Monday 23 November 2015

Patterns and Toiles, Bows and Arrows

Three and a half tonne of pea gravel arrives.
The heavy rain falling here while I was away, in the skirts and train of Storm Barney pointed up to Liz how worn and threadbare our driveway had become for want of a refreshing layer of gravel. Great puddles form down in the dip by the main gate, so that you struggle to open the gate without getting your feet wet. The drive slope is OK but at the top where it levels out, more dips and low points give us a few more puddles which push out a tideline of floating larch needles so that you can see how big they were even as they drain away.

The turkeys and Guinea fowl explore the new garden feature. 
My first job then, on return from the UK was to order gravel but I knew that the entrance to the sheep field was also getting a bit worn and sloppy, so I went for 3 and a half tonnes, the convenient size of load from our very reasonably priced 'man who can'. This man is also helpful enough that he let me take most of the load "up at the top" but kept a bit back to drop at the main gate on his way out; saved me a considerable amount of barrowing. Good man! The turkeys and Guinea Fowl were quickly on hand to explore the new heap and marched about all over the top of it till they decided it had no potential as food.

The three 'yows' having a lie down, but are they pregnant?
It is now my job to barrow it about and 'fire' it into the holes. The sheep turn out to be not entirely convinced that this represents an improvement to their field entrance and they are very wary of walking through this 'soft' surface; their sharp little feet quickly sink down through the 3 inches of gravel and don't seem to stop till they hit the original mud. Ah well. It's cleaner for the wellie-clad humans and we have delibrately chosen round-edged 'pea gravel' rather than the more abrasive 804 'maintenance' gravel because we had visions of all the sheep going lame with sharp 804 stones stuck up between their toes.

Whooper Swans - picture blagged
from the internet.
In another winter story, we are delighted that "our" whooper swans are back. These birds breed and do their 'Summer' up in Iceland and are normally here in this land of 1000 lakes well before now but this year, being very late, had not yet delivered them. Our quota seems to be 20-30 birds on the local lough - I had 15 by Saturday and now have around 22; they don't seem to move around much once they have flown in though you do see small groups (families?) coming and going.

They look beautiful down on the water - you can see them from the lane running along our hilltop - but the main attraction to us is the fluting bugle calls as they chat to each other down there. If the air is still or the wind blows from our SW you hear lovely bursts of honking and fluting when you are in the garden or, more commonly, when I am in the orchard, exercising the dogs of an evening. Once you hear them there is no mistaking them which is quite handy as they are difficult to tell from other swans just on the visual clues. They are midpoint between mute swans (bigger) and Bewick's (which are smaller and don't come this far 'wesht') and can also be told by the yellow on the beak extending down below the nostrils. We'll stick with those lovely calls, I think.

Cutting a piece of the final cloth out round a panel of 'toile'
Meanwhile, indoors, Liz has now been to enough of Carolyn's "Sewing Machine School" classes to be confident to take a step from making cushions and table cloths (very good table cloths, mind) into proper dress making. Specifically dress making for herself which is a landmark stage (I read). It frees up the dress maker from having to buy off-the-peg clothes which nearly fit an average 'size 12' or what ever, to being able to make clothes which perfectly fit the unique body shape of the wearer (which is presumably nothing like 'average').

Dress in kit form. 
This has landed Liz into the world of making and cutting out paper patterns and then from these creating the 'dry-run' temporary version of the garment out of muslin, callico or (in our case) an old sheet. This is called the 'toile' (pronounced twal) and I read that you can actually keep and wear the toile around the house if you finish it. Most people adjust the panel sizes on the toile and then create the shapes on the real cloth. That's been my job - helping Liz, who is by then dressed only in skimpies, to try on and pin up the toile. I know. Tough job, trying not to stick pins in your wife's skin, but somebody has to do it. The latest on this first go is that the garment is now pinned up in the final cloth and the machine is whirring away like a good 'un, though we do have the occasional issue with darts stitched up on the wrong side and the occasional outbreak of mild swearing. It probably happens behind closed doors in the best of seamstress/tailor/draper workshops.

Nephew M Silverwood (centre) is getting pretty good at the
archery. Maybe he'll teach me some tricks?
Finally, you may, like us, have a mental "bucket list" in your head; those things you are determined to do before you shuffle off this mortal coil. One thing on mine has always been archery. As kids we brothers used to go and watch the (Hastings?) Archery Club doing their thing on one of the practise pitches at the top of the land owned by Hastings Football Club (the "Pilot Field"). You could watch them from Ochiltree Road which is/was just round the corner from us, though (another story) we would occasionally climb up the mud bank from one of our childhood 'dens' and pop our heads up into the bushes at the end of the field where we could see (and were probably in danger from) the arrows coming straight at us!

I have longed to have a go ever since but have never quite got into it - there were no doubt archery clubs and groups when I was at Uni (both sites) and there would almost certainly have been clubs in range when I lived in the Fens, then Chatham and Faversham. Step forward then, Mrs Silverwood, who posted to Facebook some pics of the children all wielding bows and arrows at a beginners session down in their nearby big town. This is their latest activity - you'll know that clutches of children work their way through a good range - these young ones have been through Irish dancing, GAA and other sports, baton twirling, karate and more. It seems my best chance of ticking this sport off my own bucket list has landed in my lap. I have been invited to come down on a Saturday afternoon, join the gang in the archery on Saturday evening, get a bite of supper and stay the night. I just have to cope with getting my head around young M being streets ahead of his Uncle. He has taken to it like a duck to water, apparently and out-shoots them all. Maybe he'll teach me a trick or two and I won't miss the target EVERY time. More on this when it has happened.

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