Heroes Yet Villains

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Once upon a time, when we were young
The heroes were white and pure
Stood apart, tall and strong
When did we raise them?
So they would always be taller?
Did we make them or did they make us?
Their gold glittered at us
Sunlight or human natyre?
But it was only there to fill the cracks
Distraction, lure, deception
Yet how we believed
Maybe we wanted to believe, hoped
Regardless, no matter what
For someone bigger, better, stronger than ourselves
But we worshipped eggshells
Fragile, broken, redundant
Hollow and empty, with nothing to offer
Yet they cast long shadows
We are forever in their thrall

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In My Defence

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Yellow Yarn

Once upon a time I learnt to knit.

Or I tried to, anyway.

I’m not sure why I decided to ask a friend to show me how it worked.  Perhaps I was just taking an interest in her hobby, which sounds a little shallow or something, but I long ago learnt that most people have something that they’re prepared to talk about and that makes it so much easier for little ole me who hates talking and social situations.  Perhaps I really wanted to learn.  Although I’m not sure why.

There has long been knitting in my life.  I wore a lot of hand-knit jumpers in my childhood.  (I still have one of them now).  I knew a lot of people who knitted.  But I don’t think that I ever saw someone actually knitting.

My mother was always trying to get us involved in various handicrafts as children; maybe it was an attempt to introduce a level of refinement but I never found it particularly entertaining.  If you gave me a special kit of crafty things, I’d just want to save it.  Just in case.  Just in case of what?  In case I ruined it.  In case I needed it later, at a more important time.  There were a few that I had a go at.  Probably because they were given at moments of severe boredom.

There was a lot of needlework.  I don’t do needlework.  I still don’t.  My brother was better at the dutifully sitting and working something cute for praise than I ever was.  Or will be.  I couldn’t see the point.  It was boring.  It was fiddly.  It served absolutely no purpose whatsoever.  Did it really matter to the grand scheme of things whether or not I had just spent a two week holiday cross-stitching some circus-related square?  (That was the best one.  The others were far too twee for my tastes, even then).

I don’t remember having a knitting kit.  I remember my brother having a knitting kit.  I remember the little gold coloured needles hanging around in the drawer with the videos (remember those?) for years.  I’m not sure what he made, if anything.  A short, fat toy scarf or was it bookmark?  Did it get finished?  Did it ever do anything?  Yarn seemed more often related to needlework, winding it somehow through little scratchy plastic meshes to make, well, something.

So why did I want to knit?

I have no idea.

But after that first, brief lesson, I dutifully took myself to the department shop to buy ‘wool‘ and needles and to thus embark on that quintessential debut project: the garter stitch scarf.

I do not know what idiot decided that every wannabe knitter would have to go through the rite of passage known as the garter stitch scarf.  I do not think highly of them.  I feel even more sorry for the folk who, apparently, only ever knit the curséd things.

At least the Americans seem to prefer dishcloths.  A dishcloth would be infinitely more preferable, trust me.  It’s small enough to have some hope of ever being done with it and it would actually be of some use.  And people would be actually interested in the finished project.

Anyway, I made that scarf.

No one thought particularly highly of my scarf.  Apparently, I was the first ever learner knitter who had trouble maintaining stitch count.  Everyone else, apparently, had never, ever had this problem.

(I think this a lie.  I’ve seen beginner knitters at work since and I’ve even taught a few.  They all wobble).

My confidence was a little shaken by this feedback but I wasn’t to be daunted.  I had decided that I was going to knit and knit I would.

I wanted to be like all the other knitters.

This could never be a good thing.

So I decided that I would get on with some proper knitting, just like they all did.  (Because everyone else found it oh so easy!)  A jumper.

These days, learners have the internet.  I didn’t even cross my mind to turn to the internet for such things.  (Again, I don’t know why.  Perhaps it was the state of the knitting culture around me: old-fashioned at best if not plain backwards at times).  And with the world of internet knitting to tempt them, they take on all sorts of amazing, crazy stuff for their first project.  Because there’s nobody to tell them that they can’t or that they shouldn’t.

But I listened to the voices.  Voices have always been my authority, sadly.  Although I am perpetually accused of having a disrespectful attitude, I do listen to those ‘experts’, those who, apparently, know better around me.  Sadly, it hasn’t always done me much good.

So, the jumper.

Well, in my defence…

… nobody introduced me to the idea of tension.

(Other than to tell me that the lone bootee that I made between said scarf and said jumper was big enough to fit a four year old.  (I measured it recently, it wouldn’t.  But those words have followed me ever since)).

And in my defence…

… when faced with a limited and pitiful selection of yarns, I chose one I liked.  Which was a different weight to one indicated in the pattern.  But, let’s face it, there isn’t the greatest difference, to the eye or to the hand, between a DK and an aran.  In the English weight/ply system, one’s an eight and one’s a ten.  As opposed to 4-ply.

And in my defence…

… I know a lot of knitters of that generation now.  They never knit a tension square.  They read the pattern notes, they read the ball band, they cast on.  Sometimes they have to rip back an entire jumper.  Hey, it happens!  So, why was I suppose to know about tension and tension squares?

And in my defence…

… there’s also the belief that new knitters knit tight.  I don’t.  There’s also the belief that the stressed out and uptight knit tight.  I don’t.  But knitting loose is not a crime either.  Some people just do.  I am one of them.

And in my defence…

… I’ve found it difficult over the years to find reliable instructions for ribbing, a ridiculously basic stitch.  A lot of time if I followed said instructions, I would end up with seed stitch.  Or something just plain weird.

And in my defence…

… there was nothing in my instructions that explained where to hold the yarn when switching between knit and purl stitches on the same row.

Yeah, that jumper didn’t exactly have a lot going for it.  But I was determined and I stuck the abuse and kept on knitting.

It took me longer than I was expecting.  So when it came time for me to gift it to the lucky recipient, I had to present it missing at least one sleeve and a neck.  But hey.

But in my defence…

… all those perfect knitters who were giving me grief don’t knock out jumpers as fast as they were claiming.  A lot of them don’t even finish things.  I know this now.

It was eventually finished.

One knitter, despairing of my ribbing technique, started at least one of the sleeves.

And another, who felt that I had no hope of doing so myself, picked up the stitches and knit the neckband.

In my defence…

… I’m not sure which one of us actually cast off.  I think I did.  According to the instructions that I was given.  (The experts tend to disappear when you need them at key moments).  It has unravelled slightly.  But there’s something that I learnt much, much later which probably had more effect on this then my actual cast off technique.  Tying knots.  And weaving ends.  One of those you shouldn’t.  And one of those you should.

In my defence…

… no one showed me any finishing techniques.  I don’t think that I have even seen such things in print.  And those experts who criticised my work don’t seem to do things any better either.  And I only just learnt how to seam properly this year.  But at least I sewed it together immediately; some people have projects languishing for years just because of the making up.

In my defence…

… there is not a single hole in said jumper.  I have inspected it recently.  (Shortly after I bumped into one of those experts who was with my mother when I gave her her shawl and wanted to know whether there were holes in that too).  There are no holes.

In my defence…

… I twigged that I needed to go down at least a size or so to accommodate my yarn.  That’s quite advanced thinking, given all of the above.  It still came out pretty big.  As in down to the recipient’s knees.

In my defence…

… I knitted a jumper and it looks like a jumper should be.

What’s so bad about that?

In my defence…

… I am still knitting and I am still willing to learn.

What’s so bad about that?

(The lucky recipient kindly put it in on as soon as it was gifted but later laid it aside in a drawer because it was ‘too special’ to wear.  Now that’s a good father. 

Miss you Dad).

Candy Floss Nights

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(Candy Floss Abstract – I cannot upload, process or post photos at the moment because the gremlins won.  This is the photo you would be seeing).

Soft, magical

Spun strands

Pretty pink

Floating

Pegged up

High, out of reach

Attached to the mundane

(Sock dryers, of all things)

Yet still fantastical

Whimsical

Alluring

But so out of reach

Can I have some?

Please?

Everyone else has some

Do they take it for granted?

Stuffing it in their mouths

Sticky fingered

Consumed

Gone

They move on

They can always have some more

Another time

Any time

But not me

Wistful

Staring

So ephemeral

So out of reach

I’d be so appreciative

Of even just a little bit

Please?

Everyone else has some

Tantalising

I can see it

I can taste it

But so out of reach

Perhaps some other time

Why not me too?

Soft, magical

Pretty pink

But so out of reach

My Perfect Potato

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For some people, the potato is king; it’s there on every single plate of food they eat; ‘oh it’s so versatile, you can do so much with a potato!”  I don’t get it.  Admittedly, I’m a pasta girl myself but the potato never really did anything for me.  After all, it’s just so many variations on boiled, fried or baked, isn’t it?  Potatoes for me are just a vehicle for something else, they’re part of the main event but not a leading role.  At the very least there has to be dressing, dip or sauce.

I do voluntarily eat potatoes these days:I like them sautéed in hash-style dishes, I eat a little creamy potato salad outside of home, I like small, crunchy roast potatoes, I don’t mind potato cakes – preferably with things like fish or beans or vegetables … um … ooh, hash browns.  I like those.  In this country, hash browns are those perfectly formed triangles that the Americans that I’ve met label fast food not proper, home-style, grated hash that any self-respecting family or diner would serve.  And chips.  Do they count as potato?  I like my chips skinny and crispy, fries-style.  Then there’s crisps.  I don’t like the boiled, anaemic mush that’s then been fried; I like my crisps to bear some resemblance to potato.  Ironically.

I hate mash.  It’s the whole texture thing, of course.  It makes me gag.  Yep, so I avoid that.  Then there’s jacket potatoes.  I never liked jacket potatoes as a child, the whole slightly mash-y thing in the middle with a charred, bullet-proof outer layer just never worked for me.  As I’ve got older though they have slowly re-entered my culinary world.  They’re useful; cheap, basic, quick (I’ll explain later) and as I said, a useful vehicle for other things like baked beans or chilli.

But then I fell in love.

It was instant, I was smitten by the first bite and lost forever by the end of a dish.  I don’t usually fall so hard for anything, or anyone.  But it looked good on paper and stayed looking good.  And more importantly, it tasted seriously good.  I was sad when my dinner was finished!  This is just not like me.  I like food, I like photographing my food but, no, I’m not usually infatuated.  I don’t think it’s just a crush either, I think this will be for life.

You see when you read through my previous relationship history with the potato, you’ll notice a reoccurring theme: it’s got to be crispy.  And not too potato-ey on the inside either, thank you.  So when I tell you that this potato is seriously, seriously crispy then you know that it’s for real.

Oh and there’s butter.  Lots of butter.

And hot pepper sauce.

I told you this was a match made in heaven.

Who would have thought that you could actually find love on the internet?!

This is my perfect potato, my new-found love:

Cheese-Topped and Sauced Buffalo Hasselbacks

Did I mention the butter?  There’s lot of melted butter.

Buffalo_Hasselbacks_Seasoned_and_Buttered wm

And did you know that you can mix your favourite (not the one in the recipe but my favourite) hot pepper sauce with melted butter?  (I may need to go to CAPITALS soon because it was soooooo good!).

Anyway, I found the picture here and the recipe is from here.

I followed the instructions pretty much (naturally!) but gave my one potato eight minutes in the microwave and maybe about twenty minutes in the oven at 200 C fan.  (You may be all against microwave-nuking your food, that’s fine, do what works for you; me I’d rather not run the oven for an hour or so if I can help it and I’d rather have tea sooner rather than later!)Buffalo Hasselback Potato with Salad

Then I served it up with leftover salad (that’s the slightly un-photogenic mess around the back of the plate) and fell in love.

Mmm.

I want another one.

PS.  I’m still not sure what makes it ‘buffalo’.  It looked pretty vegetarian to me.  But then apparently buffaloes have wings.  Hm.

PPS.  I really want another one!

Shameful Little Secret

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(Imagine a picture of a window here please.  I had lots on my now broken hard drive).

Why and how does self-expression become something shameful?  Is there a moment, possibly somewhere between toddlerhood and childhood, where you perceive an expectation, a sense of ‘normal’ and yield to conform to it?  Why conform to a selective view or opinion of ‘normal’?

We cities of humans like to belong and we sometimes learn, feel or believe that to belong we need to ‘conform’; we need to be all alike.  And we, at such a young age, rarely if ever can even guess or dream that are other ‘normals’ in the wider world.  Our world is narrow, perhaps within the confines of just one ‘home’, maybe stretched a little with hazy perceptions and understanding of other children’s situations through nurseries, preschools, hospitals and television.

The moment that a child steps into childhood is the moment that they begin their progress, emotionally and mentally, towards becoming an adult.  Being a baby is a self-indulgent affair, you can be what you like where you like, when you like.  You don’t have to conform to any social standards or expectations.  You can eat whenever you want, you can throw up when the whim takes you, you can poo in your pants.  You cry and someone will come running.  The world is all about you.

Childhood seems to have attained an almost mythical standing in our culture, we see it as a halcyon period, an idyll.  But only when we look back reflectively or wistfully or when we speak of childhood in abstract terms.  The reality is that childhood is about learning to conform.

Maybe you challenge that.  However, especially if you are a parent yourself, reflect on what your aims are, even on a daily level, for a child.  You want them to eat ‘nicely’, you want them to dress ‘properly’, you want them to speak ‘politely’ … the list goes on.  These are expectations, rightly or wrongly, for better or for worse, which you and the wider society will impose on each and every child.

Belonging is one of the most precious experiences that a human can ever experience; it is the whole point of being a human.  So I’m not really arguing that parents, or other adults, educating children is a problem.  The problem is when that ‘belonging’ has to come at the price of something else.

I guess all parents have expectations, hopes and dreams for their new-born.  Yet, they’ve probably not even met him or her!  This is where the problem is, this is where that price is paid.

Do parents, or any of the other adults, surrounding a child, who are that child’s ‘city’, force the child to conform?  You may have dreamt of a violin-playing virtuoso for the last three, four years but what happens when your child is deaf or just has no musical interest whatsoever?  Maybe you’ve got secret wishes for your child to have the education and career that you never could have had yourself, is that fair to project that onto a child whose skills, talents, aptitudes are not within the (narrow) academic spectrum?

Children want to please.  All humans want to please those they love.  It’s a simple truth.  But to please, to be accepted, to conform, to belong, how do they have to please you?  And is it at the price of their own skills and talents?

If you teach a child that success is knowing one’s times tables by the age of six, what happens when the child is slow to learn even to count?  They will, and do, quickly come to the conclusion that they’re a failure.  Is that fair?

If you only encourage and reward a child when he or she succeeds in one area, such as mathematics, will they try to develop their own inherent aptitudes?  Or will they just focus on that one area where you want them to succeed, in that one area where they now believe that success is only possible?  Is that fair?

Disinterest is often keenly perceived by young children desperately seeking to ‘read’ the world and people around them.  If you show no interest in their drawing but praise their counting, what does a child learn?  And if this happens time and after time?

Well, the child will come to the conclusion that drawing is not desirable, that it’s not even acceptable.  They may even come to the conclusion that it isn’t permissible.

(Well you did say to stop drawing and get on with something more important).

Why the examples of mathematics and drawing?  Well, I suck at both, to be honest, but it is much easier to quantify success in a subject like maths whereas drawing and other creative pursuits, they just come down to taste, opinion, even fashion.  We live in a society that likes quantifiable success, academic success which comes down to grades, percentages, facts.  Facts which are the same for every single person, 1+1 is always going to have the same answer.  It’s easy to assess, to quantify success.  Ask someone to draw a picture and who can really say whether it’s ‘good’?

(My answer to 1+1= is always window, which is why I probably never ‘succeeded’).

And with children entering academic systems earlier and earlier with increasing pressure from exams, scattered like threats across their school years, and with schools and teachers themselves being pressured to ‘succeed’, there is a real danger that self-expression is lost in favour of those ‘facts’.

Self-expression is a beautiful thing, without creativity none of those precious ‘facts’ would have been possible.  Sciences may claim to be cold and scientific but they are made of thousands of bubbles of creative thoughts and moments.  People who thought outside the box, people who challenged the ‘facts’.

When a child internalises the message that creativity is shameful, we are taking something even more precious away.  And creativity is so closely bound up with identity, how can anyone dare to even think to take that away from someone?

I learnt, although later in childhood because I clearly was a slow developer, that creativity was shameful.  It was wasteful, self-indulgent, weird, different … in other words, unacceptable.  I learnt too that creativity was never deemed a ‘success’, that there was far more ‘important’ things that I ‘should’ be doing or learning.  I learnt that not only was I expected to ‘do better’ (how many times have you said that to a child especially to their artwork?) but that doing better meant doing something else.

Creativity became something shameful.  It became a failure because I could never be good at it and it wasn’t really acceptable.  I took the criticism seriously and heard the messages loud and clear that there were better, more important things that I should be doing.  Then somewhere along the way, I also lost myself.

The two are closely entwined.  Identity cannot succeed where it is only the labels that others give to you or where you are forced, or forcing yourself, to conform to some unwritten, barely spoken expectation.   Being yourself is an act of creativity, of self-expression.    Both require confidence.  Both require support and encouragement from childhood.   After all, the goal shouldn’t be to make children who ‘succeed’ but to form, educate, train, develop children to become successful humans.  There is a huge difference between the two, believe me.  We need creativity, it is who we are.

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Pursuing Perfection

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Harvest Field

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.

Braving the Dragon

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Yellow Yarn

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.

She replied.

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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