Monthly Archives: December 2014

MERRY AND BRIGHT!

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The Happy Hats were popped into the little bags I’d made for them, and given to these lovely sisters on Christmas Day.

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The girls are delightful and the weather was as sunny as they are.

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HELLO DOLLY!

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I’ve mentioned PAWS before; this tiny little charity does good work here on the Pelion finding homes for the innumerable homeless cats and dogs, in addition to conducting sterilisation programmes as often as funds and volunteers allow. In the words of the song: “Money! Money! Money!” and PAWS does all it can to raise some.

In April last year PAWS took a table at a bazaar being held in Lafkos in order to sell donated goods such as books, plants, cakes.

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Lafkos village square

My husband and I had been in Texas for several months; I flew back alone ahead of him and made the journey up to Volos from Athens by bus. Friends very kindly picked me up and filled me in about the goings-on during our absence. We discussed the fundraiser being held in less than two weeks, and the need for items. “I’ll make a doll to raffle,” my tired, jetlagged self announced.

Ah, what Dolly folly.

I started that very night, for my sleep patterns had of course taken a direction of their own. I managed to dig out a doll pattern from my collection, noticing dimly that the pattern pieces seemed rather large. A suitable piece of muslin for the body came to hand, and I began cutting out legs, arms, a gusseted body, as well as some involved shapes for the face and head.

Hmm, it did seem a little more sophisticated than the stick figure ragdolls I’d sewn up for bazaars and fairs in the past. The animals had missed us, so much help was forthcoming from various cats who found the rustling tissue paper pattern irresistible. Such fun!

Finally the cutting was done and so was I, heading off to bed with the rising sun.

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Who’s this?

By mid-morning a few doubts set in. What on earth had I taken on? I briefly debated making a much smaller doll, tossed out that idea and set to work at the sewing machine. Fortunately interruptions were few and I could make my own hours, but Dolly was a most demanding piece of work. She was unwieldy to sew; her head and face were well designed, but finicky, and her body seemed alarmingly huge.

Parts of her had to be stuffed before being joined to other segments and it soon became clear that I had nowhere near enough fiberfill to complete the task. Not only was I in no position to zap to Volos, I seriously doubt that I could have found what I needed there anyway. That problem was solved by gutting the pillows of the guest beds, but the question of her outfit began to raise its head.

My fabric and yarn stashes are well stocked, so materials wouldn’t be a problem, but time would. I pressed on.

Her face was done fairly quickly – I opted for a very basic look. Ah, my button jars, how do I love thee, but hair! And no, not the musical. How was I going to do hair? That turned out to be the most difficult part of getting Dolly together.

I should, in retrospect, have dealt with her hair before attaching the head to the body as Dolly became very unwieldy and every attempt to get her well coiffed only succeeded in a look that would have fitted in well for Halloween.

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Bad hair day!

I resorted to three different knitting yarns, but the end result, after a ridiculous amount of work, can only be described as a great disappointment, and that’s putting it kindly.

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A skirt was easily made; her sweater took more time. The Saturday morning market in the village provided knickers – a child’s age four – for Dolly is slim of hip, and cheerful socks in a woman’s size.

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For shame, Dolly!

I finished her that afternoon, ready to send her out into the world with a few necessities in a cute little reticule (a repurposed confetti sachet) and a touch of adornment in the form of a bead bracelet.

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Early the next day, good friends came to fetch us, Dolly and me, and we drove up to Lafkos. Dolly sure did attract attention for she had not been seen in public before then, but she was quietly gracious, allowing herself to be photographed with admirers, smiling all the while, performing her duties without complaint, while we sold raffle tickets on her behalf.

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By late afternoon the bazaar was coming to an end and we got ready to draw the winning ticket. The box was shaken, we stirred the slips of paper around, and then, to great excitement, a ticket was pulled out. The number was read, the lists consulted, and we had a winner!

Hooray! We were thrilled to discover that our lucky ticket holder was the most enchanting little girl; a local child, she’s fluent in English and Greek and has the sweetest disposition. The family had already left, but we called and before long she arrived with her father to claim Dolly.

I think our winner was almost in shock, but she thanked us beautifully – her manners are impeccable – and stood patiently while we oohed and aahed and took pictures. As you can see, she and Dolly are about the same size. Dolly lucked out too, for she’s much loved; I was delighted.

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The adorable winner taking Dolly to her new home.

The day had been a great success, raising some much needed funds for PAWS, but as with all charities, there’s never enough money and we continue our efforts. This year we held a barbecue at which we sold tickets for various raffles, and guessed the weight of a cake. I donated a doll, but one which I picked out at a store.

Dolly she was not – been there, done that!

DOOR: A MOVEABLE BARRIER

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DO YOU SPEAK KNITTING?

 

Driving through Central European border crossings does have its moments, rather memorable ones at times. Whenever we set off on such a trek, I have enough knitting yarn, needles and WIPS (that’s work in progress for those who don’t speak knitting) to sustain me no matter what eventualities we might encounter. Not for nothing was I a Girl Guide in my dim and distant youth, so Be Prepared! is my motto. Well, at least where knitting is concerned.

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One particular trip required more complicated packing than usual as several stages were involved. A friend who divides his time between homes in Austria and Greece was to accompany us on the drive, and after we had spent a couple of days with him and his wife in the Austrian Tyrol, we were to fly on to Texas from Zurich.

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Our airplane baggage was carefully packed, locked and secured to the roof luggage rack, ready to be checked in at the airport; the overnight bags and other travel needs were stowed in the car. We set off from the Pelion at daybreak, heading to FYROM/Macedonia with hubby driving at this point and me in the passenger seat surrounded by various knitting bags, our friend in the back, surrounded by various knitting bags. Uncomplaining, good soul that he is.

Knitters will understand that the choice of a knitting project for long journeys can become quite complicated, depending on the knitter’s preferences. In my case, involved projects are reserved for plane trips and overnight stays. For the long drives through countries where the use of phrase books and hand gestures might be needed the knitting is simple, the better to keep my eyes firmly fixed on the road.

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Circular needles are the knitter’s friend here as round and round I knit, and round and round I peer, ever vigilant. This amuses my husband greatly, but I am unfailingly prepared. Who knows if a situation might arise where I will frantically knit details of the incident into my work, in code of course, to be deciphered by those unravelling the mystery of our disappearance. I’ve learnt a thing or two from Madame Defarge!

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And so it was that we three left FYROM/Macedonia, drove through no-man’s land and arrived at Serbian Customs. A long line of vehicles, as far as the eye could see, stretched depressingly before us. Our friend has been making this journey for many years, far more than we; he cursed roundly in a number of languages. “Ach!” he exclaimed. “This has happened to me a few times – they decide to do an extremely thorough search. They will open everything! We will be here for hours!” I knitted furiously in the passenger seat. In front of us cars and buses had offloaded mountains of luggage, among which disconsolate passengers stood in groups, waiting to be interrogated by officials. One tearful young woman was wringing her hands as each item was lifted out of her case and examined minutely. “Holy cow!” I grumbled. “They will open our bags and you know how long it will take to pack everything back in properly before the flight.”
“You can repack it all tonight in the hotel,” soothed my husband, “we’ll soon be in Belgrade.”

I knitted up a storm.

To our right was a sort of watchtower structure occupied by a large figure in grey uniform, complete with peaked cap and red epaulettes – typical garb of the Soviet era. The person began to climb down the steps, and I saw that it was a woman. A woman of slow, purposeful movement and very forbidding demeanour. She approached the car, stern of face, and gestured to me to open the window, speaking rapidly in Serbian. All I could understand was “Baggahjes! Baggahjes!”, but there was no mistaking the peremptory gesture at the suitcases on the roof. My heart sank. Suddenly she stood stock still, then moved to my open window and reached inside. She was smiling broadly! She laughed happily as she picked up my knitting, a boy’s sweater, and held it to her, fingering the work and pointing at the stripes. More rapid speech of which the only word that meant anything was “Plekta! Plekta!” And then I understood, because the Greek word for knitting is very similar – she was a knitter, a kindred spirit.

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She handed me my knitting, patted my hands, and stepped back. “Auf Wiedersehen! Auf Wiedersehen!” she beamed, making a sweeping gesture to indicate that we should move out of line and bypass the waiting vehicles, which stretched at least a kilometre. We were, to put it mildly, stunned, as were the dozens of people we swept past.

And for the rest of that journey, whenever we approached a border post, our friend who had been amazed and delighted at this encounter, would sing out: “The knitting, Cathy! Hold up the knitting!”

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HAPPY HATS!

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Raki , convinced as always that he’s indispensable, was determined to be of assistance whilst I was trying to photograph these hats, gifts for friends’ children. I love knitting what I call my Happy Hats which brighten up wintry days with cheerful colours, but Raki also has a thing for knitting and it’s difficult to keep him away.

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Any knitter who has cats (or do the cats have us?) is familiar with the routine of cat grabs yarn, cat runs off with yarn, cat likes to sleep on knitting in progress, but Raki has taken this to a whole other level.

Raki is a Turkish Van cat; his ancestral homelands are the area around Lake Van in Eastern Turkey, a region inhabited and criss-crossed since earliest antiquity by peoples who wove intricate carpets, and created exquisitely coloured felted wool rugs, tents, hangings, articles of clothing and horse trappings.

Somewhere in Raki’s DNA is an understanding of yarn, of textiles, of wool, which of course explains his keen interest in deconstructing my efforts and obviously has nothing to do with his highly developed ability to destroy whatever takes his fancy.

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These colours set off my pelt perfectly

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Are these yarns soft enough?

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What’s going on over there?

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I’m off…this has become old hat now

 

SPEEDING THROUGH SERBIA

My husband’s work requires that we travel to Central Europe from time to time. Occasionally we drive both ways, sometimes we take the ferry to or from Italy. The war in Kosovo made driving through the Balkans a very risky proposition, and this remained the case for some years after the conflict ended. Several years ago, after much discussion with friends who had recently braved the road trip again, we decided to drive through and judge the situation for ourselves.

Upon leaving Greece, you cross into FYROM/Macedonia (the name dispute has yet to be settled) and from there you enter Serbia. We successfully completed the various passport and customs checks at the Serbian border, and had driven a few miles into the country when we saw a tall, burly man in black uniform at the side of the road. He stepped forward, holding out his hand. My eyes were drawn to the large pistol on his belt, while my fingers flew faster over my knitting needles. Gulp!

We’d been warned to expect official roadblocks, and to be on our guard as there were likely to be organised gangs conducting holdups in that area, for we were in the vicinity of Kosovo. What hadn’t been clearly explained though was how to distinguish one from the other.

“What do you think?” my husband muttered, as he began to slow down. “If we stop, we might be ambushed, if we don’t…”

As we got closer, the man moved swiftly towards the car, coming up to my window as we stopped. I opened it halfway, clutching my needle tightly; I think I had some half-formed idea of poking his eye out as we died under a hail of bullets. He was unsmiling, but it became clear he intended no harm, and was asking for a lift to Belgrade, about three hours away. You don’t need a common language to understand “Beograd” accompanied by pointing up the highway, and a movement towards the rear door of the car.

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Once it was clear that he could ride with us, he made a hand motion to indicate that we should wait, and began walking towards some bushes. I must admit we had a brief tingle of alarm, but he was only retrieving his overnight bag. Phew!

“I’ll get in the back,” I announced, climbing out with my knitting bag and indicating to the chap to sit in front. He remonstrated at first, but I was adamant, and so we set off again. He pointed to himself, repeating a name which was quite unpronounceable and completely escapes me. The atmosphere was understandably awkward; some pleasantries were exchanged by means of broken German and English, punctuated by much hand waving and the odd Serbo-Croatian phrase from my pocket dictionary.

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Our passenger began to relax a little, becoming quite animated as he gesticulated at my knitting yarn and his head. I interpreted this as a reference to a hat, a knitted hat, which appeared to have warm memories for him, but while we gabbled incomprehensibly at each other, I dug in my knitting bag for my longest circular needle, and kept it next to me as I knitted away at my project.

This part of the highway is long and boring, quite depressing in fact, for it passes through endless miles of derelict farms and homesteads, sad reminders of a time when communities lived their lives and farmed their fields as they had for generations before the creation of Yugoslavia. Decaying buildings, long-abandoned orchards, lands now conquered by weeds stand in silent reproach of the Soviet era when families were moved off their lands and onto collective farms.

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The road is poor in parts, but stretches straight ahead. Dispiriting. The occasional car whizzed past us, as anxious as we to get away from the forlorn landscape. Unsure of the speed limit, hubby pointed to the speedometer, raising his hands and shoulders in that universal gesture of enquiry to our companion, who threw back his head in laughter. Sitting up even straighter, imposing in his uniform, he pointed cheerfully to his insignia. “No problem,” he announced in his heavy accent, “special policia!” So we sped along, the first and only time we’ve driven through Serbia with our own protection officer.

Given that we had no language in common, it’s amazing how much we gleaned from our convoluted conversation. Three hours is a long time to chat if those involved are making determined efforts to communicate, and we all did our best. We learnt that he had been in the Serbian army during the war in Kosovo, and was now in the Special Branch. He had to attend an official meeting in Belgrade, and it was up to him to make his own travel arrangements. He told us of his wife and family, he talked politics and history. He and I passed the phrasebook back and forth to each other, pointing out the words we needed, and we laughed. We all laughed. A lot. In that grim, war-ravaged country we managed to laugh. We three strangers, from backgrounds and cultures that could hardly be more divergent, had a grand old time, though I do wonder who and what he was exactly.

We dropped him off close to the river on the outskirts of Belgrade where he would stay the night with his sister, parting company with genuine regret. I got back into the front, still clutching my empty circular knitting needle. My husband commented on it, and was stunned when I explained that I’d had some vague plan to garrote our pal with it had the need arisen!