Sunday, June 14, 2009

Of Coventry, A Cuddly Lamb, and A Secret Clapper Bridge

Went to Coventry last week for the first ever UK Ravelry Day. The weather could hardly have been worse - downpours, black clouds, shivery temperatures - but we had fun nevertheless. I met up with Sandy, a fellow Sock Madnesser, who had flown in from Sweden and shanghaied an innocent businessmanfrom her flight into escorting her to the hotel (I heard him later on explaining on the phone to his wife that he'd met this woman on the plane from Sweden and could she please pick him up at said woman's hotel - I wonder what kind of evening they had when he got home?)

But it was great to meet Sandy in person after sharing so much terror and pressure and stress and all the other joys of Sock Madness via Ravelry. And as is usual with knitters and bloggers, we felt we knew each other pretty well already. She brought me some gorgeous yarn from Sweden and I gave her some Irish skeins in exchange so we were both well content.

I have to say that spirits were high at the event, despite the wretched weather.

I don't know if this is Sarah or Gemma from Brownberry Yarns, but she was smiling even while drips were falling from the inadequate tarpaulin right on her koala bear's head. Oh wait, Gemma's KraftyKoala, isn't she, on the Web, so maybe it's Gemma.

These alpacas were behaving beautifully, though they must have been feeling rather damp. You can't see how hard it's raining, which is perhaps just as well.

Indoors things were very crowded, since nobody who could avoid it wanted to stay outside very long, but it was all very jolly.

There were workshops, all extremely well attended,

there were knitters in every available space,

Medecins Sans Frontieres were there, a sight to gladden the heart of our own dear Yarn Harlot,

there were spinners

and of course there were lots and lots of stalls, both inside and out. I bought two pairs of Holz & Stein circulars in ebony from the lovely Frangipani or Guernsey Wool, I don't know by which title they prefer to be known, but they were exceptionally helpful and nice, again despite the rain which must have affected their sales. Bought far too much from the lovely Andy as usual - a big cone of gorgeous fingering weight merino in natural, two balls of Noro Silk Garden Sock, Cookie A's new sock book, and the new Noro Mini Knits 2 for good measure (and good weight, the rucksack was getting heavy by this time). On somebody else's stall I found the highly entertaining Crazy Zauberball yarn and bought one in red and one in blue.

If you look at that last picture above, you might see a lady at her spinning wheel. That's Kirstie Buckland from the Knitting History Forum. It's worth seeing her glorious outfit close up:

Every little detail correct. I must join the Knitting History Forum, really I must. It's fascinating to learn as much as possible about the craft.

Took a class in machine knitting with Jane, who made it all seem so simple - it's never as easy as that when you get home though, is it? Went to Meg Swansen's talk and met up with LilyMarlene, another of my old Sock Madness friends. We had so much to talk about that, after we'd enjoyed Meg's talk and queued up to look more closely at her superbly chic Ribwarmer Vest, we went out to a local Viennese cafe for coffee and cakes and a really good gossip before she had to leave to drive back to the Isle of Wight.

Met up with quite a few Irish knitters too, in the pub that night, as well as discovering a perfect treasure of a medieval drinking house, thanks to Jane who told me where to find it. These ancient buildings are wonderful, all creaky stairs and low ceilings and odd corners and angles. I sat in a tiny dark inglenook all by myself for half an hour with a glass of Old Peculiar or something, and fancied myself back in the Middle Ages.

But cities are not really Celtic Memory's thing, and I was very grateful to get back finally to the green fields and peaceful woodlands of West Cork where we had summer for a whole week while England grew steadily more sodden. The garden of course is totally untamable now, and it's difficult to find your way through the jungle without a machete, while the dogs never go out without their GPSs and whistles. I opened the window the other morning to see DH in the corner of what was once the rose garden (and could be again if I could stop knitting and get some serious pruning done), surrounded by tripods and lenses and wires -

It transpired he was photographing a particular form of fungus with the exceptionally attractive name of Stinkhorn.

Not a particularly good picture - I blew it up from a section of the previous image - but you can probably see where it got its name. Did I mention it smells as though something very dead is lying close by?

Went down to Gougane Barra a few days ago to see a new addition to the Lucey family.

Ali says she had always wanted a pet lamb, so although she was sorry that Lucky's mother had died, she was thrilled to have a little creature of her own to look after.

I tell you, he really butts at that bottle, sucking and thrusting until every drop is gone. I love his rich black coat with touches of white and have already tried to lay claim to the first fleece, but they assure me that it will change to a duller brown within the year. What a pity.

When we were leaving the valley, we headed off up a narrow side boreen on a whim, and followed its potholed and bumpy surface for a mile or so until we ended in the rocky yard of an old abandoned farmhouse. It was a fine afternoon so we went wandering down the old laneways which would once have led to the infield, the outfield, the river.

And, coming down to the bottom of the lane, where we could hear water running (you're never very far from a stream anywhere in Ireland), we turned the corner by the blackberry bush and what did we find.

A totally unsuspected, unknown, undiscovered, secret clapper bridge. A little one, all by itself, crossing a small stream in the middle of nowhere.

Built anything up to ten centuries ago or more, clapper bridges aren't uncommon in this part of Ireland, and in fact there are two well known ones within five or ten miles of this spot, but we had no idea this one was here. It certainly isn't marked on any of the ordnance survey maps and isn't listed in my archaeological reference books. It is just possible that it has escaped being recorded, being so very out of the way.

It was the perfect end to a beautiful day. Dear little bridge.

Inevitably came back from Coventry with so many creative ideas that nothing would suffice but to start several new projects all at once.

As I said, Meg Swansen looked so confoundedly elegant in her Ribwarmer that I had to try again (did try before, if you remember, using the wrong yarn and the wrong size needles, so it's hardly surprising that it turned out a total disaster). Must say this is great fun to work, especially those short rows which bring it round the corner and up the back. Using Icelandic unspun I think - bought it in Finland though, so it may be the Finnish version of that super-delicate, super-light yarn. If you even let a loop of it fall around your knee, you've had it - it separates at the slightest pressure. However, since Celtic Memory has always been known as a loose knitter, she is delighted to discover that her style is entirely suited to working with unspun. No yarns tightly wound around several fingers for her. No steely maintaining of gauge. Just throwing the yarn in the general direction of the needle and then easing it through the stitch, is all that is required. So far I've only broken the yarn twice, which isn't bad going. Yay, the ugly duckling has found the right pond! At last I'm not an outsider, mocked as a 'loosey goosey', I can do this!

Decided that the Conwy Socks from Nancy Bush's Knitting On The Road were just right for the Crazy Zauberball I scooped at UK Ravelry Day. Yes, you're right, Celtic Memory has made an inexplicable slide sideways and is actually using red and brown rather than her usual blues, turquoises and violets. Blame it on the English weather - I'll be back to normal soon. It just seemed right at the time...

Sock Madness may have ended for this year, but the fun goes on in the group. The latest idea is to create new ideas to use up all those itty bitty leftover yarn balls you tend to accumulate. Here I'm trying to make a patchwork project bag - that's one of four projected panels you can see there, and the pointed bit will become a quarter of the bottom, so it will sit flat. I think it's a bit loose on tension though, so might try with a smaller needle. A project bag needs to be fairly firm.

This is the See You Later sock, the final pattern in Sock Madness. I was working on that at Coventry. Highly entertaining, with all those wraps and loopings - you never get bored. Koigu KPPPM - or is that KKKPM? Or KPMMM? Well, Koigu yarn anyway.

Even the Seahorse Socks got finished at long last. These were made, you may recall, by first working two tubes on the old sock machine, and then working toes and cuffs before bravely snipping a thread on each tube (having carefully measured first) and unpicking stitches to make the afterthought heels. They turned out very nicely indeed. Wonder if there would be a market for Save Your Sanity And Spare Time kits, where all the boring legwork was done, and you could play round with the tops and tails?

OK, OK, this isn't the way to finish the posting, I know. You want to see the bridge again. So do I.

I wonder how many footsteps have passed over it throughout the centuries since it was first laboriously constructed? Heavy hobnailed boots going to a day's hard work; light bare feet of a girl running to a lover's tryst in the fields at evening; faltering steps of emigrants; cattle, sheep, geese being driven to market; and maybe, just maybe, in the silent dew-drenched hours before dawn, even the silver slippers of the Good People .


Sally said...

Oh, my dear! I do so love to read your postings. I've got you listed for automatic notification whenever you post and I can go right to it! You are truly one of most amazing wordwrights it has been my privilege to read. I so want to travel to Ireland...your postings continue to feed the desire to see in person, the land of my forebears. Ah, maybe someday! Thanks for sharing, Jo...

Charlotte said...

Why is it called a clapper bridge?

Anonymous said...

What a delightful adventure you had. Never mind the weather...all the better to enjoy the wool goods!

Anonymous said...

Jo, I so enjoy your postings-- but most of all, I enjoy your thougts on ancient times and the lives and activities of the people who were before. Thanks for another marvelous adventure!


Jean said...

Your postings are so full of life, it feels like I'm chatting with a dear friend. The spinning fair, wonderful photos of the country, your projects and that dear little lamb were so enjoyable for me. Thank you.

tmjackson said...

Beautiful work, as ever!

That bridge is darling. Will it be included in this book I keep wondering about?

Katie K said...

Thanks again for a wonderful post.

Windybrook Spinner said...

Your posts are magic. How lovely to go to a place name "Coventry," especially with a whole bunch of other knitters.

pacalaga said...

The book! I had forgotten about the book! And how could I, when I was just wondering why you didn't take that wonderful Irish storytelling of yours and write one? Oh heavens, I can't wait.

Nancy Knitski said...

I know I say this over and over but I love your blog: the writing, the photos, the knitting everything about your work! Thank you for sharing!

It is always a treat to sip my coffee and enjoy a new post.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Jo, what a beautiful bridge! What a charming child and lovely lamb! And what beautiful socks!
Long may you knit,

CraftyGryphon said...

Oh, that looked like wonderful fun! (And I echo everything Quiltersal said!)

Angeluna said...

Goodness, Coventry Ravelry Day looks wonderful (and what booty!). Was this actually totally organized for the first time around Ravelry, or was Ravelry added onto an existing fair?

Holding my sides laughing over dear Richard and the Stink Horn.

I'm with Charlotte, what defines a clapper bridge?

Great scrap bag. Since I assume the sock yarn is mostly washable, I'm guessing you don't plan to felt it?

And what a precious lamb. When I was a kid, my grandfather would give me any orphaned lambs to raise. I remember well being butted for food from the time I entered their pen, having to plant my feet firmly in order not to be pulled over flat on my face when they started on the bottle. And at least once every feeding, they pulled the nipple right off the bottle, drenching me in milk, and meaning I had to go back in the house and prepare another one. Loved them. Hope that young lady has fun with her pretty new baby.

Ruth said...

I wanna visit you! Now!

Linda B said...

*sigh* After a difficult day, finding that you had posted was such a cheerer-upper. And the post itself as refreshing as a walk in the woods. Thanks so much for sharing all that with us. I had to go look up clapper bridges after I read your post! How lovely to have found one.

Linda B said...

And now you can say you've been "sent to Coventry!"

marit said...

Great post- thank you for sharing:-)

Anonymous said...

Did you see Jared of Brooklyn Tweed? I know he was over in England at this time involved in the Ravelry stuff. He is the sweetest guy -- and a wonderfully skilled knitter and knit teacher.

Anonymous said...

Rav Day was brilliant. Very wet. You managed to see mor ethan me. Between teaching two workshops and my stall I didn't even get time to look at all the yarn. And I didn't buy anything.

marit said...

I had to come back to read it once more, and have a look at that clapper bridge. Had to look it up on Wikipedia, because I wasn't sure what it was... We have something similar between us and the neighbour- but it's only one big, flat stone, resting on both banks of a little stream (it's built up with rocks.)

lilymarlene said...

It was a good day wasn't it.....and such fun to have cake and coffee together and talk about .....wait for it.....knitting!
I have done 8 inches of my guernsey cardigan now, plus I cast on for some socks (presents for friends when we go to the US,,,better get on with them then....

Thanks for another good read!

picperfic said...

I thought I saw you in Coventry! I wish I had said hello now....glad you had a fab time, that little bridge is beautiful!

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