Sunday, April 30, 2006

Happy New Year!

Today we celebrated the festival of the Buddha's birth, and therefore the start of the new year, at Throssel Hole Abbey.
In this picture of the altar are offerings of cakes iced in brown and blue - probably the results of one of the children's activities, as the weekend was a family retreat. The mass of flowers at the bottom right of the picture is the roof over the small statue of the baby Buddha.

This shows the ceremony hall after the ceremony and the Dharma talk - a couple of people were still in the side chapels behind the main altar.

As usual, we had an excellent lunch, and it was just about warm enough to eat outside, though cloudy and dull.

Saturday, April 29, 2006


At 2.10 p.m. this afternoon, we heard the cuckoo, loud and clear, in Weardale near Stanhope. Spring is definitely here!

There were masses of primroses in the woodland, and a few violets on the banks.

Our path took us up by Stanhope Beck, up onto the moorland, past the seat placed in memory of W.O. Colin Wall, R.M.P., killed in Basra in 2003, and down the Crawleyside incline. There were grouse and lapwings, skylarks, and plenty of those SBBs.
We had our picnic above the valley, looking down over Stanhope, with the sculpted shapes of the old quarries just below us. (Dear readers, you shall be spared the sight of our little group having a nice lie-down after lunch!)

Further along, we followed Shittlehope Burn, where the banks were covered in wild garlic - just smell it!

Returning to the road, we took in an extra loop on part of the Weardale Way, which passes through an extremely tidy and well-manicured caravan park. In 1984, Hell was full of rats - in mine, it could well be full of caravan parks like this.

Again, dear readers, you shall be spared the sight of middle-aged backsides lined up putting their rucksacks back into the car, preparatory to repairing to the tea-shop.

This walk was a repeat of one we did in the winter of 2003, when it was my birthday walk. This time, a belated Happy Birthday to Peanut Yorkie, who will have his own version of the event.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

And the message is...

This posting is a useful way to sit by the window and watch out for the repair man. I daren't go out into the back garden and continue yesterday's thrilling task of re-pointing the paving, in case I miss the man from Grittish Bass.

Funny how advertisements enter the mind in ways probably never thought of by those who dream them up.

There's the company who sponsor CSI for instance - the message received is "phones for the incredibly thick". And there was a car "they don't want you to buy" - we didn't.

The cleaning products with the ludicrous 'dirt' scenarios and intensely irritating presenters/salespeople; OK, they may clean up fresh dust and lightly coloured water, but how do they do with the catsick on the carpet that you don't find till hours later?

There's soap labelled "non-comedogenic" - well, soap NEVER makes me laugh!

Recently I found myself singing a song I must have picked up from a couple of TV ads, a bank that has hi-jacked a Glen Campbell oldie, and another cleaning product - yep, Like a Limescale Cowboy.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Out and about

The flower beds in Jubilee Park were looking colourful yesterday as DH and I walked back from the shops. Along the railway line path the willows and cherries are flowering. As we came past the farm, three house martins were swooping round - the first of the summer.

Today we had a walk in Hamsterley Forest. The mountain bikers were still assembling in the nearly empty car park when we set out. We didn't meet many people in the forest, though by the time we returned the car park was heaving. The usual rule applies - 200 yards from the car park and you're away from the madding crowd. Saw a couple of people jogging - hmmm...

Even the moorland looked attractive in the sunshine. And the tracks were quite dry. Large areas have been felled, and in places logs are piled up beside the tracks. The log piles smelled wonderful. Among the wildlife we saw were two peacock butterflies, a pair of jays, and a few lapwings.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Rowers and Flowers

There were quite a lot of students rowing on the River Wear today in Durham, just under Kingsgate Bridge. Some building work on the riverside too. It was overcast and rather chilly, not inviting weather for messing about on the river.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch.... this flower looks like a primrose, but has several flower heads on one stem, like a cowslip. There are both primroses and cowslips in the borders, and a variety of others from the primula family - it was intended that they should hybridise.

And this is the first forget-me-not to have buds on - it's only a couple of inches high, but is still capable of seeding all over the place! One of our most successful plants.

It will be easily grasped from these 3 photos why I take so many pictures of flowers - the camera and I do them rather better than landscapes.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Mostly wool

All morning working fingers to the bone over the microwave, dyeing lots of skeins of handspun - Shetland and Wensleydale wool. Here they all are drying on a clothes horse in the conservatory, with Jazz supervising. Interesting to see how the different wools take the dye differently.

The Knitting Curmudgeon has a competition running for a "Fib" - a sort of haiku, only with syllables in a Fibonnacci series. Here's one:
Colours bright,
Dyeing wool today -
I can't wait to start to knit it.

This is the new current knitting project - a side to side cardigan in stripes of neutrals and orangey tones; provisional cast on at centre back and worked to centre front, then again from centre back to the other centre front. If there's enough wool, it might have sleeves.

And this is a lichen-covered telegraph pole spotted on a walk today. Amazing colour!

The ice cream van has been busy this week - a few days ago it was playing the Teddy Bears' Picnic, and today the theme from Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Ta Da!

The black jumper, front view and back view (the colour strip goes across the back neck) - it's Shetland with colour detail in Blue-faced Leicester, hand dyed. It's all hand spun and hand knitted, and I'm especially pleased with it as it's the first jumper I've done in this particular way.

The "recipe" comes from 'Knitting in the old way' by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts and Deborah Robson, using their guidelines for a jumper knitted in the round, with sleeves picked up and knitted down from the shoulders, also in the round. So when it's done, there are no seams to sew up!

The Shetland wool is much softer handspun than millspun, and Blue-faced Leicester is wonderfully soft anyway, so it's lovely and soft and warm.

Now, what shall I make next?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Plant Life

The houseleeks are now transferred to 2 smart new pots (from Mr. Tesco) - one each side of the pergola.

In spite of the cold, some of the wild plants (you could call them weeds) in the garden are flowering. This is heartsease, which is far too pretty to pull up and has very variable coloured flowers. This plant is only about an inch and a half tall.

The plants out of a Marks and Spencer basket of mixed indoor plants were separated and potted up individually a year or two ago, so the label was lost and their varieties are now unknown. This palm-like plant has produced a sort of flower, or perhaps fruiting body, in amongst the general tangle of leaves.

And two of the cactuses in the conservatory (kept at 10 degrees C.) are now in flower.

There have been very few birds about recently - presumably the bitterly cold weather has prevented insects from emerging, and so there is little food for them. The only visiting birds spotted this week have been a song thrush (quite unusual) and a pair of fat pigeons.

The black jumper is being blocked, and will be ready to photograph in a few days. Oh, the suspense!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

From the frozen North

The ice formation in the bird bath remains a mystery; perhaps it fell from an aircraft, or the police helicopter that prowls about (or does it in fact belong to some more sinister organisation??).

DH has been laid low with a nasty cold, involving lots of coughing at night; he seems a bit improved today but still feeling alternately hot and chilly. I'm surprised that I haven't caught it (yet), or indeed the one that a colleague was determined to share with everyone over lunch, coughing and spluttering in all directions.

This week the blackthorn has blossomed - otherwise totally unremarkable hedgerow trees and bushes suddenly step forward from the background with their delicate mist of white flowers.

It would be so good to get out into the garden and give the emerging plants a good feed. A couple of clay pots have shattered with the cold and the plants in them need re-potting, but as the snow is currently falling thick and fast in huge blobs, and the wind is still coming from the North pole, that will have to wait. The weather has been really strange - or is it just that all the seasons have slipped back a couple of months?

There should have been a photo of the completed black jumper this weekend, only when it was all done I decided that the neckline was wrong, and have decided to alter it. I know the suspense is almost too much, but there it is!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Sheep - and ice

These Jacob sheep live at the Botanic Garden in Durham. The light yesterday evening was not good, but if you look carefully, you can see a small black lamb lying down to the left of the centre tree. (No, it is NOT a furry lizard.)


And a little something for our overseas readers, who may be in hotter climes - even tropical:
This morning there was a strange ice formation on the bird bath, so I photographed it before it melted, from the side, from above, and as close up as possible. There was some melt water in the triangular cup shape of the top.

Has anyone any ideas how this odd shape might have been formed? (Other than aliens, of course.)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Party politics

It was reported on the news this morning that Tony Blair and David Cameron were going to have a discussion about how political parties will be funded in the future.

Pardon me? Shouldn't that be the voters deciding how political parties should be funded?

Imagine the opportunity for election costs to spiral upwards at several times the rate of inflation (or at least several dozen times the rate of increase in civil service pay, or pensions), the army of paid party officials they will "need" to administer the money, and the possibilities for funds to "go missing".

As long as political parties are funded by their own supporters, they still have a reason to work at attracting support. And why shouldn't people be able to CHOOSE who they support?

Perhaps you wouldn't mind paying the wages of the party machines of the Tory, Labour and LibDem parties; but how about Sinn Fein, Respect, UKIP, the British National Party?

The electorate need to be consulted. If ever there was an issue to put to a referendum, this is it.

This government is really getting up my nose.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

April showers

When it stopped raining, there were some plants in the garden just crying out for their new growth to be noticed. Among them were this allium (above) and an aquilegia (below).

And yesterday when we went out for a walk, more new faces were putting in an appearance. Coltsfoot flowers shoot up before the new leaves come up, and are one of the earliest to be seen by the wayside.

Today we celebrated the Festival of Great Master Keizan, who devised many of the ceremonies still used in Soto Zen.
Our journey to the Abbey was along roads with plenty of big puddles, past fields of floods and churned mud. It rained all day.
When we got home, the ice cream van was playing 'Raindrops keep falling on my head'.