Wednesday, July 31, 2013

We’re having a splendid time, somewhat tinged with sadness for all of us, I think, in realising that it won’t be like this ever again. Greek Helen has seized control, organising the cooking and summoning tradesmen where things need to be done (where my husband and I just make lists). And child labour has been impressed to get quite a bit done outdoors.

Archie and my husband, tidying a half-fallen tree on the west lawn: 

We are overrun with deer. I don’t think a day has passed without one of us seeing some, either in the garden or visible from it. And the garden is full of their droppings (I’m sure there’s a technical term). Just exactly like a kitchen infested with mice except that deer are prettier.

The Beast of Strathardle

One of the children, walking home over the stubble field, found the corpse of a recently-dead lamb, apparently savaged by a large-ish animal. Attentive readers will remember that when we first went up in April, we found the leg of a deer in the kitchen garden, and, on a later visit, the leg of a lamb on the west lawn.

The farmer took the news calmly. I guess you have to be pretty calm to be a farmer. He said that lambs are rather prone to SIDS and this one could have been mangled after death by a fox. He also said that he had seen what looked like a panther on the hills above Cultalonie two years ago, but keeps quiet about it because people wouldn’t believe him. The boy who cuts our grass and found the lamb’s leg, said the same thing.

Prince George of Cambridge

I have been horrified, absolutely horrified, to discover that the prince was shown to the world in a store-boughten shawl. Experts agree that this was it, although the first reports said that it was the cashmere shawl from the same maker, as chosen by Victoria Beckham. (British readers will know; I’m not going to explain.) A couple of days ago, there was a coy line on the website about increased demand for the cashmere shawl due to recent events. Emphasis now seems to have shifted to the cheaper one.

All that was required for this occasion was a simple hap shawl, which thousands of knitters would have been overjoyed to be commissioned to produce. You want cashmere, madam, I’ll do you cashmere. Perhaps I should rejoice for G.H. Hurt.

Then the Mirror newspaper came up with this, claiming that Prince William himself, and his father, had shawls from G.H. Hurt. Really? Prince Charles was born in Buckingham Palace, I’m pretty sure, and I’m even more sure that he wasn’t displayed to the world in the forecourt of the palace by the Princess his mother or the Duke of Edinburgh or anybody else. There must have been an early Beaton photograph of the Princess smiling into a cradle. It’s hard to believe a machine-made shawl was visible.

I am being curmudgeonly.


Amongst the pile of mail on the mat when we got back yesterday was a nice letter from Barack and Michelle congratulating me on my forthcoming 80th birthday. I suspect Theo’s fine Italian hand has been at work again. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

All set, I guess.

I phoned Helen. She was on a motorway, she said, between Rheims and Calais. Her plan is to spend tonight – and maybe last night? – with her husband’s mother in Cheshire, introducing the boys to a new baby cousin, and then come on to Strathardle tomorrow. Where we will be.

Rain is forecast – it is much needed.

I’m within hailing distance of the toe of the 1st Pakokku sock. I think I’m going to take along not only it, but another skein of Pakokku in case I finish these socks. I need to get back to Relax2, but I also need soothing.

My husband has a hospital appt on the 1st of August, so we’ll be back for a couple of days next week to accommodate that and draw breath. See you then.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Today’s first job was to straighten out a muddle on my husband’s computer. I think I’ve done it successfully, but time is curtailed.

And tomorrow’s, to go to Strathardle. Helen and her boys should be with us on Tuesday and after that I will adopt the life of a lotus-eater for nearly three weeks. It won’t be like that really, of course; husband to feed and worry about and pacify – but essentially, she’ll be in charge. Responsibility will be shared. Bliss.

Perhaps I’ll try to phone her today, to see how the trans-European journey is progressing. Mobile telephony has it uses.


Moving nicely on down the foot of the 1st Pakokku.

Donna (comment yesterday), it’s exciting to “meet” one of Herzog’s beta testers. This is a very interesting venture.

I had to go up to Boots for medicaments yet again yesterday, and treated myself to the new Rowan magazine while I was up there. I have grasped at last – this will be useful if I can hold on to it – that the even numbers are the preferred autumn issues. That is the opposite to the old – and equally undated – Vogue Knitting Books. They started off with No 1 in the autumn of 1932, and continued with odd numbers for autumn.

For knit-ability, I think I’d put Kate Davies’ “Nepal Wrap” tops: a triangular shawl with interesting stripes. And I agree with Kate herself, in a recent blog entry, in admiring Marie Wallin’s “Anatolia”, a wonderfully colourful “Fair Isle” – in the broadest sense of the term. It deviates occasionally from the Golden Rule: Only Two Colours at a Time. But the deviations are few enough, and far enough apart, and sufficiently worth having, that I think they would be bearable. One to think about.

There’s also an article about Kate, and some interesting material by her about steeking – both historical material, and instructional. The Kate Davies issue.

There’s a lot of Kidsilk Haze against which I have taken a life-time vow. But if that’s what you like, there it is.


I’ve finished Allingham’s non-fiction about village life during the war. There are some awfully good bits, most especially the account of a day trip to London made during the height of the blitz. The day began with an unusual daylight raid, so her conference with her publisher was conducted in the air-raid shelter under the building. The rest of the day was a disconcerting mixture of the absolutely familiar and the utterly destroyed. “There were few untidinesses, little of the jagged look I had imagined. Rather, complete smooth annihilation.”

At the end of the day she bought a newspaper from an old woman who had presumably been on her corner all day: “Cheer up. It’ll take ‘em a ‘ell of a time to knock it all down, dear.”

The train home ran on time, and likewise the connecting bus to her village.

Now I’ve reverted to reading Cathy’s new one, “Kate Sampson”’s “Carnaby”. It’s good. Where I am at the moment, the heroine has just arrived in Edinburgh, at a fictional address located, to judge from the post code, not far from the author’s parents-in-law’s real one. “It must be summer in Edinburgh too but it’s really cold.”

Saturday, July 20, 2013

I’m round the heel and swirling down the foot.


Mary Lou sent me P.D. James’ list – here it is:

Tragedy at Law, by Cyril Hare (1943)
● The Franchise Affair, by Josephine Tey (1949)
● The Moving Toyshop, by Edmund Crispin (1946)
● Murder Must Advertise, by Dorothy L. Sayers (1933)
● Dissolution, by C.J. Sansom (2003)

I think I’ve read them all except Sansom, so that goes on my list. Too often, looking in a bookshop for Catherine Sampson’s latest, I have found it not there and the space occupied by C.J. Sansom. I sort of resent him or her as a result, and have never read a syllable. But with an endorsement like that…

MaureenTakoma, I found (so to speak) “Talking About Detective Fiction” yesterday, before I got your comment, by googling “P.D. James Edmund Crispin”. It sounds as if it’s free to one’s Kindle, and I really ought to try to get it if only to consolidate the skills I acquired when I converted the .doc manuscript granddaughter Hellie sent me, into a real Kindle book.

(But today’s job is to figure out how to read a .docx attachment on my antiquated equipment.)

And, Kristie, I like your idea of producing a top-ten must-read list of my own. And it would be a LIST – the feature recommended by that silly article I read recently, about how to make your blog better. Does it have to be just thrillers? Perhaps two lists.

I’ll study the shelves when we get to Kirkmichael next week. A lifetime’s accumulation of light reading is mostly housed there. But I think I also want to do – perhaps a separate list –  Major Books that turn out not to be boring. Pride & Prejudice, Il Gattopardo, Trollope. The secret with him is to get past Barchester and Phineas Finn and all that stuff, out into the open air. You’d be surprised how good “The American Senator” is, and I’m greatly looking forward to “Orley Farm” at the moment. “Castle Richmond”, set in Ireland during the potato famine, is far from his best but the background is unforgettable.


I like the look of Amy Herzog’s Nantasket pattern. I also like the sound of her new venture, not yet launched – a website where you can go and open an account and type in your embarrassing measurements, and your gauge, and choose a pattern-type from a wide range. The software then generates a custom-fit pattern for you on the Herzog principles, and only then do you pay for it. Starting up in the autumn. We shall see.


Yesterday I discovered flatbread. You will be astonished – 80 years old and she didn’t know about flatbread? I can’t remember how I stumbled across it. The recipe is utterly simple – google, and you’ll even find it on cooking-for-students websites. And utterly biblical – that story about the prophet or angel who went to visit an old woman who had only some meal and some oil, so she made him a pancake and he arranged that she should have an ever-flowing supply of meal and oil so that she could go on making flatbread forever.

That’s the recipe (plus a bit of salt and some warm water). No leavening whatsoever. Dry-fry in a small pan. Then you can add some pizza-type toppings and put it in the oven for a while. I did that, but I don’t think toppings were available to the old woman in the Bible.

Friday, July 19, 2013

I’m exactly half-way through the Strong-Fleegle heel, increases done, ready to start turning. I left it there last night, being overwhelmed with tired.

Mary Lou, I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy The Moving Toyshop. Funny about memory, again: I remembered that Edmund Crispin wrote it, even before Southern Gal’s enthusiastic comment arrived. The detective is called Gervase Fen, I think. I remember (I think) what Edmund Crispin looked like in a deliberately silly picture on the back of that old green Penguin. But I can’t remember a word of the book, except a sense of enjoyment.

Time to read it again, except that my Current Reading is getting a bit like my WIP collection.

What I would be very grateful for, from you, is where to find P.D. James’ best-of-all-time list. I tried googling, and found lists by other people which include James. I’d very much like to see her pick.

Franklin – you don’t need a link, and the computer is being super-slow today – says he is about to offer a class called Snip ‘n’ Zip, about steeks and setting in zippers. He doesn’t rest on his laurels, that man. I left a comment begging for it to become a Craftsy class.

I’ve steeked for a long time, and am happy and confident with the technique, but I’d still like to see it in Franklin’s hands. Zippers, on the other hand, are as far as they can be from my comfort zone. I could never get them quite right in dressmaking, either. I never attempt them, now -- and there are designs I’d like to have a go at, those men’s sweaters with a short zip for the neck fastening, for instance, left artlessly half-open in the photograph.

You can do more or less the same thing with a placket and a couple of buttons, but it’s not nearly as sexy.

The armholes of the Grandson Sweater from a few years ago were steeked. I remember that there was little in the way of extra stitches for security, and I wondered if they would hold.  Joe seems to have worn it all the way through university without any difficulty.

Chilli-growing and other doorstep gardening

The Apaches have started reddening! The Scotch Bonnet is definitely about to flower. (I think I’ll have to take it along to Strathardle next week.) The big jalapeno continues to crop. I doubt if it’ll survive being left behind.

I’ve given up on huauzontle and made a second herb trough in its place – basil (from a supermarket pot), tarragon, sage, pot marjoram and rosemary. All well so far. We’ve had a second sorrel soup from the sorrel pot, and it already seems to be re-growing nicely. The nasturtiums in the first herb trough (parsley, chives, thyme) seem strangely reluctant to flower. The Welsh onions (or whatever they are) are plumping up nicely.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


A bit more about tennis. A columnist writes in the current issue of the Economist: “…a priest in the western Highlands who, while saying mass on the morning of the game, instructed [my] parents-in-law to pray that a ‘tiny but debilitating accident’ might befall Mr. Djokovic.”


Greek Helen seems to have embarked on her trans-european journey. She phoned from Bologna last night, concerned about an email conversation between me and Cathy to which she had been copied, about accommodation in Kirkmichael for the coming horror fortnight. I was able to reassure her, I think.

The hotel which is at the very heart of such picturesqueness as Kirkmichael commands, recently stood empty for a rather alarming number of years, four or five maybe. Then Angie bought it and converted it into lovely self-catering apartments and, apart from saving the village from what would have been a dreadful loss, has provided overflow accommodation for us ever since. The apartments can be hired on a day-to-day basis. It doesn’t have to be the usual Saturday-to-Saturday.

Those are from our postcard collection. The hotel is in the right foreground of the old card.

We’ve got the whole building for the weekend of the birthday party, starting on the Thursday, and substantial bits of it before and after that.

We tend to abandon the motorway when we drive to Kirkmichael, and go through Glen Farg where we pass the ruins of the Lomond Hotel. It’s an eyesore and something of a menace these days: demolition is its only possible destination. That’s what Angie saved us from.


I’ve abandoned all else for Allingham’s war memoirs. They are really rather good. Bombs are now falling, and she’s got half-a-dozen officers and their batmen billeted in her house, with the troops camping in the stubble field. They’re there in anticipation of the German invasion. From time to time, she absents herself from it all and goes to her study to work on her current thriller, feeling rather guilty.

She was the bread-winner. The household depended on those thrillers to pay the taxes and buy groceries. She has just (midsummer, 1940) finished the latest which turns out to be the first of the great ones, Traitor’s Purse.

She has a good story about the Commonwealth soldiers (Canadians, Australians) switching all the babies around in the pram park behind Woolworth’s. The mothers were distressed, but everybody else thought it was pretty funny.


Thank you for the kind words about the Mind the Gap socks. I’m really rather pleased with them.

It must be a very fundamental distinction in the human character, between those of us who knit fraternal twins with self-patterning yarn and those who unwind to get back to the original starting point, and knit identicals. I have never been even slightly tempted to do that, but lots of folk do.

I have now resumed the Pakokku’s and am, as hoped, speeding around the Fleegle-Strong heel. I can’t remember who advised yo’s for the increases, but I hope you’re still here to receive my heartfelt thanks. The eyelets look lovely. I will never do a top-down Fleegle-Strong any other way.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Summer plans continue to proliferate. Theo is coming (without his wife). We will have to take the group photograph to end ‘em all. There was once, only once, when my mother, late in her life, was on the same spot as her surviving children and grandchildren. We had a group photograph taken but she wasn’t interested  in it at all. My husband’s sister was also there (it was a wedding) and was “spitting mad”, she told us afterwards, that she wasn’t included in the picture.

Then what to do with the photograph? Too much for a mug. A clock? A tray? A chopping board? The answer is probably to create a 2014 calendar with the group on the cover. We’ll need to take enough other pictures through that week to fill 12 months. Shouldn’t be difficult.

Let’s concentrate on knitting.

The Mind the Gap socks are finished. Wonderful, no?

The Pakokku socks have been resumed. I might get to the heel shaping on the first of them today.

Amazon is getting better at tempting me. They came up with this, this morning: “Knitting Masterclass”. Customer reviews are enthusiastic. But do I need another book?

I have dissipated my time this morning, googling photographic chopping boards and planning accommodation for all these people when they get to Strathardle. I have many more interesting observations to make, but they will have to be postponed.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

My achievement for this morning has been to get to grips with Feedly. I think if I had switched over in time, it would have imported all my Google Reader stuff automatically. But I didn’t. Or whatever. Anyway, I’ve got it going now, although I’m not yet comfortable in the saddle. Next is to remember how to make it my go-to page when I load Google Chrome.

I have reached the toe-shaping of the 2nd Mind the Gap sock, as hoped, and should polish it off today. Then back to the Pakokku’s. I’m greatly looking forward to the Strong-Fleegle heel with YO’s – and therefore eyelets -- for the increases.

And that reminds me that I read somewhere very recently (but can’t give credit where it’s due, because I’ve forgotten the source) about a technique for the edges of a Stephen West-type shawl. The shawl is expanding furiously because of internal increases. The edge needs to be stretchy. Stephen warns in his Craftsy course about being very, very careful not to be too tight when changing colours for the stripes.

The technique was – is – to put in a YO on every row one or two stitches in from the edge, and to drop it on the following row. Sounds worth a try.

That’s about it for knitting this morning. I have a project mentally queued – HALFPINT isn’t quite the acronym wanted: I’ll make time for this one. I can’t tell you about it yet, except to say that I’m hovering around the Loopy Ewe website.


Allingham’s book about the war turned up yesterday. It’s interesting. She begins with the village itself, so like and so unlike the one I know in Perthshire. And then she spends quite a bit of time on the build-up to the war. I hadn’t realised that so much preparation was done in the year between Munich (“peace in our time”) and the actual outbreak of the war.

That’s as far as I’ve got – September, ’39. We still have the winter of the Phoney War to go, before bombs start falling.

It seems curiously dated – well, it would be. That’s the whole point. And – am I going too far here? – it is a hymn to an English myth, of a society where gentle and simple pull happily together, which was knocked into a cocked hat (as we say) by the General Election of 1945. That’s one of my memories of the war, the astonishing news that the British had voted Churchill out, even before the Japanese surrender. I would have been 11.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Tee-shirt weather continues, although admittedly it is somewhat overcast right here at the moment – and today is St Swithin’s day.

Here is a summer-y picture of grandson Fergus in Greece. It arrived yesterday.

It’s all beginning to happen. Helen and her family are back in Athens after a happy time on Pelion – see picture above. She phoned yesterday. She will soon set out to drive across Europe with her three boys, hoping to reach Strathardle on the 23rd. The Beijing Mileses are meanwhile in Cornwall, hoping for a couple of days in Edinburgh before taking up residence in Strathardle on the 27th.

Then there’s a week before the real excitement starts.

That’s what we need – dates, and plans. I am not sure when Helen’s husband David will join us – the summer pudding needs to be timed for his arrival. When we were there week-before-last, the berries were just beginning to redden and the netting seemed secure.

There is not much to report on the knitting front. The Curse of Sunday meant that I am still 20 rounds short of the toe-shaping on Mind the Gap Two. Not an impossible target for today.

Jimmy Bean has posted an interesting blog entry on sericulture, with many a tempting link to many an interesting yarn.


I have finished the late Le Carre I mentioned, The Secret Pilgrim. It’s a series of short stories, artfully threaded together. A farewell to the history of Russia and the West spying on each other, sounding rather our-of-date in these days of other fears.

I am now thoroughly engrossed in daughter-in-law Cathy’s new book, Carnaby. It’s a new departure for her, teen fiction. I am somewhat more than four times the target age, and I am finding it absorbing. I suspect it would be impossible for an author to do without a houseful of teenagers to draw from. It is smart and – despite an utterly depressing background, very convincingly conveyed – funny. And it’s also a well-constructed thriller.

More to follow, when I finish. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

There is but little to report. And it's Sunday, so time presses. I’m halfway down the foot of the 2nd Mind the Gap sock – another couple of sessions should polish it off. I love the way a sock is virtually finished, when you finish it.

So we’ll have to make do with some random thoughts.

1) Your comment the other day, Mary Lou, sounds rather as if I recommend Tiger in the Smoke and Put Out More Flags here every 18 months or so. No great harm done, if that is true. (The link is to a most useful tutorial on setting in sleeves.)

But here’s one I hope will be brand new to many: Diana Cooper’s three-volume autobiography, beginning with “The Rainbow Comes and Goes”. She was the daughter of the Duke of Rutland, famous for her beauty and wit. Indeed, I need tell you no more than that she is the acknowledged model for Evelyn Waugh’s Mrs. Stitch.

She came out as a debutante before the Great War. She knew all those famous young men who perished – Patrick Shaw Stewart, Edward Horner, and so on.  She lived a long time, and by the end of Volume Three is in the post-World-War-II world we all inhabit. And she writes extremely well.

We spoke the other day, at least I did, of fishing for compliments. Diana Cooper loved them in youth (don’t we all, throughout life?) and referred to them as “dewdrops”. Having remembered that, I took the book from the shelf to find the passage.

2) We learn that the gov’t is to abandon the “Liverpool Care Pathway”, the highroad to death. If ever there were an example of an unfortunate name, that is it. The actual protocol sounds exactly the same as the way my sister-in-law C. was treated in the last days of her life at the Marie Curie Hospice in south Edinburgh. It depends on skilled and attentive and sympathetic nursing, such as she had. I could ask no more than to have such a death.

Marks& Spencer, I read somewhere once, doubled the sale of its Leek & Potato soup when they stopped calling it Vichyssoise. I think our favourite soap opera of all time, El Dorado, might have survived if better named – it sounded like foreign muck, to the people who dislike foreign muck. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

I wasn’t fishing for compliments, honest – although all such are very gratefully received. I just meant that I’ll never be as big as Franklin or QueerJoe or the Yarnharlot (even if I put in some lists) but that we are happy with each other so it doesn't matter. I had a look at the statistics this morning, which I don’t often do, and I think you’re right that numbers have crept up a bit. Readership is in the high 400’s, occasionally topping 500 on days when things are slow at the office.

I’ve got to get back to work on Feedly, and also on Craftsy. I have a constant sense of guilt about not having done Franklin's homework.

I’ve turned the corner of the 2nd Mind the Gap sock, again making a good job of not having corner-of-gusset holes. There are still a couple of rounds to go before the gusset decreases are finished. This is the Bog Standard Heel – I’ve forgotten its technical name. Flap, turn heel, pick up stitches along flap edges, decrease to original number, knit on.

So for today, a report on doorstep gardening. I have learned a few things, and have big plans for next year.

Everybody’s fine except for the huauzontle, and something may come of that yet.

We’ve been having a spell of tee-shirt weather, the first in a very long time. There certainly was nothing like this in ’12, probably not in ’11. The chillis have been standing out on the doorstep night and day, and seem to be enjoying it. The Apaches have got the word about the solstice, and like the big jalapeno have stopped growing and flowering. Both are carrying a reasonable crop, but it’s not turning red yet.

The crop on the big jalapeno is reddening. The newest addition to the stable, the Scotch Bonnet plant I bought at the Botanic Gardens on June 2, has grown mightily and has now got flower buds. Small ones.

The sorrel pot has already produced one soup, and will be harvested for another within a few days. A success. And the plants – it’s perennial – will be transplanted to Strathardle at the end of the summer.

So will the onions. But what are they? 

In the Strathardle garden, I have two bunches of onions which look exactly like the textbook pictures of “Welsh onions”, allium fistulosum – thick, hollow stems, and flowers that look like textbook flowers. I also have about a dozen other bunches, no flowers, which I keep lifting and dividing. They are much more refined, one might put them halfway between chives and Welsh onions. I think some or most of them are the ones you gave me last year, Hat. There may be a few I grew from seed myself.

This year’s pot was grown from seeds I bought from the Real Seed Company, but their website is no help. So far, they look more like the Strathardle in-betweens than like Welsh onions. It is the in-betweens which I hope will eventually give me a perpetual source of “spring onions” for cooking. I use a lot. So this pot, too, will be transplanted to Strathardle soon whether or not it provides anything for cooking before then.

And the herbs flourish, including the thyme plants transplanted from a supermarket pot because neither B&Q nor the Botanic Gardens could sell me a little plant of culinary thyme. They are somewhere to the right, hidden under the nasturtiums, but they're doing fine.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Time for a bit of knitting.

I reached the heel flap of the 2nd Mind the Gap sock, and hope to whiz around it this evening. Well on target to give the socks to Lizzie when I see her next month, for her to take to Kansas not much later.

There may then be time to finish the Pakokku socks for my sister, whom I’ll also see. But there are slips twixt cup and lip.

I had sort of hoped at one stage, to have Relax2 ready to go in mid-August for this birthday business. That’s less likely.

Jared has published a Men’s Collection as you probably know. His Look Books are wonderfully orchestrated. The passing of the summer solstice reminds one uncomfortably of Christmas and death – but there are consolations. Crisp September days, and winter knitting. They’re on their way. It is certainly a time of year when one gets a bit of a second wind. It is wise of the Jews, I always feel, to locate the New Year there.

And I found this – Ochos Locos, Crazy Eights – in Zite this morning, and have bought and printed. (That’s a Raverly link.)  Easy! Fun! Malabrigo! It will certainly appear on my Christmas list this year.

I have begun to realize that if I want to have a look at Be Inspired Fabrics, as I certainly do, I’m going to have to make an effort. We get about less and less these days, as feebleness increases. The endless need for meals at times inconvenient for the rest of the world, and for a nap in the afternoon, means that there are no substantial gaps in the day. My husband doesn’t mind being left with a sandwich lunch, however – I think I’d better do that, one day next week before the avalanche begins to descend.

I will certainly report on it when I get there, as on Allingham’s non-fiction about life in Essex in ’40-’41. I’m greatly looking forward to that. Another book from the same moment – and oh! what a treat if you haven’t read this one, but I’m sure you all have – is Evelyn Waugh’s “Put Out More Flags”. It was published in ’42,  I think, but written in those very dark days between Dunkirk and Pearl Harbor. It is surely his happiest book, and perhaps the funniest. [“That’s wonderful, darling,” she said, her heart sinking.]

I read something recently – Zite, again, I think – about what “craft blogs” need to do to be successful. I am sure there is no hope for me – we are stuck with each other, we few, we happy few, we band of brothers. One of the recommendations, however, was Lists and that reminded me of my favourite of all time, Franklin’s list of Stasher Movies.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

It looks as if you’re right again, Hat. I looked up Ann Jones’ Wikipedia entry – a distinguished career in tennis, but no mention of any award. She was more or less our neighbour in Birmingham when she won her great victory (I don’t mean that we ever met her). I remember the match – she beat Billie Jean King, as formidable an opponent as you could ask for, right up there with Mr Djokovic. The final point was a double fault from BJK, I’m pretty sure.

So the difficulties confronting the men-in-suits grow larger by the day.

If yesterday’s post was an essay on memory, today’s is about reading.

Our earlier conversation set me looking for our own copy of Howard’s End. It must be here somewhere. I briefly considered buying Susan Hill’s “Howard’s End is on the Landing” – I love her – but then I decided it was better to read than to read about reading.

I never did find Howard’s End. I hit upon Margery Allingham’s Tiger in the Smoke. I re-read it in a gulp while we were in Strathardle last week. What a treat you have in store, if you have never read it! Not much less of one, if it’s time for you to re-read it.

The best of her books – and that one is probably the best of the best – are utterly anchored in time. Not just background: the events in Tiger could only have happened in the immediate post-war years. Traitor’s Purse is another such, written during the war. The McGuffin is brilliant – Mr Campion wakes up in hospital at the beginning, not knowing who or where he is but aware that he has something important to do.

And the Dastardly Plot he eventually foils, is brilliant too. I believe reviewers at the time said that it was very clever, but a bit OTT. And then it turned out, after the war, that the Germans had had the same idea.

I have discovered just now, in clicking about to find out whether it was “Marjorie” or “Margery”, that she published a work of non-fiction,  “The Oaken Heart”, in 1941, about life in her Essex village when the invasion was expected with every full moon. I’ve ordered it.

I’m reading several things at once, at the moment. One of them – how’s this for grown-up? – hasn’t been published yet. It’s called “Before the Fall” and will be published next year. It is set in London during the Great War. Granddaughter Hellie, the literary agent, who is handling it, sent it to me as a .doc attachment and – here’s the grown-up bit – I have succeeded, with her help, in converting it into a proper book for the Kindle app on my iPad. It’s good.

I’m also reading a late John LeCarre, on paper, and something else which I will tell you about soon.

I got on fine with the socks yesterday, and should get very near the second heel this evening.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

More tennis

You’ve hit the nail on the head, Hat – only an OBE for Virginia Wade. And, presumably, for Ann Jones. (Both, for the benefit of the non-initiated, won the Wimbledon singles title, relatively recently; but both, as their names suggest, were only women.) The men-in-suits are going to have to give some thought to that one.

You’re allowed not to watch tennis, Roobeedoo. I can go you one better – on July 30, 1966, we took our four children to clamber on the ruins of Kenilworth Castle, the sort of thing we often did with them – while all of England was watching television.

The interesting thing is that that afternoon has something of the quality of one of those memories that gets burned into the mind. I’m sure you know what I mean – the moment when you heard of a birth or a death (and sometimes, quite trivial moments as well) get remembered along with where you were standing and how the furniture was arranged. It is as if our outing to Kenilworth was impressed on my memory not by anything that was significant to me, but by the national excitement which was fizzing in the air and the strange quiet of the afternoon. Maybe July 7, 2013, will turn out to be the same for you.

This is turning into an essay on memory. Yesterday I read the obituary of the woman who was one of the four Glasgow students who stole the Stone of Scone from under the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, 1950. Now there was an exploit! Quite apart from all other considerations, the Stone is very heavy.

I’ve read their book, No Stone Unturned. They buried it in a field in England and left it there for some months, while the English closed the border for the first time in centuries and searched all cars. When things quieted down a bit, they dug it up and took it home, under the driver's seat of a small car. When I became a Glasgow student myself, in 1954, I was proud to be associated, however remotely, with such an endeavour.

They wanted to give it back from Scone Palace, but the Earl of Mansfield, who lives there, wouldn’t play ball, so they left it in the ruins of Arbroath Abbey instead.

I remember reading about it in the New York Times, there in West Allenhurst, NJ, that Christmas Day or the next day. I was near the end of my first term at Oberlin. It was the last time our family was together – my father told me he was leaving as I was getting on the train to go back to Ohio. That’s one of those memories, mentioned above – the cold, and the dark station platform. Dark, I am sure --but it's a long way to Ohio. I was presumably catching a suburban train to NYC. Where did I spend the night, and how proceed? Memory fails entirely.

And maybe the last-ness of that Christmas has entwined itself with the memory of the stealing of the Stone.

(The English eventually gave it back. It’s here in Edinburgh Castle – I think. Somewhere around, anyway.)


I finished ribbing the second Mind the Gap sock. I think ribbing is more tedious when it comes first. But it’s done! On with the sock!

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Back to real life – that post-solstice, post-Wimbledon moment which has its own special quality.

First, however, a little more about Sunday.

Here are Rachel and her younger son Joe, on Henman Hill, looking rather hot:

This must be another mobile-telephone job. I'm not going to struggle to get it upright. You'll just have to turn your computer on its side.

Anyone in Britain with the mildest interest in tennis – maybe, anyone around the world – knows that Andy Murray’s mother Judy is permanently in the frame. It said in the Telegraph yesterday that Mr and Mrs Murray divorced when Andy was 10. What I hadn’t known was that Andy and Jamie subsequently lived with their father – through the whitewater years of adolescence, therefore.

That shadowy figure was at Wimbledon on Sunday, I believe. It must be his own choice to keep away from the media. Judy is everywhere, and her parents do a grandparental turn on the Scottish news when required.

I heard on the radio this morning that there is a potential problem because Andy Murray is too young for a knighthood. It will be interesting to see how the men-in-suits resolve that one. He’ll have to get one in the end, for “services to tennis”, and when he does, it will be essentially because of what he did day before yesterday – so, surely, they ought to give it to him now?

That’s good, Knitlass, about walking along the street on Sunday and hearing the cheers from every open window. But how could you tear yourself away long enough to go outdoors? I can tell you that on that beautiful Sunday afternoon, not a racket was lifted at the Drummond Tennis Club –  I know that because I can see the court from my kitchen window, and I had to go there from time to time to get another bottle of cider.

And your blog provides the perfect segue into knitting, through your reference to Be Inspired Fabrics. I’ll pinpoint it on my A-to-Z today, and schedule a visit as soon as possible. A new high-end yarn shop in Edinburgh! My cup runneth over!

Well, not much knitting got done last week. Indeed, you may feel I have been avoiding the subject. Here are the Mind the Gap socks:

It is rather wonderful, what a cheerful collection of stripes the London Tube Map provides. I had always sort of assumed that the colours were chosen for distinctness, so that you could follow your line from one edge of the city to another. But what results undoubtedly forms a jolly harmony.


Hat, that’s a great comfort, what you say about the Babington leeks. There is not time, now, for me to get started on allium fistulosum and allium fistulum and related problems. I used to think, until I was 65 or so, that botanical names were set in stone since Linnaeus. The truth seems to be more fluid, and more complicated.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Wimbledon 2013

Well – who could talk about knitting, on a morning like this? And yet it’s odd, not at all like the year-long glow that follows one of Scotland’s rare wins of the Calcutta Cup. What does Mr Murray do now? He’s got all the money a young man could require, and a pleasant girlfriend, and he’s won Wimbledon. Does he go on with the gruelling routine?

In what might be called my Commonplace Book, I have a clipping from March, ’89, when Desert Orchid won the Cheltenham Gold Cup. His owner said, late that evening, “Success is a funny thing. It sort of dissolves in front of you.”

Rachel was there. She enters the Wimbledon draw every year – if you get anything, you get what they give you. This year, she got Men’s Final Day – a seat on Number One court. We’ll never know what was going on there, because of course she spent the day on Henman Hill. And had a good time, I think – she phoned in the evening, sounding cheerful – despite the fact that she doesn’t like Mr Murray or his mother or his girlfriend, and was cheering for Djokovic.

“Which would you rather?” I said – “to tell them in years to come that you were there when Djokovic won his second Wimbledon title, or that you were there in 2013, when Andy Murray won?” She wasn’t impressed.

On Henmen Hill, you can hear the crowd shouting on Centre Court, and watch the action on a huge television screen. She says that when the camera strayed to the Prime Minister, as it occasionally did, Henman Hill boo’ed. Interesting, I thought.

And I was proud of Mr Murray for speaking of his victory as a British win. Rachel said he had to, but I feel you don’t have to do anything, when you’ve just won Wimbledon. He could have ranted on for Scotland if that had been his choice. I thought Mr Salmond looked a bit ridiculous with his divisive saltire. But then, I don’t like Mr Salmond.

Well, what else?

We had a successful few days in Strathardle, brilliant weather. ‘Successful’ means, nowadays, that we got back and are still on our feet. It's scary, all right. It is sad to see my vegetable patch in such a state of dereliction. But on the other hand, we saw deer three times (maybe four) in those few days. If one saw mice in one’s kitchen in that concentration, one would have to conclude that one was infested.

I have probably said here before that I don’t begrudge their coming down from the hills and polishing off the Brussels sprouts in the winter. But all-the-year-round deer are a new and a most unwelcome phenomenon. And one cannot hope to grow vegetables, in the circumstances, without a deer fence.

But I’m making progress with Welsh onions. My aim is to have so many that I can dig them up whenever I want “spring onions” to cook with. I’m making progress. The deer ate them down to the ground last autumn, but they came back, as I thought they would. Hat, the Babington leeks are looking poorly, but they’re there, safely ensconced in the vegetable cage. I crawled in and weeded them tenderly.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Off to Strathardle

Blogger has suddenly required me to provide a title. 

I’m glad we took the extra day. I feel somewhat rested, and the sun is shining this morning which makes me feel braver. Off we go. Back perhaps Sunday. Indeed we could drive back Sunday morning and be here in time for the final.

I’ve turned the heel of Mind the Gap. I should surely finish the whole sock in a couple more days. It’s looking good. I’ll take the Pakokku sock along, just in case – nothing would be worse than running out of knitting.

I think the only two things I’ve learned about knitting from fellow human beings, as opposed to books, are:

1)      to cast on over two needles when a stretchy edge is particularly desirable, as for a sock. I think a fellow-knitter at Hampton elementary school in Detroit told me that one.
2)      to avoid the dread Gusset Hole by knitting up an extra stitch into the horizontal bars between the two needles. I take two or even three bars and twist them. Then decrease the extra stitch on the next round. That one was from Margaret McCormick of Brookline, I think.

I’ve made a particularly neat job of this first Mind the Gap sock, if I do say so.

Someone must have taught me to knit in the first place. I have no memory of that, or very little. It was probably my father’s mother. She lived in a small town in Michigan (Constantine) and we saw her often in our Detroit years, and she knit big heavy uncomfortable scratchy sweaters for me. I remember being given a knitting needle with stitches on it, and moving them one by one to another needle – but nothing happened, so there wasn't much future in that.

I cringe at the memory of my mother encouraging me to wear a big heavy uncomfortable scratchy sweater by saying it would make me a “sweater girl”. Early ‘40’s, this was.

For quite a while, in the early days, I twisted my purl stitches. I remember being puzzled by that, long after Detroit. I don’t remember how I figured out what was wrong.

New Topic

There has been talk here recently about what might be called reading-from-stash. Someone has written a book about doing it. I don’t think I could bear it. I could knit from stash for a year or so, forever if I had to – just let me order in a bit more madelinetosh before we start. But I would panic if required to stay within these walls for reading. There are plenty of books here to read – lots of unread Trollope, to begin with, whom I adore. Loved authors to re-read, Jane Austen, Evelyn Waugh, Pirandello, Horace, Barbara Pym.

The nice man from Pickford’s who moved us in here 20 years ago, said that he had moved many a clergyman in his day but had never seen so many books.

Maybe I had better retrieve from memory or Amazon, that book by the female writer about attempting such a feat. Title such as, Henry James is on the Landing. Did she panic?


I’ve started introducing myself to Feedly. It looks and feels good, but I haven’t entirely grasped the ins-and-outs yet.

Happy Fourth, people.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Mind the Gap

You’re absolutely right, MrsAlex, that stripe was dark blue. I should have seen it, at least in the morning when I was taking the picture.

I’m not quite sure what we’ll be doing today. The sky is grey, the forecast for later in the week is much better, my husband wasn’t entirely well yesterday, the calendar is clear. Maybe we should stay here and potter about. I’m tired, but I’m always tired these days. I went with our niece on a five-mile walk in February, just before Lent – the day the Pope announced that he was going to retire. Could I do it now?

Both knitting and tennis went well yesterday. Murray won in straight sets again, but putting it like that belies the tension of the second set, when things went badly awry during un mauvais quart d'heure as the sock hung inertly from my hand. Later on Djokovic had a bit of a second set of his own – he actually lost a service game – but not as bad as Murray’s.

(What will they do at Wimbledon today? Everybody you ever heard of has either been eliminated, or played yesterday – or both.)

But in the evening I finished the leg, knit the heel flap, and started turning the heel. We’re going for the plain vanilla internalised heel pattern this time. When I explained to my husband why I had a London A-Z with the tube map on the back cover, lying on the table in front of me, he asked whether anybody was going to understand. But I explained that the socks were for Lizzie to wear in Denver, and he was happy with the answer.

I’d rather be here, not Strathardle, on Sunday, for the men’s final. But I ought to be able to get it on my iPad if I put my mind to it. When we were all at Alexander and Ketki’s house at Easter, we watched the Boat Race on our iPads, since (as in Strathardle) there is no television there. That most boring of sporting events which has such a hold on Londoners and on my husband. I can’t find a picture of us doing it, no doubt because we were all so intent on the breathless excitement of it that nobody was free to hold a camera, but here is the table on which iPads were shortly afterwards deployed:

I think I remarked here once that it is impossible to take a picture of happiness, but that one comes pretty close. I think that's probably me, totally obscured by Thomas the Elder, sitting between Ketki in her pink gansey and Hellie's boyfriend Matt. I always like to sit next to Matt if it can be arranged.

(Television signals are perfectly available in Strathardle and on the shore of Loch Fyne. The eschewing of them is a Miles family eccentricity.)

Thank you for your help on replacements for Google Reader. I did nothing about it yesterday, but if – as I increasingly think would be a good idea – we stay here quietly today, I’ll get to work.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Here’s the Mind the Gap sock:

Isn’t it wonderful? I seem to be doing another Northern Line black stripe at the moment, but I can see from the ball that Hammersmith and City pink and Metropolitan purple are still to come – so the repeat isn’t an absolutely simple sequence. And what’s that pale grey?

This is a lot of fun, and if I’m able to put in any tennis-time with the television today, I should wind up not far from the heel. But I’ve got to get up the hill to get some insulin from Boots (and perhaps fit in a look at the new Rowan magazine) which will take up the bulk of the afternoon.

The current hope is to go to Strathardle tomorrow. The sock will come along. And the time after that, Greek Helen will be here. She will be driving across Europe in easy stages with all three boys (but not David, still at work), leaving in a fortnight or so and hoping to arrive in Kirkmichael on the 23rd.

So I’d better have a look upstairs to see what state the beds are in.


I should have been paying more attention. Google Reader has suddenly been withdrawn, as I’m sure you know. I had been drifting along thinking it would be here until the whole iGoogle thing went down in November. There’s no other iGoogle feature in which I have the slightest interest.

So what now? I need that list of who’s-posted every morning.

I seem to have run out of steam