More Yarn Will Do The Trick

Thursday, 18 September 2014

The Scottish referendum!

The day of reckoning is finally here and I feel uneasy and strangely emotional. I can only hope the people of Scotland make the right decision for the whole of the UK today. Some of you may be saying what's it got to do with the rest of the UK... a lot I would say.

It's got nothing to do with the old chestnuts of the pound, pensions, defence, and the NHS, important as these are, but they've been discussed till they're run ragged and people are sick of hearing about it. And, at the end of the day, Alex Salmond seems to have no direct answers other than to trust him, all will be fine if you vote him in.

I have no quarrel with the nationalists' slogan Scotland's future in Scottish hands, but this could apply to the whole of the UK and be solved by greater devolution to all regions, not by the largest one splintering off whatever the consequences.

We have had 300 years of the union. Although there is a clear cultural identity to Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there are no borders except emotional ones. There's been much cross-pollination, blended families and it's hard for many people to know where their sense of belonging lies in the British Isles.

Many people, like myself, have a problem identifying with any one part of the UK. My mother's family were Bannisters and Cunninghams, there's Irish in my father's family, I grew up in a Lancashire mill town where my mother worked in the cotton mill and my father delivered coal. I now live in Yorkshire, but also have a home in Wales, where one of my children was born. How can I call myself anything other than British?

There are many things other than the purely physical that link us to a land. My partner has a brother who lived on the Isle of Jura and is buried by his home in the woods.

England is criticised for being colonialist, raping and pillaging the smaller countries in the union. But it's often overlooked that you have to have money to colonise, and it's the upper classes, wherever they live in these isles, who have been the perpetrators of colonialism. The problem is not dependent on where you live but on which family you were born into - rich or poor. Raising a family in a slum is no different whether it's in Lancashire or in Glasgow.

In the industrial revolution working class labour was essential for turning raw resources into hard cash, thus making the rich, who had money to invest, richer, and the poor, who had nothing to lose, wage slaves. My family were union members and passionately Labour. The unions fought for working people and without them we wouldn't have what we have today - not a perfect society, but certainly an improvement on what we had.

Life has changed drastically in the past 50 years, some say Margaret Thatcher changed everything when she broke the unions. I think this theory puts too great an emphasis on her power. Power corrupts and I don't think Arthur Scargill was totally immune to this. We see it in Westminster day after day - professional politicians are hard to read. The smoother the rhetoric, the greater the personal ambition. In today's world it's hard to believe politicians no matter what they claim to stand for. I totally understand why Scots don't wish to be ruled by the Oxbridge/Eton Westminster ticket, but then why do they think that the rest of us relish the idea?

In a world where there are so many different factions all wanting to have their own piece of the power pie, the British Isles is a beacon. We may not have the perfect totally fair and equal society, but we do have a better chance of creating this together.
I've always loved Dick Gaughan's song Both Sides the Tweed - words were originally written by James Hogg (born 1770) about the 1707 Act of Union. Dick Gaughan changed some of the lyric and added his own tune - his song, written in 1979,  says it all for me.

There is a bond between the working peoples of these islands, one which cannot be defined or broken by national boundaries. I hope when Scotland decides, it won't forget this - the union can be greater than the sum of its parts, let's stay together!

Monday, 15 September 2014

Autumn inspiration in our Welsh garden

All go in Wales, especially at this time of year. The cats were like greyhounds out of the traps when they were let out of their boxes, for them it's the glorious 12th, open season on rabbits, mice, birds and any other small creatures they can find...
Arlo waits patiently in the bog garden, ready to pounce on any passing prey
Django's more wily - he knows they barn's the place to be
None of their sedentary slouching around on sofas here!
To a certain extent it's the same with us too.  A quick walk round the garden before dusk was all it took to steel my resolve to get out there first thing and try to tame the jungle. I'm not one for lawns - they gobble up too many of the world's dwindling resources in fertilisers, weeding and mowing for my liking - I prefer low maintenance hard landscaped terraces, saving the grass for the wilder areas where it doesn't matter if it acquires a sprinkling of clover, nettles or cow parsley, the more diverse the better.
Grass is reserved for the wild bits like outside the barn
First things first though, there were a few trees that needed prompt attention - Victoria plum and two damsons, which were shedding their heavy load in the afore-mentioned long grass!

So ladders were brought and fruit harvested, but now, on top of all the gardening, there's nature's bounty to be dealt with. Plums will be going in the freezer, then tonight I'll be making damson jam, my all-time fave. 
Red Admiral
But before then we still had to make some inroads in the garden, so after a strong cup of coffee, we both threw ourselves into the task - P does the strimming and I do what I think of as the machete work, cutting back the shrubs, opening up vistas, trimmng hedges, pruning roses, weeding flower beds etc etc. Give me a pair of secateurs and I'm as happy as a sandgirl. Near instant gratification - I'm always amazed yet delighted at how quickly the garden responds to a relatively small amount of tlc.  And there was a surprise in store by the apple mint...butterflies are usually thin on the ground at this time of year.
Red admirals love the apple mint
Season of colour, the vibrant hues of the autumn make my spirit soar, and hopefully will provide lots of knitting inspiration. So I couldn't help but stop from time to time to take a few photos - the garden seems to have an ethereal glow right now, making the colours even more vivid .
Singing sedums contrasting the blue slate on a dry stone wall
One of my favourite plants at this time of year is the dramatic Ligularia 'Othello', aptly named after the Shakespearean tragedy, as its bold display of dusty burgundy leaves and large golden flowers will wither and die with the first frosts.
Clematis tangutica
Another old friend is Clematis tangutica, which lights up the gable end of the barn with its chinese lanterns.
It wouldn't be Wales without the ubiquitous hydrangeas and fuchsias, both in full swing now...
...accompanied at times by giant bears breeches, which seem to have gone mad this year.
I uncovered these little asters that were completely swamped by the heucheras -  their purply blue breaks up the dark red hue of the heucheras.
The japanese anemones are all but done -  they've had so little water over the very dry summer that these usually upstanding plants were practically on the ground. One of the good things about gardening in Wales is that watering is rarely necessary as it rains all the time. However, they've had a hard time this year and we've had a few fatalities.
The roses especially have had it rough though, and needed emergency treatment.  All except this David Austin rose (the name escapes me) which has soldiered on through the draught and is producing some of the best blooms ever.
It's said that a good year for berries heralds a harsh winter, but the local birds around here - finches, robins, tits and wagtails - are having a beanfeast at the moment with the hedgeroows dripping with fat haws, rosehips, rowanberries, and blackberries.
Bonfire outside the barn
At the end of the day we had a big bonfire to burn the detritis. Unfortunately, as the wood was wet, there was too much smoke to sit around and we had to quickly retreat to the back terrace where we cracked open a bottle of cold white, put our weary feet up and enjoyed the new view. The swallows came out, dodging and diving in the sky getting their evening fill of insects - a lovely bonus as we hadn't seen any during the day and thought they'd headed off to Africa already. 

Hey ho, off for some more hacking - come back soon!

Monday, 1 September 2014

Little Book of Big Holes for Handknitters

For a variety of reasons I haven't been doing much knitting over the summer, so consequently no knit blogs recently. However, today I've got a treat for you. A few months ago when Lucy Neatby asked me if I'd like a copy of her new book, A Little Book of Big Holes for Handknitters, I jumped at the chance, as you can always rely on something new and original from Lucy's needles. 
I was meaning to review it as soon as I'd had a chance to read and digest it, but the best laid plans... First of all there was a couple of weeks in Greece on a reccy for next year's tour, then our two back-to-back Knit France tours. After all the travelling I started to find it really hard to catch up, especially as sciatica was making me pretty miserable too. So to cut a long story short, the book got put aside until I could focus better on its contents, which are quite extensive and detailed for a 'little' book. 
Air Conditioned Gloves
As I'd been experimenting with holey knits myself for a couple of years, I was particularly interested in Lucy's take on it. I'd always used the cast-off and cast-on method to work the holes. I found the resulting hole was never perfect, as there was always a loose stitch at one end, and no matter what I tried, (even using the one-row buttonhole), there was always room for improvement. Eventually I came round to the idea that this didn't matter, thinking I was just being too fussy, so you can imagine my delight when I learned that another designer had tackled the problem.
Spindrift Scarf
The ingenious Lucy had found a way to fix it by inventing a different type of technique altogether. Her method for making holes is a superb piece of thinking outside of the box, and is the peg on which all else hangs, so I'm staying schtum here. Suffice to say it's intriguing and enjoyable once mastered, but you need to get the book and practise it at your leisure.
Spindrift Capelet
Another neat technique is a new way to cast off. This seems complicated when you look at the diagrams, but falls into place when you knit it. As you'd expect from Lucy, tech freaks are well catered for, with an abundance of tips and tricks incorporated into the ten colourful projects, which include mittens, bags, a hat, shawls, scarves, socks and a hottie cover.
Banksia Bag
As I mentioned earlier I haven't been knitting much lately, so I have to come clean and admit I haven't knit anything from the book yet. Mais l'autumn est arrivé! The colours, the scents, the sunsets, the dusky evenings - seasonal inspiration! I'm so looking forward to tucking in with my knitting and a glass of wine by the fireside and top of my knitlist will be a couple of projects from Lucy's book.
Modified Banksia Bag
I just love this glorious time - Halloween, Bonfire Night, many family birthdays, making gifts for Christmas. With the nights drawing in, I love to be outdoors as much as possible - the last few weeks before winter are precious - so I'm looking forward to kick-starting the new knit season with a few jolly little lanterns to illuminate the garden.
Chinese lanterns
Another favourite is the Emperor's scarf, a beautifully crafted piece of knit design, this will be following hard on the heels of the lanterns once I've perfected the technique.
Emperor's Scarf
Emperor's Scarf
It's hard to find something not to like about this book - if you love colour, beautiful images, diverse and original patterns supported by technique videos, you'll be sure to enjoy this book as much as I have.
Mille Feuille Shawl
But if I'm going to be picky, for me there was not enough white space in the book's design. I know this sounds perverse, but I like to digest stuff in bite-sized pieces and when I first opened the e-book I felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information. Maybe it's just me, but I sometimes felt that the dazzling designs got lost in Lucy's very meticulous and explicit instructions. It's that old chestnut again - form follows function - a balancing act between clear instructions and good graphics.
Mille Feuille Shawl
Get the book, judge for yourselves, if you love knitting, this little book won't disappoint.
  • The Little Book of Big Holes for Handknitters by Lucy Neatby
  • USD $19.95
  • ISBN  978-0-9782898-9-8

Monday, 25 August 2014

A walk on the wildside at Castle Howard


I've been doing a lot of work on the computer recently, remodelling and updating my website. Hours just seem to disappear, staring into a black hole where I lose track of time and space. The past couple of years have been crazily busy and consequently, as the website is the least enjoyable part of my work, it was the first thing to be sidelined. So with the start of a new knitting year looming in the autumn, I suddenly felt  the need to give it a facelift, a spring clean to get rid of some old wood and generally rationalise it - if only I could do that with my life too!

All good for the website, not so good for my sciatica, which started to play up again - the more I lose myself in the computer, the more screwed up my back becomes. I tend to be an obsessive type, always keen to get the job done, so I find it hard to take breaks, walk around or even make a cup of tea when I'm working.
You can just see the farmhouse in the distance
So... yesterday I was feeling particularly creeky and cranky, so when my friend Kate suggested we come for lunch and a walk on the Castle Howard estate, I seized the opportunity to get outside and stretch my aching limbs. Computers tend to make us focus on the small things in life, whereas walking and doing more expansive things help to bring the big picture into focus - I felt I really needed a dose of the big picture!
The unmade track to the house
P and I set off in our very old Passat, hoping the phantom knocking that it's been doing recently wouldn't return. A visit to the garage last week found nothing wrong, as it had stopped making the noise just before it arrived - this is one very cussed car! However, this time it manages to get us there and back without mishap - I can only surmise that as it was a Bank Holiday weekend, maybe even the gremlins had gone to the seaside?
Acer in Ray Wood
The weather looked a bit iffy, so on arrival we immediately set off for Ray Wood , where things were already starting to feel pleasantly autumnal. The woods were damp so the earthy end-of-summer aroma hung heavy in the air. I love the blowsy floriforousness of the camellias, rhodos, azaleas and magnolias in spring and high summer, but at this time of year there's something very lovely about the stillness and silence of a woodland preparing itself for the winter.
Beautiful silk-like bark

It was good to feel the warm sunshine when we emerged from the wood. We headed towards the lake passing a wonderful old tree with twisted and gnarled branches that perfectly framed a statue beyond.
Branches of gnarled tree touching the ground
View of statue through the branches

Then on around the lake, where this lovely old tree spreads its silver branches, sparkling like diamonds in the sunshine - with a double dose in its reflection on the water.
Sleeping ducks
It was a lazy day for the ducks too, they didn't move as I walked amongst them taking photos.
The Venetian Bridge
Capability Brown knew what he was doing when he designed the landscape here, the vistas are stunning. There's a fabulous sense of drama when you round a corner and suddenly see views like the Venetian Bridge and the Mausoleum.
The mausoleum
Some of you may remember Brideshead Revisited (shot at Castle Howard) and the beautiful shot of the horse-drawn hearse approaching the mausoleum?
Castle Howard
As we headed back, I turned around and caught sight of this dazzling view of the big house - very dramatic with the rainclouds threatening.
Timber monster

Love the swirling trunk
Wonderful habitat for wildlife
Passing these old trees, which probably came down in the great storm of October 1987, we reminisced about the good times many kids must have had playing in and on them over the years.
Dog roses and hips in the hedgerow
Waterlilies were conspicuous by their absence on the majestic lakes, but when we got back they were still happily blooming in Kate's little pond.  Maybe there are a few more weeks of summer left?
A spritzer in the conservatory beneath the swelling grapes hit the spot on our return...
Add caption
... contemplating the view over to the Temple of the Four Winds.
Temple of the Four Winds
Still more webwork to be done, but for now, life is good!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Devil's Arrows

Funny how one thing leads to another...
As the evenings start to draw in, it occurred to us that the chimney would need sweeping in preparation for the autumn. When there's a chill in the air, there's nothing like a glass of wine in front of a blazing log fire to chase away the chills on an evening. So the sweep was duly summoned, and as our attention was firmly focused on the fireplace, the what if  syndrome started to kick in More specifically, the idea of getting a woodburning stove.
Largest stone at 22.5 feet
P and I are rarely on the same wavelength when it comes to home improvements. In fact, when I occasionally feel moved to initiate some DIY, there's often a deep groan from him first of all, followed by a thousand and one reasons why it's not a good idea. However, on this occasion, the more we talked about a stove, the more it seemed to both of us that it was the best idea ever!  Too good to be true, I thought, better strike while the iron's hot and get some movement on this. So we agreed to splash out on the stove, persuading ourselves even more by the fact that it seemed a much more efficient and ecological option.

Well, so far so good. However, as we mulled everything over - the installation, size of the stove etc, it led us on to the subject of the floor. Would we want it covered by the old and worn carpet, or should we bite the bullet and go for a new floor as well? A no-brainer, of course the carpet had to go. This would have been OK had the boards beneath been good enough for sanding, but a few years ago when we were underpinned, half the floor was taken up to replace boards taken out of another room. These were subsequently replaced by cheap new ones which never matched and were a good reason for covering it with carpet. I always intended to do something about the floor eventually, but the time was never right until it seems...NOW! Hallelujah, this was too good to be true, we were in complete agreement that we should lay a solid wood floor!
Next one at 22 feet
So we found ourselves driving off to a timber yard in Boroughbridge this morning to look at the many different options. By now you may be wondering where this is all leading, and I can now tell you it's a preamble to what we saw on the way. As we were approaching the site, we were admiring the pretty rolling countryside surrounding it, when suddenly I saw two enormous standing stones - the biggest I've ever seen. Although I've lived in Yorkshire for many years I'd never before seen or even heard of these stones and couldn't believe my eyes. So out came the camera and pics duly taken so that when we got back I could do some digging to find out more about them.
The two we saw in the lansdcape by the woodyard.
I'll have to go back and find the third!

I discovered there are three stones, 18,  22 and 22.5 feet high respectively, the tallest being higher than any at Stonehenge. They've had many names: The Devil's Bolts, Three Greyhounds and The Three Sisters, to name a few. Nowadays though they're generally known as The Devil's Arrows and there's an interesting story as to how they got the name. At the end of the seventeenth century, Old Nick was said to be annoyed by a perceived slight from the people of Aldborough (a village closeby), so he threw the stones at the village from the top of How Hill, which is south of Fountains Abbey. However, his aim or his strength must have been underpar that day and the so-called arrows fell short by about a mile and they ended up in Boroughbridge. More pics and info on the stones here.

So the moral of this story is think carefully before you get your chimney swept, you never know how much it might cost or where it might lead you!