Friday, August 30, 2019

Tomorrow would have been my 63rd wedding anniversary. We never observed anniversaries, so it doesn’t much matter. This is one of the years when days and dates measure up. The 31st of August was Saturday in 1957, I think you’ll find.

Things went better today, knitting-wise. I tinked yesterday’s error, re-knit it, and then the rest of the row – and knit back again. I am now ready to start the row I wrongly started yesterday. In which I will establish the final small motifs in the Spring Shawl central triangle.

I also ordered Hoxbro’s “Traditional Danish Sweaters”. The new VK says that it is an “important book”. I am a sucker for such statements. I feel a certain unease – I know about those Danish night shirts. How? Do I have an earlier edition of this book?  Perhaps an article by Hoxbro somewhere. Amazon promises it for tomorrow.

I think the pattern in the new VK which I’d most like to knit – I never will – is the prize-winning Amber Leafy Coat by Quinny Zhang. Brioche is a lot of fun. Some of the shawls are tempting, too.

That’s about it. The new great-granddaughter is now very near. Her father looks forward to watching the next match in the Ashes series with her. Or if not that, the one after.

Since I have introduced politics to these pages, I ought to go ahead and say how sad I am that Ruth Davidson has left the stage. She was totally unexpected, and terrific. Her going makes Scottish independence much more likely. That’s not a prospect I relish, although things are in such a muddle down south that it no longer seems quite as bad as it once did.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Today’s excitement has concerned plumbing, never the best news. Our downstairs neighbour came up yesterday to say that I was dripping into his bathroom. Tradesmen have appeared. The leak has been identified and repaired. Unfortunately, it has been going on for a while, and the floorboards around the washhand basin are in a deplorable condition. More tradesmen next week.

I have resumed the Spring Shawl but, despite careful record-keeping, I seem to have promoted myself by two rows. Nothing for it but some very careful tinking tomorrow morning when I’m at my best.

The new VK was among the delights in the pile of mail waiting for me when I got back. Nothing I’ve got to knit, but a promising start for the new editor. Another thing in that pile was Thomas Ligotti’s “Noctuary”. Archie is about to resume his university career, and intends to write his senior thesis on the relationship between horror fiction and gloomy philosophers (there must be a more formal name for them) such as Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. Archie knows a lot about horror fiction. I had never heard of Ligotti or Lovecraft before I met Archie, although I was up to scratch with Poe.

But “Noctuary” isn’t easy to get hold of. We had to order it from the US. Fortunately it came very promptly. Archie says it’s not in the university library – it is nice to think that his supervisor will have to go to the trouble and expense of ordering it, too.

Meanwhile I progress with “The Eustace Diamonds”. It’s very long, and somewhat depressing.


Kate Davies’ messages sound energetic and cheerful, and she plans to be back in full swing very shortly.

It sounds as if Annie Modesitt is getting better, too. She has abandoned blogging in favour of Facebook, alas.


Here is the baronet crossing the bridge in Kirkmichael last Saturday. It would have been a better picture if I had waited a few more heartbeats, but you get the idea.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Here we are, safely back. A good time was had by all, in good weather. The cats were completely free, except that we shut them in at night. Paradox turns out to be a fearsome mouser. We stopped counting when the tally moved into double figures. Her prey was mostly field mice, Timmy Willies not Johnny Town Mice. (The two won’t inhabit the same house, as Beatrix Potter implies – but Timmy Willy can do a lot of damage.) She got a lizard one day, but we took that away from her.

She came back from her early morning walk a couple of times wet and muddy, and I hoped that meant hanky panky in the paddock. (I’d love to have one box of kittens before she’s spayed.) It’s much more likely to mean that she had been hunting in the grass while the dew was on it. But I won’t let her be spayed until all hope is gone.

And the Games were fine. I’ve got a picture for you of the baronet leading the pipe band across the bridge, but I’ll have to re-charge my telephone before you can see it.

I knit a bit more scarf, but didn’t finish it. I haven’t knit since we got back yesterday, on anything.

I’m sure if you get to know any village on earth well enough, stories will begin to unfold like novels. Our nearest neighbours are involved in one – Trollope would have loved it. Inheritance, animosity, a big house, sisters of marriageable age, sudden death. The family has been there for more than a century. The house is about to be sold at the wish of a man who is not related to them in blood, but who holds a life-rent.

I’m reading the Eustace Diamonds. Beth, I sympathise with your dislike of it but will persevere.

This has been a momentous day in British politics. I even hoped for a while this morning that the Queen would say No, Mr Johnson, I will not prorogue parliament. I’m glad at least that the Privy Council travelled to her at Balmoral, rather than vice versa. I think she values that holiday. Princess Diana first marked herself as a renegade, I think, by hating the place.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

No need for an Internet cafe. I have my beloved iPad ever to hand. I don’t like composing on its virtual keyboard, but it can be done.

We’re getting on fine. The cats are completely free and I don’t even worry about them. Helen and her husband and their sons and their dog have gone away. The James Mileses are now here — no dog. Tomorrow we are going to St Andrews, partly for touristic interest, partly because their younger daughter Kirsty might consider it as a university for her future.

And Saturday is Games Day. I don’t care about much except seeing the baronet lead the procession across the bridge and into the field, drawn sword in hand, feather in cap. He is almost as old as I am, and it’s not a cardboard sword. The feather means he is our chieftain.

And I have been knitting the scarf. It feels strange in my hands, all right, after all that cobweb weight. 
I think I told you that Elizabeth Johnston said, during our lace class during the Shetland Wool Adventure, that one mustn’t switch back and forth to a heavier project while knitting a fine shawl. I suspect she’s right, but I need to get this done. Curled on my lap it feels as heavy and comfortable as a cat, but I had James hang it around his neck today -  since he is almost as tall as Thomas Miles for whom it is destined— and clearly I’ve got some way to go. 

I’ve done a bit of walking, not much. It is odd to be here where I used to be so strong.


I’ve finished The Last September. It ends sadly, as was predictable throughout. Then I read Melanie Ried’s “The World I Fell Out Of”, about disability. Her horse refused a jump, and her world changed for the worse forever. She writes wonderfully, with her one imperfectly functioning hand. But that is enough gloom for now. I have retreated to Trollope: The Eustace Diamonds. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Nothing to report, except that I’m going back to Kirkmichael tomorrow – with the cats, and with Helen and her family – and won’t be back until the beginning of September or thereabouts. Helen seems confident, but I don’t think we’ll all fit in the car. I will take the Calcutta Cup scarf again, and am determined to finish it before I come back.

We went to see Austentatious today, my one nod to this year’s Festival. They improvise comedy of a vaguely Jane Austen-ish sort. I think I would have enjoyed it more in a smaller theatre, where we might all have felt part of the improvisation. They were good, though.

I’ve been fermenting a chilli mash again, meaning to make “my” chilli sauce to take some to Kirkmichael for James’ and Cathy’s daughter Rachel, who was kind enough to praise it recently. It is the Jamie Oliver recipe from YouTube, chillies omitted and the whole infused with fermented chilli mash at the end, to taste. But I am too tired. Maybe tomorrow morning, before we go. I’ve made some more kimchi recently, but am not making much progress with eating it.

I can’t now fall into bed, as I would choose, because I am committed to a grocery delivery at least an hour hence.

Reading: I’ve re-read enough Jackson Brodie, and have reverted to “The Last September”. I started again from the beginning, because I find the names as confusing as a Russian novel. “Francie”, for instance, is “Mrs Montmorency” on another page, and there are many others similar. It’s all right for the first chapter or two, with about half a dozen significant characters, but then we have a tennis party.

Thank you and bless you,  for your comments. See you in September.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Two more (long) rows of Spring Shawl today. I am now thoroughly embarked on the final motifs, the cats’ eyes. That's better.

I got a nice little book of “Ten Poems About Knitting” for my birthday earlier this week. (86! How did that happen?) One of them begins “I knit to keep death away” – and the line is underlined. Surely not by the sender! It’s a bit unnerving.

Lizzie and Dan are safely here, looking remarkably spruce after a night of sitting bolt upright on a bus. Various people will gather here tomorrow for a bread-and-cheese lunch before we go to see “Austentatious”. If I’m strong enough. I am in some doubt.


I’m calming down a bit. Archie, on being told the story, says that the scammers must have thought they were about to land a big fish. Indeed so.

Clearly, there are great similarities on both sides of the pond. I get a lot of those calls to say that I am about to lose my internet connection – almost all from non-native-English-speakers. In January when we are all tearing our hair out at the approach of the Income Tax deadline, we have wonderful ones, recorded in perfect HMRC voices, to say that our tax affairs are being investigated. Very scary, but it needs only a moment to reflect that, on a land line, at least, a recorded message must be harmless because there is no way Her Majesty can know whether or not the butler has answered the phone.

(Alexander has told me always to disregard recorded messages.)

An old boy who used to be a governor of the Bank of England got caught by the loss-of-internet one recently. (They install something very nasty on your computer if you let them.) And a shrewd columnist on the Times nearly fell for one of the worst, when you get an email purportedly from your accountant or your lawyer or your estate agent changing their bank details and then you send your tax payment or the down payment on your new house to the wrong address.

Jeanfromcornwall, I was delighted to hear from a fellow Thunderer fan. I can’t remember how my husband and I heard about them, but when we did we went to the factory (which is in Birmingham, where we lived) and bought two. They hang by the back door in Kirkmichael and are used when someone needs urgently to summon help. I blew a Thunderer when I broke my right arm.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Again, no knitting. Either I’ll have to pull myself together, or give up blogging.

Rachel’s youngest child, Lizzie, and her boyfriend Dan will be here early tomorrow (after a night on a bus – I could do that when I was their age) for a couple of days of Festival-ing.

James’ and Cathy’s youngest, Kirsty, covered herself with glory, A-Level-results-wise.

And Archie and I moved life somewhat forward today.

I am still feeling shocked by yesterday’s scam – it’s sort of like finding rats in the larder. I’m afraid it’s no use reporting it. I wasn’t quick-witted enough to grab any details – the sort code and the account number of the account “in my name” to which he wanted me to transfer rather a lot of money, for instance. The lead story in the Times today is about how the police duck out of dealing with such crimes. And in my case, no crime was committed, thank goodness.

I was awfully grateful for your comments.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Here we are safely back. We had a good time. It was wonderful to turn the cats free, as is their birthright. I didn’t worry at all, this time. They love me, in their furry way. They came home.

Paradox caught a mouse! It was very small – probably, in fact, a shrew. She was delighted with it. All those who don’t believe in instinct – there are such – should watch a 2-year-old indoor cat with her first mouse.

I didn’t knit a stitch. Kate Atkinson supervened. Like you, Peggy, I am re-reading with great pleasure. The feeling/knowledge that I’ve-been-here-before is an asset.

Here is my husband’s stone:

And that of Helen and David’s eldest son (a year older than Archie), next to it:

And the two together:

The swirl at the top of each is meant to link them  -- important, since the names are different. The slight impression these photographs give of not-straightness is erroneous.

We got back here in good order at midday, the cats complaining the whole way. We made a little detour on the way to Wolfhill, which turns out to be very near Dunsinnan which equals Dunsinane. Wolfhill is not, however, the very hill upon which as I did stand my watch I looked towards Birnam and anon, methought, the wood began to move. That hill is in another village, nearby.

Then while I was still unpacked and recovering, I had a phone call which I am by now quite convinced was a scam, but it was a good and complicated one. I have read of such (fortunately). He claimed to be from the bank. Two suspicious charges had been made on my debit card, he said, £500 of groceries in each case to be delivered to an address in Dundee. He knew the first four numbers of the debit card, and the name of the supermarket I use – that could have been good luck – and my street address.

He wanted me to transfer a rather large amount of money to a new account, “in my name”, to protect it. I refused. He urged me to phone him back at the number on the back of my debit card. I am an assiduous reader of financial pages, and I think I know that Bad Men do this, and can divert the call to their own number, as long as you ring it within the next 10 or 15 minutes.

I phoned Alexander, who said to do nothing, and that’s what I’ve done. But it was unsettling.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

I’m going to Kirkmichael tomorrow, until Wednesday. Back here that evening, or Thursday.

My husband’s gravestone is at last to be fixed in place. We were all set for midday tomorrow, but the stone mason (who is somewhere in the north of England, I think) has had an adverse reaction to a wasp sting, and can’t be there until later in the afternoon, or perhaps Tuesday. Greek Helen was planning to go, and Alexander with his sons. All that is certain now is that C. and I will be there (if he turns up).

I’ll take the scarf to knit and should make serious progress.

And the cats will come too. Despite them, I am feeling almost as jumpy as if I were going to Naples or the Isle of Wight.

Reading:  I have finished “Control” which is a perfectly adequate thriller. Publishers usually ask for two from a new writer these days – I’ll be interested to see what he comes up with next. There is room for improvement, but he (the author, Hugh Montgomery) has Schherazade’s trick of writing short chapters that each leave you gasping for the next one, and his use of the medical background is skilful.

Over coffee after Mass this morning we got talking about Kate Atkinson (a fave) and in particular her “When Will There Be Good News?” I’m sure I’ve read it – I’ve read all of Jackson Brodie – but the plot didn’t feel familiar, and, oddly, it wasn’t on my iPad. So I bought it, and am reading that. It has a familiar feel.

Then I'll go back to “The Last September”. It has a “modern” feel, shifting from the viewpoint of one character to another – and having lots of characters whose relationship to each other one struggles to keep straight. Rather like Virginia Wolff.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

A fresher day today, and the sun shone. But now we are back to apocalyptic rain and thunder and lightning. The iPad won’t connect to the internet. I think I’m all right here, with the laptop. We’ll soon see. How bereft I feel without the internet, alone in the universe!

One more row of Spring Shawl today – better than nothing.

Thank you for your kind remarks about Joe and Becca’s wedding. That was a good day.

Here is a pointless anecdote which serves, at least, to illustrate a point I often make, that there are few things better than creating a problem for yourself and then solving it.

Yesterday afternoon, I couldn’t find my keys. Normally, when that is the case, I have but to assure myself that since I am in the house, so must they be. Not so, yesterday. My nice man came about lunchtime (after my soaking in Drummond Place Gardens) and brought me a new battery for the car. When he had installed it, he came to the door and gave me the invoice and I paid him with my debit card and all four of our hands were occupied with this activity.

So when the keys weren’t with the invoice or the card, nor anywhere else plausible, I wondered if he still had them. I was anxious through the night. I rang him up this morning; he was sure he had given them to me. And as I talked to him, I solved the problem: I had put the keys aside, there by the door. Not a normal key-place, but there they were.

I told you it was pointless, but still, a great relief. I went off to the supermarket and the car went vroom, vroom.

Reading: “The Last September” is good, and I’m sure I will persevere, but it is also depressing. It’s a family-in-country-house story, a genre I adore (Mansfield Park! Il Gattopardo! Brideshead!) but this time with the grim sense of the Irish Troubles just beyond the gates, and the knowledge that the Irish will win and the house is doomed. So today I succumbed to a thriller – a medical thriller, at that: “Control” by Hugh Montgomery. It’s certainly thrilling.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Again, little to report – two more rows of the Spring Shawl. But tonight you’ll forgive me, because I’ve got the wedding pictures at last. They were stuck in my telephone, but Archie was here today and released them.

I’ve finished “Father and Son” – Susan, do read it. It’s fairly short, and quite interesting. I’ve embarked on Elizabeth Bowen’s “The Last September”. The Anglo-Irish in 1920. It starts well.

More bad weather. My personal trainer and I set off for Drummond Place Gardens in a drizzle, and came back two circuits later, soaked to the skin. I’m sure it did us good. And in the afternoon, the sun shone, at least for a while. It does lift the apirits.

Archie and I tried, again,  to go to the supermarket, and again the battery was flat. Now I’ve got a new one.

Here are the wedding pictures. The little girls leading the procession into the church are two of my great-granddaughters.

As you can see, we were blessed with our weather. The following week, the current succession of great heat and torrential rain started almost everywhere.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

I was hot and sweaty yesterday, and didn’t have any knitting to report. Today has gone better – three rows of Spring Shawl, including a certain amount of successful frogging.

We had an extraordinary thunderstorm yesterday afternoon – the cats were alarmed. And in the morning, I found the car battery flat when Archie and I set off to the supermarket. My dear garage came around and kick-started it, and I drove around through local streets for half an hour in the hopes of beefing things up. We’ll attempt the supermarket again tomorrow. I'd be happier with a new battery.


I’ve finished “Wives and Daughters” and embarked upon Edmund Gosse’s “Father and Son”. My mother said that it was highly influential in her life. I read it when I was young, long ago, but perhaps without the critical attention it needed and deserved. I mean to try harder, this time. I’m enjoying it, anyway.

My mother’s parents, like Gosse’s, were religious. There, I think, the similarity ends. Gosse’s father was a Fellow of the Royal Society and the esteemed author of “History of the British Sea Anemones and Corals”. He believed strenuously in the literal inerrancy of the Bible; Darwin caused him great distress.

I don’t know what my grandfather – a good two generations younger – thought about Darwin. He was an evangelical preacher, shrewd and intelligent, but no intellectual. His lips moved when he read. My mother was somewhat emancipated, perhaps even could be classified as a “flapper” in the 1920’s.

I’ll report back.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

The knitting of the Spring Shawl is back in order. Perdita’s mess will just about pass the galloping horse test, but certainly won’t stand up to closer inspection. There are 15 more pattern rows to go, and then I can’t remember – 7 or 9 – to finish off. Not entirely negligible, but I should eventually get there. Cardboard is beginning to show throw the second ball of yarn: that’s encouraging.

Andrew and Andrea didn’t have anything of riveting interest for me, and made a pleasant background while I put the shawl back in order. And IK turned up, a pleasant autumnal issue full of cosy sweaters but nothing I have to rush out and knit.

Today was Exam Result Day in Scotland. Helen and David’s youngest son Fergus did well, as did Alexander and Ketki’s elder son James. It’s next week, I think, when we hear James’ and Cathy’s daughter Kirsty’s A-Level results. That’s a big one.

Last night’s programme about the conjoined twins was well worth staying up for. The girls were delightful, their devoted father an inspiring character. The emphasis of the programme was on the strategy meetings at Great Ormond Street. Everybody was there – world-famous surgeon, anaesthetist, clergyman, nurses , the girls’ father – and nobody knew what to do.

It was agreed that the weaker sister wouldn’t survive surgery. The stronger one had a fair chance, but no more than that. That being the case, the father wouldn’t agree to surgery. The hospital didn’t argue. The father thought that he would agree to surgery if the weaker one began to fail, but they had to explain to him that by then, it would be too late. Both would die.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Knitting: I picked up the row I found myself too hot and sweaty to finish yesterday, and found that the cats had been at it. I try to be very careful, but I slipped up. Let’s assign blame where blame is due: Paradox.

I have straightened things out up to a point, and finished the row. There are too many stitches, which seems very odd. I don’t think I’ll venture on any more tonight. Maybe some scarf. I plan to watch a BBC programme about conjoined twins – a fearful case, which would have been called, in my brutal youth, a two-headed baby. The sort of thing which would have been strictly forbidden (watching-wise) in my husband’s day.

Andrew and Andrea tomorrow?

I have a couple of possible Festival projects in mind; no bookings as yet. The Festival has become too big for Edinburgh, as has happened in so many places beloved of tourists. One is surprised, sometimes, that there is anybody left at home anywhere to serve as natives. I treasure my memories of Edinburgh in the summer of 1953, my first Festival, my first Edinburgh. It was very different. I saw two Shakespeares, one Festival, one Fringe – Hamlet and Henry V, respectively; a brand new T.S. Eliot – The Confidential Clerk, I think. Eliot himself was in Edinburgh. And no stand-up comedy at all.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Again, but a touching of base. The weather has turned hot and sticky again. I resumed knitting, but began at the wrong end of the row. A lot of careful tinking and careful re-knitting ensued, and by the time everything was straightened out I felt too sweaty to proceed. There are another 8 or 10 rows of normal patterning to do before the end game proper begins. I’ll count tomorrow.

I also had Italian homework to do. The lesson was postponed because Federica was going to an all-day party on Saturday and I like to go with C. to an early Mass on Sunday. I think I’ve done enough. I was working on "ci" and "ne" which are not entirely easy for an English-speaker, but vital. 

Onwards with “Wives and Daughters”. There may not be any workers in it, but Gaskell’s rendition of class distinctions is brilliant. She died, according to the introduction, when she had finished all but a chapter – falling forward between one sentence and the next at a tea party. The end we all would ask for. There is certainly no hint of diminishing powers in what I have read so far.

I harvested two courgettes from the doorstep today and fried them in butter and lemon juice with my lunch. They are notoriously a rather boring vegetable. I was surprised to find how much improved they are, freshly-harvested. It shouldn't have been a surprise, really. And my two plants should have another six productive weeks to go. There are plenty of Italianate recipes if frying-in-butter palls.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

I am just touching base to let you know that I am alive and well. Our expedition this morning was to the garden centre at Hopetoun House, near the Forth bridges. It’s a grand place, full of happy and energetic-looking plants. Helen bought a clematis and a strawberry plant for her new garden. I bought some seeds which may produce winter salads if I get them sown promptly. My niece C. was with us, and we had a good time giggling over coffee.

The return journey offers a splendid view of the three bridges lined up beside each other. The new one is a thing of beauty which doesn't seem to have attracted the fame it deserves.

But no knitting. And that (plus some local shopping after we got back) was enough walking for today, nor did I attempt further exercise. I did read a few more pages of “Wives and Daughters”. And there you have it.

Mary Lou, I’ve often been tempted by a Fitbit but fear I would be embarrassed by how little exercise I could produce for it. The fact that you are fond of yours tempts me further.

I like the sound of the ballet-for-the-elderly videos, too.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Another good day. Perhaps I am gradually recovering from England. My personal trainer came – I had to put her off last week; I was too feeble. This time I could scarcely drag myself to the door, but, as ever, felt vastly rejuvenated after our session. I am determined to do a 10-15 minute exercise session every day on my own, as well as circumnavigating the garden. We shall see.

But tomorrow Greek Helen is taking me to a Point of Cultural Interest.

And I am perhaps two and a half rows forrad’er with the Spring Shawl. The final lace diamonds are done – nothing, now, except the end game.

Forrad’er, too, with “Wives and Daughters”. That is an interesting comparison, Shandy, with my beloved “Mansfield Park”. You set me thinking again about the wonderful passage in which almost the whole party goes to call on Mr Rushworth and his mother. Austen is as good as Evelyn Waugh there, at reporting what people do and say and allowing us to understand what they think and feel.

Mary Lou, do seek out William Trevor.

I've now got some wedding photographs in my telephone, but can't figure out how to get them out into the real world. I'll get Archie on the job.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

And yet another goodish day. Archie came. We circumnavigated Drummond Place Gardens (once) and got some other things done. Not much knitting, though. I watched Pointless with idle hands, except for a stitch or two.

Reading, Comments

Beth, I don’t know the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, but I would certainly like to hear Atwood reading Alice Munro so I’ll work at it. Thank you.

Peggy, Dawn has answered you more than adequately about flying menaces in Scotland. Midges won’t kill you, but they can certainly make life miserable. The class I was referring to was just the First Year Latin class – the “Ordinary” class, it was called in 1954, as I hope it still is.

William Trevor: I’m slightly embarrassed to acknowledge that I “discovered”  him in the New Yorker (as I did Alice Munro and Jhumpa Lahiri). He’s dead now. Like the other two writers mentioned, mostly noted for short stories. Gentle, penetrating stories. Highly recommended. A Protestant Irishman, resident in England for much of his life.

Dawn, thank you for your scholarly researches. Tacitus’ word in Latin is “solitudinem”. An “emptiness”, perhaps.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I am well stuck in to “Wives and Daughters” and enjoying it even more, I think, than “North and South”.