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The Long Winter

This has been the longest, coldest winter that I can recall. That’s not just my impression, either – a great many people have said the same. There wasn’t a great deal of snow, except when ‘The Beast From The East’ came calling and brought drifts up to four feet on the roads. But it’s been SO COLD for SO LONG that it’s hard to believe that we might, actually, be seeing the start of spring. With Easter being so early, there were none of the usual flowers; there are still daffodils in the garden even though it’s nearly mid-May, and the bluebells are only coming up now. I did find some primroses in a nearby wood, which was very cheering.

When I was younger, I read and re-read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories of life on the prairies so long ago. Especially vivid was the account of ‘The Long Winter’, seven months of blizzards in the 1880s, when food and fuel ran short and the family was snowed-in for months. When, eventually, the railway company runs trains through to the town again, a long-delayed Christmas barrel full of gifts is brought in (if you’ve ever wondered why it was a barrel of gifts, rather than a box, the answer is that, since a barrel is built to keep liquid in it will, logically, keep liquid out, and preserve its contents from damage). Within the barrel, as well as food and clothes, are coloured silks for embroidery. Laura runs her hands over them and feels the silk catch on the rough parts of her hands where she has twisted hay into fuel to stop them freezing. The thread symbolises the colour, life, and leisure that awaits her now the winter is finally over.

I haven’t achieved very much myself yet this year. It has been too cold to work long at my desk so I spent time reading in the kitchen. I’ve been bored, and tired, and very cold – but now summer is coming!

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The King in the Car Park

I spent a weekend this month in Leicester, a city I haven’t visited for about 15 years – which meant I hadn’t seen it since the body of Richard III had been removed for reburial. I had seen on television the progress of the archaeological dig to rediscover his body, and later the procession which took the body around significant sites near the town before bringing it home for reburial in the Cathedral there.

The church of St Martin was only created a cathedral in 1927 and the building itself is mostly Victorian, but there has been a church on the site for around a thousand years. Richard was re-buried there in March 2015. The body is in a wooden coffin lined with lead and placed inside a stone coffin resting on a plinth of Kilkenny limestone. Around it are boars, Richard’s personal insignia. His motto of ‘loyalty binds me’ is inscribed at the end of the plinth. The coat of arms you can see is not, as I had though, enamel. The bright colours are actually small pieces of stone, cut and shaped to form the royal arms from 1485. This technique is known as ‘pietra dura’ – hard or strong stone – and uses lapis lazuli from Afghanistan for the bright blue; the same stone medieval artists would grind up to make the blue robe of Mary, Christ’s mother.

Outside the cathedral is a statute of Richard, who is presented a slight young man holding a crown. When I visited, someone had placed a rose at his feet. It wasn’t the white rose of York though – it seemed to be the pink-tipped peach rose named ‘Peace’.

In other news I’m getting ready for Christmas and finishing off my charity knitting for 2017. This month I sent a hat and booties to Landour Community Hospital in Mussoorie, north of Delhi in India. Weirdly, it’s named after a Welsh village. The hospital is seeking clothes for babies and young children, all yarns and designs welcome, so I used some jade cotton 4-ply yarn and finished the items with a white trim.

What I Did On My Summer Holidays

Does anyone remember being given this essay topic when you went back to school? It gave the teacher some peace to get on with things while we all laboured to describe what we had got up to in the last two months. Well, this year, I went to Paris, and had a fabulous time. I’d visited Versailles many years ago, but just (just!) the palace, so the gardens were a revelation to me. I thought they were all beautiful, but I much preferred the simplicity of Marie Antoinette’s hamlet to the gilded interiors of the great palace. The Petit Trianon was delightful, and actually seemed a possible residence – no-one could possibly have endured life at the court without an escape like this.

The Louvre, also, was a revisit, but in the intervening 30 years a lot of excavations have been carried out on the site, which revealed the 12th century moat and some fragments (see picture) of the original castle. This was thrilling for me, as I had studied early French architecture many years ago. The queues to see the Mona Lisa were ridiculous but I was fascinated to learn more about the Louvre building itself, and to find out that many artists were given quarters there after the French Revolution, as part of the Academies the French set up. The most famous one is that set up to guard the French language from words like ‘le weekend’.

I didn’t forget to keep up with charity knitting, despite the heat, and have made a couple of squares for a South African charity called ‘Knit a Square’. It may sound silly but I didn’t know how to knit a square diagonally and was very proud of myself when I worked it out!

 

July’s charity knit

A quick post to show what I knitted in July for charity. This baby hat and jacket were knitted in 4ply cotton bought from Flying Tiger. The jacket is a lovely little one that knits up very quickly; I’ve made lots from the pattern, which you can find at http://www.viridianyarn.com/product/viridian-patterns/. The hat is a Ravelry pattern http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/easy-peasy-newborn-sock-hat which I adapted by knitting a shorter stem at the top; I thought tying a knot would make it harder to post.

These have been sent off to an organisation which provides clothing for new babies in Guatemala. Maya Midwifery helps mothers who have very little to dress their new arrivals, and also supports indigenous midwives with training and equipment. The website has some pictures of the babies in their new outfits and explains more about what the charity does and why.

Midsummer

Hard to believe we’re halfway through the year, isn’t it? Next Christmas is nearer to us than last Christmas, and the longest day is in the past… but I still plan to enjoy my summer. The garden is requiring more and more work, and the weeds are sprouting; but so are the roses. I’ve even spotted a couple of white butterflies flitting around in the garden.

A quick knit for this month’s charity, after the squares I made last month. June’s knit is a mouse to keep a lonely cat amused, for Cats Protection. The pattern came from their website and only takes about half an hour to knit, so I ended up making two, in very vivid colours.  It might be fun to make a whole range of them as children’s toys, with a princess and witch and king decorated in scraps of felt – something else to add to my list!

I started revising the first novel I wrote, and it’s amazing and somewhat comforting to see that I have improved in my craft slightly; I can now look at a phrase or sentence or piece of description and see ways to improve it. I still struggle terribly with plotting, though, so I’m looking forward to one of the sessions at the RNA conference which covers plotting and pantsing (going by the seat of one’s pants!). I hope I can learn lots, and put it into practise – we’ll see what happens when July rolls round. In the meantime, if you do know of a good book on the subject, please recommend it to me.

The Month of May

May begins the summer season here, but I’m still trying to process that June is next week, and after that we’ll be nearer to next Christmas than the last one. How did that happen? Time just seems to be whizzing past, but I do have one item of good news: I’ve been selected as a finalist in the Beau Monde Royal Ascot contest for the second time. It’s such a surprise, but I am pleased and feel a sense of encouragement that has perhaps eluded me for a little while.

In other news I’ve attended an RNA lunch in Edinburgh and booked for the RNA Conference at Harper Adams University in July. I’ve also booked my train ticket, which was about half the cost of the Conference! I do enjoy train journeys, though; the only civilised way to travel. I can get my books and papers out and be distracted by the passing scenery. Harper Adams is a lovely venue – I was there before in 2014 and enjoyed it very much. It’s an agricultural college so there were surreal moments such as walking to a lecture on romance writing and passing a sign saying ‘Pig Unit’.

This month’s charity knitting is some 8 inch squares for Knit for Peace. The Big Woolly Weekend is being organised by Bergere de France, a French yarn company, and they’re asking for knitted squares. The idea is that these will make bunting for the Jo Cox Foundation, which is organising street parties in June, and then be turned into blankets by Knit for Peace. I don’t imagine I’ll be able to make a very long length of bunting, but anything I – or anyone – can do, will be a help. And it’s good to feel I’m doing something positive.

April’s charity knit

These were sent off earlier this month; two 12 inch knitted squares. A charity called Woolly Hugs makes them into blankets for children from Chernobyl, who come to the UK for a holiday over the summer months. Besides enjoying some fun by the beach, a stay here can improve their immunity against childhood cancers, which run at around 75% in the area surrounding Chernobyl. Woolly Hugs also collects small gifts, of the sorts teenagers  teenagers would like, and a little money for ice-cream, which I sent along with the squares.