Monday, 31 October 2011

Z is for Zumbador

Zumbador was one of the words in the 'words beginning with Z' list I found on the internet.  The defninition gave it as a South American bird.  I researched it a little further and found that it seems to be Spanish for hummingbird.  And then I found this little film clip.  I love watching birds and if you have a minute or two do take a look.  It's happy-making.

Zumbador reminds me of the old West Country word  for a bumble bee 'dumbledore'. 

And then I started looking at videos of Zumba classes.  Wow. 

Now that does look like fun.  I love the music and there was a time when I could have moved like that.  Not so sure now.

So, we are at the end of our ABC.  It's been great, I've met some wonderful people and learned lots. 
Thanks everyone.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Patterns in Nature

Patterns in tree bark
I was intrigued to see these patches in tree bark because they reminded me of something.  It's almost like an aboriginal art.

A stripey branch
I've tried to find pictures on the web to illustrate what I mean, but I haven't found anything that comes close.  So I'm reverting to a photo of a hollow log coffin that I took at the British Museum a while back.  It does nothing to support my fancy that the tree bark looks like an aboriginal painting, but I like it anyway for the shapes and colour. 
Aboriginal Hollow Log Coffin at the British Museum
Which moves me on to another theory that I must research.  Artefacts like the hollow log coffins and other aboriginal works often remind me of European design in the 1950s and I wonder if that's when these works were being discovered and first valued as works of art.  I know so little about this subject.  What a wonderful world.  So much to find out.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

An October Walk

Walking below Ashdown Copse looking towards Sidbury Hill
On a walk in mid October I can begin to feel the grey part of the year approaching.  There are little accent snatches of bluest harebell and deep purple/pink ragged robin still to be seen all jostled roughly by a strong wind blowing across the hillside.

And then there was this little flower. 
The Common Rock Rose
The hillside was simply covered with this plant although only a few flowers remained and I can only imagine what it must be like when out in full flower, so I have to be sure to go back.  It's a form of helianthemum.  I grow a strong red variety in my garden.  It clearly likes chalky soil a lot.

The tussocky hillside smothered in helianthemum plants
On the top of this hill was an ancient field system and a burial mound.  The mound had been dug into and turned into an observation post during World War II, like so many around here.  There was something a little creepy up there and I don't know whether it was just the turn of the year or my mood, or my sadness about the burial mound, or the grey sky.  A jay flew into the woodland, a very shy bird and I noticed how very silent is their flight.  Ghostly.

I was cheered up by a flock of long tailed tits rushing through the bushes looking for berries.  Hard to be melancholy when you see their dapper little bodies busying about and all vying for the best pickings.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

'Y' is for Y

'Y' is for Y, another instalment in the ABC meme set up by An Accidental Knitter

Section of Y's sampler of what was called Plain Sewing
I first knew Y when I was a little girl.  Her name was Ynona, but she was always known as Y.  Born in 1916 she was educated in a Belgian convent.  She struggled through her sampler at the convent, having little interest in needlework and it always reminds me of a sampler described by Rozsika Parker in 'The Subversive Stitch'.  In contrast to other seventeenth century samplers with verses about love and duty, diligence and obedience there is Polly Cook's, whose sampler reads

'Polly Cook did it and she hated every stitch she did in it'

Y would have felt the same.  She didn't really understand my fascination with embroidery and knitting.  She was completely baffled by my interest in how to launder things properly.  But she used to tell me about her attempts to knit a pullover for her first husband and how she would knit on long train journeys to see her brother at his RAF base on the east coast early in World War II.  She described the result as 'full of holes' but her husband wore it anyway, out of love for her.

Knowing my interest Y gave me all the crochet and embroidery pieces that her beautiful mother, Belle and her aunt had made.  Some of them were in a sorry state and I'm still working to launder and restore them.  Y couldn't understand why I would do all this just to pack them in lavendar in a box, but was happy that they gave me pleasure.

Y was related to dukes of the realm, to princesses in fact, but her branch of the family had no money and so she had to earn her living.  With no practical education, she capitalised on her looks and style, did a little work as an extra in films and also took what she called 'a dancing job' in Milan, a great adventure for her.  She also modelled lingerie at fancy department stores.

From Y's scrapbook, the programme for her 'dancing job' in 1935. 
She was part of a troupe known as 'le Young Ladies of Mayfair'
She was a lively, beautiful young girl during the last years of the 'long party' between the two World Wars, living in London and having a wonderful time.   She had so many stories, like the one about being chased around a large dining table at a smart London address by an over-amorous young man and we laughed together as she described skidding round the corners on the wooden floors in her party shoes.  We shared an absurd love of slapstick.  Now I come to think about it, she never did tell me whether he caught her.
Programme for Gala Evenings, 1939
Y's husband died in 1943 after attempting an escape from a Japanese prisoner of war camp.  Her beloved older brother and only sibling, a Flight Lieutenant was killed in 1942 in a Lysander near Alexandria.  Y also lost many of her friends.   Her only son died tragically in his thirties during the 1960s.  After the war and right into her seventies Y worked tirelessly to support herself, learning whatever skills were needed to earn her living, something her upbringing had not really prepared her for.

Never, ever bitter or self pitying, this courageous lady had no surviving close family and invested her energies in building a circle of friends, most of them many years younger than herself.  A highly intelligent, sometimes challenging lady with an enquiring mind, Y would have made the most of a decent education if the opportunity had been there.  She would have absolutely loved the internet for the world it could open up to her.

Y in 1935
Y died on her 86th birthday after a long battle with her last illness.  She died in her own bed at home with her lipstick on.  As she would have wanted.

I think of Y often.  She taught me so much about standards, about endurance and style, about life between the wars and during World War II and about the world she came from.  As always in these circumstances, I wish I had asked her more.  I'm priveleged to have known her.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Another One Finished

Rather Smart

When Mum was still able to knit in any quantity she chose a variegated yarn to make a waistcoat, but didn't buy enough.  So she did the fronts and we decided to buy a dark navy to do the back. Then knitting became more difficult for her and I took it away (some time ago) and finished the back and button bands this week. 

This has come up rather better than I expected and I managed to find some rather snazzy buttons in my button tin which tone in nicely.  Mum will have forgotten all about this project by now and it is being wrapped up for her birthday as a surprise.  Just the right thing for this time of year.

What is so good about this is that she managed to do so much of it and that will please her.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Linen stitch again

Wash Mitt and Lily of  The Valley Soap
Mum's birthday coming up soon.  I have made some of her presents and one is this wash mitt in green and cream cotton, knitted in my favourite slip stitch - linen stitch.  It knits up to a dense fabric.

Linen Stitch
Because it knits up so densely you use slightly larger size needle than normal for your chosen yarn. 
Use a multiple of 2 stitches.  For the wash mitt I cast on 34 stitches in DK cottons and used 5mm needles.
Row 1,  Col 1 :   K1 *yfwd, sl1pw, ybk K1*    last stitch K1
Row 2,  Col 1 :   K1 *sl1pw, yfwd, p1, ybk*    last stitch K1
Row 3,  Col 2 :   As row 1
Row 4,  Col 2 :   As row 2

I started the decreases for the top of the mitt when it was six inches long.  All a bit experimental,  but I'm quite pleased with the result.

Monday, 17 October 2011

X is for ...

... had a bit of trouble deciding what X is for.  So, I had to resort to a dictionary - first time during this ABC meme hosted by An Accidental Knitter.

A few words appealed to me.

Seen in the Victoria and Albert museum
a 19th century embroidery in silk on linen from Skyros -  Greek Island

Xebec - a small mediterranean three masted trading ship with oars.  It was similar to the ships used by Barbary pirates.  Can't believe my luck as this allows me to use the photo above of an embroidery I found in the V&A a couple of years ago.  It appears to show a xebec.

Xenops - a small tropical rainforest bird of the ovenbird family.

All the ovenbirds you will ever want to see are on this link

Xystarch - the definition on the website was worded "ancient Greek officer in charge of gymnastic exercises".  I think it means an officer in Ancient Greece.  Although I like to think of some ancient officer, disappointed by too few promotions and embittered as younger men pass him by, exercising what little authority he has left by putting them through hell on the exercise ground. 

That's what it was like at the gel's school I went to.  Our Physical Training mistress was just like that.  Xystarch.  A small fearsome spinster with metallic grey hair that never moved, even in a high wind.  I never once in five years ever saw her smile.  Boy was she starchy and boy did we suffer.  Gymnastics was a nightmare not to mention hockey in sub zero temperatures.  Indoors if it was wet to have the off-side rule explained to us.  I didn't get it then and I don't get it now. 

We must have  been a huge disappointment to her.  I can still hear her shouting "Oh Misery!" at the latest feeble attempt to vault, run, hit the ball with the stick, pass a baton, get a ball over the net, get another ball through a hoop.  All the usual forms of torture.

Friday, 14 October 2011

A late evening stroll

Twilight at the top of Sidbury Hill
On the first Sunday in October we walked Sidbury Hill at dusk.  The weather was fine and warm breezes wafted across the grass.

We saw an owl make a kill and surprised a badger out on his evening rounds.  And somewhere lower down the hill unearthly cries, something between a bark and a shout.  Whatever it was moved swiftly across the land.  A deer?  A fox?

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Where is this blog going? Notes to self...

Norwegian Door Jamb 1050-1070
Because I like it
Blogging is therapeutic and allows me to keep a record of things I love and want to share with others.  But there are things to think about now.  The blog is 8 months old.  We are moving into winter a bit of a seasonal change is in the wind.  The temptation is to move right into another meme as the ABC meme hosted by An Accidental Knitter comes to a close, but I have challenged myself here.  Do I need to focus on finding a voice?

Today I've looked at the Blog Hub Group on Ravelry and read through the hints and tips experienced bloggers have given on others' sites.  (How generous these people are with their time).

This prompted me to make notes to myself:
  • Pictures need to be bright and cheery.  Many of mine are, but some are a bit  muted.
  • There needs to be more focus on the writing style
  • There need to be more references to other peoples' blogs and links to websites that might interest readers.  I'm not doing enough to contribute to the blog community
  • The profile may need a bit of a revamp
  • Bit more radical - Have I got one blog here or two?  There are the craft bits, the nature and countryside bits, the vintage bits.  Do they work altogether, or does one thing dilute another?  I really don't know the answer to this.  I like multi-faceted blogs, but I have seen critiques that encourage greater focus in blogs.
The search will continue for other thoughts and ideas and comments are welcome.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Works in Progress

W for Works in Progress, another post in the ABC meme hosted by An Accidental Knitter.

Discipline is key.  So projects started these days don't tend to drag on.  And I even managed to finish a couple of WIPs in the last few months left over from last year.  Maybe I am less ambitious now than years ago when I started some very long standing WIPs still in my collection.  I prefer to think of these as heritage items.

There is the double bed sized patchwork coverlet started in 1980.  It's backed onto a soft teal sheet now, but I cut the sheet in the wrong place and don't know how to finish it.  Some innovative thinking required here.  And strong nerve.

I can remember when we first moved to Wiltshire laying this out on the lawn to figure out where to go next with the pattern and an elderly neighbour came along, Mr. Orchard who had twinkly eyes and rosy apple cheeks.  He looked over the garden gate and said,
"What be you doin?"

Some of the patches are outlined in feather stitch
Too much work has gone into this to abandon it, but oh my goodness, I fear the work to come.

There are embroidered daisies at strategic points around the border
This hasn't come out of the bag for a couple of years and deserves to be finished
This embroidered Christmas tablecloth has a motif like this in each corner.  Started about twenty years ago.  I try to do a bit each Christmas, but have even failed in this is the last couple of years.
From a pattern in an Anna magazine which was done in silver and gold thread, it looked a bit icky, so I chose my own colour scheme, but like an idiot I started doing it with only one and two strands of embroidery thread, so it takes forever. 

There is a tapestry I started about fifteen years ago.  Knowing my limitations and how it would take years to complete I even made a special cotton bag for it and the frame to keep the dust off.  A very little gets done each Christmas while watching the films on the box. 

This is a project for those tired evenings when I don't want to think too hard about stitches and tension
This pink crochet 'thing' has been going on for about four years, I think.  It's circular and folded in half will make a comfy shawl.  No pattern.  I just do whatever I fancy doing when I pick it up and it has developed these very cosy ruffles.  My chap hates pink and really resents this object, but our house is chilly and I lose the feeling in my hands and arms when reading in bed, and my shoulders tense up so this is a 'round the shoulder reading companion'.  (It may be my age, or my chilly house, but does anyone else collect old bedjacket patterns?  I love them).

Framing all the rectangles in black crochet to create a kind of stained glass window effect
I am often given other people's collections of patterns, needles and works in progress. One of these was a heap of knitted cotton rectangles, purpose unkown.  I have fallen very behind on the knitted patchwork throw I intended to make from them to gift back to the friend who gave me her Gran's collection.

And there are bits mum has started and is unable to finish.

Mum's waistcoat - I'm sure this will be fine when it's put together
Her waistcoat for which she didn't buy enough yarn, so the fronts are variegated purples and the back is navy blue.  She had done the fronts and I have done the back and just need to put it together. (I hate putting together).  I think the button bands will need to  be navy blue.

 I really dislike knitting with this yarn and have the whole top to do - hey-ho  
Her peach coloured shell top which has lace at the sleeves and bottom edge.  The lace defeated her, so I have the whole thing to do.  I've managed to complete the lace on one sleeve.

Then there are the presents and charity stall items that must be finished before Christmas.
This of course doesn't cover the list of things that are projects in my mind to start and finish for charity knitting and Christmas presents. 

And do you know what?   It's fun to create pressure for yourself in this way.  Mum and I can keep ourselves entertained for hours just thinking about what we might do.  Mum who was an expert can barely knit now, but the works in our heads release her from the struggle of living with disability and release me from the mundane day-to day battles of modern life and work.  It's better than chocolate.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Old Man's Beard
Gerard the herbalist who published his Herbal in 1597 called this plant 'Traveller's Joy' because it decorated the 'waies and hedges where people travel'.  Also known as 'Gypsies' bacca' because gypsies smoked the hollow stems.  A form of clematis, the whole plant is poisonous.

I must have seen miles of this driving through the lanes of the south of England.  As autumn moves into winter it gets greyer and stragglier and old and beardy looking, but seen here as the sun came up on the last day of September the seed heads are brighter pink than any I have ever seen.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011


Pickpit Hill in the early morning from the base of Sidbury Hill
- it's the bit left of centre with the little clump of trees
Last Friday for my long walk I climbed to the top of Sidbury Hill to look across at Pickpit Hill.  

While I was up on Sidbury Hill walking the Iron Age ramparts I had a chat with the woolly highland cattle that wander the hill and look so at home there.  The burial mounds are clumped and scattered across the landscape below and ancient boundary lines roll out across the landscape.  Pickpit Hill called to me.

Walking back down the hill across the valley and up the other side I battled through some undergrowth to find my way to the top of Pickpit Hill so that I could look back at Sidbury.

Last bit of the ascent of Pickpit Hill - getting a bit tired now
At the top of Pickpit is an ancient burial mound, an Ordnance Survey triangulation point, the remains of a building put there in World War II.  And there are the views of Sidbury Hill across the valley and across Salisbury Plain.

Sidbury Hill from Pickpit Hill

This was an unexpectedly beautiful October morning.  I hadn't set out intending to do both hills but the skyline drew me on.  It took four hours, partly because I stopped on both hills to have an apple and just look at the world.  It was priceless and cost me nothing at all.

Monday, 3 October 2011

V is for Voracious

Mostly 'his' - car manuals, engineering texts and somewhere in there several editions of The Ball Bearing Journal

Another post for the ABC meme by An Accidental Knitter.

I am a voracious reader.  A friend at university called me 'the shredder' because of the way I got through books.

I read fiction and non-fiction.  I pass on modern fiction to friends and charity shops (which is where a lot of it comes from), but find it difficult to part with non-fiction and 19th Century classics.  I'm not a huge fan of the Victorians, but they could spin a good yarn and I keep going back to them.

After we discovered that the book case on the landing was coming through the dining room ceiling due to overloading there was a major redistribution.  And there will have to be another since all the upstairs floors on that side of the house now need to come up and three more book cases will need to be cleared.  So, I'm trying to read my way through books I have had for decades so that I can let them go.

The books I will have to part with are mostly strange and obscure history books written by now discredited historians in the thirties and forties.  It's interesting to read them from the perspective of events at the time they were written.  One I read recently was about Nelson, Wellington and the Peninsular War where I learned that many details in the Sharpe books by Bernard Cornwell (Sharpe's Rifles, etc), and subsequent TV series starring Sean Bean were based in historical fact right down to those rather fetching green jackets.  This old book, written in late thirties used a lot of first hand sources and what really came across was the terrible hardship endured by the armies on all sides as they tried to move around the Peninsula in winter.

A lot of the art history will have to go as well.  The natural history books, poetry, gardening, cookery and craft books (mainly embroidery and knitting), are untouchable. They stay, floors or no floors.

In recent weeks I have been reading :

Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis de Bernieres
It's been published a long time now and I'd never read it or seen the film.  One of the funniest, saddest, most harrowing and poignant books I have ever read.

Boudica, Dreaming the Eagle - Manda Scott
First of a trilogy.  Somehow you know the story won't end well.  Since the written history of this period is so scant, and what exists was written by the invaders (the Romans), this is a tremendous work of the imagination and absolutely gripping.

The Virgin's Lover - Philippa Gregory
A good page turner, like all Philippa Gregory's books. 

Currently reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell who writes so devastatingly with such a light touch.  He wrote Cloud Atlas which I read some years ago and was blown away by it.

Next up - might be A Place of Greater Safety, by Hilary Mantel.  I read Wolf Hall last year and will read it again (one of the rare occasions when I would re-read a work of modern fiction).  I watched a documentary about Hilary Mantel last week - what a fascinating writer. 

This list leans heavily towards historical novels, but I actually love thrillers and detective fiction and recently have got through a fair bit of Jeffrey Deaver.

And on the non-fiction side I am looking forward to A Gambling Man by Jenny Uglow about Charles II and the Restoration.  Jenny Uglow wrote a lovely book a few years ago called A Little History of British Gardening.

And I still do all my reading on paper.  The whole tactile experience is part of it for me.  Not sure I'll ever take to reading at great length on any form of screen.