Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Maidens of the Northern Sky - And The Christmas Kitten

We went up to Tromso recently. As far back as I can remember, to see the Northern Lights was a dream - as indeed it probably is for most people. There were enough vague attempts on different occasions - in the wilds of Canada, remote corners of Norway, in Finland - but it had never worked out. This year, it was going to happen if planning and careful calculation could have anything to do with it.

Gosh, North Norway, you do do the festive season well!

The streets of Tromso were snowy, the decorations were simple and heartfelt, and everyone was jolly and full of the spirit of goodwill.

Of course the yarn shops were visited, what do you think? Yes, despite the determined vow that 2012 will be The Year Of Using Stash And Only Stash, advice had been sought from dear friend Else, and armed with her list, each one was ticked off in turn. And turn about. And again. Isn't it lovely to go from one yarn shop to another and then back to the first and then think of something you saw in the third - or was it the fourth?

This window was crowded with the most wonderful handmade dolls, each and every one dressed up in hand knitted winter clothes! The lady in the rocking chair at the bottom right-hand corner is knitting on tiny wooden needles, while the rest of them are rejoicing in their warm jackets, caps, breeches snow suits, everything. Alas and alack, I only saw the kits for making up the bodies of the dolls after the shop had firmly shut for the night - but if any kind Tromso-ite wants to ship me one, I'll repay in full and then some!

At this time of year so far north it only gets to dusk-light in the middle of the day but that's no big deal. Or not if you're only visiting for a few days anyway. I can see that it might get a bit tiring if you have to endure several months of it. One man said that when they finally get a glimpse of the sun for ten minutes or so - around February, I think - they punch the air and shout 'Yes!!!' Makes our solstice seem quite a gentle affair.

Speaking of which, did you happen to watch the Newgrange solstice on TV? It was a bit of a non-event there this year, with cloud cover preventing the sun from penetrating the ancient structure, but I was watching it at my desk, with one eye on our own sunrise outside the window, and was rewarded with a ray of bright light right on to my keyboard. So, although Co. Meath didn't get the solstice sunrise, West Cork did. So there!

Up in Tromso, every toddler wore its own sturdy snow boots, and even small dogs donned suitable footwear.

Doesn't this little fellow look smart in his mackintosh and red boots? Despite the woebegone expression, he was the jolliest dog alive, giving us many greetings and welcomes to his home town. He came originally from Madrid, said his owner, but had adapted very well to the far north.

We took the cable car to the top of the mountain overlooking the town.

It was breaktakingly beautiful up there, with the wildness of the snowcovered hills all around, and, far below, the quiet fjord and the lights of the town, itself a remote outpost in this region of ice and snow. Around three in the afternoon you get a sort of after-sunset effect in the skies which is so lovely you stand looking at it for far too long, until you realise your feet are frozen and your hands are blocks of ice.

Worked even faster on the extra-long wristwarmers in a sumptuous blend of violet alpaca and silk (well all right, I didn't actually say I didn't buy any yarn, did I? It's not 2012 yet, is it?). And yes, I had to take my gloves off to knit. So not too much got done on the actual mountainside. More in the cafe where hot chocolate was temptingly available, and in the cable car going and coming.

It's at night that things get going in Tromso. For the locals, it's having a jolly time in bars and restaurants (I have to say, Norwegians, that the price you charge for beer can induce heart attacks in visitors from less prosperous countries, although I fully appreciate that you earn more, so it all evens out) but for those in search of the elusive Aurora Borealis, the normal going- to-bed time becomes the wrapping-up-and-going-out-again time.

A minibus picked us up and took us way out north of the town, into a dark and still world of snowy fields and fjords, with no city lights to pollute the natural skies.

There was a traditional tepee (the Lappish name is, I think, lavvo) where you could shelter if the cold got too much.

This picture was taken with a wide angle lens and a flash, but in reality it was a dark and incredibly cosy place, with the fire of birch logs blazing in the centre, and reindeer skins spread on the benches around the edge. You sat in there, with other faces just visible across the dancing flames, drank hot chocolate (well, what did you want us to do? Starve?) and realised, dimly, how many must have sat in such shelters across thousands of years, grateful for the warmth and the companionship of others while outside the wind howled and the snow fell. It was a very good feeling and one that has been tucked away to be brought out and re-lived at many times in the future, perhaps at night, when sleep is elusive.

But guess what occurred here in West Cork at the solstice! We'd just come back and were sorting things out by the car when we heard this pitiful cry in the hedge. 'Strange bird' said DH. 'Kitten!' cried I, dashing over and throwing myself down to look. Nothing could be seen, and the cry ceased abruptly.

Fretted about it all night. Next morning we heard it again and this time I burrowed deep into the hedge while DH went further up on the other side. And nervously, cautiously, it came out.

Not quite a baby kitten but a kitten cat for all that. Young indeed, still not fully grown, in excellent condition, with an unusually thick tail for a smooth cat. Huge golden eyes, and very very nervous. It cried, circled round us, and then bolted as we tried to coax it closer.

Cutting off DH's protestations even before they surfaced, I headed for the kitchen, warmed milk, snatched the feeding bowl from whichever dog had been unwise enough not to empty it, and placed offerings underneath the hedge. Coaxed again, but the kitten-cat stayed well out of reach.

Half an hour later, both dishes were polished clean. That evening, the next gift offering was placed slightly closer to the house, where we could keep an eye on it. She fell on it as though she hadn't eaten in weeks.

I put a box underneath the rocking chair on the porch, with a warm blanket in it, and hoped for the best.

Next morning, Christmas Kitten came running with cries of delight as I brought out her food. I stayed very still, and she actually walked around me twice before daring to rub against my ankles and utter such a loud purr that she vibrated all over.

It took three more meals before I could stroke her gently, but once that formality was out of the way, feline natural curiosity took over and The Cat Came In!

Now in a house of dogs this can create just one or two awkward moments.

Here is Mehitabel conveying her approval of the festive decorations. And there is the top of Sophy's furry head, advancing with malice aforethought.

Retreat of Mehitabel to behind a safe doorway. Advance of Sophy.

Sounds of crashing, thumping, bouncing and heavy breathing (Sophy of course - cats never get out of breath, had you noticed?)

Mehitabel decides that perhaps after all the garden is a safer place to be. (And yes, you're right, DH and his camera were enjoying themselves thoroughly. No pop star ever got the paparazzi treatment like Lone Christmas Kitten!)

For now she's roosting in a snug nest made of an old sleeping bag on the rocker in the porch. Meals are regular, and the amusement occasioned by suspicious dogs just enough to keep a girl on her toes. We do not know what is going to happen. It's like that with Christmas Kittens. They may have come just for a quick visit, they may be bored with their present posting, they may be passing through, they may need shelter and solace for a time. (well, now that you ask, some proper cat food was laid in as soon as the shops reopened).

I don't know if she's called Mehitabel. She may be Arabella or Fairycake or Lucy Clare for all I know. She hasn't seen fit to tell me yet. But I thought you would like to share the tale of the Christmas Kitten. And those of you who have lost a beloved pet recently (Chewyknits, for one, LilyMarlene another) I thought you might feel just a little better knowing that somewhere else in the world, a small stranger arrived in their place. It's not the same, I appreciate, but it's a reflection of the turning wheel, isn't it?

All right, all right! I heard you, way back up the page. Did I or didn't I see them? I was saving it to share as a solstice greeting. Up there they call them the sky maidens waving their mittens. I sent them greetings from all of you.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Twenty Thousand Projects Under The Sofa

Seventy-six projects led the big parade,
One hundred and ten WIPs close behind.
They were followed by rows and rows of forgotten UFOs...

It's got to stop. One particularly gloomy wet day last week, I incautiously dislodged a bale of fabric from the elongated piano stool that does duty as gather-all in the upstairs sitting room. It was a double bale of fabric, in fact, several yards each of bright pink and dark navy cotton jersey which I'd picked up for a song somewhere, some time back, with some idea in mind, now forgotten. That isn't topmost in my mind right now.

What is topmost is the fact that in so dislodging the fabric, I toppled an enormous logjam (can you topple a logjam? What exactly do you do with a logjam? Stab at it?) of carrier bags, small baskets, project holders, loose skeins and patterns. A pair of unfinished socks, started in Iceland last July. The beautiful front of a cabled jacket in unbelievably expensive alpaca silk aran weight. One bright red Origami sock, with its fellow just started, barely past the toe. And so on.

Now most times I can deal with situations like this. The normal practice is carefully to replace the covering material and go away to cast on for something new, right? That's what The Big Book of Advice To Obsessive Crafters would say. But, as I mentioned, it was a gloomy wet day, just right for pondering the Meaning of Life and particularly The Meaning of Startitis.

Because these past few months have been pretty appalling on that front. If Startitis be a vice, then the Celtic Memory establishment has been a riot of debauchery. What was I doing? What was I thinking? Was I thinking at all? Is sheer self-indulgence all there is to the human brain these days? (Don't bother answering that one.)

The heart was heavy, but the soul knew there was only one thing to do. Gather up all the WIPs. All of them. Lay them out, photograph them in the totality of their sad unfinished states. And then (courage, mon brave) let all of blogger land see them. Be truthful. Maybe, just maybe it will cure you of this reprehensible habit for once and for all (who's that laughing at the back?)

The memories come flooding back as each one is hauled out into the light of day. This cabled jacket in alpaca silk aran weight is going to be beautiful. And the yarn was just too expensive for it not to reach completion! It's already been started as two different projects, but interest waned, and it was frogged for another try. Some of the rewound balls are starting to look tired and whine for a bath. Then they'll look different to their new, fresh, as-yet untried colleagues. They always do.

Ah the Brigit jacket. Using that ingenious design from Starmore, on gorgeously smooth rich wool tracked down at Pierre Loye et Cie in Provence last May. It was a total bargain this yarn in the Campanule shade, and the jacket will be unforgettable. As was the scent of the little apricot trees in the sundrenched yard where we parked the car and DH photographed black redstarts while I ran wild in the bargain shed. (Brought home the kernels from some ripe apricots which we sampled from those trees, and actually managed to get them to sprout. Annoyingly, a marauding rabbit found them and nipped off each lush little plant at the root. Will they sprout again or will they give up? They're in the greenhouse, thinking about it for the winter.)

Secured this navy chenille, beautifully plush and thick, at the same place as the Campanule. Hidden in the bottom of a bargain bin on the floor, at such a price I would have been insane to leave it behind. A delicious crochet waistcoat, with tiny fob pockets (you can barely see those), but will there be enough to finish the back? The chance of finding more of the same yarn is unlikely, to say the least. And I'm not planning to drive down around Provence any time soon (bit chilly this time of year anyway). But one could almost get the scent of the orange blossom, the sound of the cicadas just by handling it...

It's my own fault, I shouldn't have grabbed a couple of balls of the chenille to take on a trip for which the chosen project was a Jane Thornley lookalike vest. But there it is again - that overwhelming desire to begin with the new love, instantly, immediately, without a second's delay. I mean, taking yarn from one project to start another? What kind of behaviour is that?

Ah the Icelandic socks. I remember the evening well. We'd spent all day driving in and out of long inlets on the Westerfjords, distances which could have been covered in two minutes if we'd happened to have wings and could fly straight, and came in a grey evening twilight to a small fishing village. Yes, it was the very place we had breakfast with the sorcerer next morning, now I come to think of it. I got that overwhelming urge to be working on a pair of socks and rushed down to the tiny local shop. You couldn't have called it a supermarket, but yet, there among the potatoes and the tinned beans, the spades and the saucepans, was a rack of knitting yarn and needles. Got two shades of Einband and two circulars, and was as happy as Larry for the rest of the night. There are times when only socks will do. And there aren't that many countries where you can find the makings thereof at 9pm in the middle of nowhere, are there?

Gosh, I remember exactly where I got this divine tweedy Italian cashmere. It was in School Products, up several flights of stairs in a decrepit old building on Broadway, NY, NY, and while I was fingering it lovingly, Berta Karapetyan was telling me about her change of heart from crochet to knitting (because you get smoother more draping effects with knitting) and also how she found knitting machines extremely useful for doing the long plain sections, leaving her the energy and inclination to spend absolutely ages on the complex bits. And when I'd left Berta, I went way up Fifth Avenue and had tea in that divine Japanese shop where they have all the lovely knitting books. It's going to be a beautifully cosy cowl - but for which winter?

And speaking of winter, this is a bright red stocking cap, in the Finnish style, for a new baby girlfriend, and I am absolutely determined to get it done and on her little head this winter, no matter what. In fact, in the early stages of this appalling realisation of just how many projects there were unfinished, grabbed this and stayed up really late one night last week to get some work done on it.

And therein lay my downfall. Because I watched The Holiday on tv, didn't I? And Cameron Diaz wore That Jacket in it, didn't she? Dear heaven, lay awake until 4am agonising over the right kind of yarn to use for such a project - a light colour of course, to show off the cables, but not too heavy a yarn. Cameron's was light and almost fuzzy, as you'd expect from someone normally living in LA who goes to her favourite boutique on Rodeo Drive to enquire what one should wear in an English winter.

Eventually remembered all that unspun Icelandic I'd carried home from the summer trip and fell asleep happily at dawn. It's a nice silver gray, which is only marginally more practical for fireside wear than Cameron's pure white, but it's knitting up beautifully. Just right for adding a welcome layer of warmth.

Ah yes, warmth. Intending to hunt for the Northern Lights this winter at some stage, so thought lined mittens would be a Good Idea. My own hand-dyed cashmere/silk for the outer layer, possum wool for the interior. Put on the embroidery halfway along the project and all, as it would be difficult to do once the whole thing is finished, as there is no division between outer and inner layers. So why isn't this one done, and its fellow well under way, since my fingers are icy right now, typing at my desk? (Not that you could type in mittens, but you get the idea.)

Good heavens, had quite forgotten the Origami Socks. Chanced on a remaindered copy of Knitted Socks East and West while away somewhere, and fell for these instantly, buying the bright red wool in two different shops because each had only one. It involved driving several miles too, I remember. It's a very pretty pattern. And yes, it deserves finishing. They'd look great for wearing on Christmas morning.

Are we there yet? Are we heck as like. My dear friend Tricia started her annual Advent Scarf KAL and how could I not participate this year? And there is the Lintilla shawl languishing somewhere, it's in soft dark green mousse yarn and it's going to look exactly like that worn so fetchingly while shopping, by Kate, Duchess of Cambridge - WHEN it's finished. Can't even find that at the moment. Didn't have the courage to haul out the huge bag with the almost-completed gansey in cream Stella yarn, because there is a lurking fear, amounting almost to certainty, that an overwhelming flood of 'what on earth was I thinking of when I started THIS?' will sweep across it. And that Stella has been tried and frogged several times already in OTHER gansey projects.

It was bad enough, starting that Fireside or Holiday jacket, although in defence, what would you have done, seeing Cameron Diaz slinking around a cute English cottage in it and ensnaring Jude Law into the bargain? (Never mind that she couldn't possibly have lit that log fire and fed the resident dog, let alone worn it to bed with a bottle of wine, while still maintaining the pristinity of the white wool. That's what you call poetic licence, I think.) But wandering around Ravelry the other night, as you do, I saw the most amazing shawl pattern (Zuni, I think, but don't quote me) which was nice enough in fingering weight but which immediately shrieked to be created in a really thick, ultra-luxurious yarn that would make a positive blanket of cuddliness for the cold weather. I have almost-matching supplies of rich angora and supremely soft alpaca (one from France, one from Norway) in my favourite violet shade, which together would make a thing of beauty. They're calling softly to me now from the sitting room. 'Come here and touch us,' they are crooning. 'Find the right circular this moment. We want to be with you! Wouldn't it be lovely to start playing with us tonight?'

I've got to face up to this problem that I seem to have developed. I'm not sure what to do. I would welcome constructive suggestions for dealing with it. Two lots of constructive suggestions actually. Firstly, how to stop starting things. And secondly, how to start finishing things.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Long-Ago Places

You know the kind of place I mean. Where life seems to be continuing in another time warp, a far off century, and as you discover it, wander through its quiet spaces, you find yourself tiptoeing, listening for voices of other times, echoes of the past. There actually are long-ago places still to be found, and you can get to them if you go looking. As we did one day last week when at last the grey clouds gave way to sunshine. A chilly wind with it, but at least sunshine. So we headed for absolutely the best place to go when you want to forget all about traffic jams and roadworks and crowded city streets, the Black Valley. It's hidden in the mountains between Killarney and Kenmare and you can really only get there by letting it happen.

We stopped by Muckross on the way past the lakes of Killarney, and were lucky enough to see the native red deer also enjoying the rare November sunshine quite close to the road.

These are really shy creatures, our red deer. You will often see sika or fallow ambling through the woods, but these magnificent animals normally inhabit the high inaccessible mountainsides, only venturing slightly closer to human habitation in the winter months. So a good view of them near to the road put DH in excellent humour.

That good humour nearly hit a severe test when we finally reached Moll's Gap, the draughty cleft at the very top of the pass where a wonderful cafe (a real Last Homely House if there ever was one) provides sustenance to exhausted travellers. In previous years it has closed after Hallow-E'en and I only remembered this as the car growled the last half mile in low gear. Oh horror! No hot coffee? No jam and cream scones? What would DH say? I crossed my fingers, and Sophy Wackles' paws too, for good luck, and held my breath.

All was well! The Avoca Cafe (which also has a splendiferous shop, selling all kinds of knitwear and jewellery and titbits) had most sensibly decided to stay open until Christmas, and had decorated its windows in festive manner to say so. Thank heaven in a crazy world for small delights like this! The view from its windows over the mountains is heartstopping.

Refreshed (and yes, we kept some raisins from the scones for Sophy Wackles, sulking in the car) we put the car in gear, pointed it sort of west, and hoped that once more the hidden path to the valley would be open. It was. Without really seeing how it happened the car was suddenly no longer on the main road, but bouncing down a steep little boreen which twisted between grey rocks and furze bushes, carrying you ever further from the everyday world. If you were very alert and organised (the kind of person who folds maps perfectly, and has a tick-list for every moment of the day, every point of interest) you probably wouldn't have a hope of getting on to that hidden road. It has, as I've said before, to happen by chance.

And so we came down at last to the Black Valley.

See what I mean about a long-ago world? This boreen surely has only known black-cloaked countrywomen carrying baskets of butter and eggs, the occasional creaking cartload of turf cut from the bog. Traffic lights? Bus lanes? Gridlock? Horns, engines, exhaust fumes? Another existence. The only sound is the call of a yearling lamb or the croak of a raven floating on wide black wings from one side of the valley to the other.

We chatted with the locals, who were pleased to pass the time of day, and then thought we had better find a drink for Sophy Wackles.

There is something deep-rooted, atavistic, in pushing underneath the overhanging boughs of ancient trees and glimpsing running water up ahead. You almost instinctively pause before leaving the shelter of the woods and check the open ground to see who or what is there, who has found this vital source before you. So must our ancestors have done, thousands of years ago, and we still retain some vestige of those survival instincts. You can't help but wonder how much of the old ways we have forgotten. Maybe it is possible to redevelop, rediscover natural knowledge that was second nature to our forefathers and foremothers? Wouldn't do any harm to try anyway. Sniff the wind instead of looking at the weather forecast on TV.? Check the good or bad feeling in a building before entering? Tune in to the wellbeing of friends and family before picking up the phone or writing an email?

The river bank was welcoming, however, and Sophy got her drink from a side pool. The waterfall was in full explosive spate after all the rain we'd had lately. For days after a downpour the water continues to flow down from the hills and increase the river's strength considerably, so we kept the small dog well back from the main torrent.

Oh look, oh look! A rainbow! Right across the valley! And it's ending right here by this rusty gate! Quick, get a spade and let's look for the crock of gold!

Thing about that legendary crock of gold, though, is that you're not meant to find it. Or if you do, you have to know what is best to be done with it. It's not like winning the lottery, it's more like a challenge to see how you will behave, how you will handle the responsibility it brings. Much better to leave it there, and make a wish on the rainbow.

The Black Valley was heavily populated at one time - as was most of Ireland - but now it's a silent place, with only faint traces of its history to be found. That was one reason we had come here at the ending of the year - it's much easier to discover those echoes of the past in the low sunlight of winter.

Can you see those traces of old lazybeds, way up there on the hillside, just below the mountain shadow? Lazybeds is rather a misnomer - these were the hardest work possible. When there were too many people competing for the good land, others had to move further and further up into the barren ground to grow their food. The soil was far thinner here, and so they gathered what earth they could and piled it in little ridges, just high enough to grow the potato crop. Those people have long gone, but the outline of the backbreaking, heartbreaking ridges remains, thrown into relief by the cold sunlight of November.

And look at this lone tree atop that great grey rock, its strong wiry roots spreading down deep and holding firm against the winds which howl down this valley in winter. There is an ancient belief in Ireland that the Cailleach Beara, or the Wise Woman sometimes transforms herself into a thorn tree atop a rock, and there watches silently over her people and her land. Go out to this valley on a dark stormy night at the full of the moon, and you might see her float from her rock and ride the wind across the Reeks to the ocean, there to tryst with ManannĂ¡n mac Lir.

Here is the picture, though, that I carried away in my mind's eye, and now want to share with you.

Look at that. Can you see the tiny ruined cottage, at the end of a winding green lane, at the right hand side of the picture? Click on it if you can't, and it should come up in a larger format. Doesn't it tug at your heartstrings? The mountains to its back, and the entire valley opening out from its front door, stretching for miles, right to the Lakes of Killarney. What was it like to live there? Was it exhausting, draining, poverty-stricken? Or did they love their home and its surroundings and its simple serene lifestyle with a deep heartfelt love? Did they survive the Famine and if so, did they travel far across the ocean to a new world, one of rush and noise and crowds and anonymity? And in the blessed quiet of the night, did they often think back to the Black Valley and wonder if the stream still fell with a musical note past their cottage there?

Now that I look at the picture again, I see there is a thorn tree guarding the green lane leading to the homestead. Perhaps the Cailleach is keeping an eye on it, until such time as the family returns to its roots.

When De Next Book is done (deadline next February!!!) we are both deeply drawn to doing one called Echoes of the Past. And this lonely little cottage will be in it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

In Which Wondrous Wanderings Are Undertaken in Wales, Muffy the Yarnslayer Suffers a Mishap, and The New Autumn Yarns Are Revealed

A soothing picture of the new autumn collection first. More on the yarns later, but this is to calm your fears about Muffy the Yarnslayer. She has been in the wars, and no mistake. I discovered her one afternoon in a hideous state, one eye totally wrecked, and the poor little dog in dreadful distress, trying to hide in her bed. I don't know what happened, since she was safely enclosed within the gardens, but obviously she ran into something sharp with considerable force. Rushed her to the lovely Dutch vet who lives not far away (just before the haunted castle, turn right up a very winding lane, beyond the two cottages...) and he sedated her and soothed her before turning his attention to a semi-hysterical Celtic Memory. Which is as it should be.

Several days of worry and telephoning, and the little warrior came home, now a very creditable Pirate Princess. When she's pretty enough for your sensibilities once more, I'll put on her velvet eye patch and show her off here, but not just yet. We'll let the fur grow back first.

There is definitely something to be said for not thinking too much. Muffy is now as happy as a sandboy, bouncing around and enjoying life. It was I who had to do the adjusting, but I'm getting there. And she will look very rakish with the eye patch.

Somewhat earlier than this mishap, we wandered off to Wales for a weekend. Had been wanting to try the Cork-Swansea ferry for ages, and since several things could be achieved on one trip, off we went. You sail at night, and arrive in Wales nice and early in the morning.

Gosh, I'd forgotten how twisty and winding the back roads of Wales can be - and just how much more crowded the UK is than Ireland (about 60m people as compared to 4m). This being high summer, every lane was jammed with caravans and cars proceeding at a snail's pace. And I was stressed because I wanted to get to several places before they closed...

HERE, for example. How long have I imagined getting to this little treasure cave hidden deep in the Welsh hills, and finally I'd made it!

You don't need me to tell you about the amazing Colinette colours.

Ran around wildly, trying to see everything at once, grasping at bright jewel-like colours very much like a greedy thief in Aladdin's cave. But time was marching on and we had to make somewhere ELSE before too long. And experience was already showing that short map distances could take till Tibb's Eve to traverse on a busy summer weekend in Wales. So onwards and upwards, until finally we crossed the invisible border into England and Cheshire -

And arrived HERE! Another long-wished-for-visiting-spot on the Celtic Memory memorandum pad. Metropolitan, where all good machine knitters want to spend the rest of their lives.

I'd had this recurring, maddening, problem with my trusty Brother KH230 and ribber. In that they simply didn't want to know each other. Working separately they were fine - bring them together, and disaster ensued.

Oh the simplicity of bringing your problem to the right place! Mark diagnosed the difficulty without even laying a hand on the double monster. 'Wrong clamps' he said, instantly. And went off to find the right kind. Who would have thought that the difference of a millimetre in the angle of clamps could cause such heartache and wasted yarn? Sure enough, once we'd fitted the correct ones, Carol worked several rows of perfect ribbing on the KH230 and all was well.

Of course there were other goodies to look at. Well, as we were there, and had a nice big car with us, it seemed only sensible. You would have done the same, wouldn't you? And these divine new (did you read that, no, I didn't say 'vintage', I didn't say 'pre-loved', I didn't say 'well used', I didn't say 'disaster zones') Silver Reeds were set up in the same room, so when Carol offered to show me how beautifully they worked, naturally I jumped at the chance.

Which sort of.... well, fortunately DH had gone off to photograph some bees around the back of the building (they're farmers too, Carol and Mark, isn't that nice?) so we were able to slip a couple of rather heavy long boxes into the back of the car, then hastily conceal them with the now reinstated old machines plus a few raincoats (can you see the wet ground there? It was simply throwing it down by this time).

Waving fond farewells (but I'll be back, I'll be back) we next headed for Chester, although fortunately didn't have to hit the rush-hour maelstrom that is the ring route around this lovely old town. Chester itself is exquisite, but the traffic isn't. We were aiming for a peaceful little village outside, with its own cricket pitch and venerable trees. Where my dear friend Andy, supplier extraordinaire of undyed yarns, hangs out.

Andy was very busy getting ready for a trip across the herring pond to - guess where - Sock Summit no less! He was going over to meet up with a major client of his, the lady who supplies undyed yarns to you New Worlders. So now you know where your undyeds come from, don't you! (The horse isn't going to America, though, he thought he'd hang around and wait for the hunting season to start.)

The car was getting pretty full by this time (although the packs of yarn came in handy for cushioning the delicate Silver Reed machines) and it was with a distinct sense of relief that we turned the car back towards the Welsh border. (The credit card was pretty relieved too, I can tell you. It had had some serious work to do on this outing. Lucky we don't make trips like this too often.)

If you're going to stay in Wales, then do it properly. No predictable hotel chains. Go for something with age and character.

This is Bodidris Hall near Wrexham. Every period from medieval downwards, and mentioned in the Domesday book too, I shouldn't wonder. Creaky staircases, vast panelled rooms, and the wonderful scent of beeswax everywhere. Owls calling outside at night, which delighted DH. And food to dream of. In fact the overnight charges are exceptionally reasonable, while dinner would verge on the medium to expensive, so it all balances out in the best possible way. Discovered some incredible herbs and seasonings, including - could it have been red amaranth? Somebody enlighten me, quick! Whatever it was, it added the most piquant flavour to the salad.

Next morning we popped over to Trefriw Woollen Mill

where, it being Saturday, the looms were unfortunately silent, but this was more than compensated for by the fascinating dye and fibre gardens, which held all the plants that spinners and weavers have used for centuries to create both yarn and colour.

Could have wandered through these for hours, seeing all the different plants, and reading the carefully handwritten labels telling you which one did what, and where it originated.

But it was more than time for DH to have his share of the fun on this weekend, so without further delay we headed straight for Gigrin Farm near Rhayader where he could indulge his passion for wildlife photography to the full.

The red kites are fed here at exactly the same time each day (yes, the owners do allow for winter and summer time changes, the kites don't carry watches) so around 3pm you are treated to a spectacular display which would not otherwise have been seen since the Middle Ages when these birds fulfilled a most useful function of clearing up carrion and general rubbish.

Stunning birds, aren't they? That forked tail is the quickest way to identify them overhead.

And so we wended our way, tired and happy, back to Swansea and on to the ferry home, loaded down in my case with future projects and in DH's case with thousands of digital pictures to be processed. (In fact the sea crossing was so long that he had time to do most of it on board, and process these for me too - thanks, sweetheart!)

Some of that yarn I got has already been dyed up for the new Celtic Memory Autumn Collection. It's a rather special blend this one, being superwash merino fingering with a sprinkling of delicate gold or silver throughout. Utterly beautiful when dyed up in different shades. You can see some of them waving in the breeze at the top of this post, but I'm so proud of them that I'll let you see sneak closeup previews as well.

Here is Rose Gold

and this one I have called Silver Truffle, because it reminds me of the most mouth-watering milk chocolate truffle, lightly dusted with silver leaf. Good enough to eat. I'll be listing them on eBay tomorrow.

Oh I forgot. There has been knitting! And crocheting too.

I made the South Bay Shawl for myself, and enjoyed it so much, I made one for my friend Eileen as well.

These are so quick and easy to work that they would make ideal gifts. As long as I remember that fact in the frenzy of December!

And this is the Monarch Shawl, another beautiful pattern and extremely handy accessory for throwing round your neck on cooler autumn days. Not at all difficult to knit, by the way - I am amazed at how effective such simple patterns can be if you block them strongly. Added beads to all three of these by the way - currently going through a serious bead craze.

Enough for now. Off to dye some more yarns, play with Muffy (she's been getting a lot of attention lately and is enjoying it thoroughly), and try to summon up the courage to strike up a relationship with the new Silver Reed aristocratic knitting machines. Actually I have done a little bit in that direction already. Made a rather elegant kimono jacket in black alpaca, faced with bright pink, because it didn't involve using the ribber at ALL. (You can see where my hang-up lies, if that isn't too much a mixing of metaphors. Ribbers equal trouble where Celtic Memory is concerned. It's a hang-up that will have to be taken down, shaken out, and sorted before long.) And I'll show you the kimono jacket when I've finished sewing up the facings.

And next time I promise I will tell you about breakfast with that sorcerer in the wilds of Iceland.