hats for adults and children and mittens for ladies (‘cos ladies love mittens.  Fact).  I can knit the adult male sized hat in three evenings or a series of The Returned on Netflix.  I can knit the mittens in a week of evenings or two series of Once Upon a Time on Netflix. So by having these in September, you get plenty of time to make a few as gifts.

I was thinking of another topic for September and based on feedback, I think that would be a throw, but I think I will soon run out of weekends.  An option I’d like to explore is holding full workshops on weekdays, probably Fridays.  What do you think?  I know this will limit a lot of people, but I always teach in shops on weekdays and these classes are usually full. It would enable me to offer more dates and subjects, which I would like to do.

I am also definitely going to add a new Throncho date, hopefully for 2016 but it may slip into 2017, for a special day on learning to knit my new Throncho, which is an elegant DK wool, stripy garment, knitted based on iCord casting on and iCord casting off.  Here it is:

iCord Throncho 1

This deceptively simple looking garment is constructed in a way I have never seen used (but then, I have decided not to Google-ize it in case it has). I know iCord cast ons and offs are sometimes used to begin and complete an item, but I have used them throughout the work.  Thus, the work runs in both horizontal and vertical directions.   There is no sewing up or tacking on of iCords – they are an integral part of the design.iCord Throncho 3

Anyway this day will be a fairly intense teach as we will need to show you the easily-mastered but highly unusual techniques we have developed to make this work – and it works like a dream.  You will have to swatch, here, with Madam Morgan and me.  There will two item choices – the full Throncho, or a skinny scarf version.  Both are based on the same techniques.

OK I am off to look in awe at the red-nose I have blooming in the middle of my face.  Maybe by the time these courses run I will less infectious – and on that happy note, be sure to let me know if you want to get an alert.


Caving and Quarrying

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

Last year, I caved a lot from January to September and then stopped.  I do this from time to time.  Florence and Will caved less and I always and only cave with them, as I have insufficient skills and confidence to cave with anyone else or anyone from my club.  Anyway, we are resuming and we kicked off our year with a walking-trip to Box.  Box is a mine, but purists will point out that it is a quarry.  If this sort of distinction interests you (it did me, a bit) I refer you to the Institute of Quarrying.  You are most welcome.

This quarry (mine) is a network of dozens of miles – yes, miles – of tunnels.   Here is a good brief description and scroll down for some clear images of what you will see in Box.

The entrance is locked and unlike many locked caves, it does not have a fail-safe door or gate that will always allow exit, so if you were admitted by a party with a key and they locked it once inside, you would be locked in.  I am imagining you all packing your picnics and setting off to Box this weekend, you see so I am just warning you. Here is the main way in from Box village:

There is a very brief and muddy entrance crawl.  All the rest of the trip is walking and scrambling at most.  This is not caving.  It is cave-like in that it is almost all utterly dark, so you need hard-hats and lights, back up lights, good boots and clothes that are warm and that you do not mind getting trashed.

This trip was most notable for being the first time we have lured Lily underground.  Here is Lily, working a Zoolander approach to ‘caving’ gear, with her friend, who also joined us for this ‘fun’ day out.  This was before we went in:

We were a party of 7.  We had a survey which is next to useless once you walk about 20 meters from the entrance.  We had 2 people with us who had been in Box twice.  We all had the right gear.  We also despite all of that, got hopelessly lost.  But to be fair, we were warned that this would happen.

There is graffiti everywhere in the main tunnels, much of which is possibly helpful as it was written by explorers to aid route-finding.  But beware as I think much of it is bogus or just inaccurate.  Each tunnel splits, left and right, and then each new way splits and so on, creating a seemingly infinite network of tunnels, most of which look identical to one another.  A short way in, you reach The Cathedral. This is a vast chamber with a large gap in the ceiling way above you, admitting daylight.  Looking up from the bottom of the pit:

From this hub, passages divert and within moments, you are in a maze.  The things that most interested me were the relics of quarrying that litters this place. For example, an old stone-cutters two-man saw, embedded in a stone, still operable. Here are 2 of our explorers mining:

The quarry (mine) dates back to Roman times, but quarrying continued until the 1960s.  At the far end of one of the passages, the MOD has a locked facility underground.  One day, I hope to get closer to this area.

But perhaps the most poignant feature is the writing on the cut stone walls of the passages.  All over, in pencil, are words and more often, sums.  The miners worked out their sums for quantities of stone cut and moved, and related it to what they would be paid.  Here are some:

I wouldn’t mind going back for a longer trip – there is a good through trip which can take some hours – with a knowledgeable leader.  I was afraid when we got so lost this time, because unlike caves, there is no real way for route-finding by feature or obstacle.  I also worried that we had finally got Lily underground and then we got lost.  Our trip  was quite brief and we were not lost for very long, but I was unhappy.  People have got very lost in here, for days on end.  If you do go, take a survey, try and get a leader, and make sure you have a reliable call out who knows what to do.

Two weeks later, Florence, Will and I went back to my default cave, GB.  My third ever Mendip cave and my favourite of all the caves I have seen, which to be fair is not a  vast list but it is dozens.  It had been very wet, and the upper series of GP, known as Ladder Dig which I have visited, sumps in wet weather but we were just keen to have a leisurely ‘standard’ round trip.  This involves climbing up the waterfall, and I have done this a few times, but this time was the first time it has been really wet. It was great to see the cave being so lively.  Because of my unique caving style, I like to linger in waterfalls and stream-ways, so I did get very wet.  But, I was also permitted to lead the trip (except for the bits where I might have fallen off the cave) and I loved doing that.  GB is the perfect cave.  Fact.

The Allotment in February

Saturday, February 20th, 2016

It’s been fairly quiet down on the allotment.  Well, actually it’s been stormy here and the allotment has been a bit bashed, but I have not been down much recently due to being the UK’s research hub for the most colds and coughs one person can have and not be a solo-global-epidemic.  Four plague attacks since October.  Just greedy.

So I have only had a few wanders down there since January and usually just to have a look, but the last week I got some actual work done.  First, I noticed that the torrential rain storms had clearly surged their way right over our plot on the way to flooding the plots at the bottom of the field.  In several places, top soil was just washed off the land onto the grass, as here on the bottom corner (the animal footprints must be fox I think):

But aside from the water pipe being blown off the side of the shed, the main problem is the broad beans.  They got off to such an amazing start with the mild and wet December, they are tall – and vulnerable.  I have re-firmed them all but I think I will be staking them next week.  Do you think they will be OK?  Some of them did die, kind of rotted off near the base, probably due to nibbling rabbits but I planted the gaps with my spares.  I do hope they will make it.

I have made no progress with the small strip of land in the middle – the last bit of the main plot to be dug – as this is where we think our arch for courgettes and squash will go, so I want that decided.  Or, we may have a large brassica cage there.  Here is another query: do you think I can grow courgettes up, as climbers, if I tie in and support them?  They have spiral tendrils, like they want to climb, but I have never seen it done and the interweaves tell me nothing useful, so I am asking you, gentle reader, because if you can’t, I don’t want to try it and look like a right prat in front of my allotment neighbours who all seem startlingly Good at Everything.

But up at the top of the plot, by the goats, I have re-dug The Burial Mound which yielded a very satisfying haul of weed roots, and begun digging the rest of it near to the where the potato towers will go.  This is not the easy work that the rest of this area was but it’s not too bad.  I need this clear so I can a) use the excess soil, of which there is a lot, to gradually fill the potato towers, and b) this is where I want the runner beans to go as I think they will love this rich, fertile soil being the greediest of crops really.

I have about 5 feet left to clear, which doesn’t sound much but it is hard work, as the grass here is thatched and compacted.

Meanwhile, we have now got some old tyres and this is where they will live; we need about 4 more.  I think a tower of 5 is about right and probably not fatal if one toppled onto me, or anyone.  Here they are:

I have bought 2 sorts of first early potatoes, a red one and a white one, whose names escape me now and anyway, it was a random choice based entirely on the images of melting butter all over the cooked potatoes which accompanied the display in Wilkos. I am a marketeer’s dream.  Also, do not ever buy your seeds in expensive garden centres, which anyway largely only seem to stock candles, cakes and slate-art.  Go to Wilkos.  I adore it there and I think you will, too. These Wilkos finest seed spuds are now chitting, in the shed:

And you know I had the trees felled here in the garden?  Well, we are transporting some of the chunky bits down to the allotment to serve as seats and nature reserves. Here are the first ones.  I sat on them today but briefly as it was rather damp:

There are signs that some of the other, more established plot holders who therefore have no need to dig in winter, are back in harness, though I never or rarely seem to coincide with them, perhaps because I rarely go over weekends.  But, I must tell you that the very overgrown plot I feared we would get has been taken! Do you remember? Yes that one – and so much work has been done there. I have seen him digging in it a few times but he must attend almost every day, he has got so much done.  But my, it is an utter mud bath my dear, an absolute swamp!  So hats off to him.  Or them.

It has been just over 4 months since we got the plot.  I still love it and the best is yet to come.

New Courses, September 2016

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

I*think* I am going to add 2 new courses in September 2016.

The thoughts I have in mind are:

New Moebius Knitting – maybe a weekend with the option of learning how to knit these lovely things on Day 1, and then attending Day 2 for more Moebiusing, or just attending Day 2 if you can already make a basic Moebius and want to try one of the TWO NEW DESIGNS I have created.


Christmas Gifts.  A one-day workshop featuring 2 fairly small and fast gift-knit items, held in plenty of time for making gifts for Christmas.  I imagine there would be hats (sized, child X 2 sizes to man, via woman), cute household items…not decorations, as these feature more in the November Christmas at Court Cottage days.


A textured throw/blanket, which is in the design phase but is inspired by – MY ALLOTMENT!  To be fair, this is currently mainly mud, so I am looking ahead to the days when it will be in full spate.  Do not worry, no actual beans or carrots will be knitted.


New Thronchos.  I have two new designs in fetal to advanced stages.  One is DK, one is possibly aran.  I know.  Aran!

What do you think?  I can probably manage two of the above.  Would you come?  Answers please as Madam Morgan and I need to plan it all.

Heads Up: 2 places available for Intarsia with Donna Jones at Court Cottage, 11 June

Monday, February 8th, 2016

Two spaces have become available on this course, which is happening on 11 June, due to a cancellation.  It’s a fab day and something I will never, ever teach because, well, there’s Donna, so why would I?  However, I will be faffing about with bobbins, making tea and being Donna’s unruly assistant.

Want to knit this?

Birdy cushion by Donna

Course you do!

Book here.

The Smith and Jones Blog

Sunday, February 7th, 2016

Aside from my meanderings here, I also blog now and then on the Smith & Jones Knits website.  There, due largely to the restraining influence (in a very good way) of Donna, I blog only about knitting, where as here you get me blathering on about trees and caves and allotment and food and – well, life.  But then, I have always been very clear that this blog is by a knitter but may not always be about knitting.  Smith & Jones Knits is all about knitting.  So if you are frankly sick of my underground activities, or could not care less if my garlic is going well down on the allotment, check out Smith & Jones Knits.

One cool thing that we are doing is slowly building a little catalog of articles about the designs in Elements, our new book. Each month, we are selecting an item and taking it in turns to dissect the design.  It will reveal a little about the design ideas behind each one but the main point is to give you an in-depth, informal tutorial on the knitting of the piece.  In a written pattern, you can’t always add all the tips and wrinkles that may make it a more pleasurable experience for you, if you knit one of the designs.  Also, we are now starting to teach some of the designs and this gives us invaluable data about any areas in a design that a knitter might find a wee bit tricky – we can help.

My first one is now up, and it is a detailed look at knitting the Lumi Mittens:

Next, Donna is going to tell you all about the design and knitting of Birch, a beautiful waterfall-front waistcoat with an ingenious design twist:


We also write about other things, and recently I posted about how Donna and I approached our story boards for Elements – and how we then used these to make sure we delivered our vision.

I do really hope you will drop by and visit Smith & Jones Knits, because Donna and I are probably first and foremost teachers of knitting, which is very firmly driven by our designing.  The S&J blog will evolve – is evolving – into a unique resource for anyone who has Elements, because we are really passionate about making sure you get the most from each item you knit from it – and I do not know of a similar resource out there.