Sunday, 20 January 2013

Winter chill

We have some snow - not a huge amount, much less here on the South Coast than further West or inland, but enough to look very charming.
We're doing our best to make sure the birds and beasts have enough to eat and drink. There are several very beautiful foxes who stroll through in the early morning; one a very lordly dog fox. I've not managed to catch any of them with the camera, but am keeping a bowl of water ice free in case they need to drink.
The Jay is a regular visitor, though very shy - he'll swoop away across the garden at the slightest movement, even if we are indoors but near the window
The little water boy bravely holds out his shell of water, as the snow gathers on his head

much to the delight of robin, who seems to think it's OK to take a bath in water meant for drinking

while at the bottom of the garden, there is the most delicate tracery of branches weaving a snowy web in the air

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Monday, 14 January 2013

Knitting a snood

I seem to be doing an awful lot of things at the moment! One of them is catching up on this piece of knitting which has been on the needles, by my estimate, for over two years now. Two years I hear you gasp in horror! Hmmmm, yes, it is rather a long time isn't it? I know it's that long, because I was just near the start when my dear soul and I went up to his daughter's just before Christmas two years ago - where her delightful puppy, Bella, thought that perhaps she could help and the whole thing nearly ended in a dreadful tangle! In my defence, it is 11 pattern repeats, of 20 rows each, over 240 stitches, round and round and round and round. But, at last, I'm nearing the end. Do you do Ravlery? I do, and its tremendously useful, because you can see what other people have done with the thing you are knitting. This "thing" is a snood, or it will be when it is finished; my second piece of lace knitting. It has a rather lovely, but scarily complicated looking edging, intended to be knitted separately and then attached. If done this way, it means counting out 120 pattern repeats, hoping your tension in this bit allows your edging to stretch all the way round, then laboriously sewing it on. So I had a look at what others had done, and found advice to knit the edging in with the rest of the knitting. Now that sounded even more scary, so I did several test rows first to make sure I understood what the edging involved before even thinking about incorporating it into the rest of the knitting.

Here's how it happens. You have a little group of seven stitches on your needle (which become nine for a while). You also have the rest of your knitting, on its circular needles (that extra shiny one is one end of this bit) dangling below the bit you're working on, all wriggly ....

at the end of every other row, you knit the final stitch together with the next stitch on the main piece, so you're trying to handle three needles and two bits of knitting with only two hands to do it all.

It's all rather finicky to start with as the circular needle that holds the lace squirms about and wiggle waggles like a live thing, and the little needles that hold the edging threaten to slip out of their stitches at every turn. You also have to make sure, after the knit the two bits together bit, that you push the stitches on the circular needle right back so they don't slip off while you continue with the edging. I finally I got the hang of it and now I am almost half way there. 

It's all coming together rather nicely, and the best bit about it is that you don't have to count the repeats; you know when it's done, because there are no more stitches on your squirmy circular needle and you're back to where you started again ... or at least, I hope that's where I'll be!

Monday, 7 January 2013

Barney's Bend

Just now, for obvious reasons, lots of people are full of their plans for the New Year; new starts, old starts revisited, infinite ways to be better, more resolute - which is of course the etymological root of these resolutions. I've always found resolute rather hard - I can manage steady, stoic, enduring, dogged, but the minute I try to be resolute I find the inner nag who sits on my shoulder saying "Aha! we know where that leads don't we? You just can't manage it, you've tried before and you know you always fail" so my resolve shrivels and creeps away to some quiet corner, all hunched and woebegone, and my seasonal portion of self defeat takes up residence in its place.

So, this is not a resolution, but it is a hope. I'd like to read through all of my grandmother's novels, one by one, this year. To spend some time with them, with her, to see what she has to say. I have read them before, several times; they have been with me all my life, since they were written long before I was born. She wrote in part for pleasure, in part because she came from a literary and artistic family, but also to supplement my grandfather's income with enough extra to ensure that they could send Mum to a fee paying school. She was a very delicate child, breaking bones at the slightest knock or tumble, a trait she shared with her mother, her aunt and her grandfather, who bequeathed us some faulty genes. So Ganna wrote to ensure that her one beloved daughter could go to a school where there was less rough and tumble, less danger of damaging activities.

Her first novel was called Barney's Bend; that's its cover up there, with illustration by Rowland Hilder. Because I know our history, I know that it is set in Arklow, County Wicklow, which is where she grew up. Mum and I went there together some twenty years ago, so I recognise the geography. It is decidedly not a "modern" novel. There is no exciting action in exotic locations, no guns or knives or violently dismembered bodies graphically described, no sex, licit or illicit. I do read novels like those as well, so am not saying that with a moue of disapproval, but Ganna's novels are simple ones, about people and what makes them tick. Make no mistake, when I say simple, I don't mean simplistic or lightweight. She was a deep thinking woman, and one with profound beliefs, but her writing, in this novel, centres around a small Southern Irish town in the early part of the 20th Century, where cars and motorbikes were a rarity, where donkeys were traded at the monthly fair, where the evening light came from the sky or from fire, lamp or candlelight. Her characters are finely drawn, but their concerns are those of ordinary life, not of earth shattering events or heroic feats. She writes of daily incidents drawn with such, to my mind, exquisite observation, that their true meaning is shown.

Most of us live quiet lives, we don't holiday frequently in exotic places, indulge in passionate and sexually athletic affairs, or find ourselves caught up in intricate and convoluted events, involving foreign spies or slightly psychotic loners, with mystical powers of deduction. To be sure, novels like this can take us out of ourselves, they are perhaps the modern day equivalent of the myths and legends told by winter firelight in times past. But tales like that take us away from ourselves, to fantasise about what life would be like if only ... Barney's Bend is about a small group of farming folk, whose lives are intertwined, and about the consequences for one another of the things they do. It is about what matters in love and in life, about what is of value. The characters' thoughts are described, so we understand their motives and their actions. They do nothing earth shattering, and because of this, one is drawn into their world in a very genuine way; they are recognisably human, and their human failings are those we share. To my mind, and I do know I am biased, the novel encapsulates something very precious, the realisation that our lives are driven by what we think as much as by events; that because of this it is important to be true to ourselves, and those around us; important to be aware that we are responsible for what we do, we can bring good or bad into the world, each thought, each action has a definite and concrete value in reality. This makes it all sound rather preachy; believe me, I can't stand preachy. Her writing is so deft, so painterly in it's descriptions, so grounded in her understanding of motive and so evocative of human lives lived, that she reveals how this life, this here and now, is very real, and very precious. I love this book, just as I know I loved it when I last read it, and the time before. I am conscious that this is a gift given, to know her mind, and to understand her remembered wisdom, even though she is no longer with me.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

being crepuscular

The Guardian's Notes and Queries tells me that cats are crepuscular (what a wonderful word). This means they are very active in the twilight hours, morning and evening, when they can pounce gleefully on little defenceless creatures who can't see the cats as well as the cats can see them.
I couldn't agree more, especially when it means they take up several chairs whilst sleeping off their dusky activities - you'll notice the "don't even think about it!" sideways glance!
though perhaps this studied indifference is even more cutting - "your chair ... whatever makes you think that?"

Friday, 4 January 2013

Happy New Year

A little late, I know. I hope your Christmas has been lovely, that your New Year dawned well and that the coming days are full of good things that bring delight to store against the dark days - because life would not be true and real without them.

And here, for new year cheer, a couple of little bits of beauty from my garden yesterday
A fairy kiss frozen in time
I found this delightful little upside down cup on the branch of an elder I was pruning. Don't you just love its waxy delicacy and the wonderful green in the wood itself?
I wish I could share the beautiful scent from this witch hazel with you, you'll just have to close your eyes and imagine. We planted it in the Autumn, so this is the first time I've seen it in flower. It's so little at the moment that I can't take even the smallest bit of branch off to bring the scent into the house, so I take myself into the (drowning) garden, bend right down low and just breathe in very, very gently. Heaven