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Books and trains March 1, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Craftiness, Knitting, Law, Literature.

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.



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