Tuesday, June 30, 2020

All well, but I’m feeling very feeble – and there are still three more rows to go before Clue One of the MKAL is finished. Alan Bennett is good, and fairly conducive to knitting, but awfully gloomy. There will be two more this evening. There’s no sign yet of my favourite – it was Patricia Routledge, the first time round, who was dying of cancer (like, gloomy). She knew, the doctors knew, her workmates knew, but nobody ever said it out loud. Bennett is awfully good at that sort of thing, language that conveys more than its explicit meaning.

(I was surprised to find the word “cancer” in “Dr. Thorne”. Lady Arabella – was that her name? – was suspected of it. Nothing came of it. Perhaps Trollope was preparing a plot-line for himself and then abandoned it.)

I investigated pi today, but it’s too much for me. You’re right, of course, Tamar, the Egyptians were on to it. Also the Chinese. Archimedes did rather well at working out a value, considering that he had no decimal point or zero to work with. An irrational number like that must have been very frustrating to the orderly Greeks, after – was it after? – the elegance of the Square on the Hypotenuse.

Helen came this morning. We went to the chemist (=drug store) on Broughton Street where I got my next batch of blood-thinners. We saw Kathy, who had just opened the shop (http://www.kathysknits.co.uk/). I must go in and have a look the next time I’m there. Then we went to the corner shop where I bought an apple for what has turned out to be not a very successful beetroot soup.

Monday, June 29, 2020

More rain, cutting short my session with my Personal Trainer, but not before we’d done the circuit of the garden twice.

I’ve still got about 10 rows of the first clue of the MKAL to finish. Alan Bennett is on again tonight – a bit late, for me, but he might be enough to keep me going.

I noticed today how the distance between the MKAL increase rows seems to be getting bigger, reminding me of an irritating passage in EZ’s “Knitter’s Almanac”. She has been setting out the plan for a shawl, starting at the centre and increasing on the 2nd, 6th, 12th, 24th, 48th rounds, and so forth into infinity, if desired.

“Have you begun to see the well-known geometric theory behind what you have been doing? If you are a man, you will have spotted it right away. If you are a woman (sorry, lib), you probably expunged such theories from your memory the minute you finished high school, or even college, to make room for more useful stuff. It’s Pi, the geometry of the circle hinging on the mysterious relationship of the circumference of a circle to its radius.”

So EZ was the only woman ever to understand Archimedes? I doubt it. And what, exactly, is the relationship between Pi and the rate of increase of a shawl?

The answer is, I think, not much. The point is that there is a fixed ratio between the radius and the circumference of a circle, so that when one increases, by any proportion (not just doubling), the other must increase by the same proportion if you want to end up with a circle. The ratio is expressed by the irrational number Pi which has long fascinated mathematicians but has little importance for shawl-knitting.

EZ returns to the subject in the “Knitting Workshop”. She has mellowed somewhat, but her grasp of mathematics has not improved. She speaks of the “Pi shawl, governed by Pythagoras’ discovery that a circle doubles its circumference in an itself-doubling series of increases, each of which is twice as far apart as the preceding doubled space. Simple, huh? Ask a mathematician.”

Pythagoras had nothing to do with it. She was presumably misled by his name.

I’m glad to have got that off my chest.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Perdita came and sat on my computer keyboard today. One of her tricks is to change the screen resolution. How does she do it? And I can never remember how to change it back, so there is a struggle every time. Clever cat.

I didn’t get out today, because of waiting in for deliveries. They both turned up in the end.

I made good progress with the MKAL. I’ve finished the section with the YO-K2-pass YO over 2 stitches. It got a bit easier. FugueStateKnits, it does indeed help to slacken the YO. Mary Lou and Stella both suggested – Stella wrote to me, having failed to post a comment – wrapping the yarn around the needle in the other direction. I think I mentioned this myself yesterday, probably unintelligibly.

It works well. The result is a neat little bundle of those two knit stitches. If you do a “normal” YO, you wind up – once you have succeeded in doing it at all – with a little horizontal bar under the two knit stitches. The repetition of this bar is rather attractive. Looking at other people’s work on Ravelry, I find that as far as I can see, they have all done it that way.

So I couldn’t switch in mid-stream. However, if the rest of the shawl involves a similar passage, I could perfectly well wrap the yarn the other way from the beginning and do without the horizontal bar.

So I’ve got about 20 plain vanilla st st rows to do to finish Clue One. I’ll try to do a few this evening, and should certainly finish tomorrow. Leaving two days for the EPS sleeve before the next clue.

Life and Reading

Helen suggests going to Kirkmichael on Tuesday the 7th. She would make two trips, one with me and the cats and Archie, the other with her other two boys. What an ordeal! But it’s a very happy thought.

I’m getting on fine with Sibylle Bedford’s “Quicksands”. What an eventful life!

Saturday, June 27, 2020

All well. Helen came this morning and we got as far as the corner shop for my weekly treat of the Weekend FT.

I have been knitting furiously away, and am puzzled. I have come to a passage in the MKAL classified, I think, as “textured”. The pattern is: YO, K2, pass the YO over the K2, K2. Four rows later, you do it all again, offset. All well and good, and after a lifetime of PSSO it didn’t sound difficult.

But I found it to be so, enormously. I can’t get hold of that YO to lift it over the two following stitches. My usual solution – I’ve done three such rows by now – is to go around the back and grab the YO from there. I’ve tried enlisting the help of a smaller-gauge DP. That sometimes helps. I’ve tried wrapping the yarn around the needle the other way, for the YO. That certainly helps – but the result looks different.

What puzzles me is that no one else seems to be having this problem. I’ve abandoned all caution and consulted the Ravelry groups. Admittedly I haven’t read every single entry (there are lots), but I’ve read quite a few, from the beginning and the end. Lots of people have finished the whole first clue already. There is much talk of colour choices, and a certain amount about the starting difficulties. (I don’t think I did my start brilliantly, but I think it sort of submerges itself in the totality.) Nothing about grabbing that YO.

With all of Barbara Walker at our disposal, couldn’t an easier little textured pattern have been found? In fact, I think if subsequent clues produce a similar passage – on more stitches, inevitably – I might consult Walker before proceeding. Meanwhile, I’ve got to struggle through two more 132-stitch rows. The rest of the way, from here to the end of the clue, is plain sailing. I might even finish tomorrow.


We had some rain today. It’s a wonderful invention: water falls from the sky and nourishes one’s plants.

I’ve finished “Il Cavaliere e la Morte”. Very Sciascia, a bit heavy. Late? And embarked on Sibylle Bedford’s “Quicksands”.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Liverpool won the league.

This news will be of interest to few, and those few already know it. I don’t know why it is a matter of such passion in Rachel’s family, down to the third generation. No one that I know of has ever actually lived there except Alexander, and he's not interested. Matt Kiernan told me once, when we were holidaying on the shores of Loch Fyne, that he would perhaps propose marriage to Rachel’s daughter Hellie, if Liverpool won the league.

That must have been six years ago, at least. Liverpool didn’t. Matt and Hellie gave up and got married anyway and are now the parents of two of my great-granddaughters. They rang up this evening so that we could rejoice together.

And while we’re on the subject of the new generation, C. and her daughter C. and their grandson/son Hamish came to call this morning. He’s seven weeks old today. Time seems to have stood still lately in many respects, but wee Hamish is piling on the weeks fast:


I’ve done much more knitting than usual, so as not to be left too dreadfully behind with the MKAL. Marilyn, did you really finish the first clue yesterday? I think I might manage Tuesday, if I keep plugging away at it. That would leave Wednesday to advance the EPS sleeve, before the next clue rains down on us.

KayT, you’re right that the instructions are wonderful – line by line, with a stitch-count provided, and shading to remind us which colour to use. I’ve never done anything like this, and am enjoying it enormously. I’m afraid to look at the Ravelry group, for fear of spoilers. I wish you and Marilyn could post photos here. Here’s where I am so far:


I’m making good progress with “Il Cavaliere e la Morte”. Not much time for reading, though, if I am to keep knitting at this feverish pace.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Hottest to date. The whole nation has abandoned lockdown and headed for the beach.

I finished the ribbing on the second EPS sleeve, and did the first gradient stripe. However the big knitting news is that we have the first clue for the Stillness Mystery Shawl. I’m afraid it looks like a full-time job. All my own fault.

So the rest of the time, and more, was occupied in ball-winding. (And, of course, I could have done that last week.) All three skeins are involved in the first clue. The first one went fine. I got into trouble with the second (the yarn is sort of slippy) and sat resolutely on through Pointless and the start of the news, winding and untangling. I’m nearly finished. I’ll continue through tonight’s Alan Bennett and then, if there’s more to do, throw it away. I’ll use the swift for the third skein (as opposed to doing it on my knees),  but not today.

Tonight’s AB is a fave, well-remembered from last time: a rich widow who is gradually relieved of most of her money by her wicked son Giles. “Just sign here, Mummy.”

I agree, Shandy, that the writing is magnificent and the sum-total truly tragic and that Sarah Lancaster is brilliant. But I didn’t like her episode – it was a view into more shallow darkness than I cared to contemplate. The scene with the vicar was terrific.


I’ve finished “Mr Scarborough’s Family”. It’s definitely not Trollope’s best, nor even one of the good ones. I don’t think you have to read it after all, Shandy. I’ve re-embarked on Leonardo Sciascia’s “Il Cavaliere e la Morte”. I’ve started it two or three times before, and have made good progress. I’ve gone back to the beginning again. I’m very fond of Sciascia – another Sicilian. I’m determined to finish, this time.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

We had our scorcher today.

There are to be no more daily Downing Street briefings, so I reverted to Pointless. It was clearly filmed some time ago, in that world we can scarcely remember. There was a studio audience, to begin with. Three, at least, of the contestants were students. One was a vicar. The others did office-y things and might have been able to work from home. It was all very different.

I cast on the second EPS sleeve. The first ten rounds of ribbing seemed to take about five minutes. Then I hit that phase where one goes round and round and round and nothing happens. I should, however, be ready for st st and gradient stripes tomorrow sometime.

The BBC has revived Alan Bennett’s brilliant “Talking Heads” – new cast, and even a couple of new scripts. Very well reviewed this morning. Each is a monologue –- perfect for coronavirus television. I enjoyed the original series enormously, and remember quite a few of them. They should move knitting nicely forward. I recorded the first two last night.


Thanks for the Sybille Bedford tips. I think I’d better read some more. And, Mary Lou, thanks very much for that article in the Guardian which was interesting indeed.

Shandy, it’s difficult to answer your question about “Mr Scarborough’s Family” without giving away the brilliant McGuffin.  I think you'd better read it. The elder of the Scarborough sons frets about his mother’s honour, but otherwise the main concern – even more than most Trollope – is about money: inheritance, entails, debt, a marriage settlement, enough-to-live-on, responsibility for the family of one’s sister who married a n’er-do-well.

The only thoroughly pleasant household is that of the Scarborough family lawyer, who seems to act for most of the other characters as well. He lives with his 32-year-old spinster daughter, another attractive character. One might hope for love, for her, but it’s hard to see where it could come from.

Current affairs

Isn’t it odd how the coronavirus seems to love meat packing plants the world around? I’ve read explanations (cold, people meeting over the coffee machine) but they don’t seem adequate.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Feeling very feeble, but all is well otherwise. I finished the first sleeve of the EPS, although I haven’t yet threaded the underarm stitches on waste yarn, nor moved the whole thing onto another needle to free up the short circular for next time.

And Andrew and Andrea are here! When they hadn’t turned up by mid-afternoon, I thought I had my Tuesdays wrong. Maybe I could get that second sleeve started this evening while watching the beginning.

Helen came over and walked me round the garden. Rachel rang up and told me about her birthday, which sounds good fun. They had a sizzler in London, which is the weather she likes (not so here). They were about to round things off with Pimms in the garden with various of her children. She is going to have an on-line cookery lesson soon and learn to make pakora.


Sybille Bedford was an aristocratic German, born in 1911. Her impeccably English name comes from a marriage of convenience made in the ‘30’s to earn a British passport. Her mother was Jewish and Europe was becoming uncomfortable.

During her peripatetic childhood she must have learned to speak English, French and Italian as well as German. She went to school in England, and her writing career was entirely in English. (I learn all this from Wikipedia.)

“A Legacy” is something of a fictionalised autobiography. It starts with a first-person child-character describing life with her father. One assumes – at least I did – that the novel will move forward in time, and the child will grow up, but not so. It goes back, to the father’s youth.  The original character doesn’t get born until quite late in the book.

It’s very interesting, I mean to read it again soon.

India Knight, by the way, finished her ten-favourite-books list in the most recent Sunday Times. Her No. 1 is “Belle du Seigneur” by Albert Cohen. I’ve never heard of it, or him. It’s enormously long and translated from the French. I’m grateful for the introduction to Sybille Bedford, but not tempted to try this one.

The trouble with "Mr Scarborough's Family" is that too high a proportion of the characters (including Mr Scarborough himself) are not very nice.

Monday, June 22, 2020

My personal trainer came this morning and found me weaker – or, at any rate, more breathless – than usual, which was a bit worrying. We had a good session, which left me feeling better, as usual.

Janet, what line are you sailing with, for your Scotland cruise next May? The news here is full of the dire situation of theatres, from the National down to the rooms-over-pubs. Deservedly so. But no one in authority is going to have time or mental energy to spare for small-boat cruise companies. Or any cruise companies.

I sailed with the Majestic Line in 2018 to the Outer Hebrides. I must have recorded it here. I had a grand time. One of the happiest features is the way the 12 passengers eat together at one table. “Hands up who wants whiskey on their porridge.” It would be possible, I suppose, to eat separately at small tables in the common room or saloon or whatever it’s called, and the food would be equally delicious, but oh! it would be sad.

And we’ve still got to go ashore in the tender, shoulder to shoulder.

Anyway, C. and I booked our October cruise today; the die is cast. It’s grand to have it to hope for.

And the EPS sleeve went forward nicely, too. There are three more increases to do, 12 rounds. Tomorrow should see it done, and, with luck, the second sleeve cast on.

Tomorrow is Rachel’s birthday, the first day of the rest of my life, as I most probably say to you every year.


I still haven’t told you about Sybille Bedford, but I haven’t forgotten. I have gone back to an abandoned Trollope, “Mr Scarborough’s Family”. I must have read about a third of it. I’ve started over from the beginning, and am only now finding it unfamiliar. It’s got a terrific McGuffin, and good characters, and a perfectly interesting love-situation, but it’s not a patch on “Doctor Thorne”. Why not?

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The need to wait in for a delivery from Amazon prevented walking; otherwise not a bad day. The Andrew Marr show – “Andy” himself was away because his father had just died – and virtual coffee at church, saw the knitting well advanced. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll count stitches again and see how many increases I yet have to do. I’d like to finish this sleeve before the MKAL starts.

KayT, I’m glad you’ve got your MKAL yarn! 12 days Suffolk-Texas is good time indeed. I recently sent an important envelope to my sister in DC. I made what was perhaps the mistake of registering it. It took 17 – or was it 18? – days, capital city to capital city.

My niece C. and I have decided to book ourselves onto the MajesticLine’s “Captain’s Choice” cruise in October – assuming the Scottish government will let us sail. It will be grand to have it to look forward to, and it also fits into my plan of spending money, where possible, on small business which must be suffering horrendously in these hard times. The Majestic Line has been prompt and unquestioning about refunding money for cancelled cruises so far this season -- C. and I were meant to go on a "Wilderness cruise" in May.

Speaking of which,  I saw Kathy of Kathy’s Knits the other day, when I was out on my front step gardening. She is to re-open early next week, and complained only of boredom during the long hiatus.


Tamar, the point of the remark about there being only 125 people in the world is the remarkable coincidences that crop up from time to time, showing that 125 is enough to explain it all since roles are doubled. The most remarkable in my life was a boy I knew at Asbury Park High School who got sort of taken up by my mother and became a sort of family friend. He cropped up again, not all that many years ago, as a business associate of our next door neighbours in Kirkmichael.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Not a bad day, I guess, although I am flattened by nap-less-ness. Italian lesson, then Helen and I went out to have coffee with a neighbour in her garden. It was one of the most extraordinary sessions of Oh-do-you-know-whatshisname that I have ever seen. Helen says that that’s an aspect of life she particularly missed, living in Greece.

Someone – perhaps my brother-in-law – once said that there are only about 125 people in the world; the rest are cardboard cutouts. This morning’s experience would seem to verify that.

Then a bit of inactive afternoon gap, then Daniela came and put everything to rights yet again. Now I had better go cook myself some very belated lunch.

I have proceeded with the EPS sleeve, and should finish it before the MKAL begins next week. I trust it will come to me of its own accord.


Ron, thank you. That is certainly the episode of Arne&Carlos I am looking for. Apart from sleeve proportions, there were some interesting remarks about upside-down stitches. But I can’t find it either. Why on earth should they have taken it down? There was nothing in the slightest either saucy or racist; and there’s nothing else in the universe objectionable these days.

Mary Lou, thank you for the pointer towards Hiya Hiya interchangeable needles. I’ll have a look.


Archie was briefly here today, leaving a bicycle before he went off into town to meet a friend. He asked, as often, “What are you reading?”, and I said, “Sybille Bedford”, and he went straight to Wikipedia. I should have done that myself. Her biography is interesting, and the book (“A Legacy”) is apparently a disguised autobiography. More to come.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Not a bad day. C. came and walked me twice around the gardens. When we got home a man walking past told me that he remembered when Compton Mackenzie lived in my house, and that he (the man walking by) had an empty bottle of whiskey from the SS Politician (look it up), all properly labelled for the US market.

We’re talking about “Whiskey Galore” which = “Tight Little Island” in the US. I think the movie better than the book, and the American title better than the British. I discovered on my Hebridean cruise two years ago that Mackenzie is fondly remembered on Barra, the island where he is buried. He died in my bedroom, I think.

And I made good progress with the sleeve. I finally gritted my teeth and did the arithmetic and found, as I had feared, that if I continued increasing 2 stitches every fifth round, the sleeve would be slightly longer than wanted. I switched to every fourth round – and made a note of when that happened.


I’m jeanmiles8442 on Instagram – but now I can’t find the commenter who wanted to know that.

Ron, thanks. I’d like to watch that episode of Arne&Carlos again, where sleeve-width as compared to total-body-width is discussed, but don’t know how to find it amidst the abundance of their posts. Can you help?

Hbqueen, I think my favourite needles are Knit Pro fixed circulars. I’ve always thought that an interchangeable set sounded fun, and I’m always keen for a knitting extravagance, but they don’t come in small enough needle sizes.


I’ve finished “A Legacy” by Sybille Bedford. It’s very interesting indeed. I’m now suspended between books, reading about sourdough bread, and anyway tonight I must finish my Italian homework. I mean to return to this subject.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Vera Lynn is dead. That pretty well leaves only the Queen.

Another industrious day. Helen came early, and we – mostly she – finished planting the doorstep. I think there’s another picture on that Instagram account she maintains. Then we walked once around the garden. Then I baked my bread:

It looks good. But that left me pretty flat.

Later, after resting, I resumed sleeve-knitting, and that went well too. I have moved on to a short circular. That speeds things up. I must have told you that long, long ago I knit everybody a hat for Christmas (well, perhaps not husband or children) and the permanent legacy of that year is a good stock of short circulars in various sizes.

Curiosity moved me to retrieve the ur-text from the shelves (=Knitting Without Tears). I was slightly surprised that in the midst of all these percentages, the instruction was to increase 2 every 5th round. But so it is in the original. Meg’s version in Knitter’s Magazine, which I am following, has the top of the sleeve rather wider than in the original, and I remembered what you said about finding the EPS tight, Mary Lou.

I think increases and sleeve-length are going to come out about even – that is, little or no knitting-straight before the top of the sleeve. Maybe I ought to go back and look at Arne and Carlos’ version. How do they do the sleeve increases?


I am moving on well through Sybille Bedford’s “A Legacy”. I will tell you about it soon. I feel as if I should start again at the beginning as soon as I finish. A most interesting book.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

A hard-working day. The bread is well advanced, and I will be able to tuck it up in the refrigerator for the night fairly soon. The extra hydration went well. I put in olives, which are breaking through the beautiful smooth sheets of gluten in a rather alarming way.

The work isn’t hard, but there are lots of little separate episodes. It starts with making a “levain” – some starter, flour and water. This time I put it near the Aga, and it was ready for the next stage in five hours or so. Last time, I had to wait until the end of the afternoon before I could start doing everything else.

Then in the midst of all this, some plants that I had ordered weeks – if not months – ago, turned up. I have dealt with some of them, and may be strong enough to do a bit more this evening.

And I knit some more sleeve.


Peggy, I think you could be right that the avocado would like a summer outdoors. We are now in the few Scottish weeks during which there is not likely to be a frost. (There was an ugly one in May.) I’ll see what I can do, about getting help carrying it out.

I am grateful for your 10-best-books lists. Gretchen, I don’t know Ursula LeGuin or Kim Stanley Robinson, and will have to investigate. Beverly, I’ll happily swap Age of Innocence for House of Mirth. It was just a make-place to indicate that I wanted Edith Wharton. But I will cling to Mansfield Park.

I love every syllable of Pride and Prejudice, but I love every syllable of Mansfield Park better. And I prefer its darkness. Mr Darcy is utterly wonderful, but real life does not offer many such. Henry Crawford, ¾’s villain, is much closer to young men I have actually known. And his sister!

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

A good day, I guess. Helen came, and we got twice around the garden. Something rather alarming is wrong with some of their roses. (My Gertrude Jekyll is in vigorous health, showing colour.)

And I pressed on with the EPS sleeve. Here’s the present state of play:

And here -- a subject rather neglected of late – is my avocado tree. It was re-potted at Christmas, you may remember, when I discovered that Perdita had been using it as her lavatory. Rachel’s husband Ed, who did most of the work, held out little hope for it. And for months, it just stood there, losing one leaf after another. And then, suddenly…

I’m all revved up to make another sourdough loaf tomorrow, maybe with olives and rosemary. My starter is bubbling away, rarin’ to go. I’ve been revisiting my favourite YouTube instructional videos, and adding new ones. I will increase the hydration slightly this time (=put in more water).


“A Legacy” is an odd and interesting book, sort of Brideshead-Through-the-Looking-glass. More to come, on this subject.

Here are the books I would insist on taking along, if they were to come and take me to a care home tomorrow. I would in fact insist on taking my iPad (I think at least the better care homes are well-furnished with wi-fi these days) and tell them that they could have all my other assets but I need PayPal and the account that feeds it so that in fact I can go on reading whatever I fancy.

Here they are:

Il Gattopardo
Mansfield Park
Brideshead Revisited
Vikram Seth: A Suitable Boy
Alice in Wonderland
Trollope: Barchester Towers
Edith Wharton: Age of Innocence
Horace: Odes and Epodes (in my beloved old Shorey-Laing edition)
Virgil: Aeneid
Knitting Without Tears

Monday, June 15, 2020

Better, today – perhaps all due to my personal trainer. AND I found the missing gradient colour, and made good progress with the beginning of the EPS sleeve. It’s a good deal quicker to get round a wrist than a chest. There will be plenty of the gradient colours available for the yoke. I ought to be giving some thought as to what to do with them. Just stripes again?

Here’s a family snap for you. Christina is a keen horsewoman, long absent from the saddle. But last weekend she rode around the field for a few circuits while Hamish (now five weeks old) went for a walk with his father.


Shandy, I watched the first episode of “Doctor Thorne” last night, but I don’t think I’ll go on. What’s wrong? (Ian McShane is wonderful, as you say. Dr Thorne and Mary are fine.) It’s too fast, for one thing. Trollope’s action covers three years, in a long book. Julian Fellowes does his best – and there’s no one  better – but it feels hasty and condensed. No time to tell us, even, that the squire was in financial straits because of Lady Arabella’s extravagance.

Miss Dunstable was a big disappointment. I found it difficult to distinguish her from the other women – I found distinguishing the women difficult in general, despite having just closed the book. Miss D. was too young, too slim, too pretty for my taste – and she had mysteriously metamorphosed into an American. Perhaps that was meant to be a shorthand way of telling us that she was rough-hewn and loud, thus sparing the actress the trouble.

It would be fun to see what they do with Louis Philippe, but I am unwilling to dedicate the time.

The Sunday Times columnist India Knight is telling us her ten favourite books, week by week. This week, at No. 2, she wrote rapturously about Il Gattopardo, which endeared her to me, needless to say. There aren’t many things on her list (apart from that one) which would be repeated on mine, but for most, I could at least manage a nod of recognition.

Except for “A Legacy” by Sybille Bedford, at No. 4. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of it. So that’s what I’m reading now.

And I’m also amusing myself by composing my own list, which I fear will be more ponderous than hers.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

I’m still feeling very weak. My niece C. came today – wonderful to see her! – and walked me around the garden, with pauses for rest and recuperation on the available benches. My Personal Trainer will have her work cut out for her tomorrow.

C.’s grandson Wee Hamish is now 5 weeks old, putting on weight and beginning to find the world of interest.

Even Andrew Marr failed to advance my knitting much. I have, however, declared the cuff of the first sleeve finished, and have embarked on the gradient stripes. To my great annoyance, I can’t find the fifth colour. When I was knitting them into the body of the sweater, I more or less clipped the yarn and dropped them at my feet one by one. Now that one is gone – presumably propelled somewhere by a furry paw?

There isn’t really enough of a distinction between Four and Five. If anything is to be omitted, Five would be the one. But I am annoyed at myself.


I’ve finished Doctor Thorne. Delicious. The happy ending is clearly signalled halfway through the book, but is delicious nonetheless. Miss Dunstable’s happiness, as I suspected, is postponed until a later volume. Now I must follow that link you sent me, Shandy.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Helen came this morning and drove me up to the fishmonger. I hadn’t been there for a long time, and had picked the right moment for a gastronomic adventure: he had wild sea trout! It’s a family business which has been on the same spot for several generations. It was the present man’s father who taught me that sea trout was to be preferred even to wild salmon.

(He had a couple of shiny black lobsters, too – but I couldn’t deal with such a thing on my own, and, anyway, Ketki and I agree, when the others aren’t listening, that New England lobsters are better and sweeter.)

Then we walked home – it’s about half a mile, downhill. As we passed the corner shop, the man-behind-the-counter (a faithful retainer, I think, rather than a family member) came running after us to say, We have mangoes! He knew my liking for them. That’s another seasonal treat, the Pakistani mangoes. They don’t often turn up in supermarkets – you need to watch the corner shops. They are late this year, he thought because so few flights from Pakistan were available.

I have been not so much droopy as prostrate ever since, but it was worth it.

So, no knitting. But tomorrow is Sunday, and  things should advance.


Chloe, yes, I have one of those electric grinders, meant for coffee but I reserve it for spices. I hope I can find it. The perfect answer for my question of how to get rosemary into my next sourdough loaf. And, Jean, yes, I have a mezzaluna, and I know where it is, so I’m covered both ways.

Shandy, perhaps Doctor Thorne on the screen would be just the thing for an evening of prostration. I'm also told, both by the newspaper and by a friend, that the new documentary about Mrs Clinton is very good. Maybe I could find that on catch-up. Or maybe just go to bed.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Little to report. I knit some more cuff, at that stage where one goes round and round seeming to achieve nothing. In fact I think it’s nearly finished. I haven’t been counting. I’ll count rounds when I deem it finished, and try to match the other one when the time comes. The next instruction is to increase two at the underarm seam every five rounds – I can start off, at least, with five-round stripes of those gradient colours. That will see me well on my way.


Helen’s husband David came around and helped me with some business. He was under instructions from his fierce wife to get me out for a walk, but in that he failed. We had a good time, and got some work done.

Helen says that my second sourdough loaf was tasty, but much tougher than the first one. I have done some reading, and found some changes which might help (more water, to make a wetter dough; and a lower proportion of chapatti flour) and am eager to try again. I’ll bear in mind the possibility of adding rosemary: it grows on the doorstep. How to pulverise it? One doesn’t want to stab people with those sharp needles.

And I’ve proceeded happily with Dr Thorne, having polished off my re-read of Put Out More Flags. I still haven’t followed your link, Shandy, for fear of disturbing the images in my head. I’m particularly afraid of the “wrong” Miss Dunstable. I love her, but she’s not pretty and not desperately young, and not easy to cast. (Nor have I a clear mental image.) Everybody wants to marry her, because she’s exceedingly rich, and the passage in which she finally accepts a husband (no spoilers here) is delicious. I doubt if it’s in this book, but we shall see. Trollope is awfully good on money.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

All well. I felt even-more-than-usually droopy this morning, but Helen came and marched me around the Garden, and I gave her the rest of yesterday’s sourdough loaf and I have felt better since.

I don’t eat much bread – I’m doing this for fun (and it is fun). But I ate a bit more of this loaf than of the first one, and it was very tasty. I certainly mean to forge ahead. I look forward to the day when the grocery shelves offer a choice of flours again. I’d like to try rye. Meanwhile, should I add some olives?

And I’ve started the first EPS sleeve. It was slightly disconcerting this morning, taking down the second Knitter’s in this year-long EPS series, to find how much mental work I had to do before I could cast on. I am the Blindest of Followers, left to myself.

Two approaches were offered – 20-25% of K; or insert your hand into the already-knit body and loop some of the rib around your wrist and see how much of it you want.

I tried both, and went, essentially, with the latter. Even 20% of K would have been a lot bigger. I’ve knit an inch or so of sleeve, and it looks about right. DP’s are a nuisance, but I’ve never liked the alternatives. I hope I've got a short circular of the right gauge -- I must have one -- to take over as soon as possible.


Kay and Marilyn,  I’m delighted to hear that you’re in with me for the Stillness Shawl MKAL We will have a little MKAL of our own. There could be no happier condition for a Blind Follower.

Mary Lou, I hope the choice is for a rolled hem. I love them. Is this to be a new design of your own?


Shandy, thank you for that link. I haven’t tried it yet. Something reminded me today of one of my all-time fave’s, Evelyn Waugh’s “Put Out More Flags”, and I have been re-reading that as well as advancing Dr. Thorne.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Another success! This is fun:

Chilling overnight for the “bulk rise” instead of at the end, worked fine. I proceeded from where I left off, and did the final proving in the open air.

And I’ve finished Episode One of the EPS, including threading 8%-of-K stitches onto waste yarn for each armhole. And I’ve located my needle gauge, which will be required tomorrow for the sleeves. I find that implement as escape-prone as the kitchen scissors.

I’ve signed up for the MKAL, too, and paid my entrance fee.

I haven’t finished Fruity Knitting yet. The lockdown is beginning to take its toll; or maybe it’s just that there’s too much of Andrea’s beautiful crochet blanket for my taste.


It turns out I’ve read “Dr Thorne” as recently as last October. No wonder it feels familiar. I’ve got bogged down in a couple of Trollopes lately, and abandoned them. Or at any rate, temporarily set them aside. This one is much stronger. I wonder if I could find the TV version, Shandy.


I’m glad you like the look of Antonino, Chole. (Antonone would be a better name for him.) He is of Neapolitan origin, utterly devoted to his craft. He does a series, like Gordon Ramsay, where he goes around visiting failing restaurants and telling them what to do.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Droopy again. Today was to be devoted to sourdough-baking but all day long my “levain” wouldn’t float. It finally did, and I went ahead and mixed everything, but there won’t be time for many more stages before weariness drives me to bed. You’re meant to leave it in the fridge overnight just before baking, but I’ll have to chill it a few stages previous to that one and hope to find it ready to resume in the morning.

Thank you for your interesting remarks about yeast, Tamar. I’m sure you’re right that there are books on the subject. Maybe I should seek them out.

Chloe, yes, I watch cookery videos in Italian. Search YouTube for something like “fare il pane a casa”.  For general cookery, try “Antonino Cannavacciuolo” – once you’ve got him, YouTube should suggest others.

However, I did finish that skein of yellow yarn for the EPS, and I did wind the next one. I’m sure you will all recognise that sense of achievement, in a house nearly overwhelmed with stash, when one completely finishes a 100-gram skein of fingering yarn. The body of the sweater needs only a few more rounds, plus stitch-counting and the leaving of underarm stitches on waste yarn.

And there’s a new Andrew & Andrea. I’ve only just spotted them in my inbox – a whole pleasure to look forward to.


I’ve finished “To the Lighthouse” – most interesting. I think I’d better read it again, after a while, now that I know what happens. The radio was talking about “Mrs Dalloway” this afternoon while I was having my nap. I might think of re-reading that, too.

But what I have actually done is to embark on Trollope’s “Dr Thorne”. I’m sure I’ve read it at least once. Never mind. It’s set in Barsetshire and promises love and a squire beset with money problems and perhaps there's a hint of a hunting chapter to come.

Monday, June 08, 2020

My Personal Trainer came again this morning, for a socially-distanced session in the Gardens, and I feel, as always after our sessions, pleasantly weary but basically invigorated. Definitely less droopy.

Knitting progresses well. I keep measuring, and it won’t be long now. Except that the first skein (of three) is nearly finished, and winding the second will take a while. In days to come I will look back fondly on this time when I can knit and knit completely mindlessly in the happy knowledge that I will never reach the underarm.

I’m progressing well with “To the Lighthouse”, too. Mr Ramsay told his wife that she wouldn’t finish that stocking by the next day, and she agreed. I mustn’t say any more for fear of spoiling.

I’m poised to attempt another sourdough loaf tomorrow. My starter is looking very happy and bubbly. I’ll feed it again this evening. What it doesn’t do is increase in volume like other people’s starters, but as long as it can raise a loaf of bread as it did last week, I can’t complain.

I’ve been combining my interests by watching Italian YouTube videos about sourdough. Things are different there. There doesn’t even seem to be a word for “sourdough”, although they certainly have the thing. My tutor says there are starters going back to antiquity.

They have brewer’s yeast (which we call “yeast”) and natural yeast (which we call “sourdough starters”) and the bread-making techniques for the two, although different, are not quite as different as one might expect. Interestingly, the Italian YouTube videos on the subject, with either leaven, are almost all by women. The English-speaking ones are mostly by men. Italian cookery videos in general are mostly by men.

Sunday, June 07, 2020

Still droopy, but it has been a day of some accomplishment. Helen walked me around the garden early on. I knitted to Andrew Marr, and again during virtual coffee after our virtual Mass. 

And I took pictures, as promised. Here are the Ginger Twist skeins inspired by “Edinburgh spring”. The colours are called "Factory Girls" and "It Might as Well be Spring":

And here, the Meadow Yarn ones, "Lupin stems arranged in an antique pewter jug", for the MKAL:

I have belatedly observed that all five of the above skeins seem to have been dyed on the same base, merino and yak and silk.

And here is Countess Ablaze’ “Ministry of Truth Twisted”:

And here the pile:

That’s not my stash, anything like. That’s the pile of recent purchases to keep indy yarn dyers going. The bottom two layers, on the blue stool, are from Carol Sunday – Macchu Picchu and a luscious brioche cowl. I don’t know what that grey yarn is, with which the whole seems to be festooned. A contribution from some cat.

So it behoves me to keep knitting. Any day when I’m strong enough to droop over the kitchen table reading Virginia Woolf, I’m strong enough to knit a few stitches. She was a knitter herself – I’m sure she would agree.

Although I’m puzzled about the knitting in “To the Lighthouse”. Mrs Ramsay is knitting a stocking to take to the lighthouse the next day as a present for the lighthouse keeper’s son who has a tubercular leg (what does that mean?). Early on, she measures it on her five year old son, to see if it’s long enough. Is she knitting toe-up? Was that common in those days? Otherwise – and even if so – how can she hope to finish for the next day? (She has eight children, and a house-ful of summer guests.) What about the lighthouse keeper’s son’s other leg? Maybe these things will be made clear.

I’m continuing to enjoy it, but it requires concentration, a bit like reading Henry James (which I haven’t done for a while).

Saturday, June 06, 2020

A fairly droopy day; no knitting.

But much yarn. “The Ministry of Truth Twisting” from Countess Ablaze. Socks for Rachel, perhaps; she’s got the smallest feet.

And a colourway – I haven’t confessed this one to you previously – from Meadow Yarn, for a MKAL The Stillness shawl by Helen Stewart. Meadow Yarn is my regular source for needles, but I have never bought yarn from them before. The colourway is called “Lupin stems arranged in a pewter jug”, three skeins of a beautiful 4-ply called Lythe fingering, 80% merino, 20% silk, 20% yak, utterly wonderful.

But this has got to be the end of my single-handed efforts to keep independent yarn-dyers afloat through these hard times. I am now so far beyond life expectancy that it doesn’t bear thinking of. I’ll photograph all this tomorrow.

I’ve never done a KAL before, let alone an M one. My vague feeling is that it should take up perhaps two days a week, and that real life could continue on the other five. That seems unlikely, just looking at those three skeins. The first clue will appear on the 25th, so I’ve got a fortnight or so to press on with the EPS. That should surely get me to the first sleeve, at least.


I drooped around reading Strout’s “Abide With Me” today, and have finished it. It’s very good. Not cheerful. Shandy, I’m sure you’re right that the first chapter of “The Burgess Boys” is at the end of “Olive Kitteredge”. That would fully explain why I was so sure that it was familiar, when the rest of the book wasn’t.


Poor Paradox got shut into the sitting room this morning. I heard her calling, and thought she was going into heat again, and called out words of encouragement from time to time, without abandoning my huddle in the kitchen. She was awfully glad to see me when I finally went in for something else, and has been even more clingy than usual this afternoon.

Friday, June 05, 2020

The mills of God grind slowly
     But they grind exceeding small…

You will remember Dominic Cummings, the PM’s arrogant and disliked advisor, whose wife felt a bit ill the day after lockdown began so they drove to the north of England with their 4-year-old son to stay in a cottage on Dom’s parents’ estate (where it was Dominic, the next day, who came down with what was probably covid-19).

Well – it turns out the Cummings family doesn’t have planning permission to turn that building (it’s more barn-like than cottage-y) into a habitation. They won’t go to prison for life, but it will be an expensive nuisance to put things right. It seems a fitting punishment – you’ve got to obey the rules.

I’ve had a good day. Helen came early and marched me around the garden: the family dog Farouk is lame, and her morning had to be devoted to securing medical attention for him. The effect (for me – I’ve heard no more of Farouk) was to lengthen the morning by hours. There’s a moral there.

I’ve knit stoutly on. I’ve also measured, and the result was disappointing. As expected, I guess.


Thank you, PomPom and (especially) Tandah for encouraging me to go on with Elizabeth Strout despite not much liking “The Burgess Boys”. I’m now deep into “Abide With Me” and enjoying it enormously. And, yes, I know that leaves both “To the Lighthouse” and “Il Cane di Terracotta” to be finished, and I’m sure both will be, but not just now.


Helen really spoke this morning as if her family had enjoyed my sourdough loaf. I mean to try again next week – it’s fun – in the hopes that it wasn’t a beginner’s-luck fluke. Conjuring yeast out of the air and actually leavening a loaf of bread with it seems like magic, far more so than fermenting a batch of kimchi. I looked up “bread” and “yeast” on Wikipedia this morning. It’s all too complicated for me, but I learned that bread-making and beer-brewing and wine-making are all rather intertwined, in European history.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Interesting comments, yesterday…

Cam, you’re brilliantly right about the way a sweater – especially, I am sure, one knit in the round – sticks at 11” for day after day after day, and then suddenly achieves the 15” one has been hoping for. I got a certain amount of knitting done today, while David was here going through papers. But I didn’t measure.

And, Tamar: all the sourdough recipes nowadays dwell on the need to slash the top (artistically, if you re so inclined). There’s a special tool for doing it, with a fancy French name. I just used a knife. It happens at the very last moment before you put the loaf in the oven, and you’re supposed to move fast. It is very interesting to learn that this was not always so.

I gave David yesterday’s loaf to take home to his family. I don’t really eat bread, and I’m stout enough as it is. If they enjoy it, it will be a great incentive to go on. This is certainly fun.


I’ve finished speed-reading Shriver’s “So Much for That”. The end was familiar, so I must have speed-read the whole thing before. I have embarked upon Virginia Wolff’s “To the Lighthouse”.

I did “Mrs Dalloway” my first year at Oberlin. It was my first serious exposure to modernist literature, and it made a great impression. I have read and re-read some of her since, but never, I think, this one. It makes, if nothing else, an interesting contrast to speed-reading Shriver. In Wolff, every syllable counts. “…here Mr Ramsay would straighten his back and narrow his little blue eyes upon the horizon…” That word “little” is, as they say, pregnant with meaning.

And what about this: “Disappearing as stealthily as stags from the dinner-table directly the meal was over, the eight sons and daughters of Mr and Mrs Ramsay sought their bedrooms…”

“As stealthily as stags…” Magnificent!

Wednesday, June 03, 2020


It’s far from perfect – and a bit underdone. But I feel rather pleased with myself.

As you might expect, I was exhausted by the effort, and the kitchen remains more than a bit floury. But I couldn’t face you again without doing some knitting, so I sat through some of the daily government virus briefing, and much of the news. The EPS now measures something like 11 ¼”. (I’m aiming for 14-15”.) This is surely the low point, the trek across the desert. Sleeves are as long, or longer, but quite a bit narrower. And nothing is more fun than a yoke.


Helen’s husband David, a lawyer by profession, is here in Edinburgh at the moment (he works in Thessaloniki) and unable to work for his bank, even at a distance, because of complicated and alarming rules. So he will come here tomorrow and straighten out my life instead. I have just had from my lawyer a mighty envelope-ful of what I think is the final paperwork connected with my husband’s death. I haven’t even dared look at it.

My nephew Theo, my sister’s son, has lost his job (like so many) and has been engaged by the Democratic national convention to oversee their COVID-19 arrangements. He has worked for at least one Convention before, and for at least one of Obama’s inaugurations, He is a brilliant organiser, never more so than at his own wedding. I am surprised that there is going to be a Convention, but if there is, Theo is certainly the man to keep COVID-19 under control.


I hadn’t quite been aware of “The Mandibles” (by Lionel Shriver), Mary Lou, and won’t now be tempted to read it. It’s obvious from the current New Yorker interview that she worries a lot about the collapse of the financial system. I think much the same thing happens at the end of Evelyn Waugh’s “Vile Bodies”.

I am continuing to read “So Much for That” if only because I can slide through it so quickly. It’s very padded. It’s the one I mentioned yesterday, that Amazon had to remind me I already owned. My real reading at the moment is another Montalbano (in Italian) – there, I have to pay attention.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

All well, I guess. We won’t know, until the sourdough loaf comes out of the oven tomorrow. There have been moments of anxiety – my “levain” floated nicely, when tested. Then I went back to doing something else, and when I returned, it had sunk.

And, much more interesting, at one point I found my hands uncomfortable. All instructions encourage you to work the dough with your hands. It contains nothing except flour, water, salt and fermentation. I think the point at which I had this sensation was after the initial kneading, when everything had been amalgamated and left to rest for a while. The reason this is interesting (at least, to me) is that Brad Leone – with whom I am in love – says at one point in his (not otherwise very useful)  sourdough program that his hands are “burning”.

I’ve watched a lot of sourdough on YouTube. No one else mentions this.

There are still a couple of hours to go, before I can put it in the refrigerator overnight and go to bed. The dough looks not unlike what I have seen on YouTube, and feels not unlike what I would expect – but will it rise?

We’ll know tomorrow.

A new New Yorker today. I enjoyed the article about Lionel Shriver. Should I subscribe to the Spectator in order to read her column? A book was mentioned which sounded interesting and I rushed over to Amazon and was crushingly told that I  already had it. I’ve done a bit of speed-reading and am not much enjoying it and glad I didn’t pay for it again. I’ve read “Kevin” (terrific) and the one about obesity and the one about brittle bones.

Whatever the fate of my sourdough, I would hope to have some knitting to report on tomorrow.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Well. Craftsy is gone (I’ve got a considerable amount invested there, both knitting and cookery); Alasdair Post-Quinn has lost everything in a fire (himself and family OK, at least); and the leaderless United States is tearing itself apart. And that’s before we even get started on the coronavirus. I don’t mean to compare or diminish any one of these things, by listing them like this.

I’ve had a good day. My personal trainer is back, to my considerable benefit. As long as the weather holds, we can have our sessions in the gardens as we did this morning. The weather so far continues wonderful, but rain is forecast – much needed.

I’ve decided to plunge ahead with a first attempt at sourdough tomorrow. I took my starter out of the refrigerator this morning, let it warm up a bit, and fed it. It bubbled nicely. I’ll feed it again before bedtime.

And I even did a bit of knitting.

There's the picture. No problem today. The Harlot was grumbling the other day about not finding anything in her stash that suggested daffodils and forsythia.


I am uneasy about gooseberries. One of our specimen trees in Kirkmichael is a pinus nigra which has been suffering badly in recent years from something-or-other. Another is the pinus sylvestris, the Scots pine, which so far is fine.

Jeanfromcornwall – yes! The whole point of “My Friend Flicka” is that the hero is the younger son, and his brother does everything right and gets good marks at school. Somehow or other the younger brother’s relationship with Flicka (a horse) strengthens his character. In the movie, the brother was GONE, replaced by a totally pointless little sister.