Tuesday, January 17, 2017


I finished the tax. I got it all printed out and all together. I sat down at the computer in a fairly composed state this morning – and couldn’t log on. I have been doing it without a hitch on-line in January for a decade or so. It is as if my anxiety, this year, about whether I could do it, has itself created the problem.

I floundered about for quite a while, finding various help screens into which I typed my husband’s Taxpayer Reference Number and his National Insurance Number, each of them a unique identifier, let alone in combination, and they kept saying they could find no such account. Finally I got through, and they are going to send me in the post a new Government Gateway User ID – I think that’s the problem.

There’s still time, although if the new number doesn’t get me in I don’t know what I’ll do.

And there’s still Perdita’s operation, scheduled for Thursday,  to worry about. She’s still in heat, although it’s subsiding. We’ll see, tomorrow.

Meanwhile knitting continues well, very comforting on so stressful a day. I’ve reached row 57, of 86, in the border pattern of Mrs Hunter’s shawl.

And I found myself wondering, when did charts come in? and why? Was there a pivotal moment? For lace knitting, Amedro’s “Shetland Lace” in ’96 – good heavens! as late as that! – must have been the last serious text-based lace book. Hazel Carter’s “Shetland Lace Knitting from Charts” – the title implies that that wasn’t then the norm – was published in 1987.

Mrs Hunter’s pattern is so easy that I haven’t had to chart it. It’s meticulously accurate. But – this is hard to express – the ()’s and the *’s don’t exactly relate to the motifs and it has been difficult, sometimes, in the modern idiom, to get my head around what’s going on. Whereas I have knit many of Amedro’s patterns and have loved the gentle rhythm of her “take”’s and “cast”’s.

I have knit a couple of things from the remarkable Bestway leaflet – “Traditional Shetland Scarves and Shawls” – which I hope Jamieson & Smith still sell. My only possible recourse, there, was to chart the patterns row by row. The accuracy of the proof-reading there is simply astonishing.

Somewhere in my extensive archives I think I actually have a pattern for a Fair Isle sweater, cut from a magazine, in which the pattern is written out row by row: K4blue, 5 yellow…. I think the first Kaffe Fassett pattern I ever saw, in a VKB of – what date? I’ll see if I can find it tomorrow – was more or less like that. “Glorious Knitting”, 1985, is firmly charted.

Maybe it was just the inexorable rise of common sense.

Monday, January 16, 2017

 A good day, certainly a busy one. The shawl has advanced to somewhere-in-row-53 of the border pattern: I think just about qualifying for my two-a-day goal. Last night’s catheter problem resolved itself satisfactorily – a nurse came fairly promptly, found that the catheter was draining successfully, deduced that it had previously been kinked. A fairly good night’s sleep was had by all.

And we had a splendid visit this morning with Anthony Bryer’s widow, my old friend Jenny

She told us a wonderful story about an obituary, in the Guardian, of some famous Greek, alas! unknown to me. The obituarist had submitted it with a photograph showing the dead man, Bryer, and the famous Byzantine historian Stephen Runciman. The Guardian, having the wit at least to recognize Runciman, had wrongly deduced that of the remaining two men, Bryer with his splendid beard and wild hair, was more likely to be Greek than the smoothly dressed third man, and had cut the photograph down to him.

Bryer and Jenny were in an airport somewhere – Belfast? -- when she went to buy the paper and found her husband’s photograph on the obituary page.

And the other thing I learned was that in England – in Birmingham, at least – there is no social care for the prosperous middle classes.

That cuts both ways: it means that Bryer never languished in hospital as my husband did for so many weeks last year, and the year before. The family had to hire help, and they did, and he came home. The NHS, obviously, benefits as well: a bed un-blocked.

Whereas in Scotland, social care is available with no reference to a means test. Two carers come to us four times a day, free of charge. But my husband had to wait a long time for the “care package” to be put in place.

The odd thing about this is that, with all we keep hearing at the moment about Crisis in the NHS, the general feeling I get is  that things are worse in England than in Scotland. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? I am sure there are at least as many seriously poor people, per capita, in Scotland as in England. I need more figures, and am not going to exert myself to acquire them. I remember telling Rachel once (=London) what we pay in council tax, and she said, That can’t be right, Mummy. But it was. Maybe that’s all there is to it.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Here we are. My husband’s catheter is, apparently, blocked. A nurse has been summoned. He is fairly comfortable, and may sleep. I must stay alert until she comes.

Knitting went well today. I am embarked on Row 51 of the shawl border (of 86). The second branch (from the bottom) of the Tree of Life is beginning to appear. I’m terribly glad to know that your Houlland is progressing, Shandy. It does look like fun.

I have been rather taken by Veera Valimaki’s “Breathing Space” pattern – it’s on Ravelry’s front page at the moment, well down towards the bottom. I am greatly drawn to asymmetry, and have never actually attempted it. I am slightly afraid that this one would just look as if I’d done it wrong.


My sister says she has had an income tax scam like the one I told you about the other day. We have been trying to think how the Bad Guys might actually get hold of any money. She found hers in voice mail – which presumably means that it wasn’t a recorded call, as mine was. If I had responded, the Bad Guy’s first job would have been to find out who I was: cat? butler? Jean? Ham*sh? Even in the interests of science, I would have been reluctant to divulge even that much information.

I suppose they go on to ask for a large payment into a government-sounding account and then they’ll drop the “case”.

I made some progress today with tidying papers and printing spreadsheets. I’m ready to roll with the actual return tomorrow or (more likely) Tuesday. The Money sections of the weekend newspapers are full of stories about how we need to get cracking.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Perdita is in heat -- which makes it easier to bear the prospect of the spaying. She has to sleep in the kitchen when she's in this state, because she's too restless for her usual place with me. But she has figured out how to open the kitchen door from the inside.(You just have to slip your paw under the door and pull it towards you – the latch won’t hold.)  I had to get up twice last night to deal with her, apart from getting up on other occasions to improve the position of my husband's pillows. I'll have to find a more secure place for her tonight.

Otherwise, nothing much. I did no tax today -- spent the afternoon time instead watching a very favourite movie, "King of Comedy". A tour de force for de Niro, directed by Scorsese, written by nobody I've ever heard of. It is often interesting, seeing a film one loves and remembers, to notice the shots one has completely forgotten. In this case, I was surprised to find a knitting scene. Not entirely plausible, but the knitter was meant to be understood as crazy. 

And I won't get the tax filed on Monday (although I hope to get more tidying of papers done tomorrow). Because a very dear old friend is coming to call -- Anthony Bryer's widow, but much more than that to me.

When we moved to Birmingham in the late summer of '70 (with a litter of kittens amongst the paraphenalia), I happened to see an ad in the local paper for a Latin teacher at the local school. They must have been desperate, just before the beginning of term -- I knew nothing about teaching. They bravely took me on. Jenny was the Deputy Head, and also Head of Languages. She was a pillar of strength, and has been a dear friend ever since.

Her husband Jess was a lecturer in French at the university nearby. He died young. So did Bryer’s wife Liz a few years later. And eventually Jenny and Bryer married. The only drawback on that happy occasion, to which the ghosts were as welcome as the living, was the thought that one or the other would probably have to go through such a bereavement again.

Jenny's sister, as it very happily happens, lives near here, on Dundas Street. Jenny is here because her sister's husband is celebrating his 80th this weekend. 

Meanwhile, the shawl had a very good day -- nothing like movie-watching. The Tree of Life is well established.

Friday, January 13, 2017

It was a comfort, Hat and others, to hear that you had suffered the very same scam I had yesterday, that recorded telephone call from "HMRC". Of course it couldn't be real -- what if the cat or the butler had answered the phone? And indeed, was it addressed to me or to my husband? But that deep, authoritative voice did rather shake me.

Alexander says that he never pays any attention to any recorded phone call. That's probably a good principle of life.

I think I've finished the tax. The final bit is always easier than I expect. I'll let it simmer for a couple of days while I tidy away all the paper and print out the spreadsheets -- then try to file on Monday or Tuesday.

And the shawl has had a good day, too. I've reached (although not finished)  row 43: the half-way row, and the one in which the final motif, the Tree of Life, is established.

Poor Perdita had her pre-op examination this morning -- Helen took her. She's booked in for spaying next Thursday. I will have a miserable week in anticipation. She will be spared that. But she will then be subjected to fear and pain, by my choice. And the worst, I feel, is that after depriving her of her God-given right to wander about peeing in our neighbours' finely-raked seed beds and munching their song-birds (because she is entirely house-bound) we are now going to deprive her of kittens.

But will we ever be able to get her back into the cat-carrier? She's not stupid.

I am surprised that I can't remember much about the spaying of our Dear Old Cat. She had had several litters and both she and we felt that enough was enough. But it must have been I who took her to the vet and Had It Done, and I can remember none of that.

Different subject: parts of GB have been having some rather strenuous weather yesterday and today. Edinburgh has got off fairly lightly. Alexander came over from Glasgow yesterday, where things were worse, and as we talked about it I was reminded of one of my favourite poems:

Where is the Weather?

The rain may fall in Aberdeen,
But in Dundee it can’t be seen.
In Derby the snow may be high,
But there is none in Hay-on-Wye.
In London the wind can’t be heard,
But there are gales in Hereford.
If you don’t agree with me,
Go somewhere else and you will see.

                        David Malcolm, age 9
                        Ledbury Primary School, Hereford


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Perdita has been booked in for spaying. Helen will take her down to the vet tomorrow morning for a pre-op consultation. I am deeply distressed. Fortunately the.poor animal won't worry.

Thank you for your kind comments. The fireplace, pre-mosaic, was a blank square of plasterboard. We have other open fireplaces (although we've never lit a fire in this house). I think Helen made the mosaic flat on a workbench in her studio. It came here supported from behind on some sort of adhesive mesh. Most alarmingly, on Installation Day, she cut it apart into six or seven pieces which she and the nice Grouting Man then assembled into the fireplace.

I suspect that mosaic-making, like knitting, takes so long to do that it's hard to make a living. 

I'm very pleased with the shawl. The colour looked a bit sepulchral to start with, but now seems like the sort of thing a costume designer would choose for a poor-but-honest character in a 19th century television drama. That's what I want. This is to be a shawl for use -- for bundling up a summer baby and taking it down to the pub for lunch.

I reached row 40 today, the first border decrease row. That’s a landmark, surely. And I'm nearly halfway through the border -- that'll be another. And I'm nearly finished with the second row of motifs and ready to start, in row 43, the third and final one. Yet another!

The tax went well, too. I think all the hard work is done -- Syngenta is no more, whatever it was. That simplifies things. 

I had a funny recorded phone call today. A man with a deep voice told me that HMRC (=Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs) was initiating a case against me. "To speak to your case officer, press One." 

Phishing, presumably. The tax man may well come for me one day, but I don't think it will be quite like that. But the call was well-calculated and well-timed to prey on January's anxieties, and sounded almost authentic.

Non-knit, non-tax

The January 16 New Yorker pitched up here today. My husband and I increasingly find that we can’t understand the cartoons. My sister is coming for a visit in early Feb – it might be instructive to have her take us through the then-current issue.

But on page 56 of today’s issue is one we will cut out and keep in our current bedtime-reading book: “Look alive, Proust, you’re next”. We’re doing rather well with Proust.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Another good day, I guess, although I feel as though I am shouting to you from a distant shore.

I advanced the tax. In fact, I think the only remaining income problem is Syngenta. Who are they? Why does my husband have shares in them? And, more to the point, did they pay him anything in 2015-2016, and if so how much? And into which account? The rest, I believe, is all downhill.

I have been eager for a financial document to arrive in the mail, so that I could exercise my resolution of dealing with such things fully, and at once. Today one did, and I did.

And the shawl has achieved its two rows, or just about.

Here it is:

Not as expressive a pic as I had hoped. At least you can see that I'm getting somewhere.

And here’s the mosaic:

You will (justifiably) conclude that I need to tidy the sitting room. We need to rearrange it – the fireplace used to have a sofa in front of it. Now, we want to keep the mosaic fully in view. Neither of these pictures fully do it justice. 

The icon on the mantelpiece is Helen's work too.