Saturday 24 February 2018


Odd jobs around the house often take us a while to complete. They get put on a 'to-do' list, reviewed and re-shuffled on a semi-regular basis, and eventually work their way to the top. 

Sometimes they never get done - case in point, my daughter's bedroom curtains. She wanted a black-out blind for her bedroom, which we installed on the day of purchase. She also chose some decorative gauze curtains to drape artistically in front of the blind (on the inside). These required a curtain rail to be installed - tricky because the blind was screwed to the only available space on the wooden window frame, and the plaster surrounding the window frame was (to use a technical term) "dodgy". By this I mean crumbly, in need of repair, likely to fall off in chunks if a drill comes near it, and concealing a layer of brickwork which (previous experience has already taught us) is as impervious to a masonry drill bit as granite. Making the installation of a curtain rail the kind of hypothetical 'ten minute job' that turns into hours/days/weeks of frustration, misery, mess and recriminations. So what actually happened was that the curtain rail job went onto a prominently placed 'to-do' list, the gauze curtains disappeared into the depths of the airing cupboard, and after a couple of years (maybe five, probably more) we got the windows replaced and had integral venetian blinds installed. Problem solved!

In spite of these parental short-comings my daughter survived into adult-hood, and is still living at home. For the past three months (since Carpetgate) she has been unable to fully close her bedroom door because the new carpet is so much thicker than the old one. While we had managed to plane the bottoms of most of the downstairs doors almost straight away (mostly out of necessity, due to draughts and the XXSCat dog needing to be kept at bay when parcel delivery men and other dangerous intruders knock at the front door), we stalled when it came to her door. Firstly, it was upstairs, and she could almost shut it if she pushed it hard enough. Secondly, it's possibly one of the original doors (from the 1930s) and the hinges were buried under thick layers of paint. We couldn't even see the screw heads, never mind unscrew them. So we simply recovered from the carpet-fitting for a few weeks. Then it was Christmas. In the New Year we bought the paint stripper paste and waited a couple more weeks to find the right time to apply it (one weekend when my daughter was away). Then I had a minor surgery on my leg which didn't heal properly, and a taxi-driver crashed into the back of my car, so I didn't feel physically up to it. Finally, yesterday, we couldn't put it off any longer. Off it came, down the stairs, out into the garden onto the trestles, and the fun commenced. A bit of squabbling, a lot of helpless giggling*, and two more trips up and down the stairs to get it just right** and the job was done.

* Me, wielding the planer: "Let's have a bash at it and see if we can get it anything like!"
  Husband: "Ah, yes, a classic quote from the perfectionist craftswoman/joiner!"

** The house has settled a bit in the past 90 years, so it has always been possible to see daylight at the top of the frame. Now you can see daylight at the bottom as well, and rather than being rectangular the door is more rhomboid in shape. But still, just right! 

It could really do with a lick of paint now...where is that 'to-do' list?

While we were in Seahouses, and for the last couple of days, I've been working on the cowl for my friend, and it's finally finished. I decided that three skeins were enough in the end, as it fits me snugly wrapped twice, but isn't too long and cumbersome if left unwrapped. Since she is quite a petite, slender person (which I am not) it should fit nicely around her rather more swan-like neck!

Now for some baby blankets, for colleagues who are adding to their famillies in the next couple of months...

Monday 19 February 2018


Our holiday in Northumberland came to an end on Saturday. It's lovely to be home, where everything is familiar and comfortable and I've enjoyed sleeping in my own bed and relaxing back into my own space...

...but it broke my heart just a little to leave the beach behind. I honestly think that if there's a heaven it will be like that beach - just a wide expanse of mother-of-pearl sky, water and sand stretching as far as the eye can see. 

We arrived just before the sun went down on Monday, picked up the key and headed straight across the road to the shore. The sun was setting behind the sand dunes at our backs, creating an incredible peach/pink/violet glow (reflected/refracted?) in the sky above the sea which was just breath-takingly beautiful. 
The following morning we were up in time to enjoy a spectacular sunrise. Because the beach is so flat the out-going tide leaves a thin film of water on the sand which perfectly reflects the colour of the sky like an enormous irridescent mirror. I loved the textured polka-dot effect of worm casts in the sand and the random seaweed collages scattered along the high-tide line. 
A stroll along the road into the village at Seahouses was followed by a return to the beach at the end of the day for another dramatic light show. My new camera made it possible to really zoom in on the Farne Island lighthouse in the distance, as well as capturing the panoramic sweep of the beach.
Let's just have a closer look at that rock in the bottom right corner - isn't it fabulous?

As a knitter, I think I'm programmed to notice texture. I was fascinated by the rippling patterns the receding tide left in the sand. The more I looked, the more I saw. No wonder traditional fishermen's ganseys were covered in intricate cables - the inspiration is everywhere!
On Friday we drove up the coast to Lindisfarne for a wander round the island. The castle is closed for rennovations, but I rather liked the dramatic effect of the intricate carapace of scaffolding enveloping it. We skirted the ruins of the Priory and meandered through the graveyard, but the blustery wind and the turn of the tide soon sent us travelling back across the causeway to the mainland.

Another evening stroll along the beach at high tide and another treasure trove of seaweed and sand art. In places it looked like there had been some kind of alien massacre - leaving organs and limbs scattered indiscriminately across the battlefield. There was a morbid fascination in noting the similarities between the root structures of these marine plants and the design of our own circulatory systems!

The pictures below were taken at the water's edge, where thin layers of coarse black sand were artfully deposited by the ebbing and flowing of the tide, creating shifting sandscapes of trees, mountains and clouds. I could have spent hours watching these images appear and then wash away. Like one of those magnetic drawing boards with the metal filings we had as children, where you drew with the magnetic 'pen' and then shook the screen to start again.
These pictures were taken on our final morning walk. I found the 'seashell of the week', with an opalescent blue lining and a muted stripy shell, took a beach selfie of our shadows along the dreamy shore, and chuckled at the seabird landing prints in the sand. The thought of home was lovely, but I had more than a few tears in my eyes leaving the beach behind.
I have an idea in my head for a free form knitted shawl/wrap, based on the Charles Rennie Mackintosh lines in the sand patterns below. It could take a while to come to fruition, but at least if I put the thought into words I'm one small step closer to actualisation!

Sunday 11 February 2018 preparations

Tomorrow we're off to Northumberland for 5 nights, staying in a little studio apartment across the road from the beach at Seahouses. Even though there is a forecast including gusty winds, rain and sleet, I'm still looking forward to walks along the beach, interspersed with hot chocolate, reading, knitting and (more than likely) working our way through the 'Breaking Bad' boxset. I've been deliberating for a few weeks about up-grading from my smart-phone camera to a 'proper' camera, so a short break in one of the most beautiful parts of the country seemed like a good excuse to take the plunge. So here is a rather blurry portrait of the new camera taken with the trusty smart-phone camera...
...and here are the first attempts at using it:
An afternoon of clearing leaves, de-brambling and dead-heading in the front garden resulting in a wheelie-bin's worth of stuff for the Council composter and some extra breathing space for these lovely snowdrops.
I opted for this camera because the reviews suggested that it would be a manageable step up from a smart-phone camera, as it has a lot of touch-screen features and a fairly straight-forward 'point and shoot' auto mode. I think it will still take a while for me to get used to it - it's tiny, so my hands feel clumsy and fumbly when I'm holding it, and I have to think very hard about how to get to where I want to be - i.e. which button to press to view the photos I've taken, how to delete them, how to transfer them to my phone for uploading etc. But I think I can see the difference in the quality of the images, so I'm going to roll with my resistance and keep practicing until I overcome it.

The XXSCat dog has had a pre-holiday home haircut and bath earlier today, so she is giving me the cold shoulder and feeling a bit sorry for herself. She does her best to sit still while I haphazardly snip away, but always ends up looking a little odd and uneven for the first week or so afterwards. If she liked non-family humans a little more I would take her to a dog-groomer, but I'm pretty sure both she and the groomer would have an absolutely miserable time and end up hating each other. 
I need to start making a list of things to pack/take on holiday. I'm not an eager traveller - I like home too much - so my poor husband is normally tearing his hair out by the time we hit the road after a flurry of last minute tidying (so it's even nicer to be home when we get back) and general procrastination/delaying tactics. Like adding a pre-holiday blog entry instead of getting on with the list!

Friday 9 February 2018

...this and that

Related image
  • Years (decades) ago I visited a Mondrian exhibition in Holland, and was completely fascinated by the early work on display, particularly his paintings of trees. Mondrian is so famous for those geometrical abstract paintings - black and white grids broken up with areas of primary colour - it was hard to believe I was looking at the work of the same artist. I bought a postcard of the above painting as a souvenir, and it is one of my favourites. We were out walking in the woods the weekend before last and I was immediately struck by the similarity in the lines and colours of the bare green tree trunks against the warm russet leaves. Life imitating art!

    • Another day, another walk. A very old, very mossy oak tree, bare branches twisting skywards.
    • My daughter treated me to a year's subscription to the Rowan Knitting and Crochet magazine for my birthday this year. I used to have a subscription and have picked up a few second-hand copies here and there since I let it lapse, so there are quite a lot of past issues in my knitting 'library'. It was lovely to receive the brand new copy in the post - such a beautifully photographed and presented collection of knitwear! I particularly love the crocheted/woven wrap on the front cover. As with the vast majority of Rowan patterns I will probably never get round to actually making it, but it gives me so much pleasure just to drool over it!

    • I pulled over and took this photo of the most spectacular sunset from my car window on the way home from work last week. It doesn't really do justice to the  glorious gold and peach display, but it would have been rude not to try and capture at least a brief reminder of the moment.

    • I worked on this chunky garter stitch jumper during January. It was for my middle child, who needed something really warm and cosy to wear during the self-build construction of his very own first house. It's not the most beautiful thing in the world, but it fits quite nicely and will do the job it's intended to do. I'm very pleased with myself that I saw it through. There were a few moments (front neck shaping, picking up collar stitches and sewing it together) when I could have easily put it aside for something more interesting and colourful and fun, but he had actually asked me to make him something to wear on the building site so I couldn't let him down. Forgot to take a photo of him modelling it though! The pattern (Rugged Charm by Ruth Maddock) is available on Ravelry - the only adaptation I made was to the collar. Middle child didn't like the floppy rolled neck so I just made it to match the cuffs and hem. I'm really not a sweater knitting person (I've decided) but at least chunky yarn knits up quickly, and the garter stitch ridges made seaming it together very easy.

    • I'm rewarding myself with a nice new project I've invented myself, involving self striping sock yarn and an interestingly sculptural (but prosaically named) stitch pattern (Pattern 156) from Hewitt and Daley's 'Classic Knitted Cotton Edgings' book. It's going to be a cowl for one of my friends at work. At the moment my only issue with it is that I've only bought three balls of yarn, and I think it may need four - I want it to be long enough to wrap twice around the neck. Watch this space.

    • Finally last weekend's walk brought glad tidings of springtime - catkins and primroses boldly blossoming in the mild February sunshine. And the days are definitely getting longer - hooray!