Yes, it's been rather a while since you heard from me. There was a good reason. A twelve-foot tall, vicious, spiky, echoingly black reason in the shape of the flu virus from hell. This plague swept into the peaceful Celtic Memory household almost a week ago and has turned a fairly pleasant normality into the seventh circle of Hades.
We are not speaking here, I would emphasise, of those slight head colds which cause us to cry off from luncheon engagements, preferring instead to spend a restful afternoon with the latest pair of socks or the new Interweave Knits. No, we are speaking of the Real McCoy, the devil itself. The one that causes you to crank open anguished eyes and stare bewilderedly at the ceiling before collapsing back onto the rumpled sheets. The one that doesn't even give you the energy to boil the kettle let alone mix up nice lemon drinks. The one that comes for as long as it likes, and isn't in any hurry to leave. The one - yes, it has to be said - the one that -
ACTUALLY STOPS YOU WANTING TO KNIT.
I know, one is supposed to ring the Knitters' Helpline if any such horror should seem likely to befall, but this beast didn't even give me the chance. It was normality to flat out overnight, with no warning whatever.
DH got it at the same time, but miraculously seemed able to throw it off after a couple of days - superior male strength, as he pointed out smugly, but at the same time, it should be said, making endless hot drinks, running errands, smoothing pillow, tortured brow, sheets, passing dogs, anything that needed soothing down, so his smugness is totally forgiven. Celtic Memory had to take the longer route, eventually resorting to antibiotics which didn't react too well with a system that hadn't taken solid food for five days.
AND NO KNITTING!
At 4 am this morning, totally unable to sleep, and racked with coughing, I switched on the bedside light and started to read a book about expat life in an Italian mountain village.
Two points should be covered here. Firstly, I was on my own, in the little folding camp bed which is brought out in emergencies such as this. The residence chez Celtic Memory is not miniscule. It is, all things considered, fairly spacious, with room enough for all the many interests we have and the more than many things we have collected over the years. But one thing it does not have room for is a spare room. I mean - set aside one whole perfectly useful room for the entire YEAR just in case a visitor happens by? Please! What would life be like if we set aside one whole section of it for emergencies - in case something new in the way of interests or activities turned up?
If we do have an overnighter, then, depending on persuasion and interests, they are housed on the said folding bed in either the library, the craft workshop, the drawing room or (if they are very very honoured guests and close buddies of DH) perhaps even in the computer room. But that last doesn't happen too often. No room in either of our studies to swing a Pekingese, let alone unfold a bed.
Anyway, I was in the upstairs drawing room, where you can have uninterrupted views of the stars on two sides all night if you want, reading The Lady in the Palazzo: At Home in Umbria, by Marlena de Blasi. At 4 am. Giving DH the chance for at least one night's uninterrupted slumber.
The second point (and you may well share this sentiment) is that under normal circumstances I have had more than enough of gushing tales of life in rural Umbria (or Tuscany or Sicily or wherever). I tend to get restive when reading of yet another adorably overgrown vineyard rescued and brought back to life. When the prose goes purple over the discovery of good heavens yet another totally unknown but utterly memorable rural restaurant, the book tends to go out the window. But it was 4 am, I was desperate, and so I read on.
And after all, she had a way with her, this de Blasi. Of showing what a good idea it was to take time over preparation, over cooking, over appreciating every little herb and plant and vegetable. Switching off the light, and lying back for another few hours of sleepless coughing, I began wondering if it wouldn't be a good idea to try this slow route, just for a while. Maybe it would help.
And so this morning I called on memories of learning at my mother's knee, and slowly, gradually, throughout the entire day, built up a huge pot of simmering vegetable soup, adding a herb here, a grind of nutmeg there, a bayleaf later on, as it seemed to suggest. When DH came home, he sniffed the air and said, 'Is that home made soup?' in such a tone that I felt really really guilty it had taken the flu to remind me of the slow road.
I have now tucked a large bowlful of that same homemade soup inside me, where it is making me feel a whole lot better. Still shaky, still inclined to wobble if I stand up too quickly, but definitely getting there. Thanks de Blasi. I might just be back. Your recipe for the rabbit was rather good... (And thanks dearest Dez for the hint from your own grandmother's kitchen.)
And do you know another thing? Once that soup was on the stove and simmering gently, I actually felt the stirrings of a new idea. A new knitting idea to try.
A NEW PROJECT.
(Well, if you can't treat yourself to a new project after the flu, when can you? Huh?)
I might have mentioned some months back catching a fleeting glimpse of the most elegantly brief of lime green shrug-tops over a sparkling white T in a supermarket. It was so simple it was devastating. And I bought some silk/cotton (Stella from Debbie Bliss) the very next time I saw the right colour, so I could make something like it. It had been fermenting in the back of my mind on its own for a while, but now, today, it pushed its way to the front and announced fairly firmly that it was ready to get started. Obediently (well believe me I was really grateful that the mojo came whistling by at all, I had really feared it was gone forever) I grabbed the yarn and circular and got going.
(Extraordinarily difficult to cast on when your hands are shaky. Took several tries.)
Now it's not got very far (perched it in the middle of these lilies to give a sense of spring on the way), but can you see the idea? I've started at the sleeve, and worked the moss stitch cuff in the round, plus the first few rows of stocking stitch with a double cable in the centre, which will be the top of the arm. Now - you can't see it very clearly here, but the top couple of inches of that cabling is actually split - I'm working back and forth, so there will be an open section on the top of the sleeve. Further up I'll join them again briefly, and then separate again, so you get the slashed sleeve effect. At the neck, one cable will do the front neckline and the other the back, and the undersleeve will of course divide too, with more stitches cast on for the cropped back and front. And so across to the other side, reverse the process, and down to the second cuff. Got it? I think I have anyway.
Oh, and DH said I still can't take sock pictures for tuppence, and no wonder people were making fun of my red and grey ones, so he kindly told me to put them on and he'd have a go.
Yes, that is a circular emerging from the trouser leg. They're both still on the needles. That's because these are the socks with which I have started the practice of beginning toe-up and keeping going until every last inch of yarn is used up. And it is taking forever to finish the yarn! I'll be up to the knee at this rate, and having to increase! And to think I'm always worried about running out.
Of course being prostrate with the flu doesn't mean your work stops. Editors are occasionally kind, they may even offer a gentle wish for your recovery. But that doesn't fill the hole in the page. Copy has to keep coming, no matter what you feel like. The only excuse is a death. Your own. (And that's not a joke as any journalist will know.) So the laptop has been busy, balanced on the bed, although the work produced was not perhaps of the finest.
One piece I did have to get in today was about Andrew Eadie, who runs Kerry Woollen Mills. Andrew is on his way even now to Dublin for the huge Showcase Ireland exhibition which opens on Sunday at the RDS and runs through to Wednesday. It's where all the international buyers come to see the very best of Irish crafts and small industries and where these businesses pick up their orders for the year ahead, so it's very important. We're very fond of Andrew and the mill (over 300 years old and still thriving) so putting a piece in the paper about him was one way we could help.
The first part of tonight's posting was rather more of a prose diatribe than the picture-heavy offering to which you have become accustomed (blame it on the antibiotics), so let's make up for that now.
Here are swans on the dear little river Gweestin which has turned the machinery and washed the fleeces for Kerry Woollen Mills since the 1700s.
(These pictures were taken back in the heady days of summer, by the way, so don't be misled into thinking January in Ireland looks like this. Believe me, it doesn't. If the island weren't a natural sponge, we'd have joined Atlantis by now.)
Here's the 89th generation of Eadie cats, whose forefathers have guarded the mill and seen off rebel rats since the 17th century, stalking across the old cobbled courtyard, unchanged since the days of rumbling carts and clopping hooves.
- and here he is again, looking Sphinx-like among the flowers. He seemed to enjoy the camera, and followed Richard around for quite a while, purring, 'Ready for my close up now, dear boy!'
Here is the fleece shed, where the workers are literally up to their eyes in the lovely soft stuff all day.
And the shop, where all the things they make out of that fleece are displayed (yes, yes, bainin yarn too).
I hope Andrew and his team do well at Showcase Ireland. It's not easy to keep a family business going these days, with all the competition from developing countries, but to lose such an old established mill here in Ireland would be heartbreaking.
But listen, go look at the Showcase Ireland website. The quality of stuff on show in Dublin next week is breathtaking. And don't you always get inspiration from other people's work? I know I got lots of ideas from just browsing.
I didn't show you a picture of Andrew Eadie. I was going to, and then I decided not to. It's not fair. It would only upset you.
I SAID NO! Now let that be an END to it, all right?
Oh don't say please. I'm not strong enough yet. I'm still weak as a kitten for heaven's sake. No pleading.
Oh all right. It's your own fault. You insisted.
See? I knew it would only upset you.
(And it's no good your getting on the next plane, it's down miles of tiny flooded boreens in the wilds of Kerry, and you'd only get lost in a bog or something, and even if you did find it, the Eadie Cat would have your ankles for sure. And before you ask, no, I haven't. Not the tiniest skein. But Celtic Memory, once she has recovered something of her former strength, will be back on the task. Though it's truly not the reason he's being written up. I genuinely want that wonderful old place to survive.)
I really hope this fog of wretched discomfort lifts within the next few days. Don't mind feeling lackadaisacal for a week or so, can cope with lack of energy. But just to feel a little more human would be good.
With more of a weak wave than the accustomed hug.