2018 in 9 chapters

Prologue

2018 is singing a triumphant closing number and 2019 is poised to make its entrance so what better to do today than reflect on some key themes from the year? You might want to make yourself a cuppa before you head into this – it’s going to feel like you’ve been reading for a whole year before you get to the end!

Chapter 1 – the ignominy of scriptwriters

I’m going to start with Kojak, but I promise I will bang on a lot less about this subject in the New Year (maybe!). Today I want to talk about how cruel script-writers can be. Since July, I have sat through four series of this excellent show from the 1970s and in almost every episode, Detective Bobby Crocker has crossed a busy New York road. Every time he crosses a road, he does it perfectly – he looks in both directions before he crosses, he carries on looking both ways as he crosses, if a car approaches, he calmly and politely alerts the driver by holding up his hand, if a car stops he generously raises a hand in acknowledgement and thanks. I am not kidding, every time I cross a road now, I think about Bobby Crocker and his road-crossing technique!

I therefore consider it a betrayal that, in Series 5, the scriptwriters decided that he should get knocked over by a car whilst crossing the road! This scene could have been done with any other detective in Manhattan South and been utterly understandable. But no, they had to choose Crocker!

(It’s okay, he only banged up his elbow and lived to fight another day, but that’s not the point.)

Chapter 2 – knitting

So, on to the serious stuff. At the end of 2017, when my knitting spirit was slightly under par, I decided to set myself the goal of knitting one garment and three pairs of socks for each of the four seasons, with the year divided at December 21st 2017; March 20th 2018; June 21st 2018; September 23rd 2018 and ending on December 20th 2018. I actually knitted three garments (the chunky sweater, sleeveless top, and maroon superwash sweater) plus two pairs of socks (both in Mr B Yarns – “Where the Wild Things Are” and “An Inspector Calls” colourways). I am not downhearted because that’s an improvement on the previous couple of years. Also, I am only counting my personal knitting – it would be a lot more impressive if I added in stock I’ve knitted for my Etsy shop, and the Christmas gift jumper.

The most important thing is that I love and wear the items I’ve knitted this year, so I consider it good, solid progress. What I am taking forward into the new year is a renewed commitment to work on the project/s I have on the needles every day, rather than to revert to my normal ‘boom or bust’ nature. A tiny bit of progress every day is the best way to go, and I find if I pick up something intending to only knit a couple of rows I will probably still be there at the end of an hour thinking ‘just one more row’. This is especially true of the Gaudi caridgan I am currently working on.

I do like the idea of dividing the year into the four seasons and I will continue with that for the coming year, just in a more organic, less goal-driven way.

Chapter 3 – reading

I haven’t read as much in 2018 as I intended to, although I have read more than I did in the previous few years so, again, there’s been a bit of progress.

The reads I have recorded were:-
Frenchman’s Creek” Daphne du Maurier – re-reading of an old favourite
Eight Girls Taking Pictures” Whitney Otta – gift from my daughter and a thoroughly fascinating book
Hypothermia” Arnaldur Indridason – Skandi-noir crime-thriller passed on to me by my daughter
The Great Gatsby” F Scott Fitzgerald – another re-read; another old favourite

For Christmas this year I received four books as gifts, so these will be my initial reads going forward:-
Little Miss Christmas” Roger Hargreaves – read this as soon as I unwrapped it on Christmas morning
Iceling” Sasha Stephenson – science fiction, really keen to read this as soon as I’ve finished the Murakami
Killing Commendatore” Haruki Murakami – new book; my favourite author; lovely dustcover, but simply stunning covers underneath it; started reading this on Christmas Day
Uncommon Type” Tom Hanks – I’ve seen so many snippets about this since it was published and I’ve been thinking about getting it, so great to receive it as a gift, and keen to read after I’ve read the others

As with the knitting, I am finding with reading that if I do a little each day I achieve more than if I think I will spend a big block of time reading something.

Chapter 4 – creative writing

Back in the early part of summer I put in a lot of work on my creative writing and I hit 10,000 words on the first draft of what I like to refer to as my novel. Then I stopped. I had good reasons for stopping, not to do with lack of enthusiasm for the project, just that my attention was needed elsewhere. Towards the end of the year I’ve been thinking seriously about short fiction pieces, and looking at Medium as a platform to get some of my writing past the draft stage on into an arena where it stands a chance of being read. I intend to write more about this in the next couple of weeks as I firm up my plans.

Chapter 5 – weight and health

I think in 2018 the most beneficial thing I have done is change my diet, lose weight, and become more active. It took a big change in my lifestyle to prompt me to do this; I had been unhappy with my weight and generally feeling lumpy and unfit for a long while, but I was stuck in a rut of spending too much time on work I didn’t particularly enjoy and not enough time on creative things that I would enjoy, then compensating myself by over-eating.

Now I am two stone lighter than I was; I have eaten well, though not to excess, over Christmas without either gaining or losing any weight; and I feel a hundred times better about myself than I have for a long while. The trick (for me, at least) is to recognise what your particular downfall is and then just apply yourself to correcting it. For me, it’s snacking – I never have been one for eating huge meals, but will happily graze on sweetery until the cows come home. Forcing myself into a routine of eating three meals a day and not snacking in between has been the key as far as eating goes, and I think if I maintain this then I have a good chance of establishing a weight that I am happy with and can maintain.

That is one side of the equation. The second, equally important thing for weight loss is EXERCISE. I don’t think you can lose weight just by changing your eating (input); you also have to address your exercise (output). I initially committed to doing at least 30 minutes of exercise a day and quite quickly upped this to an hour a day. About 50% of the exercise I do is walking because it’s the thing I enjoy and I can easily do and I find it beats cycling into a cocked hat for general fitness.

The other 50% is down to that blue plastic step! No, it isn’t pretty; no, it isn’t exciting; but, boy, does it work! I don’t use it for fancy workouts; I don’t follow some wonderful programme – I literally just step on and off it for 30 minutes. Sometimes I listen to music whilst I’m doing it (Dusty Springfield is great!); sometimes I watch TV (The Professionals; Alias Smith & Jones); I just make sure I do at least one session a day – two if it’s rubbish weather or there’s some other reason I don’t want to go out for a walk.

The third element in my fitness triumvirate is the Apple Activity App (and it’s only the Apple Exercise App because I choose to live within the Apple ecosystem as opposed to the alternatives). I use this to keep me accountable for exercise and general movement. It tracks three things:-
Move – I keep this target purposely low; it’s currently set to making sure I burn 360 calories per day and most days I will double this, every so often I will triple it. ‘Move’ is hard to define as I notice I get a higher ‘score’ if I sit and knit than I do if I actually go out and walk, but you take it as it comes, really. The app also tots up your Move streak and at the moment I have met my Move target for 110 consecutive days.
Exercise – I have this set to 30 minutes per day; again, I usually achieve more than this. Both timed workout sessions and general exercise count in this one, although you have to go for a brisk walk rather than a general amble for it to be deemed exercise.
Stand – This is always set to a minimum of 12 hours ‘standing’ per day – which means that you have got off your chair and moved around for a minimum of a minute in each of those 12 hours. It’s a good one because it is surprisingly easy to remain relatively motionless for huge stretches of time, and on this one sitting knitting doesn’t count as ‘standing’ – you do actually have to get up and walk about.

Using this app has shown me that I am very motivated by achieving targets, no matter if they are completely arbitrary and even if I don’t really understand what constitutes a particular achievement. Give me a big, shiny, virtual medal and I’ll obey you!

Chapter 6 – stationery

My love of stationery has continued to thrive in 2018 and I have been lucky enough to be able to use my fountain pens and lovely notebooks even more as I have gone through the year. In February I took part in InCoWriMo for the second year and totally sucked at it! I will do it again in 2019 and I’m determined to succeed in sending out 28 letters this time. I’ve corresponded with some lovely and interesting people doing this challenge and it is well worth it.

I didn’t increase my store of fountain pens during the year, and I don’t have any intention of doing so in 2019. I did receive two lovely new bottles of ink as Christmas gifts. These are from Lamy’s new Crystal ink range and they are both simply gorgeous. I feel rather ho-hum about Lamy’s standard inks so wasn’t sure if this higher-end range would inspire me, but I am very impressed with the initial try-out. Although they aren’t huge bottles (30ml compared to 75ml in a bottle from Graf von Faber-Castell), this keeps the price at a point where you can comfortably put it on a gift list. (I am a normal person some of the time and I can completely understand that people who don’t use fountain pens might baulk at shelling out £23-£29 for a bottle of ink from lines like Graf von Faber-Castell and Pilot Iroshizuku.)

I am still a sucker for a pretty, or simple but incredibly well-made, notebook. In fact, I choose my handbags based on how easily I can fit an A5 notebook and pen into it. On that front, I received a further very thoughtful gift at Christmas, a leather case to carry three pens which is proving to be such a good item to take in and out of your bag.

Chapter 7 – being a fan

A huge part of this year for me has been about being a fan, primarily of Blake’s 7, but also of Dr. Who, Kojak, Alias Smith and Jones, and the hundred other little flames I keep burning across the years. Being a fan brings me so much pleasure and it is a joy that I share with my grandson which is even better than experiencing it alone.

This year was a happy one as we went about celebrating 40 years since the first showing of Blake’s 7, and we pushed the boat out with a weekend convention where I met loads of lovely people: fans, crew and cast members. I am still smiling with pleasure every time I think about it. It was sad, too, as the inimitable Jacqueline “Servalan” Pearce passed away; a tiny, but larger than life lady who leaves behind the most marvellous memories with all who met her, however fleetingly.

I know it has also been a tough year for Ian Kubiak who organises the Cygnus Alpha conventions and I just want to ackowledge how much poorer my life would be if I had not stumbled upon his web page in 2016 and reignited my love of Blake’s 7. Ian, his family and all who help out at the conventions have earned a very special place in my affections.

Chapter 8 – word of the year

I am not keen on New Year’s Resolutions, but for a few years now I have chosen a ‘word of the year’ to give me something to focus on. These have been “Return” (2016); “Flexibility (2017); “Home” (2018). Whilst I didn’t really manage to be terribly flexible in any way at all during 2017, I think keeping home in mind through 2018 helped me a lot and it was very successful. I have always been very much a homebody – it is where I feel happy and free to be creative. For me, there is nothing better than shutting the door and knowing that nothing needs to intrude unless I will it. Except, of course, for those lovely people I don’t actually know who like to spread joy by phoning me from foreign climes to suggest that my broadband will be disconnected unless I give them control of my computer.

For 2019 I have chosen “Establish” as my word of the year and this is to help me focus on getting things onto a firm footing through 2019 whilst trying to be more the person I want to be and less the person that convention suggests I should be. I am looking forward to seeing how this works through the upcoming year.

Chapter 9 – visitors on WordPress

I have loved writing my blog this past few months, but I think even more than the writing, I enjoy seeing all the countries where visitors have logged in to view my posts. In 2018 these have been (from lowest number of visits to highest number):

Switzerland – Thailand – Philippines – Netherlands – Austria – Japan – United Arab Emirates – New Zealand – Ukraine – France – Portugal – Egypt – Russia – Croatia – Indonesia – Sweden – Hong Kong – Finland – China – South Africa – Australia – Romania – India – Ireland – Germany – Canada – United States – United Kingdom.

So, if you are the person who visited from Switzerland today and read my Quote of the Week from Bob Dylan, thank you, I hope you enjoyed your trip. And, of course, my heartfelt thanks to everyone who has come to look at my tiny plot on the internet and has enjoyed what they have read here.

Epilogue

Whew, this is a mammoth blog entry. I would like to end it by wishing everyone all the best for the coming year.

Propser 2019
“Live long and prosper.”

 

Slow fashion thoughts

Green LA Dress
Green Laura Ashley dress circa 1983

I don’t know if you are aware, but there is a thing going on at the moment called Slow Fashion October which is all about taking the month to think about what you wear, what you buy, what you make, how you dispose of things, and try to help the planet out a bit. I am mainly following it vicariously through the excellent Fringe Association blog (a recommendation for any knitters or needleworkers out there and also a general good read for fashion information), but I must admit I haven’t bought into it in any life-altering way. Or have I? After all, life usually alters through tiny incremental changes rather than huge gestures. However, it has made me think about my attitude to clothes and I realise that I have always been a rather “slow fashion” type of girl.

Buy little; wear it for as long as you possibly can

That is really the crux of the slow fashion movement. It is also apparently genetically coded into my DNA. With two older sisters and an older brother (not so helpful on the clothing front), my life started with hand-me-downs and a general waiting-my-turn for clothes I liked which my sisters were wearing. There was one particular short-sleeved, skinny-rib top in the mid 1970s which we all had a turn with – as I remember it would have been relatively inexpensive, from C&A or some such chainstore, but it had a really solid lifetime of wear as it passed along the three of us.

Even as an adult, I have rarely been one for buying lots of clothes. I think my age group are a product of the generation which had little money or time for buying clothes and we either stuck with our upbringing or we rebelled and became profligate. I saved my rebellion for things other than clothes!

So, bearing in mind this background, I’d like to tell you the tale of my favourite ever dress.

The Blue Laura Ashley Dress

(Unfortunately, no photos seem to survive of the blue Laura Ashley dress, but I was wearing it during the same period that I wore the green Laura Ashley dress in the photo above. My darling daughter is modelling a frilly sundress – her look has changed dramatically since I stopped being in charge of her wardrobe, although her current haircut is startlingly similar!)

On the cusp between the 1970s and 1980s, my oldest sister worked at the local Laura Ashley shop and it was a boom time for that particular type of fashion in our households. Our rooms were decorated with Laura Ashley wallpaper, we shopped at Laura Ashley, we wore Laura Ashley.

The Blue Dress was passed on to me by my sister so it already had “slow fashion” credentials as a pre-worn item. It was a pale blue – cornflower would be my best guess at a colour description – with a pale floral motif, but the style has faded in my memory. Certainly, it was an everyday dress, so in length it would have been somewhere between the knee and the mid-calf. It was a summer dress, so short-sleeved. Did it have buttons down the front like the green dress? Perhaps, but I think not.

What I remember most about the dress is how much I wore it through the summers when my daughter was little. I loved it with a passion, I loved wearing it, I loved how I looked in it. It wasn’t reserved for special occasions, it wasn’t precious, it was simply one of those things that you reach for again and again because it’s just right; one of those things you miss when you no longer have it. I am missing it still – I would have worn the hell out of it this summer!

As I wore the dress and washed the dress through successive summers, the colour faded, the fabric becoming ever more sheer and, at the same time, ever more lovely. Then, as all things must, it simply gave up the ghost. One horrible day, the fabric could take no more, I went to put the dress on and there was an ominous rip. Expecting a seam to need re-stitching I took it off, but in fact the fabric itself had split and there was nothing to be done. Farewell, old friend.

Slow Fashion October

When I sit and think about Slow Fashion October, I think about that dress, and I think about clothes I have which shock me by being much older than I think they are. I think about the garments I have knitted over the years; about my hand-knitted socks. Like everyone else, I am guilty of bad choices, of buying (and, let’s be honest here, making) things that I just don’t really like, that don’t stand the test of time. However, I think the main thing is to aim to keep the scales tipped towards the things you love, that you wear and wear, that you don’t just use for a season then pass on to someone else.


Do you like your fashion fast or slow? What’s the oldest thing in your wardrobe that you still wear regularly?


 

Finished object – maroon sweater

I have finished my sweater! Although this is a distinctly autumn knit, I am counting it as the summer garment as far as my intentions for the year go (I was aiming to get one garment and three pairs of socks knitted in each of the four “seasons” this year and I’m running way behind).

Date started: 19th September 2018
Date completed: 14th October 2018
Pattern: Square-neck Ribbed Sweater from One Thousand Sweaters by Amanda Griffiths  (out of print) with modified Fitted Sleeve and modified Square V-neck Rib neck border
Yarn: Willow and Lark Ramble Superwash Wool DK in colour 110 Ox Blood (out of stock as I write this)
Size: Medium (to suit 36″bust)

This book is modular so you can mix and match different bodies, sleeves, necklines etc to suit yourself. I’ve knitted a few DK-weight sweaters using it and I rather like it.

When I last wrote about this garment, I wasn’t too sure about it at all. I am pleased to report that I loved knitting it, forgave the yarn its quirks as I did manage to get a number of balls that didn’t have any obvious flaws, and I galloped through the sleeves like a maniac who lives on the opposite side of the globe to the famous Sleeve Island where knitters often find themselves becalmed. I knitted this at the shorter of the two lengths offered for the body because I am both entirely short (5’2″) and short-waisted. The ribbing design on the body made the knitting interesting and works well in the worn garment.

I decided to make two modifications to the pattern. Firstly, I worked the centre 10 stitches all the way up the sleeves in the 2 x 2 rib pattern featured on the body. I think this worked exceptionally well. I also modified the neckband to feature a rolled edge.

The neckband is knitted as a separate piece, and I have to admit to making a silly mistake when attaching it on Sunday. Fitted correctly, the two ends of the strip of knitting are attached to the front of the neckline then the band is attached up the fronts and round the back of the neck. For some silly reason, I attached it with the middle of the band at the front and then joined the two ends at the back of the neck, giving a more scoop-neck finish to the garment. I realised my mistake as I had completely finished attaching it and was walking into my bedroom to try it on. It didn’t look bad. I spent a good few minutes trying to convince myself that “good enough is done”, then sat down and took the neckband off and re-worked it correctly. For some of us, good enough is never done.

And that’s it – a speedy, enjoyable knit and a garment I’m keen to wear as the weather cools. Currently on my needles is yet another version of my all-time favourite cardigan pattern – Rimini by the lovely, lovely Martin Storey.  This is taking advantage of a sweater quantity of 4-ply Sirdar Country Style yarn (45% acrylic/40% Bri-Nylon/15% wool) kindly donated to me by my good friend Alex W. She wasn’t going to use it on account of it being a vile colour, which it sort-of is, but it’s a colour that is everywhere this autumn and it is growing on me. We’ll have to see if I can actually carry off an entire garment in this shade!

Happy knitting, folks!


Is it just me, or is anyone else getting a vague Star Trek vibe from these photos? Something to do with that neckline and the red and gold-chartreuse-mustard colourways.


 

Work in progress – Maroon sweater

Weekend gains
Knitting, Kojak, more knitting, more Kojak – that’s my kind of weekend

A lot of my weekend was spent alternating between knitting and watching Kojak; perfect partners for the grim, grey, rainy days we had in Norfolk. Oh, I did chores too, plenty of chores. I washed and cleaned and shopped for groceries, because I am far from advocating a life where all one does is knit and watch Kojak (that’s because he’s mine… all mine, I tell you!).

I thought I would feature the knitting today since it is a relatively new cast-on for me. I’m using one of the basic sweater patterns from “One Thousand Sweaters” by Amanda Griffiths. I haven’t decided if I will go on and knit sleeves, or just do a sleeveless pullover. The decision may depend slightly on how the wool goes, because I admit I am struggling with this yarn. It is Willow & Lark’s Ramble DK – 100% superwash wool. Willow & Lark is a house brand for Lovecrafts who run the Love Knitting and Love Crochet web shops. I have been knitting with this wool, on and off, through the late spring and summer, but not getting far on any project I’ve started.

It’s not a bad yarn, by any means. For example, it gives a nice even stitch definition which isn’t guaranteed with worstead-spun yarns; many show a definite bias whereby one side of each stitch sits vertically whilst the other side slopes, giving a very noticeable effect in the finished fabric. The slightly silky finish you get with a superwash treated wool is fine by me. Less acceptable is the tendency for the yarn to look a bit ‘old’ as I’m knitting it, giving me cause for concern about the longevity of the project. Worse, though, are the number of noticeable joins within a ball of the yarn, not to mention actual knots. These are frequent enough that I have started to rewind each ball before I start it in order to avoid surprises. I think this is probably par for the course at this price-point, but I am disappointed nevertheless. The colour is lovely and autumnal, though, and I would really like a garment in this shade. Actually, what I want is a pair of boots in exactly this shade; and thinking about it I used to have a pair that I loved until they fell apart.

On top of my concern about the wool, I am knitting the medium size on this occasion and I am also undecided about the fit. I’m currently trying to lose weight and the large size in this book is a trifle big even at my plumpest. Then again, with the ribbing features at the sides and front, it is cinching in quite noticeably, giving me pause for thought. However, I shall carry on and see what transpires. Luckily, the world does not end every time we knit something we don’t end up liking. Also, many things I thought I didn’t like when I finished them end up being the things I wear the most.

Now, though, it is time to close, before I start to exhibit Kojak withdrawal symptoms! Hope you all had an enjoyable weekend and are starting the working week rested.


 

 

You only had to ask….

Yes, apparently so.  “Rain, rain, go away,” I said.  And the next day, this:

Is it Spring?

Blossom!  Blue skies!  Just like in the ‘real’ blogs – you know, the ones written by people who don’t spend the first ten minutes at work every day trying to blow-dry their legs using the hand dryer in the Ladies’.

I am going to stay quiet about what colour the sky is today.  Suffice it to say I had planned a day of knitting and watching my Blakes 7 DVD collection and that is pretty much what today is good for.  I dropped off my new bike for its first little service this morning (just a general once-over after 5-6 weeks of riding) and will pick it up late this afternoon.  Apart from that, the day is my own.  And I am waiting in anyway for a little packet that may contain something interesting that once belonged to a very special American sheep….

Knitting

But more of that tomorrow.  Today I’m going to write about this:

Purple Rimini

Or do I mean this:

Rimini cardigan in grey

Yes, I am knitting another Rimini cardigan from the excellent pattern by Martin Storey in Jaeger Booklet JB16.  The yarn, once again, is J C Rennie Supersoft Lambswool in Silver Grey.

This is an entirely practical garment and the pattern choice was a bit of a no-brainer because my first Rimini cardigan is the garment I most covet on days when I want a light, but warm and cosy cardigan.  Everything about it is just perfect and it has become a bit of a benchmark against which the shortcomings of other patterns are measured.  If a neckline is too wide, or too low, then that is brought into sharp focus as soon as I put on Rimini which sits exactly right at the neck and keeps out draughts without being stifling.  If sleeves are too short, or too tight, turn to Rimini and they are just precisely how sleeves need to be.  Rimini is a gorgeous pattern.

I am making a couple of slight changes on this version.  The pattern is written with some waist shaping and button fastenings all the way down the front.  Instead, I am planning this to have buttons down to bust level then let the cardigan flare open and so I have left out the waist shaping.

I have just made a start on the left front of the cardigan, having completed the back a week or so ago.  As I’m on holiday at the moment, I’m hoping to get a bit of a move-on with this through the rest of the week.  I think that one of the really great things about knitting as a hobby is that however bad the weather, no holiday is a let-down.  So, it rains for a week – think how much knitting you can get done!

Speaking of which, it is high time I was heading over to the settee….

Oh, and by the way, if you happen to be a spider and you feel like coming to live in my bedroom, don’t.  I have cleared three spiders out of there this morning and, quite frankly, three is enough.  Thanks.