Tuesday, January 31, 2017

In answer to questions about the Greek alphabet, I’m using Microsoft Word, I don’t know which version, nor do we any longer seem to have a button to click on to provide that information. Composition pauses, for a moment I can’t type anything, then there is a portentous ringing noise – and then everything is in Greek. Everything. It’s no use leaving Word and going out into the greater world. Everything I type is in Greek – Help can’t help because it doesn’t understand what I’m typing.

But rebooting solves the problem.

There is nothing much to report today. I have proceeded with the centre of the shawl but without quite the first-day enthusiasm of yesterday. I’m approaching the end of the second repeat (of 14) of the centre pattern.

To my sorrow, no one on Ravelry has yet responded to my challenge to reveal how much of what we bought at EYF 2016 is still unknit.

So here’s January over. I’m sorry to see it go. What have I achieved? The income tax. My resolution to deal at once with every financial paper that turns up in the post has been fulfilled. “Dry January” didn’t work – there’s time for that in Lent. I haven’t yet tidied and filed away the papers left over from doing the tax. They’re still spread out over the table here. I’d better get that done tomorrow. Spaying the poor cat has to be regarded as an achievement, I suppose.

My sister is coming for a visit on Thursday. I fear she will find us very limited in both diet (because of toothlessness) and activity. She is Serena to my Venus, and considerably more active, I fear, by now, than I am. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Miscellaneous non-knit

Our great Olympic athlete Sir Mo Farah is apparently in much the same place as Ketki -- born in a country of which Mr Trump disapproves, now a British subject, with family in the US which he would like to go on visiting from time to time if he could be sure of not being turned back and humiliated at the airport. Our Foreign Secretary says he has had assurances that Sir Mo and Ketki will be all right. He seems to have missed the point that this is preposterous.

Pussy cats’ bed times: I have a clipping from the Scotsman, no source given, which says that Charles Dickens’ cat used to snuff out his candle with delicate paw when it was time to stop all this scribbling and go to bed.

Perdita is fine, thank you, Amelia. Greek Helen, who has been bearing the burden of all this for me, rang the vet and said that she didn’t need to come in, but was persuaded to bring her in anyway. The poor cat was upset that evening, but has recovered her equilibrium since. Everybody is eagerly watching for signs that she is becoming a Better Person, but they are not manifest.


I have made a good start on the centre of Mrs Hunter’s shawl – finished the first of 14 repeats of the simple pattern. I don’t know whether it actually goes faster, or simply breeds a case of just-one-more-row syndrome. Picture soon.

Here is my remaining stash from EYF 2016. I haven’t posted the picture to the Ravelry group yet, but hope I will. The reddish Whistlebare yarn, mohair and Wensleydale, is for a capelet by Carol Feller from IK; and the green, “Nature’s Luxury”, wool, silk and camel, for Mia Rinde’s “Cameo Flower” shawl from Knitty.

I also bought yarn that day for two shawls of Mary Lou’s One of them I actually knit as planned. I used the yarn bought for the other, for the Uncia, for which it served very well.

Hat, I remember knitting a baby thing with graduated yarn, but I don’t think it came from the EYF. Perhaps from Loop, which I visited a year ago this very month? I did buy a graduated pack at the EYF (more Whistlebare) and you can see it in the photograph above, untouched.

I think I must start keeping an accurate record of yarn-in and yarn-out. It might even be interesting.

There is a very interesting thread in the Ravelry EYF Group in which exhibitors tell us what they’re bringing. Carol Feller will be there with her new book about how to use graduated yarns. I took a class from her last year on that very subject, and she told us that the book was on its way. That is one that I would very much like to have a look at before committing myself, so that’s good news.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Mrs May has, we are told, appealed to President Trump to assure her that British citizens will be treated like British citizens, whatever their original nationality. This is a matter of some interest to us, as Alexander’s wife Ketki (now a British subject) was born in the Sudan. They are glad they had their big family holiday in the USofA last summer. They plan to stay away, for the time being, whatever the President replies to Mrs May.

I have just pitched the computer into the Greek alphabet again. What is it I do? At least I remembered that the quickest way out of the mess is to reboot.

I have finished the border pattern for Mrs Hunter’s shawl, done the decrease row, done the break row (k2tog, yo across – that was a bit slow), and embarked on the final plain knit row. I’ve done the first quarter of that one (also rather slow) and can confirm that there are 141 stitches in it which is what we're aiming at.

I continued to entertain my idea of posting EYF 2016 stash to the so-named thread in the Ravelry group, but I’m stuck. I bought yarn for four projects. I looked back through the blog to make sure. I think I’ve knit only two – a shawl to a pattern of Mary Lou’s and the Uncia, which I bought as yarn destined for another project. But I can only find one remaining EYF ’16 project in the stash cupboard – a capelet by Carol Feller from IK; rather nice yarn. I’ll have to look harder tomorrow.

I seem to have run out of steam, and Perdita is pestering me to go to bed.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

I’ve finished row 84 of the borders of Mrs Hunter’s shawl. 85 is the last pattern row. I think I have decided to put in a break row – k2tog, yo all round. And I need to decrease from 145 to 141 stitches. So I’ll do the decreases in row 86, then 87 will be the break row, and then a plain-vanilla 88 to get us back on the right side, in case that matters. That’s that decided. Exciting.

I, too, failed to get the videos from Shetland to play. I am very grateful for the YouTube link, Judith, [comment yesterday] and will try it tomorrow. Well done!

A certain amount of interest is available in the text at the Shetland Museum site, without having to listen. There were more early- and mid-nineteenth century ladies’ knitting books than I knew of, many with “Shetland” patterns. I would quarrel, however, with the Museum’s statement: “Shetland lace knitters did not use written patterns, but created motifs ‘on the wires’ and knitted them from memory.”

So it usually was, I am sure.

I would back Sharon Miller’s Princess shawl pattern in any competition for the Most Complicated Knitting Pattern Ever Published. It is a simplification of a shawl presented to some princess – I’m not going to look it up just now. It was re-knit at the time, and the copy is in the Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street. It could not have been done without preliminary planning, any more than you could build a cathedral “on the wires”.

The same must have been true of other splendid shawls, including the Queen Ring shawl in Sharon’s collection. It seems to me likely that the knitters capable of that level of work, talked to each other about the planning process. Who knows? Their notes are lost. But there must have been some notes, of some sort.

I have discovered, to my somewhat embarrassment, that the thread in the EYF Ravelry group about 2016 stash, was published a year ago, when the purchases were fresh. It would be amusing, and interesting, to learn how much we’ve got left – but that’s not what is available so far. That’s one I could get started, had I the time and the strength.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Onwards! I’ve reached row 83 of the border pattern of Mrs Hunter’s shawl – even if I add a break-pattern round, I should be able to embark on the centre before the month is out. I feel that I’ll whip along, once there, only 141 stitches to the row instead of 500+ (it was 700+ at the beginning). On the other hand, there are 282 rows to do, instead of only 86. We shall see.

Judith, that’s an excellent idea, to send Baa Ram Ewe an email about the shorter Ancasta, before the day. I’ll hold off for the moment. I’ve still got a month to think about possible extravagances and zero in on a couple. I’m happy to report that there’s a thread in the EYF Ravelry group in which folk are showing off their 2016 EYF stash. I could join in on that one. At least I’ve knit some of it.

There’s an interesting paragraph in VK about a project at the Shetland Museum looking at lace patterns described as “Shetland” in the 19th century and suggesting that genuine handmade knitted lace from Shetland inspired machine-made “Shetland lace” from Nottingham. Which wouldn’t be entirely surprising. One thinks of that quite cheap, machine-made shawl in which the Cambridges first displayed Prince George to the world.

Here’s the link, but it adds little to the paragraph in VK except for a tantalizing reference to a recent PhD thesis by one of the prime movers of the project: “The History of the Fine Lace Knitting Industry in Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Shetland”. I looked it up, and most of it is unavailable online because of copyright. The abstract – which is available – suggests that it might be too sociological and women’s-history for my taste, but I’d still very much like to see it as long as I didn’t have to move from my desk.

What I’d like to know is – why Unst? Obviously, there’s no answer – but are there lingering memories there of why that island, the most northerly part of the British Isles (not counting Muckle Flugga), became the epicentre of fine lace knitting? And my other question is, how did they manage in the winter? Lace knitting would have been virtually impossible from November through February before electricity, Fair Isle not much easier. How was it done?

Maybe I could ask Hazel Tindall!


Greek Helen called in this evening. She says she has two mosaic commissions on the bubble: they have survived the initial-approach stage, to which she replies with ideas and a quote. Mosaic-making, like knitting, makes heavy demands on Man’s Time, and interested clients have been known to fall away when they hear how much it is going to cost. She thinks maybe an Edinburgh address inspires more confidence than her previous Athenian one. Could be.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Yesterday was the Bard’s birthday and even in our toothless states, we managed to ingest some haggis and neeps and tatties. A dear friend sent me this. I hope it was taken yesterday.

Thank you for your help with the centre of Mrs Hunter’s shawl.. I  have tried to do some actual thinking today, never a process I enjoy.

Here are the "givens":

1) To make a square in garter stitch, cast on some stitches and knit twice that many rows.

2) To make a centre square in a borders-inward Shetland shawl, knit back and forth from one side, taking in a stitch alternately from the adjacent sides. At the end, graft the final row to the live stitches of the fourth side. That means that you will knit twice as many rows as you have stitches on each of the four borders. Thus making a square. See above.

OK: Mrs Hunter – who is writing a pattern in which each of the six parts of the shawl are knit separately and sewn together afterwards -- says to cast on 143 stitches for the centre. So you would expect 286 rows, or thereabouts. But no. She gives a 20-row pattern and then says:"Repeat rows 1-20 incl. 11 times."

That's what I didn't really face up to until yesterday. That sounds like 220 rows. Or if the instruction just quoted means "11 more times", it would mean 240 rows -- still well short of the 286 needed for a square.

I've looked up the closest parallel I could find -- Amedro's "Phillip and Michael" shawl. Sure enough -- twice as many rows as stitches. Yesterday I was thinking of decreasing abruptly down to 110 stitches, so that I could knit 220 rows as Mrs Hunter specified (maybe). But now I don't see much point in that since Mrs Hunter apparently wasn't aiming for a square and I am.

Now I think I’ll just decrease down to 141. 140 (=280 rows) allows me to fit in 14 repeats of the 20-row pattern, and the extra one allows for Mrs Hunter’s “K. 2 rows” at the end.

Well, that’s all pretty boring. I’ll let you know how I get on. I’ve reached row 78, of 86, of the border pattern, so all this arithmetic will start happening in real life pretty soon.

I got my copy of “Wool Tribe” today, the EYF magazine. There are some mildly interesting patterns for accessories, and some articles – but the big thing is the plan of this year’s layout. Jared has taken a big space in the concourse.

Students – that’s me – can get in an hour early on the opening market day. I didn’t avail myself of that, last year, and still don’t know how it works geographically – something about going around the back. But this time I mean to try, in the hour before my class with Hazel Tindall.

Baa Ram Ewe will be there, sure enough – I’m sure if I turned up and asked how many skeins of their Dovestone DK was required for the shortened version of “Ancasta” as mentioned but not specified in Laine, they’d be able to help. They must be even more irritated then I am.

There’s an article in Wool Tribe about a walk you might like to do in Edinburgh, of which a major feature is the Sheep Heid Inn in Duddingston. They mention a number of notables who have dined there, starting with Mary Queen of Scots, but, oddly, omit the most recent. The Queen herself, who almost never eats out in public, went there for a meal last summer after a happy day at the Musselburgh races.

It is hard to write about her from Edinburgh for an international audience, because she is not “Elizabeth II” here. But you can get a long way by just referring to her as “The Queen”.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A tough day. I had a routine dental hygiene appt first thing this morning (Helen came in and steered the ship) but was also aware that there was something amiss, and asked to see the dentist as well. As so often (at least at my age), things were worse than I thought. A tooth was broken, a root was extracted.

So not much was achieved for the rest of the day – a good thing the tax was already done. Knitting went forward fairly well, when I wasn't snoozing. I’ve reached row 75 (of the 86 rows of the borders of Mrs Hunter’s shawl). And I have also realised, belatedly, that some arithmetic looms.

I will have 145 stitches in each of the four borders when I finish. The centre is a 20-row pattern, to be repeated 11 times. Somehow or other, at the beginning, I thought that worked out rather well. But of course it doesn’t. If I knit the centre back and forth, picking up a stitch from one side or the other at the end of every row, I will need to have only 110 stitches per side to pick up – a substantial reduction will be needed when the border pattern is finished.

(Corrections of my arithmetic would be very gratefully received.)

My first thought was just to wing it. But that’s ridiculous – I must reduce. I easily found a website which told me how to do it. It seems like a lot of stitches to dispose of, but I comfort myself with one of my favourites of EZ’s dicta: Knitting is forgiving stuff.

I have continued to think about extravagant expenditure at the EYF. Page 17 of “Laine” – see yesterday – says that a short version of the Ancasta pattern can be knit with Baa Ram Ewe yarn – and, hey! they might even be at the EYF. But the pattern section at the back of the magazine says nothing about Baa Ram Ewe that I can see. The basic pattern is for a dress, and the only concession to shortness says to stop increasing – you’re knitting from the top down – when your sweater measures approximately whatever. Not good enough, at that price.

My current fave is “Declan” from Wool People 7.


The BBC News website this evening says that Japanese researchers have established – the wonders of science never cease! – that cats are as intelligent as dogs. Just because I prefer to remain here by the fire, while you go out into the dark and the sleet to help Ian Duncan with the lambing, you think I’m less intelligent? 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Cathy just sent me this interesting item about knitting for elephants. It can’t be often that the Times of India turns up here two days in succession (Mary Lou’s comment, yesterday).

All well. My husband seemed somewhat better today, and the cat continues in top form. I don’t know what Helen has decided about the consultation scheduled for Thursday.

I’ve reached row 72 of the border pattern of Mrs Hunter’s shawl. The end (of the border) is in sight. I still haven’t quite finished the first skein, but I’m down to the final couple of yards and it is a considerable comfort to know that when the end comes, as it must tomorrow, the winding has already been done.


I think the only word for “Laine” is going to have to be “hygge”, although I realise that I am probably mixing up my Scandinavian nations. Nice photography, some nice patterns, some mildly interesting articles, but not really enough to justify the price. An interview with Stephen West, and a glorious shawl pattern from him, might be enough to reverse that verdict for some.

I am taken, however, with the idea of a loose pullover with a boat neck and short sleeves, to be worn over a shirt. Laine has a plain one on the cover, and one with very interesting cables within. No. 4 in the new VK is more or less what I mean, if you shortened the sleeves. Or 3, if you lowered the neck and shortened the whole thing a good deal.

I searched Ravelry for these ideas, and goodness! they have worked hard on their searching. They suggested Jared’s Wool People 7 which, indeed,  has several possibilities. I’m thinking, of course, of myself at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival buying yarn for a project probably never to be completed. Buying it, perhaps, from Jared himself!

VK is full of interest. Meg’s article on necklines needs to be copied and saved, perhaps in “Knitting Workshop”, before it vanishes into the piles of magazines. There is a very interesting article about the difficulties of creating American yarn – hundreds of mills, it says, closed in the latter half of the last century, due no doubt to “globalisation”. Just the sort of thing our new president fulminates against.  Full marks to Jared for his success in producing his yarns.

And an interesting interview with Nancy Marchant. Maybe when this shawl is off the needles, I will devote myself to brioche stitch. I have signed up for her Craftsy class, although I haven’t got very far with it; and I’ve got one of her books.


Rachel phoned today. Hellie has had her 20-week scan. Everything is fine. Everybody but me now knows the sex of the baby who will be wrapped in Mrs Hunter’s shawl.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Little to report, again.

I have reached row 69 of the shawl border, still on the first skein of yarn. Not much progress, but some.

The cat is in such ebullient health that even Helen wonders if we might skip the post-operative consultation on Thursday. It would worry and distress Perdita to have to go back into the carrier, and it would take up a substantial and valuable hunk of Helen’s Thursday afternoon. She’ll ring the vet tomorrow to discuss this.

My husband, meanwhile, has been droopy and sleepy all day. I haven’t called for medical help. Helen – not exactly summoned, but au courant with events --  came around in the evening and I am sure persuaded him to eat more than I would have managed. We’ll see what the District Nurse says tomorrow.

The big knitting news is that both “Laine” and the new VK turned up today. I’m not entirely convinced, on a first look, that Laine lives up to the advance excitement. VK has what is clearly a valuable essay from Meg about necklines. Both need a good deal more study before I can report properly. (Aren’t I due an IK? The subscription couldn’t have expired without their telling me.)


Mary Lou, I haven’t the faintest idea about the distinctions between snooker and pool and billiards. I never paid serious attention to any of them until this week. I was reminded at several points in the snooker final of a remark of Rex Harrison’s, back in the days of the Hays Office – that, when playing a bedroom scene, one had to keep one foot on the floor, just like snooker.

The winner, Ronnie O’Sullivan, is an interesting man, according to Wikipedia. His mother is Sicilian. His middle name is Antonio. (How did that happen?) His father encouraged and supported his brilliant son from the beginning, but was impeded in that effort during many of the boy’s formative years, by being in jail for no less a crime than murder. Something to do with the Kray Twins.

Shandy, yes, Perdita is a great nuisance at night. She still snuggles into my neck and purrs and kneads and pretends that I’m her mother. Before that, she wakes me up with gentle paw or chilly nose to say, Hi there! I’m your cat! But I always have to get up several times in the night to pee anyway, and I’m glad of her company.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Very little to report.

Perdita continues very well. If she still had that collar on, she would be only halfway through the ordeal, as her post-op appt with her consultant isn’t until late Thursday afternoon. I don’t know where she spent the first two nights after surgery – probably not in the comfortable bed I had made up for her in the kitchen – but last night she joined me again. My husband now has a hospital bed, so there is plenty of room for me and a cat in the marital bed, and it was grand to have her.

As for knitting, I finished winding that skein. If I have correctly grasped the numbers, it was more than half a mile of yarn. I normally like winding, as I think I’ve said, as a way of getting acquainted with a yarn, but these particular skeins must be among the longest I’ve ever done.

Isabella (comment yesterday), I didn’t know, or had forgotten, about the Teapot Trust ladies who wind yarn at the EYF. What a good idea! I hope by then I will be finished with the shawl, or very nearly. I see that I have a third skein, just-to-be-on-the-safe-side. Maybe I can somehow take them that one, and the remainder of the second skein, and they can find them a good home… I’m sure, wonderful as this yarn is, that I won’t want to do it again.

I’m well into row 67 (of 86) of the border pattern and things should accelerate a bit tomorrow now that winding is finished. Snooker continued very interesting – I have at last grasped some of the essentials and can appreciate some of the skill and artistry involved. The geometry is amazing. I’m glad Ronnie O’Sullivan won.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Perdita seems entirely restored to us, scampering about like a mad-cat, and the wound looks clean. When she curls on her right side, I can and do lean over her and examine it close and personal, without touching or otherwise annoying her. And it's fine. And she isn't particularly interested in it. 

So two major problems have been disposed of – Perdita’s surgery and the income tax. I’m ready for 2017. But others come bubbling up from the ground.

A dear friend lost her beloved dog to death yesterday. 

I knew him only at the end of his life. He was disagreeable and incontinent and nothing much to look at. He was very much loved, and I am sure returned, with advantages, all the love he received. I knit him -- some will remember; he was a Parson's Jack Russell. Helen made a mosaic in which he figures. Neither of these cold objects will be of much use to our friend today.

I have reached row 66 of the border of Mrs Hunter's shawl -- not much advance on yesterday. That is because I have reached the point where a new ball of yarn will soon have to be attached, and this afternoon I faced up to the winding of it. 940 yards.

We put on the snooker -- an interesting sport, at a very interesting stage of the Championship tournament at the Ally Pally --  and I wound and wound. For a long time the skein around my knees was completely undiminished. Then, progress! and a new temptation. I may -- I probably -- I surely have wound enough to finish the shawl. Do I need to go on doing this all afternoon? 

I persevered until at last interrupted. I suspect, indeed hope, that I will have the moral stamina to finish winding the skein tomorrow. But if not, I'm sure I've done enough for present purposes.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Quite a day.

The tax has been filed, calculated, paid. I'm still dubious about whether an accountant would help. Our affairs are pretty simple, and pretty similar year after year. The job has got to be done, whatever. The effort consists of getting the papers together and if I continue with my resolution to file everything the moment it arrives -- and enter it in a spreadsheet if it's anything the tax man wants to know about -- if I can go on doing that, it should be easier in the future. Here we are, three weeks into 2017, and I'm doing fine so far.

Perdita seems well. She has spent the day dozing, and no longer actively hates me. She took off her collar herself during the night -- I think I told you that she's not stupid. She's not particularly interested in the wound, and it continues to look fine. I'll certainly keep a close eye on both these points. Even Helen agreed this morning that we didn’t have to put the collar back on.

There are no visible stitches. I think you must be right, in our case, Maureen (comment yesterday). There are two incisions, each scarcely half an inch long, not quite parallel, about an inch and a quarter apart. The leaflet Perdita brought home yesterday says that the "sutures" are all internal, and absorbable. An adroit piece of needlework. I agree that if there were stitches for her to pick at, the question of the collar would be rather different. The leaflet says that the cat must not lick or chew the wound. So far she has shewn no interest in doing either of those things.

That could change. The wound could start to itch. I will watch closely.

So I’m back in the saddle, as far as Mrs Hunter of Unst is concerned, and have reached row 65 of the border pattern of her shawl. I fancy that the decreases are beginning to make themselves felt. But maybe not.

AND I have succeeded in finding a copy of Laine, at Meadow Yarn, and it’s on its way.

What can I say about the Inauguration without causing offense?

1)     Mrs Trump’s dress was good. I hope tomorrow’s newspapers will name the designer.

2)     Eight years ago, George W looked like a balloon with the air being let out. The Obamas, whose behaviour throughout has been graciousness personified, looked today as if a weight were being lifted from their shoulders. And George W., whose father is on his deathbed or so we understand, looked positively cheerful.

3)     Poor Hillary.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Perdita has come home to us again. She has survived major surgery in remarkably good form, although she is not speaking to me. She is eating, and moving fairly comfortably, and the wound looks remarkably small and neat and healthy.

She is wearing one of those awful plastic collars. I don’t remember them from long-ago experience of dear cats being spayed. Helen (who has been carrying the can on this one) is adamant that she must keep it on until she sees her consultant again next Thursday. I wouldn’t be surprised if she succeeds in getting it off before then. And I am a bit worried, alternatively, that she may strangle herself in the attempt.

The house was astonishingly empty all day without her. Even a disagreeable cat in a plastic collar, which is what we have this evening, is better than nothing.

But it wasn’t a wasted day on other fronts. A letter from the Government Gateway has supplied my husband’s new Gateway User ID. It was far too stressful a day even to think of filing the income tax, but Helen is going to come tomorrow to deal with the early-morning door-answering so that I can attempt it. If I can log on, it won’t take more than half an hour. If I can log on.

And my Knitzi arrived! This time, again, it came when I was out – I only very rarely leave my husband on his own, but I did so for half an hour one morning last week and the postman, who must have been crouched behind a hedge and have seen my departure, sprang forward with the package. This time, thank goodness, he left a card saying that he had failed to deliver it. I arranged re-delivery for today. It came!

Now I really must start a pair of socks. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Perdita is fasting before tomorrow's surgery. She is beginning to get cross about it. I am miserable.

I remain very anxious about the tax. My sister points out that if I had an accountant s/he would be responsible for filing. I think a better (and much cheaper) solution would be to get it done earlier in the tax year. Whatever, I'm stuck now.

Thinking about (not that but) knitting charts in the night, I came to the same conclusion as several of you (although formless, in my case, and less well expressed) that it was advances in computer technology and desk-top publishing in the 80's and 90's, rather than the rise of common sense, which brought graphs to published knitting patterns. Traditional knitters must have been using them all along.

Mary Lou! I have knit Mrs Laidlaw's Pattern, too, in a gansey for Ketki in a tough pink yarn from Frangipani. It serves as something approaching a suit of armour. She wears it sometimes to rugby matches.That was when the question arose with my sister-in-law of whether the herring girls wore colour -- an issue I referred to briefly some weeks ago. I went to the shelf just now to get the book and to try to remember whether or not I charted the pattern. And the book wasn't there, although several lesser works on related topics were.

I am sunk even deeper into gloom. That is an essential book.

I knit that sweater in Strathardle. Could the book still be there? I find with the current shawl, too, that I can remember where I was when knitting different parts of it, but not how difficulties were resolved.

Actual knitting of the shawl went well today, as I had nothing else to do but knit and worry. I have reached row 61 (of 83) in the border. I am thinking about inserting a break pattern – k2tog, yo, all the way around – between the border and the centre. Mrs Hunter of Unst doesn’t have one, but need that stop me?

My sister also sent me this link to the Pussyhat pattern. You probably all have it already – somehow or other, I knew about the march and the hat but had missed the beginning of the conversation so didn’t know the pattern. My sister says someone is knitting her one, although she is not going to march.

My wonderful children are trying to arrange a weekend away for me. For awhile there we thought I might join the Loch Fyne Mileses in early March for the Calcutta Cup weekend. We could watch the match together, and then if Scotland win -- don't worry; they won't -- I could measure Alexander on the spot for his Fair Isle vest. It was Greek Helen rather than I who spotted the flaw -- that's the weekend of the Edinburgh Yarn Festival. 

If I’m not here tomorrow, it will of course be because I am trying to comfort my cat.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


I finished the tax. I got it all printed out and all together. I sat down at the computer in a fairly composed state this morning – and couldn’t log on. I have been doing it without a hitch on-line in January for a decade or so. It is as if my anxiety, this year, about whether I could do it, has itself created the problem.

I floundered about for quite a while, finding various help screens into which I typed my husband’s Taxpayer Reference Number and his National Insurance Number, each of them a unique identifier, let alone in combination, and they kept saying they could find no such account. Finally I got through, and they are going to send me in the post a new Government Gateway User ID – I think that’s the problem.

There’s still time, although if the new number doesn’t get me in I don’t know what I’ll do.

And there’s still Perdita’s operation, scheduled for Thursday,  to worry about. She’s still in heat, although it’s subsiding. We’ll see, tomorrow.

Meanwhile knitting continues well, very comforting on so stressful a day. I’ve reached row 57, of 86, in the border pattern of Mrs Hunter’s shawl.

And I found myself wondering, when did charts come in? and why? Was there a pivotal moment? For lace knitting, Amedro’s “Shetland Lace” in ’96 – good heavens! as late as that! – must have been the last serious text-based lace book. Hazel Carter’s “Shetland Lace Knitting from Charts” – the title implies that that wasn’t then the norm – was published in 1987.

Mrs Hunter’s pattern is so easy that I haven’t had to chart it. It’s meticulously accurate. But – this is hard to express – the ()’s and the *’s don’t exactly relate to the motifs and it has been difficult, sometimes, in the modern idiom, to get my head around what’s going on. Whereas I have knit many of Amedro’s patterns and have loved the gentle rhythm of her “take”’s and “cast”’s.

I have knit a couple of things from the remarkable Bestway leaflet – “Traditional Shetland Scarves and Shawls” – which I hope Jamieson & Smith still sell. My only possible recourse, there, was to chart the patterns row by row. The accuracy of the proof-reading there is simply astonishing.

Somewhere in my extensive archives I think I actually have a pattern for a Fair Isle sweater, cut from a magazine, in which the pattern is written out row by row: K4blue, 5 yellow…. I think the first Kaffe Fassett pattern I ever saw, in a VKB of – what date? I’ll see if I can find it tomorrow – was more or less like that. “Glorious Knitting”, 1985, is firmly charted.

Maybe it was just the inexorable rise of common sense.

Monday, January 16, 2017

 A good day, certainly a busy one. The shawl has advanced to somewhere-in-row-53 of the border pattern: I think just about qualifying for my two-a-day goal. Last night’s catheter problem resolved itself satisfactorily – a nurse came fairly promptly, found that the catheter was draining successfully, deduced that it had previously been kinked. A fairly good night’s sleep was had by all.

And we had a splendid visit this morning with Anthony Bryer’s widow, my old friend Jenny

She told us a wonderful story about an obituary, in the Guardian, of some famous Greek, alas! unknown to me. The obituarist had submitted it with a photograph showing the dead man, Bryer, and the famous Byzantine historian Stephen Runciman. The Guardian, having the wit at least to recognize Runciman, had wrongly deduced that of the remaining two men, Bryer with his splendid beard and wild hair, was more likely to be Greek than the smoothly dressed third man, and had cut the photograph down to him.

Bryer and Jenny were in an airport somewhere – Belfast? -- when she went to buy the paper and found her husband’s photograph on the obituary page.

And the other thing I learned was that in England – in Birmingham, at least – there is no social care for the prosperous middle classes.

That cuts both ways: it means that Bryer never languished in hospital as my husband did for so many weeks last year, and the year before. The family had to hire help, and they did, and he came home. The NHS, obviously, benefits as well: a bed un-blocked.

Whereas in Scotland, social care is available with no reference to a means test. Two carers come to us four times a day, free of charge. But my husband had to wait a long time for the “care package” to be put in place.

The odd thing about this is that, with all we keep hearing at the moment about Crisis in the NHS, the general feeling I get is  that things are worse in England than in Scotland. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? I am sure there are at least as many seriously poor people, per capita, in Scotland as in England. I need more figures, and am not going to exert myself to acquire them. I remember telling Rachel once (=London) what we pay in council tax, and she said, That can’t be right, Mummy. But it was. Maybe that’s all there is to it.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Here we are. My husband’s catheter is, apparently, blocked. A nurse has been summoned. He is fairly comfortable, and may sleep. I must stay alert until she comes.

Knitting went well today. I am embarked on Row 51 of the shawl border (of 86). The second branch (from the bottom) of the Tree of Life is beginning to appear. I’m terribly glad to know that your Houlland is progressing, Shandy. It does look like fun.

I have been rather taken by Veera Valimaki’s “Breathing Space” pattern – it’s on Ravelry’s front page at the moment, well down towards the bottom. I am greatly drawn to asymmetry, and have never actually attempted it. I am slightly afraid that this one would just look as if I’d done it wrong.


My sister says she has had an income tax scam like the one I told you about the other day. We have been trying to think how the Bad Guys might actually get hold of any money. She found hers in voice mail – which presumably means that it wasn’t a recorded call, as mine was. If I had responded, the Bad Guy’s first job would have been to find out who I was: cat? butler? Jean? Ham*sh? Even in the interests of science, I would have been reluctant to divulge even that much information.

I suppose they go on to ask for a large payment into a government-sounding account and then they’ll drop the “case”.

I made some progress today with tidying papers and printing spreadsheets. I’m ready to roll with the actual return tomorrow or (more likely) Tuesday. The Money sections of the weekend newspapers are full of stories about how we need to get cracking.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Perdita is in heat -- which makes it easier to bear the prospect of the spaying. She has to sleep in the kitchen when she's in this state, because she's too restless for her usual place with me. But she has figured out how to open the kitchen door from the inside.(You just have to slip your paw under the door and pull it towards you – the latch won’t hold.)  I had to get up twice last night to deal with her, apart from getting up on other occasions to improve the position of my husband's pillows. I'll have to find a more secure place for her tonight.

Otherwise, nothing much. I did no tax today -- spent the afternoon time instead watching a very favourite movie, "King of Comedy". A tour de force for de Niro, directed by Scorsese, written by nobody I've ever heard of. It is often interesting, seeing a film one loves and remembers, to notice the shots one has completely forgotten. In this case, I was surprised to find a knitting scene. Not entirely plausible, but the knitter was meant to be understood as crazy. 

And I won't get the tax filed on Monday (although I hope to get more tidying of papers done tomorrow). Because a very dear old friend is coming to call -- Anthony Bryer's widow, but much more than that to me.

When we moved to Birmingham in the late summer of '70 (with a litter of kittens amongst the paraphenalia), I happened to see an ad in the local paper for a Latin teacher at the local school. They must have been desperate, just before the beginning of term -- I knew nothing about teaching. They bravely took me on. Jenny was the Deputy Head, and also Head of Languages. She was a pillar of strength, and has been a dear friend ever since.

Her husband Jess was a lecturer in French at the university nearby. He died young. So did Bryer’s wife Liz a few years later. And eventually Jenny and Bryer married. The only drawback on that happy occasion, to which the ghosts were as welcome as the living, was the thought that one or the other would probably have to go through such a bereavement again.

Jenny's sister, as it very happily happens, lives near here, on Dundas Street. Jenny is here because her sister's husband is celebrating his 80th this weekend. 

Meanwhile, the shawl had a very good day -- nothing like movie-watching. The Tree of Life is well established.

Friday, January 13, 2017

It was a comfort, Hat and others, to hear that you had suffered the very same scam I had yesterday, that recorded telephone call from "HMRC". Of course it couldn't be real -- what if the cat or the butler had answered the phone? And indeed, was it addressed to me or to my husband? But that deep, authoritative voice did rather shake me.

Alexander says that he never pays any attention to any recorded phone call. That's probably a good principle of life.

I think I've finished the tax. The final bit is always easier than I expect. I'll let it simmer for a couple of days while I tidy away all the paper and print out the spreadsheets -- then try to file on Monday or Tuesday.

And the shawl has had a good day, too. I've reached (although not finished)  row 43: the half-way row, and the one in which the final motif, the Tree of Life, is established.

Poor Perdita had her pre-op examination this morning -- Helen took her. She's booked in for spaying next Thursday. I will have a miserable week in anticipation. She will be spared that. But she will then be subjected to fear and pain, by my choice. And the worst, I feel, is that after depriving her of her God-given right to wander about peeing in our neighbours' finely-raked seed beds and munching their song-birds (because she is entirely house-bound) we are now going to deprive her of kittens.

But will we ever be able to get her back into the cat-carrier? She's not stupid.

I am surprised that I can't remember much about the spaying of our Dear Old Cat. She had had several litters and both she and we felt that enough was enough. But it must have been I who took her to the vet and Had It Done, and I can remember none of that.

Different subject: parts of GB have been having some rather strenuous weather yesterday and today. Edinburgh has got off fairly lightly. Alexander came over from Glasgow yesterday, where things were worse, and as we talked about it I was reminded of one of my favourite poems:

Where is the Weather?

The rain may fall in Aberdeen,
But in Dundee it can’t be seen.
In Derby the snow may be high,
But there is none in Hay-on-Wye.
In London the wind can’t be heard,
But there are gales in Hereford.
If you don’t agree with me,
Go somewhere else and you will see.

                        David Malcolm, age 9
                        Ledbury Primary School, Hereford


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Perdita has been booked in for spaying. Helen will take her down to the vet tomorrow morning for a pre-op consultation. I am deeply distressed. Fortunately the.poor animal won't worry.

Thank you for your kind comments. The fireplace, pre-mosaic, was a blank square of plasterboard. We have other open fireplaces (although we've never lit a fire in this house). I think Helen made the mosaic flat on a workbench in her studio. It came here supported from behind on some sort of adhesive mesh. Most alarmingly, on Installation Day, she cut it apart into six or seven pieces which she and the nice Grouting Man then assembled into the fireplace.

I suspect that mosaic-making, like knitting, takes so long to do that it's hard to make a living. 

I'm very pleased with the shawl. The colour looked a bit sepulchral to start with, but now seems like the sort of thing a costume designer would choose for a poor-but-honest character in a 19th century television drama. That's what I want. This is to be a shawl for use -- for bundling up a summer baby and taking it down to the pub for lunch.

I reached row 40 today, the first border decrease row. That’s a landmark, surely. And I'm nearly halfway through the border -- that'll be another. And I'm nearly finished with the second row of motifs and ready to start, in row 43, the third and final one. Yet another!

The tax went well, too. I think all the hard work is done -- Syngenta is no more, whatever it was. That simplifies things. 

I had a funny recorded phone call today. A man with a deep voice told me that HMRC (=Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs) was initiating a case against me. "To speak to your case officer, press One." 

Phishing, presumably. The tax man may well come for me one day, but I don't think it will be quite like that. But the call was well-calculated and well-timed to prey on January's anxieties, and sounded almost authentic.

Non-knit, non-tax

The January 16 New Yorker pitched up here today. My husband and I increasingly find that we can’t understand the cartoons. My sister is coming for a visit in early Feb – it might be instructive to have her take us through the then-current issue.

But on page 56 of today’s issue is one we will cut out and keep in our current bedtime-reading book: “Look alive, Proust, you’re next”. We’re doing rather well with Proust.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Another good day, I guess, although I feel as though I am shouting to you from a distant shore.

I advanced the tax. In fact, I think the only remaining income problem is Syngenta. Who are they? Why does my husband have shares in them? And, more to the point, did they pay him anything in 2015-2016, and if so how much? And into which account? The rest, I believe, is all downhill.

I have been eager for a financial document to arrive in the mail, so that I could exercise my resolution of dealing with such things fully, and at once. Today one did, and I did.

And the shawl has achieved its two rows, or just about.

Here it is:

Not as expressive a pic as I had hoped. At least you can see that I'm getting somewhere.

And here’s the mosaic:

You will (justifiably) conclude that I need to tidy the sitting room. We need to rearrange it – the fireplace used to have a sofa in front of it. Now, we want to keep the mosaic fully in view. Neither of these pictures fully do it justice. 

The icon on the mantelpiece is Helen's work too.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A good day.

I have toiled through row 35 of the shawl border pattern, and am now somewhere in 36 – my two-a-day resolution fulfilled, although not by much. Row 33 was the one in which the second motif reached its widest point, but 35, paradoxically, was the one containing the most k3tog’s – four for each of the nine motifs on each of the four sides. That’s a lot of k3tog’s.

When this row of motifs is finished, that leaves only the Tree of Life, and I don’t think it goes in for k3tog’s much. I’m making progress.

And the tax went well, too – my next target is Unit Trusts, and we haven’t many of them. Once that’s done, I think it’s pretty plain sailing. My sister phoned from DC today – confirming my impression that an American tax return is vastly more complicated. The monthly fee she and her husband pay to their retirement community can be partly set against tax as a medical expense, she said. I don’t think wage-earners and pension-payees, in this country, can set anything against tax. The self-employed, yes, and the renters-out of property.

Including us, as the owners of 20 acres in Strathardle, farmed by a neighbour. We charge him so little that it’s not worth fussing about deductions, although of course we must, and do,  faithfully declare that little. Even when I'm not entirely sure that they have remembered to pay, this year.

I’m sorry to have no pics for you. The light is so brief, the moment slips by. Tomorrow, I hope.

Monday, January 09, 2017

The carers were in better time tonight, but events have supervened and I will have, again, to be brief.

It wasn’t an entirely satisfactory day, either, on the two fronts in which we are primarily interested. I did finish two rows of the borders of Mrs Hunter’s shawl, but only just. The second motif is nearing its widest point, which means more k3tog’s.

And I did no tax at all. Realizing that that was happening, I thought, OK, I’ll log on to the government website (gateway/gov/uk, or something like that) just to prove that I can. The first attempt got me only as far as the first “g” before telephone or doorbell supervened. The second time, I did better – I was actually typing in the password (one of those Juliet Bravo Nine sort of things) before the interruption came.

The excitement which actually succeeded in happening was the installation of a mosaic by Greek Helen in the previously blanked-off fireplace in the sitting room. My husband, who has to sit looking at it all day, had been agitating for some time for something interesting to fill the space. Helen offered to make a mosaic. Its utter wonderfulness wasn’t entirely evident until it was installed.

Perdita had had no previous experience of the installation of mosaics, let alone of their grouting. She took a lively interest throughout.

Photographs tomorrow, as well as some of the shawl.

VK turned up today, to my great excitement, but there is little or nothing there to send me forward to the EYF. I do very much like No. 4, a smallish shawl. I’ll keep it in mind. I think I still have an IK to look forward to. They couldn't have terminated my subscription without warning me?

I increasingly get the impression that those little collections of six mini-skeins in graduated colours are The Coming Thing. I love them. But how to deal with them? Last year at the EYF I did Carol Feller’s class on that very topic, and came away not much the wiser.