Sunday, August 31, 2008

Well, Palin has certainly shaken up the race.

I think the papers I read yesterday erred on the side of kindness – I read that she is inexperienced, anti-abortion, and pro-rifle, but saw nothing about creationism or her views on global warming. I look forward to today’s.

Barbara’s suggestion (comment yesterday) that the baby with Down’s Syndrome is actually Palin’s grandson, would cheer me up a lot. (And make sense of Cazzab’s comment, that she flew home from Texas to Alaska while in labour.) (And of the fact that she was back at work two days after the birth.) A DS baby needs the kind of loving attention and mental stimulation that a state governor, let alone a vice-presidential candidate, simply cannot give him. But as a grandmother, she can help and support her daughter. I hope it’s true.

We know of such an arrangement in Kirkmichael, and I suspect it used to be not at all uncommon – two women whom we were initially told were sisters, turned out to be mother and daughter after we had been there 20 years or so and could be trusted with the news.

It was Mao Zedong, I believe, who said that women hold up half the sky, but that doesn’t mean they are interchangeable. It is appalling to think that any of Hillary’s loyal supporters would vote Republican just because Palin is a woman.


I finished the first cuff – and it is too big, I think. I am also very puzzled by the fact that the ends of the cuff, the place where you’d fasten it with cufflinks if that’s what you were doing, comes in the centre back of the sleeve instead of under the wrist. Why would that be?

(I am EZ’s prime specimen of a Blind Follower. When the pattern said to start the cuff at the centre back, there I started.)

I am going to leave it for now and knit the second sleeve and cuff. Now that I understand the construction, I can make it smaller and also re-orientate it, and then see what I’ve got. A cuff is an easy evening’s work, and very pleasant knitting after the rigours of linen stitch.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


So, does Palin have a stay-at-home husband? Or live-in mother? I’ll probably know by the time I finish reading the weekend papers.

I ask because a Down’s Syndrome child needs a lot of extra time and love and patience right from the off. (An NDA* baby needs a certain amount of those things, too.) Parents need time, as well. Such a birth is a shock. Parents have to recover from it, and get used to loving the baby who isn’t the baby they expected. I’m not sure rushing straight back to one’s desk as Governor of Alaska is a good idea.

That’s up to her – but I certainly don’t want hers to be the hand that reaches for that red telephone at 3 a.m. It could happen before the baby’s first birthday. Much as I preferred Obama over Clinton, I never doubted for an instant that Hillary was up to the job.

Kathy in Juneau, if you’re there, what does Alaska think? I hear she’s very popular.

[NDA = “Not Diagnosed Anything”. It’s an acronym much used by parents who contribute to Down’s Syndrome discussion groups.]


I’m well embarked on the first cuff. No photograph today – it may all have to come out. It’s a deliberately extravagant cuff, but I don’t want it to drag in the poor bear’s soup.

It’s been tough going, because the sleeve has to be turned inside out twice, and that isn’t entirely easy where double-pointed needles are involved. The second time was worse, because the balls of yarn (I’m using two together) also should have come back through the sleeve, but they were too big.

I’ll wind them into smaller balls before I do the second cuff, but meanwhile things are awkward.

Art and Literature, miscellaneous

Rosesmama, I wouldn’t expect any review to mention my mother’s book. It was 45 years ago, and the jacket of Wh*te H*at says specifically (I gather) that it is the first book about the Dickenson-H*gginson friendship. There is no reason for any reviewer to doubt that statement, at least until we get to reviews in scholarly journals some months hence.

I know about Franklin’s London visit – it’s in the diary. I don’t know if we’ll make it, but I’m going to try. I could be one of the 1,000 Knitters!

The Art Newspaper turned up yesterday. They’ve known about the sale of the Titians for a month. Their story says that if they are saved, they will continue to hang together, alternating between London and Edinburgh. That’s good news.

Omsafeeya, here is the promised picture of our Arabic – what? Helen gave it to us, and I’m pretty sure it comes from Cairo, where she and David met. Arabic, not Greek, is her first love. She will be here on Tuesday, on her way from Strathardle to Athens for another year. I’ll show her your comment and see if she can tell you any more. The technique is appliqué.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Bridgewater Collection

The best-case-scenario seems to be that the two Titians will be saved for the nation – for Great Britain, that would be, not Scotland – and will alternate their residence between London and Edinburgh. And the Duke will then promise not to sell anything else for 21 years – that’ll see me and my husband out, but it’s not really very long – and to leave the remaining pictures here during that time.

The big Titians – "Diana and Acteon", and "Diana and Callisto" – were painted as part of a cycle of work for Philip II of Spain, late in Titian’s life. A substantial part of the joy of visiting them, is seeing them together. Never again?

And that’s if all goes well. Fifty million pounds has to be found first – and times are hard. And then another fifty million, not long afterwards.

Political conventions

I’m putting my neck on the block here – Stash Haus, you asked for an elucidation of my gloomy remarks about Denver yesterday, and my sister picked me up on it , too. I didn’t mean that choosing candidates in primary elections is undemocratic. On the contrary, it may well be a better system that the old conventions.

I meant that the whole amazing, expensive production this week has been more suited to the style of Kim Jong Il (or Hitler) than to a democracy. Is there any other democracy in the world that would allow its leader – or potential leader – anything like that? The Labour party tried a fairly mild American-style rally during the election in which Neil Kinnock was expected to beat John Major, and didn’t. In Liverpool, I think. Maybe not. And while it was in progress, one shadow cabinet member – Jack Straw? – leaned over to the one sitting next to him on the platform and said, “This isn’t going to work.”

Having said which, the Democrats certainly seem to have pulled it off. The press has been full of gloom all week, including expectations yesterday that Obama would make a fool of himself last night, and every time they have been confounded.


I continue delighted with my swallowtail coat. Maybe I’ll reach the first cuff today. I’m keeping the pattern for the Poet’s Coat in “Boho Baby Knits” open in front of me throughout, although my results are radically different. But I think I can follow the instructions for the cuff (which I don’t understand) fairly precisely.


Omsafeeya, I’ll go off now and see if I can get in to yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. Thanks. And I promise an answer to your question tomorrow, with photograph.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Today we start with art.

The Duke of Sutherland is selling his Titians. They are part of the Bridgewater Collection which has hung in the National Gallery of Scotland for as long as anyone (=me) can remember.

I haven’t walked across the square yet to get the papers: I can only report from radio (which jolted both of us into full consciousness at 6:18) and internet. I deduce that if money isn’t found for the first Titian, there will be some doubt about the future of the whole collection. A measure of the depth and astonishment of that can be had from the fact that this BBC link doesn’t even mention Poussin’s Seven Sacraments.

My husband was for many years a trustee of the National Galleries of Scotland. When he retired, he wrote to Downing Street – Mrs Thatcher, at that time – suggesting that this day might eventually dawn, and hoping that a national plan would be in place to save these incomparable pictures for the nation.

He got a cool reply from a lowish-grade subordinate.


When I lived in America, nominating conventions actually nominated candidates. Literally. At the beginning, you didn’t know who the candidate would be, and at the end you did. I haven’t been paying enough attention in the years in between to know how and when things changed. I don’t like what’s been happening in Denver; it seems to me an unhealthy way to run a democracy. But I have to admit, it’s great theatre. My sister and her husband are there – don’t miss the blog.


I’ve put a new “Various Grandchildren” picture in my sidebar, taken on the Games field last Saturday. We seem to have moved ahead a whole generation.


The swallowtail coat progresses, and I continue satisfied with it. I can see why people might decide to devote their whole lives to miniature knitting – it goes so gratifyingly fast, and missteps can be so easily seen and corrected.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A day’s rest, and we feel much better.

And I’m happy, so far, with my attempt at swallowtail-coat-knitting.

I find linen stitch a bit tough. Every other stitch is slipped, every row, with the yarn carried across the slipped stitch on the same side every time, producing a nice solid fabric with a distinctly woven look. I find it difficult, on the purl side, to know which stitch to purl and which to slip. (“Look at your knitting,” EZ said – one of the best pieces of advice she ever gave.)

Furthermore I was, as you see, increasing at a steeper angle on one side of the swallowtails than on the other. That presented problems of its own as new stitches were incorporated into the work. However, I’m reasonably satisfied with the result and ought to be able to divide for front and back today. Bears need deep armholes, I feel, and are rather short in the body to boot.

The whole will be edged with applied i-cord in a contrasting colour, as per the Poet’s Coat. Or maybe the same colour, at least for the swallowtails?


Tamar, Thomas and his girlfriend Anna were taken to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary after their accident – and I will pass on the thought that trouble could show up later. In the next cubicle they found a Cambridge friend of Thomas’s, now passing himself off as a doctor – he couldn’t possibly be old enough, in fact. He was just finishing his shift and drove them home, which made a pleasant end to a miserable evening, until they got here and Anna stepped on a mouse.

(We have occasionally had visits from mice in the past, inevitable I think in a tenement, but none until now in ’08. It must have been poisoned somewhere else and staggered in here to die.)

Oh, Omsafeeya, Smith! My husband and I spent the academic year 1950-51 there and have the happiest memories of it. When I went to Camp Stitches in ’00 I hitched a lift afterwards from Lake George to the mouth of the CT River with a fellow camper. We routed ourselves through Northampton for the sake of Webs. It was strange and wonderful to see it again. I hope your daughter has a grand time.

And, yes, thanks, I saw the W*neapple review. Knitting08816 had sent the link in an earlier comment. I gave up on British publication yesterday and ordered the American edition of the book through Amazon from some people who promise delivery in 3-5 days. The asterisk is because my sister thinks I should be circumspect while we consider our next move.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Well, we’re back, somewhere beyond tired (and filled, in my case, with a curious sense of foreboding, much more appropriate to November than August). The weather was kind, in this most dreadful of summers, but they weren’t the world’s most successful Games.

The weekend started badly for us when Thomas-the-Elder, late at night, driving from London towards Drummond Place with his girlfriend Anna to spend the night there before proceeding northwards, was rammed from behind on the outskirts of Edinburgh by a Post Office van. They are both all right, but badly shaken, and the car is a write-off. Rachel and Ed drove to Edinburgh to fetch them on Saturday morning, and they were pale but composed at the Games.

Achievement-wise, the dinosaur sweater was fourth in a field of four. The winners were all sweaters with a single large motif on the front. I thought all along that that’s what the phrase “sweater with motif” would be taken to mean, but I wanted to re-knit the dinosaurs. It fits Thomas-the-Younger to perfection.

None of my vegetable entries achieved anything, either.

But Helen’s son Fergus got a First for “paper plate face” and her son Mungo for “decorated Wellington boot”, so family honour was considerably retrieved.

Joe – the one who covered himself with glory at A-Level and is about to go to Nottingham University – ran in several races without result.

The Games always end with Musical Cars. People drive around the ring while the music plays, and when it stops the passenger leaps out and runs to the center of the ring and tries to grab a stake with a flag attached. It was obvious from the start that this year’s winner would be travelling in one of the three Land Rovers entered. Joe tried this as well, with Helen driving. He saw one of the Land Rovers off, and finished third, a very creditable result.

And everybody had enough to eat – in fact, my picnic fed a dozen people the next day for lunch as well.

More will follow, probably. Meanwhile, I’ve got to get to work designing a swallowtail coat for a teddy bear.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Day Three

Another Miscellany

Dear Kate, yes, yes, yes I’d like those recipes. I couldn’t figure out a way to email you yesterday. And LaurieG, that’s a good idea about cooked salad dressing – it’ll surely be in Joy of Cooking – on a potato salad. It would be a pity anyway not to have a potato salad, with all those Pink Fir Apples waiting to be used.

The weather is more abominable than ever this morning.

Yesterday’s art was tapestry at the Dovecot Studio. I worry a bit about tapestry, because the artist’s mind and hand are not involved in the actual creation of the object; the weavers do that. I think you can tell – you can feel -- the difference between a knitting designer who does it all on paper and computer and then farms it out to be knit, and one who knits. Of course they all have to farm it out to some extent (except perhaps Meg), because of the constraints of time, but some knit more than others.

And at least a knitwear designer can knit, whereas an artist who designs a tapestry can’t usually weave at all.

Anyway, it was an interesting exhibition and Edinburgh continues to pullulate with awfulness. When I was here for a week of Festival in 1953 I had a delicious feeling as I walked along Princes Street that the next person I passed was going to be someone I knew. I don’t think I’d feel that now, even if I were 20 again.

My sister says that our mother’s book – and an article by her – are listed in Wineapple’s bibliography, but otherwise not mentioned. Waterstone’s told me that it hasn’t been published here yet, despite being listed for August ’08. I suppose the claim would be that our mother’s book is a biography of Higginson – the first scholarly one, in fact – with an emphasis on his friendship with Dickenson, whereas Wineapple’s is a book about the friendship with some biography thrown in. Is that enough of a distinction?

I must now wait, I think, until I can read Wineapple and compare her conclusions about the friendship with our mother’s.

I got started swatching linen stitch, and the result is very pleasing. It’s a stitch which is difficult because it is so simple – just as well to practice. My first effort is a bit too tight, I think. I’ll try again on larger needles. I had a moment of panic yesterday when I couldn’t find “Boho Baby Knits” – it was on the shelf I thought it was on, but a bit further along – and so looked up “linen stitch” in Walker and it wasn’t there. She must call it something else.

We’re going back to Strathardle today, insh’Allah, for the final push. (I do have a rickety old computer there, so I’ll be able to receive the recipes, Kate, and I’ll report briefly on the results of the Games. Blogging should resume next week.) (I need a new Various Grandchildren picture for my sidebar.)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Day Two

My job on Games Day is to provide the tailgate picnic. Last year there were more than 20 people, and, wafted by a favouring gale as one sometimes is in trances, I did brilliantly. Chicken drumsticks, sausages, three salads, lots of crisps and beer. Trouble is, I didn’t keep proper notes. Where did I get the drumsticks? What salad recipes did I use? There will be far fewer people this year, but I’m in a bit of a tizzy.

My sister has seen – bought – Wineapple’s Higginson book. She is alarmed. The publisher repeats on the dustjacket the misstatement that this is the "first book to portray one of the most remarkable friendships in American letters". Neither the publisher nor the New Yorker has acknowledged my emails. I think maybe I’d better buy the book myself. This would be a good week to have it on hand, with Helen here who has a considerable critical intelligence and was very fond of my mother.

My sister points out that our mother’s book (which was in fact the first) will still be in copyright, although she doesn’t know whether we or Houghton Mifflin own it.

I didn’t get the second skein of beautiful blue yarn wound yesterday. I hope I can fit it in before this evening’s knitting session, so as to get started on that swatch. I will be basing my pattern on the Poet’s Coat in “Boho Baby Knits” and so will swatch in linen stitch.

We went out and saw some Festival Art yesterday. We were particularly impressed by Cardiff and Miller’s installations at the Fruitmarket – intelligent and unsettling. We’ll leave “Impressionism in Scotland” – the big show – until after the Festival. Edinburgh was appalling, but as we battled our way past the tatty stalls beside the National Gallery, I found one of the items I need for presentation with the swallowtail coat of a beautiful blue – namely, a ring that looks like a ruby. So that’s something done.

Full explanation eventually.

Kate, I've never tried cooking courgette flowers, although I know it's a thing one does. But can it be done without deep fat? We try to avoid that.

In the evening, I worked on the scarf.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Day One of Games Week

I think I’ve abandoned the Liesl. (I’m sure you’re right, Kristin, that blocking the yoke on its own is the only way to get the size right.)

I’m not enjoying knitting it. I’m not even sure I like the yarn, close-up. (Debbie Bliss “Maya”) I’m pretty sure the finished garment won’t do anything for me.

So I spent yesterday knitting peacefully forward on the Tilted Blocks scarf from “Knitting New Scarves”, and winding a skein of beautiful blue yarn. I must wind another before I can start swatching because I mean to use two strands together for the sake of a firm fabric. I suppose I could have broken this one half way through the winding, but it seemed a shame – and I’ve never found a knot in a Yarn Yard skein.

Whatever else happens with this absurd project, at least I’ve got the colour right. It’s certainly what is meant by a beautiful blue.

I was too tired to turn out for the Old Maiden Aunt trunk show at K1 Yarns yesterday. A pity, but I saved some money thereby, no doubt.


Tamar, thanks for confirming my suspicion that the courgettes may be responding to this remarkably awful summer by not producing many female flowers. Surely September will be glorious – maybe too late for courgettes, but beans are forming and they might have a chance to ripen.


Here is a picture of Archie’s recent arrival in America. Mrs Lufthansa is handing him over, my sister signing for him, and Archie grinning at his Uncle Roger who’s taking the picture. He’ll be back here on Tuesday, after a wonderful fortnight.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Here we are briefly back in Edinburgh between one busy week and the next.

The weather has been abominable – rain every day. Individual days of this sort are common enough, but I can’t remember so consistent a run of them in August. Friday the 8th was a nice day – I didn’t feel up to getting the lawnmower out, but Helen took her sons for a deer walk, up Glen Derby half way to Pitlochry. They saw dozens, including an antlered stag. Just waiting up there until the Games are over, when they’ll come down and eat my vegetables.

We dined splendidly off them -- the vegetables, not the deer, alas -- and with variety. We’re up to date with courgette-eating, and indeed production is slow: lots of flowers, but most of them male. Is this a response to the lowering, sunless weather? Can a plant change its mind that fast? Such courgettes as there are at the moment are being grown on for their role in the Collection of Four Vegetables which I hope to enter in the Games.

There’s nothing like a freshly-dug potato.


I didn’t do much, but the Araucania sweater was a great comfort when I did pick it up. It’s looking large, and at one point I tried it on, popping a third of the stitches off the circular needle as I did so. It’s fine. I’m large, too.

Here, I press on with the Liesl, although I don’t know for how much longer. I’ve come to the difficult bit of which other knitters have spoken, when I’ve got to decide whether it’s long enough to reach the armpits. (It’s top-down.) Since it will eventually be fairly severely blocked, to bring up the lace effect – it’s essentially feather-and-fan – the problem is compounded.

I can’t actually start designing the swallowtail coat of a beautiful blue for a teddy bear until I’ve wound the yarn and swatched it. So I think I’d better press on with that. I bought the teddy bear yesterday. That’s a start.

While I was there in John Lewis, I looked at the autumn Rowan magazine, but left it behind. I might have bought it at half the price. I’ve got the new IK. Not too bad. What about the Estes vest in Rowan’s new Colorscape?

I felt of the last issue – can’t remember whether I said it here or just thought it to myself – that Eunny’s editorial eye preferred designs that would look well on Eunny Jang. This issue looks as if others complained to her of the same thing, and she is trying, against the grain, to suit the Fuller Figure.

The Curmudgeon says the new VK is good, and links to this brilliant site where Vogue has had the bright idea of showing some of the designs in motion.

Family News

Grandson Joe – Rachel’s younger son – got the A Levels he needed for university. He’s going to Nottingham to read politics. I know everybody gets good grades these days, but on the day, “everybody” can’t be guaranteed to include one’s dear grandson. He got three A’s.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Archie is safely in the custody of his aunt and uncle in the US, Helen and her remaining boys safely at Burnside. The weather is appalling, both here and there. My husband and I will saunter on up today – I’ll be back and blogging, D.V., on the 15th for a long weekend before we finally go up for the Games.

I blocked the dinosaurs – didn’t bother with a tape measure, just tried to increase every dimension. The seams by which the sleeves are attached, a three-needle bind-off, seemed particularly resistant to manipulation.

And I cast on a Liesl. I am currently tinking row 14 because I misread some brackets. I don’t really like big needles and fat yarn. We’ll have to see how I feel about this when we get back. But I can’t start thinking about the swallowtail coat of a beautiful blue until I have wound the yarn and swatched it.

Silence from the New Yorker and Knopf.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


I did write to the New Yorker:

"Judith Thurman implies, in her review of Brenda Wineapple's book "White Heat", that it is the first book to examine Thomas Wentworth Higginson's remarkable friendship with Emily Dickenson.

Not so. Anna Mary Wells' ground-breaking work, "Dear Preceptor", was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1963. You reviewed it kindly at the time ("the book is a pleasure"). Miss Wells occasionally contributed to your columns, although not on the subject of Emily Dickenson.

Jean Miles
Edinburgh, Scotland"

That’s all I can do. Their instant automated acknowledgement started off with a defensive paragraph about That Cover. They must have had thousands of emails.

Daily Life

Here’s what we’re up against.

And here’s the dinosaur sweater – it’s not big enough. I’ll block it today, I hope, and stretch it in all directions, but I suspect it will winter on Loch Fyne rather than Mt Pelion.

I think I’ll cast on a Liesl today.

The excitement here at the moment is that Archie is on his way to CT. My mother invited each of our children over for a holiday just at the age where they could still travel on a child’s fare, and my sister has continued the tradition. It was all very well when she had only Rachel’s four to deal with, but the tsunami of subsequent nieces and nephews has kept her on her toes.

Archie is flying from here to Amsterdam, there to change not only planes but airlines. He’s a cool customer. He’ll be all right. But we found this morning that we didn’t have mobile phone numbers for my sister and her husband. Can’t phone them – it’s the middle of the night in CT. Helen and Archie left for the airport, leaving me to wrestle with the problem.

Wrestle I did, and solved it – I phoned Beijing. I feel rather pleased with myself.

Kate, I based our supper last night on your recipe suggestion for zucchini. The last few I had brought from Strathardle were too small to stuff, but I sort of layered them with stewed lamb and finished off with an a sauce involving roast aubergine and cheese. Improvisation usually results in disaster when I am in the kitchen, but Archie said it was the best meal he had had this year.

Monday, August 04, 2008

More Higginson-Dickenson

You’re right, of course, Cazzab, that the Wineapple book hasn’t been published yet. I discovered by the same means that it will come out in Britain next week, too.

(I don’t know why publishers do this. It used to be that reviews were embargo’d until publication. These days, we often read an interesting review and toil up the hill to Waterstone’s only to be told that they have never heard of the book. By the time it is actually published, we have forgotten all about it.)

Wandering about the web yesterday, virtuously not doing jigsaw puzzles, I found this on Knopf’s own website:

"White Heat Written by Brenda Wineapple HardcoverAugust 2008

The first book to portray one of the most remarkable friendships in American letters, that of Emily Dickinson—recluse, poet—and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, minister, literary figure, active abolitionist."

That certainly explains why reviewers seem to think that her book is the first in this field. My sister points out that Wineapple herself must have approved of this description, at least tacitly.

I sent the publishers this email:

Dear Sirs,

You say on your website that Brenda Wineapple's new book, "White Heat", is "the first book to portray one of the most remarkable friendships in American letters, that of Emily Dickinson—recluse, poet—and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, minister, literary figure, active abolitionist."

That is not true. Anna Mary Well's book "Dear Preceptor", published in 1963 by Houghton Mifflin, was the first (and, until now, only) such book.

I have not yet seen Ms Wineapple's book, which won't be published in Britain until next week, so I do not know in what terms she acknowledges Ms Wells' work.

(You published several of Ms Wells's murder mysteries in the '40's and '50's.)

Yours faithfully,

Jean Miles

Maybe I’ll even write to the New Yorker.

The Drakes are here, and have grown exponentially since Christmas. The dinosaurs are not going to fit Fergus for long, if at all. Pic tomorrow, I hope.

Ron, thank you for that wonderful message.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

It’s back to Emily Dickenson today – the current New Yorker (August 4) has an enormous review, pages and pages, of the new book, “White Heat: the Friendship of Emily Dickenson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson” by Brenda Wineapple.

The reviewer seems to think, as the one who wrote in the Economist a week or so ago also did, that it is an original idea of Wineapple’s to write about Emily Dickenson by writing about Higginson: “Dickenson’s experience…has been so thoroughly archived, interpreted, and reimagined in every genre…that a contemporary scholar needs a good excuse to exhume the picked-over bones. In rehabilitating Higginson…Wineapple finds one…”

The point here, as constant readers will know, is that my mother did this 45 years ago, including the rehabilitation of Higginson, in her book “Dear Preceptor”. The New Yorker reviewed her book, too, at the time, very favourably but at considerably less length.

We learn from the current New Yorker that Wineapple is not a Dickenson scholar, as my mother was, but “an astute literary biographer with a feisty prose style”. My mother was a professional writer as well as an academic. I doubt whether her style qualifies as “feisty”, but it’s certainly readable.

If anybody has easy access to a big bookstore, I’d be terribly grateful if you’d mosey on in and have a look at this book. There are probably some introductory pages. Is my mother’s book mentioned, and if so, in what terms? (Her name was Anna Mary Wells.) She will certainly be included in the bibliography. What does it say there?

In the end, I suspect I’ll have to buy and – worse – read it. First I must finish “Dear Preceptor”.


I finished sewing the dinosaurs together and am well-embarked on the neckband. I see that there is meant to be a collar as well, knit separately and sewn in. I don’t think I included that when I knit this sweater for Thomas-the-Elder 20 years ago, and I don’t think I’ll do it this time. But I might double the neckband and fold it in. I think they look and wear better that way.

So I won’t be quite ready to try it on Fergus when he arrives this evening.

The new “Knitting” turned up yesterday. There’s a nice striped cardigan by Kaffe, and news of a new Rowan yarn, “Colourscape Chunky”, which changes colour as you go along and which was also designed by Kaffe. Just the thing for a Liesl…


Susan, I liked your story of the brown-paper shopping bags full of zucchini left on doorsteps under cover of night. This spring, the Spinning Fishwife gave me Elaine Borish’s book “What Will I Do With All Those Courgettes?”. In the introduction, it says that, in Iowa, you must be very careful to lock your car when you park it anywhere in the summer, or you will come back and find the back seat full of zucchini.

In my own garden at the moment, courgettes are doing nicely, but it’s the mange-tout peas that need picking every half-hour.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

We spent a third night in Strathardle. Vegetables have never been so abundant – is God trying to tell me something?

Knitting-wise, I worked peacefully on the Araucania rugby-shirt. Very soothing, very satisfactory. It’ll take forever. Last night I finished three-needle-binding-off where possible on the dinosaurs, and have started the long seams on either side from wrist to waist. I should embark on the neck ribbing today: who knows? Maybe finish.

Fergus Drake will be here tomorrow, with his mother and brothers. The thing is to try it on him at once, or as near “once” as possible, and only then block it, tweaking it into something nearer Fergus-shape if possible. I’m planning a full-scale total-immersion block, in the hopes of smoothing the stitches at the edges of the motifs, so it’ll take a while to dry.

If this is Saturday and this is August, the Games must be in three weeks.

Meanwhile having Helen here will inject intelligence and energy and forward movement into this increasingly geriatric household.


A category which always recurs and which I always enter in the Home Industries Tent, is “Collection of four vegetables”. Usually, the problem is to muster four without resorting to the inclusion of potatoes. This year, I’ll have a choice: courgettes and broad beans and peas and maybe French and runner beans –- both of the latter are in flower, and things are moving fast in this warm, wet weather; orach and kale and Swiss chard.

I have bought a book which will clearly furnish instruction and delight for the rest of my life: Sturtevant’s Edible Plants of the World. (There’s a Dover reprint of the original edition of 1919 – it’s cheap.) It provides what it promises – six hundred pages of edible plants, listed alphabetically by their botanical names with a subsequent index of common names so that you can find things.

Callie invites us to visit her blog and identify her Mystery Berry. It looks like a blackberry/bramble to me – a vicious weed with delicious fruit. Callie says it tastes like a mild blackberry. But Sturtevant locates the one I know, rubus fruticosus, in Europe, Africa and parts of Asia -- not America. He offers various other possibilities, including rubus canadensis: "This trailing plant often furnishes a fine fruit..."

I know that the species hybridises readily – maybe what we’ve got here is the bastard child of canadensis and a garden escapee. Various forms (including the Tayberry) are sold for gardens. They’re all big plants and hard to manage. Our neighbour in Kirkimichael once offered to give me a Nicholsonberry – alas we never got around to it, and now she’s dead. I wonder if any of the surviving family know what she meant.

We ate some orach while we were in Kirkmichael, and it wasn’t very nice. But Sturtevant says that “…it was long used, as it still is, in many countries to correct the acidity and green color of sorrel”. So I’ve got something to try next time.