Thursday, June 23, 2011

Alma Mater

This week to my old Oxford college, for a School Teachers' Networking Day.  Nearly forty years I have waited for this invitation, but here it is at last.

As one of the former women's colleges, Somerville now finds itself having to take candidates from the general pool, as many of the more clued up entrants - male and female - opt for the big name colleges with the spectacular buildings.  I blame J.K. Rowling for this.

The day  began on the 10.18 from Paddington.  Already in the carriage were two females, each sporting a fascinator and clearly off to the races at Ascot.  One was demurely dressed in a maxi, but the other one appeared to be wearing a 50s swimsuit.  As she touched up the blood red varnish on her toe-nails, she squawked into her phone that she was entitled to a day out, and would get drunk if she felt like it....

No greater contrast could be imagined to these two than the hippy couple who were forced to sit next to them as the carriage filled up.  Both clutched grease-soaked brown paper bags containing cheese pasties, which they ate with relish. Every item of their clothing was well-worn and made of some form of hairy natural fibre.  The two sporting ladies had no choice but to budge up for them.

So to the Margeret Thatcher Conference Centre - she read chemistry here.  We met current undergraduates who looked about twelve; we networked; we watched mock interviews and made notes; we ate lunch in Hall, or rather, in what was once the college bar.  Amazingly, shortly after the admission of men to the college in 94 the bar was reinstated as a Reading Room.

Eventually, we were released into the rain.  I made first for this place of pilgrimage: the Annabelinda shop.   They specialise in fabulous couture clothing in velvets and Liberty prints.  Recently they have begun to take in their own creations from the past to resell as vintage and the shop is full to bursting with wonderful, well-loved items.  One could have spent a fortune.

Finally,this week's bear for the appeal.  A different and hopefully less fierce head-shape.  This owes a lot to Little Cotton Rabbits, where I notice that the bear head is similar to the rabbit, but with a different ear shape.  I was very pleased with the conceit of the eye-brow which I introduced.  It is probably invisible to anyone but me.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


This week to the little ancient town of Winchcombe, in the Cotswolds, en route to the duty visit.  Winchcombe is on the Cotswold Way and we planned to test out our walking muscles on a steep uphill.  We climbed up out of Winchcombe, looking back at the 14th Century St Peter's Church.

Up through fields with a distictly equine flavour, until we came across these lovely young animals who completely ignored us. 

At the top we reached a prehistoric barrow, Belas Knap.  In this long mound were four burial chambers containing the bones of thirty-eight people.  The grand entrance is also a trick - there is no way into the tomb at this point,  We were very impressed by the Cotswold stone walls, with stone the depth of roofing tiles giving a fine finish.

Down through woodlands said to be the inspiration for Tolkien, we had a splendid view of Sudeley castle.    We were entranced by the poppies at this field edge.

Winchcombe itself contains many ancient relics.  It had an abbey, established in the ninth century, of which nothing now remains.  What it did not have was a functioning tea shop.  There were pubs, and there were closed tea shops, but we had to resort to a deli for an actual cup of tea.

And what is this?  It's a Trauma Teddy, or my take on the idea.  We finally had a wet Sunday - whoever thought that this would be a rarity?  Someone at work is handing out project bags with a view to making 500 of these toys.  Knitting toys is often a revelation, as the body shape emerges from the various increases and decreases.  And customising the face is always fun - does it have life to its expression?  I recall a great pattern for Kipper the dog.

 However, the Trauma teddy pattern is for beginners - one long strip knitting the front and back just by changing colours, and then stitching up the sides and stuffing it.  I moved the seams, and then knitted the head on dpns, using increases and grafting to create the snout.  Looks a tad dog-like, and possibly rather grumpy.  Maybe not ideal for cheering up a child in distress...

Thursday, June 09, 2011


This dramatic picture, taken two weeks ago, shows the effects of the drought on local field paths.  That is a very deep two-inch crack running all along the path.  Also shown are my trusty Ecco walking shoes, the most expensive shoes I have ever bought, but worth every penny.

We have now moved on to cycling, enjoying a round trip to Bures last Saturday.  The main routes in Essex are frighteningly busy, but there are many lanes which make for pleasant cycling.  Over the years we have been on holidays run by Headwater, where the idea was to cycle to the next place on the route on alternate days.  We went to Burgundy some years ago, and more recently to Tuscany.  The route used the strada bianchi, or small, unmetalled lanes, where these were available.  Going down a steep hill on one of these, where the surface was loose gravel, was a hair-raising experience.

  Most memorable was our trip to Norway where we hired bikes to extend our range from Geilo, a ski resort we were visiting in the summer.  From there we took the train to the highest point, Finse, where patches of snow still lay about - in August.  Here we off-loaded the bikes and used the rallerwegn, or cycle path made out of the railway construction road, to cover the forty km to Geilo.  It was all downhill, and one just need a firm grip and nerves of steel.

While in Cumbria, I of course visited Linton Tweeds.  I suspect this may become a habit.  Off the roll, I bought this brilliant, lightweight tweed, described as viscose, but handling like silk.  It is also available from Linton On-line at £22 a metre.

Then, I explored their remnants and bought these two skirt lengths from the £5 bin.  I can see the first one with a black top and cardigan.  The russet one fairly gleams in the light.  Three skirts for about twentyfive pounds - can't argue with that.

Next, my first efforts at the spinning wheel.  These are best described as "rustic," with every fault that spun yarn can have - thick and thin sections, over and under-spinning.  I'm hoping it will improve with practice.  I was certainly very pleased to master the art of treadling the wheel while drafting the fibre.

Finally, a bowl of our homegrown strawberries.  We have tried to manage the weed issues on our strawberry bed by planting up two beds through black membrane.  This seems to have done the trick.

Friday, June 03, 2011


Just five miles north of Maryport is the little seaside village of Allonby, one of my favourite places for an evening stroll.  This dream-like view of Criffel across the Solway Firth is the result of sea mist, and, on a bad day, the Scotch Hills can be invisible.  With the tide out, the bay stretches for miles of golden sand, graded gravel and shingle banks.

Like many places along this Cumbrian coastline, its heyday seems to have been in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.  Now there are at least five caravan parks stretching back from the street frontage.  Then, it seems to have been a fishing village and a spa, with some elegant buildings.  Here we have The Baths:

Front and rear views, now a private house.  The upper room was used as a ball-room.  The side with the columns faces into The Square, but this cobbled area was once also the main road through the village.

This lovely house, with its charming inscription over the lintel, also speaks of better days.

Even earlier is this non-conformist chapel.

With its inscription:

It stands right next to a former Quaker meeting house.

More prominent, and for many years a distressing ruin, is the old Reading Room, designed by the architect who designed the Natural History Museum, and built after a fund-raising effort in the 1860s.  The story goes that the most recent owner owned the building but not the access across a stip of land about four feet wide to the road.  This delayed matters while the building fell into decay.  Now, it has been made weather-proof but never seems to move any further.  The unimpeded views from its huge windows must be superb.


Finally, a nest of eggs - possibly an oyster-catcher's?  They were hidden in plain sight right out on the shingle beach.