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Full House/The Lamp post September 30, 2009

Posted by Fiona in Durham, Really good day.

So I’m here.  And so are other people.  And within a few hours there are books up on my shelves, The Great Wall Of Poetry Theatre And Misc has been reinstated on two sides of my wardrobe and the adjoining wall, there is washing up piled next to the sink and the sitting room is covered in cables and bags of two people’s knitting.  Finally, the place has some kind of atmosphere, some evidence of people.

On Monday, I went to Harrogate with my mum.  We wandered around the gardens and fabric shops and button shops and went to see the places that she’d grown up around.  The paddling pool and putting green she’d played on.  The churches she’d been scared of because her older brother had told her they had witches in them.  We drove around the streets where her family had lived, and the lamppost she had ridden her bike into (and still has the scar from).  We had coffee and macaroons in Betty’s, just so we could get a bit closer to completing the set.  And we ogled the front steps of the Majestic, where Agatha Christie was found when she ran away.

She told me about how, at the age of ten or so, she used to go with her cousins to watch the football of an afternoon (“I didn’t really understand the rules but it was a great afternoon out,”) or just disappeared into one of the parks for a day on her bike.  I’m a bit sad that, even ten years ago when I was that age, you couldn’t do that sort of thing, and now, when they’re doing things like this, what hope do children have?  What are they going to do?  What are we turning into?  That honestly scares me a bit, and it makes me very sad indeed.

It’s a beautiful city.  So is Durham, so is York.  But, like Durham will be in two years, it’s too full of memories for me to stay there long. They may be other people’s memories, but still, there’s too many of them.

I said I’d have a pair of socks to show you now – sorry.  I’ve finished the first one and I’m turning the heel on the second, so they’ll probably be finished tomorrow or the day after.  I’ll let you know.


Disappearing September 26, 2009

Posted by Fiona in Uncategorized.
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Well, the packing is so nearly complete I can almost smell it, and the pile of Stuff on the living room floor is quite enough for the time being.  So suffice it to say I’m going off the radar til probably Wednesday now, and that there will be so-yellow-as-to-be-almost-fluorescent sock and potentially brainscrewingly complicated shawl when I get back.

In the meantime, BBC News appears to have mistaken late September for the beginning of April, because surely this can’t be true?  I refuse to believe it.  It makes me a) very sad indeed and b) quite a lot more wary of guillotines.  And libraries.  And self-employed dressmakers.  Ooer.

When I have finished stabbing myself in the eye with this needle. September 25, 2009

Posted by Fiona in Bwargh, Sheer bloody-mindedness.


So I’m back off up to uni on Sunday.  Hurrah for small mercies.  At present, however, I am mainly sat in my room listening to the dulcet tones of Stephen Fry, eating too much chocolate and moving everything from one end of the room to another.

By which I mean I’m packing it.

By which I mean I’m sitting on my bed surrounded by bits of paper, knitting socks.

Or sitting with a sock in front of me, half-knitted, intending to do something about it.

I am not used to having nothing to do.  Humanity-defying boredom and I do not normally find ourselves in the same room.  Or not, at least, in the same room making eye-contact and sharing in-jokes.  But it’s not even funny any more.  I am clawing at the ceiling.  I’m rearranging my dressmaker pins by colour.  Over the last two days I have consumed my body weight in Toblerone and water biscuits and rediscovered my A-level Economics notes.  This should not be happening.

What makes it infinitely worse is that I’m bracing myself for going back to a colder place with a less comfy bed and about ten million times more stress.

On another note, yesterday I went to see all my Guides again.  It was excellent.  Human company!  We all made tutus and it was really exciting.  Who needs friends your own age when you can make elasticated skirts from strips of neon-coloured netting with thirteen-year-olds?

Give it four weeks and I’ll be joyfully reminiscing about the days when I didn’t have too much to do.  But in the mean time, it is slowly driving me to distraction.

The Most Complete List September 24, 2009

Posted by Fiona in Durham, Literature, University.

It’s that joyous time of year again – packing ahoy!  And here, because it’d be a shame to break with tradition, is the list of books I’m taking up to Durham.  It’s not as complete as last year, obviously: some law-related books and whatnot are up there already, and some have been borrowed by other people, but still, here it is anyway.  (In no particular order, and with occasional commentary because I have nothing better to do with my time.)

  • The Chambers Pocket Dictionary
  • The Good News Bible
  • Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
  • The Woman Who Walked Into Doors – Roddy Doyle
  • The Undercover Economist – Tim Harford (I hated Economics at A-level, but still, I can’t quite let it go…)
  • Smoke and Mirrors – Neil Gaiman (for when novels are just too damned long)
  • Public Law – Adam Tomkins
  • The Trial – Sadakat Kadri (it’s a history of the criminal trial over 4000 years and not in the least bit dry, therefore I can read it, enjoy it immensely, and pretend it’s work.)
  • Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman! – Richard P. Feynman (Everyone should read this.  Everyone.)
  • Tricks of the Mind – Derren Brown
  • How to Knit – Debbie Bliss (a really very good resource, with a small but exciting stitch dictionary.  These things are important to me.)
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J. K. Rowling (of course.  Not sure how I managed without this last year, except that I have it on audiobook as well.  So comforting; always reminds me of home.)
  • The Basic Eight – Daniel Handler
  • Every Boy’s Handbook (found in a jumble sale aged ten; it’s over thirty years out of date now but still a very good pub quiz resource)
  • How to be a Domestic Goddess – Nigella Lawson
  • Legal Skills – Emily Finch and Stefan Fafinski (I Hate This Book.  I’m only bringing it with me so I can give it away to my college kid.)
  • Oystercatchers – Susan Fletcher
  • Sock Innovation – Cookie A (another knitting book. Or: Garotting Yourself With A Cable Needle In Four Easy Steps)
  • How To Be Topp; Down With Skool!; Whizz for Atomms; Back to the Slaughterhouse – all by Ronald Searle and Geoffrey Willans (because Molesworth is a pholosophical genius.)
  • The Penelopiad – Margaret Atwood

I have yet to decide whether the River Cottage Family Cookbook would be overkill, even though it is my favourite recipe book in the history of ever.  Judgement as yet reserved.

Differences from last year that I’ve found, other than having left Shakespeare in Durham: less of an emphasis on what my books say about me (what on earth convinced me to bring A Memory of Solferino last year?!), less of an emphasis on bringing books that I’d actually like to read cover to cover, more of an emphasis on books I can use as resources.  Because I’m afraid I’ve got to face the fact that reading for pleasure does not actually exist when you’re doing a degree you want to do any work on.  Except for you literature students.  Part of me envies you just a little bit.

Sigh.  I think I need chocolate.

The FO Parade September 22, 2009

Posted by Fiona in Craftiness, Knitting.

(Another long, photo-filled one, I’m afraid.  Take your time.)

Some people are born to socialise.  Some people learn to write letters.  And some people have pen pals thrust upon them.  I am currently thinking of bashing my head against the nearest brick wall – I appear to have morphed into my local church’s link with anyone between the ages of eleven and twenty-five.  Does ‘being at university’ constitute having something in common with someone?  I shall probably be able to tell you soon.  (In case you couldn’t tell, I’m rolling my eyes right about now.  No.  I’m being unfair.  They’re only being a little bit pushy.)

On an entirely different note, following Lucy’s lovely things! (THINGS! stroke stroke) and having finally coaxed my sister into wielding a camera at about eight o’clock last night… here are some of the things I’ve been doing this summer.

The Heber Vale Ishbel (that I made in Somerset) got its own close up so you could see all the pretty colours but none of the mistakes (hurrah for cropping!):


Ishbel is an amazing pattern.  It’s very simple.  It’s triangular, and has a stocking stitch centre (top of picture), which makes it quick, and a gorgeous vine pattern that makes it interesting.  So you can finish it in a few days’ worth of not trying very hard, and it’ll show off pretty yarn beautifully.  It’s also very wearable!


I notice from perusal of Ravelry that an astonishing number of people make more than one Ishbel.  This is unusual – for me at least a pattern either takes long enough that you’re sick of it by the end, or it’s too simple.  This is neither.  So lots of people make two of them, or three, or four.  I may well be joining their ranks.  It strikes me that this is very good present material for the sort of person you wouldn’t mind spending eighteen hours on a present for.

Just before, and while, I was up in Durham, I was working on a shawl with a large garter stitch element that I kept summarily screwing up.  Well aha-ha-ha, for I have beaten it!


This is Damson, another pattern by Ysolda Teague (Ishbel was one of hers as well – as, coincidentally, is the hat, being so ravishingly modelled by my sister here, more on that story later).  This was an absolute pain.  I ended up having to rip it out and restart a good six times, and then check my stitch count every few rows.  Bleh.  That encapsulates why I love knitting, though – it’s all a matter of concentration.  Screwing up happens to the best of us.  And when you do screw up, almost without exception, if you have the patience you can just unravell it and go round again.  Anything you make can be absolutely perfect, if you take enough time over it.  Personally I think that’s a very good lesson, and it irritates me when people say, “Oh, I don’t have the patience for knitting,” because knitting is very good for impatient people: not only do you learn it as you go along, but if you concentrate and do it properly, you don’t actually need that much of it.  Anyway.  Damson took forever, and looks lovely.  Here’s another gratuitous picture of my sister wearing it.  Ooh, the gorgeous gorgeous drape of it.


On the way back from Durham if you’ll recall I started a blue shawl, which has now morphed into this:


It’s Spring Things by Susan Lawrence, and it has BEADS in it, even though you can’t see them from this distance.  They made me far too excited when I was knitting it, and they make me just as excited when I’m wearing it, as you can see from this outrageous attempt not to smile too widely (it’s the only photo in which I’m not grinning like a maniac, I kid you not, and therefore it looks like I’m about to internally combust.  If you didn’t see it before, you’ll see it now):


This might well be my favourite thing I’ve made ever; or it might only be my second favourite thing I’ve made this summer.  Either way it is lovely and soft and drapey and beady and BLUE, and I shall be wearing it a lot.  But if that’s only the second best thing I’ve made this summer, this is undoubtedly the best:


It’s that hat Midge was wearing.  And it is lovely.  Marcus got me the wool (good choice Marcus) and it’s another Ysolda Teague pattern called Snapdragon, and it’s all new and cosy.  And even though Midge looks fabulous in it…


…she’s not having it for it is MINE.  And no amount of sabotage will convince me otherwise.


Not only was this a quick knit, with lots of baubles and cabley bits and general excitement, not only was it knitted in really lovely thick gorgeous wool, but it was also finished on my new Addi lace needles.  Which are spectacular, and so much fun to knit with.  (Oh yes, people, there are differences between knitting needles of the same size.)  I may never go back.  Also, I will be making another Snapdragon, I am informed, because Midge wants one, and really, when it takes five days, is so interesting and on such lovely needles, and looks this fabulous, who am I to disagree?

Saccharine cheerfulness September 21, 2009

Posted by Fiona in Knitting, Lovely people, Sheer bloody-mindedness.
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Marcus left this morning.  I feel a little bit bleak.  I’m just waiting now.  It feels too early, to me, to be packing things away, because if I pack too early then I have to sit in a room with things packed up around me, and that would be unbearable.

As it is, I’m off a week yesterday; Mum and I are travelling most of the way up on Sunday, then spending Monday in the town where she grew up, probably looking at fabric shops and walking through gardens and eating cinnamon toast.  I love it when we take our time going up to Durham.  I love ‘us’ time with my mum.  I don’t get it so often these days, because she works so hard and so do I.  And then on Tuesday, we’ll actually make it as far as Durham, and do a bit of shopping, and wander round, and then she’ll go off home and, knowing me, I’ll shut myself in my room and not talk to anyone for a day and take all of my things out of suitcases and put them around the walls, and then just sit there for a bit because I won’t really know what to do next.

I don’t want to go back to feeling like I did last year. It wasn’t very nice at the time and I spent a long time shut away trying to deal with it, and a long time overworking myself to pretend that there was nothing to have to deal with.

Onwards and upwards, though.  Onwards and upwards.  And let us all try to keep ourselves together, and have something to say, and to all round be consumed by saccharine cheerfulness and joy for the shininess and fluffiness of the world.  For shiny and fluffy it most undoubtedly is at the moment: the sun is blazing away and I have water biscuits and breadsticks and Toblerone, and a shawl on the needles that I’ve designed myself from scratch and still – joy! – smells of lanolin.  (I adore it.)  And, of course, Stephen Fry is reading Harry Potter in the background, and he is gleefully Horcrux-hunting in the Ministry of Magic.  So it’s a lovely day, really.  And if I don’t realise it at the moment have no fear, I shall soon eat, knit and vegetate my way out of it.

What am I turning into?!

Another good thing about the autumn September 18, 2009

Posted by Fiona in Small things.
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Also, you know what I remembered after a bit of a Spotify binge?  I bloody love Ricky Martin.

A small conundrum September 16, 2009

Posted by Fiona in Small things.

Three men walked into a shop, and bought, between them, a really really awesome… waste paper basket (what? it was the first thing I thought of) for £30.  Thinking that this was such an amazing waste paper basket, of course, that it would make their friendship stronger if they all bought it between them and put it in their living room – did I mention they lived together? and that it was entirely above board, they probably used to be in a band together when they were fifteen or something – and anyway, put this waste paper basket in their living room and just share in the joy radiating from it.

So the point of this is, they each got out a ten pound note, and they took the waste paper basket to the till, probably had a polite but witty conversation with the cashier because they were really nice guys and they liked people to feel included in their conversations, especially people in shops who come across some bastards occasionally (ask me how I know) and they each handed the cashier their ten pound note.  The cashier, also being a chatty and all-round friendly chap, said Thank you very much I hope you enjoy your waste paper basket, it is quite awesome isn’t it, and they took it with them with a smile and left the shop, with the intention of wandering down the street to a favourite café of theirs in which to partake of their preferred warm caffeinated beverages, and perhaps a toasted teacake.

Approximately two minutes and forty-five seconds after the men left the shop, the cashier realised – horror of horrors – that this waste paper basket was not in fact £30 – that was the portable pocket sandwich maker next to it (for all your pocket sandwich needs) – but it really cost £25.  So he took £5 from the till in pound coins, and hot-footed it down the road to the café in which the men were sitting buttering their teacakes, and he explained the situation to them.  Naturally they all found this very amusing, and being caring, sharing gentlemen took a pound each back, and gave the remaining two pounds to the cashier for being such an honest and all-round friendly chap.  He, being very pleased with this arrangement, assured them that he would love to do business with them again, and returned to the shop to find somebody else to be lovely to.

Now the question is this: having originally each paid £10, and received £1 back, the men each paid £9.  Add to this the £2 that they gave to the very endearing cashier, and you have £29.  So what happened to the other pound?

My sister tells me she really doesn’t like maths.  I am therefore posting this; partly because I love the counterintuitiveness of it, and partly to show that maths has a lovely side to it, and that thinking “What?!  Where did that come from?” is nothing to be afraid of.  Next week: someone goes into a really nice supermarket where the kid behind the till, who is absolutely smashing and occasionally helps out at Oxfam at weekends, is thrilled to give her cashback.  Top.

Maybe it’s because… September 15, 2009

Posted by Fiona in Big things, Breaking the fourth wall, Durham.
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Having spent the day in London today, and Friday of last week, it’s struck me how easy it is to feel at home there.  I know the common view is that London is a very impersonal place – which sometimes it is – and therefore presumably you might always feel a bit apart from it.  That’s not true in the slightest, though.  It’s very easy to partake in all the bits and pieces that make you feel like you belong there: watching people on the Circle line at rush hour, striking up a conversation with the person behind the counter in a small-ish shop, navigating your way around without an A to Z, refusing a free paper, or (dare I suggest it) joining the London network on Facebook.  All these things are very easily done.  The multiculturalism means that if you’re looking, you can more often than not find a whole lot of things you have in common with quite a lot of people around you.  It’s very easy to feel like a Londoner very quickly.

On the other hand, I think I could live in Durham for a decade and still not feel like a local.  Not that I don’t love Durham; I do, very much, and I know a good few of its hidey-holes and customs now, but the fact remains that I do not in any way consider myself to be From The North East.  Part of this is accent-based.  I do and most likely always will sound very much like a southerner, and I am conscious of this, and everyone within earshot when I open my mouth knows this.  (I always think of that as pretty important – I know I shouldn’t but the fact is that I feel as apologetic about where I’m from sometimes as the fact, say, that I went to an independent school.  In some places, the north-south divide is alive and well and there are things it is and isn’t okay to be proud of.)  Part of not feeling like I’m from Durham is the relationship I have with the city: I’m a student.  In London, being a student and considering it home are not mutually exclusive; in Durham there has always been a distinction drawn between Students and Locals, as if the latter have more right to the place, and the former are only passing through.  Which is true.

But part of it has nothing to do with these things that I can analyse as much as I like – part of it is because, actually, you know what, I’m not from Durham.  I’m from Southampton, if you catch me off my guard when you ask me, and Winchester if you don’t.  (I spent five years at school in Southampton, I did my growing up there.  Two years of college and I still mentally round southwards when I think about where I’m from.)  Either way, I’m from Hampshire.  I’ve lived there all my life and I love the place.  I’ve always assumed that eventually I will leave, and live somewhere else – quite possibly London, for a bit at least – but to be from somewhere is about how you feel, and I will always feel like the sort of person who drops the aitch of ‘Ampshire and feels a little thrill of pride to be allowed to do it.

There may have been some stash enhancement September 14, 2009

Posted by Fiona in Craftiness, Knitting, Lovely people, Really good day.

Or, “You spent WHAT on yarn?!”

(Just to let you know in advance, it’s going to be a long, picture-filled post.  Bring a book.)

It was the I Knit Weekender in London on Friday and Saturday, so of course I couldn’t resist going along for a look.  It was such a beautiful day for it on Friday; it was so sunny that I decided against the tube wandered down the Embankment and past one of my favourite places…


…Gawped a bit at the protestors, counted policemen, got my feet trodden on by about five million tourists, you know the drill.  I walked up past the Channel 4 building, of which sadly I did not get a picture, but there was an amazing sculpture outside – it was as high as the building and made out of umbrellas, and when you looked at it from a certain angle – well, I was impressed.

To tell you the truth, for one who’s never been to one of these things before, I Knit was a bit daunting.  I’ve never seen so many knitters all in one place, and they all seemed to know each other, sellers and buyers, and a lot of them were wearing scarves or shawls that they’d obviously knitted themselves.  I counted a good half-dozen Ishbels wandering about the place (Ishbel being the pattern behind the purple shawl I knitted in Somerset) and they were beautiful.  So, I stuttered a lot, and got very starstruck – I’m not sure what it is about seeing things in person that previously you’ve only come across on the internet, but ooh, it was so exciting, and they all knew what they were talking about and everything…

There may have been some enhancement of my yarn stash.  It may or may not have been quite substantial.


The green one is by Cherry Tree Hill, and is gloriously green (aha!  I have yet to dye anything green, but am slightly sated nevertheless).  It shall be made into socks of some description – probably very intricate and cabled.  The blue and purple one is a merino wool/tencel mix by the Natural Dye Studio – which I have utterly fallen in love with.  It’s very soft and squidgey, and so shiny!  It’s also entirely natural fibre, dyed using entirely natural dyes, fixed to the wool by entirely natural mordants.  Added to this, I have discovered that it doesn’t make Mum itch! (she has a wool allergy) so I shall be making her some fingerless gloves from it – probably lacy ones, quite possibly Veyla by Ysolda Teague – because they’re beautiful and she can hide the lace if she’s feeling a bit more business-like.

But the softest of the lot – and this made me, I think, second happiest, were these:


Apart from being glorious colours, the lower of these two is 70% alpaca, and just so strokable you would not believe.  They’re from Coldharbour Mill in Devon, which still has a working water mill and still spins and what have you… I think a field trip might be in order here.  These two are turning into a shawl, I think, but I have high hopes of designing this one by myself.  To be continued.

But this is the one that I can’t stop getting out of its bag and staring at in admiration of the colours which are hardly done justice here:


I’ve heard of Malabrigo yarn for quite a long time.  It’s always held up as beautiful, and soft, and easy to work with, and hardwearing… everything you could want in a yarn.  And it is simply stunning.  Too stunning for socks, I’m afraid, much as I love them – this has to be far more visible.  I am leaning a little towards this.  I’m actually whispering a bit when I talk about it, it is that beautiful.

And then I met up with a friend, took over the V&A for gloriously pretentious and overpriced lunch, sat in Kensington Gardens taking the piss out of the pigeons, and then met my dear Mum for for dinner.  All in all an excellent day.

On Saturday was the Romsey Show – also excellent fun in walking boots but surprisingly no mud this year.  Of course, who am I to resist supporting local trade…


(Also to shortly become a shawl, I expect.)


This also happened, which made me very happy, although perhaps unsurprisingly Marcus resisted having his photo taken in the hat.  I am a little upset by this.  Mind you, I think it makes Clare look very attractive.

There was also watercress soup and Last Night of the Proms.  The former was delicious.  The latter, we think, is the only occasion of the year (except for the occasional nutter on St George’s Day) that it seems to be okay to get lots of people in a big room waving Union Jacks and generally being patriotic.  What is patriotism?  Why do we care?  I shall leave the existentialism for another post, I think, and merely say that it was very good fun.  Also that the conductor was a lunatic genius, as all conductors should be.

It is my belief that Sunday afternoons are absolutely made by the creation of slightly wonky cupcakes, especially with multicoloured icing.


(Of course, the green ones are a bit odd and the purple ones were the most successful, but that’s another bedtime story.  Next time, I think we should put the food colouring in the actual cake mix.)  There’s only one way to improve cakes such as these masterpieces:


I could honestly not be more proud of these if I’d made them with an actual five year old, instead of merely spending two hours successfully impeding a culinary genius.

Wonderful weekend.  Great fun.  Hurrah-hurrah-hurrah.