Sunday, December 05, 2010

St Agnes Eve... Ah bitter chill, it was...

In fact that feast isn't celebrated until January 21, but the way the weather has been behaving here lately, you'd be forgiven for thinking we'd jumped forward six weeks or so.

St Agnes' Eve---Ah, bitter chill it was!

The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;

The hare limp'd trembling through the frozen grass,

And silent was the flock in woolly fold.

We'd been trudging peacefully towards the end of the year, accepting the dark evenings and looking forward to the first signs of spring in January. Doesn't really get cold down here in West Cork, as I told one impending American visitor recently (I'm so sorry, I hope you did after all bring some warm clothing!). Yet one morning, we all woke up to below zero temperatures and - was it? Could it be? Snow?

This was the view from my study window last week, and it hasn't changed since. You can't see the tiny snowflakes falling, but believe me they're there. And that spidery little magnolia out there in the middle of the lawn has its buds on, silly thing. Tuck them away again, quick!

This is what it looked like from the sitting room window this morning. Beautiful, but freezing cold. The winds have been taking turns to come from Siberia and from the Arctic, turn and turn about, easterlies and northerlies. Oh for a beaker full of the warm South...

The birds have been frantic, and so have we, trying to ensure that not one little sparrow falls victim to the Big Chill. Now I realise that for many of you, minus five is no big deal at all, and unless you have to dig your way out from under a snowdrift, it's not worth putting on an extra woolly, but remember that our birds are no more used to this weather than we are. And so the fat balls and the crumbs, the halved apples and the muesli, have been in demand. Plus fresh warm water of course. They have nothing to drink when everything is frozen hard. I wondered why their nice fresh water was disappearing so rapidly, and then discovered that the dogs were pottering out to slurp from the handy bowls outside, since their favourite ponds were iced over. Now I've put the birds' water bowls up on flowerpots

I've even had the birds tapping at my study window, that one you can see in the top picture above. I'd started leaving seeds and crumbs there in the autumn, and each freezing morning the little fluffed-up creatures are there and waiting. Got it organised now, with a dish of supplies inside, so I can add more to the windowsill outside as and when required

This little robin looks quite plump and happy, but that's because he has all his feathers fluffed up for warmth. We've hung a couple of woven birdhouses in the porch, and are keeping fingers crossed that some of the birds use them at night

I've been re-reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter too. The frightening description of living through those prairie blizzards comes a lot closer to home when you're caught in the grip of this kind of weather

Doubtless it will lift soon and we'll be back to the customary damp mild Irish winter. It had better. We're nearly out of firewood. Not prepared, I tell you, not prepared!

There hasn't been much discussion of knitting matters lately, but that doesn't mean they haven't been happening. Quite a few projects even got finished. I experienced one of those blinding moments of self-realisation when I looked around and saw just how many weary WIPs there actually were in view, not to mention all of those tucked safely out of sight and out of mind. Nauseated by the sheer number of failures, I dived in and sorted out several.

This is the Victorian Shoulderette, worked in a nice variegated wool boucle. It sits superbly on the shoulders and doesn't slip off annoyingly just when you least want it to. It had been lying unfinished for almost a year because I couldn't face working the endless sideways lace edging. Solution? Don't work the edging. Fine as it is. Job done.

And this was a machine-knit project, essayed to see if I could manage to execute cables throughout a long piece of work. I could and I did, but then left it to one side because it needed a trim of some kind and I couldn't think of one. After a lapse of a month though, the ideal trim was obvious. Work three very long lengths of i-cord (only takes minutes on a machine) and plait (braid) them together, then sew around the fronts and neck. Excellent.

The Adam's Rib Vest, aka the Newfoundland Vest, because I think I was thereabouts when the project got started, is still not finished though, nor is the Pamuya Shawl, nor yet the Pogona Shawl. What possessed me to start yet another shawl when one is unfinished? Listen, you have no idea how many more there are tucked away in boxes and baskets. Don't ask.

So the one clear idea would have to be: do not under any circumstances start another project until all (or at least nearly all) of these are done, right?


Well... it is a pretty thing, no two ways about it. Which is presumably why the Yarn Harlot called it that. And it's a cowl, which is needed right now, to keep the Celtic Memory neck warm. And I had a ball of scrumptiously soft Italian merino mousse hand-dyed in my favourite violet shade, which was sitting there feeling unused and unwanted. And I was waiting for the next day's clue in the Advent Lace Scarf KAL.


Oh, well it seemed like such a nice idea at the time. Tricia started this with her local knitting group at her yarn store, and asked if I'd like to join in, never mind that I'm several thousand miles away across the herring pond on Tuesday nights which is when they get together usually. So I did. And I am. Each morning another little pdf arrives plunk in my mailbox, and I keep the knitting next to the screen so I can start immediately.

Up to Day Five now, and every day different. It's enormous fun, and also excellent practice at lacework, because there are only 54 stitches to get wrong instead of the hundreds you might have on a shawl. And Celtic Memory is pretty good at getting it wrong, mainly due to the fact that she won't read a pattern slowly and carefully but plunges right in and gets going. Only to find it necessary to frog back after Row One. Again. You'd think I'd have learned by this time, wouldn't you?

Awoke this morning to the shocked realisation that Christmas was approaching with the speed of an express train, and I hadn't fulfilled my promise of putting some yummy yarns up on eBay to enable others, more organised than I, to get their gift lists sorted. So the brief period of sunshine was put to good use in photographing tempting skeins.

Felt more like Scrooge than a joyous, open-handed yarn seller when putting these beauties out. This is (peal of bells) brushed Suri alpaca, almost weightless, soft as a fairy's touch, with a loft which would put it in the bulky category if that wouldn't be an insult to something so delicate. I love it, love every cone of it, you hear? You don't deserve it. Especially the natural soft white one. I want to keep all of that for myself. Might pull it from eBay yet.

And these are laceweight kid mohairs for shawls. A pale lavender and a hand-dyed violet to match.

Put up lots more - alpaca/silk fingering, some merino/silk, more kid mohairs. But you don't want to see them all. I mean, how boring can pictures of yarn be?

Now listen. I've had some lovely comments on various postings over the past while, and several times I've wanted to reply directly to the commenters. But I COULDN'T BECAUSE THERE WAS NO WAY OF CONTACTING THEM. You haven't enabled access on your Blogger profile, so you haven't! Elaine, who told me, wonderfully, that her husband's grandfather actually owned Rabbit Island (you remember, that gorgeous little Roan Inish lookalike down in West Cork?), I want to TALK to you. And Sharon, who remembered singing a May Day carol in her youth, CONTACT me. There is a link to my email on this page, for heaven's sake. Don't go round muttering 'that Celtic Memory, thinks she's somebody or what, never bothers to answer, why do I take the time to comment...' If your own Blogger ID has not been enabled for contact, then make the effort, enable it, and after that, do still please make contact with me directly. I LOVE talking to people (as most of you already know!) I'm wallowing in ancient customs, traditions, songs and music right now, and need all the help I can get.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In Which Publishers Are Visited, And the Ancient Magic of Trees Rediscovered

Good morning to you! We have endured several days of wretched chilly rain and grey clouds here, days where it was almost as dark at midday as it was at midnight, and all you wanted to do was crawl back into bed and pull the patchwork quilt over your head. Spent the time skeining up Shetland yarns for eager customers (gosh, maybe it is time to start the gift knitting, do you think? Clearly some of you already have!) and trying to find where I put the half-finished Pamuya shawl so I could get ON with it.

But today - ah today is one of those for which you forgive Ireland everything! The sun is beaming in a cloudless blue sky, the fallen leaves are crisp underfoot, and there is a glittering layer of frost on everything. Distinctly chilly - I'm wearing a sheepskin jerkin I bought in the Carpathians years ago, rather too long, but I'm glad for that right now - and the dogs are coming back in after their morning beating of the bounds somewhat quicker than usual. The most basic of checks for strange intruding cats or the path a hedgehog took last night (I know, hedgehogs should be asleep by this time, but in West Cork they often potter around all year, depending on the temperature) and the dogs are gratefully back snoozing by the window in patches of sunshine

We went up to Dublin the other day, and paid a long overdue visit to this charming Georgian residence. Despite De Book, this was actually my first ever meeting with the legendary head of the publishing house, Michael O'Brien, although Richard has known him for years. We'd been emailing back and forth constantly of course (and you of all people don't need to be told how well you can get to know someone online, do you?) but now I was going to meet him in person. Loved his initial greeting:

'How do you do. I'm your publisher.'

I mean, how many times do you hear that line in your life? That's the wonderful Ide on the right, our editor on De Book. She was the most amazing combination of nanny and sergeant major, able to tell from the slightest changed note in your voice whether you needed comforting and encouraging or barked orders to Get On With It. A rare blend of qualities, but essential for a good editor, and Ide's one of the best.

We went out to the local pub for a sandwich en masse, and had a great time chatting about everything and anything, and then Richard and I called into Claire's office to talk about all the signed copies being posted out to Furrin Parts. (Did I tell you how delighted and entranced they are at all the requests for personally inscribed copies for America, Canada, the UK, France, Sweden and beyond? Normally they'd have to wait for one of the giant behemoths like to wake up and agree to put the title into their listings, and that probably won't happen until Tibb's Eve. So, it's delighted and entranced they are and send you their love.)

And here is the very girl who gets your online orders and sends out the books. She liaises with me on a daily basis to check for individual inscriptions, and somehow brings it all together. Claire never loses her calm, no matter how many times I bombard her with queries and forwarded questions from yourselves. Isn't it nice to see the face of the girl who sent out your copy?

She does, however, get a little worried if a book doesn't turn up on time, as happened with one or two orders. She got on to their Irish shippers, who in turn got on to the American onward deliverers, who eventually admitted that they'd had a bit of a log jam which was now being sorted out. So don't worry, yours will be there soon. We picked up another box of books to bring home, so that we can sign any new requests as they come in, and get them back to Dublin in short order. Just make sure you email or PM me when you place the order, won't you? Otherwise I just might not know, and I'd hate that.

Then it was time for Michael O'Brien and myself to have a serious discussion about De Next Book which is, as you know, to be on our ancient Irish beliefs, customs and traditions. I'd had to send in a sample chapter for discussion at the editorial meeting which finished just as we arrived. Fortunately everyone had liked the details on the Banshee and the surprising number of actual live evidence I'd managed to garner simply by going into the little market town of Macroom and asking around. (There's more coming up on that - an old gentleman has been located who has himself heard the banshee in recent times, and an elderly lady wants to talk to me about the Little People - you'll get all the inside story here first, don't worry

The trouble with Michael is that he is so knowledgeable and so interested in everything that you can quite easily spend a couple of hours going off after one fascinating side road or another. 'Enough!', I had to cry in the end. 'We can't possibly fit all this in! 'But we must!' insisted Michael. 'It's so interesting, and readers would love it.'

A topic on which we agreed wholeheartedly was that of trees, and the magical powers associated with them from time immemorial. And that's going to be one of the first areas to be explored more fully over the next few months. Of course in this part of the world you grow up knowing that rowans possess powerful magic, as do apple trees, hawthorn, yew and ash. When you start looking into the old books and documents, though, you discover wonderful details which somehow ring absolutely true in your mind. Do you know that feeling? You read something and immediately recognise it - as if it were something you had always known but had forgotten? That's old memory or folk memory working. We tend not to exercise this faculty too often these days, bombarded as we are with information that various monsters of communication think we ought to hear, but if we can get away to a silent place and look into the old sources, we can revive the skill

But the trees. The rowan or mountain ash is one of my favourites.

It's as happy hiding in the deep forest, among vaster leafy monarchs

as it is clinging to a rocky mountainside. Wherever it is to be found, it's good magic. We have strong young rowan trees encircling our land, to ward off evil. Wands of rowan were used by Druids, and the berries were considered a powerful antidote against sickness and old age (you can make a rowan jelly which is excellent with meat, but I haven't tried it yet. The blackbirds get to our berries long before I do.)

And then there is the apple. Which is the lovelier or more satisfying

the heartrending innocence of its blossom in May?

or the promise of jellies, pies and preserves contained in the glowing fruit of autumn? Apple is another powerful tree which protects and shelters, and it's always a good idea to have at least one by your home, even if it's only a miniature in a pot. If you have space, then plant an orchard. And while you're at it, try to source some of the old varieties, that are in danger of dying out through the inroads of computerised, controlled, oversprayed, overdesigned, all-of-a-size shiny products you see six-packed in supermarkets. Those abominations simply do not taste the same.

Oh, and while I think of it, I wanted to tell you that Ireland has its very own native apple type, and it's a tip rooter! That means the branches curve to the ground and take root there, just like the bramble does! That is very rare indeed. Nearly every apple tree today is propagated by grafting on to a sturdy rootstock. I must get one or two of those tip-rooters from the lovely people in the Midlands who are tracing and saving all the ancient varieties. Irish Seed Savers, that's the place.

And no, I hadn't forgotten the hawthorn, the quickthorn, the Fairy Thorn, that twisted, gnarled, indomitable survivor, bent double with the sweeping winds, yet defiantly displaying its pink or white spring blossoms and its ruby red berries of autumn. How could I?

All night around the thorn tree,

The Little People play

And men and women passing

Will turn their heads away.

But if your heart's a child's heart

And if your eyes are clean

You need never fear the thorn tree

That grows beyond Clogheen.

Up to very recent times, you would see branches of blossoming hawthorn placed over cowshed and barn doors on May Day (Beltane), and even little sprigs tucked into horses' harness, to ward off evil spirits and bring a good and fruitful year ahead. It's often said to mark the entrance to a fairy fort and it's considered sheer folly to dig one up in case you offend the Good People. Indeed, you'll still see wide fields in the Irish countryside, beautifully ploughed and tilled, with one twisted thorn tree sticking out in the middle. No sensible farmer would remove it. I like that.

The ancient Greeks considered man to be at the very top of the developed world, and animals and trees way down the list. The Celts, in contrast, saw spiritual power in all things. I think they had the right of it, myself.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bounty of Autumn, A Buttercup Bear, and Beliefs of the Banshee

It's Hallow E'en or Samhain this night, October 31. All over the countryside children will be dressing up as ghosts and witches and wandering around from one neighbouring house to another, wailing blood-curdlingly as they go. It's a nice custom in many ways, and although much altered by modern commercialism and international influences, it is still the acknowledgement of the Celtic New Year's Eve, when the veil between the Otherworld and ours is very thin indeed, and spirits walk abroad. That's where the original custom of dressing up as ghosts, or carving frightening faces to put in the window, came from - the reasoning was that if the real spirits passed by, they would see the lighted turnip grimaces, or notice a white wraith flitting past a front door, and leave those houses alone, since they were clearly already being dealt with.

Here is a nice picture by Daniel Maclise of Hallow E'en celebrations at Blarney in the 1830s. Some are bobbing for apples in tubs of water, some are scrying for the future, others are cracking nuts or enjoying a jig. I remember Snapapple myself - extraordinarily difficult to take a bite of a fruit that is dangling and swaying at the end of a string, especially with both hands held firmly behind your back. But if you did get a bite, that ensured good luck for the year ahead.

We loved the barm brack too - that round traditional fruit bread with special charms baked into it. The ring was the most prized, never mind that we were all far too young to consider marrying in the next twelve months. The pea, bean, stick and rag were received with laughter, but not taken very seriously. Today, unfortunately, doubtless due to health and safety regulations, only the ring remains, carefully wrapped in layers of paper, so it's immediately evident on slicing into the brack. Ah well...

Most of the orchard didn't do too well this year - we had an extraordinarily cold spring and then the driest summer on record, so the venerable trees took a year off, and why not? But this little crabapple excelled itself, the thin branches bent almost to the ground under the weight of tiny scarlet fruits

When the winds started to howl yesterday, though, and the leaves were flying everywhere, it was time to pick the bounty of autumn and see if just one little pot of spiced apple butter could not be made. Every time it's opened, that brave little tree will be celebrated.

It's time to share bounty with others too, open up the stash and let other people have a chance to work with some of the beautiful stuff I've been storing. I've been harangued by many of you about Shetland yarns, and now that we're moving inexorably towards the gift giving season, and you're all starting to get into the mood to make this a handknit year, it was decided that really some of the Shetland should be skeined up and put on eBay.

When you come to skeining them up of course, very few are exactly the same thickness.

Here, for example, are a lovely deep green, a natural white, and a rich blue, all 2/9ths which is almost fingering weight. I'd use this for socks, only I wouldn't because it might not wear that well. Better to use a Shetland/nylon blend for the knee-length kilt hose and there is plenty of that in the stash. These are better suited to lovely light but cosy winter shawls, or those divine sweaters with Fair Isle yokes.

Really fond of these two subtle tweedy Shetlands. The one above is Pine, with Maelstrom below. Finer - let me just check - yes, 2/16ths (I can't remember what that means either, did know once, but forgot - the main thing to remember is that 2/9ths is the thickest and the higher the number goes, the finer the yarn. Doesn't it have to do with dividing the 2 into the 16, which gives you 8 metres to the gram - or something? That would make sense.) Anyway these would be exquisite for traditional shawls. Even if I sell lots, I will still have enough left for myself to double up and make sweaters. One done in wide bands of each of the two shades would be good - they're close enough to make it very effective.

And this pairing is my absolute favourite - two 2/17ths Shetlands in Mist (above) and Persian (below). It will break my heart to part with even an inch of yarn from these two cones, but I can't use it all. So skeins are going up on eBay tonight or tomorrow, whenever there's a minute. Now that I think about it, it will be tomorrow, because of the night that's in it.

Now the other day I went down to Gougane to say goodbye to everyone at the cafe and hotel as they closed up for the winter. It's a strange year they work down there - non-stop round the clock from spring to autumn, and then total quiet in the darker months. That's when they catch up on everything else that had to be put on hold when all the visitors were streaming in. May you enjoy your time of leisure and sitting by the fireside!

Afterwards, Sophy Wackles and I crossed the stream on the old clapper bridge,

and went up the hillside to enjoy the beautiful clear afternoon air. Can you see the old green lane down there on the left hand side of the picture, winding away into the Back of Beyond?

The holly berries are ripening fast and were gleaming beautifully against the clear blue sky. It did your heart good to see them.

We met this splendid ram by a ford. Will you look at the style of him, with one short horn and one dramatic show-off?

And finally we came back down to the secret lake as the sun was setting over the mountains to the west.

Now this next bit may be a little too much for those allergic to cutesy stories or saccharine, so if one of those you be, then look away for the following couple of paragraphs, OK?

We went to the recycling centre yesterday (yes, after I picked the crabapples, sharp-eyed, aren't you? Doesn't take all day to strip one tiny tree). The howling winds and driving rain ceased temporarily to allow us to rush from container to container, dropping off the different items. And then, I glanced at the huge skip for total rubbish, the unreclaimable, unrecyclable kind. It was full of sodden soggy stuff as usual. But perched on top was - of all things - a small, buttercup-yellow teddy bear. All on its own. Wearing a tiny red shirt and no more against the elements.

The rain was threatening once more, and the winds were picking up again. What would you have done? Bless DH, he ran with me, and held the back of my jacket as I leaned out precariously over the drop and just managed to snatch the little creature as the clouds delightedly opened their floodgates. As we rushed back to the car, I noticed that the little fellow wasn't even wet yet. He must have been thrown there in the previous five minutes or so.

When we got home, and had regained our breath (and DH had finished making gentle fun of me), I sat him on a mossy little wall to take his picture. Then I noticed that there were some slight marks of paint or something similar on one furry foot. Otherwise he was totally new. Even the shop tag was still attached, for heaven's sake.

Call me hopelessly sentimental (don't all shout at once, I knew it already) but what kind of person throws out a buttercup-yellow teddy bear just because they spilled something on his fat little leg? Who could abandon such a jolly little fellow on top of a huge skip of rubbish? What would have happened if I hadn't come along? What would that little bear have been thinking? OK, OK, this has gone far enough, back to sensible reality.

Yes, of course there is no doubt whatsoever as to the next step. A lovely Aran sweater in warm soft wool. Mini-sized. What else would one do? But what colour, what colour, what colour? Help!

Oh, De Book, De Book! Happy to relate, it is selling extraordinarily well, and the O'Brien Press are enchanted that so many of you in other lands are ordering it too. You're petkins, the lot of you! Anybody experiencing delay in receiving their specially signed copies, I've been checking on a daily basis with the nice girl at O'Brien's. The books are sent out via DHL, a most reputable company, but delays can occur in the best regulated organisations. Rest assured that if yours really doesn't turn up, Richard and I will sign fresh copies and get them on their way. And, as usual, if anybody else wants a personally inscribed copy, make sure you let me know, with the name and address used to order, at the same time you put in the order to O'Brien's. That way I can tell them to hold that book until we can sign it for you. If you don't let me know, they might just send it out unpersonalised, and I'd hate that!

And, I'm utterly thrilled (if a little daunted) to say, it looks as though that new book, on Irish folklore and traditions, may well be in the offing. The publishers have asked for a sample few pages by next week, and I've decided to write them on the banshee.

She's a strange enigma, the banshee (bean sidhe, or fairy woman). Every single man, woman and child in Ireland knows of her, and you don't have to go very far into the countryside to find someone who either has heard her chilling wail or knows someone who has. She's been around as long as our folklore has been recorded, and probably a long time before that. Yet throughout the ages, she has totally resisted change, the kind of alteration gradually forced on, for example, the goddesses Brigit and Danu, or the ancient spirit wells by more modern religions. The banshee remains determinedly, unalterably of the Otherworld, and calls to our deepest instincts.

Just to test the water, so to speak, I started asking around in neighbouring villages over the past few days, and was astounded to find how many people who, once they were sure I wasn't trying to make fun of them, admitted to family experiences of hearing the banshee. In one rare case, the girl told me that her father in law, who was at the time in the army, was driving back from manouevres in the early hours of the morning with the rest of his battalion, in an army truck. He was at the wheel, and as they came to the outskirts of the town, he saw something strange fluttering in front of an upstairs window in a tall house. At first, he thought it was a sheet left out by accident - and it was only as they drew nearer he could see it was the shape of a wraithlike woman, all blowing robes and long hair. The lorry windows were shut, so he didn't hear anything, but drove frantically on to the barracks where his men, who hadn't seen anything, had to help him down, he was so shaken. The next morning he checked, and of course discovered that a woman had died in that house in the early hours of the morning.

It is very unusual to hear of an actual sighting, since most records are of hearing the long-drawn-out keening wail which is said to raise the hairs on the back of the neck instinctively.

I hold no personal belief one way or another on banshees, but what exasperates me beyond measure is the smug and instant solution offered by non-believers that the country folk must have heard a fox vixen wailing or a barn owl screeching. Do they really have the nerve to claim that those who live in the countryside, close to nature in all its forms, would not recognise the bark of a fox or the cry of an owl? To my mind, the hairs rising on the back of the neck is telling evidence. That can't be brought on by ordinary sounds (I remember well the same instinctive reaction happening to me one night, many many years ago, in Transylvania, sleeping in a tiny tent and hearing the howl of wolves in the next valley. It was a strange sensation to feel the hair prickling.)

Best image I can find for you (yes, it's the one from Darby O'Gill, but I think it's a pretty good representation, going on the evidence).

What is or was the banshee? And why is she as powerful an image in modern Ireland as she was in ancient times? Not (and this is the odd thing) as a sort of bogey with which to threaten children, but almost as part of everyday life, part of the family as it were. And why is it heard as often (if not more so) by complete strangers as it is by members of the family where someone is about to pass on?

Celebrate Samhain, the Celtic New Year tonight. Build up the fire, put candles in the windows, and leave out some food for beloved departed relatives. And try a game of Snapapple too. May the year ahead be full of good things for you.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Concerning An Ancient Way Over The Hills, And Cunning Transportation of De Book

Well what a lot of fun we've had with the book signings! The O'Brien Press simply could not believe that so many people in America, Canada, Australia and other far off lands wanted personally signed copies. This before De Book has even reached! I don't think it had ever happened to them before, and they are thinking that clearly they need to pay a lot more attention to abstruse topics like 'blogging', 'knitting', 'Ravelry' and the like.

Sarah came down from Dublin with two boxloads and as we signed, I carefully ticked each one off the list I'd been keeping. (We had to have that double check, because O'Briens wouldn't know who wanted the personal inscription unless you'd told me as well.) Then we put a sticky note inside each individual copy so that there was no chance of one going to the wrong address.

Of course even as Sarah headed off again, more emails were coming in with requests from more lovely people who had ordered from the publishers but wanted an inscription too. We actually chased after her, and signed another one as she got a puncture fixed at the local garage, and the garage staff were all delighted. But then she was definitely gone (I know you think Ireland is so tiny that Cork and Dublin are only a hop, skip and jump apart, but believe me it's a good three hours' drive and that's before you hit the Dublin traffic, so it's not to be undertaken lightly). For the next batch we had to think of something else.

Enter Tall Fair Sitar Player, who happened to be coming down from Dublin on the Tuesday and going back up again on the Wednesday. I'm not giving you his real name because he might be embarrassed, but he is sort of part of the publishing family. And yes, he does both teach and play the sitar. Sigh...

Look, we can't just sign all these on the back of the car outside this locked car park, can we? Yes we can, there are no traffic wardens about.

(The Music Department of Cork University is situated in the delightfully-named area of Sunday's Well, but the narrow roads were never intended for heavy traffic and parking here is really at a premium.)

Settle down, settle down. I'll convey your good wishes to him, right? But he's spoken for, he's spoken for...

Anyway, we have now set up one of those particularly Irish arrangments known as 'going with the milk and coming back with the bread', ie that whoever is coming south from Dublin will bring additional supplies, and whoever is going back will take the personally signed books. In the meantime, I email their very helpful girl in charge of sending out orders, so that she knows to hold one until the properly ascribed text arrives. So if anybody else wants to order an individually inscribed copy for someone's Christmas present, make sure to tell me as well, so that I can set the wonderfully circumlocutory mechanism in motion. No, we haven't tried a donkey and cart yet, but I would love to. The next batch is heading up to the capital city with our editor tomorrow (Wednesday) morning. MaryJo, Kira, your copies are in there, so they should be on their way to you soon!

That's quite enough about De Book. Let's have some knitting content. Knitting has been continuing - in fact it was ideal for picking up and putting down while all this was going on.

Here's a little vest made on the knitting machine with Noro Silk Garden Sock. Two strips, joined together at the back, some little buttons for fun, and a stockinet strip (the machine won't do i-cord, but the strip curls under just fine) to finish it off. Good use for the long colour changes of Noro.

Fell madly in love with Thu's Kimono Vest when I saw it on Ravelry and determined to make it myself forthwith. As in, bought the pattern there and then, downloaded, printed out, found the yarn and needles, and cast on. All this at midnight!

Worked obsessively on it for two days and nights, in the intervals of book signings, and Sophy Wackles got a bit upset (she was upset anyway at all this to-ing and fro-ing of book reps and sitar players, but my attention being focused on something else was the final straw).

She had been sitting moodily on DH's lap, watching me work on the by now cumbersome project, and then, determinedly, climbed up on to the table, shuffled across, and lay down right on top of the knitting. Isn't that exactly like a cat? They can't stand your attention being diverted from them for a moment, but I hadn't known a dog show this annoyance before. I remonstrated, and said I couldn't really work double moss stitch with a heavy lump of fur lying on top of the piece.

Don't care. Staying here till things get back to normal.

Managed to finish the vest anyway. Isn't it delightfully simple and chic? Can't think why everyone isn't making this one.

With the onset of autumn, vests are definitely on the knitting agenda. Two down, and several more in the planning process. The Jane Thornley group on Ravelry are having an Autumn KAL on any one of her patterns, and I'm going to do a variation of the Sunset Bolero.

I've been making up some new Samhain kits for those who requested them, and will use one of them myself for the new JT vest.

This is the Samhain one, in the traditional fall colours, which would do just fine for the vest, but my mind right now is running on deep green woods and mosses, so I think I'll go for the Secret Forest colourway.

Can't wait for October 1 to start knitting this.

Yes, I'm getting to the ancient way over the hills right now! And it's all linked in together really, now that I think about it - De Book, and the green secret forest places and the old traditions and everything. Because the publishers have tentatively suggested the possibility of another book, this time on the old Irish faery traditions. Not just looking at the stories as we know them now, but going behind them to see where they really might have originated, how perceptions and attitudes changed over the centuries, and how today's funny Little People might once have been the ancient gods and goddesses of the landscape. A fair bit of research in there, but can't think of a nicer subject, can you?

And it so happened that last weekend was Gougane Sunday, the late September day when, for hundreds, probably thousands of years, people gather at the lake in Gougane Barra. Originally I suspect they came to venerate the spirits peopling the source of the mighty river Lee in this strange cirque or bowl in the hills, but in later time Christianity took over, and now Mass is celebrated in the little church on the island. What interested us though was the fact that as well as jamming the one narrow roadway into the hidden valley, people traditionally come in by the old routes over the hills and mountains. These are the paths and tracks that have been used since prehistory, and on this one day they are used again. Suddenly we needed to be there. And early was a good idea, not just for parking, but (whisper it) to enjoy some of the cafe's legendary baking as well.

We were tucked up comfortably in the old bar, enjoying coffee and freshly baked scones, when one of the family came in and pointed to one of the mountain crests towering high over the lake.

The first pilgrims had reached the top already! They would have left the valleys of Kerry several exhausting hours earlier. Refreshments forgotten, we dashed out and up a rough side road where we knew they would come in.

DH found a useful gate to lean the camera on while waiting for them to come into view.

I don't know why it should be so moving, to see those tiny figures in the wild landscape, making their way down the old mountainside route, but it was. I felt very strange indeed, witnessing an age-old tradition still reverenced today.

Sure 'twas only a bit of a stretch of the legs, said Timothy, from whose farm this group had set off. And 'twasn't too bad on the top, although you'd have to watch your footing. And then he was off again, heading down the road to Journey's End with his travelling companions.

They would all have dearly liked a sup of something, I would think, after that gruelling trek, but custom is custom, and Mass came first.

The tiny church on the island isn't very old, but there are ruins of a 17th century monastery with monks' cells there too. However, people have been coming to this hidden valley and mysterious lake around the time of the autumn equinox since back in the mists of history, to venerate far more ancient spirits. I'm glad we were there to see it still happening in today's world.

This is far older than Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, than Santiago de Compostela. This is older than time.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Of Bright Mornings, Blasket Islands, and (of course) De Book

Honestly, what a lovely lovely lot of people you all are! I never expected such an outpouring of good wishes on the publication of De Book. I knew that we were a strong circle of friends, reaching out to each other from around the globe, but the friendliness and very evident delight you felt in its publication warmed my heart. And yes, brought tears to my eyes. DH, accustomed though he is to the camaraderie and close-knit ties of the blogging world, was taken aback - and as for the publishers, O'Brien Press, they were flabbergasted. I think they're going to have to take the world of blogging a little more seriously from now on.

Listen now, those of you who have ordered directly from O'Brien Press, this is for YOU. I've asked them to hold all your orders until a bundle of books can be delivered down to us for personal inscriptions thereon, which should be within the next few days. BUT - and again, BUT - they don't know which orders those are, so you will have to tell me as quickly as possible. Email, private message on Ravelry, carrier pigeon (as long as it's the Concorde species) or runner and cleft stick (Olympic standard only), as long as you let me know. WITH the name and address given on the order, since sometimes I only know you by your blog name. Oh, and if you want it dedicated to someone other than yourself, tell me that too. And anyone else thinking of having your copy sent from Ireland, and wanting it signed, do it now and let me know. I would simply hate for someone to be expecting a signed copy and not get it. (Jeanne, and Sally, I have you on the list, never fear!)

It's nice to order direct from the publisher. Not only does it support a small independent house in a world that is increasingly run by gigantic conglomerates, it also makes Ireland feel important and loved. I know they won't overcharge on international posting. (In fact I think it's usually far less expensive to send something from here to the Far Beyond than it is in the opposite direction. We go strictly by weight, whilst the rest of you tend to have basic charges, whether it's a fallen leaf or a gold ingot that's being posted.)

Angeluna was the first to post a review on Amazon! Way to go, you can tell that woman's a professional! Mind you, she'd advance ordered from O'Briens before the ink was even dry on the books. Clearly carries a field marshal's baton in her knapsack. She tells me the most ooh'd and ah'd over pictures among her friends were of the pathway through the cornfield to Kilcrea Castle and the old forgotten road through the Gearagh.

We went down to that exact spot early the other morning, to tell it all about the book and how it had a starring role therein. It was quietly pleased, and whispers rustled up and down the old road all the time we were passing underneath the interlacing branches of hazel and willow. 'Did you hear? Did you hear? We're in a book. Yes, the old road and the old ways, and everything. We're not forgotten at all, so we're not. Everyone will know about us now.'

It was a beautiful, quiet early morning. A flock of Connemaras (well, most of them were dapple grey, although I see now that none of those in this picture are) were grazing in some rough pasture by the water. Just look at this pony's perfect reflection. You can see his muzzle hasn't touched the surface yet, can't you - there isn't a ripple.

The mute swans were floating serenely among the ancient tree roots, only clue to the lost riverine forest that once shaded this whole area, making it a place of mystery and magic (OK, yes, and moonshine-making too).

Even Sophy Wackles wanted to sit there for the day, and watch the mist rise over the reedsBut there was work to do, and it's been a busy few days. So much so that on Sunday, DH being out on a job, I called a rest break and took the selfsame Sophy down to the far far west, to visit one of our absolute favourite cafes. You could well call it the Cafe at the End of the World, since it's right out on Slea Head, beyond Dingle.

Getting there is definitely half the fun. The road gets narrower and narrower, and you'll find sheep wandering along the verges, taking their own sweet time, while you keep one eye out for the first glimpse of the legendary Blasket Islands on the horizon.

I love the poignant history enshrined in these old grey drystone walls, winding right up to the top of the high hills. They hold the memory of pre-Famine times when the population of Ireland was far higher than it is now, and every scrap of land, however poor, was desperately needed to grow food. Today the people have gone, but the walls still remain, echoes of the past.

There was no time to visit the prehistoric beehive huts, nor yet the newly restored Famine Cottages. They will have to wait for another day. We finally got to Dunquin and Sophy had a little walk down the lane before I headed into the Pottery for that long-awaited coffee and fresh scone.

Here's the view from the window. A little oddly-tinted perhaps (the window glass has to withstand some pretty strong storms in winter) but you can see why it has to be a top contender for the Coffee-With-A-View award, don't you? That's The Bishop lying there in state on the right out in the Atlantic, also known as Inis Tuaisceart, one of the smaller Blaskets.

Wasn't time for a trip out to the islands either, though their lure was as irresistible as always, but in any case there was a strong wind getting up, and you do not, repeat, do not try going out to the Blaskets when the wind is up. Bad idea. And the tide was really really low too.

The small bit of road you can see in the foreground twists down to the tiny pier where you embark for the islands. But on Sunday the tide had gone so far out that the entire beach was exposed. The clear colour of the sand shows that this doesn't happen every day. I couldn't tell if that group by the water were waiting hopefully for a curragh or holding a secret ceremony. They were a long way down and ours was a long road home.

Here is the driver's view going the other way on Slea Head. In fact I took this picture from the window as I waited in a lay-by for another car to get by. It doesn't do to be in too much of a hurry when you're out at the end of the world.

Edited, later in the day, to add: Hey, the O'Brien Press have added an interactive link on the web page, so you can browse the first few pages of De Book, and, and, AND -

Through the Cornfield to Kilcrea Castle is there! Go look!

Aren't they poppets? Oh, and they've posted your review from Amazon on their page too, Angeluna! I think they simply couldn't resist such a lovely piece.