Thankyou so much, everyone, for all your good wishes. I’m happy to say that Tom’s kilt hose have been knitted, our vows composed, and this evening the cake will receive its final decorations. At our wedding, a piper will play “ho ro, my nut brown maiden” (anyone who’s seen Powell & Pressburger’s I Know Where I’m Going will appreciate this), and we will raise a toast to all the friends who can’t join us on Islay. That includes all of you. See you soon xx
I’m having one of those reflective mornings. I got up early to start knitting (I am making something special). With a cup of tea I watched for the hare that comes by our window at first light, and listened to the final chapters of Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk (worth reading). I think I might look back on these months and find them interesting: it seems a time of changes, some larger, some more subtle. In terms of my post-stroke well being, I think its interesting that I have recently felt some improvements in recovery: I find I do not need quite as much sleep as I did previously. That is to say, where I definitely needed ten to twelve hours to stay on an even keel, I find I can now just about get by with eight. Though I still have the odd day in which I’m laid low with weird, unaccountable fatigue, these are happily much rarer. My body feels less tired too: actions such as descending hills and steps seem less clunky and troublesome, and two weeks of daily swimming in Portugal has made my left side a little stronger. Having enjoyed swimming in the sea once again, I intend to try some open water swimming closer to home. But I have to say that none this means I am feeling like my ‘old self’ or ‘as I was’ or anything. In some ways, the more ‘recovered’ I feel, the more profoundly aware I am of the distance between me and my post-stroke body. That is to say, that now, five years after my stroke, I have come to accept my body, but I never feel completely comfortable in it. I feel like I am inhabiting it, but it never feels like “me”. I think I thought I would stop being conscious of the difference of it, that its actions would become unconscious, that I would perhaps be able to stop making an effort to tell it what to do, but this has never happened. I honestly don’t think it ever will. I often wonder whether this sensation of alienation is just about the fact that I feel mild physical discomfort most of the time (because my body is uncomfortable, I am aware of it) or whether its because part of my brain is missing (the neurons that controlled my left side no longer exist, and the left side of my body now operates by grace of the same bit of my brain that controls my right). Either way, I suppose I am starting to get used to this body, even though I often feel removed from it.
But this is definitely a time of positive changes. The photograph at the top of this post is of Finlaggan – a place that is very special to Tom and I. In a few weeks time we shall be married there. After sixteen years together, and unable to imagine ever being apart, it is probably the right moment. Bruce will be there too, of course, and I shall be wearing something I’ve knitted. I have never really been that bothered by weddings – I’ve never had a hankering for white dresses or occasions – but I have to say that knitting my thing, and thinking about marrying Tom this morning is making me very happy. We are setting the seal on a life we’ve built together. In some ways little will alter, but it also feels quietly momentous. I promise I’ll show you the thing I’m making after we’re married. The yarn I’m working with is pretty special too.
Back to the knitting. Have a lovely weekend. xx
What’s this? A handknitted hoose?
With flowers in the garden . . .
. . . and a wee gate . . .
. . leading to a horse-shoe adorned front door . . .
. . . there are flowers in the windows too . . .
. . . shrubs round the side . . .
. . . a tiled roof, and a jolly chimney!
. . . the back of the hoose is just as inviting as the front
. . . and it also has a useful function . . .
To keep my teapot warm!
This hoose is a gift I was really, really touched to receive. Long-term readers of this blog may remember this post , which I wrote in 2009, following a visit to the Royal Edinburgh Repository and Self Aid Society – also known as the Treasure Trove – on Castle Street, in Edinburgh. At the Treasure Trove you can find a multitude of wonderful items, all hand-made by the society’s talented members, and all sold with the sole aim of supporting the knitters, sewers, quilters and bakers who created them. The quality of the knitted items the society’s makers produce is really superb: in the bustling Treasure Trove shop you’ll find fine Shetland lace shawls, Fairisle tams and gloves, and beautifully-made childrens jumpers and garments. Over the years, I’ve stayed in touch with the Treasure Trove, and whenever I receive an email asking me for good knitterly places to see in Scotland, its the first place to which I direct any visitor. Having an abiding interest in, and admiration for, the society, I was really pleased and honoured when Liz, the chair of its committee, invited me along to say a few words at their AGM. This meeting was today, and it was absolutely lovely to meet everyone, to hear more about the society’s important work, and to tell the committee a little about what it is I do. At the end of the meeting I was presented with their wonderful gift with which, as you can all imagine, I was really delighted. The hoose had been made especially for me by a society member. Everything about it – the knitting, the embroidery, the stitching, the finishing – is absolutely impeccable.
In 2009, when I wrote my first post about the society, my interest was, in a way, purely academic: if you read it, you’ll see me musing in a rather wordy way, on how making things lends people who’ve suffered long-term illness or disability an important means of self-support. But weirdly, less than a year later, I became one of those people myself: following my stroke, I was rather unexpectedly transformed into someone who supported herself through making. As you all know, knitting played an enormously significant role in my recovery – a role that was certainly not just financial – and, six years after writing that initial blog post about the Edinburgh society, I find I have a rather different – and certainly much stronger – appreciation for what it is they do. The society provides a really important network of support for many talented makers all over the UK who find themselves, in one way or another in difficult circumstances. If that is you — if you are in the UK and would like to become a member-maker — you’ll find information on the society’s website here. And if, like me, you’d like to support these makers and their work, I suggest you pop along to the Treasure Trove shop on Castle street as soon as possible! You can also place special commissions for members of the society to make items to order.
So I want to say a huge thankyou to the talented society member who made my lovely hoose, and another thankyou to Liz and the society committee for inviting me along today. I hope to be back to see you soon.
It is a year today since we moved from Edinburgh to this wonderful spot. We absolutely love it, and are all enjoying our new life here. An inhabitant of towns and cities all my life, I have always loved the outdoors, and have often yearned to live in the country. . . and being here at last has already made a massive difference to my mindset, my outlook, my work, and most certainly my health. Outdoors walking every day, I feel incredibly connected to my surroundings and the changing seasons: every day is subtly different, and I love tracing the turning of the year through the appearance of wildflowers and the songs of different birds. I have learned the privilege of recognising wild animals as individuals (not just “a hare” but “that hare”) and have enjoyed encountering many different beasties on my daily walks from newts to hen harriers. There are still many mornings when I wake up, find the world around me absolutely breathtaking, and can’t quite believe I actually live here. I wonder if this feeling will ever go away – I rather hope it doesn’t. The eighteenth-century women, whose letters I used to work on, were very fond of quoting Micah 4, the bit that comes after the swords and ploughshares about sitting under one’s own vine and fig tree. All I can say is that here I have at last found my vine, and my fig tree, though, this being Scotland, I’ll definitely have to erect a greenhouse if I actually want to grow them.
Here are some photos from our first year in our new home.
When Tom and I first moved in together in the late 1990s, we rented a tiny house in Sheffield that we affectionately dubbed “claustrophobia”. The tiny house came with a tiny garden, and I cut out a section of turf there and planted sweet peas. In the Summer, there was always a bunch on the table.
The first things that I planted in my propagators early this Spring were sweet peas. I planted and staked them out in May, and left them to it.
They grew vigorously, but didn’t seem to want to flower. I have been eyeing the birds suspiciously – had they been chowing down on the tasty buds? There is a particular pied wagtail who seems to spend a lot of time in that part of the garden and he was my chief culprit . . . but he was clearly blameless, as yesterday some beautiful blooms finally appeared.
I dearly love sweet peas, both indoors, and in the garden. I hope there will always be a bunch on the table for the rest of this Summer.
In other news
I don’t do this very often, but, knowing first-hand just how transformative dogs can be, I wanted to give a wee shout-out to my friend Mairead who is raising funds for the Irish charity My Canine Companion who do wonderful work training and providing service dogs for autistic children and their families. Mairead’s son Thomas has Asperger syndrome and his service dog, Potter has made a tremendous difference to his life, and indeed to the lives of Mairead’s whole family. On August 3rd, Mairead is holding a coffee morning and raffle to raise funds to support the training of more service dogs, and among other great prizes, you could win an Ipad or, if you were, ahem, really lucky, one of my Peerie Flooers kits. 5 euro buys you a ticket and Mairead’s fundraising page is here
Thomas and Potter!
Tom’s appendix-less state means he can’t run or cycle at the moment, but this has been quite good, as he’s been able to join me on my walks. Yesterday we popped up Conic Hill and it was a grand day for it.
Conic Hill is just a few miles from where we now live, and though Tom has run here many times in the past year, it occurred to me yesterday that the last time I climbed this hill was nine years ago when we walked the West Highland Way. Here is Tom looking down from the hill across Loch Lomond in 2005:
And here in a spot slightly further down yesterday:
A lot has changed since then, but as he says, he looks pretty much the same from behind.
I think of all the lovely views of Loch Lomond – and there are many – that this one is my favourite.
Its just something about the sense of space up here – the meeting of sky, land, and water, and perhaps especially the way that the Loch Lomond islands stretching away in the distance lend the view a pleasing and very distinctive sense of perspective.
Dorothy Wordsworth felt similarly about those islands when she saw them in 1803, though her view in this passage is the precise opposite of ours (she’s looking South and East from Inchtavannach and we are looking North and West from Conic Hill)
“We had not climbed far before we were stopped by a sudden burst of prospect, so singular and beautiful that it was like a flash of images from another world. We stood with our backs to the hill of the island, which we were ascending, and which shut out Ben Lomond entirely, and all the upper part of the lake, and we looked towards the foot of the lake, scattered over with islands without beginning and without end. The sun shone, and the distant hills were visible, some through sunny mists, others in gloom with patches of sunshine; the lake was lost under the low and distant hills, and the islands lost in the lake, which was all in motion with travelling fields of light, or dark shadows under rainy clouds. There are many hills, but no commanding eminence at a distance to confine the prospect, so that the land seemed endless as the water.”
I thought of Dorothy Wordsworth yesterday as we looked down toward Inchtavannach, and gave her a mental wave.
If you are ever in the area and fancy going up Conic Hill, I really think the views are best from this direction, and its a much nicer walk this way too. Park at Milton of Buchanan; walk up the track past Creity Hall, join the West Highland Way as it snakes up the hill; descend into Balmaha; stop for a welcome ice-cream, or pint at the Oak Tree Inn, take a look at the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, and then walk back along the road to Milton. The circuit is 7 miles with around 350m / 1100 ft of ascent.