Friday, April 30, 2021


Another beautiful day – another chilly one. I walked alone, sorry to say goodbye to April. Glorious May is too much like spending capital. The wild garlic is now in flower – I must harvest some more. It doesn’t last long, once that happens. 2889 steps – I ought to be able to edge it up to 3000. I did it yesterday.


Life is suddenly very quiet. Helen and her colleague seem to be doing well, and have both gone off for the weekend. My Romanian cleaner is similarly absent, celebrating Easter according to the Julian calendar. I had my Italian lesson this morning, because May 1 is a big event in Rome. Delicious emptiness looms.


I hope I will be able to show you a picture of Helen’s work soon. I don’t dare go in there, because Paradox is obsessed with that room and cats and tesserae aren’t a good mixture. She (Helen, not the cat) is making a floor for a well-known distillery: I don’t know whether they will welcome advance publicity. I’ll confer with her nearer finishing time.


But no knitting. I must certainly do better tomorrow – no excuse. Italian tends to flatten me, but that’s over for this weekend.


And as for reading, I forge forward with “I Vicere”.


Not much to report, in fact.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Another dry, chilly day. Archie took some water to the plants on the front step. 2774 steps – I ought to be able to reach 3000 before bed.

 The big news is that that package has safely arrived in London – the shawl, the Polliwog, and Rachel’s Christmas present. We are all of us Mileses, I think, agreed on the un-wisdom of anticipating babies too confidently. Rachel is the grandmother of both of the expected great-grandchildren; she will hand things out as appropriate. A Jewish friend told me once of their practice of buying a baby from God when it is a month old. I’ve never heard of that from any other source, but it seems a good idea. She had suffered such a loss – a baby who didn’t make it that far – as we have. Tens of thousands of people have baby showers and all is well – but I’d rather wait.

 Current affairs: I am enjoying thinking about our Prime Minister, going home to his expensively-decorated flat after a hard day of running the country, and saying to his girlfriend – how could he refrain? – “This is all your fault, dear.” And it is. 

But, oh dear! no knitting.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021


Sorry about yesterday. We were all assembled, from around the world, at blog-writing time, to watch a film about Helen and her mosaics and then she would answer questions. It was a disaster. First ten minutes when we couldn’t get in because the previous zoom session was running late. Then we got in and had ten minutes of a woman poking ineffectively at her keyboard. Then, finally, Helen answering questions – but the film was over.


Here it is, I hope. I think it’s excellent. It begins with a minute or two of the ineffective woman, but rapidly gets better:


Today’s big excitement was that Alexander came to see us. I haven’t seen him since something like October – we sat out on the step that day, I remember, so it’s unlikely to have been too late in the year. I gave him his Christmas present, and we walked around the garden together. 2518 steps so far today – not enuf to aspire to 3000 before bedtime, really. I showed him the Jamieson & Smith pattern I’ve got (with a kit) for knitting Calcutta Cup leg-warmers, and he approved.

The weather is grey and cool. It has been the coldest April in umpteen years. A good thing it wasn't the hottest -- we'd all be fainting in coils. It has been consistently cold, at night anyway, so nature hasn't been coaxed forward in any untoward way.


Not much was done today on wee Hamish’s Calcutta Cup vest – I had unwisely left it within reach of the cats last night, and they had set upon it like furry Rumplestiltskins but with less success. No great harm was done – Shetland yarn really is “sticky” – but it took a while to untangle.


Comment: Shandy, that is an excellent idea, to listen to the Barbara Pym biography while I knit. I hope tomorrow. And Mary Lou, your most recent comment seems to have made it through.


Meanwhile I continue to read “I Vicere” but still haven’t achieved 40%, and am plunged into an historical event I don’t understand. Conversation for my next Italian lesson, if I can figure out what year it is meant to be happening in.

Monday, April 26, 2021


Cooler, greyer. A few drops of water even fell out of the sky – we haven’t seen that for a while. Not enough to do my nasturtiums any good. 2808 steps – I did the garden alone. I ought to be able to reach 3000 tonight.


Well, the secret of life is to make lists, or at least to write down one’s intentions. I took the tape measure to wee Hamish’s vest, as promised yesterday: I think I’m on target for a 28” circumference. That suggests I’ll want about 7 ½” of knitting on the body before introducing the armhole steeks, and the v-neck  a few rounds later. I’ve written all that down (and am amenable to suggestions). I’ve so far knit about 6”. My plan at the moment is to do all that, and then pause for however long it takes to set some cruise knitting in progress.


And as for that, Helen kindly sat down with me this morning and chose some shoes for me to order. Which has been done. As well as some socks. I think, essentially, that leaves only the cats to worry about.


And the nasturtiums. Helen has just left for the evening, clearly tired – if any watering is going to be done tonight, I must do it. That wiull help the step count.


I’ve pressed a bit forward with “I Vicere”. Eileen, I am very grateful for your suggestion of “The Meaningful Stitch”. I went for a podcast this morning that I had heard advertised on the BBC, and didn’t care for it at all, and fell back, so to speak, on Arne and Carlos. They have their charm. I’ll try “The Meaningful Stitch” tomorrow.


I’m also hoping to make my next batch of kimchi tomoirrow. As in the past, I have left it too late and have been forced to buy in some store-boughten. Despite Korean lettering all over the jar, it’s not nearly as good as mine.

Sunday, April 25, 2021


Another bright and beautiful day. 2486 steps – down on yesterday. (I did reach 3000 by bedtime; I won’t attempt it this evening.) (The watering yesterday was successful, Shandy. Thank you for your concern. I won’t attempt that this evening either.)


I’m slightly further forward with wee Hamish’s vest. Are my hands losing their skill? or at any rate, their enthusiasm? Perhaps it’s time to employ a tape measure. What gauge am I actually getting? What will the circumference be? How much further to the underarms? And I could hunt up some more podcasts to knit to – I’m getting sort of tired of “Sit and Knit for a Bit with Arne and Carlos”.


I’m a bit further forward with “I Vicere”, too. Stashdragon (comment yesterday), it would be great fun to have you reading it at the same time. I seem to have been reading it forever, and yet am only 1/3rd of the way through.


Helen and her friend are safely back from Kirkmichael, where all is well.

Saturday, April 24, 2021


Another beautiful day, perhaps a bit colder. Helen has gone off to Kirkmichael with an old friend, after a week of very hard work. I think I had better use my last ounces of strength this evening carrying water to the plants on the front step (rather than knitting). I’ve done 2758 steps so far today. Would another 250 be possible? Water is heavy stuff, so I will have to make more trips than would once have been the case.


My shirt came from Toast today. It’s wonderful (and comfortable, and it fits).


Helen is OK. The dr said there have been lots of odd reactions to the vaccine (AstraZeneca, I think). She is undecided about whether to have the second dose. “A Serious Man” (see yesterday) doesn’t seem to be on Netflix, although a lot of Coen Brother films are. I think I may buy it. Searching for it last night, I read several critics, and it was interesting how different their conclusions were. I would say: It is a film about growing up Jewish in the American Midwest (as the Coens did). It is a film about human life. Odd, bad, undeserved things happen to good people all the time, and then you die; but a few good things happen, too. There probably isn’t a God, but there just might be, and if so, He’s unknowable. Shrodinger’s Cat comes into it at one point -- or perhaps doesn’t! It’s a very interesting film.


I have proceeded with “I Vicere”. I’m now further than I’ve ever progressed before, but goodness! it’s long. That’s the thing about Kindle – you have no sense of the size of a book even once it’s in your hands.

Friday, April 23, 2021


A day of peerless beauty. We even had a sunbather in Drummond Place Gardens – it would still have been a bit too nippy for me. 2716 steps – I had better give some serious thought to pushing it up to 3000, at least occasionally. I walked alone, while Helen toiled on with her mosaic. She left abruptly this afternoon, saying that her dr had phoned and wanted to see her, presumably about the odd reaction she had to her first vaccination but those of us who remember the Coen Bros’ brilliant “A Serious Man” don’t take such phone calls lightly.


Here’s the current state of play with wee Hamish’s Calcutta Cup vest. Progress is slow, as I said. It’s too soon to say whether I like the way it’s working out. But it’s not hopeless.


Our cruise: I’m pressing ahead on the assumption that this – our fourth attempt – that this time it's going to happen. I’m terrified about leaving the house, as I’ve said, but I’ve ordered a shirt from Toast and have let Helen make a hair appt for me. That leaves my feet, and the cats, to attend to.


I continue to press forward with “I Vicere”, but, goodness! it’s long. I’ve done this week’s canto, Inferno-wise.

Thursday, April 22, 2021


Another beautiful day. Thank you for bearing with yesterday’s rant  -- I feared you’d kick me downstairs.


I got around the garden alone today – 2565 steps. Yesterday, with Arehie, slightly fewer. If only dandelions weren’t so – so what? so deep-rooted? – we’d treasure them along with the daffodils for their cheerful springtime faces. And their leaves are good in salads, which is more than can you say for daffodils..


Wee Hamish’s Calcutta Cup vest is advancing. Slowly. It’s time I took a picture for you. I’m aiming for an effect somewhat on the lines of the dust jacket of McGregor’s “Fair Isle Knitting”. I’m using a simple all-over pattern from within. Aiming doesn’t mean hitting and I remain fully prepared to stop and start again. I think I’m beginning to get hold of the pattern, mentally. Once upon a time, it didn’t take me so long.




Having looked up that passage for you yesterday, I went ahead and finished “My Life and Hard Times”, laughing aloud at the passage where Thurber can’t think of “Perth Amboy” and wakes up his father in the middle of the night asking him to name cities in New Jersey. The racism is more than a bit breath-taking, by modern standards, and it is good to be reminded of how fresh the history is: one of the Thurbers’ domestic servants had been a slave. That’s my parents’ generation.


I’m a bit further forward with “I Vicere”, too. It’s going slowly, like the Calcutta Cup vest, but I think I am pushing beyond the furthest point reached on former attempts. Cholera is still raging.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021


 On the evening of November 22, 1963, my dear Uncle Nat, a Dallas lawyer, my mother’s brother, went down to the court house with his partner because they feared Oswald was being denied his civil rights. I don’t think they got very far. They went, not because they didn’t love Kennedy, but because they did…


Last night, as I was going to bed (early, as always) the news told me that the Chauvin jury was still out. They also said that Mr Biden had made a statement indicating clearly which way he wanted them to go, and also that he had phoned the Floyd family. I was uneasy – what about the presumption of innocence, which would have been available even to Adolf Hitler? The BBC may have been uneasy as well, because they kept telling me that the jury was “sequestered” and couldn’t hear the president’s views.


This morning, of course, all such anxieties are subsumed in the general euphoria. Was that a fair trial? Was a fair trial possible?


Mr Biden and I seem increasingly at odds. A few days ago, it was his slow and sloppy response to Prince Philips’s death. For our quarrel before that, see my blog entry for last Saturday, the day of Prince Philip’s funeral. I’m sure he’s not worried about our differences; maybe I should stop fretting.


James Thurber, from “My Life and Hard Times”:


“Ohio State was a land grant university and therefore two years of military drill was compulsory…As a soldier I was never any good at all…One day General Littlefield picked our company out of the whole regiment and tried to get it mixed up by putting it through one movement after another as fast as we could execute them: squads right, squads left, squads on right into line, squads right about, squads left front into line, etc. In about three minutes one hundred and nine men were marching in one direction and I was marching away from them at an angle of forty degrees. ‘Company halt!’ shouted General Littlefield. ‘That man is the only man who has it right!’”


That’s how I feel today.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021


A little bit better. Archie came, and I got around the garden with him in slightly better order than yesterday, when I was on my own. I kept stopping for sit-downs, then. And I got a few rounds of knitting done: back in the saddle. I was encouraged by your remark, Tamar, suggesting that I may be suffering from burnout rather then simple old age.


What Archie and I mean to do tomorrow is prepare the package for dispatch to London, at last: the shawl, the Polliwog, and, by the way, Rachel’s Christmas present. We would have done it today but after a belated steam-pressing of the Polliwog, I thought it would be prudent to wait a day until it was completely dry. But I think I can sign it off, in the sidebar.


And Archie and I have some gardening to do, as well. An order of trailing fuchsias turned up today.


I made some progress – not much – with “I Vicere”. Archie is reading Zola, of whom I know nothing. He is the only grandchild who asks me, What are you reading?


I did a little bit of googl’ing on my own, since there wasn’t an answer here to my question yesterday about glioblastoma. I gather than it is extremely bad news; turns up suddenly with relatively harmless-seeming symptoms, as in Andrew’s case; and that they’re working hard on DNA-specific treatments but haven’t got very far yet. Which is more or less what I expected.

Helen sent me this remarkable picture this morning. You may have seen it already on Instagram. I used to get more knitting done in those days. Ketki is wearing a Tumbling Blocks, of course; and Helen, her wedding sweater, with various significant symbols.

Monday, April 19, 2021


Andrew Doig is dead. I suspect you all know that already.


In case, however, anyone doesn’t: go to Youtube, type in “Fruity Knitting”, and choose from the extensive library of back issues. Any one will do. Andrew was the lights-and-camera man, Andrea the superb and meticulous knitter. She was also brilliant at interviews, never less than completely prepared. But the jewel in the crown, the cherry on the cake, was Andrew learning to knit. Not as a joke, but seriously: and he was making great progress.


He died at a clinic, somewhere in the Black Forest, where they are working on treatments based on the DNA of one’s own tumour. There was a letter in the Times, perhaps a month ago, complaining that people with glioblastoma who wanted to travel to Germany for such treatment had the extra costs of testing and isolation to bear. My question is this: do the results so far offer any glimmer of hope? I know, of course, that no-hope today could mean a spectacular breakthrough in six months’ time. Andrea did a lot of serious research before she bundled Andrew into the car and drove him off to the Black Forest.


Not much else. Still no knitting. What is the matter with me? I got around the garden this morning all by myself – and, goodness! isn’t April wonderful? – but it was a struggle. 1812 steps. It’s relatively early.

Sunday, April 18, 2021


A slow and unsatisfactory day. I’ll have to do better tomorrow. C. and I got once around the garden – 2148 steps. Could be a lot worse.


I have discovered the pleasures of watching television while hunched over my kitchen table – and that means, on Sunday mornings, hunching there instead of knitting in the sitting room, during the Andrew Marr show. 

Andrew Marr has a lot of business to get through before he can get on to the Scottish election. I’m still hoping that he’ll invite my currently favourite politician, Anas Sarwar, the new head of Scottish Labour, in for a talk. “Campaigning as leader and abstaining from food from dawn to sunset during a Covid pandemic is not something I had particularly thought through,” he says in today’s Times (referring to Ramadan, of course). Which I find rather endearing.


No knitting today, and I think I’m ready for bed. I also think I’m still expecting an Amazon delivery.




Thank you for your help with my pre-cruise anxiety. Kristen, your anxiety about a one-night stay away was particularly inspiriting. If you can do it, I can too.  And, Tamar, your advice chimes with what – now that I think of it – used to be my mantra (I suppose one might say) in moments of pre-travel stress: when you suddenly think of something that needs to be done, do it right then. There were specific jobs I meant to get done today, and haven’t, and will now leave until tomorrow; that’s another matter.




I’ve moved forward with both “Mirror Land” and “I Vicere”. In the latter case, Sicily is beginning to experience a cholera epidemic. I’ve got that far forward in the book before, but it is interesting how differently one views an epidemic now that one is engulfed in one. I used to feel vaguely that we have made much progress since the 19th century (which is true) and that we now know about the importance of pure water and general sanitation in warding off cholera, and that not much could ever happen to us. I now feel rather differently.

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.