It turns out that runcible spoons (AKA cake forks) are also perfect for fish’n'chips; fork prongs to stab the chips with, sharper edge to cut into the batter. Who said that they were just for posh people?!
It turns out that I have discovered the most dangerous words in the entire Universe, two innocent little words that when used in conjunction tend to have serious consequences.
A lot of people have picked up on the dreaded ‘what if’; ‘what if’ can be used looking forward or looking back but there is always a tinge of regret. In hindsight, we can wish that we had taken another course or path and with doubt, we can wonder if we’re taking the right one now or in the future. Another variation is ‘if only’, which features in lyrics where it is declared to be ‘the loneliest words that you’ll ever know’.
I don’t do the looking backwards ‘what if’. Things happen, life happens. We can’t undo the past and, normally, I can’t grasp the concept of future. Looking forwards, well, you know what I’m like for worrying. And I have the kind of vivid and fertile imagination that allows me to conjure up all the billion and one dreadful possibilities for any one insignificant moment.
But those are not the two dangerous words; as surprising as it seems, my negative attitude is what keeps me strong and moving forwards. I know that things rarely, if ever, are as bad as I think that they’re going to be. And when bad stuff happens, truthfully, I’m too busy dealing with it, I go into crisis mode, to fret myself dreaming up even worse things.
So what are those two dangerous words?
Together they are potent. And have serious consequences.
I’ve never used the phrase before; after all, I’m pretty good at knowing automatically all the billion and one reasons why I shouldn’t do something. But as you know there’s been a lot of psychological DIY going on this winter and I decided that this year would be the year that I would risk, that I would dare.
So I found myself asking ‘why not?’
When someone said that they’d really like it if they had a bag or carrier for a water bottle when they go away, I asked myself those two dangerous words and before I quite knew what I was doing, I had my hand up, yes I would make them one.
I even sketched a quick design on a napkin.
I can’t draw.
It’s a fact that everyone else in the entire world can.
(Someone further up the table couldn’t quite work out why I’d drawn a picture of a toilet pan (apparently) so I may not draw again in public for a loooong time again).
I offered to make something.
Something with a needle and thread, something with fabric, something that involves sewing.
I can’t sew.
And the two girls who I was making these for can sew.
Like properly sew.
With sewing machines.
And they make clothes.
‘Why not’ is indeed a dangerous phrase.
With consequences, serious consequences.
I was committed and I had to start sewing.
Husband helped me with the pattern (which we invented along the way) and did the cutting out (which terrifies me).
But I did most of the sewing.
In my pretty irregular way.
I then asked myself ‘why not’ again.
I don’t do embroidery.
Embroidery is for artistic people who sew.
I am neither artistic or a sewer.
(That word written can be read two very different ways, fortunately I am neither).
But I picked up Husband’s embroidery stitch guide book and thought ‘why not’.
Maybe other people just start at the beginning, maybe other people just start by following the instructions step by step, maybe other people don’t know it all automatically.
So I embroidered.
I took a needle and some floss (not dental) and I follow the instructions, carefully, idiosyncratically but still irregularly and I gave it my best shot.
Because that’s all other people do isn’t it? They just try to do their best. And that’s all anyone can do, including me. I can only try. And if I don’t try then I can’t do.
So here’s what we did (thank you Husband for all your help!):
I used some thick cotton fabric that we already had from another project years ago so I gave them a choice of three colours: orange, red and green. I also had a brand new fleece that had promotional slogans across it so I decided that the best use for it was in pieces. Lining the cotton bags with fleece makes the carrier a lot more insulating as well protecting the bottle better from knocks.
We modelled the dimensions on the largest (fattest too) bottled water bottle we could find locally but found the first one came out a little too cozy so we upped the size a little for the second one.
We also discovered that a circle at the bottom of a cylinder is neither the same diameter nor the same circumference as the cylinder. I was very baffled. We did eventually come up with a scale based on other measurements found on various online bottle carrier tutorials, a circle is a third of the diameter of the cylinder. Even more eventually, Husband discovered that it was something to do with pie. Well, I’m always glad to have pie in my life.
For the straps, we all agreed that a long strap was best, this is so it can be carried comfortably for long periods over a shoulder or across the body. Not taking any chances with guestimation, I got them to provide their ideal measurement (they went home and measured a bag strap that they use). This was just as well because the shorter of the two wanted the longer strap. Obviously. (I kept the text message with the measurement just in case! I wanted proof).
Just as in knitting, straps always take a very long time. Our friends were going away the next day and I didn’t get them finished until five that evening! That was stressful. Stress makes me tired. But I’m glad that I did it, I’m glad that I said ‘why not’. Even with the consequences, I rather like this new confidence. I’m enjoying being creative again, I’m enjoying daring and risking for the first time ever.
(Oh, and the toggles? I nicked them off the ‘up-cycled’ fleece along with that rather nifty cylindrical elastic).
Pursuing perfection is something like pursuing cities of gold or fountains of eternal youth. For the most part, these idyllic utopian states are just figments of the imagination, a fantasy that drives us mad in its impossible pursuit.
However, I do believe in trying. Trying is something like that expedition, that journey in search of the utopia but instead of the focus being only on the destination, it just becomes a pinnacle, a summit for which to aim for, but it is the journey that is more important. If we focus only our destination, we can miss out on so much and many of those things will be more important, more valuable, more enhancing than the mythological end.
I think modern travel offers many parallels. We focus on destinations, the perfect, and we want to be transported there in the shortest time possible and at the greatest convenience. Yet, in some ways, we miss out on the most important experience: the journey. Journeying is about experiencing, discovering and connecting. Without a journey, a destination becomes almost pointless, it exists merely in sterile isolation as a stereotype but there is no world beyond. A destination is a resort, a beach, a hotel. We choose it on its perfection criteria.
Therefore, I don’t think we should ever give up striving, that is the journey, and it can add so much to our own experience. Placing the focus on perfection normally just brings us disappointment and disillusion. It’s like insisting on aiming for one hundred percent in an exam where it’s just not possible, not for us, not for our families, not for our circumstances, not for our lives. We need a ‘bar’ to aim for, to move us forward, to encourage us to achieve but when that bar is too high, impossibly high, then what good can it ever do us?
I recognise myself to be one of the most imperfect specimens of humankind; I clearly see my faults and weaknesses, so perhaps it would be easy to assume that I don’t have a problem with perfectionism. I also veer to the negative, why would I try for the impossible?
But there’s the danger of perfection and pursuing perfection.
This winter has been one of deep reflection and self-realisation. I am questioning each and every ‘old’ belief, thought or value and see whether it is really ‘right’, or balanced. It’s an exhausting process which has taken me away from blogging. My thoughts are distracted by this personal process and my words are recorded in another place.
I have come to realise that perfection is actually the standard that I have set for myself. Surprising? Perhaps. I accept perfection as the only acceptable outcome, achievement is perfection. Unsurprisingly, I fail. I fail all the time. And yes, I do see that by setting perfection as the destination, I can only fail. So why do I do it?
Somewhere in my childhood, like everyone else, I acquired a set of values. How our value systems develop, much less begin, is not an obvious or coherent process. And sometimes we would do ourselves a favour in examining those long-held ‘values’ and seeing what they really are and whether they are actually of any value to us.
I learnt to equate perfection with achievement and success. In other words, that achievement and success only happen when something is perfect. Everything else is failure. And so began a lifelong career as a failure. I cannot attain perfection therefore I fail. Every time.
Failure was, however, an unacceptable option in this value system. To fail something was to be a failure. It was something shameful, to be embarrassed about. So I learnt to avoid the things where I was likely to fail. Unfortunately, with perfection as the only standard, I risked failing a lot of the time, so the list of things that I avoided grew ever bigger and longer.
I learnt to hide my weaknesses, to bury them under some metaphorical carpet or other. Mistakes being unacceptable, even unforgiveable, I spent a lot of my youth torturing myself mentally. Making mistakes made me a failure, making mistakes indicated some grave fault of character or personality. It all came back to me as an individual, I was supposed to be something impossible and when that didn’t happen, it was my fault. Maybe I hadn’t tried hard enough. Maybe I was a bad person.
I was embarrassed by all the things I couldn’t do. My worth was measured only by the impossible and as I blatantly failed to meet that standard, I lost all self-worth. With the focus on the things that I failed to be able to do, I quickly became a nothing, a un-achiever, a failure.
There was more to this complex fantasy of perfection. I acquired the belief that talents are innate, that we are born with certain gifts, if you will. As if we were programmed at birth to be good at one thing or another, programmed to succeed or fail in certain areas. Personality thus becomes closely entwined with success. I didn’t realise that skills not only have to be developed but they can be acquired. We are not born as adults. We learn to be adults.
Making a mistake does not indicate that we categorically cannot do something. That was how I saw it, and perhaps see it still, because old habits don’t go easily. For example, if you were good at art, the first picture that you drew would be perfect. And then every other picture afterwards. No one introduced me to a rubber, to correct and to learn and to develop. I needed mental rubbers too. I needed to be able to adjust and develop my self-perception, to rub out one waggly line and to redraw it with a more confident hand.
But neither my hand nor my mind learnt to be more confident. One strike and you’re out. That was the philosophy. And it lives with me still. I cannot draw because I make mistakes, because my drawing is not perfect. I avoid drawing. (Although I’m a distracted doodler, doodles don’t seem to need to reach any particular aptitude level. (Mind you, even those have been criticised in the past)). I cannot describe myself as being ‘linguistic’, although I love languages and am forever dabbling in new ones and have long-term relationships with dictionaries. Why? Because I make mistakes. Because I have not been taught key elements, I have learnt by osmosis in a rather miss than hit way; there are gaps in my knowledge. My skills are not perfect. Therefore they do not count.
Perfection focuses on what cannot be done, what cannot be achieved; striving for perfection means that we miss out seeing and appreciating all the other good things. Because in a perfectionist world, they cannot count until they are complete. And that ‘completion’ is impossible.
Actually, it just becomes a vicious circle. If making a mistake is a categoric failure then it’s all too easy to become disillusioned, disappointed. You give up trying. And more importantly, you learn not to trust yourself. When you have no confidence, you are more likely to make a mistake. And so the cycle goes on.
I promised myself that this year I would dare to risk or risk to dare. Trying something, anything, whether large or small, is a risk for me. It has to go perfectly; it has to be perfect for it to succeed. I’m starting to realise that this is holding me back. I’m missing out on too much. I’m missing out on being myself.
I need to dare to risk or risk to dare.
My usual technique for dealing with illness is to ignore it. Well, it might just go away. And I’m used to blaming the psychological for a lot of my problems, for example, I say, ‘I’m lazy’ or ‘I can’t be bothered’. But I’m growing in awareness, both of my main physical condition (ME) and of myself. I know now that I’m not lazy but I’m still reluctant to take on board the fact that perhaps that mongrel-beast does actually cause me quite a few difficulties. I suppose, perhaps, it partly goes back to that very screwy idea of ‘deserving to be ill‘. I just tell myself, and anyone else, that ‘I’m just making a fuss, it’s nothing really’. And that’s how I see it and how I live my life.
But the problems don’t just go away if you try to ignore them. They’re still there. Misunderstood, mislabelled, mismanaged. It’s not a good recipe for success. I have to face up to the fact that the mongrel-beast is ever present, that all those queer symptoms that irritate frustrate and confuse are probably its fault. Others, unfortunately, have just become my ‘normal’, I’m so used to feeling one way or another, one thing or another, that I scarcely appreciate that most people don’t actually feel that way, or ‘thing’.
I don’t like ignorance. I do agree that knowledge can be power. It can inform and educate. And that’s what is desperately needed in these neurological conditions and ‘invisible’ illnesses such as ME. It would be hypocritical of me to continue denying its existence in my life. I cannot preach the need for awareness when I am steadfastly refusing to be aware.
Awareness does have its downsides, of course. It can overwhelming, frightening. It’s almost like that moment when you first receive a diagnosis (not that ever happened in my case), the ground becomes unsteady and you find yourself confronted with a whole new reality, future, lifestyle … everything. This condition is all-pervasive. Being an ostrich doesn’t change that.
I preach also for tolerance, and I don’t necessarily use the word in the modern sense of ‘permissive’, for me, it’s a generosity of spirit and understanding and appreciation towards your fellow man. How can I expect others to be tolerant when I am so hard on myself? Again, it would be totally hypocritical. I don’t do hypocritical.
Something has to change. I have to change.
I have to face up to reality, to be tolerant to myself, to offer myself the understanding and appreciation that I so willingly give others. I don’t make excuses as if they have no responsibility for their actions but I do understand and appreciate that there are, at times, extenuating circumstances. I don’t get upset with you personally when your behaviour is generated, triggered by illness, stress or something out of your control. I just ask that you acknowledge it and, if necessary, apologise afterwards. Do I do the same for myself?
I preach also inclusion. I don’t think that illness or disability should ever be cause for exclusion. Sure, you may have to do things differently or a different pace, but I don’t believe that illness or disability is ever a write-off. Yet, I hide my own problems. From shame? Perhaps. Because I want to exist in the world on the basis of other terms, preferably my own and not this mongrel-beast’s? Perhaps. It’s kind of complicated! But inclusion means allowance and I’m not allowing myself to be or to show the actual reality. I am discriminating. That is not tolerance. I am judging. That is not kindness.
I cannot hold myself responsible for something beyond my control, I cannot take responsibility or blame for a life or illness that I never chose. Or even probably provoked. I have to be forgiving.
And yet, even as I come to appreciate the all-encompassing nature of this mongrel-beast, I can also start to differentiate, between me and it. I can see more clearly who I am and what the illness is. Believing, understanding and appreciating actually frees me up. I can be true to myself. Just in difficult circumstances. I don’t have to be the illness, I can be myself with an illness.
And most important? I can start to take myself seriously. Sometimes, it feels like no-one has ever taken me seriously. And perhaps as a child, that does have to start as an external process, someone has to believe in you. But as an adult, it’s up to me. The first step is that I have to take myself seriously. Then it’s up to everyone else. Again, there’s that hypocrisy. I cannot expect others to take me seriously when I am not taking myself seriously.
So today, I compiled a list of my symptoms, all the ones that I have ever had thanks to mongrel-beast. It was hard work, not least because mongrel-beast is very keen on cooperating on such cognitive tasks (it doesn’t even like spelling or typing) and also because I had to face reality. Reality is not the nicest thing in the world. It’s kind of like looking in the mirror with your glasses on. Not good. But you can’t always avoid it.
I’m going to post the list separately because it is rather long and no, I really don’t expect any of you to trawl all the way through! (Especially as I rather suspect, it’s full of mistakes and typos). Instead, it’s going to be a sort of testament. A reality check, if you will. For myself mainly.
I worked through the symptoms section on the Hummingbird website, it’s thorough and comprehensive. I could say that I have learnt lots of new words but the reality is that I have immediately forgotten them. I’ll try to link definitions to some of the stranger (mostly Latin-ish) terms.
I’m also quite glad that I went with bullet points and not numbers, it could have got a little (actually, very) frightening!
My old (though not in age) doctor (our GP, I don’t get to see a specialist) started out believing that ME was just another name for hypochondria. I like him though and we have a good working relationship (ie I go in and ask for a prescription or a referral and he gives it to me). We’ve been on a long journey since then though and I have since taken the unbelievably brave step of changing GP to a more local practice (my theory was ‘it’s better the doctor you know’; other people tend to substitute another noun in that aphorism). My ME was under the care of the previous GP for fourteen whole years. That’s half my life.. I’m now at fifteen years and if I really wanted to, I could always start rounding myself up to two decades of ME. (I don’t and I won’t because that’s just a little too depressing when you haven’t even reached thirty yet).
I don’t know if since my own ‘diagnosis’ (or first submission of symptoms, diagnosis was never forthcoming), he now has other ME/CFS patients. After all, it’s become a slightly too popular catch-all diagnosis in some cases now. An umbrella term for those patients that doctors don’t quite know what to do with. It’s not really helpful for either that patient or for those genuinely suffering with the condition(s). As I’ve said before he’s never officially diagnosed me. I wonder if he would now diagnose others. (I went to him with the illness defined as befits the above working relationship). He doesn’t ask about it and I don’t talk about it. Just like everyone else.
After a while (we’re talking years) he upgraded me. No longer was ME hypochondria, many thanks, no, it was now a psychosomatic condition. Cheers. Much appreciated.
This came up in conversation with my mother a little while back because she felt that I should actually talk about my ME symptoms to the doctor (ie because she had finally noticed after a couple of years that I have a major pigment issue on my forehead, it’s kinda like alien freckles). I explained that there was little point as I was only suffering from a psychosomatic condition as far as he was concerned and we spent as little time as possible discussing the matter.
She actually felt that it was a good thing. Um, excuse me? She said that at least psychosomatic meant that I was ill. Yeah, kind of. Psychosomatic means the physical manifestation of a psychological illness, you know like when some people are stressed they have a gyppy tummy or come out in a rash or have a headache.
Psychosomatic is just another excuse for not taking me seriously. Psychosomatic is just another name for crazy. *
(* NB. I might be crazy in other contexts admittedly).
I don’t much trust weather forecasts, maybe because I am something of a sceptic when it comes to Science, it seems that Science has pretty much become the religion of the day with us mere mortals putting blind faith into the whims and translations and perspectives of Scientists. I do not naturally go along with the crowd; I challenge things and form my own conclusions and beliefs. I find it hard to be infatuated, blind to faults and mistakes, and Science has known a fair few of these. And rarely admits to them. And there’s another reason for me to be uncomfortable, untrusting of Science and its god-like Scientists, it is their attitude. I don’t like the smug, the self-righteous in any walk of life, I don’t like people who reject what has gone before as if it no longer has any value or interest, I don’t have a high opinion of people who claim that their own personal belief system is the only belief system possible and that all men should follow their creed. I have my beliefs and I respect you to have yours, please respect mine. Science and its Scientists have an increasing tendency to look down sneeringly at us mere mortals, especially those of us who stubbornly remain outside of their flock and question them. We are weak, unintelligent and just plain ignorant and stupid. I don’t do well with being told that I’m stupid. I’m likely to play up.
There is one area of Science that I have virtually no credence in: weather forecasting. They claim that they are much more accurate these days, using satellite pictures to trace cloud patterns before they even reach a particular area but they aren’t infallible. I wait to see what cloud I have over my own head before analysing weather possibilities, clouds don’t always behave in the way Scientists would like them to. Or when. And despite all the technology and Scientific Jargon, nothing much has really changed. It is still the ancient art of reading the sky, of casting one’s eyes heavenwards to pick out signs and stories that may tell the future.
I am sceptical because I know that clouds, and indeed any other parts of weather systems, are idiosyncratic, much like me. They don’t tend to behave in socially acceptable predictable ways; they can build or diminish, burn out or gather energy. It is still the clouds that are our fore bringers of the future, something that is deeply imbedded into our idiomatic language. We talk of gathering storms and country folk still know the value of signs such as red sunsets or sunrises, St Swithin’s Day and mackerel sky. We know our local winds and what they mean for us in each season. What more does Science really offer? A pretty picture, something to discuss and debate, something to guarantee viewing figures all the way through the news?
But admittedly the world is not as reliable as it used to be, our seasons fluctuate according to some unknown whim and the future a week ahead is less predictable even than that tricky predictive text, one letter out and the whole message can be read entirely wrong.
Weather forecasting is still a matter of decoding and waiting to see.
And when they predict weather events of abnormal intensity and scale then well, it’s wise to be a little sceptical. Why panic buy when the shops will still be open come what may and when any wise household keeps a reserve of at least dry goods in the winter? Why anticipate when each day is enough and has its own unique challenges?
But they got it right today. The snow came in hard with a storm wind last night and it looks like it’s planning to stick around.
I sent my envoy out with a camera, having made a wise decision that the best place for me was safely indoors where the temperature at least promised to climb above ten degrees.
It’s funny how snow completely changes the world; it becomes an enticing, magical place once those flimsy flakes settle and cover and it definitely brings out the child in many. (There is currently a group of twenty-year-old (at least) lads loitering outside their building who have nobly taken on the task of assaulting every vehicle and pedestrian that goes passed with snowballs). But it is the stillness, the quiet that makes a snow day a very different day from the mundane. It is as if the world has held its breath, wondering and waiting.
As you have likely heard, small things please small minds. I love small things. You may draw your own conclusions.
Tonight, I had to package up a parcel to send to a friend in Europe. I was very chuffed when I managed to get all five foot of draught excluder into something about A4 size (albeit somewhat plumper). And yes, it would be me who is sending a five foot draught excluder to Europe. (I’ve never actually sent anything to the country in question but I have sent something from. An A2 canvas painting of the Titanic sinking. Cheerful stuff, not exactly my taste. But my friend was ecstatic that I’d persuaded the post office to take it). It seems that I have something of a track record when it comes to posting random things. You’ve seen other evidence.
Postage is ridiculously expensive these days. I remember the uproar when the European airmail stamp hit 36p. These days I think first class is more expensive than that now! (I possibly sound remarkably old when I make comments like that). Anyway, I like to know what I’m getting myself in for before going down and doing battle in the post office. I find that the post office is indeed somewhere where knowledge is power.
I grew up in a small town (England-style, not US). The post office had long queues, especially on pension mornings, because that was back in the days when everything was done in cheque-style books that had to be religiously stamped to death by the post office clerk, but was always helpful. Actually, the library was the same. The librarians were friendly and helpful. I never had a fine in all the twenty plus years that I was there.
Then I moved here. We have a bigger library and a bigger post office. The librarians resent any disruption to their frantically busy task of sitting behind desks and I also have had more library fines than fillings, which is saying quite a lot with my dental history. The post office has cordoned queue control and the whole thing at rush hour rapidly turns into Ellis Island. With the appropriate interrogation and suspicion of course. You don’t really want to risk asking a question in either of those places. Your mission is simply to get in and out as quickly as possible, preferably still alive and with most of your income intact.
I make it my job to know how much my postage will cost and how it’s going where it’s going. I write down all and any information that they may require for any random forms that must be filled out as fast as possible. This way I can minimise the stress and confusion that results in what basically amounts to buying a stamp. (If I’m armed with knowledge, I don’t get stressed and confused at all. The clerk only does a little bit).
I have to agree with Tilly Bud, the service industry just inspires terror, trepidation and guilt.
Anyway, back to the stamp. I was inputting all my variables and trying to find the most cost-effective way of sending a five foot draught excluder to Europe with not too much delay when it came up with strange little option. I’m not a fan of the post office’s website, it’s never been particularly efficient and I tend to rely on my stash of printed price guides rather than their high-tech solutions that get me nowhere. (I’m particularly suspicious how every time I try to find surface mail rates, it directs me only to expensive parcel services. And in recent months it has seemed that whatever I do, I end up in some other online shop being told to buy huge books of first class stamps. Not impressed).
This time I found, with remarkably little hassle although I did keep ending in the first day covers (the post office is apparently more keen on Doctor Who than I am), something called a ‘price finder’. That’s my kind of thing. Input, quote, use information against post office staff.
So I inputted.
Was very surprised by the rate. (My draught excluder might be huge but it’s comparatively light, I can send it as a packet rather than as a parcel. (Please don’t even get me started on dissecting that logic that means a parcel to the same destination of the same weight and dimensions is four times as expensive as a packet)).
(I do that).
Next to the delivery options (it’s a little like flight tickets, please don’t choose our cheapest option), there is now a small box that says ‘buy and print’.
I’m scared by new things. Especially when they involve technology.
And the post office.
And parting with money.
I asked husband if he’d like to come and test this for me.
As he was already in bed, he answered in the negative.
I was left to face the decision alone.
Me and one small red button that isn’t even a real button but a picture on a screen.
I pressed it.
And had to input a billion more things.
And then part with some money.
And then it asked me to print my label.
I don’t trust printing things from the internet. They’re usually never designed to actually fit any known paper formats or printers. And why is it that every time you do print something from the internet, it has this obsession with printing just two lines on the next page and wasting an entire sheet of paper?
Then realised that my ink cartridges are at the invisible stage.
So I held my breath.
Because you know that’s going to make a difference.
I printed a stamp!
Not just a stamp, it had insisted on printing the addresses too in its own queer format (I prefer a nice, funky coloured marker personally) and it said paid for and lots of other official things. And it had one of those new fangled squiggly barcode box thingys!
I have a stamp.
‘Stamp’ prints on a quarter page of A4. (Don’t get me started about waste).
I took ‘stamp’ to husband to cut down. He insisted on doing it with a ruler and pencil as he’s something of a pedant when it comes to precision. But that’s why I gave him the ‘stamp’ to cut anyway, he can actually cut straight lines. I can’t draw them. Even with a ruler.
‘Stamp’ is now affixed to very squishy parcel (it bounces).
But I am now faced with another dilemma.
Clearly, I can repeat this process in the future. I will be able to buy exactly (well, maybe, that might be dependent on what mood the website is in) what postage I want when I want it. (Although most of the time, it will require traipsing into town to the main post office to find a fat mouthed post box, most if not all of the branch post offices around here have closed now, a discussion for another day, I’m sure).
… is this a good thing?
Much as I hate the hassle and stress of the post office, I don’t want to be responsible for anybody, however grumpy, losing their jobs. If we all end up buying our postage online, what will happen to our post offices?
I am a lifelong pessimist, unfortunate but true. I like to think of it as a protection, it means that I don’t get my hopes up and therefore, am rarely disappointed. If I think about it more carefully, I think actually a more accurate description would be ‘realist’. I like to take a realistic attitude. Because whilst I set my own sights low, I can see the good. Sometimes. For example, I always look for the good in other people, I am tolerant and even go as far as to be excusing when it seems appropriate.
I’m one of those curiously perverse people who always has to take the opposite side to any debate, if you want to argue that something is bad, if you want to believe that something is bad, then I will be taking good’s corner. It’s just the way I am. Perhaps it’s a reflection of my own strong sense of balance and justice. I hate it when people only see one side of an argument. And I hate it even more when people insist that theirs is only one side to their coin. (The downside is that making decisions is ridiculously difficult, I can see all the pros and cons, in pretty equal ratios too).
Not only that but. because of husband’s health, I find myself quite often being a one-man-band cheerleading squad (being resident in this particular country means that I know little of the sport except in a metaphorical sense), geeing him up every time that there’s a setback. There’s been a few, you know.
Then there’s that stubborn streak of mine, not only does it occasionally make me mulish (possibly my perversity in choosing a debate side is evidence of that too) but it gives me a lot of strength and determination, incorrigible comes to mind as does resilient. Resilient is probably a better fit. I bounce back. I don’t know how or why. I just seem to find the strength most of the time to get up and start fighting again. I guess that’s a good thing.
For the first time in I don’t know how many blue moons (they’re a real thing, did you know?), we baked for fun yesterday. I say ‘we’ because I do still need a galley-slave for the more strenuous processes (but saying that, I did manage to use the food chopper myself yesterday for the first time in I don’t know how long) and because husband is also starting to enjoy the preparing stages too. (Me being me though as soon as I saw how much cake we had and knowing how much cake two people should eat, I went and shared it to some friends in need).
Husband doesn’t believe in substitutions, he thinks it’s messing up the recipe and me just being a little too wildly creative and hopeful. Not being big-headed or anything but I am starting to get the science of baking just a little and understand many of the ‘rules’ and substitute not just with hope but with knowledge and appreciation of the chemistry. Things are a little tight in our stores at the moment, which is actually why we ended up baking. If there’s nothing to eat but cake ingredients, let them eat cake. We’ve run out of self-raising flour, which is indeed a significant indicator of the dire state of matters. I told him to get plain flour out and baking powder. There was a brief riot. But it worked. It worked! We ended up with a very tasty ginger and almond cake. (The result of several other substitutions). Very moreish. And crying out for pouring cream.
Even more miraculously, we successfully made fudge. For reasons that we have never yet fathomed, we cannot make fudge. We’ve tried all sorts of recipes and they’ve all failed miserably. But there was a picture in my book of some beautifully firm, glossy, yummy looking fudge and I couldn’t resist. So I turned it into a mystery bake because I knew that husband would not be overly amenable to another fudge experiment. We only added half the sugar the recipe called for because there was no physical way that we could possibly incorporate anymore. And my chocaholic husband announced that he isn’t actually that keen on chocolate fudge. As the Americans say, go figure. I toasted the almonds and warmed the raisins in a little vodka (no rum, sadly) for a little something extra. It’s good stuff. And because we ran of out of dark chocolate (I told you, this really is crisis point), we had to make the weight up in white, there are curious white streaks throughout. But it’s good stuff.
Now if you live in bagel-land you may be surprised by my burning desire to make bagels. I was spurred on by the distant memory of some fruit bagels (you know my mania for turning all foods pink and pink isn’t even my colour) that I had ate in bagel-land. If we can make bagels, we could have a cornucopia of flavours readily available and for an awful lot cheaper. Bagels are expensive here. I like bagels. I like them bagel-land-style with cream cheese. Not butter as in toasted teacakes and local mores. (Actually, worse, it’s usually margarine round here). Yesterday we took the plunge.
They didn’t exactly turn out as planned. Think cheese straw without the cheese and bagel-shaped. Now thick, bagel-shaped cheese straws without the cheese aren’t exactly appetising. We discovered, quickly. I don’t know exactly what went wrong and where. I don’t know to blame the recipe or our technique. I’ve never even made cheese straws.
But do you know what the most remarkable thing about this baking disaster is?
I can cope.
I took a risk and dared to fail.
And even when it went pear-shaped, I bounced back.
I don’t see those strange, crusty, inedible things as a failure. I’m seeing it as a step to progress. I can learn from it, I can grow from it, I can get better from it.
(Maybe I am just delusional).
I’m not even worried about the waste of precious ingredients. We tried, we gave it our best shot and it didn’t work.
There is no bitter taste of failure, no dismal doubt, no harsh self-criticism. The Voice is silent.
And there’s always ginger cake to eat.
(But I don’t recommend chocolate fruit and nut fudge for breakfast).
If anyone has any hints or a tried and tested recipe for bagels, I will gladly accept. I may have lost the battle but I am planning to win the war.
The entire lyrics may not exactly be kosher but these lines say it best:
I get knocked down but I get up again
You’re never gonna keep me down
I get knocked down but I get up again
Oh, and two spoonfuls of medicine also do wonders. I don’t even know myself.
These last few weeks there has been a minor ‘domestic’ rumbling; it is usually at that gentle simmer where you can leave the pot bearing some wintry stew-like concoction for a while to attend to more important and pressing matters. Until, of course, it starts bubbling a little too violently and seeping out from under the lid. Then the issue requires immediate engagement. And perhaps a stir or two.
How we act, what we say is all linked to attitude. What motivated us to do or say? What drives us? Attitude can have a marked effect in how we choose to deal with others. Our own attitude may be mild and forgiving and their own attitude may be excused by a variety of extenuating circumstances. It’s not exactly a question of justification but sometimes it is more appropriate to turn the eye, to excuse, to forgive.
Surprisingly, these two matters are linked.
There are some attitudes that I do not appreciate. I don’t like snobbery, it rankles me that some person or other has the cheek to think themselves better, superior, more perfect than another. When someone makes an unjustified claim on another motivated purely by such an attitude then I will rise to the victim’s defence quite quickly, regardless really of my own personal view. I’d rather help guide that someone to a more balanced approach, I prefer to both sides of every story and live in hope that one day they will be able to also.
Therefore, I find it a gross insult to be labelled ‘snobbish’. Not least because of the complete injustice in such a claim. And this is what lies behind the small rumbling ‘domestic’. My husband has dared to, deludedly, call me a snob. I was livid, annoyed, frustrated, hurt and insulted by turns.
Some behaviours are often motivated by a snobbish attitude, it is true. However, just because one behaves in that particular way, can you forcibly conclude what their motivation is?
I don’t think so. And I would hope not.
Just because I behave, or act, in a certain way in a certain circumstances should not mean that I am motivated by such an undesirable attitude. I wouldn’t like others to assume that. And I certainly wouldn’t like to find the slightest trace of such an attitude in me.
Today I found myself defending a particular demographic of parents, sinisterly described as ‘undesirable’, and a little boy who was labelled ‘naughty’.
Perhaps some parents aren’t as good as they could be or as good as we think that they should be. However, the sad case is that many people, parents included, are victims of circumstances. It’s not merely a question of ‘education’ as in what school one attends or for how long but of a vast array of complex issues as well as, often, a lack of opportunities. And when those issues are repeated generation after generation, can you really feel anything but sorry for both those parents and their children? I wouldn’t like to write it, or them, off as a hopeless case. Even from very dire backgrounds, people have time and again turned things around for themselves and for their children. Just not everyone can. It is easy to judge from the comfort of a presumed moral high ground but it only perpetrates the problems and the divisions. We need more compassion.
The little boy who was labelled ‘naughty’ is a good friend of mine, he’s a lovely, sweet child but he does have specific ‘issues’ that are in the process of being identified and helped. His language is behind that of his peers and when he gets badly frustrated (and who can blame him really?), he has been to known to bite. Is he motivated by mischief, by badness as that word ‘naughty’ suggests? No. He is frustrated by the handicaps that he faces day in, day out. And he cannot even express how he feels. Worse still, ‘naughty’ can quickly become a label that follows a child throughout their entire life and, unfortunately, also leads easily to prejudice, exclusion, discrimination. We need more compassion.
Instead of judging people, instead of presuming, we need to think a little harder before we speak, we need to think a little more carefully about how we view our fellow man. Yes, I may like ‘nuances’ but I think they help us be better people and make the world a better place.
I resent being called a snob. I am a working class girl who loves my humble (and oft slighted) neighbourhood. I have no desire to be ‘better’. I avoid as much as possible any tendency to superiority or of thinking that I am somehow better than another. I have few airs and graces.
I was naturally upset at the accusation. I didn’t like the subtle inference that my motives and attitudes were being questioned.
I was very happy to find a certain utensil in a shop. I have never seen them for sale before; they are slightly old fashioned admittedly. A lot of people are heavily condemnatory of ‘gimmicks’ and write off most kitchen equipment as such. (Maybe it’s another incarnation of that ‘making do’ attitude). I say that if a tool can make your job or life easier or happier then go for it. To each their own and to each the right to choose what he wants to use.
I hate eating my pudding or cake with a large (dessert) spoon. It feels awkward, ungainly and something very akin to stuffing my face, rapidly. I like to use a teaspoon (if the consistency requires) or, preferably, a fork. It adds delicacy, refinement and pleasure to the savouring. However, there is an even better, more suitable utensil, designed for this express purpose.
I had found cake forks.
I bought two and proudly bore them home.
And there the ‘domestic’ started.
Apparently, eating one’s cake with a cake fork makes one a snob.
Other than the emotions that I have already described, I was bemused.
Is it really criminal to want a cake fork? Is it really snobbish to want a cake fork?
This was a utensil chosen purely for practical (a case of the ‘right’ tool for the job) and emotional reasons.
Despite the fact that this is a rather elegant more, I’m sure, and ‘elegance’ is something that is never usually associated with me, I like using a cake fork. Well, we all have our little idiosyncrasies. Surely I am allowed mine.
The ‘domestic’ will rumble for as long as those forks are in the house, which, as I’m having my way, will be a very long time.
Besides, the issue has taken a new turn in the last day or so. I have taken to referring to this much maligned utensil as my ‘runcible spoon’. Husband is convinced that a cake fork is not a spoon. However, he was less certain about whether it is ‘runcible’ or not. And thus one of literature’s greatest etymological debates of the last century left the hallowed halls of academic sages and is now just as fiercely fought over in this more modest milieu.
What exactly is the runcible spoon? Is it merely an adjective for a piece of cutlery or does it have greater meaning and use?
The husband decided to go with that well used allegation that is summoned forth whenever bigger, more complex words get bandied about: I was making it up. Then he had second thoughts. He told me to look it up. I told him that I knew perfectly well what I was talking about and as he didn’t, he was the one who had to look it up.
The worm had turned.
Or the cake fork.
In the end I took pity on the poor, uneducated spouse and equipped him with my beloved compendium of Edward Lear’s works. This hardback edition was my father’s, which says something about him, then it was found on a shelf by a member of the next generation for whom it became regular bedtime reading, which says something about them too. Husband actually knew some of the words of the Owl and the Pussycat, but not the essential part. He read the words of that romantic tale then explored further. He read, he stared, he questioned, he stared, he mused and then he laughed.
It seems that many things can be described by ‘runcible’, not just a spoon for eating mince and sliced quince. But for now, we will restrain our usage to just cutlery.
And our botanical lore will be forever enhanced by that fascinating species, manypeeplia upsidownia.
Yarn, in my experience of this country, is always called ‘wool’ but tends to be made from acrylic, slightly confusingly. Yarn, or ‘wool’, usually comes in balls, you talk about balls of wool (although not necessarily of this fibre) and the language doesn’t really expand from there. Sometimes I feel that knitting in this country is a good thirty years behind the States. It shows in the language, fibre is something to do with bran breakfast cereals, a buzz word in health not knitting. No one really cares what the ball is made from and it’s not always about value either (the French term for value perhaps highlights its true meaning best, ‘un bon rapport qualité-prix‘). ‘Wool’ has to be cheap. That’s why acrylic is so popular. Mohair is best seen as a novelty yarn. Posher knitters will stick with traditional labels where wool content is likely but scratchy and who, in my humble opinion, do not at all represent that bon rapport qualité-prix. Splashing out, new fibres such as alpaca and qiviut* (yes, I’m sure that the animal isn’t a modern invention but you know what I’m getting at), indie dyers, independents, hand painted, roving, breed specific, heirloom knits … they’re all completely alien terms. Well maybe not ‘heirloom knits’, we have our own version. It’s called hand-me-downs, pass-ons. I spent my childhood in those.
Let’s return to the idea of value. Knitting is traditionally something that is done to fill a need. There is a definite attitude, perhaps engrained from war years and rationing, that you have to make do with what you’ve got. This is a good thing, we’ve all witnessed the downturn from a decade of cash splashing. But it translates in other subtler ways too. Whilst knitting and pass-ons are about filling a need, there is great parsimony. There is a reluctance to part with any money when something you already have will ‘do’ and an even greater reluctance to spend more money than is necessary. Spending money on knitting cannot be justified even when it is done strictly for the necessary, the need to clothe one’s family or they will go without. When this almost outdated need is excluded, there is even less justification for a woman to spend money on a hobby for either her own pleasure or for satisfying a perception of what a good mother/grandmother provides. Budget acrylic thrives.
However, it’s not just in the older generation that you see these traits. I am like it. Maybe it’s partly the way I was raised; maybe it’s partly my personality. I don’t like spending money. I don’t like spending money on something trivial, insignificant, not necessary. My knitting does not clothe us. It is a hobby only. Admittedly, a hobby that keeps me sane and saves the health service goodness knows how much on therapy. I cannot justify any expense on my pastime, especially not when we’ve been going through times when bread, milk and cheese have taken on proportional expense to luxuries. Therefore, I don’t have a knitting ‘budget’. I know where I can buy the cheapest acrylic.
But there’s a problem.
I’ve never been a huge fan of acrylic. It has its uses. Other than its ‘value’ status. It works for many of the items that I’ve knitted. I’ve recently been making items from ‘special’ yarns, yarns, that in my world, at least represented an investment. They are beautiful to work with. They make beautiful finished garments. Returning to acrylic was horrible, it’s plastic-y and squeaky. But it does have its uses. Especially when it comes to its ‘value’ status.
I spoke of having to challenge Old Ideas in a previous post, or alluded to it at least. The notion of having to buy the cheapest available yarn, regardless, is an Old Idea. I see it people’s other spending habits. People buy cheap clothes. I don’t mean ‘basic’ necessarily, why would you want to spend tens of pounds on a white t-shirt? Those clothes will always look cheap on them. And sadly, it might be a mean thing to say, but those people will always look ‘cheap’ in them. Investing in good clothes that fit well and look good is wise. But is again something utterly alien. I realised a while ago that I cannot and will not ever look ‘good’ in those cheap clothes. (Whether I look ‘good’ in anything is seriously debatable). I need to invest. Many years ago, I learnt a wise lesson. If you buy a skirt for a fiver and wear it once then that skirts costs a fiver. If you buy a skirt for twenty and yet wear it a hundreds time then skirts only costs twenty pence. I still have many of those clothes a decade later, despite size changes and IBS. I cannot afford to buy new clothes at all anymore. The good ones have lasted, sometimes I splash out and buy ‘good’ clothes from the charity shops. They look ‘good’. They last.
Perhaps I should apply this lesson to my yarn too. I am learning, developing, growing. I have learnt new words and terms so maybe it is time for a new ethos too. I read other people’s views on hand knitting and I’ve learnt a few things that justify ‘investment’. Spending fifty quid on yarn for one jumper seems ludicrous. (Don’t get me started on designer labels, ethics, poor materials, low quality and an arm and a leg, no thanks). Yet, what if that jumper lasted twenty years? I cannot even begin to estimate how many times you would wear but at a cost per year? Two fifty. Now that isn’t quite so bad. Usually you’d have to part with at least a tenner for some often badly cut, oddly sized acrylic special with nasty buttons.
Those knitters have other reasons to justify their investment. A shop bought jumper won’t last as long as the hand knit one mentioned above. Even if I coax and eke mine out to record times, they still don’t last well. You can shop around for a fibre and brand that pleases your ethics. You can choose a fibre that works best for you and your skin. You can customise and tailor fit your jumper so it’s just perfect. All excellent justifications. Then I’ve starting seeing everywhere (you know how it goes, you see something somewhere once for the first time and then you see it everywhere) that people think that wool keeps you warmer than shop acrylic. This would sell it to me. I have circulation problems and feel the cold. I’ve grown up with acrylic so perhaps cannot really tell the difference anymore, although I do remember being very warm the day my mother sent me to school in a wool dress, vest, t-shirt, jumper, wool tights, goodness knows what else when they said that the heating would be off (mid-winter, portacabin classroom) but then wasn’t. But I think what clinched it for me was when I read someone saying that shop bought socks last no time at all and their first knitted socks have lasted them four years so far. I have shop bought socks that are ten years old. I started doing some vague mental arithmetic as to how long I could keep a pair of knitted socks. I multiplied by four. Suddenly spending out less than a tenner on some beautiful, colourful, stripey sock yarn (which has been tempting and calling me for the last few months, every time I go into the yarn shop) seemed a good idea. (However, I just don’t want to know how old I would be when I’m still wearing them, it calls to mind that poem, when I am seventy, I will wear hand knit socks).
So this has been a long ramble about yarn, also known as ‘wool’. Well, there’s a lot of knitting in my life at the moment. Not just the actual stuff on needles either. A week or so ago I took the time to organise my knitting life. I wasn’t quite up to tackling other areas of my life, not just yet anyway. It felt somehow metaphorical, that if I could succeed in sorting out this one field then there was hope for the others. Maybe. I sorted my stash, filed my patterns, created a database, stock checked my needles (and found that some of them aren’t the size they say they are), filled in lots of useful things on Ravelry like stash and needles and generally took control. It was a pleasant feeling. (Although my husband didn’t quite appreciate the piles of patterns being neatly sorted into categories across every available surface in the sitting room including every seat of the sofa. Especially not after the third day). I felt that I had succeeded. And whilst perhaps it’s easy to say that I should have been devoting my energy and time to something more important, this is what I could manage. And I did it. I like that feeling. I like the organisation and the control, I like knowing what I’ve got and where I’m going with it (I have lots of projects up my knitted sleeve now!). I feel more confident actually. Surely, that was worth it?
All I have left to do is talk my husband into holding each of my (many) circular needles so that I can measure them properly. And I have, disturbingly perhaps, discovered that the only DPNs I own have been free with magazines. I don’t own many. This is something of a handicap to someone who has discovered the delights of i-cord and knitting in the round and who plans to go on using, and expanding, those skills in different weight yarns. I might need to make an investment.