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.

The Year in Books: March catch up

As I have not yet decided on April's book yet I thought I would write about March's book (well, books) first, maybe something someone else has written about will inspire me?  My March choice is Nella Last's diaries, published (so far) as Nella Last's War, Nella Last's Peace and Nella Last in the 1950s, which I have been listening to as audio books.  Nella Last was a housewife from Barrow in Furness, married to Will who ran a joinery and shop fitting business, who wrote for Mass Observation from 1939 until a year or two before her death in 1968.  Her diary is the longest and most complete record in Mass Observation at around 12 million words and covers every aspect of her life - her marriage, her sons, Arthur and Cliff, her neighbours, friends, relations, voluntary work, housework, politics, news, her love of the Lakes and many other subjects.

Nella Last
The first volume, dealing with the war, was of great historical interest and provided a clear picture of day to day life in wartime, the hardships, losses, absences and bombs (Barrow suffered as badly in the Blitz as London) but above all the emotional state of ordinary men and women through the war.  Nella's diaries allow us to see behind the positive images of wartime propaganda to the petty arguments between tired, emotionally strained women, the fear that was so pervasive and to the huge efforts people went to in order to persevere and overcome.  In many ways the war was a better time for Nella than the years beforehand, when she had had mental breakdowns in part caused by her husband, who wanted her to be at home alone with him all the time and whose own mental health was none too good.  During the war she had definite reasons for being out of the house and meeting people, volunteering with the Red Cross, the WVS and for the local hospital.  Notable among her war work was running a very successful Red Cross charity shop to raise money to send Red Cross parcels to POWs.  In the post war years she and other women she knew desperately missed these activities and she frequently comments on how she could feel the four walls of her house closing in on her and wonders how she is going to occupy herself.

As I have already mentioned, Nella's husband was not an easy man and she is frank about her marriage, her fears and frustrations.  Neither enjoyed particularly good health, from Nella's descriptions of her physical health I began to suspect that today she would probably have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, but while Nella's response was to try to keep going and be involved in the world, her husband's was quite the opposite.  This created an enormous tension between them, however, Nella does not indulge in self pity and there is nothing maudlin about the diaries.  She was a woman of a great many interests, quite apart from her writing, and I particularly enjoyed hearing about the dolls and toys she made to sell for charity; her skill at sewing must have been quite something.  The diaries are also punctuated with details of her housekeeping, shopping for food and the meals she was cooking.  Since rationing was in force for much of the period of the diaries published so far Nella writes about the troubles of supply, fairness, quality and the need for ingenuity with meals.

Some of the finest writing comes when she is writing about her trips to the nearby Lake District, where she had grown up on her grandmother's farm.  She writes lyrically of the beauty of the Lakes and of how their peace helped her and her husband.  Throughout Nella's record of her relations, neighbours and friends is a delight; she has an ear for the interesting snippet of conversation.  As I listened I grew genuinely fond of Nella and was very sad when the diaries ended; I am hoping there will be further books published, fingers crossed!

You can see the other books in the Year in Books here.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

The Impatient Rester

The exertion of moving house and all the work it has entailed has knocked me for six; it is the worst ME crash in years and my word how impatient I am to be back on my feet!  I am so bored of resting, of aching with tiredness and having to say "no" to things I really want to do.  Days seem to float past, each one much alike and it is hard to keep from getting depressed by the situation.  Now I do know that compared to many people I am incredibly lucky to be able to so much, but somehow that is never enough is it?  I want to be getting stuck into church things, helping out, inviting people over, going places, exploring, making, gardening.  The gap between what I can do and what I want to do is vast, a canyon, so if I say, "yes" to something or suggest doing something, then have to pull out, that is why.  In terms of energy my eyes are bigger than my energy reserves.

I am trying to stay positive, to take each day as it comes, be grateful for what I have, for the peace and chance to recover, but I am human and do not find it easy.  Maybe my calling right now is just to be?

A new arrival is helping make this time of resting bearable, I have adopted a small black cat named Willow from a local shelter.  She is about six, affectionate, determined, funny, sweet and loving.  There is nothing she likes more than a lap for the afternoon, cuddles by the hour and will sit on me in such a way that I cannot do anything else except sit, which for someone who struggles to rest, is invaluable.  I wish I had had a cat years ago, they offer great companionship.  I look forward to getting up now so I can go downstairs to see her.


Perhaps I should write soon about what I have been knitting while I have been resting?  For now it is time to head back to the sofa.

Friday, 3 April 2015

The Year in Books - the first two months

Alas moving house has absorbed all the energy (and some) of the first three months of the year, so I am catching up on the first two months' books in one post, then I will do another post for March and April.  First off is January's book, which was The Country Life Cookery Book by Ambrose Heath, originally published in 1937 and republished last year by Persephone Books.  It is arranged seasonally around the months of the year, each month starting with a wonderful illustration by Eric Ravilious and a short guide to what to do that month in the kitchen garden.  Heath's intended audience seems to be the relatively affluent country-dweller, who relies on what is available in local village shops and in the kitchen garden; and it is assumed that both are well stocked.  With an increasing connection now being made between growing and cooking vegetables, for example in some of the books published by Nigel Slater and programmes such as Kew on a Plate, it is interesting to see a writer ahead of his time in his insistence that there should be a greater link between kitchen and garden.  In arguing for this he draws on the work Vegetable Cookery by a Mrs Elizabeth Lucas, who "offers the revolutionary theory that the gardener should be under the direction of the cook".  While most of us today lack both servants, but his remarks on the vegetables to grow (or buy) and eat are still relevant and useful.  Unlike many gardeners of his day he argues against going for size and large quantities of a few crops, in all things he is driven by taste.  This comes across in his recipes, he writes with almost greedy interest and definite conviction: one of my favourite lines comes at the end of a recipe for an apple pudding, "Bake until the top crust is brown and crisp, and eat it with gratitude."

The second book, for February, is a novel, A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Brae.  At risk of straying into cliché, I found this hard to put down and was utterly absorbed in its world.  However, it is one of those books that it is hard to review without giving too much away.  In short it deals with the effects of a tragedy on a Mormon family living in the North West of England and observes the events through the eyes of different members of the family in turn.  Throughout the family's faith both helps and hinders their grief and the novel explores the tensions of being a family living by different rules and beliefs to that of the community around them.  I rarely read modern fiction, generally having too much of the back catalogue to get through, but heard the short story the novel started off life as on the radio and needed to read the rest of the story.  It is beautifully written, cathartic (I did a fair amount of weeping), but not mawkish or depressing, do read it.

As ever you can see the other entries in The Year in Books here

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

More on change

So it's been over a month and I have managed to miss last month's book, though it could be rather dull, I have mostly read technical booklets lately, on thrilling subjects like how to work the oven or what insurance covers.  But I thought an update was long overdue.

I am finally living in my new house, after a long period of doing things and sorting out, it is not totally sorted yet, some of my furniture has yet to arrive and the books have yet to make the big move.  Although I never thought I'd manage to pack them all up, took nearly 40 boxes in the end.  There have been hiccoughs like the heating breaking down twice and rodent related issues I wish I did not have to deal with, let us just say that Rentokil are expensive but lovely.

All the work involved has been horribly hard on my health, ME, fibromyalgia and moving house do not mix well at all, I have been more tired and sore than in ages lately.  Emotionally it is weird too, I am not some who deals well with change: last time Waitrose moved stock around I nearly had a panic attack.  So a major life change like moving out on your own is good, but also feels odd, weird, strange and scary.  There simply is no turning back and going home and being the same, I cannot let myself and there were lots of reasons I needed to be out, but staying means being brave again and again and again.  Of course there have been happy times I have enjoyed, being able to welcome a friend to my place for the first time, exploring a new area (fantastic greengrocer up the road), being able to shut the door on the world, meeting a friendly local cat who insisted on exploring the house for himself.  There are things I am looking forward to like planting the garden or having friends over for dinner for the first time.  But there are also times when I start at every noise (not helped by aforementioned rodents) or wonder, "what next?" and "what am I doing here?".

Throughout the long process of finding, buying and moving in I have been praying about this move, there have been a lot of questions about whether this is right and am I doing the right thing?  And prayers that I would use this house to God's glory, to bring his kingdom here, to make people feel welcome and bless others.  Even now I am having doubts about the whole thing: leaving the familiar, even uncomfortable familiarity, is unbelievably hard.  I feel so shook up and strange, sometimes I look around and wonder what I am doing here and when the real owner is going to come home.  On top of this I am beyond exhausted and having to take a couple of days' off to recuperate.  Yet other people are so excited for me, which is lovely, but makes it hard to articulate how I feel at times.  In a way it seems ungrateful: this should be fantastic, instead I feel all mixed up inside.

I am trying to pray, to lean on God, to let him be my stability in rapidly changing times, prayer can be such a challenge sometimes.  He brought me through to here, he will keep being with me, I know he will, even though I feel a bit lost now.  The best way forward I suppose is to try keep praying and to take each day at a time and if that seems too long, take each moment at a time.  It will get easier, right?

Saturday, 17 January 2015


Sorry for the radio silence, life has been rather hectic (for someone with ME anyhow!) as I am preparing to move out into my own place! It's all very exciting and we picked up the keys yesterday.  In a lovely piece of timing today I turn 30, so it is a lot of change at once.  To be clear about how bad I can be with change, I have come close to having a panic attack when Waitrose moved its fruit and vegetable section around before, so this whole process has been challenging.  God has been good throughout though, without Him I would never have coped thusfar.  Here is to a new decade, in a new place (about a mile and a half away from here and closer to church), with the same God and no doubt a lot of knitting!

I'm going to miss this chap, hopefully I'll meet a new robin in my new garden.

Last year I read this poem by Dylan Thomas, written about his 30th birthday and loved it so much I decided I would post it here to mark my 30th:

Poem in October

It was my thirtieth year to heaven
     Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
        And the mussel pooled and the heron
                Priested shore
           The morning beckon
     With water praying and call of seagull and rook
     And the knock of sailing boats on the webbed wall
           Myself to set foot
                That second
        In the still sleeping town and set forth.

        My birthday began with the water-
     Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
        Above the farms and the white horses
                And I rose
            In a rainy autumn
     And walked abroad in shower of all my days
     High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
            Over the border
                And the gates
        Of the town closed as the town awoke.

        A springful of larks in a rolling
     Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
        Blackbirds and the sun of October
            On the hill's shoulder,
     Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
     Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
            To the rain wringing
                Wind blow cold
        In the wood faraway under me.

        Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
     And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
        With its horns through mist and the castle
                Brown as owls
             But all the gardens
     Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
     Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
             There could I marvel
                My birthday
        Away but the weather turned around.

        It turned away from the blithe country
     And down the other air and the blue altered sky
        Streamed again a wonder of summer
                With apples
             Pears and red currants
     And I saw in the turning so clearly a child's
     Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
             Through the parables
                Of sunlight
        And the legends of the green chapels

        And the twice told fields of infancy
     That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
        These were the woods the river and the sea
                Where a boy
             In the listening
     Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
     To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
             And the mystery
                Sang alive
        Still in the water and singing birds.

        And there could I marvel my birthday
     Away but the weather turned around. And the true
        Joy of the long dead child sang burning
                In the sun.
             It was my thirtieth
        Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
        Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
             O may my heart's truth
                Still be sung
        On this high hill in a year's turning.