Sunday, 18 August 2019

My Button Box Blanket

Hello, thank you for calling in, I'm always pleased to see you here, you are all welcome.  We are all well but quite soggy as it has rained and rained and rained this week, although it did stop long enough for the Best Beloved to mow the lawn on Thursday and for the Painted Ladies to come out and enjoy the buddleia.  I haven't seen them in the garden since August 2009 and for the last fortnight they have been fluttering about whenever the sun has popped out from behind a cloud.  Many cups of tea have been drunk outside while I have watched them dance from flower to flower.
However, I have come here today to write about crochet, not about butterflies.  I was inspired to learn to crochet by bloggers, chiefly Lucy at Attic 24, Heather at Little Tin Bird and Fi at Marmalade Rose, and the thing I really wanted to learn how to make was a blanket.  These three women put colours together and made them sing, conjuring harmony from their hooks, and I really fell in love with the idea of making such a blanket for myself.  So I learned how to crochet, with the help of a patient friend and some online tutorials, and over the last couple of years I have made a dozen blankets for babies and children - Facebook showed me a photo of one of my Shropshire rainbow blankets in London the other day and I was thrilled to bits.  I felt that I was ready to tackle a full-sized blanket but I just couldn't find the right pattern.  I'm not confident about putting colours together so I wanted that to be done for me, but nothing I saw seemed quite right.  My house is tiny so everything which (and who!) lives in it has to earn its place; my blanket had to be useful and handsome, in colours which I could live with every day and which fit in. I looked at lots of blankets online but some were the wrong colours, some the wrong pattern, some the wrong stitch and some the wrong size.  I dithered, afraid to commit to the expense of such a big project and lacking the confidence to do my own thing.  I knew that I needed to take a deep breath and dive in somewhere but I couldn't find the courage.  Something was holding me back.

When we were camping in Cornwall at the end of May I realised what it was: I wasn't sure that I needed a blanket.  I certainly don't need one on my bed and I already have a couple of lap blankets which I use on the sofa on chilly evenings.  However, I realised that I really would like a camping blanket, something to wrap around me on a chilly evening or to lie on to read on a warm day.  Yes, a camping blanket would be really useful, and when I returned home I began looking again. 

As soon as I saw the Button Box Blanket at Black Sheep Wools I knew that I had found The One: I loved the colours, the wide border, the pattern and the size (it's a small single size and I didn't want anything too big).  This kit appeared to tick every box so I lost no time in placing an online order.

An hour and a half later, Black Sheep Wools sent me an e-mail to let me know that my order had been despatched and the parcel arrived the following day...but I was out so the postman left it with a neighbour and as it was pouring with rain, I didn't retrieve it until the following day.  That was a very long night!  I tore open the packaging and found eleven balls of wonderfully soft, squishy yarn, a project bag and the pattern.  For two days I just looked at the lovely colours spread out on the sofa, periodically picking one or another up to squish it. 

The third day was a Saturday so I picked up my crochet hook in the afternoon and began.  It took me hours to find the rhythm of the pattern and I had to frog my work five times but by the time I went to bed that night I had mastered it.  I really enjoyed making this blanket.  I crocheted on my sofa, on The Teacher's sofa, in bed, in the car, at a friend's house, at our local National Trust property, in the park, on Titterstone Clee and in two different cafes; I couldn't put it down.  

When I finished the body of it after 140 rows I realised that I had made a mistake somewhere and I eventually found it back on row 115, so I had to frog again.  That mistake cost me three days.  I struggled a bit with the border so I asked for help in a Facebook group and the generosity of the crochet community came to my rescue.  I can't honestly say that I enjoyed sewing in the 222 ends but I can say that I found satisfaction in it.  About five weeks later, my blanket was finished.  Would you like to see it? -

It's not perfect, I know that the border is a little bit wonky at the corners but I reckon that if I don't say anything, nobody else will notice.  Making this blanket taught me new things, and I like that.  It drapes beautifully, it's soft and squishy (have I mentioned that already?) and I absolutely love it.  My blanket hasn't been camping yet but while it's been in the sitting room it has kept me cosy and I have realised that I can live with its colours very easily.  Now all I have to do is work out what to make with the leftovers...
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x 

Friday, 16 August 2019

Entente Cordiale

Hello, thank you for calling in.  I hope you have survived the peculiar weather we have been enduring - rain, storms, high winds and heavy, humid air is making for an odd summer.  On Saturday morning I wailed at the Best Beloved that my face was sliding off, I really couldn't cope with the humidity, but in the afternoon the wind was so strong that I had to hold my skirts down to preserve my modesty!
We spent the day celebrating a wedding.  It was a beautiful wedding, as most weddings are, but special because it was a Quaker ceremony held in two languages.  The bride was English and the groom French so they made their declarations in both languages before the certificate was read out first in English, then in French.  We sat in comfortable silence until some people stood and "gave ministry", each speech then being translated into the other language by two marvellous bilingual volunteers.  After about an hour, two elders shook hands with each other to signal the end of the meeting and then we all shook hands with the people immediately to our left and right before signing the marriage certificate, every one of us, children and adults, because everyone present was a witness. 

The reception was held at Wilderhope Manor, nestled beneath Wenlock Edge, which was built in 1585 and now belongs to the National Trust.  There were British, French, Spanish and Indian people there with a common purpose; there was even a nun, in full habit, drinking a pint of beer and playing outdoor games with small children while a group of young French men attempted to play cricket.  The newlyweds posed for photographs with their dog (The Teacher tells me that all the dog owners she knows have had their dogs at their weddings).  After the wedding breakfast, the traditional speeches were given by the mothers before first the bride and then the groom stood and spoke.  I had a wonderful day, my rusty old schoolgirl French held up quite well and the atmosphere was almost bursting with love, happiness and, as the bride's mother pointed out, entente cordiale.   
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Friday, 9 August 2019

Hopton Castle

Hello!  Thank you for dropping in to my little patch and special thanks to those of you who left comments on my last post, your good wishes were much appreciated by me and the rest of my family.  I haven't been here for three weeks because I've been spending a lot of time cuddling Cottontail and playing with Tom Kitten, both very important grandmotherly tasks, as I'm sure you understand.  Everybody is doing very well and the Best Beloved and I have taken a step back now.  Yesterday we went out for the day by ourselves for the first time this school holiday and we had the best of days.
We drove south between the hedges, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, the hills were green and the fields were golden.  The farmers were busy, some of the fields were dotted with large, cylindrical bales and some with rectangular bales which were being stacked into towering walls.  It was a drive which lifted our spirits up and up until they were soaring - I never tire of the beauty of this county.  We drove to Craven Arms and turned west and a few miles later, down very narrow lanes, found ourselves at Hopton Castle in the picturesque village of... Hopton Castle!  I have known about this place for more than twenty years but never visited before.

Hopton Castle isn't really a castle at all; looking like a small medieval keep, it was built in about 1300 as a high status tower house for the de Hopton family, probably on the site of an earlier motte-and-bailey.  Sir Walter de Hopton was an important man, the Sheriff of Shropshire and Staffordshire, and the house was designed for comfort rather than defence.  In the 16th century, ownership of the estate passed to the Wallop family and by the time of the Civil War the owner was Robert Wallop, a staunch Parliamentarian who was a judge at the trial of King Charles I in 1649.  If anyone knows about Hopton Castle it's because of an incident which happened here during the Civil War.
Robert and his family were not in residence at the time of the incident in 1644 and a small garrison of less than twenty Parliamentarian soldiers under the command of Samuel More was installed there to prevent the Royalists taking control while the family was away.  When the Royalist forces attacked, they demanded that the Parliamentarians surrender and Samuel More refused to acknowledge them.  The Royalists left, leaving a few guards, and several hundred of them returned a few days later, by which time the garrison had been increased to about thirty men.  Again Samuel More was asked to surrender and again he refused, so the Royalists attacked and breached the curtain wall before retreating, having lost perhaps two hundred men.  By the time they returned, the garrison had been under siege for weeks.  For a third time, Samuel More was asked to surrender and the Royalist commander warned him that if he refused again, the Parliamentarians should expect no mercy ("no quarter") but the threat had no effect.  The Royalists attacked, this time with heavy cannons, and when it became obvious that their victory was inevitable, Samuel More surrendered the castle.  He was marched away and, unbeknown to him, the rest of his men were executed.  Apparently, for years afterwards, Parliamentarian troops would offer their opponents "Hopton Quarter" in revenge.
The details of this event survive because Samuel More wrote them down in a diary, but not until twenty years later, which is why they are taken with a pinch of salt.  When the castle was the subject of a Time Team dig in 2010, they hoped to unearth the skeletons of the massacred Parliamentarians beneath the moat, but they didn't find them.  Robert Wallop was compensated for the damage done after the Civil War but he never returned there and sold the castle in 1655.  The damaged tower was patched up but probably never inhabited again and it is now owned by the Hopton Castle Preservation Trust who have done some conservation work, including digging out several metres of rubble from inside the tower to reveal the floor and making a small car park.

The castle is like a reverse TARDIS and seems much smaller inside than it appears from the outside.  We climbed the stairs and sat inside to eat our picnic in the shade.  I think the Trust has done an excellent job, retaining the integrity of the existing walls while making them safe.  The new work is obvious but sympathetic. 

Outside, the views are beautiful.  This is an idyllic spot.  The Best Beloved wandered around with his camera while I circumnavigated the tower, drinking in the views, before sitting down on a bench to quietly read my book.  You could see all that there is to see here in less than half an hour or you could spend a longer time and lose yourself in the landscape and the history, especially on a warm, sunny day.  We were there for an hour and a half before our reveries were loudly interrupted by the sound of a nearby and incessant lawnmower.
Our visit cost us the petrol for the car and nothing else.  Car parking and admission are both free, as is a very nice leaflet about the castle, but there are donation boxes if you would like to support the work of the Hopton Castle Preservation Trust, which needs a few thousand pounds each year to maintain the site.  They have a good website here, although some of the information is out of date.

We drove back towards home, back through the beautiful countryside, I SO wanted to stop the car and take photographs but that wasn't feasible.  Unexpectedly, the Best Beloved turned the car and drove us along the River Severn to a pub at Coalport in Ironbridge Gorge where we sat on a terrace in the sunshine, drank long, cold drinks and ordered some food.  We rarely eat dinner out so it was a real treat, a relaxing way to end our adventure.  When we arrived home, we still didn't want the day to end so we opened up the summerhouse, lit the lanterns and drank a bottle of wine as night fell on a very special day.
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Friday, 19 July 2019

An Announcement

Hello, thank you for dropping in and thank you for your comments on my last post, especially the good wishes you sent.   You are very kind.  I've been very busy grandmothering this week and I'm just popping in here to let you know that Tom Kitten has a little sister who we are going to call Cottontail here, even though I know that a kitten can't have a rabbit for a sister and I really should have thought that one through when Tom Kitten was born.  I did suggest Cicely Parsley but that was laughed out of the window as everyone else said that nobody has ever heard of Cicely Parsley; I replied that fans of Miss Potter have heard of her but I was overruled and Cottontail it is, even though she doesn't have a tail (which, frankly, is a relief).  Mother and baby are both well, Tom Kitten is coping and the rest of us are on a cloud.

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Hello, thank you for calling in, it's lovely to see you here.  I didn't intend to be away for so long; I have had lots of ideas to share with you but somehow, I couldn't write about them coherently.  They all got jumbled up together in my brain and I couldn't untangle them and the longer it took, the worse it got.  I am a bit unsettled at the moment, there are changes afoot and the prospect is making me anxious so I think that's why my brain is fuddled.  I have decided that the solution is to show you some bits and pieces of what I have been doing over the last three weeks, inspired by the monthly "" posts which Jo writes over at Three Stories High and which I love to read.

1.  Exploring - Last weekend, the Best Beloved and I spent several hours in the sunshine up Titterstone Clee Hill in South Shropshire and as I read my book and did some crochet while drinking in the glorious views, he went for a wander with his camera, right to the top of the hill. 

2. Reading - I have just finished reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.  I realise that this book may not be for everyone as it includes some sexual exploitation, violence and self-harm but I found it deeply moving and very affecting.  I finished it last weekend and I can't stop thinking about it. 

3.  Crocheting - I have been making a blanket for myself.  I've never made anything as big as this before and I have learned a lot, but I have enjoyed every single stitch of this one.  I have crocheted on my sofa, in bed, on other people's sofas, in a cafe, in a National Trust property, in an hotel bar and out in the Shropshire Hills and all of those places are embedded into my blanket.  When it's finished, I shall give it a post of its own.

4.  Playing - I look after Tom Kitten one regular day a week, occasionally more, and he is a joy.  I am grateful that I can do something practical to help his parents and for the opportunity to forge a special relationship with my grandchild.  He is funny and smart and adorable and I am head-over-heels in love with him.  Playing is very tiring, for both of us!

5.  Stamping - I spent a day at a free event which combined history with an art workshop.  I don't have any drawing or painting skills but I was encouraged to have a go at stamping, which I haven't really done before.  I had to carve out my own stamp with A REAL LINO CUTTING TOOL and, having looked at a book for inspiration, I decided that I wanted to use Thomas Telford's mason's mark as the basis for my design.  Did you read that?  I'll type it again, slowly - My...Own...Design.  Oh my!  Can you tell that I got a bit excited about it?  I had a wonderful time and am thinking about how stamping could become part of my life.
I am the smallest blue bridesmaid
5Remembering - My aunt and uncle were married in July 1969 and I was a bridesmaid.  They celebrated this golden wedding anniversary in London with their daughter, her husband, some close friends and my parents and photos flew to the rest of the family across the internet, some new and some old, as we all sent them our love and shared our memories of a very happy day.

6.  Adjusting - I have new spectacles for both close and distance work.  My prescription has changed considerably since my last eye test and the optician warned me that for close work, I shall have to hold whatever I want to read closer to my face than I am used to.  The joys of aging!  My main difficulty is using a computer because I really can't hold it up to my face but at working distance, the screen is too far away for me to read it clearly but not far enough away for my distance specs to be useful.  I haven't worked out how I'm going to resolve this one.  I took a photo of myself wearing the new reading specs and sent it to my daughter - who replied that I look like a tortoise!!!!!!  That's why I can't show it to you.

So now, we are waiting.  My second grandchild is due any day now and Tom Kitten's travel cot and overnight bag are in my other bedroom in case he needs to come and stay here while his mummy is in hospital.  I have cleared the decks so that I can give whatever help his parents need during the first, exhausting weeks. I just need to dye my hair and then I'll be ready!

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Still Scattering Rainbows

Hello, thank you for popping in.  It has rained and rained and rained and rained and rained on Shropshire.  Between 7th and 17th June we had two and a half months' worth of rain - that's ten weeks' worth in ten days.  Everything is soggy.  My feet are back in my winter boots, with woollen socks because it's been cold here, too, and so dark that I have put the lights on in the afternoon, and I can't recall ever doing that in June before.  Honestly, you'd think it's November rather than June - cold, wet and miserable.  However, I am counting my blessings because I don't live in Lincolnshire where there have been awful floods, I really feel for the people who have had to leave their homes.

The last three days have been sunny and dry - hooray! - but this afternoon the rain poured down again.  However, despite that rain I am still scattering rainbows - crocheted ones.  I made my first rainbow baby blanket for a little boy born in May 2017 and recently, the little chap had to have a spell in hospital.  I was sent a picture of him in the cot, wrapped up in his rainbow and my heart lurched a little, sad that he was poorly but happy that my colourful stitches were bringing him comfort.  The Teacher's friends are still having babies so here are blankets number 10 and 11, draped over Tom Kitten's tiny chair last month.

As usual, I have used Stylecraft Special DK in Lipstick, Spice, Saffron, Lime, Turquoise, Violet, and Magenta, colours used by Heather when she was blogging at Little Tin Bird.  The straight striped blanket is bordered with Hot Fuschia and Turquoise using the Spot On Edging pattern designed by Lucy at Attic24

The ripple, also Lucy's pattern, is bordered in Petrol and Lime. I am especially pleased with the way these colours work together with Magenta, I think they just zing.

I love, love, LOVE them.  The straight striped one is for a little girl born last week and the ripple is staying at The Teacher's house to wait for Tom Kitten's sibling, who is due next month.  We are all quite excited!

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x 

Monday, 10 June 2019

This Year's Books - Part One

Hello, thank you for dropping in and thank you for your comments on my last post.  You lot are lovely.  The weather here is cold, wet, dark and gloomy so I think it's time to cosy up and bring you my promised reading post.  If you were here last year you might remember that in 2017 my reading mojo almost completely disappeared so at the beginning of last year I set myself a reading target of twelve books over twelve months and I made myself document my progress here as extra motivation.  By the end of December I had read twenty-three books and made great inroads into my To Be Read pile shelf bookcase.  I have set up a separate page which lists those twenty-three books, partly in case you would like to have a peep but really so that I can look at them myself, especially as more than half of them have now left the building.
This year I decided to keep the target at twelve books but, now that my reading muscles are much fitter, the difference is that those twelve books will all be long ones.  I expect you know the sort of thing I mean, the broad spines which stare at you from the shelf, dominating it with their size and which you put off reading if you are out of condition because the distance seems daunting.  At least, it did to me. However, by the end of last year I felt ready to take on the challenge: twelve books, each one at least 450 pages long, which meant that this year, I have to keep a log of the number of pages in each book as well as its title and author.  So, here is the pile of books I have read so far this year. -

Thirteen already!  However, I am sure that you will have noticed that three of these do not meet the requisite criteria, being much shorter than 450 pages.  During this marathon I realised that sometimes, I need the refreshment of a short book, and as reading fiction is supposed to be a pleasure, I decided to meet that need whenever necessary - as long as I read twelve longer books over the course of the year, the target will still be met.  So with two more of those to read over the next six months, there should be plenty of room for other books, too. 
My heart sank on the day, more than two years ago, when a colleague brought me a bag containing seven long books by Susan Howatch, simply because it's difficult to find room for seven new, thick books in a teeny, tiny house.  "I noticed you were reading one of hers a couple of months ago," she said.  She was so kind and thoughtful that I hadn't the heart to correct her and say that the book she had noticed was actually by Elizabeth Jane Howard!  This is the Starbridge series of novels which explores different attitudes and schools of thought within the Church of England between 1937 and 1968.  Each novel stands alone, although the characters recur throughout the series.  I felt that I ought to read them but after the first one I was hooked and carried on because I really wanted to.  They are serious, and seriously good.  These four are, in order, Glittering Images, Glamorous Powers, Ultimate Prizes and Scandalous Risks.  There are two more which I haven't read yet (and that's not because I can't find them, no, it's really, really not, honestly, although it might be, and I really did need a break from mid-twentieth century Anglicanism) but The Wonder Worker takes the action to London and moves some of the same characters into the 1980s.  I didn't like this one so much, it began well but became a bit too soapy for me and I found the ending unbelievable.
The Lee Child thrillers about Jack Reacher were passed on to me with  recommendation and one of them, Killing Floor, was the first to be published.  Although they are not really my sort of thing and the short sentence structure annoyed me, I found them very difficult to put down.  He's obviously a good writer, but I don't think I'll read any more.
Rosie Thomas' A Simple Life was also passed on to me and frankly, the story itself was overshadowed by the physical book, which was horrible.  It was filthy and stained, the pages felt greasy in my hand and it's leaving my house to be pulped because I should be embarrassed to pass it on to anyone else.  The fact that I couldn't let it go before reading it probably says a lot about me! 
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver is the longest of these books, measuring up at 670 pages, and won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2010.  The action takes place in Mexico and the USA between 1930 and 1959 and features Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Leon Trotsky and a cameo appearance by Richard Nixon.  I enjoyed it very much.

Asking me to name a favourite book is like asking me to name a favourite child, I can't do it, but I think that All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is my favourite of all these.  When I took it off the shelf I didn't realise that it was largely set in St Malo in 1944, but reading it in the same week as the 75th anniversary of D-Day has given it extra resonance.  I found it a beautiful, spellbinding read and heartily recommend it.  I am also thanking my bookish sister who bought it for me, as well as The Lacuna, and may be surprised that it's taken me so long to get round to them; all I can say is that they were worth the wait.


As for the three shorter books, I have written about The Wool-Pack and Cradle on the Waves in previous posts so that just leaves The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin, in which the aging mother of Jesus looks back on his life and death and which I read at Easter.  This is an intense and moving novella, only 104 pages long, and I think that reading it may become part of my Easter tradition. 

These books amount to 5,716 pages.  I'm a bit stunned by that so I'm going to write it again: I have read five thousand, seven hundred and sixteen pages so far this year.  And again: 5,716 pages of prose.  I know that some of you read far more quickly than I do but for me, this is a huge total and makes me feel very positive about the whopper which I am building up to later this year.  I am so happy to be reading again.   

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x