Friday, September 08, 2017


A bit of excitement in a quiet life this week.  As I mentioned in my last post, we are still looking for a couple of pieces of furniture to complete our new front room.  Checking out all the new and used furniture outlets in West Cumbria did not solve our problem, or at least not without spending over a thousand pounds, which is just not what we do.

A little research on-line suggested that the vintage furniture maker Ercol is having a spell in the sun again.  There is a style apparently, known as "mid-century," in which the shapes, colours and materials of the late fifties and sixties are once more in vogue.  Soon, I dare say, brown and orange will be making a comeback.  However, I find that I like the shapes of the wooden framed Ercol chairs, and the fact that they are small enough for the space we have.  This may be part of their general appeal.

So then I discovered an on-line site called The Saleroom.  This brings together hundreds of auctions, listing the lots on offer.  Browsing through it, I spot a pair of Ercol Windsor armchairs - and, what's more, the auction company is about fifteen miles from here, and the auction in two day's time.  I go to view the chairs, register as a buyer and place my bid with the company, because we are due to work a shift in the National Trust tearoom when the auction is happening.

On the morning of the actual auction, I discover something else: it is possible to follow the bidding for each lot on-line, and, after registering, to take part in the bidding remotely.  I suppose I must have known that this could be done from seeing some episodes of "Bargain Hunt", but I had no idea of how it was done until now.

We have a tablet device and a cunning little gizmo known as a mifi.  I set this up in the kitchen while I stood at the counter whacking out the pots of tea for two. The tension mounted.  Our lot numbers were 676 and 677.  It took an age for the auctioneer to work through all those other lots, although each one was over in seconds.

Just as our lots came up, there was a sudden demand at the counter, so we missed seeing our first lot go through.  We were there when the hammer went down on our second lot though - and we had secured it, at twenty pounds less than my maximum bid.  Would I have been able to restrain myself if the bidding had gone on up from there?

Later, we were able to check: both lots were ours. So all we needed to do was drive over there, pay for them and load them into the backs of our cars.  Next problem: how to transport them to their new home in Cumbria.

Sunday, August 27, 2017


To Cumbria, for ten day's walking, dodging the heavy showers which persisted throughout.

We took my husband's latest production with us in pieces and he assembled it in our improved front room.  This project is taking a while as it is 300 miles away from our home.

Notice the inset pieces of Honister slate, chosen from their scrap pile on an earlier visit.  The mantelshelf uses up the second half of an oak plank which was bought for the fireplace in our other room, so that was lucky.  We just need a little more furniture for the room and it will be complete.

Now, these are the two front pieces for a waistcoat, stacking up nicely.  This time I am going for the full challenge - a different pattern in every one of the lozenges.  I showed this to friends over lunch yesterday and realised that no one was able to see that they were different until I pointed it out.  It must be something to do with the way the grid remains the same, and the colours are kept consistent, so the eye is not looking for difference, but for repetition.

While in Cumbria, my husband put forward a new walk, up on the Solway Marshes.  This is very near the start of the Hadrian's Wall path and runs out across farmland and boardwalks.

  We saw very large numbers of these lizards sunning themselves on the path, but very few birds until we came to this pond where a huge flock of lapwings were busy.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Rat catcher

This week I had a chance meeting with a rat catcher - not that he was called that, of course.  There I was, serving teas in the coffee shop of the National Trust property where I volunteer when a workman came in.  I offered him a cup of tea.  He was wearing a shirt with the Rentokil name on the pocket.

First he said he had not come for tea, but to check on the mouse traps.  Then he told me that I had taught him English at secondary school.

This is something that used to happen regularly.  I would be window-shopping in a local town and some hulking six-footer with a beard would accost me: "You taught me in Year 8," he would say accusingly, as if wondering how I could have not recognised him.  But it has not happened for some time, and certainly not in our coffee-shop.

Now I used to enjoy inventing ideas for making writing interesting and real.  One of my better wheezes was to put the students into small groups to produce an inside page of the local paper, emphasising the fact that they had to select which of recent events to cover.  The events were the interesting bit.  I made up a list of stories in one-line summaries, using the names of the students in the class.  For example, Local mum, Sharon Smith, gives birth to triplets assisted by midwife, Clare Jones. Or, Wayne Robinson has opened his fifth hairdressing salon in Braintree.

As the years went on I reused the list many times, substituting names from the current class each time.  It was fun to see other English teachers use the same material, and the same list of stories with their classes.

But here's the thing: It never occurred to me to include the profession of pest control in my list - and I imagine it would never have occurred to my former student as a possible career option - until it did.

He seemed remarkably content checking the mousetraps, and was able to give me some quite technical information about dealing with an infestation of bees in a loftspace, so it is obviously an interesting job.  Anyone for rat-catching, I wonder?

Tuesday, August 08, 2017


Some twenty-five years ago, it must have been, I bought this little chair in  sorry state.  More recently my husband took it apart to replace one of the stretchers, and even more recently put it back together and stretched webbing across the frame for the seat.

So, at last I have upholstered the seat, using Liberty's Ianthe, one of our favourites.  From the old sewing box came a length of braid in exactly the right colour for the trim.  My husband's late mother would be pleased that this is being made use of at last.

I'm still pondering my next knitting project.  I have some pale grey yarn in stock and a selection of J&S in various turquoises.  I'm thinking I might simply reprise the Museum waistcoat in the quite different colourway.  After all, I have the charts to hand.

I've mentioned the arboretum just north of here before.  This month they are hosting a really spectacular display of sculpture, around three hundred separate items.

Some are even floating in the ornamental lakes.

You would need a serious set of grounds to house some of these yourself.

We enjoyed seeing how they had been set out in the woodlands and walled garden.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Prinknash and Cirencester

On a dampish day, we set off for Prinknash Abbey.  One of the downsides to making use of guide book from our shelf, publication date 1986, is that a very flourishing pottery run by the monks has been closed for the last thirteen years and the whole community has shrunk to just a small group of brothers.  We walked up to the abbey building and visited the chapel where a few invisible monks could be heard at prayer.  Then we had lunch in the surviving coffee shop which is clearly still a place of pilgrimage for some.

On the same site, we found a bird reserve, which we enjoyed very much.  Rare to be this close to so many species.

With the weather closing down we decided to drive to Cirencester, an ancient foundation worthy of more detailed exploration.  We had time to visit the huge central parish church, and the museum, where immediately these wonderful mosaics caught our eye.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


We drove to Painswick, a real Cotswold centre, but with a terrible traffic problem.  In the churchyard, an award-winning conversion of an industrial building: the former grave-digger's hut has been transformed into a tourist information centre.  Later, we saw an even more imaginative repurposing: a Gents' toilet converted into a tiny art gallery called "The Loovre".  It still has the word "Men" above the door.

We walked out of Painswick and up to an ancient hill fort.  Of course if you have defensive earthworks you might as well make use of them - in this case, as a golf-course.

  From the top, in one direction, you could see down to the Severn Estuary.  The "Coloured counties" were all laid out before us.

A quarry, with massive blocks of Cotswold stone ready for processing.

Back across fields and woods to Painswick where we saw these Victorian stocks ready for use by the churchyard.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Cotswolds

A few days exploring deeper into the Cotswolds than we normally manage while duty visiting...  First, Stanton and Stanway, classic Cotswold villages of honey coloured stone, full of really quite substantial houses, interesting churches and old manor houses.

Here, a rood screen commemorating the loss of a younger son in the First World War.  George on one side and the Dragon on the other.

Then, wonderful carving on the manor-house gate - note the rabbits grazing. (click the picture to enlarge)

Next day, to Gloucester where the cathedral close is in the midst of a makeover.

Incomparable cloisters, with fan-vaulting.

A massive cope chest, allowing vestments to be stored without folding.

And some ancient graffiti.

In the town, this unusual set of figures above a jewellers.

Everywhere, signs of the many centuries of occupation from the time when it was a centre for retired legionaries.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Museum Waistcoat

It's taken a while, but I finally have a finished waistcoat.  Now I just need to wait for the autumn leaves to provide a suitable matching backdrop.  It will need something very plain under it.

You may remember that the basic concept here is drawn from a sweater in the museum in Lerwick which has different patterns for each lozenge in a horizontal row.  There the peerie bands were just about the only thing that provided a bit of continuity. I chose to use a range of peerie patterns as well.

Early on I decided to use a rich golden brown as the back and bands.  This is something Sacha Kagan used to do with her waistcoats and I feel it tones them down a bit.

I always feel that in Fair Isle the eye seeks out rhythm and repetition, either in repeated shapes or in bands of colour.  Fair Isle patterns are symmetrical and often very simple in their geometry.  I decided to use only two lozenge patterns in each horizontal band, but this still added up to a lot of variety.  I used the same colours throughout to provide some continuity.

I was aiming at the same sort of rich nut-brown palette as in the long-line pullover designed by  Lesley Stanfield  in  "Traditional Knitting from the Scottish and Irish Isles".    Mine does not quite achieve this.  In fact, the fawn background colour seems to read as a) vintage and b) masculine.  It is the sort of waistcoat one of the men in "The Imitation Game" might have worn.

As an exercise in sampling different designs it worked very well.  Some of the lozenges work much better than others, and could be used for a whole jumper by themselves.  This is particularly so when the colour changes coincide with the pattern elements.

It was certainly interesting to chart out the designs row by row and then to see them knitted up.  The finished item has that timeless quality which was apparent even as I was knitting it.  I hope that it will be enjoyable to wear.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


Talking textiles with a friend recently, I was reminded of this little bag which has been in my collection for many years.  My friend is interested in historic embroidery and had attended a course where they had examined an antique sweet bag.  This was the essential item for the fashionable young woman in Elizabethan England.  

My bag is made up of smaller pieces stitched on to a lining of quite open weave linen.  The main design is almost certainly meant to represent strawberries. Where there are grey patches, that is in fact metallic threads.  The base fabric is yellowed with age - but could it be as old as it looks?

This has been an unusual year for us in terms of weather.  In a normal year we would be able to eat supper out on our patio only a few times through the whole summer. The rarity made it a great treat. This year we have eaten out there almost constantly for several months, leaving our table and chairs in position ready for use.  Enjoy it now, as it will never happen again, we feel.

Many years ago - it must be at least ten, or possibly fifteen - we bought a clematis from the village market and planted it to grow up through our pear tree.  It was called Madame Grange, a lovely deep maroon.  It flowered for a couple of years before failing to appear. For several years now,
shoots have grown at the base of the pear, but have always come to nothing, certainly not flowers.
This year, I noticed a spray of buds.  And now these flowers are opening, a wonderful, almost luminous maroon.  Could it be the hot, dry conditions?

Friday, July 07, 2017

Easedale Tarn

The good weather continuing, we looked for a less strenuous walk than the Crinkles.  Parking in Grasmere, we began the walk to Easedale Tarn.

Rhododendrons, often in quite lurid colours, are a feature of Lakeland gardens.

The path leads out across fields leading on the right to Helm Crag, the famous Lion and the lamb profile above Grasmere.

Soon the path began to climb, revealing this waterfall.

Eventually we reached the tarn itself, a wonderful sight on a very hot day.

We sat down to eat our sandwiches and were soon attended by these two gulls, very polite in their behaviour.  The black-headed gull came in close to beg and retrieve crusts, while the herring gull kept his distance but was assertive in claiming fragments thrown out to him.

On the way down, we noticed this evidence of recent severe weather scarring the hillside.

We passed this curious barn, note the date over the door.  So what might solar panels be doing on an agricultural building like this?

  We crossed paths with three intrepid ladies from the States who were on the Coast to Coast and determined not to miss their way.  Down the valley we heard them asking everyone they met for reassurance that they were headed for Grasmere.  We wondered how they got on over the Pennines.

It was very enjoyable to have a decent teashop to hand at the end of our walk.