Another of Jane Brocket's literary hot water bottle covers from The Gentle Art of Knitting (details of the first, the one on the right, are here). This one has been made with four balls of grey-blue Rowan All Seasons Cotton - a gift with a Rowan subscription ages ago. It has turned out a little bigger than the Cashmerino Aran version but still fits fine.
I've paired the covers with some suitable comfort reading, Mary Stewart's Airs Above the Ground, one of the favourites listed here.
This is such a simple, relaxing knit that I'm very happy to have had requests for a couple more of the covers, and I'll be reverting to the Debbie Bliss yarn for both.
Edited to add: as I write, What Ewe Need have the Cashmerino Aran at 25% off the usual retail price.
The Agatha Christie biography I'm reading is fascinating all round, but one of the aspects of the author's character which comes out strongly is her love of dogs - she adored them "for their goodness and loyalty, the qualities she valued above all others", and they were her steadfast companions throughout her life and a source of inspiration, as this video by Dame Agatha's grandson, Mathew Prichard, shows.
Four years ago I was knitting a cabled hot water bottle cover. Despite being beyond the half way mark, I put it down for some reason and didn't pick it up again until recently when I took a hard look and decided I should have gone up a needle size or two for it seemed to be on the scrimp side.
Simple garter stitch with the yarn held double makes for a very soft and snuggly cover and a quick and straightforward knit; I diverged from the pattern only at the neck where I worked fewer rows than prescribed but still sufficient for ample coverage.
Jane explains in the book how her covers come to have literary associations, hence the picture of mine with my current reading, Laura Thompson's biography Agatha Christie: An English Mystery. Very cosy crime!
(Click here for a lovely quote from Dame Agatha herself on what one might call 'the gentle art of becoming the best-selling novelist of all time'.)
I have a special guest over on Cornflower Books today, a gentleman whose stellar writing career really only began when he was approaching 70. Since making quite a splash with his first novel, Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce books have gone on to be published in 37 countries; they are bestsellers around the world, and are currently being adapted for the small screen by Sam Mendes. I love them, and I am delighted to have their creator with us today, so please pop over and meet him.
"Dame Mildred, the gardener, managed a procession of flowers, from the pinks and yellows of spring to what she called 'the purple time', lilacs, iris and the deep purple of pansies. As summer advanced, she had roses and lilies, mixed borders with the blue of delphiniums, anchusas and flax, pink of lupins, and poppies, phlox and sweet peas ... Then the garden colours deepened: yellows and bronzes and reds came up: scarlet of berries and, in the dingle, crocuses again, but the pale autumn crocus that a once-upon-a-time chaplain had brought the nuns froms Switzerland. Sister Elizabeth made her bonfires in the front of the house and they burned too in the enclosure, along the avenue; there was the smell of woodsmoke in the air, the dew lay late, sometimes all day on the grass; soon the November mists and gales would come; the year had slipped away again."
"It has been said that the dog is the saint among the animals, so great are his powers of love and forgiveness ..."
I like an autobiography which includes photographs of the author's dogs, and Elizabeth Goudge's contains several - alongside her family and her homes. She was a true dog-lover, devoted to her canine companions such as the chow/Norfolk spaniel cross Brownie to whom she was referring in that line I've quoted and which goes on "Brownie was a pre-eminent saint among many."
Later in the book she talks at length of Brownie and says, "I have had a dog who learned to smile like a human being [I have one of those] but Brownie was the only dog I have known who could weep as humans do." My goodness!
The dog pictured is one of three Dandie Dinmonts Elizabeth Goudge called "The Hobbits" and which came to her in succession many years after the elderly Brownie departed this life. "Not great dogs, but magical," she says, and while not perhaps as saintly as Brownie, "there are no more lovable companions in the world."
I should think I'll be on safe ground when I come to read her novels.
I've been reading Lara Platman's book Harris Tweed: From Land to Street, a photographic record of a year spent on Lewis and Harris recording every step in the process of the making of the tweed from the rearing of the sheep to the stamping of the finished cloth with the famous orb symbol, and beyond to the tailors of Savile Row and the catwalks of London Fashion Week.
The book's Foreword is by Patrick Grant, proprietor of Norton & Sons (and of course judge on The Great British Sewing Bee). He is a champion of the cloth having worn it first at school here in Edinburgh, and he recalls his pale green tweed jacket: "we wore it in winter, and when it rained the top deck of the number 23 bus would smell like wet dog. We wore it in the full heat of the Scottish summer, when it became goal post and impromptu blanket. And it never faltered."
Son-of-Cornflower went to the same school as Patrick Grant and wore that green Harris Tweed jacket, and I can attest to its hardiness, even when the rough and tumble of the school yards meant an occasional darn was needed. It was a sad day when that distinguished-looking garment was 'retired' in favour of a bland blue blazer.
Back to the book, and to the Hebridean island where the tweed is made, and I am fortunate to have visited several of the locations pictured in it on my visits to Lewis/Harris. I've been twice to the weaving shed of Mr. MacLean at Garynahine Harris Tweed - see posts here and here. Patrick Grant buys tweed from Garynahine, and so (on a rather smaller scale) have we, having a great jacket made in it. I've also been to Carloway Mill for a tour and a look at the complex process the fleece goes through to turn it into yarn ready for weaving; I referred in that post on the mill to the finished tweed being brushed with a switch of some plant material, well I now know from the book that the brush in question is handmade from straw, like a little broom, and is used chiefly "when a quantity of dark, plain-patterned weaves is being produced, to remove any light flecks of wool".
What the book shows is not just the making of the tweed but the people who create it - as Patrick Grant says, "this cloth, painstakingly woven, from yarn locally spun, from wool of the local clip, is imbued with something personal and humane that no other textile comes close to possessing." He goes on, "and the wearer, in his or her turn, adds something more to it by the wearing. He softens it and scuffs it and shapes it, cherishes and repairs it [see above], and all in good time he passes it on so that a new owner may enjoy it. All of this makes Harris Tweed the greatest cloth of all."
"... I knew I wanted to display [the jewellery] in a living setting, silver and gold appearing magically among real growing plants, arranged on moss and twigs and grass. Back in my workshop at home I built a series of oversized seed trays out of old timber, salvaged long ago for just this sort of eventuality. I headed out to the countryside to forage. Tiny nettles and holly seedlings from Suffolk; mossy rocks and ferns from Wales. Hazel branches from the woods down near Pin Mill to cut into minute logs. I planted up my seed trays and scattered grass seed over the bare patches. Now they just needed to grow, and for the plants to spread and intertwine. This was going to take a great deal of care and patience.
Meanwhile, Kathy and I put the finishing touches to the book, and by that time the jewellery was almost designing itself. I drew sketches for a bunch of keys, plant labels, some rough garden string and a smooth apple. There was a bee buzzing by and a pea ready to pick. A tiny watering can with a drip just hanging from its spout."
"Wind S.W. Brisk, sunshine warm. Warm, hazy air all day till sunset. Mezereons(i) bloom. Gooseberry and Elder put out their leaves. Apricots just show their blossom buds. Lesser Tortoiseshell Butterfly appears. Single Hepaticas in full bloom. First Violets blow, and Single Daffodils and Persian Iris(ii)."
Myerson comments, "Each moment seemed to bring a new gift ... It was as if small wonders were being conjured up by a magic spell. The garden was coming back to life one flower at a time... Yet at the same time, as a promise of all that would soon come, there was also the 'full bloom' of the Hepaticas. Their cycle of bloom was completing as other plants were just beginning. Gray was looking at the wonderful intricacy of time itself in this miniature of the natural world, forever consummated and reborn."
(i) Daphne mezereum.
(ii) The pictures are of Iris reticulata 'Harmony', not Gray's Iris persica.
"It was by this time about nine in the morning, and the first fog of the season. A great chocolate-coloured pall lowered over heaven, but the wind was continually charging and routing these embattled vapours; so that as the cab crawled from street to street, Mr. Utterson beheld a marvellous number of degrees and hues of twilight; for here it would be dark like the back-end of evening; and there would be a glow of a rich, lurid brown, like the light of some strange conflagration; and here, for a moment, the fog would be quite broken up, and a haggard shaft of daylight would glance in between the swirling wreaths."
Jenni Calder notes in her introduction to my edition of Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (from which that passage comes, and which we're talking about here) that the atmosphere of the book is one of its most memorable features. "The setting is London," she goes on, "but the ambience is without doubt Edinburgh, the Edinburgh of the Old Town's dark wynds and closes, where the turn of a corner could, in Stevenson's day and even now, abruptly leave behind the world of surface respectability, and the lingering shades of Burke and Hare, the grave-robbers, and Deacon Brodie, cabinet maker by day, criminal by night, still flavoured the atmosphere."
So I've made not a cake to go with the book, but a pudding: the appropriately named Edinburgh Fog, as the recipe says, "thicker than the mists that envelope the city today, but like Edinburgh itself, deliciously rich and elegant."