Wednesday 30 April 2014

mending pile

For as long as I can remember, my Mum has altered and mended our clothes. Sometimes, she may be darning a hole in my Pa's work trousers, replacing a lost button or turning up a new hem on a raggedy pair of jeans. 

The same old biscuit tin turned sewing box still lives beside her Bernina sewing machine in the spare bedroom. Inside, a smaller tin houses dressmaking pins, numerous tape measures and thimbles, all nestling in a wreath of cottons. There are always odd buttons, safety pins of all shapes and sizes and lengths of sheering elastic. The same old pair of dressmaking scissors I was forbidden to touch as a child, "Only for cutting fabric...". And next to a married life time's full of dressmaking accoutrements, sits the mending pile. 

On my first Sunday back home, the April rain is pouring steadily down the window pane. We make a pot of tea and settle ourselves into a corner of the conservatory. Mum threads her needle, I observe. The pitter patter of April showers on the rooftop overhead. Today, her quiet labour breathes life back into my favourite, worn corduroy skirt. She darns the wear and tear around the zip, making it good as new. Mending appears at times a tedious task. But it is a sort of magic, a trick that she has performed for as long as I can remember.

In a while, she will take me back up to the spare bedroom to perform another magic trick: under her watchful eye, she'll help me finally finish my skirt. But for now, as the rain steadily fals outside, I am engrossed as I observe this quiet domestic task. Now it is my turn to turn up, pin and then tack the hem of a new (to me) pair of charity shop linen trousers, just a little too long in the leg. With her calming patience and this gentle industry, she is teaching me to mend and make do. It is re-using and recycling, making do and mending at it's most simple, and most meaningful. 

Sunday 27 April 2014


Early evening, just before sunset. A few short hours ago, I was waving goodbye to N back in our mountains. Then it was a hop, skip and a jump across northern Spain over to the Cantabrias.

Finally we pulled out of Santander harbour and into the open sea. Of course, it would have been cheaper and quicker to drive or fly. 

But there is always something rather special about this slow travel by sea. Born in the British Isles, I've already taken countless ferries in my life. But every journey by boat enthrals me.

The hours on this boat may drag, but what's the rush? It's six months since I last set foot north of the channel. What difference would one more day make?

Just after ten o'clock, I fall quickly asleep in my bunk, lulled into a light sleep by the rhythmic rocking of the boat as we cross the Bay of Biscay. As I sleep, no doubt pilot and sperm whales are lurking in the depths, chasing squid through the deep canyons stretching out into the Atlantic from the Spanish coast. Landlubber that I am, the only whales I see however swim through my Atlantic tossed dreams...

The next morning, I'm up early and head from the comfort of my cabin outside. Sat up on deck with the west wind caressing the pages of my book, I'm too excited to read or knit. My eyes  frantically scan the horizon, longing for that elusive glimpse of a gannet or porpoise. Instead, I spy land through my binoculars. First the craggy western coast of Finistère, then the windswept islands of Molène and Ouessant. And plenty of lighthouses in between. 

Leaving the islands of Brittany behind, we turn into the shallower waters of the channel. In a short time, we shall dock in Plymouth, and then in another couple of hours I shall be back in Dorset. 

In this moment, I feel a jubilant sense of freedom, of being simultaneously in limbo and in movement. Here in the middle of the bay of Biscay, I am beyond all national boundaries, all restraints except for the natural elements of sun, sky, wind and sea. It feels wonderful to be alive. It feels wonderful to be on the move. It feels wonderful to be going back.

Saturday 26 April 2014


J'étais déjà venue à Santander une fois, en 2011. Comme la dernière fois, quelques heures passées comme un éclair avant de prendre le ferry. Juste le temps de se perdre dans la ville, de flâner dans ses rues, d'acheter du cidre asturien, d'envoyer une carte de parler un peu d'espagnol.  

Friday 25 April 2014

the leaving

Wednesday. Midday. Place St Clement, Luz. Waiting for my ride to arrive. Waiting with N. 

Just before the leaving the ache of love can be so strong and powerful. Our breakfast this morning made me miss him, even before I had left. 

And now the car is pulling up. They are putting my rucksack into the boot and I cling to him for one last embrace.

"Meet me in Brittany!" he shouts as the car pulls away.   

Kilometres are flying by my window as the first leg of my journey begins from Luz to Santander. West towards the Atlantic at Biarittiz, then crawling along the verdant Basque coast, entre mer et montagne, south across the border and down across northern Spain. Then on an overnight ferry to Plymouth tonight and a much needed few weeks of rest with my family in Dorset. Later Brittany. 

Already anticipating the first cup of Earl-Grey tea on arrival at my folk's place in two days time...

Wednesday 23 April 2014

point d'ancrage

Je suis née de l'autre côté de la Manche, en Grande Bretagne. 

Ma région, c'est le Dorset.  

Là-bas, on ne connaît pas l'extrême. 

Les paysages de mon enfance sont en nuances, en courbes, en rondeurs. 

Les collines se succèdent à la mer. 

Le climat tempéré ne varie point d'une année à l'autre.

Plus jeune, c'était depuis là-bas que je rêvais d'ailleurs... 
  ...mais le Dorset, ça sera toujours mon point d'ancrage.

Voilà plus de six mois que je n'ai pas mis le pied en Angleterre. J'adore ma vie montagnarde mais de temps en temps, le désir de rentrer vers l'origine, vers les sources est très fort. 

Sans me retourner, je fonce, prend une grande respiration, de l'élan, et saute par dessus de la Manche qui marque la frontière entre ce pays où tout m’est étranger et ce pays que j’ai toujours connu...

Dans trois jours, j'y serai...

Sunday 20 April 2014

under tension

The early morning scent of brewing coffee. The first rays of golden light out on the balcony. The fleece in my hand is bouncy, soft. Like a tiny fluffy cloud. It feels exactly like it belongs there. My head starts spinning with a hundred million billion willion thoughts. Now is the time to bring them out. Let them breath. With each turn of the treadle, they tumble out. Thoughts only. Dreams. Little sadnesses. As I draft the wool, the wheel twists the fibres together. My thoughts twist into the thread, wind onto the bobbin and are held in place by the tension between my hand and the wheel. It is time to let go, to put tension and stress to better use. It is time to make yarn.  

Saturday 19 April 2014

spud spindle

Spinning my own wool was on my mind over the winter. With the first golden rays of Spring sunshine, I acquired an ancient spinning wheel and set about making yarn.

The only inconvenience of the wheel, is that it can't be easily moved about. And I like nothing more than to do my handicrafts in the fresh air, where possible. So a week before coming to England, on a whim (and if truth be told, as a bit of a joke) I improvised a drop spindle from an old chopstick...and a potato!

All that week-end, I spun for a few minutes here and there throughout the day, getting my fingers, hands and arms used to the different posture and method of working.

I spun at home in short bursts, stood on the balcony after lunch listening to the radio. I slipped the spindle into my rucksack when we went for a short walk across the fields and up to the castle.

Over the week-end, I even took my spud and bundle of carded fibres down to a local barn dance, spinning in the corner by the traditional Gascon band.

Having at first struggled to coordinate feet, fingers and head when I first started spinning with the wheel, I'd imagined spindling to be even harder. Yet experiments with my potato made me realise just how much knowledge I've already gleaned from playing with the wheel.

2 ply woollen (spud) spindle-spun yarn, (23g)

My first attempts on the wheel had been highly frustrating and resulted in a lot of initial wastage. But over the course of the week-end, I managed to produce a satisfactory set of two singles which were surprisingly fine and even. I plied them together in short bursts the following week and was once again surprised at just how easy the process turned out to be. So far, plying my singles has been proving my real bête noire. But I seemed to learn a great deal with my little spud spindle.

Friday 18 April 2014

wild larder

  1) Nettles. 2) Lungwort. 3) Cowslips. 4) Navelwort.  

We haven't had a veggie garden since last spring, when a terrible flood washed it down to the sea. But Mother Nature has been kind to us so far this year, ensuring our larder stays stocked full of fresh greens and vitamins, providing you know where to look  of course.
Nettle soup and pesto. Watercress and navelwort salad. Wild garlic tarte. Beside the river, the green shooting things keep on sprouting. In the kitchen, the possibilities are endless. 

Wednesday 16 April 2014

socks for baby A

Over the weekend, a new little boy arrived in the world! One of my favourite gifts to welcome in a newborn is a pair of tiny socks.

These are a fun and and quick knit, perfect for an afternoon knitting in the woods. I couldn't resist making the newborn size - they really are teeny tiny. They'll have to be used as much as possible now, whilst they still fit, and then passed onto to another small person.

Pattern: Paton's stretch baby socks
Yarn: recycled
Needles: 2,5 mm

*Good job I made up a few pairs in different sizes.... 

Monday 14 April 2014

wild garlic

We noticed it at the start of April. Whilst walking beside the river, it was as if someone had taken a green pencil crayon and scribbled furiously amongst the trees.

One minute it was brown and dull, winter's leftover. The next it was verdant and bright. Spring is slowly creeping in.

Nothing else seemed to have changed. The hills are still muddy brown. The sky continues to yo-yo between blue and shades of grey. But the green, a sea of wild garlic [ail des ours] has been stealthily creeping in for weeks, sometimes beneath snow, to suddenly reveal itself.

We're still waiting for the nettles. But down by the river, there is wild garlic in abundance.  

For my birthday, after the cake, we made a salad from navelwort and chives and a wild-garlic quiche from plants we had gathered in the woods down by the river the day before.