Wednesday, July 23, 2014

No cosseting, after all. Alexander has decided to postpone his visit to Strathardle until next week, largely because Helen and her boys are likely to be late tonight, so the first evening of his visit would be wasted. At least in that respect.

We are planning to proceed on our own. But I've just had an email from Helen's husband (in Thessaloniki, I presume) suggesting that we wait until tomorrow so that we don't have to open the house or to be there alone. Helen herself, he says, is on a train from somewhere to Paris at the moment and out of email contact – fancy French trains being inferior to British in any respect! She will join her sons somewhere in Cheshire, where they are staying with their other grandmother, and set off from there by hired car in mid-afternoon. She fears that the Commonwealth Games may interfere with traffic.

I am undecided. However late, wouldn't they be glad of Nigella's braised chicken with vegetables in broth? [You're right about teen-aged boys and their proclivity for eating, Mary Lou – and Helen has three of them!] The sooner someone gets started picking those red currents, the better – I fear it may be almost too late. Opening the house is scarcely arduous in the summer. On the other hand, I am slightly nervous about the drive, and it is always tempting to put off until tomorrow what you could perfectly well do today.

On a happier, or at least, more decisive, note – Alexander and Ketki's elder son James is in DC. He flew out on Monday, all by himself. This carries on a tradition established by my mother who invited each of our children to the US for a fortnight when they were 11. My sister has nobly extended it to our grandchildren. She has nearly reached the end of the list. I'll probably be cold in my grave by the time Ted is 11, but I am sure he will be made welcome on this side of the pond.

Here are the first pictures of James in the UsofA – with my sister and, of course, Ted.

As for knitting, another good day. The fourth and final rank of yowes are established on the Rams&Yowes blankie. I've done 50 bumps of the edging of the Unst Bridal Shawl, a quarter of the job – and I've finally attached that 7th (and surely last) ball of yarn.

I've just been reading the Socklady'sblog, a frequent pleasure and constant inspiration. If she can laugh off a black bear, I can drive to Strathardle. You'll know what I decide by whether or not I'm here tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

All continues well. If I can keep on schedule, I'll establish the fourth and final rank of yowes on the Rames & Yowes blankie this evening. And the border of the Unst Bridal Shawl continues to edge forward – still without finishing that sixth ball of yarn. It can't possibly survive another session.

But it deserves to be recorded, how very light this yarn is – J&S Shetland Supreme 1-ply lace weight. Sharon specifies 9 25-gram balls of something or other. I'll have used 6. The seventh, soon to be attached, is only necessary because I will have knit the edging twice.

I've heard from the distant knitter who I thought – see yesterday – was knitting the same thing, but it turns out she's knitting an Unst Stole the pattern for which I hope to locate in Heirloom Knitting today. We have had a lively exchange of views, nonetheless.


Thank you for your help with Games Weekend catering. I like the idea of emailing them for menu suggestions. Specific people, asking for a plan for a specific meal. You're absolutely right, Mrs A: “Meal planning has to be one of the most difficult of domestic tasks”.

Until recently, we followed exactly your plan, Lou. Each of the meals was assigned to a different party – I'm responsible for the picnic to be eaten on the field, so to speak, which depends on getting a car down there in a good position the night before, full of beer. But this year the house will be empty until virtually the last moment – no one will be in a position to shop let alone think. The final plan is that Granddaughter Lizzie (she of the University of Kansas) will be here in Edinburgh that week with a friend, for a bit of Fringe. She'll drive up with us on the Thursday, so at least I'll be in position for one day to shop and think. Thinking always goes better there.

Meanwhile this coming week is shaping up nicely. The plan is to assemble in Strathardle tomorrow evening, us, Helen and her boys, Alexander and one of his. I have bought a chicken which was a personal friend of Prince Charles's in life. This time I won't roast it (Jamie Oliver, “Jamie's Dinners”) but poach it (Nigella, “Kitchen”, “My mother's praised chicken”). She's right, it goes much further that way, and Helen, although vegetarian, is not Hindu – her main concern is animal welfare, and I think she'll eat the vegetables in their broth. I'll lay on a bean salad as well, just in case.

But yesterday Alexander phoned, suggesting he pick us up in the late afternoon tomorrow and that we eat in a restaurant somewhere on the way, Perth or Blairgowrie, meeting up with Helen and her party if we can swing it. What a luxury! The chicken can wait until Thursday. This kind of cosseting by one's dear children is what my poor mother always hoped for from me and my sister, and rarely or never got. Dutiful help, yes, especially from my sister, but not spontaneous cosseting.

The summer pudding is a bit of an anxiety – we can but see. Helen didn't pick the red currents when she was there last week. She had thought of leaving them behind, frozen. Are they now too ripe?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Today was meant to be just a plain vanilla Day – but my husband has a podiatry appt tomorrow, so that means a Foot Wash today. Not as bad as a bath, but not trivial. Then, on Wednesday, Strathardle.

How did life get to be so difficult? Gilbert and Sullivan again, this time the Pirates:

Frederick: Your face is lined, your hair is grey.
       Ruth: It's gradually got so.

Rachel phoned last night, looking forward rather gloomily to the Games [the Strathardle Highland Gathering, on the fourth Saturday in August]. Gloomy because of all the driving – she and Ed are older than they used to be, just like us – and wondering how we can possibly manage without Helen. The Greeks are all going back to Athens in early August this year. The Lord will provide (five successive meals for a dozen people or so), I said. She thought Helen would have been a better bet.

Knitting continues to move forward. Three-rounds-a-day, for Rams and Yowes, is proving an excellent idea. I knit them with alacrity, keen to finish my stint. And with yarn this heavy – it's only DK, but that seems heavy to a lace knitter – the pattern moves forward at a satisfactory pace. The third rank of yowes now has faces. A new background colour appears on the scene today.

Kristie sent me this valuable Ravelry link to someone who sort of gave up on the border. It's good to have that idea up my sleeve. I am assuming, as I march onwards, that the border will be easier and pleasanter knitting. I won't have to struggle to push the stitches about, once I've only got one colour on the needles. I don't mind a million stitches and tedium, as long as the knitting is easy. We shall see.

Apart from other considerations, Edinburgh has been warm enough these last few days – believe it or not – that Rams & Yowes is uncomfortable on that account.

And the border of the Unst Bridal Shawl moves forward. The yarn in the sixth ball is still not extinguished. There was a tantalising post to the HeirloomKnitting group in Yahoo this morning, from someone in exactly my position – she's been doing it since January, she's knitting the edging. But I can't remember how to get into the Yahoo Groups files – I get the posts as emails – so I have written to her.

And actually, I must be a wee bit ahead. a) because I've already knit the edging,and then discarded it – that doesn't really count; and b) because I'm ¼ of the way around, knitting the edging on, whereas she has just started. She probably has far fewer mistakes and I keenly look forward to seeing her pictures and corresponding with her. Isn't the internet wonderful?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Arne and Carlos are delightful – that will hardly come as a revelation.

I had a nice time. It felt very odd, setting out on my own for an adventure like that. It went well, although I felt a bit bewildered-old-lady throughout. The event was a – forum, would you call it? – at which five designers (counting A&C as one) each spoke for ten minutes, and then there were some questions, and then we went home. I didn't learn anything, but it was fun. And well-attended.

I think Arne and Carlos must spend a good deal of time, nowadays, travelling around the world being delightful. They speak, almost, in alternate sentences in what must be a practised act but sounds spontaneous. Except for the introduction, explaining which of them is which, they speak entirely of themselves in the first person plural.

The effect is very much like that duet of Marco and Giuseppi's in The Gondoliers:

Replying, we/sing as one/ individ/ual
As I/ find I'm a/ king, to my/ kingdom I/ bid you all.

They began, one gathers, as designers for various outlets, including Comme Des Garcons. Fame came when they knitted some Christmas baubles, intending them as decorations for the Paris shop, and found that they were being sold for a great deal of money. Bugger this, they thought (expressed more politely), and went to their publisher with the idea for the Christmas Ball book. Now that their hobby, knitting, has become their profession, they have been forced to take up gardening in order to have a hobby, they said.

I doubt if it was quite as simple as that. I've done a bit of belated Googling, and have found

(a) that they have a lot of patterns available on Ravelry, including the signature Space Invaders design which Arne wears on the cover of the Christmas Ball book, and Carlos, in a different version, on the Easter cover;

and (b) that they have already published the book I have been waiting for – Strikk fra Setesdal. That's the one that will be published in English in September as “Norwegian Knits with a Twist”.

Much is explained. They were just cute Norwegian designers until they stumbled upon Christmas balls. They followed that international success with dolls and with Easter. They told us about a competition held (I think) in Germany once, to promote the doll book, in which contestants were invited to knit themselves. A&C were invited along to choose the winner – only to discover that they were also the prize. The winner got to go out to dinner with them, and a good time was had by all.

Their English is faultless. I suspect German and French are as good. Arne faltered once, not knowing the English for a plant he gathers in the mountains and spins into yarn with wool. Some sort of flax? It's a Norwegian plant, Carlos said.

The designers were already in place behind a table when we were let into the auditorium. A&C were knitting, garter stitch squares I think for a blanket the Museum was assembling as part of the Knitting weekend. Arne appeared to be by far the more proficient knitter.

Despite great weariness, I got my self-assigned knitting done here in the evening – three more rounds of Rams and Yowes, and another bump for the edging of the Unst Bridal Shawl. The third rank of yowes are acquiring faces. The sixth ball of lace yarn has only a few yards to go, and will surely give up the ghost this evening.

Some very odd computer behaviour here, about which I need to consult you.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Today is Arne and Carlos Day!

It is not entirely easy for me to get away from the house. Doing it twice in three days is most unusual. Saturday is particularly tricky because of the need to have four meals lined up in advance, planned and shopped-for, instead of just two. I think forward planning could make my life easier – it's the constant thinking that's hard. Like Christopher Robin pulling Pooh Bear behind him bumpity bump down the stairs – there must be a better way.

The new knitting system has worked for another day – three rounds of Rams&Yowes, and then freedom. I've now established the third rank of yowes (out of four) in this final section. That means I'm nearly halfway through the section. “Nearly”, because the final rank of yowes have legs which take up a few more rounds.

So the edging of the Unst Bridal Shawl continues to inch forward. I've done 43 bumps – 50 will mean I'm (about) ¼ of the way around. Ball-of-yarn No. 6, the June ball, is still not quite finished, but can't possibly hold out much longer.

The lead story in Zite this morning is, by a nice irony, How to Knit an Easy Baby Blanket. When I tried to pursue the matter, the screen went not just blank, but black, and so far I have been unable to resurrect it, although the iPad seems to be functioning properly on other fronts. There was a brief, heart-piercing image on the news last night of a twisted and blackened iPad amongst the detritus from the Malaysian plane shot down in the Ukraine.

I don't think I've mentioned that James, during his recent visit, turned out to have in his luggage a spare booster, and when he heard of my failure to re-install ours after we upgraded to blisteringly fast download speeds, he fetched it out and installed it and life is much improved. But that doesn't help with Zite's tantalising failure this morning.


I've finished Old Filth. Jane Gardam hands out easy deaths to her characters rather more generously than do the powers above, but otherwise it's terrific. I'm about to read the next, the same story from the wife's point of view, The Man in the Wooden Hat. But before that I am reading a collection of her short stories, Going Into a Dark House, for the sake of the one you mentioned, Stashdragon, “The Meeting House”. It's good. They're all good. She's brilliant. But the cumulative effect of the stories is depressing, for whatever reason. Perhaps I need to deviate into Wodehouse for a moment.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Very successful walk, yesterday. I forgot to take my camera, but you can look up Linlithgow and get the general idea. We circumambulated the loch, didn't scramble in the ruins of the Palace (I doubt if it's allowed), did visit the adjacent, magnificent church of St Michael – as big and grand as many a cathedral, reminding us yet again of the savagery of the Reformation in Scotland. Not an image, not an artwork, not a fragment of glass remains. At least it's standing.

And that's not quite true. St Michael himself (the well-known archangel) is still to be seen in a high position outside. We were told that he was carved in situ, into the fabric of the church, and thus escaped smashing. Or perhaps the vandals stood somewhat in awe of him? The church in Scotland must have been very corrupt at the time, for so many people to have been keen to wreak such devastation. Or John Knox must have been a particularly compelling preacher. Or both. I need to tear myself away from novels and read a good book on the subject.

I missed seeing Helen and her family, who arrived yesterday after our niece and I had left. My husband's account was unsatisfactory, but Helen phoned in the evening – from Bristol, I think – and I am more or less conversant, now, with who's where and has which key, and what's happening next week.

She left behind the most magnificent rope of garlic I have ever seen. If you can buy it like that in Edinburgh, I don't know where, and I've tried, in my limited, geriatric way. I might give some to Alexander if he's lucky – he's involved in the plans for next week.

That's Gabriella, who comes on Fridays to try to rescue me from chaos.

As for knitting, that went well, too, despite tiredness. I did my three rounds of Rams and Yowes – I'm nearly finished with the second round of Yowes in this final panel, and should establish the third today.

And as for reading, I'm nearly finished with Old Filth and am enjoying the moment of doubt as to which Gardam will come next.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

We're going on our postponed walk today, our niece and I (and we've got good weather for it). So I'll be brief here -- often the preface to an unusually long post -- as I must leave my husband breakfast and lunch and generally tidy up. I've chosen an absurdly easy walk, to be on the safe side – the circuit of Linlithgow Loch with changing views of the ruins of the Palace where Mary QofS was born. We can do something more strenuous in September if this is a success.

Knitting went well yesterday, on the new system. I did three rounds of Rams&Yowes, all the more eagerly for knowing I would then allow myself to stop, and then managed another bump or so of the shawl edging. Thank you for your kind words about it. They are undeserved – there really are too many mistakes. Wait 'till you see the Queen Ring, or the wedding pictures in November with the Princess in action.

I have thought – am thinking – about all you have said, on the subject of casting off (or not) before picking up stitches for the edging. I suspect Kate Davies knows her craft rather well, and must, therefore, have a reason for that cast-off. At the moment, all I want for this project is to FINISH it and have it be reasonably acceptable-looking. I will continue to ponder.

And while on the subject of knitting, and before I forget, I tremendously like Woolly Wormhead's “Asymloche” hat. And the yarn employed, from Juno Fibre Arts, sounds interesting, too. Bluefaced Leicester – are those the sheep with dreadlocks? Christmas is coming, my friends.

Thank you for the remarks about Jane Gardam. Stashdragon, I will certainly search out that ghost story. And finish the Filth series. And then Bilgewater. I'm set for a while.

Catdownunder, I liked your story about meeting JG – and I like your blog entry, link just provided, about global warming and the environment, Have you read Germaine Greer's recent book about trying to restore her own tiny fragment of Australia to its primitive state?

Gardam says in the introduction to the edition of Old Filth which I am reading, that she met Stevie Smith at a party and was asked who she was.

“A Wmbledon housewife,” I said, “who writes novels.”

“But,” said Stevie Smith, “Who are you really?”

That's rather good. 

My husband's father, then employed by a publisher, worked with Stevie Smith on the editing of Novel on Yellow Paper. Somewhere we have his copy, with a grateful inscription from her. He would be 120 now, if he had been spared, but in fact died young of a brain tumour not long before the war. Gardam's anecdote seems to syncopate the 20th century in a marvellous way.

But it works. Gardam is very old now, and the anecdote is not recent. Stevie Smith was very old then.   

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

On we go, and I continue grateful for all your advice. Maybe I'll wind up doing the border as written.

I'm not entirely enjoying the knitting, although I thoroughly like the look of the result (except that the most recent rank of yowes is half-submerged in mooskit). I should have gone up a needle size or two, as often with colour knitting which tends to be very tight in my hands. Too late now. The yarn is firm and the knitting needs pushing and it's not much fun. The result is only very slightly tighter than the specified gauge – blocking may cure even that. A good texture for a blankie, I suppose, but tough going.

I have a half-feeling that when I last worked on it, I set myself to do two or three rounds an evening and then switched to something else. But when was that? Not this year, which has been Unst Bridal Shawl from the beginning. I've just been back to my blog for December, 2013. It's all about Christmas knitting and the Milano – not a Ram or Yowe in sight. Although I feel that the Milano might well have been the “something else” when the system was operative.

But I thought that such an approach might help, anyway. Three rounds, and then I'm free to knit some more shawl edging if I want to. That would see the centre of Rs&Ys done in about a fortnight. I assume that the border, however I do it, will be faster and pleasanter.

I'm inclining, after all, to the idea of knitting the edging as given. Although a double edging of stockinette still appeals. And much as I hate sewing in all its forms, you may well be right, Mary Lou, that the best thing at the end will be to bind off and sew the hem down.

For those of you who have done it: why do we need to bind off when the centre is finished? Why not slide the stitches along and cut the steek? It seems a waste to dispense with them, when they are required again immediately.


We are making a strenuous effort to get caught up with the New Yorker. We used to read it in Strathardle, where we have no television and no newspaper. Lately, of course, we only go there with other people, and once there, we tend to talk to them, so New Yorkers pile up.

My husband cheats, I feel, by flipping through them quickly. I am finding lots of interesting things to read in depth.

The other day in Talk of the Town I found mention of Jane Gardam, of whom I had only vaguely heard. I whistled her “Old Filth” down from the ether and am hugely enjoying it. It is about an elderly retired QC and judge who shares with me the misfortune of living in the country cheek-by-jowl with his worst enemy. The title is not inviting – the author says in the introduction that the publisher didn't like it. She explains that “filth” is a well known acronym in English legal circles for Failed in London Try Hong Kong.

That sounds a bit Rumpole-of-the-Bailey-ish, but it's not. It's darker, although there are light moments. The novel ranges widely in time and geographical space without, so far, confusing me for a moment. Recommended.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Well, I've resumed Rams & Yowes, and am enormously grateful for your help, although not without thinking again of the Miller, His Son, and the Donkey. Did I ever thank you properly for locating that story for me?

Gerri, you're right that a single-thickness border would be inconsistent with the essential doubleness of the centre, which is, at the moment, stiff as a board. I hadn't thought of that. I very much like your thought, Ellen, that a doubled border could be st st instead of garter. Why not? It would even be a little bit lighter, certainly pleasanter to knit without all those alternate purl rounds.

Pattie in Genesco, I like your idea of doing the hem by picking up in advance on a fine, long needle, the stitches one is going to attach to. Perhaps counting them off in tens or twenties and placing markers, to ensure that the numbers match the stitches on the main needle. The tendency for this operation to come out squint, in my hands, must mean that stitches are being missed somewhere. I've got plenty of fine, long needles, too, because of all this lace.

Willow, I read your comment only after I had posted this. Many thanks. I'll address it tomorrow.

I have laid out the nine colours on the sofa, in what I hope is the right order – that is, the order in which they are listed in Kate Davies' key. I was much helped by the pictures on your stash page, Mrs. A. Now it is to be hoped that no one will come to see us for a while who needs to be invited to sit on the sofa. [Follow the link to Mrs. A's blog for an account of Rams-and-Yowes-knitting even more adventure-fraught than mine.]

There's an additional dimension to my identification of the colours – I don't just need to match them up with Jamieson & Smith and Kate Davies, I also need to have them match the choices I made when knitting the first third of the pattern. And I started off yesterday by discovering an old mistake.

This part of the pattern consists of four ranks of yowes' heads. The background shade changes halfway through each yowe. I found that when I laid the work aside, I was nearly finished with the first rank of yowes in the final section of the pattern. [I can see your eyes glazing over. You need a picture – there's a link yesterday to the Ravelry page, or you could click on the link above, to Mrs. A.]

And the background colour was wrong – wrong, that is, in that it doesn't match the background I used for the equivalent yowe in the first section of the pattern. This time (if I've identified the colours correctly) I seem to be using mooskit where I should have gaulmogot. I must have done it in the dark days towards the end of 2013, but that's not much of an excuse.

I don't think it's a fatal error. In any event, I'm plunging on. But the sequence of background colour-shifts will be a bit awry in this section. And if I use mooskit again where it is really specified, I may run short of it in the border. But if I use gaulmogot there, the sequence will be even more awry. Decisions, decisions.

(Ah, but if I go ahead, as adumbrated above, and knit the border double, there is room for a certain amount of fudge, gaulmogot-for-mooskit, on the return half.)

I must have said when I got back from my glorious long weekend in Shetland last year, that Shetland sheep were not as easy to spot as one might expect. Shetland ponies were everywhere. There were plenty of sheep-sheep, but not many flocks like the one in my signature picture above. We were told that the Shetland breed is rather small, and even on Shetland, sheep are primarily reared for meat these days so other breeds are more profitable.

Monday, July 14, 2014

We had tasty dish of peas from our own doorstep with lunch yesterday, All is well out there – the first courgette has formed, carrots and beetroot progressing well, lettuce in production, nasturtiums in bloom. This is fun. Even the wounded courgette – the one that had its first true leaves pecked out – seems to be recovering, although it remains much smaller than its fellows. I moved it into a bigger pot yesterday.

And I got Rames and Yowes out and surveyed the scene. Here it is (Ravelry link), if you've forgotten.

The centre is knit as a tube. I'm about 2/3rds of the way through, beginning the final panel of upside down sheep heads. Then comes that innocent-looking border.

The idea is to pick up nearly 800 stitches and knit 36 rounds, 4 in each of the 9 colours, increasing at the corners – ironically enough, in garter stitch, purling every other round. Then insert a hem line and repeat the process, decreasing at the corners, and finally fold on the hem line and join it to the body of the blankie to cover up the ends where the steek was cut. Some applied i-cord figures somewhere.

The pattern has you pick up the same number of stitches on each of the four sides, but I have a distinct memory of Kate D. herself saying that that didn't entirely work for the side edges, and it was better to do a two-for-three (or something) there. Does anyone remember?

I thought about this during Mass yesterday. I don't see why I can't do the border single-thickness and finish it off with a few rounds of ribbing. I've just been reading Kate's own how-to-finish-your-steek tutorial. There are several possibilities there. This would have a number of advantages – starting with the fact that I never succeed when I try knitting live stitches onto a previously-established hemline. It always comes out slant.

The blankie would be a bit lighter without a double-thickness border– it's going to be awfully warm for a DC toddler, as it is. The yarn is very “sticky” – I have no anxiety about the behaviour of the cut stitches. And I would get back to lace knitting a bit sooner.

Monday is a good day for starting things (re-starting, in this case). That sixth ball of lace yarn still isn't finished, but I think I'll take the plunge.

Here's how the shawl looks at the moment.

And here are some pics from Strathardle last week, not very good except to demonstrate our marvellous weather.

James and his daughters trimming and pruning the yew tree:

James starting a bonfire:

Helen phoned from there yesterday evening. They are successfully installed

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Helen phoned yesterday, and it's all settled: she and her family will be in Strathardle this evening (insh'Allah) and we won't. It's sort of sad. She'll inspect the summer pudding bush – it's carrying a good crop – and decide whether it's safe to leave it for another 10-12 days. If not, she'll pick and freeze.

And Mimi had his first taste of English freedom. It went well.


I still haven't finished that 6th ball of yarn, but it can't hold hold out much longer. I have looked back to my own January blogging, and found that I did indeed calculate 50 bumps per side when I was knitting the edging for the Unst Bridal Shawl back then. I'll probably have done 40 when the yarn gives out. It's a start.

I'll try to get Rams and Yowes out today and figure out the colours again. They are all natural, and bear the wonderful traditional Shetland names for the shades as they appear on sheep – yuglet and sholmit and gaulmogot and so forth. There is a key in the pattern in which each colour is assigned a different-coloured square, and then the squares are used in the pattern charts.

Standard stuff. But I found it difficult to distinguish some of the paler colours on the charts, and it may be even more difficult now that the ball bands are gone and I have forgotten which ball is meant to bear which picturesque name.

I don't think a mistake would be fatal -- I can still distinguish off-white from black and dark grey --, but I'd like to get it right. So today I'll try to line up those balls of wool in the order they appear in the key.

The new VK (“early autumn 2014”) turned up yesterday. I often ask myself whether the patterns are really more exciting than those in lesser magazines, or is it just that the photography is miles better? This is the issue with Franklin's waistcoat – I am breathless with admiration, but it's way beyond my capabilities. I like the sweaters with holes in them – no 11, and Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton;s two, 29 and 30. I like the borrowed-from-the-boss cardigan, no. 4.

Meg writes about Lady Gainford and her wonderful book of kilt hose tops, rescued and re-printed by the Schoolhouse Press, a most worthy enterprise. And I'll tell you something not many people know: Lady Gainford's recipe for a Simple Sponge Cake appears on page 36 of “Mothers' Messages: Recipes from Cairndow Kitchens Past and Present”, published in 2010. We have a copy because Alexander contributed a recipe (a rather good one, for Thai scallops).

Not that Lady Gainford actually lived in Cairndow. A letter from her, including the recipe, turned up in the archives of the local WRI (Women's Rural Institute).  

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Well, here we are. We had a grand time, in astonishing weather. James and his excellent daughters toiled like Trojans, as they say – why do they say it? The ancients regarded the Trojans as effete Orientals. They trimmed the yew tree, and had a huge bonfire, and James made a good start on subduing the verges of the driveway. Our new gardener was meant to poison them, but hasn't done it. I weeded around our tiny pinus bungeana – a Chinese temple tree, probably the only one in the glen – and cut back the overhanging grass.

The man who sold it to me – I found only one source in Britain – warned me that it would grow slowly. That's certainly true, but it looks well. It's been through two winters now – admittedly, fairly easy ones. I am distinctly hopeful for its future. It's well protected from deer.

The weather was glorious.

We're meant to go back tomorrow, when the Greek family arrives. I don't think we're going to make it. Old age is really beginning to bite around here.

I did no knitting at all. I realised as we were driving up – James was driving; bliss! – that I had left behind the new Cubic needles I had been so looking forward to employing on the Carol Sunday scarf. I uttered a small, strangled cry as the realisation hit -- no one seemed to notice -- and didn't even take the knitting out when we were there.

Here, I have rounded the first corner of the Unst Bridal Shawl, edging-wise. I left two incoming rows unattached, one on either side of that corner's centre stitch. Was that enough? My current idea is to go on until the 6th (=June) ball of yarn gives out. Excuses, I know. But by now the cardboard is showing through strongly, and the end will come in a very few days, and then I'll return to the Rams & Yowes blankie, I really will.

One distinct comfort is that I will still be knitting Jamieson&Smith, acquired that happy, happy day in Lerwick. My husband found an article in the business section of the paper yesterday about Lion Brand, which I dutifully read with a show of interest. But I thought of the day I met the managing director of J&S, in overalls, sorting wool, and introduced myself to him as the writer of Gladys Amedro's obituary in the Scotsman.


I very much like the look of Franklin's new shawl, the Vitamarie. Had I but world enough, and time.

Here's a picture of James and his cat Mimi. Today is the day when Mimi will have been two weeks in the UK, and is due to be released into his garden. He's a street-savvy cat, until recently free in Beijing. Both James and his daughters have carried him around the garden during his 14 days of incarceration. He'll be fine, but we're all a bit on edge. James' daughter Rachel took the picture -- her future will be either in photography or art.

And, finally, if you want trash to read, I can heartily recommend Stephen King's “Mr Mercedes”. I remember once, when Mrs Thatcher was PM, a columnist saying, “History will be kinder to her than we are”. I suspect the same applies to Stephen King.  

Monday, July 07, 2014

The tennis was wonderful. Sometimes the final sort of fizzles out, but not yesterday. We got to see the older Federer twins at the end, even though Daddy didn't win. It was funny the way the commentators kept referring in parallel to his great age – he's nearly 33 – and the fact that he is the father of four as if repeated childbirth might have sapped his strength as much as the passage of the years.

We've still got a bit of World Cup football to suffer through (I'm for the Netherlands), and the Tour de France, before we can settle down with the horror of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. My sister sent this link about everybody in Harrogate knitting tiny sweaters to be strung together as bunting for the Tour.

I've never been terribly interested in it, but one can't help being aware. Not aware enough, however. I never realised until this morning that it isn't continuous. I always thought of them all going to bed somewhere in the Alps, say, and then getting up the next morning to set off where they left off, on the next stage. But this morning they're leaving from Cambridge, and I'm sure they were somewhere like York, yesterday. I feel utterly disillusioned. Or have they been cycling all night?


I'm sorry to have thrown him at you like that yesterday. The reference was to a children's book from my youth. Here's the text. The point is that he keeps being told how to carry things, but the instructions are always inappropriate for the next thing he has to carry. The Grimm brothers tell the same story, less entertainingly. But if the clever and resourceful Sambo is regarded as an unsuitable racial stereotype, I'm not surprised that the dim-witted Epaminondas has disappeared from general consciousness.

Anyway, that's not really the story I am mentally groping for. (This is all a propos the issue of how to attach edging to shawl as one knits it on, and my enthusiasm for following the latest advice received.) The one I want is something about a pair of people – husband and wife? father and son? – and a donkey. Perhaps they set off to market with both riding. Then they are advised that the wife should walk, to spare the donkey. Then, no, the husband should be the one to walk, because he's heavier. Then they must both walk, leaving the donkey to carry their load. At the end, they wind up carrying the donkey. Does anyone recognise that? Possibly Grimm, again, but I can't find it.


As feared, only a very little yesterday. Today James and his daughters should arrive (insh'Allah), but rather late, so I should manage a bit more. The corner is very close. I realised at Mass yesterday – always a good time for thinking quietly – that I'm not going to finish the edging this month, so the best thing to do is to abandon the Unst Bridal Shawl, once I'm around that corner, and finish the Rams & Yowes blankie which has to be ready for grand-nephew Ted's first birthday at the end of October – just before this year's great wedding, grandson Thomas to his Lucy, when she will wear the Princess shawl.

And one does hate knitting to deadlines.

If any grandchild suddenly schedules an unexpected formal wedding, I'd be able to polish off the Bridal Shawl in a month or so. But that's not at all likely to happen.

We're planning to go to Strathardle tomorrow, back Thursday. James and his entourage will return to London on Friday.  I'll be here again on Saturday, if all goes well.

Don't miss Judith's comment yesterday -- this is non-knit, again. She's been to the London Art Fair and has seen the picture which alas! we failed to buy,

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Our niece is feeling much better, and is going to come around here with a bottle of prosecco this afternoon to watch the Wimbledon final with me. That's gonna be fun. We will be cheering for Federer who has the appeal of fading greatness, not that he has shewn much sign of fading in the tournament so far. Djkovic has had a much harder time on his path to the final. Maybe if Federer wins, there will be a brief appearance in the Players' Box of all four of his children. That would be fun. He and Mme. Federer now have two sets of twins.

Knitting continues well. Another day or two will see me around the first corner. But I suspect there won't be much done today.

After writing to you yesterday, I decided that it would be a good idea to switch to Sharon Miller's way of attaching the edging to the Unst Bridal Shawl. Writing often has that effect, of arranging and clarifying one's thinking. But then you commented, Jean from Cornwall, and I thought again. Indeed, thought again of Epaminondas. But for the moment, I am proceeding as before.

Non-knit, non-tennis

Thank you for your help with window-box planting, Foggy Knitter. Our local florist does a singularly good line in succulents. They ought to have some idea whether any of them are hardy – although all their stuff arrives in huge lorries from Holland, so one wonders. I'll pursue the idea. We have one of Jekyll's books on our gardening shelves in Strathardle, I don't know which. I'll have a look when we're there this week,

That paragraph is a bit disjointed. Foggy Knitter patiently found the reference I was asking for, at the end of Chapter 14 of Jekyll's “Wood and Garden” – her advice on planting a windowbox. It's easiest to click on the link to Chapter 15 and then scroll up a bit. Foggy Knitter has provided the link (repeated above) to the Project Gutenberg text.

Cathy phoned yesterday from Sydenham, to discuss plans for James's arrival here tomorrow with his daughters. James himself was outside working in the garden – that sentence deserves to end with a !

I thought that might be a good moment to let Mimi out. Cats often like helping their daddies in the garden. But she said they are sticking to the idea of keeping him in for a fortnight. My husband agrees. She said he is very keen to go out. He sees other cats out there sometimes, and needs to establish whether it is his garden or not. 

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Today's walk has been cancelled. The end-of-term collapse has manifested itself as a bad cold for our niece. We've rescheduled for the 17th. It's a disappointment, but it takes the pressure off this morning. James and his two daughters will be here late on Monday, and we will proceed to Strathardle on Tuesday. No sooner do we get back here, than the Greeks arrive. Lots going on. I'm just as glad to take it slow today.

Knitting proceeds well. I've done 26 bumps of the edging of the Unst Bridal Shawl, and the first corner is fast approaching, since I started somewhere in the middle of one side. That will be a good point for a photograph, once I'm around that corner. Maybe there are 50 bumps per side. Does that sound familiar?

Here's a thing, though. Sharon says to attach the edging by knitting one stitch from the border at the end of every inward row, and then, at the beginning of the next row, knit it again, and knit the next stitch, and pass the first one over.

I'm not doing it that way. I have added a stitch at the edge of the edging. Its sole function is to liaise with the border. At the end of every inward row, I knit it together with the next stitch from the border. At the beginning of the next row, I slip it.

This is producing a very nice, neat join. The only thing is, it is also producing a fold line. The edging wants to lie neatly down on the wrong side. I have fair confidence that blocking will take care of the problem. Confidence, but not certainly. And what will happen in future years when there is no one around who knows how to block lace? Will the edging revert to folding?

So I've learned something, It's a completely useless piece of information for me, since I will never knit a shawl centre-outwards again. Perhaps the better lesson to carry away is, do it Sharon's way. I hesitate to change techniques in mid-stream, although that would be a possibility, after the corner.

CSJ0423: I found and enjoyed the NPR article about Shetland, but I can't make the audio perform. Maddening.

There's something in Zite this morning about a forthcoming book to be called Vintage Shetland. The photo-shoot is scheduled for “a remote island off Shetland later this summer” – and the author is appealing for people to knit up some of the patterns, now. in July. Talk about living on the edge! Here's the link, if you're interested.


Foggy Knitter, I'd love to have that reference from Sackville-West or Jekyll about a planting scheme for a window box, if you ever come across it again. Or maybe I could Google? We have a north-facing window box off my husband's study. He has abandoned that room of late in favour of colonising the dining room and the window box has run to weeds. It would be good to take it in hand again under expert guidance.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Sorry about that. I had a breakfast date with an old friend yesterday. I thought there might be time to put in a brief appearance here, but there wasn't. Tomorrow I hope to go for a walk with our niece, the first in a while (it's all go around here) – again, I hope to be here but may not make it.

The old friend is a man I met on Broughton Street one day, perhaps 15 years ago, when I had nearly finished climbing to the fishmonger's. He stopped me and said, Don't we know each other? I peered. He wasn't Alexander. He wasn't James. He wasn't drunk. I was about to suggest that perhaps, although unacquainted, we were each the sort of person that the other knew, when he offered his name, and I recognised him.

For several years, while we lived in Birmingham, I taught New Testament Greek once a week to the Jesuit novitiate. (St Peter will let me straight in when he hears that, especially now that the Pope is a Jesuit.) Chris had been one of them, one of my favourites, indeed. He took vows and became a Jesuit, although never a priest, but by the time we met on Broughton Street he had left the order.

And we've seen each other from time to time, ever since. Yesterday he told me that he has become an enthusiastic Facebook-er. I'm there, but only nominally, but when I got back here, I sent him a friend-request. It turns out that he has no fewer than six Friends who share a Friend with me – talk about degrees of separation!


All went fairly well, yesterday. One bump is smaller than the othets -- I think I must have gone straight from Row 4 to Row 9, in a 12-row repeat. It was very obviously a mistake that it would be wiser not to try to repair. Mary Lou, I take some comfort from your thought that the knitters of Unst and Fair Isle and wherever were really no better than we are, considered in the moiety.

[I don't think that word is rightly used, but now that it has popped into my head, I'm going to leave it there.]

But I have often reflected that if you devoted your life to one sort of knitting, you'd get to be pretty good at it. A Fair Isle knitter would know her gauge to the millimetre and could concentrate on fit, for instance. Whereas we flit from Shetland lace to Bavarian Travelling Stitch to Norwegian lusekofte and never get to be very good at anything. Speaking for myself.

Anyway, here are the promised pictures of local gardens, taken on Tuesday without the slightest deviation from my usual route from home to newsagent.

And here is one my downstairs neighbour sent the other day, clearly not taken this year because the tripod isn't there. Their cat often sits on our doorstep because it is sunnier than his own, or so he maintains. I'm sure I didn't know it was being taken.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014


I read or heard somewhere over the weekend that Mr Nadal had complained to the Wimbledon authorities at having to play a match today, on the heels of yesterday's effort. So he must be greatly relieved at not having to do so after all, and I am sure Mr Kyrgios won't complain at having to take his place at short notice.

Goodness, that was exciting. Four of my grandchildren are older than Mr Kyrgios (pronounced without the “g” as if it were “kyrios”. Lord). He has never been to Wimbledon before, and until yesterday had never had a match with a top-10 player. 

It would be wonderful if he could win the whole thing, but that would be far too good to be true. The same applies to Mr Murray, so that leaves Federer and Djokovic. I suppose it'll be Djokovic.


All went well, yesterday. I exercised some care in not trying to combine knitting with tennis except while everyone was sitting down. I've done 16 bumps so far, of the edging of the Unst Bridal Shawl.

I share your wonderment, catdownunder, at the fine work of Shetland knitters, with no electricity to knit by, even, for most museum pieces and collectors' items. And they are literally perfect, or virtually so, over thousands and thousands of stitches. Sharon Miller with a magnifying glass can perhaps find an extra k3tog...

My UBS is going to be a poor thing, overall, because of the trouble I had establishing the borders after knitting the centre. And the row of motifs I was doing at Easter, with all those k3togs, manifests a certain clumsiness. Not to mention the Messy Corner. And there are many instances of places where I found I had too many stitches or too few and made a little adjustment in situ. I wouldn;t quite say that that happens all the time, but it's often enough to be too trivial to mention here. It'll be all right when it's blocked, I tell myself – but Hazel Carter says that that's when you see all your mistakes.

I don't quite understand how your lifeline works, Knitting08816, and I want to. You mean it's in the border stitches – not at right angles, through a row of the edging? I've never used lifelines but I'm beginning to wonder...

On a more cheerful note, Lavold's “Viking Knits and Ancient Ornaments” turned up yesterday. Highly enjoyable. There is something profoundly satisfying to the eye and to the mind, about Celtic knottery, whether knitted or drawn or carved.

We have a fine group of such stones at Miegle, near Strathardle. It's been a long time since I've seen them – maybe an expedition this summer? They don't even seem to have a website of their own –the link is to one called “Undiscovered Scotland”. Lavold's book is illustrated with knotwork from a wide variety of sources, and not indexed. Maybe Miegle is even in there somewhere.

I find in my book-sorting so far that books of patterns by single designers are the ones most likely to be consigned to the flames (= put into a banana box to be taken downstairs – let's keep this thing in perspective). Lavold will escape, I think. Anyway, it's not just a book of patterns. One can make one's own use of the motifs, as with Starmore. Perhaps there could be something for Archie here, along the lines of the one on the cover.

Today's excitement is another dental appt for my husband, which should advance the cause of the Pakokku socks somewhat.


I reflected yesterday, walking my little morning walk to the corner shop to get the papers, that if I were Shandy or Kate Davies, I would take some pictures for you of the remarkable gardens people have on their steps and in the basement-level areas. Our next door neighbour, for instance, has a good-sized chestnut tree in a pot. Then I thought, why not, and actually took some pictures. I hope to have them organised for you soon -- I still haven't mastered pictures on my new laptop, and so still load them into the old computer and edit them there and mail them to myself, a slow process.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Trouble, yesterday. I succeeded in dropping the first (= wrong-side last) edging stitch of the Unst Bridal Shawl, the one that is knit together with a stitch from the border, with the result that the whole thing simply unzipped, detaching the edging. Well, not the whole thing, but I had to go back a fair way before I could grab everything securely. A rueful look this mornng reveals not as much mess as I feared, although there's an ugly hole at the join.

One good thing: knitting it back together, I discovered (as I had begun to suspect) that I don't need the marker to distinguish the next-border-stitch-to-be-incorporated.  Moving it every time was a bit of a fiddle which can now be eliminated.

The June ball of yarn has several days to go, at the very least. I thought that maybe those long, long garter stitch rounds at the end of the borders might have speeded things forward a bit, yarn-consumption-wise, but no.

I did a bit more book-sorting, not much. I think I'm going to take Debbie New's “Unexpected Knitting” into the care home with me. I still haven't determined on an Aran book. It'll probably have to be Starmore. Foggy Knitter, you're right that we're going to have to ask for more shelf space when we get there. Meanwhile, the pile of books to be relegated – sorry, archived – is not very big. And that's meant to be the point of the operation.

Since knitting is rather unsatisfactory today, and there is no news from distant family, I'll settle for horticulture.

I learned yesterday, from the London Library magazine, that Dickens once remarked on how “the poor man in crowded cities gardens in jugs and basins and bottles”. Just like me!

Things are going well on the doorstep. The lollo rosso lettuce is in production – it doesn't taste of much, but it saves me ever having to buy lettuce. The other pot in this picture is beetroot. I am hoping for some delicious tinies by the end of the summer.

And similarly, for some tiny carrots from this trough. The courgettes should be blooming soon.

The peas in the tripod are splendid, with lots of nascent pods. Why didn't I grow mange-tout? Perhaps because the plants are usually six feet high. I'll search the catalogues this winter for a compact one. It is interesting the way they seem to be shrinking back from the precipice and leaning towards the railing. We should be in Strathardle fairly soon and I think I may weaken and bring back some pea sticks for them.

There's a courgette in the middle, as I think you can see. Will it be able to raise its flowers to the sun?

Here is the poor courgette which had its first true leaves pecked out when we were in Strathardle over Pentecost. It would have had to come out anyway, no room for it, but I kept it to see what it would do. As you can see, it is alive but confused.

Non-knit, non-horticulture

Thank you for the info about setting a default file location in Word, Ghislaine. I'll go try in a moment, when I finish here. The method sounds very plausible,