More Yarn Will Do The Trick

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Devil's Arrows

Funny how one thing leads to another...
As the evenings start to draw in, it occurred to us that the chimney would need sweeping in preparation for the autumn. When there's a chill in the air, there's nothing like a glass of wine in front of a blazing log fire to chase away the chills on an evening. So the sweep was duly summoned, and as our attention was firmly focused on the fireplace, the what if  syndrome started to kick in More specifically, the idea of getting a woodburning stove.
Largest stone at 22.5 feet
P and I are rarely on the same wavelength when it comes to home improvements. In fact, when I occasionally feel moved to initiate some DIY, there's often a deep groan from him first of all, followed by a thousand and one reasons why it's not a good idea. However, on this occasion, the more we talked about a stove, the more it seemed to both of us that it was the best idea ever!  Too good to be true, I thought, better strike while the iron's hot and get some movement on this. So we agreed to splash out on the stove, persuading ourselves even more by the fact that it seemed a much more efficient and ecological option.

Well, so far so good. However, as we mulled everything over - the installation, size of the stove etc, it led us on to the subject of the floor. Would we want it covered by the old and worn carpet, or should we bite the bullet and go for a new floor as well? A no-brainer, of course the carpet had to go. This would have been OK had the boards beneath been good enough for sanding, but a few years ago when we were underpinned, half the floor was taken up to replace boards taken out of another room. These were subsequently replaced by cheap new ones which never matched and were a good reason for covering it with carpet. I always intended to do something about the floor eventually, but the time was never right until it seems...NOW! Hallelujah, this was too good to be true, we were in complete agreement that we should lay a solid wood floor!
Next one at 22 feet
So we found ourselves driving off to a timber yard in Boroughbridge this morning to look at the many different options. By now you may be wondering where this is all leading, and I can now tell you it's a preamble to what we saw on the way. As we were approaching the site, we were admiring the pretty rolling countryside surrounding it, when suddenly I saw two enormous standing stones - the biggest I've ever seen. Although I've lived in Yorkshire for many years I'd never before seen or even heard of these stones and couldn't believe my eyes. So out came the camera and pics duly taken so that when we got back I could do some digging to find out more about them.
The two we saw in the lansdcape by the woodyard.
I'll have to go back and find the third!

I discovered there are three stones, 18,  22 and 22.5 feet high respectively, the tallest being higher than any at Stonehenge. They've had many names: The Devil's Bolts, Three Greyhounds and The Three Sisters, to name a few. Nowadays though they're generally known as The Devil's Arrows and there's an interesting story as to how they got the name. At the end of the seventeenth century, Old Nick was said to be annoyed by a perceived slight from the people of Aldborough (a village closeby), so he threw the stones at the village from the top of How Hill, which is south of Fountains Abbey. However, his aim or his strength must have been underpar that day and the so-called arrows fell short by about a mile and they ended up in Boroughbridge. More pics and info on the stones here.

So the moral of this story is think carefully before you get your chimney swept, you never know how much it might cost or where it might lead you!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

In Wales with the girls!

First of all a big happy birthday to Louis - 2 today! 
Just returned from a delightful stay in our house in Wales with Isabella (who's seven) and Ava (five). They hadn't visited for two years, so we were really looking forward to reintroducing them to life in the country. Of course they brought along all the usual electronic paraphernalia which plays a big part in the lives of today's kids, but I'm pleased to say they were so engrossed in other things that they never came out of the bag - despite the fact that we don't even have a TV!

Izzi with a completed loom band bracelet in the den
I'd forgotten how much you can get done when you get up at 7.30am, which is at least an hour before my preferred rising. By nine o'clock we'd made veggie jellies and these four little cakes were out of the oven: Isabella's two apple cakes and Ava's chocolate twirl cake and jam cake.
While we were baking,  P was busy making a den in the barn garden. Felix was also staying - great as we hadn't seen him since his return from a trip to South America for the World Cup. While the girls were busy making loom band bracelets in the den, we sat outside with coffee in the sun. The garden was humming with insects - a relief, I was beginning to think the butterflies had given up this year as we've seen very few. 
A little bit of sun brings all the butterflies out -
they just love verbena bonariensis
Ava doing some training for future Glasto appearances :)
Both girls are keen on the guitar and Isabella was keen to learn something new so I started to teach her Elizabeth Cotten's Spanish Flandang, a good starter tune in open G. Before too long she'd remembered it all  - just a little more practice on the two-finger chord and she'll be playing it like a pro!

Izzi practising Spanish Flandang
Next up in the afternoon P had booked a trip on a boat to see the dolphins. We broke the journey in Aberaeron, where we had a picnic lunch, sheltering from the wind in a beachside hut. It seemed very choppy out to sea with white horses and we even wondered whether our trip might be cancelled.
We lived in the garden flat of the second house from the right
When our own kids were small we spent a happy year living in Aberaeron, so it was lovely regaling the girls with stories about our time there.

Inside the shelter
We certainly needed some solid food to stave off the cold during lunch. It was interesting to watch the world go by - well actually, watch the dogs go by - sort of like live television with various people walking their different types of dogs.  
Uncle Filo perched precariously on the low beach wall
It felt so cold that I gave my fleece to the girls - one arm each!
By the time we got to Newquay, the gods were smiling on us, the sun was out and the weather calm - amazing what a difference half an hour and ten miles makes. Why did we ever worry?
Waiting for our boat
Little quay where we got on the boat
On the boat
As the sea was still a bit choppy, the captain decided we should stay in the bay where it's always calmer, even though there are usually more dolphins on the other side of the headland. So sadly, although we were out on the water for 90 minutes, no dolphins were seen, but the girls seemed perfectly happy and even excited when they got the chance to hold a lobster and stroke a prawn! 

Back on terra firma, it was time for chips and ice-cream on the quayside, while we got our landlegs back.
After such a full day, next morning we thought it best to stay at home and chill out. So it was cozzies on and a walk down the lane for a paddle in the stream.

We played ducks and drakes, bouncing the round flat stones along the water as many times as possible.

Arlo came too
Arlo leading the way back home
Later, time for a nature ramble up to Toej and Wyck's home, where the girls were entertained by Wyck's friendly wild birds. Robins, finches, blue and great tits flew onto his hand to eat the sunflower seeds he offered. 
After a quick lesson with several attempts at keeping her hand really still, Ava succeeded in getting the bird!
I'm always so envious of Toej and Wyck's beautiful mophead hydrangeas - they're the most fabulous blue and I must remember to get a cutting.

I love late summer when the hydrangeas are in full swing
 - these are lace-caps from our garden
We knew the weather was going to break so next day we'd arranged to visit King Arthur's Labyrinth, a fun experience set in an old disused slate mine. Guided by a hooded boatman through a labyrinth of massive caves, we travelled back to a time of magic, myth, dragons, giants and King Arthur himself! It was very damp and chilly down there to say the least, so when we eventually emerged we certainly needed to cuddle a couple of dragons to warm up with.
Welsh dragons - Dylan and Dilys 
After lunch there were  several craft workshops going on -  candle-making, chocolate bar making, pyrography and more, but Isabella and Ava chose pottery painting. First of all they selected what they wanted to paint - Ava chose a little bird and Isabella an owl...

They took a lot of care with the painting and one of the things they specially liked about it all was the names of the colours of the glazes - Jumping Jenny, Hint of Mint, Blazing Saddles, Orange Crush etc etc.
On the way back we stopped at Ian Snow in Machynlleth. Always a favourite shop for visitors as it's colourful and quirky and has lots of unusual treats for both young and old. The girls enjoyed twirling their parasols outside the shop alongside this rickshaw and found lots of little things to spend their pocket money on inside.
Life in the country with no neighbours gives you a bit more licence to make a noise, so on our last night the speakers were out on the terrace, the chimonea was lit and we all had supper outside.
Sky lanterns have come in for a lot of adverse publicity recently, about how they can potentially harm both wild animals and livestock.  I'd decided not to buy any more, even tho the ones we were buying were said to be safe - eco-friendly with no wires.  However, when we found we still had an open packet, I'm afraid I weakened in my resolve and the girls were treated to a grand finale of a succession of three sky lanterns. I was relieved to see them float west, out towards to sea!

On the morning we were leaving we asked the girls to write something in the house diary. It had been a whirlwind few days, and we hoped the girls had enjoyed their stay. Their lovely comments made all our efforts worthwhile - come back soon you two! 

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Knit Greece and Knit France 2015

Oh dear, not been a very good blogger recently.  A combination of time - a month in France for our two Knit France knitters tours -  and struggling with a painful and protracted bout of sciatica, which is only just beginning to show signs of abating. However, with the help of Lena, my Alexandre Technique teacher, I'm slowly starting to feel more like my old self again.
Yarn shop in Saumur on our way back to UK
So what has brought me back to my laptop today? Well I just had to tell you about our two knitters tours for 2015. We all had such a glorious time on Knit France at Chateau Forge du Roy in June that due to popular demand we're repeating it again in September 2015 - you can view pics from this year's tours here.
Since we got back from France we've been hard at work developing the itinerary for Knit Greece. Mani in the Peloponnese is one of our favourite destinations and a place we've visited many times, so P and I are looking forward to showing it off to everyone next May.
I'm thrilled to announce that both tours will be available for bookings on my website from 3pm GMT tomorrow, 30th July... Yaaaaay!!!

That's all for now, don't go away, more anon...

Sunday, 4 May 2014

My new musical best friend - the Masano guitar

We came home from Greece to a warm welcome last night from Django and Arlo. They were so delighted to see us, purring and rubbing against us in the way that cats save for occasions when they're particularly pleased - they made sure they stuck like glue for the rest of the evening. The boys are one of the two things I miss most from home when I go away - the other being my guitars.
The Guild has been a best friend for years and my recently acquired Martin, though not yet enmeshed in the fabric of my life like the Guild, has been instrumental in rekindling my interest in playing. Of course I can manage for a couple of weeks without them, but given the choice I'd rather not.
Old friend Guild D40
So... I was doubly pleased to be staying in the Mani home of our friends Ilona and John. John is a guitarist so I knew one of his guitars would be there and I remembered with relish the one I'd played on previous occasions. On our arrival, it was such a bonus to find it there -  not just a guitar, but one which I knew was a joy to play.
My new Martin semi-acoustic
The guitar in question is a small, but exceedingly nicely formed, steel-strung Masano - twelve frets to the body, a narrow fingerboard and a warm but sparkling tone. The action is perfect, very responsive with lots of sustain for fingerpicking, but best of all, infinitely playable for me with my small hands. Previously I'd asked John where it came from and he told me it was bought new many years ago from the celebrated guitarist, composer and retailer, Ivor Mairants of Rathbone Place in London.
Perfect spot for tinkling!
During our recent stay I spent many happy hours tinkling away on John's guitar, during which time I became more and more curious about its provenance. It had the Masano label on the headstock and on looking inside the body, I quickly learned it was made in Japan. Internet access was difficult in Greece so I resolved to do some digging when I got back.
Lots of knitting in the sun too on the terrace
 of Ilona & John's village home
There doesn't seem to be a lot of info on these guitars, but nevertheless it didn't take long to discover that the Masano label was a range of guitars specially commissioned by Ivor Mairant from master luthier Kazuo Yairi. Kazuo and his brother Sano learnt their skills at their father's knee, who was an internationally-recognised instrument maker.
More modern version of
Mr Yairi's guitars
When Kazuo started his career, each guitar was made in his workshop in a small village on a mountainside in Honshu, Japan. Although he now operates on a slightly larger scale with several hand-picked craftsmen working on the guitars, the calm atmosphere of the original workshop is valued and maintained. Kazuo is still involved in the supervision of the making of all his hand-built instruments, which are world-renowned for their quality and value-for-money.

So thanks to John and Mr Yairi I was provided with hours of musical fun and l'm looking forward to visiting this lovely old guitar again in the not too distant future.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Mani, Greece in the 1970s

We've been visiting Mani in the Peloponnese for many years, first of all because we knew an Anglo Greek couple who had homes in Athens and the Mani. It was lovely to be able to borrow their Mani house and spend a few weeks living in the community amongst local people. Of course we were tourists, but the area was not developed for tourism and there were virtually no Brits there. The few tourists there were would tend to be Germans in their shiny camper vans and some had started to buy houses in the villages. The local people were genuinely kind and generous, both with their knowledge and their hospitality, and over the years we learnt much about the Greek way of life.
The communal well was where everyone congregated, things were discussed,
water drawn, and clothes washed before water was piped into the village
P started going there in the seventies with his first wife, Joan, who you can see in the image below pouring water away after washing clothes. The villagers also would bring their cattle and goats down to the well to drink.
Joan washing clothes at the well with the cows looking on
Our friend, Sheelagh Killeen, first introduced us to the delights of this particular Greek region, which, by the way, is the middle of the three fingers in the south which reach out into the Mediterranean. 
Kalamata, famous for its plump black olives, sits at the top of the peninsula, and has a fabulous market, where you can find almost all things edible, much of which is home grown. 
Sheelagh rinsing a water bucket before lugging it back up the hill to the spiti (Greek home) 

I particularly used to love going to the market, getting up early to catch the bus for the 1.5 hour journey. On arrival, a quick and super sweet kafe metrio (supposed to be medium sweet coffee - may explain the preponderance of gold  teeth!) would set us up for a couple of hours haggling in the market, buying our vegetables, feta, olives, oil, honey, soap and anything else we needed. 
Woman using wooden beaters to bang out the dirt from her rag rugs in the wash

At lunchtime when the market closed, we'd have a large lunch of gigantes, melanzane, patates and Greek salad in one of the little streets crisscrossing the market. Then a wander around, usually buying a basket and several bunches of oregani both to flavour our food and to bring back home, finishing with kafe in the cafenion, watching the men playing tavli (backgammon) before getting the bus back. 

We were there several times before the 1986 earthquake, which sadly flattened the area of the agora, and the market was subsequently rebuilt on a different site. Still a good market, but there was something about the atmosphere of the old one, that the new version seems to lack. Maybe I'm just being sentimental, but all life was there!

I was always fascinated by the textiles. The local women wore headscarves made from a thin muslin, sometimes printed with tiny patterns, sometimes plain. Every village home was furnished with glorious rag rugs, beautiful vintage weavings, passed down through the generations, each carrying its own history, made from old family clothes and homewares. Many of these bore subtle, yet vibrant colourways and were woven with thin rags - quite a different animal to those on sale in Mani now.

Lovely woman with olive oil can used for collecting water    
The village homes were very simple, but scrupulously clean. On walks up the mountain, we would often be invited in and given retsina, ouzo and mezes in the garden, which would be immaculate. On one occasion we were accosted by an old goatherd who insisted I should milk his goats. I tried to resist, but he was adamant, so I knelt down and proceeded to fill the tin can he gave me. This was the last thing he'd been expecting, as I assume the previous tourists he'd encountered couldn't turn their hands to milking goats. Well on this occasion he'd met one who had thirteen goats at home so I was completely au fait with how to do it. However, I hadn't counted on having to drink the warm unstrained milk from the tin can and only managed a couple of sips before P rescued me and obligingly drank the lot! Touché! 
This man appeared from nowhere and insisted P take a photo of
the two of them holding hands - very sweet!
Finally I'd like to show you the local tatters. I know they're using crochet hooks, and tatting uses a small shuttle, but there's something called cro-tatting nd even needle tatting) which is a sort of combination.
I specially love that her yarn seems to be recycled
directly from an old sweater

I've only ever seen one woman actually knitting in Greece, but you see many sitting in their doorways chatting and tatting. The lace curtains and bedspreads they make can be exquisite.
So the reason I'm telling you all this is that we're off to Mani for a short holiday soon and we're taking a bunch of P's 40+-year-old photos to leave in the village where they were taken. Sadly we're not staying there as we now have several British friends who have homes in the area, closer to Kalamata, but we shall visit and leave the photos at the cafenion. If we're lucky, one of the people in the photos might still be around, but if they're no longer with us, then hopefully their families will enjoy them.
Can't wait to get back there, the only blot on the landscape is the noseeums, or little midges that make a beeline for me as soon as I get off the plane. So I'm currently assembling a non-Deet repellant kit consisting of B vitamin patches and bracelets, citronella based repellants, Zap it stun gun to take the itch and swelling away if I do get bitten and Avon's body lotion which smells like cheap disinfectant but is said to do the business. Someone else told me that coconut oil is very good too, so today I've added that to my pharmacopoeia.  All this may sound slightly OTT but I can't tell you the misery I was in with more than a hundred bites on each foot (yes I counted them!) last time I was there. Forewarned is forearmed as my mum used to say, and that I certainly will be this time. Any tales of your own successful vanquishing of the mighty mozzies will be gratefully received.