Machine and hand knitting

Two of my knitted cushions
Two of my knitted cushion covers

One of the classes I went to after I retired was machine knitting. I only knitted one cardigan by shaping the various parts on the machine. For the rest, I knitted lengths of pure wool, felted them at 40°C in the washing machine and cut out the fabric I’d made using dress-making patterns. The fleeces were the most successful – being pure wool they were light as well as warm and could be washed again and again without shrinking or felting further. I also made a pair of trousers but they were a failure – too thick and too warm. I tried them on when I finished them but I have never worn them.

Although as a child in London in WW2 I did a lot of hand knitting – we could all read and knit at the same time – I knitted only a few things by hand once I had retired with enough time to spare – a couple of cardigans, some scarves and a set of cushion covers

The stripy cushion on the right is machine knitted and the one on the left is knitted by hand.

The Queen of Spades

Wikipedia's Queen of Spades card
Queen of Spades

Saw the English National Opera’s production of Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades at the Coliseum last night. Usual ENO’s minimalist very effective set with shutters that open to reveal the chorus or individual singers. Not one of my favourite operas with few memorable arias but based on a short story by Pushkin its intriguing story has an unexpected denouement.

Have now installed the control App for my Siemen’s hearing aids on my mobile. The woman sitting behind me tapped me on the shoulder to complain that I was using my mobile, instead of switching it off as instructed in the surtitle board. Explained and pleased to see ‘collapse of stout party’!!

Tubby Isaacs Jellied Eels Stall Established 1919

Still there in 2011
Still there in 2011

I was brought up in Petticoat Lane and lived in a third floor cold-water tenement until I got married n 1956. When i went back to look around in 2011, Tubby Isaacs Jellied Eels stall was still there. By 2014 another East End landmark had gone.

I bought a tub of jellied eels for my first patient when I was a junior medical student in 1954.

From my memoir Woman in a White Coat

One day, as I was checking her over, she started to cry.

‘They’re going to put me in the geriatric ward at St Mildred’s,’ she sobbed. ‘They say I can’t manage on my own. I live on the fourth floor, and there’s no lift. I can’t get my breath, even to go as far as the lav.’

‘Couldn’t you stay with one of your children?’

‘I haven’t heard from any of my kids in years. None of them’s ever been to see me in hospital. Two of the boys are inside, and I wouldn’t want to live with any of the others, even if they offered, which they wouldn’t.’

On my way home from Aldgate East station that night, I went up to Tubby Isaacs stall.

‘I’ll have a tub of jellied eels,’ I said, breathing through my mouth. I cringed at the sight of those mounds of cockles and whelks and other shellfish I couldn’t bear to try to identify. To one side there was an enamel bowl full of clear jelly containing slices of jellied eel.

I hid the tub behind my books, away from my mother’s prying eyes, and thought about Mary in a geriatric ward. If she was lucky, it would be clean and cheerful, like the one at St Margaret’s, but that was only for short-term admissions. I’d visited a miserable urine-smelling long-stay ward, when my great aunt had her stroke. It was horrible.

When I arrived next morning, Mary was dressed and waiting for the ambulance to take her to St Mildred’s. Her eyes were red and swollen. She clutched my hand.

‘I never thought it would come to this.’

‘This should cheer you up a bit,’ I said, and handed her the tub from Tubby Isaacs. Jellied Eels, Established 1919.

A smile lit up her face.

‘You’re a lovely girl, you know,’ she said. ‘You’ll go far, mark my words. You’ve got a heart of gold, you have, and there’s not many of them around.’

Roman Mosaics

Roman villa in Silicy
Floor mosaics in Roman Villa del Casale in Sicily

Our best craft tutor could teach everything – painting, drawing, beading, flower pressing, origami, mosaics and more. I fixed small ceramic mosaic squares onto a cheese board to make a trivet and covered a square mirror from Ikea but of course they were nothing like the fabulous mosaic floor at the Roman villa in Sicily.

Further education

My favourite trouser pattern
My favourite trouser pattern

it’s that time of year – when the Further Education colleges publish their prospectuses for the coming year. Of course the fees have gone up again, while there are always threats to reduce government funding. The powers-that-be don’t seem to realise how much the NHS saves in anti-depressants and other medication by getting retired people out of the house.

I had an excellent dressmaking tutor – very strict and fussy. Everything had to be sewn carefully and finished well. I must have made at least half a dozen pairs of trousers from that pattern. The trouble with clothes you make yourself out of good quality fabric is that they won’t wear out and you’ve no excuse to visit GAP to buy new.

From my memoir Woman in a White Coat

After I retired  I signed up for lots of classes, some at one Further Education college and some at another – painting, drawing, cooking, history of art, Spanish, creative writing, pottery, dressmaking – everything I hadn’t had time for when I was working. It wasn’t just that I hadn’t had the time, I hadn’t had the desire. My mind was always so full of work. Even when I was at the theatre, I would find myself thinking about a difficult diagnosis or a hiccup in our research.

I enjoyed the freedom of doing things that weren’t important, things that weren’t a matter of life and death.

‘It’s wonderful,’ I said to my art teacher. ‘Nothing I do now is critical. If my drawing of the model looks like a human being, great. If not, at least I produced something. If my new cookery dishes taste good or if I can’t eat them and have to throw them out, if I manage to remember whether Rubens came first or Constable, it just doesn’t matter. You can’t imagine the relief and feeling of freedom. My life is no longer constantly punctuated by drama, by death, by irrevocable mistakes – where every word I put in a report is crucial. It would have been devastating if what I said in my report was misinterpreted by the surgeons and the wrong treatment given.

Ginger dancing

Fresh Ginger is dancing for joy
Dancing fresh Ginger is crowned the Winner

Having a fishy week. It’s usually my husband who cooks fish – he thinks I need more Omega-3 to stop me going gaga. Yesterday I cooked pan-fried cod, crispy Maris Piper chips and non-mushy peas.  Today it’s fresh salmon fishcakes, roasted wedge potatoes and steamed broccoli and cauliflower. Got to be more healthy than a McDonald’s. .

The fishcake recipe has egg, breadcrumbs, spring onions, grated ginger and chopped fresh herbs from our balcony.

I hope sprouting ginger is safe. This year the potatoes seem to sprout almost as soon as we get them home. Even the ginger has sprouted and grown a crown.

CFS – My old grammar school

Our lovely old hall -derelict
Our lovely old hall – derelict when I went there in 2011
Now a post restaurant
By 2014 it had been converted into a post restaurant

Founded as a Charity School for boys in 1697, by 1715 the school also accepted girls – 6 girls to 30 boys. In 1892 the Central Foundation School for Girls girls’ school was opened in Spital Square just by Spitalfields Market. When I went back in 2011. the main school building had been demolished and the beautiful old hall was derelict. When I returned in 2014, like much of the district, it had been gentrified and the hall was now the Galvin la Chapelle restaurant.

I was delighted to find that my neighbour in my Art History class had not only been a CFS pupil about 10 years after me but like me had learned to play the cello. She’s had similar experiences carrying her cello through what was then an active Fruit and Vegetable market.

From my memoir Woman in a White Coat

The school allowed me take the cello home to practise. My walk through Spitalfields Market, lugging the heavy black case, brought roars of laughter from the market porters.

It was ‘Give us a tune then.’ ‘Can you put it under your chin?’ ‘I’ll carry it for you if you give me a kiss, Miss.’ and ‘Can you put that big thing between your legs?’

Their catcalls followed me all the way to school.


Wonderful London

Roof of the Hayward Gallery                                Yayoi Kusama -  Walking in my Mind
Roof of the Hayward Gallery – Yayoi Kusama – Walking in my Mind

I love living in London – so much to do and so much to see – but I wish the weather was a bit more consistent. Got soaked yesterday on my way to a meeting to discuss Woman in a White Coat and roasted in my waterproof jacket when the sun came out.

But what would we talk about to strangers passing in the night if we didn’t have our unpredictable weather?

Blog by Dr Abby J Waterman and her new book, Woman in a White Coat

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