More hospital knitting.

Well, here we are, more hospital knitting! And funnily enough, I used the same wool for this little hat as I was using the last time I was in hospital. As the ‘Christmas jumper’ is now too heavy to transport, I wanted something small and portable and this little ‘Downton’ style hat fitted the bill perfectly. This is a free pattern I found on Ravelry; knitting folk are so generous with their talent and thank you to Annie Chowela for sharing this pattern (I’m sure most knitters know of, but if not, it is the most wonderful free and friendly resource – [my user name is laineenfrance]). The hat still needs to be blocked to finish it off, but it looks really nice, and it is still definitely hat weather! This is the link to the hat pattern:

Hospital again, you ask? In the words of Monty Python, “now for something completely different”, I was having an operation on a bunion and a couple of other toes. All went extremely well and with my new special post op. shoes, amazingly I am walking around pain free and reasonably well after a week.

Of course, life is not quite as normal and G has taken over in the kitchen (not his natural habitat), but he has acquired a few new recipes for his repertoire, and I had made lots of “ready meals” in the freezer to be prepared for my convalescence. Fortunately we don’t use the Findus kind that has dominated the news this week.

G is also in charge of Alba Yarns, as I have set up my HQ dowstairs for the short term. So he does all the running to the wool store and order packing. As the weather has been so miserable, he would not have been able to get out in the garden or play petanque anyway.

Also in the news this week has been the issues of care, or lack of it in UK hospitals. Having worked in the NHS in a past life, I was unsurprised by these recent revelations. When the NHS was born in 1948, Aneurin Bevan developed something that was the envy of the world, but we are living in different times. Yes, the NHS started as a political achievement, but politics is choking the NHS in the 21st century. The service can’t cope with meeting targets and caring for patients. Don’t blame ‘the administrators’, fewer wouldn’t be needed if politicians, or should I say civil servants (‘Yes Minister’, is alive and well, I know) had fewer demands.

Well done to Julie Bailey for fighting the establishment and for mounting her brave campaign to bring people to account in Stafford Hospital.

The thought of uncaring hospital staff is terrible. Unforgivable. My mother had a very bad experience just before her death. I complained. As an employee working in Patient and Public Involvement, it was probably easier for me than most. The complaint was upheld. The perpetrators were brought to account. But the nurses in question were only moved to day shift and monitored as a result. I hope they are still, as caring needs to come from within.

Having had a number of recent experiences in the French health system, It might also be time for patients to take more responsibility for their own care. Here, we all keep our own x-rays and results of any tests we have – so no storage or administrators needed for that. Patients have more responsibility; they make their own appointments. I needed a nurse to come to give me a daily injection and take blood every four days when I got out of hospital. I had to phone and organise that. If you need a blood test here, you go to a ‘Laboratoire’, with or without an appointment, have your blood test and pick up the results the same day. No waiting. No phoning your GP for the results. Of course we are comparing a system that is partially privately funded and even here the French goverment is looking very carefully at the ever increasing cost of care.

There is great work done in lots of UK hospitals every day. But where standards are not good or things go wrong patients or families must feel able to raise issues or complain without fear of repercussions and the NHS needs to react and change the culture of closing ranks, and adapt and learn from patient feedback.

I wish there was an easy answer but there isn’t. Get well soon NHS.



Christmas knitting update

I wanted to share the progress on the ‘Christmas’ jumper, as the construction is quite interesting. The back and the front are now completed. The shoulder seams are knitted together finished off on the right side. (I use this technique a lot, normally on the wrong side though. It gives a very neat finish and saves on sewing up, which is not my favourite thing.) It is a bit of a signature on Marion Foale designs.

The sleeves are then knitted on to the body of the garment, by picking up the stitches all round the armhole and then decreasing to the cuff. As you will see I am only on the first sleeve. Just as well it is winter, as this is akin to knitting with a blanket over your legs!

My old PC had really started to struggle to run my website. It was a dinosaur in IT terms, and I think I have been lucky that it kept going this long. After much deliberation, I have replaced it with a large laptop. Following the 17 pages of instructions on how to move all my data and install and replace the programmes was a challenge, but it is up and running well now. And completed ahead of the sale, which is in full swing. The laptop will give me flexibility to work upstairs in the office and woolstore or downstairs, which will be useful over the next month or so. But more of that in later posts.


New Year resolutions, or not….

New Year resolutions. Can’t say I’ve ever really done them. I suppose we’ve had discussions about the future year, but reality tells me just because you decide to do something on Hogmanay does not mean I will commit to it. Actually, if I decide to do things at another point in the year then they will happen, ‘cos I am a bit sad like that.

Actually I did decide to DO something and on 1st January too – and set off for Bordeaux first thing in the morning (no partying on Hogmanay) as the new bridge over the river was being opened to pedestrians just for the day. After a virtually traffic free journey, we arrived about 10.30 and found we could follow the crowd who all had the same idea. It was well organised, with lots of police and security. Mainly to stop people being able to get right to the edge of the bridge I think, as we only allowed to walk on the centre section, that will be the road in due course. Everyone was given a souvenir ribbon bracelet, saying “I walked over the bridge on 1/1/2013”.

The weather was a mixture of very heavy showers and sun, and we sheltered for a bit under the canopies of shops on the left bank until the worst passed.

It was a really family occasion, with all ages represented. A few people looked like they had come from parties. Everyone had a camera or were using their mobile phone to take photos. It was relatively quiet when we crossed, but I saw photos later and it was shoulder to shoulder, and many people turned up late and didn’t get to cross. 38,000 people were reported to have turned out.

The Pont Chaban Delmas (named after a former mayor of Bordeaux) is quite a feat of engineeering, with a span of 433 m and an centre section which elevates to 53 m in 11 minutes to allow ships to pass below. They expect it to be raised about 60 times a year, and hopefully it will help traffic congestion on the other bridges. The bridge will officially open to traffic on 17 March. Maybe we’ll decide to be part of that too!


Christmas knitting

Since we moved to France It has become a tradition that I knit G a sweater for Christmas. The first year I managed to complete it before the day. Since then some have been nearly finished but last year it was just a promise (a picture of the pattern and a ball of wool.) This year, as I write, the back is finished and the front is started. Knitting for men is like long haul flying!

Unusually, this is a pattern that I have done before. I very rarely knit anything twice, but this was a great success the first time round and is one of his favourite sweaters.

The pattern is by my favourite designer, Marion Foale. It is called Lloyd and comes from the now out of print, Marion Foale Classic Knitwear book published in 1985. I found my copy on eBay – they do come up from time to time.

Marion was a top model in the ’60s and took up designing and making knitwear later in life. Her knitwear is hand knitted and sells in top shops for hundreds of pounds. There is an autobiography on the Marion Foale website.

This latest version of Lloyd is being knitted in petrol blue Debbie Bliss Rialto double knitting, which is one of my favourite yarns. The pattern is very interesting, as the shoulder seams are knitted together on the outside, which gives a distinctive finish, and then the sleeves are knitted on and decreased towards the cuff.

The picture today shows work in progress.


Time to celebrate and reflect

This time of year is traditionally a time to reflect on the past year and look ahead to the new.

Alba Yarns celebrated five years of business in France in July 2012 (I set it up in Scotland in April 2006 before we moved.) in recent years it has become easier to set up in France with the advent of the Auto entrepreneur scheme, but when I arrived in 2007, I could speak very little French and certainly not to business standard. We now look back and laugh about our first encounter with French bureaucracy at the Chamber of Commerce in Libourne.

First of all it took us an age to find the office and we arrived just in time but somewhat hot and bothered. We thought we were reasonably well prepared and went carrying passports and copies of accounts from Scotland. Yes, they were needed and duly copied. Mme Etineau, who always had a very tidy desk and was immaculately coiffed, dressed and manicured then asked me for a copy of my marriage certificate dated within three months. But we’ve been married for more than thirty years, I said. Gallic shrug. I tried again. She wrote it down and with that we were dismissed.

I ordered a copy of the marriage certificate from the GRO in Edinburgh, and then of course needed another appointment. At this point making phone calls struck terror in me, but somehow I managed it. And off we went again clutching the new marriage certificate. All went smoothly this time, Mme E filled in all the forms, we parted with 100+€, and I had a business officially registered in France.

In the early days, the cost of cotisations (social security) was unbelievable, we had to subsidise the business heavily. Last year I was able to transfer to the new simplified system of payment – Auto entrepreneur, which is much better, as it is a percentage of turnover.

Over the last six or so years I have sent orders to most counties in the world, but the top three are currently France, UK and USA. I also have customers who call to collect orders or browse the stock by appointment.

I started a ‘knit and natter’ group, which started with great gusto, but tailed off to two or three of us. Maybe it was not the right time? Recently, one or two people have asked if I could teach them to knit, and knitting holidays seem to be really popular. I may look at both of these ideas for future years.

I am proud that I have been able to turn a hobby into a successful small but global business that enabled me to follow my dream to live in France.

This week’s seasonal photo is of my little helper, Fleur in her favourite window.


Marche de Noel, Pineuilh. 7 & 8 December 2012

This weekend went by way too fast with another two days of Christmas markets at Pineuilh this time. There were around thirty stands this week there was a real community feel and most exhibitors were local. My stand was opposite the local school stand and there was a great turn out for the two days.

I had lots of visitors. Thank you to Hanni, Emma, Julie, Basil and Olivia from my French class and Helen from Chateau Claribes for coming along and having a chat and for buying some jewellery. I also had a long chat with Anne and Alan who intoduced themselves. They are also Scots and have moved into Saint Philippe recently. The Scottish contingent in the commune is now up to five!

There are two funny tales to report from the weekend. The first is about a little girl who looked gorgeous in her vintage velvet Santa dress and hat. She was running round having such great fun, but just as we were packing up to go home on Saturday, there was an unholy uproar and she was in tears. Everyone was concerned. What had happened? The pom pom had come off her hat and she was inconsolable!

The second story proves that my French is still far from perfect. Just when I though it was all falling into place, a woman stopped and asked something about my greetings cards. I thought she was asking if the were blank inside, and I said there was nothing in them. I guess that is not what she asked as the look on her face said it all and then she walked away…..

This week’s photo shows the large crowd gathered round Pere Noel.


Marche de Noel, Le Fleix

It has been quite a while since I have ‘done’ a French market. So there was quite a bit of hunting around for the bits a pieces for the stand, which I found had been stored mostly in what we call the ‘big barn’. This in turn led to quite a lot of cleaning and washing of an accumulation of two years grime. Finally, everything was collected up and I was ready to go.

We had been told to arrive at 8 am an hour ahead of the official opening time. After a week of frosty mornings, it was disapointing to have rain, but we ran in quickly with our boxes. It was a really lovely venue – part of the Mairie in Le Fleix and we were in a small hall with 3 other stands. The market was well organised and there were super crowds, both morning and afternoon.

I was sorry to have missed a very good online customer who had arranged to collect an order, when I went home to have a plate of soup and thaw out. However G had a good blether with her and I’m sure we will meet another time.

My other customers of note were a lovely couple who have a herd of alpacas, somewhere near Montpon.

This week I will be at the Christmas market at Pineuilh, both Saturday afternoon and Sunday. In the meantime, I need to translate some knitting instructions for a scarf into French and do my own Christmas cards (should have taken them to the market….;-( !)


Little England?

I don’t know if you watch Little England? We do, painful though it is. Our life in France ( and not that terribly far from some of the action) bears no resemblance to the programme.

We didn’t come to have a professional ex-pat lifestyle or socialise totally with other Brits. We have French and British friends and do our best to speak the language and integrate into the community as we would anywhere. It is not always easy, but we feel it is our responsibility.

What brought this to mind was the range of nationalities that feature in my French class. Yesterday we had students from Venezuela, Vietnam, Holland, New Zealand, Australia, Uzbekistan and Ireland. Only two from England and me flying the Saltire. Nothing at all like the strange world portrayed on the telly.

And I run a global business. Granted on a small scale, but this week I have sent orders to South Africa, USA, Canada, Germany, Spain, GB and France. I have personal customers both French and British.

Probably none of this would make ‘good’ telly. And I don’t want to feature anyway!


I love working from home, but it can be tricky getting through the to do list. There is just so much scope to get involved in other things that are more enjoyable. All the important things always get done, like processing orders and going to La Poste, it’s the less attractive things that I don’t always manage. And French homework..

I have noticed more and more that the page gets turned in my ‘to do’ book and there are a few things still lurking there. Not being around much last week, and with the hospital ordeal over, this seemed like a good week to get up to date. The customer database was brought up to date, other bits of website maintenance and a number of French phone calls made (they rank along with French homework). French homework is started too, and I am actually quite enjoying it. It is a children’s book called Histoire d’une muette et du chat qui lui apprit a voler. (Story of a seagull and a cat who teaches him to fly).

Anyway, no problem with the first telephone call and I am now booked into the Marche de Noel at Le Fleix 33220 on 2 December. I hope also to do the Marche de Noel at Pineilh, but that has involved a lot of French beurocracy. I must write to the Comite des Fetes to explain what I do, before they will send me a form to apply for a place. This is a wee Christmas fair in a suburban village hall! Very little is ever straighforward here.

I have also been busy looking out baskets and things for the stand and have been working on some more kniited gems.

My picture this week is of my gorgeous amaryllis. No procrastination here. From dry bulb to this in three weeks is impressive!


Knitting as therapy

This piece of knitting saved my sanity this week. I’m sure of this. Let me explain.

Earlier this year I made an appointment with my GP to get a repeat prescription ( none of that automatic stuff here in France). She is thorough. Took a long time with her stethoscope and asked if I felt palpitations. I hadn’t, at least not before that appointment. But from then on I thought I did.

Appointments with a cardiologist followed. ECGs, Holter monitor and stress test on exercise bike. This was a man with very poor patient skills. “Tres mal.” “Tres mauvais.” He repeated. We sat in stunned silence. You need to go into hospital for further tests. After the initial shock, I went back to my GP, who explained that I should not worry and carry on life as normal. She still seemed very pleased that she found the extra beat in my heart said she was determined to get to the root of the problem.

What has knitting to do with this you ask. This was the week that was. Three days and two nights in a French heart hospital. In a department specialising in the electric function of the heart no less. I should be grateful, but this is tricky for someone who used to report on hospitals on a past life… I took a magazine (read twice), a book in French (challenging) and some knitting. I really don’t know how I would have survived without it to pass the time and focus my thoughts on something other than my room with no view. A private room has it’s advantages, but there were such long spells of nothingness, it seemed a bit like being in prison.

I won’t bore you with all the story, but never has someone been so glad to be detached to the oodles of electrodes stuck to me for 48 hours. Freedom and home – bliss! A shower – sheer luxury!

The outcome of the visit means I now have to take betablockers. And every time I pick up my knitting I still feel soothed by it. Mind you this sweater will always remind me of my inprisonment!