Saturday, April 17, 2021


I’ve been watching the royal funeral all afternoon (so have you, probably) and therefore haven’t got anything done. I thought the simplicity imposed by Covid was a tremendous plus, and was proud of the Royal Family for observing it so strictly.


On Inauguration Day, Biden told us to wear masks in public henceforth, and then, that evening, went to the Lincoln Memorial with his family, without one. The next day a reporter asked his spokesman, very politely, how this could be. She didn’t answer the question and in effect, I thought, laughed at him for supposing that the rules which bind the rest of us affect a President on his Inauguration Day. I put the question to my sister and she was on the side of the spokesman – I was being absurdly fussy. So I was especially glad, today, to see the royals observing the rules meticulously. The politeness of princes.


And also glad that the Queen can walk without a stick.


There’s always a surreptitious element of Gilbert and Sullivan, and indeed of Lewis Carroll, on such state occasions. I enjoyed that, too.


Prince Philip was fond of carriage-driving into extreme old age. His empty carriage was there, with the two black ponies who used to draw it. That was very touching.


C. came this morning, and we staggered around the garden. 2430 steps – more than I would expect. She says that our cruise sets sail six weeks from today. I must provide for the cats, order new shoes and a colourful touch or two from Toast. That shouldn’t be too difficult. But after a year of enclosure, the slightest venture into the outside world is enormously stressful – and this one isn’t slight. I must also make an appointment to have somebody do something about my hair.


Rachel rang up. She was very pleased by an acknowledgement of her daughter Hellie in a recent book, “Mirror Land” by Carole Johnstone. It’s “Gothic”, praised by Stephen King. I’ve bought it, feeling I deserved some relief from “I Vicere”, and enjoyed the acknowledgement of Hellie in my turn. I wish I could read it in one gulp and then go back to more serious stuff, but it’s a bit too long for that. Shandy, I have been much tempted by the new biography of Barbara Pym and am sorry to hear it’s not well written. They’re reading it on the radio in the night, but I’m not alert enough in the dark hours for critical judgment.

Friday, April 16, 2021


Another beautiful day, and this time it’s getting a bit warmer. I got once around the garden with Archie, but the total so far is only 1959 steps. Still feeling feeble, but not dizzy.


I’ve fallen into the old trap of leaving myself too much Italian to do on a Friday evening. A whole canto of Dante. And I must look up some steeple-chasing vocabulary: my tutor is a devoted feminist, and will enjoy talking about Rachael Blackmore who has just become the first woman to win the Grand National. (The horse was named Minella Times, and should perhaps be mentioned.) I like her for not being a Hillary Clinton about it – she is as pleased as any human being would be, having won the National, and that’s as far as she goes. Although in fact it was a considerable feminist achievement – she beat the boys at their own game, fair and square.


I made a start on the all-over Fair Isle pattern on the body of wee Hamish’s Calcutta Cup vest. It’s too soon to say whether I like the way it’s going.


Here’s the Razzamatazz sweater I mentioned yesterday:


I learned a lot, doing that one, which prepared me for Kaffe when he came along later. “Glorious Knitting” would have to be included in my short-list of Influential Knitting Books. Perhaps I’ll go ahead and try to write them down. I don’t think I know “Wild Knitting”, Lisa. Perhaps I should investigate.


Thank you for your cruise-knitting advice. I want to travel as light as possible, but there’s no point in being obsessive about it. And I have a pair of socks, years old, which could do with being finished.




I’ve moved a bit forward with “I Vicere”, but not much.


I think I have always regarded that passage in “Mansfield Park” as just another bit of Mrs-Norris-ery. She diagnoses the gardener’s grandson sight-unseen (ague); accepts a choice cutting; promises a valueless ague-healing charm. (But did she ever send it?) A busy know-it-all who never actually puts herself out for anyone.

Thursday, April 15, 2021


I’ve been a bit feeble today, perhaps even a bit dizzy again. Helen’s husband David came to walk me around the garden. I haven’t seen him for months, and won’t again for many more. He seems surprisingly cheerful. 2206 steps – better than I expected.


Tamar, thank you. You’re right, of course. I had two thoughts, however: 1) Things must have been most different, in those days before doctors could do anything except recommend bed rest and lots of fluids. 2) Are we entirely different, nowadays? Are not relics of the saints and other “good luck charms” of one sort or another, occasionally left with the very ill?


Helen and her family are safely back from Kirkmichael (see above), where they had a good time. The weather continues as before, dry and sunny and chilly. It is good to have her toiling away in the study again, although I don’t see her all day (she brings a packed lunch).


I knit stoutly on, and have finished the Calcutta Cup band on wee Hamish’s vest. I then spent some time considering colours and all-over pattern with which to proceed. (Some people plan their knitting properly before they begin.) I found McGregor’s “Fair Isle Knitting” – it was my fault, for leaving it in the dining room; not Michaela’s. The all-over pattern I want to use from here on has four fewer stitches per side than are employed at the moment. Delete them? I have decided no; I’ll have a four-stitch unpatterned stripe running up each side.


I also found, in the same place, Pam Dawson’s “Knitting Fashion” from 1976, one of the major books in my knitting formation. It might be mildly interesting to catalogue the others. I knit the “Razzamatazz jersey” on page 75 for Rachel when she was about to go up to Cambridge to read classics – it said “O tempora o mores” on one side, and, in Greek, “Give me a place to stand” on the other. The latter a quotation from Archimedes, I think, with reference to the fulcrum: “Give me a place to stand and I will move the world.”


Little else to report. I’ve heard from the nursery that the plants I ordered are on their way – so the scam mentioned yesterday was certainly a scam. I’ve pressed on with “I vicere” – we’ve now reached the younger in-laws.


Miscellaneous, comments


Thank you for your help with knitCompanion, Maureen. I will continue to hold back for a while, out of sheer sloth, but I’m tempted.


Mary Lou, I know that brioche is hell to disentangle if you make a mistake (and I make lots of mistakes). But on the other hand, when it’s going well, it’s wonderful. Squishy, I think is the word. The sensible thing to do would be to take socks to knit on the cruise – that’s what I always used to do, in the days when my husband and I went to London three or four times a year for art and grandchildren. And even a bit before that, when I went to the USofA once or twice a year, to see my mother when she was too weak to travel. In those days I’d knock off half a dozen pairs a year without trying.


Well, we’ll see.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021


Tamar: Mrs Norris??? Witchcraft?? And Fanny knew?? Please tell all. I thought I knew that book well. I am impressed by how much information you have been able to glean from family trees.


It has been another cold, bright, beautiful day. One good thing about such weather is that it makes spring last a bit longer. I did my solitary walk – 2768 steps. That’s a bit better. And I got some, not all, of the things on today’s list done. Water (for the front step) is awfully heavy.


One of my assignments today was to find the pattern for Carol Sunday’s two-colour brioche cowl which I bought, along with the wool, a year ago, in preparation for the first of our cancelled cruises. I found it. I’m not sure I feel up to it. The beginning sounds awfully difficult. I had a look at Marchant’s two-colour brioche book. So many of her stitch patterns are so interesting that I don’t see why I don’t just use the yarn to knit one of her scarves. The cast-on doesn’t sound quite as daunting, either (although I would still have to devote a few days to it before the cruise, just to be sure I was well started). And that would avoid the decision Sunday starts off with: whether to give everything a Moebius twist as soon as it has been cast on, to create an “eternity cowl”, or just knit a tube.


The Calcutta Cup has advanced a bit, but seems slow. I’m sure things will speed up as soon as this band is finished. Fair Isle is easy and pleasant to knit, but I don’t want to encumber myself with all the colours, on the cruise.


If Mrs Sturgeon lets us go. I wouldn’t say it’s yet in the bag.




I move forward with “I Vicere”. The author has finished introducing all of the late Princess’s children, and moved on to her in-laws – the brothers and sister of her late husband. I’m beginning to get the hang of it. Again -- this is not a first attempt.


The newspaper announces today that all the adults on Fair Isle have been vaccinated.


Does anyone know anything about an app called KnitCompanion? Somehow or other you feed your pattern into your iPad and it keeps your place on the chart and tells you when to increase or decrease. It might be too complicated for me – technical mastery is slipping away, along with physical strength.


I had our new scam this week – a text message to my telephone to say that my package was being held at the depot because I needed to pay a small sum, which was named. Like everybody else in the world I am expecting a package, some more bedding plants for the front step, but I feel safe in disregarding this message.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021


Another chill but glorious day. I hobbled around the garden all by myself. 1892 steps – not very good. Helen and her family are safely in Kirkmichael. She sent me a little video of the quince tree which used to live in a pot on the doorstep here. It went to Kirkmichael last year, since it was obviously failing here. It looks very well indeed, at the moment.


I made a little list this morning of Things I Must Do, and got them all done except for watering the doorstep plants. That will have to be top of tomorrow’s list.


And I’m nearly halfway through the Calcutta Cup band on wee Hamish’s vest. I carefully put the knitting away when Michaela was here yesterday, so that she wouldn’t tidy it away in a fashion that confused its yarn with all the other yarns lying about, but I neglected to secure MacGregor’s “Fair Isle Knitting” in the same way, and it has disappeared, presumably into a pile of books. I want it for the overall pattern upon which I will soon embark. I have other works on my shelves which would probably offer something, and Michaela might be back anyway before I need it.


And speaking of works on my shelves, I had a look at Mary Thomas, both vols. She has “corrugated knitting” in the indices of both – but that’s something different. Vertical stripes of two colours; she suggests three stitches each. With the floats in the back pulled fairly snug, so that the fabric actually corrugates. But there’s no purling involved. She may have corrugated ribbing in there somewhere but I’m not going to spend time looking for it.




Tamar, that’s quite a good idea, to write out a family tree in the case of long, well-populated novels. Except that if the author is good enough, there’s no need. I never feel any confusion in Mansfield Park. I’m making some progress with this new attempt at “I Vicere”. In the first pages, the old princess has just died, and there’s a lot of coming and going and confusion until after the funeral. Then the author sets to work telling us about each of her six children, and there are some cousins, too – and things are becoming clearer.


Cats: my husband said that his cat Plush was touchingly glad to see him when he came home from the war, although the cat had been living peacefully in the country with my husband’s mother and his sister all the while. It’s worth worrying about what will happen when the cat’s household is broken up by death. I think Perdita will be all right – stout and disagreeable as she is, Archie loves her and the rest of Helen’s family is well disposed (including the dog). Paradox is more of a problem, pretty and furry and affectionate though she is.

Monday, April 12, 2021


Another day, chilly but wonderful. I got around the garden by myself. 2484 steps – the telefonino is in generous mood today. Helen and her family (husband, Archie, Fergus, dog) have gone off to Kirkmichael. I’m all by myself for a couple of days.


I’ve made some progress with the Calcutta Cup on wee Hamish’s vest. There is a strange pleasure in knitting letters or numbers or images – lacking the pleasant rhythm of traditional Fair Isle patterns, one feels one can’t be getting much of anywhere – and suddenly it makes sense.


For reading, I pressed on with “The Viceroys”. But despite this being my third or fourth attempt, I’m still finding the proliferation of characters confusing. The setting is only a few years after that of “Il Gattopardo”, although in Catania, not Palermo. But that doesn’t help.


I’m sorry that no one so far has been as enchanted as I am by the cat story in the New Yorker. The cat has come home; it took him weeks. (This is the preface to an article about how animals navigate.) He is tired and dirty and hungry. But he wants to see his daddy. The writer of the article, who is living in the house where the cat used to live, emails a picture of him to Brooklyn – “Is this Billy?” --, and Daddy comes up the I-84 as fast as he can. “The cat, who had been pacing continuously, took one look and leaped into Phil’s arms – literally hurled himself the several feet necessary to be bundled into his erstwhile owner’s chest. Phil, a six-foot-tall bartender of the badass variety, promptly started to cry. After a few minutes of mutual adoration, the cat hopped down, devoured the food I had put out two hours earlier, lay down in a sunny patch of grass by the door, purring, and embarked on an elaborate bath.”

Sunday, April 11, 2021


Another chill but beautiful day. C. and I got once around the garden. 2539 steps – not bad, for a day of inactivity. I think I feel fine, after my second vaccination. I certainly slept better last night.


I’ve finished the corrugated rib at the bottom of wee Hamish’s Calcutta Cup sweater, and have embarked on the Cup itself, not without a certain amount of tinking. But I think I’m on the right path now.


I’ve finished Roy Strong’s diaries. The energy of the man astounds.


Do you have the New Yorker for April 5 – the most recent, I think? Please read the first page of the scientific article on page 22. The article is about the interesting question of how animals (and birds and insects) navigate, but the opening anecdote is not just about navigation but also about love, and I find it very touching. Cats are rarely given credit for being the affectionate animals they are.




I feel fairly sure, Tamar, that EZ started “Woolgathering” because editors were making her re-write Aran patterns for flat knitting. My memory of Mary Thomas is that she was in the flat-knitting camp from the start. I’ll have a look tomorrow.


Chris, you’re right that Etna is relatively active, as volcanoes go, but that might not rule it out entirely from inclusion in our current group. It’s just outside Catania, where Archie and I were on our most recent Italian trip. It was certainly a quiet lump when we drove past it. There’s no suggestion on Google that Vesuvius is feeling restless (it’s near-by, in geographical terms). Its last major eruption was during the war; I met people who remember that one, when I was taking school trips to that part of Italy.

Saturday, April 10, 2021


I had my second Covid vaccination this morning. All well so far. I haven’t got a medal or a certificate or anything. The dr said that the Scottish government is thinking about what to do, and meanwhile my record is safe with the GP. And the great thing about a Majestic Line cruise (assuming C. and I really do get to set sail in late May) is that you can set out that morning without anything (except your cruise clothes) – you just turn up and say Hello, I’m Jean.


I thought that was enough for today, despite Helen’s disapproval (she had driven me to the appointment). 1522 steps, anyway. Not too bad, for total inactivity.


We all continue to surprise ourselves by how sad we feel about the loss of the Duke of Edinburgh. Catdownunder, I was very touched by your blog entry – what a wonderful story! But I forgot to go out on the front step at noon – I’m sure I would have been able to hear the 41-gun-salute from the Castle. I slept badly last night (that doesn't often happen), listening to the World Service talking about him. I'll be glad for tonight's sleep.


I am knitting boldly forward. I think my preference, for corrugated rib, is to change colours – if you’re going to – for the knit stitches. This time I did it on the purls, as I had read somewhere that that was the Proper Way. I have introduced a touch of pink which looks, at the moment, a bit girly, but I am confident that once the other colours get into play it will be all right. I have heard – I think this was in McGregor’s “Fair Isle Knitting” – that there is something about corrugated rib in Mary Thomas’ Knitting Book. I mean to have a look. She is not to be trusted, however, on traditional knitting of any sort. She was interested in fashionable knitting, in separate pieces, carefully sewn together. And why not?




I proceed with Roy Strong. I don’t know where to turn. My tutor suggests Elsa Morante. I gather it’s cold in Rome, too. This morning’s paper says that the vineyards in France are in despair.




I haven’t looked at a map, let alone a globe – but is it significant that volcanoes are in action in Iceland, Sicily (Etna) and now St Vincent in the Caribbean?

Friday, April 09, 2021




I had just got back from my solitary walk around the garden, at midday, and put my head around the mosaic workroom door to let them know that I had safely completed the circuit, and isn’t April wonderful? Helen followed me back down the passage to say that the Duke of Edinburgh was dead; I got back into the workroom with her in time to hear the national anthem – a graver and more solemn version than the one they play in the middle of the night, when Radio Four hands over to the World Service. Both of us were surprised at how sad we felt, and feel.


Various thoughts:


n  By now, 4 pm British Summer Time, Biden’s silence has become conspicuous. We heard from the Taoiseach hours ago, in case bloody Irishness is the problem. And also from George W. Bush, in case it’s a matter of the time difference. One has responsibilities as a head of state, and I think Biden has flubbed this one.

n  I remember the wedding. The time difference meant that I could listen to a bit of it, towards the end, before setting out towards Asbury Park High School.

n  The Duke’s famous “slitty-eyed” remark is a family legend. James was the UPI Beijing correspondent at the time, very junior. The Duke’s remark was made to British students at a private session. James got wind of it, and talked to various people who had been there, and put it at the head of his story. A very grand reporter walked through the press room at the end of the day and said to James, who was still laboriously tapping out his story, “What are you leading with, Sonny?” [I don’t suppose he actually said “Sonny”, but it was implied.]

James told him.


None of us know whether the story was James’s scoop, but we all like to think so.

Thursday, April 08, 2021


Still cold, and very blowy – it sounds like a storm out there just now. But the essential cheerfulness of this time of year is pushing itself forward, at the same time. 2727 steps (on the high side, for me) and I did the circuit of the garden all by myself today. Helen was here, but beginning to be seriously worried about her mid-May deadline for the large mosaic she's working on.


I pressed ahead after yesterday’s desk-work, and cast on wee Hamish’s Calcutta Cup vest. It seems large, which is preferable to seeming small. This is a particularly difficult problem, sizing-wise, since he needs to be able to wear it on Calcutta Cup day next year (Feb or March). And he’s a hefty lad.


I hoped my fingers would have remembered how to do corrugated rib, but they didn’t. I turned to Youtube – how did we ever manage life, before Youtube? – and took the first offering under “corrugated rib”. She was no one I knew, and rather endearing for clumsiness, and went straight for what I suspect is the single most important tip: carry the colour you are going to purl in your dominant hand. Doing it that way, I am still achingly slow, but I am making progress.


Some time many decades ago, when I first got started on Fair Isle knitting (all from books), I think I attempted corrugated rib, and gave it up because it had no expansivity – I suspect there’s a better word – and I thought I was doing it wrong. Now in these days of Youtube I know that flatness is what is to be expected.


I’m finishing the fourth round, at the moment. I had intended to do the ribbing entirely in two colours, but why not branch out? I was surprised to discover (twice today, but how?) that colour changes should be done with the purl colour. I still have (and can still find) my aborted first attempt at Alexander’s Calcutta Cup vest – see yesterday – and there I have changed the knit colour. I doubt if it matters much.




I am pressing on with Roy Strong – after spending all that money, I pretty well have to. He’s enormously energetic, even – or perhaps especially – after his beloved wife died when he was still in his late 60’s. He keeps mentioning that other famous people are becoming fat or flabby or shabby (if not actually dying). He works hard to save himself from those fates, even to the point of having a personal trainer.


I’ll remember May Sarton (I hope), and have a look. Ambermog (comment yesterday) thank you for Elizabeth Jane Howard and the Cazalet Chronicles. I’ve heard of her, but have never read. Wasn’t she married to Kingsley Amis for a while?

Wednesday, April 07, 2021


No score today: I neglected to plug the telephone in last night.


It’s still bitterly cold. Archie and I got once around the garden.


I did, however, fulfil my resolution to get started on wee Hamish’s Calcutta Cup vest. I’ve done the preliminary calculations, and am ready to cast on, fully prepared to start again if the first attempt doesn’t work. My most recent, and most successful, Calcutta Cup vest – for Alexander, in what must have been 2018 – was preceded by much industrious swatching (resulting in a “swatch scarf” for Ketki). And despite all that, my first attempt was grotesquely too large. I took out a whole pattern repeat, and started again from the beginning. Much better.


Chloe, yes, I have a knitting app of some sort – I’ve forgotten its name, and haven’t used it for a long time. But I think I’d rather engage mind and hand on this problem. There were moments this morning, indeed, when I realised I should have left one more blank column between the Cup and the date, when I would have been glad to just slide one or the other over a space. But it’s done now.


For the rest of the time today, I just knit stripes.




Kristen, yes, I read “Speak, Memory” long ago, and enjoyed it very much. It was in my Christmas stocking one year in Kirkmichael – because I had put it there myself. All I can specifically remember was my surprise at the fact that when he was forced into exile – this is Nabokov we are talking about – in his late teens or even early twenties, he was afraid of losing his grasp of the Russian language. I wonder if the book is still on the shelf in Kirkmichael?


Yesterday I settled for the most recent volume of Roy Strong’s diaries, but I’m not enjoying it as much as I did the preceding volume (and also it was much more expensive). All of his posh friends keep dying of unpleasant diseases, and he has lots of posh friends. Often the diaries seem little more than lists of them, attending one grand function after another.


Thank you for May Sarton. The name is completely unfamiliar to me (I think). I’ll have a look.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021


All well, more or less. It’s still bitterly cold. 2450 steps – not too bad, by my dim standards. Archie and I got once around the garden. Helen took half an hour off mosaic-making to plant up the pots on my front step. She is worried about how slowly her work is going.


The yarn arrived from Jamieson & Smith (and is beautiful). I hope I will photograph it for you tomorrow. And tomorrow I must abandon peaceful stripe-knitting in order to chart and count stitches for wee Hamish’s Calcutta Cup vest. It’s no use “1” being a digit that doesn’t take up much space, because “2” is one of the biggies. It’s tempting to start with the legwarmers, for which the pattern has been done for me, and therefore much of the counting. But they’ll probably have to be knit with dp’s, and that is just off-putting enough to keep my nose to the grindstone.


No, the main problem today is, what to read? I thought I had the answer this morning when someone in the paper recommended Len Deighton, of whom I have never read a syllable. (And who is alive and well in his 90’s, I am happy to report.) But it turns out that Penguin is just about to bring out a whole lot of him as Modern English Classics, and meanwhile, what am I going to read today?


I think I’ve largely, or entirely, finished Trollope. I downloaded Mrs Gaskell’s “Ruth” (it was free) but don’t think I’m going to be able to go on with it. Would “Mary Barton” be any better? I plucked Nabokov’s “Pale Fire” from my own shelf but it’s too convoluted and disturbed for my current mood. I’ll have to fall back on biography, diaries or letters at this rate.


The solution for knitting (once planning and counting are behind me) turns out to be “Il Gattopardo”. I have the Audible recording from of old. I like the man who’s reading it to me. And I know the book so well that I can follow it easily. I don’t suppose it does much for my spoken Italian, but it’s soothing, and that’s all I care about just now.

Monday, April 05, 2021


Here we are: another week. Helen is back at work in the study, reports her husband to be well, the dog very glad to see him. She brought her middle son Mungo, the Arabist, with her today, and we walked a small distance to see some street art. 2187 steps. Could be worse.


Very cold today. The family reports snow from Loch Fyne and south London; none here.


And I knit a bit of the Shetland striped sweater mentioned in the sidebar. I think I started it not long after finishing last year’s successful yellow EPS, wanting something colourful for solstice knitting, and then got diverted by the forthcoming-ness of all these great-grandchildren. And it will of course be interrupted again by Calcutta Cup knitting – no one would have expected that, in an odd-numbered year! Meanwhile it’s a peaceful occupation – three-row stripes selected at random from a bag of Uradale Farm yarn. I seem to have assumed at the beginning that calculations could be carried over from the previous sweater – and, indeed, it looks a plausible size.


Reading: I have carried on with “The Viceroys”. Audible, wonderfully, is not synchronised with my Kindle this time, so that I can, as hoped, read ahead in Italian, and then listen until I’ve caught up. I like the man who’s reading to me. Maybe I’ll finish, this time. But it’s a very long book. I feel I need something soothing for the times when I am less intellectually ambitious, but haven't found it yet.


Between Me and You, comment Saturday: thank you for the tip. Maybe that could be tomorrow’s expedition with Archie. I’m sorry to hear that McAree Brothers is gone. It was a good (LYS) shop, and I didn’t go there as often as I ought to have. Arne and Carlos were even there once, and I didn’t go. I had had a long, hard day of hospital visiting – but still, I was a lot stronger then than I am now. I did hear them once, “in person”, at the National Museum of Scotand.







Sunday, April 04, 2021


A bit dim today – I might have gone on to bed, but for your invitation to pontificate on grammar: irresistible.


C. came, and we walked once around the garden (2196 steps so far), pausing to harvest some wild garlic leaves to make a crust for my lunchtime lamb cutlets. I haven’t done much else. Shandy, I started to try to find Wives and Daughters on Youtube and got diverted to the Vatican. I think I have acquired a plenary indulgence by being there for the Pope’s blessing Urbi et Orbi. His henchman specifically said that receiving the blessing through modern media counted just as much as being in St Peter’s.


Otherwise a quiet day. No knitting. Alexander rang up, and we had a good time discussing the forthcoming election. You can’t imagine how much I am enjoying myself. I always took an interest, of course, and sometimes tried to guide my husband one way or another, without much success. But this time – I’ve got a vote! It makes such a difference. I live in an interesting constituency, according to the BBC – that helps a good deal.


Now, grammar. You’re all right, starting with your nun, Mary Lou. You don’t need me. In the Agnus Dei, we are addressing the Lamb of God, “You who take away…” Or “taketh..” if you prefer -- that's a specific second person singular ending. Chris, I think that to involve the Trinity here is more weight than English grammar can bear.


I learned grammar from my mother (“If you imply what I infer/ You’re brighter than I thought you were.”) who presumably got it from her mother. Her father – my maternal grandfather – moved his lips while reading, and is unlikely to have been the source of much grammar. His wife had been a teacher for a few years before succumbing to matrimony. She came from a clever family – the chemistry lab at Mount Holyoke is named for her sister Emma. I remember her, of course, but only as a grandmotherly presence. I wish I had paid more attention.

Tamar (comment yesterday) I will remember what you say. I don't like to bother a doctor just now.

Saturday, April 03, 2021


I felt very odd yesterday – dizzy, and with my sight somewhat occluded, as if I were about to faint. I spent most of the day in bed, and ate little. I surprised myself by how close to “normal” I feel today – I didn’t think I had that much bounce-back-factor left. C. came, and we got once around the garden. 2648 steps – the telefonino is clearly in generous mood.


My tutor didn’t feel well, so we didn’t have an Italian lesson this morning. A great relief.


Helen’s husband David is presumably here, from Thessaloniki. We haven’t seen him for a long time – and I won’t for a while, as he self-isolates with his family. I have read horror stories in the paper recently of six-hour queues for immigration at Heathrow, because of all the Covid paperwork involved, and feared that he would miss the last train. But I had an email last night to say that he was on it, and it seems safe to assume that all is well.


I’ve heard from Jamieson & Smith – my order is on the way. They don’t hang about, up there in Lerwick. I ought to be calculating and charting wee Hamish’s vest, but I haven’t got beyond being glad that “1” takes up less space than any other digit (as in “21” which will appear next to my clumsy rendition of the cup).


I spent some useful time tidying piles of paper-magazines-books on the shelf underneath what might be grandly called the coffee table in the sitting room, in search of the four issues of Knitter’s from 2000 in which Meg elaborates the EPS sweater. I didn’t put them away as I should have, after the successful EPS recently knit. I found them all, and they are now on the shelf where they belong. I haven’t done any actual knitting.


I’ve finished “Wives and Daughters”. It sort of peters out, because Mrs Gaskell died, but not before the happy ending is clearly adumbrated. I do agree with you, Tamar, that such endings are essential, and I also liked your additional remark, that medical mysteries need to be solved. I have tentatively started, for the third or fourth time, reading “The Viceroys” in Italian. That sentence is ambiguous: I’ve never succeeded in finishing it. The idea would be to read a chapter in Italian and then listen to it with Audible, but Audible’s cleverness (see Thursday) makes this difficult. I could listen first and then read, but…

Happy Easter, everybody. We've earned it, I feel.

Thursday, April 01, 2021


The sun came out, this afternoon – what a difference it makes! I got all the way to the butcher’s shop by myself this morning, slightly further than once around the garden, if the telefonino is to be believed. 2503 steps so far. I got myself some Easter lamb, and some lovely-looking French garlic.


The sad news is that the corner shop – the London Street Grocery – has closed. They’ve been open 365 days a year ever since we came to Edinburgh. I remember when their children were born, and on a relatively recent (but pre-Covid) visit, saw the wedding pictures of the eldest of those children – spectacular, in Pakistan. I hope I can find an address, and write a note of farewell.


And it means there’s nowhere within my range for fruit and veg. Everything will have to be planned, and included in the order. No more nipping out for a leek or some basil.


n  And since I wrote that paragraph, the doctor’s surgery rang up with an appointment for my second vaccination!

As for knitting, I finished tidying the ends away for the Polliwog. I haven’t blocked it. I sent the order to Jamieson and Smith for the yarns for wee Hamish’s Calcutta Cup sweater, and for a leg-warmer kit. Alas! however. They have recently been posting pictures of Shetland, with a selection of five or six yarns for each. But today I found most of them gone. The names of the scenes were still there, and the numbers of the yarns – but no colour to remind one. I’ve spent enough time there recently that I think I remembered the name of the scene I wanted, but I felt I was floundering a bit and have probably ordered more than I can use. 


I knit a bit on my EPS in random Shetland stripes, just to have something in my hands. See sidebar.


And I both read and listened to “Wives and Daughters”. Audible delighted me by knowing when I’d read a couple of chapters by myself, and starting from that point without being told. Alas, it doesn’t work in the other direction. When I go back to silent reading after some Audible, I have to find the place for myself.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021


1706 steps – one of those days when I don’t think the telefonino is trying. I baked a loaf of bread. I walked around the garden with Archie (and up and down the steps). We did some gardening on the front step, sowing nasturtiums and salad leaves. Well, perhaps that doesn’t add up to much.


The sourdough tastes nice, and rose properly, but it’s stuck to the parchment paper it was baked on. I’m tempted to try this recipe again more or less right away – it consists of spelt flour plus some seeded flour from Waitrose. And this time, I'll flour the parchment paper. I don’t think I’ve had to do that before, but this loaf may have been wetter than previous attempts. Wet – or “hydration” as we call it – is a good thing in sourdough.


Audio Books works a treat. I don’t entirely like the voice and manner of the woman who is reading “Wives and Daughters” to me, but you can’t have everything. I seem to have some Audio credits, so I got another Italian book, “Lessico Familiare”. Perhaps I’ll try that next.


But the main thing is, it’s splendid for knitting-to, just as I hoped. I finished knitting the Polliwog, including the sewn bind-off, and I’ve dealt with most of the ends. So tomorrow blocking, and sending off that order to Jamieson & Smith. And giving some thought to how to wrap things up and dispatch them to London. I’ll send both shawl and Polliwog to Rachel, to hand on to her new grandchildren when she gets them.


Rachel got the new New Yorker, with the article about Ravelry, last Saturday. I was in despair when it didn’t arrive here even on Monday, but it came yesterday. I don’t think I learned much. Was it a mistake to try to eliminate the pro-Trumps?

Tuesday, March 30, 2021


A fairly productive day. I’m exhausted. Only1890 steps, despite a circuit of the garden with Archie, and my new up-and-down-the-six-steps routine.


However, I’ve made my sourdough. Whether successful or not, we won’t know until it comes out of the oven tomorrow. I have high hopes for it. It’s currently proving for a rather brief second time before spending the night in the refrigerator. I knit a few more stripes on the Polliwog sleeve, and realised that it is not impossible in such a situation – narrow stripes on a small sleeve – to keep the unused yarn from wrapping itself around the work, if one pays attention to what is going on.


Archie’s main achievement, besides walking me around the garden, was to get Audio Books set up on my iPad, so now I can listen to a complete “Wives and Daughters” while I knit. I used to be able to do that by myself – perhaps on a previous iPad. Once Archie had effortlessly done it, there, sure enough! were the Italian books I used to listen to. So that is a step forward.


Gretchen (comment yesterday), I’m inclined to agree with you that it might be interesting to seek out the rest of Mrs Gaskell. At her best, she’s terrific.

Monday, March 29, 2021


It was very windy, last night and this morning. I was allowed by my stern supervisors to stay in. I tried hard to walk up and down the house, and have registered 1951 steps. Could be worse.


I also got a few stripes knit, on the Polliwog sleeve. Still painfully slow, but it’s progress.


And read some more of “Wives and Daughters”. I’m pretty sure, by now, that I’ve read it before, although not at all recently. Shandy (comment yesterday), I have only the vaguest memory of the sidekick policeman in Foyle’s War, although the series was a favourite and I remember Foyle himself and his delicious female driver pretty clearly. It may all come back to me when I see him as Roger. It’s a lot of fun, spotting actors in different roles. My best hit recently was Princess Margaret’s clerical friend in The Crown, previously J.K. Rowling’s one-legged detective.


Gretchen (comment Saturday), I have no idea in what order Mrs Gaskell’s novels were written. It would be interesting to find out. (My guess is Cranford, Wives and Daughters, North and South.)

I mean to attempt sourdough again tomorrow. We shall see. I would have tried this week, but I had been treating my starter carelessly (leaving it out of the refrigerator, unfed) and it got sluggish. It's now back up to strength. I'd hate to lose it. It's nearly a year old. The whole question of how bread gets/got leavened throughout history is interesting and largely unknowable. Wikipedia says that a by-product of beer-making was much used before the modern "baker's yeast" was invented.

Sunday, March 28, 2021


Always a happy day, when the clocks go forward and the light comes back.


2091 steps. C. came.


Helen got vaccinated yesterday. She was worried about feeling under the weather – during the week she devotes all the hours God sends to mosaic-making, and needs the weekends for catching up on Life. She rushed in and out today. I saw her just long enough to hear her say that she felt more or less all right. She’s got all of her boys at home, and I think her husband is going to contrive to get here from Thessaloniki next week.


Still no knitting. I think what I need to do is set Audio Books to work reading “Wives and Daughters” to me. I’ll remember your tip about the film on YouTube, Shandy, but I’ll finish reading first. If an adaptation is really good, like the BBC “Pride and Prejudice”, it’s even better after reading. In this case, I’m not at all sure I haven’t read it before – but it bears reading again.

Saturday, March 27, 2021


That was a most invigorating rugby match, last night. Scotland won by a whisker, in the final seconds.


Today is the 150th anniversary of the first ever international rugby match. It was Scotland v. England, played very near the spot where I am sitting. We won that one, too. Princess Anne is patron of Scottish rugby (a very dutiful and supportive patron). She has made a little video about the anniversary, which I am sure you could find on the SRU website. She refers to Scotland’s victory at Twickenham this year, and allows herself a very small Princess-Anne-y smile as she does so. The Calcutta Cup itself isn’t mentioned. Wikipedia says that it was first awarded in 1879, eight years later.


Last night’s match was against France, which is always fun. We learned to sing the Marseillaise at Hampton Elementary School in Detroit during the war, and I always enjoy singing it silently along with the French team at the beginning. It’s complicated, and there are passages of which I still don’t know the meaning. I have tried to teach myself the Scottish anthem “Flower of Scotland” but find that it doesn’t stick. Essentially, it’s the speech of Macbeth’s which opens Act V, Scene 5. (“Were they not forced with those that should be ours/ We might have met them dareful, beard to beard/ And beat them backward home.”)


C. came this morning, I did my new up-and-down-the-steps thing. We got once around the garden. 2230 steps.


But still no knitting. I must pull myself together.


I had a good Italian lesson this morning. The weather is a bit cooler in Rome, too.




I have turned to “Wives and Daughters”, finding that there is nowt so soothing as Mrs Gaskell.




Thank you for the scam alert yesterday, Helen(anon). Rachel’s husband Ed got caught by that one a few days ago. He didn’t transfer his life’s savings, but he did give them his bank details which they then made use of.


Peggy (comment Wednesday), Toast clothes are indeed preposterously expensive – but they are very well made, and they last. I have two cotton skirts which I wear all the time, and wash constantly because I am always dropping food on myself. They stand up to it brilliantly.

Friday, March 26, 2021


Very feeble, today. Helen was here, mosaic’ing away – we got once around the garden, early, and I did my extra up-and-down of the front steps as well. Since then I have been mostly dozing in my chair. I must try to stay awake this evening to watch Scotland play France at rugby. There is even an implausible set of circumstances by which we might come second in the tournament (of which this is the end) (second, behind Wales, I think).


I did get the stitches picked up for the second Polliwog sleeve, and a stripe or two done to boot. So there isn’t much more to do, even for one as feeble as I – I had probably better order in the yarn for wee Hamish’s Calcutta Cup vest. Jamieson & Smith are always very prompt, but still…

Thursday, March 25, 2021


Not a bad day, nor a terribly productive one. I got my walking done, including the extra up-and-down of the front steps. 2032 steps so far today.


Thank you for all your kind messages. How I wish we could all sail off together, on something like the Royal Yacht (for size) and someone like Skye Gyngell to cook for us! I think the poor Queen was seriously sad when they took it away from her.


Yes, anticipation over the next two months will be half the pleasure. It will be wonderful travelling with C., because we can retreat to our room and talk about the other passengers! The Majestic Line always offers two single cabins, at no increase in fare, on each cruise. They sell out fast, but last time (Outer Hebrides, 2018) I had one of them. We were a very congenial party, but it would have been all the better for someone to chew it over with.  


I got that first sleeve of the Polliwog bound off. I hope to do a bit more this evening – but I often hope that, and almost always fail.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021


Well, big news today. Yesterday – was it only then? – I wrote to the Majestic Line expressing sorrow that our cruise had been cancelled, re-booking for May 2022, but asking to be kept in mind if there were any cancellations for this year (as seemed to me not unlikely, in these uncertain times). And sure enough, they wrote back yesterday evening to say that there’s a place on the Wilderness Cruise leaving May 29. And we’ve booked it.


Both C. and I feel that this one is it. At that most glorious moment in the year. I have gone back to the Toast website (although haven’t yet spent any money). And why? Nobody’s going to go away from that cruise to tell all their friends that there was an old woman from Edinburgh with nice clothes. But…


It’s a good date, too. We’ll be here for the election – that could be done by post, but by now I’m all fired up and want to be here in person to walk into a polling station. And C. will be here for her grandson Hamish’s first birthday. And then we can sail away over the horizon. I must familiarize myself with the geography. Where, exactly, is Inverewe?


There’s not much else to report. I’ve finished the first sleeve of the Polliwog, but not yet done the sewn bind-off. I’ve walked 2102 steps. Jane, I’m sure you’re right, that Archie is softer on me than my other walkers. He came again today, but I was fired up with enthusiasm for the new cruise and didn't need other prodding. One thing I will have to be able to do, is walk up and down stairs (onto the boat, off it, and probably up and down from the main deck to our room). So today I set off on our walk by going down the six steps to the pavement, and then up again, and then down for the walk. I mean to go on doing that.


When my husband and I were moving to Edinburgh, in what now seems our young-and-vigorous late middle age, we liked this flat (amongst many other reasons) because it was all on one level, and we thought that would be a good thing as we became older and feebler. And so it has been. But now I must practise.


I google’d. There doesn’t seem to be any unusual activity on Vesuvius.