Sunday 31 January 2016

January in the garden

No garden looks its best in January and the garden is squelchy all over from the endless rain.  Nonetheless there are some bright points, some from the unseasonable warmth, such as the daffodils I planted at the bottom of the garden where they would be seen every time I went past the back door.  There is something rather wonderful about planning something unseen, under the ground, thinking ahead to what it will be in months to come.  Arranging bulbs in little holes in the ground, thinking out how they will look, plotting beauty.  Last year, without bulbs, was dismal, I missed the concentrated sunshine glow of daffodils, harbingers of warmth to come.  There is something so cheering in the bulbs and the way they brighten up late winter.


In the bed outside the kitchen window I have begun to put plants that offer some winter colour, cyclamen, dogwood and hellebore, again to have something to look out at in winter.  The dogwood came from Buckingham nurseries, who sell good quality plants at superb prices, and it has settled right in, working away putting out fresh shoots.  I'd like to put some holly nearby, how anyone can have a garden without holly is beyond me, my previous homes have always had holly and ivy and birds find it such good shelter and a source of food.

(not the world's greatest photograph)

My other big garden excitement is a compost bin.  Never did I think I would get so excited by compost!  Shortly after Christmas my dad arrived at the door with a mystery piece of plastic - which turned out to be the hatch cover for the compost bin and an early birthday present.  He completed the present with a bagful of his compost, complete with worms, to get me started.


Hopefully there will be more to show next month and hopefully I can keep up giving updates on the garden.  I think, I hope, I will become a gardener, being outside, absorbed in a task, is so good for my mental well-being, even if I can only do it for five, ten or at most twenty minutes at a time.

Monday 18 January 2016

A bad year for blogging

It cannot be denied that as far as I am concerned 2015 was a bad year for blogging.  The completeness of the change brought about by moving house has got me out of the habit of blogging.  Let us hope that 2016 is different, now I have had this house a year and had another birthday, both of which feel like little landmarks.  If last year was about moving out and getting the house set up, what is this year for?

My strepocarpus, I am developing a love of houseplants

So far not a lot, as I'm finishing my second virus since Christmas, though I have got a lot of knitting done while glued to the sofa by fatigue.  Last week I finished a baby dress in a yarn that just suited the pattern and hopefully when I have sewn the second button on I will get around to showing it off.  In the past day or so I have started on some socks for a cousin; as my sock drawer is rather full I have been concentrating on knitting socks for other people.  Am I alone in finding it hard to stop knitting socks?  If I do not have any on the needles I can get a deep longing to knit a sock. Still, there are worse addictions, right?

A recent picture of Willow

I think I will start keeping a blogging ideas notebook so that when I have ideas I don't forget them again.  This year I would like to do something each month on the garden, even showing the weeds and failures.  No point pretending to be better than I am.  Gardening has been so good for me mentally and physically and it provides a safe calming thing to think about when I am anxious.  There will hopefully be more on books, faith, knitting and other making.

Here goes, fingers crossed.

Wednesday 29 July 2015

Blankets in July

July is not the most usual month to make good progress on blankets, but this has not been the most usual July.  There have been days when being under my ripple blanket has been lovely.  Having started it last September I have now reached the half way stage, so I am not the world's fastest crocheter.  Though I am getting better, I can crochet for longer without my arm and hand hurting now which is an improvement.  I cannot wait until it is finished and I suspect neither can Willow, she has been sitting on it whenever she gets a chance and she joined me for the half way through photos.



But not content with one blanket I am making a start on a second blanket, this time in Drops Paris cotton, bought in the Drops cotton sale (ends on Friday!), using the Hexagon pattern from Attic 24.  I have gone all out brightly coloured for this one so may need sunglasses to look at it when it is finished.  Again I am prepared for this to be a long term project, but when it is I should have summer and winter blankets for my bed.  Of course, now I have blankets on the brain there are plenty more I would like to make like Vivid from TinCanKnits and a giant multi-coloured granny square blanket for the sofa.  Think I'm going to be busy for a while yet!



Monday 13 July 2015

The Year in Books: June

As you can probably tell, I have got thoroughly out of the habit of blogging, not helped by a cat who objects to me spending too much time at the computer and shows her displeasure by attacking furniture and sitting on the keyboard!  However, I have snuck on here while she is asleep upstairs, as I have missed June's year in books I will start there.  Then maybe I will get around to writing about some of the other things I have been doing?  Depends on how long Willow the cat sleeps.

So, June's book was Dear Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster, strictly speaking a children's novel, but a sheer delight.  Published in 1912 it concerns an orphan, Jerusha Abbot, who is sent to college by an eccentric, anonymous benefactor, whose only stipulation is that she write to him each month an account of what she has been doing.  Accordingly it is an epistolary novel, very fresh despite its age, allowing the enthusiasm of its narrator to shine through.  Through her letters we learn about her friends, lessons, sports, dances and sheer delight in the opportunities of the world outside the orphanage in which she has grown up.  The narrowness of her previous experience means that she has something of an outsider's perspective on her new world, everything from the books she reads to going into a private house for the first time are new, interesting experiences and that comes through in her letters.  I devoured this novel and read a good part of it in the dentist's waiting room, where it proved an excellent diversion.  (The dentist's waiting room is a great test of a book in my experience).  Go read it, go on, what are you waiting for?

Saturday 30 May 2015

The Year in Books: May

This month we have a book on a slightly different topic, Toynbee Hall: The First Hundred Years by Asa Briggs and Anne Macartney.  For years I have seen references in various books to the settlement movement or university settlements, without truly understanding what they meant, so I went looking, which led me to Toynbee Hall and this book.

Toynbee Hall, in the east end of London, was established in 1884, named after an Oxford historian who had died the previous year.  In the 1880s there was a movement to address the poverty and appalling living conditions of many in the great cities.  Rev. Samuel Barnett, Toynbee Hall's founder had moved from a church in Mayfair to St Jude's, a derelict church in the east end in 1872 and it was here that Barnett and his wife Henrietta became drawn into community action.  The great idea of Toynbee Hall and the university settlement movement was to bring young undergraduates into the poorest communities to learn what life there was truly like, as a catalyst to change and to run schemes for education, welfare, better housing and even in time union organisation.

Samuel and Henrietta Barnett, painted by Hubert von Herkomer  
Barnett seems to have been determined to see his faith lead to practical action, he wished the people who came to the east end "to settle, that is, to learn as much as to teach, to receive as much as to give".  He wanted those making social policy to have knowledge of the problems faced by the people they were trying to help and his work had a huge impact.  Among people and projects he influenced were Cosmo Lang, later Archbishop of Canterbury, Charles Booth, who mapped London's poverty, future prime minister Asquith and William Beveridge, author of the eponymous report that led to the foundation of the NHS and welfare state.  Moreover for some men and women involvement in Toynbee Hall led to considerable social and educational advancement, the first scholarships for pupil teachers to go to Oxford or Cambridge were established in 1892.  While some involved in Toynbee Hall did very well such as J M Dent, bookbinder who became a publisher and established the Everyman series and Thomas Okey, a basket maker, who became first Professor of Italian at Cambridge.

I am not far through the book but already I find the breadth of the aims and vision of Toynbee Hall inspiring and slightly breath-taking.  Their work has a lot of relevance for today; sadly the problems they were tackling are still with us and getting worse, especially economic inequality.  It also makes me sad that these men and women fought so hard to get decent housing, health care etc. for all and we are now watching their work being dismantled or crippled by lack of funding.  So I would recommend this book as very readable and would commend it to any publisher who would consider republishing it.  Let us follow in their footsteps.

You can see the other entries for The Year in Books here

Thursday 14 May 2015

Where next?

If I am honest I put too much hope in the election result, in a change of government, in a change of culture and approach.  The exit poll and subsequent results have knocked me flat: I am honestly not sure how I am going to cope with another five years of Conservative government.  Another five years of being described as a "scrounger" and a "shirker", another five years of the poorest in society suffering the most, another five years of fear and blame and divide and rule.

It is not that I hate the Conservatives per se, or that I hate Conservative voters.  I do hate the campaign they ran, filled with fear, fear of the Scots, fear of the economy, fear that if you do not grasp all you have you may lose it.  I hate the idea that all that matters is you, you and your hard working family, nothing else matters.  I hate the idea that the poor deserve poverty, that it is a matter of personal responsibility, if only people tried harder they would not be poor.  This is blatantly untrue: it ignores all the structures that keep people poor.

I am filled with dread of what £12 billion of welfare cuts are going to mean to my community, to the disabled, none of whom chose their circumstances, what is going to happen?  How are we to live?  What is it going to mean for the increasing numbers of children growing up in poverty?

There is so much that concerns me, scares me, angers me, I feel so passionately about what is happening.  But, but, I am ill, I am exhausted, the anger and anxiety make me more exhausted and sore and ill.  How can I make a change?  How can I get involved and fight and campaign?  To be sure, if I were well, I would be out there, doing everything I could to make a difference.  Instead I feel like my arms are tied behind my back, my feet tied together and my mouth gagged: I feel silenced and made invisible by my illness.

So where next?  I am at a loss.  I am trying to keep an eternal perspective, trying to pray, trying to find hope in God, but the present feels so overwhelming.

I may head back to the Psalms, it feels like a time for lament.

Thursday 30 April 2015

The Year in Books: April

Finally I am up to date - just about!  This month's book is another I have listened to while knitting, Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope, superbly read by Timothy West.  Set in the fictional West of England county of Barsetshire, it evokes a different world, where the values and social rules were quite different to those of today.  Principally the book concerns the question of whether it is right to marry for money or whether it is better for an upper class young man to take up a profession to support himself.  Over the course of the novel it does become clear what Trollope's own views are through the language he uses, writing of the young hero, Frank Gresham, "selling himself" to save the family estate.

Anthony Trollope
As with many Victorian novels it is a slow affair and gently meanders through the story, which becomes part of its charm.  Despite this I did become utterly caught up in the story and ended up spending most of a whole day listening towards the end.  Trollope's characters are very real people, unlike the caricatures who people Dickens' novels (at least in my view) and he is keen to explain their motivations and that no one is entirely bad and no one entirely good.  In particular this novel (and others of his I have read) are peopled with strong female characters who are often the ones taking action while their menfolk vacillate.  I am particularly fond of the wealthy heiress Miss Dunstable, who cares little what people think and is as far as she can be her own woman, lively, funny and caring.  Without getting too Freudian it seems that Trollope's mother, a strong, lively woman who wrote novels and supported her family, had a big impact on his view of women.

Map of Barsetshire
I would heartily recommend the Barchester Chronicles - Doctor Thorne is the third in the series - to anyone interested in human life and wanting to escape to a different world while reading something well written.  However, should you be put off by the thought of audio books more than 20 hours long, or books of 544 pages (and I do not blame you in the least) the BBC made a superb dramatisation of all the Barchester Chronicles which is well worth a listen.  Audio books from Audible are, incidentally, far cheaper if bought using their credits system.  In the meantime I am making a start on the fourth novel in the series, Framley Parsonage.

You can see the other posts in this month's Year in Books here.