Tag Archives: yarn

TWISTED, KNITTED FAIRY TALES #2: CINDERELLA

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The tale of a lovely young girl wickedly abused by the stereotypical witch of a stepmother is one told in various forms in different cultures. Poor stepmoms! They continue to get a bad rap.

It appears that the earliest version lies deep in antiquity with some historians maintaining that a Greek slave girl, Rhodope, so named for her rosy cheeks, and who endured various trials and tribulations until she wed the king of Egypt, is the basis for the numerous Cinderella stories. According to one account of the Rhodope fable, an eagle snatched her sandal as she bathed and it fell into the lap of the aforementioned king, who went quite dilly over it, resolving to find the owner as she was sure to be most beautiful. You can guess the rest.

The enduring themes of all variations are the gorgeous girl of sweet disposition who’s mistreated and unappreciated until suddenly things are put right and she trips off to a life of luxury and ease with a rescuer, usually a prince. Shoes tend to feature, along with dainty feet, rags, ashes, housework and nasty sisters; modern retellings are embellished with magic wands and pumpkins.

My Cinderella had a bad a time of it, like all the classical Cinderellas, and she too finds happiness with a prince of a man, but mine, though uncomplaining like all the others, has a bit more gumption, and in addition is a most accomplished knitter. This is because her poor sainted mother (look, they’re always wonderful mothers in these stories) took the trouble to teach her when Cinderella was very young.

Therapists will tell you this was a good thing for both of them as they bonded very well and Cinderella was able to draw on all her happy memories to sustain her through her terrible situation during the stepma interlude. I do feel however that her male parent must have been quite sorely lacking in that he was either totally unaware of his daughter’s situation or not anxious to do anything about it. Whatever the reason, in my book he was a complete and utter disaster as a caregiver. Anyway, I digress from my story of the motherless, but knitting-empowered Cinderella.

One day, quite early on in the stepfamily relationship while the evil stepma was gritting her pointed little teeth and pretending to be nice to Cinderella who was not yet lumbered with all the chores, she came upon Cinders knitting away at a lovely sock. This impressed her no end for Stephorror and her miserable daughters were all perfectly hopeless at any such dainty arts. Now remember, in those days one could not waltz into a shop and purchase a pair of socks, handknit or otherwise, for the perfectly obvious reason that all articles of clothing had to be made at home by industrious housewives, or if one was lucky, by loving maiden aunties or grannies, or specially ordered from some soul seeking to supplement the family income. Anyway, my point is that Stepmutter, absolutely not slow to seize upon an opportunity, immediately saw the potential in Cinderella’s skills and promptly demanded the finished pair of socks.

Cindy sweetly gave them to her, but of course the ugly stepsisters quarreled most unpleasantly over who was to have them, finally sulking off into separate corners, each clutching a sock, which try as they might, and even allowing for the wondrous elasticity of handknitted socks, they couldn’t possibly tug over their great ugly knobbled feet. But they whinged and they cringed, they snivelled and snorted and generally made themselves even more unpleasant than usual so their doting mama promised they would have socks. She would obtain yarn as soon as she could and Cinderella would knit them socks to fit.

Before long Cinderella was getting stuck with more and more chores, and being not only a very beautiful young woman, but a smart one too, wisely chose not to mention that she had spun the yarn. And on a drop spindle yet, for where would she have been able to find a spinning wheel?

It was something of a bother for the old cow to find someone who was prepared to spin yarn for her, but she managed it and indeed was fortunate enough to find a spinster, who as we all know is an unmarried woman, but probably not all of us know that the unmarried woman in times now fortunately gone by often did the spinning for the household. Anyway, she secured for herself and her miserable offspring a fairly good and steady supply of yarn.

Poor Cinderella now found herself in an even more difficult situation than before, for not only did she have a never-ending work schedule, but knitting, which had previously been such an enjoyable outlet for her, became a burden in that she was forced to use her skills in the service of that horrendously ungrateful trio.

So she cooked and cleaned and polished and mended until she finally could settle down before the fire to work on a pair of stockings for one of the miseries. The spinster meanwhile, also not slow to spot a good thing when she saw one, began to dye her yarns in enticing colours which Stepmonster just couldn’t resist buying.

Time passed, and Cinderella knitted away on socks for the hags, who demanded more and more pairs of the wonderfully patterned ones that her nimble fingers created from the beautifully coloured yarns. She worked late into the night, getting more and more sleep deprived, all the while carefully hoarding the odds and ends of yarns left over. The knitting took on that soothing quality all knitters know. As her fingers flew, her mind raced and her plans grew. She determined, did my feisty Cinderella, that she would run away just as soon as she was able and make her way to a city, there to set up a teensy enterprise knitting gorgeous garments for discerning ladies.

See, her late mama had impressed upon her the need for a woman to have the skills necessary to support herself in the world, and not to be dependent upon a man. In the world in which you and I are fortunate enough to live, there is no question that my heroine would have been a most competent executive woman. She would have worn red power suits and Manolo Blahnik shoes. She’d have jetted about all over the world, sourcing yarns and designs for her multi-million dollar knitwear business, but that time was still far ahead in the future. So, in the absence of any kind of shoes, Cindsy planned and prepared while she turned the knitted heels and grafted the toes of the socks that would greatly improve the appearance of the stepcrowd’s ugly feet.

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Before she could run away, she had to give some thought to suitable clothing, and using the leftover yarns was an obvious place to start. Like all knitters she faced the challenge of how to make the best use of those oddballs, and after careful consideration, she began to cast on stitches for a cardigan. She managed to work on it a little at the end of each long day, content in the knowledge that she would soon set off on her great adventure, until it was done.

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Well, she never actually got to run away. Before long all that stuff you remember, or jolly well should from your childhood, about the great excitement of the ball, the prince and his search for a bride, the fairy godmother (who as far as I am concerned should have shown up a great deal earlier in Cinderella’s young life, though I suppose better late than never) pumpkins, glass slippers, coaches and so on came about.

We’ll fast forward a bit, quite a bit in fact, to find my Cinderella working away happily in her knitting room, in one of the palaces that she and the charming prince occupied at various seasons. With all her tools to hand and every kind of yarn her heart could desire did Cinderella pass her peaceful time. She never got rid of that cardigan. Indeed she kept it with her always as a reminder of how far she had come, even though she now had whole armoires full of the beautiful things she had knitted, very becoming to a beloved, good and kind princess.

It only remains for me to add that the Prince adored her, her mother in law treasured her, and as for her father…well the best I can do for him is that he continues to live with the trio, feeling awfully sorry for himself.

A HAT FOR OTZI

That poor man! I can’t imagine what he went through, and how difficult his life must have been by today’s standards.

I’ve lived in the Austrian Alps. I’ve hiked there, even in winter. Not in blizzard conditions of course, but certainly through deep snow, equipped with the proper boots, thermal underwear, ski jacket, hat, gloves and trekking sticks. The whole nine yards. Note, I said hike. Not me for the ski run and all that suicidal careening down gradients designed by Nature for mountain goats to frolic on.

Ah yes, hats. Many and varied did I knit. I’m not convinced that much heat is lost through the head, and apparently scientists have more or less debunked this notion, but certainly a warm, fleecy cover on one’s noggin is a comfort, and so much better if the headgear is bright of colour, in my humble and much-biased opinion.

Back then to my favourite older man. Much older man. I suppose his bearskin hat did ward off the elements to some extent, though as I’ve mentioned before he seemed to have trouble keeping it firmly affixed to his head, given that the leather ties had been broken and then knotted together again.

I’m no historian of Neolithic clothing but although wool was known and used by Neolithic peoples in other parts of the world, it appears this excellent insulating material wasn’t available to Otzi and his folk. Seems sheep had yet to find their way high up into the Alps, or at least trade in fleece hadn’t begun here at that time; I’m happy to be corrected on this point.

Ever since we met, Otzi and I, his lack of a snugly-fitting hat of warm wool has spun its way through my imagination on occasion. A hat for Otzi should surely not be coarse and bulky like skins and furs, but soft and cosy. It should be somewhat waterproof, as indeed his bearskin cap was, but able to hug his head against the vicious winds that whip and rip through the Alps.

Otzi needed the protection afforded by felted fabric. Austria is famous for its wonderful Loden cloth which is not actually felted, but fulled. Wool yarn is first loosely woven or knitted, then subjected to a controlled process of agitation and boiling, until the wool fibers shrink and mat together into a dense fabric. This density makes fulled fabric exceptionally warm and very hardwearing; it does not ravel, it can be cut, and it can be moulded to any shape.

I have quite a bit of oiled Shetland tweed yarn in my stash, a perfect yarn for my tribute to Otzi. Such yarns, spun in the oil, can be unappealing to knitters who aren’t aware that once the finished item is well washed in hot soapy water the oil is removed and the yarn fluffs up, becoming much softer. Tweed yarn for Otzi then. Tweed, with all its inviting little flecks of color, to warm and cheer him.

Two colours, I decided. Two colours, as his clothing had been so drab. Brown for earth and rock, blue for the sky so far above him. To think he perished, alone, all those thousands of years ago, and now esteemed scientists devote their careers to him.

His hat didn’t take long to knit. I used a larger size needle than the yarn usually calls for and knitted an overly big hat. I gave it a deep brim so that it can be worn doubled, or pulled down to cover part of the face. The resulting hat, prior to fulling, was of course floppy and stringy and looked quite odd, but the magic was yet to come.

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Looks rather odd

Bucket of very hot water, bucket of cold water, bottle of dishwashing liquid, rubber gloves, and go… I love this part! The idea is to agitate and aggravate the woollen item by rubbing it hard in the soapy water, plunging it in and out of hot and then cold water. The water has to be changed often so that it remains as hot/cold as possible, and the item must be checked frequently to monitor the rate of fulling and shrinking.

When satisfied with the result, I rinsed it thoroughly and rolled it up in a towel to blot excess moisture. Poor Jason sat outside in the sun all day while Otzi’s hat dried, never saying a word.

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Would Otzi have liked this?

It’s likely that I’ll knit another hat for Otzi – there are so many exciting possibilities.

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I have my own woollies, thank you

KNITTING SPOKEN HERE

Turkey’s larger towns and cities have many sophisticated stores and boutiques where the shopper, whether a local resident or tourist, is presented with an abundance of the goods to be found in such surroundings. Designer clothing, sumptuous rugs, antiques. Tantalizing temptation!

 

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Street market in Izmir

But for me, the street markets and covered bazaars do it every time. They are so enticing, full of weird and wonderful objects, the everyday and the exotic, paper tissues and cloth of tissue, jeans and jewellery.

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Always busy; always exciting

The buyers and sellers alike are fascinating; visitors are from far and wide; dozens of languages are heard, mingling with the sounds of bells and music. Tiny shops selling sweet-smelling spices nestle between the textures and vibrant colours of handwoven carpets, rugs and other handworked textiles in adjoining enterprises.

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Snack, anyone?

It’s knitting that invariably catches my eye. Anything knitting related, be it the handknitted socks which pop up here and there in various shops and stalls, or knitting yarn. Although stores here do a brisk trade in clothing of varied quality, much of it imported from countries like China and Taiwan, handknitting is still popular, and domestically produced knitting yarn is widely available.

You will often find a small selection of basic yarns in the typical haberdashery business. These little shops are bursting with threads, buttons, zippers, needles of all types, sewing tools and gadgets, notions and trims – an amazing selection of items for those of us inclined towards the needle arts.

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Worth a look

Displayed on shelves reaching to the ceiling and expertly retrieved for your inspection by the owner or assistants, tucked under the counter, stored in the back or even fetched for you by some runner urgently dispatched to a fellow dealer, the goodies are many and varied.

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Spoilt for choice

Whilst we communicated only by gestures and much pointing on my part, the owner of this establishment was extremely courteous and helpful, even though my purchase was tiny. The hospitality however was huge, as we have often found it to be in Turkey, and sweet tea, always served in glasses, was immediately sent for.

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Later in the day we came across a shop pretty much devoted to knitting – owned and run by two charming ladies who are either sisters, or mother and daughter. I couldn’t quite establish the relationship and as we were a little off the typical tourist part of this particular market, there was no helpful local to translate for me. No matter. We spoke the universal language of knitters and got along quite happily.

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Examining a pair of traditionally knitted socks

As you see in these photographs, the knitters were very excited about a recently published magazine pattern they were working on. They were most anxious to show me the baby jacket, knitted from the top down, a technique which we in America are familiar with, but one completely new to them.

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What was so touching, and so typical of the generosity of knitters, was their determination that I too should learn this method and all of its advantages, in spite of the fact that we had not one word of common language among us. I not only hadn’t the heart to tell them I have made several items this way, but I quite literally couldn’t.

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Here are the ladies explaining the pattern to me, and going to enormous trouble to write down some pointers, bless them. In Turkish yet! They were so enthused about the process, and so eager for me to benefit from it also. We had a grand old time, babbling away, trying to find words in my tiny pocket dictionary, which was not exactly encyclopaedic with regard to knitting terms.

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When nods and smiles aren’t quite enough

I will never forget them, how genuine and cheerful they were, their generosity in sharing. They spoke for knitters everywhere.

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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!

SPIDERS? CHICKENS? AIRPLANES?

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Chlorophytum Comosum

This striking plant, called hen-and-chickens in South Africa where it is indigenous, has long been known to the native populations, some of which still use it in various forms of herbal medicine. It was first identified in 1794, and given the name Chlorophytum Comosum.
Since then it has been cultivated into many varieties all over the world, gaining itself common names such as spider plant, airplane plant; the botanical name of this particular one is vittatum. You can tell that it’s a very obliging plant, easy to grow, by the fact that it thrives in my garden even though I’m not possessed of green fingers. It’s certainly what you might call an enthusiastic plant, throwing its offspring out into the world to seek their fortune, rather like the mythical Jason did.

Now that you’ve had a botany lesson, let me tell you how Jason’s latest hat came about.

The chickens/spiders/airplanes that this plant has produced continuously since summer have been catching my eye daily. I needed to do something with yarn! Mythos Minor was particularly enthusiastic as he’s under the impression that the wild antics of knitting yarn and fingers are solely for his amusement, but Jason maintained his thoughtful composure.

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Are we ready to continue?

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Which colour are we playing with first?

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This inaction is getting seriously boring – are you going to knit or what?

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Who’s that coming in the cat door?

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Taking cover

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Mythos Major offers to help

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Plantlets for Africa

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What’s going on?

How and when did these sturdy plants come to the Pelion Peninsula? Greece has been a seafaring nation since antiquity which makes me wonder if some plant-loving adventurer collected the first specimens in the forests of unknown Africa?

JASON CHANNELS MEDUSA

My yarn stash cannot be described as small, and it’s certainly very eclectic. Colour dominates the collection of almost every type of yarn, but wool and wool blends are well represented from tweeds to angora, mohair to baby-fine merino, worsted weight basics to the wildest novelties. I confess I collect. Many of my yarns, whether they have been knitted up or not, function as mini travel diaries recording people and places encountered. While delving through the stash earlier in the week, I chanced upon a single ball of Cabaret by Stacey Charles. A burst of colour! Just too, too much but perfect for a zany hat.

Medusa was a beautiful priestess in the temple of the goddess, Athena, which required her to lead a celibate life. Unfortunately, Poseidon rather put an end to her vows of chastity. Depending on which version of classical Greek mythology you read, their love was either consensual (and one hopes so for the poor girl’s sake) or an act of violence. Whichever, Athena was less than thrilled and took a terrible revenge on Medusa, making her face hideously ugly and turning her lovely locks into a seething mass of poisonous snakes. Medusa was transformed into a monster. Shame on Athena, for she was, among other things, the goddess of reason, but obviously reason surrendered to rage.

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Jason Busy Channelling

Medusa, no surprise, fled, and wandered about turning to stone anyone who had the misfortune to gaze upon her ghastly face. Greek mythology is absolutely fascinating, but perhaps not reading material of choice for the faint-hearted!

‘BYE ‘BYE BIRDIES

 

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Summer is reluctantly drawing to its end here; there are all sorts of little reminders that winter is sneaking up on us.  The cyclamen has begun to appear. Tiny clusters at the moment, but in a few weeks there’ll be large areas of these delicate pink plants with their distinctive flowers and leaves.

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Most of the swallows have already left, but one particular swallow clan and their offspring remain. These have returned to their large communal nest on a balcony for the third year now. At least I think it’s the same extended family. Apparently swallows mate for life, and this group has certainly done its bit for the swallow population with three sets of hatchlings this season. This is probably why their flight has been delayed as the last of the baby swallows have only just left the nest. I suspect ma and pa are quite anxious for the youngsters to build up their strength so that they too can journey along the ancient and perilous migration paths.

Busy, busy these parents have been for months, zapping past my window from the first glimmers of dawn until they’re mingling with the emerging bats at end of day. I’m delighted that their mud home has remained unoccupied so far during the long winters, for I’ve noticed that these sturdy dwellings are often taken over by winter squatters, and once that happens, the swallows shun the nest.

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I haven’t yet been able to identify the housebreakers which are small and somewhat sparrow-like, but they certainly do disrupt the swallow housing developments, and make an enormous mess of droppings from the high-rise apartments they have commandeered under the eaves.

 

Swallows feed on the wing, catching insects in mid-flight, but they flash by so quickly I’ve never yet been able to capture a decent photograph. Instead, here are pictures of a spotted flycatcher returning to her colourful home in the roof with an unfortunate grasshopper – dinner for the three raucous fledgings she was nurturing in June – and dessert of some sort of grub.

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She spent the whole summer only a couple of feet from my study window, so I was able to watch her preparing the nest with cheerful snippets I’d made available. When I sew, I try to trim seams outside in the garden, while small pieces of yarn from knitting projects get tossed out the windows. These bits blow around and are quite often picked up by birds to weave into their nests.

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Mama flycatcher was quite selective in what she chose to use, with a strong preference for red.

As for Raki, he was enthralled by the spectacle, and spent long periods chittering indignantly at the comings and goings, and although the nest is now empty he still stares hopefully up at it. But soon our feathered winter vistors will arrive and we all look forward to their antics.

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