Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for May, 2017

A Bruising Encounter with Honeymead Hole

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

Honeymead Hole is a small, spiky cave on the Mendips, near Maesbury.  It is unlocked, situated in a shallow depression in a field and guarded by a heavy metal hinged cover.  This cover is too heavy for me to lift!

Here is a short film of the opening (digging, as opposed to a champagne reception) of the cave in the ’90s, by Wessex member, Pete Hann.

It was a new cave for me, so I was glad to go with Florence and Will who had been there the week before on a club trip.  I like new caves.  I don’t cave as much as I did at the start of my caving adventures but I do still go and when I go, I (mainly) really enjoy it.  However if you don’t go fairly often, you do lose your cave fitness and also become slightly softer.  Honeymead Hole is not for the soft.

It is a short network of largely vertical passages.  The entrance is a lovely smooth-sided concrete shaft with a thoughtful fixed metal ladder.  No rope/belay needed, you’d be hard pressed to fall off, even me. This is about 25 feet long, and this shaft gives way to cave at the bottom; there is another very short metal ladder that gets you past an awkward bit and then you’re climbing down cave walls.

Basically, it is a very small cave, tight in places.  The interesting thing for me is the shale-layers that you can see as you descend, and within this, fossils.  There are a few sections with fairly pretty small formations and I think if it was less muddy, there would be crystals to be seen on the walls here and there. The rock is not smooth as is often is in some caves in the Mendips.  Maybe it doesn’t get a lot of traffic, (this wears the passages smooth in some places) but I think it is just different from many Mendip Caves.  It is jagged and spiky.  The dark rocks grip your suits and gloves and it makes maneuvering yourself through small spaces quite tricky and painful.

There is a series of fairly easy climbs down and a couple of places where you need to post yourself through gaps on the floor, with low ceilings so you are on your back or your side and thrutching.  The main area of this sort of frankly joyless activity is shortly after the first electron ladder pitch.  I think this pitch would be free-climbable even by me if I had a hand-line.  As it was, we pitched an electron ladder that we took with us but didn’t bother to belay anyone.  I am not a big fan of these wire ladders but this was easy.

This gets you into a small chamber and then on, downwards to some other climbs.  Then a short section of tight tubing, only very sharp and pointy.  The first bit is fine, it is small but you’re able to wriggle along on your back fairly easily.  The end, however, narrows and though it’s not a true squeeze – you never had to man-handle your boobs or hips and force yourself past a rock as you do in some squeezes – it is tight and constricted – and slightly on a down slope.  The lower part of this tube-like section  – so about the lower 12 inches – is really narrow so you need to be above this height – but you can’t crawl or stand, obviously, you have to be lying down, on one side.  So you have to hold your body weight up on one arm and then sort of thrutch forwards.  I was advised to go feet first and I ought to have done so but I wanted the extra control I felt I would have by being able to see (you can’t turn your head once committed to this bit).  This was an error.  I could not support myself on my left arm for long enough, or turn over, so I collapsed. It was fine, I slowly dragged myself on, but you must beware getting the leading arm trapped under your body.  I eventually hauled myself onto Will who was waiting for me at the end, where it opened out into a lofty 4 feet of space.

Onward, to a further little climb, some pokey bits, over a pitch (which we didn’t do but if you do it, it does need a ladder) and onto another pitch that goes down to Blood Alley or up to The Gods.  I watched Will free climb up and down to all of this but did not go.  If I was to go back I would probably be able to get up and down to these with just a hand line I think.  There is a bolt if you want to rig.

This point is not far off the end of the cave; there are other bits and pieces, much of it smaller and probably even spikier than what we encountered. My little mini-meltdown in the squeeze meant I needed 3 glucose tablets and a drink of water.  Then the return trip.  I was dreading the squeezing passage but as is almost always the case, it was easier doing it up and I went head first and managed to stay up on my arm for the really tight part. Fear is a great trainer. The climbs back up were all easier – the cave, whilst really pointy and sharp, does offer excellent hand and foot holds for climbing about.  The issue is really that the climbs are also quite tight, so you have to climb and post yourself into small spaces.

This cave sometimes has ‘bad air’ – low levels of CO2.  I had a bad headache for much of this trip and was breathless at times.  It is normal to be breathless if you exert yourself, especially in very small, hot spaces where you have to use a lot of energy to make a little progress, but I was much more breathless than usual.  I was also unable to recover, which I generally do very quickly, so Will thought maybe there was c0.5% – 1.00% CO2.  In places.  It was fine in the first sections. So if you go there, read up on the signs of CO2 intake and beware.  My headache more or less went away on exiting the cave.

The wire ladder up was great with a dead easy exit, and then, after one or two more climbs and a narrow, short thrutch, you are back at the climb up to the metal ladders.  A strong person needs to go up first to push the lid, I could not have done it.

I was exhausted by this 2.5 hour trip because it was all really physical.  No walking passage at all, and very little crouching passage.  It is you, in an extended series of vertical or horizontal hugs, from start to finish.  On returning home, I found an impressive array of bruises, mainly on my elbows and arms, but also on both hips.  This is testemony to the way I forced by body through the tiny spaces and also my lack of cave hardiness.  However, I loved it! Will go back.

The Allotment in Year 2

Friday, May 26th, 2017

I am so glad I kept the allotment on.  Year 1 – The Year Of The Great Dig – was good, but very hard.  Year 2 is proving to be far nicer.

This is day one, 18 months ago:

Allotment Day 1 1 Allotment Day 1 2

The lessons I learned from the first 12 months have stood me in good stead.  Mainly, this is about recognition and hopefully control of pests, and knowing what to plant that will probably do well and we will enjoy.  And when to plant/sow of course.  These images are from this year, about 3 weeks ago – the plants are further on now and the spaces have almost all been filled up:

allotment beans mid may 2017 Allotment cage mesh and beans allotment top - with new planter Allotment early May 2018 1

I had a lengthy and boring debate with myself and anyone who would listen about netting for the brassica cage.  Yes, you read that right.  Mere mortals can only gaze in wonder at my utterly fascinating rock and roll life style, I know.  If I am not debating super-fine mesh netting, I am probably Googling ‘ways to kills twatting pests on my allotment, only organic and preferably not too horrid, please and thanks’.

Anyway, to replace the netting that the cage kit came with would have cost upwards of £250 – maybe £300.  As Mark was heard to murmur, we could buy brussels and cabbages in That Waitrose for several years and still have change…I agree.  It contradicts all the ‘rules’ (mainly self imposed, it is true) that I have applied to being an allotmenteer.  The main rule is that it ought to be economically viable.  But the old netting is not fine, and it admits little aphids and pests, chiefly cabbage white fly.  The cage was infested with these little sods in 2016.  I didn’t know what they were so by the time I got around to trying some incredibly ineffective organic control, it was too late. I am trying to be organic.  But sometimes I do wonder if I might as well sit in the cage and chant/clash finger cymbals/light incense. It can’t be less effective than fatty acids and nematodes have been…

This year, I am combating them and any other insect pests, with my new organic weapon, Diatomaceous Earth (DE).  This is a powder, slightly coarser than talcum powder and off-white. It is ground up fossils.  River fossils to be exact.  You sprinkle this onto the plants/earth/critters and the tiny but deadly razor-like structure of the powder particles damages the exoskeletons of the insects if it touches them. Then they die.  So I think that if I see any of them, I will sprinkle them directly and as a precaution, I am lightly dusting the plants and the earth in the cage, and also the potato towers – for I am having another go at growing potatoes in tyre-towers, despite the miserable failure in 2016. I think that if I break the cycle of the cabbage white fly, I may prevail.

DE is organic and harmless to humans though you are advised not to inhale it or get in in your eyes.  If it rains, you have to re-apply it, and if there is any on your crops when you harvest them, you just give them a good wash.  But you have to beware getting it into your eyes or breathing it in.  So I have to wear a surgical mask and my cycling glasses in order to apply it.  If anything could further single me out as a bit of a weirdo, it will be this. One problem is that as soon as I put on the mask thing, the glasses completely fog up so I have nudge them off my nose slightly.  I try to do it when there is no one else about…anyway, I will let you know how this goes!

Old crops from 2017 that I am repeating are:

  • Broad beans
  • Garlic (2016 fail)
  • Potatoes in towers (2016 fail)
  • Runner and French beans
  • Pea shoots
  • Carrots
  • Raspberries – absolutely thriving this year!
  • Rhubarb
  • Strawberries – to be frank I have the sulkiest, meanest strawberries I have ever seen and this is their last chance. I have taken runners from last year so these are Year 1 plants.  2018 is your cut-off year, guys, put out some of the good stuff or you’re compost.
  • Courgettes
  • Japanese squash
  • Kale*
  • Brussels*
  • Chard*

*All victims to a greater or lesser extent of the Great Twat-Off Festival of 2016.

So I have ruthlessly cut out Kohl Rabi, broccoli and purple sprouting.  All pointless.

New for 2017:

  • Giant Red Mustard leaves
  • A red curly kale called Scarlett
  • Red cabbage
  • Summer cabbage
  • Various different squash

Here is the red mustard.  It needs a lot of space, it is far bigger than a lettuce crop:

allotment red mustard

 

This is good picked small and eaten as a salad leaf – not that mustardy, less spicy than wild rocket. It is also nice wilted like spinach when the leaves are much bigger.  I cut out most of the stem and then chop the leaves into slices, and wilt it with butter and salt and garlic.  I love it.  The people for whom I have cooked this are less impressed.

Here are the early 2017 harvests of pea shoots and mustard:

allotment pea shoots and red mustard

 

 

 

 

 

Workshops in 2018 – again!

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Well, we had a fabulous weekend of teaching here.  Two new groups of nascent Steekers have now been released into the wild, and they all did amazingly well.  What I love about people who latch on to new skills like this is the open-mindedness that they come with.  It is so refreshing and I do thank all the students in 2016 and this year who have embraced this.  I think they will agree that, broken down into logical stages, steeking is not frightening, but rather the gateway to even more enjoyable and yes, even more ambitious and beautiful knitting.

We have now taught this Bee Design Steeking class 7 times and still I love it each time we do it.  However, that has now drawn to a close and I am looking ahead to the new designs for 2017 and into 2018.

I now have a pretty focused but still draft plan for 2018’s events.  I am not going to blog these in detail now.  But if you want to hear about them as they evolve, please contact me and I will add you to my email alert list.  That, rather than the blog, will be the forum where I will pre-announce or at least ramble on a bit.  Once it is all set up, I will pop it on here.

Of course, 2017 is far from over.  In the next 5 weeks we have 3 further days here which is the conclusion of the busiest Spring Term ever at Court Cottage. There will have been 13 events since late February.  There are 7 in the Autumn Term and I won’t be adding any as far as I know, although the Lined Fairisle Cowl event has sold out and been very popular so we’d be happy to re-run that – if you fancy it, let me know.  I have 3 names on a waiting list so if there are a few more I will have a go-er!  We could do it in early 2018 or in November 2017.  It’s a lovely, easy-going Fairisle knit with an option to line the cowl in plain silk stocking stitch.  No steeking, no homework, just lovely fast Fairisle.

Brioche Cowls

Friday, May 19th, 2017

I have two events in June on Brioche Cowls.  This is Brioche knitted in two colours, in the round.  It is stage two of our 2017 Brioche events.  You do not need to have attended the earlier Brioche course to come to this one. In fact, knitting Brioche in the round is rather simpler than when knitted flat, but of course, it is knitted in the round which is not something everyone is comfortable with.  However, it is possible to knit these (in fact, it is preferable) on a single circular needle, either 40cm or 60cm long, depending on how wide you want the cowl to be.

In the round, Brioche is a simple two round process and with no ‘ends’ as you have with flat Brioche, there is no sliding, turning or edge stitch business.

Brioche is a stitch that will reward your efforts.  And by effort, we are not talking about the feats of Hercules.  No, this is rather more tame than that. It really requires you to open your mind and leave some old knitting habits behind, just for a while.

As with any new skill, it can take a while to assimilate the unusual – or rather, new – technique but none of it is at all difficult as it is of course only knitting, purling, slipping stitches and moving your yarn back or forth.  And you can do all these things already.  Brioche is just a stitch that re-arranges the order somewhat.

I have designed three cowls.  One is chunky and it is knitted in a luxurious silk wool yarn; I chose a soft grey and a sweet, subdued yellow.  This uses one hank of each.  Another is colourwashed and is in Kidsilk Haze plus a DK wool – I used Felted Tweed.  Finally, an aran Brioche cowl for which I used grey and navy blue.

The classes are limited to 6 participants only.  There is 1 place available on each of the two days – the 24th of June and the 25th of June.  Use the links if you fancy having a go at this rather lovely new skill, and whipping up a Brioche cowl in double quick time.

Brioche Cowl In the round - aran

grey and yellow silk Brioche cowl

Brioche Cowl Colourwashed

 

Workshop Planning

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

Brioche Knitting:  The Marmite of the knitting workshop except that I think about 50% of people hate Marmite whereas only about 3% of people gag on Brioche (knitting). It has been very interesting teaching this recently, and we have taught it quite a lot. And I have been reflecting on what it has taught me.

Personally I love Brioche, partly because it is pleasing to look at and to wear.  Partly because it is different.  And partly because it is soothingly rhythmical, assuming you enjoy that rhythm of course.  Here is some of the Brioche in the round cowls for the next batch of workshops – easy and so elegant:

Happily many participants, like me, enjoy Marmite – but I do understand that some prefer jam.  For example.  I suppose the key thing for me is that it is a new challenge.  However, while most people do like the end result and a majority enjoy getting there, it is not for everyone and I began to think of knitting categories which are not for me.

I hate knitting intarsia for example. I admire it, often and in the hands of designers such as Donna Jones, it is very beautiful and a long way from the deadly picture jumper with which it is often (sometimes unfairly) associated.  But I can knit it.  I even knitted a whole intarsia blanket, once.  I hated the knitting of it and I will never fall in love, I just know it. I am also glad I gave it a more than fair crack.  A single bed sized blanket is a good effort, isn’t it?  Many years ago I basically taught myself to do it from a book.  I cracked it, job done, move on.

Socks are another area that I do not love. I like them more than intarsia (but then, I like going to the dentist more than that).  I just get so bored.

Very Hard Lace.  That’s a mystery to me.  I love lace.  But the monastic silence type of lace is just awful.

Finishing off.  I like doing this.  I hate teaching it and I won’t ever teach it again.  When I worked as a free-lancer for Rowan – and in those days, you were basically working solely for Rowan but self-employed – we had to offer a range of workshops to retailers and you signed up for the ones you could/would teach and they picked from that menu.  I taught finishing off for years.  This workshop is great and really, everyone ought to go on one or at least learn about how important tension is and how to mattress stitch.  But not here, with me.  It was the deadliest teaching day ever.  It is good for you – but not very enjoyable.  Frankly, that’s what yoga and sorting out the freezer are for.

My workshops are planned months ahead.  This begins about 9 months ahead of the next year with a theoretical discussion with Kathryn, and formerly with Millington, about what we think is possible, would be do-able, might be fun.  It also draws upon the experience of the current or last programme.  Because I think of it as a programme.  Otherwise it might end up being all about Kidsilk Haze, knitted in the round and beaded. It needs to offer a range of things:  new skills, new ideas, some ‘foundation’ skills, new designs, new concepts – and they all need to be translated into real, live projects because whilst I am a big fan of swatching, as you may know, I also know that a workshop based only on swatches is unleavened, unseasoned and far from satisfying for both the student and the teacher.  In the old days, my approach of almost always having a workshop that was based on new techniques (or old ones) but was layered into a real, live project was quite unusual.  I plan to continue with this approach, though for my sake, it needs modifying.

Some decisions have been made already and others are forming into fairly firm objectives. These are, in order of importance:

  • There will be fewer events in 2018; associated, partly, with fewer projects.  This is my key decision I suppose.  I plan to teach no more than five topics or new projects for 2018, with only one or two days for each. I don’t suddenly have a bigger room, as if by magic.  No, it will still be small and intimate.  There will just be less. I hear it’s the new more.
  • Some renewed emphasis on design – from the participants.  I think I will re-introduce one design-based teach, similar to the Design Weekends. Your vision, encouraged, facilitated and enabled by us.
  • One, maybe two, ‘back-to-basics’ topics.  This will depend largely on if I like teaching it, to be honest.  So crochet which I am frankly awful at, and finishing off are out.
  • A new colour-work topic.  No, intarsia, we have established that it won’t be you haven’t we? Put your hand down.
  • New pastures in new places.  Where this will take me and Kathryn…well, as yet we are not sure, but they are on our horizon. You are welcome to come with us.

One thing I have loved teaching, designing and knitting in the last three years is Fairisle.  My own take on this, from colour-washing small accessories through to the huge monochrome beaded Fairisle cowl for Elements and culminating in the Bee Blanket and Cushion, which included steeking, has been a joy from beginning to end.  I am not a traditional Fairisle designer although I am fervently traditional when it comes to the use of more than two colours in one row – that is beyond the pale.  Fairisle is my great knitting love.  I see more of it in my future, and it won’t be all zig-zags and diamonds, great as they are as a starting point…

If you have any feedback, suggestions for topics or techniques – or just a tale to tell, do comment or contact me.