We've had wild winds, rainstorms, icy cold nights and damp grey days. There is plenty more to come - after all it's still only mid-January. And yet, and yet, this is Ireland. You only have to look a little more closely to see that, incredibly, spring is already on its way, heralding its arrival in a dozen different ways. In the garden this morning, I found catkins on a little hazel tree.
In the flower beds, the sturdy grey-green shoots of daffodils were well up, and promising sheets of golden-yellow blooms within a month.
And down in the rose garden, there was even a single deep pink bud on the Cecile Brunner bush.
To be truthful, I think that happy and cheerful bush has continued to produce one or two blooms every month since last May, so perhaps this is an echo of last summer rather than a herald of spring, but a delightfully welcome guest nevertheless. In the first flush of summer, Cecile throws out a halo of small, pale pink blooms; in the autumn and winter she contents herself with single, deeper, and slightly larger flowers. I cut her energetic stems well back when they've finished flowering and up they come again, full of energy. She's a real trouper, unlike some of the missish and sulking standards I've inherited, which demand a great deal of attention for very little results.
We were out and about later in the day, talking to a farmer in the charmingly-named townland of Clashanimud near Innishannon, appropriately enough about daffodils.
Kieran Cronin grows daffodils for the market, following these with tulips, which make a bright show in his roadside fields. He used to send the early daffodils to America and Europe, but has found that bigger businesses, as well as the practice of importing exotica from Kenya and other sunny climes, has made it impractical. Now he contents himself with tying up bunches to sell from a roadside stall outside his farm. 'Tis backbreaking work,' he admitted as we shivered in the icy wind, 'but 'tis great to see all that mass of yellow at this time of year.' Oddly enough, he said, the weather has little to do with the blossoming time. 'They'll be out one or two days either side of February first, whether 'tis raining, hailing or snowing.'
I was delighted you liked the pictures of Tobago and so was Richard who put some more on the system for me to show you.
This scene straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean is actually known as Bloody Bay since there really were pirates here. Now it's peaceful and the only sound is the crash of the surf on the beach. That and the friendly voice offering fresh coconut juice, straight from the shell.
The birds are so colourful there that they were a constant stimulus and delight. I mean, look at these.
Some of you are probably used to humming birds (lucky you!) but we're always thrilled to see them up close. Most restaurants and hotels had feeders up, which attracted them in and thoroughly distracted us from whatever delicacies were being placed before us.
This was a white-necked Jacobin...
and this was a dear little Ruby Topaz female, building her miniscule nest in the fork of a thin branch. We discovered her at a secluded reserve within walking distance of our hotel. It was a restful and quiet place, a bit poignant because it had been an old cocoa and banana plantation which had been devastated by Hurricane Flora in the 1970s. The owner, a Mrs. Alefounder, couldn't afford to replant and wait all the necessary years to break even, so gave it to the island as a reserve for everyone to enjoy. I wondered as I sat there in the shady peace if she ever dreamed of her old life and imagined she was back there, living in the great house amid the rustling leaves.
This hummingbird's nest is so tiny you wouldn't believe it. A wedding ring would be a tight fit. She started by collecting strands of cobwebs and winding them round the twigs, and then gradually added soft moss and lichen, until it was a little bowl. The most beautiful fibre art I ever saw in creation, and she was so happy and contented and bright-eyed as she worked away tirelessly.
And the bats weren't all that were active at night. When there had been a shower of rain, the bull frogs got all happy and came out to croak at the top of their voices. DH rose instantly from bed, grabbed a torch, and headed down to the hotel gardens to find them.
All right, all right, back to the knitting. I worked away on the Shepherd's Vest, but then disaster. I decided I needed one more ball of yarn to complete it - and couldn't get the same dye lot. Now with a yarn that's meant to be a natural shade, that shouldn't be a problem, but it was. The new one was definitely yellow-tinged instead of oatmeal. Shoot! What to do now?
Here you can see the back and one front. Underneath on the right is the remaining original yarn, with the second front in progress. On the left is the new ball.
I had already made the pocket lining for the second front and attached it, so I ripped that back and re-made it in the new ball. That freed up some more of the original shade for the second front. Now I'm just going to work up the front as far as the old yarn goes and see if I can make it to the shoulder. If not, I have two options: (a) continue with the new yarn and hope for the best; (b) rip out a bit of the back, use that yarn, and re-finish the back with the new shade.
Which would you do?
Incidentally, when I was on Tobago I kept seeing people with these great clear plastic totes for their swim wear. Everybody it appeared had bought them in local shops. But when I went hunting there were none left. Pipped again! But then, slumped on a seat in utter exhaustion at Gatwick Airport, on the way home, awaiting the onward flight to Cork, what did I see in a branch of Accessorize, but some superb clear plastic totes. I think they must only be an airport thing, because I've never seen them in city branches of the chain. Bought two on the spot - £8 sterling each, but well worth it.
Here's the Shepherd's Vest all easily contained in one of them. Good, isn't it? Get thee to an airport with a branch of Accessorize.
Incidentally, after that worry over the non-matching yarn, I went briefly off the shepherd's vest. I instead seized on the chunky charcoal crop cardi (remember all the excitement over that way back in - oh, I don't know, November or something?) and started working on it again at top speed. I only have the rest of the final sleeve to finish after all, and then I will have COMPLETED A WIP. Keep you posted on that one. It would really be good to finish something just once in a while, wouldn't it? Sort of clear the way for new projects...
Speaking of which, I have AT LAST received the holiday issues of Vogue Knitting and Interweave. And about time too! The Vogue, I noticed with disquiet, was posted at Economy Rate back in early November, which doesn't speak too well for the successful speed of future issues. But it was wonderful to get them and I'm rationing myself to delightful little sessions at intervals, to make them last. Already I've seen something I want to make on almost every page! You're all used to them by now, and indeed have probably made everything already, but remember they're new to me and still exciting.
Nearly didn't get them - went into the post office on Monday to collect the backed-up mail but they told me it had gone out with Postie. Went home and waited impatiently, but no mail. Went in Tuesday and the same thing happened. Finally this morning, threatened World War Three and they held the big package of goodies until I got there and collected it. Which is how I am now treasuring Vogue and Interweave.
Oh and the very VERY best till last. Along with the knitting fix and all the inevitable bills and rubbish, came two wonderful packages. Look what the lovely Angeluna sent me!
This gorgeous little satin and brocade bag is clearly designed for only the most prestigious projects, to be hung elegantly from a beaded belt. And, I think, only Holz & Stein ebony circulars too, with probably silk and cashmere yarn. Angeluna honey, I'm going to have to live UP to this bag!
Here's another picture of it open, so you can see its lovely shape and the glorious satin lining. Even the little fastening button is a tiny green bell!
And I also got (what a fortunate womble I am) a package from my dear Dez in Louisiana. Dez and I did a swap - I sent her some of my Midwinter yarn, and she sent me - oh gosh, just feast your eyes on this bundle.
All the right sizes in bamboo circulars (a girl can never have too many circulars, you never know when you might want to start something new right away, and it isn't always a good idea to shift the current project off on to the sidelines because sure as dammit you'll forget what gauge needles you were using when you finally do get back to it - if you ever do), and round the perimeter there - yes, it is, it truly is Berrocco's Ultra Alpaca. Oooh, what shall I make with that buttery goodness?
What have you been making? What's on the needles right now? When are you expecting the spring? I know that if you live in Vermont or Whitehorse it is probably going to be almost June, whereas Dez and Angeluna never lost it in the first place, but I'm not so sure about everywhere else. Oregon? Dumfries? Iowa? Lapland? Peg, I know you're suffering icy conditions, because DH still gets the Vancouver Island birders' emails. Charity, are you still snowed in? Tell me how it is with you all.