Thursday, December 31, 2020


Well, here we are. I think my trouble is that I have been skipping along, believing that everything would be better in 2021 – I would be rejuvenated, and Covid-19 would go away. Not so. I am weaker than ever, and the virus stronger.


Usually there would be tens of thousands of people in the streets of Edinburgh tonight, with pop concerts from one end of Princes Street to the other and a wonderful firework display over the Castle at midnight. None of that this time. But the radio says that a lone piper will pipe the year in. I wonder if I could hear him, if I went out on the doorstep? It’s a penetrating sound, and I do love the pipes. But I won’t attempt it. It’s a cold night.


No walking again today. The weather was pretty filthy. I think it should be manageable tomorrow, and would certainly be good for me. Archie and Helen were both briefly here. I am planning a “dry January” again this year, but found myself a couple of bottles of cider short for today. They came to the rescue. That was partly why I recently re-read this blog for January, to see if dry-ness had restored any energy. If so, there’s no mention of it.


Kirsten, I love your walk story (comment yesterday)! This morning I did a modest amount of tidying, and found myself at one point trying to insert a book into its place on a bottom shelf. Something was wrong, and I had to get down on one knee to complete the operation. And then I couldn’t get up. I finally succeeded, but it was scary, and I won’t go down on one knee again.


Knitting has progressed. Shandy, I found “Orley Farm” with no difficulty on your instructions, and knit away while listening. On the ascending slope, I marked out 100 stitches in the middle of the hap so that all I had to do was count the two “ears” to see when I had achieved 144 stitches. And so far both “ears” are still there, although of course diminishing.




Janet, thank you for the link (comment yesterday) to the article by the Toronto doctor about her friendship with John le Carre: the link worked fine, and I enjoyed it. I loved the bit at the beginning, where she confessed that she had never read him, and he marched her across the street to a bookshop and bought the lot and signed them for her – a valuable present indeed.


I’m doing fine with “Rachel Ray” – curious and interesting.


I am very grateful indeed for all your kind messages. Happy New Year to all.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020


I’m feeling a bit low, and apprehensive about the year to come. Perhaps because of having missed my walk again – it was judged too slippery.


However, I have knit on, past the corners of the hap-centre. And have baked my sourdough, which came out all right. I kept some for myself this time. It’s good, but not as stunningly wonderful as I half-expected. Helen cut the loaf, when she was briefly here to tell me I didn't have to go for a walk, and gave some to Daniela, who said "olEEgo olEEgo" (="Just a bit"). Alcibiades, had he been there, would have understood it, as I did, although neither of us speaks modern Greek.

I don't think Latin turns up in Italian quite so often, although, wonderfully, "Salve!" is still used as a greeting.


James’ wife Cathy has got Covid – classic symptoms, and a positive test after two negative ones. She’s asthmatic. James – so far symptom-free – is a Type 1 diabetic. The NHS threatens to be overwhelmed with this new, fast-spreading variant. There’s plenty to feel low about. But we’re about to start using the Oxford/Astra-Zeneca vaccine – that’s good news. Much cheaper, much easier to store.




I’ve finished Roy Strong’s diaries, 1998-2003 or thereabouts, The next volume is very expensive, even in Kindle form, so it’ll have to wait.


I’ve got going with Rachel Ray. She’ll keep me for a while. Shandy, you say that Orley Farm is on the radio. Where? Radio 4 had an hour-long programme about pantomime at 3 this afternoon. Kirsten, I’m delighted to have your recommendation for “Crampton Hodnett”.




Chloe and Mary Lou: I have no idea where George Blake got the knitting needles for his rope ladder. It would have needed a lot of them, assuming the walls of Wormwood Scrubbs (wonderful name) are of a reasonable height. It is a detail frequently mentioned – i.e., copied from one to another – in accounts of his escape. It implies a custom-made rope ladder, not just one you would pick up off the shelf of a rope-ladder shop.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020


We had some snow in the night, not much, but it lay all day looking cold and slippery, and thus furnished a good excuse for not being taken for a walk. We’ll see, tomorrow. Nor has much been achieved within – except for a day’s sourdough. All seems well, but we won’t know until it comes out of the oven tomorrow. Sourdough-baking isn't strenuous or difficult, but you sort of have to be there.


I’ve done no knitting. I really must do some this evening. There’s no excuse. I’ve been re-reading my blog for January. I was about at the stage where I am now, with Gudrun’s hap, this time a year ago – knitting it then in ANC colours for what proved to be wee Hamish.


I’ve been thinking a lot about George Blake, the wickedest double-agent of them all, who has just died in Russia. He far outstripped Philby and Burgess and Maclean in successful villainy, although they beat him in getting clean away. I remember when he was caught, and tried in camera, and given what was at the time the longest sentence anybody ever had, 45 years. If he’d served every day of it, he’d have been out five years ago. But what happened next was a lesson in the dangers of nice-ness. He was a model prisoner, pointed out proudly by his warders. He made friends among fellow-prisoners, notably an Irishman who proved unreliable and two nuclear disarmers who couldn’t have been more helpful.


They got him over the wall one night after their own release, with a rope ladder whose steps were made of knitting needles. It would have needed quite a few. They kept him for a while (rather like the Stone of Scone) and then smuggled him across the channel in a campervan and on to the East German border. His wife had visited faithfully every week during his years in prison, and she is the one regret he has been quoted as expressing. But he doesn’t seem to have trusted her to help in the escape, or to have missed her much. He went on to marry a nice Russian lady.


There’s a certain poetic justice in the coincidence of his death and John le Carre’s.




I’m no expert on Barbara Pym. I’ve recently read, and very much enjoyed, “A Few Green Leaves”, recommended by Shandy. I’ve recently bought, but not yet read, “Crampton Hodnet”, attracted by the title. It turns out to have been perhaps her first? written but not published before the war and subsequently regarded as out-of-date and only published after her death.


In re-reading my blog for January I re-discovered a reference to a New Yorker article about Trollope – I think I’ve actually got it somewhere. It specifically recommended “Orley Farm”, “The Three Clerks”, and “Rachel Ray”. The first two of those we read and enjoyed, on the New Yorker’s recommendation. . I’ve re-read “The Three Clerks” relatively recently. But I’ve never read “Rachel Ray” (although I tried, and stopped) – so that’s what I’m reading now. It doesn’t seem to be available as an audio.






Monday, December 28, 2020


Progress with Gudrun’s hap: three landmarks in a day!


1)    I reached the half-way point on the central square (knit corner-to-corner) and started down the other side.

2)    I finished the first ball of yarn and attached the second.

3)    I finished page 2 of the pattern and embarked on page 3.

So I’m feeling pretty smug.


Otherwise there’s little or nothing to report. C. came and got me around the garden. (I’ve missed only one day recently.) She says her daughter Christina, Hamish’s mother, who broke her neck recently falling from a horse, is now out of her neck brace. It’s good to know that the NHS can still manage some non-Covid treatments. This new, more infectious variation threatens to overwhelm us.


Doubling back to Christmas Eve: I couldn’t keep my fingers off the radio, at 3 in the afternoon. They played a recently-recorded version of the carol service. This year’s Boy was very good. If I’ve got it right, the first verse of “Once in royal David’s city…” is a solo, then the choir comes in for the second verse, and then the organ and all the mummies and daddies, for the third and subsequent. But there were no mummies and daddies. I knew that, but hadn’t expected the effect it would have on me. I wept, and turned the radio off.


Later in the day, I heard another programme about the Boys, with a bit about their mothers of whom I have often thought. Presumably with the first syllable or two, she knows, that’s Nigel! (Or, of course, that’s not Nigel!) What I hadn’t thought is that, through all those first four lines (and like all the rest of us, only how much more intensely) she then must worry about whether he will be able to hit and hold the high note – MARy was that mother mild…


We can only hope it all comes back next year.


We’ve been having a storm, with a fair bit of snow down south. Edinburgh has got off lightly. Is this, as I think I predicted, the American East Coast snow storm, 10 days later?

I think I'm all set for sourdough-baking tomorrow. The starter is very vigorous, and I'll feed it again tonight. The secret is a bit of rye flour in its diet -- it's like putting it on steroids.




Where were we? I’ve finished another complete re-reading of Il Gattopardo (usually I just dip into favourite passages). That woman who talked about it at my sister’s club in DC recently left out very nearly half, by sticking to Visconti’s beautiful film. I don’t blame Visconti at all, but she was meant to be talking about the book. 

So anxious am I to avoid Unpleasantness that I am now reading Roy Strong’s diaries – soporific, but not entirely without interest – and have loaded my Kindle with another Barbara Pym.

Sunday, December 27, 2020


Well, here we are. That’s the worst of it over. I was very touched by, and grateful for, all your messages.


Three such days are a lot, to sum up the news for. I had hoped to have reached the mid-point of the central square of the hap, but I am afraid that there are five or six rows to go. I’m sure it’ll go much faster on the return journey.


Here’s my chicken, as it came out of the oven:


It was delicious, although I haven’t eaten very much of it. Manaba and Christina rang up on Christmas morning. He said they had had a black chicken once in Singapore, and that it tasted of concentrated essence of chicken. (Manaba is a serious cook.) I think that more or less sums it up, especially when taken in conjunction with the gravy, the top layer of which, after a few hours in the refrigerator, is an unspeakably delicious jellied consume’.


I wanted to bake myself some sourdough so that I could have chicken sandwiches – but yesterday morning the starter wouldn’t float; and today I made a levain, and by after-lunch that wouldn’t float, so now I’ll go on feeding the starter (of whose health and vigour I have no doubts) and on Tuesday simply proceed with the bread without testing for flotation. Daniella is coming tomorrow to rescue me from squalor, and she won’t want me running in and out of the kitchen stretching and folding.


We had a jolly quiz on Christmas day. I didn’t do very well. Someone asked, Who was Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s successor on the Supreme Court? That was a good question. I knew, perfectly well, but couldn’t recall all three names.


My questions were:


1)    The word “draconian” appears constantly in the press these days. Who was Draco?

2)    What is the better-known pseudonym of these three British authors:

a.      Eric Arthur Blair

b.     Mary Ann Evans

c.      David Cornwell

3)    70 years ago today – for it was Christmas Day – a famous crime was committed by Ian Hamilton, Gavin Vernon, Kay Mathesort, and Alan Stuart. What did they do?

I think the questions were a bit too easy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020


Good news:


         My Christmas dinner is here, delivered by a daughter, I think. I told her how anxious I had been, and she said her father had been as bad. “Where are they? Where are they?” all last weekend.


         I’ve made the cranberry sauce. I’ll give Helen hers when she comes tomorrow. I was surprised to find that cloves, cinnamon sticks and powdered ginger were at the front of my over-extensive spice cupboard, and less surprised to find port (2 tablespoons required) in front of the drinks. Do I cook nothing else?


         I feel there was something else, but can’t think of it. Helen came, and we got around the garden.


All the rest:


         The worst is, the King’s College Choir tomorrow won’t be broadcast live. That’s new – today’s decision. The BBC, including the World Service, has been advertising it all week. No congregation, they said, but at least the choir would be there as usual. That’s been the centre point of all my British Christmasses, the brief news summary at 3 pm, the hush, and then that boy’s voice: “Once in royal…”  And however dreadful the preparations, the card-writing, the present-wrapping, suddenly it was all over. Everything was all right.

 I might as well stay in bed tomorrow. (I saw a programme once, not long before whatever Christmas it was, in which a former Boy was interviewed. The boys don’t know, until the red light goes on and the choirmaster points to one of them, which one it will be. He found, he said, for a terrifying second, that he couldn’t remember the words.)


         I feel there was a lot else, but can’t think of it, or can’t report it. The virus news is bad.




         Grazie, Lisa, per i tuoi auguri. Per un momento, ho pensato che la mia insegnante sia qui! I reciprocate all your wishes, to you and everybody: a happy Christmas, a good New Year. It can’t be worse.


         You don’t have time to read this stuff over the holidays, even if I do have time to write it. I’ll see you again on the 27th or so.


Tuesday, December 22, 2020


A better day. Chloe, it’s a strange idea, but I wonder if you’re right, that my enervation yesterday was connected with the solstice? Helen came for my walk today. I had her stop at the fishmonger at the top of Broughton Street and bring me a fillet of smoked haddock. I made myself some kedgeree and ate a great deal of it.


And speaking of food, I have been worrying about my Christmas dinner. My “black chicken” is French. Was it festering in a lorry at Dover? But today we had Fred’s usual Tuesday message, and he describes himself as “surrounded by poultry of many shapes and sizes in the kitchen today, getting them ready for all the Christmas orders.” That sounds all right. I think it will be delivered tomorrow.


And I got back to hap-knitting. I counted 94 stitches this morning. I knit more after that, and hope to add a bit this evening. I’m aiming for 144. Each row adds one. Then, of course, I start decreasing one per row until I'm back where I started.


Kate Davies’ new book came in this morning’s post. Sure enough, as one of you told me: the essays about technique aren’t included, although there is a reference to a website where they can be found. I like “Carbeth” although I’d want it six inches longer.


VK also arrived. I haven’t spent much time with it yet. I flew into a panic when I failed to find Meg’s name among the contents, but she’s there, all right, if one perseveres. She’s writing about hems, and it could be interesting. I see we are to have a new editor. Who is it? But I almost certainly wouldn’t recognise the name even if you told me.


And as for reading, I’m doing a rapid re-read of “The Little Drummer Girl”, and enjoying it, although I think I need something more cheerful than le Carre.


The weather continues rather good, in a December-y way. 2021 is well advanced in Drummond Place Gardens – snowdrops in bloom, winter aconites likewise, daffodils growing strongly. Nature is rather wonderful.

On Thursday, Christmas Eve, the animals can talk, I am told, although unfortunately, only in Polish which is more than Perdita or Paradox or I can manage. 

Monday, December 21, 2020


There is effectively nothing to report. I felt thoroughly weak today, with no appetite and some diarrhoea.  (It is somewhat alarming to discover that I have it often enough that I have finally mastered the spelling.) Neither is a symptom of Covid, so that’s something. 

I spent much of the day in bed worrying about the state of the world. Archie came in the morning, and managed to get me around the garden. He says his cousin Alistair (James’ and Cathy’s son) is coming to them for Christmas. Helen and Archie will drive to Falkirk to get him. He’ll stay one night, and take a taxi all the way back late on Christmas day.. Archie also says his father is staying in Greece (as we knew) – he doesn’t have much choice, now. But if it turns out that the new variant of the virus is more virulent as well as more infectious, he will come back willy nilly, with the possible sacrifice of his job.


Rachel phoned. Their Christmas is altered, too. At least they won’t be carrying Christmas dinner down to their pop-up pagoda in the garden. Their daughter’s boy-friend, who lives with them, now can’t get home to his own family, so they’ll have four for Christmas dinner which is not too bad. Others of her children will drop in for a quick drink in the garden. There will be other uses for the pagoda as winter progresses.


I’ve done no knitting, but perhaps I can knock off a couple of rows this evening until I get tired enough to go back to bed.

Sunday, December 20, 2020


I just looked it up – Google (who never errs) says that the winter solstice is tomorrow, at 10.02 a.m. I thought we had to wait until Tuesday. So that’s good news.


Tamar, you are right that the history of the celebration of these things is an interesting one. I believe the former Scottish obsession with the New Year was a product of the Presbyterian suppression of Christmas. I think something similar happened in Soviet Russia. We northerners need to celebrate the return of light, one way or another. At some point the British year, or at least some aspects of it, ended on March 25 – which is the Feast of the Annunciation and also, as near as dammit, the vernal equinox. When we switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar (I hope I’ve got that the right way around) it meant we had to skip ahead 12 days. People got really agitated, believing that their lives had been shortened by that many days. And that is why, to this day, the British Income Tax year ends on April 5. And there are still places in Scotland where the Old New Year is observed.


We are all in a tizzy, here in Europe, about the new, fast-spreading version of the corona virus. Helen’s husband David was wise to cancel his Christmas visit – there would have been a real possibility that he couldn’t get back to Greece. Everybody is cutting us off. Channel tunnel trains are suspended. Their son Mungo escaped from London last night, along with many others – there were six hours between the announcement and the lockdown, giving many the chance to escape and spread the virus as far as possible. He is now here (I think) and Helen rightly says that all of them must stay away from me (except for walks outdoors) for a fortnight or so.


Sherman Hill Knits (comment yesterday) – I can’t tell you more about the quiz, yet. Each party – that is, each Zoom link, containing however many people --  thinks of five questions (harder than it sounds), and we take turns asking them, and then mark ourselves. Much laughter, but we take it deadly seriously. I think I’ve got my questions ready but of course must not reveal them.


And as for knitting, I am getting on fine with the centre square of the new hap:


I’m pleased with the fabric and the colour.


I’ve finished “The Honourable Schoolboy. It’s not very cheerful. Le Carre is never very cheerful, in fact, is he? Although “Little Drummer Girl” has what might be considered a happy ending, at least.

Saturday, December 19, 2020


What is to become of us? Christmas has effectively been cancelled, including cross-border traffic between Scotland and England. Apart from misery to many thousands of others, that strands Helen and David’s son Mungo in London; and James and Cathy’s son Alistair in Falkirk. I think David had already decided not to come back from Thessaloniki for Christmas. I’m feeling rather pleased with myself for having chosen a solitary Christmas a fortnight ago. At least no disappointment today.


There are hints in today’s papers that we should just forget the whole thing and have it at Easter. I had long ago realised that Christmas is no longer a Christian festival, rather a celebration of light returning. Perhaps that’s all it ever was. Even so, the idea of moving it horrifies.


And Archie has just phoned to say he doesn’t think he ought to come in my house any more, although he still could come to supervise my morning walk.


Rachel already has elaborate plans to entertain all of her family, in stages, on Christmas day, in the garden – including, I think, Christmas dinner itself. She and Ed live in the top half of a terraced house, so it will be inconvenient. They have bought a pop-up pagoda (if I’ve got that right) to provide at least some shelter.


And we are planning, again like many thousands of others, a family Zoom quiz. I’ve got to think of three questions. I’ve got two.




I made a good start on the hap last night – 60 rows. It starts with one stitch, and increases by one every row. Obviously, things will slow down. I did a few more rows this morning, while recovering from my Italian lesson, and mean to do some more this evening. Some of you wrote, most kindly, to congratulate me on the colours of the Evendoon (pic yesterday) – I deserve no credit. They’re Kate Davies’ colours (and they are, indeed, good). I’ve just been painting by numbers.


Here are the colours of the hap:


Elaine wrote to me last night and told me what to do about my Apple storage problem: namely, go into iPad settings and delete the apps I never use. And it worked. I am inseparable from my iPad, and feel stressed and anxious when we are in separate rooms. Even so, I was surprised at how many of its apps I actually use. Nevertheless, there were enough others, some with mega-bytes attached, that it made a difference, doing away with them.




There is a good appreciation of John Le Carre in today’s Financial Times. If I understand it rightly, it suggests that “The Honourable Schoolboy” is his masterpiece, and then doesn’t list it in a box on the page giving his five best. Again, “The Little Drummer Girl” doesn’t get much space. It’s the only one with a female protagonist, and the author of the appreciative article doesn’t think that she’s very convincing. She convinces me. But what a compliment to the author to have there be such doubt.


I’m nearly finished with “The Honourable Schoolboy”. I hope the worst of the violence is over.

Friday, December 18, 2020


Here we are again. Helen got me around the garden. An old friend rang up to see if I was still alive, although he didn’t phrase it quite like that, and therefore worth sending a Christmas card to. It was nice to talk to him. He used to live in our garage, long ago. And the yarn came from Uradale Farm:


The print-out of the Gudrun’s Hansel hap isn’t in the pattern file where it should be, so I printed it out again. The first problem is that the ball-band says 3.5 mm needles, and Gudrun wants 5mm. But mercifully the centre square, where we start, is knit corner to corner so I will be able to make my own guess (4mm) and see whether I like the fabric.


While I was in photography mode, I snapped the Evendoon:

(And that one got through although the others didn't. I think this time the problem is connected with "iCloud storage - see below. )


I am full of startitis-type enthusiasm for the hap, so will do that this evening. And probably press on with it.




You have got me worried about shingles. I know it’s thoroughly unpleasant. Am I right in thinking that you don’t seed to be exposed to chicken pox again, to get it? It can rise spontaneously from one’s bloodstream? I will ask a Medical Person about vaccination if I ever see one again.


The old friend (see above), who lives in London, says that he and everyone he knows has had an email from the NHS saying don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you, about Covid vaccination. And of course some oldies are already getting it, down there. I wish we had some sort of notification like that here.


I’m having trouble getting email on my iPad. I think it’s something to do with a message I keep getting and ignoring about how I’m running out of “storage”. I tried to put it right and got through to Apple and changed my password but then they wanted the security number on my Visa card and they didn’t have the right Visa card and I couldn’t figure out how to change it. That probably dates from the time I had that bank scam and Alexander thot it would be prudent to change my card. Archie will have to deal with all this next week, and meanwhile I’ll have to use this computer for email.


The US east coast snow sounds serious. It will be interesting to see if it does come here. My Oberlin friend who writes a private blog is completely snowed in (Binghampton NY). Usually she just sits and waits for young people to knock on her door and offer to dig her out, for a price, This time there is too much snow for them to get to the door.


I haven’t done any Italian homework for tomorrow, and I am inclined to feel, to hell with it. Christmas and the winter solstice are almost as bad when one does nothing as when one toils for six weeks.




I am finding “The Honourable Schoolboy” grimmer and more violent than I expected. Laos, Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge. It’s too late to stop now. Maybe “Alice in Wonderland” next.

Thursday, December 17, 2020


Even less to report. It was a nice day out there. Helen couldn’t get here, and I, in cowardly fashion, seized the opportunity to stay indoors. Not much knitting, either. Nor did the yarn arrive for the hap.


Oh, dear. I ought to be able to do better than that. My last grocery delivery arrived (=last, before Christmas) with cranberries, so tomorrow’s job is to make the sauce.


I’m getting on fine with “The Honourable Schoolboy” although it remains rather dense. I never attempted “Little Drummer Girl” as a movie – did I know it was one? – although I do remember it as a not-good-at-all TV adaptation. Anyway, Mary Lou (and anybody else) – do read it. It’s an exciting read, and the most even-handed Israel-Palestine treatment I have ever encountered.


I’m glad to hear that shingles vaccination is possible. I didn’t know that. We had a Christmas at Loch Fyne once – the James Mileses from Sydenham were there – where almost everybody got sick with the norovirus (including me), and just as we were getting ourselves organized for departure on the final morning, Alexander trumped us all by hiking up his shirt and revealing that he had shingles. He had a number of uncomfortable weeks to follow.


It’s very odd, at this time of year when normally there is no news and all the reporters have gone home, to have both Brexit and Covid to keep us on tenterhooks.


I have gone on delving into the archives, and was distinctly taken aback, last night, to discover how sprightly I was in late ’17.  I don’t think anything I can do would make much difference, but I mean to try a dry January again this year (like last), as a last throw of the dice.

And -- I forgot to say -- I am sorry to hear that eastern USofA is submerged in snow. It usually gets here about two weeks later -- in time for the New Year, therefore, 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020


All well. Sorry about yesterday. I felt indescribably feeble. No knitting, no blog. But I got around the garden, with Archie; and again this morning, with Helen. And the second Evendoon sleeve is progressing well. I’d like to finish it (the sleeve, at least) before embarking on the baby hap – the yarn still isn’t here, but should be, any moment now. The Evendoon, even with two sleeves, will need a neck edging as well as finishing-finishing. We shall see.




Thank you for your comfort. I’m sure, really, that they won’t forget me…


The radio seemed to suggest yesterday that Scotland will run out of vaccine once it has finished doing care home residents and staff, who are quite properly second. First were NHS staff – wee Hamish’s father Manaba, who works for the NHS, has had his, with no discomfort to speak of. I can wait. I’d really prefer Oxford/AstraZeneca anyway. (I didn’t get a reminder this year to come in for my flu vaccine. But that could be because the NHS is one step ahead of me. I got the injection, early on, from my nearest chemist (=drugstore); and they probably told the doctor.)




“The Honourable Schoolboy” is slightly hard work, which is just what’s wanted. I don’t think I’ve read it before. There was a list in the Times yesterday of Le Carre’s “ten best” which didn’t even mention “Little Drummer Girl”. There aren’t many authors to whom that could happen. Like Trollope without “Barchester Towers”, at least in my opinion. There was a leader (=editorial) that same day, which did mention it. I think perhaps I’ll re-read it, when I finish this one.

Monday, December 14, 2020


Virtually nothing to report. I don’t think I’ve done any knitting since I was here last. Certainly no photography. C. came and got me around the garden. It was another rather nice day, for December.


Comments: Chloe and Jean, my memory of the polio vaccine (not to be relied upon) is that it started out as a drop of something on a lump of sugar. That would have been in New Jersey, perhaps just after the war.


It is interesting that people down south have appointments for their covid vaccinations already. I’m more than happy to wait, but there’s always a nagging anxiety connected with having heard nothing. Do they know that I’m 87? And here all alone?


Degrees of separation


I have been floundering around the last couple of days, wondering what to read next. Another Pym, perhaps? A degree of toughness, but low on violence, is what’s wanted. God has answered the question, rather sharply, and I am now well embarked on The Honourable Schoolboy. I’ve read most of Le Carre, but that one not in the last two years (I’ve kept lists) and not on the Kindle (Amazon would remind me) – so possibly not at all.


One of David Cornwell’s sons is a mosaicist. He has written an article for the journal Andamento (what does that mean?) which Helen edits. She has been corresponding with him about the biographical paragraph which will accompany the article, and had this email from him yesterday:



Not an excuse to use often - he wouldn't have let it interrupt him - but my father passed away last night and things a bit crazy at the minute, 



I told her to write back and say, He was a great man. But she knows Tim only as a mosaicist and thinks it would be embarrassing to reveal that she knows who his father is. I think he wouldn’t notice in the general fuss,  but she’s the Englishwoman, I’m just an American. I mean to print it out, anyway, and insert in a copy of something. I’m not sure we have anything on paper here. “The Little Drummer Girl” (my fave) and perhaps “The Constant Gardener” are available in Kirkmichael, though.


However, it certainly means that I’m only three degrees away from John Le Carre. The same degree from Evelyn Waugh, also due to Helen who knew his son Auberon and also a granddaughter, ??Daisy. And I’m only two from Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, through my own efforts. (See this blog for January, 2018.) That’s pretty well late-20th-century literature covered.


The first two news bulletins I heard last night, didn’t even mention his real name. Perhaps there was a late-night editor on duty who didn’t know that he wasn’t named John le Carre.

Sunday, December 13, 2020


Another day. The second sleeve of the Evendoon has been somewhat advanced. Moorecat, you’re absolutely right that I need a bowl on my lap. I mean to use my wooden salad bowl, which is right there beside my chair. It is full of little bits of things – twists of yarn from former projects which I must now harden my heart and throw away. Meg says somewhere that she never throws anything away (any yarn, she means) – that’s a line it’s hard to forget. But completely irrelevant here. I'll get that done tomorrow.


I still haven’t taken a picture for you. The light goes so early.


Helen came, with her dog Farouk, and we got around the garden in a gentle rain. He’s a nice dog.


Language: we lived in Glasgow in Early Married Life – all four children were born there, in fact. In those days, workmen used to set forth in the morning with cans containing tea leaves and sugar. At lunch time they would knock on somebody’s door and ask for hot water. (We spent the academic year 1960-61 at Smith College in Massachusetts, and were interested to learn that workmen brought along their own electric percolators.) This happened once when my mother was staying with us, and I happened to be out. She told me about it afterwards. She had had to send the man away because she couldn’t understand what he wanted. I explained. She said, I thought maybe that was it.


Brexit is getting exciting, in these final few days. Helen is anti-EU, after all her years in Greece.


And Covid is fairly exciting, too. I have no idea when I might expect to get vaccinated. The website of my GP’s practice is no help.

Saturday, December 12, 2020


Little to report. Helen came, and we got to the corner shop – not quite as far as a circuit of the garden, by my guess, but nearly, and perhaps enough to save me from seizing up. I moved on down the second sleeve of the Evendoon --- twirling it around is indeed a nuisance by now. I had to stop to wind a skein.


I had a good Italian lesson, talking about Christmas. My tutor lived in Edinburgh for three years and knows all about darkness and damp, but she always went home for Christmas and knows nothing about Christmas pudding. I am going to skip it this year, as I’ve said, but I regard it as the heart of the whole procedure, flaming brandy and all. Maybe I can find recipes and a picture for her.




Joni, I was awfully glad to hear that Franklin’s closure class is still in the repertoire. If only Craftsy (or Interweave) would take it up! And of course your’re right, Mary Lou – if I want to knit something with a zip in it, I could pay someone to put it in. There’s a wonderful Edinburgh charity (on North Castle Street? – beyond my current range, anyway) where people sell their handiwork. The charity consists in the fact that the premises, in the city centre, and the staff are provided. All the proceeds go to the people who make the things. When I knit a Christening dress (Amedro’s pattern) for a grandchild once, I went there to get someone to make a slip to go under it, and I’m sure they could provide a zipper-setter.


Jean(fromcornwall), thank you for your praise of my tape-measure-location. I wish I could think of how to do the same for my  needle gauge. I know where it is at the moment, as it happens, but that’s the tool which most often escapes me. I’ve got several; I can usually find one of them. But there’s one I particularly like, and it’s particularly elusive.


Mary Lou, thank you for the link to the Hopkins broadcast. It took me straight there. I doubt if I could make it work on the iPad, so I’ll have to bring the knitting in here.


Thank you, all, for the comments about Swedish and Norwegian. It sounds as if the languages are no more different than English and modern Scots (which can be pretty incomprehensible but is never, or rarely, given credit for being more than a dialect). The more I work on Italian, the more Spanish sounds almost within grasp. It’s a fascinating area of study and thought.

Friday, December 11, 2020


Another day of great weakness, but Helen got me around the garden. She says the latest sourdough loaf tastes good.


And Uradale Farm on Shetland says that my hap-yarn order is on the way. So it behoves me to get as much Evendoon done as possible before it turns up. I made some progress down the second sleeve today.


Kate Davies has sent us club-members a pattern for a cosy hoodie. It’s fastened, however, with a zipper, which rules it out for me. That’s a skill I’ve never mastered, and by now I’ve stopped trying. Didn’t Franklin once offer a class on fastenings? If so, it’s slid out of his repertoire.




I’ve mentioned that I sometimes re-read this blog, of an evening. Yesterday I discovered to my surprise, in December, 2018, this reference to an article about “Christmas past” on Shetland in which they celebrate not Christmas but the solstice itself, starting a week beforehand (that would be next Thursday); the celebration lasts a month. There are lots of trolls about, this time of year, but the article has tips for warding them off.


I keep meaning to mention that Arne and Carlos told us recently that, at home by themselves, Carlos speaks Swedish and Arne speaks Norwegian. That scarcely sounds as if they are two separate languages at all.


I’m sorry I missed Melvin Bragg on Hopkins, Mary Lou. Maybe I can dig it out of the BBC web pages. (I heard him last night, as I was falling asleep. His voice sounded funny, as if his teeth didn’t fit, but I can’t remember what they were talking about.) Hopkins was revered by students of literature when I was at Oberlin, so I knew his name, at least. But I didn’t know he was a Roman Catholic, let alone a Jesuit priest, until I got to Glasgow. His was a desperately sad – and heroic – life.


Peggy, yes, that’s a tape measure on the rail of the Aga. I don’t know quite how that happened. That’s where the tape measure belongs, and I always know where it is. If only things were so arranged for everything else in the house!