Monday, November 26, 2007

Seasonal Tales And Skeining Yarns

I was struck by how many people responded joyfully to my mention of Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising sequence and how many of you read this wonderful fantasy series regularly. I loved the thought of it being read and enjoyed every Christmas, (as Rosie certainly does, and Chris as well and many more) and that got me thinking of all those other books which I traditionally bring out at this season to pile by the fireplace and browse through between now and the New Year. What are your festive favourites?

Top of the list for me, every year since childhood, is Dickens' Christmas Carol. At first I read it for those wonderful descriptions of a Victorian Christmas - the shops crowded, everybody full of goodwill for mankind, the delights of the Cratchits' festive table - but now I see far more in it - a plea for genuine good feeling for all our fellow creatures and a generous heart for those less fortunate than ourselves. It's been filmed many times, but nothing can beat the sheer magic of the original 1840s tale. I've read this in many editions, in many parts of the world around Christmas Eve - London, North Africa, the Tirol, Tobago, California, even Kathmandu - and it never fails.

For the past decade or so, Lucy M. Boston's The Children of Green Knowe has come out of the juvenile bookcase in early December and into a place of honour by the fire. I only discovered this classic in relatively recent years when I saw that perfect gem of a BBC production one winter. I wish, oh I wish they would repeat it, or if not, bring out a DVD; fortunately a friend had taped the series and gave me a copy, but it's not very good and I live in fear of its disintegration. The BBC film is such an exquisite interpretation of an amazing book - everybody should read of this wonderful ancient house in the Norfolk Fens where children of different centuries play together and dark dangerous powers emerge late at night.

Then of course there is the evergreen 'Twas The Night Before Christmas. I have loved this poem ever since I saw an old black and white movie version for the first time as a toddler; now I have picked out a really well illustrated large-format copy and open a different page for each day in December.

Susan Cooper's Dark Is Rising volume will of course be there, with its wonderful evocation of woodlands and whisperings and strange happenings one Christmas when a young boy realises his destiny. There is so much of the old knowledge, the old wisdom in this book that I think Susan Cooper must have been - well, if not of the old religion, then certainly very well versed in it.

And another poem, one very dear to my heart, Robert Frost's Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. I've always loved that, and when, some years ago, I discovered a beautifully illustrated version in an American bookstore, I made Richard buy it for me. I could have bought it for myself, but I felt very strongly that it should be a gift. The pictures are heart-turningly lovely. I'll get Richard to copy a few and put them on for you to enjoy over the next few weeks.

I'm sure there are more but I can't think of them right now. Do tell me your festive special reads - the books you choose to curl up with when the wind is blowing outside and the fire is flickering brightly. There is something about reading that television can never replace. (Although I will admit to watching Polar Express several times during December - have it on DVD. Yes, and Ghost Train too.)

It's been a very busy couple of days, skeining up a whole bunch of glorious mohair yarns to list on eBay. I've been trying to do this for a week, but work commitments simply wouldn't let me. However, made a real push last night and eventually this morning it was just about fine enough to photograph them. Richard had to lend a hand - the watery sunshine wasn't sufficient to do justice to the colours, so he had to bring in his flash photography know-how.

Here is one of the finished results of his work:

Two fine kid mohairs there, to left and right, lavender and pale pistachio green respectively; the others are all heavier gauge. Two variegateds from the Elements range - Earth to the left, Fire to the right, with that unusual greeny-blue mohair in between (Ms. Knitingale you recognise that one, don't you?) Plus turquoise, black and a lovely silvery grey that positively shimmers like a dewy spider's web.

And here is a rare picture of the photographer in action, snapped quickly by me while he was otherwise occupied. He'll not be best pleased to see this up on the post; it is his firmly held conviction that a photographer does NOT himself get captured on screen.

All up and listed now, so I can relax on that front for a while. Next week I'll list some more sock yarns and a few colours in that lovely merino 'mousse' yarn which I think would be ideal for kimonos and the like, being soft, warm and very very light. I'm certainly going to use that for my proposed charcoal/poppy red kimono creation - WHEN I get round to it!

In the meantime, although several pairs of socks, St. Enda, Dogi Vest and Ragna are all clamouring for my attention, I am having to restrain myself forcibly from winding up dear Roggey's Seasilk, threading on the beads, and starting straight into a Swallowtail...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Temptation, Thy Name Is Sock Yarn

We've had some really cold weather here recently (well, cold for us - don't suppose Lene or Charity or Laurie M would consider it cold just because it got down close to zero for one or two nights). But it was enough for me to dig out the heavier duvet and get the stove lit in the evenings, while the days were beautifully clear and chilly, with those trees which still had their leaves showing off to a fine degree. It won't last of course - that's one of the main differences between West Cork and Lapland - as milder weather and rain are forecast, but it was nice to wear sweaters and see bright skies for a while.

Here is Carrigaphooka castle almost upstaged by this splendid tree, just a few miles from home, on the Killarney road. Carrigaphooka stands on a rocky little outcrop overlooking the river valley and I've known it since childhood, playing around its ruins quite happily without ever meeting the Puca himself. Still, he's more likely to play tricks on inebriated men staggering home late from the pub, throwing them across his back and making off with them to the far side of the mountain, there to dump them in a boggy morass and leave them to find their own way back. No harm in him really, just mischief.

Sophy Wackles has decided she doesn't like cold weather, and spends much of the time (until I catch her), roosting on my favourite knitting chair with a close companion.

Can you tell which one is which?

Now for a fanfare. The Blue Ridge Mountain Socks are finished! These are the ones in the Claudia Handpaint with which I had some trouble, if you remember - or with one of which I had trouble, to be accurate. In the end I decided that if I didn't make a determined push, they were never going to be done, so I pretended we were back in the insanity of Sock Madness and knitted like it was 3 am and the deadline was first light (been there, done that, I know some more of you have too). And so they were FINISHED at last.

Today was rather a special day in fact. I wore not only the new Blue Mountain socks (which are divinely comfortable and make my feet feel really happy), but ALSO that little vest in blue I whipped up for instant gratification earlier this year (crochet, but don't hate me for that, please - it really does work up far more speedily). I think it's the first time ever I've worn two items that I've made - three if you count each sock individually, and considering the time that goes into each one, I think that's only fair. Oh this is Wear What You Make with a vengeance!

I was so pleased at this success, that when we were passing through Cork University today on a job, I got Richard to take a picture of my elegantly clad self in the main quad. You can't see the socks or the vest particularly well, but with a background like that, who cares?

Of course having actually finished a project has the instant effect of igniting the desire to start several more. And the newest love affair is with Ragna. You know, Ragna from Elsebeth Lavold's Viking Knits.

This one. I love the medieval-style tabs at the bottom. I'm going to make it a bit narrower than the original since I think that would be a bit too loose and floppy on me. Got a cone of very nice dark charcoal 'cashwool', which is I think actually merino, very smooth and silky and soft. Unfortunately it's also very fine, so I have had to ply it by six to get gauge, which leads occasionally to splitting problems, but that's a minor price to pay for such beautiful aristocratic yarn.

Have only made one tab so far, but it shouldn't take too long to get another three done for the back. Or maybe I should go the whole hog and make the entire sweater in the round up to the armholes, what do you think? Heidi in Denmark and I are doing a kind of friendly KAL on this - I saw her started project on Ravelry and praised it while swearing gently at her for tempting me beyond endurance. Now we're swapping progress stories. Oh and while I think of it - go check out her list of good knitting resolutions. They are hilarious - as well as sobering, since most of us have thought of most of them quite often, even if we never keep them.

So Ragna is already on the needles. Another project. Will it be finished before or after the charcoal/poppy red kimono? And how about poor neglected St. Enda? And just LOOK at what arrived in the post from darling Roggey!

Yes ma'am, that suttinly is Seasilk! And those are the most gorgeous beads to go with it. What kind of nice person ARE you, Roggey? We've been exchanging surprise packages, but Seasilk... Listen, what, WHAT can I make to do justice to that yarn and those beads? Suggestions please - this is one project that I will have to get right from the beginning. Can you imagine frogging Seasilk? With or without beads? No, neither can I. I just wouldn't have the nerve. Lynn, you did something exquisite with beads, as I remember. Tell me what to make!

And further temptation has come my way today with a wicked and entirely undeserved trip over to the Knitivity website to see what divine new sock yarns Ray had dyed up. I simply can't resist his creative colourways. You remember that glorious Watermelon that I am making up into my Bishop's Lace Socks (no, not for the bishop to wear, silly, for me to wear under a long black skirt so that I can flash the socks and cause him to drop his mitre or whatever). Anyway, I thought the Watermelon might be feeling lonely while it was waiting, so I went over and had a look and fell for these two (well actually I fell in love with a whole lot of them - go look yourself and I defy you not to be tempted, I myself immediately got on to Angeluna, and we emailed back and forth, drooling over the divine options, that girl is no help, BUT NO HELP when it comes to seeking assistance in resisting temptation, she's worse than I am, where was I?) ANYWAY, these were the two I chose.

Blue Jeans (I'm telling myself the resultant socks will be a gift for a friend, but who am I kidding, I won't let them out of my grubby little paws);

- and Glacier Lake which looks so beautiful I want it right here, right NOW. Hurry up, Ray!

You get good yardage from Knitivity, so I might make these as spectacular kneesocks. I love what Ray does, and I think he is one helluva guy, adjusting like that to a new life in Texas after being made homeless by Hurricane Katrina, so he doubly deserves to succeed. Let's hear it for Ray and Knitivity!

It's been one of the busiest weeks I remember, with constant deadlines and waking up each morning with the nagging thought that something is still unwritten that is now urgent. More work kept piling on top, until the temptation to go hide in a cabin somewhere with the latest pair of socks was almost irresistible. Slightly less frenetic now, though, and maybe, just maybe, by tomorrow night I might be able to post up some yarns on eBay. This week's are all going to be mohairs - some laceweight kid mohairs, some heavier ones, all colours and shades. Anyone thinking of making scarves, stoles or shawls for Christmas presents, get your supplies here. They'll all be listed with the Celtic Memory tag, so if you go into Mohair and search for Celtic Memory, you should find them all.

I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving. We celebrated it here too at home, since we thought we had a lot to give thanks for. One of my biggest causes for thanks is the number of friends I have made since starting blogging. I would not have believed it possible that so many of us could know each other so well all over the world. It has got the most amazing potential for peace and goodwill. Let's use it.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Ghostly Time of Year

Oh November is well established here in West Cork now. The sun is reluctant to rise much before eight in the morning, and hurries away, gathering its dusky cloak around it, in the late afternoon. We have had some wild stormy nights, with the wind howling around the house and the trees whipping their branches. Only its own mother could love Ireland 'twixt now and late February - anyone thinking of visiting for the festive season, be warned and don't! Wait until the primroses and violets are out, and the country is waking and stretching itself into spring. I really really wouldn't want you to see the Emerald Isle looking less than her best.

There are some beautiful things to be seen still, though. The Albertine rose - she of the vicious thorns - is still blooming happily in a sheltered sunny corner, and one little tree is holding on to her golden leaves as long as possible, shining like a beacon on a grey day.

Look at that - isn't it like a bright lamp? Want to see it closeup?

Little pet, glowing to keep spirits high and remind us of the power still within the landscape at this time of year. Most of the rest of the trees have lost their leaves and every morning when I let the dogs out, we have a quiet and tranquil pre-dawn session of raking, sweeping and piling leaves to rot down into good mulch for the flowerbeds and fruit trees.

The fields are often beautifully cloaked in mist in the early morning now, and lovely little places like the lost bridge at Dooniskey take on a strange unearthly beauty,

while swathes of mist eddy and swirl around the hawthorn trees (it is considered most unlucky to move a hawthorn, which is why you often find them standing alone in the middle of vast fields as well as in hedgerows).

It's all very atmospheric and conducive to ghostly happenings. Perhaps that is why I'm experiencing something very odd with my Claudia Handpaint socks.

Here they are, looking perfectly innocent and harmless. As indeed the sock on the right is. Working down the foot just finely. But the one on the left.... Well -

You may recall (I think I told you) that I had got down to the heel on this second sock and then discovered unaccountably that there were four stitches too many. I couldn't understand it, but, swearing mightily under my breath, frogged back and started all over again. Halfway down the leg, the needle parted company with its cable. First time that has happened. Swear again, out loud this time, find a replacement, put broken needle on one side to be mended if possible. Work on.

Work the second heel, start on the foot. Now perhaps we can finish, yes?


Halfway down the foot, counting steadily as I go, I find what?

Four stitches too many on the sole.

Now how can this happen? The pattern on the leg is a four stitch repeat with no yarnovers, so it's not that easy to go wrong and increase a stitch. The heel is counted stitch by stitch. The pattern on the front remains the same. There is simply no opportunity for adding stitches on.

So how in the name of all that's strange did I end up ONCE AGAIN with four stitches too many?

This time I wasn't frogging back. I simply (shut your eyes, those with a persnickety nature) did a few quick pssos where the stitches had created themselves, and carried on.

But I have a feeling this isn't over yet. For some reason that second sock is trying to stop me finishing.

And again, maybe that was why I took out my much-read copy of The Dark Is Rising and started to reacquaint myself with its wonderful story. Do you know Susan Cooper's classic sequence? If you don't, get a copy now. It won all kinds of awards when first published in the 1960s, so you shouldn't have any trouble.

When the Dark comes rising, six shall turn it back;
Three from the circle, three from the track;
Wood, bronze, iron; water, fire, stone;
Five will return, and one go alone.

Be sure to get a copy which contains all five tales in the sequence: Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark Is Rising; Greenwitch; The Grey King; and Silver On The Tree. These stories predate Harry Potter but to my mind are far better and far more powerfully written. I'd be surprised if a few of you didn't feel that strange stir of recognition when you read them, that feeling you very occasionally get of remembering rather than discovering, recalling rather than learning for the first time. The old knowledge is like that.

Oddly enough, I found myself in a shopping mall yesterday, next to a cinema complex. And what should they be showing but - yes, you guessed it - The Dark Is Rising, with a performance due in exactly five minutes.

It's not a particularly good rendering of the story, but then what film could be of any good book? The mind can create so much more than we could ever get from someone else's interpretation. And yet, the feeling was still there in the film, despite all the trendy special effects and fast-moving images designed to enthral the younger viewer, reared on TV. Do yourself a favour, get the book and read it for yourself.

And as a reward for your promise to go look for that book, I'll tell you the tale of that strange experience I had many years ago. At the end of this posting. A few other things to mention first.

Roggey had a lovely idea on her blog the other day, suggested to her by a friend as I recall. The idea was that you should undertake to finish 50% of your WIPs before acquiring any more yarn. Now this I think I could go along with. It's the same with any huge amount of work really, isn't it? The sheer thought of it all overwhelms you, and you end up doing none of it. But half - that should be achievable, shouldn't it? Well - if we only counted the WIPs actually in view, out in the open, this year's WIPs anyway. Not the forgotten disasters tucked away in the back of a cupboard. Roggey, would you like to start a Finish 50% KAL? Who'll design the button? I'm on board for one.

Speaking of the backs of cupboards, I decided to emulate Angeluna the other day, and emptied out an entire wardrobe (she's doing it to make room for more yarn, acquired in the Texas Hill Country recently, but for anyone with a stash-storing problem, it's always a good idea - as Angeluna says, who needs clothes, bed linen, towels, when there is yarn to be cared for?) Millions of discarded sweaters, forgotten cardigans, betrayed vests tumbled into the light of day. Among them I found this one:

It's actually in rich black, but I sacrificed the colour somewhat to allow the pattern to show up for you. Now I know I knitted this years ago - did one in cream wool as well - but for the life of me can't remember working that entertaining pattern. The leaflet has long since disappeared of course, so I am going to have to try to recreate it from the finished object if I want to make it again. What I liked, however, was that the shaping of the fronts was done at the side, in the moss stitch, so that the cabling would not be disturbed. Nice idea. I'll use that elsewhere.

OK, now for the ghost story, which doesn't have any real ghosts or clanking chains or icy hands, but was nevertheless an experience I never want to repeat. Go get your hot chocolate. Sitting comfortably? Right, I'll begin.


It was quite a number of years ago - I was still living in the UK at the time. I'd just finished with one job and had a few days to spare before starting the new one, so decided to betake myself up to Scotland for a break. It had been an exhausting time, and a complete getaway from people and places and everyday things was required.

The very far north west of Scotland isn't visited all that much, so although it was July, I had the tiny winding roads mostly to myself as I drove further and further out towards the coast. I remember that buzzards perched on the roadside telegraph poles like crows, barely bothering to move as I trundled past, keeping a sharp eye out for sheep lying comfortably across my route.

Accommodation isn't all that easy to find, so I was grateful towards evening when I came down a steep hill to this tiny fishing village. Yes, I remember its name very well - it's engraved on my heart - and no, I won't tell you it. There was hardly anything there - a few cottages, and a pub which doubled as a hotel. The old Scot who ran it was hardly able to move, due to arthritis, and gave me a key to check out the room myself as he couldn't manage the stairs. It was fine, looking out over the harbour, so I took it. Had a pleasant evening chatting with my host over a plate of haggis and turned in around eleven, tired and ready for sleep.

At this time of year in the far north of Scotland, it doesn't really get dark - you have what is called the 'glimmer dim' until morning. I left the curtains open and the window too, so I could enjoy the glowing skyscape and the cry of seagulls even in my sleep.

I don't know what time it was when I woke, suddenly, totally aware that there was someone or something standing over my bed. I couldn't look at my watch - firstly, despite the fact that the room should have been at least visible in the summer evening light, it was pitch black and horribly stuffy, as if all the curtains had been drawn close and the window hermetically sealed. And secondly, I was paralysed with an inexplicable terror, a gripping fear of something entirely outside my experience.

My sane mind tried to bring up the suggestion that perhaps my landlord couldn't resist the temptation of a woman staying alone upstairs - this was quite a few years ago, remember! - but I knew that such an easy solution wasn't on offer, even if his crippled limbs had regained their strength miraculously to the extent that he could climb the steep stairs. No, unfortunately, this was something much worse. I clenched my hands and dug my nails into my palms, a trick I usually try when I've woken from a nightmare, but the terror didn't go. I was fully awake, and something indescribably evil and malevolent was standing right over me, trying, it seemed, to - I don't know - take me over, suck me in. A sort of possession.

I couldn't move, only my mind was working frantically, terrified beyond reason. I knew I had to fight it, had to push it back, but didn't think I had the strength. Gradually I remembered the old words, the old speech, the phrases that you can use. I said them as strongly as I could in my mind, directing them against this force. I called on every good power I could think of - some from established religion, some from far older times - and asked them to help me. With every fibre of my consciousness I pushed against that terrifying presence and all the powers I'd called on pushed with me.

I don't know how long it took, but gradually I became aware that the room was lighter again, that the curtains were blowing gently in the breeze from the open window. It was cool again, and I could breathe.

I switched on the bedside light and read a very boring travel book for the rest of the night. I didn't dare to relax into sleep again and let my defences down.

I asked casually about ghosts at breakfast next morning, but the old landlord hadn't heard of any in the vicinity, other than a sailor who was said to haunt a lonely beach not far away. This was no drowned sailor, though. This was the most malevolent, terrifying, elemental force I had ever come across. I don't want to come across it again. I don't even want to risk opening the connection in any way. Which is why I won't write the name of the village.

I truly hope such terror never comes to you. Whatever it was, it was very very bad. The essence of evil. The memory will stay with me lifelong.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

One Small Step For Socks...

But it was a very decisive step. New wandering around shoes were required - the kind you can lace up before heading off into the woods, galloping up a mountainside, leaping from heather tuft to heather tuft across a bogland. Not serious Himalayan trekking boots, just outdoor shoes. And they were deliberately purchased HALF A SIZE BIGGER. So that handknitted socks would fit comfortably inside. Been wearing clogs all summer of course, which allow for the handknits, but this is the first time that 'enclosing' footwear has been sized up. It's a watershed. From now on, that purchase said, Celtic Memory is wearing nothing but handknit socks.

Well, maybe not with evening shoes at the opera. But the rest of the time. This of course means several black pairs will have to be made, for state occasions when bright orange or lurid green are inappropriate. Fortunately there are some balls of Bamboo cotton hanging around for just such a purpose. Otherwise, there is now a very real likelihood of some of that huge crate of sock yarn actually getting used up over the next few months, as knee-lengths, ankle-highs, thick ones, thin ones, cabled and lacy, ribbed and downright weird, get cast on, worked up, finished off, and tucked into the Celtic Memory sock drawer thereafter to emerge in strict rotation (or any old how, as the mood strikes), to amaze and delight my fellow citizens.

When did you make the complete changeover? Did it take time? Did you feel at first (I certainly did) that the new, rather thicker, home-made socks weren't quite as easy to wear as the store-bought ones? And how long did it take for the complete opposite to be the case, when you couldn't stand the commercial socks and could only wear superbly hand-crafted ones? Do tell. I'd love to know.

Have you seen the preview of Winter IK? Now this is one magazine for which Celtic Memory is waiting with ill-concealed impatience. There are actually four - count 'em, four - projects on which I would like to get going immediately, and that's pretty good - often you're lucky to find one, aren't you? What did you like? Me I'm going for the Refined Aran Jacket, the Sweater Girl Pullover, the Celtic Tote and the Tilting Cable Socks for definite. (Do we detect a pattern here? A cabled pattern certainly.)

The Dogi vest is progressing. At last got to the stage of putting the right front on a spare length of yarn and working away on the back, which is going much more speedily since there is only half the number of stitches.

I've folded it at the shoulder here, so you're seeing one half of the overall vest. I love this Wool in the Woods yarn - it's so smooth and crisp you can't believe it's wool but it is. And the colourway, Tropical Storm, is glorious. Looks as though there will be plenty in the five skeins which is just as well, since there isn't any more to be had. However, won't uncross fingers just yet - the pattern for that neckband looks pretty greedy on yarn.

The weather has been grey and November-ish here in West Cork, so much so that a bout of dyeing was required to bring back a little colour to the scenery.

These are some of the new merino-tencel sock yarns which will be going on eBay tonight as soon as the Mi na Samnha listing ends. Here's a close-up of Tidal Pool looking a little drier than when it was dripping on the line.

and here is Strawberry Cream:

So it's sock yarn on eBay this week. Next week will be another SECRET STASH SALE, when (most reluctantly), some of those sumptuous coned yarns are taken out of their shrines and grudgingly skeined up to let other people have a go. Prepare for cashmere/lambswool, kid mohair, cashwool, wool/cotton, and heaven knows what else. Lots of laceweight too, if you're planning shawls as Christmas presents (and who isn't, for Pete's sake?)

Oh and on that topic, listen, listen, Celtic Memory HAS STARTED HER CHRISTMAS GIFT KNITTING! Now this isn't really typical - about mid-December is more usual - but it so happened that I was skeining up some rather nice green sock yarn with a fleck of yellow gold in it, for washing to remove factory dressing, and found faults several times within the first few yards. This often happens when you nab a cone of yarn from the back door of a factory - either it's been tried out and wound back on roughly, or it's been tossed around the place, maybe nibbled by mice, or caught on machinery. You keep going until it reaches the undamaged area and ditch the outer layers.

Which is what I was about to do. And then I stopped and thought again. Waste not, want not. Somewhere there is a little person who would really value that yarn. In my case, a little furry person.

Yes, that tangled yarn in the foreground is going into a washcloth. No, I am not bothered about the idea of a pure wool washcloth. Neither will the recipient be remotely concerned. It's going to be knitted or crocheted in a very loose gauge. It will then be equally loosely wrapped in tissue paper with perhaps the merest thread of tying up. And it will be put on a safely high shelf until Christmas Day when Muffy the Yarnslayer will get her very own festive washcloth. What she does with it is her own business. Yes, I will take pictures.

You think I'm wimping out of that ghost story, don't you? I'm not. Not really. It's just - well, it's just that it doesn't have white-sheeted figures and clanking chains. Nothing you could put your finger on (would you want to put your finger on a ghost? No, neither would I). It's just about an inexplicable experience of terrifyingly elemental evil and stark terror. And it didn't even take place in Ireland but in the far far north west of Scotland. Quite a few years ago. So maybe it's not appropriate. I'll think a bit more about it. Curiously reluctant and not quite sure why.

Finally wearied of wearing out the Celtic Memory eyes trying to see fine stitches by poor light late at night, and took the plunge. An Ott-Lite has been ordered from the UK and should be here next week. Yay! What did we do before the Internet?

(By the way, UK readers and knitters, have you noticed that daylight bulbs - very useful items - come in the bayonet form, while almost every modern table or desk lamp comes with screw-in facilities? Why don't they match up? Who buys the daylight bulbs besides me, and into what sort of lamp do they put them? Where do they FIND these lamps that actually match the bulbs? And related to that issue, is there a vile secret plot to force the entire world into buying lamps which only take expensive designer bulbs which can only be sourced from one manufacturer?)

In honour of the approaching winter, we got our chimney swept today. Delightful Peter came bouncing around with his industrial-strength vacuum cleaner and all his brushes and did a great job. Muffy went for a long walk in the garden, Sophy Wackles hid in my study, and Tasha lay at his feet and watched every move with fascination.

He even zealously went up on the roof to make sure the job was done from the top down as well, so of course Richard went up as well, camera in hand (you never actually see Richard without a camera. He says it's asking for trouble to leave it down anywhere, even for a moment, and as for people who turn theirs off or, worse still, tuck them away in cases... well, what do you expect when they miss the once-in-a-lifetime shot? Yes of course he takes it to bed. Doesn't everybody?)