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.

Party

We’ve just returned from a week in Sussex. It was a miracle undertaking that only my Mother could possibly have pulled off. Twenty two relatives all in one place to celebrate my Grandfather’s 95th birthday. A three storey Edwardian house on the beach rented for the week, complete with beach hut and good weather seemed to have been booked just in time too.

Since our chief dog sitters were also present at the party we had to make the 400 mile round trip with one quivering Spaniel in my ancient jeep boot and another who didn’t know what the heck was going on and refused to eat all week. Harvey has never enjoyed car travel but gets in quite willingly in anticipation of a walk at the end. Riley loved the sea, the woodland walks, the lake swims, the fox poo filled meadows but it did nothing to entice him to eat more than a few mouthfuls a day. He’s home now and absolutely fine.

As is usual when dogs are involved M and I made alternative accommodation arrangements and managed to get a last minute barn some way out from the beach house but nonetheless quite perfect for us. M slept like he had never slept before so I found myself slipping out with the dogs quite early and taking advantage of beautiful meadow walks. Lots of things made me feel nostalgic including an abundance of Sweet Chestnut trees with their fluffy catkins, cobnuts (out now but ripe next month) and Jays. I have a tiny Jay feather in a box at home and M admitted he’d never seen one. Had he been up bright and early he would have done. Not that I minded, there’s something quite magical about early mornings in the middle of nowhere, with just foxes, birds and two dogs gathering up all the dew on their coats.

I was surprised and impressed that Jake decided to have a swim in the sea the minute he arrived in Sussex. He loved the sea in Spain and Italy but here it’s bloody freezing! I was less impressed with the giant inflatable flamingo he bought to float on, having visions of him floating out to sea. Not only were there plenty of family keeping an eye on him it was also a very safe bay and shallow for quite a way. Not a spot we used much when we lived in Sussex but definitely one that is becoming more popular judging by the smartly dressed couples walking along the beach with property details tucked under their arms.

I managed to finish my inside out crochet kimono cardigan with a few evening sessions. I decided that I needed one last year but couldn’t find a pattern I liked. It’s the sort of thing you need when you’ve been wearing a linen dress all day and then the sun goes down. When I started making it with only a vague idea in my head I was full of doubts. There are quite a few factors to consider with garments to achieve good drape. Both the stitch and the hook size provide drape for this cardigan and I shaped the three panels so as not to have to join sleeves afterwards. It seems to have worked out ok. It’s probably a bit warmer than is ideal since it’s pure wool. I thought the holes would mean it was less warm but no, it’s very warm! Just in time for the mini heatwave due next week. I mentioned to anyone who asked that the colours were dyed using nettle, ivy, cherry and weld and that seemed to provoke mixed reactions, some were amazed and some thought it was a bit gross, assuming that the wool would still smell. I’ve firmly cemented by reputation as a bit of a strange one.

One of the things that happens when you haven’t seen relatives for a while is that you get mistaken for your Mother. A nod to having let my hair go back to its natural colour I think, it’s obviously ageing, not that my Mother ever did (go grey) by the way. On the one hand I briefly entertained the idea of chopping it short again and dyeing it pink just to make sure that particular mistaken identity never happens again, then I woke up and realised that actually it’s often the judgemental, societal expectation that a woman under fifty at least should keep the grey at bay. Well stuff that. There are more important things in life.

Meanwhile back at home there’s so much to keep me busy. My Madder seedlings have shot up in just a week which is a relief because I thought they’d dry up and die while I was away. I’ve transplanted a few of them and whacked stakes in with a sledge hammer for wire netting to keep the dogs off whilst waiting for M to finish fences for the remaining three sides of my ‘dye bed’. Two colours of marigolds have started to bloom. I’ll probably dry a lot of these because I’ve had fun with the coreopsis and don’t really want a massive amount of orange wool! I’m hoping the darker marigolds produce a deeper colour.

The birds moved in swiftly whilst the dogs were away and demolished the rest of the raspberries. I must have picked at least five small bowls for breakfast though and I’ll try and separate out the brambles from the raspberries and make sure they are staked well again for next year. Gooseberries seem to take forever to properly ripen but it won’t be long before we can make jam. I’m hopeful it’ll be the non burnt variety this year. The plum tree has made a partial recovery and has a useful amount of fruit once more, it clearly loved being pruned although we did that at completely the wrong time. I’ll be totally in tune with the dye plants and the seasons but it’ll be a while before I remember what kind of jobs need doing when for the rest of the garden. At least I haven’t had to hack down the right hand hedgerow this year. The beech and laurel have grown to an impressive height and block the view to the new houses perfectly. I’ve left the height and only cut back the growth that comes into the garden. Beech provided a great dye colour and seems to be holding up well on my lightfast tests. We’ve got plenty of it so I’m pretty happy about that.

M has been a bit unwell lately, we thought it would be nothing that antibiotics wouldn’t solve but after two courses we had to pop along to the out of hours service on Saturday and that led to them deciding to administer the antibiotics intravenously. It’s always tricky to know when to seek further help with something, neither of us want to waste anyone’s time. He’s stocked up with newspapers, novels and crosswords and being supplied with lots of tea.

I pack all my walking into the pockets of time M is working. The rest of the time, which seems considerable; days off, weekends and holidays it’s so frustrating to give that up. As we strolled painfully slowly along the South Downs Way much older couples were striding ahead with walking poles and back packs and I was reminded of something I am missing out on. I clearly need to work much harder on getting him to accept that we need to compromise in a different way. Currently he thinks that a few long walks around some Lincolnshire farmer’s fields whilst he’s at work should be satisfactory. He either rants or sulks when I suggest he takes a flask, a chair and a book (he loves reading) and relaxes with a view if we happen to stumble across a beautiful walk on our travels.

I did at least manage to be assertive about spending our last day visiting The Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft. There’s an exhibition entitled ‘Women’s Work’ on until October, it focuses on women who designed and created in various mediums between the two world wars. It included items plant dyed by Ethel Mairet, block printing, weaving, bookbinding, pottery, ceramics. We arrived just in time for the guided talk, delivered by a very enthusiastic man and ironically seemed to be mainly about the work of Eric Gill. He did eventually explain the relevance but for a moment it was like being back on my graphic design course with another Gill fanatic. Needless to say this exhibition and the building it was housed in created my perfect day out and I think M enjoyed the letterpress exhibits and the coffee at least.

I never say much on the 200 mile drive home and I think M is used to that now. I like to mull over the week and try and commit it all to memory. Having a 95th birthday celebration for my Grandad is a very special thing. He’s an absolute legend; so incredibly well and fit but understandably in need of a good afternoon nap now and then. He was burgled just a few weeks ago. The burglar managed to slip a tool in through the letterbox and retrieve the keys. He entered the home whilst Grandad was sleeping and stole his watch, wallet, iPad and phone. At some stage something woke him and he got up to take a look around quickly realising that the front door was open and things missing. We just thank our lucky stars he didn’t wake up moments sooner. It’s shaken him very badly and although the police arrested someone for a couple of burglaries in the same road on the same night they didn’t have enough to prosecute him. There are no words to describe the low life that did this. The one thing you should at least have in this mad world is the right to sleep soundly in your own bed.

Since I started this post we’ve had a mini heatwave and also things have got a bit grim for M. It’s a case of having to make you feel worse before they can make you better, so he will be in for a few more days at least. I’m exhausted juggling everything on top of visits, not to mention I really don’t like going out on my own much. I’m a liability just buying groceries. Apparently yesterday a cashier told me she’d saved my loyalty card points and I said, no don’t bother that’s ok. Oops. I thought she’d asked me if I wanted to save them. Poor E, she gets the brunt of the problem sometimes, whereas I’m only embarrassed when she later tells me my mistake. It feels very much like being a single parent again even though the kids are old enough to look after themselves and help out. In practice E has a working week and J has a social life, sport and sleeps a lot but they are both helping in their own ways.

Natural dyeing is a bit of an all day affair so it’s been difficult to fit in around visits at the moment. I’m missing it. I’ve started off three solar dyeing jars and they seem to be working well. I’ve used three wool bases and they react quite differently. All have been mordanted with alum but one of them is more sensitive than the others so the colour absorbs more where it is in contact with the plant matter, whereas with the other two yarns it seems to be dyeing more evenly. I don’t think I’ll ever stop discovering new things about plant dyeing.

Dyeing

Last month we travelled down to my native Sussex so that I could attend a natural dyeing workshop. Once upon a time I’d have happily driven myself but these days long periods of driving just aren’t feasible. I caught M in a good mood and he was happy to make a short break of it by having lunch on the way, staying overnight and travelling back after the workshop. He had plenty of work to do to kill the time and installed himself in the lobby of the hotel with WiFi, lunch, newspapers, coffee, his laptop.

Attending a group event of any sort is completely out of my comfort zone. A short time is not enough time to be able to tune into each persons distinct lip patterns, so the best I can hope for is to just get by without making myself look stupid. I chose my home county because I don’t have to work quite so hard to figure out the many regional accents I come across living in Lincolnshire. I’m always very optimistic when I do something like this but the reality is that it’s a massive pain in the neck not being aware of when people speak let alone what they are saying. I used to hide the problem and bluff but that is tiring, soul destroying and slightly pointless. It is what it is, in general life goes on and I don’t give it a second thought.

Anyway, problems aside, I had a great day. It was relaxed and easy to keep up by the very visual nature of it all. I knew this would become a passion the minute we set off with a basket and snips to collect some hedgerow plants for our dye baths. Even though I did every sport imaginable when I was younger, walking is the one thing that creates that feeling you get when you’re deeply immersed in a good book. Dogs bouncing around and diving into anything vaguely resembling a stream just adds to the joy.

The workshops are run by Mother/Daughter enterprise Deborah and Gala, both equally lovely, interesting and inspiring (details on my Instagram posts) or have a look at plawhatchfarm.co.uk. If I hadn’t already studied my one and only natural dyeing book over and over I think I’d have struggled to keep up. I had all the basic facts at my disposal but it seemed too overwhelming to contemplate doing at home. At the end of the day, as I got in the car, I said to M, it was like suddenly being able to understand Egyptian hieroglyphics!

We made four dye baths; nettle, bracken, madder and silver birch leaf. With mini skeins dyed in each we also had a chance to experiment with modifiers to produce a further range of colours. The workshop yarns are above in the first photo. I made them up into a small drawstring bag to remember the day by. I also attached the leftover scraps to a couple of postcards. One postcard has been placed out of daylight and the other taped to a sunny window. Several weeks on only the madder exhaust has faded from pink to beige which was expected.

I wasted no time in rearranging the bookshelf in our kitchen to hold jars, pans, sieves, bowls etc. By day I’ve been brewing readily available dye matter from our wild and unmanaged garden hedgerows (I knew all that ‘ungardening’ would pay off one day!) and by night trying to read up on plants. I’m lucky enough to know someone who totally gets natural dyeing and she kindly popped a couple of books in the post the same day I mentioned I was interested. I must photograph some of the beautiful illustrations in one of them for my next post. I’ve been so obsessed I’ve been carrying them with me everywhere. Ideal for coffee dates with M and his phone.

That same week in May had less fortunate events but I’ll also save that for another post. Jake has a few more exams to go before he is finally a school leaver. A Levels have been hard work and he’s done well to keep his cool and get on with it, despite everything. E had a bit of a dramatic end to her academic year too but she’s home for summer now and I’m really looking forward to some sunshine so that we can sit outside, have the odd barbecue, take the dogs to the lake and most importantly move my natural dyeing operation outside! Both E and J enter the kitchen with t shirts pulled up over their noses complaining loudly but laughing too. I won’t repeat what they think some of it smells like.

In between the rainy days we’ve had some good weather. Summer evenings in the twenties are the best. Who could possibly watch tv on an evening like that? Not me. Riley is probably only midway through his six month advised knee rest period, but try telling a Springer Spaniel that. We tried to stick to a short walk but he rolled in fox poo within minutes of setting off which meant walking much further to a deeper stream to wash it off. I quickly discovered that bending down to collect a few nettle tops would be an open invitation to them both to gather round and stick their wet faces in mine to ask what was going on.

I’ve also been planting anything from seed that wasn’t too late in the season to start. Madder was probably a little late but I’m keeping my fingers crossed, it takes a few years before they will be usable. With J’s help I dragged four unused railway sleepers from behind the kids treehouse all the way down to where the lawn starts for a raised bed. It won’t be very raised at all but the sleepers are handy to sit on whilst tending plants at least. I did the same for where I grow gooseberries, raspberries and a few herbs but with shorter sleepers. M had to build small picket fence panels to keep the dogs from digging everything back up so he will have to do the same for my woad and madder. It won’t be pretty but it’ll be functional and that’s fine by me. With reclaimed wood and containers we’ve started off a million Marigolds and some Coreopsis. I’ve given Mum some indigo seeds to look after in her greenhouse.

One of the first plants I tried after the workshop was Weld. We had seeds lined up but I’m not sure I need to bother with such a plentiful supply at local building sites. They like disturbed ground and our garden is very undisturbed! I gathered only enough to make one dye bath. A week later when more of the flowers were out and ideal for the dye bath the builders decided to get a huge hacking tractor thing and mow the whole lot down! They even collected the hacked down weeds and grass! Luckily I have a husband who doesn’t mind sweet talking builders into allowing him inside the fenced off site to access a big untouched patch and fill a basket with enough to dry for the winter! Since I took that photo of the drying Weld I’ve bundled up some much larger pieces with the flower heads intact.

I’ve started a dyer’s journal to record my dyeing sessions and recipes. I get carried away with the process of it all and with skeins drying here and there I completely forget which dye baths created which. Eventually I think I might get organised enough to take photos as I go and record some of the sessions here. For now though I’m actually concentrating far too much on what I’m doing!

When I can tear myself away from the dye pots I’m going to find some suitable crochet patterns to try these plant dyed yarns out. One of the bases I’ve been trying out should cope with a thirty degree wash cycle although normally I would still wash woollens by hand. So it’ll be a few simple makes only while I see how they perform. I previously said that slow living wasn’t something you could achieve overnight but rather a journey to the level that suits you. A few years ago I couldn’t have imagined ever being able to take a sheep fleece, process it, spin it, dye it naturally with plants and make it into something useful. Admittedly my spinning needs more practice but I’m finally where I want to be, close to nature, creating something from natural materials.

Spring

Putting all the evidence together I am convinced that we are born with most of our tastes and ways already in place. According to family observations I have never liked pink, frills and dresses and that goes right back to the beginning. Lately though I wonder whether an inbuilt need for solitary time was also in place from the very beginning or whether that’s just something you crave when life has been busy for a while. Today is the first such moment for what seems like a very long time. E is back at uni, J is out with friends and M is working somewhere roughly 125 miles away.

We’ve had a busy month or two. House selling has been a priority. Fingers crossed all is going ok so far. E has been home from uni and we’ve done all sorts including buying a second hand bike from an RAF base using a secret password to get in and visiting the moon. The latter was a six metre wide affair at the local museum. I wasn’t that excited to be dragged along but found it quite mesmerising once in this darkened room trying to figure out where the ‘invisible’ wires suspending it in mid air were.

Somewhere amongst of all this excitement E decided she would like a pink and slightly fluffy cardigan. Leader of the pac yarn was chosen from Hobbycraft and the Bobble Heart Cardigan pattern from a previous issue of Mollie Makes. I’m not going to lie, this much pink has been a challenge to see through. It will look amazing on her but I will be glad not to be working on pink once it’s finished.

Meanwhile I’m having a crisis of confidence with another crochet cardigan. I’ve got the pattern size guide and the intended four year old recipient’s measurements but I think I’ve worked it up a bit too close to the latter. It’s only a matter of days now until they travel North for a visit so I’ll be able to try the one sleeve garment on her and see how it’s working out size wise. I’ve only been using dk from stash so if it’s no good it’s no big deal, we’ll call it a useful practice run. The pattern is from The Crochet Project’s latest book called Pick and Mix. I love the concept of choosing a colour work stitch and a main body stitch in order to customise a garment to your taste. I chose the ‘getting Ziggy’ colour work option for the yoke and a simple offset half treble for the main body. I would definitely choose the main body stitch for an adult version in the future, it works into spaces which means it is pretty quick.

The last month has been a blur so I’m not quite sure how I managed to whip up a modified version of the Fronds Shawl for my niece and start a full size one too. I think I started the adult one first to see if I could finally use up that annoying cake of yarn that just didn’t seem to feel nice for anything else. It’s got four fine threads that all have a mind of their own and ugh, I’d never buy it again. I dug out the first Fronds I made and wore it out and about for a few days and eventually conceded that I would never be the asymmetrical shawl type of person. I frogged the new version and started again using the same adjustments I used to make little E’s colourful one. In a nutshell it increases more gradually to give a shallower depth. When I’ve got roughly half of the cake left I plan to start decreasing in the same way for a symmetrical result. It worked nicely for little E’s so fingers crossed it works out for the ‘grown up’ version too!

At some stage before E came home from uni we had a few days that were mild and sunny from early in the morning. M had been leaving at six a.m. and if he turns lights on and jogs the bed it is as good as alarm clocks going off for me. He can make as much noise as he likes without lights and jogging the bed and I will sleep on happily undisturbed for hours. So, I had a spell of being up and about a bit earlier than usual and on one of those mornings I put my crochet fisherman Aran jumper on over my red tartan flannelette pj trousers, made a large mug of coffee and decided to go for a walk up the garden and into the field in my wellies. We still have a building site for 31 houses in the side field but what you can’t hear can’t hurt you so I decided to ignore their very existence. Harvey’s shoulder injury is playing up in his old age and Riley seems prone to sprains most probably because he’s not as well built and sturdy as he should be for a Springer. So they were both limping that week and not up to our usual 3, 4 or 5 mile hikes. If we didn’t have builders to one side and a grumpy, nosey old man who hates the dogs to the other I think I would take my coffee up the garden more often. The field was full of fresh smells, dew, birds, insects, buds everywhere. The sky was an incredible blue. Definitely worth being up at 7am for.

I’m still longing to get back into our usual walking routine but events seem to be conspiring against us. I had an ordinary cold that was into its second week before suddenly turning into something much worse and knocking me right off my feet. I very rarely stop and rest for a cold. In fact there is something nice about wrapping up and taking the dogs out regardless, as if I’m beating it. This time though it was some kind of viral chest infection thing and with just a hoarse whisper I said to M, ‘I don’t think I’ll be getting up today’. He said, ‘God no, it doesn’t bloody sound like it!’ and went out to get cough mixture, flu capsules and Lucozade! Unfortunately it didn’t stop anyone leaving me to sleep all day and I can only assume I didn’t have the necessary strength to shout go away when I was asked where the salt was, where’s my blue shirt… do I look like I give a —- where they are!? The annoying thing about the salt was that not only was I finally in a deep sleep, the damn salt was eye level in the food cupboard! Not to mention that we have seven different types of course.

I’ve been slowly recovering but it’s taken a lot longer than I’d like. My rib cage has been incredibly sore and I’m absolutely wiped out by 2 or 3 in the afternoon. I know better than to do too much too soon so I’m still pacing myself. There’s so much to be getting on with. I have a tin of dark grey chalk paint ready and waiting to transform an old chest of drawers. I may well finally get round to painting our four dining room chairs the same colour if it’s a nice shade. I think it’s called charcoal. We have plans to completely gut the dining room and replace the bulky cupboards down one side with just rustic open shelving. There’s already bookcases either side of the double entrance into the conservatory but it seems we can never have enough book shelf space. Open shelves force you to be organised and tidy whereas cupboards, here, seem to be for shoving it all in never to be seen again. There’s the added bonus that our shower leak may have ruined the wall behind these cupboards so that’s our main reason for tackling the whole room. We need a new shower too. I see all these jobs as potential camper van funds being spent but that’s life I guess.

We’ve started to discuss ideas for a short break in October on the basis that it would be nice to have something booked ahead for once. It’s a round number birthday for me and although that’s depressing in itself it’s also an excuse to choose something I really would enjoy. I need to do battle with M’s love of creating surprises. I absolutely do not like surprises, they are never really what you’d choose yourself. I’ve already mentioned that I’d like somewhere completely off the beaten track and he’s already asked me why on earth I’d want that. This chat happened on a car journey and naturally a little voice piped up in the back, God Dad, you really don’t know Mum after all these years! So let’s just say I may have to convince him accordingly. Barn, cottage, hut, I’m not fussy as long as it has a fire, scenery and no human neighbours for miles. Sheep neighbours are fine!

Pace

No I haven’t suddenly had carpal tunnel surgery and whipped up a little hand knit Icelandic number! I wish I could say it was all my own work but I did move pretty quickly when I spotted it on a vintage rail in Brighton! I’ve been watching the second series of Trapped set in Iceland and there are quite a few of these in various patterns, both cardigan and jumper. They seem to be quite expensive to buy new so I think this one was a bit of a steal for £10. I’ve given it to E on account of her feeling the cold quite easily. She’s in her second year at uni and having moved from halls to a house with a fixed bill deal was quite surprised to find they’d used nearly all their annual allowance in just a few months. The radiators have been turned down and appliances unplugged. There was talk of candlelight but with three boys and three PlayStations on 24/7 I think it’s obvious where the electricity allowance is going!

Brighton wasn’t on the agenda for our five day getaway. As is usual with all our time away it was combined with jobs for M in various parts of the country. Knowing that we’d be clocking up the miles either side of his free days I suggested we just stay close to the hotel we’d chosen for the trip. M had other ideas though and I must admit it is quite nice to see him go from ‘very reluctant to be in the South at all’ to ‘let’s go to Rye again, let’s go to Brighton again, let’s sit on the balcony at the De La Warr Pavilion again…’

It was only a flying visit and we headed for the same places we enjoyed last time. A coffee place with a great atmosphere and great coffee, which just happens to be a short walk from a very cool yarn shop called Yak. I visit many yarn shops because M’s job is all over the country and they vary hugely. I think they must be a blend of stock that is mainly commercially sensible and also partly just the owner’s taste. Yak is pretty much on my wavelength so it isn’t difficult to spend a bit each time we go! They also stock things like PomPom magazine and The Crochet Project booklets. which I don’t get to see very often.

We took the scenic drive home and the meandering water pic you can see above is part of the Seven Sisters Country Park. I’d have loved to have parked up and gone for a hike but it wasn’t something M could have done so I’m hoping I can return in the summer with a dog or two and negotiate leaving M in the car with coffee.

I’ve been subconsciously working on the basis that the less you talk the more likely it is that you’ll be heard. I’m not sure it works well with M but he certainly heard the silence while I took in the sea, the views, the hills and the forests and said he understood why I might be sad when we got home. I honestly think I’m coming to terms with Lincolnshire but I can’t face the idea of living there forever.

Shortly before our trip South we tried to find a place for coffee in the car with a view. It’s surprisingly tricky. There are hills but they aren’t local. We settled for a car park overlooking a small reservoir. I found it incredibly funny that this was the best we could do for a viewpoint and even M thought it was pathetic but we got the Kelly Kettle out, boiled water in no time thanks to the wind and retreated back into the warmth of the car to drink our tea. When the fog started to clear and the sun arrived it didn’t actually matter where we were. I crocheted a coaster for E (a request) and M did some invoices and had it not been for the large amount of tea and the lack of a wc we’d have stayed a lot longer.

There has been some crochet going in but it doesn’t seem like very much or very often. I had a hankering for a proper granny square cardigan / jacket type thing and did plenty of browsing online to see if what I had in mind was already out there. It wasn’t but it did help decide what I didn’t want. I eventually settled on a square that looks vaguely like a sunflower but that wasn’t really the intention. I’m doing plenty of squares without the yellow clusters but I think in the end it will probably look like sunflowers anyway. I can live with that. I’m using my Irish yarn which was intended for something else but I think I will wear this jacket a lot once it’s made. I like big knits for wearing in the house and when a coat is too much for outside but an average jumper isn’t enough.

I’m less than half way trough the number of squares required and I’ve abandoned the end weaving in part after twelve squares but I’m sure I will find the mood strikes me one evening and I’ll have a whole weaving in session. I did say on Instagram, ‘am I even a crocheter if I don’t own a granny square cardigan?’ which some found amusing, but it’s true isn’t it? Such a classic, every crocheter should own one.

In pretty similar colours I made a granny cowl as a quick, stash using up project. I made the linen stitch border one evening whilst watching a Jason Statham film. Not my usual choice but I’m always open minded when M suggests a film and it was pretty gripping (and cheesy too). Somehow I managed to crochet the border a bit tight and it wouldn’t sit flat nicely no matter how much I tugged it into shape. If I’d checked my work as I went and in good light I think I’d have spotted the problem, as it was I had to frog rows of fluffy yarn and one colour rows and chuck all that yarn away. When I redid the border with a bigger hook it was yarn chicken all the way! It was a nice quick make but with lots of ends, well worth the hassle of weaving in though.

Behind the scenes there have been lots of trips over to my old house. There have been a million trips to B&Q (or B and bloody Q as I like to call it!). A few more trips are required and then the for sale sign will be going up. This was supposed to be the year of getting things done to the house we live in but that’s all been shelved for now, though I am itching to blitz the hall with paint again and get M to build a new shoe rack. Currently the shoes are far too accessible for the dogs who like to greet anyone who comes to the house with a random piece of stolen footwear!

The pace this year was supposed to be slow and thoughtful and funnily enough it still seems that way in between the frantic DIY sessions and travel. Prioritising has long been a favourite word. In a nutshell that means coffee first and then everything else afterwards. We found a new coffee shop in Hastings this visit. We’ve been regular visitors to Hanushka Coffee in the Old Town for a while now and we were quite pleased to see they’d opened a second one in my childhood shoe shop. Another customer remembered the stock room being down the spiral staircase where they disappeared to find whatever they had in your size…usually a choice of two styles. It wasn’t a happy experience, it was, however, always an amazing building. As with the Old Town cafe the walls are lined with books. They aren’t for sale but people seem to read and then leave them anyway. M was very happy with the Sunday newspapers and crosswords while I watched the world go by.

A little bit of that contemplative time was spent remembering how much I used to enjoy photography. I would cycle the seven miles from home to Hastings Old Town and take typical photo’s of fishing huts, groynes, seafood shacks etc. The best bit was developing my black and white films at home inside a huge wardrobe and in my bedroom sink. I can’t remember what I used as blackout material for the window but I do remember a ‘do not enter’ sign I made for the door. It was only ever a hobby but the skills were later useful for a week spent with the local paper and the one and only photographer they had at the time. He was a great guy to shadow for the week but what it really taught me is that you need an outgoing, bolshy and confident personality to get the photo’s you need for press photography; the polar opposite to what I was comfortable with. Now that E has long since finished her A Level in Photography I’ve dug out her proper cameras and I’ve been trying to familiarise myself with the DSLR format. I don’t want to get into anything too seriously but I like the idea of taking slightly better quality images than my phone is capable of.

Today I seem to have a rare day off from loading the dogs into the boot of my car, driving a few miles down single track lanes, negotiating tractors, agricultural lorries and groups of Lycra clad bottoms on bikes. Not to mention shouting at Riley every time he drops his shoulder into a fresh fox poo for a good old roll around. Shouting makes no difference whatsoever. Then traipsing round many fields never quite getting the amount of clothing right for the weather and having to put up with dodgy cartilage in my right knee. Loading the dogs back up into the boot where they growl under their breaths at each other, only on the way home, for some strange reason. Shower with Riley. Clean up the flooded bathroom (unavoidable) and collapse with a hot coffee. Yep, I’m secretly glad they are both out of action today! Harvey’s long term muscle injury has good days and bad days. Riley developed a mysterious limp on the way back from the last walk, he’s been known to fake it when I pack a suitcase so we’re never sure. Meanwhile I walked six and a half miles round a large city with castle walls and riverside walk yesterday and my knee is suggesting that crochet would be quite satisfactory today. There’s the small matter of having to perform a housework miracle first. It’s always a bit worrying when a new ‘friend’ has been invited to dinner. I told J that I can’t do miracles and that we have two permanently muddy dogs so the kitchen floor is never going to sparkle! He seemed more concerned about M being home in time to cook his special chicken and pea risotto. Typical.

Coasters

I’ve had a request for the pattern for these simple coasters and whilst it’s easy for some to knock up a simple circle, it often saves time to follow a quick guide. As always with crochet there are some little things that help make a neater join or finish.

I have used a coarse unknown brand yarn thrifted years ago, it was quite tough to work with but ideal for coasters. Most yarns would work but it might be useful to experiment first if you’re making a set for someone.

The yarn I’ve used is roughly dk weight and I wanted a tight fabric so I’ve used a 4mm hook. 4.5mm might have been a tad easier on the hands.

U.K. terms

Start with a magic circle (picture 3) and chain 2 (does not count as a stitch).

Round 1. Into the circle make 12 htr’s and join with a slip stitch to the top of the first htr (not the chain 2).

Round 2. Ch2. 2htr in each stitch around, join as before.

[check your stitch count here, you should have 24 stitches. It’s important to ignore the ch2 at the start of every round and don’t count it as a stitch. With the joining slip stitch into the first htr it should push the ch2 slightly behind your work and therefore create a neat join.]

Round 3. Ch2. *2htr in next st, 1htr in next st* repeat from *to* around, slip stitch as before. (36sts)

Round 4. Ch2. *2htr in next st, 1htr in each of the next 2sts* repeat from *to* around, slip stitch as before.

Round 5. Ch2. *2htr in next st, 1htr in each of next 3sts* repeat from *to* around, slip stitch as before.

Round 6. Ch1. Crab stitch in dc around (picture 6) and slip stitch to join.

Weave in ends. If necessary, block or press with a cool iron.

(In rounds 3-5, you are simply increasing the number of single htr’s between 2htr in the same stitch, using this formula you can make a whole place mat too!)

Although not terribly exciting, this is the ultimate simple travel project. There’s nothing worse than a traffic jam and not having your crochet with you. One random ball of yarn and a spare 4mm hook has now been tucked into my glove compartment just in case!

Moving on

I’ve met some lovely people through blogging and Instagram. Some have become close friends. Good friends understand boundaries. If any of these friends wanted to share a burden I would most certainly be there for them. Hopefully life cruises along without too many burdens. Every now and then in life I come across someone who doesn’t understand boundaries and that has recently been the case. Someone who wanted more and more from us as a couple and when I politely said ‘too much’ that greed was fed through manipulative secretive measures. What can I say? Givers are sometimes that way so that they can take. Men are sometimes weak. Lessons have been learned all round. It’s OK to support someone professionally but when it becomes emotional and behind your back it’s inappropriate and extremely hurtful.

The cliche, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is most definitely true here. At least in some ways. We’ve had some long chats and reflected on everything. I think we are communicating better than ever and that’s often the key. M is typically a head in the sand person and I’d just rather discuss and solve. Ironically, having your head in the sand doesn’t mean you don’t speak much. Oh no, here it means you talk about everything at great length, in great detail, but you never talk about what really matters. So we’ve been working on that and it’s been great. In turn I’m trying to be generous with my listening.

We’ve been able to discuss some of the big decisions that we’ve been putting off for a while, mainly because there’s shouting every time they are mentioned. I’m not standing for any more shouting so I’ve plugged on and eventually we’ve come up with solutions to things that have been causing stress. One of which is the house I owned when we first met over twelve years ago. It’s been a huge burden, letting is an ongoing nightmare. I’m so relieved that we are finally selling it. Today we have someone starting the huge job of painting the entire house. M and I will be doing other kinds of repair work and cleaning. I can’t wait to see the back of it.

In the meantime at home, although I largely lost all interest in crochet (and life) whilst that crap was going on over Christmas I think I can feel a slight enthusiasm slowly returning. I finished a small blanket using the corner to corner method which is incredibly relaxing and easy going. I did rough lengths until it was a good proportion for a blanket and then straightened off the strips before joining with the final colour I’d held back for the job. All the yarn was part of a knitted blanket kit and whilst I would have loved the knitted version I really couldn’t have done that much knitting with my useless wrists. It’s lambswool and incredibly warm. It’s been used daily since thanks to the cold weather and our conservatory/living room which tends to be tricky to keep warm.

I treated myself to a new pair of boots just after Christmas having failed to find any in country stores or any other bricks and mortar shop for that matter. I risked ordering an Aigle pair on the basis that the kids had a whole succession of their classic navy and white wellies when they were small and they lasted well. I already have a navy pair myself but whilst they are fine for walking round the paths in the village (which I rarely do) they are hopeless for trekking around muddy fields (which I do every day). They were a tad on the pricey side but having had a pair of Hunters in my twenties which lasted a good twenty years I figured these might also be a good investment. I don’t buy very much these days but when I do, I’m very much like my Dad, I want to buy it to last. So far they’ve done miles and they’ve been comfortable, warm and waterproof. I’m extremely happy! There were a lot of years of suffering some old men’s walking shoes that leaked and had worn smooth soles.

In other news I was prompted to watch the Marie Kondo series on Netflix and was immediately hooked. I tried the folding method on M’s sock drawer and loved it so much I Kondo’d all our sock drawers! I asked the teen boy if he liked his new look sock drawer and he said, ‘very much’. I’ve yet to Kondo his entire wardrobe. Riley wasn’t that impressed when Kondo fever hit. He waited patiently most mornings while I chucked clothes on the bed in favour of an early walk. I don’t like routine so it sometimes pays not to get the dogs too used to a set time for walks. The look on their faces when you switch it up is pure guilt trip stuff.

I had a few hours in a city not too far from here last week. It should be a shopping treat but I tend to head for the charity shops, have a good coffee and then browse a book shop. That was pretty much my routine this time. I was happy enough to find a large bag of tapestry wool. I almost didn’t buy it but figured the low price was too good to pass up. Just a couple of pounds for eighty of them! I might make small crochet motifs with them and then join using a neutral from my supplies. I’m still pondering.

We’ve had some lovely cold and frosty days. I haven’t taken many photo’s, preferring instead to keep my hands firmly inside two layers of mittens! I did have one very pleasant day in the garden tidying up all the things that should have been tidied up before the onset of winter. It was surprising how much scrap or rotten wood was still lying around and although it was day time I risked lighting the incinerator to keep warm and get rid of the smaller stuff. The proper bonfire is about six feet tall and waiting for another dry day to be lit. I love a good outdoor fire. Harvey is so helpful when it comes to gathering firewood, he’s definitely the sort of dog you’d want if you had to survive in the wild!

It’s been so long since the last post I can’t remember what I’ve already written about, I apologise if I repeat myself. This year I am sticking to a using up policy. Yes I know I’ve just bought 80 tiny bundles of pure wool but at ten metres each and only costing a couple of quid I am not going to count them as new purchases. I’ve got various wips that need to be tackled, several kits that I’ve been saving for a rainy day and there is even a blanket that I would really like to finish off and start using. I don’t think this using up year is going to be much of a challenge to be honest. I haven’t Kondo’d my yarn stash yet but I really need to. I know there’s quite a bit more that I can donate.

The jar cupboard got the Kondo treatment a few weeks ago and it prompted M to bake. There may have been a hint in the shape of a book left open at the Victoria Sponge page. Let’s not mention the first one came out flat. I think I may have muddled the plain and self raising jars! The second one though, amazing! Yum.

So, we can all testify that the KonMari method is truly life changing. The surprising result, apart from chucking out loads of rubbish you didn’t know you had, was actually finding that you had more of most things you do want to keep. Mind blowing stuff.

I’ve written this post over a two week period, or rather, left it unfinished it and gone back to it. I’ve pondered about over sharing and come to the conclusion that if it helps process life then I’m going to go ahead. My Mum was a contributing author to a book about writing therapies and I do firmly believe that pen to paper does put things into perspective in a way that talking sometimes doesn’t. Occasionally an Instagram comment that suggests everything must be perfect in my world will concern me greatly because I know that there’s no such thing and I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to think life can be perfect. I’m not even striving for perfect. I’m aiming for content, a bit like one of my chilled out dogs lying beside my leg right now and dreaming of chasing rabbits.

We’ve recently had a few days in Oxford. I lived there for a while and it feels like going home. I didn’t take many photos but I’ll share those in my next post. I’ve also finally found my next project which will use my Donegal wool from Dublin. I’m swatching today so I’ll have some photos of those soon too. It’s gloriously sunny today and mild so I’m contemplating popping the dogs in the boot of a rather smart and very clean 4×4 that has been loaned to us while my front bumper is repaired. Never mind Bexhill where they park in shop windows from time to time, beware the older driver who reverses out of a car parking spot without looking at all. Crunch!