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Nose in a Book – Poldark

I am of an age where the current TV adaptation of Poldark is my second. I saw the first curled up on the scratchy old wing back green sofa next to my Mum, who was usually knitting something with squeaky acrylic ‘wool’, I can remember the click of the needles and the occasional bump of elbow as she turned the work.  I was probably a bit young to be watching of course, though my  interest was in the lovely frocks and coats rather  than the politics (sexual and otherwise) and mining economy of late 18th Century Cornwall.

My Mum was quite keen on Ross I’m sure, and  I loved Demelza (obviously). My Dad would occasionally peer around the edge of his book and sigh in a despairing manner, in much the same way husbands up and down the land are doing of a Sunday night all over again, I expect, as they look up from the Twitter feed on their iPads and mobile phones.

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Ross (Robin Ellis) and Demelza (Angharad Rees) in 1970s Poldark    (image: radiotimes.com)

I saw the 70s Poldarks all over again while on maternity leave, thanks to UK TV Yesterday or whatever it’s called, and only then noticed the stagey sets and occasionally fluffed line.  But, the frocks and coats were just as good – if a bit 1970s looking – and the story excellent, so when I heard about the new adaptation I thought, well, why don’t I read all the books? (my Mum is also a great reader, I remember her reading these,  we have more in common than I imagine).

Two Veritys (Norma Steader and Ruby Bentall)…
…and two Georges – nice bow there 1970s George – (Ralph Bates and Jack Farthing)

Winston Graham wrote twelve ‘Novels of Cornwall‘, as they are all subtitled, between 1945 and 2002. They follow the fortunes of the  Poldark (and Warleggan) families through the tumultuous times of  late 18th and early 19th Century in Cornwall and elsewhere, but mainly Cornwall.

The love story, rivalries and so on the characters live through are brilliantly written, I became as properly sucked in to their world as you should, when you’re reading. The ‘supporting cast’ are fleshed out a bit more in the books, because there are pages and pages to do so. The Paynters are properly hilarious, Aunt Agatha a really quite horrible old lady. We hear a lot more about the villagers and miners, and Ross’s unusually (for the time) equal relationships with them, as far as running the mine and looking out for them goes. However, I won’t say what happens as the current TV show is still on book 2/3 (you can spoiler yourself quite easily on your own, if you can view it as such with a story that’s been knocking about for 70 years!).

If you’re into the popular historical novel there’s a lot in them to entertain and inform;  Tin mining methods and economy, the industrial revolution (Trevithick makes an appearance), social history,  the dreadful position of women in this society (so many trapped in awful, awful marriages). Graham even takes us to France during the Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolution. He covered all this history via his characters, it never seems crowbarred in and there are no huge passages of historical background.  This I think is what makes the whole tale so compelling – some historical novels don’t carry this off at all (and I have just given up on one because of it) but the good ones, like these, do it brilliantly.

The novels are, of course, a different experience to watching the TV shows, though the adaptations are both very good. For one thing Demelza has dark hair (I know, it’s supposed to be red surely, what was he thinking!) and Elizabeth is blonde. Ross isn’t quite as nice a bloke as the one being played by Aiden Turner – there is a very troubling scene in Warleggan, for example, involving our hero. George, don’t worry,  is as dastardly as you’d expect, but even then you find yourself with some sympathy for him.

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Elizabeth (Heida Reed, not blonde), Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson, clearly a redhead). (image: bbc)

I loved these books more than I expected to – I read all twelve in a Poldark marathon, with nothing slipping in in-between. Full immersion, if you like. The earlier ones I feel are better than the later ones, but once I was going I didn’t stop. I even got the full nostalgia effect by reading some as tatty second (possibly fifth) hand Fontana paperbacks which had clearly spent some time in a barn – the pigeon feathers were a giveaway, thanks abebooks.co.uk!

Old Books (possibly in a barn, who knows)

You, however, can get them in sparkly new editions with the delightful faces of Aidan Turner et. al. on the front. Or on your Kindle or similar, as I did after the pigeon feather incident:

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New Books. On a beach. (image: panmacmillan.com)

I would thoroughly recommend reading these books if they are Your Kind of Thing. It’s up to you if you want to get ahead of the game TV show wise, I couldn’t stop once I’d started. Reading to the end hasn’t harmed my enjoyment of the TV series at all, but then I do naughtily enjoy being the annoying person on the sofa going “well THAT’S not how it happened in the novel…”

By the way, there’s a lovely 15 minutes available (at time of writing) on Radio 4Extra in which Winston Graham imagines meeting Demelza and having a little chat , which was written shortly before his death in 2003.

Also by the way,  part 2: I have just found out via IMDb that Stefan Gates, of Gastronaut and bug eating fame, played Geoffrey Charles Poldark (a small boy) in the first adaptation – isn’t the internet an amazing resource!].

 

 

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Haps Again – Montbretia Hap

I knitted Montbretia at top speed, so that’s why I am blogging about it about as slowly as I possibly can (any excuse). This was the first Hap I made from the Book of Haps. I was drawn to Montbretia mainly because of the unusual construction and shape; lots of short rows and bobbles, interchanging garter and stocking stitch, more than one colour – these are all things I like quite a lot. Also welts, an entirely new thing to me which I now want to incorporate into all the knitted things.  I realised I had stash yarn that would do the job perfectly for this – I love my stash, but it is there to be knit with, after all…so in I dived.

I came out with some white 4 ply, some MadeleineTosh Tosh Merino Light in Cousteau – a dark sea green, just beautiful, and two packs of mini skeins of Knitting Goddess sock yarn; one in oranges and one in dark green/blues (rather like the Tosh, a happy accident).

I cast on for a ‘Medium’ of this hap knowing my gauge was a little tighter than the pattern (I got 24st&36r/10cm) and I would get a slightly smaller hap because of this. It’s width is about 140 cm rather than 144. It sits nicely over the shoulders for when it’s just a bit chilly, or I can wrap it and knot loosely at the back of the neck if I’m cycling (because, by the time you’ve got to the top of Divinity Road in Oxford you don’t need a big scarf on, even in the depths of winter).

It began – appropriately – looking slightly foetal, and carried on like that for a while:

 

The first welt (in the picture above on the right) was a bit messy, I hadn’t knit it tight enough at all, but I managed to fix that with a bit of sewing in on the back when I finished, and blocking helped hugely.

The most fun part was the bobbles! I loved doing these, once I’d got the hang of them (it’s been at least 12 years since I did a bobble) they flew by:

It was finished in eleven days. Eleven! This is a record for me for a thing that’s not supposed to be tiny to start with. I got it on the bed for a good blocking:

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And think it’s splendid. I really do like this unusual shape. I’d like make a really huge one of these which I think would look brilliant draped longways along the back of a sofa. But for now, here I am wearing it in baking hot July:

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Haps Are Happening – Nut Hap

I like deadlines, not in the way Douglas Adams did, with the ‘whooshing sound they make as they fly by’ but because I really am so liable to go bimbling off on a tangent, doing something I shouldn’t really be doing,  that a deadline is a good point to concentrate on. I very rarely miss a deadline (I feel quite mortified if I do).

The deadline for the Haps Are Happening KAL – run by Jen Arnall-Culliford and ‘Veuve Tricot’  for the Kate Davies Book of Haps – was 8th August 2016. I looked at the timescale and thought that was a totally do-able schedule and,  to my surprise, I managed to produce not one but two haps during this KAL (though I did put aside all other knitting – poor old Stonehenge – what did I say about going off on a tangent…?).

I’m going to talk about my second Hap first – the Nut Hap;  a completely brilliant piece of knitting design and engineering by Jen, which includes really concentrate-y stuff; you need two super long needles, it has a tubular cast on! it has K1P1 rib with short rows, it has tucks, it has five colours, and you have to graft it at the end The challenging bits are interspersed with nice television friendly easy knitting (in this case the television was Being Human – the first two seasons are the best, IMO).  I like this kind of thing – you get to use your brain and then rest it for a bit.

So it went a bit like this (look! I have done you graph…). The bit where the stitches supposedly being HELD BY the back needle FELL OFF the back needle was my favourite part:

NutGraph

I posted a lot of pictures of my knee and my knitting on Ravelry and Instagram, which made a quite pleasing sequence.:

I finished with one day to spare – though I confess when the finished photos were taken this Nut Hap may have still been slightly damp. It’s also a rather warm accessory for an August modelling session.  I’m really looking forward to wearing it on a European or Canadian mountain in the winter and if I think about this enough maybe it’ll actually happen.

[ an aside – notice how the cat is barely able to feign interest in this Hap, when I hear of other people’s cats they seem much more interested in the knitting than Boris is].

An idea given to the Nut Hap knitters – the original pattern has its colours based on those of the nut hatch –  was to choose a different bird for inspiration . Just a couple of days before the KAL started I happened upon a news story about the Red Faced Liocichla. This bird was though to be locally extinct in Eastern Nepal (it hadn’t been seen for 178 years) but has recently been found alive and well, and apparently breeding – such lovely news when we’re losing so much every day. So I chose this bird for my colour inspiration:

These bright colours will be a boost in the winter, when this Hap will come into its own. I knitted it in Cascade 220 Sport Superwash, which is a light worsted 100% yarn; super warm and yet not super heavy, and comes in about a bazillion colours. I really love this yarn – I made a jumper for my husband with it last year – it washes brilliantly with hardly any colour bleed. Also it looks really good draped casually over my favourite turquoise garden chair:

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Next time (or next time but one, I haven’t decided yet) the marvellous Montbretia Hap!

 

Blue Dot Festival

I am not a scientist, I don’t have any academic scientific training beyond an O level in Chemistry and a couple of courses I took in archaeological science as part of my degree. I do have an enquiring mind though, and have ended up working in an environment where I need some understanding of cancer biology (lay person level) and to be able to keep up with the science while taking minutes. I also married an engineer and have an eight year old boy so obsessed with science I  feel I have to do the reading so I can join in conversations  (though I’m sure one day soon he’ll feel pity for his mother’s lack of understanding of quantum physics).

I like doing the reading, it’s always been a joy to learn new things. I love to listen to The Infinite Monkey Cage on Radio4; I like to watch Horizon – especially now it’s got past that ‘were all going to die in this [insert that week’s armageddon scenario]’ phase – and if I were stuck without reading matter on some long journey I’d probably buy a copy of New Scientist in WH Smith rather than Good Housekeeping. I really like the way science has recently become something which isn’t ‘other’ and beyond the understanding of us all, and that WOMAD has a Physics Tent (though we didn’t get organised enough to go to WOMAD as well, sadly).

We’re super-keen on music and on listening to it in fields so the eight year old can come with us, so, when we heard about the brand new Blue Dot Festival we bought tickets straight away – who could resist “an intergalactic festival of music, science, arts, culture and the exploration of space”. Blue Dot took place at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire, a place I’d failed to visit despite living in Manchester for 5 years, which is home to the famous Lovell radio telescope. Having a festival at an observatory seemed such a good idea we just had to go.

We saw some fabulous things that weekend, not least the Lovell telescope itself (which I knew so well from pictures) both with and without Brian Eno’s installation projected onto it:

Lovell Radio Telescope

We saw a hugely entertaining recording of the Infinite Monkey Cage, during which there was audience participation involving Brian Blessed impersonations, and Charlotte Church sang that D:Ream song.

Public Service Broadcasting, Underworld – “MUM! when are they going to do Born Slippy??”-  and Jean Michel Jarre were fantastic headliners (no photos of PSB, me and the boy were right at the front though!).

Infinite Monkey Cage; Underworld;  Jean Michel Jarre

We went to a talks, one about spacesuits – do you know about the huge part Playtex played in the development of the spacesuit? Fascinating stuff even when delivered to the background of a very loud main stage just opposite. We had a nice lie down during a Planetarium film about the telescope. The boy met loads of young scientists who were running the Science Fair bit of the festival, and I think he surprised an astrophysicist by knowing about the ‘potato radius’ ;  he danced with a robot and tried a VR headset, looked down a special telescope at the sun, exercised like an astronaut, operated LEGO ‘Mars rovers’ and was generally in his element. Oh, and the Clangers were there. You could go and knit a Clanger but I managed to stop myself, the appeal of sitting knitting a small pink alien for hours being lost on two thirds of my party (I’ll save it up for a winter project).

Spacesuit talk by Dallas Campbell; Sun telescope;  boy and telescope; VR; LEGO Rovers; Small Clanger

Another place the boy was in his element was the Luminarium KATENA. We all were. There was a massive queue for this, in which we got chatting to a family from Sussex and ate hot dogs. We all agreed this was an amazing event, our kids were having a great time and it felt really safe to let them wander off a bit. Eventually we got inside the gigantic balloon-like structure and the wait proved well worth it. I could have stayed in there for a few hours:

Luminaria KATENA

We only saw a fraction of what was on offer over the weekend. There was a big top near the main stage with music going on pretty much all the time (though this did bleed sound to the main stage which was a shame)  and two more tents with talks and music in the back of the arena.  The arboretum was home to a smaller stage for the more acoustic end of things, and what looked like a beautiful light show about the planets that we never managed to catch. However, we didn’t miss things because you just couldn’t get there, it was mainly due to enjoying sitting on a rug in the sun playing Dobble. We never felt that far away from anything, you could easily walk from one end of the festival to the other (even with a medium size child in tow) and there was lots of space – it only felt crowded on Saturday night, understandably, for Jean Michel Jarre.

As with all new festivals there are probably some things that could be moved around to deal with the some of the sound issues,  and some other teething problems. The food was great, there was a Real Ale Bar (at which there was much rejoicing for we really don’t like Heineken) and a Molecular Cocktail Bar which smelt amazing (saving that for next time). And the loos were fine.

We loved it and we’ll be going back next year. When are the tickets on sale?

Over the Sea…

I went to Skye a little more than a decade ago, it is an enchanting,  magical place (I think probably more magical than Tahiti, S.H.I.E.L.D. fans!).  It’s so magical in fact that one of my very best friends (the Quilter) and her family decided to up sticks and go and live there permanently. We said ‘Cheerio’ last week (‘cheerio’, as another friend noted, being so much less final than goodbye) and now they are there, posting envy making photographs on Facebook and settling in.

So much change all at once, what with the Current Situation (as I’ve started having to refer to all the post referendum events) it was an emotional parting. I will miss them very much, but – what with the magic,  and the cooked breakfasts we’ve been promised, and the Shilasdair shop – I expect we’ll be up for a visit soon.

What do you give a person who’s just bought a lovely B&B with a swimming pool and a bit of beach of its own on a beautiful island, as a going away present? Knitting of course.

It’s always a joy to give a handmade gift to another maker, they ‘get it’ (not that non makers don’t, though I’ve had a few frozen grin oh that’s nice moments in my knitting career). Since she’s gone to Scotland that knitting had to be in some way Scottish, so inevitably I cast on for a Hap. This was before The Book of Haps came out (more on that particular rabbit hole another day) so I  chose the Northmavine Hap from Colours of Shetland, but in colours of Skye.

This (below) is the Old Man of Storr, a particularly fine pinnacle of rock don’t you think? When I was on Skye in 2005 I went to an amazing installation by NVA, who create their own magic with light, and I have to say it cast a proper spell on me. But what I’m really interested in here is the grass. I remembered Skye as being really quite green, and I wanted to incorporate that feeling into the hap:

Old Man of Storr

Old Man Of Storr (image: kineticphotos.co.uk)

Also the beaches (and yes, more grass) of white sands strewn with seaweed at the tide line:

Claigan coral beach

image: theskyeguide.com

And for some reason pink and purple sprang into my head. I thought I must have been remembering heather, but perhaps I was actually remembering this little row of cottages:

skye houses

Image: seethehighlands.com

I had my colour scheme, and now I needed to choose the yarn. I settled on:

  • Jamieson and Smith Shetland jumper weight for the greens (since I haven’t been to the Shilasdair shop yet!) as it is Scottish.
  • Touch Possum Silk Merino which actually belongs to the recipient of this hap. It was brought from NZ by her sister-in-law a while back (I still have enough to knit another item). It’s really hairy and has really no stitch definition whatsoever which makes choosing patterns difficult, but I thought it would work in this as the tide line seaweed element.
  • Rowan Rowanspun 4 ply, as we’re both from Yorkshire, for the pink and purple
  • Some white BFL, handspun by me, for the white sand.

This is a lovely pattern with a great rhythm, it’s the second time I’ve made it and it just bowled along. As I hoped the hairy possum yarn worked really well when used in stripes:

Northmavine corner

I did all the repeats on this occasion (I missed the last repeat on my first one, as I wanted a smaller hap) so it can be wrapped round the body like a dancers wrap, in the traditional Hap manner:

Northmavineflat

Here’s the wingspan, on me in a garden in Oxfordshire:

Northmavinewings

I handed this gift over on the day after the EU Referendum (as mentioned above) when we were already feeling rather emotional and overwrought, and there may have been a small weep from both the giver and the recipient. I hope it warms her in the Scottish winter and reminds her of us, though I’m fairly sure I can easily fly to Inverness from quite nearby, and hire a car, and enjoy that cooked breakfast, to remind her myself…

A Walk in the Oxfordshire Woods

We’re lucky to have a garden which ends at the edge of a nature reserve, so our own trees merge in nicely with those in the reserve (and there are some giants, as we found out when one came down in the storm a couple of years ago). On a quiet morning, with your back to the houses,  you could be in the middle of nowhere. Before here I lived about as near as it’s possible to live in the woods while being simultaneously 2 miles from Aldermaston AWE and Reading town centre – down a short lane off the main road and in behind the trees,  home was in a little terrace of four old cottages. When a friend visited from London she was alarmed at the lack of streetlights (I had moved there from Hoxton, just as it became unbearably hip). How did we cope in amongst all these dark trees? she asked. Well, we carried torches, it’s simple really. You’d think she’d been dropped into the wildwood of the middle ages  she was so spooked. I loved it.

While my first choice for a walk would always be along a wind-blown cliff top, a woodland walk comes a very close second. So, this last but one day of half term, I decided to take the boy for a walk in the woods. The woods I chose this time (we’re not spoilt for choice round here, woodlands everywhere) were Shotover Country Park, to the east of Oxford. I’ve never been there even though I’ve lived here for ten years or so, so this was a litte adventure for both of us.

Shotover is an SSSI and is run by Oxford City Council for everyone to use. It includes heah, marsh and meadow as well as woodland. It was a Royal Forest until the Civil War, when it became grazed land. The London Road – where travellers were prey to Highwaymen – ran across Shotover Plain. arming ceased in the early 20th Century and the land returned to woodland. It came into the care of the City Council in 1930.

The drive up to the main car park is up a huge hill, on a single track road. It’s about 2 miles away from where I work in Headington, but you feel miles away from Oxford, There are a few properties on the hill, how amazing would it be to live up here!

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Oxford from Shotover Hill, from Recollection, 1791.   John Baptist Malchair (image ashmoleanprints.com) Highwayman days surely!

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Part of the current sign/map/leaflet rack, a lovely piece of graphic design

We only explored a very small part of  the Country Park – while I’m trying to get my child to apprecite the absolute joy of walking, he’s eight and would rather be making a LEGO Bionicle or fighting Endermen, though he is now very keen on climbing trees! (see below).

We chose the Red path ‘Sandpit Walk’ – which it’s suggested takes 30 minutes (I’m playing the long game here, too much too soon will put him off for life I fear).  I will go back and explore the other paths and ‘desire lines’ before long, hopefully with some company.

 

We took a few pictures.

We found a beautifully climb-able youngish oak tree in a clearing, where for a brief and tantalising moment the SUN came out (we’re having a very wet, cold and grey start to June this year).

Most of the blossom is gone now, but the bracken is unfurling – these are delightfully called Fiddleheads in North America and Canada and probably elsewhere, I’ve never heard it used over here though. There was starry moss underfoot – I ‘found’ a rabbit hole shortly after I found the moss and did a spectacular roll to avoid dropping my phone, much to the boy’s amusement. Be careful out there. We saw some lovely lichen too.

In a slightly  more wooded area we encountered yet another climb-able tree, which got its own back by encaging the boy as he tried to get out. You shouldn’t annoy the woodland spirits.

Those tantalising little desire paths lead off into the trees, and at one point we had a bit of blossom ‘snow’ along one of the wider paths. Of course no woodland would be complete without some really spooky trees…here’s my favourite, with it’s woody ‘hand’ reaching towards us…

Shotover is lovely, I really can’t beleive we’ve never visted before, we’ll definitely go back, I’d like to see it in the early morning and the evening, in the sun, the snow and most of all, in the autumn, when it must be amazing. So that’s an Octoer half term day out already pencilled in, I’ll make sure that boy gets the walking bug eventually.