To Cumbrae and back through the Scottish borderlands

Last Monday we left our home near Berwick and drove over the country to the Scottish west coast, roughly on exactly the same longitude as our home in England. It has always fascinated me that we are so close, have so much in common … and yet are so different.To our delight, whilst English Berwick on the east coast was bitterly cold, Cumbrae, in Scotland on the west of the UK, was sky-blue – shorts and sandals weather! We waited for the ferry to take us from Largs to the Isle of Cumbrae.Our visit to the Isle of Cumbrae was prompted by my wish to visit West Kilbride and some very talented Scottish craftswomen there.¬† Stephen was tasked with finding us somewhere to stay in the locality … and he came up with the College of the Holy Spirit, which adjoins the Cathedral of the Isles on Cumbrae.These establishments were designed by¬†William Butterfield in 1851, at the request of the 6th Earl of Glasgow,¬†George Frederick Boyle. Boyle was an enthusiast of the Oxford Movement, believing in the reinstatement of older Christian traditions.¬† He wanted the College to train priests for the Episcopal Church – perhaps like the men enjoying the College grounds in this old print below.Alas, Boyle, an enormously generous and devout man (he was also pouring money into the building of Perth Cathedral at this time) depended too much perhaps on divine providence – Dominus Providebit (God will provide) is the Boyle family motto – and went bankrupt in 1885.Luckily the College Chapel had been consecrated as Cathedral for the Scottish Episcopal Church United Diocese of Argyll & The Isles in 1876, so the Diocese was already responsible for these buildings.

The Cathedral Spire towers over the island, even when glimpsed from the hills above.We first glimpsed it through the trees. You get an idea of Butterfield’s original concept¬†from this drawing that appeared on the front of “Butterfield Revisited”, edited by Peter Howell and Andrew Saint, and published by the Victorian Society. The Cathedral stands proud, surrounded by manicured lawns, with a young avenue of lime trees.That’s not how it is now!¬† The Diocese may have funded the Cathedral buildings, but there was no money to pay for garden upkeep.

By a magical transformation, those uncared gardens have become wild and more beautiful than one could imagine. Trees have grown up everywhere – the lime avenue is enormous. Underneath the trees, are masses and masses of flowering ramsons (wild garlic).The fine lawn banks host bluebells as well as the ramsons.I do¬†so hope George Boyle¬†is not turning in his grave as he contemplates the changed garden!¬† He is indeed buried here – in the large flat tomb in the foreground of this picture. He must have loved this place very much. It is extraordinary to find such¬†buildings on such a tiny island. Butterfield’s vision of this small group of buildings is harmonious and elegant.¬† Here you have the windows of the Lady Chapel, the Cathedral and the Refectory – all varied in pattern and size, but united in stone and form. And look how very deftly Butterfield has highlighted the Cathedral window with the¬†descending dove of the Holy Spirit¬†above it.We stayed in the North College which had once housed the choristers. Our room was the upper left hand window, set amidst the tiles.¬† We had the place to ourselves¬†for the first couple of nights, and after that only another couple came and stayed at the other end of the building.¬†It was extraordinary!The rooms are called after Christian virtues.¬† Ours was Fortitude ……hmmm.Inside was all dark wood and heavy carving. The corridor …The fireplace in our bedroom …..¬†huge and cumbersome!The common room …What I didn’t like was the inside of the Cathedral.¬† It looks OK from here …But once you go up into the Chancel, you get tile madness!¬† I don’t care for the Victorian tones of green and brown anyhow, but, that to the side, it looks to me as though some student was told to see what variety of patterns they could come up to fill the space available. It’s truly tile pattern madness!Sometimes we joined Warden Amanda and Lay Chaplain Alastair for morning and evening prayers – quiet and peaceful, though the Scottish rite (just slightly different from the Anglican one we know) caught us out a bit¬†…Outside the calm inner sanctuary¬†lurked danger … In the evenings we explored Millport.¬† I don’t think the authorities¬†meant us to take this image away with us ….And we chuckled at this …..There are¬†lots of boarded up properties round Millport, looking just a little¬†bit sad and unloved … Masses of rabbits everywhere … (not an easy place to be a gardener, I guess) …Including several black ones (or was it the same one and¬†it just got¬†round a lot?) ¬†…After our evening walks,¬†we went¬†back to the College and lowered the ecclesiastical tone, sitting in the warm, evening sunshine with a bottle of wine …The road round Cumbrae is perfect for cyclists of all ages.¬† This looks like a 1960s group setting out to enjoy a bicycle ride en famille.You can hire all sorts of cycles …We hired two quite ordinary bikes to get round the island.¬† This was extremely brave of me since I haven’t been on a bike for well over 15 years.¬† It was a glorious ride, and despite much moaning on my part (the seat was horribly uncomfortable), it was a wonderful experience.Picnic lunch and an opportunity to enjoy the view of the islands of Bute and Arran (grey and lowering in the far distance).I don’t think I¬†have ever seen a war memorial as powerful as this. It is dedicated to the men and women of the British and Allied forces who have no known grave.After our bicycle tour of the island, we¬†spent a couple of days on the mainland about West Kilbride. I got to do the workshop that I have longed to do for so long with lovely Lorna of Chookiebirdie.¬† We spent an entire day sewing together …. Oh, just look at this sewing heaven!Lorna¬†was teaching me to make paisley botehs like these ones of hers.And I was so thrilled with what I made that I have only just stopped carrying it round with me!Another day I finally got to visit Old Maiden Aunt’s¬†yarn shop in West Kilbride –¬†somewhere else¬†I’ve longed to go to for ages! So many gorgeous colours.¬† And we got to peak into her dye studio too. As an amateur dyer, it’s fascinating for me¬†to see her professional systems – though perhaps the multi-coloured spatters behind the pots is the give away that Lilith herself might not call it that …I have to confess that I find yarn buying overwhelming.¬† I may have decided that I am going to make a green scarf, and need green wool, but when I see the yarns available, all my carefully thought out plans go awry.¬† This is what we came away with – all lovely stuff, but not a lot of green, and certainly not the grassy-greens I had in mind …At the Barony in West Kilbride we found an amazing exhibition of¬†Radical Craft.¬†Doesn’t this Landfill Tantrum by Pinkie MacLure just say all you really long to say about waste and rubbish and pollution?!!Who¬†could not love Rosemary McLeish’s What I Do When I Don’t Do The Ironing ?! Dedicated I think to all those who hate¬†this chore¬†…But the pi√®ces de r√©sistance for me were these two works paying homage (as it were) to Angus McPhee.¬† They were both made by Joanne B Kaar – the boots are copies of Angus McPhee’s orginal boots (those too fragile to be exhibited now) and she made the hats in the spirit of his work. I came upon¬†the story of Angus McPhee from Donnie Monro’s song, Weaver of Grass.¬†¬†As far as I can see the pop song world is dominated by mostly saccharine love songs, so ¬†it amazes and delights me to hear such a glorious song about a mentally ill man. Perhaps it is really¬†a love song in another guise …..

Time then to say goodbye to the little Isle of Cumbrae. The weather was changing as we headed back to Largs …On to sunny Sanquhar – another place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time because of their famous¬†knitting designs.¬† The little Tolbooth Museum there is a gem …Holding information¬†about and examples of¬†lots of historic¬†Sanquhar knitting patterns …..We were also interested in the displays there about the local brickworks.As it happens, we have a small collection of¬†lettered bricks.¬† This started with us finding them on our local beach at Spittal.¬† There is an¬†entire history of northern English and Scottish collieries and brickworks to be revealed from those names.¬† Luckily the lovely museum attendant at the Tolbooth Musuem knew just where to send us!And so we found ourselves quite unexpectedly rooting around the old Sanquhar brickworks.There were the sad remnants of the buildings ….And we found a brick or two …..Most poignantly, Clarks Little Ark, an animal rescue shelter at this site, have constructed a memorial wall of the old bricks for those dear ones they have lost.Finally our last stop in Sanquhar, the Euchanfoot B & B – and, yes – would you believe it! –¬†more bricks!¬† (along with a very comfortable room and delicious breakfast).Norma, our lovely hostess, explained that the collapsed old mill buildings which stood at the end of her garden were now just a pile of¬†local bricks.¬†¬†So there we were, brick-foraging again ….Time to go home – perhaps crawl would be a better description for¬†our heavily-brick-laden car. The weather got nastier and nastier as we travelled up through the Lowther hills …Still extraordinarily beautiful ….We had decided to travel back via the source of the River Tweed, high up in the Lowther Hills. There, masked in the mist and murk, we found this sign. From this point, a tiny stream and all the little tributaries that run into it flow eastwards to where it meets the sea on Spittal beach.This is an iconic spot to many (including us) because it is a great river. Appropriately there is a finely ornamented stone, incorporating words that speak off the Tweed: “it is one of Britain’s cleanest rivers …”Sadly, it was not a clean site.¬† The rubbish was disgusting and a terrible reflection on lazy, casual visitors. I have an uncomfortable idea that people feel they have license to behave so because Dumfries and Galloway council have not provided a litter bin ….Oh dear, what a negative way to end a great holiday!¬† So I won’t.¬† As we travelled through the Borders, the sun shone through the damp leaves, and we slowed down to enjoy the wonderful countryside …. and an antique Rolls Royce … Festina Lente!

In defence of the humble seagull

The local press is full of shock horror stories about the modern devils of the high street: the seagull.Apparently some one in Berwick has taken to shooting them, and our local MP is warning against such vigilante action.¬† I have to agree with those who write about the disgusting mess the seagulls leave in our towns and cities. A brief walk around sunny Berwick a week or so ago, left that in no doubt. Would you want to sit here?Other councils are talking of handing out hefty fines (¬£80!!) for those who feed these high street pests.¬† There is no doubt that the seagull does have a sharp eye for rubbish!A recent walk around Berwick revealed another world high up above all the human busyness¬†… a world of watchers and waiters … waiting to swoop presumably for that tasty morsel …However, we are lucky because we see another side of the gull story. And just at the moment I’m missing them.

One of the pleasures of the slower wintry days has been field-watching. These fields, looking south towards Scremerston and over the coast towards Holy Island, are very familiar to us now. Here, after heavy rain last November, you can see the old parish boundary marking the borders of the Municipal Borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed. It reappears in the form of the curved waterway running over the field between the two larger ponds.The ponds lingered – and came and went.¬† As did the gulls. Sometimes there’s just a solitary gull …More often there’s a host of gulls arriving …and¬†working the field¬†…There are visitors too on the far pond …They come and go …Now the fields have dried up and the winter crops are growing so these visitors have gone …Not entirely. A¬†solitary gull has been known to come and eat at our table …Leaving in haste, when sighted! They are funny birds to watch close up because their descent and take-off can be so very clumsy.We don’t have to go far to see the gulls on the beach. Just how glorious can they be when sighted in feeding frenzy as on¬†this cold winter’s day several years ago.An everyday walk down to the Tweed shows them speckled over the river …Sometimes you see a little more besides …They have a talent for striking the stylish pose – always good at finding a fine vantage point.And they can be hilariously funny too.¬† One summer we watched this young greedy gull pester its parent for food …The parent gave way, fed the baby bird (aren’t they the ugliest babies you have ever seen?!!) …And then tried to leg it as the youngster begged for more …We’ve also seen¬†harsh reminders on the beach that life for the gull can be all too nasty, brutish and short …Part of our beach treasure collection at home is this seagull “crown” …We think it belonged to a seagull chick or fledgling that was unfortunate enough to meet a raptor very early in its life. The underside is soft downy feathers and fragile bone.The cats love playing with it … just check out this natural born killer … those claws!Perhaps the best time to enjoy gulls is when they plough the fields – more often in the autumn round us than the spring.Aaaah – the light on those wings as they scramble to follow the plough!If you’re of a certain age (as I most definitely am), you’ll recall Richard Bach’s book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. In very very brief, it’s the story of one particular gull’s striving for perfection in flight.It’s about soaring, swooping gloriously above …Catching those perfect thermals …About exhilaration …About freedom …I love Jonathan Tulloch’s description of seagulls as “raggedy angels”. Writing of his stay in a Birmingham hotel in a recent edition of the Tablet, he says: “[…] all I could hear were seagulls. I opened the window and their kookaburra-like laughter filled the room. There they were, soaring over the skyline on slightly tattered wings like raggedy angels.” How very much more vivid is this evening view of Tweedmouth for the gull soaring in the sky above?¬† It hints at that raggedy angel’s view – worlds and aspirations and hopes of which we mere mortals can only dream. (Apologies both because I am being slapdash in using the common term Seagull for what I know are several different breeds of birds.¬† And secondly, because my iPhone5S is woefully inadequate to the challenge of photographing these fantastic birds.)

An absence of birds and rain

It has been a slow and boring March for us here, with painting, painting – and it seemed – yet more painting …We had a new porch built outside our front door last December.¬† It’s on the colder, north side of the building, so gives us extra protection with a double entrance as well as accommodating all our muddy, messy outdoor wear.All sorts of things had to be done to make it a useful part of the building …And it is finally just about there …But the painting – the oh, so very¬†boring painting – dragged on and on.¬† Little bits all over the house and garden also appeared in need of a paint in the fresh clean light of spring days …We are now making up for lost time, and outside as much as possible, catching up on the garden.Stephen’s potting up of seeds and young plants includes making these nifty little newspaper pots – so ingenious!Sometimes he has a not-so-helpful helper with him …The salad greens in the greenhouse are feeding us comfortably …But it looks like we will have a while to wait for any crops from our raised beds.¬† The problem isn’t just the very cold nights we are still getting (although our days are blessed with sun a plenty).¬† No, it’s the absence of rain …Our water butts are empty.¬† We have light rain showers occasionally, but they are so very light as to make little or no difference.¬† I can’t remember when we last had a decent downpour. ¬†The water butts remain almost empty. So most reluctantly, we have got out the hose …It’s easy for us – but not so easy for the local farmers.¬† At the beginning of April, there were still ponds on the local fields.¬† We watched these with great¬†interest as they provide home and sustenance to the local gulls.This is what they look like now … parched …Walking around the local farms, there is evidence aplenty of parched fields.¬† This is an interesting spot because it is at the bottom of fields that run down to the sea on the right.¬† In other years – in wetter winters – there has not been the same marked run off as we are seeing this year. You can’t really tell from these pictures, but this winter wheat crop has barely grown at all.It’s easy for us to water our slow-growing raspberries plants, but quite a different matter for a farmer with huge grain fields …Elsewhere, the monopoly of bright yellow early spring flowers is over.¬† Those daffodil heads are in the compost heap, contributions to another year …There are flash-coloured tulips about now and lots of forget-me-nots … oh dear, I see something else that¬†needs a fresh coat of paint! The forget-me-nots really come into their own on the other side of our garden fence … this year they are tiny plants … usually double the height …I always think the very best thing about gardening is the surprises, the things you have forgotten you planted.¬† These entirely white narcissi are exactly such a case in point.¬† I have absolutely no recollection of planting them, but I think they are just exquisite, fragile and elegant … Ghost flowers …Another delight this year is the japonica flowering for the first time.¬† Usually in the autumn I collect japonica fruit from my friend in Devon to make quince jelly.¬† Perhaps this year, I’ll have a couple of my own fruit to add to this year’s jelly …There are disappointments too.¬† The rosemary bush has died – and just look at the scorch marks from salty easterly blasts on the snapdragon plant in the foreground …The other big disappointment for us is the absence of birds.¬†It’s true that there are pigeons¬†… hours of entertainment for Eggy (hunched in the foreground)¬†…But there have been no ordinary birds like sparrows and blackbirds for weeks. In February, Ilsa brought a song thrush in to Stephen.¬† He was able to rescue it, and as it seemed fine, we hoped it¬†would survive. However,¬†we later¬†found it dead in the field.¬† RIP beautiful bird.So now the cats wear collars …They don’t seem to be very perturbed by the collars, and are out and about enjoying themselves as usual …But have they frightened the birds away for good? We take heart from a new young blackbird who¬†has been seen around,¬†and a sparrow was sighted on the bird feeders today.

There are still larks. On my knees, as I weeded the flowerbeds, with the sea on the horizon, the sun on my back, my head was full of the sound of the song of the larks – singing their hearts out in this glorious place. Rain and birds …. please come back!

Our local beach walk

I found myself reflecting the other day how long it is since I wrote on this blog about our walks.¬† It is not that we have not been out and about, but with the windier and wintrier weather¬†our walks have been concentrated in the locality. I guess I’ve felt a bit dismissive about these, but I’ve now¬†realised how silly this is.¬† After all, the walks that you do regularly and repetitively right through the seasons, in all weather – those are in fact probably the more fascinating. You see a place through all its changes.

So, let me take you with me on our local Spittal beach walk which we did the other day Рand I will show you why we love it so much!

The walk starts with a rough track from our cottage down to the railway line¬†… and the sea …If you are lucky, you will get to see a train …I still find the passing trains¬†enormously exciting … for extra drama you can, of course, stand under the bridge as the train passes …Today I didn’t manage that, which is perhaps just as well because passing under the bridge with the bright blue of the sea calling you is a pleasure in itself …We turn to the left when through the bridge. You can see the old concrete bases¬†of the beach huts ahead.¬† The beach huts were scrapped long ago, and recently¬†planning permission has been lodged to build modern luxury homes on this land.¬† It will change the atmosphere of the place but I guess they will be lovely homes for some. For now the gorse is just out, it’s a beautiful day – and the beach is calling …Our route takes us over a small green park.¬† There are football posts here now but in the old days, there were all sorts of¬†high jinks here … funfairs,¬†paddling pools , together with an elaborate layout of seating and benches … all gone now …In the summer, this area is used for the Spittal Seaside Festival and on a fine summer’s evening it is pleasant indeed to walk down to the pavilions they put up …And partake of a beer or two while listening to the local talent …There’s nothing going on here today … not many people walking along the promenade either.Peering¬†¬†over the railings (and with tide permitting), you can see some of the interesting rock formations that are to be found on this coastline …But today, we’re going to walk along the promenade for a while and descend to the beach later. This railing was repainted last summer and still looks nice and shiny and blue, in keeping with the blueness of today’s sky and sea …The promenade stretches on right up to the end of the houses (just before that old factory chimney you can see in the centre distance), and then the walk continues on a rougher track right to Spittal point where you face Berwick on the other side of the Tweed river.¬†This beach¬†is much loved by dog walkers …The painter, L.S. Lowry, loved it too, and several of his paintings have been reproduced at relevant points to make connections between¬†the pictures and the landscape.¬† I so love this little red-capped lady standing in front of the blue railings!In mid-summer the promenade is full of folk having fun at the Spittal Seaside festival … Not a lot of people on the beach though …But then this is the very most northern part of Northumberland and it is not a beach for softies … Here are the stoical good people of Spittal rushing into the sea on Boxing Day!¬† This is the North Sea remember, and we are almost in Scotland …I have only ever known Stephen paddle here the once (and this was taken mid-summer) …I’m much more confident!Our first winter here we had serious snow. It was stunningly beautiful and we have longed for its return ever since …And oh, how these little dogs are enjoying themselves!Seriously angry wind and waves like this storm in January last year are – thank goodness – a rarity…A white beach – but it’s not snow …But back to the present: half way along the promenade, we walk down to the beach, and on to the sand …It’s just heavenly walking along this large sandy expanse … the weather is perfect today … just a light wind … shingle and shells and seaweed …Up on the promenade, there’s the play park and the amusement arcade (wouldn’t be a proper beach without fun and games and icecream, would it?) ….Down on the sand, there’s lots of interest. If you like collecting things and the weird and the wonderful like me, you’d love it.¬† There are always interesting things to find … bits of sea-glass, shells, pebbles …Parts of old bottles …Bicycle tyres reconfigured by Mother Nature into interesting beach sculptures …A rattan bench, so conveniently placed for beach viewing …Sometimes interesting graffiti …Sea-foam monsters …And did I tell you that we collect lettered bricks …?Sometimes you find things you would rather not find … (this was in January last year after the very heavy storms washed livestock ….err, dead stock …. down the Tweed on to Spittal beach) …Today Stephen’s found me some treasures …Three golf balls!And a lovely bit of china … (with writing on, always the best) …We’ve had stormy weather recently, and that’s reflected in the state of the beach today.¬† There’s lots of seaweed and leaves that have been swept down the river Tweed …As we approach the Point, we pass the old groins,¬†half buried¬†in this leafy seaweed mess.¬† There on the bank you can see the last of the old Spittal factory chimneys.¬† This area was once full of factories making chemicals and fertiliser.¬† It is reputed to have smelt very bad, greatly to the displeasure of the boarding-house ladies in the posher parts of Spittal …From a distance these piles appear to be all organic matter – leaves and seaweed and branches – but sadly that’s not the case.¬† There is disgusting very human rubbish amid the natural waste …And there is a horribly large amount of plastic bottles.¬† Sometimes I’m organised enough to bring bags for rubbish but I hadn’t expected it to be so bad today.Actually, it isn’t the worst that we’ve ever seen the beach.¬† One December, after serious storms, the piles on the beach were so large they almost came up to Stephen’s shoulder.Of course, these sea-gifts have their advantages …¬† this is fodder from the sea for our compost heap …The birds too love these leafy treasures which bring fine¬†dining …Spittal Point at the end of the beach is where the sea meets the river Tweed …On the other side of the Tweed river is the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed with its fine Elizabethan fortifications … (here caught in a magically wintry sun-setting moment) …And there are the¬†pier and the lighthouse. At times it can appear to be a tiny waterway over to the pier, but it is not …Very large boats like the Marinda here go up the Tweed to Tweedmouth harbour …Just as in Lowry’s day … (sadly this other sign in the Lowry trail on Spittal beach has been horribly defaced by the elements) …The channel is so tricky to navigate that large boats must use the local pilot.¬† Here is the pilot boat edgily leading the way …There is¬†the Marinda turning and straightening into port. It’s always dramatic when a big boat arrives, but these fishermen don’t look that bothered …The Spit – as we call this land where the sea meets the river – is endlessly fascinating.¬† It is a land of shape-shifting, of soft sands and the intriguing patterns of nature. Sometimes there are islands …Sometimes there are ridges and mounds¬†and small pools …Patterns and new colours …An ethereal world when caught in the mist …You never know what colours you may find here …Occasionally we walk down here at night … it is truly magical to watch the sun set behind Berwick¬† and the Tweed …Today we turn back from the Tweed to the Spittal chimney and a mirrored sun …It is here that we see our favourite beach birds, the sanderlings. They are winter visitors from the high Arctic.¬†You can read more about these so-called Keystone Cops of the British seaside in an earlier blogpost of mine Time now to turn back.¬† Sometimes the beach is so perfect that we cannot resist retracing our steps along the beach and up¬†to home on the hill¬†… On other occasions we’ll walk back along the promenade. It has been known to be as sandy as this after the winter storms …They have to call out the diggers before the season starts to clean it all up …Today we’re walking back through Spittal. This is Spittal’s industrial quarter and has a fascination of its own. First we go through the scruffy lands where you can see the last remaining¬†Spittal chimney in its native habitat …On the other side of the road are the¬†old fish-gutting sheds, now part of Berwick Sailing Club.¬† In the old days, these large wooden shutters were drawn back to the walls on either side, and buckets of freshly caught fish delivered for processing …Not far away is the old salmon fishing shiel.¬† Here fishermen would pass the time, eating and sleeping, while waiting for the right tides for their salmon nets …We turn down into Spittal’s Main Street.¬† It is handsome and well-cared for – and unusually wide for a village street. This is because once an old railway track ran through the middle of the street, bringing building stone and coal to the river from where it could be transported down¬†the coast¬†…There is a handsome Victorian school …And church …The houses at this end of Spittal are solidly-built of the local stone. Many of these were boarding houses where visitors from the nearby Scottish Borders stayed for seaside holidays … But the old signs hint at an older history¬†to this place.¬† Surely with a name such as Cow Road¬†at some time people drove their cattle down this¬†lane …?We are now climbing the hill … and we are looking down on the lighthouse and pier … and Spittal chimney … and the funfair … and Spittal’s Main street … and all those nicely roofed houses …Where earlier in our walk we walked under the railway line, here we cross it …The railway crossing manager is to be found in a little hut to the side, and should you wish to drive over the line, you must seek permission …If you’re just walking over, you can just go – but, of course, you take your life in your hands …This pic really doesn’t convey how scarily fast these trains can move¬†… !Now we’re walking parallel to the railway line … still on the lookout for trains … and looking back at the lighthouse and beach …With just our muddy rutted track ahead … This is our private lane, shared with our neighbours, and lovingly repaired by us ….Over the brow of the hill …And a pause to enjoy it all … before we head home for tea.

Tape measure tidies

Some eighteen months ago I posted this picture on my Instagram feed. These are small felt tape measure¬†containers that my mother made.original-instagram-pic-october-2015Several people were kind enough to be interested in these little containers, and I was asked if I had a pattern.¬† Well, I didn’t, but now – over a year later – yes, I do!

I started by examining the oldest tape measure tidy quite carefully. It’s all made from felt with just a cardboard inner at the base and in the lid. All the stitching is buttonhole stitch (also known as blanket stitch), but it is a little bit fancier on the lid, with some woven threads to enhance the buttonhole stitch. It’s very old (with a few mothy marks on the bottom). I’ve had it as long as I can remember, and I really treasure it.examining-oldest-tmt-carefullystitches-joining-pieces-of-original-tmtinside-old-tmtdiscovering-cardboard-base-of-original-tmtI think my mother made the other two tape measure tidies much later in life for sale at her local church.¬† Although she’s used a different stitch (an Oversewing stitch), the decorations on the lid and the rest of the work are very similar to the old one. The only real difference I can identify (apart from the stitches) is that she has lined the cylinder with card.exmining-top-of-one-of-the-old-tmtsexamining-bottom-of-old-tmtsinside-other-tmtsTo make one of these tape measure tidies, you will need:

  • Thick cardboard to make your own templates
  • Thin cardboard for lining
  • Felt
  • Beads
  • Embroidery floss (I used three strands of DMC or Anchor embroidery cotton)
  • Fabric glue (I used Impex Hi-tac Fabric glue)

You first need to select your felt colours.selecting-the-felt-colourwayHere are the templates I worked with, devised from my mother’s old work.cardboard-templates-for-new-tmtsUse the templates shown above to cut:

  • one large rectangle (3 x 11.9cm) of felt for the outside of the cylindrical case
  • one smaller rectangle (2.7 x 11.6cm)¬†of felt for the inside of the cylindrical case
  • one smaller rectangle ¬†(2.7 x 11.6cm)of thin cardboard for the lining of the cylindrical case
  • three large rounds (3.8cm diameter)¬†of felt for the outer base of the cylinder and the top and bottom of the lid
  • one small round (3.5cm diameter) of felt for the inner base of the cylinder
  • two¬†small rounds (3.5cm diameter) of thin cardboard for the linings of the base of the cylinder and the lid

First assemble the pieces to make the cylinder and its base.cut-out-pieces-for-bottom-of-tmtGlue the inner cardboard to the outer felt. glue-cardboard-to-sides-of-feltAnd then glue the felt lining to the already glued pieces to make a felt-cardboard-felt sandwich.glueing-felt-innerBefore the glue dries, it is important to work this sandwich into a curved shape.bending-glueing-bottom-side-piece-before-glue-sets Then you can glue the round base pieces similarly (outer felt base, cardboard lining, inner felt) and leave both pieces to dry for an hour or so.glued-pieces-of-bottom-of-tmtWhen the glue has dried satisfactorily, overstitch the top of the cylinder sides with blanket stitch (or oversewing stitch if you prefer)buttonhole-stitch-along-topWhen you have completed working round the top of the cylinder, join the two ends together, still working in buttonhole stitch.joining-cylinder-with-buttonhole-stitchAnd work down the side of the cylinder, using what I believe is called Buttonhole Insertion stitch (you can see a rather more elaborate version of that stitch here)joining-cylinderUntil you have completely joined the sides of your tube together.completing-felt-cylinderThen you can join the felt base to the tube, again using Buttonhole Insertion stitch.joining-base-to-cylinderAnd working all the way round until you have joined bottom and sides completely.completing-joining-of-base-to-cylinderIt should look like this.completed-baseNow to make the lid.

In one of my early attempts (the purple and pale blue example below), I followed the same procedure as when making the sides and base. I made a felt-cardboard-felt sandwich of two larger rounds of felt and one smaller piece of cardboard (see measurements above). When the glue was dry, I stitched round the circumference and sewed the lid to the base.

Now to have some fun with decoration, I thought!¬† I glued on some leaves, let them dry, and then started to stitch. Big mistake!¬† Because, of course, the completed lid is really inflexible at this point making it¬†very tricky to sew.embroidering-completed-lidI did manage to sew some beads on … stitching-on-beads-to-complete-lidAnd add a little stitchery to the leaves. But it wasn’t at all easy – didn’t allow for anything really fancy.finishing-embroidery-on-completed-lidSo, what I recommend is that you embroider and decorate the top felt layer of the lid before you stick the lid parts together. I decided to work a Chain Stitch pinwheel on this lid.working-the-lid-pattern-in-chain-stitchchain-stitch-pattern-on-lid-completedThen I added some beads.adding-some-beads-to-lidcompleted-lid-embroideryAnd when that was completed, I stuck the three layers of felt – cardboard – felt together.glueing-lid-pieces-togetherWhen the glue was¬†dry,¬†I blanket-stitched round the circumference, and finally stitched the lid to the base.stitching-round-lid-edges-and-sewing-lid-onTo finish,¬†I¬†sewed on¬†a bead fastener, and made a buttonholed loop to hold the tidy shut. Et voil√†! My completed Tape Measure Tidy!buttonhole-stitch-loopNo, better than that, seven little Tape Measure Tidies!¬† My trials and experiments along with the three old ones my mother had made.seven-tape-measure-tidies-old-and-newShould you wish to make a Tape Measure Tidy of your own, I hope you’ll find this tutorial helpful.¬† If any bits are muddled, incomprehensible or downright wrong, please let me know ….

Mending

The penalty for having such a nice time before Christmas making all sorts of fun creative gifts was that a¬†large pile of mending didn’t get done!¬† Despite the exciting projects bubbling away in my mind with the start of a new year, I knew that I had to be strict with myself and clear the decks of some these mending chores before I started anything new. I know¬†I won’t be alone in needing clean, fresh space and a clear mind before starting new projects. It’s deeply important to how I approach a new idea that all the old bits and pieces associated with previous projects be put away.¬† Not so much the slate washed clean – more the¬†spare room¬†bed (AKA my Woolly Room) be emptied of clutter.

So to the mending then!¬†We are great menders here.¬† At the heart of it – far beyond the desire to help our planet (though that’s important too) – is the fact that we like our old things, and it makes us sad to get rid of them.¬† Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than with Stephen and his attitude to his clothes.¬† He loves his existing stock of check shirts with a passion …..err, no, I wouldn’t go that far.¬† But they are part and parcel of our lives, being¬†mostly hand-me-downs from a motley selection of family.¬† His very favourites came from his oldest daughter’s ex-boyfriend, and have never been superceded in affection.

So, though my heart sinks when I see his shirts with frayed collars and hole patches¬†on the elbow like this …stephens-shirts-needing-repairI know how very much it means to him, that with a little loving attention …old-repairs-need-new-attentionActually, particularly loving attention, and very hard work when they get as bad as this …collar-of-shirt-in-a-very-bad-wayThey can be carefully re-pieced ….machining-black-cat-repairIt’s worth it in the end … when¬†they are almost as good as new …black-cat-repair-on-shirtIronically enough, the more loving repair and attention¬†his shirts¬†get, the more precious they become, and the less likely it is that we will throw them out ever!repaired-shirtEven his trousers needed repair this time.¬† I minded this less, because although trouser repairs are hard work, the only damage to these jeans is where he caught the leg¬†on barbed wire¬†…trousers-requiring-repairA new patch carefully stitched on …careful-trouser-repairsAnd a¬†little loving sashiko work …sashiko-work-on-the-trousersI may criticise Stephen for hanging on to old friends for far too long, but truth to tell, I’m just as bad.¬† This chiffon leopard print scarf once belonged to my grandmother, so even though it was as¬†worn as this …worn-out-animal-print-scarfIt’s worth putting in the repairs (even though the fabric is perishing as I stitch)…repairing-the-animal-print-scarfFrom a distance you might say it¬†ended up¬†as good as new …animal-print-scarf-mendedI finally got round to sewing on the replacement buttons on my vintage alpaca coat …replacement-buttons-on-my-winter-coatThey don’t really look that special like that, but up close and personal you can see how very beautiful these buttons are.¬† They also belonged to my grandmother, and I have longed for ages to find a garment worthy of these beautiful mother-of-pearl buttons.¬† Aren’t they just gorgeous!!mother-of-pearl-buttonsSo that’s the clothes sorted.¬†¬†Now you might think that I could rest on my laurels, and turn my attention to a new project.¬† But no, there is more repair work to do!

This is an old wooden red lacquer tray – so worn that the picture has almost completely disappeared. Can you just make out a faint Japanese scene?¬†I broke it a couple of years ago …broken-red-lacquer-trayI must have picked it up carelessly, because the corner just crumbled off in my hand, the wood so friable that it just snapped.¬† Luckily, very easy to glue together, and the tray just looks a little bit shabbier.detail-of-broken-traySome repairs have hung around waiting for love and attention for a long time – because I really don’t want to do them.¬† The laundry basket was just such a case.detail-of-damaged-laundry-basketI won’t tell you in so many words how the damage occurred.¬† Let the picture speak for itself …naughty-ilsa-destroying-laundry-basketI hesitated to get started with¬†repairs because I wasn’t really sure how I was going to tackle it.¬† But once I started – with some of my homespun, hand-dyed yarn – it sort of fell into place. Binding round the edges …¬†starting-laundry-basket-repairsAnd then a little weaving to tie in the broken bits …repairing-the-laundry-basketI am so pleased with the end result!laundry-basket-repair-completedAnd so, I think, is Ilsa!ilsa-loves-the-laundry-basketAnother sort of¬†repair project that I have just completed was to make a cover for the old leather photograph album which housed the photographs of my father’s Australian childhood. Old leather powders and sheds which isn’t only unpleasant because it leaves brown dust everywhere, but causes further damage to the leather.¬† It was housed in an old plastic bag, but plastic can’t be good for leather, so I decided to make the very precious album its own special cover.

I cut up an old tablecloth that I found at a local charity shop and machined a cover together, and then decided to stitch a label on the cover.¬† First to print out a mirror image of the words I wanted to embroider …preparing-lettering-for-transferThen to iron the text on …transferring-lettering-with-the-ironNow the embroidery work …stitching-lettering-on-photo-album-caseIt looks OK …rehousing-the-old-photo-albumA very satisfactory result for a family treasure …newly-covered-photo-albumHmm …. that’s almost it.¬† But there’s one more chore that I made myself face with beginning of the new year.¬† I unravelled my blue homespun cardigan. You may have been one of the kindly folk who gave me advice on this knit – and if so, thank you so very much.¬† I thought I long and hard about what to do with it, and for quite a time, I really wasn’t sure.¬† frogging-my-blue-cardiganThen a new project bubbled up from my subconscious.¬† What about if I used the blue yarn for a blanket project like this little swatch here …..?! Oh, inspiration! Definitely time to frog!unwound-blue-yarn-and-a-new-project-perhapsWhew! That’s it, folks!¬† Am I glad to have finished this batch of repair and mend!¬† Wouldn’t it be easier to just chuck some of these damaged things out, and just buy new?¬† After all, a new laundry basket won’t break the bank …

I couldn’t do it.¬† I grew up with parents who had lived through the second world war, and they saved and scrimped every little thing.¬† Mending was core to their way of life. It’s definitely sunk deeply into my psyche.

A London walk

I found myself in London last Sunday and at a loose end.¬† “A loose end, in London?!”¬†I hear you say. Well, yes.¬† All my family and friends were otherwise engaged, and it was far too nice a day to be inside a museum or art gallery. An exceptionally beautiful day with piercing low winter sun, perfect for a walk – ¬†just icy, icy cold!

There is no doubt that London is a fabulous place to walk.  Everywhere, at every spot, every corner, there is something or other interesting, if not beautiful, to see.

I caught a bus from Mornington Crescent (the 88, should you ask – that which remarkably my very proper grandmother would call the Bastard since it was always a tardy bus) and alighted at Westminster Abbey.westminster-abbeyFar too busy and crowded (and expensive – ¬£20 to go in!!!) for me, so I walked on to Victoria Tower Gardens on the Embankment, through the respectable streets around the Abbey.¬† They speak of another age.¬† Ordinand House with its wonderful plaque of sheaves and fruit trees above the old entrance – perhaps speaking of the spiritual bounty the ordinands were expected to glean, or possibly marrying in with the road name, Abbey Orchard Street …ordinand-houseRemembering my late mother-in-law, Betty, who was a¬†strong supporter¬†of the Mother’s Union as I walked past Mary Sumner Housemary-sumner-houseThe plaque marking Westminster Public Baths and Wash-houses is a memory of a far-forgotten time when people in¬†this now-affluent part of Westminster did not all have their own proper washing facilities.westminster-public-baths-plaqueA marvellously vivid¬†illustration above this building of athletic swimmers and lithe divers¬†promotes the facilities.detail-of-public-bathsI came out into the sunshine and trees of Victoria Tower Gardens, a small patch of green, right beside the Houses of Parliament and running along the Embankment and the River Thames. A freezing, freezing cold day, but this couple were taking their wedding photos here … interestingly, not with the Houses of Parliament or the Thames as their backdrop.wedding-photos-in-front-of-parliamentNo, this was their backdrop, looking further down the gardens to the Buxton memorial. Magical light and shade.victoria-gardensBefore I walked on to the Buxton statue, I had to pay proper respect to the wonderful Rodin sculpture of the Burghers of Calais which most appropriately sits right under the Houses of Parliament – a constant reminder to our politicians of Mercy, Courage, Dignity, Generosity, Altruism.

The original of this statue is, of course, in Calais. It marks the deliverance of the 6 Burghers of Calais from the rage of the English King Edward III (a ruthless king, if ever there was one).  In 1347, his siege of Calais continued to the point where the citizens were starving.  In desperation the Burghers offered their own lives to Edward, if he would spare the rest of the citizens of Calais.  He agreed, and here are the noble and immensely courageous 6 Burghers.  They are weary, beaten, hungry Рstarving actually.  They have nooses round their necks, and the one on the right carries the enormous key to the town of Calais.

However, Edward’s Queen Philippa heard of their action and asked her husband to show mercy and spare these men.¬† And he did!

These statues¬†never fail to move me.rodins-burghers-of-calaisTurning my back on Rodin’s statue, I walked along the embankment to another powerful landmark: the Buxton memorial. This little tower marks a defining point in history – the emanicipation of slaves in the British Empire in 1834.¬† It was commissioned by Charles Buxton in memory of his father, Thomas Fowell Buxton, who along with Wilberforce, Macaulay, Brougham and Lushington fought for the abolition of slavery.

But this memorial means so much more to me than just historical interest – it takes me straight back to my childhood, when we would come and play here. Later on I used to bring my own children to come and play in this park. There are drinking fountains inside (or used to be – they don’t seem to work now), and we children had a lovely time running around and splashing here.buxton-memorialTime to say goodbye to the beautiful beautiful Thames …view-over-the-thamesAnd Lambeth bridge glimpsed through the trees before I turned down Horseferry Road to our little family home – of many, many years – in Maunsel Street …horseferry-bridgeMy father was a diplomat so he travelled all his working life, and, of course, his family travelled with him. But very early in my life, back from a stint abroad, ¬†they moved to a small house in a quiet little Westminster Street. In the ups and downs, and moves and travels, nothing is quite so evocatively stable in our family as this house. Maunsel Street.london-home-maunsel-stWe arrived when I was eighteen months old, and before long I had a little sister.marian-in-pram-1957And in another couple of years, a little brother too. Although I love this picture of my mother looking through the front window at her chubby baby, I find it quite extraordinary that my mother would park the baby outside the house!henry-in-pram-1959Perhaps it was because there was no room inside? The house was teeny tiny for our growing family, and doubtless we all got on each other’s nerves at times. Probably best when we children played our games in the little garden at the back.playing-in-maunsel-st-garden-1962There were family gatherings in the garden too.¬† Here we all are, smartly turned out with the grandparents, for my brother’s christening in 1958.henrys-christening-party-1958We were still there in 1962, in the freezing cold of the winter of the Big Freeze.snow-in-maunsel-st-1962Inside it was very cold too – no central heating, of course.¬† My mother would turn the cooker on and leave the cooker door open to get heat into the icy little kitchen.¬† They made us an indoor play space by covering over part of the outside yard.¬† There was even a sandpit under that playpen. Judging by this photo, we appear to have played there happily¬†and biddably, even though it was always cold.¬† I remember that heater so well – indeed, I think it was only thrown out a few years ago.¬† And those are my father’s geranium plants on the shelf.playing-in-conservatory-early-spring-1959In later years my parents travelled abroad again for my father’s work and eventually settled in Kent.¬† Our last time staying in the Maunsel street house as a family was when I was about 14, and it was a real squash with 4 big children. However, my step-grandfather’s early death meant¬†my grandmother was looking for a smaller home so she¬†came to live here when we left for Kent. She was a great gardener, and that is reflected in the photographs of her time there. No room for perambulators here now!!Dordy wearing batik dress 1971Through my teenage years and early twenties, I often stayed here with my grandmother. I look very smart, don’t I?! But, after all, I was staying with my grandmother …katherine-outside-maunsel-st-1973Other family members passed through¬†– here are my father and brother en route for a French bicycling holiday in the 1970s …rhe-henry-1975After my grandmother’s death in 1980, my youngest sister moved in and lived here for quite a long time.¬† I would visit regularly from Devon with my two young children.november-1991-half-term-visitThere were children playing in the freezing cold conservatory sandpit again…katherine-james-helen-in-conservatory-1986Eventually she married and moved out, and another sister and her baby daughter moved in.marian-louisas-first-birthday-1995Another child playing in the conservatory and garden – looks a bit warmer here, thank goodness!louisa-playing-in-maunsel-st-conservatory-1996The garden is¬†abundant and lush, quite¬†different¬†from what it was when we first lived there …louisa-playing-in-garden-1996And – suddenly – that was it.¬† This little house had been a wonderful central London home for so many members of the family for so long, but there came a time when nobody wanted to live in it.¬† So, with not a little sadness, in 1996, my father decided to sell it. Happy memories – ups and downs, of course.¬† But happy memories.

Keeping us quiet as small children meant lots of walks.¬† When we weren’t walking to Victoria Tower Gardens, we visited St James’ Park, so that is where I went next on my walk,¬†rendezvousing with¬†my sister.meeting-my-sister-in-st-james-parkThe park was absolutely at it’s best, looking magically beautiful. Icy, icy cold – if you look carefully you will see the birds are standing on the frozen lake.icy-waters-at-st-james-parkbrids-at-st-james-parkThe highlight of our walk was the pelicans. Pelicans have been here since 1664, apparently a gift from a Russian Ambassador!¬†They are very friendly, probably because they are also very greedy, and with lots of tourists about hope to get lovely treats. ¬†Which I expect they do – even though there are plenty of signs forbidding the¬†feeding of them.pelicans-in-st-james-parkFamily photos record trips to the park in the 1950s. No London Eye in this photograph.st-james-park-1957In 1959 we visited the park with our fascinating and very dashing American uncle.¬† He had a Rolls Royce – oh, we thought him so cool (not, of course, the phrase we would have used then).¬† Did he drive us all to the park in the car?¬† I don’t remember, but I guess he must have.¬† What amazes me is the casual way he has left the car in Birdcage Walk.bow-with-his-rolls-royce-1959 We all crowded round to be part of the next photo., but judging by the expressions on our childish faces, we were a bit fed-up.family-with-bow-rolls-royce-1959Then we went off to feed the birds – looking a bit cheerier now …feeding-the-birds-st-james-park-1959In later years, when staying with my younger sister with my small children, we would also come to St James’ Park to feed the birds …feeding-the-birds-1986I walked on from the park up Clive Steps.¬† Nothing says Empire like this. There is Robert Clive, commonly known as Clive of India,¬†imposingly placed between these magnificent buildings of colonial rule.clive-of-india-statueBut stop – there’s something new here that I haven’t seen before.¬† Justifiably surrounded by young tourists – because it’s a most touching and beautiful memorial, is this wonderful globe covered all over with doves of peace.birds-of-peace-on-terrorism-memorialThe script on the circular stone behind explains. In memory of the 202 innocent people killed by an act of terrorism in Kuta on the Island of Bali, Indonesia on the 12th October 2002.terrorism-monumentThen on, ¬†up the Clive Steps, through King Charles Street.¬† Here’s the entrance to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where my father once worked.foreign-commonwealth-officeIt’s not the same entrance, but here are my sister and I, having accompanied him one Saturday for some reason I forget, sitting outside the Foreign Office (as it was called in 1959).K & M FCO 1959Farewell ancient memories, distant times! “The past is a foreign country.” The present beckons.¬†Time to return to¬†reality and walk on to Whitehall where I can¬†catch a bus back to Mornington Crescent!