Sunday, November 30, 2014

November collage

Well, here I am at the end of a month of daily blogging, with only a couple of days off while we were away. It seems a bit odd to be maintaining this tradition with the white heat of the blogging craze long behind us, and I've sometimes wondered why I'm doing it and what I've got to say or show of any importance, but I'm glad I have, it's made me feel more connected with an activity I still value and with all of you who stop by, who I still value too, and I have enjoyed exercising the discipline of making myself sit down and put a post together, I think it's probably done my brain some good, and I have thought to use the camera a bit more, which I've enjoyed too. I rarely think to look at stats any more, but when I did recently, I observed that they spiked dramatically on the days when I used photos, videos and links from elsewhere, so I don't know what's going on there, but not to worry.

There are still things I meant to post about then didn't get round to it, but they can wait and be subjects for later, or not, as it goes. However, now I expect to feel a little like the poor man in the fable who complained that he had no room with his big family in his tiny house, so the rabbi told him to bring the chickens, then the goat then the cow into the house, then to put them all outside again, so the man revelled in all the sudden extra space he had. Similarly, I will, I hope, discover a luxurious access of time, probably early evening, which I hope to use in sitting on my arse knitting, of which I have rather a lot to do before Christmas.

So to round things off, an end-of-the-month collage, on time for once. 

  1. Breakfast, yoghurt and honey. Actually this isn't particularly seasonal but it's nice.
  2. View from the front door early in the month, almost bare branches now.
  3. The man cutting the hedges.
  4. Tom's Christmas jumper, taking a rather long time. Half and half merino wool and cotton, nice but rather fine, half fisherman's rib, mostly big simple rectangles, might be a last minute rush before Christmas. More dark red.
  5. On the Condor ferry on the way to Jersey, rather too warm Australian Shiraz in plastic glasses, but we were in a holiday mood and didn't mind.
  6. First fires in the chimney. We usually manage to hold out till November. This was one of the old beams Tom took down doing the garage job, you can see a nail sticking out of it.
  7. Road through the chestnut and beech woods, see yesterday's post.
  8. Walnuts, usually a basket of them on the table during the winter, good for antioxidants.
  9. Leaf litter.
  10. Skeletal poppy head. More dead heads on a web album.
  11. Foggy garden this morning, only a couple of weeks ago it still looked like this.
  12. Mince pie, the first today as it is the First Sunday in Advent. Enjoyed with tea and Radio 3's Service for Advent with Carols, which ticked all the boxes for such a thing, which are really just two: Oh Come oh Come Emmanuel to start and Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending to close, Sleepers Awake after that was a bonus. I like early Advent, it's really the best of Christmas for me, it feels fresh and ancient at the same time. Some of the liturgy, said the programme notes, dates back to the sixth century in Gaul, which gave me a bit of a shiver.

So, be seeing you, and thanks for reading and stopping by.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Three beautiful things

Two from yesterday, one from today.

1) The way through the woods. This is one of my favourite bits of road to drive through, as I do quite frequently, but most especially in spring or autumn, because the leaves of the beech trees come and go a little earlier than those of the chestnuts they grow amongst, so you have a sense of the first green flames flickering and the last golden ones dying down amongst the not yet kindled or burned out logs of the chestnut trunks. This is one of the things I like about living here where the predominant tree species are chestnut, oak and then, less frequently, beech.

As for the road, it's not so easy to stop on, so I've never really taken photos here. I made the effort this time as it was brighter at last after days and days of rain and fog, and I suddenly realised that autumn would be gone before I knew it. When we first came here, it seemed to me that autumn colour didn't really happen, and I missed it, but in fact what really often happens is that the wet, dull, windy weather of November can whip the last of it away while we huddle indoors and don't see the going of it.

So I got out of the car at the parking spot and and walked back some way to photograph the vista I admire so often while driving.

Typically, however, I found my eyes straying downward to the leaf litter.

The parking spot is under a big stone cross which, I think, marks the boundary between Quessoy and Hénon. Soize's husband, the erudite local historian and master crêpier Quercus (the town's name, Quessoy, coming originally from the Latin for oak, in which the place abounded), tells of how when he was a nipper, the children of the two communes would appoint a time to meet under the stone cross for a battle, a ritualised and generally bloodless affair, I think, superseded in adolescence by a rivalry centring on the differing types of scooter they rode according to the franchises held by the two towns' garages. 

For me, the spot was for a long time one of the Stations of the Mol, one of those places where, however sound asleep she appeared to be on the back seat, Molly would mysteriously know that we were approaching, and sit up and bark for a walk. As she grew older, the walk wasn't much of a walk, at least not for me, as all she really wanted to do was get out of the car and walk round and round in circle sniffing at things; but even a very little time before she left us, I stopped here and opened the windows for her and she lifted her head and took in the the smells with recognition.

There are more photos on a web album.


2) A box of light at Quai de Rêves. We, the both of us unusually, met up with Iso and Princeling and, unusually, Pascal their paterfamilias, to take in a dance show in Lamballe. A combination of one-woman dance and a fairly uniquely conceived form of digital art, a kind of cube of translucent membrane on which were projected forms and patterns of light, abstract, figurative and ... whatever letters and numbers are, not calligraphic, ummm, typographic? Anyway. These seemed to respond to her movement, but I'm still not certain they did, I think perhaps she followed them, since after the performance the audience were invited to come and play in the box themselves, but it didn't seem quite evident how to make it respond. It was fun trying anyway. Tom was entranced by the dancer (he either is by contemporary dance or hates it) and sought her out afterwards to express a tongue-tied thanks and shake her hand, Iso was moderately pleased, but as a dancer and performer herself said she wasn't entirely satisfied by the dancer's 'vocabulary of movement'. Princeling was only somewhat entertained and started to fidget (the chairs were a bit uncomfortable and it was a bit late) but he had been to a proper restaurant beforehand without a kids' menu and had eaten pintâde and café gourmand without the café, and most amazing of all his teacher was at the show (that one's primary teacher might exist beyond the classroom is a fact fairly bouleversant to a seven-year-old) so it wasn't a bad evening for him overall. I don't know what Pascal thought, he and Iso always seem to get caught up in a bit of networking at these events so I guess that's a positive for them, but for myself I was just happy that everyone was doing OK and the performance was interesting enough and not too long. I didn't take any pictures of it as I'm not sure that's good form and anyway I wanted to watch it, but here are some I took afterwards during the audience participation bit:

The last one is Princeling, with his face blurred because it was dark and I wasn't using flash.

It wasn't a long show, so there was time for a very light meal and yesterday's blog post before we left, the drive there and back (oddly, my eyes, not great with night vision, seemed much better adapted to the road after watching the show than before), a bit of time to socialise, the show itself, then cheese and wine and telly and knitting when we got back, so it seemed a really very long and full and satisfying evening.


3) The chimney sweep's dog.  Having the chimney swept is indeed a beautiful thing in itself; the fire burns clean and bright afterwards and there's that good feeling that something cleansing that needs to be done has been done.  The young chap who does it is calm and careful and hard-working and has some powerful kit for the job. But an unlooked for bonus was this fellow who he had in the cab of his van:

An American cocker spaniel puppy. 

You can bring him in, I said, trying not to sound too desperately eager.  But he said no, he was fine, and in fact the vacuum cleaner he operates from the van is very noisy in the house but the cab is well insulated, and anyway I think he's learning to be a good road companion, and we know from Molly experience that you need to be consistent and not give them mixed messages about when  they do and don't come out of the vehicle. But he took him out afterwards and let us all say hello. He's only two and a half months old, so he's doing very well coming out and about to work with his boss and waiting and so on, though I did notice there was a thick protective sheet on the seat!

We agreed that the most important thing for them is to be with you, not to be alone and to be taken along. The sweep was clearly very besotted with him and very proud - his mum and dad were both champions, he told us. As before, it was rather dark for the photos, and as with Princeling, he didn't care to keep still.

What's his name? - I asked.
Joe, - said the sweep, and grinned - Cocker!


Final day of daily posting tomorrow. 

Friday, November 28, 2014


I used to sew a lot as a youngster. I wasn't brilliant at it, too slapdash, and school needlework was a nightmare; a 'waist petticoat' consisting of a rectangle of white poplin with one French seam (what? Who'd want to be bothered with a thing like that, seaming twice when once would do fine... Come to that who the hell wants a poplin waist petticoat anyway?) and elastic round the top took me all of a school year, since the (possibly clinically insane) needlework teacher sent me back to unpick it time and again until it was frayed with wear, grey with fingermarks and brown with rust from the pins. However, I really did learn to sew at my mother's and my sisters' knees, it was a source of enjoyment and challenge, and if making something myself was an option I'd usually give it a try; bras and jeans could never quite match the bought versions for fit, but most other things could be attempted, and in those days home made really was often cheaper, especially when you had a mother whose idea of a good Saturday afternoon out was market stalls selling fabrics. 

Nowadays though, I've come to realise that sewing isn't really a great pleasure for me any more; it seems to be one of the many things I'm letting go with relief and without regret*.  I will make the odd curtain or cushion cover or other item for the house if called for, but I don't really enjoy it that much, and getting the machine out feels like a chore, it's strictly about the product not the process. I have a small pile of interesting fabrics, for which I had a few plans, but lately I became aware that looking at them made me feel tired and weighed down and guilty. The awareness came to me because of the difference between that feeling and the one engendered by the prospect of my stash of knitting wool, which is always one of exciting possibility and tingling in the fingers at the projects it represents, even though they may not ever come to fruition. 

However, there is one area where I regard a bit of sewing quite cheerfully, and that's in the area of mending. I know a lot of more gifted and serious needlepersons regard mending as a dreary horror, but I'm genuinely quite happy to do it, and always have been, in fact.  A patch represents a manageable morsel of sewing for me, and darning a rather charming little symbiotic flowering of weaving or embroidery. The work brings the item back into commission, but its existence isn't dependent on it. And more recently I've become quite taken with the possibilities of more creative mending, using it to embellish and make things unique.  It helps of course that I now live in such a way that eccentrically mended and tatterdemalion clothing can be worn as no one much sees it anyway. Though I've always been rather drawn to motley; there used to be an urban tribe of dreadlocked anarcho-feminists who hung out somewhere in north London when I lived in the city in the eighties who wore jeans and leather jackets entirely composed of shreds and patches, and I often looked at them rather enviously. I doubt that I would have qualified to join, my half-hearted reading of Bakunin and Malatesta and occasional purchase of 'Green Anarchist' weekly (their recipe for chickpeas with apricots was a blow-out, green anarchists must have had hearty appetites) probably wouldn't have been enough.

Anyway, here are some examples. Tom's favourite Black Watch M&S shirt, worn at the collar then torn on the sleeve on a nail, I really actually no kidding turned the collar! I have never before done this, it looked a bit odd and I had to stitch it down a bit or it stuck up but it's wearable. Then I patched the tear with a piece of green cloth table napkin someone gave me, and I decided we were never going to use leaf green cloth table napkins:

Whimsically I made it leaf shaped. And I was very pleased with my patience because I didn't tell him but put it away in the wardrobe at the end of the summer so he didn't find it done till he got it out in the spring (it's a quite thin cotton shirt).

I decided I liked the leaf motif, so when I found I had spilled something nasty on my old plummy-browny-purply yoga pants which caused a kind of stained and wrinkled splodge, I used it again:

We both wear rather a lot of polar fleece. Sometimes I feel a bit conflicted about this, it's rather nasty cheap synthetic stuff really, and contrary to some belief is almost never made from recycled plastic water bottles. It is however lighter than wool and warmer than cotton, doesn't itch, comes in nice colours, is economical and dries from the wash in the blink of an eye. If it ever scorches, though, which is an occupational hazard with a wood fire, or even from leaning over the stove, it melts in an instant, which was what happened to this purple one, of which I really was very fond because it's a very good colour.

Oh, and another thing about it is it doesn't felt, unlike wool. I have a number of old felted sweaters in my piles of stuff, and sometimes I chop them up with a view to doing something creative with them. So I made a big pocket from the bottom of one and used it to cover up the scorch mark, and as it didn't have a pocket this was quite useful. Then I put more whimsical leaves on the elbows which were a bit thin and worn, and some other totally unnecessary bits in other places too.

At this point it becomes clear how much dark reddish, brownish and purplish clothes we have in our wardrobes. Like my best linen trousers, which I thought I took good care of but then splashed some bleach on them through the laundry basket. The resulting white spot had to be covered up. Spiders' webs inspired the repair this time. 

They're really redder than the above one, the camera tends to a bluish cast, this one's more like:

I still don't mind wearing them for best, it's quite a small mend and doesn't stand out.

Sometimes mending and knitting can be comined, Tom's old Shetland jumper, which has been in his life longer than I have, went through at the elbows, so I knitted some elbow patches:

In fact the jumper's so thin now that I think it may not really have been worth the effort, but not to worry.

I like this red and purple stripe so much that I started knitting myself a hat with the same wool, but then I needed the needles for something else.

There are quite a few other half-completed mending projects in the bag: woolly walking socks with soles cut from felted sweaters waiting to be slippers, other old sweaters with their sleeves cut off to be made into waistcoats, the sleeves perhaps into boot toppers.  They may not all get finished, and it's all quite unnecessary, inexpensive and perfectly adequate new clothes can be bought, but it's fun, and satisfying, and no one else has got them.

*Many of these - drawing, painting, writing poems... - are quite possibly just on hold, and I'll come back to them later, for the moment I simply don't feel I need to be doing them.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


We went to the doctor yesterday for our flu jabs and to talk about Tom's eyes. The appointment was for midday. He never used to have appointments, you just turned up and waited your turn; he still doesn't have a receptionist but takes calls himself or his wife fields them sometimes. She's a bit fierce and protective when she does, and he tends to pull a face and say not to take any notice of her.  He also used to freely make house calls. Our first winter Tom was ill, mostly from exhaustion, and Dr le G called in twice a day, unasked, for several days, clearly worried about the clueless and shattered English couple living in a draughty damp shack with the roof half-off. He's a dear, dear man from a family for whom caring and service and civic-mindedness are central to their lives, I used to teach his cousin who was a retired primary teacher, they always spoke glowingly of each other. But he's getting tired, we think, and despondent.

He was running about forty minutes late, which was already taking us well into any sensible person's lunchtime, but there were still people coming through the door. It's partly his own fault, he will chat away with you as though he had all the time in the world. We showed him the optometrist's note, which he said was readable and usable in French, but his response as to how we should proceed was a near-hopeless shrug. Surgical ophthalmologists with free appointments are rare as hen's teeth, we would need to search around, he didn't refer, but we could forget St Brieuc... perhaps Pontivy? No probably not, try Rennes, or Nantes... but beware those who weren't conventionnés (state covered) they could charge what they liked. Cataracts aren't considered urgent, but of course they are when they begin to interfere with driving and other necessary functions.

Everything is overloaded, he went on, not enough doctors anywhere, look at all the people out there in the waiting room, he should have been finished by 12.15, and he'd be back tonight till nine o'clock.  He stuck our jabs into our arms while still grumbling. Tom didn't feel his, I did, in and out, but today he feels bleary and queasy while I just feel a bit as though someone's punched me in the arm.  We appreciate having them anyway, two for the price of one as Tom's is free.

Dr le G is probably still a few years off retirement, when he takes it, as his cousin MH said, there won't be another like him, and indeed, there might not be another in that surgery, since there are fewer and fewer generalists available for the more rural practices, which is why he's busier and busier, as he's taken on patients from other doctors round about who have retired or moved on.

This morning I researched around a bit as to where the operating eye doctors might be. I looked despondently at the clinics in Rennes, I really hated the idea of that drive, especially in the winter, and trailing there on the train didn't seem a great idea. One could perhaps stay over... I tried St Brieuc anyway on the off-chance, but the answering machine in the hospital department wasn't even taking messages, there were no appointments, not now nor in the foreseeable, it told me. From when I had a threatening retinal tear a couple of years ago, I didn't imagine the private clinics would be a much better story, and the doctor had warned us off them rather as possibly unregulated as far as charging was concerned.

I had a look on AngloInfo forums. One or two people spoke well of the new clinic in Pontivy, so I thought it might be worth a try, and it's not too far. I carefully wrote out my enquiry, a thing I rarely bother to do now but I wanted to sound clear and not too easy to put off. Is there any possibility of an appointment at all? I asked and waited to be told it was out of the question. Yes, said the secretary, who I had got through to in a couple of minutes, in two weeks, early afternoon, OK?

Much relief all round, we can even treat ourselves to lunch in Pontivy, which is a lively little town down in Central Brittany (no, that's not necessarily an oxymoron), as it's just a day or two before my birthday. I don't know how long it will be before Tom can have the cataracts seen to, but at least we've got things underway.

Well, I've written more than I intended to now so the stuff about creative mending which I was going to include in this post, on the theme of getting things mended, will have to wait till tomorrow, but you can go back and look at the ponies or the man with the cheekbones, otherwise here's a pretty pink rose, some of which are still blooming in the garden yet.

Oh, and belated happy Thanksgiving to everyone on that side, it slipped my mind, but thankfulness is always to be treasured.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A coasting post

Or rather a cheating one really, because I thought I'd just share some stuff which makes me smile from one of my Pinterest boards, the one where I put general pleasing, inspiring or funny things about knitting.

Three on Fair-Isle:

This is a character called Johnnie Jamieson who may be seen at the Shetland museum (though sadly no longer in the flesh I wouldn't imagine).  His hat is calles a toorie:

He's kind of Whisky-Galore-with-knobs-on isn't he? Magnificent.

This next guy is even funnier I think. He's quite beautiful too though, I think he's just out of a Rowan catalogue or something: 

I'm sure there are some who'd have the jumper off his back. I would, in fact, but purely to keep the jumper.

But these look the most adorable of all in Fair-Isle, no contest.

I think they came originally from the Shetland tourist board or something.

And lastly, one I fear is a little too close to the truth for comfort:


That'll do for today!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Knitting review of the year # 5: Man Paws and Heartbreak

I rather wanted to make something for Molly's vet Emmy and her husband Paul, who works with her, to thank them for all their kindness over the years. Paul is a big, kind, bearlike chap, so my trusty fingerless mittens in a fuzzy brown mohair/wool mix (Rowan Colourspun) which I had stashed, seemed reliable, which I have seen called Man Paws:

(Just a quick webcam pic for those, I'm afraid)

For Emmy I thought triangular shawl/scarf things are a pretty good bet for most people. I tried to remember what colours I'd ever noticed her wearing other than her working white coat/blouson thingy. I thought mauvy-bluey-greeny ones were probably about right. Good old Drops again, their pure alpaca had a lovely range, including some 'mixed' ones with a number of different coloured fibres blended into one strand which makes for more subtlety.

I browsed a while for patterns, wanted three toning colours but wasn't sure about little narrow stripes or great big blocks. Then I found this one, which when I saw its name, Heartbreak, had to be the one.  In fact the designer, Lisa Mutch, tends to give her designs rather terse, angst-ridden, minatory or elliptical names: others include 'Asunder', 'Enshroud', 'Maim', 'Slain', 'Nevermore'. Not quite your granny's knitwear, is the inteded impression, I think. She is one of those clever people who can create all kinds of shapes and patterns from quite simple elements, which are easy enough to follow and carry in your head once you see how they work, but which most ordinary knitting mortals like myself couldn't possibly imagine coming up with and putting together ourselves. It takes a certain kind of mathematical brain, I think, combined with a tactile aesthetic sense.

You make it from the bottom point of the overall triangle up, and the different coloured triangular sections are made using short rows and wrapping-and-turning, which I'd not really done before, except I suppose in the heels of socks, but I wouldn't have known how to transfer the technique. It wasn't really difficult anyway, once I'd followed the directions. It was in fact rather a small shawl, all-in-all, and Emmy is not a slight person but quite broad-shouldered, so as I had plenty of yarn left I thought I'd add another section. But if you follow the pattern of enlarging the triangles each time, the triangles get bigger and bigger, deeper as well as longer, and it soon became apparent I didn't have that much yarn left, and even if I had the top green one would be enormous and rather overwhelm the purple, which I didn't want, so I had to improvise, and make it longer and thinner. I really didn't have much idea what I was doing, and any careful maths went out the window; the short rows got longer and longer as I raced to get to the end before the yarn ran out. Yet it was surprising how forgiving the principle was, and how it didn't spoil the overall effect.

Emmy, of course, had no idea of these fascinating facts about its construction, not being a knitter, though once when she was doing a nifty bit of suture work on Molly she did mention she rather liked doing that kind of thing with thread and stuff and had been fond of crochet as a child (Mol was fine, it was on a wart where she didn't have much sensation and she'd had a small local anyway). But she seemed genuinely pleased when I gave it to her, said what nice colours, wrapped it round her shoulders and gave me a hug. Paul slipped his mittens on with a smile, and said they reminded him of the milkmen in Holland in the winter.

There is a theory that one should only really give knitted gifts, or more substantial ones anyway, to fellow knitters, as they are the only ones who fully appreciate what goes into them.  But I don't hold with this, I'd rather put the love and effort into them anyway then let them go with my blessing to take their chances*.

I do rather hope that Gina and Mimine don't get hold of them though.

*Also fellow knitters are also more likely to spot the mistakes and sloppiness and short cuts.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Winter blues, and another Breton island added to the collection.

Greys more like. The kind of day where to say it grows dark early is almost pointless, it has scarcely grown light all day. The e-mails unanswered, lists unwritten, photos unscanned, all the projects unbegun never mind unfinished, hang over the day like the wet pall of cloud and mist and rain hangs over the day and the damp washing hangs round the house.  Blues would be welcome, in fact, and with that in mind, it's a moment to revisit the Ile de Batz.

It's about a quarter of an hour's boat trip from Roscoff, but most of that time is spent turning the boat around. We visited the island (pronounced 'Ile de Ba') back in September, we'd never been before, in spite of frequenting the mainland area frequently and knowing it well. It's about three km long and about one wide at its widest point.

It's popular with tourists, and probably a fairly desirable dormitory suburb of Roscoff, but it's a proper working community as well. They grow vegetables, most famously delicious new potatoes, but also pink onions and artichokes and other things, we saw a lot of little fields of bulb fennel. And there is fishing.

There are motorised vehicles, though tractors and mopeds probably outnumber cars.

There's a well-known light house and a semaphore station, and this rather fine lifeboat house,

which I think has an open day once a year (not the day we were there), but no souvenir charity shop.

This is the island's football pitch, home ground of Moles United, I think.

There's a ruined chapel,

where people play a bit and express themselves with rocks and pebbles, 

a lot of wild fennel, and a number of horses.

The building glimpsed through the dip in the photo above is the sailors' chapel on the headland at Roscoff, where the fishermen and onion sellers used to say their prayers and ask for blessings before they set out to sea.

We had a delicious lunch at the island's main hotel: a light flaky pastry filled with confit pink onions and pâté, and a dish of the small scallops called pétoncles, then we walked across to the other side of the island, where there are wide beaches of white sand, and very blue sea.

I love how, in these small western islands, whether here in Brittany or in Scotland, there is a landward side which is homely and busy and pragmatic, and a seaward side which is wild and open and dreaming.

The small white dash on the horizon is the ferry out of Roscoff, to Cork in Ireland or Plymouth in Devon.

It was a hot day; I had a long t-shirt on and there weren't many people about, so I stripped off trousers and paddled. Tom wasn't dressed or quite up for this, though he regretted it, and we had not towel or means of dusting off sand, and he minds sand in his socks and shoes more than I do. He went down to the water's edge and dipped his hands and arms in anyway.

We went back to the port, and had tea,

communed with the birdlife (these below are ringed plovers, not a great photo but I take these zoom shots for identification)

and took ourselves off, back across the water.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A wet Sunday in November

Which I ended up spending binge-watching Noggin the Nog dvds. It was that or Bergman; I was in the mood for something Scandi and I don't do Wallender or Borgen.   Here's a taste of it:

Amazing, it's even older than I am.  I also did a couple of square foot of pretty rough lace knitting while I watched, which I won't try to show you; it might end up as a Christmas present anyway so best not in case the recipient sees.

And here is some of a pumpkin I cut up for dinner - courtesy of Lyse and her green-fingered husband, who have kept us very well stocked with veggies and vitamins this year. Merci Lyse! (But I'll leave all the andouille for you...)