Saturday, November 30, 2019

Dies Atra

Not a great day, but I got some things done: my morning exercises, and a digging around in the blog archives to find out all I could about pocket squares. And a Tesco order, arriving Monday.

In the early months of 2015 I was doing a lot of other things besides knitting pocket squares, so there was a lot of digging to be done. Someone wrote a short story once – could it even have been Graham Greene? – that starts a life history with the funeral, and works backwards. The blog-reading had something of that effect – my husband getting stronger and more bad-tempered. Myself so much stronger than am I now.

I was impressed with how helpful and supportive all four of my children were. How unappreciated, I fear.

And oh! that was when Perdita came to live here. How we loved each other before this awful other cat came!

That's Paradox, yesterday.

Now I’ll go spend one last evening with the Dathan hap, and another episode of The Crown. I do agree, FugueStateKnits, that borders-inward is the way to knit. That delicious illusion, as the stitch count decreases, that you are knitting faster and faster! Amedro has some patterns where there is no centre square – you just go on knitting inwards until there is nothing left. I don’t think it would work with the Dathan (why not?) but it’s a happy thought.


I got as far as the butcher today: I have to go out on Saturday, to get the Financial Times. And I thought, as I hobbled along, that everybody else must be as bored with this election as I am. Less than two weeks to go – the lampposts completely innocent of posters, no notices in anybody’s windows. One would not know that it was happening.

I’m reading “The Golden Fleece” and quite enjoying it.

Friday, November 29, 2019

I forgot to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving yesterday. I was happy to be spared it.

Jenny, thank you. I am sure – especially after looking at my forgotten previous hap – that a gentle overall shade is needed, and what better than a beige to suggest parched landscape. Gudrun’s pattern then requires four contrast colours. I’ll go for the three of the old ANC flag – gold, green, and black – and top them off with red, which is in the modern flag and which is the Hindu colour of joy. That leaves out white and blue – enough is enough.

Meanwhile the Dathan hap has crept past the 500 stitch count, I think. I’ll carry on with it tomorrow, the darkest of days; then knit the pocket square; then return to the Dathan for what remains of December, while acquiring the materials I need for Gudrun’s hap. I might even start it during the Back End – those odd days between Christmas and the New Year.

If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans for tomorrow.


I’ve been watching The Crown a bit. I’m up through the episode about Mountbatten. I find the whole thing completely unbelievable, in a way that I don’t think disturbed me about the first two series. I also find that I have the same objection to Olivia Colman – of whom I am a passionate fan – as I did to Helen Mirren in that famous film about the Queen for which, I think, she won an Oscar.

Namely, that both make me feel that they are trying hard to be Queenly every moment of the time. Whereas I feel pretty sure that the Queen herself has got used to it, and is comfortable in her own skin.

However, The Crown makes excellent moving wallpaper as a background for garter stitch knitting.

This is a very rare week in which both Italian and personal training have been dispatched before the weekend. I am looking forward to tomorrow, but must use it wisely.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

A strenuous day, or so it felt. I had an Italian lesson at seven this morning, and slept uneasily in anticipation of my early rise. All went well. My tutor said that my written Italian is better than my spoken. I was pleased at first, then less so. I continue to flounder around like a three-year-old.

Then a man came to see me about a door. Then Archie came, but didn’t succeed in getting my printer back into action.

Alexander said last night, of his son Thomas, “He seems to be enjoying lolling about at home, doing what he does best”. No further news today.

Thank you for reminding me of when I knit Gudrun’s hap. Only three years ago, and I have no memory of it whatsoever (except those YO loops on the edges of the central square). Linda sent me an address for a picture of it being blocked: (Sorry to spell it out like that – it doesn’t seem to work when I insert it as a link.)

I was taken aback, not just at the forgetting, but at how much more energetic I sounded, three years ago. About to set off for London for great-granddaughter Orla’s Christening. I figured out that the hap must have been for nephew Theo’s son Emmett, and the blog confirms that. And it contains useful information about how much yarn I used.

The South African flag contains an unusual number of colours. I don’t want to tip it towards the old, apartheid flag in my ignorance. Go for green as the main colour? But an Irish friend of my youth told me that green is unlucky for babies. This needs some thought.

Reading, etc.

I’ve finished Middlemarch. I’m going to miss it.

All I wanted to say about Jonathan Miller was a remark about how the mind works. I was sitting with Helen and her husband David a couple of weeks ago, and the conversation turned to the border abbeys, and I remembered being at Fountains with my husband when we passed…..on the stairs. But I couldn’t find the name. All that came up was Alan Bennett, and I knew it wasn’t him.

I could feel that stirring about in my head wasn’t going to produce the answer. But, lying in bed the next morning, I thought, try Googling “Alan Bennett Beyond the Fringe”. That did it.

And now he’s dead. After dementia. Old age is very tough.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

No news from Glasgow – that must be good news.

What a day for death! Gary Rhodes, Jonathan Miller, Clive James (a fairly meaningless list, perhaps, outside GB) – all of them appreciably younger than I am.

I completely forgot to say yesterday, that it was Andrew & Andrea Tuesday. And a good one, number 90. The main interview is with Amy Detjen. I have met her, and love her, as  anyone would, but the interview is well worth watching even if you have never had that good fortune. Andrew said that number 91 might be a few days late. We’ll have to nerve ourselves up for that.

The stitch count of the Dathan hap is now 487 – it will be 491 when I finish the current long, long right-side row.

I went into Craftsy – I’ve forgotten its new name – and downloaded the hap pattern in Gudrun’s class (which I already had). But my printer isn’t working, so that doesn’t get me very far. She does the centre square diagonally – that is, beginning at one corner. She begins every row with a YO which makes a delicious series of loops to slip the needle through when you are picking up stitches for the borders. (When did I knit Gudrun’s hap?)

Next, I must think about those South African colours and how many of each to order.

General culture

I watched some of Episode 4 of The Crown today, and gave up on it. It’s the one about Prince Philip’s mother and the making of a documentary about the royal family. Maybe I’d do better huddling in the kitchen and watching on my iPad.

I finished and dispatched my Italian essay. I wound up comparing Middlemarch with Il Gattopardo. I wish I were eloquent enough to do it more thoroughly. The former is about the Reform Bill of 1832, the latter about the Risorgimento and the Plebiscite of 1860.

I want to say something about Jonathan Miller – see among deaths. But that’s enough for now.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The news from Glasgow is good. Thomas is coming home this evening. He had a grand time while he was there, at least he did today – an Xbox brought to his bedside, playroom and cinema available. He would have preferred to stay another day or two. His brother stayed with him last night (he’s in a single room) and would have liked to move in himself.

There’s something to be said for Management. How much nursing time and stress is saved if you don’t have to do battle with a ward of bored adolescents?

Not much has been achieved here today. I had an attack of diarrhoea in the night – no harm done, and it could have been a disaster, as I was wearing my beloved Toast pyjamas. But it left me even weaker than usual. I spent much of the morning in bed, including listening to Middlemarch. Thanks for that, Unknown. And thanks for the suggestion of the Amazon DVD, Jenny, for the old BBC television series. A serious possibility.

So I haven’t done much of this week’s Italian essay. I’ve done a bit of knitting, but I forget the stitch count. No walk. No Ferrante.

The Financial Times Boring Book feature, mentioned here I think, includes suggestions from various distinguished people. The chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland recommends an Italian novel – “I am God: A Novel” by Giacomo Sartori. I’ve never heard of either. The paragraph concludes: “A highly original novel, showing that there is, mercifully, more to Italian fiction than Elena Ferrante”.

It is nice to have a man with such interests at the helm. An improvement on Fred Goodwin. (Google if necessary)

Monday, November 25, 2019

Thomas M. – the one the Calcutta Cup scarf was knit for recently – had a bad accident yesterday playing football. Tibia and fibula shattered, prolonged surgery. Doctors hope he is young enough to make a complete recovery.

My own day was less exciting. Archie came this morning – his university is on strike – and we got some things done, and had a walk.


477 stitches on the Dathan hap when the current long, long wrong-side row is finished. It’ll feel like progress when I’m within 100 stitches of the end (597, I think.) I should be able to get there this week.

Weavinfool, you are a temptress (why not finish off the Dathan now? Comment yesterday). Two reasons, though: one is that I love my first Dathan, and find it a perfect size. And the other is that I’ve got all this yarn that I bought on Shetland, and it would be as well to consume some more of it.


I continue to enjoy Middlemarch. I’ve lost hold of the radio broadcasts but I think I know how to retrieve the podcast. I wish the television series from 20 years ago was available somewhere, but it doesn’t seem to be.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

I had a message from Rebecca this morning – she has been trying to leave comments, and can’t do it. I have had similar messages  before – my sister, who has often commented, wrote recently that  she can’t do it now. Does anyone have any idea what might have gone wrong? Could this have anything to do with Google’s take-over of Blogger? I treasure each one of your comments and hate to think of missing any.

My niece C. has returned from Iceland (two weeks ago) and recovered from an ugly cold (one week ago) and today we went to Mass. It was grand to see her. She is the grandmother of the baby expected in April, and I began to worry about whether it is wise to leave the knitting of the South African hap much longer. I’ll go on with the Dathan for the rest of November (mercifully brief) and then knit the pocket square and then it might be a good idea to switch.

Sunday is not only Mass but also the Andrew Marr show, and the Dathan hap has benefited accordingly There are now 463 stitches – that means 467 when the current long, long right-side row is finished. Maybe tonight’s episode of Attenborough’s nature programme, into which I have been gradually sucked, will prove to be early enough to find me with enough vigour at least to do that row.

Andrew Marr is all about politics. I am finding it difficult to take an interest, and very difficult to believe that the result will be other than another hung parliament.

(It’s time for me to abandon the subject of Prince Andrew. This time it is only to say that the Queen went riding with him and Fergie in Windsor Great Park on Friday. The newspaper photograph, taken I would think by a paparazzo from some distance, shows her on a rather smaller steed than the other two – presumably a well-behaved and patient pony of impeccable royal credentials. It seems to me rather remarkable that she is able to ride out at all, at the age of 93. Not many could.)


I continue to enjoy Middlemarch. I had hoped for more of Radio 4’s version during my nap today, but found myself instead with a rather sexed-up version of “Phineas Redux”, one of Trollope’s Palliser novels.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

I called up my Italian essay this morning before the lesson, and Word offered to translate it for me! I felt irrationally flattered. My problem, I find, is not so much the passato remoto as prepositions: in 2017, at Palermo, at the palazzo, etc.

Kirsten, yes, I heard Middlemarch this afternoon during my nap, and it was rather good. Radio 4 at or before 3 p.m. I mean, it might have started before: I didn’t hear the beginning.

Beth, I have heard Rebecca Mead’s book “My Life in Middlemarch” recommended before. The New Yorker sends me cartoons and articles every morning (sometimes from the current issue, sometimes not) and today there was something by her, suggesting that perhaps in 30 or 40 years’ time someone will write a panoramic novel about modern Britain with Brexit simmering in the background, the way Reform simmers in Middlemarch. I’m continuing to enjoy it.

Yesterday was the 200th anniversary of George Eliot’s birth although I didn’t know that until this morning.


Very little. I must make more effort to fit knitting in earlier in the day. I’m too weary for it otherwise, even in the early evening, even after a nap.

Mary Lou, KD calls the bind-off she uses for the Dathan hap a two-stitch i-cord: *K1, K2tog tbl, replace both stitches on the left hand needle*. Repeat as necessary. It doesn’t sound particularly slow – maybe it’s the 597 stitches which are the problem.

I think, last time, I didn’t find disposing of the ends as arduous as I had feared. But it wasn’t exactly quick.


I have a long-standing tradition of giving Helen’s husband David a Boring Book for Christmas. Today, as I hoped, the Financial Times had its annual recapitulation of the year’s Boring Books, although they didn’t phrase it quite like that. I was tempted by Mark Diacono’s “Sour” for myself – that’s the trouble with thinking about Christmas presents.

Friday, November 22, 2019

I finished my Italian essay, tried to polish it – I even got the trapassato remoto in there – dispatched it to Rome. A titanic struggle. I have accomplished little else. I didn’t go out – that was naughty. I’ve knit a bit and done my Duolingo.

I must think this knitting business through. I need to pause the Dathan hap soon to knit that pocket square in time for Christmas: shouldn’t take long. I don’t think there’s much hope of having the hap by Christmas – the individual rows are now unbelievably long, and, all else apart, the finishing will take a while. Binding off KD's way is slow (and necessary) -- and then there are the loose ends.

 How long will it take to knit a basic hap for the late April baby? Perhaps allow three months – the baby won’t go away. I could be a few days late, although of course would prefer not.

I was trotting through November in fairly good order, but the seasonal gloom has suddenly descended and caught me in its teeth. Only a month until the solstice! but that seems a long time.


I have tossed aside “The Claverings” in irritation at my own stupidity. Amazon has often saved me, too, from duplicate Kindle purchases – presumably they didn’t bother this time since it’s free. It felt familiar in the first pages, but I was still distressed to find that I had read it as recently as March.

Tamar, Shandy, and all other duplicate-buyers: I learned yesterday that an 18th century bibliophile named Richard Heber filled eight houses with his books. He remarked once that “no gentleman can be without three copies of a book: one for show, one for use and one for borrowers.”

I have started re-reading “Middlemarch”. But I’ve also bought “This Golden Fleece” for the Kindle and may switch to it, trusting it not to include a sentimentalised account of a suicide.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

OK, not too bad. My trainer came, so exercise was done. It was, in fact, a rather wonderful day, bright and mercifully windless. The hard frost on Tuesday had brought a lot of leaves down in Drummond Place Gardens, lying in pools of colour around their respective trees. I could well employ myself by learning which tree is which.

I made some progress with my Italian essay, but it’s not ready for submission yet. I’ll have to devote tomorrow morning to it. I knit some more Dathan hap – I think the stitch count is now 453. I read some more Ferrante (still not gripped). I finished Trollope’s “The Bertrams”. A meagre portion of future happiness is dredged up for some of the characters, but it’s still pretty depressing. Then I bought “The Claverings” and found that I had already read it, in March. It cost £0.00, so little was lost, but it was embarrassing.

I am afraid I am still worrying about Prince Andrew. Of course he was weak and foolish and vain and not very clever, and has done the royal family a lot of harm. But our airwaves are full of sleek American lawyers telling him to testify to the FBI. Why him, particularly? Ghislane Maxwell is (apparently) somewhere in the US. Epstein entertained two presidents – the FBI could talk to one or both of them. (He also, incredibly, was host to Stephen Hawking.)

Prince Andrew never killed anybody. It isn’t even suggested that he violated a virgin. Seriously – what about Mrs Sakoolas?

My subject matter is drifting farther and farther from knitting. That’s the trouble with long rows of garter stitch.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

So Prince Andrew is now to withdraw from public life.

A friend of ours in Kirkmichael, a retired naval officer, now buried in the same little graveyard as my husband, where I hope to join them one day – this sentence has become unwieldy. Let us call him Duncan, for that is his name.

Duncan was for a while Andrew’s commanding officer, when he (Andrew) was first in the navy. He told us once that he was struck by the fact that, in talking about his family, Andrew never said “my mother”, let alone “Mummy”. It was always, “Her Majesty the Queen.” I don’t know what one concludes from that. Duncan’s own mother died within a few days of his birth, which may have affected his perception of the matter.

I had a good day, I guess. Helen rang up early and bullied me into taking a walk. I haven’t achieved much else. The Dathan hap stitch count now stands at about 450. I must do some Italian homework this evening – write about something. I’ve got nothing to write about, and have decided on an account of “Cooking with the Duchess” as described here in English yesterday. It should at least give me a chance to bring in the passato remoto. A rough draft tonight, to be polished tomorrow.


Southern Gal, I’m sorry to hear of your fall. FugueStateKnits, I’m glad you’re enjoying “Barchester Towers” from the off. “The Bartrams” is improving slightly as it progresses, but at the moment, 2/3 of the way through, I don’t see any prospect of felicity for any of the characters and it’s rather depressing.  

Perhaps Trollope tends to get better as the book goes on, at least in the weaker ones. He’s brilliant once his characters have been thoroughly introduced. But goodness! how many characters Jane Austen establishes in the first chapter of my beloved “Mansfield Park”!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Not a bad day. Ferrante, Duolingo, 10 stitches added to the Dathan hap, an outing with Greek Helen to Waitrose. What does that leave undone?

We had elaborate roadworks hereabout recently. Helen secured for me an excellent parking place. I didn’t dare move the car while it was all going on, for fear of not being able to park when I got back. And I haven’t moved it since. Maybe I should give the car up, when the expensive times of year come rolling back? It has to be taxed, of course; and the annual fee for parking in Drummond Place is not inconsiderable; and it would need to pass its MOT test which is never entirely cheap.

But I did enjoy being taken to Waitrose. If Helen would go on doing that from time to time...


Kirsten: The Warden is the first of the Barchester novels. I skipped it, in my recent re-reading. After “Barchester Towers” the order of the others doesn’t matter. Old friends pop in and out. Except that the last two – “The Small House at Allington” and “The Last Chronicle of Barset” really need to be read consecutively. Well, you might as well read them all consecutively: Barchester Towers, Doctor Thorne, Framley Parsonage, then the final two just mentioned. You’re in for a treat.

Chloe: I heard a clip from the Queen’s “annus horribilis” speech while I was cooking lunch that day, and was surprised that she said “horr-ih-bilis”. I (with my classics degree) would have gone for “horr-ee-bilis” as many do to this day. But I looked it up on the spot, and – not surprisingly – HM was right. That “i” is short. “horr-ih-bilis”.

Tamar: I’m sure you’re right that anniversaries in general are lowering. Darkness doesn’t help. As for Prince Andrew, I don’t think he does much waving and ribbon-cutting. Princess Anne is your man for that. The press continues extremely hostile. I fear that that interview will have done him – and perhaps the whole royal family – a lot of damage.

Shandy and Jenny: (comments, Sunday) Degrees of separation are interesting indeed. Helen was at Somerville -- when, I couldn't tell you. When in Palermo in January, '18, Archie and I did a day of "Cooking with the Duchess". I got to sit next to the Duke at lunch -- Giuseppe di Lampedusa's adopted son. (I'm afraid I was much more interested in him than in cookery.) That puts me two degrees? -- would you say -- from the author, and the same number from Burt Lancaster because of the Gattopardo movie.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Poor Prince Andrew continues at or near the top of the news. There seems to be an idea that he should go to the US and give evidence to somebody or other about Epstein’s misdeeds. Maybe we could swap him for Mrs Sakoolas.

The Times – and probably a lot of other newspapers – share my idea that it would be interesting to talk to Ghislane Maxwell. Her testimony might be a good deal more interesting than Prince Andrew’s, judging from that interview. She seems to have vanished off the face of the earth.

Meanwhile I finally found a button to click on which gave me access to Series Three of the Crown. I’m not going to weary you week after week with inconsistencies and improbabilities – I’m not clever enough – but I was left breathless at the scene in the first episode in which the Queen and Prince Philip were represented as pig ignorant about their own pictures. “That’s a Rembrandt, is it?”

I am sure she was well educated in family history, including the formation of the Royal Collection. And I’m also pretty sure that she takes a housewifely interest in her furnishings, even though she didn’t choose them herself at Ikea. I don’t suppose she’s an expert in art history, but I suspect she can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerard Dows and Zophanys. (That’s Gilbert and Sullivan.) Heaven Snake! as our family saying has it.

Not much else to report. All this idling about achieved another 10 stitches for the Dathan hap. Perdita has suddenly developed a fondness for my lap, which slows things down.

I’m finding my current Trollope, “The Bertrams”, a bit of a struggle.

Tomorrow is my husband’s birthday, and I’m finding it rather depressing. He didn’t always remember mine, but he set great store by his own and his sister’s. I suspect it’s the seasonal darkness which is weighing on my spirits.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

I might not be here this evening if I could persuade Netflix to show me the new series of The Crown – but all I can get is the last item in the old one (Churchill and Graham Sutherland). Too much demand?

I didn’t get to Mass this morning because my chauffeuse is suffering from a bad cold. I watched the Andrew Marr show, and then the recording of Prince Andrew’s interview (I didn’t stay up last night, after all). Lots of garter stitch was added to the Dathan hap – when I finish the current long, long row I’ll have 419 stitches (of a desired 597).

The newspapers and radio are so hostile to Prince Andrew that I felt a contrarian sympathy for him. He is a vain and not very clever man, and Epstein must have been both fascinating and flattering. It seems to me entirely possible that he swept the girls out of sight when Andrew was there.

And I need to know more about Ghislane Maxwell – Robert’s daughter, and a major player in this story.  I see from Wikipedia that she is a Balliol man. She may well have overlapped Alexander. He and Prince Andrew are almost exactly the same age – both born in February, 1960. Alexander is aging more successfully. He was at Balliol when the first women were admitted.

FugueStateKnits, of the books you name you must certainly start Trollope with “Barchester Towers”. It’s probably his masterpiece. I tried to reply to your comment, and may have succeeded, but I want to make sure.

Mary Lou, I remember “Wild Swan” from my childhood with great affection, although I had forgotten that she had to spin and knit nettles.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Not much, again today. The Italian lesson was more than ordinarily flattening, although perfectly pleasant and successful. I’ve read some Ferrante, walked as far as the corner shop to buy my weekend FT, done my Duolingo, that’s about it.

But I mean to stay up to watch the interview with Prince Andrew as it first goes out, at 9. Poor Queen. And that should provide time for some Dathan hap garter stitch. And soon – tomorrow? – we’ll have the new Netflix “Queen”; lots more garter stitch potential there.

Mary Lou, (comment yesterday), your November stash activity sounds intensely therapeutic. I don’t think we’ve discussed nettle, and it’s an interesting subject. Plant-wise, isn’t it related to flax? Or am I imagining that? I tried a bit of a google, and it’s out there all right. One website, showing a beautiful-looking sock yarn, said that it is “slightly molten, as the dye does not stick to the nettle yarn”. That sounds ominous. I’d be interested to hear anything more you have to say about it. What is the proportion of nettle in the Wild Wool yarn?

My current Trollope really isn’t very good, so far, but at least the travelogue is over and the characters reassembled in London.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Again, not much done. A day of activity but not much accomplishment. A man came to service the boiler and fix a broken lavatory and a stuck cellar door. He did all those things successfully. Tesco delivered some groceries. My cleaner came and put the groceries away. Greek Helen dropped in.

I think the Dathan hap rows have reached the point where I had better stop flogging myself to get four rows done a day, and just knit peacefully on. The stitch count is somewhere in the 390’s. The target is 597.

The new IK turned up today but alas! has nothing for me. It is largely or perhaps entirely devoted to heavier yarns – not my thing, these days.

I think I’m ready to read The Golden Fleece, but I am at the moment still with Trollope – “The Bertrams”. I am currently reading a section in which the author does something I almost always don’t enjoy – namely, uses a place he has recently visited as background. I’m jumping to a conclusion here, in Trollope’s case, but I’m fairly confident.

The place is Jerusalem, and the section is not without interest because Trollope is good, and his eye is sharp, and it’s interesting to see what Jerusalem was like 150 years ago. But I hope we’ll all go home to England soon.

It’s Friday night again. I must go back to the passato remoto.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Even my simple programme seems to be more than I can manage: 10 more stitches on the Dathan hap; a bit of Ferrante; a bit of exercise; a bit of blogging; my daily Duolingo. Something always fails to get done.

The Dathan stitches now number somewhere in the 380’s, too many for comfort. I’ve found a longer needle.

My Personal Trainer came today, leaving me breathless but feeling better and newly resolved to incorporate some exercise into my simple programme. Archie also came, and changed a lot of light bulbs.

But mostly I read Trollope. I finished “The Belton Estate”, very much enjoyed. It starts off rather sluggishly, but picks up speed. Evelyn Waugh says wistfully somewhere that an artist or a composer can re-work a theme, but an author can’t. I think in this case Trollope is re-working Lily Dale and Mr. What’s-His-Name and Johnny Eames from “The Small House at Allington” and “The Last Chronicle of Barset”. The books are more or less contemporaneous. They don't depend on each other, of course. But the theme is similar.

The scene on the last two pages is utterly delicious – but it’s no use skipping ahead. You’ve got to read the book.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Not a bad day. This time I got everything done except the walk. The Dathan hap stitches now number about 370. The needle is getting crowded – I’ll have to look around tomorrow to see if I’ve got a longer one.

Today’s Andrew&Andrea is about Shetland lace, one to watch again. The first interview-ee was asked the question I asked myself, when I first got to Unst: why there? Her answer was partly that the harsh weather means that Unst sheep have peculiarly soft wool under their chins. The other part, I feel pretty sure, is the accident of genius.

The other interview-ee was Carol Christiansen herself, curator of the Shetland Museum and Archives, talking about the lace project currently underway. I’ll have to stay alive along enough to see the resulting book.

I’ve finished “Vanishing Fleece”, with a bit of speed-reading at the end. Do see Maureen and Shandy’s comments of yesterday, if you haven’t already. Maureen, yes, my Shetland Wool Adventure included Jamiseon’s – what? – factory. But I was weak, dedicated to standing upright throughout; and I hadn’t read the book yet.

Three things to say about it:

                   The ending is dreadful.

                   I am afraid that Parkes commits the verbal sin which I particularly abhor these days, namely “One of the only…” That’s absurd. Either you mean “The only…” or you mean “One of the few…” I think it is the refuge of a lazy writer who wants to write “The only…” but doesn’t quite dare and doesn’t want to do the spade work. In that case, sir or madam, “Perhaps the only…” will suffice.

                   I was surprised that there was no mention of Brooklyn Tweed, who have worked so hard for American production of American yarn. Perhaps I missed it during my speed-reading. The BT website is interesting on the processing of their yarn.

But the reading left me much in need of Trollope. What will I do when I run out of him?

Monday, November 11, 2019

Not too bad a day  – I’ve read my Ferrante, walked as far as the butcher, attended to some business, and had a good proteinful lunch. Archie was here. That leaves a couple of rows of Dathan hap to be polished off.

I fared reasonably well yesterday with evening television-and-knitting. BBC iPlayer let me down somewhat, but it let me watch half of the arty program I had in mind, and thenI  switched to Attenborough on nature which is of course magnificent.

Trollope behind me for the moment, I have been reading Clara Parkes “Vanishing Fleece”. How I wish I had read it before my Shetland Wool Adventure last May! What actually happens at Jamieson&Smith, and Jamieson’s? They both seem to get their wool not exactly on-the-hoof but not long off it. Then what? How much is done in-house, how much dispatched elsewhere? I could have asked better questions had I read Parkes.

And how were all these complicated-sounding mechanical processes carried out in the Olden Days, by women in their crofts on Unst? I think a few pages on how it was once all done by hand at home – as surely it must have been – would have been useful. But it’s a fascinating book, undoubtedly.


Thank you for your advice. I think I’m pretty strong on protein – there was a poached egg I didn’t mention yesterday, along with my okra stew, and when I snack, I snack on cheese. Three days a week I cook and eat a Mindful Chef meal, and they’re fearfully healthy.


I was struck yesterday, as I occasionally am, at the oddity of the fact that in GB (alone in the world?) the Head of State does not sing the national anthem. The Queen yesterday was between the duchesses of Cornwall and Cambridge, two future queens perhaps, who were belting it out while she stood silent.

They say that one of George VI’s daughters – Margaret, surely – asked him once: “What do you sing, Daddy? ‘God Bless Our Gracious Me?’

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A pretty good day, so far. I’ve knocked off my Dathan hap increases and my pages of Ferrante and finished “The Last Chronicle of Barset” and walked as far as the corner shop. I didn’t get into the sitting room last night, despite good intentions – but maybe I will this time. There’s an arty program from last week that I want to catch up on, and I’m earlier than usual, and I’ve eaten.

I watched the ceremony at the Cenotaph this morning. I wonder if I have ever done that before. It’s very affecting, and brilliantly staged. Mr Corbyn for all his politics was properly dressed – there was a famous occasion some years ago when a left-wing Labour leader (? Michael Foot) turned up in a donkey jacket.

At the very last moment I was looking anxiously at my watch because there didn’t seem to be time for the Royal Family to take their places. But there was, of course, and the very instant they had done so, Big Ben began to chime the hour. 

At Diana's funeral I was most impressed at the way her coffin was carried into the Abbey as Big Ben began to strike. It’s quite a long way from Kensington Palace to the Abbey. How long had they had to practice? Three days? Four? Neither hurrying nor standing around in the street would have been at all seemly.

Change of topic

My late lunch/early supper today was a vegetable stew based on some okra which turned up at the supermarket when I was putting in my order. (Things have really come to a pass when I am reduced to telling you about my diet.) My family is desperately keen on slowing climate change, and I am happy to think that I may never have to set foot in an airport again. I would hope to get to London for Ruby’s Christening – the newest great-granddaughter – but that can conveniently be done by train.

But what about exotic food? The okra came from India. Should one’s winter diet be all turnips and kale and delicious roast Brussels sprouts?

Saturday, November 09, 2019

I perhaps felt slightly stronger today – or maybe it was just the happy sensation that no one will ask anything of me in the way of exercise or Italian verbs for fully five days. C. is away so I won’t even be going to Mass tomorrow.

The Dathan moves forward. My aim in life is to finish at least one four-row increase-repeat every day, adding 10 stitches. So far, that’s easy. I’ve done it already today, and more, and have hopes for some television this evening. How often I say that, how rarely achieve! I'm currently at about 330 stitches. 

I’m pretty sure by now that I’m going to have lots of Uradale yarn left over. I’ll have to knit those Milarrochy Heids, as mentioned yesterday. I am much taken with the one called “Every Flavour” on page 70 – especially now that I have figured out what a Double Stitch is. The instructions for it are part of those for German short rows at the end.


The mysterious Elena Ferrante has published a new book. Her Italian is very simple and straightforward, but somehow it has never captured me. Today I bought the new one. My simple plan is to read a couple of pages every day, in the hopes of being captured, while meanwhile pressing on with what I am actually reading. “The Last Chronicle of Barset” is hotting up towards the end.

Rest of Life

I baked a potato last night, and ate it mashed up with yoghurt and butter and some shards of fried bacon and re-installed in the crispy skins. Unspeakably delicious! I must do it more often.

Friday, November 08, 2019

A better day. I always feel better after exercise, even though we only managed one feeble circuit of  Drummond Place Gardens. I’m not up to much Italian this evening, either, although I’d better have a bit of a look at the passato remoto.

Meanwhile the Dathan has advanced slightly. There are about 320 stitches, I think.

Kate Davies sent out a message this morning about knitting hats. It’s that time of year again. I have a whole bag of oddballs of Milarrochy Tweed left over from the first Dathan, and the Uradale yarn I am using for the second fits perfectly, colour-wise and gauge-wise. I took “Milarrochy Heids” from its place on the shelf – miraculously, it was there. I could probably knit my way through the book without buying any more yarn, and there are some very nice hats there.

(I hope you found your hat, Mary Lou.)

I say “miraculously” because there has been another mysterious loss – my signed copy of “Glorious Knitting” is missing. I haven’t looked at it for ages, I’m sure. There’s only one place it should be, among the Kaffe’s.

Nor is there much to say about reading. “The Last Chronicle of Barset” is long. I am continuing to enjoy it.

Shandy, I don’t suppose your book about the Victorians has any suggestion as to when and why the British stopped eating mutton? If anybody eats anything in Trollope, the odds are it will be a mutton chop. Is it more profitable for the farmer to send sheep earlier to their doom?

It is possible to buy mutton today, either on-line or from farmers’ markets, but not effortless. I got some once when my sister and her husband were coming, and made them a tasty stew in the slow cooker. But they had come straight from Iceland where they had had mutton every evening, so weren’t much impressed.

If Iceland, why not here?

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Pretty feeble again today. I didn’t go out. I think I’m picking up strength, however. My trainer will be here tomorrow – she’ll get me out.

Helen is safely back from Thessaloniki. She says her husband David is fine, and will be here at the weekend.

I knit peacefully on. I think my Dathan hap (2) now has about 300 stitches. (200 are marked off, in 50-stitch batches. That leaves some loose stitches at either end and in the middle, on either side of the central spine – the four points at which increases take place. So if there is nothing else to think about, one can count those stitches and add them to 200 and see how things are going.)

Here’s a question for you: when Joe & Becca’s wedding was in the planning stages, earlier this year, I thought of knitting her a pretty shoulder shawl which – I am sure – is on the Brooklyn Tweed website. So that she would have a shawl of her own. That never happened, as she preferred to wear the larger one I had knit for Joe’s sister Hellie. Which she did, with great success.

But the other day I tried to find that Brooklyn Tweed shoulder shawl, and failed. Can anyone help?


Little to report here, either. I continue with The Last Chronicle of Barset, with great pleasure. There is a bit of padding – those tedious people in London whom John Eames has introduced us to. But not much. Thank you for your comment about Victorian diet, Shandy. That book sounds good.

I think I’ll go on next to Clara Parkes’ yarn book, “Vanishing Fleece”. I inspected both it and “The Golden Fleece” on Amazon today. British history is much involved with wool, no doubt – but Parkes’ book sounds the more interesting one.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

All well. Here’s the current state of the hap, except that by now the stitches are bunched up on the needle so it’s hard to photograph. The stitch total is somewhere around 280. The target is 597. But never mind that. The knitting is pleasant and easy and the colours are just what the winter knitter needs. I didn’t mean to be here, but I’ll press on, remembering to leave a week in early December or so for that pocket square.

The Rest of Life

Thank you for advice about protein, Tamar. I may venture out tomorrow and get one of those food supplements that you stir into milk. In general, I think I’m in pretty good order, in that my Mindful Chef food packages are fearfully healthy.

There is an interesting passage in “The Last Chronicle of Barset” in which the annual expenditures of the destitute Crawley family are listed (Shandy, you’ll remember). They have £130 a year – a family of five. “When it is remembered that three pounds of meat a day, at ninepence a pound, will cost over forty pounds a year…”

If you or I had been faced with that situation, we would have derived our protein from lentils and beans and eggs and dairy. [But what would that have cost?] Indeed, the Crawleys probably had a few chickens out the back – daily eggs and an occasional fowl for the pot.

When we lived in Birmingham, Newman’s Oratory was our parish church. Otherwise I would probably never have read any of his collected letters, which have appeared in multiple volumes and are really rather interesting. If Newman put out a note for the milkman, and it survives, it will be there. The dates overlap with Trollope. And I was much struck at the time with how much meat those clergymen ate, not riotous monks but living (as they thought) simply.

As for actual reading, I am greatly enjoying "The Last Chronicle" and beginning to worry about where to turn next...

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

The news from Thessaloniki is good. David’s tests are clear. I don’t know when Helen will be back. Did he drink too much coffee on Saturday? I have to be careful with coffee myself.

Yesterday’s excitement was a breakfast date with niece C. and her sister F. (another niece) at Dishoom in St Andrew’s Square. It’s a small chain of delicious Indian restaurants, intended at least vaguely to represent a Bombay cafĂ© in the days of the raj. There is even a fan gently turning in the ceiling overhead – not much needed in Edinburgh. An open kitchen on the ground floor, delightful staff.

The only difficulty was that they were so crowded with late breakfasters and early lunchers at 10:30 in the morning that conversation wasn’t easy.

I took a taxi up, and walked home. Same distance, but downhill.

Then in the afternoon I was woken from my usual nap by abdominal discomfort and continued with that and diarrhoea for five hours. Then it stopped. Paradox was endlessly solicitous but unable to bring me a hot water bottle. C. and F. are fine.

I’ve been well today, but of course even weaker than usual. I’ve spent the day in pyjamas, a delightful indulgence.


I’ve finished Le Carre. Far from his best, but good to be reminded. I’m now deeply involved in the Last Chronicle of Barset. All our old friends are there. I’m having a bit of trouble remembering who married whom in which book, but it doesn’t really matter. We’re going to get the Pallisers on the radio, starting tomorrow.

Rachel rang up this morning from London – very sad about England’s defeat in the World Cup final. I told her the story I told you, about Mr. Boyce asking his wife on the way home from the dinner party, “Why can’t we have our beef stewed like that?”

“Daddy”! she cried. Apparently her husband (of nearly 40 years) wouldn’t have said it.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Very weak, again.

I heard from Helen this morning that her husband’s arrhythmia (hey! the spell-check let it through!) has stopped. He will probably get out of hospital today, and go back for tests tomorrow. This happened while she was still in Edinburgh, but she is on her way to Thessaloniki anyway. Or maybe she's there by now.

I made good progress on the Dathan hap during the Andrew Marr show this morning, plus a bit of Montalbano. I don’t know how to judge progress. I have more than 250 stitches now – but that doesn’t mean that when I reach 300, I will be halfway there as (obviously) the distance between increases gets longer and longer as the rows themselves stretch out.


The new New Yorker (Nov 4) promises in the table of contents to tell us “how Brexit will end”. The article is good, but at the end I know no more than I did before I started reading it. I suppose they mean that they think that Boris Johnson’s “deal” will get through. Perhaps – but it’s by no means certain.

Then there is a long article about old age, towards the end. I didn’t learn anything from that, either. The author is a mere boy, somewhere in his 70’s.

On the other hand, there is the best Cat Joke I have seen in quite a while, on page 70. I laughed out loud.

Shandy, I find that quite a lot of The Chronicles of Barsetshire have escaped my memory altogether, but I have retained a fair amount of The Last Chronicle because of not understanding how the finances worked, behind that cheque. We’ll see if it’s any clearer this time.

I’m better than half-way through the new Le Carre. It seems a bit stilted, and dated, but it’s hotting up somewhat and I think I’ll be able to persevere.

I made myself a restorative vegetable soup this morning, largely celeriac. Now I’ll go have some more of it.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

South Africa won decisively. It was a very happy occasion. I trust Nelson Mandela was allowed to watch from heaven. He had a lot to do with it. South Africa had a very remarkable player, about half the size of a normal rugby player. He came on as a substitute in the second half and at the end, when he got the ball in his arms, the English defence might as well have been trying to catch a mouse. He scored the try (=touchdown) which put the result beyond doubt.

Greek Helen came to see me after lunch. Her husband David is having some atrial fibrillation. He is in hospital in Thessaloniki (where he works). This has happened once before. Helen will fly out tomorrow.

Long rows of garter stitch are ideal rugby knitting. I made some progress on the Dathan hap. Joni, thank you very much indeed for your advice about how to determine the width of the next stripe. I shall follow it, and it solves pretty well that whole problem. I will reserve the possibility, however, of introducing a passage of two or three two-row stripes together.

The replacement copy of Weston’s “Traditional Sweater Book” has turned up, fresher and cleaner than my old one. That, too, turned up this morning (predictably) while I was getting my Italian textbooks in order. I must have had it out much more recently than I remembered. There are two community libraries near here where one takes books one fancies and leaves behind ones one doesn’t. I’ll contribute the superfluous copy to one of those. I’ll keep old faithful, I think.

My tutor emphasised this morning (as she often does) the importance of listening to spoken Italian. I must make a real effort to get in there and sit down in front of the television and switch on Inspector Montalbano. And knit.


I’ve finished “Olive, Again”. I don’t think it’s quite as good as “Oliver Kitteridge”, but it’s pretty good. I don’t think Strout quite grasps what being in one’s 80’s feels like. There is a passage in which Olive (younger than I am) has fowled herself in bed (that hasn’t happened to me, yet). She leaps up and changes the sheets (would I be strong enough?) and has a shower (I’m seriously afraid of falling, and avoid showers).

Shandy, I do agree about Lily Dale. I’m glad to hear that she is going to reappear, however. I wish we’d see something more of Dr Thorne and Miss Dunstable, even a sentence.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Very feeble tonight.

I haven’t had the usual notification from the agency that there is to be an Italian lesson tomorrow. The absence of one would be a pleasant surprise. I think there is more homework to be done, besides the story about Galileo. I must go to bed now: I’ll have to see what I can do in the morning. And much of the morning, anyway, will have to be devoted to cheering for South Africa (a) in the hopes of seeing England beaten and (b) for love of my new great-nephew-in-law Manaba, father of next April’s baby. Alexander says England will win.

I moved forward with the Dathan, and have reached 200 stitches. I am putting each colour into a cloth bag as I finish with it. But I don’t know if I will draw them out at random. I might spread them all out as before. I think choosing which width of stripe to do next is even more vexing than choosing which colour, because the choice is so limited.


“The Small House at Allington” was rather a disappointment, as you hint, Shandy. I felt several times that the old boy was padding it out. For the moment, I have gone on to “Olive, Again”. It’s grey, all right – full of old age and the fear of death.

But how about this, from Trollope: There has been a distinctly dull dinner party at Lord De Guest’s. The vicar and his wife, Mr and Mrs Boyce, were there. They are insignificant characters – but a village needs a vicar.

“Uncommon good stewed beef,” he said, as he went home. “Why can’t we have our beef stewed like that?”

“Because we don’t pay our cook sixty pounds a year,” said Mrs Boyce.

“A woman with sixteen pounds can stew beef as well as a woman with 60,” said he; “she only wants looking after.”

Some things don’t change, and Trollope certainly has a good ear.