Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Well, here we are. The worst is over, surely. In my youth, Scotland scarcely noticed Christmas. Commerce put paid to that attitude, decades ago, and by now it is not only us oldies who lack the oomph for another four or five days of celebration. It was once – at least in the country – a four-day Sabbath, an open house involving everybody, house-bound o.a.p,'s, the most severe and reclusive spinster. Even the Mileses went calling. Whiskey and fruit cake and shortbread and good talk – if the host didn't have any (unlikely) the caller would have brought some.

We had a very jolly Christmas, with an excellent bird. On the 26th Helen and her family went off to Strathardle where David, at least – where were his strong sons? – did some valuable work clearing the ditch and moving fallen branches from the driveway in the driving rain. We went to Loch Fyne.

Rachel had told me a day or so before, that Hellie was feeling rather sad that her brother Thomas' bride Lucy is to wear the Princess shawl. She had thought it was hers. I am astonished that any of them paid any attention to it – and I had thought of it as a potential family heirloom, to be passed from bride to bride, But I can see it from Hellie's point of view, too.

I had been thinking anyway of getting back to lace knitting. I bought three balls of their Shetland Supreme 1-ply Lace Weight when I was in Jamieson & Smith's that happy, happy day in September. This was the moment. I took a ball of it along, and cast on the Unst Bridal Shawl.

Sharon Miller wrote the pattern to be knit centre-outwards. I didn't fancy starting with 165 stitches on my elderly and unaccustomed fingers. I cast on the edging, 23 stitches. Even so, I felt for the first couple of repeats that I could never do this. I'm nearly half-way along the first side by now, and it's going better.

Rachel and Ed heroically waited around on Sunday for my husband to be ready – he's a very slow starter – to be driven home, and then brought us here before proceeding to London. Ed is a very good driver, and he was driving a good car, but the speed was out of my comfort zone. I sat n the back there, thinking about knitting.

First, how to assign percentage points for the side bar? It's a wide edging, as edgings go – I have allowed a whole five points per side. Second, the matter we were discussing recently, how to get the whole thing into garter stitch most conveniently? Purling alternate rounds is out.

  1. The traditional way – knit each border separately, having picked up stitches from its edging. Sew them together at the mitred corners with herringbone stitch.
  2. What about Madeleine Weston's variation? Knit two borders at a time – that would mean only two seams instead of four. I've got Franklin's Craftsy lesson to help me with herringbone stitch.
  3. Fleegle's brilliant solution. I've used it once and got a bit tangled up. It depends on your knowing which side of the work is which – I didn't find it as easy as it sounds.
  4. Throw tradition to the winds, and mix stitches? Edgings in garter stitch, borders in st st, centre in garter stitch? Oh, dear. I think Amedro might have approved, but I don't think Shetland would.
  5. Then I remembered Jackie Erickson-Schweitzer's solution – knit around, wrap and turn. (I think it was Jackie E-S; I'm not going to pursue it to source just now.) I've done that one, too, and of course it's easy and it works. The corner with the wraps-and-turns has a stronger line than the other three. I remember that my husband saw it and commented on it. I think maybe that's going to be acceptable.

But meanwhile the edging will keep me busy for a bit. And I must knock off soon to finish Milano and Rams&Yowes. Look at it this way: Hellie won't want to schedule a wedding before Thomas & Lucy's day, November 1st. So all I need to achieve is to have the Unst Bridal Shawl – not finished, just in a state from which finishing can be imagined – by that date. Should be possible. Pic soon. Have a good New Year when it comes, all of you.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


We had a lovely lunch at the Botanics. Delicious food, and some nice Prosecco. No office parties. Pleasant, youthful service. We sat on, long into the afternoon.

I saw a poster outside, urging you to stage your winter wedding there. I'm sure they do it very nicely indeed. Four thousand pounds for the minimum package. No wonder everybody dispenses with the benefit of clergy these days.

Our niece has given me the phone number of her computer man. I'll phone him about the problem of transferring programs from Old Slowcoach, although I'll postpone any possible visit until after the horrors to come. She had a difficulty recently with her ageing laptop -- her man advised, over the phone, switching it off thoroughly and then switching it on again. It worked. He sounds like the sort of man I need.

Not much else, on the Christmas front. There was only one, boring piece of incoming mail yesterday – not a Christmas card in sight.

It turns out that none of Rachel's children will make it to Loch Fyne this year. I had particularly been looking forward to de-briefing Lizzie about life in Kansas, but she's got a bar job lined up. And that means that I won't be on hand when either the Silly Christmas Project or the Sensible one is unwrapped – my two best, for this year.


Today a man from an auction house is going to bring my husband a sketchbook to look at which purports to be by what's-his-name. The auctioneer doesn't have any great hopes for it, so the visit should be a bit less stressful than the last one when my husband had to tell that nice man, no, it's not. He has also had a letter from Ch******'s, in London, who are soon to sell a rather splendid royal portrait, de-accessioned by T***do, O. My husband doesn't think he has anything to add on that one beyond what T***do has already told them.

We toyed with the idea, when he retired, of charging people for this sort of expert advice, but decided that it was simpler not to.


I finished the front of Milano/Relax3 and have joined one shoulder. Today I will compare it to my dear Relax2 and discover what I have achieved, size-wise. Next I must pick up stitches for the sleeves and decide exactly how to stripe them.

I've been thinking more about CustomFit and Herzog's excellent advice – namely, think about your wardrobe. It is no use my knitting myself a sweater to wear around the house, because “around the house” means “in the kitchen” – it would get too dirty, too fast. In Strathardle I wear superannuated sweaters which go straight from kitchen to garden and back, but that sort of dilapidated appearance won't do for Drummond Place. I wear sweatshirts here, with multiple layers beneath in cold weather. The surface garment is at least clean.

I don't know where this gets me. A cardigan, for flinging on when I don't quite need a coat? I'm afraid the drawer is already heaving with unworn cardigans. Something sleeveless? That's a possibility – it could at least serve as a layer, underneath the sweatshirt.


I think this would be a good moment to knock off until next year, and to wish you all a very happy Winter Solstice – we have only to hold out until the weekend, and we've done it again! I used to look anxiously at the Sunrise and Sunset times in the newspaper, this time of year, just until I was absolutely sure that they had remembered to throw the switch up there.

Cat – of course, it's the summer solstice for you and your friends. You will have less light next week. You've got the Ashes to console you!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Goodness gracious me. I'm glad – this is for GrannyPurple and Helen in Greece – I'm glad we don't have centipedes in Drummond Place.


I got the supplementary cards written, and the cranberry sauce made. No wrapping. What do I do all day? Cook lunch, is the answer.

Have I made the sauce too soon? Delia Smith's recipe is not a preserve, more a fresh fruit compote (I think would be the word). Will it last for nine days? But it does contain a fair measure of sugar, and some port. I'll have to keep an eye on it.

Amazon emails to say that they can get Life Afer Life to me in time for Christmas after all. I thought they'd manage it.

Today's big treat – I think this belongs under the heading “Christmas” – is lunch with our niece, F's sister, at the Botanic Gardens. They do a splendid lunch there, fresh food, as local as possible, in a pleasant room. The tables are far enough apart that conversation is possible. One wall is glass, offering a view of the Gardens. We celebrated C's 80th birthday there, shortly after her death – my husband and I, her three daughters with a selection of spouses. We've all been back in subsequent years.for her birthday weekend in early June.

But this time it's just us chickens. The venue is sufficiently genteel that with any luck we will escape that scourge of the December diner-out, the Office Party.


I polished off one shoulder of the front of the Milano, and found myself too tired to undertake the second one – figuring out stripes, short-rowing the shoulder shaping, decreasing for the neck, all at once. I retreated to the Pakokku sock, the first of which is now progressing nicely down the foot. I'll polish off the other Milano shoulder this evening, insh'Allah, and perhaps even proceed to the three-needle bind-off at the top. I love three-needle binding-off.

Many thanks, Foggy Knitter, for the news that Meadow Yarns now stock madeleinetosh. I've dealt with them often, ordering superior circular and dp needles. My experience has been like yours -- the service is always good.

Herzog's CustomFit, as you know, is high on my must-do list for '14. Herzog herself has been talking us through the design process recently. She wants us to look at our wardrobe and think what we like to wear. Good idea – but what I really like is my dear Relax, perhaps not terribly flattering but deliciously comfortable. I'll wear it to lunch today. And I don't really need CustomFit for something which, essentially, doesn't fit.

So – on to Ravello? Or something snugger from CustomFit? And, if so, what? Madeleinetosh sock, in any case.

Monday, December 16, 2013


The cards are ready to go – except that I've just thought of two more, unaccountably not on the list. And I wrapped four more presents.

[One of them was “The House of Mirth” by Edith Wharton. I'm sure the recipient doesn't read this blog, so you can be sure it's not you. I wonder if I've ever read it. It starts terribly well, making you feel as you feel on one of Jane Austen's first pages, that you are in the hands of a master. Perhaps we'll have it for our next bedtime book -- even if we have had it before -- once we finish Scott's “The Pirate”, currently being read for the sake of its Shetland setting.]

Nothing is specifically scheduled for today. My target is those last two cards, more wrapping, and the cranberry sauce. And perhaps that business with the steam iron.

Helen asks why I have so many cards to write. One sort of accumulates them, in a long life. It is a valuable way of keeping in touch with distant friends. A silly and expensive way of saying howdy to people one is in regular contact with.

She has just had a run-in with “an enormous killer centipede” on Mt Pelion. Helen is intrepid, but she says she just screeches and turns to jelly when it comes to centipedes. They will be here soon – I want to hear the whole story.

When Rachel's son Joe was with us in Strathardle recently, toiling valiantly in the vineyard, he said that he'd like a subscription to the Economist for Chrustmas. For countless years past, he has had Rugby World but he thought it was time to go for something more grown-up. So I got one for him, and a fortnight ago got a daft email from them apparently saying that Joe had given me a gift subscription. 

I forwarded the message to him, and got a bit worried.  Joe sent me this lovely picture last Friday.


I'm shaping the shoulders on the front of Milano. Not far to go.

[Just when I thought I had subdued this wretched computer with the latest re-set, it has suddenly burst into song, right here in Open Office. I've shut it up by turning the sound off.]

I was interested in what you said, Mary Lou, about the difficulty LYS's have in keeping madeleinetosh in stock. I had a look at Jimmy Bean and sure enough, there are a lot of gaps. Loop, in London, stocks a smaller range of the yarns and has a pretty good run of colours in each, with a pretty good stock level. But it is indeed all a bit precarious. I will be very interested to see what the Yarnery comes up with.

And maybe I'd better keep an eye on Modeknit Yarn.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Not too bad a day, yesterday. My hair looks much better – Charles first cut it for me when I was about to set forth to Theo and Jenni's wedding four and a half years ago. In those days, I told him to aim for Hillary Clinton but she has apparently lost interest in hair lately so we now emulate the Home Secretary.

Then when I got home I couldn't get in, because the ancient carpet in the hall had ruched up – I am surprised that the spell check accepts that word – and blocked the door, Fortunately my husband was near at hand, We didn't do anything about it for the rest of the day. I may have to take the shears to it before I dare go out to get the Sunday paper.

I have only two slightly difficult Christmas cards to write. I ought to be able to dispatch the lot tomorro. I can always dash off one or two more if we hear from anyone unexpected. And I wrapped the presents for the Loch Fyne Mileses. It's a start.

I thought of someone who might like “Life After Life” and tried to order it as a supplementary present. Amazon, to my astonishment, was out of stock. If I were Kate Atkinson, I think I'd be cross. That must be the publisher's fault.


I still haven't taken the steam iron to the Sensible Christmas Project. I'll have to do so soon, in order to wrap it up. I should reach the front neck shaping of Milano/Relax3 today.

Annie Modesitt has started selling her own yarn, in nice nearly-solid shades. I like nearly-solids, but do we need more of them in a world that already contains madelinetosh?

Franklin's latest blog for Lion Brand is up. Not his best, but Franklin is always worth reading.

Current Affairs

I have not been following Nelson Mandela's obsequies with any great attention, much as I admired him. So I may be wrong about this. I read in the Scotsman that the Dalai Lama was not there – is not there -- because the South African govt wouldn't give him a visa. Is that true? Why did other news sources not mention it? And why should South Africa be in thrall to the Chinese, which is the only conceivable reason for refusing the visa?

I did another reset, and Blogger is mercifully free of pop-up ads this morning.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

I feel a strange euphoria this morning. Has Christmas driven me mad?

I got a bit done yesterday, not much. I watched Franklin's mattress stitch lesson again and sewed up the Sensible Christmas Project. It looks very good, but I don't know yet whether a pass with the steam iron will flatten the lower edge or whether more substantial blocking will be required. I did a supermarket shop and bought champagne and table wine for Christmas dinner – a white Burgundy was on special offer. But I forgot to get paper napkins and the quality I want is not available on Broughton Street.

I bought some Christmas wrapping paper and mean to get started on that task soon. My least favourite, I think.

Here's something about old age and Christmas cards which I don't think I've seen noted elsewhere: the effect of death. It shortens the list. We know that, and are braced for it. But it can and does take with it, contact with the dead people's children. I can think of two cases where we knew the younger generation well, friends of our own children up to a point. In one, the resolute sending of Christmas cards to the widower produces no result – he seems to prefer silence, and he has effectively taken his children with him. In the other, both parents are dead. The widower's second wife, with whom we are still in touch, is not on good terms with the family. Those three children are gone too.

And a third case where we didn't know the children particularly well, but always enjoyed reading about them in the annual round robin, and hearing their news when the parents visited. Both parents are dead, in quick succession, and the children are lost to us.

What else? I'm having my hair done this morning. Blogger was in a most peculiar Friday-the-13th state yesterday. I hope it has pulled itself together. I am afflicted with pop-up ads again which make it difficult to edit the final paragraph or so.


I was interested to hear that you didn't get on with “Life After Life”, Shandy. I will certainly have a look at “Norwegian by Night” next. [The link reveals that Shandy is knitting Kate Davies' new First Footing socks. I don't knit patterned socks myself. I prefer total mindlessness in which I hand myself over to enjoying the yarn But those are very tempting.

]I'll have to stop looking up links if I am to get to my appointment. Yours is an interesting theory, Mary Lou, that it is harder to remember the titles of books read on Kindle, I find, rooting around in memory, that I seem to have a certain trouble with titles in general. There are books I can remember in some detail of which I am hard put to recall the title. There was a question the other day on a silly quiz programme I watch as the evening's knitting begins: the novels of Graham Greene, name the most obscure. It took me fully 24 hours to think of the name “The Honorary Consul”.

This bloody computer has started TALKING to me, trying to sell me things. Something will have to be done. No ads on the screen – just talk.

Friday, December 13, 2013

F. got the results of her tissue tests yesterday, and they weren't as good as we had all psyched ourselves up to expect. She will have surgery on the 23rd to take more tissue – still not a radical mastectomy – and more lymph nodes. A bummer. My experience of life is that the last-minute-improvised Christmasses are the best ones, but that may not apply here. The 23rd is her younger son's 10th birthday.

Our newspapers are full these days with stories about how the NHS is crumbling beneath the weight of our demands on it. Our personal experience has been – as here – that it's terrific.

I got Archie safely to the airport. Like his father, and like me, but strikingly unlike my husband, he prefers to get there in plenty of time. It was a disease with my mother and her father, getting there early. But it makes for a relaxed drive, certainly, and I've mastered the complexities of airport parking by now, so there was nothing to do but enjoy Archie's company. He asked on the way why Edinburgh is called the Athens of the North. He had difficulty, himself, in thinking of two places more different.

I answered in terms of Hume and the Enlightenment, as corresponding to Socrates and his pals. With a nod to architecture. When I told my husband about the conversation, he thought I had it about right.

Not much knitting, and still no mattress stitch. The front of the Milano is approaching neck-and-shoulder-shaping time. The comfort of those wonderful yarns on my fingers, and the sight of those satisfying stripes, are very welcome in these dark days. An argument, perhaps, for going to to the Ravello.


I have still about 20 cards to write, and I'm not going to get them done. I must examine the list and pare it down to people from whom I am anxious for news.

I realised earlier this week that, despite the daily inflow of parcels, a book I had ordered from Amazon 10 days previously (as their website confirmed) hadn't turned up. Most unlike Amazon. I decided that it was no use fussing – by the time we got the matter straightened out, Christmas would be over and done with. So I ordered another.

You'll have anticipated the punch line – both copies arrived yesterday. The costs were significantly different. It's not a book it's going to be easy to offload on anyone else on the list. Bill Gates recommends it, and the reader-reviews on Amazon are enthusiastic. That doesn't help.


I am engrossed in Kate Atkinson's “Life After Life”. I used to like her a lot, but recent ones have seemed increasingly preposterous. You've probably read reviews of this one – it sends its heroine (and therefore the people she moves among) down different possible life-paths, dipping and weaving back and forth. From the reviews, it sounds confusing and irritating. I don't know why I ordered it for my Kindle app – I needed something to read, I guess.

It's not confusing and irritating. It's brilliant.

And it sets one thinking about the cruces (plural of crux) in one's own life – the moments when everything, or at any rate most things, or at least some things would have been completely different if matters had turned out otherwise. If my husband hadn't come to that party I and my flatmates gave in February, '57 – he was only the friend of a friend of a friend. We needed a few more chaps. It was unlike him, then as now, to accept such an invitation.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Not much this morning. Not much was done yesterday -- certainly no mattress stitch. Archie is safely here, and seems in good spirits. And the car is back.

The problem there, Jean, was partly my own indolence but also the fact that our garage had perished, unknown to me. I thought an estimate had been submitted to the insurers, when it hadn't. Once a cross letter from the insurance company had alerted me to the situation, all moved briskly. The good news is a) Lothian busses admitted liability so we didn't even have to pay the excess; and b) the bodywork firm who ended up with the work seem very pleasant, young and efficient -- they can go on taking care of the car, including picking it up and returning it after servicing.

So now I'll go make Archie some bacon and eggs to fortify him for the trip to Athens.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Sensible Christmas Project is knit. Loose ends, seaming and blocking – or, at any rate, a pass with the steam iron – remain to be done. A devoted pupil of Franklin's, I know I must do the seam while sitting calmly at a table. I'll have another little look at his mattress stitch lesson this morning before I start.

Your comments about the Ravello pattern – Ravelry link yesterday – have reinforced my enthusiasm for it. I went back to Carol Sunday yarns to think about things. The link is not to her website but to a Knitter's Review article. I was interested to learn that she sells only to us, directly from the website. The gauge of her yarns is slightly – but only slightly – finer than that specified in the Ravello pattern. Something could be done with this.

(Sue, it was pinklemontwist's blog entry which Zite picked up yesterday and got me started on this whole business. I've just explored her blog, and sure enough! there's the Milano, looking very nice. Soul sisters, as you suggest. Kismet, maybe.)

(I was interested in your weather, Mary G. Texas has clearly been much colder than Edinburgh, these last few days. The newspapers told us there had been snow in Dallas. I don't remember that ever happening when I was a child – many long visits to Dallas-based grandparents – although I do remember frost. Is the grapefruit crop all right?)

(In fact, I am beginning to allow myself to feel slightly hopeful about our local weather. I can remember two very nasty winters specifically – '62-3, when Helen was born; and '10-'11, when my sister-in-law was dying, Both of those were in full swing in December. Of course, winter often doesn't get going until January. But by then the light is coming back and the snowdrops are trying to bloom and much can be endured.)

Today's excitement is that Archie is coming. His term is over, and he's going home to Athens for a few days before they all come back to Edinburgh for Christmas. I had hoped to go to Merchiston to pick him up this afternoon, but our car is with the body work people having (at last!) the damage repaired which was caused when that bus leaned on us in the spring. It's due back today, but I don't know when-today. I hope at least I will be able to drive Archie to the airport tomorrow.

On Boxing Day we're going to Loch Fyne, while the Greek family heads off to Strathardle. I think all I will want to do at that point is sleep (very comfortable beds, at Loch Fyne).

Today is the last, I think, of the little pleasures afforded by the millennium – the date is 11-12-13.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I went up to St James Centre yesterday with a prescription for Boots, and the American Christmas postings. I submitted the prescription and went across the passage to the post office. You take a number there and wait your turn. There were 60 – six-oh, sixty -- numbers ahead of mine. A few of them didn't show, having presumably died and gone to Heaven before their turn came, but it was still a long wait.

I had expected something of the sort, and had the Pakokku sock with me. But for the first considerable while, I couldn't sit down. I was mildly encouraged to see that other old ladies were being offered seats, but not me. Perhaps I didn't look as old and downtrodden as I felt. Eventually I sat, and got a bit more done.

With a little bit of luck, that will be my last post office experience for this Christmas.

The Sensible Christmas Project isn't quite finished after all. I finished the chart and started the decreases – and then remembered that there was something in the pattern about knitting on until a certain measurement had been achieved, after the chart and before the shaping.

There wasn't much in it, but there was a bit, so I ripped back and inserted four rows. It's lovely yarn, with a memory of its own, so retrieving the stitches are re-seating them wasn't too bad. The shaping is now well under way, and should be finished this evening.

We've had an interesting question from Abi about how to knit a Giant Anteater. That must be a first. It's in a comment on an older post, so you might have missed it. I assume the pattern is in Knit Your Own Zoo – I meant to get it down and have a look, but I didn't, and it's in the bedroom where my husband is still asleep, so Giant Anteaters will have to wait until tomorrow. Abi has probably solved the problem herself long since.

Sue sent me this link to a blog post about the Yarn Harlot's speed knitting class. Goodness, how I wish she would teach that class for Craftsy. Maybe I should suggest it to them. I've saved the link in Evernote, but haven't yet followed all of the blogger's own links. I mean to get back to my Shetland knitting belt when the current projects are dispatched. The Rams & Yowes yarn is too harsh and unforgiving for a speed-knitting-learner, and the Milano too heavenly an experience to be sullied by struggling.

But I bought yarn for a Fair Isle vest when I was in Jamieson & Smith that happy, happy day in September. One day it will come top of the HALFPINT list, and that's when the knitting belt will come out of hiding.

I am struck in Zite this morning with the Ravello pattern. At first, I hoped it might be another Carol Sunday, but it's not. But I like it, and maybe Sunday could provide the yarn anyway. I could make a project of knitting sweaters named after Italian cities. And I have been to both Milan and Ravello.

Monday, December 09, 2013

I am a bit further forward. I have done all but one final two-colour row of the Sensible Christmas Project, and therefore should get very close to finishing the whole thing today. I have ordered a large Eastern-themed take-away-type frozen meal from Cook for usall  to eat on the 24th. I wrote and printed a round-robin (I guess you would call it) to enclose in Christmas cards to three old Oberlin friends. Old friends, in every sense. Maybe I will get up to the post office today and send them on their way.

And I found The Joy of Cooking and read about stuffing. I think what I am thinking of is what Mrs Rombauer's cook calls “dry dressing” – breadcrumbs, celery, onion, salt, paprika, melted butter.

When was the last time a television cookery writer admitted to employing a cook of her own?

I was surprised at how long-ago-and-far-away the book feels to me. I will let Delia and Jamie influence my choice of stuffing ingredients, while keeping it simple and probably meat-free.

There was an article in Saturday's Scotsman about a French chef who runs an excellent restaurant around the corner from us, L'Escargot Bleu. He used to have a delicatessen in the basement; I relied on him for garlic. It said at the end that he has lived in Britain for most of his adult life, but “I am more French than I feel”. Substitute “American” for “French” and that is my position precisely.


I like these cardigans suddenly popping up everywhere with, often, a scooped neck and two or three buttons at the top and the rest hanging free. That might be just the thing for keeping one's chest somewhat warm while getting the knitting somewhat out of the way of the Main Danger Area for kitchen dirt. And I want to do some cables next year. There are some wonderful ones about.

Pearl Harbor

Thank you for that interesting link, Theresa. I started out by wondering what Hitler thought of Pearl Harbor, but what I found more interesting in the end was the fact that Roosevelt apparently declared war on December 8, 1941, on Japan alone. Hitler and Mussolini declared war on the US on the 11th, and the US responded in kind. Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.

Churchill slightly glosses over that sequence in his account. He seemed to have assumed on the evening of December 7 that America was involved in the whole thing. “This certainly simplifies things. God be with you,” he said to the President during their telephone call. But the American people, enraged at Japan, might not, even then, have been so keen on a European war if Hitler hadn't forced it on them.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

I found the red tablecloth – it's in the drawer where it ought to be, nicely laundered and ironed, to judge from a cursory glance.. And I know where the underlay is. The proper red napkins are in Strathardle where Christmas always used to be, but Waitrose will have some nice heavy paper ones. Today I will find The Joy of Cooking – I have too many cookery books – and plan my stuffing.

Helen thinks maybe a take-away (a carry-oot, as we say around here) would be the thing for the 24th, but I am afraid that all the restaurants would be so busy that we'd sit around hungry all evening, getting crosser. I'll have a look at what Cook has to offer. The link is to their Asian dishes.

Helen says she is in touch with Father Christmas so I don't have to worry about him.

We progress.

And as for Christmas knitting, I've done 25 of 31 rows of the two-colour chart for the Sensible Christmas Project. There's a bit more to do after that in the background colour, and then loose ends and a seam and perhaps some cautious blocking to deal with, because the bottom is curling despite three rows of ribbing. But essentially, we're getting on fine.

Bizzy B, there will certainly be a picture of it (and of the Silly Christmas Project) in good time.

I don't think I'm giving too much away if I tell you that the Sensible one has lettering on it. I've done a lot of lettering through the years, in colour and in lace. And I always feel the same sort of surprise – the knitting is (obviously) not orderly and geometric like Fair Isle and almost all lace patterns and even Rams & Yowes. You have to peer at the pattern and think about every row. But what emerges makes sense in an entirely different way.

Pearl Harbor

Thanks for the comments. I found myself wondering yesterday whether Hitler knew in advance. Maybe he thought that since the Americans had held aloof from the European war for a whole two years, a war of their own in the Pacific was just what was needed to keep them permanently occupied elsewhere. Or maybe the Japanese didn't tell him. The answer (or at least, speculation about the answer) must be there to be found in some of the thousands of books.

Churchill, who knew America and Roosevelt rather better than Hitler did, went to bed a happy man that evening. There was much pain to come, but there was now no doubt at all about how it would eventually end. Whether he had known in advance or not, how did Hitler feel?

Churchill's account has echoes of Downton Abbey. He was dining at Chequers with the American ambassador, Averell Harriman. They listened to the nine o'clock news which was mostly about the Russian front, and the British front in Libya. There was something at the end about a Japanese attack on American shipping in Hawaii, and then the Brains Trust programme started. Harriman and Churchill looked at each other with some unease, and then the butler (who must have been listening to Radio Five Live in the kitchen) said “It's quite true. The Japanese have attacked the Americans.”

I don't think that butler was in the habit of contributing to conversations between his employer and the American ambassador.

Churchill says that he and Harriman were able to get a call through to Roosevelt within five minutes. I wonder if Mr Cameron could speak to Mr Obama so easily.  

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Where are we? A day further forward, anyway.

The Sensible Christmas Project is getting on well, and should be finished in comfortable time. It's not exactly much fun, but satisfying to see it emerge from the needles. The yarn is identified as “100% wool yarn by Brown Sheep Co.” – it comes in a little kit – and it is very nice indeed to the hand. DK weight, I would say. The two colours are simple and violent – that's what they're meant to be.

The pattern is sort of intarsia, but since there are only two colours, they are carried across the back from block to block. I am knitting like a small child, picking up and dropping yarns rather than weaving one around the fingers of my left hand and giving it the Fair Isle treatment. This is having the desired result of not tightening the fabric but, as I said, isn't much fun.

The pattern says that you can log on to a video somewhere to see how it's done. Row and stitch numbers on the chart would be more helpful, but I'm managing.

Little else to report. Computer problems – transferring programs from Old Slowcoach -- are more or less in suspension until after the solstice. Card-writing progresses. Present-buying is pretty well finished. Father Christmas will need some help with stocking-fillers. That needs thought. The whole thing is enormously depressing.

Helen is planning to “do” Christmas dinner, cooking at a friend's house around the corner. I'll do the turkey itself, with stuffing and bread sauce, and I'll set the table if I can find the red tablecloth. Alexander is going to do most of the shopping and bring it over on the 23rd. This might or might not work. Helen is ruthlessly efficient, and Alexander knows what Christmas dinner involves, but it's going to require some serious list-making on the part of all three of us. I will need to think of all the other meals. My husband wouldn't dream of skipping the subsidiary meal, even on Christmas day. (Scrambled eggs and smoked salmon is the usual answer to that one.)

I'll be very glad indeed when the story about vaginal knitting works its way through Zite and falls off the other end. Trouble is, new people keep spotting and repeating it, and Zite keeps picking them up.

Today is Pearl Harbor Day.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Well, the yarn turned up.

The box had a little Royal Mail sticker on it saying, Redeliver Thursday. They might have added, “Make her sweat a bit”. “Redeliver” is inappropriate, since it had never been delivered before. "Thursday" is inappropriate, since I had paid the fee at a post office the preceding Saturday. Still, here it is. Nice yarn. And there should still be plenty of time. I cast on and knit about an inch. It will need seaming in the end and I can use the mattress stitch I learned in Franklin's Craftsy class.

I got into town yesterday for my first (and probably only) on-foot experience of Christmas shopping, 2013. It nearly killed me, but I was successful. I went to Mr. Wood's Fossils, an Edinburgh institution. It does what it says on the tin, to coin a phrase. It sells fossils, and – what would be the word? – pebbles, amongst the latter, fragments of meteorites. No Christmas crowds. A pleasant and knowledgeable young man, who is off to Namibia this weekend for a fortnight of serious geology.

I bought a cheap fossilised bug for a young grandson, and a more expensive, beautiful, split-and-polished ammonite for an older one. The young man wrote a card for each, saying how old it is and where from.

The whole business of evolution seems even more mysterious in such a place, than in a museum with bigger and more extraordinary fossils. There are bugs and little fish and ferns, millions of years old, looking just like 21st century ones. Why did anyone bother to go to all the trouble of evolving into giraffes?

I love this paragraph by A.E. Housman, from his Introductory Lecture to University College, London, in 1892. You don't make much of a living as a poet – he was also a Professor of Latin.

“It is the glory of God, says Solomon, to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter. Kings have long abdicated that province; and we students are come into their inheritance: it is our honour to search out the things which God has concealed. In Germany at Easter time they hide coloured eggs about the house and the garden that the children may amuse themselves in hunting after them and finding them. It is to some such game of hide-and-seek that we are invited by that power which planted in us the desire to find out what is concealed, and stored the universe with hidden things that we might delight ourselves in discovering them.”

Abrupt change of subject

Etsy, this morning, offers a life-sized hand-knit nativity scene, and a woman (she clearly doesn't have to cook lunch very often) who has knit 28 Christmas sweaters for members of her family, including the dog.

There are some good things (and some brilliant photography) in the new Twist Collective. No surprise there. I think this is my favourite.

And Zite also produced this recipe for a cabbage soup which makes me want to go cook lunch right away.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The first storm of winter, today. Much wind and rain – presumably snow elsewhere. Lights keep flickering – a reminder to save one's document.

No yarn. I did get another of those we-could-not-deliver-your-item-because cards, this time asking for £1.50 in unpaid postage. That couldn't refer to the yarn package, could it? But I stuck stamps on – affixed them, in the Royal Mail's preferred locution -- and posted it off at once. The trouble with the current situation, and my inability to pay the original fee on-line last weekend, is that I now no longer have the original card with the reference number on it. I'll collar a postman if I can find a windblown one in the street – we have a pretty good team.

But we're reaching the point where I have to start thinking of another present for X. I'll still knit the Sensible Christmas Project when I finally get my hands on that package, but it may involve wrapping and trudging to the PO, two hated chores, and deprive me of the pleasure of seeing her open it.

I am very grateful indeed, as so often before, for your help with my photography problem. You guys know everything. I have now, at least, got my Picture Library set up. I have figured out – no, I haven't; I followed your instructions, Southern Gal – how to load my pictures into Paint for editing; a good deal more complicated than good old OfotoNow, but I ought to be able to rise to the challenge. And, as you say, it's right here already.

But I also like the idea of storing pictures in heaven, which would encourage me to organise them. On Old Slowcoach, an awful lot of good ones are just stored in folders named after the date they were taken. I post them here, and after that they fester unappreciated. I want to work through all of the ideas you have suggested.

Okay, so what actually happened yesterday? Not much. My husband's eye appt didn't furnish as much knitting time as expected. It was kept promptly, and it didn't involve dilating eyedrops and a 20 minute wait. I finished the heel all right, but scarcely started down the foot. Taxis are a pleasant means of transport, but expensive. I used my mobile telephone to summon one to the Eye Hospital to take us home – that may sound pretty routine to you, but was a real achievement for me.

Zite informs me that the new Knitty is out – Franklin is writing (essentially) about colour choices, and promises a new class on the subject. That's grand, as long as he doesn't abandon the one on setting in zippers before I get there. And that reminded me that there might be a new Twist Collective – there is, and Franklin is writing about Yarn Stores He Has Known. I haven't even looked through the patterns yet.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

I had a cheerful email from F. herself yesterday. She is full of praise for the care she has had, and the speed at which it was delivered.


Judith, I think you've cracked the pop-up problem! Many, many thanks! I clicked that symbol with the three horizontal lines and wandered about – it was much as you said, but not quite. But just as you said, wandering about exploring the functions of various buttons finally produced the suggestion that I reset everything – Chrome had imported all my settings from the other computer. That seems to have done the trick. Although Old Slowcoach was never afflicted with pop-ups.

My sister suggested much the same thing, with the reminder that I could always switch browsers (to Firefox).

My practice is to compose off-line, save, paste into Blogger. Yesterday I couldn't even edit the end of the entry because of the obtrusive ads. Today all seems well.

The next serious problem is photography. I have been using, for years, a free program from Kodak called OfotoNow. It doesn't seem to be around any more. It lets me rotate pictures, and crop them, and save them with a lot fewer pixels (for the sake of speed, and not using up all my free space on Blogger too soon). That's really all I need. Suggestions?

For the sake of those blasted ducks, I had to fire up Old Slowcoach yesterday and deal with the pictures from there. It took far too long.  For the moment, we'll have to make do with downloads.

Yesterday was my sister's birthday. She is not as old as I am, but catching up fast.

No word from the Computer Man.


...and no yarn for the Sensible Christmas Project, either. It had better turn up today, if it knows what's good for it.

I have, for the moment, laid Rams & Yowes aside to concentrate on Milano. I have my reasons. There's not much time for concentration, anyway, because of Christmas-card-writing.

I often worry – Cat and others – about what these weeks must be like Down Under. They're awful, here, but at least I have darkness outside the window as I write those cards, and the comforting promise of the return of the light if I can just stick it out. But you have to faff about writing cards and hanging up decorations when you'd rather be out in the garden with your beans, or down at the beach with a barbie. Or does summer make it easier to bear?


Today's excitement is a routine (diabetic) appt at the Eye Hospital for my husband. I won't be particularly needed so I should be able to finish turning the heel of that Pakokku sock. We'll have to take a taxi – no known parking in the vicinity. That makes things easier, in a way.

Three years ago, when my sister-in-law was dying, the winter was savage already, by this date. This time, we've had it easy so far. Long may it last.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

F's sister C. – the one who lives in Edinburgh – phoned yesterday evening to say that she had spoken to F. since the lumpectomy, and all was well although she remained a bit groggy from the anaesthetic. It was expected that she would be at home that night. Wow! We'll know more later in the week about the state of affairs, cell-wise.

I am still being plagued with pop-up ads. Googling suggests that there should be a monkey wrench on my Google Chrome toolbar which will offer a block-pop-ups option. But my Chrome doesn't have a toolbar and I can't figure out how to get one.

The computer man didn't phone. I'll have to pursue him, but silence is ominous.


Even knitting news comes under that heading now. The yarn for the Sensible Christmas Project didn't arrive.

I made some more progress with the cards – maybe 20% done. Foggy Knitter, I agree with you about the pleasure of receiving, and of writing, Christmas cards. Thinking of old friends. But the pressure – and the expense, these days – is/are considerable.

I did some on-line shopping. Yesterday was supposed to be the big day for it. The present list is nearly dealt-with. Three ominous gaps remain, I think. I'm glad you like the rubber-band-loom idea, Dawn. Here's another omni-purpose present, for what it's worth: a pedometer. I'm having such fun with the one my sister gave me! I mentioned this to Alexander when we were at Loch Fyne last week – I had thought to give one to the health freak, but he said no, go for the couch potato.

I was grateful for comments about how different families deal with present-giving once the recipients move past childhood. I think we need to have a conference on the subject next summer. My husband's sister said to me once, during these dark days, that maybe we should stop giving presents to each other's children. I said, we'll talk about it in the summer. We never did. With the result that she stopped giving presents to our children, and I carried on (to this day) giving them to hers.

Last year I hit upon the idea of sending cards recording a donation to the superb hospice where their mother died, They seemed delighted. But perhaps that would be a bit tactless (at least for F.) this year.

Here are the promised ducks.

At home:

The pond they no longer use:

Setting off down the drive:

 On Loch Fyne:

Monday, December 02, 2013

So, here we are. December. Here we were yesterday, in fact.

I got started on the Christmas cards. I felt, as never before, that I was on a hiding to nothing, flogging a dead horse, whatever. This is simply too slow and expensive a way to keep in touch with old friends. How much longer will it last before email completely takes over?

My Christmas present list is coming along nicely, although there are still some awkward gaps. Alexander thinks things are getting out of hand, and we should simplify. But how? No presents for anyone over 12, except for one's own children? I can now load the list on this computer, thanks to Archie, but I haven't the faintest grasp of why it wouldn't do it when I tried in the first place.

No – I've got it. There's nothing like the way the synapses fire first thing in the morning. I had been trying to open .XLS files (spreadsheets) in the Database section of Open Office. They open fine in the Calc section.

I left a message on Saturday for the local Computer Man, asking him to come and port programs across from the old computer. I hope I'll hear from him today. Pop-up ads continue to plague me. What's the matter with McAfee?


As usual, little was done. I don't think there's much hope of getting the yarn for the Sensible Christmas Project today, but I'll start hoping. (And today is the day of F's lumpectomy. I'll keep you posted.)

Kate Davies has been producing a delectable range of new patterns in the last few days. So little time.

The Rainey sisters have been knitting Hitofude cardigans (yes, plural). Very nice indeed, and it looks fun to do. Those clever Japanese.

I still haven't shown you any pictures of Alexander's ducks. Soon. Promise.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

I am being driven mad by pop-up ads this morning. Why is that?

Archie is here -- he may know what to do when he wakes up. He has solved a major problem already, by figuring out how to load my .XLS spreadsheets in Open Office on the new computer. "Just look, Grandmother. Right-click here and..." I've no idea how he did it.

I went to the post office and paid the charge on the yarn for the Sensible Christmas Project. It should be here by Tuesday or Wednesday at the worst, and shouldn't take all that long to knit. I've really got to get started on the Christmas cards.