Monday, March 25, 2013

Ice Age

Two treats this week.  First, we tried out the National Theatre Live scheme at our local cinema.  We drove a few miles, parked for free and  settled into our seats in good time.  Shots of the theatre audience similarly settling into their seats added realism.  Then we enjoyed every minute of the play - "People" by Alan Bennett, starring Frances de la Tour - as if we were in the front Stalls at the National.  We had imagined rather static shots, rather creaky transitions but this was not the case.

As for the play itself, it zipped along, fuelled by Bennett's sense of the absurd, and his biting satire on the heritage industry.  It did turn into a rant at times, but what a change from the average film!  And this opportunity was shared at hundreds of local cinemas up and down the country.  No need to trek into London, no problems with trains - we were home within fifteen minutes.

Next, we did go up to London to see the Ice Age Art exhibition at the British Museum.  We met my sister and her husband and treated ourselves to the Ice Age menu in the Court restaurant, a very civilised venue.  Now what did they eat in the Ice Age?  From the evidence of the exhibition, which was largely composed of bone fragments, the answer is anything that they could catch.  Probably they did eat small quanties of raw meat and share out the fish between them.  Perhaps potatoes were still somewhere in the future, likewise grain, and therefore bread.  But did they really have red peppers and courgettes with their protein?  Seems unlikely.

As for the exhibition, it lacked something.  The items on display spanned nearly twenty thousand years - a mind-boggling length of time.  Yet we had little sense of the lives of those who made these scratchings on bone - images of running horses, and of reindeer, and many tiny images of the female form.  As archaeological finds these must have been thrilling, but they are underwhelming when presented in a glass case.  More resonant were the modern minimalist stone sculptures presented alongside them.

Remember the garnet-inlaid shoulder clasp from Sutton Hoo?   Millefiori glass in blue and white and garnet inlays in a geometric pattern. This is the pattern charted: one stitch representing one square. 
Intarsia, rather than Fairisle patterning.  No gold of course. 

So now, this is the same chart but with two stitches per square.  The stepped pattern of the original becomes clearer here, but the white still shouts too much.  In the original, the gold base had been stamped in a diaper pattern which showed through the garnets as a chequer-board.  This could be achieved by patterning the red diamond in K2P2.  But still no gold.

For a while I knitted Newfoundland mittens non-stop.  Perhaps the mesh used in these could be done in a metallic yarn to contain the coloured shapes?  The white needs to be toned down to an old white, in the Farrow and Ball sense.  Would the resulting fabric work as the back of a glove, rather than mittens?  We'll see.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Garden visitors

The Christmas before last, I asked for a bird feeding station from Santa, who duly obliged.  We placed it centrally, for optimal viewing, and waited for visitors.  It took a while.  Was it too exposed? we wondered.  And, indeed, one day we were surprised by a swooping sparrow-hawk,  so we may have been right.

However, "If you build it, they will come," is one of my husband's favourite movie quotes.  And so it proves.  Especially if you invest heavily in sunflower hearts and niger seeds.

Long-tailed tits
We have regular resident birds: robin, wren, blackbird, bluetit.  Daily visitors include pigeon, collared dove, starling, magpie, chaffinch, sparrow, great tit.  And now, regularly, we have a flock of long-tailed tits, three goldfinches and a pair of siskins.  Occasionally, we see a pair of blackcaps.  None of these is particularly rare, of course, but they are a joy to watch, especially the goldfinches.  The one thing we miss is a thrush, although we used to have one feeding on the garden snails.

Bedroom furniture - Our redecoration meant we became reacquainted with the items we take for granted in our room.  This first image shows the new mirror we have added, above the chaise longue.  I made the throw some years ago from fabric samples showing the colour range in tweedy upholstery.  I love these pale muted colours.  Also in this shot is a faux-bamboo bedroom chair hand-painted by my husband - and a row of his shoes!

Next, this is my dressing table.  It is an old treadle sewing machine table, from which the machine had already been removed. I stripped down its water damaged surface.   My husband showed me how to apply real veneer to the top - it came as iron-on strips.  Then he explained how to French Polish and left me to it.  After many coats, amazingly, it worked a treat.  However, I used regular varnish on the drawers and carcase, and I cannot see any difference.  The mirror, I have described before - made by my husdand with burr elm fronts to the drawers.

This week, to a fascinating event at Sutton Hoo.  Dr Sam Newton runs day-schools, sharing his encyclopedic knowledge of the ship burial, the stunning grave goods and the culture of the Wuffings.  My friend had booked this event and we sat enthralled as he strummed a replica lyre and chanted in Old English.  It took us both back to the first year of university, where Anglo-Saxon and the study of "Beowulf" was a compulsory course.  But the spectacular artistry of the garnet-inlaid buckles and clasps was inspiring.  Why is it that I am seeing Fairisle mittens?


Sunday, March 10, 2013


This lively item  - I hesitate to call it a scarf - is Spectra by Stephen West.  I'm using Noro Silk Garden Lite and Sirdar Click, istead of the sock yarns called for in the pattern.  I have a feeling that this will affect the drape, but my LYS had no Noro Sock.  It is certainly an entertaining knit so far, and the many renderings of the pattern on Ravelry suggest lovely alternative colour combinations.  I saw this first on Not Just about the Knitting, so thankyou.

The Cazalet chronicle continues its serialisation on Radio 4.  What I loved most about it was Elizabeth Jane Howard's ability to empathise with such a wide range of characters.  For example, Miss Millament, the elderly governess, lost her fiance in the Boer War but still cherishes his letters.  The writer gives this ancient affair as much attention as any of the many other relationships in the novel. Guilt is also done rather well.  Food is described in unusual detail, as are clothes.  "Somewhere between Tolstoi and Maeve Binchy" - was it Martin Amis who said that of her work?

This week's task has been redecorating our bedroom.  We moved into this house in 1991 - over twenty years ago.  The people before us had spent their four years taking the front of the house back to its timbers and renovating from the ground up, so every room was freshly decorated.  The only thing we really hated was the bathroom suite - a full-on rendering of "The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady," and a bath which somehow narrowed just at the point where I broaden.  "It will have to go," we both said, but it was eleven years before we got round to it.

So, now we have time to look around us, we notice that our room has not been redecorated in over twenty years.  One advantage of failing eyesight is that you simply don't notice the grime, but that does not mean it is not there.  We shifted a lot of dirt.

Styles in wallpaper move on with the years, too.  The one we have used here has a ruched surface, with the effect of pleated moire silk.  It's in oystery tones, so the effect is quite delicate.  I was also drawn to the Farrow and Ball shade-card - just the names and descriptions: Elephant's Breath, Mouse's Back and so on. These are likely to put in an appearance on some painted furniture, although elephants are scared of mice, so perhaps not those two together.

More on our beams.  These are the beams in our bedroom wall, the upper part of the end-wall of a hall dating to about 1400 - about the time of Chaucer.  A hall was a large  room open to the roof, with a central fire but no chimney.  The experts who visited explained that the upper horizontal beam would have been installed in 1636, when the roof was raised and the first and attic floors put in. 

The thicker vertical timber has filled-in slots where timbers for the front of the hall would have been, some three feet back from the current front of the house.  A detail which I had never noticed before is that these timbers in our bedroom are smooth, whereas the ones in the dining-room have been hacked all over to take a rendering of plaster.