Supporting small

Over recent months many small businesses have found themselves in a precarious situation – unable to open shops, sell at markets – making it all the more important that we support them now to ensure their future existence. We Snails have done our very best to buy from small traders over the past 10 months and have managed to source the majority of our food that way – luckily in our part of the world there are many, many small food producers and an abundance of independent retailers. In addition, we’ve been able to access direct from some producers via the internet. I know that people who cannot go to the shops have found the big supermarkets to be a lifeline, but those of us who are able to shop locally can play our part in making sure that people in our community who have small businesses continue not only to survive, but to thrive. Plus, many of our local small businesses have gone the extra mile to support the vulnerable in our community – delivering emergency supplies at short notice, for example – something that you simply wouldn’t get from big companies. In addition, many small businesses, despite suffering themselves, have donated to local food banks and other charities supporting the needy.

Aside from shops that sell food, other retailers have found the last year even more of a challenge. Even well-established companies are being affected. I noticed that Baa Ram Ewe, producers of fabulous British wool (including the stuff I made my latest fingerless mittens out of), have had to resort to crowd funding to give their business a chance of surviving (here is the link). Whilst I have been at home, I have tried to make the majority of my on-line purchases of materials for making things from small, independent companies, but I also keep an eye open for very small enterprises who are crowdfunding. And this is how I came across Midwinter Yarns, who were trying to collect enough money to produce a Welsh wool to add to their range. They are based in Scotland, but have Welsh connections and their wool sounded lovely (you can read about it here, although their crowdfunder was successful and closed last summer).

My contribution was sufficient to receive six skeins of their hand-dyed yarn. The wool arrived a few weeks ago and so I needed to find a pattern that would be suitable for the amount of yarn available. Having gone out of my usual comfort zone and chosen a sludgy green colour (the photo on the left below is closest to the actual colour), I wanted to make something appropriate, which I think I found with Southern Pines by Dora Does.

It’s worked top down, all in one piece, so there’s no sewing up at the end. I had a bit of an issue early on in the pattern, but Michelle, the designer. was amazingly helpful, even though it turned out that the problem was me being dim rather than an issue with the pattern itself. It will have long (or at least 3/4) sleeves, and I’ll make the body as long as uses up all the yarn – this is one of the joys of top-down garments. I plan to make a skirt to wear with it out of some grey and white fabric I have with a design called “crop circles” (the fabric was from an independent on-line store, but more on that in a future post). So, a new outfit in hand all from small, businesses – long may they survive.

A nose for the past

It’s often said that dogs live in the moment… that they don’t tend to bear a grudge, that the last thing they did is their focus. However, I’m beginning to think that it’s human beings who are so focused on the “latest thing” that they completely forget about what happened in the past – even the recent past. Ever since it was brought to my attention (by Terry Pratchett, in fact) that dogs can detect the history of a location because, unlike sight, smell can last for days, I have been intrigued about the idea. In the blink of an eye, our perception of a place or an incident is replaced by a new one, so it is all too easy for us to dismiss past experience because of the overwriting of it by our present perception. Not so if you are a dog. With smell as a much more important sense, life must be lived in a world of past and present – always being aware of incidents that have gone by, but have left their signature and evidence in the olfactory world.

Spaniels’ noses are very important to them

I’d love to be able to see the past…. for example when I pick up a discarded piece of crochet, realise that I removed the hook for another project and then wonder exactly which size it was. If I could just see the project in an earlier stage, I’d know exactly what hook to use to make progress. What a lot of time that would save

But can you imagine what this sort of overlaying of events from different times would do to our interpretation of the world? No longer would politicians be able to dismiss an incident with words, if we could still see a shadow of it for days or weeks or months to come. Our memories distort the past and unscrupulous, or even well-meaning, people can seek to take advantage. History, as they say, is written – or photographed, or painted, or sculpted – by the winners. What a different world we might live in could we see more than those inevitably biased descriptions. Just a thought.

I want to tell you a story

Recently, there has been a fashion on social media to ask friends to post pictures without words… usually something along the lines of

“I have been challenged to post one picture of every day for seven days of my *** – no words, no explanations, just pictures. Now I challenge Friend X to do the same”.

Where *** is life/favourite books/pets/influential LPs/black and white photos/most awesome cheese or whatever.

Now, I know that they say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but I disagree. Pictures are great – I always include at least one in my blog posts because they catch the attention and can get across a quick message or illustrate something that’s difficult to describe. But they don’t necessarily get to the heart of the matter. If you post a picture of an influential LP, I always wonder why – was it a particular song? the fact that it represents the sound track to an important era in your life? that you love the artwork on the cover? that you know the musician? And, honestly, I find what you have to say about it much more meaningful than simply seeing a picture.

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A story-telling snail… but unless I explain, you won’t know why

Stories are important. Humans have been telling each other stories for thousands of years – long before we wrote things down. By listening to stories we learn, we develop empathy, we are moved… and we remember. It’s much easier to recall a story than a list of dry facts – and the story may contain all those facts, as well as presenting them in a context that enables understanding. When I was teaching, I often embedded the information I wanted to get across in stories… indeed the Snail of Happiness was born to assist with story-telling in a teaching context.

Our history – personal and on a wider scale – is a series of stories… the word is embedded right there. We can all tell the story of an event and every single person will tell it slightly differently. Your truth is not my truth, and that’s why it is important to listen to each other. And that’s why one person’s hero can be another person’s villain – and generally it’s the winners who get to write the story of what happened (and erect the statues). I think it’s very important to remember this and to understand that the truth depends very much on the story-teller. This link is really worth following for a sensible perspective on the truth of history.

So, next time someone suggests that you post a picture without an explanation – resist! Yes, post the picture, but tell your friends why. Share your history, because unless you do, someone else might write it for you.

-oOo-

I was inspired to write this post by my friend Chiqui – thank you Chiqui, I enjoyed your pictures with explanations so much more than all those without context.

 

London – fabric and friendship

I don’t visit the capital very often, but with Mr Snail in Reading (25 minutes away from London on the train) at the moment, it seems like an ideal opportunity to make a few trips in and do some of the things on my ‘list’ (not a real list – it’s just in my head).

The week before last I travelled down to Reading on Thursday so that, whilst Mr Snail was at work on Friday, I could go into London. I had two purposes: meeting up with a friend who I haven’t seen for over 20 years and visiting Berwick Street. I’m not sure whether you know the significance of this location, but I felt that it was important to go there without Mr Snail so as not to bore him to tears. You see, Berwick Street is known for its fabric shops.

Lovely Japanese waves

In the end I only had just over an hour to spend in Berwick Street and I could have spent the whole time in just one or two shops… one specialising in silks was full of such delicious fabric that I felt as if I needed a lie down before I could proceed. If I’d had more time I would have looked round, had a coffee to gather my thoughts and then gone back to make my purchases. However, in the limited time available I decided to visit as many shops as possible to get a flavour and so that I’d be better able to plan future visits. Finally, I only bought a length of Japanese cotton (in an indigo shade that the picture doesn’t do justice to) with which to make a dress, but I left with lots to think about for future makes.

After Berwick Street, there was a quick underground ride to Great Portland Street, where it turned out that neither me nor my friend have changed too much since we were in our 30s and so recognising each other was no problem. We went to Honey and Co, a lovely middle eastern restaurant that I can highly recommend… although you’ll need to book if you want to eat there because it’s very popular. There are some friends who you just feel comfortable with no matter how long it is since you saw each other, and so it was… the conversation flowed as we shared mezze, sipped orange blossom iced tea and then tucked into the most amazing feta & honey cheesecake on a kadaif pastry base. There are no photographs – we were far too busy eating and catching up on each other’s lives.

After lunch she took me on a quick tour of BBC Broadcasting House, where she works and I was lucky enough to be taken down into the newsroom – an extraordinary place full of people and technology collecting information from around the world. We criticise our state broadcaster sometimes, but the sheer scale of their news operation is something to be marvelled at, plus it was interesting to see the place for real rather than just on the television screen. A stroll up to Regent’s Park and a stop for tea and then it was back on the underground to return to Paddington to catch my train back to Reading. We agreed not to leave it another 20 years before our next get-together.

Not alone

The other day I went to visit an old friend. Her husband died a little while ago and, prior to his final illness and associated times in hospital, they had never been apart. They loved each other deeply, they built up a business together, they stuck with each other through some very black times, they shared their successes, they were pretty much self-contained. Their business was based around their home, so neither of them was ever there alone.

Now that he’s gone, she is bereft – she hates being in the house on her own, but there is no choice. She does have friends who she made through the business and her friends (me included) do go and see her. There are people around her on the site still working (the business continues) and living and they pop in throughout the day, but she still feels isolated, especially now that she is ill herself and her mobility is poor.

We do our best – we go and visit, we drink tea and do the washing up. We tell her stories and try to cheer her up, but it’s very hard and she sees no positives. There is only so much we can do.

This set me thinking about how important it is to be part of a community. And then I reread a lovely e-mail that I received from Patricia’s partner, who wrote…

…Pat was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when she was 45, and there were many times when her health didn’t allow her to spend energy on the outside world.  Over the years forming connections and friendships online was a real lifeline for her…

and once again, I thought about the value of being part of a supportive community, but also the fact that our friends can be scattered far and wide and they are still our friends.

Last Friday I met up with a dear friend who I haven’t seen for 20 years. We found each other via social media after a bit of a gap in communications. How lovely it was to share a meal and catch up face-to-face… how lovely to have the opportunity to renew a connection.

So, lets celebrate all our friends – near and far – whether we sit in the same room, chat via the computer or send letters. And let’s learn to value our own company too, so that when we can’t be with the love of our life, we can still find joy.

-oOo-

By-the-way, based on a suggestion from Patricia’s partner, I have made a donation to the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society in Patricia’s memory. If any of you feel moved to mark her passing this way, donations to any charity supporting those afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis would be appropriate. If you do this, please let me know so I can pass on the information.

PS

Once more I am in tears about Patricia. A friend of hers sent me this link via Facebook. It is worth reading.

What a wonderful and kind woman the world has lost.

Patricia Collins

I’m very sorry to tell you that Patricia Collins has died.

Patricia, as you may recall, wrote a number of guest posts for me and regularly commented, joining in with our discussions of everything from recycling to charity knitting. She had mentioned to me that she wasn’t well, but I had no idea how ill she was. In fact, Patricia was the person I wrote a letter to last Thursday whilst I sat in the pub with Sam… sadly she never received it… and now I wish I’d sent her an email instead.

The last gift that Patricia sent me

I never met Patricia. She found my blog via a mutual friend, but I now have no idea who that was. She first contacted me towards the end of 2017 and I wrote about her getting in touch here. What a kind person she was: she loved the interaction on the blog, but was concerned about the pressure it put on me to write and respond, so she offered guest blog posts to help things along. I never had to edit what she had written – it always fitted so easily into The Snail of Happiness ethos. In addition, she sent me little gifts and we communicated via email and she inspired me. If I hadn’t written a post for a while she would always drop me a line to check that I was ok and write encouraging words.

I will miss those emails SO much. I will miss my friend who I never met. And I will mourn the fact that we never had the chance to chat over tea and cake and talk about yarn and dogs and saving the planet.

Goodbye, Patricia, and thank you for being such a lovely person

-oOo-

You can read Patricia’s posts here, here, here, here, here and this one, which is a combined one from the two of us.

More, more, more

Economics, as it’s currently understood, is all about growth. The economy is failing unless it continues to grow; wages must keep rising; there must be inflation; we must spend more and consume more. If not, we are failing. But why? What skewed theory is based on continuous growth? It doesn’t work in natural systems, so why would it work in human systems?

Adam Smith, who seems to be at the bottom of much of current economics, considered that technology would result in increased outputs. The enhanced economy would lead to reduced mortality and increased fertility thus delivering an increasing workforce to deliver this ever-expanding economic growth.

Unlimited growth isn’t possible in a limited space

At much the same time as Smith was developing his theories, Thomas Malthus was writing about about limitations. In recent years, Malthus has been somewhat maligned and his Limits to Growth model has been criticised for its simplicity. It’s true that there are more factors to consider than Malthus’ simple contention that food production could only increase arithmetically, whilst the population could expand geometrically, thus the former would limit the latter. However, in a more general way, you have to accept that he had a point: the world contains finite resources, and at some point these are going to limit the populations (human and other organisms) that can be supported.

And it is resources that I have been thinking a lot about lately. The two main environmental issues in the news recently have been plastics and climate change, but really the overarching factor is over-exploitation of finite resources. Whatever aspect of the environment you are concerned about, reducing your use of resources will have a positive impact. Use less “stuff” and you will reduce energy consumption (in production and transportation of goods). Buy less “stuff” and make what you have last longer and there will be less material that needs to be disposed of or recycled. Make the best use of the resources you already have and you will be reducing your impact on the planet.

The economy may not grow as a result of your actions, but the economy is simply a human construct, whilst life in the oceans (for example) is very real and will certainly benefit. In my opinion, a change in what we consider important – from economics to ecology – cannot come soon enough.

Shepherding the lost sheep

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Chrissy and one of her many spinning wheels

Unlike Little Bo Peep’s sheep, which would, apparently, return home of their own accord ‘wagging their tails behind them’, most sheep need a shepherd – someone to guide then, nurture them, heft them and ensure their well-being. Sadly, it appears that many farmers and shepherds could, themselves, also do with such care and attention… and so, I’d like to introduce you to Chrissy Smith, an amazing woman doing her bit to help the sheep farmers of Wales.

Interested in Welsh sheep breeds and discovering a few years ago that their wool was not really being understood and effectively marketed by the farmers who produced it, Chrissy decided to take action. So, she established The Lost Sheep Company. By understanding the properties of the wool of different Welsh sheep breeds, farmers can appreciate the value of what they produce and consumers can select wool that will do the job they want. So Chrissy is on a mission to get everyone (producers and users) to appreciate the value of wool, especially wool from the traditional Welsh breeds: Balwen, Beulah Speckled Face, Black Welsh Mountain, Jacob, Kerry Hill, Llanwenog, Lleyn, Ryeland and Welsh Mule.

On her web site, Chrissy provides a wealth of information, from how to roll a fleece, to the characteristics of wool from the different breeds. In her shop (well, heritage craft centre really) in Colwyn Bay she sells fleeces, hand spun yarn and equipment, restores old spinning wheels and runs and hosts classes. She buys fleeces from local farmers for ten times the price that the wool marketing board pays (which is often just pennies per kilo), processes them in a couple of old twin tub washing machines and works her magic with natural dyes.

In 2017 Chrissy was involved in reviving the tradition of the Conwy Wool Fair and she’s hoping to make this an annual event.  In fact, what she’s seeking to do is to re-introduce the traditional Wool Charter Market in Conwy – the right, granted by royal charter, to close off the streets and hold a market to trade wool once a year. Apparently, she’s got Prince Charles on the case trying to track down the original charter. Now wouldn’t that be an event worth going to?

We met Chrissy during the Knit for Peace Wool Hunt weekend and, for me, visiting her shop and hearing about her work was one of the highlights. I am always inspired by people who see a problem and take action, and you don’t get more active than this. If you are ever in north Wales, The Lost Sheep Company is really worth a visit.

Twiddling

Patricia’s post about knitting for good causes resulted in many suggestions (here on the blog and on Twitter and Facebook) of worthy recipients for our work. One, in particular, caught my eye because it was so local and covered two good causes: Incredible Edible Carmarthenshire (a group who promote community growing in public spaces) were asking for twiddlemuffs, apparently they keep a stock of them to hand out at events and they are running low. For those of you who are not familiar with twiddlemuffs, they are knitted or crocheted tubes, incorporating various textures and items that can be given to people with dementia so that they have something to occupy their restless hands, plus they can simply keep hands warm. I’ve made a few in the past, so I decided this would be a good way to use up some scraps and stash yarns.
Periodically I acquire yarn that I probably wouldn’t actually go out and buy, and projects like the twiddlemuffs can be a great way to use some of this up. My Crochet Sanctuary weekend resulted in me coming home with some lovely blue Scheepjes Softfun yarn, intended to be used for a hot water bottle cover that we started during the retreat. However, on reflection I decided I didn’t really want another hot water bottle cover and so I frogged my work and put the yarn to one side. Rummaging through my stash, though, I came across it and knew that it would be an ideal base for a twiddlemuff – washable and soft.
I started by crocheting a tube, with a few added stripes of yarn with different textures – a bobbly one, a couple of wooly ones, a bit of rough silk/cotton and some eyelash yarn, all left over from past projects.

Double the length, so it can be folded in on itself

I added a little pocket, found a couple of crochet flowers that I made when I was teaching a workshop and stitched these on and made two pompoms – one for the inside and one attached by a crochet chain to take in and out of the pocket. To add some texture, I tied on a piece of cotton tape and a length of silky cord. Finally I attached a few buttons – nothing too weighty, because twiddlemuffs shouldn’t be able to cause harm!

I photographed it right way round and inside out so you could see what treasures lie hidden. The orange bits are on the inside.

Back to the stash now to find the next lot of yarn that needs using up for a good cause…

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