Alison Crowther-Smith

Film Review

January 16th, 2019

I watch a lot of films, and no, they are not all Hallmark, though I do love a big dose of schmaltz.

I watch these mainly on Netflix and Prime, also BBC iplayer, but in 2019 I am also planning to go to the pictures more – to see films as they are really intended to be seen, and also to get out more. Sad. Our local cinemas are in Bridgwater and Burnham-on-Sea, and they are both in small (different) independent chains of cinemas.  They are both really lovely and I never go to the big picture places anymore.  In Bridgwater, it is Scotts and you can have cider.  I mean, I don’t as cider is rank but it’s so Somerset.

So, I will pop up a few reviews of things I have seen and wish to share with you or warn you about – and please join in with some banter or your own reviews and recommendations.

I don’t usually watch art-house stuff so don’t expect clever.

First, I saw Mary Poppins Returns on New Year’s Day in Scotts, along with every child/parent combo in Bridgwater.  This is a perfect film.  Sentimental, gorgeous to look at, faithful to the original, but still a film very much in its own right.  I absolutely loved it and I know I could watch it over and over again.  Emily Blunt is perfect. I did however get off to a very bad start as they, naturally enough, previewed all the up-and-coming classic Disney re-makes and I began to cry as soon as the Dumbo trailer began.  I kept this quiet sniffling up more or less all the way through the main film even though it isn’t really sad.  Unusual, I know, I hardly ever cry.

Next, I saw Swimming With Men on Netlix.  This is a really odd, quirky and very enjoyable film about an all-male swimming sequence (?) ‘team’.  It stars Rob Brydon, who I love and Jane Horrocks and the butler from Downton Abbey.  It’s light-weight and made me feel good.  It is daft and silly and I will warn you, there are a lot of speedo-shots.  It’s such an innocent and old-fashioned film and I really liked it.

Next up:  The Guernsey  Literary Potato Peel Pie Society.  I watched this on Netflix. I do recall reading the book once for the awful book club I once joined.  I didn’t like the book, and I didn’t like the film.  In fact, I still have about 15 minutes to watch but I probably won’t bother.  It’s thin and contrived.

Finding Your Feet was my next watch, on Prime and free for members.  It is a good film, easy, sad and also gently humourous.  The fabulous cast really makes it – Imelda Staunton, Celia Imrie, Timothy Spall, Joanna Lumley are just a few of the starry line up.  It is schmaltzy and daft but also really good for 90 minutes of escapism.

Last weekend I went to The Ritz in Burnham to see The Favourite.  Great cinema and £3 a ticket!  I was dying to see this, hence the trek (I am very local) to Burnham.  I just couldn’t wait for it to come to Bridgy.  I adore Olivia Coleman and I think I’d pay to see her read out a shopping list.  First, the good bits:  the cast, and especially the three leading women actors, is superb.  It is so refreshing to see a film with three really strong female leads and they are all very good.  Emma Stone’s accent is also impeccable.  The film is very good to look at, with great locations and lots of candle-lit bits, but not – as is often the case – so dark that you have no idea of what is happening.  And parts of the film, mainly in the first half, are compelling, funny, and brilliantly scripted, shot and acted.  I have no issue with the swearing in it, of which there is a lot.  It’s hard-core swearage but I think it is appropriate and largely contemporary.  Also, I think of swearing as a sort of second language for me and I am fluent as I practice a lot.  There is very powerful lesbian or at least female and female sexual content throughout – again, this was not gratuitous and it is essential for the dynamic of the plot, such as it is.  But, the film just fizzles out.  I was longing for it to end after 90 minutes with 30 still to go.  But when it did, the end was just absolute rubbish.  That sort of nonsense is not acceptable even if I did only pay £3 for my seat.  It was lazy, bizarre and stupid.  I hate feeling ripped off by an ending that frankly a media student, or I, could have bettered.  And I did feel ripped off.  So I am a bit conflicted.  Should the end define the whole thing?  In this case, probably not because where the content is strong, it is easily good enough to overcome that.  But it is the last thing you see and I really think they just didn’t know what to do.  So they did a 1970s style dream sequence with dozens of rabbits and a lengthy sexual encounter mainly with Queen Anne’s legs. I would recommend it, I wouldn’t want to watch it again and I wish they had stopped sooner and not mixed up their rabbits and pussies in the ending. In fact – and I was the only one as far as I could tell – the end was so weird I started laughing because I thought it was going to be a joke but the 2 men in front gave me the simultaneous death-glance. So I stopped.

Foot note:  food in cinemas.  I took some cold chicken dippers because I was hungry.  These are a silent food and almost odourless.  The couple in front of the men who death-glared me had popcorn, I think.  I have had popcorn in the past.  But somehow they turned it into a accompanying sound track.  Honest to God, they sounded like they were gravelling a path. The scrabbling, the digging, the scratching of nails on cardboard.  Oy. So, we’d have Abigail in a gentle scene with Queen Anne – and then a frantic scrabbling and scraping would break out in the front row.  Channelling their inner rabbits?  I really wanted to walk down, knock the popcorn sharply up and all over them, and calmly return to my seat.  But of course, I didn’t. The 2 men behind pop-corn couple were beside themselves, exchanging many, many agitated looks and there was tutting.

Join in!  Add your thoughts and recommend things too.

Tomorrow I am going to Scotts to see Stan and Ollie.  Next week I am going to Burnham or Scotts, which ever has it first, to watch Glass, I think, though this is not usually my sort of thing.


Newsletter Alert!

January 16th, 2019

My January Newsletter just went out, so if you think you ought to have seen it, check your spam folder and/or ask me to make sure you are on the list.

If you want to go onto the list, please let me know.

My Newsletters provide info about my teaching here, my designing, teaching at other places, residential events, sometimes yarn or knitting industry news, an occasional free pattern, and world peace. Give it a go.

Dear Diary: the Christmas edit

December 21st, 2018

Knit Camp week:  time, as always before a BIG THING that I have to do, assumes odd dual-personality and both slows down to snail-pace and also speeds up.  Note that hours drag, but days fly. Wish I had more time to think about and research this finding, but end up in circular and pointless thought loop in which I wish I had more time to think about time, so abandon Important Time-Related Research and pack KC things instead.  Also, I am fully aware, with rational side of brain, that time is completely logical and unchanging in its progress…therefore phenomenon I am noting cannot exist and is entirely a function of being hysterically tired.

However, before Knit Camp, rational side of brain always even less co-operative than usual so have to force myself to focus on wool.  I do this by watching When Calls the Heart on Netflix.  But, as I want to save the new series for after KC, I watch the last series again.  This begins with an epic two-part Christmas special which is appropriate as Knit Camp is Christmas themed.  Have been in Christmas mode all year, because of Knit Camp.  Reflect that this is, even for me, who adores Christmas, too much of a good thing.

The Day Before Knit Camp:  dream-like feelings that I remember vividly from last KC descend on me and I begin  to function on auto-pilot.  Arrive at hotel and dress event room as cross between a small wool shop and Father Christmas’s Cottage. I imagine.  If his cottage was set up for 30 knitters.  Hotel’s preparations for Christmas, and my KC Christmas converge or even collide over following 2.5 days with unexpected results.  Time spent with Knit Campers is divine.  Time spent with hotel is what that sort of interaction is, but am devastated to realise, half-way through a hasty meeting with the Hotel Duty Manager, in order to address a couple of issues, that I am still wearing my Elf Head-Band, bell-pointy-hat combo, as bell tinkles in response to my energetic head shaking.  Decide that this has not in any way undermined my position and leave it on, but only because otherwise it will look like I had forgotten it, which I had.  Muse, in small hours of following morning when sleep evades me, that maybe an elf head-dress for my Grown Up Work might make welcome ice-breaker with some Boards…

Knit Camp Final Day:  decide is folly to lie in bed and also that 3 hours fitful sleep is more than enough, so get up and get ready.  Take iPad and knitting to KC Event Room, at 6.45am.  Turn on all festive lights which takes 15 minutes.  Think maybe Mark/Lily/Kathryn were, after all, right when they said 300 was enough, and wish I had heeded advice.  Room looks perfect.  Close door and, locked in, sit at table which later will be occupied by some Knit Campers, get Netflix on the go and knit for entire and blissful hour.  Watch Shetland.  Have much-needed opportunity to think about how much I love KC and all participants and emerge for hearty breakfast, refreshed and calm, at 8.00am.

Very eventful weekend assumes pace of helter-skelter ride or even Grand Prix as Sunday zooms past me.  Decide not to allow resurgence of thoughts about the variable pace of time-passage, as have to teach some knitting.  By 3.00pm powers of both speech and knitting have deserted me, so just sit down.  Break down Knit Camp for another year and am overcome by feelings of great sadness when room is empty and sorry mess of half-packed stock, lights, etc. Decide is undignified and probably pointless to beg Knit Campers to stay so bid fond farewell with as much dignity as someone who has had 6 hours sleep in over 48 hours of ‘time’ can summon.

Week After Knit Camp:  I have warded off Grown Up Work for a few days so have a few days to unpack KC. (Note, dear reader, still not happened). I teach at lovely Spin a Yarn and luckily this is Moebiuses and not Brioche for which I really do all my brain functions to be present and correct.  Spend ridiculous amount of time un-picking post-KC admin debris.  Discover new game called Candy Crush Saga on my phone (Lily is responsible for this) and play this amazing new game for as long as Free Lives will allow.  Am aware that this game older than Lily but am as ever, late-adopter. Muse on why I like this game.  I never eat sweets.  So it’s not subliminal love of candy.  Conclude that I am regressing and also, do not care one jot. *sticks out tongue*

Force myself to re-enter real world and commence lengthy tour of London and also Midlands to interview very nice company as my grown-up job. Rejoice to find one of the places has ‘dress down Friday’ and they tell us, so I dress down in Converse, ‘smart’ jeans and super-comfy Sweaty Betty sweatshirt.  Colleague loosens tie in mere hat-tip to dress-down of which he disapproves but entire place full of happy staff in jeans and trainers.  Believe I have met My People, but then have to depart after 1.5 hours and am painfully aware that I am transient dot in their corporate lives.  In melancholy mood, retrace drive back to Somerset.

Following 2 weeks:  embark on epic series of journeys all over the country which leads to a number of unpleasant side-effects.  I do almost no knitting.  I develop feeling that I am still sitting in a car on the motor way travelling at 70 MPH even when I am, for example, lying in bed or sitting at a table.  Also, my bum aches a lot.  Become car-phobic.  Express these views to anyone who will listen, which is mainly the dogs.  Vow (to dogs) that I will clear diary of all such travel in 2019.  Feel better.  Then recall that I have to go to Droitwich or somewhere to have Family Christmas Lunch, and feel worse again.

That Sunday.  Lunch is OK mainly because lovely niece and nephew are there and my pre-order is nice fish-in-smoked-cheese-sauce affair.  Experience severe food-envy though as see the roast dinners that other tables are having. Leave 3 tiny people in the pub.  New hobby very rewarding.

Week before Christmas:  begin designs for Knit Camp 2019.  First design swatch (v eleventy-nine) is so hideous I can’t bear to look. Awkward for knitting.  Show Kath.  Kath says:  when things are small they always look worse. Reflect that the Diplomatic Service missed a trick when they failed to hire Kath.  Hurl swatch back into bag.  Wonder if I would hate swatch less if it wasn’t grey, grey, black and cream.  But also know in heart of hearts that if I don’t love it in grey, I will never love it and would, if possible, hate it even more if it was Festival Coloured, if this exists.

Attend gym.  This ceased in days before KC  due to Busy; and an attempt to re-start it in week following failed, due powerful urge towards piratical outbreaks of swearage when asked about KC.  Also, overwhelming urge to cry.  Do not curb either tendency, to alarm/amusement/disapproval of various witnesses so stay away for a bit and sulk moodily as I hurl stock back on shelves. Jump-start gym classes with unusual attendance at a day-time class, being an ‘evening lady’ as a rule.  Observe that ‘morning ladies’ have strikingly different approach to Body Combat than that to which I am accustomed. Lovely teacher remarks on ‘unusual levels of aggressive energy in the room today’.  Cast accusing glance at elderly and perfectly charming and definitely innocent participant at the back, though fully aware that she means me, I think, due to fervour of my kicks and punches, determined expression, and ability to role-play in Street Brawl.  Emerge from ‘day lady’ class feeling 100% better, if fully aware that I have made no friends in the studio that day and some of them probably fear me.

Kath comes over to work here.  Observe her staring with pained expression at the stock-room shelves. May she, she asks, re-arrange it?  I say of course but we have interesting discussion about why I have it arranged so that Kidsilk Haze compartments form T-shape, thus forcing all other qualities to do the same, rather than columns of the same qualities.  Impasse is achieved as I explain that this is how my mind pictures it, as a logical formation, and Kath just fixes gaze upon the Kidsilk Haze.  Kath re-arranges all the stock and the display and it all looks very much better. Wish, as I do every day, for similar logical outlook but Tetrus-mind rudely interrupts with suggestion that it is time for Candy Crush and a Netflix film.




Conversations With Lily: The Windsor Half Marathon

November 30th, 2018

5.50 am on the morning of the event.  Lily and I meet on the landing.

Me:  morning.



Later, dressed and in the kitchen.

Me:  porridge or banana or both?

Lily: *elaborate urging noise*

I make porridge which we both fail to finish.  While this is happening, Mark and Jack stand about, reviewing impenetrable gloom of pre-dawn, but are utterly silent and remain so for much of following 3 hours.

Despite elaborate packing and planning of previous day, we all fail to find our exact belongings and begin panicking or at least, I do.  Eventually, dogs, all dog paraphernalia, all our stuff, food, blankets, running accessories, knitting and water are assembled and hurled into car, except the dogs who are placed lovingly in sleeping crate, shrouded in blankets and allowed to go back to sleep.

After second comfort stop of journey, we all rally slightly as we take coffee on board and also It Is Light.  Sit in back of car with Lily.  Try to eat lovingly prepared cold sausages.  Find, sadly, that I am repulsed by what is probably my favourite food after cheese and tangerines.  And Tuck biscuits.  Force down 1.5 cold sausages and press others upon Lily who is reluctant.

Become aware of unpleasant and rising sensation of some emotion that I think at first may be excitement but quickly recognise as fear.

Lily:  it will be alright, won’t it?

Me: (with a ring of sincerity that indicates how wrong I was NOT to become famous actress who would, by now, be National Treasure and much sought after by film-makers) yes.  It will be amazing.

Lily:  what if we can’t do it?

Me:  (with further BAFTA-worthy polish) what nonsense.  We not only can do it, we have proved it.  We have often run over 10 miles, and once we did 12.

Lily: yeah, but that last mile…

Me:  (now assuming manner of Mary Poppins) that’s enough of that!  The last mile will be the best one.

Join endless queue of cars trying to get into Windsor Great Park.  Watch other runners, running to the venue. Feel utterly overwhelmed by certainty that if I had to run to the venue, I would be unable to participate in the actual event. Finally park the car and get out, get out the dogs, load them into the dog-pram and start trance-like walk to tented village in the distance.  World assumes dream-like quality in which I am both 100% certain that this is real, and at same time, convinced I am still in bed and this is all just a Terrible Nightmare.

Tents, feather-pennants, barriers and a disembodied voice yelling through PA system all beckon us.  Notice banks of portaloos. Note corresponding gigantic queues of people wishing to use these facilities.  Am instantly overcome by urgent need to wee.  Join a queue.  Observe, this being Windsor’s half, more Sweaty Betty leggings, tops and jackets than I have ever seen, including in a SB shop.


Lily:  where do we start?

Me:  I have no idea but I see the race numbers are colour-coded. Let’s ask!

We approach a couple who are limbering up in style of 1986 fitness video.  They are, however, far too cool, what with their purple gear, and in one case, luxuriant Mexican style moustache, to be bothered talking to us and they rudely just say:  oh, over there and wave hand in direction of Windsor Castle. Finally sort out non-existent system for starters and begin to join our crowd but am, once again overcome with need to wee, so we peel off and join another and much longer queue for the portaloos. Finally re-join crowded starting area.  Start sounds and we shuffle forwards for ages.  As the crowd slowly reaches more open spaces, jogging starts except for Very Important and Good Runners who have inexplicably been penned further back who now begin sprinting forward, dodging the rest of us and on several occasions almost shoving us over.  Curse as much as breath will allow which is not much as by now we are in The First Hill which is quite steep but mainly very long.

And so, we toiled round a long, hilly, hot and frankly boring course.  Why boring?  Well, it’s just a park isn’t it?  Hardly any people though the ones we saw, mostly Army Cadets, were lovely.

I picked up a calf injury in mile 10 and Lily’s foot was very sore most of the way.  But, we did it, and I am so very grateful to you for your support.

Mile 13.  We are making painful and messy progress to the finish line.  This part of the course is pretty impressive and also some of it is downhill.  We are still running though, and realise that we are both also half-laughing, half-crying.  Stumble over finish line and meet our people and dogs. Meet my niece, Phoebe whose mother was Judith and in whose name we ran.  Rest of day and evening is now almost a complete blur though I did eat an impressive carvery that evening.

Next day, Lily, Phoebe and I spent the whole day together and it was lovely made even lovelier by arrival at breakfast time of a DVD of one of my all-time favourite books, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.  The sender is a dear soul and I love her.  Such a thoughtful thing to do.  The film captures the book beautifully.  And it was a fairy-tale ending to a frankly surreal weekend.

I will never run another half.  I am far too old.  I am still running though.  I want to thank you all properly for your support, be it donations to CRUK or your messages and love.  WE DID IT!




Winter Trees Fairisle Throw Pattern – now available

November 9th, 2018

This is new!  Here is the link!

Moebiuses Predicted in Totnes This Weekend!

October 29th, 2018

I have just heard that there are 2 places now available for my Moebius workshop at Stitchfest Totes, this Sunday, 4th November, 10 – 2.  Here is the link. 

If you have never knitted one of these magical cowls before, this class will teach you the cast on and all important first round.  You will make a very elegant, simple cowl.

If you have knitted one before, this can be a refresher course and as a bonus for the class, I will be giving you a new Moebius design.  Obviously, you won’t have the yarns and needles, but contact me if you want to come and make the advanced option on the day. I will send you the requirements list.

This is  such a great event, with lots of exciting sellers in the market places and local teachers such as me! Do come.

Moebius yellow & grey1

Somerset Woman Concludes Half Marathon Training And Still Has No Idea If She Can Complete Course!

September 26th, 2018

Snappy headline.  I missed my vocation as a sub-editor.

I am going to suggest that you chip in a few quid for a very good cause.  This is where you donate.  Below, is just one story of why.

So, it’s me, that Somerset woman.  Having achieved the great age I am now (reaches hand through mists of time), I swore – and I do swear a lot – that I would never do another half. I say this as if I did one a week.  But no, I have done two and they were both, in their own very different ways, awful.  Birmingham was the last and I did this for Cancer Research UK.  It was awful because about six weeks before the race, something really rubbish and personal happened here and this overwhelming something really threatened to knock me off course.  In fact, it proved to be the opposite as I used the really rubbish thing to get me out of the door and running – I now think I was literally running away from the really rubbish thing.  I am now going to abbreviate that to RRT.

Anyway, I started making pacts with myself or with someone who also lives in my head.  I’d think:  OK, if I (you) can run 10 miles today, the RRT will be alright, I will manage it;  or, if I can run the first 6 miles without stopping, the RRT will go away.  Then I’d be literally afraid of not running 10 or not running 6 without stopping in case the RRT-thing managed to get me.  Like a monster. It worked!  I also did this thing where I’d start running and the RRT would be all over me, in my head, in my body, on my shoulders, like carrying a heavy, scary thing on your back.  So I’d say (not out loud, not that mad yet and also, no spare breath):  you’ve got ten minutes, RRT.  I will grant you ten minutes of this activity and then you ship out.  After ten, I’d imagine shrugging off a great big heavy coat, like the way coats your auntie had used to make you feel when you were five years old and playing dressing up in her spare room.  It also worked.  Maybe, dear reader, I should have pursued that career in therapy?  No?

In March this year, my lovely sister-in-law died from cancer.  I loved Judith.  She, like me, obvs, is an out-law in the family that is Mark’s family.  As a longer-established out-law, Judith made me feel welcome and she was kind.  I come from a very small family and Mark’s family seemed too big to me.  But if Judith was there, it was fine.  I sound like I was about 10 years old.  But I was in my mid-20s.  I really looked up to her.  I don’t think she ever knew that and I wish I had told her.  She left the family that is Mark’s family a few years ago and to all intents and purposes, her ties with them all, other than those that lived on via her children then all grown-ups, also ceased.  She was no longer one of them.  But she was still one of mine.  So we remained in touch. Distance, time, life – and then illness for Judith in the last few years – often kept us apart but we were in touch.  She came here and we had a lovely time.  I think I loved her more than ever in those difficult times which she faced with slightly baffled stoicism.

The thing is, Judith’s cancer was one of the cancers that is, in universe terms, about 10 minutes away from a cure or a therapy regime that is as good as.  Sadly, in human cancer terms, that’s years.  But not that many years.  Judith’s sister Joan who I also love for her kindness and her strength, is a very clever woman.  She does all sorts of eye-wateringly hard things to do with medical research.  As a job, not just like me where I read about things on the leaflets in the packets of pills or on Goggle.  Joan is a mega-scientist.  In a University and everything.  At Judith’s funeral (more of a party) Joan gave an incredible talk about how close we are to that therapy that would have saved or prolonged Judith’s life.  It is just round the corner. We could catch it up, if we ran now, just for 500 meters, we’d be upon it.  I imagine it as a chase – in police dramas such as Vera (new obsession alert) where Joe chases The Prime Suspect and you think – oh no! he’s not going to catch them!  But he does!  We can be Joe!  We are so very close, I can almost touch it.

I know, being highly rational as you know, that my running the Windsor Half Marathon is not going to save a life and nor will it bring Judith back to us.  But, if we raise money and give it to CRUK, we will be closing in on that evil predator that is cancer.  So, and this is of course the point, please donate.  If you do, leave us a message and I will read them to Lily as we attempt this (her first, my last) half marathon.  And you will be with us, every step of the way.  I need you with me.  I am scared.  I am five years older and things hurt a lot more.  The training has been very hard too, with the hottest summer for many years.

We started strong with a training regime planned and a cool spring/early summer.  By mid-June I was back up to 8 miles.  Then the heat wave arrived and it went on and on.  I tried running very early but it was still boiling.  I tried the gym a few times but frankly, running on a tread mill makes knitting brioche seem attractive.  I ran some days just up and down own stretch of lane with deep shade on one side.  I picked up a hip injury (might just be age) and Lily has some weird stuff going on with her feet – they go numb and then they come back to life.  But in the last few weeks it’s been cooler and we have built to 12 miles, with several 10 and 11 milers in there and lots of 3 – 6 mile short runs.  We have also reached the stage where we can go non-stop running for 8 miles.  Then I really have to stop and stretch.

Can we do it?  You decide.

Judith died on the last day I saw her.  I cannot really describe that day.  But it was amazing because I almost went the next day.  Something – and I am not a person who usually goes in for this sort of thing, but something – told me to go that Tuesday.  Jack, who is the kindest, sweetest person, said as it was his day off, he would drive me as I wasn’t to drive my ancient Punto for 300+ miles.  We packed food.  What else can you do?  We drove, with Jack playing a special play-list, though the dull, murky late winter.  Where Judith lives, the rural east midlands, it is rolling and open and there are miles of Roman roads.

The house was almost deserted.  It’s a huge and beautiful home.  Judith was upstairs but since my last visit she was no longer conscious. My nephew was with her.  Now, if I say that this was a good day, please do not think me callous or unfeeling.  We all knew Judith was close to death and that despite her courage and all that her amazing family had done, cancer was winning this one. But to make food for the continuing to live, to see Jack and my nephew together – almost strangers then but friends now – and to sit with Judith in those hours was a privilege.

For some time, later that day, I sat alone with Judith.  She had been moved from her own bed into a special hospital bed and all round this, were cushions and duvets, lest she fall.  But the bed had sides and anyway, she was very still.  Asleep.  I sat in a little armchair.  Can you guess what I did?  Of course you can guess, for you would have been knitting too.  I was knitting a Moebius.  Moebius knitting is my go-to for travel and waiting.  I was working out a new pattern as it happened so there was a lot of counting forwards and back.  Sometimes I spoke to Judith.

Toby and Jack came upstairs and they sat with us.  Toby sat in Judith’s wheelchair, a new addition for me.  Jack lay on Judith’s double bed.  And there, with Judith asleep, we talked.  The house was warm and even though the blind was partly down, it was clearly darkening as this late winter day started to close.  In that hour, there was crying.  We held each other and we did cry.  Then we stopped and we chatted about holidays we had, days we remembered, and we laughed.

When it was time to go, we went with Toby for the eleventy-fifth cup of tea of that day.  I didn’t want to leave but we had to.  It’s almost 200 miles each way so it was time.  I went back up to kiss Judith and say goodbye as I knew I would not see her again.  I told her I loved her.  And I still do.

As soon as we got home, some hours later, Joan told me that Judith had died, just an hour or so after we left.

Her funeral was simply amazing, just like her.  Judith was a quiet person, but never, ever boring.  I think I could have spent many weeks with Jude and never tired of her.  She also had a gift of accepting silence – it never felt awkward.  Her vibrancy, wit, intelligence and warmth were all reflected in that celebration.  My niece, the oldest of Judith’s three children wrote an incredibly touching poem and asked me to read it.  Now, if you know me, you will know that rather like one of the Mitfords (I can’t remember which one – Debo?) who cried because she felt sorry for matchsticks, I am a howler.  I bawl at almost anything.  Once a crier, always a crier.  So, how to get through the poem without a catastrophic breakdown?  Practice, practice, practice – and don’t look at anyone you know or anyone who is also crying. And I did it.

Joan’s speech was inspirational and because of that, here we are, Lily and I.  On the verge of race day, with a chaotic and surreal summer behind us and 13 unknown miles ahead.  Please help us and please help CRUK to catch up with cancer.  It’s too late for my lovely Judith but it’s not too late for lots of others.

I love you.  Thank you.





A Gift for YOU at Gift Knitting Day!

September 25th, 2018

Gift Knits Day!  Anyone who is already booked onto, or who books onto this course in future will get a £5 voucher on arrival, entitling them to £5 off yarns bought on the day!

You do not need to do anything.  I will sort it all out for you on the day.  Redeemable only on the day.

You’re welcome!

DRift Mitts for SH

2019 Workshops are now LIVE!

September 24th, 2018

2019 is now live on the site.  You can find them all here!

There are icord designs, Happy Endings, new felting, gifts and the return of Christmas at Court Cottage.

Each day explores new techniques and applies them to projects specially designed for you.

I would love to see you here!



Dear Diary + Conversations with Lily

September 20th, 2018

(Some of this was drafted a while ago).

Bank Holiday Monday:  this is the last day when I will live in the house without one or both of my children also living here. The last time I will peg out and fetch in washing for Lily*. The last time I will sit in the kitchen, in the early evening, knowing that Lily will be coming home. Home. To eat, sleep – live. Have long since abandoned futile and exhausting pretence that I am fine about this. The last weekly menu that includes Lily and Jack has been drafted and most of the meals I predicted have gone. Absolutely fed up of this self-generated ‘last time’ nonsense and yet am also apparently entirely unable to stop myself from doing it.  Overwhelming sadness is only marginally moderated by uplifting realisation that at the very worst, it will soon stop as they will finally have gone.

Reflect that ‘it could be worse’ and agree with annoying inner-self and many acquaintances, that yes, of course it is patently obvious that it could be worse.  Yes, Lily could be moving to New York (or insert distant location of choice). Am almost as sick of hearing this as I am of hearing my own inner monologue about woe-is-me. Next person to tell me how much worse it could be is in danger of seeing usually well-concealed version of self (and here, I sadly reflect that this is possibly the real self) who is liable to become ill-tempered and snappy upon receiving such probably well-meant but nevertheless platitudinous missives.

Fug of misery, deepened by length of time that ‘the move’ has been looming over me is further intensified by realisation that I have planned an unappealing supper for this last evening – a meal of left-overs supplemented by not always welcome spinach and chard from the allotment garden. Ponder if ‘last supper’ mentality is really appropriate and decide that it is not and thus, the fish-pie/cauliflower-cheese/spinach combo is fine.

*this proved to be incorrect as I still appear to be in charge of Lily’s running gear washes.

Tuesday:  wake with a refreshing sense that this is the first day in which ‘the move’ will no longer have the chance to loom as it will be history.  This uplifts me for at least half an hour. Am in danger of moping through yet another week, so embark on exhilarating programme of making myself do things I hate.  List includes such items as sorting out accounts, cleaning out wardrobe, defrosting ancient freezer, and weeding.  Therefore and entirely predictably, I make a list of these things and then shove list under pile of newspapers and knit while watching Netflix.

Wander round house, tidying up a bit. As hoarders go, I know I am not the worst.  For example, my stairs and hallways are not fire hazards, I do not keep ‘useful bits of string’ in the house (though I do in the car-port on the potting table), and I am often found in the act of housework which I detest and so see as form of divine (or maybe satanic) punishment.  But as ever, I wish my house looked more like the houses of some of my friends with no clutter and (I imagine) immaculate drawers.  I mainly hoard books.  It could be worse.

I am aware, however, that I am touchy about how clean and comfortable my house is.  Firmly tell self that this is silly and also make resolution to calmly tell people who may (even inadvertently – or whatever) criticise things, to fuck off, but to do so without loss of temper if possible as this is not nice for me  (I do not care much about impact on them). Post-Script Note:  this resolve instantly breached as very next week, a very slight acquaintance comes to house for coffee and without so much as a rueful smile, informs me that the coffee is not nice, and orders another but this time hot,  and explains how I can resolve other coffee problems.  And I do.  I do not say:  fuck off.  I do not lose my head.  I just comply but inwardly fume and suppress powerful desire to swear piratically. Think that I need more practice but I do make mental note to never repeat experience of having very slight acquaintance over.

Second, to tell people who say things that they think are funny and who, in doing so attempt to make others feel that somehow they ought to ‘get’ the ‘joke’ and not be offended, that it is not funny. In fact, believe that they use this as cloak of invisibility for nasty comments they want to get across.  These people are often the same cheerful folk who call a spade a spade, speak their minds and talk as they find.  In other words, they are incredibly rude but may not be taken to task as they ought because they at once say:  I speak as I find!  Decide to do the same to them.  This may test some relationships to point of breaking.  Do not care.  I do not ‘speak as I find’ as a rule.  Do you?  Wouldn’t it be awful if we all told the unvarnished truth as we see it? Thus, I know I will never do it unless loss of control has been achieved.

(Some weeks into the period of my life now known as AC – anno childrenia). Lily and I are training for a half-marathon at the end of September.

Saturday – long-run day:  Lily arrives before dawn has cracked. I am stumbling about in kitchen, dodging dogs and cat, fumbling with door locks. Lily erupts from and also into gloom and I can tell at once that, like me, she is absolutely furious. Hurls herself into chair and sobs:  why?? why are we DOING THIS?

Me:  I have no bloody idea anymore. (Note:  we are doing it to raise money for Cancer Research UK and in memory of my beloved Sister in Law, Judith, who died earlier this year.  But as Lily knows this at least as well as me, as it was her idea, I do not bother with explanation).

Lily:  I can’t face it.

Me:  nor can I.  Let’s not go.

Lily, new resolve clearly entering her soul:  No! we MUST go! (now declaiming in manner of warrior-leader attempting rally of troops).  Onward!

Me:  onward.  Into the night.  It’s still chuffing dark.  Let’s have a cuppa.

Lily:  OK.

Lily:  have you eaten?

Me:  no but I am thinking of eating a banana. (I hate bananas but my sports physio has prescribed one a day so I now buy tiniest possible bananas and sometimes eat one).

Lily:  yuk.  But OK I’ll have one too.

I investigate fruit bowl and find one rather old looking banana and some newer, less disgusting ones.  I take both examples into the kitchen and suggest we both eat half of each.  We do so, gagging due to early hour and also rank taste and texture of bananas.

Lily:  hmmm, that old banana wasn’t too bad.  Just shows that you should never judge a banana by its skin.

Me:  but that is really the only way to judge a banana, isn’t it?  Surely that’s the definitive banana test?

Lily:  don’t call me Shirley.

And thus, buoyed up by this sort of high-quality bant, we emerge into the slowly receding gloom and reluctantly begin our 12 mile furtive shuffle.  This we complete, with a lot of extended silences as I find running makes it hard to breathe and talk, thus meaning, according to all training material I have ever read, that I am doing it wrong.  The run is, however, enlivened by my periodic Michael Jackson impressions.  These are prompted by my running in white cotton gloves.  Am doing this because my hands are in sorry state and I can keep them hydrated and medicated by wearing the gloves.  But is, I find, irresistible to break into such iconic songs as Billie Jean, The Man in the Mirror, and especially Thriller, whilst waving one white-gloved hand in Lily’s face.  On down-hill sections only, obvs, due to shortage of breath at all other times.  She loved it.

Later, much later, after we messily complete the 12 miler – our last long run until the race – and have showered, eaten a lot of non-banana foods, and are lying on the bed in Lily and Jack’s lovely new house…

Lily:  we are doing OK aren’t we?

Me:  yeah.  I mean that was absolutely awful and frankly right now I’d give all the target money to NOT do it, but I think we will manage it.

Lily:  no, I mean THIS.


Lily:  THIS!! Me, not living at home anymore? We doing OK, right?

Me (thinking:  is that true?):  yes. We are.  It’s fine.  We are managing it well.

And I reflect that it is true, after all.  I would prefer to live in a huge house (with separate kitchens, due to my slovenly nature, obvs) with both my children and their partners.  But that’s not real life – and in fact, this is good.  I miss them.  But it’s fine and I have a feeling it will emerge from fine to not bad and then maybe onto actually really good in the coming months.  For one thing, I can go to their houses for dinner, refuse to eat spinach and ask for more wine!






WIP Amnesty Day 2019 – 23 March

September 19th, 2018

Come to the Court Cottage WIP Amnesty event in 2019 and get back in touch with a project that you once loved – or quite liked – but shoved behind the sofa in 2017 and now can’t face.

We are trained* professionals with years of WIP experience.  We understand the lure of casting on a new project.  It is irresistible.  But it is also true that completing an older project is very satisfying.  We can evolve reward-based strategies for you, if that works for you.  Or we can adopt the ‘tough love’ approach.  Or we can agree that, yes, it is time to let that orange waistcoat for the dog go.  And everything in between.

When I worked for Rowan in Johnny Lou Lou’s, I had a lot of experience of WIP wrangling.  Customers would smuggle in a carrier bag of half-knitted bits of a cardigan, for example, and a rumpled pattern, and a few notes maybe, plus an assortment of knitting needles.  They’d slide it across my table.  In the manner of an arms smuggler checking the quality of the goods being offered, I’d play it cool and casually glance inside.  If a cloud of moth did not emerge, I’d get it all out and have a nice long look-see.  The most common problems were:

  • I am lost.  Where am I in this pattern?
  • I have encountered an instruction I do not understand, or cannot make work.
  • I have a repeated numerical error – usually the stitch count after lace rows.
  • I wanted to adapt it but I am not sure how.
  • I made a mistake some rows ago and I can’t correct it.
  • I wish it wasn’t black.

Often, a fresh pair of eyes on a project can resolve the above, except the last one.

Or, you may know exactly where you are, and have no problems other than boredom with the design.  We can give you a kick-start and a list of good audio books/Netflix titles.

Or/and, you may in your heart of hearts want to quit.  This is fine.  Life is too short for a number of things, such as finishing books that are rubbish, peeling most vegetables, ironing, and forcing yourself to finish a WIP you don’t want anymore. With breathing techniques, whale-music, and finger-cymbals (Kath’s speciality), we can create a safe space for you to let it go.  Or, as we have absolutely no emotional or financial investment in the WIP, we can start the ripping out process for you, we are ruthless rippers – job done! We can help you re-assign the yarn and make a fresh start.

It’s half price as it is not a teaching day.  But we will both be on hand to help you, one-to-one.

Here is the page.

*We are trained.  I am a trained sausage-wrangler and Kath is a nurse.



Knit Camp 2019, 25 – 28 July

August 12th, 2018

There will be a summer 2019 Knit Camp, and with all the people from 2018 who want to come back plus my waiting list, there is just one space – and I would love you to come.  You can read all about it, here.

Knit Camp is different. It’s a hybrid of a knitting holiday (for example, luxury hotel facilities), and an intense knitting learning experience.  It is packed with new designs, all of which Knit Campers take away,  I send out regular KC Bulletins through the months that lead up to each Knit Camp and then you get to choose which project or projects you wish to cast on and knit.

Here are some of the designs for Knit Camp 2017:



So, if you fancy a three-day break in a beautiful hotel in Bath, with your every knitting and creature-need fully catered, do join us.

If you were on the waiting list and were not able to take a place, please note that I am starting the waiting list again, so contact me if you still want to be on it, for this year or next, or to join the list.



July 31st, 2018

My name is Ali and I have blepharitis.  Nope, nor had I until March 2017, when after some years of what I believed were repeated eye infections, I was diagnosed with blepharitis.

Some people say they have bleph – and maybe they do, but it is so mild, it is like what I have every (good) day.  Bleph is not tired eyes or hay fever.  A full-on bleph attack is just awful, sudden to arrive and slow to recede, debilitating and is not ‘normal’ itchy eyes that are a bit dry, reactive to pollen or whatever.  It causes great disfiguration, very pronounced redness of the whites of your eyes and major swelling of the eyelids. This can include ‘scaling’ of this skin, redness of the skin all round the eyes and bruise-like ‘stains’ of the eye sockets.  I still, even though mine is well controlled have a purple line above each upper eye-lash line.  It looks like faint eyeliner! If you thought purple eyeliner was cool, which it is not. FYI.

This post is prompted by just wishing to share what I have learned about managing this condition.  I know all too well that there are many worse things to be dealing with, but blepharitis (bleph, to its friends) is really miserable and maybe what I have tried will help someone else.

Bleph is an eye condition.  The term blepharitis can cover many variations.  Overall, bleph presents as red eyes, red eyelids, watering and itching in the eyes, sticky eyes/debris, and pain and swelling around the eyes, especially the eyelids. On and off, I had all these and more for several years.  I thought I had conjunctivitis, only over and over again.  The symptoms are often very similar.  The difference is that bleph will not usually respond to over the counter or prescription treatments for conjunctivitis.  Nor is it contagious.

Finally in March 2017 I had a diagnosis.  But that was really it – I was told what it was, wrote the word down and went away to basically do my own research.  At that time, I had terrible discomfort and disfiguring symptoms in my eyes and I was told that my bleph was allergic blepharitis.  I now think that was partially correct but not entirely. I am very allergic to a lot of things, usually insect and plant-based such as wasp stings, spider bites, and touching plants – almost all plants, actually which is awkward as I love gardening.  I have had eczema all my life.  I am allergic to soil, bright sunlight, most detergents, many soaps and lotions, plastic, rubber, and many synthetic materials.  I am allergic to a fair number of animal and synthetic fibres (again with the awkward, being a knitter…) but not as an asthmatic would be, it just affects my skin.  My hands are in a permanent state of painful siege  and my skin is ultra-sensitive, so my eyes being allergic to all the above and more added up.  I am also sensitive to some foods (but not actually allergic).  Chiefly, this is sugar.  Especially refined sugar such as in a cake, but also the sugars from any carbs if I overdo it.  This reacts badly in my gut as well as on my skin.  Stay with this, because bleph and its successful management are very closely linked to diet.

Since then, I have learned a lot about it. This is largely from on-line ‘communities’.  The best one in my view is a UK-based Face Book group founded by a man called Mario with a wealth of experience.  He started The Blepharitis Advice and Support Group because, like so many of us, he noticed how little knowledge there is about Bleph even amongst the medical professions.  Also Mario has successfully managed his bleph into submission and he wanted to share.  I am so glad he did.  Because when I found this group I was really struggling and did not know what to do, or who to ask for advice as I don’t know anyone else with blepharitis.

Bleph is isolating and depressing. It makes you stay indoors.  It stops you (or it did me) reading, writing, and knitting as looking downwards hurt too much.  I read, write and knit for a living.  It makes you wear sunglasses all the time, mainly to hide the symptoms but also as it is soothing to have low light. It can make computer work very trying and finally, it robs you of sleep because when it is very active, it hurts to close your eyes.

Some people have bleph as a result of dysfunction of the glands around the eyes.  Some people have it because of other skin conditions such as rosacea.  Which is a kissing-cousin with eczema.  Some people have it due to allergies.  Others because of an over-population of a mite called Demodex.  Demodex mites live on almost all of us, in the hair follicles.   Only c4% of humans do not have Demodex.  DO NOT GOOGLE IMAGE THIS.  Oh, OK, there you go, well, I did tell you not to! If they become epidemic, one symptom may be bleph.   Clue:  if your eyelashes often fall out, and/or grow sort of wonky, sideways, straight out or into each other, and may feel ‘sprained’ or tender at the roots, as mine did, this might be a Demodex sign.

If you think you may have bleph, you need this confirmed by an eye specialist and this will not be a GP.  In my case it was just my optician.

If you do see an eye specialist, be sure to ask – in the event of a possible bleph diagnosis – what kind you have:  allergic, gland-related, Demodex, etc.  They may not be able to tell you but it’s a start.

Conventional treatments range from eye compresses to antibiotics and steroids.  I have never had antibiotics or steroids as my optician said they would be pointless, even though I actually begged. I treated mine as he suggested:  super-careful eye hygiene, very warm flannel compresses, no eye makeup, moisturising eye drops. If you wear contacts, add not using these to the basic list. I was not in the habit of neglecting my eyes, so they were clean.  But I did (do) love wearing makeup, and this had to stop.  I can now wear it, a bit, and as long as it is not for many consecutive days.

This was my opening regime:  wash face as usual.  Apply very warm sterile flannels to closed eyes and press – keep this up with fresh hot water for as long as you can manage up to ten minutes.  This is believed to release clogged glands.  Clean eyelids and lash lines with Blephasol or Blephawipes.  I soaked a cotton bud in the Blephasol and gently ran it over the lash lines, using a firm downward motion.  Then preservative-free eye drops as dry eyes go with this whole deal.  Then moisturise the skin round your eyes as best you can.   This did work for me, kind of.  I had a very slow turnaround with an almost imperceptible reduction in symptoms over about six weeks.  By summer, it was 80% better and yet I had frequent flare-ups and was not able to reduce my regime which I had to do at least four times a day.

In the meantime, I became depressed.  I know that may sound shallow as bleph is not cancer, no-one died of it.  But it gradually wore me down and made me sad and anxious.  I knew I was only just managing it and I just did not know how to make it better.  Further abject begging at the opticians failed.  So, as I said, I joined some on-line communites of bleph sufferers, and read all (I mean ALL) the stories, the tips, the treatments and most of all, the successes.  From this group I learned about the many types of bleph – and I began to try some of the things that others had success with.  I learned that I was over doing the hot compresses. I do still use this but rarely now.  I learned that I probably had both allergic bleph and Demodex related bleph and maybe also skin-condition related bleph – and now I think that these are all linked, in my case and probably in many cases.

Just as an interesting aside, when I had Florence, I burst a small blood vessel in my right eye and for 20-odd years, I had a clearly visible red dot on the white of that eye.  It was stable, not changing and the optician was unconcerned, he just noted it.  One day, in 2017, after I had been hot-compressing for some weeks, I suddenly noticed that the dot had gone.  The frequent heat may have caused it to somehow be re-absorbed which is what Mario suggested.  Or it might be magic. It has never come back.  So, even bleph is not all bad…

My diet was OK to begin with, in that I have avoided refined sugars for years due to its unfortunate impact on my tum.  That *may* be a euphemism. But I did eat vast amounts of fruit – maybe 5 – 7 units of fruit a day! That is way too much even if you do not have bleph, because it’s all fructose!  I also ate too many other carbs because I love them, and I consumed a lot of dairy.  I still eat cheese, and I use butter but I have stopped drinking milk, which I have done by the pint, since childhood.  I LOVE cold milk.  Sigh.

At first and for about 6 months, I cut out fruit.  Now I can have it but only 1 – 2 units a day and not bananas.  I was even more assiduous about not eating sugars in biscuits etc.  My favourite foods are cheese, butter, bread, and potatoes so you know what?  I still eat them but less. I almost never eat chocolate, cake, sweets or dried fruits. Well, I do sometimes but if I do this on say 2 consecutive days, I always get a bleph flare up so it puts me off.  Why bother?  My gut is better (not ‘right’ but much better) and my eyes have improved. So, diet is the base-line.

Following a suggestion from someone in my FB group, I switched to a tea-tree cleansing regime and this is what I recommend to anyone:  Optase Eye Cleaning Wipes.  These are tea tree (TT) based.  They are very expensive so I cut each small wipe into 6.  I use 2 of these pieces a day and I store the others for up to 48 hours in the sachet, sealed with a paper clip.  I wash my face with Boots own TT facial wash.  I wash my hair and body with TT shampoo.  And at night I wash my face again and clean around my eyes and eyebrows and hairline with Boots own TT facial wipes.  I use an intensive moisturising eye drop for dry eye disease, which I have as a result of the bleph, and I need this 2 – 4 times daily assuming I am not in a flare-up.

Mainly I never wear make up anymore, really just to teach, and I protect my eyes at all times.  I wear sunglasses a lot and if it’s a dull day and I am outdoors, I wear clear glass glasses that look like specs but are just there to stop anything getting into my eyes. I keep the lights low and I avoid smoke, fumes and air-con.

Supplement are important.  I take:  turmeric with black pepper, which has powerful anti inflammatory properties.  NAC (N-acetylcysteine) which you may need to be careful with, as it can bring side effects such as with me, a gut reaction but I just stopped for a week and very slowly re-introduced.  NAC works for me.  Other bleph sufferers take many different supps and I guess it is trial and error but I was loathe to take too many as I would possibly not know what was and what wasn’t helping. The turmeric has also had a profound effect on my chronic knee injury and I am now able to run again. I also take a cannabis oil supp and Ubiquinol though for other reasons but I note that both are mentioned by some bleph sufferers as helpful.  I did not take any supps before, and so taking 4 products a day seems a lot to me.  I also think these take weeks to build up, so do not expect any miracles.  Stick with it.  In the midst of a big flare or if I feel one coming, I also take anti-histamines.

None of the above has had any beneficial impact on my skin by the way.

The most profound changes to my eyes have been brought about by the diet tweaks; the Optase Wipes and my TT regime; and the turmeric with black pepper.  A lot of people in my group rate taking part in exercise as making a big change but I always exercised a lot so I don’t know.  If you think or know you have bleph and do not regularly exercise, I advise you to consider it, as it helped a lot of my ‘friends’, even if it is just a brisk walk every day.

Now, I am not symptom free but I look as if I am 85% – 90% of the time.  My eyes sometimes hurt, are often dry and sore but they are usually not red, or swollen anymore.  Some days, my eyes feel totally normal!  I have got used to just not wearing makeup and whilst I do not feel ‘liberated’ because I love makeup and never felt like a slave to it, I feel OK about it.

I hope this may help someone.  If you are in this place, please remember that you are not alone and it can be managed so that life is good again, and fairly normal.  When I get a flare up – the last bad one was about 3 months ago – I don’t panic now.  Anxiety and depression come with this, but they also make it worse.  I go back to the compresses but not too much and I just hunker down until it passes, which it will. If you are new to bleph, I am very happy to share more, if you contact me.  Bleph-warriors of the world, unite!





July Newsletter

July 19th, 2018

SSCW Throw and Scarf

I have just sent out the July Newsletter.  In this edition, there is the usual mix of my news, industry news and new yarns.

If you want to get these up-dates, please contact me and I will add you to the email list.

If you used to hear from me and would still like to, the chances are we got lost in the great 2018 GDPR-gate fiasco and I have had, reluctantly, to drop your address from my previous list.  This may be an enormous relief to you, in which case you don’t need to do anything.  Or you might miss the odd in-box wave, in which case, contact me to go back onto the list.

Here are some images of the easy and so pleasing Slip Stitch Colourwork Throw for the July events – 2 places available for the event on Thursday 26 July.

SSCW Throw 2SSCW Throw 3SSCW Throw 4SSCW Throw 1

Dear Diary…

July 12th, 2018

The continuing saga of my incredibly exciting diary.

Monday:  The heatwave continues here in Somerset.  We continue to say things to each other and anyone we meet such as: ‘My goodness!  It’s like being Abroad, isn’t it?’ And:  ‘Well, isn’t it hard now to imagine all that snow we had a few months ago?’  I continue to assert that I Like Hot Weather.

I attend the gym for Monday evening torture which is Spin (static cycling, bearing as much resemblance to real cycling as Donald Trump does to a President.    Or a human being.  More on D Trump later).  This is followed by an hour of Body Pump.  Despite the air conditioning am instantly transformed into my alter-ego, Sweat Woman, whose superpower appears to be making lakes of salty water out of very little effort.  I literally only have to lift a hand-weight off its cradle and walk across the studio with it in order to erupt into a human fountain of most unattractive sweat.  Interested in discovery, made for the one thousandth time, that I sweat most profusely from my inner-elbows and the back of my head. Would dearly like to ask other participants about their hot-spots but fear this may be misinterpreted.  Observe that 90% of participants are not even glowing.

Turn thoughts to dinner but am distracted by the pain in my back caused by the new gym top I have bought and am wearing for the first time.  It has a solid front section but the back is what they call ‘crochet’ – in fact a series of knots, making the back totally see-through and rather pretty.  Model was shown wearing improbably tiny crop-top bra thing under this but I, of course, wear a full singlet.  On lying down on my bench in order to participate in chest track, I am completely overcome by the sharp pain each knot causes me to experience, worsened by the addition of a few extra kilograms of weights. Thus spend entire track wriggling about on my bench as I try to ease the growing discomfort.  In the end I sit up and pull the back up to my neck, causing Lily to roll eyes almost totally round and out of her head in manner of horror film effect.

Leave modestly air conditioned gym and almost faint from heatwave that hits me as I stagger to my non-air conditioned car.

Tuesday:  Am dressed in shorts and tee-shirt for gardening in Continuing Heat Wave when Very Exciting Parcel arrives.  A favourite website of mine has been having a sale; and a coat which I desired most fervently last winter had been reduced – so I ordered it.  Courier has no sooner swung out of the garden, when I rip the parcel open and try on the coat.  It is a knee-length Parka style padded coat – very padded, like a duvet.  It also has – and this is the best bit – a HUGE hood that is fully (fake) fur lined and also has a great big Hollywood style (fake) fur trim all round.  I zip the coat up to my neck and with bare legs and flip flops, pirouette around the garden in manner of Judy Garland, skating in Meet Me In St Louis.   This admittedly very warm modelling assignment is interrupted by sudden entrance into garden of Post Man.  Current Post Man is almost entirely silent at best of times but with 2 years of nurture I have coaxed Silent Post Man from furtive head-down nods to occasional monosyllabic exchange of ‘right?’ Which is returned with a grudging ‘arr’.  As SPM swiftly takes in the scene and wordlessly extends post to me on the path, I realise that all this work has been undone in one unfortunate encounter.

Wednesday:  I set off to travel to Scotland.  I am going there with a colleague to do some work.  In the face of prolonged and energetic resistance from me, Colleague has insisted that we will ‘let the train take the strain’ as it is put to me, instantly recalling highly misleading 1980s British Rail media ads.  Tell Colleague that, as a very experienced train traveller, I know this is huge mistake; reinforce this with true anecdotes about how, when a complex train journey Goes Wrong, it always has the capacity to transform itself into a gigantic clusterfuck.  Urge colleague, whose idea of Public Transport is limited to Business Class air travel and fond memories of the old red London buses when he was small and more – um – tolerant, that he will not like it and may not like the inevitable interaction with other people.  I do not prevail.  So, I set off to drive to the Midlands, meet Colleague, and set off on a 3-train, 2-taxi journey to the west coast of Scotland.

Journey begins well, with train being on time.  We even have some friendly interaction with an American family who are from Chicago and are, completely inexplicably, including Llandudno in North Wales in their itinerary.  The family consists of fairly elderly grandparents and two really cheerful teenage girls. They have (perfectly rational) fear and mistrust of the railways in the UK but we reassure them that they are on the Right Platform, as they must change at Crew.  As they prepare to board the train, with their giant set of luggage, I feel utmost pity for them.  At least all they will see of Crew will be the sullen railway station (Brief Encounter it is not) but really, Llandudno?  I ask them why? Why Llandudno? Their reasons – family related – seem to me to be too flimsy to support this diversion from London, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick, Edinburgh, Dublin and Paris.  My reservations – and Colleague’s utter silence on topic of Llandudno – penetrate their awareness. They ask us if we know Llandudno well.  Colleague, who confines personal travel to Global Exotic Locations, has naturally never been there and thus does not break monastic stance, but I again most naturally, have.  Is it lovely?  I murmur ‘…Well…The Great Orm…?’ and have vivid flashback of last trip to Llandudno, conducted entirely in thin but penetrating drizzle of the kind that North Wales does so well in August…Realise that they now think The Great Orm is a huge native bird.  Happily we part to find our booked seats.

Can see that Colleague thinks all my warnings were mere female hysteria and baseless.  He thinks this as he has booked us First Class seats.  If I travelled First Class, which I never do, maybe I too would be more enthusiastic about trains.  We are plied with free things, mainly water for me, and we arrive in Glasgow almost on time after 4.5 hours. I have knitted most of a mitten and listened to a very good portion of current audio-book.  Glasgow, like the rest of the UK, is glorying in Continuing Heat Wave.  It turns out that the railways station is basically a giant greenhouse and Colleague seeks non-existent shade or preferably air-conditioned lounge.  Continuing Heat Wave has had a very unfortunate impact on Scottish railway network, it being even more unaccustomed to  warm weather than we are in Somerset.  The rails have all buckled and made the points stop working.  This is, at least, the gist, as far as I can tell from the hilarious interaction that I witness (from a safe distance) between Colleague who could easily have been the first Radio Announcer for the BBC, and Glaswegian station man.  At length he establishes that the trains are shagged. I begin my ‘told you so’ comments with a murmured pianissimo introduction which will escalate to fortissimo crescendo by following day.

Encourage Colleague to sprint for train to Ayr.  Ignore his complaint that ‘it is a stopper’ and urge him to join me as it is the only train that appears to be leaving for The West.  I am getting on anyway.  First Class options have, of course, no further place this being A Stopper.  Wrestle with conflicting emotions.  On one hand, am delighted that this late train with no air conditioning and which will stop at eleventy-nine places, is also populated with 100s of hot commuters and also vast extended family (3 adult woman, at least 8 children and infants), all in full voice, thus proving me Right.  On the other hand, I am also having to endure the journey.  The heat has understandably taxed the patience of all the children and their carers.  A chorus of alternate shrieks and screams clearly tests patience of Colleague to the very limits of its endurance.  Insert head-phones and close eyes.  Navigate Colleague through final and lengthy stage of train journey for the day as we gaily board the train to Girvan.  I consume improbably huge quantity of cold sausage and chopped up raw veggies, which is my favourite train picnic.  I do this despite knowing I will (if we ever arrive) be given excellent dinner by Client in a few short hours, but neither this knowledge, or the frank displeasure of Colleague, or the open staring of fellow travellers can divert me from eating in manner of starving prisoner, just released.

Query with Colleague which manner of onward transportation he has arranged from Girvan station to hotel, this journey being All His Doing.  He is confident of cab rank.  I am confident, as veteran of many rural stations all over the UK, that this will not exist.  Wonder, as we emerge from hot train onto bloody boiling station at Girvan, to learn that there is no cab rank, if ‘Me Being Right’ will ever lose its shine.  Answer:  no, never.   Summon taxi via Google and iPhone in which neither Tom (of Tom’s Taxis; I personally think the plural is probably anticipatory, but do not say so to Tom) or I really understand each other but he does understand Trump Turnberry Hotel and Girvan Railway Station, and I understand Five Minutes, aye?  I await taxi in shade across the road as Colleague rattles locked front door of apparently abandoned railway station.

Arrive, 2 hours late, at Trump Turnberry Hotel.  Beauty of the west coast of Scotland – or at least, this bit of it, is undeniable.  I have now been travelling for 11 hours.  A flight, plus drive to airport and from airport to hotel would have been more like 4.5.  I am, as ever, Right.  This is of no comfort as it does nothing to ease my fatigue.  Spend very enjoyable and informative evening, and all of following morning with Client which is holding meetings at the hotel.

Take many photos of the Trump Hotel and also interrogate staff about POTUS and his role at this hotel.  Corporate memo has clearly been received and understood by all staff, who think Donald is A Good Thing for the hotel and that his son is Lovely.  The building is lovely, the location is unbelievably beautiful, despite being marred by Golf Course, but the addition of Trump Trademark giant fountains where water erupts from all the usual and also some very unexpected orifices or outlets, and a lot of gold decor does strike an odd note.  However, it is the nicest hotel room I have ever stayed in, and it is a bazillion (Trump terminology) times nicer than the last hotel I stayed in, chosen by Colleague. Also, the food was absolutely delicious, though I was unable to do proper justice to Posh Dinner being still very full of cold sausage and veggies, horsed down on last leg of travel.

Thursday:  after very productive meeting with Client, we depart and anticipate enjoying all the delights of the previous day, only backwards and with no cold sausages.  I intervene and get rid of the Girvan to Ayr bit by insisting on taxi.  Continuing Heat Wave has continued to modify the railway tracks and though our train is not cancelled, the previous one and several others are, thus making our train Very Busy.  Hilariously, the train operator, quite rightly in my view, suspends the classification of the train (i.e., anyone can sit anywhere) so the anticipated benefits of First Class are somewhat diluted.  Train is tortuously slow.  We arrive in Birmingham about 1.5 hours late.  I drive home, in state of relieved bliss, but am so ravenously hungry, I almost give in to overpowering desire to order and eat 3 Burger King Whoppers (or whatever).  Do not do so as believe this is favoured dinner of POTUS.  And look what that did for him.

Friday:  lie down a lot.  Doze at times and wonder if past 22 + hours spent driving, on trains and in taxis, with just a few hours in a Trump hotel in between, was just a dream.  Discovery of last cold sausage in lower regions of handbag indicates that it was real.  Discard sausage but regret that I did not find it the evening before on drive home.


Allotment at Home Up-Date: IT’S FABULOUS!

July 3rd, 2018

Well, 7 months after the project took its first muddy and tentative steps in January’s freezing and wet rain, February’s freezing and wet rain, and March’s freezing and wet snow, I can report that it is an overall success and I love it.  There have been some things that I would not do again, some planting and sowing failed (partly, I think, due to the long, cold winter, extending into spring), and some things I would modify, but it is really a great project, delivering all of the benefits I identified as essential and most of the desirables at the outset, plus some unexpected bonuses.  Yes, I am a project manager.  It’s my (real) job, I can’t help it.  I project the (desired) outcomes, I deliver the project, I measure the outcomes against the initial spec.  Job done.

Here are some ‘before and after’ images.

The area on the left side of the drive, then and now:

The area on the right side of the drive – then and now:

Some jungle shots:

Some gratuitous allotment/food-porn shots:

If I had been gardening my allotment now, in this extended hot and dry spell, I would have been making tactical sacrifices.  Because there is no mains water, only what we collect off our shed roofs and save, plus what we can share from the pond that was dug some years ago, and is pumped into a bank of shared bowsers, I had to walk from the top of the field, to the bottom, with empty cans or buckets and then back up with full vessels, to pour onto the most needy plants.

At this time of year that would be the 4 raised beds, the squash and courgettes, and the beans.  I would have decided not to water the cage, or the spinach, or the raspberries and rhubarb.  And I am pretty sure the spinach would have died and I would also be unable, short of doing this every day for several hours, to really stop the runner beans from aborting their flowers, or to make the courgettes and squash hydrated enough to thrive.  In short, I’d have kept most of it alive but that’s not easy or fun.  I did this in the first and second years there, especially the first which was hot – but not as hot, for as long, as this mid-summer has been.  It was hot and exhausting, boring labour.

Here, even though 80% of my allotment is in raised beds, I can water it very easily and quickly.  Furthermore, as the canopies of the squash and courgettes are so lush and thick, they are in turn providing shade for both their own roots and the roots of companion plants, such as runner beans.  Thus I have minimal moisture evaporation despite the beds being in full and intense sun for much of the day.

Even last year which was a fairly wet summer with long, cool spells, I never got such lush and impressive growth.  There is no mildew on the courgettes or squash – this is always a problem, but it’s easily remedied by just cutting off and destroying the affected leaves.  Here, so far, it just has not happened.

There has been some black fly on the broad beans, mainly I think because I had such a late sowing, the first 2 having failed due to 1) mice; and 2) snow x 2.  But here, with mains water at hand, I can blast the affected plants with a water jet which is the most effective and organic method of tackling black fly.  And in any case, the black fly has not been at all bad, perhaps because I am on hand to inspect and deal with it at least once, often twice a day so they never really get going.

Other benefits:

  • I can pick crops whenever I want, rather than collecting enough for 2 or 3 days.
  • I can attend immediately to any problems or small tasks that crop up;  all my tools are to hand and I have time.
  • Time saved is incredible.  If I had a spare half-hour there was no point going to the allotment as it took me 10 minutes to walk there.  Here, I can use even a spare 10 minutes to really good effect.
  • It is far less tiring.  I have no-dig, virtually zero weed control is needed and if it is hot, I can come inside or move to shade.  On the allotment, there was no shade, a lot of digging and constant weed-wrangling due to the open nature of the site, backing onto weed-infested fields and it having been left in such bad shape before.
  • I have a loo!  And a kettle!
  • It is possible to make a really productive and attractive site.  I always thought the allotment was attractive to be fair, once I had it in hand, but this is really beautiful.
  • I can sit in the allotment, in a comfy garden chair and have my breakfast, my coffee, a glass of wine – and just enjoy it.
  • I do not have to leave the dogs.  Rupert is now too old to go to any hostile, hot or cold places.  He has been really poorly recently and so I can just let him potter about and then put his bed in the sun or shade, depending on the day.  Right now, it is very hot and I would have been unable to leave the boys here for fear of them, and especially Roo, getting too hot or stressed.  I’d have to wait for evening or some respite care for him.
  • It is my environment and I control the use of all products.  I garden 100% organically and whilst this is not always ‘easy’, at least here, I do not have to try and do this in a mixed environment.  In fact, because I used pest control methods that mainly relied on barriers, I did not really get that much trouble but there is no doubt that if Allotment A uses chemical warfare and Allotment B does not, Allotment B may get some collateral damage as the little twats move away from the war-zone and over to my peace-camp.  Sigh.  Also, to be successfully organic, the whole environment – i.e. your own garden, or the whole allotment field, has to be organic.  If it is not, it is hard to get that long-term build up of organic benefit as the cycle is always being disrupted by the use of non-organic chemicals or methods beside you or nearby.   So for  example I had all my allotment broad beans eaten by mice this year for the first time ever and I believe this was because the ecosystem of the plot had been seriously disrupted.
  • It is peaceful.  It is so peaceful, calm and private.  There is no distracting mobile-phone chatter, no machinery or building noise.  There is a downside to this, see later, but overall, it is huge bonus and if I am honest this was one of the ‘must have’ benefits of the project before I began.
  • The level of produce is not lower, on average.  It is in some areas (broad beans, for example) but it is higher – and easier – in others such as salad crops, herbs and squash.
  • The rest of my garden – the majority of it, I mean the bits that are not allotment – are getting far more attention because I am here so much more.  Once I got my village allotment, the rest of the garden here really suffered and it became a source of anxiety and irritation.  Now, balance has been restored.

Downsides and what went wrong?

  • I have to improve the soil quality in some of the beds.  And in all cases, raise the soil levels.
  • There is clearly not much point sowing seeds for crops such as spinach or peas direct as I was able, successfully to do on the allotment.  They just do not like it.  I have no idea why. But this is easily remedied by sowing in pots and growing on.
  • I need to re-think where I site some crops.
  • I have been unable to get carrots going.  Again, I do not know why as on the allotment I did have great success, also in raised beds.  Maybe my timing and the weather.
  • Some pests were obviously imported by me along with some of the soil I moved from one side of the fence to the beds.  Mainly, probably, slug-eggs, resulting in instant death to germinating seeds as soon as the tiny slugs emerged.
  • As ever, I have over catered and there is some crowding going on.  Less will have to be more next year.
  • Raised beds are targeted by ants far more than open ground so I need constant and better ant control tactics.
  • It is a bit lonely.  I really never met all the allotment holders as my activity was almost always on weekdays, as I often work at weekends and go out on many evenings.  Plus when I was there, I was head-down-race-against-time-working-before-I-need-a-wee.  But I do miss chatting to my one-side neighbour, and the old neighbour on the other side who gave his plot up last year, though one of them has been for tea and a look round here!  But I have high levels of self-reliance and on balance, I’d rather have the peace and the huge efficiency savings I have gained.


  • The broad beans are almost over and so over the next 2 weeks, this will liberate 5 raised beds.  These will then be populated with later sowings for French beans, and I will have another go with late carrots and peas.
  • Some of the salad crops went over very fast, so I will re-sow for these too.
  • I have pricked out several squash plants that self-seeded in the compost – probably butter-nut squash as these are the only squash seeds I ever discard, we eat the others, roasted.  Anyway, this means I can continue to site them into free beds or old bath-tubs as in the images, or tyre towers, 2-high.

I have not been to the allotment for weeks.  I won’t go back now, as Mark has kindly offered to put it all to bed and save me that heart-aching (but not heart-breaking) job.  I do not miss it.  It is too joyful, busy and productive here for that.  But yet, I am so grateful that I had my allotment years.  Had I known that Florence and Will would buy a house with such a big garden and thus (completely reasonably and understandably) bow out of the allotment almost right away, I would never have gone in for it.  So it was lucky that I did not know.  I would never have learned how to grow vegetables on a big scale, and also that this is my favourite sort of gardening any time.



Brace, Brace

June 26th, 2018

My dear Reader, I will be staying in a hotel later this week. Nothing new there.  Only this a TRUMP hotel.  I am pretty sure this one won’t have the charming fag-ends on the window-sill decor of my last hotel.  I am also fairly confident that the proprietor will not be present.  I will be sure to let you know what knitting activities I get up to.


Musings: My Diary (if I wrote one) from a week or so ago…

June 11th, 2018

Monday:  exciting news today is that it is time to take Rupert for a check up at the vets.  This means, as I have a special needs dog in the form of Arthur, who cannot be left alone unless Rupert is also there, that we all have to go.  I have decided today is the day to have The Talk with the vet.  Roo is fine, he is really well actually so it is a good day to talk to LV (lovely vet) about The End Game Plan.  Rehearse calm conversation about how I would like this to go.  Naturally, having completely composed myself on the drive in, I instantly dissolve into tears before I have even one full sentence out of my mouth.  Distressing interlude begins for all of us as Arthur begins to whine, Roo begins to yip and LV goes out to get tissues for me.  LV fills in gap in my conversation – me being reduced now to wet sniffs and gulps instead of words – with a cheerful discourse on Losing A Much Loved Pet.  Decide to abandon The Talk until another time.  Arthur wees on the floor. Know how he feels…

Tuesday:  appointment book reveals that I have an appointment at the dental hygienist.  My old hygienist has left and so I have a new one.  Becoming less afraid of dentist was really only achieved by previous hygienist being angelically nice to me and I have had a good 2 years.  Tell literally everyone I meet today that I am Very Nervous.  Receptionist glances at colleague, decides I am probably harmless and indicates a chair in the waiting area as far from her as is possible.  I sit and read about spiral knitting.

Steve (new hygienist) has 2 or 3 goes at alerting me to my appointment and eventually the old man sitting next to me digs me sharply in the arm and demands to know if I am Alison.  I admit it, and then Steve gently leads me into the office.  S asks if there have been any changes since my last appointment.  I tell him I have become, once again, overcome with Dentist Nerves. As angelically nice woman has left.  Steve listens, and then asks me if any dental or medical changes have occurred.  I tell him I have given up drinking fizzy water to which I believe I had become addicted.  Steve agrees that this is Wise and pops out for a moment.  Nurse enters.  I tell her I am Very Nervous and that I wish my other hygienist had not left.  Steve comes back in.  Nurse tells him that I am Very Nervous.  Steve nods, maybe a little wearily, and then coats the entire interior of my mouth with a thick gel or paste, rubbing it firmly into my gums especially.  This is a first and I try (but fail) to say so, my mouth being full of his hand and also a lot of paste.  Instead I gag on his finger but happily am not actually sick, I just urge a lot and my eyes completely fill with tears.  I decide to close my eyes and think of a Fairisle chart.  Procedure is totally painless.  Am unsure if this is the paste, or the skill of the hygienist.  Am blissfully grateful and happy!  Thank S and nurse in manner of Academy Award winner, and float into reception to make next appointment.  Rave to receptionist about how Great S is.  Skip back to car, bestowing smiles and cheerful mini-waves to all I pass.  Achieve car, and look in mirror.  Startled and disappointed to see that tiny coat of mascara I applied earlier is now all over cheeks and temples, in improbably huge dried-up rivers of coal-like stains, probably due to the gagging.  Drive home in dark glasses.

Thursday:  finally complete The Allotment at Home Project.  Last delivery of gravel has been dumped, the last lining is down.  Gravel Man and I say farewell, for ever…Immediately begin agony of indecision re old allotment.  Now is the moment to go one last time, empty the shed and never go back.  Instead of following this plan – which has been widely shared and agreed with many interested parties – I sow seeds for things I have no room for, here. Also, pot on squash and spinach.  Reflect that I could just keep it for another year.  Rule – which is flagrantly dismissed by several plot holders, I note – that 75% of the plot must be under productive cultivation is a problem as I am now only growing garlic, rhubarb and raspberries.  Wonder if planting a few stands of beans and half a dozen mystery squash will suffice. Family express strongly held view that I have got an allotment here now and I cannot reasonably keep the other. Continue to sow beans…

Friday:  attend the gym for usual classes.  I am very early so I decide to cast on a Moebius.  This witchcraft further sets me aside from the demographic and I regret getting out knitting  – or at least think in future I will knit only ‘normal’ things in gym foyer.  Put knitting away and instead attend to some admin on my phone. Lovely Retailer (LR) with whom I have worked for many years, is retiring and I have been asked to offer some autumn teaching dates for the New Lovely Retailer (NLR) who has bought the shop. LR asks for Brioche. Having sworn never to teach this wretched subject again, and indeed, having firmly refused several times in last year, I inexplicably give in and say Yes.  But only In The Round.  Instantly regret this but have sent email so too late.  Spend entirety of classes thinking about Bloody Brioche.  Find, part way through Spin, that I am standing up and have been for ages whist rest of class is toiling in seated climb.  This lapse due to finding that, mentally at least, I have no idea how to knit Brioche any more.  Entire knowledge of it has fled.   Assume this is self defence.  Hope it will somehow, magically, be restored once I try and do it.

Try to wrench mind away from BB in the torture that is BLT class.  In the end, compromise thus:  I make a bargain with myself (or the devil, unclear on this matter) that IF I can hold the pose we have been contorted into – which in my opinion leaves me with one hand too few on the floor, but anyway – for the duration of the 10,000 leg raises, on each side, without putting my hand down or stopping, Bloody Brioche will be unparalleled success.  I do hold the pose but sadly catch glimpse of self in mirror and am horrified to observe demented expression and mad hair.  That’s Brioche for you.  Do come.

Go home and eat chips.

Saturday:  receive text from Lily who is euphoric about the completion date on the house she and Jack are buying in Bridgwater. And this has just been confirmed.  Text back with equally euphoric reply.  Which is entirely false as this news, looming as it has been for so long, is in fact most unwelcome.  Try to tell myself this is Good (I know), and Normal (yes, yes), and that others Have It Far Worse (yes, I suppose so but do not care in the least and if we were all honest, we’d say the same). Yet, day clouded with terrible self-pity about this year being the first for 29 years when I will not have 1 or 2 children living at home. Am disappointed that I am not, after all, that paragon of motherhood who wishes nothing more than for her off-spring to leave; mainly because it is Good and Normal, and also because she is about to join the local symphony orchestra on a good-will tour of Middle East, so timing could not be better.  No.  I am not that woman.  I don’t even really like going to Taunton.  Decide to keep allotment.  That evening, try to think about Blessings.  For example, M and I will have so much more quality time.  Glance at M, asleep behind the Telegraph which he believes confers properties of invisibility.  Cast on Bloody Brioche.



How To Videos: stretchy cast on for socks

June 3rd, 2018

I am planning to make a few short videos of some of the techniques I teach and release them after workshops.  Here is the first one:  a stretchy cast-on for top-down socks.  This can also be used for the brim of a hat, the cuff of a mitten or anywhere that needs a good stretch that won’t go baggy.  Here it is.

Top down plain sock cast on



Workshops! Spaces!

May 29th, 2018

Hello there, welcome to the ghost-ship Court Cottage.  The workshops have succumbed to an epidemic of cancellations – so there is a lot of space here in June.

This weekend, you can come and knit socks, either from the top down or from the toe up. This is a great skill. Socks are easy to knit once you have mastered the basics – and that, plus a few extras, is what this course is all about.  I teach top down socks on DPNs and toe up socks on 2 short circular needles.  Once mastered, socks are ideal in many ways:  great, fast and economical gift knits; and perfect as a travelling project.

Next weekend, you can come and learn to knit a magical Moebius, or if you have done this with me before, you can knit a brand new design.  Moebiuses are very addictive and great fun to knit and to wear.

Please follow the links above or contact me.

Just a reminder:  if you were on my email list and did not opt back in when I sent out a recent pre-GDPR reminder, you will no longer receive my alerts and up-dates. So if you want to continue to get these, please contact me and I will add your name back in.  If you did opt back in – thank you!