Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for the ‘family’ Category

Dear Diary + Conversations with Lily

Thursday, 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!






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

Monday, 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.



Dear Diary

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

Do you keep a diary? I mean a record of your days, rather than an appointment book?

I don’t, but I have tried to in the past, with very limited success.  Like (I think) all school girls, I used to start a diary every January and confide my thoughts to it.  These usually seemed to consist of lists of food I had eaten.  The agony of ‘crushes’ on boys sometimes got a mention, along the lines of:  ‘AB at rehearsals today.  He didn’t speak to me, as usual.’  And:  ‘Have just heard that AB is going out with Janet P!!!!  How can he???  Went to the pictures with Ann.  Ate a whole family sized bag of Revels.  Why coffee Revels??? Ate them anyway.’

One entry reads: ‘Had my hair permed today!!! It’s not what I expected.  Is in fact ginger frizz now. I look even more awful than usual and obviously cannot go to school.  Wonder if Mum will let me stay at home until it is grown out???  Had beans and Angel Delight for tea. Watched Doctor Who.’  And later:  ‘Mum says I need to sleep in rollers to get the perm to be curly not frizzy.  This is absolute TORTURE, even the foam ones.  Very disappointed.  Look nothing like Frida in Abba!!  Went round Ann’s and we had fish and chips from the shop.’  Then:  ‘It is the school disco tonight and Mum says I am not allowed to wear makeup but I am taking eye-shadow and lipstick anyway!!’  Later:  ‘School disco was V V V GOOD!!! Had a slow dance with MB at the end!!!  Linda G went round the back of the pavilion with a boy from the 5th year!!! Had a drink of pineapple juice and a bag of crisps.  AB not there.’

I never kept a diary going for more than a few weeks.  My life was so tedious, even to me, I couldn’t face recording it for long. I am glad I did some entries though and I have kept them, along with my school reports and some hideously cringe-worthy poems I wrote as a teenager.

If I was to keep a diary now, I have a feeling it would once again degenerate into a series of lists.  Lists of tasks to do/completed; lists of meals, seeds sown, knitting projects…but if we wrote truthfully in our diaries, what would we say?  I am afraid mine would be along these lines:

Monday: Up V V early to drive to Manchester.  Would be very sorry indeed to recount my feelings about this.  Manchester, from where I have been absent for at least 13 happy years, is the place of my birth and early childhood.  I then had an enforced reunion with the city and especially its neighbour, Stockport, when my parents inexplicably moved back up there.  This baffling decision led ultimately to years of hospital visits as Mum became very unwell and infirm…client v nice.  Odd canteen/cafe arrangement for staff, where I note they serve giant Yorkshire puddings, filled with mashed potatoes.  I had the cauliflower soup, served in a tall polystyrene cup.  Luckily I had a stash of emergency cold sausages and some carrot sticks.  Consumed this secretively as was overcome with shame – why?

Wednesday:  Unpacked a Christmas gift – a day-light, anti-sad lamp.  I asked for this.  I am hoping that it will alleviate customary profound January – March melancholy.  I have it beside me now, as I type, bathing the left side of my head and shoulders with dazzling white light.  Can this really work, I ask myself?  Answer comes there none but so far I feel the same.  Along with this, I am also taking turmeric tablets plus black pepper as said to convey almost magical properties of healing/illness prevention for almost all known conditions.  Am I, as I strongly suspect, a shallow fool, easily lured into false beliefs?  I will let you know, dear diary.

Friday:  The highlight of my day is the menu planning, shopping list activity that I do every week.  In this, I compile 2 lists.  One is the week ahead in menu form.  This is only for evening meals as even I cannot plan every breakfast and lunch.  It is annotated with notes about who I am expecting to be at home, and any other activities that might impact the list.  These are exclusively gym classes as am now v painfully aware that I have absolutely no social life and furthermore, actively do not want one.  The other list is for Things To Buy This Week.  I have audited the freezer and this informs me that I (still) urgently need to prepare a meal of soya-protein sausages (Q:  why did I buy them?  A:  none supplied), plus frozen soya beans and other home-grown beans from the allotment.  This seems too focused on soya and also beans.  I write it down for Tuesday anyway, fully aware that come Tuesday I will be frantically substituting something nicer.  Or that if I do serve it, there will be silent rebuke from the family as they balefully shove different incarnations of soya about their plates.  Cheer myself up by brief audit of cleaning cupboard and toiletries cupboard. Note that my hoarding is now becoming critical.  No-one, not even a professional cleaner which I certainly am not, needs 24 sponge scourers.

Saturday:  Customary silent struggle with Self precedes attendance at the gym for 2 morning classes.  I go, but am angry (unreasonably and pointlessly) with Self for going but also know that feeling of disappointment in Self if I shirk it will be far worse. Wish I had not worn patterned leggings when I accidentally see myself in the partially steamed-up mirror and am painfully reminded of the widening effect of geometric stripes.  Note that I am, again, clearly the 2nd oldest person there.  Am not proud of feeling of satisfaction when far younger, fitter and definitely more attractive class-mate gets cramp in the brutal Leg Session of BLT.  Spend entirety of second class thinking about food.  Decide definitely on a salad for lunch, enlivened by maybe some tuna. In the end, go to Asda and buy a tiger loaf with which to consume c1/2 lb of salted butter. Pop salad back in ‘fridge…

Sunday:  Watch Netlix for far too long.  Worry (but not enough to stop) that I am becoming addicted to programmes made by The Hallmark Channel.  Definite softening of brain function appears to be side effect.  Do not care.  Have finally and absolutely abandoned any pretext of intellectual capacity, preferring instead programmes about Canadian Mountie and school ma’am sweetheart.

Monday:  Am dismayed by appointment in diary, in my own hand-writing, committing me to a social engagement this evening that is not a gym class.  Recall, yet again, that writing in dates when still weeks away confers a feeling that it will never happen, despite absolute certainty that I understand the concept of time.  This will require me to get dressed in something other than pyjamas or gym clothes and actually leave the house.  After dark.  In January.  Toy with brief and wild fantasy in which I go to Devon or somewhere not that far away, for a few weeks, starting today.  But then cannot bear scenario which flashes through imagination in which the dogs pine away and die while I selfishly bury myself in countryside escape.  So do go out with group of acquaintances.  Spend evening in freezing corner of pub which is also so dimly lit I cannot really see and has such a low ceiling that conversation mainly eludes me, noise buffeting off the ceiling in booms.  Am introduced to nice looking woman who I am told knits and crochets; mutual acquaintance tells nice woman that I am a knitting designer and teacher which naturally instantly causes NW to never speak to me again all night. Come home and sit by open oven door for half an hour.  Decide once and for all that I will never go out again, except with family or to gym.

Tuesday:  Go to village meeting this evening in village hall.  In most un-motherly way, also force Lily to come with me.  This is a crazy departure for me as I have only been in the village hall about 4 times, usually when bullied into something by Hilda.  This meeting is about the imminent closure of the village Post Office which I very much regret.  I attempt to get into the hall, but am brought to a sudden halt by vision of about 6 or 7 elderly people, wearing what I think are pyjamas or very baggy tracksuits, occupying entirety of hall, slowly moving arms and legs in manner observed on a programme once about old people in Japan.  Naturally I assume I am asleep and dreaming, OR that I have the wrong day, but a man walks past and I realise the meeting must be in Another Room, Round the Back.  We stumble round hall path in inky darkness and shove sticky door open hard, into elderly lady, and surge into a tiny room, packed with about 60 villagers only 2 of whom I recognise.  Think that old Tai Chi people could have easily fitted in here and decline invitation to sit down so close to someone I might as well have sat on their lap.  Realise at once that I am not in agreement with the main suggestion that we all BUY the existing PO and run it as a community venture but feel I cannot just walk out not least as exit now barred by further late-comers.  Spend very uncomfortable and hot hour standing up, and imagining the viral soup which is brewing in the now fetid, slightly damp atmosphere.  Sprint home, drenched in icy sweat. Agree with Lily that we will Not Join Committee as we have no idea how to raise money to buy and then run a PO.  Not to mention slender time resources. Break soya-based meal news to family who become mutinous. I hastily substitute frankfurters but remain firm on question of soya beans. Not a success…

So you see, the passage of time has really not enlivened my life enough to make it worthy of record.  If anything I think the school disco days were rather more fun.  I’ll spare you any further insights – unless something really exciting happens such as turning out the apple store…


Knitting Code

Friday, August 18th, 2017


Recently I have been writing and editing a lot of knitting patterns.  I am always doing this anyway but this year there is Knit Camp and also we have had the busiest year of teaching ever, and because I over-cater, there are usually 2 – 4 patterns for each new event.  So this year I have so far designed 18 new things not counting Christmas which I have not started yet.  This is paltry stuff compared to the output of a Proper Designer with a Proper Yarn House – but I do not have the software to generate patterns and if I did, I would not use it.

Anyway, Dr Donna is pattern checking my Knit Camp designs and we are almost done with them.  However, there is one pattern that has a lot of ‘tech’ content and so we’ve been very focused on that.  *I write the pattern.  Kath and I and sometimes someone else knits the pattern.  We find the bugs, I re-write the pattern, rep from * to about 2 months later…then they go to Donna.  Donna edits them with pink notes.  She corrects my errors, she checks all the data, she re-measures and re-states tension, and she suggests style/wording edits to make it more accessible to the knitter.   As with many things, there are often several ways to express the same line of a pattern.  They all add up to the same outcome, assuming the maths is right.  So for example, you may get a line expressed with the use of * to end, or * to *; or it can be written in full; or you can have ( ) with a number after to give you the number of repeats.

Add to this our shorthand.  Tbl, k2tog, psso, skpsso, sl1, k1, psso, tog, M1, B1, rep, cont, RS, inc(s) C6B, TL, MB  and so on, with the punctuation and * and ( ) etc that goes with it.  As a new knitter (stretches hands back through the mists of time) I used to ask Old Knitters: why, oh wise one, do we have all this CODE?  why can they not be written in English?  And the wise one would say:  just look it up and shut up.  Fair enough.

This week Kath and I have been wrangling a Knit Camp pattern.  So there is Donna’s pink edit, then my blue edit with highlights and insertions to query points, plus hand-written calculations and notes in the margins.


This sheaf of documents was on the table when Mark came in, bearing tea.  He looked at the notes.  He doesn’t touch them because he knows that there be dragons in these pages but he went as far as putting on his glasses and peering. And he said:

Mark:  Knitters would have made incredible code makers – or code breakers, like at Bletchley Park.

Me:  They would.

Mark (looking in some bewilderment at the many hues of type, the squiggles and the abbreviations):  I mean, this looks like a code.

Me:  Well, it is sort of.  There are lots of words in there but it is a stream of code that will equal a shawl, for example, when put into practice.

Mark:  I imagine the CIA would think it was dodgy…

Me:  Ummm…(think but do not say:  I bet lots of the CIA operatives are awesome knitters!)

Mark (warming to his theme):  They would assume it was a code within a code!  Cleverly hidden coding concealed in a knitting pattern!


Mark:  A plan to invade somewhere!


Mark:  A knitting army!

Me (putting down pen and rubbing eyes):  Where would we invade?

Mark:  Oh, I don’t know (desperate but brief mental search follows) – say, Japan!

Me:  Japan?

Mark:  OK not Japan.  Israel!

Me:  Surely, Sherlock, we’d be more likely to invade a country with a known excellence for goats, lamas and alpacas?

Mark:  Why?

Me:  Well, the knitting army would need supplies of fine fibres.  What is the point of knitters invading a fibre desert?

Mark: Ah. OK.  Peru…?

Me:  Peru is a peaceful land (I think).  So ‘invade’ is not really the right word.  Maybe ‘visit’ would be better.  ‘Visit’ and ‘go shopping’.

Mark (pointing at a long string of pink, blue and black ‘writing’ on a page):  Does this say:  the invasion is on tonight!  Prepare and meet at dawn!’

Me (reaching for the pattern):  Yes.  Impressive skills.

Mark:  What does it say?

Me (after short struggle with wish to make up some sorcery):  It says – and I am just going to copy and paste this now for you, dear reader as it will be quicker for us both:  Row 32 (WS): With B, P1, yrn, *p2, (B1, p1) to last st before next M, p1, SM, rep from * once more, p2, (B1, p1) to last 2 sts, p1, yrn, p1. (105 sts)


Me (sensing his disappointment):  OR, in other words:  we strike at dawn! Operation Thumb Gusset is GO GO GO!

This satisfies him and he leaves.

Knitters would never form an army but if they did ‘organise’ it’d be for peace. It is sad that knitters do not run the world. Peace.

A Short Story for Christmas

Friday, December 23rd, 2016


In a sea of tinsel and cards festooning personal work spaces, one desk stood out as a Christmas-free zone.  Slightly aloof from its neighbours, as befitted the slightly elevated status of its occupant, this desk was pristine and clear of any clutter.  No festive decorations adorned the desk top.  A copy of the Local Government Chronicle Year Planner was fixed to the notice board, beside the fire wardens’ extension numbers, and a postcard, depicting an image of Venice, at dawn.  Key dates were highlighted on the year planner, red dots for financial and accounting deadlines, yellow for annual leave.  On the desk, a stationary organiser and a coaster flanked the screen.  Otherwise, the desk was utterly clear.


Around the open-plan office, strings of Christmas cards and reindeer antler head-bands, jostled with family snaps and post-it notes dotted about the screens and over the desks of other workers.  ‘We may be the finance team,’ said Paul,  ‘but that doesn’t mean we don’t know how to have a good time!’


Elizabeth kept her eyes fixed on the screen, scanning her email in-box for the figures she needed to complete the month-end financial processes.  It may be Christmas, she thought, but that doesn’t mean that the finances will run themselves.  She was the team leader in this office, a member of the Finance Department in the London borough council where she had worked since leaving school twenty five years earlier.


In that time, she had worked hard, studied for her accountancy qualifications, made her way slowly up the ladder.  Living at home with her parents, and working all the time to ‘get on’, her studious looks and quiet manner had left her slightly outside the warm circles of easy friendships which other girls seemed to take for granted.  Then, she had quietly longed to be inside the circles.  Now, she had established her own pattern, rather solitary admittedly, but comfortable nonetheless.


Since the death of first her father and then, some years later, her mother, Elizabeth had remained in the family home.  At first, stunned with loss and loneliness, she had simply existed, coming to work each day and finding comfort in that routine, knowing how proud her father had been of her achievements.  No-one could have guessed how deeply she had felt that loss.


Gradually, as the years had gone by, she had begun to ‘do up’, as her mother would have said, the little Victorian terraced house.  An innate sense of good, if understated taste had materialised.  Little by little, the house had been changed, room by room, colour by colour, retaining its comforting childhood warmth and yet at the same time, achieving a stylish air that was her own.


Today, the 23rd of December, was the day of the office Christmas lunch.  Screeching laughter from the far side of the office heralded the arrival from the cloakroom of the bevy of office beauties, who this year had decided to come dressed as Santa’s Elves, gorgeous and voluptuous in green mini-skirts and brief tops.  Elizabeth sighed.  No more work would be done this afternoon by anyone in her department, other than her.  She closed down her computer and prepared to face the terrible, eye-wateringly loud music in Big Joe’s, the Christmas party venue of choice in her department.  Democracy was a harsh master.


Elizabeth knew how ill-suited she was to take part in such festivities.  She knew she looked as awkward as she felt, almost physically unable to force herself to take part, even to be there as a witness, let alone a participant.  Over the years, she had learned to steal herself against the conflicting emotions that attending these parties brought.  Why couldn’t she be an elf?  Once upon a time, she had longed to be able to simply let go and join in.   It was hopeless; whatever bound her, whatever cleaved her tongue to the roof of her mouth, and placed a shadow of actual fear behind her eyes, there was no escaping it.  Both nature and nurture had cast her.


These days, her best hope was to avoid ruining it for the others.  Sensitive and intensely shy, Elizabeth knew how most of them felt.   How they dreaded being the one drawn to be her ‘secret Santa’: (oh God, no!  What on earth can I buy for her?  Swap…?), how they urged other, newer staff to sit down first so that they could avoid being seated beside her.  She always made a valiant effort, drank maybe half of the dreadful and lurid Welcome Cocktail, ate the lunch and soon after, departed, leaving them to the rest to their afternoon of – what?  Drunken dancing, unfortunate and regretted kisses with inappropriate colleagues or strangers, an uncertain journey home, sleeping and drooling past their stop?   No matter, by three o’clock she’d be back at her desk and the next time she saw her colleagues would be a week or more away.


She walked along to the restaurant, exchanging stunted and intermittent small talk with her deputy, David and a new team member, Josie.  The elves skipped and larked ahead, the bells on their green pixie-hats clearing a path in the busy crush of shoppers. The office males watched the office elves.  Heads turned in the street as they passed, even in this busy city with so many parties, these elves made an impression.


In Big Joe’s, they joined a throng of noise, bodies, alcohol and food.  Swept instantly to their table by a theatrically bored waitress, who announced that she was Sasha and she was their server today, before plonking down jugs of purple-coloured drinks at each end of the table: The Welcome Cocktail.  Sasha shouted instructions at them regarding how long they were allowed to occupy the table before the next party arrived, the rule regarding the throwing of food, and demanded to know the identities of The Fish and The Veggie.  Food arrived, wine was ordered, Elizabeth, as always, had given sufficient money to David to buy many bottles of wine, her gift to the team.


Sitting beside Elizabeth, Josie had drawn the short straw.  Flicking anxious glances around the table, Josie wished she was an elf.  Next year.  In the meantime, ‘are you doing anything nice for Christmas?’ she asked Elizabeth.  Elizabeth knew that an honest answer was not required.  She could (but would not) honestly reply, ‘No, Josie, not really.  You see, I live alone since the death of my parents and my only living relative is a cousin in New Zealand.  When I leave the office tonight, I might not see or speak to a soul until I come back to the office on the 2nd of January.  And you, Josie?’


That would fail to convey the real truth.  Yes, she’d be alone but after many years of railing against her lot, time had dulled this, and now, this week of solitude each year, had become welcome and full of promise.  She was not without friends, albeit a small number and they were often busy with their own families at Christmas time.  Being alone at this time of year had in fact become her choice, now.  Besides, to reply truthfully would make Josie cringe with awkward blushes.  It would cast a brief but painful pall of silence around them, infecting their listening neighbours with a mixture of pity and fear – most people fear solitude and thus, by association, those who endure it, Elizabeth knew this.


‘Oh yes, I always enjoy this time of year, I’ll have a nice quiet time.’ That was the correct response.  Josie, relieved, told Elizabeth all about her own plans, still living at home with her mum, how she’d see her boyfriend and her mates.  ‘I never know what to buy my boyfriend ‘cos men are hard to buy for aren’t they?  All he says is get me some music.  He loves his music, but you can’t just give your boyfriend that, can you?  For his 18th I bought him a gold chain but that was a special birthday and anyway, we’re saving up to buy a flat.  So me and his mum are clubbing together to get him a Red Letter Day…you know, a special day out, he wants to go quad biking…’


Elizabeth marked the passage of time in Big Joe’s by the milestones of courses and drinks.  Josie was a nice girl, she thought, and blessed with that gift Elizabeth had never owned – the gift of being able to chatter and fill silence with words until there was no more space to fill.  Elizabeth had longed for it once, had tried to nurture it and practice its art, to no avail.  Her mother had been a talker, Elizabeth was much more like her father, a quiet man, happy at home, peaceful and content.


No, Elizabeth thought, in her very limited experience, men were not hard to buy for.  Admittedly, the only man for whom she had ever bought gifts had been her father, but she always knew precisely the right gift for him and he had always been so happy with her careful and thoughtful choices.


Elizabeth feared that the purple cocktail, from which she took tiny sips at five minute intervals, might be staining her teeth.  It tasted of soap and sugar with a huge slug of a possibly eastern European spirit providing an unwelcome burning kick.  Josie, unused to drinking, was very pink and shiny.  Next year, she’d be an old hand.  Plates and cups were whisked away, it was time to vacate the table and allow the next sitting to take their places.  Deeper into the recesses of the restaurant, a tiny dance floor was thronged with post-lunch party goers.  Deep and insistent bass music literally made the soles of Elizabeth’s feet vibrate and her ears itch inside.


More drinks were bought as the office party pressed towards the booths and tables around the dance floor.  Time to leave.  Elizabeth, a veteran of such situations, had wisely refrained from leaving her coat in the cloakroom, where the queue was now at least fifteen minutes long.  She edged towards David.  Yelled goodbyes, brief and awkward hugs, huge waves and cheers from the elves, who by now were very drunk.


The door was in sight as she pressed through yet another wave of office parties freshly arriving, eagerly awaiting their Welcome Cocktail jugs.  Outside, Elizabeth was surprised, as one often is after being at the cinema during the day time, to find it was still quite light.  And beautifully cold.  She walked briskly back to the office.  Two or three more hours at work and then she’d leave for the holiday.


The train journey home was slightly less crowded than usual, many of the commuters were either already on holiday or at parties such as the one she had recently fled.  At her home station, she bought an evening paper as usual and walked home, the crowds thinning as she neared her road, turning off the main street full of lights and people in the shops, into the neat side street where she had lived all life.  Many windows were bright with Christmas lights.  Elizabeth regretted the recent practice of more and more decorations coming out each year, reindeer on porches, inflatable snowmen keeling wildly about in front gardens as they slowly leaked air, trees laden with nets of lights.


Round the bend in the road, her own house came in sight.  Soft, creamy white lights bordered her front window.  Small red velvet ribbons were tied to the branches of the two bay trees at the front door.  How amazed her colleagues would have been to see that she did acknowledge Christmas after all.  Inside, a tree stood in the hallway, small, but fresh and alive in its pot.


The tree decorations were old, each one evoking a childish Christmas memory.  This tiny pair of scales with a pearly hoop to hang on the tree had been given to her mother by her father more than fifty years ago.  Delicately beaded slippers, doll-sized, with Turkish pointy toes, hung on a faded red satin ribbon.  Her father had told her that these slippers were worn by the Christmas Tree Fairy each night for dancing, and each dawn, as long as the tree was up, she’d carefully hang the slippers back on the branches before slipping off to sleep all day.  Each morning when the young Elizabeth had run downstairs to see the tree again, the slippers would, just as he said, be hung back on the tree – but always in a different position.  Proof, had she needed it, that the story was true.  Tarnished but still gleaming, a set of glass baubles in all the vivid jewel colours her father had loved, chosen by a five year old Elizabeth in Woolworth’s almost forty years ago.  A childish string of cardboard discs, covered in red shiny paper, made by her at school and lovingly stored by her mother for all these years.  Each New Year’s day, she packed them away in the wooden box her father had made for them, and with a tinge of sadness, put them back into the attic.  Each December, one week before Christmas day, the tree was brought in from the garden and the box unpacked.  Then she did really commune across the years with her parents again and feel them to be somehow, and all too briefly, sitting with her, watching her excitement and pleasure as each one was unpacked and rediscovered.


The house was warming up, the heating was welcoming her home.  So, Christmas had begun, a week of leisure was upon her, wanted or not.  Drawing the curtains, lighting the fire, cooking her supper, Elizabeth made her plans for the seven days ahead.


Each Christmas Eve, she and her father had had a ritual which only they shared.  This was to invent, each year, some excuse to walk from the house to the shops on the High Street, just before they all closed for the holiday.  Although all the shopping had been done, (certainly her mother would have seen to that) her father had always said, at about two o’clock, ‘Beth, come on, I have to go to the shops for your mother.’  Her mother would smile and tut, excluded from the game but happy to see them play.  ‘We haven’t got any bacon, Beth, will you come with me to the butcher?’  Or it might be coffee beans, or dates, or chestnuts.  Off  they’d go, buy the shopping and then walk about the High Street, watching the chemist and Woolworth’s and the green grocer shutting up for Christmas.   Just before they actually did close, and it all became too sad, they’d hurry home with the bacon, and shutting the door behind him, her father would call to her mother.  ‘All are safely gathered in,’ he’d say, happy because he had all he had ever wanted, and they were both safe.


Elizabeth spent the next day – Christmas Eve – at home as usual.  She read the morning paper, feeling luxurious and lazy because it was a weekday.  She emailed her cousin in New Zealand.  She looked with pleasure at the food in the fridge and in the freezer and in the pantry.


She knitted.  Beside the chair in the sitting room stood a small wooden blanket chest.  Elizabeth sat in the chair and reached into the box, fetching out an old cloth work bag with worn wooden handles.  Her fingers worked quickly and smoothly. Dark rose-wood knitting needles gleamed, and butter-soft yarn, glowing rich wine-red, slipped through her hands, onto the needles, off the needles, the fabric of the knitting growing and gathering into her lap.  At her side, the old knitting bag yielded the yarn.  This bag was etched deep and lovely with all her memories of home and holidays, with its pockets and pins, yarn and needles, lists and books, pebbles, shells and pencils.  It had been her mother’s.  Now it was hers.


At two o’clock, she put on her coat and gloves, and stood in the hall, looking into the mirror for a moment or two.  A narrow, solemn face, the grey eyes and long sloping eyebrows so like her father.  Leaving the house, she walked slowly to the High Street.  The shops were not the same, but there was still a chemist and green grocers.  There was still a butcher’s shop, they were lucky.  It was a sought-after area now, with upwardly mobile young families eager to move there.  What would her father have made of ‘The Truckle of Cheese’ and ‘The Olive Tree Deli’ she wondered?  He would have loved them, she knew that, he would have loved the plenty and the warmth and the newness of far-away foods.


She bought some smoked bacon at the butcher’s and in the delicatessen, a bag of coffee beans.  Just before the shops closed, she walked quickly home.  Closing the door behind her and leaning back against it, she held the shopping bag close to her face and breathed in the smokey-bacon, coffee bean smells.  All was safely gathered in.


© this story is copyright to, and remains in the ownership of, Alison Crowther-Smith. 



Seasonal Musings

Saturday, December 17th, 2016

Some of my best and worst Christmases.


I am about eight.  My brother is five. We open our presents and it is the usual mix that was probably normal back then, in the dark ages.  A good many of the presents we were given were highly practical.  I remember getting a hold-all the year before I left home to go to university.  I was very pleased with it too.  We often got serviceable shoes, and hand-knitted cardigans, for example.  But this year, in among the gifts, I get a nightdress.  Not an M&S cotton nighty.  This was a swishy, chiffony nightdress, more like a real dress, with a layer of peach and a layer of cream chiffon, a modest gathered neck tied with a narrow peach ribbon, and sheer puffed sleeves, with elastic at the wrists and a flowing cuff.  Well, I wore it all day. I ate my Christmas lunch in it.  I wore it all Boxing Day.  What I never did was sleep in it.  It was too good for that – and also slightly annoying in bed, with the layers and so on.  So I slept in the cotton ones and folded the peachy one up on the chair. I have no idea why I was given such a prize but oh!  how I loved that nightdress and wore it until it was well above the knee and mother said I could not wear it anymore.  It wouldn’t bother me now! I’d probably teach in it…


I am a proper grown-up.  I know this because I am apparently and improbably in charge of two small children, Florence and Lily, who are nine and two years old respectively.  We all, including Mark, have ‘flu.  Not a bad cold, this is real ‘flu.  It had been a grim December anyway because my mother had been admitted to hospital in Manchester early in the month – in fact, on the day I started a new job – with a serious and complex condition.  She was still in hospital and we had made several long trips to Manchester from Somerset already – but now we were all too ill to go up so my father would not have us with him either.  On Christmas Eve, my friend’s boyfriend, who lives in London and has super-powers which caused him to be able to get hold of the one thing Florence most desired and which was unabtainable in Somerset – a Furby, is due to call in en-route to Cornwall.  Do you know what a Furby is or was?

Here is one:

✨ FURBY Original 1998 model 70-800 Tiger Electronics Used with tags GRAY/White

The originals are now highly sought after.  So anyway, by Christmas Eve we are a plague-house.  Somehow, we drag ourselves and the girls to the doctors and he gives us All The Drugs which we cash in moments before the pharmacy shuts for a festive two-week break.  We all have chest infections on top of the ‘flu and some of us have tonsillitis.  I think we probably ought to have gone to A&E but we didn’t. Late that evening, the Furby arrives. My friend’s boyfriend takes one look at me, as I open the door and  sway alarmingly towards him.  He steps just close enough to put the Furby on the step, and then backs away.  Wise.  I take the Furby in its box and hide it.  I suppose I paid him, I can’t remember and I would not have touched that money if I was him.

Furbys can talk, sort of.  They make weird high-pitched coo-ing and purring and chirruping noises, activated by movement. We are all too ill to do anything except lie down.  We make a camp in our bedroom, and the girls, who no longer know it is Christmas, sleep on mattresses on each side of our bed.  Here we spend a feverish night.  There are tears and fever-induced nightmares.  The girls were pretty upset too.  I think I may be dying and I don’t care.  By dawn on Christmas morning, the antibiotics which I double-dosed us all on, are beginning to kick in.  One of us breaks out of Camp Plague to make our first hot drinks for several days – we can swallow!  I think Florence knows it is Christmas Day but Lily has no idea and is in any case asleep properly for the first time in 48 hours and will sleep the clock round.  But we don’t ‘do’ Christmas today; we just lie down.  When it is light, the ‘phone rings.  This is in the hall.  Mark veers down the stairs to answer it, and he brings it up to me. My heart almost stops and I think my throat will close and choke me.  My mother has been moved overnight to another hospital in the city and as we endured our terrible night of illness, she had endured far worse – emergency surgery for an unexpected further complication.  She survived it, but she was in an ICU.  My father had been there all night.  We could not even get dressed, let alone help him, or her, in any way.  I sit on the edge of the bed, still holding the ‘phone after dad has rung off, and from below the stairs, in the depths of the cupboard where I had stowed it, the Furby somehow begins its errie, warbling repertoire of electronic cheeps and half-formed words.  The sound of that awful Christmas in the mid-1990s. I hate the Furby.


I am twelve.  In the house on The Pyghtle, Wellingborough, all the windows in the kitchen are steamy and running with condensation that must be part sprout-essence, they have been boiling for so long now.  My mother is making the Christmas lunch, and is still managing to look quite glamorous in a chic shift dress with a diamante choker-collar and kitten heels, despite also being rather flushed and having a slight issue with the perm – due I think to the sprout-sauna we have created.  She is simultaneously carving the capon (no turkey for us, capons were far superior, she believed, and so therefore, did we), drinking a giant schooner of ‘sherry’ (Emva Cream or Harvey’s Bristol Cream, her favourite), and smoking a cigarette.  The cigarette was perched on a green ashtray, just next to the capon, actually, the tip scarlet from her lipstick, the smoke adding to the brussel sprout fug.

We had my Grandmother staying with us as we often did, and for the first time in my life, I sensed that maybe having Grandma there was not, for my mother, the unalloyed joy that it was for me.   I adored my Grandma.  She was tiny and wry and I had spent a lot of my very young life with her.  But now, here was mum, under the influence of her second or possibly third schooner, quietly muttering about things.  I was a very greedy child and mainly I was focused on grabbing scraps of capon, but I knew that I was also privy to the first chink in the grown-up armor that my parents wore.  It didn’t make me think any less of Grandma, who had my unconditional devotion, or my mother who I thought was an amazing person.  But it did make me feel rather grown up. Mum shoves the schooner of sherry across the red Formica kitchen top towards me.  Leaning against the counter, hands greasy with capon, all the carving done, she lights another cigarette and says:  have a swig.  I do. It is delicious, if a bit hot-making.

There is so much to look forward to!  Capon for a start (I told you I was greedy), and dad was going to get out the projector and hang a sheet on the wall after lunch and show the holiday slides from Anglesey that summer, and Grandma shared my bedroom so at night when we went to bed, we could talk until she forbade it and the quiet Grandma snoring began.  I go into the garden to get some coal, always my job and I like doing it. From outside, as I shovel up coal and bash the big lumps into small pieces, I can see the sprouty-smokey air coming out of the top kitchen window as it evaporates into the cold outside.  Though I can’t see her clearly through the misted-up glass, I can see the outline of my mother as she moves to and fro inside the kitchen.  And I can hear her singing, with the radio.  She has a sweet, rather warbling and carrying voice.  I reckon the neighbours on both sides can probably hear it too.  I am completely happy.

Mark Goes Caving

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Today, Florence, Will and I took Mark caving in GB, which is my favourite Mendip Cave.  It’s lovely, straight-forward, offering small but satisfying challenges, rewarding.

Before today he had basically only had a poke about in the muddy caves of Devon.

It was good.  I mean, Mark isn’t like me.  He doesn’t enthuse or express excitement.  So whilst I think he appreciated the beauty of the cave – it is beautiful and also majestic – he didn’t say much.  He certainly didn’t exit the cave like a champagne cork out of a bottle, and attempt to high-five everyone in the party – and himself; nor did he skip back across the fields, elated at the experience and keen to go back.  Which is what I did, the first time I caved GB.  Which was also the first time I caved with The Wessex.  That was two years ago.

Aside from that, all I am going to say about it is this:  simply everyone I ever cave with who is new to caving, is better than I am.  Does anyone want to buy a nice, well-cared for lot of cave kit, small to medium?

Conversations With Lily

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

(It’s fine.  I guarantee that no matter what she says, she never reads this blog ‘cos it’s like ’bout knittin’ innit?  Well, no actually, to the disappointment of many I assume, it is rarely about knitting.  But anyway, Lily doesn’t read it).

Lily:  Mercedes Buoyancy-Aid is having a party next weekend.

Me:  Are you going?

Lily:  No.

Me:  Why not?  Not invited…?

Lily:  Yeah, I was invited but I just don’t  want to go.

Me:  But why?

Lily:  *sighs* Because – well if you want to know, yeah?

Me:  Yeah.   I mean yes.

Lily:  Because I can’t face the humiliation.

Me:  *getting angry with the possibly entirely innocent Mercedes Buoyancy-Aid* Humiliation?

Lily:  *with some feeling*  Yes!  The utter humiliation of you, having agreed that I can go, then ringing up Mercedes Buoyancy-Aid’s mum and interrogating her about alcohol, boys and – and – stuff! *warming to theme* And then, ringing the mums of anyone else you know and asking how they feel about it all.  And then getting out of the car when you drop me off to question any adults in person.   And THEN making me leave the party at lame-o’clock anyway.

Me:  *hurt silence*

Lily:  Remember that?  Remember those times?

Me:  No.  It’s not like that.  It’s just that, as a responsible parent I feel it’s my duty to check that some basic safeguards are in place.  I don’t always do that.

Lily;  No.  Sometimes you make dad do it if there is A Man in the household.

Me:  That is true.

Prolonged and tense silence.

Me:  Well, darling, how would you like to have a party here?

Lily:  NO!  Oh for God’s sake, just NO!

Me:  *genuinely startled*  What?  Why ever not?

Lily:  Because I know you’d ring up all my friends’ parents beforehand to spell out your policy on alcohol and then frisk all my friends and search their bags.  And confiscate anything that didn’t say Appeltiser.

Me:  I would not!  I’d never frisk anyone, let alone a child!

Lily:  *with heat*  They are not children!  They are 16!


Lily:  And, do you remember when Florence had to drop me off at Cherry’s (an alcohol-free nightclub for teens in Bridgwater) ‘cos you were away and you made Florence come in with me and talk to the door staff and *almost weeping* ask them to take personal care of me?

Me:  No.  That didn’t happen. (It did)

Lily:  *makes noises I cannot express with a keyboard*

Me:  *calmly*  This is getting us nowhere.  Look, do you want to go to Mercedes Buoyancy-Aid’s party?  If so I will promise not to ring her mum.  And let you stay until, um…11.00…?

Lily:  No. It’s OK.

Me:  I promise.

Lily:  Nah.  It’s the final stages of Strictly now, I’d rather stay in and watch that.


Lily:  OK?

Me:  OK.



Sunday, November 11th, 2012

Remembrance Sunday always reminds me of my father.  He was a soldier in WW2, and as a very young man, was taken prisoner by the Japanese, who held him captive in a POW camp.  Dad’s life after he was liberated was ‘normal’.  He married a gorgeous Lana Turner lookalike, my mother, he became a teacher and a college lecturer, he had a family.  Yet there were deep shadows cast by his horrific suffering at the hands of his captors and by the things he witnessed.

When a shadow is cast, there is also light.  This light was the chief characteristic of my father’s legacy, left to him by his war years.  He didn’t live in the shadows of horror and the remembered fear. He lived in the blissful, grateful light of his survival and liberation.  Having been liberated by the Americans, he had a life-long devotion to the USA and its people.  He and his fellow POWs, starved, emaciated, ill and terrified, were in admiring awe of the well-fed US soldiers and sailors, who seemed to them to be tall, broad-shouldered heroes.  This in turn led to a life-long greed for donuts and coffee, an ambrosial delicacy with which the US military sought to feed up the British and other POWs on their long cruise home via San Fransisco.

I can never know what my father really thought and felt about his war.  He did talk to me about it, and he did write down his experiences.  But he was a calm and deeply reserved man, limiting his dialogue about being a POW to the facts, rather than his emotions.  Knowing him so well, I knew that in the darkness, the demons of this part of his past stalked his dreams.  And behind his lovely, always slightly anxious eyes, there was a constant fear and a sadness.  Certainly, he lived with impressive levels of anxiety, a blessing he has passed to me, by the way.

The scar on his mind was only really evident, when in the last years of his life, he developed dementia and in a cruel twist, the decades fell away and he lived, all day, every day, in the terror and suffering of that camp, as reality disappeared and memory took its place.  Nurses were guards.  I was a fellow POW.  Beds became bunks in barrack-prison huts.  The enemy was everywhere.

Yet until the last years, I am sure that the key to dad’s happiness, because he was a quietly but profoundly happy man, lay in his ability to look into the shadows behind him and be so grateful – gleeful  – that he was living in the light.  To dad, eating ice-cream wasn’t just a pleasure.  It was a pleasure that he had dreamed of in prison camp and never thought to experience again.  So when he did eat ice-cream, every single time he ate ice-cream, it was a pure joy that never faded.  Just as if that Cornetto was the first taste of ice-cream he’d had since being liberated by the US army.  Every cup of fresh coffee he brewed, every bite of donut – they were new to him because he drank and ate with such deep gratitude and amazement in his heart.  To walk to college and back as he always did, was never a chore.  That bouncy on-his-toes walk expressed in every single step how happy he was to be able to walk through the drizzle of March or the warmth of June, out of an English semi-detached post-war house in Wellingborough, Northants – and go to his work.

I’m not glamourising anything.  I know only too well how deep his suffering was.  And yet it is true that in contrast, the rest of his life, save for the bitter end, was illuminated with his passion for the smallest of pleasures.

He became old. He still  wanted to attend Remembrance parades, so we’d go.  Dad was an emotional man insomuch as he felt things very deeply but strove at all times to contain his emotions so they showed few physical clues.  In extremis, he’d grind his teeth silently, the working of his jaw being the only clue to significant emotions being marshalled and suppressed.  Less trying circumstances manifested themselves in finger-drumming and change-jingling.  But at these Remembrance Sunday parades, he couldn’t win over his emotions.  I could hardly bear to look at his lovely old face as he lost his annual battle not to cry, standing there in cold grey mornings, far too chilly and dangerous for a man his age.  He cried.  Not for his war, but for the war of the lads he had left behind in the Far East, dead in that POW camp;  but to dad, they were still alive, still comrades.

I can’t attend these parades nowadays.  I mark my deep gratitude to, and love for, dad and all the service people and civilians to whom we owe so much, in my own way.  But I am not as emotionally contained and controlled as dad. (This, by the way, is possibly the understatement of the decade). When I attended parade with him, I did weep but I struggled mightily to remain in control and often succeeded, thanks to the tight, dry, warm pressure of his strong hand round mine.  Without dad there, I am sure I’d lose in a epic melting-down way that dad would have been rather alarmed by.  Not ashamed.  But there would certainly have been a:  ‘Now then, Al, that’ll do love, here’s my hanky’ moment.  I can’t do it on my own.

Thanks, dad.


It started in Rio Frio…

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

My holiday dodging – it kind of started in Rio Frio (a village in Spain, famous for its trout). My name is Alison and I am a holiday dodger.

It didn’t really start then, but ‘It Started In Rio Frio’ just appealed to me as it sounds like a Bob Hope film, and also, it was the place where I got or at least first noticed one of my mandatory holiday illnesses.  I almost always get some illness while on holiday.  Even in Skye, I had two epic migraine headaches.  It’s really weird.

I have a complex relationship with holidays.  It’s strange for me to observe people just happily booking up a trip to somewhere, maybe overseas (a whole other area of holiday complexity), not worrying about it, not doing any of the things I do.

On one hand, I like the idea of a holiday.  Well, who can argue with the concept?  The ideal concept, I mean.  You spend an enjoyable few hours/days deciding where to go, you blithely book the holiday, you await its arrival and you go, leaving cares and work and routine behind you.  Once en-route, the journey is all part of the fun, and as soon as you arrive you may strike up happy friendships with other people on holiday, but you will certainly have a good time.

Except that the journey isn’t part of the fun, it’s just the bits you endure in order to have the holiday.  At airports my anxiety levels, with their default setting of ‘high alert’, rocket to unheard of new heights, manifesting itself in an inability to sit down for more than five minutes, focus on a book or allow anyone to talk because if they do, I go:  SHHHHHH!  in case they make me miss An Important Announcement.  And I am just so deeply anti-social that the idea of striking up a life-long friendship with someone whose only link to me is the place we randomly chose for a fortnight in August just fills me with shyness and dread.  I can hear that sniggering at the back.  But I am shy, really, very.

One of my friends, when she hears of a holiday we may have looming just says:  poor Mark.  But in fact, it’s not my fault, and I’d (generally) rather stay at home with the dogs and my knitting and my books.

Some friends amaze me by always managing to ‘discover’ a little, formerly unknown, restaurant (though to really qualify for ‘best eating discovery’ this place must be termed taverna or locals’ cafe).  How these formerly unknown places scratched out a living until Deidre and Hugh arrived this summer and discovered them is not clear.  Unless, of course, you also visit the same place, following Hugh’s insistent prompting and find that it is not in fact clinging to the side of a fragrant pine forest, but is nestling between O’Leary’s Pie ‘n’ Mash House and a lurid nightclub; which you will only ever see closed and grey-looking in the blazing sunshine due to the fact that it opens as you are hoping for sleep and closes when you finally give up the unequal struggle with awake-ness and get up.

Others undertake research worthy of a PhD in order to mine the last nuggets of tourist gold out of their holiday.  I am in this camp – if I am in any known camp, which I don’t think I am.  But when I have been on overseas holidays, I have been seized with an urgent desire to Visit All The Stuff.  I usually fail, but in trying I manage a fairly decent holiday, because I am busy.  Could this be part of my problem with holidays?  I do not thrive in what might be termed a beach holiday setting.  In fact, here is layer of complexity number one:  I really don’t want to mingle with – or even see – any people.

Having once ‘done’ a proper beach holiday (not you, North Wales, lovely as you are, no I mean Abroad), I reject this genre of holiday torture.  Not only could I see the people, they could see me.  Some of them took almost all their clothes off – and I’m not talking Bridgwater on a rare warm weekend in August when the levels of inappropriate nakedness are verging on a national outrage.  No, I mean literally almost the whole lot.  God help you if, in search of privacy you creep round the gritty rocks.  Because behind the gritty rocks are other people who have in fact gone the whole hog and got all naked.  Oh dear.  That noise you’d hear a lot if you were unfortunate enough to holiday with me – the insistent drumming:  it’s the beating of retreats.

Let’s explore another problem.  The proper beach holiday was boring.  Boredom.  I am almost never bored, at home.  How could you be?  There is so much to do, some of it enjoyable.  I like my house, I like my garden, I like my county, have far too many hobbies, love my friends and miss them if I am away.  But on holiday, there stretches before me the prospect of not enough to do, or at best, repetition of things that might be OK once or twice but undertaken daily, leave me in a state of mild panic.

Once, about four years ago, I did manage a sort of miracle holiday experience.  We hired a villa, with a pool, up a mountain in Spain.  The search engine key-words for my ‘ideal’ holiday might read:  luxury, pool, remote, secluded, villa, detached, private, countryside, deserted, wild…it WAS!  It was just lovely, we had no neighbours, the pool was amazing, there were mountains and eagles and the sun shone every day.  Also, and I think it is an important factor, I was injured.  I was not able to walk much at all having torn the ligaments in my foot in a running fall.  In fact, two weeks before we were due to go, I was not able to walk at all.  Anyway, I was hobbling and healing, but the Olympic-standard endurance sightseeing we had planned, would be limited to none, basically.  Thus, after a day or two when I was still fighting the limitations of my luxury prison, I relaxed into a sort of trance-like acceptance, which quickly evolved into mesmerising pleasure.

Days drifted past and looking back, I remember a sort of ‘typical’ day, but none really stand out.  I really did lose track of time and place.  Days of swimming and dozing were punctuated only by the odd visits to the hypermarket about 20 miles drive away down a death-slide road towards the coast.  Odd to say that this became a sort of highlight, but it did.  We’d come ‘home’ with such lovely things to eat and drink, and much as we enjoyed the trips to this chilly, giant supermarket and the wandering and wondering in the many packed, exotic isles, we always parked the hire car behind its gates and retreated to the house with a sense of relief and achievement.  I remember vividly what I knitted – socks, mainly.

Leaving after two weeks was a shock and a wrench.  I wish I could recapture that holiday.

It was an unusual holiday for me though, no action unless you count the three swims a day, the dazed knitting and the food shopping.  Which doesn’t count, really.  Paris last year was more ‘normal’.  That is to say, I was in pretty much panic-mode beforehand, I have no idea why, got ill while there, loved the city, did far too much and also obsessed for the entire 7 days about if the taxi we booked for the early morning trip back to the airport would arrive on time.  To be sure that this wouldn’t be a problem, I booked a taxi for about 2 hours earlier than needed, then staked out the nearest walkable taxi-rank, in case he didn’t come and then left the apartment 15 minutes before he was due to arrive to stand on the street corner, at dawn. Because  standing on the street peering into the loosening gloom is basically the only way to make sure that what you wish for will arrive, right?

He was on time.  Thus giving us a lot of opportunities to explore the airport.

This year we went to Yorkshire for a week.  I love a bit of bleak and moody, me.  I used to go there quite a lot when I worked for Rowan Yarns, but I only really went to Holmfirth and Huddersfield.  We went North.  We went remote.  It was very lovely, we kept super-busy, because keeping moving is a great way to stay warm – and I do think that a light frost in August is a bonus, right? The best bits were the runs I managed on 3 days, up, down and alongside the reservoirs and dales.  Seriously beautiful.

Just for one moment

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

Last week, I went to M&S in Bristol.  The one in Cribbs Causeway where I used to work – not that I worked in M&S, I worked in John Lewis for Rowan Yarns.  I was with Mark, Florence and Lily.  We went to the cafe and sat near the entrance, having unusually bagged the prize of 2 double sofas.  Near us and kind of opposite me were 3 or 4 chairs.  No table, just chairs in a line where I guess you’d sit and wait for someone to come back from the loo or something.  On one of these, sat an old man.

He was slight and thin and wiry.  His hair was cut quite short but it was also a bit untidy, as if he’d taken off a cap and not smoothed his hair back down, or maybe he’d run his hand through his hair.  His old-man uniform was all present and correct:  light beige short light-weight anorak/jacket, mid-brown slacks, neat, clean thick soled-shoes, also brown.  He sat upright and straight but rested both hands on the handle of a brown, slender walking stick.

His hands were thin but strong, quite big.  You could see the bones and veins, his skin being pale and translucent.  His face was also angular and quite thin.  But his expression was just lovely.  He looked calm and slightly tired, but very peaceful and patient.  He also looked as if he had somehow become accustomed to not being noticed.

I know I was staring.  I stopped listening to the conversation because I wanted to just look at him and wonder who he was waiting for.  Or if he was alright.  He looked alright, apart from the paleness.  He didn’t look much like my father had looked apart from surface simialrities, the clothes mainly, the slightness and the patient expression.  My father never used a stick.  Oh but how I longed for him to be mine, just for a moment.  I’d have loved to be the middle-aged daughter coming out of the changing rooms to claim her dad.

Look what else I grew…

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

…Lily, ready for her prom last week. She did look really lovely and that is of course an unbiased view.


I am unsure how it can be that she is 16 and has officially left school, wore a prom dress and heels that I can’t imagine walking in let alone dancing and looked so grown up, when I know for a fact that it was only yesterday we were playing rabbit dens in the spare bedroom in Jaycroft Road and she was about as tall as my hip.  I am not prone to looking back and being sad, which is just as well this week.  It’s not sad that she is so grown up and about to go to college and start her A levels.  Well, OK it is a bit sad if I’m honest but mainly it’s amazing.

In other news, Florence has now left university and for work, has moved back here.  So, full house again!

Birthdays and proms

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Today, Lily is 16.


Really.  How?

It seems impossible that the tiny baby who was born 16 years and 2 hours ago is now 16.  That I am about to drive into town to meet her for coffee.  That tonight we will go out for dinner.

The day she was born and many of the days after but especially that day, is so clearly etched into my memory it seems too fresh and close to be 16 years old.  How can such a vividly real memory be any older than a week or a month?

There is a big age gap between our children, 7 years.  This has been a great blessing, though at the time, when it seemed that Florence would be our only child, we didn’t think of it at all.  But because Florence had almost 7 years of Lily-free childhood, she did have an awful lot of pretty close attention and un-shared parent-time.  Then when Lily was born, Florence was a very caring and able older sister, a great help to me and a play-mate for Lily.  This closeness has inevitably been tested – 2 sisters with 7 years between them have far fewer shared interests that maybe sisters with only 18 months or 2 years to divide them.  I don’t know as I have no sister.  I wish I did, much as I love my brother.

Then when Florence was older, about 14 and above, we had a baby-sitter. We still do, it is really lovely that they can stay here together when we want to have a cycling weekend or something.  And Lily has been to stay with Florence, in Exeter.

On the other hand, we’ve been clear through the parent-cycle twice with no overlap.  But I am glad, now, that it worked out this way.

Here are the jumbled birthday candles:

Instead of cake Lily wanted a birthday trifle.  The cream was whipped stiff enough to hold the candles up for 1 rushed verse of Happy Birthday To You:


These were then popped out and the snowy cream was decorated with silver baubles.  I love the wax on the creaam.  And then Mark and Lily had a huge bowl each for breakfast.  No, not me, I have inexplicably given up sugar for Lent.  This may account for the grouchy nature of the next paragraph.

And tomorrow, we go shopping for Lily’s prom dress.  The advent of the prom in British schools is deeply regrettable in my view, with its stretch-limo images, fervent shopping, beauty rituals and strange girl-woman dress codes.  However to resist this tide is to mark your own child out as a freak.  I am told, by Lily.  It is bad enough that I am sometimes glimpsed by Lily and her school mates from this village on a morning run as they await the bus into school.  That I hash-tag on Face Book, the mark of a true loser.  That we are even friends on Face Book.  It’s all shaming.  To be denied full prom-rites would be the last straw, the final act of cruelty.  I told Lily that in my day, myself and Aunty Kay were quite happy with a barn-dance in the school hall and a bottle of Fanta.  Wearing dresses our mothers made.  Kay may have made her own, she is very good at that sort of thing, but mine were made by my mother.  Gales of derisive laughter.  Oh yes, of course, how much nicer to pile into a super-elongated ‘hummer’ (?) and spike each other’s feet with stilettos as you clamber in and out in clouds of net and hair-spray.  My big fat Bridgwater Prom…

Somehow, 16 years ago, it was so much simpler.




Anton or Vincent?

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

Inspired by a blog called ‘Why Miss Jones’ ( I am going to talk about a subject that is close to my heart:  Strictly Come Dancing.  If any of my US readers are looking, this is called Dancing With The Stars in America.  More specifically, isn’t it high time a knitter was featured, mmm?  No.  Not me!  Someone really famous like Kaffe, maybe.  Imagine the pent-up voting potential for one thing.  There must be eleventy-million of us knitters, furiously knitting away on a Saturday and Sunday night – nothing too complicated as the tension is really starting to rise at this point in the competition and my tension, literally, goes to pot at crucial SCD moments.

I’m about 5ft 4andabit tall.  So I am never sure who they’d pair me with.  (Oh, really?  please don’t say it’s only me who wonders:  if I was on SCD, who would my partner be…?) I think they’d save Vincent for someone lucky and really short, I am medium so I think I might get Pasha, or Robin or maybe Anton. Poor Anton always seems to get the ‘comedy’ value partner so I’d fit in there and he seems funny and kind (plus I loved it that, allegedly, his real name is Tony Beak or something, I really hope it is and power to him I say!)  Also, I think Anton  might be more willing to accept frequent knitting-breaks and even the idea of knitting beads and sequins into our own costumes, than, say, Brendan.  I can’t imagine that, really.  Me:  Brendan, what do you think about us knitting a little sequined bolero for your Passo…?

The chief drawback (I am going to overlook my lack of celebrity status and overpowering resistance to leaving Somerset) is my lack of dancing ability.  I like dancing, Lily will attest to that when she finds me, usually in my running gear, jiggling about in the kitchen, headphones still in, after a run.  This habit has, it seems now reached crisis proportions for Lily who asked me last weekend, because a friend was coming over to *help her with some maths homework* to ‘please mum, act normal.’ 

Wounded silence.

But I can’t remember the steps.  This is also a problem in the dance-based gym classes I attempted, such as Body Jam.  Ever tried that?  It’s amazing and I strongly suspect it’d be great fun, but it’s really hard for someone like me who has the dance-memory-retention of a fruit fly and can only turn right.  No, really, to turn left I have to be physically moved by someone else.  I have overcome this problem in my favourite gym class, Body Combat, by rigorous training and a lovely, understanding instructor, who only smiles when I rotate to the right again and again…

Anyway, let’s face it, the things about SCD – for me anyway – that make it more addictive than Kidsilk Haze, Nandos or Chocolate Guinness cake are the costumes and make-up.  I want all those dresses!  (not so much the cat-suits), I want the shoes and the head-dresses and the 3 inch long glitter-feather fake eye-lashes!  I do sometimes actually think that as I get older, my wardrobe will come to resemble a dressing-up box.  In fact, Mark said to me the other day:  you look like you got dressed out of the charity box and just put on the first 4 things that fitted.  Now in my defence, I had been running that morning, in long running tights and a sleeveless top.  When I got back, I didn’t want to get showered and changed as 1)  I am experimenting with Compression Wear, of which more later, you have been warned, and you have to leave it on for a bit after a run;  and 2)  I was planning some apple/garden wrangling so I thought I’d just get showered and back to ‘normal’ after that.  Anyway, I then remembered, as I heard his voice in the kitchen, that Lily’s *maths tutor friend from her class in school* was coming over.  I thought she’d/they’d be embarrassed if I was introduced wearing the compression leggings, day-glow running shoes, which are quite big and my legs are quite thin, think Minny Mouse – and a singlet.  SO, I grabbed a baggy jumper and a pair of pink Nike running shorts to go on top of the tights.  In the nano-seconds that I had, it was the best I could do.  Epic Fail.  Lily said (cringing and looking at the shorts):  Luke, this – THIS – is my mum;  mumthisisluke…and legged it, with Luke, into the sitting room.  Then Mark got home from work and I told you what he said.

Two weeks ago on SCD there was a wardrobe incident when Chelsee’s dress kind of gave way – the top part of the dress.  Frankly, right from the start of the programme, I thought and commented to Lily, my SCD addicted partner, that there was no way that dress was gonna man-up to the job of retaining Chelsee unless Pasha had choreographed a very sedate walk.  Chelsee is a talented dancer and it was an energetic dance, but bless her heart, when she thought she had revealed part of her anatomy on national TV, she really cried. 

Poor girl, I felt so sorry for her, and in fact, I don’t think it was that ‘revealing’, but anyway, I have advised her (‘cos I bet they love getting wardrobe advice from folks like me!) to opt for compression wear!  This is my new running/cycling wear. I’m a sucker for a new bit of running kit, and this is the Way Forward.  There is simply no way any part of your anatomy is ever getting out of compression wear, even, sometimes, when you want and need to get it out.  I got mine – a top and leggings – a few weeks ago and having literally fought my way into the top, suddenly had a real moment of panic, when I really did think:  I can’t get this off!  Choices:  1)  CUT it off, thus wasting £35. 2)  wear it until help arrived.  This would be Lily, getting in at 3.45 from the school bus.  Whilst this would have provided a brief moment of actual lollage, I also thought it might scar her.  And also, after a bit, I was starting to lose the heat and then the actual feeling in my arms and hands… 3)  enter into a to-the-death struggle with it.  I chose 3.  Now, after wearing this stuff a few times, I have established entry and exit strategies.  Getting the top and the leggings on or off is in itself a workout and also something that I couldn’t possibly do in public, say the gym changing room.  The writhing and the thrashing….however, should the SCD call ever come, I will suggest that I am allowed – even required – to base my costumes on it, because in this way, no-one gets hurt and everything stays where it started, other than my feet, of course, and there is no cure for that affliction.  Not even Anton.

23 years ago…

Friday, September 30th, 2011

…today, I got married to Mark.  It seems amazing to me that so many years can have gone by so quickly.  And they said it wouldn’t last!  We have no idea who ‘they’ are or were, and I’m pretty sure no-one said that but it’s just a little standing joke.  Humour me.

We got married in Birmingham, at the central register office, which was at that time located at the top end of Broad Street, the end that isn’t Five Ways, now an achingly cool social area, then – um, not so much.  However, across the road was (and still is) the Rep Theatre, where we had our reception, complete with a traditional jazz band, the major item in our wedding budget.  It was just a perfect day, hot and sunny, which is amazing luck in late September – as it is today, in fact.  We went out together for dinner the night before, I even remember what I ate and drank!  The next day, I drove into Five Ways to pick up some new reading glasses, then back home to wait for my mother and father, aunts and uncle, to drive down to Birmingham from Manchester, drink sherry, get ready and take photos in the back garden.  Then 2 black cabs arrived and we drove into the city, from where we lived which was Quinton (no, Quinton, you’re not  Harbourne, OK? You’re not even Quinbourne, get over it).

We had no bridesmaids or best man, no cake, few speeches and it was lovely.  After the supper, (which was duck, food is obviously a memory trigger for me!) we drove to north Wales and stayed in Abersoch, a small coastal town where as a child, I had had holidays with my family.  My main memory of that part is that our good weather luck ran out on 1 October!  But it was still lovely to have a week there.  The second part of the ‘honeymoon’ was spent in Spain.  Money was tight, and Mark had been invited to be the ‘guest teacher’ for a golf party that the club he then worked at as the Pro was holding.  The chap who was organising this offered us a free week out there, if Mark would teach and play every day, so we agreed.  I remember that we flew into Gibraltar airport, which is minuscule, and I felt I was in Casablanca, and then we had to cross the border (run way) on foot to the coach that drove us to the resort, which I can’t recall at all now.  It was a bit odd, that working honeymoon.  There were wives on the tour – not playing, don’t be daft – and they were lovely but they all knew each other and I was much younger and crippled by shyness, so mainly, I swam or hid in our room until Mark was released from his duties and we could go out.  Looking back, it just seems weird.

To celebrate, this weekend we are going to ride a 66.2 mile sportive in the New Forest.  I am absolutley dreading it.  Wish us luck, we’ll need it.

In other news, there is a new kit on the site:

which is available here.

Another will be on next week, and it is a baby blanket, knitted in DK cotton and simply embellished with beaded lace hearts and cables:

New kit – Shimmer Star-Crossed; and Paris tales

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

This is Star-Crossed scarf, knitted with Shimmer in the place of Pure Wool DK.  It’s simply lovely.  I know I may be biased but it is!  It looks very ethereal, almost like the foam of very fine bubble bath…then the silver Shimmer glints at you and holds the criss-crossed Kidsilk Haze in place. 

It’s available here.  The original version, which uses Pure Wool DK and Kidsilk Haze is available here.

Both use (almost) 4 balls of yarn, that is 2 of each quality.  Fiona’s husband – Fiona is an amazing knitter to the confused (me) – also liked it, which I am told is high praise. 

Tomorrow, I am adding another kit, Le Marais Cuffs:

I think I am about ready to deal with The Incident In The Restaurant In Paris.  My youngest daughter, Lily, loyally tells me she reads my blog but I am pretty sure she doesn’t and so I am safe.  Our second evening in Paris, warm, still, bustling pavements, bizarre street artists – in this case a late-middle-aged lady dressed in feathers, who executed startlingly ugly and slow pirouettes across the square to the accompanying Swan Lake, booming from her beat-box…

Anyway, emboldened by our successful day of chatting away like native Parisiennes, ahem, we returned to the cafe where the night before, we had had a delicious supper and a fair bit of red-wine – a pot.  Some of us however, were rather too confident.  Lily boldly opted for the steak tartare.  I was startled.  So was the waiter, who seemed to clearly recall that last evening, Miss Lily had been quite content with le cheese-burger and a huge slice of tarte tatin to follow…I intervened.  I said (suddenly and painfully aware that I seemed to have come over all middle-class and also very bourgeois and embarrassed):  oh but Lily, I’m not sure you’ll enjoy that – it’s raw steak…

Yes, I know. (Theatrical sigh).

It’s raw, chopped steak, mixed with – erm – eggs!

The waiter is feeling my pain but also, it’s frantic in this place, being August and he’s eager to clinch the order.

Yes, I have seen it, it will be fine mum! (Oscar-standard eye-rolling)

I shrug, a shrug that says, fine, I am not the one who has to force that down, and I order my duck.  Once before, some years ago in St Ives, Lily, who was then only about 9, ordered squid in a restaurant.  She did this because she was mesmerised by a friend of my eldest daughter who was on holiday with us, and she, knowingly and happily, had also ordered squid which she very much enjoyed.  On that occasion, Mark manfully took over and ate the squid, for I surely could not have done so.  You may say – and I might agree – that we all ought to have learned our lessons from that incident.  Mais non, apparently not.  I ought to have said:  no.  You’re not having that madam, order something else or go without.  I do not really know why I didn’t.

The food arrives.  A flourish at Lily’s place reveals a HUGE shape of raw chopped steak, nestling in a forest of salad. 

Lily is suddenly not a sophisticated teen-about-Paris anymore.  Her eyes meet mine.  There is an extended silence, broken only by the sounds of Mark eagerly addressing his own dinner, in a blatant and successful bid to avoid having to man-up to the steak tartare, like he did with the squid.  I briefly consider not doing the ‘told you so’ dance, reject this option and tell Lily that I did warn her.  She makes a pitiful mewing noise and prods the food.  I take one bite of my duck.  Lily plays the clincher.  She says:  Mum, I am afraid of my dinner.  Oy.

With incredibly bad grace, I switched our plates and had a good look at this steak tartare.  I also am afraid of it but sadly, I am not 15.  I think about donning a few feathers and joining mad ballet lady in the square.  Finally, I re-charge my wine glass and slowly, silently, sip (!) of wine for bite of steak, I eat about one third of it.  Oh!  what a different party we were from that of the evening before when we had laughed and talked!  Now we are each lost in our own worlds.  Mark has bolted his supper with a speed that might have made me laugh if I hadn’t been so focused.  Lily, evidently loving my duck, was trying to look as if she was forcing down rather than adoring the lovely supper, the dauphinoise potatoes, the tender vegetables…

I re-assessed the plate.  I reckoned that leaving one third would be OK.  I had eaten one third, how, I do not know.  There was no way the last third was going down.  Mark stared hard in the other direction, Lily practically licked the pattern of her plate.  I deployed all the napkins, deftly wrapped half of what was left in them and put this – and this is almost the worst part – in my tiny Mulberry handbag.  It was fine, they were good napkins. 

My next tale of Paris is a happy one!

Serious displacement activity leads to happy outcome…

Friday, July 8th, 2011

(That post title, by the way, sounds like a clever cross-word clue in the Telegraph – the one I can never do but do a victory-lap of the kitchen if I get even one right).

It may be the cold weather – here in Somerset, we are struggling to get temps into the low 60s, despite a lovely weekend last weekend, now a distant memory.  Or it may be that we’ve passed the magical half-way, tipping point of the year and each night is now 2 minutes longer.  Already, I sleep a little longer, and a little better.  Whatever it is, I am – O!  I can hardly bear to tell you!  Oh OK, here goes:  Christmas shopping. 

Don’t judge me. I didn’t do much.  It’s only a few select things that I am sure won’t be available to me in the real Christmas shopping season.  But it’s a start.  It prompted me to start My List.  I have A List that I fill in and check off as items and people are dealt with.  I was also supposed to be doing some extra story-board stuff, the less creative side and I may have been procrastinating…I have procrastinated by cleaning, baking, gardening, running…but I’ve done it now.  I don’t know why I didn’t just do it in the first place.

However, mainly it prompted me to decide that this year, I really will knit a gift for some friends and family.  I usually manage one item!

Now be honest, mentally make a roll-call of your friends and relatives.  Which of these a) would appreciate and b) deserve, a hand-knitted gift?  They have to qualify for both a) and b).  If they might deserve it but are liable to say things like:  Oooh, Ali!  could you knit one of these for me? (holding up a picture of a 20 ball blanket throw or an all-over intarsia jacket in 10 shades of 4 ply).  These people obviously don’t/can’t knit and therefore have no idea that to make such items take more commitment than marriage.  They do not qualify. 

If they do appreciate the work, but have an inherent distrust of the ‘home-made’ they don’t qualify.  In fact, you and I wouldn’t be friends with them anyway, but they may be in the category we do not choose:  relis.  The relative knit-gift is tricky.  After socks once lovingly knitted and given and never even mentioned, I don’t bother anymore.  I’m over it, it’s fine.  That, my friends, is what Johnny Lou Lou’s Gift Vouchers are for!  The related but ungrateful.  It’s far less painful all round.

This year, I’m going to design 2 basic gifts (that will double as kits).  One will be delicate mittens;  the other a lace beaded scarf.  Each will take 1 – 2 balls and some beads.  If I make them in 3 basic shades and stick to the same dye-lots, I will get huge value as the left-overs will just roll forward into the next gift.  Since I can design and knit for two purposes:  love and the website, I think this year will be the year I win. 

If you get a Johnny Lou Lou’s Gift Voucher (and I’m a huge John Lewis fan, so that’s a good pressie in my book since they stock yarn), well, that’s OK.  But.  If you get a knitted or knitting related gift, you know you are really loved!  At least by me…

Sunday morning blues-banishing formula

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

A wise woman – it was The Blessed Delia  – said:  if I feel low, I do three things:  put on a load of washing;  put a big fat chicken in the stove to roast;  and while all that activity is underway, I clean out one just thing – a drawer, a shelf, a cupboard. 

I’m paraphrasing but you get the drift.

At the time, I reckon I was about a life-time and maybe 1 – 2 decades away from where I am right now and I may have mentally scoffed.  Later though, I tried it.  It’s so trite, so simple, yet it works.  I think it will work even if you change the elements of the equation.  Dish-washer can be substituted for washing machine;  simple cake or casserole can sub for chicken, and so on.  The magic lies in the fact that three things are happening at once (productivity and desirable outcomes) whilst really only engaging you at the start and end of two of the processes, and liberating you to do something small (small:  this is vital, do not attempt to re-grout the bathroom or terrace the garden, just line a few drawers), and in the midst of all this, gradually the kitchen fills with yummy food smells and the washing machine does its thing…

I am going to have to employ this tactic and others today.  It’s a blue-Sunday.  Ever have those?  Actually I do love weekends, even though they have lost all real meaning since I no longer have a conventional job and Mark works every weekend anyway and always has.  Do you remember hating Sundays as a child, or was that just me?  I didn’t like roast dinner – now I adore but anyway.  I didn’t like the dullness, the quiet, the stifling being in the house-ness.  Even as a child I adopted blue-Sunday coping strategies, such as doing homework on Friday evenings, because if homework was left, Sunday became even more dreadful.  I scoured the Radio Times for a good old film to watch, or sat in the dining room with my dad while he studied or wrote out Masonic name cards (don’t ask; another time, maybe).

But today, it’s raining very hard and the Met Office insists it will do so all day.  Worse, because I don’t mind rain per se, it’s really cold.  in June.  In my Birthday Season.  How dare it?  So my plans:  run, garden, shower, knit, eat dinner, read – have to be changed, re-jigged and supplemented. 

So (mentally shakes herself to represent fresh resolve), what shall I do?  First, I have a new camera.  For the website.  Oy.  It’s so lovely, so BIG, so complicated.  My head, never a linear place at the best of times, threatens to explode if New Technology arises.  A friend once tried to tutor me through an Excel lesson.  She still vividly recalls me having – having, not wanting – to stop because it was making me cry.  I wish my head was not like this, but it is, we are stuck with each other.  Anyway.  The camera;  I have two (2) DVDs that came with it, and a stack of booklets.  So, I am allocating an hour, an hour being all I think I can stand, to investigating the camera.  That will feel like Homework.  I will do an hour a day until I have taken a picture.  And then, I will devote a further few weeks to up-loading it here and sharing.

Second, I have to get out of the house, even if only for an hour so I am going to walk.  I can’t be staying indoors all day, it makes me feel all funny.  Yes, in the rain, I’ve got the clothing and boots.  I won’t take the active dog as Dachshunds dislike rain/cold/wind even more than do cats.  I’ll be a mad solitary walking-in-the-rain woman.  I will listen to an audio-book.

Third, I will light the fire, have a hot bath, and read.  One of my workshop participants, Nicola of the lovely cuffs, recommended a book:

The Best of Everything

and oh my, how well Nicola knows me!  I adore it and am about half way.  Reading has taken a bit of a back seat recently, as I’ve been out a lot and also when working, listening to audio books, but reading has still been happening.  Of course there has been some grisly book-club reading to get through but that’s in a lull for now as the next book, annoyingly, is one I already have and read about 3 years ago.  The Island, by Victoria Hislop.  A friend passed it to me.  It’s OK, not great but an interesting (and true) basis for the yarn itself.  I mean it’s not great literature but I didn’t hate it, so a big step up from N Hornby.  Anyway, I LOVE The Best of Everything.  I also recently really loved Brooklyn,


again recommended to me via this blog.  Both these books are really really well written.  And ravel you up into their worlds without any annoying language problems.  How great is that?  My blogsters (I think you are out there!) know me better than my book club mates!  Respect.

Fourth, knitting.  I’m knitting Glow still, but planning a little capelet/shoulder shawl, in Pure Wool 4 Ply and Shimmer….as a break from Glow (New Glow) I will swatch this again later.

Fifth, my youngest daughter, Lily, may need some revision help – yay!

Sixth (try and keep up), I am not in charge of cooking today but Florence has promised us roast pork tonight, so the household smell thing will still happen.

Do you know I feel better already!  OK, camera, do you feel lucky today…?

What would Doris do? and a bit of mid-summer musing

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Yes, my new default question:  what would Doris do?  In tricky, stressful or funny moments, I’m finding this is a comforting question because the answer is so ridiculous and it’s highly (but not wholly, be warned) improbable that I’d do it, since that answer is of course:  sing!  That’s right, she’d break into a song, possibly accompanied by a dance.  My workshop participants last Saturday were probably fairly grateful that I did not give way to either of these temptations, despite the slight swatch mal-function, happily resolved by Drs Donna and Sarah. 

As a keen, ardent, even possibly obsessive swatcher, I am baffled about how they can go wrong, even if tested many, many times and not just by me.  As a designer and teacher, I know – and teach – that knitting is logical, it’s based on maths and there is always a reason why stuff works or not.  And yet…and yet, for me, at least, it’s more than that, which is annoying.  But also, I think it explains why my designing is different.  I have no actual rules, so I can’t break them.  Dr Donna, pattern checker and writer to the confused (me amongst others, though I like to think I represent her most challenging cases), is a designer and a number-cruncher – the complete package.  I am a pure designer.  I then force the concept into some semblance of a logical (or at least do-able) earthly form, and finally, I write the pattern based on my notes.  Later it goes to others to re-knit, to test and then to Donna.   I love, but also slightly fear, watching her work.  She makes a series of hieroglyphic-style sketches, strings of numbers, symbols and words flow from her pencil and her lips.  It’s at least as magical as the actual design process.  I wish I had both halves of the magic.  On my own, I am like a horse, or a pony, but with Donna, I am a Unicorn!

Ahem.  Sorry.


It’s almost mid-summer.  Which may explain the above.  I love this magical time of year.  Partly because it is my birthday season, as I was born just after mid-night on Mid-Summer Day.  And this year, I am promised a dress from Deadly is the Female in Frome:

Deadly Is The Female

The little dog in the cartoon really does live in the shop by the way or at least he attends with his mistress who I assume is the owner and designer.  He sits in regal splendour, on a velvet chair right in the middle of the shop, amid the frills, corsets, Vivienne Westwood shoes and the gorgeous dresses.  I may have to get thone of these:



































What would Doris do?

Which one shall I pick (subject to them being acceptable once ‘on’)?

I digress, as ever.  Back to mid-summer.  It’s my best time of the year, much as I love all the seasons.  There is the amazing lightness.  Not today, to be fair but May, June and July with their especially long days and short nights are so full of life and energy.  The garden is at its fizzing, explosive best in May and June, well, mine is.  I have never quite mastered the continuous succession planting thing, loving as I do roses, alliums, aquilegia, fox gloves and poppies, all of which have a passionate few weeks and then retire to the garden equivalent of a chaise-lounge for a lie-down with a cool flannel pressed to their brows.  Oh, I also have a resurgence in autumn with my absolute favourite flower:  white wind-flowers, or Japanese Anemones, of which I have many bordering the long front path.  How they light up the fading light with the pale glowing blossom that tries – ultimately they fail, but they almost succeed and they try very hard – to ward off the closing down of the year, when October yields to November. Oh!  But no, let’s not even think of that now!  I’m sorry!

Once, on my birthday, Mark and I cycled to Glastonbury.  Mid-summer Solstice is a very important date for many faith or belief groups such as druids, witches and wizards, and people like me, with complex belief systems and a foot in several camps (I do realise the physical obstacles associated with having three or more camps, if feet need to be in them, but please, let’s draw a veil…) Or, just because it’s my birthday.  My plan, which Mark sweetly but sleepily joined in with, was to cycle across the moors of the Somerset levels where we live, to be climbing the Tor in Glastonbury at dawn.  However, this was impractical due to it being dark, so we left at dawn and, true to my imagination of how it would be, it was fine, cool, still and clear and yes!  there were swans in flight, there were deserted lanes and paths – best of all, there was mist, through which the Tor became evident.  It was really magical. 

Climbing the Tor, we were crossed by straggling groups of Tor-revellers coming down, as dawn had passed two hours earlier though it was still very early.  Wrapped in blankets, shawls, each other, some carrying things like bowls, drums, cushions and small children.  But at the top of the Tor, there were still a lot of people.  Small groups sat facing the dawn, some sat alone.  Some chanted, several chimed finger-bells, others had fire in stone or metal bowls.  A small herd of bullocks had been released onto the Tor (I assume a small agricultural joke by the farmer, for there are rarely beast on the Tor in my experience).  But, and yet…at the very top, a group of very drunk people – not the ‘hippy’ types – were engaged in a heated argument with a man who did look like a hippy, but a sort of corporate hippy, certainly, no orange or purple in his outfit and his hair was tied beneath a neat round grey hat.  He wasn’t drunk and he spoke for his ‘tribe’ who sat or stood behind him, while the drunk people yelled and jeered.  Well, it did take the shine off it a bit, as you can imagine.  In the midst of all this, a real hippy-looking young man was wandering about collecting all the litter, humming and smiling.  On the side of the Tor looking west (the wrong way, surely?) a couple with a fire bowl between them discussed DIY.  It was all a bit disjointed and surreal.  But that’s Glasto for you!  My Mecca, I adore it. 

We hung about a bit then walked back down, had our picnic on the benches in the High Street and cycled home.  The rest of the day was very ‘spacey’ – possibly a consquence of such an early and fairly long ride, and also of the air of oddness that the Tor on Mid-Summer Day had cast.  Oh, or it might have been the champagne!

This year, I think I might climb Brent Knoll.  The Tor’s little sister.








Island Life

Friday, May 6th, 2011

It was, on reflection, unreasonable of me to expect the Isle of Wight to have remained suspended in time, re-living its 1950s glory and never moving on, just waiting for me to pitch up in 2011.  And indeed, that is not what it did.  Why should it?  It’s not a theme park (or at least, it’s not a 1950s theme park), it’s a real, modern 21st century place, with all the attendant modern living pros and cons.  Much like anywhere else, such as, say, Taunton, or Coventry.  Only with the sea all around it.

There were parts that were simply stunning, such as the sweep of coast as you cycle west towards Freshwater Bay and The Needles, and the gardens at Osborne House:

We arrived on the island on the day of the Royal wedding, and in fact I think the Isle of Wight ferry was the only wedding-free zone in the world.  Once on the IoW, wedding fever was even more torrid than on the mainland, probably because of its association with the Royal family during Queen Victoria’s reign, and Osborne House, the ‘family holiday home’.

The day we visited, it was quiet, being the day after the wedding.  And the gardens, set against a perfect, blue, early summer sky, were simply beautiful, especially the walled garden.  It is just so professionally tended, tidy but not anal, informed but not festooned with labels and signs.  What fascinated me most were the structural details – the corners of Victorian glass houses, the cold-frames and the shelving, for example:

Osborne House glass house, high shelf


peeling cold frames at Osborne House in the walled garden: perfect, because it wasn't, if you see what I mean


So, the island is exactly like the mainland, except for the bits round the edge.  No-one wore nippy dresses and hats.  That’s fine.  I’m so happy we went, that it has a Waitrose, that it was sunny every day (if cold and windy).

I’m happy that the house we rented was lovely, that the girls and the dogs were with us for the first three days. 

It’s a shame, this being a cycling holiday, that cycling on the IoW is not a great experience, due to the very busy roads, with understandably busy residents trying to get from A to B on roads that clearly aren’t up to the local traffic, let alone the holiday traffic.  Add bikes into that mix and frankly, it’s a scary place to ride.  So we really didn’t.  However, there is always knitting!

But mainly, I’m happy about this:

Ali, Mark, shadow on gravel