People seem surprised when I say that I’m shy. It came up in conversation the other day with some friends who, despite knowing me pretty well, just didn’t know that. I am. I’m shy. I don’t like talking to strangers. I don’t like social situations. I even feel uncomfortable walking down the street. I feel like all eyes are on me. I feel that every word is someone saying something bad or nasty about me. I feel watched. I feel judged. I feel criticised. I’m not comfortable around other people. Although paradoxically, I don’t like being on my own for long periods and can be fairly gregarious, I enjoy company. Or maybe, at least, the idea of it. In reality, I’m anxious, fretting over every possible thing that I may say or do wrong. Afterwards, I torture myself for hours replaying all the gaffes and feet-in-mouth moments, cringing at my ineptitude.
One of the hardest situations is going into a shop. I don’t mean the anonymous black holes (or white, they have far too bright lights in my photosensitive opinion) that modern supermarkets are, I’m talking about the proper, traditional, old-fashioned ones where you’re one on one with a shopkeeper having to ask for things or they can see your every move around the shop. I hate that. Sometimes I’ll even try to avoid going into places like that. (It’s kind of hard when ninety percent of your wardrobe comes from charity shops though).
I have a local yarn shop which isn’t very local; it’s ten miles away in my hometown. Ten miles is a big distance in this small country, especially when you don’t have your own transport. It’s an hour away by bus. And more crucially, a lot of money on a bus ticket away. I don’t get there very often but as you know I’ve had some special projects on my needles of late that have required special yarn.
I’ve always loved shops like this. There was a tiny fabric shop that we used to visit when I was a child; it was a single aisle between floor-to-ceiling stacks of fabrics, a cavern of different textured rolls. We would huddle in front of the counter at the far end, my mother taking an agonising amount of time to make some decision or other, usually involving curtains, whilst I would dream away my life in a fantasy of different coloured ginghams. I loved the diversity of colours within a simple print, stripes, squares, gingham; the endlessly possible variations on a theme. We weren’t allowed to touch but I always remember the cottons more than glossy, netted or silky. I guess that I was always practically minded.
You can imagine my delight when barely into double figures my mother promised me new curtains of my choosing. I’d never had curtains purposed for my own room, designed with me in mind, just the ones which were there when I grew into the space. In fact, I hardly remember those ones. I was ecstatic, a trip to the fabric cave and to choose my very own fabric for the first time.
We got there. My mother made a decision. Some glossy, stiff curtain fabric. In brown. With cream accents. It wasn’t my taste. I didn’t care how grown up and sophisticated it was. I hated brown. I still do. Especially coffee and cream shiny fabrics. With bows. And an Austrian blind. I was totally anguished, pained both by the hideousness and the disregard.
I loathed those curtains all my teenage life. Eventually I rebelled and bought purple muslin tab topped curtains with my own earnings when I was nearly out of my teens. I do have small moments of rebellion. That and bluetacking postcards to every available wall space.
I don’t remember going back to the fabric shop after that trip. I miss it. I still rejoice in the simple and plain, I am a fan of cotton and natural fibres. Some things don’t change.
However these days, it’s not boredom and pins and needles that make visiting the yarn shop a challenge but anxiety. Anxiety washed over me in my teenage years like an overwhelming, all-powerful tidal wave. Small shops have never been the same since. Nor have I.
The yarn shop is a small shop where all eyes are on from the moment you walk through the door. There are two women there; I think that they might be mother and daughter. The younger one is fairly friendly and I can cope with her but the older one terrifies me.
I mean no disrespect or offence of course and I’m really not trying to cast asparagus on her. It is probably entirely a figment of my own paranoid, nervous imagination but I dread going in there and finding her on duty, a doyenne with knitting needles in hand, presiding over her kingdom with a stern expression.
It’s a little bit like modern airport travel, going through security where the presumption is that you’re guilty unless proven otherwise. I feel like a criminal the moment I step through the door and the bell jangles over my head. I feel guilty; I feel that I don’t deserve to be here somehow. I don’t know enough, I don’t spend enough, I’m a really bad knitter and yes, I’m still wearing that hat.
I go and hide behind the display unit and gather my nerves. I feel watched, judged and found to be wanting. I peruse the cheap acrylics but then worry that she’ll think less of me. I also worry that she’s decided that I’m stealing buttons despite the very large sign that says I must take the tubes to the till for them to be counted out. All the special yarn is actually behind the counter so you have to walk past a very sacrosanct barrier between one world and another, a range of yarns that are stacked in traditional cubby holes to the ceiling in a bewildering array of colours, weights, brands and prices. They are expensive. Most things are in my world. I have to apologise and step over the line if I want something; usually it’s just behind her chair so she has to move. I feel like I’m turning beetroot red and liable to stammer. Most of the time, these yarns are out of my price range and experience. I know that she knows that. What I really want to do is bury my hands in the large basket of reduced yarns. I like a bargain and have the nose and determination of a bloodhound when I get going. But it isn’t very dignified hauling out all the yarns in the basket to find something that I actually want to purchase. I am mortified by my apparent desperation.
My knitting is slowly getting better. It’s taken four years to learn but I think I can say with some certainty (although perhaps not confidence) that I’m getting there. I’m about to take on a very scary project (more information will come, don’t worry) but it required special yarn. Not nasty cheap acrylic from the cheap shop. (Even the price of that has gone up!) I also managed to end up with some time to kill, having to hang around the town because my mother wouldn’t let me knit in the bank when she went there. (She somehow feels that this is an illegal activity, I’m not sure why; neither was she very happy about reassurances that I always knit in my bank). I got left to roam the streets, which doesn’t amount to much in this small town, a few charity shops, a few cheap shops and a yarn shop were all that could call to me. I can sniff those out though.
To the yarn shop, I went. I had a plan.
As my knitting has improved so has my knitting confidence. I know what I’m talking about. Most of the time. If not then I’ll just shut up. (Perhaps, if nerves don’t get the better of me. I have the gift of the waffle). That knowledge has probably come from stalking the forum boards on Ravelry, I learn through osmosis. These days, I can talk knitting with the best of them.
I went on the offensive.
She was there, behind the counter, waiting, watching.
I cheerfully greeted her and made small talk about the atrocious weather, making sure to comment on her baby knitting.
I explained what I was looking for and how I was terribly sorry but it would be in that sacrosanct space behind counter and probably even behind her chair. I smiled, I was charming, I chatted.
I got my yarn.
We discussed the confusion that American terms and patterns can cause. I found out that 5 ply (which the American sport weight is) is actually available in this country and is traditionally used to knit up guernseys. We discussed the one that she was making at the moment. All small talk.
I got some other supplies.
I smiled some more and waltzed at the shop. Having paid, of course.
It was exhausting.
But the dragon has been conquered.
We’re now on speaking terms.
I will not be quaking in my DMs quite so much the next time I go in and find her on duty. And of course, I will make sure to ask how her gansey is getting on.
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