Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

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

Wednesday, September 26th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can we do it?  You decide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love you.  Thank you.

 

 

 

 

Dear Diary…

Thursday, July 12th, 2018

The continuing saga of my incredibly exciting diary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Brace, Brace

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018

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

Standby.

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

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.

 

 

A Crap-tastic Hotel Review

Monday, April 30th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Me:  can we see the menu, please?

Receptionist:  no.

Me:

Me:  why not?

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

Colleague: no.

All of us, whilst gazing at one another:

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

Receptionist:  the menu is not ready.

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

Receptionist:  at 6.  When the Brasserie is open.

We declined and proceeded to our rooms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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…

 

Your Voice

Monday, January 1st, 2018

It’s good to look back.  In fact at the very threshold of a new year, it is almost inevitable.  2017, you were good.  There was a lot of new.  New teaching events, for example, notably Knit Camp which dominated my knitting year in a number of amazing ways.

I have been blogging here for ages now.  Rambling on.  It’s always been my aim to make it a blog by a knitter, not a knitting blog.  So this is my knitting voice.  Mainly, plus a fair bit of my personal voice.  My personal life is so intwined with knitting that they are often just the same.  But once or twice I have got into a spot of bother for saying things that a few people objected to.  At the time, it really did bother me.  In fact, in one instance I actually apologised.  I really, really wish I hadn’t done that.  I wish I had (politely) but publicly told them to F off and scroll on by if they didn’t like or agree with my views.  And I still think, beautiful through it is, St Ives is so far up its own back-spout, it can see daylight. So there.

But I have other life areas – other voices – that hardly ever make it to this blog.  For example, I have another ‘job’, in which I use a totally different set of clothes.  And probably an almost totally different set of ‘skills’.  The other job is about corporate governance and it enables me to draw on work experiences from previous what-I-lightheartedly-call-careers. In a nut shell, I work for a company that carries out formal and independent reviews of plc Boards, to assess their effectiveness across a range of Board responsibilities, activities and duties, with regard to the UK Corporate Governance Code.

I really do love this work.  It is varied, it can be challenging, and it is always interesting.  Usually, these two lives do not meet, except for the time I left a bag of knitting in a Board interview and had to be summoned back by the kind but very baffled Chairman, in order to retrieve it.

I don’t blog about this because it’s not my business.  Also, it’s confidential.  Also, unless you are carrying out the work or the subject of it, it’s probably not *that* interesting.  But in this work, I certainly have a different voice.  And no pink in my hair.  Apparently.

Do I have a different ‘private’ voice? Of course I do.  I know I share with you my thoughts on recycling, cabbage white fly and cycling for example, but the day to day mundane is something I spare you.  You’re welcome.  It makes me think though that we probably all do, don’t we?  There is, from time to time, discussion on the interwebs about makers, designers, artists etc finding and using their unique voice as they establish their brand.  I don’t think this applies to me.  Maybe it should!

Happy 2018 to you. May the yarn only be knitted, and never be knotted. May the beads always sparkle.  May your stash never fall upon you.  If you have never been on a workshop with me, why not try it in 2018? There are still a few places left on the 2018 events at Court Cottage and I have also accepted some new teaching invitations this year – more on these soon.  Best wishes and thanks for popping in, dear reader.

Strictly My Own Opinion

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

I am, as many of you know, a very enthusiastic fan of Strictly Come Dancing.  It is an on-going source of sadness and frankly, bewilderment, that I am still waiting for the call to join the ranks, but maybe next year.

In the meantime, every year a similar pattern develops.  I watch the Going-In show.  This year’s was especially terrible.  I watch the Pairing-Up show. I complain at length to anyone in the room that I don’t know half of them, have barely heard of another bunch, dislike three of the four I do recognise and really only like one.

Then the dancing starts and I am quickly able to forget that I had never heard of this or that soap star or sports person or weather/anchor person.  They become part of my late autumn/early winter routine and I feel I have known them all my life.

So, this year I was a bit uncertain because Len has of course retired. I say retired. He appears to have gone on to present a sort of game show, I am not entirely sure as I only saw a clip and he was very mahogany.  I was miffed that Darcy was not appointed as Head Judge as I really like her. I like her now.  At first I didn’t so much but she has almost stopped saying:  ‘yeah?’ after and during every sentence. Almost…

What do we think of new Head Judge, Shirley?  I am going to tell you that (as with almost all the dancers in week one) I had never heard of her and her so-called Latin credentials don’t impress me much.  What I find really odd is that the programme makers sacked (OK, moved) former judge Arlene in what I considered to be a blatantly sexist and ageist move some years so and instead we had the attractive, and much younger Alesha Dixon – great amateur dancer, nice woman I suspect but not a judge.  I didn’t care for Arlene much but I was still incensed by her treatment.  And now they have replaced Len with a woman who I think is strikingly similar to Arlene. They look quite alike.  They both have harsh, difficult-to-listen-to voices.  Why did they do that?  I mean, great if they were trying to address telly’s openly hostile treatment of mature female personalities – which I doubt – but she is not a good fit.  Maybe she will grow into it.

So far, I think Shirley is doing a mediocre job at best.  I give her a 4.  Her marking is incredibly more inconsistent and I think she really is starting to play favourites…she is spoiling it for me.  Craig and Darcy are now the voices of reason, Bruno is – well, he’s Bruno.  But Shirley is mainly just so dull.  What she is saying may be right, but now (Hallowe’en week) I am watching it on iPlayer on my PC so I can fast-forward through the Shirley bits.

The other thing that I just can’t be doing with any more are the daft introductions before each pair dances.  I like seeing the rehearsals but not the silly messing about.  Please make it stop.

As for the contestants, so far I have been very happy with the decisions of the Great British Public (muses:  should the influence of the GBP on our nation’s fate be limited in future to voting on reality TV programmes?  Answer:  might be safer). The ones who have left were all the worst dancers and the recent leavers failed to improve so that’s fair.

And I absolutely I love Debbie.  She fantastic and so is her partner.  What a role model.

More SCD blogging to follow!

A Knitted Time-Line

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

The Knitting Archive (image shows 5 of 8 boxes):

kniting archive boxes 2

This summer I am taking some time to sift through things. Physical things.  I began because we are having some decorating done and this means moving things around.  This became a good chance to clear out some clutter and sort other things.  The art of minimalism (not so much an art in my opinion, more a commercially successful device for selling books, DVDs and life-style blogs) has and always will pass me by.  I am happy to wave a fist full of memories at it as it slides effortlessly by.  I sometimes think I’d like to be minimalist but then I go to somewhere that has almost no trace of human life being actually lived there, such as a hotel and I know it is just not for me.  In fact, I don’t think I have the personal discipline to be a minimalist, or the heart.  I am too fond of my comforting things, especially books, family items and pictures.

I once read that to practice minimalism you should pick up and hold each object (I am assuming that old Welsh dressers, sewing machines, sofas etc are exempt) and if it does not bring you joy, you should get rid of it.  On that basis, I would keep all the books, yarn and needles, my iPad, my iPod, my iPhone, my gardening tools, a spoon, a bowl and very sharp knife.  But the thing that gives me most joy is of course the iPhone/Pad/Pod charger.

Well, this blog can never be accused of, or congratulated on, being minimalist and I digress, as ever…

But the knitting needed a good sort.  This is knitting that I count as ‘work’.  Not things I use, or have given to others as presents, or keep about the house.  This  knitting does not pre-date the start of knitting for Rowan, or not by much.  These items are from my time as a Design Consultant, then my books, and my many years as a teacher of our craft.

So I gathered all the knitting into one place.  One big, very crowded place. I am not a diarist.  This blog is fairly close in some ways, but it misses out a lot of events and emotions because I assume you don’t come here to hear things that may be reminiscent of your own bitter and silent battle with the recycling regime where you live, or a boring account of each meal I had on holiday – obviously that is what Face Book is for; or just things that may be…triste.  But as I unpacked all the knitted things, going back more than a decade which is when knitting became a ‘job’ for me, it was an oddly transporting experience.

Each thing was a conduit back to that period in my life, the period in which I designed and often when I knitted it.  As one item was retrieved, I remembered being on a cycling holiday with Mark in mid-Wales and completing it, the last-but-one item in my third book.  Holding it, re-folding it, settling it into its new archive box, I remembered a lot of sudden flashes of that week, really vividly.  Falling off my bike, twice (it was the first time I cycled with clip-on cycling shoes).  The absolute blackness of the sky at night, with no light pollution at all, save the stars and the eerie moonlight:  it is silver and light enough to walk outside with no torch.  The odd, wooden bathroom side-room.  The happiness at being away, with Florence looking after the house and Lily, for our first ever full week away since – forever.

I also noted as I sorted the work, how my focus shifts.  You may never have noticed, but a tendency to become slightly obsessed with things is probably my one weakness.  Here they were, my phases of intense interest.  Felting, Shibori, Kidsilk Haze, lace, beads, form – especially Moebiuses, texture, edges, colour and Fairisle. One constant factor is mittens.  I appear to have been, and remain, obsessed with hand-wear.  So I felt happy that in this, at least, I am not fickle.

Nor, I noticed, am I and appear never to have been a follower of knitting ‘fashion’ or trends. This year, for the first time ever I think, I coincided with a resurgence in a trend – an interest in Brioche knitting – and if I am honest with you, it did thoroughly irritate me.  I much prefer it if I am not designing and teaching things that everyone else is Instagram-ing about until its five minutes passes, again.  I think I began my felting odyssey at about the time when wedding-ring shawls were all the rage.  I adored Kidsilk Haze when the whole world was backing away from it and making crossed-fingers-ward-off-the-devil gestures at the yarn display in Johnny Lou Lou’s.  I (not very secretly and in the absence of any corroboration from the manufacturer) do think I am responsible for this yarn’s amazing reign as the queen of yarns. You’re welcome, Rowan Yarns. This was achieved by simply teaching every knitter I ever met, to learn its ways, and how to knit with beads.  Job done.

There were some painful memories in those boxes too.  After my father died, and this happened 9 months after my mother died, I frogged and later gave away the yarn, from the project I was knitting as I attended his dying weeks.  So it wasn’t that project.  It was the project I most clearly remember knitting after that.  For all that I have experienced and witnessed the restorative, soothing, even healing properties of knitting, after my father died, I did not – could not – knit for many weeks.  I didn’t work for Rowan, so I had no imperative to knit, as I would now.  Working for Rowan came the following year and so in a way, I think it was part of the knitting-healing process.  But after many weeks when I didn’t knit – and now I do not know what I did do, other than work, tend the children, do the garden I suppose – I finally felt the need to knit again and I designed one of my earliest things. When it came out of the box, it trailed behind it a painful, bitter-sweet train of memories of the months that went before it.  I fervently wish I had not frogged and given away the yarn from the scarf I was knitting when dad died.  Do not ever do as I did, and pull the knitting out, then hide from you the yarn, as if you can pull out and hide the pain, for you cannot.  And if I had carried on, I’d still have that scarf and I’d wear it – easier now, now that the years have soothed the hurt somewhat.

Some things evoked the most mundane – but happy – memories.  I remembered meals I had planned, cooked and eaten as the item evolved.  Some of them made me recall their creation as a blissfully easy process from pencil to needle to book; others still had the taint of making me swatch, swatch again, and then yet again, to finally bring forth a thing of worth.  Sometimes I looked at a thing and thought:  ah!  that thumb-gusset (an example) was, after all, worth the torture of maths and placement.   Sometimes I looked and thought:  why on earth did I design that?

They are all now packed up, not in their stitched time-line, but in an orderly, categorised way, though this does often coincide.  The boxes are sealed and labelled.  There are 8 of them and they are hefty.  It has been a good thing to do, this summer.

One oddity:  the long-lost sock years.  Oh yes!  I too had sock years, my child.  I have rarely taught sock knitting, perhaps because when I first knitted socks, literally everyone was doing the same, or they were teaching it.  It felt as if the knitting universe had invented this ingenious foot-covering.  So of course, I could have nothing to do with it.  Also, I had a (now inexplicable) taste for socks in pink, orange and grey.  And for every pair I made, I also knitted a small pouched, draw-string matching sock-bag.  Why?  Answer came there none.  I unearthed 4 such pairs still in the special matching bags, all perfect (aside from the colours).  I also knitted some pairs as gifts back then including my first and last ever pair of man-socks, in Fairisle, which I gave to a friend.  I am unsure if the gifts of socks were fully appreciated and for these and other reasons to do with Marks and Spencer stocking lovely socks, I gave it up.  But I think I may design some new socks – not bed-socks but real socks for going out in – and teach it in 2018, for the entire world is either still teaching Brioche or will be teaching double-reversible-entrelac-intarsia top-down night-caps, which is what I was going to do…here is a shot of one of the long-lost socks, also proving how hard it is to shoot a picture of your own sock-clad feet.  You have to pick a foot and go for that one.

Sock solo

 

A Short Story for Christmas

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

Elizabeth

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.

Best

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…

Worst

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.

Best

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.

The Axis of Evil (AKA Squirrel for lunch)

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

So, recently, as you may have read, my good friend Hilda sadly died.  It was a shock.  It is still a shock.  And while Hilda was in hospital and then after she had died, I had her dog, Toby, here to stay.

My dogs didn’t really like Toby at first.  It’s OK now, kind of.  But Medlar really, really hates Toby and he is never getting over it.  Even though Toby isn’t here now, Medlar still approaches the house sideways, on his toes, ready to attack-slash-run.  Not attack/run.  No, I mean slash-run.  He is very aggressive.  Having three dogs and a seething cat in the house was not restful.  There was never any peace until bed-time when I placed the animals in several different parts of the house.

One day, just a few days after Hilda’s death, I had some ladies who attend my workshops here, come over for a technical knitting solving thing – coffee with DPNs on the side. I just do not know why I didn’t cancel or rearrange it as I was honestly still in shock and we had not even sorted out the funeral, but it never occurred to me call it off.  So these lovely ladies arrived, I popped them into the workshop room and then went to make coffee – and round up the three dogs (three dogs, by the way, is too many dogs.  Do not do it.  You’re welcome). Only Toby was present and correct, if by present and correct you mean turning somersaults on the borders and eating shells and stones ‘cos that is what he mainly does.  No sign of my boys.

I had to find them and then place them, all three of them, in specific and safe places before returning to my guests.  I called, whistled, cursed (quietly) and finally resorted to shaking the biscuit box in the front garden.  I have created a sort of Pavlovian reaction among the good village folk here too – when I shake the dog biscuit box, they form a line outside the gate.  Rupert swaggered over, got a biscuit and I placed him in the kitchen.  No sign of Arthur, who is the nicest of all my animals and very biddable.  Eventually after some castanet-standard biscuit percussion, he emerged from the border.  With a squirrel’s head, perfect and looking me right in the eye, sticking out of his mouth.

Squirrels have really large heads.  Well this one did – its head was almost the same size as Arthur’s head. This created a surreal impression of a two-headed dachshund where one of the heads was growing right out of the main head.  Also, the squirrel’s eyes were open and as Arthur sashayed up the path, the squirrel head kind of bobbed and swayed.  Now, I know, realistically, if a squirrel is so far down inside a dog’s throat/stomach you can’t see the body, it can’t still be alive.  But I was as far from rational as I am from New York, and so I did what I think we would all do in just this situation.  I screamed at the top of my voice.  This set off a short chain of reactions.  First, Arthur froze and bellied-down but tried as hard as he could to swallow the squirrel.  Second, Toby and Rupert cartwheeled out of the kitchen like a two-headed poodle/dachshund freak-show act.  Third (I imagine) traffic stopped and children were ushered indoors at the school and kindergarten, both of which have the pleasure of being within earshot of Court Cottage.

I knew I had to get the squirrel out of Arthur’s mouth.  I’m not good with stuff like offal, in fact I can’t have it in the house and so I was just certain I couldn’t get hold of it and pull.  I was also sure Arthur would resist me.  Yet, I had two ladies in the dining room, literally 30 feet away – and I had to get back in there and knit. Or at least not be hysterical.  My screaming matured into a really sweary stream of consciousness.  And a whole tirade of eugh. Arthur was very afraid.  Toby and Rupert were hysterical.  Poor Toby, he never signed up for this mad boot-camp experience.

I forced myself – and I still don’t know how – to grab the head of the squirrel and pull.  Arthur resisted a bit then suddenly let go. And that is all there was – just the head.  No body.  It was either still in the shrubbery, or in the dog.  My money is on the dog.  I hurled the head into the border and Rupert sprinted after it like a starving wolf who has never had back surgery.  But I was too fast and I dragged the bloody, boiling pack of dogs back into the house. Then I scrubbed my tembling hands, and my arms, face, and neck with boiling Dettol and wire wool, made the coffee and went back into the dining room.

‘I’m sorry about that’ I murmured.  No problem, they intimated.  Just as if they had no idea of what had just happened, just feet away from the window of the room where I had left them for an awkwardly long rest.  We knitted for a bit, resolving tricky things as we went.  Then Florence who often calls in during her break at work, popped her head in, and said:  ‘Is Rupert in here?’ No.  When I last saw the dratted threesome they were in a squirrel coma.

I hastily excused myself and joined Florence in the kitchen.  She was furious as she had been fruitlessly searching for Rupert for about ten minutes. We deployed the dog biscuit box and went back into the garden.  No sign of him.  Toby happily trampled a few borders and Arthur went to look for the squirrel head.  Ominously, it had gone.  Suddenly, Rupert popped out of the border – with a new, and absolutely huge squirrel in his mouth.  But this time, the head was inside his mouth and the whole of the rest of the body was hanging out.  He could hardly walk!  He kept tripping over the sodding squirrel as it lunged and lurched about – oh, it was dead alright, and it was just the most bizarre and nightmarish puppetry. I honestly wondered, at that moment, if I was in fact asleep and dreaming.

I was actually crying by now – tears of utter rage, and revulsion, for I knew what I had to do. Both Florence and I were now totally oblivious to the fact that everyone within a 200 yards radius of the house, including the people in my dining room, would definitely be able to hear our piratical swearing and for my part, jagged sobbing. We just did not care and our yelled oaths were truly heartfelt, if a bit repetitive.

Our only hope was to distract Rupert with dog biscuits and then, when he dropped the squirrel, to grab it and get it away.  A very hasty discussion revealed that Florence was unwilling to be the squirrel-grabber. And after all, I had already wrestled a squirrel head from one dog that morning, it was in danger of becoming my party-piece. So she festooned the path with many biscuits, casting them before Rupert like savoury, hefty confetti.  He hesitated…he loves those biscuits and frankly I think we were all wondering how he’d swallow the enormous squirrel, so he dropped it and still snarling at me, started eating the manna from heaven while I – a true heroine, picked up the headless squirrel and kind of pogo-ed up the path with it in my outstretched hand.  I hurled it into the kindling box.  And then, as I am confident you would have done, I had to dance and jog about on the spot for a few moments while flicking my hands about in a frenzied routine of grossed-out devil-casting.  You would have done the same, right?

A few moments later, after another full decontamination routine, plus face-washing to reduce the redness and swelling of angry tears, I calmly rejoined the knitters.  There is simply no way on this good earth that they did not hear all this and frankly, had I been in that room, I would either have left by the window and never come back, OR joined us in the garden. But anyway they must be much calmer than me.  One lady simply said, hesitantly raising her delicate hand – ‘You seem to have something in your hair.’ My inner hysteria, always only lightly dusted with calm, almost burst forth – in case it was a squirrel body-part; but it was only a twig.

My dogs are hounds.  They will hunt and kill and eat things.  But I am 100% sure, on reflection, that Medlar had a dark hand in this terrible scene.  He probably wanted Toby to eat the squirrels and die, or at the very least be in big trouble.  But Toby will hardly eat his own dinner let alone giant rodents that the cat has winged.  Oh yes, it was Medlar, and my lads just went in for the kill.   Were you watching, Hilda?  Hope you enjoyed it more than I did!

Hilda

Sunday, October 9th, 2016

If you have been on one of my workshops here, you may well remember Hilda.  She often came down to the house at about tea time to sit with us at the end of the day, have a cup of tea and a slice of cake, and hear all about what we had been doing.

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Well, last month, Hilda died.  It was very sudden.  She went on holiday, became unwell, was admitted to hospital first abroad and then after being air-ambulanced back, here in Somerset but a week later she died.

Hilda was 80.  But really, she was about 40 years old in spirit, determination and character.  I know 80 is a good age, but it’s not good enough for me and Hilda, because Hilda was one of my closest friends and much more than that, to me.  A surrogate mum, I suppose, with all that goes with that – ups, downs, tiffs, laughs, tears, and mostly, love.

When we moved here, from Burnham-on-Sea, which may as well be That London as far as some locals are concerned, Hilda was the first person I met. If you don’t count the old goat who stomped up the path at 7.30 one Saturday morning just after we moved to bang on the door and moan about the hedge by the pavement.  Hilda was not from Puriton.  She was from South Wales originally and then had moved all over the UK and the world with her RAF husband.  But unlike me, she had a great gift for overcoming barriers and she might as well have been born and raised in this village, because she was an integral part of its fabric.

Our first mutual love was knitting.  Hilda was a fantastic knitter.  She taught me to knit Fairisle.  Years later, when I really took to it, she was so proud of me.  She taught me to do so many things you cannot learn from You Tube or a book or a degree course.  I have been almost unable to knit since she died, which is terribly awkward as I have a busy schedule of workshops to deliver.  I also appreciate that I will have to pull myself together fast to a) be able to actually DO the workshops and b) avoid the wrath of Hilda if I don’t.  She would tell me in no uncertain terms that I must not be so silly, I can hear her saying it:  OK Ali, that’s fine, you’ve had your tears now let’s crack on.

When I applied for and, in an act of folly on their part, was appointed as a Rowan Design Consultant in the Cribbs Causeway John Lewis store, Hilda was absolutely, whole-heartedly and very generously even more thrilled than I was.  Unlike me, she was also confident that I could do it.  To make 100% sure of this, she often drove all the way up to sit at my table and be encouraging on my quiet shifts.  From then on, until the last time I saw her in hospital which was three days before she died, she has been at my side in all my knitting adventures.  Not always literally, but still, there.  She knitted for me, she knitted with me, she encouraged me when I was unsure or anxious (often!), and always added so much value, wisdom and common sense to my work.

She used to say to me:  Ali, you have the ideas, you’re the designer; I am the monkey!  But she wasn’t.  She had run her own hand-knitting business in the pre-Puriton days and I really do believe she did ‘Kaffe’ style designs before he could even knit.  What she loved – and I loved about her – was that she never stopped wanting to learn.  If she taught me, then I also taught her.  Not as much but she really embraced skills such as felting, knitting with beads, Kidsilk Haze – she loved it! Moebiuses, steeking – wherever my adventures took me, she came too.

One things I used to do was ‘use’ Hilda as a guinea pig ‘class’ when I had a new, tricky workshop to teach.  I never went ‘live’ without a practice on Hilda.  Now I feel like I am flying solo for the first time.  Where is my safety net?  Who will I tell funny stories to when I make a hash up of something simple?

In the last few days in hospital in Taunton, she was visited by all her closest friends, mostly from the world of patch work which was really her domain.  She was brilliant at it, ran several groups over the years and donated literally thousands of hours of her generous time to teaching and encouraging and organising at so many levels.  Her group in the village was her pride and joy.  As bereft as I feel, so they must feel terrible too.  They have lost their group leader, a force to be reckoned with – and they loved her.

At her funeral – which was packed – the group hung some of her quilts in the church, in the porch and in the Church Hall.  The Order of Service was literally covered in quilting too – it was so adorable, utterly bonkers and very, very Hilda.  Look!  Also, a quilted cross.  She would have loved to see this. hilda-2

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This is not to say that we didn’t have our ups and downs.  Unlike someone who is a ‘friend’, we could and did sometimes fall out, squabble – as you do with your family, because you can. At times, she drove me nuts.  For example somehow Hilda always seemed to pop in on the day I had my hair done – and she really didn’t like my purple, blue or pink phases!  Never afraid to share an opinion, even if it was not invited, I frequently heard:  Oh Ali!  that really does not suit you!  Thanks.  Or:  you will wear yourself out with running and the damn gym, well don’t ask ME to push you round in a wheelchair!  Or:  Don’t go caving.  Or if you MUST go, don’t tell me!  You will kill yourself and then what will you do with All That Wool?

We managed, twice, to fall out over the Village Flower and Craft Show.  Impressive.  God knows how, except that Hilda loved it and I hated it.  Not the show itself, but entering it, which she forced me to do on three occasions.  The trouble with you, Ali, is that you are not a joiner.  You need to join in more! Oy, OK.

She comforted me when I was upset and told me to pull myself together many times.  One creature who I think loved Hilda more than any other non-human is Rupert.  He adored Hilda from the day she met him when he was eight weeks old.  I  went and ruined it a bit when I also got Arthur but Hilda and Pete had Rupert with them so often.  Once he went on holiday with them in the caravan and he loved it.  When his spine went and he had all those operations, Hilda made him a patchwork sling to help him learn to walk and knitted him a hand-made, felted sleeping bag which he still uses every day and every night.  He simply loved her.

Now, I have part-fostering care of Hilda’s dog, Toby.  He is only one year old.  He is staying with Peter but has been spending a lot of time here, especially after Hilda was admitted to Musgrove and then again after her death.  Poor Toby.  But he has settled down here and also at home with just Pete and I walk him too.  Rupert is not his biggest fan but we have attained peace and I aspire to friendship.  Looking after Toby seems like the very least I can do for my old friend.

What Hilda enjoyed about the tea-time workshop visits was seeing all the participants, hearing about their knitting – and their sewing – and putting on on of her best hand-knits and sitting with us in the busy, end-of-workshop atmosphere; and then staying on for an hour after everyone had gone home to gossip about her week and tell me to stop knitting in grey all the while, for pity’s sake, Ali.

The door would open, in she came, I’d sit her down and get the tea and cake.  It was just part of my life.  It signaled the close of the day and it made me really happy just to see her, even if I was usually running about with a knife and ball of wool.  I actually do not think I can bear it, that she will never do that again – and I am as mad as a badger because I booked her in at tea time for both my October workshops and the Christmas ones.  And if she could be there, I know she would, because she never let me down.

Yesterday was the first workshop since her death.  She was due to have tea with us, as always and at 3.30 ish I just could not help looking at the door. But I did not cry or feel like I would because it was busy and also a lovely, happy day which Hilda would have loved. We did steeking.  She had knitted two Scandi-style cardigans and steeked them some years ago, but I still practiced my teaching on Hilda in the summer, showed her how I do it, with crochet (she did not approve, as she did hers with a sewing machine, but she did it anyway).  That was the last time.  If anyone wants to volunteer to be a guinea pig student in the future, just say…or I might just not bother.

The last time I saw her, in hospital, she had some fairly specific instructions for me to carry out.  Amongst these, I was to eat cake at tea time after workshops.  And use some of her stash to knit a jumper or cardigan in many coloured stripes, each one of which must be bordered with a single line of black knitting.  Well, of course I promised so now I am faced with that task.  I never wear stripes! I never wear colourful cardigans.  She has set me a challenge, as ever. I was due to see her again two days later but she was too ill by then and the next day she died.  The effort I must now make is to not remember her as she was that day, but as she was on some of our adventures together, in the years before her mercifully brief illness.

We have permission for her ashes to be buried in the village church yard, by the Church Rooms where every Tuesday she held court at her Patchwork/Quilting club. Very fitting.

So, Hilda, the question is (I am, as you know, ever selfish) what the HELL am I supposed to do now?  And thank you, for being such a faithful friend to me – and more. Goodnight, God bless, see you in the morning.

 

The Wrong Way to Knit.

Friday, April 1st, 2016

Today, I read a post from a US based knitting teacher.  She wrote about a knitting subject that is very important to me.  What is the best way to knit?

Her answer is:  any way that suits you, produces the results you want, does not hurt you and is physically sustainable. I completely agree.

I feel really strongly about this because of two things.  First, we all knit differently from one another.  There is English, Continental, with many variants, hands-over, hands-under etc, etc.  And I reckon I have seen most of them.  Second, I was once told, in public, that I knitted ‘the wrong way’. Why was this?  It was because I knitted with my hands on top, thus letting go (you don’t actually let go, though you do move your right hand but anyway) of the right hand needle to throw the yarn.  What they said was: ‘I can hardly bear to watch you knit that way!  How can you stand it?  It looks so awkward and wrong!’  As you can see, I am very over it.  No, I really am, in fact I am grateful to this ill-mannered ‘spade-speaker’ and in a minute I will tell you why.  I had knitted this way all my life, because that was the way my mother and grandmother knitted, and they taught me.  Some of the best knitters I know also knit this way, incidentally.

Now that was some years ago.  I was very embarrassed and sat for the rest of the session – it was a knit club – in hot silence.  I also felt very self-conscious about the way I held the needles for some time afterwards. If it was now, I’d tell them to go and get stuffed.

Some years later, after I began working for Rowan, I began experimenting with other ways of holding the yarn and needles.  I did this because I wanted a bit more speed. I also like nerdy things like that.  I taught myself to knit with my hands underneath, to knit left and right handed, and continental. But still to this day, if I need a lot of fine control for a tricky move, I go back to hands on top.

What that event taught me, aside from how stunningly rude some people can be, was that I never, ever wanted anyone I taught, or helped in a shop, or knitted with socially, to feel that way.

I have heard it said that some people feel they too may knit ‘the wrong way’.  You don’t. Assuming you like it, your hands or shoulders are not suffering pain and you get the fabric you want, it is the right way. If you feel that any of these things is not right, well maybe you could think about making some adjustments, but otherwise, it is fine. When I am teaching, I can almost always find a way to teach The Thing We Are Doing without you having to accommodate your usual style to suit me.  That is not what teaching is about.

If anyone tells you that you are doing it wrong, please refer them to me.

What We Say. What We Mean.

Thursday, January 7th, 2016

I love the subtlety of the English language.  In fact, I love the non-subtle words too.  I just love words.  But what you get when you combine English, as spoken by the British, is another language all together.

For example, in my other life, the one where I am grown up, wear business (like) outfits, carry, give out, and receive cards in the age-old business card exchange ceremony, that sort of thing, language is critical.  Each word I use in the corporate writing I do in this other life, is weighed and measured. My words have to be accurate, truthful, empathetic, sensitive, sometimes very forthright – and accessible.  But most of all, valuable.  Tough criteria.  I love it.

In normal life I like to de-code what people say, and arrive at what they mean. Sometimes, these are the same. I don’t hang out with a bunch of habitual liars.  Most of the time, we can take what we hear at face value. But often, this is only because we ourselves know the code-words.  Such as:

‘This cave is sporting’.  This almost certainly means it will be a challenging (see below) trip, especially for me, as ‘sporting’ is not playful or fun, its meaning ranges from ‘it may push you down a waterfall’ to ‘this will be very scary’.

‘Challenging’.  In life, and not just in caving, challenging means ‘this (thing we are being asked to do) is virtually impossible’.  Or ‘this (situation we are being asked to deal with) is a nightmare and there will never be a resolution’.  A challenging individual means: ‘this person is a knob-head’.  A variation of this is:  ‘I think they found it a bit challenging’.  This means they were hopeless at it, despite this being a very straight forward task, in the opinion of the person speaking.

‘I am not sure’.  This means I am completely sure, but as I am also sure I don’t agree with you/won’t do this/won’t be going anyway, I am saying ‘I am not sure’ in the hope and almost certain knowledge that you also speak my code and understand that I profoundly disagree/refuse.

Related to the above, is ‘Um, maybe’. It amounts to the same implacable determination not to go along with it, but is less formal.

‘You might like it’.  This means ‘I hated it, and I think, since we are friends and share some basic settings, you also will hate it’.  There is an even more subtle sub-text here.  It can also mean (but not always):  ‘If you like it, maybe we are not friends after all’.  This latter part depends on the circumstances.  For example, if it is whether or not dried currants are a delicious food item and should be allowed to be on the planet (the answer is they are not, and should not, by the way), it doesn’t matter.  Much.  An even further sub-text in this simple sentence which has more turns than a corkscrew drop in OFD, is:  ‘You might like it, but I don’t really like you, and so if you do like it, I will be confirmed in my dislike of it, and of you.’

‘You may want to think about your options’.  If someone says this to you, it means the course you are suggesting, or are on, is doomed. This is how sensitive people, or people who you are paying to undertake work for you say:  You are joking! Rather you than me, mate!

‘Interesting’.  This is a tricky one, as it genuinely can mean that the person finds the subject of the sentence interesting.  I think it depends on what it is applied to.  For example, a book.  In this case it probably means it is actually interesting. If it is food, it probably means:  ‘I think this is rank’. Then it may be followed by ‘you might like it’ (see above) and thus you know it means ‘This is rank.  If you like it, our friendship is over.’  The sentence would be something like:  ‘Mmmm (tasting the dried-currant-curry-jam)…interesting…(spitting out jam)…you might like it?’

‘Somehow, we just didn’t “click”‘.  Very straight forward and basic code for:  ‘I hated this person, but it wasn’t my fault’.

‘I was a bit miffed’.  Easily translates into:  I was madder than a bull-dog with a hornet up its nose.  If this is accompanied by the speaker miming ‘a bit’ with their fingers indicating a tiny portion of miffed, it means:  I actually wanted to drop-kick someone into orbit about this.

‘I speak as I find’ (regional variations apply, such as ‘I call a spade a spade’, a very bizarre claim to anything other than spade-recognition which is, quite rightly, a very lowly prized skill). This is both code and a warning.  It is code for:  ‘I am about to be very rude to you but as I have implied that it is a virtue, you will feel unable to respond in kind.’  It is also fair warning to you to leave, never engage that person again, and/or, be ready with a cutting response such as ‘bugger off you miserable old scrote’.  I detest spade-speakers and as soon as someone utters these dread words I just walk off mid-insult because I know from bitter experience that they will be nasty and I will be unable to resist being gloriously horrid back with interest.

‘Well, it was all a bit odd…’ This is code for:  ‘it was utterly, unnervingly and inexplicable weird, everyone there was quite mad and I feel blessed to have got away with my life.’  It is usually applied to drinks parties given by a friend of someone you are staying with.  Variations include private viewings at modern art galleries and interpretative dance events.

‘It was a bit embarrassing.’ The incident that the speaker is remembering was so mortifyingly awful that they still blush to the roots of their arm-pit hair when they accidentally recall any of the events of that evening, walk past the building or even see someone wearing a red coat.  They are hoping to reduce the therapy sessions and medication soon.  The event may be quite innocuous.  For all we know, they simply spilled a cup of water on someone who was wearing a red coat.  Or it might involve a story well worth telling.  But we will never know, because this is also code for: I can never speak of these events.  You must not ask me to.  And because we speak the code, we just nod and look away to give them a chance to mop their beaded brow in private.

‘There is an odd dynamic.’  Often used in corporate circles but equally can apply to any group of people who are trying, for reasons of work or shared interests to do something together.  It means:  ‘In my opinion, A hates B and B will never get along with C.  Etcetera.  Meetings are an endless vale of tears.  We may as well be from opposing tribes’.  Tip:  if you ever get offered a job and they actually say:  ‘there is an odd dynamic in this office/group’, just run away because they are either after fresh meat or a saviour and you really don’t want to be either.

‘It’s all water under the bridge now’.  This means they have absolutely not forgotten the incident. They will never forget it.  It is not so much water under a bridge as water in a festering pool of un-moving fetid water, that will never move again except for the times when they stir it all up it with the long, bony finger of resentment.

‘I quite enjoyed it’.  To the British, this innocent phrase is a small kingdom of understatement that can go one of two ways.  You would probably need to have been there, or know the person very well to know which way.  The ways are: 1) I hated every minute of it.  And 2)  I absolutely adored it. Personally, if I absolutely adore something I am more than happy to say so.  So if it was me, it would mean I did not enjoy it.  As I said, you’d need to know the person, because Mark, for example, would simply say if he did not enjoy something (assuming he was asked, otherwise he would say nothing); but if he loved it, he might murmur that it was ‘alright, yes, not too bad. Really.’

‘You know me.  I never (insert word such as gossip, or argue)’.  A further example of the code and warning combo.  The speaker is coding that they habitually do the thing they claim to be a stranger to.  Furthermore, they are warning you to tacitly agree that they never gossip or argue even though they may as well have the legend GOSSIP tattooed across their forehead.  It is almost always a precursor to some gossip or an attempt at an argument.

‘I’m sure it will all work out.’  The speaker is prepared to wager their house on it not working out.

‘S/he is rather assertive’.  In the opinion of the speaker, the subject is a towering inferno of unmanageable and dangerous aggression.

‘There are some *quite* nice areas there I’m sure.’  So easily broken, it is not really code at all, and it plainly means that in the view of the speaker, this destination will be really unpleasant, and you ought not to go on holiday/move there.

‘So.  That’s all sorted then.’  This code is the last resort of people who wish with all their soul to avoid an in-depth ‘let’s have it all out’ discussion of the sort that some folk go in for.  If you are the sort of person who likes, even craves, ‘let’s have it all out’ discussions (and I am not), well, that’s fine – (which is code for:  ‘it’s not fine for me, but I am sure it is fine for you, just do it with someone else).  If someone says this, they are begging you, or the person to whom they are speaking, to allow the conversation to be closed at once, with no confrontation of emotions and feelings or analysis of events. I am very firmly in this camp.  But if you are not, that’s fine. (See above).

How rich our language is!  It’s a language and a set of behaviours and warning flags all in one.  There are countless other examples, I am sure.  But where would we be without code?  We’d all be aggressive spade-speakers, or appalled recipients of rudeness. We would be accepting jobs in cult-HQ, or invitations to participative mime evenings that we were quite unsuited for. There would be lengthy arguments about dried-currant-curry-jam, and extended silences about bridges and water. We’d be miserable.  So, code.  It’s our short cut to peace, even if it is of the armed variety.  I quite like it.

 

New Super-Powers

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

I have discovered that I have some shiny new super-powers.  In addition to these original super-powers that is.

I am The Keeper of the Tickets

Tickets for any event, outing, trip or show can only be safe-guarded by me. Apparently.  This means that I am in charge of them and therefore liable for keeping them safe, remembering their location, and of course, turning up at the event with the tickets, for everyone. This power is indeed a heavy burden. Associated with this power, I know* where All The Important Documents are.  This includes but is not limited to:  passports, licenses, NHS cards, ID cards, certificates, Boots loyalty point cards, any gift card ever received and vaccination records.  As the festive season draws to a close, I can add ‘Keeper Of All The Receipts’.

*I do not know where they all are.

Compost-Queen

This tiresome, not to say disgusting super-power relates to the emptying of the compost bin.  This is a ‘cute’ dust-bin in miniature, which is pink, obvs and has a twist off lid.  The lid is very annoying but also essential as Rupert will gorge himself on onion skins (poison for dogs), banana skins (like crack-cocaine for dogs), all peelings and associated slime, if the lid is not on tight.  It lives, handily, outside the back door.  I am the only person in the house who is licensed to schlep this vile thing to the far end of the veg garden and empty it into the main compost bin.  I love compost, you know me. But I hate emptying the bin. Sometimes, I can confer temporary compost powers upon my family but this only lasts for one trip, it seems.  Then the power reverts to me.

I See All

Not in a sinister ‘Santa Claus is watching you.  All year.  Especially when you are asleep’ sort of way. More in the sense that I am now positive I can see things which others cannot see.  Not just ghosts.  Things such as items which need to be put back where they live; things that are waiting on the 2nd stair to be elevated to the first floor; or things that have been bought and need storing.  I may have shared with you my belief that in the event of the zombie apocalypse, the safest place to ‘hide’ is the 2nd stair, because anything placed here becomes invisible. It does in our house anyway, I can’t speak for yours – try it though!  It might buy you valuable minutes after the invasion, before you de-bug (or it may be bug-out. I am not American) to your prepper-place – I suggest a locked cave by the way.

Medicine Woman

In an age-old tradition, one tribe or pack member is the medicine woman or man. This is me. I  – and only I – can minister medicines and routine treatments to Anyone or Anything.  I can appoint others as assistants but only I can re-order prescriptions or do anything ‘gross’ to the animals.  Joy!

Yes Chef!

Why my head has not exploded with the utter, unrelieved tedium of weekly menu planning I do not know.  Each week I make a menu plan (do you? Please say yes).  This only covers the evening meals.  Other ‘meals’, many of which may well be taken elsewhere, are free-style affairs and nothing to do with me.  I for example, mainly eat yoghurt, radishes and cashew nuts for non-supper meals and never tire of it.  But oy! The weekly grind of the menu planning.  It’s not that I don’t like food, I really do; and I am basically OK with being the only person who regularly cooks anything.  I make the plan because it is much better than the daily:  Oh God what shall we have for supper? dance which preceded the advent of The Plans.  It is great because I can look at it and know what I am doing, and I use it to guide my food shopping, another utterly hated activity, which would otherwise degenerate into a messy, abstract and probably costly panic-buy.  Personally, I would be quite happy to eat the same four or five meals on a sort of ‘meal roulette’ rota and just vary the sides.  Of these, three would be chicken, the rest fish.  But for the sanity and enjoyment of my people, I have a stock list of about fifteen meal-types and each week I *try* to add a new item – like a kind of test run.  But I so wish I was not Head Chef and menu planner.

Pretty Powerful Present Person

I buy 95% of all the Christmas and birthday gifts.  Is this a common feature in the kind of blatantly conventional household that I occupy – that is to say, the Lady of The House does all the present choosing, buying, schlepping and distribution?  If so then I won’t count this as a super power, just a burden.  The bizarre thing is, Mark likes shopping and I really don’t like it.  I used to have a group of gym-based ‘friends’ who liked going shopping en-masse, and as an act of kindness I suppose, they sometimes invited me to go.  It was terrible.  Bad enough to have to go to Bristol (Cabot Circus is literally hellish) but to go in a posse of about eight women and then try and get anything done was just torture and pointless.  I used to end up sitting in the ‘husband’ chairs that some nice shops place near the door, just reading while I waited for them to finish trying on things they never bought and making enough noise to wake the dead.  But anyway, once I am in gift (or anything) shopping mode, I am like a woman posessed and I can 100% guarantee that I will complete it all in one go if needs be, with incisive and swift decision-making, no dithering, no coming back after having a think – I am like a present-seeking missile.  But I still hate it.  I am available for ‘on-a-mission’ present buying hire, ditto clothes for you, or household things, very reasonable rates.  You will just need to provide me with many Costas, a list of recipients, and also accompany me with your bank card handy.

 

Smugness. Discuss. (Also, a Slightly Grumpy Post).

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015

We all know how I can be proper grouchy, don’t we?  Even at Christmas?  Well, it is (more) rare but someone has made me a bit grumpy.  Get a coffee.

‘Is it just me, or does anyone find this trend of donating to charity instead of sending Xmas cards just a bit smug? And to be honest just a good way of avoiding that ‘writing cards and sending’ hassle?’

The above quote has been lifted from a social media site where I go to look at cute pictures of Dachshunds.  Or to ask Dachshund related questions. Or to help with advice for someone else if I can.  I was therefore quite surprised to read this from a woman who I do not know, and I read it all the way to the end in the expectation that it would be Dachshund related.  It isn’t.

What it is, however, is border-line nasty, judgy – and projects quite a lot, I suspect.

You may know, or have guessed by now perhaps, that I am one of the ‘smug’ people who, she judges, give money to charity instead of sending cards at Christmas, for reasons that are concerned with being lazy – too lazy to buy, write and post Christmas cards, she suggests; and/or, to make themselves feel better – the smug reference I assume; and/or want others to know how amazing they are.  The quote goes on to assert that most people can afford to do both – give to charity and buy and send cards, and that it is better to send a card as many people are lonely, but I edited it out for you. You’re welcome.

It irritated me. Partly because I fail to see how The Thoughts of Madam Miffed on Christmas cards have anything whatsoever to do with Dachshunds. And I don’t know, or want to know her, especially as she has already weighed and measured my worth and found it wanting.  But the reason it irritated me was this:  I do not care if she/you/anyone wishes to send cards.  In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest you should, if you want to.  I love getting cards, but of course, as I never send any now and haven’t for four years, we get far fewer.  I don’t open any cards we do get and think: how smug of this person to write and send cards.  Or:  how mean of them not to donate to charity instead.  I just think:  thanks!  How lovely!  (I especially like sparkly cards and robins).  And I save them all and cut them up to make gift tags for the next year, at which time I read them all again.

However, the post did make me examine my real motives.  If I am honest, I didn’t really love writing cards, but for many years I did it because at first, it made me feel all grown-up. Then it made me feel even more Christmassy (though as you may know, I start feeling Christmassy in September and then it builds into a crescendo of festive ferment for four whole months.  Yep.  Poor Mark indeed).   But for the last ten years or so it has got my nerves a bit.  I think this probably coincided with more use of email, social media and texts.

Some years ago, my father developed dementia.  Initially the progress of the disease was slow and sometimes I thought I was imagining it, because he had always been quite absent-minded, always thinking about something clever and probably mathy, that kind of thing.  But it is hard not to face the reality when you see your dad trying to make a ‘phone call with the TV remote control.  Stuff was going wrong.  Then in the last two or three years of his life, it was clearly a major and a rapidly escalating problem – and he just slipped further and further away from us.  Dementia does not come alone and take just the mind.  It wreaks havoc on the body too.  It is the real deal.

So a few years ago I started giving to The Alzheimer’s Society.  Instead of spending my Christmas card money on cards and stamps, I give it to them. One day soon, when stamps are made of gold and cost £100 each, they will be making a pretty penny from me.  (NB:  I may have to adjust my giving model).   Why do this at Christmas and not at a random time of year?  I think people (such as me) do this because it is at Christmas that you miss the people you loved so much, and have lost, the very most.  It is reaching out.  Like you used to.  When they were still alive and part of your routine, earthly life, not just your remembered and bitterly missed past life.

I do something else too.  With the time I save, I write to dad.  This year I am writing a poem.  It’s pretty poor, and I rather wish I hadn’t begun it or at least that I’d taken the non-rhyming option…anyway I’m pressing on.

Diseases like Alzheimer’s are absolute rubbish and I feel so impotent.  But when I give my festive spends, I do at least think I am sticking up an exquisitely manicured middle finger to dementia.  It helps me feel a bit better, that much is true, or a bit less hopeless about it at least.  It’d be bloody amazing if no-one else had to suffer as my dad did and I know that day is a long way away, but who knows?  I believe it will come.  One thing doing this does not make me feel is smug.

My dad always told me I had a way with words and so to prove him right, I now say:  you can stuff your nippy little Face Book post right up your tail-spout, lady, followed by a mince-pie and a nice prickly sprig of holly.  Season’s greetings!

 

Knitting My Own Shopping Bags

Friday, November 27th, 2015

And the reason I am knitting shopping bags is – just because I can!  True, I am also morphing into an ardent eco-warrior.  It is perhaps only a matter of time before I stop wearing eye-flicks and mascara, then maybe I will eschew all make-up, nail varnish and hair products.  I am never doing any of those things by the way, only joking.  By the way, if you are a real eco-warrior and my sentiments offend in any way, then soz lol (as The Young Folk say), and also do calm down – maybe go out and buy a new lippy to cheer yourself up?

I have finished my 2015 teaching with a flourish of stars at Spin-a-Yarn in Devon.  This draws to a close a series of forty events that I have taught or presented from September 2014 to the end of November 2015.  Which with hindsight is at least ten too many.  In August this year, when I looked up from the proofs of ‘Elements’ for a moment, I was aghast at what I had on my plate for the autumn. Fourteen workshops and shows in three months. It is entirely my own fault.  I always think I can achieve more than is realistic. Do you do this?  Say you do.

Anyway, I was committed to it all, so I made a spread-sheet of all the events, with time-lines for the tasks associated for each, apart from catering and shopping for those held here.  This was both appalling and yet comforting, because it meant that I had a constant reminder of my schedule and what needed to be done and when, in order to fulfill it all.  And I just did what it said on the list.  I kept it on the landing window sill, right outside my office/yarnery, with a pen beside it, so each time an event happened I could cross it off.  And about twenty times a day, I had to at least glance at it.

It made me even more organised than usual.  Yes, thank you, I am organised when I have to be.  I will be using this system in 2016, with my new batch of events.  I also do other work, not knitting related.  It is freelance writing of the grown-up corporate stripe.  This is work that I really love, but it tends to come in unpredictable batches, and a moderate batch also landed in August and is still trickling along though the big things are all done now. So I really needed to be completely sorted with timetables.

In 2016 I will be teaching quite a bit less often.  And I am not teaching at all for the next three months which is the longest break I have ever had from teaching in ten years.  There is a lot of knitting design and preparation to be doing and I am hoping also that it will feel refreshing to be able to look up and not see a schedule on the windowsill at least until I do the next one in January.  And to knit shopping bags, just because I can.  I will be honest, the bags are not things of beauty and the pattern needs a tweak here and there.  But very satisfying to ‘waste’ a few hours knitting one, whilst finished Mr Selfridge, and also The Paradise in one delicious binge of Netflix.

Which reminds me, are there any other TV dramas set in department stores that you can recommend, please and which I may be able to procure via Netlix or any other means?  I am now hopelessly and utterly addicted to period dramas set in big posh shops.  Perhaps it is the two years I spent working for Rowan at Johnny Lou Lou’s?

No Lizards Were Involved in the Preparation of Your Meal (a post about annoying signs)

Friday, August 14th, 2015

You that know I am a grouch, don’t you?  Good.  Then it won’t come as a surprise to know that annoying signs give me rage.  Have you ever actually corrected a public sign, menu or other notice by re-writing it?  No? Frankly I don’t believe you, but in that case I will not confide in you either.

I am going to overlook signs with common grammatical errors because this post would be too long.  For similar reasons, I am not going to explore your versus you’re (and all other examples of the misplaced or omitted abbreviation apostrophe), too versus to and so on.

In order to retain the tenuous grip I still have on my own reason, I am also going to overlook the infestation of misplaced possessive apostrophes.

For personal reasons, I am not including signs that might indicate a characteristic or view point of the occupant of a car.  ‘Powered by Fairy Dust’, for example.  This is because I suspect that I may well one day have a car that really is powered by fairy dust.  Or unicorn breath.

Signs that can cause irritation include:

‘Baby on Board’ stickers in cars.  This is a wider category, really and includes ‘Show Dogs in Transit’ along with other warnings.  At least, I assume they are warnings.  What else could their purpose be?  Boastfulness I suppose, but I take them mean:  ‘Do not crash into my car.  I have a baby in the car. Or a dog.  And this is not just any old dog.  It’s a Show Dog.  Please crash into another car.’  As if, in the absence of the sticker, I would willfully ram them.  Perhaps the existence of these stickers is the only thing that has deterred me from this activity.  I think it would be much more helpful if cars had stickers with insightful warnings about the driver, such as: ‘I have no anger management boundaries, and if you accidentally touch my car, I may stab you rather than resolve the matter via our insurance companies as is conventional.’

‘Good Food’.  Really?  In that case I will take my custom elsewhere.  Because I was looking for mediocre or even unpleasant food.  And anyway, why be so dolefully underwhelming about the food?  Is ‘good’ really the highest praise you can give your own menu?  If I had to write a notice about my pub food, I really do not think I would confine myself to ‘good’.  I would at least venture into the realms of divine, ambrosial, celestial – which may be why I get so few advertising copy-writing gigs.

Hand-cut (insert word such as chips, or sandwiches).  This category of annoyance extends to the sub-genre of hand-shaped.  A burger shaped like a hand.  Nice.  This is supposed to be reassuring I think. No lizards were involved in the preparation of your hand-shaped burger.  Your chips were cut by hand, and not by mouth.  There is a further level to be explored:  hand-finished.  Asda, for example, has a range of Extra Special cakes which are all described as hand-finished.  When you contemplate the many alternatives, this is probably a relief.

Now we will wander briefly into the food description isle of my Annoying Signs library.  I have seen menus where a sauce, served with – perhaps actually upon – another item, such as a steak, is described as ‘enveloping’ or even ‘en-robing’ the steak.  On Rupert’s sweet life, I promise you, this is true.  I almost choked on my hand-pressed juice. Though I was reassured about the juice, as my greatest juice-related fear until then involved concerns about it having been pressed by foot.

More or less any signs that begin:  ‘Polite Notice…’ and then go on (and on) to deliver a passive-aggressive rant about bikes being propped against the shop window sill, people sitting on the wall and so on.  These signs almost always seem to relate to windows and walls.  Odd.  I quite fancy making some notices of my own and festooning my gates with them, but none of them would begin with ‘Polite Notice’ because if I ever catch the phantom dog poo culprit who uses our gateway as a doggy lav (the human owner I mean, not the dog who is innocent of course and who needs to come and live with me), I will be very far from polite.

Cave Hut Life & Cave Hut Knitting

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

You probably don’t know this about me, but when I *like* something, I can get a *bit* obsessive about it.  Say…caving.  I also like the life that goes with it.  Staying in cave huts for example, though to be fair I have only stayed in two.

Recently, I had a nine day holiday in South Wales, staying at the South Wales Caving Club.  There were three days set aside for caving, five for walking in the Brecon Beacons, and one for going to the Harvester in Merthyr.  At lunch time.

I have stayed at SWCC lots of times and it’s a lovely place, but nine days is too long.  I am totally cured of my cave hut dwelling habit and never want to stay in a bunk-house, hostel or similar, ever again.  Which is awkward as I have a three night trip to a hostel in Cornwall booked and paid for so I suppose I will have to go.

Here are my observations about Cave Hut Life:

1)  when All Of The Cavers are about (weekends) it’s noisy, it can be great fun, it’s always messy.

2) when they have all gone, it’s really creepy.  But you can light the fire and it’s all better again! Until bed time…

3) when the sun shines, as it did for several days, you have a feeling of euphoria and think, smugly:  why do people go abroad?  This is better than abroad!

Better than abroad shot:

4) when the rain falls and the wind blows, as it did for several days, you have a feeling of dampening and gathering gloom.  Hence the trip to Merthyr.  An attempt to raise the spirits, partially successful as I ate a meal not cooked by me in the hut kitchen.

5) by Day 3, I was forced to undertake some serious cleaning of the hut in order to continue dwelling there.  All visitors are supposed to clear and clean up after themselves and maybe clean some part of the accommodation, but it was very clear that no such activities had taken place for a long time.  First, I used the new club washing machine to hot-wash all the stinking, wet towels that were heaped up under the sink and starting to hum in the unusual (brief) heat-wave.  As the week progressed, I swept and washed floors, cleaned out the fire, gradually washed up and put away all the dishes that the departed guests had left on the Sunday…but you know, it gave me something to do of an evening.

6) you cannot better the views from SWCC.  When I was fed up, and assuming the mist had lifted, I had only to look out and feel better.  View from the front door in the early morning:

7) never, ever, look under the bunks in a cave hut.  If you drop something and it rolls, just write it off.  And never put your hand down there.

8) be not afraid of the wind in a cave hut.  Whilst the wind howls round the eaves outside, so it gurgles and churns inside too, when All Of The People come back on Friday and start belching/farting with no apparent awareness that they are not at home but in a shared space.  You can ignore it or join in.

9) the long solitary evenings make for good knitting time, this is The Throncho, all cast off but not finished off:

and I also did some extensive re-working on these:

10) you get awfully sick of bunk-room sleeps: