Carrots and Cabbages

Musing today on the current state of life in Merrie England, as it was once known.

Covid-19 is no longer headline news, it seems.  Oh there are those who have it still.  I’ve spent much of the past week or so on video calls to snuffly, feverish grandchildren and a pale, coughing daughter with enough energy to slump on the sofa and little else.  The drama has gone, though – no record-breaking hospital admissions, none of those briefings from Downing Street (well they wouldn’t dare, really, would they?).

So the press has moved on to hunt for new dramas and fear-mongering stories.

At the start of the week news reporters stood shivering outside Number 10 (I mean, why?  Expecting to catch an exclusive of a beleaguered Boris and Carrie clutching cardboard boxes and followed by nannies and children heading out of the door on the walk of shame?) and reporting no news.  Slightly luckier media colleagues lurked in those drafty-looking hallways of Westminster, searching for Tory back-benchers seeking their five minutes of fame.  What could they say – ‘Yes, of course he should have resigned.  Anyone with a hint of integrity would have done so, but this is BORIS we’re talking about here and we still have constituents who kind of admire his cheek and think the rest of them are even worse, so if we boot him out we might end up losing our seats…’?

Eventually, while the Met police – finally stung into action by that Line of Duty video – sift slowly through photos and decide whether to issue a few retrospective £200 fines, it became clear that the news hounds needed to search elsewhere for a feel-bad story.  And there it was, right on cue.  The smart coats and suits from Westminster were packed away as reporters were sent off in more suitable garb to blend in with the good people of the most depressed and disadvantaged towns they could find.  Cost Of Living Rises became the next headline.  Once again the statisticians and slick graphics were back, showing us how hopeless it all is.  The dangers of Omicron may have subsided.  We might not yet have to deal with a general election but within a year vast swathes of the population will have to choose between heating and eating.  With silvered tongues, our media news reporters have found a new way of striking fear and desolation into the populace.

Vegetables, Market, Market StallIt was with their words ringing in my ears that I headed along to my local Co-op for my weekly food shop.  As has been the case for many months now, there were huge gaps on the shelves.  Where once the out-of-season peaches, nectarines, tomatoes, aubergines and mange-tout would have shone enticingly, now there were piles of carrots and cabbages, leeks and parsnips.  The market stalls offered little more.  One had a massive tray of earthy, slug-tunnelled Jerusalem artichokes as its centrepiece, and that triggered a memory.

Way back, around forty years ago, when we struggled to care for our growing family on a single wage and used our allotment to provide most of the sustenance we needed, there were times at the end of winter when we had to resort to the un-killable Jerusalem artichokes to provide a meal.  It was a desperate choice.  Peeling them was well-nigh impossible and when you did, the tiny nuggets of food offered little flavour.  Compared to them, those carrots and cabbages were starting to look quite appealing…

I took my mind back past the fear-mongering press reports to the pledges made at COP 26.  Yes, we said we’d use less fuel, so hot water bottles and fingerless gloves on the coldest days are a good thing.  So is the lack of foods from far-flung places and all the air-miles they involve.  It’s February, for goodness’ sake; time to eat the fruits of the earth in our locality.  It feels right.  It feels sensible.  The cabbages and root veg are plentiful and cheap.  I’m no cook, but I’m going to enjoy the slaw with baked potatoes, the casseroles and the stir fries made with local produce.  I will, though, avoid the Jerusalem artichokes while I can.

Knitty Nellie

I know.  It isn’t the most gripping of titles and – for me – not the most usual of subjects, but hear me out.

Little know fact: I love knitting.  I’m not very good at it (left hander who learned right handed) or very fast, but there is something gloriously zen-like in the way a couple of sticks and a long length of yarn can, tiny stitch by tiny stitch, create flowing garments, huggable toys and much warmth and comfort.

In a moment of whimsy, my mind went back to an odd little animation series my children used to watch in the 70s and 80s.  Something about an eccentric couple called Noah and Nellie who sailed (or flew maybe, my memory of the details is sketchy) in an ark full of animals, encountering various characters who had intractable problems to solve.  Every episode Nellie would listen to the problem, begin knitting and produce something wonderful which provided the ideal solution.

Ah, if only it were that easy…

Well as I said, I love knitting, so whenever I’ve found myself without a project to work on, I’ve used my oddments to make scarves and hats which were then handed out to the homeless and others going through hard times in the local community.

This year though, another thought came to me.  Here in the UK, our gas supplies come in pipes from and through countries far to the East.  For various reasons, the price has soared this year and heating costs have risen massively.  Add to that the need to lower our energy consumption in order to cut  CO2 emissions and we have two very good reasons to turn down the central heating by a few degrees.

The downside is that our homes will be colder this year and that – particularly for older people who are less active and staying at home all day – is a challenge.

In true Nellie style, I wondered how I could knit my way out of the problem.  It didn’t take long to invent Kneckers – kind of muffler/ cowl/ neck warmers things that are very easy and quick to knit and (I’m wearing mine as I write this) really warm and cosy to wear around the house or under a coat collar when going out.

I asked our local community volunteer coordinator to put the word out for volunteer knitters, persuaded the owner of the lovely needlecrafts store in town to hand out free patterns and collect finished garments to be distributed to those who would benefit, and started knitting in earnest.

Happy to say we’ve now done several drops to local churches and volunteer groups who are able to reach those who need a bit of extra warmth this year.  People are busy making fingerless gloves, hats, scarves and, of course, kneckers all over town and I’m super happy!

If you’d like to knit some for yourself and anyone who needs warming up in your local community, here’s a link to the pattern: Kneckers Pattern .

All I ask is that if you download and print it, you either make at least one to give away to someone who needs help keeping warm this winter, or you turn your own central heating down by half a degree to help care for the planet (or both!).