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My track record with gauge March 30, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Craftiness, Knitting, Look what I did, Sheer bloody-mindedness.

This post is going to be fairly heavily knitting-related compared with usual, so I apologise in advance if some of you sane and reasonable folk out there don’t quite get what I’m on about; I’ll try to be clear.

Gauge is the number of stitches of knitting you get per inch.  It changes depending on the size of needles you’re using, the thickness of the yarn, the style of the knitter (how you hold the yarn and how tight you pull it, for instance) and the stitch pattern.  For example, in these fingerless gloves, the twisted cables (four stitches) are at a tighter gauge than the ribbing stripes with the beads on (two stitches).

The effect of this is that if I cast on fifty stitches and knit them with just ribbing, it’s going to be a lot wider than if I knit them with cables.  I might compensate by changing the size of my needles: if I use bigger needles, I’m going to get fewer stitches per inch.  The reason gauge is vitally important is that if, say, a sweater pattern says cast on 200 stitches at 5 stitches per inch, and you cast on 200 stitches at 6 stitches per inch, you’re going to get a sweater that’s coming up to seven inches too small for you around.  That’s a lot of breathing in.

The point of this is that before you start a project you knit a swatch: a small bit of unpatterned knitting (I think you’re supposed to go for something four inches across) with the yarn and needles you’re planning on using, and you compare that with the pattern, which will usually tell you what gauge you’re supposed to get, and then you tinker a bit with your needle sizes until you get something comparable.  Some people even wash their swatches to see if it’ll still look like that when they’ve washed the finished garment, or if it’ll stretch.  Sound logical?  Yes.  Sound like far too much effort when you just want to get on and knit something pretty?  Equally so.  Herein lies my problem: I hate swatching with a passion.

Anyway, Elizabeth Zimmerman is a woman for whom and upon whose advice I would do many things, including wasting an hour of my life knitting a small square that’s only going to get unknitted again immediately afterwards.  So I knitted a three-and-a-bit-inch swatch and came up with a gauge of 4 1/2 stitches per inch.  I was supposed to get 5 spi, but the fabric looked just about what I wanted, so I mucked about with the maths a bit and cast on 140 stitches.  All well and good until about four inches into the sweater, when I measured it again for posterity’s sake and discovered that actually, my gauge was bang on 5 spi.  Evidently when I swatched I’d been stretching the fabric a bit.  I thought I’d been being careful!  So I swore loudly, as you do, and decided the best thing for me to do was not to rip back four inches of pullover, because that would make the last few hours utterly useless, but to increase a stitch every fourteen to make my stitch count up to 150.

Now, I can’t see how I could have done this better – I used a backwards loop increase, which seemed to me to be the least visible one, but in fact resulted in this:

…a small, but altogether absolutely clear, hole.  (Holy blurry photos, Batman!)  (Parentheses 2: I’m sorry the stitches look uneven, I’m blaming it on the fact that the yarn is Rowan Cotton Jeans, which is essentially 100% cotton worsted weight rope, and muttering earnestly under my breath about it being rustic.)

Not sure about that?  Think I might have got away with it?  Let’s see two of those in situ:

I’ve decided if I’m bubbly and outgoing while wearing it, and/or wearing a belt, then nobody will notice.

Anyway, I got to the end of the round, discovered I was a stitch short, so did my usual trick of knitting into the front and back of the last stitch.  Headdesk.

The knitter’s curse.  It’s a small mistake.  But I know it’s there.

Anyway, it’s (probably) the right size now – I tried it on and it seems to be okay.  I feel like a better knitter for having messed around with gauge, and learned a lot more about it, and been a bit more confident in my own mistake-fixing capabilities, even if they are ridiculously bodged and if I’d been making this pullover for anyone else I would have ripped back to the beginning in the first place.  I feel more confident for having discovered that it’s not the end of the world.

But seriously, though.  It’s only stocking stitch.  It’s my first proper jumper, and it was intended as an experiment anyway.  And besides, who doesn’t modify patterns when they realise they’ve made a mistake?

Don’t answer that.


The return of the camera March 27, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Craftiness, Knitting, Look what I did, Lovely people.

I got a new phone yesterday – late Christmas present – and one of the perks is that now I have a working camera in my possession!  (I’m still going to get a decent one, but frankly after this long without one it’ll do for now.)  So I thought now would be a good time to catch up on some of the knitting I’ve been doing recently.

I finished the shawl I made for the Ravelympics – then waited ages to block it, and it’s still waiting to have the ends woven in, so I’m not sure it counts, but hell, it’s beautiful.  Check this:

I know.  What colours!  What smooshiness!  That’s Malabrigo for you apparently (non-knitters: it’s a brand.  A really good one, I am reliably informed) – I’d never used it before and I am such a convert, for working with, for wearing, and for blocking.  I was seriously expecting it to bleed everywhere when I soaked it for blocking, but, nada.  I’m in love.

The border took forever, but frankly, who gives a damn when it looks like this:

Adorably cute. If a little blurry.  Look at the colours!  I love me the dark reds at the moment, and this is just… glorious.  And when you touch it, it’s so soft, and lovely… so I’m a Malabrigo convert.  Also Gudrun Johnston who designed the Aestlight shawl pattern is a genius.  It’s a construction I’d love to have a mess about with at some point.

Anyway, onwards, or I shall be petting the pretty all day, and we’ll never get anything done.  I finished the first one of these:

…and am part way through the second.  I adore it, with the exception of the heel and toe, where the colours have POOLED TERRIFYINGLY, and it’s really ugly.  But what can you do, there was no way of avoiding it (does anyone who’s made a short-row heel before know if it would have made any difference?  I kind of think it might have, a bit, but it still wouldn’t have escaped the pooling entirely…) and I suppose I’ll just have to look upon it as a Design Element.  Flix, if you’re reading this, I know this was going to be for you, but when I tried it on I thought it was probably going to be too narrow – my own stupid fault for making socks on unbelievably tiny needles.

Anyway, the upshot of this is that I am making another pair of socks!  And these ones are really exciting socks, and they’re combining many of my favourite things: a) lace, b) twisted stitches, c) my favourite sock needles in the world ever, and d) some breathtakingly gorgeous yarn.  Shortly before Lent started, I went a bit wild over at Old Maiden Aunt which has without doubt some of my absolute favourite hand-dyed yarns ever.  This colourway is called ‘Last Night’s Red Dress’, and here is a sneak preview of the sock, as it were, because some things do have to stay a surprise:

(Yes I am wearing it; yes I am that pale.  Apologies for the blurry, but it’s going to be a very sexy sock!)

Do you remember the lovely green tweedy cardigan?  It’s on hold at the moment because I forgot to put buttonholes up one side and I’m still trying to work out if I can rectify it or whether I’ll have to rip back eleven inches of six-stitch-per-inch cardigan.  (Answer: not on your life am I ripping it back, but equally nor am I steeking something like a dozen two-stitch buttonholes Elizabeth Zimmerman-style because I don’t think my nervess can take it!)

So the only other project on the go at the moment is this:

This is the Swatch-Defying Sweater Of Doom, and it deserves a post to itself.  Kudos if you can spot the epic mistake(s) from the picture, but it’s quite blurry and I’m fairly adept at the MacGyvering now so hopefully, fingers crossed it’s relatively well covered up.

That’s the trouble with me and knitting, when I’ve made a mistake, I’m very unwilling to rip back five hours’ work to rectify it.  I just can’t do it.  If I could knit faster, maybe it’d be easier.

Anyway, that’s about the extent of what you missed, I think.

Oh, and one more thing, Midge is doing her Duke of Edinburgh Silver Award practice expedition on Dartmoor as of this morning, and apparently it’s going to be a bit wet and horrible.  Mum and I basically force-fed her sausages this morning, so she should have a fair bit of energy, but she’s not back til Tuesday.  So please, if you will, send her a bit of mojo, because it’s bad enough being on Dartmoor when it’s raining, without the added joy of having a tent on your back, no access to a hot shower, and five tired teenage girls for company.  I’m sure she’ll do amazingly. 🙂

Unusual March 25, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Big things, Bwargh, Law, Literature.
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(So I’m home.  Since Sunday.  It’s great, but I don’t really know what to do with myself without essaying.  I’ve been at work the last few days and clawing at the walls because I want to do something intellectual.  Also I got a bit of a buzz today because my manager told me I had a really lovely telephone manner and it was the nicest thing anyone’s said to me all day.  Close brackets.)

I did something yesterday during my lunchbreak which was unusual, and it was this: I went to the Oxfam bookshop and bought a book.

The book was nothing to do with the law.

It did not have a Penguin black cover, nor will it ever.

It does not question my morality, my sexuality, my politics, my prejudices or my take on the world.

In fact, in no way does reading this book make me a better, or more enlightened person.

It is called ‘Death du Jour’, by Kathy Reichs who is one of my favourite (if a little pulp) crime authors; it cost me £1.99 and it is about a murder-solving forensic pathologist.  I am eighty three pages in and it is fantastic, not least because all my concentration is going on something that is not going to do me any external good now or ever.  Even knitting has some form of usefulness.  This is the written equivalent of spending an evening watching Masterchef (also a fantastic thing to do, incidentally).

The sad thing is, it occurred to me earlier that this is why I used to read: to enjoy the story.  I read a lot of pulp crime fiction of a certain type (tends to have female protagonist with medical background, history of depression and mad skills with firearms), but, y’know, I used to just read anything, for the love of it, at the time.  No analysis.  I read the entirety of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ without spotting the feminist subtext once.  I read the whole Narnia series about five times over before someone pointed out it was an allegory and I started to see their point.  I used to read, essentially, to find out what happened next.

In some ways, reading cases is a dream for this: you have a cast.  You have a goody and a baddy – or maybe you don’t.  You have a drama, and a difficult question, and an answer, and a reason.  You have a happily ever after, of sorts, even if it is in the phrase, ‘Case dismissed with costs.‘  In some ways, reading cases is terrible.  I always wondered what happened to the battered wives after they won their cases, for example, or whether the children in the adoption cases were happy, or whether people whose freedom of speech was deemed less important than national security and the public good really did run away to sea to make explicit videos about St Theresa.  No story tells you everything.  These are real lives.  You’re not going to get an answer just because you say Oh But Mum enough times.

Sometimes I wonder how many people’s lives and imaginations are ruined by the phrase, ‘Critically analyse‘.  I think I can sheepishly put my hand up at this point.

Anyway, you know all this.  The point is that yesterday, for the first time in ages, I bought a book from a charity shop and now I’m reading it.  And that’s unusual, and really, really refreshing.

Working in the student café March 17, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Literature, Look what I did, Lovely people, Small things, University.

The commonest student working in the café
without a doubt studies English.
Byron and Shelley and Keats and conversation
over cups of coffee (decaffeinated, sweetened
with fair-trade Demerara sugar or skim milk)
and reams of paper in navy ink.
Discoloured books simulate ageing,
and the biro moustache on Jane Austen’s disapproving face
seems somehow fitting,
somehow natural.

The other linguists are rare, and when you see them,
they are often entirely engrossed;
only occasionally looking up,
their accents subtly changing when they pause
to answer a question or steal a continental crisp
from the person with their speakers on two seats away.
Europe is closer than you think
(only a few miles, Dover’s just up the motorway, yeah?)
and I know where I’d rather be.
Perhaps they’ll stare at the mountains of worksheets so hard
that they see maps, like I’d see stars.

Mathematicians and physicists argue over hundreds and thousands
and the icing on buns,
with a disapproving glance at the wordy subjects.
Creativity, says the sniff behind their eyes.  Creativity
is for those who don’t know the answer.
Beauty is in the universe, the computer chip and the atom.
Meaningless acronyms fly on the wind,
intended to confuse passers by,
a gesture of solidarity gone wrong.

Artists don’t work in public.
(You’d watch.)
They have their own hideaway,
filled with sawdust and brushes stiff with dried acrylic
and, unlike the drama students,
(Oscar Wilde once said that “from the point of view of feeling,
the actor’s craft is the type”)
perhaps they are content with their own company.
Paper cups, metal tables, plastic bins.
There is something ugly in the student café,
something not right somehow for catching the beauty.
Introspection, perhaps.
Perhaps introspection is what is missing.

Business students, on the other hand, do not work at all
and will not even admit to it in private.
And with orange juice and Smarties and smiles
you will wonder – why bother? Why try?
And blagging is the order of the day
– and exams are weeks away yet –
and after all what can it really hurt just this one time go on please?

Everybody else uses the library
for real work in real time,
or maybe they can think as fast as they type?
or maybe they’ve found somewhere better.

When exams come round, we will see.
All that is left is the wait, and the tea and discussion.
Multicoloured folders embroidered with ballpoint stars,
the evidence of a wasted afternoon.

(c) stitchthisdarling 2010

Since Wednesday March 15, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Bwargh, Law, Look what I did, Sheer bloody-mindedness, University.
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Hours spent in the library: 27, by my reckoning

Hours spent on Facebook: …probably about 27

Sources on bibliography: 26

Cups of coffee: 12

Bars of chocolate: 2

Pro Plus tablets: 9

Tea lights burned: 24

Times I have seen my housemates who don’t study law: 4

Times I have seen my housemate who does study law (including Friday morning lecture): 3

Hours spent in theatre of some description: 7

Number of hits to this blog from Google as a result of quoting the essay title: 14

Amount of work I am doing this evening: 0

Students Don’t Eat Pheasant March 14, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Breaking the fourth wall, University.

The BBC in its infinite wisdom has decided to help us out, chaps, by giving us some student friendly recipes to play with.

Fantastic! I though.  That’ll make a change, I hope they’ve come up with something I haven’t thought of, or a twist on the things I have thought of.

Nope.  The BBC Grub Club, from my point of view, is the usual Student-Friendly but oh-so-condescending black-student-blonde-student-brunette-student pile of things that really won’t work in the real world.  Your average student doesn’t want to mess about with sesame seeds on a daily basis.   They are not going to be inspired by the suggestion that they make avocado hummus.

I was in a car with some girls the other night, and they were talking about some people they knew and the sort of things they ate, and one of them said, ‘Students don’t eat pheasant!’ as if it’s posh, expensive and hard to get hold of.

We had a dinner party at our house earlier in the term, because Linguistic Housemate and I felt like cooking something exciting, and we made pheasant with red wine and shallotts, after having found out you can get pheasants in the Indoor Market for £3.25 each and thinking well, they can’t be any harder to cook than chicken, can they?  Turns out we were dead right.  I know, we’re not the BBC’s idea of typical students, but I don’t think, pheasant-related escapades aside, we’re that far from the norm.  We cook as a household – which is rarer than I expected – but we eat to fill, mostly, and we cook for four very hungry people on a budget.  We don’t want things to be too fussy.  We haven’t got that much time.  Does this sound in the least bit familiar to you?

So here is my list of eight things, courtesy of Techie Towers, that the BBC would have done better to have put recipes up for.  Healthy eating and all.

  • Lasagne: always.  Absolute staple.
  • Mushroom risotto: quick, not fussy, good for vegetarians, very filling
  • Lemon and garlic roast chicken: a bit of a twist on the classic, something you can eat with friends, and a veritable treasure trove of leftovers
  • Roast vegetable soup: can be frozen, excellent for packed lunches, good for dragging people kicking and screaming into being a bit creative
  • Moroccan cous cous: license to mess about with spices and chickpeas, also excellent lunchbox material, cous cous having the added bonus of being very quick and practically impossible to screw up
  • Potato wedges: beat oven chips in oh so many ways (cheaper, healthier, taste better) and make you everyone’s favourite housemate of an evening
  • Apple crumble: encourages you to not just ignore fruit that’s a bit battered, also bakery = domestic goddess
  • Cranberry and white chocolate cookies: Linguistic Housemate made some yesterday and they’re awesome.  AND THEY HAVE FRUIT IN.  (I really want to try the variant of blueberry and dark chocolate, to see if it’s as good as it is in my head, but several housemates don’t like blueberries.  Anyone feel like testing this for me?)

There, BBC.  That wasn’t too hard, was it?

So that’s what we eat.  What would be your eight things to get students thinking about cooking?  Do let me know.  Let’s swap.

(Essay currently about three-quarters done.  Due tomorrow.  But there’s a film on tonight so I feel an all-nighter coming on… more later, but I couldn’t resist earburning you with food!)

The Books Room March 9, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Breaking the fourth wall, Durham, Law, University.

I obviously can’t speak for other people’s libraries, but just as a bit of background, the Durham law library is a large-ish, single room, two storeys with a balcony at the height of the first storey.  It looks out, on one side, over the river.  It’s dark brown and green and full of dimly bound volumes of books.  The floor, for some reason is heated – so don’t leave chocolate in your bag, yeah?  Ask me how I know.  It’s open to the public, the whole building is, so it closes at nine o’clock on a weekday.

At this point in the term, at coming up to six o’clock in the evening, it rather resembles a lock-in.  Most people have been here for several hours, and will probably be here til closing time, or thenabouts.  They’ve brought food.  They’ve brought their headphones and their water bottles and their notebooks and their cartons of Ribena.  I love this particular library more than the main university library because it’s, well, it’s what all libraries should be, in my opinion.  I’m a bit of a library purist.  You put the books back in order.  You don’t have music that anyone else can hear.  You probably wash your hands before you come in.  You don’t eat crisps.  And you most certainly don’t talk.  Oh no you don’t.  This is a quiet space.  The main library seems to be so much louder than this one.  So did Southampton’s Hartley library when I was there over the summer – you should be able to think straight in a library, in my opinion, without headphones or any necessity to drown out anything.  If I wanted to hear your conversation, I’d go to a coffee shop.

I know some people who definitely disagree with me on this one, who think the law library is oppressively quiet.  Maybe you should be able to have a quiet conversation if you want.  To which I say, no?!  I’m with the librarians on this one, go the hell outside, or at least into the stairwell.  I adore the quiet of typing, and pages turning, and fifty or so people concentrating.  This makes me happy.  Open plan offices?  Don’t talk to me about open plan offices.

Anyway what I was going to say is that I have a 4000 word essay entitled, ‘Recent developments in constitutional law and reform, perhaps most notably the implementation and enforcement of the Human Rights Act 1998, have confirmed the demise of the political constitution.  Discuss’ due this time next week.  So I’m not going to be about for a bit.  I’m going to be immersed in the awesome. You’ll probably hear about it at some point, at great length.  But until then, I’ll be right here, doing this.  For a week.

Have a good one, chaps.

The music March 7, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Bwargh, Durham, Knitting, Lovely people, Really good day.

This afternoon, I saw Eliza Carthy, amongst others, play live at Elvet Methodist Church in Durham.  It was very strange; in the same way as meeting someone who dyed the yarn that I work with and essentially get to know in a fair bit of detail, seeing someone play music live when you’ve listened to them in your bedroom for years is a very odd thing.  Very surreal.  She has a voice I could write poetry about.

The trouble for me is that the music I’ve liked has never been in vogue at the time that I’ve liked it.  Up until two or three years ago, I didn’t really listen to music much.  I didn’t have much of an interest in it.  I soaked up the obvious bits in the name of culture, and listened to things I liked, although I probably couldn’t tell you why at the time I liked them; they were there.  I liked The Beautiful South, Kirsty MacColl and Sophie Ellis Bextor.  I didn’t actively seek anything out.

My friends, for years, have had a far more developed taste in music than I have.  A lot of them had heard of people I’d never heard of, talked about or listened to or gone to see things I didn’t have the faintest idea about.  For a long time, I didn’t talk to anyone about music, because I automatically knew I wouldn’t know enough about it, and what I did know was in some way a bit shameful.  I liked 90s music when it wasn’t quite the 90s any more, and it hadn’t quite come round again.  I liked Andrew Lloyd Webber when I was twelve.  If I’d looked, I would have found earlier popular music, or I would have found Sondheim, and that would have been interesting.  I didn’t look.

Nowadays, I’ve found what I like, I’ve listened to it, I’ve analysed it and I’ve actively sought out more.  Nowadays I’ve probably heard of people you haven’t.  But music for me is still a very intense, very private thing.  People tend to either think the sort of music I listen to is odd, or know a lot more about it than I do, and for reasons boiling down essentially to my teenage years I’m not really comfortable with either of those.  I now sit on my bed and listen to albums all the way through, the first time I hear them.  I sing to it with my headphones in when nobody else is in the house.  But it’s mine, and it’s not something I share.

Reading High Fidelity in some ways made me very sad indeed.

I can see the irony in this, of course I can.  First of all, I can see the irony of being a music snob of sorts who deliberately seeks out off-the-wall variations on old men with guitars, after having spent a good decade crushing shamefully on Ronan Keating.  Secondly, I can see the irony in taking something that is primarily to be shared – to be played in cafés and pubs and bars, as one very articulate man put it – something that is what it is and has got where it has got because of people making it and listening to it together, I can see the irony of that being very personal.  I laugh at that irony.  I don’t know quite what to do about it.  But the fact is, unless I am suitably drunk (read: very) I don’t dance unchoreographed and I don’t sing in public.  And when someone asks me, so what kind of music do you listen to, I rarely elaborate beyond, ‘Oh, mostly folk these days.’

On another subject: I was sat outside a café with a friend the other day, because it was sunny and we – wrongly – didn’t think it’d be cold yet, and I was knitting a sock.  And a woman came up to me, just out of the blue, and said, ‘Is that the toe of a sock you’re knitting there?’  I grinned from ear to ear, and showed her.  ‘Oh no,’ she said, ‘it’s the cuff of a sock!  Well, it’s gorgeous.  I just thought I’d tell you, because I’m an addict too.’  And then she grinned back, and went into the café.  Even thinking about this now I’m smiling.  Honestly, you should all learn to knit because then you can go up to people and start conversations and they won’t think you’re raving, and people will compliment you on things you’ve done when you’re bored and it’ll buoy you up for days.  I wish we’d had more of a conversation.  I don’t talk to too many people these days who could tell a sock-in-progress from thirty paces, and the ones I do know there’s a high chance I live with them and/or they only know because I showed them.  It’s a bit sad, really.

Meet the politicians March 2, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Big things, Breaking the fourth wall, Law, Sheer bloody-mindedness, University.

Last term, I went to a very interesting talk, hosted by the Durham Law Society, by a gentleman called Moazzam Begg.  You may or may not have heard the name, he hit the headlines a bit last month.  Moazzam Begg was a detainee for two years in Guantanamo Bay, and for quite a while before then in miscellaneous military hidey-holes across the world.  Since then he has toured all over the place, talking about his experiences and explaining why it was such a bad thing.  Which it was; and I have to say that he is a very good, and very compelling speaker, and I went away thinking, this is all happening in the world and there’s nothing I can do about it and yet, right now to do something about it is what I want most in the world.  And I had that little rush of Can You Hear The People Sing that always reminds me of when I was sixteen and really passionate about these things, and at once I resolved that the thing to do was to be more informed about these things.

Anyway, today I went to another talk, this time hosted by the Union Society, by another gentleman by the name of Maajid Nawaz, who had been an Islamist extremist and then gone to prison in Egypt, discovered what Islam was really about and resolved to do the best he could to make sure other people knew what it was really about as well – not one massive state of Muslims owing allegiance only to each other, not a political agenda: a religion.  And it may surprise you  – it surprised me, in an eyebrow-up well-there’s-a-bit-of-trivia-for-you kind of way – that most religious extremists aren’t stupid bigots.  They’re clever bigots, and they’re at universities.  The majority of British extremists, apparently, are recruited in British universities.  They’re probably in your university.  And by the looks of things if you’re in London they almost certainly are in your university.

Guys, this is something I absolutely knew before, but please let me tell it to you again: people have a political agenda.  When they come and talk to you, especially about something politically contentious, they definitely have an agenda.  And that could be good; it could be bad.  Some people are fantastic speakers but that’s no reason to believe what they’re saying.  They might back it up, with anecdotal evidence, with statistics, with whatever the hell you like, they could quote you half the Office of National Statistics but they still have an agenda.

I know; you know.

Here’s the thing.  People look like they’re being very frank with you but they’re only telling you half the story.  Necessarily; anything with time constraints makes that inevitable.  They aren’t telling you about things that cast them in a bad light, or controversies that they’ve been involved in.  Here’s what a quick Google search about Moazzam Begg threw up this afternoon after Maajid Nawaz mentioned him: compelling speakers do not necessarily an unassailable moral high ground make.  And I know, you know it’s not the full picture, you’ve been told it for years, every teacher since primary schools has told you to look outside the box, look for the omissions, don’t take everything at face value.  But please.  I’ve gone to debates for years.  I’ve read the news for years.  I am that person who questions things, who reads around, who looks for whatever’s between the lines.  Until this afternoon, I knew it all as well.

What are we missing?  What whole other issues aren’t we hearing about?  Do we grasp so desperately for something to hold up as right, the right thing to do, the right values to hold, that we don’t care so much if there might be holes in it further than skin-deep?  If someone tells us, if someone assaults us with logic and evidence and all those things we clearly need to make an informed decision, why do we suddenly assume that that’s what we have?  Is it laziness?

I also learned this afternoon – probably learned – that I’ve been condescending to people for years: if a white person is racist, that’s bad.  If a a brown person is racist, as it was so elegantly put, that’s part of his indigenous culture and we should respect that.  Why should we respect that?  Because if we don’t, that makes us look like the racists.  It still does.  Maybe in a few years it won’t.  I kind of hope so.  I kind of wish I was the sort of person who spoke out about these things, who told other people.  Turns out I’m not even the questioning kind.

There’s a higher class of people, kids; turns out I’m not it.  That deafening roar is my intellectual ego crashing to the ground.

Books and trains March 1, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Craftiness, Knitting, Law, Literature.
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East Coast trains purport to have internet access.  I can confirm that yes, this is true, for about fifteen seconds every five minutes.  And don’t expect it to be fast.  Humph.

Anyway, I’ve been a bit quiet over the last few days, for which I apologise; I’ve been on a bit of an epic round-trip of places in England as far away from Durham as I could get: to London for a bit of the old theatregoing (upon which more later), then on to see his nibs and go crafty and charity shopping in one of my favourite cities for the purpose, and then on home just in time for my Dad’s roast dinner.  An excellent weekend to all intents and purposes, but onwards and upwards, I should be back in Durham in an hour and back to the grind so ’tis.

With his nibs on Saturday I rather foolishly asked him if I could borrow his copy of Watchmen – as in the comic.  Turns out this was a bit of a mistake – I’ve been rather obsessed with it the last few days, to the amusement of my mother (“You’re reading something with pictures, Fiona?  I hate to say ‘regression’, but…”) and to the general detriment of all other conversation.  Also, it is bleak.  I don’t know if you’ve seen the film.  But it is the kind of thing that is just all-round grim – not very nice people, in a not very nice place, waiting rather ungraciously for the end of the world, and trying to extract as much blood and guts from the nearby populace as possible in the meantime.  No less addictive a read for this, but it doesn’t make for being cheerful, so I thought there are three ways, essentially, of combating this: 1) reading something a bit simpler about back in the good old days where there was no threat of nuclear apocalypse and the occasional good bout of swashbuckling, 2) reading something about how THE WORLD IS DEEP DOWN VERY UPSTANDING AND GOOD, or 3) reading about something entirely different.

Luckily, within two feet of me at present I have three books: ‘The Three Musketeers’ by Alexandre Dumas, ‘The Rule of Law’ by Tom Bingham, and ‘Knitting Without Tears’ by Elizabeth Zimmermann.

You can see where this is going, can’t you.

I’ve been reading ‘The Three Musketeers’ on and off since last summer.  I shan’t pass comment on it now because one day I’ll finish it and definitely be a better person for it, right now I’m enjoying picking it up and reading five pages a few times a month and just feeling like the world is a more awesome place, and mourning the fact that Aramis particularly isn’t actually a real person.

‘The Rule of Law’, by Tom Bingham, came out in hardback at the beginning of February.  About a week or two ago, I found a review of it on Amazon, and within ten minutes had bounced around the entire house, explained about it to two of my three housemates (the third kept wisely out of sight), and bought a copy.  If you don’t already know, Lord Bingham is my favourite legal person in the world ever.  Even now he’s retired he’s still the most influential person in English Law (according to the Times, at least) and I can only think of one occasion he’s ever been wrong.  And that’s impressive.  He’s basically the object of all my judicial fangirling and Just Generally Awesome – I’ve been told countless times how wrong it is to crush on someone in their 70s, but y’know?  That won’t stop me.

The first three chapters of the book have not calmed me down in the least.  I love the subject.  I love the Magna Carta and the European Convention on Human Rights and habeas corpus and Professor Dicey.  I love Lord Bingham as much as most of these.  This has been a very good train journey.

As for Elizabeth Zimmermann… I’m going to assume you haven’t heard of her.  She was a very, very influential knitter, effectively responsible for making the craft popular in America.  She’s revered by a lot of knitters as revolutionary, and a very clever woman.  Some people don’t like her chatty style, or the fact that she didn’t ‘do’ patterns so much as written conversations telling you what might be a good idea to try next, or that she was so dismissive of sewing up seams or purling.  Other people – and the two groups aren’t mutually exclusive – recognised that she was incredibly pragmatic and if you have any idea what you’re talking about with knitting then EZ can boost your confidence in your own skills like nobody’s business.  I personally am terrified by her handiness with the scissors, but have a great deal of time for someone who, when discussing knitting needles, makes comments like,

‘ A #6 aluminium needle has been known to furnish an excellent emergency shearpin for an outboard motor.  It once saved us seven miles of paddling.  Then I had to spend hours re-pointing the needle on rocks, having nobly, but foolishly, offered the business end instead of the knob end for sacrifice.’

or perhaps even more wonderfully,

‘I am faced with ribbing and a cast-off edge, which is hard to do neatly and elastically in ribbing.  I am discouraged.  Let us see if ruse and subterfuge will solve my problems.’

I laughed out loud at this point.  I have been a knitter dedicated to ruse and subterfuge for quite a long time.  I know one or two people who insist that whatever they make must be perfect and according to the pattern.  Making it up as you go along, according to whatever problems get thrown up as you run into them, is a gloriously healthy philosophy to live by, never mind to knit by.  I am a Zimmermann convert, most certainly.

Speaking of which, I have shawls to show you, but no camera. Bear with me.  You’ll see them.  They’re marvellous.