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A few weeks ago, exhausted and grouchy, and thinking “Why should I let the toad work / Squat on my life?” we escaped our responsibilities for a few days. We’ve returned, refreshed and rounder of girth, after a relaxing break.

We wanted to get as far as our (pretty meagre) resources would take us, so we aimed for the edge of Europe, for the city that has one foot in Asia – Istanbul.

Istanbul

Although we were only there for four days, we managed to cram our time full of incredible experiences, sights and tastes. Byzantine and Ottoman architecture dominates the city, an order of magnitude greater than the shops and apartments that line the narrow streets. Hagia Sophia and Sultanahmet were particularly stunning, as was the tiny church of St Saviour in Chora – crammed full of exquisite mosaics and frescoes. The bazaars were saturated with colour and texture, and we overcame our inhibitons enough to barter for some goodies. We ate until we were full, and walked until our feet hurt – and then hopped on a ferry to explore the city by water.  (More photos of our trip here).

Kürkçü Han: wool seller

I even managed to do a spot of yarn shopping (!). The winding streets between the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar are lined with shops and informal stalls where many of the locals buy and sell their wares. A narrow opening from Mahmutpaşa Street leads to an enclosed courtyard bazaar – Kürkçü Han – which houses several dozen yarn and linen stores.

This rainy picture was taken from the first-floor corridor that surrounds the courtyard. Make sure you explore upstairs if you are coming here – the corridor is lined with yarn stalls.

This guy had a great little shop, crammed to the rafters with all sorts of yarns. Most of the offerings were vibrant acrylics and cottons, but I found some pure undyed wool crammed into a plastic bag in front of his stall. I bartered with the owner, but he was persuaded by one of his other customers not to budge in price (in fact, I think she was pushing him to charge me more than the stated price!). I came away with ten hanks of creamy worsted weight wool, for the bargain price of £5. This will be yarn for dyeing, I think.

We came away from Istanbul reluctantly, but spent the rest of our break relaxing with family around England. We’re back at work, and holding onto our renewed energy levels. And we’ve learned our lesson – don’t wait until you reach breaking point to take a break. Even a few days away can make a world of difference!

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Romney Ewes

I have barely picked up a pair of needles since my last post. The summer has oozed past in a fog of work and tension. There hasn’t even been much sunshine to encourage the heart. Still, Autumn heralds the return of my knitting enthusiasm, and I already have a couple of small things on the needles.

In the meantime, some barely related sheepishness…

A week ago I went up to London to witness a peculiar event. To wit: a group of guild members and other Freemen of the City exercising their ancient right to “herd sheep over London Bridge without need or cause of having to pay a toll or fine.” This privilege dates back to the thirteenth century, and gave freemen the opportunity to trade in the city’s markets without having to pay extortionate bridge tolls. Needless to say, the right is seldom exercised now – there being no livestock markets in the Square Mile these days – but this opportunity to try out the privilege drew many of the lucky few who are eligible (my dad among them).

Crossing

The sheep who had been volunteered for duty were a flock of fifteen Romney ewes. They were impeccably groomed and very well behaved – their owner had trained them for the occasion by marching them alongside busy roads and clashing bin lids together. Reports suggest their fleece was very soft, and I have ambitious plans to procure some from next year’s shearing to make some ‘Freeman’ socks for the parent.

The event was patronised by the Lord Mayor of London (whose charity benefited from sponsorship), and where the Lord Mayor goes, his bodyguard goes too. These members of the Company of Pikemen and Musketeers were dressed in their heavy uniform (including helmet), and carried pikes and muskets while marching back and forth across London Bridge for four hours under bright sun. Their elaborate appearance and behaviour drew some bemused stares from tourists and some smiles from depressed City bankers.

Company of Pikemen and Musketeers

They weren’t the only people to get dressed up. Here are some lady shepherdesses, and a different kind of pastor.

Bo PeepAnother kind of shepherd

We had a great day – finished off with some lunch from Borough Market and a quick visit to All the Fun of the Fair (my idea of sheepish fun).

Cache coeur in progress

Now I can get back to my new-found enthusiasm for knitting: starting with a quick baby wrap that will need to be sent on to South America in the next week.

I hope to have this finished in the next couple of days, after which I’ll try to tackle the queue of recipients in need of winter wear.

C. Arden, Bookseller

We made the most of yesterday’s unexpected heatwave by taking a trip deep into the Welsh countryside – to buy books…

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