More Yarn Will Do The Trick

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Retail therapy

Had another strange day today, went to see Django at the vets to give cuddles, moral support and take in some of his fave Applaws Ocean Fish, but it was completely locked up and no way could we get in. We'd been told we could visit anytime, but I suspect the hospital is somewhere else and I've been so distracted I haven't taken this info in. So I'm assuming no news is good news for the moment and waiting for the nurse's bulletin in the morning, when I'll make an appointment this time and hopefully we'll be able to see him tomorrow.

All your lovely comments certainly help lift my spirits. I love the customized poem posted by Jen of Yarnings1:

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave
with the intention of arriving safely
in an attractive and well preserved body.
But rather to skid in sideways
mouse under one paw
catnip under the other,
body thoroughly used up,
totally worn out and meowing
"WOO HOO what a chase!"

and also the parallels she makes about Django Reinhardt and his feline namesake ie through terrible accidents they were left with a hand and paw respectively scarred and limited. I had completely forgotten that the original Django played such amazing guitar with only two fingers on his left hand. I've often berated myself when fluffing chords and making a mess of a piece thinking if Django could make such incredible music with just two fingers, I should make a better job with a full complement and stop making excuses.

Arlo in his cubbyhole in the laundry
Arlo is missing his friend and mentor and isn't his usual mischievous self. He's very subdued at the moment, sleeping a lot. Usually he makes lots of trouble in the evenings wanting Django to play, when all Django wants to do is to sleep before going out on the razzle for the night. Arlo's taken refuge in the laundry where he's made a nest for himself, waiting for Django to come back. 

After failing to visit Django we decided to visit Ikea instead and distract ourselves with some retail therapy. We needed to stock up on candles and get a new supply of wicker chairs for the garden, as the previous ones finally collapsed at the end of last year and were used for kindling on the chimonea. 

At this point I should say P and I are not frequent visitors to Ikea, we don't go often enough to be familiar with the muddly layout of their stores. Maybe this is not intentional, but I'm sure it's great for business to have confused customers wandering around like zombies for hours. I'm also sure that after people give up trying to escape they find many other things they can't live without. A whole afternoon, or even a day, can disappear as you try to navigate the labyrinth, but it seems it's like the pain of childbirth - you eventually forget and off you go again. 

After the initial delight of filling my trolley with all the things I never knew I needed until I got there had worn off, I was feeling tired and wanting to pay and go. All the reasons why I never enjoy visits to Ikea came flooding back to me. They do a grand job of bringing Swedish taste and good design into our homes, but I can only assume that the people who actually design their stores are drunk on the job, as it's virtually impossible to find the way out! Even their maps are confusing and P prides himself on his A* abilities in map-reading.

So with a trolley piled high with goodies, we were like babes in the wood trying to find our way to the furniture warehouse to collect the whicker chairs. It was only after the fourth circuit of the maze we managed to find someone who could tell us how to get off the hampster wheel! 

Back home with the goodies though I find myself thinking just maybe it was a rainy day well spent.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Django

It's been a strange day today. This morning Fedex delivered one fabulous box of Classsic Elite yarn for a new design I'm doing for the autumn - can't say what the project is at this stage other than that it's an important one. A frisson of excitement was rising as I opened the box to reveal this gorgeous green yarn.

But suddenly P was calling me urgently, I wasn't really listening as I was more imterested in the yarn and mulling over my new design.  Eventually though I had to listen when I heard the words Django is badly hurt, you must come quick! I still didn't really believe there could be anything seriously wrong with Django as I'd seen him only a few moments ago, walking through the garden on his way home, seemingly as right as rain.  It was only when I went to investigate further that I realised we had an emergency on our hands.

Django was in the house, but had had some awful accident outside and the skin on one of his back paws was completely missing and the paw was bleeding and swollen - it looked pretty gruesome and we didn't know if he had other injuries. P got the cat box while I tried to calm him down and together we got him into the box, obviously in pain, but being very stoic.

We got in the car and sped along to the vets which is only five minutes away. She quickly assessed him then told us she was practically certain he'd been hit by a car.  She said he should stay there for observation, x-rays and antibiotics for the weekend and they would update us daily, or if anything untoward was found.  She warned us of the worst case scenario, and though unlikely, my head started to swim when words like amputation were mentioned.

Young Django in the garden
There's no point in saying I'm upset, it just doesn't describe how I feel right now. It immediately occurred to me that if we had kept him indoors, this could never have happened. Many breeders will not sell their cats to people who allow their cats outside, but when we got Django I made it clear from the start that he would be going out. What I love about cats is their independence, their haughty take it or leave it attitude, but especially to see them outside enjoying life sunning themselves in the garden, running through the grass, climbing trees, doing all the things cats do.
Recently in Wales
I've kept outdoor cats all my adult life and never had any problems. We live on a quiet cul-de-sac, away from the main road, with lots of gardens for the cats to explore. In Wales our home is quite isolated with only perhaps four cars a day passing by, so I never really worried about them getting run over. I was more worried about Django getting lost as he's a bit of a wanderer, but since he got locked in a nearby garage for 24 hours he's been slightly more cautious.

Sitting by the pond
At teatime the vet rang to say the x-rays showed that a small piece of the top of his femur had fractured and sheared off. Although he said Django would need surgery on Monday and this sounded terrible, he also told me the condition is not life-threatening and that he should make a full recovery.  However, he wasn't as positive about the injury to his paw. Apparently it's one of the hardest things to heal. It has to be dressed every day, he'll have to have a skin graft and he told me wounds like this often take months to heal. He also said there's some floppiness in his ankle, so as the x-ray didn't show any fracture, they'll be checking his ligaments and tendons later.
Favourite spot
It's hard to write this without feeling tearful, I hate to see an animal (or a person for that matter) in pain. I know what it feels like to have a broken bone and Django must have been hurting a lot, but he was so compliant at the vets - I hope he realised they were trying to help him.

It's late here now and I feel bothered and can't stop thinking about him, especially as the vet said that sometimes cats who've been in a car accident rally and seem to be fine for several hours after, then suddenly just give up. He said this wasn't common but that he needed to say this just in case. I keep telling myself everything seems much worse when you think about it at night...

I hope they've given him lots of painkillers so he can get some rest tonight and that the love and healing thoughts P and I are beaming over to him will give him the strength and determination to get through this.
Hang on in there Mr Reinhardt!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Pie and printers!

A couple of days ago I was making spanakopita, opened the freezer to get some filo pastry and to my horror... there was none! The only thing I could find was puff pastry so, ever the pragmatist, I thought I'd give it a go.
Just out of the oven
What ensued was an enlightening lesson in making do. I discovered an even easier dish that P said he preferred. Win/win!!! All I did was defrost the pastry and line a pyrex dish with half of it. I cooked and drained about three quarters of a packet of frozen spinach, grated one packet of feta cheese et voilà... time to construct the pie.
Anticipation...
Half the cheese went on the bottom, then all the spinach seasoned with salt, pepper and a liberal sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg, then the rest of the cheese on top. I then rolled out the pie lid, placed it on top and pricked around the outside with a fork. After I'd cut around the edges, I  couldn't bear to throw away the leftover pastry so I brushed a splash of milk over the top, cut out some litttle hearts and placed them in a circle. Into the oven at 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for 35 mins and there you have it.  With a mixed salad and a glass or two of white burgundy you have a fabulously easy and pretty decorative supper.
Yum yum...
Not everything has been so easy recently though. My printer has been on its last legs for months now, and the other day it decided enough was enough. Panic! P took it to the friendly print shop at the top of the road and it was duly pronounced dead on arrival.  So the hunt for the next printer began. First of all a replacement was found at said shop, but after installing the software, downloading the update for Mac OS 10.7.3 and asking it to print, guess what?  Right first time, no way would it print and on consulting tech support it turns out it's not compatible. Irritating but as my mother would say, these things are sent to try us.

Back to the drawing board. The next and current one was bought online after making sure it supported the Mac operating system and I now have this beast of a thing sitting on a table in my office, taunting me by also refusing to print. This one is a super-duper wireless printer/scanner/copier/fax. I've installed everything to the letter, done the wireless set-up and I must say it produces very good photocopies and scans. Haven't tested the fax yet, but I can see no reason why it won't be just as efficient at that task too. The only thing it doesn't seem to be able to manage at the moment is the one thing I want it to do which is PRINT A FEW PATTERNS. I'm tearing my hair out and speechless, even fave swear words cannot express how frustrated and powerless I feel.

So... I'm going to ignore it for a while - sometimes works, I'm convinced these machines do have minds of their own - go back to my pattern writing and hope that by the end of the day a miracle might have happened and the blasted thing WILL WORK!

Arlo about to give Django quick wash and brush up
The kitties are a good lesson in zen behaviour which is what I think I need in times like these. They've been racing around play-fighting and mischief-making all morning, but they always know when it's time for a rest. Django duly tucked into his chosen chair and was trying to get some shut-eye when ever-annoying (for Django) Arlo jumped on top of him and decided he needed sprucing up. Django got a compulsory wash and brush up before Arlo eventually tucked in and joined him for a nap.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Japanese short rows

First of all I want to share with you a couple of lovely moments. Isabella and Ava were here on Friday and one of the places they love most is my office. Izzi loves to be the designer, sitting at the table doing her work - she already makes her own fabulous style books and her drawings show amazing perceptiveness with their well observed colour and pattern (don't mind me, I am Gigi after all - granny to the uninitiated - and so proud of them).


Ava always tries hard to do the same as her sister but, being two years younger, her attention span is much shorter so we have to find other things to interest her. As a very large box of yarn had appeared since her last visit, she was interested to know what it was for. I told her it's for my next book and that the first thing I have to do is wind some wool to knit swatches, so of course she immediately wanted to help with this. P also loves winding wool - its a man thing, don't ask - so the two of them set about the job. 
My lovely little swift
Also a lovely surprise appeared in my inbox the other day. The subject was A Song to Jean and when I opened the email it was a hauntingly beautiful song by the Norwegian singer, Ane Bruun. It was sent to me by my friend Hilde, I was so touched, so thank you again Hilde for thinking of me.





OK then, down to business. You may have noticed that from time to time I revisit my column, Ask Jean.  Today is one of those days and I'm focusing on Japanese short rows, which I believe give the very best result if you want the finish to be as near to invisible as possible.


According to the guru of knit technique, the late, great Montse Stanley, in her excellent book The Knitter’s Handbook, (which I find just as comprehensive, much more accessible and easier to handle than The Principles of Knitting, which does my back in every time I pick it up!) there are three ways of avoiding holes in short rows:
1   over - the loosest, requiring the making of an extra stitch (over), then on the long row across all stitches, the over is worked together with next stitch
2   tie - easy and quite neat, the one we know as wrapping a stitch, usually used in short-row shaping
3   catch – neatest, and one and the same as Japanese Short Rows.

Japanese short rows can be used in any situation where you might use conventional short-row shaping, such as darts, shoulders, mitred corners, ruffles, curves or medallions. 
Here’s how using stocking stitch:
On the RS row
1   knit to the turning point in the row
2   turn to WS and slip the next stitch purlwise
3   attach a pin to the working yarn (this is a helpful little trick added by Lucy Neatby) - the pin should go around the yarn, not through it
4   purl the short row back, ignoring the pin, it won't be used until the gap is closed
Knit turning point
Closing the gap
With the Japanese technique the gap is quite noticeable.
1   knit until you reach the gap, where you’ll see the pin is attached to a loop on the WS below the right needle
2   from the knit side, pull the pin and place the pin's loop up onto the left needle. The loop should be correctly mounted with its right leg in front
3   knit the pin's loop together with the next stitch.
4   remove the pin
Knit Gap Closing
On WS row
1   purl to the turning point in the row
2   turn to RS and slip the next stitch purlwise
3   attach a pin to the working yarn as above
4   knit the short row back -- the pin is attached to a loop on the WS
Purl turning point
Closing the gap
1   purl until you reach the gap -- the pin will be attached to a loop under the right needle.
2   slip the first stitch on the left needle purlwise onto the right needle
3   pull the pin and pop the pin's loop up onto the left needle.  The loop should be correctly mounted with its right leg in front.
4   slip the first stitch on the right needle back to the left needle (this slipping of the first stitch is necessary to reverse the order of the stitch and the pin's loop)
5   purl the next stitch together with the pin's loop.
6   remove the pin
Purl Gap Closing
So there you have it, virtually invisible short rows, don’t you wish you’d always known about them!
Knitter’s Handbook by Montse Stanley (David & Charles 2001) paperback

Friday, 20 April 2012

Pop Art

I wanted everyone to retain the grace of a child and not to have to become stilted, confined, ugly beings.  So I created clothes which worked and moved and allowed people to run, to jump, to leap, to retain this precious freedom.  Mary Quant  1966
Vidal Sassoon creating Mary Quant's signature bob
Yesterday friend and colleague, Sue Bradley contacted me about her current exhibition in the window of 28 Milsom Street Bath - the old Culpepers shop. Sue was one of our designers on our Devon & Bath knitters' tour in 2010, inspiring everyone with her unique take on fashion, textiles and knitting. Her work is on display until after the Jubilee so if you're in Bath anytime before then check it out.

Sue Bradley's work at Milsom Place

I've always been a fan of Sue's work and it got me thinking about how over the years I've been influenced by both Pop and OpArt.
More of Sue's work exhibited in Milsom Place
Pop Art is the visual arts movement of the 1950s and '60s, which aimed to close the gap between real life and art. Its images were taken from mass culture, artists duplicating beer bottles, soup cans, comic strips, road signs, and similar objects in paintings, collages, and sculptures. Others incorporated the objects themselves into their paintings or sculptures, which often used the materials of modern technology, such as plastic, polyurethane foam, and acrylic paint. The movement had a significant impact on commercial, graphic, and fashion design as many of its originators were commercial artists.

Peter Blake's Sgt Pepper Album cover
London was humming in the swinging sixties. I remember as a teenager busking with my guitar in the Portobello Road street market, where the atmosphere was electric, a cosmopolitan circus of exotic foods, weird curios and friendly people wearing beads, bells and amazing clothes, the whole belting out the message that anything goes. With its cheap imports and ubiquitous scent of patchouli, Carnaby Street also encouraged individual expression and became the epicentre of the new youth culture. 


Youth was empowered!  The Beatles and other Liverpool bands revolutionised popular music with the Mersey beat.  In the States Bob Dylan rallied a generation with his protest songs and the wild, inventive guitar playing of Jimi Hendrix made him a style icon of the time. Pop festivals mushroomed and Woodstockdefined a generation of flower powered, pot-smoking, peace-lovers, who read Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception and J.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings

Many young people shunned western religion, the Buddhist search for nirvana  had a wide appeal.  In London it was not unusual to see the saffron robes usually worn by Tibetan monks, even if the wearer hailed from no further east than Stepney.  One of my favourite cookery books was Edward Espe Brown's Tassajara Bread Book, a collection of deliciously scrumptious breads, biscuits and cakes, edited by one of the monks at the Californian Zen Buddhist monastery at Tassajara.  I still bake their heavenly banana bread whenever time and ripe bananas permit. 


Food played a big part in Pop Art. In England David Hockney produced TyphooTea, one of the earliest paintings to portray a brand-name commercial product. In the US Rauschenberg painted cast bronzes of Ballantine beer cans, Claes Oldenburg constructed garish, humorous plastic sculptures of hamburgers and other fast-food items, whilst Andy Warhol immortalised the Campbell’s soup-can.  

However, it was the powerfully graphic images of Op Artists like Victor Vasarely and Bridget Riley that intrigued me.  Op Art got its name from the optical tricks used to create the illusion of movement through spirals, circles, stripes and squares.  Some years ago I was delighted to come across many of Vasarely’s magical paintings and shimmering tapestries in a gallery which was once his home in Gordes, Provence. 


Bridget Riley's Blaze 1
In Britain Bridget Riley’s dynamic and dazzling canvasses focused attention on Op Art and influenced many aspects of decorative art and fashion.  Black and white zebra stripes popped up everywhere.  Mary Quant invented the mini-skirt which, when worn with white Cour√©gges boots, created a striking space-age image every fashion-conscious young woman craved - from Twiggy even to Germaine Greer.  

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Live Music Act - Yaaaaay!!!

Rare for private members' bills to
become acts of parliament
Over the moon that it's been confirmed that come October 1st the Live Music Act will be law. This means that live amplified music can be performed between 8pm and 11pm in venues under a 200-person capacity without the permission of the local authority. What a fantastic boost for keeping music live in England and Wales.


The music industry is hosting a big party at the House of Commons to celebrate and Show of Hands have been chosen to represent the folk/roots genre. One of my fave bands, they're a fabulous combination of musicianship, charisma and ethics. Although Steve Knightley, Phil Beer and Miranda Sykes have their own bands and always make amazing sounds, there's something much greater than the sum of the three individuals when they play together as Show of Hands. 

Here they're spreading the word about corrupt bankers in Arrogance, Ignorance & Greed on the Andrew Marr Show with William Hague and Trevor Phillips looking on.


Read more here:
Show of Hands at House of Commons - SpiralEarth:

'via Blog this'

Monday, 16 April 2012

My father

Usually I'm not one for dwelling on things, preferring to get on and live in the moment. But this isn't always possible. A couple of days ago I learnt that my stepmother had died two years ago and my stepbrother, her only son, had also died some time before that. No-one told me as the rest of my father's family were not in contact and so presumably didn't know.

My father died eleven years ago, whilst we were hosting our first knitters' tour in Wales. I got a call from my stepbrother to say I had better come quick if I wanted to see my father alive again. I immediately got in the car and drove the two hundred miles, but sadly he was gone by the time I arrived at the hospital. I had seen him at home shortly before the tour started, in bed and very poorly with emphysema. I didn't realise that it was as serious as it was as he'd been battling with this horrible disease for twenty years and often had bouts of breathlessness. On this occasion my stepmother doggedly stood by his bed and refused to allow me to get close, hold his hand or have any time alone with him. P was there and he tried to attract her attention outside of the bedroom, but she stuck to her post, obviously not wishing me to have any quality time with my father.

It occured to me that she thought he may have wanted to quietly slip some money into my hand as he sometimes did for birthdays or Christmas presents - she certainly didn't want him doing that. At this point I should say that my father has never, as my mother put it,  had two ha'pennies to rub together. He had no interest in material things and when he died you could probably have put all his possessions in one suitcase.

He'd never had any money or education and his working life was spent delivering coal, first of all with a horse and cart, then from a lorry which someone else drove.  My father never learnt to drive. He eventually ended up working in a plastic moulding factory where one day an oven blew and he got the full force of the blast and this did for his lungs. He retired soon after with a few hundred pounds compensation and of course didn't demur, but accepted what was handed out gratefully.

He was a sensitive man who married young and had three wives. His first wife was only eighteen when she contracted tuberculosis. It was during WW2 and although my father had been called up, he was at that time still in the UK. However, compassionate leave didn't exist for canon fodder and she died before he could see her.

Still emotionally raw from losing his wife, he was subsequently sent to Burma where he engaged with the Japanese, witnessing all manner of atrocities which filled his head for the rest of his life. He told me how on the boat going out there, his breath was taken away by the most beautiful sight he'd ever seen, rounding a promontory at the Cape of Good Hope, and seeing Table Mountain in the distance. He also told me that when the troops were put on planes and dropped into combat zones they were transported like cargo in the hold with neither seats nor straps. He contracted malaria three times, but was sent back to the front line again and again. At that time Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was unheard of, so my father was left to fight his demons alone or with whoever he could find to listen.

After the war he met my mother who later became his second wife. It was never a good match, she was on the rebound from the love of her life, a New Zealand volunteer in the war. He asked her to marry him, but she refused as she couldn't bear to leave her family and move to NZ. My father was still grieving for his first wife, plus trying to cope with the trauma the war had inflicted on him. He suffered from terrible twitches and had a compulsive need tell his story, to say over and over he never wanted to kill anybody.

So it was inevitable that my parents would eventually split and this happened when I was fourteen. I always believed my father truly loved my mother and would have done anything for her, but she just wasn't interested and found him wanting in many ways. So a few years later he found his third wife. I had little contact with him after my parents separated, he didn't have a phone and neither of us bothered with letters.  Once I had two toddlers though, I started to think it was time he met his grandchildren.

He lived with his new wife in her family home and my father seemed happy and quite relaxed - he had a little garden and a greenhouse where he grew tomatoes and lettuce. So I decided one day to take the plunge and arrange to visit with my then husband and our little boys. Big mistake - I didn't see my father again for fifteen years.

My stepmother obviously felt I was a threat and she took it out on the kids. She told me they were little hooligans and that they needed a good hiding and they should only speak when spoken to. She made it impossible for me to take the kids there again and it was only when Felix was born that I made the next attempt to rekindle my relationship with my father. Regretting that he'd had little contact with the first two, I wanted to give him another opportunity with Felix. This time things went a little better, she was never openly horrible to Felix, but her dislike of me hung heavy on the air and there was always an atmosphere. During the years that followed, Felix saw his grandad and a loving relationship developed and I think my father really appreciated this.

Although I do believe my stepmother genuinely loved my dad, he was very henpecked and I often lamented that he was like a man whose spirit was broken, completely dependent for his emotional and physical welfare on her. In fact I sometimes felt guilty about disliking her as she looked after him so well (I was going to write uncomplainingly but that would give you the wrong idea, she was not a martyr, in fact she complained about everything, engaged in many personal vendettas and didn't even speak to her own grandchildren). However, she probably had her own demons to cope with and the best I can say is that they seemed happy together.

When my father died, I could never have foreseen the depth of her dislike for me. She refused to tell me where or when the funeral was, this required detective work in the local paper. She didn't speak to me at the crematorium nor did she invite me back. Tristan and Felix came with me to the funeral and I remember it was as if we were invisible, the celebrant mentioned my father's loving stepson and wife, but made no reference to his daughter or grandsons. My father's brother and sister recognised this and were very kind to us, though nothing was said I suspect they weren't particularly fond of my stepmother.

After the funeral I asked her for a photo of my father and was told bitterly that I had had one photo, I wasn't getting anymore. As she put it You're getting nothing and I never want to see you or your children again. After the dust had settled P rang up my stepbrother and tried to make him understand that all I wanted were a few pictures, thinking he might be able to arrange this without his mother knowing. It never occurred to P that he would relate everything to her, resulting in her immediately picking up the phone and telling us not to harass her son and not to contact either of them ever again.  That was the last I heard from her.

So when I found out that my stepmother had died I realised I'd never truly grieved for my father. It slowly dawned that now she and her son were gone, all trace of him had gone too. I'd always assumed that when she died her son, who was never overtly unkind to me, would phone and ask if I would like anything from the few things my father had owned. Maybe a watch, his signet ring, or even his precious war medals which I knew meant a lot to my dad.  After he separated from my mum it was the one thing he asked for and to think they've been consigned to a house clearance, sold on by people who never knew him, makes me very sad.

So this news, especially that my stepbrother had died, upset me inordinately, as no matter how awful they were, they were the only contact with my father and his life.  I'd pinned my hopes on my stepbrother and now that he is no longer, I realise that I'll never have anything to remind me of my father other than my memories. My clearest memory is from when I was about eight, a latchkey kid as my mother worked in the mill until 5.30 and my father, who finished earlier, sometimes had a gill of beer before calling in at the bookie's to have a bet on the horses. If he'd won anything from the day before, he'd come back and share his winnings with me and we'd play cards -  pontoon for real money before my mother came home.

But people also live on through the things they chose, used, ideas they had and pictures taken of them. The lack of any of these does leave a space, especially when I'm reminded by the pleasure other people get from having their parent's things around them. I'll never really know my father, what he thought, if he was happy with his life or if I ever made him proud - my stepmother never allowed him to say and he was never strong enough to insist.

When he died I remember someone saying to me oh well, you weren't close to him, were you? He meant well, thinking he was consoling me, but at the time it was doubly hurtful, as it didn't recognise that whether or not I was close to him, I was grieving for my father as well as for the years and times that were lost.


Thursday, 12 April 2012

Portmeirion

There were a lot of jobs on the list yesterday. P had expected the super-duper ladder that would allow him to tackle the three metre high hedge running up a steep slope to have arrived, but as ever the best laid plans... So after establishing there was some technical glitch with the ladder's delivery, we decided on a complete impulse to take ourselves off to Portmeirion. We'd read the weather forecast, it was rain, rain and more rain, but we thought sod it, we'll take the kagools and wellies and have a great time anyway.
Portmeirion village
So we headed off, aiming for coffee in the plush comfort and warmth of Castell Deudreath, which looks out onto a beautiful formal garden. We thought that would set us up well for a cold wet walk, but as we drove north, the weather got better and better until on our arrival we had blue skies and glorious sunshine.

Portmeirion isn't everyone's cup of tea, although I've never understood why. People often stare at me in disbelief when I say it's one of my favourite places on the planet. It's got everything, especially if you're looking to get the design juices flowing. Words like naff, twee, kitsch and even hideous are bandied around, when all I see is an absolutely gorgeous place chock full of inspiring decorative design - the vision of the celebrated architect/designer Clough Williams-Ellis, who was unafraid to transform his dreams into reality.

Susan Williams_Ellis' cut-out black sheep,
designed for The Welsh Wool Shop


The Italianate village is sometimes said to sit uneasy under grey Welsh skies, but I've been many times in all weathers and it never fails to excite, inspire and educate me. As far as I'm concerned it's refreshing to witness unabashed eccentricity - a veritable visual feast!
Clough with Frank Lloyd Wright Portmeirion 1956
I refuse to believe that anyone who's ever walked in Y Gwyllt (the wilderness) could truly say it's not a heavenly place. Looking across the magnificent estuary, with beautiful beaches, caves and wildlife, planted in the true Williams-Ellis eclectic style of wild exotic is one thing. But then there are the towering canopies of rhodos, camellias, magnolias and sitka spruce, underplanted with Portuguese laurels, hydrangeas, tree ferns, skimmias, bamboos and lovely naturalised wild flowers and bulbs, all punctuated by exuberant gazebos and hidey-holes and surprises. I noticed yesterday with great approval that all the bluebells were the native variety and not the invasive Spanish ones.
Reflections in the lake with pagoda and bridge
Maybe Portmeirion sometimes gets a bad press because of its association with the 1960s series The Prisoner, and it's true to say there is a shop dedicated to its merchandising. Even this I can't understand as from what I can remember from way back, it was quite a quirky and interesting show. There are probably many more visitors on the prisoner trail than there for the wildlife or planting, but the place has to be sustained somehow and if that's what it takes...  It certainly does nothing to inhibit its very special locus genii (spirit of the place) and it's great to see the place flourish, so obviously still loved and well looked after.
Golden buddha from the film
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness
Clough Williams-Ellis was certainly very eclectic and maybe it's this that I identify with most. The diverse range of wacky objects and buildings he's assembled at Portmeirion are a life's work, each item added with love as and when the opportunity arose, whenever he could afford to indulge his passion. For me wandering around enjoying this man's vision and catholic creativity is a joy. In 1957 after The Inn of the Sixth Happiness was shot up the road near Beddgelert, he managed to acquire a gold-painted Buddha used on the set - seems his designer's hat was always on, forever on the lookout for new and interesting pieces to add to his work in progress.

View of the estuary inland
View of estuary towards Bardsey Island - high tide
You can probably tell by now that I'm totally and hopelessly in love with this place.  I could write a whole book on its charms. For now though, I'm going to show you a few more images to whet your appetite and encourage you to visit this magical place at some time in your life. Enjoy!

THE VILLAGE
Stairway to heaven!
Mermaid with Clough's signature turquoise on ironwork


Another one of many mermaids

Armillary sphere
Soldier with lizard

View of estuary framed through arch
Friendly lion at the entrance

Tile insert


Tulips by river
Even the hosepipe is part of the design

Y GWYLLT

Amazing old Sitka spruce

Sitka Spruce shadows
Pagoda on lake

Waterlilies on the lake

Wonderful spring green

Tree fern unfolding

The dog cemetry
Rhodo petal strewn path

The dancing tree, with apologies for not dancing, I needed a rest!


THE ESTUARY
Tide going out
Lichen on rocks

Ebbing tide revealing the fabulous beach