Forever

Every so often a book is published which captures the imagination of a generation. Father Christmas delivered one such book this Christmas, to the stocking of a certain ten year old. He read it in one long go, pausing only to eat meals and, when forced to, sleep, so that by the end of Boxing Day he was able to lay it aside with a bittersweet sigh. He didn’t want it to end, you see.

Ilse was curious, as she always is when Seb is immersed in something, so I borrowed it from him to read aloud to her, in the time between supper and bed, snuggled on the couch. By the end of the first evening Fliss was listening in, hovering, perched on the edge of an armchair. By the third evening she was ready and waiting with Ilse for the story to go on, and Seb had come back in to lie before the fire and hear it all again. Even John has had to read it, just to be able to join in with the incessant chatter and renaming of so many daily things. The children no longer walk anywhere, but tack, arms spread to catch the wind. They request pemmican and grog at mealtimes. The newsagent is getting used to being called a native, and takes it in his stride as he measures toffee provisions into striped paper bags.

No-one wants the younger parts. Seb is, naturally, Captain John, and carries his compass around with him. He has done a lot of cartography, lately, and I am not altogether surprised to learn that the hill up the road is, in fact, the Matterhorn. Ilse wants to be Mate Susan, but all too often Fliss takes that role and Ilse is Able Seaman Titty, instead. I, of course, am Mother, the best of all natives, and our own John is Captain Flint with his green parrot and home upon the high seas.

Only Ben doesn’t join in. He’s too old for such games, and not old enough to enjoy them differently, either. Fliss teeters on the edge. I hear her playing, wholeheartedly, when she thinks it is just herself and Ilse and Seb, but the minute I walk into the room she clams up, and pretends to be doing something else. She is in-between, just now, in that no-man’s land between Ilse and I. I catch her longing for both things: for womanhood and childhood, and not knowing which way to turn.

John and I are very aware that these might be the last few months in which she plays these sorts of games. This might be the last time she can be truly lost, as only a child can be, just around the corner, barely out of sight. A cry goes up from the end of the garden: Swallows and Amazons forever! and while there is abandonment in it there is an edge of something else too, of self-consciousness and shame. Soon, too soon, the role of Susan will be Ilse’s every day.

With this in mind, we’ve hired a bothy in the Lakes for later in the season. A little stone hut, far from anywhere, on the edge of a mere. There are rowing boats for hire, and perhaps a chance to sail. We’ll teach the children to make drop lines and fish for sharks and tiddlers in the boundless ocean. They can build dens amongst the trees, and make buttered eggs over a campfire, and walk the mile to the native settlement for their supper each evening. They can wake each morning to that best of all thoughts: now, what shall I do today? and come up with the answers themselves.

They don’t last long, those years between toddling and adulthood. Much as I would like them to last forever, Ben has shown us that they won’t. So we’ll just have to make the most of them, fleeting and precious as they are.

[whohit]forever[/whohit]

This is how

Some people show their love by cooking, or buying thoughtful gifts, or perhaps doing the washing up. I knit.

I cook and clean and sew as well, of course. I grow vegetables, and leave plants and flowers around the house. Some of these things bring me great pleasure. Others just need to be done. And there’s no denying that to sew for someone – or, better, with someone – or to bake a cake and watch your child lick the bowl, is a great joy. A shared joy, and a quick one. Over in an hour, or an afternoon, much to everyone’s satisfaction.

But to show my love, I knit. There is something about those stitches, one after another, sometimes counting, sometimes entirely elsewhere, which is, for me at least, a sign of something more. It isn’t always because knitting takes a long time: a baby hat can be whipped up in an evening. Nor is it about the beauty of the finished product: a knitted dishcloth expresses the same feeling.

Perhaps it has something to do with the solitary nature of it. Knitting is not a collaborative activity. Sociable, perhaps, but not collaborative. Which leaves a lot of time to think about the person you are knitting for, and the qualities of the wool, and how the finished product might look on them.

So many women start to knit in earnest when they have babies. Baby things are small, and quick, which is a blessing when you only have short nap times in which to seize the needles. We then move on to older children and perhaps ourselves. A few pullovers later, our stamina builds, and we are ready for the big one.

It took me many years before John got his cardigan. Hats, yes. Mitts, scarves, socks – absolutely. But that cardigan was a long time coming.

I started it in the spring, sitting in the sun under the tiny bright green leaves of the wisteria. I had a woollen rug around me and I was full of ambition. Two pattern repeats a day, I think I promised myself. It was to be done by June.

The following March found me on the beach at Sand’s End, still knitting. The same rug was spread beneath me, and I was ostensibly minding the picnic things while John and the children skimmed pebbles over the slate grey sea. They threw sticks for dogs, on walks, and ran about, and shouted. I huddled in my hat and scarf, back to the wind, knitting 408 stitches of collar one way, and then the other. After two long rows my fingers were numb and I went to warm them between John’s hands.

It was far and away my biggest project. I’d broken off twice: once for new school jumpers for Fliss and Seb, and again for a thick aran pullover for myself. I was nearly there, though, and that kept me going, until one day it was done.

Every so often I find it draped over the back of a wooden chair, or left in a heap on the floor. Sometimes I have to brush bits of grass or other signs of his day from it. Perhaps I ought to mind. It took a long time to make.

But I don’t. I don’t because I can see that he loves wearing it, and to nag would change that. I don’t because I know a snag or hole can be mended. Because I have no doubt that this knit will still be around forty years from now. All those children’s jumpers, the hats and socks and baby knits, will have been long since lost or worn out or passed on to younger cousins. I will have frogged my own knits to make something fit for a new phase of my life. But that cardigan will be a constant.

I’ll find it on the back of a chair one day. John, I’ll say, you really must let me throw this old thing out. He’ll shake his head at me. You see, this is how it works. I knit things, he wears them, and we both know what it means.

[whohit]thisishow[/whohit]

Peonies

Am I more eager than ever for spring, this year? Perhaps. I scrutinise the garden for signs of life. I note when the sun goes down, later and later. I am getting tired of the same old pullovers, the same old skirts. And yet it’s only February, and much as I would love March to be spring it isn’t, really. Spring begins in April, and takes hold in May. Every year I have to relearn this lesson in patience. To not be disheartened when the mercury drops again after a few warm days. To not expect sunny skies, just yet.

Good things come out of impatience. The spring sewing is well underway, and my peonies dress hangs, ready and waiting, in the wardrobe. The day after I finished it I was stirring the porridge in my blue wool skirt, calling the children to their breakfast. Ilse came running in and stopped short when she saw me. Why aren’t you wearing your new dress? It’s my dress for spring, I told her. For when the sun is shining.

I don’t think I’ve ever finished anything this far in advance. Normally I sew for the children first, putting off the more fiddly tasks of darts and fitted waists until the weather has changed and I don’t have enough to wear. Normally I would be wearing something new the day after completing it. Enjoying glancing in the hall mirror every time I wander past. Getting used to this new skin, until I put it on without looking once at it, all day. Until it has become part of me.

Instead, I am looking forward to wearing it. Looking forward to how I’ll be, when I am wearing peonies. A little more feminine, perhaps, but still happy to weed a bed or shoo the hens into their house. Practical and purposeful, in short sleeves and a comfortably fitted bodice. Able to bend over the sink, or a bed for a good night kiss. Soft enough for cuddling, and crisp enough to cycle into York and meet John for a picnic lunch, on a rug in the shade of the minster.

It isn’t how you look in a garment that matters, but how you feel. It took me a while to work this out, obvious though it is. When I first started to make my own clothes I would gaze at fashion plates, seduced in my teens by straight dropped waists and later by impossibly girdled style lines. I stitched things in silk for summer garden parties, beautiful and barely worn.  Sleeves dangled and got in the way, or were too short and left me goose bumped. I would have looked lovely, had I felt it. Instead I felt no more like myself than a child in a party dress, all the fun starched out of the occasion.

Now I plan the other way around. What do I want to feel like, when I am in these clothes of mine? I want to feel lovely, yes, but also able. Able to do all the things I love, and still have a slight twirl to the hem of my skirt. I want to feel free, but structured enough that I don’t need to pull at a neckline or tug at shoulder straps. I want to be able to fling on a cardigan and find the eggs for breakfast, leaving a trail with my wellingtons on the beaded lawn. I want to be able to throw on my pearls and be taken somewhere smart for tea, just John and I. I want to be able to cycle alongside Ilse, to keep her safe. I want to be able to tuck my toes under my skirt in an armchair at the end of the day.

I get a little closer to this, every time. Each spring’s dress is my new favourite, surpassing all the others. I look at the one I am retiring, shapeless and faded. Four years ago that was my favourite, the very best I had ever made. That year I wanted no sleeves; I wanted the sun on my shoulders. I wanted no collar, but a plain neckline easy to change with jewellery. I wanted a ditsy pattern, in blues and whites.

This year I wanted a simple shawl collar, and cap sleeves. A bolder print. A self-fabric belt, to be loosened and pulled in as the occasion demands. The best design yet, I think.

Next year’s dress will be the best, too, and the one after that, and after that. It is a thing no more static than myself. We are not the same people, from one summer to the next, although we might like to think we are. This year I am peonies: a little bit pink. Next year, who knows? I’ll find out when I start stitching.

[whohit]peonies[/whohit]

Crisp

All it takes is for the sun to shine, and every little detail is thrown into relief. Where did that rhubarb come from, unfurled so soon from soil-bound tender buds? I didn’t see it yesterday, trudging through the gloom to empty the bucket of peelings, yet here it is, crisp and pink against the bluest sky. My mouth waters: already in my mind it is full-grown and pulled, chopped into inch-long sticks and dipped in a saucer of sugar. Already it is boiled in a copper pan, with thin slivers of ginger, and tucked into the larder: an edible memory of just this sort of day. Clear and cold and crisp.

Everything is heightened, today. The garden is loud with birds, the magpies and blackbirds and territorial robins competing with the steady hens in their worship of the welcome yellow sun. They trill and cluck. It has been a very long and very grey winter, this year. There has been a lot of rain, and no snow to lift the landscape. But now the sun is out even the mud sparkles, and the ridges left by my boots yesterday are semi-solid with frost. I took a little longer over my outdoor chores. Hanging out the washing is a task which can be stretched as long as the line I peg it to. The air was cold on my fingertips, the sun warm on my back. Later, the sheets smelt wild, half-dried in the clean fresh air.

This is a day for fine black tea, not dulled by milk. This is a day for toast and marmalade, the bread allowed to cool so that the butter lies upon it in thick cream slabs, protecting it from damp. Lately the shops have been full of seville oranges, and today they have come into their own. I count my  jars greedily, and plan to make some more.

This is a day for sewing, for pressing new seams clean and straight, sprinkled under a hot iron. The settee has fresh cushions, birds and flowers against a clean white background. This is a day for gardening, for turning the green lawn over into something darker. This is a day for making music, for high notes cutting through the still house. A day for opening windows, and letting the dry air sweep swiftly over everything. A day for reading a book on a window seat, blanket and hot water bottle to hand. This is the sort of day on which I want to do everything, and can’t, and have to choose just one favoured task over all the others. The kind of day I would like all days to be. The kind of day winter was made for.

Late in the afternoon I set a match to the newsprint and watch it curl and blacken, delicate flames growing bold. They lick at the kindling and make it crackle. The sun disappears, over the edge of the earth. I hope it will come back. Now that it is gone, everything changes. The time for marmalade has passed. Instead I set to making a huge fish pie, smoky and smooth. I serve it with wilted greens: the blueish tops of sprouts that grow like algae in the winter beds. The cream of the pie is salty and soothing. It will send us all early to our beds. Yet there is an undercurrent to it, wild and clean. A day in Whitby, visiting the smokehouses after a chilly morning paddle. The smell of kippers coming home with us as we journey over the free and windy moor. Before I settle down to sleep, I make a note to book rooms in a boarding house in May, beside the sea. Then I say a prayer for another crisp day tomorrow, and sleep deeply and well.

[whohit]crisp[/whohit]

Sunday’s sewing

As the seasons slip one into the other, our rhythms change. Morning gardening has been replaced by time indoors, chipping away at those bad-weather jobs. These days the garden has a single weekly slot: a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon, time enough to plant some fruit bushes or fork over a bed. More often than not it’s Ilse who joins me out there, while the others stay close to the fire with their books and board games, or slave away at prep in the study. Last Saturday she helped me turn a full three cubic yards of dense almost-compost into the next bay, shovelling the brown gold with her seaside spade and gleeful at the thousands of naked wriggling worms. I had a paper bag of sugared almonds in my pocket and fed these to her each time she suggested we were flagging.

If this were spring, Sunday afternoons would be spent in the garden, too. Being winter, though, Sundays are for sewing. For making inroads into serious projects, three or even four hours at a time. For bringing together the cutting out and dart-placing of the odd snatched moment in the week, to form something tangible, something finished.

I’d been looking forward to last Sunday. The plan was to settle myself into the dining room with my sewing machine and the wireless and the tea tray laid for one. I was going to construct a shawl collar for the very first time, and given that I’d drafted the pattern myself, I had no set of instructions to follow. It was to be time to think, with the quiet of a well-known classic serial in the background, and no intrusions of any sort.

I had just laid the pieces out to puzzle over when Ilse’s face appeared around the door, pink-cheeked from walking her doll around the garden. Ooh! she exclaimed in delight. Are we sewing today?

It took some effort of will to smile and take her to choose some fabric from the scrap pile. Can you make something all by yourself? I asked, doubtfully. I really need to concentrate today.

She was so quiet that I almost forgot about her, until she appeared at my elbow with a piece of embroidery for me to tie off. I showed her, again, how to do this for herself. She put her head to one side, thoughtful, and I heard nothing more from her until a request was made for two buttons from the jar, snipped off an old school cardigan. Don’t worry, Mummy, she said, anticipating my concern. Buttons are easy.

There was a long silence then, broken only by Silas Marner in the background and the clackety whirr of my machine. Eventually she reappeared, to ask once more for help. Together, with my sharp dressmaking shears, we snipped armholes into the piece she had been working on, and it was done.

I could describe it as an elongated shawl, made from a bit of old white sheeting. There’s a butterfly on one side, with blue wings and green antennae. It fastens around her doll’s body with two green buttons, held shut by loops haphazardly stitched on with more embroidery silk. The top of the shawl flops down to form a sort of collar, and there isn’t a hem in sight.

I could describe it thus, but I won’t, because that isn’t what it is. It’s a coat for her own baby girl, richly embroidered and beautifully finished, stitched with considerable skill and flair. It made me much, much prouder than my own careful collar. You see, my girl made it all by herself. She can make anything, you know.

[whohit]sundayssewing[/whohit]

Slowly

This time of year ought to be treated with care, like the convalescence after a long and difficult illness. This is not the time for programmes of self-improvement, or waist-reducing diets. Instead, we should be recuperating slowly after the long descent into darkness and the busyness of the new year. Yes, the earth is waking up. Yes, the days are gradually growing longer, and their light less thin and fragile. But these things happen slowly, and we ought to match their pace.

I had a lovely day, yesterday, moving slowly. I slowed so much that I stopped altogether at Mother and Father’s house and stayed to lunch: a great bowl of rich scotch broth, full of tender chunks of root vegetables, then a square or three of Mother’s fudge afterwards. I paused for a chat with the haberdasher as I chose the buttons for my dress, and for another with the butcher. The wind was fierce, and the market stalls near deserted, but he was in good cheer, as always.

I learnt a lesson from Seb on the way home. We were cycling into that wind, heads down and jaws set, when I suggested that we go down a gear. He immediately dropped into his very lowest and it was like that that we cycled the three miles home, pedals spinning, along a track which took us over the moor and through the whistling underpass.

They know about going slowly, these children of mine. They’ll wake and read for an hour or more, in their warm nests of beds, until someone calls them down for a bowl of the porridge which has been gradually thickening on the stove. They put their night things on early in these still-dark evenings, and come back down to read again before the fire. They play chess, with friends, move after move, game after game, thinking and pausing, a hand hovering before the final decision is made and the fatal piece touched.

Even when I go slowly, everything still gets done. I made a stew, simmering all afternoon in the bottom oven, so that by supper time the beef was falling apart and the dumplings cooked through to their mustardy cores. The fire was laid and lit. I had time for a long talk with my mother in law, visiting for the evening, and time to pull some parsnips for her to take home. They take a long time to germinate, those roots, then a long time to grow and a long time to roast and come into their earthy sweetness. All these things happen in their own time. And in my own time the house is cleaned, the ironing done, the children tucked up with hot water bottles to warm cold sheets and toes.

I’m having another slow day today. In fact, I’m having a slow month or two. There’ll be time enough for energetic bustle in the spring. Right now I’m content to meander through the days, pausing for a cup of tea by the kitchen window, watching the hellebores and snowdrops nod their drowsy heads in the cold winter air.

[whohit]slowly[/whohit]

Something new

We are each having something new, for spring. As a result, things are shifting and changing around here. The cushions from the kitchen chairs disappeared for a while, then reappeared, clad in new covers. New cottons are unfolded from brown paper packages, and draped over tables and the back of the settee and around Fliss, in front of the mirror after school. She appears in the kitchen while I am peeling potatoes, awkwardly clutching a little pattern of blue spring flowers to her front. May I have this one, Mummy? Once supper is over we sit together at the cleared table, and she describes the type of dress she would like: the collar, the hemline, what sort of sleeves are ‘in’. I make a little sketch and label it, to be sure I know just what she means. I will tweak the waist a little, to flatter her long legs, and set the collar slightly higher so as to frame her face, but otherwise it is a lovely design, and simple enough to make. Then we put it aside and she distracts herself with a book or six during the long wait until it is ready.

The vanishing cushion covers will be a dress for Ilse, and a new shirt for Seb. That fabric, four co-ordinating patterns, was too lovely to cut into last spring. I had ordered it to make things for the children, but cut down some of John’s worn shirts instead, so that by the time it arrived it wasn’t needed. Spread on the kitchen table, fresh from its wrappings, it sang against the apple green cupboard. Fabric isn’t meant to languish in a pile for a year, waiting to be wanted. Instead I folded it carefully, so as not to have to make a cut, and sewed four simple cushions for our chairs. Two more were made from the skirt of an old dress of mine. We’ve enjoyed them all year long, but now they are unpicked and washed again, ready to be made into a pretty frock and a smart new shirt or two.

Even John and Ben are having something fresh to wear to mass on Sundays, and to parties, and for when they want to feel their best. Something simple and straightforward, either made up to a bought pattern or sent to the tailor. Fine shirtweight cottons, in pastel shades of their choosing. And for me there are peonies, pink and faintly fanciful, on a background of blue. Enough blue to be right for me, enough pink to celebrate the spring. A perfect balance.

I know we all see different things when I bring a parcel of fabric home from the shops. I don’t think that Ben or Seb or Ilse see much at all, beyond some tweed or cotton, pretty or otherwise, which may one day reappear on their shelves. Fliss sees something that might just possibly be for her, and a long wait as I work my way through sewing for six. I suspect John simply sees something that brings pleasure to me, which it does. Not the ownership of the material, but the time before me, ready to be filled with planning and drafting and, finally, sewing. I can admire beautiful things in shop windows and walk away, happy to have seen them. But things unmade, unfinished, are another story, just waiting to be written.

It is this whole story that I see, these days, when I unwrap a piece of cloth that I chose so carefully from all those spread on the shop counter. A couple of yards might be, at first, a dress. It might be worn to the church fete, or on a sunny stroll around town. That is all I used to see, when I was Fliss’ age. Now I see around the edges, and into the future, too. No matter how carefully you lay your pattern out there will be scraps, all tricky curves and narrowness. They will be good for appliquéing names onto the front of children’s shoe bags, or snipping tiny hexagons for English paper piecing. There might be a square, large enough for a ladies’ handkerchief. They might sit well alongside other scraps I am saving for a quilt.

One day, three or four or five years from now, I’ll take the dress out of my wardrobe after its long winter rest and see how worn it is around the hem, and how the colours have faded. I’ll cut it up, into a play dress for Ilse, or linings for shoebags, or covers for the cushions which get dragged out to the treehouse. And in time, when Ilse grows still taller or we are past the age of plimsolls, or when there are just too many rips for it to be called a cushion cover any more, I’ll cut it up again. It might be a quilt, this time, for a doll or a friend’s new baby or even a wedding bed. Something old and something new, rolled into one.

A friend came round for tea the other day, bringing her baby, a sweet and clever and smiling boy, and I showed her my Devon quiltI like this square, she said, pointing, as her boy kicked his sturdy little legs on the bed beside it. Thank you, I said.  It was a dress of Fliss’ and before that, John’s shirt. I could see them both in it, lovely with youth and nostalgia. I could see John’s back as he climbed Embsay Cragg, and Fliss, mooching round the house on a wet Saturday, bored until I found her a book to read.

Long after the clothes are worn out, the handkerchiefs left on trams and the quilts reduced to the rags they once were, little scraps remain. There are some from my own childhood, in the dolls’ coverlet made by Mother at the same time as their curtains. There is a bit of a baby dress of Meg’s, in a pinwheel cushion cover which survives on Ilse’s bed. At some point even these will reach the end of their story, and be taken away by the rag and bone man when he comes calling. They will be washed and shredded, used to stuff sofas or the seats of automobiles. Perhaps they will be made into shoddy, bright and affordable. Maybe. And just maybe it will be bought by another woman, wanting to make something new.

[whohit]somethingnew[/whohit]

Many hands

New gardeners need advice, certainly. We can seek it in books or in the umpteen pamphlets available for a penny each. We can speak to those who have been growing things for longer than us. I like to ask Mr White what he is up to, at the moment, and often follow suit. He attends talks held by the local horticultural society, to hear advice straight from the experts. It trickles down, from them to him to me and, finally, to Father.

It always feels as though Father should know how to grow vegetables. His own father, whose garden is now largely put to lawn and flowerbeds, had a large vegetable garden. As a child I remember being sent into the humid greenhouse to pick the reddest tomatoes, or the longest cucumber, to slice thinly into sandwiches for luncheon. It was a job I loved. The greenhouse was forbidden to us children, otherwise. I would slide the door closed behind me, marvelling at the close air and the tangle of vines. It was another country, behind glass. Another world, to a child whose vegetables were delivered by the greengrocer’s boy.

I know he spent a lot of time in there, and in the extensive kitchen garden down one side of the house. Latterly he had a new patch made, closer to the back door, and carried on coaxing life out of the soil well into his nineties. Now he cannot garden any more, but we talk about it instead: what’s done well, what I’ve planted, varieties I might try. He likes to remember the times we went fruit picking together in North Wales, and he taught me to make jam afterwards, dangerous and sticky in the August kitchen.

So you see, I expect Father to just know how to do all this. The fact is, though, that one way and another he’s never had the chance to grow his own. So now we talk about it, and the things that Grandad taught me get passed back up a generation.

If new gardeners need advice, new gardens need small armies. Especially allotments, which are by their very nature normally abandoned a full season before they are given up. Father’s allotment, when he took it on last summer, was textbook. It took Father and Ben and I several weekly sessions to raze the chest high weeds to the ground and begin to fork their roots out. I gave him baby leeks, and little brassicas, and a few lettuces to fill the gaps. The rest could wait until winter.

This Christmas we promised him a day of the six of us, to clear the site ready for spring. I don’t know what he was hoping to achieve, but I was confident that we could get the job done. En masse, the Grahams make light work of such tasks. The hedge was cut back into shape. Endless brambles were dealt with. The fruit patch was shorn of long grass, and the bushes pruned. Ilse and Seb, armed with secateurs, cleared a ginnel for easy access. The beds were forked over once again.

At noon there were many none-too-clean fingers fishing vinegary chips from newspaper, and many thirsty mouths swigging dandelion and burdock. We paused to survey our work, and saw the end in sight. When we were finally done, and John had cycled home with the children, I lingered while Father put away his tools and shut the gate. A fellow allotmenteer poked her head over the hedge and commented on our progress. That always was a lovely plot, she said.

And now it is so again. It has a fruitful apple tree, and fledgling plums and damsons. It has red and blackcurrant bushes. It has four raised beds, just the right width for easy weeding. It has a wooden shed, and a sunny spot for sitting in.

We couldn’t see much of this, when Father took it on last summer, but now its charms are obvious. He’s there today, adding muck to three of the beds. I hope he goes there often, and that we have a good season ahead. I want him to like growing things as much as Grandad and I. Which is why I will happily answer his many questions, and ensure that there are many hands to help him, whenever he asks.

[whohit]manyhands[/whohit]

Warp and weft

Sometimes the sky stays resolutely grey for too many days in a row. Sometimes we simply feel worn out. Sometimes our plans are derailed at the last moment, and all that anticipation comes to nothing. Sometimes we are caught up in other people’s storms.

Sometimes I have to remember all the good things that have happened this past week. Ilse and I sewed the first seeds: lettuces, snug in their propagator on the kitchen window sill. She scrutinises them daily, for the first green speck of life. Next to them the potatoes are chitting, already sending out their sturdy, nubbly shoots. Red onions are rooting in a tray of compost. The whole kitchen hums with magic.

Fliss and I spent an hour in the fading twilight spreading compost on a bed. I transported it, she raked it level: six inches deep and full of promise.

John took Seb and Ilse to a matinee at the pictures while Fliss and I worked in the veg patch. They laughed so hard on the way home that we could hear them coming up the street.

My fair isle cardigan is on its way, dreamed up as I go along. I am enjoying it as much as I had hoped. There is no rush, no rush at all. This is a project that I would like to linger over.

I had a breakthrough, yesterday, when drafting the pattern for my new spring dress. I struggled and paced and was almost ready to leave it for the day when it suddenly made sense, and I knew how to make the collar I wanted.

These are the big things, for which I am grateful. The weft of my life.

Then, too, are these: a cup of tea, brought to me in bed. A spontaneous hug and a kiss from my sweet Seb. A hasty chapter of a novel, devoured before starting on the supper. Five minutes, sitting, in the afternoon. Passing the time of day with friends. A conversation with Mother. Half an hour, just John and I. The first fragile seedlings of the year.

The warp. Little things which keep my world turning, whatever the weather.

[whohit]warpandweft[/whohit]

In

We have been driven indoors more and more, of late. Out of doors there is bluster and chill and fat wet flakes of snow which melt as they hit the sodden ground. Indoors there is fire, driving out the damp, and any one of a number of pursuits.

For the children there are dolls and other toys to play with. There is ludo and scrabble and chess, pitted against a sibling or just yourself, scuttling from one end of the board to the other.  There are pictures to paint. Books to be read. Warm nests are built in hidden corners, out of blankets and cushions. I walk in and out of rooms, searching for Fliss or Ilse or Seb, not knowing that they are reading oh so quietly, just out of sight.

For John and Ben there is home: warm and snug, bookending their day. John is often elsewhere, at work or at the pub after a friendly game of squash. Ben is out most of all, at school or on the rugger pitch. But here, in with the rest of us, is where those days begin and end.

When I have time, I sit in the bay windows to catch the best of the light. I look forward to the evening’s knitting. I am waiting for new fabric to come into the shops, to make spring dresses and shirts. These are the things I like to do, when I am in.

Inevitably there are other things to be done. The stairs need redecorating. There is an untidy wall in the kitchen to paint. I must book the electrician to rewire the light in the hall. Now is the time to do these things, so as not to waste the summer.

And I must prepare for the warmer months. I must stop daydreaming and book a cottage somewhere, so that one day in August we can pack our knapsacks and spend a week by the sea. I must set the potatoes chitting. Mend the garden bench, for a whole season of reading in the sun.

Put like that, this time takes on a new sheen. It is unexpectedly precious. A commodity, limited, not to be wasted. This time, spent in, won’t last forever.

I’ve marked things on the calendar, and been startled by how few short weeks there are until Easter. As a result I’ve begun a project I’ve been putting off since last July, when the pull of being outside was just too strong. Seb and Ilse are learning to play the flute, at last. The house is full of the sound of puffing and breathy whistles, catching the edge of harmonics. They are delighted, and so am I.

Because next summer, when I am out of doors, I will hear a simple tune, carried on the warm air. It is already on its way. And when I wander in again, to fill a vase with flowers or wash lettuce for our supper, I’ll glance at the staircase or the kitchen wall and smile. Because I did it when I was in. And now I am free to be out, again.

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