Thursday 31 December 2015

Knapweed ... or floral super-hero?

"Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them."
said Winnie-the Pooh 

I'm completely in agreement with Pooh - especially at this time of the year when there's not a whole lot of colour around anywhere for us to enjoy. I saw this rather glorious cluster of knapweed this morning growing quietly beside the path I was following up the cliff. It called out loudly for me to stop and admire it ...

Aran beanie hat ...

I've made this beanie to match the Aran Scarf that I finished just before Christmas. The cables and central thread-of-life pattern are pretty much the same as in the scarf, save that they're simplified and knit in the round.

  It's a fairly quick, easy project. Just read on for the pattern:

Wednesday 30 December 2015

Harbour patrol ...

We'd hardly touched down when the Wonder Dog and I were drawn to the harbour. There's something irresistible about all those boats parked up, and bobbing around on the swell. I love, love, love the harbour. It's a strange, illogical thing this love affair of mine. I'm a rubbish sailor - always sea-sick, but I hanker after this place, and all these lovely boats that I have no desire to ever board and sail away on.

Tuesday 29 December 2015

Belfast to Barcelona roadtrip ...

We've made it! We've arrived on the sunny Costa Brava for New Year, or Noche Vieja as Mr B's family term it.

And what a difference a year makes. Last year when we bombed down to the Costa we ran into frosty weather at home and blizzard conditions up in the mountains of the Haute Roussillon. This year we saw massive floods across North Wales and not a smidgen of the white stuff anywhere. Along the length of our journey the weather felt unseasonably warm, and now, down here on the Costa Brava, it's sunny and a balmy 18°C this morning.
Dublin Bay lighthouse in the dawn light

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Apple and salted caramel pies ...

I love traditional mince pies, but I've noticed that Emi and a clutch of his chums from school aren't that keen on old-fashioned sweet mince - so I've knocked up an apple and salted caramel combination that no one, but no one can resist, especially if you toss on a scoop of ice-cream. There's something especially delicious about the sweetness of the caramel, the slight tartness of the apple and the saltiness of the sauce that's guaranteed to have them begging for more ... .

These pies are really quick and very easy to rustle up if people drop in unexpectedly. Just read on for the recipe:

Monday 21 December 2015

Home for the holidays ...

We've made it back home to beautiful County Tyrone for the Christmas holidays. And we're so grateful to have arrived safely. We had an epic ferry crossing from Holyhead to Dublin in really rough seas, which made us feel relieved to disembark and stand on terra firma without the horizon moving around chaotically with the rise and fall of the waves.

This morning the sun shone, and we rounded up the dogs for a walk around White Ness. It's actually called the White Lough, but Emi always refers to it as White Ness in the hope that one day it'll have its very own resident monster - just like Lough Ness in Scotland. Hope springs eternal  when you're ten years old.

Thursday 17 December 2015

Osterley Park's 7 swans a-swimming ...

I'm almost there ... I've almost got everything sorted for Christmas. It's been busy, but I feel as though I'm finally cantering up the home straight. Emi's been off on his Christmas holidays for a week now, and together we've got everything sorted from last-minute presents and Christmas cards, to hair-cuts and dental appointments.

And, powered-on by this new and relaxed sense of completion, we took the Wonder Dog for a gallop round Osterley Park this morning, where we met this lovely chap:

Monday 14 December 2015

Aran scarf

It seems to have taken me forever to get this baby off the needles. Aran patterns take time with all those intricate cables and designs, but when you’re done they’re totally worth it.

I don’t use traditional weight Aran wool as it bulks up too much for my liking so I downsize to something closer to a double knitting weight. On this occasion I’ve used some wool from my stash: SMC Super Fine Merino Opera wool, which is now an obsolete product line. I must have bought it a couple of years’ ago at the Ally Pally Knitting and Stitching Show. I’d totally forgotten about it and, when I  found it squirrelled away, I decided that Aran with a few winter sparkles might work in the run-up to Christmas. I rather like how it’s turned out, and there’s a part of me that regrets not having enough left to make some sort of cardigan that would look cool over a party dress. Instead I may have to think about a sparkly beanie to co ordinate with the scarf for a dash of après ski chic.

I added some faux fur(ry) pompoms, also resurrected from the depths of my stash, for a slightly more decadent look, but this scarf would look really lovely with a long-tailed fringe made from the sparkly wool along both ends.

My scarf measured 137 cm/ 54" in length and was 20 cm/ 8" wide. On the aran pattern this worked out as an average tension of 41 stitches x 30 rows on a 10 cm x 10 cm swatch, and I used about 650 metres or 707 yards of wool, which translates as 4 and a bit 50g balls. 

If you’d like to make one for yourself,  just read on for the pattern.

Friday 11 December 2015

Happy Birthday ad hoc labels ...

Today my baby turned 10. Ten! He's in double figures.

And to celebrate we had a special birthday lunch at a sushi bar close to Mr B's office, and then he and Emi headed off to Brick 2015, where they appear to have passed a very happy afternoon indulging in one of their greatest shared passions ... Lego!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I've been busy wrapping Christmas presents. I ran out of parcel labels to match my wrapping paper and improvised with these:

Thursday 10 December 2015

Christmas wreath ...

Deck the halls with boughs of holly
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la ...

Yesterday I had a very merry morning over at Osterley Park doing a Christmas wreath workshop with the lovely folk at the National Trust. And this is what I produced:

Tuesday 8 December 2015

Popcorn and cranberry garlands ...

Gosh it's been busy over here at Talk-a-Lot Towers.

We had a trampoline party for Emi's birthday on Saturday. I can't believe that my baby is about to have his first double digits birthday - 10! Whaow!

Yesterday was our wedding anniversary. Emi's birthday is Friday and Mr B's the following Thursday. Everything seems to happen in December. The rest of the year is a little bit dull by comparison.

But somehow amidst all the other stuff that was going on I've got the tree up, decorated and illuminated with Ms. Angel on top. Emi has named her Annabeth. Not sure where that comes from, but we'll go with it for now.

By way of extra garlanding Emi and I spent a merry hour last night threading popcorn and cranberries onto a length of twine to add the finishing touch. The Wonder Dog is very keen on popcorn - so it's fifty/fifty whether this genius touch will actually last until Christmas.

If you want to make a garland like this for your own tree it's super easy-peasy. All you need to do is air-pop the popcorn so that it's not greasy. I do this in the microwave in a brown paper bag. Toss the corn in, zap it on high for a minute and a half - or until all the popping stops. Leave it overnight to sit in its bag so that it's not so brittle when you thread it. If it's fresh it'll be very crumbly, and you'll be busy with the hoover when you're done.

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Cosy times ...

May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night and the road downhill all the way to your door,  runs a traditional Irish blessing that resonates with me on cosy nights at home.

When the world outside is cold and grey and dreary it's lovely to have the lights of Christmas inside to keep us going.  And I guess that need for light and warmth in the middle of the Northern hemisphere’s winter is pretty universal. In some small part it may explain why we embrace festivals like Hanukkah, Diwali and Christmas, all celebrating light and life and hope in midwinter.

Over here at Talk-a-Lot Towers we’re pretty expert at the fine art of chill-axing and letting the weather do its worst outside, but if I were to judge which of us truly excelled at taking life easy, the prize would undoubtedly have to go to … <drum roll> ... the Wonder Dog.

These days he always bags the best spot on the sofa in front of the fire, where he luxuriates in the warmth, stretching out to his full (not very extensive) length and snoring loudly. You could be forgiven for mistaking him for one of my woolly creations - a schnauzer-shaped cushion, perhaps. Moreover he never sees any reason why he ought to move out of that prime spot when anyone else wants to sit down, which often results in people sitting on him. Still he could teach us all a thing or two about our priorities: enough food, our loved ones around us and a warm bed to sleep in, what else do we really need?

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Christmas trees ... plastic or real, cut or growing ... ?

I've gone down the plastic tree route before, but I've never really liked the finished look. It's always been a bit ... well, synthetic,  and it's never provided that wonderful pine-fresh, straight-from-the-forest smell that's so much a part of the Christmas tree experience.

Yesterday the Wonder Dog and I dragged this year's Christmas tree home. It's not a huge tree as we don't have a huge amount of space in the cosy sitting room for which it's destined, but it's a living tree with its root system still connected. And the big idea is to take it outside after Christmas and plant it in the garden, where it will hopefully grow and prosper until its services are required again next Christmas.

Last year I bought a small potted tree for the kitchen. <We spend 90% of our waking hours in the kitchen so it would be madness not to make it look festive too.> The little tree grew happily in its hessian sack/ pot until after New Year, whereupon I planted it in a great big pot outside. It added a little bit of structural shape to my patio, contrasting nicely with the crazy sprawl of the geraniums and the fan-like swell of the cordylines. I put plenty of water-retaining humus in the soil and made a big effort to not let it dry out over the summer months, and here it is today, all ready to come back into the kitchen again and help us celebrate Christmas. I'll pot it down into a smaller pot as the Leviathan that it's living in now would never fit into the niche from which it has to spread its festive cheer.

Last year I had minimal needle drop from my growing tree. Whereas when I've had a cut tree - even with watering it occasionally - I've had a covering of pine needles on the carpet that's needed regular hoovering to keep things ship-shape. I've also found it easier to water a real tree than a cut one. The soil absorbs the water whereas I've had more spillage when there's only a reservoir in a dark corner at an awkward angle to pour the water into.

And then finally in those dull, grey days when all the holidays are over and you've got nothing to look forward to - other than going back to work - you don't have the hassle of dragging your tree out to be dumped and chipped with all the other trees. That task, always symbolic of the good times ending, is substituted instead with planting your tree in the garden. And that sort of thing always gets me in a positive let's get gardening it's almost springtime frame of mind, which is so much happier.

If you are minded to go down the growing tree route, think carefully about the size. If you want your tree to last for a few years it's best not to get a real whopper at the get-go. Conifers grow quickly and you'll soon find yourself scaled up to something unmanageable. Think also about handling. I've chosen a Nordman Fir, which has soft, dark green needles that won't jag the good-humour out of me when I have to replant it, and will also look rather splendid when contrasted against the other foliage outside.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Friday 27 November 2015

Happiness is ...

... having a Great Spotted Woodpecker as a neighbour. He totally floats my boat.

Isn't he amazing?

He's a timid soul, clutching the branches of the trees in a Gollum-like fashion, and peering carefully around them to make sure the coast is clear before he ventures out to help himself at the feeders.

Thursday 26 November 2015

Happiness is ...

... finding a hoard of old bakelite knitting needles going for a song in a second-hand shop.

The other morning, as I was racing to the station, something caught my eye in one of the charity shop windows. I was late (as usual) and in a terrible rush, so I couldn't stop for a better look, but I kept thinking about it all day, hoping that it would still be there at home-time.

And happily it was: a consignment of old knitting needles. There are loads of brightly coloured bakelite needles from the '40's and 50's that lift my spirits every time I look at them. In fact I thought they were so wonderful I put them in a flower jug and displayed them on a side table.

My son, Emi, (age 9) was not impressed when he came home from school.

Weird, Mum. They look a bit weird like that. Maybe you could find a nice box for them somewhere, he said in that slightly superior tone he uses when he thinks his mum's barmy.

Well, I don't care what other people think. I think it was a tenner wisely spent and I'm very happy with my hoard displayed as though it were a bunch of exotic blossoms in my favourite vase.

Here's to the small victories and commonplace trophies that make our hearts sing!

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Happiness is ...

... seeing these little guys breakfasting just outside my kitchen window: a charm  of goldfinches enjoying a niger seed banquet.

Even though the London weather is grey and dismal they've brought a little sunshine into my morning.

Hope you're finding inspiration in whatever you're doing today.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Happiness is ...

... when you finally understand how your pattern works without having to squint at the chart ... .

Today I'm working on some Aran. It's been a while since I've knit Aran, and I'm enjoying how the whole thing ties together. It feels very organic in its construction. I prefer not to use traditional Aran weight wool. It's just too bulky for comfort. I can understand how marvellous it must have been for the fishermen and the farmers working the land on the Aran Islands with the Atlantic winds buffeting them 360 days a year, but for us urbanites with our central heating and feather-down winter coats they're a bit too heavy. I prefer to use double knitting yarn. It takes more stitches and rows and, hence, more work, but the end result just seems to work better.

I may also be historically more accurate in that preference than if I were using the Aran wool that's marketed for Aran knitting. For centuries the people on the islands have been knitting the Geansaí Árann, a gansey jumper with many of the cables and diamond patterns used in modern Aran knitting, but they used different construction methods and a finer wool. Aran knitting, as we know it today, was largely the creation of an entrepreneurial group of island women who set about knitting jumpers for sale to supplement their family income in the late nineteenth/ early twentieth century. Now as we all know knitting a jumper, especially an Aran one with all its intricacy of design, is a time-consuming business. And, if you're treating your jumpers as commodities for sale, time is clearly money. So they hit upon the brilliant wheeze of simplifying the construction techniques and using a much thicker wool that would knit up quickly, enabling them to produce more jumpers and up their earnings in the process. Thus the modern Aran jumper was born in a flourish of female innovation.

And I've been innovating a teeny bit myself. How do you like my sparkly Aran? It looks better in person, but this wool is really difficult to capture. Maybe it's something to do with the light, courtesy of our miserable grey London weather. No wonder I'm reaching for a dash of sparkle ... .

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Saturday 21 November 2015

Greece v Rome ... intelligence squared

On Thursday night Mr B and I went with some friends to a debate, Greece v Rome,  organised by Intelligence² at Central Hall Westminster. In the Greek corner, we had London Mayor, Boris Johnson, arguing the case for the world's first democracy, the satire-loving Greeks, and in the Roman corner we had the formidable Prof. Mary Beard. The billing for the event boasted that, had Mary been in charge, the Roman Empire would still be going strong! And that wasn't hyperbole. For all of Bojo's considerable eloquence and charisma, she wiped the floor with him.

Going into the debate 30% of us (self included) had no clear view, 38% favoured Greece and 32% were in the Roman camp. After Mary had finished her argument, the vote went in favour of Rome as she romped home with a 56% majority. She argued about the enduring legacy of the Romans, how they had built the first super-city in which their architecture was only eclipsed by feats of engineering made possible by the industrial revolution in the 19th century, and about how they had been inclusive extending citizenship to everyone, regardless of their country of origin or how humble their status, to create an upwardly mobile, multi-cultural society.

It was a good-natured exchange that threw up lots of interesting insights into the classical world and both speakers made us laugh. Intelligence² have an amazing programme of debates over the coming months. Videos of many of their past events can be viewed for free on their website: Intelligence Squared. The only thing to bear in mind, if you'd like to go along, is that tickets sell out quickly. So, if you see something that tickles your imagination, book it straight away.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Friday 20 November 2015

A charm of goldfinches ...

Did you know that a gang of goldfinches are known as a charm? No, me neither, but I'm going to use it at every opportunity. It's just too charming not to ... .

I've got a few of these little chaps who come to feast on niger seeds just outside my kitchen window. And I'd hate to add up all the time in my day that gets lost admiring them. In the bad old days these little guys were under threat from the caged bird trade, but one of the RSPB's first campaigns, Save the Goldfinch, happily turned the tide, and now they're growing in numbers again.

All the best for the weekend,

Bonny x

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Handknit Christmas Tree Angel ...

Coming up to Christmas the world divides into two camps. There's the angel camp and the star camp. And me? I'm firmly with the angels. I wouldn't dream of putting a star on top of my Christmas tree.

No siree; it's an angel for me!

But here's the thing: when I trotted off to the shops for a tree-topper the only angels on offer were the plastic-fantastic variety that were all decked out in frills and cheap lace and frou-frou. And I'm even less into frills and cheap lace and frou-frou than I am into stars on the top of my Chrimbo tree. So I've knit myself an angel. She's comfortably padded, smiles angelically and wears woollen evergreen underpants: totally my kinda' winged wonder. What do you think?

I've knit her from worsted weight yarn (Sublime Extra Fine Merino Worsted) and she's really not difficult to make. Just read on for the pattern:

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Happy Elizabeth Day!

Happy Elizabeth Day!

On this day, 17th November, 1558 Elizabeth I, the great Virgin Queen of England, ascended the throne on the death of her half sister, Mary. Good queen Bess was totally my sort of girl: a gritty, witty survivor.

Elizabeths' old palace at Hatfield on a sunny day in May

Monday 16 November 2015

Solidarity ...

Today, across the UK, we're having a minute's silence to remember the victims of the carnage in Paris. I was really moved on the school run this morning to see that the little pub round the corner had hung up the tricolour in a show of solidarity. Sometimes it's the simple gestures that best express how we feel.

Thursday 12 November 2015

An unseasonably warm November ...

It's been a funny old autumn with very little cold and frost. I know I shouldn't complain, and I'm not, but it still feels a bit strange not to have the big coats out of the closet and in active service. My brain tells me every morning to put on more clothes than I need to. Last Friday night I went out with my cousin Clare for dinner. She arrived ... wearing a blouse ... with no woolly cover-up. Admittedly they breed us tough over in Ireland, but even so, that's not proper going-out-for-the-night-in-November attire.

Still, looking on the bright side it means that these guys can still enjoy their daily bread al fresco. I'd hate to be a cow who had to spend all winter in a barn with a hundred other messy cows ...

  ... and the trees get to wear their leaves for rather longer than normal.

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Return of my furry nemesis ...

Last weekend I decided that it was time to dust off all my bird-feeding kit, get it all tanked up with birdie tucker and back in the trees. It's not been desperately cold or anything like that, but it just felt like it was time to get the winter-feeders back in action. And I have to admit that it's not an entirely altruistic activity: I get a huge kick out of seeing all the little critters who come to my back garden for dinner.

Sunday 8 November 2015

Angel wings and Christmas cakes ...

Mr B and Emi have been away wargaming this weekend. Whilst they've been busy commanding their Dacian troops against Trajan's Roman Legions the Wonder Dog and I have been keeping ourselves busy back at base.

In truth it's beginning to feel a bit like Christmas ... . I know, I know: shoot me now for mentioning the dreaded C-word so early in November! But, the thing is, if you're planning on making a Chrimbo cake you really need to get cracking now or it'll be too late to feed it the requisite amount of alcohol to achieve that perfect level of boozy, fruity unctuousness by the Big Day.

Yesterday I spent the morning baking my cakes. I used my old, tried and tested recipe, which you can find here: Boozy Bejewelled Christmas Cake. The house smelt divine with that wonderful fruity, buttery, spicy smell that comes from fruit cakes baking slowly in the oven. Yum!

Saturday 7 November 2015

The Green Man in autumn ... a tale of renewal and rebirth ...

The other day I was wandering through the beech wood close to my parents' house admiring the wonderful colour of the leaves when it struck me that the Green Man of our pre-Christian mythology would have felt just a little bit uncomfortable with all these seasonal changes. He always seems to be depicted in his full-summer garb with green leaves in their prime.

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Perspective ...

“And those who were seen dancing, were thought to be crazy, by those who could not hear the music.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

The other day I was busy taking photographs of the world from the perspective of a daisy. A man walked by, and looked at me in that pitying, somewhat superior way people do when they think you’re a bit simple. I passed no remarks. I knew what I was about, and I didn’t need his affirmation.

This is what the chap, who thought he’d got an edge over the mad bird with the camera, missed. He didn’t see the dewdrops condensing on the blades of grass as the late autumn sun melted the fog off the lawn. Viewed from the perspective of the daisy it looked like a lush jungle dusted with diamonds. I wonder, if he’d paused to look, would he have heard the music?

All the best for now,

 Bonny x

Tuesday 3 November 2015

A foggy day in London town ...

We've been having the most amazing autumn pea souper fogs. Travelling back from Belfast to London on Sunday night was a little bit hairy. Our flight was delayed by over an hour and a half, and we were lucky to make it out at all. I remember looking at the departures board and seeing that all the Gatwick flights had been cancelled. I thanked the travel gods that I'd opted for Luton: I'd got to get Emi back to London in time for school on Monday morning.

We were shepherded onto the plane as usual, but then they kept us sitting on the tarmac until they were able to get a clear landing slot at Luton. I'm a fairly compact person, vertically challenged some might say, and Emi's small for his age. But we had a giant of a man sitting beside us who was wedged uncomfortably into his space with knees and elbows protruding awkwardly into ours.

Favour Royal Forest Park, County Tyrone ... after the fog had lifted

Monday 2 November 2015

Maxi's Christmas Jumper ...

Maxi, the Wonderdog, is scheduled for a haircut next week. Poor lamb: with the growing chill in the air he's not going to be totally delighted with that development. But to lessen the impact of his shorn locks I've knit him a jumper.

If you'd like to make one it's pretty easy: just read on for my pattern:

Saturday 31 October 2015

Still blooming through Halloween ...

We've come to stay with my parents in South Tyrone. My mum's a Halloween baby, and we're helping her celebrate with a birthday weekend to wrap up Emi's half term holidays. One of the many amazing things to impress us over here in Ireland is how her garden is blooming late into the autumn.

I am deeply envious. I garden on not-very-wonderful London clay, where I have to work really, really hard to get the good things to flourish. The weeds seem to do just fine for some unfathomable reason, but I struggle to produce all the wonderful colours that seem to appear almost effortlessly over here.

Thursday 29 October 2015

The Gothic Temple at Stowe ...

As it's almost Halloween, and, as I'm getting into a really spooktastic vibe, I thought I'd share some photos of one of my favourite Gothic buildings, the Gothic Temple at Stowe. Isn't it a gem?

Gothic architecture and Halloween go together like Fred and Ginger or crackers and cheese in my book. And this little beauty from the 18th century looks like it was created as the backdrop to some blood-chilling tale.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

The haunting of Corfe Castle ...

Have you ever visited a place, and come away with the view that it really ought to be haunted? Well, for me, Corfe Castle down in Dorset is just such a place. The splendid ruins of a once grand royal castle look like the perfect habitat for a legion of spooks from the other side of mortality. Now I'm not saying that I totally believe all of this stuff, but I do enjoy a good ghost story for entertainment's sake if nothing else.

Just feast your eyes on the romantic ruin, and I think you'll agree that it takes very little imagination to conjure up a host of ghostly goings on that might take place here.

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Fungus fetish ...

It's been a good autumn for Fungi down here in the not-always-so-sunny South West of England.

Yesterday morning I spent a happy hour out in the garden taking macro shots of all the fungal goodness nestling in the grass. Now I'd be lying if I pretended to know the names of these beauties - or, even more importantly, whether I can eat them without poisoning myself. So it's probably just as well that my interaction with them remained one that was channelled exclusively through the lens of my camera ...

Monday 26 October 2015

Halloween tombstones ...

As Halloween draws nearer I've been enjoying some macabre tomb carvings. The carving below used to adorn a grave in St. Lawrence's Churchyard, Exeter. Today it lives in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter. It dates from the 1600s when such tomb ornaments were very much the vogue. They lived through some pretty tough times back then. There was the English Civil War (1642 - 1651), followed by the religious excesses of Cromwell's Commonwealth and Protectorate, the Black Death raised its deadly face in 1665 and, after the Restoration, there was considerable apprehension as to the direction in which the House of Stuart was leading the country. It was a time of intense religious debate and radical politics. And normal folk, convinced that they were living in the last days, and that the end of the world was nigh, took to the macabre to underline their own fragile mortality ... .

Sunday 25 October 2015

Like the sunshine after rain ... a spiritual journey

Isn't it wonderful when the sun finally appears after the rain? We've had a succession of  grey, wet days, down here in Devon. We've hunkered down and nested indoors, but yesterday afternoon the sun came out, and all of sudden autumn turned into something glorious again.

Only a day ago the field of stubble over the hill was a maze of maize. There's a ramblers' right of way that runs right through it, and it felt a little bit like hiking through a jungle. What a difference a day makes ... .

Saturday 24 October 2015

Forde Abbey, Dorset ...

Forde Abbey, Dorset

This is undoubtedly one of the prettiest houses in England. It's grand, but not in a draughty, haughty, pretentious way. No, on the contrary, this is a place with a cosy congeniality that invites you to linger longer. And the gardens ... well, don't get me started on the gardens unless you've got a good long time to listen whilst I tell you how much I liked them ... .

I often find with historic houses that there's one strand, one story-line from their past that speaks more loudly and more eloquently than the others. Now in the case of Forde Abbey there are many to choose from. This is, after all, a property that's got 8 centuries of history to boast about. But for me, the defining tale is that of Edmund Prideaux, who lived here once upon a time in the 17th century.

Friday 23 October 2015

Dahlias ... the stars of the autumn garden ...

I've fallen seriously in love with the dahlia. Sadly I don't have any growing in my own garden, but I'm beginning to feel very envious of all the other folk who do.

The other day, down at Forde Abbey in Dorset, I was very taken with all the colour and cheer that they brought to the perennial borders in the drizzle of a grey afternoon. It was a dreary day that had little to recommend it (other than the splendid company of the good friends with whom we were passing the time) but through all that dismal weather the dahlia stole the show and shone its colour through the gloom.

Thursday 22 October 2015

Beech hut ... Dorset style ...

And, nope, I haven't forgotten how to spell beach!

This beech hut is so named, not because of any close proximity to a beach, but because it's made of beech saplings, cleverly pleached and grown together to make the funkiest garden house I've ever seen. Apparently it was planted back in the 1930's.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Autumn's bounty ...

There's a lot to be said for starting your day with a stroll before breakfast. Here in Devon the farmers are ploughing the fields to plant their winter crops and the rich red earth looks as though it were chosen from a palette of perfect autumn tones to blend with the leaves.

And the very best bit of all this early morning shenanigans is picking an apple, fresh and crisp, straight from the tree. No other apple tastes anything like so good as one that's just been picked.

Tuesday 20 October 2015

An autumn afternoon stroll ...

There are few things in life that can compare with an autumn stroll in the countryside in that magical hour just before sunset. Yesterday I set off in the late afternoon as the sun was dropping low in the sky and throwing long shadows over the grass. For me it's an unusual thing to go for a stroll on my own. Normally I have Emi in tow and the Wonderdog at my heels, but Emi was busy doing his history project, and the Wonderdog was busy having an afternoon snooze along the back of the sofa. He was stretched out with his paws in the air, snoring gently as though he hadn't a care, and it didn't seem fair to disturb him.

So I set off on my own with only the birds for company.  And right now we have some very fine birds running around under the trees.

Sunday 18 October 2015

Somerset's Bookbarn

School's out for the half-term hols and we've blown town for a week in the country. En route we visited some friends in Bath, and on our way back to the M5 stopped off at the Bookbarn International, one of England's largest second-hand bookshops.

Thursday 15 October 2015

Doggy Bandana ...

And here we have the Wonderdog modelling this season's must-have fashion accessory: the Argyll doggy bandana ... the last word woof in canine cool ...

He's watching me with rapt attention because I've got a doggy biscuit balanced on top of my camera, and he's absolutely determined that next door's pesky cat, who's always lurking on the other side of the garden wall, isn't going to get her paws on it any time soon.

The Wonderdog is a miniature schnauzer, but this size of bandana would work for any small dog of similar proportions.

It's been knit with double knitting wool on 4 mm needles, which gave me a tension of 17 stitches x 27 rows on a 10 cm x 10 cm/ 4" x 4" square, and it can be made with scraps of wool from your stash.

Just read on for the pattern:

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Chocolate week ...

I've only just realised that we're in the middle of  London Chocolate Week. Eeek! Why haven't I heard about this wonderful celebration before? It overlaps with the London Rumfest, billed as the World's biggest 3-day festival of rum, and the two are being paired in a chocolate and rum tasting event on Friday at the Chocolate Show in Olympia. The Chocolate Show is running from Friday 16th to Sunday 18th October, and features an impressive array of London's top chocolatiers. Top billing, however, has to go to the chocolate fashion show. Let's hope the spotlights on the cat walk won't melt the couture or things could get really messy ... .

Well it all sounds suitably bonkers, so I thought that I might as well join in. And, let's be honest, if there's chocolate involved I don't need much persuading. So I'm off to rustle up some of the very best Chocolate Brownies for the troops over here at Talk-a-Lot-Towers. You can find my recipe here: The best chocolate brownies - ever!

Tuesday 13 October 2015

Stash-busting knitted basket ...

If you're looking for something to use up some of the chunky wool in your yarn stash I've got the solution. This little basket eats yarn. I've made it using 4 strands of Hayfield Bonus Chunky, worked together on 15mm circular needles (80 cm cord) using the magic loop method. It's really easy, and with yarn of that combined thickness you can easily make it in under an hour from start to finish. My knitting tension averaged about 5 stitches x 10 rows on a 10 cm x 10 cm/ 4"x 4" swatch.

Just read on for the pattern:

Monday 12 October 2015

12th October, 1582 ... the day that didn't happen ...

Now here's a random thought for you ... this date, the 12th day of October, the 285th day of the year - or 286th if we're having a leap year - didn't happen in Italy, Poland, Portugal or Spain in the year 1582.

Exeter Cathedral's 15th Century Clock

Sunday 11 October 2015

A busy week in October ...

It's been a bit manic over here at Talk-a-Lot Towers this week. I've been really busy with work, but I managed to sneak off on Wednesday for a look around the wonderful Knitting and Stitching Fair up at Alexandra Palace. I came home laden with goodies. There were so many irresistible yarns and yarn-related gizmos and books. It was amazing, and now I'm all fired up with a hundred ideas for projects that I'd love to get right down to making.