Skyscrapers and String


A bit wistful…

I’m already wearing my new lace scarf and I love it and I cut a fringe in my hair as it’s getting close to hat season here in the U.K.

Watching some of my friends struggle with serious illness in their family I can only think how lucky I am that that’s not me at the moment.

Whose life ever runs smoothly all the time?

You see glamorous, wealthy celebrities struggle with addiction and divorce and family problems and you realise how lucky you are that no one cares about your little ups and downs.

I’m knitting and finishing things that have languished for many months and it’s boring.

I put together some lovely colours for a new project but it’s all too tasteful and matching and it’s boring already.

In my shed, which is full of junk and no longer nice to sit in, I have a bag of eye watering clashing red yarns and I want to knit that into something ridiculous instead.

I also have a lot of fluffy yarns that would make a huge colourful something.

I’m bored with all my commitments and want to do something else with my life.

I feel like I’m walking downhill after a long and tiring mountain climb, and the path takes me right back to where I started and I’m in a steep ravine with no left or right turns.

I keep looking back at times when things were simpler and it’s making me sad.

I’m wistful for the times when I wasn’t disillusioned about who I was and when I thought things were alright with everyone I cared about.

When I had family I could visit and chat to.

When bottles and packets were easy to open and washing machines didn’t have computers in them and you could change your own spark plugs and see to your car yourself.

I have longed for time by myself but it just hangs heavily on me and I can feel mischief and discontent bubbling up in me.

Underneath the sadness and guilt I’ve felt is actually a whole lot of anger running deep. I’m really annoyed about some things I can’t change and can’t control and I don’t know what to do with myself.

I want to run about with scissors and you know that’s never going to end well…

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Boredom Of Matching

I remember rushing into work one day, years ago now, and my lovely boss Adam smiled at me and said hello, and the way his eyes traveled over my hand knitted winter ensemble made me acutely conscious of the fact that none of the items actually went together at all.

If memory serves, I had a pink hat, a red shawl and mittens in grey.

I felt awkward for a minute, then stopped because I like being randomly thrown together.

This year, something weird has happened.

Blue.

For some time I have gravitated towards blue.

Black used to be my go to neutral but I cannot wear it anymore. I’ve gone off it.

Grey is okay but only paired with white.

But now everything I have is blue.

So this year I decided I would conquer the pattern I coveted for 10 years and I have finally knitted myself a Lace Ribbon Scarf

I cast it off yesterday.

I bought plenty of yarn – Drops Flora – because the pattern instructions said I’d need possibly as much as 800 yards of 4 ply. So I purchased 5 balls and only needed two and a bit for the scarf.

This yarn is absolutely bargainous at £2 per ball, and it comes in over 20 colours.

So I quickly cast on a plain hat, to use up the extra wool and to match the scarf, and again I’m still not knitting the project I wanted to start next and it’s been a day of quite quick knitting and I’m bored already.

Earlier this year I bought some splendid wool in half a dozen colours and it is sitting in a bag on a hook behind my knitting chair.

And it’s a Bank Holiday weekend, I want to treat myself to something different.

There’s such a small amount of time for knitting in my day, even on a holiday and you can rapidly tell I’m making justifications for abandoning the blue hat into the growing pile of WIPs.

I also think I am growing bored generally and my mood is influenced by ongoing commitments that are weighing me down.

It’s probably not the hat’s fault.

Or the continued knitting of blue wool.

Or that it matches the scarf.

It’s me.


Changing seasons…

It’s that time of year when the temperature takes on a sharp edge, the cardigan comes out of the cupboard and there’s no doubt that fall is approaching.

Autumn is a beautiful time of year, made all the more so by the bittersweet ending of summer and the nearing of my birthday.

Here, coffee in hand and on a slightly chilly morning at the end of August I’m reflecting on all the changes this year.

I’ve flowed with every opportunity that has arrived and it’s taken me right outside my comfort zone.

New friends, traveling alone, even abroad to other countries, dealing with loss and grief, and the usual betrayals have sprinkled themselves into the recipe to add a bitterness to the flavour, but I’m still here and still growing.

I’m getting used to the shape of my new life and I like the busy quality of my days.

All the drains of family obligations are over and even though I feel I haven’t grieved anywhere near enough I’m buoyed by the freedom that has replaced it.

I’m loving being back at work, it feels so much more of an achievement to get good things done in the middle of a hectic schedule. Being busy is not an excuse.

But still I’m fighting the loss of time to write, I create when there’s time to squander and in my own space.

It’s like breathing mindfully, the in and out breaths you take all the time are never conscious however when you sit and breathe and notice the breaths it’s a wonderful way of being focused on just being alive.

So I’m unlikely to write now, the kitchen is untidy with things to put away, laundry sits around in heaps and there’s a lot to do.

Once the house is straight I can think.

And why am I still so bad at doing things for myself? I’m getting everything done and still things that should be my first priority are not making it into my days.

Every day I feel like I’m juggling hours and annoyed at myself for not doing what I should be doing.

Slotting all these new things in, putting more balls into the air and spinning plates with all the activities I’m trying to cram in.

Perhaps I need some kind of constant visual reminder, like a tattoo on the back of my hand or a neon sign in the kitchen or something.

I’m blinkered and I want to take the blindfold off. I want to do what’s best for me and no one but my own stupid self is stopping me.


The Beauty of Wood

Yesterday, I was standing inside my friend’s shed facing a huge whirring monster of a lathe.

The engine was roaring, I was wearing a face mask and face filter over my nose and mouth.

The temperature outside and inside the shed was over 30 degrees.

Sweat had already melted into my eyes and I was blinking and finding it hard to breathe.

To be completely honest, I was really rather scared.

In my small and freshly manicured hands, I was holding a razor sharp chisel, about a foot long.

My teacher, Den, knew everything.

All I had to do was listen, focus, and do exactly what I was told.

The log of wood was attached to the lathe by two spikes and Den made marks on the wood to match the shape of my hands.

I could see the lines and I knew the chisels would shape the wood but I had no idea what I was doing.

Den pressed the green button on the lathe and it started up.

The roaring. The sweat. The prickles of fear.

I swallowed. I swallowed my fear. I held the chisel and relaxed.

The log was in a roughly hewn hexagon shape.

My first job was to smooth the angles into a cylinder. I did that.

Bits of wood flew off.

Some, quite fiercely, struck my face mask.

My tshirt underneath the protective jacket filled with thick brown sawdust.

My shoes and feet filled with brown sawdust.

Sawdust filled my neck and legs and covered my hands and hair.

My eyes were running.

My hands were steady.

I chipped my manicure.

Den gently guided me along in stages.

Slowly I gouged out thin bands of wood.

Den used black iron pincers to ensure the slots that I carved were the right size.

Fear diminished, and the task in hand filled my mind. The delight in what I was doing was euphoric.

I felt completely at one with the wood. The lathe was the dragon I was riding into the sky.

A dangerous partner and a great thrill to challenge the growling machine and the sharp edged chisels whilst keeping my hands steady.

The growing mastery made me grin wildly and a new part of my brain opened up. I could feel my brain almost glittering as I assimilated this new experience.

I could feel the learning. A transformation.

A log of wood into a beautiful bespoke mallet.

A girl into a carpenter.

In the space of an hour, I had evolved again.

The mallet is sanded and polished

It fits my hand.

I made it.


So you don’t wear scarves but…

About 10 years ago, a pattern for a scarf was published on Knitty and I thought it was wonderful.

I paused briefly to collect wool and needles and I cast on.

After a couple of repeats of the pattern, I hated it.

My version looked nothing like the picture.

There’s two lots of holes in the pattern, one large; made by double yarnovers, and one small, made with a single “yo”.

In my knitting, I had two lots of large holes. Ugh!

The pattern went back into my queue. I did something else with the wool.

A few years later, a friend from Knitting Club made the scarf, and it looked exactly like it was supposed to.

I tried again. Same thing happened. Ugh!

I’m not a scarf wearer, and if I can confess, I have a scarf in the cupboard next to me which is due to be unravelled because I have never worn it.

But the lace ripple scarf was still in my queue.

Each time I edited the queue, the scarf came back in my mind. Ugh!

Failure.

I’m never put off by failure.

This scarf says a lot about me.

So it’s ten years on, I’m going on holiday for the first time in four years and planning my holiday knitting.

The scarf beckons.

I’m now a couple dozen lace shawls along from last time I got burned on the scarf.

I’m thinking about the ugly two large holes and a light bulb goes off in my brain.

What about knitting the back of the single yo?

Oh My God!

Yes! I need to knit the back of the yo!

Eureka!!!

So, on holiday I unpacked the wool and needles and the trick worked.

I packed entirely the wrong yarn however, and the indigo dye was coming off onto my fingers and I knew it would make my neck blue every time I wore it.

So I unravel again, and use the Greek wifi to find something a little less “hand dyed”.

Order placed, I then spend days working out what to make with “leaky” wool.

Finally I find a pattern and cast on, and spend the rest of the vacation knitting with a pack of baby wipes to hand.

The new wool comes before I get home.

I’m at the end of the first ball, and I can confirm that you do become able to memorise the lace after about three repeats.

I can’t put it down!

It’s also apparent that I have bought enough wool to make a hat and gloves to go with.

I don’t wear scarves.

But I never give up.


Divided loyalties…

Whilst on the most leisurely of holidays, the mind wanders off the usual diversions of glamorous dinners, drinking too much, long afternoon naps, feeding fish whilst eating lunch and watching billionaire boats zoom in and out of harbour.

From afar, British politics seems quite ridiculous and if it wasn’t for the enormous stakes being played for it would be quite easy just to tune it all out and let the cards fall as they will.

In my current book, the Iliad, written here in the heart of Greece, back in the Bronze Age, the mortals face the same dilemmas between remaining true to themselves and what they know is right, and what they must do to obey their leaders, and what the Gods demand.

Nothing has changed.

And in the smaller, domestic world of friends and family, how does someone decide to navigate drama caused by the falling out of people they like and love?

At work, the most delightful jobs can turn quickly to poison and your day can be spoilt by spite and backstabbing over literally nothing.

The Iliad is coloured throughout by the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon, his King.

Agamemnon spites Achilles because he speaks out of turn and reveals the message sent from the Gods as he tries to halt the plague sent by Apollo who is angered by Agamemnon and which ravages the troops camped outside Troy’s invincible citadel.

Looking back at my own life, I have been spitefully treated over things I’ve done in the name of duty and conscience and being lied about for any reason isn’t funny.

Many times I’ve wondered how things would have turned out if I had no comprehension of right and wrong and if I had gone along nodding and smiling.

In one of my favourite agony columns Ask A Manager the first topic chapter deals with solutions to the question “my boss is a jerk.”

Readers can offer comments and advice and the breadth of the madness encountered at work by hapless souls trying to earn a crust is truly funny. But sad at the same time.

One person, for medical reasons, has to eat a certain strict diet and prepares food for lunch and her boss daily eats whatever he finds in the fridge.

Another person goes to the toilet and her manager follows and proceeds to fire work questions throughout her time in the cubicle.

There’s such a diverse range of bizarre behaviour which appears to be fine with the person inflicting their madness that you wonder what they think to themselves, how they rationalise it all.

The advice given to everyone who writes in on that topic is “get a new job.”

Which makes perfect sense!

But what do you do when your brother falls out with your dad or the photography club you belong to welcomes a racist who spouts unpleasant filth?

You can’t always quit your family and you might find no one else in your club finds a problem with a bigot in their midst.

Indeed, finding a replacement job is not the work of an instant and the grinding days leave people exhausted and unable to muster the strength to review job websites and so on in the evening.

Do you quit your hobby and miss out on activities you like because you don’t have any support from your friends for your convictions?

And what about being in the public eye, like the warrior Achilles or a Cabinet Minister?

How do you reconcile your duties to your followers who led you to power, and your destiny, and your sense of right and wrong?

How will history judge you?

How well do you sleep at night?

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

What are the consequences of your actions? What happens if you stay and try to work things out?

I’m not sure I have the answer.

It’s a timeless situation, that’s for sure.

Here you can see the boat I would buy if I had the time and money to spend on one. So pretty.


Dreaming of Ithaca…

Here, in the total silence of dawn, I’m awake and the rest of the world is asleep.

I’m sitting in our apartment in Ithaca and for the first time, looking out the window, the sea, the yachts and all the world outside is utterly still.

The water, with it’s dark blue gorgeousness, looks like it has been ironed flat.

I’m in a contemplative mood, coming on holiday so soon after losing my Mum.

Stopping everything completely and coming to a standstill after working flat out for so many months.

Somewhat reluctantly, I knew that this trip would be coloured by my head which was full of big dramas from the past and I’d have to work through them here instead of just goofing off; and that these subconscious things would present themselves to me, as unbidden memories and vivid dreams, and that has proven to be the case.

There’s a scented candle burning on the beautiful wooden coffee table and it’s gradually turning lighter outside.

The sky is such a pale shade of blue it’s almost white.

I’m covered in ink, (my fountain pen always wants to give something back to me) and I have been sitting here writing lists.

Lists of things to do that I have wanted to do but never put into words.

The power of writing things down has never ceased to amaze me.

Also, when I get home, I need to find practical ways to free up my headspace for the deep work I know is needed.

I came here to Ithaca to look inside myself and have now rested and restored myself and I’m starting to look outwards.

Funny how you only see your path when you start to look properly at the things around you isn’t it?

After a lavish brunch yesterday we were admiring the giant schooner “Artemis” which was parked in the harbour.

When we looked it up online it is run by a travel company that takes people by sea from here to Troy.

Looks like fate is guiding me onwards in my journey.

What will I find in Troy when I finally get there?

Following in the footsteps of the heroes of legend – the wily Odysseus, brave Achilles and brutal Agamemnon, I’ve been to all their places – so let’s not stop here and forget the lovers Paris and Helen, and the next scene in Homer’s tale.

It’s only right I should follow it to the end isn’t it?

But let’s not forget, Aeneas then flees the burning city after the long seige and the wooden horse.

Following the fall of Troy he goes to Carthage, and then he founds Rome, so it’s not going to be a short journey.

You’re not the end of the story, Ithaca, you’ve given me back peace and eased my heart and you’re leading me onwards.


Ithaca Folk Museum, knitted, crocheted and embroidered loveliness…

For those who love ancient things and local history, folk museums on Greek Islands are always fascinating.

Today we visited the folk history museum on Ithaca and it was no disappointment!

Crammed with ephemera from the past up to the 1930’s it truly was like stepping back in time.

There were old brass instruments from the town band, a beautiful ‘Hurdy Gurdy’ which played music when the handle was turned that would have played in the town square.

Naval equipment including a beautiful hand painted poster showing naval flags, uniforms, old furniture with islamic writing and pearl inlay sat in the same treasure palace as ancient farming implements of all kinds, leather goat skin sacks and wine jugs, wine presses, flour making mill stones and everything in between.

At the foot of the stairs was a display of ancient lace making equipment and examples of work including the original pricked cardboard templates used for making lace with cherubs and other designs.

Upstairs was the best bit!

Such a brilliant display of old embroidery, rugs, spinning wheels, weaving looms, knitting and sewing equipment and best of all, loads of hand made objects from over a hundred years ago in some cases.

It took me ages to go round!

Here is an old crib with a crocheted blanket.

Those who know me know I am obsessed with vintage bed jacket knitting patterns and here was a real live one with a name tape!

I loved the nightdress case! My bed is old and I have never seen anything like this before!

Below is one of several patchwork rugs, again, new to me but obviously very much in vogue here in the 1920’s.

A colourful crochet granny rug:

An enormous spinning wool winder

The knitted and crocheted items were made with yarn that was very fine and usually extremely scratchy.

The scratchier the blanket, the less wear and tear it showed.

Some of the things even had labels saying who made the items and whose flock the yarn came from.

Absolutely inspiring!

Open early and only on weekdays.

Behind the bakers, Vathy, Ithaca.


Things you need to know about Ithaca…

Ithaca is the most relaxing place in the world.

The streets are clean, the sea is blue and clear and if you have a bit of a breeze it takes the heat down a notch.

If you’re thinking of packing for a holiday here hold off with lots of fancy tops and silly shoes.

No one wears anything like that. Even at dinner.

One statement necklace is enough and bring plenty of lipbalm.

If you have long hair bring something to keep it off your face as well as a cute baseball cap to stop your nose burning.

Flip flops are fine for the beach but you’re going to end up climbing ladders getting on and off boats so bring something with a bit of grip that you can get wet without stressing out.

Most people wear tshirts and shorts and noone wears false eyelashes or weird black eyebrows. Thank god.

Bring Lush Ro’s Argan shower cream as it will stop your skin from flaking and it’s soothing.

Don’t bother with perfume as you’ll grow to love the smell of insect repellent. Bring anti itch stuff as well.

A reusable bag for shopping is a must, they have carrier bag charges here as well.

There’s more things to do than you can fit into a holiday so if you want to just relax and swim and sleep do it.

I’m loving the slow pace and the absence of domestic chores, my sole cooking this week was tipping out the foil tray with remains of last night’s huge greek salad onto a plate for lunch in the hotel room. With crisps.

Oh, and if you order stifado, it’s wrapped in paper, not filo pastry, so don’t try to eat it.

And, be warned, there’s no hummus anywhere!


Spying on Ithaca…

Sitting outside our hotel room and from various waterfront vantage points with nothing to do but watch life pass by I have started to feel like James Bond on stake out at the beginning of “The Living Daylights.”

Every boat that passes, every van that serves the restaurants and hotels shoves past us, and we know John drives the water supply wagon and the draught beer is carried about on a van with a red tarpaulin top.

There’s an elderly man who looks like Catweazel in a red and white top who rides about on a pink bike ostensibly selling paper windmills from a basket on the front.

Jupiter Ascending and her family are our room cleaners and Jon is taming his faithful ant for further reconnaissance missions.

The water taxi heading out of the harbour at odd hours is a conversation point as are the endless procession of gorgeous mega-yachts and schooners.

I know people who are fervent train spotters but watching billion pound boats is a bewitching occupation.

The shadowy occupants of these hulking beauties fire my imagination and become Blofelds and international mega villains and we have binoculars and can study at length and look at the names of the boats and find out where they’re from.

There’s websites galore for geeking about enormous yachts.

This morning for instance, moored in the bay of the harbour our room was another huge three story yacht. This one was the Zarina, sleek and modern, three storeys with ten bedrooms, flying a Maltese flag, and based in Valletta, as are most of the best boats.

A grey haired man was having a cigarette on the deck, then he went back inside to finish his plans for world domination.

As Valletta has the biggest and best boats and none of the awesome ones are available to charter it’s obviously the place to go to find a sugar daddy.

I can’t imagine anything worse than a megalomaniac elderly rich idiot but I’d definitely go there to boat-watch!