More Yarn Will Do The Trick

Monday, 18 January 2016

Best laid plans...

Yesterday in London was the memorial  of a dear old friend. P and I had been looking forward to it for months, as we'd been unable to go to his funeral. As I'm still struggling with peripheral neuropathy from the chemo, I'm not yet able to walk very far, so the journey would necessitate taking the wheelchair, sticks, cushions and other paraphernalia that have become a part of everyday life for me.

When I became ill last February, one of my greatest sorrows was that I couldn't play guitar (I could just about knit, although very badly!) and when I eventually picked up my guitar again five months later, I was shocked to find that I couldn't remember many of the songs I'd learnt in the weeks and months preceding my ill health. Added to that was the fact that my voice was so weak I could barely keep in tune and I must say the overall impression of the two together was not pleasurable.
Roland and Sheelagh in their garden
However, as playing guitar and singing had been a constant in my life for so long, I gritted my teeth (and probably so did everyone else around me) and continued to play and sing every morning, as much for therapy as anything else.  So when our friend Sheelagh asked me if I would play at Roland (her husband's) memorial, my kneejerk reaction was to eagerly agree, without thinking about the fact that I was still very rusty and hadn't played in public for over a year, nor for that matter, about the logistics of getting to London and back in a day.

So as the time approached I felt cautiously nervous. As time passed my voice was improving, getting stronger little by little and my guitar playing seemed to be in parallel. I only had to do one song, among 21 other performances, mainly from actors, producers and playwrights as Roland was a theatre director. Previously this would never have bothered me, but now I felt an unfamiliar feeling of apprehension.

Then came the first blip... the frozen shoulder! This made it incredibly painful to play guitar, especially at the bottom of the neck as increasingly my arm wouldn't stretch that far. No problem I thought, as the song I'd planned to sing was one which has a capo on the fifth fret and my arm could just about comfortably do that and, I reasoned, it would be good physio for it.

As the day approached we planned it in detail, arranging for friend Maggie, to come with us to share the driving with P. Another friend Peter, was bringing us a picnic lunch on our arrival. All was set for a smooth and enjoyable day and we were both excited about getting back into the swing of normal life with our first major trip since I'd been unwell.

In the week or so before the memorial I started to feel very tired and fluey, but assumed it was just some cold virus that I'd picked up over Christmas, as we'd seen many more people than usual. Then I started to ache and feel generally unwell and started to wonder what was happening. Was it psychosomatic? How could that be? I really wanted this trip and wouldn't wish to get anything that might jeopardise it. Also it was becoming increasingly difficult for me to sit comfortably as I had a stinging feeling across my buttocks.

I asked P to take a look at it. He quickly noticed that there was quite an extensive rash from my coccyx, down my left leg to the back of my knee. The district nurse was called, but couldn't really say what it was and thought it was a reaction to a new body butter I was using. Unlikely, I thought, so in the absence of any other advice I saw the GP who immediately recognised it as shingles and put me on a course of anti-virals. At this point it was still four days before the memorial and ever hopeful, I convinced myself that I'd be fine after taking the pills for a few days.

I had a routine follow-up appointment with my consultant two days later, who seemed to be quite sanguine about my affliction, but didn't recommend going to London as I might give it to someone else (highly unlikely I thought, as they would have to touch a weeping blister :) - on my bottom!). Anyway, next day dawned and I can't say I was feeling any better at all, so very reluctantly I wrote the email to Sheelagh telling her I had to pull out.

That afternoon P went off into York and in an idle moment I had the idea of making a video of the song. After a few minutes I realised that this was far too ambitious at this late stage and decided to settle for a recording. I could email it to the tech person at the Tricycle Theatre to be played when my turn came. Sorted. The recording went surprisingly smoothly, more because of my pragmatic attitude than anything else. By the time I got to the fifth take, I'd decided it was do or die - despite any imperfections there might be, this take would be it, warts and all, just like a live performance. I stuck to it, see what you think?

But that's not the end of the story. P planned to attend and worked tirelessly all day to get everything ready to be able to leave me safely on my own all day. He decided to get the train to London, even getting an upgrade into first class with complimentary coffee and sandwiches, arriving in good time for the event.
As consolation P thought I'd enjoy this surreal pic of
Kings Cross station taken as he was leaving
He spoke to the engineer and arranged for me to send the mp4 to him which I duly did. All well and good,.. except I didn't hear till P got back that only half the song had been played, as the equipment turned itself off in the middle, leaving the audience wondering what was happening, eventually realising there was no more and breaking out into frustrated applause. I checked what I had sent to see if the fault was mine but there it was in its entirety. Ahhhhh... the best laid plans...

Thanks for dropping by x

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Nature Photo Challenge

Last week I received a nomination from Pete Mitchell, my old guitar guru, to take up a photo challenge to post seven pictures of nature on seven consecutive days, at the same time nominating another photographers to give it a go every day. I was a little reticent about it to begin with, but I have to say it was a lot of fun once I got started. It gave me a reason to look back over many of my old photos and rediscover their stories. My seven days ended today and I thought it would be good to have a record of the photos I chose, hence the purpose of this blog, also to see what you might think of them and which were your favourites and why?
Nature Photo Challenge
Broccoli Romanesco
I came across this Broccoli Romanesco several years ago in the market. I'd never seen anything like it and was so fascinated I couldn't bear to cook and eat it. The conical florets are a perfect example of fractals in nature.
Django and what he thought was his breakfast
One very proud cat with his prey. Eat your heart out David Attenborough! NB No bunnies were harmed in the filming of this shot.

I can't tell you what a buzz it gave me to find this treasure
I found this nest in the garden in Wales and was blown away on catching a glimpse of the vibrant turquoise eggs. I think they may be robin's eggs, but you may know more?
Philip and Ava treading the untrodden snow
Love the colour and texture the lichen has added to the rough-hewn stone
Been trying to cover nature in as many different dimensions as possible in seven days. I was in a slight dilemma here, just couldn't decide which image, so I posted two: the first reminds me of a Russian fairytale, though it was shot in the woods at RHS Harlow Carr, and the second is an old Yorkshire Dales barn. covered in brilliant yellow lichen - you choose.
Could be the Small White, pieris rapae?
This butterfly was having the day from hell! First of all it was locked in the conservatory overnight, and must have been completely dehydrated by the morning, then it was set upon by one of the cats, who must have taken a bite out of its wing. As it was lying lifeless on the mat, I assumed the butterfly must be dead, but after removing the cat, I looked again and it had started to flutter its wings. I usually have a camera at the ready for moments like these, so I quickly grabbed it and took this photo. It recovered fairly quickly after that, so I carefully scooped it up and set it free in the garden, from where it flew off to get some well-earned breakfast.
I've always loved the roadside verges in summer,
 particularly the tracery of cow parsley
A couple of years ago at the Whitby Folk Festival, we took some time out to visit local friends. On the short journey this field of corn caught my eye, glowing luminously in the sun. Of course, this brought the car to a screeching halt so I could get a quick pic on my phone.
Submerged ancient forest of Borth
Dark foreboding sky - perfect backdrop for this massive rainbow
Another dilemma day. I'd planned to have this photo of a rainbow in Ireland to finish off with, but I couldn't bear the idea of leaving out another favourite of a submerged forest. So... another bonus image :). The rainbow appeared just as the coach was leaving the Kerry Woollen Mills, during one of our knitting tours.  The submerged forest was shot on our local beach in Wales. The ferocious storms of a couple of years ago played havoc with the beaches in Cardigan Bay, removing thousands of tons of sand and stripping away layers of peat to reveal the 4500-6000 year old forest of oak, alder, yew and birch trees.

I've thoroughly enjoyed my stroll down photographic memory lane, hope you did too! It was just what was needed on these damp, dismal and dark days to bring some light and colour. Good to be reminded that the days are getting longer now and spring will be here before we know it.  So meanwhile why not light those candles, wrap yourself in a favourite handknit and tuck in by the fireside with a drink of whatever makes you feel good. In Denmark  they call this 'hygge', pronounced a bit like clearing your throat (????), and thought to be derived from our word 'hug' (more likely vise versa). So give yourself a hug, snuggle down with a good book or some knitting and find enjoyment even in the worst of winter weather. Thanks for dropping by x

Friday, 1 January 2016

Happy New Year!**!**!

Warmest wishes to you all. May sadness, sickness, poverty and war continue to be rooted out and much progress made on the rocky road to happiness, health, prosperity and peace for all people.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Christmas cheer - free download

We had a wonderful Christmas as I hope you all did too. The first sign of the impending festive season around here is when the house is filled with the scent of hyacinths. These are usually bought in the market, but this year we actually managed to get our own bulbs to bloom, first time ever and probably due to Philip's big dose of tlc.
Next is our annual business lunch, which we both enjoyed at Ambiente this year, a lingering lunch of many shared dishes of flavoursome food, washed down with a glass or two of full bodied red. The light was fading as we left, but we were just in time to see a gorgeous sunset over York,
City sunset
It wouldn't be  Christmas without one of Cathryn's fabulous wreaths adorning the front door. For weeks before then I'd been feeding the cakes with their festive food, so all that remains to do a few days before is the enjoyable task of decorating them with fruit and nuts.
Cathryn's wreath
I try to make a different pattern every year
 and love experimenting with the colourful ingredients
Pattern, colour and texture, just like in a knitting pattern
It was lovely to have all four of the grandkids together as well as the boys (as I call them, now men) and their partners. Much as I asked him to calm down and chill, Philip was up early baking mince pies and bourikos, a delicious Turkish cheese and pastry savoury.
The four grandees

The other day the dark skies cleared briefly to a crisp cold blue, so we grabbed the chance to go out in search of holly and get our supply of seasonal organic vegetables straight from the farm. As my hair is still at the pixie cut stage, I needed a warm hat to cover the ears, so was delighted to rediscover the Shoowa Hat from my last century book, World Knits.
Moors avenue resplendent against the blue sky
Sunset over Fadmore
After I posted a pic on Facebook recently of me wearing the hat gathering the holly, many of you asked for the pattern. So to celebrate the coming of the New Year I'm republishing the pattern. When I eventually saw the book many years ago, to my horror I realised the charts, created in Stitchpainter, were, for the most part, unreadable (before Stitchpainter became media friendly). So after reaquainting myself with Illustrator and doing some jiggery pokery, I managed to redo the three charts and insert them into the pdf. A minor miracle for me, so hope you enjoy!
Download the pattern here.
The festive colours of the Shoowa Hat
Techniques include tucks, intarsia, circular knitting and fairisle
The hat is a mini workshop in the techniques listed above, but if you don't fancy facing them all in one design, then it would look equally stunning omitting the intarsia and the fairisle tucks and knitting in one colour with contrasting single-colour tucks at brim and crown. If you still feel extra interest is needed a brooch will do the trick.
Kings Staithe, York
The only bad news this Christmas has been the terrible floods. The poor people of Cumbria have had their homes flooded three times. I just don't know how they're coping, but my thoughts are with them.
Other side of the river
Star Inn the city
To a lesser extent we have flooding once more in York. For several years we've had a false sense of security, as after the army had to be called in about ten years ago, York's flood defenses were strengthened and have held fast since. York was protected up to 4.25m above summer river levels. At the moment, however, the level is at 4.99m and won't be receding until tomorrow. 
Museum Gardens
On Christmas Eve we were rung by the Environment Agency and advised not to go out unless absolutely necessary and to keep all animals in. At the moment there is some flooding at the top and bottom of our short road of twenty houses, but the water still hasn't entered any houses up to now. Fingers crossed that everyone stays warm and safe.
Wishing you all peace, health and happiness for the New Year xx
Arlo and Django
PS The cats are at their wisest when it's wet  :) 

Thursday, 10 December 2015

In the swing...

... for Xmas now, P got the tree today and it's waiting in the garden to be installed when we have some small hands around to help dress it. A recent visit to Harlow Carr RHS garden got me going with their wonderful bauble-bedecked  trees making everywhere look SO festive.
Wonderful to look up and find baubles glinting in the trees
Some at lower levels too
P loves the wattle tunnel and woven hurdles
This garden is full of wonderful inspiration, I just loved all the stars, both big and small made from single dogwood wands, bent into a continuous star shape.
The yew foliage and berries added splashes of colour 
Bendy branches of willow would work just as well too
Felt cosy around the garden in knitted beret and
hand woven Irish scarf from Dingle 
Our favourite Xmas tipple, sloe gin, made from last year's bounty from the Mid-Wales hedgerows, has been bottled up ready to be enjoyed with family and friends. 
. Brings back lovely memories of gathering the sloes in autumn  last year
Cakes have been baked and duly brandy-fed and stored away until it's time for their next alcoholic meal. I even seem to be on top of the gifts this year - it's surprising how much you can get done with no pressure from work!

Even had time to rediscovered marbling the other day.Amazing instant gratification for Isabella and Ava, pattern and colour emerge almost effortlessly, just the job for tired young brains after school.
Isabella's favourite pattern
The girls hard at work
Ava's favourite pattern
I'm a firm believer in children being allowed to get dirty
 - at least nothing that warm soapy water won't sort out
And on the knitting front, my most recent FP is this pair of fingerless mittens made for a friend from wool she gave me after a visit to Orkney, where the sheep are fed on seaweed. Not quite sure how this affects the wool - thought at first it might change the colour a tad, but on thinking about it, realise that it's simply that seaweed is the most nutritious native crop for the sheep..
My knitting has been very simple since I've been unwell, but I decided
 to take the plunge again with fairisle in this pair of fingerless mittens
I was quite pleased with the result
Sadly not playing much guitar or ukulele recently, due to a stiff shoulder making it painful... think it may be telling me it's time to throw away my sticks and stop relying on my shoulers to take the strain. I do miss my morning music therapy so am trying my very best to walk unaided in the hope that the shoulder will respond positively.

Wishing you peace and joy over the festive season.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Let's start with the good. It's been a quiet and colourful autumn here in York, with most of the leaves still hanging on and the garden resplendent with fruits, berries and blooms. Nasturtiums, hydrangeas, chrysanthemums, geraniums - yes the geraniums are still flowering their little hearts out - lavender, and even the evergreen magnolia trying hard, though I suspect that the large plump buds will come to nothing as they slowly turn browner and browner with the cooler weather.

Berries first...
The gorgeous iris foetidissima
Cotoneaster horizontalis
Next the fruits...
The blackbirds are working hard trying to finish off
 the grapes, but there are still a few bunches
Next year's figs

And finally the flowers...

Red geraniums sheltered by the front door
Ivy leaved geranium in a hopper
The hydrangeas are drying out now but still a lot of
colour to be had
Another favourite - hydrangea villosa
Small petalled and two tone as the colour drains...
Winter jasmine is just starting to flower
The sculptural castor oil flowers
Last of the bears breeches
This abutilon is slow to get going but doesn't seem to mind
when it gets a tad cold
This little volunteer is the hard worker of the garden - probably
blooming for nine months of the year and positioning
 itself tastefully wherever. it spots a space
Can't  beat a chrysanthemum at this time of year
Old favourite for cheerfulness and usefulness,still
providing leaves and flowers for salads in November.
In two colours too!
Quiet, that was, until news  of the horrific senseless violence in Paris and Beirut hit the news. What is it that from time immemorial, wars have been fought in the name of religion when in fact, I find it hard to believe that any god would sanction the widespread  taking of life that we've seen in recent years.

It's been said many times that the West has dual values when it comes to grieving, giving it more importance when death happens closer to home. Maybe this is true of the people in power, but for many of the rest of us life is precious and a life lost is always a tragedy. So the taking of life in the name of religion is the ultimate act of cowardly aggression and leaves the whole of humanity the poorer. 

There's a poem by Warsan Shire going around Facebook which says it all:
later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the
whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered

So this candle burns for the victims in Paris and Beirut, their families and friends, the men, women and children lost to war whenever and wherever, and also for those fleeing violence - the refugees, many of whom will face another hard winter trying to escape the ravages of war.