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Balerno 14: 22 – 28 August

It’s Festival time in Edinburgh, which is nature’s way of telling me not to get out of bed in the morning, and under no circumstances to go into the city centre without a machete. Alas, I’ve been suffering from tinnitus these last few months, so the hospital thought it would be amusing to invite me to a hearing test on Saturday afternoon – which meant crossing Princes Street, the Mound and the Royal Mile, which swarm with tourists like bees in a hive. The pavements were packed, resembling those futuristic movies where a zombie-like humanity shuffles hopelessly into vast factories. At one point just ahead of me a Japanese tour ran into a French tour and it was like watching cells multiply under a microscope (I suspect some puzzled French tourists are even now on a flight to Japan and vice versa).

Interestingly,the biggest crowds were outside the Elephant Tea Room where I heard one woman explaining to a party of thrilled children, “And that’s where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter…” – something I find curiously pleasing.

The hearing’s fine, by the way, I just have to put up with a constant high-pitched whine like the sound of a dentist’s drill as heard from the waiting room. But I had no problems listening to a performance of Mahler’s 2nd symphony last night at the Usher Hall, one of the two Festival treats I’m allowing myself this year. Mahler’s 2nd is a piece that never fails to move me – a representation of death, the day of judgment and then a blazing, transcendental finale (with full choir, tubular bells and floor-wobbling organ) to show the soul received into bliss. It was pretty loud in the hall, though I was a little surprised it wasn’t louder – until I blew my nose, my ears popped and suddenly the volume seemed to double! (Oh, you mean that organ.) Mahler wanted his music to encompass the whole world and there are times when I think he succeeded, this world and the next.

We took an excursion out to Crail last week, a sweet little fishing town on the east coast of Fife just a few miles on from Anstruther. (At least we thought it was sweet until we stopped for lunch and discovered the 2 panini and 2 drinks were costing us £20 – that sound you can hear is the clicking of shears as another tourist is fleeced.) But it has a charming working harbour and strong smell of seaweed, which are two of my criteria for a satisfactory fishing town experience. No ganseys, alas, but that’s only to be expected in these fallen days.

My own gansey project is racing towards the finish line. I’ve finished one sleeve, just the other to go. With no novel on hand just now, though I have several ideas I’m playing around with, I find I’m in the mood to relax and just do something manual. So I’m zonking along. I decreased down the sleeve by 2 stitches every 7th row – on the cable row – to the end of the pattern. This gave me 122 stitches by the cuff, so I decreased by 14 to give me 108 stitches for the cuff, or 27 ribs of 4 stitches (kkpp). As usual, I knit a 6-inch cuff so my uncle has some flexibility as to how long he wears the sleeve.

I’m still determined to get the hang of croissants, so I’m trying different recipes. The problem is, if you don’t get it quite right, you end up with what is, in effect, bread dough fried in butter (how can something that tastes so right be so wrong?). Anyway, here’s my latest batch. Try not to think of the 500g of butter when you look at it…

Also, here’s another batch of the bread I gave the recipe for last week. This time I used 950g of white bread flour and 50g of wholemeal flour to give it a slightly deeper flavour and texture. But just to show it works!

Finally, to all our readers affected by Hurricane Irene, our sincerest commiserations. I know it wasn’t as bad as it might have been, but we’ve followed the reports of flooding and wind damage, power outages and discomfort closely over here, and we hope things get back to normal for you soon.

11 comments to Balerno 14: 22 – 28 August

  • Lynne

    I LOVE this gansey! it is definitely my favorite, I just can’t imagine how you get the navy to show up like a marine blue in the photos. The croissants look delicious, but I just gained a pound looking at them!

  • Leigh

    Your gansey is gorgeous, coming along very nicely. When you went to Crail, did you wear a gansey? If so, any comments?

    Love the French-Japanese amoeba-cell division analogy. I wonder what US American – X cell division would look like, and could you differentiate. I am sure you could if only by the traumatized looks on our faces from all the natural disasters that we have encountered this year. (Personally, earthquake and hurricaine were on my list this past week and another one is in the pipeline. Looks huge already.)

    Your croissants are really too beautiful to eat. If they were in a baker’s store window, I think I would just stand and stare at them.

  • Gordon

    Hi there,

    It’s a great pattern, isn’t it? It is, of course, a dark navy in real life, but photographs much lighter – although in the sunlight it has a curious metallic sheen.

    No, I didn’t wear a gansey in Crail, partly because it was a sunny day and I’d have been too hot – which seems odd, for this last week has been cold and wet, more like October than August. I might wear one and start hanging around the harbour telling tall tales to tourists (“Aye, it wor a black day when we lost young Willie tae the giant squid, och, terrible it was, mind if ye’re going tae break a cephalopod’s arm ye have tae break it unevenly of course, since ye should never give a sucker an even break…”)

    Croissants – hours to make and seconds to eat and months to diet…


  • Gordon,

    As usual, your gansey is gorgeous!

    As is your bread – the croissants look very tempting. I’ll be going out of town for the weekend, or I’d try the bread. I’m looking forward to September; I’m going to try your bread. I’ll post about it when I make it.

    We’re going on a weekend train trip from near us to Denver, CO; lots of knitting time. I wonder what I should bring!


  • Gordon

    Hi Song,

    I look forward to your bread experiments! I think I might have gone mad this last year if it hadn’t been for the bread and knitting. (What’s that you say, Mr Talking Table Lamp? Oh.)

    Unfortunately when I travel – especially flying – it’s ganseys or nothing, which usually means I have to take a general anaesthetic or practice self-hypnosis to oblivion or get very bored.

    Have fun in Denver,

  • =Tamar

    Laughing out loud at the cephalopod story…
    You should do that some day, stand around in
    a gansey and tell stories.

    The earthquake was startling but all that happened
    here was that my office chair rolled sideways and
    I briefly wondered what incredibly heavy animal
    had decided to run into the side of the house.

    Regarding the hurricane, I considered the fact
    that if anything did happen to the house, my being
    here would make no difference at all except to put
    me in danger, so I went to visit a friend who lives
    a long way away from the shore. The power seems to
    have gone out for about 90 minutes, or possibly
    24 hours+90 minutes, there’s no way to tell.
    Now there’s another one brewing. sigh.

  • Gordon

    Hi Tamar,

    Glad to hear you’ve escaped the worst of things, one way or another. The media over here got extremely excited, long on journalists heroically standing in the rain and wind, short on actual details, so we relied on the internet and local news outlets in New England for updates.

    I’m not sure the world is ready for my gansey-wearing standup comedy routine – but perhaps I could try it out at the Edinburgh Fringe one of these years…

    Keep safe, Gordon

  • =Tamar

    Reputedly the governor of NJ told people to get the $&$# off the &&^^% beach… which is about what I was saying to the tv when it showed the newsman who was standing in the waves. What part of “undertow” is so hard to understand?

  • Gordon

    Well, given that most journalists are arts graduates I guess their grip on the natural world is probably as vague as mine! Someone did a survey once of a newsroom – I think it was a BBC radio station, and found out that all the reporters – economics, sports, technology, science, environment – were all arts graduates. Which may explain why the news is the way it is…

    Any comment, Nigel?


  • Nigel

    I am not sure about arts grads, but I bet everyone of my colleagues hated doing maths. The most alarming stat is that journalism is a very WHITE middle-class occupation these days. However, the best crime reporter we ever had was from one of the poorest, drug-ridden parts of the city. She was amazing; she was never off the phone, sometimes on two mobile phones at once while having a fag (cigarette) break. We have our share of nutters too, I have a colleague who is clearly deranged and quite possibly dangerous. He shouts at his keyboard when he types.

  • Gordon

    Hi Nigel,

    I sometimes hum to myself while i type at my keyboard, which can be as distressing for bystanders.

    I used to work with an ex-journalist who’d gone into PR and marketing, and he was a stalwart defender of the noble and honourable standards of journalist; when I was talking to him he sounded convincing, but then I’d go home and watch the news, or read the paper, and seriously began to wonder.

    But if you want a white middle class profession, try archives! (Or museums, or libraries, or administration of the arts.) Radio 4 listeners all of them…