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Friday, 27 February 2015

The Real Tudors ... Masters of Propaganda and Spin ...

Now I have to 'fess up: I'm in withdrawal.

The BBC's totally splendid Wolf Hall season has finished and I am SO going to miss my weekly fix of Mark Rylance's superb Cromwell. Wasn't he fabulous? So wily and self-restrained with more than a hint of violence tucked away with that stiletto blade he kept hiding up his sleeve. I don't think there was a weak member in the entire cast. They were all brilliant.

Feeling slightly sad about the end of the season I took myself off yesterday morning to the National Portrait Gallery where the exhibition The Real Tudors is winding up. Sorry peeps but it finishes on Sunday so there's not a lot of time left if you want to trolley over for a gander yourselves.

Now, first off, I have to take issue with the NPG's title for the exhibition: the Tudors were the masters of spin and I feel that it ought to have been called the Tudors as they'd like to have been seen. Honestly, this lot could have taught the image-manipulators of today a PR trick or two.

The second big point is that they haven't included anything by the great court painter Hans Holbein, who crafted the great, iconic images of the age. Waldemar Januszczak argued recently that our enduring fascination with the Tudors has grown out of the fabulous images that Hans Holbein created, which have provided us with a vivid window into the life of the time. I think he's got a point, which makes the omission of Holbein from the Real Tudors feel as though something important is missing.

That said it's an interesting exhibition with some great images to savour.

They start off, as you'd expect, with the founder of the dynasty, wily old Henry VII.


His portrait looks strange to me: the head seems too big for the shoulders. The rose he's clutching in his right hand appears to be the red rose of Lancaster, which later morphs into the red and white Tudor rose in the portraits of his successors as they gilded the legend of how they were the great consolidators who united the warring factions of Lancaster and York. 

Apparently this is the oldest portrait in the National Portrait Gallery's entire collection. The inscription tells us that it was painted on 29th October, 1505 on the orders of Herman Rinck, the agent for the Holy Roman Emperor. The story was that, after the death of his Queen, Elizabeth of York, Henry had his heart set on marrying Margaret of Austria, the widowed Duchess of Savoy, and had opened negotiations with her father, the Emperor, Maximilian I. As was the custom with the great and the good in those days a portrait was sent so that Margaret could get an eyeful of what might be coming her way. The marriage negotiations came to nothing, but Margaret got to keep the painting. 

Also on display beside the portrait is the head of Henry's funeral effigy. When he finally popped his clogs they had a life-sized effigy made to go on top of his coffin for the funeral procession. The face of this effigy was moulded from a plaster cast of the dead king's face. He looked surprisingly animated and personable for someone who was recently deceased.


The exhibition moved on to Henry VIII, and we saw him strutting his stuff with that famous pose immortalised by Holbein, but shown in a copy made by Holbein's studio, and on loan from the National Trust. Isn't he the very image of royal power and majesty? Jaw set with determination - or, maybe just a hint of stubbornness, leg's planted confidently apart in a masterful stride and eyes staring straight out at us, demanding that we bow to his kingship. In the course of just one generation the royal image-makers have come quite a way from the awkward portrait of his father, staring meekly out of the frame in the hope of snaring a bride, to this image of kingly virility.


And then we have the Mini-Me image of Edward VI painted in the same masterful stance as his father.


As the mother of a nine year-old boy I was moved by the play-acting of the nine year-old Edward, trying to fill his father's shoes, and so vulnerable to the machinations of his Uncle Seymour, who reigned in his place as Regent.

There must have been huge fears and concerns for the safety of the realm when a child took the throne, but this portrait seems to have been conceived to reassure everyone that the boy was a chip of the old block, and that England would be as safe in the hands of the son as it had been in the hands of the father.

After Edward came the austere Catholicism of his half sister Mary. Her images seem to have been forged to convey the sincerity of her strong Catholic faith, during a time of huge religious upheaval. Edward had been a Protestant Evangelical in a way that made his father, the sponsor of the English Reformation, look moderate, and ,with the connivance of his Seymour relatives, young Edward consolidated Protestantism as the state religion. He worried that this work would be undone if the Catholic Mary, or the apparently disinterested Elizabeth, should take the throne and, in a bid to protect his legacy he wrote them out of the succession in his will, nominating his cousin, the devoutly Protestant, Lady Jane Grey, as his heir. Mary, of course, was having none of this. On her brother's death she raised an army and Lady Jane was ousted after only 9 days as Queen.

They were turbulent times, and Mary's portraits depict her as a pious woman with a serious purpose. To my eye she's a bit dowdy by comparison with her wonderfully flamboyant sister, Elizabeth.

Here she is (below), painted in 1554 by Hans Eworth. Do you see that fabulous pearl she's got round her neck? That's la Peregrina,  one of the most famous pearls in the world. It was found originally by an African slave on the island of Santa Margarita in the Gulf of Panama. He gave it to the administrator of the Spanish colony, and was rewarded with his freedom. The pearl made its way back to Spain and into the hands of the future Philip II, who presented it as a love token to Mary. After Mary's death it was returned to the Spanish Royal family whose women wore it for another couple of centuries before it fell into the hands of Joseph Bonaparte. In 1969 it was bought by Richard Burton for his great love, Elizabeth Taylor. When she died it was auctioned off by Sotheby's in 2011 for a cool US$11 million.


Anyway I'm getting distracted by the bling. Back to the portraits. 

My favourite Tudor is unquestionably the Virgin Queen, or Elizabeth the Great, as I think she should be referred to. And her portraits deliver spin and dynastic propaganda in spadefuls. Elizabeth's personal motto was semper eadem, always the same, which must also have been the instruction given to her portrait painters who never allowed her image to age. 

And here in all its splendour is the Armada portrait, painted to celebrate England's victory over the Spanish Armada. 



This portrait is laden with strutting triumphalism. It oozes out of the brush strokes. Elizabeth's right hand rests delicately on the globe. Here she's not just Queen of England. With the vanquished Armada floundering in stormy seas over her left shoulder, she's the Queen of the Waves and all the World. And it's not just Spain that's in the firing line here: this is painted as a vindication of her Protestant faith. It's proclaiming that God was with her, and her newly Protestant kingdom. Remember that at this time the Holy Roman Emperor was busy telling anyone who would listen that Elizabeth was illegitimate, a usurper with no proper claim to the throne and a heretic to boot, adding that it would not be a sin to bump her off. No English monarch - until the ill-fated Charles I - lived in greater or more constant danger than Elizabeth, but in this painting she stands victorious and undefeated, overcoming the very worst that her many enemies can throw at her. This, my friends, is Girl Power as we've never seen it before, or since. 

If you get a chance do go along and take a look. I understand that they're going to include the paintings in a larger scale exhibition at the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris next month. You can find the link to the Parisian exhibition here: Les Tudors. I see they've given the whole thing a racy new French title, Les Tudors, as opposed to Les Vrais Tudors. Maybe it was all just a subtle case of English humour and those clever curators down at the NPG were being ironic when they suggested that these were the Real Tudors.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

As shared on Friday Finds

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

A historical knitting song from a time when normal folk didn't know numbers ...

Have you ever stopped to consider how, for much of our history, most of us could neither count nor read? And can you imagine the problems that must have created for anyone trying to knit even a semi-complex stitch pattern?

Labourers used to count on their fingers using five sets of four fingers to make a score of 20. And, to keep them focussed on where they'd got to, they developed counting rhymes. There were different rhymes depending on what they were counting, and depending on which part of the country they were in. Last night I was reading Food in England by Dorothy Hartley. She quoted this example of an ancient counting rhyme:

... eni, deni, diny, dass, catla, wena, wyna, wass ...

Now this struck me as being very similar to some playground rhymes that children still use today.

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe
Catch a tiger by the toe ... . 

I wonder if this modern-day rhyme grew out of some universally-known counting rhyme used by our ancestors to keep tally on their sheep.  Maybe we're listening to the echoes of our distant past in the playgrounds of today.

I did a little bit more research on why they counted to 20 using multiples of four rather than just 10 with multiples of five for the number of digits on each hand. It turns out that these rhymes originated in the Celtic lands because Celtic languages traditionally did not count individual numbers above 20. You'd get to 20 and then start counting twenties.

My favourite counting rhyme comes from Teesdale, where it was traditionally used to keep tally on sheep. This is how it goes:

Yan
Tean
Tether
Mether
Pip
Lezar
Azar
Catrah
Borna
Dick
Yan-a-dick
Tean-a-dick
Tether-dick
Mether-dick
Bumfit
Yan-a-bum
Tean-a-bum
Tethera-bum
Methera-bum
Jiggit

Isn't it a delight to say out loud? If you say it, counting on your fingers as you go, you can see how the repetitions work over four fingers with a thumb, and the new count kicking off after each thumb. It's easy to imagine the shepherd doing the count and striking off his digits as he goes.

A similar knitting song was the subject of an article published in a literary magazine called Notes and Queries in September 1863. The correspondent reports that in Wensleydale the local ladies had a knitting song that they repeated as they worked, which was a local version of the Teesdale numbers. The correspondent continues: Though it simply consists of numerals up to twenty, it is most curious; and seeing it is in the Norse language, must have lingered in the Dale a thousand years. 

The ladies of the Dales were using the same system to count their stitches as the shepherds used to count their sheep.



The article also mentions the account by Betty Yewdale of how she and her sister were sent from Langale to Dentsdale in Yorkshire to learn how to knit socks. Whilst they were there they sang this song as they worked at every needle:

Sally an' I, Sally an' I,
For a good pudding pye,
Tea hoaf wheat, an' tudder hoaf rye,
Sally an' I, for a good pudding pye. 

When they'd reach the end they'd shout off and repeat the rhyme for the next needle using another person's name. Now imagine you're there, knitting socks on double ended needles: three needles with 15 or 20 stitches per needle being worked by a fourth. If you're a reasonably quick knitter Betty's song would more or less last for the 15 or 20 stitches on each of your needles. It's easy to imagine the knitters singing away, finding a rhythm in their work that matched the meter and rhythm of their song. And, for me, it's just a little bit thrilling to find that same rhythm in my own work today as I labour over a pair of socks on double-pointed needles.



If you'd like to read the account from the magazine you can find it here:  Betty Yewdale's Knitting Song on Google Books.


All the best for now and happy knitting,


Bonny x

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Fisherman's Rib Pom Pom Hat ...



I've just finished a pom pom hat to match the Fisherman's Rib Scarf that I posted a couple of weeks' ago.

And here it is, beautifully modelled (below) by my favourite caterer's size pickle jar. I'm having a bad hair day, so I thought I'd substitute a large pickle jar for my own fair noggin. I always feel like a total numpty when I have to take pictures of myself. I know this is the age of the selfie ... but not today ... not for me.


My love affair with Fisherman's Rib continues to burn brightly. It's such a great stretchy stitch with a lovely drape. I've got a nice over-sized boyfriend's cardigan idea gestating at the back of my mind. It would be a great stitch to use to create a wonderful casual cardigan for keeping cosy on the nippier days of spring. Maybe I'll start off with a mini-me version for my son, Emi, first.


Anyway, back to the present and my pom pom hat. I've used the same colours as I used for the scarf, which are from the beautiful Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran range; they are the wonderful buttery cream that is colour number 300101 and the very gently blue/grey (they call it silver) that is colour number 300202.

Close up of the icord cast-on edging

I used an icord cast-on for the bottom edge of the hat (see close-up photos above and below), which has a tighter tension than the Fisherman's Rib, and, as a result, replaces the normal rib that would be used to hold it on. If you'd like to make it bigger or smaller you can simply add or subtract the number of stitches that you need to get your size.  I have a really big head - well, really big relative to the proportions of all my other bits. It measures a whopping 22 inches (56 cm) in circumference, and this hat is the perfect size for me. If you want to change the number of stitches you'll need to bear 2 things in mind:



1. Fisherman's Rib must be repeated over an even number of stitches; and
2. to decrease your Fisherman's Rib at the crown you need to come down to a number of stitches that is a factor of six so that you can work the knit 3 together, purl 3 together decrease without messing up the rib on the uppermost part of the crown. It doesn't matter if you've got a couple of stitches left over as long as you continue to work them in rib whilst you work the shaping. It's not brain surgery, and it doesn't need to be totally precise as long as you hold the rib pattern.



I started off by casting on 76 stitches using the icord  cast-on method, and marked the end of the row with a piece of wool in a contrasting colour, so that I'd know when I'd finished one row and started on another for the pattern.

Do you know how to do icord cast-on? It's a really whizzy way to create a fancy edging when you cast on, and it's easy once you get your head around it. I find it easier to cast the stitches on using a pair of straight needles, and then transfer the finished number of stitches onto the circular needles to knit the body of the hat.

Basically you need to cast on 3 stitches.

On the first row increase by knitting twice into the first stitch. You will end with 4 stitches on the right hand needle.



Slip the last three of these stitches (with the live-end of the wool) back onto the left needle, leaving one stitch on the right hand needle.



Knit into the front and back of the first stitch on the left hand needle, pulling the live-end of the yarn across the back of the three stitches on the left hand needle. Knit the remaining 2 stitches on the left hand needle.  You will now have 5 stitches on the right hand needle. As you carry on, pulling the live-end of the wool across these last 3 stitches, you effectively pull them into the tubular shape that forms the icord, as you close the cylinder with the tension of the wool being pulled across to begin the next row. It forms a garter stitch as all the stitches are knit in the same direction without turning.

Slip 3 of those stitches closest to the live-end of the wool back onto the left hand needle and carry on until you have a total of 76 stitches knit onto the right hand needle.

Slip all of the stitches onto your circular needle to knit the rest of the hat. I used a 4 mm, 20 cm cord circular needle.

The foundation row is a plain knit 1, purl 1 all the way around. You need to join the two ends of your straight row for the first stitch, making sure that you've got the knitting straight before you make the join.

The Fisherman's Rib  pattern starts on the next row.

Row 1: Knit 1 Below, Purl 1 all the way around. With the Knit 1 below you're knitting into the loop of the stitch on the previous round, just like I did when knitting the Fisherman's Rib Scarf pattern.



Row 2: Knit 1, Purl 1 below all the way around. With the Purl 1 below stitch you work a purl stitch into the loop of the purl stitch from the previous round.

Repeat Rows 1 and 2 until you are ready to shape the crown. I kept going until my hat was 17 cm long (including the icord bit). I was aiming for a snug fit with a perky pom pom perched high on the crown of my head.


To shape the crown:

This will be easier to work on a set of double-pointed needles. I also like to use needles that are a size smaller to keep the tension consistent over the decreases, so I slipped my work onto a set of 4, size 4 mm, double-pointed needles to finish it.

Row 1: *K3 tog, P1, K1, P1*. Repeat from * to * 12 times to the last 4 stitches, and rib those last 4 stitches as normal. By the end of this row you should have 52 stitches.

Row 2: Work in the normal rib pattern.

Row 3: *K3 tog, P3 tog*. Repeat from * to * 8 times to last 4 stitches, and rib those last 4 stitches as normal. By the end of this round you should have 18 stitches.

Row 4: Work in the normal rib pattern.

Row 5: *K3 tog, P 3 tog*. Repeat from * to* all the way around. By the end of this round you should have 6 stitches.

Draw the wool through the remaining 6 stitches with a darning needle, and darn in all your loose ends. Make a pom pom in contrasting yarn, tie it with the main colour yarn and sew it on top. I've explained how I make pom pom on the Fisherman's Rib Scarf pattern if you'd like any more information on the fine art of pom pom making.


All the best for now,

Bonny x


Thursday, 19 February 2015

Osterley Park's snowdrop drifts ...


Yesterday Emi and I headed over to Osterley Park with Maxi, the Wonder Dog, for a bit of a race around. It was a truly glorious morning: blue skies and sunshine with the mercury pushing up towards something approaching a hospitable temperature. It felt like maybe, just maybe, spring had sprung.


I've written about Osterley Park many times before. It's our local National Trust property, and I absolutely love it. It's where we come when we need a spot of fresh air and don't want to travel very far to inhale it. 

After we'd given the Wonder Dog a race round the park we decided to head into the gardens to see what how the spring flowers were getting along. 


We were delighted to see drifts of snowdrops encircling the trees.


They really were pretty. I think we'd inadvertently caught them at their best.

I love the snowdrops. They make my spirits soar. After the long haul of winter and the dreary grey of January they are such a welcome sight. Much as I love them, however, it would never occur to me to pull some and bring them inside. I remember as a child my grandparents' lawn used to turn white with snowdrops. They'd been growing there since forever and had spread around this way and that until they covered the grass with their floral snow, but whenever I asked to pick some to bring inside my Grandma would gently, but firmly, say no, adding that it would be unlucky to do so. 


And so the lovely snowdrops remained outside, and we admired them from afar.

This superstition seems to be one that many people in other parts of the country shared. It was commonly believed that to bring a posy of snowdrops into your house was an invitation for death to follow. Perhaps this was because they were planted by the Victorians on the graves of their loved ones, and hence they became tainted by association with the churchyard. Others have sought to explain the superstition by suggesting that the small white petals resemble a shroud. Speaking for myself I find it difficult to see anything shroud-like in the delicate beauty of the snowdrop, but each to their own as they say.


In earlier ages they were known as Candlemas Bells owing to how they were normally in bloom on Candlemas Day, the second of February, when people traditionally celebrated the Virgin's ritual purification 40 days after the birth of Jesus. As a result, in religious art, they were sometimes used as the symbol of the Virgin; their lowered heads a reminder of the Virgin's sorrow at the Crucifixion. 


Snowdrops are not native to our shores. It's thought that they were first introduced by Italian monks who carried them from their homeland to plant around the Cistercian houses of pre-Reformation England. This would mean they probably arrived here in the twelfth or thirteenth century when the great age of monastery-building was underway, and large numbers of people in Holy Orders were flooding into the country to assist with their foundation.


Perhaps those early monks carried them along as part of their medicine chests.  In the Middle Ages snowdrop bulbs were sometimes used as a rub-on treatment for headaches and as an antidote to certain poisons.  In the Caucuses people have long believed that they would remain young and retain the full sharpness of their mental faculties if they ate the odd snowdrop bulb. Modern medicine has vindicated their faith in the health-giving properties of the snowdrop, having established that the chemical galantamine, present in the snowdrop bulbs, helps to arrest the progress of Alzheimer's disease.



Osterley has a very special winter garden, where there are a great many other things vying with the snowdrops for your attention. I enjoyed admiring its fine bones. My mum always says that a good garden stands out in winter as you get to see all the underlying shapes and the structural backdrop when the leaves fall. She's not wrong. The centre of the garden (above) has been skilfully designed so that your eye travels on into the middle distance, between the trees and along the grassy path. I also love how they've used the red dog wood to add a dash of colour on the left hand side.

I loved the dwarf irises ... 





... the hellebores ...



.. and the crocus ...



... and I was blown away to find a sheltered bank, where a few daffodils were stealing a march and already blowing their trumpets ... .



All things told it was a very fine stroll. 

All the best for now,


Bonny x

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Home-made fat balls ... yummy (if you're a bird)

Emi and I have been enthusiastically watching the birds these past few days. He's got his half-term holidays this week, and, as there's a zoo in our back garden, it's hard not to notice. Quite the opposite. In fact the challenge comes in tearing yourself away from the kitchen window. We've got our cameras sitting at the ready, waiting for something cute and/ or interesting to show up and be snapped.

This little Black Cap is one of my favourite visitors. He's really tenacious and always comes back for more.

We've been buying fat balls from the supermarket, but they look all sort of grey and grungy - not that our feathered friends seem to mind. Yesterday, however, we decided to have a go at making our own. And I have to report that they've been going down a storm outside with the avian hordes.




I'd got some left-over Trex baking fat which we melted in a saucepan over a low heat before adding a similar volume of mixed bird seed. Our recipe wasn't very accurately calibrated, and, as we were dancing around to Emi's play list, which includes at least six renditions of the theme tune from Ghostbusters, it was all a bit happy-go-lucky. But that's always the type of cooking that produces the best food. It's almost as though you stir a little bit of your good humour into the mix as you go.



Anyway our mixture didn't look desperately appetising, but then, as we didn't have feathers or beaks, we decided that our opinions probably didn't count for much.

When everything was suitably gooey and all mixed up we poured it into a clean ice-cream carton and stored it in the fridge overnight so that it could cool down and harden up.



The resulting mixture was a bit like a not-very-crispy trail bar for birds. We scooped great balls of it out of the carton using an ice-cream scoop and tied them up in recycled string bags that we'd bought onions and garlic in. Then we fixed these to the branches of the plum tree outside.



And the verdict: a feathered thumbs-up!

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Friday, 13 February 2015

The St. Valentine's Day Miracle ...


Steam hissed out of the huge, grey kettle; an angry spume of scalding vapour. A split second later the shrill note of the whistle in its spout announced that the water had boiled.

Come on, Ethel. Get on with it. I need three pots of India tea, one of Darjeeling and two orders of sultana scones, Madge said, her voice quivering with annoyance as she registered that I still hadn't made the tea. She'd left her orders on the table a good five minutes' ago.

She was right to be annoyed with me: I wasn't doing my job properly.



The truth was that my head was in the clouds. Today was St. Valentine's Day, and everyone else in the tea shop was eager to get off early to see their sweetheart. Everyone that is except for me, and they'd asked me to work a double shift instead.

My Alf, you see, was off at the war, so there was to be no celebration for me. Valentine's Day, 1915 was destined to pass unmarked and unobserved in the storybook of my life. 

Missing in action they'd said in their last telegram to his mum, and now all I could think about was how we'd spent last Valentine's Day together. He'd bought us tickets to go down to Brighton on the train.

It was a funny old time of the year to go down to Brighton.

Don't worry, he'd said. It'll be a laugh. We'll have the whole place to ourselves. Just you, me and the seagulls. 

And he was right. We had the whole promenade, the piers and the great pebbly beach all to ourselves. With the wind in my hair, the seagulls chasing the breaking waves and Alf's arm, a talisman against the future, wrapped protectively around my shoulders, I'd never felt happier or safer. We'd spent the day wandering around with not a care in the world. We'd planned our future: a nice little house just across the river in Battersea, three children, an allotment to grow our vegetables in and a dog with big floppy ears. It had all seemed so easy.

But what a difference a year can make. As soon as this stupid war had broken out he'd been one of the first to volunteer. He used to work on the railways, and so they said he'd make a great sapper, digging trenches under the German lines to spy on them and blow them up with high explosives. I never liked the sound of it, but he'd gone off with a song in his heart, happy that he was able to be of service to King and country.

Of course, I hadn't said anything at the time. It hadn't seemed right, what with him being so full of the whole idea of winning the war by Christmas and everything, but I'd always thought that he'd got the worst darn job in the whole British Army. I mean I'd have hated to have been cooped up in some damp trench with the German privies draining into the ground above me and only the rats for company, not knowing all the while when the whole thing might be blown sky-high. My heart stopped for a full minute every time I let myself imagine what it must have been like for him.

His mother felt the same. I knew she did. We'd never said as much to one another, but I've seen it written large on her face: Why can't someone else's son do this dismal thing? Why does it have to be my boy?

My eyes lingered on the large dent in the side of the kettle as my thoughts roamed free. It seemed to suck in all the light. Someone must have dropped it straight onto the flagstones. What a din that would have made.

Ethel, if you don't pull yourself together, Miss Bainbridge will be giving you your marching papers, Madge hissed in my ear, getting the scones out of their enamelled bin herself. Come on where's my tea. That old dragon on the corner table will raise the roof if we don't get her order sorted out soon. 

I looked over Madge's shoulder, through the kitchen door, into the cafe beyond. I saw a tall, stern-looking lady dressed in a long black coat sitting in the corner, her back to the wall and a large Gladstone bag wedged between her lap and the tabletop. She was looking around as though she were watching out for someone, but she didn't seem to be upset or to be nursing a grievance.

Has she complained about something? I asked.

No. Not yet, Madge replied. But she's the type. Mark my words. She's the type to make a fuss if her order's not seen to in double quick time.

She didn't seem to me to be the type to make a fuss, but I didn't say anything. I was just the kitchen girl who made the tea. What did I know?

The stern-looking lady had ordered a pot of Darjeeling, with lemon and no milk, and a sultana scone with butter and damson jam. I busied myself getting it ready for her. I placed a the tea on a tray with a scone, a paddle of butter and a little pot of jam. 

I watched as Madge carried the tray carefully to the corner table. 

The lady looked up, and caught me scrutinising her. There was a flicker of something in those cold grey eyes. It couldn't have been recognition: we'd never met before. My heart stopped. She'd come to me with news about Alf. Bad news. I could feel it in my bones.

Panic rose in my chest. Feeling as though time had slowed down and expanded I watched as she asked Madge something. Madge nodded, then turned back towards the kitchen and pointed to me.

The lady and I locked eyes again. This time there was something appraising in how she looked at me. She must have been weighing up how I'd take the horrible news she’d come to deliver.

I couldn't stay. I had to go. If I ran away now before she told me it would mean that in some parallel universe Alf would still be alive. If I didn't know, my heart could carry on. I could just wait it out, and then it would all be over and he'd come home with all the other boys once this terrible, awful nightmare had ended.

Fumbling with my apron strings I pulled it over my head and stuffed it into the enamel bin with the sultana scones. Grabbing my hat and coat from the pegs by the back door I raced outside and up the back stairs that led up into Vigo Street.

I could hear Madge shouting at me in the distance.

Wait, Ethel. Come back

I didn't wait. I couldn't. I ran off as fast as my legs would carry me. I could hear them both, running after me in pursuit. The hounds chasing the hare. Two sets of steps: one nimble and light footed, the other slower and heavier, but they had no chance.

I raced down Sackville Street, crossed Piccadilly, narrowly avoiding an omnibus and the rickety wheels of an organ grinder.

Oi! Miss! Watch where you're going! the omnibus driver shouted, pulling on the reins to bring the horse up short.

The blood was pumping in my ears, my heart felt as though it were about to burst through my chest, but I ran on down Pall Mall and into St. James' Park. I raced round the lake to our favourite spot with the wooden bench under the willow tree where we liked to sit on and feed the ducks. Alf and I used to go there every time he'd come to pick me up after work. We'd bring some left-over bread from the cafe for the ducks. It was a little ritual of ours; something we always did. We'd watch out for the Mandarin Ducks and tell each other that we'd stay true just like they did.




As the bench came into view I could see someone sitting on it. I huffed in annoyance, irritated that I wouldn't have it to myself. I slowed down, not sure whether to carry on or not, but I couldn't think of anywhere else to go.




A man was sitting at the far end. As I drew nearer I was able to make out that he was wearing an army uniform. My eyesight has never been great. I should probably be wearing spectacles, but, what with all the steam in the kitchen, they'd be no use to me, so I've never bothered getting any.

My steps dragged, growing slower and slower as my heart started to beat faster and faster. There was something familiar about the solider's profile, but he was shaking in a way that I didn't recognise. His head moved around as though he were following the trajectory of a manically erratic mosquito, and I noticed that his legs were also twitching involuntarily. He'd got them crossed one over the other with his left hand resting on top as though he were trying to hold them in place, but it wasn't working. I could see their busy, random movements.

For a moment I stood and watched him. Then he turned towards me, perhaps sensing my gaze lingering on him.

Our eyes locked. It was Alf.

I froze. He stood up and walked unsteadily towards me. Then I saw that his right arm was missing, and that down the right hand side of his face there was an angry mass of scar tissue as though he'd been burnt in a fire.

Alf? Is it you? I asked stupidly, too stunned to make one foot follow the other towards him.

It's what's left of me, Ethel, he said, making no attempt to come any closer. I'll totally understand if you'd rather I went away again. I'm not exactly the bloke I used to be.

It was then I realised that it really didn't matter what he looked like or how much he twitched. I was only glad he'd survived and come back to me. At least I'd been spared my very worst nightmare.

 I asked Matron if she'd seek you out and break the news gently so you didn't have to lose face if you'd rather not see me.

But he didn't get any further with his fine speech. My legs suddenly remembered how to work again and I ran over to envelop him in my embrace.

St. Valentine had delivered me a miracle: an injured, wobbly miracle, but we'd be able to take it from there. I knew we would. Somehow we'd make things work.












Thursday, 12 February 2015

Emi's Valentine Card ... shssh it's a secret ...

My son, Emi, has a crush. A really big crush on a beautiful little girl at swim club. She's a real princess: brains, beauty and nice parents to boot. I can only applaud his excellent taste. He's aiming high, my boy.

But, as old Bill Shakespeare, said the course of true love never did run smooth. And the principal fly in Emi's ointment is that she's eleven and he's only nine. He thinks that's a really big issue. Maybe he's right. From where I'm sitting on the sidelines I can see him hovering attentively whilst she scarcely ever notices him. He picks up her goggles when she drops them, fetches her towel, opens doors for her, smiling all the while and living with the hope that she'll remember his name. And when she does, well ... that just makes his day.

It's all very sweet and innocent. And I'm delighted that he's got such a healthy attitude towards girls. It's so much nicer than having him think that girls are stupid, and not wanting to have anything to do with them. In our house girls are brilliant, always have been, and there's nothing more to be said on the matter.

He's got it in his mind that Valentine's Day is coming up this weekend, and has enlisted my help in designing a suitable card for the young lady in question. We discussed how it should look, and, as he rather liked my Thank You cards of a few weeks' back we decided to do a flower power sort of thing. And, so this is what we've come up with, having spent a couple of happy hours painting and sticking over the weekend:


What do you think? Do you reckon she'll go for it?

Emi's hoping that she'll be bowled over, and will at least make the effort to get his name right in future.

Fingers crossed!

All the best for now,

Bonny x


Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Roasted cauliflower soup ...

I've just made a really moreish cauliflower soup.



We've got swim club tonight, which finishes late and, as there's school tomorrow, I need to have some supper that's going to be ready to serve up as soon as we get home. So the grand plan is to leave this in my Crock Pot with the setting on warm so that it's ready to go the moment we step through the door.

Mr B. should be home before us, but, as this soup's got cheese in, I'm not sure his technical skills would be up to reheating it. If we leave him in charge we're likely to find ourselves peering into a pot with a charcoal encrusted bottom and that awful smell of burnt food hanging in the air as he does his funny little tribal dance under the smoke alarm in a bid to disperse the fumes before it dials for the fire brigade.

Oh, no! We've been there too many times before. Mr B is the one person I know who really can't boil water, so we'll leave everything safely in the Crock Pot, and issue Mr B with an injunction prohibiting him from interfering with it in any way whatsoever.

Now, what makes this soup of yours so special, Bonny? I hear you ask your computer screen as you point a doubting finger at my mugshot and suspect me of hyperbole.

Well there are two stealth weapons that help make this the very best cauliflower soup in town:

1. Roasted cauliflower: I roast the cauliflower, which bigs up its flavour by a factor of about a thousand.
2. Le Roulé: I melt 150 g of French Roulé cheese into the pot before I bring it to the table, which bigs up the creamy, unctuous deliciousness by a factor of about another thousand (all scientifically-calibrated and totally conservative estimates, of course - ahem!).

Now I can't pretend that this is going to assist as part of your controlled weight loss plan, but come on peeps it's February! You can hide away all those adorable love-handles under layers of strategically draped wool for at least another couple of months.

So, now that that's all settled, here's what we're going to need for this wonderful soup of mine:

1 medium sized cauliflower, washed and cut into florets
1000 ml of good vegetable stock
1 medium sized onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 toes of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 medium sized potatoes, peeled and finely chopped
2 bay leaves
150g Le Roulé soft cheese
200 ml double cream - I use the Elmlea low fat cream in a token effort to regain a little ground in the calorie war that I'm so spectacularly losing at the moment.

And here's what to do:

Place your washed cauliflower florets in a baking tin and toss them with some olive oil. Roast them in an oven pre-heated to 190º C/ 375º F for 20 to 25 minutes, tossing them from time to time so that they don't brown.

Meanwhile sweat your onion, garlic and potatoes in a saucepan with a good glug of olive oil until they are all soft.

Add the roasted cauliflower florets and mix everything well before adding the vegetable stock.

Bring the mixture to a gentle boil and let it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse and for everything to cook through.

Remove from the heat. Fish out the bay leaves and discard them. Then liquidise with a stick blender.

Add the cream and the cheese over the gentlest of heats. Stir in. The cheese melts easily into the soup to create a wonderful velvety delight, and the parsley in which it was rolled disperses through the liquid to make it look as though you're a wizard with the mandolin.

Serve with crusty bread, good company and a nice glass of vino.

All the best for now,


Bonny x


Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Fisherman's rib pom pom scarf ...

One of stitches that I have fallen in love with is Fisherman's Rib. It creates a wonderfully squidgy textile that's really comfortable to wear. It's pretty quick to knit up too, making it perfect for us impatient types who like to see results pronto!


I'm also in love with Debbie Bliss's Cashmerino Aran wool. The wonderful palette of colours and the exquisite softness of the yarn make me really happy. Yes, you've caught me out: I'm a really simple soul at heart!


The colours I chose for this project were: cream (colour code 300101); and silver (colour code 300202). Right now I'm thinking that I'd like my whole house painted in that silver colour. It's not really silver, as such, it's more of a pale duck egg blue-meets-grey. And it's spot-on gorgeous in my book.

I used 2 balls of the cream (180 m in total) and 1 ball of the blue (90 m) and knit the scarf using 5 mm needles. My scarf wasn't desperately long. It measured 120 cm from tip to tip (not including the pom pom at either end), so if you think you'd like a longer one it might be worth buying an extra ball of wool in your main colour so that you don't have to cut short your ambitions.

If you'd like to make it here's my pattern:

Cast on 8 stitches using the long tail cast-on method, which will work better with the stretchiness of the rib. 

Row 1: knit. (8 stitches on needles)

Row 2: Knit 1 (K1)  [K1, K1 into the loop below the stitch - see photo below to get the general idea of how it's done], this part between the square brackets will form the Fisherman's Rib and is referred to hereafter as Rib. Carry on in rib until last stitch: K1. (8 stitches on needles)



Row 3: K1, Rib, K1 (8 stitches)

Row 4:  K1, Rib, K1( 8 stitches)

Row 5: K1, Make 1 (M1) by knitting an extra stitch into the bar between the first and second stitch (see photo below), Rib, K1 (9 stitches)


Knit into the bridge to make a stitch, and knit into the space below for the second stitch of the rib

Row 6: K1, M1, Rib, Knit 2 (10 stitches)

Row 7: K2, Rib, K2 (10 stitches)

Row 8: K2, Rib, K2 (10 stitches)

Row 9: K1, M1, K1, Rib, K2 (11 stitches)

Row 10: K1, M1, K1, Rib, K3 (12 stitches)

Row 11: K1, Rib, K3 (12 stitches)

Row 12: K1, Rib, K1 (12 stitches)

Row 13: K1, M1, Rib, K1 (13 stitches)

Row 14: K1, M1, Rib, K2 (14 stitches)

Row 15: K2, Rib, K2 (14 stitches)

Row 16: K2 Rib, K2 (14 stitches)

Row 17: K1, M1, K1, Rib, K2 (15 stitches)

Row 18: K1, M1, K1, Rib, K3 (16 stitches)

Row 19: K1, Rib, K3 (16 stitches)

Row 20: K1, Rib, K1 (16 stitches)

Row 21: K1, M1, Rib, K1 (17 stitches)

Row 22: K1, M1, Rib, K2 (18 stitches)

Row 23: K2, Rib, K2 (18 stitches)

Row 24: K2, Rib, K2 (18 stitches)

Row 25: K1, M1, K1, Rib, K2 (19 stitches)

Row 26: K1, M1, K1, Rib, K3 (20 stitches)

Row 27: K1, Rib, K3 (20 stitches)

Row 28: K1, Rib, K1 (20 stitches)

Row 29: K1, M1, Rib, K1 (21 stitches)

Row 30: K1, M1, Rib, K2 (22 stitches)

Row 31: K2, Rib, K2 (22 stitches)

Row 32: K2, Rib, K2 (22 stitches)

Row 33: K1, M1, K1, Rib, K2 (23 stitches)

Row 34: K1, M1, K1, Rib, K3 (24 stitches)

Row 35: K1, Rib, K3 (24 stitches)

Row 36: K1, Rib, K1 (24 stitches)

Row 37: K1, M1, Rib, K1 (25 stitches)

Row 38: K1, M1, Rib, K2 (26 stitches)

Row 39: K2, Rib, K2 (26 stitches)

This shapes the first V shape that will end in a pom pom on the finished scarf. 

Carry on working each row: K2, Rib, K2 until your scarf is as long as you'd like it to be. 





And then start shaping the final V shape at the other end, which will also finish in a pom pom. 

Row 1: K1, K2 together (K2 tog), Rib, K2 tog, K1 (24 stitches)

Rows: 2, 3 and 4: K1, Rib, K1 (24 stitches)

Row 5: As row 1 (22 stitches)

Rows 6, 7 and 8: K1, Rib, K1  (22 stitches)

Row 9: As row 1  (20 stitches)

Rows, 10, 11 and 12: K1, Rib, K1 (20 stitches)

Row 13: As row 1 (18 stitches)

Rows 14, 15 and 16: K1, Rib, K1 (18 stitches)

Row 17: As row 1 (16 stitches)

Rows 18, 19 and 20: K1, Rib, K1 (16 stitches)

Row 21: As row 1 (14 stitches)

Rows 22, 23 and 24: K1, Rib, K1 (14 stitches)

Row 25: As row 1 (12 stitches)

Rows 26, 27 and 28: K1, Rib, K1 (12 stitches)

Row 29: As row 1 (10 stitches)

Rows 30, 31 and 32: K1, Rib, K1 (10 stitches)

Row 33: As row 1 (8 stitches)

Rows 34, 35 and 36: K1, Rib, K1 (8 stitches)

Cast off. 

Make pom poms.

I make pom poms with two pieces of cut-out cardboard like this: 




I cut out these donut shapes using a roll of Sellotape for drawing the outer circumference with a small, inverted sherry glass in the centre to draw the cut-out. They measure about 10 cm across the outer diameter with a 5 cm diameter cut-out.

Then I put the two cardboard donuts together and wrapped them with lengths of my lovely contrasting yarn.


Until it looks like a yarn-wrapped donut.


Now for the tricky bit: you have to snip all the way around your donut, pushing the tips of your scissors between two pieces of cardboard. Then tie all the pieces together by slipping a piece of wool (it's a good idea to use your main colour wool here so that it makes it easier to sew onto your scarf when you've finished) between the two cardboard discs and tying it in a very tight double knot before you push each piece of cardboard off the wool. 


Trim you pom pom and you're in business. 

Using the wool that you tied the pom pom together with, fasten one pom pom in the centre of either end, and ta-dah! you're done!!


It's a really quick, really easy pattern that produces the loveliest, squidgiest scarf ever.

All the best,


Bonny x