Fish Out Of Water

IMG_5305The Pike has landed!

I’m sure he is very relieved to be out of his plywood case and able to look around him again, although in unfamiliar surroundings far from his native pool – which no longer exists anyway. There are some who think that I (and those of my family who have aided and abetted me in this undertaking) have gone more than slightly mad. There are many who wonder why on earth my father ever had Mr Betteridge stuff the biggest fish that didn’t get away in the first place, and why The Pike was mounted and displayed in my parents’ front room for nearly 70 years.

I understand my Dad, though. Apart from his wartime service in the RAF, the capture and landing of The Pike was his crowning triumph. He no longer had to stretch his arms out when boasting to his friends: the proof was there, his greatest trophy glaring at him for the rest of his life, with its “malevolent aged grin” (Ted Hughes)

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Dad with his prize catch on 31 July 1950. Note the old Anderson air-raid shelter behind him, converted into our garden shed!

I told the tale here a few years ago  What I didn’t realise then was that actually, my father hadn’t gone fishing on his motorbike but on a normal bicycle. That makes the story even more amazing! Imagine riding your pushbike home, uphill all the way, with a metre-long live (and lively) pike strapped to the crossbar – presumably with the head (and those teeth) peeping over the handlebars. (Pause while you let your mind boggle …)

After my mother died and we cleared my parental home, my daughter had a few pieces of furniture and objects of sentimental value packed up and shipped to our holiday home in Brittany.

The Pike was wrapped in blankets and stowed away in a specially made plywood crate, with the intention of bringing him to stay with me in Switzerland. Alas, this crate was too big and bulky to be transported in a normal sized car when there were passengers and dogs, as is usually the case when any of the family goes to Brittany: it is a holiday home, after all, and the family also needs luggage when they go on holiday. And so when all the stuff from England arrived in Brittany in October 2018, the plywood crate was parked in the garage and there it stayed – until this Easter Sunday, when my daughter and I loaded it into my granddaughter’s VW people-carrier and brought it triumphantly to Switzerland (and no hassle at the customs, either!).

My granddaughter needed her car back – she had been forced to manage without it for all the weeks we were “confined” in France – and I wasn’t going home for a while because of my “vulnerable” status, so the crate remained under the stairs in my daughter’s home for another 4 weeks. Then we borrowed the VW again, and last Thursday I was returned victoriously to my own home, together with my loot, where the screws were removed from the crate. My son-in-law had been forecasting dire consequences of all the bumping about that it had undergone, and would not have been at all surprised to find the glass case filled with piles of dust and fish scales. But as the blankets in which it was swaddled came off, The Pike emerged unscathed, just a bit dusty on top.

Now here it stands in all its glory, still looking as if would like to bite your arm off given half a chance, on what the Germans call my “Lowboard” (low sideboard) which is the perfect size and height for it. In fact, it’s rather strange to have it at this height: at my parents’ house it was always at adult eye-level. Now it’s at a child’s level. Over the years, it has terrified and fascinated small children, the nearest thing to a real monster that they had come close to. My great-grandchildren all saw it, way above their heads, at Great-Granny’s house, at a “safe” distance. How will they react now?

Their father is also an angler, as is his father, and the kids have all been on fishing excursions with their Papi and Opa, and have even managed to catch fish themselves – we had some delicious trout last week caught by my five-year-old great-grandson.

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Trout caught by my 5-year-old great-grandson and his Daddy, cooked by my son-in-law – shared by son-in-law and me!

But The Pike, at close quarters, is something else.

It isn’t unusual to find antlers from deer, chamois and other cervidae mounted on plaques and hanging in Swiss homes. However, I don’t know anyone else with a stuffed fish apart from some old friends who had a huge stuffed swordfish on their wall in Palo Verde, California, and that was a very long time ago.

It’s nice to be back. I have had a great nine weeks of very congenial company, which was far better than being stuck in solitary confinement at home, but now I shall enjoy my solitude for a little while. My pampering continued right up to the moment of my return, as my daughter and son-in-law had been shopping for me and I have enough food and other necessities to last for a very long time. That includes tea, toilet paper and yarn.

And on the subject of yarn: my crocheting continues apace! After I finished my heirloom Corona blanket, which used up almost 33 balls of wool, I had 7 balls left and crocheted a sham pillow-case to match. Forty balls of wool at 75 m each gives a total of 3 kilometres but in fact, as I often noticed a mistake on a previous row or even several rows back, I had to unravel and re-work many times so I probably crocheted more like 5 km of wool in this marathon effort – and was very surprised when my daughter informed me that it had only taken me just over 2 weeks to do!

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Of course, my fingers now can’t keep still. It’s a permanent affliction, like St Vitus Dance. If I’m not writing on the computer, I’m crocheting. My tally so far:IMG_5315

Cardigan, started during my visit to my Middle Granddaughter in February, using wool donated by my daughter (see Repair Your inner Rainbow)  Not exactly according to the original pattern, which was shorter in the body and longer in the sleeves. I prefer mine.

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Shawlette in white cotton, would have been bigger if I had had more yarn. This is a pretty pattern, starting with the bottom corner or point, so you just keep going till you run out of yarn.

 

 

 

 

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Four market bags (I’d call them tote bags) for my daughter and each of my granddaughters, colours appropriate to each. A steep learning curve for me, as the pattern – by Drops – was basically just a chart of one seventh of the finished semicircle. I had never worked from a chart before, without any instructions such as to how many stitches I should have at the end of each row and what I should actually be doing with each stitch, so I felt I had been transported to Bletchley Park. Little by little, it became clearer so each subsequent bag was slightly different from the previous one, though nobody would know! By the time I got to the fourth bag, I had almost figured it out so I have bought some more cotton yarn to make another one, this time doing EXACTLY what I’m supposed to. IMG_5233

 

With the leftover yarn from these bags, I made two doll figures. VERY scary! They look like something from a Frankenstein story. Not to be given to children, I think! Not sure what’s going to become of those and I must protest that I am not deliberately setting out to scare children, whatever circumstantial evidence you may produce.

 

 

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Frankenstein’s monster and his bride …

Another shawlette in a ginger wool/silk mixture donated by Middle Granddaughter in February with pretty autumn-leaves-coloured merino from my daughter for the edging, but only just worked up in the same pattern as the white one. I was the one who got worked up, actually. Following a tip from a dear friend who is a knitting whizz, I wound the wool around the cardboard middle of a toilet roll. The idea of this is that when you slip the cardboard roll out, you have a nice relaxed ball of wool with an end poking out of the middle. The advantage is that as you use up the yarn from the inside, the ball itself stays still and doesn’t race around all over the place. Yes. True.

The disadvantage is that sometimes you get what is called a “yarn barf” when the emerging string of yarn disgorges an attached lump of not-so-well-wound wool which, if you are lucky, may just mean you have a few yards more than you really need between your work and the ball, or if you are unlucky, you have to disentangle a cat’s cradle.

I’m not saying I was unlucky. I just didn’t wind my yarn as expertly as I should have done. My “barf” was more of a disembowelment. I am proud to say that I spent four hours patiently undoing the Gordian knot. And then finished my shawlette.

At the moment, I still have most of the wool my daughter gave me back in February, so this is an opportunity to mix and match and see what transpires. Not getting bored, anyway.

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Easter Sunday 2020

Our last evening in Brittany, Easter Saturday 2020 , with a pink coloured sea.
No retouching or photoshopping!

A pain in the lower right abdomen – first thought: appendicitis. Second thought: what, hospital, now, during the corona crisis? Third thought: PLEASE, NO!

After 24 hours, my daughter’s pain was no better but also no worse. After 36 hours, the decision was made. We packed up in record time, she declared she felt well enough to undertake the 12-hour drive back to Switzerland, and – vital factor – although the service stations on the French autoroutes were reduced to a minimum, there would be the opportunity to refuel and use the toilet facilities.

In fact, apart from a few trucks delivering perishables, the autoroutes were virtually deserted. There were checks by a couple of gendarmes as we entered and left the Parisian region, keeping their distance as they examined our papers, and then, agreeing that we represented a special case as my daughter explained that she didn’t want to be a burden on the already over-loaded French medical system, they waved us on.

The Swiss guards at the border were sympathetic, too. Of course if you feel sick, you prefer to be in the Swiss system! Welcome home and a speedy recovery! Never in the history of keeping to the speed limits have any of us managed the trip so quickly: exactly 11 hours from door to door!

Was it the Ibuprofen she had taken that defeated the inflammation, was it being drenched in adrenaline, or was there really nothing wrong? When she finally made it to the GP, the doctor did blood tests, examined her thoroughly, and found nothing of any concern. The pain had gone. Hallelujah!

My only regret was that, having sacrificed cheese, coffee and wine throughout Lent, and looking forward to a splurge on Easter Sunday, I had to continue waiting for all of these until Monday. But then my darling son-in-law (who knows his mama-in-law so well, even if he doesn’t always follow the labyrinthine workings of my mind!) served me a wonderful breakfast as a reward for my patience, followed later by a cheese platter fit for the gods (including Epoisses!). And he is overjoyed to have his wife back, as he was beginning to get rather lonely.

And so here we are, back in Switzerland. We were enjoying our reclusive life in Brittany, but it’s good to be back with the family even if we do have to maintain a distance. I am certainly in a win-win position here: currently staying with “my children” means a very pampered existence for me as well as very pleasant company. Even the dog seems happy – the more the merrier!

I do have something to show for the enforced idleness, however. I finished my big woolly blanket – a family heirloom that will forever be a reminder of the corona crisis. I interpret the bobbles as the virus itself, the lattice pattern as the lockdown, the arrow lines as the national borders – or possibly the “slings and arrow of outrageous fortune” – and the hearts as all the positive side-effects of this pandemic. Much love has been shown, in spite of everything.

And I also completed the transcription of the German monograph about the mill owned by my son-in-law’s Egg ancestors, copied and pasted the photos, and translated it all into English for the benefit of the distant cousin in California who had the foresight to photograph the original. It was the only copy, and has apparently since been lost, so we’ll make the new German version up into a new book for the present owner who will also be very pleased to have it restored to her.  

As far as the Eggs are concerned, the information in this document completes and expands on that already in our possession, so we now know plenty about the family right back to 1500 AD.

My reading programme was interrupted, but I have no regrets about leaving The Compleat Angler behind. It was ideal bedtime reading and put me to sleep within two pages. Here, I have my daughter’s library at my disposal which also includes some of my own books, lent but not yet returned, that I will be able to take home with me.

Still relaxing in a Swiss garden

And finally, the reason why we needed to take my granddaughter’s big VW people mover with us to Brittany in the first place: we have returned with a prize. A large plywood case, packed up in England in September 2018, which for safety reasons will not be opened until I finally get it back to my own apartment. Hopefully, the contents are undamaged. We’ll see. It passed the customs unchallenged though we had our story all pat: this really is a family treasure, the metre-long pike caught by my father in July 1950, stuffed and mounted in a display case: the one that didn’t get away.

Rififi chez les voisins

Life has its dramas, even during lockdown in what must be one of the least eventful places in Europe. Turning away from the media’s preoccupation with the Corona virus, we take pleasure in observing the world around us as we sit outside in the sunshine.

Suddenly my daughter, whose eyes have been drifting towards the uninhabited houses of our neighbours, does a double take.

“What’s the matter?” I ask, turning in the direction of her gaze.

“That bird,” she says. “On the chimney of Vivien’s house …”

I look, but see no bird anywhere near Vivien’s house.

“Wait,” she says.

And whoops, like a Jack-in-the-box, a bird pops out of the chimney, perches for a second on the rim of the terracotta pot, then flies off. A blackbird or a starling – at this distance I’m not quite sure. A short time later, the bird returns with its mate, lands on the chimney pot and then plop! vanishes inside. After a few seconds, it re-emerges.

“They must have a nest there.”

Actually, thinking it over.it isn’t such a stupid idea. The house is empty, so there’s no fire down below; the chimney pot gives protection from the wind and rain, and is so narrow that nothing any bigger than a starling could get into it so the eggs are safe.

I message Vivien to inform her that she has tenants in her chimney and she replies that owing to the lockdown, nobody will be coming for at least a couple of months. We feel pleased for the birds, we can all relax.

Next morning, however, there’s a lot of squawking and screaming from that quarter: the chimney is under attack from two seagulls, whose loud racket soon attracts more of their ilk. The two chimney tenants are fluttering around, trying to defend their nest, but the muggers are determined. It takes them a few minutes to realize that they are too big to actually squeeze into the chimney pot, and it appears from where we are sitting that the nest must be too far down for their craned necks to reach. Soon, screeching and flapping, they abandon their mugging attempt, and the two smaller birds are left sitting on the ridge of the roof looking rather shaken, but triumphant. We give three quiet cheers.

That’s enough excitement for one day and we return to our handicrafts. My daughter’s production is already vast, including a couple of sweaters and a cardigan and she calculates she has used several miles of wool. I have finished a warm woolly waistcoat I started in February, unravelled three times and finally figured out a way to make it wearable.

 

 

(Note in these pictures what an obedient dog we have – when I turn, she turns!)

Then I started on the project I had brought yarn for the day before we left. My inspiration was a tee-shirt the lady in the wool shop had made, very simple but pretty, based on two granny squares and using a four ply cotton yarn that fades from dark teal to light turquoise. I didn’t take into account that, being a square, the extra inches needed in the width to fit my figure would inevitably mean that the garment had to be longer, so I have ended up with a dress – very useful all the same, and will be a good cover up over a swimsuit.

 

 

I had brought a few extra balls of wool with me – we had only intended to come for ten days, after all, and I thought I was well provided for. I used these to try out a few ideas that may be developed into something else, or turned into cushions. One of them became a tea cosy, another a doily and two turned into place mats, using Catherine stitch, which I thought was a nice touch.

 

 

 

 

 

Then, when it became clear that we would be here for several weeks if not months, I decided to embark on a major project: a large throw for my bed. I had been looking at the YouTube tutorial for this for a while, wondering if I could manage it, and the pattern was a free download.

My daughter has great experience in sourcing wool online, and knows about brands etc. so she soon found a suitable offer at a discount here in France, which arrived a few days later. This is keeping me out of mischief. I’ve had to undo several rows a number of times – with 182 stitches, that means a lot of reworking – but it’s the kind of pattern where you have to get it right from the start or it will all look wrong. I’m about a third of the way through, and so far so good.

Our “work” is accompanied by audiobooks and podcasts – among other things, BBC dramatizations of several Jane Austen novels, a thriller by Peter May, and the first three volumes of Alexander McColl Smith’s Scotland Street series.

I have also finished my bedtime reading of John Halifax Gentleman, and understand why it became a nineteenth century classic. As I have already said in my last post, nowadays I’m more tolerant of Victorian moralizing than I was when I was young, so I can ignore it enough to appreciate the skill of the author in this rags-to-riches story. She weaves it around much that is historically and geographically accurate, incorporating political and social history into her fictional events. It made enjoyable bedtime reading, and had no impact whatsoever on my dreams!

Standing next to it on the bookshelf is another badly worn ancient book that belonged to my father, Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler. I visited Izaak Walton’s cottage last September, so this is earmarked as my next read – after vols. 4-6 of Scotland Street, which aren’t available as audiobooks but we have them as Kindle editions. No point in listening to vol. 7 if I don’t know what happened in the interval!

2020: Happy New Year

Giessensee, Bad Ragaz, covered in ice on 1.1.2020

Sorry I’m a day late – maybe even two days late if you are in Australia – but 2020 is such a satisfying kind of number that I just have to wish my readers a really happy and healthy new year.

I’m late because I was hurrying to meet a deadline I had set myself, to finish the translation of a book (that I started in November) by the end of 2019. Actually. I have until Easter for this but I wanted to prove something to myself I suppose, and anyway I was enjoying the work. Sadly, I needed one extra day, so this post got postponed. But the book is finished, all 200 pages, and I have also done the initial proofreading. Time to hand it over to a beta reader now.

I would probably have finished it even earlier if I hadn’t been so obsessed during December by using up all the wool in my stash and crocheting things that nobody really needs – but they all very politely said Thank You Very Much when presented with their handmade scarves, beanies, wrist-warmers and cowls at Christmas.

The only one who showed true enthusiasm was my great-grandson who seized on the bobble-topped beanie and wore it like a crown throughout my visit. Sweet!

It’s been a while since I presented my crochet projects, so here’s a summary:

Back in September, it was my granddaughter’s 13th wedding anniversary for which the gift is traditionally lace but can also be textiles. Their wedding was marked by masses of sunflowers, and so I crocheted a sunflower granny-square blanket for them. To my chagrin, I seem to have squared the circle multiple times. The round sunflower motifs all turned out squarish when linked together, but my granddaughter was very gracious in her acceptance of the blanket.

From the leftovers I made an owl hat and a cowl for my youngest great-granddaughter’s third birthday in early December. Bald for a long time, she does now have hair but I seem to have started a mini-tradition of providing her with hats on her birthday. As she has very blue eyes and I also had some blue wool, she also got a second hat that actually is rather too big for her, but no doubt she’ll grow into it. Again, graciously received.

My next production was a scarf, a Christmas gift to a good friend who has played hostess to me many times over the past years and who has frequently provided me with a comfortable bed and breakfast when I was reluctant to travel home late by public transport.

Another scarf for my eight-year-old great-granddaughter enabled me to use up the remains of the white wool from the sunflower blanket (it’s always very difficult to calculate just how many skeins of each colour will be needed) brightened by a ball of purple that was lurking in the bottom of my bag, and a further skein of white superwash wool came in handy for a white cowl with black edging and matching wristlets – hopefully they will be useful to my granddaughter. I was practising a honeycomb effect stitch, but forgot to take a photo of these.

The rest made a trim on the brown bobble hat seized on by my great-grandson and a snood for my daughter’s cocker spaniel.

A second snood saw the end of some fluffy red wool and a short length of furry white: very Christmassy!

Why does a dog need a snood, you ask? Cockers have long ears that dangle in their food if they eat from a flat dish, so a snood enables these ears to be tucked in tidily and kept clean.  

I might market these, with a jingle:

Don’t dangle your ears in your food
Wear a snood!

Now what else? My neighbour has been very kind and considerate so she deserved recognition, and it took the form of a soft wool cowl. I just hope she isn’t one of those people who can’t bear wool on their skin. But she could also wear this as an Alice-band ear-warmer if she is.

I was myself the beneficiary of my next invention, using up some lovely soft silk-alpaca mix given to me by my daughter a while ago. The problem with this is that it’s a devil to undo – if you make a mistake you can’t easily go back and rectify it, so I was loth to try anything really fancy.

This was probably a good thing in the end. I made myself a plaited (or braided) cowl which turned out to be too big, so then I made a smaller one that fits inside the larger one. There was still enough wool left over to make a hat, which was rather too close-fitting and made my head look like a skull, so I made some extra braids to go around it and then was fortunate enough to find a rabbit-fur pompom at the Christmas market that went perfectly with it. I hesitated to buy real fur, but the lady selling these items assured me – and I believed her – that they were all from domestic rabbits that had been butchered and eaten. So my conscience is clear on that score.

Those were all my pre-Christmas projects. Sitting around quietly on Boxing Day, with my daughter knitting as usual, and having exhausted my own stash, I asked if she had any spare yarn that I could play with. She gave me a skein of mustard wool and I made her a beanie (we bought her a fake fur pompom for that, and again I forgot to take a photo). As we were buying the pompom I also couldn’t resist some quite thick multi-coloured wool that required a size 7 hook, so that too went very fast and I now have a very useful short poncho.

And the very last item is a cable-stitch headband made from a leftover ball of teal-coloured wool.

That, then is my long excuse for being late with my new year greetings. One last photo, taken on 1st January 2020, as proof that we have beavers in our local pond. Most trees near the water are now wearing chicken-wire skirts to protect them. Maybe I could revive the custom of yarn bombing?

Piano Keyboard Crochet

In May, Linda, a casual acquaintance in the swimming pool on Sanibel Island, mentioned that her hobby was crochet. Hundreds of iPhone photos later, I was left in no doubt that here was a highly accomplished crocheter, with plenty of family members and friends to enjoy and appreciate her craft. She’s a New Yorker, and her energy is palpable.

I shyly showed her one or two of my own products, and she instantly started enthusiastically encouraging me to develop my own patterns so I could make a fortune selling online. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but it was a boost for my ego when she asked for details of how I’d done this or that, and would I airdrop her some of my photos so she could examine the items later. I’m a sucker for flattery, always have been!

One of her amazing projects was a baby blanket she had made for musician friends, with an edging like a keyboard and even a stave with a treble clef and some notes that spell out the baby’s initials (ABC or something). Very clever and effective, I bet there’s only one child trotting around New York with that blanket!

She gave me a complicated explanation of how she’d done the keyboard, commenting that she had adapted it from a scarf and I might find the original inspiration somewhere on the Internet. I googled successfully. The scarf looks fantastic, too.  If you want to attempt it, the instructions are here. https://www.crochetspot.com/crochet-pattern-piano-key-scarf/

I happened to have some black and white cotton yarn with me, and was working on a simple tote bag. I thought the keyboard effect would make an unusual edging around the top so I decided to have a go at it. It’s all single crochet, so easy enough stitchwise, but what makes it time-consuming and fussy is that you have to keep snipping off the ends and working them into the following rows. Not a relaxing pastime. After only two octaves, I was fed up of it and went back to making my tote bag with plain horizontal stripes but that was boring and after a while I abandoned that, too.

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Back home in Switzerland I showed my creative middle granddaughter what I had done and asked her for suggestions. “Why not use the keyboard strip as a handle?” she said. Brilliant! Yes, it was just the right length. I attacked my tote bag with renewed vigour, and this is the result. It is very useful for holding work-in-progress and spare skeins, but I am planning to give it a lining to prevent excess stretching.

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I sent a photo to my New York muse, thinking she’d be interested to see what I’d made of her pattern.

Her reply: “That would make a great child’s hat!”

I can see what she meant but it would have to be an enormous child!

 

Shell pattern shawl

As the mother of three and grandmother of four lively kids, my daughter is never at a loss to find some kind of absorbing activity to distract a bored and wandering mind. That ability she also applies to me, so when I was casting around for something to occupy me while listening to podcasts in the evening during our recent holiday, she generously presented me with several skeins of a beautiful soft yarn, Drops Lace. A light, very fine mixture of baby alpaca and mulberry silk, in pale pink and violet, it felt like gossamer. I caressed and cuddled it for a while, wondering what it wanted to become, then took a small sized crochet needle and began to cast on.

I wasn’t sure what I was making, and after several rows of mesh it was clear it wasn’t working. I unravelled it and started again with the yarn doubled, one of each colour. I liked the colour effect but the small-sized crochet hook made the stitch fiddly and the mesh pattern was not at all satisfying. It kept me busy for a few hours, though, and unravelling the fine yarn was even more absorbing than the crocheting so my daughter was able to get on with her knitting in peace.

When I got back home again after the holiday, I fished out my unsatisfactory work and carefully undid it all yet again. The Internet (Jonna Martinez’s youtube tutorial at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vI4U53yFjuo) had revealed a stitch I thought might suit this delicate yarn, a variation on a shell stitch, softer and more feminine than the fishnet pattern, and as I had several kilometres of yarn I was hopeful that there might be enough to make a small shawl.  There was. And even some left over.

Another ingenious idea popped up here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i72FFsQyy74 on youtube. I love Kristin’s facial expressions as she demonstrates her method, she’s having such fun. I wish I had seen that before I spent so many hours winding up my little balls of yarn, as fine yarn tends to stick to itself and tie itself in knots. But maybe next time.

This time I used a size 4 hook instead of a size 2, which made the work easier. I had three skeins of pink and two of violet, so I used two pink threads to one violet for the main body of the work, then worked four rows of double-thread pink, followed by two pink threads and one violet. I realised I was now running out of pink so swapped to two of violet and one pink, then finally finished off with double-thread violet, which gave a nice shaded effect towards the edge.

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The pattern needs a bit of concentration at first, but isn’t really difficult and of course repetition makes it automatic after a while. For me, that’s dangerous as I then lose count and make silly mistakes, but I caught and remedied most of them. I console myself that in Islamic art, there’s always a deliberate mistake because only God can create perfection. Who’s going to notice, anyway? My shawl is far from perfect, but I think the yarn is happy in this form.

Kenavo, Breizh!

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It’s our last day here in Brittany. Tomorrow morning, we’ll close up the house, have a last look at the view, and wave goodbye till next time. Kenavo, Breizh! (which is Breton for au revoir, Bretagne!)

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The summer is officially over. The air was filled with shrill tweetings and twitterings as the swallows began assembling on the cables on Saturday, 1 September, having received the annual signal by whatever mysterious manner it’s conveyed to them, and are now clearly well on their way south.

Children, presumably also tweeting and twittering, returned to school this week, so the still sunny beaches are also now much quieter and calmer, as families are replaced by middle-aged ramblers, some of whom are following a section of St James’ Way to Santiago di Compostela which passes through here. IMG_2879.jpg

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The sky is still blue, the air mild, the sun bright. This is one region of Europe that has remained green during this year’s scorching summer, and although the hydrangea flowers are now fading and turning brown, they have been magnificent.

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Unable to resist the desire to record the ineffable beauty of the sun sinking into the sea, I have added many more photos to my already vast collection of marine sunsets (I bored you with some of these last October in my posts La Mer … Ar Mor and More of Ar Mor).

We’ve been busy, but have also had time to visit a very nice little Wool Fair in an inland village, that was worth the trip in itself,

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and my daughter has stripped the armchairs belonging to my father and mother down to their wooden skeletons, all ready to re-upholster sometime during her next visit,

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And I also managed to crochet a lap rug/shawl in soft blue wool that is perfect when the evenings grow chill. That is, of course, nothing in comparison with my daughter’s enormous pile of cardigans and sweaters that seems to increase overnight!

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IMG_2885Already subdued by the thought of departure, our mood is made more sombre by the sad news of the death of one of our neighbours, a kind and gentle lady who has struggled with ill health for a number of years, and recently seemed to be winning. Alas, she lost. And will be greatly missed. She and her husband have lived here for a very long time, and are very much a part of the fabric of the place. It’s a devastating blow for him; they have been a truly devoted couple.

Almost three decades ago, when we first came here, most of the houses in our little cul-de-sac were occupied by couples, some with children, others with grandchildren of much the same age, who banded together during the long French summer vacations for games on the beach or gatherings in each other’s houses. These children are now all adults, with their own families, and rarely meet up nowadays, taking their vacations elsewhere.

Those of us left, one by one, are all being defeated by advancing age. Widows and widowers where there were once happy marriages, their children or strangers taking over houses left empty. Our house, too, is following this trend, but in a cheerful, positive way: it now belongs to my daughter and continues to resound to the laughter and cries of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who are all equally attached to their Breton holiday home. Some of them will be here in the October half-tem break, as they were last year.

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But for my daughter and me, our summer holiday is over. The last load of washing is dry, rooms vacuumed, dusted and tidied, the outdoor furniture put away in the garage, and the car packed. Tomorrow, like the swallows, we will “fly” south. And hopefully return in the spring.

Keep calm and carry on …

“Are you looking forward to your holiday in Florida?”

I ought to be. The prospect of sunshine and sea should be filling me with bright expectation. But no. I’m spending too much time and energy trying on summer clothes, checking what still fits and looks reasonable, horrified at my stubby white legs and rolls of fat around my midriff that have been insulating me during the winter months but now just look plain unsightly. The snow has gone at last, and spring is starting to spread its blossoms around, but trying on shorts and sun tops still feels surreal and vaguely indecent.

My suitcase is bulging already, not only with clothes but also sun creams, packets of coffee and … cheese fondue by special request. I can’t lift it. Something will have to come out. My skinny friend – my hostess and travelling companion – manages with a rucksack: tiny bikinis, shorts and tops occupy a fraction of the space my XXL swimsuits take up. Admittedly, she also has a wardrobe full of apparel in her Floridian home.

I hate the run-up to travelling. It seems so much more of a hassle nowadays than it used to be. Yes, I have my passport, ticket, API, ESTA, and US dollars. Make sure they are in my hand luggage and not in the suitcase. The boarding pass now comes magically onto my phone, supposedly simplifying check-in at the airport. My suitcase  – contents halved – still seems to weigh almost as much as I do. Luckily, it’s on wheels – but I long for the day when I’ll say, “Beam me up, Scotty!” and that will include whatever luggage I need. For now, there’s a walk to the station, the train, a car ride, the plane and another car at the other end before I can relax and say, “I’ve arrived!”

This time, though, in addition to my usual pre-travelling nerves, I also have concerns related to my still unsold house. The mills are grinding, but very slowly. Various experts have looked at it, including (at last!) the insurance company representative. Bless him, he has written today offering me a lump sum covering all the work, to be offset against any diminution in the value of the house. Well, at least the sale can now go ahead and it will be the new owners who inherit all the headaches. The house will, hopefully, arise like a phoenix (from water, not fire!) – aptly enough, given that it’s Easter. I am happy to relinquish it. “All things work for good for those who believe.”

What has helped me keep my sanity through all this? Well, “Keep calm and carry on crocheting” could be my devise. Whenever I felt my blood pressure rising, I picked up my Afghan blanket, which is growing apace. Something positive comes from any negative experience …

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I’m calling this Pythagoras – the square on the hypotenuse …

 

Of Beanies, Cowls and Blankets

Time for an update on my crochet, as my hook has been pretty busy over the last few months. Beanies were on my brain, and I had plenty of lovely colours from the rainbow box my granddaughter sent me. What better then, than to supply her little girls with hats? They already have enough, of course, but I happened to come across a pattern for a unicorn beanie, and as Carnival was approaching and little girls all seem to be into unicorns, that’s what they got. One each, a little horn for the baby and a large one for her big sister.

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IMG_2052No, they didn’t actually go to Carnival as unicorns – Wonder Woman was more appropriate!

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One very pretty variegated skein of brown, beige and orange shades seemed exactly right for a cowl for my friend K, and she would have been very pleased with it, except that she says she can’t wear wool next to her skin, and politely gave it back to me.

 

 

 

 

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And a burnt orange skein was also just long enough to make a cowl for another friend –  if she also informs me that she doesn’t like wool next to her skin, I think I shall have to open an Etsy shop! My button jar turned out five buttons in exactly the same shade, so this one is a slightly different finish to the brown one.

This friend is also getting a tea-cosy. She likes pansies, so I had fun using up scraps to make different coloured flowers to decorate this. I have a feeling this may also be politely refused, but I hope not. Being English, she’s a tea drinker – but does she use a teapot or make the tea straight in the cup?  I’ll soon find out!

 

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My current more ambitious project, for which I forked out money for the wool myself, is a granny square blanket for my bed. It’s called a Kaleidoscope blanket, and gives the illusion of being several squares superimposed on one another.
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I’m calling it a Penelope blanket – you may recall that in the Odyssey, Odysseus’ wife Penelope spent her days weaving a tapestry which she undid at night. Mine has been undone countless times because it refused to lie flat. It would have been fine as a hammock, but that wasn’t my intention.

Eventually, I discovered a YouTube tutorial which explained what I was doing wrong, so I took it back to square one (literally!) and this time it’s behaving itself. The only snag now is that I seem to be running out of wool, so this project may turn out to be more expensive than intended.

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I still have plenty of odd skeins in my rainbow box, so there may be more beanies, cowls and even amigurumi on the way.

 

Rainbow in a Box

Pink cable cowlRemember my pink cable strip?
I didn’t need to buy extra wool to finish it off, as my Darling Daughter (who supplied the first skeins) informed me that she still had another skein of it, which she posted to me. So I now have a cowl or headband, depending on need and fancy, that looks quite pretty.

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Around the same time, my Dear Granddaughter also sent me a large cardboard box filled with a rainbow of yarns to play with. I spent the first day just admiring the colours and squeezing the skeins, enjoying the feel.

I’m not alone in this: my second Dear Granddaughter, who has the nose of a parfumier, also revels in the scent of her newly purchased wools, caressing and nuzzling them.

Browsing cable patterns and Celtic knots – which are still beyond me but I live in hope of deciphering the charts one day – I came across a cushion with a tree pattern in relief.

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What it should look like ….

Now I know how to make relief stitches so I bought the pattern, selected a light green cotton yarn from my new stash, and set to work. Alas, I got tangled in the branches so my version isn’t quite what it was supposed to be; but I’m reasonably pleased with the result and will persevere with this pattern, since it cost me $5.10, and submit faithfully to its discipline the second time around.

The cable edging and the back of the cushion will be child’s play after this. Thank you to DG for supplying me with so much yarn that I can keep practising.

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The story so far …

 

 

 

I delight in the arcane vernacular of handicrafts. This particular pattern uses not only single and double crochet, but also half-double, front post double and treble, and a high falutin’ “modified tr3tog” which is a modified treble crochet 3 together. I’m patting myself on the back for understanding what these are, and am even more proud that I can actually execute them.

It reminds me of a rhyme I learnt as a child in the late nineteen-forties, when my mother was taking classes in basketry and kindly (optimistically) trying to pass on her skills to me:

I can rand
At your command,
Put on a decent border;
Upset tight,
Wale all right,
And keep my stakes in order.

At the time, she showed me how to rand, upset and wale, as well as how to secure the border and manage the stakes. I understood the theory, and knew how each kind of weave should look. I also remember lengths of cane soaking in the bath tub to make it pliable, and fighting with it as it refused to wind itself neatly around my stakes, which were also out of control and leaned in all directions. In my case, “wale” should have been spelled “wail”.

My mother on the other hand was gifted for any kind of handicraft, and we still have a few of her baskets (rescued during our house clearance) that must be getting on for seventy years old. Neat randing, upsetting and waling around perfectly spaced stakes, and borders that are only now beginning to come loose here and there as the cane becomes brittle and snaps. Cherished mementoes. I wonder if, sixty years from now, any of my descendants will be holding my handiwork and feeling as sentimental about it?

PS: I’m sorry, I forgot to say that the pattern is the Tree of Life Cabled Pillow by http://www.lillabjorncrochet.com (I found it on http://www.revelry.com) and I am using Gedifra Mayra 90% cotton and 10& polyamide, colour 2067. Not the recommended yarn, which should be Aran weight.