Lessons from the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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To all the teachers who thought that they were gods, thank for teaching me realism, even if that wasn’t your intention 

To all the teachers who only worked with their fauns, thank you for teaching me that flattery and adoration isn’t the only way to get somewhere after all

To all the teachers who thought that their subject was the be all and end all, thank you for teaching me a broader definition of success and achievement than you planned to 

To all the teachers who beat a path out of the school gate at every opportunity, desperate for a smoke or a drink, thank you for teaching me that, whatever your opinion of me, I was doing a better job of surviving than you 

To all the teachers who didn’t believe me, thank you for teaching me that I didn’t need your validation 

To all the teachers who only knew one way, their way of doing things and refused to budge, thank you for making me a determined, independent learner

To all the teachers who didn’t have much to share with the class, thank you for taking some pressure off someone who wouldn’t have succeeded in a tougher academic environment 

To all the teachers who didn’t do anything about the bullying, thank you for helping to forge a passionate defender of others

To all the teachers who bullied me, thank you for making me stronger 

To all the teachers who found something for me to do or an errand to send me on, thank you for letting me be useful, for letting me give something back when I was at my lowest and most broken 

To all the teachers who ever listened, thank you for giving me your time, even if neither of us understood what I was saying 

To all the teachers who took me seriously, thank you because finally I can too

To all the teachers who let me come and go as I needed, thank you for making your classroom, and your entire subject, a place of safety

To all the teachers who would let me tackle projects my own way or to work alone instead of in a group, thank you for letting me learn at my own pace and in my own style 

To all the teachers who would answer my questions, thank you for hearing me out and for seeing my learning as more valuable than your time or lesson plan

To all the teachers who believed in me and who gave me responsibilities, thank you for seeing me as more than just a statistic but as an individual that I would eventually find too

To all the teachers who cut me some slack, thank you because I don’t think any of us realised at the time what or how much I was up against 

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A Bird Song

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The words of Christina Rossetti have spoken to me for a very long time; I am no scholar or reader and perhaps am really conscious of just one of her poems.  It was the first poem to ever ‘speak’ to me, the first that echoed some deep, inner sentiment of my own and translated it into solid words, clear, simple, beautiful.  All the other poems I had so far met were either fun or profound, incomprehensible or twaddle.  Mainly the latter two.

I opened up this poem without really reading the title and certainly without paying any attention to the author’s name.  (Or perhaps I should say the ‘poet’s’?)  (I find that poem titles can be awfully disappointing if not misleading so I’ve given up with them).

The title must have registered slowly, in that barely conscious way of mine, because it reminded me and made me smile.  And then I loved the words and thought that must share it with you all.  And then I read the poet’s name.

So here is another poem by Christina Rossetti.  She may have be referring to graceful swallows but I would like to be cheeky and dedicate the first verse to a slightly less refined but no less adorable Manky-bird.

It has been a good spring for blue tits; I hear them sing nearly every day, even from my bed and when I make it to the window or the balcony, I often see them flying past as there is now several (pairs, families?) living in the neighbourhood.  I always wonder who they are.  I always remember.

I have Plasticine

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Plasticine Roses

I have Plasticine™.  I have been experimenting.  I have a wee project planned, which I may tell you all about some other day.  If it goes to plan …

A Song

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Being a Bird Parent - Blue Tit Baby on Head

There is a certain song that I recognise, the faint piercing notes can be quite a distance away but my ear always picks it up.  But it’s not just my ears, it’s a song that will always speak to my heart.  I try to whistle a few notes back, despite the fact that I have never been able to whistle.  I whistle whilst standing in the street, even in middle class neighbourhoods.  It embarrasses my husband.  But then I catch him whistling the same notes too.  (He can at least whistle though).

They say that a smell, a taste, a noise can transport you immediately into the past.  I know that this song will always be in my heart and whenever I hear it in the future, it will take me back to this summer gone and to a little bird called Manky.

Manky-bird has a very definite hold in our hearts.  It is his song and the song of his kinsmen that we hear, sharp notes echoing through the trees.  Even when we are on the other side of town, we pause and listen, sometimes whistle back.  It’s not likely to be one of our babies that far away but we are captivated all the same, watching for the slightest movement.

But the truth is that we probably will never know how Manky-bird has fared.  Hopefully, she is still faring.  I ask my husband if the blue tit we’ve just spotted has painted toes and we both laugh and stare hard, squinting, trying to focus on fast-moving, tiny legs, whilst knowing that nail varnish does not last forever.   Maybe we should have used a better brand?  Long gone, the tell-tale painted legs, worn or weathered or scratched.

Often I feel guilty, I find it hard to believe that we did enough to give them the best chance in the world, I feel that somehow we should have or could have done more.  It breaks my heart.  Especially when I think of our losses.

But then husband reminds me that from the moment we intervened, they survived a little longer than they would have done anyway.   And I guess we can only do our best.  And do our best for at that time only.  Hindsight always has sharper vision but we were first time parents and all we could do was our best.

(It’s so nerve-wracking for human parents when their offspring learn to drive and get their first wheels, I wonder if bird parents are distressed when their fragile little chick takes to the air for the first time?)

(And isn’t it funny how I still say he for Manky?  She was a little girl, just slower to develop so we couldn’t be sure, but she never sprouted the little funky hairdo of the males).

There is a male blue tit who struts on the telephone wire at the front of the house.  We really need to seal off the holes because we really can’t cope with another birdy summer!  We watch him too.  I think it could be the daddy blue tit from the spring, he’s got quite a pronounced quiff going on.  We watch him from the kitchen window, sometimes the spare bedroom window.  Watching, wondering, hoping that he hasn’t taken up residence again.  He is usually silent but we spot him anyway.  I know that one of the neighbours has been throwing bread on the front grass so maybe that’s why he’s visiting so close to the house.

There is a small flock of birds flying around the back gardens at the moment, some sparrows, some bob-tails (I think most people call them wagtails), some blue tits …  I know.  We stand out on the balcony whistling like nutters.  I just have to hear one note and my heart, I don’t know, soars?  But faint tears come to the corners of my eyes too.  It’s a bittersweet song.  Because we will never know.

A week or so ago, a blue tit actually came to our bird feeder in the garden.  We watched.  (We can spot a blue tit now at quite a distance, trust me).  A little, sprightly thing, perched nearly upside-down by the hole of the seed feeder.  We watched.  It pulled out the seeds, spat the ones that it clearly did not approve of onto the ground and ate the ones which took its fancy.  We looked at each other and wondered.  Wild birds don’t tend to be fussy or picky, you know?  So we grabbed a tripod and camera and set it up for the perfect shot, closeup, just in case there was any paint on the legs, you know.  But it didn’t come a-visiting again.  At least not that we noticed.  And even sentimental me has to draw a line at sitting in the window for twelve hours at a time.  Life gets in the way.  I am not a bird watcher, it seems.

But we’re still wondering.

Manky has a Strong Grip

FO: We All Scream …

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What’s the biggest thing that holds you back from starting, from accomplishing, from finishing, from achieving?  Fear.  Fear is our biggest enemy and we all know it.  But where does the fear come from?  Sure, we are confronted, bombarded even in this day and age, by things that we are told are scary.  But fear is still a choice.  I know that sometimes I choose to take risks that might be unacceptable for some people, for example I’m quite happy to walk home in the dark, and the reason that I do that is because if I stop to become fearful, fear will overtake me.  I’ve been on that very slippery slope before and I don’t want to go there again.  I choose not to fear because fear is actually a greater burden, an unacceptable risk.  For me.

Fear is still a big part of my life though.  And I know that I generate that myself because my biggest fear is that of failing.  I joke that I am a failed perfectionist.  Chronic health conditions certainly temper how much organisation, control and mastery I have over my own life but to be completely honest, I’m not good at it.   I can line CDs up alphabetically and organise my wardrobe by the rainbow but it’s a token effort, an attempt to stop the tide.  The tide of chaos, the tide of life.  I am overwhelmed.  But I still expect an awful lot from myself.  Too much sometimes.

When I start out to do something, I want it to be the best, I want perfection.  I expect perfection only from myself.  I am tolerant, indulgent even of others.  It’s just like that mystical perfection that we crave for our bodies, it doesn’t exist, it isn’t attainable.  I start over thinking the project, I get bogged down in details.  I overwhelm myself with my standards.

The thing is though that if I let go of that fear, if I don’t give into that crazy perfection desire, I still end up with something pretty good.  Something that perhaps people with different Minds to mine might feel pride in.  (I am still assessing and debating my relationship with the dread Pride, I will keep you posted if and when I discover that there’s a balanced approach).

I have to find the confidence to work through the slump, as L.M Montgomery may well term it, and to continue on.  Sometimes I give up too early.  Worn out, disheartened, crushed.  But as you know, self-confidence is not something that comes readily to me, I have long had too little self belief to find the motivation, the hope and the strength to go on when I start to fear that I have failed.

This is why this project has taken most of the year to come to fruition, although of course the Bad Patch didn’t really help either.  It’s hard to keep on top of your projects when you can barely lift the needles.  And when I could physically knit, there was often a real psychological block holding me back.

But this time, I conquered.  I didn’t let the fear win, I didn’t let it make me give up.  I fought through it.  I put the project aside when it all seemed to be going disastrously wrong and came back to it when I was ready.  Even when it didn’t turn out how I originally envisioned, I took a break then made my peace.  I’d still made something worthwhile.  Something that I hope will put a smile on a child’s face.  And you don’t need perfection to do that.

Actually, when I look back, this project has all been about facing new challenges and allowing myself the time to grow into them.

It started nearly two years ago when my husband bought me some knitting books that I had had my eye on for quite a while, part of a series called Twenty to Make, it was the four on knitted food that this idiosyncratic knitter just had to have.  You have met some of the patterns from those books when I made my Lunchbox back in the summer.

I loved the books, of course, but there was one major problem.  A lot of the patterns required knitting in the round.  I couldn’t knit in the round and was pretty sure that I never would be able.  So I bookmarked the patterns that were achievable and forget about the others, albeit regretfully.

When I knitted Fruit and Fairy Cakes (those patterns were taken from various magazines instead) for a young friend of mine and they were rapturously received, I knew I had the perfect victim for further creations.  But what could I make with my limited abilities?

Well, this spring, as my confidence started to grow a little, I learnt to knit in the round.  In slow baby steps, of course.  But there was something that I definitely knew that I wanted to make for my friend.

I cast on in March.  I knitted during car journeys.  I knitted during a chillier than expected day at the beach.  And within a couple of months, I had a half-dozen ice cones ready for filling.  But those cones also tell their own story of my growing confidence.

The first cone that I cast on, I couldn’t work with so few stitches on the needles so I had to start a few rows higher up and even the I couldn’t manage the stitch pattern as well, so the first cone also has a section of stocking stitch:

Ice Cream Cone - First Start

The second cone shows that at least I was learning.  Yes, I still had to start on a higher row but this one has the stitch pattern:

Ice Cream Cone - Second Start

After that, I pretty much had the beginnings sussed:

Ice Cream Cone - Proper Start

(That’s now a chocolate cone, in case you were wondering.  They’re all high quality waffle cones which are my favourite.  There is something classic about the golden polystyrene cone that comes with a Mr Whippy, a 99, but the waffle cone beats that hands down every time.   Actually, I think I prefer the cone to the ice cream, if that’s not a little too weird.  Although ice cream is a very good partner to the cone.  If there’s just ice cream available then I sprinkle over corn flakes or some other breakfast cereal just to make it bearable.  That might be completely weird.  But it’s genetic, my father did the same. (I also used to save the end of my cone (the best bit) for him when we were out without him when I was little.  That might make me utterly, irredeemably weird but also very generous and loving).)

The other problem that I had with the cone pattern was that in the image in the book it looks like the ice cream cone is finished with a possible ridge of garter stitch then smooth stocking stitch.  I presume that this must be folded back on itself to make a ‘hem’, if you will, because stocking stitch always has the distinctive, curled rolling edge.  That’s not a problem, the problem is that when I worked the pattern instructions, I ended up with something looking like moss/seed stitch (can’t remember which is which, the definition is a little shaky).

Ice Cream Cone - Moss Stitch Effect

I wasn’t liking that too much so came up with Plan B.  Only thing is, I’m till not sure whether Plan B is garter stitch or reverse stocking stitch because I was purling in the round.

By May, I was onto the ice cream itself.  This is where I met the most problems.  I tried the ice cream pattern in the book and really couldn’t get on with it.  So then I reverted to the basic rectangle that made the fairy cakes.  I had to make a few versions until I got it the right size but then I was off.

I can come up with plenty of ice cream flavours, imagination is not something that I’m short of but there’s always the Internet for far too much inspiration too.  The limiting thing is the way yarn colours behave (they don’t segue in a natural way) and that there only so many colours in my stash.

I wanted to make lots of different flavours that could be fitted into the cones according to a child’s, or their customer’s, taste.  I love mix and match in toys, I don’t like things being rigid and prescriptive.  And there I ran into another problem.

Knitted ice cream doesn’t stay cooperatively in the cone.  (It’s possible that there are various experiences to suggest that real ice cream doesn’t always stay happily in the cone either).

I was miserable.

I had failed.

My ice cream wouldn’t work.

I was miserable some more.

I decided that I would distract myself by knitting up the bag.

I had big plans for that bag.

Patchwork.  It is apparently possible to knit all the different colours together using intarsia rather than making lots of squares (ish) and sewing them together.  I hate sewing.

I say apparently because I never got there.  Too many tangles and not enough space, energy or patience.  (This was at the height of baby bird raising too, remember, my knitting and me had been relegated to the bedroom).

I was miserable.

Now my bag had failed too.

I finally picked myself up again.

Eventually I went for Plan B in the bag department too.  Stripes.

But I did cleverly design a gusset for my bag.

And then sewed it up the wrong way.

(Hey, what can I say?  I’ve been Tired this year).

I also decided to go into a little appliqué work and stitch letters on my bag.  (Well, I had done knitted motifs on the previous two bags, it was time for a change).

Did I mention that I can’t sew?

I can, however, create giant letters in a word processing program and print them then use my persuasive powers to get husband to cut them out accurately both in the paper and in the felt.  This is very fiddly job, if you thought wallpaper was the way to damage a relationship then I suggest you think again.  Felt letters are a definite make or break for any relationship.  I think we’ve survived.

Template Letters Pinned on Felt

There are some cracking words in English but one thing that the language really isn’t any good at is shop names.  I went overseas to find the wording for my storage bag, choosing a language that reflects the receiving family’s own cultural links and my own (literally) sweet memories.

Heladeria Appliquéd Letters

I did that stitching myself, all by myself-some.

Stripey Bag for Ice Creams

I was feeling better.

It was time to start making decisions about those ice creams.

They were going to have be sewn into the cones.

And I was only going to have half a dozen, the other flavours will have to wait for another time.

I lined the cones with upcycled thin plastic and then stitched the ice creams down.

Six different flavours in two types of cones.  I think it may even be vegan friendly ice cream but it’s not entirely natural, I did make them from 100% acrylic after all.

Hand Knitted Ice Cream in Six Different Flavours and Two Types of Cone

Málaga Ice Cream in Chocolate Cone, Stracciatella Ice Cream in Waffle Cone, Chocolate Chip Ice Cream in Waffle Cone

Strawberry Ice Cream in Waffle Cone, Lemon Sorbet in Waffle Cone, Mint Choc Chip in Chocolate Cone

And the title of this post?  My father always called ice cream ‘scream’ in honour of his little refrain, We All Scream for Ice Cream.  We never knew where he’d got the expression from until very recently.  I found a little beach hut with the same slogan scrawled on its front.  This was clearly not just something in my father’s head.  I took to the internet and we finally found its origin.

Do you scream for ice cream?

Handful of Hand Knitted Ice Creams

(And my sincere but unrepentant apologies for another humongous post on knitting, sometimes even small things require epic journeys.  Thank you for travelling with me on this one).

Poem

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I haven’t written poetry for many, many years.  For good reasons.  I know that bad poetry is insufferable.  There is no excuse for such literary crimes and they should never be admitted to much less published on the internet.  So here is my first attempt, I know not how to improve it, if there is any hope for it at all, so you can throw tomatoes, tell me to delete this post or offer up some suggestion for salvage.

Poem

(inspiration from Christina Rossetti’s Song)

Plant thou no roses at my head

Remember me or not when I am dead

The words found me as a teenager

One of the few things retained from school

Something I believed, still a belief

Sometimes dying would mean relief

~

In my garden now, there stands a rose

Shooting madly for the skies, it grows

Sweet yellow blooms that I laid

One painful day on my father’s coffin

A day, a person that I shall never forget

My face the endless cascades wet

~

In my garden now, there stands a rose

In the wet mud between its toes

I placed you in the earth

Storm damaged petals, just like you, just like me

I will not forget

My guilt will not permit

~

Plant thou no roses at my own head

Remember me or not when I am dead

I am not worth remembering

Yet I remember you all

For in my garden there stands a rose

Whose sweet yellow blooms keep your memories close

~

If anyone has any suggestions too as to how to format this properly, they would also be much appreciated!  This template seems to have a particular loathing for line breaks.

These Boots were Made for Walking

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Self Portrait - the Boots in Autumn

I look down at my boots, just a pair of boots, and wonder.  I look at that photo on my blog of my boots, just a pair of boots, and wonder.  Today when I look at them I see more cracks, more scrapes than when that photo was taken and when I’m as tired as this, a lot less shine.  But still I wonder.

Those boots are eight years old.  Bought with carefully saved money, a sign of rebellion and a claiming of independence.  Teenage-style but at twenty instead.  I sneaked into the shop, a little shop which still exists, like I was going to buy contraband, furtive, embarrassed, determined.  Too shy to point out that for some reason the tongue hasn’t been sewn in properly into one of my boots.  My boots.  I still don’t remember which one though, even after all these years.  Might be the right one.  If not, it’ll be the left.

I hugged them tenderly in my arms, perfectly new and glistening, partly astonished at my bravery, won over by the firm leather and the comfortable fit.  No more fashion shoes for me, well for a little while longer maybe.  But a few years ago skin allergies finally put paid to those flimsy, poorly made types which only lasted a season at best.  My allergies have class, I can only wear DMs.  I wasn’t trying to buy into some stereotype, some role, some identity, some niche but the boots were me.  My boots.

My mother, naturally, was horrified when I got back to the car with my trophies.  It was probably the worse crime I had ever committed.  Even at twenty I didn’t go about without my parents.  I think that I’d shocked myself at spending so much on ‘just a pair of shoes’.  My mother thought it was daylight robbery.  But it was love, pure love and no passing faddish infatuation and I wore them proudly.

I wore them to my driving lessons.  Told the instructor that as these would be the shoes that I’d be driving in for the rest of my life that I might as well start wearing them now.  And no, I didn’t own a pair of trainers.  I passed my driving test in those boots.

Just a few months later.

Independence.  Wings to fly with, boots to walk away in.

Now I look down at my boots and wonder.

I wonder curious things like how many pairs of laces have I gone through on this single pair of boots?  The current laces are brittle and almost glazed-like.  One pair of black laces after another, I can’t even remember when I bought these ones.  It’s hard to find bootlaces these days and everyone says you have to buy 120s for this number of eyes but I’ve worn these boots too long now, I know best.  140s every time.  Bootlaces that are harder to find and get thinner each year.  Bootlaces don’t last forever.  Boots seem to.

I remember the time when I couldn’t lace my boots, when I got tendonitis so badly walking a billion miles across Paris.  A billion miles in freezing fog and on beautiful baguettes washed down with cup-a-soup (for which my husband is still holding me personally responsible for and unforgiven!).  The student is in me still.  I was a ‘student’, albeit briefly, the summer after I bought my boots.  For months after our trip to Paris, I had to leave the laces undone, splayed open, like the tramp of garden ornaments.

I look down at my boots and I wonder.  I wonder many things.

I wonder how many times they’ve been splashed through puddles, marched through streams and accidentally ended up in the sea.  They’ve been full of sand before now, from beaches and deserts and building works.  They’ve seen an awful lot of mud.  I know, I’m the one cleaning it away.  I proudly keep them polished to a service grade shine.  OK, when I’ve got a little more oomph in my polishing at least.  Other times I just try to keep them clean.  Ish.  Babywipe anyone?

I wonder how many countries they have visited.  If boots had their own passport, stamped at every port of entry, what tales it would tell!  My boots have gone everywhere, faithful companions on my travels.  In the snapshots of my mind, I see them tossed down in hotel rooms and standing to attention by tent doorways and drying in front of boilers and radiators.  (Actually even on a hospital ward floor too).  Phobic dread means that they’re always safely on my feet during flights, all those castaway and crashes on desert islands films and series prove the value of having boots on your feet during a crash.  But that isn’t the only reason that those boots are always on my feet.  My boots make me feel taller.  My boots make me feel more confident.

I wonder how many miles my boots have tread.  Do I count the miles that they have been on my feet in a car or in an aeroplane?  What about boats or trains?  Yep, my boots are well-travelled.  Since not having our van anymore, how many miles have they loyally accompanied me on?  How many hills have they tramped me up?  On how many sheets of ice have they held me a little steadier than I would have been otherwise?  How many times have they been caught in the rain with me?

My boots have been to weddings, to funerals.  They have been with me during some of the best times and some of the worst times.  My only regret is that I never wore them to our wedding.  My mother won over, insisted on some satiny ballet pump, shiny soled as a roller skate.  I didn’t have enough confidence back then.  I do today.  Today I ignore the horrified and mortified exclamations that accompany my decision to wear those boots to yet another event.  Some things never change.  I roll my eyes as she’s rolling hers.

When I turn them over today and look then I see that the soles are wearing thin.  There’s been a lot of mileage done in these boots, hundreds of thousands of miles.  These boots are my boots.  They are part of the story, even the very fabric, of my life.  My boots are like that loyal friend who can you pick up at a moment’s notice, we fit together so comfortably and we know that we’re ready for whatever path life throws at us next.  We just keep on walking.  Sometimes it’ll be baby steps, other times we’ll strike out confidently.  But my boots are made for life’s adventures.  Yes indeed, these boots were made for walking.