Thursday, 22 November 2018

Tis the Season

The weather took a downward turn a few weeks ago and apart from 4 or 5 days of sunshine we've had grey skies and rain for what seems like a very long time.

This is bad news for me since I suffer with SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder and more than a couple of days of grey skies can send me into a downward spiral that's difficult to climb out of.  I'm used to it and I have more patience than I used to and it's usually just a case of waiting for the weather to improve and my mood to lift. It will - it always does.

While waiting I try to work up some enthusiasm for craft work or cooking. This can be hard because when you feel down nothing seems very interesting but I have a strategy that sometimes works. The usual SAD affliction goes like this. I look at some sewing I have planned. The pattern is there, the fabric is there.. almost everything I need is there but the one thing I don't have.. the zip or buttons perhaps will be the excuse to not even begin the project. Even though the missing article is not needed until the project nears completion, the fact that it's lacking will stymie the entire process and I won't even begin.

Because I have not been able to make a start on my project I will feel bad/disappointed and a bit of a failure which fuels the glum mood and so the downward spiral continues.

To try and climb out of this is very hard. Sunshine and blue sky helps but if that is lacking then I usually begin a search for something novel or new to spark my interest. I have to be quick though because if I am not then once again I will find a reason not to begin. It's almost like trying to outwit myself.

The kind of things that I like are of course the crafty things like knitting or sewing and practical things like cooking. But your simple run of the mill just won't do it. It has to be a challenge, something new, something to be learned. This comes with it's own dangers because if I try something new and fail then the disappointment can be very debilitating. So I usually choose carefully, something that I should manage without too much risk of failure.

So this week - having put up with the gloomy weather to the point of 'absolutely got to do something' I picked a challenging new knitting stitch to learn followed by firing up the bread oven and making up my own bread recipe.

The knit stitch is Brioche - which sounds like bread for the oven but no, not this time. With brioche knitting the pattern is reversible. It's knit with two colours and gives a really interesting texture and reversed pattern depending upon which side of the fabric you look at.  I decided to make a cowl. The pattern called for 272 stitches cast on and since you are unable to tell if it's working out until you've knit a good inch or two.. there was a lot of knitting and then alot of unpicking and throwing away of tangled yarn.  I can't give up. If I give up then the disappointment will be immense.

Eventually, after three new starts I have something that looks similar to the actual pattern. I say similar because I made so many mistakes it isn't actually the correct pattern but it looks ok. My problem is lack of concentration.. my mind wanders off on a tangent and before I know it, I've gone wrong again. But I like what I've knit so far.. it looks a bit like worm casts.. hopefully when worn around the neck the reverse side will give it added interest.

Yesterday I thought to myself  'its been ages since I lit the bread oven' so before I had time to find an excuse not to, I raided the cupboard and mixing lots of different left over flours and adding seeds and a few sultanas I made a bread dough. While it was rising I set the fire in the oven. At first I thought it would take so long to get up to temperature that the bread would be over proved but in the end I put the bread in a bit too soon and the oven was far too hot.

They came out like two cannonballs. Not quite black but sounding pretty solid. It's a wholewheat loaf so it's meant to be heavy.. I wrapped them in tea towels while still warm in the hope that the crusts would soften.   Having resigned myself to a failure and chiding myself for not practicing enough with the oven you can imagine my delight when we sawed open a loaf to find it perfectly cooked inside and most of the crust crunchy but still edible. And delicious.

The hearty vegetable soup I slow cooked in the oven after the bread came out is todays lunch. Each little success builds on the last and slowly a ladder is made that will lead out of the doldrums. But the sun will have to come out again if I'm to stay up there.  You can see why I came to live in Spain.. rainy days are few.. but this is the season for them. Oh you thought I was talking about the seasonal C word? No, not until December. Next post perhaps.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Repairing Damage Done

A friend and neighbour asked me to repair a crochet blanket made by her mother. Her mother died a couple of years ago so this is a much loved and very precious item.

Sadly I didn't think to photograph the damage before beginning my repairs but in summary the blanket contained two different types of yarn: one synthetic (the red colour) and the rest pure wool. It had been washed in a machine - I assume on a wool setting. The result was shrinking and slight felting of the natural wool, with no significant damage to the synthetic yarn apart from pulling out of shape by the shrinking wool. There was also a fist fized hole and a couple of smaller holes along with some unravelling of woven in ends and thinning of the natural wool in certain areas.

Alot of people think that because your washing machine has a wool setting you can happily put your woollen garments into it. Nope! You can't. The misunderstanding came about because for a very long time now knitters referred to their yarn as 'wool' no matter what its content or where it came from. Wool comes from sheep and sheep alone. Other animals (eg Alpaca, cashmere goats, angora bunnies) produce fibre that is correctly fur or hair and not wool. This type of fibre is yarn. But I digress. In a nutshell - most natural fibres are best washed by hand and only the synthetic blends or superwash wool (wool that has been specially treated prior to purchase) can be washed on a wool setting in your machine. There are exceptions with some breeds of sheep producing hardy fibres that cope better in a machine but this is a more specialist knowledge that usually isn't provided either on the ball of wool or the label of a finished product.

Initially I had thought I could patch the holes in a similar way to darning on a knit fabric but with crochet stitches. I explained to the owner that the wool used would not match in colour deliberately as part of my commitment to the 'visible mending' movement that is a desire to highlight the value of an object by showing you cared enough about it to mend it. And by association you have not thrown it away and purchased new (thereby contributing to the wasteful modern fashion/textile industry practices). It's a kind of gentle protest. It is also contributing to the history of the object and the owner was very much on board with this.

I wasn't happy with the patch. It was bulky and not very attractive and with further washing it would not be very secure. The only other option was to take out two of the striped sections entirely and then rejoin the two pieces. This would mean taking out not only the damaged section but also a portion of good intact stitches as well. Being very aware of how precious every single stitch was I hesitated. But only for a moment.  I calculated that the finished blanket would be perhaps an inch shorter than the original but that I wouldn't need to patch any other parts of it and it would be virtually an invisible mend. I decided to go for it.

It's a very nerve wracking thing to take scissors to someone else's treasured textile. But as I worked I thought about my friend's mother and the time I met her before she was sick. She didn't speak much English but she appeared to follow the conversation well enough and it was a very pleasant afternoon. I began to feel like she would have approved of the repairs.

It was a bright but chilly day and the blanket kept my legs snug and warm as I worked. When I finished crocheting a new insert I sewed the pieces back together and then put an extra crochet edging on the sides to tidy things up.

One last close inspection revealed a knot in the wool that was starting to loosen. It wouldn't take much wear and tear to pull it apart and then there would be another hole or worse.. a great unravelling.

 I secured it with a couple of stitches and then covered the spot with a small crochet flower. So I ended up with a very visible mend after all.

Monday, 29 October 2018


She was a very Good Cat.

We wish her an eternity filled with defrosting chicken in flimsy plastic and lots of slow moving mice.

In the end I used the basket - it reminded me of Inca funerary containers with mummified remains inside.

Her grave marker is also plastic - the wind makes the paw move. When the weather takes its toll and it starts to fall to bits we will recycle it and replace it with a glass or china statue. It’s just that the little happy cat is very much how we felt about her.

The rest of the animals were very aware of the situation and at the end they avoided her, all apart from one. Not her litter mate but a cat we acquired at the same time as her. We allowed him to sniff the body so he knows what happened to her. The only one to come to the internment was Clyde. He followed us up the hill crying. It was fitting.

It will take us a while to get back to normal.

Friday, 19 October 2018

A Morbid Post

A lot of people I know, some family, some friends, have been sick with life changing/threatening illnesses this year. It has prompted thoughts about the meaning of life, why are we here? Has my stay on planet earth been meaningful enough... should I have to leave suddenly?  Stuff like that. A bit morbid maybe .... (you were warned in the title) okay.. heads up .. THIS IS A MORBID POST!

As I watch people I care about cope with terrible health situations and face the prospect of a shortened lifespan and daily pain and discomfort I wonder if I would be so brave or so cheerful. We never know until we are tested I guess. I hope not to be tested in such a fashion.

In the abstract, death can be turned into something meaningful, poetic even. But in reality it is very hard to maintain any surety about what comes next. All we can know is that it is a natural part of life and so perhaps we have nothing to fear at all. But understanding that as an intellectual concept is quite different from actually believing it and then facing it without fear. What we tend to do is pretend that death doesn’t exist and we live our lives as though there is no tomorrow. This is evident in our crappy stewardship of planet earth.

You know when Elon Musk sent his car up into space and I saw on tv all these really excited youngsters smiling and laughing and getting enthusiastic about science - that’s all well and good (and I know there was a valid scientific reason for the whole exercise) BUT my overriding thought was that humans are just going to trash space (fill it with junk that future generations will have to deal with) just like we have trashed the earth. If he had then sent up a recovery vehicle (the AA 🤣😂) to retrieve it then I might have applauded with the rest. If we ever do get to Mars we will no doubt start straight away to spoil it. It seems to be what we do. We have no self control and no discipline at all!

So in spite of what I thought were significant changes to our lifestyle it seems that it wasn’t enough to turn the tide of global warming. We set off to the supermarket in a bit of a mood determined to do better at eliminating plastic from our trolley only to be defeated yet again. There may be options for buying packaging free in the uk but in this part of Spain... nope... we shall starve.

And so I come to my last bit of news and the real reason for the air of despondency surrounding this post. Our 16 year old cat and valued family member Molly has stomach cancer. There is no treatment recommended given her age and the advanced stage of the disease. We have brought her home to pamper her, make her comfortable and pray that nature will whisk her away in her sleep and relieve us of the responsibility of choosing the right moment. It’s unlikely we shall get away so lightly.

 So what do I do?  My craft work, wool, yarn and fabric have always been my solace.  While working on a project my mind wanders and my imagination soars. So I turn to my crochet hook and some recycled fabric (sadly synthetic) and I made a funerary basket for when the time comes.

No.. I’m still feeling miserable, because its synthetic it isn’t going to biodegrade for centuries..

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Off to Work

We are retired, so there is never any intention of doing too much work. Of course sometimes we work very hard, during olive harvest of course, and sometimes when we are anxious to get something finished. Did I say finished? Nothing is ever really finished, it's all a work in progress. We hope there are still jobs to be done when we finally push off ... you know, the FINAL push off.

I received a small(ish) semi automatic washing machine for my birthday. Strange gift you might think but it's what I wanted. It's to be used for washing fleece. We set it up down at the Casita, and while we are not entertaining guests, it's the perfect place to turn into a fleece workshop.

Every morning after breakfast I set off to 'work'. The first wash is a simple soak in super hot water, no detergent. It's beyond dirty..

While it's having a nice long soak I get on with a bit of knitting. Someone else likes my knitting too.

It takes sometimes 3 or 4 soaks in hot water and detergent followed by 4 or 5 rinses. Without the machine it's really hard work. I never actually run the wash sequence, the fleece only soaks (danger of felting if too much agitation is involved). But it drains away the lanolin rich, dirty water out on to the finca so no danger of clogging pipes with congealing lanolin.

The whole Casita, and the pump for the water (which comes from our own well) is run on solar power.  That includes the heating of the water so the whole process is as eco friendly as I can make it.

There is all the necessary things needed including the wherewithal to make tea. So tea break is spent just admiring the view.

And by lunch time I usually call it a day and go home. What can I say, it's a part time job!

Friday, 21 September 2018

In Search of Chosen Men

Does anyone remember the 'Sharp' TV series? A very young Sean Bean playing the lead character. This (and the novels by Bernard Cornwell) is the story of the 95th Rifles regiment during the Peninsular wars against Napolean. The regiment after several name changes during the ensuing 200 years became my son's regiment and although he is no longer in the army it has been the defining experience of his life so far and so he is rightly very proud of their history. He came for a brief holiday with us and we went off in search of physical evidence of their presence here in this part of Spain.

Our search took us to Elvas in Portugal. This is about an hour away from our house and turned out to be really worth the visit.

The fort is Star shaped. Such a clever design I don't know why we don't see more historical buildings this shape. Like many  castles in Spain, you are allowed to scramble over battlements and climb parapets and there are in some spots no handrails or barriers to prevent disaster. You are simply responsible for your own safety. I like that. 

The town is also walled and we drove through a short tunnel to enter.

We parked in the underground parking which is beneath the town's main square and then visited the tourist information centre. After a conversation in perfect English  (this is a novelty for us.. since our little corner of Spain is not very switched on when it comes to foreign languages) we had a walking route mapped that took us to the castle and then to the English cemetery - our main goal for the day.

And there they were.

The cemetery holds only four actual graves, two officers killed during or shortly after the battle of Albuhera and another officer and his wife who died much later.

 But since the cemetery has been looked after by local English expats there have been further commemorative plaques placed by other regiments to the dead from here and the seige at Badajoz which is just a five minute drive back across the border to Spain.

It was a day filled with talk of history and battles, both historical and contemporary, as we are a bit of a military family with members serving almost in every generation going back a long way. I just recently discovered that my three times great grandfather who served in the Gordon Highlanders, fought a battle in a village just five minutes from my house at a place called Arroyomolinos.  When we fell in love with our little finca we had no idea that 200 years ago an ancestor may have trudged up the road past our entrance in full battle kilt.  It's a strange world.

O'er the hills and o'er the main
Through Flanders, Portugal and Spain
King George commands and we obey
Over the hills and far away
When duty calls me I must go
To stand and face another foe
But part of me will always stray
Over the hills and far away

Through smoke and fire and shot and shell,
And to the very walls of hell,
But we shall stand and we shall stay
Over the hills and far away

Though I may travel far from Spain
A part of me shall still remain,
And you are with me night and day
and Over the hills and far away.