Monday, April 12, 2021


Another day, chilly but wonderful. I got around the garden by myself. 2484 steps – the telefonino is in generous mood today. Helen and her family (husband, Archie, Fergus, dog) have gone off to Kirkmichael. I’m all by myself for a couple of days.


I’ve made some progress with the Calcutta Cup on wee Hamish’s vest. There is a strange pleasure in knitting letters or numbers or images – lacking the pleasant rhythm of traditional Fair Isle patterns, one feels one can’t be getting much of anywhere – and suddenly it makes sense.


For reading, I pressed on with “The Viceroys”. But despite this being my third or fourth attempt, I’m still finding the proliferation of characters confusing. The setting is only a few years after that of “Il Gattopardo”, although in Catania, not Palermo. But that doesn’t help.


I’m sorry that no one so far has been as enchanted as I am by the cat story in the New Yorker. The cat has come home; it took him weeks. (This is the preface to an article about how animals navigate.) He is tired and dirty and hungry. But he wants to see his daddy. The writer of the article, who is living in the house where the cat used to live, emails a picture of him to Brooklyn – “Is this Billy?” --, and Daddy comes up the I-84 as fast as he can. “The cat, who had been pacing continuously, took one look and leaped into Phil’s arms – literally hurled himself the several feet necessary to be bundled into his erstwhile owner’s chest. Phil, a six-foot-tall bartender of the badass variety, promptly started to cry. After a few minutes of mutual adoration, the cat hopped down, devoured the food I had put out two hours earlier, lay down in a sunny patch of grass by the door, purring, and embarked on an elaborate bath.”

Sunday, April 11, 2021


Another chill but beautiful day. C. and I got once around the garden. 2539 steps – not bad, for a day of inactivity. I think I feel fine, after my second vaccination. I certainly slept better last night.


I’ve finished the corrugated rib at the bottom of wee Hamish’s Calcutta Cup sweater, and have embarked on the Cup itself, not without a certain amount of tinking. But I think I’m on the right path now.


I’ve finished Roy Strong’s diaries. The energy of the man astounds.


Do you have the New Yorker for April 5 – the most recent, I think? Please read the first page of the scientific article on page 22. The article is about the interesting question of how animals (and birds and insects) navigate, but the opening anecdote is not just about navigation but also about love, and I find it very touching. Cats are rarely given credit for being the affectionate animals they are.




I feel fairly sure, Tamar, that EZ started “Woolgathering” because editors were making her re-write Aran patterns for flat knitting. My memory of Mary Thomas is that she was in the flat-knitting camp from the start. I’ll have a look tomorrow.


Chris, you’re right that Etna is relatively active, as volcanoes go, but that might not rule it out entirely from inclusion in our current group. It’s just outside Catania, where Archie and I were on our most recent Italian trip. It was certainly a quiet lump when we drove past it. There’s no suggestion on Google that Vesuvius is feeling restless (it’s near-by, in geographical terms). Its last major eruption was during the war; I met people who remember that one, when I was taking school trips to that part of Italy.

Saturday, April 10, 2021


I had my second Covid vaccination this morning. All well so far. I haven’t got a medal or a certificate or anything. The dr said that the Scottish government is thinking about what to do, and meanwhile my record is safe with the GP. And the great thing about a Majestic Line cruise (assuming C. and I really do get to set sail in late May) is that you can set out that morning without anything (except your cruise clothes) – you just turn up and say Hello, I’m Jean.


I thought that was enough for today, despite Helen’s disapproval (she had driven me to the appointment). 1522 steps, anyway. Not too bad, for total inactivity.


We all continue to surprise ourselves by how sad we feel about the loss of the Duke of Edinburgh. Catdownunder, I was very touched by your blog entry – what a wonderful story! But I forgot to go out on the front step at noon – I’m sure I would have been able to hear the 41-gun-salute from the Castle. I slept badly last night (that doesn't often happen), listening to the World Service talking about him. I'll be glad for tonight's sleep.


I am knitting boldly forward. I think my preference, for corrugated rib, is to change colours – if you’re going to – for the knit stitches. This time I did it on the purls, as I had read somewhere that that was the Proper Way. I have introduced a touch of pink which looks, at the moment, a bit girly, but I am confident that once the other colours get into play it will be all right. I have heard – I think this was in McGregor’s “Fair Isle Knitting” – that there is something about corrugated rib in Mary Thomas’ Knitting Book. I mean to have a look. She is not to be trusted, however, on traditional knitting of any sort. She was interested in fashionable knitting, in separate pieces, carefully sewn together. And why not?




I proceed with Roy Strong. I don’t know where to turn. My tutor suggests Elsa Morante. I gather it’s cold in Rome, too. This morning’s paper says that the vineyards in France are in despair.




I haven’t looked at a map, let alone a globe – but is it significant that volcanoes are in action in Iceland, Sicily (Etna) and now St Vincent in the Caribbean?

Friday, April 09, 2021




I had just got back from my solitary walk around the garden, at midday, and put my head around the mosaic workroom door to let them know that I had safely completed the circuit, and isn’t April wonderful? Helen followed me back down the passage to say that the Duke of Edinburgh was dead; I got back into the workroom with her in time to hear the national anthem – a graver and more solemn version than the one they play in the middle of the night, when Radio Four hands over to the World Service. Both of us were surprised at how sad we felt, and feel.


Various thoughts:


n  By now, 4 pm British Summer Time, Biden’s silence has become conspicuous. We heard from the Taoiseach hours ago, in case bloody Irishness is the problem. And also from George W. Bush, in case it’s a matter of the time difference. One has responsibilities as a head of state, and I think Biden has flubbed this one.

n  I remember the wedding. The time difference meant that I could listen to a bit of it, towards the end, before setting out towards Asbury Park High School.

n  The Duke’s famous “slitty-eyed” remark is a family legend. James was the UPI Beijing correspondent at the time, very junior. The Duke’s remark was made to British students at a private session. James got wind of it, and talked to various people who had been there, and put it at the head of his story. A very grand reporter walked through the press room at the end of the day and said to James, who was still laboriously tapping out his story, “What are you leading with, Sonny?” [I don’t suppose he actually said “Sonny”, but it was implied.]

James told him.


None of us know whether the story was James’s scoop, but we all like to think so.

Thursday, April 08, 2021


Still cold, and very blowy – it sounds like a storm out there just now. But the essential cheerfulness of this time of year is pushing itself forward, at the same time. 2727 steps (on the high side, for me) and I did the circuit of the garden all by myself today. Helen was here, but beginning to be seriously worried about her mid-May deadline for the large mosaic she's working on.


I pressed ahead after yesterday’s desk-work, and cast on wee Hamish’s Calcutta Cup vest. It seems large, which is preferable to seeming small. This is a particularly difficult problem, sizing-wise, since he needs to be able to wear it on Calcutta Cup day next year (Feb or March). And he’s a hefty lad.


I hoped my fingers would have remembered how to do corrugated rib, but they didn’t. I turned to Youtube – how did we ever manage life, before Youtube? – and took the first offering under “corrugated rib”. She was no one I knew, and rather endearing for clumsiness, and went straight for what I suspect is the single most important tip: carry the colour you are going to purl in your dominant hand. Doing it that way, I am still achingly slow, but I am making progress.


Some time many decades ago, when I first got started on Fair Isle knitting (all from books), I think I attempted corrugated rib, and gave it up because it had no expansivity – I suspect there’s a better word – and I thought I was doing it wrong. Now in these days of Youtube I know that flatness is what is to be expected.


I’m finishing the fourth round, at the moment. I had intended to do the ribbing entirely in two colours, but why not branch out? I was surprised to discover (twice today, but how?) that colour changes should be done with the purl colour. I still have (and can still find) my aborted first attempt at Alexander’s Calcutta Cup vest – see yesterday – and there I have changed the knit colour. I doubt if it matters much.




I am pressing on with Roy Strong – after spending all that money, I pretty well have to. He’s enormously energetic, even – or perhaps especially – after his beloved wife died when he was still in his late 60’s. He keeps mentioning that other famous people are becoming fat or flabby or shabby (if not actually dying). He works hard to save himself from those fates, even to the point of having a personal trainer.


I’ll remember May Sarton (I hope), and have a look. Ambermog (comment yesterday) thank you for Elizabeth Jane Howard and the Cazalet Chronicles. I’ve heard of her, but have never read. Wasn’t she married to Kingsley Amis for a while?

Wednesday, April 07, 2021


No score today: I neglected to plug the telephone in last night.


It’s still bitterly cold. Archie and I got once around the garden.


I did, however, fulfil my resolution to get started on wee Hamish’s Calcutta Cup vest. I’ve done the preliminary calculations, and am ready to cast on, fully prepared to start again if the first attempt doesn’t work. My most recent, and most successful, Calcutta Cup vest – for Alexander, in what must have been 2018 – was preceded by much industrious swatching (resulting in a “swatch scarf” for Ketki). And despite all that, my first attempt was grotesquely too large. I took out a whole pattern repeat, and started again from the beginning. Much better.


Chloe, yes, I have a knitting app of some sort – I’ve forgotten its name, and haven’t used it for a long time. But I think I’d rather engage mind and hand on this problem. There were moments this morning, indeed, when I realised I should have left one more blank column between the Cup and the date, when I would have been glad to just slide one or the other over a space. But it’s done now.


For the rest of the time today, I just knit stripes.




Kristen, yes, I read “Speak, Memory” long ago, and enjoyed it very much. It was in my Christmas stocking one year in Kirkmichael – because I had put it there myself. All I can specifically remember was my surprise at the fact that when he was forced into exile – this is Nabokov we are talking about – in his late teens or even early twenties, he was afraid of losing his grasp of the Russian language. I wonder if the book is still on the shelf in Kirkmichael?


Yesterday I settled for the most recent volume of Roy Strong’s diaries, but I’m not enjoying it as much as I did the preceding volume (and also it was much more expensive). All of his posh friends keep dying of unpleasant diseases, and he has lots of posh friends. Often the diaries seem little more than lists of them, attending one grand function after another.


Thank you for May Sarton. The name is completely unfamiliar to me (I think). I’ll have a look.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021


All well, more or less. It’s still bitterly cold. 2450 steps – not too bad, by my dim standards. Archie and I got once around the garden. Helen took half an hour off mosaic-making to plant up the pots on my front step. She is worried about how slowly her work is going.


The yarn arrived from Jamieson & Smith (and is beautiful). I hope I will photograph it for you tomorrow. And tomorrow I must abandon peaceful stripe-knitting in order to chart and count stitches for wee Hamish’s Calcutta Cup vest. It’s no use “1” being a digit that doesn’t take up much space, because “2” is one of the biggies. It’s tempting to start with the legwarmers, for which the pattern has been done for me, and therefore much of the counting. But they’ll probably have to be knit with dp’s, and that is just off-putting enough to keep my nose to the grindstone.


No, the main problem today is, what to read? I thought I had the answer this morning when someone in the paper recommended Len Deighton, of whom I have never read a syllable. (And who is alive and well in his 90’s, I am happy to report.) But it turns out that Penguin is just about to bring out a whole lot of him as Modern English Classics, and meanwhile, what am I going to read today?


I think I’ve largely, or entirely, finished Trollope. I downloaded Mrs Gaskell’s “Ruth” (it was free) but don’t think I’m going to be able to go on with it. Would “Mary Barton” be any better? I plucked Nabokov’s “Pale Fire” from my own shelf but it’s too convoluted and disturbed for my current mood. I’ll have to fall back on biography, diaries or letters at this rate.


The solution for knitting (once planning and counting are behind me) turns out to be “Il Gattopardo”. I have the Audible recording from of old. I like the man who’s reading it to me. And I know the book so well that I can follow it easily. I don’t suppose it does much for my spoken Italian, but it’s soothing, and that’s all I care about just now.