Wednesday, May 31, 2006

May 31: Fame at last!

The String Bag has been listed on diamond geezer's blog today as one of MANY that link to his blog.

About time the links list was updated with some of the other regular reads. Here goes with hours of harmless fun grappling with the technical bits. Don't hold your breath - it could take some time.

Later: That seems to be OK. You'll tell me if it isn't, won't you?

Monday, May 29, 2006

May 29: Spring Bank Holiday

Proper Bank Holiday weather - chilly with intermittent sharp showers of rain. Yesterday was sunny, if a bit breezy, so DH and I went for a walk.

We parked near Beamish Museum and set off through the delightfully named Hell Hole Wood.

Continuing on through woods and across fields, crossing a lane and a road, we reached Causey Gill, and paused to take a picture of Causey Arch, built in 1727, the oldest railway bridge in the world. The rails carried horse-drawn wagons until the invention of the steam locomotive.

Our return route passed Beamish golf course, and the Museum's Home Farm, where we were amused by the road sign saying "Beware of visitors". Carefully dodging the wild visitors, we gained the safety of Hell Hole Wood again, and back to the car. We ambitiously thought we'd be home for lunch, but the six miles took us longer than we'd anticipated (all those stops to take photos), so we were starving by the time we got back home.

Today we are avoiding the Bank Holiday crowds by staying at home - the estate is always quiet on Bank Holidays. DH cleaned out the interior of his car, before the accumulated dirt and muck could form sedimentary rock.

I have dyed some wool, in an attempt to match what is running out before the sleeves of the cardigan are done. Don't knitting patterns always say "make sure all the wool is from the same dye lot"? Well, there's no pattern, as it's being made up as I go along. Even using the same recipe and amounts, it's come out rather different - but perhaps not different enough to stop me using it.

And just for a bit of added colour, here's a picture of a comfrey flower from a local wayside clump.

Saturday, May 27, 2006


The low boredom threshold was crossed this week. So steps had to be taken to liven things up a bit.

Tried some mealtime variety - the mixed saute vegetables were very good, as was the home-grown rhubarb, but the dhal and veggie hot dogs with lettuce was a digestive disaster. Any food tends to produce wind these days, but this particular combination was dynamite. Let's move on....

And, BTW, have you noticed how this is the phrase of the moment? After some nasty incident like murder, they all used to have to "come to terms with it", but now they "move on".

With retirement coming up over the horizon (well, at the end of the year), there's the prospect of all that lovely time to get on with lots of projects. The family history might get converted into a book properly, and there'll be plenty of time for spinning and knitting. As an extension to this, there is now a new toy crammed into my small workroom (what an estate agent might call a child's bedroom).

It's a Spriggs Patented Tri Loom, made to order in Columbia, Missouri. Essentially three large pieces of wood and a box of nails, for making triangular pieces of weaving in various sizes up to 7 feet along the diagonal. A preliminary attempt has worked very well, and it looks like it'll be a great toy.

Its journey here could be followed on the UPS website by entering its tracking number - it was checked in to Columbia, Missouri at 7.25 p.m. USA Eastern Time on 24th May (they are 5 hours behind us, so that would be 12.25 a.m. on 25th May our time), went to St. Louis, Missouri that evening with adverse weather conditions causing a delay; adverse weather affected its onward journey to Louisville, Kentucky; it left Louisville at 6.49 a.m. on 25th May, travelling to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, leaving there at 9.56 a.m. for Cologne, Germany; by 2.11 a.m. (local time) on 26th May it was leaving Cologne bound for the East Midlands Airport in England; by 3.09 a.m. (again our local time) it was setting out from the East Midlands to the local County Durham depot, and it was delivered here before lunch on the 26th May. Under 36 hours for the whole distance, including delays. Perhaps UPS could advise the Royal Mail?


Although it was such a bad spring for our garden birds, we have a family of 3 fledged sparrowlings accompanying their parents to our bird feeders, and the house martins in their nest above the bathroom window make their foreign burbling noises in the early mornings; they have either eggs or chicks in there.

The jogging has been shelved for the time being (lovely mixed metaphor there) for the sake of my poorly knee. I'll have to find another way of combatting the middle-age spread. Actually, going to Tesco's is quite good - compared with all the tubs of lard pushing trolleys full of pies, lager and crisps, I feel positively svelte. And when I think about it, I'm only 2 sizes bigger than I was when I was 16.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

21 May: more of the same

The stitchwort is still flowering, though the dandelions are past their best, and the vetch is beginning to appear. This week has been quite wet here, and there has been a strong breeze - this beech tree's new leaves were actually rippling in the wind:

Back home in the garden, the acers have opened new leaves. This is a potted acer griseum - wonderful colour and the still crumpled new growth is quite furry.

The knitting has progressed, with the weather being more suitd to the indoor pursuit. The body of the striped item is finished, and there is about half a pound of mixed colours left; I am unsure if this is enough to mix with the basic colours to make 2 sleeves, but I've cast one on, and hope to make both sleeves in random stripes the same as the completed body.


In a completely different vein, an overheard on a bus the other day (students probably) - "so did Jesus actually have any of Mary's DNA then?"

Views in the comments box, please.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Not the normal routine

This week has seen a couple of events that were different from the usual pattern of life here.
The first was an Open day at the exhibition of the local Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers. Guild members brought spinning and weaving equipment to the exhibition venue, and demonstrated the various activities to visitors. This was totally new for me; I have never actually spun in company before, let alone in public, so I was rather more than a trifle nervous about it. But it was OK - I managed to pretend I was an expert, and none of the visitors knew the difference.

It turned out to be quite fun - one of the spinners went out to get a sandwich, and bumped into a coach-load of tourists coming out of the Bishop's palace, and told them they really shouldn't miss this wonderful and exciting exhibition. They all crowded in, providing the busiest twenty minutes of the day. Some spinners from Yorkshire called in, on a visit to a local friend, and lots of people who came into the library saw what was going on, and dropped in to have a look.

While there, I noticed a poster advertising a gig by Vin Garbutt the following night, so DH and I went along to hear him. The last time I heard him sing live was probably about 1980, so it was really good to hear him again - especially in the light of his health problems of last year. Mind you, his heart operation and subsequent complications gave him a wonderful amount of material for his patter between songs - particularly good were the bits about his conversations with the doctors.

Vin isn't a singer who gets airplay on the BBC - he says it's because his songs are too long, but it just might be that anyone from further South than Doncaster probably wouldn't be able to understand his Teesside accent. Excellent songs, though, and a really entertaining performance.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

14 May: "Hello trees"

Some more pictures from the garden this past week. Lots of cowslips, all self-sown, around the base of the rowan. This rowan was self-sown in our previous garden, and lived in a pot for several years before being released into the wild in our present garden. It's now about 10 feet tall. A similarly pot-grown seedling birch has grown to about 15 feet since being released 4 years ago.

The other pictures are all of trees still in pots - above is carpinus laxiflora - that's what's on the label, even though the endings don't agree in proper Latin. Below is gingko biloba.

And this one is (another non-agreeing) pinus parviflora. I'm not sure if these shoots are leaves/needles or flowers, but all will be revealed in a few days.

Fotherington-Thomas of course is a weedy wet (except when he plays tennis, when he am a tiger) for saying "Hello trees, hello sky", but it's OK for a girly.
(Guffaws of laughter from the family).


The jogging has been impossible this week (poor swollen knee), but we have managed a couple of good walks. It's so good to be able to eat and then go out for a walk instead of slumping in front of the TV.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

13 May: Home, sweet home.

Ah the joys of living on a modern housing estate!

In the winter we have the run-off from washing the cars frozen across the road, creating a hazard for those of us who can't skate, ski, rollerblade, skateboard or otherwise stand up on something that moves suddenly. And don't forget the fireworks - not only on 5 November, but at any time the master of the house comes home from the pub slightly merry and in the mood for fun. Christmas time brings out the competitive spirit in some residents, who attempt to plaster their houses with more twinkling fairy lights, flashing reindeer, and inflatable Santas than the neighbours.

In the summer it's barbecues on the decking, with the floodlights and the patio heater going full blast; lots of cans and bottles, fun and lots of laughs. Or sitting in the garden with the cricket/football/golf/Formula 1 on the telly indoors, but turned well up so it can be heard in the garden.
At holiday time, the burglar alarms have to be set, so that they can go off intermittently for the fortnight that the family's away. That's as well as the hyper-sensitive car alarm on the car that's left at home while they go to the Metrocentre in the 4x4.

An avalanche of charity collecting bags - there have been up to 4 in a week sometimes. The amount of large plastic bags that come through the door in a year is probably enough to create a temporary camp for refugees from flood/earthquake/war.

And all the time people banging on the door, suggesting a change of gas and electricity supplier, doing a "quick survey" which turns out to be 25 minutes of inane questions about TV adverts, or seeking to interest the home-owner in some sort of improvement to the house. How do they know when you've just started to knead bread or rub in pastry?

As the last houses to be built here were occupied under 4 years ago, it might seem that they would not need a lot doing to them (apart from the plumbing, which seems to have been hastily assembled in the dark by dyspraxic runaways from a home for the bewildered, using random parts from various countries with incompatible measurement systems, without the benefit of any instructions, whether translated from the Japanese into Croatian and thence into English or not).

Nevertheless, perfectly good tarmac drives have been ripped up and replaced with those little brick-like slabs that sink where the car wheels stand, and grow lovely grass in between; dozens of conservatories and "garden rooms" have been crammed into the already small back gardens; bathrooms and kitchens have been re-fitted, floors have been re-laid, gardens landscaped, and probably all the houses except ours totally redecorated.

Perhaps it's time to think of moving.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

11 May: The bluebell wood

Blaid's wood in Durham city is carpeted with bluebells. Other flowers are out, too, like this wild garlic -

But bluebells everywhere, here with stitchwort:

There were celandines, dandelions, a bit of early cow parsley, garlic mustard, wood anemones, violets, and red campion, too. Small birds twittered and sang, a wood pigeon cooed, a crow was imitating a Dalek, and there was a distant whirr of the mower at the crematorium.

Several people were walking in the wood - one had a stout and wheezy old labrador dog, but the others were just enjoying the bluebells. I could have stayed there all day, but I had to visit Mr Tesco.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

10 May: in the garden

This was one of the house martins reconstructing a nest at the front of our house last night. Last year's nest fell down during the winter. At one time there were two birds building, and a third trying to get in on the act. And all twittering like mad. It's not a very sharp photo, as it's my little 4 megapixel digital camera on maximum zoom, the sun was going down, and necessarily the nest is in shadow.

Elsewhere in the garden this primula/polyanthus looks cool with a background of euonymus. There are lots of different primulas in this border, and perhaps some of the seedlings coming up will be interesting hybrids.

What was originally one small plant of this spotted violet has begun to spread as well.

And this started out as just a couple of auricula plants brought from the previous garden. They are taking over another section of the border.


Inside the house, the striped knitting is progressing slowly (not spending so much time watching TV); the small cloth dolls have come to a halt while the next steps are worked out - there was a frustrating evening looking for a bag of sequins which had got misplaced in the last reorganisation of the tiny workroom, then when they were found, they didn't seem appropriate. And the jogging has continued for a whole week - 3 outings, one of them with DH, resulting in slightly creaky knees.

Friday, May 05, 2006


The stitchwort is flowering. Locally here it is along the hedges and path sides, in the same sort of places as bluebells. One of my favourite floral displays is bluebells, stitchwort, and red campion all out together in the woods.

There are still some flowers on the willow - this bee was feeding happily on what's left. There was a red-tailed bumble bee about, which just would not stay still long enough to be photographed.

This is not a good photograph from the point of view of composing the shot, attention to background and so on, but I was trying to get a record of the plant, which I couldn't readily identify. There was a very large patch of it by the roadside. Study of my battered copy of Fitter and Blamey ("The wild flowers of Britain and Northern Europe" by Richard and Alistair Fitter and Marjorie Blamey ) reveals that it's probably yellow archangel - a rather upmarket name for something that looks remarkably like a nettle. The only difference is that the plant in the picture has variegated leaves, which is not mentioned in the book. If this is wrong, please identify it correctly for me.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Botanic Gardens

After shopping for shoes and failing to find any that both appealled and fitted, a boost was required. So off to the Botanic gardens, where not only the gardens but also the coffee shop are most attractive. Once the body was fortified with coffee and the obligatory bun, the plants called. Above is the view from one of the gazebos - the early daffodils are over, but there are still plenty in bloom, partnering the plum blossom beautifully.

In one of the hothouses are several sorts of butterfly, as well as a pool full of goldfish. In tanks are spiders, insects and small amphibians. The cockroaches were wonderfully marked, but almost indistinguishable from the bark litter in their tank, so not very photogenic!

New growth is appearing all around - these leaves were particularly fresh and "just out of the wrapper".

There are a few sculptures in the gardens, including this heron in the pool near the hothouses. In the background is one of a circle of sculptures depicting North East historical worthies.

In the Himalayan Dell is this row of birches, looking spectacular today in the sunshine and before their leaves open. From this angle the building site (a new college) can't be seen.

But these tulips make my favourite picture of the day - a real blast of colour!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Things we used to do

OK folks, you can relax - this is a religion-free posting.

Today there's been a couple of activities that haven't been done for a while - cloth doll making and jogging.

Breakfast browsing/reading today was "Making creative cloth dolls" by Marthe le Van, and that triggered off a couple of ideas. I haven't done any sewing for ages, and it seemed like a good thing to try on a free day off work. Two freehand patterns were drawn on sheets of A4 paper, and two small dolls have been cut out, one is sewn together and stuffed, and the second is partly sewn together. Once assembled, they will have faces, hair and belly buttons added, and any other ornamentation, embellishment, or clothing that seems appropriate.

Jogging - 20 years ago it was fairly easy to run a half marathon, so why is it now so hard to jog not quite 3 miles? I could almost have walked it in the time it took. Probably something to do with sitting and knitting all winter, plus the left-over effect of the broken knee 2 years ago, and having that wired up for 10 months. The inactivity plus the eating equals the difficulty in finding running kit big enough. These hip bones used to stick out - now it's the avoirdupois that sticks out.

Progress reports on both activities in due course.