Monday, 30 December 2013

2013 - some best bits

A challenge to myself and to my usually gloomy outlook: to find and write about some best bits or favourite things from the past year.

I think the project of the year has to be Dad's Fair Isle jumper, I'm just coming to the end of the first sleeve, so it will not be finished this year, but it is the knitting I am most proud of.  The Jamieson Spindrift I am knitting the jumper in is undoubtedly my favourite yarn find of the year, I never thought I would be saying how soft Shetland yarn is but it has really grown on me.


Additionally I am pleased I managed to get my Pomme de Pin cardigan finished, it was another epic knit, but one I wear a lot, very snug and soft and warm despite its light lacy fabric.

Bumblebee on sunflower in my garden 1st September 2013 in Croydon

The recipe of the year has to be the apple and fruit cake I made for Dad's birthday, it was so, so moist and so simple and clever.  Again it was a recipe from Aunt Daisy dating back to the late 1940s; her books contain a rich seam of recipes to continue trying.  As a recipe it suited my energy levels and needing to pace myself because I could make the apple purée one day and the cake the next, a good while ahead of the party itself so that the cake could mature.  No need like a sponge to cook it that day or at most the day before.

Here is the recipe as it appears in the book, I baked it in a 23cm round tin, the cups are English although it would probably work in American cups and just be a slightly larger cake.  A moderate oven is around 180C though I may have used a slightly lower temperature as our oven can be a bit fierce.  It came out perfectly flat on top without so much as a dip.  When you first bake the cake it does look a bit dry and uninspiring, hold your nerve, wrap it up and pop it into a tin for at least two weeks and your patience will be rewarded.

Apple fruit cake – delicious
Do not cut this cake for a fortnight. Have ready 1 ½ cups stewed apple, sweetened with ½ cup sugar and with 1 tablespoon butter melted into it. Mix together 1 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon cocoa; 1 dessertspoon spice; ½ teaspoon baking soda; 2 large cups flour; lemon peel and dried fruit to taste (about 1 ½ to 2 cups). Add the apple mixture and a little milk if necessary. Line tin with greased paper. Bake in a moderate oven for about 1 ½ hours.


After much thought I think my album of the year has to be Seven Stars by Chris Haines.  It is a quiet, peaceful album soaked in the Bible and the past of the church.  Of all the songs the one that I love the most is "Strangers", about our true home, it is a peaceful, hopeful song that helps to put all the worries of today into perspective, speaking of the "colours undiscovered", the "sweet aromas" of heaven and how we will be home soon.  Throughout the year this song has helped me in times of despair or panic to find my bearings again and remember that this life is not forever, that a better life is forever.  You can listen to the album here on bandcamp and read the lyrics here.

Rend Collective Experiment's album Campfire has probably been my other album of the year, full of life and energy.  I am so looking forward to their new album.

My garden find of the year: Southover Grange in Lewes

Elizabeth Jane Howard was my book find of the year.  Radio 4's dramatisation of her Cazalet novels caught my attention and I started by reading her autobiography, Slipstream, in January; a tremendous work, lively and honest, one of the best autobiographies I have ever read.  After this I moved onto the Cazalet novels themselves and devoured them, I was so completely in their world and found myself, in the intervals of reading the world insists in inserting, wondering what was going to happen, utterly caught up in the lives of the characters.  They are more than the usual "family saga" novels, all the characters are real and engaging, no mean feat in a novel sequence about such a large family and there is a strong sense of place.


My reading has also branched out, inspired by Katherine Swift's Morville Hours, a book about the creation of a garden and so much more besides, don't just take my word for it, go and read it, now, go on!  So I have read more garden and countryside books, ideal if you cannot get out that much, to go to other places in books.  I have read my way through most of the Penguin English Journeys books, particular favourites were the volumes by Gertrude Jekyll and Vita Sackville West on gardening and I plan to read more of both their books in the new year.  Some of Gertrude Jekyll's books are out of copyright and so available on line for free which is particularly handy.  The extracts from James Lees-Milne's diaries were amusing too and he has been added to the ever increasing list of books to read, along with more of Elizabeth Taylor's novels.

robin crop

Tomorrow I shall do some thinking on goals for the coming year as is traditional.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

A Christmas Robin

Merry Christmas everyone, I hope you have had a joyful day however you have spent it.  Our robin has been on good form today, whether he knows it is Christmas or just liked the meal worms my dad put out for him, he was around a lot and stayed in the garden while we were out there, on the feeders and on the ground, watching us and happy for us to be around.  As I have mentioned before, I love that process of building up trust and getting to know a bird like that.  My sister got a lovely couple of shots of him and I have her permission to repost them here.

When she was looking through her photos my sister did comment that the robin likes posing and I think she is right to an extent, some of it is territorial behaviour though.

Last but not least, my favourite band, Rend Collective Experiment have released a Christmas video today, a version of Hark the Herald Angels Sing that is full of energy and joy, hope you like it.

Monday, 23 December 2013


When I was a child December seemed to stretch forever, day after day, marked out in little cardboard doors, tantalisingly keeping me from the apex of the excitement, the best day of the year: Christmas Day.  The air seemed almost to sparkle, there were endless excitements, carol concerts, plays, parties and treats, baking, decorations, pantomimes, a sense of goodwill seemed to pervade.  There were the yearly rituals, watching the Blue Peter team lighting the advent candles, helping to decorate the tree, going to the church to watch the familiar story acted out.  Then my one night of the year of excited insomnia before the Big Day with all its stockings and presents and turkey and crackers.

But Christmas now, where has the magic gone?  Now December seems a different sort of time-warp, the days falling over themselves in their rush to get away before Christmas looms.  Days full of lists of presents to be bought, cards to be sent, jobs to be done.  The reality of the work behind the sparkle hitting home.


Now instead there are small, quiet compensations for the onset of age, the satisfaction of choosing just the right present, the happiness of cards sent and appreciated, meeting old friends in the box of decorations, the heady spiced whiff of mixing Christmas cakes and puddings. While that feeling of Christmas joy and magic is more fleeting, glimpsed occasionally in a child's face or conjured up from turning on the Christmas lights at dusk and watching them make the glitter come to life in a quiet twinkling glow.  Light coming into the darkness.

Light coming into the darkness, that's what it is about in the end, hope coming into the world as the nights draw in.  Trying to find time, amidst the lists, to remember the first Christmas in all its ragged perfection.


Since I started this meditation a few days ago the weight of expectation and waiting has increased, I have slowed down (responding to the aide memoire of a two week headache) and the days seem to have joined me.  I am grateful for the slowing of the days and for the time to think, if not for the illness that creates this time.  The wind whistles and howls around the house with occasional breaks for glorious mild sunshiny winter days and a feeling of Christmastime has crept into the house on the heels of gingerbread and carols.  At the same time I have remembered some of the reality behind those painfully exciting childhood Christmasses, such as the year I slept so little on Christmas Eve that I was tearfully exhausted by seven and wasted precious hours of Christmas day in an early bedtime.  Christmases pile up memory and experience in layers, each bringing a part of themselves to each new Christmas; while my understanding grows and changes, of what Christmas meant and means.  I go again to the child in the manger and the light come into the world, and begin to ponder the Christ who will come again and the double waiting of Advent.

Charles Wesley's hymn Come Thou Long Expected Jesus is a current favourite, I especially love this version by a band called Kings Kaleidoscope
Come thou long expected Jesus
Born to set thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in thee 
Israel’s strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart 
Born thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a king
Born to reign forever
Now thy gracious kingdom bring  
By thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By thine all sufficient merit
Raise us to thy glorious throne 
Come Lord Jesus, into this dark world, bring your light, your presence and your kingdom. Thank you for Christmas, in all its meanings, Amen

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Some knitting and more cake

Finally a finished piece of knitting to show off, a little jumper for a baby cousin, the pattern is Fiddlehead Pullover and the yarn Patons Fairytale Dreamtime 3ply.  Yes, you read right, 3ply.  I still have no idea when or how I ended up with this yarn, it is gorgeously soft, but knitting anything in it takes ages, especially when squeezing it in between a big Fair Isle project.  Talking of which, the jumper is now onto its sleeves, which are beginning to take shape after a shaky start.


Then there have been two more cakes made, one for the day of my Dad's birthday, a lightly spiced sponge and the other for the lunch party for his birthday, an apple and fruitcake, which matures for at least two weeks before cutting and becomes rich and moist in the process.  Both from the books I mentioned in my last post.  Where would we be without old cookbooks?

Spiced sponge, cake plate courtesy of my parents

Christmas seems to be rushing towards us at breakneck speed, how it has accelerated over the years.  When I was a child advent seemed to drag on forever and it seemed as though Christmas would never come!  So I am busy, or as busy as I can be, allowing for headaches and naps, my Christmas preparations only succeed by starting early and plodding along steadily, so on I go.

Fruit cake on left, Colin the Caterpillar cake from Marks and Spencer (which has long been one of Dad's favourites) on right.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Eggless Christmas Cake

A couple of weeks ago my dad and I had great fun making our own Christmas cake, which due to an intolerance to eggs running in the family, we have made egg-free.  We used a recipe from the 1947 Aunt Daisy's New Cookery No.6, a cookbook that had belonged to my maternal grandmother, who was a friend of "Aunt Daisy", otherwise known as Maud Basham.  "Aunt Daisy" was a regular on the radio in New Zealand between the 1920s and 1960s and apparently would rattle out recipes at a tremendous rate.  It was lovely to make a cake with so many family associations and if the taste of the batter was anything to go by it should be delicious.


We made various changes to the recipe, including halving the quantities, since we have no real need of a vast Christmas cake and I thought I would share what we did in case it could help anyone else who cannot eat eggs.  Older cookbooks, especially those published around the war, can be a very good source of egg free cake recipes, since eggs were sometimes hard to come by.  Anyhow, here goes:

Eggless fruit cake, adapted from Aunt Daisy

Figures in parentheses refer to smaller size of cake

(10oz) 1 ¼ lb plain flour
(6oz) ¾ lb brown sugar
(2oz) ¼ lb peel if liked
(½ tsp) 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
(just over ½) about 1 ¼ cups milk
(4oz) ½ lb butter
(12oz) 1 ½ lb mixed fruit
(2oz) ¼ preserved ginger
(circa 8) circa 16 glacé cherries
(1Tbsp) 2 Tbsp treacle
(½ tsp) 1 tsp each vanilla and almond essence
(2 Tbsp) 4 Tbsp brandy
zest of (½) 1 lemon
(½-1 tsp) 1-½ each ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg

Put oven onto heat to 150C (Gas Mark 2)Cream butter and sugar. Add treacle and mix in, followed by around half the milk, and the essences. Begin mixing in flour and fruit alternately a spoonful or so at a time. Add lemon zest, brandy and spices and stir in. Finally mix the remaining milk with the bicarbonate of soda and stir in. Put in a prepared cake tin, using the smaller quantity we made a cake that came about 2/3rds of the way up a 22cm round tin. Place a circle of greaseproof paper, with a hole in the middle, on top of the cake to prevent it from browning too fast on top. Cook on the lowest shelf of the oven at around 150C (Gas Mark 2) for just under two hours for the smaller cake, I would imagine closer to 3 hours for the larger cake (sorry I cannot be more exact, but 1940s cook books can be a little sparse on detail).
Once the cake is cooked take it out of the oven, place in its tin on a wire rack, remove the greaseproof paper from the top and “baste” with a couple of tablespoons of brandy before covering the entire tin closely in tin foil and leaving until completely cool. I got this tip from Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess and it helps to keep the top of the cake from getting dry and hard.

Christmas cake

I found this page of conversions from the BBC Good Food website helpful, especially if you wished to make a square instead of round cake.

Ours is now wrapped up safely and in a tin awaiting Christmas, although we have not yet decided how to decorate it.  I hope you find this recipe helpful and enjoy it.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013


Today was one of those glorious, crisp, sunny late autumn days and although I did not manage to scrape together the energy to get out in it, I still enjoyed it from indoors.  As befits such a day, the sunset was glorious, our upstairs room was lit up with a warm golden glow, with the slightest hint of pink and the trees were silhouetted against the sky.


A top class sunset does seem to need some scraps of clouds to show off its colour and glory to its very best, a bit like a picture needing dark as well as light.


Sunday, 10 November 2013


Today is Remembrance Sunday, a day I approach with mixed feelings, as I had more ancestors in the German and Austrian armies than the British in the first world war, my maternal grandparents being of German, Austrian and Czech extraction.  My paternal grandfather's brother fought in and survived the first war and his sisters nursed, but it is still a day that makes me feel my mixed heritage more keenly than normal.  Although it is a day to remember the dead of all nations and of all wars, the first and second world wars do tend to dominate in this country, partly, the cynical historian in me thinks, because we won both wars, but also because Remembrance Sunday was founded in response to the widespread grief following the first war.

However, my ambivalent feelings are increased because Remembrance Sunday seems to be focussed on the soldiers who fell in the wars and of course should be remembered and mourned. But meanwhile the civilians, who also died in great numbers, seem forgotten.  I feel this personally as somewhere in the region of three-quarters of my paternal grandfather's family died or disappeared as civilians, whole families vanishing in their entirety, in the Holocaust during the second world war.

Interior view of the destroyed Fasanenstrasse Synagogue, Berlin, burned during the November Pogroms
From a synagogue destroyed in Berlin on Kristallnacht Flickr Commons

This year Remembrance Day falls on the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht when the Nazis attacked Jewish people, homes, businesses and synagogues in Germany and Austria in reprisal for the killing of a German diplomat in Paris by a Jewish youth.  Ninety one people died and 30,000 were sent to concentration camps, but it marked the beginning of the Nazi "final solution".  My grandfather and his mother were lucky, they got out, my grandfather on the last train he could legally have got; his father and most of the rest of his family were less lucky.

dad ID 1935 czech
My grandfather in his 1935 Czech passport

These events and the sense of loss they created have cast a long shadow across my family.  We need to remember all who have died or suffered loss on all sides, and never to allow remembrance to become glorification of war.  Although on the last point I think this ex-serviceman, writing in the Guardian puts things better than I can.  When I hear the jingoistic writing from the beginning of the first war repeated again and again by politicians, the media, social media, as part of remembrance day I shudder inwardly.  One might as well repeat the last line of Wilfred Owen's Dulce et decorum est and omit the all important context, of "the old lie".

And for the future?  We need to keep talking, keep telling the stories, try to stop ourselves repeating the same mistakes again and again.  We need to make sure our remembrance does not become justification for current or future war and work and pray for peace and reconciliation and healing.

Father forgive us our follies, grant us peace, comfort those who mourn, help us to love mercy and seek justice and walk humbly before you.

I leave you with Michael Tippett's Oratorio A Child of Our Time, which was written in 1939 in response to Kristallnacht.

Monday, 4 November 2013

An Insomniac's Miscellany

Once again I cannot sleep.  No matter how relaxed I try to get before bed as soon as I lie down I get tense and my jaw clenches and the more I lie there, the worse it gets.  So I find it best to get up and potter gently about, listening to quiet music, doing a little simple knitting, reading, anything to try to relax as I sit in the lamp light.  This being unable to sleep has been going on for a few months now and I have reached the point where I am sufficiently fed up that I have made a doctor's appointment, so that is Tuesday's fun outing.

So lack of sleep is making the rest of life harder and I have little to report.  Dad's jumper is coming along nicely and my thoughts are increasingly turning to Christmas, a festival I love.  All those sparkly lights and hope in the darkness and familiar rituals; I love Christmas in all its infinite variety.  Although I do need to get realistic and try to curb my desire to make everything for everyone.

Christmas puddings 2013
Puddings pre-cooking

A few weeks ago we made two Christmas puddings, as we had got down to only one left in the store cupboard and the puddings really are best matured at least a year.  It was a nice family occasion, my parents and I each took tasks and shared out the work; Dad managed to get himself the job of adding the brandy!  I must try to write down a recipe as my mother pretty much carries it in her head, which would make it tricky if I ever wanted to try making one on my own.  Next on the agenda is an attempt at a Christmas cake, which I have less experience at and past attempts have not always been a great success, however, I have been reading up and gathering tips.  How do you decorate your Christmas cake?  My family are not keen on the traditional marzipan and thick icing so I am looking for ideas.

For now, back to the task of trying to relax enough to sleep.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Progress Report

It is now two weeks and a day since I cast on Dad's Fair Isle jumper, having swatched over the weekend and the body of the jumper is now 12 inches long.  I am in the middle of the last "OXO" repeat of the sequence and will start again from the beginning, but with the "OXO"s differently aligned next.


The jumper is somewhat all consuming and has kept me occupied for most of my knitting time and I am enjoying the rhythm of the knitting and the absorption it requires so as not to make a mistake.  It is mindful knitting, which keeps me focussed and in the present.  Meanwhile, the geometric nature of these old patterns cleverly breaks down complicated effects into variations on simple themes of, for example, three stitches of one colour, followed by one of another across one row and the opposite across another.


Without wishing to sound overly self-satisfied I must confess that I am thrilled at how well the colours have come out, I never dreamt they would work so well first time and thought I would have go through a tedious process of changing colours and making several orders to get it right.  It is a real boost to have it go so well.  Anyhow, there is plenty more to do on it so I had better get going again before my Dad notices - I would knit it my every waking hour if he had his way!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The Right Time To Begin

You may, or may not, have noticed that this week is Shetland Wool Week, which is being marked in Shetland by a variety of events.  Entirely co-incidentally this is also the week that I have made a start on the Fair Isle sweater my dad has wanted for ages.  He is one of the most knit-worthy people I know, not only wearing the things I make him but also showing them off to all and sundry and taking care of them.  His love of being knitted for is life-long and he has not quite got over his mother switching from knitting for him to knitting for his nieces and nephew when he was in his late teens.  Although he later made up for this by getting his grandmother-in-law to knit for him, a mutually beneficial relationship as she loved having someone to knit for.


After a day spent studying the Jamieson's of Shetland spindrift colourcard, a thing of beauty in itself, until I was in a whirl of colour, I eventually picked out my colours, with some trepidation in case they did not work out.  Mercifully they do seem to work, bright and colourful without being too "in your face" or garish.  I wanted colours that had some tradition behind them, but that avoided the beige background of many Fair Isle sweaters.


I have put together motifs from an old picture featured in Michael Pearson's book Traditional Knitting, which he had helpfully charted, together with a variety of peeries, some from the original sweater, some from Alice Starmore's invaluable Fair Isle Knitting.  Michael Pearson's Traditional Knitting was a library find and the book that first got me interested in the knitting of the past.  For the charts themselves, rather than spending hours hunched over graph paper, I found some excellent software online called KnitBird, which is charting software for both colour work and textured or lace knitting and allows you to flip and repeat motifs among other handy features.  The finished charts look professional and polished too; I'm pleased with it, well worth the money.

So now all I have to do is knit it.  I began yesterday and am something just over an inch through the ribbing.  Here goes... I may be some time.

The Ravelry project page is here and has details of which colours I am using.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Seasonal bewilderment

This unseasonably warm weather has caused the garden to be a profusion of flowers and unseasonable new growth, so that alongside more usual sights there are also fresh nasturtiums coming up, summer flowers still flowering and even supposedly spring flowers putting out fresh flowers.

Next door's apples ripening in profusions

Holly berries ripening, we shall be unlikely to have any left by Christmas for the Christmas pudding given the birds' appetites.

The roses by the pond, although they have flowered in mid-winter before, they have a natural enthusiasm.

Summer flowers and foliage

A hoverfly on a poppy

More poppies in waiting

And lastly some enthusiastic primroses

Saturday, 14 September 2013


Right now I am in the middle of an ME and fibromyalgia crash, caused by trying to do too much and not saying no enough and things just happening that I have had to deal with and not enough sleep over a number of weeks.  It seems a cruel irony that a fatigue causing illness should come with the inability to sleep.

I am trying not to feel sorry for myself, or blame myself too much, although I know that this is what happens if I overdo things; neither am I asking for your pity.  But there might not be much interesting blogging going on for a bit while I regroup and keep practising resting.  I am trying to teach myself to see resting as constructive, not simply wasting time or achieving nothing, this effort is in its early days so far.

For now I shall go back to bed, in between short times knitting, I think having something restful to do is so important with any kind of chronic illness.  It provides something else to think about outside oneself and helps pass the time.  Certainly I have become good at finding low-energy things to do, perhaps one day I shall have to write about it here, when I have rested that is!

A gratuitous picture of some roses because they're beautiful.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

On the needles

As it has been a while since this blog, supposedly about knitting, has had much on it about knitting, I thought i would do an update post on what I have on the needles.


A couple of days ago I finally finished this pair of socks, which, embarrassingly, I started in February.  The delay was owing to how long it took me to get the hang of the pattern and also various interruptions, but now they are finished I am very pleased with them.  The pattern is Elm by Cookie.a and the yarn is from one of my current favourite indie-dyers, Countess Ablaze.  Although I do increasingly enjoy a plain "vanilla" sock, particularly in stripy yarn, I do sometimes enjoy a more challenging sock, particularly by Cookie.a whose designs are so clever, I often marvel at how she does it.


Inspired by autumn's imminent arrival, I have mostly been working on Lady Marple cardigan by Nadia Crétin-Léchenne in Artesano Alpaca Aran, which is a gorgeous mix of alpaca and wool making a lovely warm, not too heavy fabric with a slight halo.  The yarn is slightly tweedy in its depth of colour - the shade I am using is called twilight and is a mid turquoise with hints of red. The pattern has a nice balance between mindless relaxation and a bit of lace to keep it interesting; it is an adult version of a pattern written for a child - Miss Marple.  As it is on 5mm needles it is making fair progress and I am currently a few centimetres from dividing at the armholes to work the back and two fronts separately, and so I am fairly confident of finishing it before the cold weather (touch wood).


Apologies for the quality of the photograph, it can be quite challenging photographing a work in progress, this was taken over a week ago too so I have progressed a fair bit from there.

In between times I have been finishing off some baby knits and really need to get more done - there seem to be a lot being born at present.

Monday, 26 August 2013

August Sunflowers

We finally have a sunflower flowering, planting the seeds directly in the ground was not wildly successful, these are the only two that have come up.  Next year I think I shall plant them in pots and then put them out when they're bigger.


I love sunflowers, they are so cheerful, like concentrated sunshine.  Hopefully the birds will enjoy the seeds too.


Our tomatoes are also ripening thick and fast and I have harvested some every day the past few days.  There's something deeply satisfying about eating something that has grown outside your own back door and that you have watched grow.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

God of Contradictions

Something I wrote a week or two ago and have just polished up, mostly by getting the verses into order.  I suppose it is a Psalm?  Nothing on David's level though.

God of Contradictions

The God who made the earth the skies and sea
And allows us to trash them

The God who made man and woman in His own image
And allowed us to sin and break His heart

The God of beauty and perfection
Who allows ugliness and imperfection to reign

The God of justice, friend of the poor,
Who allows injustice and poverty to flourish

The God who is the prince of peace
And yet allows wars and rumours of wars

The God who sent His son
to save us in human form
And allowed us to beat and kill Him

The God who heals,
who makes the lame walk and the blind to see
And allows children to get sick and die

The God who is holy and perfect
And allows sinners to join Him at His table

The God of all joy
Who allows unimaginable sorrow

The God who collects our tears in a jar
And allows us to go on and on filling the jar

The God who hears our prayers
And so often allows silence to answer them

The God who rose again
And allows us to share in His hope

The God of contradictions
whom we so little understand
One day will you allow us to see as you see?
Will you seem so contradictory then?

The God who will soon return
And allows soon to feel like forever

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  1 Corinthians 13.12

Saturday, 10 August 2013

The Big Knit - 4ply Innocent Smoothie Hats

Another free pattern, there have not been any for a while, so here we go.


4ply Innocent Smoothie Hat

The Big Knit, run by Innocent Smoothies to raise money for Age UK, is now in its 10th year.  For each hat knitted the charity receives 25p.

Perfect for using up all those sock yarn left overs that are too small to use for anything bigger. I thought the self striping sock yarns would look particularly effective.  They are strangely addictive to knit.

small amounts of 4 ply yarn
3mm needles (or size required for gauge)

28stitches and 36 rows to 4 inches – the fastest way to check gauge is probably to cast on a hat and measure it after a few rows

Cast on 36 stitches and knit two rows.  Then knit 18 rows of stockingette stitch commencing with a knit row.

Decreases: Following row knit two together across the row.
Then purl two together across the final row

Cut yarn, thread through stitches on needle and pull tight, sew seam and add pompom or any embellishment you wish.


Perfect as a blank canvas for different stitch variations or colourwork.

For more information about the Innocent Smoothies Big Knit, including where to send the hats, please see:

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Underground socks


Finally I have something finished to show off.  These are plain "vanilla" socks in brilliant yarn from an etsy shop, called Trailing Clouds, not currently trading alas see below, dyed in the colours of the London Underground lines.  I love their bright cheeriness and the dyeing is amazing.  It must take a lot of work to get all those different stripes into the yarn and to create such neat transitions from one stripe to the next, neater than many commercially produced yarns manage.  I do hope the dyer will start work again soon, her yarn is incredible.  The base is British Blue Faced Leicester (with some nylon for strength), which makes it even better.


Bright yellow socks next I think.

Stop Press: Since posting I have found out that the yarn dyer is now selling at and that she has a blog at Trailing Clouds of Gloria where she pre-releases pictures of the colours she is selling.  I will be watching out for updates (despite the fact that I do not need more sock yarn - if I keep telling myself that the truth of it might sink in sometime).

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Speaking out

For a while now I have been praying that as a church we would be more vocal and speak up for the poor and the dispossessed and those without anyone to speak up for them and now we seem to have a church leader who is doing just that.  The new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, seems determined not to keep quiet and to say when something is wrong, to call something exactly what it is, even if it causes him subsequent embarrassment. As a consequence both the media and ordinary people seem to have taken some notice of the church and what it is doing and its purpose for the first time in ages and in the main it is a positive response.

Generally on this blog I do try not to be political because this is not a political blog and because I find politics so extremely stressful and hard to cope with, however, I thought this was worth a mention.  We may be living through difficult and nasty times for many, but perhaps it is also an opportunity for the church to get up and speak out for people and to show care and concern for people in need and by doing so to demonstrate Jesus's love.

Archbishop Justin (calling him that does sound most familiar, I'm sure they would have had none of it in good old Barchester), spoke recently at one of those Christian Glastonbury's, New Wine and his talk is on his website and I cannot recommend it enough.  It is an excellent use for a half hour and it left me feeling inspired and encouraged and challenged all at once.

(picture from Lambeth Palace's flickr account)

I shall continue to pray for the church and for our new Archbishop, that we could be real and relevant and bring love and hope to this country and to the world.  Let us set out, one prayer at a time.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6.8 

P.S. If you want to hear some more of what the Archbishop has to say this video interview is also very interesting, though quite why anyone thought they needed dry ice behind them is beyond me!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

On fear

Although I have heard the promises such as “if our God is for us, who can be against us” and others of its ilk, I still find the world a terrifying place.  I feel plagued by fear, surrounded by it, caught up in it.  The thought of the long-term future fills me with such panic, of course we do not know what will happen, but sometimes we need to take decisions or do some sort of planning for the future and I find it almost unbearable.

I have improved over time, I can now think beyond the next minute, beyond the next hour, beyond the next week, sometimes even beyond the next month or months without being gripped by terror, slowly I have regained the future.  But I still feel as though I am surviving, not living and at present I am wrestling with how to live, how my future should look, what I should do with what I have and what I do not have.  It is an unsettling process, stirring me up inside, a hard process after such a long time of simply not wanting to be alive.  I am trying to accept life.

The worst thing about the fear is the feeling that I have failed God, my loving Father, He has said time and time again “Do not fear, do not be afraid”, and yet... somehow I cannot trust Him.  I feel ashamed and hate my lack of trust and faith, my failure to obey, to believe that He is sovereign and knows my future (Psalm 139) and that He will never leave me (Hebrews 13).

In the light of this failure I find the prayer in Mark 9.24 a help and a heart's cry, “I believe; help my unbelief!”.  God is gracious and there have been times in the middle of the terror and panic when He has been so close and has calmed me, at least my fear keeps me coming to Him for help.

Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.  Forgive my lack of trust and help my trust in you to grow as I come to you in the storms.  Be with me, strengthen my feeble knees and weak hands, be with me in the fear and help me to overcome.  Be with those who also fear.  Amen

"Jesus said... “Do not fear, only believe,” Mark 5.36

Monday, 22 July 2013

An unexpected treat

This morning has brought an unexpected treat from a generous neighbour of a gorgeous bunch of sweet peas and a vegetable marrow.  The sweet peas have an intoxicating, powerful scent, utterly gorgeous.  I am so grateful for my lovely neighbours.


Now to look up marrow recipes!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Musical Interlude

Following various recent conversations with friends I have realised that by listening almost exclusively to Christian music, as it helps my mental health, I have gained knowledge about bands that others have not heard of, so I thought I would write a few blog posts about some of my favourite bands or musicians.

And so we start with the band who came to mind immediately when thinking about this and the band to whom I have recently introduced various people from my church: Rend Collective Experiment.

They are a band from Northern Ireland whose music is largely folk inspired, but who use a wide range of instruments and styles for their songs.  They have a refreshing originality and energy and get away from the "cheesy" reputation that so often haunts Christian music.  In their music there is a real mixture of tempos and volumes, traditional hymns and original songs, around the theme of discipleship and church.  As they themselves acknowledge, folk music is accessible, anyone can join in by tapping their foot or singing along or clapping their hands and that makes it brilliant music for the church, and an echo of the church being an inclusive place that anyone can join.  But they put it better themselves:

I discovered them on Spotify and have loved their music ever since the first few chords of the first song of their first album, Come on my Soul, it is a simple song, calling us to worship, reminding us to look up from ourselves to Jesus and God our Father.  I love the video they made for this song too, the gathering of the church around the light.

Meanwhile the song that has become their anthem is Build Your Kingdom Here.  It is the most phenomenal prayer and a bold vision and I pray it regularly as I walk through my local town centre.  The chorus speaks for itself:
Build your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build your kingdom here
We pray

They have so many other awesome songs, including a fantastic, intimate version of Love Divine All Loves Excelling and Second Chance, a song which gives me so much hope when I fail.  I admit that their albums are generally on my ipod on repeat and I never tire of them.  Go have a listen and may God use this music to bless you.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013


A couple of days ago I took this photograph of some of the roses in the garden, attracted by the beauty of the tightly furled buds, their creamy yellow tinged with pink.


Yesterday afternoon I photographed the same roses again, as the roses gradually unfurled and the blush of pink began to fade.


And this morning they have progressed further still to a mass of flowers.  I am not greatly enamoured of the roses one gets in vases, with small flowers on long straight stems, but I adore roses in a garden, growing in a glorious profusion of blooms.


Despite the lack of sunshine the bees are having a good time, carefully climbing in and out of the snapdragons , whose nectar must be good for the amount of effort involved in parting the "mouth" of the flower and climbing in and then out again and rifling through the heavy bloom of a many petalled poppy.  Many of them are bumbling around the hebe hedge at the front in drunken delight.

The garden and its inhabitants are such a source of delight and refreshment, even on a comparatively cold, grey day as today.  Rest assured I am still knitting, gearing up for the current baby boom, I have finished one baby vest and started yesterday on another and have a fresh pair of bootees on the go to fill in odd moments.

Thursday, 27 June 2013


On days when it is fine enough one of my greatest pleasures is sitting out in the garden.  Over time I have found that if I am quiet and relatively still the birds who frequent the garden gradually begin to trust that I will not hurt them and start to come closer.  It will begin with a rustle in a tree or perhaps in the holly bush just to the left of the bench.  There are little twitterings, whispers and clicking sounds as they consider me and wonder if it is safe to venture to the seed feeders.  Then one adventurous soul, generally one of the robins - they are the boldest of our garden birds - will break cover for a moment, grab a piece of seed and retire with it.

robin crop

The robin often loves company and will come to see what I am doing, there will be scufflings in the holly bush and a beady eye will peak out and sing softly.  Of course his favourite time of all is when my father is out gardening, he and his partner have spent entire afternoons following him around within inches, sometimes getting perilously close to the spade or fork as my father digs.  Over time I have learned to tell the two robins apart by their behaviour, for example the less bold of them hovers close to things rather than land and this robin also likes to fly across the garden narrowly avoiding my head to announce his or her presence.  Our current robin's new trick is to bring whatever he has found, small grubs, caterpillars and the like to show us, before flying off to eat them or take them to his nestlings.

The day before yesterday one of the robin even had a bath while I was standing a couple of feet away, a sign of trust that brought me such joy.  Indeed it has struck me that perhaps this is how God feels about us when we trust Him?  When we dare to approach, or show Him something we have done or just come to see what He is doing, does He feel that same joy? Is my joy at the robin's trust and company a small echo of what happens in God's heart when we come to Him and trust Him?  I do hope so.  Certainly it makes me more determined than ever to try to trust God more and to keep coming to my Father.

Monday, 10 June 2013


The ceanothus was only planted a few years ago but is already taller than me and is just, finally creeping into flower, slowly flushing with blue.  The air around it is full of the buzzing of bees and hoverflies and its honeyed scent and it has added a wonderful splash of colour to the garden.



I even managed to get a picture of one of the bumble bees feeding on the flowers, it is a little blurred, but my camera does not seem good enough to capture them, as they move so fast.  That or my skills with the camera are not good enough!