Thursday, March 31, 2011

I was afraid the Mourning Shawl would produce even-more-then-ordinarily boring blog posts, and I was right. There are fewer pauses now to undo stitches, and I’m moving along nicely. Here’s where we are, six scallops along the third edge:

The newspaper on the front step is because things are a bit damp out there this morning. The drought of March is being pierced to the root, just as the poet says. March was unusually dry this year. The colour would appear to be the most faithful I have yet achieved. Because of the newspaper? Live and learn.

I was glad to read in yesterday's comments of the enthusiasm for EZ’s New Zealand sweater. I’ve ordered the Spin-Out (and the books about Estonian socks and mittens,to make the postage worthwhile) and await it keenly.

Meanwhile I learned from Jared yesterday – because I’m on his mailing list – of his new pattern, Brownstone. Very nice, although I’m not sure about the toggles. It occurred to me that I could knit Thomas-the-Elder an electric red sweater even if England don’t win the Rugby World Cup.

Jared’s “Shelter” yarn, which I’d love to have an excuse for trying, doesn’t seem to come in electric red. That set me looking about – it’s not going to be quite as easy as I hoped to find such yarn. But several pure wool Rowan qualities have a shade called “Kiss” which might fill the bill – I think this may be a case for actual looking, as distinct from on-line ordering.

Miscellaneous non-knit

Stash haus, I love the line you quote from Garrison Keillor in yesterday’s comment. I’m a big fan, but I didn’t know that one, and will treasure it. I like what you say about your father-in-law’s donation of his body to medical research, too.

We went once on Open Doors day to the normally private little museum at the Department of Anatomy here in Edinburgh (and learned what a scourge rickets once was). Burke’s skeleton is there, or maybe it was Hare’s – part of the death sentence, in that case, was to be denied Christian burial. Several exhibits were covered. I asked the medical man who was supervising the proceedings whether that was because they were too ghastly for lay eyes. No, he said: they were body parts from people who had donated themselves for medical research, not for public exhibition. As with your story, Stash haus, the respect for human remains was both touching and pleasing.

My morning practice is to compose in Microsoft Word, save the result, and then copy and paste it into Blogger. The last few days, Blogger has taken to removing hyperlinks and stripping my efforts of hard returns so that it all comes out as one big Joycean paragraph. I couldn’t be the only blog writer affected – but maybe everybody else composes directly on-line. It’s a nuisance.

It has happened again today. The tedious solution is to click the "Edit HTML" button and restore everything. Tomorrow I'll try composing in HTML while I'm still in Microsoft Word, but I don't like being pushed around.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

That is a picture of my husband and our niece, approaching the open grave.

The day went well, full as one might expect with the awe-fulness of death. The funeral Mass was exactly as C. would have wished, with Rilke read in German and all very nil nisi bonum. Alexander said afterwards that he would hope his faults would be mentioned at his funeral – I think that’s easier for men. (He also said that one of his Little Boys asked, “Is there a vampire in the coffin?” – fortunately not loudly enough to carry to the entire congregation.)

But, as I have always found with funerals, C.’s personality and presence permeated the entire day, the more so because the party was held at her house. Everybody there knew her partly – some more, some less – and the reflections from all those different lenses added up to something like the whole.

Thomas-the-Elder asked me during the course of the day to knit him an “electric red” sweater to celebrate England’s forthcoming victory in the Rugby World Cup. [Where did he get that phrase? Has he been reading this blog?] I said I would. A promise given under such circumstances – or indeed, under any – must be honoured, and I have been giving some thought to design. I won’t be entirely disappointed if England are knocked out in the quarter-final, but that’s another matter.

As I wait impatiently for publication, I have gone back many times now to the picture on the Schoolhouse Press website of the forthcoming EZ book. [scroll down a bit] “Not actual cover” it says, and then it says that what is shewn is “Betsy Wyeth’s rendition of EZ’s New Zealand sweater”. I have never heard of a New Zealand sweater, EZ’s or anybody else’s. But yesterday I searched the site, and found that they sell a Spin-Off of the pattern. I love that curve in the yoke. I like that neck, too, although I should probably run that past Thomas before attempting it. Finding a yarn should be easy, a symbol or logo for the World Cup victory might be more difficult.

Back at the ranch, I have finished the second side of the edging for the Mourning Shawl. The second half of any task goes faster than the first, so we’re making progress. And I’ve not only measured Joe’s foot but turned the first heel and am happily Oliver’ing down the foot [Ravelry link].

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A new follower! I am back to my previous total! An auspicious way to begin what is likely to be a tough 48 hours.

Here we are. No blog tomorrow, and probably not Tuesday, either, as I make bacon and eggs for people who will spend the day on the road.

I am increasingly gripped by apprehension. I am nearly 78 and have only once before been intimately involved in a funeral – that was for Helen and David’s son Oliver who died at 6 ½ weeks. As Helen herself said when she was here last weekend, we didn’t really know him. Both of my parents were carried from deathbed to crematorium without benefit of clergy, as I gather is not uncommon in the US. Both had outlived themselves, anyway – they were in their 90’s with few surviving friends or colleagues or family of their own generation, their minds fogged with age and medication, in the care of strangers. My brother died young, but I was substantially pregnant with Alexander at the time and thousands of miles away: I didn’t go to the funeral.

I’ve been to funerals, of course, of people I have loved and mourned. But tomorrow will be a new experience in many ways.

Helen phoned from Pelion late in the afternoon about flowers. I had completely forgotten. The information – name of undertaker and florist – was there by the telephone. I had asked my husband a few days before what he wanted on the card. Then I forgot. But it wasn't too late. Thank God for Helen.

The seamstress came back with my husband’s trousers. He hasn’t tried them on yet, but they look fine. And I think we have partially solved the mystery of her grandmother, the orphan who was taken in by my husband’s grandparents’ family. The seamstress’ grandmother’s maiden name was Nisbit, no resonance there, but the seamstress’ great-grandmother’s maiden name – the mother of the orphaned child – was Grieg. That was also the maiden name of my husband’s grandmother, Alexander Miles’ wife. My husband and the seamstress must be related somehow or other. James, the keeper of the family genealogies, suggests in an email this morning that they are second cousins twice removed. But there is clearly more work for him to do here.


I got quite a bit of edging done yesterday while waiting anxiously for the trousers. Sixteen and ½ scallops (of 21) finished on the second edge – another good day’s knitting, which won’t happen today or tomorrow, should carry me around the second corner.

And Joe’s sock is within a round or two of its heel flap.

And I heard from Franklin, who thinks I will be bored by a day of Tomten. I can imagine few pleasanter ways to spend one.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Much excitement this morning, but first --

What I have to report is that I am half-way along the second edge of the Mourning Shawl, 10 ½ scallops. I am doing better – fewer tinks. I got into slight stitch-count trouble last night, trying to knit just before bedtime. I think I’ll get Joe’s socks out and keep them handy in case the urge for bedtime knitting strikes again.

I re-read Fleegle’s astonishing system for garter-stitch-in-the-round. It sounds so breathtakingly simple that I’m going to trust her and not swatch. All you do is knit around, turn the work, and knit around in the other direction using a separate ball of yarn. Repeat. It sounds as if it would leave an ugly column of holes, but there aren’t any on Fleegle’s swatch. I think I can dimly see that she is exploiting the fact that circular knitting actually produces a spiral, not a stack of rows.

I can hardly wait.

Now for the excitement:

Both Franklin and Joe have posted video blogs this morning. Don’t miss. Franklin has been re-visited by the Queen and Einstein; Joe offers a video diary in which we see him unraveling an unsatisfactory baby blanket, designing a superior one, and eating lunch. He’s really sweet. (That's a phrase of the highest praise, in our family lexicon.)

And KnitNation have posted the class schedule for the July beano in London!

If I took a full-day class from Franklin on the Saturday on the Tomten jacket and garter-stitch jacquard, and his Sunday morning one on Working Antique Patterns, would that count as stalking? (He’s not offering photography.) There’s a Sunday afternoon class on Travelling Stitches (Marjan Hamminck) which I might move on to if I was still on my feet and compos mentis.

Rachel – who will be in Toulouse that weekend, the most attentive of you will remember – assures me that her four children are all full of enthusiasm at the prospect of going to exhibitions with their grandfather. And all four of those children will be here tomorrow; we can talk specifics. It is strange how life sometimes fits together. It’s an ill wind….


Thank you, Woolly Bits and Mary in Cincinnati, for the advice on Knitter’s. I’ll do it! I’ll drop the subscription!

And thank you very much for the information on StevenBe. How I wish I could visit his shop! I am sure we have nothing like that in the UK. That’s a most impressive story, Gerri, about his advice on s-twist as distinct from z-twist yarns, or vice versa as the case might be.

Angel, all that your say about skiving students is relevant. I am happy to say that in this case, all has turned out well. Joe got his two-day extension, and will be here tomorrow for the funeral with the rest of his family. I can measure his feet which up until now I have unaccountably not done.

Friday, March 25, 2011

I have rounded the corner and am half-way through the 5th scallop on the second side. This is going to take a while. It goes slightly faster now that I don’t have to keep peering at the book – it still lies open, close to hand, but I won’t need it there much longer. It is extraordinary how often I go slightly wrong and either (a) need to tink back a few stitches or (b) can’t remember where I am and what I’m supposed to do next. Even now, even when completely rested and sober and paying attention to what I’m doing.

Funeral arrangements seem to be going forward smoothly on all fronts – assuming my husband’s trousers come home today as arranged. My husband is to do a reading, something from the Book of Lamentations, so one of today’s jobs is to look it up. We have the reference, but not the text, and we have only old-fashioned bibles in this house, King James and Douai and the Vulgate. My husband says the numbering is often different.

What I want at my funeral is St Paul’s “Rejoice! Again I say to you, Rejoice!” I heard it at a funeral once, and thought it was sensational. But C. remained furious throughout at her cancer and at God for inflicting it on her, and it sounds as if readings have been chosen accordingly. Little C. will read something from Rilke, an author known to me only by name.

The party is to be at C.’s house, and in her beloved garden if the weather holds. Our niece has told the caterer to expect 65. (I would be doing well to muster half that number.) The notices were in both the Scotsman and the Times yesterday – easy to spot, if you still have the newspapers lying about, as C. used her maiden name.

Rachel’s son Joe, in his final weeks at Nottingham University, is having trouble getting a two-day extension on a vital essay so that he can come. A weepy girl classmate had just secured a whole fortnight’s extension for “stress” and Joe assumed he would have no trouble, but his tutor clearly regards “great-aunt’s funeral” as next door to spurious. He was told at one point that he would have to submit a death certificate and agree to counselling. He is appealing to a higher authority.

Rachel and Ed and all the rest of the family will be here by Sunday evening, so one of today’s jobs is to iron our one tablecloth.


Both VK and Knitter’s have turned up in the last few days. The question looms: will I have the courage not to renew Knitter’s, as previously resolved? I have one more issue to go. There is even a pattern in this one in which I feel a transitory interest – the Cable-go-Round on page 56. Beyond that, everything seems predictable, dull, or bizarre; there is nothing to read except pages and pages of an interview with Debbie Macomber, who doesn’t interest me; and there’s all that X-type photography which continues to grate on my fragile nerves.

Whereas I wouldn’t dream of dropping VK, which has nothing whatsoever this time in which I have even a brief interest.

Tell me, who is StevenBe, the latest knitter in the Addi ad? We’ve had Franklin, I know who he is, and an LYS owner whose name I’ve forgotten. Perhaps he's just an aging pop star who happens to knit?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The seamstress turned up, manifested a distinct air of competency, and went away with the trousers which are promised back for tomorrow. She remarked, a propos our surname, that her orphaned grandmother had been taken in by the family of an Edinburgh surgeon named Alexander Miles. He was my husband’s grandfather.

I didn’t think to ask either her grandmother’s maiden name, or where she was from. I will certainly put those questions tomorrow when the trousers come home. Is this an early example – we’re talking, roughly, about the turn of the century – of the Miles link with K*rkmichael? How interested C. would have been! But of course, the trousers wouldn’t have had to be altered if C. were here to tell the story to.

I’ve just spent a happy 10 minutes at the East website, choosing an outfit for myself. Which I don’t need – I plan to wear what I wore to Theo’s wedding, also from East, and suitably sub fusc. But Easter-at-Loch-Fyne is coming up, and the Games, so maybe… They’ve got some promising-looking cardigans with droop down the front. With an Anokhi Mahal print shirt or blouse and longish droopy skirt…


I’ve reached the 20th scallop on the Mourning Shawl edging. There are 21 per side, so I should turn the first corner today, barring disaster. Size is going to be good – tending towards large but not grotesquely so.

I took several pictures for you this morning, indoors and out. Outdoors in direct sunlight is best, but the colour still isn't nearly red enough.

I have mastered the pattern – that’s when the really bad mistakes start happening.

Lace-wise, it’s pretty easy. Faggoting, next to the straight edge (I love faggoting), and then a column of four-row roundels. Then some intermediate stitches and finally the familiar tram-lines, yo, k2tog, yo parallel to the scalloped edge. There is also an extra roundel tucked inside the tram-lines at the widest point.

That’s all straightforward. What has to be memorised is the number of intermediate stitches, row by row. There are 16 rows. It’s no use just knitting along until you come to something to do, because an error in the number of intermediate stitches often – all too often, in my case – provides a valuable signal of a mistake in the present or preceding row, or even indicates that I am knitting the wrong row altogether.

It’s fun, and I keep being tempted to knock off another roundel when I should be doing something else, so we’re sailing along.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I have been moved by all your messages. You guys are good friends.

Our niece and her daughter Little C. came by yesterday – after registering the death at offices not far from here – to talk about the funeral. Would we have been so considerate of them if death had taken brother and sister in the more expected order? We settled on Monday at noon, ideal for us; they phoned both the priest and the undertaker from here and met no difficulties. It seems by now that this is also OK with the other two daughters.

Greek Helen is not coming after all – the expense and the need for her husband to take two more “family days” leave to cover for her sort of piled up against the idea. Neither is James. But Rachel will have three or even all four of her children with her, and Alexander and Ketki will come from Loch Fyne so we will have a considerable presence.

AND my husband agreed to try on The Suit, instead of waiting to stage a crisis on Monday morning. The jacket is still fine, but the trousers are seriously too small around the middle. A totally unknown seamstress is coming to collect them this morning, with the promise of having them back by the weekend. There isn’t enough fabric in the generous seam to accommodate his current girth – she’s got a job on her hands.

I’ll take my camera along on Monday. I won’t guarantee to use it.

From memory, Emily Dickinson:

The bustle in the house
The morning after death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon earth.

The sweeping out the heart
And putting love away
We shall not want to use again
Until eternity.


I had some pictures taken of Round-the-Bend while the house was full on Saturday. It’s really quite a success, although I wonder if I’ll wear it much.

And the shawl edging goes forward. This is going to be another watching-paint-dry episode in the history of blogging, but if we got through the Princess we ought to be able to manage this one.

The big knitting news is in some danger of getting lost in the sadness of the last few days – namely Helen C.K.S.’s pointer, in her comment on Saturday’s post, to Fleegle’s solution to the (considerable) problem of how to knit garter stitch in the round. Helen has no peer when it comes to knowledge of the resources of the Internet, nor Fleegle when it comes to knitterly cleverness.

I’ve bookmarked it but haven’t thought it all the way through yet. Goodness! will I even have to make a little swatch? But it’s clearly the Way to Go.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

C. died late yesterday afternoon.

We kept the vigil with the others through the day. The deterioration from the day before was obvious when we got there, and we could see her sinking during the day. Unlike Sunday, when everything stayed level. Our last visit to the bedside was from 3 to 4, roughly. I read “Johnny Town Mouse” to her, eschewing the highbrow. We then left, to get home to insulin and carbohydrate before the rush hour. I said on departure that I didn’t think we’d spend tomorrow (=today) in the same way.

She died almost at once. Our niece tried to call us back, but we were threading our way through Edinburgh without a mobile phone. Her three daughters and little C. were all with her. They didn’t summon a nurse.

Death could so easily, in a situation like that, have made His move while we were all six having a picnic lunch in the garden on Marks and Spencer sandwiches, or while one or the other had gone for a walk. Given that none of us is exempt, and that the process is not likely to be entirely pleasant, it qualifies beyond doubt as a good death.

We don’t know what the arrangements will be. It is a vast relief not to be involved in them. Our first job is to ensure that my husband has something decent to wear. Something that fits and is clean and isn't riddled with moth holes. That done, if there is any delay, I hope we will go to K*rkmichael for a few days. My husband does not like the idea of his sister being refrigerated – he put it in those words, last night – but that’s what might happen.

Joe’s first sock is very near the heel flap. His great-aunt’s death has been knit into the fabric of those socks. I tried to get back to the shawl edging last night, but had trouble with it. There’s a mess in the 9th scallop that I nearly took out, then I thought, no, I can fix it with a needle afterwards. But this morning I thought no, again: I’ll leave it, and one day I’ll show it to my niece and tell her that that’s where I was the weekend her mother died.

Monday, March 21, 2011

We’re still where we were.

My husband and I spent yesterday at the hospice, sometimes sitting with C., sometimes in the “relatives’ room” – which will soon have to be re-dedicated as the “Miles room” – with our niece, our other niece (F.), C’s third daughter (A.) whom I have not previously mentioned, and Little C.

We came home for late-afternoon insulin and carbohydrate, expecting at any moment the phone call which would summon us back. Our niece phoned at 8:30 to say, no change, and that the four of them were going home. I told her, feeling (a) very very tired and (b) guilty, not to phone in the night. I had had a bad night the one before, and would have lain awake listening to the phone not ringing. I discussed that decision at some length with my husband, who could have overruled me, and he agreed.

In the event, it was the right decision. The four women just named found, when it came to the event, that they couldn’t leave their mother/grandmother. Our niece remembered her mother saying, at a much earlier stage of illness, “I don’t need you right beside me, but I need to know you’re there.” So they went home and had half a glass of wine each, and went back and spent the night at the hospice. Our niece phoned here at 6:30 with this news, and we will join them as soon as we can. It won’t be instantly. My husband needs time in the morning.

What C. is going through is meaning 3 (now rare) of “agony” in the OED – “the throes or pangs of death”. It seems to be the essential meaning of “agonia” in Italian.

Thank you, more than I can say, for all your messages. But, Elizabeth, “beloved C.” won’t quite do – it is appropriate for the other players here in Act V, Scene V of her life, but not for me. I went galumphing in, nearly 53 years ago now, on the assumption that when you married someone you got to be a member of their family. C.’s reception of me was polite but cool, certainly not sisterly. It was a shock to me then. I understand a lot more now.

But so it has remained. She is by now, of course, part of the necessary furniture of my world. It won’t be worth my doing anything any more, without her to disapprove.

I have never held much with “love” as a word or as a feeling. All that matters is the doing.

As for knitting, the Mourning Shawl edging got a bit complicated as the day got more stressful. That’s what socks are for. The first of Joe’s 21st Birthday Socks has now left its dreaded 50 rounds of ribbing behind and is speeding on towards the heel. Today is likely to advance it further

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Our niece just phoned to say that the hospice thinks death is near. We're about to head out there, instead of going to Mass. I'll take my knitting.

Greek Helen left at 4 this morning, Rachel and Ed at a more dignified hour to drive south. It was a good visit all round, on many fronts.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The hospice reports “no change” this morning, so Rachel and Ed should be in time. They are on their way, and I have discovered thanks to the miracle of mobile telephony that they have no address for the Hospice, and no map. Sort of thing James might do. It is easy to find if they come in to Edinburgh on the Biggar Rd., which is in itself easy to do – it would be silly to come here to Drummond Place in the north of the city and then toil all the way back again. My husband and Greek Helen will visit this afternoon.

I’ve made a good start on the Electric Shawl – thank you for the words of comfort about the colour. I remain happy with it. I should master the pattern soon and be able to close the book for the time being. It’s lace knitting (or knitted lace, as the case may be) – action in every row, which keeps one on one’s toes, but the pattern itself is straightforward. It took me something like 50 repeats before I had memorised the Princess edging.

Natural light photography on the doorstep has come out absurdly pink. The colour is not like that at all.

Few discoveries have been more startling for me, in recent years, than to learn from Sharon Miller that the direction of a decrease (/ or \) doesn’t matter when you’re knitting fine yarns in garter stitch. Margaret Stove (author of the present pattern) acknowledges this somewhere in the text, but still produces a rather complicated set of symbols, not only \ and / but a variation of each when they appear on a wrong-side row. I am sailing along as I have done with Sharon’s patterns using whichever decrease is easiest at the moment.

I am looking forward to the construction of this shawl, which will be new for me. I like what I think of as the Amedro system, starting with the entire edging and then knitting inwards. The difficulty is that “inwards”, in the round, produces st st. Amedro doesn’t worry, and there’s something to be said for that approach.

Purling is absolutely out. Once I used what I think is Jackie Erickson-Schweitzer’s idea of wrapping and turning after each round to create garter stitch. That works pretty well. The wraps-and-turns make a visible line, but less conspicuous than a sewn seam would be.

This time, the four borders are to be knit separately, inwards from the edging. You can then seam the edges if you like. I don’t. But Stove says that what she did was “knit the last stitch of every other row with one stitch picked up from the corresponding row of the adjacent border”. It’ll be fun to see if I’m capable of that. Or will it go squint as things do when I try to make a hem by knitting a live stitch together with one from the cast-on?

Round the Bend is blocked. I’ll see if I can get one of these people to take a picture of me wearing it. It’s a beautiful day for photography, or dying.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Brief touching of base –

Greek Helen is here. We went in to see C. early this morning. She is now past speech, but awake and, we are sure, aware of the people around her. Helen read T.S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday” to her. Somewhere in the family archives is a photograph of C. as a small child on Eliot’s shoulders. Long story.

It looks like being six to supper here this evening -- our niece, our other niece, Little C., Helen, plus the incumbents. So I must spend the rest of the day fussing about.

The red shawl is just the thing. The yarn is delicious on the fingers, the pattern just difficult enough. I’ve written to Loop about Madeleine Tosh sock yarn – they promise to phone when they get their next order, in a couple of weeks. At the moment, they don't have enough for a jacket of any of the colourways that stir me, including "lichen".

Thursday, March 17, 2011

C. lost a lot of ground between Monday and yesterday. She was still conscious and coherent, but only just. My husband sat with her and held her hand and they talked. I stood back. Clearly, from his manner as he said goodbye and the way he looked back as we left, he believed it was the last time he would see her. (He put his hand on her forehead and said, “See you later” and she replied faintly “Alligator”.) I tried to say goodbye but she hadn’t realised I was there and only said, “I don’t understand”.

The issue last night and this morning was whether to bring forward the arrival of Little C., the beloved granddaughter, currently scheduled to drive up with Rachel and Ed on Saturday. Rachel herself is very anxious to get here while her aunt is still alive – she’s not too bothered about coherent conversation.

Our niece phoned the hospice early this morning. They reported a peaceful night, and also said, “I’ll tell your mother you phoned”. So for the moment, arrangements are being left as they stand. That could change during the day.

And tonight Greek Helen will be here!

Knitting, miscellaneous

Jeanfromcornwall, the cache-coeur pattern sounds a bit hard to get. It’s in Issue 19, 2007, of “The Wheel” – “Only available through the Ashford Club at”.

Thank you for the reminders about p/hop, Christine and Hat. I investigated them once before, and they had slipped my mind. I’ll rev myself and get back there.

If anyone has been wondering about that cowl, permanently stuck at 99% in the side bar, the reason was that it was still pinned to the dining room floor, in blocking position. Yesterday I unpinned it and sewed the side seam and tidied it. It’s great.

I also finished Round the Bend. I hope I’ll get it blocked this morning. Pins won’t be involved, so it shouldn’t take too long.

I also knit most of a Shetland jumper-weight swatch for the Japanese shirt. I didn’t entirely enjoy it. There’s something slightly itchy about Shetland yarn. Normally I use it only for Fair Isle, where I don’t seem to mind how it feels. But do I want to embark on this whole prolonged project with a yarn that doesn’t entirely please the fingers?

Then I remembered Jenny’s mention of Loop. They’ve got Madeleine Tosh sock yarn in a good range of colours, including the wonderful “lichen” which I admired in pure silk lace. Maybe this is the moment to buy some yarn. There’s nothing here, other than Shetland – and that would have to be striped – of which there’s enough for a whole garment.

And I also cast on Granny Cheyne’s Shetland shawl and knit half of the first edging repeat. Only 83 ½ repeats to go, a mere bagatelle for one who has knit the Princess. It is a good back-in-the-saddle feeling to be doing lace again.

My husband was horrified when he saw it. He called the colour “electric red”.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I’ve lost a follower! I didn’t know such things happened until yesterday, when the same misfortune came to kristieinbc. I never expected all those people to go on reading, but I thought the defectors would just tiptoe away leaving the total apparently unchanged.

We’ll go to see C. today. Our niece thinks more ground was lost yesterday, and that we should keep things brief. All visitors are to be kept away tomorrow, in hopes of rallying some strength for the weekend when Greek Helen will be here (Friday) and then on Saturday Rachel and her husband Ed and Little C., C.’s beloved namesake granddaughter. Little C. is in her final weeks at Bristol university. She will go to London and join Rachel and Ed for the drive north.

Alexander drove over from Argyll yesterday to see his aunty. He had a good visit, tearful on both sides at the end. That’s a turn of the screw I hope we might be spared – as long as she’s there, we’ll obviously keep going back. Maybe we won’t have to know which is the final goodbye until afterwards.


Anonymous, with the red Chinese “cashmere” I’m going to knit “Granny Cheyne’s Shetland Shawl” for our niece, from Margaret Stove’s new book “Wrapped in Lace”. In shape, it’s a bog-standard square Shetland, perhaps a bit awkward to wear formally – although it looks nice on the model in the book. But with square, I figure, you can drape it over a piece of furniture like a small afghan, or cosy up in it when watching television. And our niece should cut a dash in it at my funeral, when I want as many as possible to wear something I knit.

I have re-done the i-cord on Round-the-Bend, making loop buttonholes instead of Meg’s elegant figure-of-eights. This morning during my osteoporosis-pill-half-hour (no coffee allowed, nor going back to bed) I sewed the buttons on. I’m clumsy with buttons – worse with zips – and hate doing them, but I think the result will pass muster.

So today I should be able to finish tidying, and probably start the Japanese shirt swatch. Blocking tomorrow. My main problem with the Japanese shirt is to choose the existing garment to take the measurements from. I think the sleeve seams should be at the shoulder and not somewhere else.

Tamar, I couldn’t bear the fuss of selling yarn. What I need is a Deserving Cause on which I can dump some lace-weight. I figure the charity knitters in Alyth (who have received a fair amount of my general stash) wouldn’t want lace because they knit stout little garments for babies.

Speaking of which, a friend sent me this yesterday, for using up sock yarn. Isn’t it a sweetie? Patricia Arrotin’s cache Coeur (Ravelry link). Now all I need is a great-grandchild.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

When our niece phoned on Sunday, she feared her mother was sinking. She didn’t seem to be able to hold a thought long enough to finish a sentence. She – our niece – took yesterday off work, and phoned us from the hospice in the morning, bless her! to say that her mother had had a good night and was much brighter – so that we wouldn’t worry all day.

We found this to be true when we finally got there in the afternoon. My husband insisted on going by bus and it proved an epic journey. C. is very weak, very frail, but clear-headed and thoroughly herself. A dr told her yesterday that she has a “week or a fortnight” to go, for some of which she will be comatose.

We had a good visit. Our niece was there (and very kindly drove us home). The situation was thoroughly surreal.

I don’t have much experience of death, close-up. I didn’t know it was possible to get this close with no pain (she now has a low-level morphine drip), no indignity, and no terror. There has been much suffering, and tears we haven’t seen. But also much love, given and received.

We’re not going to London this week. I’ll go up to the station this morning and try to get our money back for the tickets (but I will fail). Rachel and her husband Ed plan to drive up on Saturday to see C. Greek Helen just phoned to say that she will come on Thursday or Friday if flights can be found and boys disposed of.

I got my lace stash out yesterday, with the usual feelings of gloom. Even if I live long enough to master the rest of the stash, there’s at least a lifetime of lace knitting there. And there’s some good stuff – it would be wicked to buy more now.

But. The email from Knit Purl illustrates an utterly irresistible shade of Madeleine Tosh Pure Silk lace called “lichen”. When you click through to the website, there is no “lichen” on offer, although they could presumably get me some. The temptation remains, especially after reading your comment, Beverly, about how tussah might prove possible to knit.

And thank you for the pointer to Loop, Jenny. They do indeed have a good deal of Tosh, but (perhaps fortunately) neither Pure Silk Lace nor the DK quality I would want for the Effortless. Art doesn't often take us to Islington, which is a pity -- it's a place I'd love to visit.

My current thought is to go with this Chinese “cashmere” yarn. It’s the same stuff, a gift from James & Cathy, as I used – in a different colour – to knit the Amedro “cobweb lace wrap” for Greek Helen last year. It’s a good, clear red.

(The state of that radiator grill leaves much to be desired. The camera is merciless.)

And back at the ranch, I’ve done the cuffs of RtB and love them. They are strips of garter st, after which one doubles the stitch count in one row before proceeding to the sleeves. But it is only when one applies i-cord to the last row of garter stitch that the wonderful bloused effect emerges. I am delighted.

Today I’ll rip out half the peripheral i-cord and re-do the buttonholes. Once one faces the fact that the job must be done, it doesn’t seem so bad.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Our niece phoned last night, in distress, to warn us that we would see a further marked decline in her mother when we visit today. The one thing that can be said for the day is that I finished it without cider, despite the disappointment of the match and the sadness of the evening. Lent is truly engaged.

I wonder if we will get to London this week.

Our niece has done so much – fought through the night when C. contracted a lung infection a few days after the operation; been her constant carer through the three months at home, sleeping in her mother’s house, changing stoma bags, trying to tempt appetite. Now she hopes only that death will come quietly and soon.

No Victory sweaters to knit, and perhaps just as well, as the next project must be the shawl or stole for our niece. I’m still swithering. The trouble with the rectangular shape – as I’ve said, I’m sure – is that it gets scrunched up as a scarf instead of spread out over the shoulders like a fabric stole. At the moment I’m inclining towards a traditionally-shaped Shetland shawl in Margaret Stove’s new book (can’t find it this morning; had it yesterday). Some form of triangle is a possibility, too.

I must have a look today at my lace yarn collection. Not black. I am toying with the idea of sending for some Madeleine Tosh Pure Silk lace, and to hell with the VAT. But could I knit it? I tried to knit the Princess in silk. The result was very like Franklin’s attempt to knit with DMC crochet cotton. I failed in a brief attempt just now to find someone on Ravelry with experience of the Tosh yarn. It's "tussah silk". Does that make a difference?

Thanks for help on the droopy sweater problem. Just because Scotland didn’t win the Calcutta Cup in 2011 doesn’t mean I can never knit the Effortless. I bought and printed the pattern. I don’t care for Fettig’s other patterns half as much. I do like the Kiama, Lisa. (Link to the pattern in yesterday’s comment.) And I like your Slouchy, Dawn, except for the idea of alpaca.

I knit a sweater in alpaca once – bliss! in the doing of it – which turned into a mini-dress on the first wearing. That was a long time ago. Maybe alpaca has firmed itself up since then, but I am wary of it. What yarn are you using?

Meanwhile, RtB. I had the expected trouble with the button loops. Even stopping the DVD and stepping Meg through the relevant passage doesn’t help. I thought I had cracked it in the watches of the night, but when I tried to apply my insight this morning, it still didn’t work. I am pretty well resigned to taking out half the periferal i-cord and doing simpler buttonholes.

I moved on to i-cording the cuffs, and that’s going fine.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Calcutta Cup Day (3)

England won, as usual. It was a thriller to the end: we made them sweat for it.

Calcutta Cup Day (2)

Are you there, friends? It's all even at half-time.

Calcutta Cup Day

Italy beat France yesterday – that’s simply impossible. And Wales beat Ireland with a illegal try (=touchdown). Someone ran with the wrong ball. Ireland protested vigorously, but the referee hadn't seen the switch and allowed the try. That sort of thing, if not quite impossible, is pretty rare in international rugby. It would be a shame if today’s match didn’t offer some corresponding excitement.

We’ve got our tickets to London for Wednesday. If today’s rugby offers any scope for knitting, I’ll work on Joe’s socks. And I will press them forward determinedly while we’re down south. Alexander and Ketki are gathering us all under their wings on the shore of Loch Fyne for Easter (makes Lent worth while – it’s the only way to get there). More sock. The 21st birthday is in July -- I must keep that in mind.

Rachel and all her family will be there for Easter, and, I hope, Matt in his socks.

I stooged about a bit yesterday thinking about Madeleine Tosh yarns and the Effortless sweater. There seems to be very little Tosh yarn in Britain, and what there is doesn’t include the quality I want in any colours I’d be interested in.

I might as well buy the Effortless pattern and download it. I share your hesitation, Dawn, about all that fabric drooping down the front. But I have long been interested in this general sort of thing – at least since Helen C.K.S. knit the Anhinga. It’s everywhere at the moment – extra fabric dropping down cardigan fronts -- not that I have ever aspired to march in the vanguard of fashion. I asked after the Anhinga when Helen and I had lunch recently – I gather it’s not entirely satisfactory. The enthusiasm for the Effortless of knitter after knitter on Ravelry is a powerful spur.

I have half-promised myself that if Scotland win, I’ll press ahead, although in that case of course the Little Boys’ Victory Sweaters will shoot to the top of the queue. Rachel Miles of Beijing – Rachel-the-Younger – is going to CT this summer, I think. She could bring some Tosh yarn back, if I ordered it and had it sent to my sister. I don’t so much begrudge the UK government the Value-Added Tax they would charge if it arrived in the mail, as the Post Office the £8.50 they would demand for their trouble in collecting the VAT.

Anyway, the i-cord now goes almost all the way around the perifery of Round-the-Bend. That leaves the cuffs, which shouldn’t take long; the buttons; the loose ends (there aren’t many); and the blocking. I’m worried about the buttons – it’s just the sort of vital detail I am infinitely capable of messing up.

Those loops in yesterday’s picture have to be twisted into figures-of-eight and tacked down on one side; buttons sewn immovably into the tacked-down loops; and corresponding buttons located on the other side for the free loops to go around. It’ll look good if I can do it.

It is surprising how heavy the total object is. That’s garter stitch for you.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Yet another change of plan. The current one is, go to London next Wednesday, stay through the weekend.

My husband is determined on another arty visit. There’s much to be said for getting it over with. For one thing, the weather is abominable here (snowing this morning) – the later in the month we go to Strathardle, the better my chances of actually getting something done on my vegetable patch.

Plus, I’ll enjoy playing in the garden more without London looming over me.

Plus, it means we can visit C. in her hospice on Monday, when her daughters are at work, instead of today when we would only swell the crowd.

Plus, there is the whole anxiety about how near she may be to the end. I don’t know whether my husband will be wanted as it approaches, but I want to have him available if requested. London is a long way away.

The move to the hospice went well enough yesterday. Our niece said that her mother seemed sicker than anybody else. They were going to give her some oral morphine last night (is that possible?) for a good night’s sleep.

In London, they’re having spring. Rachel fears this will work against Scotland in the Calcutta Cup match tomorrow – we tend to do better in the sleet. I was wrong when I said that we hadn’t won at Twickenham since the war – we won as recently as 1983, and before that in ’71. I learned only yesterday that in ’83, as in 2011, we went to Twickenham after losing to France, Ireland, and Wales. So it could happen.

There was an interview in the Scotsman yesterday with one of the heroes of ’83, David Leslie. Scotland mustn’t be intimidated by the location, he said: “Twickenham was just another gin joint in another town that you don’t want to live in.”


Here is the RtB, coming along nicely as you see. I hope to nip in to John Lewis to get some buttons after I book our rail tickets this afternoon. I seem to have done all right with the six corners at the neck, but the bottom curve doesn’t entirely want to lie flat. I think blocking will subdue it, but blocking will certainly be necessary. The edging is rather narrow-looking. EZ and Meg point out in the Knitting Glossary that one can perfectly well have a double row of i-cord. That might have been good here, but it’s too late now because of the button loops.

This is the detail that nearly had me ripping on Thursday evening, that little ridge of greenery alongside the i-cord. (This is the right side.) At least it’s consistent and tidy.

I’ve now got a copy of my own of Setsuko Torii’s wonderful book. I got it from who keep sending me emails. This morning they have filled me with desire for Madeleine Tosh’s yarn, and specifically with the desire to knit the Effortless Cardigan (Ravelry link) in her Merino DK. There are more than 200 Effortless’s on Ravelry – and the pattern was only published in September. Many of them were knit in the Tosh yarn as recommended – and I’ve rarely seen a pattern about which so many knitters are so wholeheartedly enthusiastic.

My rule is that I can buy any yarn I like whenever I like – but only if I am going to knit it more or less NOW.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Our niece phoned yesterday to say that C. is moving into the hospice today. She is too weak to be left alone. It might not be permanent – or was that just comforting talk? – but clearly we will need to find and hire nurses if she is to come home again. I hope we will go out to see her tomorrow. She is having some abdominal pain, so far controlled with paracetemol. I left that bit out when reporting to my husband.

Yesterday had bits of good weather when I felt wimpish for not having gone to Strathardle, and lots of stormy bits when I was glad to be here, and bitter cold throughout. It is just as well we didn’t go, I think, and I was very glad that we were at home to receive our niece’s phone call instead of wandering around the countryside as we would have been at that hour. The plan is to go on Monday, hell or high water.

It fits in well with the knitting. I am getting on fine with i-cording. Tomorrow I’ll lay it aside and start making (a) a substantial swatch and (b) measurements for the Japanese shirt, so that my kind friend can start pattern-writing. Swatch-knitting will be just the thing to accompany the Calcutta Cup on Sunday. Then I’ll bring the Strathardle sweater back with me at the end of next week and finish it off here as soon as RtB is done, clearing space up there for the new project. It’s all go.

If you want to make God laugh, tell Him what you’re going to do tomorrow.

I finished i-cording the two halves of RtB together and am now nearly half-way around the perifery.

I was dissatisfied last night, and nearly ripped it out. I am working from the inside (as instructed) which means that the green bumps – clearly a feature of i-cord -- are inside but also means that the outside looks a bit inside-out. Camera batteries have failed at this interesting moment, so illustration will have to wait until tomorrow.

I have just been looking at the i-cord sections of the Knitting Glossary DVD. I’ve had it for a while but have made little use of it. I learned that I should have been slipping the first st of every row throughout – it might have prevented the inside-out look I just mentioned. And that there is a way to abolish the green bumps with a strategic yo: that will be useful next time.

The DVD illustrates what I call intrinsic i-cord – the one I’ve recently been doing in Strathardle as I knit i-cord onto both edges of a garter-st collar as I went along. It doesn’t discuss the problem I encountered there of the different appearance of the i-cord at the two edges, one facing in and the other out.

I-cord is surely a Zimmermann invention (not unvention) – not the stuff itself, “French knitting”, which we’ve all been doing since childhood, but the discovery that you don’t need a cotton reel with nails, you can do it on two needles, and the subsequent discoveries of all the uses to which it can be put. Wonderful stuff, indeed, and uniquely EZ as far as I know.

My copy of “Knit Your Own Royal Wedding” turned up yesterday. I would recommend it strongly if you are even remotely interested in knitting a royal wedding. It even includes a cardboard cut-out balcony for you to arrange your knitted figures on. There are patterns for the Archbishop of Canterbury and corgis and everything. I was proud to discover that mine is the first copy to be entered on LibraryThing.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

If we can deal with one day of Lent, we ought to be able to cope with the rest of them.

The weather is fairly filthy, rain, snow and wind, with some improvement forecast for next week, so I think we’ll hold back on Strathardle. There’s clearly only going to be one March visit, and I really want to engage with the soil.

All went well with RtB yesterday. I have learned some interesting things about grafting garter stitch – I don’t think I had ever done it before. Being able to join one colour to another so neatly is a revelation. Those Zimmermanns really understand how knitting works.

The DVD then starts i-cording with the cuffs, but I was anxious to get the whole thing together in one piece (always a great moment in dressmaking) so I started with the back seam. It proved a good choice in another way, as I am sure it is the worst of the finishing tasks. It involves three needles – one for each side, and one to knit with – and in my hands is extremely slow and clumsy.

Last night I was unhappy with the effect, too, but this morning it doesn’t look so bad. Little bumps of green show through on one side, the side nearer me as I toil on. But they’re not, after all, going to be obvious to the galloping-horse-rider.

The next job will be to i-cord all around what Meg enchantingly calls the perifery. I think I did that for the ASJ and found it not as bad as it sounds, chore-wise. At least only two needles are involved, and there isn’t the same overriding anxiety to make the two sides correspond minutely.

Meg says on the DVD, to my surprise, that she has decided not to bother blocking. I felt like that when I finished the ASJ -- after all, garter stitch is well behaved. But I blocked anyway, and was delighted with the improvement in smoothness and general appearance. I'll certainly do it again. Maybe fine yarn makes the difference -- Meg's RtB is much heavier and cosier.

Beverly, I agree with every syllable you wrote yesterday about fit and swatching. (Somewhere, Meg says that she never swatches. I don’t believe it.) I would say however that I have done somewhat better with fit in later life now that I swatch more often. I would also observe:

1) that garter stitch swatches behave better than st st ones.
2) and that it is almost always more useful to take measurements from a favourite, well-fitting garment than from one’s unsatisfactory self.

But I often think the essential problem might be more fundamental, like that of Major Erskine in Evelyn Waugh’s “Men at Arms”: “[He] was strangely dishevelled in appearance. His uniform was correct and clean but it never seemed to fit him, not through any fault of the tailor’s, but rather because the major seemed to change shape from time to time during the day.”

F11holdsteady, I will attribute Scotland’s forthcoming upset victory over England entirely to you. I have chosen the Posh yarn I am going to order on Sunday evening for the Little Boys’ 2011 Calcutta Cup victory sweaters. Posh puts up a preview during the week, and then we all scramble starting at 8pm GMT on Sunday evening.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

All went well with my second attempt at shoulder-attaching. I should finish today and get on to grafting and perhaps even i-cord. I suspect I’ll have to graft with the other colour this time, in step with the general inside-outness of the second half. Time for another look at the DVD.

Back view:

Front view:

The cheerful spring sunshine has revealed a difference in colour between the skeins. Both halves are sort of paler towards the bottom. We won't think about it.

The only hint I can think of for the second shoulder is in line with your suggestion, Gretchen. Spread both halves out on floor or table, depending on your agility, and take a good look at them. At that point, some of the top back edge has already been knit, filling in the neck space which is not cut out in the back as it is in front. Ask yourself where that edge is going next, and what it has to be attached to, starting from where. Look at your knitting, in fact, as EZ so excellently reminds us to do.

Angel, thank you for that wonderful link to Jared’s Tomten. I have bookmarked it. I think his ideas wouldn’t seem quite so daunting if one took them calmly, needles in hand, one problem at a time. I’m sort of anti-hood – they never seem to stay up – but it can be done with a collar. Is sock yarn too fine? I’ll have a better idea of the answer to that when I actually try RtB on: soon, now.

I made some progress yesterday with KnitNation, too. It’s scheduled for a mid-July weekend, and comparing dates with Rachel I discovered that she and her husband are likely to be in Toulouse that weekend, visiting his sister who keeps pestering them to come. Rachel works hard and doesn’t have many breaks – weekending in Toulouse is certainly not a common feature of her life.

Her first instinct was to cancel, but that would be ridiculous – there are too many imponderables at this end, including C.’s perilous health. We’d be likely to wind up with no Toulouse for her and no KnitNation for me. So she’s going to go, and various grandchildren such as Thomas-the-Elder and his sister Hellie have expressed a willingness to do a day’s exhibition-going with my husband. He has never liked going about alone, and is now sufficiently doddery that I wouldn’t be happy to think of him on the streets of London without a companion.

And this kind of detailed thinking, so early, means it might actually happen.


(Meg, I don’t have a Kindle – I thought a lot about getting one when I went to Theo’s wedding in CT 18 months ago. That’s as far as it went. James did get one on that occasion, but he has now moved on to an iPad and says he doesn’t use the Kindle. I presume you can get books for an iPad? It’s a bit bigger and heavier, but not much, and so wonderful that it is now my dream gadget. But for the time being, I am sticking to paper. It has its uses.)

We'll probably go to Strathardle tomorrow, despite forecasts of snow. That will mean "watching" the Calcutta Cup on the radio.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Here we are again: Fat Tuesday. It is Rachel’s piety which has spurred us all, in recent years, to knuckling down for Lent. Ketki is celebrating her birthday today although it doesn't actually happen until tomorrow. The Greek family is going to give up meat, as Greeks do – Helen says that the supermarkets are full of food for fasting. I asked for details. It’s rather sweet – it means that people do fast. British supermarkets, which have been selling Hot Cross Buns since Boxing Day, are now stuffed with chocolate Easter eggs.

Rachel herself rang up last night, not sure she could face it. I told her it’s never quite as bad as one expects.


I have turned the final corner of Round-the-Bend, and begun attaching back to front as I knit towards the sleeve.

One of you kindly referred me to a Q.&A. in one of Meg’s newsletters, when I was beginning the back and worrying about mirror-imaging. I’ve looked at it again this morning. Some poor soul was having trouble attaching the shoulder. I think I even said I didn’t see how anyone could get that far without understanding what she was doing.

Now I do.

Her question, I’m afraid, was badly expressed: What is meant by the reverse "no sew for the shoulder seam"? What would that look like in words? I have tried everything and ripping out 8 times.

And Meg misunderstood it, and answered in terms of SSK, and even recommended the video. The video, as I have already mentioned here, skips straight from finishing the first half to the i-cord finishing of the whole.

The problem at the second shoulder has nothing to do with SSK v. slip 2 purlwise. It’s a question of origami. I’ve ripped out once – I think I’ve got it this time, but it’s too soon to feel entirely confident. I can’t imagine why it’s so hard when the first shoulder went smoothly enough, but Meg’s questioner was right – something is very difficult here.

Clearly those Zimmermanns – including Cully -- have an engineering gene that lets them see and think in three dimensions while the rest of us bump along with two.

I had a good time yesterday planning the sweaters I will knit for the Little Boys to celebrate Scotland’s utterly unexpected victory in the Calcutta Cup match this coming Sunday. They are to be ganseys, nothing terribly fancy, similar sweaters but two different patterns to keep me interested. Towards the bottom of each I will incorporate in seed stitch the wearer’s initials and “2011” and an image of the cup – and the score, if there’s room for that much information.

I also thought, as I knit peacefully along (before I got to the shoulder-attaching bit), that this sort of knitting, slow and steady, good old garter stitch, must be making inroads on my abundant collection of sock yarn. Should I go on to a Bog or a Tomten – or both?

The Schoolhouse does a leaflet for the Tomten. The Bog only turns up in a video for “Knitting Around” – where the printed instructions are full and intelligible anyway. I’ll wait until next week – after Scotland’s famous victory, I’ll probably feel like treating myself to Meg’s Guernsey pullover DVD.

Monday, March 07, 2011


RtB is coming on nicely – I’m getting towards the turning of the final corner, at the top of the back of the second half of the jacket.

The new Woolgathering is here – a disappointment. I don’t like the pattern, I am sad to learn that the new EZ book has been moved back from “spring” to “May”, and I either own or am not interested in all the books listed. Poof.

Sharon Miller, indefatigable in her pursuit of knitting history, has posted two links to films about Shetland life made in the early 1930’s: and, both from the National Library of Scotland. Knitting is included. I haven’t watched either of them yet.


Thank you for all the comments – about “True Grit” (I suspect I should read the book) and about C’s predicament. At the moment, a friend from schooldays is staying in the house with her. That should help a lot, and at the least, advances things through the early part of this week, the days when our niece works the longest hours. Angel, that’s a good story about the colouring book. The next time I am in John Lewis – toys are right next to yarn, as it happens – I’ll look carefully at the children’s department to see if anything seems right.

(When James was suddenly diagnosed with diabetes, a long time ago now, I went down from Birmingham to London to visit him in University College Hospital. I brought an armload of meant-to-be-entertaining paperbacks. While I was there, a colleague’s wife turned up, bringing “Beano” and the current Radio Times. I wouldn’t be surprised if my books aren’t still under the bed.)

I am pretty sure that all my high-brow preparations for my last days will come to naught, but something will have been achieved if I inspire anyone to read “Put Out More Flags”. It was published in 1942, and therefore written in the months between Dunkirk and Pearl Harbor, when the outcome of the war was by no means a foregone conclusion. It is easily Evelyn Waugh’s happiest book.

Here are some pics of Drummond Place Gardens, taken when I circumnavigated them with my sister one day last week:
Today offers another such frosty and sunny morning, although I fear I'm too late for the dog-walkers. I think I’d better go out there again now. I’ve put on five pounds since Christmas.

Sunday, March 06, 2011


I can’t remember my source, Mary Lou, but the numbers make me confident. Lent is based on the 40 days Our Lord spent fasting in the wilderness – and yet it seems to be six and a half weeks long, until you subtract the six Sundays. That subtraction leaves you, very neatly, with 40 days.

The Greeks, I believe, start tomorrow – at least, they do if our Easters coincide this year. By that reckoning, Lent ends on Maundy Thursday and the following tridium – Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday – is in a category by itself.


I am sure you are right, Shandy, that C. needs distraction from the fear of death. I wonder if the fear is worse because she is not in pain. Toothache does concentrate the mind on itself.

Would one be able to knit? I hope so, but I find it impossible to imagine myself in C.’s situation, although it awaits me, in some form or other, in the relatively near future (I will soon be 78). I hope some of you know my favourite episode of Frasier, where all the characters – including Ros, whose excuse for being there I have forgotten – sit about Frasier’s apartment talking of death.

The only line I can actually remember is when Niles expresses his fear that death may turn out to be like school, and none of the really cool dead people will want to hang out with him. The brilliance of the scene, however, is that it brings briefly to the surface something that we all think about quite a bit but rarely mention.

At the end there is a “ping” from the kitchen and Daphne remembers that she has some cookies in the oven. Everybody has some, dipped in milk. I suspect it’s the only answer.

I would hope to be able to knit (socks, which have completely relieved me of the fear of flying in recent years); and to welcome Radio Four wittering on even if I couldn’t concentrate on what they were saying; and, if not to read coherently, at least to read a paragraph or two in a well-loved book and then lie back and think about it. Pride and Prejudice, The Leopard, Middlemarch, Put Out More Flags. The Leopard, I think, above all.

That’s a lot to ask for.

But here’s an encouraging anecdote. I must, alas, suppress names – your comment yesterday, Wren, demonstrates why. You never know who’s listening, and I don’t want to hurt anybody's feelings.

We had a friend – most of us could replicate the story – who got breast cancer, got treated, had several years of remission, got it again, died. During the final phase she was visited one evening by a good friend who is a well-known novelist and who gave her the latest book. When they were alone, she complained furiously to her husband (who relayed the tale to me in a letter not long after she died): “I’ve got six months to live and I haven’t finished Henry James. How can D. think that I’ve got time to read his book?”

Saturday, March 05, 2011

C. is very weak, and noticeably less crisp. She has been having panic attacks – what is the cancer going to do, and when? -- and is on new medication, anti-depressive and anti-whatever. It makes her drowsy, and may well explain the lack of crispness. Our niece, her daughter, was there briefly when we arrived. She said she didn’t like these effects, and will discuss them with the hospice nurse during her visit next week – a three-way conversation including C.

The saddest thing at the moment seems to be her total inability to be entertained, which sounds absurd. She finds she can’t read – she’s not a knitter; can’t watch television or listen to the radio; doesn’t even enjoy listening to music, which has always been an important thing to her. “I don’t know how I’m going to get through the next…” The sentence broke off, but I think she meant, “…the next hour, after you leave.”

A very considerable roster of friends are visiting regularly. Her daughters are right there. The younger one, F., was expected from Glasgow as we left yesterday. But there are gaps, and it’s clearly tough.

Back at the ranch…

Lisa, I was touched that you asked about the rugby. Scotland played Ireland last Sunday. Alexander and Ketki and the Little Boys called in here on their way to Murrayfield. Scotland – wait for it – lost.

Next Sunday, a week tomorrow if I’ve got it right, is the Calcutta Cup, England v. Scotland in London. I will have cider in the refrigerator, prepared to break my Lenten fast if Scotland win. (In strictest theology, Sundays are not part of Lent. Sunday is never a penitential day.) I will have chosen yarns for the Little Boys’ sweaters from Posh’s next-week list, prepared to strike when they go up for sale on Sunday evening.

But I strongly suspect Scotland will lose and these preparations will have been in vain.

As for the knitterly news promised yesterday,

1) There was a page in the Scotsman this week of remarkably awful things connected with the forthcoming royal wedding. There were some Royal Wedding Gnomes, available at B&Q. (I had another look yesterday at the gnomes we gave C. for Christmas – the wedding ones are the same gnomes re-decorated. That explains why William has a long white beard.)

The Scotsman list included a book called “Knit Your Own Royal Wedding”. I have ordered it, and it will go into my small but select collection of horrors, currently headed by “Knitting with Dog Hair”.

2) I had an email from KnitNation with a list of teachers for this year’s extravaganza in London in July. I don’t think I recognised any names, except one – Franklin is coming! The next day – I don’t like to boast, friends, but… -- I had an email from Franklin himself, confirming the appointment.

The dates are not impossible – Rachel and her family (south London) go on holiday most years with Alexander and his (Loch Fyne). This year they’re going to Spain for the first fortnight in August. So she’ll be in London in July -- that is pretty well essential for my plans. I learned last year, when I didn’t get to Stirling, that I need to think ahead. What day(s) do I want off? What will my husband do in my absence? With whom? “Not impossible” is not enough.

We shall see. Will there be a class on Japanese knitting, I wonder?

Friday, March 04, 2011

I don’t see how people who actually have lives, manage to blog at all. Or even Twit.

My sister and her husband are still here, in a sense – they spent last night with Alexander and his sons on the shores of Loch Fyne and will be back here sometime this morning. They leave very early tomorrow, and will be much missed.

We’re booked in to call on C. this afternoon.

Rount-the-Bend has edged forward. I will soon (maybe even today) start the final mitred square, the one that wheels around and is grafted to the top of the sleeve. This picture is also notable for being the first one in 2011 to be taken on the doorstep in the early morning.

I have a couple of other knitterly things to say, but I think I will save them for tomorrow and switch to talking about cinema, Helen C.K.S.-fashion. We went to see the new Coen Brothers’ film “True Grit” yesterday. We are passionate Coen Brothers fans.

I would put it down as a failure. I was bored and wanted to go home. Like all of their films, however, the cinematography is terrific and the relationship with “reality” – or do I mean, Realism? – is thought-provoking. I read quite a few reviews of it in advance. None of them that I remember even began to get to grips with the oddities of the film:

-- the stilted language everybody uses (fingers get cut off, but there is no obscenity or profanity spoken); -- the precocious knowledge of the 14-year-old heroine (she threatens someone at one point with a writ of replevin: I haven’t heard that word for 60 years, and the spell-checker doesn’t recognise it; at another moment, she explains to coarse and violent outlaws what “malum in se” means as a moral concept); -- the dream-like stage of the street scenes; -- the lengthy scene where the heroine and her horse swim across a river and emerge neither wet nor out-of-breath.

None of this (and there’s plenty more) is presented as funny. Often, watching the Coen brothers, one is invited to laugh nervously. Not this time. There’s much violence, some of it unpleasant and “realistic”. We get to see those detached fingers, for example, after the knife falls.

And of course there’s the fact that they are re-making the famous John Wayne film. I’ve never seen it. I might have enjoyed this a bit more if I had. So the whole thing is presumably the Coen brothers’ take on an American genre. The American genre.

I’ll stick with “A Serious Man” as my vote for their greatest-to-date, although I’m happy to listen to argument in favour of several others. But I wonder how “True Grit” will look in 20 years. It might get better. It might even become profound. But will it be less boring?