South

It’s that age old thing, needing a holiday to get over a holiday! M and I have just been away for four days. It was all a bit last minute as usual and not really a holiday at all for M. We kicked off by leaving in the small hours for London. I was praying for a cancellation or a booking cock up because Balham didn’t seem the likeliest place to kill five hours comfortably. As it turns out there is quite a sewing industry there and apart from gazing in to old fashioned steam pressing workshops I also managed to kill some time in a large haberdashery type of shop. It wasn’t the most well kept emporium but it was a trove of interesting supplies nonetheless. I managed to find some vintage crochet patterns in a sale folder which I’ll add to my box file in the hope one day I’ll get round to using them as design inspiration.

Coffee and air conditioning was my salvation for the rest of the time. I bought a Virago classic from a charity shop and devoured it in almost one sitting. I really only read these days when I forget to take my crochet. The crochet was safely tucked up in my suitcase in the back of the car outside the local court house but even if I had it with me I’m not always keen to whip it out in a cafe. Typically there was a knitter there who looked very confused with her knitting in the round project after just two rows. It was only stocking stitch so I’m guessing she was fairly new to it. Had it been crochet of course I’d have definitely volunteered some help!

From London we travelled down to Canterbury and I was persuaded to try a Japanese restaurant for the first time. I’m always up for new things and it turns out I did actually recognise a few things on the menu anyway. Sadly my sitting cross legged on wooden floor days are over but if it wasn’t for my dodgy knee and M’s dodgy hip we absolutely would have loved that. We stayed in a hotel right next to the cathedral and even with a huge sash window open and large chrome fan it was ridiculously hot all night. I ended up getting up several times in the small hours just to optimise the position of the fan.

I had a bit longer than expected in Canterbury the next day. After a quick browse through the town I bought some fresh cherries, stocked up with plenty of water and headed for a sign I’d spotted for a riverside walk. I found a shady spot under a tree and did some crochet and a bit of reading. I’d have happily fallen asleep like one of the women across the way but I’d never feel safe doing that in public. When I close my eyes I effectively close all sound off too. Small rowing boat tours went by and even some punts. It all felt rather civilised and a little Victorian, well apart from my lack of ladylike ways with a pound of cherries on my lap, that were very soon in my tummy.

M was very hot, tired and hungry when it was finally time to leave Canterbury. Later analysis of his boring monologues every time this happens only revealed that he believes it is part and parcel of being a wife, that it’s my duty to listen to this tosh and deliver sympathy! I quietly but firmly informed him that I did not agree with that at all and that I’d be more sympathetic if he didn’t go on and on. That there is indeed another way and that is to stoically cope in silence and make arrangements to seek food and drink to revive himself. I hold onto the advice that I can’t change this about him even if I do offer alternative ways but I can change the way I react, so I’m probably just working my way through various options. Silence is always a good one.

I’m sure some would rather have accommodation booked in advance and know exactly where they are going and when. We have a more casual approach and ironically this never actually causes any tension or stress. On arrival in my neck of the woods we found the hotel I thought would have vacancies did not. We pulled up in a lay-by and both googled for alternatives and found a reasonable option in nearby Battle. The room was perfectly ok but the bathroom had seen better days. I was secretly glad that our best option for a meal was Italian and it was superb despite the fact it was so quiet on a weekday in the middle of what should have been peak tourist trade. Another hot night meant little sleep for either of us which didn’t help matters the following morning when M needed to catch up on laptop work while I was keen to get going to see my Grandfather. We had a lovely pub lunch with Grandad away from the touristy spots by the sea and went back to his place for a cup of tea and more chat. It was a flying visit but always so good to see him for real rather than via FaceTime. He loved his crochet medal birthday card I made him for his birthday by the way.

The work schedule meant we had to dash over to Brighton next. M had secretly booked this next hotel and I’m pretty sure it was his way of admitting that maybe he’d been a bit of a twit since Canterbury. For the same as our usual budget he’d managed to get a huge room with a triple aspect sea facing window and a large corner whirlpool jacuzzi bath. The fact that we were too tired to move was beside the point. After some more work stuff we were free to stroll along the seafront, eat and take in the many walks of life this place was buzzing with. It was slightly surreal sipping cold cans of coke on the seafront at midnight (and still in the high twenties) watching a floodlit basketball game, something you wouldn’t expect in Old Blighty.

Brighton is pretty cool if you know where to go. With just a short time left I was able to show M a few of my favourite streets that are often mistaken for the Lanes but are in my humble opinion, much more interesting. I mean where else can you see a shop just for Vegetarian shoes, alongside one just for belly button piercings, a window full of the brightest leather brogues just for men, Moroccan leather goods, the most fantastic plant shop (I could have spent a while there)… it’s full of whacky graffiti and huge 3D shop signs mounted on the walls too. So much to take in. M loved it.

We paid a little visit to Yak and treated E to some yarn and a suitable pattern. I may have lined up my next project with yarn and a pattern booklet too! M was chatty and patient despite the heat. He will confidently walk into any yarn store and ask for the man table. Occasionally I run ideas by him, he’s surprisingly helpful and gets more knowledgeable by the day. I could put a hank of something special in front of him and ask him if he liked the colours and he’ll look at the label and say, mmh, 210 yards, what could you make with that, a hat maybe? I know, it’s uncanny, it’s partly bluff and partly stuff he’s picked up and remembered.

J is always tricky to treat to little things when I’ve bought something for E. This time though it was easy. So many people in Brighton had stainless steel water flasks with most cafes supplying iced water to help yourself to. We found a great midnight blue one for J and driving home wish we had bought two more. Our bottled water was warm in no time despite the air conditioning in the car.

The journey home took considerably longer than it should have due to the volume of traffic on the roads and a torrential downpour through Cambridgeshire slowed things up a bit too. I don’t mind admitting I gulped a few times when we were saying goodbye to Sussex, ok sobbed actually but I blame hormones, it just felt so easy to go back to everything I knew and loved and so bloody hard to come back here every time to this flat and uninspiring county. I focussed hard on all the positive things here but I never quite get that, phew, so glad to be home feeling that I think you’re supposed to feel when you’ve been away for a little while. I think that’s why I throw myself into cleaning and laundry and random jobs when I get home and it stays that way for a good few days, then I distract myself some more and eventually that sinking feeling gets overtaken by daily life.

So currently I am partially blocking my skimming stones shawl on the kitchen worktop while I sew in the last few ends (it’s taking a while). Alongside that I’ve pinned the crochet edging that will soon be attached to my black linen dress. I’m trying not to think about my lack of sewing skills but surely even I can tack an edging along a hem? It’s rather annoying that the kids just want to use the worktop for food prep, I mean honestly, can’t they just take a day off?

We’ve had dramatic weather here the evening with large hail stones dropping amongst torrential rain. They were the size of marbles and cold as ice cubes from the freezer, so surreal when it was still thirty degrees. J and I wrestled with the shed roof cover but we well and truly lost the battle and we will now just have to hope for more heatwave weather to dry it it again. The thunder and lighting has been terrifying for Riley. He wouldn’t budge from my lap for a good long time. He’s glued to my side right now and only settled down when I employed my usual trick of playing loud music to drown it all out.

More housework is on the cards for tomorrow especially if the rain has finally cooled things down a little. I have so many crochet projects on my to do list but I need to tick off the two kitchen worktop projects first before a food or drink accident happens.

[the photos from top to bottom are… the M11, Canterbury, fresh Kent cherries, Canterbury with outside pub seating (where I may have had a drink or two and announced that I could see a Flink Pamingo!) frogging crochet edging due to excessively hot weather impeding concentration, Battle Abbey in golden evening sun, crochet WWII medal, crochet edging project, hotel room overlooking Brighton seafront, finishing the skimming stones shawl with a sea view, kitchen worktop blocking station, stocks which were well and truly dead but not ditched (not on teenage radar) when we got home.]

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Summer

What an excellent summer so far! It rained so much last year we hardly got any garden jobs done at all and the workshop roof deteriorated badly despite covering it with a patchwork of tarpaulins. With weeks of dry weather it was finally a safe bet that we’d get this job done and dusted.

We have spent three whole days on it so far just ripping out rotten timber, piling it high to burn and filling my car boot with rubbish for the tip. Some of it water damaged goods but mostly just junk M had accumulated over a long period of time. There’s a substantial amount of work to do yet but he’s looking forward to getting it all ship shape and having a workspace again. He enjoys woodwork and we always manage to find things for him to make. E has dropped hints for a stepladder plant stand type thing. I could do with another wooden tool trug (after giving my last one away). I’ve always had a set of tools, a hammer, pliers, the basic stuff and having my own tool box means I never have to go searching amongst tonnes of other tools.

It’s back breaking work hauling wood and furniture and scrap metal and all sorts but the bonus will be that I can reclaim my own workshop which currently houses all the equipment we salvaged when daylight first started appearing in M’s workshop roof (and precisely when he should have got up there with a few rolls of felt). My workshop has had several reincarnations in the last twelve years. At first I hoped it would be a pottery studio and it still does have my potter’s wheel in it. I may have to consider parting with that because I can’t really imagine ever finding the time to devote to a second hobby. Now that I’m pretty sure yarn is my thing it makes sense to use the space for natural dyeing, or at least mainly storing all the equipment for it.

We aren’t precious about gardening at all, although we have done quite well with pots and tubs and a few new plants this year. It looks like we’ve finally got something to ‘take’ to the conditions at the front of the house by way of a climber. I think it might have helped that Mum chose and planted it. We had three previous attempts that all died so you can imagine how I’ve been tending this new wisteria, willing it to live! In the back garden however, the lawn will never be lush with so much tree cover so I’m thinking of creating a raised bed using railway sleepers we already have and growing something useful for dyeing. Woad comes to mind, but I’m sure there are others. These are plans that may have to wait until next year.

Before the big workshop renovation started we did a big makeover in E’s room. It was long overdue like all DIY around here! It was a team effort, E and I emptied the room. I painted the two yellow walls, M painted the ceiling. Mum came for a whole day and wallpapered the white brick effect wall and finished the white wall painting. The magic took place when we started moving the furniture around and playing with the layout. It seemed daft to have nice wallpaper and then cover it up with two large bookcases so Mum came up with the idea of having them back to back as a room divider. It really worked and created a lovely private end to the room where she can relax and read. Today M has put up white floating shelves and cube shelves too.

My gooseberry bush has produced a bumper crop this year. This week they passed the taste test and we decided to pick them and turn them into jam. M likes to do all the kitchen stuff round here so I duly let him loose on my precious crop and told him to be careful, not to burn them. I sometimes wonder if I stopped speaking altogether and only communicated in sign language whether information would actually be conveyed make reliably. I did offer to stand and stir but I was shooed away. The jam is edible but not that lovely green colour I was expecting.

Well I fell a little behind finishing this post, time seems to be moving very fast these last few weeks. It’s chaotic but I can live with that. I fully subscribe to the view that everything will get done eventually. Ironically I think M has taught me that. He has no inkling that slow living is actually a thing, he’s been that way for years. I come from a family that get things done and fast, work hard, play hard. I’m learning to slow down. I don’t look too far ahead but I am definitely shelving anything that I think might be best undertaken in the winter months. Now is the time to soak up all the sun, or perhaps just stay in the shade and relax!

Nature

We are in the middle of a mini heatwave here in the U.K. Despite our bedroom blackout blinds the small chinks of sunlight that peep round the sides are bright enough to wake me up far too early most mornings. I’ve never been an early riser but there’s something nice about staggering into the kitchen in the early hours and making a lazy coffee machine coffee and seeing if there’s anyone out and about walking dogs round the village or cycling to work.

Our stream has run dry and I know this must have an impact on our duck population. There are numerous duck families all over the village but because I tend not to walk H and R on leads locally I don’t know where they’ve relocated to or found less dried out parts.

The weather has been absolutely perfect for dog walking. We’ve been to our usual places and we’ve been back to our favourite lake. I made occasional visits and kept finding that it was too thick with weeds for the dogs to swim safely but at the moment the edges are clearer. Luckily they both know what, ‘this way’ means so when they head towards the weedy parts I just tell them, this way, and they come back towards me. I know how Riley’s mind works though and he’s determined to swim to the island and check out the nesting birds. He’s just curious but not to worry, I won’t be letting him anywhere near them.

A few days ago Harvey completely overdid things by scrambling down steep banks and hurling himself into the river. There are a few video clips of him doing this on Instagram in the smaller rivers. The day after he was a sorry sight and hobbled about all day, still getting excited at the prospect of another walk despite being barely able to move about. I had to be cruel to be kind and snuck out with only Riley that afternoon. The day after his enforced rest he seemed so much better so it’s not clear what exactly is wrong except perhaps old age.

There are so many wild flowers out in bloom on our walks at the moment. I keep meaning to dig out one of my small guide books and take it with me. Strangely I haven’t seen the resident heron for quite a while and the usual birds of prey seem thin on the ground too. Each time I go I seem to spot yet more varieties of butterfly or damselfly. At our main swimming spot by a small concrete farm bridge there are hundreds of damselflies. I had to look them up and these particular ones are called Beautiful Demoiselles. When the dogs launch themselves into the water they all fly up from their resting places in the reeds which creates quite a sight but sadly doesn’t show up on my attempts to photograph them with just my phone.

I’ve got several crochet projects on the go at the moment but I’ve also managed to finish a few. The nice thing about Instagram now that I’ve found some nice crochet accounts to follow is that it is finally the place for ideas that I had imagined it would be when I started using it a year ago. The cotton hair bands were made from a free pattern I spotted one morning whilst having a quick browse. I made one for myself first using a denim effect yarn that was left over from making the catherine wheel stitch bag last year. It’s a generous dk and very soft with a fair amount of give. I’ve tried fixed bands before but they never seem to fit well and through use they stretch a bit more until they end up pretty useless. So this knotted version is a much better design (on the makeandocrew website). I can’t stand hair blowing in my face in the garden crocheting or on dog walks so mine has been in almost constant use since I made it.

I adjusted the stitch counts and length to make a smaller version for my niece who is three. I used a child head size chart as a rough guide. A day or two after I posted my brother messaged a photo and I was really chuffed that it fitted and looked lovely too. I remember my two were polar opposites with headwear. E refused to wear hats for years even in cold weather and she liked the idea of but in practice didn’t keep hair bands on for long either. J wouldn’t go anywhere without a fireman’s helmet for three whole years. He only stopped wearing it when his head grew too big for it.

I started making the Spun Gold Shawl by Kat Goldin when we arrived in Wales. I carefully packed half a dozen projects so that I’d be set for whatever I was in the mood for and ironically it was this caked ball of a random dye lot 4 ply purchased at the Leeds Wool Festival that I threw in at the last minute that ended up being the chosen one! M gets quite involved in crochet discussions mainly because I don’t have anyone else to talk to about such things, at least not in person. I wondered aloud what colour this yarn could be called if it wasn’t called ‘Sun of Jupiter’ and that started the great moss versus lichen debate. In the end I found an amazing photograph of lichen that matched the yarn almost perfectly. I probably could have found a moss one too but I always associate moss with a much darker green.

The yarn was really enjoyable to work with, I know it sounds completely bonkers but there’s something quite special about sitting in amongst fields of sheep, working with pure wool on your hook and marvelling at how amazing these creatures and their coats are. I wished I’d packed my sheep breed book because there were some strange looking sheep with short legs, a very short neck and quite a large head. I still haven’t found out what they might be.

I kept well out of the sun on the day I worked the final half of the spun gold shawl in the garden. I just had a feeling the dye, being natural, would fade easily. I pinned it out on my foam mats, sprayed it lightly with Febreze and left it overnight. The next morning when I unpinned it I could see straight away that the top was much lighter than it had been but the underside was the same. I can only assume it didn’t like Febreze or just moisture. I’m not too worried because I chose this particular yarn rather than a very bright sunny yellow that I had in 4 ply too because I like the faded rustic look. Obviously it has been folded carefully and packed away in a dark cotton bag until the weather turns cooler.