Twisted rib #59things

These socks seem to have been on the needles for EVER, so I am determined to get them finished this weekend. The weather has turned, and there is a hand-knitted-sock-space in the drawer. It's as though all of my socks have worn out at once and this state of affairs really cannot be allowed to continue.


I wanted cheerful socks for the winter, but mindful that I can get a pair, even with a decent leg length, out of 70g, I set myself a task.
Can I get two pairs from one 100g ball of yarn by doing some jiggery pokery with the toes and heels?


It seems I can. This is what is left. 
53g of nice stripey yarn, ready to be used for project two.


And what does any self respecting dyer do with half a ball of self striping yarn?


She dunks it in a dye bath of an appropriate colour and concentration!
All I need to do now (apart from finishing the twisted rib on the first pair), it to choose a nice colour for the toes and heels of my next project.

Have a great weekend!


#59things - A Book Festival

This week I have been on an adventure. I have been to the Wigtown Book Festival, which takes place every year in a small village in the southernmost part of Dumfries and Galloway. 
I've been to book festivals before, of course, as a visitor. In fact two years ago I "pitched" The Sewing Machine to an agent and a publisher at Wigtown and was given useful feedback on my idea for a novel about an old Singer 99k. This year is a bit different though, because I had been invited as an author, and if I was lucky, people would have signed up to buy a ticket to come and hear me talk about the book and about writing and other things. It was quite a daunting feeling to know that people were (hopefully) actually paying to come to the event.


On the way, I stopped off in Dumfries to do a talk at one of the libraries. The group I had been invited to meet were a "walk and talk" gathering. They go for a gentle walk first and then come into the library to have a cup of tea and a KitKat. Once a month the librarian invites a speaker, and this time, it was me.
They were a wonderfully interactive group, and they was a lot of chat and reminiscence about their own experiences. One had worked in couture at the House of Worth, and there were teachers and keen dressmakers as well. 
I love going to do events like this, there is so much back and forth conversation and I always come away with new knowledge and a deeper understanding of lives lived at a time when using a sewing machine was an essential skill for many women.

If you live in Dumfries and Galloway, the library service now has no fewer than FOURTEEN copies of The Sewing Machine, so please do go and borrow a copy!

Afterwards I went into Dumfries, and had a lunchtime meet-up with someone I know from the knitting world, and we sat in the sunshine and drank our ginger beer and talked about freelancing and art and yes, knitting. 
In the centre of town there is a Burton menswear building in art deco style, and surprisingly, it's still a Burton today. It's like an island in the street and on each face of the stonework it bears the words MONTAGUE BURTON, THE TAILOR OF TASTE. 


I stayed overnight in Dumfries and treated myself to a G&T which came in the most enormous glass.


On Tuesday I completed the journey to Wigtown, and managed to get there in time for an event with Gail Honeyman (on the right) who is the author of "Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine". I read the book recently and really enjoyed it so this was a treat. 
She was interviewed by Lee Randall (left), and I was also keen to see how Lee worked with an author, because she would be sitting beside me on the stage the following afternoon. It was very interesting, and quite informal, rather than there being a script. It felt very warm, as though the audience were sitting in on a conversation between friends.


The organisers of WBF had arranged a B&B for me, so that's where I headed next. It was a large stone house, probably 150 years old or more, full of character.
I've never seen a table lamp with a cockade on it before, but it absolutely suited the rest of the decor.


The owners have put considerable thought into the "extras". 
My pet hate is a hot bedroom, and mine was pleasantly cool, but next to the hairdryer was a fleece-covered hot water bottle for anyone who needed it.


And if guests have a sweet tooth, there is a chocolate Belted Galloway cow beside the biscuits!
Wikipedia says that this heritage breed is colloquially known as the "Oreo Cow".


To finish off the quirky additions to my room there was this pair of binoculars! 


It was a fairly dreich day, but I'm sure that when the weather is better you can see for miles. In fact it may be that England is visible across the Solway Firth in the distance.

In the evening, I avoided the literary Pub Quiz (I am terrible at that sort of thing) and instead I squeezed in at the back of the main marquee for a performance of Stand Up comedy by Jim Smith. He has performed at the Edinburgh Fringe, and at the Stand Comedy Club in Glasgow and in Edinburgh. Initially he was going to be doing his gig in the County Buildings which has 180 seats, but it had became apparent that a bigger venue was needed. The marquee had space for 350 and every seat was full.

Jim Smith is a Perthshire farmer. 
His opening line was to ask how many farmers were in the audience.
At least half the gathering put their hands up. 
"Thought so", he replied, "checked shirts everywhere".
We were treated to a wide ranging and very funny commentary on everything from what it's like to be 39 and leaving home (moving to the cottage beside the farmhouse where your Mum lives), the difficulties of finding a girlfriend in a rural community, Young Farmers, Agricultural College shenanigans, and his gig at the "Rural" annual meeting. The Rural is otherwise known as the Scottish Women's Institute, and they have recently dropped "Rural" from their name; a matter of some division in the ranks. He was very clear that on a farm, it's the women who are in charge!

I'm not sure what he would have made of "Oreo Cows" though.


Throughout the time I spent in Wigtown we (the authors - it still feels odd to be part of that gang) were exceedingly well looked after. This was lunch, or a bit of it at least. I do love a nice slice of cheese.

And then at last it was my turn. I had no idea how many people were coming, and had deliberately not tried to find out - what if there were three people, or four? In the event, the McKellie Tent was almost full - perhaps seventy people, maybe eighty. It was a "Tea and Chat" occasion so there were cakes and scones and tea and coffee.
Lee introduced me, and, taking a leaf from Jim Smith's patter, I asked how many people sewed - almost every hand went up.  Lee smiled broadly and said "Natalie, these are your people!" 

The hour flew by, the audience were marvellous, there was both laughter and thoughtful reflection, and Lee was a generous and well prepared host.
Afterwards there was a patient queue of people who wanted to buy a book, and they all had their sewing stories which made it very special. There were quilters and dressmakers and as well as the ladies there were two men who had worked in the Singer factory, one as a metal turner, and the other as a service engineer who travelled all over the world servicing machines and training other engineers.

All of a sudden it was over. I headed back to the Bookshop Tent to sign a few more books and say thank you to Emily who was my bookselling volunteer and who had made it all go smoothly.

Thank you Wigtown, for inviting me. The volunteers were amazing and it was an adventure - the second of my #59things for this year of being 59.


PS  My computer is broken. 
I am taking it to the fruit shop tomorrow in the hope of a fix, but for the moment my only email is on my phone, and I don't have access to any previous emails or documents or history so I am somewhat at sea.
This post was written by uploading photos from my phone to the website and then using my husband's computer to access the business end of the site. 
I am crossing everything that the Mac is not beyond repair, but please forgive me if I'm not able to reply to things as quickly as I would like.


Breakfast photos

It seems that when I posted this picture on Instagram more than a month ago, I inadvertently started a thing. You know the sort of thing. That thing where it just grew into something bigger than you thought it would and you find yourself doing it again and again.
This is thirty one breakfasts. I don't take them every day, because that would be silly, wouldn't it? 
The world is probably not that interested in what I have for breakfast. However, I think that, as a group, it's a nice gallery of simple food for the mornings, so I'm posting these pictures for myself and if anyone else like them, that's OK.
The rolls are all home made; wholemeal, sunflower seed, linseed, sun-dried tomato and chilli (from a Waitrose packet mix), and a sweet version as well. 
If you want to know what they all are, the details are on my Instagram account. 


IMG_3034 (1).jpg

#59things Cobnuts

It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago. I am now 59.
In celebration of this I intend to do 59 new things this year. They might be big things or small things, taste things or make things.
The first of my 59 was to try Cobnuts. 
Cobnuts come mostly from Kent in the south of England, where there is a Kentish Cobnuts Association to promote them.


I bought mine in Waitrose. 
Edinburgh is a long way from Kent.


After a careful whack with a small hammer (because we do not possess nutcrackers), the shells cracked...


... and the nuts were revealed. It's as though each nut has the rings of a tree on the surface.
They were tasty too. Like a sort of milky hazelnut, which is, I suppose, not unexpected. 

So that was #59things #1. 
I'm off on an adventure this weekend so we'll see what that brings.


Jam Jam Jam Jam

Here in Edinburgh (well, on the outskirts), it's been a pretty rubbishy Summer.
Wettest June on record, cold and dreich in July, and August isn't looking a lot better, thus far.
So I'm not expecting much in the way of forage-able fruit, and I seized five boxes of reduced price cherries in the supermarket on Tuesday like a woman possessed. 
I've never made cherry jam, but it's one of my favourites, so I repurposed the olive stoning part of my garlic crusher and set about pitting more than a kilo of Spanish Picota cherries. 

Into the saucepan they went with sugar and a healthy dollop of Certo liquid pectin, and I brought the gloriously red combination to the boil. 
I boiled.
And I tested. 
And I boiled. 
And I tested. 
And I boiled some more. 
I put it all into jars, and the next morning I lifted one of them up the the light - and it slopped about. 
So I tipped the whole sticky mess back into the pan and I boiled it again. 
There must be some trick about cherry jam, but it escapes me. I now have three jars of VERY sweet cherries in slightly less sloppy jam (ish) juice. I reckon that another twenty minutes would have turned them into glacé fruit. 
However, none of this matters, because Gavin approves (he has a sweet tooth) and he has been discovered eating it with a teaspoon.

On Sunday morning, I went and investigated the wild raspberry situation and it was just as dire as I have been anticipating. Nothing daunted, I came home with 75g in a little bag (about enough to fit into a small yogurt pot). 
75g raspberries
45g sugar
A slosh of lemon juice
And boil for five minutes (nothing LIKE the hour or more I had to do for the cherries).

Less than an hour after being picked, we had a (very small) pot of raspberry jam. 
Total food miles = about 500 metres. 
There are more raspberries in the woods where we walk Boris, so I'm going out tonight equipped a couple of freezer bags.
I'll report back.
Any jam-making wisdom will be gratefully received, so please tell me your secrets. 


PS  I've set up a Subscribe option for the blog in the sidebar. It will deliver all the blog posts for the week in a single email on a Saturday, like getting a free magazine every weekend. 

The Guardian NTBP Long List

As a teenager, the family newspaper was always The Guardian.

Or as my Dad called it, The MANCHESTER Guardian.
I never dreamed that one day I would write a book and that it would be listed in the newspaper as being worthy of a prize, but that is what happened this week. 

The Sewing Machine is on the Not The Booker Prize Longlist. 

If you would like to vote for it, you have until 23:59 on Monday.

Visit the website here.
In order to vote you need to create a Guardian account (name and email).
Then choose TWO books from the Long List. 
They must be from DIFFERENT publishers.
Vote in the Comments by typing
Vote Book 1 = (the name of the first book)
Vote Book 2 = (the name of the second book)
And then leave a review of one (or both) of them. About a hundred words, something personal.

Same publisher = Both votes invalid.
No review = Both votes invalid. 

It would be lovely to be shortlisted, wouldn't it?
I know some of you have voted already.
Thank you. 




Last week, I came home from Glasgow at about eleven o'clock in the evening and found this wee hedgehog lying on the doorstep.

It wasn't moving and was lying on its side, which I thought was a bit odd. Hedgehogs are supposed to curl up, aren't they, not just go to sleep any-old-how? The front door light makes it seem rather bright but it was actually dark outside (as you would expect at that time).

I left it for ten minutes and it didn't move at all. We have a significant cat population and although I didn't think many moggies would want a mouthful of needles, there were also the Rooks and Magpies to consider, so with mittens on, I picked it up and brought it into the house. 
It curled up... sort of...  but this was a pretty poor attempt at self protection, so after consulting various websites, I found a cardboard box and an old towel and installed it in the utility room with the door closed where Boristhedog wouldn't be overly interested in the smells.

In the morning it was a bit more lively, so I weighed it - just popped it in a bowl on the kitchen scales. 
One website informed me that this meant it was about five to six weeks old and it wouldn't yet be weaned so I rang the SSPCA and they promised to send someone out to see it. I didn't want to put it back outside in case it had been orphaned and was too young to fend for itself. 
About an hour later an SSPCA person arrived and had a look... there was nothing to worry about. "It" was a "he", and he was well hydrated and by now, quite active. He was about 8 weeks old and perfectly capable of coping on his own.
Back he went into the box, along with dog food and water, until the evening. Hedgehogs seen in daylight are in trouble, so it was important to wait until it was dark (ish).

He doesn't look very big does he?

Five minutes later he was gone. I watched him positively racing across the garden in search of food and adventure. He had quite a turn of speed!

This short video is on Instagram
We are very lucky to have hedgehogs in the garden. About ten minutes after he made his bid for freedom, another, larger one appeared at the back door. This is an excellent reason to leave the grass and the undergrowth a little on the untidy side, I think.
I'm now wondering about buying some proper hedgehog food - I mean, I feed the birds, so why not feed the hedgehogs?


It's Tuesday, 21st March 1911

The strike at the Singer factory in Clydebank, began on Tuesday, 21st of March 1911.
A Tuesday just like today, one hundred and six years ago.

Some statistics:

At the time, about half of the women who lived in Clydebank and who worked outside the home, worked at the Singer factory.
According to the 1911 Census, four times as many women in Clydebank worked in the engineering and metalwork sectors then were employed in domestic service (the main female employment in 1911).
80% of these women were under 24 years of age.

The Singer strike was initiated by fifteen women who worked in the Polishing Department. By the end of day one, two thousand of the total workforce of about eleven thousand were on strike. Imagine for a minute, how that must have felt. 

When I first started writing "The Sewing Machine", I thought it was going to be a novel about, well, a sewing machine. But as I wrote, Jean and Fred and Connie and Donald took over and different themes emerged.

There is sewing, of course, but the characters, and the research, dictated other narratives as well.

It's a novel about employment, about what happens when we are unable to work for half a dozen different reasons and how the removal of that choice makes us feel.
It's about families, and family secrets. Sometimes secrets are kept because people are ashamed, however there are many other reasons for remaining silent.
And it's about craft. We have all experienced the feeling of getting engrossed in a project, whether that's knitting a sock, icing a cake, sewing a dress, or even mowing the grass in the back garden very carefully into stripes. Craft, especially craft which is complicated enough that we need to concentrate, but not so fiendish that we want to chop it into tiny pieces, allows us to switch off when we are stressed, and to heal.

Once a book has been published, it no longer belongs to the author, it's the property of the reader. 
I'm incredibly excited about letting Jean and Fred go out into the world to tell their stories.
Launch date SOON!


Adventures in proofreading


My proofs have arrived.

This means more learning of unfamiliar software; on this occasion Adobe Acrobat Reader. If anyone wants to take up a hobby to keep their brain active, I can heartily recommend the publishing process. It's not the actual writing - it's the editing, the software, the multiple balls being kept airborne at the same time and the scouring of old newspaper archives for obscure dates.

Do you want to know about the weather in April 1911? 
The change in the cost of posting a letter over the last eighty years?
The problems with the potato harvest during WW1?

I can tell you about all of these in considerable detail, but I won't - or at least, not now.

As I said, the proofs have arrived. This is the last step before publication and is simultaneously very exciting and utterly terrifying. 

Can you see those four capital letters on the bottom line?

That is, or will be, the 13 digit International Standard Book Number which is assigned to my book. I confess I had the biggest smile on my face when I saw it in the proofs. Suddenly this has all got a bit real. I can't really talk about timescales at the moment because all the strands of the process are not yet woven together, and the Christmas and New Year holidays have slowed things down a bit. 

As soon as I have dates, I'll let you know.

I hope you had a splendid Christmas and a wonderful start to 2017. 



The kindness of strangers

On Thursday evening, I went to Aldi to do the grocery shopping. I was fitting it in between finishing the copy-edits (yippeeeee) and collecting Gavin from the airport. So, while I wasn't in a rush, I wasn't hanging about. As some of my friends know, I do not see shopping as entertainment, the only possible exceptions being fabric, books and stationery. I have been known to post a photo of an empty trolley on Twitter, and ask my followers to lay bets on how long it will take me to  get to the end of my shop with a full week's worth of groceries. I think the record so far is twenty six minutes, including checkout. 

Aldi is small shop, which helps a lot. One variety of canned chopped tomatoes, one size bag of frozen peas, three sorts of honey - have you LOOKED at the big-supermarket honey section recently?

So I was reasonably confident I could get in and out in about twenty minutes, and indeed, I was lined up at a newly opened checkout counter in seventeen. I unloaded my shopping onto the moving belt and waited for the lady on the till to catch up with me. I felt in my pocket for my purse and ... no purse. 

'Hold on!' I said, 'Can you just give me a minute, I have left my purse in the car.' And I raced off to get it. 

I opened the passenger door, fully expecting it to be on the seat. No purse.  

I ran back into the shop. The checkout lady was ringing through someone else's basket of stuff and chatting away.

'I'm really sorry, I must have left it at home.' I said. 

I stood there patting my pockets, feeling like a prize fool. And then I remembered that I had gone into the boot to get my shopping bags and boxes before I had collected the trolley. 

'Wait a minute! It might be in the boot!' I looked apologetically at the people in the queue behind me. 'Really sorry, I'll be back in a minute.' Again I sprinted outside to the car, and, sure enough, there it was, under a large IKEA bag.  

I grabbed it and walked (I was out of breath by now) back into the shop, waving it triumphantly. 

The couple who had gone ahead of me smiled and went on their way.  

It wasn't until after I had paid for the groceries that the nice checkout lady told me that the couple had offered to pay for all of it.  


Just to clarify, this wasn't a little top-up shop, I had a full conveyer belt of food.  


£39.52 worth of shopping, which two  complete strangers offered to pay for. 

I have no idea who they were, but this was Livingston Aldi at about 19:30 on Thursday 8th December.  

Thank you, whoever you are.  


Helsinki - day 2

18397 steps


Today was a bit more rainy and we were nipping in and out of the shops to avoid the showers.  


Clas Ohlson is a mixture of B&Q, IKEA and MUJI. I was quite tempted by the idea of a Snow Kick, available in lime, pink or purple. 


Or how about a serious piece of snow clearing kit? Your very own petrol driven snow blower.  


All the cardboard boxes Santa Claus could ever need.  


And your very own sauna kit.  


Today was the day the Christmas lights got turned on under the expert guidance of a lady engineer on a step ladder, and her daughter, probably aged about ten. You can just imagine her teacher tomorrow in school - 'Write an essay about what you did at the weekend'. 

After that it was time for the procession, led off by three police horses wearing stuffed antlers.  

These were followed by all sorts of groups. Two batches of people walking Bassett Hounds in dog sized red jackets, and one collection of Dalmations doing the same.  

A vintage tram filled with pensioners dressed in cherry red sweaters.  

A library bus with Moomin on the side (naturally). 

Three or four fire engines of varying vintage.  

An entire ice hockey team complete with cheerleaders.  

A street cleaning/snow clearing municipal vehicle with a scoop bucket on the front and hay bales on the back.  


The cast (or company) from the National Ballet who were accompanied by tin soldiers, mice and ballerinas in numerous layers of leg warmers. I think they were performing the Nutcracker. 


There were Clown Doctors and finally, of course...


... there was Santa Claus in his sleigh.  


The Christmas tree is up, so I guess that means it's soon going to be time for mince pies and mulled wine.  

The procession tour was stuffed with families and young children in snow suits. It was notable that there was no tat - no street vendors selling glow in the dark plastic rubbish.  And the musicians outside the big department store weren't passing around a hat or bucket for coins, so I assume they are being properly paid by the store, which is rather nice, I think. 


On the way back to the hotel we went to the supermarket for some uce cream, and I just had to take a photo of the mustard shelves.  

Thats a SERIOUS selection. I wouldn't know where to start. And this was just an ordinary store, not a Posh shop. 

More tomorrow.  


Helsinki - day 1

Most of our holidays feature a lot of what we call 'mooching' and what other less uncharitable (and perhaps more organised) folk would call 'aimless wandering about'.


Although we have our trusty Lonely Planet guide with us, we took advantage of the hotel's supply of maps and leaflets and set off this morning in the general direction of the city centre.  

This blogpost is as much a diary for me as a public blog so what follows are notes and snippets about what we saw rather than coherent literary observations.  


You know that thing which happens when a double glazing company cold-calls you and you say 'sorry, it's been done' and they reply, cheerily 'have you thought about a conservatory then?'

I can't be the only person to have the overwhelming urge to say 'actually I live in a four storey apartment block on the top floor'. 

In Finland the double (or triple) glazing companies have that covered. I give you, ladies and gentlemen, the after-market top-floor apartment conservatory. You're welcome.   


A concrete turtle.  


More concrete turtles.  


Chocolate nuts and bolts. Yes, I wonder if they work too. 


A nativity scene made from rolled paper.  




The train to... 


No, we didn't.

Tempting though.  


You have to love a fabulous Post Office, don't you? 


And a café made from shipping containers.  


Day one.  

10km walked. 16,183 steps... 


... and they have great coffee too.