Tribute to NHS and key workers

Cottontown Chorus made this video as a tribute to NHS and key workers

We are also remembering fellow member, singer, and dear friend, Dr John Kelly, who will be greatly missed. He died as a result of coronavirus in the week before the video was made.

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I am a member of Cottontown Chorus. We have won the British Barbershop Championship seven times and currently have the European bronze medal. Last year we also won a gold medal as a mixed chorus when we combined with Amersham A Cappella.

Before lockdown we had been working hard to fight again for the Championship, in May. Obviously that isn’t going to happen and we have to wait until next year. We are missing our singing.

Barbershop is the most extreme form of close harmony singing. It is made up of four different parts which all need to blend together to produce the barbershop chords. This isn’t easy when we are all in the same room. It is nigh on impossible over the internet. Nevertheless, we wanted to try to keep going so rehearsals went online at the start of lockdown.

We have several members who are excellent singers but certainly not tech-savvy. The first week was ‘interesting’, to say the least. We were using Zoom. Trying to get everyone in the same ‘room’, at the same time, was challenging but eventually we managed. The organisation got easier as the weeks went by.

When we heard about the BBC Big Night In to raise money for Children in Need and Comic Relief we decided to make a video. One suggestion was that we should sing one of the songs from our rock set. This group of mostly middle-aged men love an excuse to get dressed up in their rock gear!

Rock Set

We have an extensive repertoire. We wanted to make a tribute to the NHS and key workers so chose God Only Knows (what I’d be without you). Coincidentally, we also sang this in our last public performance before lockdown, at the Royal Northern College of Music, in Manchester.

Poor quality photo taken with a phone March 7, 2020 – and we’re dressed in our ‘Charleston’ gear

There are about 70 people in the competition chorus. 42 took part in the video, which proved to be a very good number because it created a nice 6 x 7 grid. Some of our members are key workers themselves and couldn’t take part because they were working.

The first stage was relatively simple. Many barbershoppers learn their own part from teach tracks, and everyone is very familiar with using them. We all have access to the tracks so we each recorded our own voice, listening to our track, so that we all got the same timing. Obviously, the recordings varied, depending on the equipment that had been used. A small group of people balanced them so nobody was singing too loudly.

For many members getting organised for the visual part was more demanding. We thought we needed to be dressed appropriately for a Beach Boys song. (Are you noticing a theme here?) I, for one, don’t have any beach attire. Pat cannot be exposed to sunlight so we just don’t do holidays with sun, sand and sea. We searched the house but didn’t find anything garish enough. Pat is ‘shielded’ for 12 weeks but I am allowed out for essential shopping. Fortunately, our nearest supermarket is Asda, which happens to sell clothes. A flowery shirt is not an essential but I was able to get one at the same time as buying food. I guess others faced similar challenges and probably had to borrow from members of their household.

We also wanted to make the backgrounds appropriate. Zoom makes this easy because it has a ‘green screen’ feature that lets you use your own picture as the background. It will work, but is not perfect, if your background is just a plain wall. We have a big house so it’s not that difficult to find a wall space but I decided to experiment further.

I probably wouldn’t have even thought about trying to make a real green screen but, on the same day, a local person put out an appeal for fabric to make drawstring bags for nurses to put their clothes in so they can put everything in the washing machine at one go without touching anything. We have masses of fabric from the days when I used to do screen printing. We sorted through a big pile of fabric and kept anything green.

Most green screens are very bright, almost fluorescent, and nothing was quite that colour. I read on the internet that any shade of green will work, as will red, blue, etc. Apparently red can be tricky as faces are sometimes seen as being the same colour as the background. The biggest problem with ordinary fabric is that it is difficult to get completely flat. I had enough clips, bars, hangers, etc. to be able to fasten it up but, even after ironing, the slightest crease is picked up as a different shade.

I fixed up a screen and soon discovered that you have to be fairly close to it otherwise the camera also sees the walls at the side of it and that messes things up. Two or three feet away from the wall is far enough. This meant moving the laptop and microphone across the room so that everything would fit in. The green screen wasn’t a great success. I had to shave off most of my beard because the camera seemed to think it was green and my background picture showed through. In the end I settled for using the plain white wall which was just as good.

I was lucky that I had plenty of space and somewhere to do this uninterrupted. This wasn’t the case for everyone. Some people had to lock up their dogs, silence their children and turn off everything that could make a noise.

The filming took place on my birthday, Saturday, April 18. Everyone was miming to the recording and being filmed by their own laptop, phone, tablet, whatever. It took a while to get started. There were some who confused themselves because they were logged in on more than one device. Others couldn’t understand why they could not see themselves, only to discover they were using the wrong camera on a phone. We had the inevitable lost connections, dropped phones, and other minor problems. We also needed to remind people to move as little as possible so that the overall effect would not be distracting. This didn’t stop Chris entering into the spirit of his location and bringing his cocktail with him.

It took three attempts to get it right. The first failed because it wasn’t recording. Someone disappeared part way through the second attempt. Third time lucky!

We hope you enjoy it

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Cottontown Chorus

The Big Lock-Down Math-Off

Today, Easter Saturday, April 11th, is the first day of The Big Lock-Down Math-Off. In the first match we are up against Andrew Stacey. It is basically Knitting v Superheroes.

The voting for the first match ends at 9 am BST on Monday the 13th

Don’t let maths put you off. Some days there may be difficult things but on other days pitches, like ours, will be very easy to understand. If there is something you like vote for it. You don’t have to vote every time.

The Math-Off is usually an annual event taking place in July. It is a knock-out competition for mathematicians from all round the world. This year it is different. The organiser, Christian Lawson-Perfect, says

Welcome to what has become by default the sporting event of the year! The Big Math-Off is running a little bit earlier this year, to keep us entertained while we’re stuck indoors.

Because it’s unclear how long the lock-down will last, and nobody knows what’s coming one day to the next, this year’s Math-Off is a much less structured affair. Anyone can enter, and every two days for as long as we can we’ll pick two pitches off the queue and pit them against each other. Nobody gets knocked out, the votes don’t mean anything, and we’ll see lots of different bits of maths. It’s the ideal Math-Off!

Our pitch today is very like a blog post I wrote here a few months ago so I won’t repeat it now,

Almost as much fun as the actual competition (or more fun, some would say) is the virtual sticker book that accompanies it. This is run by Matthew Scroggs. He is usually very well organised but I suspect he is probably making it up as it goes along this time. You are allowed to buy stickers each day, with imaginary money, and can then trade them with friends. It gets very competitive. You don’t have to read any of the pitches, or know anything about the Math-Off to be able to take part.

Have fun.

Rainbows Everywhere

There are rainbows in windows, and on buildings, all round the world at the moment so I went looking for all the rainbows we have ever made. I surprised myself when I realised how many we have. Some of them are not rainbow-shaped but they are rainbow colours.

Scroll to the bottom to see what we currently have in our window.

Some Square Over The Rainbow

This blanket was made way back in 1997. It is obvious that it has the seven colours of the rainbow and it has 49 small squares in 7 columns and 7 rows. They represent square numbers and one way of calculating them.

Each colour has an odd number of squares. There is one violet square, 3 indigo, 5 blue, 7 green, 9 yellow, 11 orange and 13 red, making the total of 49. Square numbers are the sum of odd numbers.

The first square number is 1.
The second is 4 (2 x 2), which is 1 + 3.
The third is 9 (3 x 3), which is 1 + 3 + 5.
… and so on
The seventh is 1 + 3 + 5 + 7 + 9 + 11 + 13 = 49

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Wheely Colourful

Is this rainbow curved? You might think so but each triangle has straight sides until the next one is joined to it.

It is a fun afghan, knitted on straight needles and made entirely from scraps.

It has hundreds of knots, left showing. A few knots look like a mistake; lots of them become a design feature.

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I divided all my DK weight oddments into seven piles. It was sometimes difficult to decide which pile a particular yarn should go into. Looking at a pile with half-closed eyes made it easy to spot anything that was seriously out of place. I then tied lengths together to make seven large balls.

Double Vision

This is not quite a rainbow because it uses ten colours.

Yes, it really does only use ten colours of yarn, though you can see 55 different shades from the mixes of those yarns. It shows all the possible combinations of ten colours.

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Alternative Rainbows

In 2018 we were involved with a maths project called Mirror Pillar, using anamorphic art. Anamorphic designs look completely different when you reflect them in a cylindrical mirror. We made several large pieces to accompany the pillar on its travels round the country. We also made some rainbows. They are not all the shape you would expect and they give even more unexpected shapes when they are reflected in a cylinder.

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Barbie Rainbows

Barbie likes rainbows too.

Her rainbows are a little unconventional. The two long dresses have stripes that get wider. There is one violet ridge of knitting, two indigo, three blue, etc.

The short skirt forms a circle with seven sections when it is flat.

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Rainbow Spinners

You probably made these spinners out of cardboard when you were a child. A few years ago we made lots of knitting and crochet versions in all kinds of colour combinations. Four of them were rainbow colours.

I didn’t write a pattern at the time but have now written outline instructions for making them.

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Tower of Hanoi

The Tower of Hanoi is a mathematical game or puzzle, which can also be used as a simple stacking toy for a young child. A number of rings are arranged, on a post, in size order, to form a tower. There are two spare posts. The object of the game is to move all the pieces onto another post to form a new tower, with the pieces in the same order as the original. The rules are

  • Only one ring may be moved at a time.
  • A ring can be moved onto any rod and placed on top of the pieces that are already there.
  • No ring may be placed on top of a smaller disk.

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Some Wear Over The Rainbow

Seven crochet cords fastened together to make a rainbow scarf.

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Shadow Triangles

Photos never do justice to illusion knitting. These photos were particularly difficult to take because of the reflections on the window.

What you see from in front is not the same as what you see from the side.

These photos show the illusion more effectively. When you look from the side you see triangles on both boards. When you look from directly in front you see squares in one and diagonal lines in the other.

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Don’t Panic

This was intended as a companion piece to Life, the Universe and Everything. Fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will recognise the message from the front of ‘The Book’. It seems particularly appropriate in the current crisis.

The lettering has been charted in two different ways. One is designed to be viewed from the side; the other is seen from below. You cannot simply use the same chart and turn it round. That does not reveal the parts of the letters you need to see.

These two pieces are the same size as Life, the Universe and Everything so they could be used together as a cushion, or as squares in a blanket or wall-hanging. Because the size was restricted, the lettering is quite close to the edge so will start to bend away and be less clear if it is on a rounded cushion. It is easy to add extra rows and stitches to compensate for this.

Rounded
Flatter
Front view (Both squares look similar)
Side view

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We currently have a promotion on Ravelry. Buy Don’t Panic and get Life, the Universe and Everything free.

2020 – The First Quarter

The first three months of 2020 haven’t been quite what I expected – and this doesn’t have much to do with COVID-19.

To set the scene I need to go back a few months. If you have ever read anything about us you will already know that we spend much of our time designing, knitting, teaching online and pursuing other crafty activities. You probably also know that Steve’s other passion is Barbershop singing. He belongs to Cottontown Chorus who have been National Champions seven times. Their last gold medal was in 2018. By the rules of the national organisation they were not able to compete in 2019 and have been preparing to fight for the crown in 2020.

In 2019 they did enter another competition, as half of a mixed chorus, called A Kind of Magic, with Amersham A Cappella. Another gold medal! These are their competition performances.

They were scheduled to sing together again this year. Obviously all performances are now cancelled or postponed.

I have a 91-year old stepfather who has no relatives other than the three of us. He lives over a hundred miles from where any of us are. He has been living on his own for eleven years and managing very well until last year. Despite his age he is still a very intelligent man who does The Telegraph crossword every day and still enjoys playing snooker, having been a very serious, and successful, player in years gone by. His other love is TV comedy programmes and a weekly copy of Radio Times is one of his few requirements. Unfortunately, his short-term memory is not as good as it was and, by his own admission, he is ‘easily persuaded’.

I think he is of the opinion that any advert in the Radio Times must be good. He seems to have bought several things by responding to adverts, including unbelievably expensive hearing aids.

During 2019 he was visited several times by people doing unnecessary work on his house. His neighbours have been keeping an eye on him. Nevertheless two lady gardeners came back several times and charged extortionate amounts of money for very small jobs that didn’t really need doing.

In the summer we suggested he might find a mobility scooter useful and he was quite keen on the idea. He was beginning to find the uphill, mile-long, walk to the newspaper shop a bit demanding. We were determined to prevent him ordering one randomly from an advert so we took him, there and then, to a local stockist. He enjoyed riding round their car park and decided he didn’t want a ‘sporty’ version but he did want the 8 mph version that would allow him to ride on the road. He was happy to have the one he tried out even though it had vivid green panels on it. This probably had something to do with the discount he got for it being a display model. It was delivered the next day and he was like a kid with a new toy. It gave him a new lease of life and he started going to places he hadn’t been for a while.

When Autumn came I was worried that he was still going out in his car on cold and wet days. We first bought him a new warm, waterproof, mountaineering coat and then ordered, and paid for, a see-through cover for the scooter. This was supposed to take about three weeks to arrive but that is not quite what happened.

As Christmas approached we tried to persuade him to spend Christmas with us but he wanted to stay at home. He said he was happiest at home, in his own chair with his own television. Steve and I stayed at home and Ben came to visit. Nothing is conventional when Ben is around. Having checked the weather forecast, and finding that Christmas Day was likely to be the only clear day, he wanted to spend it taking photographs from a hill near Stalybridge (which is near Manchester). We duly trundled off to the hill but it wasn’t as clear as he anticipated and the photos weren’t good enough. However, he went back, alone, a few days later and produced this. The aim was to show the city of Manchester in the foreground and the city of Liverpool in the distance.

Click here to see how the video was made

2019 turned into 2020 and life started to get chaotic. We went to visit Arthur around New Year. One good thing about this was that he still had his Christmas cards up and amongst them was one from the company he had bought his hearing aids from. Until then I had no idea where they came from and he couldn’t remember anything. I only knew that they didn’t work. Once I had a name I was able to contact the company and insist that they went to see him to sort out the problem.

They made an appointment. He wrote it on a piece of paper and, apparently, stood it on the table. I phoned him the night before to remind him. The person turned up – and Arthur wasn’t there. He had followed his daily routine of fetching his own newspaper and those of his neighbours. He came straight back because he knew he had to be in but then forgot and went out again. The appointment was rearranged to late February and then, by some happy fluke, they had a cancellation and turned up on February 10. This was a very good thing because a lot had happened in the interim. There was an easy solution to the hearing problem – he had spent a year trying to put the aids in the wrong ears.

In-between times the two women had been back. According to the neighbours they always seemed to turn up when it was raining. On this occasion it was raining and they ‘painted the fence’. This fence is three uprights with a couple of slats going across. There was also a very garbled story about one of the tyres on the car having a hole in it. We don’t know exactly what happened but it resulted in them taking him to the bank and he paid them £800. It was very unfortunate that he had that amount of money at his disposal. I took over his financial affairs some time ago and, under normal circumstances, he would only have had a very small amount of money. On this day some money had been returned to his account because of some complication caused by the Power of Attorney rules.

We immediately contacted the police and the local safeguarding team. They weren’t able to do a great deal but I have to say that they went out of their way to reassure, and try to help, all the elderly people nearby.

At this point we decided that Arthur was becoming too vulnerable to stay where he was. We had never before mentioned that he might be better elsewhere. We were sure he wanted his independence and he was, on the whole, coping well. He went out every day for newspapers and shopping. It was worrying that he was still driving. The police had also asked about that and I was able to say that he was legal. He had tax, insurance, MOT, and his driving licence was up-to-date.

We started to make enquiries about where he could possibly move to. We found a place that seemed ideal. It was a self-contained flat in a secure building that was specially built to accommodate mobility scooters (even large ones) in the corridors and lifts. It had dining and recreational facilities, etc. and enough care to be sure that people were safe but still able to be independent. The only tricky bit was that, under their particular rules, he could not buy the property without selling his own house as it would be considered to be a second home.

We were very hesitant about broaching the subject to him but we needn’t have worried. The house was put up for sale and the process started. There were several viewings, which weren’t without incident. Following the warnings from the police he refused to let the estate agent into the house even though an appointment had been made and I had told him to write down that someone was coming. Fortunately the agent is the owner of a small family business and was happy to phone me so that Arthur could check it was OK.

Within a couple of weeks he received an offer but we turned it down. We were hoping for more. It proved to be a good thing because almost immediately Arthur started to hint that he might like somewhere where there would be more care. In particular he would like someone to cook for him.

Complete change of plan! We started to look at care homes. He didn’t like the first one because it was full of ‘old people’. A high point was when I recognised a name that I knew, on one of the doors. It was the person I thought it was so the staff went and found the lady in question. She was someone that Arthur had been at school with, more than 70 years ago, and I had worked with, nearly 50 years ago. She was delighted to see us but a rather strange conversation followed.

The next home looked better but the staff there suggested that one of their sister homes might be even better. Arthur has lived in the same town all his life and this other home was about six miles away so we weren’t sure he would want to be so far away from friends. We took him to visit and it couldn’t have been better. He could take his scooter if he was happy to keep it in his room. It is just across the road from shops and the bus station. Less than half a mile away is a proper old-fashioned snooker club. We visited on Friday. They had vacancies. On Sunday, on our way home, we called in again and told them he would like to go there.

There should have been two assessments but they were able to circumvent one because they had already seen him and talked to him enough to know that his problems were only old age and poor memory. There was nothing more serious. The official assessment was on Wednesday. On the same afternoon they phoned to say they were happy to take him and asked when would we like him to move in. The reply was, ‘As soon as possible.’ To my amazement, they said, ‘This weekend?’

How do you start from scratch and move someone from their home of 40 plus years in just a couple of days? We dropped everything else and went. ‘Stressful’, ‘hectic’ and ‘chaotic’ probably describe what was really going on whilst appearing to be calm and normal.

From Arthur’s point of view, Saturday went without a hitch. We took his clothes, books, television, a few possessions, and his favourite chair. The room was furnished and the furniture could either be left or removed. He was happy to keep what was there but needed a bookcase. Fortunately there is an Ikea only about ten miles away so Steve and Ben trundled off to buy a tall bookcase and proceeded to assemble it in the room, much to the amusement of the staff. Arthur settled in so quickly that at one point we turned round and realised he was missing. It was tea-time so he had gone off to one of the two dining rooms.

We called in again on our way home on Sunday and, as things have turned out, that day, February 16, was the last day we were able to see him ‘in the flesh’.

By one of those strange coincidences the mobility scooter was ready for delivery on the Monday. This was several weeks after originally intended as there had been problems with Christmas holidays, getting the metal for the frame, etc., etc. It was delivered direct to the home and they were even able to find a room where it could be stored.

His car didn’t hang around long either. As soon as it became known that he was going, a neighbour asked to buy the car. Who wouldn’t want a car that is 15 years old with less than 14,000 miles on the clock, and a full service history to prove it.

The next question was what to do about the house. To cut short a long story, we decided to rent not sell. It was taken off the market and we needed to get it ready for rental. I have forgotten exactly when, and how often, we went back but, with a lot of hard work it quickly got cleared and cleaned. We were very fortunate that there was a warehouse-style charity shop only about two miles away and the refuse tip was a similar distance. The charity shop would take absolutely everything so we took most of the furniture and several carloads of smaller items.

Shortly after Arthur moved in several residents in the home contracted a stomach bug and the home was in lockdown. It opened up again for a short while, at a time when we weren’t able to get there and then Covid-19 reared its head and they were in lockdown again.

Our final trip to the house was at the time when self-isolation was just beginning and only a few days before vulnerable people like me were told to stay indoors. We managed to get there, finish what we needed to do, and get back, without having to mix with other people. The letting agent arranged for all the walls to be painted, for some minor repairs to be done, and for new carpets to be fitted throughout. Goodness knows how long it will now have to stand empty before anyone is able to move into it.

The only people we encountered were the reception staff at the home. I have always been very keen on technology and as soon as I realised that this virus was going to cause big problems we bought a Facebook Portal Mini for Arthur. We have always had trouble communicating with him by phone – but that’s a whole other story. This modern technology seemed ideal but we weren’t sure how we could get it to him and explain how to use it. We wrote instructions then went to the home and set it up in their reception. We explained it to the handyman, who is in no way tech-savvy, and he took it to Arthur. It worked immediately so at least we can now see him and talk to him.

I am extremely relieved that Arthur is safe inside the home and we don’t need to worry about whether he is managing to get food and look after himself. The speed of moving him into the home caused havoc all round but turned out to be a very good thing.

I’m not sure how so much can have happened in so short a time but it isn’t all that was going on. In the midst of this I walked into the end of the bed and sustained a nasty injury to my leg. My skin is so fragile this isn’t a particularly rare occurrence. It was the kind of injury that most people would go to A&E with but I know, from past experience, that they would only be able to pull the wound together with steri-strips and dress it. I was able to do that myself as I always carry the necessary equipment. After a couple of weeks, when it wasn’t healing as well as I would have liked, I did resort to going to the local health centre twice a week to get more specific treatment. As if that wasn’t enough I also had a lump removed from my arm so most of the cleaning and sorting was done with fifteen stitches in my arm.

February 2, or 02022020, was a significant day. Not only was it a mathematically lovely date, it was also Ben’s birthday and exactly a third of a century since I had my kidney transplant. I have written about this elsewhere. This is amazing. It also makes me a very vulnerable person.

Under the Covid-19 restrictions I am now ‘shielded’ for twelve weeks. The health centre nurse was willing to visit me at home but instead, to help relieve pressure on their services, I have been given various dressings and advice on which to use at what stage. She is always available on the phone and will come out if necessary.

To add to the fun, late one evening we were watching TV when there was a strange but small noise, the TV and lights flashed off and back on again. It was so quick it didn’t interfere with the router or anything else. We didn’t take a great deal of notice. About half an hour later there was a louder noise and the same thing happened again. More worryingly a large cloud of smoke went past the window of our upstairs lounge. Our house looks like this, from the side so you can imagine how high the smoke travelled

We went round all four floors to see if we could find anything that had been damaged and were completely mystified. By the time we had been all round and came back to look out of the window there were two electricity board vehicles outside and men looking around. Steve went out to speak to them and was told that a high voltage cable had exploded underground. By about 2 o’clock they had made it safe and erected barriers all round. I was very impressed by the speed with which they arrived. It took about two weeks to dig down, repair, fill the hole and re-lay the stones.

February 24
February 24
February 26
March 4
March 5
Filling the hole
Levelling the ground
Restored to normality

We acquired quite a lot of stuff when we cleared Arthur’s house. We have a big house so we’ve plenty of room – or so you might think. It is already pretty full with all our craft-related stuff. It would have been a bit easier if Steve had not also taken over responsibility for Cottontown Chorus’ wardrobe. He is Vice-Chairman of the chorus and already spends a lot of time doing things for the good of the chorus. He arrives at rehearsals early every week (with a couple of other people) to help get out the risers (The curved step a chorus stands on) and he videos and edits every rehearsal to put on YouTube for the members. When the person in charge of the wardrobe became ill late last year he volunteered to take over that job too. It is an onerous task at the best of times but was made even worse because the school where they rehearse, and store the uniforms, is undergoing a refit and everything had to be moved. Of course, the obvious place for all the spare equipment was our ‘big house’. We are now guardians of about 40 dinner suits, dozens of white shirts plus red shirts … and black shoes … and black and white shoes … and bow ties … and slim ties … and other items to numerous to mention.

We would tidy up our own stuff but the recycling centre has been closed so there would be nowhere to take the rubbish. So here we are, a quarter of the way through the year, in lockdown, safe and well, surrounded by other people’s property but able to communicate with the outside world and with plenty to keep us busy.

I end with a video, taken on a phone, on March 7. This was the last performance by Cottontown Chorus before self-isolation began. They were singing The Climb with Crystal Chords at the Royal Northern College of Music.





Confusing bell gauges

A year ago I blogged about the knitting needle gauges I have in my collection that are shaped like bells. This week I was asked a question about why a size 9 hole in an old UK gauge looks as though it measures 5 or 6 mm when all the gauge conversion charts say size 9 is equivalent to 3.75 mm.

The answer is really quite simple but it is clear to see where the confusion arises.

This is an early twentieth century gauge made by H Walker but it is very similar to all other gauges of that era. There are minor discrepancies with a few gauges but, generally speaking, they are all fairly accurate.

The holes in the centre are exactly what you would expect to see. The largest is size 1, which is equal to a modern-day 7.5 mm. Size 2 is 7 mm. The confusion begins when you want to use the edge of the gauge.

Below is a conversion chart showing the metric equivalents of the UK sizes. (Some are missing because there is no easy metric equivalent.)

Looking at the smaller holes it becomes obvious that the holes are much bigger than the metric measurements. It is the slits that should be used to measure the needle.

The size 9 slit, shown by the ruler, is indeed 3.75 mm (or thereabouts). The only completely accurate way to measure the diameter of a needle is using scientific calipers.

Over time gauges changed and the problem was eliminated.

Life, the Universe and Everything

As all fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will know, 42 is The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. Today is the 42nd anniversary of the first broadcast.

This cushion is the ideal gift for any Douglas Adams fan, or as a 42nd birthday present for anyone.

When you look straight at the cushion you only see stripes; when you look from an angle you see the number. The square could be used for a wall-hanging, or part of an afghan or sweater.

The pattern also contains all the other numbers so you could make it for any age.

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Am I doing it right?

We have often been asked about illusions for left-handed knitters. It is always a difficult question to answer because people use their own workarounds. It was only today that it occurred to me to do something practical about it.

I have taken the lettering from Love Cushion and put it in a separate little pattern of its own. It only has 50 stitches and 27 ridges so should be quick and easy for anyone who is unsure. Knitting a few ridges should be enough to see whether the letters are pointing in the right direction. If they are not there are some suggestions to put them right.

In many designs it doesn’t matter if the instructions are interpreted backwards but it certainly matters when lettering, or one-way designs, are involved. It is also important that the Mona Lisa should face the right way and that the farmer holds the pitchfork in the correct hand.

Download Am I doing it right?

Love is in the air

This is the ideal time to make a small knitted box with a hidden gift.


Cube Thing is made from three simple strips of knitting. They are not joined but they stay together to form a cube. You can put your gift inside and it can be taken out again without doing any damage to the cube. It has been said that this is the perfect size for a ring box.
Download the pattern


If you prefer hearts ….

Heart 2 Heart has two small illusion hearts – one to be viewed from the bottom, the other from the side. The pattern has instructions for both. With illusion knitting you cannot simply turn the pattern round to make the heart that is viewed from a different angle.

When you look directly at illusion knitting you only see narrow stripes.

These squares are quick and easy. They measure about 20 cm (8”) and only have 41 stitches. Individually they could be used as dishcloths or mats. You could use a series of them to make a scarf, bag, or part of a garment. Four squares could make a cushion, or even more can make an afghan. Reverse the colours in some squares for a more interesting effect.
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Love Cushion is another free pattern. It was originally designed for a charity but is now available to everyone.

The cushion shown was made in DK yarn and used approximately 140 metres (150 yards) of each colour for one side of the cushion. It is approximately 40 cm (16”) square and will take a 45 cm (18”) cushion pad. Illusions work with any thickness of yarn but a different thickness could change the overall size.
Download the pattern (Unlike most of our illusion patterns this one has both written and charted instructions.)


The free Silver Wedding Heart pattern includes two simple heart designs for a 25th wedding anniversary, which can be hung on the wall or used for small cushions. It doesn’t have to be for an anniversary. You could omit the numbers or add your own message. You could also add a few extra stitches to make it match the size of Love Cushion for a cushion with different hearts on each side.

If you have a little more time make a Love Hearts Blanket. Anyone brought up in UK will be familiar with Love Hearts® sweets though they may be less well-known in other parts of the world. They have been made in UK since 1933. We have used some of the traditional messages, some modern equivalents and some of our own. Sixteen messages are included in the pattern and there are instructions explaining how to create your own.

If you don’t want a whole blanket just make two squares and turn them into a cushion.
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Love Hearts® and the Love Hearts icon are the registered trademark of Swizzels Matlow Limited and are used with their permission.

Home is where the heart is is a bit more complicated.

When you look at the wall-hanging from directly in front you see four large striped squares; when you look from the side you see H O M E, with a heart nestling in the letter O.
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02022020

Today is 02/02/2020. Whichever side of the Atlantic you are this is a palindromic date. It doesn’t matter whether you put day or month first, or whether you put them before or after the year, they read the same backwards as they do forwards. What’s more the date will also read the same if you turn it upside down.  

As a mathematician I find those numbers very pleasing but this date is remarkable for other reasons.

On this day my kidney transplant is 33.33 years old. That’s a third of a century! Coincidentally it is also Ben’s birthday and I made him a cushion. (It is also Groundhog Day and Candlemas.)

The cushion looks exactly the same when you turn it upside down.

I fundraise for Kidney Research and here are the reasons why.

My kidney has never functioned spectacularly well but it has plodded along and kept me alive, and living a fairly normal life, for all these years, thanks to some unknown person who was generous enough to donate their loved one’s organs in 1986.

I have Polycystic Kidney Disease. My father had PKD. My grandmother, who died, in 1929, almost certainly had PKD.

When my father, George Boddy, was diagnosed in 1963 little was known about PKD. Despite living in Staffordshire, he became a patient of the Royal Free Hospital, London, which was one of the very few hospitals with experience of the disease. By 1966 he was on dialysis. This was in the early days of home dialysis when all patients had to be within easy reach of the hospital. George had joined the Household Cavalry as soon as he was old enough. He served for many years, including the whole of World War 2. When he left he became a police officer. He was very determined and disciplined and, combined with his DIY skills, this made him the ideal person to trial dialysis 150 miles from base. He was never afraid to try something new and was a willing volunteer to try out any new techniques.

Both of my parents became involved in educating others about dialysis, which was a very unfamiliar procedure, even to many medical people. They did this through talks and demonstrations, sometimes using a series of slides, which can be seen on the Woolly Thoughts web site. George and Maisie made a big contribution to the development of the home dialysis system. 

George had an unsuccessful transplant in 1969. In the last few years before his death he was no longer able to be a ‘bobby on the beat’ but his astounding local knowledge was put to good use as Collator of Information for the local Police Force. He was still a serving police officer when he died in 1974. (Maisie also died from another kidney disease many years later.)

My progress was monitored over the years. By 1983, I was, to all outward appearances, living a normal life and working as a teacher in a very demanding school but I had amazingly little kidney function. I was put on a ‘low clearance’ diet and watched very closely, to try to determine why my body didn’t seem to accept what was happening. My condition continued to decline but I still did not feel any ill effects. After three years on the diet it was decided that it was dangerous to continue any longer without dialysis. 

I started on dialysis and very soon afterwards, to everyone’s surprise, a kidney became available for transplant. I am from one of the rarer blood groups. I consider that I was very lucky to be ‘in the right place at the right time’. The kidney was not a good match. In those days it was thought to be important that there should be a close match. I was as good a match as anyone else they had on the list, and I was already in hospital though not really unwell, so it was decided to take a risk. It was definitely a gamble but it added to research that was being carried out.

The first few months were very shaky. I was in hospital for seven weeks. During that time I had peritonitis, which didn’t help. There was no suitable drug that could be used so I agreed to taking one that was still in trials. It worked like magic. I believe it saved my life.  I had to fill in an enormous questionnaire afterwards. I don’t know whether it ever became an approved drug but I was glad to have been part of the testing.

I agreed to take part in many trials over the years. One of the early ones was to compare the effects of Cyclosporin with Azathioprine. Cyclosporin was the new wonder drug but it was found to be poisoning my kidney and I had to be withdrawn from that trial. I still take Azathioprine and Prednisolone now. They are the kind of drugs you have to take forever to prevent the immune system from rejecting the transplanted kidney, which it regards as a foreign body.

Eventually the kidney settled down. It has never produced the stunning results that many transplantees  have but it is almost as good now, thirty-three and a third years later, as it was then. For the past fourteen years I have been able to see all my test results online via an amazing service which was originally known as Renal Patient View and is now Patient View. I cannot praise this system highly enough. This is the NHS at its very best. I can have my blood taken at my local surgery in the morning and see my results at midnight the same day. This means I can make minor adjustments to some of my medication, if necessary, without having to go to the hospital or take up a doctor’s time. It is good for all sides.

My results on Patient View go back to 2006 and my highest ever eGFR is 25. eGFR stands for Estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate and is an indication of kidney function. Anything above 60 is considered to be normal. The good thing is that it has stayed fairly stable although it is now below 20.

I hadn’t felt ill before the transplant but I felt a million times better afterwards. A progressive disease creeps up so slowly you don’t notice it. I am eternally grateful to the family who gave their loved one’s organs for transplantation. I know that four kidneys were given that night, and I believe that they were all the same blood group which makes me think that they were probably from two members of the same family.

Unlike most transplant patients I still need to limit the amount of liquid I consume (but, thankfully, not as drastically as dialysis patients do). My kidney doesn’t seem to work fast enough to process it but that is a small price to pay.

Over the years I have been looked at by more students than I could possibly count. I have signed to allow my details to be shared for various purposes. I have been a patient for doctors’ exams and in the training of doctors for those exams. I have been videoed for training purposes. Whenever possible I have agreed to whatever I have been asked to do. It is all part of the research that goes on all the time.

There have been good times and bad times. Immunosuppressants mean that transplant patients can get some weird and wonderful things that don’t happen to ‘normal’ people and I have had my share.

My illness has changed my life dramatically and taken me down paths I could never have imagined. I am a knitter. I have been a knitter for as long as I remember. I have also done many other crafts but knitting was always something to return to in the times when sitting around and waiting. After the transplant I lost much of the feeling in my fingers and they never quite returned to how they were before. It was frustrating and I had to find a way round. For a long time I couldn’t use more than one yarn at a time because I couldn’t feel what I was holding. So how could I make multi-coloured things. The first trick, which I learned from a famous knitter, was to make a ball of different lengths tied together and knit as though it was just a normal ball. That worked OK but I was not in control of the result.

The mathematician in me came to the fore and I started making small geometric shapes and then adding on more and more pieces, only using one ball at a time. To cut short a long story, this eventually developed into writing several books and creating mathematical wall-hangings. My husband and I designed these, getting inspiration from each other. We became very well-known in the knitting, and maths education communities. Some of our earliest pieces were bought by the Science Museum in London. Knitting was the unconventional medium we used to teach maths. We travelled this country and abroad, sometimes working with high-powered mathematicians, sometimes with small children, sometimes with groups of ‘I can’t do maths’ ladies. 

We have taught in a palace in Italy, above the snow-line on a volcano in New Zealand, at a football stadium event with 10,000 children, and many other amazing places. None of this would have happened if it hadn’t been for the drugs I have taken all this time. Yes, they leave me vulnerable to various types of cancer and strange illnesses, they have wasted my muscles, they make my skin unbelievably fragile, but I am still here! I have a large bald patch as the result of surgery on my skull but I have ten wigs in a variety of colours. It confuses people a bit sometimes though. I can be a different person every day and I have saved a fortune on hairdressing bills.

Since we reached retirement age we have gone off on another tack and are now equally famous for designing and creating illusion knits. These look very complex but are really very simple. They rely on knitting two rows in one colour, followed by two rows in another colour and, although I am much slower than I used to be, I can do that. We don’t travel any more but the internet means that we can communicate with people who we can’t teach in person. Without my illness none of these things would have happened. We are happiest when we hear of the effects we have had on other people. I never expected to live to be over seventy years old or to become involved with such a wide range of amazing people. If we have brought light into any of their lives, my transplant has done far more than benefitting me.

A transplant is a treatment, not a cure. There are always side effects. Nobody could have known what the long term effects of some of the treatments might be but the research that has gone on over that time has helped to refine the treatment still further and make the prospects better for anyone needing treatment in the future. I have seen, first-hand, the progress over more than 50 years and it has been dramatic.

Donate to Kidney Research UK

We have also been involved with The Little Yellow Duck Project. It’s aim is to raise awareness of the need for blood, bone marrow, organ and tissue donors. Hand-made little ducks, with labels round their necks, are left for people to find. The ducks can be logged on a world map and the site also has links to the donation registers in many countries. Ducks have been reported from over one hundred countries.

If you want to try your hand at illusion knitting we designed a scarf that looks normal from straight in front but, when you look from an angle it says GIVE THE GIFT OF LIFE on one side and REGISTER AS AN ORGAN DONOR on the other. You can download the pattern