Thursday 30 November 2017

Succumbing to the C-Word ...

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas ... We've even had five flakes of snow in London today!

I know. I know. It's still November. But if I can just hold my nerve for another day we'll be there: December with Christmas (almost) the next stop.

December is a busy month for me. I've got our wedding anniversary, Emi, my son's birthday and my husband's birthday as well as Christmas and trips back to the family in Ireland to fit in. And, of course, I've not done nearly enough preparation for any of it. Crazy days.

To distract me from the madness that is almost upon me I've worked up a new pattern for a mid-sized project bag. I've got one made up, and a few more cut out and ready to sew.
I've also been busy with my dye vat. This week I've been playing with cochineal, which has given  me a spectrum of pinks. Emi liked the idea of cooking up the lady bugs to make pink dye. He's always complaining about how all the boy chickens and boy calves down on the farms get turned into dinner at a very early point in their young lives on account of how they can neither lay eggs nor be milked. It's really sexist. So in a perverse way this attrition of female lady bugs seems to go some small way to righting the cosmic balance between the sexes in his universe.

I've got another pair of socks on the needles - those lovely KnitPro needles that I'm so proud of. It almost broke my heart, but on Saturday we had an accident in the kitchen that resulted in one of my super cool needles getting snapped in two. Taken on its own it's only worth a quid, but, honestly I could have cried. It was a thing of perfect form and functionality. I was so upset. Mr B, very quietly ordered me another couple of sets, which made for a nice surprise when they arrived in yesterday's mail.

And this week I've been time-travelling to keep company with the ancient Romans. The year is 137AD. Rome is in its prime, and Hadrian is the emperor. For each hour of a Roman day I meet a different person living in the Eternal City.

I've enjoyed the company of Petronius Brevis, the fireman, whose wife works as a fishmonger in the Forum. They're a couple who keep odd hours. The wife is up at dawn to supervise the arrival of her stock for the day. Live fish are brought into the city in barrels to keep them fresh. Then they are discharged into tanks, chiseled into the fishwife's counter, where they swim around until someone buys them for dinner.  Brevis, who arrives home shortly after his wife has left, spends the hours of darkness patrolling the streets, watching for the errant sparks of a fire. He works for the neighbourhood, but it's not unheard of for wealthy Romans to have their own private fire brigades.  Licinus Crassus, a Roman property magnate, kept his own private brigade. They'd show up and get ready to put out fires - provided that the owner of the property that was ablaze agreed to sell it to Crassus. Naturally the price was depressed by the fact that the building was in imminent peril, and it kept dropping, dropping, dropping as the flames kept growing. Sometimes whole terraces of houses would be sold to Crassus as neighbours with properties in peril were also enjoined to treat with him.

I've fretted with Sosipatra and her husband, Termalis, over the fate of their sick baby, Lucius Curius. Infant mortality is so high that a baby only becomes recognised as a human being with legal rights on his or her first birthday. So many women die in their first childbirth that the population of the city would be in terminal decline were it not for the influx of immigrants. Their chapter ends with the words of a sad epitaph that was unearthed on a real funeral monument. 

To the Spirits of the Dead ... this sweetest, most delightful and pleasing infant. He had not yet learned to talk. His parents, Termalis ... and Sosipatra made this [memorial] for their most delightful boy, Lucius Curius, who lived six months and three days.

And then I spent an hour with Titus Aulus Macrius, the messenger bearing the imperial post to Londinium, in the far-flung land of the Britons. He reminisced about how much further he'd had to travel during those times when the peripatetic emperor had visited Alexandria. As a trusted operator, Titus also carries verbal messages for the governor of Britannia that are too sensitive to be reduced to parchment. He has been briefed on certain delicate questions that he must put personally to the governor on the emperor's behalf. Hadrian has many enemies in the Senate, and would like to know that the governor in charge of an entire legion in far-off Britannia is not plotting against him.

I met a whole cast of colourful characters: water-clock makers, tavern-keepers, vestal virgins and spice traders to name but a few. It's not a book that sets out to give an exhaustive account of the history of the Roman Empire. It's a whimsical journey through an imaginary day in the life of the city that succeeds in bringing the ancient past back to life in a colourful and dynamic narrative.  

 All the best for now,

Bonny x


  1. Bonny, I love your work. Beautiful backpack and the socks will be pretty in this lovely purple. Very interesting idea the 24hours in ancient Rome. I could not believe that it was snowing in London today. Kisses from the sunny Greece, my friend!

  2. oH, beautiful colors! I can feel your pain with the needle. So glad your husband ordered you more.

  3. Where do I start? The project bags are gorgeous and festive and I love the colour of the yarn. Mr B sounds like the perfect husband, surprising you with those new knitting needles - so thoughtful. Ancient Rome sounds fascinating and the perfect escape from the bustle of Christmas preparations. Thank you for sharing. Marie x