Lockdown

The first week of lockdown seems a long time ago now. I can remember the fear of the unknown and slight panic that food shopping would be even more difficult to obtain. E and M have made it their weekly mission to get a delivery or food collection slot, once booked they fine tune the eighty items we are allowed to have so that maximum meals can be made. If there are a few items spare they open them up to the household by way of treat items. So far J requested Cheese and Onion crisps, E chose Mini Eggs, M went for an extra box of Cornflakes and my guilty pleasure was Smarties. The fact that we may or may not get them due to substitutions just seemed to add to the suspense.

Despite differences we are all getting on. Goodness only knows how. I know I shouldn’t feel this way but there are so many elements of lockdown that have achieved the way of life I have been crying out for. M used to love nothing more than shelving home maintenance and going out to eat or just have coffee. We easily lost half a day to such activity, especially by the time we’ve crawled in weekend traffic into town and found somewhere to park. I protested a lot but clearly didn’t want to deal with the sulks and the fall out of standing my ground. I guess I’m a peace keeper at heart. E suggests ‘doormat’. Something like this gives you strength to change. Given that we’ve all achieved so much more by staying at home and making our own food and coffee I’d like this to be our new norm for years to come. I realise now that M enjoys the whole see and be seen part of going into a busy town. For me, this lockdown means wearing dungarees and wellies all week, barely running a brush through my hair and enjoying the exact opposite.

M has always baked but now it is more highly valued and useful and not surplus to sweet treats we already had plenty of. He made pear and cinnamon muffins when the pears were about to become too mushy to eat. We ate them in three sittings, firstly warm from the oven, cold the next day as a snack and finally heated with custard. Ridiculously cheap and tasty and easy to make. E discovered that Pret a Manger had published their previously secret recipe for chocolate chip cookies. No sooner mentioned than made and they were a huge success. They are on the menu again or for as long as our baking supplies last.

Whilst income has dwindled to just one online job a week (which definitely won’t pay the bills) we are saving a small fortune in not going out for coffee alone. We haven’t had takeaway food which is also saving plenty. We haven’t been using our cars unless it is to pick up food from Tesco. We used to visit a DIY store at least once a week even if it was just a vital packet of screws M needed. Such a colossal waste of time and fuel. Mostly it was sheer laziness and a disorganised workshop. Miraculously M is now happy to spend half an hour looking for the right screws and feeling totally triumphant when he does.

It’s a well known fact that M likes to collect pallets wherever he sees one put out for free collection. At one stage I threatened to burn them when they seemed to be taking over but he’s now found time and motivation to take them apart. He has made a waist high herb trough for Mum (after her previous one was stolen) and an Adirondack chair, soon to be a pair. The best pallet wood creation however, is my natural dye work station! Last year I pulled up all the rickety garden tables we owned and did my best to create my dye baths outside. This year I feel like I have an area at the height of luxury. I described my dream dye station to M and backed it up with a few close photo examples. After that it was a question of dragging out appropriate wood for him and then answering a million questions in order to get it right. I’m full of good ideas, I just lack a bit of strength in my arms theses days so I’m very glad of his woodworking skills. I didn’t want a built in canopy (it would have looked like a mini market) because I love solar dyeing and that would have created shade. Instead we have ordered an extra tough tarpaulin and strong hooks to anchor it down if rain is due. The only thing I will take in each night is my two ring burner. I’ve done a quick couple of Instagram posts aimed at amusing children with solar dyeing using nettles, onion skins and alder cones and now I’m firmly back in the land of eat, sleep and breathe natural dyeing.

The combination of dry weather and lack of going out has meant that I’m much more likely to make the most of my daily dog walks. It’s all too easy with older dogs to let them have a short walk each day. Harvey in particular has managed better distances since we gradually built it up but he still needs to skip one every three days or so. If I walk him too far I’m in danger of having to carry him home! Riley is still ridiculously nimble for eleven years old and his knee injury seems to be healed. The other bonus is of course that it’s very good for the soul, particularly on days when you just need that little bit of space.

I feel for people who don’t have a garden at a time like this. We really aren’t keen gardeners. Like my wool related hobbies I prefer my end result to be useful rather than just nice to look at. The dogs would make light work of any flower beds not protected by picket fencing so there seems little point in having a beautiful garden. I’ve got two areas fenced off. One started life as a herb bed but has morphed into a raspberry, gooseberry and random seeded plant bed. The fruit crop is worth the space it takes up but I made the mistake of not pruning the gooseberries harshly the year before last so last summer’s crop was almost non existent. The other fenced off area now contains a healthy supply of woad, some of which I will let go to seed. There’s also madder but it’s struggling after the winter so I’m doing my best to keep an eye on it.

We do container gardening slightly better and this year we’ve started off rocket, green beans, tomatoes, coreopsis, dwarf sunflowers, marigolds, chillies and potatoes. An old dustbin with Tansy is doing well too. It’s enough to keep me busy for now. I’m not about to get too serious about growing vegetables. Apart from one packet of seeds by mail we had seeds lying around so it’s very much ‘use what you have’ stuff here. For natural dyeing I experimented a lot with apple bark and plum bark last year and the colours were very pleasant and with good lightfast results too. We always tidy up a few straggly branches and in the case of the plum tree quite a few branches blow down. I didn’t try solar dyeing with either last year so that’s something I’ve set up today. It’s fairly warm and sunny but not overly hot and I can see colour bleeding into the yarn already so that’s a good sign.

For variety I’ve hauled out my old bike. It’s seen better days but it’s still just about in working order. J has pumped up my tyres and the big basket on the front makes it handy for trips to the post office if nothing more. Unfortunately lockdown happened in between cramming all of E’s university stuff into my campervan and a job that would have taken M to Leeds where he planned to pick up the last thing remaining, her bike. I just hope it’s still there when we get chance to go back. If we’d known we could have sourced rope and tied it to the roof rack!

It’s Easter weekend and M is putting the final pieces on to the second Adirondack chair. E alternates between chilling out, making fruit smoothies and university essays. J has surfaced from his office/bedroom into daylight several times, he’s done the bare minimum of bedroom cleaning (emptied his bin and dusted). I’ve been setting up solar dye jars and crocheting a baby blanket. I desperately want to mow the lawns but my back says otherwise. I guess I’ll have to accept that it’s a bank holiday and a restful couple of days is allowed. Harvey has spent most of the day catching wood off cuts and hoping someone will throw one for him to fetch. Riley has spent several periods of time hiding under E’s desk in fear of the odd bumble bee. Just the latest in a long list of things he’s afraid of. It feels kind of nice to all be together and the kids have been amazing and not moaned about any of this. I guess there’s not much point, we just have to stay safe and get through this.

Van days

Harvey is really slowing down with age this year. Every few days it catches up on him and we skip a walk. Their beds are by a radiator, ideal for keeping arthritic bones warm. Riley however, shows no signs of ageing, he’s nimble and alert with clearer eyes. His knee injury has pretty much repaired itself thank goodness and we’ve avoided an invasive operation. Luckily for me he still has bat-like hearing. He lets me know if a car has parked several houses away or the postman is half way up the lane. I know when I’ve left a cooker alarm on (I wouldn’t have heard it in the first place so I’ve no idea why I use them). Lately I’ve invested in a whistling kettle, way out of my frequency range or volume for that matter. Every time I made a cup of tea in the van he woke from a deep slumber to react to the whistle, I praised him in an over the top way. After a few brews he knows it’s his job to tell me about the whistle.

This last week we’ve taken advantage of drier weather to venture out in the van. I’m working on finding nice places to park up with not too much chance of vw fans. It’s all very well if M is with me but it would be hard work for anyone who wanted to stop and chat. Just a short drive out through quiet countryside will invite plenty of beeps and waves from car, van and lorry drivers. When I’m concentrating on avoiding potholes I often forget to wave back. This weekend we discovered that there are also people who stare but forget to fix a smile on their face. Perhaps they are not amused!

We took the kitchen unit out of the van last week and spent some time sanding it down and sealing it with a waterproof worktop sealant. It had gained a lot of water marks and whoever made it wasn’t a fan of sand paper. Once out of the van we could really see what wasn’t working, things like annoying big white plastic shelf supports that prevented complete use of the shelf space. I unscrewed all twelve of them and we replaced them with discrete baton. The unit has no back so things were falling down the back. We fitted rails to solve this. The door handles were changed to smooth wooden pebble like handles which are much kinder to your knees when you bump into the door (easy to do in a small space trust me!) We fixed the magnetic catch that wasn’t marrying up inside and letting the door ping open in transit. Wood effect laminate left over from the floor finished off the splash back nicely and below that we have cut a wooden board to size for both a cutting board and an extra bit of worktop space for when the kitchen lid is open. It slots in over the sink that we will probably never use but makes a useful hidden storage area for washing up liquid and tea towels. Previously a lot of kneeling down and reaching into the cupboards was required to gather plates and so on, fitting a wire basket to the inside of the cupboard door means they can be reached from the Buddy chair quite easily. Every time we use the van we iron out an issue when we get back. It’s beginning to work for us now.

Many moons ago I lived near a fantastic junk shop that was dirt cheap (and furnished a few of my early rentals for next to nothing). I found an old trunk for £6. It’s been used for various things including a coffee table, a blanket box, a means to store all my athletic and sporting trophies (ugh, long gone I hope). It’s now been given a coat of beautiful charcoal paint (by Mum) and fits perfectly in Bert’s boot. It holds all the stuff that previously just floated around; bedding, boots, dog bowls, etc. It also happens to be suitable for gently encouraging Riley up on to so that I can have my sofa back! You can see how generously spread out he likes to be. He’s never been a floor type of dog so maybe with the right kind of blanket I can entice him to sleep on the trunk in future. Harvey hates all modes of transport and only tolerates them because he knows the end result is a walk. It’s as much as I can do to get him to lie down on the thick pet mat. In a van this size wherever he is he is most definitely in the way!

I battle with several things when I take the van out for a chunk of the day. One is the thought that I should be doing something more productive. Though I try and balance it with the many jobs that are in constant supply at home. It still seems a guilty pleasure having a day off. I also never fully relax in case someone approaches for a chat. It sounds daft now but I really thought I could just park up and keep myself to myself. I suppose if I’m honest I also worry about looking completely weird just parked up in a van with my crochet or books. In truth it’s probably not that weird at all is it? It certainly provides welcome relief from the sight of jobs that I can’t tackle at home that need builders and plumbers.

This weekend we were on our way to a popular wooded area to walk the dogs and chill out in the van when we spotted a much quieter place with a wooded area at the end of a farm track. Most of the land looked unused, not ploughed, not planted, just scrubland so we parked in a concrete lay by and walked the dogs into the woodland for a quick sniff and explore. On my own I think I would have just worried about partially blocking a gate even though it looked like it hadn’t been opened in years. I would have also been pretty alarmed when a dark bmw with shaded windows pulled up (bear in mind that this is the middle of nowhere) and got out to rummage in his boot. M was not sympathetic at all when I said I would have been tense on my own, suggesting that I had nothing to worry about in broad daylight. Therein lies the difference between us I think. Not only has he got a lot less to worry about being male his mind just doesn’t calculate risks in the same way. The bmw had parked in such a way that I could not have driven away. I clearly need to work on being carefree once again, I think the last time was probably pre teens when I used to grab my bike and ride off down quiet country lanes with only a ten pence piece in my pocket ‘in case of emergencies’. The only emergency I ever had was a flat tyre and the dilemma of whether Dad would consider that emergency enough to come and rescue me or should I just push the bike home? (He rescued me graciously of course).

As the weather improves gradually, I’m intending to book myself into a basic camp site or two. I think that might improve my confidence a bit. It was always frustrating having a really nice caravan and not being able to take it anywhere on my own. M was away for three nights last week and now that the kids can stand on their own two feet I really ought to be making the most of it! Doing anything just for myself is still an alien thing!

One of the nice things about being out and about this last week was being able to take my carving kit and hooks with me. I sat in the opening of the sliding door and prepared new wood for carving, did the first stages of new carving and also fine tuned a few. All the shavings went outside ready to decompose naturally instead of being swept up with the hoover from our sunlounge floor! I’ve been lucky enough to get some wholesale orders for my hooks which has been really encouraging. I’m trying new wood all the time and lately I’ve been tweaking the proportions a little. I’ve also had a go at carving some little figures roughly following a book I received for Christmas. I need a bit more practice and maybe stronger hands, there’s only so much I can do in one day. I intersperse the carving with reading or crochet. At home crochet would win hands down but in the van for some reason I’m more inclined to read. Either way I have some crochet bunting underway for the van. I have no idea how I’m going to hang it yet. Fairy lights were a pain in the neck and eventually got cut in half by the tailgate. Magnetic clips might be the answer. I’ve already discovered magnetic hooks, how have I lived without those all these years? M never knows what might arrive in the letterbox next! Actually I can tell him… a new water carrier (the old one leaks), maybe a new van sticker or two (I hated all the surfing related ones!) and a nifty slimline bin for the inside of the other cupboard door. He will roll his eyes at all of that and then later say ‘good job’ in an American accent, he’s predictable if nothing else!

Half term

The journey South can either be a miraculous five hours of hassle free driving with a couple of ten minute stops or a hellish seven or eight hours of traffic problems. This half term we had one of each. Driving down was wonderful, a real joy to be at the wheel of a fifty year old vehicle behaving itself mechanically. Ergonomically the seat/steering wheel alignment really suits my problematic neck and shoulders. I’m not sure that was an intentional design feature in 1970 but I do believe in keeping things simple and the van cab is about as simple as it gets.

Mum and Dad get a bit less keen on dog ownership with every passing year. Despite having a spaniel for 16 years the amount of work a dog entails seems to be taking them by surprise. Ella and I were able to relieve them of dog sitting duties for a whole week. We adore Archie and did think about kidnapping him particularly as he really bonded with Ella this time. He’s mellowed with age and bounces a little less than he used to. He’s very well behaved on beaches and doesn’t engage in anti social barking at other dogs like Riley tends to do. He’s more like Harvey in that he treats a walk in a business like fashion and just wants to get on with sniffing. Mid week we were enjoying a longer walk to the rock pools with him, jumping carefully over the rocks, taking a dip when a pool looked inviting and then we noticed he was sitting down if we stopped to look in a pool. It’s possible we had worn him out a little!

The weather was truly awful for most of the week but that didn’t stop us. With an inviting seafront like Bexhill you don’t really need to go exploring. Although now kitted out with heating, instead of making coffee in the van we had a couple of visits to the Sovereign Light Cafe, a permanently packed little cafe not necessarily due to Keane’s song but probably because it’s a welcome stop in gale force wind.

It’s been a long slow effort to convince my children that Sussex is a wonderful county. I think I’ve finally won them over. Although E was born in Oxford and J was born in Lincolnshire they have both lived up here for most of their lives and subtle Northern vowels have crept in. I must confess I don’t like this at all and I tell them so but it’s a battle I think I’m losing. I love being back in Sussex just to get that little bit of hearing back when people speak to me in an accent I grew up with.

A firm favourite with Ella is Rye. Again, a wet and windy day but we managed to see everything we wanted to see. Knoops has the best hot chocolate, still in a slightly overwhelming format when it comes to choosing. We reckon their A4 posters would be greatly enhanced by a number each so that you don’t have to describe your order in terms of percentage of chocolate and all the additional ‘notes’ it contains.

Last time we were here I walked past Merchant and Mills and thought it looked a little intimidating, I can’t imagine why. I think it was mainly due to my lack of skill in all things sewing. This time though we popped in. I really like their clothing patterns but I just don’t have the patience. I’m happy with my ball of yarn and my stick (hook). The notions were all tempting but don’t really cross much with wool crafts. I did treat myself to a handmade paper book and intend to turn it into a van journal of some kind. I may have to wait until we venture to places other than just Sussex!

We finished our day out in Rye with a visit to Hoof, a paired back restaurant over two floors serving homemade burgers using beef from just four miles away. It’s not often these days that E and I have time like this together, what with being in her final year year at uni, it was so nice to just relax, chat and do things at our own pace.

I don’t think I’d get bored with a coastal walk every day. This time we experienced sea foam, some kind of phenomena that occurs when the sea whips up various organic matter in a storm. It was mainly white, but where it gathered sand too it was brown. Some blew right up on to the promenade. According to an online article it is good for cleaning certain parts of engines! Ella walked through some in her Doc Marten boots and discovered that it also cleaned the yellow stitching that she hasn’t seen for years due to general dirt and black polish.

The other strange thing we saw for the first time, on a huge length of tree that had washed up in the storm was Goose Barnacles. It took me a while to find these online and identify what they were. It seems they have washed up from a long way away and are considered a delicacy in Spain and Portugal. They attach to any hard surface and as a food source they a very long way back. Although I’m gradually increasing the variety of seafood I like I can’t imagine ever adding these to the list!

Harvey and Riley were very excited to have us back. Riley hasn’t left my side since my return and even waits outside the bathroom door for me. He always has plenty of company to choose from if I’m not here but I guess he’s a bit of a mummy’s boy. Harvey is more of a man’s man. If I go out to the van to sort things Riley comes out and lays on the back seat. He’ll love it when the summer rolls round and we spend more time in it, though goodness knows what a squeeze that’s going to be, two dogs and two adults in a campervan!

Potholders

Making new potholders to replace tatty ones has been on my to do list for a long time. I wanted a waffle stitch for thickness but I knew that basket weave stitch wouldn’t hold my interest long enough to make more than one. This v stitch waffle stitch seems much quicker too.

I used a 5.5mm hook and a chunky part cotton yarn.

The pattern makes a potholder approximately 18cm/7” square.

Pattern is in U.K. terms

V stitch: treble, ch1, treble

Chain 40 stitches.

Row 1. Work 2 trebles in the 6th chain from the hook, ch1, work 2 trebles in the next chain. *Miss 3 stitches and work 2 trebles in the next ch, ch1, work 2 trebles in the next ch. Repeat from * to last three ch, end with a treble in the last ch. Turn.

Row 2. Ch2 (counts as first treble), Front post treble (fptr) around the 2nd treble from the row before. V stitch in the ch sp, fptr around next treble. *Miss treble, fptr around next tr, v stitch in ch sp, fptr around next tr. Repeat from * to end. Treble in top of turning chain. Turn.

Repeat row 2 until your piece is square. Fasten off. Weave in ends.

As with all my patterns, let me know if I’ve made any mistakes. I check them multiple times but it’s easy to miss things!

A note about gauge and yarn; you can of course swap the chunky yarn for a dk cotton as long as you use an appropriate hook. Start with the yarn’s suggested hook size and do a few short rows to check whether it’s the sort of fabric you feel you need. Go down a hook size if you want a tighter, slightly firmer fabric. You’ll need to add to the starting chain length if you use dk, add in multiples of five.

South

Albert made yet another trip South recently, this time via London. I drove as far as Cambridge and then wimped out due to cold and the thought of central London driving. Making sure we had all the correct registrations to actually drive in London was a headache and once there it was every bit the nightmare I thought it would be. Busy, multiple lanes to choose from every five minutes, lots of confusing signs. Luckily M stays reasonably calm and has more than a vague idea where he’s going. Bert seemed so small parked in a side street near the Royal Courts of Justice and I felt nervous for no good reason other than I don’t like crowds.

I managed to leave the relative comfort of the nearest coffee place and wander down to St Paul’s Cathedral. It was strangely quiet at 9am in the morning but I knew there would be a mad rush at lunchtime so I had mine at 12 and then headed down to the river to find a quiet bench in the sun. That was definitely the best part of my day, holding a book in my hands but actually just watching people and boats go by.

Once M had finished work we set off for the South coast, arriving just in time for a beautiful sunset. It was only a flying visit this time but I managed to fit in a couple of long beach walks with Mum and Archie. He’s a funny dog, very excitable when you pop him in a car for the two minute drive to the beach, very businesslike in his approach to a walk on the beach. He sticks to the tideline where all the interesting smells wash up and occasionally has a roll around in stinky seaweed. He will come when he’s called down to the firm sand and the rock pools but they just aren’t interesting enough for him to stay long. I’m hoping we can bring Harvey and Riley down again in the summer, they really love the beach and the sea and it’s always such a nice break from fields, mud and fox poo.

The ribbed Beanie above I made for Ella with one hank of Malabrigo Rios. I’ve got a small supply of Rios in random colours because I buy a few every time I visit Brighton. It’s so good for hats though one hank is often pretty close to not being enough. I made this one up as I went and only just won at yarn chicken.

The hat with the puff stitches is called the Sea Urchin Hat by The Crochet Project. I used an aran weight yarn instead of the specified dk, not intentionally but it seems to have turned out ok. The Humbug scarf also by The Crochet Project needs a bit more concentration so I’m not getting as much done (quite spells round here are few and far between). I used a lovely hand dyed variegated yarn from Yak in Brighton for the scarf because the pattern is designed to show off a special hank.

Bert has had some new parts underneath over the last week. We decided to take our mechanics advice and convert the brakes to modern ones. Not only are they safer but they won’t cost as much to maintain so it seems a good investment. We also had to buy a new piece that had been patched and patched over the years until hardly any original metal survived, again, it was a safety issue. Finally I decided that since we plan to use the van all year round we would get some use from a proper propex heater. Some use these when the vehicle is moving but we’ve been advised not to and it does make sense. So we will be able to park up anywhere with a lovely view, turn on a low heat and stay cosy. Driving for five hours down to Sussex, however, will still be miserably cold. Reinstating the van heating for driving is a job for next year.

I’ve taken some time out from my online shop. After Christmas I found I just needed to have a proper break and process all that happened in the last year. No one knows what the future holds but things I took for granted, like being married until I’m old and grey (he says I am old and grey now, I tell him I can get an online divorce for £25!) might not be a given. M will only get a proper all clear after five years. There’s been a lot to think about.

In the meantime there are reliable constants and those include grown up kids finding their way in the world and asking really random questions that make you realise just how far you’ve come since you were their age. The dogs, old and grey, but always by my side. I don’t care how much dog hair and mud they contribute to the household, I wouldn’t be without them. Riley is very much an unofficial hearing dog. He will pace between the source of a sound and me until I sort it out, things like smoke alarms when the battery is dying, the oven timer (that I set off by mistake without realising) and any gadget that beeps.

Travel and crochet is definitely on the cards for this year. I’ve been carving hooks at random times too and finding it a very therapeutic activity. Taking something in its raw state and producing a useful item never gets old. If I could combine van travel, crochet and hook carving I’d be very happy. Come to think of it, that’s exactly what I’ll be packing in the van for our next trip!

Lyra’s Hat

This blog post will make much more sense if you’ve been following me on Instagram. We’ve been enjoying the tv series, His Dark Materials and as usual if I spot a nice knit I like to have a go at recreating it. Initially I thought I would just be making a crochet version of a knit but it’s actually quite difficult to tell in this case. Screen stills are a bit fuzzy and we had fun trying to freeze the programme to get a better view of the hat in order to count the spokes. I’m not sure that ten is absolutely right, we reckon somewhere between 9 and 11.

I’ll attempt to give a pattern/guide to how I achieved the pictured hat. It’ll be an intermediate make because it’s a devil trying to increase back post trebles by working two of them in to one (there might be a better way to increase but this is how I’ve done it on this occasion).

I’ve used 2 x 50g balls of Gwlan Cambrian 4ply wool in Welsh Red with a 4mm hook. It was a close call so it would be better to have a third ball on standby!

U.K. terms:

Ch – chain

Tr – treble

FPTR – front post treble

BPTR – back post treble

Sl st – slip stitch

Start with a magic ring and into that work a chain 3 and nine treble stitches. The ch3 counts as a treble. Join with a slip stitch to the top of the ch3.

R2. Ch3 (from this round onwards the ch3 does not count as a treble.) FPTR (front post treble) around first treble from round before, treble in space between tr’s from round before, repeat to end and join with a sl st in top of first st. (20 sts)

R3. Ch3, 2 FPTR around FPTR, BPTR around first tr, repeat to end, join round as before.

R4. Ch3, FPTR around FPTR, tr between sts, FPTR, BPTR around BPTR from round before. Repeat to end, join.

R5. Ch3, 3 FPTR, 2BPTR around BPTR from round before, repeat to end, join.

R6. Ch3, 3FPTR, 2BPTR around BPTR from round before, BPTR, repeat to end, join.

R7. Continue to increase on every round within the back post treble sections until you reach approximately 6 inches diameter or 6 back post trebles between each three fptr ‘spoke’. I found that it doesn’t matter where you place your increase but it’s best if you increase in the same place in every section round. If there’s a middle stitch, increase in that. If not then increase at the beginning or end stitch.

Normal crown size guides do not necessarily apply here. If you are used to increasing to say 7″ it might fit better if you increase to a slightly stretched 7″ rather than a flat one – front and back post trebles stretch a lot.

Once you’ve settled on your crown size complete every round without further increases. Until the hat reaches the depth you want it without the brim. I worked these rounds until it almost reached my eyebrows because I like a deep fitting hat. Once you’ve got the depth you’re happy with reverse all the fptr’s to bptr’s and all the bptr’s to fptr’s and work rounds until you have a satisfactory brim depth. Fasten off, sew in any ends, turn up your brim and you’ll have a very warm and cosy Lyra hat!

Feel free to let me know if there are any errors!

Road Trip #1

I’ve pointed out pretty much all the vw camper vans that we’ve ever seen on journeys over the years and nearly lost hope that I would ever own one. M’s illness really has been a wake up call to make things happen rather than just dream about them. There were a hundred more sensible things to do with the money but on reflection this seems right for us as we come to realise the therapeutic benefit of being able to load up a few supplies and take off. I shouldn’t compare caravans to camper vans but we stopped using our caravan and it was mainly because it’s a bigger undertaking just to take off with it for a few days. Things have to be planned and prepared in greater detail, you can’t just roam with a caravan. That’s the part I dearly wanted to experience.

Having spent two weeks exploring France and Italy in peak tourist season with no accommodation pre booked and having no problems whatsoever, you’d think it would be easy enough to find a camp site in October in the U.K. It wasn’t. So many sites were fully booked, one was being refurbished. Towards the end of our trip we discovered that there’s such a thing as motorhome club sites. Previously we used camping and caravanning club sites. It was quite an experience being parked up with a large number of motorhomes we knew were second mortgage types (having seen plenty at the motorhome show earlier this year). Our camper van was like a dinky toy in comparison. However, we parked with no greater difficulty than a car, hooked up our electricity and then sat comfortably and watched as others tried to manoeuvre their huge vans into short bays. As caravan owners we were fortunate that M could reverse a 23ft twin axle caravan into any tight space without drama but I would still hold my breath and close my eyes! With Bert I’m much more part of the event and we were able to swap driving shifts as and when we felt like it.

I am not a big fan of satnavs. M puts total faith in them. I am tempted to accidentally on purpose leave ours behind next time. Our latest model seems to love getting you in the vague area but doesn’t want to get into too much detail after that. We developed a system of using the satnav for the motorway turns off etc but resorting to m’s phone for the country lanes. M would never agree to leaving all technology behind but that’s next on my wish list! One step at a time!

On the night we couldn’t find a site we decided to find an unofficial offsite place to park for the night. I know plenty do this and if it had been something we wanted to do more often then we would have chosen an inconspicuous modern transporter, not a bright and shiny obvious campervan! The spot we chose felt perfectly safe and in the morning we were surrounded by bird life, dog walkers, cyclists, joggers, all drawn to this beautiful lake. I didn’t take a single photo! Argh! It was our first pitch without the little heater but it really wasn’t a problem since it belted out too much heat anyway and we never did use it all night long. The duvet and crochet blanket were perfectly adequate. Nights were cosy and warm but daytime driving if the sun wasn’t out was bloody cold. That’s something we will try and rectify.

On the theme of keeping it real, the main thing about longer stays with a campervan is not having a fixed bed. Everything we transported in our ‘boot’ had to be passed over to the front seat area in order to pull the seat bench forward which effectively makes the bed in one swift action. We soon learnt that meant not travelling with anything you aren’t prepared to keep passing back and forth. Once we’ve got a waterproof trunk or cover for the roof rack there are several bits of luggage we can store up there. For this trip though we optimistically packed our camping chairs, a small fire pit and a bag of small logs. They were all a pain in the neck. Lesson learnt.

Roughly speaking our trip covered 550 miles; from home and stopping at Bexhill on-Sea, Shoreham by Sea, Brighton, Chichester, Portsmouth, Winchester, Odiham and home. Mechanically everything went just fine. We overtook approximately three vehicles in total, with a celebration for each one. Driving a classic campervan is a lot like driving a Fiat 500, people assess the vehicle they are behind and then fail to assess the safety of overtaking so great is the need to just get past what they perceive is a slow moving vehicle. Trust me, I’m no slower in E’s Fiat 500 than I am in my fairly powerful jeep. The van cruises comfortably at 55-60mph which is plenty fast enough for a 60mph road!

I don’t know what goes through other people’s minds when they embark upon campervan ownership and consequent road trips but I’m a sucker for good old fashioned seventies style leisure time. Drive, park up, explore, drive, admire the scenery, park up, read, relax, drive, park up and feel so tired you dig the duvet out at 9am and fall fast asleep! It did help that I knew a few nice spots to show M. His mind tends to always be firmly on the next few days rather than the one he’s in the middle of. It’s a work thing and I completely understand it but I still try and gently remind him, just enjoy today.

Without so many caravan related jobs to do I thought I’d get lots of crochet done, some hook carving and a travel journal written. In reality I just got stuck into my latest book which was great because I tend to choose crochet over reading when I’m at home unless it’s in bed. M ploughed through his latest novel too and we stopped somewhere with plenty of charity shops near Brighton to select a new one for him, donating the finished one at the same time.

Part of the trip incorporated a job in Portsmouth. It happened to fall on my birthday itself which was unfortunate but we are still catching up in the finances after M’s long break from work and couldn’t turn it down. It worked out just fine, though it was mildly alarming to be parked up in the middle of university buildings with lots of admiring students with cameras! I stayed mainly with the van but did venture out for new scarves for us both, pot noodles for emergency warming up food and a birthday cake! Can you believe that M has reached his age (9 years older than me) and never had a pot noodle? Clearly a big oversight. I think they might be an essential part of van life, being so easy to ‘cook’.

The best part of the trip was most definitely the Bexhill on-Sea stop over. Not only catching up with my Grandad, Uncle and Aunt but also just being able to relax in the van on the seafront in blazing sunshine. It’s uncanny how it’s always warm when we visit. We happened upon an upmarket craft event at the De La Warr Pavilion and sat on the terrace for a bit too. I was sad that a couple who had returned from South Africa thought it had gone downhill. Economically the climate might have changed but it’s still very much a happy place and although often labelled God’s Waiting room we only ever see a huge range of ages enjoy the promenade whether on motibility scooters, rollerblades, skateboards, bikes, trikes or on foot. Unlike a lot of other beaches and seafronts it’s also largely dog friendly, with just the sailing club section out of bounds. I love the fact that there are two huge stretches of parking for free with a view of the sea, so many resorts are less generous.

We’ve got minor bits to do to the van and by choice we will probably build a whole new kitchen unit even though the current one is perfectly ok and brand new with a sink and two ring gas stove. Design wise it needs a re think – a split lid so that half can remain down when not in use and be used as a worktop. Deep drawers instead of just cupboard space because everything is low down and we don’t want to be kneeling down to find mugs at the back of a cupboard! Also, we need a pull out table and there’s room below the stove without it having to be too low. M likes to plan it all on graph paper and then run it by me for design input, of which there’s usually quite a bit! It’s good team work and I’m hopeful that will make life a lot easier when it comes to brewing tea and coffee and preparing pot noodles! We packed a moka pot for coffee which scented the van for quite a while afterwards. Our original plan was to use coffeemate but half way through the trip we invested in a 12V/mains cool box which conveniently fitted between the front seats, holds plenty of milk and had external cup holders for our coffee. We could incorporate a proper van fridge but they seem to be quite bulky and I’d rather have the cupboard space for now.

It seems to be a bit like a house, you need to live in it for a while to know what to improve. I wish I was the sewing type because I’d probably have run up some new curtains by now. The current ones are fine, could be worse but somehow seem a little too floral for my taste. They fit the surf dude type and we aren’t surf dudes.

I’ve taken so long to finish off this post that we’ve done lots of little van jobs, stocked it back up and we are setting off again for an unexpected three day trip, squeezing it in just before M’s next operation. We agreed to be grown up, face it head on and not bury our heads in the sand but sometimes that’s not a bad thing and it’s our plan for the next three days at least.

Albert

Life seems a bit surreal at the moment. It’s quite possible nothing ever seems ‘normal’ when cancer comes into the equation. We’ve had a lot of sleepless nights, both aware the other is tossing and turning and then M will flick on the salt lamp casting a red glow over everything and just enough to lipread by. We’ve chatted at 3am about all sorts of things that he’s often too distracted to fully focus on by day. I don’t know if it’s a myth about helping you to sleep but I also make hot chocolate using our fab Hotel Chocolat Velvetiser. We usually just sip and remark how bloody wonderful it tastes. Sleep remains elusive. Salted Caramel is our fave. It’s subtle and not as salty as you’d imagine.

This week we learnt that M will have to undergo some more procedures. It was a blow. We weren’t expecting it. Communication hasn’t been as precise as you’d think for this kind of thing. Somewhere between that consultation and now we managed to go completely bonkers and buy a campervan. It wasn’t as impulsive as it sounds. It’s been a lifelong dream. Perhaps my only one, or so I thought until I told Jake to look out of the window the day we brought it home. He said, so you’ve finally got what you always wanted, a campervan and two springers. My children know me better than I know myself.

The two Springers aren’t sure about the gravelly engine noise and the side opening door. They’ve been out in it several times and Harvey insists on waiting at the end of the vehicle thinking that’s where the boot is. Riley of course is a bit smarter but really only settled when I conceded and put a dog blanket on the sofa.

We went to a motorhome show earlier this year and it only served to confirm what we didn’t want from a day van. I don’t think there was anything much under £30k and I was quite despondent after that experience. In the end it was a question of going full circle and realising that my heart would really only be in owning a classic vw. Albert needs a bit of work here and there, I’m sure he always will. For now though we will fix the heating and a rear door seal (which leaks) and then he will be ready for a short trip.

It’s been a while since I drove a really old vehicle. One of my jeeps had a pretty basic gear arrangement and the campervan is similar. It’s taken some getting used to so we’ve been going out for short drives. I didn’t realise that we’d get stopped quite so much. A chap in the supermarket car park drew up alongside and shouted out, what a beauty! Turns out he had one in the seventies from new and his biggest regret was selling it. Another vw van driver pulled up at the end of our drive (in a modern van) and asked if we’d take his number in case we wanted to sell it. Then there’s the story of the RAC man…

I’ve long been a standing joke in the family over an eccentric old jeep I purchased when I was about twenty. It broke down every time I took it out and my Springer, Algie, used to rest his head on the passenger head rest sideways on as much to say, here we go again. Given that old vehicles have rough suspension and things literally rattle off I’m sure I’m about to relive those days. So, day one, with Bert the 1970 T2 Bay and we have met one local RAC man already! It was lucky I wasn’t out on my own and M was able to make the call. 3-4 hours wait was the estimate! He arrived within half an hour having heard the description of the vehicle on the radio and hastily said yes, I’ll have that one! So we’ve made a new friend who knows a fair bit about classic cars. As for the breakdown reason. A dodgy ignition wire which was easy to fix. We’ll be replacing it with something I’ve forgotten the name of already but between the RAC man and our classic car enthusiast neighbour they both agree it needs doing!

So, the van finally came about as the result of not being too gracious about this round number birthday I’m heading for in a few weeks time. In fact I think I might have said that fifty was seriously old and if I didn’t buy myself a campervan now it might be too late! It’s certainly softened the blow about turning fifty and it’s totally true whatever you’ve read about not giving a flying monkeys after that age. I really don’t. It’s liberating. I might even start to wear purple. Heck no, maybe not.

I’ve been a bit distracted with the van and with various other non yarn related things going on at the moment (like having a tooth out which has been a right pain). Nonetheless I have still managed to gather dyestuff and brew leaves and bark on the hob and produce miraculous colours on wool. It doesn’t seem to get old. I used crackly dry oak leaves thinking they might be past their best and they gave up a rich caramel colour with not much coaxing. I love the slowness of it all. I love how it dovetails into everything else that’s good in life, like walking with happy dogs. Thanks to last years considerable investment in good quality wellies I’ve had warm and dry feet despite the relentless heavy rain.

I was recently shaving bark with one of my small French penknives and decided to try carving a crochet hook. I was day dreaming more than focussing but somehow it turned out to be the occasion where the penny finally dropped. I managed to get a fairly good finish by fine shaving with the blade but when I later bought fine sandpaper it became really smooth and usable. Quite a few hooks later, all useable, I can safely say I can carve a decent hook now! I’m also getting to know how different woods handle. Oak for instance, is a great one for hard wearing furniture and will make a nice hard finished hook but it is more of a challenge to work in small scale. Lime turns to lightweight balsa type wood when dry so that’s a no go. Birch behaves well. Willow is nice and straight but you need to get at the older shoots for strength.

We took the dogs to a local woodland recently and I was able to gather a bit more variety than just the back garden, hence the large jug full! It was after days of rain and the wind was considerable so our attempts at lighting the Kelly Kettle for a cup of tea were rather comic. We persevered though, finally managing to get a decent flame when I managed to persuade M to stop fanning it with an old cereal packet! Oxygen is good for fires but not when you don’t give it a chance to catch too. We eventually had enough of a fire to heat two cans of Heinz’s soup too. It’s all going to be so much less bother with Bert. I can see us rolling up in the middle of winter for a dog walk and a bowl of Heinz soup. I guess it’s no different to when we used to take our boat out on the River Medway in all weathers and Mum produced hot soup and fresh bread which softened the blow of having to be the one who had to sit on the front of the boat in a pac a mac ready to jump off with the mooring ropes! Happy times.

I’m nowhere near the pace of crochet makes of last year. It is never far from my mind though and I’ve managed smaller projects like a hat and pumpkins. I designed the hat from scratch after suddenly having an image in mind. I’m mainly wearing crochet hats to keep the rain off at the moment, never mind the warmth. I come home from dog walks and pop a soggy hat on the radiator, it’s much easier than umbrellas or hoods.

I don’t know what it is about crochet pumpkins that holds my interest. They come under the banner of ‘not very useful’ things to make which I usually avoid but since they are quick and can be done whilst half watching a rubbish bloke movie your husband has chosen then I guess they have a time and a place.

Albert is going to need some crochet adornments. I dug out the blanket you can see in this blog heading. I haven’t changed that picture since I switched to WordPress some time ago now and even then the blanket had been a wip for a while. Anyway, it seems to be just the right colour scheme for a pale blue and cream van. I think I’m just over halfway to what would be a useful size and there’s a stupid amount of ends already but this will finally get finished thanks to Bert’s arrival. I might intersperse it with smaller projects like cushions. There’s a whole Hawaiian theme going on in the van at the moment, none of it is particularly horrid but we aren’t surfers so I fancy doing my own thing instead. I don’t think I’ll feel quite at home until there’s some rustic wood in there somewhere!

I’ve been busy emptying twelve years worth of junk from the caravan. The kids were five and eight I think and there’s buckets and spades, kites, board games and all sorts. The local Sue Ryder is going to do very well. The absolute worst thing about our house is the fact that the precious garage was converted to a bedroom long before M bought it. It’s a nightmare not having one. On the plus side though, having a fairly small campervan will really focus our ‘kit’ right down to the bare essentials. It’s taken a good long time to persuade M of the virtues of a small van, now I need to work on the benefits of not kitting it out with all mod cons. My heart sinks when he mentions being able to charge laptops and phones from ‘consumer units’. I’m more of an off grid type so I’ll have to coax him in the solar panel direction! Not that we’d be getting much input to a panel this week… it’s been positively dark and wet with more to come. Ugh.

Summer’s End

Timing is everything isn’t it? I bet you can remember at least one book you tried to get into, abandoned and picked up years later only to find it was a great read after all? I’ve got a pile of bedside reading, all natural dyeing related. I’ve become my best friend from primary school. His obsession was birds, he collected fallen eggs in egg cartons with handwritten labels and knew everything about them, their habits, their flight styles, their nest shapes. All kinds of facts that probably went in one ear and out of the other while I focused mainly on teaching him how to climb trees without breaking your neck so that we could sit very still amongst the tree tops and observe. I may have done more cloud gazing than bird watching but it was his passion for the subject that I admired and supported. I’m feeling that same passion for natural dyeing now despite buying books on the subject ten years ago.

M’s homecoming and me going down with summer flu magnificently coincided, so much so that he had to get a taxi home from the hospital. I did warn him that if he needed my help in any shape or form then he should stay where he was! The kids were both away at the Leeds Festival, Jake camping for the full five days and Ella going as a day visitor over the weekend. Drugs are always a huge worry for parents of kids who attend these events despite knowing that your kids are pretty sensible so it was ironic that M was the one at home on a complete high with some Class A medication. I swear that’s what was making him so damn cheerful.

I think I barely moved in three days without feeling dreadful, by day three I was bored with the limitations of sitting still (even with books and crochet) and attempted to finish off shovelling rotted leaf matter into a wheelbarrow to reclaim our side path. Not a good idea with flu as it turns out. Meanwhile M has had ups and down and post op issues. We’ve been muddling through. He’s in good spirits despite everything. We’ve been talking about travel and my birthday in October.We always leave actual bookings until the very last minute, the right kind of getaway always seems to present itself nearer the time.

Although things have been moving steadily towards a simpler life, it wasn’t until I burrowed my hands into the fresh soil of the bin we planted with potatoes and pulled out handfuls for our evening meal that I felt we were finally making progress. I’m not about to become a market gardener but the small amount of edible things in the garden are satisfyingly useful and could easily be expanded upon. This year we’ve had apples, plums, blackberries, raspberries, not many gooseberries (I’ve swotted up on this and I need to prune very vigorously!) and potatoes. It wouldn’t be difficult to grow a few more things in containers out of the way of dogs.

M made a simple cheese and potato pie over the weekend when neither of us were up to much. It was one of the best things he’s ever made. Despite agreeing that simple is best we are back to twenty ingredients and half used jars of stuff in the fridge once more. It was good while it lasted. We’ve also made blackberry jam, just two small jars but it would be possible to make more with the remaining fruit, I just need to balance on top of a step ladder to get to it!

I think my battered old jeep is on the decline now. It’s touch and go when I take it out for a random drive in the countryside. It has quirky ways but it’s still a very good vehicle for driving up on to big grass verges alongside oak trees covered in Knoppler galls. Standard kit in my boot is a basket or two, my trug, secateurs and a bottle of water for rinsing hands (knopplers are very sticky!) If the gall has a hole in it then you know the wasp has left the building so to speak and they are safe to pick. This particular type happen when a small wasp invades an acorn and the tree reacts to this invasion. (There are probably more scientific explanations online). There are lots of different types of oak gall determined by the type of oak tree and the type of insect.

Oak galls have high levels of tannins which is useful in natural dyeing, once smushed with a hammer and soaked in hot water they release colour straight away. The resulting dye baths have produced gorgeous coffee tones and would react strongly to a little iron solution to produce darker browns and greys. I’m enjoying the way natural dyeing means working in tune with the seasons, now seems to be a good time to collect galls. I’m looking forward to trying all the plant matter I’ve tried since May again during the autumn months to compare results.

For now though, I’m harvesting marigolds and coreopsis daily. They just bloom and bloom. I bought three big old farm crates and they’re perfect for drying the flowers out throughly before I stash them away for deepest winter. It’s a good job M isn’t too precious about ‘his kitchen’. He has no idea how many crevices are now full of dried plant matter!

Life

I’m at a bit of a loose end. Writing a blog post seems indulgent but when I think how little I’ve actually sat down these last few weeks I guess it isn’t. M has been really unwell. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster. With him in hospital I’ve gone into house sorting overdrive, tackling jobs that have been too easy to put off whilst he’s around and not really keen on the disruption that decorating brings. The dining room had become a bit of a black hole since he made my dream table from a rescued cable drum. Not every woman’s dream I know. We now eat in the sunlounge in front of the French doors and with a much better view than the windowless dining room, but the dining room needed to be reinvented.

Since M will be out of action for a while and with Mum’s help we smashed up a huge manky cupboard with a sledgehammer and dragged it up to the bonfire. A leaky roof now fixed and a leaky shower yet to be fixed damaged the cupboard and whiffed a bit too. It was hugely satisfying to see it all piled up ready to burn. These are the jobs that M never wants me to start because he really doesn’t like helping with this kind of DIY.

Years of art and craft materials going back to when the kids were small were bagged up and donated. Lots of little notes and drawings were rescued including this lovely note from ella to jake in a jam jar with a gift of precious skeleton leaves ‘To Jake, Love you with all my heart. Love Ella.’ Proof that things were harmonious at least some of the time. A spare bookcase was reassembled, an old library table moved in to act as a desk and my new home office/library is almost ready. There are far too many books on one side so that still needs to be tackled but it’s been physically demanding work on top of hospital visits, laundry, dog walking, food shopping, cooking…

For the first ten days without our resident chef I decided it would be great to have a break from his exotic concoctions usually involving way too many ingredients for the fridge capacity. Keep it simple is my motto. Quiche and salad went down very well with the kids the first night so we ended up having it five times over ten days. You can always rely on your offspring to tell the truth when you least want them to, like the moment M asked what we had on the other five nights and E piped up ‘quiche and chips’. Not quite true because I’m sure I cooked a luxury pizza at some stage too. Cooking brings me no joy whatsoever. Left to my own devices I would have cheese on toast, scrambled eggs on toast, beans on toast, vegemite on toast and just toast. Maybe a bit of quiche and salad too. It’s ironic that I now spend quite a bit of time in the kitchen cooking up non food items and enjoying it immensely.

I had planned to enjoy the process of natural dyeing for a couple of years at least before even thinking about selling any plant dyed yarn but with M unwell it seemed like a good time to go for it. I’ve been so careful with testing the wool as I go that I was quite well prepared. Seeing how things stand up to light, wash and rub tests has been as interesting as creating the dye baths. I do occasionally forget to record something but I’ve now installed Ella’s old whiteboard in the kitchen to jot things down as I go. Sometimes it almost needs a mind map to record all the aspects that have gone into making a skein. There’s the wool type and weight, the weight of dyestuff, mordanting details, how long I’ve dyed it for, or let the dyestuff stew for and many other variables too. Once that is all scribbled down on the whiteboard I transfer it to my notebook with what colour it achieved and attach a strand or two to the book and a strand to a postcard for the window.

I can highly recommend re-connecting with nature in a new way when the going gets tough. If I thought that just walking the dogs through acres of farmland trails was enjoyable I wasn’t aware I could make it even more so. I’ve added to my book collection of old observers, nature tomes, pocket guides to wildflowers and reminded myself of some of the forgotten names of things and learnt many new ones. My most useful new addition has been a book of trees with really clear photographs, reminiscent of a Dorling Kindersely style but in fact a fusty old seventies volume. I could already name most trees and frequently used to try and pass that on to the kids but there are variations that I wanted to be precise about. Goat Willow for instance, it’s never really been on my radar purely because a lot of willows have a long thin leaf and this one doesn’t. I brewed up some bark shavings recently and was peering into my large pan with a wooden spoon when Jake came into the kitchen holding his nose, as he always does when he sees me in my old apron. I said, ‘come and have a look at this goat willow’ and he quite emphatically said, ‘jeez no thank you!’. So I was looking a bit dejected when he said, ‘what on earth are you cooking a goat’s willy for?’. He must think my recipes call for even stranger stuff than just bits of tree and weeds!

The trickier part has been embracing the technology that is inevitable for online selling. I’ve barely used a proper Mac since my design days and we certainly don’t have Quark Xpress or anything sophisticated for layout software. I only used Word for documents, so I’ve had to get to grips with that for page layout. It all come flooding back and I discovered that the keyboard short cuts I must have executed millions of in my typical working week were all the same and also stored in the deepest recesses of my memory. Sitting in front of a computer is one of the things I miss least about that line of work so I really want to keep it to a minimum for this one. I think that’s why I enjoyed furniture restoration for so long once I had left the design business, there was little computer time required. Having said that I’m going to be very reluctant to share the mac with M when he is fighting fit again. There are some things that iPads just don’t cooperate with, printing online pre paid postal labels is one of them!

Well July was perfect solar dyeing and paper making weather. August has been less so. A while back M had some training to deliver in Manchester and I went along to help set up equipment and keep him company on the journey. I had a nice day wandering round a big city feeling like an out of place country mouse as I tend to do these days. There’s a large art and craft store there called Fred Aldous. I’ve been a customer since their mail order days when I was a student. I filled a small basket with bits I’d been waiting patiently for a trip to Manchester or Leeds for and then asked if they sold paper making deckles by any chance. They did. It was a bit of an extravagant buy since my last mould and deckles were made from canvas stretching frames and net curtain when I was about 19 and may well be buried in some box in the attic somewhere.

I must have last used them when the kids were small and they were soon bored with the whole thing. Even now when Jake saw the first batch he said it would be quicker and easier to buy paper. Ella was slightly more impressed, clearly not expecting the pulp to actually turn into proper paper at all. Every now and then I find a sheet from previous ‘sessions’ but I rarely did anything with the sheets, apart from used them for the odd backing sheet in a frame. It was obviously just the process I enjoyed and still enjoy. Along with the used and dried out plant matter at some stage I will use my dye bath exhausts as part of the process but for now I seem to have run out of sunny days. It takes up quite a bit of space and drying would be a bit of a nuisance indoors.

Just when I have reconnected with gardening we will be losing two local garden centres. I’ve bought seeds, a watering can, plants, pots and compost from both this year and the garden centres we are left with are not as good. I was able to buy some of the old wooden crates that one of the garden centres used for displays and lined with brown paper they seem to be ideal for drying out marigolds and coreopsis. Time will tell of course, I’ve no idea whether they’ll be any good. I followed instructions to dry out some Weld early in the season and that went mouldy quite quickly. I’ve since gathered more and will leave it to dry out for a lot longer this time. With large wooden trays of flowers drying out in the living room, bunches of weld hanging upside down in the kitchen, jars of wee coloured liquid and old vases of willow twigs in the dining room I can begin to understand Jake thinking that there could indeed be anything in my dye pots next!

I’ve never done so much on so little sleep as these last few weeks. There was a period of three or four days when I worked out I’d had four hours sleep. I was a bit of a zombie and was ready to start burning lavender oil just to be able to nod off! Thankfully I’m getting a few more hours now, I’m no use to M or anyone if I don’t. I’m going to need a new crochet project to wind down with and also take to hospitals. I was thinking hats but maybe I’ll start something more substantial. My hankering for a summer kimono cardigan took a couple of years to get round to making and I’ve had one for a large wrap for even longer. Given that the design variables are so huge I need to narrow down my brief and try and get that one underway too. I have visions of a versatile long rectangle that is half blanket half big scarf, something that lives on the back of the chair I drag from sunlounge to deck when I light the chiminea and keeps the back of my neck and shoulders warm when the front is nice and toasty. If it hadn’t been for so much rain I’d be doing that a bit more often instead of processing household paperwork going back twelve years and wondering what happened to the ultra organised person I used to be and plan to be once more. Thank you Marie Kondo and yes my sock drawer is still shipshape and in Kondo fashion.