Things of Human Interest

hiya

Hiya! It is I, Bruce. Today I am here to tell you about an important difference between Dogs and Humans.

This is where I live.

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It is a good place and there are many things I like about it. My human companions also like this place. But although dogs and humans both can both like a place, it is not often for the same reason. This is one of the many curious but important differences between us.

For example, one of my favourite walks goes past these trees.

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I like these trees because they mark the entrance into Good Field, a location where maximum fun is to be had. But Kate likes these trees because they are dead and alive at the same time.

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Past these trees is Good Field – one of my all-time favourite spots. Whatever the weather, the grass of Good Field is always wet and the ground of Good Field is always squishy and soggy. In Good Field can often be found deer and hare who are fun to chase, and if the cows pass by, they kindly leave an interesting mess behind. In Winter the mud of Good Field grows deep and dank and in the Summer Good Field’s plants grow thick and high. Good Field is a place for bounding, for leaping, for getting wet and dirty, and for gingering oneself up with all kinds of funky smells. In all seasons of the year, then, it is an excellent place to be.

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Now, Kate does not like Good Field for its mud or for its interesting aroma. Nor does she seem particularly happy when she trips into the cow mess, or wades clumsily through the waist high grasses. In fact, the qualities I most admire about Good Field are things Kate merely tolerates, or on occasion actually seems irritated by. I have heard her mutter words such as “ballache” as she stumbles, is bitten by a horsefly, or, as today, gets muddy trousers after falling on her arse. So why on earth does Kate take me to Good Field if she herself does not enjoy the many delights it has to offer? The answer is, of course, that it contains Things of Human Interest.

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Good Field’s Things of Human Interest are these Old Stones.

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Now, I am hardly ever diverted by Things of Human Interest, and I have to say that these Old Stones strike me as rather commonplace. Certainly they carry no significance for a dog like me.

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And yet I am tolerant enough of human foibles to dutifully sit and pose.

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Dear dog comrades, the moral of this tale is to joyfully accompany your companions when they wish to visit Things of Human Interest. That way you are likely to spend time in really excellent places, like Good Field.

Great Tapestry of Scotland 1-23

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On Sunday I finally got to see the Great Tapestry of Scotland. I was completely blown away by the vision of Alistair Moffat (who produced the tapestry’s historical content and context), Andrew Crummy (the superb artist who designed these 160 panels) and perhaps especially by the skill and beauty of the work of the thousand Scottish women and men who stitched it. It was displayed in the singularly fitting surroundings of the Anchor Mill in Paisley. The atmosphere in this wonderful space was electric. There were people of all ages there, and everyone was completely transfixed by the tapestry, and were clearly enjoying it tremendously. I heard several exclamations of delight at particular details, as well as folk sharing personal recollections in front of individual panels. Some of the panels moved me to tears, others made me laugh out loud and viewing this terrific work was a truly incredible experience.

viewing

The Great Tapestry of Scotland has a monunmental name, and it is certainly a monumental thing – but importantly, it is not in the least pompous or in any way up itself. Rather than telling the story of a nation through a top-down celebratory narrative of kings and queens and battles, it tells that story from the bottom up, in pleasingly piecemeal fashion, allowing many different identities, and many regional and linguistic differences to be included and represented. Scotland here is the sum of many different parts, and historical change is an uneven, and often deeply conflicted process. And this is a history where the folk who worked to build a bridge might be celebrated in the same terms as the engineer who designed it; where a can of Irn Bru and the King James bible might both share status as national icons. The tapestry’s 160 panels are alive with the colours of the landscape, with cultural invention, with the power of the imagination, with the emotive movement of time, with joy, wit, terror and sadness. That the panels sing so is testament both to Andrew Crummy’s wonderful designs as well as the skill and creativity of the stitchers, and I was deeply moved by the beauty and energy of the embroidery. The story of the people who stitched it is stitched up in this incredible thing, and that is certainly part of what makes it so terrific. So I think it was the tapestry’s sheer sense of shared endeavour that killed me most: that this was the best kind of collective history, created collectively. Craft and design have, I think, a unique power to bring people together in the expression and sharing of their creativity and cultural identity. In all honesty, this tapestry is the best example I’ve ever seen of how this might be so.

This blog serves several functions, one of which is as my own diary. I have thought quite hard about how to represent the tapestry to you, and to myself as well, so that, in the future, I can remember what I felt when I first saw it. I decided that the best way was, over several posts, to show you some of the details that really struck me. If you are interested in finding out more about the Great Tapestry of Scotland, two super books have been published about it. The first, a paperback by Susan Mansfield and Alistair Moffat, tells the story of the tapestry’s creation, together with the stories of the thousand Scottish women and men who were involved in its creation. The second book is a handsome (yet very reasonably priced volume) which carefully illustrates each of the tapestry’s individual panels, alongside more detailed and thorough historical information. I heartily recommend both books. And if you’d just like to look at each of the tapestry’s panels, you’ll find a wee slideshow here.

So here are some of the details I enjoyed from panels 1 through 23

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Panels 3a and 3b The formation of Scotland / The collision. “Geology formed Scotland and the land and the sea formed the character of the people”

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Panel 4 Scotland emerges from the ice. Love the figures of the fisherfolk, the detail of the currach, the graded colours of the stitching.

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Panel 5: The wildwood Hare and Red Squirrel.

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Panel 7: The First Farmers Wonderful textures on this panel.

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Panel 8: Brochs, Crannogs and Cairns. Scotland’s early vernacular architecture.

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Panel 9: Pytheas the Greek visits Calanais. I was particularly struck by the way the Isle of Lewis stitchers had carefully rendered the colours and textures of the banded gneiss and lichen of the Calanais stones.

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Panel 10: The coming of the legions. I love how the curls of Julius Agricola tell the story.

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Panel 11: Ninian at Whithorn. Beautiful stitching, the work of a single Dumfries needlewoman, Shirley McKeand.

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Panel 15: Dunnichen. Love the bold way that Andrew Crummy and the stitchers have here rendered the details of the famous Pictish stone.

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Panel 17: Dumbarton Rock One of many examples of how the geology represented in the tapestry afforded the stitchers an opportunity to really show off their skills. Astounding.

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Panel 20: Macbeth. Each of the tapestry’s panels includes the ‘signature’ of the stitchers who created it at the bottom right. This one, a small sampler of every stitch and every colour used in the panel was particularly striking. The panel was stitched by Sandra and Glennie Leith, Ingrid McGown, Paddy McGruer and Rhea Scott.

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Panel 22: The Flowers of the Borders. Anyone familiar with the architecture of the great Border abbeys will find the subtle pinks and greys of these stitched columns immediately evocative.

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Panel 23: the medieval wool trade. One of many panels illustrating the importance of textiles and their production to Scotland’s culture and economy.

More to come . . .

Pottering

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Tom is away, working in Ireland at the moment. I really miss him, but I am distracting myself by working very hard on my YOKES, and am enjoying pottering in the garden in my spare moments.

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I cannot use a spade (I have tried, and I just fall over), and we knew there was going to be a limit to what I could feasibly do this Spring in the garden in Tom’s absence. But with a couple of raised beds, a plastic lean-to, and many containers, I’m not doing so bad.

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I brought salad leaves on in the lean-to, planted them out in a raised bed and have been amazed at how well they are doing. I don’t want to speak too soon, but as yet they have remained mercifully unmolested by pests – the raised beds have a protective cordon of bark and copper tape, which has proved an effective slug deterrant. More remarkably, perhaps, the deer and rabbits have not yet taken the opportunity to chow down on my tasty crops. There are certainly rabbits and hares in abundance in our environs (I enjoy seeing the hares if I’m out on an early morning walk) but so far, there have been surprisingly few in our garden. My neighbours (who inform me that we are usually overrun with bunnies by this point in the Spring) think that Jesus (our cat) has something to do with it. He has been seen out on the prowl in the early hours, and kindly leaves headless rodents on my doorstep, as well as those of my neighbours, from time to time. If the rabbits are concerned that they or their offspring might meet the same fate, it is all to the good. But I have no idea how he is seeing off the deer.

Meanwhile, in my containers, the beans are doing their bean-thing. . .

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.. . the cabbages are looking cabbage-y . . .

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. . . beetroot is sprouting . . .

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. . .and some tatties, which my dad and I planted rather late a couple of weeks ago, are starting to appear.

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There will be fruit too – raspberries and strawberries.

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. . . and there are tiny gooseberries on the tiny gooseberry bush!

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Yesterday I took the squash and courgettes from the lean-to and planted them out in 10 litre pots to see how they do.

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If I see a spare space in a container I pop in a petunia. . .

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. . .and the back of the garden has presented me with other, unexpected floral delights.

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But what I seem to have most of are tomatoes. I started growing them from seed in the bathroom several months ago and their flowers and trusses are now starting to appear.

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The lean-to is now taken up with eight very vigorous tomato plants, and I have probably twice that number rotating in and around the house. My mum ventured yesterday evening that I might have grown too many tomatoes.

What do you think?

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Please to note the housemartin, to the right of the photo, on its way to its nest under our eaves. Their nests are beautifully compact and sturdy and I love to hear them chit-chattering above my head when I’m sitting outside knitting at the back of the house. Last year, when the housemartins had finished with their nests, a few were occupied by late broods of swallows. Will that happen again this year?

Every day, in one way or another, I am grateful to be living here.

garden days

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One of the saddest things I had to do in the months following my stroke was to give up our Edinburgh allotment. I simply did not have the strength and energy to maintain a garden, and since then I have rather missed growing things. Our new home has lots of outdoor space, and happily I have more energy and strength (though I have to leave the digging and hauling stuff about to Tom). This is the first time we have had a garden of our own and we are really enjoying it.

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Looking North and West from the top of the garden you can see Ben Lomond. The West Highland Way is just behind us, and you often hear the clink of the gate and the voices of walkers and cyclists as they pass. Away down the garden and past the house to the South there is the loch, and woods, in which, today, the first cuckoo of Spring was singing. It is a grand spot. I am trying not to be too ambitious with the planting this first year, and we are mostly growing things in pots and a couple of raised beds (which Tom is currently digging out). I have also put up a lean-to next to the shed, where I am bringing on the plants I started indoors.

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There will be salad leaves and herbs and tomatoes. I am very fond of sweet peas, and have planted several varieties, the shoots of which are currently colonising the bathroom. The other day, I found a few forget-me-nots behind the shed and potted them on.

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. . . and things in other pots are flowering

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There is blossom on the exciting spiny shrub that I’ve now been told is an ornamental quince (thanks, Lynn and Miriana!)

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Time for tea.

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How very nice it is to be able to grow a few things and have this space to potter about in.

Þingvellir

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About 30 miles North East of Reykjavik is Þingvellir National Park. Here there are many visible signs of volcanic activity within the past two millenia.

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The park crosses a rift valley separating the Continental plates of Europe and America. These tectonic plates are now steadily pulling apart, at a rate of about an inch a year.

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But this is not only a spectacular spot, of immense geological significance. Þingvellir is the locale of Iceland’s ancient parliament – the AlÞing, or plains of the people – one of the world’s oldest extant political institutions.

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Here Iceland’s settlers established what is known as the “Old Commonwealth” in 930, and the commonwealth’s general assemblies (which anyone could attend) were held at Þingvellir annually between then and 1262. Indeed, through all of Iceland’s constitutional changes during the Middle Ages and Early Modern period, Þingvellir remained the official space of assembly for the Icelandic people until 1798. I confess to being something of a Commonwealth nerd: much of my Phd research and first book explored women’s attachment to this noble political ideal from the English Republic to the early years of the American Revolution. I also have a thing for outdoor assembly spaces: indeed, my favourite spot on earth is one. I found Þingvellir an incredibly impressive and deeply moving place to be.

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Here there are no monuments, no palaces, no relics of individual wealth or power. Across the valley stands a modest church, similar in form to many Icelandic churches.

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The power here derives from the landscape itself, and from the knowledge that this is a place that for over a thousand years, has played an important role in the lives of all Icelandic people. During the first Commonwealth, Þingvellir was not only the spot where political decisions were made and laws passed, but also a locale of celebration and festival for the majority of ordinary folk. Centrally located to be accessed by a ride of no more than a couple of weeks, scattered family members met once a year; friends shared the news from their respective regions; and young men and women might lay eyes on future partners. Þingvellir has always played a central role in the cultural life of the Icelandic nation.

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(celebrating Þingvellir’s thousandth anniversary in 1930)
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(celebrating independence at Þingvellir in 1944)

There are many things I found vaguely utopian about Iceland: it is certainly a paradise for anyone who loves knitting or the great outdoors; a recent World Economic Foundation report ranked it top of all nations for gender equality and here LGBT couples are accorded the same rights to marriage, surrogacy, and adoption as their straight counterparts. But for me this site of ancient democracy — a rift in the earth where an entire nation might gather in a spirit of collective self-determination — is the most utopian thing of all.

LANDSCAPE

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I am home! I sort of knew I would like Iceland, but I was not prepared to be totally blown away. Due to my annoying health issues, we did not quite accomplish everything we’d set out to, but we met some lovely people, learned much more about Icelandic wool and textiles, and gained a taste of a truly incredible landscape and culture that makes me immediately want to return. I think I might have to do just that. I’m processing my photographs and will show you more very soon!

a little snow

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Everything is relative: I am sure that those of you in North America, who have been shovelling the white stuff for months, will not be in the least excited to hear that it actually snowed, but here, where winter has been horribly dank and soggy thus far, it is an exceedingly welcome change. It is the cold, crisp, crunchy days that get me through the Winter: there have been far too few of them and I confess that the sight of this in the morning made me foolishly happy.

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Bruce is also in a good mood.

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I love to walk in the snow, and we spent a good couple of hours out there this morning in the silence, with no other folk in sight. Birds seemed everywhere, immediately spotted against the landscape’s white blanket. As well as the usual neighbourhood woodpecker and buzzards I saw an osprey by the loch and a hen harrier hovering above the snow-covered fields. The birds are pairing up: this cold snap has come late, and there are already signs of Spring.

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I wonder how the bulbs I planted will fare.

Well, its back to my desk. I have my first post-stroke driving lesson tomorrow – wish me luck!

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g(love)

hiya

Hiya! It is I, Bruce. A while ago, we lived in a tall stone building in a city where there were lots of cars. Now we live here:

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Where there are lots of these:

trees

And a few of these:

cows

One of the many good things about it round here is that there are many Paths and I get to walk on these Paths with Kate and Tom. Sometimes I get to go swimming, and sometimes I leap about in the long grass, smelling interesting animal smells. But wherever we go, there is generally some water and mud for me to get myself nicely lathered up in. Hurrah!

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This particular Path is known as West Highland Way and is frequented not only by dogs and cows and deer but by many human walkers. Human walkers can be forgetful, and occasionally they discard their belongings along Path. That is OK though, because I sniff out and find these belongings, and then I make them MINE. Without a doubt, the best of these found belongings is GLOVE.

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Now, I first found GLOVE about three weeks ago by Path. Since then I have played with it many times and it is now sodden and chewed and has a delicious bovine odour. GLOVE seems quite robust though: Kate tells me that it is fashioned from acrylic, and is therefore a sort of plastic which refuses to decay. But though GLOVE is indestructible, and now has a very strong smell about it, sometimes I play with it so hard that I actually manage to lose it in the grass. Tom or Kate will insist that GLOVE is finally lost forever, but then, O joy of joys, a few days later I will always find it again, usually in a completely different location. I suspect the cows to have a hand (or hoof) in its unaccountable movements.

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Now, there are many fun things to do with GLOVE but probably the most fun to be had is when the humans throw it for you. Kate describes GLOVE as “a vile object” and is sometimes unwilling to join in the game. But, dear friends, let me tell you a good trick I have discovered: If you present Kate with GLOVE often enough, and stare at her for long enough with your most persuasive expression, she will eventually join in.

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Once Kate has capitulated, and throws GLOVE for you, you can retrieve and prance with GLOVE until you are exhausted.

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F U N!

But, eventually, it is time to leave and – sadly – to leave GLOVE beind, as for some unknown reason, Kate will not allow me to bring GLOVE home.

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This is Gate which leads home off West Highland Way.

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Right by Gate there is Old Wall.

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Kate instructs me to LEAVEIT behind Old Wall. This makes me sad.

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But if I don’t LEAVEIT behind Old Wall we don’t go home.

Well, goodbye, fun GLOVE buddy.

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Probably the only good thing about leaving GLOVE behind Old Wall is that, unlike losing it in the grass, it is always there next time, and I am always surprised and happy to discover it once again!

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See you soon, love Bruce xx

A walk to Dumgoyach

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West of Blanefield, off the West Highland Way . . .

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If you look North across the fields . . .

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You’ll see a path through the grass and sheep’s-bit scabious . . .

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. . . which leads to a field margin, marked by a line of blasted oaks.

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Adjacent, to the West, is the irregular wooded dome of Dumgoyach, and North is Dumgoyne, the volcanic mound that dominates the landscape of the Blane and Endrick valleys.

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And if you look down into the valley, you’ll see Duntreath Castle.

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Cross into the field and the ground rises and flattens to reveal . . .

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. . . these stones.

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Four of the five original stones are now recumbent, and the last one standing is a little shorter than me. Analyses of burnt flint and charcoal found at the site dates the structure to 3650 BC, in the middle Neolithic. Aligned with a notch in the hills to the North East, through which the sun rises at the Spring and Autumn equinoxes, this structure is thought to be a short stone row (used to measure solar events), but it has also been suggested that the long cairns are what remains of the facade of a chambered tomb.* The early date, and the proximity of other chambered cairns in this area makes the latter argument reasonably likely, but I am rather tempted to get up to watch the sun rise at Dumgoyach on September 22nd to make my own astronomical observation.

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(what do you think, Bruce? Row or tomb? Tomb, or row?)

*The first interpretation belongs to E.W. Mackie who carbon-dated the site in 1972, and the latter to Aubrey Burl, From Carnac to Callanish: Prehistoric Stone Rows of Britain, Ireland and Brittany (1993). See also the RCAHMS site record.

Boiler suits
Thanks so much for all your wonderful boiler-suit / coverall / onesie-related comments on the last post. That kind of collective discussion is probably what I love most about blogging, and it makes me particularly excited when the discussion concerns the different meanings and usages of a garment. If you haven’t had a look at the comments already, I encourage you to go and read them.

Refurb update

Last week I finished decorating the bathroom, bedroom, and new studio. Yesterday I painted the downstairs chimney breast, and today we hung the over-mantle mirror. For weeks the house has felt like a sort of giant jigsaw puzzle and it is extremely exciting to see the bigger picture finally emerging. But, having been engaged upon this project for a couple of weeks now, I would say that it is without a doubt the most physically challenging thing I’ve done post-stroke. This is not only due to the relentlessness of the stretching, bending, and movement painting involves, but also to my poor balance and generally wonky left leg. I have to take a two hour snooze in the middle of the day to keep going, and there have been a few dicey moments as I teetered over the bath or tripped on a dust sheet. That said, happily, the closest I’ve got to disaster is getting paint in my mouth and hair. Ick. Anyway, I shall be painting downstairs on half-days only next week, and, now the studio is habitable I can at last get back to some knitting, designing, and email-answering.

Field Notes
Most of the swallows have gone, which is rather sad, but I recently put food in the hanging feeders on the porch and have been astounded by the variety of bird-buddies that are dropping by. More of them anon.

Braid Hills

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So here is my new design! The Braid Hills Cardigan!

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This is the first in a series of designs celebrating my favourite Edinburgh places. Regular readers will know that I’ve mentioned The Braids on this site many times: the view of the city from here is spectacular, and the landscape is gorgeous for a ramble particularly in Spring when the air is heady with the smell of gorse and the sound of skylarks.

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The colourway I chose for my sample was inspired by gorse too – Blacker Swan DK. This is a deliciously squooshy light DK / sportweight merino, grown in the Falkland Islands and then processed in Cornwall by the Natural Fibre Company. It is airy and bouncy and, because it is worsted spun, it also has a really smooth hand. All of these characteristics means that when knit up the yarn has great definition, and shows off twisted-stitch cables superbly.

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I have recently been on a bit of a cable kick, and have been really inspired by Maria Erlbacher’s classic Überlieferte Strickmuster (available in English from Schoolhouse Press). Because the ‘action’ of these stitches occurs on every row, their look is, I think, particularly neat and sinuous. So pleasing.

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Many cables are worked as braids, and as I began swatching various twisted-stitch panels, I was strongly reminded of the braided structure of eighteenth-century laced stays and stomachers.

VAME.5091-1905

(Victoria and Albert Museum)

C.I.39.13.211

(Met Museum)

I thought there might be a way to use braided micro cables to lend structure and focus to a garment . . . without, of course, the attendant damage to one’s rib-cage involved in eighteenth-century corsetry.

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The neckline of eighteenth century garments above a laced bodice tends to be low and squarish, framing the the high bust . . .

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(Philip Mercier, portrait of Lousia Balfour, 1751)

. . . so this is how I structured my neckline too.

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Because of the low neckline, it is important that the cables and ribbing of the neckline sit across the high bust without undue stretching. So I recommend knitting this cardigan with a little positive ease to give a neat neckline – paerhaps 0.5 – 1 in. I am modelling the garment with around an inch of positive ease (31 in bust / 32 in garment). (The pattern includes a detailed sizing table and schematic to enable you to choose the size that’s right for you)

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The braided micro cables flow down into the ribbing at the neck and hem, and this intertwined patterning is also echoed on both cuffs . . .

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I am fond of these cuffs.

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Because this pattern is part of a series inspired by the city in which I’ve lived for the past decade, I have decided to add in a few Edinburgh extras – so the pattern booklet includes a short editorial feature exploring the history and geography of the Braid Hills, as well as a photographic lookbook. If you have a copy of Colours of Shetland, you’ll see that the way I have structured the booklet is very like one of my chapters in that book.

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This is a design I’m very pleased with for many reasons, and my cable kick is not quite over yet…

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So if you’d like to knit your own Braid Hills cardigan and / or read more about this lovely landscape and how it inspired my design, the booklet is now available!

You can purchase the digital edition of the Braid Hills booklet via Ravelry, or it is available in print (professionally produced in either the EU or US and delivered straight to your door) via Mag Cloud.

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Happy knitting!

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