Sunday, 31 May 2020

Crocheting in the Garden

It was another beautiful day yesterday, so after lunch Graham and I descided to take our mugs of tea out into the garden. I took my crocheting with me as well, so Graham was in charge of the tea.
The grass in the front garden in nice and flat to Graham put the mugs down beside him as he sprawled there. The dogs took the opportunity to peer through the front gate and bark at the neighbours in a happy way.
     So there we sat in the sunshine, chatting, watching the bees in the cotoneaster, Graham drinking his tea while mine cooled on the grass beside him.
     Until he said, 'Looks like you won't be getting your tea.' Because there was Bridie with her head stuck in my mug, having a good long drink of my tea. In fact she drank the lot, then looked at Graham as if to say 'Have you left any for me?'
     We have a new little flowerbed at the right of the front door, as you come out of the house. We had bought some new plants (mail order) and then had to find somewhere to put them. There are some lavender plants and one or two others. 'The Pudsey is doing well.' said Graham.
     'Pudsey?' said I
     'Pugsley?' said Graham, 'Something beginning with 'P', I think.'
     Yes, we have put a peony in the new flowerbed. It arrived as a piece of root, with a tiny bud showing at one end. Graham planted it, then we read on the internet that one of the mistakes people often make when planting peony is that they are planted too deeply. So Graham dug it up again and planted it barely under the surface of the soil, and in a couple of weeks, it has started to push up leaves. We don't expect it to flower this year, I think it is far too late for that, but we are pleased to see that it is alive!
     When I am crocheting, I don't always work on huge projects (although I do like to have something on-going). So here are a couple of my latest pieces:

Graham fancied a long, colourful scarf and he particularly likes the 'basket weave' stitch, which is thick and dense. So here is the one I made for him. Of course it is no use until Autumn/Winter.
     Then I was sat one night and my toes felt cold, so I thought I'd have a go at making myself some crocheted slippers.

     I have used one of those wools that changes colour to give the variagated effect. I didn't use any pattern to create these, I just descided to have a go and started crocheting.
     I started with a spiral, which I knew would become the sole at the widest part of the foot, then created the rest of the sole by crocheting rows until I got to the right length - I used one of my shoes as a template and measured it against my foot too. When I felt that the sole was the right size, I simply worked rows around the outside edge without increasing the stitch number, this gave a 'boat' shape which I then crocheted across from side to side to fill in across the top of the toes. I had thought about continuing up and around the opening, to make more of a 'boot' shape, but for the time being these are just what I needed.
     I think I made the slippers in an evening, so it didn't take long at all.

Sunday, 24 May 2020


Earlier this week (18th of May) I put an extract from one of my favourite poems up on facebook.
     To celebrate the birthday of the Arabic philosopher, mathematician, astronomer and astrologer, Omar Khayyam, I quoted from his epic poem, The Rubaiyat.
Come with old Khayyam ....
With me along some strip of herbage strown
That just divides the desert from the sown.
Here with a loaf of bread beneath the bough,
A flask of wine, a book of verse - and thou
Beside me, singing in the wilderness -
And wilderness is paradise enow.

The English language is rich and diverse and often uses old fashioned or obscure versions of words, particularly in poetry. And right at the end of this quote we have the word 'enow'.
     It is used here to help the lines scan, and to rhyme with the words 'bough' and 'thou', but we don't tend to worry about its meaning, as you can ignore it completely and still understand the meaning of this verse: 'It is lovely to go for a picnic in the country, just you and me.'
     If you bear in mind that poetry is a condensed form of writing, one which attempts to convey a meaning, or feeling, or create an atmosphere in a few words and lines, then every word chosen has to count, has to be of special value to justify its inclusion.
     The prime example of this is the Japanese poetic form, the Haiku.
     Haikus are composed to set rhythms of syllables and must also include a reference to the time of year

     The Rubaiyat is a series of quattraines, these are verses of four lines. Some of these verses are independent thoughts, others are series within the overall poem which are used to express a philosophical idea, so every word chosen has to fulfil several functions: It has to tell a story; it has to help the rhythm and the rhyme of the poem; it also has to help express the philosophy behind the words.
     So what does 'enow' actually mean?
     English words are a devil for having several meanings, and also for those meanings to change over the centuries, and 'enow' is one of those. It can mean 'enough', or be a contraction of the words 'even now' which in turn can mean 'at this moment' or even 'immediately'.
     Issobel Gowdie, the Scottish Witch, used the phrase 'even now' in her shape changing chants to change from woman to hare and back again. She says:
I am in an hares likeness just now,
But I will be in a woman's likeness even now.
     To us modern English users, the word 'now' simply means 'now', but to Issobel Gowdie there was a difference between 'now' and 'even now'.
     'Now' implies the continuing present, the time that we are currently occupying, but 'even now' changes that present to something else, a new reality, immediately.
     So what Issobel means is:
'I am currently in the shape of a hare,
but I choose to immediately change to the shape of a woman.'
       So which meaning of 'enow' do we find at the end of this Rubaiyat quattrain?
      Khayyam and his translator, Edward Fitzgerald, are creating a scene, a picture, with these lines of poetry.
     There have been many different translations of the words of Omar Khayyam over the years - indeed Fitzgerald himself made at least five versions - but the one I love best and have quoted from, is his first version. Bear in mind that this was not only Fitzgerald's first attempt at translating these quattrains, this was the first time ever that these Persian's thoughts had been translated into English.
     Because Fitzgerald chose to translate the quattrains into a poetic and rhyming form, this translation has been criticised as not being an accurate rendition from the Arabic.
      But this is not a dry work of scholarship, this is a celebration of the wit and wisdom of Khayyam. The words which Fitzgerald chose, encapsulate the spirit as well as the inner meaning of the original words.
      He has used the word 'enow' simply because of all its meanings and all it implies. Khayyam is saying that all he needs to recreate paradise on earth in contained within this verse. That this is enough paradise for him. But also that if these conditions are fulfilled, then, for him, Paradise immediately comes into being, for a fleeting instant Paradise is realised here on earth.
     He does not need the dry arguments of the religious ascetic to get him nearer to heaven, all he needs are simple pleasures, food, drink, peace and a beautiful companion.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Nature Notes from a Witches Garden

Whether we are in lockdown or not, nature just carries on doing its own thing. And it certainly is around our garden!
     Just outside our back door is a cotoneaster bush which is a fantastic place for wrens which we often see hopping in and out. But it has also become a potential nesting site for our robin. He likes the new hazel arch/pergola/tunnel which Graham recently constructed and flies around trying various vantage points.
     We are pretty sure our robin is a 'he' because he seems to be trying to tempt a female to come and build a nest with him. The other day he was in and out of the cotoneaster, but always carrying a piece of nesting material in his beak, as if saying 'Hey girl(s), look at me, see how good a potential mate I am, making this nest ready for you!' However he wasn't building a nest, then going to fetch more material, it was always the same piece he was carrying about.
     The pigeons on the other hand definitely are nesting. Right behind our coal bunker is an old elder tree, almost smothered in ivy. This seems to be a popular configuration, as we had a similar tree at the back of the garden, which finally gave up the ghost and collapsed last year and that had been a nesting spot for pigeons for years. So this year they have decamped to the new nest site in the ivy covered tree by the coal bunker.
     We can see them from our western living room window as they land on top of the tree then shuffle in amongst the ivy.
     But they are not the only pigeons in the garden. There is another one in the front garden, and it seems to be less experienced in picking the ideal nesting spot, as it has chosen the jasmine bush right by the side of the front door.
     Now, this has several disadvantages that I can see: First there is not a lot of cover on the stems it has chosen for its nesting site. But the main 'fail' element is that it is directly by the front door, so every time the front door opens, the pigeon is disturbed and flies off with much noisy flapping. Or if the postman or a delivery driver comes up the front path, the bird explodes out of the jasmine and away.
     But it is still persevering.
     I often see it pausing on the edge of the bird bath, with some improbably long twig in its beak, which it flutters off into the jasmine with.
     I like watching nature in action. I love to see the wild life, where it belongs, out in the wild.
     The emphasis here is on the 'out' bit.
     So the other day, sitting at the living room table, I happened to notice some ivy on the top shelf of the nearby bookshelf beneath the window, and thought that it must be a piece left over from the christmas decorations. I pointed it out to Graham who went to have a closer look and found that no,. it wasn't plastic, it was real ivy growing up the inside of the wall!
     Graham pulled out the ivy, then shot outside and round to the back window to where we know we have some ivy growing on the outside wall. He found two airbricks and both had ivy growing into them.
     There followed much scrabbling about and removing of ivy!
     Not all stuff is growing in the wrong place though.
    Since Graham built the new garden arch/pergola/tunnel, we decided there was a small but wasted area which would make a nice flower bed just by the back door. So this week he has transferred some ransomes (wild garlic) from the side garden into the new flower bed. He has also dropped some wild flower 'bombs' into the same area, so hopefully we will have a profusion of wild flowers later on.
     Anyway, the ransomes are in flower, and very pretty they are too. But not only pretty, they are surprisingly tasty.
     Pick one of the white, star-like flowers and pop it in your mouth. You will be surprised at how honey-sweet it is, then as the honey fades, the warm mellow taste of garlic starts to build.
     These flowers are lovely scattered on salad, but also on roast beef or chicken.
     If you are growing them or any other flowering alliums in your garden, do have a taste of them.
     This is a seasonal treat not to be missed.

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Crochet, Crochet, Crochet!

One thing about the lockdown is that it has meant that we have had to find different ways to entertain ourselves other than going out.
      Apparently Netflix has had a huge upsurge in subscribers.
      As for me, I have been working on another large crochet project.
     Cherise, my daughter-in-law sent me a link to Cypress Textiles where they had a pattern for a blanket made up of plain and rose hexagons The Happy Little Tree Crochet Blanket - sorry I've forgotten how to copy the link and insert it, but if you type that into google you should be able to find it.
      The pattern is made into an oblong blanket, but I decided I was fed up with squares and oblongs and decided to make a more organic pattern made up of circles of hexagon shapes.
      I had a number of balls of variagated wool, not sure of the correct term, but it is wool that changes colour as you crochet or knit it up, and I'd been looking for a pattern that would suit it for some time. I decided that the 'Rose Hexagons' would be ideal, as flowers are often variagated.
    I had several different colour ways of wool, so decided for a start to make up a circle using just one variation on the colour way. I wanted quite a regular pattern, with a plain hexagon at the centre, surrounded by a ring of rose hexagons, which would be surrounded by an outer ring of plain hexagons again. To me this looked like a series of circular flower beds with walk ways in between.
Some of the wool was variagated blue, which to me represents water, so some of the flower beds are (to me) pools, with floating flowers in them.
     To be honest although I loved the rose hexagons, I found the pattern for the plain hexagon much more difficult to follow, for some reason. So I decided to make my own version which I found simpler and easier to do. I'll put it at the bottom so you can have a go if you like.
     This bedspread? turned out to be rather like a repeating fractal pattern: the centre is a pale blue (water) hexagon, surrounded by six Rose Hexagons, which are surrounded by twelve more plain hexagons. This group/pattern  of 19 hexagons was replicated a total of nineteen times. So that the central group was surrounded by a ring of six more groups, which were in turn surrounded by another ring of twelve more groups.
     I liked both the repetitions, and the variations within those repetitions. The central blue pool is echoed by three groups around the edge which are blue pools with floating flowers.
     When I had finally finished and got everything sewn together, I decided I needed some sort of edging to the whole thing. I first tried using the light blue which I had used to create the 'pool' groups, but it didn't look right. Then Graham suggested I use a dark colour instead, so I went for a deep navy blue.
     Unfortunately the fringing pattern I went for, takes quite a bit of wool, and I ran out. I wondered whether to pull the whole thing back and just try and find some wool I had lots of. Then I decided instead to make a feature of the changes of colour in the fringing and also to make the lengths of the different colours a bit random. I went for colours that echoed those used in the main body of the work, but were solid and often deeper shades and I am really chuffed with the result.

The bottom picture is Graham doing an imitation of a jellyfish while draped in the bedspread (?)

As promised here is my crochet pattern for the Plain Hexagon I used above
It is in US crochet terms as I find those easier to remember.
Chain 4 and slip stitch to make a ring.
Round 1: chain 3 then 11 dc into the ring, ss to close
Round 2: chain 4 (which = dc + ch), dc+ch 11 more times working into the tops of the stitches of Round 1 - go through both top loops of each stitch
Round 3: this turns the circle into a hexagon and you will work into the ch1 space of the previous row. ss into the next ch1 space, ch2 + 1sc in the same space, next space sc x 2, ch1, sc x 2 (this gives you a corner) so you will alternate between these two stitch patterns, next space will be 2 x sc, and the space after will be another corner, sc x 2, ch 1, sc x 2, continue around making 6 corners and ss to finish.
And that is a plain hexagon

And just in case you are interested, I had to make 114 rose hexagons and 247 plain to make the above bedspread (?). If I'd thought about that before hand, I would never have got it done, so I concentrated on working on a circle of 19 at a time.

Monday, 13 April 2020

How To Build a Temple

I decided to write an article on how to get creative, then (typically) I couldn't think of a single thing to write about!
     Creativity can be expressed in an infinite number of ways, you just have to think about how or what you would like to be creative with.
     If you have internet access, then you have an unending source of ideas, images, recipes etc.
     A pen and some paper is a very versatile start to creativity. You can keep a diary, write down your dreams, draw and paint on the paper, write stories, poems, prayers or rituals. You can download images and create a scrapbook of ideas which appeal to you.
    You could create a temple in a book, or on a piece of paper.
     The front page could be an image of the entrance to your temple. It could be an image of a classical Greek or Roman building, or the entrance to a castle or stately home, long barrow or even a door in a tree, or a gate through a hedge or into a garden.
     You could then imagine what it would be like to enter your temple.
     Would the entrance be dark and mysterious, would there be candles, wall lights or exotic lamps, or would it be bright and welcoming or even open to the sky? Would your pathway spiral down into the earth, are there steps leading upwards, or will you walk through trees or by beautiful flower beds?
     Are you alone or are there other creatures or beings there? Can you see them, or just hear them in the distance, is there the sound of bird song, voices chanting, music, the sound of trickling water, the chiming of bells? Is there a perfume of sweet flowers or of incense, or maybe the smell of cooking?
     You can create whichever kind of temple suits you. You can use images from books or magazines or from the internet to help you. Or you could build your temple in lego (other construction toys are also available) or bake it in gingerbread or shortbread or salt dough. You could make it a place in your garden, or create it in a box, a drawer, an old wardrobe, or just in your mind.
     You can adorn it in any way that pleases you: with gemstones and crystals, mirrors, seashells and sand, or leave it elegantly plain, or paint the walls like an Egyptian tomb or a Minoan palace, or with spirals, geometric shapes, flowers, birds or fantastical beasts.
     You might create a whole building or landscape, or just the entrance or the central place of worship.
     You might well find that your temple changes even as you create it, seeming to take on a life of its own.
     You could write a description of your temple and imagine yourself walking through it. You can sit in your sacred space and meditate, or you could lie down and sleep in your temple.
     You might wish to perform a special act of worship, or create a ritual or dance for the sheer joy of being, or for the pleasure of the spirits or gods.
     You might find this whole process ridiculous and have a darn good laugh about it.
     This is your temple, it doesn't have to be solemn and serious, it can be loving, funny, tasty even!
     It doesn't have to be perfect, or beautiful. It can be whatever it is and whatever you want or need it to be at this time.
     It may well be different the next time you visit.
     But whether you use it or not, it will always be waiting for you.
     Enter it or not, the choice is yours.

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Reasons To Be Cheerful (Part 1)

Yep that is a reference to the amazing Ian Dury and the Blockheads. Look him up on You Tube, now there was a man who knew how to make words work well.
     OK folks, I think it is time we stopped bewailing what we can't do and look at the positives.
     Today is the festival of Fortuna, the Goddess of luck and fortune, whose main symbol is the ever turning wheel.
     Fortuna's Wheel reminds us that change is inevitable and that also if we feel at our lowest ebb, that is when the Wheel will begin its journey upwards again.
     This time last year no-one had heard of Corona Virus or Covid 19 as they are now calling it. This time next year, Corona Virus will be a distant memory and we will be getting on with our lives again. So now is the time to make the most of what we have and what we can do.
     There are so many things we can do at home and I have a whole list of stuff to amuse Graham and myself including jigsaws, games, jobs around the house and garden. I haven't had a chance to look at my stamp collection for ages. There is also drawing, painting, writing and making things.
     This week Graham came out of Aldi with Treasure! There was some ombre wool reduced to clear, so he bought the lot, Four Balls! Ombre wool is yarn that goes from one colour or shade to another. And Oh! the Joy four new balls of wool gave me!
     Yes I am already working on quite a big project with my crocheting, but now I have some more lovely wool to prick my imagination and creativity with.

     There is lots to do in the garden. That is actually an unending source of busy-ness. At the moment Graham is creating a chicken wire fence to protect the new seedlings he has transplanted around the new archway.
      We have a bird bath in the front garden and that is a perennial source of entertainment, as the birds use it frequently. Sometimes you will see a relatively enormous pigeon, or even two, sitting in the water while sparrows periodically try to shoo it/them away.
     We recently unearthed a pair of binoculars and they are now to hand both for bird watching and also for star gazing - I popped outside at 3am this morning to have a look at the Moon as she was flooding the garden with light.
     We had a clear out of stuff in the living room, just before the isolation thing kicked in and found a load of pieces of fabric which I have been threatening to make into clothes for several years now.
     If you look around your home I am sure you too will have more stuff than you realised to occupy yourself with.
     If you have a pen and paper, you can draw.
     If you have a windowsill, you can garden (most supermarkets are still selling some kinds of plants in pots including culinary herbs). 
     You now have the time to practise your cooking skills - I had a go at baking for the first time for years.
     If you can see outside, or go outside into a garden, you can watch or listen to the birds, and of course tend to plants, cut the lawn etc.
     Oh and I haven't mentioned the positive effects on the planet the lock-down will be having.
     So few planes are flying, so few factories are working, so many fewer car journeys are being made that our atmosphere must be the cleanest it has been for centuries!
     Carbon emissions must be way down. In fact I bet some countries are now behaving as carbon sinks, drawing even more CO2 out of the atmosphere.
     Yes, we are not having a comfortable time, it is terrible not to be able to see friends and family and having to treat everyone we meet as if they or we are 'unclean' is very sad.
     But it seems to me that, whether we like it or not, by staying at home we are not only protecting ourselves and other people, but also (and perhaps more importantly) doing the Planet good.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Self Isolation

Here is an extract from an article in the latest Raven Newsletter. I thought it might be helpful.

     I saw a very helpful piece on breakfast TV the other day from Dame Joan Bakewell who was talking about planning ahead and using routine to help fill your time and avoid feeling alone and trapped in your home.
     She said she had invested in a couple of bird feeders and a book on British Birds so that she could learn about the birds which came into her garden, and also that making a routine which includes exercise and activities you are interested in, or would like to try out.
     The internet is a big help to anyone who is feeling lonely, it can be a source of company and socialising. There are various social media platforms such as facebook and twitter, but you can also find groups dedicated to a particular hobby or pastime. And don't forget things like online gamine, these also have a social aspect to them.
     The internet is a great place for doing research and even for travelling the world from your armchair.
     But do remember to make time to move about. If you have a garden, spend time outdoors if you can. Gardening is a great form of exercise - I suspect some gardens will be getting more attention this year (ours included) than they have for a long time.
     I have always loved watching the garden wake up and the succession of plants opening through the seasons.
     At the moment we have a mystery plant in our side garden. Well there are eight of them and they are planted amongst the hostas, which makes us pretty sure they are something we have deliberately planted, but neither of us can remember what they might be. So we are quite interested to see how they develop. I suspect they might be alliums of some kind, these are plants in the onion and garlic family, as I remember something vaguely about slugs loving to eat hostas, but staying away from alliums. And we may therefore have planted some alliums to keep the slugs away from the hostas.

     In many monastic orders from all religions, periods of self-isolation or Retreat, are used to allow the spirit to withdraw from the humdrum world and experience a period of calm, quiet contemplation.  So you could build a little time into your daily routine when you deliberately spend some time meditating or thinking about something in nature, or the nature of the Universe.
      A simple way to choose a subject to meditate about is to open a book at random and put your finger on a word, and use that word as your meditation focus. Or you might take a gemstone and look at it and think about what it might signify, or how it makes you feel. You don't need to know what the books say on the subject, see what it means just for you.
      Spare time means you can do stuff you have been putting off, or learn stuff you have always wanted to do. Trying magical and psychic exercises is an obvious example. Again, make a special place in your routine to do these. Some people say that first thing in the morning is a good time to do it, but it is up to you.
     If you are at home more and are able to wake up more naturally rather than using an alarm clock, you might find that you begin to remember your dreams more. So now would be a good time to start a dream diary and write your dreams down as soon as you wake up - keep the diary and pen by your bed and write them down before you do anything else, otherwise they will fade and the details will be lost.
      Astral travel practise is another obvious exercise for just before you go to sleep.
     I would always imagine myself sleeping inside a blue protective bubble, before doing any dream or astral exercises. The blue bubble works well to protect against nightmares too.
     If you've never had a go at casting a spell, well now you will have the time. So have a think about the kind of spell or magic you would like to try. At this time sending out healing thoughts and energies would be helpful to everyone. You could also send out thoughts of friendship and joy to other people who might be feeling lonely or alone. You could do spells to help people keep in touch, or encourage kindness and thoughtfulness.
     You could have a go at creating your own spells and rituals. Like the country Witches of old, think about what you have to hand and how it might be used in a spell or ritual.
     Night time has always been special for Witches. So why not take a few minutes, if the sky is clear, just to pop outside and look at the Moon. Blow her a kiss and look at Her shape. We don't only need to look at the Moon when she is Full. She has beauty in all her phases.
     If you are wrapped up well. you could also look at the stars, see if there are any constellations you can recognise.
     If you have a look on the internet you will find places which tell you which constellations and planets might be seen from your location, and where to look in the sky. If you have a pair of binoculars this can be helpful too. You can see a lot of detail on the Moon's surface with a decent pair of binoculars.
     You might find that this time of isolation gives you the chance to make deliberate changes for the better in your life. To evaluate your priorities and even where you feel you might like to go in the future.