excuses, excuses…

orangesI had planned to return to blogging on New Year’s day: not a New Year’s resolution exactly, but a goal of sorts. New Year’s day! What was I thinking?

And then, when that date flew past, I thought I’d aim for the first day of the new school term. Nothing like a once bustling house suddenly still and quiet to concentrate the mind. But no, the house was a wreck, as it always is at the end of every school holiday. Now I am by no means a neat-freak, but I do find it impossible to focus when I am surrounded by dirty laundry and I keep tripping over the recycling. So week one was lost to life admin and domestic drudge.

Trawling through my photographs, I can see that the last four months have been incredibly busy. And looking at the long list of draft posts there was a lot to blog about (sour dough, knitting, bulbs, weird and wonderful Bristol stuff, the joy of soup and so on), but the posts were never completed. The simple fact is, there hasn’t been time to write anything coherent enough to share.

The end of last term was dominated by Matilda’s exams — some quite serious, others just mocks — but god, the STRESS! And all I had to do was steer her to bed before midnight and talk her down from the occasional panic attack. Matilda bounced back the moment the term was over, but I feel that I’m only just coming up for air.

But this morning, a sweet comment from Loisaida Nest on my Instagram account in response to my photograph of a big box of Seville oranges (bagged for a bargain at the fruit and veg market and to be shared with my mother-in-law, Sue), prompted me to get back my blog. If all goes well a marmalade post will appear soon.  

But for now, I’ll sign off with some photographs taken in a temporary forest created from old Christmas trees.

P1270170Ours is in there somewhere…

P1270162We were sure we’d recognise it…

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But it was hopeless. Details here for anyone who wants to visit.

making do

P1210274This time last year the first of my tulips were in flower, and the house was filled with vases of homegrown narcissus, hellebores and hyacinths. This year is rather different.

P1210275I’m making do with tulips from the supermarket and local florist whilst keeping anxious watch over flower beds and pots. I am beginning to wonder whether those back-breaking bulb planting sessions last autumn were nothing but a bad dream.

P1210309I could probably bore for England about the weather (so cold, so grey; so fed up with wearing scarves and fingerless gloves indoors), but compared to people on Arran, I have no real cause for complaint: my heating works and I can get out and about to indulge myself with fresh flowers whilst picking up the everyday essentials we take for granted.

P1210312Mind you, having just written that, I have noticed that it’s started to snow..

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comfort knitting

P1200988The relentless cold has driven me back to my needles. I think I’ve had a scarf of some description wrapped around my neck since the middle of October. I’m a bit sick of it now; fed up with both the cold and my scarves. Time for something new: a cowl, in the same yarn I used for this, and which I think will go with almost everything I own.

I found the pattern at Loisaida Nest, and I followed it with one slight modification: I cast on an 82 stitches rather than 72 and then, once I’d finished the first ball of yarn, I decreased by ten stitches, knitting two together at random within the second round of the new ball of wool. Oh, and I used 6mm needles as I couldn’t find my 5.5mm.

NB I really enjoy Ileana’s blog, Loisaida Nest, for many reasons, but particularly for her photos, such as these which were taken at her local open air pool last summer.

this is for matilda*

quilt topAmazing what can be achieved in a little bit of unscheduled free time.

I’ve been trying to get started on another quilt for over a year now, ever since I finished this one for Bea. After a year of thinking about it, but never quite engaging with it, the heavy snow last weekend provided the perfect opportunity to get going on quilt number two. It still needs a back and a border, not to mention something to sandwich in the middle, but it’s on its way, and this one’s for Matilda. I’ve told her not to hold her breath though …

* typing that put me in mind of the Alt-J track Matilda though the line is “this is from Matilda”. It’s lovely but I find the video a little creepy – all those morphing faces.

knitting and nanowrimo

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So, Nanowrimo is over. And, sad to say, I not only failed to make the official finishing line, but I also collapsed long before I reached my own finishing line (25,000 words).

I was on track for a full eight days during which I managed to hammer out 12,000 words. But then my mini-Nano was derailed by a deadline which was suddenly brought forward from January to November. Work, of the paid variety, always has to come first. And fortunately it was a nice feature to write – it’s about two very interesting people and it will be accompanied by some lovely photographs taken by my friend James.

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Although the writing didn’t go entirely to plan I did get a lot of knitting done. I find that simple knitting – of the hats, fingerless mittens and socks variety – is very conducive to the sort of free-form thinking that creative writing requires. Round and round I knit, and round and round my thoughts go. I always have a notebook to hand and ideas pop into my mind effortlessly; so different from the paralysis I experience when staring at a blank screen.

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It works with articles too. There is always a point when whatever I am writing about becomes far more complicated than it needs to be. A cup of coffee and a bit of knitting, and the tangle I am in with my writing has miraculously unravelled.

The hats, from top to bottom are Snawheid by Kate Davies (pom pom yet to be attached), Julia’s Cabled Headband by Paulina Chin and finally my first, and not entirely successful, attempt at making a hat without a pattern. I also managed to make several pairs of fingerless mittens using this excellent pattern by Leslie Friend, though I am now keen to have a go at two other fingerless, wrist-warmery, stash-busting patterns, both of which I’ve had sitting on my desk for months now: Susie’s Reading Mitts by Susie Rogers and Runrig Muffatees by Annie Cholewa, aka Knitsofacto, who is currently running a very lovely knitting-related giveaway.

only in bristol…

P1190130Since moving to Bristol six years ago, barely a week has gone by in which I haven’t thought “only in Bristol…” at some point; usually in a good way, though sometimes (whilst waiting for the unbelievably s l o w arrival of a cup of coffee), in a bad way.

Today’s “only in Bristol” moment was 100 per cent good …

P1190137P1190136P1190146… several hundred Father Christmases (and one Kermit the frog!) rumbling and roaring down Park Street on their motorbikes. At one point it looked as though a very noisy red carpet had been rolled down the hill – if you squint at the rather bad photo below you’ll get some sense of what I mean (oh, for a telephoto lens!).

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The event, Santa’s on a Bike, takes place each year apparently, though this is the first time I’ve been lucky enough to witness it. Bikers gather all over the South West before converging on Bristol and heading to The Children’s Hospice South West laden with gifts.

impatient

I can never resist the allure of the supermarket tulip. It seems that although the house is filled with the scent and colour of hyacinth and narcissus, it’s just not enough. I still need my tulip fix. Of course the garden is filled with them, but the thought of waiting patiently through the next two months before they come up and I can have tulips in the house is just too depressing. I am, and always will be, an impatient gardener. Greedy too.

Last week it was Joe’s birthday and we had some friends over for the evening – the perfect excuse to indulge myself. The tulips are now a week old, but still going strong.

I’ve changed the water and cut the stems several times, which seems to have kept them looking good. I imagine that the final, flamboyant collapse, which I love as much as the initial opening of the flowers, will occur some time next week. Not bad at £2 a bunch.

Although I’ve managed to extract a little bit of homegrown something from the garden  throughout the last couple of months, the pleasure of lone blooms, artfully arranged twigs and bunches of ivy snaffled from various derelict plots in the neighbourhood is wearing thin. This need for a colour-fix and some substantial cut stems is proof to me, if it were needed, that our garden is sorely lacking at this time of year. Naomi’s excellent post relating to scent as well as colour in the garden throughout the year has got me thinking about how I might rectify the situation for next year. Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’is on my list – my sister has it in her garden, and she and I cut some branches back in January which not only looked wonderful but filled her house with delicious perfume.

In the meantime, I’m grateful for the supermarket and street market bunches.

snow

So, Matilda got her wish.

In a perfect world I think we could all have done with a slightly heavier snow fall.

But it seems that even a thin blanket of the white stuff exerts a certain magic: all three girls were out of bed and ready for breakfast by 7am. Unheard of on a school day.

And like the rest of the family, Sybil loves it too. Shame it’s all gone.

gardening in january part I

I always find it hard to connect with the garden at this time of year. Exciting catalogues keep plopping onto the doormat, but it’s difficult to remember how the garden looked at the height of summer. The sight of the bare earth, the hideous temporary fix for the path, and the hazel tree that still, to my mind, needs to go, convinces me that it’s a hopeless case. I’m easily persuaded that there’s no point investing more money in what is obviously a lost cause. Autumn’s hangers on, whose presence I valued in late November and December, are now looking increasingly scraggly and give the garden an abandoned air. All in all it’s not very enticing.

But there are signs of life here and there: new shoots pushing valiantly through the mud, fresh buds on the shrubs and the early flowering clematis, so I am forcing myself to draw up plans and make lists. And trawling through the photographs I took last year shows me that even if my plans are pretty minimal, the garden will do what all gardens do, even half abandoned ones: it will grow, bulk up, fill out, knit together and at times look very lovely indeed. At least that’s what it did last year, as you’ll see from the photographs below, the first of which was taken at the end of April, and the last in mid-September.

I think it’s vital to keep a photographic record of a garden’s progress. If nothing else, the  photographs will give you the impetus to get out in the worst weather to tackle boring jobs such as cutting back the Buddleja, or securing dangling vine wires, before it’s too late. It is also satisfying to see how far you’ve come and how much the garden has changed. And, possibly more important than all of that, photographs serve as a valuable reminder that gardens are in a constant state of flux – they change with the seasons, appearing fresh and newly minted one day, jungly and abundant the next, and then suddenly, or so it can seem, it’s all gone to seed and the show is over for another year.

I can’t quite bring myself to post the photograph of the garden as it is today – too grim. But I will, when I write part II of this post – some time next week, I hope. For now I am going back to my catalogues and my rather long wanted list.