Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Day Out

I haven't been getting out much lately. Monocular vision, poor depth perception, and no peripheral vision on the right hand side closes in the big world of outdoors and makes it a slightly threatening place. People and kerbs and steps keep looming up out of nowhere.

Last Saturday was such a lovely spring day, I wanted to be out, but not necessarily out walking the whole day, so we drove off to spend the day in Ely, about 70 miles from London in the fenlands of North Cambridgeshire. We are cathedral junkies, and Ely was one of the first cathedrals we visited when we were new in England. We had been back once or twice, but not for many years.

The Fens are the marshy lands of East Anglia and Lincolnshire, that were first drained by the Romans, and then seriously drained in the 17th century by wealthy land owners using Dutch technology to create rich agricultural land from the drained peat bogs. Before the drainage, the high land areas were often referred to as Isles. In the early years of Saxon Christianity, St Etheldreda, a local princess, founded a monastery at Ely in 673. Her monastery was destroyed by the Vikings in 870, but rebuilt a hundred years later as a Benedictine house. In 1066, the Normans came and conquered, but they did not conquer the Saxon stronghold of East Anglia for another four years. When the Normans conquered, they built castles and cathedrals as quickly as they could to secure their foothold. Ely Cathedral was begun in the 1080s.
The West Tower

 This is the north side of the cathedral showing the exterior of the special spaces within the cathedral in the photos I took on Saturday. From the right is the edge of the West Tower where you enter the cathedral. The nave behind it is 248 feet long. The nave ends at the Octagon, built in the 14th century after the Norman central tower collapsed in 1322. To the left is the North Transept which was begun in 1080. Finally, the large Gothic window to the far left is the Lady Chapel, the largest Lady Chapel in England, added in 1349.

Here is Bob in the South aisle of the nave. The rounded Norman arches with the alternating columns of solid drums and carved piers.

The exterior walls of the nave are filled with Victorian glass that shimmered beautifully in Saturday's sunlight.

The interior of the Octagon roof with the light pouring down into the crossing.

The arches around the Octagon are carved with heads and with scenes from Etheldreda's life.

The North Transept is quite plain, but the symmetry of the rounded arches is elegant.

Except for the painted 15th century Hammerbeam ceiling with the flying angels that appear in two rows along the side edges of the ceiling.

The Lady Chapel is a stunningly beautiful space.  By the 14th century, the Cult of Mary was well established, and every church was adding a space devoted to the Lady who could intervene with her Son to grant the prayers of the faithful. From the first photo above, you can see the Lady Chapel was separate from the main building, connected by a narrow vaulted aisle. The fan vaulted ceiling is dotted with beautifully carved and painted bosses. The  transition into Gothic Chapel with narrow piers and huge windows creating a light filled space in contrast to the dark mysterious space of the Norman Romanesque cathedral interior must have been a religious experience itself.

The Chapel walls are ornately carved along the arcades along all sides. Look closely though and you will see that every face or head has been carefully chipped away. There must have been a thousand heads in this chapel, gone forever, thanks to the iconoclasm frenzy of Thomas Cromwell's Dissolution troops. Thomas has never been one of my favourites because of this destruction. When my reading eyesight went sour, I had only finished the first section of Wolf Hall, and was feeling quite sad for him. When I get back to reading, I will remember these missing heads however.

England's cathedrals do pride themselves on being living monuments, and most of them have examples of contemporary religious art.
The Lady Chapel at Ely has had this modern Mary for several years, but the new metalwork reredos was just installed earlier this year. I am warming to Mary, but this posted sign indicates not everyone feels the same way.

Looking through my photos, and the new book we bought about the cathedral on Saturday has made me realise we are way out of practice with our church tourism forays. We missed so many treasures on this trip. Perhaps it was because it was the lure of the beautiful day outside or perhaps it was the lure of our next stop at Topping & Company, one of the best bookstores in England. (We had been to the Bath branch several years ago, but never to Ely's branch.)

After time well spent supporting a local independent bookseller and a superb lunch of codfish cakes for me and sausages for Bob in the garden of the Prince Albert . . .

. . . We headed to the Oliver Cromwell House . . .
where he lived with his family in the years before he went off to protect England from the King and the Papists, instead of bunking off with the rest of his Cambridge cohort to Massachusetts to found towns like Boston and Hingham and Braintree and Needham and Ipswich and so many others. (It can be very confusing to drive around East Anglia if you have previously lived in Eastern Massachusetts.) I guess that's why there is no Ely, Massachusetts. The Cromwell House devotes a little bit of their display to the question of Hero or Villain? But their answer is clearly Hero.

The House included a very interesting short film on the draining of the Fenlands. As an MP, Cromwell was an advocate for his constituents forced off the land by the enclosures and the drainages. So we headed over to the local history museum for more displays about traditional agriculture in the Fens. Another weekend, we will go back to visit the agricultural museums that explain the technology of the drainage systems that still keep the land from returning to marshy waterland.

A lovely day out. Next weekend, we head back to East Anglia to look at a possible wedding venue in Suffolk.

A Year Out

What a year!
In one week, in the month of March, one year ago my world tilted a bit.

Megan was visiting with her two children, and I was worried that she was ill. No, she was just very newly pregnant, and now we have a second granddaughter, the lovely Trixie added to the world.

Susan was compelled to quit her job at the local museum because a triumvirate of the museum head and two trustees were interfering with her projects and unfairly impugning her abilities. She was offered a new job the following week, and another when that one ended. Unfortunately, museum work tends to be part time and short term, linked to specific projects and grants, so she is still chasing the elusive permanent job. Whilst she was dealing with unfair employers last year, she was also reconciling with a boyfriend after a short break-up.  Last month they became engaged, and now we are planning a wedding for spring 2012.

Bob was made redundant to cap off that week a year ago. Miraculously he was offered another job despite his advanced age. During the interregnum of unemployment from June to October, we discovered the joy of free time, but were reminded of the joylessness of no steady income.

Going forward to another week last year, this time in October, when Bob was preparing to begin his new job, and I was preparing to travel to Massachusetts for six weeks to help Megan with Bibs and Bobs and the baby about to arrive, I went to the local Vision Express for some much needed new glasses. The eye exam indicated a problem in my right eye, was followed by a visit to my primary care doctor, and quickly followed by an examination at the ophthalmology clinic at the local hospital. I had a hole in the macula of my right eye. There is surgery to repair a hole, but no flying allowed for 6 to 8 weeks after the operation, which would have left Megan high and dry with almost no notice. So we decided to schedule the surgery for my return in December.

That's when the problem with the National Health Service began. We have never had any problems before, but scheduling surgeries seems to be a big problem. The December date was cancelled, which I was glad about because I didn't want to interfere with Christmas, in favour of an early January date, which was cancelled on the day before the surgery for a mid-January date, which was also cancelled on the day before for a mid-March date. By this time I knew I had to turn to private care through Bob's private health care policy. So mid-March, four weeks ago, I had the surgery done at England's top eye hospital by the world's best retinal surgeon.

The outcome is still not determined because the recovery is long. A bubble of gas is left in the eye to hold everything in place so the retina can heal, and the bubble dissipates slowly over 6 weeks. At first it occludes all vision in that eye, then it starts to "fall" or rise, since the optic nerve reverses what we see, but it bounces around like a balloon, and light shimmers off of it, so really it is just terribly annoying. My working eye lets me do things, but my binocular vision is terrible, as is my depth perception. I can't sew, but knitting is okay as long as it's not too complicated, hence all the knitting I have been doing. Reading small print on a page is uncomfortable very quickly, but reading computer screens with large backlit type is good, hence all the time I have been spending on-line.

A year of waiting for things to fall into place, and for the most part everything has fallen into a good place for everyone, so I can only feel happy for that, but somehow I feel a bit exhausted from never quite knowing what to expect next. I don't often remember dreams, but I had a dream last night where I got out of bed and left the flat, left the building, and to take a walk around the local streets, when I realised I had not brought my pocketbook, so I had no keys, no way to get back home, and I kept telling myself what a stupid thing I had done. Somehow, I did get back into bed (it's a dream), and I told myself that I would not have this problem again if I simply decided to stay in bed forever. When I woke up this morning, I lay there thinking I shouldn't get up because for some reason I was supposed to stay in bed forever. I was tempted to try it, but then I didn't feel quite exhausted enough for that.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Is it April already?

The Knitting Resolution has been going exceptionally well. Here are some projects finished since the last update at the end of January.

A Hanne Falkenberg kit bought in Copenhagen 5 years ago. A sort of Elizabeth Zimmermann Baby Surprise variation knit in two halves. The cast on rows are the front, back, and bottom edges, knit in garter stitch with decreases until the sleeve edge is reached. The neck yoke is added at the end, after the sleeve is sewn together from the shoulder to cuff, and the two sides are joined together along the back edge of the cast on edge. 

The Einstein Coat, a pattern by Sally Melville, knit all in one piece in the best Elizabeth Zimmermann tradition. The yarn is a heavy bulky Rowan yarn bought by the bag from Liberty when they still had great yarn sales and Rowan yarn was worth buying, early in the century. I have no memory of what I bought it for, but it is the same yarn as the Red Felted Jacket, so maybe I was going to make another one.  My friend Sunny made the coat the winter Christian was born, and I have always admired hers. I am very happy with mine. It's comfortable and it fits.

At the moment it is a neck cowl, but it could still turn into  a cushion cover. It began life as  a baby sweater from the Norwegian Dale yarn company. Despite using the proper yarn, needles, and size directions,  I eventually realised it was big enough to fit a teenager. I love the colours, and the amount of work that went into stranding the design with so many colours made me regret admitting defeat, but I knew I would never have the ambition to carry on with it.

This is literally a little bit of fluff. When London's first modern yarn shop  opened in Islington in 2005, Susan and I were on the doorstep on opening day. We were not as impressed as we had hoped, but we were both taken with the this fluffy pastel yarn with black specks. Very Vintage.  I bought pink; Susan bought mint green. The pattern is by Teva Durham in Scarf Style, but mine looks nothing at all like the original because of various mistakes I incorporated into my version. This is the first time I used short row shaping, and had no clue what I was doing. Fortunately the fuzz hides all mistakes. I'm not sure where or when I would ever wear this, but I still love the soft fuzziness.

This is a real Mobius strip cowl. I always thought they were just the result of deliberately twisting the stitches when knitting in the round, the mistake everyone makes inadvertently once and discovers the sock cuff has a serious problem. But no, a real Mobius strip, mathematically speaking, has only one edge, and to do this knitwise requires nearly impossible contortions of needles and stitches, that also make the initial knitting decidedly difficult. Add to that my unwise decision to use a silky soft Chines bamboo yarn that splits very easily, and this was a project from hell.  Yet an excellent project for hiding mistakes because at least half of the cowl is hidden at all times.
This odd ball scarf began as the Linoleum Dishcloth,  a pattern from Mason-Dixon Knitting, and distributed free on Ravelry. I wanted to try the slip-stitch  technique.  I still don't understand it, but I liked it, and loved it in my favorite colour combination of red and yellow, so I kept knitting beyond the dishcloth square into a full scarf with the slip-stitch linoleum pattern at the borders and a simple checkerboard around the neck. The yarn is Brown Sheep's Cotton Fleece. The original pattern was designed for Peaches and Cream Yarn, perhaps the last cotton spinning company in North Carolina, now put out of business by Wal-Mart. Rest-in-Peace Peaches. Burn in hell Wal-Mart.

And now for a few new pieces.
Trixies' booties which match the sweater I made when she was born.

Easter Eggs for Megan and the grandchildren to use to decorate an Easter tree. The easy pattern is from the wonderful Purlbee website, and knit with Yarn Yard hand-dyed sock yarn.
And my very favourite Easter chick with his mini eggs, also from the Purlbee website. The yarn is mohair from the stash, bought in Boston in August 2007 on the occasion of Bib's first trip into Boston, and Megan's first trip as a mother, and maybe my first trip as a grandmother.