Sunday, February 28, 2010

February Fill-Fen

Warning: this is a very wordy post, shot through with some decidedly purple passges, but peservere, my knitterly friends, as there are pictures of luscious yarns and links to fabulous shops. Now read on...
"February fill-dyke, be it black or be it white" (traditional proverb)

Yesterday I simply had to go to Ely as Mr Caught Knitting had run out of his favourite bathroom cleaner. Tragically I can't find the brand required anywhere in Cambridge. (And note how I'm not telling you what the brand is, nor I am letting Mr CK know that soda crystals work just as well, as I need to make him think that trips to Ely are necessary. Nothing to do with the two new yarn shops there! That means, what, only 4 places where you can buy yarn, and that's not counting the £shops, etc. Nothing to do with Peacocks tearooms and their grapefruit moon tea. The Babylon Gallery doesn't come into it. Topping Books? Of course not. Cathedral, nah. Burrows newsagent with tempting array of American magazines no longer to be found in Cambridge now that Borders has gone? As if!)

New timetables mean that there is now only one bus an hour (I don't count the 12 via Newmarket; takes forever) but at least it was a double decker and I managed to get a seat upstairs at the very front. The revised X9 route is rather twisty, and it crosses the A10 at least 3 times, as it wends it way through Milton, Landbeach, Waterbeach, the IQ Business Park, Streatham and then touches on Little Downham (at least, I think that's where it is) before snaking into Ely via a long, long circuit of the outskirts. It now takes an hour, but what an hour it was. The views were stunning. The soil along this route is more orangey-brown than the peaty darkness of the soil you'd see from the train journey (which clings quite closely to the banks of the Ouse). But I love the patchwork-field effect that you see from aloft and the varied textures and colours. Some of the fields had been ploughed recently, and the claggy ruts were often glistening from recent rainfall. Many fields were flooded. On the way out these giant puddles were sparkling in the sun and many gulls were floating lazily on them. I travelled home through a storm (thunder, lightning, hail: very exciting) which obscured the view for a while but, when the sun finally peeped through again (a soft, weak, lemony-peach light against the inky-blue sky), the watery expanses glinted and shimmered, looking almost like enormous beads of mercury but darker. The fields are divided up by hedges, trees and many a ditch. I swear that as the bus approached Milton on the way home I got a glimpse of a bittern's bottom, as the bittern fished its way through a dyke. One of the great excitements of the journey out, though, was seeing the shapes the trees made against the skyline. They are, in the main, still bereft of leaves, so the colours and textures of the bark show well (not just brown, but some ochre and rusty hues) but closer inspection ( particularly when branches whipped against the top deck) revealed burgeoning catkins (including soft grey-beige pussy willow buds) and incipient buds. I'm wondering whether the acid, yellow-green of the weeping willows was due to buds or bark: I don't know.

One of the great pleasures of this journey is catching sight of Ely Cathedral in the distance for the first time. It was so sunny on the way out that at first the cathderal looked like a shimmery shape in the distance. And in the last few minutes of the bus ride there is a fantastic cloe-up of the octagon tower. Frustratingly, though, the new "improved" route no longer passes so close to the Cathedral on the return route, tough I've realised that if I'd stayed on the bus as it headed on towards March it would probably have gone that way. Ah, well, maybe next time.

The next frustration was that as soon as I got off the bus it started to rain (boo, typical) so no location shots. Let me tempt you, instead, with yarn...

Look at this luscious stuff (and I never thought I would describe a yarn rich in acrylic as "gorgeous stuff") from the newly-opened Yarn on the Square, a spacious and stylish shop with welcoming and enthusiastic owners. (Not to mention armsful of Noro). The yarn I caved in to, though, captures the colours I saw on the journey in, and anticipates the plumage of the bittern that I may (or may not) have seen on the way home. It will--I hope-- be turned into a "fen fields" scarf, starting with the browner yarn and ending in the greener (with, I hope, some sort of stitchwork to represent leaves or buds). The yarn is also available in a blend with more greens, a vivid magenta, grey and blue. And each colourway is available with or without metallic highlights. (I went for the metallic, it makes me think of sun glinting on rain-washed fields, of the sparkle of snowflakes and the glimmer of spring).

I'll spare you a purchase-by-purchase, store-by-store account of my time in Ely (I've outlined it above, anyway) but suffice to say that the route to the bathroom cleaner shop took me past the little yarn kiosk that Barbara runs. There's only room for one customer at a time, so I had to queue! It was worth it, though as the booth is bursting with budget yarns in interesting colours and textures. Here's the armful that came home with me...

After all the heady yarn-buying excitment I had to calm down a bit (after all, I still had Ely Wool Shop to go) so I headed to Peacocks for soup, a cheese scone (8/10, only surpassed by the cheese scones I had at Durham Cathedral some 12 years ago) and the afore-mentioned grapefruit moon tea. Mmm, inhale that cardamom and citrus. After that came the Babylon Gallery (which will get a post of its own when something very special has dried in a few days' time. That's got you guessing!) Fortified by art (and riverside views) I headed back uphill, past the Cathedral and out along St Mary's Street to Ely Wool Shop. Sandra's store is a delight. I was going to get just one skein of Malabrigo silk-blend DK (so soft) to make a small cowl, but hit on the idea of buying some merino wool in the colour of my gloves to mix in. And the colours of the Rico cotton DK proved irresistible. (But how did I stop at just 2, when I wanted all of them?) So here's the final haul of the day:

(note the Ivore needles that got pounced on at the cashdesk).

And so, a near-perfect day out, marred only by the fact that I bought two bottles of cleaning stuff, when just one would have meant a cast-iron excuse for going back again sooner. But who needs excuses? February has ended on a high for me.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Still Doing Different

Well, I survived the dinner party, but I really should have taken my crochet. At one stage another guest asked the hostess how her shoulder was getting on and it turns out that she'd injured it by doing too much crochet. At this point I confessed to being a fellow crocheter and she rushed off to fetch her absolutley stunning Babette. Needless to say she was given one of my crocheted pots as a thank you present.
(This is a before felting pic of the pot).

Reading books by men has been mixed. I enjoyed Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan, which is full of magic and feuding women. But I've given up on The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw: too many adjectives, which seem to have been chosen more because they sound euphonious, rather than for their meaning... But best of all, by a long way, is Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada: not always an easy read (it is set in Berlin in 1940 ) but one I'll go back to over and again. I've not been neglecting books by women: I'd recommend The Children's Book by A.S.Byatt, not least for its stunning visual imagery which has got me itching to design and knit a soft sculpture inspired by Art Nouveau vases; Garden Spells by Sarah Addison was a quick, pleasureable read, though I think that Alice Hoffmann's Practical Magic covered the same terrain even better; The Truth About Melody Browne, by Lisa Jewell was another quick read: I like the way that "chick lit" is growing up, there was romance in this, but the plot is really aboutrememebring and coming to terms with childhood trauma. Now I've gone back to an old favourite: Susan Howatch. I'm deep into Glamorous Powers, which is about a psychic monk questioning his vocation. It ties in with a lot of the medieval mystics that I studied years ago. On the poetry front I've just treated myself to Redgrove's Wife by Penelope Shuttle: this is a profoundly moving meditation on terminal illness, grief and moving through mourning. I've gone back to this book following the rapturous reception that Christopher Reid has received for The Scattering (including the Costa Prize), which covers similar themes. Am I being cynical when I suggest that Reid's book is the one that's gathered all the plaudits because when men talk about losing their partner it is a brave and serious thing, whereas when a woman does the same thing, well, she's just talking about feelings and that's what women do. I hasten to add that I haven't (yet) read The Scattering so I can't make an informed comment! Next on my poetry list will be The Water Table by Philip Gross, which has won the T.S.Eliot Prize: much of it is about The Severn Estuary, so it will be interesting to compare his work to Gillian Clarke's take on the same subject in Words on Water(one of the best books published last year).
I've not had many days out yet this year: a trip to Ely (which reminds me, I've also got a copy of Don Patterson's Landing Light to read, I picked that up in Topping Books); a flying visit to Oxford as I wanted to see the Edward Bawden mural in Blackwells bookshop (see how my days off turn into busman's holidays!); and, staying in Cambridge, I've enjoyed the Sickert and Spencer exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum (must go back on a weekday, it was too crowded for comfort). Still on the theme of Doing Different I've been to the theatre for the first time in many years. Ibsen's Wild Duck is as jolly as you would expect from Ibsen, but one of my colleagues was in it and she was superb.
But have I been Caught Knitting? Er, not much, but I'm pulling my socks up now and am finally making progress on the City & Guilds course that I've started with Knit Design Online. I'm having fun playing with textures at the moment, creating a curious green swatch that has been inspired by an ammonite. And I'm off to Textiles in Focus tomorrow, so watch this space!