In Context

A question that pops up now and again tries to divide those of us who lived through the 60’s according to whether you were a Beatles fan or a Rolling Stones fan. Since I was still rather small in those days, I became, vicariouly through my father, more of a Beatles fan. I learnt to read fluently by following the printed song texts on the White Album…

One thing I had actually never seen, though, was The Magical Mystery Tour. This was shown on Boxing Day 1967 on British television and caused something of a sensation. Although I know all the songs and had come into possession of a booklet with a couple of 45 rpm singles featuring them from my uncle, we didn’t live in Britain in 1967 – and anyway, I was only 3! A recent documentary celebrating the 50 year anniversary inspired me to actually go and watch the one-hour classic (found online though not on the ubiquitous YouTube!) and a delightful hour it was.

So you think the British have a “bonkers” sense of humour?! Indeed they do – if you love Monty Python, revere Top Gear (and enjoy the Blues Brothers!), you could well appreciate this crazy spectacle. In the documentary, it was interesting to hear how teenagers at the time did or did not understand what they were watching, and also to hear the reactions of their parents or the older generations, which varied from switching off to humphing about “utter nonsense” to recognition and acceptance that this was simply what the younger generation had creatively made.
BBC Four Arena – Magical Mystery Tour Revisited (available on BBCiPlayer but not online, unfortunately)
Another documentary link: (lots of outtakes at the end!)

Personally, I was very much struck by the context. 1967 – 50 years ago. Society was different, people thought differently, had a different background, often with wartime a not-so-distant memory. Television was still fairly new for anyone over 18, and so hadn’t defined their lives as much as it later came to do. Radio and theatre were far more familiar and appearances didn’t count for quite so much as having a good time.

With all this in mind, I was both touched and amused by the madness that is the Magical Mystery Tour. My grandparents, who reached their 60s about 10 years later, still went on many coach tours and while probably not quite as lively as the group in the film, I’m sure they enjoyed a sing-song on the way home. Perhaps that’s why the film worked and was even accepted for Christmas TV in 1967 – there are enough elements in it which were perfectly normal to the bulk of 1960s society. Oh we do like to be beside the seaside and a nice cup of tea (or bottle of beer!), ballroom dancing (Granny did a bit of that – and before Strictly on TV there was simply, Come Dancing…!) and a good old family get-together that brought together all ages and all sorts, just like the film. Hours spent looking out of a coach window watching scenery or motorway go by, stops for a trip to the loo, squabbles… it was all just a part of it.

What I can’t really imagine is that the 1967 showing was in black and white…!!

Another point that pops up is that of moral values. Listen to how people talk to each other, appreciate that the little girl Nichola sits on (stranger alarm!) John Lennon’s knee and enjoys the attention without any ulterior (danger!!) motive, everyone is just having a good time. There is nothing “PC” (politically correct) about most of what goes on – the little man is not ridiculed and nor are the “midget wrestlers”, but could this film have been made in 2017? I rather think not. The men go to a strip show (shock-horror-feminist-gasp) while the ladies swoon over the elegant white-suited Beatles and the ballroom dancing dresses in true show-style (a great finale!), while the marathon no doubt suffered no limitations from ‘health and safety’…

To me, it was a feel-good film where everyone just had a good time and extremely funny. On the one hand, I can see how very 1967 it is, to some extent a heightened normality, and yet on the other, so very counter-culture and shocking. Fascinating stuff. But yes, controversial both in 1967 and 2017. How far have we come? Or not?!

Fun fun and more fun: Highly recommended!

PS and what about Paul McCartney’s wonderful Fair-Isle jerkin?!

A Walk

Across the pink gravel, through the gate made by our late handyman next to the camellia hedge and into the little cul-de-sac that is our street. At this time of year, October, most of the houses around are shuttered and empty and even those which are occupied stand mainly reticent and quiet. The sky is an intense blue and the air is fresh and sweet, despite the saltiness of the breeze, the trees are still mostly green although the wind is already beginning to encourage the leaves to loosen their grip.
Left around the first corner, then right around a second, accurately trimmed evergreen hedges border a lot of gardens, a small ditch on the left below a wall used to harbour snakes, they said. Now it is manicured and only of interest to the dogs who regularly come and leave their mark for the next sniffer. As I pass along the higher road, a string of houses on the right, all with a sea view and trees and yet still not all occupied year round, a large paddock on the left with the camping ground tucked in behind, invisible unless you know it’s there. No wonder it’s popular in summer. The field is a wide open sloping space that pulls the eye south over it and down to the next property and the village beyond, but it has to be skirted in the dip where the tidy homes and gardens look a little lost, belonging neither to the actual settlement, nor to the ones on the ridge that gaze onto the sea and the islands, a bit forlorn and barren-looking.
By the time I get to the far corner of the field, I feel as if I am really inland, the hedge is thick and to my right the road peters out into a woodland valley. Winding up towards the village again, the farm on the left is the epitome of Brittany, two long low stone buildings set at right-angles to each other, longères, a main house and a holiday property that looks onto the field, with coloured shutters. In between, a courtyard garden separated from the lane by a stone wall that allows the passer-by to peek into a small protected idyll. This is my favourite house of all!
A slight incline leads into the village proper, and like every good French village, there is a tabac (newsagent), a baker and a small café-restaurant that changes hands every couple of years and still struggles. Also ubiquitous is the pharmacy – even if there is no infra-structure at all, it seems there is always one of those. I wonder if the French really are always ill?! Or do they just think they are? A crise-de-foie, un petit bobo, high blood pressure, low blood pressure… perhaps my neighbour is typical?! She does seem to have a string of complaints…
Ahead is the proud stone building that now houses the mediathèque; this includes a small library, post office and the tourist information, the original building having been gutted a few years ago, right down to the granite walls and then a modern interior hidden inside and some attractive landscaping on the far side to form a small yard where people can prop their bikes and sit to consult a map or use the wifi or just look at what’s on – the walls are covered in posters advertising fest noz, jazz concerts, vide-greniers or this year’s big art exhibition in town or one of the other villages. Once it was a fabulous show of quilts in a village hall in a small town nearby, wondrous works of art nonchalently shown in a practical atmosphere utterly lacking in charm. But fabulous nevertheless.

The road is very narrow at this point, a threeway junction. To the right, it widens out to meet the pretty little schoolyard and village primary school where the childrens’ voices at playtime ring out over a vast area, all the way back to us above the shore. On the left, the church rises commandingly and is decorated with large pots of flowers and plants attractively arranged along its perimeter. It hides the low mairie behind, where there is also plenty of room for cars to park. Funny how this large “place” isn’t the centre of the village. Maybe it was in years gone by?
However, we are going to cross over straight ahead through another narrow impasse between the houses, past the impossibly tiny house that used to house a branch of the bank and past some larger properties with bigger gardens, set farther back from the road behind lazy trees and bushes. Here, I’m surprised by someone actually sitting out in the sun with a cup of coffee on this fine afternoon. Her little dog comes to investigate my little dog, she comes to lean on the gate and chat and we exchange dog stories. The fuchsia ballerinas dance in the hedge and teeter out towards the road teasingly, the sun is warm on our backs and heads as we squint to see who we’re talking to. Behind us, the small modern complex of Les Glycines, the old people’s home and sheltered housing, tucked in between the church and the mairie, still in the thick of things but quietly getting on with it behind the greenery.

Here, the village begins to peter out again, the centre is only small although the boundary goes wide. On this corner, there is a large stone building, a small L-shaped château surrounded by something of a wilderness and stone walls with intriguing doors cut into it for access and tall trees around it. What a family seat that would make! I have never seen anyone there but today a jeep stands outside the walls and someone has hacked their way in and is doing some cutting and tidying… is this just regular maintenance or a work in progress? Will there be more going on there next time I pass, will the house be occupied at some point? Patience, patience. It could be years before we see any change, it’s always slow around here. A path cleared, a tree pruned, a shutter opened, a ladder against a wall, a window cleaned, a planter planted, a car in a drive, a toy in the garden… it’s a slow process, but then all can be silent again for another aeon.
Passing along the road, puddles along the broken edges, trees to the right and up ahead, a very tidy green fence is just low enough to see the cemetary beyond. Painfully neat and swept, most of the gravestones in their orderly lines are similar, with just an odd one here and there that defies the custom. Quite a few are made of the local pink granite, but it’s expensive. There is plenty of trim green lawn in reserve. But it’s a pleasant resting place with few houses around it and behind it, a surprisingly large forest that sits comfortably on the slope down to the marshy land and the big crescent beach. I hadn’t realised quite how big that woodland is until I saw it from the other side of the little valley.
But today I go along the road that becomes increasingly canopied by tall trees on both sides, meeting overhead in the prettiest of tunnels, the afternoon sunshine glimmering through and proving that autumn really has arrived. Not only is the road rather muddy along the sides, there are sheaves of fallen leaves and autumn fruits – beech, chestnut, acorn – lying in the road. They even fall on me as I pass, aiming at my head or shoulder and giving me a fright.
Here, the array of sharp and soft greens darkens but also becomes yellow and orange and brown. The shade is pleasant, the day warm, not much wind for once. As the road descends and curves steeply down into the valley only narrow tracks indicate houses set farther back, hidden behind trees, hedges, bends, snuggled into the slope out of the wind that blows so consistently most of the time, tiny hidden paradises showered in fallen leaves. Surely they must dissolve into the landscape within a short time when nature takes over? Do the owners spend their time clearing the area around their houses over and over, just to keep access? What must it be like in this damp climate when the lane isn’t tarred and permanently rutted and muddy?
A funny little house like a small white-washed box sits up on a ridge with a boat parked in front of it, looking rather incongruous. The roof is flat and there are curtains at the windows – could it be liveable or not? Perhaps in years gone by when any roof over your head was welcome or old people didn’t have pensions? Today it would have to be a tiny house pioneer to enliven it, but perhaps it now really only houses boat paraphernalia and has this precarious spot to park the little fishing vessel, held in place by a couple of concrete bricks on the slope.
As the road gets steeper, it feels more and more as if I’d wandered into a fairytale and I increasingly wonder if I’ll ever get out again? Or will I just get lost in a tanglewood of nature in this village backwood. It seems as if nobody ever comes here, so quiet and neglected, decades worth of decay both in the woods and the houses, the old mill in the last, sharpest corner at the bottom of the valley almost buried and barely visible, a few old roof tiles poking through at road level and a vague idea of a barn and house beyond, stretching off to the right, who knows where that valley leads, surely into eternity?
On the left a more modern house, tidy and clean with a modern veranda and a neat garden sloping down to the tiny stream that flows through, originally serving the old mill on the other side, but still half-hidden by trees and bushes.
Here the road takes a deep bend to the left and begins to ascend again. Perhaps there is a way out, after all, somewhere back there, past the marshlands to the left the air seems more open… Sloping steeply up on the right up behind the old mill another lane comes down to meet this one and a small lorry struggles to manage the hairpin bend. To my surprise, several cars and even taxis have passed me, which seems quite ridiculous, surely I’m in the back of beyond?
The road straightens out and flattens out and then meanders more purposefully in a vaguely straight line – no ruler was used! – on towards civilisation. There is a path through the open marshland I’m not familiar with, the woods rising up on the slope above it, but down here a single road with houses on both sides, each one different, some older, some newer, some well-maintained, some not, some in Breton style, some in Breton stone, some which don’t fit in at all…

As I walk along, the atmosphere changes, the air feels drier somehow, the sun on some stone walls reflects the heat, small flowers reach for it and show up daintily along it. The property it belongs to is shuttered and closed, silent and empty, though apparently modernised and tidy. On the right, the slope is quite steep and there are more houses than I remembered, though I have no idea how they are accessed, perhaps from above, as this is a completely different part of the village with its own name. The closer I get to the beach, the more dense the building becomes, though still with plenty of trees. On the left, the houses peter out into woodland, another of the strange, flat-roofed houses – early holiday cottages? – and scrubland, an urban-looking, scruffy carpark and tennis courts that back onto the more obvious camping ground, this one not tucked away neatly like the one near our house but boldly only just set back from the beach and bound to be a mosquito-ridden nightmare in summer! And now there is a pavement again, the little road opens out onto the main thoroughfare that passes along the beach, to the right a large complex of flats on the corner as the road rises steeply, across the even larger complex of a rehabilitation centre perched on the right-hand, eastern side of the beach. Zebra crossings, playgrounds, a surf school… the low granite wall allows for a protected area of grass, playground and carparks, but beyond it is then finally, the beach.
Depending on the tide, you might have to walk a while to reach the water. Incredibly fine sand, soft as velvet, is piled up against the retaining wall, warm to the feel, soft to sit on. As it becomes damper and more compact when you approach the water, it becomes harder, too, firmer to walk on, run on, fly kites on, play football on, or badminton or beach volleyball… Sandcastles, tunnels, buckets, spades, it’s all part and parcel of a classic beach. At low tide the sea curves back from the beach and the figures marching through the water are tiny and far distant, but when it comes in the variety becomes more apparent. Some people swim every day for most of the year, others don neoprene suits and body surf or windsurf or even just walk through the water at ankle, knee or hip depth for the water resistance. Adults and children swim, splash, squeal and jump as the waves trickle and crash their way up and down the beach four times a day, relentlessly following the mesmerising command of the moon, regardless of habit or time, light or dark. Dogs race around, loop the loop and double back, barking, chase balls, or kites, dance around their masters, leap into the waves, trot through the foam, begin to dig frantically, moving ever backwards and leaving funny long channels for the sea to fill.

An expanse of sand, from white to beige to gold to brown, the lace frill of the surf ruffling up and down it irregularly, the blue, grey, green water glowing behind transparently, reflecting the ever-changing sky, huge above the open beach. When the sky is as blue as today, the colours are almost graphic – deep blues, white, yellow. Now, in autumn, there are hardly any algae, just the odd brown abandoned sheaf, while in summer there were whole bands of bright green “mermaid salad”, as we always used to tell the children.
It feels dry and dusty as you walk along the parade, even though there is grass and there is humidity in the air, the sand is a permanent presence. I will find sand in my shoes and in my car for months after returning home. The fine flakes stick stubbornly to the skin and to the feet, catching the light and causing blisters. My grandson retreats in frustration – how do the French manage all this sand, he asks, rubbing at his feet in an attempt to clear them enough to put socks on…?!
The sea, the beach, the parade, the road, a couple of creperie restaurants. That is all on our beach. No souvenir or other shops, no other amenities. The restaurants both close on the same days, the campsite is only open in July and August. It’s quiet. The whole is in a cove, so as soon as you leave the beach up the road, it rises steeply again, winding up the hill back to the village. A cliff on the right looms over the western point of the crescent beach, with large firs reaching up and over in black sculptural beauty, deep dark green needles like contrast shadow clouds to those above.

Another small road leads off to the right on the top of the cliff, first straight along with more shuttered holiday homes left and right, before it begins to go downhill, past a couple of beautiful stone houses occupied only in summer and some artichoke and cabbage fields. A hidden track leads to a secret beach known only to regulars, pocketed between the large beach and the small port, a rocky little sanded area protected from the wind to a great extent but which can only be reached along a tiny footpath between tall grass and rocks.
The road, though, leads down to the port. There is only one building on the left for the regular boaters, locals who go out almost daily to fish for crab, lobster or whatever luxuries the sea provides, and who meet there, hold their club activities there. On the right, rocks. All the way down to the sea, rocks rocks rocks. A small grassy promontory sticks out, surrounded and crowned by rocks, but protecting the tiny harbour and long slipway. There is a car park edged by the little nutshell dinghies on wheels that are used to reach the boats, colourful pennants around the rough dinginess. Everything is sandy and crumbles but the little harbour is always in use and a fleet of little fishing boats bobs around, attached to buoys throughout the protected area, seagulls squawking over and around them, stalking around on the beach behind.
Yes, there is another little beach, just as sandy to begin with but also pebbly further along and less expansive. This time I’m walking along the path behind it, screened from the sea by rocky dunes and long, messy grasses. On my left fields, the corn harvested, dry dusty earth despite the rain we’ve had. The land slopes up, squared off into fields and farms, to a row of houses with a view, the tiniest one is ours! But to get home, I walk along the back of the beach until a burbling brook flows down onto it, a bridge breaches it and the woods begin again. Just before the bridge, I turn left and start the climb, woods on my right and a high hedge to the fields on my left as the lane drapes itself around the landscape and takes me back up to that little row of houses, out of breath from the steepness, ready for the much-loved view of those steady seven islands.

Sintra et al

I hardly know where to start with this post – no amount of images could cover the impressions, really, and it becomes clear that travelling vicariously is going to have its limits for some of you! How I admire the travel writers of old who must assume that their readers are unlikely to follow in their footsteps and to need to describe what they have seen in suitable phrasing…

We flew into Lisbon and very warm summer weather, picked up our rental car and headed to the coast for a few days, thanks to a wedding invitation – German friends have decided to tie the knot and as they are closely connected to Portugal, they decided festivities would take place there. Different!
On arrival, however, we were greeted by a very unrestrained and raging Atlantic crashing full force into the most westerly coast of Europe – and it had brought with it a thick, cool fog. That was unexpected.

The roar of the waves was amazing and deafening – I slowly realised why all the villages are built up on top of the surrounding countryside. I really hope the hotel staff don’t live there permanently! We were at the northern end of the Plaia Grande (big beach), which is no doubt well-visited in the summer months. At the end of September – a few brave surfers attempted to master the irregular storm of waves and a few intrepid sunbathers lounged by the pool but the water was also very cold. I believe it doesn’t actually get any warmer than our Brittany shore, even in summer. Well, that figures. Also, we were told that only 15 minutes drive away in Cascais, the climate is mediterranean: warm, mild, sunny!

When we awoke the following morning, the sea was still bellowing but the skies had cleared and we decided to explore. A cool wind was very welcome and kept the temperatures pleasant in the warm sun. We were staying in Colares, a parish of the municipality of Sintra, which in turn belongs to greater Lisbon. Sintra is a World Heritage Site – and no wonder. There is an array of places to see, scattered through the edge of a national park or forest, mainly of chestnut trees, it seemed, and each palace or villa or castle is as interesting as the next. It is a region that was fought over for centuries and where evidence of a Moorish past is still very much evident. This made quite a change for us, used to British and central European architecture and architectural detail that generally features a lot of Celtic influence in the designs and geometry, but here, the heritage is a very different one, which of course also reflects the difference in climate. Another impression is of the traditional Portuguese style – as the first European colonists, it becomes clear that it was their style which was imprinted on the Colonies, with low square villas covered in fancy decoration and often in shaded, lush gardens appropriate to the lifestyle in a hot place, with the ubiquitous verandas, indispensable attribute to this kind of building. The area is also a wine-growing one, so large depots hold the enormous wine barrels for storage, keeping it dark and cool for later distribution.

Even at the very end of September, Sintra is obviously a popular destination and the tiny town of streets divided only by pedestrian paths was well visited and bustling. It wasn’t easy to find a parking spot or to work out exactly where we were – we had passed several fascinating-looking palazzos and Italianate villas where there only seemed to be a handful of parking spots and time restrictions meant we had chosen two specific places to visit. (Should you ever go to Sintra, allow several days because there is really so much to see and take in, and you wouldn’t want to rush, now, would you?!)

We did come across a house with a different history – the place where Hans Christian Andersen stayed in a tiny village above the town…

Firstly, visible for miles around up on top of the hills, there is a Moorish castle (8th/9th century). That is, the remains of the Moorish presence and several hundred years’ worth of adaptation (from the Bronze Age onwards) and rebuilding, but it is essentially that which we imagine when the word “castle” comes up – look-out towers, crenellated walls snaking over the stretch of the highest part of the hill and flags flying to show who is boss. As it is spread over the hilltop, it has a larger area than you might find elsewhere and is quite a building feat. We climbed and climbed, up cobbled paths and stairways and steps, winding back and forth, through gatehouses and outer walls until we reached the main entrance. Mainly mediaeval, the castle was crumbling by the time Ferdinand II took it on – time and lack of attention since the 14th century as well as the huge earthquake of 1755 that destroyed much of the area had taken their toll – and by the 19th century there was a new sense of romanticism. This artistic, modern and liberal king was actually a German prince, aha! And so we understand the hows and whys of his sense of conservation and romance as he saved what was left, built a mediaval-looking tomb for any bones he found and generally made something of interest and which appealed to visitors… early tourism! The whole is very well presented and worth the steep climb through the woods, which we thoroughly enjoyed (despite aching calves the next day!).

From the top, there is a wonderful view down over the coastal landscape, the town of Sintra and all the way to the coast – with the sea in the far background! The palace with the tall white towers was where we were headed next…

We chose a different route down, one which descended below the Moorish castle (Castelo dos Mouros) and through a cleft between the rocks (a somewhat perilous path of steep steps and large rocks where young rock climbers practised both monkeylike climbing and abseiling…) and then into the shaded gardens of the Villa Sassetti which meander down through the valley to Sintra, following the fountain/stream that irrigates everything. All the info here:

We’d been all the way up there!

But now, we headed down through Sintra to the National Palace, also known as the Town Palace (Palacio Nacional de Sintra), the best preserved mediaeval royal residence in Portugal, again, with Moorish origins (not visible now). To my mind, the mainly 15th/16th century building offers a wildly exotic comparison to residences of the time in Britain – this was the time of Henrys V, VI, VII and VIII and Elizabeth I. For all the necessary basics, the contrast is extraordinary: both architectures are “the best” of their regions, being royal, and yet they are so not alike! Perhaps there are arguments which are better informed than I and maybe there are palaces that have more in common, but in my experience, there are so many differences – and it occurs to me that they can be seen in mediaeval paintings, too, though I had not previously considered that…
Anyway, to begin with, we did not enter into a large representative hall – a side door of the main entrance (again, perhaps different to the way it was at the time?) led up a sinuous stone spiral staircase to the guard halls and the first large, representative room, the Swan Hall, or Hall of Princes.

How unusual to our eyes the tiling everywhere?! Not something I’ve ever seen in an English stately home.
Step onto a loggia and feel the coolness of this central courtyard – and just look at those curious white towers which can be seen for miles around! What on earth could they represent?!

Walls of daisies – something for my Yarnsmithery friend! – lined the following rooms, followed by another stunning Chamber of State, with a ceiling decorated with magpies. “Por bem” (for honour) being the motto of Joao I (John I, 1385-1433)… “This relates to the story that the king John I was caught in the act of kissing a lady-in-waiting by his queen Philippa of Lancaster. To put a stop to all the gossip, he had the room decorated with as many magpies as there were women at the court.” Wonderful stuff!

Loggias, bedrooms, patios, gardens, staircases of stone (little wood here except for furniture and ceilings!)… a palace truly fit for royalty.

This last high-domed room has a real wow-effect – coming from a narrow corridor you enter and gasp. The walls are all blue-and-white tiled hunting scenes, the ceiling incredibly ornate and richly painted. In German, to be snooty is to be “high-nosed”; I wonder what it is in Portuguese?! The Royals definitely had their noses in the air and a crick in their necks, by the look of it!

Again, what a contrast to the tapestry hangings on the wood panelling commonly found in chilly English palaces!

The chapel seems to be one of the oldest parts of the residence. It seemed unusual to me to find the walls in pink, though I did like the dove theme! It seems that when they found a motif, they really stuck with it (a lot of birds, too!) and I also like the geometry of the repetitive design.

(In knitting, those inbetween borders could almost be Norwegian stars!)

What about a built-in fountain in your bedroom?! (In fact – running water in the 15/16th centuries? Eat your heart out, England and France…!!)

And now for those curious white towers… Built in the early 15th century – I remind you that we are talking 1400-1450, so around 600 years ago. This utterly blows my mind: they are kitchen chimneys!

How amazing is that kitchen?! Tiled all over, large, roomy and NEXT DOOR to the main halls!! Compare that to a Tudor kitchen (and in fact, we should go back and compare it to the Lancastrian Henry V… pure mediaeval renaissance!), far from the state rooms, dark, dirty, dangerous… I find this kitchen completely mindboggling. This is the oven…


By now it was time to head off to the beach for a pre-wedding get-together – again, the sea was very loud and the wind fairly icy, but a good time was had by all. I was very glad of my blue Quill shawl!

And the wedding was beautiful, too. A fantastic wine cellar location, a very classy reception, excellent food and wine – I’m sure the couple will be very happy together!

A last drive out to Cabo da Roca – this is the westernmost point of continental Europe. As loyal fans of Brittany it has to be said that the Pointe du Raz also claims the same honour, and I really don’t know who to believe. In any case, it’s an impressive cliff with an attractive lighthouse… you decide!!

(and for comparison, the Pointe du Raz:

Wow, what a weekend! ;o

If you’re interested, here is more on Sintra: and and we stayed here where the food (fish!) was excellent!

Interim (alternative title: ‘Desperate to catch up’!)

I know I only just got back from my summer stint in Brittany, but I have more travels to report back on, as well as the promised book reviews – and (gulp) more knitting and yarn acquisition. I have no excuse, I am but a weak woman!

The visit of a dear friend from Canada – we hadn’t met for 11 years! – was a good excuse for daily jaunts around Switzerland, including yet another cable car ride, this time up to 2502 m above sea-level…

…as well as a beautiful day out in Lucerne and a drive over more mountains, visiting old haunts from when our children were small and an epic Robbie Williams concert. Among other things. I don’t think I stopped grinning all week! Thanks, E!!

Believe it or not, I am presently in England yet again and for the last time based at my granny’s house. A very bittersweet time as we pack up and sell; the house is now looking decidedly minimalistic and it’s a bit like camping – but interestingly, we have all we need! There must be a lesson in that.

While we’re here, we still take advantage of a day here and there to go out and do something and visits to friends and relatives further afield are an opportunity to see a bit of countryside.

We spent an afternoon of bright blue skies in Bath… followed by an unexpectedly beautiful return journey thanks to Apple maps satnav taking us around motorway congestion and through some tiny Cotswold country lanes I wouldn’t have dared to follow alone but with the September sunset throwing a wonderful light over the landscape. The route spat us out gently on the top of a hill south of Gloucester with a phenomenal view down over the Severn estuary as we descended to the M5 motorway on what seemed to be a pass road zigzagging back and forth. Breathtaking.

…then another afternoon on a fascinating visit to Stourbridge, which used to have an important glass industry. I had no idea. Glassware for the Titanic was made here! The Red Cone Glass Museum (possibly/probably changing its name soon?) is on the site of Stuart glassworks and shows the history of the industry over the 18th and 19th century. The complex includes a shop where beautiful pieces can be bought and a number of craft shops. We especially enjoyed the Red Cone Coffee House lunch of salads and a traditional ploughman’s – definitely to be recommended!

My favourites – the colours! And then entitled “fibre”…wool in glass?!

Autumn arrived yesterday, so I really want to get the summer wrapped up… which leads me to this summer’s books.

There were two of my favourite authors to catch up with: Alexander McCall-Smith and Donna Leon. Both are prolific and there are new stories each year, in the case of the former, a new story for each of his series, most years. This summer I enjoyed the latest in the Sunday Philosophy Club/Isobel Dalhousie story, A Distant View of Everything, which I think is the 11th in this gently meandering musing, as always with the light humour McCall-Smith does so well. Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti appears once again in the 26th volume of the popular series that plays in and around Venice – this time it’s a particularly hot summer that sees our hero out rowing on the lagoon…

Another author I’ve mentioned before is Ann Cleeves. I love her Shetland series (close to the wool lol) but her other protagonists are also good. A new Vera Stanhope story is out, The Seagull, which no doubt will also turn up as a televised episode at some point. Much as I like the actress Brenda Blethyn in the TV series, I have to say that the books give us a much fuller, richer appreciation of the character and her background that are completely lost in the visual medium. Once again, the new book goes into depth concerning Vera’s relationship with her father. I was less impressed with a short book in Peter May’s China series and therefore relieved that his final volume in the Enzo MacLeod tale was as intricate and fascinating as the previous 6. Will there be another Hebrides/Lewis episode, I wonder?!

I seem to be stuck in a sea of series… that would be my collector gene coming out! Having said that, I haven’t read any of the Kurt Wallander books by Henning Mankell, the well-known Swedish author (Wallander is “his”) detective. The style is not dissimilar to the Sjöwall/Wahlöo Inspector Beck crime books, also previously mentioned on my blog! I have seen most of the televised serialisations, though, some of which feature the actor Kenneth Branagh as Wallander. All this to highly recommend two quite different books by Mankell, The Italian Shoes and The Swedish Wellies (tentative title translated from the German, as apparently not yet available in English! I hope it soon will be.). The latter was Mankell’s last book and both are a poignant reflection on old age wrapped in a lonely old ex-doctor’s senior years. Despite this the two books are quite funny and show the appealingly wry and dry sense of humour I have come to appreciate in the few Swedish books I’ve read: examples being A man calles Ove (Backmann), which I listened to as an audiobook after having read it a couple of years ago, and The 100 year old man who climbed out of a window and disappeared (Jonasson). All well worth a read in my view!

And now for the wool.
Another Quill shawl by Jared Flood in the smaller size fell off my needles inbetween travelling – Plassard’s Rando sock wool has given me a sky-blue beauty I have yet to photograph properly, and the navy Lang Jawoll turned into some vanilla socks in a nice shaded navy. A quick pair of Supersimple Slippers are pretty and useful for my mother as the weather cools.

Which brings me to acquisitions. I do not need any wool. I have plenty of wool. And yet… sigh. Let’s get it over with:

Lovely West Yorkshire Spinners’ Blue-faced Leicester DK

The very special North Ronaldsay (the island sheep have a diet high in seaweed…!) and some Faroese wool in navy for a very warm hat!

This Swedish wool is nearly a cabled cushion already…

while this sock wool jumped into my basket at the supermarket!

How could I resist trying Wensleydale wool for some pretty mittens? Like the cranberries in Wensleydale cheese!

The new Drops Nord in “fog” colourway seems right for autumn! Alpaca-wool-polyamide mix

More Drops – self-explanatory, really 😮

Three gorgeous skeins from A Yarn Story in Bath – their own Walcot Yarns Opus, some Julie Asselin and some Fibre co., both very much luxury items that have no plan yet except to be beautiful…

That should keep me busy for a while!

(apologies for odd fonts and spacings – I’m working from an ipad today and seem not to have as much control over these as I do on a laptop!!)

Summer 2017 – don’t blink…

My oh my – I haven’t posted since June 5th… I have been here, there and everywhere in the last 2+ months, much as before, and there is more than enough fodder for the blog and I’m always seeing something or saying, ooh, blog…

In my last post, I mentioned we spent two weeks sailing a chartered yacht on Lake Constance. This is something we do for at least a long weekend most years and generally a week or even two, the lake being 65 km long and with plenty to explore – we’ve been doing it for 17 years, now, and there are still plenty of small harbours or bays we’ve not yet been to. We have some favourites to which we return regularly, and sometimes that depends on the weather or on the guests who join us for various legs of the trip – German guests like the Swiss shore, Swiss guests fancy seeing some of the German shore and for variety, there’s that little corner that is Austrian! We are used to country-hopping but some of our visitors do get a little confused, as it is quite a big concept and they are all very different cultures. On the other hand, we should be aware that all borders are just lines on a map even if the land is ruled by different governments… Suffice to say, our tri-border wanderings follow the wind and the weather and we had plenty of all of those on this occasion, from rain and stormy winds and impressively high waves (for a lake!) to sunshine, sunsets, swimming and sunbathing in the course of two weeks in June, that would be temperatures between approx. 10-30°C if anyone is wondering what the climate is like and whether we have snow all the year round in Switzerland (an idea that a lot of people have!).

As for the accommodation, imagine a swimming caravan and you’d be about right – we usually have either two or three cabins plus the option of people sleeping in the “living” area, so up to 6-8 beds and there is both a kitchen (galley) and a bathroom (head) as well as the outdoor space in fine weather and a heating system for cold weather – and there’s nothing like putting the small oven on and baking bread when the weather is poor. These are generally 32-37’ yachts intended as holiday rentals and are well-equipped with everything we need and you can bring as much or as little as you like!

On the other hand, we also had several day outings on our own little vintage yacht, as it’s been a pretty hot early summer this year. ‘Solitaire’ is a 21’ day sailer (she was originally a small racing yacht) who can only take 2-3 people at the most (or two and the dog!) and has no cabin at all but who is an ideal escape when the air gets hot and sticky and you can escape most insects and find a breeze out on the water – bliss! We appreciate her vintage details, as she is now over 50 years old but still whizzes along when the fancy takes her.

June birthdays brought barbecues and lovely restaurant meals – check out Schloss Brandis in Maienfeld, small town of “Heidi” fame!

I have found a small knitting group that meets here: It’s a lovely park and the café terrace is the perfect place to meet up. On a rainy day it’s just as nice inside – and they have homemade cakes! 🙂

We have had two more opportunities so far this year to visit Lucerne and stay overnight, always a treat. On the first occasion, the brand new leisure boat, Diamant, was off on her maiden trip with a good deal of press coverage. From our hotel restaurant we had a wonderful view of her setting off on Lake Lucerne on a beautiful summery evening with the water glistening under her bows. She had a great send-off! Meanwhile, she is a regular sight on the lake and you can take a boat ride or even a sunset trip with dinner… something not to be missed either on Diamant or one of the other boats or steamers that ply the waters both during the day and in the evenings, most days. On our second stay, the hot weather meant an evening stroll along the promenade under the plane trees was a must, stopping to paddle in the cool, clean water and to walk barefoot on the fresh grass. Our favourite hotel features the novelty of a tiny funicular railway down the steep slope to the lakeshore, which takes all of a minute… We’d already had a delicious afternoon ice-cream on the riverside in view of the chapel bridge since it was unusually quiet in the cafés that day, usually overrun with tourists, and we gave the dog a chance to have a swim there, too, since the swans were all off on the other side of the river… yes, Lucerne is always an option and a pleasure!

Not that everything is playtime in my life, of course – my glasses broke just before I was due to fly to England in July and miraculously, although they couldn’t be repaired and the optician had been doubtful of success, my new ones arrived well in time before I had to travel. There’s Swiss efficiency for you. As I am severely short-sighted and can’t see much of anything without them, I was very relieved not to have to live in some rather scratched sunglasses for several weeks – phew. My trip to England wasn’t a holiday, either. We have to clear my grandmother’s house for sale, which was never going to be an easy task. She had been wonderfully considerate in getting rid of a lot of things she knew we didn’t want. She was also very organised and had put everything away neatly – until she had a phase of “sorting” towards the end of her life, where she promptly muddled it all up! Also, what she considered worth keeping is not necessarily what the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th generations want to keep, so there has been a lot of sorting. However, some of her furniture and pretty and/or sentimental (to us) belongings will make the journey to Brittany (some ultimately to Switzerland) in the near future, so we had a pretty busy time. To our minds, the photos and correspondence she kept make up the bulk of the “treasure” – it is our family’s history, and in many cases, our own. Precious.

This was also a visit to scatter Granny’s ashes, both in her hometown of Sheffield and the place she called home for 80 years, with my Grandad, and we felt we’d done the right thing. We had very fine weather, and for the Yorkshire part, a beautiful view over the hills from the cemetery that would have pleased her, we thought.
Visiting friends, neighbours and family is always the nicest part of “going to Granny’s” and we will miss having that base, though we hope not to lose touch with anyone – we are also very curious about what the new owners of the house will do to modernise it, as it’s something of a 1938 time-warp! There’s a ready-made excuse to return to visit the neighbours…

No sooner had I returned from England to Switzerland, dealt with my laundry and rescued my housekeeping and pets than I packed up again to go to Brittany. Here, I enjoyed endless sunsets – they are so different every single day, weather that is so much more pleasant and mild than Switzerland’s heatwave (I don’t “do” heat!) even if it sometimes cool and even rainy, catching up on a tall pile of books that had been neglected and knitting to my heart’s content. The pets are pretty happy, too!

Well, to catch up on the knitting – firstly, Brooklyn Tweed’s Quill hap shawl, which came sailing in June, then to England and now to Brittany before it was finished. A beautiful Shetland-style shawl, I chose colours that are very reminiscent of Granny (though they were nearly all leftovers from my stash!) and am delighted with the result, after using a makeshift construction to stretch and block the shawl in the Breton sunshine! The fawn is Drops Flora (alpaca/wool blend), as is the cream and the lightest green. The heathered aqua is Drops Alpaca and the deeper green is Drops Baby Alpaca-Silk, all on 3.75mm needles.

What better project for the seaside than a summery top in silk and seacell?! This is PurlSoho’s Drawstring Top in Siidegarte’s silk-seacell blend, colourway Mischple (dialect for ‘medlar’). The resulting fabric, on quite large needles at 4mm, is soft, smooth and drapey and very comfortable to wear. It does dip quite far down the sides, requiring some kind of undergarment/camisole/boobtube underneath but I’m very pleased with it.

Next up to be finished was Audrey in Unst, a pattern by Gudrun Johnston, well-known Shetland designer and the wool is one I absolutely love and have used before – West Yorkshire Spinner’s Blue-faced Leicester, this time in a pinky-coral colour (I previously made the now well-loved Traveler cardigan in a light blue, blueberry, I think). A pretty cardigan, quite short and designed to be worn with a skirt or over a dress or tunic and with ¾ sleeves, it’s a very attractive shape with a neat Shetland lace design across the front yoke. This cardigan was also completed on 3.75mm needles – only partly because I recently bought some in-between sizes of circular needle, KnitPro Zing, which I am really enjoying using. Next best reasonably priced thing to the shockingly expensive Signature needles, good and sharp and nice flexible cables. I also got a HiyaHiya circular in a small dimension (2.75mm) which is equally pleasant to use.

I had quite a lot of wool left over from my Quill hap and decided in the heat of the moment to make up a small cardigan for my youngest grandchild – I used 3.5mm needles and invented a top-down heart-yoke cardigan. Not being a knit designer, I soon realised I had gone awry but continued anyway and the resulting garment looks ok – I hope it still looks ok when it’s on a living child!!

There was more leftover yarn hanging about and I couldn’t resist more owls – I have made the Owls and Owlet jumpers several times, now, and it’s a lovely and appealing pattern by Kate Davies, one of her first, I believe, and really popular. It was enough for, again, a small toddler-sized Owlet jumper for said granddaughter, who is doing well here! This is the 18mth size knit on 4.5mm needles in Malabrigo – worsted, I think – in English Rose.

And that, my friends, was most of what I did this summer – the books will have to be a separate post :o!!

I live in a picture postcard…

I am back.
But before launching into a summer 2017 recap I will be stubbornly un-chronological and tell you how I spent the weekend…

We were lucky enough to be invited to a concert on the Pilatus mountain top. Yes, on top of the mountain. In fact, on top of the building on top of the mountain top. Digest that! “Pilatus – On the Rocks”

At 2132 metres above sea-level (6994 ft, apparently!). A local band, a Swedish band and a local singer, a 4-course meal in the Queen Victoria dining hall of the 1890 hotel Pilatus Kulm and then an overnight stay – wow. Add perfect weather and a starry night (we could even see the Milky Way, a rarity these days). Now add the highlight of an ibex appearing over the mountain ridge above the stage to enquire what on earth was going on instead of his usual quiet evening… magic!

This isn’t the exact one because we only got a pic of its backside ;o but this is just what it looked like!

Just getting there is an adventure. You can go up the mountain on either side; from Alpnachstad there is the world’s steepest funicular railway and then from Kriens, there are cable cars. We arrived from Kriens, travelled in a tiny 4-seater cable car up the mountain, through one mid-stop building and across a wooded valley up to the next station. Then we switched to the large hypermodern panaroma cablecar for the last, very very steep ascent up the cliff… phew, our hearts were in our tummies, I think!!

In the valley it was a sweltering hot 30°C+ but up on the viewing platform (which still isn’t quite the tip of the mountain peak!), though cooler, I still didn’t feel the need for a cardigan over my summer dress, it was very pleasant with a breeze. From up there you can look down that steep cliff to Kriens and over all of Lake Lucerne but also to Lakes Zug and Sempach, and if you turn around, you see the funicular railway and the less steep scree slope and the Alpine panorama. A bit like this –

This was the view out of our hotel window!! The “not-so-steep” side. Ahem!

What a special event in a super special location – even after 44 years in Switzerland, I had never been up the Pilatus before and thoroughly enjoyed it. A lot of people had come up on foot; I asked a local acquaintance how long it takes from Kriens – 4.5-5 hours, he said. The following morning, I got chatting to a couple on their way back down the mountain in the cablecar at about 11 am – they said they had walked up that morning in 3 hours and 25 minutes…! I think I’ll stick with the public transport.

Our friends, Relish Guitars, had a great stand in front of the stage and it was thrilling to see the bands all using various of the guitar models in their sets! A lot of locals had turned up to see Dada Ante Portas who come from Kriens, while others were excited to see their favourite Swedes, Mando Diao, and Henrik Belden had a good audience, too. We didn’t actually see his part of the concert, as he played during our main course! But the music was piped into the dining hall. Quite a lot of people braved the mountain paths on the two small peaks either side of the viewing platform and stage and watched the concert from above with the incredible backdrop down over both sides of the Pilatus mountain, quite breathtaking I should imagine. We do not have heads for heights so stuck within the safety of the “official” platform!

I was completely fascinated by the hotel, which was built in 1890, presumably replacing an earlier building, since Queen Victoria herself spent a few days up there in 1868 😮 !! Of course in those days it was all mules and litters to get up the mountains but intrepid as all British tourists were, she did it. In fact, the British invented tourism in Switzerland, so the Swiss actually have quite a lot to thank the British for… I recently acquired a wonderful little Penguin book published in 1945 that delves into the very first British tourist visits here in the 18th century, and can also recommend How the English made the Alps by Jim Ring as a more modern alternative into the history of tourism.

We had a simple but delightful room in the hotel, and kept in mind that every single drop of water and everything else has to be brought up to those 2132 metres altitude – daunting. The hotel was renovated in 2010 but retains many of the original details and the same façade, very retro. One of the smaller dining rooms features this beautiful ceiling painted with acanthus leaves and woodland animals, so pretty. And what British tourist would survive without a fireplace!! Fireplaces are not usual in Switzerland, the Swiss more commonly used very efficient tiled ovens, often connected to their kitchen ranges, so this must be a concession to another culture.

On the way home, we stopped off at the Glasi Hergiswil, which has just celebrated its 200th birthday. This is a glass factory that follows a glassmaking tradition dating back a very long time, much longer than 200 years, to the first settlers on the lake shores. Not so long ago, things weren’t going very well, but then in the 1980s, a well-known glass designer, Roberto Niederer, began producing a style of glassware that has become very typical of the Glasi and very popular in Swiss households. Meanwhile, there is a museum that includes a lot of glass technology and the whole village shoreline has glass sculptures and games sponsored by the Glasi. This spring, they built a 20 metre high glass tower with periscope facilities for looking out onto the mountains – fascinating.

Check out for the typical chunky modern glass they make here!

And now to get back to a) what I did this summer… and b) real life, which is still far from normal. Sigh!

Knitting and Sailing

So. The spring yarn – Malabrigo Mechita “Lluvas” – a really gorgeous colourway very reminiscent of purple irises with the shot of pale greeny-yellow through it became the Linus shawl(free on Ravelry)! The simplest of squishy garter stitch asymmetrical triangles seemed just right for this and the result is the perfect spring neck-wrap when it can still be breezy and rainy. Love!

Finished while sailing our little vintage boat one blissful and sunny May day…

I didn’t manage a May post but June isn’t too old,yet, so here’s the next of those seasonal yarns, the summery and intense colourway “anniversario”, brightest pinks mixed with a hot rainbow spectrum. Loose mesh shawl “Reyna” (see Ravelry) was a great choice for a light summer triangle good for a cool evening or a not-so-hot day out sailing:

It’s our annual charter on Lake Constance which started out hot but has inserted an upset reduction in temperature, a slight blip 😮 Just to show you can knit anywhere! And by the weekend it’s due to be baking hot.
The shawl needs blocking (perhaps stretched out on deck when the rain stops?) to spread the mesh and take the roll out of the edges but I’m very pleased how it turned out and the colours really pop. I had enough yardage to add an extra section each of garter and mesh so reckon it’s about 5′ wide once blocked, which makes me even happier!

What April showers?

Well. Didn’t March and April simply whizz by?!
As I mentioned in February, losing my granny meant some time spent in England, mainly to celebrate her very long life and her legacy of close friends and family. It was wonderful to see so many dear people who had loved her much as we had. Her tiny terraced house warmly welcomed a large party of 10 (8 sleeping there) family members and there was vibrant life and bustle of all ages: she would have loved it! We remain four generations who get on well together and so we began as we meant to carry on and after returning home again, a slightly altered composition of 8 of us – plus dog – then spent two weeks together in Brittany… I can confirm that much fun was had by all.

Not to mention that we have been pursued by plenty of fine spring weather throughout and our seaside holiday suffered no more than a combined 15 minutes of rain on two brief occasions, April or no. Children, adults and dog played on the beach, around the property and in the small house, everyone was always busy with something, even if it was just sitting in the sun, and relationships were cemented between the oldest and youngest members of the family as well as new adult relationships between sisters.

The camellias were still out…

…as was the wisteria!

So ssssh… here’s a secret: northern Brittany in April and September is not to be sneered at! It’s just as nice the rest of the year, but more likelihood of rain in winter and tourists in summer – as you can see, we didn’t have to share the beach with many people! The children wore warm clothes and hats on their top halves and skipped around just as happily in the waves as if they were in swimwear, in fact, the sea temperature is much the same the year round thanks to the Gulf Stream that passes by. Kite-flying was another hit – rarely a shortage of wind! Another thing is that dogs are allowed on the beach outside the high season (June-August), so assuming you are a responsible dog owner who scoops the poop, it’s no holds barred in digging for Australia…

Even the odd overcast day offered some rock climbing

while sunsets are breathtaking at any time of year!

The baby grew as we watched and progressed to her rightful position in the high chair 😉 She seemed to be telling us “finally!”

We also got to mess around in a boat and enjoy the view from the “other” side!

Plus everyone helped with jobs, in this case repotting and then demolishing the old rotted planter (a satisfying task for the 8 year old!):

Of course, while we were gone, spring sprung at home in Switzerland, too –

BUT… it is April, after all…

Acquiring yarn. A long yarn.

It all sounds so innocent, doesn’t it? As if yarn just sailed breezily into the stash one fine day, unasked and as a pleasant bonus, ready to go, begging to be used and as if everything was totally above board. “Acquisition: an asset obtained” – another such innocent word, “obtained”. What, just floated in? img_2829

It isn’t really innocent, though! It’s sneaky, addictive stuff that writhes its way around your brain and immobilises everything but your greedy eyes and the finger that presses the buttons (either on the card machine or your computer…). Wicked, dominating yarn!

The poor animals we get our yarn from (well, maybe the plants, too), they happily give up their fleeces without a thought for the emotional rollercoaster caused to knitters and crocheters. The hours spent perusing Ravelry and endless files and books of patterns to find just the right combination of instruction and fibre to produce the most fantastic shawl/hat/sweater/mittens/insert item here: xxx! The convoluted attempts to remember the pattern you’ve just seen and if it needed worsted, sport or fingering yarn because you’ve just gloated over all three kinds and in your mind, in your mind you’re imagining the finished object and not the WIP that will sit with the pile of other WIPs for months or years because the next yarn or pattern came along and entangled you.

Will it be worth the precious skein/s sitting there beckoning seductively? Will the tension be right? Will I have to make three gauge squares (oh no!)? Will I knit it and then hate every stitch and frog it? Will I knit it and then not be able to bear to rip every last loop out and start again? Questions and thoughts upon questions and thoughts, it’s all such a harrowing process, so exhausting! img_0023April 2012 – of this yarn, only the blue has so far been knit up (though it is a much-worn Marin shawlette!)… The lace has had two false starts, lovely though it is 😮 

Despite all the agonies, we commit to our craft over and over again. I have recently found that I’m picking yarn up all over the place, with only the slightest of triggers necessary. I used to think I didn’t have stash. I certainly didn’t have the “sweater’s worth of XYZ” lying around, as you hear from some knitters who seem to go in for bulk-buying. Yes, I had a couple of ball’s worth of sock yarn hanging around and a few leftovers, occasionally a whole unit (hank, skein, cake, ball, whatever). That changed when I discovered excellent value-for-money yarn, perhaps coincidentally Scandinavian – Norwegian and Icelandic – and inexplicably started buying in larger quantities! And picking up another pretty hand-dyed skein here, or a lace – so budget-friendly – there, where one is enough for a pair of socks or a shawl. Or a hat or a pair of mittens. And then the sales, oh dear, woe betide there is 10, 20 or even 35% off, how could I possibly not dream and press those buttons that deplete my funds?! Gluttony! Hoarder! img_3055Most, if not all, of these yarns have been knit up, and pretty successfully, I’m happy to say!img_3979This, however, languishes still…such a pretty light blue…

Not forgetting the category of those wonderful people, enablers. Those who think of us and get an extra because they know we’d love it (and know our favourite colours). Who very rightly just know we will be thrilled to get fibre in the post, loot, wheee. The ones who give us yarn for breakfast, so to speak. And the ones who encourage us to try out this or that and tell us where to go and when there are good deals! Great community, great friends. Oh, lovely friends 🙂

Which brings me to (some of) my recent and not-so-recent acquisitions. Ahem.

Just before Christmas, there happened to be a sale of the now discontinued Lang Alberta at my favourite online LYS… Two lots of the infamous “sweater’s worth” of this lovely yarn jumped into my basket and hey presto, arrived in the most enormous box one fine December day (much to the amusement of my visitor friend Helen and my daughter – both knitters…) as we sat chatting. What were my plans, they asked? No idea! But a few late nights after Christmas I got my act together and started avidly on the first colour, imaginatively called “Schlamm” (sludge…). It was supposed to be a dark green but although my mother said it definitely was, I still think it’s more dark brown than green, but I digress. A pattern I already had looked to be the ideal one, Alana Dakos Buds and Blooms cardigan has an attractive portrait collar that looked cosy and overall the shape looked as if it would be just right for me. I cast on and sailed away with it, a worsted weight yarn (with cashmere, no less!) on large needles, simply a breeze. After redoing the collar 5 times, I finally finished, and… meh. Yet again I had followed a pattern according to bust size and again, it had turned out large and shapeless, swamping me and just – not what I’d envisioned! Oh no! Sorry to say, that quick incarnation was promptly frogged and now awaits a new and better idea – the yarn is delicious and more importantly, it blocks to a gorgeous drapey fabric. Perhaps a big heavy shawl is in order? I still maintain it’s brown. img_7693It definitely photographs brown, anyway! I’m looking at a ball of it right now and struggling to see any green, though I have done before now – fleetingly.

Disheartened, I picked up the same needles to start on the next batch of Alberta (and no, of course I wasn’t influenced by the fact that one of my best friends lives in Alberta, now would I?!). A lovely soft light blue-grey that would become a fantastically practical throw-over-anything sweater and this time, I had already got the pattern sorted out in advance. It was to be Joji Locatelli’s Lemongrass, a twist on the classic grey cabled sweater with split, curved sides and hi-lo hem, it was going to be my go-to for the really cold months, cuddly and warm and a coccoon…. it was all there in my imagination.

Now I am someone who enjoys knitting on pretty thin needles. After a cardigan’s worth of 5 and 5.5 mm needles, I really didn’t have much patience left with them and craved something finer. After a botched start, I got impatient (it happens) and promptly sent the whole batch of wool down to my daughter, who loves grey, and quality yarns and whose sister was about to travel south to see her, yay, a good deed (enabler!). She’d just had a birthday, too, what a good excuse… Needless to say, said daughter promptly cast on and whoosh, soon had the best part of a really useful cardigan sorted – except she ran out of yarn on the button bands 😮 Did I say, the yarn is discontinued? I feel so guilty.

Therefore, back to the thin needles. Having discovered the knitting podcasts (look back a couple of posts) and being susceptible to suggestion, my halo was shining as I dug out some stash that had been hanging around for a while. Drops Baby Alpaca and Silk was sold for an embarrassingly low price AND a discount for ages (and even though the price has now risen it is still a more than reasonable buy and a wonderful fibre) and I’d thoughtfully bought three “sweater’s worth” – only it’s so fine you can practically get two sweaters out of each colour… This time I chose the icy blue (also already mentioned in the last post) and set about Waterlily by Meghan Fernandes on 3mm needles, a light spring top with short dropped sleeves and a lace yoke that seemed just right – plain and mindless for ages and then a pretty and simple lace over the shoulders. I took it to Stuttgart with me and knitted happily for hours. Soft, soothing and utterly content.

Then a message came from one of my enablers. A request for some extra-wide socks for a pair of swollen feet. Well, what choice did I have?! 🙂 A quick visit to the town craft shop (be still my beating heart… every craft you can imagine is represented at Idee) and the low price of generic yarn (plus it’s a different currency and always seems cheap, right?) meant I came away with sparkly, fluffy yarn for the socks in beige and more of the same in pink because I knew my granddaughter was coming to visit and might like something out of it (come on, pink and silver? Every 5 year old’s dream!). But wait, there was also a lovely, thicker variegated sock yarn in great colours, and what if I made some of those simple soft, stretchy slippers, too – another podcast influence. Done. The sparkly, fluffy yarn turned out to be a great success – there was far more of it than I’d bargained for, so a single skein made a pair of the required socks, while the other made a generous cowl for my mother-in-law’s sensitive neck, while although my granddaughter showed not the least interest in the pink yarn, my eldest daughter noticed both colours with “that look” in her eyes and promptly inherited the pink but also got more of the beige the next time I was in Stuttgart lol. img_7679

Ah yes. I had to return to Stuttgart. So why not take advantage? Those slippers had been so quick and easy to knit, surely a couple more pairs in the other tempting colourways would be a quick inbetween sort of project? Go on. Plop. Plop. A greeny colour for me, a blue version for my youngest daughter. Done. But look, the generic wool selection includes some other plain sock yarns that are very well priced – haven’t I been wanting some thicker, red socks for ages? Plop. And that grey and yellow – gosh, wouldn’t it be fun to have some that match my new hat? Plop. (Turned out there is actually enough left from my hat so now I have double the amount of yarn in the same colours – I suffer.) Oh look, they’ve all been raving about speckled yarns and that peachy-pink sock yarn would make a change, wouldn’t it?! What, sale to sell?! Take 2. Plop. That grey alpaca is soooo soft, and only one ball left, perfect for a pair of wristlets? Plop. Oooh, they’re selling off the pompoms with the spring stock sitting waiting for its space on the shelf – yes, one for my friend, it’s “her” colour, and why not, one for me… And so it goes. Blush. img_7775

As if that wasn’t enough, more enablers got to me. Both those dratted podcasts and my darling daughter unintentionally paraded various yarns across my mind’s eye. I wondered vaguely if they were available in Switzerland (oh the rabbit hole of the internet…) and lo and behold, click click, I had not only ordered two lots of yummy British wools – because I’m loyal like that – but also needed to support some of the very few local producers here in Switzerland, which has a long tradition of silk production. I might also have bought a Latvian mitten kit… And some minis. Pardon, what? img_7759Blacker Yarns Tamar in colourway “Tiddy Brook” – I was expecting spring yellow but it’s a superfresh bright light green, which is fine…img_7761Spinnwebstube sold me a Latvian yarn kit in one of my favourite colourways as well as an irresistible set of merino minis produced, spun and dyed in Switzerland – haven’t a clue what I will do with them, yet – a trend I have cluelessly followed 😮

The other parcel held silky hand-dyed Swiss silk-merino – one for a friend (of course!) one for me, and why, look, it’s a Valentine’s Day special, individually dyed… Add to this a trip to the actual local yarn shop for buttons where a couple of sock yarns jumped completely suicidally onto the counter (in addition to the boxful that has already accumulated…) and I should be set for life. img_7767Baa Ram Ewe’s Titus is a beautiful Yorkshire yarn (my grandparents were both from Yorkshire is my excuse!) – a blend of 50% Wensleydale Longwool, 20% Bluefaced Leicester and 30% UK alpaca and in the colour White Rose, which my Granny truly was! The Swiss Siidegarte (silk garden) yarns are hand-dyed with plant dyes: Fideel in Valentine and Hasleriis – the latter I assume is dialect for hazelnut (it’s a different dialect to the one we speak). There is a blog in English at img_7788

Unblocked and not at the best angle at all but I was so delighted with the result! I’ll have to do a better photo… img_7855

Again, unblocked, but I love it and I was surprised how the blue pops – I hadn’t expected this either from the skein or the wound ball! img_7852The colour has photographed badly in the winter light, as it’s a very definite icy blue, no grey about it… this is the Waterlily top by Meghan Fernandes in Drops Baby Alpaca Silk and I’m extremely pleased with it! This one is blocked, but I need to make icord across the back neck for stability as the original solution in the pattern didn’t work for me.

To be fair – the Shetland hat is finished. The seasonal Unicorn winter wool Constellate hat is finished. The Waterlily top is very nearly finished – that is, blocked but needs the back neckline adjusting. The alpaca mitts are nearly finished. New socks are on the needles (ahem, a free pattern, Hermione’s Everyday Socks, I keep seeing on the podcasts…). The Tamar had a couple of false starts because I found I don’t like the fabric on the suggested needles so it’s developing in a different direction. The Titus has plans – and is so yummy I’m wondering if I shouldn’t get more (slap me).