Wednesday, February 17, 2016


When I started this blogging thing, I didn't know it would bring me such friends, or such sorrow at their passing, as it has.

About five people known through this medium now, I think, have died since I began; a couple of them have quite broken my heart. Ellena is one. She was always a quiet, discreet, self-effacing presence, but a rare and special one. Her writing on her own blog, too infrequent, was remarkable, giving as it did glimpses, flashes of the light and shade across her hinterland, and her own unparalleled courage and sweetness. Visiting here, she always, without fail, shed her own, surprising, light, observed the detail, remembered the anniversaries, made the connections. I shall miss her.

I come back here, and shall continue to do so, for the friends I've found here.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Weather,wood and wool

Having risen early to try to record again the first seven minutes of the seventh chapter of the second book of The Well at the World's End, (alas and alack, I fear I am verily fed up unto the back teeth with it, forsooth), I find that, while I have worked out that it is probably the laptop fan which is causing the interfering whine on the soundtrack, even if I position the mic and myself differently to avoid this, the escalating winds of storm Imogen are really making far too much racket round the house for a quiet recording environment, or at least one in which I can concentrate enough to read aloud. So as I'm up already I'll start a post, since, touch wood, we still have internet connection, power etc.

I dislike high winds. Some of my earliest blog posts, I recall, were expressing anxiety about this meteorological fact of life, it must have been another windy winter nearly ten years ago. Especially I worried about what would happen if Victor's trees blew down on our house, in particular his largest chestnut tree. Changing bedrooms, so I heard the wind less and we were not directly under the predicted downward trajectory of said tree, and accepting the futility of trying to communicate this concern in any effective way to Victor have to some extent alleviated the fears, but the source of them has continued to grow, as trees will.

A week or so ago I encountered his remaining sister in the village, old Hélène, who is 96 and almost totally blind, outside the house, and she entered into her usual tirade against her brother and his trees and how inconsiderate and irresponsible he was to let them grow so near our house. This was one reason I had stopped trying to talk to Victor about them, I knew he had his sisters on his back pleading our case, and he didn't listen to them so why would he listen to me? Or maybe staying on friendly terms with him so he might just be concerned with our welfare might be more effective. One of the reasons Hélène, and their other sister, Marcelle who's in the retraite and Marie-Thérèse who used to live next door, gave for the undesirability of the trees was the amount of leaf litter and the way they blocked the light from the house. The leaves are a minor nuisance to clear up it's true, and make the road untidy, but in fact the effect on the light, which really is more from the screening effect of the coppiced shoots than the big tree, is something I love. The dancing, ever-changing filtered glow and dappled shade that plays through our windows and onto our walls as the sun moves round the house through the year, green in spring and gold in winter, making it into a great seasonal sundial, is a joy to me.

So I agreed with old Hélène but tended to shrug and laugh it off anyway, but then a day or so later, just before these spells of stormy winds moved in on us, two burly blokes with a couple of mighty chain saws and a piece of robust wheeled agricultural plant with a massive extending arm thing arrived. They held the tree in place with the arm and made short work of downing it onto Victor's patch and cutting the thickest part of the trunk into a couple of pieces. This was done in the darkling dusk (hence I didn't photograph the operation), with no ear protection or any other safety gear. Victor watched from a few paces off, and we watched from the window, while I formulated in my head the French for 'the monsieur has been crushed by a tree/cut his hand/arm/leg off/himself in two with a chainsaw', figuring I'd probably be able to get to the phone more quickly than Victor.

The latter, all ninety-four years and four foot eleven of him, has been having a whale of a time with his own chainsaw, axes, wedges etc, chopping the old tree up, as well as clambering about on a flimsy ladder trimming the remaining smaller ones. His daughters try to keep tabs on him but they don't live there, and he's a stubborn old git and will do what he wants anyway. When I told him on my way out to be careful up there he chuckled like a wicked gnome and carried on hanging off the ladder with one arm while sawing at a branch with the other. Tom had just given him a bottle of wine as a thank you for dispatching the tree, I don't know if he'd been drinking it. It was Chilean red not cider or calva so maybe he wasn't really interested, but his daughter looked appreciative anyway.

I clambered up the bank and took a photo of the section of the tree, then enlarged it and tweaked the contrast to count the rings. I've a feeling it wasn't the full bole at the base, so may have been only a coppiced shoot of an even older tree, but even so I make it about thirty-eight rings. It first saw the light when I was doing my O levels, was a mere sapling when I left school, at which time Victor was probably contemplating his retirement, and I've marked some other points:

Interesting to note it must have withstood the 1987 hurricane which flattened swathes of woodland here and took the roofs off most of the houses in the village, and laid low many fine old beeches in the park opposite my parents' house in Brighton, which I remember looking out at for long sad hours the February after when my father died. But then it was still quite a young tree then, and must have bowed but not broken, like the reed in the fable.


Changing the subject, my first lopapeysa! The design, called Antipodal, came from a recent book and is quite modern and atypical in some ways (including the rolled turtle neck), though the construction is traditional. You knit a big tube for the body up to the underarms, two small tubes for the arms, then join them all together into one yoke which you decrease in size, changing colours and making the patterned bit, up to the neck. So there's very little making up or sewing to do and all the fun stuff, patterning and shaping, comes near the end, so you have it to look forward to and don't lose interest. They're also fairly inexpensive and quick to make, as the wool is quite bulky, though this is made from the thinner Lopi-lite version.

In fact the yoke is really too deep, so the sleeves join too low and if I wear a jacket over it that pushes it up under the arms a fold appears under the neck. I can now see how this might be avoided, and half-considered unravelling some way back and reshaping it, but decided I'd rather just wear it as it is and go on and make another one, which I have already set about doing, though from other wool than Icelandic, which is something of a come-down since lopi wool is extraordinarily gorgeous: tough, seemingly harsh but luminous, unique and surprisingly warm and comfortable once you're inside, just like Iceland in fact. However, I can't really justify sending away for more of it while I've stacks of stashed stuff already, but then there'll be satisfying possibilities of arithmetical adjustments to allow for the different yarn. The study and perfecting of this form of knitting is much appreciated and has a large and enthusiastic following; I can vouch for how compulsive it is.

Reading up on the history of Icelandic knitting, I've learned that while wool and knitted garments have long been an important part of their culture and economy, the patterned yoke pullover is not so very old, dating from the mid-twentieth century, and they were originally called Greenlandic sweaters, not because they came from Greenland but because the patterned yoke resembled the decorative neck elements of some traditional Greenland folk costumes. 

So there you go.