Alison Crowther-Smith

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.

 

Bleph-Warriors!

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.

Next:

  • 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.

Standby.

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!

 

GDPR: your data, your rights, and my policy.

May 17th, 2018

This policy applies on and from 25 May 2018

Keeping your data safe

I am committed to keeping your personal data safe and secure, and handling it in accordance with legal obligations.  This Privacy Policy sets out the purposes for which I hold and use your personal data, and what rights you have in relation to that data.

I am a sole trader, trading as Alison Crowther-Smith Designs

What data do I collect and where from?

I collect some data from you via PayPal or from an email from you, when you book a place on one of my courses or buy a product from my website.

This data includes:

  • Your full name;
  • Your email address(es);
  • The address you used to book your course.

I also collect information (email addresses only) from participants at workshops and events when I am teaching or presenting for a third party such as a yarn shop or festival.  I will collect your full name and your email address on a form which explicitly states that you have agreed to me holding and using your data.  If you do not wish this to happen, do not complete the form.

What do I use your data for?

I use the data to contact you directly about news, events, and patterns.  This will include Newsletters and direct emails.

Who do I share your data with?

No-one, including other people on my email list.

What rights do you have?

You have a number of rights under data protection law and I will respond to any requests to exercise your rights as soon as I can and in any event within one month of receiving your request.

  • You have a right to access your information;
  • You have a right to object to me processing your information;
  • You have a right to ask me not to send you information;
  • You have a right to have inaccurate data corrected; and
  • You have a right to have your data erased.

If you wish to be added to or removed from my email list, please contact me.

GDPR: do you want to stay in touch?

May 16th, 2018

Hello lovely reader!

It turns out that GDPR is not an extended news item about the German Democratic People’s Republic as I had assumed.  It’s all about data protection and it affects you and me.

I hold email addresses on a data base.  I hold it here and it is safe-guarded.  I do not use a mail platform.  I write the newsletters, for example, and send them to the list. I never share the information with anyone, including the other people on the list.

In future – in fact from this month on – if you do not opt IN, I will have to delete your data.  So you’ll never hear from me again, which is possibly a relief, but I would be sad.

From May 2018 onward, I will be collecting email addresses as usual but it will be explicitly understood that I am doing so with each person’s consent for me to do so under GDPR compliance.

Please contact me and say ‘yes please’ to future contact.

Allotment at Home: almost there!

May 11th, 2018

There has been so much progress! I have to say that since the muddy, freezing days of January and February when the turf was lifted but there was nothing in situ, the state of play now is just great.  Back then I was despondent and regretted ever starting this project but now I am sure I have done the right thing.

Last night, I picked all the ingredients, here in the garden, for this salad:

allotment at home salad

The first part of the project is 100% complete. All the beds are up, the gravel is down and each bed has been planted up.  Honestly – as I suspected – the furthest two beds beneath the rowan tree are far too shady so what I plant in there will need a lot of careful management, but otherwise, it is all good.

Here are some images of the progress here:

The second area is 75% there.  The beds are all in place, but now I have to fill them all (three are filled) and then lay the lining and the gravel.

Area Two:

The third area is the old veg garden – and this is clear, and ready for a modified brassica cage from the old allotment to go up this Sunday.  The plants are almost ready to go in, so just in time.

I had not been to the old allotment for weeks – so when I did go last weekend, it was a bit of a sorry state.  But then, I saw that a lot of plots were in even worse states with weeds and long grass and I assume their owners had been down there!  Anyway, it’s all tidy now and I have removed almost all the stuff I want – mainly the raised beds, the canes, some tyres and tools.  There are 1.5 beds to come back still – but this, though physically hard, is not at all slow or difficult.  And the cage.  I will keep the plot tidy until I finally give notice.

Taking the old allotment down:

When I went down, I thought I would feel sad – but in fact it just vindicated my decision. It is not a place of quiet solitude now – and also there are still no ‘facilities’ so it feels like hard labour compared to having a cuppa and a loo handy, here, in between work.  There, you just end up racing round to get it done before you need a drink or a wee!

 

A Crap-tastic Hotel Review

April 30th, 2018

I do sometimes stay in nice places.  I don’t tend to tell anyone in case they get all booked up.  And usually when I now and again review a crap-tastic hotel, I don’t name it.  The hotel I am featuring today is huge, and on the very edge of a place called Hook, in Hampshire which is about 15 minutes from Basingstoke.

First, I did not pay for this myself as it was a business trip.  Had I paid, I would have been actually angry. As it was, I was *quite* upset because I had 2.5 days to savour this pit and that is just not fair.  Just because I am working and not paying the bill does not mean it is OK to be accommodated in a frankly grim hotel.  It’s not.  I know that there is a school of thought that goes along the lines of:  it’s just a place to sleep, it doesn’t matter.  I am not in agreement.  When I am working away from home, I expect to have some basic comforts, not just a bed and a roof. This is why I prefer pubs and B&Bs.

Clues as to the reality of the impending stay:  1) the hotel will not allow you to check in until you pay in full.  2) the place is very eerie, and cold like an abandoned end-of-the-pier attraction.

I checked in with a colleague, and we had to pay for both nights right there and then.  The hotel had been suggested to us and sourced by a booking agent.  The website looked good.  The website is almost entirely misleading. Also they (and we) had not read the many reviews on Trip Adviser.  Don’t ever miss out this essential step.

We asked about dinner and the receptionist said that, yes, dinner would be possible in their Brasserie – on-line images and sample menus had been investigated by me earlier so I was happy.  But, she urged us to hastily book a table as it is very popular and busy.

Me:  can we see the menu, please?

Receptionist:  no.

Me:

Me:  why not?

Receptionist – but not to me, to a colleague who had wafted out of the office:  can they see a menu?

Colleague: no.

All of us, whilst gazing at one another:

My colleague, as if awakening from a momentary absence:  so, we have to book, but we may not see the menu?

Receptionist:  the menu is not ready.

Me:  it’s 5.30.  When does chef publish the menu?

Receptionist:  at 6.  When the Brasserie is open.

We declined and proceeded to our rooms.

The procession to rooms is lengthy, this being set out like a 1960s motel and with hundreds of bedrooms.  A brisk walk of 4 minutes through changing eras of decor ranging from the 1970s to late ’90s and taking in features such as huge but completely dead plants, all conducted in a howling gale from some open doors we did not see, brought us eventually to our corridor.  We investigated my room.  I knew instantly that a terrible mistake had happened and also, one second after this revelation, that we were committed.

I also sensed that my colleague was fervently glad that I had this room, and was sure that his room would probably be much, much nicer.  I can see why he thought this.  It was hard to imagine anything worse, and also he is A Man and therefore probably worthy of a double bed, and he is My Boss, so probably worthy of a double bed.  Sadly, the hotel had not received this memo.  He urged me to view his room a few doors down.  I did and I am not even a bit ashamed to say how glad I was that the room was identical.  Ha.

We agreed to part and spend an hour enjoying the ambience of our rooms before meeting to drive into Basingstoke.  I used this time to take photos of all the nastiness, unpack my rucksack and iron two dresses.

The ironing board is screwed to the wall and is in fact all part of a mini-ironing board and trouser-press combo. The tiny iron is also fixed and wired in.  To use it, you have to pull it out and rest a leg of the board in a groove.  Once erected, it is at just below shoulder height for an average sized woman – me.  You can’t adjust this.  It is either up or down. And, if you are right handed, you cannot get to the right side to use the fixed iron without moving the bed.  I moved the bed.

To use the iron, I had to change into a pair of heels.  Unfortunately, I only had some modest heels as I was being a grown up but this did give me a two inch advantage over my sneakers.  I considered standing on the bed or a chair but then I would have towered over the ironing…I ironed a dress and the only way to see what you had achieved was to keep taking it off the tiny board and peering at it.

My room was pitifully dingy – the Bates Motel is an aspiration for this room.  The windows were wide open, causing the room to be freezing cold and also to waft the sordid net curtains about into the room, a la Miss Havisham.  I shut the windows with an effort, the metal frames being a poor fit, but this struggle gave me a chance to appreciate the torn nets which were hanging down from their rail, and also the collection of soggy fag-ends on the window sill outside.  This explained the strong smell of stale tobacco I suppose.

The facilities were limited to the absolute essentials.  The was a 1970s style telephone with a cable that was about 12 inches long, meaning that had I needed to use it, I would have had to kneel by a wooden shelf which housed it.  There was an almost empty safe – empty except for a cup and saucer, plus 1 sachet of coffee and 1 tiny tub of fake milk.  There was a retro hair drier with a cable so contorted that in use, it and I were engaged in some macabre Argentinian tango style manoeuvring – we writhed and twisted, flicked and parried.  So, a bit of a work-out even  if its drying properties were as effective as having a new-born babe breathe gently on your head.

Onto the bathroom.  A plastic shower curtain, white and grey (the grey being organic) modestly shielded an over-bath plastic shower head.  A soap dispenser (empty) was screwed to the cracked tiles.  On the sink, a tiny piece of soap, about the size of a 2 penny piece, wrapped in congealed tissue paper.  I left it untouched.  It would be like opening a fine old bottle of wine – wasted in a moment.  Luckily I always travel with full toiletries but had I not done so, I would have had to drive to Hook I suppose and buy some…

The shower was fairly powerful but very unpredictable.  You can choose from icy or scalding.  And then it will still vacillate wildly, not really knowing which temperature it wishes to be assigned to. And in this enlightened age, why should it have to choose?  Why must it be forced to conform to some arbitrary temperature category?  This shower is in the very vanguard of shower-emancipation.   I salute it.  If by ‘salute’, you mean: curse it with piratical swearing, emerge lobster-red and storm off into the murky steam-room I had created, wrapped in a waterproof bath towel the size of a napkin.

More revelations included the ‘free’ Wi-Fi being limited to 20 minutes after which you could pay a daily fee of £8.  Or, use the real free Wi-Fi in the hotel’s public areas – all of which were Baltic and infested with loud music pumped from hundreds of speakers in (I assume) a touching tribute to the Koreas.  I was delighted also, that night as I laid my weary head down, to find a tissue, and my bare (except for socks) feet found crunchy plastic wrappers and very painful plastic caps from what I think were medical phials.

At 5.30 am, I woke to the sound of the majority of the hotel’s guests getting up for work.  This cohort, occupying at least 60% of the rooms, are contractors working on infrastructure projects in the locality.  I have no issue with this, but they do rise early and shout a lot, both at night and again, as they mirthfully rib one another in the hallways, and urge colleagues to get up and come to breakfast.  I think that was the gist.  Also their tools and boots are quite noisy but that is not really the hotel’s fault is it?  I considered suggesting a system where these guests were placed in one of the many cells of the hotel’s Soviet lay out but as the production of a 3-course menu was clearly a stretch for the team, I didn’t bother.  To tell you the truth I was glad to be awake as my dreams had been about wild and exhausting forays along the endless orange-swirl carpeted corridors of The Hotel California.

I had seen the alluring images of the hotel’s leisure facilities, on the website. It ‘boasts’ a state of the art gym and luxurious pool.  My room was bereft of any hotel information  at all.  Literally, zero but I assumed being a busy business oriented hotel, 6 am would be reasonable.  I used my 20 minutes of free Wi-Fi to watch Netlix and then scampered down the arctic corridors to the leisure centre which was closed.  A note on the door said it would throw open its doors in half an hour. When I went back, the gym was open but the place was shrouded in semi-darkness, the main light coming from a TV monitor showing sports.  I was startled to see a youth behind the desk in the corner, we greeted each other in the customary wary way – ‘alright?’ – and I got on a treadmill and ran for 40 minutes. I now realise that I was supposed to pay to use the leisure club but it didn’t occur to me and Youth did not ask for payment. I can honestly say that this 40 minute run was the best part of the entire trip.

I am going to skip the bit about Basingstoke as this is not the hotel’s fault.  I fervently hope I never have to go back. Maybe, as I was seeing it on a grim Tuesday evening, on an unseasonably cold April day, it is unfair to judge.

On the last day, I had to go out very early for a meeting and then come back to the hotel.  I was packed so I put my luggage in the car.  But I didn’t check out. I wanted to use the room until 11.  However, my room was open when I arrived, the maid had checked me out and serviced the room.  She was apologetic but the inference was that it was my own fault for removing my luggage.  So I had to go and sit in my colleague’s equally squalid room where I spent my time once again freezing to death and moaning ceaselessly. I am sure this was annoying and I am glad.

 

 

April Newsletter

April 16th, 2018

The new Newsletter has just gone out to my email list.  It contains news on my events, new stock, and an invitation for expressions of interest for Knit Camp 2019 – which will be in Bath and offer 2 or 3 night options.  if nothing else, it is an easy read with a cuppa…

To receive my up-dates first, ask me to add you to my distribution list.

 

 

 

Allotment at Home Phase One

March 21st, 2018

allotment lawn all done 2

The first phase of Bring the Allotment back home is almost complete.  The turf was all lifted some weeks ago and then sourcing and building the raised beds started.  I have a mix of home made wooden beds, beds made of pallet-cuffs, and some metal hexagonal shaped beds.

This is what the area looked like before we started. Allotment lawn before

I then had three trees felled – two in this area and one in the next area across the drive.

As the beds went into place, the turfs were moved from storage and placed in the bottom of several planters.  Then I was able to put down heavy duty weed suppressing lining.  I have had mixed results with this on other gravel paths.  For one thing they are not weed suppressing. For another the frayed edges can quickly make their way through the gravel and be unsightly and a nuisance.  But I think I needed some lining, mainly to stop the gravel being mashed into the earth.  So I laid a path way of lining in each area – a long and painstaking process as this is a series of odd shapes.  And each piece was turned under at all the raw edges, by hand, and then the whole of each piece was secured, including the folded edges, with home-made metal ‘staples’ which I hammered in all around.

Allotment weed membrane 1

The lining does not always reach right to the edge of the beds, but it is down in every area where I will have to walk.

I then ordered 2 tones of gravel.  Which I then delayed three times as it was first too cold, then too wet and then too snowy to work outside.  When I finally got the first 2 tons schlepped, I was still 2 tons short, so I ordered some more – and it snowed again.  Eventually, this Monday and with snow still lying about, I got the last of it down.  All that remains here is for me to fill each bed with soil and compost.  Most of the soil is being dug and barrowed from the other side of the drive.  This is also part of the work to complete the last phase of the project.  At the moment I have the two biggest beds full, and two more almost there. full

I will also need to rig netting on each raised bed to deter cats and birds.

I am very pleased with it so far.  I know it is not beautiful, but it is a highly practical space now, with twelve raised beds.  I have four more on the allotment, and three more here, so the next phase is well in hand.

Allotment lawn area part gravelled

It has been a much bigger, longer and harder task that I thought.  But this is always the way, or it is for me.

I have not even been to the allotment other than to look at the snow for about three weeks, but I will be down soon to plant out broad bean seedlings and have a tidy up.  Then, the cage will be dismantled and brought home.  I will also dig up and pot on some raspberry root-shoots and bring them home.  Finally, the raised beds there and the tyres will be emptied and brought home.

The space you see here is about 1/2 of a full allotment plot, I think but longer and thinner; and of course I have sacrificed space by having only raised beds.  But I think these are far more productive than open ground growing for everything except fruit canes, and beans.  When I have completed phase two and re-configured the old original veg plot, I will have c 1.5 of a full allotment. Perfect.

The light is good in this area, even for March.  This plot will not have the almost uninterrupted full sun that much of my allotment has; but in very hot spells that has been a mixed blessing really.  Here, the beds at the far end will get early and mid-late morning sun; and the rest will have sunlight or at least good light later in the day.  I think it will be fine.  It will also be much more sheltered and far more peaceful.  I am looking forward to planting it all up and having it literally on my doorstep.

 

How To Videos

March 4th, 2018

In 2018 I will be adding a section to the blog and maybe to the workshop pages with some home-made ‘how-to’ videos. These will be there to support new or unusual techniques that I have taught at workshops.  It won’t be comprehensive but it will attempt to cover some of the tricks and things you may do infrequently and therefore might forget.  A refresher.  I will be starting with my new favourite top-down sock cast on.

I imagine most of the videos will be 1 -4 minutes long and will probably focus on things I ask of you in a pattern, such as a specific cast on, cast off, etc.

Any requests?  Must be very short demos!

Moons and Stars

February 26th, 2018

Moons and Stars 1

I thought you might like to see the final images of the designs for the Moons and Stars events which are new for 2018.

Here is the lap-blanket:

And here is the Cowl:

The blanket is steeked.  Both are knitted in the round and we also knit Fairisle with beads.

There is one space (a cancellation) for 22 March. The other dates are fully booked but we may repeat it in the autumn as there is a waiting list now.

This is not the design for our Shetland Fairisle adventure in July – but like Bees and Sulis, it is typical of my approach to Fairisle design – modern, a bit different, not difficult, simple colours and clean images – but knitted 100% traditionally. Do come to Shetland!  I can promise you it will be amazing.

 

Conversations with Lily: the gym, the stuffing, the kale and the sweat.

February 23rd, 2018

As I review the blog section that houses conversations with Lily, I see there are fewer of them as time passes.  This is not a true reflection of real life as in fact I think we have more conversations if anything.  But she is 21.  Apparently.  So they are different from the young and late teen-age conversations.

We often go to the gym together and this is a conversation from last week.

Lily and I are driving to the gym to attend a spin class followed by Bums, Legs and Tums. Do not let these familiar and innocent names fool you.  They are brutal at our gym.  Nice, but brutal.

As we drive up the hill to leave the village:

Me:  we could just not go.

Lily:  not go where?

Me: to the gym.

Lily:  what, just not go? (as if I had suggested participating in the class naked).

Me:  yes. I could turn the car round. We could go home…

Lily: what is for dinner?

Me:  chicken wrapped in bacon, roasted.

Lily:  (genuinely happy) yay!

Lily:  is there stuffing?

Me:  no.

Lily:  (crestfallen) what are we having with it?

Me: (said with unnatural enthusiasm as am fully aware that this news will be unpopular) kale!  And mashed root vegetables.

Lily: (with heavy sarcasm) yay!  Kale!

Lily:  f**cking kale. We are always having kale. Why do we have kale so often?

Me:  I grow it. I like it.  It’s good for us.

Lily:  can we have stuffing?

Me:  well…if I drove to Asda instead of the gym I could buy some, then we could go home and cook it with the chicken!

Lily:  but then we will feel bad.

Me:  about what?

Lily:  missing the gym.

We drive to the gym.  As we toil through 45 minutes of spin, I note that as ever, Lily and I are the only women in the class who are obviously literally pouring with sweat and very red.  Muse:  why is this?  Would like to think it is work ethic but think we are in fact just genetically programmed to most unattractive reaction to exercise.

As BLT is about to start:

Lily:  I wish we were having stuffing.

Me:  well it’s too late now.  Also I feel sick so let’s not talk about food please.

Lily:  we should have gone to Asda.

During BLT – the bit where you kind of half-kneel, half-lie on your mat and have to do incredibly painful things with your legs for an improbable length of time – which always comes after the running about bit and the torture that is 15 minutes of squats and lunges and thus makes me sweat even more, I catch Lily’s eye.

Lily:  (mouthing/whispering) stuffing…!

Me:  shh. Also – kale.

Later, someone I know only from the gym and who I really like comes up to me.  We are happy because the class is over.  She says:  ‘oh Ali!  your face in class always makes me laugh!  You cannot hide how you are feeling, can you? You look so fed up!’   I agree but in fact I am startled to hear this as have always assumed my face to be a perfect mask of enigmatic opacity at all times.  Later, on the drive home, I ask Lily.

Me:  Lils, so-and-so said to me that I look – well fed up in classes. I am trying to look neutral.  Which is it?

Lily:  quite angry and sometimes a bit scared and always fed-up.

Me:  wow! Sometimes I am enjoying it though!

Lily:  were you enjoying the mat-work tonight?  Because you looked psychotic.

Me: well no…but I was sweating so much my arms kept sliding away from under me.  I must try smiling.

Lily:  for God’s sake don’t do that. You look bad enough without adding a deranged grin to the mix.

Me:

Lily:  why do we sweat so much?

Me:  I don’t know!

Lily:  I blame you.

Me:

Me:  why?

Lily:  the same reason I blame you for the moon-face and the hair:  I get these things from you.

Me:  you’re welcome.

Lily:  but really, mum, why don’t I look like so-and-so in class?  SHE never sweats so much she has to mop the floor at the end.  HER hair never looks like she’s had a shower.  HER makeup never slides off her face like a land-slip.

Me:  we are working harder.

Lily:  we’re not!

Lily:  also how can the instructor do it all, AND yell at us non-stop, AND not die of sweating like us?

Me:  practice?  Or they won on the genetic lottery? They got lungs the size of hot-air balloons and no sweat glands and we got tiny lungs –

Lily:  (interrupting) yeah to go with our tiny bladders!*

Me:  yes! tiny bladders and tiny lungs – but incredible and over-productive sweat glands. Maybe, our profuse sweating is linked to having tiny bladders?

Lily:  eh?

Me:  well, our bladders are so small, the excess – um – fluids are excreted via our skin!  So we don’t…

Lily:  yes! OK, I get it! and also gross.

Lily:  we deserve stuffing for tea.

Me:  well, tough, too late, it’s kale.

Lily:  when you’re old I am going to make you kale smoothies instead of meals.

Me:  what about my wine allowance?

*It appears to be true that we both have bladders with the capacity of an egg cup. This is a source of irritation to anyone who has the misfortune to cave with me, or undertake a motorway journey with us as we like, in fact need, to visit all the service areas. On their first ‘date’ which was to Carnival, Lily’s boyfriend recalls that she had to visit the lavatory 5 times including just before leaving his house.  And yet still he went on dating her. He doesn’t so much mind it – really why should he? – as find it an absolutely baffling feature.  And then he had to drive me to Birmingham so now he knows where she gets it…

 

The Wool Palette Workshops in 2018

February 14th, 2018

I am delighted to be teaching a short series of one day workshops for The Wool Palette in Plymouth.

This is the space, which I just love:

The Wool Palette space 1

 

I can just see us there, can’t you?

There are four dates and topics:

17 March:  The Smudge Scarf.  I have not taught this event for at least five years and I won’t be teaching it here but it is a lovely day knitting a pretty scarf or wrap in Kidsilk Haze plus beads. So I think you should come to The Wool Palette and knit this with me.

19 May:  The Sara Mitts.  This is another topic I taught a fair bit when my second book came out and these mitts were the cover shot. They are a mix of two shades of Kidsilk Haze (but could be knitted in DK or 4 ply held single with the right needles and a bit of number-fudging).  They are possibly my easiest ever mitts – but just because they are fairly easy, doesn’t make them boring.  They are beautiful.  And an ideal day for a beginner to knitting in the round on DPNs or someone who just wants a lovely, straightforward project and a nice day out.

20 October:  The Magical Moebius.  There may well be some people out there who I have not yet taught to knit these magical and mysterious objects.  You will fall in love with it, I promise.

3 November:  Christmas Stars.  I taught this once here, but have never taught it since.  This is a great festive workshop in time for you to knit a galaxy of stars.  It’s a fun, fairly simple and highly addictive pattern too.

All the events will be held at The Wool Palette’s beautiful space at The Ocean Studio, Royal William Yard, Plymouth.  You can see this lovely creative space here. I just know this is going to be our sort of place.

The owner of The Wool Palette and I have chose these subjects because they offer a range of levels (though none are hard) and I don’t really teach these any more – they are vintage back-catalogue items!

I know that places are limited and there were I think 3 places left for March last week.  How can you book?  Here is a link to the Wool Palette’s Face Book page with details and contacts.

Allotment at Home

February 1st, 2018

As I get into year 3 on my allotment, I have made a decision.  I think.  You must be relieved.  Maybe (I am not promising) I will now stop mythering.

The allotment is going to move to home. The main reason I wanted an allotment was because my own little veggie garden here is in 50% deep shade from c May – October from a very large neighbouring ash tree.  This is now called Area 1. The parts that are not so affected are sometimes in shade from the house next door – the charming Whitlow – and the lightest, best parts are full of soft fruits.

Also, Florence and Will wanted a share in the allotment, but of course they instantly bought a house with a gigantic garden.  So why do I want it now?  As you know, loyal reader, I have mused long over this.  I have now almost decided that I don’t like the allotment as much as I did.  There are a number of reasons for this, most of which I cannot influence.  But my original veg garden is too small and dark.  So if I want to carry on vegetable growing on a largish scale, which I do, I must either grit my teeth and stick with the allotment, or find an alternative at home.

In other parts of this garden, the bits you never see if you come to a workshop, I have the veggie garden mentioned above, and two other potential areas for veg growing.  One of these is a long and quite narrow stretch of fairly poor quality lawn and borders right outside the back door.  This was, until a few years ago, in deep shade from two huge trees which I had to have removed due to their dangerous proximity to the house.  In the intervening years this area has recovered and with some further tree removal, I think this could be a good candidate for vegetable growing Area 2.

There is also a further bit of land, bigger than the lawn, with a large open wood store at the end.  It is partly paved, partly border – empty border, as I had a big hedge grubbed out 18 months ago.  This, with the removal of the slabs and the rocks, and some levelling work could be the area where the frankly pathetically useless brassica cage would go.  This area would be a good candidate for vegetable growing Area 3.

If I add all this up, it is at least as big as an allotment.  But of course, some of it is less favoured than my allotment mainly due to the shade.  If I then change the way I grow vegetables I think I can be at least as productive but with less effort.  I have learned a lot about allotmenting these past 3 years.  Such as how to grow new vegetables, how to work with barrier and other organic deterrents to have 100% organic veg (with sometimes limited success but anyway…).  And I have learned that growing veg in raised beds is an utter joy.  I only have 4 plus some tyre beds – new for this year – but this is my most successful and most enjoyable growing, really.  Yes, the squash and the courgettes and beans have thrived in open ground.  But all root crops, salad, peas, edible flowers and garlic do very much better in raised beds.  The crops that do well in the open will also do even better, I imagine, in raised beds.

So, the allotment project will continue but in 2018, it will gradually move here and 80% of it will be devoted to raised beds, with gravel paths round each one.  Even in the cage, it will be a raised bed garden.  Raised beds do not need digging, ever.  They are easy to clear, provide protection against some flying and most soil-dwelling pests. They are easy to net, and are a bit warmer than open ground all year round.  The downsides are:  you get a bit of lost space and they need watering in dry spells.  This latter is not a problem if it is at home, but it was, a bit, at the allotment.

The preparation work started at home this weekend.  We cleared Area 3 of a ton of rocks, some old path lining, the gravel and a bit of other stuff.  This was back-breaking but not as bad as digging was 3 years ago.  Next, I will take down the cage at the allotment and reconstruct it here. It will need to be smaller but it is modular.  Then we will build the prototype beds – 2 to start with and perfect this skill for as little outlay of money and effort as possible.  Then we will make the maximum number we can fit into the cage and lay slabs (recovered from the ground of Area 3) and gravel as paths.  This has to be first as I plant into the cage from May onward and still harvest into February – but after October it won’t be my allotment any more.

Step 2:  lift the turf on Area 2.  Level and populate with more beds, and gravel paths.  Step 3:  as the raised beds and tyre beds at the allotment become empty from mid-summer, deconstruct, bag the earth and bring it all back to plant seeds for late summer and autumn crops here.  Step 4:  take raspberry root cuttings at the allotment and plant them here – they are great.  Step 5:  prepare the original Area 1 for crops that really need an open position such as broad beans.  Step 6:  transplant all herbs from Area 1 to Area 2, in raised beds.  This will liberate more space in Area 1, too. I love planning, don’t you?

Here are some pics.  These show Areas 1 – 3, and also the work in progress and to date on Area 3, which began this weekend.

If I don’t like it or am too sad about the allotment, I can still keep it!  But you know, it’s just not the same there.  It is no longer a haven.  So I do not think that will happen.  It’s not as much fun, or as calming and enjoyable. I don’t enjoy going as I did before – and that is partly influenced by factors that I cannot see changing.

Onward.  I can put all my energy into Project Allotment At Home.  I don’t think I would ever have had the confidence or the planning ability – or even the very idea – to do this (if it works) if I had not had my allotment.  So as with most things in life, they lead you to things that you didn’t foresee – but they too, are good. Veg on!