Monday, December 31, 2012

We didn’t have Christmas. We had the norovirus.

I’m pretty well back up to speed by now – although “speed” doesn’t imply anything very brisk, these days. My husband is still very weak, although making progress. We are living on Jewish penicillin.

We had Christmas Eve.

We had Boxing Day.

But nothing in between.

My husband was taken ill in the early hours of Christmas Day. We cancelled Mass-going right away – it would have meant leaving him alone in the house for nearly two hours, by the time we got to Inverary and back..

James and his family were sleeping a mile or so away, in the former butler’s quarters of the Big House, now converted into a pleasant self-catering flat. We soon learned that James had been sick all night, so we cancelled Christmas Dinner. His daughter Kirsty joined him on the casualty list a few hours later.

So we who were still walking had a lovely, leisurely day, lunching on delicious left-over lasagne. It couldn’t have been planned. I can’t remember why we cancelled champagne and present-giving as the dark drew in. I was disappointed about that.

Boxing Day started well (see above). I was stricken in the late afternoon. The Little Boys joined me during the night. The next day – it’s Thursday, by now -- James drove us back to Edinburgh in the huge people-carrier he had hired. James was fine by then. My husband and I found it tough going, but  it was good to be back in our own bed. James’ daughter Rachel fell to the dread lurgy on Friday.

Before we left Loch Fyne, however, on Thursday morning, Alexander trumped us all. He hadn’t been feeling entirely well throughout. He felt tingly, he said. Now he had developed a painful rash, self-diagnosed as shingles. A doctor confirmed the guess that afternoon. He’s taking anti-viral drugs and pain-killers. But it means weeks of pain, at the very least.

Big-Rachel’s family from London replaced us on the shores of Loch Fyne. When I last heard, one of them had gone down and another wasn’t feeling very well.

But they are safely back in London now, and the Beijing Mileses are back in Beijing (and didn’t get sick during the journey). And, as Alexander said the last time I spoke to him, it only happens once a year. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

I’m not getting anywhere with this.

Anonymous, I do want most emphatically to say that my quarrel is not with single parents, but with absent fathers. This one seems to have been a bog-standard, middle-class middle-life divorce-after-28-years-of-marriage. I’m not greatly impressed with the father’s statement: “Our family is grieving along with all those who have been affected by this enormous tragedy.”

Which family is that, then?

Libby Purves wrote in the Times in 1997:

“The literature of parenthood deals overwhelmingly with the first few years, with bracingly simple issues like broken nights and ear infections and daycare. Perhaps it is as well for the species that nobody ever really expects 18 years of supervision and a lifetime of worry. I was fussing over a baby in a carrycot at a BBC seminar once when Bill Cotton, well retired by then, thundered: ‘You think it’s tough now. Just you wait until he’s fifty.’”

But when I stop to think about it, the majority of the suicides I have known or known of – one is far too many – have been the sons of stable marriages. Including the baby in the carrycot just mentioned – he didn’t make it to 50.

So I’d better not go on pontificating.

I think, in fact, I’ll pause here for the solstice.  I’m not doing at all well at trying to think about knitting. We should be back from Loch Fyne for the weekend at the end of the year.

A very happy solstice to all, however observed.  And sympathy to cat and her friends, who are about to find their light diminishing. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A day further forward.

Christmas is coming along nicely. Our little tree is up, the cards dispatched, the pudding made (although not yet steamed), the hat knit. I have a couple of days in hand to re-group and try to advance the non-seasonal aspects of life – clean clothes, accounts, that sort of thing.

Except that Newtown has drained all the savour from this.

Is gun control possible? Would gun control help?

I’ll go get the Sunday paper in a moment and read all about it. One detail on which I feel completely confident without waiting to be told, is that the killer’s father wasn’t a member of his household.

Each morning’s blog is pretty much a distillation of thots entertained during the previous day. And so today there is nothing else. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Desperate, terrible sadness.

In a few minutes now, Alexander will set forth into the semi-dark, to walk to the school bus stop with his beloved Little Boys. He will be reluctant to let them go.

Amy Kaspar has written something for the Examiner about knitting for Newtown. (I can’t find it on the Examiner website, to give you the link. I read it on Zite.) My first thought was derisive. Knitting? But it’s a sensible article, about prayer shawls and stuffed toys. If I were in America this morning, there are few places I’d rather be than in a seat at the table in my LYS.

We have seen this particular pattern before, including at Dunblane. Augmented suicide. There has been at least one previous instance where the killer began by killing his mother. I don’t trust myself to write about this. The hellish unhappiness of that young man. The dangers for all young men of the white-water years of adolescence.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Archie is in Athens, and today I’ll get back to work on Christmas. Maybe even make the pudding. Cards are nearly finished – there are always a few stragglers. People we didn’t hear from last year, probably because they are dead or demented, but deserving of one more try.

(I rang up one such friend the other day. Not dead at all, just 85 and very arthritic. She’s given up sending cards. We’re going to Do Lunch in January.)

Archie seemed in fine fettle. He told me on the way to the airport that, early in his Merchiston career, he was required to run a mile and couldn’t do it. He broke down in tears half-way through, he said. This week, he ran two miles.

I told my husband when I got home and he harrumphed that that was what you would expect of any good boarding school. I think he misses the point. Prince Charles went to a sporty, outdoors-y Scottish boarding school and no doubt did lots of running. He was notoriously miserable and his own sons weren’t allowed anywhere near the place. It is obvious that Archie isn’t miserable.

I told Helen about this when she rang at the end of the afternoon to say that he was safely home. She knew about the earlier episode, not about the two-mile run. There was no harrumphing in Athens.

The needles turned up yesterday at last – so much for first-class post at Christmas time – and I resumed the Sixteen-Cable Hat (Ravelry link). It’s looking good. There are only four cable rounds altogether – or five, if you add some optional extra rounds to make the hat slouchier. I don’t know whether I’ll have yarn enough for that. But the cables are eight over eight, so the cable rounds themselves and the immediately following rounds are pretty slow.

Still, it won’t take long. I did two of those four cable rounds yesterday.


Tricia, I thought of magic-looping when the needle problem first presented itself. I watched a video and decided this Wasn’t For Me. Maybe I’ll come back to it. Thank you for the link.

Needle sizes: Yours is an interesting tale, Sarah JS. So the old British sizes didn’t go out with pounds, shillings and pence as I thought. There was a rule – I don’t need to get it right since the British numbers are no more – that if, for any given needle size, you added the British and American numbers together, the answer would always be 14. Or maybe it was 16. So there's an overlap in the middle (obviously, there would be) at size 7 or 8, where the numbers were the same.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I calculated, and re-calculated, and finished casting on, and have now knit myself somewhere into the second inch of ribbing on Ed’s Gardening Sweater – and isn’t it bliss not to have to count rounds? because back and front are being knit together in a tube; and not to have to measure and worry about whether I’ve done enough ribbing, because I’m the boss and can stop whenever I think I’ve done enough?

The experience is fully as wonderful as I anticipated, and this is only the ribbing, which I don’t much like doing. I should be well enough along by the time I see the recipient on Boxing Day that some judgement can be made about size and suitability. I feel I don’t care – I wouldn’t mind ripping out and starting again forever, with this wonderful yarn, like Penelope at her loom.

Perhaps 2013 will be the Year of madelinetosh. If I decide to abandon the Japanese shirt, I could order some more tosh sock yarn (oh dear, naughty) and do a finely striped tee. I need to talk to possible female recipients about what they might actually like. Rachel, Ketki, Cathy, Hellie and Lizzie will all be on the shores of Loch Fyne soon, and so will I. Knitting for men is easier. Simple shapes. The idea is to keep warm. It’s no use endlessly knitting for myself and then not wearing the result: what would women wear?

I took my husband to a podiatry appt yesterday and sat knitting the current sock while waiting for him. I sat next to a woman who admired what I was doing – “Those are very fine needles. Twelves or thirteens?” She was referring to the old British sizes (the opposite of American sizes, where big numbers mean big needles). They went out when the currency was decimalised in the late 60’s, I would say. Since then we have used millimetres.

She said her family was tired of being knitted for, so she knits for a charity that sends lorry-loads of sweaters to East European children. I told her about the Dutch woman with 60 years of sweaters piled up in her house. She – my companion in podiatry – doesn’t have a computer or a television, and listens to the radio sparingly. She reads. Those smart men and women in suits who run the country need to be reminded sometimes that not all of us care to keep up with them.

The new needles for the last-minute hat didn’t turn up yesterday, despite having been posted first class on Monday. Surely today?

To return to earth: Thank you for the help both with long-tail cast-on’s and short rows.   You have persuaded me to use the latter to lift the back neck, when I get there. At the moment – remember, I am doing this bit by bit, with Meg’s four articles in Knitter’s 2000 – she is suggesting them below the armpits, even perhaps in front to accommodate a paunch. I don’t need that.

Or do I? Don’t miss JeanfromCornwall’s comment on yesterday’s post, about how men put sweaters on.

You have also persuaded me to attempt the phoney seam described yesterday. Meg says that you can drop the stitch when you get to the underarm, and persuade it to run down, or “you may do [the seams] incrementally as you inch your way up the body”. How would that work? Ladder back after a couple of inches, crochet up, restore the stitch to the needle and knit on?

And I shall retain and ponder your suggestions for calculating the long-tail. Someone said something about this in Franklin’s lace class. Do you remember, Shandy? I think it was your idea, BlueLoom. But I think next time I’ll try using two balls of yarn tied together.

Today’s excitement is that Archie will turn up under his own steam this afternoon or evening, and I will drive him to the airport tomorrow and dispatch him towards Athenian warmth and sunlight. So if I’m not here tomorrow, that’s why. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Here’s some cheerfulness from Alexander – the Glasgow where he was born.

Another good day on the Christmas front – six or seven cards written, three presents wrapped. I begin to feel like the old horse when its head is turned towards the stable – a fortnight from today will be a little bit lighter than the day before. And the day before will have been lighter than the day before that. Unless the world ends on the solstice as the Mayans predict.

And I got to the post office and dispatched a heavy package to Greece. Expensive, but not as expensive as EasyJet excess baggage. And it’s done.

I tidied up the brioche scarf – there was less to do than I thought.

And I swatched for Ed’s Gardening Sweater. Goodness, this stuff is beautiful. I had a moment almost of panic – what am I going to do when I finish the swatch? I can’t knit the hat until those needles come. The scarves are finished. I can’t just sit here.

The answer would have been the perennial lurking sock, but I didn’t think of that. I just went ahead and opened Knitter’s for Spring 2000 and got started on Meg’s instructions for the EPS.

She wants a circular swatch, or a flat one where you loop the yarn across the back and start again at the other side, so as to knit every row. I didn’t do that. But then she very engagingly says that, even after doing it right, she measured 4.25 stitches to the inch and in fact got a gauge of 4. Try it and you may, I say, in the immortal words of Sam-I-am.

So I measured and did the arithmetic and attempted to cast on 238 stitches. It’s been a while since I did anything like that – I didn’t leave enough yarn in the Long Tail, and  had to start again. That gave me time to reflect that if I want a 2x2 rib, it’ll have to be 236 or 240. So that’s where I am at the moment – casting on.

This first article gives the proportions for the body, and instructions for knitting up to the underarm, and some suggested embellishments. I don’t think I’ll need short rows to avoid it riding up in the back, as I’m knitting for a fit rectangular man. Phoney seams are an interesting idea – drop a stitch at the underarm, run it back, and then crochet up, alternately taking in two ladders and then one. I’ve never tried that.

She also includes a brilliant arithmetical trick from Cheryl Brunette for spacing the increases in the ribbing-to-body round. It’s from her Sweater 101 which is still out there.

I’ve knit two other sweaters recently for Ogden men: Thomas-the-Elder’s “Brownstone” is a bit too generous. 

Joe’s Grandson Sweater is just about perfect. 

Hope for the best.

Change of subject: Queer Joe remarks on Facebook that he google’d “Knitting blogs” and found himself third and felt terribly pleased. I tried it – I was 8th, I think, but Joe was 10th on my list. Maybe Google knows. Then I tried “knitting blogs UK” and that moved me down to the second page, 14th or so. Jared was top of the first list, my neighbour Kate Davies of the second.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Another good day on the Christmas front. Six cards written, three presents wrapped, today’s strategies planned. We shall see.

Two years ago I planned a big family Christmas in Strathardle. Savage weather made it impossible, and in the end we spent the day here in Drummond Place with the Beijing Mileses and a tree from Poundland. I think we spent as much again on decorations for it. We loved it. My husband suggested yesterday that we set it up again. It’s a brilliant idea, and we’ll do that.

On the knitting front, I again left the Brioche scarf unfinished. I cast on for the last-minute-present hat. I’ve got a lot more Cocoon than Vatican Pie left over from the two scarves, but Vatican Pie is much nearer the weight of yarn the hat designer intends, so I’ve gone with that. I’m pretty sure there’s enough.

I thought I had short circulars in every gauge known to man, left over from that Christmas when I knit a hat for everyone on the list. But I don’t seem to have a short 5mm, and that’s what I need. I jumped at the chance to order a Knit Pro from Meadow Yarn – their service is first-rate, it might even be here tomorrow. I’ve knit the brim, on a 4mm which I did have to hand. The rest won’t take more than a couple of evenings.

Except that Meadow Yarn is out of short Knit Pro 5mm’s. After a moment’s tremor, I  went for 4.5.

And then I wound a skein of madelinetosh sport yarn “Firewood” and cast on a swatch for Ed’s Gardening Sweater. Bliss awaits.

Yarnologist, I am deeply touched that you have nominated me for the Liebster Award, although daunted at what I have to do. I am not sure I know eleven things about myself. I waste too much time here, that’s one.

I ordered a copy of Vogue’s “Ultimate Hat Book” the other day, in the midst of all my on-line Christmas shopping. It turned up yesterday – have we ever before had a mail delivery on a Sunday? I haven’t spent much time with it yet. It has a good analysis of the anatomy of hats and, needless to say, some nice patterns.  

Sunday, December 09, 2012

It’s been a while since we had a picture. Here’s the finished Reversible Cable scarf – you’re seeing both sides. The flash has brightened the colour, but you get the general idea. Here’s the Ravelry link to Mary Lou’s pattern. Recommended. The yarn, to recapitulate, is Colinette’s “Art” yarn in her “Vatican Pie” colorway.

I should polish off the Brioche scarf this evening – I’m about half-way through that tidying job.

Speaking of which, Nancy Marchant – she who wrote the book – is offering a Craftsy class in brioche knitting. I’m seriously tempted. I’ve got the book, but have never made any headway with it. Maybe video classes would work better?

I continued to make progress with Christmas yesterday, apart from finishing the scarf. I like doing cards, but could wish there were more hours in the day. I like reading last year’s messages and thinking of old friends, many of whom we’ll never see again. And writing at least a sentence or two for each. The object of the game is to keep working steadily – not to get behind and have to rush it and make the messages perfunctory.

I also got a bit more wrapping done. I don’t think I’ve ever spaced that chore out before, and it’s a good idea.

Here’s a seasonal note to end on – Theo just sent this picture of his Christmas tree. We've got horizontality issues again -- at least by now I know better than to spend Sunday morning struggling with it in vain. That’s Helen’s wedding present to Theo and his wife on the wall behind – “Our house ever fortunate with its own”. Must be a quotation.

And on the tree you can see one of Arne and Carlos’ baubles, knit by me this time last year.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

The knitting of the Reversible Cables was successfully resumed – there’s only an inch to go, so I should finish tonight, and maybe have time to tidy up the Brioche Scarf as well. Reversible Cables is looking splendid, Brioche is less than perfect which is a bit distressing. It’s a very difficult stitch to repair.

And then, perhaps…

I have finished my Christmas shopping. One present seems slightly less than adequate. (I might mention that I have never been disappointed with anything I ordered on-line. This one is exactly as described, and is something I think the recipient will like. It’s just that it looks a bit small-sized and mingy, compared to what other grandchildren are getting.) So I might knit this (Ravelry link) – that particular grandchild hasn’t had a hat since ’09.

I got on pretty well with Christmas yesterday. If I can keep on writing six or seven cards a day, I’ll have them done in a week. I started wrapping, a disliked job even where wrapping-for-the-post is not involved. But the result, a pile of glittery packages, is gratifying. I’ve done two.

I opened my husband’s Microsoft Surface. This is going to be fun! The packaging is impressive. The electrics – that’s what I was a bit concerned about – look fine. The keyboard is pancake-thin, separate from the main object. I think it will suit my husband better than a virtual keyboard, even one as good as the iPad’s. There is no hint of an instruction book. I am of the generation who used to enjoy reading computer manuals in the bath. But I am sure Alistair will be equal to the challenge.


I have had messages from people who were hurt by my remark that we had advised granddaughter Lizzie not to apply to an East Coast college for her junior-year-in-America. It shows how dangerous it can be to write hastily.

I love the East Coast. If I should return to America I couldn’t think of living anywhere but Boston or Princeton. (No, that’s not true: Kendal in Oberlin would be a possibility, or Seattle.) But the East Coast seemed to all of  us the most European-like part of the US, and we thought Lizzie should experience something that many European visitors never see. My sister lives in CT, at the mouth of the Connecticut River. Her son Theo and his wife Jenni are in DC (and likely to remain! since the election went the right way). Lizzie will surely visit them in the vacations.

And she has already visited them – each of my grandchildren has had a fortnight in the US at the age of 11-12, a tradition started by my mother with my own children, and nobly carried forward by my sister. And, of course, she was at Theo and Jenni’s splendid wedding in CT three years ago. So she has had a bit of a taste of the East Coast, and has at least seen the New York skyline. But no taste of Kansas whatsoever – and I think she’s going to like it.

Lizzie is the middle grandchild in the back row of the picture in my sidebar.

I’ll keep you posted.

Friday, December 07, 2012

So now you know where to come if you want help knitting a haggis! Many thanks to yesterday’s commenters.

A slight setback here yesterday – I was knitting peacefully along on the Reversible Cables and came to the end of the current ball and went to get the final skein of Colinette’s “Vatican Pie” – and couldn’t find it! Could I possibly, in fact, not have ordered it? Were there only three? After quite a bit of looking, I gave up and ripped out a few rows in order to have the yarn to finish off.

Then I found it.

The stitches have been recovered, I’ve figured out where I am in the pattern, I am ready to resume (except that I have still to wind the skein). But the net result is that I seem to have advanced only two inches yesterday – still six to go.


Some progress yesterday – I made a good start on the cards. I have heard from Alistair in Beijing that he will be delighted to teach his grandfather how to use his Christmas-present Microsoft Surface, and I’ve ordered a stylus for it. I was most encouraged, Catdownunder, to hear how well your father, at 89, is getting on with his iPad.

I think I read somewhere that the Surface automatically backs up to the cloud, and if not, my husband can learn to use Dropbox. He has a healthy respect for the routine of backing-up. Alistair says that they were burgled recently in Beijing – nobody told me – and ‘[Daddy] was like: "Oh no my laptop!" but then he was like "Ha Alistair! Sugarsync backed it all up! The cloud isn't so useless after all"’

I had trouble with that blasted credit card again yesterday – but this time it was probably because I typed a wrong digit. Payments to other sources went through yesterday, and another one did this morning. I’ve paid the one that failed from another account. Lots of paying, this time of year.

If this business about the Mayan calendar proves right, the world will end the day before we go to Loch Fyne. That will be a disappointment.


There was an article in this week’s Sunday Times about the new Canadian Governor of the Bank of England. It said that his “firebrand wife” is “prone to frequent outbursts of anti-capitalism and yoghurt knitting patterns”. That’s a new one. Neither yoghurt nor knitting was mentioned in the rest of the article.

Rosesmama and Catmum, thank you for the pointer to the Turban(d) pattern (Ravelry link) – I’ve downloaded and printed. 

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Not much was accomplished around here yesterday.

However, the scarf now has but eight inches to go. A couple more evenings should do it. Zite came up this morning with Lorna Watt’s Chunky Turban Headband (Ravelry link). I’m not thinking Christmas-present. I’m thinking leftover-yarn – from both scarves – and I’m also thinking baby-it’s-cold-outside. The pattern wants super chunky and I don’t think either yarn qualifies as that, but I also think adjustment would be within my capacities.

So I bought the pattern. Someone commented recently that she always prints out a pattern right away, after downloading it: so do I. So that one is ready to roll.

I’ve also been thinking about what sweaters to knit for the Little Boys on the shores of Loch Fyne, if Scotland win the Catcutta Cup next year. It’s good fantasy knitting, because Scotland won’t win. Quite apart from the fact that we are rubbish at the moment, and England really rather good, the match is played in London in odd-numbered years. Scotland never win there.

The 2012 celebratory sweaters (not needed, in the event) were going to be Norwegian. This time, I’m thinking of carrying on from Ed’s Gardening Sweater and knitting smaller EPS Seamless Saddle Shoulders (KWT) in beautiful madelinetosh.

QueerJoe in his post for December 3 says without explanation that he has “started getting regularly scheduled deliveries of madelinetosh yarns” – I want in on that one! He illustrates a wonderful colorway called Bitterroot, not far off Firewood with which I am soon to begin knitting.

“Knit Your Own Scotland” turned up yesterday, and it’s delightful – but, oh! Kristie! There’s no haggis!


I had the same idea – that it would be worth my while to pay EasyJet to let Archie take another suitcase. Helen’s husband David did the work, and reported that it would cost £14 for a physical extra bag plus £69 for up to 9 kilos. That’s booking-in-advance. So I’ll squeeze anything I can into his suitcase – and his mother has told him to wear as many clothes as possible – and face up to posting the rest.

Dawn, when I was in China I saw, like you, museum attendants knitting, and others with jobs that left time on their hands. One day James took us out in the country to visit places where bits of the Great Wall exist (as well as the famous site near Beijing where princes go).  In one village, there was a group of women sitting on the pavement in the afternoon. One of them was knitting a one-piece baby garment into which it looked as if a small child could usefully be sewn in November. She didn’t want to be photographed, even when James asked her politely in Mandarin.

The only Chinese patterns I’ve seen are western spin-offs. But on the strength of that one baby-gro I’d like Kirsty to probe more deeply. If people in the cities knit, there could be a country tradition behind them.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


You win some: my husband’s present, a Microsoft Surface, arrived yesterday – one potential major source of worry nipped in the bud. I haven’t dared open the package yet, but must soon, if only to make sure that the electricals are right for charging the battery from British electricity.

I’m counting on James and Cathy’s son Alistair to teach my husband how to use it, when we meet on the shores of Loch Fyne, and, especially, how to surf the web. My husband is aware of the infinite resources of cyberspace but up until now has only been able to tell me what he wants fetched from there. 

And Alistair can play with the Surface himself when we have gone to bed.

You lose some: Helen writes from Athens that Archie will be travelling EasyJet when he goes home for the holidays next week. The baggage allowance is very limited – I won’t be able to fill a small suitcase with presents and just hand it to him, after all. I think I’ll be able to insinuate his brother Fergus’ present into whatever luggage he is taking. It’s long and narrow, awkward to wrap for the post, and light-weight. For the rest, it will have to be that expensive trudge to the post office after all.

Thank you for the kind comments about Lizzie’s forthcoming adventures in Kansas. Considering that there are only about 350 of us world-wide, on a very good day, it seems remarkable that so many have connections to the University of Kansas. Lizzie is, alas, not a knitter so almost certainly never looks at this blog: I gathered up all the relevant comments and emailed them to her just now.

I know of the Yarn Barn, of course. But I don’t think I have ever ordered from them, and I didn’t know that that’s where they are.

(So far, Alistair is the only one of my grandchildren who has shewn a real aptitude for knitting – but his early interest was squashed by strict Chinese views on gender roles. I still have hopes of his younger sister Kirsty. I need someone to go into the Chinese countryside, speaking the language -- as Kirsty does -- and write the book about Chinese peasant knitting.)

As for actual knitting, I left the brioche scarf unfinished and returned to the Reversible Cables last night. It’s slower work, but progressing nicely. I could stop any time. But I have determined on seven feet – 14 inches to go, therefore – and will proceed with that plan.

I must remember to allow time for making the Christmas pudding and perhaps cranberry sauce. Not to mention writing those cards. How did I manage it all when I did the whole thing myself, and had a job, and had to move the household from Birmingham to Strathardle in the darkest days of December?

I didn’t have to cook lunch in those days – that’s how.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

…and wasn’t it Laura Linney with whom Frazier rode off into the sunset in the last reel?

We’ve had rather a burst of good news around here.

n      Granddaughter Lizzie is reading American Studies at Birmingham University. Next year will be spent in the US, and she heard yesterday that she has been assigned to her first choice – the University of Kansas. We all told her to get well away from the East Coast. I sent her the lyrics to the Sunflower Song but can’t seem to persuade the computer to sing it for her.

n      Her brother Joe, who graduated from Nottingham last year, has got a job. He has been doing an internship with a company which has something to do with sport promotion. Internship = toiling unpaid and living on air: you don’t qualify for Jobseeker’s Allowance, since you’re not seeking a job. They have offered him a real job, from January.

n      James will be in London any moment now, staying with Rachel – mother of the two people just mentioned -- for a couple of weeks and working in the head office of the Economist.

n      I succeeded in ordering Kate Davies’ book, and heard from Amazon that “Knit Your Own Scotland” is on its way. Kristie wrote to say she has had a similar message from Amazon. She wants to knit a haggis for her cousin Kath – we all three had a very happy lunch at a pub in the Grassmarket last year. We didn’t have haggis, though.

I got through all of yesterday’s chores all right. I spent £49.17 at the post office, sending one package and a dozen cards airmail to the US, and buying stamps for the domestic cards, as yet unwritten. That’s a lot of money.

And in the afternoon, we got to the Eye Pavillion and back. My husband agreed to go by taxi – a definite milestone on the downward path. We owe all our prosperity in old age to a lifetime of never taking taxis. We managed the return journey by bus. (We've got a perfectly good car, but there would have been nowhere to park.)

And I’ve cast off the brioche scarf. Tonight I’ll tidy up the ends, and pick up the Reversible Cables.

Shandy has a good note in her latest blog entry about knitting at Christmas time, the craziness of panicking about it. I can’t imagine anything much sillier than getting stressed over one’s knitting instead of letting it soothe and comfort. Kaffe mentioned in his talk last week how knitting calms and sustains him. And I have a little theory that knitting round-and-round is even more comforting than back-and-forth. Although Kaffe won’t have much experience of that.

That’s part of what I’m looking forward to with Ed’s Gardening Sweater – not just the beautiful madelinetosh yarn, and the pleasure of knitting from EZ’s and Meg’s pages again, but the joy of going round and round.

Monday, December 03, 2012

There has been a great leap forward in the number of Followers since Franklin’s recommendation. I fear I will fail your expectations, but you are all most welcome.

Today is my sister’s 76th birthday. She’s catching up with me fast. Happy Birthday, Helen. Our mother always said it was her best Christmas ever – she had to get everything done well in advance, and she did. A healthy baby under the Christmas tree was a welcome plus.

Romulus Linney: I didn’t know it was lung cancer, Shandy. I did know, Beverly and Catmum, that Laura is his daughter. “The Truman Show” is one of my favourite movies.

I think we overlapped at Oberlin only by a year, Rommy Linney and I – he was a towering figure when I was a freshman. He was on stage at a welcome session in my first few days. He told us, at one point, to turn around and shake hands with the person behind us. We all tried to do it, and then all laughed. I think of that moment often, in relation to Christmas. It’s fun giving people things, and imagining in advance how their faces will light up when they unwrap our present and discover the very thing they wanted. Less easy to bear in mind that one will, oneself, be on the other end of such exchanges and that one’s own reaction will be equally necessary to the jollity of the moment.

Knitting: the brioche scarf has about five inches to go. This evening might polish it off.

Kate Davies’ book went on sale at 8 a.m. this morning. Now, at 9:10, she says she’s sold out!

Christmas: once when my mother was moving house, she grumbled to a neighbour over the garden fence about all she had to do. Start with the job that bugs you most, he said. It was good advice. So yesterday I wrapped my sister’s present, as well as polishing off the rest of the USA-bound Christmas cards. Will I get to a post office with them today? The local one closed some years ago. I think they explained at the time that they were doing it for my greater convenience. Or will I be required to devote all available time and energy to getting my husband to a routine diabetic retinopathy examination at the Eye Pavillion this afternoon?

Sunday, December 02, 2012

You were quite right, Kristie – getting started on the Christmas cards was all it took to make me feel happier. A bit happier. Chores are like that old computer game with moles – hit one on the head, and there are two more behind you.

One nice thing is that there has never in history been a year with so few packages to wrap and post – a chore I truly hate, and an expensive one.  Archie will save me a great deal of trouble and money by carrying the Greek presents to Athens when he goes home for the hols – gosh, next week. I’ll see everybody else on the shores of Loch Fyne. That leaves only the present for my sister to entrust to the mails.

The credit card worked fine yesterday. There are now only a couple more jobs for it to do.

The still-to-do part of the brioche scarf is now measured in inches rather than feet. Two more evenings? It doesn’t look as if there’s any danger of a knitting panic, anyway. And the prospect of starting Ed’s Gardening Sweater stretches ahead like a sunny pasture. I’ll take it along over Christmas.

Franklin has posted about Loop. Wonderful pictures, including one of me. That should boost readership into the stratosphere for a day or two. And if I ever get to London again, I am going to have to insist on a day to myself to go back to Loop.

But how’s this for seasonal gloom:

I opened up Zite on the iPad just now, to see if there was any knitting news to fill a paragraph. The opening page always consists of five items on any subject which Zite thinks might be of interest.  One of them, today, is a poem called Wild Before Winter, written by someone I knew at Oberlin. (Either that or there are two men in the world named Romulus Linney.)

“In my eightieth year” it says in the poem. Just like me. And at the end it says, “Used by permission of the Estate of Romulus Linney”.

On a brighter note: I was overjoyed, as you guessed, Metropolitan Rebecca, to learn that the norovirus is named after Norwalk, Ohio. Wikipedia confirms it. The virus laid the mighty All Blacks low last week, to the point where England beat them yesterday.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Today, panic and gloom. I still haven’t started the Christmas cards. I can’t find the piece of paper on which I’ve written my passwords. It’s December. There are only three weeks to go. (Alexander is planning to come and get us on Saturday the 22nd.)

I ordered a Microsoft Surface for my husband’s Christmas yesterday. The credit card company phoned from New York within the hour, asking if I really wanted to spend that much on the silly old fool. I am grateful to them for looking out for me, but apprehensive about what will happen when I try to use the card today.

This annual misery is all very well. Three-weeks-until-Christmas-HELP really means three-weeks-until-the-solstice-HURRAY. I worry – I’ve said this before – about Catdownunder and her friends, who are being hustled through the best weeks of the year.

Odds and ends

Schaefer yarns are about to disappear. Cheryl apparently is going to retire, without selling the business on.

Jamieson and Smith have some nice new kits ready.

Packages are arriving by every post – the great thing about shopping on-line is that it feels as if I get a present every day. But “Knit Your Own Scotland” isn’t here yet. I look upon that sort of knitting as utterly fiddly and not-me. But on the other hand, the few times I’ve tried it – I think Sam-the-Ram would count, and Arne and Carlos’ Christmas tree ornaments certainly do – I’ve enjoyed it. So I am at least open to the possibility of knitting Scotland.

The program for next year’s Games is out already, and the knitting categories are dreadful. “Fish and chip baby suit (Pattern supplied: to be donated)” and “Cushion cover (no pad)”. A recipe is supplied every year for one of the baking categories – it’s a “smiddy loaf” this year – so that the playing field is completely level. I suppose it’s an interesting thought, to apply the same idea to knitting.

Unfortunately, the pattern isn’t supplied, at least not yet. I would do very badly, I’m sure.

The new VK turned up yesterday – I didn’t even know I was expecting one. There’s nothing there I want to knit, but the magazine is exciting.

Kaffe had some interesting things to say on Thursday. Avoid white and bright yellow when you’re mixing colours – darker is better. He regards the colour wheel as the work of the devil. He doesn’t (I gather) knit socks himself, but it sounds as if the sock yarns he has designed for Regia have been a nice little earner for him. He doesn’t like most hand-dyed yarns. They look stunning in the skein, but when you get them home and knit them, they look like cat’s vomit. I think that was his analogy.

He showed us a scarf knit with two space-dyed yarns in which the colours change slowly – just knit eight-row stripes of each yarn alternately, and let them change as they will. I think I’ve seen that idea somewhere before. The result was very nice. Maybe that’s next year’s Christmas scarf?

I am currently pressing on with the brioche scarf.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Dies Atra

…comes around again. I’m in unusually cheerful form this year.

I had a grand time at Kaffe’s talk yesterday (didn’t buy the book, though). There was a big turnout despite the £10 charge for what amounted to a book-signing with extra talk. He is nearly as old as I am, and beginning to look it.

I met Sir Steven Runciman once, another supremely handsome man and one whose History of the Crusades and Sicilian Vespers I had read all the way through, in my more mentally active years. The line that sprang to mind when I saw him was, Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

This link, to a YouTube video, will show you what I mean.

(The same, of course, could be said of me except that I was never much to gladden the eye in youth, so the loss is considerably less.)

Kaffe is fading, but, like Runciman, remains as fit and sharp and entertaining as ever. He took us through the familiar story, Bill Gibbs, learning to knit on train. I hadn’t known, though, that he went to work for Missoni after that famous first effort was published in VK. (I was much struck with it myself, at the time, and remembered his name.) He made a funny story of the visit of two supremely elegant Missonis to his cold-water flat. He had to begin by learning the colour words in Italian.

It was good to see Helen C.K.S. too. We have been promising each other lunch for a long time now – “After the Festival”, “When this trying holiday season is over”. The year seems to contain little else. We’re aiming for January.

Miscellaneous more

-- A friend of Shandy’s sent me a link to this website in which are offered natural-coloured sheep-specific wools. Oh! for another lifetime, to knit it all. As far as I can remember, the only sheep-specific yarns I have actually knit were Shetland and Wensleydale. The latter was acquired at one of those workshop-and-talk days somewhere, and it was heaven to knit. I made a sweater with broad stripes for Helen’s husband David when he was new to the family.

Wensleydale are those sheep with dreadlocks.

-- Franklin is home, and posting about his English adventure. You don’t need me to tell you that. (All I had to do was type www.t and Google Chrome knew where I wanted to go.)

And as for actual knitting, I’m getting on fine. See sidebar. The brioche scarf, which I took to Strathardle earlier in the week, doesn’t entirely please. The colour seems sort of dull, and the knitting is not flawless partly because I am terrified even to attempt ripping back.

Barring disaster, I’ll finish both scarves with time to spare for a hat. But none of the few blanks on my Christmas list will want a hat,or if they do, they had one last year, so the plan is to go straight on to Ed’s Gardening Sweater.

Christmas shopping is nearly done – all on-line or by telephone except for the knitting. One of those articles in the paper the other day by a smart 30-year-old suggested giving fewer presents. They just embarrass people. But what if you have four children and four sons- and daughters-in law and twelve living grandchildren. Where do you prune the list?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Safely back – and we had a good time, saw to a few little things that needed seeing to, enjoyed good weather. The horrors of darkness and Christmas press hard, this morning.

Have you heard of Loes Veemstra? I found her on Zite. A Dutchwoman who has been knitting sweaters since 1955, hundreds of them by now, and stowing them away unused. Now for some reason they have emerged into the light. The link is to a video – not YouTube, however – showing a street party with the sweaters in use and Veemstra on a throne amidst them.

Lots of intarsia. No evidence of moths. Bizarre.

The video plays only shakily on my tired old computer. While I was waiting I pondered on the fact that “knitting” seems to be “breiwerk” in Dutch (“breide” for the verb). It’s “tricot” of course in French, “maglia” in Italian, “strikke” in German, “binde” in Norwegian. Is it odd, or not, that none of those words appears to be related to any other?

I have spent so long struggling with Veemstra and my computer that I had better leave it there. I will try to get up the hill to hear Kaffe this evening, if I am spared. I will try to write a proper post tomorrow.

Monday, November 26, 2012

I had thought there was nothing to say about knitting this morning, but James just sent this pic of the jabot in action again at the Beijing St Andrew’s Ball.

The grizzled facial hair was a surprise.

And Helen C.K.S. writes that she’ll be at Kaffe’s do this coming Thursday. I think that’s probably the day we’ll come back from Strathardle and I think I’ll be too tired.  I’m sorrier to miss seeing her than Kaffe himself.

Not much progress with the scarf yesterday – the dread Sunday Syndrome. I grasped, this morning, that if I want to put in a safety pin and thereafter measure only from it, I’ve got to put it in at the business end of the scarf, where the knitting is going on. I am appalled that that obvious fact escaped me for 48 hours.

So we’re all set for Strathardle. The Good Lord refrained from intervention. Back here Friday, I hope.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Hoarding/cleaning – Hat, Judith, Shandy: this relates to all three of yesterday’s comments.

I cleaned another tranche of the sitting room. No discoveries, same glow of virtue.

My husband always carries a slim engagement diary, and tucks it away in a drawer when the new year and new diary supplant the last one. Recently, I replaced a drawer-ful of them in the dining-room sideboard, now back from the furniture restorer with a beautiful smooth top. I found myself with 1957 in my hands, and looked up the day we met – February 23. Sure enough: it says “party”.

I went on to the day of Rachel’s advent into the world, the following year. That day says “RMM” in big letters. I didn’t look up anything in between, or beyond.

This is relevant to your comment, Judith, because he has mislaid the current one. Perhaps left behind in Strathardle? It must be somewhere.

I liked your phrase about the dining room being thoroughly “bottomed”, Shandy. The problem there – not yet anywhere near solution – is a number of tin boxes containing older Miles family documents. They were in the cellar in Birmingham. When we moved here, we managed to store them on a top shelf in the capacious cupboard off the hall.

One day years ago – I wasn’t even present – my husband said something to his sister about a torn-up letter that might or might not have been in one of those boxes. She wanted to look for it, and try to piece it together. She kept on at me about the subject in the months that followed. Eventually we had a son-in-law here; he got the tin boxes down and ranged them around the dining room.

Nothing more was ever done. My husband wasn’t willing (even he) to let his sister rummage in those boxes unsupervised, and we never got around to doing it. She has been dead for nearly two years. The top shelf in the cupboard off the hall has filled up with other things. The tin boxes are very neatly stowed in the spare room (in which one can, as a consequence, scarcely move) since the day earlier this year when Rachel’s son Joe came up from London and cleared the dining room for us.

My husband and I are equally resolved that they mustn’t go back into the dining room. They can’t stay where they are. Watch this space.


The Reversible Cables are moving forward, although not much was done yesterday.

We’re hoping – no, that’s not the word – to go to Strathardle tomorrow. I’ll take the brioche scarf, as the Cables are too near completion. And this morning I stumbled across this potentially useful  free gauge-less hat pattern. Gauge-less because you start at the top and see how it goes. That could fill one of the awkward gaps in my Christmas list, if there's time.

I’m scared of going tomorrow, of darkness and my husband’s frailty, and wouldn’t mind at all if the Good Lord cared to intervene with (say) a storm or the discovery that we’re short of Lisinopril. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Not much was achieved yesterday on the Christmas front.

But something domestically. In the afternoon, my husband and I put up those two plates. Meaning, I did, under his instruction. No geometry was involved this time, but much measuring as they had to be centred over the doors (and the door frames are slightly curved, which makes measuring that bit more difficult) and they had to be roughly at the same height as each other.

So that's the dining room "hang" complete".

In the morning, I had one of those Moments. Our sitting room is rarely (if ever) cleaned thoroughly. It’s a big room, full of stuff. I decided to start at one wall and do a strip at a time. Yesterday’s strip was rewarding: I found last year’s incoming Christmas cards, whose loss I had lamented the day before; and I found a book we have been looking for, literally, for years.

It is a shabby old copy of Ripley’s Believe it or Not, a collection of his newspaper pieces, with those old cartoons. If you’re my age, and American, you probably remember. I don’t know where we got it. We’ve always had it, and it has always been at Burnside (see sidebar), in the Boys’ Room. When they were 14 and 15 or so, James and Alexander added captions to the cartoons. Some of them are very funny.

I think it was Alexander who provoked the search. He and Helen and I have been through every bookcase in that little house, again and again.

Here, in the sitting room, stands the Glass-Fronted Bookcase, whose contents are family-related, one way or another. And underneath it – it stands up on legs – are piles of books worthy to be included but for which there is no room. That’s where Ripley was. A perfectly appropriate place. I'll give it to Alexander when we next see him.

I hope to get another yard or so of the sitting room cleaned today. What treasures await?


Another landmark on the “Reversible Cables”: I’ve passed five feet – i.e., exceeded the length of the tape measure. I put in a safety pin, so now I have only to measure from there.

That was an interesting comment of yours, Knitter007ca, about magazines. And thank you for mentioning Patternfish. I don’t think I knew about it.

I’m sure you’re right that magazines are in decline as we increasingly get our patterns directly from designers. Magazines have declined before – after the death of VK in the late 60’s, there was nothing or virtually nothing on British newsstands for some years. Even when Vogue came back to life, it was hard to find. Now, for the moment, they abound.

I keep a little list of FO’s in my electronic Filofax. It’s been a while since I knit anything from a magazine – a VK scarf in ’10 was the most recent. This year, I looked up the original article about the Strong heel (Knitter's) during my Sock Blitz, and I got out those old Knitter’s with Meg’s EPS articles only this week. That’s it, for magazines.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Odds and ends

Christmas: I got the cards out. Can’t find the package of the ones we received last year – a nuisance. I did some virtual shopping – at IWOOT, an old friend; Liberty, useless; and Divertimenti, some possibilities there. Shandy, I didn’t know about Persephone Books, and will investigate today. Thanks for the tip. I think today I’ll start actually ordering things.

Kate Davies, my near neighbour, has a new book coming out next week, at first available only from her website. It looks good.

While in London last weekend, I showed Ed the madelinetosh yarn for his forthcoming Gardening Sweater and measured a well-fitting garment of his of just the right sort. He doesn’t mind a highish neck, so I’ll go for EZ’s Seamless Hybrid (KWT).

I used to keep notes in my electronic Filofax (Lotus Organizer) of what patterns were in what issues of what magazines – patterns I might want to go back to. By means of those pages, I found that Meg’s four articles updating EZ’s Percentage System were in the four issues of Knitter’s for 2000. And I found the issues just where they should be, in the pile. So that’s that sorted.

I was surprised to see how enthusiastic I was about Knitter’s, issue after issue, in the late 90’s. I’ve been unsubscribed for a couple of years now and don’t miss it a bit.

There is an interesting article in the new IK (by the editor herself) about “infinite cables” or knotwork – the sort of thing Starmore does in “The Celtic Collection” although Starmore doesn’t seem to be mentioned in the article. The article shows how to design your own closed-loop motifs, and it looks fun.

I’m getting on fine with the Reversible Cables. I’m aiming for seven feet. I can’t remember why I chose that target. Mary Lou just says, sensibly, to knit until it’s long enough. I joined in the third skein (of four) last night. That felt like progress.

Franklin and his partner are currently on the high seas, returning to the US on the Queen Mary as they have done three times before. The dates were chosen to enable them to avoid Thanksgiving.

Another point at which I discovered that our tastes coincide, is his dislike of bobbles. That was mentioned when he showed us some nupps while discussing Haapsalu in the class about lace traditions. Although slightly raised, nupps are much less bobble-like than I thought. Maybe I’ll have a go. Shandy says it is not entirely easy to make sure you have hold of all the nupp stitches on the return row. And I can believe it.

Archie has just emailed to say that school may close early for Christmas because of an outbreak of the norovirus. It’s a nasty one. I was stricken at the New Year, two years ago, and would prefer not be there again.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

I got to Franklin and back in pretty good order by writing down all the things I had to do, and assigning them to be done on specific days. Maybe I’ll now try the same approach to Christmas. I feel I have done terrifyingly little so far. Today, get out the left-over Christmas cards, and the list, and spread them around on the dining room table. Order more cards as necessary.

The Reversible Cable scarf continues well. I didn’t get as much done as I hoped on the long train journeys, but I knit industriously as I travelled across London, north to south, south to north, four journeys in all. I’ve passed the half-way mark and continue very pleased with the result.

We’re planning to attempt Strathardle next week. The weather is wild and wet, but so far open. I’ll take the scarf along. Those long winter evenings by the fire…

I had a brief look at my antique knitting books yesterday, and came away more impressed than ever with Franklin’s abilities. So often one does not even know what the finished object would be. “Gentleman’s Comforter”, for instance. What aspect of the gentleman is to be comforted? Franklin tried to help us past that fear by setting us to knit something in class from an old pattern, without telling us what it was.

I think I might begin by going back systematically through his articles in Knitty, maybe even printing them. You can get a list of them by searching Knitty for “Franklin Habit”. Here’s the “neckerchief” my partner and I were assigned to deconstruct in class. The articles are fascinating, Franklin’s curiosity and tenacity truly wonderful. Maybe one day a book?

Which reminds me – Arne & Carlos now have a book of Easter knits. That’s three books within a year, by my count – I was knitting Christmas tree ornaments from their first one just 12 months ago, and we’ve had a book of dolls in between. Come on, boys – it’s sweaters we’re waiting for.

While I was there, Amazon led me on to this. I had to have it.

The new IK has turned up – nice enough, but nothing I want to knit except perhaps some hats.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thank you for your kind comments.

The next question is, how to commemorate the day? During the lace session in the morning, Franklin gave us a pattern of his own to work on while he talked. I made a mess of mine, but Shandy finished hers and includes it in her blog entry. My first thot was to buy some madelinetosh Prairie from the selection upstairs and knit it as a scarf.

[The class, when one stops to think about it, started with how-to-knit-lace, covered the major European traditions – Shetland, Orenburg, and Haapsalu – and included some interesting tips on designing, with beautifully-executed samples of his own work. Franklin is an accomplished and many-faceted man.]

But then, over lunch, Shandy astonished and delighted me with the gift of a skein of Susan Heath yarn. A new name to me. I won’t try to photograph it – follow the link. (I think this page, of “autumnal, sun-kissed colours”, must include mine.)

The afternoon class was about knitting from old patterns – the sort of thing he does in his regular columns in Knitty. A book to come? We began, unexpectedly, when some actual Victorian knitting – done by Franklin, of course – was distributed to the class. We were set to deconstruct it. Where did it start? How was it done? Where did it finish? (Ours looked simple, a little triangular garter stitch shawl in two colours. My partner got it – cast on the entire lower edge, add the centre colour intarsia-wise. I was thinking about knitting strips and picking up stitches.)

The class went on to talk about Victorian needles and yarn – the man is a serious and meticulous historian of knitting – before we were set to knit a mystery item from an antique set of instructions. I did better on that than I had with the lace in the morning.

So might the beautiful skein Shandy gave me become something from an old pattern? Something usable. A hat? I have one antique book myself, an 1843 edition of Mrs Gaugain. But there is lots of digitized material on-line – Franklin gave us the major URLs. It had never really occurred to me before that I might actually knit from such a source. But now I feel empowered.

I might also mention that I discovered, right at the beginning of the day, that I have been doing the long-tail cast on wrong all these years. More years than Franklin has been alive. Well, not wrong. Nothing is wrong in knitting except splitting a stitch. But not optimally. I make a slip knot and, thereafter, wrap the long tail around my left thumb, stitch by stitch,  and knit it on to the needle.

Franklin did something cat’s-cradle-like. Other people in the class seemed to regard this as normal. I’m sure I can find it on YouTube. This is the irreplaceable gain of an actual day with actual people, knitting. One sees and learns things.