Sunday, May 27, 2012

look we have come through

Remember that scene at the start of "Independence Day," when the giant spaceship blacks out the sky?  Well, that was pretty much how this last week went, as Ofsted chose to visit at two day's notice. 

The school I work at was a good school last week, and it will still be a good school next week.  There are those who favour unannounced inspectorial visits, with teachers arriving to find the team in the car park, although there would not be many teachers who would wish for this.  We are told that Health Inspectors and auditors make unexpected calls, so that is the accepted practice.  I would argue that teenagers are a less predictable commodity than spreadsheets, particularly on the first really hot day of the summer, as Year 11 leave.

The deal now is that less than 30 minutes of a randomly chosen lesson is observed and a judgement passed on that teacher. Or at least that is how it feels for the person involved, inducing sleepless nights and soul-searching before, during and after the whole process. 

Suffice it to say that my mantra -  "Time and the hour runs through the roughest day" -  proved correct once again.  Perhaps not so true for one of my colleagues who went into premature labour as the day started and gave birth through the night.  Fortunately,both parties are doing well.

Enough of this - we have come through.  On Friday we were able to walk out from home to the little village of Messing.  We are refining our system of placing a car at the far end of the intended walk, so we can drive back.  Last week we drove to Halstead and walked back.  We were over half-way towards home when my husband realised that he had placed the house-key in the glove compartment for safe-keeping, so we could not get into the house nor access his car keys to recover my car.  Fortunately a taxi provided the solution in short order.

We remembered the time that we were out walking above Honister Pass with friends.  We had parked one car at the Honister slate mines carpark,and the other in Buttermare at the bottom of the pass.  We were to walk along Dale Head and then down into Buttermere.  As we enjoyed the view while eating lunch, our friend realised that she had put her car key in our boot, so that it did not get lost on the walk. 
On that occasion, she and I revisited the thrills of hitch-hiking, and a very nice man gave us a lift back up the pass to recover the car, and her keys.

Finally, one little red glove, as yet unfinished.  On our first walk this season we tried out our new waterproofs.  I realised that,  even in late Spring, emergency gloves might be sensible to add to the kit.

Friday, May 18, 2012


The bottom of our garden, in full bloom.  The laburnum makes a glorious display at this time of year.  We have been admiring the various wisterias around the village and ours is doing well this year.  Our wall is not very high, so it will never reach the tree-like splendour we have seen on other properties.  And Clematis montana spilling all over the viburnum.

My latest charity shop find: a Lavenham jacket in a speckled blue tweed, with cord trims.  I was amazed to see this almost new jacket in Sudbury, which is a few miles from Lavenham.   The company began in the 70s, producing quilted horse blankets, but the jackets appear to be enjoying a revival just now.It is certainly useful this season with its chilly air even when it is not raining.  I was very happy to pay £7 for this, and even happier when Hollington Bros, in our village, featured the very same jacket in its window, priced at £185!

My latest weaving project: a length of tweed using some yarn bought from the Trefiw Woollen Mills in North Wales.  I knitted a cardigan, but then had six balls to spare.  This piece has both warp and weft in the purple, making a lovely solid fabric.  The yarn has lots of tweedy variation within itself.

However, this length used the purple as warp and a lively variegated dyed skein as weft.  I have experimented with adding some metallic threads to this, but they may come out.  The notion is to use the plain piece as the back, and the brighter length as the fronts, of a waistcoat top. 

As I wove these pieces, I thought of my trip to Skye, in the early 80's.  I was staying at a fantastic b&b in Dunvegan.  The lady rose at 5.30 each morning to bake many different types of bread, scone and teacake for the breakfast table.  The evening meal was like a Christmas dinner, although  how she did this each day I do not know. 

While there, the lady spoke of a tweed weaver who wove at his home and would open up his weaving shed in the evening for customers.  I went, of course; he could see cars coming down his lane from some distance and he hurried out.  In that shed he had his handloom and bolt after bolt of wonderful tweed: he had won prizes in Edinburgh and regularly shipped lengths to Japan. 

He told me that he had come over with a group to remedy overpopulation on Harris.  They had formed a small community on Skye and never returned to Harris.  All day, while the light lasted, he wove at his loom in that unheated shed.  Imagine a life lived to that rhythm, working with those lovely colours all day, making lengths of tweed.  I bought two skirt lengths for my mother, who made them up and enjoyed wearing them.

Friday, May 11, 2012


I had such entertainment crafting this little bag from the Lavenham Blue wool dyed with woad.  All those little design decisions that are an inevitable part of making it up as you go along - that's what made it fun.

I used a broken rib for the main bag, with an Alice Starmore cable from "Celtic Knitting".  The top edge has an applied i-cord which gives a very neat finish.  Choosing the button gave me pause.  It has been suggested, since I propose to use the bag for a packed lunch, that appropriate foodstuffs might be correspondingly archaic.  I am put in mind of the ber bannock we tried for lunch on Orkney - a very dry crust it was too.  So for the button - a slice of reindeer antler?  a  peg of bone?  But in the end this Celtic cross won out.

Browsing recently in a charity shop, I came across this fine plate, signed "L.Piper", and made by Iden Pottery.

Now this looks very like a bowl which my husband bought for me many years ago on a visit to Rye, from the Rye pottery, except that the painting is much cruder.

And, of course, both of them are similar to the Oxney Green items in my kitchen, such as this plate.

Oxney Green had two designs, the second being a fishing trawler - I have some items of each.  But then, on the lid of the teapot is this little image, which takes us back to the Iden Pottery plate.

In fact, Oxney Green seems to have been an offshoot of the other two ventures, which were related to each other.  I just love the harmony of the colour and the image on all these pieces.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Comfort Reading

This time last year we were marvelling at the dryness of the field paths available to us for longer range walking.  Not this year.  Like everywhere else, Essex is sodden, with swollen rivers and incipient flooding.  Those poor souls down alonside the river, who have been through it before, have set their floodgates in place, though how effective they would be, who knows?

We are on higher ground in the ancient village centre, so not likely to flood.  Instead, as the rain falls I find myself drawn to the rereading of old favourites. 

First, "The Shipping News" by E. Annie Proulx.   The terse style of the opening of this book never fails to amaze me.  Then, the picture of that community in Newfoundland is so convincing, even while you know it is complete fiction.  But it is in the fate of the central character that it offers the kind of life affirmation which is a really good antidote if you have overdosed on Scandinavian crime fiction.

Then, "Cold Mountain" by Charles Frazier.

This has a different kind of scope and ambition, with the analogy of "The Odyssey" always somewhere in mind.  But it also has really distinctive characters, and a constant stream of adventures.
Yet the thing that engages me here, aside from the romantic storyline, is the whole idea of survival - of living off the land and managing on almost nothing.

Both of these novels have been made into films which we also really enjoy rewatching, but the films are not as fully rounded as the books, for some reason.

Knitting, in this rainy season, has taken an odd turn.  I discovered a new yarn shop in Lavenham, where they had this yarn dyed with woad.  I thought it might make a scarf, but the yarn turns out rather too scratchy, so I am making a bag.  I rather see this as being to contain a packed lunch, in its plastic box.  We'll see.