We bought our first camper van about thirty years ago in the Spring of 1989. It was a white, 1971, 1.7 , automatic transmission, four berth with a pop up roof VW Westfalia .
Its previous owners had named it Bessie, but for us it was always simply “the Van”. They had travelled extensively throughout Europe right through to exotic places such as Egypt and Morrocco in it with no mishaps or breakdowns. We got as far as Leeds to Eastleigh to visit Gary’s mum and Dad. Then on the return journey as we neared Winchester it broke down. This was to be a recurrent feature of our life with this recalcitrant, temperamental, but much beloved vehicle.
On this our first breakdown I was heavily pregnant with our second child and the first, a lively four and a half years old was also in tow. So not a good combination to be stuck with at the side of the busy A33. We rang for the AA – no mobile phones in those days – and I dimly remember Gary climbing down an embankment to a minor road that ran underneath the one we were abandoned on to find the nearest phone box. Of course, not one was to be found. Would I give birth while he was away with only Laura to act as midwife?
In the end he had to go into a hotel and ask if he could use their payphone.
He also rang his mum and dad to inform them of our horror story. And God Bless Pete and Vi…….his mum packed up some sandwiches, drinks , crisps and biscuits and other starvation rations…..and his Dad drove out with them to where we we awaited the AA mechanic.
Anyhow, eventually a lovely man came and declared the van engine to be…..in technical terms “knackered” ……later we found out it had dropped a valve. So we had to be relayed back to our house in Headingley. The first of many such occasions!
Yesterday was a beautiful day and here in Leeds, the warmest day of the year so far….a fabulous 14 degrees. Spring seems to be on its way. Snowdrops are in full bloom and daffodils are now bursting into green shoots and buds.
Time for preparations for our Arran adventure to begin to pick up speed.
A week ago we collected our Hymer from Caravan Dan in Keighley where, thanks to Dan, it had had a thorough interior service. Now we needed to begin to stock the van with the things we considered as essential for full time motor home life on Arran.
We also felt it needed a run out and an opportunity to charge the engine and leisure batteries. Although we have solar panels which keep the leisure batteries topped up we were concerned that the freezing temperatures of previous weeks might have adversely affected the batteries’ performance. Due to social commitments in Leeds we could only manage one or two nights away so decided to take the van to a certified camp site at Poole Bank which is very close to where our van is stored.
This site has 5 flat, hard standing pitches and, as it is situated at the very top of Pool Bank, stunning views of Wharfdale below including Almscliffe Crags and the railway viaduct.
Pitches are spacious and individually hedged with water and electric hook up available on each one.
Toilet facilities are fairly basic, just one toilet and hand basin and no other washing facilities, but for £16 a night, fantastic views and only 20 minutes away from our home a perfect choice for short break-aways.
Electricity is metered and pay as you go…..so you need £1 coins to hand. However, we have found that the meter does not gobble them up and we expect two or three at most to see us through our stay.
As we drove on to the site the sky was a pure blue, one of the local Red Kites hovered high above and a fluffy rabbit hopped across our path.
For many years knitting has been my passion. I just loved the beautiful fabrics and patterns that could be made. I loved the feel of the wool between my fingers and the way it offered thousands of possibilities. I loved the joy of a finished article and the pleasure it brought myself and hopefully others. Once I had set my heart upon a project I couldn’t wait to get started.
But I didn’t love the amount of time it took to complete some projects. I am a fairly slow knitter so even a small baby blanket would take several weeks and as for an adult jumper….well that could run into months. Also , I found that boredom would often set in once I had mastered a pattern and I would soon be casting envious eyes at possible future projects. this led to many half finished articles. In the final stages of making something I would have to really push myself to make sure it was completed. Then would come the other part I loathed and hated. The tedious sewing up! Additionally, I rarely felt satisfied with the look of a finished garment once I had stitched it together. Sleeves seemed to be a particular bete noire. How many times have I held a finally completed jumper before me and then felt like hurling it across the room in disgust.
Then I discovered the joy of crochet! Wonderful , wonderful crochet. An intricate and huge blanket could be completed in the time it took to knit a jumper. So speedy so fast. A hat can be made in just a couple of hours .
But hang on you say, it is harder to make jumpers and socks that fit well using crochet. Au contraire, it is possible to make good fitting garments and……they can be crocheted top down and so have no sewing up.
Socks can be adapted to the width and length of the wearers foot during the making of them. Using slip stitch it is even possible to make a fairly good looking rib or you can always make a knitted rib if you prefer.
Just as with knitting the possibilities are endless………but oh so much quicker.
Throughout my teens and into my early to mid twenties I continued to knit and extend my crafting skills. I moved on from soft toy making to garments and hats. I mastered cables and intarsia methods made cute baby clothes and blankets, tried crochet and even had a go at macrame. Along the way there were many successes and some disasters and one or two UFO’s (unfinished objects).
However life soon got in the way ! Work and family became my priorities and although my stash of yarn continued to grow so did the numbers of UFO’s until finally I stopped crafting almost altogether. By the time I had reached the grand old age of 55 life was very busy. I was working as a SENCO in an inner city comprehensive school in Leeds which served some of the most disadvantaged areas in the city. All the while continuing to support, with my husband, our two children through teenage years and early adulthood with all the challenges that they can bring. I did have a cellar full of beautiful yarns, thousands of knitting patterns, knitting needles and crochet hooks and other associated paraphernalia….but no time to use them. Or so I thought.
So there I was frantically running round and round on the hamster wheel of life with little time for anything else, when disaster struck. As it does for everyone at different points in their life.
My beloved older brother was diagnosed with lung cancer, it was terminal, palliative care the sole option. Sue and I were his only close family. There was no question that we wouldn’t drop everything to care for him…..after all …..remember we had made a pact all those years ago to look after each other.
Helping Sue to care for Bob in the last weeks of his life changed my perspective on my own priorities totally. We were able to share many small intimate moments. During one such moment Bob told me that he felt I had “changed” and not for the good. He said that I needed to “slow down”.
Sitting with him , watching and sharing the London Olympics I found I needed to occupy my hands and calm my frantic mind which was in full overdrive. At the same time one of the many problems or difficulties we needed to resolve was that of his feet. His poor feet and ankles became so swollen that his socks were very tight and he couldn’t wear shoes or slippers. Always looking for solutions and recalling my knitting skills, I used double pointed needles to make him some socks, tailor made to fit. He loved those socks , showed them off to his many visitors and wore them constantly- colourful, warm and comfy.
This making unleashed an avalanche, a desperate need to knit and knit and knit to find some sense of calm amid the horror of the unfolding, unstoppable drama.
Bob and Sue didn’t entirely seem to understand this frantic knitting thing. He rebuked me for being a “tricoteuse”, the nickname for the women who sat knitting beside the guillotine during public executions in revolutionary Paris. But I couldn’t help myself I had to knit. Whenever I could I had to escape the house and search out more yarn, more patterns, more ways to escape my ever churning thoughts.
Yesterday would have been my brothers 70th birthday.
Thinking about him and rembering the points where our lives touched draws in all of the threads of my life today which originated in the far past.
I first began knitting and crocheting when I was in my early teens. I found it very difficult at first to manipulate the needles as I was poorly coordinated. I had always struggled to do those simple things that my older siblings found so easy, such as to throw or catch a ball, or eat dinner without spilling it half way between plate and mouth. I remember feeling a great affinity with a character, in the Mary Norton Borrower books, who had the strange name of Spiller. He didn’t know what his name was really but remembered as a small child his mother saying to him ” You are an awful Spiller! ” and so decided that it must be Spiller.
Back to the intolerance of my siblings to my poor coordination skills. Perhaps it was the age difference , they were seven and nine years older than me and often had little patience for my ineptitude. I was without doubt- born cackhanded.
This continued throughout childhood and my teenage years. At high school I was useless at tennis. To spare others the pain of my inability to hit a ball or even serve I was paired with “Beady” a lovely calm, quiet girl who was also totally incapable of correctly wielding a racquet and ball. Together we would spend a horrendous, tedious and humiliating hour. I would whack the ball to one end of the court and she would walk to pick it up and then whack it back so that I too could go and collect the blasted thing.
So , conquering the difficulties presented by making two unwieldy metal sticks move together to produce fabric seemed beyond me. Everyone else in the family could do it, if they so wished. Our mother was a fabulous knitter and speedy too, creating garments that largely, we loved to wear. There was of course the early debacle of the knitted swimsuits which looked beautiful on Scarborough beach but stretched to buggery once they hit the freezing waters of the North Sea and then hung limply, baggily and heavily from our goosepimpled bodies. I also had suffered torments at primary school over the lovely hand knitted, bolero style cardigans she created. Oh so fashionable now, but in the early 1960’s provoked hoots of playground laughter and taunts of ” Look, she’s so poor she’s wearing “babbies ” (babies) clothes” or ” Did that shrink in the wash? Dun’t yer mam know owt about washing clothes” . How I hated those despised cardigans!
As I said, everyone else could do it. Bob of course had mastered the art of knitting early and at the age of nine had knitted a beautiful cardigan for his other sister, Sue or Susan as she was then known. Apparently , he was very and rightly proud of his accomplishment but this was soon dashed when Little Granma ( our mother’s mother) insisted on pressing the darned thing before he wrapped it up. In doing so she pressed out the cables and intricate patterning and stretched it all out of shape. Whereupon he threw the ruined garment down and refused to give it to his sister…..and bore a grudge against his interfering grandma ever after. He would infuriate her by calling her “Little Grimmie” to her face. As a strict disciplinarian and ex teacher this was bound to enrage her. Having tried various corporal punishments to no avail with the strong willed little boy she resorted to blackmail once and refused to give him his dinner until he said ,” Please, Grandma may I have some dinner?” After missing several meals and watching his little more compliant sister tuck in he finally conceded defeat and used the appropriate moniker. However, once he had eaten his fill he put his arms around his plate and looking the old matriarch mischievously in the eye declaimed….”Its Grimmie, now !”
Sue, was also talented , musical and artistic in every way. She was a beautiful dancer and skilled at tap and appeared in several local theatrical productions. My mother had hoped for similar pathways to open for me and I was duly sent to attend the same dancing class. This only lasted one lesson as the dancing teacher asked my mother to never darken her door with me again as I had ruined the session for everyone else and referred to me as a small elephant with flat feet.
However, despite poor coordination I was determined to learn to knit and with support and gentle encouragement from my mum gradually managed it! My first completed project was a misshapen attempt at a teddy bear for a school fair. I duly left the despised object at school on the soft toy sale table. Once at home I was worrying about the fact that no one could possibly want to pay good money for such a poorly designed teddy and that it was sure to be the only one left on the shelf. Bob, in his early twenties,was home from university and overheard my complaints and said that he would like to go to the fair to support me and the school and also see the teddy I had made. He was as good as his word and met me at the door of the fete. He said that he intended to buy my teddy as he quite fancied having my first make. I knew that what he really intended was to save me from the humiliation before all of my classmates of an unsaleable article. Of course you have guessed the outcome of his quest. When we got to the stall there was no sign of my misshapen creation…..the teddy had already been sold!
I was hooked on knitting….crochet would come later.
So who are the Dangerous Sisters and how did they come by that name?
This nickname was bestowed upon myself and my “big” sister Sue by our older brother, Bob.
I cannot remember the exact day or time when he first used this phrase to refer to us but I know it was one he used a lot in the later days of his illness. He used to laughingly threaten other people…often abstruse medical staff….that if they didn’t comply with his wishes he would set the Dangerous Sisters on to them.
Not that he needed other people to stand up for his rights. Who else but Bob could be treated in a hospital for lung cancer and be allowed to keep his outdoor shoes on in bed….under the bedclothes? We didn’t need to intercede for him for that to happen.
We did however, help him access other luxuries vital to his needs during that first hospital stay. Such as a constant supply of red hot chillies which he loved to chomp raffishly whenever visitors, of whom there were many, or nurses drew near. He disdained the hospital food , which to be fair was often dire. So we would order delivery curries from his favourite restaurant aided and abetted by it’s owner for whom “Dr Bob” was a favoured customer of over 30 years.
Or when out of hospital one of us would be pushing him in his wheelchair to collect his daily espresso coffee shot from the cafe round the corner. Or wheeling him to his bench outside the buttery so he could meet and hold court with friends,colleagues and students. All the while secreting hospital urine bottles in carrier bags about our person……just in case …..
But most of all one of us was almost always by his side throughout his short but desperate illness whether in hospital, at home or finally in the hospice.
When our parents had died over 30 years previously we had formed a compact, an agreement of mutual support if any of us were ever in need. And, indeed, although all 3 of us had partners, progeny and friends who provided strong support networks we knew that we would always be there for each other. This was despite falling outs and semi estrangements that occurred over the intervening years. The day after our mother died, inconveniently on one Christmas Day , Bob had turned to me and Sue and, after claiming that, at the ripe ages of 29, 36 and 38 respectively, we were now orphans said “Well, it’s just us three now, kittens. We will have to stick together.”