Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A day of almost utter inertia – waiting for a delivery which didn’t arrive. I can’t let another day pass like this. I like your idea, weavinfool, of a daily “What I did on my staycation” letter. I have an old friend who does that, not just in these troubled times, but almost every day – a sort of private blog for perhaps 30 friends and relations. She is beginning to sink a bit under the weight of isolation. As, clearly, am I. I’m too inert even to watch television. I just read Ruth Rendell and listen for the doorbell.

I did get some dishes washed today.

And I knit, a very little. The next row will see the Trees of Life finished off for now.

Anonymous, I’m a great Franklin fan, and will certainly seek out the Kirsty Glass podcast. And I’ll try to do better tomorrow, if only to have something to tell you.

Farewell, March 2020!

Monday, March 30, 2020

Not too bad a day. I had a delivery of groceries from Tesco, ordered so long ago that it seemed like a gift package. Four tins of chopped Italian tomatoes! A treasure! A sachet of cat treats! What a thoughtful inclusion!

I watched a pious homily this morning from a reverend gentleman who said that the secret of isolation was to do one constructive thing a day. By that standard, I’ve managed well: I cleaned the cats’ litter box. I put the rubbish out for collection tomorrow – harder than I expected, as there were no passers-by and I had to drag the gull-proof bag down the steps myself and hook it over the railing. I put on a washing. It’s still swooshing around. Helen will come in occasionally and do some of these things once her period of isolation is over. She was ill herself for a couple of days; not just Fergus.

Testing is reserved, I gather, for those arriving in hospitals and for NHS workers. And for Prince Charles, who is now better and emerging from isolation.

I read back through the February blog entries. They are rather more use than March, for conveying the sense of storm clouds gathering while meanwhile we went on going to rugby matches and planning a christening and looking forward to a cruise. The first big European cancellation to impinge on my consciousness was when Venice cancelled the Carnival. And here we are, even now, with a substantial tranche of Lent still to come.

You are absolutely right, Southern Gal, to remind us of the people like you who are keeping the internet up and running. What on earth would we do without it? With the shops shut and the skies empty, we are inclined to think the whole world has closed down but in fact an awful lot of things are happening. I’ve got gas and electricity and a telephone. Someone supplied that food and packed it for me and delivered it. Someone will take away the rubbish tomorrow.

I have had offers of help on the Brooklyn Tweed Arbor problem, if problem it can be called. I am grateful, and haven’t replied to any of you yet. I am tempted – this is utterly absurd – by Blue Sky’s 21-Colour Scarf kit. I’ve knit their slouch hat three times, I think; certainly twice. Great success. Lots of fun. The scarf is even more expensive, and I’ve got the Oak Park scarf if I want stripes. More tomorrow.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

I went back through my March posts yesterday – surely a month none of us will ever forget – hoping that they would add up to some sort of story, but they don’t. You’d have to take them with a serious dose of some newspaper or other, to make any sense of it.  

It’s mildly interesting, and to my mind mildly depressing, that the USofA, like many other countries, seems to be rallying round its leader. Biden seems to be as useless as Jeremy Corbyn at striking a different note – or any note at all.

I have had another day of total seclusion. I spoke to Alexander, who says that life on the shores of Loch Fyne is much as it has always been, except that nobody’s  going down to the pub. He thinks it is just as well that I am not going out at all. I did a bit of mild exercise today.

And some knitting. That is beginning to seem almost irrelevant, although the Sunday papers continue to promote it as a settler of nerves.

My son James sounds as if he's enjoying himself -- he can do what needs to be done as the Economist's China editor from home, and spend the time saved from commuting and the coffee machine, in his beloved garden. Rachel, another Londoner, is less enthusiastic -- she used to spend the commuting time reading her book, and enjoyed the coffee machine. I suspect the difference is that James' wife is providing -- or at least organising -- lunch for four, as is Rachel. 

Tamar (comment yesterday), do you have access to Beatrix Potter’s “The Tale of Johnny Town Mouse”? It is brilliant on the differences between town and country mice, both in the text and even more in her wonderful drawings. Both species, clearly, are averse to cats.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The big news here today is that Paradox caught a mouse. She has been saying ever since we got back from Kirkmichael a week ago that they are about. I was sceptical – no droppings, no other evidence, certainly so sightings. But she’s the expert, and we live in a tenement. This morning while I was having my Italian lesson she was charging about, and when I got finished and went into the kitchen for some breakfast, there she was: with a mouse.

It was very small, but it was a sturdy city-bred mouse which provided a good half-hour of entertainment. For Paradox, if not for me. Breakfast was postponed. Country mice (a different species) tend to die promptly of shock.

I profoundly detest mice, but I love my cats. I’ve got a picture for you of the exhausted huntress, but for the moment I can’t get it over here from the iPad.

Otherwise, little to report. Helen is allowing her family out at least to shop. Her husband David brought me some cider. And my friend G. brought me some more, along with the Financial Times. I had brief, shouted conversations with both. Rachel phoned. They are all well, but getting rather tired of working from home.

And I have done no knitting. It must be something about Saturday. I told you, I think, that Brooklyn Tweed is out of Arbor in the colour (Vintnor) I think I have chosen for Foldlines. Today I tried Loop, the London shop where one happy day I met Shandy and we went to a class with Franklin. They’re the British outlet for Brooklyn Tweed and they’re got it all right (on sale, at that) – but they have suspended their on-line sales.

I was born in 1933 and grew up with the knowledge that “for the duration” means  “forever”.


I’ve found a Barbara Vine I don’t know -- “The Blood Doctor”. BV is a Ruth Rendell pseudonym, of course, and Barbara Vine books are slightly more weighty and this one is perfect for these troubled times. A man is writing the biography of his great-grandfather so there are lots of names and generations to keep straight. And Kindle-reading means I can look them up when necessary.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Fergus is better. Asymptomatic, indeed. So: was that COVID-19, in which case the whole family, except for Fergus, needs to stay in strict quarantine for a fortnight? Or was it not, in which case they can revert to the practice of careful lockdown? I haven’t spoken to any of them today.

I watched the Pope’s blessing urbi et orbi.  It was rather impressive, that solitary white figure in the rain in the empty piazza. The Queen is said to be about to speak to us. If so, she might as well get on with it. I woke up frightened this morning, and remain so, as if this were all happening in a rubbishy disaster book about the end of Civilisation as We Know It, and we had reached roughly Chapter Three. And then we heard that Boris Johnson and his Health Secretary both have it, which pitches us into  the middle of Chapter Four at least. My friend G. thinks that the Queen will die in Chapter Nine.

Nurhanne, I cannot tell you the pleasure your comment gave me, with its news that the Anglo-Saxon “an-genga” persists in modern Danish. The Professor of History at Oberlin told us once of how he felt, on a visit to England, finding a street sign that said “Watling Street”. And I remember talking to a man on a train in the mid-‘50’s, in the dark days of the “back end”, and he told me that where he came from, people observed the “old New Year”, and I realised he was talking about the Gregorian calendar. (That’s still true, as I trust there are still road signs that say “Watling Street”.)

I’ve done row 25 of the borders of the Cameron Shawl, indeed am halfway through row 24. AND I’ve finished a ball of yarn, and attached the next one. That means I’ve done as much knitting on this shawl as I had on the Spring Shawl when it disappeared. I don’t suppose that signifies much.

I hovered over the Brooklyn Tweed website for a while today, and discovered that there’re all out of “Vintner” in Arbor for the moment.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

All well here, I guess. I could wish that the BBC news told me more about New York than it does, but that seems an unreasonable cavil. How steadying and reassuring are those calm voices, no matter how dreadful the news. So it must have been during the war.

My mother taught me the word "an-genga", "lone-goer", an epithet -- perhaps the epithet -- of Beowulf. I have no syllable of Anglo-Saxon. She applied it to herself, and offered it to me. And I have been glad to embrace it, especially, perhaps, now. I like being alone.

I have reached row 29 of the Cameron Shawl borders (counting down to zero from 110). This is the row in which the final filler patterns begin, as the Trees of Life slim down into nothing. AND I am within a few feet of the end of the second ball of yarn. That’s real progress, in lace knitting.

The new VK turned up yesterday – well timed, in this vale of tears. Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita,  as we say in Italian. There’s nothing that grabs me, alas. Had I but world enough and time, No. 7, The Grandfather or No. 9, The Gradient. But I’m short of both.

I still haven’t pushed the button for Foldlines, but I probably will.

We’ve had our first perhaps-casuality. Helen and David’s youngest son Fergus was stricken with vomiting and a fever last night. Vomiting, of course, is not a COVID syndrome, but fever is. To what extent do the rest of the household need to isolate themselves from the world even more severely than they are already doing?

My niece C. (with whom I went to Kirkmichael last week) is contemplating joining forces with her daughter, another C., different name. The younger C., of course, is the one who is expecting a baby soon, and would be glad of her mother’s company while her husband is at work. The husband, also of course, is the point of danger, potentially bringing the virus home to wife and mother-in-law.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

I haven’t done any knitting today. What’s the matter with me? Maybe soon, when the news comes on.

I was desperately touched to learn, earlier in the day, There’ll-Always-Be-An-England-Dept, that Prince Charles qualified for coronavirus testing as an over-70 with symptoms. And as for there always being an England, it is one of the very brightest notes in these dark days that Scotland suddenly seems to be a fully functioning and non-grumbling member of the United Kingdom.

I didn’t get out for my walk today. No excuse. I felt almost afraid to leave the house.

I am rather regretting that dentist’s appt last week, I was reluctant to go, but put my reluctance down to cowardice about the climb. The dental practice is almost within sight of my front doorstep – but straight up. I left an excess of time, and was pleased with how quickly I got there. I was made welcome and settled down in the opulent waiting room with coffee and the Scottish Field.

After my half-hour with the hygienist (an old friend) I learned that the dentist hadn’t turned up yet. “Stuck in traffic.” How so? There isn’t any traffic. More coffee. More Scottish Field. One of my few remaining teeth shows signs of trouble, but we agreed to leave it until next time.

It was only after I got home that I grasped that there weren’t any other customers. The practice has since closed. That was eight days ago. I’m probably OK.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

And here we are, a day in. I am beginning to feel that I must be the Designated Old Person in Drummond Place, so many and so valuable have been the offers of help. The best one today was, Can I get you some sausages from Crombie’s? I had meant to go myself, but was held in by yet another expected delivery (which eventually arrived).

It sounds very much to me as if life on the east coast of the US is much like life here; presumably so also on the west coast. It is probably different in between. Governors and mayors are doing rather well. Perhaps there’s much to be said for federalism. On the other hand – I hope this is not too rose-tinted – we suddenly seem to be a United Kingdom again, for which thank goodness.

As for knitting, I’ve finished row 30 of the Cameron Shawl borders (counting down from 110). Pretty soon – row 27, in fact – I will have to embark on the final filler patterns, as the Trees of Life themselves get narrower. But at the moment, all is peaceful.

I’ve hesitated on the brink of Foldlines, but haven’t yet acted. Brooklyn Tweed has a wide range of reds in its Arbor yarn. I am torn between two towards either end of the spectrum – “Vintner” or “Mesa”. But is this the moment for such extravagance? Should we not all be knitting from stash, and cooking from the freezer?

I suddenly found, just then, that I was writing in the Greek alphabet – without even a cat having walked across the keyboard. I’ve re-started. All is well. But the experience reminded me that I have been meaning to draw to your attention an ancient Greek whose name is mentioned, in adjectival form, at least once every hour, these days,  here in GB. Not Achilles or Socrates or Archimedes or Helen of Troy. Here’s his Wikipedia link.


Allison, thank you – I am glad to know that my previous doom-laden remarks here referred to the financial crisis.

Moorecat, can I recommend the Pope’s daily Mass (vatican.va)? We could choose to have an American nun (I’m guessing) provide a simultaneous translation, but I prefer to listen to the Pope himself – he looks remarkably like Jonathan Pryce – despite my limited comprehension.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The first day of the rest of our lives… See Tamar’s comment yesterday. My main problem today, a trivial one, was waiting for deliveries. They have all arrived. I was expecting a box of Encore cat food and one of Weston’s Vintage Cider, both from Google Prime. One had arrived by the time I sat down to my lunch of squashed avocado on toast. I thought it was cider, and opened it hungrily. It was cat food. I had a moment of feeling less than loving towards my furry house-mates.

Since then, the cider has turned up, and also some Mindful Chef meals.

And knitting goes forward well. I am doing row 34 of the Cameron Shawl borders – 37 was the one where the Trees of Life were at their maximum. The tentative plan had been to finish this first piece of Cameron Shawl and then polish off the Oak Park scarf to wear, in an insouciant sort of way, on my cruise. May can be cold. Now that there is no such cruise, I need to think again.

And I need to devise a schedule, and keep to it. Exercise, an outing, Italian. I think I am allowed to go out: Drummond Place Gardens are right here, and we all know to keep away from each other. 

A favourite Times columnist, Libby Purves, currently emerging from chemotherapy, writes today: “…For some of us, a kind of neurological hunger sets in: a sense of brain areas unused, restless, anxious. Something missing in those of us without a craft skill. People who knit, sew, paint, cook creatively or fix things in sheds are comfortably in touch with those brain areas all the time.”

It’s worth remembering our good fortune.

Here’s the promised pic of the Oak Park scarf:

Less than half-way.

And here’s unabashed evidence of panic buying:

There is lots in yesterday’s comments that I would like to comment on. Good for Cuomo! And: how it must add to the discomfort of these extraordinary days, not to have leadership from the top. Maybe I'll say more tomorrow.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Safely there, safely back. We had a grand time, in beautiful weather, but very cold. Paradox rediscovered her talent for mousing. The papers are full of rich people with Second Homes retiring to the country for social isolation, to the irritation of the locals, but I prefer to hunker down here. I'm very glad to be safely back, cats and all.

It is strange to reflect that we are all, to a considerable extent, thinking about the same things today. And yesterday, and tomorrow.

My May small-boat cruise to the upper left hand corner of the Scottish mainland has been cancelled. I gave up hope at least a week ago, but it is still sad news. C. and I will probably re-book, but the length of time for which I need to stay alive and on my feet is obviously increased thereby. Among the many pleasures of anticipation has been the choosing, rejecting, re-choosing of my cruise wardrobe. Maybe I should go ahead and buy one brightly-coloured item.

And I have also been reflecting that this would be a suitable moment for buying yarn for a new project. Absurd, in my case, given how many projects are backed up in the stash collection, and how long it will take to finish the modest accumulation in the progress bar to the right, and how old I am.

What would it be? Brooklyn Tweed’s (and Norah Gaughan’s) “Foldlines”? I bought the pattern, but never the yarn. Indeed, was going to use Madelinetosh of some sort. But now I think, let’s go for Arbor. Something red – there are lots of good ones.

Alexander mentioned the other day the “found poem” which he composed from this blog for my 80th birthday, and had printed on tea towels. You’ll find it, in full, in the entry for Thursday August 15 2013. He thinks the overall sense of gloom is appropriate to current events, and I agree. What could have been the occasion which prompted me to write: “These are times such as none of us have ever experienced”? Whatever it was, it’s truer now.

When my father was old (=about my present age) and going blind from macular degeneration, he read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall. I don’t know for sure whether he read it because he was going blind. I don’t know whether he finished reading it. But that might be a project worth undertaking. The Weekend Financial Times has a feature in which various pundits suggest various titles to read while one is in social isolation. Someone offers Il Gattopardo; otherwise I’m not terribly impressed with the suggestions. But Gibbon, yes.

I re-engaged with the Oak Park scarf while we were away. Pic tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Where to start? Each day is more unbelievable than the last.

Rachel has given up on Lent. She, whose piety inspires us all!

The Boat Race, the Grand National, the Chelsea Flower Show, the Queen’s distribution of Maundy Money on Maundy Thursday, all gone. For England, this is rather more serious than abolishing daffodils and lambs. And what if one had gone into a betting shop mid-January and offered a small sum to bet that the Boat Race and the Grand National would both be cancelled this year?

Foot and mouth might have stopped the National. A tsunami or the sinking of the Cambridge boat could have given pause to the Boat Race. But both in the same year? One would have made a fortune.

And what about the Strathardle Highland Games, on the 4th Saturday of August? I suppose the fate of the Olympics has to be decided first.

As matters stand, our trip to Kirkmichael is going ahead tomorrow. In that case, I won’t be back here until Monday, although I might contrive to send a few sentences from my iPad in the interim. My current anxiety is, what if one or the other of us develops symptoms while there? We’d be stuck. It’s for C. to worry about that – she’s the one who’s about to be a grandmother again, here in Edinburgh.

The Church of England has cancelled all public services. Have the RC’s done that? I’ve stopped going to Mass, but I have assumed it was available for the intrepid.

Every morning on Radio Four we have Prayer for the Day at 5:45. Sometimes I hear it, sometimes I doze. I have always assumed, however, that an actual holy person was in an actual studio, talking to us. Today we had a nun talking about St. Patrick. She spoke in his praise, not surprisingly, and alluded to parades and parties and religious services. What planet was she broadcasting from?

I’ve finished row 43 of the Cameron Shawl borders. But I’ll be taking the Oak Park scarf north with me tomorrow.

Monday, March 16, 2020

I’ve been listening to the PM’s press conference and am consumed with confusion and anxiety. Does our little trip to Kirkmichael this coming Wednesday constitute non-essential travel and/or non-essential social contact? Our cruise in May will certainly qualify under both headings. I’ve got a dental appt tomorrow (routine cleaning). Should I cancel? I can self-isolate up to a point, but I can’t give up Daniela without sinking into squalor. My trainer has given up face-to-face teaching. I will miss her dreadfully.

Giving up cider for Lent is difficult but do-able. Imposing an exercise regime on myself is another matter.

You will remember that on Saturday morning I tried to book a supermarket delivery for today or tomorrow – and couldn’t get a slot until Friday. Today I tried to book one for next Monday, and couldn’t get anything all this week or next. I’ve got one a fortnight today, and can add to the list until virtually the last minute. And of course the instinct in such circumstances is to stockpile: more cat litter! more cat food! Shortages are self-perpetuating.

Perhaps the sensible thing to do is to stockpile supermarket delivery slots. I think I'll go ahead and book April 6.

Federica said at the end of our last lesson that we would do better to talk about Dante next time, instead of the coronavirus. Similarly, here: knitting.

I’m doing row 47 of the Cameron Shawl borders, polishing off a motif. (It wasn’t a very productive weekend.) For the next twenty rows, there will be nothing except the Trees of Life, six per border. And when that’s done, we’re nearly home.

Queer Joe has posted a second “Knitting with Queer Joe” video, as individual and charming as the first one. Find him on YouTube.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Ides of March

I spoke to my sister today. She’s given up Lenten abstinence which is not a bad idea. She and her husband are meant to join me and C. on our May cruise. She hasn’t much hope. I still cling to a shred of it. The Majestic Line has just sent us our luggage labels.

We had a dear aunt who lived past her 100th, and used to say towards the end that the sad thing about extreme old age was that you knew you weren’t going to find out how the story ended. I’ll be happy enough to read coronavirus books in two or three years time. She wants to see the 20-year book. (She’s younger than I am, but not that much younger.)

She and her husband live in a retirement community in DC. It has obviously gone into lockdown, for she says, a propos Lenten abstinence, “everything else is gone, visits with grandsons, visits with friends, meals in the dining room, exercise programs, the swimming pool, the library, museums, Metro rides, concerts, lectures, church. It does not seem unreasonable to go back to wine with dinner…”

Denied Mass, I watched a papal Mass on Youtube yesterday. I have recently seen the excellent Netflix movie, The Two Popes, and couldn’t help feeling that Bergoglio looked a lot like Jonathan Pryce all right, but wasn’t quite…

It is to be deduced that in England the elderly and vulnerable (=me; Rachel’s husband Ed who is asthmatic; James who is a Type One diabetic) are soon going to be told to self-isolate and to stay in that condition for months. Ed and James have a living to earn. I’ll be all right. Here in Scotland we will just be told to reduce our social contacts. I haven't got all that many to begin with.

The early evening news reported that supermarkets were besieged today. Everybody is stocking up on cat litter, presumably.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

A good enough day, starting with an interesting Italian lesson in which we talked about the coronavirus and never got around to Dante at all. Poor Federica is bloccata a casa. Then I thought I would get ahead of the game by ordering in some groceries for delivery Tuesday, to feed C. and me in Kirkmichael later next week. I usually order one day and take delivery the next. Today, there were no slots available until FRIDAY.

But Helen took me to Waitrose, so all is well. I took on board your excellent tip, Sarah – for which many thanks – and panic-bought a supply of cat litter. I bought the rest of my trolley-ful in normal quantities. I got everything on my list, but shelves were on the bare side, and there was no lavatory paper at all.

Everybody seems to think it is a good idea to go to Kirkmichael, and that I should stop going to Mass. I’m getting sort of scared.

But I got some knitting done – through row 51 of the Cameron Shawl borders. Row 50 is a plain-vanilla knit row: I should be strong enough to polish that off this evening. I’ve read a few pages of “The House of Leaves”. It does a good job of this-is-going-to-be-really-scary at the beginning, without being really scary.

My Saturday treat is the weekend Financial Times, on paper: the only physical newspaper I read, these days. I love it. It comes with a frequent supplement called “How To Spend It” which usually contains, among much else, a page about some stylish figure with pictures of objects he/she loves. Today it’s Kaffe. I’ll tear the page out and keep it. I don’t think I learned anything except that there is a rose named after him, from a German breeder.

Friday, March 13, 2020

The world keeps on getting odder and odder, and scarier and scarier. Everything is closing. Grand-niece C., expecting that baby at the end of April, finds herself with some extra maternity leave (paid, I hope, but who knows). Her office has closed altogether. It’s something financial. Grandson Alistair, the computer whiz who works for a game-writing company here in Edinburgh, is working from home. Archie’s university has closed. And so forth.

He and I went to Waitrose this morning, for the first time in quite a while. I am glad to report that things were close to normal. There was even some lavatory paper on the shelves. The panic which leads to stockpiling lavatory paper started in Australia, I think, and has swept the world.

He brought me “House of Leaves”. I’ve made a start. I’ll report back eventually, even if it’s only to report failure.

Shandy, I am desperately sorry to hear of your plaster. Thank goodness you can knit, however clumsily. I couldn’t at all, when I broke my arms. (Both arms have been broken, but not at once.) And if ever there were a situation in which knitting might help, it’s this one.

I did quite a bit of it today. I’ve reached row 52 on those Cameron Shawl borders – nearly time to move on to the next chart. I established a new motif today (it starts with a k3tog, of course): this time, it’s the Tree of Life, the central motif of the borders. So that’s something.

I think I am beginning to feel the benefit of the stitches which are being steadily decreased at the beginning and end of every pattern row. It’s like the light coming back after the horrors of Christmas. At first, nothing; then am-I-imagining-it? And suddenly here we are in March and it's the equinox and light is everywhere.

C. and I are hoping to go to Kirkmichael next week. I am half-inclined just to huddle here with my cats, but I know that all three of us will enjoy the country air. It is brave of C. to take responsibility for my enfeebled state. I think I’ll take the Carol Sunday “Oak Park” scarf along. The shawl is too complicated for social knitting.

And guess what? I found the key to the garden! Archie and I went and harvested some wild garlic and in a moment I will make some pesto with it and toss it through some pasta for my supper.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

What a world! Goodness gracious me! I’ve told London that I probably won’t be coming to the christening next week. Staying away is called "social distancing" apparently. Weavinfool, you’ll be vulnerable, looking after grandsons. You know that. But I don’t regard you as particularly elderly. Mr Trump is crazy. We all know that.

I am much reminded of The Masque of the Red Death. Mr Trump and Prince Prospero would find they had a lot in common.

I’m beginning to have twinges of anxiety about my cruise in May. Twelve passengers, four crew: we’ll be fine. I’ve had a cheerful email from the Majestic Line, looking forward to the new season and recommending themselves as a “staycation”. But I’m a bit anxious – not about going, but about being allowed to go.

AND I’ve lost my key to Drummond Place Gardens, just as the first wild garlic is ready to harvest. I had it on Tuesday.


Thank you for your comment, Joe. Archie is coming tomorrow, and will lend me his copy of “House of Leaves”. I’m not promising to read it all the way through, but I’ll have a go. I enjoyed Nabokov’s “Pale Fire” many decades ago (if I’ve got the right title). A narrative poem, with notes, and you need both for the story. Nabokov himself suggested you buy two copies.

I persevere with Trollope. Another odd thing about “Mr Scarborough’s Family" is that the author doesn’t seem to like any of his characters. There is a bit of young love, but so far the participants are relatively minor characters, offstage for much of the time.

And – I nearly forgot – I’m doing row 60 of the Cameron Shawl borders.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

A good, knitterly day, including an outing. I’ve done row 64 of the Cameron Shawl borders, still worried about the displacement I mentioned yesterday but now inclined to think that an attempt to fix it might make matters worse. I’ve polished off another motif.

And, after many a month of inactivity on that front, I’ve succumbed to the constant bombardment of messages about “bargains” from the people who took over Craftsy, and bought Norah Gaughan’s class on two-sided cables. Not so much in the hopes of learning anything, but because I admire her work so much. Do we ever learn much from workshops and on-line classes? We’re there to be inspired. Thomas’ Calcutta-Cup-draw scarf, pictured here recently, is a Gaughan two-sided cable. At least the one in the class isn’t that one.

And Andrew and Andrea are back, this time fresh from the Swiss Wool Festival. (Is Switzerland immune from the coronavirus, just as it was from World War II?) Andrew is wearing a sweater Andrea just finished knitting him, an Alice Starmore (I think it was) which she adapted from dropped shoulder to set-in-sleeve. It fits with extreme elegance.

The Festival looked good too. Banks of beautiful yarn.


Alexander drove over from Glasgow to see me today, instead of trusting himself to the usual train in the morning rush hour. He’s got coronavirus jitters, and I don’t blame him. He regards himself as elderly, now that he's turned 60. 

Here’s another picture of my new table, making it clearer about the stools which fit underneath. In yesterday’s picture they looked a lot like a convenient shelf for stowing one’s magazines on. That’s a good idea, Tamar, about removing one to make room for knees:

Thank you for your comments about “House of Leaves”. Weavenfool, I’m afraid it might be too creepy for me, too, but I’m tempted to have a look. Archie has read it, Alexander is trying.

So I go on with Trollope, for the moment.

Bitter lemon is great stuff, Sarah. Recommended. My Lent is going well, so far.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

My Aga has been restored to me. I’ll never complain about anything again (unlikely). The electrician came first thing this morning. Alexander had suggested that, before calling him, I should change the fuse in the 13-amp plug with which the Aga must be plugged into the world – not a bad idea, but I had no idea where that plug is. It baffled the electrician for a while, too – then he asked for that ever-useful domestic tool, an old-fashioned wire coat-hanger. I had one ready to hand, of course, and he used it to pull off what might be called a foot-plate, or a kick-board, or something like that. And there were the electrics.

Here is my new kitchen table:

I shouldn’t really be using a chair. I must get used to perching on a backless stool. It’s a nice, solid table and its size certainly fits the room better. Notice the virtuous Lenten bottle of bitter lemon.

The Cameron Shawl knitting has progressed through row 67 of the borders. I think something is wrong – the pattern seems to be offset by two stitches. Row 66 is plain knit and I will try to use it to spot the error.

Often when I am idle (which is often, indeed) I wander around the internet. Today I went back to an old favourite, the Shetland Museum and their Lace Project. Recommended. I was interested to be reminded that it is meant to be a two-year project, which would mean finishing towards the end of this very year. The idea is to assign traditional names to Shetland stitch patterns so that their wonderful collection can be catalogued in a meaningful way. The difficulty is that different knitters use different terms for the same stitch.


My enthusiasm for Trollope’s “Mr Scarborough’s Family” is cooling off, and there’s a long way to go. The cast of characters is not uninteresting, and the situation has much to recommend it, but there is greatly the feeling of a cast of actors towards the end of a long run, when they are bored with the play themselves.

Has anybody read “House of Leaves” – a cult book, and hard to read, I gather? I am slightly tempted to try.

Monday, March 09, 2020

An eventful day. I am still Aga-less. I spoke to my dear electrician this morning, and he hoped to be able to come, but phoned me at the end of the working day to say that events had overtaken him; he will come tomorrow morning. I could phone Aga but they would take at least twice as long to get here and charge at least four times as much.

I don’t have a microwave. One would be handy this evening. And I am sometimes tempted by those modern “one-pots” – pressure cookers, I think, with knobs and whistles.

Archie came, and we tackled the flat-pack kitchen table which was delivered on Saturday. We got as far as unpacking it and counting all the parts and screws, but were both completely baffled by the wordless instructions for assembly. Not enough Lego in childhood, either of us. Daniela’s husband came this afternoon and dispatched it in a brisk hour, a circular table and four triangular stools which fit neatly underneath. He speaks no English so words wouldn’t have helped. I think it’s a great improvement – the other one was (is) an excellent table, but too big for the space, and there were the chairs to get round as well. Picture tomorrow.

And I’m now knitting row 69 of the two Cameron Shawl borders. Here’s a progress report:

It’ll look better when it’s been blocked, I hope. Rows 73 and 71 were k3tog’s all the way across, a bit of a struggle. But they’re done.


It has been suggested by several people (including Rachel, the grandmother of the infant involved) that I shouldn’t go to London for that christening at the end of the month. I’ve got my un-refundable ticket; I don’t have to decide this week. We’ll see. London has the largest accumulation of coronaviruses in the UK, although that may be just because it’s got the most people.

Iceland has a surprisingly high number of cases, and very few people, but I have no plans to go there.

Trollope is holding up reasonably well.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

A good day, I think, on the whole. Alexander and Ketki came this morning with Thomas, the wounded hero, 

who walks now without a limp. (One of his legs was shattered in an accident on the football field just before Christmas.) James, the elder brother, had a bad cold and stayed at home. They went on to Murrayfield to see Scotland beat France, so that was good, too. Thomas in the picture is wearing his scarf commemorating Scotland’s draw in the Calcutta Cup match at Twickenham in 2019.

When my niece C. drove me to our early Mass this morning and back again, through what is usually the empty city except in Festival-time, we saw lots of comic Frenchmen in native costume, lacking only a string of onions. They will have had a disappointing day.

If any of their team now come down with COVID-19 (see yesterday’s blog), it will be worse.

What wasn’t good was that I discovered, mid-morning, that my electric Aga was dead. I couldn’t find the relevant fuse, but Alexander rapidly did, and that restored the auxiliary hot plate. But not the Aga. I will have to phone the electrician tomorrow. At least I can cook myself some sausages while I wait. And porridge for my breakfast tomorrow. Things could be worse.

Meanwhile I have reached row 72 of the Cameron Shawl borders, and have passed the most tedious row of the current motifs, those k3tog lozenges at their maximum. In the next pattern row (no. 71) I will establish a new motif, and the lozenges will begin to diminish.

Non-knit, non-rugby

I have finished reading Penelope Lively’s “Consequences”. Not her best. And have subsided into the arms of Trollope – “Mr Scarborough’s Family”. I suspect it’s not his best, either, but the bar is higher.

Saturday, March 07, 2020

A good day, starting with a good Italian lesson. Dante is glorious. We're sticking with him for at least another week. Federica doesn’t seem unduly worried about viruses, although she says it’s particularly hard for Italians to give up hugging and kissing each other.  Helen dropped in after an early Broughton Street hair appt and walked me around the garden twice. A new kitchen table got delivered. I’ll leave unpacking and assembly until I have help. I watched some rugby (England-Wales) but got bored.

And knitting went well. I’m doing row 76 of the Cameron Shawl border. When I’ve counted all the way back to zero, the next thing to do will be to start again from the beginning and knit another, identical piece – and then, using both, construct the centre. The moment when this first piece is finished might be a good one for pausing and considering my options.


Tomorrow’s match – the one Alexander and his family are coming over for – is Scotland-France. The women’s teams were scheduled to play an equivalent match, but that has been cancelled because one of the Scotland women has tested positive for you-know-what.

Perhaps she picked it up when Scotland played Italy in Rome a fortnight ago. Are we quite sure that everybody else is all right? Perhaps they’ve all been tested, men as well as women. Rugby is an awfully physical game.

James and his wife Cathy have both been having very nasty colds/flu's, lasting a fortnight in each case. They phoned the GP and were told to phone 111 and arrange to be tested, but when they tried, 111 wasn’t interested. They have since both seen a doctor (the GP? or someone else?) who wasn’t interested in the coronavirus either. Presumably James hasn’t been to China recently, but he must meet Chinese people all the time. It seems odd.

On the other hand, I read something about symptoms somewhere today. COVID-19 is a dry cough and fever; the common cold is sneezing and something else. Maybe a doctor can sort of tell by looking and asking questions.

Friday, March 06, 2020

Well, guess what? The Spring Shawl! And guess who was to blame for its absence? Me.

Daniela found it. It was – is – in a drawer in the sitting room. I had of course looked there several times – but it is a deep drawer, with a number of extraneous things in it. Daniela found the drawer slightly pulled out (I took something out of it yesterday), and pulled it further out before pushing it in. The Spring shawl was at the back.

Blameless pussy cats!

So what now?  I don’t know. I am further on with the Spring Shawl than with the Cameron – two complete balls consumed. The one thing to be seriously glad about is that I didn’t start the Spring Shawl over again.

As for today’s knitting, I have finished Row 81 of the two Cameron Shawl borders, and established a new motif. That always feels like progress. It’s a lozenge shape made up entirely of k3togs: that's not so good.

Kate Davie never seems to write about knitting patterns any more. She has a post today about a feminist piecework blanket – I guess that’s knitting – with the interesting information that Glasgow University (an alma mater of mine) produces its own dk yarn. I’ll have to think of something to do with that.

They study textiles in the Art History dept there. It was one of the very first art history departments in GB. My husband was an early member of it. No textiles in those days.

Otherwise I have had not a bad day. An outing, in the pleasant sunshine. One or two small chores accomplished.

The coronavirus has had a good day, too. It will be interesting to see what my tutor (in Rome) has to say about it tomorrow. Apparently nobody knows why Italy is having such a hard time with it. Rachel rang up today, sounding cheerful. She is surrounded by it – there are two cases in the Kings College Hospital where she works. (She’s not in the wards – she’s in an office, studying twins; still, geographically close.) She thinks I shouldn’t go to London for the christening at the end of the month, if it goes on getting worse at this pace.

Now I must go do some Dante for tomorrow.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

I had a good workout with my trainer this morning, including two circuits of the garden. The sun is beginning to have some warmth in it.

Knitting went well. I am most of the way across row 85 of the first two borders of the Cameron Shawl (counting down from 110). It’s sort of encouraging, with a slow multi-stitch project like this, to have this daily record to look back on. The same was true of the final stages of the Dathan hap.

I had an email from Misa Hay today, the wonderful woman who organises and runs the Shetland Wool Adventures, one of which I went on last year. She’s all booked up for 2020, I’m glad to report. But she had news of a new venture: a week on Fair Isle. Do have a look, even if, like me, you can’t possibly go. (I’m too weak.) I’d have jumped at the chance, 10 years ago.

The organiser has built into the system the possibility that you might not be able to get there on the day planned, because of the weather. In that case, you’re stuck in Lerwick (there are worse fates) until you can get across, and your week on Fair Isle begins when you arrive.

A propos the Oak Park scarf: my Wool Adventure included a lace-knitting session (most encouraging: I could still do it). They said that day – I think I’ve mentioned this before – that you shouldn’t interrupt a Shetland lace project by knitting something else. It upsets the tension your hands have become adjusted to. I’m still thinking about it.


Cat and Tamar, yes, my bath is well-equipped with grab bars. And it’s relatively low. Tamar, a grippy thing stuck to the bottom of the tub is a good idea. James and Cathy have one in their bath. I have a bath every morning when I’m there. Helen has wrought marvellous improvement in our Kirkmichael house in recent times, including a new bath. It’s so high that I don’t have baths at all.

I don’t think I have anything to say about the coronavirus today.

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

A day of event and, indeed, achievement – low on exercise, though:

  1. Daniela, who cleans my house and does my laundry, has come back from Romania, and order has been restored. She brought me some fresh feta, too. I have been increasingly anxious, of late, about taking baths, for fear of falling. (I don’t have a shower; but I doubt if that would be any better, fear-of-falling-wise.) So today I had a bath while she was here. I will continue with that practice.

  2. I have finished row 88 of the borders of the Cameron Shawl. A new decade! – the 80’s instead of the 90’s!

   3. I have finished the first ball of yarn. See sidebar.

I must give serious thought to that Carol Sunday Oak Park scarf. The difficulty is tearing myself away from the delights of lace knitting. I am scheduled to go on a cruise to the upper left-hand corner of Scotland – they bill it as a “wilderness cruise” – in May, and I am busy planning my cruise wardrobe on the “Toast” website.

I probably won’t actually buy much, if anything, but it’s fun to think about. And most of the things I am thinking about are dark blue and would go rather well with that scarf. Indeed, would need that scarf to lighten the gloom.


The coronavirus noose tightens, a bit. It’s fun, if I may go so far as to say so, to have something like this which puts us all in the same boat and on the same side, the world around.

Alexander and Ketki and their sons will drop in here on Sunday morning, before the Scotland-France rugby match. 

I've just finished re-reading John Le Carre's "Looking Glass War". Very good, rather depressing. Perhaps I'll go back to Penelope Lively for cheerfulness.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

I’m halfway across Row 91 of the Cameron Shawl borders (counting back from 110). It’s a bit trickier than preceding pattern rows and is going slowly. The ball of yarn now looks very depleted and surely can’t last more than a day or two. I could polish it off this evening if I were younger and brisker.


It is probably just as well – I would never have predicted that I could say this – that there is no Edinburgh Yarn Festival this year. It would have been this month, and the wonderful market is just the kind of crowded event, with everybody touching things, that we are trying to avoid.

I am going to London at the end of the month for a great-granddaughter’s christening, as I have mentioned before. I’ve got my tickets. But I decided today not to get an expensive new dress, just in case unnecessary travel is being advised-against by that time. London is stuffed with people. Age makes me vulnerable.

And speaking of vulnerability, I was glad to learn today that the Pope has been tested for COVID-19 and hasn’t got it. He’s old, and often exposed to crowds, and he has a cold at the moment, bad enough that he is staying home from a Lenten retreat, and he had half a lung removed surgically long ago.


I am playing Freecell ad lib, since I am not drinking cider in Lent. It has been a long time since I “lost” a game – i.e., gave up – and I am determined, at least, not to do that in Lent. I find myself struggling against a series of stinkers. Freecell is getting harder, or I am getting stupider. Either is possible.

Monday, March 02, 2020

All well. I’m nearly finished with row 95 of the Cameron Shawl border, counting down from 110.

Stashdragon, bless you for the news that Annie Modesitt is writing her blog again. I should have had the wit to look myself. I’ve binged on it, and am pretty well up to date. She’s had a very tough time. Is having…

Queer Joe has posted a 15-minute knitting video on Youtube and plans to go on with it. He’s not as slick as Andrew and Andrea, and is all the more endearing for that. Recommended.

Degrees of Separation

The civil servant who resigned, accusing Priti Patel of all sorts of nastiness, is married to a school friend of Greek Helen’s. The friend uses her maiden name. I know her, but have never met him. I knew that the friend was really Lady Something-or-Other, but didn’t make the connection until Rachel and Helen reminded me. But Helen knows both well – she says they have stayed in Kirkmichael with her.

Burt Lancaster is trickier. Fiona, you’re right, “Il Gattopardo” is the link. The author, in old age, adopted a handsome young man, himself a nobleman. He is still alive, and still handsome. Among his many titles is that of Duke of Palma, and it is his wife who does “Cooking with the Duchess” which Archie and I attended in early ’18. I sat next to the Duke at lunch that day.

When Visconti was making his famous film of “Il Gattopardo” in Palermo e dintorni, the Duke was helpful. I have a picture which I will scan for you when I can find the book of him and Lancaster bending over a table looking at some paper.


The kimchi has calmed down, as expected. A cautious taste suggests that I was right -- the saltiness is less obtrusive now that there is some fizz.

Sunday, March 01, 2020

I’m back in the saddle, knitting-wise: somewhere in row 98 of the two Cameron Shawl borders (counting back from 110). I hesitate, most days, to knit in the evening because all my sense is gone by then – not cider, just old age and feebleness. But the current passage is so easy that I may try to knock off a bit more this evening. The ball of yarn is looking seriously depleted.

Annie Modesitt is having a tough time. I struggle to follow her on Facebook (as I do Franklin) now that neither blogs. All seemed to be going well, if slowly, for her, but suddenly she is having chemotherapy again, for leukaemia this time.


The kimchi jars (see yesterday) are still overflowing nicely. They’ll probably be calmer by tomorrow. When I first made kimchi, I used to sit there in the kitchen watching the bubbles move up the side of the glass jars. It’s not a very interesting sight; even a lively fermentation is not all that effervescent.

I fear this batch is slightly too salty – not inedibly so, just a bit more salt than one would wish. Maybe when fermentation has added a vinegary taste it won’t be so noticeable. The kimchi-making process starts with salting the cabbage and leaving it for a couple of hours to soften and produce brine. Then you rinse it. I may have over-salted, or rinsed inadequately, or added too much fish sauce at a later stage. I will be alert to the problem next time.

Large-scale news continues interesting as COVID-19 closes in on us. We had elaborate precautions at Mass this morning (as did Rachel in London) – no shaking of hands for the Sign of Peace, for instance. And – even more interesting – I think I have learned from Rachel that I am only two degrees of separation away from the senior civil servant who has resigned and blamed the Home Secretary for persecuting him. (I’m only two degrees away from Burt Lancaster, come to that -- it’s a fun game to play.)