Sunday, May 31, 2020

My favourite day of the year. We pay for May annually with the horrors of November, and every year we are rewarded with this whole extra un-paid-for day. Today was heartbreakingly beautiful around here, and that was nice too. Helen and her husband David (still isolated from his job in Thessaloniki) came and walked me twice around the gardens – and brought me two freshly-pulled beetroots, golf-ball-sized, from their garden. They constitute the entire crop, if I understood  aright. I shall soon dine on them, greens and all.

Here should be a picture of the EPS, but Blogger's photo-upload, usually so simple and efficient, won't behave. Let's hope for better tomorrow.

I measured it today – 10 ½”. I was hoping for a wee bit more. (The target is 14-15”.) I did quite a bit of knitting, both during the Andrew Marr show and at our virtual post-Mass coffee. Today is Pentecost, a fave. I was sorry to miss it.


What’s this about gooseberries? I’d better google. I have a couple of bushes in Kirkmichael, and would hate to think they pose a danger to any of our trees. Let alone to me. They should be ready soon.

I agree with you, Tamar, that a good television mini-series can do justice to a novel. I have re-read “Pride and Prejudice” these last few days. I think my mental movie of it now derives quite a lot from the excellent BBC version. I seem to remember that there were two or three points, when I watched it originally, when I thought, Oh, surely not – and then consulted the text, and there it was.

But I don’t worry, now that I am so old. I take your point, Quinn, about not wanting to disturb the long-held mental image. (I think, for me, “Little Women” takes place at my grandmother’s house in Constantine.) But I think I can either brush a new version aside, if it isn’t right; or adopt bits of it, as in the case of “Pride and Prejudice”.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Huddled at my kitchen table just now, as I am so often, I heard a sound so familiar that I didn’t notice it for a while. Then I did. Tennis balls! Being knocked about in the little club out back! Perhaps we really are getting the world back!

I did some knitting today – not very much. Perhaps another picture tomorrow after the Andrew Marr show. What I did today was play a recently-purchased DVD of Visconti’s film “Il Gattopardo” while knitting. (Not without some difficulty, reminding myself how to tell the television to show me the recording. Will I be able to restore it to real life in time for Andrew Marr?)

When I was really young, 10 or 11 perhaps, I saw the movie of “My Friend Flicka”. I loved the book passionately. It was the first time I had ever seen a film made from a book I had read. I honestly expected to see the movie that ran in my head as I was reading. It was a cruel, cruel disappointment.

Visconti’s film comes about as close as is possible, and I’m older and wiser now. It’s not the book. It’s not nearly as good as the book. But it looks more or less right.


Oh, Mary Lou, a glut of asparagus! Hot with butter and lemon! Cold with oil and vinegar! My brother-in-law grills it with a bit of Tabasco. Then start again.

My father’s mother in Constantine, Michigan, had a big stand of it. All I remember is hiding in the fronds later in the season, which I wasn’t supposed to do. My mother’s parents had, in effect, a smallholding, in Dallas – a big vegetable garden, a cow, chickens. I have no memory of the food being delicious, although it certainly should have been. I remember the hired man turning the proper old-fashioned ice cream maker on Sunday mornings. I remember him beheading chickens, too.

I knew him for years only as “John”. I remember how very pleased I was to discovered that he was really “Mr McGregor”, just as in “Peter Rabbit”.

How old was I when I finally learned that asparagus can be a treat? Pretty old.

Tandah, you encourage me to go on with Elizabeth Strout, despite not much liking “The Burgess Boys”.

Friday, May 29, 2020

All well. No knitting, again, but I feel fine – or, as fine as I get these days. There would be time for some this evening, but again, it’s Friday: Italian looms.

I have provided myself with L’escargot Bleu food again, this time without card-trouble. The entrees all sounded a bit heavy and meaty, so I stuck to starters, as I sometimes do when lunching there. A fish soup; a terrine; cold asparagus; a dauph. That should see me through the weekend.

And I am trying to drum up trade for another cookery session with the Duchess of Palma, this time involving my own participation. That involves struggling with a website called mi.o ( which is not always cooperative (or comprehensible).

Helen came around and marched me around the gardens. Goodness, what a change three days makes, this time of year! The grass is now covered with tiny daisies. And there were various groups disporting themselves, taking advantage of the new permission for two households to meet out of doors at a safe distance.


(Since I can’t report on knitting) I am reading Elizabeth Strout’s “The Burgess Boys”. I love Olive Kitteridge, very dearly, but am enjoying this one somewhat less. The odd thing is that I feel sure the beginning is familiar: No spoiler here, as it’s all in the first pages. Three small children in a parked car. Their father leaves them, briefly. One of them pulls the hand brake off. The car rolls forward and kills the father.

If I had the Kindle book – I read all my novels on Kindle, these days – Amazon would have told me so. And the rest of the book feels totally unfamiliar (and a bit padded-out). A New Yorker story that later turned out to be a whole novel? That happens.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

I’ve been feeling more than a bit droopy today, and have done no knitting. I think I will excuse myself from standing on the doorstep at eight.

Before I forget: I heard from Misa Hay today, the woman who so brilliantly organises and leads the Shetland Wool Adventures in happier years, about a magazine she is about to launch. And she mentions that “Vogue Knitting is being downscaled”. WHAT IS THIS? Why didn’t anybody tell me?

Southern Gal: thank you for your comment. I would have replied to it except that when I try, my replies get swept away into the void as happens to so many of yours. We are going to have a new Blogger at the end of June. I dread it, but perhaps that particular problem will be solved.

If what you say is true (and I’m sure it is), it explains a good deal. But (a) why not come clean? David Cameron’s son Ivan (now dead) had as dreadful a medical condition as can be imagined. There was never any concealment and (I hope) never any undue publicity. And (b) in that case, it is all the more surprising that they felt they had no one to turn to for help in all that great city.

I have been zero-ing in on sourdough bread baking. The things I sent for have arrived. My starter is in good health. I’ve got flour. There is no excuse not to plunge ahead.

The difficulty is that it sounds as if one has to be on one’s feet for 24 hours. First you feed the starter and wait for six hours or so, thus making a “levain”. Then you add it to the bread flour (after a bit of autolysing) and leave it for a while. Then…well, you get the idea. After a long, long day of this you can put it in the refrigerator overnight and go gratefully to bed. Essentially, there are some stages where you have to watch so that it doesn’t over-prove and start to fall; and others which you can suspend with cold.

One wonders how they managed in the stone age.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

I’ve given up on Dominic Cummings. Helen was here this morning, exasperated with the whole fuss. Lots of people are quietly driving about and visiting family and friends, she says. (I don’t think her visits here count as violations, since I am so old and requiring help.) I think the point might be that Dominic Cummings’ position is so lofty that he has to obey the letter of his own law. Is that what noblesse oblige means? I am sure none of the royal family are cheating in the slightest.

All well here, otherwise. I’ve recovered from yesterday. It’s interesting what you say (comments yesterday), about Zoom being tiring. I am trying to persuade my sister and her husband, in DC, to join me in cooking one of the Duchess’ other menus. She remembered that when Archie and I were there in the flesh, I sat on the sidelines, perched on a kitchen stool, having fallen in the street the evening before and being somewhat shaken. Next time, she says, I must cook. We’ll see.

The not-surprising answer to yesterday’s question is that I want my EPS sweater to be 24-25” long; therefore I need 14-15” to the armhole. I have achieved 9 5/8” at the latest measure. It’s still looking good, but progress is slow.

Today’s knitting incentive was the new Fruity Knitting. It was entirely devoted to subjects I am not interested in – first Andrea with her beautiful (but crochet’d) blanket; then an interview with the woman who does Mochimochi. But the Mochimochi woman was delightful, and interesting – and Andrea is a brilliant interviewer. And the crochet’d blanket is nothing if not glorious.

I’ve been looking in on Arne & Carlos, as often. Carlos has had covid-19 rather badly, although he’s back on his feet now. In one recuperative video he teased Arne for being a bad cook, compared to himself, and then went on, to my surprise, to tease him for being old. Arne seems so boyish, so much the younger of the two. But I suppose, looking at them critically, that might not be true.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

I have spent the afternoon in Palermo and am exhausted.

Dominic Cummings seems secure in his job at the moment, although there are signs of growing unrest in his own party, and a junior minister has resigned. It was clear from yesterday’s press conference that Cummings regards himself as indispensable to the management of the UK. And it’s equally clear that the Prime Minister agrees. It’s a very odd situation in the midst of a very odd world.

I succeeded in ordering the Countess’ “Ministry of Truth Twisting” yarn (see yesterday). The result will be my Cummings socks, I hope.

Palermo: some will remember that Archie and I, early in 2018, did a day of “Cooking with the Duchess” at her palazzo. Her husband, my age, is the adopted son of Giuseppi Tomasi di Lampedusa, the author of my beloved “Il Gattopardo”.  Now, of course, there are no tourists in Palermo, either taking cookery classes or staying in the elegant self-catering apartments which have been carved out of the palazzo.

So she’s teaching by Zoom. And today Archie and his brother Mungo did a lesson and I was invited to sit in. That’s all I did. I sat there knitting. But I’m tired.

I took a tape measure to the EPS sweater. The row gauge is 9 ½ if not 10 to the inch. You see what I mean about paint drying. Tomorrow I’ll work out where I want to be when I start the arms, and how much further that is from where I am now.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Dominic Cummings has just given a press conference. It took up much of my afternoon (including ½ hour’s lateness on his part). He was wearing a nicely-ironed white shirt which he had previously submitted to me and Shandy for approval. He seemed to be telling the truth (a bit belatedly) and answered hostile questions. I can’t guess how it will go down.

It turned out they didn’t need child care. It’s sad to think – taking his story at face value – that in all that great city there was no one they felt they could call on, if both were ill and they needed help (which, as I say, didn’t happen).

Countess Ablaze, who had vowed she wouldn’t do a coronavirus yarn, is so  incensed that she plans a colourway called “The Ministry of Truth Twisting” – sock yarn only. (And she hasn’t dyed it yet.) But I’ve been clicking on the “Preorder Yarn” button all day, off and on, and constantly find that “This site can’t be reached”. I’ll try tomorrow.

It’s been a pretty limp day here. I knit onwards on the EPS, but we’re in the paint drying stage. It will be a while before anything seems to happen.

Andrew and Andrea this week? They would be welcome.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Prime Minister is sticking with his friend Dominic Cummings, but we haven’t heard the last of this. I do agree, Shandy, that his  costume sets one teeth on edge. I think Mrs Cummings has family in London (who might have helped with child care). She certainly wrote an article for the Spectator (for which she works) about the experience of having covid-19, implying that the experience took place in London. However the article doesn’t seem to be available without subscribing to the Spectator. But if that’s true, it implies that she knew that going to Durham was a bit off.

Here’s the EPS:

As hoped, Andrew Marr plus a Zoom’d parish after-Mass coffee morning plus watching the PM not answer questions about Mr Cummings – provided a lot of knitting time. It’s looking very cheerful, at any rate. I’m a bit worried about whether it’s too big, but big is what I’m aiming at. I could slide the stitches onto the two huge circulars I have as a result of knitting an edging all around the Dunfallandy Blankie all those years ago, and try it on. Maybe I will.


This is my unexpectedly large bag of chapatti flour:

 I hope I will tackle sourdough-bread-making this week. I have ordered a dough-scraper and some baking parchment from Amazon, no doubt delayed by the bank holiday weekend we seem to be having. I think it’s worth waiting for them. And I must turn the bag over and find an ingredient-list in English (there must be one) and make sure it’s OK to use it as wholemeal flour.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Dominic Cummings will have to go, and the sooner the better. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. (He’s a special adviser to the PM, an abrasive and widely-disliked character, who has been caught by the vigilant press in an egregious breech of lockdown. Did Boris know about it at the time? The government is sticking up for him, so far.)

The weather continues stormy.

I’ve finished the gradient stripes on my EPS sweater. Tomorrow’s Andrew Marr show – which is bound to contain lots of delicious information about Dominic Cummings, and even more delicious speculation – should move me far enough along that I could hope to show you a picture.

As well as the normal incentives to progress, I am eager to move on to part two of the four-part instructions in Knitter’s magazine, so that I can re-read the next issue. Expecting it to be as good as this first one. The first episode takes us to the underarm. Part two is sleeves, part three, the yoke. Then finishing and blocking.

I haven’t yet decided on a total length. That must come soon. Meg offers some figures, but her prototype looks too long for my taste. Measure a sweater you like, she says, and allow 10” for the yoke.

Ginger Twist and six other interesting-sounding small yarn shops hither and yon about the country, are having what might be called a virtual yarn-crawl next week. Here’s the link, I hope. The venture is called iKnit7, if the link fails. Each day will be devoted to a different LYS. I am looking forward to it, and wonder how much I can avoid spending.


I have been dining all week on that mutton stew from l’Escargot Bleu on Broughton Street. Not, perhaps, quite as good as remembered meals eaten in situ, but that might have been due to lack of ambience. Today I braised the remaining, along the lines of my successful sausage braise of last week. Delicious.

I ordered some chapatti flour from Tesco, since they said it was wholemeal and they didn’t have much else in the flour line. It arrived in this morning’s delivery, in so huge an amount (that’s a danger, with on-line grocery ordering) that I will have to bake sourdough loaves from now until kingdom come.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Almost a stormy day, with wind howling under the front door and my rosemary plant, big and heavy, found broken on the pavement and rescued by a kind neighbour. I haven’t been out, having the Guelphs and Ghibellines to deal with – at the last moment, as feared.

No knitting, either. I miss Pointless. It’s still nominally on, but that presumably means repeats. Its usual slot was taken over by the daily government show. I watched that (and knit) for a while, but it got to be too boring. I need to face up to getting my CD-player back into use.

Highly recommended: “W1A: Initial Lockdown Meeting” on Youtube. It’s short. It probably helps if you used to love “W1A” as I did, about the BBC; and before that “2012”, about the London Olympics. But it’s still pretty funny on its own.

Queer Joe has posted another episode of “Knitting with Queer Joe”. He’s a long way behind Andrew and Andrea, but still very endearing.

I have purchased Anne Bardsgard’s “Selbu Mittens” feeling that it was probably archive-worthy. And it is. So rich and wonderful, indeed, that I might even be tempted to knit some mittens. Is it interesting that Norwegian knitting and Shetland seem to have leapt into life at pretty well the same point in the mid 19th century?

Now I must get back to the Guelphs. I know virtually nothing about Italian history, and it’s rather wonderful.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

All well, although I’ve felt a bit floppy today. Helen walked me around the garden early on.

I can’t remember whether I’ve told you about this – my friend the Duchess of Palma has started offering Zoom’d cookery lessons from her palazzo in Palermo, since nobody (obviously) can join her Cooking with the Duchess days just now, as Archie and I did in early ’18. I’ve signed Archie and his brother Mungo up. They are quite keen, Helen says. They will be cooking calamari (if they can find any) next Tuesday, and the Duchess says I can observe.

In somewhat the same spirit, the French restaurant just around the corner, L’Escargot Bleu (highly recommended, for happier times) has started offering carry-outs. I have got myself a mutton casserole and a green salad for this evening. Fred grows the salad himself.

I paid for these two treats in rapid succession this afternoon, and the bank rang up rather anxiously. I said yes, yes, that was me; but the payment to the restaurant (I learned later) didn’t go through. They delivered the food anyway, and told me on the doorstep that they hadn’t been paid, and went away. I rang up and put things right. I was desperately touched. This isn’t a village; it’s a capital city; and they don’t really know me.

Long, pointless story.

I have now embarked on the final gradient stripe on the EPS sweater. It’s looking good.

Thanks for the Sakoolas comment, Quinn. I think it is enormously to the credit of the dead boy’s parents, fairly humble people, that they were able to say no to the president in his Oval Office when he unexpectedly asked them to shake hands and be friends with Mrs Sakoolas.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Look at that! The last time I took a picture of my avocado tree, on April 30, it was in its usual state of quiescence. Today, when I went to water it, I found it full of new leaves:

Helen came around today for an early walk. She is full of enthusiasm for her garden, having previously lived in a flat and before that in Greece. I warned her that May doesn’t last.

She is worried, and no surprise, about what the world holds for her sons. Both Archie and Mungo are about to graduate. There are no jobs, because everybody is on the brink of bankruptcy. The National Trust, among many, many others, is in a very bad way. They own Fair Isle, I think. The ramifications are everywhere.

I spent much of the morning recovering from my walk (and knitting). I had sufficiently done so by lunch time to make myself a tasty and healthful Mindful Chef meal. But the to-do list (including the Guelphs and the Ghibellines) is virtually untouched.

I’m nearly finished with the fourth of five gradient stripes on my EPS sweater. I think I might as well wait until the fifth is done and the main colour resumed before I take a picture. It’s looking well. I’ll put the same stripe sequence just above the ribbing at the wrist, with narrower stripes. These initial ones are about 1" each -- 7 rounds. What about the yoke?

It seems to take me rather a long time to get around, but the size continues to look plausible and the gauge seems to be the same as the one I based my calculations on, 6.5 stitches to the inch. And the number of stitches seems in tune with Meg’s number bearing in mind that her gauge is 4 stitches to the inch.

Meanwhile I am much enjoying re-reading that issue of Knitter’s. It was published shortly after EZ’s death, and contains an interesting conversation about her between Alexis Xenakis, Nancy Thomas, Elaine Rowley, Kaffe and Meg. The issue also contains the pattern for Candace Strick’s “Mitred Mozart” --  a delicious pattern.


I am glad to be able to tell you that Mrs Sakoolas continues to bubble on in the news. She is the woman who killed a young motorcyclist while she was driving on the wrong side of the road, and then nipped back to the US claiming diplomatic immunity. Britain has formally applied for her extradition. Pompeo swept the request aside without bothering the courts. Now the US wants us to extradite a couple of baddies to them and people have begun to murmur. Meanwhile Interpol has put a red notice on her which means, I think, that she could be arrested if she leaves the US.

Do you ever hear anything of this in the US?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

So today Helen came and we walked twice around the garden, adding the May tree to our catalogue. The trouble with that was that I wasn’t good for much else for the rest of the day. However, I got a couple of business-y things done, including ringing the AA to explain why I had cancelled the direct debit. My husband had been with them for 65 years so I thought I ought to do that. I was rewarded with a £27 refund which I didn’t expect – a bit more to add to the car’s account.

But no knitting yet today.

Thanks for comments, as always. I knew a man at Oberlin who had taught himself touch typing. I think he went on to be a professor of economics at Harvard. I continue to type clumsily, but at least I use both hands.

Mary Lou, thank you for the link to the Hopkins translation of Horace.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Not much activity – I was waiting in for two deliveries – but otherwise not a bad day. A fair amount of knitting, as I advance through the gradient stripes. I won’t really know how this is working until I finish them and return to the basic colour. It’s harmonious enough, I’m sure, but will it embrace the stripes as friends?

It’s nice to be knitting something like this which eats up an appreciable amount of stash per day. Appreciable but useless, considering how much stash I have recently added.

The world seems to be getting back on its feet. I hope so. C. and I have hopes of going on our cruise in May, ’21, but – apart from the necessity of my staying alive that long – it won’t be possible if we’re still trying to achieve social distancing. It’s not exactly crowded, on the little boat, but we all eat together – that’s half the fun – and sit shoulder-to-shoulder in the tender as we go ashore.

Thank you for your comments about the wee video on Instagram of me knitting. Mary Lou, I use both hands for Fair Isle, and have never entirely understood why I can’t therefore “knit continental” carrying the yarn in the left hand alone. I think I tend to point my left index finger heavenwards and pluck the stitch from the taut yarn. Arne says that it’s important to keep the finger low.

Chloe, no, if there was a cat in that video, it was Paradox. My situation is (paradoxically) that Perdita whom I love desperately is a remote and disagreeable cat, who almost never purrs. (I googled that problem once. All Google could tell me was that some cats don’t.) Poor Paradox who is ever at my side, day and night, perhaps doesn’t get the love she deserves.

And, Mary Lou, tell me about Gerard Manley Hopkins’ translation of Horace. (Or I could try Google.) I think they are my two favourite poets in the universe.

Jeanfromcornwall, your note reminds me (although not strictly relevant) how my father insisted, something short of 80 years ago, that I type with both hands, instead of pecking with one finger of one hand.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Not a bad one. My beloved cleaner Daniela came and has as usual reduced all to order. Helen came, and we walked once around the gardens, not talking about trees. Helen and Daniela talk to each other in Greek, the first language of neither. (Daniela is Romanian.) They met in Athens, and Helen encouraged Daniela to come here. It depresses me a bit to hear them. I can’t imagine being able to speak Italian so fluently.

I had a bath and washed my hair this morning, as soon as Daniela arrived. That was nice.

I had cooked all of last week’s Mindful Chef packages already, so today for lunch I braised some sausages with potatoes and carrots and onions and moribund French beans from the vegetable drawer. Lovely to cook, delicious to eat. I think I will suspend Mindful Chef for a while. All that chopping. All that quinoa.

          Persicos odi, puer, apparatus.
          Bring us a chop and a couple of potatoes.

Knitting went well. I am adding gradient stripes to the EPS sweater – now well advanced with the second stripe. I’m slightly more anxious about the circumference, now that the ribbing is finished and stitches added to bring us fully up to “K”.  Perhaps I’ll involve the tape measure tomorrow and see what the current stitch gauge actually is.

Helen added a video this morning to this famous Instagram account, of my hands knitting. I am embarrassed to reveal to the world how clumsily I do it – drop and throw. I was somewhat encouraged the day I went to the launch of Kate Davies’ hap book,  just around the corner at Kathy’s Knits. And KD told me that she knits slowly too, and relies on a colleague to produce samples for photography.

OK, so that’s the weekend over. What I must do is get down to the Guelphs and the Ghibelines tomorrow and not leave them to Thursday evening.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Yes, a good day, but not strong on activity. I had a good Italian lesson, and then my cleaner didn’t come (she’s coming tomorrow) so I had a whole delicious day to myself. I decided I had done enough ribbing on the EPS (resisted with some difficulty the temptation to measure it); increased the missing 10%; embarked on the first of the gradient stripes.

The circumference looks right. We’ll see. I keep thinking of Alexander’s Calcutta Cup vest. For that, I knit a thoroughgoing tubular swatch-scarf, in which I practised various colour arrangements. When the vest was perhaps six inches advanced – no small matter – I spent a few days on the shores of Loch Fyne, and tried it on him. It was disastrously too big. I started again, omitting an entire pattern repeat of something like 45 stitches, and wound up with one of the best-fitting sweaters I’ve ever knit.

So the moral is, be careful. And if in doubt, take it out.

I am sure I have knit an EPS before, from these four old magazines, but I don’t remember what it was.

There is only one response to the hare I started yesterday, on the Carol Sunday Ravelry group, in which I asked whether it would be OK to knit the Machu Picchu bottom-up, omitting the waist shaping. The response is from Carol herself, saying, Go for it. So I will.


It will be interesting to see what now happens as the US and, to a lesser extent, Europe relax the lockdown. There are lots of questions I’d like to ask a statistician. Here in the UK, those suffering from dementia have formed a large fraction of covid-19 deaths. Is that because the disease seeks them out? Or because most of them are in care homes, where the disease is rampant?

Rachel phoned today, sounding very cheerful. Her husband Ed is an estate agent. He shot out the door and back to work, she said, as soon as house sales were released from lockdown (which happened a few days ago). So now shirts have to be ironed again, and in abundance.

Friday, May 15, 2020

A pretty good day. Helen came around in the late morning, and we did a single circuit of the gardens, both being worn out by our serious catching-up sessions at the computer keyboard earlier on. I wrote a perfectly simple email to the lawyer which should have been done weeks ago.

And having trumped Alexander yesterday by identifying (as I suppose) frost damage to his potato foliage, today I did the same to James. The question came up on our family WhatsApp: what is the relationship between Hamish Myemi (one week old today) and those little girls in London, Orla and Ruby and Camilla and Juliet? And James, who is good at that sort of thing, said that they were second cousins. But they’re not, they’re third cousins; and he agrees that I am right.

So I feel very smug.

AND the package came from Ginger Twist: two gently-contrasting skeins of her Yakety-Yak 4ply (60% merino, 20% yak, 20% silk) with a pattern for a hat and some mitts. I am rather anti-mitt, but there may well be enough yarn for two hats. This yarn may be the successor to the Luscious 4ply with which I seem to be knitting an EPS.

I've successfully downloaded the patterns for Carol Sunday's Machu Picchu and her brioche cowl. I have raised the question in her ravelry group of whether I can knit MP bottom-up. Arne would certainly say yes.

There was once – I must have told you this – when one of the knitting categories for the Home Industries Tent at the Strathardle Games was “men’s gloves”, and I knit a pair and won first prize because there was no other entry. Fingers are awful and I resolved never to do them again, and haven’t.  I know EZ has a way of doing them with i-cord but I’m not tempted.

That’s no excuse for not knitting mitts, or even mittens.


The good weather with which this remarkable spring has been blessed has meant an occasional fly in the kitchen. Paradox is delighted. She jumps up and claps her hands together to catch them the way my husband used to do with moths. Here is a picture of a cat who thinks she sees a fly:

Unknown (comment yesterday): I think you’ll find me on Instagram if you just look for jeanmiles. There will be some numbers stuck on the end.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Helen came this morning and we walked twice around the gardens, reviewing this week’s trees and discovering a relationship between the rowan and the plain-vanilla ash which needs to be explored and clarified. Afterwards I achieved but little else during the rest of the day.

I have, however, ribbed peacefully on. Picture soon. The nice thing about the EPS is that I am spared constant measuring. Is this 3”? Or should I do another round? I can just rib until it looks like enough, and then proceed.

I fear this is turning out like the feeding of a stray kitten – the next thing you know, you’ve got another cat. I continue to love the yarn. I don’t see how I can abandon it – or the project -- now. You can see a preliminary picture, including the swatch, labelled something like “next project”, on my Instagram page, which is entirely photographed and maintained by Helen.


That’s great news about your sourdough loaf, Christine. Thank you. I had thought that recipe sounded maybe a tad too easy. I am emboldened.

Alexander emailed me today with a picture of some stricken potatoes. Blight? I suggested frost (from which they will recover) and he agreed that there have been a couple of frosty nights recently. I feel pleased with myself to have been so helpful. He is enjoying lockdown a lot. He knows four people who have died of covid-19, and is taking things very seriously indeed.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Not a bad day at all, but low on achievement of any sort. I’ve done some more ribbing on the EPS sweater, and joined it into a circle without disaster. I really don’t know where to turn – this was only meant to be something to occupy my hands for a day or two until all these distant treasures flowed in. (Ginger Twist’s “Edinburgh Springtime” mystery package is yet to appear.) The yarn is fingering weight. It’ll take a long time, but can I abandon this wonderful yarn, now that I have discovered in in my stash?

The Gingertwist website doesn’t seem to offer it any more. It was just called “Luscious 4ply”.

After you remarked the other day that you found the EPS on the snug side, I was reminded, Mary Lou, of a favourite passage in Evelyn Waugh’s “Men at Arms”, Vol 1 of his WWII trilogy. Major Erskine (a minor character) was “strangely dishevelled in appearance. His uniform was correct and clean but it never seemed to fit him, not through any fault of the tailor’s, but rather because the major seemed to change shape from time to time during the day.”  Maybe that explains my problem with gauge swatches.

I was rather happy to be reminded that these problems afflict even the greatest. I am using Meg’s reformulation of the EPS over four issues of Knitter’s Magazine, all those years ago. She uses a fairly heavy wool, and the swatch told her she would get 4.5 stitches per inch. It turned out to be only 4, but she went ahead anyway for the sake of some extra ease.


Christine, you must let me know how you get on with sourdough-baking, including a note of what recipe you used.  The actual loaf sounds a good deal more difficult than just making the starter. Alexander’s wife Ketki is the one who makes it in that household. It’s complicated, and it took her a couple of ventures before she got it right. She says not to attempt any shortcuts.

I added “Bread: River Cottage Handbook No. 3” to my portfolio today, without, I fear, much profit.

Here is a cheerful springtime picture of my new "Gertrude Jeckyl" rose coming into vigorous leaf.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020


I tested my starter again today, and it floated, unequivocally. And all the more impressively because it had failed the test twice before. So I put it in the refrigerator, and must now turn to the next chapter in the sourdough books. I got a bag of strong bread flour in last week’s Tesco order. How is your starter, Christine?

Kate Davies’ husband Tom posted about sourdough-starter-making yesterday. He approaches it completely differently, beginning with live yoghurt. And Queer Joe had a post yesterday wondering why we’re all making bread. There’s plenty of bread.


I went ahead and calculated K and cast on for an EPS. How can EPS be on the snug side, Mary Lou? (comment Sunday). It can be any size you want. Decide on desired circumference, multiply by results of swatch. Or do you mean, tight under the arms? Maybe Arne’s principal of having a sleeve be half of the body – rather than EZ’s 1/3 – works better?

I nearly made a colossally stupid mistake. I measured various dear old sweaters and decided that 22” across would be about right. I like some ease. Multiply by two to determine circumference. Then, for some reason, I multiplied by two again. I had almost finished casting on when it was time to break for lunch. I was uneasy. I checked my reasoning and soon found the mistake. I had been marking off the stitches in groups of 50, so it was easy enough to retrieve the error.

I have started the ribbing, knitting back and forth for a few rows. Join-without-twisting is a good deal easier that way. The cast-on end is going to have to be tidied away at some point and it might as well also be employed to sew up the small gap.


Helen dropped by, and we did a single circuit of the gardens. We lost a eucalyptus tree in a storm during the winter – I probably told you – which I particularly regretted because it was the only tree I could identify with certainty. So Helen and I are working on tree-identification. She is better at it than I am. We’ve nailed beech and chestnut and ash and acer (maple) and sycamore and deodar. 
She’s got an app on her phone that claims to identify plants if you ask it to.

Monday, May 11, 2020

And suddenly there’s a very embarrassment of knitting news!

I sat down this morning to watch Andrew and Andrea’s 100th episode (very good) and to wind a skein of yarn, with the thought of casting on the Crazy Stripes Tee, faute de mieux.

I hadn’t at all realised how good the yarn was. I bought it at the Ginger Twist Studio, three or four years ago. All I was aware of, occasionally peering into the bag, was that it was rather an assertive yellow. Well, it is that – the shade is called “Van Gogh”, which gives you some idea. The dye is slightly uneven, an effect I adore. The composition is 70% British BFL (Blue-Faced Leicester?), 20% silk and 10% cashmere. Needless to say, it is heaven on the hands.

Halfway through the skein-winding, I began to think, why not an EPS? I had been reading about it only yesterday, waiting for the computer to load. I had the book down from the shelf, you will remember, to compare Elizabeth’s proportions for a raglan sweater with Arne’s. I could put in stripes of those gradients just above the ribbing, and more in the yoke. Or in the yoke they could form a colour pattern. I think Elizabeth would approve of such a devil-may-care approach to sweater design.

So I’ve knit a swatch. All I have to do is calculate K and I’m ready to cast on.

As I was sitting there, knitting the swatch and watching Andrew and Andrea and thinking along these lines, the doorbell rang – it was the Carol Sunday package! AND there was nothing to pay! It was obviously a commercial package, with a transparently clear customs declaration. Normally, there would have been a charge for customs duty, plus another to the post office for its time and trouble. Clearly the Queen feels we need a bit of knitting in these troubled times.

However, I have never downloaded the patterns (Machu Picchu and a two-coloured brioche cowl) and just now, can’t get through to Carol’s server again.

So that’s out, for the moment. I have also, I must admit with some embarrassment, ordered Ginger Twist’s mystery package. I was propelled to do so – this is illogical – when I discovered that Countess Ablaze was offering something similar, except that hers is a genuine lucky dip, whereas Ginger is going to select my colours – “Edinburgh spring” – especially for me.

But that isn’t going to be posted until Wednesday, so that leaves me….

Sunday, May 10, 2020

A day of unspeakable and rather delicious idleness.

C. phoned, and later sent me this nice picture of Manaba with his son Hamish and his cat Poe. The cat is (as often, in such situations) not best pleased with the new arrangements, When I was born, my parents had a cat named Norman Thomas, after a then-well-known American socialist. He walked out.

No knitting, except for a bit of inconclusive swatch. I remembered, however, that there is a swatchless way to knit a mitred sweater, and set myself to find the means. I knew it had something to do with Shetland, and started with the various volumes of “Simply Shetland”. No. Then on to the equally various volumes of Jamieson’s Shetland Knitting Book. Yes. And the interesting thing is that my hands knew I had it right, even before I found the pattern.

This is it:

Cast on 2 stitches. Knit one row. Thenceforth, right side, k1 f&b into first and last stitch. Wrong side, knit. (Could this not equally be done in st st?) When the base of the resulting triangle  -- that is, the stitches on the needle – measures ½ of the desired distance across, set it aside and knit another such triangle.

Then combine the two triangles on one needle, with a marker in between. Thereafter: every right side row: k1 f&b into first stitch. Knit to within 2 stitches of marker. K2togtbl. Slip marker. K2tog. Knit to last stitch. K1 f&b.

Your mitred piece will get longer without otherwise changing shape.

This technicality reminds: Arne & Carlos have posted an unusually spirited item in which they argue against top-down sweaters. For various interesting reasons. For them, when you are aiming at a raglan sweater and  have knitted up to the underarm and made two sleeves, the number of stitches on each sleeve should be ½ the number of body stitches. I have fetched “Knitting Without Tears” from my shelf and find that in the EPS, the sleeves are only 1/3 of the body.

Arne and Carlos don’t believe that stitches are happy upside down. They also don’t believe that short-row shaping to raise the back neck is necessary. The shape of the human body will take care of that.

Back to sourdough tomorrow. Thank you, Ron. I tried the float-test a few days ago, and it sank to the bottom of the cup and lay there inertly. Today, inspired by you, I tried again. This time, it hesitated before sinking, and blew a few bubbles. I think I’m probably making progress.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Again, no knitting. I got as far as selecting a ball of yarn from that Shetland bagful, and a plausibly-sized circular needle, with the thought of casting on a swatch. I read through the first of Meg’s EPS articles in Knitter’s Spring 2000 to see if there were any instructions about swatch-knitting. No, you’re meant to know how to do that, although there were some tips on circular swatching which I’m not going to bother with.

What a good magazine it was in those days! Nancy Thomas was editor.

But that’s as far as I got.

Today should have been the first day of our cruise. We would have sailed out from Oban past Ardnamurchan Point by now, and be enjoying our supper. I think I’m probably the saddest of the four of us (my sister and her husband were to have been there). C. has got her new grandson Hamish to occupy her thoughts. At least I don’t have to worry about my cats, and they don’t have to worry about my absence.

Here’s a picture of the new grandson, with his South African shawl:

They’re home from hospital, which must be sort of scary for first-time parents with not much in the way of home visits from nurses at the moment. C. herself is not with them, although she had been staying for about a month previously (under lockdown), and is self-isolated, so it would probably be safe for her to go back and provide support.

I had another good Italian lesson this morning. The 75th anniversary of VE day was very touching yesterday, but I wondered about Italy. Paris and Moscow and even Berlin were mentioned on the news, but not Rome. Federica (my tutor) says that May 8 isn’t very big there. There’s a date in April which is celebrated as “liberation” – when fascism fell and Mussolini was famously hung by his heels in Milan (after death). And another in June, when there was an election for the new Republic – the first time women voted. Italy had a pretty dreadful war, suffering from both sides.


Christine, it is a great comfort to know that your starter doesn’t rise and fall yet either. Mine responds to feeding with great alacrity, but I don’t see bubbles lower down, and it doesn’t rise. I think maybe it's a bit spongier than it was. Tamar, I went to, where I don’t think I’ve ever been before, and read the excellent account of starter-making which I feel absolutely sure I have read somewhere else very recently, like yesterday.

All authorities agree that the thing to do is to keep at it.

Friday, May 08, 2020

We’ve got our baby: Hamish Olwethu Myeni, a hefty 8lb 6oz, born this morning. The Zulu name means “ours”. His mother’s mother, my niece C., has only daughters, and his father’s mother, only sons; so I guess that’s a score for C. Everybody is very happy, anyway.

 Again, a day of little achievement (by me). Some Boccaccio and some Dante. More must be done this evening.

I had an email from the Ginger Twist Studio this morning. She is offering, among other things, a “mystery kit” – you say how much you want to pay, and whether you’re a knitter or a crocheter or what, and provide a word of inspiration, and she will choose a pattern and yarn and perhaps sundries for you. I am strangely tempted, although it would be absurd. Perhaps it is the duty of those of us who can afford it, to spend money with the small businesses which are so likely to disappear in this strange and dreadful world. “Edinburgh spring” would be my inspiration-word, although in fact that’s two.

From the sound of it, she might even cycle by and deliver the package herself. The wee shop is within (fairly strenuous) walking distance.

In delving into my stash the other day, I found the bag of oddballs from my Shetland Wool Adventure a year ago – apparently undiminished by the knitting of Dathan Hap Two. Perhaps I might think of a simple EPS sweater, striped. I don’t like Kate Davies’ Dathan dolman-sleeved pullover (and the time I saw someone wearing one, at the EYF last year, it wasn’t sitting properly on her shoulders). Meg re-told the EPS story in four successive issues of Knitter’s once, and I’ve kept the issues.


It’s all very mysterious. My starter is alive. It responds to being fed by producing lots of bubbles on the surface, which later subside. But it’s not spongy, and, more significantly, it doesn’t rise and fall, thereby indicating that it could leven bread. Christine, how’s yours? We’re now at six days. It ought to be ready. I am using plain flour from Sainsbury’s, because that’s all I could get.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Oh, dear. A whole week of May gone! Day after tomorrow is the day C. and I (and my sister and her husband) should have been sailing from Oban on our “wilderness cruise” to the upper left-hand corner of Scotland. For most of the last year I have been measuring myself against that day – all I have to do is stay on my feet until…

Now I’ll have to start again. I fear Helen and Roger have given up, but C. and I have re-booked for the 1st of May, ’21.

I’ve done no knitting at all. Thanks for that tip about doing a provisional cast-on by knitting a few rows in a slippery waste yarn, Mary Lou. If only knitting unravelled upwards, how easy this would be! And also Karen and Chloe, for your suggestions. I’ll look for Lucy Neatby’s video, if only because it is always such a pleasure to listen to and watch Lucy Neatby.

Helen came and walked me twice around the garden, so at least there was exercise if nothing else. Perhaps I’ll try to read some Boccaccio this evening.

Again today, I fed the sourdough starter in the morning (and will again this evening). It was delighted, and sprang into life. It has since subsided. This is all very interesting, and a big change from kimchi-making. I have a Tesco order booked for Saturday afternoon – this time I have ordered two bags of flour, one strong bread flour, one wholemeal. I am quite prepared for disappointment, but if they arrive, I’m going to have to try making a loaf.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Not too bad a day. No walk, because I had to wait in for a delivery. These days, almost anything will be left on the doorstep while the delivery man flees, but this time it was cider and I was completely out: so I stayed here.

My sourdough starter seems less active today than yesterday. Am I making it nervous with my constant solicitude? I gave it an extra feed this morning, as nourishedkitchen recommends for the fourth day.

As for knitting, almost none. Following your advice, Pom Pom, I wound a skein of yarn for the capelet. I decided that I could cast on like a normal human being, and pick up stitches from the cast-on at the end. The crochet provisional cast-on is beyond me. Others are possible, but tedious, and – exactly as you say, KayT – even simple instructions are a bit much at the moment.

The yarn on my fingers feels a lot more like fingering than the DK specified by the pattern. But the label says DK, and – much more significant – the yardage per gram (or whatever) is precisely as specified in the pattern for a different yarn. I may or may not proceed to a cast-on tomorrow.

The word I was struggling to retrieve yesterday is “gradient”. I did a class on the subject with Carol Feller at the EYF once, but didn’t come away with much in the way of ideas.


There was an article in the Times the other day about the undertakers who did my husband’s funeral three years ago, and my grandson Oliver’s, 25 years ago. Nobody loves undertakers, but they are rather essential at a moment like this. The article said that they saw which way the wind was blowing early on, and bought in a generous supply of PPE. (I am glad my husband wasn’t carried out of here by a team dressed in HAZMAT costume.)

And I thought: most care homes are operated for profit (like undertakers). Maybe they should have thought ahead, too.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Again, not too bad a day. Again, low on exercise and achievement. Except that I’ve finished the Virus Scarf, and improved the state of the kitchen.

I’ve given some inconclusive thought to what to do next. I could, of course, return to one or the other of my laces, but that doesn’t feel quite right. My stash includes – this is a bit embarrassing:

 – Marie Wallin’s “Lovage”. For some reason, long forgotten, I don’t have the Rowan yarn specified, but some nice Debbie Bliss. The colours are identified only by their Rowan names in the pattern. But I’ve got a colour picture, and could work it out.

--The Crazy Stripes Tee, by Anne Lernout, with yarn from the Ginger Twist studio near here, and two beautiful sets of small skeins – I suddenly can’t think of the word – for the crazy stripes.

-- The Yorkshire Capelet by Carol Feller, from IK Spring 16 with Whistlebare yarn from Yorkshire, mohair and wool, lustrous and luscious. I got it at the EYF, probably in ’16. There’s another nice set of mini skeins in that bag, although the Capelet doesn’t call for them. That one, however, begins, “Using the crochet chain provisional method, cast on 86 stitches”. I don’t feel up to that.

So I retreated to the socks mentioned in the sidebar. That’s what socks are for.


Thanks for all the help with my sourdough. Kirsten, you’ll have to join us! Plenty of flour and running low on yeast – the perfect scenario! Christine, thanks for the recommendation of the nourishedkitchen website – very useful indeed.

Starter recipes differ interestingly. Some say to cover tightly, others loosely so that natural yeasts in the air can get in. Some (like the one in Good Food magazine) say to add each day’s “feed” to the mixture; the majority, however, tell you to discard half and replace it.

I think I’m going to switch over to that system this evening – for one thing, I have grasped that, that way, the starter is getting considerably more food, proportionally speaking. And for another, I can add some chopped spring onions to the discard and make myself a sourdough pancake for supper. My mixture has begun to acquire a nice sour taste.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Another pretty good day. Helen came and walked me around the garden, so there has been some exercise. I am within half-a-dozen ends of finishing the Virus Scarf. Then what? My package from Sundayknits was processed through the Chicago International Distribution Centre yesterday. It probably won’t be here tomorrow but you never know.

I need to get back to work on the to-do list. It doesn't get smaller or less pressing, just because I've got rid of the car.

Christine and Karen, thank you for your sourdough contributions. Christine, are you, too, using the starter recipe in the new Good Food Magazine? It’s wonderful that we’re both on the same day. I began on Saturday evening, so I am counting my days in the Jewish fashion: I am about to feed the starter again and start Day Three.

I won’t be able to make any bread until I can get some proper bread flour, but I am grateful for your remarks, Karen. The Good Food recipe doesn’t include the “autolyse” step but I have watched enough on YouTube to know what you are talking about, and I think I will include it.


I shut the sitting room door last night, hoping to keep Paradox away from the knitting, and succeeded in shutting her in there. It is she who sleeps at the foot of my bed now, helps me dress in the morning, reminds me where the cat food is kept. In the early months of her life, Perdita was always with me at night.

So I was alone last night. But Perdita knew. She it was who came in in the morning, looking anxiously over her furry shoulder for that other, awful cat. It’s been a long time since she has even been in the bedroom.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Not too bad a day, although low on exercise. I watched the Andrew Marr show, which did indeed advance the end-weaving a bit on the Virus Scarf. There isn’t much more to do, distance-wise, but that not-much includes the initial burst of colour. As long as I keep at it, I'm in no hurry. When I actually finish, I'll have to decide my next move.

Then I turned up for virtual coffee after the virtual nine o’clock Mass (which I didn’t attend). Then I cancelled my motor insurance. Then I went on line to the bank and tried and failed to find the direct debit by which it is paid. Some other account? But I did find a direct debit to the Automobile Association and cancelled that. My husband has been a member since the early ‘50’s. That was sort of sad.

The only other thing I actually achieved was a Day Two feed of what I hope will become my sourdough starter. I read and watched on YouTube some recipes for actually making sourdough, once you have a starter. It doesn’t sound entirely easy.

GB is revving up for the 75th anniversary of VE day, any moment now. It will be strangely subdued. The celebrations 25 years ago were very moving. There was a splendid moment when the Queen Mother stood alone on that famous balcony at Buckingham Palace, and after a while her two daughters came out and stood on either side of her. And Vera Lynn sang from below.

And I thought, not yet understanding, Gosh! What will they do in August, when the war really ended? The answer was, virtually nothing. My husband, for once, shared my feeling. He was serving in the Parachute Regiment, in the east, preparing to be dropped on Singapore, and VE day meant but little. (I never asked him, and now it’s too late – how did he know it was Singapore? Or did he figure it out afterwards?) He always said that the Bomb saved his life.

Saturday, May 02, 2020

Tired, but I wouldn’t want to go to bed and leave you thinking that misfortune had befallen me. The day started with a good Italian lesson – Boccaccio turns out to be one of the famous authors (like Jane Austen) who is highly entertaining to read. Who would have thought it?

And this evening we have been having a Family Pub Quiz, with teams competing from London (Sydenham and Streatham), Cairndow, Joppa and Drummond Place. I didn’t distinguish myself, but it was a lot of fun.

And Helen and David popped in, unseen and unheard, while I was having my nap, and left the Financial Times and a bag of FLOUR. I may even have the oomph to launch a sourdough starter tonight. It sounds very easy.

I made some progress with the weaving-in-of-ends this morning while Danielia was here putting me to rights and we were observing Social Distancing. The Andrew Marr Show tomorrow should advance things further. Back in the days of the dear old Knitlist, Selma Kaplan threw a virtual party one year for those of us who weren’t going to Stitches. We sat around her pool – she had had it installed when she won the Nobel Prize – sipping nicely-chilled Chardonnay and knitting our fantasies. Someone – I wish I remembered who it was – spotted Kaffe, in a corner, weaving in ends.

Friday, May 01, 2020

The car is GONE! I don’t expect to be paid much of anything for it – it’s 18 years old. The main thing is that I now don’t have to pay the insurance bill which has just come in, plus the other springtime car bills soon to arrive. That’s something done – or will be, when I’ve cancelled the standing order to the insurance company.

In searching out its papers, I found two old American driving licenses of mine (my first? I don’t quite think so) and my first British one. All rather touching, but is there any point in keeping them?

I have proceeded with working in ends on the Virus Scarf. I’m not quite half way along. It’s pretty boring. I’ve got reasonable amounts of every colour left – I could have left longer ends, which would have made things a bit easier.

The package from Carol Sunday is on its way.

Here is Perdita, earlier today, not helping with a hand of Freecell. She excelled herself with her grasp of key combinations.  By the time I had coaxed her off with a late lunch – I would just have batted Paradox to the floor – she had switched me into the Greek alphabet, changed the screen resolution so that everything looked squashed, and turned the sound off. She’s a very clever cat.