Wednesday, July 23, 2014

No cosseting, after all. Alexander has decided to postpone his visit to Strathardle until next week, largely because Helen and her boys are likely to be late tonight, so the first evening of his visit would be wasted. At least in that respect.

We are planning to proceed on our own. But I've just had an email from Helen's husband (in Thessaloniki, I presume) suggesting that we wait until tomorrow so that we don't have to open the house or to be there alone. Helen herself, he says, is on a train from somewhere to Paris at the moment and out of email contact – fancy French trains being inferior to British in any respect! She will join her sons somewhere in Cheshire, where they are staying with their other grandmother, and set off from there by hired car in mid-afternoon. She fears that the Commonwealth Games may interfere with traffic.

I am undecided. However late, wouldn't they be glad of Nigella's braised chicken with vegetables in broth? [You're right about teen-aged boys and their proclivity for eating, Mary Lou – and Helen has three of them!] The sooner someone gets started picking those red currents, the better – I fear it may be almost too late. Opening the house is scarcely arduous in the summer. On the other hand, I am slightly nervous about the drive, and it is always tempting to put off until tomorrow what you could perfectly well do today.

On a happier, or at least, more decisive, note – Alexander and Ketki's elder son James is in DC. He flew out on Monday, all by himself. This carries on a tradition established by my mother who invited each of our children to the US for a fortnight when they were 11. My sister has nobly extended it to our grandchildren. She has nearly reached the end of the list. I'll probably be cold in my grave by the time Ted is 11, but I am sure he will be made welcome on this side of the pond.

Here are the first pictures of James in the UsofA – with my sister and, of course, Ted.

As for knitting, another good day. The fourth and final rank of yowes are established on the Rams&Yowes blankie. I've done 50 bumps of the edging of the Unst Bridal Shawl, a quarter of the job – and I've finally attached that 7th (and surely last) ball of yarn.

I've just been reading the Socklady'sblog, a frequent pleasure and constant inspiration. If she can laugh off a black bear, I can drive to Strathardle. You'll know what I decide by whether or not I'm here tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

All continues well. If I can keep on schedule, I'll establish the fourth and final rank of yowes on the Rames & Yowes blankie this evening. And the border of the Unst Bridal Shawl continues to edge forward – still without finishing that sixth ball of yarn. It can't possibly survive another session.

But it deserves to be recorded, how very light this yarn is – J&S Shetland Supreme 1-ply lace weight. Sharon specifies 9 25-gram balls of something or other. I'll have used 6. The seventh, soon to be attached, is only necessary because I will have knit the edging twice.

I've heard from the distant knitter who I thought – see yesterday – was knitting the same thing, but it turns out she's knitting an Unst Stole the pattern for which I hope to locate in Heirloom Knitting today. We have had a lively exchange of views, nonetheless.


Thank you for your help with Games Weekend catering. I like the idea of emailing them for menu suggestions. Specific people, asking for a plan for a specific meal. You're absolutely right, Mrs A: “Meal planning has to be one of the most difficult of domestic tasks”.

Until recently, we followed exactly your plan, Lou. Each of the meals was assigned to a different party – I'm responsible for the picnic to be eaten on the field, so to speak, which depends on getting a car down there in a good position the night before, full of beer. But this year the house will be empty until virtually the last moment – no one will be in a position to shop let alone think. The final plan is that Granddaughter Lizzie (she of the University of Kansas) will be here in Edinburgh that week with a friend, for a bit of Fringe. She'll drive up with us on the Thursday, so at least I'll be in position for one day to shop and think. Thinking always goes better there.

Meanwhile this coming week is shaping up nicely. The plan is to assemble in Strathardle tomorrow evening, us, Helen and her boys, Alexander and one of his. I have bought a chicken which was a personal friend of Prince Charles's in life. This time I won't roast it (Jamie Oliver, “Jamie's Dinners”) but poach it (Nigella, “Kitchen”, “My mother's praised chicken”). She's right, it goes much further that way, and Helen, although vegetarian, is not Hindu – her main concern is animal welfare, and I think she'll eat the vegetables in their broth. I'll lay on a bean salad as well, just in case.

But yesterday Alexander phoned, suggesting he pick us up in the late afternoon tomorrow and that we eat in a restaurant somewhere on the way, Perth or Blairgowrie, meeting up with Helen and her party if we can swing it. What a luxury! The chicken can wait until Thursday. This kind of cosseting by one's dear children is what my poor mother always hoped for from me and my sister, and rarely or never got. Dutiful help, yes, especially from my sister, but not spontaneous cosseting.

The summer pudding is a bit of an anxiety – we can but see. Helen didn't pick the red currents when she was there last week. She had thought of leaving them behind, frozen. Are they now too ripe?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Today was meant to be just a plain vanilla Day – but my husband has a podiatry appt tomorrow, so that means a Foot Wash today. Not as bad as a bath, but not trivial. Then, on Wednesday, Strathardle.

How did life get to be so difficult? Gilbert and Sullivan again, this time the Pirates:

Frederick: Your face is lined, your hair is grey.
       Ruth: It's gradually got so.

Rachel phoned last night, looking forward rather gloomily to the Games [the Strathardle Highland Gathering, on the fourth Saturday in August]. Gloomy because of all the driving – she and Ed are older than they used to be, just like us – and wondering how we can possibly manage without Helen. The Greeks are all going back to Athens in early August this year. The Lord will provide (five successive meals for a dozen people or so), I said. She thought Helen would have been a better bet.

Knitting continues to move forward. Three-rounds-a-day, for Rams and Yowes, is proving an excellent idea. I knit them with alacrity, keen to finish my stint. And with yarn this heavy – it's only DK, but that seems heavy to a lace knitter – the pattern moves forward at a satisfactory pace. The third rank of yowes now has faces. A new background colour appears on the scene today.

Kristie sent me this valuable Ravelry link to someone who sort of gave up on the border. It's good to have that idea up my sleeve. I am assuming, as I march onwards, that the border will be easier and pleasanter knitting. I won't have to struggle to push the stitches about, once I've only got one colour on the needles. I don't mind a million stitches and tedium, as long as the knitting is easy. We shall see.

Apart from other considerations, Edinburgh has been warm enough these last few days – believe it or not – that Rams & Yowes is uncomfortable on that account.

And the border of the Unst Bridal Shawl moves forward. The yarn in the sixth ball is still not extinguished. There was a tantalising post to the HeirloomKnitting group in Yahoo this morning, from someone in exactly my position – she's been doing it since January, she's knitting the edging. But I can't remember how to get into the Yahoo Groups files – I get the posts as emails – so I have written to her.

And actually, I must be a wee bit ahead. a) because I've already knit the edging,and then discarded it – that doesn't really count; and b) because I'm ¼ of the way around, knitting the edging on, whereas she has just started. She probably has far fewer mistakes and I keenly look forward to seeing her pictures and corresponding with her. Isn't the internet wonderful?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Arne and Carlos are delightful – that will hardly come as a revelation.

I had a nice time. It felt very odd, setting out on my own for an adventure like that. It went well, although I felt a bit bewildered-old-lady throughout. The event was a – forum, would you call it? – at which five designers (counting A&C as one) each spoke for ten minutes, and then there were some questions, and then we went home. I didn't learn anything, but it was fun. And well-attended.

I think Arne and Carlos must spend a good deal of time, nowadays, travelling around the world being delightful. They speak, almost, in alternate sentences in what must be a practised act but sounds spontaneous. Except for the introduction, explaining which of them is which, they speak entirely of themselves in the first person plural.

The effect is very much like that duet of Marco and Giuseppi's in The Gondoliers:

Replying, we/sing as one/ individ/ual
As I/ find I'm a/ king, to my/ kingdom I/ bid you all.

They began, one gathers, as designers for various outlets, including Comme Des Garcons. Fame came when they knitted some Christmas baubles, intending them as decorations for the Paris shop, and found that they were being sold for a great deal of money. Bugger this, they thought (expressed more politely), and went to their publisher with the idea for the Christmas Ball book. Now that their hobby, knitting, has become their profession, they have been forced to take up gardening in order to have a hobby, they said.

I doubt if it was quite as simple as that. I've done a bit of belated Googling, and have found

(a) that they have a lot of patterns available on Ravelry, including the signature Space Invaders design which Arne wears on the cover of the Christmas Ball book, and Carlos, in a different version, on the Easter cover;

and (b) that they have already published the book I have been waiting for – Strikk fra Setesdal. That's the one that will be published in English in September as “Norwegian Knits with a Twist”.

Much is explained. They were just cute Norwegian designers until they stumbled upon Christmas balls. They followed that international success with dolls and with Easter. They told us about a competition held (I think) in Germany once, to promote the doll book, in which contestants were invited to knit themselves. A&C were invited along to choose the winner – only to discover that they were also the prize. The winner got to go out to dinner with them, and a good time was had by all.

Their English is faultless. I suspect German and French are as good. Arne faltered once, not knowing the English for a plant he gathers in the mountains and spins into yarn with wool. Some sort of flax? It's a Norwegian plant, Carlos said.

The designers were already in place behind a table when we were let into the auditorium. A&C were knitting, garter stitch squares I think for a blanket the Museum was assembling as part of the Knitting weekend. Arne appeared to be by far the more proficient knitter.

Despite great weariness, I got my self-assigned knitting done here in the evening – three more rounds of Rams and Yowes, and another bump for the edging of the Unst Bridal Shawl. The third rank of yowes are acquiring faces. The sixth ball of lace yarn has only a few yards to go, and will surely give up the ghost this evening.

Some very odd computer behaviour here, about which I need to consult you.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Today is Arne and Carlos Day!

It is not entirely easy for me to get away from the house. Doing it twice in three days is most unusual. Saturday is particularly tricky because of the need to have four meals lined up in advance, planned and shopped-for, instead of just two. I think forward planning could make my life easier – it's the constant thinking that's hard. Like Christopher Robin pulling Pooh Bear behind him bumpity bump down the stairs – there must be a better way.

The new knitting system has worked for another day – three rounds of Rams&Yowes, and then freedom. I've now established the third rank of yowes (out of four) in this final section. That means I'm nearly halfway through the section. “Nearly”, because the final rank of yowes have legs which take up a few more rounds.

So the edging of the Unst Bridal Shawl continues to inch forward. I've done 43 bumps – 50 will mean I'm (about) ¼ of the way around. Ball-of-yarn No. 6, the June ball, is still not quite finished, but can't possibly hold out much longer.

The lead story in Zite this morning is, by a nice irony, How to Knit an Easy Baby Blanket. When I tried to pursue the matter, the screen went not just blank, but black, and so far I have been unable to resurrect it, although the iPad seems to be functioning properly on other fronts. There was a brief, heart-piercing image on the news last night of a twisted and blackened iPad amongst the detritus from the Malaysian plane shot down in the Ukraine.

I don't think I've mentioned that James, during his recent visit, turned out to have in his luggage a spare booster, and when he heard of my failure to re-install ours after we upgraded to blisteringly fast download speeds, he fetched it out and installed it and life is much improved. But that doesn't help with Zite's tantalising failure this morning.


I've finished Old Filth. Jane Gardam hands out easy deaths to her characters rather more generously than do the powers above, but otherwise it's terrific. I'm about to read the next, the same story from the wife's point of view, The Man in the Wooden Hat. But before that I am reading a collection of her short stories, Going Into a Dark House, for the sake of the one you mentioned, Stashdragon, “The Meeting House”. It's good. They're all good. She's brilliant. But the cumulative effect of the stories is depressing, for whatever reason. Perhaps I need to deviate into Wodehouse for a moment.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Very successful walk, yesterday. I forgot to take my camera, but you can look up Linlithgow and get the general idea. We circumambulated the loch, didn't scramble in the ruins of the Palace (I doubt if it's allowed), did visit the adjacent, magnificent church of St Michael – as big and grand as many a cathedral, reminding us yet again of the savagery of the Reformation in Scotland. Not an image, not an artwork, not a fragment of glass remains. At least it's standing.

And that's not quite true. St Michael himself (the well-known archangel) is still to be seen in a high position outside. We were told that he was carved in situ, into the fabric of the church, and thus escaped smashing. Or perhaps the vandals stood somewhat in awe of him? The church in Scotland must have been very corrupt at the time, for so many people to have been keen to wreak such devastation. Or John Knox must have been a particularly compelling preacher. Or both. I need to tear myself away from novels and read a good book on the subject.

I missed seeing Helen and her family, who arrived yesterday after our niece and I had left. My husband's account was unsatisfactory, but Helen phoned in the evening – from Bristol, I think – and I am more or less conversant, now, with who's where and has which key, and what's happening next week.

She left behind the most magnificent rope of garlic I have ever seen. If you can buy it like that in Edinburgh, I don't know where, and I've tried, in my limited, geriatric way. I might give some to Alexander if he's lucky – he's involved in the plans for next week.

That's Gabriella, who comes on Fridays to try to rescue me from chaos.

As for knitting, that went well, too, despite tiredness. I did my three rounds of Rams and Yowes – I'm nearly finished with the second round of Yowes in this final panel, and should establish the third today.

And as for reading, I'm nearly finished with Old Filth and am enjoying the moment of doubt as to which Gardam will come next.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

We're going on our postponed walk today, our niece and I (and we've got good weather for it). So I'll be brief here -- often the preface to an unusually long post -- as I must leave my husband breakfast and lunch and generally tidy up. I've chosen an absurdly easy walk, to be on the safe side – the circuit of Linlithgow Loch with changing views of the ruins of the Palace where Mary QofS was born. We can do something more strenuous in September if this is a success.

Knitting went well yesterday, on the new system. I did three rounds of Rams&Yowes, all the more eagerly for knowing I would then allow myself to stop, and then managed another bump or so of the shawl edging. Thank you for your kind words about it. They are undeserved – there really are too many mistakes. Wait 'till you see the Queen Ring, or the wedding pictures in November with the Princess in action.

I have thought – am thinking – about all you have said, on the subject of casting off (or not) before picking up stitches for the edging. I suspect Kate Davies knows her craft rather well, and must, therefore, have a reason for that cast-off. At the moment, all I want for this project is to FINISH it and have it be reasonably acceptable-looking. I will continue to ponder.

And while on the subject of knitting, and before I forget, I tremendously like Woolly Wormhead's “Asymloche” hat. And the yarn employed, from Juno Fibre Arts, sounds interesting, too. Bluefaced Leicester – are those the sheep with dreadlocks? Christmas is coming, my friends.

Thank you for the remarks about Jane Gardam. Stashdragon, I will certainly search out that ghost story. And finish the Filth series. And then Bilgewater. I'm set for a while.

Catdownunder, I liked your story about meeting JG – and I like your blog entry, link just provided, about global warming and the environment, Have you read Germaine Greer's recent book about trying to restore her own tiny fragment of Australia to its primitive state?

Gardam says in the introduction to the edition of Old Filth which I am reading, that she met Stevie Smith at a party and was asked who she was.

“A Wmbledon housewife,” I said, “who writes novels.”

“But,” said Stevie Smith, “Who are you really?”

That's rather good. 

My husband's father, then employed by a publisher, worked with Stevie Smith on the editing of Novel on Yellow Paper. Somewhere we have his copy, with a grateful inscription from her. He would be 120 now, if he had been spared, but in fact died young of a brain tumour not long before the war. Gardam's anecdote seems to syncopate the 20th century in a marvellous way.

But it works. Gardam is very old now, and the anecdote is not recent. Stevie Smith was very old then.