Tuesday, April 28, 2015

All's well.

The house is still there, no trees down, not overrun with mice, no burst pipes. We had a grand time, although brief, and Ed went up a ladder and cleared the gutters of a winter's accumulation of soggy leaves, a good job done.

He drove our car (on his insurance) both ways, requiring it to move rather more briskly than is its wont. It, and we, are safely home – but then I began to wonder, will I have speeding tickets in tbe post in the next week? It's not policemen on motorcycles any more, as in the New Yorker cartoons; it's those cameras. In the immortal line from Fawlty Towers, spoken by Mr O'Reilly, “If the Good Lord had meant us to worry, He'd have given us things to worry about.”

It is hard, generally speaking, to track the downward trajectory which I mentioned the other day – but there was an opportunity. My husband is frailer and slower than when we were last in Strathardle, six months ago; there were lots of little ways to measure it.

I had intended to gather and cook “horta” (=dandelions) but never got around to it. Rachel was dubious – she thinks they must have a special kind of dandelion in Greece. But I did come back with a nice bagful of wild garlic. There's a splendid stand of it, discovered only last year, just where the drives to Cnoc Sualtach and the Borland leave the main road. Alexander pinches his from the Duke of Argyll.

I made a succesful spinach soup last night with a generous admixture of wild garlic. I've looked up recipes this morning for the rest of it – there are so many and they sound so interesting that I think we'll have to go back. It doesn't last. A couple more weeks, and it will disappear for another year.

No knitting took place whatsoever. I had sort of thought of starting another pocket square.

There was a new VK on the mat when we got back, however. I like those socks, no 17, except that it is against my religion to knit socks from patterns. I lie back and let the yarn do the work. Meg's article on the fundamental issue of decreasing is interesting, with a little variation on ssk which I mean to try. Debbie Newton's article on oversizing will repay more study. I haven't read Nancy Bush on Haapsalu yet. I think I've heard it all already, but I must try. A meaty issue, despite summer patterns.

Shawls are everywhere just now, aren't they?

Some of the new books sound interesting, too – as if I had room for them. (Ruth Rendell is fine on the iPad; knitting, no.) Amazon reinforced the temptation with an email message this morning – they've got good algorithms down there at Amazon.

“Wrapped in Color” (=shawls from Koigu) Would it get me going on the stash?

“Short Row Knits”, Carol Feller.

“Twigg Stitch”

“Knit in New Directions: A Journey Into Creativity” by Myra Wood. The enthusiastic customer reviews on Amazon make it sound a bit like Debbie New's “Unexpected Knitting”. Archie says – and it's good advice – always to read the bad reviews. In this case, they give it three stars and grumble that it is only suitable for experienced knitters. I guess I'd qualify.

“Knitting Reimagined”, Nicky Epstein. The bad reviews are rather helpful there – they complain of heavy wool and big needles, not my style.

I'd welcome comments on any of these. And that's not all....

I probably won't be back until next week.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Secret of Life may be to panic a day in advance. I got a fair amount done yesterday, the tasks, of course, multiplying hydra-headed as soon as each one was ticked off. The same thing will happen today. But I'm feeling more confident.

Our friend G., who reads this blog every morning to see if there is something she can do to make life easier for us, came round and put the iPad right. I had made considerable progress with turning it off and on again, to no avail. She turned the wi-fi router off and on (or whatever you call that gadget that extends the signal) and that did the trick.

So here is the picture of the Sous Sous which had got stuck in the system. I lightened it somewhat with the iPad's picture-editing tools, in order to show you the pattern. The effect is to downplay the wonderfulness of the yarn. I could go on knitting Whiskey Barrel forever and must, indeed, make my husband a pair of socks in it.

I got well on with the sixth repeat last night, and may advance to the beginning of the sixth cable crossing today. The cabling all comes towards the end of the 16-row repeat.

There's a new Twist Collective out. Nothing for me, knitting-wise, I don't think – the sweaters too fitted, the shawls too big. But there's a seriously interesting article about provisional cast-ons, worth stowing in Evernote, and an ad from Catherine Lowe that I must pursue, another simple, loose-fitting sweater in the Relax stable.

Clicking on the ad doesn't help, though. Ravelry doesn't advance things much.


Rachel and Ed should be here tonight, and tomorrow we will set off towards Strathardle as soon as we can get my husband up and booted and spurred (=roughly, midday). I should be back here on Tuesday, insh'Allah. My sister should arrive later that day. She says she has got a step-measuring gadget and is trying to do 10000 steps a day. I have spent enough time on that particular game to know that that will require her to be in almost constant motion.

Except for the hoped-for appearance on Tuesday, there won't be any blogging next week either.

SamKD, I was touched by your comment yesterday about Ruth Rendell. I am currently reading her “House of Stairs”, under the name of Barbara Vine. Not her best, but that's a comment which might be made here and there of Raphael. When the iPad was out of touch with the world for two days, I found that that was the thing which worried me most – I won't be able to get another book for my Kindle app.

Does anyone know how she is? She = Ruth Rendell. She had a massive stroke early this year. Googling reveals a number of newspaper reports, “serious but stable”, from January. Then, silence.   

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Rachel and Ed will be here late tomorrow, insh'Allah, for our long-awaited trip to Kirkmichael the next day. I am gripped by panic on several fronts. I met a neighbour yesterday – virtually a next-door neighbour in Drummond Place; in Perthshire, she has a little house in the next glen. She was up there last weekend and found it overrun with mice. That's one of my many anxieties this morning. My husband is afraid trees will have blown down. Turning the water on for the first time after the winter is always exciting.

That about covers it, for Perthshire-based anxieties. There are also plenty of Edinburgh ones.

The iPad still refuses to communicate with the outside world. I've tried turning the wi-fi off and on again and doing the same for the whole machine. I'll have to advance to a more radical re-set today.

Yesterday's dentistry went well. The third pocket square reached the end-game, where one becomes delightfully aware that the rows are shortening. So in the evening I polished it off, and now have the beginnings of a satisfactory little pile.

I don't think enough yardage remains in that skein for the next square. I've got an abundance of yarn – it would be silly to risk an unnecessary join. On the other hand, nothing is more dispiriting, when one suddenly feels like knitting a pocket square, than the thought that one has to wind a skein of yarn first.

So I went ahead and did that.

So there wasn't much time for the Sous Sous. But I've made a respectable start on the 6th repeat. I think this back piece is going to prove to be the largest by quite a bit. The front is truncated by that fancy shaping and the two little sleeves scarcely count.

My Sirka counter is proving invaluable. It's wonderfully sure of itself – no pegs to fall out or clicking arrangements to attract visiting children. When I switch to the Tokyo shawl, I can trust it to remember where I am in the 16-row Sous Sous repeat while at the same time counting the 21 long rows in each Tokyo colour band.

Well, I can't look at Zite if the iPad won't cooperate. I had better go chip away at panic by writing down some, at least, of the things I need to do, and then doing them. Little trips to Strathardle were never entirely easy, but they used to be routine. They have lost that quality.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Dentistry today. That should give me a chance to advance the third pocket square.

I very much like Stella's idea, endorsed by Meezermeowmy, comments yesterday, of a double row of eyelets for the bridegroom's pocket square, nothing fancier. I'll go with that one. I mean to knit eight, and will do that one last. In fact, they'll have nine, counting the sample I have already sent to London for approval. So he'll have a choice.

The iPad seems to have the vapours this morning. It says it's connected, it says it has a strong signal, but it doesn't seem able to send me the picture I just took using it, of the Sous Sous in progress. Maybe tomorrow. I've done the fifth cable crossing.

I've just heard from one of you who is going to be on this tour. We hope to meet for lunch during the Edinburgh bit at the end. The tour sounds excellent – I like Dundee, and it's a solid and un-tourist-y spot for a base; I like Amy Detjen; I like the idea of arriving in Lerwick by sea, and it will be wonderful to meet Hazel Tindall. Is anyone else signed up for it?

I have also heard from two Maryland-Sheep-and-Wool-goers, so the Vampires should be in hand. I don't really need them – I am more enthused at the moment with the idea of more socks for my husband with the new(ish) madelinetosh sock yarn, probably including Whiskey Barrel itself.

But the Vampires of Venice, apart from the sheer wonderfulness of the name, are mentioned in the found poem Alexander constructed from this blog and gave me, printed on tea towels, for my 80th birthday. (We have framed and hung one.) I've just been looking back through the archives to find it. I wrote it out for you in full on August 15, 2013.

Looking back brought many happy memories of that wonderful 80th birthday party. And this picture, which I had forgotten:

That's me and Matt, on our way up the commonty towards the house. You can see why I'll knit him all the pocket squares he could possibly want.

That all happened only two years ago -- how long ago it seems. I am afraid the downward trajectory since then has been rather steep.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Yesterday was an unexpectedly good knitting day. The eye appt went on all afternoon. I had finished off the second pocket square at home, and by the time optometry was over, I was nearly halfway through the third (eight are wanted). I pressed on in the evening, counting up to 62 stitches and then beginning the decreases, before reverting to the Sous Sous.

The simple and excellent pattern I am using begins every row with k2, YO. Or K1, k2tog, YO, SSK, for the decreases. It makes a very nice little edge. But what about something just slightly fancier for the bridegroom himself? I'll think about that, and perhaps turn back to my Craftsy class on lace edgings with Franklin.

(I wish he'd do another class for them. He offers several in real life which I'd like to attend, and he is the most exemplary of teachers.)

And then a bit of Sous Sous. I am poised to do the fifth of ten cable crossings for the back. It is a good thing the yarn – madelinetosh DK in the shade called Whiskey Barrel – is beyond wonderful. Otherwise I would find the knitting tedious – a cable panel embedded in double moss stitch, nowhere to kick up the heels and just knit. But I love it, love what's happening. A picture tomorrow might be nice. Franklin's class on photographing one's knitting might be nice, too, although perhaps not enough for a whole Craftsy course.

Non-knit – a) loss

I was most encouraged by your story of the found keys, Mary Lou – spotted from the back of a galloping horse, indeed (more or less). We're going back to Strathardle this weekend for only the second time after that famous loss. I haven't much hope. Greek Helen asked once if I found I was putting things in odd places – she has clearly been reading the literature on demented parents.

The answer, I think, is no. And anyway, that day, I had no motive to “put” them anywhere. I was pacing about, with the keys in my left hand – Archie confirms that – waiting for my husband to emerge from the bathroom so that we could head back to Edinburgh, leaving Helen and her boys to clean and close the house. The keys dematerialised. I suddenly realised I was no longer clutching them. And they haven't been seen since.

The disappearance of the iPad is equally, although differently, puzzling. Observing my behaviour with its replacement, I don't see how I could mislay it, it is so constantly in use. Could a Bad Man have got in here and snatched it after all? But how? how? Don't forget the near-contemporaneous appearance of that baseball cap on the bedroom floor. That remains unexplained.

Non-knit – b) Scotland

One of you has written to ask what to do on a two-week trip to Scotland next summer. A wonderful question, solutions invited. It depends, of course, on whether you want to eat, or walk, or look at art, or visit gardens, or...

Repairing my own failures, I would want to fit in a mini-cruise of the Western Isles. I don't know if such a thing is offered formally. It could probably be constructed from the ferry schedules. The Isle of Bute would be high on my list. Until I went to Shetland with Kristie and Kath, I had never been to a Scottish island. That's shameful.

Knitting again

Is anyone going to Maryland Sheep and Wool? One of you was planning to buy a couple of skeins of Vampires of Venice for me, but family health problems have prevented her from going. Email me – address in sidebar – if you can help. I can reimburse you with a check in USD.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The second pocket square is nearly finished, but not quite. That's the end of this morning's knitting news.

I looked up Kate Davies' tea cosy pattern. It's a sweetie, all right, and it includes a number of interesting techniques which I might benefit from attempting. I've never liked corrugated ribbing, for instance – but I didn't discover until late in life that it's not meant to pull in like real ribbing. Maybe it's worth another try. And I wonder if I've even heard of “vikkel braids”.

Life begins to sizzle a bit, this week. My husband has two appts – eyes today and teeth on Wednesday. Rachel and Ed are coming up after work on Friday for our weekend adventure in Strathardle. My sister is coming next week. Her husband, who had a small stroke just before Thomas' and Lucy's wedding, is well enough to be left on his own – that sounds good.

Nope, I'm afraid I've got nothing to say.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Progress as hoped, yesterday – the 11th Tokyo stripe finished; it's time for the next little five-row stripe. I laid it aside as planned and reverted to the current pocket square. I've passed the half-way point, the passage where pretty constant counting is needed to ensure that I turn around on exactly 62 stitches. From here on out, as long as I do it right every time – k1, k2tog, yo, ssk, knit to end – I just have to keep it up until only four stitches remain, and then bind off.

Do another, while the iron is hot? Or revert at once to the Sous Sous?

Today, books. I've got three to report on.

The Manly Art of Knitting

I must have heard of this from Zite, and ordered it for the sake of the cover photograph of the cowboy knitting. It's an utterly basic book, very faintly tongue in cheek, by a man, for men, covering the essentials. I wish I had had it to give to Alistair, the summer he was learning to knit in Strathardle. He had real ability, and won a prize for a scarf in the Games that summer, and gave it up entirely because Men Don't Knit in China.

Maybe it's not too late.

Unst Heritage Lace

This one is utterly enchanting. It is little more than a pamphlet from the Unst Heritage Centre, with a bit of local history and patterns for three all-overs, three “laces” (=scalloped edging patterns) and two motifs which could be combined or repeated ad lib. I hope I've counted rightly. Where relevant – “Unst Snaadraps”, for example, or “Flukra” -- the lace patterns are illustrated with photographs of the local phenomena their names suggest. “Flukra” are gently falling snowflakes.

The patterns are charted and also given line-by-line, in both cases using the old “T” and “C” – “take” and “cast” – for k2tog and YO. Amedro does it that way. I used to find it an easy and pleasant way to sing the repeat to myself, so to speak.

When we were there, I asked why Unst of all places, the most northerly inhabited (or uninhabited) British island, had become the home of extravagantly fine lace knitting. Answer came there none. There doesn't even seem to be a local legend explaining it. But there it is.

Ten Poems About Knitting

James spotted this in a bookshop window, and sent it up to me with my husband was he was returned after the Easter holiday. One of the poems is actually about “The Manly Art of Knitting”. Another is by Emily Dickenson. It's from the Candlestick Press, and nicely done.


On page 46 of the current British edition of The Economist, you will find the headline “Arabia Infelix”. James rang up on Thursday, deadline day, to make sure that the Latin was acceptable. I was glad to do my bit.

In 1954, the summer I was 21, I had a hunble but not entirely menial job at Life Magazine in NYC. They were the happiest weeks of my life, I think. It couldn't have lasted – I would have had to go on to something more stressful and join the others weeping in the Ladies'.

We got our copies of the magazine, stamped STAFF in big letters, the day before publication, and enjoyed riding home on the subway with the cover prominently displayed. One week there was a headline, perhaps even over the leader, “O Tempore O Mores”. If I had had my wits about me as I should have had, I could have cried, Stop the presses! (It should be “tempora”.) A chance missed forever. At least “Arabia Infelix” is right.

Saturday, April 18, 2015


My husband and I disapprove of a lot of things, one-day cricket and cricket commentary when it replaces the Today programme on Radio 4 long wave, among them. But we have been enjoying the Test Match from Antigua during our naps this week. The Test Match Special team always invites distinguished retired cricketers from the other side to join in the commentary – and West Indian cricketers have lovely Harry Bellafonte voices.

It occurred to me that my husband and I have reversed our traditional national roles, when it comes to cricket. He thumps the floor with his stick (metaphorically speaking) and demands to know, as any American would, What is the score?

And I try patiently to explain that the question is irrelevant. You have to take a number of matters into consideration. Should England declare, or bat on for a while? It's not simple.

It is surely the only sport in the world where they stop for tea.


My knitting time was more than ordinarily interrupted yesterday, so there are still a couple of rows to be done before I can lay the Tokyo shawl aside and knock off a pocket square.

Rachel and Ed are coming up next weekend to take us to Strathardle, wonderful to anticipate. Ed is always keen to be active and I am sure my husband will have many a chore to keep him employed. Rachel and I can attempt to deal with a winter's infestation of mice. And we can look for those keys.

I don't know what we're going to do about the Games this year, but I just had a look on-line and sure enough, there they are, on a rather over-busy website suggesting a keen amateur employing all the tricks in the web designer's tool box.

The knitting categories are 1) a cardigan for a premature baby, to be donated, pattern supplied; and 2) a tea cosy. David and Helen have been meekly asking for a tea cosy for years. Have I got time? Do I want to involve myself in the clever fiddliness which will probably win? Everybody's got access to the books with the extreme patterns, in this digital age. I would have no advantage there. Still, I'll think about it. The more entries there are, the more gratifying for the winner to win, I always feel.

The cardigan pattern is mildly interesting. Have a look. To begin with, it specifies the needle sizes as 10 and 12 – so many years out of date as to be astonishing. I remember a character in a dear, departed soap opera more than 20 years ago – we were still in Birmingham – referring to “number 8's” and my thinking that that wasn't right. If she were really a knitter, she'd be talking metric.

And the first few rows seem to begin with an instruction to “slip 11”, surely impossible. Maybe it will look more comprehensible when I have had lasers shone into my eyes.

Thank you for your comments on the question which arose yesterday as I contemplated that event, namely what does a devout Muslim eye surgeon or airline pilot do about fasting during Ramadan? I am reassured by your answers. If I get a chance, in a quiet moment in our nearest shop, I'll ask Mr or Mrs Hussain. He grumbled to me during one Ramadan recently that his teen-aged children were eating the pre-dawn breakfast and then spending the day in bed, emerging just in time to break the fast with the daily feast after sunset. He thought that was cheating.

I don't know his children well, but I have known them a little bit since birth and I would say that they were turning out splendidly.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Not much to report in the way of knitting, so it'll have to be Life again. I'm about halfway through what I have decided will be the last Tokyo stripe for a while. There's hope for a pocket square this weekend, therefore, before I resume the Sous Sous. It's wonderul to observe how multiple-Wip-ery makes everything go slowly.


I think I mentioned that the plastic lens in my right eye has gone all cloudy – or so the oculist says. And she also says that laser treatment should clear it up. In February, she referred me to the Eye Pavilion, and yesterday, at last, I got the notice of the appt.

It's for early May, at 4:45 in the afternoon. All my life – not just in old age – I have been sharper in the morning. I felt a twinge of unease at the idea of someone shooting lasers into my eye at the end of his long, hard day. And then I thought of a new source of anxiety – the specialist's name suggests that he might be a Muslim. Will it be Ramadan in early May?

The answer is no – Ramadan doesn't start until June. (A June Ramadan must be very difficult indeed for Scottish Muslims; it scarcely gets dark.) But it left me with the general question – what does a devout Muslim do in Ramadan, who has other people's lives in his or her hands? A surgeon? An airline pilot? I know that fasting can sharpen the mind, or seem to. I'd prefer to rely on a respectable level of blood sugar in critical situations.

I've shown you pictures of my happy week in Athens – but nothing of what was going on in London at the time. Here is my husband on a visit to the dinosaurs at Crystal Palace (while we were cavorting in Mediterranean sunshine). Those dinosaurs are one of the Sights of London.

They didn't attempt a trip to the Dulwich Gallery. After a lifetime of gallery-visiting, my husband couldn't face looking at pictures from wheelchair-level.

When we were in Beijing in 2003, he had a jacket made. Since then, he has worn it to death. Think of rags and tatters, with soup stains down the front: the reality is probably worse than your imaginings. It occurred to him that cats like wool, and that a Chinese cat might like to sleep on Chinese wool, so he took the horrible old thing to London and gave it to Mimi:

While we're at it, here they all are celebrating the Western Easter (to judge from the drink on the table). C. wore a horizontally-striped tee while we were in Athens, and here's Cathy in one. I'm sort of tempted.

Alistair, for whom the sweater with his name in binary is contemplated, is in the red tee shirt, on my husband's;eft. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Here's the promised picture of the Tokyo Shawl. I hadn't realised until I laid it out, how deeply biased it is. Another challenge for Blocking Day.

I've just had a quick look at people's projects on Ravelry. Very few have attempted yarn substitution – I would regard the pattern and the yarn for this one as about as intimately connected as pattern and yarn can get. From those who aren't writing in Danish or Japanese, I got the idea of adding some extra stripes to use up the yarn. That knitter says she likes the extra length. And of substitution of m1r and m1l for the yo's. That's likely to be a good idea, too, but too late for me. The YO's will look better when they're blocked.

I'm working on the 11th of 29 stripes. So, about 1/3rd done, except for lengthening. I think when I finish this stripe I'll switch WIPs again.

Thank you for all the interesting comments about knitting binary and other languages. I had hoped to reproduce Alexander's binary chart for you, but I can't seem to do it. Words will have to make the attempt – and my binary vocabulary may well be lacking.

He uses a block of four stitches for each 1 or 0. Therefore, each binary eight-digit “word” – if that's the word – occupies 16 stitches in a row. He has put the first three “words” together – 48 stitches – and has then gone back and put the next three “words” underneath them, and so forth. The effect is interestingly runic.

He has only charted “Alistair” – three such rows of four-stitch blocks, with the final slot in the bottom row empty because there are only eight letters in “Alistair”. There would be a similar gap in “Miles” and, of course, it would occupy only four rows, instead of six.

I am very grateful for your comments. Liz, how did you do that hat? Was it a simple off-on, colour-or-background, one-stitch-at-a-time for the binary code, or something fancier like Alexander's idea? Beverly and Ellen, textured is an excellent idea, if we scale back down to socks. I'll have a look at Lavold and her runes today, I hope. I've got the book (if I can find it).

And I am grateful, too, for comments on the Californian climate. Madelinetosh in any form is a strong forward motive on this project. Choosing between the blissful DK of Archie's sweater and the Sous Sous, and the finer yarn I used for those two Relax's – my own, which you've recently seen in Athenian pictures, and the original too-small one that I gave to Hellie – will not be easy.


I tried to show you these pics the other day, but Blogger seemed to feel I had exceeded my ration for that day. Ted LeCompte, my great-nephew, Theo and   Jenni's son, was invited to roll Easter eggs on the White House lawn.

And since, as it happened, the new Mr and Mrs Ogden, Thomas and Lucy, were in DC at the time for something lawyerly, an invitation was secured for them as well.

Some interesting sweaters visible, including Ted's own.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

One door closes, another opens.

Alexander emailed me yesterday with the suggestion that I knit Alistair a pair of socks with his name on them in binary – Alistair is the grandson who is doing computer science at Glasgow, with ambitions in the direction of Silicon Valley. The idea is that a block of four stitches would be either one colour or another, representing the 0's and 1's of the binary code.

Alexander provides a chart which (he must have done himself, and which) he says represents the name. I whisked it off at once to Evernote. This site provides the basic translation, from “Alistair” into binary. I'm not sure that I yet see exactly how the pattern evolves from there. I'll work on it.

I once knit a pair of patterned socks for an old friend who was getting married in Birmingham to another old friend, widow to widower. She was a French scholar, he a Byzantinist, so the socks combined the fleur de lis with a Greek cross somehow, and included the date of the wedding. This must have been before I started blogging – I have no memory of writing about them.

It was fiddly work. I had to knit them inside out to counteract the tendency of two-colour knitting to pull in.

I don't much want to go through that again. But what if I knit Alistair a whole sweater, with the binary code for his name around the bottom as I have done for the Calcutta Cup in times past?

It would have to be in a relatively fine wool, with the Californian climate in mind. The new madelinetosh sock yarn beckons. And, ideally, Alistair would have to come here for a look at my knitting-for-men books and bearing a well-fitting sweater for me to measure. Not insuperable problems, either of them.

If nothing else, such a garment would be a talking point at my funeral. I want as many as possible to wear something I knit, as I have often mentioned here before. I wish I could have a sneak preview of the group photograph.

The Tokyo shawl continues well. Perhaps I'll attempt a photo tomorrow. Blocking is going to be critical on this one – the alternation of st st and reversed st st pulls it up, and will need to be smoothed somewhat, but not so much as to lose the sculptural effect.

Old Age 

Living as we do, tottering on from day to day, I am much stronger and more agile than my husband, and I can – to some extent – keep the ship afloat. This creates the illusion that I am strong and agile and capable. Living for a week among people under sixty, as I did in Athens, makes it very clear that this is not so.

I am sort of concerned for Hillary. She looks old. Does she really want to spend her last years of health and strength campaigning and then being president? Clearly she does – but oh, dear. I think the Bible is essentially right about three score years and ten – not that there aren't many good years to come, if you're lucky. The Queen is 20 years older than Hillary, and apparently fighting fit.

But strength begins to decline fairly sharply, at 70. And one doesn't necessarily see it coming when one is in one's late 60's.

My husband has a dental appt today – a full day's work.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Odds and Ends

David and Helen like a game called Bananagram where you make crosswords for yourself. I was no good at it and soon reverted to knitting, but C. took to it like a pro:

Kristie recently sent me this link to a new blog from Jamieson&Smith, kicking off with an essay from Oliver Henry about Shetland sheep. Don't miss.

I am much taken with the idea of this “knitting smock”. I found the link in Knitsofacto's blog. It's those pockets that are so attractive, and the idea of having something easy-to-wash to wear over sweaters in the winter.

I've just ordered a little book called “Unst Heritage Lace”. I remember buying some loose sheets of old lace motifs when I was actually on Unst. I can't find them, although the lace section of my booshelves is among the more orderly. And I've fallen behind with LibraryThing – a big mistake. I thought I'd better have it.


The Tokyo Shawl progresses nicely. You will remember that a fine grey alpaca yarn is carried along with the changing wools throughout. Four balls of it are provided – and yesterday I finished the first of them. That always feels like progress.

And after a week of travel writing, I find I've run dry...

Monday, April 13, 2015

Now, knitting.

After the Archaeological Museum on Thursday, we went shopping. I had been struggling all week to get Google to tell me where to go for yarn. I found a rather unsatisfactory blog in which the writer complained of an Athenian shop which sold “a lot of acrylic and rough local wool”.

I had a sleeveless vest all mentally mapped out, in a heavy grey-and-white (=sheep-coloured) handspun of "rough, local wool". But where? The blogger didn't say. Eventually I found Knitmap – Google seemed uncharacteristically slow at getting me there. Recommended, if you ever find yourself in a similar situation. And from Knitmap, I found four shops, close together, in central Athens.

We visited three of them. At the second, the poshest, we were told that there was no such thing as Greek wool. At the third, we found some, dark brown, handspun-looking, unplyed, perhaps fingering weight. I bought a couple of skeins, thinking a hat or two. No shaggy vest, alas.

At one of the shops, women were sitting around a table knitting in the familiar way. One of them had the yarn tensioned around the back of her neck and then wrapped around the little finger of her left hand. I was hard at work in the evenings, you will remember, on that Craftsy class in continental knitting. The whole problem comes down to the tensioning of the yarn – the hand movements are not all that difficult.

So that woman and I for a while discussed her interesting arrangement of the yarn – without much of anything in the way of a common spoken language.

Then C. wanted to shop for a leather bag. She and Greek Helen got to work on that, while I poked around in an olivewood shop next door. During our subsequent pleasant cafe lunch in a nearby square, I decided to go back and buy an olivewood bowl.

“What will you use it for?” Helen asked – her father's daughter, and it's a good question.

Inspiration came to me – I'll keep stitch markers and safety pins in it, on the table in front of me as I knit. Here it is. It has already given me a week of considerable pleasure.

I believe (I'm not going to look this up) that the gods competed for the right to give a name to the new city. Poseidon came up with a horse, indeed a useful animal. But Athene invented the olive tree and she won, because of its multiple uses. That is why it is so nice to see them growing on the battlefield of Marathon – symbol of Athens, symbol of peace. (Sparta was asked to contribute forces to fight the Persians, but couldn't, or wouldn't.)

So that's about it. You've already heard about Friday, Osios Loukos and Distomo. There, again, I wanted to take something home but I thought it would just wind up in a drawer. Mungo said to buy a fridge magnet – you can never have too many of those. So here is Osios Loukos himself, securing my husband's poll card for the forthcoming general election. Not the well-known Evangelist, but the holy monk who founded that splendid monastery.

On Saturday we went to the Byzantine Museum and saw a great many icons. On Sunday we flew home. The Greek girl at the end of our three-seat row on EasytJet had a classical profile such as I had never before seen in life, straight off an ancient vase. Not beautiful, by 21st century standards. That strong nose, those big eyes. She was on her first visit to Edinburgh, and we gave her the window seat for landing.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Christos anesti!

It is Easter Sunday in Greece today.

Our adventures on the Thursday of our happy week may have to be related in two parts – a) because today is Sunday, and time presses; and b) because part of the day involved knitting and I want to expand on the subject.

We went back in to central Athens, to the museums which had been closed on Monday. And visited the National Archaeological Museum.

You've already seen a picture of me with the Kouros of Sounion. 

The Museum also contains, among much, much else, this bronze statue of Zeus. Sixty years ago, I think he was Poseidon, but he seems to have been upgraded. Is this the greatest Greek statue of them all? He certainly comes high on the short list.

There is an exhibition on in London at the moment, of Greek art. I read a review of it, shortly before we left, grumbling that the exhibition is arranged thematically rather than chronologically, thus depriving the viewer of the chance to contemplate the question of how and why classical Greek art became so good.

If my arithmetic is right (as I have said, it's Sunday; there's not really time to think this through) the interval between the KofS and Zeus is about the same as that between us and the Impressionists – not a million years, in other words. What happened? The Good Guys won the battle of Marathon, is one thing.

And they acquired a knowledge of anatomy that Leonardo would have admired. You can see Zeus' muscles rippling under his bronze skin. His balance is perfection – he is in the act of throwing a (missing) thunderbolt. His size is also just right. He is a god, and therefore bigger than you or I. But not a giant.

He makes the eyes prickle, like Raphael's portrait of Castiglione in the Louvre.

We also saw Schliemann's gold hoard from Mycenae. I must have seen it 60 years ago, but I don't remember it. Wow!

There are lots and lots of funeral monuments from the Keramikos where we had walked on Monday – Greeks solemnly saying goodbye to each other in a way, as Helen poignantly remarked, that one never gets to do in real life.

And this, a little boy and his uncomfortable dog:

It comes from Asia Minor somewhere. A Greek family brought it back – and it must have been an awkward piece of luggage – when Greece and Turkey exchanged populations in 1922.

So, knitting and other shopping tomorrow, insh'Allah.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

New follower -- hi!

The Kaffe pattern I was thinking of yesterday when I showed you that mosaic at Corinth, is simply called “Mosaic Vest”. It's a sleeveless vest of Rowan Donegal Lambswool – which I strongly suspect they don't do any more – in (indeed, on the cover of) “Kaffe's Colour Book”. That's a paperback, not-much-more-than-pamphlet, a Rowan publication, with a lot of good things in it. I've actually got a kit of the Mosaic Vest. Maybe I should actually knit it.

The striped sweater Helen was wearing in yesterday's photos was perhaps known as Relax 3 when I was knitting it not long ago. The stripes are Carol Sunday, but I think I knit them to the Relax pattern. It's all here in the blog somewhere. Her premature grey hair is a characteristic that has turned up elsewhere in the family. My husband's mother had it, and his own hair was dashingly marked with grey when he married aet. 31. I have read that it is an auto-immune symptom in the same spectrum as Type I diabetes (Helen's brother James) and thyroid deficiency (too many to count, including Helen herself).

Nothing to do with my genes.

I got on well with the Tokyo shawl yesterday. I'm within one row of finishing the current stripe and turning around – reversing the st st – for the next. It's deliciously soft, like knitting the cat – I think that's a comparison I've made before. I will carry on, in the hopes of mastering the pattern thoroughly in both directions. My current thought for the pocket squares is to knit one every time I switch from Tokyo to Sous Sous.

Wednesday in Greece

We took things a bit easy, after Tuesday's heavy archaeology. We started out in the local market:

You can blame Helen for that artistic triangular shot. We had great fun. There were piles of “horta”, looking suspiciously like dandelions.

"Horta" appeared on most of the cafe menus as we were lunching during the week. In the cafe in Distomo on Friday (see Wednesday's blog, for that) the proprietor told us he had gathered it himself that morning, and it was particularly good.

Helen has a cookery book called “Vefa's Kitchen” which we gave her some Christmasses ago – an English translation of what must be the Greek Mrs.-Beeton-cum-Delia-Smith. It's good. I may want a copy for myself. For horta, she says to braise it for 15 minutes or so, until tender, and then season and dress with a bit of oil and lemon juice.

After the market, we went to Marathon. There is nothing there except the battlefield, now dotted with olive trees, and the tumulus where the Athenian dead are buried. It is bigger than I remembered. Several busloads of unruly schoolchildren were there when we arrived. Their teachers hadn't much control, and there wasn't much policing of the site. Nobody climbed on the tumulus.

Where the mountains look on Marathon/ and Marathon looks on the sea.

Friday, April 10, 2015

I resumed the Tokyo shawl yesterday, with a bit of a blip. The pattern is of the simplest – k20, k2tog, k48, yo; repeat that sequence once; k20. I lost a stitch somewhere, and one of the curves of eyelets is somewhat out of whack. There is the mildest of difficulties involved in the fact that alternate bands are of reversed st st and that involves reversing the pattern – k20, yo, k48, k2togtbl etc. I must keep at it this time until I have really mastered it and I am sure it's safe to lay it aside.

And I must fit pocket squares into the General Scheme of Things. Maybe weekends? The wedding is in mid-September. I'd like to have them done by the end of May if only to give Matt time to change his mind. About knitted pocket squares, I mean, not about Hellie.

Back to Greece

On Tuesday we went to Corinth. Today's pictures are my own.

We went to see, and to be the guests of, an archaeologist friend of Greek Helen's, a lively woman nearly as old as I am. We started at the ruins of the Temple of – oh dear, was it Poseidon? Her life work, and the site of the ancient Corinthian Games.

Then on to the ancient harbour – it must have been where St Paul landed; there is no other. It is, as you can see, no-where's-ville, and all the more interesting for that. 

The shingle is liberally laced with pottery fragments, presumably ancient. We picked up a few.

Then on to the main ruins of ancient Corinth. Helen's friend was able to take us into a workroom where a recently-excavated mosaic was being worked on, nothing desperately distinguished but interesting for Helen (herself a mosaicist) to see it and to talk to the men who were working on it. That's her in the background.

Then the on-site museum. I wish we had had Kaffe with us. He did a vest pattern using the border at the centre of this mosaic. Where?

And we wondered how ancient spirographs worked, exactly. We saw another one like this at the National Archaeological Museum later in the week.

Then Helen's friend gave us a delicious lunch at home with a view overlooking Mount Helicon. When she and her husband are in Britain, they live at Glen Farg not far from Strathardle. They often spend time in Kirkmichael.

Then we went out for coffee and some souvenir-shopping.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

I have retrieved the car.

After I wrote to you, I walked up and down Scotland Street again just to make sure it wasn't there. Then I phoned the police who were very brisk and helpful. It was soon established that it was not in the pound, where you have to pay £180 to get your car back; you can argue about it afterwards if you like.

So it was decided that it had been stolen, and I was awaiting a visit from a policeman when someone rang back to say that the City of Edinburgh had acknowledged that they had moved it (perhaps needing the space for a removal van). It was now parked outside No. 15 Drummond Street. He explained to me how to get there. It is a mile or so away, opposite the university.

I went, and walked up and down Drummond Street (which is mercifully short). The car was not there, nor is there a No. 15 on Drummond Street. As I was sitting on the homeward bus, tired and despondent, the Answer Came To Me. Many of you will have guessed it already. The car was parked in front of No. 15 Drummond Place, a due passi from our front door but in a part of the square where it could have stayed for months before we found it.

So full marks to the police, but I feel the City of Edinburgh owes me one. The potatoes had gone a bit green.


We'd probably better get caught up on this subject.

While I was away, I worked on the Craftsy course on continental knitting. I made a bit of progress. But on the last day I decided to revert at least temporarily to my old ways. I'm slow and clumsy, but the tension is pretty even and I'm happy.  I cast on a pocket square so that I will know, on Hellie and Matt's wedding day, that one of them was knit in Athens. I finished it on the plane home.

I also made a bit of progress on the current Pakokku sock. It doesn't swirl, on 56 stitches, but is not entirely uninteresting.

Here, I resumed the Sous Sous and have finished the fourth repeat on the back (of ten). Time to return to the Tokyo shawl, but last night I was too weary to switch mental gears so in fact I am quite well advanced with the fifth repeat.


We might as well take it day by day. So far, you are seeing the pictures Helen sent back during the week. C. and I have still to upload ours.

On Monday we went in to central Athens. All the museums were closed because it was Monday, so we walked in the ancient Keramikos cemetery in the pleasant spring sunshine. From there, C. had her first view of the Parthenon.

The tortoises were out. I like the way their skirts resemble those of an ancient warrior or the Evzones. We saw a pair of them Behaving Inappropriatly.

Then we had the first of our delicious cafe lunches. For an extra euro, we had a Greek salad served as an American-type chopped salad, perhaps with an extra ingredient or two. Capers? Very tasty, anyway. Here, C. nd I are talking to a cat.

And having coffee after lunch, near the Roman forum:

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Back in the saddle, and on the whole glad to be there. Greece was wonderful, every hour of it, and all went smoothly – including my husband's London adventure. Life has been a bit sharper-edged since.

Within half-an-hour of my return on Sunday afternoon, the overhead light in the kitchen exploded. The cleaning woman failed to get the metal sleeve out of the socket yesterday, so I'll have to get an electrician jn. A nuisance.

I was ill yesterday morning (hence no blog) – innards readjusting to real life, maybe. It was bad enough for a few hours in the morning to create some anxiety about how we could manage if I were disabled. We couldn't, is the answer. But I'm OK now.

Yesterday evening I went out to get a bag of potatoes I think I left in the car after the last supermarket sweep. I couldn't find it – not the bag of potatoes. The car. So that's today's first job. I might be mistaken about where I left it. The City of Edinburgh might have confiscated it. You never know. It's a very old car. Google has provided the police telephone number to ring – they'll know whether it has been impounded. How did we manage before Google?


Now, how to tell you about Greece? Where to begin? The weather was unspeakably wonderful -- La Primavera, quando Flora da fiori adorna il mundo. Wrong language, right sentiment.

Here I am with the Kouros of Sounion:

Here, in a cafe studying a brochure:

Here, at the monastery of Osios Loukos:

It was founded more than a millennium ago. It is in the hills near Delphi (where we didn't go). Mount Parnassus, still snow-capped, was clearly visible.

After the visit, we had lunch in Distomo, the nearest town. The cafe and its food were of the simplest – Greek salad, bean soup. Delicious. We were the only customers. Over coffee, the proprietor suddenly began telling us about the Massacre of Distomo, of which I had never previously heard. “Right there” – gesturing to the window – “in front of the National School”. An old man in the corner joined in, looking even more like a retired partisan than the proprietor did. His grandfather had been killed that day, and his mother's two brothers.

Two babies died – unbaptised.

I looked it up when we got home. It's a famous massacre. It was the SS, of course, in reprisal for something the partisans had done. It's one of the events for which Mr Tsipras is still trying to get reparations from Mrs Merkel. Those men must have told the story a thousand times, as they did to us that day. It was still a memorable conversation. Greek Helen translated for us as it went along.

More to follow.